Midnight found me crammed into Leland Paget’s bedroom closet at 120 Acorn Avenue, playing Candy Crush on my phone while I waited for him to come home so I could kill him.
I had dressed for the occasion: old sneakers, sweatpants, and a sweatshirt because it had turned a bit chilly. It was warm in his house, though, and I was fighting sleep. I had been hiding in here for about eight hours, with a few brief trips to stretch and use his bathroom.
Acorn Avenue was, overall, in a decent neighborhood, but Paget’s rented house was on the borderlands, where the property values started sliding down due to a low-income apartment complex and a park that had been the scene of a pretty gruesome murder a few years ago. (I had nothing to do with that; I was not a werewolf back then.) So I hadn’t been too concerned with any neighbors calling the cops on me, and I had walked to the back of Paget’s house like I had every right in the world to be there. I tried the back door–locked–and found an unlocked kitchen window to climb through.
Paget’s house was old and needed to be leveled, but it was clean. Surprisingly clean, for a guy who couldn’t be bothered to wear a shirt that covered his hairy gut. His refrigerator contained frozen dinners and the usual condiments and smelled like it was wiped down with vinegar on a regular basis. The inside of his microwave was spotless too, and I felt a bit ashamed. It had been a couple of weeks or more since I had really cleaned my place.
The living room furniture was garage sale specials, but the flat screen TV mounted on the wall was new, and he had cable. He also had a modem, and I searched, but didn’t find, a computer or a tablet. He probably took it with him.
I also found a surprising lack of child pornography. No magazines or photographs under his mattress or piled on the top shelf of the hallway closet. Nothing stuffed into a plastic Ziplock bag and submerged in the toilet tank. The floors were hardwood, so no carpets or rugs to hide anything under. And no loose floorboards.
Around 5, I had slipped inside his bedroom closet (also porn free) and closed the door. I stripped off the latex gloves I had worn, because my hands were sweaty, and I waited. Thirty minutes. An hour. No Paget.
He worked for Blue Skies Contractors, a home improvement and odd jobs business run by a Bible-thumper who employed only ex-cons because he thought everyone deserved a second, third, fourth, or tenth chance. He was cooperative enough, though, with us law enforcement types, so we tolerated his sermons on forgiveness and shit like that when we checked up on his workers.
Earlier that day, I did just that, dressed in plainclothes and driving my personal car because I was off-duty, and I didn’t want to spook Paget.
Blue Skies operated out of a travel trailer in a gravel lot next to a Dodge dealership in Patterson, eight miles from Mitchum Bay. I had flashed my badge at the receptionist stationed at the folding table inside the trailer and asked for a list of the current employees. She gave me the usual typed list of their names, birth dates, and parole officers, plus contact information.
Paget was there. I scanned the list for a few more seconds before handing it back to her. She wished me a blessed day.
His car was parked behind the trailer. It was a battered red Honda Civic with a Jesus fish stuck to the back. All the vehicles in the lot had the same adornment. Blue Skies used vans to transport the employees and equipment back and forth to the job sites. No vans in the lot. They typically worked from 10 to 5, so I left, went home, and waited for the evening.
And now it was half-past midnight, and I was well-past pissed.
Paget’s bed was neatly made, of course, hospital corners and all that, and I had sniffed his pillow cases before camping in the closet. He had slept there last night. And the night before that.
So this was unusual, his being away, especially since the Blue Skies guy required them to attend church every Sunday morning. They were free after that, but first, the power of prayer.
Leger had told him I was looking for him, the asshole.
I finally gave up and left the house at one in the morning. Going to Leger’s house and unzipping his guts occurred to me, but I was tired. Another day.
I walked two streets over, to the 24-hour diner where I had left my Mustang, and stopped inside long enough to grab a coffee to go, just enough caffeine to get me home.
– – – – – – – – – –
Monday, after work, I went home, changed into the same sweats and sneakers, and again parked at the diner. This time, though, I took a different route to his house and cut through the yard of the house behind his. I hopped the chain link fence that separated the properties and climbed through the same window.
It didn’t smell like Paget had been here at all since Saturday morning. I stood in the middle of his living room and rubbed my temples while I softly growled. I had driven by Blue Skies earlier that day. Paget’s Honda had been there, parked in a different spot.
He just wasn’t here.