Authors: Sandy Gingras
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Amateur Sleuth - Florida
|Sandy Gingras - Lola Polenta 01 - Swamped|
|Lola Polenta |
|Deadly Niche Press (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Amateur Sleuth - Florida|
A Lola Polenta Mystery
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Deadly Niche Press
An imprint of AWOC.COM Publishing
P.O. Box 2819
Denton, TX 76202
© 2014 by Sandy Gingras
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
ISBN: 978-1-62016-121-0- Ebook
ISBN: 978-1-62016-122-7- Paperback
I hate to admit that I made my decision to change my life in a supermarket based on a stupid self-help article. But I always think everything is a sign.
A week ago, I was in Pleasant Hills, New Jersey, standing at the checkout line in the Super Fresh after work. It was the last day of school, June eighteenth—another year of trying to teach ninth graders how to write a persuasive essay down the tubes.
I had all the fixings for meatloaf riding on the conveyer belt. I was skimming an article titled, “Risk Your Life!” The first line was, “Go out on a limb. If it breaks off, fly.” I’m a sucker for one-liners. My heart picked up its pace. I could almost feel my arms wanting to flap. The first of ten points on the “Recommended Actions List” was, “Fake strong.” Even when you feel like a big chicken inside, the article said, act as fierce as a warrior. Go against your own grain. This hit home because I am often Jell-O-like where the courage component of my heart should be.
I thought about my marriage—my husband staring at the computer screen for hours every night, his mouse clicking away in the dark. I thought of how I chose safety in that relationship thinking it would keep me, well, safe—not having a clue how dangerous safety can turn out to be for your heart.
The woman in the motorized cart in back of me nudged me. “Move it along, honey,” she said. I looked at her like she was some kind of visionary.
I went home and told my husband I was leaving him.
I packed one measly suitcase and got my Golden Retriever, Dreamer, and we drove straight to my mother’s house. I spent four days there trying to answer my husband’s text messages: “WHAT are you doing?” “What ARE you doing?” “What are you DOING?”
My mother was silent about things. Tiptoeing around me. Feeding me soup like an invalid. At most, saying, “Are you okay?”
And I was. Considering. Being married to Ed has made me pretty good at loneliness.
On the fourth day of living in my old bedroom with the pink striped wallpaper, and saying, “I don’t know,” to every question asked of me, I was ripe for another sign.
I was on Amazon looking to buy a mystery, and an ad popped up: “Don’t just READ about Private Investigators. BECOME one today!” I clicked on it. The next screen was a list of personal attributes necessary for success. I can’t resist checklists. Do you like mysteries? Sure. Do you love puzzles?
. Do you have a sense of the unusual?
I do, I do
. Do you have a burning desire to know the truth about people?
Do you feel a need for a deeper purpose in life?
My hand hovered on the mouse.
The thing about the Internet is that, ZOOM, one thing quickly leads to another. A whim becomes an action before your brain can even get in the mix. In a snap, I was filling out my credit card info and CONGRATULATIONS! I was taking Lesson One of the Online Detective Training Institute (ODTI).
Well, why not? Why the hell not?
The way I figure it, life should be like a gas station. You should pull in, fill up with energy, be on your way again. The problem is, the places I was pulling in—my marriage, my teaching job—were sucking the energy out of me.
I was longing for a High Test life.
I thought the ODTI might be that—adventurous, exciting, filling. Everything my life wasn’t.
The next day, I told my mother that I was moving to Florida. Florida! Such a happy-sounding place: sunshine, palm trees, far-away-ness, escape.
Plus, my father owns a P.I. Agency there—Polenta Brothers, which he runs with my uncle Paulie in North Ft. Palms. So, it made sense, if I really was going to follow through on this P.I. thing, to head in that direction. But, on the other hand, I don’t talk to my father much anymore. He and my mother split up when I was fifteen, and our interaction since then has been a greeting-card-for-a-birthday kind of thing.
My mother said, “That sounds lovely,” but there was a puzzled look on her face. She knows how testy my relationship with my father has always been.
When I was eight, I built what I called a “Genetic Attractor” out of a big cardboard box covered with three rolls of my mother’s Reynold’s Wrap, set it up in the living room, crawled into it wearing my Yankee cap topped with two antennae, and told my father that I was receiving messages from my “true father who is an artist.” Ever since then, he’s been eyeballing me like I really was switched at birth. Odds are, he’ll always treat me like I have tinfoil on my head.
So, I didn’t tell him I was coming to see him. I didn’t want to give him a chance to say no to me. I just got Dreamer into the car and started driving. He was surprised, to say the least, when I called him at the Florida border. Even more surprised when I told him that I wanted a job with him.
“Why do you want to be a P.I.?” he kept asking me. My father was a police detective for fifteen years. Then, my parents separated. Then he had a massive heart attack and had to take early retirement. That’s when he moved down to Florida and started his own P.I. firm. But, I know, deep down, he’ll always be a cop. He just became a P.I. because it was what was left for him to do. He doesn’t understand why anyone would CHOOSE it. And he really doesn’t understand why a woman like me would choose it.
