Real life is causing it to take much longer than I anticipated in finishing these stories. But if you are reading any of them just hang in there – I will eventually get them all posted….
The dark neighborhood was quiet, its inhabitants no doubt sleeping peacefully – but then that was the way most decent neighborhoods usually were at 3:30 in the morning. A lone black pickup truck cruised its way through the side streets before pulling into the driveway of a small house located towards the back of the residential area. Turning off the engine, the driver leaned over, forehead resting on top of his hands which were now gripped tightly around the steering wheel. The figure sat without moving for a very long time until finally he lifted his head, staring out bleary-eyed at the shadows around him. Martin Riggs was drunk – just as he'd been drunk every night since the phone call from the hospital five days ago – and just as he planned on being drunk every night thereafter.
He had buried Vicky that afternoon and the day had been a strange jumble of things being either a hazy blur or painfully, vividly seared into his memory. He vaguely recalled some of the people's faces, remembered hands patting him on his back, some giving him a hug, people saying words that he didn't even hear. But every single detail had jumped into ultra sharp focus at the cemetery as they had lowered her casket down into the ground. Up until that point, even despite seeing her body lying at the morgue, Martin had managed to convince himself that he was in the middle of one monster of a nightmare. Now it seemed there was no way to deny the truth that she was really dead. He was desperate to obliterate the events from the entire week but so far the amount of alcohol he had consumed was still not enough to accomplish that feat. Reaching over, he grabbed the paper bag that was resting in the passenger seat. It took an effort of herculean proportions, but he finally managed to pull himself out of the truck. Although Martin could not bear the thought of entering their darkened home knowing she wasn't there waiting for him, he still decided, it would probably be best if the neighbors didn't find him passed out in the driveway come the morning. No… best to somehow make it inside the house where he could curl up into his anguish undisturbed.
Stumbling up the stairs, the bottles in the bag clinking together, Martin leaned over and jammed the key into the lock, opening the front door. He made his way through the dark den and into the kitchen where he deposited the paper bag onto the kitchen counter. Flipping on a light, he pulled out one of the liquor bottles, and reached into the cupboard to grab a glass. Halfway through pouring the drink, Riggs turned suddenly, his attention diverted by the sound of scratching at the sliding glass door that ran along the kitchen's back wall. He took his drink and walked over, letting Sam in from where he had spent the day lounging in the fenced backyard. They had had the dog for seven months now after Martin had brought him home as a surprise for Vicky. The case he had been working on had quickly become more complicated and bigger than originally anticipated. As a result, he had been working late a lot of the time, putting in even longer hours than normal, and he hated the fact that she had to spend so many evenings alone. A puppy had seemed like a good idea. It wasn't the baby that Vicky really wanted but it was the best that Martin could come up with at the time. Vicky, had of course, immediately fallen in love with the fur ball; so much so that on those late nights when he crawled into bed next to her, he had to push Sam out of the way. Lucky for the mutt, Martin was a dog-lover himself. The dog bounced around the detective's legs, tail wagging enthusiastically, until Riggs finally bent over to give a quick scratch to the animal's ears.
He drank the bourbon as he made his way down the hall, entering the back bedroom, Sam still hanging out at his feet. Martin focused his gaze downward, trying his best to ignore the signs of Vicky that were everywhere around him as he sat the drink down on the nearby dresser. Going into the bathroom to take a leak, he stopped suddenly, staring in shock at his reflection in the vanity mirror. He knew it would be bad, but he had no idea it would be that bad. Over the past five days, he couldn't count more than maybe a few hours of uneasy sleep at best and it was beginning to show. Dark hollows were already prominently displayed underneath his pale blue eyes – eyes that held a haunted quality to them that he was all too familiar with. Having abandoned his short military cut the moment he had left the Special Forces, his now long wavy hair was sticking out in every direction, giving him, he decided, the distinct look of a madman. Sighing, he quickly looked away, unable to stand the sight of himself.
