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Undercover secrets untol.., p.9

Undercover Secrets, Untold Lies, page 9

 

Undercover Secrets, Untold Lies
 


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  When they parted, Gwen laughed and said, “I’ll never be able to drive home unless we clean off these steamed up windows.”

  “You wouldn’t be blaming me for that, would you?” CC giggled.

  “Hmm…is this one of those ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ questions?” she asked, turning on the ignition and switching the defrosters on full blast.

  They held hands and talked while they waited for the windows to clear.

  “Are you afraid of facing Wright in court?” CC asked.

  “Hell, no. We’ve got enough evidence to nail his ass good, even without the confession I taped. Brad got a sample of his hair when he was booked, and is sure he can match it to the samples we collected. The rest of the fibers I’m sure can be matched when they finish examining Wright’s house and car.”

  “I’ve never been comfortable in court, facing the accused with a jury,” CC confessed. “I envy you being so comfortable with it.”

  “You’ll get used to it. The first few times were scary, I’ll admit. But I don’t get rattled easily anymore. Besides, I think we have a super good team now. If there’s any evidence to be found, we’ll have it to bolster our case. I think it’s only when you get sloppy and don’t have all your ducks in order that you get in trouble…and when you allow the opposing attorney to badger you without throwing his bullshit right back at him.”

  “I suppose you’re right. I’ve had to testify only three times, and each time after a sleepless night. I’d practically forgotten my own name by the time I was called to the stand.” CC laughed.

  “I’m sure you do just fine,” Gwen said, putting the car in gear and driving out of the parking lot. “By the way, we should have all the loose ends tied up in a couple days. What do you think about going to the Wisconsin Dells for an overnighter? We could rent a cabin and take in all the sights. It should be beautiful this time of year, and we certainly could use a couple days of vacation.”

  “I’d like that. It would be great to get out of town for a while.”

  “I’ll check with Brad and Scott tomorrow to make sure the schedule is clear, and then I’ll make our reservations,” Gwen said happily.

  Chapter Seventeen

  The next day in the squad room Gwen barely had a chance to take off her coat and pour a cup of coffee before Chief Ziegler’s secretary called and asked if she could come right up to his office.

  When she arrived, he was waiting for her. “Good morning, Chief,” she said cheerfully.

  “Good morning, Lieutenant. Good to see you again,” he said. Gwen could tell he was troubled. “I know you still have to wrap up your last case and have a trial to prepare for, but I need you and your team to jump in on this investigation as soon as you can…meaning yesterday.” He handed her a thick folder labeled The Dive.

  Ziegler continued, “Three of their regular patrons, women, have disappeared within the past week. I thought you and Detective Carpenter would be able to infiltrate the scene easier than anyone else. It’s a rough crowd though, so you’ll have to be cautious. The name Dive describes it accurately, from what I hear. It’s a local beer joint catering to a biker crowd. They sponsor dart and pool leagues, and we’ve had several incidents of roughhousing in the past, but nothing like this. These three women just vanished. No one has seen or heard from them since they left the premises.”

  “I’ll get right on it, Chief,” Gwen said, wondering whether the women were lesbians.

  Walking out she thought about the plans she and CC had been making to get out of town. Their mini-vacation would have to wait. She was sorry to have to disappoint CC, but she would make it up to her another time.

  When she returned to her office she called her team together to work out a game plan.

  “Time to get out your leathers,” Gwen joked.

  It was decided that Gwen would go into The Dive first and CC would enter a half hour later. They would pretend not to know each other and see who in the crowd was talkative. They needed to determine if anyone could relay any information about the disappearances, the missing women themselves, or any other relevant facts. Scott would keep surveillance on the outside of the bar with a team of two other plainclothes men the chief had authorized. Brad would be available to tail anyone of interest. Their schedules would change from days to the night shift, so Gwen dismissed everyone to catch some shuteye before taking their positions at eight p.m.

  When only CC was left in her office, Gwen apologized for the change in plans.

  “Things happen. Don’t worry about it. It did seem too good to be true, didn’t it?” CC smiled.

