.

Beating On The Border
A Jack Brady Thriller

by Robert W. Tinsley


......"Crushed right orbit; depressed fracture of right zygoma."

......"What the hell is a zygoma?" I asked. I was sitting in the office of Ray Sanchez, one of El Paso's more inventive criminal lawyers.

...... Ray's client -- and, by extension, Brady Investigations, and therefore mine -- Hank Marcinko had been arrested for the beating murder of Carolyn Regal. We were going over the autopsy report and the crime scene photos.

...... Hank Marcinko was big, but from my conversation with him, I couldn't believe him capable of beating a woman to death.

...... "The zygoma, Jack, my large friend, is what you laymen call the cheekbone."

...... Ray calling me large constituted a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I weigh a good 280 pounds and stand 6 feet, 4 inches in my socks. Despite retiring from the SEALs and turning fifty-two, I've done my best to keep up PT. Ray is close to my height, but thirty pounds heavier, not as well distributed. "Don't get all superior on me, you old fraud. You only know what it means because you're looking at the diagram on the ME's report."

...... The crime scene photos were ugly. Especially compared to the photo we had of Regal while she was still alive: Long blonde hair, blue eyes, full lips and a figure that she didn't mind showing off. She wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, but she was close.

...... The beating had been brutal. It had taken place in a mechanical room at Providence Memorial Hospital on North Oregon, not far from the University. There was a lot of blood. What had been an attractive, shapely woman was now a misshapen, discolored parody of a human body.

...... "Which of the injuries finally killed her?" I asked.

...... Ray leaned back in his chair and propped a pair of size 14 black ostrich-skin cowboy boots on the edge of his mahogany desk. He rested the file folder on his ample belly and said, "According to the ME, so far the proximate cause of death could have been the epidural hematoma beneath the depressed fracture of the left temporal bone, the stroke which resulted from the blunt trauma to the left side of the neck directly over the carotid artery, asphyxiation from the swelling of tissue around the trachea caused by same, or the bruised lungs she got from him kicking her. Take your pick ­ this is just the preliminary report."

...... "Had she had sex recently?" I asked.

...... Ray opened the folder and peered at it through the bottom of his bifocals. "No semen was found, but there was evidence of the prostate protein, P30. Conclusion: she had sexual intercourse between twenty-four and forty-eight hours before her death. No way to determine DNA or blood type."

...... "So, let's summarize, just so I know what's what." I started reading from the police report:

...... "Carolyn Regal, Caucasian female, 26 years old, employed by the accounting department of Providence Memorial Hospital, died of a beating on the afternoon of October 14. She left for lunch, but didn't come back to work that day. When she hadn't shown up by 10:00 AM the following day, her supervisor called her at home, but no one answered the phone.

...... "One of her co-workers mentioned having seen her car in the parking lot. Her supervisor then called hospital security, who called the police and started a search of the hospital and grounds.

...... "Her body was found in a mechanical room at the top of a flight of stairs near a roof access hatch."

...... Ray took up the narrative. "Within twenty-four hours of finding the body, the police arrested Hank Marcinko, a hospital maintenance man. Hank is the recently-ex boyfriend of the victim. The police found a message from him on the victim's voice mail asking her to meet him at lunch on the day of her death. He says she never showed up. Witnesses report a loud argument between the two on the previous day. And his alibi sucks."

...... I looked at the file in front of me. "He was sitting in an arroyo watching a roadrunner catch lizards?" There was a large arroyo behind the hospital separating the hospital grounds from the University of Texas at El Paso campus. Birds are always active through that area -- roadrunners, shrikes, the occasional scrub jay.

...... Ray shrugged. "When Carolyn stood him up, he decided he needed to unwind. He said he's known this particular roadrunner for a couple of years. The roadrunner was the only one who saw him, and it's not talking."

...... "Hank is a large, strong man," I said. "That gives the cops motive, means, and opportunity."

...... Ray waved a ham-sized hand in the air. "Don't depress me with facts. I've set up interviews with Regal's co-workers. There are three on the list: Abbey Bow, Tom MacLean, and Richard Chariton. You can get the schedule from Marlene as you leave. Meanwhile, I've got some real work to do. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

****

...... When I stepped outside, the December sun shone down through a cloudless sky onto the crowded parking lot. It was getting close to Christmas, and I couldn't help thinking how vacant my house was going to be this year. My daughter Tina would be spending the holiday with her in-laws in Albuquerque, and Kathleen, my secretary -- er, assistant and sometimes PI-in-training, was in San Diego with her family.

