As plans for her perfect wedding fill her mind, Officer Stacey Wilbur is sent out to trap a flasher, the new hire realizes Rocky Bluff P.D. is not the answer to his problems, Abel Navarro’s can’t concentrate on the job because of worry about his mother, Officer Gordon Butler has his usual upsets, the sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone’s imagination and causes problems for RBPD, and then the worst possible happens—will Stacey and Doug’s wedding take place?
“Officer Wilbur, are you listening?” Detective Doug Milligan fixed his blue eyes on Stacey.
She squirmed in her seat and felt the heat rise up her neck to her cheeks. The honest answer was “no” because she’d been thinking about plans for their coming wedding, certainly not the topic being discussed at the shift change briefing. She quickly back-tracked to what she last remembered—the man who exposed himself to female joggers on the beach. Since she figured they might have gone onto another subject without her realizing, she decided to be honest. “Sorry.”
The others in the room stared at her. Doug’s partner, the nearly bald Frank Marshall had a bemused expression on his face. He unwrapped a stick of gum, folded it, and put it in his mouth. Chewing gum had replaced a smoking habit. He winked at her.
Stacey figured he guessed what she’d been thinking about. Having everyone speculating about her private life had been one of the reasons Stacey vowed never to date anyone on the Rocky Bluff P.D.—a vow she’d broken when she and Doug had been mutually attracted to one another.
Handsome Ryan Strickland, the public relations officer for Rocky Bluff P.D., reached over and patted her hand. “We know you have more important things on your mind with your wedding less than two weeks away—but since there’s a pervert who decided to make jogging on the beach an unpleasant experience for females, maybe you ought to pay attention, since it does fall under your job description.”
Shrugging and grinning, Stacey said, “What can I say? You’re absolutely right, my mind was elsewhere. Sorry. I’m listening now, but I did hear most of it.” She absently caressed the tear drop diamond in her engagement ring.
The group around her murmured and she heard a few chuckles. In attendance besides Doug, Frank and Ryan, were most of the patrol officers on the daytime shift, including Gordon Butler. Sergeant Abel Navarro and the men who worked the evening hours were still there too.
Stacey was thankful Chief McKenzie was absent. He might regret making her head of the Vice team—a team that so far consisted only of her.
“We’ve had our third complaint in the last two weeks about a man on the beach exposing himself to unsuspecting female joggers.” Doug glanced at the notes on his desk. “It’s probable that the same thing has happened to others, but they haven’t bothered to report it.”
He looked so much younger since he’d shaved his mustache. Stacey remembered when she first came on the department almost every officer had a mustache; now most were clean-shaven. Without the mustache, Doug’s dimples were even more prominent. She shook her head, time to pay attention and stop admiring her future husband.
Doug continued. “This guy is a real scumbag. He usually fondles himself and talks nasty to the victims. None of them could remember exactly what he said because they immediately ran away. The last young woman, a Claudine Graham, reported that the man started following her. I think this pervert is getting braver and may attack a woman.”
“Is there a pattern? Does he do this at any particular time?” Stacey asked. “Do you have an accurate description?”
“That’s what I was talking about when you spaced out on us.” Doug’s grin softened the sting of his words. “This has always happened early in the morning, between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Seems all three victims like to jog before going to work. Yes, we do have a description, a white male, anywhere from late twenties to early forties, close to six foot tall and around 200 pounds. Wears a watch cap so don’t know his hair color.”
“What do you want to do about the suspect? Put someone on beach patrol? Maybe I could start jogging during that time period and catch the pervert in the act.” Stacey knew if anyone but Doug was in charge he would jump at the chance to use her as a decoy. She could tell by Doug’s hesitation that he wasn’t thrilled by the idea.
Abel Navarro spoke. “That’s a great idea, Wilbur.”
“I suppose it is,” Doug smoothed back his dark hair and tapped on the desk with his pen. “We’ll provide you with back-up.”
