Anne Hagan is off again to the GCLS Con; this year in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. In honor of 'con month' she's offering this sampler pack of four complete works (three novels and a short story) for a limited time. It's a mixture of her mysteries and her romances or, as Anne likes to say, "Family, Friends, Love Murder and Mayhem." She hopes you enjoy the books as much as she enjoyed picking them out for this compilation. Dana's Dilemma: The Morelville Mysteries – Book 3 What happens when Mel runs for Sheriff, an Amish girl runs away from home and Dana runs – er, limps - for cover? Can anything else possibly go wrong for these two ladies of law enforcement? Sure it can and it will! Can the two sometimes lovers work it all out once and for all and finally have a happy life together or will more crime, murder and mayhem get in the way? Broken Women Where do you go when you lose everything? Who do you turn to next when nobody seems to want you for more than a casual fling? When death unexpectedly takes the love of your life, the best you can do is to try to cope and to hold on to the good memories. When your beloved's family takes everything else you have, hope is all that's left…if you can hang on to that. You've been smitten more than once. You've even been in love a time or two. The trouble is, your feelings are always only yours. Cupid's arrow always fails to land. Can two love-weary people, from different worlds, find strength together? Can they find more and even a happily ever after? Opera House Ops: The Morelville Cozies – Book 2 Sinister goings-on including the discovery of a dead body at a vacant late 1800's era opera house in Morelville have the residents of the village all tied up in knots. When what first appears to be an accident turns out to be murder, a duo of meddling mothers quickly gets enmeshed in a round of crime solving. It doesn't help that, everywhere they turn, a property hungry developer with more money than sense, wants the land the building sits on and he'll seemingly stop at nothing to get it. Is there really another killer in their midst? Is the same person responsible for all of the strange occurrences? What will it take to make the crimes stop, make a developer go away and to save the historical building for future generations? Loving Blue in Red States: Salt Lake City Utah Amanda Allred's getting tired of being in the closet for her dull, boring banking job. She's frustrated with the whole boys' club atmosphere there and the 'good ol' boy' mentality that goes along with it. Salt Lake is thriving culturally and she wants to be a part of it all; openly and freely in the Utah she's always loved. Rebecca Musser is finally living the life she once only dared to dream she could when she was stuck in Provo under her father's thumb and the watchful eyes of her mother. The manager of the gay coffee shop who took a chance on her and gave her a job has taken her under his wing. She doesn't have a lot but she has enough, she has friends and she's finally happy. There will be no marriage arranged for her by her father; no thank you! When Amanda, a total stranger, steps in and defends Rebecca to her mother one day, the two women feel the instant spark of attraction. Rebecca's interested. So is Amanda. Can Amanda step out of her bubble, go against the church and the old boy network, and take a chance on finally finding love?
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The Morelville Mysteries – Book 3
To the Village Idiot, for always making me laugh
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2015
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 – Manic Monday
Chapter 2 – Putnam Hill Park
Chapter 3 – Settling Up
Chapter 4 – Money, Money, Money
Chapter 5 - The City Club
Chapter 6 – Feed Store and More
Chapter 7 – An Ex Comes a Calling
Chapter 8 – Meet Up
Chapter 9 – Trouble
Chapter 10 – PI Dana?
Chapter 11 – Ex Pest
Chapter 12 – We Have a Floater...
Chapter 13 - Evidence
Chapter 14 – Breaking Amish
Chapter 15 – Witnesses
Chapter 16 – Crane is a Drain
Chapter 17 – Blow Back
Chapter 18 – Lions and Tigers and Lawyers...
Chapter 19 – Escape
Chapter 20 – The Past Revisited
Chapter 21 – Bright Lights
Chapter 22 – Indictments
Chapter 23 – Aggie
Chapter 24 – Mel
Chapter 25 – On the Move
Chapter 26 – Secrets
Chapter 27 – Troutman is a Douche
Chapter 28 – Losing Hannah
Chapter 29 – Ransom
Chapter 30 – Collared
Chapter 31 – Catching a Kidnapper
Chapter 32 – Denouement
Part One | Barb and Lisa
Chapter 1 | Barb and Lisa
Part Two | Janet
Chapter 10 | Janet Mason
Chapter 20 | Janet
Chapter 21 | Janet
Chapter 23 | Barb
Chapter 25 | Janet
Chapter 26 | Dana Rossi-Crane
Chapter 27 | Dana Rossi-Crane
Chapter 28 | Dana Rossi-Crane
Opera House Ops
Chapter 1 – Church?
Chapter 2 – Developer Shmeleper’
Chapter 3 – Bake Break
Chapter 4 – Bum Busted
Chapter 5 – Missed
Chapter 6 – Men’s Club
Chapter 7 – The Pits
Chapter 8 – Unknown
Chapter 9 - ID
Chapter 10 – Gross Out
Chapter 11 – Helter-Swelter
Chapter 12 – Moola
Chapter 13 – Up on the Rooftop
Chapter 14 – So Over It
Chapter 15 – Gimme!
Chapter 16 - Historic
Chapter 17 – Funding
Chapter 18 – Growing Pains
Chapter 19 – Cooked Books?
Chapter 20 - Fire
Chapter 21 – Loss
Chapter 22 – Fishing
Chapter 23 – What’s Cooking?
