Copyright 2016 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, Calfornia
“Wake up, Haley. We’re almost there,” said George. He tapped her on the shoulder. “Wake up, Haley.”
“What? Oh my gosh. We’re here.” She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, licked her finger and dabbed under her eyes. “I’m going to be meeting Aunt Robin for the first time and seeing Eric again. I hope I look presentable.”
“You look fine, this woman will fall in love with you,” said George. “And no smudge in the world is going to keep that guy from loving you. Now, let’s go. The fire chief’s car is on the driveway.”
“I hope Aunt Robin is okay,” whispered Haley.
Haley looked around their surroundings and remembered she had driven down this side street, Lombard, in an escape from Police Officer, James Stetson who had been commanding a Taxi driver to follow them. Stetson persisted in harassing them and she, Jeanne, and Krista nicknamed him The Creep. The front door stood opened. “This isn’t right. Stay behind me, Haley.” George pushed the door open wide. All the lights were on in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. As they approached the bottom of the stairs, Haley heard familiar voices. “Eric? Chief? It’s Haley and George.”
“Come up, and come on in,” Eric said from the first bedroom on the right side of the hall.
Robin had been rubbing her forehead and when she looked up, she said, “Oh my gosh, what a sweet looking and beautiful girl, Eric.” Haley walked into the room timidly. “And who’s the giant man behind her?”
“Hello, Aunt Robin,” said Haley as she moved forward with hands outstretched to give Robin a hug. “This is my Aunt Mattie’s special friend, George. We came to see if we could be of help, or perhaps keep you company tonight. Are you okay?”
“Why is everyone asking me if I’m okay? I just got weak in the knees just now. I’m not sick or hurt.”
Everyone in the room looked at each other. “Okay, okay, what’s the conspiracy here? Oh my, look at the clock, it’s near midnight. Tell me, someone,” she demanded. “Why are you all here so late?”
Just then, heavy footsteps rumbled up the stairs. Detective Fontino, in his beige trench coat and wide banded grey fedora, swung into the doorway. Two of his men, both also wearing hats, split down each direction of the hall checking the other rooms. FBI’s Special Agent Robert Parker appeared next. The fine threads of his vested suit announced his good taste under a darker and more detailed rain resistant coat than Detective Fontino’s. The FBI Agent had dispersed a major portion of his team to work down by the cable car turntable, but two other agents had accompanied him and they stood as stone pillars by his side.
“What’s going on here,” asked Fontino. “Is Robin okay? Anyone hurt?” He paused, looking at each of them. “Who called this meeting of the great sleuths?”
“Well,” said Robin. “I’m okay, but everyone else here is a bit crazy. They all came over after dark, and they all think I’m hurt, sick, or in trouble.” Robin pushed back her silvery blonde hair, folded her arms across her chest, and waited for someone to answer. “Who’s going to talk first?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Fontino. He then pointed to Haley and George. “I can imagine who you are, miss, but who is this man next to you?”
“He’s like a special uncle,” said Haley. She looked at George and saw the twinkle in his eye. He also had a big grin on his face.
“Since we’re making introductions, this man here,” said Fontino as he slapped his hand on Parker’s shoulder, “is FBI’s Special Agent Robert Parker. He’s offered me his assistance and we’re going to capture the Serial Killer.” The group eyed and nodded at Parker with respect.
“Ahem,” Chief Mullins interrupted. “Detective Fontino, Agent Parker, Eric, George, there’s something you need to see right away. Please follow me downstairs now.”
“Hey, Chief,” said Fontino. “You’re mighty serious. What’s up?”
“You’ll see. Just follow me. But maybe you’d better leave your two men upstairs with the girls.”
Fontino turned and signaled for his two detectives to stay put.
As the group of men turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, a breeze blew down the hall. “Whoa, what a chill. The window must be open,” said Eric. “The front door closed now?” he asked one of Agent Parker’s men.
“We were the last to arrive,” said Parker. “I’ve posted two men outside to assist.”
Chief Mullins turned on the light in Robin’s studio.
“Holy smokes! What the heck happened here?” said Fontino.
“It’s like a tornado sucked everything off the shelves,” said Eric as his eyes wandered around the room.
