Disclaimers: MINE. Please don’t plagiarize.
This story involves an emotionally and physically intimate relationship between two consenting adult females. If this is illegal in your neck of the woods – scat!
Sex: Somewhere down the road.
Many of these locations have been made up out of my imagination. The Characters are mine, so please don’t plagiarize.
Along the emerald green shores of Destin, Florida, the wife of the beautiful, but reclusive, owner of Chandler Marine Industries, has been brutally murdered. Will Tracy Chandler’s young attorney be able to find the real killer before he strikes again? 2-04
The Tides Of Fate
“Daddy, Daddy, there’s a body in the water!”
“Under that pier.”
“Sweet Jesus! . . . Maggie!” He yelled to his wife, who was busy grilling the fish they’d caught that day. “Maggie, call the Harbor Patrol. Tommy, get inside!”
“But, Dad . . .”
“You heard me. Get inside right now!”
* * *
“What have we got?” Detective Lieutenant James Hardie asked the Assistant Medical Examiner, Joe Epstein, as he put on his latex gloves before touching the victim.
“White female, between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, stabbed three times with a large serrated blade, probably a fishing knife. Normally with a floater the time of death is hard to assess. You can’t go by the temp of the liver. But, it was within the last twenty-four hours. That’s the best I can do.”
The detective began to search the victim’s clothes for evidence and was surprised to find a wallet tucked into the back pocket of her designer jeans. “Lookie here. Well, robbery wasn’t the motive. She still has her wallet with . . . $116.00, the license and six credit cards. Allyson Stephenson Chandler on Gulfshores drive, Destin. Holy shit! This woman resides at the Jetty East Condominiums. . . . I bet someone is wondering where you are.”
“Can I take her now?” The Assistant M.E. asked.
“Yeah. Fax me with your report. I’ll contact the family.” The detective sighed. He dreaded the confrontation he knew was ahead of him. Families never accepted the news well. They seemed to always take their grief and anger out on the messenger.
* * *
Tracy Chandler kept busy at her desk in the three bedroom, Gulf view condo she shared with her wife of four years. Two weeks ago she gave her an ultimatum, “Get sober or get out!” The drinking had gotten progressively worse in spite of their move back home to Destin to take over the helm of Tracy’s Dad’s multi-million dollar corporation. Chandler Marine was well known throughout Florida. Over one-third of the large fishing vessels and pleasure boats in the State were purchased from Chandler Marine. Her Father started with a small shop in Destin, specializing in commercial fishing boats. Over the next fifty years his business grew as did his wealth. When he died Tracy, who had his business acumen, inherited it all. She put her accounting degree and her love of the sea to practical use and dove right in.
Since Tracy kicked her wife out she buried herself in work, spending hours on the phone with the directors from each region of the state. She missed her partner terribly but felt in her heart that “tough love” was their only hope.
The ringing of the doorbell startled Tracy, who’d been concentrating on auditing the quarterly reports. Her heart raced as she ran to the door, hoping to find Ali sober and contrite.
“Oh . . . I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.” Tracy stuttered as she sized up the tall, handsome man in the wrinkled blue suit.
“Hi. I’m Detective Lieutenant James Hardie with the Destin Police Department,” He said as he held out his credentials for the beautiful brunette to peruse.
“What has she done now?” Tracy couldn’t hide her disgust over yet again having to bail her partner out of trouble.
“Ma’am?” James was taken aback.
“I need to speak to the family of Allyson Stephenson Chandler.”
“I’m Tracy Chandler. Allyson is my wife.”
The lieutenant’s eyes widened in surprise. His expression was not lost on the woman before him.
Tracy sighed. “We are domestic partners. We married in Vermont four years ago. Now, how can I help you officer?” In spite of her words, Tracy maintained a pleasant demeanor, or as close to one as she could muster.
“Umm, may I come in?”
Tracy stepped back and motioned him in.
“Is she in serious trouble this time?”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry to inform you that your . . . that Allyson Chandler’s body was discovered floating in Oskaloosa Bay this morning. . . . .”
“I’m sorry. What?” Tracy’s mind couldn’t wrap itself around what she just heard.
“She was found dead this morning. . . She was murdered.”
“Murdered? You must be mistaken.” She looked hopefully at the Lieutenant.
“No ma’am. There is no mistake. We found her driver’s license and the Medical Examiner verified her fingerprints from a previous arrest record. I’m very sorry.” James watched as the color drained from the striking features before him. He reached out in time to break her fall and help her to the couch.
“Murdered? Someone murdered my wife? Oh, God!” Tracy burst into tears as she held herself and rocked back and forth.
James hated this part of the job. He fumbled, patting the distraught woman’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. There is no good way to tell someone that.”
“How? How could this happen?”
“We don’t know yet. She wasn’t robbed. Her wallet and credit cards were still in her pocket.”
Tracy looked up into his eyes trying to focus through her tears. “Was she . . . I mean . . . did they. . . ?”
“No, no ma’am. She wasn’t. There was no evidence that she was violated in that way.” James stood up. He needed to separate himself from this beautiful woman’s pain.
“Thank God. Then . . . why?” Tear filled eyes look at him, searching his face for the answer.
James just shook his head.
The very uncomfortable detective walked to the door, then turned to address the grieving wife. “I need to ask you to come down to the station tomorrow and answer some questions that might help us find out who killed Mrs. Chandler. I’ll leave my card here. Just call that number for an appointment.” He set his card on the entry table.
“I’ll let myself out. Again, I’m sorry for your loss.” The lieutenant closed the door behind him and leaned back on the cold hard surface. ‘Damn, that never gets any easier.’
Tracy heard the door click shut, ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet until she fell to her knees. Her grief was all consuming. She wailed out in agony, over and over until falling into an exhausted sleep on the bathroom rug.
* * *
The persistent ringing of the telephone awoke Tracy, who was confused and disoriented to find herself lying in a ball on the bathroom floor. She pulled herself up to her feet, using the toilet to anchor herself against her shaking legs. She picked up the phone that sat upon a small wrought iron stand next to the lavatory and cleared her throat before speaking.
“Jackie?” The sound of her sister-in-law’s voice released a tied of tears.
“Hey, girl, what’s wrong? Did Ali screw up again? That woman’s gonna be the death of me yet. I should have known she was full of bull when she said she was going to an AA meeting night before last and then didn’t even have the courtesy to call and say she wasn’t coming home. I told her brother what she needs is a month in one of those rehab hospitals for alcoholics, not our nice comfy couch to sleep on. I don’t know how you’ve put up with her shit for all these years. . .”
“She’s dead.” Tracy whispered.
“What’d you say?” Jackie was sure she hadn’t heard right.
“The police came here last night. Some one murdered her.” Her breathing was ragged, but she was able to blurt out the horrid news in one raspy breath.
“Oh no. Oh no, no, no. This is going to kill Alex. Why didn’t you call us?” Jackie’s anger flared.
“I must have passed out. I woke up on the bathroom floor when I heard the phone ring just now. I’m so sorry, Jackie. I would have called. I know how much Ali means to her brother. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that she’s gone.” She began sobbing again. Tracy could hear words of comfort over the line.
“Are you going to be OK? Do you need me to come over?” Jackie’s voice was filled with compassion.
“No. Thanks. I have to go down to the police station to answer some questions.”
“Girl, you shouldn’t be driving.”
“I won’t. I’ll call a cab, then I’ll come by to see Alex. I should get going. See you later.”
“Take care, Tracy. We’ll see you soon.”
* * *
The police station wasn’t anything like she’d imagined it from all those cop shows she and Ali liked to watch on TV. There was no smoking, no trash baskets over flowing with balled up note paper or big burley men cursing a blue streak in gruff voices. Everyone was polite to her and helpfully directed her to Detective Lieutenant Hardie’s office. She was offered a cold drink while she waited for the lieutenant to arrive.
“Good morning Mrs. Chandler. I really appreciate your coming down so promptly.”
Tracy smiled, weakly, and nodded her head.
“Now, these questions may be upsetting to you, but believe me I wouldn’t be asking them if I didn’t feel it was necessary.”
“Go ahead. I want to help catch whoever killed Ali.”
“Good. To your knowledge did anyone have a grudge against Mrs. Chandler?”
“Not that I am aware. No.”
“Were there any problems at work?”
“Ali didn’t work outside of our home. She was more of a personal assistant to me, organizing my files and keeping tract of correspondence so, “No” there was no trouble at work.”
“I see. What about jilted boyfriends our girlfriends?” The lieutenant winced.
Tracy sighed. “Lieutenant Hardie, we were married and, to my knowledge, my wife did not have extra-marital affairs.”
“I’m sorry. I had to ask. I want you to think back. Was there ever an incident that made you think someone might be following you or your wife, anyone who you thought looked suspicious?”
“No. I can’t think of anything.”
“Mrs. Chandler, you have recently inherited a very large sum of money and a multi-million dollar business. Surely, there are those who would be jealous of you, someone who might resent you.”
“Actually, I inherited half the stock in Chandler Marine when my Mother died ten years ago and have participated in the accounting end of the business since I graduated from college fifteen years ago. So I can’t see anyone thinking I have suddenly and unjustly been handed a bundle of money. My involvement in my Father’s business is common knowledge.”
“What about your Father? Did he have any enemies that you know of? Often a very successful man makes a few enemies on the way up.”
“Lieutenant, my Father was a fine man of business and an humanitarian. I can’t think of a soul who’d want to hurt him or his family. I know I’m not being much help, but I just can’t think of anyone who would want to hurt Ali or me.”
“How was your relationship with your wife’s family?”
“Not great. Her parents disowned her when she married me. They haven’t spoken since. She has a twin brother, Alex, who she remained close to. But, other than that, I don’t think she has any other close family.”
“I’d appreciate your leaving their names and how they can be contacted with me before you leave today.”
James blew hot breath through pursed lips. “Lastly. You were aware that Mrs. Chandler had two DUI’s and was arrested for being drunk and disorderly, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, were you not?”
Tracy cringed. “The assault charge was dropped. But, yes I am aware that my wife had a drinking problem and sometimes her behavior got out of hand. She promised me that she’d get it under control.”
“And, did she?”
“No. She didn’t. She tried, but it never lasted more than a few weeks at a time. She just couldn’t seem to get a handle on it. Do you think she might have done something while drunk that she was killed for?”
“It’s possible. But, you should know that her toxicology screen came back negative. Your wife was sober when she died.”
Tracy’s tears rolled down her face at this news. ‘She at least died sober.’
* * *
A dark figure, huddled in the shadows, watched with interest as the statuesque brunette walked out of the police station and into a cab.
* * *
The day was long and emotionally draining. Tracy would never forget the look of pain and loss on her brother-in-law’s face, which looked so much like Ali’s. She offered what little comfort she could and made arrangements for the funeral. She wanted to have her wife cremated and the ashes cast upon the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. She didn’t know when the police would release the remains and knew her heart would be in limbo until she could say a proper goodbye.
* * *
“Lieutenant, you have a call on line 2.” The desk clerk buzzed in to James Hardie’s office where he was up to his elbows in paper work.
“Detective Lieutenant Hardie speaking.”
“You let a killer walk today.”
“That Chandler bitch. She murdered her wife. Search her condo.” The gravelly voice stated with a pronounced Hispanic accent.
“How do you know . . .” The line went dead. “Shit! He hung up.”
The Lieutenant reached for the intercom. “Jackson, come in here.”
“We have a tip on that floater, Allyson Chandler. I just got an anonymous phone call says her wife did it. Get me a search warrant.”
“I’m on it.” The young Sargent was excited to have a lead in the case.
* * *
Tracy awoke with red swollen eyes, having cried herself to sleep. She knew from experience with the loss of both of her parents that time would help. She knew it intellectually, but her heart was having none of it. Her body felt bone tired and ached with the weight of the horror of it all. She found it hard to picture living from day to day alone. The only reason she had for getting up in the morning was her work and that just wasn’t enough. She felt lost at sea with no direction, at the mercy of the tides of fate.
Habit had her walk into the bathroom and turn on the shower. She laid out her clothes for the day and tried hard not to think. Stripping , she glanced into the full length mirror at her body. Its curves were pleasing to the eye and soft to the touch. The need to be with her lover clenched low in her belly. The realization that she would never again feel the body she knew as well as her own was nearly too much to bear. She stepped under the hot spray and let her tears mingle with the water running down between full breasts.
After dressing, Tracy fixed herself some toast and coffee, then retired to her office to resume auditing the company books. She was hard at work when the doorbell rang. Wondering who had come by unannounced, she looked through the peephole. Detective Lieutenant James Hardie and two uniformed policemen stood outside. Hoping there was news regarding the murder of her wife she quickly unlocked and opened the door.
“Hi, Lieutenant. Have you heard something?” Tracy inquired.
“Mrs. Chandler, I have a warrant to search these premises.” He held up the document for her perusal.
“I don’t understand. . . Why?” Tracy read the paper in her hand.
“We have a court issued warrant ma’am. May we do our job?” The detective’s tone was not nearly as cordial as it had been the day before.
“Of course. But, you can’t seriously believe I had anything to do with Ali’s death.” Tracy said as she watched the strangers go through every drawer and closet in her home, then proceed onto her balcony.
“This is ridiculous. Why are you wasting time with me when the real killer is still on the loose?”
“Hey Lieutenant! Out here.” Came a voice from the balcony.
“Please stay here, Mrs. Chandler.” James commanded as he went to see what all the fuss was about.
A few moments later the detective lieutenant returned with what appeared to be a large baggie. Inside was a long serrated edged knife, covered in mud and blood.
“Tracy Chandler, you are under arrest for the murder of Allyson Stephenson Chandler. You have the right to an attorney . . . .”
* * *
Tracy sat at the cold metal desk, her insides tied up in a knot of anxiety, fear and anger. She tried hard to hold back tears as Chandler Marine’s corporate attorney’s receptionist greeted her on the other end of the phone line.
“May I speak with John Lambert? Tracy Chandler calling.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Chandler. I’m sorry, but Mr. Lambert is in a meeting at the moment. May I take a number and have him return your call?” The sweet young voice proffered.
“No. This is an emergency. Please call him out of his meeting at once.” Tracy was as civil as her nerves allowed.
“Yes ma’am. Right away.” The young receptionist was flustered at the usually pleasant woman’s tone, but also knew she was her boss’s most influential client and thought it best to do as she was bidden. She called in on Mr. Lambert’s private line so as not to be overheard.
“Sir, please forgive the interruption, but Mrs. Chandler is on line 1. She says it is an emergency.”
“Thank you, Grace. I’ll accept the call.” Mr. Lambert asked his paralegals to step out of his office until he had completed an important business matter.
“Tracy? What’s up, youngster? Don’t tell me Allyson’s gone and gotten herself arrested again.” John Lambert had known Tracy since she was a toddler and knew she appreciated the comfortable familiarity of his fatherly image and advice.
“Oh, Uncle John . . .” Tracy burst into tears and blurted out her predicament.
