Undertow a compilation o.., p.19

Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories, page 19

 

Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories
 



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  “Circumstantial. The sitting judges are hard-nosed and loved by the public for their hard stance on crime. However, I pulled all court decisions for the last three years and found a thread to follow. The cases manipulated by the clerks were juvenile females without parental involvement, so I started there. I searched all cases involving female juvenile offenders without parental involvement and found those specific cases were assigned to Judge Espinosa and Judge Sylvester.”

  “Interesting.”

  “It gets better. In each of those cases, no matter the offense, the girls were remanded to court appointed custody and all the offenders were placed with the same core group of social workers. I couldn’t go any further without getting a warrant to unseal the actual case files. All the information I have has been piecemealed together from documents outside those files. What I found supports my use of Amanda Bates as a confidential informant. After a troubled childhood, her parents washed their hands of her so, at seventeen, she had no adult involvement. She was remanded to a group home on a minor drug charge.”

  “But it isn’t atypical for a remand to foster or group home for children without parental involvement.” Cole scrapped the remaining food from his plate with another biscuit. Awesome cook.

  Logan emptied her wine glass and he refilled it for her. She took another sip and continued, “Yes, it is. But Amanda alleges the group home is a front for a prostitution ring. I need to substantiate her information. According to her, the judges are feeding the pimps by picking the girls who can be manipulated and controlled. Amanda also told me one of the girls was beaten severely as punishment for noncompliance and died. She didn’t know the name of the girl. Amanda said she was new to the home. There has been no report of a missing ward and there has been no body found. If she is telling me the truth, it implicates the social services system or at a minimum one of the case workers. I haven’t looked into assigned caseworkers yet because, once again, I need a warrant to unseal juvenile records.”

  “So we are stuck between a rock and a hard place because we can’t prove a murder if there is no body, no complaint of a missing person, or any evidence of foul play. I take it there are routine inspections done on the home and nothing is amiss?”

  “Right. The group home is touted as the shining example of what all group homes on the coast should be. Amanda also said mass quantities of drugs and money pass through the home via couriers. The couriers and the bosses have meetings she is not allowed into. There are only a few girls allowed in. She alleges the judges are sometimes at those events. Of course, all of this is unsubstantiated testimony from a witness with a heavily checkered past.”

  *

  Logan finished her second glass of wine and watched as Cole opened another bottle refilling both their glasses. The burns on her fingers had settled into a dull throbbing heartbeat of pain, but the wine created a pleasant warmth inside her.

  “A huge problem with these allegations is Amanda’s credibility. She has a history of lying to the authorities. How did she get you the information?” He finished his last biscuit as he asked the question.

  “Her family used to live next to Pawpaw’s when she was little. She knows Frankie and is nice to him. She passed a note to Frankie and asked him to give it to me. The note asked me to meet her before school in an alleyway she walks through from the group home. I have met her twice. To keep Frankie from being involved, we agreed if she needed to talk to me, she’d leave a blank piece of paper under a rock at the end of the alley. I check it every morning when I cool down from my run.”

  Logan watched him poach a forkful of the untouched food on her plate and pushed her dish closer to him. This man was going to cost a fortune to feed. Maybe she could bill the FBI? When he’d cleaned both plates, she carried her empty dish to the sink, as did Cole. After a quick cleanup, she grabbed the wine bottle before she walked onto the front porch. The moonlit view of the water gently lapping the beach had become a balm since buying the place. She turned on the porch ceiling fans but left the lights off. Cole joined her. They sat together on a large swing which hung to the left of the front door. She leaned over and put her wine glass on the white railing which circled the massive wraparound porch.

  Cole turned to her. “We need hard evidence proving the judges’ involvement. If we can’t solidify the link, there’s no way we can get a warrant. Right now, we have conjecture and the unsubstantiated word of a troubled young woman.”