Chapter 24 – Money, Money
Chapter 25 – Community
Chapter 26 – Quinn Steps In
Chapter 27 – Resort?
Chapter 28 – ME’s Report
Chapter 29 – Cole’s Concerns
Chapter 30 – What about Doris?
Chapter 31 – Pastor?
Chapter 32 – Manhunt
Chapter 33 – Quorum
Chapter 34 – Kara Time
Chapter 35 - Bombshell
Chapter 36 – Fainting Spell
Chapter 37 – Grilling Lauren
Chapter 38 – Guilty!
Chapter 39 – Wayward Son
Chapter 40 – Coming Together
Chapter 41 – The Truth
Chapter 42 - Certified
Loving Blue in Red States | Salt Lake City, Utah | Anne Hagan
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Also Written by the Author
Mel kissed me goodbye softly before she crept out of the house in the pre-dawn hours. She didn’t know I was awake...I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about her going all the way down to the Big Sandy Federal Penitentiary to talk to a lifer on a long shot to get the information she needed to find his own son, Ryan McClarnan, and arrest him for his crimes. I’ve been in supermax prisons before – not a place you want to make a habit of visiting. She’d never been inside any jail but the Muskingum County jail that she operates as the County Sheriff. Supermax penitentiaries are a beast. The first time I’d ever interviewed a convict in one, it was perspective changing.
No one else was home. Kris, Mel’s twin sister, had stayed the night with her boyfriend and Kris’s teenagers, Beth and Cole, were staying out at the family farm with their grandparents.
I got up and wandered into the family room on my crutches. I flipped channels on the TV for a while but nothing stuck. I’m not much of a TV person anyway and at 4:00 AM on a Saturday, long winded infomercials seemed to rule the airwaves. I turned the box off after a frustrating half hour.
I went back into Mel’s den. She’d so graciously turned it into my bedroom while I was recuperating from the shooting incident that messed up my leg and botched up my life for a while on my last assignment. She’d said I could use her laptop and I decided to take her up on it. It was a bit of a trick to maneuver on crutches behind the desk she’d had to move to allow the sofa bed to be pulled out but, once I was back there, I planted myself for a while. I surfed the news sites and read all the articles that caught my fancy.
While I sat and read, the room started to brighten. The sun was coming up in the shaded window behind me. I pulled the blind slats apart and gazed outside. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day.
As I stretched, I contemplated trying to sleep for just a bit since it was still early, but I was pretty keyed up. Instead, I opted to partake of a nice, warm shower to get the day started off and then to get outside and enjoy the early hours and the beautiful sunshine on the deck. That would be my last pleasant memory of the morning.
Some time while I was in the shower, Ryan McClarnan and his sidekick Levi ‘Sticks’ Jones started working to gain entry to the house. From the bathroom, I heard them at the kitchen window while I was stepping gingerly out of the shower stall, trying not to put any weight on my injured leg. Trouble had come calling and I was defenseless against it.
After nudging the bathroom door mostly closed, as quickly as I could, I pulled on the underpants and the sweats that I’d brought in with me. As dripping wet as I was, I knew there wasn’t time to wrestle with getting a bra on. I’d no sooner looped my arms through my sweatshirt than the two men were in the den, opening the bathroom door and confronting me.
McClarnan, still high or drunk or both after a night of partying and carousing, reeked of filth, sweat and alcohol. ‘Sticks’ Jones wasn’t in much better shape.
Jones reached out and grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the bathroom. My bad leg collapsed, and I tumbled to the floor and out of his grip. The last thing I remember, before waking up in this God forsaken hospital again, was McClarnan’s foot coming at my face.
Monday Morning, June 9th, 2014
“Dana, I’m sorry but it just isn’t good. You have severe muscle and nerve damage from the shooting. I expected the muscle damage to heal over time and it has been these past few weeks, but the nerve stuff is a different animal. Do you remember what we talked about?”
I stared at Dr. Welle, my orthopedic surgeon, and shuddered at what she was implying. “You said I might never regain all feeling and muscle control.”
“Yes,” she said softly. “There was only a slim chance that you’d come out of your original injury with total unhindered mobility. I expected then, at best, that you would be unable to fully flex your knee and that you might walk with a slight limp. This newest incident has done so much more damage...”
She popped more images from the latest MRI of my leg up on the light box and began pointing out things that concerned her. I zoned out and flashed back to Saturday, the day that was very likely going to ruin the rest of my career with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service.
My mind went back to Saturday morning.
... Jones reached out and grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the bathroom. My bad leg collapsed, and I tumbled to the floor and out of his grip. The last thing I remember, before waking up in this God forsaken hospital again, was McClarnan’s foot coming at my face.
“Earth to Dana!”
“Oh, I’m sorry doc! You were saying?”
“I’m saying that you can be released today but that you’re going to need to keep weight off of this leg for the next eight to twelve weeks, at a minimum. You can keep your crutches if you promise to always use them or I can put you in a wheelchair; your choice. Those muscles have to have time to recover.”
“Two or three months?” I was in shock.
“Minimum; and frankly, the nerve damage is so extensive now that I’m sorry to say that your mobility is always going to be hindered. It isn’t a question of maybe or possibly anymore. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but there it is.”
I nodded my understanding...another career for me shot to hell, literally.
