A Novel of Murder, Mystery, Love, Indiscretion and Hunting
Based on a Novel by Kenneth Tetzel
Copyright 2015 Kenneth Tetzel
Log Line: In California’s Central Valley, a small town homicide unit is foiled after a daybreak murder. This crime leads back into a previous unsolved case, police indiscretions, past secrets, lies, passion, mystery, hunting waterfowl and suspects acting like decoys.
Windblown water and waving tules. Opening scenes develop with panning shots of a cold, clear, late day on a Central Valley Wildlife Refuge. Flocks of waterfowl dot the scene with a wide view of impressive wetlands.
The focal point of two streamlined Gadwalls are singled out as they dip and weave, skirting a dangerous but inviting pond. Quiet water is needed but each bird is wary of potential death. Hidden below is Tom Ellis, intent on filling out an improbable early season limit. Evening approaches as two Gadwalls approach. Shots are fired and a bird falls. Limit filled. Birds are checked, tallied, sampled and the day’s hunt is complete. Mission accomplished.
Earlier, that same day….
Headlights flicker into dense, low lying fog. Predawn, cold and still. A faceless driver steers a truck into a three way intersection. Quiet homes and wide streets dominate. Tracy is still asleep as the camera slowly draws in. Through the fog, a blurry figure exits the vehicle then deftly crawls inside the camper shell. Waiting.
Beatrice Patterson makes her way outside to retrieve the morning news, swatting and swearing at the neighborhood bandit. A cat named Striper. All quiet resumes, apart from her neighbor’s flickering nightlight in the adjoining driveway. Marcus Crosby appears, heading for his car and another workday. One single bang rings out. Beatrice freezes in place. Marcus is viciously struck in the neck. An ugly scene unfolds with a blood splattered car, an almost severed head, wobbling body and Beatrice losing self control.
A dark truck moves slowly down Anaheim Drive inspecting the ghastly murder scene but never stopping. Mrs. Patterson moves toward a shadowy driver but poor light obstructs her vision as two red taillights slowly disappear into a dim veil of morning haze. Fade to black.
Fading into a busy street and front yards congested with cobwebs of caution tape, blinking lights, crime scene police and curious neighbors. A close camera focuses on dialogue between a Tracy detective and a pushy but attractive television news reporter, then passes throughout the scene and across dumbfounded faces and eventually through Beatrice Patterson’s front door. Inside her living room the viewer is introduced to two main characters. Detectives Chris Davis and Regina Gonzalez. They have to work hard drawing out what Mrs. Patterson knows, what she witnessed that morning and how important manners can be to an elderly lady. Also revealed is the noisy relationship between Chris and Regina as well as their inseparable partnership.
The morning ends with a panorama of the crime scene breaking down. Clues tabulated, body removed, one pushy reporter, stumped investigators and their smitten boss, tired neighbors and cold winds blowing into the valley neighborhood as if trying to sweep away the grisly murder. Day one concludes with high emotional energy, anticipation, revelations, evidence withheld, new friends, a young farm boy’s newfound treasure and two Gadwalls in search of safe water. If not enough, a previous murder resurfaces, with the original suspect laying dead in his driveway!
The following days reveal a frustrated but determined investigation in full gear. One at a time, by chance and by association suspects are revealed along with Central Valley geography, agriculture, drought, water and stolen looks into personal lives. Abigail Crosby enters the story, in a bold manner, bringing her connection to Tracy’s Chief of Police and details of her son Marcus, the victim. Regina’s ‘Gang of Four’ workmates hold one of their frequent lunch meetings to discuss personal relationships and the lack thereof. The murder case however, muddles even more.
Suspect number one, the Braden’s. Parents of Sarah (Crosby) Braden. Former abused wife of Marcus Crosby. Chris lands this detail with an extensive, rather close, inquiry in their Oakdale home. Meet Henry Braden, Sarah’s father. Happily married and very experienced with rifles and shooting. His lovely wife Franny. Nervous, seductive, secretive, scheming and covering up something except her cleavage. Both are suspects and Chris is foolishly captivated.
