Mistletoe and Murder

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Late afternoon, December 24, 2004

 

The reservoir for Arlington, Massachusetts, affectionately referred to as the “Res,” was conveniently located in the center of town. Being a suburb of Boston, Arlington boasted a sizeable population, many of whom took advantage of the recreational opportunities which the Res offered.
    Annette Penrose was one of those people. Every Friday afternoon, regular as clockwork, she ran laps around the jogging and bike trail which circled the Res. She didn’t have much company today, because it happened to be the afternoon before Christmas Eve, and most people were too busy getting ready for the Big Day to spare time for anything else.
    There was a small bathing beach on one side of the Res, and a toddler, bundled up in a lime green snowsuit, stood on the sand jabbing at the skim ice with a stick, while a woman in her twenties clung to the child’s arm. The ground was bare of snow, but a cold, raw wind was blowing in from Boston harbor, and the mother was shivering as she clung to her charge. Annette Penrose glanced at the scene as she jogged by. She turned away abruptly, irritated by the emotions welling up in her mind. Suddenly, the Christmas lights seemed less festive.
    Annette and Harry Penrose were ambitious people who had intentionally chosen to forgo the burdens of child rearing in order to pursue their separate careers. Still, at times like this, with the red and green blinking lights, Christmas music, people jamming the stores, and toddlers in lime green snowsuits, she felt strangely sad to think that she would never have children of her own.
    The problem wasn’t so much the relentless ticking of nature’s clock that made children unlikely—Annette was only in her early forties, after all. No, the strains in her marriage centered around money. After two terms as governor of Massachusetts, Harry Penrose had made a disastrous run for the U.S. Senate, losing both the election and a large part of his fortune in the process.
    Worse, he had not forgiven his wife for refusing to mortgage her own successful business to help fund his campaign.
    Annette had gotten her second wind by the time she was half way around the loop. Her stride was smooth and effortless, her breathing easy, her mood brightening as she lost herself in the moment.
    She nodded to a woman coming the other way with a Golden Retriever in tow. This was the first person she’d seen in a while, which just went to show how absorbed people were with the frenzy of last minute shopping, wrapping presents, and dealing with hyped-up kids.
    Annette’s mind drifted back the Harry. Like many out-of-office politicians, her husband had begun to take on the role of lobbyist, using his connections to smooth the regulatory and legislative pathway for those with the money to pay him. And money had recently come in.
    A lot of it.
    So much, in fact, that he was having an expensive yacht custom built in Maine. This discovery bothered her, largely because of his refusal to explain where the money was coming from. Who was paying Harry so much, and why?
    Her feet clattered over a planked foot-bridge which spanned the pond’s spillway. A little way ahead, the trail ran through a stand of brush and small trees. A bank of clouds had swept in, hiding the late afternoon sun and leaving the woods in gloom.
    Annette instinctively picked up her pace.
    A man stepped onto the path, blocking her way. “Hey, lady, what’s your rush?”
    This was ridiculous. The Res was one of the safest places in town. He was about twenty feet away, and Annette’s legs flailed for a second as she broke stride, turned around to head back the other way.
    There was a second man blocking the way. Two quick steps and he punched her in the stomach. She doubled over and he punched her again.
    Her first reaction was amazement. These things never happened here. In a vague, detached way she saw the knife, realized that she had been stabbed, not punched.
    She turned, but the first man was there. She clawed at his eyes, her fingernails drawing blood, but his fist battered her injured midriff and drove the wind from her lungs.

—————

Not far from where Annette Penrose was being stabbed and beaten, Sean O’Malley was also jogging. In his increasingly grim battle with middle-age spread, Sean had taken to exercising three times a week when he was off-duty, Christmas Eve or not.
    He was jogging along, a bit more slowly than Annette had been, his face red with exertion, his sweatshirt stained despite the cold, when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a struggle ahead. He surged forward and saw the outline of two men attacking what looked, in the shadows, like a woman.
    “Stop, Police!” he bellowed. Sean carried his backup gun, a snub-nosed .38cal Smith and Wessen revolver, in a pancake holster at the small of his back, and he reached for it with one hand as he ran. Unlike a TV cop, who managed to shoot somebody between every commercial, Sean was a real cop, and like many real cops he’d never fired a shot in anger in all of his twenty-one years on the force.
    And now when he needed it, the damn gun was tangled in the tail of his sweatshirt.
    “Police!” he bellowed again. Sean began to worry that he’d arrive on the scene with his right arm caught behind his back.
    One of the muggers paused, apparently unsure if the man bearing down on them with one hand behind his back was really a threat.
    With a mighty heave, Sean freed the weapon and held it at the ready.
    That was enough for the attackers, who ran off. Sean caught a final glimpse of them crossing the parking area behind a low apartment complex.
    He kneeled over the woman, who’s alabaster skin contrasted with her straight black hair. “You’re safe now, lady. I’m a police officer, and we’ll get you to the hospital in no time. Just take it easy, and you’ll be fine.”
    She didn’t say anything, and he wasn’t at all sure that she would be fine.
    He pulled out his cell and called it in, then unzipped her anorak. A wound in her chest bubbled as she breathed, and three more wounds in her abdomen were oozing blood. He took off his sweatshirt and used it to slow the bleeding as best he could, glancing behind him to make sure the muggers were really gone.
    There was an odd hitch to her breathing now, as though she was having trouble getting air into her lungs.
    He imagined a faint noise behind him and turned again to look. When he turned back, the woman had stopped breathing.
    “Shit,” Sean muttered, but she started breathing on her own as quickly as she’d stopped. “Hang in there, lady, the ambulance will be here any second. Just concentrate on breathing.”
    The bus would home in on his cell, and Sean figured they’d pull into the parking area behind the apartment block where the muggers had fled. From there it was only fifty-feet or so to where the woman lay. A piece of cake.
    If she didn’t die first.
    Blinking and hooting, the ambulance parked right were he’d expected, the red and white flashing lights reminding him of a Christmas display on steroids. He waved and hollered as the EMT’s unloaded a stretcher.
    Sean moved back to make room as the EMT’s went to work. With nothing but a sweat-soaked Tee shirt covering his upper body, he began to shiver uncontrollably.
    “Has she said anything? Give you her name?” one of the EMT’s said
    “Unconscious,” Sean managed through chattering teeth.
    The EMT looked up, seeing Sean for the first time. “Jesus Christ, didn’t you mother teach you how to dress in the winter?” He grabbed a blanket and handed it over before returning to the woman. “Middle-aged male, hypothermic,” he murmured into his shoulder mike.
    “She’s got a fanny pack, probably has ID in there,” the second EMT said. “They’ll get her name at the hospital.”
    “She going to make it?” Sean said.
    “I know one thing; she’d be dead now if you hadn’t come along.”
    Sean walked alongside as the EMT’s carried the stretcher over to the ambulance.
    Suddenly, he realized the place was swarming with cops. “I should report in,” he said.
    “Later. Right now, you’re coming with us before we end up carrying you off on a stretcher.”
    “But I can help—”
    “Get in the goddam bus,” the EMT growled, taking Sean’s arm to steady him. His voice softened. “Look, I don’t know how aware she is of what’s going on, but I do know that you’re her Very Best Friend right now, and having you next to her could make a difference.”
    Sean O’Mally got in and put his beefy hand on hers. To his surprise, she clutched his fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© Lawrence Rotch