“I’m putting you off work for the rest of this week and no rehab. In fact, no rehab work for at least the next couple of weeks and you’ll need to schedule a follow-up with me for next Monday.”
Yep, shot to hell.
“Do you want to stop somewhere for lunch before we head out of town?” Mel waited for my response. She was driving my own car since it was easier for me to maneuver in and out of it with a bum leg and crutches than it was for me to get in and out of her pickup truck.
I couldn’t seem to form a coherent sentence. I was still trying to get my head wrapped around what my injuries would likely mean for my career and what, if anything, I’d want to do or even be able to do next.
“Hmm?” I looked at her.
“Look, I know you’ve got a lot on your mind. If you want to talk, I’m here for you – no pressure. Right now, while you’re trying to think things through, you have to take care of yourself. For one thing, you need to eat. I know you probably skipped the hospital breakfast...”
“Yeah, you’re right. I did. I’m just not hungry right now.”
“Well I am, and I know just the place that might help you to change your mind.”
“Mel, I look a fright. I really don’t want to be out in public right now.” She glanced over at me and I saw the tenderness in her eyes.
“Relax. This place will work out just fine.”
A few minutes later we pulled up near a low, non-descript building situated on a river bank. “What’s this place?”
“It’s Muddy Misers, a Zanesville landmark. We’re early yet, we should be able to get one of the tables behind the building, outside along the river, where we can just relax and soak in a little sun.” I nodded. That didn’t sound too bad.
We trooped behind a college aged server named Bree through a darkened tavern style restaurant to a small patio. Mel chose the table for us that was furthest from the door and then ordered two locally made brews before I could even lean my crutches against the railing and take a seat.
“I probably shouldn’t be drinking with the pain meds...”
“Did you actually take them?”
“Then a beer will probably do you some good. It’ll help you relax.”
“We’ve known each other less than two months but you already know what buttons to push!”
“I’m a cop, a trained observer.” She grinned with that smile that wowed me the first time I met her, what seemed like eons ago.
“As am I, but I really don’t seem to know a lot about you.”
“You know more than you think...”
We were interrupted by Bree, the little slip of a blonde server, who was already back with our drinks. “Are you ready to order?”
I hadn’t even picked up the menu. I looked at Mel, “Since you’re so smart, just order me what you think I’ll like.” I was being a smartass, but she wasn’t fazed. She placed an order for some sort of house specialty and then the blonde girl was gone leaving us to each other.
“The place isn’t much to look at, but the food is good, and the beer is cold.”
I took a sip. “Mmm, it’s not only cold it’s actually pretty good too.”
“They brew it right here with water from the Muskingum.” She jerked her head sideways toward the river.
I sputtered and coughed. Mel’s eyes shone with laughter.
“That isn’t funny!”
“Two can play your little game Ms. Dana!”
I shook my head at her, “Touché.” I wasn’t done with her. I reached out and pulled her beer toward me. “I get this one too. You’re driving!” It was my turn to grin.
She pulled it right back. “I’m only having one and I’m eating. If you think I’m impaired after we eat what we’re about to consume, then you go ahead and make a citizen’s arrest!”
I laughed, “Don’t tempt me!” I leaned back and gazed out at the river. It was a deep shade of tan and running pretty fast. “Why do they call this place Muddy Misers? Is it because the river is so muddy looking?”
“Naw.” Mel shook her head and laughed. “It was actually named after a long ago local who was called that. The river’s muddy now but that’s just from all the spring runoff. You were laid up in the hospital for most of the rainy season here. The water will clear up as we get further into June.” She stared at me with an odd expression but said nothing else.
I looked back at her, “I hate small talk, but I hate awkward silence even more...”
She smiled again. “What would you like to talk about then?”
I shrugged and blew out a breath, “I don’t know. I don’t even know where to begin...”
“How about we just chill out right now and save the heavy stuff for after lunch?” She smiled, “Deal?”
We spent the next hour enjoying some amazing steaks and talking about silly stuff. Things were actually starting to feel a little bit better for me and to, just maybe, look up.
Early Monday Afternoon, June 9th, 2014
We rolled out of Muddy Misers fatter and happier. I looked at Mel, “Thank you. I really needed that.”
She reached over and took my hand in hers, “I know.”
“We really do need to talk.”
“When you’re ready Dana.”
“I’m ready now but I really don’t want to try to have this conversation with you while you’re driving.”
“No problem.” Mel pulled out of the Misers parking lot and rolled across the street to a little city park. She parked the car within close hobbling distance to a picnic table. I worked my way over to it but, before I could take a seat, she stopped me and pulled me in for a quick hug.
I jerked back and looked around nervously. “Mel, we shouldn’t! The election...”
“Dana, we’ve talked about this. I told you, I’m already serving as the Sheriff. I’m running for the office officially as me, myself and I.” She tapped her chest, “I am in a relationship with an amazing woman and I’m not going to hide that from the voters of Muskingum County because they may be a little squeamish. If they don’t like it, they can vote for Troutman.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste at the mention of her opponent while at the same time touching her hand to my heart and then she backed off a little and helped me to take a seat.
“I’m sorry. I just...well, my life is all messed up right now and I don’t want to be messing up yours for you too.”
Mel took a seat opposite of me. “You’re not. Now, talk to me babe; tell me what you’re thinking.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slow. “Dr. Welle wants me off work all of this week. I’m to put no weight at all on my left leg. I’m not even to do rehab work.”
