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A Reader's Group
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"I just can't believe you are doing these things, Mary Ann." Ellen was upset and did not mind letting her sister know how she felt. "You were brought up in a good household and we had good parents who would never do something like this and now you have been captured by some demon or witch and gone off of the deep end. It must be Val. Is he having a midlife thing?"
"Ellen, Val is doing fine, it was all my idea. Well, almost my idea, Mom & Dad actually told us about their naturism and suggested that we would enjoy it too. They have been nudists for a few years now but have been avoiding telling you about it because they knew how you would react." Mary Ann explained. "We don't consider naturism wicked or sinful and have come to realize that sex and nudism are certainly two different things that do not go hand in hand all of the time. We have found that we relate to each other and the children in a more open, honest fashion and have a great time at the local resorts and beaches."
Ellen was obviously having trouble with the fact that not only her sister but also her parents were taking their clothes off in public and acting like fools. She thought the world must be coming apart at the seams since she had always had trouble appearing nude around the house and in even in front of her ex-husband. Some things had to be kept private. She vowed to call her mother as soon as she got home and find out if there was any truth in this stupid idea.
"We've been practicing nudism for about a year now, and have met some really nice people from all walks of life. Do you remember when Victor Able was shot up near Sacramento, Ellen?" Mary Ann asked. "We were at that resort then and Val was involved in the solution to the assault. The governor and his wife, Muriel, were guests at the resort then. After Val took the job with the Sacramento Department, we've become friends with them and we meet at some of the resorts and hot springs around the state when we can find the time. Around home, we have some local neighbors who get together for poolside parties and volleyball games in the evenings."
"You don't play volleyball nude!!" exclaimed Ellen, "Your tits will bounce all over the place!!"
"They do and I love it!" retorted Mary Ann.
"I know you aren't the outdoor type, Ellen, and I wanted to run an idea by you. I have been thinking about organizing a nude reader's group that would get together once each week and discuss a common book. I thought we might start with John Irving's: A Widow For One Year. I just love his books and think they would be deep enough to provoke some interesting discussion."
"Are you nuts?" Ellen retorted, "I can't imagine sitting around in the buff talking about some deep book. Would the group be all women?"
"Of course not. There would have to be a cross section in order to get a balanced view of each work." Mary Ann explained.
Ellen's voice was rising, "I know who would get a balanced view of the works. Men can't be with naked women without getting out of control and excited. I see at 38 you still don't know anything about men. They don't read books like you describe, in fact, they read only sports magazines and Playboy so they can fantasize about some sort of excitement that is out of their reach. I don't plan to put myself within their reach either. How does Val feel about this anyway?"
"Val doesn't have time for much pleasure reading but he is o.k. with the group if I can stir up enough interest." Mary Ann said.
Ellen looked over her glasses at Mary Ann, "You're going to stir up more than interest, Sis. I'm off for home and to call Mom in Kansas. I just can't believe it."
The ringing phone brought Mary Ann back from a rehash of the conversation with Ellen. It was Pam, the organizer of a local nudist group, calling to tell Mary Ann that there were 5 responses to the notice she had posted in their newsletter about the reading group. An introductory meeting was set for the following Thursday at their meeting room.
By Thursday evening, there had been 20 calls from members interested in coming to an exploratory meeting with the nudist reader's group. They met around 7:00pm and Mary Ann explained her idea that social nudity could become a greater part of their lives if practiced in situations other than the usual vacations and resort visits. Some participants agreed and that it would be worth a try, while others were unsure. The reading list included three possible books and the discussion of their merits lasted for an hour. They finally decided to start with "Widow" and assigned themselves the first two chapters.
John Irving proved to be both an interesting and difficult writer for most of the group. His complex, convoluted story lines were difficult to follow but Mary Ann was patient and explained that the one purpose of the group was to investigate the meaning that the author was trying to give to the work. The group struggled with the book and finally finished in a couple of months. Three members dropped out but the others decided to stick around for another novel, Hunting Badger, by Tony Hillerman.