...... Oh, well. Moping wasn't going to get my client out of jail, so I climbed into my five year old Explorer and headed out of the parking lot.

...... Ray's office occupies one corner of the fourth floor of a building next to Bassett Center, an aging mall just off I-10, just about halfway between the eastern and western city limits. To get to Providence Hospital I had to drive to the other side of the mountain. Today I didn't feel like fighting the I-10 traffic, so I took Scenic Drive.

...... Scenic Drive is a two-lane road about the width of a donkey track that winds around the southern face of Mount Franklin about 500 feet above the Rio Grande Valley floor. I enjoyed the narrow, twisty street and the scenic overlook. It was my favorite spot to think about things.

****

The accounting supervisor, Mrs. Hailey, set aside a conference room where I could conduct the interviews. It's amazing that even with carpet, wood paneling, and plush chairs, a hospital is still a hospital. The smell never changes.

...... The first person on the list, Mrs. Abbey Bow, turned out to be the office gossip. She was about a foot shorter than I and maybe a little older. Her face was round with numerous laugh lines, framed by short brown hair streaked liberally with gray. Her weight hovered in that border region between pleasingly plump and overweight.

...... "I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, you know, but that Carolyn was a wild one."

...... "How do you mean?" I asked.

...... "Oh, she would go out with just about anybody at least once. She was out gallivanting around most nights, even weeknights. And that tattoo!"

...... The autopsy report mentioned a tattoo of a red poppy on Carolyn's left breast, centered on her nipple. "How did you find out about the tattoo?"

...... "Well, you know the hospital provides its employees with free use of an exercise room in the basement. They had an article on it in the hospital newsletter once, said it cuts down on sick days. Anyway, I go down on rainy days to use the treadmill, and one day Carolyn was there at the same time. I saw it as she was changing clothes. It must have hurt something fierce! That young woman had no modesty in her. Walking around in the buff seemed as natural to her as breathing."

...... "So she went out with men other than Hank Marcinko?"

...... "Oh, my, yes! And he didn't like that one bit, I tell you."

...... "What do you mean?"

...... "He'd call her during the day and they'd have the most awful arguments. Not that I was eavesdropping, mind you, but I do sit in the cubicle next to hers. You can't help overhearing, you know. And sometimes they'd go out to lunch, and she'd come back looking like she'd been dragged through a knothole backwards. I'd ask her what was the matter, and she'd just shrug and say she'd spent the whole lunch hour fighting with Hank."

...... "Did you ever see any signs of physical violence?"

...... "Oh, heavens, no," said Mrs. Bow. "Hank has a bad temper, but I've never known him to hit anyone. Besides, the hospital has a very strict policy about workplace violence. He could have been fired!"

...... "Were you with anyone during lunch on the day Carolyn was killed?" I asked.

...... "Why, yes. Nora Hailey, the supervisor, and I had lunch together that day. I remember because we were discussing how much Carolyn's work had improved over the last six months. Job evaluations coming up, you know. When we found out what had happened I thought how odd it was that we were talking about her while she was, well, you know..." Mrs. Bow looked down at her hands.

...... "Did Carolyn date anyone else here at the hospital?"

...... Mrs. Bow started to laugh, but changed her mind in honor of the situation. "It would almost be easier to list the men she didn't date. If it was male, she'd eventually make a pass, if only to keep in practice."

...... "So, she has 'dated' men in this office?"

...... "Well," said Mrs. Bow, "she and Tommy MacLean certainly had a fling about six months ago."

...... I put a check mark against Mr. MacLean's name. "How long did that last?"

...... "About as long as any of her little affairs last, around a month."

...... "How did Mr. MacLean feel about the breakup?"

...... Mrs. Bow leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. "He was very upset when he found out."

...... "What do you mean?"

...... "Carolyn had been seeing someone else almost every night for over a week before poor Tommy found out. He and Carolyn had quite a yelling match after work one day. Tommy was in a funk for quite a long time."

...... "What about Mr. Chariton? Did he and Carolyn ever see each other outside the office?"

...... Mrs. Bow considered for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't think so."

...... "Why not?"

...... "I really can't see Mr. Chariton doing something so impulsive, even though he did come in for his share of attention from Carolyn."

...... "How do you mean," I asked.

...... "Carolyn was a great tease. She would choose someone and stand very close to them, put her hand on their arm or shoulder, she was a toucher, look deeply into their eyes, you know the sort of thing. And her clothes. She always dressed well, just on the ragged edge of being too revealing for appropriate business dress. She was never shy about giving men a little peek at hidden treasures, if you know what I mean."