“Just a week?” She raised her eyebrows, “That’s not so bad.”
“Oh wait; that’s just the beginning. That’s just time she wants me to be off of work. She sees no rehab for at least a couple of weeks and no weight bearing in my future for eight to twelve weeks and possibly longer.”
I shook my head and then looked down at the table.
“I take it there’s more?”
I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t. I started to shake and then to cry and all I wanted to do was stand up and run until I couldn’t run anymore but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t physically do anything, and it was tearing me apart inside.
Mel came around to my side of the table, sat down and wrapped her arms around me. When she leaned her forehead against my face, her slightly spikey black hair tickled my cheek and made me smile through my pain. She isn’t the touchy-feely type, so her show of emotional support was both surprising and comforting. I tried to take some strength from her and steel myself to continue our conversation. She pulled back a little and looked at me expectantly.
“Full mobility isn’t in my future,” I said, as tears threatened to fall some more.
“How bad is it?”
“Bad enough that, at minimum, I’m never going to have full knee flexibility and I’ll always walk with a pronounced limp. Beyond that, she doesn’t know at this point. She won’t know until we give the muscles time to heal as far as they’re going to. There may be surgery to repair what doesn’t heal from a muscle perspective but some of the nerve damage is permanent and irreversible.” I took a big gulp of air and ran my hands through my own longish brown hair.
“You’re worried about your job, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not worried because I know I’m going to lose it. I’m just wondering how long I’ll have it at all and what the hell I’m going to do once it’s gone.”
“And you’re positive you wouldn’t be able to continue in your present position?”
“Mel, I work undercover a lot. I can’t do that with a pronounced limp that perps will notice and remember.”
She was quiet for what seemed like an eternity but then she put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Dana listen, I know a desk job with Customs has no appeal for you but losing your special agent position doesn’t have to be the end of the line. There are other ways you can do investigations.”
I shrugged free of her gentle grasp, “How? For who? What agency or organization is going to hire me? I’m not going to be mobile and I’ll stand out like a sore thumb on any sort of mission. I don’t want to sit in a chair and do forensic stuff Mel! I like investigative field work.”
“I know, I know, but think about this; you’ve said before that the travel that your job involves wears on you – that you have no place to call home. Why not do things just a bit less strenuously?”
She looked directly into my eyes, “Why not go private? You can base yourself in one place and work from there picking and choosing the assignments that you take so you’re not stuck at a desk all of the time but where you’re not under deep cover chasing gang bangers smuggling dope and heaven knows what all else either.”
“You mean be like a private eye?”
“Well, sort of.”
I started to shake my head no. “Baby, I don’t want to be spying on people’s spouses and...”
“Wait; hear me out. Didn’t you tell me once that you were an MP in the Army?”
“What exactly did you do when you served?”
“We were mobilized for two years out of my four-year tour. We did base security and bodyguard type work for generals during the first Gulf War.”
“Did you like that?”
“Yeah, I did. That’s how my whole career path started for me.”
“So, when you got out of the Army, what did you do?”
“I went to school and I got into corporate security but...well it’s a long story but I got fired from that job.” I’d only told her a little about my past before going into the Customs Service and becoming a Special Agent.
Mel winced but she didn’t let the admission sidetrack her, “Did you like it?”
“Hell yes. I loved it, but I love investigations too.”
She paused and breathed deeply, “Dana, don’t you see? You could be doing both!”
“Again, how?” I held out my hands in exasperation.
“You can hang out your own shingle and do private corporate security and investigations.”
“I...I don’t know Mel. I wouldn’t even know where to start to form my own company...That costs money...Where would I work from...I just don’t know.”
“Well, you have at least a week of sitting at home to do some research and figure it all out. I know you must have contacts from your security days, right?”
“Call HR at customs. Start with them and be very frank. If they tell you something that you don’t want to hear, start shaking some trees and see what falls out. Investigate getting a PI license, even.”
I just stared at her.
“Promise me you’ll at least think about it?”
“Baby, I’m already thinking about it, but I still have a couple of problems: money and location. Both of them are deal breakers.”
“Dana a consultant can work out of anywhere...my den, for example.”
“Maybe for the very short term but, long term, I have to find a place to live and a place to work and those two places shouldn’t be the same place.”
“I know our living situation right now isn’t the best but, well I sort of hoped that...” She trailed off and looked lost. It was my turn to console her.
I took her hand and looked into her beautiful brown eyes, “Mel, I never thought I’d say this to another woman after the way my ex treated me but...I love you.” My true feelings for her were finally out there and, rather than feel scared, I felt like a burden had been lifted off of me.
She took a deep breath and smiled. “I love you too.” She pulled me in and held me close and then pulled back and kissed me softly. I wanted to melt into her kiss, but I didn’t let her linger too long. I was worried we’d be seen and the implications for her if we were.
“Mel, if you’ll have me, you’re stuck with me. I want us to be together, somehow, some way. Between my situation and the August election though...I don’t know...”
She stopped me, “Actually, I’ve been giving our living arrangements some thought. Before this latest incident with you being kidnapped and battered, we sort of figured you’d be based out of Columbus for a while, right?”
