26 • Surprise
Cameron got in Will’s truck and buckled her seatbelt. Will turned and grinned.
“I wasn’t asking to come along, you know, ” said Cameron. “She practically dragged me out the door and pushed me off the porch.”
“I know. It’s her way.”
“Just so we’re clear. It was Pearl’s idea. She’s so flustered tonight, I didn’t want her to be any more upset.”
“I understand. She told you to come along. She does that when she senses a person wants to do something and isn’t saying so.”
“Oh, no, Mister. It wasn’t like that. I was going to stay and help be a buffer between her and Joe. If anything, I’d have sent Joe along. It was Pearl’s idea all the way through.”
“Okay. Pearl’s idea. That’s the story we’ll go with.”
Cameron shot a look at Will. He smiled and turned into the grocery store lot.
“She called you incorrigible tonight. I defended you, but she’s probably right.”
Will parked and turned off the truck. “She’s called me worse. And she’s usually right.” He reached behind to his back pocket. “Damn. I left my wallet upstairs.”
“Oh, no. And I didn’t bring my purse.”
“She’ll flip if we come back without the ice cream. The pie’s going to be cold as it is, ” Will said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Oh, hey. Pop the glove box open. Sometimes I have a few ones in there.”
Cameron opened the glove box. Two black pens fell out, along with the head of a Barbie doll. Cameron picked up the head and brushed the long, blonde hair off its face.
“What’s this doing here, Will?”
“It’s a doll head. Barbie, I think. I mean, it’s not Barbie. It’s a Barbie doll. Head. Yeah. Barbie doll head. I think it’s Francie. Her sister. No, wait. Francie was her cousin and was never blonde. Skipper, I think. Right. Skipper. She was blonde once. Not now, of course. Her hair now is black and purple. But it used to be blonde once.” Will reached across the seat and rifled through the glove box while he talked. “Okay, here we go.” He waved a five dollar bill in the air. “Always keep a little cash in the glove box. Never know when you might need some ice cream.”
Will closed the cab door and waited for Cameron to come around the truck. “Stacie, ” he said, snapping his fingers.
“What?” Cameron asked.
“Barbie’s other sister was Stacie. Younger. Twin to her brother Todd.” He turned to Cameron as they walked through the automatic doors into the store and smiled, pleased with himself for being able to talk his way to the bit of trivia he sought.
Cameron tilted her head, then shook it. “Of course the doll is Skipper, Will. I could have told you that. Anyone who’s ever been a little girl could tell you that.”
“But…” Will said, brow furrowed. “You asked what it was. And that’s what I answered, even it if took me a little while.”
“Ah, I see. You’re one of those guys.”
“And which guys are those?”
“The ‘asked and answered’ guys. I apologize for leaving the excruciating but apparently necessary specificity out of my question.”
Will pulled out a cart and started walking. He motioned with his head to the right. “Freezer section is this way.”
“Will.” Cameron stood by the cart rows.
He looked back. “Hmm?”
“You can’t buy enough ice cream with five dollars to require a cart.”
“I know.” He kept walking. Cameron stood and watched him a moment longer, then hurried to catch up.
He scanned the freezer case.
“You should know something, ” Cameron said.
Will turned and met her stare. “What’s that?”
“You just used up your one time on a Barbie—no, wait, on a Skipper—doll and vanilla ice cream.”
“My ‘one time.’” He leaned a shoulder lightly against the freezer and folded his arms across his chest. “Maybe you should tell me about that.”
“Look. I’m not the kind of girl who runs after a guy. You get one time, and that’s just so I can tell you it won’t happen again, since you didn’t figure it out on your own.”
Will straightened and pushed his hands into his pockets. “And you running to me in the grocery store was my ‘one time.’”
“Yes.” Cameron looked behind her and waited for a woman with a full cart to pass. She lowered her voice. “You just spent it on a stupid little doll head.”
Will stood still a moment, then opened the freezer door and pulled out a quart gallon of vanilla bean. He set it in the cart. He waved Cameron forward. “After you, ” he said.
Cameron paused, then turned and walked toward the registers, Will following behind without a word. She lifted a copy of National Enquirer from the rack while they waited their turn behind an elderly man buying a half gallon of milk, a box of Lucky Charms and three scratch-off tickets.
She turned to Will. “Let’s try this again. What I wanted to know back there was why is the severed head of a Barbie doll in your glove box?”
Will smiled. “That’s what you wanted to know? You get that it’s a different question completely, right?”
“Right. Only you knew I wasn’t asking you to tell me which Barbie character the head belonged to, right? Are you going to start another diversion or just solve the mystery for me?”
“I don’t need a diversion. Nothing to hide. I’m sure you’ll find it all very uninteresting, in fact. I–”
“Evening, Mr. Phillips.” The cashier motioned to him. “You find everything okay?”
“I did, thanks. Every one thing on my list.” He touched Cameron’s arm lightly. “Give me a second, okay? This is not a diversion, it’s keeping the line moving.”
“Cigarettes tonight, Mr. Phillips?” The tall cashier tossed his head to the left to shake his brown bangs out of his eyes. “I can call the manager up.”
“Nah, not tonight Eric, ” Will said, gesturing with his eyes toward Cameron.
“Oh, uh, right. Umm… I heard you …quit.”
