Authors: Caitlin Rother
NAKED ADDICTION published by:
1153 Bergen Pkwy Ste I #114
Evergreen, Colorado 80439
Copyright 2014 by Caitlin Rother
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
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Trade Paperback ISBN
Interior Formatting by Elijah Toten
Table of Contents
t was one of those hot September days when flies flock to the sweet scent of coconut-oiled skin and the rotting smell of death.
Santa Ana winds were spreading their evil dust and waves of heat were oozing from exhaust pipes, casting a blur over the gridlock of cars ahead of Detective Ken Goode. Santa Anas always made him feel a little off.
Sweat dripped into his tired eyes as he sat in his Volkswagen van, waiting for the light to change on Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach. He’d stayed up too late the night before, reading Albert Camus’
An Absurd Reasoning, Philosophical Suicide
, and pausing intermittently to deconstruct the state of his life. He needed a mind-bending career change and he felt it coming. Any day, in fact, just around the corner. But patience wasn’t one of his strongest traits. He wanted out of undercover narcotics and into a permanent gig working homicides. Not just as a relief detective as he’d been for the past three years, but the real thing. The only questions were how and when.
Goode always took stock at this time of year and he was rarely satisfied. After getting the green light, he drove a few blocks to a flower shop he’d passed a hundred times. He was constantly on the lookout for florists because he didn’t want to go to the same one twice. He chose to keep his annual ritual to himself, even more private than the rest of his rather solitary existence.
Goode parked near the door and glanced at himself in the rearview mirror, running his fingers through his sun-bleached brown hair and wiping his damp forehead with a beach towel. His green eyes had been red around the edges since the Santa Ana kicked up and he hadn’t been sleeping much either, although that wasn’t unusual lately.
The cool air inside the shop chilled his overheated skin, making the hairs on his arms stand up. In the refrigerated case nearest the door, a few dozen long-stemmed red roses poked their heads out of a white bucket of water. Sliding open the door, he bent his tall, lean frame to inspect them more closely. He wanted the most perfect one he could find, just starting to bloom. He selected one from the middle and extracted it carefully from the bunch.
“Would you like a pretty bud vase for that?” the sales girl chirped. She was a teen-ager. Bright-eyed. Hopeful.
“No, thank you,” Goode told her. He knew she meant well, but she had no idea. “That won’t be necessary.”
She looked a little disappointed. “Then how ‘bout you let me wrap it up with some baby’s breath?”
“Sure,” he said, smiling weakly and nodding. He didn’t want to have to tell her that wouldn’t be necessary either. “That would be nice.”
The cellophane crinkled as he walked back to the van and gingerly laid the rose on the passenger seat. He turned right on Grand Avenue and headed south on Interstate 5 toward Coronado.
The bay looked just as green and sparkly as it had that day thirty years ago. He’d just turned six. He, his mother, father and baby sister had finished a lunch of tuna sandwiches together at their small, rented house in La Jolla—all two high school teachers could afford—when his mother announced she was going for a drive. His father, Ken Sr., said he’d planned to take a nap while the baby took hers and asked if she’d take Kenny Jr. with her. She looked a little irritated and a little sad, so Kenny thought she didn’t want him to come along. Sensing that she’d upset the boy, she gave him that forced melancholy smile she’d been wearing of late and tousled his hair.
“Okay, then,” she said quietly. “Let’s go.”
After piling into the family’s Honda Accord, the two of them stopped at Baskin Robbins to buy a Pralines-and-Cream cone for Kenny and a strawberry shake for her. She dug around in her purse for a prescription vial of pink pills, popped one of them into her mouth, and chased it down with a long draw on her shake.
Once she’d finished the shake, she reapplied some red lipstick as Kenny marveled at how the bright color set off the whiteness of her very straight teeth. She was much more beautiful than any of his friends’ mothers. It made him proud.
“Let’s drive over the new bridge to Coronado,” she said. “You can see forever up there. It feels like you can just fly off into the clouds. Don’t you think?”
Kenny nodded happily, feeling privileged to have some one-on-one time with his mother. She’d been acting so down since Maureen was born. She hardly ever wanted to play with him. It felt nice when it was just the two of them, out and about.
They were about halfway across the bridge, where two lanes turned into three, when she pulled over to the side. “Wait here,” she said.
He watched her get out of the car in her black dress, the one with the bright red roses and green leaves all over it. She stepped out of her red pumps and reached through the driver’s-side window to set them on the seat next to him, giving him that droopy smile again. The skin around her eyes wrinkled softly, reflecting a sense of tragedy that made her seem older than her thirty-six years.
“It’s dangerous out here, so stay buckled-up, okay, pumpkin?” she said.
Kenny took her words as the law, never questioning why she’d parked where there was no shoulder. With his seatbelt fastened as instructed, he watched the cars whizzing by and wondered where she’d gone. Strapped in, he couldn’t see into the rearview mirror without undoing his belt. Surely she wouldn’t be gone for long. Finally, he undid the buckle and twisted the mirror so he could see behind the car. There she was, gazing intently out into the distance. He carefully refastened the seatbelt, feeling guilty as it clicked home.
Minutes later, he still couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension, so he checked the mirror again. This time he saw her throw one leg over the railing, then the other, so she was perching on the edge. What was she doing? Then, in one quick movement, she dropped herself over the side.
For a minute or two, he was sure she’d climb right back over the top of the railing. But when she didn’t reappear, the ice cream began to curdle in his stomach and his heart began to pound.
It seemed like hours that he sat there, waiting for her, when a police cruiser pulled up behind him. A young officer slowly approached, his hand on his gun, and stuck his head through that same window.
“Where are your parents, son?” he asked.
But all Kenny could do was stare straight ahead, his fists clenched so tightly that his nails bit into his palms. He knew he would start crying if he met the officer’s questioning gaze. He figured what the man really wanted to know was why Kenny hadn’t tried to stop his mother from jumping into the nothingness.
The officer went to his cruiser for a minute to talk into his radio, and then got in the car with Kenny while they waited for a tow truck to arrive. With the officer’s arm around his shoulders, Kenny felt safe enough to convey the bare facts of what had happened and to obediently recite his home address. After patiently walking Kenny back to the cruiser, the officer took the boy home to what was left of his family.
From that day on, Ken Goode knew he wanted to be a policeman.
Goode drove a little more than halfway over the bridge before he reached the spot where his mother had jumped. He pulled to the side, turned on his hazard lights and unwound the rubber band holding the cellophane together, easing the stem out of its casing. Bringing the bud to his nose, he breathed in its sweet fullness and felt a stab of the old pain. His eyes teared up, alerting him to how tired and vulnerable he was feeling. But that was okay. He would allow himself that, for a few minutes at least. Maybe it was just the hot wind blowing the hair into his eyes.
As he stood at the railing facing north, to his left was the small island city of Coronado and to his right were the blue steel towers of the bridge, curving around to the San Diego marina and downtown skyscape. He tried to push the hair out of his face so he could take in the view, but it was useless. Looking down was the only direction he could see much of anything.
Goode began his ritual of tearing off the rose petals, one at a time, and watching them catch the breeze. It always amazed him what a long way down it was to the bay. He’d Googled the distance once: it was a two-hundred-foot drop. Sometimes, he started to wonder how much the fall would hurt from this height, but he always managed to push the thought from his brain. He wouldn’t go there. Couldn’t go there.
“How are you, Mom?” he said into the wind. “Are you happy?”
A seagull swooped down, settled on the railing a few feet away, and looked right at him. Part of the bird’s upper beak was chipped off. Finding its proximity a little unnerving, he wondered whether the gull could possibly be his mother. He wasn’t a religious man, but he did get spiritual from time to time.
, he thought.
He turned away and watched the sun reflect off the ripples in the San Diego Bay.
“What’s it like where you are?” he asked. “Do you have friends?”
A few moments later, a second seagull touched down on the railing, right next to the first. Goode didn’t really believe in the whole New Age thing, but this seemed a little weird, even for him. He broke the stamen from the rose and tossed it over, watching it float down.
“Okay, if this is real,” he said, “then show me one more sign.”
One of the cars whipping past him honked. He felt the wind pick up and blow his hair the other direction, out of his eyes. It was a little cooler there by the ocean. He closed his eyes and let the breeze kiss his face. But then, abruptly, it … just … stopped … blowing. The high-pitched traffic noise dulled and he felt a strange calm. Soon, beads of sweat began to form on his upper lip. He started feeling woozy.
Hearing the crunch of tires on asphalt, he turned to see a police cruiser park behind his van. Just like the first time. A young officer in his late twenties approached with his hand on his gun. It could have been the son of the officer who’d stopped there thirty years ago.
Goode shivered. “No shit,” he whispered, smiling and shaking his head.
