After a two hour plane ride, the last thing I wanted to do was stand in line waiting for a rental car. I tapped my foot and peered around the man in front of me. How long could it take one person to rent a car?
I adjusted my super size sunglasses and tried to determine if I should just take them off. It didn’t seem as if anyone was going to go berserk trying to get my autograph. I reached up to fold them off my face, and noticed a couple standing beside the counter staring at me, and doing a bad job of trying to pretend they weren’t.
“Why would Casey Brand be renting a car here?” the man whispered loudly enough for everyone to hear.
I heard his companion’s muffled reply, but I ignored both of them.
The glasses stayed on. Not only did I not want to confirm their suspicion about who I am, but my upper cheek and eye were a rainbow of yellow, green and purple. It wasn’t pretty.
I play police Detective Casey Brand on the popular Hard Streets TV show, filmed in New York City. I’m not a lead character, but I had enough speaking parts to be recognized quite often. Last week, on the way to work, I was mugged, requiring stitches and the assistance of a real police detective, who bore an uncanny resemblance to my ex-husband. I asked for some time off, and was headed home to regroup.
I loved acting, but at thirty-five I wasn’t a rousing success, and at this stage probably never would be. I missed the quiet of my home town. I was entering the “what if” stage of life.
I finally got my turn at the rental counter, and took the keys from the rental agent, who luckily didn’t recognize me. I drove the hour home to Fairmount, where I wouldn’t be treated with any special attention. They expected success from their natives. Like the legendary movie star, James Dean, and Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, to name a couple.
I pulled into my parents’ driveway. They were away, so I would have the place to myself. I took my suitcase into my childhood bedroom, which still looked like a shrine to Barbie and friends. Grabbing a Coke from the kitchen, I settled into my father’s favorite chair, and picked up the News-Sun. “Police Looking For Suspect In Missing James Dean Headstone” screamed the headline.
I thought of my great-aunt Felicity, still living in the house she grew up in. She had gone to high school with James Dean, and for most of high school they had dated. He took her to the prom, so Aunt Felicity is sort of a celebrity-by-association. She still has his high school ring and sweater with his letter for basketball on it.
She claims she gave birth to his child back in 1948, when she was seventeen. But even James Dean’s cousin, who still lives nearby, can’t back her story up. Since no one has ever seen this child, or heard from it, the family takes it with a grain of salt.
Every September 30th, the anniversary of his death, Aunt Felicity goes to Jimmy’s grave and places flowers on it.
I put the paper down, took the last swallow of Coke, and walked the few blocks to her house.
She was sitting on her porch, gently rocking in her swing, a pitcher of lemonade beside her. “Jane! You’re home. Good Lord child, what happened to your face? Part of it’s blue and yellow. Or is that green?” She patted the space beside her. “Tell me.”
“What you need is a good self-defense class,” she commented, when I told her about being mugged. “You should take lessons from your Kevin Brogan. He teaches women how to defend themselves. I took his class myself.”
Kevin Brogan, my ex-husband. We had gotten married right after we turned eighteen. It had lasted until I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and Drama, and then left him on his own to fight crime in Fairmount, while I fled to the Big Apple in search of fame and fortune. Back then it seemed like the right decision. Did I want to see him again? No. I’d managed to avoid him every time I visited. Well, maybe just saying hi wouldn’t be so bad.
“Is he married?” I asked, realizing I wasn’t sure I wanted to know
“Jimmy? No, he never got married.” My aunt dabbed at her eyes.
“No, I mean Kevin.”
“You still have a thing for him, don’t you?” My aunt’s blue eyes twinkled. “No, he isn’t married. I think he still has a thing for you, too. Like me and James Byron Dean. I could never marry anyone but him. Remember him in Giant?” Her eyes grew dreamy.
“I remember, Aunt Felicity,” I answered. Thanks to her, I knew the entire dialogue from Giant and East of Eden. Maybe that’s why I was bitten by the acting bug.
“I see Jimmy’s headstone is missing. Are you okay? The whole town must be upset.”
She waved a hand at me. “Oh, it’ll show up. It’s been taken before. Kevin’s at the Y. You should look into his class. A woman can’t be too careful. He’s good. The women love him. He’s got more of them than he can handle.”
I bet he does, I thought. I kissed my aunt goodbye, promising to come back later to make dinner for both of us, and left her with her memories of James Dean.
I planned to drive home, take a bath, put on some of my father’s Dean Martin records, and relax before I had to do shopping. The car I was driving had other ideas. Five minutes later, I found myself in the YMCA parking lot. My legs trembled as I walked up to the front desk.
