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This book is a work of fiction. All characters in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
To Mom and Dad (George): Thank you for raising me to believe in myself and that I can do anything I put my mind to.
To Chelle and LouLou: Thank you. Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me at every opportunity.
To Bobbi and Tonya: Each time I was ready to quit on this project you two seemed to magically know I needed encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To Mr. Rogers: You saved me on technicalities more than once, and for that, you have my heartfelt gratitude. Thank you.
To Mr. George: You’ve been my rock through this whole thing. I don’t say it often, but as I’m concerned you and Mr. Wilhelm the brothers I never had. Thank you.
To Mr. Wilhelm: Thank you. Fourteen years ago, you encouraged me to write fantasy wrestling. You wrote your organization and I wrote mine. You pushed me to tap into my creative side. This book would never have been possible without you. As I said to Mr. George, you’re the brother I never had. Thank you.
Thank you to Ahmad, Amy, Amy, Carrie, Clint, Elizabeth, Leigh Ann, Linda, Nancy, Rob, Susan, and Steve. Thank you for critiquing my work and helping me stay on track. Without all of you, this never would have happened.
Finally to you reader: Thank you for picking up a novel from an unknown author and giving me a chance. I hope you enjoy the story I am about to share with you.
Sunlight streamed into the apartment window as John continued to beat on his alarm clock. As the buzzing continued, John realized it was his phone and not the alarm clock making the horrible racket. As he focused his eyes on the name flashing on his phone John groaned. “Mommy” continued to flash across the face of his phone as John set his feet on the floor and held his head in his hands. It wasn’t his real Mother of course. His real Mother hadn’t spoken to him in three years now, which was fine by him. In fact, John couldn’t remember speaking to any of his family since the funeral. No, thought John, they would speak to me; I just don’t want to speak to them . . . not since I made that scene at the gravesite after the funeral.
The funeral; it had been three years, and it still seemed like yesterday. It seemed like just yesterday when his father-in-law cussed him in front of everyone at the gravesite. It probably didn’t help John was three sheets to the wind while his father-in-law was doing it. It probably didn’t help that John had told Arthur, John’s father-in-law that he was an interfering waste of human flesh. It probably didn’t help that he told Arthur that John and Sam had never had children, not because of John’s job but because Sam didn’t want Arthur’s interfering nose in the child’s life. It sure didn’t help that Arthur was right about John. If John hadn’t been drinking . . . . If. . . John’s thoughts were interrupted by the phone buzzing again.
John stood up and stretched. He glanced out the window at the city. New York. Sam had wanted to live here. Where else can you find the arts, the different types of people, the nightlife, and all the other wonders this city held she had asked him. The most exciting city in the world . . . for John, it was also the loneliest city in the world. John had only one friend here. Most of John’s friends apparently agreed with the words his father-in-law had spoken. In fact, except for Chet, none of his friends had spoken to him since the funeral. That was fine with John. He didn’t need anyone. No sirree, he was doing just fine one his own.
“They say every cloud has a silver lining and the silver lining is I haven’t had to listen to your stupidity Arthur since I lost her. I don’t have to listen to your judgments, your foolish ideas, and I don’t have to listen to you speak.” John smiled. As he glanced over to the picture on his nightstand of himself and the beautiful girl with him, his stomach dropped all over again. The smile fell from his face.
“I know Sam,” he said out loud. “It’s a lie. I am not fine. I’m a wreck and I don’t know how to go on each day without you.”
The phone buzzed again. John walked out of the bedroom and walked into the kitchen. He opened the freezer and stared at the bottle of vodka. The bottle was a reminder to him of all he had done . . . not that he could ever forget. He had not touched the bottle since the funeral. If only he hadn’t touched it before then. . . . . John had fought the same fight every morning for more than 3 years. He had been to AA meetings, but he had never spoken. He left the FBI after the incident. He looked at the wall at his PI license and scoffed.
If you watched TV in the 80s, you would think every other street in a city had a private investigator on it. What TV didn’t tell you was the majority of the work included process serving, chasing down debtors, and of course, spying on a spouse that someone thinks is cheating. Oh that was the best. All of the training John had received at EKU and Quantico wasted. There was nothing like renting some seedy hotel room and getting some interesting pictures of some not-so beautiful people doing things with other not-so beautiful people. John shook his head in disgust of the mental image that had invaded his mind.
With the type of work he did alone, it was a miracle he had been sober over three years. The thought of those people just then was enough to drive most sane men to drink. John barked a laugh at the joke his life and his investigative skills had become. John stared at the bottle and tears welled up in his eyes. “Blast it Sam . . . . I’m. . . He was interrupted by a pounding on the door. John knew who it was without even looking out the peephole on the door. He knew once Chet started in on him there was no stopping him, and for some reason, known only to Chet, it was time for them to talk. John wiped the tears from his eyes, shut the freezer door, sighed, and headed to towards the door.
The pounding on the door continued. “John!!! John!! Are you in there? I will break down this door. JOHN!!!!!!!!!!!!” John stared at the door. He peered through the peep hole to see his best friend . . . well his only friend. Chet looked furious. John stood there thinking of his options. It was early. Well, it was 2 in the afternoon, but it was early for him. He hadn’t slept much from the PI case he had just finished working . . . and honestly he slept as little as possible for the past three years, so his mind wasn’t thinking very clearly. John did not think he was in good enough physical shape to try to climb down the fire escape. Well, that was a lie. He was in shape; he just didn’t want to exert himself if it wasn’t warranted. While John really didn’t want to deal with Chet right that second; to climb down a rusty fire escape, which might collapse in the process, seemed a little extreme.
John realized he had to do something soon. Chet was a member of the FBI, so he could actually kick in the door and get away with it. “JOHN!!!!!!” John sighed and opened the door to face his friend. Chet barged passed him and straight into John’s bedroom. John knew an explosion was seconds away. John counted down from three on his fingers. When his fingers reached zero, he heard, “WHAT THE . . . .!?!?!? Why does it say Mommy on your cell phone!?!? That’s how you list me in your phone!?!?”
John sat down on the couch and smiled. “Good to see you too Chet, what can I do for you this morning?”
“Why!!?!?!? Why do I bother!?!?” Chet stormed around the living room while John tried to suppress a smirk. “My last girlfriend told me that the best thing I could do is to let you fall into whatever deep depression filled hole it is that you want to!! She told me that all you want to do is join Sam. I told her that she was wrong. I told her that you were just going through a rough spot and you would get through it. I broke up with this girl because of the things she said about you!! Do you realize that John!?!? I left her because of YOU!!!!! DO YOU KNOW HOW HOT SHE WAS!?!?!?!?
John had been trying to hold back the laughing, but the last statement pushed him over the edge. John roared with laughter. He laughed until his sides hurt. As he looked through the tears that were rolling out of his eyes he noticed Chet was sitting on the chair laughing as hard as he was.
After several minutes of the chuckles dying down John spoke. “You’re the only person that cares about me Chet, that’s why I named your cell phone number Mommy.” John tried to keep a straight face but he burst into laughter and Chet did the same. As the laughter finally subsided, John noticed a folder Chet was holding.
“Bring me a present Chet?” John asked. Chet would sometimes throw things John’s way that the FBI couldn’t, or didn’t want to touch. Chet hesitated. In that instant John read Chet’s face and knew what was in his hand. Oh crap, thought John. “No! No!! I am done with the FBI!!!” John was furious.
“Now John, calm down. You are being brought on as a consultant only.”
“Chet, I have no interest.”
“John, look, I know you don’t need the money. . . Oh crap, I’m so sorry.” John looked away. Sam had a trust that was left to her by her grandparents. Her grandparents were the only members of Sam’s family that liked John. Honestly, her grandparents were stinking, filthy, rich. John had no idea how much money they had. He honestly thought it was billions. All of Sam’s trust had been left to John. He didn’t know how much was exactly in the trust, but he knew it was enough for him to live five lives on.
Chet opened the folder in front of John. He laid out four pictures of people that had been shot perfectly in the head. John tried to ignore the pictures but the shots were right in the center of each head. The pictures had John’s interest. Chet let John look. The case would sell itself and Chet knew that. Chet just had to wait and John would hook himself. As John leaned back, seeming to lose interest, Chet reeled him in with one little sentence.
“They were all shot by the same person, within five seconds of each other,” Chet said casually. John’s eyebrow shot up, and Chet knew he had his best friend back on the hunt with him.
Two Weeks Earlier
Two Weeks Earlier
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC.
Agent Luke McDonald tried to steady himself as he stood at the First Lady’s door. “Get ahold of yourself man, she’s not going to go off on you . . . I hope.”
Luke knocked on the door and waited for the First Lady, Lisa Nichols, to answer. The door opened and Agent McDonald handed a manila envelope to her. “Mrs. Nichols, this is one of those names you asked me to flag in the system.” Confusion spreads across Mrs. Nichols face. “Those special five names you asked me to flag ma’am?”
Mrs. Nichols smiled her best campaign smile and took the envelope. Agent McDonald spoke, “I’ll double check on the other four names you asked me to keep an eye on.” The agent looked down and then back at her. “Mrs. Nichols. . .Lisa . . .I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.” For a second Lisa’s smile faltered and she looked down at the envelope, confused. Understanding began to spread over her face. She looked sharply at the agent, pursed her lips, and nodded her head in acceptance. The agent nodded and walked away.
As he walked down the hallway and heard the door to Lisa’s office close, Agent McDonald thought to himself, “There’s a reason I suggested they give her the codename Silk. She’s as smooth as they come.”
The First Lady, or Lisa as she is known to her friends, walked into her private office. “Steady girl.” She said to herself.
She opened the envelope and her worst fears are confirmed. The headline to the paper that has been photocopied reads, Captain Jason Sparks Dies in Overseas Operation in Afghanistan. Memories come rushing back to Lisa. Feelings she had repressed for so long . . . they came rushing back as well. She shook her head as if trying to remove them from her mind. “Get a grip” she says to herself. She gripped the sides of her desk. There was no way anyone could connect the dots on what happened all those years ago.
The fears that she thought she had mastered welled up in her stomach. Her mouth filled with the bitter taste of bile. Tears come to Lisa’s eyes but she fights them away. She gets up and walks downstairs to find Agent McDonald. Lisa found him in the intelligence center. “Agent, can you do me a favor?” She asked.
“Of course,” he said.
“I need you to check the incoming mail for any of those last four names. I need you to make sure as few people see anything that is sent from them as possible. Do you understand?”
“Of course ma’am, are you expecting something from them?” Luke asked. Lisa shrugged. Luke nodded. “As usual, we will keep this to ourselves?” He asked.
The first lady nodded, smiling.
“Lisa, shall I destroy anything I might find?”
“Agent McDonald,” the first lady said smiling. “That is why you are my favorite.”
The Next Day
The Next Day
Cemetery just outside of Fort Dunn, New York
Leroy looked across the cemetery and shook his head. Four people he never thought he would see again were present. The first one he saw was Colt. Colt had his tan from all those years working in Florida at a huge theme park. Every now and then Leroy received letters from Colt. Colt always seemed fine.
Leroy looked back to scan the crowd and saw another familiar face. There was Amy. He thinks her last name is Jensen now. Leroy chucked to himself. Amy sent him a Christmas card every year. The card is always a picture of her, her husband, and two dogs. Leroy thinks she’s a second grade school teacher in Illinois.
Of course there was Doctor Tom Bradley of Vermont, the genius of the group. Leroy was always inviting him down for the summer, but Tom never took him up on the offer. Truth be told, he never responded to any of the letters Leroy sent. Leroy wondered if any of them would respond to the invitation now with Jason’s death.
Lastly, there was the quarterback . . .in the casket. He was the reason they were there. Jason Sparks, 2nd Lieutenant, US Army. Leroy looked at the coffin and felt the sadness sweep through him. Lieutenant Sparks was killed in Afghanistan during a hush-hush mission.
Leroy remembered all of the times Jason had protected him in middle school. He really was one of the good guys. . .well except for that little secret that all of them shared. As the funeral went on, he looked around to see if the last member of the group was there.
Veronica Staples was nowhere to be seen. He knew she wasn’t there, of course. How could she be? Veronica couldn’t be here; she couldn’t take the chance that someone might figure it all out, that someone might connect the dots that Leroy knew were unconnectable. That’s all he had heard from the other three all week. He wasn’t surprised. He wondered how many of them secretly were happy she hadn’t come.
There were plenty of ways for Veronica to be at the funeral and no one would ever figure out the connection, but . . . no . . . no she couldn’t. She couldn’t risk the secret they all shared coming out. He understood. He just didn’t like it. Of course with Jason dead, maybe it was time. Maybe the truth could finally come out and he could get a decent night’s sleep for the first time in over twenty-five years.
After the funeral and the family left the cemetery, the four of them gathered around the gravesite. No one said much. How could they? They all looked down at their friend. Leroy wondered if all of the thoughts about telling the truth were going through their minds. Was it time to tell what really happened all those years ago?
A light snow began to fall. As they stood there they saw a figure approach them. It dawned on Leroy as the figure was less than 10 feet away who it was . . . but that was impossible . . . it was just . . . impossible.
Leroy swallowed, “David . . . David George is that . . .you???”
“Leroy Jenkins, Amy Jensen, Colt McCormick, Tom Bradley . . .” All four looked nervous and anxious. In one motion the man in front of them reached down pushing his trench coat aside on both sides of him. Shock and surprise was on all four of their faces as he pulled out a gun in each hand. There were silencers on the end of each gun and they were pointed at the two members of the group on the outside. Simultaneously he shot from both hands and then changed targets to the two on the inside and shot again at the second pair of targets. All four dropped dead. As he fired the shots, he answered.
“Yes. It is me. You see when I kill someone; I make sure they’re dead.” David dropped a note on the bodies and then turned and walked away. Each body lay on the ground with a single gunshot wound in the middle of their foreheads. The note simply read, Tell Veronica I know who she is, and she’s next.
John Fowler’s Apartment, New York, New York
“Four shots in 5 seconds; how do you know that?”
Chet smiled, “He sent us a tape of it. He’s that good. No one saw it happen. John, he wants us to know who he is.”
John looked at the file, it was very thin. He groaned inwardly and looked at Chet. Chet was looking everywhere but in John’s eye. “Chet . . . . “
“Ok, ok. We’ve got nothing, but there are four people dead and the killer sent us a video. There is also a good chance that the killer . . .” John leaned forward and was staring daggers into Chet. “I mean we feel like there is evidence. . .” John leaned in even closer. “All right; I’ve got a gut feeling.” John fell back on the couch with his arms spread. “John, I really, really think that whoever killed these four people also killed the soldier.”
John stared up at the ceiling. Chet was a computer genius. He probably could have been a rich computer tycoon or a world class hacker. . . . or both! Chet's biggest problem within the FBI was he was always looking for a conspiracy. Chet however tended to be right about when he had a "feeling" on a case or what seemed to be unrelated cases. That kind of gut instinct had the tendency to ruffle some feathers. Not John, he had no problem looking at something wild and outlandish, he just needed some evidence to back it. That’s probably why he and Chet had become so close over the years.
John was lying back against the couch, staring at the ceiling. “Special Forces?”
Chet, “We’re pretty sure.”
Chet looked confused, “Why what?”
“Why do you think this person has Special Forces training?” John asked.
Chet responded. “Four shots in five seconds; you don’t learn that on the street. Also, there were some companies deployed in Afghanistan during the time Jason Sparks was stationed there. “
John shook his head. He looked at his friend. “Chet, you’re doing it again; you are trying to make the evidence fit a theory. You know better.” Chet looked down. He didn’t know how many times over the years he had heard the same speech. He couldn’t help himself, when he got these gut feeling . . . sometimes they would just take him over, and he would push until he found the mystery. “Hey Chet,” said John, “I never said it was a bad theory, but let’s let the evidence get us there, now. Now, since you’ve headed down this path, let’s take it a step further. Is there anyone who might have this type of training AWOL?”
Chet shook his head. “Not that I can find.”
John looked at his friend and asked the question that had been troubling him, “Why me?”
Chet froze. John tried hard to repress a slow smile. He knew what was going on. This was a gray area case. Locals didn’t want it because of the proximity to the base. Feds didn’t really want it because it had loose military ties, and military couldn’t investigate because it wasn’t military personnel shot at the grave-site. The FBI wanted someone they knew, but wasn’t connected directly to them. It was the old political game that he had seen many times. . .and hated.
John also knew what this case meant. It could be a career maker or breaker. If he took this case, not only could it be his chance back into the FBI, but if he couldn’t solve it, he would probably never be back with the FBI. John wasn’t sure how her felt about that. On one hand he really didn’t want back in, but on the other . . . John had never seen the case file on his wife’s death. In fact, it was still listed as unsolved. John wanted one thing in his life more than anything, to wrap up that case. He believed he should be in jail, but he was found innocent of all wrongdoings. That means there was more to the story than he knew. As much as he didn’t want to join up again, there was that part of him, the part that made him the guy that solved more cold cases, or cases everyone thought were unsolvable, that wanted back in. If the FBI thought it was someone else who had killed Sam . . . John knew this was his one chance. He couldn’t appear eager. He had to make them think he was doing them a favor.
John looked at Chet. Chet had turned away trying to think of a polite, political way to answer his question. Chet was struggling with what to say to him.
“Chet, give me one good reason to take this case, just one.”
Chet looked his friend straight in the eye, “John if you ever, ever, EVER want back in, this will be your ticket.”
“Why Chet, why would I ever want to go back to them. Why . . .” John stopped and looked out the window. It had been over three years and it was still a fresh wound. Because of them . . . because of the FBI, he had lost Sam. This is why he didn’t want the case. John swallowed and looked at his friend. John asked the question he had avoided asking for three years.
“Chet,” John asked trying to choke back tears, “do you think I’m suicidal?”
Chet was taken aback, “John, where did that come from!? Are you trying to tell me something???”
John waived his friend off. “No, nothing like that, I just wondered if you were trying to keep me busy, showing me there is more to life, or show me the “good” part of the FBI. You know what happened. Chet, you’ve seen the file. I haven’t even seen the official file on her!!! You’re the only person I’ve ever told what happened to Sam. Not her parents, friends, or anyone. Well that’s not entirely true, is it?”
Chet looked away very uncomfortably. John smile. “How about this, you’re the only human I ever told what happened to Sam. For crying out loud Chet, it’s been three years and they’ve never done anything to me about it!!” John looked at his friend. Chet was so uncomfortable. But there was something else, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. That was one of the things that got John so far in the FBI and made him such a great PI. He noticed the little things and followed the trail until not only was it cold, but there were no other possible leads. Today John had other things on his mind or he might have followed his instincts. “But never mind all of that, you’re avoiding the question. DO YOU THINK I’M SUICIDAL!?!?”
“No John,” said the woman who had entered the room during the previous exchange and had stood quietly. “No John, you may be vain, arrogant, narcissistic, a pain-in-the-butt, and most importantly very hurt and lonely, but no . . . you’re not suicidal.”
John looked stunned. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The one person he had gone out of his way to avoid more than his in-laws. He stared at the woman and then back at Chet. “Chet,” John said very angrily, “Why on Earth is this woman in my home!?!”
“Jessica. What are you doing in MY. APARTMENT!?!?!?!?” John bellowed.
Jessica rolled her eyes, walked into the apartment, and looked around. It was in much better shape than she expected. To be honest it was pretty well kept for an almost forty, recovering alcoholic, widower. She was sure there would be pizza boxes, hamburger wrappers, and the like strewn all around. In fact, truth be told, his apartment was in much better shape than her apartment. Jessica chuckled inwardly. Jessica looked over at John and thought, so far, so good.
Jessica “The Hammer” Hammerstein was probably the one person John hated the most in this world . . . well . . . the second. The first being whoever had killed Sam. Jessica had been given the nickname “The Hammer” because of her work in interrogation. Most criminals always wanted her in the box. Most simply thought she was a beautiful woman that got the job because of her looks. However, once the interview started, they quickly regretted that decision. If Jessica found one inconsistency in an interview, she would hammer on a person until she got that person to break. Every once in a while a story was inconsistent for very valid reasons. Either way, by the time she was done, she would know why. John had used her skills as an interrogator many times over the years.
John spoke, “I’m waiting.” Jessica looked at John and took a deep breath.
“John, let’s get this out in the open right now. If you’re mad at me for what happened in that interview room over three years ago than you’re a fool!” John’s mouth fell open. Chet had known this moment was coming, but winced anyway. This moment had been building for three years. He knew if John was to ever come back to the FBI this moment had to happen. Over three years ago when John’s wife died, John was a suspect. It was simple really; wife found dead, husband is the first person looked at, end of story. After what had happened, the biggest Mafia bust in recent FBI history, and John was the main reason it all happened . . . the FBI had to make absolutely sure their man hadn’t gone nuts and taken out his wife.
“John, if the FBI had put anyone else in that box to interrogate you, what would you honestly say? “ John said nothing; he just stared at the floor. Jessica continued. “John? John!!”
“Cover-up,” John whispered.
“John, I can’t hear you.”
John shot Jessica a death look. He cleared his throat, “A cover-up. I would say the FBI had gone soft and had done a cover-up. I know that Jessica. I accept that. The FBI actually did me a favor by having you grill me. Let me take that back. You didn’t grill me; you rode me hard and put me up wet.” Chet covered his mouth with his hand so John wouldn’t see him smile. “I told you what happened, every gory, blasted detail at least ten different times. So tell me this, “Hammer,” John said sarcastically. Why didn’t I serve any time for killing my wife?”
Chet grabbed John’s arm. “John, we’ve talked about this.” John pulled his arm away and walked to the window and looked out. He put both hands on the window seal and spoke.
“Look, do me a favor, both of you. Get OUT!!!”
Jessica walked up to John, grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m sure Sam loves the way you keep her memory.” John looked as though he had been slapped. “She’s dead. Buried. In the ground for three plus years. GET OVER YOURSELF!!” John pulled away and walked out the door of his apartment to the hallway.
Chet started to walk after him and Jessica stopped him.
“Don’t. He’s got to get past this if we’re going to be a team again. I admit, we need him, but we need the old John, not this depressed shell that’s living here. Let’s start on the file.”
“Here?” Chet asked.
“Have you got somewhere more pressing to be?” Jessica asked. “Besides he’s got to come back sometime . . . right?”
John was halfway down the building stairs when it dawned on him. He had just stormed out of his apartment. He couldn’t help it. He began laughing. There were so many emotions that were swirling inside of him. He still didn’t know if his friend thought he was suicidal. John knew he wasn’t . . . not yet. He had one thing he had to do, and then . . . John pushed those thoughts from his mind. What would Sam say to him if he were to take his own life??
John walked out the door of his building with tears streaming down his face. He walked over two buildings and started up the stairs to his PI Office. Why he kept it he had no idea. It wasn’t like he needed all the room. He could do everything in his apartment, but John didn’t feel right bringing all of the cases to his home. He needed to keep things separate . . . well as far as PI work was concerned.
Sam use to give him grief constantly for bringing FBI work home. That was all in good fun. It was the undercover work that was the strain on her. 14 months planted into the Mafia, John had become too ingrained. He drank with them constantly. He had a problem, but he couldn’t do anything until his undercover work was over. John truly was surprised in the last three years no one had tried to take him out. Of course maybe that hadn’t happened because they were much too busy trying to take out the “rats” that had turned on the family. As much as some of the Mafia life was romanticized, when it came time to do life, or take a deal and live in witness protection, the mob crumbled. There was also another reason. Maybe the mob thought he was already dead.
John sat at his desk and looked out the window. He could see the building that Sam used to work in. He leaned forward and opened the drawer where he had the locket he had never given Sam. He was going to her the night she died to apologize. They had made all the busts . . . except one. A low level member had gotten away. If John had known that at the time ... John shook his head, tears welling in his eyes. He was going home that night to tell Sam he was joining AA and even quit the FBI if she wanted. John was a block from the apartment when it exploded. The FBI reported John dead. They tried to put him in witness protection, but he refused. That was when he first heard the mutterings of him being suicidal. Maybe he was, or maybe he just felt like he had nothing left to lose.
“Ok Sam, I take this case, get reinstated, and find your killer. Of course, as far as I’m concerned he’s sitting right here in this office.” John lowered his head and wept openly. “Sam,” he whispered. “Sam, I’m so sorry. It should have been me.”
One Hour Later
John entered his apartment. Jessica and Chet were going through the relatively thin file for a quadruple homicide. Jessica saw John, stood, and walked over to him. She stopped an arm’s length away.
“John, we need to finish the conversation we were having,” said Jessica. John nodded, his cheeks still wet from tears.
“John, I need you. You haven’t lived in over three years, you’ve just existed. I need one of the FBI’s top investigators.” Jessica stared at the floor. She spoke very quietly, “John, Chet and I haven’t done so well since you’ve left.”
John looked up sharply. He glanced over at Chet. John studied him hard. Chet looked a little gaunt in the face. His eyes were puffy and dark like he hadn’t been sleeping. John cursed himself under his breath. He had been so wrapped up in his other problems that he hadn’t even noticed. He looked back at Jessica and studied her carefully. She was as beautiful as ever, but normally she was also very meticulous about her clothes. When he looked over them, they looked slightly wrinkled. It could have been anything from not being ironed to sleeping in them. Whatever it was, it was something that John, no not John, not this John. John Fowler, FBI agent, he would have noticed. He looked back at Jessica, nodding for her to continue.
“Since you . . . left, our little team has never found a person to replace you. She crossed her arms and slowly started to walk the room. “See . . . well, they kept trying to replace you. Geez I can’t believe I’m about to say this.”
John crossed his arms and smiled broadly, “I’m waiting.”
Jessica turned toward John her face angry. She crossed the space between them in three long strides, her arm extending. She pointed furiously at John as she spoke. “See! See! This is why! This is why no one has contacted you in three years! They don’t want to put up with you and your egotistical . . .”
John interrupted her, “Good to see you still can’t admit you need and want me.”
John ducked to avoid the right hook. Now if someone had walked in on this, they would have thought John was under attack. John knew better. For some reason, and John thought he knew why, he could push Jessica’s buttons until she was literally ready to knock his head off. In the seven years they had worked together he had dodged dozens, if not hundreds of punches.
John was laughing, “Ok, ok. Things aren’t going good, but you guys survived without me for fourteen months when I was undercover. I mean I was in a little, but mainly it was just the two of you, what has gone so wrong this time.” John smiled at the unspoken question he didn’t dare ask at this point.
Jessica was still mad. She was pointing at him and muttering under her breath, “don’t you dare.” John put his hands up to try and calm her. She sighed and began. “During those 14 months, no one was put with us. The three of us were a team, and no one dared try to replace you. After you left, well, the politics started.”
John looked at the floor. So this was his fault as well. Ten years ago the three of them started working together on a case and closed what was not only thought to be a cold case, but impossible under most circumstances. In other words; a career maker. The three had been made a permanent team. They became the go to team on all big cases. Chet could handle any computer problems, John could sniff out any lead, and Jessica could get the location of Hoffa’s body out of the person who buried him if she had him in the box . . . or out of the box. But that was a different story for a different day. John always worried what would happen to them if they were separated. Each of them was a perfectly good agent, but they each had a label. Like actors in Hollywood feared being typed cast, John had feared that each member would only be seen as their strengths, not as a total agent. Now John’s fears for the team had come true.
John looked at Jessica, “Trip?”
Jessica nodded. Lionel Pennyworth Smothers III, or known as Trip, his instance not the agents’ choice, was the Director of the New York office. John sat down in the chair. He looked up at Jessica waiting for the next shoe to fall. Jessica sat on the couch across from him.
“Bruce?” John asked. Jessica nodded slowly. John slumped in the chair. Bruce had been the go to guy in the office before John arrived in the New York Office. Bruce had told John many times he was going to enjoy watching him go all the way back down the ladder. According to Bruce, John had stepped on everyone’s head on the way up the ladder. John hadn’t, he had just taken Bruce’s spot, a spot that was thought to have been arranged by Bruce’s father, a Senator in the US Senate. John knew differently, but that was a story for a different day.
“So if you don’t solve this one . . .” John began. Jessica was nodding as he began speaking. John just left it hanging.
“Bruce has convinced the brass in Washington that we aren’t complete agents. He’s convinced them we are only good as the team, and now without you, we can’t be complete. He has completely convinced Washington that being on the team has hurt us. And Trip . . . well Trip can’t fight Washington and Bruce knows it.” Jessica said.
John leaned forward and put his head in his hands. Trip was a good guy; he just wasn’t one to stick his neck on the line. He wanted a safe, comfortable job. John was willing to take chances. Many had worked over the years, but some had backfired . . . very, very badly. If the higher-up at Washington were leaning on him . . . well, why would Trip save them? For that matter, how could Trip save them? Actually there was no them right now, was there . . .
John raised his head up, “So you believe if I come back and help you, then you’ve keep yourself safe for now. Let’s say I do this, and we figure it out and solve this case. What happens next time? This is a onetime reunion. I’m not going back in.”
Jessica smiled. “John, help us and buy us a few months. After this case is over and you don’t want back in, I’ll drop it.” Chet shot Jessica a look and started to speak. She put her hand over his mouth and shushed him. Jessica continued to talk with her finger over Chet’s mouth which caused John to raise his eyebrows. “If you help us, win or lose, Trip has agreed to let you see the file.”
John had about to ask if her and Chet had become an item, but with this revelation John jumped to his feet.
“Jessica, Chet . . . do not play with me!!” John was trying hard to keep his composure. This was what he wanted and more importantly, needed.
Jessica walked up to him and took both of his hands in hers. She looked straight into his eyes. He had seen that look once. It was during the interrogation. “John I need you to be you. You need to live again, you need to be that . . . “ She looked up at the ceiling, blew out a breath and continued, “you need to be that arrogant, cocky,” John smile was growing by the second and irritation was slowly spreading its way across Jessica’s face. “Smug, narcissistic, jerk that can follow a 10 year old scent across three continents.” Jessica was staring hard into John’s eyes.
John broke the silence. “I know exactly what you are thinking.” Jessica raised an eyebrow. John continued. “You’re thinking, he’s a widower now, and he has been for three years, would it be inappropriate if I kiss him?”
Jessica threw down John’s hands, and stood up as straight as she could to look him in the eye. She spoke softly but very crisply. “You know I asked Sam once about your obsession with me.” John was taken aback. “She said I was the only woman she ever worried about. I told her then she had absolutely nothing to worry about. Nice to see you’re back . . . JERK!!”
Jessica turned to walk away, but John grabbed her arm. She slowly turned looking at the hand on her arm and then at John.
“Jessica . . . I’m sorry.” Irritation left Jessica’s face. “Jess . . . . I . . . was so mad at you . . . you just did your job. I was so wrapped up . . . “
Jessica stopped him. “John, it’s okay. It wasn’t your fault. I was too proud to call you and see how you were. Look we’ve all made mistakes. Let’s just do what the three of us do best and crack this case. OK?”
John nodded. Jessica paused and then spoke, “There is one thing.” John looked at her. “You will be a consulting agent.” John nodded. “And if I hear you once refer to yourself as a murder or having killed Sam during this case, I won’t miss the punch on purpose. Understand?”
John smiled and turned to head out the door. “Let’s head over to my office, and Jess, the answer is yes. . . .” Jessica looked confused. “It would be inappropriate to kiss me.” John turned and walked out. Chet hurried after him. Jessica smiled. Yeah, enough of him was back, for now. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed all of him back. She needed John back in the FBI or she and Chet were goners, but first things first. They had to solve this murder or there would be no second chance for any of them.
John’s Private Investigator Office
John sat down at his desk and Chet placed each picture of the victims on the board. After all four pictures were up, he looked at John. John smiled and nodded. Chet placed the 5th picture on the board . . . Captain Jason Sparks United States Army. Jessica stood back and smiled. John noticed.
“What?” John asked.
“It’s like you never left,” said Jessica. “You’re supposed to be a consultant and yet here you are running the show again.” John started to get up, and Jessica held up her hand. “No, don’t. I’m not mad. Chet and I had a week on this our way, you run it. Just remember when we get in the field you have little to no authority. In fact let’s go with no authority so there aren’t any questions down the road.”
John nodded. “Jessica, if I overstep my bounds, I have no worry that you will gladly put me in my place.” Jessica smiled and looked down. Chet looked away, uncomfortable. “Ok, time for me to ask a question to make everyone uncomfortable.” Chet looked quite confused. “Chet, Jessica, are you two a thing, and before you get all defensive, remember who I am and what I can do. I’m not that addled.”
Chet had turned 14 shades of red, and Jessica looked away. And then it clicked; the conversation in his living room earlier with Chet. John looked out the window. He then stood up and walked over to it. He stared out the window and spoke quietly.
“I’m batting 1.000 right now aren’t I? I cause my wife’s death, almost cost you two your careers, and now you two can’t even have a relationship because of me. Dear God, what kind of broken am I?”
Jessica walked up behind him. She wanted to comfort him, but that was impossible. John only let one person in his entire life comfort him, and she was gone. Chet had tried to be his friend, and he was . . . as much as John would let him. Jessica straightened and started to speak but John looked at her. His eyes were dancing with mischief through the tears.
“So which is the lie, the one you told me today, or the one you told Chet when he left you?"
Admittedly John’s detective skills were a little rusty, but he flat missed the cut sign that Chet was flashing over and over.
“Excuse me!?!” Jessica exclaimed. “He left me!?!? He said I thought you were suicidal!?!? He was the one . . . you JERK!!!” John was grinning like a Cheshire cat. He now had his answer. Chet thought John was suicidal. He also knew that Jessica had left Chet, and she left him because of Chet’s worry over him. John walked over to the board and faced both his partners.
“Look there was a time when no one thought we could crack what was supposed to be an impossible case. We did. We did it as a team with no secrets. Chet, I don’t know maybe I am suicidal." Chet nodded. John may have kept Chet away as much as possible, but he was still an FBI agent, and a good one. "Have I thought about it, yeah . . . but how mad would Sam be at me if I did?” Chet looked at John with pity, but John waved it off.
“You want me to get through this, then help me with this case, and you two promise to help me with one more, if . . . IF I want you to.” Chet nodded solemnly. Jessica looked uncomfortable.
“John, it’s easy to say all of this, but if Chet and I are kicked out of the FBI how can we help you with Sam’s case.” Jessica asked.
John straightened. For the first time in three years, John Fowler felt like himself. The cocky smirk that drove his teammates crazy, but also let them know he was on the hunt returned. Jessica smiled in spite of herself. For the first time since she and Chet had run into so much trouble at the bureau, things felt right. They were back. John reached over to the hat rack and put on what he called his “crime solving” hat.
“I’m going to help you solve this case and then we’re all going to get the redemption we all deserve.”
John looked at the board and began to study it. He realized he wasn’t getting anywhere. He sighed and turned to his partners.
“I guess it’s time I get my comeuppance. We probably need the big board at the bureau. Plus all of the files you have there.” Chet looked embarrassed and Jessica was studying her shoes. John was a little taken aback. “OK. Exactly how bad is it at the bureau?”
Jessica was playing with the top button on her shirt. She wet her lips before she spoke. “We were only given this case two days ago.” John’s mouth dropped. Jessica held up her hand. “It wasn’t our fault, it took almost a week for jurisdiction to be decided and it took a few days for everyone ELSE in the department to have their take on the case.” John had a bad feeling he knew where this was going. It was obvious they weren’t going to come right out and say, so he asked.
“You weren’t assigned this case, were you? You went to Trip and asked for it, and asked for me to take a run on it? That’s what this whole thing is!?!? You put your careers on the line!!! Admittedly not that it sounds like much is left of them at this point.” Both Chet and Jessica looked a little hurt with that statement. At this point John didn’t care. He was on a roll and couldn’t help himself. “You two numbskulls gambled everything that A. you could get me to come back, and B., and this is the doozy, that I wasn’t so drunk or so rusty that I could solve a quadruple homicide that’s now over two weeks old!?!?
“I didn’t think you had been drinking.” Chet had been quiet during most of the exchanges that afternoon. He had taken about all he could though. Whether John wanted him or not, Chet was John’s friend. He had to do something to try to save John’s life. Chet figured his FBI career was over anyway. He was willing to gamble with what little he had left for one big win. John started to speak and Chet cut him off. John was a little surprised by the ferocity shown by his friend.
“John, for three years I’ve let you push me away, but no more. Look at the evidence in front of you.” John looked puzzled and glanced at the board. “No you idiot, not the board, YOU!!” John was very taken aback. “In a couple of hours, after not doing any real investigative work over the past three years, you have figured out almost every secret we have kept from you. John, your mind makes these connections that the rest of us can’t. So maybe you’re only 60 to 75% of the old John. Who cares!! Don’t you get it!?! You were, and still are, one of the best. Your best guess is better than ¾ of the agents I worked with absolute certainties!!”
John looked around the room. “You know I do work very hard on my investigations as a PI.” Chet looked on in irritation and Jessica started to snicker. “You know how hard it is on some of these stakeouts not to eat myself out of my pant size or break down and drink?” Chet was fighting back a smile, and Jessica’s snickering was louder. A slow grin was crossing John’s face. “And do you know how hard it is for me to not to lose my lunch on some of the photographs ...”
Jessica cut him off full out laughing. “Ok, you have worked hard.”
John stopped laughing and looked down. “No, I haven’t. I’ve just existed.” Jessica gave him an understanding smile. “Can I even get back in the building?” Jessica handed him a pass. “Ok, so we need to go there. Look it’s late; let’s start fresh in the morning. Chet can pull all electronic files on these folks and print them off for me?” He raised his hand before Chet could say anything. “I know I can look online, but sometimes with the printouts in my hands I can see the connection better.” Chet nodded. “So what time tomorrow?”
Jessica smiled; she had been waiting for this all day. “8 AM.” John looked hurt. “You can be up by then, right?” John knew he had been bested. He gave her a smile. Jessica waved at both men and walked out. John turned to his friend, but Chet spoke first.
“Before you say anything John, she was a beautiful girl that I worshiped . . . but I don’t know if I loved her or had the kind of feelings she needed me to have for her.”
John looked away. “I know Chet. You kind of said it earlier.” Chet looked confused. “You said ‘do you know how hot she was?’ not ‘do you know how much I liked, or even loved, her?’.” Chet smiled and shook his head. He then grabbed John in a bear hug. John was taken aback and then gave the most awkward hug imaginable. Chet pulled away and slapped his friend on the arm.
“John, that’s why I didn’t give up on you; you’re the best. Even as narcissistic as you are,” John feigned shock, “you can’t admit how good you really are.” Chet paused. “Three things and I’ll leave.” John nodded. “The first, and most important, Sam’s death is not your fault.” John looked at the ground. “John I mean it. Solve this case and you can have the file. With that file you can find out exactly what I mean.” John looked up, face determined and nodded. “Second, she would want you to move on.” Chet held up his hand before John could speak. “Hear me out. I know you, you need to finish this, but Sam would want you to find someone else . . . even Jessica.” Both men smiled and Chet headed toward the door.
“Chet,” John called after him. “What was the third thing?”
Chet replied without missing a step, “That woman is crazy about you, and part of me honestly believes she only dated me to get closer to you.”
Chet continued out the door and was gone. John looked around the room and began to tidy up. He put all the papers and pictures back into their files. He looked around to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, packed up and headed out the door. As he walked back to his apartment and felt the chill in the February air, he thought about doing something different tonight. Maybe he would watch some college basketball. He hadn’t watched a ball game in a couple of years now. Maybe he’d get lucky and his Cats would be on. He stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the skyline. Maybe the healing was finally beginning. All he knew is for the first time in three plus years, he didn’t want a drink.
The Next Morning at the NY FBI Office.
John desperately wanted a drink. He knew it would be bad, but he had no idea it would be . . . well, nothing could prepare him for this. And to think the morning had gone so well.
John woke up at 5 am, and made himself presentable. He then looked in the mirror and decided to go for dapper. The problem with that is the only good suit he still had was the suit he had worn to the funeral three years ago. After several minutes of deliberating, John decided to wear it. After all, he could very well be going to the burial of his FBI career if this didn’t work out right. John exited his apartment and headed back to what used to be his office.
When he walked up to security, there stood Fred. Fred’s jaw dropped and he ran over to hug John. John had seen Fred’s face every day he had worked in the building manning the security booth. After a few pleasantries John headed up to the old office. When he rounded the corner to the section of the offices his group used to occupy, he froze. There was no open space anymore, but a wall. On the door leading into the offices read Bruce Cosby. John was stunned. He knew Bruce had stroke, but this was absolutely ridiculous. He went over to the offices Bruce and his cronies used to occupy, and he saw all of Bruce’s old cronies still had their offices there. Well if Bruce was over there, and his cronies were here . . . oh no.
John hurried to what was called the rookie room. When he looked in the doorway he saw what were obviously new recruits for the NY office. Well, all John knew is they had been there less than three years, because he knew none of them. John put his hand over his face. There was only one place his crew could be. The “foxhole”. The basement. After a certain TV show dealing with the paranormal and the FBI had gained fame. The basement offices had been renamed the foxhole.
John was standing in the hall trying to decide what to do. He looked down the hall and saw a light on in Trip’s office. Well, he shouldn’t drink before meeting with the man in charge. John drew in a deep breath and headed for Trip’s office. Trip’s door was open. John went to knock on the door, and like always, Trip waved him in without ever looking up. It was spooky. John had to watch himself around Trip. Trip had an uncanny resemblance to the FBI director in the TV show the foxhole had been named after. John had caught himself several times about to refer to him by the wrong name. John walked in and Trip, while still reading a report, opened a drawer and pulled out an official pass with John’s picture on it. John took the pass, and clipped it to his coat.
“John, I need you to wear that at all times you’re here. Not everyone like Fred is still here and knows you.” Trip closed the case file he had been reading and leaned back in his chair. He ran his hand over his balding head. He stared at John a second and a slow smile came over Trip’s face. He stood up, and walked toward John. John had expected a handshake. He was very surprised when Trip hugged him. Trip stepped back and put one hand on John’s shoulder.
“John, I am so glad to see you. As much as you drove me crazy, you’re a saint compared to Bruce.” John was so stunned by the honesty of Trip that he began to laugh, and then to his surprise, stoic, rock solid Trip, began to laugh out loud. Trip turned and got a refill on his cup of coffee, and offered one to John, who politely declined. Trip leaned back on the coffee counter, took a deep breath and spoke.
“I need to say some things, and I need you not to interrupt me.” John nodded. “First, no matter what happens, you will get full access to your wife’s file.” John swallowed and looked away his eyes moistening. “I would ask you not look at it until you finish with this current case. I know how much that file will mean to you and I know you will put your everything in to it, and right now, I have two live agents who need your help. After this case is over, I will give you every available resource I can to help you with that file.” Trip stopped. He wanted to let it sink in exactly what he had told John. John shook his head as if to clear cobwebs. He couldn’t believe that Trip was willing to go out on a limb for him. Maybe John had misjudged Trip all of these years, or maybe what happened with John and Sam had changed Trip. He didn’t know, but he did know he was glad of the change.
Trip continued, “Second,” Trip paused, sighed and continued. “I am sorry for having to put Jessica in the box with you that night. If I hadn’t the DOJ would have come after all of us John. I did what I had to do, but I promise you I didn’t like it.” John nodded.
“Third, if, after this is over, you want your spot back with your team, I will do everything I can to give you your spot back. I must warn you that Bruce has all but built a house in your old office space.” John smiled. Who knew that John was less trouble to Trip than Bruce. John waited to make sure Trip was finished and then spoke.
“First . . . Thank you. Second I completely understand, and third, if, and that’s one mighty big if,” Trip nodded, “if I come back, can my group just keep the foxhole?” Trip nearly choked on his coffee. He stared at John incredulously. Then Trip chuckled and smiled.
“You want to be down there in the basement?” Trip asked. John nodded. Trip continued. “It would kill him to know you’re solving cases down there and not on the main floor. He thinks he took something away from you, but if you show it doesn’t bother you, that will just kill him.” Trip clapped his hands together. “I LOVE it!!!” John had a huge grin on his face. “It’s all yours, and it’s perfect! It has everything upstairs did, and Chet actually has more computers down there than he did upstairs.” It was John’s turn to look stunned.
“I didn’t know that was humanly possible,” John said. Trip chuckled. John continued, “If you don’t mind sir, I have two agents to help, and possibly a third to get reinstated, but most importantly there’s a certain someone here I need to make his life miserable.” Trip laughed and gestured toward the door. John tipped his hat and headed outside. Trip chuckled and drank from his coffee cup. He then spoke out loud.
“I think things may get a little interesting around here over the next few weeks.”