On Saturday morning I waited in the hotel room until the maid arrived. She could confirm I had spent the night. Downstairs in the hotel restaurant I generated a dated credit card receipt by having breakfast. Before I left for Florida at 2:00 p.m., I messed the bed to make it look slept in.
Connie had arranged to take the Tomkins family to Clearwater Beach this weekend and Carrie had been released from the mental hospital in time to make the trip, so I expected the country house to be unoccupied. Nonetheless, I cruised slowly past the house at 10:00 p.m., checking for signs of life. The house was buttoned up and dark but I could see that the backyard spotlights were lit. I made a U-turn, cruised back to the house and pulled into the garage side of the driveway. Wanting to spend as little time as possible in the open I immediately pushed the open button on a garage door opener that I had not surrendered to Carrie. The garage door opener I had handed over when I moved was an old one that had stopped working long ago. As the door rose, a tan rental sedan appeared, nose pointed toward me, like a centurion guarding the castle portal. I slammed on the brakes. My heart tried to punch a hole in my chest but I forced myself to wait. No one came out onto the porch, no one walked out of the garage, no one emerged from the shadows. Maybe she was just inside the back door with my pistol cocked. As time drifted by I realized that she probably had hitched a ride with Travis or her momma.
If this were a movie, everyone in the theater would be yelling, “No, don’t go in there,” but I rolled up the driveway, did a three-point turn, and backed into the garage. As a precaution, I left the door open in case I had to fight my way out of the situation. Nothing happened.
Before I got out of the car, I donned surgical gloves and grabbed my MagLite flashlight. Wondering if I could go to jail for breaking into my own home, I pulled on a cord attached to a door in the ceiling and a folding ladder dropped in front of me. I unfolded the ladder and climbed into the storage space above the garage. When the alarm system had been installed, Carrie had objected to mounting it in a closet or any other interior space. It would have been an eyesore or something in the way of her wardrobe, so the technicians had mounted the equipment in the storage space above the garage. It had required running both electricity and a phone line into the space and had cost hundreds of dollars more than a conventional installation. Now I was happy I had made the investment. I pulled the electrical plug on the alarm system and disconnected the RS-11 cable for the phone line. Sure I wouldn’t trip the alarm and alert Carrie, I descended into the garage.
I stood quietly in the garage for a moment and listened for the dog but I couldn’t hear him. For a weekend away Carrie either would have taken the dog with her or would have had someone feed and water the dog for her. Since the whole family was at the beach, I couldn’t imagine who would have performed that favor but I couldn’t risk getting eaten alive by that beast so I had to go looking for him. From the car I took a cloth satchel containing the files I had stolen on the day I moved out of the house. I looped the satchel over my head so I wouldn’t lose it in the chaos that was sure to follow. Then I reached for my bait, a stuffed bunny rabbit I had purchased at a pet store. It was a toy designed to be torn to shreds by predator dogs and that’s exactly what I hoped would happen.
I walked into the backyard to the near fence line and yelled inanities to flush the dog. Nothing happened. I shook the chain link fence, hoping to alert the dog if it was napping inside, but it did not appear. Maybe the dog was enjoying a weekend at the beach. To be sure, I shook the chain link fence violently, causing it to rattle, and the dog did appear, just its head and shoulders squeezing through the second story doggy door. There it stayed, glaring at me. I pretended to climb the fence and the dog just watched, assessing the threat as minimal. Dropping to the ground, I showed him the bunny rabbit and shook it. Like an alligator emerging from its den to stalk its prey, the dog slowly emerged in its menacing totality and stood on the balcony, snarling at me. I continued to shake and wave the bunny but the dog wouldn’t budge from its perch. It had been trained to guard the house and not chase outdoor varmints, but I had another inducement for “Fido”. I extended the rabbit over the fence and pulled its cord, prompting it to wriggle and squirm and squeak. That got a reaction. He sauntered down the steps and then stopped on the deck, growling at me. I pulled the bunny’s cord again and again but the Shepherd wouldn’t charge. In desperation, I pulled the cord one last time and threw the toy as far as I could across the yard and that provoked him. Instinct caused “Fido” to leap off the deck and chase the fleeing prey. I turned in the opposite direction and ran for all I was worth.
