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Juliette Pardeau sets out to ruin her two-timing husband. During a police investigation into missing women, she calls his law firm disclosing his fetish for young women. It sets off a string of terrifying events surrounding her involvement with a senator seeking his missing daughter, and makes her the target of a killer.
Detective Nicholas Walker from Miami Dade PD comes into her life and a growing friendship between them eventually takes on fiery passions—but not until murder and mayhem unfurl into the most horrific and terrifying discovery imaginable…
Juliette Pardeau sat in her favorite chair in the family room with windows facing the back yard. She watches the strobe-like light of the television flick with scene after scene. Her concentration is elsewhere, stamped with irritation at Russell, her husband, who is busy in the back yard planting another tree. While there is nothing wrong with planting a tree, planting it at night in the dark without lights is bizarre and doesn’t set well with Juliette. She keeps jumping up from her chair and peering through the sliding glass doors, a futile activity since heavy darkness enfolds everything, extinguishing visibility.
After a while, her impatience gets the best of her. She pounces from her chair and turns off all the lights in the family room, hoping to enable at least a limited view outside. It is now dark as pitch inside and out with infinite stars scattered across the inky black sky. A few lightning bugs buzz above the yard, giving off an eerie luminescent glow.
She can’t see what Russell is doing. Even the outside patio light from the neighbor’s house doesn’t shine bright enough to illuminate Russell and his bizarre nighttime activity with the shovel. Buying and planting trees is his exclusive hobby or pastime, which he takes pleasure in only in spurts when the desire hits him. The back yard is beginning to look like a forest across the backside of the property. Why he always plants them at night after the stars come out, and without a light, Juliette fails to understand.
The very first time he planted a tree, and at night, soon after they first moved into their new home, she wandered outside to watch. He was busy digging a hole and didn’t notice her presence.
“Russell, why are you digging that hole so deep?” She asked, coming up on him unannounced.
He nearly jumped out of his skin. Startled, with his deep concentration disrupted, in the pale light from the neighbor’s patio light his sweat-shiny face contorted into a querulous frown. He propped his weight against his shovel for support, as though her surprise presence had drained him of energy.
“Goddamn it, Juliette, what in the hell are you doing out here?” He snarled, glancing about him anxiously where he had set bags of gardening soil, fertilizer, and an over-sized trash bag already full of what Juliette suspected was yard trash. Not giving her time to answer, he added, “Get back in the house, and don’t you ever set foot in this backyard again when I’m out here working.”
Juliette frowned, suddenly miffed. “Jesus, Russell, what’s your problem? All I did was walk outside.”
He stepped toward her with the shovel still in his hand, raising it like a weapon. “This is my fucking domain and it’s off limits to you when I’m out here. Do we understand each other, Juliette?” He raised the shovel higher as if he might hit her with it. “Get inside now!” He ordered in a voice grating with rising rage.
Juliette paled with shock at his volatile attitude. Suddenly frightened of such vehemence, she stepped backward away from him. She has never seen Russell so adamant. Without a word, she turns and runs to the house, driven by an image of him raising that shovel at her.
She had never gone out there again during his nighttime tree-planting sessions, although there had been many. Trees were haphazardly crowded together on the backside of their back yard. Russell had implanted doubt in her mind about his bizarre tree-planting practices and she would wonder from then on, why he required such privacy during his planting activity, why he maintained such secrecy.
Now tonight, a few years later after their puzzling confrontation in the backyard, Juliette became antsy, wanting something to do. The fear experienced that night long ago had almost dissipated so that she barely remembered it.
Maybe Russell doesn’t remember it either, she thought, and hoped his attitude had changed after all this time.
Juliette was thinking that if Russell would allow her to help him, participating in something together might put a Band-Aid on some of the problems in their marriage. With that idea in mind, she stepped outside, hoping he would welcome her company. A dark night causes her to strain her eyes through a sheet of blackness barely penetrated by the neighbors outside light.