“Probably won’t be necessary. It’s cool in the morning. I can carry my gun and cuffs in my jacket.” Though Stacey was small, five foot four and one-hundred five pounds, people still talked about the time she took down a nearly three-hundred pound would-be bank robber. Luck had played a big part in the arrest, plus the suspect had been shocked by a petite female having the guts to confront him. All the men in the bank, including the security guard, had cowered. No matter, the incident had given her a status in the department she was quite happy to have.
“At least call in before you head out. That way, a unit can be close by if the suspect crosses your path.” The scowl on Doug’s face made it obvious he wasn’t pleased with the idea.
One of the uniformed officers, a recent transfer from LAPD, raised his hand. Stacey had to think a moment to remember his name. Vaughn Aragon, that was it. She didn’t know much about him except that he’d told a couple of guys that he wanted to get away from big city crime. Sandy-haired and lightly-freckled, he wasn’t as short as Abel Navarro, but was at least three inches under six-foot. She guessed he was at least thirty, maybe older. She’d heard he was recently divorced. Although he didn’t look Hispanic, he could speak Spanish, the main reason he’d been hired.
When he was acknowledged by Doug, Aragon said, “I worked a similar case in L.A. at Venice beach.”
Doug nodded. “Why don’t you and Wilbur work on this together.”
Swell, she was going to be saddled with someone she didn’t even know. Aragon turned in his seat and grinned. Without any enthusiasm, she smiled back.
The meeting continued as a rash of burglaries in the wealthiest part of Rocky Bluff were discussed. In each case, the thief had found easy access to the expensive homes. Possibly the owners felt unwisely secure because of the location.
Some of the oddest happenings of the day were also brought up, from the report of a poisoned squirrel dying on a front lawn, two peacocks strutting down a residential street interfering with traffic, and a woman who thought her boyfriend was missing but was found asleep in their bed.
When the meeting was over and those on the late shift headed toward their police units,
Aragon approached Stacey. “How should we go about this?” He seemed nervous.
Stacey motioned to the chair near hers. “Why don’t you tell me how the similar case you were on was handled.”
He turned the chair around and straddled it. “It was a lot like this one. Pervert approached from the opposite direction on the beach like he was taking an early morning stroll. When he neared the female jogger, he’d open his coat and grab himself. Usually made some kind of nasty suggestions, though most of his victims didn’t hang around long enough to hear what he said.”
“Did your guy ever try to attack any of these women?”
“No, we caught him right away.”
“How did you do it?”
“Pretty much like you suggested. One of the female cops jogged along the same stretch of beach and the very first time she did it, the guy approached her. I’d been sitting farther up the beach watching with binoculars. She exchanged words with him and I got there in time to help with the arrest.”
Stacey nodded. “Hopefully, it’ll go that way for us too. Tomorrow’s my day off and I have too much to do to give it up.”
“Stuff for the big wedding day, right?” Aragon displayed his full set of slightly crooked teeth in an enormous grin.
She decided to ignore his question. He didn’t know her well enough to tease her, but the police department was like a small town, everyone liked to gossip. Right now, her upcoming wedding to Doug was the hottest topic. Too bad there wasn’t a gruesome murder to grab everyone’s interest. She couldn’t believe such a thought popped into her mind. She shook her head.
“We’ll start day after tomorrow. Meet me at the condemned pier at seven a.m. I’ll point out the places where each of victim had her encounter with this jerk. That should help us choose the best spot for you to watch while I jog. If nothing else, I’ll get some exercise.”
* * *
Doug caught up with Stacey in the parking lot. “How about coming back to the house for awhile?”
Stacey grinned at him. “As much as I’d like to, I think I better get home. I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”
“I know, but do you have time for a cup of coffee at least? We could stop at the diner. I wanted to talk to you about this pervert. I’m not so sure I want you to be a decoy.”
“Okay. A cup of coffee.”
