Mimsy: First Chapters

Mimsy by Steve George

A Handy Mann Novel

Chapter 1

It was early afternoon and I was fixing the front door at the Anderson house—I still thought of it as the Anderson house even though it had been a shelter for homeless and runaway women for six months—when I first met Mimsy. Her bright pink jacket stood out among the dull orange and brown of autumn, leaves crackling under her feet as she hurried along Barbosa Street.

Her head was down. She peeked over her slumped shoulders every few steps. She did not notice me until she stepped onto the sidewalk, thirty feet from the house.

She stopped. Her face looked older than her pink jacket suggested. Not old, probably not older than 30, but more mature, like she’d lived long enough to know how things work. The hood drooped to her eyebrows. She looked in the direction she had come and moaned, “No.”

I heard a car crunching leaves and coming fast. I stepped back and held the door open and she ran through it. I closed it behind her and slid the new deadbolt home and pocketed the key.

A black Mercedes CL65 coasted to a stop facing the wrong direction, the driver’s door opening to the Andersons’ sidewalk. I grabbed a hammer from my toolbox and tapped at the molding around the door, even though no tapping was needed.

The man who approached me seemed little bigger than the woman. He looked like what you would expect a man who climbed out of a $200,000 car to look like: sharply-pressed khakis and a perfectly fitted baby blue polo shirt, tan boat shoes with no socks, expertly trimmed black hair streaked with distinguished gray around the ears. He sauntered up like he was visiting his best friend.

“Good morning,” he said as he reached for the doorknob.

“Morning.”

I stepped out of his way. He turned the doorknob and pulled with no success. He studied me more closely. I towered over him by at least six inches and probably had 80 pounds on him. He did not seem intimidated.

“Can you open this for me?”

“Nope. This is a women’s shelter. It has pretty strict rules for visitors. If you want to get in, you’ll have to call and arrange it.”

His reaction suggested he was not told “no” very often. His eyes narrowed. He noticed the hammer in my hands and sized me up again. He rapped on the door a half-dozen times and waited. Nobody answered.

He sighed.

“Do you have the number I need to call?” he asked, still staring at the door, listening.

“I can help you there,” I said, and I rattled off the number. He held up the index finger on his left hand while he pulled a cell phone from his pants’ pocket with his right hand. I repeated the number more slowly so he could punch it in. He held the phone to his ear and stepped off the stoop.

I didn’t hesitate to give him the number because I knew the call would go right to voicemail. The shelter’s proprietor, Suzanne Mitterwald, took the safety of her residents very seriously, and few visitors ever crossed her threshold. Mr. Mercedes was out of luck.

He pressed a button on his phone and returned it to his pocket. His confident expression did not change. He scanned the house, left and right.

“There’s a door in the back but it’s locked, too,” I said. “They’re sticklers for security. Don’t want any abusive husbands or boyfriends walking in.” He ignored my sarcasm.

“And your name is?”

“Jim Mann.” I reached out but he did not shake my hand, nor did he tell me his name.

“And you’re the handyman here?”

I nodded. It was easier than trying to explain that I’m a commodity trader who lives across the street and helps his neighbors with their fix-it projects in his spare time which, truth be told, I have a lot of.

“Jim, I need to see my wife. I saw her go into this building and I know she’ll want to talk to me. If you could do whatever you need to do to either get me in or ask her to come out, I would appreciate it.”

“If she just went into this building I doubt very much that she wants to talk to you, Mr. . .” I waited for him to tell me his name. He thought it over.

“John.”

I smiled and pointed at the initials embroidered on his shirt. WW.

“You need to talk to somebody about your shirts. They think John starts with a W.”

He stared at me. He didn’t blink.

“I would help you, John, but I don’t have the authority to do what you’re asking. Your best bet is to leave a message at that number.”

He put a hand to his chin and tapped a finger on his lips. He looked like he was deciding what color to paint the house.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not waiting to see my wife. So I guess if you won’t open this door, I’ll have to.”

“Look, I just got done fixing the mess made by the last asshole who tried to break in. He failed. You will, too. Just call the number and leave a message.”

He stepped up to the door and turned to face me. He smiled and shrugged and then his left fist hit my right shoulder before I could even flinch. I staggered. The pain was immediate and intense and my arm went numb and I dropped the hammer. He buried his right fist in my stomach and every ounce of air left my lungs and I toppled backward off the stoop and onto the grass.

