Continued from Chapter 20.
Colin was greeted by the aroma of baking bread and stew simmering in the oven as he opened the door to his apartment. Claire had obviously arrived home before him and correctly anticipated his need for hot sustenance, physical and emotional.
Claire’s specialty reflected not only her Irish roots, but her adaptation to the culinary influence of Mexico. Far from a traditional Irish stew, pork had been substituted for beef. The carrots, potatoes and onions were joined by fresh garlic, chiles poblano and güero, and cilantro. Colin saw the fresh green beans and calabaza, which would be added to the stew in the final moments, setting on the kitchen cutting board. Claire’s bread bore no resemblance to the heavy, tasteless soda bread he had grown up with. The bread was light and had a corn flavor from the masa that Claire added. Freshly ground French roast coffee brewed in the Mr. Coffee on the counter.
Colin savored the smells as the kitchen warmed his chilled body. Typically, the television set in the corner of the small living room was silent. Instead, the soothing strains of Philip Glass’ “Low” drifted from the stereo system.
All this and beautiful too, thought Colin.
“Luuucccy, I’m home. Where’s little Ricki?” called Colin in a terrible impression of Desi Arnez.
Claire appeared from the bedroom with a smile. She wore Colin’s baggy Aran Island sweater, sweat pants and Ugg boots, hiding her petite body. Her deep ginger colored hair fell about her shoulders framing her fair lightly-freckled face. Her smile, however, is what caught and held Colin’s gaze. Without a word it welcomed him, asked him if he was all right and told him how much she loved him. For moment, they simply stood looking at each other.
Claire broke the spell. “Hey, sailor, new in town?” wiggling her hips and tossing her head.
“Ah, yes ma’am, but I don’t get paid till Friday.”
“Then you’ll just have to come back then, won’t you?” said Claire, putting her hands on her hips in mock chastisement.
Colin lowered his head, “Ah gee, but you’re so purty.”
Claire held out her arms, “Come here, big fella.”
Colin crossed the few steps and swept Claire into his arms.
“Oh,” Colin sighed, “I love you.”
Claire responded by snuggling as close as she could against his body.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” apologized Colin. “Did Morgan get ahold of you?”
“Yes, he did,” said Claire, reassuring him. “I understand. It’s not like you were off having a good time.” She kissed the side of his face. She pulled back and looked into his eyes, “Do you need to talk?”
“Not right now,” replied Colin. “When it’s all wrapped up,” he continued with a nod.
On cue, the timer in the kitchen went off with a bing.
“The bread’s ready,” said Claire, as she wriggled from his embrace and headed to the kitchen. Colin walked to the sliding glass door and balcony which overlooked the ocean beyond. Small waves broke white along the shore, the only break in the darkness of the ocean and sky above. Colin shivered involuntarily and realized he was pretty well soaked.
“Do I have time for a shower?” he asked.
“I should hope so,” chastised Claire. “Get yourself warmed up before you catch a cold. Your sweats are clean. Just hop into bed and I’ll bring you dinner.”
Colin hesitated, “Claire, I’ve got to go back out for a while.” Claire did not look up, but he saw her shoulders sag with disappointment. He continued, “We have some good information where the people who killed Pete might be tonight.”
Claire smiled, her body language conveying her frustration.
“Well, you jump in the shower and I’ll lay out some warm clothes for you. Dinner will be ready soon.”
Colin smiled feebly.
“Get going. If you catch a cold, I’m going to have a baby on my hands for weeks,” she said, shooing him out of the room.
Colin pulled off the wet clothes and tossed them in pile on the bathroom floor. The apartment was warm, but he still shivered waiting for the shower water to warm up. Satisfied with the temperature, Colin stepped into the shower, pulling the glass door closed behind him. The warm water spilled over his body and filled the room with steam. He could feel the life come back into his left hand which had been achy and stiff all day. The doctors called it traumatic arthritis, the result of having the hand smashed in a van door and being dragged several hundred feet by a car thief many years before. Colin had been lucky, no bones had been broken in his gun hand; the joints merely chipped. The consequence, however, was the early onset of arthritis which caused pain and stiffness in cold wet weather. On the up side, Colin could generally predict a storm a day in advance.
