Subscribe to read more of ‘Buried Ladies’
‘Buried Ladies’ Chapter 7
Sally woke up to an empty bed. Bob was already at work. She looked at the clock and realized he would be in 1st block now – Algebra II. She hated math!
She rolled over to check her phone for messages, then stretched a little. She loved mornings like this – the quiet time alone so she could organize the day ahead in her mind. She smelled a mixture of Bob’s masculine smell and the remnant of last night’s lovemaking on the sheets. She really loved him, she thought, even as she tripped over the running shoes he always left on the bathroom floor and found the toilet seat up – again.
She and Bob met in college at a frat party, she a dance major, him in math. What an unlikely pair they made. She was tall and slim while Bob, a former high school quarterback, was big and bulky. She was blond, he a brunette. She was a vegetarian and he a dedicated carnivore. Friends called them “Frick and Frack” because they were so different. Soon after they married, he followed her to NY where they lived very different lives, his in the classroom, her’s in the studio.
Her mom was coming over today to help get things ready for the Labor Day celebration, so no time for lounging around. First a shower and coffee, then a quick trip to the store for ingredients. Her mom would be here in an hour to help make the pies they auctioned off every year to raise funds for the women’s shelter. Her mom’s pies always fetched a good price because she bought fresh fruit instead of using canned stuff and her secret piecrust recipe was rich and buttery.
Her mom was slowly getting over her father’s death. They’d been married for 40 years. Diana didn’t work, so she spent her time focused on their small family and the charities she supported lavishly with both time and money. The last year was especially hard as the cancer ate away at his lungs. Joey, Sally’s brother, visited as often as he could, but he had his own family and job to worry about. It helped that Sally and Bob lived so close and that Sally’s job meant she was home all day to do things with her mother. They were good companions for each other. Sally helped Diana with her charity work or they would go shopping. Diana’s taste was impeccable. Of course, her mother started hinting about kids as soon as she left ABT.
The phone rang just as she got her hair all soaped up. Glancing at the display on the iPhone she’d rested on the window ledge outside the shower, she saw a caller ID she didn’t recognize, so she let it go to voicemail. While she was pulling on fresh shorts and a t-shirt, the same number popped up again. This time she answered.
“Sally, it’s Officer Ramirez … from yesterday. We just found a body and I’d like you to come down to see if it’s your friend. We tried calling her husband, but he’s not answering either his cell or work phone. I know this is hard, but it would really help if you could tell us who we found.”
Her heart sank; so much for making pies. She left a quick note for her mom to start without her.
Driving north through McAllen she felt like she was in someone else’s body, floating above and watching herself driving to a place where her best friend was buried. After the bustle of NY, though, driving in McAllen was a blessing. Folks complained about traffic, but, for them, traffic meant 4 cars in front of you at a red light. How would they feel if they had to negotiate bridges blocked for miles or crowded subway cars every day? Most probably couldn’t cope.
When she first moved to the valley, as locals called the area, she was amazed at how many people she met who had never even been as far as away as San Antonio – 3 hours away. Almost no one had ever been to Houston. As a business owner trying to build an audience for a professional ballet company, it didn’t help that folks had never seen a performance in these bigger cities.
“It’s not her,” she said flatly after looking at the once pretty girl lying face up on a piece of plastic. Her face was blotted with the early stages of decomposition. Her long dark hair was matted and covered in blood. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry. She looked to be about the same age and size as Estella, but this face had seen more sorrow and want than you saw on Estella’s face, which always looked like it was just about to break into a laugh.
They’d covered her body from the neck down with a dark plastic sheet. She didn’t want to even think about what lay under it. At first she felt jubilant to discover it wasn’t Estella, but she realized someone else was facing the loss she’d been dreading ever since answering the phone this morning.
Without another word she got back in her car and drove home. There were pies to make, luggage to pack for their trip to South Padre over Labor Day weekend, and she needed a good cry. On the drive back, she called her mother to see if she needed anything and explained where she’d gone in such a hurry this morning.
“More apples and some cinnamon – I can’t find any in the cupboard,” was the answer. That meant swinging by HEB. She might as well pick up more sunblock and a couple bottles of wine for the hotel. Maybe that new Pinot Grigio she and Bob liked.