Regina Gonzalez, on her own detail, to question a long shot suspect following a lengthy and memory filled drive south, back into her past. A drive into heartache and emotion. A drive filled with Central Valley images. Large picturesque farms, diverse ecosystems, broad rivers, suffering towns, Interstate Five, a lost mother and finally….Mendota. Sorrowful home.
Her suspect, Tom Ellis, proves to be anything but heartache. When all is done, Regina is filled with new possibilities, new attraction, new questions. Once Tom’s alibi is confirmed, Regina’s latest path is laid out before her. A serious path of sharp rocks, steep climbs and marshes.
A young teen, hip deep in cold water, conducts a ballerina dance. Searching out a rare prize wading along a Valley river bottom. Estefan’s big toe touches wood and metal. The rifle now belongs to him. His discovery opens a series of events between himself and an unruly, but capable, petty criminal. Estefan and the Jackal initiate a competition, engage in deception, then launch a friendship. A rifle, the murder weapon, plays their object of obsession and danger.
A long still view of Los Banos State Wildlife Refuge, late afternoon, quiet, empty. Whistling wings and gliding birds penetrate the viewport. Marsh ponds, thick tules, painted waterfowl fill the setting as we observe a lone, captivated detective inspecting the episode while investigating Tom’s alibi. Something new is about to begin for Regina Gonzalez. Within and away from her taxing murder case.
Station 3009. The case returns to Tracy. Captain Anderson meets with the sexy reporter and convenes his staff to discuss findings. Strategy is planned for the next suspect, Douglas Sheets. A Motherload sheriff who all agree, will prove tough. Chief Yung and Abigail Crosby continue their contest. Beatrice makes a hard decision while Franny makes plans. Patrolman Buck, a dedicated cop, helps Regina in the final details of Refuge investigation and….duck hunting! All conclude in another examination of Tom Ellis and her own seduction into his world. The hunt is on. Fade to black.
One by one, they enter. Entering into discreet but risky meetings. Most of the players ‘consultation’ appear case related, but in reality….let the viewer decide. Regina, Chris and Billy give the impression of poor judgment, comparable to their subjects, except Tom, Franny and Patricia behave like decoys. All three couples meet in similar places. Local taverns. All three couples meet with intentions to discuss relevant case information. All three couples end their meetings with much more in mind than case details. All three couples step over the line. Even Estefan, has a meeting, a business meeting. He and the Jackal step over the line too. Last but not least, Abigail Crosby and her handcuffed reporter join together and become unlikely traders. Their transaction is for case information. One side needs info to find her son’s killer, the other needs info to free herself. Not to be forgotten are the two Gadwalls, growing closer each day.
The final arrangement is now in the works. Chris and Regina team up only to suffer the pangs of Central Valley fog with a close scrape against a couple large trees. Followed by an even harder fight questioning Douglas Sheets in his foothills enclave. A long interview with Doug ensues. It’s here where suspicion grows even further. Did a sheriff have the guts to commit murder? How much does he know? Fade away with the sheriff’s face depicted in malicious mystery.
The day before Thanksgiving. A holiday one woman is eager to enjoy. A holiday another woman is dreading to start. Regina is meeting with Tom and he’s taking complete control of cooking their holiday dinner. Loretta Sheets and her husband Douglas are fighting it out once more, in revolt of his complete control. Their never ending war, on the Holiday of Thanks, has turned into a day of extreme malice as Douglas is breaking down emotionally and Loretta is forced to suffer his abuse. Their lovely daughter Lucy, suffers it too. Doug’s plan is beyond rational!
Regina and Beatrice enjoy a late fall afternoon coffee in the elder lady’s backyard. Idle talk, an ornery cat, thrown rocks and a failed chance for new evidence. Relaxed, for the moment, but terror soon repeats itself as Regina is about to depart. As a slow moving truck passes her driveway, Mrs. Patterson is sure the shooter has returned once again! The elder lady collapses leaving Regina in a state of confusion. Her initial response, interesting enough, is to lay a phone check on Tom Ellis. Never one hundred percent certain of her romantic interest’s innocence. Ellis clears the exam. Her next assumption turns to Douglas Sheets.
