It was stormy that night— or so Dorothy Forbes claimed. Except there was a full moon on the seventh of April. Summer made an early appearance, and storms only last minutes in California if they come at all.
“Alright Ms. Forbes, tell me again how Mr. Hawks’ torso rammed into your Cadillac so hard that he caused you to go into the ditch,” Sheriff Meeks said. That’s how his notes read.
“Call me Dotti. All the guys at the Retro Club do.” She shifted in the chair again. The wooden holdover from a schoolhouse was uncomfortable for a woman with legs so long she had to sit side-ways.
“Okay, Dotti.” A girl had to shed her pedigree if she was going to be popular at the Retro, and Sheriff Meeks knew it. She wanted to shed a lot more, too, if her come-hither smile was genuine. A fleeting fantasy crossed his mind. “Well?”
“Well, what? Like I said before, I rolled to a stop at the red sign, and this guy’s standing in the rain on the corner, and suddenly he plays linebacker and dives into my car. Scared the hell out of me. I gunned the motor and yanked the steering wheel at the same time and went into the ditch. I don’t know why people who live in the sticks have ravines instead of sidewalks in front of their houses. You tell me.”
Meeks wondered the same thing when he left Manhattan and came west. “Stingy taxpayers,” he answered. He also wondered how her eyes could be so blue and glow at the same time. They reminded him of gemstones. “There are people at the club who said you left with a guy when you came in alone. Who was it? Ray Hawks? Did you two get into it? Maybe he made a pass? And you ran over him out on Sayler Road?”
“You cops think I don’t know you’re allowed to lie us civilians? Nobody at the Club told you anything. They didn’t because they wouldn’t.”
“Wouldn’t or couldn’t, Dotti? Because you were never at the Retro Club. Ain’t that right?”
“You’re bluffing. Charge me or cut me loose. I wanna call my lawyer.”
Girls named Dotti don’t have lawyers on retainer, but girls named Dorothy Forbes do. Okay, their sugar-daddy’s do. Was she bluffing? He pushed the telephone in her direction. “Call him.”
She dialed with a graceful hand. Slowly. Tantalizingly. “This is Dorothy Forbes. I’m at someplace called Hemet Sheriff’s Station. I allegedly killed some guy named Ray Hawks. Ha-ha. Funny guy, ain’t you? Yeah, I’ll wait here. Yeah. Remain silent. No problem.”
That was it. Interrogation over. It was a case of she said/he’s dead. A sheriff’s deputy opened the door half-way and motioned for Meeks to come into the hall. Meeks saw the file folder and knew it meant a preliminary coroner’s report. “Wait here,” he told Dotti. She rolled her eyes. Yeah, it was a dumb thing to say.
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Douglas asked when Meeks closed the door.
“I give up. Maybe the coroner knows?”
“That’s just it, he doesn’t. Hawks died of a heart attack, but the question is, did he fling himself into Forbes’ car in a panic, or did he have a heart attack when she hit him? It happens with older guys, you know.”
Meeks had just turned fifty. Was he supposed to know? “So, nothing conclusive.”
“There weren’t any skid marks. She didn’t see him, or try to avoid him when she did.”
“Or did see him and wanted him dead. Any other info on this guy Hawks?”
“Did he carry a wallet like millions of us older guys do?”
“Oh that. Yeah, but it didn’t have any money in it.”
Meeks thought about the three one dollar bills he had in his wallet. Sue had given him a five to buy dinner, but he bought coffee and doughnuts for him and Douglas on the way to the station so he could flirt with the college girl working for tuition. He always told her to keep the change. “I wonder.” He returned to Dotti. “You got a smoke on you I could bum?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“You got any I.D. on you?”
“I already showed it to Dudley Do-right out there.”
“Suppose you show it to me.”
She did it again, reaching into her purse with that snaky smoothness. She brought out a slim folded wallet and handed it to him. A saxophone and drum played in his head. Yeah, she was a stripper. Maybe a Vegas showgirl inching past her prime. Her wallet was stuffed with green.
“Hemet’s halfway between Palm Springs and Lake Elsinore. A guy like Hawks … maybe he bought that Caddy for you, hunh? He’s old enough to be rich and retired and maybe he plays golf? I bet if I show your picture around some of the golf clubs in Palm Springs, they’ll know you.”
She uncrossed her gams, and sat up straight, like she was balancing a hatful of fruit on her head. “Maybe I did let him pick me up. But it wasn’t in no golf course bar. And we go for a ride. No harm in that.”
“How’d his money get into your purse?”
“He got all choked up and red in the face, and then purple so I took advantage of his timely demise. Nothin’ wrong with that.”
Douglas peeked in again. “There’s a Martin Cutchins Esquire here for Miss Forbes.”
“Show him in,” Meeks said, and left the room.
“He’s straight out of Vegas,” Douglas whispered as they watched them converse from a one-way mirror.
“How do you know?” Meeks said.
Douglas offered him a business card. “Because that’s what his card says and because he’s got a Jersey accent. Vegas is crawlin’ with ex-pat mobsters.”
