For the least of these, p.18

For The Least Of These, page 18


For The Least Of These

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  “Vince, I really don’t have time to catch up. I need to talk to Brandy. Is she there?”

  “Oh, I’m sorry. No, Brandy isn’t here. We haven’t seen her in a couple of days.”

  “You aren’t just saying that, are you? It is urgent that I talk to her. She left karaoke tonight and didn’t tell me where she was going. Are you sure she’s not there and just telling you to say she isn’t?”

  “Alicia, I could never lie to you. Brandy isn’t here, I promise. If I see her, I will tell her to call you as soon as possible.”

  “Yes, that would be good. In the meantime, there is a policeman heading to your house. He’s looking for Brandy, too. He wants to ask her some questions.”

  “Well, he won’t get anything out of us. We know how to deal with those pigs, don’t we Stacy?” He yells the last part so Stacy can hear him, even if she is standing on the moon.

  “Thanks, Vince. I promise to come by soon and have some cannelloni.”

  “That’s the one! Now I remember…”

  “Bye.” I hang up before he gets started again. I hope he and Stacy won’t do anything to DeVries to get them arrested.

  For a while, I sit and wonder where Brandy could be. Neither of us have any other good friends that we can turn to in times like these, so I am afraid she is just driving around in the darkness alone. Outside of worrying for her safety, there is nothing more for me to do. I decide to go to bed. Sleep evades me for some time, but eventually I fall into a deep and fitful slumber.

  The next morning, I am awakened by a loud scream. The scream frightens me and sends me scrambling out of bed even though I know what it is and where it comes from. I open the front door and find Mrs. Bojangles, my mother’s Siamese cat, sitting on my doorstep. She is about to let out another scream, but when I open the door, she simply rises from her haunches and ambles slowly into my apartment. At twenty pounds, Mrs. Bojangles neither sings nor dances, but she does scream. Loudly. So loud, in fact, that I will do anything to please her so she will shut up. So I welcome her into my home and allow her to plant her big kitty butt on my nice warm bed. I sit down beside her and stroke her seal-brown fur. For once, I am actually glad Mrs. Bojangles woke me up. I need to find out what is going on with Brandy.

  First, I need to take a bath, and then I can figure out how to approach this Brandy thing.

  Before I can get a plan in motion, my dad starts banging on my door. I’m in the middle of getting dressed, so I don’t respond to him right away. After all, it is only six-thirty in the morning – what could be so important?

  “Alicia, wake up!” he starts yelling. “We have to start getting ready for the hurricane.”

  This is one of those times when I wish I didn’t live in Dad’s backyard; then I could ignore his phone calls if I wanted to. It’s hard to ignore someone banging on your door when they control your rent and your pay check.

  I open the door and Daddy looks like he’s been up for hours. He’s dressed in his yard clothes: a grass-stained brown pocket T and a pair of blue and pink checked Bermuda shorts. I remind him that the hurricane is still several days away from landfall in the US. Besides, this Ivan will probably hit land in Southern Florida just like Frances did about a week ago.

  Daddy tells me that I should help Mom pick up any loose items in the yard that might become projectiles in the strong winds of a hurricane. Daddy is going to nail plywood over all the windows in his house and my apartment.

  Mom is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. She’s wearing a multi-colored cotton duster that fits her chunky form like a pup tent. Her gray-streaked brown hair is in large curlers and she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s parading around in her night clothes. She tells me to take care of all her plants and she will handle the other things. If it sounds like I’m getting off easy, just be aware that Mom has hundreds of potted plants sitting around their one acre yard.

  I’m exhausted and our shed will hardly close after I finish putting all of Mom’s flower pots and plant stands inside it. All of the items seemingly capable of flight risk have now been removed from our yard. Daddy has just finished nailing up the last window on the house and is eyeballing my apartment. He’s already hot and sweaty and his white hair is matted against his head. It is now nine o’clock and the temperature is already headed into the eighties. I really need to start looking for Brandy.

  I head back into my apartment and decide to take another shower. First, I send Mrs. Bojangles packing. She will see Mom outside and pester her for a while. I straighten my bed and get out some fresh clothes. The sweat is dripping down my back and I can’t wait to get under the cool refreshing water.