After using the bathroom, he walked back into the bedroom and opened up the closet. His necktie was long gone. He had thrown it out of the truck window at some point; but Martin was still wearing his suit, having left the cemetery and gone straight to the closest bar that he could find. He grabbed a flannel button down shirt and quickly shut the door before his eyes could have a chance to drift over towards Vicky's clothes hanging on the right hand side. After changing into the shirt and a pair of jeans, he threw the suit onto the back of a nearby chair, but then suddenly froze, his eyes staring at it for a moment. He leaned over and grabbed the outfit, balling it up tightly. Going back down the hall, Martin went into the kitchen. Reached under the sink where he threw the suit into the trashcan. He stood there for a long time, hands gripped on the edge of the counter, working to get his shaky breathing back under control. Grabbing the nearby liquor bottle, he frowned as he realized he had left his glass in their bedroom. Unable to face going back in there for a second time, he just took another tumbler and went into the den.
Over Martin's strenuous objections, Captain Murphy had insisted he take off a minimum of at least two weeks personal time. He had, of course, already been away from work since Vicky had died, but at least those days had been filled with the necessary tasks one had to do – the calling of people, the making of all the arrangements with the funeral home and the cemetery… Now the thought of having all that time off was terrifying. The numbness of the past days was rapidly giving way to the reality of what had happened. And that reality was too painful to even wrap his mind around. What was he suppose to do? Without her presence, he felt like an intruder, as if he didn't belong there; wandering around their house lost, like a ghost himself – unable to engage with anything or anyone.
Normally, he would have just ignored his superior's order and gone back to work, but he knew this time that Captain Murphy would stand his ground. Besides, even Martin had to admit he wasn't ready to face the other detectives – to see the look in their eyes, to hear their mumbled words of sympathy. Grabbing the remote, he turned on the TV, flipping through the channels without even knowing what he was watching. But he preferred it to the tomb-like silence that now engulfed him. He stayed there on the couch until he passed out.
Thankfully, for once, he couldn't recall the details of the dream, but he knew from the trembling of his hands, that it hadn't been a good one.
Eyes still closed, Martin realized with a sudden start that he was lying in his and Vicky's bed. He couldn't remember having come back to the bedroom, but now after eight days of around the clock drinking, everything was beginning to get a little blurry. He jumped off the bed quickly, the motion causing his head to pound even worse than it already was. Shuddering, he reached over to grab a shirt and quickly threw it on. The warmth from the flannel didn't stop his shaking but then Martin knew it wasn't coming from being cold anyhow - it was from deep down inside him.
Still shivering, he staggered down the hallway, entering the kitchen. Went straight to the refrigerator where he grabbed a beer and angling the bottle, popped the top off against the edge of the counter. He suddenly turned back to the fridge, his eyes shifting to the photo of the two of them that Vicky had stuck to its front just last week. In a trance, he took it in his fingers. Stared at it in silence, hearing only the sound of his own ragged breathing. They had had the picture taken while hiking last month. The sudden ringing of the doorbell jarred Martin back to the present. Giving the photo one last look, he quickly slipped it into his wallet in front of the other photo he already had there. The bell rang again. He frowned as he took a swallow of beer, hoping the person would decide to go away. A minute later and the doorbell rang yet another time, followed quickly by a series of knocks. Martin knew it had to be Belinda, their neighbor from across the street and one of Vicky's best friends. It was the seventh time in the three days since the funeral that she had come over to check on him – and he had ignored her on each occasion.
This time, however, she was proving to be especially persistent. Another knock sounded and then a muffled voice. "Martin, it's Belinda. I just want to make sure you don't need anything. I brought some food…" Another knock. "Martin, please…"
Riggs sighed. Belinda's tone was sounding increasingly worried every time she had come over. It was to the point now that Martin was afraid if he didn't acknowledge her soon enough, she might call someone. And the last thing he wanted was a patrolman from the department busting his front door down. He sighed again. "Just a minute," he called out, his voice hoarse from the combination of an overabundance of alcohol and cigarettes and a lack of sleep. Leaning over, he quickly ran the tap at the kitchen sink, splashing the icy water on his face. Dried off with a handful of paper towels, took a deep breath and went to open the door.
