Tuesday, 11:30 P.M.
Pillowy, sweet-scented flesh enveloped
him. Tender, familiar lips moved against his and passion overwhelmed
him. Tom Gilbreath's adoration for his wife nearly burst his heart.
But the shrill ring of the telephone shattered the fervor of the
"Don't answer it," Marlene pleaded,
clinging to him fiercely.
Sighing, Tom picked up the receiver.
"Lt. Gilbreath here."
"There's been a fatal accident out
on Pipkin's Road."
The voice belonged to Doug Milligan,
a young police officer whom Tom knew to be conscientious and observant.
Milligan wouldn't call Gilbreath, a homicide detective, about an
ordinary death due to a car accident. "And?" Tom prompted.
Milligan sounded apologetic but anxious.
"Could you come out here, Lieutenant? There's something peculiar
about the victim's body."
"Sure. I'll be there in a few minutes."
"You've got to be kidding." Marlene
groaned and rolled her considerable bulk onto her side of the bed.
Tom leaned over and kissed his wife's
pouting lips. "Sorry, but you know how it is."
"Certainly do...it happens often
enough." She pulled the covers over her head.
Tom grinned. She'd be fast asleep
before he even left the house.
Though he grumbled to himself about
the interrupted lovemaking, it didn't prevent him from dressing
quickly and rushing to the location of the smoldering wreckage of
a late model Lincoln Continental. As he climbed from his car, Tom
surveyed the scene.
A wet ocean fog swirled and mingled
with the gray-black smoke as the yellow-coated fireman sprayed the
last of their chemicals on the blackened vehicle. The whirling red
lights of the fire engine, the blue and red lights atop the two
Rocky Bluff police units, and the flashing amber light of a waiting
ambulance illuminated the area with an eerie, albeit colorful, glow.
The crumpled front end of the Lincoln butted against the shaggy
trunk of one of many eucalyptus trees lining the old ranch road.
As Tom neared the wreck, he could
see the personalized license plates on the rear of the car. Undamaged
by the flames that had charred the front three quarters of the vehicle,
the letters and numbers could be easily read. "GRAN 4." Speculating
on the significance, Tom wondered if it might stand for grandparent
of four, or maybe it had an entirely different meaning such as an
abbreviation for grand or grandiose.
Officer Milligan, tall, dark-haired
and mustached, rushed over to him and shook his hand. "Lt. Gilbreath,
glad you came. I wouldn't let them remove the body until you had
a chance to see it. Maybe I'm wrong but take a look for yourself."
The driver's door had been pried
open. Without touching anything, Tom bent over and peered inside
the dark interior. He sniffed, expecting the odor of burned upholstery,
foam rubber, and roasted flesh. But he was surprised by an underlying
chemical smell. The charred corpse, its skull caved in, slumped
over the steering wheel. A gold wedding ring banded a blackened
finger, a digital watch circled the left wrist. Tom, using his handkerchief,
removed the jewelry, wrapped it carefully, and dropped the small
bundle into the pocket of his old sweater.
"Okay, guys." Tom motioned to the
waiting ambulance attendants. "You can take the body now, but how
about delivering it to the coroner's office in Ventura?" There wasn't
anyone authorized to do an autopsy in the small southern California
beach community of Rocky Bluff.
"Sure thing, Lieutenant," one of
the gray garbed men answered as he approached the vehicle with a
gurney and a plastic body sack.
"I want the car gone over inch-by-inch,"
Milligan grinned broadly, emphasizing
the dimples in his tanned cheeks. "Yes, sir."
Tom fumbled in the other pocket of
his sweater for his pipe and tobacco pouch. After completing the
ritual of filling and lighting the pipe, he puffed on it absently
while walking to the edge of the field. Poking at the heavy growth
of weeds with the toe of his shoe, he said to
Milligan who hovered near his elbow,
"Almost anything could be hidden along here. Make a search, you
just might get lucky and find something interesting."
Milligan seemed so young and wide
awake, contrasting with Tom's own fifty plus years and sleepiness.
"You're thinking what I am, I'm sure, possibly a staged accident."
Grinning again, Milligan's dark brown
mustache contrasted with his white teeth. "What about the driver?"
"I suspect the victim was dead long
before the car ever crashed into the tree. After we get the results
of the autopsy...along with anything interesting you come up with...maybe
we'll be on our way to finding out some of the answers."
"We'll make a careful search of the
area and I'll have a full report on your desk in the morning." Milligan
hurried away to pass along instructions to the other police officer.
There was no need to hang around
any longer; Tom knew Milligan would do a good job. And the men could
openly grumble about the extra work once he was gone. Tom was well
aware that behind his back, most of the men on the department called
him "The Old Hound Dog, " a nickname he prized. He'd come by it
partly because of the way he looked--his wrinkled brown face with
the saggy bags under sad eyes did resemble a hound dog. He hoped
the name also reflected his bloodhound tenacity when he worked on
Tom returned to his bed which had
been kept cozily warm by his wife.