Doug’s plan to attack is thwarted by a lucky afternoon rendezvous as he sinks deeper into the abyss. Not a good situation for his wife Loretta. The busy day preceding Turkey Dinner also has Abbey and her reporter fighting on cell phones as the Gadwalls escape yet another close call due to a flock of frantic Green Wing Teal. A few teal fail to return. The camera pans over a quiet sunset to a remote section on a Central Valley Wildlife Refuge, where two Gadwalls lay hidden in tall weeds, surrounding a small pond. Close together, well fed, finally secure, soon to be asleep.
Thanksgiving Day is a special one for Regina. Beginning with a coffee shop embrace from a rambunctious, running child and her drive filled with memories and expectation . Her cleared suspect is nothing short of unpredictable. The dinner menu is nothing short of remarkable, as well as delicious. Regina’s feelings, beginning to stir, would become overwhelming. Her long weekend would prove nothing short of fabulous.
Chris, on the other hand was fixed heavier on the murder case. His latest brainstorm unfolds; “Let’s get to know Loretta Sheets.” Stakeout!
Patricia Bailey may have earned her freedom. As well as a legitimate man in her life.
Estefan’s deal has closed. Ammo. He gets to shoot his rifle….but The Jackal soon becomes a permanent partner in his clandestine plans.
First hunt. Both nervous and excited driving south, once again. Backlit jagged hills fill her right side windshield while a glowing Valley sunset, soaks her left side. A nice contrast, similar to her contrasting mind-set. “What am I doing? Duck hunting for Christ’s sake. Am I nuts?” She asks herself, but presses on.
Glaring headlights illuminate a roadway in front of Tom and Regina, continuing south. Migration? A nervous cab. Dinner in Los Banos turns out to be better than expected. Slight relief, but the ride to San Luis National Wildlife Refuge leads to new concerns. Sleeping arraignments? Tom remains a gentleman and Regina is granted relief inside a tight camper shell. The next morning awakens at four AM; an awkward check in; bumpy ride; moonlit hike; splashy falls; confrontation; set up; decoys; miscues; misses and marvelous waterfowl. Regina’s first hunt and she’s hooked.
Ammunition, a shiny barrel and a young boy. Not a secure mixture. Running live shells through a clicking breech and scoping targets not too distant. Danger advances from an unknown LOADED RIFLE, pointed at Clay Blevins neck. BANG! The young boy’s life is changed forever.
Chris Davis shivers inside his freezing car. A morning football game streams in the background. His stakeout is finally about to win action, deciding Mrs. Sheets has more to offer in terms of case evidence. Safeway becomes their impromptu meeting ground, ice cream breaks the ice and a cozy conversation between the two in a secluded park, ends by changing this murder case. Our camera withdraws and turns toward a small creek, gurgling slow, just beyond their parked car. The blurred image focuses on a slithering water snake curling into sparse shrubs. Hidden. Ambush position.
Act II ends with Tom and Regina enjoying their intimate passion. The Gang of Four enjoying Regina’s reminisce of Thanksgiving dinner, without divulging her new love’s identity. Patricia Bailey enjoying her time as well, in the arms of satisfaction and information.
On the darker side, Douglas Sheets sits alone at his television brooding over his first failed attempt to impact the murder case but planning new schemes. Reality is losing out, as ominous strategy is set to memory and thoughts of beating his wife are nearly put in motion. Fortunately, he succumbs to vodka and warped feelings. Fading out as the camera stares into two cratered but tense eyes.
Early morning in Station 3009, as the camera glimpses Regina fielding a call from Tom Ellis. Some low volume, sexy dialogue concludes with plans for hunt number two, just as her partner enters, smarting from his frigid Motherload stakeout, still exhibiting attitude. Captain Anderson demands an immediate meeting and details are revealed. Loretta Sheets has earned the focal point now and her intriguing demands are discussed. Scenarios formed and suspects considered as motives are theorized and frustration mounts. Two separate murders are fast melting into one. Chief Yung joins in and plans are drawn to bear down on both Douglas and Loretta while the Braden’s will be raked over the coals too. Time for Chris Davis to shine!
Beatrice, on the phone once again. Inviting Franny Braden this time, Sarah’s mother, over for lunch. Why? Fade out as Mrs. Patterson sits slowly into her kitchen chair, thinking deep, scared.
