“Get a clue, woman, the banks aren’t lending,” Dillon said. “I’m so close to finishing the Quail Rock project. If I don’t get funding we’re going to lose it.”
Movement on the other side of the fence attracts Gemma’s attention. She catches a glimpse of two men, each carrying flashlights. Releasing a heavy sigh, she loads her twelve gauge shotgun and steps out onto the front porch. “Who are you and what do you want?” she yells. There’s no reply. The men duck down behind large granite rocks. “Do not cross our fence or I will shoot. I’ll bury you over there and no one will ever know.” Dillon walks up the driveway near the fence and calls out to them. Still, there’s no reply, so he gets into his truck. Gemma notices the flashlights moving about. She aims her rifle a safe distance above the men toward the hill behind and fires off a shot.
It’s still until she sees the headlights beam across the landscape as Dillon drives up. All is quiet and Gemma grows tired of watching. Her husband comes back and said he talked with a man that claims he owns the property and is camping out. Dillon said he didn’t see a second man. Gemma said, “That’s because he’s still behind the rock by the fence. Did you post the no trespassing signs?” Dillon has forgotten again, but assures Gemma all is fine and she can go to sleep.
The next morning, a blue truck was backed up to their fence. Gemma leans on the rail of the porch, her mouth agape. The tall grass lies like a trail of fallen dominoes. In the dirt below the porch are footprints and on the porch in front of the door is a red substance that her dog named Duke licks at. Gemma puts Duke in the house while she swabs what appears to be red paint or blood and puts the swabs in a plastic baggy; then she calls the sheriff’s department.
Sheriff Deputy Coty Hall stands on the porch approximately eight feet from the door with his hands on his hips. “Mam, you can’t shoot at people. It’s illegal to shoot at or over anyone unless they have entered your home and you feel your life is threatened,” he said in an authoritative tone. “Why would you do that?” he demands. She said, “Because I am tired of being harassed and kept awake at night. I want them to know to stay off our property and leave me alone.” Coty continues, “Have you made someone mad lately, mam?” Gemma clenches her teeth, “No, why don’t you go over there and ask them why they’re backed up to our fence. Go talk to them while they’re still there.” Coty grinned, “Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do until someone has entered your home and attacked you. Post ‘No Trespassing’ signs. If we catch a trespasser, we can give them a warning. When we catch the trespasser for the third time, we can then arrest that person and impose a fine. Where is your husband Mrs. Casey?” Gemma said, “Dillon’s main guy is in jail so he picks him up every work day, gets his crew started on a job, and he’ll be back with a few guys to work on the siding here.” Coty said, “Who’s the guy he picks up at the jail?” She said, “His name is Brent Ruiz. Brent is usually running things around here.” “Ok, yea I know him.” Coty said, “Well, is that baggy for me? Show me the things you’ve noticed around here.”
“Bizarre things have been going on long enough that I started watching what happens.” She shows him the footprints in the dirt, “Notice the size and shape of these,” she said. Then, she hands him a photo of a footprint and a tape measure on the hardwood floor in her bedroom. “This footprint measures 12 inches. My husband wear’s a size ten shoe. And, see this wound on Dukes hip? Doesn’t it look like a stab wound to you, made by a pocket knife? It’s a week old,” Gemma said. Coty examined the wound and agreed it appeared to be a stab wound. “Duke won’t go up to the shop anymore,” she said. “He only looks up there and barks. Sometimes when I leave I put Duke out of the house, but a couple of times I’ve come home and he’s inside and the doors are still locked. Other times I’ve left him in, but he’s locked out when I get back.
Some nights, I leave my computer on, but in the morning it’s shut down. Once in a while, certain of my clothes are missing and then they reappear in the most obvious place a few days later. And, I have thought I’ve seen flashes, like a camera flash, coming from outside the living room from that direction. She and Coty walk down the slope to a tree Gemma is talking about. Limbs are freshly broken and placed crosswise in the branches to form a stable prop. I have awakened to find my doors wide open though I shut and lock them every night.
Someone knocks on the wall during the night too. Usually between one and three a.m. Not just here either. Three weeks ago my husband and I took a trip to Sacramento and someone knocked on the door of our room. No one was there when my husband opened the door. It was the same knock, five times fast and pounding. I’m concerned that someone is stalking me. And one last thing, I’ve counted sixteen trails on our property. If they’re deer trails, we have more deer on our eight and a half acres than our neighbors or anyone in these mountains, but I’ve never seen a deer on our property.”
Coty asks Gemma for her license and makes his notes. “OK, mam, Lock your gun in the cabinet. Here’s my card. Call me if you have any further problem.” The deputy is gone before Dillon returns. Gemma notices that the blue truck is gone too. She thinks they must’ve gone while the Sheriff was inside the house.
She is picking up scraps of wood from around the house when her husband arrives. She informs Dillon that she reported herself for shooting the night before. “Why did you do that? What did he say?” Dillon asks as he fastens his tool belt. Gemma quickly relates her conversation with the sheriff and told how the sheriff’s department can’t do anything until her life is threatened. Dillon dropped his jaw. “Yep,” she said, “The law protects the criminal.” He said, “Yea, ok I got to get to work.”