* * *
Wednesday, 6:45 A.M.
In the morning, Marlene, with her
hands planted firmly on wide, plump hips, asked, "So what was vital
enough to drag you out in the middle of the night?" The sparkle
of curiosity in her large, brown eyes belied the hint of irritation
in her voice.
"If you give me my breakfast, I'll
tell you." Tom winked and ran his hand over her solid, round rump.
She giggled. "You're a dirty old
man, Tom Gilbreath."
"And you love me because of it."
He kissed her soundly. "Now, food, please."
While Marlene brought their filled
plates to the kitchen table and poured coffee, Tom admired his wife
of twenty-six years--as was his habit every morning. Most men probably
considered Marlene fat. But he knew that the billowy blouses and
skirts and the tunic tops she usually wore hid a well-proportioned,
surprisingly firm, and curvaceous body. Her pretty, round face was
wrinkle-free except for tiny laugh lines at the corners of her eyes.
Two wings of silver grew from her widow's peak, evidence of her
forty-six years, accenting the warm brown waves of her shoulder
The aroma from the cheese omelet
and the freshly baked cinnamon buns claimed his attention. While
he buttered his second sticky roll, Marlene said, "Do you suppose
you could stop stuffing your face long enough to tell me about last
Tom chuckled. "Even if I didn't,
you'd find out from one of your friends. You wives know more about
what's going on in Rocky Bluff than most of the officers."
"Okay, Gilbreath, just let me in
on the facts so I can set the record straight."
They both knew the police wives'
gossip was no more accurate than any other; the tidbits grossly
exaggerated and even changed after frequent repetition.
Swallowing a sip of coffee to wash
down the last of his breakfast, and wiping his mouth with a napkin,
Tom knew further stalling would only annoy Marlene. "There's not
much to tell yet. It was a one car accident out on Pipkin's Road."
He fished his pipe from his pocket.
"You're not getting away with that,
Gilbreath," Marlene said. "Whoever called you would have never gotten
you out of bed for an ordinary accident."
"It was Doug Milligan. He's a sharp
young fellow. Pity he and his wife never got back together."
Marlene held her head with her dimpled
hands and wailed. "Thomas Gilbreath, will you please tell me why
Milligan thought it necessary for you to go out there?"
He'd teased her enough. "Like I said,
there really isn't much to pass on to you, or anyone...yet. But
the body of the accident victim didn't appear quite right to Milligan
or me. I had it delivered to the coroner's office. We'll know more
later today. There weren't any skid marks. Maybe the driver fell
asleep, that would account for it, of course, but...."
"You don't think that what's happened,"
Marlene finished for him.
"Nope. But right now I don't have
anything concrete to base it on, so please don't share that part
with your friends."
"I know better." Marlene leaned forward,
her floral print gown gaped at the neck exposing mounds of creamy
flesh. "You think it's murder, don't you?"
"Too soon for me to even speculate,
my love. Now may I load my pipe and be on my way?"
Marlene glanced at the kitchen clock.
"I have to hurry." She leaped to her feet. "I'm meeting Gwen for
coffee before our belly dancing class."
Gwen Marshall was Tom's partner's
wife, and Marlene's best friend. Though ten years younger, Gwen
claimed it was an effort keeping up with Marlene. The two women
did everything together: shopping expeditions to Santa Barbara and
Ventura, planning and putting on extravagant dinner parties, and
taking unusual classes, from scuba diving to karate, offered by
the leisure services department of the city.
And now belly dancing. Tom chuckled
as he drove the short distance to the station.
* * *
The sounds his wife, Connie, made
as she readied their son, Jason, for school filtered into Joe Guzzo's
subconscious. He awakened enough to squint one eye at the alarm
lock on the night stand beside his bed. Hell. He'd only been asleep
four-and-a-half hours. Rolling over, he pulled the pillow over his
head to block out Connie's voice as she insisted Jason change into
Joe drifted back to sleep. In his
dream, a tall, voluptuous woman, clad only in a filmy negligee,
opened her arms. to him as she breathed his name through full, moist
* * *
Ted Hadovsky, more usually called
Ski, the juvenile officer for the Rocky Bluff Police Department,
sorted through the reports from the evening and night shift officers.
Four teenaged girls, noisily roaming the streets after ten, had
been turned over to their parents. Two thirteen-year-old boys had
been caught stealing gas from a vehicle in an equipment rental yard.
Another male juvenile, fifteen, had been arrested for breaking the
windows of a school bus.
"Quiet night," Ski mused. Often the
daylight hours were the busiest for the juvenile officer. He tossed
the reports back on the watch commander's desk and headed for the
office he shared with two others.
A full-length mirror hung on the
back of the door, left behind by an officer with a fondness for
his own image. As was Ski's habit, and that of each of his fellow
officers who passed through the door, he gave a quick glance to
The civilian clothes made Ski appear
even younger than his uniform had. Though his pink-cheeked, cherub
face had been one of the reasons he'd drawn the assignment as a
juvenile officer, the youthfulness irritated him. Without thinking,
Ski pulled a comb from the back pocket of his Levis and ran it through
his thick, professionally styled, sandy blond hair. Standing straight
as possible, he knew he was still one of the shortest men on the
Rocky Bluff P.D.'s rolls.
"Hey, Ski." A uniformed officer pushed
through the door.
Ski jumped out of the way to avoid
being struck. "Yo, Navarro, what's going on?" Ski hoped his colleague
wouldn't realize what he'd been doing.
Even shorter than Ski and about the
same age, Abel Navarro, black-haired and mustached, his fair skin
and blue eyes inherited from an Irish ancestor, seemed more mature.
"Just wanted to find out if you could
do something about the kids playing hooky."
"I'm just one person, Abel. You got
any bright ideas how to go about it, lemme know," Ski grumbled.
"This rash of day light burglaries
we've had the past few weeks...you know what's been stolen? TV's,
stereos, VCR's, computers, video games, coin collections, piggy
banks, portable radios, CD players and CD's. Who do you think the
perpetrators might be?"
"Teenaged hoods busy at work in our
not so quiet beach community." Ski sat down at his desk. "And what
does the burglary detail think?"
"Same as us. But it's a pain to keep
going out on these calls when I know the perps are snot-nosed kids
"What can I say? School district's
got one truant officer. That's about as effective as one juvenile
officer per shift."
Abel lifted his thick, black brows
and shrugged as he turned to leave.
"Wait a second, Navarro, I'm not
putting you off. I'm closing down a small marijuana operation in
Holcomb Park this afternoon, but I promise I'll keep my eyes open
for truants when I'm out on the streets. And I'll talk to the watch
commander and ask him to alert the rest of the troops." Ski glanced
at his watch. He had an appointment with two narcotics' officers
to discuss the afternoon's operation.
"Yeah...well, thanks, Ski. I suppose
that's about all I could ask for." Abel sighed as he left.
Ski understood his fellow officer's
frustration. Unfortunately, the once small and relatively calm Rocky
Bluff suffered growing pains like most of southern California, manifested
by a rapid increase in all types of crimes.
* * *
"Use steel wool to scrape the old
wax from the corners," Mildred Montaine directed from her wheelchair.
"Yes, ma'am," the surly young woman
muttered, and made an ugly face.
Mildred chose to ignore her housekeeper's
impertinence. It was far too difficult these days to find household
help of any kind, and despite Becky's lack of respect, she was the
hardest worker Mildred had been able to find and keep. Becky had
come to her totally untrained--obviously she'd grown up in a slovenly
household--and though it had been a slow process, Mildred had taught
her to do the most menial chores in a proper manner.
If only she'd been able to do it
herself. Mildred watched the skinny girl slosh sudsy water around
the linoleum with a string mop. The only proper way to scrub a floor
was on one's hands and knees, an impossibility for Mildred since
the accident that had left her an invalid and killed her beloved
Fortunately, the insurance money
took care of her needs. "Don't take all day with that floor, Becky.
Remember you must bake lemon cookies and make the fruit compote,
and polish the silver service before my guests arrive this afternoon."
Becky's answer was another curt,
"Yes, ma'am," and something mumbled which Mildred didn't understand.
Becky always mumbled. But it didn't matter because Mildred knew
her housekeeper would have everything done in time.
Mildred maneuvered the electric chair
through the doorway and down the hall to her bedroom. She just had
time to apply her make-up before the hairdresser arrived. No one
but Jeffrey and the hired help had
ever seen her without her carefully applied make-up. The efforts
camouflaged the sallowness of her skin and covered the old-age spots
but didn't hide the wrinkles. When she'd finished she felt as though
there might at least be an echo of her former beauty. She took pleasure
in decorating herself with the expensive baubles and beads Jeffrey
showered upon her during their forty year marriage.
* * *
"I hope we won't look too ridiculous,"
Gwen said, laughing nervously.
"You say that every time we try something
new," Marlene reminded her. "And I'm the only one who'll look ridiculous,
and frankly, I don't care."
Gwen started to say something else,
but Marlene continued, "It doesn't matter what anyone thinks because
Tom likes me just the way I am. I've always wanted to learn how
to belly dance and I can hardly wait. It's going to be great fun."
The younger woman grinned. "You're
right, as usual. Finish your coffee and let's get going."
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