Marilyn Meredith and F.M. Meredith author of mysteries and Christian thrillers

Final Respects

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Final Respects
by Marilyn Meredith

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FINAL RESPECTS -- The author comments:

First in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Final Respects is also set in a small town, but Rocky Bluff is a fictional beach community in southern California located near where Carpenteria is, but the geography is different. Though the characters in Rocky Bluff will also be in other books in the series, different folks will take center stage. My goal is to show how "the job" affects the police officer's personal life. The particular story ideas were sparked by incidents that happened when I lived in a similar beach town. My interest in police departments came from my son-in-law, Mike Cole, who took me on a ride-along and loved to tell me "what happened" on his night of duty.

Mike was killed while working. I hope I'm honoring his memory.

Mortician Stuart Honich dreams about sinking his teeth into the flesh of his tormentors-his boss's daughters.

Being a cop was something Doug Milligan wanted since childhood, but his wife hates his profession and Doug will soon have to make a difficult choice.

Doug's best friend, Al Bertalone, is the most popular man on the force with a wife who supports him all the way. Publicity hound, Rick Strickland, will do anything to further his career, and is having a secret affair with Liz Phelan, a divorcee with a drinking problem.

The horrible murder of the Milligans' babysitter begins a series of events that could lead to the destruction of the entire Rocky Bluff Police department as well as many innocent citizens.

Final Respects Reviews:

"Start your day off right with a superb crime novel. Final Respects by F.M. Meredith is the first book in her Rocky Bluff P.D. series. Now six books into the series, it still gets compliments on how well it shows how the job affects family life and vice-versa.

"Final Respects is a strong opening installment for this series. I had begun reading the series when Smell of Death was released, then read and promoted the next two books: No Sanctuary and An Axe to Grind. After being with some of these characters for three books, I wanted to know more about what had brought them to the current point in their careers; so I purchased Final Respects, Bad Tidings, and Fringe Benefits (I am reading this one now).

"In Final Respects, mortician Stuart Honich is tortured by the owner's three daughters who insist upon playing amongst the caskets and bodies in the mortuary. The girls despise Stuart as much as he does them, and revenge would be oh so sweet if he could get it.

"Doug Milligan has dreamed of being a cop since he was a boy, but his wife hates every part of his job. Why can't Kerrie be more like his best friend, Al's wife, who supports his being a cop all the way?

"Ryan Strickland puts his career above all else. The ambitious publicity hound will do anything to further his career.

"The murder of the Milligan's babysitter begins a series of events that could lead to the destruction of the entire Rocky Bluff P.D. and many innocent citizens.

I"'ve been a big fan of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series since I started reading, but I have to say, this is one of my favorite books so far. You have the silly side of it with the young Tiedemann girls bugging the hell out of Stuart Honich, who takes his job very seriously. You really want to tell the guy to lighten up.

"On the serious side you have the murder of the Milligan's babysitter, which could lead to problems that no one in the Rocky Bluff P.D. could even fathom. And in between those you have the camaraderie and competition between the members of the department.

"Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, however, is how each officer's wife reacts to his job. Kerrie Milligan hates everything about Doug's job: the hours, the danger, fearing any bad news that might come, etc. If there is something to complain about, Kerrie will find it. Then there's Barbara Bertalone, who is the wife of Doug's partner, Al. She supports Al in every way. She's even excited about a new program the department is unfolding.

"Having the ablity to look back at the beginning of the series and knowing what the lastest installments contain, it's easy to see that Meredith knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish with this series. She started off in Final Respects showing how law enforcement careers affect the family, and all the other installments I have read, do the same.

"While Final Respects, like the other Rocky Bluff P.D. books, are perfect stand-alones, you'll get so close to these characters that you'll want to read all six of them.

"You can purchase Final Respects from the author's website. It is also available in a Kindle edition.

"I highly recommend Final Respects by F.M. Meredith."
--The Book Connection, Cheryl Malandrinos

Final Respects


      "Damn kids!" Stuart Honich swatted a strand of oily, mouse brown hair off his narrow forehead and stomped across the polished white tile floor of the embalming room, and flung open the door.

      Metal and wooden caskets, some open to display the recently departed at rest upon satin or velvet linings, had been tastefully arranged by Stuart's own hands in the large "holding" area. A pale blonde head popped up from behind a gleaming, oak casket. Giggles rippled from one side of the room to the other.

