PART I: Beginnings
The sign on the door at police headquarters read Do Not Enter. Toni Jackson knocked, then entered the room. She looked around. The walls were lined with smart boards and bulletin boards. Some of the bulletin boards were covered with pictures, including mugshots, and crime scene photos. A man sitting alone at a workstation stood up as she entered.
“Good morning. I’m Toni Jackson, a reporter with the San Saypaz’ Chronicle. I’m here to check the blotter,” she said as she approached him, her hand outstretched.
He looked at her, but didn’t immediately respond. She put her hand down.
“Good morning. Uh, was there a sign on the door? A sign reading Do Not Enter?” he asked.
Toni glanced back at the door. “I knocked.”
“Did the sign direct you to knock and enter, or did it say Do Not Enter? This is a secure area. You’re not supposed to be in here.”
“The chief’s secretary told me that Deputy Chief Baptiste is out today, and that Tolliver would have the blotter. Are you Tolliver?”
“I’m Detective Tolliver, yes. Did she also tell you to ignore the sign on the door?”
“I’m sorry,” Toni said sincerely. “I can leave, if you want me to.”
“Apology accepted,” he said, coming from behind the workstation to stand facing her. “You’re here now, might as well get what you came for,” he added.
He smiled at her, and a giddy nervousness overtook her stomach. She took a good look at him. His eyes were brown—a shade of brown she had never known. His skin was a different shade of brown, a rich deep brown. It reminded her of the chocolate squares in the gold foil wrapper her father used to bring home from work. She’d let each square melt in her mouth completely before unwrapping the next one, although they were so good she just wanted to shove them into her mouth all at once. And no matter how many she ate, she always wanted more. Looking at Tolliver now she could almost taste, and feel the sweet creaminess of that candy in her mouth. She licked her lips—it was involuntary.
He kept his eyes on her as he picked up a clipboard and handed it to her.
“The blotter, Miss Jackson.”
“Thank you.” She skimmed the pages on the clipboard. “Nothing newsworthy,” she said, handing the clipboard back to him.
“I haven’t seen you around here before. You new?”
“No. I’ve been here awhile. Most days I stop in to see Baptiste, get the information from the blotter, and head back to the office. Sometimes I just call.”
“I see. So, did you move to the island with your family?”
“My family? You mean my mother and father?” she asked, trying not to laugh.
“I mean, is there a Mr. Jackson?”
“No, I’m not married, if that’s what you’re asking. I have to go,” she said, turning to leave.
“Wait, wait a minute.”
She stopped in her tracks and turned slowly toward him.
“I really need to get back to the office. And besides, I’m not supposed to be in this room. What if somebody finds out I’m here?”
“I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“I really have to go.”
“Will you be back tomorrow?”
“Probably not,” she said, backing away.
“Well, here, at least take my card,” he said, pulling a business card from his shirt pocket as he approached her. “My cell number is on the back. Just in case.”
“Just in case of what?” she asked, reaching for the card.
“Just in case you figure out you need me,” he answered, not releasing the card.
They stood face-to-face, staring into one another’s eyes. That strange feeling radiated through her stomach again.
She tugged at the card. “Thanks.” She walked quickly through the door, pulling it closed behind her. Feeling weak, she rested against the doorjamb and closed her eyes.
What just happened?
Toni quickly scanned the lobby of the San Saypaz’ airport, then headed for the staircase in the middle of the lobby. I’m sure glad Old Yeller gave me this assignment. After my encounter with that cop yesterday morning, I’m going to stay away from police headquarters for a few days. I can just as easily get the information from the blotter over the phone. Now if I could just stop thinking about him.
Old Yeller was the nickname reporters at the paper had given Toni’s editor, Jim, because he was ancient, and was always yelling. They reasoned that he’d developed the habit of yelling to be heard over the clatter when newspapers still used teletype machines. Today he’d assigned her the task of meeting a plane carrying the cast of a reality show that pitted B-list celebrities against one another for a chance to win $1 million dollars. She was to get with their publicists to set up interviews for feature stories. She was three steps up the staircase when she saw Detective Tolliver at the top. He headed down. She froze.
