“Oh, stop.” Tippy slapped at him. “Clare’s not that bad…anymore…well not as bad…okay, she’s trying really, really hard…or maybe we’re all just getting used to her…or…”
“She’s a like a human kudzu.” Ian sighed. “She gets one finger in the door and she somehow manages to take over, strangling the beauty and the breath out of everything for miles and miles and miles.”
“Hey.” Jesse elbowed his brother. “You knocked her up.”
“Don’t you need to be buying condoms and speed dialing Sarah Palin?”
“Okay, someone has to be the adult in the room.” Ripley hiked up his britches. “I guess it’s my turn. Billy, did you come bursting in here just to tell us your daughter was listening to the baby move?”
“Oh…yeah…right.” Billy turned back to Ian. “I made a few phone calls and discovered something that may be important.”
“Okay.” Ian blinked, bracing for the worse.
“Is Kellen still here?” Billy looked amongst the group. “Kellen should hear this.”
“No. I think he went out earlier.” Tippy pointed over her shoulder. “I don’t remember where he said he was going. Do you?”
“No.” Colton thought a moment. “I saw him go out the front door, but I don’t recall him telling anyone where he was going.”
“He may have told Clare.” Reese said. “I saw them chatting just before he got up and left the house.”
“You want me to ask?” Jesse piped in.
“You just wanna hear the baby move.” Ian teased.
“I can’t help it.” Jesse blushed. “It’s cool.”
“So cool.” Ian agreed.
“Okay…once again…adult in the room?” Ripley said. “Whose turn is it?”
“Never mind.” Billy didn’t know whether to laugh or roll his eyes. “Let me just get this out before we get into cyclical and linear configurations and who invented the color burple.”
“Purple.” Ripley smiled. “The color purple.”
“I have a four year old.” Billy blinked. “To her it’s burple.”
“Who did invent the color purple?” Jesse quandered.
“Well, I know who wrote it.” Tippy said. “But I don’t know who invented it.”
“It’s a color.” Ian insisted. “You can’t invent a color.”
“Stop it!” Billy interrupted. “Ian, I made some phone calls about the renovations…”
“I thought you were doing the renovations/” Colton said.
“But you said…”
“Okay, stop before we get way off track again…” Billy waved his hands in the air. “Everyone take a deep breath and hold it in until I get this out. Now, on the count of three…one…”
“Is this really necessary?” Tippy asked looking around the room.
“…Two…” Billy stared her down.
“Oh.” She realized what she was doing. “Maybe it is.”
Tippy and everyone in the room took a deep breath and held it.
Billy began to race verbally before people started passing out. “I called the Vespa Brothers, the people Elizabeth Elysian contracted to do the renovations that disconnected the third floor and half the second. I didn’t find out why she insisted it was done, but I did make a discovery that may answer a few other questions. One of the men in the crew doing the renovations was Blue Richards.”
Ian took a breath of air and sputtered. “Blue Richards?”
“He worked with the crew for three weeks until Miss Elizabeth insisted that he be fired.”
“She had him fired?” Tippy took a deep breath, and put her hand to her ample bosom.
“She said she was constantly finding him in parts of the house, by himself, where he wasn’t supposed to be.” Billy informed them.
“That’s odd.” Ian said.
“That she had him fired or that he kept turning up where he wasn’t supposed to be?” Jesse asked.
“Focus people…focus or take another breath and hold it.” Billy warned. “Here’s the good part, Blue and another guy were specifically assigned to rebuild the master bedroom closet.”
“My closet?” The statement hit Ian like the proverbial ton of bricks. “Can we talk to the guy? The one who worked on the closet with him?”
Billy crossed his arms and shook his head. “Can’t, turned up dead in a dumpster about three weeks later.”
“Surely the investigators knew about all of this.” Tippy said out loud to herself.
“Uhm…Peyton Balouche?” Reese reminded her.
“That explains how he was able to hide in the house all night without anyone knowing it.” Ripley added.
“And maybe…” Ian looked from the couch up the stairway, “...Where his clothes are and what he took from the house.”
The group looked at each other and began a mass exodus to the master bedroom closet.
“Shouldn’t we call somebody before we do this?”
“Like who? The police think this case is closed.”
“Kellen or maybe Yancy?”
Too late, they were already in the closet ripping everything off the walls looking for latches or levers or anything that would allow entrance into the blocked off portion of the house. In seconds all of Ian’s carefully hung clothes, stacked shoes and folded shirts were a huge messy pile on his bed.
“I think I found it.” Reese said in triumph.
He ran his fingers beneath the crown molding on the ceiling. “See? This is the top of the door. I think the whole wall must just swing.”
“What, do we push it or is there a latch?” Ian shoved slightly on the wall.
“Ya’ll are silly” came the little girl’s voice in the closet doorway.
“Vonnie, Angel, we’re trying to find something.” Tippy explained.
“I know.” She said confidently. “But it only swings the other way.”
All movement and conversation ceased as heads slowly turned to the four year old in the doorway.
“Oops.” Vonnie said, folding her hands sweetly in front of her and smiling as innocently as she could possibly figure out how to do.
“Vonnie?” Her father said an octave or two lower than usual.
“Uh…Auntie Clare sent me in here to tell you something important.” She quickly changed the subject.
“Auntie Clare?” Ian’s eyebrow went up again.
“World…ending…” Jesse muttered.
“Yuh huh…” Vonnie smiled and batted her eyes. “It don’t make much sense to me, but she said it was a ‘mergency…her water broked…”