Shelby Winters, DDS, writhed on his sweat-soaked bed and groaned in his sleep. He turned onto his stomach triggering nausea and barely made it to the toilet before vomit spurted up his throat and out through his mouth and nose.
He’d managed to get blackout drunk again. Winters couldn’t recall anything that happened during the party at the country club after eight p.m., the last time he looked at his wristwatch. He’d had two similar incidents in the last month. That scared him. Driving blotto was one thing; not remembering anything about it was something else.
With some juice and coffee inside him, he felt well enough to go get breakfast. But as he backed gingerly out of his garage, the left front tire on his Porsche felt flat. He decided he’d have to take it to the dealership. Thank God they were open Saturdays.
* * *
Morty his mechanic waved as Winters pulled into the service bay and switched off the engine. “What the fuck did you run over?” he asked.
The dentist gave him a puzzled look.
Morty escorted him to the front of the car and pointed to the fender. The headlamp was shattered and pushed back, the swell of the wheel fairing was badly dented and several large chips of red paint were gone, exposing the gray undercoat on the metal.
“Looks like you gave something a pretty good whack,” Morty said. “It probably caused the break in your tire’s shoulder.”
The dentist stooped to look at the damage. There was a spatter of dark brown along the bottom of the light bezel and something was hanging from the broken glass of the lamp. He pulled it loose and peered at it closely. It was a hank of light-colored hair.
“Damn,” he said standing and brushing off his hands. “I must have hit some animal coming back from the party last night.”
“You don’t remember doing it?’ Morty asked incredulously.
Winters shook his head, wincing as the movement sent a throb of pain through his skull.
“A little too much vino, eh?” Morty said, miming someone taking a drink.
The dentist grimaced. “Actually, I think wine was the only thing I didn’t drink last night.”
The mechanic wiped his hands. “Well, what do you want done?” he asked.
“Replace the tire and repair the damage,” Winters said. “You guys do body and fender work, don’t you?”
Morty shook his head. “Not on something like this,” he said. “You’re going to need a new front clip from another dealership. We can paint it to look the same but it’ll take a week or so to repair. You’ll have to drive a courtesy car home.”
* * *
Heading back in the loaner, Winters saw police a quarter mile from the security gate. Among them was his patient, Sergeant Jack Cordrey.
“Hey, Jack,” he said, pulling over and parking. “What’s up?”
“Hi, Doc!” Cordrey said, surprised to see his dentist at a crime scene. “Stay over on that side of the yellow tape, would you? What you doing in these parts?”
“I live in Windermere Oaks,” Winters said. “It’s just down the road. What brings you to my neighborhood?”
“A vehicular manslaughter,” Cordrey said. “Somebody killed a girl here last night.”
“Who?” Winters asked.
“Debbie Peterson, the nurseryman’s daughter,” Cordrey said. “We’re looking for anything that might tell us who killed her.”
Winters recalled an athletic-looking young blond he’d met when her father was planting trees near his condo.
“Find anything yet?” Winters asked.
Cordrey pointed to some black marks on the pavement. “We have a good set of tire tracks. Broken glass. Big-assed chips of paint from the car. We’ll find the sonofabitch, that’s for sure.”
Winters frowned. “Was this a rear-ender or a head-on collision?”
Cordrey shook his head. “It wasn’t a car-versus-car,” he said. “Peterson was hit while jogging down the side of the road. The evidence we’ve found was from whoever hit her.”
“I saw the body before the coroner picked it up,” the sergeant added. “She was hamburger. The car that hit her split her skull and broke her neck. Apparently she got dragged, too, because she was covered with abrasions and part of her blue and gold Cal sweatshirt was ripped off her back.”
Winters remembered the hair caught in the shards of his Porsche’s headlight. It had been blond.
“You say there were paint chips, too?” he asked.
Cordrey nodded. “Yeah, kind of an unusual shade of red. These car outfits all have unique paint. When I get back to the office we may already have heard back from the people who made it.”
The sergeant suddenly realized he was sharing too much sensitive information about the case. “Keep that to yourself, would you?” he said. “We don’t want to tip the perp about anything that might cause him to flee before we arrest him.”
One of the detectives in the high grass signaled Cordrey to join him. “Sorry, Doc,” he told Winters. “I gotta get back to work. Don’t worry. We’ll nail this bastard and send him away. It’s three years in the state pen for hit-run, alone. If the driver was drunk, he could get thirteen years in the slam.”
Winters returned to his car. He had no sooner sat down behind the wheel than his cell phone rang.
“Hey, Doc. Morty here,” his mechanic said. “We put your Boxster on the rack to pull the wheel and take off the smashed fender and we found something weird: there was a piece of cloth hung up on the undercarriage. It might have been covering whatever it was that you hit.”
“Yeah?” Winters said, his nausea returning. “What was it?”
“This was a piece of dark blue material,” Morty said. “There was some yellow trim on part of it. Does that ring a bell? You remember hitting something covered with blue and yellow cloth?”
Winters realized his heart was beating like a small animal trapped inside his ribcage.
“No,” he answered slowly. “I don’t remember hitting anything at all.”
“Okay,” the mechanic said. “Sorry to have bothered you.”
The sun slanting through the windshield was high and hot. Even so, Winters was trembling, chilled to the bone. The dentist rested his aching head on the steering wheel.
For the first time in many months, he actually needed a drink.
His fiction has been published in All Due Respect (which has nominated it for a 2014 Pushcart Prize), Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, Crime Factory and Dark Corners Pulp. He also has short stories awaiting publication at Spinetingler, Plan B, and Over My Dead Body. His longer work includes three self-published novels: The Jade Bone Jar, Tamer, and The Judas Hunter; and a novella, I Wait to Die. He is currently working on a new novel, Bottom Street, and All Due Respect Books has scheduled A Dead Heat with the Reaper, two of his novellas, for publication in August 2015.