Page 10 of Tripping on a Halo

Was she the one who had swapped out his trash? If so, why?

He dug deeper, finding a few crumpled receipts and then… a flattened cardboard box that spelled everything out in giant bubble letters on the glossy display.

Novelty Inflatable Penis: Great for bachelorette parties!

He had a brief glimpse of the blonde, her purse at her feet, swinging that giant dong around like it was a flare on a deserted island. Her shoes springing off the ground as she jumped in the air with it, the shaft extended to the sky and screamed PURPLE PEOPLE EATER at the top of her lungs.

Dropping the box, he picked the stack of junk mail back up, his eyes focused in on what he was holding.

The name and address of his stalker.

“So, this is her?” Nate held up the postcard, his finger pinned to the address. “You’re sure about this?’

“One hundred percent.” He nodded to the penis’s box as proof. “Plus, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Who else would take my trash?”

“A better question…” Nate countered. “Who would steal your stuff and leave a dozen pieces of evidence with their name and address on it? Do you really think she’s that stupid?”

It was a thought that had also crossed his mind, the evidence pile too incriminating, once he’d gone through it all. Receipts from Jasmine’s Café. An online order form for high-range binoculars. Even a recent ad they’d placed in a local magazine, doodles along the edge. Maybe he should be glad there wasn’t duct tape wrappers and chloroform receipts.

He sighed and met Nate’s inquisitive glance. “I don’t know what to think. Maybe she’s framing this Autumn Jones girl. But why?”

His best friend stood in the middle of his living room, his arms crossed, and considered the situation. “Yeah. You’re right. It makes no sense.” Nate scratched the back of his head and winced, then seemed to think better of what he was about to say. “I have to admit…”

Silence stretched.

“What?” Declan prompted. ‘You have to admit what?”

“Nothing.” Nate turned abruptly, pointing to the kitchen. “You got beer?”

Declan followed him. “What?”

“Fine.” Nate grabbed a beer and twisted off the cap. “Bridget thinks you’re making up the stalker.”

“I’m—what?” He reached out and shut the fridge door. “How does Bridget even know about her?”

“You know my sister.” Nate lifted the Budweiser and took a long sip. “She’s nosy. Talks her fucking head off and pulls information out of me like I’m on trial for something. I had to get her off my disastrous love life, so I told her about yours.” He flashed an unapologetic smile at Declan.

“I wouldn’t call this psycho bitch my love life.”

“Well, it was more exciting than the kindergarten-level of interaction you’ve had with women.” He tossed the cap toward the trash. “I swear, my dog gets more action than you do, and he’s neutered.”

Declan raked a hand through his hair. “Let’s get back to Bridget. She thinks I made up a stalker?” He spread his arms in the air. “Why the hell would I do that?”

“Ahh….” Nate swung one leg over the arm of the couch and fell back into it. “I think she thinks you’re emotionally crippled and feeling rejected and inventing a rabid fan as a means of satisfying your inner need to feel loved and desired.”

“You think?” Declan stared down at the man, who shrugged in response. “That’s a pretty detailed hypothesis.”

“What can I say?” Nate grinned. “I’m a good listener.” He sat up on the couch. “Plus, you got to admit, you’re the only one who’s ever seen this girl.”

“The lobby receptionist saw her,” Declan pointed out.

“Tiffany has met a blonde chick who’s trying to get up to our floor.” He smirked. “Come on, bro. We both know the chances of that being for you versus me, and it is so minisculely low it’s embarrassing.”

“So, I’m inventing her? Are you fucking kidding me?” He surveyed the bag of trash, which he’d carried inside, the contents neatly stacked along the coffee table. “And this is what—trash I stole from someone to support this ridiculous story that I’ve fabricated?”

“Nah.” Nate shook his head. “I think someone really did steal your trash.” He gingerly picked up the cardboard box. “And apparently… the girl needs some dick in her life.”

“How kind of you to believe me.”

“So, hypothetically speaking, if you do have this girl who is stalking you…” He picked the card back up and looked at the address. “It’s possible this is her.”

Declan looked to the ceiling and resisted the urge to wrap his hands around the man’s throat. “I’m not making up anything.”

“Okay…” Nate flipped the postcard toward him, the square slicing through the space and hitting Declan on the chest. He captured it and looked down, focusing on the typed address. It didn’t seem like a psychopath’s location. It sounded like the sort of place with cute suburban homes and kids jumping around on trampolines.