When Roger has blackouts, terrible things happen
|just out of the StoryML editor and probably needs apostrophes and editing. Read at your own risk
A Dangerous Blue Haze
All the red-head wore was a glistening coat of cocoanut-oil. She was on her back on a chaise lounge near the pool with her legs slightly spread and her eyes closed, a sun-worshiper who didn't worry about the ravages of the harmful rays to her taut young skin. A bead of perspiration slid down the hillocks of her breasts onto her flat stomach and pooled in her navel. She sensed something come between her and the sun and opened her eyes. Squinting into the glare, all she could see was a dark form looming over her.
“Well, hello.” she drawled and blinded, turned her head away in the direction of the pool, “I was wonderin' how long it'd take you to get up enough nerve to come over. Come around here where I can see you, Hon, and sit down.”
She never saw the French bread knife that stabbed viciously into her heart again and again.
Roger Blandford woke up in terror, still surrounded by the dark blue haze of his desperate dream. For an endless moment he didn't recognize the room, the bed, or the woman who was shaking his shoulder. He stared wildly about the room, attempting to orient himself as panic set in.
“Wake up, Mr. Blandford. Wake up!”
“Who are you?” His voice sounded hoarse and foreign to him. He steadied himself with an act of will and gained control as everything came into focus. Lately he'd been having horrible nightmares and blackouts, and when he came to his senses, terrible, terrible things had happened. T
“It's Mrs. Adams, remember? Your wife's new nurse. You were having a bad dream.” Her moon-like face broke into a warm smile.
“Of course. Mrs. Adams, the new nurse.” As he repeated the words, relief flooded into him and filled his voice. “ You surprised me, that's all. I'm not used to having anyone come in my bedroom except my wife.” He paused and glanced around. “What's the matter? Is something wrong?”
“There's two police detectives waiting to see you, Mr. Blandford. I put them in the living room.” She spoke casually, as though it was nothing unusual, as though all her clients had visits by policemen on her watch.
“Police? Here? To see me?” he asked groggily. It was too much to absorb so soon after awakening from such a nightmare. He'd had a rough night again. He'd not been sleeping well for some time, and for the last three days he'd had the same recurring dream. He shook his head as though to physically erase his tiredness and asked, “What about Louise? Is she up?”
Louise sometimes stayed in bed all day. Other days she was fine. The doctor had recommended that Blandford move out of the master bedroom in deference to his wife's illness.
“Lands, yes. Been up since the crack of dawn. I heard her moving around the kitchen and got up to see she if she needed something. We had a nice chat over coffee and already had breakfast. She's as chipper as can be this morning.”
Louise was particularly cheerful in the mornings. However, as the day went on she got progressively worse unless she took her medication. The 'Sundown Effect' the doctor called it. With an effort, Roger put aside his worries about Louise's health and brought himself back to the problem at hand: there were police officers in his living room.
“Offer them some coffee, and tell them I'll be out as soon as I get dressed.”
He needed time--time to compose himself--and to formulate answers to whatever questions they might ask him about the murder of Rita Manning, his pretty, but very dead, next door neighbor.
The two detectives rose to their feet with more than ordinary deference when Roger Blandford walked into his living room. His bearing left no doubt in anyone's mind as to who would be in charge of the interview from the moment he entered the room. Roger Blandford, President of Comtech Industries, was one of the movers and shakers in the exclusive Tiburon community outside of San Francisco, and the cash register talks louder than the social register in the booming cities of the Sun Belt. Roger Blandford expected the two detectives to show him deference and was determined to use it to his advantage. They'd proffered their badge wallets like they were passports into his life-but passports could be revoked, and he had the power to see to it.
While going through the motions of introductions, the detectives sized-up their host. Blandford was impressively handsome, with a chiseled rugged face that went well with his salt and pepper hair. He was slightly under six feet tall, but his erect stance and trim build, cultivated by years of exercise under the tutelage of a personal trainer, made him appear taller and gave him a commanding air. Blandford could have served as a model in a magazine for the successful CEO. The detectives felt his cool grey eyes assess them with the practiced skills of a corporate executive officer.
