“What on earth are you doing?” Sidra Smart yelled over the
sounds of an electric drill boring a hole in the bottom of the eye
sign.The wizened man on the ladder glanced down at her standing
there with her fists crammed into her hips, then switched off
the drill. “Mornin’ ma’am.” His voice sounded like a rasp pulled
across a two by four. “I’m hangin’ this here sign.”
She chuckled at the old man, but her irritation didn’t budge.
“I can see that. But who authorized you to do that work?” She
slammed her car door and stepped up to the sidewalk, squinting
in the bright morning sun.
“Why, Mr. Chadwick did right after hurricane Rita messed
up the old one. I just had a lotta work piled up. Told him I’d get
to it when I could. Today, I could.”
“But didn’t you hear that my brother—Mr. Chadwick—died
in a car accident?”
Died. The word felt glib on her tongue, didn’t anywhere near
match the pain squeezing every drop of blood out of her heart.
“Yes’m, but ain’t somebody else gonna run the business for
poor Mr. Chadwick? Figured I’d jus’ get it ready for ’em.”
“No, somebody isn’t. The business is for sale, or will be as
soon as I can list it. I wish you’d checked with me before—before
hanging a new sign.”
“Yes’m, but...” The old man reached a finger into the hole
he’d made and swiped out sawdust. “I reckon if he bought and
paid for it, least I could do is finish the job, God rest his soul.” He
freed one hand, crossed himself then switched on the drill and
made another hole, and in short order had the grotesque sign
swinging in the breeze.
Beneath a giant blue eye, the sign read, The Third Eye, then
in smaller letters, Intuitive Investigations.
“What the world is intuitive investigations?”
“Beats me,” he shrugged. “They order it, I paint it.” He
climbed down, tossed the ladder and toolbox into a jalopy-ofa
pickup then wiped his neck with a red kerchief and stuffed it
into his pocket.
With a bow, he touched his fingertips to his forehead and
smiled. “Demoiselle, with your permission I take my leave.”
While Sid stood with her mouth open, he climbed into the
truck and with a blast of exhaust, backed out and rattled off. She
watched the truck until it turned the corner, taillights disappearing
behind a building.
She sucked in a deep breath, turned and stared at the office
door, her stomach a stampede of cattle charging over a cliff.
What had Warren been drinking—to leave her this business?
She’d made it clear to him years ago—no way, Jose!
She reached in her pocket and pulled out the keychain his
lawyer, slash, executor, had given her the day he’d read her the
will. After several false attempts, she found the right key and
unlocked the door.
It creaked open.
Stale, moldy air accosted her before she crossed the threshold.
She ran her hand across the wall, flipped the light switch, and spied
a can of air freshener on a desk. Grabbing it, she sprayed, shook
the can a couple of times then dropped it in the trash basket.
A clay pot with a few brown sprigs of mint sat in the front
window. She rummaged in her bag, pulled out a partial bottle of
Evian and dumped the water into the flower pot. A sudden whiff
of mint rose from the almost indestructible herb. At least something
of Warren’s still lived. Feeling more an intruder than the
new owner, she explored the office like an alarm might go off if
she touched the wrong thing.
Or land her in Oz.
One thing for sure, she certainly wasn’t going back to Kansas.
Some Baptist preacher’s wives might spend their whole lives
totally happy following along in the tight, narrow shadow of their
husbands, but she wasn’t one of them. She’d spent thirty years
in the deep, deadening rut of being the perfect, submissive, unambiguous
preacher’s wife. Thirty years being pulled, stretched,
molded like Play-Dough.
Just thinking about it made her ill, literally nauseous. She
slumped onto the hearth of a small fireplace and waited for the
queasiness to pass, forcing herself to think of something different.
The Third Eye—she remembered the day Warren had called,
excited about the name he’d chosen for his new business, how it
matched his philosophy of working with the whole person. She
guessed that was why he’d added the wording to the sign.
Intuition—if she’d ever had any, it was long gone.
Her first job, the lawyer had advised, was to pay Warren’s
overdue bills. She forced herself into action. Rummaging in the
desk, she found the checkbook and pulled it out. After sorting
bills from junk mail, she stacked the bills, latest on bottom, oldest
on top, and spent the next half hour writing, licking and sealing.
By the time she finished, she was pleased the balance wasn’t red,
not black either, more a medium gray. But not nearly enough to
keep her head above water until the business sold.
Next, she went through the huge pile of junk mail, tossing
some, stacking others. At the bottom, she found a postcard addressed
to Warren, but with no return address. She flipped it over.
Scratchy tight letters, strung together, made one short sentence.