It had taken him almost an hour to get rid of her; a painful hour that mainly consisted of them sitting at the kitchen table – Martin staring out the window while Belinda attempted to engage him in awkward conversation. She finally gave up and they sat the rest of the time in silence. At last, she leaned over and squeezing his arm, told him to call if he needed anything. Nodding his head, Martin watched briefly as she let herself out, and then turned back to the window. He knew that she meant well – after all, she had been Vicky's best friend and was very nice, but he simply had no desire to see her – or anyone else for that matter. He put the food she brought over in the refrigerator and grabbing another beer, went outside to sit on the backyard deck. It was a gorgeous spring evening and the neighbors next door were outside as well, obviously enjoying a cookout. There had been an unrelenting severe ache in his chest since the night when he had answered the phone and the sound of their voices drifting over the privacy fence made the pain that much more unbearable. Quickly finishing his beer and cigarette, he went back inside, unable to stand it any longer. Grabbed another beer and drank it as he stood in the middle of the kitchen. Beer finished he continued to just stand there when suddenly he moved to the front window and pulled back the curtain. Eyes darting around at the houses surrounding him, Martin made an immediate decision.
Walking into the hall, he opened a closet door, dragging out the largest piece of luggage he could find. He carried it back to the bedroom, throwing it onto the bed and quickly began rummaging through the room. He moved on autopilot, grabbing various items, clothes and shoes without really looking; stuffing it all into the suitcase. When he finally was finished, Martin stood in the middle of the room for a long moment, gazing around with vacant eyes. Threw in the framed wedding picture sitting on the dresser, along with another smaller framed picture and then last of all, the two pillows from the bed. He slipped on a pair of tennis shoes and then carried the suitcase outside and shoved it in the truck, immensely grateful that it was starting to get dark and no one was around to see him. Quickly going back inside, Martin slid open the door leading to the back deck. He gave a sharp whistle and Sam came bounding up from where he had been sleeping in the yard. Turning around, he grabbed the leash that was hanging on a hook nearby and snapping it on, led the dog to the truck. Sam jumped in, tail wagging furiously, always ready to go for a ride. His mouth set in a tight grimace, Martin slid in behind the wheel and drove off without looking back.
Unfortunately, this time Martin remembered the dream in vivid detail. As horrifying as they were – the worst part was afterwards when he reached out, one hand feeling around in vain and finding nobody there. The realization that it had all been real and there was no one in bed next to him was like reliving that night all over again. And this time Vicky wasn't there to hold him till the shaking stopped like she would do when his other nightmares would come.
Reaching over, he grabbed the nearby pillow he had brought from their house, his face burying into it. He could still smell her – a heady mix of her soap, shampoo and perfume. It was enough to play tricks on his mind – make him believe that she was still there. Up to this point he had been too numb to cry, having sat through Vicky's funeral service in a daze and his eyes staying focused on his hands. But now, he was suddenly finding himself completely overwhelmed – overwhelmed with the sudden blinding grief of her death and with the knowledge that the person he had expected to be with the rest of his life was forever and irrevocably gone. He laid there unmoving, letting the waves of anguish rush over him, feeling sure that the pain would kill him soon enough. But no such luck, of course. Groaning under his breath, he finally rolled over, sitting on the edge of the bed. He reached up, wiping the tears away from his face as best he could then rubbed the wetness on his jeans legs – even that small movement aggravated by the pounding of his head. If he had a headache this bad, it meant only one thing - he was hung over. And if he was hung over, then that meant he was no longer drunk, and that was not the state he wanted to be in. Being sober meant his thoughts would drift all too quickly to Vicky and what had happened. But he knew he had to stay somewhat clear-headed – at least for a little while. He had business to attend to. Martin glanced down at his watch. 8:45. Of course, he didn't know if that was a.m. or p.m. – hell he wasn't even certain of what day it was. When he had checked into the motel, he went ahead and paid for a full week, came into the room, drew the heavy curtains shut and started to drink. The only time he had ventured out was when Sam's bladder demanded it. Getting up, he made his way over to the window and pulled back the curtain. Groaned under his breath as bright daylight flooded the room and quickly closed it shut again. Going back to the bed where Sam was still curled up, he reached into the small night stand, yanking out a tattered phone book. He flipped through the yellow pages, writing down several numbers and then started to make his calls.