In response, Blandford quickly evaluated the two detectives, using his years of business experience to analyze their character from little clues of dress and physical appearance. The man who introduced himself as Lieutenant Robertson was tall with the tanned and weathered features of an outdoorsman. He wore a green double-knit sport coat over a yellow sport shirt and brown polyester slacks that needed pressing. Blandford noticed he had the stained fingers of a three-pack-a-day man and resolved to not let him smoke; the man's addiction would hurry the interview to its end.
Fuentes, the Sergeant, in contrast to Robertson's cheap wardrobe, wore a well-cut, dark-blue blazer with a white oxford-cloth shirt and silk challis tie. The color of the handkerchief in the vest pocket of his coat exactly matched his gray slacks. Roger decided that Robertson was merely playing out the string until retirement, but Fuentes, on the other hand, presented an altogether different problem. He was probably on the career track to become the first Hispanic police chief and would be the most dangerous of the two. Roger knew how to manipulate men with high career goals. Fuentes would be a challenge-but not an insurmountable problem-he decided.
“Now then, how can I help you gentlemen?” asked Blandford after the social amenities of introduction were over. He wanted to strike just the right tone-the affable lord of the manor assisting his liegemen as they went about their duties, keeping the vulgar riffraff under control.
“We're canvassing the neighbors for any information they might have that could relate to the murder of Mrs. Manning next door,” said Lt. Robertson.
The man's disarming smile told Blandford that Robertson would play the good cop, leaving the younger man, Fuentes, to play the bad cop. Blandford smiled back in return. Robertson wouldn't be a problem. He'd probably go home and brag to his wife about how he met Roger Blandford, the CEO of Comtech that afternoon. Blandford pretended to be surprised.
“Oh, really? I thought the papers and TV said the husband was the prime suspect.”
“Well, they usually jump to their own conclusions,” said Robertson with a rueful smile as he pulled a notepad and pen out of his pocket. “Actually, the husband was in shock and couldn't be questioned at first. It turned out that he had an alibi that stood up, so we're back to routine cop work-like asking neighbors about the Mannings. How well did you know them?”
“We didn't know them very well. Just to nod or say hello to. We barely met them since they moved in last fall. They seemed like a nice couple, but, of course, they were so much younger than us...” His voice trailed off while Robertson wrote the answers down.
Without looking up, the Lieutenant continued, “How about visitors? Any regulars?”
“Not that I recall, but I'm at work most of the time. I usually don't get home until after dark.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I think they had a party once. There were a lot of cars.” He saw Robertson absent-mindedly reach into his pocket for a pack of Camels. “I 'd prefer that you don't smoke in my house,”
It amused him to see Robertson guiltily put the cigarettes away after the sharp rebuke. This was too easy, he thought.
Fuentes stepped in. “What about last Saturday? The nurse said you were home. Did you notice any strangers, or someone or something out of place around the time of the murder?” he asked.
“Noooo...but then, I don't spend much time out of doors. I have a yard man,” he said with an almost apologetic air, as if explaining himself to men who probably had to do their own lawns.
“So you're telling us you don't remember hearing or seeing anything unusual happening right over your fence, is that right?” Detective Fuentes had dropped his polite mask.
“I don't remember anything about that,” said Blandford coldly.
Fuentes arched an eyebrow. “What about your wife?”
“My wife never goes outside of the house without me. I'm only home today because she...she hasn't been well. The murder upset her.”
“Darling, are you talking about me behind my back?.”
There was a tell-tale edge to her voice as Louise Blandford walked into the room. She was still stunningly beautiful at an age when most women gave in to the ravages of time. Her perfectly coiffed ash-blonde hair needed no dyes, and her face remained as unlined as that of a woman half her age. Her supple grace as she seated herself on the sofa enhanced the elegance of her beige silk leisure outfit.