An eye for an eye. Weird. She tucked it in her pocket.
But the storage closet gave her the creeps. Crime scene kits,
cameras, recorders, binoculars, polygraph equipment, and listening
devices—all these reminded her that it was an ugly business.
Yet, she didn’t have to run it, she told herself. She had no
idea how to use any of the equipment and didn’t care to learn.
Damn Warren. She slammed the closet door.
Despite the lingering odor of air freshener, she still smelled
Warren in the room. That bothered her more than anything. He
seemed so near she thought she felt his hand on her arm, urging
But, dear sweet brother, I don’t want to go there, she thought.
She’d wither and die in a town like Orange, Texas. Besides, private
detective wasn’t a job for an ex-preacher’s wife, at least not
one her age.
Okay, what should she do? Sell the business? Burn the building
to the ground?
Or busy your butt learning the detective business!
She had no idea where those words came from, but she quickly
shoved them out of her brain, for that was not an option.
She’d noticed another PI office on Sixteenth Street. Perhaps
the owner would buy Warren’s caseload—if you could sell such
The front door opened, but preoccupied with her misery,
the squeak didn’t register in her brain until after the woman
“Excuse me Ma’am. Can you help me?”
Sid whirled around, startled. “What?”
A young woman, seven shades of white, stood so close to Sid
she felt the woman’s fear prickle the hair on her own arms.
“Are you okay?”
“He killed her! I know he did!” The blonde woman came at
Sid like she was the sole flotation device between breathing and
drowning. Instinctively, Sid stepped back, half-expecting an attack.“
Do you work here? I’m looking for Mr. Chadwick.” The
woman patted her heart while she talked. “Is he in today?”
Sid grabbed the woman’s elbow, deposited her in a chair, and
asked again. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
The woman nodded. “It’s just that coming back to this town
scares the hell out of me.”
“I’ll get you some water.” Sid yanked a paper cup off the water
dispenser, filled it and offered it to the other. She waited until
the woman drained the cup before answering her earlier question.
“No, I don’t work here.”
The woman’s expression tumbled further than Sid thought
“My name is Sidra Smart, yours?”
“Jewell Stone.” She offered a limp hand.
When Sid hesitated, a sickly smile played across Jewell’s face.
“Yeah, I know, but it’s not an alias, honest. I married into the last
name. At the time, I took it as a sign.” She shrugged and a short,
sad laugh slipped out of her throat. “I guess it was.”
Sid looked away. Of late, her own roller-coaster-life left no energy
for another person’s problems. “It’s Sunday, you didn’t have
an appointment with Mr. Chadwick today did you?” She hoped
her question sounded aloof. She wanted to keep her distance.
Jewell’s words erupted like rapid-fire ammunition. “Not an appointment, but I was hoping to catch him. He told me he often
worked weekends. I’m a new client of his. I used to live here when
I was a kid.” She glanced out both windows before turning her
gaze back to Sid. “I live in Goose Creek now.” She pointed south
with a bright red fingernail that had a thin white stripe painted
diagonally across it.
Jewell stood and paced the room. “But, if you don’t work here,”
she turned back to Sid, “where the hell is Mr. Chadwick?”
“He’s dead—” Sid paused, half-expecting the young woman
to feign sympathy, but none came forth.
“Dead? Oh. I hadn’t heard.” Jewell’s face crumpled, tears
welled in her eyes. “What happened?”
Sid got the distinct impression Jewell’s tears were for herself,
more than for Warren. “My brother was in a car accident.” She
cringed over the words, hating them more every time she said
them. “Let me see if I can find a file on you.” She strode over to
a metal file cabinet and tugged on the top drawer. Thumbing
through several records she located a folder with Jewell’s name.
“Here it is.” She pulled out the file and with a push of her hip,
the drawer banged shut.
Flipping through several pages, she looked up at Jewell. “It
looks like he’d barely gotten started, just your contract, intake
form, that sort of stuff.” She closed the file and dropped it on the
desk. “I’ll reimburse you the retainer. There’s another detective
agency on 16th Street. You might try them.” The desk drawer
screeched open as Sid retrieved the checkbook, opened it, and
grabbed a pen.
“I don’t want my money back, I want answers. Why can’t
you help me?”
Speechless, Sid stared at her.
The woman stared back while tears ran down her cheeks
and dripped off her jaw. After a moment of visual standoff, Sid
marched to the door.