“She must be pretty classy if she could dial long distance and his office picks up the tab automatically. Does this logo look familiar to you?”
Douglas perused the printing. “Nope.”
“D W…” He dialed the Palm Springs Police Station. “This is Meeks up here in Hemet. I got a suspect in custody. Are there any golf courses over there with the initials DW? Got a number for them? Thanks, Kevin, I owe you one. Her name’s Dorothy Forbes. You know her?” Well, I’ll be…”
“What is it?” Douglas asked.
“Our miss Dorothy Forbes? She’s better known as Stormy Knight. She’s got an act with her sister called Dark Ann. Can you beat that?”
“What kind of an act?”
“The kind with feathers that tickle your nose.” Meeks said.
“Are you gonna to arrest her?”
Meeks was already back at the one-way window, staring at the blonde draping herself around the chair, and imagining her sister as a brunette. Old guys like him remembered Jane Russel and Rita Hayworth. And that gentlemen prefer blondes, long-legged ladies who knew how to take it all off without removing a stitch of clothing. This was the closest he’d ever get to one of those ladies. “They work at Desert Willows. I sure would like to catch their feathers sometime.” The college girl was cute, but Dotti … she was the stuff of dreams. Of memories for guys who really did die of heart attacks. “I’ll keep her on ice for a while I get more information on our victim.”
He went back to the interrogation room, sat down and lit up a Chesterfield. “Well, Counselor, we’re holdin’ her for arraignment on Monday. There’s a motel down the road.”
Cutchins patted Dotti’s arm. “I’m checking on her tomorrow, Meeks. She’d better be fine. No strip searches.”
“Sure. Sure.” Dotti couldn’t hide a weapon in that sequined sausage casing anyway.
He led them to a cell, and Dotti gave Cutchins a grateful hug and kiss on the cheek. “Bring me breakfast, Marty.”
“See you mañana, Baby,” Cutchins said, stuck his fedora on his thick black hair, and walked down the hall.
“I’ll bring you a sandwich, Ms. Forbes,” Meeks said as he secured the lock. He returned with a burger basket and a chocolate shake from the Roadhouse Café.
“I ain’t talkin’, copper, so if that’s a bribe, stuff it.”
Meeks unlocked the cell. “If it was a bribe, it’d be covered in diamonds not sesame seeds.” He saw an honest smile on her face, not that sarcastic grimace women perfected by the time they were seventeen. She bit into the burger honestly too.
“What, no velvet napkins?”
“Not tonight.” He took a wad of paper ones from his shirt pocket.
“What’s a nice guy like you doin’ in a uniform like that?”
“I was wondering the same thing about a pretty girl like you in hooker’s dress.”
“This old thing? I got it off the rack at Bloomingdale’s. Twenty-five bucks.”
She didn’t say ‘beat it’, so he sat on the cot across from her. “We don’t see many pretty women up this way very often. This reminds me of the Aleutians when Lili St. Cyr came with the USO. We hadn’t seen anything that gorgeous in over a year. Then, all of a sudden, she got off the plane and it was like an angel landin’ from heaven.”
“I ain’t no angel, copper.”
“Neither was she judging by the way she shivered when she took off her parka in five below weather. You know what she did? She put on a thick coat, woolen socks over her silk stockings, and sat by the stove looking at pictures of wives, kid sisters, and parents. One guy dropped a tear for his dog. That’s America.”
“Did you get her autograph?”
“Me? No. I was scared to get near her. You know how eighteen-year-old boys are. Hair triggers. Besides, I couldn’t stand up without her seeing what a big fan I was.”
Dotti was munching on a french-fry but she smiled and her shoulder shook. “I’ve seen that kind before.” She set aside the basket and wiped her hands. “Can you da-da?”
“Can I what?”
“You know …da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-da, ta-da-da-da …..”
“That’s the tune to The Stripper …. David Rose. Yeah, I know it.”
“So, you da-da-dum, and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Meeks gave out a hesitant da-da and, still sitting, Dotti moved her shoulders back and forth, caressing one arm and then the other, elbow to wrist, with her finger. He blushed and stopped mid da. “What’s the matter, Sheriff?”
“I just thought about my wife and how she’d never believe this story.”
“So, don’t tell her. Don’t tell Deputy Dog in there neither.” She brushed her hair from her right eye. “I know what you’re thinking. How do the women get out of a tight-fitting dress?
She was wrong. He was thinking how he could get Sue to dance for him like that once in a while. The closest she ever came was when she dressed up like a sexy devil for a Halloween party, and they danced to Harlem Nocturne.
“It’s all in the zipper.” She picked a fry out of the basket and stared at it before tickling her lips with it. “I put a little soap on mine. Got to make damn sure it doesn’t stick during the final unveiling.”
“That’s interesting. Sort of like greasing the wheels of justice.”
“I’ll tell you what, you pretend that it’s five below, and I’ll give you my autograph.” She unfolded another napkin. “On this. You can show Dudley Do-right in there, and let him wonder what went on in cell-block A. You’ll have a new memory.”