It was now a race—man against animal—to reach the doggy door. I ran around the house, through the garage and into the kitchen. Despite my repeated advice to the contrary, Carrie never locked the door that led from the garage to the kitchen. Like most people, she was convinced that the garage door was all that was needed to keep intruders from her home. Panting, I ran through the kitchen and took the front stairs two and three steps at a time. The dog would have to sense the ruse, abandon the bait, run back across the yard, across the deck, up the stairs, and across the balcony to its doggy door. I felt I had the advantage, but Fido beat me to it. As I reached the gallery he was already shimmying through the doggy door that was two sizes too small for him. At that point I had only one option. I leapt across the hallway, grabbed the media room door handle and threw myself back into the hallway, slamming the door shut as the massive animal exploded into it from the other side. I leaned on the door with all my weight, shaking with fear, but the dog did not jump against the door. He raised a racket, barking and crashing into things, but he did not attempt to break down the door. That is one well-trained animal. I wasn’t concerned about the barking—the nearest neighbor was a squatter’s shack half a mile away.
Assuming the door would hold, I ran down the hallway to Carrie’s office, and knelt in front of her filing cabinet. I used the little silver keys I had lifted from the home goods store to unlock it and pulled the top drawer open. It contained correspondence with retailers, credit card companies—applications denied—and home warranty companies and, in the middle of that junk, a folder marked “legal”. It wasn’t what I was looking for but I pulled the file from the drawer and replaced it with her medical, mental health, and the home equity files I had taken from her bedside table on moving day.
The middle drawer was stuffed with files holding bank statements, receipts and cancelled checks. Hopeful I might find evidence of the secret account where she had hidden the stolen home equity money, I pulled all of the manila folders out of the drawer only to find that all of the records pertained to our joint checking account, our savings account (balance of zero), and the investment account I had liquidated and deposited into my CD. The secret account was most likely a joint account with her momma. I wondered if we could get a search warrant for her momma’s house.
In the bottom drawer, folders standing in file separators buckled over the top of an obstruction lying beneath them in the drawer. I pushed the standing files to the back of the drawer and discovered a bonus. On the bottom of the drawer lay the infamous “rape tape”.
After we had dated for a couple of months, Carrie said she wanted to test her sexual boundaries, but wanted me to “force” her to do it. In particular, she liked fake rape scenes. The tape was a record of one long afternoon of scenes you wouldn’t want your mother to see, all staged so it appeared she was the victim of a dominant husband. Years ago I had tossed the tape in the tote of old financial records under the workbench in the beach house garage and hadn’t thought about it since. Carrie had remembered. Her murder plot hinged on a claim of rape and the tape would be evidence that I had done it before.
I stuffed the tape into the satchel along with the legal file and flipped through the other files. At the very back I found an unlabeled manila folder and a quick glance confirmed that it was Carrie’s cell phone records. I took them, closed the drawer, and relocked the cabinet. I didn’t feel bad about the burglary; Carrie should have moved her precious possessions to a bank safe deposit box. Phil Simmons probably had one she could have used.
Back on my feet I rushed down the hallway and back down the stairs. As I hurried toward the master bedroom the flashlight beam illuminated the hallway enough for me to see that had hung pictures of her past lives with Dickson and Simmons. Another picture I had never seen caught my attention. A tall, fit man with short dark hair, and a heavy beard draped a proprietary arm around my wife. I didn’t have the time to do it but I moved closer, angled the beam of the flashlight to eliminate the glare, and examined my doppelganger. His face was long while mine was angular and his complexion was darker—Mediterranean—but the resemblance was uncanny. Puralto.
