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Death in the Fort - Chapter Four

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Jan Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Chapter 4

Where we got the idea to use baby monitors, I don't know. I'm pretty sure it came from Jaime, though. His girls - Carmen, Sophie and Bella (she's the weird one; I caught her burying a muffin tin in my yard once) - are in elementary school now, but he likes gadgets.

"You can hear a baby fart from a mile away with these things," he said, tossing us each a hand-held unit. "They're awesome."

Jessica, it seemed, had a plan. And by "plan" I mean something dumb she cooked up after a daylong "Law & Order" and Diet Coke binge. We would "get to the bottom of this," she said. We'd "canvas the area" and "call in favors." Oh! And we should wear cloaks, she decided. "Black cloaks."

"When do we go see Huggy Bear?" I asked.

"We'll just put the base of the baby monitor inside Darleen's apartment," she said, ignoring my cynicism. "And we'll spy with these little babies." She grabbed both hand-held baby monitor units and waggled them at me.

"Then, when the mysterious garage vandal comes back for Darleen's box," she said. "We'll nab him."

"Nab him?" I said. "Really?"

"Yes, we'll nab him. Then we'll ask him whether Darleen is coming to the party or not. He can come, too."

"Great! Can we gag him with your RSVP cards?" I asked. "You know, when we nab him?"

"Ye of little faith," she said.

So this - this weird course of logic and extravagant conclusion jumping - was how Jessica and I found ourselves late on a Friday night, playing Scrabble at our kitchen table with a baby monitor between us. Somewhere, the beautiful people were wearing tube tops and slurping martinis at Club Soda or Cork 'N Cleaver. Not us. We were wearing mud masks (filled with "natural botanicals;" different from unnatural botanicals, like plastic poinsettias) and arguing whether or not "obnoxicity" was a real word.

"It is," Jessica said. "I read it on a blog."

This probably sounds a little strange to some of you - bugging a woman's abandoned house for basically no good reason whatsoever. But Jessica and I do a lot of things for no good reason. Frankly, there aren't a whole lot of mysteries in our neighborhood. Things can get, well, a little predictable even. We know why Mrs. Collins draws her drapes every day at noon. (So she can walk around naked.) And those mysterious unmarked packages delivered to that guy on Columbia Avenue? They're filled with "man wigs." He's a "man wig" wearer.

But this next-door neighbor of ours - the mysterious one who always seemed like a big blond liar - she ditched her apartment during the night. And right afterward, our garage was ransacked. Maybe you wouldn't be interested; maybe you'd be too busy living a fabulously full life to snoop around and get yourself involved in something that was probably none of your business.

Not us. Gossip is like the high-fructose corn syrup of our neighborhood. It's everywhere; you can't avoid it. And maybe it's not good for you - maybe it makes you fat and will one day ruin Western civilization - but it's also pretty tasty.

Then again, high-fructose corn syrup doesn't come after you in the middle of the night with a shotgun. We were about to learn that fact the hard way.