THE HAPPY ACRES AFFAIR
Taylor Banks is rookie detective in the Portland Police Bureau. She’s a cultural mix of Caucasian, Latino, African American and American Indian. With her Master’s Degree in Behavior Science, she believes she could run the whole police department: bring it into the 21st Century. Assigned to retiring Captain Jimmy Meriweather, in her first three months she is giving nothing to do, and is pissed. This book series presents the transformation of Taylor Banks, from a lowly police detective, to a powerful woman: a leader on a global scale.
In the painting, Taylor Banks is the modern detective on the left. On the right is White Feather in 1876. You can read about White Feather in Book 8, High Pony.
Not content inside a box
A brink wall shatters
After nearly forty-five years of police work, Captain Jimmy Meriweather was three months shy of retirement.
Sitting on his futon, he looked around his office, remembering how it used to be before he finally turned the mess of banged-up police furnishings into his personal Zen retreat. Gone were his framed diplomas and certificates, the twelve most wanted posters, the beyond repair pressboard shelves stacked with decades of case files–paper references to another era, the classroom sized green chalkboard scribbled with names, clues and guesses, lines leading to Scotch-taped photos of people and places, scribbled names on yellow Post-its–and its companion cork-board, cluttered with push-pinned memos, notes and mostly ignored inter-office such and such that went into the trash at the end of the month.
That was all gone; over thirty years of Jimmy’s police history now rested in peace, in a dark corner of the bureau’s archive basement.
Jimmy smiled and looked at the street and office windows covered with noren curtains. Shakuhachi flute music filled the darkened space, contrasting the world outside his door, the crazy chaos of a metropolitan police bureau in full swing. Relaxed in his serene ambiance, he eyed his shiny black marble-top desk, barren except for a centrally placed eighteen-inch silver reclining Buddha, softly illuminated by the glow of an over-hanging white paper-ball lamp. Behind the front door-facing desk an ancient samurai sword rested on its black lacquer display. The one shelf of the black bookcase held just five books, guarded by two fierce-looking celadon dragons: The Art of War by Lao Tzu; A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi; The Way of Zen by Osho; The Essence of Aikido: Spiritual Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba; and a tattered Many Gods, One Heart by Lama Chogyal Da. Within the covers of these books was just about all Jimmy needed to know, or so he thought.
He looked across the room to a white silk kimono which hung from a horizontal bamboo pole. It was embroidered with a green-eyed red dragon, dominating the right-to-the-entrance-door wall. He then glanced at the white rice paper lamp to his right–painted with the black kanji for honor, and the one to his left, painted with surrender. They sat on shiny black end tables, guarding Jimmy’s favorite resting place, the white futon couch.
It was almost eleven o’clock on a Thursday morning; he had nothing more pressing to do for the rest of the day besides listening to flute music and sipping green jasmine tea. Jimmy had already retired in his mind and, although his body showed up for work everyday, his spirit for police work was long gone. He had proven his worth after decades of exemplary service; so the Chief tolerated his captain’s daylong retreats in seclusion. They had agreed: No new assignments. Period. No new partners or further captain responsibilities. A senior officer had already been promoted to take his place, freeing Jimmy to ride out his time with no questions asked.
But that’s not what happened. The Chief broke his word.
Three months previously, a new crop of rookies had graduated from the Police Academy, and among them was an attractive woman named Taylor Banks. All of the graduates were given street assignments with a senior officer, but not her. She was immediately made a detective, and assigned to partner with the bureau’s second most senior police officer, Captain Jimmy Meriweather.
Present time. Taylor Banks:
The sky was full of ominous gray. A steady downpour of rain bounced off my black umbrella as we walked across the street to Starbucks for our morning coffee. Jimmy braved the one minute of rain with his wide-rimmed oiled leather fedora and a long coat of the same material. He looked a bit like a 19th century black long-rider. I stopped and commanded my partner’s attention, disregarding the water dripping from his brim, “Why is this happening to me, Jimmy?”
He lowered his eyes and half-smiled. “There are no external happenings, Taylor.” He enjoyed answering in cryptic puzzles, my baffled look always eliciting a smug grin. Even in the steady drizzle he stood erect, as if the rain wasn’t falling, his solid chest and almost flat belly in display of exceptionally excellent health for a sixty-four year old man.
I liked Jimmy; respected and admired him, even though my own secret snooping proved he didn’t support my immediate aspirations. I wasn’t supposed to be in his world, one which didn’t require an assistant at all. Apparently, after my academy graduation, a heated discussion with the Chief ended with an agreement: I was assigned to him and he would keep a close eye on me until his retirement. And, as became apparent after my first month, that meant that I was supposed to be a good girl, to sit there and mind my own business. No homicide investigations whatsoever would cross his desk. No work for him meant no work for me. He told me on my first day, that until his retirement I would be given an occasional missing person assignment, under his supervision.
