* Editing notes: Chapter 2 -> confirm Dad’s rules
** Personae dramatis:
– Carleton “Cal” Clarke, lead investigator;
– Marilyn (maternity) and Phil (appendix), investigators on leave;
– Five legal beagles;
– Harrison Matthew James III, founder and senior partner in
– Lila Matthews, James’ assistant
– Haggerty (1950s), McCleod (1960s), other partners
– Maxwell Jennings, father, divorced
– Maria Jennings, mother, divorced
– William Clarke, Cal’s deceased father
– Melanie Jennings, daughter, deceased (car crash) and goddaughter to James
– Michael Jennings, son, missing
– Detective Daniel Moorcroft, detective, Bayport PD
– Jim Peterson, drunk boyfriend in car crash
– Chris “Kit” Markle, patrolwoman, Bayport PD
START CHAPTER 3:
I drove past the entrance to the Uplands neighbourhood. It was an area of high-end homes, high taxes, frequent police patrols, golf courses, and a country club. Somewhere amidst the nicely manicured lawns and three-car garages with roundabout laneways were my grandparents. My mom’s mom and dad. My brother and I had never met them.
When my mother and father got married, my mother walked away from her well-to-do family and settled down with my dad to live on his cop’s salary. She had inherited a huge trust from her grandparents, but she never touched it while my Dad was alive. Her parents had been against the union, some harsh words had been said about my father’s ability to provide for his family, and my mom was done with them. After my father died, she had started using the money from the trust for charities and social causes, but she isn’t in touch with her parents. They reached out to her when my father died, and Mom had James send them a strongly worded letter from the law firm advising them not to contact her again. Fun times.
I was nearing the City Limits and saw the turn for the look-out over to the left. Kit was already here, judging by her cop car being the only one in the parking lot. She has mentioned that her pulling in and parking tends to have a clearing effect on other cars, almost like they’re allergic to police officers.
When people meet Chris Markle on the job, they see a very formal, very severe-sounding Officer Markle. She’s six-feet tall, dirty blonde hair cut short, and usually wears mirrored sunglasses when she’s in uniform. She looks pretty intimidating, and she should. Not only is it part of the job, she’s also a second-degree blackbelt in To-Shin Do Ninjutsu. She’s a real-life Ninja, and she is pretty badass when she needs to be. As I got out of the car, I realized something was very different. Her dirty blonde hair was now a dark auburn.
“Hey Cal, good to see you”. Kit gave me a hug, so today was batting a 1000 for being unusual. Kit is not a hugger.
“Hey yourself. You changed your hair!”. I wasn’t stupid enough to pronounce if it was good or bad before she had a chance to tell me how she felt about it, but I thought it looked awesome.
Kit reached up and ran her fingers through the front of it. “Oh yeah, haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks. I changed it just after I got back from vacation. I felt like shaking things up a bit. Still getting used to it. You like it?”
“I do. So, let’s see…how about Perry Mason and the case of the red-headed ninja?”. Kit and I have a small game we play where we joke about what our life would be if it was an old TV episode. The first time we met, she was babysitting one of my clients in a motel room, and the guy was binge-watching Perry Mason episodes. The guy was going to testify in an upcoming whistle-blowing case and was paranoid someone was out to get him. The DA had wanted him to feel safe, and the guy hired my firm to ensure his deal was ironclad. It didn’t look like he himself had done anything wrong, so the deal was pretty simple, but like I said, he was paranoid. I got sent over because he wanted me to review security arrangements. It felt like a bad TV show, the cop, the lawyer and the whistle-blower in a motel room as a safe house. But it was how I met her so I figured I owed him one.
Kit laughed. “You’re lucky I like you. I know 22 ways to kill you with just my little finger.” She mock-glared at me. I was pretty sure she was exaggerating. Well, 80% sure. “You got the goods, Carleton?” She emphasized my full name as she knows I prefer Cal. Then again, she hates Chris, and for the same reason. We’re both named after historical figures. Me for a British general, her for an American frontiersman. At least hers was just a nickname, officially. Mine is right there on my birth certificate.