I lay on the ground hoping my lungs would restart. WW calmly picked up the hammer and eyed the deadbolt lock. I knew he could beat on it until his arm got too tired to lift the hammer and still not get in. He must have arrived at the same conclusion because he squatted and started rifling through my toolbox. He glanced at me long enough to tell me to relax and I would be fine, which was good advice if my diaphragm could hear it.

It must have gotten the message because suddenly I could breathe. I gulped in air and sat up. WW waved the hammer at me. I flexed my right hand and the numbness was gone. I wobbled to a standing position.

“Hey, Handy! Everything okay?” Frank Rowser stood on the lawn in front of his house across the street, his black attack cat, Freckles, trapped against his chest. I live next to Frank. I had barely spoken to him during my first five years in the neighborhood—Frank tends to keep to himself—but now we talk almost daily. His cat saved my life a year ago when it distracted a former neighbor from shooting me. It felt redemptive for the neighborhood for the Anderson house to shelter people since it had been used for the wrong kind of sheltering in the past, but the house still attracted trouble. Some houses are like that.

“I’m good, Frank!” I yelled, hoping Mr. Mercedes wouldn’t go after him next but worrying that Frank might turn around and leave me alone. Yelling made my stomach hurt.

“Handy?” WW said.

“As in handyman. I fix things.”

“People call you Handy? And you let them?” He smirked.

Frank stood at the curb, petting his cat. WW shook his head and dropped the hammer.

“Tell Mimsy she needs to come home,” he said, and he pivoted and strolled to his car. He paused to stare at me until I acknowledged him.

“You want to leave a message, call the number, asshole,” I said. I rubbed my shoulder with one hand and held my stomach with the other, which kept me from throwing the hammer at his expensive car. At least that’s what I told myself.

“I’ll see you around, Handy,” Mr. Mercedes said, plucking his phone from his pocket and holding it to his ear. He slid behind the wheel and eased away.

 

Chapter 2

The front door opened and Suzanne walked onto the stoop. She looked frazzled, the flowers on her dress pollinated by spaghetti sauce, her unruly brown hair shielding one eye. She tucked the stray hair behind her ear.

“Spaghetti for lunch?” I asked.

“That was last night’s dinner, smartass. I fell asleep in this and haven’t thought to change yet. You okay?”

I shrugged. “I’ve been hit harder.”

“What a jerk. I heard him talking to you. Abusers are all the same.”

“How do you know he’s an abuser?”

She rolled her eyes. I thought of the woman who had sought shelter in the house. Mimsy, her husband had called her. She definitely did not want to see him.

“What did she say?”

“You know I can’t tell you that. And I haven’t talked to her yet anyway. She only just got here a few minutes ago. Is the door fixed?”

“Good as new.” I pulled the key from my pocket and inserted it into the lock, closed the door, and flipped the deadbolt home. I pulled on the doorknob to show that the lock held, then unlocked and opened the door.

Mimsy stood in the doorway. She stuck her head out, looked left and right, and smiled. She lunged through the doorway and hugged me. The top of her head nearly reached my chin. I could smell flowers and that, along with the full-body embrace, took my breath away.

“Thank you,” she said, stepping back.

“You’re welcome. I’m Jim.”

“Mimsy.”

I had to ask. “Is that a family name?”

Suzanne cleared her throat and stepped between us, nudging me aside. By nudging, I mean shouldered me off the stoop. Suzanne is nearly six feet tall, solid as a tree trunk. Her motor’s always running and it’s usually running hot, so I’ve learned to give her room. This time I wasn’t quick enough.

She wrapped her arm around Mimsy’s shoulder and it looked like a mother comforting her child. Mimsy was shorter, slighter, and younger. Mid-20s, I guessed. Her hood had fallen from her head and it caught her long blonde hair like a furry pink bucket.

Suzanne glanced at me and said, “We’ve got some paperwork to take care of.”

“No problem.” I stepped back and reached for the door.

“Jabberwocky,” Mimsy said, pausing in the doorway. When she saw the confused look on my face, she added, “You asked about my name. My given name is Pamela. My dad started calling me Pim which became Mim when I was a baby, I don’t know why, and that turned into Mimsy when he was reading Alice in Wonderland to me.”

“The nonsense rhyme,” I said.

“It stuck.”

“Mine, too.”

“What’s your nickname?”

“Handy.”

“Makes more sense than Mimsy,” she said, and she smiled.

“True, but it’s not nearly as unique. I bet you’re one of a kind, Mimsy.”

Suzanne glared at me and reached for the door, but not before I saw a bit of red flush the flawless cheeks of her newest lodger.