“Look, I love my sister, but a few things are obvious to me; One, we can’t be comfortable being ourselves in a house that we’re sharing with her and her kids. Two, things appear to be getting pretty serious between her and her boyfriend Scott. He’s considering taking a local haul driving job, so I’m getting the feeling that he may be looking at taking the next step with her.”
“Wow! Good for Kris if that’s true.”
“Yes, but back to us for a minute; Three, you’re not going to be happy living and working in a den forever. I realize you’re used to temporary apartments and hotel rooms but a 10x10 with a pull-out bed probably isn’t getting it for you!” She grinned.
I nodded, “Yeah, it’s getting a little old, but I really don’t think you should go making any big life moves right now...not until after the election in August anyway. You should look settled and stable.”
“What do I have to do to convince you that I don’t care about that election when it comes to people’s opinion of my personal life?” She raised her voice and started to say something else when a teenage girl wandering along the walking trail in the park caught her attention.
“Who’s that?” I whispered.
Mel shook her head, “I’m not sure but she looks awfully familiar to me.”
“One of Beth or Cole’s friends, maybe?”
“I don’t think so.” She shuddered. “I just got this weird, spine prickling feeling of déjà vu.”
“Odd. I can’t help you there though.”
After the girl passed, she turned back to me, she shook herself, “Anyway, I was saying that I’ve been thinking and, election be damned, it’s time that I started looking for my own place...our own place - if you’ll have me, that is?”
Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
I spent the morning using the desk and phone in Mel’s den to consult with my supervisors and the investigative teams in Columbus and Chicago about my status and the status of the prosecution of the suspects in my prior smuggling case. Minor investigations and discovery were ongoing in the case and there was still agency infighting going on between Customs and the other two federal agencies that had skin in the game.
This case could take a couple of years to resolve...years of me sitting behind a desk like this one if Customs decided that was what’s best to do with me. I don’t want to sit behind a desk – any desk – for two more weeks, let alone two years or more!
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Mel was right; I needed to be frank with HR about my condition and let the chips fall where they might. As it turns out, they didn’t have very far to fall at all.
I was still sitting at Mel’s desk reading through some paperwork the Columbus supervisor had emailed to me when the phone rang. The caller ID said “Restricted.” Not knowing who the caller might be or even if it was for me, I answered the phone tentatively, “Hello?”
“Special Agent Rossi?”
“Yes. Who’s calling please?”
“This is Alvin Royer. I’m the Director of Operations for the Chicago Field Office.”
I know who you are...I may be injured but I haven’t lost my mind! “Yes sir; how can I help you?”
“This is a conference call Agent. The Deputy Director and the Director of HR from the home office are also on the line.”
Oh boy! What the hell? “Yes sir.” Now my voice trembled. Anything HQ gets involved in can’t be good. I hadn’t actually made a call to HR yet. Somebody in the Cleveland Office or the Field Office must have barked up the chain quickly this morning. I drummed my fingers on the desktop nervously.
“Relax Agent, we have some information to present to you and we’d like your input.”
“Okay?” I was confused and concerned and a jumble of other feelings and emotions all at the same time. My thoughts were running a million miles an hour through my head.
“This call is being recorded Agent Rossi. For the record, please state your full legal name.”
“My name is Dana Marie Rossi.”
“Thank you. Director?”
“Agent Rossi, this is Deputy Director Stover.”
“You did a fine piece of work Agent on the smuggling case. Nice job.”
“Thank you, sir.” But why are you calling me? This is so not normal!
He continued, “I understand that you were shot in the act of executing a bust on the operation?” He paused but only briefly. I took his question as rhetorical.
“Bullet fragments from your leg were collected during your surgery and analyzed by a national laboratory; were you aware of that?”
“No Director, I was not.”
“Yes, well analysis on the fragments indicates that the round that hit you was from federal issue, agent. You were hit by friendly fire. That never should have happened.”
I snapped back in Mel’s rolling chair, speechless. I had suspected that the shot that hit me that night had come at the hands of either ATF or Secret Service, the other two agencies trying to claim jurisdiction over my bust, but I was powerless to prove it either way.
“Yes Director...I’m sorry.”
“ATF denies having agents flanking from outside that night. Their official position is that all of their agents dismounted their single arrival vehicle to the farm bust site at the same time as you and your team or immediately after your team and in the same vicinity of you. What’s your take on that?”
“ATF had one van of multiple personnel that arrived at the bust site within minutes of our arrival there, sir. When my team dismounted we started taking fire from the farm fields out behind the site, across from our approach route. A PA announcement to “Cease Fire” from the ATF van that came in behind us is what stopped the shelling.”
“That’s interesting Agent. I wasn’t aware of the cease fire order. Please, continue.”
“That’s detailed in my report sir however, my impression is that ATF called the cease fire in hopes of protecting their own people who were attempting to dismount their van and raid the barn structure too and not because it was their people out there firing. I believe they had reason to suspect that it was another agency in the field and not representatives of the smuggling ring we were both trying to take down. I just couldn’t prove it.”
“So, your unofficial take on that at the time was what Rossi?”
“Again, as detailed in my official report sir, I had two agents staged covertly in the field at the bust site who were taken into custody by Secret Service and brought into the target building handcuffed by a group of four of their agents. It was quite the cluster that night Director, if I may be so blunt, but I strongly believe that it was Secret Service firing on us and on ATF from that field.”
“I did read your report Rossi. I missed the part about the cease fire and I apologize for that. Bullets, shell casings and, where possible, bullet fragments are collected as a matter of routine when a federal agent is shot in the line of duty. That report of yours is what prompted the Field Office to have the bullet fragments sent for analysis.”
“I’d already made some conclusions about who or what agency fired the shot that hit you after reading your report personally and now the analysis of the bullet fragments has born that out. I wanted to hear the details from you personally. As I suspected, you already knew who shot you.”
“Not who exactly sir; but I do believe that Secret Service is responsible.”
“Yes agent.” His response was a confirmation.
“So, what will come of that? Have they admitted responsibility?”
“Director Royer, would you please respond?”
“Agent Rossi, it’s Director Royer again.”
My head was spinning again, “Yes sir?”
“As I told you, the Director of HR is on the call with us as well. I believe you’ve been in touch with HR here at the Chicago Field Office previous to the recent incident that’s done further damage to your injured leg?”
“That’s correct sir.”
“The field office passed your file along to the home office. HR retained medical experts have reviewed the medical records you had authorized to be released to them up to the point before this recent incident not related to your previous case Agent Rossi. It’s the professional opinion of the reviewing surgeon that you’re going to suffer lifetime impairment not withstanding your latest re-injury. Is that your understanding?”
“Ye...yes sir.” His double speak was mind blowing but I got the thrust of the conversation and I didn’t like where it was going.
“The record of your conversation with HR here at the field office shows that you wish to continue doing field agent work; is that correct?”
“Yes director.” Is there a snowballs chance?
Another voice chimed in, “Agent Rossi, this Sarah Evans, Director of HR.”
Wow...nothing like being ganged up on...This is crazy! “Yes Director?”
“Sarah is fine Agent Rossi.”
“It’s not possible for us to keep you in the field as a Special Agent, given your medical condition. There are though a couple of other options available to you.”
I was hunched over the desk now and leaning hard into the phone. I don’t like her tone.
She continued, “With reasonable accommodation we can put you into an administrative or screening position. You would retain your current rate of pay.”
“Screening as in, checking baggage for drugs?”
“That’s one of the functions of our screening personnel, yes.”
“What’s the other option, Sarah?”, because the first one is completely unacceptable. I was getting angry. I took a deep breath and blew it out hard.
“You can opt for medical disability retirement, a settlement and full medical coverage at the expense of the Secret Service.”
“Pardon me, did I miss something? Did Secret Service agree that one of their agents was the trigger man that shot me?”
“Agent, its Deputy Director Stover. The Secret Service has admitted to no wrongdoing. Based on our preliminary findings they have agreed to fund the cost of your medical bills no matter what your decision is on your future with the Customs Service. Should you opt for medical retirement, you have the option to sue them for pain and suffering. To avoid a lawsuit, if you waive your right to sue, they’re prepared to fund your disability retirement and offer you a settlement.”
Wow! “What type of settlement? Are we talking money here Director or am I misunderstanding?”
“The settlement is calculated by an actuarial formula Agent. It’s based on your expected lost earnings, expected wage increases, pain and suffering and a few other factors. They’re offering $1.2 million dollars.”
I almost fell out of Mel’s chair. “You said million?” I just shook my head, dumbfounded.
“Yes, Agent Rossi and, if I may be so frank: if you sue, it could take years to get through the courts and you may lose. If you’re considering medical retirement over an administrative position rather than a field position, this is likely the best offer you’re going to receive from them.”
I covered the receiver and took a couple of more deep breaths. They didn’t help to clear my head. $1.2 million dollars! I realized they were all waiting on the line for my response. I tried to speak but what came out was more like a croak.
“Agent Rossi are you all right?” It was Sarah Evans.
I cleared my throat, “I’m fine. Can you tell me when I have to make a decision?”
“It’s Director Royer again Agent. We need to continue to move forward on the smuggling case. If you choose to stay with customs, you’ll be tasked to brief up a backup Agent and then you’ll be moved into a new position. You’ll be reassigned away from the investigation and only used for court testimony should that become absolutely unavoidable. The bottom line is, we need to know something this week.”
Tuesday Afternoon, June 10th, 2014
Morning turned into afternoon. I moved about in a crutches aided daze. Everything Mel and I had talked about came rushing back to me. If I take the disability and the settlement, I’ll be secure, and I can start my own security firm if I want to, we can buy a house... Dozens of possibilities ran through my mind.
“I need to talk to Mel!” I said aloud, to no one in particular.
Biting the bullet, I called her office. Holly, her assistant, put me through to her.
“Hey Dana, I’m glad you called. Were your ears burning?”
“Well no, why?”
“Ryan McClarnan and Levi Jones were arraigned this morning. They’re both facing multiple felony charges including drug trafficking and moonshine counts plus they’re facing assault, battery, kidnapping, and attempted murder charges for you. McClarnan is also charged with murder in the death of Dallas Granger and with accessory charges in the death of Ben Tracy. The DA doesn’t know if he can make the accessory charge stick but he’s going to give it a shot.”
“That’s great Mel.”
“Great? That’s an odd choice of word after what I just told you. Are you okay?”
“Yes...no...I don’t know. I did a little work by phone this morning and then I got pulled into a conference call that shook my whole world up. I’ve got to...we’ve got to talk. When will you be home?”
“I can leave right now.” Her voice took on an urgent tone.