I wasn’t going to say, “I don’t know,” again, so I quoted from the Online Detective Training Institute’s “Introduction to the Profession.” I told him that women as private investigators are a trend, that all P.I. Agencies should have a woman on board because women have people skills that men don’t have, that women can listen better, interrogate more effectively, do surveillance and trailing more surreptitiously, and elicit more information because they are perceived as less intimidating.
I tried to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.
There was nothing but blankness on the phone.
But, he did begrudgingly agree to let me start working for him. I know that’s because he feels like he HAS to help me out. It’s a pity thing. But it’s obvious that he hopes that it will be like a summer job, that I won’t last, and he won’t even have to give me anything important to do, just squeeze me in between Squirt Pinta, the secretary, and the copy machine until I quit and go back to my real life.
What my father doesn’t know about me is this: I’m not a quitter; I don’t know where my real life is; and, I’m only on Lesson Two of the Online Detective Training Institute.
Nobody goes to Florida in June. What was I thinking? The heat is like a solid. Dreamer and I are standing in front of a tiny white trailer. “Vagabond,” it says on it in fancy script over a green racing stripe. That mossy creepy stuff is drooping off the palm trees behind it.
“This is a primo rental property,” Sal LaSinatra tells me.
Sal owns this trailer park, Alligator Estates, and he’s a friend of my father’s. I know my father told Sal to show me this trailer because he wants to scare me off. He hopes I take one look at it and turn tail and go back to New Jersey, forget about this whole I’m-running-away-to-Florida-and-becoming-a-Private-Investigator-thing.
“But you can have it cheap,” Sal tells me, “on account of the people who lived here previous.”
“What?” I say. Something’s off with the place. I keep cocking my head. Something about it is crooked.
I stare at the trailer. It looks like it has a flat tire, but that isn’t it. It’s on cinder blocks next to a vast swamp, and the swamp is getting to it little by little. It’s sinking on its left side.
“They died simultaneous,” Sal says.
I look at him.
“It happens,” Sal says, “it happens. Two people, together thirty years, they put their feet up one day in their EZ boys, turn on the set, and ba-boom, they both go.”
I just left a five-year marriage. I know all about what it’s like to feel everything another person feels, experience your own little rise in the throat when a person burps. I could see dying together, I think, I’ve been doing that for years.
We walk up the three wooden steps. A green lizard skitters in front of us, then disappears under the trailer.
“It’s kind of a clean slate,” Sal warns me as he opens the door. “The relatives had a yard sale.”
The trailer is emptied out. A card table stands optimistically where the kitchen table should be, but there’s no place to sit down around it. There’s only one chair that looks like it’s made out of pressed cardboard in the living room and a cot that’s supposed to be the couch. Acoustic ceiling tiles are on one wall; they give the place an upside down feel. Plus, the tilt to the left is more pronounced in here. The refrigerator looks like it’s going to slide out of its slot and take off on the down slope of the kitchen any moment now.
I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but this appeals to me. I used to subscribe to
Better Homes and Gardens
—three years running. Now, I’m looking at the George Foreman Grill, which evidently serves as both the stove and the oven, raising and lowering the lid saying “fine, fine…”
Dreamer scrabbles around on the slippery floor looking at me like I’ve just sentenced her to life on an ice rink. Sal clicks on the air conditioner to show me that it works, and Dreamer plops herself down on top of the biggest air vent. “Oof,” she says.
I take two steps down the hall and there’s a beige bathroom, and beyond that, the bedroom, which has absolutely nothing in it except a built-in set of drawers. “Simplicity is possibility,” I say to nobody. I don’t know where I come up with these things.
I peek at the view. It’s an endless swamp—green and burbling.
“Um,” Sal says, searches for a selling point. “Bingo every Wednesday night. Six hole golf course. Greens are iffy, but there’s a heated pool.”
I run my finger along the ledge of the windowsill. It comes up clean.
I look around the little trailer. It’s homey in a compact kind of way. Plus, it’s a cash deal, no lease. I can leave anytime. And nobody will ever be able to find me here. Not that I think my husband will look.… But, still. I want to be gone. Really gone. So that not even my old self will be able to find me.
“I’ll take it,” I say.
Sal looks startled. “Month to month,” he says. “I can’t do it no other way. This is an adult community, sixty-five and up, and you ain’t.” I know he means it as a compliment. I’m thirty-three and my bone structure is good. Some muscles are still holding on for dear life.
I go back to my dog-friendly motel, re-pack my wrinkly life into my suitcase. It takes me about a minute. I didn’t pack much of anything when I exited my marriage. When I decided to leave, I wanted to just get out, just go. So, I just tossed all of my black and white clothes into the suitcase. I figured, that way, I wouldn’t get stuck in my usual what-goes-with-what dilemma. But, now that I’m in Florida, this black and white wardrobe thing seems wrong. I feel like a stuck-in-Kansas-Dorothy walking around in an Oz-world.
I turn my car in at the orange billboard advertising Alligator Estates, between Big Bubba’s Barbecue and the Walgreens, and rumble over the drainage ditch bridge, wind down the pot-holed street past the gatehouse where nobody ever seems to sit and the gate that’s stuck in the UP position and drive through a long tunnel of tangled up trees. Moving in. I’ve got jitters. Good jitters. Start a whole new life jitters. Dreamer sits in the front seat looking calmly left to right in the queenly way that she does.