      "Kayleen Tiedemann," Stuart growled, scowling fiercely, "you've been told time and again not to play in the mortuary! I'm going to march you right over to your father!"

      The ten-year-old raised her pointy chin in defiance and flipped her long, straight hair behind her narrow shoulders. "He won't do nothin' to us," Kayleen taunted. "But you can't catch us anyway!"

      Stuart reached out for her, but she scooted from his grasp and raced across the room to the side door. Her two sisters jumped from their hiding places, and after another eruption of laughter, they clattered after her, golden pigtails flying behind one, and bobbing yellow sausage curls on the other.

      Heather, the youngest of the little monsters, whirled around on her tennis shoes and stuck her pink tongue out at him before scampering through the door that Kayleen held open for their escape. If he could have reached her, he'd have pulled the nasty child's tongue out by the roots, and enjoyed doing it.

      Unfortunately, Kayleen's remark had been correct. It would be a waste of time for him to report the children's trespassing to Mr. Tiedemann. As far as his employer was concerned the little brats could do no wrong. In fact, Mr. Tiedemann seemed to find it humorous that his daughters found the mortuary an alluring playground. If only Mr. Taussig were still alive--he would most certainly have put a halt to the children's disrespectful attitude toward the dead. Surely the recently departed were entitled to peace and quiet.

      Stuart had been the embalmer and all around handyman for the Taussig and Tiedemann Mortuary for years, it was the only job he'd ever had. Oh, how he missed Mr. Taussig. He'd been deceased nearly four years now, and nothing had been the same since.

      The old gentlemen had known how to run the business properly; always dignified in word and deed, and he dressed as a mortician should--which couldn't be said for Mr. Tiedemann. While lamenting the loss of his former employer, Stuart inspected each casket, making sure nothing had been disturbed or damaged. Though most were empty, three bodies had been placed in caskets awaiting their turns in the viewing rooms. The angular man peered inside, checking the contents, adjusting a collar, smoothing a wisp of hair.

      There were other reasons Stuart revered Mr. Taussig's memory. When Stuart's father had been brutally slain, Mr. Taussig took charge of the youth's life, paying his tuition to college and embalming school, and when his education was completed, he'd been given his job along with the attic apartment above the mortuary.

      After Mr. Taussig's death, Stuart had been disappointed to learn that his mentor had not left the mortuary to him as he had hoped. In fact, he had not even written a will. Mrs. Taussig moved to Iowa to be near her sister, and turned the business over to her younger brother, Mr. Tiedemann.

      Stuart had learned to live with the situation, all except for the irreverent Tiedemann children. The girls had scant respect for their elders, and none at all for the dead.

      "If ever given the opportunity, I'd like to put my hands around those scrawny necks and strangle each one until their big, blue eyes pop right out of their sockets," he growled.

      Satisfied the young marauders had disturbed nothing but the tranquility, Stuart returned to his unfinished work. Mrs. Greenwalt lay stretched out on the steel embalming table, her gray, wrinkled skin exposed to the glaring overhead light. Stuart clucked his sympathy as he slipped on a fresh pair of disposable surgical gloves.

      "Sorry to have left you alone for so long, my dear. Don't you fret, in just a bit I'll have you looking better than you have in years!"


Chapter 1

      Doug Milligan spent part of Friday tinkering with his classic MG. His wife, Kerrie, had been in a foul mood most of the day, no doubt because he had come home so late from work. Rather than find out exactly what her gripe was, he elected to stay out of her way. But when he came inside and took his shower in preparation for work, she dogged his steps.

      Following a tirade about the inconveniences of being a policeman's wife, she said, "Try to come home at a decent hour tonight so you can get a good night's rest. I promised the children we'd go on a picnic would be nice if you could join us for a change."

      After donning his dark uniform, he adjusted the heavy equipment belt around his waist and fastened it. He noted the weight, and though he had never put his feelings into words, it was almost magical the sense of power and security it bestowed upon him. Doug propped his foot on the bedroom chair and dropped his small back-up gun into his ankle holster--which gave him even more confidence. He retied both shoelaces.

