Saturday had finally arrived and Marley’s stomach was aflutter with anticipation. The past week had crept by for Marley, much as her Mazda GLC now crept along Seventeenth Avenue, a narrow, residential street, as she searched for the address written on the back of Officer Muenster’s business card. He had been right about its near proximity—less than two miles from work—and Marley had made good time by catching all the green lights along the way.
Seventeenth Avenue between McDowell and Palm Lane was a straight, quarter-mile-long block of tiny, tightly-packed ranch-style houses that lay sandwiched between the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum to the west and the city’s sprawling Encanto Park to the east. Unlike the opulent and historical mansions abutting the park on the manicured streets east of Fifteenth Avenue, the homes on the streets west of Fifteenth, where Marley at this moment cruised, were minuscule by comparison. Most of these houses were poorly maintained, but here and there were signs of renovation and restoration, suggesting a future of gentrification for the depressing little neighborhood.
Marley slowed to a stop in front of a single-story brick house, not much bigger than a postage stamp, its white paint chipped and peeling and its front lawn but a patch of weeds and dead turf. Taking a deep breath, she pulled into the home’s gravel drive and parked her Mazda behind an older model Chevy pickup. A cement path off the driveway led her past a tangle of overgrown prickly pear cacti to the covered front porch which lay beyond. She paused a moment at the front door, took another deep breath, and knocked.
The interior metal flap of the door’s wrought iron speakeasy-style grille opened, revealing two bloodshot, pale-grey eyes. The metal flap slapped shut and the entry door flung open wide as Muenster, dressed in baggy jeans and a faded, too-tight T-shirt, greeted Marley:
“You’re here! Any trouble finding the house?”
“Not at all.”
Muenster ushered Marley inside, where a shock of the ancient pea-green shag carpeting that ran throughout the house assaulted her eyes. She stood in the middle of the small living room, eyes wide, as she took in the sight: A green paisley Mediterranean-style sofa and matching armchair, both sagging and thread-bare, outfitted the room along with an ornate, wooden television console, circa 1960, that loomed imposingly in the corner. An arched entrance led into the dining room where a vintage red Formica table with torn vinyl chairs had been set for two, complete with silverware, water glasses, and cloth napkins.
“The house is a fixer-upper,” Muenster said, half apologizing. “But it’s got good bones. Built in 1940. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” Muenster pulled a chair out from the dining table—“Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”—then disappeared into the adjacent kitchen. He soon emerged carrying two metal plates, each piled high with a salad of iceberg lettuce, grated carrots, and sliced tomatoes, which he set at each of the place settings. “Almost forgot,” he said before dashing back into the kitchen to grab a bottle of Kraft Classic Caesar salad dressing.
Marley waited for Muenster to get seated, then watched as he shook out his napkin and tucked it into the neckline of his T-shirt. She followed suit by spreading her napkin on her lap. Noting the frost on the metal plate in front of her, she asked: “Did you chill the plate?”
“Yes, in the freezer. You can heat them, too, by putting them in the oven or on top of the burner.”
“Really? What are they made of, aluminum?”
“They’re pewter,” said Muenster. “I bought a whole set of them last weekend at a yard sale, along with this table and chairs, and the entire living room set—got it all for just a hundred bucks.”
Marley looked down at the ugly green shag beneath her feet and joked. “Did they throw this carpet in for free?”
Muenster’s cheek twitched at the dig and he made a failed attempt to laugh it off. “Like I said, it’s a fixer-upper. I only just moved in a couple weeks ago.”
“I was just kidding,” appeased Marley.
Muenster poured the Kraft dressing over his salad, covering it completely, then handed the bottle to Marley. “I didn’t have time today to make the Caesar dressing. I hope bottled is okay.”
“No worries. It’s fine.”
“If not, I’ve got some Kraft Ranch in the fridge.”
Marley poured the dressing sparingly over her greens. “This is fine,” she repeated, disguising a mild disappointment in the lack of culinary effort he had promised.
Throughout the lunch, Muenster chatted about his life: All about his ambitious renovation plans for the new house and about his earlier life: How he had to drop out of junior college at the age of twenty-one when his first wife got pregnant with their oldest son, forcing him to find a job, which led to his joining the Department, and about the various details—Patrol, Motors, Hit and Run—he’d worked during his sixteen years with the PPD.
Marley listened intently, observing how his tone and body language changed depending on the subject matter. His spine straightened and head lifted when he spoke, with seriousness and authority, about his life as a police officer; however, his eyes glimmered and danced when he spoke, in a tone that was boyish and giddy, about his new house—there was a buoyant pride in his demeanor as he described how long and how hard he’d worked to save the twenty-percent down payment he needed to buy the $40,000 house.
But when it came to his ex-wife, Marley couldn’t help but notice the extreme bitterness in his voice, and how his hands clenched into hard, white-knuckled fists at just the thought of her. His festering anger for his ex reminded Marley of her childhood and her father’s alcoholic bursts of rage which, even now, as an adult, still frightened her. She made a mental note to avoid, at all costs, the subject of Muenster’s ex-wife.
As they finished their salads, Marley noticed the time. “I should get back to work.”
Muenster, empty plates in hand, frowned. “But you haven’t seen the rest of the house. Do you have time for a quick tour?”
“I’ll make time,” said Marley, which brought a smile to Muenster’s face.
