"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?" |
I hated begging my temporary agency for work, especially on rainy mornings. I would've preferred for them to call me so I could sleep in if nothing was available, but that was their policy; call in or starve.
The loud tapping of keys echoed through the receiver, then my rep offered me the last job I'd expect given the weather.
"Pool cleaner. Interested?"
"Pools? Noah's prepping a new ark out there."
"Hot tubs, too." As if that somehow made it better.
Despite being July, my city wouldn't break any heat records this year. Still, the prestige of owning a personal aquarium separated the haves from the have-no-hot-tubs. I scrunched my face imagining skimming pools for after-party floaters like Murray in Caddyshack.
Upon arrival, I received training on the tools of the trade, pH balancing, shocking and exorcising bacteria. This meant learning to test pool water and which treatment it needed based on results. I failed chemistry in high school, but I recognized some of the poisons from when I studied for my P.I. license.
My currently-revoked P.I. license.
After shadowing the manager on a couple of sites, I drove the company truck to the next gig. In the bed of the truck a dozen barrels of deadly powders and liquids bounced around, along with hoses, pool floor robots, and... yup, skimmers. The acrid smell of chemicals burned my nose hairs off, but a couple assignments in, I had adjusted.
The rain slowed, infusing with the air with a fine mist.
At a posh mansion, I'd finished shocking a lap pool and had just started on their hot tub when I ran out of bromine. I couldn't call the job done until I'd finish sanitizing the tub. I knocked on the door to let the owners know I was leaving but got no answer. According to the notes, the Mortensons, Lance and Kate, were normally onsite. No cars in the garage, I figured I had enough time to grab lunch while running back to the shop to restock.
The freedom of having wheels delighted me like a teenager "borrowing" dad's car while he was out of town. I'd lost my personal transportation when I lost my license. And my business. And my girlfriend. And my dignity.
Some bad choices will haunt you. I was a Disneyland attraction.
I returned to the mansion about an hour and a half after I'd left. As I opened the door to the mansion's patio, I noticed something amiss right away. The track lights and the jets were on in the tub.
I hadn't turned them on.
A step closer brought the sight of someone floating face down in the turbulent waters. I ran, hoping they hadn't been in there long. I pulled the swim-suited man free before reaching for the emergency kit attached to a nearby wall. I alternated mouth-to-mouth, through a mouth guard, with heart compressions.
After three minutes, and with no reaction, I paused long enough to dial 911 on the company-supplied cell. I returned to my futile attempts at resuscitation until the EMTs arrived. I could still smell the mix of sanitizer and death as I stepped away to let them take over.
Detective Garcia of homicide approached me in the way a family dog approaches the new baby. "Let me get your account of things straight from you, just so I can poke holes in it by poolside."
"Should I order you a Mai Tai?"
It was a dance we did. He fancied himself a good lead, but almost always tripped over his oblivious feet. I recounted and he nodded.
"That matches the initial findings from the forensic tech. Plus, your drive-thru receipt seems to line up with you not being here at the suspected time of death. Liver temperature and all. We're calling it an accidental drowning. Looks like you're in the clear... again." Garcia has wanted to hang something on me since my court trial--his feelings of betrayal worn on his sleeve like a boy scout merit badge. "Grab your gear and vanish."
He went to confer with the coroner. I reached to grab my canister of bromine.
Odd. I remembered the strong smell of bromine on Lance's breath as I gave him CPR, yet his Jacuzzi hadn't received its dose yet. My test kit in hand, I returned to the hot tub. Garcia yelled, "Get away from there!" but it only took eight seconds to get the result I expected.
He spun me around as the test strip finalized.
"Mortenson wasn't killed here. He was brought here after the fact."
"What?" Garcia asked through gritted teeth.
"Let me test the water in his lungs, and I might be able to land you a murderer."
As all eyes were upon us, Garcia's let the rage in his eyes subside long enough to nod slowly.
A search of Lance's desk produced an invoice for a mystery cell Kate Mortenson had no knowledge of. Only one number appeared on it.
I knocked on the luxury condo door and showed my credentials through the peephole. A flustered woman opened up.
"Ma'am? Time for your monthly service."
She blinked. "Now? I’m packing to leave on vacation." She tried to close the door, but I push past apologizing.
"You don't want to return to a hot tub full of bacteria, right? This will only take eight seconds." As she protested, I reached her balcony Jacuzzi and ran the test. A match to the water in Mortenson's lungs, I dropped the strip over the balcony to a waiting Garcia.
The murderess didn't make her flight.
The scratches on her thighs, where a drowning Lance clawed her as she held him underwater, secured the scorned mistress's doom.
"How do you do it, Walker?" Garcia asked me. "How do you keep getting jobs that put you right in my crosshairs, yet you always come up clean?"
I smirked. "Out there, Detective...” I nodded toward our city, "it takes a miracle to keep your head above water."