      Glancing at himself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door, he was pleased with the image. With his thick, dark brown hair cut short, his mustache neatly trimmed, and his slim, muscular body clad in the sharply creased, navy blue uniform, he looked exactly as he thought a police officer should. Maybe his blue eyes weren't fierce enough, but as soon as he stepped outside they would be shielded by the dark glasses he always wore. He didn't smile, because when he did, deep dimples appeared in his tanned cheeks, making him seem youthful.

      Behind him, he could see Kerrie's reflection, her expression softening. "You do look terrific all dressed up in your policeman outfit."

      "Thanks." He wasn't sure if she meant her remark as a compliment or a taunt, but he didn't have the time to ask. "By the way, Al Bertalone said his wife will be calling to invite us over for a barbecue."

      Kerrie's blue-green eyes sparkled. "Oh, how nice. I like Barbara...even if she doesn't seem to mind being married to a policeman."

      "Might be a good idea if you got better acquainted with her...her attitude might rub off on you," Doug said.

      "Hush now and go to work." Kerrie pouted. "Sometimes I think you love your old job more than you do me." Her long auburn hair had been swept upward and to the side, caught in a loop with a large, silver barrette. With her slim, model's figure, it didn't matter what she wore, she always looked fantastic.

      "Don't be silly, of course I love you more." Doug couldn't imagine life without Kerrie. He'd fallen in love with her the first time he'd seen her. He kissed her petulant mouth. "I love you so much you wouldn't believe it."

      He clattered down the bare wooden stairs of their small Victorian house, and walked through the living room to the round oak table in the dining area where his children sat enjoying a milk and cookie snack. Dougie, though his hair was several shades lighter than Kerrie's auburn, looked much as his father had as a boy, while Beth had Doug's dark brown hair and blue eyes. Fortunately, her features were just a childish version of Kerrie's.

      Doug ran his hands over the edges of his son's crew cut and kissed Beth's plump, smooth cheek. "I'm off to work, kids. Looking forward to our big picnic tomorrow."

      "Bye, Dad, catch all the bad guys," Dougie said. Beth, a milk mustache accenting her upper lip, giggled at her brother's words.

      Kerrie stopped him at the front door, pressed her lips against his cheek and smoothed down his collar. "Please, be careful."

      Doug backed the red MG out of the garage, maneuvering it around the VW bus Kerrie always left smack dab in the middle of the narrow driveway. As he headed toward the station, contentment spread over him, as it did every day, he was a lucky guy--he had it all: a gorgeous, sexy wife, two bright, healthy kids, their house on Mar Vista Drive, and a job he loved.

      He drove his usual route, down the winding residential streets to Valley Drive, the main road through Rocky Bluff, a medium-sized southern California community that climbed the rolling foothills to the East and was fronted by the Pacific Ocean. Doug could remember when the town had been a quiet place where no one ever locked a door, and there was only one murder during a ten year period. Unfortunately, it wasn't like that anymore. The population doubled in the last five years, and Rocky Bluff suffered growing pains. Many former Los Angeles residents had discovered the beach community, bringing some of the big city's crime along with them.

      The changes in his hometown presented feelings in Doug that were at odds with each other. For his children's sake he would have preferred Rocky Bluff to remain the safe ranching and quiet resort area of his past, but as a police officer he was delighted to be a part of the reorganized department which had modernized to meet the demands.

     * * *

      No sooner had Doug left the station in his police unit when the radio crackled to life. "Shots fired at Anderton Bank, corner of Valley and Pine." Doug keyed his mike and responded--he was only three blocks from the location. Another officer, Abel Navarro, said he would provide back-up.

      Doug flipped on his lights and increased the speed of the unit. Though he did not realize it, his adrenalin increased, and his senses sharpened. As he approached the intersection, he spotted a crowd around the entrance of the bank. He braked and stepped from the car. Another blue-and-white unit with the logo of the Rocky Bluff Police Department painted on the side--a seagull flying over a white capped wave--parked across the street. Abel had arrived.

      After quickly surveying the street and surrounding areas and noting nothing suspicious, Doug approached the by-standers in front of the bank, his leather equipment belt and holster squeaking and jingling in accent to his quick steps.

      "The shots came from that direction, Officer."

      "The bullets whizzed right over my head!"

      "Thank God you're here!"

      Doug held up a big hand for quiet. "Please, tell me what happened...and one at a time, please."