“This is how I found the room when I came down to check if the telephone down here worked. Look at this,” said the Chief holding the telephone cord with frayed wires and threads that had wrapped it. “The wire’s been pulled out of the wall,”
“Oh Lord, in Heaven! What’s happened to my room?” Everyone turned to see Robin pushing her way in between Eric and Fontino. Haley tried to hold her back. “Oh no. No, no, no.” Robin cried as she strained forward to pick up a book from the floor. Fontino and Eric grabbed her by the arms and pulled her back.
“I’m sorry, Robin. This is a crime scene now. We can’t touch or move anything until a forensics team gets through this room first.”
“But I have to see what’s happened to my stuff,” pleaded Robin. Tears ran down her face. Eric put his arm around her shoulders and turned her toward the door.
“My drawings…my favorite paints, brushes, my work…”
Robin sobbed as she picked up the corner of a picture hanging from the easel. “What’s this? I didn’t draw this.”
George, the tallest of all the men there, reached out and held up the torn and flimsy sheet of sketching paper at the corners. He tucked them under the clips on the easel. “I didn’t draw that. Where did this picture come from?” said Robin. She pointed at the page darkened with charcoal.
Everyone in the room stared at the picture. “It looks like a portrait of a merchant marine. See, it’s the knitted cap that makes me think merchant marine,” said Eric.
“Close. But no.” said George. “See the type of jacket he’s wearing? It’s got a short collar and the style speaks to me of a light weight jacket. This is not what merchant marines wear. Take a closer look under the harsh lines slashed across the picture. It looks like someone tried to destroy the picture after it was drawn. See the darker and harder strokes across the face and chest?”
“You got that pegged right, George. You’ve got a good eye for details…well heck, Robin’s the artist, and all of us are in the detail work.” He laughed, then added, “We’re all going to do good.”
“Detective Fontino. I know this man. It’s the same person who had dinner with Officer Stetson tonight. I spoke with him as well,” said FBI’s Special Agent Parker.
“Parker, you’re saying that Stetson had dinner with his killer tonight?”
“Wait a minute. Who got killed tonight?” asked Eric.
The Chief nodded his chin at Fontino. “Yeah, what was that you were saying about Stetson?”
Detective Fontino looked around and then back again, hard, at Parker. “Did I hear you say you spoke with this man, this man in the picture? That this man might be Stetson’s killer?”
“Stetson’s dead?” asked Haley. Her voice just above a whisper.
“Where’s my two guys? Martino! Have you checked the whole house?”
“Yes, Boss. All clear. No one else is around but the neighbors across the way are playing peek-a-boo. When I see them looking at us, they pull their curtains shut. A minute later, they’re peeking out again.”
“I suggest we all settle down in the living room,” said Special Agent Parker. “It will be more comfortable there. We all have a lot to share and discuss.”
“Okay. Everyone out to the front room,” said Fontino and he waved them out of the studio. “I’m sorry Robin, I don’t know what’s happened here but we’ll get to the bottom of this. I promise you. No one’s going to do this to you and get away with it. Nope,” he said as he pensively shook his head from side to side, “I’m going to catch whoever did this.”
“Robin, would you like some tea?” asked the Chief.
“I’ll help you,” said Haley.
“No, don’t go Haley. Sit by me on the couch, won’t you?” Robin sniffed and rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes.
“Of course, but first let’s go upstairs and change your clothes. There are smudges on the sides of your tunic,” said Haley.
“Now you’ve got charcoal on your face, too,” said Fontino. “How did you get those dark smudges on your side there? You didn’t rub against the picture. I was watching you.”
“I don’t know,” said Robin as she twisted from side to side trying to see the smudges on her clothing. “I haven’t used charcoal to draw for months. I don’t know how …I don’t know how or why anything that has happened, happen.”
George stepped forward. “Aunt Robin, you have a lovely home here. I’ve heard about your beautiful view. Would you be so kind as to show it to me tonight?”
“I’d be glad to, George. But it’s foggy and it will be chilly out there. Come this way,” she said as she led Haley and George to the patio doors. “Where is it you live?”
Eric interrupted them with a kiss to his aunt’s cheek. “You okay right now?” he asked looking directly into her eyes.
“Yes, dear. I have plenty of good company. I’m sure I’ll be safe now.”
Eric smiled at Haley and turned to the others. “Who wants coffee?” asked Eric. “Is it okay to make coffee, Fontino?”
Fontino stood in the other corner of the living room talking with his men. They nodded their head in agreement while he gestured and spewed out instructions. When he was done, he joined Eric and said, “Coffee, black, sounds great. It’s going to be a longer night than I thought.”