Colin was trying to empty his mind and enjoy the shower. His head under the water, he felt a slight breeze against his naked back as the shower door opened and closed. Before he could turn, he felt Claire’s small hands slide around his waist as she pulled her warm naked body close to his. Her hands moved up and down the front of his body, gently massaging the muscles of his chest and stomach, then down to his thighs. He felt her breasts against his back and her stomach pressed to his buttocks. He turned slowly, embracing her. He could taste her warm breath as his mouth found hers, their tongues gently touching. He slid his left hand down, grasping her soft bottom, pulling her tight against him.
They made love in the shower as the beans and calabaza simmered in the spicy stew.
Unlike the welcome Colin received, Joe returned to his apartment to find he had left the kitchen window open. Aside from the extreme cold, the storm had blown rain water into the kitchen. Those bills, magazines and newspapers which had not blown from the kitchen table were a now soggy mess. The odor of the over-ripe kitchen garbage pail mingled with stale smell of cigarette smoke. Empty pizza cartons, frozen T.V. dinner trays and dirty dishes were stacked on the kitchen counter and in the sink.
Joe crossed the dark kitchen and fumbled for the light switch on the opposite wall. He flipped on the switch and watched as several large cockroaches scurried for cover under the refrigerator and stove. He thought about closing the window, but decided against it, realizing the fresh air was the only factor keeping the apartment’s odor from being intolerable.
Joe had stopped at one of the local Roberto’s taco stands on the way to his apartment and purchased dinner. In the early eighties, a Latino family from South Bay had opened a chain of very successful taco stands throughout the county.
The chain had been named Roberto’s after a family member. Other members of the Latino community, seeking to cash in on the famous name, had named similar stands with only slight variations on the name. The county now played host to a number of Royberto’s, Aliberto’s, Juanberto’s, Panchoberto’s, and the truly obvious Chuckberto’s.
But to the truly discriminating, only Roberto’s was capable of making the best carne asada burrito, which was a meal by itself. Made with grilled beef, guacamole and salsa, the ingredients were wrapped in a flour tortilla about the size of pillow case. The aficionado always requested extra picante sauce served in small plastic cups. The soda was an absolute necessity with the burrito, for without it, the gases created from the concoction could easily rip a tender stomach lining to shreds. The soda was a catalyst to encourage a series of lengthy, hearty belches from the consumer, thus, in all likelihood saving many lives.
Joe cleared a place on the kitchen table and set down the bag and soda. He surveyed the messy apartment and the damage from the storm. He let out a sigh. The telephone and answering machine were on a small folding table in the living room which acted as a side table to his recliner and doubled as a desk. The red light on the answering machine blinked five times in rapid succession, paused, then repeated the blinks. Removing his wet jacket and kicking off his shoes, Joe flopped down in the blue recliner. Padding escaped from the worn armrests and the top was adorned with a grease spot from the years his head rested there.
Joe pressed the play button on the answering machine.
“Hey, asshole,” said a female voice, “Your check bounced again this month. Surprise, surprise. I’m calling my lawyer tomo…” Joe hit the fast forward button. Fuck you, Francine, thought Joe.
“Mr. Amadiana, this is Christine with First Federal Master Card. We have not received a payment for two months. Please call me at…” the fast forward button was activated again.
“Mr. Amadiana, this is John Baker with 19th Century Realty, I would like to know if you are interesting in selling…” fast forward again.
“Mr. Amadiana, this Thomas Irwin, esquire. I have been retained by your ex-wife to…” fast forward.
Background noise, maybe music and people talking loud, then, “Joe? Joe? If you’re there, pick up. This is Carole. I’m sorry I got so mad last night. I’ll be at the Silver Fox tonight if you want…” Joe shut off the tape with grimace and an involuntary shiver.
