A Briana Kaleigh Mystery Novel by Nicola Trwst
© 2013 – Nicola Trwst
All rights reserved
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This cross-country move to California was supposed to be my epic second act in the tragedy called My Life, but this apartment looked more like a toxic wasteland than a promising new future.
The walls were pumpkin orange, the baseboards a dark yellow-brown. The forest green rug, once plush, was trampled as flat as a football field. A sofa covered in psychedelic fabric that had seen better days was pushed against the far wall. A blue and white print of a rowboat hung askew above it. White vertical blinds, at least they had been white about fifty years ago, covered a picture window that faced west.
“It’s sorta dark,” I said.
Dusty—my latest buddy and Marin County Sheriff’s Detective—bounded to the window like a six-foot-two, two-hundred-pound five-year-old. “Look, Briana.” He yanked the blinds open. “You’ll get plenty of light in the afternoons. Come through here and look at the bedrooms.”
I followed him to a corridor that split left and right. He went into the room at the right, I headed left. The empty bedroom was pale blue and smelled like cat piss.
Dusty pulled up behind me, excitement radiating off him in waves. “This is the guestroom. You can use it as an office or rent it out for some extra cash. Come see your bedroom.”
The larger bedroom was also pale blue, a respite from the multicolored main room. A mattress/box spring set was shoved into one corner, the mattress stained and sunken in the middle.
Longfellow once wrote: Into each life a little rain must fall. My poor, pitiful life had been stuck under a deluge for far too long.
I’d quit my D.C. job at the District Dispatch, or maybe I was fired; through all the shouting it was unclear who had the upper hand, me or my ex-editor, Terrance. I sold all my earthly belongings: a Honda Civic, a Salvation Army sofa, a large-screen T.V., and an air mattress. And I flew across the U.S. to start over with the only friend I had left in the world.
Friend might be a strong definition for my relationship with Dusty. We’d met a little more than two months before when I’d wormed my way into his murder investigation of my best friend, Haylee’s, death. That trip to California had just about been the end of me, emotionally and physically. I still had awful nightmares, and, from time to time, I heard Haylee’s voice speaking to me. One of the reasons for this cross-country move was to remove the familiar from my sight and, hopefully from my hearing.
“Not bad for two thousand a month,” Dusty said, rubbing his hands together. “It’s a steal in Marin, believe me. The landlord is also throwing in the heating.”
“How cold does it get?”
“It’s June. In another month it’ll be pretty cold.”
Did that make sense?
I walked back into the main room and might have burst into tears except that I’d been raised with six brothers and learned pretty early on that tears from a female reduced most men to blithering idiots. Dusty didn’t deserve that. Not yet.
I headed to the narrow kitchen. The linoleum floor was a green and grayish white checkerboard. “I thought you said it was furnished.”
Dusty shoved past me to open a cabinet. The shelves were full of chipped plates and fogged glasses. “See! All your cooking needs.”
What I saw was the fat cockroach, slinking across the stovetop. Two thousand a month, furnished, and heated had sounded too good to be true. Now I knew it was, but I was unemployed and my savings were meager. At the moment, I couldn’t afford better, especially here. Marin County has the fifth largest income per capita in the country. It makes the middleclass neighborhood where I grew up in Boston look like a ghetto.
Dusty continued, unfazed by my lack of interest. “There’s the sofa and the bed…you said you had sheets, and we’ll get you a table and chairs from my friend Bob, who recycles.”
He was so energized, so thrilled at his precious find that I couldn’t break his heart by telling him that I’d have to be dead and four days buried before I’d lie on that bed.
Before leaving my East Coast life, I’d gone to Boston to say goodbye to the four of my six brothers who were still speaking to me and to visit my adopted family, the Macklins. The Macklins were Haylee’s parents, and no matter how hard the visit was, I owed it to Haylee to look out for them.
“Yer know, they call dat place Sodom and Gomorrah,” Mrs. Macklin had said in her heavy Irish brogue. “Waaat will yer do in de land of sin? They’ll eat a grand lassy loike ye for breakfast.”
Lassie? I was thirty-two.