“I truly am sorry, Ms. Stone, but I don’t know anything about
this business. You’ll have to find someone else to help you.” She
held the door open. “Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
Jewell didn’t budge. Instead, she tapped her forehead with
her fingertips. “This photoflash keeps going off in my head, but
I can’t see the picture. It’s like—when you have a dream, and the
next day you can’t quite get your mind around the details, but
the sense of it keeps going off in your brain. But it isn’t a dream.
It’s a memory—I know it is! Something I know, but I don’t know
how I know it, or even what the hell it is!” She leaned forward,
elbows on her knees, and buried her face in her hands. Sid eased
the door shut, took a couple of steps back into the room.
“My family has always had this big fucking secret no one
will talk about. I’ve got to find out what it is because it’s driving
me crazy.” Jewell raised her head and shoved her thick, curly hair
out of her face. “I see this naked woman flashing in my mind. I
think my dad killed her because—”
As Sid stood in the middle of the room staring at Jewell,
wondering what the hell she should do next, a soft blue flame
appeared above Jewell’s head. Sid’s breath caught in her throat.
She blinked, convinced her eyes played tricks, and sure enough,
the flame disappeared. Or had it been there at all?
“Something happened, though, when…” Jewell stopped mid
sentence and looked at Sid. “Is everything all right? You had a
funny look on your face.”
Sid shook her head. “No, no, I’m okay, go on.”
“Something happened when we lived here in Orange. That’s
what I want to know. What?”
Sid resumed her seat and waited, uneasiness crawling up
“Whatever happened, it made my mother sick, and then the
next thing I remember we’re living with my grandparents. They
always protected my mom. Any time I asked about my dad,
Grandma shushed me up and shooed me out of the room. ‘You’ll
make your mother sick’ she’d say. Sometimes my mom sat on the
floor in the living room pulling her hair and screaming, ‘don’t
kill them, Roy,’ over and over.”
“Is Roy your father?”
Jewell nodded. “Roy Manly.”
“You’re afraid of your father?” Sid’s last word squeaked out.
Jewell nodded. “A house burned down—I believe a woman
died in it.”
Sid stiffened. “Your house?”
“No—I don’t know whose house it was.”
“How do you know that?” Now Sid was the one leaning forward.
“I have no idea. No one ever told me, but I know my father
had something to do with it.” She flung her hands out in front of
her, palms up. “I can’t explain, I just know it.”
Sid opened her mouth, decided against interrupting, shut
“The old house had a lot of junk in the yard,” Jewell continued,
“and I see this doll’s head stuck on top of a fence post.”
“You sure this isn’t a nightmare? It sure sounds like one.”
Jewell shuddered and sat up straighter. “It might sound like
one, but I know I didn’t dream this. That’s why I hired Mr. Chadwick.
I have a little savings, plus I got a settlement in my divorce
“I see.” Sid stalled, wondering how in the world she could
get out of this.
Jewell smiled for the first time during their meeting. “So
you’ll take my case?”
“Oh no! I can’t, Jewell. I’d be cheating you. I don’t know diddly
about this business. I’m not an investigator. You need someone
experienced. I wouldn’t even know how to start.”
Not to mention the story scared her witless.
Jewell stuck out a trembling lip. Without another word, she
grabbed her bag and stomped out the door, head down, shoulders
As Sid watched her go, guilt and fear seeped into her heart.
Dammit Warren, she thought, what’d you expect me to
She put her head on the desk and fought back tears. Chiming
bells off in the distance reminded her it was Sunday. She knew
the tune—Count Your Blessings. She lifted her head, listened
a moment, and then snorted at the idea. For years she’d stood
in church, sung every song, word for word, without needing a
hymnal. Lately though, she’d made an agreement with God. She
wouldn’t go to church, and God wouldn’t bug her about it.
What she needed, more than counting any blessing, was a
margarita on the rocks, the rim loaded with salt. She glanced at
her watch. Twelve noon on Sunday seemed a perfect time for her
first-ever alcoholic beverage. She grabbed her bag and keys and
climbed into the rental she’d leased shortly after the divorce. It
still galled her that Sam had gotten the Avalon. As professional
clergy, the lawyer argued, Sam needed the nicer-looking car.
She’d passed a quaint place earlier, now she backtracked her
way down Green Avenue, past the carillon still chiming atop a
pink granite church. With stubborn determination she forced her
eyes on the road, but old habits die hard. Her eyes wandered up
to an opalescent glass dome and stained glass windows. Somewhat
of an expert on church buildings, she recognized the modified
Greek Revival architecture. She pushed her foot harder on
Capistrano’s restaurant looked like it had been around as
long as the old San Juan mission she’d seen in pictures. The beige
plastered building hunkered alongside a railroad track.