“Boy, I’m glad all my friends called me today.” he said out loud.
On the folding table sat a nearly empty bottle of discount vodka. Next to the bottle, an empty glass. The bottle beckoned him, but Joe ignored it, choosing to light up a Camel. Instead he grabbed the T.V. remote control and with a quick press turned on the set across the room.
A male news reporter, bundled in an overcoat, was concluding an interview with Scott Raines and the chief outside Central. He turned to the camera.
“There you have it,” he said with an air of concern. “Three dead, one of them one of our city’s finest, struck down. And the police, with all their resources, no closer to solving this terrible tragedy than they were this morning. Karen, back to you.”
“Fuck you,” Joe interjected as the picture shifted to the blonde, blue-eyed beach bunny turned serious newscaster.
“Police have tentatively identified the other two victims, but will not release their names until notification of the next of kin.” Behind her, an unflattering photo of Pete Castillo appeared, looking more like a mug shot. “Officer Peter Castillo is survived by his teenaged daughter, Theresa, who is in seclusion and refused to be interviewed.”
The camera panned out to include another severe looking woman with short brown hair. “That’s too bad, Karen.” she said, “I’m sure our viewing community would like to share in her grief.”
“Yes, it is shame, Sharon. Expressing her feelings can only help the healing process. As a victim of rape, I know. When she is ready, we will have it here on Channel 14, right there, right now news,” said Karen, smiling to the camera.
“Ahh, Jeez, you vultures,” said Joe.
The pictured switched to the brunette alone.
“In an unrelated story, police are piecing together a puzzle in Clairemont. Witnesses say a cab driver may have been abducted following the beating of another man at this local bar.” The picture shifted to a video tape of a man being carried on a gurney by paramedics, then loaded into the waiting ambulance. The picture switched to three police officers, dressed in yellow slickers, standing by a cab, while a fourth was apparently gathering evidence from the interior of the cab.
The television was filled with the face of a wet, rotund man named Earl Hosplit, identified as owner of the bar. “I really don’t know what happened,” he said, “I was in the back and when I came out, Ed was laid out on the floor. We’ve never had anything like this happen before.”
“Sure, Earl,” said Joe. “At least none that ever got reported.”
The picture returned to a shot of the brunette in the newsroom. “Police again are stymied. They are asking your help in locating cab driver, Josef Meshkaty, seen here in a recent photo.” A photograph of Josef, looking like a Black September terrorist, appeared behind the brunette. “This crime has no apparent motive and police have few leads…” Joe aimed the remote and pressed the “power” button, turning off the television. Had he waited a few more seconds, he would have heard that the suspect was a large black man with a shaven head, in the company of blonde white woman with short hair.
Joe snubbed out the Camel in the ashtray which bore the logo of the Las Vegas Sands. The vodka bottle beckoned him again. What would it hurt? Probably less than two ounces anyway and there was no more in the apartment. Joe poured the remainder of the bottle into the glass. He did not pick it up immediately, but eyed it, almost suspiciously. He picked up the glass and set it on his knee as he leaned back in his easy chair. The desire to drink was strong, but exhaustion was stronger. Joe drifted off to sleep instantly, still clutching the glass.
The dream came again. Francine screaming. Slogging across the floor and out into the pool. There was Joey waving and turning away. Then the heavy form at his feet turning into Joey. Joey with the vacant staring eyes.
Joe woke with a start, the glass of vodka flying from his hand. He rubbed his eyes and adjusted to his surroundings. Realizing where he was, he tried to focus on the VCR clock across the room. No good; it simply flashed “12:00.” He pulled himself from the chair and made his way into the bedroom. Flipping on the wall switch, he could see the alarm clock on the bed stand read 7:45. Shit, fifteen minutes to get to Western Division. Almost possible. He shivered from cold and realized he still wore his wet clothes. He stripped off the damp clothes and located the least wrinkled change from the pile of dirty laundry at the foot of his bed.
