17:30: Irene Casey drove up Rinconada Street, to Teresa Sokolovsky’s condo. She was desperate to find out whether the agencies on the scene were hiding leads. She knew that Ryan wouldn’t be secretive about this case if there wasn’t good reason to slip his investigation past prying eyes. Looking more and more like an assassination at the fig tree and now Mrs. Baker’s kidnapping, Ryan was following something he wasn’t telling her about. She strongly suspected that Teresa might have been able to give her a clue, like where to look and about the connection to the fig tree murder and Nick Baker’s crash and disappearance. Since her separation from Dan, Ryan had taken her under his wing, but she was left out of this case. Suspicions confirmed, she was astute enough to know that something was going on that suggested her husband’s corruption was involved.
Teresa answered the door and greeted Irene with a pat-pat hug. The two women knew each other from casual contact and had spent some time a year ago at Pasqual's Bar for a retired cop's funeral party. There were only a few women on the police force other than 911 operators, meter maids, and clerks in those days. Teresa bought a round for all the uniforms and they stayed a couple hours after the party broke-up. A handful of other young single, and not so young and not so single, officers hung on and began taking turns hitting on them, buying more rounds and trying too hard to pick-up. After all, Teresa, well, she began looking better to them through the lens of alcohol and, even though Irene was still married, it was well known she’d recently become available.
Irene remembered her mood had been light as the shots began taking effect, “Jeeze, girl, that dress and make-up, whew! you are looking so good, I’d fuck you.”
Teresa didn’t laugh but seemed to be embarrassed at what might’ve been a joke, a drunk come-on, or could have been something more fun. She didn’t exactly deflect the overtly suggestive compliment. Tightening the thin fabric of the skirt across her lap with her hand, she smiled, parted her lips near Irene’s ear, “Really, do you think so?" and whispered, "I had this dress in my closet and just threw it on.”
The spot just under Irene’s solar plexus stirred. She answered, “Well, these studs seem to think so...”
Teresa was glib, “The Fuckers, they’re all married. I don’t have time for it. You go home with one and then you have to spend weeks, sometimes months trying to get rid of ‘em.”
After several hours of heavy drinking, and among all the seasoned drinkers there, Teresa seemed to be the most capable of standing. She poured Irene into her classic 1959 Triumph TR-3, and drove her home. A thrill-ride, top-down along Camino Cielo wasn’t enough to sober Irene up, and vague recollections of a long goodnight kiss haunted her for months afterwards.
Irene had dismissed that whole afternoon in the past as an alcohol fueled attraction at best and tried to forget about the whole scene until she found herself assessing the girlish Tom-Boy in a hooded sweatshirt with no make-up sitting next to her. Ryan had admitted to Irene, that Teresa’s allure (disheveled, and gawky), enhanced a subtle eroticism exuding a powerfully enticing combination of pheromones and admiration.
She had to get back down to business or… or what? And abruptly curtailed her thoughts, blurting out, “Say, I like that you’re damned good with this tech stuff. I want to get a computer, but I don’t know anything about them. Shit, I don’t have time for classes.”
Teresa put a hand on Irene’s shoulder, “No problem. I can give you a lesson or two... get you started. We’ve gotta stick together, you know, women.”
A tingling flush of blood surged to Irene’s upper chest and pulsed warmth up her neck to her ears, “Thanks, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through. I can’t afford one now.” Irene deflected the offer but knew her excuse was weak and was based more on fear of arousal than financial considerations; her phrase, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through, still echoed in her mind weeks later and caused her to snigger.
Teresa laughed, “What can't you afford, the divorce? Or, did you mean, the computer?
"Oh shit, I don't care how much the divorce will cost... that fucker. Naw, I'll get a, what-cha-call 'em, a table-top... er, you know, a desk-top as soon as..."
"No plobrem. I have an old one I can give you. I'll show you a thing or two," and another relaxed laugh rolled out from her slender throat and through her lips, "Oops, no plobrem, no problem... you have me slurring… repeating myself... no problem no problem... like a drunk.”