  Amazingly, I finish my bath without interruption. However, I’ve barely had time to button my pants when someone starts knocking on my door. I hope that it is Brandy. That would save me a lot of time and worry.

  I open the door, but instead of Brandy, Detective DeVries is standing there. “What do you want?” I say with frustration.

  “I still haven’t located Brandy. I was hoping you had heard from her.”

  “No, I haven’t. I was just about to start looking for her myself. I’m quite worried about her and I put all the blame on you. She saw some strange man hunting her down in a bar and she panicked. There’s no telling where she went.”

  “I guess you are right,” he says. He seems a little less worked up than he was the night before. “I probably did scare her. She had no way of knowing that I was a police detective. And then I came on way too strong. I forgot that I wasn’t dealing with criminals. I guess it’s too much to ask that you and I work together to find your friend. It’s not all about talking to her now; I’m concerned for her welfare too.” I want to trust him; he seems sincere. Shouldn’t I trust him? He’s a cop, so he should be trustworthy, shouldn’t he? All of my experience with cops comes from Lennie Briscoe and Andy Sipowicz. Lennie is entirely trustworthy, but with Sipowicz, it depends on the season. DeVries doesn’t remind me of either one of my favorite TV cops, so this doesn’t really help me. But I thought I’d throw it in just for the heck of it. Finally I decide to trust him using a tried and true method: he’s so damn cute, I can’t distrust him. It’s always worked for me before – or at least most of the time.

  “Detective…can I call you Jack?” He nods that I can. “Jack, I think that you are right. We should work together to find Brandy. I know some places she might go, and you can use your skills to detect where she might be.”

  DeVries – or should I say Jack – smiles and I think he is going to make fun of what I just said, but he doesn’t. “That sounds like a great plan, Alicia. I need to make a couple of phone calls, and then we can get started. You might want to make a list of those places that she might go to so we don’t forget to check them all out.”

  Boy, Jack is smart. No wonder he’s a detective. He heads out to his car while I grab a pad and start making a list of Brandy’s haunts. I also remind myself that Jack was a jerk last night and that I probably shouldn’t trust him as much as I want to. Good looks can only carry a guy so far. He’s got to prove himself before I go whole cow – or is that whole hog?

  “Are you ready?” Jack asks from my front door.


  On the way to Jack’s car, my mom appears from the corner of the house. Not wanting to get held up by one of my mom’s rambling conversations, I try to rush Jack, but rushing doesn’t seem to be one of his strong suits. Mom gets close enough to wave Jack down, and Jack takes the bait.

  “Good morning, ma’am,” he says in a cheery voice.

  “Young man, where do you think you are taking my daughter? She’s supposed to be helping her father and me prepare for the hurricane. Alicia will do anything to get out of work…”

  Jack looks at me for an answer, but I just roll my eyes. If he had hurried when I urged him to, we wouldn’t be stuck having this conversation.

  “Well, uh, ma’am, um… I need Alicia to help me find Brandy Moretti. I can’t seem to
locate her and I really need to speak to her. Alicia being her best friend and all…well, I just thought she might be able to help.”

  “You aren’t one of them boys that Brandy’s all hung up on, are you? Never mind. Brandy and Alicia are always hung up on some boy or another. Been that way since high school. But I’ll tell you how to find Brandy. Just leave your car parked right where it is, help me and my husband get ready for the storm, and Brandy will show up before you know it. There hasn’t been a Saturday in ten years that Brandy hasn’t come to see Alicia – unless she and Alicia were still together from the night before.”

  It looks like I can’t leave this up to Jack. My mom’s too much for him. “Mom, we can’t wait for Brandy to come over. Jack has something really important to tell her, and it can’t wait.”

  Mom scratches her chin. She always does this when she’s trying to work something out in her head. “Hmmm,” she says, “You aren’t one of those guys from Publisher’s Clearing House, are you? Did Brandy win something?” Mom’s whole life revolves around soap operas and the commercials that she sees in between. Next she’ll be asking Jack if he plays a doctor on TV. We have to get away from her.

  “Mom, we have to go. I’ll tell you all about it later. And Daddy said that he didn’t need me to help prepare for the storm. He said he had it all under control.”