“Hello Toni Jackson from the San Saypaz’ Chronicle. I have your press credentials,” he said, smiling at her as he pulled a lanyard from his pocket.”
There he goes with that smile again.
“Why are you . . .?”
“The department is providing security for the cast and crew while they’re on the island.”
She watched his lips as he spoke. They were plump and inviting. Those lips look like they know how to handle their business, she thought.
“The plane is going to be late,” he said, bringing her back to the moment. “Have something to drink with me while we wait,” he added, leading her up the stairs. “So, do you like kids?” he asked as soon as they were seated.
“Kids? Who doesn’t like kids? That’s a strange question.”
“It’s a question a man who wants kids asks a woman he’s interested in. If it’s one of his deal breakers, and she says no, he knows to keep it moving.”
She pondered what he’d said as she studied his shoulders. There was something almost expressive about his shoulders.
“Okay. I have a question for you, detective.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“What’s your first name?”
His first name was Jameyson but everyone called him “Jamey,” or “J.” He’d always wanted to be a cop, had been married and divorced, served in the Army, and spent time as a big city cop before returning to the island. He was anxious to start a family.
When the plane arrived, the celebrities stopped briefly to speak with the reporters gathered as their publicists handed out business cards.
“Have dinner with me tomorrow night. Buttered Lobster House, say, seven?” Tolliver asked as he walked her to her car after the last limo had pulled away. “I want to know who you are.”
“Good night, Jameyson,” she said, unwilling to commit.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night, Toni.”
She shook her head in resignation as she watched him fade from view in the rearview mirror. Kids? I’m not looking to settle down anytime soon. This little island is just a stopover in my grand plan for journalistic stardom, travel to exotic locales, and adventurous lovers. If I mess around with him, things could go south. That could hamper my ability to do my job here, and hurt my career.
She was good at her job because she was a triple threat—book smarts, street smarts, and killer instincts. She did alright in the looks department, too. Warm brown and thick, she had a small waist, nice butt and big legs. She was what the fellas back home on the east coast called “a round honey.” She shook her head again. There’s something different about this guy, that’s for sure. But as much as I like him, and Lord God in heaven knows I’m feeling him, he doesn’t fit into my plan!
Toni picked up Jameyson Tolliver’s business card from her desk, and studied it. She’d memorized the cell number he’d written on the back. It’s been a week since I stood him up for dinner, and he hasn’t even bothered to call to ask why. How interested could he really have been? She laid the card down, and looked at the blank computer screen in front of her for what seemed like the millionth time this morning. She put her elbow on the desk, rested her chin in her palm and sighed.
She turned to see Old Yeller approaching.
What? She yelled back, in her head.
“Cops found a body on Sandset Beach, a homicide. Get out there ASAP. The body is still there.”
Murder was big news on the island, guaranteed front page byline. Her excitement was dimmed by the prospect of running into Tolliver. Maybe I can grab a piece of this story without going to the crime scene.
“Jim, why don’t you send Danny out to the crime scene? I’ll work the phones to see what my sources know. Besides, I’m in the middle of writing a story.”
He looked over her shoulder. “Yeah, where’s it at? There’s not a damn thing on that screen. Now get out of here before they move that body.”
Maybe I won’t run into him, she thought, stuffing her notebook and cell phone into her messenger bag. She slipped Tolliver’s business card in, too. Just in case, she told herself.
Toni took her place among a group of reporters standing behind crime scene tape at Sandset Beach. Just then a group of cops came from behind a cluster of trees, and formed a semicircle on the beach. She recognized Tolliver’s shoulders. At almost the same instant, as if he knew she was looking at him, Jameyson Tolliver turned and looked straight at her. Her stomach fluttered. He didn’t smile, nod, or even acknowledge her, just stared at her briefly before turning his attention back to the group. She looked around on the sly to see if any of the other reporters had caught the look.
Maybe it was just my imagination.
“What’s up?” Toni asked a television reporter standing beside her.
“Don’t know. Cops aren’t talking yet,” he answered. “Body is just on the other side of that group of trees,” he added, nodding his head in the direction of the beach.