Mosquitoes buzz about her head and she brushes them away only to hear their annoying buzzing return around her face and ears. She stands silently watching Russell a few moments. He is so busy he doesn’t even notice her until the clap of her hand slapping a mosquito on her arm draws his attention.
He gasps in a sharp breath and his voice catches in his throat. He nearly drops the shovel, which he had been using to shovel dirt in a big hole where the tree set with a gunnysack wrapped about its roots.
“What the fuck! Get the hell away from here! I told you this is my domain,” he shouted. A tremor vibrated in his voice while he glared contemptuously at Juliette. He appeared terribly shaken by her surprise intrusion.
Juliette strains her eyes through the darkness to make out his shadowed figure. “I just got here, Russell,” she replied with a nonchalant shrug. “I thought you might use my help.”
Now that she has moved closer to him, the neighbor’s patio light slightly illuminates his shadowed form in the darkness. She wonders how he can possibly see well enough to plant a tree. One would think that if he enjoyed gardening he would want to do it in the daytime rather than working blindly. Obviously, he preferred the dark. Unlike landscapers who designed their plant layouts, there was no pattern to where Russell planted the trees. He planted them all on the backside of the property, haphazardly scattered like naturally grown trees in a forest. Wherever he found a soft hole to dig, that’s where he planted them. Oddly, he rarely tended them once they were planted other than an occasional watering; yet, they grew fast and healthy.
“I don’t need your help, Juliette?” He yells, toning his volume down when he remembers the neighbors. “I told you long ago not to come out here while I’m working.”
He moves quickly toward her, reaching out to press both hands against her chest in jerky pushes.
Juliette nearly lost her balance before backing away from the pressure of his hand. The remembered fear from long ago when Russell told her never to come in the backyard again while he was working there seized her again and she felt the hairs on her arms pop up. Something was terribly strange and freaky about her oddball husband’s solitary tree planting.
Russell frequently offended Juliette with his cantankerous, vile disposition and his coarse, common language. She even picked up some of his most frequently used words such as damn, shit, and hell. She didn’t particularly like using them, but sometimes they seemed entirely applicable to the message she communicated.
Russell wasn’t a very nice man, at least not to her. He treated her like some unwanted mongrel dog most of the time. She tried not to let it influence her because she didn’t want her own attitude to fan his fire by stirring up unnecessary condescension between them, although Russell didn’t need much of an excuse to vent his contrariness on her.
She didn’t particularly like being married to Russell, but marriage was the safest place to be since she had no job and no family or friends to turn to for help. It frightened her to death to consider being alone, so she put forth every effort to keep the peace between them, even though it was a one-sided effort. She would do about anything to keep her safe home foundation beneath her feet.
“I only wanted to help,” she says humbly in a tone of voice to which Russell most easily responds. Inside, however, she sizzles with anger at his harsh rudeness.
Shoving his palms against her chest again, nearly knocking her off her feet, he replied harshly, “I don’t want your fucking help or need it. Do I accompany you to your gym for your daily exercise sessions? Do I follow you around the house when you’re cleaning or doing whatever it is that you do?”
Juliette starts to answer, but he abruptly cuts her off and answers his own question.
“Hell no I don’t! I sure as hell don’t want you out here getting in my way. What I’m doing out here is for me, something I choose to do by myself.” He emphasized each word of his last sentence.
Juliette’s eyes had adjusted to the night blackness, slightly illumined by the patio light next door, and could make out the wild expression on Russell’s face. The white of his eyes bore a dark glint not unlike that of a wild animal. She had always been a little afraid of Russell, but now she felt deathly afraid.
“Russell, there’s no need for you to be so cranky,” Juliette said softly, thinking a humble tone might soften his aggravation with her. “I was only trying to be nice. But don’t worry, I get the message loud and clear. I’ll leave you to your eerie solitude.”
“Then get in the house,” he growled, giving her another shove before she turned on her heels, hurrying away as though he were chasing her with his shovel.