“Wait a minute, now. What do you mean Ali was murdered and you’ve been arrested? What in blue blazes is going on?”
Tracy wiped her nose and took a calming breath before explaining the whole nightmare to her Father’s old friend and corporate attorney.
“Calm down, sweetheart. I’ll take it from here. My granddaughter is a crackerjack criminal attorney. I’ll call her right now and get things moving. Just sit tight. You’ll be hearing from us very soon. OK? Now, don’t panic. . . Tracy? Are you listening to me? You’re going to be alright. Do you believe me?”
Tracy sniffled, nodding her head. “I believe you Uncle John. It’s just that so much has happened in the last 48 hours. I feel like I’m riding some nightmare roller coaster and can’t find my way off.”
“Just remember that you are not alone. I’m here for you. Your father was the best friend I ever had and I’ve known you since you were knee high to a toadstool, all skinned knees and blue eyes. We are family and I’m going to get you through this mess. So, hold on till the cavalry arrives. I’m going to hang up now, Tracy. Be brave, sweetheart.”
“I will. And, thanks so much.” Tracy felt a heavy weight being lifted from her shoulders as she hung up the phone.
The entire booking process didn’t take long, but the humiliation would last much longer. She watched as a petite, blonde with a ponytail in a linen suit with short pants just above her tanned knees, approached.
“Hi, Mrs. Chandler. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Chelsea Lambert.” The women shook hands, each sizing up the other. One wondering if the beautiful brunette with the blood shot blue eyes was really a murderer, and the other wondering if the perky looking blonde was old enough to have graduated from law school.
“Hi. I’m grateful to you for coming here to help me. I didn’t know what to do. Your grandfather is the only attorney I know. I’ve never been in trouble before.”
“I’m glad I could help. I’m going to attempt to have you released into my custody until you are arraigned. We’ll have a lot of work to do to make a case for your defense. Do you have any cash available? I’m sure the judge will require a hefty bail.”
“I can get my hands on a sum.”
“I hope it is enough. Wait here for me. This may take a while.”
Two hours and three cups of coffee later, Tracy’s attorney returned looking all the worse for wear.
“Good news. You have been remanded into my custody. The bad news is it’ll cost you $500,000.00.”
“I need to make a couple of phone calls.” Tracy stated. Her expression poised and calm.
“Of course.” ‘Man, that woman missed her calling. She’d be one Hell of a poker player.’
* * *
It took another two hours to arrange bail, then the two women headed for Tracy’s condo to collect her clothes and toiletries, enough to last thirty days.
Tracy went through her home, collecting what she thought she would need, along with pictures of her wife and family. She didn’t speak or cry. She was now on automatic pilot. As the women left together, Tracy stopped to give instructions to the Condo’s administrative office that she would be gone for a few days and wished her mail to be held at the office for pick-up. Chelsea left a number where they could be reached in case of emergency.
First they stopped for groceries, then at the video store. Chelsea loved the peace and quiet of her family’s weekend place in the country, but felt sure her charge would find it dull after living in the city.
Tracy watched the scenery change as they drove further away from the bright lights of Destin.
“Where are we headed?”
“My family have a cabin on the shore of one of the Gulf-fed lakes. I’m afraid it’s a bit isolated. But, it’s peaceful and you’ll be safe there. The scenery is lovely and the fishing is awesome. We can get you all settled in and talk about the case in the morning. You look like you could use a break.”
“Yeah, I could at that. Thanks.” Tracy acknowledged the little woman’s kindness with a wan smile.
* * *
Tracy slept heavily after taking one of her wife’s sleeping pills. She’d always been afraid to take them before, but now found them a great comfort. She got up, laid out her clothes, then showered. She tried not to think of anything, taking comfort in the familiar routine.
“Good morning. That coffee smells wonderful.” Chelsea said as she shuffled into the kitchen in her socks, boxer shorts and Gator T-shirt.
Tracy took in the adorable sight before her. “Morning. Help yourself. I hope you don’t mind. I make it kind of strong.”
“Oh no. Strong is just what I need to face this day.” The words were out in the air before Chelsea realized what she was saying. She looked at the stricken woman and felt like the world’s biggest heal.
“Open mouth, insert foot. I’m sorry, Mrs. Chandler. I really didn’t mean to say that.”
“Call me Tracy. I’m not exactly looking forward to thirty days of confinement either. But, if it will get me out of this mess . . . so be it.”
Chelsea sat across from Tracy at the breakfast table with her coffee. “So, tell me what really happened. And, before you get started let me just say that if you did it. I need to know. Everyone deserves the best defense possible. But, I need to know the truth, all of it, if I am going to get you off.”
Tracy sighed and shook her head. “Well, that was a cheery speech. . . No, I didn’t kill my wife. No, I don’t have any idea what happened. Next question.”
“Good. We can go on from there. Is there anyone who would want to hurt you or your wife?”
“The police already asked me that and the answer is still “No”. My wife had a drinking problem. She drank in the gay bars. I don’t know who her “drinking buddies” might be, not even a name comes to mind. God, I’m no help at all and they are going to fry me for this.” Tracy slumped back in her seat.
“No they’re not. I have a crackerjack investigator. We’ll start with the usual inquiries, neighbors, co-workers, family members . . .”
“Ali worked for me at home. I was her co-worker. We barely knew our neighbors. The only family Ali had that she spoke to was her twin brother, Alex. Since we were married Ali’s parents haven’t spoken to us. They barely speak to Alex and Jackie. Jackie, his wife, is Afro-American.”
“Lots of animosity there?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Tell me about Chandler Marine. Any disgruntled employees?”
“Not that I know of. But, I deal with the corporate end. If there were employee problems, my brother-in-law would know better than I.”
“Your brother-in-law works for Chandler Marine?”
“Yes. He is a whiz with a motor. I’ve tried to promote him to administration but he is a grease monkey at heart. He’s our head mechanic in Destin. He’s been working for my Dad since he was 16. Perhaps you should speak to him. When you do, ask him when I can pick up Ali’s car.”
“I will do that. Let me make some phone calls. When I’m ready to call your brother-in-law . . .”
“Alex . . , Alex Stephenson.”
“Thanks. We can talk on the speakerphone so you’ll hear everything we are discussing. I don’t like secrets.”
“No secrets. I like that.”
“I’ll call my guy now. You can listen if you like.”
Chelsea picked up the phone and hit speed dial. A deep, friendly sounding, southern good ol’ boy voice answered.
“Chelsea’s house of ill repute. Your every desire fulfilled at a nominal fee.”
Tracy’s eyes got really large with an inquisitive look.
“Uh . . . Charlie, we are not alone.” The sound of shoes scraping across a desk and the squeak of its chair came across loud and clear.
“Ms. Lambert, I do apologize for my mouth. When I saw your number on the caller I.D., well I shouldn’t have presumed to speak so boldly.”
“Calm down, Charlie. I’m here with our new client, Tracy Chandler.”
“Of Chandler Marine? I just heard the announcement on TV. The press are having a feeding frenzy with this one.”
Both women sighed. “Try to keep them off our tails. I don’t want anyone to know where we are.”
“You got it.”
“I have a few things I need you to do. First, visit the Coroner’s office and get a copy of the autopsy report on Allyson Stephenson Chandler. Talk to Joe Epstein. Find out if there was anything unusual or if he has any thoughts not in the official report. Then, I want you to go to Tracy Chandler’s Condo complex. I want a record of everyone who has had access to her condo in the last 72 hours and why. Fax me the info. Call me with anything you find interesting.”
“I’m on it.”
“Oh, and Charlie, check out the access to the third floor balcony. We need to know if someone could have gotten on it from outside.”
“Will do. Y’all be safe now. Bye, bye.”
“Friendly sort, isn’t he.” Tracy mused
“He is a character. He’s also the best private investigator in the business. Now, let’s call Mr. Stephenson.”
* * *
“Chandler Marine. Stephenson speaking.”
“Alex. Hi, it’s Tracy.”
“Jesus, Tracy! We’ve been looking all over for you. After watching the news we were afraid they locked you up. Where are you?”
“I’m Ok. I’ve been remanded to the custody of my attorney. I’m not suppose to say where we are. I’m safe.”
“Alex, my lawyer has some questions for you if that’s Ok.”
“Sure. Anything I can do to help.”
“Thank you. You’re going to be on the speaker phone so I can hear what you’re saying.”
“Hi Alex. This is Chelsea Lambert. I need to ask you if there has been any problems lately with disgruntled employees of Chandler Marine. Can you think of anyone? Has anyone been fired lately or have there been any incidents worth mentioning?”
“I wouldn’t know about any of the other stores, but we did have an employee problem here about six months ago or so.”
“Can you remember what it was about?” Chelsea asked.
“Yeah. It was a bit of a sticky situation. Our assistant Regional Director, Richard Atkins, insisted we hire his no good grandson and train him to be a mechanic. He was one of those teenagers who thinks he knows everything and can do your job better than you can. He thought, because of his grandfather, he didn’t have to take instruction like any other trainee and liked to push his weight around. He was particularly nasty to Jose Morales. Jose was one of our best mechanics. He’d been working for Mr. Chandler since he came here from Cuba, back in ’85. Poor Jose spoke really poor English, although he understood us just fine. For some reason the Atkins boy just had it out for poor old Jose. Anyway, long story short, money started missing from the till at night. This went on for about a month. The thief could only have been me, Jose or Tim Atkins. My vote was the Atkins boy. I reported it to his grandfather, who pulled the kid off the job, then turned around and fired poor Jose for stealing. He said his grandson was not a common thief. There was no proof against Jose and I did my best to intervene. But, my protests fell on deaf ears. Atkins had the last word since Tracy’s Dad was so sick.”
“Where is Jose Morales working now?”
“I don’t know. He had a real rough time. He lost his insurance coverage when he lost his job. Carmen, that’s his wife, was having chemotherapy for breast cancer. Last time I saw Jose was at Carmen’s funeral. It was a pretty awful scene. When Jackie and I went up to offer our condolences, Jose started yelling at us that it was all Chandler Marine’s fault he lost his wife. Without insurance he could no longer afford the experimental treatments needed to prolong his wife’s life. He said he’d worked hard for the company and never stole anything from anyone. We were all a bunch of liars.”
“Oh Alex. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Tracy sympathized.
“It was nothing compared to what he went through.”
“Alex. Do you think you could get me Mr. Morales’ address and phone number?”
“Yeah. But, I can’t imagine Jose murdering my sister.”
“Grief makes people do crazy things. It’s worth looking into.” Chelsea said.
“Sure. I’ll get that for you.”
“Alex, when can I pick up Ali’s BMW? I hope it’s still in one piece.” Tracy interjected over the speakerphone.
“You don’t have her car?” Alex asked with surprise.
“It’s not here. She took it with her the night she died. I just assumed the cops returned it to you.”
“No. Do you think the murderer stole it?” Tracy asked, looking toward Chelsea for an answer.
“Possibly. I’ll call the station and find out what they know. What kind of car was it?”
“A black BMW Z4. She had a personalized license plate, “Alicat”.”
“That should be easy enough to spot. Did it have any anti-theft devices?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
“Then, I’m afraid you’ve seen the last of that vehicle. Thanks for the information, Mr. Stephenson. We’ll be in touch.”
Chelsea hung up the phone then turned to face her client. “Tracy, we have to check on your wife’s social life in the gay bars. It may have some bearing on the case.”
Tracy nodded her head.
“Do you know which bars she hung out in?”
“As far as she told me, she just went to a dance club a couple of miles away. I think it is called “The Rainbow Club”. She said I could find her there in case of an emergency.”
“I know the one. I’ll have to check it out tomorrow night. That’s a big date night and we’ll have a better chance of finding someone who remembers her then. Do you have a couple of recent pictures of Mrs. Chandler I can use? It would be best to have a close up and a full body shot.”
“Yes. I have plenty at the condo. I’ll have to go back to retrieve them for you.”
“No problem. We’ll leave early tomorrow evening, pick up the pictures and Charlie will bring you back here and keep an eye on things.”
“I’d rather stay at the condo, if that’s ok. I need to collect my mail and catch up on a few business matters.”
“Hopefully the press will have lost hope in finding you home. We can call ahead and you could instruct the guard to let us through the gate with you hiding from sight. I’m not suppose to let you leave my side, but I don’t see any harm in you spending the weekend at home. I won’t be returning until Sunday afternoon. There are a few things I need to follow up on, too.”
* * *
Chelsea watched her client as she walked up and down the beach, looking lost and ever so sad. The woman pulled at her heartstrings. From her screened porch she found herself admiring the tall, delicate looking creature. Tracy reminded her of a doe walking gingerly through the forest, always in fear of predators. She felt a sudden desire to protect this woman, whom she hardly knew. In her heart of hearts she had no doubt Tracy Chandler was incapable of murder. She was being set up. Chelsea just needed to find out by whom.
* * *
Early Friday morning, Chelsea’s sleep was disturbed by the ringing of her telephone. She fumbled with the receiver and croaked, “Hello?”
“Sorry to call so early, sunshine, but I thought you’d like to know the Morales lead was a dead end.” Charlie said.
“Aw shit!” Chelsea exclaimed as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.
“Yeah, I was hoping we could wrap this up. But, when I got to the address Mr. Stephenson gave me, the house hadn’t been lived in for months. The windows were all boarded up and the neighbors were no help at all. Seems he’d been so depressed since his wife died that he just locked himself away and one day was gone to parts unknown. As far as the BMW is concerned, the police knew nothing about it. They are keeping an eye out for it now. I did speak to Joe Epstein at the Coroner’s office. He made one very interesting observation. The wounds indicate that the knife was thrust at a slightly upward angle, I forget the degrees and all that, but the gist of it was that it was buried up to the hilt, three times. In his opinion the perp was between 5’4″ and 5’6″, and very strong. Most likely a well muscled male.”
“You did well, my friend. I don’t know how much weight that opinion will hold with the judge, but it may help some. Thanks Charlie. I’m going bar hopping tonight at Mrs. Chandler’s old haunt; maybe that will turn up something.”
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed. Do you want me to babysit the perp?”
“Don’t call her that. I don’t think she did it. Besides, she’s a good 5’9″ and as willowy as they come. Anyway, she’ll be staying at her condo, then coming home with me Sunday. If I think your services are needed once we get her safely home I’ll give you a call.”
“Whatever you say, Sugar. Sorry about the smart remark. No offense meant.”
“None taken. Talk to you soon.” Tracy hung up the phone, crawled out of bed and shuffled toward the aroma of fresh coffee wafting from the kitchen.
* * *
The kitchen was empty. Chelsea found a note next to the coffee maker, “Gone running. Be back soon. Save me a cup. T. C.”
Chelsea smiled as she poured herself a cup of the revitalizing liquid, then shuffled off to shower and dress.
After pouring herself another cup of coffee Chelsea walked out on the porch to look for Tracy. She eyed her sitting alone on the pier that reached out into the lake, her head hung low and her bare feet dangling in the cool water.