“I’m looking for Kevin Brogan,” I told the receptionist.
“You’re lucky. He’s in the middle of a class now in the gym annex. I’m the only one here and I can’t leave the desk. Can you find it yourself?”
I assured her I could.
Kevin was in front of a room of about thirty women. They were so focused on him, they didn’t even notice me until Kevin did, about thirty seconds later.
“Take a five-minute break, ladies.” He trotted over to me, and the women started whispering. A couple of them waved to me. I waved back.
“Jane. My God, I thought I was seeing things. How are you? What on earth happened?” He gently touched the side of my cheek, and I leaned into his hand. The whispering behind him increased.
His voice hadn’t changed. Neither had the shiny dark brown hair—all of which he still had—and almost black eyes with their impossibly long lashes. His body was even more buff than it had been when we were together. I guess police work agreed with him.
I swallowed. “Hi, Kevin. I was mugged. Aunt Felicity suggested I look into self-defense.”
“The class has been going on for about three weeks already, but I can fit you in. It would have to be privately, though. As you can see, I can’t squeeze another body in here.”
“That would be okay. I’m only going to be here for a week or so. Can I just take a couple of lessons?” I couldn’t look away from the way his black t-shirt molded to his chest. I had the urge to lay my head against it. I could see why women flocked to him.
“Sure. I’ll call you tonight. Where are you staying?”
“At my parents’. 674-”
“-1811,” Kevin finished for me. “I used to call you every night in our junior and senior year in high school. Remember?” His hand was caressing my cheek.
I did. I couldn’t believe he still remembered the number. I smiled all the way back to my car, clutching the piece of paper on which he had written his number as if it were the Holy Grail, or some such thing. I stopped at Joe’s IGA, the only grocery store in town, and picked up items for dinner.
I was standing in the check-out line when one of the tabloids caught my eye. The one with Myra Lavinski and Cord Coltrain locked in a very friendly embrace, which included a deep lip lock that didn’t belong on a publication that could be viewed by children.
I’m not one to put stock in these “fish wrappers,” as my father calls them, but Cord and I had been seeing each other exclusively, or so I thought, for close to seven months, so I was slightly shocked at his appearance at Joe’s.
I hurried to Aunt Felicity’s, trying to put Cord out of my head while we ate and caught up on things. We were interrupted halfway through dinner by the chirping of my cell phone. I could see it was my agent calling. It couldn’t be good news; he hated talking on the phone.
“What’s wrong, dear?” my aunt asked when I snapped my phone shut.
“I have to be back by Monday, or the part of Casey Brand goes to Myra Lavinski. Do you believe that? Myrna Lavinski. Cord’s uncle is half-owner of Apple Seed. They produce our show, and for some reason dear Uncle wants Myrna Lavinski as Detective Brand. And I didn’t realize my contract was up Monday,” I huffed. I never have had a head for business. Obviously, my boyfriend, rather ex-boyfriend, had been busy behind my back.
“Oh, she plays Melinda Pruitt on The Gold Coast, my favorite afternoon soap,” my aunt gushed. “They’re supposed to kill her off soon. Jane, Isn’t your boyfriend on that show?”
“Yes, Cord is on that show. And he’s my ex-boyfriend, Aunt Felicity.”
“I’m sorry, dear.” She squeezed my hand. “Fairmount High needs an English and drama teacher. You could do that. Oh dear, I hate to ask when you’re going through a bad time, but I need a favor.”
I blinked. “Sure, what is it?” Whatever it was, it would take my mind off my uncharitable thoughts about Cord and Myra.
“I’m going out of town tomorrow morning. A couple of the girls I play bridge with planned a trip to Chicago. We’ll be back on Sunday. I’m sorry to leave you, but we’ve had this trip planned a long time. Can you feed and walk Alice?”
“Sure, I’ll take care of Alice. It’s no problem, I love dogs. I’ll come here and stay with her.”
“Oh no, that’s not necessary. She just needs a couple of jaunts around the block and she’ll be fine. You’ll have more room at your parents’ house. Especially if Kevin comes visiting.” She winked at me. I blushed.
After I saw Aunt Felicity off the next morning, I called Alice, an almost-fifty pound English bulldog, for her walk. Since Aunt Felicity has a fenced in yard, I let Alice out the back door to frolic in the grass, while I called the airline to change my return to New York to Monday morning. I realized the worst part of this would be telling Kevin that, unfortunately, the lessons we had planned were off. I couldn’t bring myself to call him just yet.
My plane ticket changed, I went outside to find Alice frantically pawing at Aunt Felicity’s flower garden. “No, Alice,” I shouted, sprinting over to her. I pulled her away from the mess she was making, and managed to get her into the garage, where I hoped to find a shovel to put Aunt Felicity’s garden back in some semblance of order.