Muenster motioned her to follow him into the kitchen. “This is the kitchen,” he said, dumping the plates into the porcelain sink. The kitchen was tiny, barely room for the two of them as they squeezed in its center, surrounded by the gas stove, fridge, corner sink, and a bare minimum of counter space and cupboards. Muenster passed back into the dining room and opened one of a pair of French doors to show her the stretch of backyard, a sad expanse of withered crabgrass, and a detached shell of a garage with a broken window that bordered the alley behind the house. The broken window instantly reminded Marley of the morning’s Exceptional Incidents report detailing Dee’s terrifying burglary and sexual assault, sending a cold chill through her.
“You okay?” asked Muenster.
“Are you sure? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost. I know the yard’s in rough shape, but, in time—”
“The yard’s fine. I was just reminded of something that happened to a friend, is all. How ‘bout you show me the rest of the house?”
Closing the French door, Muenster led Marley from the dining room into a cramped hallway. One step straight ahead was the home’s only bathroom, a veritable time vault of 1940s fixtures and chipped and worn pink ceramic tile on the floor and vanity countertop.
Three steps to the right of the bathroom lay the master bedroom, a small box of a room that barely accommodated an eclectic mix of second-hand furniture: a queen bed, a nightstand, a butler’s chair, and a massive triple dresser. Muenster pointed out the antique glass doorknobs and tarnished brassware on the bedroom’s entry and closet doors. “These cut-glass knobs are on every door—they’re original to the house. They’ll look good as new with a little cleaning and polishing.”
Three steps to the left of the bath lay the second and smaller of the home’s two bedrooms, piled floor to ceiling with moving boxes and assorted personal belongings, most notable among them an opened mahogany display box in which rested a long-barrel revolver, the sight of which startled Marley.
Muenster caught her troubled look. “Oh, that’s my newest purchase,” he said, walking over to pick up the gun. “It’s okay,” he said reassuringly, “It’s not loaded. I just bought it yesterday—it’s a special order, less than two hundred of them made by Smith & Wesson, commissioned by the Department to commemorate its centennial anniversary.” Muenster stroked the piece then held it out to an apprehensive Marley to show her the gun’s stainless-steel barrel, ornately engraved with the words:
Phoenix Police Department
“Looks rather large to carry on a gun belt,” quipped Marley, taking a cautious step backward.
Muenster laughed at her. “This isn’t a service revolver. It’s a .357 Magnum with a six-inch barrel. You’d never fire a gun like this—it’s a collector’s piece. Ten, twenty years from now, it’ll be worth a mint. The department’s standard issue for patrol officers is a .38 Smith & Wesson. You should know that by now.”
Marley laughed it off, then nervously looked at her watch, “Lord, look at the time. I’ve got to get going.”
Muenster replaced the gun in its case and tucked it out of sight on a high, overhead shelf in the room’s tiny closet, then turned to follow Marley as she rushed to the front door and out of the house. At her car, he opened the door but stopped her with a hand to her arm as she started to climb in. Marley turned to him, questioningly.
“I just want you to know how much I enjoyed your company this afternoon,” he said, looming over her.
Marley suddenly felt small and shy. “Me, too,” she said, offering him an appreciative smile.
Muenster smiled back then leaned down and planted a quick, wet kiss on her lips, catching Marley by surprise.
The drive back to work was but a blur for Marley, who argued with herself the entire time about the pros and cons of starting a relationship with a much older, divorced father of two teenage sons, and all the pitfalls and emotional baggage attached to such an undertaking. Was she up for it? She shook her head: No way. And there was still the unsettling matter of physical attraction—or the lack thereof. She compared Muenster to her hockey player, Number 14—tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome—and laughed out loud as she blew through a yellow light in her hurry to get back to work; there was no comparison. But, she reminded herself, it was Number 14’s swarthy good looks that had intimidated her—so much so that she had cowardly run away from his advances for fear of being hurt and rejected. She felt no such fear or intimidation with Muenster. It was, after all, the good-looking ones you had to watch out for. According to Inga, they were nothing but trouble. Muenster, therefore, should be no trouble at all…
Marley pulled her silver hatchback into the lot behind 620 West, parked and cut the engine. She sat a moment, still feeling the slight tingle on her lips from Muenster’s kiss and the nascent stirrings of sexual excitement. A revelation suddenly hit her: she was sexually drawn to Muenster, and it was because he was old, fat, and unattractive. Unlike all the other men in her past, Muenster treated her with respect and was taking the time to get to know Marley, and he was allowing Marley to get to know him, the man on the inside. She appreciated the unhurried pace of their fledgling relationship, that he wasn’t rushing her into sex or treating her like a mere object of his desire. She felt a growing sense of trust in him and, more importantly, in herself. This, she truly believed, was the romantic opportunity she had so longed for—one she had no excuses to run from: She had a respectable job, her own apartment, independence and, hence, something of value—herself— to offer a prospective lover. For the first time in her twenty-three years, she felt confident as a woman.
By the time Marley had returned to her workstation in the 620 West basement, she’d made up her mind: Muenster was the one. A look of self-assurance shone in her eyes as she slipped on her headset and plugged into her desk jack. The click in her ear of an incoming call signaled, in some bizarre but perfectly rational way, that Marley’s solitary nights of hair brushes and cucumbers were all but numbered, bringing a smile-to-end-all-smiles to her flushed face as she acknowledged her caller in an unexpectedly low and lusty voice: