Savage summer, p.1
© 2014 by Ruth Bainbridge
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“When life gives you lemons, be sure to spit the pits out of that lemonade you’re making. Otherwise you’ll choke.” – Curt Savage
The past year has not been a good one for Curt Savage. Depressed over the death of a loved one, he’s gone into hiding, becoming entirely too comfortable with saying that he’s in the Witness Protection Program. But the urge to find that elusive killer puts his MIA status on hold. With the help of his new buddy Mike, he delves into the murky world of tracking down a killer—and uncovering who poisoned a neighbor’s dog.
SAVAGE SUMMER is the first in The Curt Savage Mysteries. Going from former cop to private dick, he represents a new kind of detective—the reluctant kind. As his best bud Mike puts it,
“Private investigation just got Savage.”
SAVAGE SUMMER (Part One)
SAVAGE FALL (Part Two)
SAVAGE WINTER (Part Three)
SAVAGE SPRING (Part Four — Est. Date of Pub: 2016)
You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to the singing of birds in their backyard. If someone is happy about a bunch of them chirping, you can bet they’re in a good mood and are pleased with how things are going in life. If not, they’re most likely depressed as hell and at odds with the world that created both them and their feathered friends. Me? I’m in the latter group. I wished those birds would all go to hell—and they can take those goddamned squirrels with ‘em.
The intensity of the noonday sun played havoc with my retinas. I was balanced rather shakily on the chaise lounge, the matching striped umbrella a little farther south than it needed to be. My noggin bore the brunt of the miscalculation, but I was too apathetic to fix it. To think that I used to enjoy the sunlight. Originally a California boy, all I did was frolic out in the sunshine all day. That, and try to convince the West Coast fanatics that it wasn’t really biblical prophecy for the “big one” to hit California and trigger Armageddon. Most refused to listen to my wise counsel, but then, some lunatics can be so stubborn.
A frosty glass of iced tea was resting on the cedar table. It had been included in the five-piece ensemble. To say that the outdoor furniture had been used very little since I bought it last year would be an understatement. It’d been purchased at the insistence of my then fiancée, Ruth Warwick. She’s the one that convinced me that I’d be needing it in the warmer weather.
I’d been living at 415 Wymar Drive for four years and the folding chairs used for poker were doing just fine. Still, I caved under the pressure, discovering too late that she was wrong. I would have loved to convey that message to her, but she was no longer around to tell.
The perspiration continued to gush out my pores. The unfettered sprinkling caused my Hawaiian shirt to cling to my skin like microwaved sandwich wrap on a BLT. The polyester souvenir was yet another reminder of Ruth and our vacation in Oahu, but then there were mementos of our ill-fated relationship all over the damned place. I likened them to land mines. Come across one, and kapow! It all blows up in your face.
I grabbed a handful of napkins, sponging the moisture off my brow. Why sweat always felt so gross when flabby and out of shape, I can’t say, but as to how I got to resemble a mashed potato—mea culpa. For the past year and a half, I’d given up all physical endeavors—and that included driving a car. After all, where was there to go?
My once rock hard muscles had paid the price, deteriorating into something found in nursing homes. And exercise wasn’t all that I’d abandoned. Everything had fallen by the wayside until I was forced to admit that I, thirty-year-old Curtis Owen Savage, had officially become a recluse. It’s what happens when life deals you a hardball.
The fifteen months spent in isolation were used to avoid contact with people and life itself. I’d been stuck in some sort of limbo, but there was a certain beauty in rising when the sun was going down, since it meant one less day that I had to deal with. Hip hip hoorah.
I’d never planned to come out of seclusion, and the dwindling funds in my bank account weren’t enough to convince me otherwise. Of course, with the electronic conveniences available, I wasn’t even forced to leave my home to make purchases. I did all my shopping online and that allowed me to keep a low profile. However, the technological advancement wasn’t without its pitfalls, since it brought unwelcome company into my life.
Disguised in the form of delivery boys, these harbingers of misfortune got to be regular visitors, and that familiarity gave them license to ask me why I just didn’t get the groceries myself. I would nonchalantly reply that I was in the Witness Protection Program and that the Feds wanted it this way. But as soon as they left, I’d sit in the dark, mentally trashing the younger generation for its boldness in questioning my motivations. It was their parents’ fault for not raising them to show respect. Of that, I was sure.
Other than those necessary intrusions, I was content to be a hermit. Alone suited me, and I was resigned to living out my remaining years in solitary confinement, but my dear, sweet momma had other ideas. A few weeks ago, she started phoning and leaving messages that she wanted to come over and visit. She became such a pest that I was forced to call her in order to tell her to stop calling. But what was only supposed to be a rebuke led to a conversation, and well, it culminated in her telling me that I couldn’t go on like this. How did she phrase it?
“Curt, this won’t bring Ruthie back.”
Bingo dingo. Man, she was right, but it hurt so goddamned much to hear. Too goddamned much. You see, when Ruthie died, I’d died right along with her—I just hadn’t stopped breathing. But that would come—eventually.
