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Tess McGree stood in the lobby of the City of Sacramento Police Station, touching various icons on her iPad. She hardly noticed the door opening and closing as police officers passed her. She was a pretty strawberry blonde with light freckles on her face and chest, and she had emerald green eyes that were lowered keenly toward the screen. She was a tenacious 32-year old who came to the station every single day to wait for Detective Phil Harris, the subject of her new book. She was determined to write a nonfiction tale based on a case being investigated by Detective Harris of whom she also had a huge crush. Phil was a sweet charmer with dark brown hair, and two eye colors (brown and blue) that Tess didn’t notice the first few times they talked. One day she was picking his brilliant mind, and she had noticed his eyes, which had muddied her focus, because she suddenly didn’t know which eye to look at. Phil had asked her why she stopped talking.
“Your eyes …” she said with a frown. “You have two different-colored eyes.”
Phil was amused. “Yes, I do.”
She fondly thought of that conversation as she continued to pluck away at her iPad. She liked Phil a lot, which made this project all the more enjoyable. She wanted to be with him and loved his stories of detective work. She had just finished her degree in journalism and was a late bloomer. She had actually gone to college and finished a four-year degree in structural engineering, but soon bored with it and the silly politics at her job with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). She thought about the other nerdy engineers who took it seriously and talked nonstop about roads and bridges. She had found their passionate discourse about angles and degrees boring.
Ending up the girl who wore bright pink skirts, yellow or purple T-shirts as a structural engineer was more a result of happenstance. She excelled naturally at math and geometry, and scored ridiculously high on science and math on the SAT. College recruiters soon had come calling, and she had been offered all kinds of scholarships to get a degree in engineering. She had just followed the easiest path, but not long after graduation when she had the most absurd realization that all engineers wrote in tiny upper-case handwriting, and her bright pink, sunny outlook had bugged them more than delighted them. So she rethought her future.
It had happened at an odd moment at work …
She was sitting at her metal desk when her boss, Alfred walked up. He wore a white button-up shirt; pocket protector loaded with black pens; and held a white coffee mug in one hand as he pushed the bridge of his black-rimmed glasses up. He was such a cliché.
“I was thinking … and this is none of my business, except I am your boss …”
Tess typed into an engineering program as she dutifully worked on a schematic. She quit and sat back to stare at her boss whose dark hair looked slightly greasy for lack of shampoo.
“Yes, Alfred, you were thinking what?”
“Those skirts …”
Tess looked down at her bright pink skirt with yellow polka dots that the Fashion Police would make the object of ridicule, but she liked it anyway.
“What about my skirt?”
“Well young lady,” his tone was fatherly now, “the skirts are simply inappropriate. We have a dress code. Please see your employee handbook.”
“Do we, Alfie?” she asked in a sarcastic tone. She now sat back and folded her arms against her matching yellow T-shirt. “And what might that be? White, boring, black, and greasy?”
Alfred stood up straight in offense and scolded, “I’m just calling your attention to the dress code is all. No need to get snippy there, young miss. You need to report to human resources for that bad attitude.”
“Young miss?” She cracked up.
“Human resources,” he said and pointed toward the door.
Yes, Tess got up and left that afternoon, but did not go to human resources. She instead headed to the elevator, went downstairs, and flounced down N Street to the parking garage. She quit. She figured Alfred and his stiff upper-case handwriting could find someone else to force to wear a pocket protector and churn out staid structural designs with no imagination.
She had quickly enrolled in journalism and had decided to write whatever interested her. She had gotten through the program fast enough and had used the trust fund left by her mother Carly, which her grandmother Murphy-Anne managed. Carly had passed away from breast cancer when Tess was five. Her father Brent had taken a job on the Alaskan pipeline. He’d said something about good money, but young Tess had known he was grief-stricken with a desire to escape sad memories, and the daughter who was the “mini-me” image of Carly. When Tess had been left parentless and scared, it was Grandma Murphy (as she called her) who had raised her in an eccentric downtown three-story Victorian where she sold art supplies and glass-sculpted, colorful artwork from the front room.