  Logan sipped her wine and nodded, focusing on the water. “I’ve been thinking about how we can work it. Obviously, putting an undercover agent in the group home as a social worker wouldn’t work. It would take too long to get an agent into the good graces of the group home management. And we can’t work it from the other open avenue. Let’s face it, not many cops can pass for a juvenile, and if anything Amanda told me is true, she may be forced to work clientele.”

  They sat in silence. The only sound was the repetitive gentle swish of the water hitting the sand.

  He drew a deep breath. “Then we work the only other angle. We infiltrate the drug operation, bring down the prostitution ring and work the threads back to the judges. The FBI has undercover agents and private assets in various drug cartels. If those ideas don’t pan out, I can contact the Agency to see what visibility they have on the situation. I’ll need to reach out to my people. If we can connect an active operation in the southeast to the one we are investigating here, we can establish credibility for your witness. Her information will allow us to track the drugs or money and work toward the judicial implications. I’ll need to release the information on the group home. It wasn’t in the original report.”

  “Because of the lack of credibility of Amanda, I redacted it. I believe her, but I wasn’t sure if you’d be willing to. Anyway, the scope of the operation you’re proposing means we’ll need to include other people. How can we maintain our cover?”

  Cole stood and walked to the railing taking the wine bottle and filled both glasses again. As he sat down beside her, he shrugged. “We may need a lawyer to work with us to substantiate the evidence against the clerks but the need for a lawyer will be toward the end of our efforts. The FBI works closely with an agency who has resources you wouldn’t believe. We can get access to a lawyer who has been vetted at a higher level then you or I will ever reach. My agency will probably supply the undercover agent for the drug angle unless the DEA throws a fit. Warrants will need to be at a federal level so my people will work them. We can’t risk alerting the lower courts here. The biggest logistical issue will be how we request and receive information from D.C. Personal courier would be best as phones and computers are easily monitored and compromised. We can work it as it becomes necessary. I assume my communications aren’t suspect, but I don’t want to take any chances. I’ll buy a burner phone for my calls to Washington. I don’t want to risk bringing anyone in until we must. We need to keep a tight lid on this.”

  Logan chuckled softly, “No worries about me saying anything. I hardly ever talk to people anyway.”

  Cole pushed the large swing they were sitting on with his foot and started it rocking. “Why?”

  Logan lifted her shoulders and sighed. “It’s the way I am.” Not going to bare my soul to you Mr. FBI.

  “Alright, let’s discuss the cover. We met two years ago at a hostage negotiation school we both attended in D.C.”

  “Yeah, we hit it off and have been meeting over long weekends and holidays. Nobody here tracks my free time and I don’t associate with them off duty. Claiming to have a long distance relationship with you won’t raise any warning flags.”

  “We need some depth and details to make it believable. I need basic information, your full name, birthday. Some superfluous stuff so we can act like we actually know each other.”

  “Easy enough, my full name is Isabella Logan Church. I’m twenty-seven-years old and I was born August 4th. My favorite color is red. I’m addicted to cheese popcorn and I have yet to find a food I don’t like...although
snails are close to inedible. I work out religiously and run every morning unless I’m taking the boat out. The boat, by the way, is my hobby and my favorite past time is music. Your turn.”

  He whistled. “Isabella?”

  She nodded.

  “Cheese popcorn huh?”

  She laughed softly. “Yeah, now your turn.”

  “Cole Ryan Davis, I’m thirty-five-years old. I was in the Marine Corps before I joined the agency, or should I say the police force, in D.C. My birthday is April 12th. My favorite color is blue and I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Don’t like fancy food on tiny plates. I’m addicted to the gym, weight lifting specifically and I run but only because I am a meat and potatoes kind of guy. My favorite past time is sports, any sport at any time, but I am a football fanatic, both college and professional.”

  “Roll Tide? War Damn Eagle? Hotty Toddy? Geaux Tigers?”

  He almost snorted the wine he was drinking.

  “Hell no, definitely not. Michigan, the Big House. Go Blue, I’m a Big 10, SEC-hating purist.”

