Home > Open Season(12)

Open Season(12)
Author: Linda Howard

Sykes grunted. “Mitchell’s been a problem. The fucking idiot’s more trouble than he’s worth.”

“I agree.”

“Want me to set something up?”

“I’m afraid we’ll have to. Mitchell’s fun and games are costing us money.”

Sykes was relieved. He didn’t like working with fuckups, and Mitchell was a Class-A fuckup. On the other hand, it was a pleasure working with a man like Temple Nolan; he never broke a sweat, but handled everything with a cool lack of emotion. Sykes indicated the bundle on the ground. “What do you want me to do with the body? Bury it? Or dump it?”

Temple considered. “How long has it been?”

“Almost four hours since I found out about it.”

“Wait another couple of hours to be sure, then dump it.” The chemical composition of GHB broke down after six hours, making it untraceable unless a body was found and tests were run within that time limit. After that, the authorities might suspect GHB, but there was no way of proving it.

“Any preferences as to where?”

“Not as long as there’s no connection to us.”

Sykes rubbed his jaw. “I think I’ll take her to Marshall County, then; when she’s found, they’ll think she’s just one of the migrant workers and no one will push very hard to identify her.” He glanced up at the tin roof, where the steady rain was drumming. “The weather will help; there won’t be any trace evidence left, even if the Marshall yahoos decide to make an effort.”

“Good idea.” He sighed, looking down at the small bundle. Death didn’t just make a body motionless; it reduced it to a lump, devoid of the tension and inherent grace that the sheer force of life imparted to muscles. He didn’t see how anyone could ever think a dead person was asleep, because the whole aspect of the body was so different. Alive, the girl had been a beauty, with an innocent spark that would have brought the money rolling in. Dead, she was nothing.

“I’ll call Phillips, let him know what happened, and what we’re doing about Mitchell.” Temple didn’t look forward to the call, because he hated to admit when he’d made a mistake, and the decision to hire Mitchell had been his.

Well, it was a mistake that would soon be rectified. Mitchell had dosed his last girl with GHB.

FOUR

Daisy stood in the rain and stared at the small, shabby house on Lassiter Avenue that was her last hope. The white paint was peeling, the few scraggly shrubs desperately needed trimming, the weed-choked yard looked as if it hadn’t been mowed all summer, and the roof over the front porch sagged. The screen on the door was torn loose from the frame on one side, and one window sported a giant crack. On the plus side, the small backyard was fenced. She tried hard to find some more pluses, but came up blank. On the other hand, it was available.

“Let me find the key and we’ll go inside,” the owner, Mrs. Phipps, said as she dug in her voluminous shoulder bag. Mrs. Phipps wasn’t quite five feet tall, was almost as big around, and her hair was arranged—or maybe it grew that way—in huge white puffs that looked like wispy clouds. She puffed as she made her way up the broken sidewalk, skirting one section that was completely gone.

“It’s nothing fancy,” she warned, though Daisy wondered why she thought any warning was necessary. “Just a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, but me and E. B. raised two kids here just fine. When E. B. passed on, my kids bought me a trailer and we put it in back of my oldest boy’s house, so I have somebody close if I take sick or something. I didn’t want to get rid of this old place, though. It was home for a long time. Plus the rent money helps out.”

The sagging wooden porch seemed to give a little more under Mrs. Phipps’s weight; Daisy hung back, in case she was needed to go for help in the event Mrs. Phipps fell through the floor. But she reached the door without incident, and wrestled with the recalcitrant lock. Finally the key turned, and Mrs. Phipps heaved a grunt of accomplishment. “Here we go. I cleaned up after the last bunch cleared out, so you don’t have to worry about trash or anything like that.”

The house was clean, Daisy saw with relief as she stepped inside. The smell was musty, of course, but it was the odor of emptiness, not of filth.

The rooms were small, the kitchen barely big enough to cram in a small table and two chairs, so she couldn’t imagine how crowded it had been with a family of four. The floors were all cracked sheet linoleum, but they could be covered with area rugs. The bathroom was small, too, but at some point the tub had been replaced with a blue fiberglass tub and shower unit that didn’t match the white toilet and sink. A small space heater jutted from the wall.

Silently she walked through the rooms again, trying to imagine them with lamps and curtains and cozy furniture. If she took the house, she would have to buy window units for air-conditioning, rugs for the floors, kitchen appliances, and furniture for the living room. She already had her bedroom furniture, thank goodness, but unless she bought the cheapest stuff she could find, she could expect to spend about six thousand dollars getting the place habitable. Thank God she didn’t live in a section of the country where the cost of living was high, or she would be looking at an expenditure of at least twice that amount. She had the money—that wasn’t a problem—but she’d never spent such a large sum in her life. Her stomach clenched in panic at the very thought.

She could spend the money, or she could retreat to her mother’s house and live there until she grew old and died. Alone.

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