‘She looks so lost, so sad. I wish I could help somehow.’ Chelsea thought a moment, then walked briskly out to join the beautiful young widow.
“Hey, have a good run?”
Tracy was startled by the sudden intrusion.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought you might like to do something.”
“I don’t know . . . Have you ever ridden a wave runner?”
“Yeah. Those are a lot of fun.”
“We have two in that shed. Would you like to take them out for a spin?” Chelsea asked as she pointed toward the shed at the end of the pier.
Tracy smiled and looked away. “You know you don’t have to keep me entertained.”
“I know. I just thought it would be nice for both of us to get our minds off the case for a while. Whatta ya say? Come on. It’ll be fun.”
Tracy turned her eyes toward her keeper, a bright smile lighting up her features. “Sure. Why not?”
“Atta girl. Just watch out for gators. They come by once in a while. I’ve been riding in here for over twenty years, well since I was seven years old, and never had a problem. I’d rather not start now.”
“You and me both. I’ll be careful. Why don’t you lead the way.” The brunette said as she climbed upon the machine and attached herself to the engine’s umbilical cord.
“There is an inlet from the Gulf that feeds this lake. Follow me. It is a beautiful ride.” Chelsea instructed as she backed out of the slip and into the blue green waters.
The experienced riders sped through the lake, laughing and relishing a shared feeling of power and freedom as the salt sea air whipped their hair around. They both slowed as they reached the mouth of the long inlet. Pulling up close to Tracy, Chelsea yelled, “Race you!” then took off, leaving Tracy in her spray.
“You cheat!” Tracy yelled as she took off after her opponent, whooping and laughing with glee and excitement. It had been so long since she felt truly free and full of life. She didn’t realize that tears were mixing with the salty waters cascading down her elegant features.
The two new friends raced, swerving back and forth, riding the waves and battling for position until they reached the bay which would send them into the rougher waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It no longer mattered who had won. The women both turned their runners around and slowed down to catch their breath. The rest of the day was spent in carefree play with no mention of the awful tragedy that brought their lives together.
* * *
“OK, are you packed?”
“Yes. I think I have everything I need for a couple of nights.” Tracy replied as she set down her overnight case.
“Me too. I’ll pick up those pictures of your wife, change clothes, then head out to the bar to see what I can find out. Will you be alright by yourself? Charlie will be happy to stay close.” Chelsea offered as she picked up both bags and headed out the door.
Tracy waited until they were both in the car and heading down the road before she spoke. “Actually, Chelsea, I’d rather go with you.”
“What? Why would you want to do that?”
“I’ve been giving it some thought and I have two reasons. First, I don’t think you should be going into bars alone. It’s just not safe. Secondly, Ali is . . . was my wife and I have the right to know, I need to know what she was up to all those nights she left me alone.”
Chelsea reached out and placed her hand upon her passenger’s thigh. “Tracy, you may find out some things you’d be better off not knowing. Why put yourself in that position?”
The older woman looked into concerned green eyes. “I need to know. Please . . . Chelsea, I feel we are becoming friends. Put yourself in my place. Wouldn’t you want to know the truth?”
The petite blonde sighed and nodded her head. “I guess I would. Let me think on it.”
* * *
As Chelsea’s SUV drove up to the gates of The Jetty East, Tracy hunkered down under the beach blanket the women had brought with them for that purpose. The guard, being told of their coming in advance, let them in.
“I need to stop at the office for my mail.” Tracy informed.
Chelsea drove up to the office door and waited as her charge retrieved a rather daunting pile of mail.
The women went up the elevator to the third floor and into the luxurious three bedroom/two bath home with a sea view. Chelsea was very impressed with the mahogany and red wood furnishings. She knew the tapestries on the walls and impressionist artworks were all originals and worth no small fortune. The look was tasteful but not forced. The couches were comfortable in shades of indigo and a deep cabernet.
“Your home is beautiful.” Chelsea said after she let out a long whistle.
Tracy chuckled. “Thanks. I tend to like my home professionally decorated since I spend most of my time here working. Would you like a drink or something? I just want to look through this mail to see if anything needs my immediate a . . ten. . tion . . Um . . , Chelsea?”
“What is it?” She looked around Tracy to see what was in her hands that had given her pause.
“I don’t know. But it looks suspicious to me.” Tracy held up a large manila envelope with a hand written address, no return address, and smudges of what appeared to be motor oil on it. “It is heavy and flat. Feels like an automobile license plate.”
“Don’t touch it any more.” Chelsea used the hem of her blouse to take the envelope from Tracy’s long tapered fingers. She set it upon the coffee table, retrieved her pocketknife and carefully slit it open and poured out its contents. “Is that the license plate to your wife’s BMW?”
Tracy sat down heavily on the couch and reached out to touch the object.
“No. Don’t touch it. I’ll call the police. There may be fingerprints. That was Hardie on the case, right?”
Tracy sat staring at the license plate as if it were about to speak to her.
“Right?” Chelsea asked louder to get her companion’s attention.
“Yes. Right. Detective lieutenant James Hardie.” She responded if in a daze.
* * *
“Thanks for getting here to quickly Jimmie. I hope the forensic guys find something that’ll clear my client. She’s been through a hell of a lot.” Chelsea said.
“What if the evidence points the finger at her?”
“Well, you know that her prints will be on the envelope. She never touched the license plate and has told me her wife was meticulous in keeping her car immaculate. The only prints on the plate should be the killer’s. Do you still think she killed her wife, even after what Joe said in the Coroner’s Report? You have read the documentation. Joe thinks we need to be looking for a small, strong man.”
“Yeah. I read it. But the knife was found on her balcony. How do you explain that away?” He stated in a whisper so as not to be overheard.
“It was planted there. I know it. How do you explain her prints not being on the murder weapon?”
“Who says they weren’t. The prints were all so smudged with mud and grease we have no idea whose prints they were.”
Chelsea’s ears perked up. “Did you say grease?”
“Yeah. What of it?”
“I think you should have forensics compare the grease found on the murder weapon to that found on the license plate and envelope.” Chelsea was getting her hopes up. Maybe there was something to smile about after all.
“I’ll put that in my report.” He turned and headed for the door. “Night ladies.” He tipped his hat as the door closed behind him.
* * *
Tracy sat upon the sofa drinking a glass of wine that Chelsea poured for her to calm her nerves. “Look, Tracy, why don’t you stay home and rest. I can handle the bar on my own. I’m a big girl.” She put her arm around the grieving woman’s shoulder. “You’ve had a shock. Give yourself some time to recover. It will all work out. I’ve dealt with Hardie on three cases in the past. He’s opinionated but smart. I trust him.”
“No.” Tracy whispered.
Blood shot eyes met puzzled green orbs. “I won’t just sit here and do nothing. I want to go with you. . . Please, Chelsea . . .” Tracy placed a long, elegant hand over Chelsea’s smaller one. “Let me help.”
The attorney looked into the pleading eyes of her client, who was quickly becoming her friend, and couldn’t deny her anything. “Ok. You win. Let’s get changed and hit the streets.”
* * *
The music blared so loudly that the women couldn’t hear without speaking directly into each other’s ears. “It smells like an ashtray in here.” Tracy observed.
“Smells like someone doused the butts out with beer and cheap perfume. Welcome to the bar scene.” Chelsea retorted and Tracy squinched up her face in disgust.
The young attorney was dressed in tight jeans and a button down pale pink shirt, tucked neatly into her waist that was cinched with a fine leather belt. Her short alligator skin boots made her look like everyone else, except for her companion. Tracy wore tailored jeans, a red polo shirt that accentuated her dark hair and light skin, and red leather sandal pumps. Her ensemble, along with her height, made her stand out in the crowd.
Chelsea walked up to the bartender and showed her the two pictures of Ali. “Yeah, I seen her. She’s a regular here. I ain’t seen her in a week or two. She in some kinda trouble?” The shapely Spanish woman asked.
“No. She’s not in trouble. She’s dead. Someone killed her. We are trying to find anyone who may have seen her recently with someone suspicious. Did she ever leave the bar with a woman or a man for that matter?”
“Who are you?” She asked warily.
“I”m Chelsea Lambert. I’m an attorney representing her wife.” She reached out to shake the other woman’s hand.
“Maria. . . No. She never left with anyone but me. That I know of.”
“You? Can you elaborate on that?” Chelsea was suddenly very aware that Tracy could overhear their conversation.
“Sure. She’d come in, always order bourbon and seven, dance with every woman in the place, then go on her way. Sometimes she drank too much. Usually, she’d take a cab home. Once in a while she’d sit at the bar and talk to me about her problems until we closed up and then I’d drive her home, to the Jetty East Condos. It is no good for a woman alone to catch a cab that late. We don’t close until two in the morning. It wasn’t safe.”
“That was very kind of you.”
“Not really. You ever seen her? She was hot. She could dance a salsa that would make you drool. But she wasn’t interested. All she talked about was her rich wife and how much she loved her. I asked her once if she loved this woman so much what was she doing spending her nights drinking in my bar. All she said was, ‘I don’t know. I really just don’t know’. Sometimes she’d start crying. I didn’t know what to say to her. Last time I saw her she said she needed to quit living like that and then I didn’t see her no more. Shame. She was good for business. Lots of these women would come here just to dance with her and try to get into her pants. What a waste of time.”
“So, you can’t ever remember seeing her leave with anyone.” Chelsea asked as she looked over to her client.
“No. Never did.”
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Sure. I hope you get the bastard.”
“Here is my card in case you remember anything that might help us.” Chelsea handed Maria her card and shook her hand.
“You got it.” She stuck the card in her cleavage and went about her business.
* * *
Chelsea was so preoccupied with her conversation that she failed to notice the tall red-head that had been staring at her from the other end of the bar was now behind her, bending down to speak into her ear. “Hey there. How’s my favorite legal eagle? Long time no see.”
The little blonde whipped around to stand face to face with the sexy creature. “Monica! Hi, I didn’t expect to see you here.” Chelsea was very embarrassed. She hadn’t discussed her sexual orientation with her client and would have preferred not to have it brought up this way.
“I can see that. Who’s your friend?” She asked with a sneer.
“Nobody you need concern yourself with.” Chelsea smelled trouble. The redhead had called her several times after they’d had a hot encounter after too many Margarita’s and dirty dancing at this same bar. She was a little put out by her own behavior and very put out that the woman read more into their one night together than there was. Chelsea didn’t make a habit of frequenting pick up joints, but everyone got lonely once in a while. ‘All work and no play makes Chelsea a dull girl.’, her friends used to say. ‘Dull is good. I can do dull. It’s being stalked by a redheaded amazon I can’t handle.’
Tracy sensed her friend’s discomfort. “She’s with me.” The equally tall brunette stated in her best butch voice, and stood between the interloper and her young attorney.
Chelsea grinned from ear to ear, enjoying Tracy’s surprising defense of her.
The amazon appeared to be weighing the pros and cons of pursuing the object of her lust any further and decided the intimidating brunette might just kick her ass. “Hey, she’s all yours babe.” She turned on her heel and walked away.
“Thanks. I appreciate that.” Chelsea said.
“You are welcome. So, when were you going to mention that you are a lesbian?” The tall woman seemed to be enjoying Chelsea’s squirming.
“I didn’t think it was pertinent to the case. . . Come on. Let’s get outta here. This is a dead end.” Chelsea took her friend’s arm and led her toward the door when a very attractive, leather clad woman stood in their way and asked her client to dance.
“You’re not leaving, are you? I was just going to ask you to dance. That is, if your friend doesn’t mind.” The exotic looking beauty asked with a silky voice.
Chelsea had a sudden urge to belt the amazon right in her expensive capped teeth. “No, no thank you. I’m married. And, we were just leaving.” Tracy sputtered.
“Oh, don’t leave yet. We just met and I haven’t had the chance to get to know you. . . I’m Snake.” She held out a well-manicured hand.
“No, thank you. I don’t think so.”
“At least give me your number so I can call you.” Snake persisted as she held Tracy’s hand.
Chelsea had enough. “The lady and I are leaving. She doesn’t want to dance with you, get to know you, or give you her phone number. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”
Snake was a bit shocked, but amused, at this tiny woman’s gumption. She held her hands up in supplication. “Whoa there, little lady. No problem. Can’t blame a gal for trying.” She kissed the back of Tracy’s hand and grinned mischievously. “Some other time perhaps.”
“Let’s get you home.” Chelsea said as she quickly pushed her friend out of the door and away from the unwanted attention.
* * *
“Thanks for taking me with you, Chelsea. At least now I know that Ali was faithful to me.”
Tracy spoke as she poured herself and her attorney a glass of wine.
“I’m glad you were able to get some closure. I’m just sorry we were unable to get any leads on the case. But, I’m hoping the license plate will point us in the right direction. We should know something early in the week. Why don’t you turn in. I’m bushed. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I’d like to get a good night’s rest. I haven’t been sleeping too well with all that’s happened. You can sleep in the guest room tonight, if you like.” Tracy offered.
Chelsea was very tempted. The sights and sounds in the bar and the events of the evening had made her even more aware of just how attractive she found the lonely widow. ‘Get your butt home, you horn dog. The lady just lost her wife and doesn’t need your libidinous attentions’. “That’s awfully nice of you, but I have tons of work to do, so I’d better get home and get to it.”
“You’re driving all the way back to the lake?”
“No. I have an apartment over my office. It’s only a few miles from here. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well.” Chelsea nearly ran out of the door.
“Good night.” Tracy said to the closed door.
Tracy tossed and turned, unable to shut her mind or her body off. The wine she had consumed and the memory of the many young attractive women at the club had made her desire for her late partner come alive. Her need for release was intense. She knew the vibrator was still in the top drawer of the nightstand, within easy reach of her bed, but she couldn’t bring herself to use it. She’d never needed to. Her lover enjoyed the toy when their lovemaking needed a bit of a boost, or Tracy refused her drunken advances. She considered it Ali’s replacement for her and found she held resentment toward the innocent object. She chose to obliterate her need with another sleeping pill and a little TV to bore her into blessed oblivion.
An hour passed. The movie, the name of which she couldn’t have recalled to save her soul, had finally crept through the credits and Tracy was no more drowsy than she was before. Refilling her wineglass she stumbled to the medicine cabinet and took the bottle of sleeping pills back to the couch where she took two more. Changing the channel on the television, she covered herself in a warm lap rug and tried to concentrate on the old Bogie and Bacall film “To Have and Have Not”. The attraction between the stars was palpable and Tracy found herself crying over her lost love and the knowledge that she would never again feel her lover’s touch or the satisfaction she knew it would bring her. She couldn’t stop herself. She walked into the bedroom she had shared with her lover, placed Ali’s picture close by, reached into the night stand and retrieved the object that offered her much needed relief.