Though Doug suggested she ride with him, she declined. Driving her yellow VW, she followed his black SUV. When they’d met, Doug drove a red vintage MG he’d restored. The SUV didn’t seem like the right vehicle for him Unfortunately his pride and joy had been sunk in a lagoon by a suspect. Though it had been fully insured, he’d replaced it with the SUV, reasoning it was more suitable for a family man. Perhaps he was right as there was plenty of room, even for the times his two children might visit.
They parked in front of the diner located on Valley Drive, the main street of Rocky Bluff. A favorite with cops and civilians alike, the diner, aptly called The Gathering Place, stayed open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. According to the newspaper clipping framed on the wall, the establishment opened its doors in 1939. It was laid out like many diners of an older era, with a counter down one side and booths on the other. Through the years, each new owner had rejuvenated it with a paint job, new curtains and decorations. Though everything was fresh and clean, the latest version reflected an earlier time with blue and white gingham curtains and shelves filled with old-fashioned kitchen equipment like old toasters, mixers, bread boxes and cheese graters. The waitresses wore blue and white gingham aprons, though underneath most wore white blouses and dark slacks.
Once Doug and Stacey settled in their favorite booth at the back of the room, with steaming cups of coffee in front of them, she said, “Don’t say anything about the pervert on the beach. It’s my job to take care of these kinds of cases now.”
Reaching across the blue and white speckled Formica table-top, Doug took one of her hands. “That’s not what’s bothering me. We really don’t know much about this new guy, Aragon. I’d be much happier if someone else was going to back you up.”
“Like who? Gordon?” Stacey’s blue eyes twinkled.
“No, as much as I like Butler, he’d probably botch the whole thing.”
“Sounds like Aragon has a lot more experience than Gordon. I really don’t see how anything can go wrong.”
“Something can always go wrong.”
Nodding, Stacey squeezed his hand. “Yes, and it can go wrong with weddings too. That’s why I have to go home early tonight and really concentrate on everything that I still have to do. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.”
Doug sipped some coffee. He’d be so happy when he and Stacey were finally married and she and her son Davey lived with him. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t agreed to a big wedding.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t and we aren’t having one. This is a small ceremony in the church with only our relatives and close friends.”
“Close friends meaning all the police officers who don’t have to work along with their wives and kids.”
“And my mom and dad and Davey.”
“Of course.” He sipped his coffee and swallowed hard. “It just seems the plans keep expanding.”
Stacey raised her eyebrows and tipped her head. “Sounds like you’re getting nervous. You aren’t having second thoughts are you?”
“Absolutely not. I can hardly wait.” They’d already picked out matching wedding rings and gotten their marriage license. He wished they could have a simple ceremony at the court house, but Stacey and her parents were adamant that their wedding be performed by their minister and in the church.
He studied Stacey. Her short honey colored hair curled slightly around her elfin face that was nearly devoid of make-up. She was so different than his first wife. Though beautiful, Kerrie couldn’t stand the fact that he was a policeman. When one of their best friends was killed on the job, that was the end of the marriage. Stacey filled the void left by his divorce. Of course he missed his kids, but Stacey’s six-year-old son, Davey, helped ease that pain. He was eager to be a full-time father again.
She frowned. “That’s good because I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to make everything perfect.” When she broke into giggles, Doug knew she was teasing.
“I thought we weren’t planning anything extravagant.” Every time she started talking about what she was doing, it made him nervous. No doubt their ideas of a small wedding weren’t the same. He hadn’t been asked to foot the bill for anything and, so far, had only paid for the rings. It wasn’t the expense that was bothering him. He’d already experienced one big wedding and the outcome wasn’t good. He was hoping a much smaller event and their love would result in a lasting commitment.
“Trust me, sweetheart.” A smile lingered on her full lips. “It will be far from extravagant, but I do want it to be nice. My plan is to make our special day something we’ll both remember.”