The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 2, Lt. Whitford

Rhonda woke him in the most unexpected and pleasurable way and he hadn’t been able to wipe the smile from his face since.

“Congratulations my big man,” she cooed when she’d finished. Or I’d finished, he thought, grinning. “Today’s the big day.”

“It’s already official babe. This is just the press-release. I’d better get a move on though, who knows what kind of turnout there’ll be.” He had to pull himself free of her intertwined body. “I don’t want to be late for my first PR piece.” Scott looked at her naked body sprawled across the bed in abandon. He was almost tempted to say fuck-it and jump back in, though he knew he wouldn’t. I may have been a fuck-up in the rest of my life, but I’m a damn good cop.

Two hours later amidst handshakes, insincere hugs and varying rounds of applause, he caught sight of her through the crowd of press and fellow officers. The flashing lights and bright morning sun reflecting off his freshly polished badge appeared dull in comparison to his broad, brilliant smile, the love, the gratitude threatening to explode from his heart. She was standing at the back, outside of the circle of false friends and well-wishers, any one of which would be more than willing – nay, would look for opportunities to push him in front of a train at their earliest convenience. He’d been friends with Sam too long to hold any delusions regarding the politics which came with his new position. He knew there were only two people who cared, gave a rat’s ass about him whatsoever and Sam had already said his congrats last night at their apartment when the call came in – choosing, understandably, to miss this fiasco.

The other, standing far enough away (even though he’d asked her to stand up front) that everyone might think her a stranger. Garbed in her least-stripper-possible clothes, dark-shades and all, now sporting a face of absolute red which threatened to blow up her head as she realized he was fighting his way through the throng in a bee-line toward her.

He knew she would’ve run had she thought of it but he reached her before she could bolt off. He removed her sunglasses and planted a whopping wet smack on her lips. The press loved it. Questions and flashes came from every direction. “Who is she, Lt. Whitford?” one of the many voices rang out above the crowd.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! May I present to you the love of my life, Miss Rhonda Belangie, formerly known by her stage name of Pink and soon to be Missus Whitford.” He never lost hold of her eyes, held them with his own. “That’s if she will have me, of course?” Lieutenant Scott Whitford bent to one knee, tilting his head, holding her gaze fast, her hands still grasped within his, and asked, “Will you Rhonda? Will you marry me?”

He stood quick to catch her before she fell, held her close as her legs gave way altogether, her sobs, her wracking body, her complete breakdown only adding to her words of joy. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I will have you – you silly, wonderful man.”

When she could stand, he turned his attention to the press. “May I present to you, the future Mrs. Whitford!” He was as proud as a man could be. He knew there would be talk, expected it. However, it was better to place it on his own terms, to take the offensive, than wait until these jackals found out and be forced to play defense for the rest of his career. Fuck em if they don’t like it! he thought then walked away arm-in-arm with his future bride, his future wife, towards their car, their apartment, the work that lay waiting for them and their new life. Sgt. Scott Whitford was an extraordinarily happy man.

“Could you get that babe? I’m in the bathroom,” she yelled. He made his way towards the door, the second set of knocks already ringing through the tiny rooms.

“Sergeant— What am I saying? Sorry Scott, old habits you know. Dr. Alexander, this is Lieutenant Whitford—”

“Enough with the formalities, Sam,” he cut him off, extending his hand to the handsome stranger he’d heard so much about. The guy looked a little smallish and unsure of himself, but Scott could see he was growing, coming into his own.

“Come in gentlemen, grab a seat and make yourselves comfortable. Rhonda should be with us any minute.” Walking towards the kitchenette, he added, throwing it over his shoulder without turning, “Can I get anything for you? Coffee maybe?”

“Coffee would be lovely thanks.” He was already pouring a cup for his former boss, he’d no doubt the big man would have one.

“What about you, Dr. Alexander—”

“Walt, please – call me Walt. And yes, I would love one.”

“Honey, let me do that. You go join the men.” He hadn’t heard her slip in behind him and almost threw the pot of coffee into the air when she wrapped her arms around his waist. In the past, that would have made his temper boil over. He would have exploded, caused a scene, browbeating the offender. But that was then. He smiled, twisting his head to give her a kiss.

“Walt,” he said, carrying Sam’s steaming cup to the living area by the window where the two men were seated. “Have you met my lady Rhonda yet, soon to be my wife?” He knew he was beaming like a clown, though could not seem to contain it. He’d been lit like a crime scene since she’d said yes. They’d practically torn each other’s clothes off the second the apartment door snicked shut after the press rally earlier. Who was he kidding – the memory added a touch of red to his clown face – they’d run down the bloody hall!

The sex had been raw, primal at first, yet changed in time, becoming gentler, more sensual, earth moving and for both of them if her body language counted as evidence. He’d only just finished getting dressed, with Rhonda still in the bathroom putting her face on, when the two of them knocked. A flickering image of her naked body, the lusting, writhing expression upon her face had him shaking his shirt collar to cool down. He was grateful for the relief in attention when Rhonda came towards them with the Doctor’s hot cup. It didn’t even bother him when the well-dressed man spied her the up-down. No point being the jealous type if your wife was a former stripper, was there?

“Here you go, Dr. Alexander—”

“Walt – please.” he added, his complexion deeply pinkened.

She smiled at him, handing him his cup while nearly poking his eye out with one of the twins she carried so well. He was mesmerized, an effect she had on most, though was saved undo embarrassment by the bell, when the door echoed with a knock. It would be Chloe, of course, as he’d invited her also. That way, the five of them could go over all the information once and for all and together. With hope and a generous dose of luck, they’d fill in some of the Swiss-cheese holes which currently spotted their theory. Most of which meant a visit to the Twilight Zone for answers – which, when he thought about it, seemed a suitable representation of their case.

“Took you long enough,” Chloe said, giving him a shot to the arm with her free hand as she breezed by to join the others.

“And hello to you, too,” he replied shutting the door.

“Congratulations!” The high-pitched girl thing was in full squeal by the time he’d reached the room. Her tiny red head buried in the bosom of his soon-to-be looked funny as hell and Scott was the first to laugh.

“I thought we’d almost lost ya there,” he said, “would-of had to call the paramedics.”

“Now I see why you asked her!” she shot back with a grin. “I mean, who could possibly resist those?” Chloe licked her lips for emphasis then looked down at her own healthy chest. “Makes a girl feel a little self-conscious though.” She grabbed the front of her blouse with both of her hands to mimic Rhonda, pulled it out to Dolly Parton proportions for all the see. “Maybe I should—”

“You’re kidding. I hope!” Rhonda responded with what looked to be shock registered on her face. “You are, without a doubt, the most delicious creature I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Do you have any idea the kinda dough you could pull in as a dancer?”

The comment floated through the room like a led zeppelin, all eyes set on Chloe, waiting for her response. After all, it isn’t every day the Assistant District Attorney for the City of Baltimore is told she could have had a successful career as a stripper. Providing this one didn’t work out, of course.

Chloe milked it for all it was worth. Her eyes locked on Rhonda’s face, not a muscle on her tiny frame stirred from the statue she’d froze in. The minutes crawled as hours, adding to the tension. At long last, she ended the suspense. “What would my stage name be? I understand Pink is already taken?”

The coffee that erupted from his nose managed to miss the Doctor, but he was the only one to escaped splash free. Being closest, the two girls caught the brunt of the java tidal-wave and mocha colored polka-dots covered each from head to toe. The frozen-shock look was similar to the “You just through a glass of water in my face” look, only in this case it had been coffee and had come from his nose. Even Sam was not safe from the propulsive force, though it was no more than a sprinkling compared to Rhonda and Chloe.

Not long after, the ladies returned from the bedroom sporting fresh clothes. Rhonda had practically ripped the silk suit from the little one’s body. Explaining, her voice controlled though on the edge of panic, “We’ve got to get at this before the coffee has time to set.” He wondered what clothes Rhonda might put Chloe in, knowing how risqué her wardrobe remained. He was surprised to see her come out sporting one of his T-shirts, which she now wore in dress form, cinched at the waist with her belt.

“Well?” she asked, pirouetting in the middle of the room. “Is this an improvement?”

“You’d look good in a potato sack,” Walter said and everyone’s head turned at once, caused his face to flush with embarrassment so badly, he removed himself to the washroom. He wasn’t the only in full blush.

“Rhonda, why don’t you bring us up to speed on Holly?”

The four of them were all gathered around the table, he was standing. The adrenaline did this, kept him awake, starch in his jockeys, that kind of thing. It was always like this near the end of a case, when they were so close to solving it, to the truth – that one piece away from everything falling into place, finally making sense.

Rhonda had fit right in. He was so proud. She absolutely beamed with pride at being included, appreciated, accepted. He could only imagine what emotions coursed through her, as it wasn’t long ago – days, weeks maybe – that he’d felt somewhat out of place himself and yet now stood here leading this investigation as an equal to this group of esteemed and respected minds.

“Officially, at least according to the records and believe me I’ve looked, there is no such person as Holly. Not based on the description of crimes we found in the notebooks of Dr. Reichmann.” She looked around the table, made eye contact with each person before moving to the next. “So I created a spreadsheet listing all the details of the crimes she’d supposedly committed then entered them into the database and guess who… No, I shouldn’t say who. Guess what came up?”

The Doctor looked as if he were about to advance an idea. Then closed his mouth and stayed silent. Everyone else sat motionless, waited.

“The Jeremy Campbell case!” She practically radiated joy, her face lit like Christmas. “The reason I said what instead of who is because it’s listed as unsolved – although the details match perfectly. I would guess they’re the same case – close enough for hand-grenades anyway.”

Scott already knew of her findings, of course, though it wasn’t his opinion that mattered. “Well Walt?” he asked. “What do you think? Could it be the same case? Did Jeremy Campbell have an accomplice? That is assuming he actually committed the murder, which I believe we can safely presume as fact. Unless, you believe they are the same person that is?” He couldn’t help the grin he felt sneaking up on his face.

The Doctor returned it. “There does seem to be a pattern. Let me think on it while we continue, I’ll get back to you later. Is that alright with everybody?” Everyone nodded his or her agreement.

“Fine Walt. That brings us to Carl. Sam, I believe this one’s yours?”

“Yeah. San Bernardino California, extremely nasty scene there. Carl Fogerty disappeared just as fast as he’d appeared and without a trace. Never convicted but was the only suspect in a double homicide.” He looked up from the page he was reading. “As I said, very nasty.”

“Any pictures of Mr. Fogerty?” Scott asked.

“Not a one. Seems this guy liked to keep a low profile – at least as far as the cameras went.”

“And the other one? You’ve seen the picture, is it a match?”

“You mean from New Mexico? Yeah, it’s our man, no question.” He didn’t say anything more as they didn’t want to encourage the Doctor with any theories of their own. Working together for as many years as the two of them had meant not having to discuss the tiny details, the how-too’s of handling the talent. After all, he was the specialist.

“I’ve got the last two,” Scott said. “Well, the last couple mentioned in Dr. Reichmann’s notes anyway. They appear as Grant and Rachel and the most I’ve been able to come up with is that they were patients of the good Doctor and became romantically inclined in a somewhat kinky or alternative relationship. There are no last names mentioned, nor any crimes admitted to – so basically the trail ends there.” He dropped the file and looked up at them, his hands raised in the internationally accepted, “What am I supposed to do – it’s not my fault,” gestures.

Sam laughed. “Well done, Lieutenant! Assign yourself the easy-peasy stuff. Way to delegate.”

Lieutenant Whitford ignored him other than the grin, which appeared contagious. “Well Doctor? What are your thoughts?” He quickly held his hand up to quash any interruptions. “Everyone else, please keep your comments until Walt finishes. You will all get a chance to speak your minds.

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