There was no answer to Puck’s knock on the door that still warned of an unchained inhabitants and the doorbell echoed hollowly inside with no sound of hurried footsteps behind it.
“Looks like we strike out again.” Puck told the others.
“Maybe not,” Remy said as he used his coat sleeve to wipe snow from a plate near the door knob. “Let’s see if I’m still welcome.”
Remy placed his palm on the plate and almost immediately there was a click and the door pushed open. Remy expected the alarm to start chirping for a code, but the house was silent.
“Timber!” he called loudly. “Timber it’s Remy!” Everyone froze waiting, but there was no reply.
“Look around, Remy told the others, see if it looks like she still lives here.”
Coop headed toward the back of the house while Scott made for the kitchen. Puck, who had never been there before and had no idea of the layout of the house, stood in the middle of the great room looking out at the lake through the floor to ceiling glass windows.
Remy went up the stairs with what seemed like lead in his shoes. He made first for the master bedroom, opening the door to find everything clean and tidy, with knick knacks and photos still on the dressers, but with the bed stripped bare. The closet still had Timbers wardrobe, but it also had what he was sure were Jordan’s clothes. Jordan’s bathroom still had his toiletries on the counter and in the medicine cabinet. Timber’s adjoining bath had none of toiletries one would expect to see like shampoo or a toothbrush, and there were no towels on the rod. The oversized shower both bathrooms shared was bone dry.
Remy checked the three guest bedrooms to find them neat and clean with the beds all stripped and the shutters closed. He hesitated at the door to what had been the nursery, steeled himself, swallowed hard and opened the door. This room also seemed like time had forgotten it, and the happy yellow ducklings marching across the wallpaper border turned his stomach sour. There was a penguin wearing a Yankee cap sitting in the corner of the crib which unnerved him and he backed out into the hall, pulling the door closed behind him.
Remy walked down the stairs to find Scott testing the TV to see if the satellite still worked. “Nothing in the kitchen,” he told Remy. “Ketchup, mustard and mayo and a case of Schweppes Bitter Lemon in the fridge, some canned stuff in the cupboards.”
Remy was about to give him the disappointing report on the upstairs when Coop’s excited voice called to them. “Guys back here!”
Scott and Remy followed Coop’s voice to the laundry room, where two baskets of what appeared to be a woman’s dirty clothes sat on the top of the front loading washer. “There’s more,” Coop told them before they could discount the discovery. He led them through what the Lilleys had called the “mud room” to a small bath in the back of the house which connected to the pool house. Pete Puckett stood by the bathroom sink examining the medicine cabinet, but stepped out of the way so Remy and Scott could see Coop’s find. There on the floor was a pair of flannel women’s pajama bottoms with teddy bears holding red hearts trimmed in white lace. On top of the pjs was a women’s red t-shirt and on top of that was a pair of white nylon panties.
Puck bent over and picked up the panties. “What do you think?” He asked. “Timber size?”
“Put them down Puckett,” Remy ordered. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
Coop passed Scott the bottle of shampoo that was in the shower saying, “this is her scent.”
Scott took a sniff nodded in agreement and passed it to Remy. “Yeah, that’s hers,” he agreed.
“She’s been here not too long ago,” Coop assured them. “The shower is still damp, the sink is wet and the top was off the toothpaste and it hasn’t dried out.”
“So we wait.” Puck announced like it was a done deal. “We get a pizza, we find a game to watch, and we see if she comes home.”
Remy looked at his watch. Four-forty-five. “I suppose we could give it an hour or so, but we’ve got that charter pilot waiting on us.”
“If she doesn’t show, I’ll stay.” Puck announced, which raised a red flag to all three of his teammates.
“Like hell you will,” Scott told him.
“What? You want to know how Timber Lilley is doing? We’re this close to finding out and I have nothing better to do.”
“What about your wife and kid Puck?” Coop asked. “It’s five days til Christmas.”
“Yeah well Joanna took Braden to her parents’ in North Carolina and I am not chasing her down there so I can listen to them tell me what a rotten husband I am for two weeks. You guys take the plane back and Timber can drive me to the airport.”
“No fucking way.” Scott insisted. “You are not staying here. You don’t even know her.”
“I know her better than you think I do Avila.” Puck shot back.
“I’ll tackle your fat ass and drag it back to the plane by myself if I have to.” Scott’s voice rose a notch.
“Yeah? You and what shoulder?” Puck pushed back at the man who had spent 90 days on the DL last season as was still rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery.
“Let’s just get the pizza, and see if she turns up,” Remy headed off trouble. “Puck you and Coop go get the food. Get a mushroom, onion, green pepper for Timber in case she shows up and some Coke and beer. Scott and I will stay here in case she’s just out cross country skiing or snowmobiling or something.”
“So what do you think?” Scott asked Remy after Puck and Coop left. “Is she sleeping here on the couch and eating out?”
“Maybe she lives with a boyfriend and just stops by.” Remy posited.
“Two cars in the garage, Remy. Jordan’s Land Rover that I wish to hell they’d been in that day, and a Lincoln Navigator with 1200 miles on it. The gym looks like it’s never been touched, all Jordie’s stuff is still there, but somebody is keeping everything clean.”
Remy was standing at the doorwall that led to the back deck and swimming pool, hands in his pockets, staring out at the lake. It took a few minutes for him to realize there was a path in the snow on the deck that went from door where he stood to the pool house about 50 feet away. It was partially covered over with new snow, and there were no footprints but someone had definitely traveled that path more than once.
“Scotty, come look at this,” Remy urged his friend. Scott came over to the doorwall searching for what it was that had Remy’s attention, until it finally registered. “Damn. Maybe she’s turned it into a home office or something.”
“Well, let’s check it out,” Remy said feeling the first hopeful glimmer since they had entered.
Scott slid open the doorwall and the two friends stepped into the cold. A knock on the pool house door met with no response. Scott crossed his fingers as Remy once again tried his palm lock magic and they were rewarded by a small click. The door swung inward and men were immediately confronted by a wall of packing boxes. An opening in the box wall on their right turned into a maze of identical boxes stacked six feet high.
“I guess it’s storage now,” Remy sighed.
“What’s with this?” Scott sidled between rows of boxes to a window that bowed out around a bench seat that the Lilleys had used to store swimming pool toys. A gun sat on closed lid.
“Timber with a gun?” Remy said aloud. “Does not compute.”
“Loaded too.” Scott told Remy as he removed the clip, and the round in the chamber, and laid all three items back where the gun had been. “So what’s in all of these boxes that needs a gun?” He wondered aloud.
Remy shrugged, chose a box at random and opened the top. “No cocaine, no blood diamonds,” he joked as he flashed the contents of the box for Scott to see. “Looks like ladies blue jeans.”
Scott chose another box and found it filled with ladies’ Nikes. “None of this makes any sense,” he muttered, turning sideways in order to make his way down a box corridor to the back of the pool house where there was a small kitchenette with a sink, microwave and refrigerator behind a five foot long granite counter. The fridge yielded only another case of Schweppes but there was a box of Kraft Deluxe Mac and Cheese and two cans of Campbell’s tomato soup in the cupboard above the sink.
He was about to call out his find when Remy called his name. It took a minute for Scott to find which narrow aisle Remy was in, but when he did he was brought up short. There was a woman laying on her back on a cot that was surrounded on three sides by boxes. Her long hair was splayed out around her head, the top half of which was covered by what looked to be a blue dress shirt. She was under a blanket, but her arms were outside of it, crossed over her breasts, her hands tightly clutching something pink, but Scott was immediately disappointed. This wasn’t Timber. Her arms were way too thin and there was something wrong with her hands, like the wrists had been broken and healed without a cast to make the bone straight.
For one long horrible moment Scott thought they must have found the body of some poor woman a serial killer had tortured and posed in this crazy box canyon. And then the woman stirred in her sleep and smiled, and both men knew at once that it was Timber’s smile, the one with the dimple on only her left cheek.
Remy squeezed in between the box wall and the cot and gently pushed back the blue shirt.
“Hey Timber,” he whispered near her ear. “Timerlain. Wake up sweetheart.”
Timber roused enough that her eyelids fluttered before she went back to sleep. Remy pushed strands of hair off her face and tried again. “Wake up sleepyhead. You have company,” and this time her eyelids opened, closed briefly and then opened wider.
“Remy?” The confusion was evident on her face.
“The one and only,” he smiled at her.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God!” Timber squealed as she sat herself up and launched herself at Remy. “Is it really you? I must be dreaming. I must be dreaming,” she went in for another hug as Remy assured her he was not a dream.
“Oh God Remy, I have missed you so much.” Timber choked back tears as she hugged him. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“Got one of those for me?” Scott spoke up from the end of the bed.