For the past three months I’ve been given four or five simple cases to solve; that’s it. The last one, only a few days ago, wasn’t a case at all. I pretty much watched as the FBI chief, Tim Hawkins, threaten to arrest Jimmy’s friend Lucky Two Crows. The agent was a douchebag. It was probably a good thing Jimmy held me back. I was ready to punch the agents lights out. He had it coming. It was a good thing I got to tag along, but it wasn’t homicide; something I could sink my teeth into. This is why I complain.
I can’t imagine a grown woman needing a babysitter. The idea of a man keeping an eye on me, Taylor Banks, is ridiculous. I’m a high wired and strong willed woman, more than anxious to get down and dirty with police work. Jimmy agrees with me about my detective potential. “One day you’ll make a fine detective,” he has often said to me between his zen breaths.
But what about today? I graduated near the top of my police academy class and come from a high profile family. My father is the commanding general of the Oregon National Guard, for Christ’s sake. I have good genes.
Jimmy made some sort of deal with the Chief. A political payback? I don’t know. But teaching his new detective assistant anything what-so-ever was obviously not part of the deal. And that sucked.
My only recourse has been to constantly bug Jimmy to reassign me to homicide. He always patiently listens. They say that talk is cheap. Listening can be cheap too, if that’s all you do. I keep playing my Master’s degree in Behavioral Science card. I learned a few things in graduate school about the psychology of criminals. I read at least forty Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels, many Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie, all Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector books, Lee Child and so on. Plus more CSI TV shows then anyone alive. I could figure the shit out of whatever murder case they would put me on. The more serial the better. I am ready.
Since I’m a mongrel, a mix of every race known to man, but mostly a blend of brown, black and white skin, and maybe some alien thrown in for good measure, I consider myself a minority, genetically tanned, and a woman to boot. A woman for sure. Jimmy was the first and only African-American to receive the rank of senior captain in the history of the Portland Police Bureau. I thought he would understand my female and ethnic discrimination pleas. He wasn’t retired yet, the number two guy in the police bureau, he still has the power to put me wherever he wanted, so why not Taylor Banks in homicide? I tried all my manipulating men tricks on him, but he’s not the kind of man who falls for that nonsense, so shit!
The trouble with Jimmy is we come from different schools of logic. My logic is more along the lines of shoot first and ask questions later: not really but you know what I mean. He advises patience, and tells me that rookie placements in homicide are rare, although he admits I wouldn’t be the first. Thought I don’t think he buys into the persisting bureau rumors, that I’m under-qualified, arrogant and presumptuous; suited for a street beat and nothing else, he tells me the street actually is the best place to begin. Since he has nothing to do with the gossip or other negative office chatter, I try to understand.
Although I insist, he disagrees that I was born to be a detective and ready for murder. To him, nobody should be ready for murder, or the least bit interested in it. Most honestly, he admitted that he has no desire to become attached to me, or anyone in the bureau for that matter. It’s time to let go, not add to, he says. He wants his days until retirement to pass quickly, without any new obligations. I’m an unfortunate obligation, that won’t last long: three more months. He plans on retiring with a clean slate.
I’m aware as a rookie, my father keeps telling me, that I’m in no position to be complaining at all. Never-the-less, because Jimmy listens but won’t listen, I have whined about my plight to every lieutenant and desk sergeant in the Bureau: my vain attempt to find a way to be transferred to homicide. Unfortunately, my maneuverings have only created more resentment. The blah-blah is that I’m a privileged detective, being mentored by the Captain, because my Army general father is buddies with Portland’s mayor. They call me a spoiled Army brat, whatever that means. These rumors have exaggerated the facts, and although Jimmy has no interest in them, the facts or the rumors, they continue to disturb his Zen nature.
“Come on, Jimmy, you know what I’m talking about.” I paused as he studied my strong facial features, considered by men as equally handsome and beautiful. I think that means that I’m beautiful, but could get real manly, real fast, and knock the shit out of you. Something like that. I’m hardened in a way that would take more than a few hours on the couch to analyze, or so I’ve been told. “It’s been weeks since that kid took off in his father’s Porsche. I spend my days sitting outside your office staring into space. What am I supposed to do? I’ve done my office socializing. I pretty much proved the point that nobody around here likes me, but I don’t care. Bunch of idiots.” As we walked into Starbucks, I continued, “I swear Jimmy, one more game of computer solitaire and I’ll go postal.”
“A bit dramatic. Postal after only three months?” He took off his wet fedora and brushed the rain off his shoulders as we took our place in line. “Practice patience. Have I told you today that it’s not very long till I retire?”
