Copyright 2017 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California
“Wake up, Haley. We’re almost there,” said George. He tapped her on the shoulder. “Wake up, Haley.”
“What? Oh my gosh. We’re here.” She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, licked her finger and dabbed under her eyes. “I’m going to be meeting Aunt Robin for the first time and seeing Eric again. I hope I look presentable.”
“You look fine, this woman will fall in love with you,” said George. “And no smudge in the world is going to keep that guy from loving you. Now, let’s go. The fire chief’s car is on the driveway.”
“I hope Aunt Robin is okay,” whispered Haley.
Haley looked around their surroundings and remembered she had driven down this side street, Lombard, in an escape from Police Officer, James Stetson who had been commanding a Taxi driver to follow them. Stetson persisted in harassing them and she, Jeanne, and Krista nicknamed him The Creep. The front door stood opened. “This isn’t right. Stay behind me, Haley.” George pushed the door open wide. All the lights were on in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. As they approached the bottom of the stairs, Haley heard familiar voices. “Eric? Chief? It’s Haley and George.”
“Come up, and come on in,” Eric said from the first bedroom on the right side of the hall.
Robin had been rubbing her forehead and when she looked up, she said, “Oh my gosh, what a sweet looking and beautiful girl, Eric.” Haley stepped further into the room. “And who’s the giant man behind her?”
“Hello, Aunt Robin,” Haley said as she moved forward with hands outstretched to give Robin a hug. “This is my Aunt Mattie’s special friend, George. We came to see if we could be of help, or perhaps keep you company tonight. Are you okay?”
“Why is everyone asking me if I’m okay? I just got weak in the knees just now. I’m not sick or hurt.”
Everyone in the room looked at each other. “Okay, okay, what’s the conspiracy here?” Robin picked up her bedside clock. “Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s near midnight. Tell me, someone,” she demanded. “Why are you all here so late?”
Just then, heavy footsteps rumbled up the stairs. Detective Fontino, in his beige trench coat and wide banded grey fedora, swung into the doorway. Two of his men, both also wearing hats, split down each direction of the hall checking the other rooms. FBI’s Special Agent Robert Parker appeared next. The fine threads of his vested suit announced his good taste under a darker and more detailed rain resistant coat than Detective Fontino’s. The FBI Agent had dispersed a major portion of his team to work down by the cable car turntable, but two other agents had accompanied him and they stood as stone pillars by his side.
“What’s going on here,” asked Fontino. “Is Robin okay? Anyone hurt?” He paused, looking at each of them. “Who called this meeting of the great sleuths?”
“Well, you haven’t lost your sense of humor,” said Robin. “I’m okay, but everyone here is quite confused.” Robin waved her arm at everyone crammed in her bedroom. “For some reason they all think I’m hurt, sick, or in trouble.” Robin pushed back her silvery blonde hair, folded her arms across her chest, and waited for someone to answer. “Who’s going to talk first?”
“Yeah,” said Fontino. He then pointed to Haley and George. “I can imagine who you are, miss, but who is this man next to you?”
“He’s like a special uncle,” said Haley. She looked at George and saw the twinkle in his eye and a big grin on his face.
“Since we’re making introductions, this man here,” said Fontino as he slapped his hand on Parker’s shoulder, “is FBI’s Special Agent Robert Parker. He’s offered me his assistance and we are going to work non-stop until we capture the Serial Killer.” The group eyed and nodded at Agent Parker with respect.
Chief Mullins interrupted with a loud, “Ahem,” and waved for everyone’s attention. “Detective Fontino, Agent Parker, Eric, George, there’s something you need to see right away. Please follow me downstairs now.”
“What is it, Chief,” said Fontino.
“Please, just follow me. But maybe you’d better leave your two men upstairs with the girls.”
Fontino turned and signaled for his two detectives to stay put.
As the group of men turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, a strong breeze blew through the hallway. “Robin always closes all the windows at dusk. She must have forgotten one,” said Eric. “Is the front door closed now?” he asked one of Agent Parker’s men.
“It’s closed,” said Parker, “and I have two agents posted outside the front door.”
Chief Mullins flipped the switch in Robin’s studio.
“Holy smokes! What’s happened here?” said Fontino. “How did my men miss this?”
“This little home has a lot of rooms,” answered the Chief. “Besides, I think you were all focused on getting to Robin upstairs.”
