Continued from Wednesday….
Grady weighed his options. If he paid Tom Simms a visit, he might just spook Patty Simms back underground. At this point, Grady was ninety-nine percent sure that Patty Simms was alive. If he had to guess who died in the car fire, his first pick would be a homeless person.
Once he decided against the direct approach, the only option left to him was to watch the Simms house. It would be difficult to go unnoticed in a neighborhood that generated half of the Wilton emergency phone calls – most of them paranoid, false alarms. Grady just knew he had to make a move before that check came in. Once Tom Simms got his hands on the money, he would be gone.
He slipped on his leather jacket, the only dark jacket he owned, and decided to walk. It was only six blocks. Without a car, he wouldn’t stand out so much. At least he hoped not.
Roxanne flipped an evergreen branch away from her ear.
“Watch it,” Vanessa hissed.
“Quiet, both of you.” Deanna parted the bush and peered through the opening.
The women were crouched behind the neighbor’s bushes and peering into the Simms’ house. The light that shone through the kitchen window was suddenly joined by an upstairs light. The entire side yard was suddenly in the spotlight.
Deanna pushed her daughters back, warning, “Stay out of the light.”
Roxanne landed on her butt, holding the camera safely in the air.
A woman giggled from the upstairs room.
“Gross,” Vanessa said.
“I thought you were all for Tom moving ahead with his life,” Roxanne said.
“Privately. I don’t want to hear it.”
The naked torso of Tom Simms stepped in front of the window. From behind, a woman’s arms reached around his middle and began to play with his nipples.
Vanessa held her hands over her eyes. “Tell me when it’s over.”
“I can’t see her face,” Deanna said. She crawled around the bushes and into the Simms’ side yard. Roxanne and Vanessa followed.
Tom turned and embraced the woman, blocking their view of her.
Roxanne searched for something to stand on. She spotted a metal trash can and carried the empty canister over.
“Stand still,” she ordered Vanessa. Using her sister’s shoulder for leverage, Roxanne hoisted herself on top of the can.
Her sudden movement triggered a motion-sensitive security light. The three women were now backlit by the blinding light coming from the neighbor’s side porch. A dog barked.
“Crap!” Deanna crawled on hands and knees to the far edge of the yard. When Roxanne made to step down from the trash can, Deanna motioned her to stay put.
“Stay there,” she hissed. “You won’t be able to see a thing from here.”
Tom Simms chose this moment to turn toward the window to pull down the shade. His partner was exposed, and Roxanne snapped the picture.
She forgot about the flash. One bright burst dazzled Tom Simms, and he opened the window and leaned out.
“What the hell?”
Roxanne didn’t hear him. She was already on the sidewalk, running full speed, trailed closely by Vanessa.
“Where’d Mother go?” Roxanne asked, after she caught her breath.
“We have to go back.”
“Back where?” said a male voice.
Both women screamed.
Deanna Wilder, afraid to move across the illuminated yard, opted to press herself farther back into the bushes. She squinted in an attempt to see, but the security light still blinded her.
She felt something against the back of her head and reached back to swat away another branch. Her hand grasped something hard and cold.
“I don’t think you want to jostle that.”
“Crap,” she said. “Can you at least help me up?”
A strong hand grasped her elbow and pulled her to her feet. Spots danced in front of her eyes, but she could make out the shape of Tom Simms.
He sighed, sounding disappointed. “Lead the way.”
He jabbed her with the butt of the revolver, so she did as instructed.
“It’s this button.” Vanessa reached over Roxanne’s shoulder and pressed. The word erase flashed across the screen.
“You’ll have to trust me,” Roxanne told Grady. “We had a picture.”
“You’re sure it was Patty Simms?”
Vanessa and Roxanne exchanged looks.
“We’re sure it’s not a blonde.”
Roxanne craned her neck to see down the street. Her rush to freedom had brought her three houses down from the Simms’ place.
“My mother was right behind us…I thought.”
Grady scratched his neck. A hostage. Not his specialty.
“You girls stay here. I’ll –“ He struggled to think of some brilliant plan of action. “Do something,” he finished.
“That sounds promising,” Vanessa said, but not as if she meant it.
Grady took the camera from Roxanne, hunched his shoulders and headed toward the Simms house. He was impressed that the women had come to the same conclusion as he and just as fast. He was not impressed by their actions tonight – invasion of privacy, throwing a potential hostage to the criminal, and possibly spooking his suspect. At least he now had a good reason to visit Tom Simms. That thought cheered him.
He passed the row of hedges separating the Simms’ residence from their security conscious neighbors. The bushes were broken on the Simms’ side, and an empty trash can lay on its side in the yard. The only lights on in the house came from somewhere downstairs, toward the back of the house.
A harried-looking young man answered the door. He was fully dressed, and did not strike Grady as being in an amorous mood.
“I’m looking for a missing woman,” he said. Grady figured the direct approach was his only option.
Grady reached into his pocket and pulled out his identification. “I have a report of a missing woman. She disappeared in your yard.”
Tom’s face took on a look that said, Oh. That woman. “I heard what I thought were prowlers, but they were gone by the time I got outside.”
He started to close the door. Grady shoved his foot inside.
“I’d like to take a look around, if that’s alright with you.”
Tom started to protest, but Grady interrupted.
“She’s been known to break into people’s homes. Very unstable.”
Tom’s face paled. He licked his lips and looked over his shoulder.
“Maybe you could ask your wife if she’s seen anyone creeping around.”
“My wife?” Tom’s voice cracked. Grady liked that.
When Tom Simms made a break for the back door, it was an unwelcome move but not a surprise. Grady’s primary concern was Deanna Wilder’s safety, so he let him go.
“Anybody home?” he called out.
As he passed the hall closet, the door bulged out with a thump. He remained behind the door as he turned the knob, and Deanna Wilder, bound and gagged, tumbled out. A brown-haired woman in a negligee landed on top of her. Grady helped her to her feet.
“Detective Sean Grady.” He smiled and grabbed the young woman’s hand, admiring her wedding band. “I’m glad to see you’re no worse for wear. That car fire was a doozey.”
“So, who died in the fire?”
Grady allowed Vanessa to refill his beer and nodded his thanks. “That would be some unfortunate street kid.” He stopped, his glass midway to his lips. “They didn’t even bother to get her name before they killed her.”
Deanna tapped her empty glass on the table, waiting for Vanessa to tend to her. “I’m parched. Being gagged will do that for you.”
“That was three days ago, Mother,” Roxanne said. “Give it a rest.” Her voice betrayed her. It was distinctly missing signs of irritation. She slid her glass across the table to Vanessa.
“Can I get a drink, too?” Vanessa snapped. Grady held a ten dollar bill in the air, and a waitress hustled over with another pitcher of beer and cleared away the empty pizza pan.
“We’re all agreed that they did it for the money?” Deanna said.
“Duh,” Vanessa said. “For one million dollars I’d set you on fire.”
“With the signed receipt that Regina collected, we’ve got them on insurance fraud.” Grady ran his thumb around the top of his glass. “You know, I never would have figured out the meaning behind the scented paper.”
“You mean the perfume?” Roxanne asked. “Didn’t you smell it that night in Abigail’s house? It reeked.”
“I thought that was –“Grady stopped short, as if suddenly aware he was in mixed company. “Never mind.”
Ida and Mabel entered the pizza parlor, and Deanna waived them over.
“Is everyone here?” Ida asked.
Deanna pulled out her silver briefcase and flipped the latches. As she tossed a deck of cards to Grady, she asked, “You are going to show me how to cheat, aren’t you?”