“You sound like a broken record. It’s not right, Jimmy. Another three months of this will drive me crazy. Make that two venti vanilla lattes,” I said to the girl behind the counter. ‘Your treat today, Jimmy.”
He nodded, handing the gal a ten dollar bill. “You’re young, Taylor. You have a long career ahead of you. Relax.” He smiled at the counter girl. “Keep the change.” The bill was over ten dollars, so he asked to borrow a couple dollars.
“I can’t relax, Jimmy,” I said as I handed her the money. “You know I’ve always wanted to be a detective and solve murders. How can you tell me to relax when the streets are filled with low-life drug dealers, rapists and scum-bag murderers?”
“We choose our reality, Banks,” he said as we waited for our order. “The myriad of things in life are only as real as you want each one to be. I’ve come to realize that homicide is all about people being who they aren’t. People playing out their nightmares, choosing a self-destructive reality.”
“Playing out nightmares? They didn’t teach us that in criminal psychology 101.”
“You need to understand Taylor, it’s their nightmare, their bad choice, not mine. And you’ll figure out, not yours either. I no longer wish to participate in this way of being. I’m not interested in being attached to that frequency . . .”
“What frequency?” I was confused by his vocabulary.
“The frequency of polarity. Perpetrator and victim. Good and bad, right and wrong. I’ve moved on. Homicide is a bad dream, and I’m done with it. I’m ready to rake my Zen garden, feed my koi fish, teach a few local kids how to make a balanced choice, contemplate my navel. Eat sushi. Maybe I’ll write my memoirs. Something simple. Jimmy’s Haiku’s I’ll call it.” He paused to make up a haiku. Nothing came. “Do you hear what I’m saying?”
“Taylor. Two venti vanilla lattes,” the barista called out, even though we were standing right in front of her.
“No, I don’t,” I pleaded as I put the lid on my latte. “I’m not you. You’re like this old walrus dude lying on the beach, and I’m the sexy beach bunny ready to go surfing. How about this haiku? Old walrus dude lying. Sexy beach bunny running. Get me some damn work.”
“That’s not a haiku.”
“Do you get what I just said? There’s a big difference between your three hundred years on the force and my three months. I’ve had what, four or five missing-person cases since I’ve been here? If you remember, I figured all of them out right away. I’m that good. Seriously. I knew that kid didn’t run away. The mother was all upset like her baby got abducted by aliens, dematerialized the hundred thousand dollar Porsche and all. I figured the kid took his daddy’s car to impress the girl, went to his old man’s hunting lodge to get laid. Exactly what his dad used it for. Why do you think the old man bought the car in the first place? As if his country club wife didn’t know about the bimbos, the hunting lodge and fuck all. I’m sure the kid scored. Good for him. It took me five minutes to figure that one out. What about good for me? Come on, Jimmy. I know the Chief gave you orders to hold me back, but you have to give me something worth coming to work for, worth my level of intelligence. I need to be out there earning my stripes.”
“Have you considered going into law, or using your master’s degree to actually help normal people?”
“What? Fuck being normal. I’m here because I need excitement. I need to get down and dirty, and solve murder mysteries. I want to live a life filled with passion.”
“I’m not exciting enough for you?”
“What the hell? Sitting around all day with a wannabe Zen master . . . is not my idea of excitement, or passion. Much less down and dirty. All I’ve done is contemplate your office door. Nothing but a brick wall. Woo-pee!”
“Hmmm,” Jimmy thought as put on his fedora and opened the door for me to walk through. “Her passion, chaotic desire, a brick wall. Give me a minute. There’s a haiku coming.”
Back in Jimmy’s office, I sat at one end of his futon and continued, “Come on Jimmy, there’s gotta be something, someway, somehow; another option for me. What about hooking me up with another partner?”
“We’ve been over this, Taylor . . ,” he said as he poured the paper cup of coffee into a big mug, and took a sip.
“I don’t care who it is,” I interrupted. “Except Carlson. He’s a pervert.” I moved closer to get full eye contact. “What do you want, Jimmy?” It was a rhetorical question, which I didn’t hesitate to answer. “I know want you want. You want to be left alone. You want to spend your days meditating. You want to feed your fish and dream about sushi. You want to write your book of haiku. Maybe you want to run off with a geisha. I don’t care what you do, Jimmy. Do whatever floats your sampan. I’m all for it. You have three months, then you’re out of here. That’s great. But that’s no reason to penalize me. I don’t know why you don’t understand. I’m here to work. While you’re trying to haiku up chaotic desire with a brick wall, I’m sitting here wasting my talents. You need to get me out of your hair, so both of us can do our thing. Get the picture?” There was a long pause as I took a big swig of my latte.