  “We will go another time. I promise,” Gwen said, relieved CC was taking the news so well.

  “I’ll hold you to that,” she laughed, saluting Gwen.

  “Better get some rest. I’ll see you at around eight thirty. Be careful,” Gwen cautioned. “I’d love to be at your side, but I’m afraid we wouldn’t get as much done. If you need to contact me, text me from the ladies’ room or from your car. Scott will be waiting in the parking lot if we need backup. Don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

  “You be careful too,” CC said and kissed Gwen quickly on the lips. “See you tonight!”

  Gwen left the office about ten a.m. and headed home. She took the thick file Ziegler had given her to read. The three missing women were Meg Daniels, twenty-three years old, black, four foot eleven inches, ninety-five pounds, described as very sociable, last seen leaving The Dive; Carole Planton, thirty-eight years old, white, five foot five inches, one hundred thirty pounds, quiet, weight lifter and motorcycle enthusiast, last seen leaving The Dive; and Amy Farley, twenty-seven years old, white, five foot ten inches, one hundred ninety pounds, very outspoken, last seen leaving The Dive.

  It was noon before she set her alarm for six p.m. and lay down for a nap. Cuddled up with her pillow, she dreamed about the lost weekend she had planned with CC.

  When the alarm went off, Gwen woke up with a smile on her face. She showered quickly and dressed in black jeans, black leather boots, a beige turtleneck sweater and threw her brown leather jacket onto the chair next to the door. Inspecting herself in the mirror, she nodded. She would fit right in. She wasn’t very hungry, but she forced herself to eat a can of chicken noodle soup with some saltine crackers.

  At seven thirty she was ready to go. She’d be a little early, but she was antsy to get this investigation under way.

  Chapter Eighteen

  Gwen made it to The Dive by seven fifty. Scott was already in the parking lot. She pretended not to notice him, but from the corner of her eye she caught him winking at her as he continued drinking from a large Styrofoam cup.

  Inside, The Dive was dark. She stood in the doorway for a few moments, blinking until her eyes adjusted to the dingy atmosphere. It stank of stale cigarette smoke and beer, and her eyes stung as she moved to the bar and sat on one of the chrome and red plastic barstools. The bartender had his back to her. He was tall and skinny, had a shaved head, and when he turned around she saw dark stubble covering his face. His T-shirt was red with a bull’s-eye under the words The Dive. There were only two other men at the bar, and they were in deep conversation with the bartender.

  The surface of the countertop had once been white with gold specks, but was now deeply gouged and stained. Above the shelves of bottles of booze on the far wall was a large Miller Brewing mirror. Catching Gwen’s eyes in the mirror alerted the bartender he had another customer.

  “Help you?” he said, eyeing her up and down, scrutinizing her too closely and giving her a creepy feeling.

  “What do you have on tap?” she asked.

  “Miller. Just about anything in bottles.”

  “I’ll take a tap Miller Light.”

  “Just Miller.”

  “Huh?” she asked.

  “The spigot for the Light ain’t working. I can give you a bottle.”

  “That’ll work.” She tried to squelch her exasperation.

  “Be a buck f
ifty,” he said, opening the bottle and plopping it down in front of her with a dirty cardboard coaster and water-stained glass.

  Gwen threw a five-dollar bill on the bar.

  “Ain’t safe, you being all alone and all. Had a bit of trouble here of late.”

  “Oh?” Gwen asked.

  “Three women disappeared in the past week. Not a trace since they left here.”

  “Do I look like I can’t take care of myself?” she said, showing some bravado.

  “Not the point. One of them that’s missing was a big girl. Looked like she could handle herself too.”

  “And the other two?” she egged him on.

  “Meg was tiny. But she was a black spitfire when you got her going.” He laughed at his memory of her. “Carole was medium. About your size, but she could hold her own too. Had a big Harley some of the guys couldn’t even handle. We put it up in the shed when she disappeared, so’s no one would swipe it.”

  One of the men at the end of the bar joined in. “Carole lifted weights. Used to arm wrestle for her drinks and just about always won.” He was a burly fellow with short gray hair and tattoos covering his arms.