It took him quite a bit of maneuvering to hammer out the details, but luckily Martin was able to make all the proper arrangements without having to leave the confines of the motel room. The moving crew he hired would pack up the entire house – from clothes and knickknacks to photos and the furniture – and deliver the contents to the nearby storage unit he rented. He went ahead and paid for a year in advance, figuring that maybe by that time he could stomach going through everything. For the next day, he scheduled a cleaning company to get the house ready for the realtor he found. Unfortunately, there would be no way to get around going to the real estate company's office as the contracts had to be signed in person. And on top of everything else, since the house was in both their names, he would have to bring Vicky's death certificate with him…. Death certificate…. He didn't have that, did he? No, that was something he would have remembered. A quick call to the funeral home let him know it would be mailed out within a few weeks. Looked like he would have to put off the meeting with the realtor till then. Probably for the best. He was really in no condition to meet with anyone. But then the death certificate made him think of all the other stuff he still would have to do. He vaguely remembered them both signing an insurance policy… guess he needed to look into that; there were her credit cards to cancel and then Vicky had… Wait, shit… they said they would mail the death certificate to him. Shit. He grabbed the phone book again and called to rent a post office box and have their mail forwarded. Afterwards, he laid back down, fingers massaging his temples in a useless attempt to relieve the headache. There were probably a million things he had forgotten to do, but it was all he could handle for now… Except for just one more immediate thing to attend to. This time he would have to venture out, but he was going to have to do that eventually anyway – drinking supplies were beginning to run low.
"Well, I have to admit, it's not in the greatest shape and it's pretty small especially if ya got a family but-"
"It's fine," Riggs said curtly. "I'll take it."
His eyebrows raising upward in surprise, the man looked over at the detective standing next to him. "But you haven't even looked it over."
"Does it stay dry?"
"Does the toilet work?"
Martin shoved the cash into the man's hand. "Then I'll take it."
Riggs eased his pickup truck along the paved road that twisted down towards the beach. As he reached the end he came to a group of three other camper trailers. A group of men were sitting off to the side, huddled around an oil drum fire and drinking beers. They turned in unison as he drove by, their expressions guarded as they took in their new neighbor. Martin stopped his vehicle at the last spot and quickly maneuvered the camper into place. Getting out, he went around and opened the passenger side door and Sam quickly darted out, high-tailing it across the wide expanse of sand towards the water, the seagulls squawking loudly in protest at his arrival.
Riggs went immediately to work setting up the camper – removing it from the pickup's hitch and then connecting it to the hook-ups nearby. Looking out of the corner of his eyes, he saw that the men down at the far end had all turned and were watching him closely, but Riggs didn't bother to acknowledge them. He knew full well what kind of place this was which was exactly why he ended up here. People down here kept secrets and kept to themselves. Most likely, curiosity would win out and they would come over, but it wouldn't be for a while. And Martin was fine with that. It was truly the end of the road, both literally and figuratively. It may have been at the ocean, but between the planes flying overhead and the water treatment plant, it was hardly prime real estate. There were no beachcombers – no throngs of golden tight bodies lounging around; instead the bleak landscape reeked of despair and isolation. This was where you went when you had no place else to go.