  “You are going to have some fun down here in the wilds of SEC country.”

  “Don’t I know it.”

  He turned to her and asked, “What type of music?”

  She smiled in the dark. “Anything I can play on the guitar, not that I am going to be playing for a couple days.” She drank the remainder of her wine and held up her hand looking at the bandages on her fingers.

  “Does it still hurt?”

  “Yeah, I can feel a throb, but the wine has definitely dulled it.” She turned to face him bringing her legs up and hugging them against her chest as she let out a small sigh. “Cole, I have a confession.”

  *

  He turned in the seat and put his arm on the back of the swing his hand playing with the long brown hair spilling over the cushion. “What’s your confession, Bella?”

  He could see her beautiful face in the moonlight and watched as she closed her eyes. “Uh, honestly, don’t call me Bella. Anyway, I need to tell you this because it is imperative we appear as a couple to everyone.”

  Cole’s fingers stopped playing with her hair. His mind was instantly sharp. God, please do not let this woman be gay.

  She opened her eyes and pinned him with an intense stare. “I have never had a successful relationship.”

  He waited expecting her to say more, but she didn’t. He took a deep breath and asked, “Why?”

  Logan shrugged and laid her head on the cushion trapping his fingers. “A myriad of reasons. I have no idea how to act with you because I have next to nothing to base the cover on. The bravado and the scene on the boat today notwithstanding, I’m drifting on the waves without an anchor when it comes to doing this.”

  He cupped her cheek with his hand. Logan pulled away immediately. He chuckled. “No problem. You did well this afternoon. Don’t worry. We can make it work. Follow my lead. Smile at me when I talk to you and don’t pull away when I touch you. I can do the rest.”

  “I’ll do my best and please don’t call me Bella.”

  She got up out of the swing and stretched. “I am running at six before it gets too hot and muggy. See you in the morning.”

  “Logan?” She stopped and waited for him to speak.

  “I have no problem with this cover, but it is only a cover. We both have a life outside this operation and we’ll both go back to it when the case is done.”

  He watched her ice princess attitude return in all its glory. She turned and arched an eyebrow in a regal gesture.

  “I never doubted it for a second, Cole. My focus is on this case and only this case. I told you what I did about myself to ensure our cover was believable. If you imagined anything else, you were in error.”

  Chapter Five

  Cole sat on the porch enjoying the sound of the water lapping at the beach. The sun sank on the ocean’s horizon. All in all, it had been a good day. Cole ran five miles with Logan this morning and then they went their separate ways for the day. He bought a burner phone and made some calls starting the process of requesting assets to work the drug angle. He briefed Deputy Director Hayes on the entire case and checked in with his parents.

  With those mandatory items out of the way, Cole drove around the area and explored some of the coastal towns. Mississippi’s sixty miles of coastline took less than an afternoon to traverse, even after stopping at several local establishments. He’d made it back about an hour before they were to leave for the party. Showered and changed into jeans, boots, and a white polo shirt, he wandered downstairs to wait for Logan. She’d gone shopping and stocked her industrial sized refrigerator. Pulling a soda out of the door, he popped the top and sipped it while he lazed on the porch swing watching a shrimp boat pass by on its way to the marina.

  When she appeared on the porch, it was as if someone had forcibly sucked the air out of his lungs. How this woman had never had a long term relationship was beyond him. Tan and sultry the woman exuded sensuality. He closed the distance between them, lifted her chin and smiled. “From this point forward we’re a couple, unless we’re inside and alone. Then, and only then, can we be ourselves. Follow my lead and don’t act any different to others than you normally would. I am your world. I am the only one you act differently toward, and if you can handle those restrictions we are solid.”

  “We’re solid. I got it.”

  He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers softly. “Let’s go play house, Bella.” He grabbed her hand and walked to his vehicle, opening the door for her.

  “Would you please stop calling me Bella?”

  “No.” He winked at her as he started the SUV. He laughed at her angry growl.