I reached in the back and pulled out a picnic basket. I had borrowed it from the office, as I thought it would spruce up the offering, and I saw Kit’s eyes widen in mock horror.
“Whoa, you’re not going all country boy on me, are you Cal? A picnic basket? Really?”. Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, I see. You want something.”
“I do, I do.” I smiled. “I wanted to see you.”
“Oh Lord, you’re trying charm on me. You know I’m immune, right? But if you give me the food, no one has to get hurt. Or maimed. I’m starving.” She grabbed the basket and headed for the bench.
“Okay, we can eat first, but I do have to ask your advice about something. Or rather someone.” I started unpacking the basket, including some cloth napkins and some cutlery. Normally, we end up with paper napkins and just toss the garbage in the bin nearby. I wondered if Kit was right. Was I trying to charm her? And was it just for the case?
We chatted about our vacations, and I noticed that she hadn’t mentioned her boyfriend. Or the guy she had been seeing at least. She never used the word boyfriend. In her words, she didn’t like “labels” defining things. She had taken a week-long trip to Boston in July, and he was supposed to go, but she talked about the whole trip and never mentioned him once.
I’m an investigator, and kind of nosy, so I had to ask. “So, what did Billy Bob think of Boston?” She had made the mistake one time of telling me his name was William Robert, and I’ve called him Billy Bob ever since.
“William thought it was fine.” Kit took another bite of her sandwich and said nothing else, just stared out at the lake.
“Fine? Just fine?”. She may be a ninja, but emotional stealth is not one of her skills.
“Yeah, fine. Hey, did you bring the Ketchup chips?”
“Nice try, Kit.” I turned on the seat and faced more towards her. “Why are you dodging questions about William? What happened?”.
“Why do you think anything happened?” She looked over at me. She sighed. “You know I hate it when you Sherlock me. Dammit.”
That was her frequent nickname for me, Sherlock, although I rarely felt like I earned the moniker. I was more of a plodder type. I waited. It almost always works.
“Fine, you want to know what happened?” She turned and opened her eyes as wide as she could. “You’re the mind-reader, you tell me. Look into my eyes.”
“You really want me to try?” I asked quietly. “You might not like my guesses.”
“I’m ready, fire away. I can take it.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll play. I know in June you were pretty happy after your first few dates with him. Almost bubbly.”
Kit glared at me. “I am NEVER bubbly.”
“Shhh. Don’t interrupt.” I thought for a moment. “Which means you were probably looking forward to taking him to Boston. A place you love.” Kit had gone to school there and went back several times a year.
“You’re stalling, Cal. Where are the big guns?”
“You don’t like to put labels on things, but taking him to Boston also seemed to make you nervous. Before you left, we were talking about the choices we had made in life. You even questioned if the badge had been the right choice for you. Moving to Bayport even.” I was remembering the intensity of our last conversation.
Kit looked out over the lake but didn’t say anything.
In for a penny, in for a pound. “So you took the man you were interested in, to a place you love, and you were in a headspace where you were questioning whether you had made the right choices in your life. Including the fact that you’re 33, feeling a bit unsettled in Bayport, and your parents have been hinting that they want grandkids before they are too old to enjoy them.”
I paused as Kit’s mouth tightened. “Keep going.”
She looked at me. Her face was fixed in her cop look. “Keep going.”
I looked down. “So the trip to Boston wasn’t just a trip. It was a test to see if there was a future with him. You had reached the 3-month mark in your relationship, I recall you saying in June, and as much as you hate labels, you wanted to know where it was going.”
She rolled her shoulders and took a breath. “And the answer to that question was…?”
“I’m guessing from the way you’re reacting to what I’m saying that it was not what you hoped for. I’m sorry, Kit.”
“Damn, you’re spooky at times, you know that? Remind me to hide my other secrets from you a little better.” She grinned a little. “Relax, Cal. I’m fine. And confession time. It wasn’t so much that I was really hoping for something, just more that I was open to the idea, which is a first for me in a long time. I blame you, you know.”
“Me? What did I do?” I was confused.
