Author Riette Gallienne works in Sausalito and lived here for a number of years. After earning her BA in English in Southern California, she has worked in a variety of writing, marketing and management roles over the last twenty years. Riette would like us to mention that although many elements of this story are based on actual recent Sausalito events, “Please tell them that none of the characters are based on any of my neighbors, the criminals are not based on any of my co-workers, and my fictional city officers and staff are just that: fictional!”
Special Bonus: After the end of the story Riette lists the actual Sausalito events that form the basis for the mystery. The details may surprise you!
Story Length: About 12 typical paperback pages, broken into three online segments.
Barge Right In
by Riette Gallienne
Copyright (c) 2009, Riette Gallienne, All Rights Reserved.
It must have looked like I was staggering up that hill, dead drunk.
My ankle ached, protesting every inch of progress. A full 24 hours since I’d fallen and I still could barely walk.
I swore out loud, furious at myself for ruining my favorite K-Swiss trainers. For doing exactly what the obnoxious bald kid at the store told me not to do, wearing them outside on rough pavement. I swore because the lot was full, because I had to park at the bottom of the hill, because my Coach flats have slippery soles and the trainers were the only shoes I could wear to climb that steep sidewalk.
Because I had to make the meeting.
I glanced down at my cell phone, white-knuckled in my hand. Still no text from Bob Gonzalez.
I’d just solved one of the biggest crimes in Sausalito history by sitting through two meetings and by walking my dog.
But you know what they say about counting chickens. So I kept climbing, sprained ankle be damned, six inches at a time.
Finally I reached the level pathway and the front door of Sausalito City Hall. My windblown appearance reflected in the glass sent me straight to the bathroom mirror. The highlights in my shoulder-length brown hair had gone from sophisticated streaks to tangled bird’s nest. I didn’t have time to do it right, but attacked the worst parts with my brush and at least made myself presentable before heading for the door.
The long, wide hallway that runs the length of City Hall felt like the Oregon Trail as I limped along, and I paused at the halfway mark to lean against the heavy table outside the library. My ankle throbbed like a passing car with a sub-woofer booming in the trunk. A last deep breath and I set out again, finally passing through the old double doors of the Council Chambers.
Why is it that my office has a conference room, but the City Council’s office has chambers?
Never mind. Rhetorical question.
And where was my message from Bob?
* * *
When I joined the Historical Society after the divorce I did not expect to be solving crimes. Sausalito is a small town with a big reservoir of untold stories. I thought I might help document a few, gain perspectives that help The Present Day make sense.
As an attorney I’m used to sitting through endless meetings, so it was logical that I volunteered to monitor City Hall for the Society. If there were any secret vaults beneath the antique wooden buildings in Old Town, the Landmarks Board would be the place to learn about them.
But the Society’s Jenny Lawton was already on the Landmarks Board. She gets the big stories: the aging mansions of the would-be tycoons, the hauled-out ferryboats of the bohemian wanderers, the rum-runners’ warehouses two piers down from the ferry.
So I cover the meetings of the Planning Commission, and as it turns out that’s just fine. I get the little insights into everyday life in Sausalito’s past. A sixties tilt-up that’s housed ten different restaurants. A back porch built on the wrong side of the property line… in 1928. A buried brick stairway that used to serve commuters walking down the steep hill to a long-gone train.
I hobbled over and sat in the back row of the Council Chambers, right-hand section, far left seat. The same flamingo-at-sunset dark pink plastic chair where I was sitting four weeks before, where I first saw the criminal stars align.
Back then I only knew the criminals, not the crime. That part came later.
The meeting hadn’t even started yet and Alma Gaffigan was already yelling at Jeff Fuller, her voice like a dentist’s drill. Alma’s intricate silver earrings swung wildly in their orbits as she asked over and over again, “If my garage is dangerous, why won’t you let me fix it?”
I wasn’t the only one who came here tonight to create some drama.
Jeff’s been a Sausalito planner for eight years and he no longer takes it personally. “The minute we get the paperwork, we’ll expedite approvals,” he told her.
“It’s my fault as a contractor, Mrs. Gaffigan,” the tall man next to her said. “I should have remembered the drawings for the driveway encroachment agreement.”
“The garage hasn’t moved for 80 years!” Alma protested. “How can it be encroaching anything?” Her twenty-something jet-black hair made her sixty-something face look pallid. I imagined that if I shook her hand it would be cold.
“Jeff, I’ll have the package on your desk by end of day tomorrow,” the contractor was saying. “And Mrs. Gaffigan, I’ll drop another thousand dollars off the invoice.”
I smiled, looked at my cell phone again, stopped smiling. Still nothing from Bob.
The commission chairman, Victor Goldman, called the meeting to order and they spent a few minutes making sure the voice recording worked and going over the agenda.
During the open comments segment a young woman with short, curly brown hair stepped up to the microphone. She wore a drab orange sweatshirt over a drab calf-length flowered cotton skirt over drab dirty-yellow clogs.
“I wanted to speak out about how pollution from these sewage spills is threatening endangered species in the Bay.”
“I’m sorry, Ms…. Soulet,” the chairman said gently, looking down at the slip she’d filled out to speak. “That’s an issue for Public Works. We don’t have jurisdiction over the sewer system.”
Jeff, the planner, scribbled something on a card and brought it over. “Here’s the direct line to call them here at City Hall, and the email address.”
She looked down at the card, thought for a moment, looked back up at Goldman. “So you’re not going to let me speak?”
“If you want your three minutes, it’s all yours, Ms. Soulet. But we’re not the ones who can help you on this issue.”
She looked down at the card again. Goldman shuffled papers, reaching for his pen.
“The herring population has been dropping at an alarming rate,” she offered.
“Hell, the sewage has been spilling at an alarming rate,” said Bette Barnes, another commissioner. “Hon, we all agree with you. They need to fix the damn thing.”
I looked at my phone again. Two words burned back at me.
It was from Bob. I’d been right. Tonight was going to be fun.
* * *
Click here to continue to Segment 2 of Barge Right In. (Total story length is about 12 paperback book pages.)