Val came home one evening with a story about a case from the department. There had been a murder of a dwarf in downtown Sacramento. Val caught the assignment and was having a tough time with the history of the victim. It seems that the little man was a circus worker from a visiting troupe and not known at all around their town. The acts were gone now, on their way to Oakland for the next weekend performances and as usual the local folks had very little contact with the performers.
The group went rapidly through "Badger" and started The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.
Val told Mary Ann an unusual tale about the slaying of a police officer from Vallejo. He was a beat cop who was shot near a skid row bar in the downtown area. The officer was well-liked in the community and within the department. No one could come up with a motive for the killing. Val forgot to mention that the officer was a Navajo.
It was shortly after the group finished the Steinbeck book that the papers reported the slaying of two migrant workers near the Central Valley town of Gilroy south of San Jose. Val was puzzled by the number of unsolved killings that were happening in and around the Bay Area.
Ellen had decided to join the reader's group for their next book. It would be her first nudist experience and she was apprehensive about the whole thing. She had decided to wear a loose dress at first and to ease into the thing slowly. Val and Mary Ann tried to make it easy for her by not making a big deal about it.
Ellen showed up early for the first discussion of the Ernest Hemingway book: The Old Man and The Sea. It was a small book that would not take very long to complete and Ellen thought she would surely quit the group after it was done. It turned out that that being naked was the least of her problems.
Ellen was the first to see the newspaper clipping about the Cubans. They had been killed in San Francisco near the Embarcadero. Val again was puzzled by the lack of clues and information on the police nets.
Mary Ann asked Ellen, "Do you think you are going to stick with the group?"
"I'll try a few more books." she said. "I'll also start a file on my computer so we can have a record of the works we have read. Do you have a list of the books to date?"
Mary Ann said that she would dictate the names and a brief description of each story along with the names of the group members who were in the sessions while the book was being discussed. Ellen could enter the information using her laptop. As Mary Ann progressed through the weeks of discussion, Ellen suddenly stopped typing and raised her eyes to meet Mary Ann's questioning gaze. "There's a problem here." Ellen said. "The characters in the books are the same nationalities as the victims of the unsolved killings Val has been talking about."
Ellen worked as a computer programmer for a local firm in Sacramento and had a great sense of logic and organization. She and Mary Ann built a calendar and researched the days of the murders to see if there a relationship between the dates. They found that the murders occurred on the Saturday following the Tuesday meeting where the book was discussed for the last time. Mary Ann could not believe that there was any way the group could be related to the killings but could not deny the coincidence of their findings.
The sisters showed Val the lists and charts the next evening although they still were unconvinced that they had anything to contribute to the solution of the cases. Val decided to contact the investigating officers in each community where the murders were committed. He called Mary Ann in mid-morning the next day and related that he was basically not having any luck since the murders had nothing in common except the loose relationship uncovered by Ellen.
Mary Ann decided to plan a new book with a difficult plot that would be unique enough to provide definite clues leading back to the group. She thought the whole thing was a real "streach" but decided it was worth it. They agreed that a non-fiction book about an East Coast person would be vague enough to provide a challenge if the murderer was part of their group. Under The Radar, by Robert Young was a new book about the initial public offering of Red Hat stock. It was a book focused on a relatively dull subject in a small field called open source software. They would start the book on the following Tuesday and finish it within a week.
The group was dismayed at the choice of the next book but finally decided that it would be interesting to do a non-fiction work. The "dot.com" revolution was in full swing and in the newspapers every day. They indeed did finish the last discussion the following Tuesday evening and the discussion centered on the stock market and how people become instant millionaires or better in a matter of hours. There was not much interest in the discussion and the group decided that the non-fiction experiment was a bust.
Mary Ann and Val were reading the Sunday paper when she saw an article about the murder of James Garth in San Francisco. He was shot while walking down Montgomery Street near his office on Saturday afternoon. The story went on to describe Garth's life and business associations. Mary Ann was dismayed to see that his most recent accomplishment was to lead the effort to take Red Hat public. The new issue had gone off the charts as described in Under the Radar. Mary Ann was certain that there was a connection with all of the recent murders and her readers' group. Val listened to her explanation and said that he, too, was sure there was a connection. Neither of them could imagine anyone within the group being the murderer but the evidence was too strong to be coincidental.
Val suggested that they come up with a plan to identify the murderer but it was going to be difficult to make it happen without alerting the suspect. It was time to start a new book and they decided to make it almost impossible to relate anything in the book to any actual happenings. The Lord of the Rings was suggested as well as Alice in Wonderland. The theory was that the murderer had to be related to one of the nudist reader group members and that he may become frustrated with the new story and the inability to translate it into a real-life situation. Val did not know how to make the members of the group aware of the plan without exposing the trap. Mary Ann and Ellen came up with the solution.
On Tuesday evening, they suggested that the group use the time to discuss the reactions of their families and friends when they learned about the nature of the group. The individual members were all convinced that the group was a great idea and that naturism could become more commonplace and be a greater part of everyday events. Most had the support of their families but a few said that they had not told them that it was a nudist group.
Mary Ann led the conversation around to the reactions of the members' relations to the titles of the books and she was surprised to learn that about sixty percent did not share the works with their families. Doris stated that she thought the relations should join the group if they wanted to know what was happening and which books were being read. Sandra expressed the opposite opinion and said that she shared the works completely with her family. It turned out that there were only 5 to 7 possible suspects that might have enough knowledge to manage to act on it in the suspected way. The problem was difficult to solve and Val did not care for the idea of Mary Ann and Ellen playing at crime solving. He did see the value of setting up a sting situation to smoke-out the suspect, though.
The group read Alice in Wonderland. Val, Mary Ann and Ellen waited for some new activity to come across the crime wires or appear in the newspaper. All of the murders had been committed within 100 miles of Sacramento which, of course, included the Bay Area, so they kept close watch on the Chronicle and Examiner papers.
After 8 days they knew something had gone wrong because the pattern was broken. All previous murders were committed within a week of the final discussion of the subject book but this time there was no news at all.
"Perhaps he has gone quiet!" Ellen declared one evening while visiting Val and Mary Ann and the kids. She had become accustomed to being nude when at their house and visited often. "I don't know what I was ever worried about", she confided to Mary Ann while they prepared a salad for dinner. "This is the most comfortable, honest lifestyle I've ever known".
"I hate to say that I told you so, but I told you so!!" replied Mary Ann. "I've been thinking about the murders and I think our correlation may not be 100%. They may be just chance happenings."
Later, Ellen was using her laptop while digesting dessert over a cup of coffee. She suddenly perked up and asked Mary Ann, "Was Delores at the group meetings during the reading of Alice?"
"Delores was there for the first session then went to France to visit relatives for a month and missed the rest of the book discussions. She knows lots of people there and she always takes her brother, Jose, along. She has had custody of Jose ever since their folks died about five years ago. He is mentally challenged and can't live alone. I think he is around 25 years old and works at a fast food place. Her membership in our group also serves as an outlet for her frustrations about caring for Jose. She feels cheated out of some of her early life and feels the group has enough trust and caring that she shares lots of the otherwise pent-up emotions. We all feel for her but don't know a way out, either. Our group has really grown to be much more than a recreational group. I still like volleyball though." said Mary Ann as she winked at Ellen and cleared the dishes.
Ellen pointed out that the only book that did not have a related murder incident was "Alice" and that it sure seemed strange that Delores was the only regular who was gone from the discussions. Val agreed that there might be a relationship and decided to look into it the next day.
The unofficial approach was taken by Val and Mary Ann. They invited Delores over to the house for drinks and dinner. Delores had been to their home before, was quite comfortable there and disrobed soon after arriving. She was playing with the kids when Val finally got home and offered to make cocktails for everyone. Margaritas were the drink of choice and soon they retired to the patio to enjoy the cool evening. Mary Ann became busy with dinner and the kids worked at the table settings and their homework. Val asked Delores about France and made small talk about her trip. She confided that she had met a guy while there and was looking forward to dating him soon since he lived in the Bay Area. Val asked about Jose and noticed the definite downturn in her manner. She explained that Jose did not like for Delores to have outside interests and was very jealous when she told him of things like dates and relationships.
"What about the group?" Val asked.
"Jose sort of feels like he is part of the group because I share the book discussions with him. He could never become part of the group because he is very shy and unable to conduct himself correctly in group settings, but he likes to know what we are reading and how he story progresses.", Delores said.