Tracy slid out of her night gown, then lay upon the bed, eyes closed, memories of Ali and their love making sending electric jolts through her belly, toward her sex. She slowly massaged her breasts and tweaked the dark nipples. Her breathing became rapid and shallow as her pelvis began to pump, seeking contact. She placed the head of the vibrator wand between her legs and turned it on its mildest setting. She gasped at the sudden stimulation and used her wrist to gently lift and move the vibrating head over her vulva, not spending too much time over her sensitized clitoris. “Oh God . . .” She moaned as her ardor soared. She called out her lover’s name over and over, picturing her in the throes of orgasm as her own climax shook her to her very core. Tears of release flowed down her cheeks. She trembled as she let her frustration out. Turning off the noisy vibrator, she tried to catch her breath. A ball of rage rolled within her and she threw the wand across the room with all of her might, yelling as hard and as loudly as she could. “Son of a bitch! You son of a bitch!” Crawling off the bed, she put on her nightgown and stomped into the living room. “Is this what I have to look forward to? Huh? Is it?”
“It doesn’t have to be, Tracy. You can move on. You have to get yourself together and move on with your life.”
Tracy spun around and gazed, mouth agape, at the spectral vision before her. She stumbled back and fell upon the couch. “Oh shit! I’ve lost it.”
The diaphanous form of Ali held out her hands in a calming motion. “My poor love. I’m here to help.”
“Help? You think scaring me to death will help? Jesus, I’m talking to a figment of my imagination.”
“God, you’re a stubborn woman.” Ali shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I just need a good night’s sleep.” Tracy said as she took two more sleeping pills and swallowed them down with her wine.
“What are you trying to do, kill yourself . . . ? Quit drinking all my wine. That stuff is expensive.” The ghostly form began to frantically pace back and forth.
“Oh, yeah, like you care?” Tracy yelled as she grabbed the bottle and poured herself another glass.
“I care. I love you, Tracy. That’s why I came back. I haven’t much time. There is something you need to know.”
Tracy took a deep swallow of the deep red nectar. “Yeah? And, what, pray tell, is that?”
“Don’t be angry with me. I didn’t choose to leave you. I had no choice. But, that’s not what I came to say. You have to get away from here. You’re in danger. Listen to the blonde attorney. She’ll protect you.”
“Well, thanks for the advice. I’m sure you have a busy social schedule out there on the astral plain, or wherever you are. Don’t stay on my account.”
“Tracy, please listen to me. I have always loved you. But, we were never meant to be. Look what loving me did to you, to both of us. You’re still young. Be strong. Don’t give up on life . . , on love. You have so much to give. Don’t throw it away. Don’t waste your life with pills and booze. You’ll never find happiness at the bottom of a bottle. No one knows that better than me.”
Tracy ran her fingers through dark hair. Her head had begun to feel strangely fuzzy and the room began to spin. “God help me. I’m talking to a ghost. My dead wife is telling me I’ll learn to love again.” She looked through blurry eyes at the woman she had both loved and hated, then lost. “Now you’re running a Miss Lonely Hearts advice column in heaven? I must be losing my mind.”
“Please remember what I said, Tracy. You need love. Don’t be blind to it. Don’t reject it. I have to go now. Remember what I said.”
“Ali, don’t go. Please . . . , don’t go!” Tracy lunged forward to grasp hold of her lover’s fading form, when her world went black.
* * *
Chelsea pealed off her smoky smelling clothes and threw them into the washing machine, then collected a clean, over-sized T-shirt and headed for the shower. Her body still hummed from the events of the evening. Wanting a woman she couldn’t have was a new experience for her, one she didn’t like in the least. She had made the decision not to return to the club and the comfort of casual sex. She knew she could relieve her physical need. It was the emotional attachment she felt growing for her beautiful client that she wasn’t sure how to deal with.
“I have to priorities. Protecting my client and finding the real killer is all I can afford to concentrate on for the present. The future will take care of itself.” Chelsea nodded her head with conviction as she stepped under the refreshing spray of the shower.
* * *
No one noticed the dark shadow, stealthily gliding through the foliage behind the condos. The empty beach allowed him to scale the outer wall up to the third floor balcony, toward his prey. He stood, ear against the sliding glass door, listening to any sounds of activity within. The lights were out in the bedrooms, but the dim glow of the TV through the curtain gave him pause. He waited for some time before he was certain that the woman within had fallen asleep with the television on. The sound of the TV was just what he needed to drown out the sound of his knife as he worked to jimmy the lock. As the sliding glass door released he stopped, surprised by the sudden noise of raised voices from inside. Frustrated that his plans to take his revenge first hand, to feel the life drain from the bitch, would have to wait, he quietly left the way he came, running down the beach into the night.
* * *
Chelsea closed her eyes as she slowly massaged the shampoo into her hair. The scent of melon and cucumber tickled her nostrils and brought the picture of Tracy’s beautiful form back to mind. She let the water rinse the suds from her hair as soapy hands slid over firm round breasts and down between her legs. “Oh Hell. I just gotta get rid of some of this tension.” Chelsea said her legs spreading, allowing her right hand access to her vulva as her left hand rhythmically squeezed her ass. “Mmmmm, Tracy, you are soooo hot.” Chelsea fantasized the tall brunette making passionate love to her as she raised her left leg and set her foot upon the shower ledge, allowing complete access to her sex. Her hand slid over her pulsing clit, then two fingers entered her vagina, collecting her cream and spreading it over the sensitive clitoris again. She rested her forehead against the cold tile as her fingers massaged and quickly danced across her clit until sparks lit behind her eyes and molten warmth gushed from her vagina. She pumped and rode the wave of orgasm until it faded to small popping after-shocks deep inside. “Oh yeah. Thanks for the climax, Miss Tracy. It’s a shame you can’t do it for real.” Chelsea sighed, stepped out of the shower and dried off.
* * *
“Yes, Mrs. Stein, I’ll look into it. I’m sorry you were disturbed.” The Condominium Manager hid a yawn as she tried to placate her most irritating tenant.
“Well, I should hope so. I pay good money to live here and shouldn’t have to put up with drunken brawls every weekend. Those two shouldn’t be allowed to live around decent people.”
“I’m going right up and talk with Mrs. Chandler. I apologize again that your sleep was disturbed.” Sheila hung up the phone and grumbled as she called the Chandler’s number. Getting no answer, she stepped into her uniform and stormed out of her apartment, heading for number 302.
* * *
The sound of the ringing telephone startled Chelsea who had been enjoying a very hot dream. She looked at the caller ID, the name looked familiar but she couldn’t place it. “Hello?”
“Is this Ms. Lambert?”
“Yes. Who’s speaking?”
“I’m sorry to call at this hour. This is Sheila at the Jetty East. We met yesterday.”
“Sheila. Yes, I remember. Is something wrong over there?”
“Well. I’m not sure. I had a complaint of loud voices coming from the Chandler’s apartment, but when I went to check it out no one answered the door.”
“Sheila. You did the right thing. I’m on my way.” Chelsea hung up the phone, dressed, grabbed her gun and ran for the car.
“Charlie, I think we have trouble. Meet me at the Jetty East.” Chelsea hung up her cell phone and hit the gas hard.
“No problem.” Charlie said to dead air. “I guess she’s in a hurry.”
* * *
BAM, BAM, BAM . . . Chelsea pounded on the door. Getting no response, the manager let her in. “Stay out there.” She told Sheila. “Let Charles in when he gets here.”
“OK.” Sheila stood outside the door with her heart in her throat.
“Tracy?” Chelsea called into the silence. She flicked on the lights, then, with gun in hand, she carefully entered. She looked around the dining room and kitchen, and slowly entered the living room. There she spotted her client crumpled upon the Persian rug in a pool of blood.
“Oh Shit! Tracy!” Chelsea dropped to Tracy’s side and carefully examined her for injuries.
“Sheila, call 911. Get an ambulance.” Chelsea yelled as she noticed the wound to Tracy’s head. Looking up she saw blood and hair attached to the edge of the coffee table and realized that Tracy had apparently fallen and hit her head, causing a gaping wound above her temple. Chelsea retrieved a towel from the kitchen and applied ice and pressure to her client’s head until help arrived.
“Chelsea?” Charlie called from the door.
“In here. Tracy hit her head and lost a lot of blood. She’s still breathing but her pulse is thready.”
Charles walked around the room, looking for any signs of foul play, when he eyed the bottle of sleeping pills open on the table. “Chelsea, did you see this?” Charles picked up the bottle and handed it over. “Do you know how many were in there?”
“Jesus. There were lots more than four left when we were at the cabin. You don’t think she tried to off herself, do you?”
“I don’t know. But, we’ll have to tell the paramedics when they get here just in case.” Charlie shook his head in disgust.
“Shit! That’ll get into the papers and start all the publicity hounds on her tail again. That’s just great.” Chelsea sighed in frustration. Then, concern for her new friend overcame her anger. “Come on, Tracy, keep breathing.”
* * *
Chelsea paced across the waiting room floor as she and her Grandfather awaited news of Tracy’s condition. She’d given all the information she had as to the sleeping pills and the wine her client had ingested, then proceeded to call the only other people who would care what became of Tracy Chandler. Alex and Jackie were on their way.
In the ER the medical staff were busy performing a gastric lavage on the unconscious patient, making sure all the stomach contents were emptied. Films were ordered of her skull and the jagged cut in her scalp was being prepped for suturing.
It was two hours before the ER physician sat down with Tracy’s friends and family. “She will be fine. However, we can’t let her sleep for more than an hour at a time over the next twelve hours. She has a mild concussion and is under the influence of self- administered sedation, shall we say. It has taken eleven sutures to close the wound in her scalp. There will be considerable bruising and swelling at the site. Ice and time will heal that. We want to keep her here for observation over the next twenty-four hours. She will also be required to see our staff psychiatrist, Dr. Rita Schmidt. She will determine a treatment program. There are reasons for suicide attempts. These have to be addressed or the behavior is doomed to be repeated.”
Chelsea stared in disbelief at the doctor. “She didn’t try to kill herself. It was an accident.”
“I can only go by the facts. Mrs. Chandler took an overdose of sleeping pills with half a bottle of wine.” The Doctor stated emphatically.
Chelsea sighed and looked away.
“Can we see her now, Doctor?” Mr. Lambert asked as he wrapped his arm around his granddaughter’s waist.
“Yes. But, just for a little while.”
The family and friends filed by the physician, down to the cubicle where Tracy lay in pain and confusion.
* * *
“Hey sweetheart. How’s the head?” John Lambert softly asked as he took a seat next to the young woman he’d always thought of as a member of his family.
Tracy tried but couldn’t quite clear her vision and the pounding in her head was upsetting her abused stomach. “Not great, Uncle John. I still don’t know what happened.”
“What do you remember?” Chelsea asked.
“Ummm, can we talk about this tomorrow? I don’t feel so good.” Tracy begged off as her green pallor supported her distress.
“Sure. I’ll be back tomorrow, after you’ve rested. Call me if you need anything. You have my cell number.”
“Yeah. Tomorrow.” Tracy whispered as she her eyelids closed against the physical and emotional discomfort bombarding her senses.
* * *
“Chelsea, I went over Tracy’s condo with a fine toothed comb. Someone definitely jimmied the balcony door open. I think we should get that detective back over there to check it out.” Charlie spoke over the cell phone.
“I’ll call him. . . I wonder what might have scared him off?” Chelsea pondered out loud.
“I don’t know. But, I’d say Tracy is one lucky lady. Also, I found out that Hazards Exterminators treats the condos once a month for roaches and such. They had access to #302 the morning that Tracy went to the police station to see the detective. I am working on getting the name of the employee who was assigned that location from the dispatcher.”
“That is very interesting news, Charlie. Call me when you get the information. Thanks. I’ll call you later.”
* * *
Chelsea stood in the doorway of Tracy’s hospital room. She was touched by the terribly pale and drawn appearance of her client. The natural luster of the deep brown hair had turned rusty with dried blood and Betadine. Dark circles marred the beauty of her deep blue eyes. Her expression seemed lost and haunted.
Chelsea rapped gently on the door before letting herself in, then closed the door quietly behind her.
“How are you feeling today?” Chelsea asked quietly.
Tracy tried to smile, but her face hurt and her head still pounded, but with a bit less intensity. “I’m here. I think.”
“Still hurts, huh?”
“Only when I open my eyes, talk, breath . . .”
“I get the picture.” Chelsea grinned. After a moment, Chelsea leaned over and took Tracy’s hand in hers. “What really happened last night?”
“You’re not going to believe it. I’m not sure if I believe it and I was there.” The brunette tried to smile, but a tear trickled from her eye.
“What is it . . . ? Talk to me. I can’t help you if you don’t trust me.”
Tracy sniffled. “I do trust you. I feel we’re friends, now. But, what happened last night was so fantastical, so otherworldly . . . I’m not sure I believe it myself.”
“Tracy, did you try to kill yourself last night? I have to know the truth.” Chelsea held her breath.
“No. Of course not. I mean. I know it looks that way but “No”. I couldn’t sleep and I was drinking Ali’s wine. I lost track of how many pills I had taken. And, then when Ali showed up and scared the shit outta me. Well, you can imagine . . . No, I guess you can’t imagine.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. Ali showed up? Whatta you mean Ali showed up? You mean your dead wife just dropped in?” Chelsea couldn’t believe they were having this conversation.
“I know it sounds insane, but it’s true. She was just suddenly there, talking to me, giving me advice.”
“Giving you advice?”
“Yeah. She told me not to give up on love. She said we weren’t meant to be together and how we ruined each other’s lives. Oh. . . and the real kicker is she told me to stop drinking her booze. She said that I’m in danger and to listen to you and get away from there.”
“Seems like she gives good sound advice.” Chelsea snickered. “She was right about your being in danger. It seems someone tried to break into your condo last night, but something scared him away. Detective Hardie’s over there right now, checking over everything.”
“Is that true?”
“I’m afraid so. Maybe it was your ghost that scared him off.”
“You know, they want me to see a psychiatrist. Maybe it’s a good idea. I don’t know how much more of this I can handle on my own. I feel like I’m in a little sailboat out in the middle of the ocean, being battered by the winds and the waves. I need to grab a lifeline. I can’t wait until someone decides to toss me one.”
“I want you to do whatever it takes for you to feel secure. I know this has been a nightmare for you. And, I am concerned for your safety. I don’t want you to be anywhere near your condo. Charlie could drive you into town twice a week, or as often as is needed, to see the therapist while you stay at the cabin.”
“I hate for you to have to take care of me. The doctor says I’ll be in bed for a week or more because of dizziness. I can’t even wash my hair because he said not to get the sutures wet.” She complained with a pout.
“I think I can handle it. Besides, I enjoy having you around. You make great coffee.”
“Oh, an ulterior motive.”
* * *
Chelsea eased her tall companion onto the bed in the guestroom. They’d picked up a baby monitor for Tracy to use whenever she needed anything. Chelsea had all the files for the other cases she was involved in so she could work on them in her kitchen.
The room was spinning and the headache was blinding. Tracy was never so happy to be lying down in her life.