“You and I had that really long conversation in June. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t had a deep conversation like that with anyone in, like, forever. Probably one of the top ten conversations I have ever had in my life, by the way, so I hope it meant something to you too. Which you’re right, it put me in the headspace of thinking about William, and where it was going, and where my whole life is going. You got that part right. I had a plan, you know? Three years on patrol, take the Sargent’s exam, two years to the detective’s exam. Then maybe back to Boston. They’re low on female detectives, so I might be able to get in as a priority hire. I hate that term, but whatever gets me to the goal. Then I moved to Bayport. Started making friends. Met you. Hell, I’m even best friends with your sister-in-law and playing softball! You were wrong about the second part though. I’m not unsettled in Bayport, just the opposite. I have put down some roots here, and I really like my life! And great friends like you are part of the reason. So I’m questioning the plan. I hate you, you know?”
I laughed. “I apologize for being awesome, it’s a curse. But what happened with William?”
Kit blew out air making a raspberry sound. “It was a crapfest of a trip. He hated everything about Boston. He made fun of their accent, didn’t like the weather, thought their heritage sites were pretentious. Hell, he even made fun of the best clam chowder in the country. Everything I love about Boston, he hated. And I know, Mr. Psych Degree, that it was probably him hating it because he knew I loved it and he wanted me to stay in Bayport, but it just pissed me off. And it’s the first time we have shared a room for a week. He. Is. A. Slob. He left the wet towels on the floor, cereal bowls full of cereal bits in the sink. He hung wet socks on the balcony ledge. Who does that? I mean, really?”. She was grinning by the time she finished her rant, but I suspected it wasn’t as funny the first time. Kit is a bit of a neat freak, and towels on the floor would have been the end of anyone and I could picture her using the songs to strangle him.
“He did survive the week right? There isn’t a missing persons report being filed by his family?” I asked in my most innocent voice.
She laughed. “Yes, he survived. Barely. The funny part is we were almost home, and William…hell, Billy Bob is closer to the truth, was talking about the trip like it had been an enormous success. He honestly said it was one of the best trips he had ever taken, couldn’t wait to go somewhere together again. Maybe a trip down South. I don’t think he had any idea that I was going to break up with him as soon as my suitcase was out of the trunk. Maybe you could teach him some of your psychic deduction skills.”
“They don’t work on my own relationships, just other people’s. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Kit.”
“Are you? Cal, are you sorry?” Kit had stood up and was looking at me very intently.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be? You deserve to be happy. I’m sorry William wasn’t it, if that was what you wanted. But I’m not sorry if it means you’re likely to stay in Bayport.”
“I wonder…” Kit paused and then started to pack up the basket. She gave her head a little shake and then said, “I wonder what you want advice on, now that we have dissected my pathetic attempts at a lovelife.”
“I hardly think it qualifies as pathetic. At least you have something resembling a lovelife. Or haven’t you heard the latest refrain of Deborah?” Kit was friends with my sister-in-law, and one of Deborah’s frequent topics of conversation is what she calls my perpetual singlehood.
She is constantly suggesting people to set me up with, and I had finally negotiated a treaty with her. She could set me up on 2 dates per year. I would go out with the women, give it a go, and then give her a full debrief afterwards so she could critique my performance. She feels she is entitled to this as she dated me before she married my brother.
It’s an exaggeration. We went on one date, which was a double date with her roommate and my brother. The roommate got falling-down drunk, something my brother would never accept in a dating partner, but Al ended up finessing the roommate swap. It wasn’t as hard or complicated as the Seinfeld episode, he just asked her out to a movie while they were listening to the roommate throw up in the back of his car. I had bowed out to head back to the office as I was articling then.
Deborah and Al are deliriously happy, apparently, so she thinks she’s an expert on dating. I will not admit it to anyone, not even Kit, but her picks for me have not been terrible. No giant sparks, but I did get a couple of good friends out of the dates. And the rest of the year, she doesn’t hound me with questions. Fortunately, the only other person who might ask is my mother, and she is happy being a grandmother to Al and Deborah’s three kids. I’m 35, single, with no immediate prospects, but Deborah hasn’t given up on me yet. She notes that I’ve had three serious relationships in my dating life, so I am not, as she puts it, “undateable”.