"Does he resent your involvement or the nudism?" asked Val.
"In the beginning, he resented the time commitment of the book group. I found that if I related the discussions to him he was more receptive to my commitment to the sessions. He does not know about the nudism part. I have never discussed that with him because I do not know how he would react." Delores explained. "He was very unruly in his teen years and spent some time in the juvenile detention facility. He has a violent nature and one doctor even thought he may be a split personality to some extent, but my folks dismissed that as foolishness since he has such a high IQ.", she said.
"High IQ?" said Val his interest growing.
"Jose has tested at about 180. He can read and think through complicated problems and such as that. He just can't keep it together enough to put up with the every day stuff like most of us have to deal with. He goes into his own world sometimes which makes it hard for me since I never know who I am dealing with." Delores was obviously not comfortable with this topic now.
"I think I have to talk with Jose about some happenings over the last year, Delores. It looks as if he may have been involved in some crimes that we have not been able to solve and I would like to talk with him about it before notifying the guys at the department. When is a good time for you two to sit down with me and talk about it?" Val asked sadly.
Delores was shocked to think that Jose might be involved in anything illegal but told Val that the next morning was as good as any time to set the record straight.
Val arrived at Delores and Jose's apartment early the next day and they began to talk over some coffee and pastries served by her.
"Jose, do you know why I am here?" asked Val. He was not sure how to proceed with a person who did not quite "get it" as the guys at the department would say.
"No." answered Jose. "I think you are interested in my sister."
"I am your sister's friend and want to help her to understand some things that have been happening lately. Do you know about your sister's involvement in the reader's group?"
"Delores reads a lot now. She likes to tell me about the books and the people in them. She spends way too much time with them, way too much time."
"What do you mean?" Val inquired.
"She is always reading or going to meetings to talk about reading and she does not have any time for me any more." Jose was very agitated now and pacing around the room. "I don't want her to be gone so much of the time."
"How can you change that?" Val really wanted to know.
"I can change things easily by doing things." said Jose. "I have lots of power."
Delores was amazed at these comments. She had never thought of him as a pro-active person who would strike out on his own to alter any situations. He had always been comfortable with his role as her subordinate and was very willing to let her guide their lives, she thought. He did not seem able to function much above the basic levels of living and always needed her to take care of the more complicated things. Now it appeared as if he could function quite well.
Val was getting a nervous feeling that Jose was on the ragged edge and thought it was time to hit the road to the station with Jose. He told Delores that he had to take Jose downtown for some questioning and asked Jose if he minded going with him to the station. Jose said that he would be glad to go along with Val and they rode in Val's car to the police department. Val advised Delores that Jose might need a lawyer soon and told her that she should consider calling one.
Eight hours later, Val slumped into a dining room chair at home and asked Mary Ann for a glass of wine. "Jose told us the entire story." He said. "He thought he could get Delores to change and devote more time to him if he eliminated things that she was interested in. He has trouble separating real things from stories and was very jealous of her involvement with the stories you folks have been reading in the reader's group. He is smart enough to locate difficult things like the stock broker fellow involved in the Red Hat book and also smart enough to plot and execute the crimes. He was reading the books in detail when Delores was at work and planning the murders as soon as the books were done. The last book was the clue, of course, and Jose felt no need to act on it since Delores had been with him for three full weeks and only spent one evening with the novel. She did not even finish it in France and had, in fact, left it home here in Sacramento."
"I feel sorry for Delores, but there is nothing we can do except charge Jose with the crimes. He does not see that he did anything wrong. He was only looking out for his own interests.' Val explained. "He will probably end up in a mental institute somewhere."
Ellen arrived and Val recapped the story for here. She and Mary Ann were glad that their efforts led to the solution of the crimes but were sad for Jose and Delores.
Val said: "How about a martini?"
Ellen replied: "I think I'll wait awhile. My new friend, Jonathan, is going to drop by in a few minutes and I thought the four of us could play some 2-on-2 volleyball at your net in the backyard!" She broke out laughing when she saw the look of total amazement on Mary Ann's face.
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