“Welcome to The Cap,” the burly man said as he ushered
her across the dining room, weaving his way between well-worn
tables and chairs. The place rang of a camaraderie that natives
love about familiar haunts. A few couples reminded Sid of the
dinner-after-church crowd, distinguishable from the alcoholics
by suits and ties, high heels, panty hose, and attitude. Sid hoped
she looked like neither one as she slipped into a small booth in
the corner and ordered her drink.
When the margarita came she sipped it slowly, waiting until
the tequila dulled her misery.
A blob of dried ketchup stuck to the wall. She flicked it with
her fingernail and wiped her hands on the moist cocktail napkin
under her glass. A jukebox blared out some song about a perfect
world gone awry and lost love. At least it wasn’t a hymn.
Her perfect world had certainly fallen away. Like a baby bird
inside an eggshell, growing until the exact, perfect moment when
the shell no longer fit. When one tiny peck led to another, and
then another, until its world cracked and shattered in a heap.
She’d been so compliant, accepting without question Sam’s
belief that he was superior. Until a vague discontent dislodged
the anesthetizing sleep-dust he’d sprinkled in her eyes, and one
peck led to another. At least she’d just divorced, instead of shooting
him, like the pastor’s wife in the news had done.
She touched her tongue to the salty rim.
Nothing tastes like salt, but salt.
A Bible verse popped in her head unbidden. But if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again?
She felt tasteless.
Okay, enough alcohol. She sat the glass down and ordered a
cup of coffee and a Creole chicken sandwich.
Tomorrow she’d take her own advice and visit the owner of
the detective office on 16th. Hopefully he could tell her how to
go about selling The Third Eye.
When the food came, she nibbled it then ordered dessert and
a second coffee before heading back to Houston and home.
Sam had moved out of the parsonage temporarily, but the
deacons hadn’t been happy about that. They pushed him to set
a time limit on Sid moving out. Her fast-approaching deadline,
like water torture, had dripped on the middle of her forehead
An hour and half later, she turned onto her street and there
sat Sam’s car parked at the curb in front of the parsonage. Every
time she saw him, she felt like a marionette jerked around
by its strings.
She turned into her drive, punched the garage door opener
and drove in, refusing to glance his way, irritated at the unbelievable
control her ex-husband still held over her gut. More accurate—
it pissed the hell out of her.
Her stepping to the other side of the Baptist line had been
more than Sam could live with. It called into question his authority
over her—over everyone. But he had been hurt, and the
sight of him still ripped her heart out.
By the time she exited, he stood just outside the garage door,
waiting. “Christine called and told me Warren left you his private
detective business,” he called out, pain evident in the ruts across
his forehead, around his eyes, the stiff line of his mouth.
“That’s right.” If she’d had hackles, his words would have
raised them. She hadn’t asked Christine or Chad not to tell their
dad about her recent inheritance, now she wished she had. Sam
was all about mind-control. He’d been jealous of Warren, of any
one that might dilute the power he held over his wife. It still pissed
her off, the way he’d looked down on Warren, tried to keep them
apart—as if Warren cavorted with Satan.
“You don’t want to get mixed up in that world, Sid.” Sam’s
words pulled her back to the present. “It’s all crime, killings—
working with heathens, infidels!”
Still handsome, despite the grief of the last few months,
he pushed his fingers through gray-sprinkled brown hair. “As
a Christian, you’re supposed to separate yourself out from the
world—that is if you still call yourself one! Besides, how’s it going
to look, my wife—okay, ex-wife—running with the dregs of
society?” He slung his hands out in front of him. “Please don’t do
this, teach school or something—anything respectable.”
Always about Sam. Everything.
“I don’t plan…” She swallowed what she intended to say, that
she planned to sell the business. Full realization hit her, The Third
Eye was her baby now, her decision, not Sam’s. A smile stretched
across her face.
His face crumpled, along with his shoulders. He turned on
his heel and headed to the Avalon. She watched as he climbed in
and drove off, shoulders slumped. She felt like shit, but it boiled
down to him or her, and she’d sacrificed her all her life. She had
nothing left to give him.
She punched the garage door closed, walked into the kitchen
and stood on the doorjamb, speechless. The room looked like
a gang of thugs had been inside. The cabinet doors hung open,
empty; the contents lay on the floor broken to smithereens. Flour,
sugar, coffee, macaroni, potato chips, and crackers, everything
she’d had in her pantry was broken open and spread around the
room. Tomatoes were squashed on the wallpaper, eggs thrown
Trancelike, she stepped through the mess and closed her
refrigerator, where, on its white door, someone had written two
words with a black magic marker.