“What’s your husband’s name, by the way? Is he your husband? He said it was John.”

Suzanne glared at me again but Mimsy answered quickly.

“It’s William. William Waters.”

The name sounded familiar but I didn’t have time to think about it because Suzanne held out her hand, palm up. I dropped the keys to the new lock in her hand and stepped back as she swung the door closed. I heard the deadbolt slide into place.

I gathered the few tools I had used and dropped them into the tool box and headed home. Frank was raking leaves in his front yard. I nodded in his direction as I crossed the street. He stopped and yelled.

“You should maybe stay away from that house.”

“No kidding, right?” I walked around the piles of leaves so I could talk to him without shouting.

“I never saw that coming,” I said.

“We used to call that GOFO. Grasp of the fucking obvious.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning you never see it coming.”

“C’mon. You saw that guy. Did he look threatening to you?”

“You got between him and something he wanted. Reminds me of a colonel who had to have been all of five foot nothing who used to stop by our office when he thought his supplies weren’t getting through fast enough. Got that look in his eyes that inspired people, especially when he rested his hand on his gun.”

Frank had been in logistics in the U.S. Army for 25 years, retired now for nearly ten. He had let his gray hair grow long enough to hold it behind his head with a rubber band and he had a well-groomed white beard to go with it, but he could not exorcise the military from his bearing. He even stood ramrod straight when he was raking.

“The woman he was after wanted nothing to do with him,” I said.

“He’s obviously got a temper. If he can drop you that easily, imagine what he could do to someone smaller than him.”

I thought about that for a moment. Mimsy had no marks on her face but that was all I had seen. I’d known her for all of ten minutes and I already felt protective.

“Well, she’s safe now. That guy’ll never get past Suzanne.”

“He got past you, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, but not past my lock. That’s a Medeco Maxum on a steel door with an armored strike plate. He’d need four guys and a battering ram to knock that door down.”

“Back door, too?”

“Yup. Alarms on all the doors and windows. Security cameras and motion sensor lights all around the house. All it’s missing is a moat filled with alligators.”

Frank didn’t say anything. He jabbed at a few leaves with the rake.

“You don’t think it’s safe?” I asked.

“I’ve known guys like that. They like to get their way.”

“He can’t get into the house, Frank.”

He stopped and held the rake in front of him, one hand atop the other, like a soldier with his rifle at parade rest, studying the Anderson house.

“How does that security system work if a window’s open?” he said.

I followed his eyes and saw the window he was talking about. First floor in what, if I remembered correctly, was a great room.

“Shit,” I mumbled.

“Well, it is a beautiful fall day,” Frank said. “I’ve got my windows open, too. But I don’t have a psycho after me. I don’t think.”

I noticed two windows cracked open on the second floor and wondered how many I would find in the back of the house. I pulled out my cell phone and called Suzanne and left a stern message about closing and locking all the windows and setting the alarm. A minute later she pressed her nose against the screen on the great room window and flipped me off.

But at least she closed the window.

I thanked Frank for intervening with Mr. Mercedes and picked up my tool box and walked home. I dropped the tool box in the garage and headed for my office. It was time to check the price of corn.

I had one week to sell September corn contracts or I would end up with a mountain of corn in my front yard. I had never cut a sale so close to the deadline but the price of corn had been rising in a sustained drought and I didn’t want to leave money on the table by selling too early. I logged onto my account.

One year ago I bought 50,000 bushels of this year’s September corn. Cost me around twenty grand. I don’t usually make such long plays but I was recovering from the debacle at the Anderson house and I didn’t want to worry about buying or selling for a few months. I bought it and ignored it and the price of that corn just kept getting better, about 25 cents better every month for 12 months. Now, a year later, I stood to make about $130,000 in profit on those contracts.

But: If corn hit the limit and I sold it tomorrow, I could make $150,000.

The price had dropped ten cents. Five grand out of my pocket. I studied the price chart and reviewed historical data and read what the Internet “experts” were saying and the consensus was what it usually is: Could go up, could go down. I decided to live dangerously for another day: I let it ride.

I leaned back in my chair and stared out my big bay window at the new house that had gone up across the street and the Anderson house next to it. It was a common, serene suburban scene that, I had learned, effectively hid the drama behind those walls.

I knew every inch of the new house, a two-story four square with a big porch, because I had weaseled my way into the good graces of the construction crew and hung out at the site while they worked, even lending a hand when they needed it. There’s nothing better for a do-it-yourselfer than watching professionals at work. They’re clever and efficient and I always learn new tricks.