Station 3009. More news and confusion. Clay Blevins has been shot, by a young Hispanic boy, with a .222 caliber rifle. The same load used to slay Marcus Crosby. Coincidence or connection? Regina is awestruck.
A terrorized Estefan is in the spotlight, grilled by an overbearing, white racist sheriff. Only to be rescued by another sheriff. Patient and black. Estefan reveals how he came to locate his treasure and nightmare. Events ramp up; meetings multiply; encounters switch to a higher gear; scene changes escalate in tempo.
Franny Braden’s rain soaked drive to Tracy for a curious lunch with Beatrice. A storm rages outside as Beatrice hands over her recovered object to Franny Braden. No words are exchanged but the murder case is now raging too. To complicate things even more, Franny has an evening dinner meeting scheduled with Chris Davis. This murder case is about to enter the eye of the storm.
Regina can hardly wait for the second hunt. Her and Tom continue to advance but so does Central Valley fog. Following the storm front, skies clear on Saturday morning, temperatures drop and tule fog grows thick, smothering their hunt this time. Except for one reckless Cinnamon Teal. Still a good day for Regina.
Loretta Sheets however, is having a terrible day. Hubby’s threatening to kill her this time! Verbal abuse is followed by pulled hair and blood soon flows. But, Loretta has to protect her daughter and she takes Douglas deep, like a walk-off bomb at a baseball game, using a fire stoker! Down goes Douglas, in a heap. Loretta and Lucy flee. Fade out once again to dimming taillights.
Scenes begin popping….
Regina and Tom exhibit post hunting relations and Gonzalez receives early morning news.
Franny Braden heads south! Why?
Loretta and daughter take refuge with Chris Davis after spending a cold night hiding in an almond orchard.
Douglas grows even crazier.
Regina leaves Gustine early, once learning the latest report.
Patricia Bailey and Abbey Crosby have their final heart to heart.
The Gang of Four is proving to be the only thing stranger than the murder cases! Is Pam “coming out?!”
Chris Davis, at home, his two new roommates are doing well. However, Beatrice intervenes (with Regina’s subtle urging) inviting Loretta and Lucy to bunk with her. Tracy police endorse the arrangements and events settle just enough to allow Regina another hunt. A police watch is posted near the Patterson ‘room and board’, just to be safe. Hopefully.
Regina exits Tracy for another hunt and cuddle but is followed close, by an unknown danger. Douglas? Bizarre! The chase is on, cab to cab, south on Interstate Five, to Gustine and Tom, who comes in handy this time, delivering protection. This episode forces Regina into a tight situation. How to report herself being hunted and at the same time, keeping her own hunt under wraps? She balks, and together the passionate pair move further south for hunt number three as Sheets moves north to hunt, perhaps to kill, number two. Chris Davis is moving east to protect number one.
Dark. Windy. Cold. So much like Regina’s forlorn recollection of Mendota. As the view pans out, they stir to two files of anxious hunters, stowing gear, sorting decoys, loading carts, eating, downing coffee, slipping into waders, trying to stave off their need of sleep. Panning further away, the road into Mendota State Wildlife Refuge closely resembles an infantry column preparing for battle. Complete with guns, roaring fires, orders relayed among nervous troops. All for a mid week duck hunt! Regina’s check in antics continue to baffle Tom followed by a new twist to their grueling hikes. Bicycles! Nothing quite like a moonlit ride into wetland areas. Cold water, shooting stars, a large open pond, Tom’s flounder, passing waterfowl, Regina’s thanks and wild shooting. Gonzalez can’t get enough. The camera draws back, revealing a crystal clear morning with a violent wind. Putting migrating ducks in danger once more.
Tracy. Still dark. Two cops keep a steady watch on the Patterson house. One intends to do harm. The other, intent on protection.
Scenes shift back and forth as two Gadwalls approach Mendota Refuge.
Tired eyes and two cops scheme in front of the Patterson house. Two ladies inside have no clue what lurks outside.
Two hunters finish the morning shoot. One has a limit of hefty birds. The other is forced to recognize a disturbing conclusion. Their afternoon would conclude in a sweat. But sweet with passion.
Two drivers, one cop and one illegal immigrant, engage in an unlucky collision. Relief is delayed, security goes lax and like a shadow, Sheets gets inside….action ensues!
