The long, almost hesitant call roused Mary from her place on the couch. She had, for the first time in days, found the time to read. She managed all of three words when Joe started shouting, and he didn't sound like he was going to stop anytime soon. With a deep breath, she reminded herself that she loved her family.
Then she rose and went to the backyard door, rubbing the small of her back through her shirt. Their yard, fairly large given how many houses builders tried to cram onto a street, was fenced in and lined on one side by trees. The other boundaries were dictated by her garden on one side and mud on the other. Nothing she did got rid of the mud.
"There's a body in the yard," Joe said, turning his big blue eyes to her, a look of concern on his face.
"Of course there is," she muttered, pushing open the patio door. She had two girls and three boys, all between the ages of sixteen and four, and nothing fazed her any more.
Not even the dark haired man laying face down in the mud beside the fence could bother her. She turned toward the window, where Joe and his younger sister Lyn stood, their faces plastered to the glass. She pointed at them and crooked her finger. Joe's face vanished only to reappear around the edge of the house a moment later.
"Go get Mike," she told him, "and your dad. And tell Lyn to stop licking the glass." Her youngest daughter, four years old, pressed her open mouth against the window and dragged her tongue all over it.
Shoving her hands through her blonde hair, which had the unfortunate habit of frizzing into a giant mess of curls whenever the humidity got above zero, Mary yanked it back into some semblance of a ponytail and waited for her husband and oldest son.
Mike crashed his way out the patio door five minutes later, bare feet slapping the flagstones, looking like he had just rolled out of bed. She wouldn't be surprised if he had. "Get your ass back in that house and put shoes on," she told him, and he spun about with a look fit for a martyr.
Bob slid out from behind him, a beanpole of a man who stood a few inches over six feet, his wireframe glasses slipping down his nose. He and Mike were of a height, but Mike was a massive slab of muscle, built to be a middle linebacker where Bob looked like a strong wind would blow him over. "There's a body in your mud."
"Your mud," Mary corrected. "You said you would cut down those tree branches so this part of the yard gets more sun."
Bob sighed. "We've been over this, Mary. The tree is on the neighbor's yard, and I can't cut down branches without permission."
"No one lives there!" she exclaimed. The house, owned by a foreign company, was rented out to employees. It had been empty for nearly four years.
Mike banged his way out of the house, wearing dirty tennis shoes. Mary's lips pressed into a long, thin line. He had probably tromped all the way from the mess room, through the family room, into the kitchen, and out the door in those shoes. Her rugs would be filthy. He drew up short, though, when he saw the body in the mud. "Why's there a dead dude in mom's mud?"
Mary let out a hiss of breath. "He's not dead. Just help me pick him up and get him inside."
It took them about fifteen minutes to get the man from the mud into the house, up the stairs, and deposited in the guest bedroom. Lyn and Joe watched, wide-eyed and underfoot, while Mike tracked his dirty feet up and down the white carpet of their second floor. When they got the mud-covered man to the guest room, Mary realized she had failed to plan ahead. There was no way, absolutely no way, she was dropping a dirty body on the guest bedroom's comforter.
"Anna!" she shouted, giving Mike and Bob a severe look that said, quite clearly, if you drop this man, I will kill you dead. "Jack!"
Jack responded first, likely because Anna was plugged into her iPod and growing roots into her phone. "Who's the dead guy?" were the first words out of his mouth.
Mary chose to ignore them. "Jack, go into the hall closet and grab one of the camping blankets," she said. He gave her a dubious look before vanishing from the doorway. There was a loud crash from the direction of the hall closet, and Mary closed her eyes, counted to ten, and reminded herself that she loved her family.
After Jack and Joe spread the camping blanket across the bed to Mary's satisfaction, they placed the unconscious man on it. Mike vanished, likely returning to his cave in the basement, and her suspicions were confirmed a few minutes later when the dull sound of drums thudded through the house.
As if cued, Anna swung into the guest room, her blonde hair, frizzy like Mary's, exploding around her angry face like a halo. "Mom, tell Mike to knock it off," she demanded, shooting the stairs to the first floor a look fit to kill. "I can't study when he's doing that."
"You're not studying," Jack retorted. "You're texting your boyfriend."
Joe made kissy faces, plastering his hands to his cheeks, looking like a fish. "Boyfriend, boyfriend," he parroted.
