Publisher James Foley Smathers
Helen Warner is desperate to escape her past. A friend convinces her that the best place to drop out of sight is a tiny island in the Bahamas.
Jackson Andrews is also fleeing from a recent staggering event in his life. Flying his private plane from Orlando to the same island, he checks into the only hotel there.
Despite their efforts to remain aloof and hidden from their pursuing past, the two are drawn to each other for solutions to end their crisis.
At first, the noise floated somewhere in the back of his subconscious; a ringing sound as a distant school bell signifying the end of a class period. With his head wedged up under the Piper Cherokee’s dash, the muted sound was far too removed from his task at hand to gain his immediate attention. Eventually, the consistent rhythm and persistence of the rings pushed the thought of the workbench phone into his consciousness. Jackson Andrews stopped tightening the bolt and listened. It was the workbench phone. He quickly slid out from under the dash and dropped down out of his plane.
“Hold on there, I’m coming,” he yelled as he trotted across the hanger. “I bet a hundred bucks you hang up before I get there,” he chuckled to himself.
It would make little difference to him if the caller hung up. The call would not be for him. He had been scheduled to fly out hours ago, so no one would know that he was still there. Besides, only the mechanics and airport personnel got calls on this phone. However, both hanger mechanics were his friends and were good guys. He would take a message for them. He snatched up the phone in the middle of a ring.
“Hanger B,” he said with authority.
“Hello... hello.” It was a woman’s voice, distant, unsteady. “I am trying to reach Doctor Jack Andrews?” The voice was so faint that he could barely hear it.
“Yes... Yes, this is Jack Andrews speaking,” He leaned against the work bench and placed a hand over his left ear and waited.
“Doctor Andrews... this is a... friend... I’m calling to tell you... that... you’re...” there was a pause.
“Who is this, please?” Andrews did not recognize the voice. He was becoming impatient with her apparent loss for words.
“It’s not important who I am, Doctor...” The voice wavered. “I’m calling... to... I’m calling to tell you that... that you ought to go home right away, sir... your wife is playing games on you…” Abruptly, the voice was replaced by the shrill whine of a dial tone. It drilled as painfully into his inner ear as some cold probing instrument, and for several seconds the sound held him in its spell. Then with one quick deliberate motion, he twisted the receiver away from his ear and slammed it down on the hook.
“Who the hell was that?” he mumbled to the phone as if the black plastic receiver could answer. “Better yet, what the hell was that?” he now said aloud, staring at the receiver. The message was as strange as the voice. Had he heard it right? His wife was playing games? What the hell was that supposed to mean? He had just had lunch downtown with Jill at noon and she was fine.
Games! What were games? Was Jill supposed to be having an affair with someone? Obviously it was some kind of joke; and a bad joke at that. It had to have been some sort of crank call. But the voice had sounded strained, emotional, and the urgency was real. Somebody was a hell of an actress he thought. He glanced around the hanger. It was late Friday afternoon and the few people who had been working on planes near him earlier were now gone.
He should call home anyway before taking off, he thought, but looking back at the workbench phone, he noticed that it had no dialer on it, preventing outgoing calls. He set out, walking back to the flight service center. The January sun was setting early and the temperature was dropping rapidly. It would now be dark before he took off for Freeport. As he walked through the service center, Tom Whiten, the Operations Manager, stopped him.
“God Almighty, Doc, I thought that you’d be across the Gulf Stream by now. Did that lady reach you out there at the hanger?”
“What lady, Tom?” Andrews answered with a question.
“She didn’t give me her name when she called, Doc. She just said she needed to talk to you and that it was real important. I told her that I thought you had already taken off, but that if she called the hanger B number and let it ring a long time, if anybody answered, they could tell her for sure.” Whiten shook his head. “I’m sorry I didn’t come looking for you, Doc, but when I saw you a couple hours ago and you said you were leaving right away... I just...”
“Don’t worry about it, Tom. I’ve been trying to put the radio back in my plane and it is one hell of a lot harder than it was taking it out.”
“Do you need some help?”
“Not anymore, I think I got it together. Say, Tom, I do need to make a phone call before I take off; any chance of my using your office phone?”
“You bet, sir. It’s locked now, though, so I’ll have to let you in.” He led the way down a long corridor to a door marked Manager. “It’s supposed to freeze hard tonight, Doc. You don’t own any citrus, do you?”
“Nope, we lost all ours years ago.” Andrews followed along behind him.