The new house is a good size but the Anderson house dwarfs it. Spread across two lots, it has east and west wings extending from a huge central area that houses the kitchen and great room. Its unimaginative design makes it look like an apartment building, which is pretty much what it had become. By my count, Suzanne has five boarders, counting Mimsy. I’m pretty sure my count is correct because I keep track of these things. I like to know what’s going on in my neighborhood.

I pushed away from the desk and grabbed the tool belt by the back door and walked to the extension ladder resting against the back of my house. I had torn off the old shingles a week ago and was laying down new rows whenever I got the time. Like many repetitive home projects, it’s a mindless task once you get into it. I found it relaxing. I duck-walked to the peak and assessed my progress. The weather forecast had no hint of rain for a week, which gave me plenty of time to complete it.

I noticed someone walking on the street—we only have sidewalks from our driveways to our front doors, not running parallel to the street, an abomination I’ve raised with the city council to no avail—and watched her hurry past. She wore a Twins baseball cap and held the front of her jacket over her face, the turned-up collar protecting her ears. She pranced like a pony, her head back, her heels hitting the pavement in precise steps. I knew by her size and her gait and her clothing that she was not one of my neighbors.

She strode to the Anderson house and rang the doorbell. Suzanne opened it a few seconds later, blocking the doorway. The two talked for a few seconds before Suzanne stepped aside and the stranger edged past her into the house. Suzanne closed the door.

Two new residents in the span of a couple hours. Since new people had been showing up about once every three weeks, that was unusual. Both arrived on foot, whereas everyone else had been dropped off by the police or social workers or friends. Also unusual.

A window popped open on the second floor. The screen flew away and fell to the ground. Mimsy stuck her head out and looked down and screamed.

I was already sliding down the ladder.

 

Chapter 3 

I got about ten steps from my house when I remembered that the shelter’s doors were locked. I had a duplicate key in the house. Mimsy screamed again. I glanced at Frank’s yard but he must have gone inside. A black Cadillac Escalade flashed past me, a cloud of leaves trailing it. It slid to a stop in front of the Anderson house.

Mimsy stopped screaming and closed the window.

An enormous man uncoiled from the car. He had a bald head on an equally wide neck. He hadn’t noticed me because he didn’t turn around. I had no way of stopping him but I figured I could slow him down until Mimsy or someone who had heard her scream called 911.

I ran toward the car to give me a little cover in case he turned around. He was halfway up the sidewalk when I dodged around the Escalade and lowered my shoulder, aiming for the middle of his back.

The front door opened. The woman who had just entered the house saw me coming and yelled “Watch out!” The big guy jumped sideways and turned to see what she was yelling about so I kept going. The woman reacted and tried to close the door but my shoulder caught it, slamming it into her and knocking her across the foyer. I whipped the door shut and flipped home the deadbolt.

She got up slowly, one shoulder sagging, and swayed while her eyes focused. Or eye, since one eye was black and nearly swollen shut. She grabbed the banister to steady herself.

“You picked the wrong time to be a hero,” she mumbled.

“Not me. I’m just here for a visit. Thanks for getting the door for me.”

She scrunched her face and closed her good eye but when she opened it, she didn’t look at me. She stared at the door as if willing the big guy to barge in, which I knew he couldn’t do. Or at least I didn’t think he could. I heard the doorknob turn and a muffled thump as he put his shoulder into it. It held. He slammed into it again and then a third time but the door didn’t move. It got quiet. I hoped Suzanne had buttoned the place up.

“Where’s Suzanne?” I asked.

She edged around the railing for the upstairs steps and I thought she was going to sit down. My eyes never left her as I shuffled to the window next to the door. The Escalade hadn’t moved but I couldn’t see the big guy.

The woman suddenly ran for the door. I jumped in front of her but she veered away and dove toward a bag on the floor, which I realized was her purse. She plunged her hand inside. I fell on top of her, locking her wrist with both hands. Her other hand scratched at my face, just missing my eyes. I yanked on her arm and her hand cleared the purse. She was holding a gun.

I smashed her hand on the floor and the gun went off, startling me. She buried her knee in my groin but the angle was bad so all I got was a serious wedgie. She pulled her arm loose but before she could point the gun at me I moved off her and drove an uppercut into her chin. Her head bounced off the floor and her eyes rolled back in her head and she was out.

I pried the gun from her hand. I peeked out the window and saw the big guy standing on the stoop.

“I’ve got your friend’s gun!” I yelled. “You’ve got one minute to leave.”