Oh, my God. How can I be thinking about wine and apples when parents, siblings, maybe a fiancé just lost someone they loved dearly? She was someone’s best friend, even it she wasn’t mine. I’m glad it wasn’t Estella, but it’s horrible what happened to that woman. She was so young and sad. She should be alive and planning for something fun over the 3-day holiday not rotting in a construction site, buried under a pile of leftover lumber, roofing shingles, and hardened cement blobs. It would have been a long time before anyone found her except the truck came to empty the dumpster today and noticed her body where last night’s rain washed away some of the soil. I wonder who she was. What happened to her?
She found her mother in the kitchen covered in flour. She smelled at least 1 pie baking in the oven and the counter held the crust she’d just finished rolling out. Sally quickly put the groceries away and donned her apron to help.
“Sit with me a minute,” said Diana, forcing her into the nearest kitchen chair. She put a steaming cup of coffee in front of her and went to the fridge for the creamer. That’s when Sally noticed her hands were shaking – she almost spilled hot coffee all over her white sundress.
“I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s just too awful. That poor girl. I’ve never seen anything so sad. When Daddy died I was devastated, but it was a little easier because we knew it was coming and, after watching him struggle through chemo and wasting away, it was almost a blessing to know he wasn’t in pain anymore. We could celebrate the life he had – his children and Joey’s kids. At the end, everyone was there to say goodbye. But not with this girl. Who was she? Was she alone and scared when she was killed? Did she suffer? And, if they can’t figure out who she is, maybe her family will forever wonder what happened to her.”
“OK, finish your coffee at least. Then we can light a candle and pray for her, ” Diana said, giving her a huge bear hug.
As she sat in her bedroom later, folding clothes and packing for the weekend, she thought about that girl again. How lucky she was to have her family, her friends, and Bob. Sure, he left clothes all over the house and she had to nag him to mow the lawn, but he was a truly good person. He did little things just to show her he loved her. Like remembering her favorite flowers or stopping for that little pastry she loved from the little panaderia near the school for no reason. Or he’d bring home a hot botana plate for a late dinner after class. And, when she asked him to get some shampoo, he always remembered her favorite brand. It was little things like that she adored about him – letting her know he thought she was special and was thinking of her.
It didn’t hurt that he was hot. Not just your average run-of-the-mill good looking, but Channing Tatum hot. You know, the hunky guy from ‘Magic Mike’. Even his six-pack had a six-pack. My friends always flirt with him, I don’t think they mean anything by it, it was just really hard not to. He’d been dating someone when they met in college, so they started as friends. He even brought his girlfriend to a performance where Sally danced the solo from Swan Lake. They all had coffee afterwards. The girlfriend seemed nice. Despite their differences, Bob and Sally spent more time together. Bob helped her pass the required math class she’d been avoiding taking since her freshman year. One night, while he was tutoring math, their heads buried over a math problem, he’d looked up and kissed her gently. Her lips felt like a flame had touched them and she wanted him to touch her again. Pretty soon, clothes got in the way and were pushed aside as they moved to her bed. Probably wasn’t the smartest idea to study in her dorm room – or was it, as it turned out.
The next day, he’d felt really bad about it, while she felt wonderfully alive. She’d never known sex could be this wonderful, a mixture of tenderness and animal lust. He was afraid he’d taken advantage of his position – that she’d felt like she had to have sex with him in exchange for his math help, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. She’d been hoping this would happen since they first met at the party. And, he felt guilty cheating on his girlfriend.
He told his girlfriend what happened and, after the tears, she’d decided they couldn’t go on. Sally was afraid to start a relationship, at first, once she found out he was free; they were so different. Plus, she figured that if he cheated with her, he might cheat on her. They took it slow that first year, even dated some other people before they settled down to being a couple.
Over time, they’d become inseparable. The sex got even better, even though Sally didn’t think it was possible, it was so good in the beginning. Their differences brought them closer rather than pulling them apart. Now, Sally couldn’t imagine life without him.
Did that woman die because her boyfriend/ husband got angry or drank too much tequila? Her face didn’t look like he hit her, so maybe no. Sally just knew she had to get some answers. If she didn’t know what was going on, she’d never get the look on that woman’s face out of her mind.
“Hello. May I speak to Officer Ramirez, please?”