“Thank God I don’t have any,” Whiten said, shaking his head. “My dad and brother have a little ten acre grove that they are going to fire tonight. My brother is sweating it out. He says tonight could be another bark buster.” Whiten was referring to the phenomenon that occurred when the sap in citrus trees froze so quickly that its expansion split the bark of the trees, making loud cracking sounds, each one signifying the death of the citrus tree.
“Hell, I hope not,” replied Andrews. “I’ve got a few friends who still own a lot of groves.”
Whiten unlocked the door and turned on a bright overhead light. He quickly moved a stack of papers on his desk to one side. “Make yourself at home, Doc, just turn off the light and be sure this door locks when you come out.”
“Will do. I appreciate this, Tom.”
“Anytime, sir.” Whiten closed the door behind him. When he was alone, Andrews picked up the receiver. He dialed the number for an outside line and punched in his home phone number. He shook his head and smiled. “Go home, your wife is playing games,” she had said. Surely this was all some sort of practical joke; maybe it was a test to see how he would respond. Naturally, he would be expected to call home, to make sure everything was alright.
The phone rang once. He would say that he was calling to remind Jill to turn off the water running into the pool. The phone rang a second time. That would make sense because she could never hear it running and he always did. The phone rang a third time. He would also give her the message from the Sears serviceman who had stopped by the house that afternoon. He had meant to include it in the note he had written and left lying on the kitchen counter. The phone rang again. He could also ask her if anyone had been by or called since he left. The phone rang again. No, he wouldn’t say that. It would sound too suspicious.
He wouldn’t even mention the woman’s call. He would just check in, tell Jill that he loved her, and be on his way. The phone rang again. Where in the hell was she? Maybe she went out... Where could she have gone...? “Playing games?” Was she out somewhere, playing games? What a joke. He could try to call the...
“Hello.” It was a woman’s voice, but faint and, at first, not familiar. “Hello, Jill, is that you?” Andrews placed a hand over his left ear and strained to hear the distant voice on the other end of the line. “Jill, is everything all right there?”
“Oh, Jack... Yes, of course everything is fine.” She sounded sleepy and her voice was stronger now. “Where are you?” she asked, officially now showing some concern. But there was something tentative and hesitating in the sound of her voice.
“I’m still at Herndon Airfield, Honey. I just wanted to check in with you before I took off... I was about to hang up, it took you so long to answer the phone...” He paused intentionally.
“I was... out in the laundry room...” she said softly. He waited. “You know how loud that dryer is now... I just didn’t hear the phone.” A chill came over him. That was the wrong answer for her to give him. Her voice had become clearer but he was now aware that something was not right. All his confidence vanished. He thought he was making sounds down deep in his throat, but he couldn’t hear them. He cleared his throat and pressed a point. “I thought maybe you had gone out or had company there, visiting...” He paused again. There was no response. “Has anybody called or been by since I left?”
“No, no messages,” she said gaily. “I just thought that you had to be in Freeport tonight for your seminar.”
“I’ve had a little trouble with the plane; just getting ready to take off now. I’ll miss some of the reception tonight, but my lecture isn’t scheduled until tomorrow morning.
“Oh, I didn’t know... are you leaving now?”
“Yes, I’m about to. I love you, Honey.”
“Well, be careful and have a good trip.”
“I love you.”
The length of the pause that followed ended any hope that Jack Andrews had that his wife was not playing some sort of game. For although he did not tell his wife that he loved her often; whenever he did, her response was always a quick affirmation of the same. Now, her lack of response strongly suggested to him that someone else could be there with her. A certain someone to whom a soft “I love you” spoken into a telephone at this particular moment would appear grossly hypocritical.
“Yes, me too,” she said quickly. “Bye.” The line went dead.
Jack Andrews replaced the receiver and stared at the phone for several minutes. Slowly, he closed his eyes. Something was wrong; terribly wrong. His mind whirled as it sought to uncover an acceptable answer, or a simple explanation. There wasn’t one. He could feel his heart pounding and a tight constricting pain in his chest. For several minutes he forced himself to take deep breaths and exhale slowly until the pain eased; then he rose slowly from the chair, crossed the room, turned out the light, and pulled the door shut behind him.
On the way back through the terminal lobby, he waived at the Service Manager. “Thanks for the use of the phone, Tom. I need to run a quick errand before taking off. How about getting someone to check out that radio for me while I’m gone? I just want to be sure that I’ve hooked it up right.”
