Welcome to Tuesday Tales! We are picking up with the story from last week, although we are switching to Marshall’s point of view.
Marshall unwound the plastic bag from his camera and stuffed the device back into its padded case. This afternoon had been a bust. He’d seen a few small rodents and possibly a deer, but the quarry he searched for remained elusive. Not a big surprise. If he could find one with his bumbling around, anyone could.
Despite what he told the young woman on the trail, he suspected the object of his search did hunker down in inclement weather. He just hadn’t located a potential hideout yet. The glacially-carved landscape didn’t leave many rocky outcroppings or caves for shelter.
He checked his phone as he climbed in the driver’s seat and buckled his seat belt across his hips. Three voicemails. One from his lawyer and two from Tony, his administrative assistant. This land deal he was pursuing was giving Tony fits. They been able to find out nothing about the owner or owners of the property or what legal hoops they would have to jump through to purchase it. What Marshall had hoped would be a simple transaction settled in a couple weeks had turned into a big dead end. Tony could unearth no leads and no contacts in his searches through the public records.
They were trying to keep their interest quiet. Once news broke that the property might be for sale, rumors would grow and spread about what was going to happen to it. The environmental protection agency would get involved. If they had their fingers in something there would be no keeping them out. Any changes to the property would require a mountain of paperwork and a hacksaw to whack through the red tape.
None of those messages would be especially urgent, so he dropped the phone into his console and nosed his SUV onto the road. He preferred to park at the trailhead versus the park because there was less traffic, vehicle and pedestrian, at this section. The wildlife he searched for generally avoided the more populated areas. Or so he assumed, since had yet to find conclusive proof of their habitation. That, however, did nothing to dissuade his hunt. Until something was known, it was unknown and it wouldn’t be known unless someone did the work to figure it out.
If he could buy up the land, he could be sure the wildlife population and its habitat would remain undeveloped.
Joggers like the woman he’d encountered today didn’t necessarily know what shared the woods with them. Everyone knew about cute little squirrels and chirpy birds, but larger mammals roamed and could be a dangerous if they were threatened. Preserving the land as a sanctuary would keep everyone safe.
He’d probably scared the crap out of her. He’d been traveling cross country looking for game trails when he’d heard her stumble and crash in the mud. With his long legs, it didn’t take much to scramble over the fallen tree he’d been crouched behind. He’d made it over in time to see her flip over her shoulder and land on her back.
He’d been sure she twisted an ankle or sprained a wrist in the tumble, but she’d run away without a limp.
When he finally arrived home, the rain had let up. He typed the code for the security gate and headed for the the garage. He parked next to his sports car and grabbed his camera case. He’d have to review the recording later. Just because he hadn’t been able to see anything as he filmed didn’t mean there wasn’t anything in the background.
His phone jangled before he made it to the front door. Tony. He must be in a bug about something.
“Did you get my messages?” Tony snapped when Marshall answered.
“I didn’t get a chance to listen to them.” Marshall opened the front door. His housekeeper left it unlocked on days she cleaned so she didn’t have to fuss with the security codes over and over again, but she usually didn’t leave it free swinging.
“We’ve got a situation,” Tony said in his ear.
“What’s going on?”Marshall set his camera on the table awaiting his keys and pocket junk, then shucked his raincoat as he bumped the door closed with his bum. He draped the coat on the coat tree in the foyer. Two steps on the slate floor reminded him of his wet boots, so he turned back to the door and toed them off next to the mat. It was slightly crooked, so he edged it back into place with his toe. Was Hilda feeling okay? The welcome mat was never out of place.
“The security alarm went off in your home office.”
That got Marshall’s attention. “What?”
“About twenty minutes ago. One of the window alarms went off.”
Marshall ran his hand over his damp hair to smooth the wild curls. Every time he touched the wild mane, he reminded himself to make an appointment with his barber. A buzz cut was much less maintenance. “Hilda’s doing windows today. She must have bumped it.”
“Who does windows in the rain?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Marshall wiped his wet hands on the back of his pants. “But then what do I know about windows.”
“I’m not even going to comment on that. I tried calling her to check, but no one answered.”
“If she was outside, she might not have heard the phone.” Marshall peeked into the living room as he passed. Everything appeared to be in order there. Hilda would be able to tell that the ceiling fan hadn’t been dusted in two weeks and the hemp area rug hadn’t been vacuumed in three days. It was why he hired her.
“I’ll have the security team reset everything. Wayne’s got someone reviewing the footage anyway.”
“Have Wayne send someone out to do a walk around here. I’m going to find Hilda.” Marshall pressed the end call button with his thumb and clipped his phone back on his belt. “Hilda!”
Marshall returned to the foyer and noticed that the front entry way was open. He was sure he closed the door. He pushed it shut, jiggling the handle, waiting for the bolt to sink into place. The metal pieces moved much easier than they used to—as if they were no longer engaging the gears. Twisting the handle again, he tried to secure the door, but the latch wouldn’t catch. He’d tell Wayne about it when he got here. Until then, he switched the deadbolt into place.
He called for Hilda again. It was strange that she hadn’t greeted him at the door, especially after he had been hiking. She questioned him about his search and what he saw, but he could never convince her to trek out into the woods with him. It lead him to suspect the real reason for her enthusiasm was to make sure he didn’t track mud across her freshly mopped floors.
Maybe she’d had a family emergency. Her daughter had health issues and he had given Hilda leave to tend her whenever she needed. Hilda usually left a note on the refrigerator. Marshall headed for the kitchen to check for a message and a sandwich.
The house was strangely quiet. He was used to the vibrating hum of the vacuum or the off-key tunes Hilda liked to sing.
He pushed the swinging door to the kitchen, but the door wouldn’t budge. There was something blocking it. After a good shove, he managed an inch opening and saw Hilda’s tennis shoe on the floor.
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