Douglas shifts into high gear crazy, forcing Loretta to fight for Lucy and Beatrice. She accepts a body blow to exchange her cell phone. Beatrice sends a text for help as Douglas and his wife become entangled in a life and death wrestling match. A gun blasts; a knife is thrust; blood flies and screams are growled. Who will win the day?
Regina receives the text from Beatrice on her return drive home. She calls Davis for emergency aid as he and Officer Kennedy arrive just in time. Douglas lies motionless in the Patterson living room, bloody and baring a few puncture wounds. Still alive. Loretta has escaped another mêlée. Gonzalez bursts through the front door expecting the worst for Beatrice. She finds her friend, alive and standing guard over a terrified Lucy, like a Roman Centurion, prepared to die for this child! Is the Crosby murder finally settled? Long fade out as Lucy and a bloodied mom, hug in relief.
The Patterson home and Anaheim Drive are filled with police once again. Investigation is finished but nothing is solved. One exposure involves Billy Anderson and Patricia Bailey. By accident, Chief Yung catches on. How will he deal with this?
Chief Yung’s office, watching him deal with the hyper active Abbey Crosby once again. She demands justice now but the case is stalled for a few days while Douglas Sheets stabilizes and is able to give testimony.
In the meantime….
The Gang of Four conduct their final meeting with the gay angle surfacing and growing, again….
Estefan is greeted by Clay Blevins. He’s arrived to make amends and close the situation. Not long to be alive due to cancer, Clay decides to impact the young Hispanic boy for the rest of his life. Presenting Estefan with a gift of trees. A long slow fade away shows Mr. Blevins walking away on a dirt road, which cuts a large almond orchard in half. An easy smile covers his face.
Friday morning, a day of discoveries comes to light. Douglas Sheets is in recovery and talking mode. He gives his side of the story in a forceful interview. Sarah Crosby’s death is finally solved. Yet another sordid affair! Marcus Crosby’s is still a obscured. Tracy police strategy is now focused on Loretta Sheets and Franny Braden. The heat must be turned up. By chance, they will be together, at an impromptu ‘Dinner With Beatrice’ Friday night. Regina, Chris and Billy will arbitrate the statements, while Chief Yung holds court in his office, getting to the bottom of Patricia Bailey and Abigail Crosby. All the while, waiting for news from the dinner party and who’s name will be written on the arrest warrant.
The Patterson house. Winds circle on the approaching storm. Inside and out. Dinner, cops, ladies and gentlemen, secrets revealed after Chris and Franny go face to face. Raised voices, shouts, racial slurs, tears and a story unfolds. Finally Mrs. Braden gives it up. Nobody knew. Tom Ellis, in a long bygone affair is the father of Sarah Braden! Tom Ellis pulled the trigger on Marcus. Taking personal revenge on an innocent man. Not a good man by any stretch, but Marcus did not kill Sarah. This is what happens when a person takes up a gun and the law, into his own hands. Regina Gonzalez is devastated, but knows what has to be done.
Back to Station 3009. Yung continues to moderate the meeting in his office, over an order in of Chinese dinner. Patricia and Abbey continue to battle each other until, at last, Tom’s name comes through. Their war ends with a determined reporter winning the high ground. Tracy’s Homicide Unit meets one last time as an arrest warrant sets in motion, The Final Hunt. Regina knows her hunter and Mendota Wildlife Refuge is invaded.
Daybreak. Wind and rain. Heavy downpours. Raining sideways. Tom worked his last decoy and changed his hunt to Los Banos Wildlife Refuge. He’s chosen the very same pond he hunted after killing Marcus. A perfect alibi. Regina, with Chris in tow, lead a slippery posse of police, detectives and Fish and Game staff to arrest her lover. The storm becomes a metaphor of her life and current love, as she talks to Tom. Maybe her last time? Panic ensues, Chris is caught in the middle as always, Regina struggles to prevent Ellis from ending it all. She fails. One last secret surfaces amid the muddy waters of a Central Valley marsh. Detective Gonzalez is pregnant with Tom’s child. If he only knew….
All the while, two Gadwalls watch the drama unfold below. A lone gun blast rings out. So far, still surviving their perilous migration south. They would leave the San Joaquin Valley the next morning.