      As he listened to the witnesses' versions of the shooting, Abel cautiously edged his way around the bank, gun in hand. Doug soon realized that though everyone had heard the shots, only one person had actually seen who had done the firing, an obese, middle-aged woman who identified herself as Mrs. Johannson.

      "So you actually saw the man with the gun?" Doug asked.

      The woman lifted her bloated face, raised thinly arched and darkly penciled eyebrows, and said, "Oh, I most certainly did. I not only saw him point his gun at the bank, I recognized him and his beat up old car."

      Thankful that his sunglasses hid the surprise he knew would be registered in his eyes, Doug asked, "You actually know the suspect?"

      Mrs. Johannson nodded emphatically putting her hanging jowls and several chins into motion. "Yes, indeed! It was my neighbor's son. Poor Mrs. Gilan, my heart goes out to her. Her boy hasn't been right since he came home from Vietnam. David can't keep a job...does one nutty thing after another. Guess this is about the worst."

      Ready with his pen and notebook, Doug asked, "And just  where does this David Gilan live, ma'am?"

      She gave him an address on Aspen. After thanking her, he went to where Abel waited beside his unit.

      "Find anything?"

      Abel shook his head. "Couple of nicks in the bricks of the bank might have been caused by bullets. It's hard to tell...the bank is old...has lots of chips and dings." Though barely able to make the height requirement which had been in effect when Abel joined the department, he made up for his size by working out with weights and jogging. Though his Mexican heritage was apparent in his straight, black hair and neat mustache, his skin was fair and his eyes a surprising blue--a legacy from an Irish grandfather.

      Doug thumbed his own thicker mustache while telling Abel what he had learned about the shooting incident. "Ask the dispatcher to run a check on this Gilan character."

      Finding out information on suspects and their vehicles happened swiftly thanks to the computer system. Facts about Gilan were relayed in minutes. As Mrs. Johannson had reported, he was a Vietnam vet, and he'd been arrested several times for driving recklessly, and twice for being drunk and disorderly.

      "Let's check him out."

     * * *

      The Gilan home, a small, white frame cottage set back from the street with a mowed lawn and flower gardens divided in the middle by a cement walk leading to the front door, was similar to those around it. The police officers approached the residence with caution.

      Doug pointed to an older model Ford sedan parked in the driveway. "His beat-up car, no doubt."

      Though Doug rapped sharply on the plain, weather-beaten door, no sound came from within. He pounded again--still nothing. After a few more moments, Doug shrugged. "Guess he's not here after all."

      "Or he just isn't answering," Abel said.

      As they turned to leave, Doug heard something he could not immediately identify, followed by the unmistakable pop of a small caliber gun being fired. He dove for the bushes beside the house, pulling his service revolver from his holster as he rolled over.

      Damn! Abel must've been hit! He lay sprawled on his back on the cement walk. As Doug watched, his partner lurched painfully onto his belly, reaching for his gun.

      In a crouch, Doug inched toward his downed friend. Another shot came from a side window. Doug fired back. More shots spit over his head, and bounced off the sidewalk near Abel. There was no way he could reach Abel without being hit himself.

      Doug spun on his heel and sprinted for his unit. Bullets zinged past him as he continued running with his head lowered. He opened the door and reached for the mike. No sooner had he completed his 'officer down' call when he heard sirens wailing in the distance.

      The first squad car to arrive on the scene screeched to a halt; Alonzo Bertalone leaped from it, and using his vehicle as cover, joined Doug. "How bad is he?" the burly officer asked. Though two or three inches shorter than Doug, Al was at least fifteen pounds heavier. A mustache, the exact shade of his military cut, chestnut hair, adorned his round, ruddy face.

      "I'm not sure," Doug said. "But he is conscious...he's fired back at that nut a couple of times."

      Two other blue-and-whites arrived, an ambulance close behind, followed by an unmarked unit with two police officials inside. Doug quickly described the situation to all the men, and Sergeant Samuels took over.

      Samuels, wearing civilian clothes, growled, "Our first priority is getting Abel out of the line of fire with no further injuries to anyone."

      He reached inside Doug's unit for the mike and turned on the loud speaker. "You, inside the house...this is Sergeant Samuels, Rocky Bluff Police. Throw down your weapons and come out with your hands on your head."

      More gunfire sent everyone under cover.

      "We got civilians," Al announced. Curiosity seekers had gathered in clusters on both sides of the street.