“No, you didn’t hear that. Because I didn’t. Haven’t found a good enough reason yet.”
“Maybe you will soon, Sir.” Eric glanced at Cameron, who was still flipping through the Enquirer pages pretending to care which aging former Hollywood starlet’s Botox injections went awry.
Will smiled at him. “Maybe. Never know.”
The cashier picked up the ice cream and reached for a plastic sack. “Never mind, Eric, ” Will said, waving him off. “I don’t need a bag.” He took the ice cream and turned to Cameron. “You all done reading over there?”
Cameron closed the magazine and slipped it back into the rack. “Brad and Angie split up.” She pushed the cart through the checkout aisle and they walked together to the exit.
“Now, about the doll head, ” Cameron said as they approached the truck. “You were saying?”
Will opened the cab door on Cameron’s side. “Yes, I was saying. It’s going to turn out to be pretty anticlimactic after all this drama, I’m afraid.” Cameron got in and Will closed her door and walked to the other side. When he climbed into his seat, Cameron was holding the head, twisting the long blonde hair into a bun and holding it to Skipper’s small head with her index finger. “I loved to do their hair, ” she said.
“I found it.”
“You found it?”
“Yes, I found it. In a parking lot. All by itself. Nobody else. No body, in fact, which is a shame because as I recall, Barbie’s body was, well…” Cameron lifted her finger from the doll’s head and the hair popped out of its bun and tumbled down her invisible back.
“Right, ” Will continued. “Never mind her body. Barbie has really taken a lot of flack for that.”
“You found it in a parking lot. Okay.” Cameron’s eyes narrowed and she thought a moment. “But what happened between the head lying on the pavement and the head bouncing around in your glove box?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Have you noticed how you repeat me a lot?” Will half-smiled.
“Have you noticed how you express incomplete thoughts a lot?”
“If they’re so incomplete, I don’t know that I’d go around repeating them.”
“Whatever.” Cameron frowned. “Why’d you pick it up?”
“It felt important.”
“It felt important?”
Will started the truck. “You’re doing it again.”
Cameron laughed softly. “I know. I’m sorry. What seemed important about it?”
“I have no idea, ” Will said. “I mean, I’m sure I probably do have an idea. But I don’t know it yet.” He slowed for the four-way stop a block from Pearl’s house. “Do you ever have that?”
“Do I ever know something I don’t know?”
“No, do you ever not know something you do?”
“Sounds like the same thing to me.” Cameron shook her head.
Will laughed. “I suppose it does. Probably is.” He turned onto Pearl’s gravel and shut off the truck, then shifted in his seat to face Cameron. “Have you ever discovered something one day, only to realize later that maybe, somehow, something in you knew it all along and was silently, stealthily moving you toward that discovery? “
“Sounds a little determinist to me.”
“Nah.” Will shook his head. “I think I’m just not explaining it very well.”
“Why did you keep the doll head, Will?” Cameron wrapped the doll’s hair around her little finger. “It’s sweet, you know. But I just really wonder why.”
“I do too. But I just don’t know yet. All I know is I have this same feeling about lost things.”
“Things that are missing. That head. It’s missing its body. ‘Course, somewhere in a little girl’s closet is a body that’s missing its head.”
“She’s probably already thrown it away.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe she keeps it as a spare. I used to change the heads on my dolls all the time. Sometimes it was really hard to get the neck plug-thingy into the hole under her chin. It was a super tight fit.” He put his fists together to demonstrate.
“You used to?”
Will paused and looked at his hands. “Yeah, well, you’re repeating me again.”
“I am. I’m sorry.”
“Anyway.” He opened the cab door. “Lost things. I once investigated a claim where a woman had a heart attack going 65 mph on the highway. Lost consciousness and drove the car off the road and into a building. Tragic. Never knew whether the heart attack killed her or if it was the impact. Either way, she was dead at the scene.”
“Yeah, I know. But there was this thing in the autopsy that haunted me for weeks. She was missing a shoe. I mean, they inventory all her personals — the color shirt and pants she had on, her necklace, a ring, the lipstick in her purse, even the 63 cents in change. But she had only one shoe. Two feet. One shoe. Where the hell was the other one? Was it still in the car somewhere? Did it fall out when they extricated her from the vehicle? Did she know something that morning that she didn’t really know and for some reason leave home with only one shoe? If I’d have read the autopsy before I investigated the scene I’d have spent the day combing the ditches for it.”
“Ever get an answer?”
“Nah. There was no answer. Everybody else was doing their jobs — report the facts. No reason to speculate on something that had nothing to do with the accident or the cause of death.”
“She didn’t need the shoe anymore, Will, ” Cameron said softly.
“Maybe not. Tell that to the brown slip-on in the road ditch somewhere that hasn’t seen a good foot in years. That shoe has a good story. I’m sure of it.”
“I love a cute pair of shoes as much as the next girl. Actually, from the look of my closet, maybe even more. But shoes don’t tell stories. They’re just shoes.”
“The hell they don’t. Listen, when they bury me, make sure I have shoes on both feet. I don’t want the left one talking.” Will winked at Cameron. She smiled.
“Hey, were you really running to catch me in the grocery store?” Will asked.
“Ice cream is melting, Will. We’d better get inside.”
(to be continued)