“Sure thing, Doc.” Whiten glanced up from the log book he was writing in and then added, “Is everything all right, sir?”
Andrews stared down at his feet as if considering the question carefully, then the corners of his mouth turned up slowly into a sad smile and he glanced back up at Whiten. “Sure,” he said. “I should be back in an hour or so.”
It was dark as he crossed the parking lot to his car. The Volvo’s leather seats were cold and he shivered as he groped to fit the key into the ignition. The engine roared and he wheeled the car out onto the highway to make the twenty minute trip to his house, dreading what he would find, but now certain that his suspicions were warranted.
He had avoided telling Tom Whiten that he had forgotten something at home, even though the remark would have been truthful. He had forgotten to give Jill the message from the Sears service man. He had stopped by the house earlier that afternoon to work on the clothes dryer, which had been making an unholy racket when Jill used it. Jack had let the guy in and was back in the bedroom packing his bags when the fellow had called through the house for him.
“Sir, be sure to tell your wife,” he had said, standing in the kitchen doorway, holding a frayed and unraveled belt in his hand, “that she’s going to be without that dryer over the weekend. It was an old drive belt that was making all the noise. I’ve pulled it out.” He held it up for Jack to see. “The problem is, I can’t get a new one until Monday. I’d hate for her to do a load of wash and then find out that she had no dryer. Tell her I’m sorry, but I will be here first thing Monday morning.”
“I’ll be sure she gets the message,” Jack had said, and he had meant to include it in the note that he left on the kitchen counter, telling her that he loved her. Now he was making a special trip home to tell her.
Madison Way was typical of many residential neighborhoods in Orlando that, long before the arrival of Disney World, had earned the central Florida city the name “The City Beautiful.” The old brick street, maintained at great expense by the city, wound gracefully around a beautiful quiet lake and the large stately oaks that lined both sides of the road were well trimmed and free of Spanish moss. Jack and Jill Andrews had owned their big, spacious house on Madison for fifteen years.
Jill had found the house at a perfect time in their lives. The Andrews were a young couple ready to build a family and Orlando was just beginning to feel the development impact of nearby Disney World. The price of the house, although a bargain at the time, was still more than a young working couple could afford. They had gone into hock over their heads and then worked hard the next five years to get out. During that time, property values had increased immensely, and the appreciation of their home had given the Andrews a mild feeling of wealth.
The years had brought them no children, but Jill had done a magnificent job with the renovation of the house; and with her natural talent for growing things, the Andrews’ azaleas had become a well-known local attraction that drew dozens of cars down the out-of-the-way street in February and March.
His house was in total darkness when he arrived. There were no cars in the driveway and both garage doors were down. At first he assumed that Jill must have left shortly after he called, but then, it would not be his wife’s nature to return to a dark house. If she had gone out, he was certain that she would have left lights on for her return unless, of course, she wasn’t planning to return that evening.
Instinctively, he drove past his own driveway and turned, instead, up into the Kidder’s drive two houses past his own. Charlie and Margaret Kidder would be in Colorado for at least another week. He and Jill had been watching their house for them while they were away. He switched off the headlights immediately, but let the engine continue to idle for several minutes while he watched up and down the street. When he turned the engine off, the neighborhood was quiet and peaceful. Too peaceful, he thought to himself.
Walking slowly in the grass along the sidewalk and then up his own drive, Andrews made his way quietly to a door on the side of his house. The door entered into a utility room which had been constructed on the side of the Andrews’ two-car garage. As the dead bolt lock was keyed to match the front door, he unlocked it with his house key and quickly stepped inside, closing the door behind him. With the door closed, the utility room was pitch black. He could hear the sound of water running through pipes. The feeder valve to the pool was still open. He stood still and listened. He thought he could hear the faint sounds of music. He took a deep breath and held it. Yes, it was music coming from within the house. Jill must be home. It gave him a mild sense of relief.
Slowly, he felt his way across the utility room, past the washing machine and the now belt-less dryer, on towards the always-opened pocket door leading into the garage. Because his car, which normally occupied the left parking space, was out, he was certain that there would be ample room for him to maneuver his way to the kitchen door without knocking down any of the tools that hung on the left wall. His hands found the door casings and, moving through the opening, he stepped with confidence straight out into the blackness of the garage.