Anna let out a snort of indignation and stomped away. The door to the room she shared with Lyn slammed shut a minute later. Of course, Lyn had followed Anna back to their room, and now she let out a long wail. "Mom! Anna locked the door!"
Mary pinched the bridge of her nose. "Mom is busy right now, Lyn," she called back as Bob edged toward the door. "Oh, no, don't go anywhere. We are going to sit down and talk about what we're doing with the unconscious man on this bed."
Immediately, Joe started shouting, "Dead men tell no tales." He crooked his finger like a hook and tore out of the room, laughing hysterically.
Jack took off after his younger brother. "Pirates!" he shouted, and Mary was consoled by the fact that the boys would spend at least the next four hours bingeing on Pirates of the Caribbean in its many and varied forms.
That left Bob and Mary alone in the room, and Mary heaved a sigh, crossed her arms, and leaned her hip against the antique dresser. "So. What do we do with the guy covered in mud on the bed?" she asked, letting her weariness show now that the kids were out of the room.
Bob moved to her side and slipped an arm around her waist. She wasted no time dropping her head against his shoulder. "Start by asking the police if there are any missing people or wanted criminals wandering around," he said, ever the pragmatist. It grated from time to time, how objectively he viewed the world, but she had wanted to marry an academic, and so she had. Bob had a Ph.D. in some kind of complicated math that looked more like Greek than anything else, and he was brilliant, and she loved him.
He was just very, very pragmatic.
"And then what?" she asked.
Bob lifted his hand to her neck, rubbing lightly. "The nice thing to do would be to give him a place to stay until he gets back on his feet."
A tiny smile pulled at her lips. Pragmatic, but kind. "I guess we can do that," she agreed. Then she pulled back and smacked him lightly on the butt. "Now go get some of your sweats. We're taking off that…" She paused, frowning at the man on the bed. "That Renaissance Fair amour. We're taking it off. And washing it."
The armor turned out to be the most complicated outfit she had ever touched. There were at least fifteen layers, thick straps of leather and metal, buckles and clips in the strangest of places, and by the time she and Bob had gotten him stripped down to his underwear, a thin layer of sweat covered her skin.
"And what is that anyway?" she asked, pointing at the man's groin.
"A loincloth," Bob suggested.
Pragmatic bastard. "Whatever. Help me get him into your sweats."
It took them another ten minutes to get him dressed, and as they shut the door to his room behind them, Mary leaned against her husband's side, the man's dirty clothes in her arms. "Do you think this is a good idea?" she asked quietly, careful to keep her voice from carrying across the very open second story of their home.
With a heavy sigh, Bob settled one arm around her hips and ran his hand down his face. "Maybe," he said, and she heard the reservation in his voice. Thirty years ago, she knew her parents wouldn't have balked. They wouldn't have hesitated to take a strange man in and care for him while he recovered. But there were so many more disturbed and deranged people in the world, and she had a house full of children. "He probably won't be here long, though."
"You don't think?" She drew away from him, making her way into their room to change her shirt. She dumped the armor into an empty laundry basket and pushed it out of her way with her toes.
"No." Bob followed her. "That's a nice costume. Expensive. He's probably an enthusiast, so he's probably got friends who will notice him missing."
As Mary tugged her shirt over her head, Bob picked up the phone on his nightstand and began punching numbers. She frowned, disappearing into their walk-in closet to find another shirt to put on, and Bob's quiet voice filtered through the half-shut door as he explained the situation to the police officer on the other end of the line.
She sighed, plucking a shirt from a hanger and running her fingers over the soft fabric. Even if no one claimed him, after a few days, they would probably be able to send him on his way. Let him recover, get his bearings, and then turn him loose.
Slipping out of the closet, she smiled at Bob as he hung up the phone. The evening light, filtering in through their windows, cast a golden light across the floor, and made visible little motes of dust, floating in the air. "Who were you on the phone with?" she asked, thinking they needed to talk about their guest with their children.
"The phone?" Bob asked, looking at the handset he held. "Oh, no one. I was going to call my mom."
Mary gave him a brilliant smile. "Why I married you, that," she said, giving his cheek a kiss. "I'm going to ask Anna to keep an eye on our guest until he wakes up."
She felt no reservations or concerns over that decision. That she should have at least some reservations didn't even occur to her, and she installed Anna in the guest room with minimal fuss.