      "Get 'em out of here!" Samuels roared, Al was already on his way.

      "What the hell is Navarro up to now?" one of the other officers asked.

      Abel squirmed on the cement, hands tugging at his belt.

      "I'm going after him, cover me," Doug stated. Without waiting for an okay from Samuels, he darted toward the fallen man, zig-zagging in a crouched football position.

      From behind, he heard Samuels shout, "Keep the maniac busy!" Gunfire exploded from all around.

      Doug knelt beside Abel, the injured man's handsome face contorted with pain, and he gasped for breath. A wet blood stain surrounded a hole in his side above his belt. "You're going to be out of here and on your way to the hospital, man." He pulled the wounded officer to a sitting position and lifted him like a baby. Without hesitation, Doug dashed across the lawn to the waiting ambulance with Abel cradled in his arms.

      Abel groaned as Doug placed him on the waiting gurney.

      "Sorry, buddy, I didn't mean to hurt you."

      Abnormally pale, his white teeth clenched against the pain, Abel breathed, "Thanks...let Maria know, okay?"

      "Sure, man."

      An emergency medical technician placed an oxygen mask over the injured officer's face while the other attendant started an IV in his arm. Doug watched, feeling helpless, while they loaded Abel into the back of the ambulance.

      Samuels laid a hand on his shoulder. "Good work, though foolhardy, Milligan."

      Doug shook his head fighting back tears. "Do you think he's going to be okay?"

      "Hell, yes. Rocky Bluff P.D. has never lost a man in the line of duty. Go ahead and follow the ambulance to the hospital. As soon as you find out about Navarro's condition, report to the station. We're going to tear gas the guy out of there."

      "How about if I take his wife over there with me?" Doug asked.

      Distracted, Samuels said, "Good idea."

      While Doug ran to his unit, Samuels, using someone else's p.a., warned Gilan it was his last chance to surrender. The answer was another round of fire.

     * * *

      Though the procedure for notifying a police officer's wife when her husband had been injured wasn't in writing, over the years a system had been established. When possible, a wife of another officer came along to help break the news and offer assistance. Doug decided to use Kerrie for the unpleasant chore.

      Instead of going straight to the Navarros', he stopped by his house. Kerrie looked up from buffing her fingernails when Doug entered their living room. She frowned and glanced at the grandmother clock on the sideboard. "What are you doing home now? It's too early for your dinner break...I heard all the sirens...something's happened, hasn't it?"

      "A guy went berserk over on Aspen. Abel and I answered the call...Abel took a hit."

      "Oh, my Lord!" She stood. "Is he dead?"

      " least he wasn't. He's on his way to the hospital now. I'm supposed to go there too."

      Kerrie's frown deepened, her eyes reflected horror. "You and Abel were together? It could just as easily have been you!"

      Grasping her shoulders, Doug said, "But it wasn't me...and I need your help."

      She pulled away from him. "My help? Whatever for?"

      "I have to let Maria know what's happened, and I'd like you to come along with me."

      "Oh yes, of course. Poor Maria...and she has a brand new baby. I'll call Mother, she'll come over and take care of our kids."

      All the way to the Navarros' Kerrie raved on about how men with wives and children had no business being policemen. "It's just too dangerous, Doug, and this incident proves it. It's time for you to begin looking for another job. You don't realize what it does to me to have to worry every time you leave for work, never knowing if you'll be coming home."

      He didn't pay much attention to her ranting, he'd heard it all before--too many times. Being a police officer was the only occupation he had ever considered. In high school he'd been a cadet, and he'd gone into the reserves while waiting to be old enough to apply for the academy. The happiest day of his life was when he received notification that he'd finished second on the entrance exam and had been accepted into the academy.

      That was six years ago, and he had not regretted a minute of it. He and Kerrie had begun dating seriously in their junior year of high school, married right after graduation, and she had been fully aware of his planned life's work.

      While the Milligans waited for Abel's wife to answer the bell, Kerrie clutched Doug's hand. The door opened a crack, and the pretty dark-haired and golden-skinned Maria peered around it. With a puzzled expression on her face, she smiled at Kerrie. When she noticed Doug's uniform, the smile disappeared and a hand fluttered to her mouth. She stumbled backward.

      "Oh, oh, oh, dear God. Something has happened to my Abel!"