“You are a piece of work, Banks.” Jimmy smiled. “OK. I get the picture. Maybe I do have something for you to do.” He pulled his Apple laptop from the side table and turned it on. “Got an email from the Chief this morning.” He paused, “It’s kinda, well, hang in there with me. It’s another missing persons case. I know it’s not what you want, but . . .” He jotted something down on his notepad. “. . . somebody has to go check it out.”
“It better be good. I’m going to scream if it’s another boy and Porsche alien abduction case. Wouldn’t it be great if I found the missing body, and nailed the creep who put the bullet in her head?” Jimmy closed his eyes and almost imperceptibly shook his head. I calmed down, continuing, “At least it’ll be something to do and not another round of computer solitaire. What is it?”
“Four dementia patients are missing from a gated facility.”
“You heard me, Banks.” He looked up, only with his eyes, as he sipped his latte.
“You’ve got to be shitting me! You can’t be serious. Hunt down four half-wits? Is this some sort of sick joke?”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to do it,” Jimmy calmly answered, “Go back to your computer games. I won’t bother you again. I’ll send Carlson.”
“No, no, no,” I objected, seeing the set up, adding my own, “I’ll go, but you gotta come with me. I’m still a rookie you know. Can’t possibly do any real detective police work all on my own, you know what I mean?”
“All right,” Jimmy grinned, and then made up another haiku. “‘He removed all pretense. Inside his mind. Emptiness’ . . . Let’s see what you can do.”
“You got it, boss. Just watch how fast I figure this one out, and after this you gotta get the Chief to let me in on a real homicide. That has to be the next thing that happens.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Give me an hour. Then bring the car around. I’ll meet you out front.”
As I walked to the office door, I heard him say, “In passion, chaotic desire. A brink wall shatters.”
Jimmy Meriweather – Portland Police Captain
At night in love they sighed
I brought the unmarked police sedan around, and waited patiently in front of Starbucks, which was directly across the street from the Bureau.
I thought about Jimmy’s many eccentricities, all of which he refused to alter. Coffee was one of them. So was what I call ‘the stare.’ Instead of someone in his position commanding your obedience or telling you to fuck off, Jimmy would stare the person down in silence. If he had to speak, he would choose a response for the best dramatic effect. Instead of police wisdom from their retiring Captain, they got what sounded like the nonsense of a Zen Buddhist, or whatever Jimmy had become. They, including me, couldn’t understand his haiku’s or cryptic allegories. Though I thought it unfair and had nothing to do with his quietude, the joke around the office was, if anyone were to go postal, it would be Jimmy Meriweather. He scoffed at the implications, fully aware of the confusion his simple Zen words evoked.
Every morning, Monday through Friday, Jimmy arrived at work a little before nine, ignored just about everyone there, and went into his office. He came out five minutes later, and rescued me from another game of computer solitaire. We’d head to Starbucks, nurse our coffee for an hour, and returned to the bureau around ten. He would close the door, then reappeared promptly at noon, and leave the office.
I’ve followed him several times, since I’m a detective after-all with nothing better to do. Jimmy liked a tiny sushi bar a block away. Twice I saw him there with the long-haired Indian I finally met, Lucky Two Crows. He was handsome enough to make me curious, since I had a thing for big, well built, men.
Jimmy always returned to work promptly at one. That gave him time for meditation, or whatever the hell he did for three hours, until he left for the day, at four. Since he’d been at the Police Bureau forever, a forty-five year veteran, a dinosaur, an icon who wouldn’t be there much longer, everyone, including me, wanted to hear the stories he didn’t want to tell.
Jimmy happily spent his office time alone in quiet solitude, only interrupted by my frequent uninvited visits. I’d sit at his spotlessly clean dest, and he’d ignore me, lost as he was in meditation. When he opened his eye, he’d look at me, then off into some sort of hole in space for several uncomfortable-to-me minutes, then recite a made-up haiku. “She enters unannounced. The black widow in heat.” Or some such thing.
I patiently waited for Jimmy to emerge, wondering what was taking him so long. The door finally opened, and of all people, the Indian dude, Lucky Two Crows, plopped in the passengers seat and said, “I’m ready if you are. Let’s go.”
“What the fuck?” is all I could say, as I sat there wondering what the hell was going on.
He said hello and I said hello back, with no emotion.
“Would you like me to drive? he asked, like I would seriously let him drive a police car. I didn’t answer as I pulled out into the lane. He spoke again, “Do you know were we’re going?’ Since I ignored that too, he remained silent during our drive to Troutdale.
You’d think a good looking man would want to get to know a good looking woman while alone together for twenty minutes, but he apparently had no interest. It couldn’t have anything to do with my ‘what the fuck?’ and ignoring his initial questions. Could it? As I wove through traffic, I wanted to say, “OK, let’s hear it. Why are you here and not Jimmy?” but I remained silent. Maybe my pride was hurt. Jimmy should have come. It seemed like an insult sending a private detective on a Portland Police Bureau investigation.
