It was almost six when Colton was awakened by Sandy’s yelling, “dinner’s served.” By the tone of his voice, this wasn’t the first time he’d broadcast the announcement.
Colton reached to the bedside table and activated his iphone. It was almost 6:00 PM. A sudden wave of nausea roiled his stomach as he recalled reinserting the SIM card and searching for Ray’s Garage. The results had been disappointing. It seemed every state had a dozen or more similarly-named shops, with half the major cities having at least one or two. Plus, there were countless ‘Ray’s Garage,’ ‘Ray’s Automotive,’ ‘Ray’s Auto Repair,’ and ‘Ray’s whatever’ in small towns scattered across the country. What pissed Colton nearly as much, now, was he’d failed to remove the card after his research. “Damn, all we need is the law showing up.”
He sat up along the side of his bed and removed the SIM card from his iPhone, reminded there were more pressing matters to attend to. Although finding Molly and Millie were critical, if Mildred Simmons connected a couple of dots, she likely would report Colton’s and Sandy’s whereabouts to the police. Then, they’d be arrested, and likely never experience another day of freedom. The bottom line, at least to Colton, was that Mildred had to disappear. And, this needed to take place no later than noon Monday, a time when the Chicago Tribune or some other newspaper, TV or radio station, or an online site published their failure to appear.
Colton stood and slipped his feet into his boots and headed to the kitchen, two things pressed his mind. First, was simply an acknowledgment Pop’s place was a good place to hideout. Second, he had to convince Sandy that Mildred had to go.
“I like your hair.” Colton commented as he plopped down at the dining room table. Sandy was managing his long, reddish-blond curls with a black nylon hairnet, one he’d found tucked inside the towel drawer where Pop had kept them.
At first, Sandy didn’t respond but kept pouring tea in two glasses. “House rule from as long as I can remember. Pop hated finding a hair in his food.”
The table clearly revealed one of Sandy’s primary passions. The food was a thing of beauty, like a painting created by a talented artist. At two place-settings, were large, still steaming, rib-eyes on crystal platters. On smaller plates were baked potatoes already prepped with butter, sour-cream, cheddar, and topped with chopped chives, and bacon bits. Nearby were small bowls of corn and black beans; optional for the stuffed potatoes. To Colton, his salad looked like it had been created by a five-star chef. He was no expert but concluded the greens were romaine lettuce, spinach, and kale. Mixed within were sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas. Along the edges were small slices of carrots, cucumbers, and apples. There was a thick dusting of feta and bleu cheese across the entire salad. The dressings were in eight-ounce clear glass dispenser bottles, each labeled in Sandy’s scrawl. One read balsamic vinegar, the other balsamic vinaigrette. Colton didn’t know the difference, and didn’t care, having always chosen Ranch or Thousand Island.
“Got any other salad dressing? What about steak sauce?” Colton asked, taking a sip of sweetened tea.
“Might have known you wouldn’t be satisfied.” Sandy walked to the refrigerator and returned with bottles of Ranch, Bleu Cheese, Heinz 57, and Worcestershire. “Good thing Pop’s not here, he’d make you eat on the porch.”
“I bet he was one of those ‘good steak doesn’t need any sauce’ types.” Colton added, happy he’d never met Pop.
“You got it.” Sandy took his love for cooking from his mother. The two had spent most of their spare time in the kitchen, and had talked of starting their own restaurant. Money had been the biggest roadblock, but now that Pop had died and left his grandson a respectable nest egg, Sandy was imagining a life free from prison, and enslaved to a commercial kitchen.
Both men began eating as though they were starving. Colton’s habit was to eat one thing at a time, starting with his steak, then intermittently devour potato and salad until he was stuffed. “Where’s the bread?” He was a sopper, as in after eating a plate of food, he’d sop up what’s left with a piece of bread.
Sandy used his steak knife and cut his potato crosswise in half. “Another house rule. Bread and potatoes are carbohydrates, Pop wouldn’t allow both at the same meal.”
Colton forked another slice of steak, stood, and walked to the kitchen. He’d seen a vintage bread box while bringing in the groceries. Inside, he found a loaf of Wonder Bread. Just as he was unwinding the tie, there was a knock at the back door.
“Come in.” Sandy stood and half-ran to greet Mildred. He looked at Colton, shaking his head sideways, and pulling pinched fingers across his lips as though zipping his mouth closed.
“Hey gents, I brought you a loaf of my sour-dough bread.”
“Here’s your salad.” Sandy said removing from the refrigerator a platter piled high.
Colton returned to the table with three slices of white bread and continued eating his steak. Mildred and Sandy exchanged comments about the easing storm before she left.
Before Sandy could complete two steps toward Colton exploded. “What the flying fuck?”
After Sandy explained why he called Mildred and offered a salad—as a thank-you for the coconut cake—Colton slammed his fist on the table nearly knocking over his tea. “You need to wake the fuck up. How many times do we need to plow this same ground. Your friendly-as-cancer-neighbor is going to be our downfall if we don’t act and act matter-of-fact.”
“Hold your damn horses. I’ve already acted. I talked to her about our predicament.” Sandy continued eating, fully trusting the wrinkled-faced woman would do as instructed.
“What exactly did you tell her?” Colton’s mind was racing. He imagined Sandy as the enemy, although they’d been friends over half their lives.
“I assumed she’d read the papers you left in plain sight and told her we were innocent but the DA was determined to convict someone, anyone for those brutal crimes, and send them to prison for the rest of their lives. I told her we needed a place to hide and that’s why we’re hanging out here at Pop’s place.”
Colton couldn’t believe Sandy was so stupid. “Congratulations, you couldn’t have done a better job if you’d called the DA and given him our address. You’ve just guaranteed our failure.”
The men sat silent for several minutes, continuing to eat but with fading appetites. Especially for Colton.
“What do we do?” This was Sandy’s common attempt at regaining credibility with his friend Colton. He’d screw up, often acting without any thought whatsoever, then somehow, realizing his mistake, he’d turn to Colton for answers and direction.
It wasn’t easy but he knew it was necessary. “Mildred has to go.” Colton said in his most definitive and persuasive tone. “It’s her or us.”
Sandy retorted, clearly revealing his conscience was more sensitive than Colton’s. “What if we asked her for help? Now, before you blow up, listen. What if we put her to the test? I’m thinking we tease her.”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re saying.” Colton finished his steak and forked a bite of potato dipping it in a pile of Ranch dressing he’d poured at the edge of his salad.
“Say we feed her an article, after Monday, that states we failed to appear and now warrants have been issued for our arrest. Then, we watch her. To see what she does. I’m thinking and hoping she’d do nothing or come to us, maybe offering to help.”
“What are we going to do, move in with her so we can watch her every minute, or, do you propose, we act as peeping toms and stand outside her window?”
During the next twenty minutes, Colton used his best scare tactics, emphasizing in detail a life-inside-a-prison scenario to persuade Sandy what had to be done. It hadn’t been easy, especially given his intelligent retort, “if Mildred disappears, somebody will eventually notice. Seems to me that guarantees the police will come snooping around. What then?”
That’s when Colton thought of Mildred Simmons’ like-new Sprinter van.