...... "And Mr. Chariton never responded to this?" Was this guy some kind of saint?

...... "Well, I don't think he ever went out with her, if that's what you mean. He's a little too married for that."

...... "Oh?"

...... "Mrs. Chariton is a very strong-willed woman. I don't know her very well, but she seems to keep Richard on a pretty tight leash. I've seen the signs."

...... "Signs?" I asked.

...... "Phone conversations, mostly. You see, he sits in the cubicle opposite me and, as I said, it's hard not to hear at least one side of every phone conversation. His wife calls him three or four times a day. He never says more than 'Yes, Dear,' 'No Dear,' 'Whatever you want, Dear.' He and I have worked together almost ten years, and now that I think about it, it's not just the phone conversations. I only see him and his wife together at hospital social functions, Christmas parties, that sort of thing. Now Mr. Chariton isn't the most forthcoming of men at the best of times, sort of a wallflower. But when he is with Mrs. Chariton the poor man seems to fade away like a ghost." She leaned forward and dropped her voice a little.

...... "Did Carolyn have any other breakups that left hard feelings?"

...... Mrs. Bow waved a hand dismissively. "Too many to count. That was something she never understood."

...... "What was that?"

...... "Why men were so possessive of her. She was a free spirit, taking the pleasure of the moment. She couldn't conceive of limiting herself to one man, but the men who wanted her, wanted her exclusively. She just couldn't understand that."

...... I put down my pen. "You seem to have known Carolyn pretty well."

...... Mrs. Bow smiled a sad smile. "Dearie, when I was young, I was Carolyn."

...... I tried not to show any reaction, but I think I failed.

...... "Don't look so surprised. I wasn't always a grandmother. You and I are of a certain age. You remember what it was like. The Sixties, hippies, free love, drugs, sex and rock and roll..."

...... "You changed," I said.

...... "No, I just grew up, found God and a good man." She paused and took a deep breath. "I expected that Carolyn would too, one day." There was a catch in her voice. "She just didn't get the chance." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

...... I thanked Mrs. Bow for her time and sat alone in the conference room for a few minutes. Carolyn Regal, free spirit. As a contemporary of Mrs. Bow's, I knew exactly what she meant. Before genital herpes and AIDS, it was "Live for the moment and let the future take care of itself." Outside that cultural context, Carolyn's actions seemed the kind that led all too often to a violent end. I wondered if Carolyn Regal was consciously irresponsible or blissfully unaware of the consequences of her actions.

...... I sighed and got back on track. Reasonable doubt. That would be Ray's strategy with the evidence we had now. The police had nothing but circumstantial evidence against Marcinko. If Ray could show a history of bad breakups, he could plant the idea that any number of men could have killed her. Of course, to do that, he'd have to drag her memory through the mud and then tack it to the barn door for everyone to gawk at.

...... That didn't make me very happy. Mrs. Bow had liked Carolyn, and that meant something. It meant that Carolyn Regal wasn't cruel or malicious, just immature. Being immature is no reason for being beaten to death and it's no reason to have your memory sullied.

...... I guess I was going to have to find out who killed Carolyn. That presented something of a dilemma in that Ray hadn't hired me to find out who killed her, just to help him convince a jury that our client didn't. Though, I guess you could look at it as an extension of the job I was hired for. Going the extra mile, giving 110%, that sort of thing. I never was critical enough about my self-justifications.

...... It looked at this point like my next best suspect for the murder was Tommy MacLean. I'd have to take a good, close look at him. But first, I'd get Chariton out of the way.

...... I dialed his extension.

...... "This is Chariton."

...... "Mr. Chariton, this is Jack Brady. Could you come into the conference room now?"

...... "Certainly, Mr. Brady. I'll be right there."

...... The man who walked in was in his mid-forties, balding and small. He was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, wore wire-rimmed glasses and a slightly baggy suit with a yellow bow tie. His suit made it difficult to judge his weight, but he looked like nothing more than the 90-pound weakling of the old Charles Atlas ads. And yet, there was something that didn't fit. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it made me uncomfortable.

...... "As I'm sure you've been told," I said, "I'm working for Ray Sanchez, representing Hank Marcinko. We're going back over the statements you gave the police."

...... "Why?" asked Chariton, his voice almost a whine.

...... "Routine. Basically to see if you remembered anything new since the police talked to you."

...... Chariton ducked his head like he expected me to hit him. "Well, I'm afraid you've wasted your time, at least in my case."