I liked how he faced that bastard FBI idiot, the first time we met. I think I even defended him, though I don’t remember us actually speaking to one another. I waited for him to say something. Maybe he was waiting for me to talk about this case. I actually didn’t know anything, so what was there to talk about. A man is supposed to make the first move, right? I was missing Jimmy. At least he’d let me talk, even if he’s respond with a grunt. I would have loved to listen to him grunting during that twenty minute drive, instead of playing ‘who’s going to be the first one to speak’ with an Indian.
We arrived at Happy Acres sometime before eleven. The building and surroundings were quite impressive. Dominating the park-like setting was a huge red-brick mansion from another century, not the last one. I pushed the button at the gate and waited patiently as it slowly cranked right to left. I continued on in, and parked in handicapped, since I was the police.
I turned off the motor and glanced over at Lucky. He winked. All I knew was that four old folks were missing. That’s it. I wondered if he knew more then me about this case. Apparently not. He got out of the car and stood there, surveying the grounds. “Looks like a city park,” he finally spoke. He bent down and looked back through his still opened window. “You go on ahead. I’ll walk around. See if our four missing old folks are playing hacky-sack in the back yard. Jimmy said it’s probably nothing. That’s why he sent me . . . as if I have nothing better to do.” He walked away from the window.
“Probably,” I answered. So that was it. Jimmy didn’t want to waste his time on a dumb missing persons case, so he sent his friend to keep me company. Some company. I wondered what the guy was thinking telling me to go ahead. I had no idea what ‘you go ahead’ meant. Go ahead where? “Jimmy must have told you something he didn’t tell me,” I half yelled back, since he was no longer near the window. “He said they’re missing, so that probably means they’re not here. Who should I be talking to? Do you think someone murdered them?” I needed to say something to get the guys attention.
“Murder? That would be something. My bet is on the hacky sack,” he answered as he stuck his head back in the window. “Mildred Rice. Runs the place. That’s the only name Jimmy gave me. I’m sure she’s in there somewhere.”
“Thanks. You’re just full of helpful information, aren’t you? You’re coming in with me, right?”
“Later. It’s your case. I’m just here to . . . Jimmy said something about babysitting.” He winked again. “Go for it.”
“Ugh.” This was going to be interesting, I thought as he walked away. I took a moment to check myself out in the rearview mirror. I freshened my lipstick and ran a brush through my thick hair, and then stepped out of the car. I checked my reflection in the window. As always, I was impeccably dressed, today in a tailored gray suit over a salmon colored silk blouse. Although my daily clothing statement of selective alternating had failed to impress anyone at the bureau, I really didn’t give a shit. My parents, especially my father, had taught me the value of a good immediate impression; always being well groomed, wearing fine clothing, and such. My mother set a high standard as a clothes whore. She loved shopping at Nordstrom’s, stored it all in a closet as big as a normal bedroom, and though I would never admit it to her, Nordstrom’s is where I bought most of my clothes, though not more then an apartment closet’s worth.
He winked at me. What the hell? Is that flirting? Flirting with the grown woman he’s babysitting. How crazy is that? No, it’s not flirting. It’s condescending. The asshole.
I could see why these two men were friends. They weren’t close in age, but they held themselves the same way, like they were totally aware like a panther or a hawk; ready to fight or run. I don’t know much about aura’s, nothing actually, but the Indian had the same ‘don’t fuck with me’ aura as Jimmy, which made me feel self conscious.
That’s why I didn’t start bitching when he got in my police car. His babysitting remark was like one of Jimmy’s cryptic or clever sarcastic responses. Or maybe he was sharing a joke with me. Men are so fucking confusing. It’s probably exactly what Jimmy told him to do. Babysit me. Shit. He did shoot some Russian with an arrow and who knows what else. I image he knows how to scalp someone.
The Happy Acres mansion was set back at least fifty yards from the road we drove in on. Neatly trimmed hedges, flowering shrubs, and lines of shading maples, gave the grounds a well-groomed look. The entire front area was eerily quiet; there wasn’t a soul around.
I walked up the four, twenty foot wide front steps, onto the veranda. Two eight foot high doors were propped open, allowing free entrance into the twenty by twenty foot empty foyer. The hundred-something-year-old interior was antiseptically clean and, except for a large vase of flowers, yellow lilies centered on a large antique credenza, it was devoid of life. There was no one to greet me, or a sign indicating the whereabouts of the office of the director. Strange.