A sharp pain in his knee made him grimace. He had collided with some immovable metal object. He reached out slowly in front of him and felt what seemed to be an automobile. It was not Jill`s Jeep Wagoneer; it was far too low to the ground. Once again, he could feel his heart pounding. A strange car was in his parking space! Some mysterious car was parked in the darkness of his garage with him. What was it? More importantly, who was driving it? Feeling his way along the front of the vehicle, he slowly made his way on past it until he felt the front fender of his wife’s Wagoneer. He groped past the Jeep and on to the kitchen door, which was closed. Then his hand found the light switch just to the right of the door and, hesitating momentarily with his finger on the switch, he pushed it up.
The bright light made him blink and squint. He had planned to flip the switch on and off quickly, allowing just a flash of light to identify the intruding car, but now he stood transfixed, staring at the familiar vehicle in front of him.
The car, a new model white Jaguar, was particularly beautiful and distinctive parked next to his wife’s square and boxy Jeep Wagoneer. While he doubted there was another one similar to it in all of Orlando, the “American Quarter Horse Association” plate on the front bumper and the `Maywood Country Club’ sticker in the driver’s corner of the windshield confirmed for him in an instant that the car belonged to Anne Cowans.
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the kitchen door, his mind racing once again. He heard them, faintly at first. But they were there, voices hidden in repressed memory that now floated up to his consciousness. They came so fast than he couldn’t sort them out or identify them. They flooded over him, holding him spellbound with the realizations they brought with them.
At first there seemed to be many different voices; but then Andrews became aware that they were all the same voice; dull, unimportant statements, but all made by the same person. Each of the statements, spoken at different times, were totally harmless in their own meaning, but when all combined together they produced an alarming connotation. Yes, it was a single voice; the voice of his wife, Jill Andrews, and Jackson Andrews heard it now with amazing clarity.
“Jack, a new couple has moved to town; their names are Phillip and Anne Cowans. He’s the new bank president at First National. They are joining the Club and I thought it would be nice if we had them over for dinner this Saturday with the Evans and......"
“Jack, the Kidders have invited us to dinner Friday with the Cowans. Tom and Phillip played football together at Yale. Do you know that Tom Kidder told Maggie that if Yale had been a better team that year, Phillip Cowans would have made All-American...?”
“Jack, what do you think of Anne Cowans...? I mean, do you think she’s attractive? Oh, I know she drinks too much... but do you think she’s sexy? I can’t believe what big tits do to men... What do you think about my getting a boob job?”
“Jack, did you hear the news? Phillip Cowans is running for U.S. Congress. It was on the news tonight. Isn’t it exciting? I’ve volunteered to help three days a week at his campaign headquarters...”
“Jack, how would you compare me to Anne Cowans? Should I have my face lifted now? Anne’s had hers done twice… twice, Jack, and she’s only forty five...”
“Jack, why don’t you want to contribute to Phillip’s campaign? He needs the money and we’re the only members of the Club that haven’t made a formal pledge yet...”
“Jack, I just called to tell you that the networks have already declared Phil the winner; isn’t it exciting? I’m going over to their house - why don’t you stop by on your way home...”
“I don’t understand Anne Cowans, Jack. She has become so reclusive since Phillip’s election. She is drinking way too much and I’m so concerned about him ... and her …”
“Jack, you don’t care for Phillip Cowans, do you? Well, he doesn’t think you do .. Anyway, they’re both good friends of mine and it’s a shame that we can’t do more things together. We’ve turned down their invitations to the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby and it just seems that you always have some convenient excuse why we can’t go with...”
“Jack, do you know that Phillip is thinking about running for the U.S. Senate ... Anne just told me ... Wouldn’t that be something if...“
“Jack, I am so upset about Anne Cowan’s drinking I don’t know what to do ... Phillip has had to put her in Bowling Green Manor to dry out ... She could lose her driver’s license now and this may hurt Phil’s chances for the Senate ... Jack. Did you hear me? Jack ... Jack?”
Jack Andrews opened his eyes once again and stared at the beautiful white Jaguar shimmering in the bright light in front of him. It was definitely Anne Cowans' car, but as much as he wanted to believe it, Jack was certain that it was not Anne Cowans who had driven it into his garage. He turned off the garage light and turned the kitchen door handle. It opened.
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James Foley Smathers is a former United States Marine Corps Officer and Vietnam combat veteran. He is a graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. He and his wife reside in Central Florida where he breeds, trains and raises Golden Retrievers.