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Seeking Romance in Paradise

by Gary Clifton

Linda felt a rush of excitement when she saw the man in a tan uniform walking briskly toward her. He was tall, fortyish, with gold-rimmed glasses. His thick dark hair was flecked with gray, like white sprinkles on a chocolate donut.

She saw he was carrying on his waist belt several pieces of what she thought to be police gear, but no firearm. She had spotted him earlier in the day: drop-dead gorgeous. Now she was delighted he was walking straight toward her, his handsome eyes locked onto hers.

“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” he smiled, his voice deeply resonant. “Condominium rules don’t allow pets on this side of the retaining barrier, there. It’s a cleanup matter, you see.” He gestured at the masonry wall next to the sidewalk. “Some folks just don’t care for animals, I suppose. Makes it tough on us dog lovers.”

Over her Walmart half-glasses, she saw him blush and couldn’t avoid a certain attraction to a true gentleman. She smiled up at him and shifted slightly, hoping he’d notice she’d left the top button of her blouse unbuttoned. It was bright red, the better to mesh with her new blonde rinse.

Good God, Linda, so brazen... at your age. Perhaps... oh, God, just perhaps. She raised her left hand and casually brushed back her shoulder-length hair, hoping upon hope he’d notice she wore no ring. I look damned good for forty... Well, at least I’m no fat cow.

“What’s your little friend’s name, here, ma’am.” He knelt. “Tell me this little darlin’ won’t bite me.” He reached out cautiously.

“Oh, no...”

Fifi answered his question, inserting the top of her head into the palm of his left hand. He scratched her ears gently as the tiny dog arched slightly, relishing the contact. Linda was surprised at her elation when she saw that he, too, wore no ring.

He certainly has mastered the art of caressing. Again, her carnal thoughts brought a fleeting vision of those hands on her back. Stop, idiot, you’re way ahead of yourself here.

“Are you a police officer? I’m new to Orlando and don’t recognize the uniforms.”

To Fifi’s dismay, he stood up. “Oh, no, ma’am, I’m a retired computer software engineer from Valparaiso, Indiana. I play condo rent-a-cop two days a week and, in return, I get free greens fees for both golf courses.”

A little slather wouldn’t hurt. “My, you’re young to be retired. And by the way, I’m Linda... Linda Gregson.” She floated her maiden name, as she had when renting the condo.

Getting her maiden name transferred on her driver’s license back in Kansas City had been an integral to the plan, a good part. She’d stick with the Memphis home base story. No sense making herself any more traceable.

He shrugged. “Oh, I had a couple of good years, and I’d bought low and sold high on some real estate. Company was downsizing, so I took a golden parachute deal and moved down here.”

She caught he hadn’t said “we” or “my wife and I moved.” Up close, he bore the intangible smell of a man, a real one. God, she was lonely. But lonely enough to try to sell herself to a stranger on a chance encounter? That was quite a step but, sometimes, she rationalized, you do what you gotta do. “Do you live in the complex... uh, officer?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Jason... Jason Kimbrell. And yes, I live in Section K on the far side over there.” He pointed with his forehead. “You live here?”

The question caused more elation that she could have imagined. “Yes, we — Fifi and I — moved into Section A two days ago.” Impulsively, she blurted the next portion of her sales pitch. “I lost my husband Bob and absolutely had to get away from Memphis.”

It was true. She had lost him. She’d cleaned out the cheating, ill-tempered bastard’s bank and brokerage accounts and disappeared while he was busy with one of his tarts at the Sleaze Time Motel. He hadn’t touched her in six months anyway. It would be two more months before he would have sense enough to realize she had gone missing. She wondered if his checks had already started bouncing like beach balls and his credit cards squeezing close to max-out city. Surprise, you useless goat. Don’t call me. Hold your whiskey breath until I call you — not.

“Lost your husband. Man, that’s tough.” His expression said he’d bought her story.

She’d gone through two husbands before she met Bob at a singles club in Kansas City. Leading with fistfuls of cash, he’d made a fine first impression. She’d been incautiously smitten enough to marry him a month later.

In weeks, she’d seen Bob was a MISTAKE in all capitals. His roving eye was insatiable. When he actually hit on the desk clerk at the hotel in Vegas where they were honeymooning, she was stunned and hurt, but that opening salvo was only the tip of the dagger to her heart.

As time dragged on, she realized that Bob, a very successful financial advisor, maintained a veritable stable of girlfriends. When she opened his credit card bills, the cornucopia of expensive gifts he’d bought for someone — certainly not her — was absolutely astounding.

The new and marvelous golf-monitor smiled like a Hollywood star. “Well, things will get better here. You’ll see.”

Linda had never known her father. Raised by her mother, now dead ten years, she had no siblings or children. Limited by her natural craving for privacy, she had few friends, not even one she could consider this week’s “best friend forever.”

The situation was ideal. She’d cut ties with Kansas City, and no one would ever find her in Orlando. She had a fat purse full of ol’ Bob’s wealth in beautiful, green hundred-dollar bills. And Bob wouldn’t be around to gripe about Fifi being always underfoot.

Sure, she had those two arrests for shoplifting — but they’d only been misunderstandings. Getting busted for marijuana was nothing more than millions of people did every day. Although less than perfect, she was still a good person. Everyone has a run in with the law eventually.

