Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 12

A giant grin spread across Thomas’s face as I approached his car. His two friends flanked him, each with a beer can in hand.

“Well, look who’s come-a-callin’.” Thomas laughed. “Here to party with us, Rose?”

I swallowed the lecture on the tip of my tongue. It would be wasted breath and wouldn’t encourage him to help me. “Have you seen Bruce Wayne Decker lately?”

Thomas’s smile turned wicked. “Nope, he’s usually hiding up your skirt when I see him.”

My face burned with anger and embarrassment. “Are you sure you haven’t seen him? Maybe out at Weston’s Garage?”

He hopped off the back of the car and strutted toward me. He was a tall and lanky seventeen-year-old who hadn’t quite grown into himself. But he could still cause me physical harm. The question was whether he’d cross that line.

“Maybe you’d like to come pay a visit and see for yourself. I know a few friends who’d love to have a chat with you.”

The hairs on my arms stood on end. “Have you seen him or not?”

He cocked an eyebrow with a smirk. “You didn’t say the magic word. Please.” The street light caught the medallion at the base of his throat.

I drew in a breath, trying to rein in my impatience. “Thomas, would you please tell me if you’ve seen Bruce Wayne?”

He leaned his face into mine, his beer breath nearly making me gag. “That wasn’t so hard, now was it?” he whispered, then grinned wider and stepped back. I got a better look at the medallion, which was a St. Jude’s charm. Funny, Thomas didn’t strike me as the religious type and his mother was Pentecostal. “I haven’t seen him since last week.”

“And when and where was that?”

“Last Friday. At Weston’s Garage. Now you owe me something.”

I took a step back. “What could I possibly have that you want?”

“I’ll let you know when I want it.” Then he started laughing again, his peanut gallery joining in, and turned his back to me.

Muffy lowered her head and released a growl. I tugged on her leash. “Come on, Muffy.”

Their laughter filled the darkness as I walked back to my house. I was surprised Miss Mildred hadn’t called the police on them yet for disturbing the peace. When I got inside, I locked all the doors and windows, more irritated than scared. Thomas was a lot of talk, but I knew one day he’d cross a line that couldn’t be uncrossed.

Muffy seemed agitated, but I finally got her calm enough to settle down for bed. I had trouble sleeping, worried as I was about Bruce Wayne and where to look for him. No, I knew where to look. I just didn’t want to go there. While I knew Thomas was a bunch of talk, I had no delusions that Crocker’s associates at Weston’s Garage wouldn’t back their threats with action. I was tempted to tell Mason what was going on, but I didn’t want to put him in a difficult situation. If I told him Bruce Wayne was missing, he’d be forced to report it. And if I asked him not to, I’d be putting his job at risk. I couldn’t do that.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of Muffy whimpering. After I checked her over to make sure she wasn’t hurt, I took her outside through the kitchen door. But she instantly bolted around the corner to the front of the house. I raced after her, but stopped in my tracks when I caught sight of my front yard.

Smashed pumpkins littered the yard and covered the porch. The hay bales had been ripped apart and strewn across the grass and the street.

With a heavy sigh of disappointment, I walked up the front steps to see if Thomas and his friends had done any permanent damage to the house. Dried-up gobs of the pumpkins and squash splattered the porch, but I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be fixed. My gaze landed on the table between my rocking chairs. Smack in the middle was a half-finished bottle of tequila.

So Thomas and his friends had staged a party on my porch.

Something shiny on the table next to the bottle caught my attention. I leaned over and picked it up, immediately recognizing it as a St. Jude’s medallion necklace. When I flipped it over, I saw an engraved snake on the other side. Here was my proof that Thomas was involved, but the necklace sparked another memory too. A month ago, someone had tried to break into the house next door to Thomas and the police had found a St. Jude’s necklace in the yard. And then there was the necklace I’d found in Bruce Wayne’s apartment. Was it some symbol of being loyal to Crocker? I let it drop from my fingers onto the table.

I considered calling the police and filing a report so I could press charges, but I doubted that Henryetta’s finest would take me seriously. When I gave my statement to Detective Taylor the day after Jonah’s mother had tried to kill me, he insinuated that I was responsible for the predicaments I’d gotten sucked into over the last few months. I could only imagine how he would react if I made the call.

“Let me get this straight, Ms. Gardner. You confronted a known hoodlum and his friends, and then you were surprised when they trashed your porch? And you say you don’t bring these things on yourself?”

The police were out. Once again, I was on my own.

Chapter Four

I got dressed and spent the next half hour cleaning my yard. I was putting my rake in the shed when my cell phone rang. I dug it out of my pocket, surprised to see it was Mason.

What was he doing calling me at eight in the morning?

“Rose, have you left for work yet?”

My forehead furrowed in confusion. “No. But I’m about to leave soon.”

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