I contemplated a small brass bell on the credenza, The Virgin Mary? and finally decided to ring it. Within seconds, the first door down the hall opened and a late-sixty-something wiry matron, dressed primly in forgettable dull gray cotton, stepped out and waved me forward. “Come here, dear. You must be from the police department.”
I followed her into a stuffy 19th century office. I felt like a chicken who had wandered into the fox’s den. This is creepy, my spleen whispered. Smells. What’s that odor? Old lady stink? How do I start this? Guess I wing it. Maybe they’re safely back in their rooms and I can get the hell out of here. “Good morning, ma’am. I was told some of your old folk are missing. They sent me to investigate.”
“Tell me your name, dear. You don’t have to be nervous.” She reached out to shake my hand.
“Taylor Banks, detective, Portland Police Bureau. I’m not nervous.” I didn’t feel like shaking her hand, but did so anyway. Clammy.
“I’m Mildred Rice. You may call me Mildred. Thank you for coming. Would you like something? Coffee? Tea? The kitchen may still have some left-over morning scones.”
“Nice of you, but that’s not why I’m here. What can you tell me about these missing people?”
“You sure I can’t get you something? Not ever a cup of coffee?”
“I’m not here to be entertained. Your job is to tell me why I’m here.”
”Because of the missing guests, of course. We’ve never had guests go missing before, you know.”
“I don’t know. When did you last see them?”
“Oh, they were all here last night, playing bridge,” Mildred responded as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “Please, have a seat, dear.”
“No thanks.” I wondered if this goofy Mildred woman really was the Director, or if she was one of the nut house ‘guests?’ I probably should ask for a photo ID and her diploma. What’s the protocol here? Lucky, where are you? What would he know? Last night? “Last night?” I finally asked with surprise, raising my finely penciled eyebrows. Why did she call the police so soon? “So, let me get this straight . . .” I glanced at my watch, It’s still morning, and did the math. Isn’t there a twenty-four hour rule? “They’ve been missing for a little more than twelve hours, and you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find them?”
Mildred nodded. “They didn’t show up for breakfast this morning. We checked their rooms, and the beds were still made.”
“And you thought that was enough to call the police?”
Without making a sound, Lucky slipped into the office. Both Mildred and I watched as he sniffed the air, looking for the source of the odor. He then moved around the room. He checked out the knickknacks, badly framed photos, the rosewood shelves filled with romance and mystery novels. Opening a frayed Agatha Christie, he spoke to the book, “Are you sure they aren’t hiding somewhere?”
“I’m sorry, Mister . . ? What was your question?” Mildred asked, instantly annoyed by the intruder.
“I said, are you sure they aren’t hiding somewhere?” Lucky asked again in an affected detective monotone. I caught the mischievous look in his eyes. He picked up an incense holder, “Patchouli?” Then a framed photo of a younger Mildred, at the beach with a group of woman. He continued, now speaking to me, “Sorry. This is your case, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s a sizable forest in the back. You should check it out. I’ll bet there’s some tipi’s hidden in the back woods.” He looked up at the ornately paneled ceiling. “This is one huge building, a grand old mansion. Do you know this used to be tribal land? They built this place over burial grounds. No doubt. Bad mojo. Can you feel it?” He asked her, “Is there an attic above the second floor? Secret rooms for you know what?” He paused time, then looked directly at her, “You know that Animals song, ‘Oh mother, tell your children, not to do what I have done. Spend your lives in sin and misery, in the House of the Rising Sun?’”
Mildred didn’t know what to think. “Secret rooms? What are you talking about? What does anything you just said have to do with anything?”
“Nothing.” He shrugged. “I like that song. This is the House of the Rising Son, isn’t it?”
“This is Happy Acres, young nan, and we have an attic as a matter of fact. So what? Nothing’s secret. Why?”
“Two men and two women?”
“Yes, two men and two women are missing,” Mildred answered, looking at me as if I could rescue her. This sort of detective work was unique, like Jimmy with his haiku’s, messing with person’s mind.
His eyes shifted to the ceiling. “You’re old enough to know this Sinatra song.” To my disbelief the Indian started singing, ‘There’s an oh, such a hungry burning inside of me, and its torment won’t be through till you let me spend life makin’ love to you. Day and night, night and day.’ Then he altered the lyrics, Night and day, why is it so that this longin’ for murder follows wherever I go ? In the roarin’ traffic’s boom, in the silence of my lonely room, I think of murder day and night. Day and night, night and day.”
“What are you talking about, young man?”
“Singing about. I was singing. Maybe they snuck off to the tipi’s. In my tradition that’s what the old folks did when they didn’t want the tribe to hear their orgasmic screaming. You know the kind of screaming I’m talking about, don’t you, Martha?”
“My name’s not . . .”