I spotted one lying against the wall behind some boxes, one of which I tripped over, landing on my knees on the cement floor. Alice came over and offered me doggy slobber. I hugged her neck, my eyes watering and my knees stinging. I noticed I was kneeling at the foot of some kind of stone. My eyes followed the stone upward until they focused on JAMES B. DEAN 1931-1955.
What was Aunt Felicity doing with James Dean’s headstone in her garage? “How did she get it in here, Alice?” Alice drooled on my pants, and wagged her stubby tail.
My heart pounded as I ran back to the garden with a shovel. One thing at a time, I told myself. Maybe Aunt Felicity had a perfectly good reason why James Dean’s headstone was in her garage.
I looked where Alice had been digging, and as I started rearranging the dirt, I felt faint and suddenly cold. I couldn’t breathe. I pulled out my cell phone and with shaking hands, hit speed dial for Kevin.
I jogged to the front of the house, and was relieved beyond words when a few minutes later, he arrived in a police car. Instinct took over, and I ran right into his arms, which came around me in a fierce hug. For a moment, I would have been happy to die right there.
“Bones,” I gasped. “Bones in the backyard. She was right. She had James Dean’s baby, and it died. She buried it. In the backyard. And James Dean’s headstone is in her garage.” My words all ran together.
I pulled him to the backyard, where he kneeled in the dirt and picked at the tiny bones. I couldn’t look. James Dean’s headstone was one thing. But burying a dead baby? I shuddered.
“Yep, these are bones,” he announced, rocking back on his heels.
“Well, I knew that, for heaven sakes. How did they get here? Did she really bury them?” I whispered.
Kevin stood up, brushing dirt from his uniform pants. “Why are you whispering? It’s just me and you out here. Seeing that they’re on her property, I would say she did bury them. You want to go to dinner later?” His lazy smile, which was one of the nicest things about him, was grossly out of place at a murder scene.
“Dinner?” I screeched. “My aunt could be facing murder charges and you want to go to dinner?”
“Well, it’s not unheard of. We buried Sam in the backyard when he…”
“Who’s Sam?” I almost shook him.
“I thought I told you this story. Sam was my dog when I was a kid. He died right after Christmas. We had to wait till spring to bury him, since the ground was so hard. My father stuck him in our garage freezer for the winter.”
I rolled my eyes, and let out a sigh loud enough to be heard for blocks. “What about this baby? Is the statue of limitations for murder up?”
“Calm down, Jane. You play a detective on TV. You letting some bones rattle you?” He laughed, as if he had told the world’s funniest joke. “And it’s statute. These are cat bones, Jane.”
I glared at him, digesting what he said. Aunt Felicity had had a cat way back when named Cat, after the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “So it’s not a baby?” I felt limp with relief, although my heart was still pounding.
“No, it’s not a baby. But I do have to place you under arrest.”
“What? Arrest me? Why?”
“For the headstone. You’re the only one here. And it is stolen property.”
He must have taken pity on me, because without warning he drew me to him in a hug, and before I knew it he was kissing me. I kissed him back. Everything else faded, until I came back to my senses.
“But how did she get it in there? And you can’t arrest me. I have to be back by Monday. They’ll make Myra Detective Casey Brand if I’m not back. And I have to take care of Alice,” I wailed.
He laughed so long I thought I might strangle him. “Your aunt takes poor James’ headstone on a regular basis. She hires some kids, pays them, we put it in the paper, and we retrieve the stone. The money she pays the kids goes to charity, she feels important, and no one is hurt. And don’t worry about Alice. I’ll bring her along. Come on, let’s get the yard fixed up, then you’re coming with me.”
I watched, speechless, as Kevin replaced the dirt, got Alice, waited as she did her business, and then shepherded both of us into his police car. Surely, I was going to wake up any moment in my tiny over-priced studio in Brooklyn, New York, and this would all be a dream.
I closed my eyes. I felt the car stop, and opened them a slit. We were sitting in front of my parents’ house. I opened my eyes wider and smiled. “You’re not placing me under arrest?”
“House arrest. And I’m staying with you. In case you decide to flee again.” He reached for my hair, twirling it between his fingers, his eyes growing darker. I remembered that look. My stomach felt all gooey.
“I’m allowed one phone call,” I told him.
“You think so?” he challenged.
“I think so,” I answered, and I knew exactly whom I was going to call Monday. Fairmount High School, hoping they still needed an English teacher.
Learn more about Karoline Barrett at her SHOWCASE PAGE.