“You Ok?” Chelsea asked, concerned by her client’s pallor.
“Peachy. Just shoot me and get it over with.” Tracy whispered through clenched teeth.
“I wish there was something more I could do to make you comfortable.”
“Thanks. If you could close the curtains I’ll try to get some sleep. They didn’t let me sleep much in the hospital.”
“Ok. I’ll have the monitor at my side. Just say something if you need me. Sleep well, Tracy.”
* * *
The next few days passed with Tracy sleeping most of the time and Chelsea trying to get her to eat. The fourth day Tracy finally ate some oatmeal with sugar and cinnamon and a glass of milk. The fifth day, Tracy felt much better and Chelsea joined her in the afternoon to watch a movie on DVD and share some comfort food in the form of home made vegetable soup, followed by chocolate ice cream. Chewing was definitely not yet comfortable for her ailing client.
The wound on Tracy’s head was healing well. Chelsea cleaned it twice a day with Betadine, followed by Neosporin and covered it with a strip of gauze. Nearly half her face was purple and mildly swollen, making smiling a trial; but the dizziness was subsiding and she could make it to the bathroom without assistance. However, now that she was recovering, her dirty hair was causing her more irritation than the stitches.
Chelsea would help her to the bathroom every morning, set out a face towel, tooth brush and tooth paste, soap and bath towel and fill the sink with hot water, so Tracy could at least wash off. But it was no longer enough. She desperately desired a long hot soak and clean hair. It was time to get over her natural modesty and beg Chelsea to help her take a real bath.
“Ummm, Chelsea?” Tracy tried to broach the subject.
The cute blonde looked up at her movie-viewing companion. “Is there something wrong?”
“No. Ummm, not really. I just wanted to ask you if you could maybe do me a huge favor. That is if you don’t mind and . . .” Tracy was blushing and feeling very awkward.
Chelsea could easily see her friend’s discomfort and became concerned. “What is it, Tracy? You can ask me anything. We’re friends. Right?”
Tracy looked down at her hands. “Yeah. Other than Alex and Jackie, you’re the only real friend I’ve got in Destin.”
Chelsea reached out her hand and lifted the embarrassed woman’s chin so she would make eye contact. “So, what is it?”
“I feel so . . .” Tracy couldn’t even find words for how filthy she felt. “Would you help me take a bath. I mean a really hot soak and wash my hair. I just can’t take it anymore.” Tears leaked from her eyes as she looked beseechingly at her friend.
“Of course I will, silly. Is that what that long face is about? You don’t have to be embarrassed to ask me for help. I’ll go run your bath water and get everything you’ll need and place them within your reach. I’ll be right outside the door to help you get out of the tub.”
“Well, actually, I was hoping you’d help me wash my hair. I’m not suppose to get the stitches wet.” Tracy blurted out.
Chelsea’s eyes got really big and her heart skipped a beat. “Oh! I mean . . . sure . . . I can do that.”
* * *
Chelsea was very careful to avoid Tracy’s suture line, while trying to thoroughly clean the long, dark hair. She tried not to admire the full breasts as they bobbed in the bath water. Concentrating on the task at hand was getting more and more difficult, so it was time to rinse away the shampoo and figure out how to get Tracy out of the tub without holding her long nude body against her own.
“Stay right there. I’ll be back in a jiff.” Chelsea instructed as she quickly fetched a terry-cloth bathrobe and large beach towel. “Raise your arms for me.” Holding out the towel in front of her she wrapped it around Tracy’s body and helped lift her from the tub. She then used one hand to keep the towel in place while helping Tracy into the bathrobe. Her mission accomplished, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, so much, for helping me. I really don’t know what I would do without you.” Tracy softly said. For the first time it sunk in just how important Chelsea had become in her life, not just as an attorney, but as her friend and companion, her confidant and caretaker. She truly appreciated how easy Chelsea was to be with and how much she trusted her. It was a long time since she had a friend to share with. It felt really good. Ali’s jealousy had kept her from having other friends. It was just easier that way. She’d feel so guilty at enjoying another woman’s company, no matter how innocent it was, that it wasn’t worth it. Now, she didn’t feel guilty, just good and safe.
* * *
Monday rolled around and Charlie drove Tracy to the hospital to have her stitches removed and her first therapy session. After which he brought to the Jetty East where she picked up her Jeep so she could drive herself to her appointment, which they decided would be twice a week for the time being.
* * *
“Oh my goodness! Where’d you get that?” Chelsea bellowed as she watched Tracy drive up in a yellow Jeep with huge magnetic white daisies attached to the doors, hood and rear.
“Hey, don’t laugh at my baby.” Tracy said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
“I’m sorry. It’s really nice.” Chelsea couldn’t help the giggle that bubbled up.
“It was a gift from Ali. She said I was all work and no play. So, she bought me a vehicle that couldn’t help but awaken my inner child. I must admit it is a hoot to drive on the beach and have every head turn in your direction and point. It’s the laughing part and the jeers that’s kinda irritating.”
“Well, I think it is just adorable. It doesn’t fit your personality in the least.”
“Are you saying I’m not adorable?” Tracy retorted as she leaned back against the Jeep’s door and crossed her arms menacingly over her chest.
The sound was like a loud firecracker on the fourth of July. The windshield of the Jeep cracked and spit shards of gooey glass onto the front seat.
“Get down!” Chelsea screamed. Tracy didn’t have to be told twice.
“Damn! Someone’s shooting at us. Stay here.” Chelsea demanded as she rolled under the Jeep, then ran into the house, only twenty feet away. She held her breath and listened for the sound of the next report. But, it didn’t come. In mere seconds Chelsea reappeared with her cell phone in one hand and her .38 caliber pistol in the other. She figured from where the bullet hit the Jeep that the shooter was in the marsh beyond her house, so she crouched down at the corner, in the shadows, and shot in that general direction. She hit the speed dial on the cell phone.
“Charlie, where are you?” She screamed into the phone.
“I’m just turning onto your lane. What’s up?”
“Be careful. Someone just took a shot at Tracy. But, I think they’re gone now.”
“Thanks for the heads up. I’ll be right there.”
“Did your men find anything, Jimmie?” Chelsea inquired of the detective whose men had been scouring the area for any sign of the shooter..
“The shooter was on a motorcycle. By the size of the tires and the indentation in the soft soil, my guess is a small one and a lightweight rider. We haven’t found the gun yet, or the shell casing. But there’s still a few hours of daylight left. If it’s out there, my men will find it.”
“Thanks. I think it would be wise for me to contact some of my friends on the force and get around the clock protection for my client. This guy is taking chances that just don’t fit my picture of him.”
“I think that is a very good idea. I can send a squad car to patrol the area.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. I know you are always short handed.”
“Wait a minute. One of my men is flagging me down. Let me go see what they’ve found.”
“I hope it’s good news. I have to look in on Tracy, then I’ll catch up.”
* * *
Chelsea opened the bedroom door to find her client lying in the dark with an ice pack on her head. “Head hurts?” Chelsea whispered.
Tracy groaned. “Even my hair hurts.”
“Can I get anything for you?” The concerned blonde sat next to the bed and took her friend’s hand in hers.
“Can you tell me why some nut is trying to kill me?”
“I can’t. Not yet. I’m sorry, Tracy.”
Tracy slid the ice pack off of her dark head. “I know.” She softly said.
Chelsea nodded and left the room.
* * *
“We’ve got the shell casing. It’s bagged and off to the lab. You’ll be glad to know that there were matching fingerprints on the envelope and the license plate we collected from Mrs. Chandler’s but we couldn’t find a match in our database. However, it is definitely not Allyson or Tracy Chandler’s. The grease found on the envelope also matched that found on the murder weapon. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to lift any clear prints off.” The detective stated.
“Well, that’s something we didn’t have before. Do you think that we could get a search warrant for Jose’ Morales’ home based on those results?” Chelsea asked hopefully.
“It’s already in motion.” James stated with a grin.
“You know. . . You are a pretty nifty guy.” Chelsea observed with a huge grin.
“So I’ve heard. I’ll call you in the morning. In the meantime keep Mrs. Chandler safe. This guy isn’t going to give up until we catch him.”
Chelsea sighed. “I’ll do everything I can. That patrol car will be gratefully appreciated.”
* * *
“Charlie, let’s get security lights on all corners of the house. I want an alarm system and I want it from a company that has 24-hour monitoring. I’ll call and get four off-duty cops to guard the property. I want it done yesterday.”
“You got it.” Charles pulled out his cell phone and started calling.
* * *
After making all the security arrangements, Charlie, Tracy and Chelsea sat around the kitchen brainstorming, looking for any details that they’d missed that could point them in the right direction. Tracy and Charles were excited over the search warrant and the possibility of finding the matching fingerprint they needed. They were about to dive into their soup and sandwiches when Tracy’s cell phone rang.
“Tracy, check who it is before you answer.” Chelsea warned.
“It’s my brother-in-law’s number. . . Hello Alex.”
“How’d you . . . Oh, caller ID.”
“Yep. I have all the modern conveniences.” Tracy smiled at hearing his familiar voice.
“Tracy, I called because I may have done something stupid and I’d rather you hear it from me first.”
Tracy looked up at her friends with a worried expression. “Alex, what did you do?” Tracy asked with a look of dread on her face.
“I was thinking about what that kid did to Jose’ and how his grandfather let him get away with it. You know, none of this would have happened if the old bastard had punished that punk like he should’ve. He took advantage of your Dad being so ill to save face, and . . . and now my sister is dead.” Alex’s anger and frustration evident in his tone.
“Alex, what did you do?” Tracy demanded an answer.
“I called Mr. Atkins and gave him an ear full. I told him just what I thought of him and little Timmy.” There was a pregnant pause. “Anyway, you may need to do some damage control.”
“What did he say when you confronted him on the phone?” Tracy inquired.
“Not much. Oh, except that I may want to look for other employment if I am so displeased with how he runs this business.”
“How he runs this business? He sure has a high opinion of himself. If it weren’t for my Dad’s illness he’d still be the head of marketing for the Region, certainly not the Director. Oh boy, he has another thought coming. . . . Look, brother-in-law, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s high time I had a little talk with Mr. Atkins. He should definitely start looking for another position, since I will be taking over his duties as Regional Director. And, as Director, you are rehired.”
“Thanks, sweetie. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you fire his ass.” Alex heaved a sigh of relief.
“Maybe I’ll tape it and send it to America’s Funniest Videos.” Tracy joked, although she didn’t feel much like laughing.
“You do that. Look, thanks for understanding. I’ll talk at ya later.”
“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry. Bye now.” Tracy disconnected the cell line.
“What was that all about?” Chelsea asked.
Tracy filled her lawyer in on the details.
* * *
“James, I can’t concentrate with you looking over my shoulder. Will you please just go sit down, drink your coffee, and let me do my job!?!” Joe Epstein was getting frustrated with his friend. He had slipped the detective’s request for an I.D. on a fingerprint in ahead of all the other ASAP requests that were on his desk so the detective wouldn’t bust the blood vessel that was pounding in his temple.
“Ok. I’ve done my part. The rest is up to the computer database.. She’s off and searching.” The Assistant Medical Examiner fixed himself a cup of the hours-old brew, sat next to his impatient friend and waited for the results, if any, to appear.
“Bingo! We’ve got a match.” Joe hopped out of his chair and read the results. The fingerprint is that of a Timothy Richard Atkins, age 18. Previous arrests are many and varied. You have a real winner here.” Joe handed the information from the printer to the detective, who immediately set out to get a warrant for young Mr. Atkin’s arrest on a charge of attempted murder.
* * *
Chelsea was rudely awakened by the incessant ringing of the telephone resting on the bedside table inches from her disheveled blonde head. “This had better be important.” She croaked.
“We got him.” Detective Hardie stated.
Chelsea rubbed her bleary eyes. “What?”
“It’s me, Jimmie. We caught the son of a bitch whose been terrorizing your client. You know. . . , the killer?” James chuckled triumphantly.
“You’re kidding. That’s awesome! So, the fingerprints matched? You are a god!” Chelsea whooped as she pumped her fist.
“Yeah. He didn’t go far. We picked him up at his grandfather’s home. Atkin’s didn’t protect him this time. He handed him over on a silver platter. Seems he’s been buying him out of trouble for years. You should see his record.”
Chelsea stopped cold. “Atkins? What are you talking about? What happened to the Morales lead?”
“Nothing. I haven’t gotten those results yet. Why? The boy’s fingerprints were on the shell casing, we found the rifle in his bedroom and the scooter in his grandfather’s garage. What else do you need?”
“A motive, for one thing. The Atkins boy didn’t have a reason to hurt the Chandlers. He didn’t even know Allyson or Tracy at the time of the murder.”
“I have irrefutable proof that he tried to murder Tracy Chandler.” The detective’s frustration made him raise his voice.
“I think I can explain that. Tracy’s brother-in-law confronted the boy’s grandfather with his part in all this. The grandfather takes it out on the boy and he decides to take his revenge. But, it has nothing to do with the murder of Allyson Chandler.” Chelsea insisted.
“I’m not sure you are right, but I’ll call Joe Epstein and ask him to put a rush on the fingerprints from the Morales house.”
“Yeah . . .” James hung up the phone in disgust. “Joe’s just gonna love this.”
“Chandler Marine. Mr. Atkin’s office,” came the pleasantly familiar voice over the phone.
“Mrs. Maxwell?” Tracy inquired.
“Yes. This is Ada Maxwell. How may I help you?” The older woman thought the voice sounded vaguely familiar.
“It’s so good to hear your voice. This is Tracy Chandler.”
“Oh my word. Tracy? It’s been way too long. How have you been? I haven’t seen you since your father’s service. What am I saying!?! You poor dear. I heard what happened to Allyson. How awful for you. Have they found who did it? Why anyone would want to hurt your partner . . . and the police arresting you . . . Well, it is just beyond me.”
“I’m Ok., Miss Ada. It’s hard, but Uncle John and his granddaughter, Chelsea, have been wonderful. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
“Thank goodness you haven’t had to face all this alone. Now, what can I do to help?”
“I wondered if we could get together today. There are quite a few things I want to go over with you and I don’t want Mr. Atkins to know. I intend to hold a meeting of department heads today at three. Do you think we could meet over lunch in my Dad’s private rooms?”
“Well, of course. How is noon? What will I need to bring?”
“Noon’s good. I’ll bring my laptop. You can use it and then transfer the information onto floppy and onto your computer. Please, don’t let anyone know about this. I want to spring it on everyone myself.”
“Ooooh, sounds intriguing. I can’t wait to see you. Should I order us some food?”
“How about some finger sandwiches and iced tea?”
“And send a memo to all the department heads that we will have a mandatory staff meeting in my Father’s private conference room at three. You don’t have to send one to Mr. Atkins. He won’t be attending.”
“Life is just getting more and more interesting. See you soon, Tracy.”
“Will you be kind enough to transfer my call to the personnel office?”
“Certainly. Hold just a moment.”