“It’s like a tornado sucked everything off the shelves,” said Eric.
“This is how I found everything when I came down to check the telephone. Look at this,” said the Chief kneeling down and holding the telephone cord with frayed wires and threads that had wrapped it. “The wire’s been pulled out of the wall.”
The four men looked up when they heard Robin muttering as she pushed them aside. “What are you all gawking at? Move over and let me see.”
“Oh Lord, in Heaven! What’s happened to my room?” Haley held Robin back by the shoulders, but with a great determination Robin shoved the men out of her way. “Oh no. No, no, no.” Robin cried as she bent forward to pick up a book from the floor. Fontino and Eric both put their arms around her and tried to guide her out toward the living room.
“I’m sorry, Robin. Your home is a crime scene now. We can’t touch or move anything in there until a forensics team goes through it.”
Robin shoved away from them. “But I need to see what’s happened,” pleaded Robin. Tears ran down her face. “My drawings…my favorite paints and beautiful brushes, my work…”
Robin sobbed as she picked up the corner of a picture hanging from the easel. “What’s this? I didn’t draw this.”
George, the tallest of all the men there, reached out and held up the torn and flimsy sheet of sketching paper at the corners. He tucked them under the clips on the easel. “I didn’t draw that. Where did this picture come from?” said Robin. She pointed at the page darkened with charcoal.
Everyone in the room stared at the picture. “It looks like a portrait of a merchant marine. See, it’s the knitted cap that makes me think merchant marine,” said Eric.
“Close. But no.” said George. “See the type of jacket he’s wearing? It’s got a short collar and the style speaks to me of a light weight jacket. This is not what merchant marines wear. Take a closer look under the harsh lines slashed across the picture. It looks like someone tried to destroy the picture after it was drawn. See the darker and harder strokes across the face and chest?”
“You got that pegged right, George,” said Fontino.
“Detective Fontino,” said FBI’s Special Agent Parker. “ I know this man. It’s the same person who had dinner with Officer Stetson tonight. I spoke with him as well.”
“Parker,” said Fontino, “are you’re saying that Stetson had dinner with his killer tonight?”
“Wait a minute. Who got killed tonight?” asked Eric.
The Chief nodded his chin at Fontino. “Yeah, what was that you were saying about Stetson?”
Detective Fontino looked around and then back again, hard, at Parker. “Did I hear you say you spoke with this man, this man in the picture? That this man might be Stetson’s killer?”
“Stetson’s dead?” asked Haley. Her voice just above a whisper.
“Where’s my two guys? Martino! Have you checked the whole house?”
“Yes, Boss. All clear. No one else is around but the neighbors across the way are playing peek-a-boo. When I see them looking at us, they pull their curtains shut. A minute later, they’re peeking out again.”
“I suggest we all settle down in the living room,” said Special Agent Parker. “I need some room. We all have a lot to discuss.”
Fontino waved everyone out of the studio. “I’m sorry Robin,” he said softly, “I don’t know what’s happened here but I promise, I’m going to catch whoever did this.”
“Robin, I’ll make you some tea,” said the Chief.
“I’ll help you,” said Haley.
“No, don’t go Haley. Sit by me on the couch, won’t you?” Robin sniffed and rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes.
“Now you’ve smeared some charcoal on your face ,” said Fontino. “How did those dark smudges get on the side of your tunic? You didn’t rub against the picture. I was watching you.”
“I don’t know,” said Robin as she twisted from side to side trying to see the smudges on her clothing. “I haven’t used charcoal to draw for months. I don’t know how… I don’t know how or why anything that has happened, happened.”
George stepped forward. “Aunt Robin, I’ve heard about your beautiful view. Would you feel safe enough to show it to me tonight?”
“With all of you here, yes. But I warn you, George, it won’t be a clear view and it will be very chilly out there. Grab my jacket from the closet, please?”
Eric passed a camel hair jacket to Haley and she helped Robin put it on. “Come this way,” Robin said and she led Haley and George to the patio doors. “George, where is it you live?”
Eric smiled when he saw that his aunt had calmed down. He then asked the others, “Who wants coffee?”
FBI Agent Parker and his men responded with yes nods. Eric saw Fontino gesturing and spewing out instructions to his men in a corner of the foyer but after waving his men off to their assignments, Fontino came toward him and said, “Coffee, black, sounds great. It’s going to be a longer night than I thought.”