Grandma Murphy was a borderline alcoholic. She kept a flask filled with Blue Agave Tequila (of all things) and took a hit every now and again. She was vain, funny, and outrageous; she set no rules for her brilliant granddaughter and taught Tess to do whatever she wanted. Tess’ only problem had been to figure out what she wanted – and hence journalism had come late. When she had told Grandma about her idea for the book and her newly-formed crush on Detective Harris, Grandma, who had been painting what resembled a Kandinsky on an easel behind the cash register, had stopped and stared at her.
“You going to shit where you eat, darling?”
Tess took a watermelon-flavored Jelly Belly from the bowl next to the register and tucked it into her mouth.
“Yes,” she replied and chewed.
Grandma chuckled, “Good job, darling!”
“Now I just have to get ole Phil to pounce.”
Grandma stopped painting, brushed back her graying, dark brown, curly tresses, and grinned. “No granddaughter of mine can’t seduce a guy named Phil.”
Tess considered the object of her seduction. “I don’t know if Punxsutawney even likes me.”
Grandma returned to painting. “You got tits, honey; use ’em.”
Tess looked down – she did have large breasts, as well as a small waist that gave her a near-perfect Barbie-doll figure.
“What if he’s an ass man?”
Tess obliged her grandmother’s command.
“You’re fine, dear.” Grandma cleared her for takeoff.
Tess looked over and down at her behind and shrugged. She hardly knew what men really wanted (and an absent father to advise her on the inner workings of men didn’t help her predicament). Although Phil had gamely told her many “man facts”. He had provided a frank education on how men thought – and it all boiled down to one concept that he had put this way: “If a man sees a pretty girl, the first thing he thinks is, ‘I want to fuck her.’” Having been officially brought up to date on manly beliefs and behavior, Tess had wondered if Phil thought that about her. He never had told her she was pretty.
She had made Phil the object of her book after watching him interviewed on one of those low-quality local cable TV shows. He had been investigating a body found in the trunk of a Camry. She wasn’t sure which she found more interesting: the story of the body or Phil’s electric personality. Phil had a dry sense of humor and was handsome and sweet, but he never got too personal with her. She had waited daily outside of the police station where he worked until she had spotted him leaving one day.
She raced up to him. “You Detective Phil Harris?”
Phil stopped and looked at the pretty strawberry blonde in the purple pedal-pusher pants and hot-pink camisole with a black bolero over the shoulders. She looked quirky and fun.
“Yes,” he replied and got a little smirk on his face; he couldn’t help it.
Tess wasn’t sure what he smirked about. “Do you have time for a coffee or something?”
“Or something? Are you asking a stranger out? Cause that’s not too smart.”
“No,” she got uncomfortable and nervous. “Starbuck’s is across the street. Will you meet me … in public?” she emphasized for effect.
“Oh cool down there hot britches. I’m a detective not a perp.”
She frowned and briefly glanced at her pants and back up at him. “I know that.”
“Oh, you do, do you?”
“Yes, I do. Meet me?”
Phil glanced at his watch. “Yeah sure, got some time.”
“See you in five,” and then she walked back to her old eggplant-colored Saturn. She could afford a better car, but cars weren’t a priority. She was more interested in traveling and shedding belongings than adding to them. She thought material stuff was all just more baggage. She wanted to write true stories and travel the world to see “real life,” as she put it. Of course when she had mentioned this desire to Phil he had once said, “Real life isn’t sexy, if that’s what you’re thinking. I could show you ‘real’ like the homeless guy who smells like piss and stands under the downtown bridge talking to himself – that’s ‘real,’ and I just saved you a plane ticket.” That’s what she loved about Phil – no sugarcoated bullshit from him.
As she walked, she turned to glance back at Phil, who seemed amused by her in some strange way. He held his hand up to his face and waved. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she liked that he was watching her walk away. Made her think of the episode in Sex in the City where Carrie runs into Mr. Big, arranges a date, walks away, and glances over her shoulder to find him staring and smiling at her backside. Maybe Phil was her Mr. “Big” Detective. She had to laugh aloud at her own musings.