Read an Excerpt
Before Another Dies
He was in my parking place.
And that was the least of my worries.
Last week, I began my third year as mayor of Santa Rita. Prior to that, I served two four-year terms on the city council. After eleven years in public life, I thought I had seen everything.
People are attracted to the city. Maybe it's because Santa Rita is snuggled next to the Southern California ocean. Maybe it's because our nights are warm and our days only slightly warmer. We don't do hot; and we certainly don't do cold. The ocean serves as our personal heat sink. Our restaurants are exceptional, and our ocean is blue enough to make the sky envious. People come to Santa Rita to escape Los Angeles to the south. Some just pass through on the way to Santa Barbara to the north.
As I said, people are attracted to the city. Most are reasonable,
civil, and normal people, but we have our share of fringe personalities.
We have transients who wander our streets content to stay as long as their restless souls will allow. We have homeless who sleep in our parks and between downtown buildings. We even have our share of social gadflies. Some have burning messages for their civic leaders. Most are harmless; a few are scary.
Last week, Bobby 'Street Dog' Benson was waiting for me when
I arrived at city hall. I had chosen to park in front of the building as I
usually do in the mornings. In the afternoon, I hide my car in the back lot. Fewer disruptions that way. Street Doghe named himselfhad been sent by some alien race or another to warn me of an impending invasion. The mother ship was due to land on the beach just south of the pier at precisely 3:10 that afternoon. Street Dog hears voices. I
thanked him and rewarded his civic contribution with a five-dollar bill I hoped he'd use to buy an Egg Mc Muffin. Street Dog left satisfied.
The mother ship never arrived.
Yes, I've seen it all. Or at least I thought I had until, under a bright January sky, I pulled into the front lot of city hall and aimed my car toward the reserved space with the sign that read, 'The Hon.
Mayor Madison Glenn.' That's me, except I prefer the name Maddy.
Madison sounds too . . . I don't knowsomething. My father, a history professor at the University of Santa Barbara, named me after a dead president. He likes dead presidents.
I directed my silver Lincoln Aviator up the drive and down the lot. A second later, I saw it: a lime green AMC Gremlin hatchback that appeared as if it had been traveling nonstop since the day it rolled off the assembly line sometime in the early seventies.
'Great.' I'm not stuck on my title, nor do I think the citizens who elected me to be their first full-time mayor should treat me like royalty. I had moved beyond feeling that a reserved parking space made me important. The principle of the thing, however, bothered me. After all, the space was, well, reserved, and it had a sign that said so. Just like the space next to it for the city manager, city attorney,
and the members of the council.
I had a choice to make. I could simply drive around to the back of the building and park there, or I could confront the space thief.
Most days, I would have chosen the former. This day, I stopped my
SUV a few feet from the Gremlin and waited for the driver to catch my hint. I was ready with my patented how-dare-you scowl.
He didn't move. I gunned the engine and let the eight cylinders roar slightly less than a polite, 'Hey, buddy.' Nothing. Was he asleep?
The urge to honk grew but I chose a more diplomatic approach, one fitting an elected official, especially one facing an election.
I exited my car and started forward. It was still early, just seven thirty, and the sun was crawling up the eastern sky, just beyond the coastal hills. Most of the city employees would not be around for another half hour. A brief but pungent fear rolled over me. What if the guy was off his rocker? I mean, he was driving a Gremlin. I considered calling security, but I was afraid I'd sound petty. A lot of things have changed in my life over the last six months, but I was still in a wrestling match with pride.
I approached the driver-side door and tapped the glass with the knuckle of my index finger. 'Excuse me, sir.' I tried to sound as pleasant as a woman could at seven thirty and one cup of coffee shy of contentment. 'May I help . . . ?'
The driver was slumped in his seat. I assumed he was snoozing,
perhaps having overexercised his right to knock back cold ones at the local bar.
He wasn't asleep. Spiders crawled down my spine, and I took a step back.
Returning to my car, I pulled the cell phone from my purse and dialed a number well known to me. Ringing was replaced by a curt voice. I made myself known. 'This is Maddy Glenn. I don't suppose
Chief Webb is in yet.' The cop who answered assured me that Webb was in but that he was in some sort of early-morning meeting. 'I
need to speak to him right away.'
'It might be better if we wait for the meeting to end. He hates interruptions. Trust me; he really hates to be interrupted.'
'I understand. Please tell him Mayor Glenn needs him on the phone.' There was a pause, then I was in the never-never land of hold.
'Webb.' Chief Bill Webb had a gruff voice that matched his face.
He sounded even crustier than usual, something I attributed to the early hour and my having yanked him out of his meeting.
'Chief Webb, it's Maddy.'
'Madam Mayor.' What little courtesy there was in his voice evaporated. Webb and I have history. He doesn't like me and never has. The feeling is mutual which is a bit awkward since he saved my life a few months back. I owe him a lot but he never brings it up.
He is too professional. Regardless of our mutual misgivings, I know him to be an excellent police officer and superior administrator. Our problems have to do with politics and money and goals and money;
and to make things worse, we've disagreed over money. He wants more; I don't want to give it.
'I'm sorry to disturb you so early, but this is important.' I took a deep breath. 'I just pulled into the front lot, and there is a car in my parking space'
'You didn't just pull me out of an officer review meeting to evict some guy from your parking space, did you? Unbelievable. Call security.
That's their job. Call a tow truck.'
'You don't understand, the driver is in the car'
'Then tell him who you are and tell him to beat feet.'
'I would, but he's dead.' Silence. I could hear people talking in the background and the chief breathing. 'You there?'
'I'm here. You sure he's dead?'
I sighed. 'Head tilted to one side, cloudy eyes open and unblinking,
mouth agape . . . Oh, did I mention that he doesn't appear to be breathing?'
'I'll be right there.' He hung up.
I closed my flip phone and forced myself to the Gremlin again.
The man hadn't budged, but then I hadn't expected him to. I've seen dead people before and he looked like a classic case. Once, out of some sense of misplaced loyalty, I attended a friend's autopsywell,
most of it. There are some blurry spots, and the crystal-clear images
I kept locked in a mental dungeon.