Finished with the set-up, Riggs reached into the pickup and pulled out his suitcase. Drudged back through the sand to open up the sliding glass door and went inside the camper for the first time. Dropping the luggage onto the floor, he took a quick cursory walk from one end to the other – which took all of fifteen seconds. The dark paneled interior was in rough shape – peeling in a number of spots, and the beige carpet was dingy from years of use, but the seals around the windows and door were good and as long as it didn't leak, he didn't give a shit about the rest. Wasn't like he was going to be doing any entertaining. Going back outside, he grabbed a small cooler and several paper bags from the bed of the pickup and brought it all inside. He was loading the beers into the fridge when Sam came flying through the open door, completely soaked by ocean water and covered in sand. He quickly made his way over to his owner, his whole body wiggling in excitement over his new vast playground. The dog looked so damned goofy it was almost enough to make Martin smile… almost. Instead he just gave a shake of his head and reaching into one of the paper bags brought out some dog food. He didn't have a bowl to put it in so he just flattened out the empty cardboard box that the beers had been in and dumped the food on it.
As Sam began devouring the food, Martin looked around. Along with not having a dog bowl, he had nothing else other than what he had packed in his suitcase. At least the trailer had kitchen appliances, but other than that it was bare. Maybe he could manage the strength to go shopping for the few things he would need tomorrow. As for now… it looked like he would be sleeping on the floor. Not that it really mattered. He knew he wouldn't actually be sleeping anyway. He grabbed a beer and sitting on the stairs leading up to the sleeping platform, pulled off his tennis shoes and threw them in the corner. Lit a cigarette and stared out into nothing. He had not been back to their house since that evening Belinda had come over and he knew that he could not face going back there again. Vicky was the one that had made their house a home, who had given it meaning – now it was just a house – and a house that he felt uncomfortable in. Besides… with all their belongings now packed in storage, what reason did he have for going back anyhow?
To be honest, he had always felt awkward there. Suburbia and houses with white picket fences did not fit him any better than the monkey suit he had worn to the funeral and he knew that… but he had always tried because of Vicky. Whether it interested him or not was beside the point because he wanted it for her. And despite his many shortcomings, Martin had always tried to make her happy. The barbeques and other get-togethers with neighbors made him edgy to the point that he felt like he was going to jump out of his own skin – although he couldn't quite say why. All he knew was the crowd of people usually made him unable to catch his breath. He participated as best as he could; the other guys always loved his deep reservoir of dirty jokes, but then just as suddenly he would lapse into a deep silence for long stretches of time. Finally, uncomfortable, they would drift away until Vicky would come over. She would lean into him, her head resting against his chest, her hand entwined in his and suddenly everything would be right again.
Riggs jerked quickly to his feet, his mouth grim. He gave a shake of his head in a desperate attempt to clear out his thoughts and headed to the fridge for a beer. Grabbing one, he twisted off the cap and tossed it into the kitchen sink. Turned as Sam, finished with his meal, darted outside yet again. Riggs followed him, hanging back in the frame of the open sliding glass door, watching as the dog started chasing seagulls again in the rapidly fading daylight. He took one last drag on the cigarette and flicked the used butt onto the sand when the sounds of low murmuring caught his attention. Riggs turned, glancing up to his right where the group of men was still gathered around the fire. They were a motley crew – ranging in age from around Martin's thirty-four to about sixty. Dressed shabbily in faded jeans and sweats, there was no mistaking any of them for accountants – instead they looked like the kind of people most others would cross the street to avoid. They stared back at him with sharp eyes and this time Martin acknowledged them with a terse nod of his head. They nodded back carefully, their faces still shielded but Riggs could tell that their guard had eased down a notch. The fact that they had obviously already recognized him as one of their own was something Martin decided not to dwell on. Sighing under his breath, he moved back into the trailer's dilapidated interior. Kneeling down, he opened the suitcase, rummaging through it until he found his sweats. Peeling off his jeans, he quickly changed his clothes and then going back to the door, stared out into the darkness and gave a sharp whistle. Sam came bounding in and Riggs slammed the door shut behind him. The exhausted dog curled up quickly in a corner as Riggs grabbed another beer. Fumbling through the jeans he had left lying on the floor, he pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lit one as he stepped up onto the sleeping platform and sprawled out, resting on his back.
Exhaling sharply, Martin watched the smoke twist upwards towards the stained ceiling with empty eyes and knew that he was home.