“Personnel office. Mrs. Ramirez speaking.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Ramirez. This is Tracy Chandler.”
“Dios Mios! Oh, I am so sorry, Mrs. Chandler. You took me by surprise.”
“That’s all right. I have a favor to ask of you.” Tracy explained what she needed from her employee.
“I understand. It will all be ready by 11 a.m. for you to pick up.”
“Thank you. I hate to interfere with your schedule, but this is a priority. I will see you later today, then. Bye.” Tracy hung up the phone and grinned broadly. She was going to enjoy this day immensely.
After showering and dressing in her best business suit, she joined Chelsea for a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and coffee.
“You sure are chipper this morning. What are you all dressed up for?” Chelsea asked as she admired her friend.
“I have a meeting with the current Regional Director of Chandler Marine and the department heads of this Region. I can’t wait.” She said with a mischievous spark in her eye.
“You are having a meeting with Atkins? Chelsea asked shocked.
“Oh yes. It’s about time I took over the reins of Chandler Marine and weeded out the riffraff.”
“Then, I guess I’d better get moving if we are going into town.” Chelsea wiped her mouth and pushed her chair back from the table.
“You don’t have to go with me. Anyway, I have a session with my therapist at 5:45 p.m. I can’t ask you to hang around all day.”
“Sorry. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Charlie took your jeep in to have the windshield replaced. So, you are without wheels and without a bodyguard. Besides, there is something we need to talk about.”
“That sounds ominous. What’s up?”
Chelsea sat back down. “Detective Hardie has arrested Timmy Atkins for attempted murder and suspicion of murder in your wife’s case.” She filled Tracy in on all she knew.
“Wow! I can’t believe it. Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know. I have to tell you: I’m not convinced he killed your wife.”
“But, you just said the Detective believes he did it.” Tracy didn’t know what to think.
“I just think it would be a good idea for you to stay close and let us keep you safe just in case Jimmie is wrong. Why don’t you wait to have this meeting at Chandler? Would it hurt to put it off until after the trial?”
Tracy nodded. “I can’t put my life on hold any longer. It’s time I took control back. Plus, I have a therapy session today and I think I’m gonna need it. God, I wish this was really over. What about the fingerprints the police got from the Morales house?”
“No results yet. We have to be patient.” Chelsea gave her friend a sympathetic look, then left the kitchen.
* * *
Tracy marched into the personnel office where Mrs. Ramirez was waiting with a large manila envelope with Richard Atkins’ name on it.
“Is the check in here?” Tracy asked as she picked up the rather hefty envelope.
“Yes, ma’am. Everything you asked for is in there.”
“Good job. Thanks.” Tracy turned on her heel and headed for the Regional Director’s office. Mrs. Maxwell stood up from her desk when she saw the tall beauty exit the elevator.
“Tracy, you look wonderful.” The older woman wrapped her soon-to-be new boss in a warm embrace and gently kissed her cheek. The hug was gratefully returned.
“It’s good to be back, Ms. Ada. But, we’ll talk later. First, I have some unfinished business to attend to with Mr. Atkins. Oh, you know Chelsea Lambert, Uncle John’s granddaughter.” Tracy stepped back and motioned to the grinning little blonde.
“It can’t be. . . Oh my. . . The last time I saw you, you were all skinned knees and ponytails.” Ada gushed.
Chelsea blushed all the way to her roots. “Hi, Ms. Ada. It has been a few years. I’ve grown up.”
“You certainly have. And, how is that handsome grandfather of yours?”
“As sly as ever. You look great.” Chelsea said, a plan running through her ever-busy blonde head.
“I’m sure he is. And, thank you.” Ada Maxwell walked around to Mr. Atkins’ office door. “Shall I announce you?
Tracy took a deep breath and looked at her friend and back to the door that held her future. “Please do.”
Ada nodded and smiled broadly. She knocked on the door, then opened it and entered, leaving the door ajar.
“Well, what is it Mrs. Maxwell? As you can see, I am very busy.” The older man snapped.
“Mr. Atkins, Mrs. Tracy Chandler is here to see you.” Ada couldn’t help but grin.
“Chandler? What in . . . What does she want?”
“To see you.” Tracy said as she passed through the door and nodded at Mrs. Maxwell, who quickly left the room closing the door behind her.
“Mrs. Chandler, what can I do for you today?” Atkins asked as he stood from his desk and buttoned his suit coat.
“You can empty this office of your personal belongings. Your presence will no longer be required in the position of Regional Director. I will be taking over the position effective immediately.” Tracy proffered the envelope she’d been holding. “You will find your severance pay and an explanation of Cobra benefits as well as your evaluation and reasons for termination enclosed.”
Mr. Atkins was shocked and confused by what he was hearing. “I’m afraid that I don’t understand.”
“I think you’ll find my notes self explanatory, but I will be more than willing to further explain. You see, you are being let go for improper conduct. You fired an employee, who had seniority, under false pretenses to protect the illegal actions of your own grandson, who, by the way, tried to murder me . . .”
“I can explain that . . .” Atkins interjected.
Tracy put her hand up to prevent the now very nervous older man from continuing.
“I, of course, cannot fire you because of the illegal actions of your grandson outside of Chandler Marine. But, it is the fact that your grandson was stealing from my company and you took advantage of your position while my father was ill, firing a perfectly innocent man to cover up for little Timmy’s actions. It is my belief that you set into motion a series of events culminating in the murder of my wife and the attempt on my own life by your grandson.”
Atkins didn’t know what to say to these charges. He just stood there looking like he was about to explode.
“Oh, and by the way, Alexander Stephenson is my brother-in-law. I don’t take kindly to your firing him.”
“Mrs. Chandler, um . . . Tracy . . .”
“It’s Mrs. Chandler. Now, please collect your personal belongings. Security will escort you out.”
“And, what if I refuse?”
“Then I will have you physically removed and the story will be in every paper in the State of Florida tomorrow. Since every word can be documented, you have no legal leg to stand on.” Tracy tilted her head toward the door. “Am I right counselor?” She knew Chelsea couldn’t stop herself from listening at the door.
The door opened and the cute blonde stepped in. “Yes, I believe you are correct.”
“Who the Hell are you!?!” Atkins bellowed.
“I am Mrs. Chandler’s attorney.” Chelsea smirked.
“But, you are not the attorney for Chandler Marine and I intend to take this matter up with him.”
“No. I’m his granddaughter.” She grinned even more broadly.
Atkins knew that he’d been beat and started collecting his things while Tracy picked up the phone and dialed for Security.
“This is Tracy Chandler. You may come up now. Mr. Atkins will be ready to be escorted out of the building shortly. He is not to be allowed back in for any reason. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
Tracy set the phone down and turned to her attorney. “Miss Lambert. Would you leave us alone for a moment?” She walked Chelsea to the door and whispered to her to go to the end of the hall and make certain Ms. Ada did the same.
Chelsea didn’t know what to make of the request, but did as she was bade.
“I’m ready. If there is anything else you find, just mail it to me.” Atkins held his briefcase and a box filled with pictures and a few files.
“May I see that, please?” Tracy placed the box on the desk and looked through it, removing her father’s gold letter opener and the files that belonged to the company. “You won’t be needing these. Now, before I let you leave I have one more thing to say.” Tracy tried to hold back the tears that stung the back of her eyes. “Your lies stole my wife from me. You killed her just as sure as if you murdered her with your own hands. I’m not a vindictive woman, but just give me a reason to ruin you and I promise every newspaper and reporter will know what you did . . . Awww, FUCK!!!!” Tracy hauled off and slapped the smug face as hard as she could.
“You’ll pay for that, young lady. I’ll sue you for everything you’ve got.”
“Go ahead. It’s your word against mine. And, at the moment, your word isn’t worth much.”
The Security Guard knocked on the door.
Tracy fought to control her shaking hands. “Come in.” Tracy looked away so her tears would not be noticed. “Please, escort Mr. Atkins out of the building.”
“Sir?” The Security Guard gestured toward the door. Mr. Atkins held his head up high and lead the way.
Tracy heard the door close, then slumped into a nearby chair. She leaned over with her head in her hands and wept.
“Wow! You were great.” Chelsea beamed as she walked back into the office. She stopped short when she saw her friend’s distress. “Hey, are you Ok? Did he hurt you? The bastard.”
Tracy shook her head. “No. I’m all right. I just let him get to me. That’s all.”
Chelsea stood next to the chair and pulled her friend’s dark head to her bosom, letting her shed the long-held tears. Her heart bled for the anguished beauty. “Is there anything I can do?” Chelsea asked.
“You’re doing fine.” Tracy whispered. She slowly wrapped her arms around Chelsea’s slim waist and held on to the comfort offered.
* * *
Tracy, Ada and Chelsea got reacquainted over finger sandwiches and iced tea. Chelsea left the women to their work and took the opportunity to do some work of her own. She hoped she could inspire Joe Epstein to put a rush on the fingerprints found at the Morales home. She hadn’t heard from Detective Hardie, which meant he had little luck with that effort.
* * *
Tracy and Ada had worked diligently for nearly two hours when there came a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Tracy called. Mrs. Ramirez timidly entered through the door with a large file in her hands.
“Here is everything you requested, Mrs. Chandler. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, thank you.” Tracy flipped through the file and checked that all documents were enclosed. “You’ve done a fine job, Mrs. Ramirez. I can take it from here.” Tracy smiled warmly at her employee.
“What’s that, Tracy?” Ms. Ada enquired.
“Oh, you’ll see. Just be patient and hang in there with me. I think I here the pitter patter of alligator shoes.” Tracy and Ms. Ada snickered as they heard the door open and saw the shocked faces of the department heads of Chandler Marine
“Good afternoon gentlemen. Please take a seat so we may begin.”
* * *
“But, Joe, he is innocent. The Atkins kid didn’t even know Allyson Chandler. If he didn’t kill her that means the murderer is still out there and he is trying to kill my client. I need your help to put him away. I need proof. Help me out here.” Chelsea demanded.
“Miss Lambert, I am a very busy man and you and Detective Hardie are preventing me from doing my job. My staff and I are overworked and underpaid and criticized by all you overpaid private attorneys. Now if you will excuse me. . .” Joe Epstein had enough of people trying to push their cases to the top of the pile. It wasted his time and got everyone else pissed at him. He turned and stomped back into his lab.
“Dammit all!” Chelsea slapped the door that closed behind Joe Epstein. “Shit, what do I do now?”
Chelsea walked out of the building, bypassed her car and decided to take a walk down to the park to clear her head and consider her options.
* * *
“First, I want to thank you all for coming on such short notice. I have a few important announcements. For any of you who don’t know I am Tracy Chandler, owner of Chandler Marine. I have decided to take over as Regional Director. Mr. Richard Atkins is no longer an employee of this company. Mrs. Ada Maxwell will be promoted to Assistant Regional Director. Her salary will be commensurate with her position. She will be working with me and any communications you may have can go through her.” Tracy looked up to gauge their reactions. Ms. Ada seemed to be the only one whose face showed her shock and joy. Warm smiles were exchanged.
“Now, gentlemen, I want to express what I expect from you. I want to see some creativity. I want to see fresh designs and marketing strategies. Please have your suggestions on Mrs. Maxwell’s desk by the end of the week. We will meet the first of every month to review financial records as well as to brainstorm ideas for our future. Now, if there are no questions, I will see you all here at 10:00 a.m. on the first.”
Tracy was pleased with the reception she received from most of the department heads. Ms. Ada waited for everyone else to leave before she wrapped her new boss into a warm hug. “Thank you, Tracy.”
“You don’t have to thank me. You worked side by side with my Dad for twenty years. No one knows this business as well as you. And there is no one else in that bunch that I respect nearly as much as I respect you, Ms. Ada. Now, I believe my ride is here.” She pointed to the little blonde with the pout on her face getting off the elevator.
“Uh . . .oh. I think things didn’t go so well at the M. E.’s office.” Tracy whispered in the older woman’s ear before walking up to her attorney.
“No luck, huh?”
Chelsea shook her head. “I’m sorry, Tracy. We’re just gonna have to wait our turn. That sucks!”
Tracy put her arm around Chelsea’s shoulder. “Don’t take it so hard, my friend. We just have to wait a little longer. It will all work out. I feel it.”
The angry little blonde looked up into deep blue eyes. “You really think so?”
Tracy smiled, reassuringly, “Yeah, I really do. Come on, let’s pick up a pizza and go eat at the beach.”
Chelsea smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”
* * *
The dark figure sat behind the deeply tinted windows of the red Z4 BMW with the top up. He drank from a barely chilled can of beer, with five empty cans on the floorboard hidden by a beach towel. This was his routine. One day he waited under the shade of an oak tree watching the entry gate of the Jetty East and in the far corner of the parking lot at the Chandler Marine building the next. He knew the Chandler bitch would show up eventually and now his patience was about to pay off. She’d been in there for hours now and he was hot, sweaty and drunk, but had a strange sense of euphoria knowing he was so close to his prey. He took the last swig of his beer when he spied the tall Chandler woman step out of the door behind an attractive little blonde. He started the engine, then put the BMW into gear and slowly pulled out to where he had a direct shot. He stomped on the accelerator. The tires spun until the rubber caught in a cloud of foul smelling smoke.
Tracy heard the cry of the tires and looked up to see the red Z4. Her “fight-or-flight” reflex kicked in and she grabbed Chelsea by the back of her blazer.
“Run!!!” Tracy yelled. She continued to force her friend ahead of her and between two parked SUV’s, with her other hand holding on to her briefcase.
Chelsea didn’t stop to ask questions, she just did as she was told. She too could hear the squealing tires and smell their smoke.
The sound of the Z4 crashing into the SUV was deafening. Tracy felt her brief case ripped from her hand as the sound of crumpling metal inspired her to yell to her friend to climb the chain link fence and escape to safety.
He saw the tall one was still moving, backed up, and rammed the SUV again. He was sure she was smashed between the giant vehicles. He felt such excitement that he was unaware of the security guard approaching with his gun drawn.
“Get out of the car! Put your hands up and get out of the car!” The security guard demanded, holding his revolver with both hands.
Ms. Ada stood in the lobby of the building watching in horror. She called 911, while the security guard tried to restrain the crazed driver.
“Tracy!?!” Chelsea whipped her head around.
“I’m Ok!” Tracy yelled back. Her adrenaline was pumping so high, she didn’t feel a thing as she tore her hip out from between the crumpled remains of the two vehicles. She tried to retrieve her briefcase, but it was firmly jammed behind her. She sprinted to the fence and climbed up next to her winded friend.
“Are you all right?” Tracy asked as she looked behind her to the scene unfolding.
“Yeah. I think so. It must be him.”
They watched as the Z4 backed up and then tried to run down the poor security guard who dived out of the way, ripping his uniform trousers and leaving a large brush burn on his elbow. He couldn’t pull the trigger of his revolver. After 15 years on the job, he had never pulled his weapon.
The car sped away, just as the sirens of police cars could be heard.