  The drive to Scott and Janie’s was short, only about ten minutes, but the tension in the vehicle grew as they searched for a parking place. Cars lined the street and if that was any indication, the party was well attended. Logan closed her eyes. “Every damn one of them is here, and ten bucks says the ones on patrol rotate through to meet you.”

  “Is it a problem?”

  “I’m not comfortable around crowds. I’ve been told my manners suck.”

  He shrugged. “Let’s get it over with. I have no problem meeting people. I’ll be charming enough for both of us.” He got out of the SUV and walked around to her door as she was getting out. People inside the house didn’t hide the fact they watched as he pulled her into his arms. “We have an audience Bella, now be a sweetheart and reach up and put your arms around my neck.”

  Logan slid her hands up his huge biceps and entwined them around his neck.

  He bent down and brushed his lips against hers as she leaned in. “Now smile at me and take my hand, remember you don’t have to be different with them, only with me.”

  “I’m not stupid. I understood your instructions the first time, and don’t call me Bella.” The saccharine coated words dripped from her smile. He laughed and grabbed her hand, purposely not paying attention to her inventive grumbling. They walked to the back gate. A mass of people immediately enveloped them.

  Logan introduced him in her typically cold and distant manner. Her demeanor matched what it had been on the boat the first morning. Cole accepted a beer but kept his hand entwined with hers, careful not to touch her bandaged fingers.

  Citronelle candles burned atop five-foot stakes positioned around the yard keeping the gnats and mosquitoes at bay. A crowd of people stood interspersed around picnic tables strewn with food. Those not eating stood visiting, and most of the officers surrounded him and Logan. She’d done well handling the attention and his constant tender touches. She remained quiet, but he assumed quiet was her natural demeanor. Responding to his caresses and initiating a few of her own raised eyebrows and earned more than a couple comments sent their way.

  Leaning up to his ear, she whispered, “If you don’t let my hand go, you will have to accompany me to the bathroom.”

  He beamed a smile and pulled her close, kissing her soundly and whispering against her lips,
Hurry back.” She smiled and peeled away from him heading toward the house.

  The deputies Cole spoke with kept up a light-hearted banter of mutual harassment. Normal ball busting for cops, no matter the department. He had no problem fitting in and feeling comfortable. Accepting another beer, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A young and obviously drunk man walked, or rather staggered, up to the group. He motioned toward Cole. “Dude, did you know you screwed up the running bet we have at the station?”

  Cole twisted the cap off his beer. “Really? How’s that?”

  “Man, we figured for sure the woman was one hundred percent dyke. Every man on every force plus everything with a dick in the coastal fire departments has tried to hook up with her, but she’s like a freaking ice fortress.”

  Cole gave the drunk man his full attention. In a reaction to the homophobic comment and the insult to Logan, his body stiffened. He sat his nearly untouched beer on a nearby picnic table. He felt the other deputies back off. Cole assumed they waited, assessing his actions, ready to react if needed.

  “Exactly how long has Logan been a target of every man on the force?” The question came out in a possessive growl, but the alcohol soaked brain of the newcomer didn’t recognize the warning.

  “Man, I don’t know? I know guys who have tried to get in her pants. She’s turned everyone down and busted balls in the process. I mean, she is frigid. You could freeze water on her ass.” The drunk snorted at his own joke.

  Cole’s eyes narrowed. “So what you’re telling me is every man on this force has been hitting on my woman?” Tension encompassed the area immediately surrounding Cole and radiated outward, silencing the people immediately adjacent their small group. The back yard crowd shifted as deputies put down beer bottles waiting to see what Cole would do. The drunk, however, was clueless and laughed, elbowing Scott, their host, who’d walked between the two men.

  “Yeah, it was fun setting up the newbies to be shot down by her. Freaking disaster, real life crash and burn episodes, yah know? Like watching a gnat getting zapped by a bug light. One look at her will make you burn so freaking hot and then she’s ice cold.”

 
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