This story is by Sheila Lischwe and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The new neighbors intrigued Laura.
She stared at the bedside clock. Four a.m.
“Time to get up, Hon.”
Chad groaned, rolled over, facing his wife.
“Don’t wanna go to Cleveland,” he mumbled.
“It’s just a coupla days.”
“Can I just stay here with you? Please?”
Laura’s jaw tightened.
“Chad, you know this is my favorite week of the year.”
“Ah yes, that’s right. The only woman in town who hates Disney World.”
“The last place any kindergarten teacher wants to be is Orlando during Spring Break. I’ve got the cul-de-sac all to myself for the next week. Well, almost.”
“Huh? I thought everybody left yesterday.”
“The new people.” Laura said. “Dirk and Sandy Tomlinson. We met them Saturday night at the Monahan’s, remember?”
Chad sat up on the edge of the bed, and ran a hand through his thick black hair.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s right, I forgot about them. Good that they’ll be around. I don’t like to think of you down here at the end of the street all alone.”
“Don’t you think it’s sort of odd, though? I mean, who retires at forty and buys a two-bedroom bungalow? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Don’t know, Hon. Gotta shower.”
“Hey, plug my phone in before you leave, please. It’s outta juice. And take Maisie out to pee.”
“Sure,” he mumbled, closing the bathroom door.
Laura smirked. It would be a good staycation. Collecting the neighbors’ newspapers and mail was a small price to pay for a week of peace and quiet.
Just her and the Tomlinsons.
Maisie wandered over, cued for her morning run.
“Not today, girl, Laura muttered, tying her Sauconys. Gotta pick up newspapers. Daddy already walked you. At least I hope he did.” She stood up and gave the collie’s ear an affectionate tug. “Better that you stay here today.”
Her cell phone lay untethered on the kitchen counter. She raised an eyebrow, then placed the phone in the charger and headed out the front door.
The steady cadence of footfalls pierced the dark, silent Monday morning. Her five-mile loop through Kirkwood’s quaint residential streets was darker than normal. She usually loved watching houses come to life in the morning, a solitary kitchen or den light marking a family’s awakening. Not this week, though.
Finishing at 5:30, she stopped first at the Jennings’ house, scooped up the Kirkwood Times at the end of the driveway and tossed it into the bin on the porch. She did the same at the Monahan’s and the Bennett’s.
At the Tomlinson’s, she hesitated. A sliver of dim light shown through a crack in a curtain.
Slowly, she gathered up their newspapers and started down the driveway.
From the porch, the view into the house was wider than from the street. She peered in. Empty.
The front door flew open. Dirk Tomlinson, freshly showered, glared at Laura.
“What the hell are ya doing?” he asked.
Laura flinched, shrinking back from the door.
“Uhh, I was… just bringing your papers to the porch. I’m… picking up everybody else’s, so I thought I’d do the same for you. ”
Dirk’s expression didn’t change. His dark eyes scanned the street beyond. He looked sideways into the house, then back at Laura.
“I’m really, really sorry, “Laura offered. “I didn’t mean to alarm you,” she laughed nervously. “I’ll get out of your hair.” She turned to leave.
“Hey, uh, no problem, we’re just not used to the neighborhood yet. Why don’t you come in for coffee? Sandy and I were just sittin’ down for breakfast.”
Laura stared at a crack in the sidewalk, considering the offer. Dirk was smiling now, beckoning her in with his hand.
She glanced back through the window, then slowly stepped into the house.
The door closed behind her. The living room was empty. She smelled no coffee.
As she came to, Laura touched her temple and winced. Blood matted her hair over a pulsing bulge.
She felt around the walls. Wire shelving. No clothes or hangars. Where was her host?
A door slams. Footsteps scuffle. Thuds against the wall. She listens closely.
Laura folded her arms, cocooning herself as much as possible to control her nerves. In her mind, a plan begins to form.
The space between the closet door and the built in cabinet was cramped. She wouldn’t have much time or room to maneuver once he came back for her. She must be swift and strong.
Footsteps make their way slowly down the hall, stopping outside the closet. Laura braced herself.
Watching the door knob turn, she tightened her grip on the neon green Saucony shoelaces that stretched between her hands.
His head broke her plane of vision just as she planned. Instantly, her arms were over his head, laces pulled tight over the bastard’s neck. He grasped the laces too late to get a defensive grip. Laura pulled with all her might. He gasped and sputtered while she continued to hold tight.
More footsteps came running down the hall.
Dirk flew into the closet and tackled the intruder, yanking the laces from a stunned Laura. He straddled the man, knotting the laces around his wrists with the expertise of a cowhand.
Wide-eyed, Laura stared down at the two men in the dark closet. Dirk stood up, breathing heavily and sweating through his white tee-shirt. He punched some numbers into his iPhone. “Got ‘im. Front door’s open. We’re in the back bedroom closet . I’ll handle the initial debrief, but we’re gonna need a counseling team.”
The man on the floor lay still, his face pointed straight into the carpet.
Laura’s eyes were trained fully on Dirk. “What the hell’s goin’ on? ”
Dirk kicked the man on the floor. “Turn your head, Dude. ”
Laura looked down. Slowly, he turned his head sideways.