Ruth Warwick was the fiancée I’d mentioned earlier, and her death was why she wasn’t around. We’d been planning on getting married last year—in October. I’d opted for June, but she had this thing about fall weddings. Something about the color palette allowing for an Enchanted Evening theme. I never got to see what hues were so compelling as to eschew idyllic weather because she never made it that far. She was murdered in the spring—on March 31st.
Hearing the news was like being swallowed by an alligator. I was still trapped in its belly, trying to make sense of things, but nothing did. I mean, everything had been so normal. I was living out my life as a member of Creston Philadelphia’s finest, and Ruthie was attending Bramley University, working on her master’s degree.
She normally travelled to see me on weekends; she preferred it that way. But at the beginning of March, she’d gotten caught up in exams and skipped seeing me for three weekends in a row. Late on Friday night, one day before the tragedy, she’d called out of the blue, asking me to drive up. I was missing her something fierce, but I backed out, saying I was too tired. I’d been on the police force for about four years and was still paying my dues by putting in long hours and trying to prove my worth. Then there were the double shifts. I was taking every one I could so that I could put away a nest egg, but those were just lame-ass excuses. What it boils down to is complacency. I’d held the firm belief that I could always see her. If not that weekend, then the next, but there would be no more weekends. At least not with Ruth. Lesson? Never take anything or anyone for granted b
On Sunday, she was found in her off-campus apartment—butchered like a fish at a sushi bar. What some people can do with a sharp knife. What’s that adage? Idle hands make the devil’s work? If that saying is true, then the person that carved up Ruthie must have been indigent his entire life.
Talk about guilt. I kept thinking that if I’d been with her, it would never have happened, but how could I know that for sure? And, in hindsight, that call she made to me was strange. Ruthie never asked anyone for anything. Independence Day was dedicated to girls like her, so if she’d wanted to see me, she would have driven, taken a train, or walked the 120 miles. It wasn’t like her to rely on me for anything, but there had been an urgency in her voice. She hadn’t as much asked as pleaded with me to go there—but why? Had she received a threat? Had a premonition? Or was it just a case of her being lonely?
My fellow officers broke the news to me—right before they began investigating me for the homicide. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s the boyfriend that’s responsible. That’s the inflated percentage they’d quoted. Add in the fact that there had been an inordinate amount of rage perpetrated against her, and you got a lethal dose of sodium thiopental being injected into my vein.
Man, the theories were flying hot and heavy for a while. One was that I’d gotten cold feet. Another was that she was pregnant and I couldn’t handle having kids. A third was that it wasn’t my kid that she was carrying. The autopsy shot those last few out of the water. Ruth wasn’t pregnant. Sexually assaulted by a butcher knife, but not pregnant. It didn’t stop the speculation, or the stares. After all, I had that middle name that the press kept using even if I never did. Seems everyone with a tin foil hat and dime store forensics kit knows that diabolical killers have three names. Never mind that we all have one on our birth certificates.
Unfortunately for the justice system, I had an airtight alibi. It’d been my turn to host the monthly Texas Hold ‘Em Championship, and the crotchety next door neighbor had personally complained about the noise. It meant that there were too many witnesses to my being occupado at the time of the crime. The case went cold after I got eliminated. My pals dove back into the hunt by questioning Ruthie’s friends and family to ferret out new leads, but as far as anyone knew, she had no enemies. With no DNA found, it seemed a phantom had killed her—one that was now haunting me.
I was getting lost in the past again. I tipped the canopy a little to the side. It caused the shade to finally find me. When I checked my watch, I found that I had plenty of time before I met Mike. Mike O’Brien was someone I’d met at Wild’s Gym. Last month, I’d joined that health club, hoping to reverse the damage I’d done to myself over the past year.
Two weeks ago, I’d started working out, going cold turkey to boot. It was ixnay on the eerbay. Having subsisted on lager, it was tough giving up the habit. Not as tough as finding a fitness center that was open 24 hours a day, but it had been well worth the trouble. Using the facilities in the dead of night meant that I had my pick of the machines and could stay on them for as long as I wanted. It felt like my personal training center. Mike felt the same way.
Snatching a celery stick from the pile next to me, I munched like a grazing cow. I was glad that I was moving again. Not only because I was making Momma Bear happy, but because I was getting myself back in shape. After all, it was going to take a lot of endurance to track down the bastard that had killed Ruthie.
It was a full house at Shotsky’s. I hadn’t seen that much desperation since I’d visited the local shelter during puppy season. Seemed everybody was looking for a home, or at least a port in which to dock. I spotted Mike’s spiked do right away. Not everyone can sport a porcupine upsweep and make it look stylish.
“Hey, Bright Eyes. Thought you were gonna stand me up,” Mike said, giving a way too hard high five. I shook out the sting.
“Yeah, well, I had second thoughts. It’s been a while.”
“What’s your poison? First round is my treat.”
“Ginger ale for me. Don’t want to lose another year.”
“Ginger ale it is,” she said as she squeezed her way to the bar.