“Not at all, Dear. I just told these policemen that we're always together whenever we go anywhere. They're inquiring about the murder of the young woman next door.”
The two detectives exchanged looks. They'd both caught the slight stress that Blandford put on the word policemen. And being policemen, they wondered why.
“So terrible. And she was such a lovely young thing, wasn't she?” she remarked to the detectives.
“Yes, ma'am. I'm Lt. Robertson. Your husband was telling us that you didn't know the deceased? He ended the sentence with a questioning note.
“I'm afraid we never met. I got all my information about her from my husband. I don't meet many new people,” she replied dreamily. “I seldom even go out in our back yard. The sun is so hard on a skin like mine, you see?”
“Mr. Blandford, I thought you said you barely knew the Mannings,” asked Sgt. Fuentes. His voice was triumphant.
“Like I said, Sergeant,...” Blandford answered Fuentes while looking at the lieutenant, “...just to nod and say a few words over the fence if I happened to go outside. She told me once they'd moved here from Michigan, and she loved the weather down here. That kind of thing.”
“She ever mention any problems with her husband, any enemies while you were talking over the fence?” Lt. Robertson weighed in.
“I'm probably the last person in the world that a young woman like Mrs. Manning would bring her personal problems or gossip to, Lieutenant. I'm sorry, but I just can't help you.”
“Roger likes to think he's so intimidating,” piped up Louise from her seat on the sofa, “but he's really just a big old teddy-bear to me.”
“Yes, ma'am. What about staff? Can we talk to the lady who let us in?”
“She's brand new,” said Roger. “She wasn't working for us when the murder occurred.”
“But you could ask Agnes Lipinski,” piped up Louise. “She's in the Houston phone book.”
“Lipinski? Who's she, Mr. Blandford, and what was she doing here?” From Fuentes tone of voice it was plain that he thought Blandford had tried to hide something by not mentioning her name before.
“She was my wife's nurse and companion,” Blandford said shortly. “She left our employ.”
“She worked for us for years before Mrs. Adams came,” Louise rattled on. “She was here that afternoon, but I doubt she saw anything either. We normally took a nap after lunch for a couple of hours.” She shook her head. “After all the commotion started next door, it woke us both up, and she went to find out what happened from the police.”
“We'll check it out. You never know. Maybe she saw or heard something.” Robertson turned to Roger and said, “Well, I guess that's all then. If you think of anything...” He started toward the door, motioning the other man before him, obviously in a hurry to get outside for a smoke.
“I saw on the television that she had been repeatedly stabbed with a knife...just like that woman in Palo Alto, Roger” Mrs. Blandford's remark arced through the room like an electrical charge. “Who could possibly do something like that, I wonder?”
The two detectives froze. And turned around.
“You were around another murder? Similar to this one?” Detective Fuentes abandoned any pretense of deference and resembled nothing quite so much as a hunting shark, circling in and out of view in the hazy depths, like the terrors of Roger Blandford's dreams. “Someone you knew?”
His questions hung in the air like thunderclouds over the Santa Catalina Channel, presaging a storm.
Blandford quickly broke into the silence. “Just an unhappy coincidence, I suppose.”
“But there was another murder?” Fuentes bored in. “When you were living in Palo Alto, Mr. Blandford?”
“Well, we did live next door to another murder victim, but it was over twenty years ago.” Blandford turned from Fuentes and appealed to Detective Robertson. “I don't see how there could be any connection!”
“Oh, I see, twenty years ago” said the detective, shaking his head. Then he paused and rubbed his chin, his mind working. “...but that's quite a coincidence. Most people never come in close proximity to even one murder.”
Louise looked up with trusting eyes at her husband. “Well, we certainly hope we never have such a gruesome coincidence come up again. It's terriblby scary to have something like that happen so close to you twice, isn't that right, Dear?
