The Arizona Highway Patrol cruiser pulled up in front of the faded pink mobile home festooned with iron sculptures of all shapes and sizes in the front yard. Inside the house, Lizzy was listening to Tyler, The Creator, on her new Airpods when she sensed someone was coming for a visit. As she peeked out her bedroom window and spotted the Highway Patrol car, her heart began to race. "I hope this is not about last night because I have no idea what I'm going to say," she thought. She scrambled to her dresser, looked in the mirror, and gave herself a quick pep talk. "Get a grip, girl! No one saw you on the highway last night," she said out loud, trying to convince herself that was true when she knew full well there was no explanation for the two-hour time gap during last night's paranormal event.
Damian turned off the ignition and radioed dispatch that he would be 10/7 - off-duty. He wanted this visit to be “off-the-record.” He didn't like flaunting rules, but this was different. His curiosity about what led to the Dome Rock Road crash was over-ruling his no-nonsense “just-the-facts” approach to his police work. He had all the information he needed to wrap up the official crash report, but he had this nagging premonition that there was more to the story. Damian rationalized that he was just 'going the extra mile' on this case, but in the back of his mind, he worried he would be stepping on the toes of that local sheriff, which reminded him that he needed to be at least a little cautious. When he rang the doorbell, he noticed a young girl peering at him through a window.
Eileen Jankins swung the front door open slowly and greeted Damian. "Hi! Can I help you?" she said. Eileen was a slim woman with slender toned arms and long straight black hair that curled around her lean and slim torso. She was wearing a western-styled gauze shirt with the sleeves rolled up and cut-off jean shorts that rode high on her long, tanned legs. She was a good two inches taller than the man standing in front of her.
"Ah. Yes, mam. My name is Damian Fernandez. I'm with the Arizona Department of Public Safety," Damian said rather distractedly. Damian was trying desperately to focus only on the young woman's chestnut brown eyes as he spoke. "I've been investigating the accident your ex-husband was involved in last month, and I had some questions about that day." "Ok. Come in, please. I'll be as helpful as I can," Eileen replied cautiously.
Eileen asked the trooper to have a seat in the living room. She prepared to ask him if he wanted something to drink when she suddenly felt very self-conscience - remembering that she wasn't wearing a bra. It was a hot day, and she hadn’t been expecting guests. Even with the A/C blowing full blast, it was still a balmy 80 degrees inside the mobile home and the thin gauze shirt Eileen was wearing did little to conceal her ample cleavage. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, relieved that Damian was scanning the living room instead of her. She used that as an opportunity to exit the living room and began walking toward the kitchen as she waited for his reply. "Some water with a little ice would be fine, thank you," Damian politely replied.
Looking around the room, Damian thought he might have been transported back into the 60s. There was a large framed black and white poster of Janis Joplin “ripping it” at the Monterey Pop Festival. A lava lamp on one table was working away, and the place had the distinct aroma of incense, maybe patchouli oil or something. Over the couch, where he was now sitting, was a large reprint of a Peter Max mural. Across the hallway's archway leading to the home's back was one of those multi-colored beads curtains.
“Would you excuse me for a minute?” Eileen politely asked the trooper. She slipped through the bead curtain and down the hallway to her bedroom. When she passed by Lizzy's bedroom, she noticed the door while slightly ajar. She could tell by the shadow cast in the doorway that Lizzy was just on the other side, prepared to eavesdrop on whatever conversation was going to transpire between her mother and the state trooper. Eileen slipped on a thin opaque camisole in her bedroom hanging on the bedpost and returned to the living room.
As the two sat in the living room, Eileen couldn't help but take notice of the rugged-looking uniformed man in front of her. She guessed they were about ten years of an age difference. Damien had removed his cap, and the morning sunshine cascading through the front picture window made his light blue eyes sparkle. Eileen was looking intently into Damian's eyes when he broke her gaze. "Ms. Jankins, I'm working with a task force commissioned by the Governor. We're researching the causes of an unusually high number of wrong-way crashes - particularly here in western Arizona." Damian felt himself squirm a little after asking that question because he knew this was not the real reason he was here at Eileen Jankins' house today.
Damian thought something wasn't right about the events leading up to Barry Jankins’ crash on the I-10. His discussions with the sheriff and his deputies that day on the highway didn't seem believable. Damian's intuition had always served him well. If the local sheriff's department didn't follow proper procedures, he would note it - maybe not in his "official report," but somewhere - he would document it. That was the right thing to do, and Damian was always about doing the right thing.
"Can you tell me about that day? What kind of mood was your ex-husband in? Can you tell me about your interaction with the responding deputy after you called 911?" Damian asked in rapid-fire procession. Eileen closed her eyes and rubbed her left arm continuously for what seemed like forever, then responded, "Sorry, um… officer. I’ve been working on my meditation lately to help me get centered again. I’ve been trying to get back my Zen since that horrible day!” Damian scanned the room again and noticed several family pictures showing happier times at the Jankins household. “Anyway, Barry came to the house after I told him Lizzy couldn't go to the Doobie Brothers concert. They had planned it for a long time ago, but Lizzy was having trouble in one of her classes. I tried all kinds of bribes to get her back on track, but her grade was headed in the wrong direction. I’m a firm believer in positive reinforcement, but at some point, I just had to start saying no.” Eileen’s tone turned from upbeat to regretful.