Ada ran out of the building when she saw the car speed away. “Tracy! Tracy! Oh my goodness! Are you all right!?!” The older woman tried to catch her breath and speak at the same time.
Tracy and Chelsea climbed down the fence and jumped into each other’s arms. They didn’t let go until their shaking subsided. Ada held them both and pet their backs, offering comfort.
The friends finally stepped away from each other, wiping the tears from their eyes. “Oh my! Tracy you’re bleeding.” Ada announced, pulling the younger woman’s blazer away from her hip, where the material of her slacks was torn and bloodied.
Tracy looked down at her hip and gingerly touched it and winced. Chelsea moved Tracy’s hand away and pulled her slacks down, careful not to hurt her friend. Chelsea grimaced at the discoloration and jagged tears in the delicate skin.
“Geesh, girl, you need to go to the ER and have this looked at.” Chelsea carefully replaced Tracy’s slacks.
“It doesn’t hardly hurt. I don’t wanna go back to the ER.” Tracy pouted. She was exhausted, coming down from an incredible adrenaline high.
“We need to get pictures of that hip for the police and to take to court.” Chelsea stated as she flipped open her cell phone and hit Detective Hardie’s number on her speed dial.
“I’m already on my way. Are you two Ok?” The detective now knew he had been wrong and the Atkins boy was innocent.
“I am, but Tracy’s hurt. I don’t think it is too bad, but I want to get her to the ER.”
“I’m driving up now. Give me a minute. I want to take some pictures of the scene and Mrs. Chandler’s injuries.”
* * *
“Good Lord, but this has been an embarrassing day!” Tracy complained as she carefully slipped into the scrubs her nurse provided. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d let a man take pictures of my bare hip.”
“But, you did foresee a handsome man painting your hip with brown stuff and poking it with a needle and thread? Wow, you must be psychic.” Chelsea was relieved when her friend gave her an exasperated look.
“Thank you. I try.” Chelsea chuckled. “Let’s get you home.”
“Not yet. If I hurry, I can make my therapy appointment.” Tracy looked at her watch. “Her office is on the third floor.”
“Are you sure? You’ve been through a lot today.” Chelsea inquired with concern.
“Exactly why I need to make that appointment. The sessions are really helping me cope.” Tracy started to shuffle to the door.
Chelsea just shook her head and walked toward the cafeteria. “Meet me in the cafeteria when you’re through.”
Every bone in Chelsea’s body hurt and her hands stung where the nurse cleaned the tiny cuts from the chain link fence. “I need some Advil . . . with a Coor’s chaser.”
* * *
The women lay on Chelsea’s queen size bed and watched an old movie on the TV. Tracy had taken the pain pill the ER doctor prescribed, not so much for the injury to her hip, which stung more than anything, but for the pain in her arm from the tetanus shot the nurse gave her.
“Don’t you think, now that the police know they are looking for a red Z4 with a severely damaged front end, they’ll have a better chance of catching the killer?” Tracy asked.
“I hope so. All he did was repaint your wife’s car and switch the license plates.” Chelsea stated.
“I know. It was surreal to see my wife’s car coming at me with deadly intent.” Tracy felt an overpowering exhaustion. “I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.”
“Sweet dreams.” Chelsea said without thinking.
Tracy stopped and shook her head. “Not likely.”
Chelsea heard the shuffling of bare feet on hard wood floors and looked up into her client’s blood-shot eyes.
“Morning, sunshine.” Chelsea teased.
“Coffee. I need coffee.” Tracy headed for the steaming brew with her disheveled hair poking out in various directions.
“If you don’t mind me saying, you look like something the cat dragged in..”
“I feel like something the cat coughed up. Every bone in my body aches.” Tracy poured herself a cup of caffeine and gently slumped into the chair across the kitchen table from Chelsea, who was watching her with amusement.
“How’s the hip?” Chelsea asked.
“Stiff and colorful. I never thought I’d have stitches in that particular area of my anatomy.” Tracy said as she ran her hands through her dark hair to get it off of her face.
“Ouch!” Tracy held her hand out and assessed the mild swelling and discoloration.
“Let me see.” Chelsea walked around the table to look at the offending appendage. “You must have sprained it when you climbed up the fence. I have an ace bandage. Why don’t you wear it today and ice that. If it’s still swollen tomorrow, we might need to bring you back to the ER for X-rays.”
“It’ll be Ok. It’s just a little sore. That’s all.” Tracy begged off.
“Better safe than sorry. You never know if there is a broken bone, or you may have torn something.” Chelsea said as she slipped the ace wrap over Tracy’s hand, then retrieved a cold pack from the freezer. “Here. Keep this on for fifteen minutes or so, then keep repeating that every hour.”
Tracy looked at her friend with genuine affection. “Thanks. It’s nice to have someone take care of me. . .”
They were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
“Hello.” Chelsea said.
“Hi. It’s James Hardie.”
“Morning, Jimmie. Any news?”
“It shouldn’t be long now. I just left the M.E.’s office. I showed him the pictures I took of the scene last night and of Mrs. Chandler’s injuries. He said he’d have the fingerprint analysis and comparison for me before noon today. He has a soft spot for ladies in distress.” James smiled.
“That’s great. We’ll sit tight until we hear from you. I’ve got a cop outside 24/7, and the new security system. Charlie and I should be able to keep Tracy safe until you can get a warrant out on Morales and get him into custody.”
“I’ve got my men looking in every body shop and boat repair business in the county. If he is still in the Destin area, we’ll find him. When that warrant gets issued we’ll nab the bastard.”
“Thanks Jimmie. I’ll wait to hear from you. Be careful. He’s getting sloppy. I don’t think he cares what happens to himself. That was a huge chance he took last night.” Chelsea warned.
“I’m afraid you’re right. So, keep on your toes. Ok?”
“You bet. You too.” Chelsea hung up the phone with the hope that Tracy’s ordeal may soon be over.
Tracy had been listening intently to Chelsea’s side of the conversation. “Soon?”
Chelsea smiled. “Soon. We just have to sit tight and try not to have a nervous breakdown in the meantime.”
“Easier said than done. I think I’m going to take a pain pill, crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.” Tracy got up and shuffled toward her bedroom.
“Well, I guess I’m gonna work on my other case files. What an exciting day. . .” Chelsea sighed and poured herself another cup of coffee.
* * *
The groggy brunette woke to a disco beat from the 70’s as Donna Summer sang of how hard she worked for the money. Tracy straightened her sleep shirt and stumbled out into the living room where she gazed in wonder at the little blonde dynamo waxing the hardwood floors while dancing to the CD blasting over the stereo. Tracy couldn’t help but break into song. Grabbing the dust rag off Chelsea’s shoulder she danced and dusted to the music.
The women finished all the housework, both pleasantly sweaty and tired, having forgotten for a while about the horrors of the last many weeks.
“I would love a pizza with the works and a giant glass of iced tea. I don’t suppose anyone delivers way out here, huh?” Tracy inquired, hopefully.
“That sucks!” Tracy stuck out her lower lip.
“Yep.” Chelsea grinned at her friend’s atypical behavior.
“You wanna drive into town to Italian Pie? My treat?” Tracy offered.
“We’re not suppose to leave here without police protection.” Chelsea stated.
“Ok. So, I’ll buy Officer Danny a pizza, too. I bet if we got all cleaned up and smelling pretty we could tempt him.” Tracy batted her long dark eyelashes.
Chelsea laughed and shook her head. “I’m game.”
Tracy put a long arm around a sweaty shoulder. “Nope. You’re gamey. . . .. Whew!” She fanned an elegant hand under her nose.
“Why . . . , you. . . .” Chelsea chased her tall friend through the house, stopping only when the bathroom door slammed in her face.
* * *
“Oh, my sainted aunt, I am stuffed!” Tracy exclaimed as she undid the top button of her jeans.
“I can’t breathe.” Chelsea undid the top button on her jeans, too. “Oh yeah. . . That’s better.”
Danny chuckled and drawled. “I’ve never seen two such lovely women eat like total oinkers in my entire life. Where did y’all put that pizza? I’m supposed to be protecting you two. How would it look on my record if I let y’all blow up all over this nice establishment?”
“You did pretty well yourself.” Chelsea grinned.
“That’s different. It’s a man thing.” Danny puffed out his chest. “Time to go ladies. Charlie will be expecting us to be home when he shows up to relieve me. I don’t want him calling out the cavalry because we spent too much time chowing down at the pizza parlor. That too could cause embarrassment.”
“By all means. We wouldn’t want to tarnish that perfect record of yours.” Chelsea played along as Tracy giggled.
* * *
“See ya later, buddy.” Danny said as he waved goodbye.
Charlie went to his truck and took out his rod and reel in hopes of getting some fishing in between patrolling the property.
* * *
The women sat next to each other in front of the TV, eyes glazed over, too full to move more than their fingers across the remote control. However, they both jumped when the phone rang.
“Hello.” Chelsea answered with her heart thudding in her ears.
“It’s Morales?” Chelsea asked.
“Yep. We got a match. The warrant is being issued as we speak. We’ll get him, Chelsea. You guys just sit tight. I’ll contact you the moment we pick him up.”
“Thanks, Jimmie. Thank you so so, so much. Did you fax the info to the DA’s office?”
“It’s done. In a few days Ms. Tracy will officially be a free woman.” Detective Hardie felt a slight sting behind his eyes. He hadn’t realized the emotional investment he had in this case. “I’ll be in touch.”
“I look forward to it.” Chelsea let out a sigh of relief.
Tracy looked up at her lawyer with hope filled eyes. “Well?”
“It is Jose’ Morales. A warrant is being issued and Detective Hardie will call as soon as they apprehend him.”
“Yes!!!” Tracy jumped up and down with tears of joy and relief running down her face.
Chelsea hugged her client back. “We still have to be careful until they pick him up, but the charges against you will definitely be dropped.”
Tracy wiped at her tears. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.” The tears began anew.
Chelsea began to cry in empathy. “Just be happy and live your life, OK?”
“OK.” Tracy hugged the little blonde again. “I’m so excited. Let’s pop open a bottle of wine and celebrate. Do we have any wine?”
“You betcha. You get the glasses and I’ll get the booze. Woohoo!!! I can’t wait to tell Charlie.”
* * *
“Chels, is everything all right?” Charlie asked.
“Better than all right, my friend. Jimmie just called and they got a match on the fingerprints.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”
“Jose’ Morales. They’ve issued a warrant and the charges against Tracy should be officially dropped in a few days.” Chelsea beamed.
“That is great news! This was one hell of a case, eh boss!?!”
“You can say that again, . . . but don’t. Come on up to the house and celebrate with us. I’ve opened a bottle of my best Ripple. Just your brand.”
Charlie laughed at his boss’s antics, “We still have to be on our guard ’til they pick up the bastard.”
“Come on. We can’t celebrate without you.” Chelsea insisted.
“OK . . . , maybe just one quick drink. Then it’s back to patrol for me.”
“Great. Bye.” Chelsea put down her hand set and toasted her client’s good fortune.
* * *
Chelsea awoke to a pounding at her door which matched the pounding in her head. “Oh, crap! I drank too much.” She staggered to the door, holding her aching head. “Who is it?” She rasped.
“It’s me, Danny.”
Chelsea let in the officer.
“Jeez, what happened to you?” Danny asked as he observed the red rimmed eyes and disheveled appearance.
“Too much celebrating last night. I need to brush my teeth.” Chelsea stated as she turned around and headed for the bathroom with Danny following close behind. She pushed him out of the door. “And pee. Excuse me.”
Danny found himself alone in the hallway. He went to the kitchen to make coffee for his miserable friend.
“Oh, that smells wonderful. You hear the news?” Chelsea asked.
“Yep. Jimmie called to gloat. He said he still wants y’all to have police protection until he gets the guy. So, here I am but, where’s Charlie? I checked his truck, but he ain’t around. You know he has to stop leaving his keys in there. Anyone could just drive off with it.”
“Like some industrious raccoon? Anyway, He’s either fishing or sleeping it off down by the pier.” Chelsea sipped at her hot coffee and sat at the kitchen table.
“I’ll go find him. Don’t forget to turn on your radio.” Danny instructed as he took his coffee cup and headed out to relieve Charlie.
Chelsea glanced over to the charger the two way radio was set in and noticed the green light was lit, signifying that it was in good working order.
* * *
“Why did you let me drink so much!?! You’re suppose to be my friend.”
Chelsea startled, nearly spilling her coffee in her lap. “Shit! Tracy, you scared me.”
“I need drugs, strong drugs.” The disheveled woman hobbled over to her purse and pulled out a bottle of pain pills and took two, then poured herself a cup of coffee, dumping four packets of sugar in the inky brew. “I hope this works. Ali used to always put tons of sugar in her coffee to help a hangover.” Chelsea held out her cup and Tracy dumped an equal amount of sugar in hers.
The two women sat in silence for a few minutes as their pain began to fade.
“I need a hot shower and a Brillo pad to scrape my tongue. I’ll see you in a few.” Tracy said before disappearing down the hall.
Chelsea passed the time before she too could bathe by watching the pictures from the security cameras that were set up at the corners of the little house. She used the remote control to point one in the direction of the pier, looking for her friends. She could see movement but the distance made it difficult too impossible to make out anything other than fuzzy forms. “I really should have placed a camera out there. Anyone could get here by boat and we wouldn’t know it. That was stupid of me.” Just then she heard a garbled noise come from her radio. She picked it up and pressed the talk button. “This is Chelsea. Come back.”
“Call “911”. Charlie’s hurt! We need help down here.” Danny demanded as he spoke into the radio while he tried to fish his large friend from the water.
“What happened?” Chelsea asked.
“Charlie’s in the water. I can’t get him out alone.”
“Shit! I’ll get help.” Chelsea’s heart beat fast and hard in her chest. She grabbed the phone and dialed 911, then put on her shorts and a t-shirt as she explained the situation to the operator.
“What’s wrong?” Tracy had heard the noise through the bathroom door.
“I don’t know. Danny said Charlie’s in the water. I called 911. I’m going out to help.”
“I’m coming too.” Tracy said as she fought to get her clothes on over her wet body.
“No! Stay here. Lock the doors. Watch the security cameras. If you see anything suspicious call Jimmie, number 9 on the speed dial.” Chelsea instructed as she opened her dresser drawer and pulled out a .38 revolver, loaded it and shoved it into a damp hand. “If you need to. . . , use it. Just point and pull the trigger. Now, stay here!”
Chelsea ran to her purse and retrieved a .22 caliber automatic from its depths, then was gone.
“Oh, God!” Tracy exclaimed and ran to the kitchen to see the familiar image on the screen disappear into the distance. She set the gun on the kitchen table and looked at it as if it was a snake. “Lord, please let him be all right.” Tracy prayed and tried not to cry.
* * *
“What the Hell happened?” Chelsea yelled as she helped Danny fish Charlie out of the water. .