“No, no. It’s okay. I didn’t mean to alarm you. We can talk later. I just wanted to know when you figured on being out of there.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yes. I can wait.”
“Well...” now she sounded sheepish, “Honestly, the DA called a press conference for 2:30. I don’t have to be there but typically I am, and in this case, it makes good publicity...”
“For your campaign,” I finished the sentence. “I know baby and I totally understand.”
“How about we shoot for me being there by 4:00?”
“Sure. What channel can I catch the press conference on in the meantime?”
“Hopefully all of them!”
I went to the store and got all of the ingredients I needed to make Grandma Rossi’s famous Chicken Caccitore. It wasn’t easy shopping on crutches, but I was on a mission and I refused to use one of those electric chairs the old people drive around in stores that terrorize other shoppers.
I’ve never had much time to cook but I enjoy it and Grandma taught me a couple of her dishes well, lasagna and the chicken. Mel might be a hard nut to crack with money, but I might just be able to win over her stomach.
By the time the DA’s press conference ended and my triumphant Sheriff girlfriend walked through the door a few minutes before 4:00, the house smelled delicious.
“What is that amazing smell?” Mel had her nose in the air feigning sniffing like a hungry family dog would do at dinner time.
“It’s Chicken Caccitore. I hope you like it.”
“Never had it before but if it tastes half as good as it smells, I’m in there!”
I hopped the few feet to her on one foot rather than reach for my crutches. She pulled me close and held me firm as I laid a lip lock on her in a more personal greeting. It was a couple of minutes before we finally came up for air. Mel was still riding a high after the arraignments and the official press conference and it showed in the intensity of her kiss and in her whole demeanor.
“Whoa!” I blew out a breath and then smacked her shoulder. “Look, I need to finish this up. Why don’t you go and change but make it fast? It’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“Okay. And, I have to say, I was worried about you when I called. I’m glad to see that you’re happy. You seem to be brimming over with excitement about something?” Her tone was curious.
“I’m fine. Better than fine, even. We’ve both had big days and we’ll talk about them over dinner; now go change!”
“I watched the press conference. I was surprised that there was no mention of your former Detective, Kelly Rice. Wasn’t she arraigned too?”
Mel wiped her mouth and then shoveled in another bite of her chicken. “Dana, honey, this is so good! You say you don’t cook much but I think you’re fibbing there. Wow!” She took a sip of her water while I beamed.
She put her fork down and shook her head, “I got sidetracked there; I’m sorry! You were asking about Kelly Rice, right?”
“The DA has decided to have a Grand Jury weigh in on her. So far, all we have is her on video breaking department policy by moving a prisoner alone without a jailer escort and, on the criminal side a possible accessory after the fact charge for warning a moonshine runner, said prisoner Ethan Funk, not to say anything during an official interrogation. We’re investigating but so far we don’t have any evidence to tie her directly to McClarnan, Jones or even to Funk.”
“What about the file full of information you found that she was keeping about you?”
“I turned that over to the DA. There’s a boatload of crap in there but there’s no law against her collecting it even though it is a little creepy and beyond suspect.”
“Your other Detective...what’s his name?”
“Shane Harding,” Mel supplied.
“Yes, Shane. Did he or did he not come into my hospital room on Sunday and show us an engagement announcement for Kelly and Noland Troutman, your competition for Sheriff in the election?”
“And that’s not suspicious to you?”
“It’s very suspicious! Everything about it smacks of some sort of insider campaign to get to me prior to the election. Unfortunately, we can only charge her with what we can prove and that’s accessory after the fact on the mum warning to McClarnan’s ‘shine runner, Ethan Funk.”
“Is the video of that enough to nail her?”
“With the enhanced audio, the DA thinks so but, in a move that surprised me and the DA who’s very familiar with his history, Funk’s family stepped up and got him an attorney. He’s taking a deal to turn State’s Evidence and that should help to nail the charges on her.”
“Hmm. I have to wonder about the wisdom of that from his perspective. He probably thinks the only person he should fear is McClarnan who’s in jail and who isn’t going anywhere. What if he’s wrong and he has to fear Kelly Rice or whoever is behind her order to him?”
“That’s a good point but it’s not really my problem now is it? Besides, do you really think if Noland Troutman were behind what she did, he’d jeopardize himself by pulling something else right now? We’re less than two months from the election.”
“True, I guess. So, what do you think is going to happen to Rice?”
“It really depends on the Grand Jury, but I think they’ll indict. Regardless, she’s lawyered up. She’s signed Boswell Bates out of Cleveland on. He’s a high dollar mouthpiece and a royal pain in the ass. He’ll do everything in his power to tie it all up in court forever, if it gets that far.”
After that pronouncement, Mel stood and made another one, “I’m dishing up seconds of your amazing chicken if you want more and then we need to start talking about your day today and what’s going on with you.” She eyeballed me pointedly.
“Don’t give me your cop glare!” I couldn’t help but laugh at her though. She was even cute when she scowled.
“Dana, honey, I’m not going to tell you what to do.” Mel was at the sink taking care of the dinner dishes while I sat at the table sipping the one Diet Pepsi I allow myself a day.
“I want my leg back to normal...”
She turned from her task and looked at me, “I know baby but we both know that’s not going to happen. You’ll eventually have to come to terms with that. What you’ve got to do is you have to decide what the next best option for you is.”