  Mom turns to walk away, mumbling under her breath, “Your daddy is always spoiling you…Never makes you help out around the house…Doesn’t make you pay rent…Let’s you take off work anytime you please…”

  I glance at Jack and shrug my shoulders. “Let’s get out of here before she turns back around,” I say quickly.

  Once in the car, Jack looks at me and says, “Is she like that all the time?”

  “No, sometimes she’s worse. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you why she’s so worried about this hurricane. It seems that there was a bully at her elementary school named Ivan, and he regularly pulled her hair and made fun of her. She now believes that her whole acquaintance with this little boy was a foreshadowing of the hurricane that’s brewing. She thinks it is going to be a terrible storm because that bully was so mean to her. Never mind that Ivan grew up and married her best friend and she now has them over for canasta twice a week. My mother and her logic. Go figure.”

  I wait for Jack to say, “So that’s where you get it from,” but he surprises me by saying nothing at all. Maybe he is a lot nicer than I originally thought.

  For the next few hours, Jack and I visit the places Brandy might go to on Saturday or any other day of the week: the grocery store, Wal-Mart, her house, her new apartment, the church she’s been attending, and Chick-fil-a. Well, we go to several Chick-fil-as because Brandy loves all of them. Jack gets out, shows Brandy’s photo, and talks to people at all these places, but no one has seen Brandy. At one Chick-fil-a, one of the servers says, “Hey! That looks like Brandy. She comes in a lot, but I haven’t seen her today.” I told you she loves Chick-fil-a. No one else recognizes Brandy’s photo at all.

  Jack and I grab a Chick-fil-a sandwich early in our search for Brandy, but by the time we visit all the places on my list, I’m starting to feel hunger pangs again. “Can we stop for a sandwich or something?” I ask Jack. “I’m starving.”

  “I like a girl with a healthy appetite,” he says. I casually wonder if he is insinuating that I am fat, but I decide to ignore this thought. After all, Jack has been nothing but nice the whole day. He continues, “Why don’t we go out and have a nice dinner? It’ll be my treat. How about Olive Garden?”

  “Sure, that will be fine. And thanks.”

  We arrive at Olive Garden in time to wait thirty minutes for a table. When we finally sit down, I’m famished. Everything on the menu looks good, but I choose the Fettuccine Alfredo. Jack chooses their Tour of Italy meal – I guess he is really hungry too. We enjoy our meal and very little is said about Brandy. Still, I can’t help but wonder where she is and if she is okay.

  After dinner, Jack takes me home. He says he’s going to call it a day. I ask him when he is going back to Mississippi, and he says he will stay until he finds Brandy. This seems odd to me, since I’m certain from watching tons of cop shows on TV that he must have other cases. So I ask.

  “Don’t you have other cases to work on? Doesn’t your boss mind you staying here indefinitely?”

  “Ouch! Sounds like you are trying to get rid of me. And just when I thought we were starting to get along so well. The truth is, Alicia, I took some personal time this week. I have to be back at the office in a week. I was afraid Brandy might try to give me the slip, and it seems I was right. If I talk with her tomorrow, I’ll cut my PTO short and head back. Otherwise, you are going to have to put up with me for the next week.”

  “I don’t think I’ll mind you being around. But what about the hurricane? What if it hits Pensacola?”

  “What if it hits Gulfport? Or Biloxi? We both know it could hit anywhere on the Gulf Coast or anywhere on the East Coast. Not only that, if it hits Pensacola, it will affect Gulfport and Biloxi too. And the reverse is also true.”

  “That’s true. But don’t you have a family that you would want to be with?” For some reason this is the first time I’ve thought that Jack might be married.

  “My parents live in Brownsville, Texas. I don’t have any family in Gulfport, which is where I live. I don’t even have a pet.”

  “What about a girlfriend?” I can’t believe this is coming out of my mouth.

  “No. No girlfriend either. Does that mean you’re interested?”

  I blush at his suggestion. Especially because he is right on target. I decide it is best to ignore his question. “So where are you staying?”

  “I’ve got a room at the Travelodge. How about giving me your number and I’ll call you tomorrow?”

