Best Defense - Randy Rawls


MY CLIENT, SABRINA HAMMONDS, lived in one of Broward County’s many upscale neighborhoods. Large, single-family homes on lots big enough to stage a rodeo. From the street, I could see the fenced area in the back that surrounded their Olympic-sized pool.

The front yard sprouted the obligatory palm trees and blooming flora. Landscaping blocks divided everything into neat sections. Either Mr. Hammonds was a nature freak, or he used a lawn care service. From what I’d seen of him, probably the latter. His tastes ran more to skanky women.

The wide driveway leading to the three-car garage was empty. Not much of an indicator since it was the same when I first visited Ms. Hammonds. She kept her S-Class Mercedes out of the hot Florida sun. I’d have done the same—if I’d had a garage and a hundred thousand dollar car. Especially if I had such a luxury ride.

I parked under the porte-cochere, checked my briefcase to make sure I hadn’t forgotten the report, then headed for the massive front entrance. As I reached toward the bell, I noticed the door was ajar. Not open, mind you, just a small gap like someone had come out and let the door swing closed behind them. I pushed the button and the chimes of Big Ben sounded. They didn’t seem a bit out of context.

While waiting for the echo to die away, I looked around. It was a fancy protected entryway with a half-circle stained glass window above the oversized walnut double doors. The window had the inevitable palm tree etched into it. An air conditioning vent pumped cold air into the semi-enclosed area, making it almost comfortable, despite the ninety-plus degrees temperature a few steps away.

When I was there before, the maid had opened the door, then reported my presence to Ms. Hammonds. I figured she could be in the back of the house—a long way from the front. Since I didn’t want to appear pushy, I waited longer than my norm before nudging the bell again. As before, the day ticked away with no response.

I supposed it could be the maid’s day off. Since I’d never had enough money to employ a domestic, I wasn’t sure how their workweeks went. If so, Ms. Hammonds might be slow getting to the door. I waited.

After what I considered a suitable time, I rang the bell a third time. Same result.

Could Ms. Hammonds be out, no one home? Always possible and even probable, given the length of time I’d stood there. Yet, the unsecured door beckoned me. Would I be remiss to walk away, leaving the house open? Wouldn’t I be doing my civic duty to stick my head in to see if everything was all right? I mean, it was something any good citizen would be expected to do, right? Sure, it would.

I sounded the chimes of Big Ben once more. By this time, my normal personality was kicking in. I have a great deal of difficulty with patience. I realize that might sound incongruent with my working as a PI. My job requires I spend hours waiting for something to happen, whether it be a stakeout on a criminal or waiting for a husband or a wife to make a meet. In those instances, I fidget, I pace, I play mental word and number games. I’ve taught myself to multiply three digit numbers by three digit numbers while lurking in inconspicuous places.

I checked my watch—for at least the tenth time. No response to the doorbell. Time to see what the story was. I pulled on the door and peeked into the house. The contrast between the outside brightness and the inside dimness made it tough to see.

I stepped across the threshold and hit a switch on the panel beside the door. When the lights came on, I saw two things—the first was closed blinds. The second sent a chill to my soul. In the middle of the foyer, a body sprawled on the floor. From the position of the arms and legs, I knew the person was not napping.

I rushed over, hoping against hope my first impression was wrong. But checking the carotid artery gave truth to my fear—no pulse. With all the blood on her clothing and puddled on the floor around her, I wasn’t surprised. The body lay face down, but I was sure I knew her. From the shape and size, it had to be Ms. Hammonds. It looked like her husband got to her before I did. I wanted to