  “Amy was an Amazon,” the other man offered. He had a deep, gravelly voice and a bad smoker’s cough, and was not quite as big as his partner. “She was big-boned, about six feet. Man, how’d someone grab her off the street without her raising holy hell and waking up the neighborhood, I’ll never figure out.”

  “Dunno,” the partner replied, shaking his head.

  “I’ll be careful,” Gwen said, taking a sip of her beer. Their descriptions matched the profiles she’d read, so she knew the men were being on the up and up with her.

  “Yeah, well you just make sure you have one of the guys walk you to your car when you leave,” the bartender said gruffly.

  “My name’s Gwen,” she said, extending her hand.

  “Whatcha doing in a place like this anyway,” he answered, taking her hand. “I’m Ben, and those two roughnecks over there are Jimmy and TJ.”

  “Uh, I just moved into the neighborhood. Heard I could find some competition for a mean game of darts,” she said, pulling the leather case out of her pocket with her tungsten diamond cut darts and slapping them onto the bar.

  Jimmy let out a nasally snort. “You looking for a game, you’ll have all the challengers you’d want around nine.”

  “We got some real championship players,” TJ piped up proudly. “Made the all-state tournament in 2009. Came in second, but that’s just ’cause them judges were prejudiced.”

  “Then I guess I’m in the right place,” Gwen said smugly just as the door opened and CC walked into the bar.

  “Man-o-man,” Ben groaned. “We’re gonna have our hands full tonight, fellas.”

  “Excuse me?” CC asked quizzically, choosing a stool in the middle of the bar, well away from any other patrons. Gwen couldn’t help staring at the change in her appearance. She had her long blond hair tied back in a ponytail and was wearing a black silk blouse, black jeans and black blazer. Her boots had two-inch heels making her look much taller than her five-foot height.

  “I was just explaining to this other gal how we’ve had some crime around here,” Ben explained.

  “Okay,” CC said, unconcerned.

  “Well, it’s just that we don’t know if it’s safe for a single woman like yourself to be hanging here right now,” Ben tried to explain diplomatically.

  “Guess I’ll be the judge of that. You got Tanqueray back there?” she demanded. “I’ll have a gin and tonic.”

  Jimmy and TJ started laughing. “She’s a tiger, Ben. You’d better be careful,” they joked.

  “Here you go.” A red-faced Ben put her drink in front of her. “I’m gonna call you Scorpion.”

  “Call me anything but darlin’ and we’ll get along just fine,” CC replied, drawing laughter from the rest of the group.

  “So what brings you in here?” Ben demanded.

  “Pool, darts and some good company, if it’s any of your business,” she replied saucily.

  Ben didn’t have time to reply, as just then a group of eight men and women shuffled in and he busied himself filling their drink orders. Others began sauntering in the door in groups of two and three, and by nine p.m. the bar was packed.

  Gwen joined a group gathering for a game of darts, while CC moved toward the pool tables in the back of the room.

  Gwen played three games of darts with a dozen other people and won two out of the three. The conversation revolved around the disappearances of the three women; everyone was generally still reeling from the shock of learning their friends had vanished, and were open about sharing their impressions of them. Amy was the least liked of the three. She was depicted as outspoken and opinionated, and her large stature reinforced her “take no prisoners” approach to life. The petite Meg was clearly everyone’s favorite. The small black woman had been friendly and sympathetic to all, and was someone everyone went to when they needed a shoulder to cry on. The group didn’t know much about the quiet Carole, other than her passion for weight lifting and Harley motorcycles. She had most often kept to herself and played a little pool, but never darts.

  CC had put four quarters on the rim of the pool table, waiting for her turn to challenge the winner, but passed on her turn when she got involved in a deep discussion with a grossly obese black woman named Reyna. Reyna didn’t join in the billiard games, but clearly was the busybody of the joint. Everyone greeted her warmly as they came to the tables, and she had personal comments for each of them to elicit the latest on their love lives, or any other significant challenges they’d been confronted with since she last saw them. She sat in a battery-powered scooter parked close to one of the small tables nearest the pool tables.

