Most people stared as they kept their distance to get to the doors of the greenhouse or out to their cars. My neck and ears burned hot. A handful began standing at a distance to watch what was going to happen next.
Keeping Gage within view, I cleared my throat and said to Cora, “Yeah, my name is Mike. I need to find Alex. Have you seen him?”
“Why? Haven’t you given him enough dirt on Cora?” Gage yelled. A few more people stopped to watch, some with their cellphones trained on us. Cora glared at him and shook her head.
I asked, “Dirt?” Without waiting for a response, I said to Cora, “Look, I don’t know what your relationship is with Alex. He’s caused a lot of trouble for me. I need to find him before anything else happens.”
She snorted. “Trouble for you? Has he ruined your reputation? Cost you your livelihood?”
“Or, tortured you?” Gage added.
“Tortured?” I startled upon hearing the word. Is Alex capable of that? “Who did he do that to?”
“Who do you think?” Gage puffed their chest and cocked their head. They balled their fists as they stepped closer.
“I only want to find him. An intimidating man came to the house last night and scared my mom. If I hadn’t been there, I’m certain he would have forced his way into the house. He was looking for Alex and said he owed him money. I’m afraid he’s going return even though I told him Alex doesn’t live with us.”
They gave each other knowing looks. Gage crossed their arms and stared at me. Cora asked, “What was his name? Who did he represent?”
I threw my hands up in exasperation. “He didn’t say. He just said if I see Alex to tell him he needs to pay and he will know who is trying to collect.”
Cora narrowed her eyes and stepped closer. “If you aren’t spying on me or helping Alex, why did you go through his backpack?”
I squirmed and swallowed hard.
“I know you went through it. Was it to take the SD card you so adamantly denied knowing about? He never packed it that.”
“His backpack spilled in my SUV. I tried to fit everything in, but I’ve never learned how to pack one.”
My phone rang. I yanked it out of my pocket, relieved for the interruption. It was Mom. “Hello?”
A man’s voice said, “Mike, your mom fell down the stairs.”
My stomach felt icy. “Who is this?”
“Walter, the neighbor from across the street. They took her to the hospital. She kept saying he pushed her down the stairs, but no one else was at the house.”