"Maybe you should get dressed," I said. "We really need to go downtown."
"Why not," DeChooch said. "Don't make no difference where I sit. Could just as well be downtown as here." He stood, gave a dejected sigh, and shuffled to the stairs stoop-shouldered. He turned and looked at us. "Give me a minute."
The house was a lot like my parents' house. Living room in front, dining room in the middle, and kitchen overlooking a narrow backyard. Upstairs there'd be three small bedrooms and a bathroom.
Lula and I sat in the stillness and darkness, listening to DeChooch walking around above us in his bedroom.
"He should have smuggled Prozac instead of cigarettes," Lula said. "He could have popped a few."
"What he should do is get his eyes fixed," I said. "My Aunt Rose was operated on for cataracts and now she can see again."
"Yeah, if he got his eyes fixed he could probably shoot a lot more people. I bet that'd cheer him up."
Okay, maybe he shouldn't get his eyes fixed.
Lula looked toward the stairs. "What's he doing up there? How long does it take to put a pair of pants on?"
"Maybe he can't find them."
"You think he's that blind?"
"Come to think of it, I don't hear him moving around," Lula said. "Maybe he fell asleep. Old people do that a lot."
I went to the stairs and yelled up at DeChooch. "Mr. DeChooch? Are you okay?"
I yelled again.
"Oh boy," Lula said.
I took the stairs two at a time. DeChooch's bedroom door was closed so I rapped on it hard. "Mr. DeChooch?" Still no answer.
I opened the door and looked inside. Empty. The bathroom was empty and the other two bedrooms were empty. No DeChooch.
"What's going on?" Lula called up.
"DeChooch isn't here."
Lula and I searched the house. We looked under beds and in closets. We looked in the cellar and the garage. DeChooch's closets were filled with clothes. His toothbrush was still in the bathroom. His car was asleep in the garage.
"This is too weird," Lula said. "How could he have gotten past us. We were sitting right in his front room. We would have seen him sneak by."
We were standing in the backyard and I cut my eyes to the second story. The bathroom window was directly above the flat roof that sheltered the back door leading from the kitchen to the yard. Just like my parents' house. When I was in high school I used to sneak out that window late at night so I could hang with my friends. My sister Valerie, the perfect daughter, never did such a thing.
"He could have gone out the window," I said. "He wouldn't have had a far drop either because he's got those two garbage cans pushed against the house."
"Well he's got some nerve acting all old and feeble and goddamned depressed and then soon as we turn our back he goes and jumps out a window. I'm telling you, you can't trust nobody anymore."
"He snookered us."
I went into the house, searched the kitchen and with minimum effort found a set of keys. I tried one of the keys on the front door. Perfect. I locked the house and pocketed the keys. It's been my experience that sooner or later, everyone comes home. And when DeChooch does come home he might decide to shut the house up tight.
I knocked on Angela's door and asked if she wasn't by any chance harboring Eddie DeChooch. She claimed she hadn't seen him all day, so I left her with my card and gave instructions to call me if DeChooch turned up.
Lula and I got into the CR-V, I cranked the engine over and an image of DeChooch's keys floated to the forefront of my brain. House key, car key ...and a third key. I took the key ring out of my purse and looked at it.
From Seven Up (A Stephanie Plum Adventure), by Janet Evanovich. © June 19, 2001 , St. Martin's Press used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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