“Of course, Louise, it's a horrible accident of fate.” He raised his voice slightly and said forcefully, “But I'm positive it'll never happen again.”
Roger realized he'd unconsciously emphasized the last sentence and quickly glanced at the officers. If the policemen intuited any by-play or hidden meanings between the couple, they gave no outward signs. But that's precisely the job of good cops, thought Blandford.
“OK, then, folks,” said Robertson, waving a startled Fuentes to silence and turning him to the door while keeping up a running patter. “We'll keep in touch. Something might come up to jog your memory. Thanks for your time. We'll see ourselves out.”
After Robertson almost forcibly bundled Fuentes outside, and the door closed behind them, Roger heaved a sigh of relief. But he wasn't about to give himself an accolade for the way he'd handled the interview. Everything had gone so well until Louise butted in. Blandford pulled back the curtain in the front window and watched the two detectives as they walked to their car. They were in an animated conversation, Fuentes waving his arms and pointing back at the house.
Roger turned back to his wife and hissed, “Louise, I told you to put that terrible tragedy in Palo Alto out of your mind. To forget it and never speak of it to anyone. Whatever possessed you to bring it up here and now in front of those policemen?”
“Well, Darling, it did seem like such a coincidence that we lived next to two slasher murders. Don't you agree?” She giggled. “You don't have anything to hide from those young men, do you? I'm not living with a secret slasher, am I?”
“Louise, that isn't funny,” he said icily. “I'll get Mrs. Adams. It's time for your pill,” he said and stalked from the room. He was furious with her. The loveable little fool was going to ruin things for both of them without realizing it. He wiped some sweat off his brow. He needed to calm down, he thought. Several people at the office had remarked that he seemed irritable lately. No one must suspect that anything was wrong.
“Roger, what in the world are you talking about? That trip to Catalina Island was on our honeymoon, not last week.”
“I know, Honey Bunny. Guess my mind was wandering for a minute when you suggested going out to dinner at Landry's for some fish.” He smiled. “It reminded me of the gold fish in the bay that day...”
“I'll swear, you're getting to be a late-blooming romantic, Roger, and just when I ...”
Roger tuned her out. It was getting easier and easier to do these days. Somehow he didn't care much about the present anymore-and less than nothing about the future. But he could remember past events with startling clarity. Like the fish in Catalina Bay on their honeymoon. He could recall every moment and conversation of that golden afternoon like it was yesterday...
They went over to Catalina on the ferry. Those were the days when they didn't have much money. But it didn't matter because they were so in love with each other. They'd rented floats and paddled out among the yachts, hoping to spot a movie star and imagining that they'd be rich one day. He'd spotted the big gold fish through the clear water among the kelp beds.
“Look, Honey Bunny. Those are some damn big gold fish.”
“Oh, Roger, they're so pretty. Lets dive down and look at them.”
And so they did. But they learned that the golden fish were a lot farther off than they thought-much like their dreams-but it didn't matter. They struggled to reach them anyway.
Then Louise became entangled in some kelp, and Roger stayed down to free her though he was almost out of air. Somehow, he got wrapped up in the waving fronds while freeing Louise and nearly drowned. The last thing he'd remembered was the slow finning of the incurious gold fish and the dark blue of the water just outside the range of his vision. A dark and dangerous blue haze...
“Roger! Are you listening to me?”
“Yes, Honey Bunny,” he answered automatically as he'd done a million times before, but he could still see the golden fish finning slowly into the hazy darkness as he desperately tried to swim out of his memory and into the life-giving air of the present.
“Louise, how long have you suspected ...?” asked Ed Murphy in a conspirator's whisper below the happy hubbub of the Nineteenth Hole at the Champions Country Club. He shifted in his seat and looked around the room to make sure no one was within listening distance--and that Roger wasn't on his way back to the table.
Louise was reassured by his attitude. Ed was more than their family doctor and golfing companion. Murphy was Roger's best friend. He could be counted on to keep a secret.
