It took a few weeks for life on Marilyn’s houseboat, Just Reward, to settle into any kind of normalcy. She had trouble sleeping initially; every sound was foreign to her and it kept her nerves taut and her mind and body alert. Eventually she came to recognize the routine sounds and could now easily dismiss them.
At first her days seemed lonely, after all she had not intended to retire this early or alone. It was true that she was used to Daniel being away ninety percent of the time, but she had always counted on sharing their retirement time.
It was during the third week that Marilyn finally started to unwind and develop a schedule. She would start the day with a quick shower followed by breakfast of a half of a Ruby Red grapefruit, black coffee and whole-wheat toast. Then she would take the canoe out and go fishing for rainbow trout. Sure she could just fish from the deck, but she wanted the exercise the paddling provided for both her body and mind.
She had an aerial map of the lake and streams that it fed and she wanted to familiarize herself with the entire region. This daily exercise also provided Marilyn with an opportunity to see how many neighbors she had, who they were and what their routines were.
Since Marilyn only caught what she needed for her lunch or dinner, her return to the Just Reward was quicker on some occasions than others. A light lunch, either the trout or a salad followed this return. When the dishes were done, she spent an hour on the deck reading a best seller or listening to an educational audiocassette while sunning herself. When the hour was up; over the side she’d go, swimming out to the floating dock and back several times. Each rounder was equivalent to a lap and Marilyn constantly pushed herself to do an extra one, building up her stamina.
Just when everything was settling into a nice comfortable pattern, her world was turned upside down. Coming home even earlier than usual with her day’s catch she thought she’d seen a car pulling away for the houseboat. It was a navy Taurus, either a ’98 or ’99 with Colorado plates.
Marilyn hurriedly tied up the canoe she had dubbed Fitting End, and entered the houseboat. Now she was certain the Taurus’ driver had been aboard the Just Reward. To the untrained eye nothing looked amiss, but Marilyn’s eyes were trained. They sought what others could not see; the slightest indentation on a seat cushion, a drapery pleat that now hung differently, or a faint depression in the carpeting where she never stood.
Her desk and dresser drawers had been carefully searched but nothing had been taken. Her camera and laptop computer had both been slightly moved. Her desktop computer monitor was warm to the touch, but it was a futile exercise for the intruder to look in her computer files; there was nothing to find.
She could tell that her visitor had been a smoker and although he hadn’t smoked aboard the Just Reward he might just as well have. Her nose picked up the scent of tobacco smoke that had permeated his clothing and oozed through his pores. Marilyn had never smoked and her nose was very sensitive to the smell of cigarettes that lingered around others who did.
What had he been looking for and who was he? More with an idea to find out if there had been other recent break-ins in the region, Marilyn decided to report the incident to the Sheriff’s office. She should have known better.
“So you say someone came aboard your boat, looked around some but didn’t take anything?”
“For the third time Sheriff Landers, yes that’s what I’m saying. Things were moved… handled, but nothing taken.”
“Now just why do you think someone just came aboard and then left all that stuff behind?”
“I don’t know, perhaps my early return scared him away.”
He eyed Marilyn appraisingly; she was now a very trim one hundred twenty-five pounds. He couldn’t imagine her presence striking fear in the heart of any man.
She knew what he was thinking, his skepticism clearly visible. Little did he know that she could take him out in seconds without the aid of a weapon and without so much as breaking a sweat.
“More than likely it was a friend coming to visit who left before they saw you were already coming back.”
“I told you, no one knows I’m here and I don’t know anyone from Colorado.”
“Well we’ll keep an eye out for the car. It’s about all we can do for now.” Just another nervous Nellie he thought to himself. She just can’t adjust to life without a man in it. Come to think of it, her husband had been dead a couple of months now and she was a good-looking package. Sucking in his stomach muscles as much as possible he smiled at her, “If you’d like, I can come by on a kinda regular basis. You know, to make sure you’re all right and all.”
Oh my gawd, save me from the would-be heroes of the world. Out loud Marilyn said, “That really won’t be necessary Sheriff. If there’s a problem, I’ll call.” With that she made her escape. She hoped he wouldn’t become a problem as she rather liked the area. But if he did…well, if there was one thing she did know, it was how to solve a problem.
Going back to the Just Reward her mind was still in turmoil. Was this a random act or had someone targeted her? The answer to her question was quickly answered by Nora’s phone message.
“Hi Marilyn, sorry to bother you already with business problems but there are some budget issues that I could use your help with. Please call me as soon as you can.” Nora’s call had come in just five minutes before her arrival.
“Hi Nora, If you have the information ready we can over the budget tonight after dinner. Yes, I’m going to spend the night in the city. No, thanks anyway. I’ll just grab a room in town. I’ll call you when I get in.”
Preparing a few booby traps for any more unexpected visitors, Marilyn mentally prepared a shopping list of the hi-tech electronic gear she would purchase in town tomorrow. Her measures tonight would not keep anyone off of the Just Reward, but it would make his presence more easily detectable and might give her an idea as to what he was looking for.
Technically still in mourning, Marilyn wore a crisp black linen sheath and classic black leather pumps to the restaurant where she was to meet Nora. Paranoid that she might be followed she checked and rechecked her review mirror the entire journey and again while circling the block pretending to look for a parking space. You could never be too careful and she wasn’t about to let her guard down especially now when all her senses were screaming at her to stay alert.
“Hey Nora, sorry I’m late. I had a hell of a time finding a parking spot.”
“No problem. I’ve already looked at the menu. We can order whenever you’re ready.” She slid her menu over to Marilyn. Inside was hastily scribbled note which read: the office was broken into early this morning. Nothing taken but some bugs detected.
Damn, Marilyn hadn’t thought to see if anything had been left, she was too intent on checking if anything had been taken. She’d rectify that little oversight as soon as she returned to the Just Reward. Bless Nora and her thoroughness.
“Actually I had trout earlier today. I think I’ll have the beef.”
She discreetly palmed Nora’s note.
Since nothing had been said about trout, Nora correctly guessed that Marilyn also had a visitor earlier today, a man.
They talked in hushed whispers on their way back to Marilyn’s car.
Once inside the hotel room with budget projections and spreadsheets neatly arranged on the floor, the two women engaged in a lot of double talk. Neither one could hazard a guess as to who was behind these privacy invasions or what he had hoped to gain. Marilyn had never discussed business at home or on the Just Reward and only very routine business was discussed at the office.
Both agreed that a full-scale alert was necessary until the culprit could be apprehended and his motive ascertained. It was also vital that they learned if he was working alone or for someone else. With strategies planned and a secondary communication system arranged, the two friends took leave of each other.
Date and Time Agreed
Copyright 2001 Alex Knight
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.