“Mrs. Lincoln, lay back, now, dear. You’ve had quite a day.” The nurse checked Laura’s bandage, while another took her blood pressure.
“It’s okay, Laura, everything’s okay.” The voice sounded familiar. Andrew Kincaid sat on a stool at the edge of the hospital bed in a suit and tie, the bulge of a holster at his side.
“Where am I? Where’s Chad?” Laura pleaded.
“You’ve had some outpatient surgery for a nasty gash in your head. Nothing serious.” Kincaid beckoned a man and woman over to Laura’s bed.
“Laura, these are my colleagues from the DEA. Agents Susan Taylor and Rich Evans. They’ll walk you through what happened today. You probably recognize Susan.”
The agents pulled chairs up to Laura’s bedside. Agent Taylor leaned in, and placed her hand gently on Laura’s arm.
“Sandy?” Laura asked.
“Hi Laura. Let me get to that in a minute. You did a very brave thing today. You should know that up front.”
“Where’s Chad? Why was he at your house?”
“Laura, this is gonna be hard to hear. Your husband tried to kill you this morning. He’s planned it for months. Agent Kincaid and I, or, as you know us, Dirk and Sandy, were assigned to surveil him. When we discovered Chad changing his plans last week, we moved into the empty house knowing you’d be at risk this week.
Laura looked from one DEA agent to the other, incredulously. “Surveil? Surveil for what?
“Mrs. Lincoln, your husband sells drugs, not dental equipment,” Agent Evans said. “He made some people very angry, and they wanted him dead, unless he paid up. Cashing in on your life insurance was his only option. He was desperate.”
Agent Kincaid moved around to the other side of the bed. “Chad knew your running routine and he thought the house would be vacant. I set him up the other night at the party. I told him Sandy and I were off to Europe. He now had the perfect opportunity to carry out his plan.”
Laura sat up on her elbows. “But you were angry at me this morning when you opened the door. And there was no coffee, no Sandy, nothing….”
Kincaid continued. “Chad was watching you from behind that big tree in the Bennett’s front yard. When he saw that I was inside the house he had to change his plans.”
Laura closed her eyes. She remembers Dirk looking past her when she was on the porch.
Agent Evans broke in. “He needed to get you out of harm’s way, and pulling you into the house was the only option. Susan and I were watching your house across the street in case he decided to double-back there.”
“Chad was climbing in the bedroom window at the end of the hall. He knew I saw him, so we were both his targets now. I had to get you into the garage, away from whatever desperate attempts he was about to make. Unfortunately, he caught me in the head with the butt of his gun before I could get you there, and then wrestled you down on the ground. You hit you’re head on the countertop pretty good.”
“He dragged you into that back bedroom closet so he could deal with Dirk, I mean Andy, first,” said Susan.
Tears streamed down Laura’s face. “I can’t believe this…Where is he now?”
“At the DEA office downtown. After he’s processed, they’ll move him to a cell in Illinois until the Grand Jury convenes,” said Agent Evans.
Laura stared at the wall for several minutes.
“Hmm. Now I get it….”Laura muttered softly.
The agents looked at each other. “S’cuse me?” said Andy.
“My phone. He didn’t put it on the charger this morning, like I asked him to. I thought he just forgot, but he didn’t. He planned it that way.” Laura wiped her eyes with the tissue.
Agent Taylor pulled a business card out of her clutch and pressed it into Laura’s hands. “A counselor will be contacting you. And of course, we’ll want to take a statement when you’re feeling better. I know you’ll have lots of questions in the next couple of days. We’ll try and get them all answered.”
Laura took the card, and squeezed Susan’s hand. “Thank you. All of you.”
The three agents said their goodbyes and left the hospital room.
Laura leaned back on the pillow.
Amazing, she thought. Two texts and the DEA’s anonymous Submit a Tip link was all it took to make her a wealthy woman. And to think it all started when she forgot her phone and had to send a text from the Verizon website.
Chad’s affair, and his admissions to precious Natalie that their scheme was working shocked her at first. All the details of their deals, customers, and payment arrangements spilled out before her eyes in just one text, which made it easy to copy/paste into the tip form, giving the DEA’s St. Louis Division all they’d need to know to track him down.
The second text she kept to herself. “5 mil, Nat, in hard, cold cash. It’s all ours. Up in the attic. Just have to take care of that one detail on Monday, and we’re set.”
It took some doing to lug the suitcase down to her car this morning, but necessary before the feds turned her house upside down and spoiled her plans.
She sipped some water from a paper cup.
Things couldn’t have gone better. She smiled. Even playing along with Kincaid. She wasn’t really sure how that would all go down, but confident that he’d protect her. And he did.
The attending physician came in just then, followed by a nurse carrying a plastic bag with her running clothes and her Sauconys, now outfitted oddly with black shoe laces.
“Looks like you’re ready for discharge, Mrs. Lincoln,” said the physician, checking a file. Here’s a script for some pain meds, and we’ll see you back here for a follow-up next week. Just take it easy and enjoy the rest of Spring Break.”
“I will, doctor. Yes, I will.”