“I wasn't sure until the past few days. Just a few little things that added up-or didn't add up as the case may be.” She gave a grim smile. “He's been so irritable lately. Ever since that awful murder next door. One minute he's his old self, and then he's off in a different world, and I can't seem to reach him. He's always been so loving and protective of me. I just can't take it...” She broke off into stifled tears.
“Is there anything concrete? I mean, you have your suspicions, but ...”
“The first thing I noticed was he started parading around the house almost naked. After he'd met that red-haired floozy next door over the fence...”
“Naked? Roger? In front of the household staff?” He barked a short laugh. “Forgive me, Lou, but the thought of Roger Blandford prancing around like that is just so out of character.”
“Don't be a fool, Ed. Not in front of the cook or my nurse-but he was doing it in his bedroom, wearing skimpy shorts in front of the window so she'd see him from next door. He said he was working out to get in shape, but I know better than that.”
“Well, I keep telling him he needs to exercise more,” he grinned, “but I never thought he'd do it that way.”
“Men! You all stick together against us women. You'd give him an excuse or alibi for anything.” She suddenly realized what she had said, bit her lip, and almost broke down again. Ed covered her emotional state with another question.
“Anything else? Before I talk to him, I mean.”
“Well, the day after the murder he made a big fuss over one of the kitchen knives being lost. When Mrs. Lipinski made some little remark about it, he went on an absolute tirade and fired her on the spot. She'd been with us for years, and she was like family. God, I miss her.” She sniffled. “Now I have Mrs. Adams for a nurse and she's OK, but you know how it is with a new person. They're always so nosy, wanting to know everything about you when it's none of their business.
“My God, what a mess! What are you going to do? What will you tell him?”
“I don't know. God help me, I just don't know. I'll have to go get an attorney first, I suppose.”
“If there's anything I can do...”
“Thanks, Ed. I'll let you know. It's such a comfort to tell someone who's not only a doctor but a friend.”
Meanwhile, in the men's locker room, Roger Blandford passed the unending game at the poker table without acknowledging the greetings of several friends and business associates. He looked like a defeated and distracted old man. He was the object of several comments by his friends after he shuffled out the door like a lost soul.
“Roger seems like he's past it the last few months, have you noticed?” asked Bob Bailey, Blandford's business partner. He looked at Roger's retreating form and shook his head.
“Yeah. Preoccupied. Must be your new merger deal, I imagine,” said another friend.
“Well, he'd better shape up. I can't seem to get him to concentrate any more. We got a lot riding on that deal. Millions.”
“I should have such problems,” said a loser. “Who gives a damn about Roger Blandford's problems? Shut up and deal.”
Roger Blandford opened his front door and was surprised to see the two detectives, Robertson and Fuentes.
“Oh, hello, Officers. I wasn't expecting you. You're Detective...,” he groped for the names.
“I'm Fuentes. He's Robertson. We called earlier.”
“Of course. I just wasn't expecting you so early. Come in. Come in.” He led the men into the living room. “Can I get you something, coffee, tea, sodas?”
“No, sir.” Detective Robertson was not as deferent as on his previous visit. He was very business-like. “Mr. Blandford, we'd like to ask you some questions.”
“Of course. But I don't see how I can help you.”
“Blandford,” said Fuentes, “Let's cut to the chase. We've done some checking on you back in Palo Alto. It seems that you knew the other lady that was murdered very well. In fact, you were having an affair with her before she was stabbed to death, according to the Palo Alto police.”
“You never asked me if I knew the lady, Sergeant. Like I told you, it happened a long time ago, and I didn't see how there could be a connection.”
“Mr. Blandford, our victim's husband says that you and the lady used to talk over the fence all the time. So you knew her better than just a nodding acquaintance, right?” Robertson's tone of voice was sweet reason itself.
“I never said we didn't speak. It was just 'Hi, how are you, sure is hot', that sort of thing. Nothing personal.” Roger began to sweat.