He wanted to say no, but it had been such a long time. And they didn’t do anything. He wanted to say yes, too. “Okay.”
He should have stuck to no.
It took all of five seconds for his pen to move from his chest pocket to her hand to his throat. He grabbed at it, but when he gasped for air, blood filled the hole and blasted out in passionate spurts. He couldn’t scream. He couldn’t pray. And in another five seconds, his eyes saw something red before he heard his gun fire.
“Marty Cutchins’ room, please,” she told the switchboard operator. “I know it’s late, but this is his wife.”
“Dotti! They gave you another phone call?”
“Oh, shut up, Marty, and get over to the jail. And bring your suitcase, I’m gonna need clean clothes …. ‘cause my dress has blood and brains all over it, ya’ nit-wit. Yeah, they’re dead. It was self-defense. You think I’m goin’ down for Hawks?”
Douglas had heard what sounded like shouting coming from inside the holding cell. They didn’t get much flak from female prisoners, so it had to be Meeks. Then it got quiet. He opened the door and called out, “Sheriff?” and never made it passed the threshold.
Dotti had stepped over him and walked to the desk. She unzipped her dress, pulled it down to her ankles, and stepped out of it in one continuous motion. The office wasn’t five below, but it was too cold for just a slip. Meeks’ army-green trench coat hung on a peg near the door and she climbed into it, feeling the nylon lining slither over her skin. Fake silk. She was used to the real thing. Back in the day.
“Yeah, I know I told ya’ I’d take you down to Florida for the winter, but the twins are graduating high school,” Hawks had said without looking at her. He never could lie to her straight on. Had she really been his mistress for eighteen years? There she was, galloping towards forty, without a child or a mansion, on her way to the airport to fly to Miami. Alone. “I’ll be down as soon as I can. Here’s two hundred for incidentals.”
Two Hundred? The rain had stopped and he stopped the car to take a leak, leaving a wallet full of cash on the seat. After all these years, he trusted her. Like he trusted Cutchins who stole him blind. She slid to the driver’s side and made good on every threat she ever thought. He bounced off the Caddy like cue ball and fell against a tree, standing there a whole ten seconds before sliding down into the dirt —like tweed-covered honey. She threw the Caddy in reverse, but all the wheels did was churn mud.
That’s what she got for using the headlights as an S-O-S signal. Somebody was bound to come along eventually. Why couldn’t it have been a white knight instead of Deputy Douglas?
Oh, hell, too late for regrets now. She rifled through every drawer in Meeks’ desk, and hit pay dirt: the combination to a corner safe that held bail money, fine money, operating money … The key word was money. And Cutchins would have the cash he won at the casino on him. At least a grand or two.
Funny thing about being the woman a guy hides from the world. No one knows her name or what her plans are. She’d made her own flight reservation. Paid in cash. Told her boss she was on her way to New York to marry her old high school sweetheart. “What about Dark Ann?” McAdoo said as he gnawed on a cigar.
“Let her do a solo.”
“Be happy, sister. You had a good run here. The fellas all loved you.”
Yeah, but like the casino’s threadbare carpet, her popularity was wearing out. The regulars no longer shouted for her to take it off. She was a second wife to everybody. Only she wore nobody’s ring.
Dotti heard a car pull up and stop. It was about time Marty showed up. Had he called the State Troopers, maybe told them about her whackin’ Meeks and Douglas?
He came in slow-like, and looked around the office. It did look like a maniac had torn through. “Grisly,” he said as he stepped over Douglas laying in the doorway to the cell block. He steeped back into the office. “Guess a girl’s gotta do whatever she has to, but this is a real mess, Dotti. People in small towns like their Sheriffs alive come election day.”
“Where’s your suitcase? I need to borrow a shirt and a pair of pants.”
“In the car.” He looked at the safe. “I take it you fleeced the taxpayers.”
“Politicians do it all the time. Get the suitcase so we can blow.”
“Well, now that Hawks is dead, there’s matter of my fee …” His hand moved towards the inside of his sport coat, and Dotti fired two shots. He who hesitates is lost, she remembered hearing somewhere. Too bad Marty forgot. Women have hair-triggers too.
Last words were worth noting. Meeks’ had been a simple, okay. Douglas? He’d said Sheriff. But Cutchins’ was a lawyer. “… there’s the matter of my fee.” That’s America now, Mr. Meeks,” she said as she borrowed Marty’s pants and suspenders, and belted up Meeks’ trench coat.
She stuffed her dress into the trashcan, got Cutchin’s keys to his Continental from his pocket, and walked out into what was left of the night. Another minute-long storm had come and gone, and Hemet looked like a Christmas post-card filled with purple shadows and moonlight. Half a minute later she passed a sign: Hemet City Limits. The Best Kept Secret in the Mountains.
Just like Hawks had kept her.
About the Author:
Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over two-hundred print and on-line journals. Her how-to book, Writing Beyond the Self; How to Write Creative Non-fiction that Gets Published was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2018. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. She lives in Kentucky and writes full time ⸺when she’s not watching classic movies and eating chocolate.
I would appreciate any consideration.