“Oh right, I forgot. Your six-month anniversary is coming up, isn’t it?”. Kit was laughing, which was a welcome change from her intensity about Billy Bob.
“Yes,” I sighed. “The last date she set me up with was back in March, so she’s got a hunting permit for September. I suspect she has someone in mind already.”
“Anyone you know?”
“Not usually”, I said. “That’s her approach anyway. Someone she thinks that I might click with who I haven’t met yet nor would likely meet. A total out-of-the-box pick to shake things up, so to speak. I would guess, maybe a social worker, as she did that conference of social workers back in May? I figure I either go out with her picks, or I have to do something dramatic, like dye my hair red.”
“Maybe she’ll surprise you this time.” Kit had a slight smirk on her face like she knew something, but if I pushed, she’d tell me nothing. Certain secrets I couldn’t Sherlock out of anyone. Kit reached over and tugged on the front of my hair. “Don’t dye your hair, it looks good as it is.”
“Well, okay then. That’s settled. In the meantime, I have a case. I know you have to run soon,” I quickly looked at my watch, “but I’d like to pick your brain for the last ten minutes or so.”
I gave her a quick rundown of the case, which wasn’t much, and when I mentioned needing to see the files, she shook her head.
“Why do you ask me this?”.
“If it’s a problem, I don’t have to…I just thought…” I stopped as she shook her hands.
“That’s not what I mean. I don’t get you. The Chief of Police is your father’s old partner. And YOUR godfather. If you asked him for it, he would hand it over in a heartbeat. Or your mom could ask him for it, they’ve been friends for 30 years. That’s the biggest hook you could have in the department, and you never use it. What gives?”
I had been wondering if she would get around to asking me that one day. It is a common assumption. And it is not wrong. If I asked Chief Daniels for the file, then Uncle Dave would ask me why I wanted it, and as long as the reason was reasonable, I knew he would share no problem. He would even bend the rules a bit for me, but there was no problem here, he’d share. Which is exactly why I wouldn’t ask. As soon as I started using my hook in the department, nobody would ever trust me again. They would see me as the same as every other wheeler and dealer shyster around town, working some angle, some hook, and they would watch every word they said to me plus anything I got on paper would be heavily sanitized. I told Kit the short version of that reasoning, which seemed to placate her enough.
“Okay,” she said, “Who was the lead detective?”
“Well, fudge. I’m going to be no help to you at all.” She grimaced like she had stepped in something foul. “Detective Cupcake hates me. The feeling’s mutual, but he might be right to hate me a bit.”
“Detective Cupcake? I’ve never heard him called that before. What’s the story?”.
“Moorcroft thinks of himself as some sort of badass. Every year when the Academy does their physical training, he signs up to help the new recruits practice. He likes to throw them around to let them know who’s boss. He’s basically a bully. He also likes to wrestle with the recruit with the best record so everyone seems him defeat their best. And, to be honest, he’s not terrible.” Kit crumpled the last of the packaging from lunch and tossed it in the trashbin.
“For my year, I was at the top of the board. And of course, it said, ‘Chris Markle’ so he was expecting some big guy. When he found it was just some little “girlie”, he started talking all macho about how he would take it easy on me. I’d already seen him warming up with some of the other recruits and instead of doing controlled rolls and throws, he was going out of his way to drop them on their ass. Giving them a taste of the real world, as he puts it. For one of the smaller girls, he made a big production out of wrestling her to the crowd, although it looked more like he was frisking her breasts than wrestling. I got pissed.”
“I kind of lost my temper a bit, so when it was our turn to go, and he said that he was going to take it easy on the little girlie, I grabbed him, swung my hip a little bit aggressively, and put him down, one of the hardest drops I’ve ever done. It’s the fastest takedown I can do, and I totally knocked the wind out of him. I pretended to be all shocked he had fallen so fast, and I said I didn’t realize once a detective spent so much time on a desk that they would become such a cupcake.”