“I was in Montana, when was it, last week? I was there solving a murder mystery, which someone just like you committed, by the way. One of the Martha’s won five hundred dollars playing bingo. You look like the bingo type. You knew what I was singing about, didn’t you? That hunger for murder?”
“Are you mad?”
He paused to consider, then continued, “You’re right, Martha, White folks like you would be doing it in the attic. Doors closed. Polite moans. You know, old fuckers doing the hanky-panky. A handful of Viagra, a bowl of petroleum jelly, and ride ‘em cowboy. Day and night, night and day”
“What on earth are you implying?” Mildred responded in shock, as if she couldn’t even imagine such a thing. “My name is Mildred and I don’t play bingo!”
“Implying? Do you knit booties for your five poodles? I bet they’re adorable.” He looked at me. “What about you detective? Do you like to hanky-panky?” He looked back at Mildred and whispered, “We’re on a blind date,” then to me, “You probably like it under the moonlight, ‘Under the hide of me. There’s an oh, such a hungry burning inside of me, and its torment won’t be through till you let me spend life makin’ love to you. Day and night, night and day.’”
I almost laughed, but held back, while taking in Mildred’s fuming reaction to his nonsense. His unconventional approach and open display of music, sex and bullshit, surprised me. It was the most fun I’d had in months.
“What does it say there?” He typed something in his iPhone quickly and then winked at me. “These numbers, will you read them?” He pointed to the numbers and handed it to me. I wondered what he was up to. Above the numbers it said ‘Jimmy told me to have fun and make you laugh. How am I doing?’
“Seventy-six, seventy-eight, seventy-eight, eighty,” I read while shaking my head.
“Yes. All around eighty years old.” Lucky gave her a long look. “I’m sure you can relate. They’re probably all tuckered out somewhere, or dead from exhaustion. That’s the way I’ve always wanted to go. You know, a screaming orgasm, then plop. Dead!” Lucky chuckled to himself.
Mildred’s mouth was wide open. One palm on a cheek. My palm disguised my grin as he leaned over the desk, and looking her square in the eyes, he calmly said, “I hope you have respirators in the attic.” Pausing, he added, “Condoms?”
He then changed his tone, speaking in a most serious way, “Did you slit their throats, Martha? That’s what I would have done. Slit their throats, and then scalp them. Maybe the other way around. Feed their naked bodies to the wolves. Hmmm. There’s probably no wolves here at the funny farm. I think you chopped them up, pushed their parts through the meat grinder, and feed them to your people for breakfast this morning. How would these elderly nut cases know? Put in the right spices. Yum. Tell me, where did you bury their hearts? Wounded Knee?”
“What! Slit their throats! Eat them! Bury their hearts at Wounded Knee? Isn’t that a book?” Mildred huffed with indignation. “Are you out of your mind? You’re disgusting! You’re totally out of line, young man.”
“No, I’m not.” Lucky stood up and leaned over her desk. “This is a gated community. There are only three possible explanations. Number one, at this very moment they are somewhere within this compound, dead or alive. Number two, they’re not here, and you may or may not know where they went. Number three, you’re just making shit up and wasting our time. One way or the other, you have some explaining to do. I suggest you tell this lovely detective the truth. Have a good day.” Lucky left the office.
“I have never!” Mildred sputtered as he slipped out of sight. “That man was intentionally provoking me, tormenting me with his gruesome images. I will have nightmares for a week. I deserve an apology,” she gushed like a poor acting drama queen. A fox had entered her coop and I doubted she wanted to appear to be the chicken.
“He was just being a detective. A good one, I might add.” I chuckled inside, having just witnessed an artist at work, something I would have never expect from the Indian. I have to learn how to be a fox. I’m so damn serious. I need to bullshit more. “So, are you hiding them somewhere?”
“No! You can’t be serious. That man was all wrong!” She said with affected innocence.
“I’m not convinced he is.” I maintained a professional composure and, with focused intent, leaned down with my hands on the desk, revealing the leather of my police shoulder harness, which caught Mildred’s eye. “Where are they?” Yes, a bit more foxy.
“I don’t know,” Mildred stuttered. “They’re not here.” She then composed herself, like a bad actress in a cheap telenuevo. “You know, Taylor. I can call you Taylor, can’t I?” She waited for my response which didn’t come, and then offered, “Can’t we discuss this in a civil manner?”
“Civil in like you lie and I accept it?”
She sighed and took a deep breath.“Why would I ever lie to you, dear? That man accused me of murder for no reason. He was abusive, don’t you think?” I shook my head No as she continued, “Well he was. I called the police to reported some patients missing, and suddenly that man accuses me of hacking them up, and eating them? My goodness. Terrible don’t you think? Can you imagine? Why would he say such a thing.? I mean really.” She paused, looking for the compassion I didn’t have. “You’re a very competent woman, I can tell. A good detective.” She gave me the full body scan, which gave me the creeps. “I like your blouse. Salmon is it? I like salmon.”
