The phone rang at precisely six a.m. the second Saturday of the month like it had every third month for the last fifteen years. I reached to answer it, when all of a sudden, Josh grabbed my hand and growled, "Let the machine answer it."
He looked adorable with sleep tussled hair and sheet wrinkles on his cheeks.
The phone clanged a second time.
"But I know who it is." I reached with my other hand. He captured that one, too. I remembered our kiss; he remembered our kiss, too and smiled.
The machine crackled, "Ronnie, that you? I'm having a lot of static on the line. Listen, I know they're monitoring us, so think a minute. Remember Huey, Dewy, and Louis? Three days from now. Women at War. My-my-my." There was a pause. "Whenever you can, kid." Click.
"Who else knows about this?" Josh demanded.
"Nobody else knows." I pressed the stop, rewind/erase button on my new answering machine and crossed my arms.
"You're tampering with evidence!" He jabbed the stop, knocking the machine to the floor.
"I'm erasing my own tape." I walked into the living room.
"That was some kind of code, wasn't it?" He followed me, gesturing back toward the office.
"Wow. You don't miss much, do you." I crawled back onto the sofa bed. "I'm going back to sleep."
He yanked the sheet off me. "You are compromising your own safety. Now, I demand you tell me who was on the phone and what it meant!"
I stood up on the mattress and towered over him, furious. "I have never compromised anything in my life. And that's another thing -- this is my life!! MY LIFE!!" I stormed off the sleeper sofa and stomped into the kitchen. "It used to be so peaceful, so--"
I glared at him. "Organized!"
"Are you saying this is MY fault? Don't get mad at me. Your father --"
"Leave the Mad Scientist out of this!" I clanged an iron skillet onto the stove, jerked open the refrig, wrestled the bacon out of its plastic cocoon, and tapped my foot, waiting for it to sizzle.
I spun around and hollered, "Don't just stand there, make some coffee!"
"Yes, ma'am." Josh stated calmly.
I smothered bagels with cream cheese and finally commented, "I bet Claire's having a real laugh at me."
"How so?" Josh poured the coffee.
"This terrorist slant makes no sense. None. What if Claire made up the note and got one of her friends to hire those people to make an attempt? What would be the result?"
"I'd get stuck here the rest of my life." Josh mumbled around his bacon.
"So go home!" I pushed away from the table, terribly hurt. "Nothing about this makes sense."
"By 'makes sense' you mean like vacuuming in the middle of the night makes sense? You mean like never having any clocks in the house that tell the right time makes sense?!" He was standing, too.
"I'll come back another time." A sweet old lady stood inside the back door.
Josh's hand flew behind his back, drew his pistol and dared the intruder to breath. She screamed, dropped the jar she was holding, and crumpled into a heap on the floor.
"Mrs. Jenkins!" I cried. "Josh Dylan, is that the best you can do: scare little creatures and defenseless old ladies!"
Josh lifted her up and placed her gently on the sofa. She moaned in terror, but I sat beside her, patting her hand.
"How did she get in?" His voice sounded strangled as he tried to control his rage.
"She has a key."
Josh pursed his lips, glanced around the room, and took a deep breath, “Why?"
"Because she's my neighbor."
Josh nodded fiercely.
"He was going to shoot me!" Mrs. Jenkins whimpered.
"No, no dear." I helped her sit up. "He's just a Yankee."
"Oh." She accepted all the implications.
"Would you like some coffee, Mrs. Jenkins?" Josh pointed toward the kitchen.
"I wouldn't presume," she replied.
"There's bacon and bagels, too." I added, accompanying her to the table.
"Well, maybe just a little. After such a shock, you know."
Mrs. Jenkins consumed three bagels and four slices of bacon, regaling us about the
fruit flies that were devastating her papayas.
I caught Josh's eye once and smiled. He smiled back and stood up to retrieve the jar by the back door.
"Here's your jar, ma'am." He placed it in front of her.
"Oh, I don't need it now. Silly me, I was going to make pancakes this morning, but I didn't have any flour. I saw you were up, and I knew you wouldn't mind."
"We don't mind a bit, ma'am." Josh went to the freezer, pulled out a bag of unbleached wheat flour, and handed it to her. "I love pancakes, my grandfather used to make them every Sunday before church."
He held her elbow as he walked her to the door. "Maybe you could save me one or two, Mrs. Jenkins. It'd bring back good memories for me."
There were tears in Mrs. Jenkins eyes as she promised to do so. Then she kissed him on the cheek. "You be good to my Ronnie," she whispered.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied.
We spent the morning at the Public Library. Josh finally sat down in the magazine section and I slipped upstairs to non-fiction. I took an index card out of my pocket and copied down the four digit Dewy Decimal number from the spine of Women at War. Next, I went to the Star Trek Encyclopedia and figured out the star date for three days from today, and rounded it to four digits. Then I put 13 on the end, for 'M' if A = 1 and B = 2 . . . Put all together in the proper order, it made a phone number. I put the card back in my pocket and sat down next to Josh.
"Ready?" I smiled.
"Whenever you are,” he stood. "Aren't you going to check out anything?"
"Oh, I'm not allowed to."
He held the door for me as we left.
Possum Playing Poker
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.