“Everything okay here? You know you can’t park your van on the bridge,” the officer said, sticking his chest out with more than enough bravado. Bulletproof vests always made cops seem more macho than they really were.
Strangely enough, Goode hadn’t had to deal with Coronado police much during his annual ceremony, because he usually came in the middle of the night when traffic was light to nonexistent. But in this case, he figured he would just tell his fellow officer the truth.
Goode extended his hand to shake the officer’s. “Ken Goode, San Diego PD,” he said, retrieving his badge from his shorts pocket. “Just checking in with my mother. She jumped here thirty years ago today.”
The officer gave him a firm shake, but his eyes softened and he relaxed into a less aggressive stance. “Joe Johnston, Coronado PD,” he said. “Wow. That’s rough.”
Johnston paused and shook his head, as if he didn’t know what else to say. “Well, I guess I’ll … turn on the lights and hang here in my cruiser for a few minutes to make sure no one bothers you. Take your time.”
Goode thanked him. He wasn’t sure what it all meant, but he felt as if his mother was okay, wherever she was. Maybe she was a teacher there, too. Or maybe she’d become a painter like she’d always dreamed. He threw the rose stem over the side and watched it swing idly down to the water, coming to rest on the surface and bob along with the current. He wiped a tear from his cheek with his sleeve.
“See you next time,” he whispered.
Goode waved thanks to his colleague and drove the rest of the bridge to Coronado, where he made a U-turn and headed back. His destination was a quiet surfing spot he liked in Bird Rock, a neighborhood of La Jolla just north of Pacific Beach, or PB, as the locals called it. He longed to get out of his head and into the glassy tube of a six-footer, his surfboard cutting through the water like he was Moses. He’d been too busy this past week to paddle out. Surfing was his primary stress outlet and going without it for long made him feel like he was coming out of his skin. A lack of positive ions or something.
He’d been ordered by the brass to do some weekend catch-up work at the station, but he liked typing up reports about as much as scrubbing the bathtub. His talent for procrastination had been fully engaged that morning, most of which he’d spent at an outdoor café, enjoying the slow creep of heightened awareness that came with two café lattes and the Sunday
New York Times
. He felt twice as smart when he finished, although he knew enough to credit the fickle embrace of caffeine. He figured he’d do his personal business, get some surf time, then run down to headquarters later in the afternoon.
But first things first. He
feeling a little run down. The Narcotics-Homicide double duty he’d been doing over the past few years was taking its toll. It was worth it, though, and a necessary step toward making the move. He really felt he belonged in Homicide; he had a calling for it. Now that he’d paid his dues he was ready, right on the brink. He could feel it.
Mission Boulevard was still gridlocked. To his right, a twenty-something brunette with long legs sauntered along the sidewalk, holding up her hair to cool her neck. The white nape beckoned to him. She recognized him, then smiled and waved, as if she had nothing but time to get to a destination unknown—with him if he wanted. Goode grinned and waved back. They’d met at José’s Cantina in La Jolla a few weeks back. Jennie was her name.
“You’re smart and sexy,” she’d told him. “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“I like being alone,” he said simply.
He’d tried marriage and it didn’t work out. But watching her saunter along now, he really felt the need for some human contact. It had been too long, so long that he almost couldn’t remember what it felt like to have a soft, warm body like hers curled around him in the middle of the night. He’d resisted that night at Jose’s, but this time, he almost gave in to the impulse, opened his door and asked if she wanted to join him for a beer and such.
That’s when his rational mind took over. Even though she seemed like an innocent waif, he knew only too well that his picker was broken and that before long, she was sure to turn into another roller-coaster ride. Then, as if to close the matter, he felt that queasy feeling come back and a stab of the old pain—the other old pain, that is.
“You’ve been doing so well,” he told himself in the rearview mirror, trying not to move his lips; he didn’t want other drivers to think he was loony. “Don’t blow it now.”
Even after his divorce, he still seemed to attract the women with the most baggage: the neurotic and the narcissistic, the closet alcoholics and the prescription-drug abusers. He began dating to distract himself from the hurt he felt when his now ex-wife, Miranda, left him. Again. But one distraction led to another and his life became a bad game of dominos. So he developed the discipline he needed to stay celibate. At least it kept one part of his life simple. It kept his mind clear, which freed him up to focus on his career.
He’d had it with the traffic and was honking at the low-rider in front of him when he saw an opening. Cranking the wheel, he hit the gas and cut into an alley parallel to the beach, his tires squealing. It felt good to catch a little speed and the cool air that came with it.