I was laughing hard at this point. “Please tell me someone has video of this. By all that is holy, please.”
“It’s not that funny, Cal. I could have seriously hurt him. I am way better trained than to risk hurting someone like that. When I swung my hip, it’s a move that is designed to take most men to the ground all on its own. It’s like getting kicked in the testicles. And then when I had him in the air, I just let go and let him land on his back. It was stupid. And now he is constantly on the look-out for anything I do wrong. For the first year, he kept pulling my training reports to see where I had screwed up. Fortunately, my training officer found out and put a stop to it. But he has an eye out for me, and if he’s involved in any of my cases, I watch my back. Every time he shows up at a crime scene, and sees me, he immediately makes me tell him everything I have done up until that point, acts like I screwed something up, and makes me do crowd control. It doesn’t help that the rest of the squad heard what I did and started calling him Detective Cupcake. Sure, he’s a complete ass, but nobody needs an extra burden to carry like that. So I won’t be able to help you at all with him. He carries a grudge, and to be frank, I probably deserve it. That’s not how I train, I just lost my temper.”
I smiled at Kit. “I get that it bothers you, but from everything I know about Moorcroft, I’m not going to cry any tears for him. And I don’t necessarily need your help with the files, I was more hoping to find a way in to get them myself. But you know the history with my father. He was his initial training officer, and wrote him up for screwing up one of the crime scenes. Then when he screwed up the Lasky case, my father was the one to report him. The Lasky family sued Moorcroft and my father willingly testified in the civil suit. The Laskys lost, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I have no idea how Moorcroft kept his badge, but he did, just got the demotion, but there’s no love lost between our families. What I need is to find someone or something that Moorcroft wants to help or maybe something he hates even more than us.”
“Oh. That’s an idea.” Kit’s eyes focused on the distance for a moment and she was clearly thinking hard. “Listen for a second. Remember the first part of the Lasky case? The reason Moorcroft went overboard roughing up the guy was he thought he was scamming the insurance company. He hates people trying to game the system that way. If Moorcroft thought he was stopping someone from a false insurance claim, he’d help anyone.”
I had the beginning of a plan. “Hmm…maybe I can make Moorcroft think the Jennings are filing an insurance claim for their missing son. He’ll think it’s false because Moorcroft thinks the kid just ran away, so he’d likely be willing to share the files with the insurance. A little thin though. My boss, Mr. James, had suggested that if Moorcroft thought he was going to get kudos from his bosses for it, that would help too, but the insurance angle might be enough.”
Kit leaned in. “Well, they could go together. The Chief of Police is pushing us to be more responsive to local business after all. But how are you going to get Moorcroft to think he is helping an insurance company?”
I grinned. “Oh, that’s the easy part. He will be.” I just needed to call a friend over at Garrison Fidelity who owed me a favor.
“I probably don’t want to know, do I?” Kit smiled. She looked at her phone, “Okay, got to get back to protecting the richest citizens of Bayport. Thanks for the lunch, Cal.” She gave me another hug. “And thanks for listening. Hope you find Michael.” Then she gave me a fake punch to the shoulder and headed for her squad car.
I repacked the basket in the car and watched her car until it was back on the highway and around the bend. Six feet tall. Spunky. Smart. Now with red hair. Turning into a hugger. And she remembered Michael’s name from the single mention I made at the start of the explanation of what I was working on. I’m a little biased, but I think she’s amazing. Maybe Deborah could set her up with someone that would get to stay permanently in Bayport.
END OF CHAPTER
[Exposition for later: Deborah and Al run an events company, one that I started with him after law school. I had taken a leave of absence and worked with him to get it up and running, and stayed for three years. At the end, the law firm had offered me the position of investigator for them, and since I was a lawyer, they added the research team to my group. Plus I’ve added two investigators since then. The job with Al was fun, but it wasn’t my passion like it was his. So I had come back to Haggerty, McCleod and James, and went from seeing two of my favorite people in life every day to every other weekend for dinner with Mom. We text, talk on the phone occasionally, but it’s not the same.]