Outfox(7)

By: Sandra Brown


Drex swiped his dripping forehead with the ripped sleeve of his baggy t-shirt. “Thanks, but that’s the last of them.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I only offered to be nice.”

The two of them laughed.

“I’ll take one of those beers, though,” Drex said. “If you’re offering.”

His neighbor had crossed the connecting lawns with a cold bottle in each hand. He handed one to Drex. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Thanks.”

They clinked bottles, and each took a drink. “Jasper Ford.” He stuck out his right hand and they shook.

“Jasper,” Drex said, as though hearing the name for the first time and committing it to memory, as though he hadn’t had to wring it out of Gif and Mike, as though he hadn’t spent the past week gleaning as much information on the man as he possibly could.

“I’m Drex Easton.” He watched the man’s eyes for a reaction to his name, but detected none.

Jasper indicated the pile of empty boxes Drex had stacked at the curb. “You’ve been hard at it for two days.”

“It’s been a chore to lug everything up those stairs. They’re killers.”

He chinned toward a steep exterior staircase that led up to an apartment above a garage that was large enough to house an eighteen-foot inboard. The structure was a good thirty yards behind the main house. Drex figured it had been positioned there to take advantage of the concealment provided by a massive live oak tree.

He squinted up through the branches and pretended to assess the apartment from a fresh perspective. “Moving in was worth the backache, though. It’s like living in a tree house.”

“I’ve never seen inside,” Jasper said. “Nice?”

“Nice enough.”

“How many rooms?”

“Only three, but all I need.”

“You’re by yourself, then?”

“Not even a goldfish.” He grinned. “But, despite the ban on pets, I may get a cat. I spotted some mouse droppings in the kitchen area.”

“I can see how a mouse could sneak in. The owners are snowbirds, down here only during the winter months.”

“So Mr. Arnott told me. They come down the day after Thanksgiving, stay until the first of June.”

“Frankly, when I learned the apartment had been rented out, I was concerned.”

“How’d you hear about it?”

“I didn’t. You showed up and started carting boxes upstairs.”

Drex laughed. “And going through your mind was ‘WTF?’”

By way of admission, the man smiled and gave a small shrug. “I have Arnott’s number in case of an emergency, so I called him.”

“I was an emergency?” Drex glanced down at his ragged shirt, dirty cargo shorts, and well-worn sneakers. “I can see where you might think so. You got one look at me and thought ‘there goes the neighborhood.’” He flashed a grin. “I clean up okay, I promise.”

Jasper Ford laughed with good nature. “Can’t be too careful.”

“That’s my motto.”

“Good fences make for good neighbors.”

“Except that there’s no fence.” Drex looked across the uninterrupted expanse of grass between the two properties. Coming back to Jasper Ford’s dark gaze, he said, “I’ll confine my rude behavior to this side of the property line. You’ll never know I’m here.”

Jasper smiled, but before he could comment, his cell phone signaled a text. “Excuse me.” He took the phone from his shirt pocket.

While he was reading the text, Drex arched his back in an overextended stretch that caused him to wince, and took another swallow of beer.

“My wife,” Jasper said as he thumbed off his phone. “Her flight has been weather delayed. She’s stuck at O’Hare.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Happens a lot,” he said somewhat absently as he glanced over his shoulder toward his house, then came back around to Drex. “How about some surf and turf?”

“Pardon?”

“I’ve got crab cakes ready for the pan. Steaks marinating. No sense in half of it going to waste.”