“I don’t know. I found him floating in the water on that paddle. . . Come on, Charlie. Give us a hand, buddy.” Danny grunted as he crab-crawled back up the ladder and onto the pier.
Chelsea placed her friends bleeding head on her lap. “Come on, Charlie, talk to me.” She rubbed his face as Danny briskly chaffed his arms to warm him up.
Charlie moaned and blinked his eyes open. They were unfocused. “Damn!” The big man gasped and reached up to touch the large knot on the back of his head.
“What happened?” Chelsea demanded.
“I don’t know. . . I’m gonna hurl.” Charlie turned on his side and vomited up wine and sea water.
Danny removed his shirt and ripped off the sleeve, then tied it around Charlie’s head to slow the bleeding.
* * *
Tracy heard noises from under the house. She called Danny on the radio. “Danny? Chelsea? You there?”
“Tracy, we have Charlie and are heading back to the house. Over.” Danny responded.
“I hear strange noises from under the house. What should I do?” Tracy was getting scared.
“Call Jimmie. I’m on my way.” Danny made sure Charlie wasn’t going to fall over, then let go and ran toward the house.
Chelsea struggled but was able to help Charlie keep his balance.
“POP, POP, POP” The sound of gunfire rang through the air.
“Shit! Charlie, I’m gonna sit you under this oak. Keep your back against the tree. Don’t move.” Chelsea drew her gun, released the safety, and ran from tree to tree toward the house.
“Danny! Where are you!?!” Chelsea called out. She listened to the stillness. The quiet was ominous and it unnerved her. “Damn!” She knew her main priority was to protect Tracy, so she decided to make a run for the front porch. She was no further then 8 feet from the protection of the great oak when bullets started firing her way from underneath the house.
* * *
Tracy heard the loud pops and searched the security cameras to see Chelsea set Charlie underneath a tree and pull her weapon. “Oh, my God!” The tall woman took up the revolver and ran onto the porch to see her friend lifted into the air. It was like slow motion as the small blonde’s body twirled in space and landed flat on her face in the grass. “NOOOOOO!!!” Tracy screamed and desperately sought out a way to save her friends. She saw that Charlie’s truck was close enough to the porch for her to make a run for it. Without hesitation she ran to it and jumped in. She prayed he had left his keys on the seat, as was his habit, and was not disappointed. She started the engine, put it in gear and drove in between the shooter and Chelsea’s prone body. Tracy held on to the gun, slid out of the truck and ran to Chelsea’s side. “Come on. We gotta get outta here.” Chelsea moaned in agony as she tried to stand, but could not.
“Hold on to me.” Tracy half lifted – half dragged Chelsea to the truck. She struggled to lift the wounded woman into the seat as gunfire rang out again. They both ducked down and rolled underneath the vehicle.
Sirens could be heard in the distance. The women felt a rush of relief until they saw a man crawl out from under the house and start walking toward them. They knew running was no longer an option. The sound of bullets hitting nearby had them both staring in terror as wood from the oak tree Charlie sat under splintered about his body.
“He’s gonna kill Charlie!” Chelsea screamed, just before she saw Tracy stand and pull the man’s attention toward herself.
“Over here, you son of a bitch!” Tracy held the revolver pointed in the general direction of her tormentor. He gave her a maniacal grin, but she shot first, then ducked back under the truck. She hid behind a tire while firing periodically to keep her nemesis at bay until she heard the squad cars pull up.
* * *
Chelsea and Tracy waited, hunkered together, until they got an “all’s clear” from Jimmie.
Tracy rolled out from beneath the truck and yelled for the paramedics to help Chelsea and Charlie. The EMT’s were headed for the man face down in the grass, whose back was covered in blood: but, Jimmie ordered them to care for his friends first.
Tracy slowly approached the still body of Morales. “Did I kill him?” She asked of the police officer who was bent over his body.
“Not unless you shot him in the back, lady.”
“I couldn’t have. I was under the truck . . . over there. She pointed.”
The cop’s eyes searched the area behind the body where the shot must have originated. “Over here! We need help over here!” He yelled to the EMT’s as he ran toward Danny’s body, barely visible in the tall grass beside the house.
“Danny!” Tracy ran toward her security officer and knelt by his side. He was unconscious, but breathing. There was blood all over his pants and his left leg was at an odd angle.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” The EMT directed her out of the way.
She ran back to where Chelsea was being loaded into an ambulance and demanded to ride with her.
“Tracy, you can’t go in there. I’ll get one of my officers to drive you and I’ll catch up when we’ve processed the scene. Come on. She’s in good hands. I’ll have some questions for you, but they can wait until later.”
Tracy nodded and went with the police officer. She thought to retrieve her purse and cell phone so she could call Chelsea’s grandfather and tell him what happened.
* * *
Tracy held on tightly to John Lambert’s larger hand. She kept replaying the scene over in her mind’s eye, wondering if there was anything she could have done to prevent her friends from getting hurt. Tears trickled down her angular face and she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She didn’t know how badly Chelsea was hurt and the not knowing was torture. The feisty little attorney had become an integral part of her life. She was more than her legal advisor, so much more. She remembered the laughter and comfort Chelsea had brought into her life. The memories brought an onslaught of sobs.
“Hey, now. Chelsea will be fine.” The older man hugged her tightly.
“I can’t lose her Uncle John. I can’t.”
John Lambert pulled the dark head on to his shoulder. “My granddaughter is one tough cookie. She’ll make it through this. I have faith in her and you should too.”
Tracy nodded and sniffled.
* * *
A tall, middle aged man entered the waiting area causing Tracy and Mr. Lambert to stand in anticipation. “Is there a Lambert family member here?”
“Right here.” The older man responded.
The doctor walked up to the anxious duo. “I’m Dr. Reynolds.”
“I’m John Lambert, Chelsea’s grandfather and this is Tracy Chandler, my niece. How is my granddaughter?”
“Miss Lambert has lost a considerable amount of blood. She is receiving 4 units of packed red blood cells now in preparation for surgery. The tibia is damaged and surgery is required to reconnect the bone by use of a titanium plate. We will also extract the bone fragments that could cause her problems in the future if not removed. I can’t tell if there will be any permanent nerve damage until I get in there, but I don’t expect to find any.”
“Can we see her?” Tracy asked.
“Yes. For just a moment. She has been medicated for pain and will be going into surgery very shortly.”
“We’ll keep it short, Doctor. Thank you.” John Lambert took Tracy’s arm as the doctor led them to the cubicle where the petite blonde lay, bloodied and confused.
The silver haired gentleman leaned over his grandchild and gently took her hot hand in his. “Sweetheart? Chelsea, dear. It’s Granddad. You’re all right. You’re in the hospital and they are going to take good care of you. Do you understand?”
Chelsea moaned and forced her heavy eyelids open. “Granddad? It hurts.”
Tracy felt renewed tears at that statement.
“I know, Chelsea. But, you’re going to be fine. You were shot in the leg and need surgery to fix it.”
“They can fix me?” Chelsea mumbled.
“Yes. They can fix you up just like new.” The older man rubbed his grandchild’s hand to comfort her.
“What about Tracy? Is she OK?”
“I’m here, Chels. I’m fine.” Tracy piped up, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Is it over? Did we get the bad guy?” Chelsea asked and ran her tongue over parched lips.
“Yeah. We got him. He won’t be bothering anyone ever again.” Tracy reassured her ailing friend.
Chelsea smiled in relief. “That’s good. We did good.” Her eyes fluttered shut as the medication took effect. The nurse escorted the family out of the room.
“Nurse. How long before Ms. Lambert is out of surgery and we can see her?” Tracy asked.
“It’s hard to say, but the surgery should take no more than three or four hours, then an hour in recovery before going to her room. So, plan on about 5 hours before you can visit with the patient. I have to transport Ms. Lambert now. Try not to worry. She’s in good hands.”
“Thank you.” Tracy took her honorary uncle’s hand and they walked to the waiting area in silence.
While they walked side by side John Lambert took a close look at his niece for the first time since arriving at the hospital. “Tracy, I think we should have you examined while we wait. You’re limping and your hand is terribly swollen and bloodied. Come on. Lets get you looked at.”
“I’m OK. Really, it looks much worse than it is.” Tracy lied.
John reached out and gently grasped the hand in question and shook his head when his niece hissed and pulled the offending appendage away from his probing fingers.
“Yes, I see. . . . You are seeing the ER physician, young lady, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.” The older man placed his hand on her shoulder and gently shoved her back into the ER.
* * *
Over an hour had passed and John Lambert read every magazine in the waiting room. Tracy sat pouting in the corner, hugging her aching hand to her chest. The brace really wasn’t all that uncomfortable. It was all the manipulating and X-Ray taking and scrubbing off the dirt and blood that made it hurt like the dickens now. Thank God it was only a sprain and bruises. She was told to ice it and coddle it for the next two weeks. What really hurt were the stitches the Doc replaced in the tender torn skin of her bruised hip.. ‘Damn, that hurt!’ she exclaimed to herself. She had to keep it clean and dry, then come back in a week to have them removed.
Sitting in the waiting room, Tracy hatched a plan. “Uncle John, I’d like to take Chelsea home with me and take care of her until she’s healed up.”
“Well, that’s very kind of you, dear. But, I have room for her and a housekeeper who is like family to Chelsea.”
“I’m sure that is true.” Tracy interrupted. “But, I’d like to take care of her myself. I can hire a nurse to dress her wounds and bathe her. I can work from the condo. Hell, Ms. Ada can fairly run the entire corporation without me. I want to do this Uncle John. She’s done so much for me over these past months. I need to give back some of what she’s given me. . . . Please.” Tracy pleaded.
John Lambert took a good look into his niece’s eyes and couldn’t deny her. He had witnessed the friendship growing between his two favorite girls and suspected their friendship had grown into something deeper and long lasting. It brought a knowing smile to his face.
“All right, Tracy. I’ll loan her to you on one condition.”
“That you let me visit as often as I like.”
Tracy smiled broadly. “Anytime, Uncle John. Anytime at all.”
“Now, I have plans to make, so I’d better get started. I’ll call a cab. Tell Chelsea I’ll see her in the morning. Call me as soon as you know something, OK?” Tracy cautiously bent over and kissed his cheek.
“Of course. I have your cell phone number.”
“Good. Thanks, Uncle John. You don’t know how much this means to me.” Tracy hugged the handsome older man.
* * *
The salesman at the Ford dealership thought she was some kind of nut-case homeless person, judging by her bruised and battered appearance. However, his demeanor changed drastically when she called the bank, which verified that a check for payment in full for the baby-blue T-bird would be hand delivered to the dealership.
Tracy couldn’t help but grin as she delicately slid into her new car and drove away, leaving the salesman in a state of shock.
After making all the arrangements for Chelsea’s care, including daily nursing visits and a wheelchair. The exhausted woman stepped into the shower and washed away the dirt, blood and grime from the horrifying events of the day. After calling to check on Chelsea’s well being and satisfied that she was sleeping comfortably, Tracy crawled into bed and fell into a deep, restful sleep.
* * *
Tracy arrived at the hospital by taxi, having taken two pain pills the doctor ordered for her in order to move her aching body out of bed that morning. She hoped the flowers she ordered had arrived as she gently knocked on the door to Chelsea’s private room, then let herself in. The sight before her made her heart sink in her chest. The petite blonde lay quietly weeping in the dark, holding a pillow tightly to her chest, her leg elevated with what appeared to be screws sticking out of either side of the heavy looking cast. She didn’t seem to hear the door open, or the tall woman approach the bed.
“Hey, Chels, are you alright? Do you need me to get the nurse?”
Chelsea just shook her head and reached for the tiny box of Kleenex on her over-bed table.
“Then, what is it? Why are you crying.” Tracy asked as she pulled one of the two chairs provided in the room up to the bed and reached out to grasp Chelsea’s hand.
“It’s Danny. . . They . . . , They amputated his leg! Oh, God!” Chelsea burst into tears and reached for the comfort of Tracy’s arms.
“Oh, no . . . I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. If he hadn’t been protecting me this would never have happened.” Tears rolled down Tracy’s face as she held tightly to Chelsea.
“It was not your fault! Don’t say that! He was doing his job.” Chelsea held her friend at arms length and looked deep into her eyes trying to emphasize the truth of her statement.
“This is a nightmare. What about his wife and family? How are they suppose to survive now?”
“The police take care of their own.” Chelsea stated and wiped her sodden face.
“I have to do something to help them. If it weren’t for Danny we’d be dead right now. I’ll talk to him when he is up to it. Danny might like the boat business.”
Chelsea smiled. “You’re a good soul, Tracy.”
Tracy blushed and changed the subject. “Now, how about you? What’s all this?” She asked pointing to the contraption that held her friend’s leg captive.
“It’s suppose to be some kind of traction machine. I hear tell my leg will be prisoner for the next few days.” She frowned. “It’s damned uncomfortable!” She squirmed trying to get some pressure off of her backside.
“It looks scarey. Can I do something to make it better.” Tracy gave Chelsea a lascivious grin, then caught herself and felt her ears burn.
Chelsea’s eyebrow went up into her hairline. ‘Is she flirting with me?’
“I mean, can I get you something . . . more pillows?” Tracy tripped over her own tongue.
“No, no. I’m just cranky. My butt’s asleep.” Chelsea watched Tracy get up and pace, back and forth, across her small room.
“What’s wrong?” Chelsea hoped the beautiful brunette wasn’t about to walk out of her life now that the case was over.
Tracy saw the worried look in her friend’s eyes. “Nothing. Really, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to . . . well, I wanted to ask you if . . . umm .. . .”
“I want you to come home with me?”
“WHAT?!?” Chelsea couldn’t have been more shocked.
“While you are recovering.” Tracy pointed to Chelsea’s entrapped leg. “I’ve hired a nurse, rented a wheelchair and all . . . And, I just wanted to make sure it was Ok with you. Is it?”
“Is what Ok with me?” Chelsea wasn’t sure if it was the pain medication or if Tracy just wasn’t making any sense.
“Coming home with me and letting me take care of you while your leg heals. What did you think?”
“I really dunno.” Chelsea’s head was spinning and her heart was pounding at the thought of living under the same roof as Tracy for several more weeks.
“Would you rather go to live with your grandfather?” Tracy asked with trepidation. “I mean, I’ll understand if you’d rather be with your family. But, I really want to have you with me. I mean, I’d like to take care of you if you’ll let me.” Disappointment shadowed the face that had colored Chelsea’s dreams for weeks now.
“I’d rather be with you. If you think you can tolerate me. I’m a terrible patient.”
“But, you’re a great friend.”
“What about your work?”
“I can work out of my condo and just go into the office a few hours a week. I don’t want Ms. Ada to think she can run Chandler Marine on her own, although she can.” Tracy grinned, much more relaxed than she was a few short minutes ago.
“I don’t want to be a burden on you, Tracy. But, if you insist . . .”
“I do. So behave yourself and listen to your doctors. Ok?”
“Ok. You’re the boss.” The two women looked fondly at each other.
“I like the sound of that.”