As Gemma eventually works her way to the back of the wrap around porch carrying a bucket for wood pieces, Brent calls out to her, “Hey, if I knew giving my sandwich to Duke would make him like me, I’d have done it a long time ago,” he said. Gemma purses her lips and cracks a bit of a smile, but keeps busy. Brent sits on a saw horse while Gemma’s husband, Dillon, turns his back to she and Brent deciding how to cut the corner pieces of log siding. “Wow Gemma, you’ll be rich when Dillon dies. Think about all that money,” Brent said in a low voice. Gemma glances at Dillon who seems not to hear a word of what Brent says. She steps toward Brent and glares at him while she said, “He’s worth more to me alive.” Brent smiles and brushes Gemma’s shoulder as he stands up. “Women usually outlive men. Wouldn’t you like to collect his life insurance sooner, while you can still enjoy it?” he said over his shoulder.
Gemma drops her bucket, stomps toward the front end of the porch and plunks down in a round metal chair. She has set an intimate white metal table with a round glass top and two matching chairs in the corner of the high end of the porch. At seventeen feet above ground, the view over the tops of the oaks and pine trees is panoramic of the mountain range on the opposite side of the valley. This is Gemma’s personal space where she reads undisturbed, meditates and relaxes. She wonders why her husband keeps Brent around when she has begged Dillon to get rid of him. Why would Dillon hire a man that was a chef by trade and make him his right hand man in construction? Unsatisfied and bothered she enters through the French doors, passes through the dining room and into the kitchen. She leans over the kitchen sink, thinking about trespassers and the harassment that keeps her from sleeping a few nights a week since they moved to this woodsy acreage. Gemma drops her head and folds over the sink again, why does Dillon pick Brent up from jail each morning and bring him to work? To work around me?
She takes tea and a pitcher of water out of the fridge. Places lettuce, sliced onion, tomatoes, pickles, bell, and cheese on a platter then sets it on the dining table. Another plate holds slices of salami and baked chicken. “Time to eat,” Gemma yells out the door as she plops homemade bread at each end of the table. She finishes setting the table by the time the workers come in and wash up.
Gemma keeps her eyes on her plate and watches the supply of food and drink as she listens to the talk and jokes. After eating peach cobbler with cream for dessert Brent said, “Thank you, Gemma. You know, I’m voting you in. You should be the boss. I love to eat your,” he pauses, “to eat your food. No way do we eat this good in jail. Everyday my cell mates ask what I have for lunch and dinner. They’re all jealous and I love it. This is my last day and I’m out.”
Gemma looks at him as she said, “Just don’t tell them my name, or where I live.” His expression changes, he slumps and forces a weak smile.
The sun begins to cut a slightly new trail to evening. Dillon returns from the jail and settles down for the night, Gemma asks, “Why would you tell Brent about our life insurance and finances? He knows all our personal business, yours and mine.” Dillon assures her that he didn’t discuss their life insurance with Brent and maintains he didn’t hear Brent talking to her about it, so Gemma drops the subject.
Gemma wakes refreshed and energized the next morning. She works at home sweeping up saw dust, and picking up screws. Brent isn’t working today so, Dillon works at Quail Rock with the crew and gets home late for dinner. “Brent called me. He needed a ride. I dropped him off at his place.” He turns on the TV and takes his plate to the living room.
Gemma stares at the back of his head for a moment, and then pours a cup of coffee and takes it to her space the porch with the novel she is reading. She reads, gazes at the stars a while, watches the bats dart about and listens to the crickets. Finally, she checks on Dillon. He has fallen asleep on the couch again. She leaves him and the TV as they are and goes to go to bed.
She’s restless and rolls around trying to find a comfortable position. Her husband approaches her side of the bed. He has a towel in one hand and is pulling a knife from her chest with the other. Gemma watches as he wraps the bloody knife in the towel, walks to the open door and passes it to someone on the outside. Dillon walks back to their bed and lies down next to her. Gemma opens her eyes suddenly and gasps for air only to see her husband approaching the bed with a knife in his hand. Quickly she grabs her pillow and swings it pushing past her husband and runs out of the room. He catches her by her hair in the kitchen and they struggle. Reaching and grabbing for anything she can get, Gemma’s hand grasps a decorative oil bottle. She crashes it into his nose and flees out the French doors to her space on the porch. She stands against the bracing post in the corner and slides down to a squatting position crying. As Dillon steps in and raises the knife Gemma grabs the metal chair and surges upward swinging the chair at the same time. Dillon stumbles and falls over the rail. Gemma hears him hit the ground below.
Gemma calls for emergency help as she rushes through the house locking all the doors. She locks herself in her bathroom. She hears, “Ok, mam is your gun put away? Is it in a safe place where our officers don’t have to worry about you shooting them?” She answers, “Yes, it’s locked in the gun cabinet.” The dispatcher replies, “Are you safe, mam?” Gemma said, “I don’t know.” The woman on the phone said, “Ok, stay where you are. Officers will be there soon. Are you hurt?” Gemma whispers, “I’m bleeding.” She lowers the phone and closes her eyes.
The first person Gemma sees when she opens her eyes is Deputy Coty Hall. “Welcome back, sleepy head. You’ve been out for two days. We got you all patched up and you’re healing. How do you feel?” “I’m sore,” she said. “Yea, you’ll be sore for a while. You were stabbed four times and very fortunate each missed your vital organs.” Gemma whispers, “Is Dillon?” “Yes Gemma, he was dead when we found him in the front yard. It appears that his neck broke when he fell over the railing.” Gemma starts crying and then catches her breath. “I hit him over the back rail with my chair. I heard his body hit the ground.” Coty said, “Do you feel like talking about it? There are some questions that I need to ask that will help us clear few things up.” Gemma shakes her head and closes her eyes.