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?
"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 are 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.
End of Part 1
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