In the master suite I walked around the bed and checked the bedside table for my pistol. It had to be in the house somewhere. The sleazy paperback lay in the top drawer along with her reading glasses but the middle and bottom drawers were empty, the vibrator hidden somewhere else.
I moved to the dresser, opened the miniature chest of drawers that served as Carrie’s jewelry box, and was surprised to find it was nearly empty. She had moved her collection to a safer place. All that remained were a few pieces of everyday costume jewelry and the yellow diamond pendant and earrings she often wore to taunt me. She wouldn’t taunt me any longer. I took them.
Wondering if my pistol might be hidden in the dresser, I opened several drawers and pushed underwear and sleepwear around. In the middle drawer, under panty hose, bras and camisoles lay her diary, a leather-bound notebook, the size of a family bible, with a strap to hold it closed. Carrie wrote compulsively in the diary but she never let me read it. I hefted it in my hand, wondering how I could get it into the hands of the authorities without incriminating myself. I decided to figure it out later. I stuffed it into my overflowing satchel.
In a hurry, I went to her closet and grabbed her furs, encased in storage bags, and three designer purses in their protective boxes. Then I staggered up the staircase and dumped the valuables in the closet in the guest bedroom. If she reported them stolen the cops would find them and realize she’s wacko.
My heart pounding, I raced toward the staircase, glancing into my former bedroom as I passed by. From there I could hear the angry animal clawing at the media room door but that’s not why I pulled up short. I crept into the room and marveled at what I saw in the beam of my flashlight the way tourists creep into caves and marvel at the prehistoric drawings on the walls. Carrie had used a magic marker to draw a crude stickman on one wall and had then bashed in the head with a hammer leaving huge holes in the sheetrock. On the opposing wall she had hung my official AMA portrait. It had been defaced with an angry red ‘X’.
I knew it was unconscionable to be thrilled but I couldn’t help it. More evidence of her madness. On my smartphone I turned off the feature that tags photos with a date and time stamp and took half a dozen pictures of the walls. Then I hurried out of there, back down the hallway and back down the stairs. On my way out of the house, I checked hiding places in the family room and kitchen but could not locate my pistol.
I put the diary, the files and the sex tape in the car. Then I climbed back into the attic, reconnected the phone line and plugged in the security system. I refolded the ladder and let it close into the ceiling. To cover my breakout, I turned off the yard lights. Back in the car, I pushed the open button and waited for the garage door to rise. It had taken less than twenty minutes to neutralize the dog, return, move and steal items, but I had the crazy sensation that a hundred cops were waiting on the driveway, in riot gear, guns raised and ready to annihilate me with a hail of bullets, like the scene at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
If any cops were waiting for me, they were hiding. I pulled out of the garage and immediately hit the close button. When I was certain that the door was closed, I zoomed down the driveway and turned to the right, away from I-75 and the obvious escape route. There were no other cars on the rural road. Miles from the house, I threw the garage door opener and the little silver keys out the window. I took a circuitous route to the rental agency, avoiding high traffic streets and expressways, speed traps and patrolling cops. After two hours I arrived at the rental lot, wiped down the car, removed my cargo, and locked the keys inside. Then I set out on foot, walking up 34th Street North in St. Petersburg. It didn’t take long for the files to feel as heavy as boat anchors. At a Publix grocery store, I borrowed a shopping cart and put the files in it. Then I pushed my belongings along the street like a homeless person.
Glenda’s car was waiting for me in the parking lot of a twenty-four hour diner. It took another fifteen minutes to drive to the Don CeSar Hotel on the beach and take the elevator to room 410, rented in Glenda’s name.
At 4 a.m. I flopped into bed, exhausted. I wondered how thieves withstood the stress and the exertion. Working for a living was far easier.
Glenda had constructed a burrow of blankets but when I rolled next to her she made sweet little murmurs, as though she were humming an old Southern spiritual.