Joe made his way to the bathroom and shuddered at the face in the mirror. Could you look any worse? he thought.
He splashed cold water on his face and ran some through his hair. He squeezed a wad of toothpaste from the tube into his mouth and worked it around with his tongue, spitting it back into the sink. He opened the medicine cabinet and located a bottle of daytime antihistamines. Knowing the “daytime” ingredient would keep him awake for several hours, he swallowed three tablets and pocketed several more, just in case.
His windbreaker was, of course, still wet. He pulled on an old V-necked sweater and unearthed an old camping jacket from the bottom of his closet. The jacket had a hood, but he pulled on a navy blue stocking cap anyway, and dashed for the door. He hesitated and eyed the burrito, sitting untouched on the kitchen table. Nah, he shook his head. While Roberto’s made the best carne asada burrito, that was only when it was warm. A cold one would lay in his stomach for hours, then eventually exit without warning. No thanks.
He left the apartment, pulling the door locked and shut behind. He made a quick check. Keys, wallet, badge, gun. Gun! No gun!
“Shit!” He fairly spit out the word.
He fumbled with the keys and reopened the door to the apartment. He charged across the dark kitchen, tripping over one of the chairs and falling flat with a thud. He recovered and made his way to the bedroom. There, on the nightstand, sat his .38 calibre police special next to his all-important cigarettes. He grabbed the two items, pocketed them and rushed from the apartment.
Joe ran down the stairs and made the quick dash to the police car. The wind had dropped, but the rain was falling hard and steady. He cursed as he looked for the correct car key. Finding it, he wrenched open the door and jumped in. He paused for a second, taking a deep breath. He inserted the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine made slow sorrowful whirring sounds, each one slower than the previous. The battery was dead.
“Goddamnit! Goddamnit! Goddamnit!” shouted Joe, pounding the steering wheel with both fists. He grasped the wheel with both hands and lay his head down in between. “Why me?” he almost wept.
Then he laughed, at first a giggle, then a chuckle and finally a full blown belly laugh. Tears were streaming down his face as a coughing fit interrupted the laughing. He slowly regained his composure.
Joe picked up the radio microphone, depressing the transmission button. Calmly, he said, “Unit 2123 Amadiana to Station A.” No response from the radio. “Unit 2123 Amadiana to Station A.” Silence.
“Of course the Goddamn car battery’s dead and so is the Goddamn radio. How silly of me to have thought otherwise.”
He tossed the microphone on the floor. Opening the glove compartment, he fished out the handi-talkie. He turned on the portable radio, switched to Frequency One and transmitted. “Unit 2123 Amadiana to Station A.” This time the radio spoke back.
“Station A to 2123 Amadiana, go ahead,” replied the scratchy voice of the dispatcher.
“Is 2123 Fahey on the air?” said Joe.
“That’s affirmative,” replied another voice, presumably Colin.
“Go TAC,” said Joe, requesting the tactical frequency, so their conversation would not tie up the air for other units.
“10-4,” replied the voice.
Joe turned the switch to Frequency Seven and hesitated for a moment. “2123 Fahey?”
“Go ahead, Joe,” said the voice.
“What’s your 10-20?” asked Joe, inquiring Colin’s location.
“On Seaworld Drive, ETA to Western about three,” said the voice.
“Well my unit is 11-44 and a half. I need a lift,” said Joe, explaining his predicament.
There was a moment’s silence, then the voice said, “I’ll pick you up in ten at the corner of Clairemont and Burgener.”
“Thanks,” said Joe.
“Make that five,” said the distinctive voice of Scott Raines.
“10-4,” said Colin.
“10-4,” said Joe, switching back to Frequency One.
Bitchen, he’s already pissed, thought Joe. At least Joe would be prepared for Raines when they arrived at Western.
Had they known what the evening held for them, none of them would have been in such a hurry to start.