“Oh my God Scotty!” Timber got up on her knees and shuffled to the end of the bed where she threw her arms around his neck. “Scotty! My two favorite men in the world. This must be a dream. This is a very good dream.”
“No dream darlin’, Scott assured her. Live and in person. But damn you are skinny girl. Where is the rest of you? You are way too skinny.”
“Oh you know, never too rich or too thin.” Timber mumbled, quick to tuck her hands under the yellow cardigan she wore over a white t-shirt that looked too big for her. “What are you guys doing here?”
“We got your email,” Remy answered. “To come to Flint for World Wonders and hand out water?”
It was obvious by the look on her face that Timber had no idea what he was talking about.
“We tried to call but your phone goes right to voicemail and you never answer your texts.”
“Oh, my phone,” Timber mumbled sheepishly. “Yeah. I was trying to sleep and it kept beeping so I threw it in one of these boxes and now I can’t remember which one. I keep forgetting to find it.
“Or maybe get a new one,” Remy suggested.
“Of course I will. Remy. Right away. And I will call the company and make sure they don’t send you any more emails, I promise.” Timber seemed distressed that they had been contacted by her company. “I swear they were supposed to purge all the Yankee information. I’m so so so sorry.”
“No, Timber. It’s fine,” Remy assured her. “We came because we wanted to see you, and here you are, so all’s right with the world. What are you doing out here anyway? Are you living out here?”
“Of course not. Of course not,” she answered defensively. “You know me and conservation. Why heat the whole house for just me?”
“But the house is heated Timber. We were just inside.”
Timber fidgeted at the prospect of being caught by Remy in a lie. “Well, the cleaning lady must have turned the thermostat up. Sometimes she forgets to turn it down again,” she spun.
“And why the gun?” Remy pressed on. “You wouldn’t even let Jordie keep his hunting rifle here.”
Timber shook her head sheepishly, “You know, woman alone. It’s not even loaded.”
“Oh no?” Scott challenged. “I found it with a round in the chamber and the safety off.”
“I guess I must have forgotten to unload it,” Timber’s voice rose with irritation. “It’s not like I have little children around to worry about is it Scott?” Timber’s eyes glistened with unspilled tears as she challenged him.
“Hey Timber, I’m sorry baby. I didn’t mean…”
“We should go up to the house,” Timber cut him off. “It’s warm up there.”
“Yeah, why is it so cold in here? Is this even heated?” Remy asked.
“Sure. There’s heat. It’s just that I broke a pane in the skylight.” Timber took out her right hand from under her sweater and sheepishly flashed a large scab on her palm. “The sun shines through there right in my eyes. Makes it hard to sleep, so I was trying to cover it up and I guess I hit the tape too hard trying to stick it. I called the glass guy, but he hasn’t made it out yet.”
“You called the glass guy from the phone you can’t find?” Remy pressed on.
Timber was showing signs of getting agitated again. “There’s a land line in the kitchen. And it doesn’t matter anyway because I ordered this electric blanket and this heat pump from Amazon,” Timber took out a hand to point to a device on a box next to the cot. “It blows right on my face. It’s really very nice out here. Very quiet.
“And this stuff from Amazon showed up before the glass guy did?” Remy challenged.
“I’ll get the damn skylight fixed Remy” Timber flashed angrily. “Now let’s go inside,” she suggested again in a friendlier tone, taking a moment to slide the blue shirt and whatever pink item she had been holding in her sleep under the pillow before she hopped down hopped off the cot.
“Onward and upward,” Timber urged them as she started for the pool house door and Remy and Scott shared a look of shock. Timber had always been fit but curvy. Now she was rail thin. Way too thin. Her pajama bottoms with pictures of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster hung on her and there was no cleavage to be found.
“Come on.” She urged them as she scampered down the aisle of boxes the men had to travel sideways to traverse. Timber waited for them at the door, then had second thoughts and hurried back to the kitchenette. Her head disappeared under the counter and she popped up proudly holding up a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. “I’ve been saving this for a special occasion,” she told them. And it doesn’t get any more special than this.” With that she ran barefoot out onto the deck through the path in the snow to the sliding door into the great room.
“Jesus Fucking H Christ,” Scott breathed to Remy. “What the hell’s happened to her?”
Remy met his eyes but didn’t respond; he ran his hands over his face, steeled himself and the men followed Timber into the house.