Home > Open Season(7)

Open Season(7)
Author: Linda Howard

“Well, it’s about time,” Aunt Jo said.

“We’ll help,” her mother said, beaming.

TWO

Daisy drove to work on automatic pilot. Luckily she had no stop signs to worry about and only one traffic light: one of the benefits of small-town life. She lived only five blocks from the library and, to save the environment, often walked to work if the weather was good, but the rain was still pouring down and during the summer the heat always got the best of her conscience anyway.

Her brain fizzed with plans, and before she put her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk, she took out the sheet of paper on which she had scribbled the items she needed to tackle, to study them again. Her mother and Aunt Jo had been bubbling with excitement, adding their own ideas, and after careful thought they had all agreed that she should take care of the big-ticket items first. She had a healthy balance in her checking account, due to living with her mother and Aunt Jo and sharing expenses with them, not that the groceries and utilities ever amounted to that much, and the old house was long since paid for. Her car was an eight-year-old Ford, financed for three years, so she hadn’t even had a car payment for the past five years. The salary of a small-town librarian wasn’t great, even though she was director of the library, which was a glorified title that didn’t amount to anything, since the mayor’s office retained hiring and firing authority; she got to choose which books the library bought with its less-than-impressive budget, and that was about it. But when you put at least half, sometimes more, of even an unimpressive salary into savings every year, it added up. She had even begun investing in the stock market, after carefully researching her chosen companies on the Internet, and done very well, if she did say so herself. Not that Warren Buffett had any reason for jealousy, but she was proud of her nest egg.

The bottom line was, she could easily afford a place of her own. However, there weren’t very many places available for rent in Hillsboro, Alabama. She could always move to one of the larger towns, Scottsboro or Fort Payne, but she wanted to stay close. Her sister had already moved to Huntsville, and though that wasn’t really all that far, about an hour’s drive, it still wasn’t the same as living in the same town. Besides, Temple Nolan, the mayor, had a real obsession about hiring only Hillsboro citizens for municipal jobs, a policy that Daisy approved of. She could hardly ask him to make an exception in her case. She would just have to find some place here in Hillsboro to live.

Hillsboro had only a small weekly newspaper that came out every Friday, but last week’s edition was still on her desk. She folded it open to the advertisement section—one page—and quickly scanned down the columns. She noticed that someone had found a calico cat over on Vine Street, and Mrs. Washburn was looking for someone to help take care of her father-in-law, who was ninety-eight and liked to take off his clothes at the oddest times, such as when anyone else was around. Rentals, rentals . . . She found the small section and quickly skimmed down it. There were eight listings, more than she had expected.

One address was familiar, and she dismissed that rental immediately, it was an upstairs room in Beulah Wilson’s house, and everyone in town knew Beulah invaded her boarders’ privacy whenever she liked, searching the rooms as if she were a drug dog sniffing out tons of cocaine, then gossiping with her cronies about whatever she found. That was how the whole town knew Miss Mavis Dixon had a box full of early Playgirl magazines, but Miss Mavis was so hateful and generally disliked that everyone agreed that the centerfolds were as close as she was ever likely to get to male genitalia.

No way would Daisy ever live in Beulah Wilson’s house.

That left seven possibilities.

“Vine Street,” she muttered, reading the next listing. That would probably be the Simmonses’ small apartment over their detached garage. Hmm, that wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. The rent would be very reasonable, it was a good neighborhood, and she would have privacy because Edith Simmons was a widow who had severe arthritis in her knees and could never climb the stairs to snoop. Everyone knew she hired someone to clean her house because she couldn’t cope with all the stooping.

Daisy circled the ad, then quickly read the others. There were two empty condos in Forrest Hills over on the highway, but the rent was high and the condos were ugly. They were possibles, but she’d look at them only if Mrs. Simmons had already rented her garage apartment. There was a house on Lassiter Avenue, but the address wasn’t familiar. She swiveled her chair to locate Lassiter Avenue on her city map, and immediately dropped that ad from consideration, because the address was in the rougher section of town. She didn’t know exactly how rough, but imagined Hillsboro had its share of the criminal element.

The remaining three ads were also undesirable. One side of a duplex was available, but it was available on a regular basis, because the trashy Farris family lived in the other side and no one else could put up with the screaming and cussing for very long. Another house was too far away, almost at Fort Payne. The last ad was for a mobile home, and it, too, was on the bad side of town.

Quickly she dialed Mrs. Simmons’s number, hoping the apartment was still available, since the newspaper was already four days old.

The phone rang and rang, but it took Mrs. Simmons a while to get anywhere, so Daisy was patient. Varney, the son, had given his mother a cordless phone once so she could keep it with her and wouldn’t have to walk anywhere to answer it, but she was set in her ways and considered it a nuisance to carry the phone with her all day, so she accidentally dropped it in the toilet, and that was that. Mrs. Simmons resumed use of her land-line phone, and Varney saw the wisdom of not buying her another cordless to drown.

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