When the other cops dispersed, Tolliver stood talking with Deputy Chief of Police Mel Baptiste. When they were done, Baptiste headed toward the parking area. Toni backed slowly away from the other reporters. She was standing next to Baptiste’s car when he got to it.
“Good morning, Deputy Chief Baptiste.”
“Come on now, call me Mel.”
“So what’s with the body? Murder?”
“Killed here, or somewhere else?”
“Young woman, twenty, twenty-two, maybe twenty-four, somewhere in there.”
“Wow! How did she die?
He made a gun with his thumb and index finger, placed it against his forehead and jerked it upwards to indicate she had been shot in the head.
“Nothing yet. It’s early.”
“I’ve said too much already.”
“Thank you, Deputy Chief Baptiste.”
She started to walk back toward the beach.
She turned but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t want to see my name in the paper tomorrow.”
“I always protect my sources. You’re good unless you change your name overnight to a source close to the investigation.”
Baptiste laughed. “Come visit me soon.”
She nodded. Shortly after she returned to where the other reporters were gathered, Tolliver approached them.
“Detective Tolliver, Detective Tolliver,” several yelled as he approached. He held up his hands to quiet them. Toni kept her eyes on his shoulders to avoid making eye contact.
“Listen up,” Tolliver said. “We received a call at 7:45 a.m. A couple walking on the beach discovered a body partially hidden in a stand of trees,” he added, speaking slowly. “When we arrived on the scene, we found the body of a female. Probable homicide. Our investigation is ongoing. We will keep you posted.”
The other reporters shouted questions at him as he turned and walked back towards the beach. Toni watched as the truck from the coroner’s office made its way back to the paved road, and disappeared. She turned to take one last quick look at Tolliver.
He looks good coming and going.
She had the kind of beauty that made other women give their men permission to turn their heads and look—but just once. Her sun-painted, honey colored skin was crowned by a mass of wild warm brown hair, with golden streaks that didn’t come from a bottle. Her hands hadn’t known hard work. Sweetly curved hips led to shapely smooth legs, tiny feet, and cute little bunion-free toes. A small simple tattoo on the inside of her left ankle read “Marie.” She was absolutely gorgeous in every way—except for the small black hole in the middle of her forehead, made when someone touched a gun to her skin, and pulled the trigger.
“I believe she is from one of the French-speaking islands,” Dr. Cornelius Randall, the San Saypaz’ medical examiner said. “I estimate her to be between twenty-two and twenty-five. We haven’t identified her yet.”
Toni looked at the body lying on the morgue table again. She was so young. “Her tattoo says Marie, maybe that was her name.”
“Or perhaps a child’s name,” Dr. Randall said.
“You think she had children?”
“She has given birth at least once, yes.”
She was someone’s mother. “How long do you think she had been dead before her body was discovered yesterday morning, Dr. Randall?”
“Five, six hours.”
“Any scrapes, scratches, anything to indicate a struggle?”
“No. But,” he said hesitantly, “someone had relations with her.”
Relations? Toni thought about it for a moment. “You mean she had sex before she died, sir?”
“No, Miss Jackson. What I mean is someone had intercourse with her . . . after,” he cleared his throat, “she was deceased.”
Oh my God! Feelings of disgust and sadness enveloped Toni. She focused on the rows of shiny metal doors on the opposite wall of the morgue, wondering how many of the drawers actually contained bodies.
“There was DNA evidence on the body, evidence that could help identify the anim . . . whoever did this?” she asked after a few minutes.
“Yes. It is in the custody of the police for processing, after which it will be returned to this office. That is a detail not known to many, Miss Jackson. If you disclose it, it will be apparent that it came from me.”
“You have my word,” Toni said quietly. She looked at the young woman’s face one last time, trying to retain her composure. Dr. Randall covered the body with a sheet.
Never let them see you sweat, or cry.
“Thanks, Dr. Randall. I’ll follow-up,” Toni said, making her way quickly through the morgue’s heavy double doors.
She rushed off the elevator and ran smack dab into Jameyson Tolliver. Despite her best efforts to restrain herself, she started sobbing.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?” he asked, cupping her elbow.
She shook her head. He pulled her gently toward an exit sign, and through a door that led to a stairwell. He eased her down onto one of the stairs, reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.
“Here you go.”