He stared at the window and reached behind him and pulled out his own gun. It was a dull gold color and much bigger than mine. I told him I was calling the cops.

“They won’t be fast enough. I’m gonna start blasting if you don’t let the woman leave.”

I didn’t want him blasting. I wasn’t worried about getting hit as much as I was thinking about all the repair work it would cause. Not to mention the damage to me if he managed to get into the house.

“Stand by your car and put your gun away!” I shouted.

I waited a few seconds before glancing out the window. He was leaning against the Escalade, hands up, empty palms facing me.

I dragged the woman to the door. I checked on the big guy again and he hadn’t moved. I opened the door and pulled her out while keeping the gun pointed in his general direction. He leaned against his car with his hands behind his head as if he had no worries. I heard a siren. Somebody had called it in.

I jumped back inside the house and locked the door. I hurried to a window on the opposite side and looked out. The big guy carried the woman under one arm like a duffel bag. He opened the back door and tossed her onto the seat before stuffing himself into the front seat. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t racing away until I saw the cell phone in his hand. He nodded once and drove away.

I put the gun on the steps and hurried into the kitchen to look for Suzanne. I saw her feet on the floor between the counter and the center island and feared the worst. I hurried around the island to her head. I was looking for blood when I spotted an empty syringe on the floor next to her. Her chest moved as she breathed.

“Is she okay?”

I flinched at the voice and banged my head on the island’s granite overhang.

“Sonofabitch!”

I rubbed my head. Mimsy grimaced in sympathy. She pulled open the freezer and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and handed it to me. I held it on my head with one hand and used the other to pull myself up.

“I think she’s fine. It looks like she was drugged. Are you okay?”

She nodded.

“Where is everybody?” I asked.

“I think they’re staying safe. I heard a lot of doors being locked after I screamed.”

She studied me like she was trying to figure something out. She had shed her coat and the effect was startling: an hourglass figure well displayed by a tight, white, long-sleeved blouse and even tighter jeans. She had pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She caught me staring and smiled and the transformation was complete. I thought I understood why William would come after her.

Someone banged on the door.

“Must be the police,” I said. “I’ll let them in.”

I glanced out a front window to make sure the Escalade hadn’t returned and opened the door. Officers Horace and Lemmons filled the stoop.

“Jesus, you again,” Horace said. He was young and fit, biceps straining against the short sleeves of his blue cop shirt, unlike Lemmons, who had 20 years and 40 pounds on him. “As soon as I saw the address, I knew. What’s the problem?”

I stood aside so they could enter and closed the door behind them. Horace and Lemmons and I had a recent history with the Anderson case. I outlined what had happened and answered a few questions and then led them into the kitchen. Mimsy had folded a dish towel and wedged it under Suzanne’s head. Lemmons retrieved the syringe and dropped it into a plastic bag.

“Mimsy, these are Officers Horace and Lemmons.”

Lemmons caught his partner’s eye. He stroked his mustache as if punctuating his plan. “Why don’t you take Mr. Mann into the foyer and make sure we’re clear on what went down. I’ll ask Mimsy a few questions.”

Horace did not look happy about getting stuck with me but he nodded and motioned for me to follow him.

I recounted the day’s highlights for Horace and he asked questions and took notes. I kept glancing toward the kitchen wishing I could hear Mimsy’s story but the murmuring was unintelligible. Horace had run out of questions and was tucking the notebook back into his pocket when someone knocked. He opened the door. Two paramedics entered pulling a stretcher. Horace pointed toward the kitchen and they hurried off. He faced me.

“So you’re saying her husband managed to get another woman into the house an hour after he’d been here?”

I nodded. “Mimsy’s husband was after her. She screamed for help because she knew the woman and she knew the big guy. There’s got to be a connection.”

He thought about that. I thought about how determined her husband had been, which made me wonder what he would do next, which made me think of the paramedics. I opened the front door and studied the ambulance. It looked like an ambulance.

“Something wrong?” Horace asked.

“I don’t know. I was just thinking about how quickly that big guy got here after Mimsy’s husband left and how fast he gave up, and that got me thinking about the paramedics. Who called them? And don’t they usually wait to assess the situation before they haul a stretcher in?”

Horace thought about it for a moment. “Wait here.”

I followed him to the kitchen. As soon as he walked through the doorway I saw him tense up and reach for his gun. Suddenly, he stiffened and shook and pitched forward.

 

To find out what happens to Handy and Mimsy, order the ebook on Amazon here.

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