Tears, anger, frustration and defeat flood through her. She had always done everything she knew to do toward keeping their marriage together, nurturing it however she could with the desire to keep some semblance of happiness between them. Nothing worked anymore. Whatever they once had—which Juliette often doubted was worth the price she had paid for it—had slowly deteriorated into something ugly and nearly intolerable. Russell was impossible to please; yet, she kept trying, willing to concede to whatever demands he made upon her.
Juliette kept away from the back yard after his explosive temper tantrum. He continued randomly buying trees, often between long intervals of several months. He hauled them in an old van he bought, which he kept in the garage. He planted his back yard forest without any further interruption from her. However, his foolish behavior piqued her curiosity. She couldn’t quite let it go unchallenged. One evening after he had his bath following his latest tree-planting project, she blurted out her question. “Why don’t you plant the trees during daylight hours so you can see what you’re doing?”
He shot her a contemptuous gaze she had grown used to seeing. “I work in the daytime?” He snapped tartly, as if she were an idiot unable to put competent thoughts together.
“You don’t work on weekends.” She was serving him his dinner on a platter in the family room where he sat in his leather recliner watching television.
He visually examined the fried pork chop, green beans, mashed potatoes, and crusty roll on his plate, tasting the mashed potatoes first. “I often work on weekends here at home when I have a big trial coming up, in case you haven’t noticed,” he stated in a defensive tone.
She watched him eat, aware that he never complimented her on anything she cooked for him. Yet, he ate with gusto as if the food was enjoyable. “Well, you’re off from work by dusk most days. You could plant them then when there’s enough daylight left for you to see what you’re doing.”
Not bothering to cut up his pork chop, he picked it up and took a bite of it. “Yes,” he drawled out impatiently, “but after I pick up the tree at the nursery its dark outside, therefore, I plant them in the dark.” Irritation crept into his voice like a rising flood.
If Juliette hadn’t been watching the television screen, she might have noticed Russell’s tension building as she continued her probing. “You could pick the tree up one day and plant it the following day,” she persisted, seeking understanding of his bizarre nighttime activity.
“Juliette, you’re getting on my nerves. Bad. It’s time you back off.”
“Well if you’re determined to plant your trees at night, you could at least turn on the outdoor light.”
He slammed the pork chop bone down on his plate. “I don’t need or want a fucking light.” he slammed his plate on the tray setting on the table next to him. “Do you understand, Juliette? I don’t want any fucking lights!”
“Well, you don’t have to get so upset just because we’re having a conversation about it. It’s eccentric and bizarre to work out there in the dark as you do. What must the neighbors think? I just don’t understand.”
“Fuck the neighbors!” He decided the best defense was a good offence. “Working without a light saves electricity, but you wouldn’t be worried about that, now would you. After all, you don’t have to worry about paying the damn bills, do you?”
Juliette’s face wrinkled with a sudden nettled frown. The corner of her mouth turned up in a scornful sneer. It galled her that he never gave her credit for anything.
“Like hell I don’t!” she stormed back at him. “Who do you think paid the bills all those years when you were working on your law degree, and afterward when you started working at the DA’s office and wasn’t making much money? Have you forgotten who paid your way through law school? Have you forgotten how I scrubbed floors and toilets and worked as a waitress to support you? Don’t you dare treat me as if I’ve been a financial burden on you, Russell. It’s been just the opposite. I have supported you.”
The entire structure of his face changed and he glared at her with such a look of contempt in his eyes it caused Juliette to draw deeper in her chair away from him. A snarl rose on his lips and he really did look like some wild animal ready to spring at its victim.
He pounced from his recliner. “Get the hell off my back!” He roared, grabbing the plate of food and throwing it across the room. It bounced off the wall in shattered bits of glass mixed with food, scattering widely about the carpeted floor. “Leave me the fuck alone!”
He stalked from the house.
Stripped of Dignity is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/193g3Rz
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