“Maybe I’m not a good detective. How would you know one way or another? Leave my clothes out of it,” I retorted, as I stood.
“My, aren’t we sensitive. It’s too bad you brought your fowl mouthed Indian Tonto along. What was his name? Running Bear? He didn’t win any points with me, that’s for sure.”
“Nobody’s keeping score,” I informed her. “If he was black would you call him Jefferson? You’re racial profiling, you know?”
“He called me Martha.”
“Martha, Mildred. Both names fit you. It’s not racial.”
“Insulting still. Men.” She paused, I guess wanting me to agree that men disgusting, or whatever. When I didn’t respond, so she continued, “I like women detectives better.” She waited for my never-going-to-come positive response, like ‘wow so I do,’ then continued, “Le Femme Nikita, Nancy Drew, Jessica Fletcher, Nikki Heat, Stephanie Plum, Cagney and Lacey, Veronica Mars. Women detectives are far superior to men in handling investigations, don’t you agree.” She looked perplexed by my continued blankness, then pushed on for some sort of reaction. “You have to agree that women have a better feel for crime then men.”
I stared at her, backed away from the desk, and sat back down. That was pretty much the same thing I said about myself to Jimmy, but there was no way in hell I was going to agree with this woman about anything. “I know some of those names,” I finally answered, though I knew them all. “Tell you what, why don’t we cut the bullshit, and I’ll ask the exact same question my colleague asked. Where are they?” When she didn’t answer I thought about it for a second. “You know, his profound flowery exaggerations aside, he didn’t insult you. He asked a legitimate question, which you answered with a lie. I know you lied, since I’m a woman detective. A good one. A better feel. You still haven’t answered the where are they question. I’ll ask you again in plain English. Are they somewhere on this property?”
“I don’t know.”
“I want to know. Is this investigation bullshit? I don’t know is not an answer. If you’re wasting my time with your bullshit, stop it. Just the facts, ma’am.”
“That’s what he said.”
“Lucky didn’t say that. Who are you talking about?” Is this woman for real?
“Sergeant Joe Friday. You know, Dragnet? I love murder mysteries.”
“Is that so?”
“He said that, too!” she answered in a most excited way. “Do you watch Dragnet?”
“Dragnet? What’s Dragnet? Listen lady . . .”
“Mildred. Do you think he called me Martha just to fluster me?”
I quick thought about this conversation, then realized she was trying to over-power me, like Lucky over-powered her. Don’t lose your power. Own the investigation, Taylor. Cuss more. “I don’t know if the word fluster applies. Maybe bingo’d your bullshit. Listen lady, I don’t give a damn about Joe Friday or Nancy Drew, or your list of other fictional characters. I don’t care if they’re male, female, gay, trans or a fucking elephant in an iron lung solving a murder. Do you understand? I don’t give a flying fuck what you read. What you watch on TV. Who you eat, or anything else you do with your spinster life. It’s none of my fucking business. Get it?” She stared blankly at me, as I continued, “People are allegedly missing and it’s my job to find them. That’s all. Just answer the damn questions so I can go back to playing solitaire in peace.” Tagging hacked up old bodies would be a lot more fun then wasting my time with this obnoxious woman.
“I play solitaire too.”
Brother. I figured the old bitty wasn’t going to give me a straight answer, so I stood and turned to the door, ready to join Lucky in the car, if he wasn’t out back looking for tipi’s.
“All these mystery books and TV shows help us to be better detectives, you know,” Mildred continued. She was like the dog who wouldn’t let go of the bone. “Its good to know how Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler would have solved the murder.”
I turned, not sure why I was humoring her with a response, “If this were a murder case, and I’m sure it isn’t, it would still be none of your business.” Philip Marlowe would have slapped the broad, I thought. “You’re not the detective, Mrs. Rice, I am,” I obviously exhaled. “So I’ll ask you one more time. Where do you think they are?”
“I said I have no idea. Are you sure you don’t want a cup of coffee?”
I took a second to unconsciously rub the mascara off my eyelashes, then reached into my pants pocket. “Here’s my card. Leave a message if they show up. I’ll be back in the office Monday morning. If they’re still missing, we’ll expand the search. We’ll find them one way or the other.” Without saying goodbye, I turned and left the office.
Pausing on the veranda, I studied Lucky, who was sitting on the hood of my police car. He had said what he needed to say to Mrs. Rice and left the room. Did he expect me to get more out of her, or did he see her as a lost cause? Even though I had begged for a new partner, I didn’t think he would be so brash, an Indian detective who wasn’t even on the police force.