...... "Why is that, Mr. Chariton?" I asked.

...... Chariton looked at his hands folded on the conference table. "I really didn't know Miss Regal very well."

...... "Why not? She was a very attractive and friendly young lady."

...... Chariton glanced up from his hands for a moment. "She wasn't the sort of person I would get to know."

...... "Why not?"

...... Chariton laced his fingers and started tapping his thumbs together. "Well, her reputation, you know."

...... "What about her reputation?"

...... Chariton looked up at me and leaned forward a little, the tempo of his thumbs increasing a little. "She was a loose woman, Mr. Brady. My Melissa wouldn't have approved at all."

...... "Melissa?"

...... He looked back down at his hands. The top of his head took on a little color and his breathing deepened. "My wife."

...... "Ah," I said. "Does your wife have to approve of all your friends?" I don't know why I asked that question. Something about this guy just made me want to poke a stick at him.

...... He looked up at me, his color and voice rising. "What does this have to do with Miss Regal?"

...... I sat back in my chair. "Oh, nothing, I guess. Just trying to get a little background. So you know nothing about Ms. Regal's relationships with other people?"

...... Chariton lifted his chin and said, "I make it a practice not to pry into other people's lives." He was starting to get a little agitated.

...... I decided to question Chariton more directly than I had Mrs. Bow. "Where were you when Ms. Regal was being beaten?"

...... He stiffened like he had just stuck his finger in a light socket. "What?"

...... "Where were you?"

...... "How dare you accuse me of of that!" His voice had gone a little squeaky.

...... I spread my hands in a "who me?" gesture. "I'm not accusing you of anything, Mr. Chariton. I'm just trying to establish everyone's whereabouts."

...... He seemed to climb down from a high dudgeon into a snit. "Well, I had gone to lunch."

...... "Where did you go? Did anyone see you?" I asked.

...... "Well of course people saw me. I went to to the Jack In The Box on Mesa. Just this side of Executive Center. Everyone there saw me."

...... "Anyone you know?"

...... "No. I went alone. Why do you keep badgering me about this? The police have the murderer. Why do you keep going on about me?"

...... "Nothing personal, Mr. Chariton. As I said, just trying to get a feel for the situation on that day. Well, I guess that does it, then."

...... We stood and I reached across the table to shake his hand. He had a very strong grip. Given his appearance and manner, I hadn't expected that.

...... "I'm sorry if my questions made you uncomfortable."

...... He just ducked his head, turned and left the room.

...... Watching him leave I got that feeling again that something was out of place. He reacted a little strongly to my questions. He gave the same alibi he had given the police, but he seemed to have forgotten for a minute where he had lunch. That might mean his alibi wasn't an alibi at all. I didn't dwell on it long, though. It was almost 4:30 and I still needed to interview Tom MacLean, the last of Carolyn Regal's coworkers on my list. I called him on the intercom and asked him to come in.

...... MacLean was in his late twenties, redheaded and light complected, which could be a problem in this part of the country. He stood an honest six feet, weighed about 190 and dressed well, if not expensively. He seemed to be fit enough to have beaten Carolyn Regal to death.

...... I gestured to the chair across the table from me. "Have a seat, Mr. MacLean. Thank you for talking to me."

...... "No problem," he said.

...... "How well did you know Ms. Regal?"

...... "In what sense?" he asked.

...... "I'm sorry. What do you mean?"

...... "Do you want to know how well I knew her personally or carnally?"

...... Okay. Nothing like getting to the crux of the matter. "How about both?"

...... He leaned back in the chair not at all uncomfortable about the line this was taking. "Personally, not very well. Carnally, we had a short fling. Lasted about a week before we both figured out that it wasn't going to go anywhere."

...... I really didn't like his attitude. "During that week you didn't get to know her personally?"

...... He pursed his lips and shook his head. "We spent most of our time in bed too busy to talk. When we weren't too busy, we'd talk about what was going on at work or new movies or something bland like that. Most of the time I got the impression she was really someplace else. Or wishing she were."

...... "You weren't upset when she broke up with you?"

...... "She didn't break up with me, and I didn't break up with her. We just went our separate ways."

...... "Like two ships passing in the night, huh?"

...... "You could say that."

...... "You know of anyone who could have hated her enough to kill her?" I asked.

...... He thought for a minute. "If I were in your shoes, I'd be looking real hard at Chariton."

...... "Why do you say that?"

...... "She gave him a toss about two months ago. There was a hospital administrators' regional convention here in town. One day after a seminar she paired off with him. God knows why, but she did. They disappeared for a couple of hours, then showed up again, him all moon-eyed and following her around like a puppy."

...... He picked a little dirt off the knee of his pants and continued. "He followed her around like that for a few days, but she wouldn't even acknowledge his presence. He finally got pissed and dragged her in here, shutting the door behind them. We couldn't hear anything, of course. She came out a few minutes later looking like nothing happened. He came out looking like his dog had died."

...... "You're thinking revenge," I said.

...... MacLean nodded.

...... "Why? He didn't seem like a vengeful sort to me."

...... "He seems harmless enough at first glance," said MacLean. "But he's one of those quiet, repressed types. You know the kind. And that wife of his. Talk about the iron fist in the armored gauntlet. From what I've seen at the last couple of Christmas parties about the only thing she hasn't done to him is put a ring in his nose to make it easier to lead him around. Guys like him go along taking all the shit the world hands them without a peep until one day they snap and somebody gets the crap beat out of them. Or worse.

...... "I've seen Chariton in action. I mean, we go to the same gym. He may be small, but I've seen him do ten reps on the bench-press with 150 pounds. I've also seen him work the heavy bag. He's no powder puff, even though he acts like it."

...... That was what had been bothering me about him. He looked like a shrinking violet, but he moved like an athlete. As we say in the detective trade, this required further investigation.

...... "One last question, Mr. MacLean. Where were you during lunch on the day Ms. Regal was killed?"

...... MacLean answered immediately. "I had arranged with Mrs. Hailey for a long lunch that day. I took Sheri Long from Admissions to that Italian place, Trombino's, on Mesa."

...... I thanked Mr. MacLean for his time and sent him on his way. Chariton and MacLean had both lied to me.

...... I headed for Chariton's cubicle. It was already past five, but I hoped he was still there.

...... When I reached his cubicle, it was empty, everything turned off, desktop bare, overhead bin closed. Mrs. Bow came out of her cubicle across the way with her handbag and her coat over her arm. "I'm afraid you've missed him. Didn't you speak to him earlier?"

...... "Yeah, but I just wanted to follow up on a couple of things."

...... "Oh, well he left just after he got out of his interview with you. Seemed quite agitated. Kept muttering under his breath."

...... "Thank you, Mrs. Bow. May I help you with your coat?"

...... She laughed. "Do you know how long it has been since a man other than my husband made me that offer? Thank you, no, Dear. I'm just heading down to the Fitness Center."

...... I smiled at her. "Well, have a good workout, but don't overdo."

...... "Not to worry. It's been years since I overdid anything other than my makeup." She gave me a parting smile and walked away.

****

...... I stepped out into the December evening. It was already almost dark. The temperature was in the low 40s and not likely to get below freezing tonight. The air was clear and dry. It would be a good night for looking at the stars if you could get away from the city's lights.

...... My first stop would be Burger King for a light snack, a Double Whopper and a large shake, then I'd head out to Chariton's place.

...... MacLean was right about one thing. When those shy, repressed types snap, there's usually hell to pay. Then once they figure out they can do that sort of thing, they look at violence as a universal problem solver. Until someone beats the crap out of them.

...... Low bollards about three-feet high provided the only lighting along the sidewalk leading from the main building to the parking garage. The sidewalk meandered a bit passing close to the occasional large juniper tree. I had just passed one of these junipers when I heard something rustling. Before I could turn around, my kidney exploded. At least that's what it felt like.

...... I remember stumbling forward a step. The next thing I knew I had dead grass pricking the inside of my nostrils and mouth. I must have only been out for a few seconds because I could hear footsteps running away from me and other footsteps running toward me. I rolled my head to one side, and a man lowered himself into my field of view.

...... "Sir? Sir? Are you all right?"

...... I briefly contemplated showing this gentleman what I thought of someone who would ask that question of a man who had just done a face-plant into a dead lawn. Then I decided to let him live.

...... "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Just give me a little room here."

...... I pushed myself to my knees and rested there, head down, hands on my thighs taking inventory. My right kidney felt as though someone had impaled it on a red-hot poker. The area behind my right ear throbbed, a sure sign that I'd soon be sporting a good-sized knot. Otherwise, aside from a mild bout of nausea, everything seemed to be operational.

...... Standing up seemed to be possible, so I did. I didn't pass out and start the whole process over, but it was a near thing. At first I thought the building was swaying back and forth. Then I realized it was just me. Okay, I'd had my bell rung harder than this before. Of course, I had been a lot younger then. I don't remember it hurting this much.

