A cloud of red Oklahoma dust shrouded a dark blue pickup skidding to a halt in her driveway. Inez watched through the kitchen window as a tall man with thinning brown hair and an athletic build climbed down from the truck and glanced around the park before focusing on her trailer.
Inez grabbed the shotgun from her closet and patted the barrel. You did such a good job on that little private eye, old girl, wanna’ give it another shot? She chuckled at her pun, and when the man stepped onto the porch, pushed the door open with the gun aimed belly button high. “Hold it right there.”
The man stepped back and raised his hands. “Whoa, lady. I’m only here to talk. The gun’s unnecessary.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“If you’re Inez Frasier, this is about your future.”
“My future is my business.” She waved the gun. “Now get gone.”
“Have any idea who I am?” he said, jamming his hands into his pockets.
“Name’s Corvel, Matthew Corvel. Ring any bells?”
“I’m your son-in-law.”
“Twenty-two years and thirteen days ago I married your daughter.” The man marched onto the porch, leaned against the railing and crossed his arms, his eyes never leaving the gun. “Let’s have our little chat out here in the fresh air, shall we? That trailer looks cramped.”
Inez stepped back and slammed the door. A quick look around the trailer showed no escape hatches–no back door and windows too high and narrow. She heard the man’s voice come from the porch. “Take all the time you need. I’ll relax out here and enjoy the scenery.”
All the years, all the miles, and you’ve dawdled around and got yourself cornered. You should be halfway to somewhere else by now. Dammit, Inez!
Okay, calm down and think. What exactly’s going on here? A man’s on your porch flexing his muscles. Let him prance and blow then do what you’ve always done: ignore him and do what needs doing. Now butch up and get on out there.
She leaned the gun against the door frame and stepped onto the porch. “Have a seat,” she said.
“I prefer standing.”
“Suit yourself.” The swing dipped when she sat.
The man studied her for several seconds. “There’s a problem, Mrs. Frasier, and her name is Natalie. Remember Natalie, the seven-year-old little girl you abandoned?”
Anger seared through Inez. She started to stand but stopped herself. Stay cool, Inez. This’s Natalie’s husband. Don’t do anything to jeopardize her or her marriage. Ignore his attitude. He can’t help himself–he’s a man.
“I’ll listen, but I demand you be civil.”
He nodded and leaned back against the railing, crossing his ankles. “Forty-three years ago you left your husband and daughter. Why? To find yourself? Isn’t that what they called it back?” He scanned the trailer park, the cherub birdbath perched crookedly in the front yard, the wilted ferns dangling from the porch roof. “Obviously not for fame or fortune.”
“You know nothing about me or my life.”
He paced the length of the porch and back again. “For the last twenty-two years, I’ve seen how those postcards you sent Natalie affected her and later our children. Natalie’d get one of your infernal cards and find the place on her old atlas. ‘Mom’s here,’ she’d say, and study the picture, pretending to be there with you.”
Returning to his perch on the railing, he continued. “When the kids grew older, she played the postcard game with them, and they were all there with you–a jolly family of four.”
“Where were you?”
“I don’t play weird fantasy games.”
“Three years ago I decided to find you and put a stop to those twisted games. Spent a fortune on private investigators but got no leads until that little weasel cracked your code.”
The man resumed his pacing. “Way I see things, you have two options. One, reunite with Natalie and be a part of our family, or two, vanish for good. No more postcards.” He stopped in front of her and leaned forward. “You’ll be dead and soon forgotten.”
Inez remained silent, her face expressionless.
He surveyed the trailer park and shook his head. “Come on, it’s not like your life choices rewarded you with rainbows or brass rings, did they?”
“Hard to break that condescending habit, isn’t it?” she said with a wry smile.
He gave her a bewildered look then cleared his throat. “I’ll give you a month.”
“To make your decision,” he said and handed her a business card. “Here’s my number. If I haven’t heard from you in that time, I’ll tell Natalie your trail vanished and you’re presumed dead.”
Inez slipped the card into her jeans pocket and stood close to him, their noses almost touching, a whiff of cigarette smoke and peppermint noticeable on his breath. “If you tell Natalie I’m dead when I’m not,” she said, holding his eyes with her own, “she’ll know it’s a lie and never forgive you.” She stepped back and pointed to the road. “Now get off my porch.”
“One month,” the man said then wheeled around and marched toward his truck.
Inez called after him. “Lie to Natalie at your peril, Mr. Corvel.”
The tires spewed gravel as the truck tore down the driveway and squealed onto the main road. Inez followed the speck until it disappeared, then collapsed onto the swing. She rocked and watched a hawk fly lazy circles in the sky then tuck its wings tight to its body and dive into the field, swooping back up with a small rabbit dangling from its talons. Inez felt a tug of sympathy for the poor skewered creature, its squeals of terror fading as the hawk disappeared into the distance. She shuddered and dialed her cell phone.
“This is Mrs. Frasier. Can you have one of your men here first thing in the morning? I want to leave day after tomorrow before dawn…. Yes, that’s right…. Good, thank you.”
An owl hooted in the trees, and a whippoorwill’s unanswered lament floated across the field. The afternoon shadows told Inez it was beer time, but the refrigerator seemed too far away for her legs to make the journey. Maybe she’d just sit here a little while longer and watch the sun set.