“Nothing personal?” said Robertson. “Mr. Manning says his wife told him you'd peep at her from behind the windows upstairs every time she went out by the pool. He seems to think you were coming on to her.”
“Cut the shit, Blandford,” snarled Det. Fuentes. “Her husband said you used to parade in front of your bedroom window without any clothes on.”
“I didn't parade, Det. Fuentes, but the curtains in my workout room may have been open...”
“Sure. All you old freaks get horny and start wandering around naked in front of young women. Then, when they laugh at you...” Fuentes spread his hands in a gesture of finality.
“Roger! What's going on? Why are these officers here again?”
Louise Blandford's questions froze everyone in the room. She approached the three men and looked at them with suspicion.
Roger Blandford made a swift and difficult decision. He'd been thinking about what to do if the investigation deepened. It was time to remember his promise, what he'd vowed to do should this situation ever arise.
“Nothing's wrong, Honey Bunny. They just want me to answer some more questions.” He raised a hand and looked Fuentes in the eye, stopping cold whatever he'd been about to say. “So I told them I'd ride down to the station with them for a bit. That will be all right with you, won't it, Lt. Robertson?”
The plea in Roger's voice was too blatant for Robertson to ignore.
“Why sure, Mr. Blandford. That'd be real helpful of you.”
“If you'll just give me a moment, Lieutenant, I want to call our family doctor to come by and stay with Louise while I'm gone.”
He gestured to the phone in the den where some privacy could be had.
“No problem, Mr. Blandford. Take your time.” When Fuentes moved as though to stop Roger from leaving the room, Robertson motioned to him to stand fast and said, “We can take all the time in the world for a gentleman like yourself, Mr. Blandford.”
While Roger Blandford shuffled out of the room, Robertson cautioned Fuentes, “Ya got a lot to learn,” he said. “Ya gotta treat quality like quality, if you want to get ahead.”
He took out a cigarette and lit it, and inhaled with a sigh of satisfaction. Then he looked around as though for an ash tray, shrugged and threw the burnt-out match on the Persian rug. He smiled. And you had to learn to celebrate your small victories when you could, he thought.
Roger Blandford never understood much of what the prosecutors and the defense lawyers talked about in the pre-trial hearing about Beth Manning's murder. By that time his Alzheimer's disease had progressed far enough to make the formality of a trial seem almost pointless. When his confession was entered into the trial record, his attorney made strenuous efforts to have it excluded on the grounds of non compos mentis.
The case promised to make a nice living for the attorney for years to come because Louise Blandford swore to spend every dime of their estate to keep her beloved Roger out of prison or the executioner's hands. There had never been a case with the issue of Alzheimer's as the defendant's defense, so it was anticipated that a long series of appeals up to the Supreme Court were ahead, if something couldn't be worked out in a plea bargain.
Ultimately, the District Attorney didn't have the stomach to try Blandford. Whether he had the mental capacity at the time of the crime to distinguish between right and wrong became irrelevant. Both sides agreed that he was incapable of making his defense. So he was adjudged criminally insane and sent to a mental hospital, where his wife, despite her chronic paranoid schizophrenia, came with her nurse to see him on every visiting day.
And Roger? Whenever she appeared, Roger never failed to recognize Louise. At least, he never forgot her while there was a spark of the old Roger left. But Roger never saw an aging matron, only a lovely young girl with whom he had once sought to catch the golden fish of Santa Catalina.
And it was only on rare occasions that he remembered her coming home, twice, covered with blood, and saying, “I killed your little bitch, Roger.”
On those days he became silent and stubbornly refused to talk to the nurses or doctors because he dimly remembered his promise-to cherish and protect, in sickness and in health, his beloved Honey Bunny. And somehow he never disclosed his final act of love, when, knowing he had irreversible Alzsheimer's, he'd confessed to Louise's crimes.
But eventually that memory also faded into the dark blue haze where Roger swam alone amid nightmare terrors...and tried desperately just to exist.