Damian was feverishly scribbling on his notepad when his eyes wandered to the woman's crossed legs. As he scanned downed to her bare feet, he noticed her nicely manicured toenails - spotting a small bright yellow rose painted on her big toe. Eileen’s bubbly personality and painted toenails reminded him of an old girlfriend he had in college. Tanya, oh yes, Tanya! Tanya wore that same kind of toenail artwork. Tanya was a real hippie chick - into astrology, yoga, eastern meditation, and socially conscious organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Damian was a pragmatist, and Tanya was a dreamer. Still, boy, the two of them sure had a lot of good times together - backpacking in the mountains and skinny-dipping in cold mountain lakes. "Focus, man! Focus!" Damian told himself. "Go on, please, Ms. Jankins," he prompted, somewhat sheepishly.
"Well, I told Barry over the phone that the concert was a no-go for Lizzy, but ya' know he always had trouble taking NO for an answer. He came charging over here… thinking he could talk me into it or something. He was good at that, you know, but he forgot I had the restraining order." Damian wanted to ask how the restraining order came about, but he didn’t want to push his luck. Instead, he asked, " Did he seem impaired when he got here?" "Impaired? You mean high or drunk, right?" Eileen replied. "Yes, that's right," Damian confirmed.
"No, absolutely not! I mean, I've seen Barry stoned and drunk many times. “When he was drunk or stoned, he was always very chill, and he was definitely not chill that day." "You're sure of this?" Damian asked as he dug deeper. Eileen gave the trooper a bit of a disbelieving look and responded, "Oh yeah, I'm sure. Barry had mental health issues. When he was off his meds, his behavior got pretty whacky. I could sometimes help coax him through some of his more intense manic states… you know, meditate with him, stuff like that - but not that day." Eileen continued, "I was just so tired of his crap, and I knew it was going to be a major ordeal to get him to leave. So, I threatened to call the police. That sent him off into orbit, I guess."
"Ms. Jankins, Did Barry have any weapons in his possession?" Damian asked. "Barry? No way! When he had his last 5150, he was ordered to give up all firearms. Barry's dad made sure he followed through on that," Eileen explained emphatically.” “I remember the day his dad came over and picked up all his stuff, guns included,” she added.
"Anyway, Barry kept screaming outside my front door. For almost an hour! My neighbors were calling me on the phone, asking me if I was ok. He wouldn't go away, and Lizzy just kept bawling uncontrollably in her room. I'd had enough, so I called 911." Furiously scribbling notes, Damian turned the page in his notepad as Eileen continued, "A deputy showed up in about five minutes, maybe less. As soon as Barry saw the deputy’s car approach, he jumped in his truck and sped off. He almost ran over one of my neighbors tearing out of here!"
"Then what happened," Damian asked. "The deputy came to the door and asked me if I was ok and where I thought Barry might be going. I told him I was, but I had no idea where Barry was headed." "And that's it? That's all you discussed with the deputy?" Damian asked.
"Ah, yeah. The deputy was only here for like one minute when he jumped into his car and tore off out of here like a bat outta hell," Eileen stated in a matter of fact way.
"Thank you, Ms. Jankins. You've been very helpful. Here's my card. If you think of anything else, please don't hesitate to call me," Damian said as he gathered his cap and notebook and headed towards the front door. As he got ready to open the front door, Eileen approached him, gently touched his arm, and said, "Thank you for coming out today, officer Fernandez. The work you do is really important, you know, keeping people safe on the road and everything.” The woman’s light touch on his arm sent a jolt of electricity through Damian, and he thought to himself, "She really does remind me of Tanya," as he tried to keep that stoic look plastered on his face. "Thank you, Ms. Jankins. You have a great day," Damian said in his official State of Arizona Highway Patrol kind-of voice.
As Damian pulled away from the residence, Eileen closed the front door and headed back to the kitchen. Lizzy popped her head through the doorway. "What was that all about, mom?" Lizzy asked. "Oh, they're just doing some study about your dad's accident, I guess." "No, I mean between you and that cop?" Lizzy retorted sarcastically. “What?” Eileen exclaimed as if she had just been accused of high crime. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, young lady,” Eileen responded coyly. As she walked back to the kitchen, Eileen knew EXACTLY what Lizzy was talking about. The sight of the young highway patrolman had sparked something inside of Eileen that she hadn’t felt for a long time.
For her part, Lizzy was just all too happy that the cop wasn’t there to speak to her about last night! More importantly, she realized what the state trooper was really looking for. He was looking for dirt on that damn Sheriff Koontz. She felt an intense jolt of vengefulness curse through her body as it became clear she might be able to use the cop to even the score with that asshole sheriff who she blamed for her dad’s death.
On his way back to Yuma, Damian began to soak in what Eileen Jankins had told him, and it just wasn’t adding up. He had reviewed Barry’s rap sheet. There were no violence-related arrests on Barry’s record, yet Sheriff Koontz specifically mentioned a “history of violence.” The sheriff also said that he was told Barry was driving “impaired.” Where did the information come from? Eileen seemed pretty sure her ex wasn’t drinking or using that day, and why did the sheriff treat the situation as a “grave threat to public safety”? Damian’s gut was telling him there was some bad juju between Sheriff Koontz and Barry Jankins. Some really bad juju! Now, Damian felt compelled to dig even deeper.
Damian also found himself replaying images of Eileen Jankins pert smile and warm, inviting eyes over and over again in his mind. If he needed to meet with her again during “his investigation,” that was just fine with him.
To be continued...