Welcome to Tuesdays with Tuesday. For last week’s installment, go here.
So, my post is a couple of days late. Things happened this week–things I didn’t really want to talk about right away. But now events are escalating, and I have to write it all down to try and make sense of it.
On Monday, a detective visited our office. Yes, you heard right. An honest-to-goodness chain-smoking modern day Sherlock Holmes in a pair of worn-out loafers and a pressed white shirt. He had this dark brown mustache that bristled out under his nose, like one of those woolly worms you find crossing the road in hordes every autumn. It moved like a woolly worm every time he talked. I kept expecting it to crawl away.
He introduced himself as Detective Dawes, and called us into the break room one by one to talk about–what else?–Ike Cleavers. That’s all anyone in this office can think about these days.
Detective Dawes talked to Misty first, then some of the guys Ike worked with on his latest project. Then he called Penny back. After about ten minutes, she minced back out with small lines pinched around her mouth. When she sat down, her fingers fidgeted with the papers on her desk, but she didn’t really look at them.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Her lower lip disappeared under the worried chewing of her teeth. It left a ruby red lipstick smear on her left cuspid. “He thinks Ike was in some kind of trouble,” she said.
She shook her head. “In trouble as in, had some kind of enemy.” She spoke the words low, glanced around, and went back to work.
I blinked, sat back in the chair to digest this. I’m no stranger to the phenomenon of making enemies. In this world, if you think for yourself even a fraction of the time, you’re going to piss somebody off, and you’d better just get used to it. The concept didn’t alarm me too much, though obviously Penny thought it tantamount to discussing the anti-Christ.
“Tuesday!” Misty shouted down the hall. “Your turn.”
I found Detective Dawes both professional and un-alarming. Unless you count the previously mentioned face-woolly-worm an alarming feature, which, arguably, you could. But he kept me quite calm and on track during his questioning. He started with how well I knew Ike.
“Not very,” I said. “He’d ask me to file something for him every now and then. Sometimes we said hi in the break room, or waved when he passed my house on his runs.”
“He lives near you?” Detective Dawes said. “How close?”
“A few blocks. You have to make a couple turns to get there.”
“So you can’t see his driveway from your home?”
“No,” I said, wondering at the weird question. “It’s way too far. Why?”
“We’re trying to find out if any strange visitors or cars have been to Ike’s house in the past few weeks. Do you ever pass by his home?”
Thus began a long process of digging for information about anyone unusual who might have contacted Ike recently. I was singularly unhelpful; Ike truly is not a part of my daily routine other than the odd hello at work.
“Detective Dawes,” I said at last, “may I ask what this is about? Where do you think Ike went?”
He sat up straighter, and the woolly worm twitched. “Mrs. Jones, to be perfectly frank, we think he might have been killed.”
I’ve no idea why I didn’t recognize this as a possibility in the last two weeks. I assumed Ike had disappeared on purpose, maybe gotten in a fight with a girlfriend or had a sudden personal emergency. I even wondered if he’d run from a huge debt owed to drug lords or something (because drug lords are so prevalent in mid-sized southern Illinois towns). The thought that he might actually be rotting in someone’s trunk had not crossed my mind.
Now I understood why Penny was so upset.
Luckily, the work day came to a close not long after my interview with Detective Dawes, and I scuttled home before I could do too much damage with my half-distracted brain.
But the thing that really upset me happened today, when I came home from work a few minutes ago.
I was on my way up the ramshackle staircase to our apartment when Mr. Chicory came out his front door. I think the metallic squeal of our apartment stairs draws him outside with the promise of conversation, because he always catches me, no matter how quietly I pull into my drive.
I hoped I could get rid of him by talking about something unpleasant, so I went for broke. “Hey Mr. Chicory. I found out today that Ike Cleavers was most likely murdered. He’s probably in bloody pieces in the back of someone’s car right now. Weird huh?” I said a silent prayer of apology for being so irreverent of the dead, but come on. It’s Mr. Chicory. I’m sure Ike wouldn’t mind.
“I heard something about that from his next-door neighbors,” Mr. Chicory said. “Though your version is a bit more grotesque.” He said this with an air of long-suffering, as though I had begged him to come out here only to regale him with gore.
I kept going up the stairs, hoping he would take the hint and go back inside. “Well, have a nice day,” I said. I was now high up enough to glance over his back fence at the mound of dirt still sitting unattended in his back yard. “You doing any more gardening?”
Even from halfway up the stairs, I heard the impatient sigh escape his nose. “Why would I be gardening in the middle of winter?”
“I don’t know.” I gestured to the mound of earth. “Why are you?”
Mr. Chicory’s head swiveled towards his back yard so fast I thought it would fly right off his shoulders. His eyes went wide behind those thick glasses, and he actually stuttered. “I–I see. You saw that, did you?” He eyed me where I stood on the staircase, then his glance darted again in the direction of the high fence around his back yard. His fingers laced together, and something about the quick gesture spoke of nerves.
I raised an eyebrow. What was his problem? Had he not realized that Jonah and I could see over his back fence into the inner sanctum of his precious yard? Just what was he doing back there that was so secretive any–
My eyes slid back to the mound of earth. Rectangular. About three by seven feet.
It suddenly connected in my head that the mound of earth appeared the weekend Ike went missing.
In slow motion, and almost against my will, I felt myself turn and lock eyes with Mr. Chicory. His watery black pupils stayed riveted to me from behind the glasses, and a slow line formed on his brow. For a moment, paralysis gripped my limbs.
“Well.” I forced myself to break out of the horrible moment. I moved my feet up the stairs, and forced a painful smile to my lips. “I guess you’re getting the ground ready for next spring then, right? My dad does that with his garden this time of year. Always helps a lot. Good thinking.” I turned and flew up the steps two at a time. “See you tomorrow.”
I slammed and locked the door behind me, but I swear I could feel his calculating gaze on my apartment windows. I was shaking so hard that I just dropped my purse and coat and everything on the floor and stumbled into the office. I sat in the desk chair, hunched over the warm radiator to think.
My dad doesn’t have a garden. I have no idea if tilling the soil in the fall is a common practice. But if it’s not, Mr. Chicory is going to know that I lied, and he’s going to figure that I lied so he won’t suspect me of guessing his secret.
To be honest, this whole thing is absurd. It’s a complete coincidence that just looks bad. Mr. Chicory and Ike hardly knew each other. There’s no reason to suspect that Mr. Chicory has Ike buried in his back yard. And that weird look Mr. Chicory gave me just now–well, he always gives me weird looks.
I hoped that if I wrote all this out, it would make me realize how foolish I’m being. But I don’t feel foolish. I feel like I’ve just walked in on a crime in progress. I’m the only one who knows. And Mr. Chicory knows that. And that means
Hang on, gotta go, I hear footsteps coming up the outside staircase!