Irene was confused because she hadn’t any same-sex urges before she stepped in the door that afternoon, but a magnet in her belly drew her towards Teresa. At first it was respect for her skill and knowledge of computers. Computers were a mysterious device to Irene back then. Desk-tops, lap-tops, Macs and so on. She decided it was time to join the twentieth century. Computers be damned, she’d felt a feint stirring whenever she was around this woman, but it was stronger that day in the dim light glowing from the monitors in the room.
All the table-tops in Teresa’s place had several Santa Barbara Roasting Company empty paper coffee cups between the monitors. The only bare surface was a massage table at the side. “Come over here and have a seat. You’ll have to excuse the mess, the cleaning lady’s day off, eh.”
“I’m kinda here on business.” Irene suddenly had the desire to run but she cleared a pile of papers off a folding chair instead and waved a hand towards the massage table, “You do massage?”
Teresa smiled, showing a set of gleaming white teeth, “Yeah, internship at the PD doesn’t pay the bills,” and asked, “Business? Official? You want some coffee?”
“Not exactly official... going under the radar,” Irene answered hesitantly but was feeling pleasantly at ease.
Teresa said rather than asked, “So, you want to know what Ryan’s up to.”
With seething animosity, she added, “And fucking Dan.” But her mood mellowed while watching Teresa’s elongated porcelain fingers take out a styro-foam cup from a package of fresh ones and filled it from an old thrift-store Mr. Coffee. Damn, she thought, the girl looks like a saint on an icon… interrupting her reverie, she answered, “That’s good, black... no sugar.”
“I know,” Teresa pointed to a map with pins in it over the part of her desk facing the wall. “Something’s going on up there.”
Irene sipped from the cup and looked at the wall-map with red and black pins, “Sheeze, you’ve been busy. Not at the Baker house?”
“No, something’s happening around Coyote Road and West Mountain. I’m trying to get hold of Ryan... he isn’t in contact with anyone since he left here.”
“How about Dan?”
“Blacked out too,” she came up behind Irene and began massaging her shoulders. “You too. You have so much... chakra blockage... tension in your neck... relax.”
“Ummmm, that feels sooo good,” Irene said as she let herself feel that stirring. It was from the heart... not the groin. It didn’t disturb her this time. It was welcome physical contact but, she had business. “Say, you know that cab driver, Max?”
“Yes, Jimbo and Max have delivered a few orders from Jack in the Crack,” a broad smile graced Teresa’s face, “and, back in the day, a pint or two from the liquor store in the middle of the night.”
Irene acknowledged a truth junkies and cops know, “Cabbies are onto everything going on in town. Do you think...?”
“I could call Jimbo, he’s a bit saner than Max.”
“Tell him to keep this shit under his hat, if you do.” Irene submitted, “Maybe he could help us with recon.”
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without Ryan. It has to be dangerous,” Teresa purred.
Irene dismissed the thought, “Shit yes, it’s crazy and can be a career ender for me if anyone gets a whiff of this. I’m off-duty now, so, what the fuck. Give him a call.”
“Okay, let’s hear from Ryan first,” Teresa offered.
“If Dan wasn’t smack in the middle of this I wouldn’t get involved,” Irene sighed.
“Then don’t. Ryan's on it. He knows how to take these kinds of risks. That’s my amateur advice,” she whispered at the nape of Irene’s neck as she lifted from under Irene’s arm pits, “Come, and lay down over here. There's time for this... I do have a massage license, you know.”
Irene laid on the massage table face down and let herself drift into deep relaxation as Teresa massaged her crown... her temples... her jaw... lifted, pulled on her neck muscles, ground the heel of a hand down her spine, worked her way from the neck to her shoulders saying, “I’m going down your chakras. I want you to breathe as I go; inhale, hold, exhale, at each stage. Fill your lungs from the belly... that’s it... breathe.”