...... The concerned young man was still hovering, so I assured him of my well-being. He was "but"-ing like an outboard motor as I resumed the quest for my car. I didn't have time to wait for an ER doctor to tell me I might have a concussion and be pissing blood for a week. Pain is just God's way of telling you that you're still alive. It can be ignored.

...... I had a pretty good idea who ambushed me. Guilt and panic often bring out the violent side of a man.

****

Chariton lived in an old house in the Lower Valley off North Loop about two blocks from Marion Manor Elementary School. This whole part of town was irrigated. Twice a week through spring and summer, people flooded their yards from the network of irrigation canals that ran behind their houses. The streets through here were elevated about a foot above the yards, and each piece of property was defined by low berms to keep the water contained. This had the effect of making parking on the street next to impossible. There was no curb, only a drop-off. If people were coming to see you, they parked in the driveway. Arriving surreptitiously was difficult, and surveillance was damn near impossible.

...... Chariton's house was set well back from the road with a wide gravel drive leading to a garage that was separate from the house. A screened-in front porch ran the width of the house, the entrance on the side by the driveway. Two large cottonwood trees that must have been seventy-five years old cast a deep shadow across the front of the house. El Paso was in the middle of the desert, but within about five miles either side of the Rio Grande the land was pretty lush.

...... It was full dark when I arrived. An older model Camry sat skewed in the driveway. I pulled in behind it. No sense in trying to play it cute.

...... The screen door to the porch was unlocked. I walked in and stopped in front of the main door into the house. It was open just a crack. Something didn't feel right. Maybe it was the monotonous string of words coming from somewhere inside the house. It had the rhythm of a chant, though I couldn't make out the words. I wasn't sure I wanted to.

...... I pulled my .44-Special Charter Arms Bulldog and used my left hand to ease the door open. The chanting was clearer now, but still not intelligible. The living room was large, about twelve feet deep and taking up two-thirds of the width of the house. It was crowded with feminine furniture. To the left through a pair of French doors was the dining room. I assumed the kitchen was behind that.

...... In front of me was a darkened hallway that probably led to the bedrooms and maybe a den. The chanting was coming from there. I moved to the hallway. There were five doors, two on each side and one at the end. The first door on the left opened into a bathroom. Male toiletries populated the shelf above the sink. The first door on the right led to a bedroom, musty and unused. The next room on the right was also a bedroom. This one was in use. Books and telephone on the nightstand, rumpled bed covers, men's shoes on the floor. No Chariton though.

...... The chanting drifted out the nearly closed door opposite. Before I went there I wanted to check the door at the end of the hall. Wouldn't do to have someone come sneaking up behind me. As I thought it was a den, apparently an addition to the original house. No people.

...... I moved to the last door. I could hear the chanting clearly now. "It's not my fault. I asked you not to. You wouldn't listen. You never listen. I told you it was nothing. She was nothing. You shouldn't have done it. You shouldn't have tried to call the police. I asked you not to. It's not my fault."

...... The door wasn't latched, so I inched it further open with my left hand. Chariton was kneeling on the floor, rocking back and forth, his hands folded in his lap. Stretched out on the bedroom floor in front of him was a woman wearing a pink housecoat with small multi-colored flowers ­ and blood. A lot of blood. The woman's face was a bloody mess. The tears he shed washed clear tracks through the blood splattered on his face. There was more blood on his hands and shirt. He didn't seem to be aware of my presence. He just kept rocking back and forth and repeating the same sentences over and over.

...... Some kinds of abuse aren't physical. The abuse Chariton had been getting from his wife probably since the day they were married didn't leave any marks on his body, but his mind and spirit must have been battered into oblivion. Strong people, stable people, retain some sense of self-worth and get out of situations like that before they are destroyed. Chariton wasn't one of those.

...... Guilt over Carolyn Regal's death must have weighed heavily on his mind. Then when I questioned his alibi, he panicked. He ambushed me, and headed for the only security he knew. Unfortunately she'd finally had her fill of him. He snapped and killed her, too.

...... I slipped back out to the porch, took out my cell phone and called 911.

...... ..... .....

Copyright (c) 2003 by Robert W. Tinsley.


Robert W. Tinsley is an expatriate Texan living in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a licensed mechanical engineer in private practice. In addition to the Jack Brady series, he has written over 40 non-fiction articles and is on the Editorial Advisory Board for Heating, Piping, and Air Conditioning Magazine.

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