  I give him the number and then he takes off. I’m unsure where this is going. I don’t know if Jack likes me or if this is still all about his case. Most of all, I wish I knew where Brandy is. I go inside to see if she’s left a message on my answering machine, but there is a big zero glaring at me in red. No calls from anyone today. Guess I’ll turn in.

  Sunday proves to be a boring day. Jack calls, but he is chasing a lead on Adam and can’t come by. He asks if I’ve heard from Brandy, but, of course, I haven’t. I wind up spending the day helping Mom shop for jugs of water, bread, and other supplies in case Ivan the Terrible does show up in Pensacola.

  Monday is a much better day, although neither Jack nor I learn anything more about Brandy. Daddy decides to close the shop so he can focus on the hurricane. He’s convinced it will hit somewhere close to Pensacola. I’m not so convinced, but it is nice to have the day off. Jack comes by to see if Brandy has materialized and we wind up searching for her again. We stop off at her house, but Terry hasn’t seen her since last week. He seems a little concerned, but Jack tells him that he’s sure she is fine. Next Jack wants to see Brandy’s parents. Jack hadn’t had a good experience with them when he stopped at their house on Friday night. He says they acted like a couple of hippies protesting the war or something and they treated him like he was the “Establishment”. I tell him that they are a couple of hippies and that they still think it is the Sixties, but I also assure him that I can handle them.

  I knock on the Moretti’s door. I can smell garlic and basil in the air, so Vince is probably cooking. Vince always cooks when they are having Italian. Stacy’s specialty is home cooking. Both are terrific cooks and that is probably why Brandy is a little chunky. Like me, she can’t resist good food. Vince opens the door. He’s wearing a blue apron that says, “I Like Cats Too. Let's Exchange Recipes”, jeans with a peace sign sewn on the left knee, and carrying a wooden spoon in his right hand. I have to tell you that I’ve always secretly had a crush on Vince. He is just so cute. He still wears his wavy black hair long – it hangs down just below his shoulder blades – and, although he is graying at the temples, he looks much younger than he is. In keeping with his hippie r
oots, he also wears a goatee which he manicures meticulously. He has a smile that can light up the room, and he flashes it at me now. “Alicia, welcome, welcome. You are just in time for dinner.” Then he sees Jack and his demeanor changes abruptly. “What? You again? Alicia, did this pig bring you here at gunpoint?”

  This is clearly going to take diplomacy. “No, Vince. Jack brought me here without coercion. We are very worried about Brandy. I still haven’t seen her since Friday night.”

  “Don’t tell me you’ve been hoodwinked by this guy? He wants to question Brandy about some crime. You know she’s not involved in any crime. Why are you helping him?”

  “Vince, please think about it. Have you seen Brandy since Friday? Aren’t you worried about her? What if she’s in some kind of trouble? Jack is a detective. He might be able to help.”

  I’m afraid that Vince is going to tell me to leave. He appears to be on the verge of chasing us away with his wooden spoon. Fortunately, Destiny intervenes. That’s Destiny, Vince and Stacy’s Italian Greyhound. She comes bounding out the door and starts jumping upon me in an attempt to get my attention. Destiny is a lovely little dog with a parti-colored coat. Her chest and feet are white while the rest of her is tawny. She is very slender and very fast. Most of all, she loves me, and I feel the same about her. As I squat down to allow her to kiss my face, Stacy comes up to the door to see what the commotion is all about. Upon seeing me, she says, “Alicia, dear! It is so good to see you.”

  “You won’t say that when you see who she’s brought with her,” Vince said, trying very hard to sound acrimonious and failing miserably.

  Stacy hasn’t aged as well as Vince. While she’s still a beautiful woman, her delicate face shows signs of aging: crow’s feet around her blue eyes, deep-set wrinkles around the edges of her mouth, and gray hair where the blond used to be. She’s dressed in a pale blue short-sleeved sweater and blue sweatpants. Her reading glasses are hanging from a chain around her neck. She looks past me to get a look at Jack and then says, “Vince, why do you insist on being so rude to this young man? He’s just trying to do his job. Come on in, you two. Vince has cooked some spaghetti alla carbonara and there’s plenty to go around.”

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