Taking a seat next to her, he placed his arm around her, and held her. She rested her head on his shoulder. When she was all cried out, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. He rose and squatted in front of her, cupping his large hands over hers.
“I saw the girl’s body.”
“Oh, Toni. Why?”
“I needed to. I needed to . . . I didn’t think it would affect me this way.”
“Is this your first time seeing a dead body?”
She shook her head. “I guess it’s just that she was so young. Does this stuff ever get to you?”
“It gets to me,” he said, sitting back down beside her. “I find ways to leave it behind at night, or I’d go crazy. Believe me, it gets to me, especially when, well, she was just a kid.”
Toni rubbed his arm lightly.
“So, how did you get in to see the body, anyway? I don’t remember getting a call from Dr. Randall asking permission to let you see the body? You’re not a relative, are you?”
“I asked. He and I have a mutual professional respect for one another. I’m good at cultivating relationships.”
Tolliver threw his head back and laughed. His laughter brought the sun in.
“Is that right? You couldn’t prove that by me,” he said, bending his body back and away from her so that he was facing her. “So why did you stand me up last week? Tell me what you’re afraid of.”
“Who said I was afraid of anything? I’m not afraid of you. I mean . . . look . . . okay here’s the deal. I have a master plan for my life, and it doesn’t include you. I’m just passing through this little island. I’m not trying to get married and stay here.”
He chuckled. “Wow! Did I ask you to marry me, yet? I asked you to have dinner with me, and you’ve got me at the altar.”
“Well, you asked me if I like kids.”
“Where you come from, is that a marriage proposal? You Yankees do have strange ways.”
She had gotten used to being called a “Yankee,” or “Yunkee gull” since she arrived on the island. It was one of the nicer things she had been called by some of the island’s territorial natives.
“When a man asks a woman if she likes kids, I mean, come on.”
“He’s saving time. If he wants kids, and she absolutely doesn’t, then zip, zap, zop,” he said, making horizontal chopping motions with his hand.
“Zip, zap, zop?” she repeated, laughing and mimicking his motions.
“Yep. Cut your losses, and keep it moving. On this job, I’m reminded everyday how short life really is. Besides, all things considered, I thought it was nice of me to ask you out.”
“Cops generally don’t like reporters, for starters. You make us look bad. There’s a murder, and we don’t have any leads, but instead of just being patient, you all keep reporting how many days it’s been with no leads. Sometimes we have no leads because there are no leads, or we choose not to share. Sharing with you is sharing with the perpetrator. And, you,” he said, pointing to her, “jeopardized my investigation by reporting that the victim was shot in the forehead. I never said how she died. Who told you that?”
“A source. And I’m just doing my job, officer,” she said, suddenly feeling the giddy nervousness that always seemed to overtake her stomach when he was around.
“Now, when I get the perp in a room, because you, Miss Jackson, reported that the girl was shot in the forehead, he can claim he knows she was shot in the head because he read it in the paper. See what I mean, Lois Lane?”
She laughed and nodded.
“Yes, officer, I see. Our jobs are at cross purposes. You’re the primary in this investigation, and I’m the lead reporter on the story. There’s clearly a conflict of interest. Another reason not to have dinner with you.”
She eyed his shoulders. Character. That’s it, his shoulders have character. She had an urge to touch him, to feel those shoulders without the shirt, skin-to-skin. She wanted to slide her hands up and down those strong arms, to caress his face and slowly outline his lips with her fingertips. I wonder if all that brown-ness feels as good as it looks. She resisted the urge.
“So, how is it that you just happen to have a handkerchief in your pocket?” she asked, looking down at the handkerchief he had given her earlier.
“I always carry one. My father taught me that a gentleman always carries a handkerchief.”
“Well, thank you, and please extend my thanks to your father,” she said, holding the handkerchief out to him.
“I don’t want that snotty thing,” he said, shaking his head. “You can keep it.”
“You are soooooooo silly.”
“You like it,” he said, staring deep into her eyes. “I make you smile.”
Her smile grew wider.
“Gotta go,” she said, squeezing past him to get to the door. “It smells like you,” she added, pushing the handkerchief into her messenger bag.