“Which Officer Ramirez, ma’am. Danny or Juan?” said the bright voice that answered her call to the precinct.
“Oh, Danny please – um, he’s the one who’s partnered with Officer Rodriguez?”
“Yeah, that’s Danny. They’re both on patrol today. Can I ask what this is about?”
“Um, he was here yesterday about my friend who’s missing. Then today, he asked me to come identify a body they’d found buried in some construction debris. I just wanted to follow up and see if they knew anything about her yet,” explained Sally.
“Hold on a sec.” And, before she could say anything Sally heard the phone start playing a tecano song – a local favorite. She hated tecano music. To her, it sounded like polka with Spanish words. She hated polka music, too.
She was getting ready to hang up when a voice picked up.
“Can I help you ma’am? This is Detective Morales.”
“Thank you for taking my call, Detective. I was at the construction site this morning. Officer Ramirez called and asked me to come up and see if I could identify that body you guys found thinking it might be my friend, who’s missing. Do you know anything yet?”
He remembered a very tall, thin woman in a white sundress at the scene. He normally liked women that were a little more full bodied, but he had to admit, she was incredibly attractive. He’d been told why she was there and that she didn’t recognize the body. “We don’t normally release information about an ongoing investigation, but since you’re already involved, I guess it won’t hurt. Would you like to stop by the precinct for a chat?”
“I’d love to. I have a tea this afternoon, then I’ll stop by. Maybe around 4? Will you still be there?”
“Yeah, unless they find another body somewhere. I’m on ‘til 6. Just ask for me when you get here and the desk sergeant will escort you up,” he said. They didn’t have much call for a homicide detective so he mainly worked on breaking up smuggling rings and chop shops. The few murders that happened in McAllen were mainly drug-related, someone stealing someone’s stash or encroaching on a rival drug dealer’s territory. Occasionally, some abusive husband went too far or the wife fought back with a knife or 2 drunks beat each other up, but those murders practically solved themselves. This was a rare situation, an unsolved murder.
Still thinking about the poor, dead girl, Sally got dressed for the tea in her new sundress with the cap sleeves and tiny geometric shapes all over, along with the obligatory hat and gloves. When she first bought the dress, Bob teased her about being a math teacher’s wife wearing so many elements of geometry. Sally knew so little about higher math she almost didn’t know what he was talking about. Having gone to a prestigious performing arts high school, math wasn’t taught very seriously. She’d been paying so much attention to him when he taught her math in college, she didn’t really remember much.
She absolutely hated this stuff, but since everyone was hooked on Downton Abbey, the Rio Grande Valley society women began throwing tea parties about once a month. They really set her teeth on edge, but she didn’t dare miss one without a good excuse. Too many of the dance moms were part of these events and it was good business to make nice to the folks who paid to keep her studio open. There were 3 other studios in the area and competition for the best dancers and enough of the mediocre dancers to pay the light bill was fierce. Even with her reputation, it helped to show your face sometimes. Plus, these women brought their husbands to her company performances, bought advertising in her program, and sponsored a few fundraising events around town.
Sally chocked down a cup of the truly awful tea served at these events and carefully avoided the pastries. She loved them, but she would be wearing a bikini and not much else all weekend. She loved her trim figure more and the sweets. Besides, Labor Day meant 3 days of eating and no dance classes; not a good combination. She parried pointed conversations with a couple of the dance moms determined their little darling should be cast as Sugar Plum Fairy for the days when visiting principle dancers weren’t performing. She neatly ducked out the door an hour after arriving with the excuse of a terrible headache.
When Sally pulled up at the police station, she saw Officers Ramirez and Rodrigues getting out of their marked patrol car. She waved and joined them on the walk into the building. They checked her in with the desk sergeant and introduced her to Detective Morales on the 5th floor.
The police didn’t really know much. An autopsy was scheduled for tomorrow and maybe they’d know something more then. The detective asked her more questions, mostly background about Estella and Jaime, then gave her his card and wished her a happy Labor Day.
The officers didn’t share what they’d discovered during their conversation with Jim at the university or their suspicion that she was right about something happening to Estella. They also didn’t tell her about Jim’s previous brushes with the law for hacking. Even though those were juvenile records, they’d gotten a judge to unseal them as part of the investigation. Jim was up to something, even if it had nothing to do with this murder and they wanted to know what it was.