  “What makes no sense,” Reyna whispered in a thick, Louisiana drawl, “is that none of these gals was in the profession, you know? I could see if they was hookers or druggies, but we don’t cater to them types in here. Jus’ about all of the folk that hangs here got jobs and families.”

  “How well did you know these women?” CC asked.

  “’Bout as well as anybody else here, I’d guess. Carole didn’t talk to a lot of people, but she joined in back here on occasion. She worked two jobs, so was usually half dead when she came in…oops, didn’t mean to say it like that. She put all her money into that hog she rode, and I think she was in over her head. Everyone was friends with Meg. You know the type. Has that personality that everyone loves and tiny figure that makes you want to hug her to death. Shit, didn’t mean to say that neither!

  “Amy was, well, just Amy. She had the habit of sticking her foot in her mouth and getting folk pissed off at her. Don’t think she meant to be so mean, but people—the men mostly—took it wrong. Wasn’t nobody going to change her mind when it was made up, Lordy no! Guess what they’d get riled up about mostly was Amy sticking her nose into everyone’s beeswax and thinking she knew better than they did.”

  “What do you think happened to them?” CC asked.

  “I was thinkin’ they all got killed somehows, but don’t tell anyone I said that. Most the guys are feeling real bad they didn’t protect the womenfolk here better. I jus’ don’ see that all three of them would quit coming around just that quick. Don’ make no sense to me…none at all.”

  “Well, I didn’t know any of them, but I’m hoping for the best. Maybe all three decided to take a couple weeks off…just get away from everything for a while,” CC suggested.

  “I hope you’re right. Now what’s your story, young lady?”

  “Huh…uh, me?” CC said, deep in thought about the missing women.

  Reyna looked around them, and then laughed, “Duh. Who’m I talking to?”

  “Uh, I’m a customer service rep for Wisconsin Mutual Funds. I do mostly telephone sales from home. It’s pretty boring, so I decided I needed to get out more. A person gets stir-crazy after doing that ten hours a day, every day,” CC improvised.

  “
Don’ I know that! Lordy! ’For I got this motorized cart, I’d sit home alone for hours watching the TV. Used to be able to tell you who was doing what with who on all the soaps. I got a couple grown boys, but they keep busy with their own families…don’ want to be bothered with their ol’ mama.”

  They chatted for a while longer and Reyna filled CC in on some of the other patrons as they watched them play pool. Just after midnight, CC started yawning and excused herself, promising to come back for a visit the following evening.

  Walking from the table, she glanced over and noticed that Gwen was still sitting at the bar. Before she was able to walk out the door, Ben noticed her and yelled to TJ to walk CC out to her car. CC saw Gwen from the corner of her eye, and was sure she detected a wink and slight smile as she left with TJ at her heels.

  By one a.m. The Dive was practically deserted, with only a few stragglers left at the bar. Gwen had drunk only three beers in the five hours she’d been at the bar, and was still running on nervous energy and adrenaline from the intense dart matches she’d joined. It was obvious she had already talked to everybody she would be able to pump for information tonight. Besides, her thoughts kept drifting back to CC wearing that sexy black blouse under the blazer. Gwen wondered if she was still awake.

  Gwen said her goodbyes and Ben stopped his cleanup and walked her out, leaving the other patrons on their own until Gwen had locked her car doors and started her engine.

  She rolled down her window. “Thanks, Ben. I had a great time tonight.”

  “Good. You’ll be back then. Can always use the business.”

  Gwen dialed CC’s number as soon as she had driven out of the parking lot.

  “Hello there!” CC answered cheerfully.

  Gwen laughed. “You must have enjoyed a nice nap earlier to be this chipper in the wee hours of the morning.”

  “Yeah, I slept pretty well after leaving the office this morning. Guess I need it, but now I’m wide awake. I’m still trying to write my report regarding the information I got at The Dive. I don’t want to forget anything and I was lucky enough to hear most of the bar’s gossip. Reyna knew everybody and everything they were up to,” CC said, exasperated. “I feel like I’ve been frequenting there for years, and I just don’t know how much of it is relevant to our case.”

 
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