Born Michelle O’Brien, Mike was something else, all right. Five feet, six inches of raw audacity, her bark and bite were both lethal. That was mostly due to the fact that she had the biggest set of guns this side of Cleveland, but she swore that the muscle was natural. Like I believed that.
We’d hit it off right away. She’d introduced herself at the gym, offering to be a spotter when I worked out with the weights. I accepted, even though I wasn’t lifting more than five pounds. No doubt about her being gay; the rainbow, tie-dyed t-shirt she wore proclaimed, “Keep Calm. I am a Lesbian.” Gotta love that kind of confidence, but what really did it was overhearing a conversation. She told an engaged heterosexual couple, and I quote: “Hey, I think you two should get married. And, don’t worry, I won’t be offended.” With that witticism out of the way, O’Brien became my new best friend.
While she waited for my drink at the counter, she passed the time flirting with a redhead standing next to her. I’d heard some of Mike’s lines at Wild’s, and the girl had some game. She was gonna be rough competition if we ever set our sets on the same potential life partner, but hopefully, that wouldn’t happen. There were enough shoes to try on, so why sweat one chick? That was her philosophy, not mine.
I downed a handful of beer nuts as Michelle bid the new red shoe goodbye.
“Too easy and not enough baby back ribs for me,” she summarized.
“Are you allowed to talk like that? I’d get a shot in the mouth if I reduced a woman to food that comes in a bucket.”
“It’s not any worse than what they say about us, and I take it that you’re talking about that PC place you left?”
“Pretty much,” I answered, chugging down the soda that was most definitely not champagne.
“Besides, we’re not saying it in front of them, so those ho’s got to chill.”
“You got a way with words, Mike.”
Giving a toast, I clinked my glass against hers before we guzzled down. As she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, her lively blue eyes fired sparks. I swore this girl was hotwired somewhere and set on fire with butane.
“So about that place where you used to work, why did you leave? You never really talk about yourself,” she queried.
“How long you been in Creston, Mike?”
“About a month.”
“Why you don’t know the reason that I don’t have to talk about myself.”
“Mind if we join you?”
It was the redhead with a brunette friend in tow.
“Um,” I articulated, looking at Mike for a clue.
“I said a definite possibility,” she whispered before jumping to her feet and pulling out a chair. As the redhead settled in, Mike tugged her vest, making sure her tie was straight. The brunette left for me was nice enough, but didn’t compare with Ruth. I decided to take one for the team.
“Please,” I coaxed, holding out the seat next to me.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling through a nice set of choppers. “I’m Derva.”
“I’m Curt and that there is Mike,” I responded, giving Michelle a good slap on her back for getting me into this.
“This here is Virginny,” Mike started. “She works as a massage therapist, or so she claims.”
“Oh, she does!” Derva chimed in. “I work with her, so I know!”
“Massage therapist? Come on, how many times have you been raided?” Mike teased.
The girls giggled. Virginny put her hand on Mike’s arm. I tried the same maneuver with Derva. Smiling, she crooked her finger. I leaned in, anxious to hear what she had to say.
“I don’t go that way, Curt,” she informed in breathy tones.
“You’re very handsome and everything, but I’m here hoping to get a shot at Mike. You see, Ginny is my girlfriend, but we like to get the freak on sometimes. You’re welcome to watch.”
Oh, how times had changed. That year, I’d slept through what seemed more like a century’s worth of social evolution. Of course, this lesson in human sexuality didn’t help me any with my confidence. The last thing I wanted was to be rejected by someone I didn’t want.
“Sorry, I subscribe to NetFlix,” I quipped and left it at that.
When I looked up, Mike and Virginny were soul kissing. Staring at my ginger ale, I wished it would ferment into something stronger. Now that I was cut out of any possibility of action, I leaned back, glancing around. Remembering an old joke about an ape, a giraffe, and a jackass entering a bar, I realized that two of them were glaring at what was going on at our table—and one of those two wasn’t a giraffe.
Mike pulled back. Hopping to her feet, she tugged Ginny up, wrapping a hand around the masseuse’s waist. Derva took her place as the other slice of white bread to complete the Mike sandwich.
“See ya around, Curt. Hope you understand,” Mike offered non-apologetically.
“Yeah, sure. Mazel tov,” I mumbled, raising a glass that leaked down my arm.
Sashaying out the door, I noticed the two clowns at the bar leave at the same time. My nose, which was honed at the police academy to sniff out trouble, was still working. I popped up like a marionette whose strings had been yanked. I rushed out to the parking lot in time to see the confrontation.
“What you’re doing is wrong! And this is going to prove it.”
The dark-haired goon resembling the ape was the one speaking. His fist waved in the air as intimidation. The light-haired jackass he was with darted quickly to Mike’s right, trying to pin her arms. The two girls screamed as a scuffle broke out.
“Hey, what’s going on here!” I yelled out, trotting over.
My six-foot, two-inch frame counted for something. And so did the physique that included broad shoulders from paddling my surfboard through the rough ocean waves. The jackass let go and the ape backed off, but then maybe I’m being unfair to animals in making those comparisons.
Savage Summer by Ruth Bainbridge / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes