An excerpt from Ron's new novel, The Dame with the Sanibel Sunset Detective.
An hour later, Rex and Todd had exited still bickering over the possibilities of the afterlife—Todd dubious that Joan Crawford would even be there. Satisfied that Tree was resting comfortably, Freddie decided to go home, take a shower, change her clothes, and get something to eat before returning to the hospital.
Her car radio, tuned to the local NPR station—WGCU— was reporting that the White House had dismissed as fake news an intelligence dossier containing explosive and compromising information about the president’s activities in Russia. The dossier was part of a witch hunt, a spokesman for the president said.
Freddie turned off the radio. There, she thought. That was better. Sanibel was a long way from anything that was going on in Washington—a sundrenched world away.
As she drove her Mercedes onto the causeway leading to Sanibel, a flotilla of small craft on San Carlos Bay threw glistening wakes. The condos were a hazy outline along the distant shore of the island. She had made this trip countless times, taking the view for granted. But not today. Today it stood out in pristine relief, a reminder of how lucky they were to be here on this island at this time in their lives, how fortunate she was that Tree Callister was her husband and how unfortunate she was to have a husband who continually got himself into trouble the way Tree Callister did.
Yet again she marveled at the absurdity of a man in his sixties deciding to become a private investigator on an island where one of the major attractions was the fact that you could count on nothing much happening.
You bicycled on Sanibel; you did the Sanibel stoop as you looked for seashells along its unique beaches; you engaged in long discussions about which restaurant you would eat in next; you swam; you snorkeled; you took dolphin cruises; you went deep-sea fishing; visited the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge covering three quarters of Sanibel; you enjoyed a world more natural than the one you usually inhabited.
Nowhere in all the tourist literature on display at the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center did it say anything about the possibility of getting shot.
How she had managed to marry the one guy who didn’t bike or swim or snorkel or look for seashells—or even wear a baseball cap—but instead concentrated on finding new ways to nearly get himself killed, continued to mystify her.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact he loved her unconditionally. He always said he had fallen in love the moment he met her at that long-ago Chicago dinner party. Freddie wasn’t so sure it was love at first sight for her.
She hadn’t known what to make of the somewhat disheveled Chicago Sun-Times reporter thrust in front of her by the evening’s host. She was the focused, ambitious supermarket executive. He was—what? A reporter? God only knew what he’d been up to, married three times previously, a string of failed relationships in between marriages, a propensity for hitting the saloons with his newspaper pals after work, spinning tales of a life that was completely alien to her.
Not exactly a prime candidate for a relationship. Besides, she wasn’t looking for a relationship with anyone—prime candidate or not. She had just exited her second marriage. Glenn was a controlling drunk—a rich, controlling drunk who owned boutique hotels around the country, but still a drunk, and increasingly dangerous in the bargain.
Freddie had been relieved to be out of that mess, happy to breathe free air for a while and stay away from men.
But then there was Tree at that dinner party.
If she’d had any sense she should have stayed far away. But sense and Tree Callister somehow never went together. The next thing she knew she was in love with the guy. How did that happen? No explaining it, really. No explanation for the mystery of love—the one case that can never be cracked.
They weren’t going to marry. And then they were. No sooner were they formally joined together than Tree lost his job at the Sun-Times. It wasn’t framed quite that way, though. Downsized—a term with which, as a supermarket executive, she was certainly familiar, but was completely unfamiliar to Tree. As far as he was concerned, he was just plain fired.
The grand era of the American newspaper was ending, and one of its most ardent participants now found himself out on the street, happy to be married, but cast adrift, identity lost at an age when he needed it most. Where do you go and what do you do when you no longer know who you are?
Well, she thought, driving past the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce Visitors Centre where, thanks to Rex, Tree had his office, if you followed Tree’s line of wonky thinking, you came to Sanibel Island and you became a private detective.
Actually, Sanibel was her doing. Tired of the grind of the executive life, Freddie had been offered a job managing a small chain of supermarkets headquartered on Sanibel. Tree had grown up visiting the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva every year. He wasn’t hard to convince they should move. They found a house they loved on Captiva Island’s Andy Rosse Lane, although if they had been aware of the traffic congestion in tourist season they might have had second thoughts. Shortly thereafter, Tree had decided to open the Sanibel Sunset Detective Agency. Not a large agency, as it turned out, housed in a spare office at the chamber, employing a single operative, one W. Tremain Callister—the Sanibel Sunset Detective.
Freddie had tried her best to support her husband, quietly convinced he must be crazy. What kept her from objecting too much was that this was Sanibel where nothing much ever happened—or on Captiva for that matter. How much trouble could Tree get into?
Little did she know.
Freddie got out of the car, pulled out the overnight bag she had hastily packed, and went up the stairs leading to the front door, feeling abruptly exhausted, realizing it had been days since she’d had anything like a real sleep. Keeping a constant vigil at your wounded husband’s side could tucker you out.
Inside, there was the dependable reassurance of familiar surroundings. The large kitchen with its marble-topped counters, opening into a spacious living room dominated by a massive oil painting of distinctively rendered royal palms. The living room gave way to a glassed-in lanai with a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico. A master bedroom was at the end of a short hall to the left of the lanai. To the right were a couple of guest bedrooms, one of which had been turned into an office for Tree when he worked from home.
In the kitchen Freddie made herself a cup of coffee, appreciating—yes, that’s what it was—
the silence. Everything was so…quiet. No authority figures pounding accusingly at the door; no phones ringing to announce the latest hell brought on by Tree’s job.
Quiet. A stillness as she sipped a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
A respite. Time alone. So nice. So unexpected.
Then the doorbell rang, jerking Freddie out of her reverie. She set the coffee cup on the counter. The doorbell rang again. Who could that be? Possibly one of the neighbors inquiring how Tree was doing.
Freddie went into the living room, crossed to the door, and opened it to reveal a slender, gamine-like young woman with almond eyes, pillowy lips, and silken shoulder-length dark hair. She wore a halter top that didn’t hide much and white jean shorts that, with the addition of high-heeled mules, emphasized the length and slimness of her legs.
The young woman asked, “Is this the residence of Mr. Tree Callister?”
It is,” Freddie said. “How can I help you?”
“I’ll bet you’re his wife.”
“Am I whose wife?”
The young woman looked impatient. “I’m looking for Mr. Tree Callister. You his wife or not?”
“Can you tell me why you want to see my husband?”
“I’m in trouble, okay? I need his help.” The young woman sounded more petulant than helpless.
“Tree’s not here at the moment,” Freddie said. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The young woman looked less petulant, a little more distressed. “I need to see him. When’s he coming back?”
“Why don’t you tell me who you are and what the problem is?”
“I’m Darlene,” the young woman said. “And the problem is I’m pregnant.”
“I’m not sure how my husband can help you with that.”
“He sure can,” Darlene snapped. “Particularly since Mr. Tree Callister is the father of my baby.”