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Vanessa burrowed her body deep behind long coats. She draped garments over her knees and calves then placed the heels of a pair of work boots on top of her tennis shoes to hide her feet. Her eyes locked onto the tiny slit at the base of the closet door. Now and then, she’d see a flash of two faint shadows. Looked to be someone’s feet. Man or woman, she couldn’t tell. Fearful of making the slightest sound, she took quick shallow breaths and willed herself to become small.

The shadow approached the nightstand near the closet. Vanessa heard it pull open the drawer. It rifled through the contents. In a clear fit of frustration, the shadow threw the drawer to the floor and turned. It took a few steps toward the closet door and flung it open. A bolt of light flooded the space, sending Vanessa into a silent panic. The door slammed hard against an adjacent wall and bounced back from the sheer force. Vanessa broke out in a cold sweat. She squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to become invisible.

From outside, she heard a car door slam; followed by footsteps scurrying up the driveway. Rapid doorbell rings filled the house. The shadow paused for a moment, then turned and bolted out of the room. Its motion caused the door to close partway.

The doorbell rang again. And again. Followed by loud knocks on the front door. Persuaded no one was home, the visitor left. From the sounds of the footsteps in the driveway, Vanessa concluded a woman rang the doorbell.

I wonder if that's Martin’s new girlfriend?

She listened as the car door in the driveway opened, closed, and pulled away. Vanessa remained frozen in place. She didn’t know if the shadow was still in the house, but she knew it would only be a matter of moments before she’d find out.

She glanced around the closet. A full-sized umbrella stood perched in the opposite corner. She grabbed it, then readjusted the clothes around her. She was thankful Martin had a few long coats and more than one robe.

Satisfied she’d hid herself as best as possible, she waited and listened.

An eerie silence filled the house.

She began counting to 100 in her head. Dudley said this was a tactic he used more than once during an FBI investigation when he had to hide.

“When you’re waiting to make sure the coast is clear, patience is your friend,” he once explained to her as they lay in bed; his legs intertwined with hers.

12, 13, 14…

Vanessa kept her eyes on the light shining through the bottom of the closet door. She wished she were still wrapped in Dudley’s embrace instead of hiding in this stupid closet.

She watched for the shadow’s feet. She didn’t know what she’d do if it returned. But she knew the element of surprise was on her side. And she’d only have a moment to act. The last thing the shadow would expect to find in the closet is some random woman crouched in the corner. And Vanessa would make sure she came across as a wild one. She'd scream as loud as possible, stab the umbrella at the shadow like a jousting knight, and make a mad dash for the stairs.

24, 25, 26…

She clutched the umbrella tight and tamped a lid on her adrenaline. She’d unleash it at the precise moment she’d need its power.

38, 39, 40…

She admonished herself for her current predicament. She should be gardening at home with her faithful furry companion Walt by her side; not crouching in a strange man’s closet counting to one hundred like a kid playing hide and seek.

Why can’t I relax and enjoy the simple life? 57, 58, 59…

The birds chirped outside. Their song provided a calming sense of normalcy. But today was anything but normal.

65, 66, 67…

Her eyes burned; dry from staring wide-eyed at the slivers of light through the door. The silence was deafening. Her thoughts again drifted to Dudley, as they so often did. She longed to be embracing him; not this cheap umbrella.

She wondered if the local nursery still had an opening. She turned down a job offer despite having taken to gardening like a pro. Dudley planted the idea of her becoming a private investigator instead. He said she was way too inquisitive to be selling plants and trees. He predicted she’d become bored within a few months.

78, 79, 80…

“Gardening is your fun hobby. Turning it into an occupation may zap all the enjoyment out of it,” he explained after an evening of lovemaking. She concluded he was right. After all, he was a trained FBI profiler. Gardening was a fun hobby; no need to turn it into a required daily work assignment.

Recalling Dudley’s skin pressed against hers made her feel giddy. She closed her eyes and allowed the memory to whisk her away.

89, 90, 91…

She opened her eyes and shook her head to clear the memory of Dudley’s warm embrace. 

Focus, Vanessa, focus!

In a slow movement, she slid her back up the wall from her crouched position, careful not to ruffle the clothes shielding her.

98, 99, 100.

She took in a deep breath and let it out in a long, quiet, steady exhale. She stood motionless.

Feeling confident the shadow left the house, Vanessa parted the clothes, stepped to the door, and opened it enough to peer into the room. The contents of the dresser drawers were dumped onto the floor. Vanessa already knew whoever it was wouldn’t find what they were looking for in the bedroom. She knew because she had already searched the room. But unlike the shadow, she was careful not to make a mess. She didn’t want to alert Martin that he was soon to become the prime suspect in the murder of the mayor’s wife.

Not yet anyway.

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