“Detective Arkansas has some contacts in San Francisco. He’ll help me get a few investigative stories written that, hopefully, I can sell freelance. Otherwise, I always have my camera.”
Mrs. Macklin crossed herself with the sign of the Trinity. “De one with idols on ’is desk?”
“That’s waaat oi said, idols.”
She, like I, had distrusted Detective Arkansas—Dusty—from the first meeting. The size of a bear, Dusty was a Buddhist monk in the making. He shaved his head before a full moon, chanted, did yoga, and kept Buddha statues all over his office. But the big fellow had a way of growing on a person. Okay, that’s not really true. He’d grown on me, but most of his fellow officers considered him too weird for words.
Afraid of catching botulism or picking up some flesh-eating bacteria in the apartment, I walked back to my three large suitcases and flipped one on its side. I sat on top. “I’ll need to install a cable connection for my computer.”
Dusty dropped down on the sofa and the cushions on each side rose up around him. “All you need is wi-fi. The guy next door has a router and it’s not password protected.”
Did a sheriff’s detective just tell me to steal bandwidth from my neighbor?
Dusty’s cell phone chirped. He pulled it from his shirt pocket and looked at the faceplate. “I have to take it. I’m on call.”
I stood and peered out the front window. My rent-a-wreck was the only car in the asphalt parking lot. A green Ford Focus with a cellulite-pocked body and a black hood. Rent-a-wreck was too kind. Rent-a-disaster. Rent-a-joke. But at ten dollars a day, the price was right.
“Fish and Game,” Dusty said, shoving his cell back in his pocket. “There’s been a shark attack out in Bolinas. I have to go.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“You just arrived. Don’t you want to settle in?”
I watched the sun-splashed dust particles rise from the sofa as Dusty stood. “I’m more interested in earning some cash,” I said. “Maybe this is the story that’ll introduce me to the local market.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself. It won’t be pretty.” He paused, running his eyes down my tan Tahari pants. “Besides, shark attacks are way too common. Sort of like jumpers. Neither story will draw much interest.”
I figured his reluctance had something to do with my mini freak-out over Haylee’s death. That was personal, this wasn’t. I grabbed my camera bag. “Maybe I can sell it as a human interest piece.”
He scrunched up his nose. “Do you, at least, have sandals or tennis shoes?” He asked, looking at my ankle boots. “Sand will be involved.”
I dumped out one suitcase on the rug and grabbed my running shoes as Dusty hovered in the doorway. “I’ll change in the car.”
I locked the apartment and followed Dusty down the stairs and up the road to where his black Sentra was parked in Lowrie’s parking lot. Since his divorce, he’d been living on a boat in Lowrie’s Yacht Harbor. Another way to live within your means in Marin County.
After I switched shoes and we settled in for the drive across sunny San Rafael, I thought about the Golden Gate Bridge, which was farther south and majestically linked Marin County to San Francisco. Dusty’s earlier remark about jumpers referred to the dozens of people each year who turn up from all over the country to fling themselves off the famous landmark. The jumpers hit the water at about seventy-five mph. Like hitting a cement sidewalk. Most died on impact. Not fun.
I’d lost my mother to childbirth, my baby girl to SIDS, and my best friend to a psychopath. No one knew better than I the weight of sorrow, but I’d never once considered suicide as a solution. For a while, I’d lost myself inside a bottle of Irish whiskey, which some considered a sideways attempt to end it all. I don’t think I’m that complicated. If I’d wanted to off myself, I’d have offed myself.
No matter how bad things got (and some say I was comatose after I lost my daughter), there was always a pinprick of something, call it hope—but that seems too strong an emotion; call it faith—but I’m not sure what I believe anymore; or call it simply a wish. A minuscule golden nugget at the back of my mind that made me know I’d survive.
Just as my thoughts had crossed to the dark side, so had the sun. We were speeding down a narrow incline, driving through a thick gray cloud. “What’s going on? I’m getting cold.”
“Coastal fog,” Dusty said, and reached across the console to switch on the heater. His windbreaker crackled. “Wait till next month when all this moves inland.”
“That’s why I’ll need heat in July?”
He nodded. “Welcome to California.”
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