“Yeah? What do I smell like?” he asked, turning to face her.
She looked into his eyes, tilted her head, and gave him a slow, sexy smile. “Trouble.”
He laughed. “I’m harmless. I promise,” he said, lifting his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“For the record, Detective Tolliver, are there any new developments in the case of the body found on Sandset Beach?”
“For the record, Miss Jackson, there are no new developments. We have not identified the victim. I am meeting with the medical examiner today to discuss his initial findings. That is, unless you’d like to share them with me, since you beat me to it.”
“I just came to see the body,” she said, reaching for the door handle.
“Sure you did. Anyway, you have my numbers. Call me when you’ve checked everything off that list. It’s just dinner, the invitation is always open,” he added as he started up the stairs.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said as she opened the door. “Take care.” Girl, you are so in trouble, she thought as the door closed behind her.
She was steps from the front door of the morgue when she spotted San Saypaz’ Police Chief Winston Frankland, Jameyson Tolliver’s boss. What is he doing here? She stopped to wait for him.
“Good afternoon, Police Chief Frankland.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Toni,” he responded, smiling at her in his lustful way.
“This murder must be big to bring you, the chief of police, to the morgue.”
“Oh, I’m not here for that,” he said, hesitantly. “I was in the area, and just stopped by to say hello to Dr. Randall. He was busy so I didn’t stay long. He’s an old friend. We go way back,” he added, drawing out the word way.
She studied his face. Her gut told her he was lying.
Winston Frankland was one of the first people she met when she came to the island. Her dislike for him was immediate. It wasn’t personal, it was instinctive. Her instincts simply didn’t like the man. His face, his demeanor, and his very being screamed lustfulness.
He didn’t like her either—that also wasn’t personal. He had told her flat out during their first meeting that he despised reporters.
“You’re a pretty girl,” he’d said that day. “A reporter, of all things. I bet there are plenty of other things that you do well,” he added, not even trying to be discreet about staring at her breasts.
Winston Frankland was a good-looking man, and he knew it. He talked a lot, had game, as they say. Toni was sure he’d talked a whole lot of women right out of their panties. He was always well groomed, and impeccably dressed. His nails were always manicured. He had beautiful teeth. When he smiled, which he did often, it reminded her of a villainous cartoon character. Every time the character smiled, those silvery star-like things would bounce off his pearly whites. With each bounce, you’d hear a chinking sound.
“So, you and Dr. Randall are old friends?” she asked.
“You leaving? I’ll walk out with you,” Frankland said, ignoring her question.
They must pay this clown pretty good, she thought as he climbed into a baby blue Bentley convertible.
“Always good seeing you, Miss Toni.”
“Take care, chief,” she responded. He tooted the horn and waved as he passed. He had dropped the top. She made a mental note of the car’s license plate. It read “Big Win.”
Big Win, huh? She threw her messenger bag onto the passenger seat, and climbed into her car. Wonder why Big Win lied to me, she thought as she backed her car out of the parking space and headed back to the newspaper office.
ILLUSIONS of PARADISE
A novel by
This novel is a work of fiction.
COPYRIGHT © 2017 by P.A. MCKANIC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used, reprinted or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the author/publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews or articles.
Published by Brookgran Publishing Co. in 2017
Author Pat McKanic is available for book signings, book club events, speaking engagements, seminars, panel discussions and conferences. To arrange appearances, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or our website: illusionsofparadise.net
Jarrett—You are the motivation and inspiration for everything. I love you.
My niece Robin—To Robin the little girl, thanks for listening to my dreams, and believing. To Robin the woman, thanks for remembering the dreams, and believing. I love you.
To Brooklyn—you changed my life more than I could ever have imagined.
To Alexander Brooks—Thank you for movin’ me to action. I love you buddy.
To Cousin Duane—Thank you for sending the song that motivated me to start writing.
Special thanks to Brittany Simmons, Jocelyn Donahoo, Janet Leigh Gibson,
Linda Wallace, and Dr. Gloria Perkins-Sellers.
Limbert Fabian for your talent, patience and intuition, and the beautiful cover design. You are truly talented!
To everyone who helped, supported, nurtured and encouraged me throughout my journey. Thank you!