She batted her eyes, attempting her damnedest at seduction mode. “Are y’all settled in here? I hope the management and neighbors are tolerable people. You know, I’m new in town, with no way to judge.”

“Excellent atmosphere, and the management are great people. Mostly retired folks, but young retirees. And there is no ‘y’all’. I lost Betty two years ago... to breast cancer.” He blushed again, a gentleman indeed.

“Well” — she mustered up courage — “in these times, women are supposed to be more aggressive. Suppose we could have a drink or a beer and a burger some time? I don’t know a soul in the area. I’d insist on buying.”

His handsome smile came with beautiful white teeth. He glanced at his watch. She was encouraged when she saw it was a Rolex. “I get off in an hour. The Pleasant Peacock is right across the main drag there, ma’am.” He gestured. “We could walk. A beer and burger sounds fantastic.”

“Ma’am? Goodness, Jason, Linda works just fine.”

He extended a hand, which she grasped, thrilled by the warm contact. The touch gave her a brief flash of satisfaction at the destruction she’d wrought upon her husband. There would certainly be no turning back, nor any regrets. Bob could fry in Hell.

* * *

After freshening and dawdling, she walked across the busy street. Jason waved from a rear booth. He’d been spot on; the Pleasant Peacock served excellent burgers and, after far too many beers, the place took on the air of Shangri-La.

With alcohol courage, Linda played the hussy one more time. “Jason, my place is just across the way. I’ve got a cold bottle of champagne and at least two glasses.”

“Outstanding.” He flashed the teeth. If he’d had a computer to sell, she would have paid cash, her husband’s cash, of which she had plenty. No wait... he’d said computer engineer, not salesman. Her drinks were doing her thinking.

When she opened her purse to drop a cash tip on the table, she noticed that he saw it was brimful with banknotes. He studied the hoard calmly. “Linda, you need to find a bank first thing in the morning. There’s one right next door, but it’s closed now.”

She patted the stuffed purse and slurred slightly, “Good idea, Jason. I’ll walk over there tomorrow.”

She was not surprised when her new hunk, with impeccable manners, looked away as she zipped up the stash. God, maybe she’d finally found a keeper. If all else failed, she might eventually come away with some of his cash, too. But first things first.

At the apartment, Linda pushed her door shut, and they fell instantly into an alcohol-assisted, frenzied embrace, mouths locked in slobbery passion as they tore at each other’s clothes. In less than a minute they stood naked in front of a sofa. Jason’s gentle hands were massaging her neck. Heaven couldn’t be much improvement. The hands slid around to her throat...

* * *

Suddenly the door burst open. Linda was horrified to see four police officers: two in uniform, two in t-shirts and shorts with police badges on chains around their necks, all with guns pointed at the sofa. One of the t-shirted cops was a woman.

Linda’s scream was spontaneous. “Good, God, what...?” She slumped on the sofa.

Jason raised his arms.

“Hello, Bingo,” the lady-cop greeted dryly. “How’s your golf game? Keep both hands in sight, asswipe.”

Slender, with shoulder-length sandy hair, the policewoman looked like one of the many women who wandered on or near the beaches and shops of Florida.

“So, you’re a damned cop and not a barroom hustler,” Jason snarled at Linda. “I been drinkin’ beer with an undercover, huh? You can kiss my ass, flatfoot.”

“Yeah, you murderin’ bastard, and the lab just notified us five minutes ago that the DNA we collected from your beer glasses matches you to five prostitute murders in the area in the last two months.”

The two uniforms tossed the naked Jason — now Bingo — onto the floor and handcuffed his hands behind him.

Linda sprang to her feet. “What?!”

“You a new hooker in town? I don’t recognize you. By the way, I’m Detective Sergeant Ruby Negozio of the Greater Orlando Homicide Task Force. Meet Rodney Leroy ‘Bingo’ Dumont, thief and serial killer. You’re a lucky chick. We’ve had old Bingo under surveillance, waitin’ on the lab report, and you walked square into the middle.”

“Serial killer? Hooker? I... I’m no hooker,” she stammered, trying to decide which parts of her bare flesh to cover with her hands.

“We were watching when you paid the tab at the Peacock. Aren’t whores supposed to let the John pay?”

From the floor, Bingo spat, “You think I’d pay money to bed this skank?”

Negozio lowered her pistol, picked up Linda’s purse, and inspected the cash stuffed inside. “Listen, babe, you paid your rent and deposit in cash, Memphis address, Missouri driver’s license, a car registered to a Robert Carlson in Kansas City, and fifteen pounds of hundred-dollar bills. In this neck of the woods, that spells hooker or worse. And Bingo was about to murder you for your stash.”

While Linda was struggling to pull on her clothes, Negozio said, “You gotta come down to the station. Vice will need a mug photo and fingerprints. You know, new talent in town. You got prints on file anywhere in the U.S., we’ll be onto your game soon enough.”

Linda tried to recall if she’d been fingerprinted when arrested for shoplifting and the marijuana thing. She had. Great God. “What about Fifi?”

Negozio looked down at the dog, cringing in a corner. “Tomorrow we’ll send out the doggie police, right after we run your prints and try to reach who the hell ever Robert Carlson of Kansas City might be. Now, you comin’, or do I need the cuffs?”

Linda slumped against the doorjamb, lost in uncontrollable sobs. Behind her, Fifi whimpered pathetically.

Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton

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