“So, you’re saying I should take the money?”
“No, that’s not what I said. I said you should weigh all of your options. We’ve talked about this though. I know that you really don’t want a desk job or a screener job or whatever it is that they’re calling it.”
“If it were you in my position, would you take the disability and the settlement?”
“It’s not me Dana, it’s you, and so it does no good to speculate like that.”
“You just aren’t going to budge off of that stance, are you?” It was my turn to give her the evil eye. “Mel, think about what that money could do for us.”
“Us? Dana, if you decide to go for the settlement, great. I support you; but I don’t want your money. You take that to start a business and to put back for medical bills and...”
I waved my hand and interrupted her, “My medical bills will be paid...at least as far as my leg is concerned. Frankly, that’s more money than I’ll ever need. And I’m just not sure about the whole starting a business idea. No matter what I would want to do in the fields where I’ve been the happiest, I’d have to be pretty mobile. I don’t want to be the owner sitting behind a desk. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, of course.”
“If I decide to go for the money, I’d like to share it with the woman that I love. Am I missing something there?”
Mel stopped what she was doing and walked over to stand behind my chair. She looped her arms over my shoulders and pulled me back into her. Bending and laying her cheek against mine, she whispered, “I love you Dana and I’m sorry.” She pulled back up and away and then took the seat adjacent to mine.
Taking one of my hands in hers, she said, “I’m a Crane. The Cranes are a long line of self-sufficient people. We accept help for things that we aren’t capable of doing for ourselves and we help our neighbors when we can.”
“It sounds like that’s been drilled into you over a lifetime!”
“That was Grandpa Crane at his finest; may he forever rest in peace. I was raised that way by my dad who was raised that way by Grandpa. It’s hard for me to deviate from that.”
“I see. What about in this case? What about us if I accept the settlement offer?”
She stared at me for several long seconds. “Well, I suppose when we’re talking about an ‘us’ instead of a ‘me’ it isn’t just a Crane thing.”
“So, there’d be an exception to the Crane rule of living then?” I grinned my brightest at her.
She shook her head and grinned back at me, “I guess!”
“And you’re sure?”
Mel leaned toward me and kissed me. Putting my hands on her shoulders, I hauled her closer. This wasn’t a simple kiss, a loving kiss. I attacked her with a full-blown cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die kiss. I rubbed my lips across hers building an incredible tingling friction. My tongue peeked from my lips and I tasted her seam. She hummed in response, the vibration only adding to the intensity of our closed-mouth kiss.
I dipped and opened up just enough to suck her bottom lip between my teeth. Nibbling and biting, I teased her resolve. She was a woman of depth, loving the bits of pain along with her pleasure. I nipped harder and she finally relented. She grasped the side of my head in both palms and tilted my head up to take my mouth more fully.
She swiped her tongue through my mouth tasting me. She completely took over and sealing her lips to mine, had me moaning and sighing down her throat.
When she finally pulled back and eased her hands around my neck, I gasped for air. A Cheshire cat grin spread my lips. My cheeks warm with the blush of desire.
“I’m absolutely sure!”
Reclining in bed, I rested my head on Mel’s shoulder. She was stroking my hair, long calming, slightly arousing strokes from my scalp down the length of my long hair. My scalp was tingling with her touch, my eyes already closing. The worries of the day eased from my mind.
Her other hand rubbed up and down my arm, slowly. My muscles warmed and loosened, my arm comfortably heavy. Absently, I wished she would do the same to my thigh. The dull ache of the wound still bothered me more than I was willing to admit. I leaned back against her more. Her arms wrapped around me. I sighed, and she kissed the side of my cheek.
We sat there in silence. I had no idea what she was thinking about, but I was happy for the quiet. It was as soothing as her touch.
Lifting my hair away from my neck, she kissed me again and I moaned. The soft press of her lips brought back the earlier kiss we’d shared in the kitchen. It was heat and passion, love and respect. It was everything I adored in Mel.
I shifted in her embrace and twisted my neck to return the love. She stopped me with a palm to my cheek. I blinked at her and opened my mouth to protest. She shook her head and eased down, her back flat on the bed, head propped on her pillow. While keeping me within her arms, she eased me down as well.
The bedroom light was already out, the door shut even though we were blissfully alone in the house again. The window was open, and a cool breeze brushed over us.
After pulling me more on top of her to lie on my back, Mel yanked the covers up and once again began to caress and stroke every bit of my skin she could reach. I was dressed in a simple cotton tank and a pair of flannel shorts. Even through the clothing, I could feel the heat of her body and I melted into its coziness.
Mel slipped her hand under the elastic of my shorts and sifted her fingers in my curls. I sighed, stretching my muscles as I spread my legs a bit and dropped one knee over her leg. My thigh tingled as the muscles pulled at the injury and I sucked a sharp breath. She slowed her touch.
“Just my wound,” I told her. I pasted a smile on my face and turned toward her. “I’m fine.”
Her doubt didn’t need words; it showed on her face. She already knew me better than I knew myself.
“I promise I’m fine.” I tried to assure her a second time and she nodded, though it was for my benefit alone.
She shushed me and began to move her fingers again under my shorts. Her other palm found my breast and she kneaded the flesh, rubbing tiny circles over my nipples. I moaned and arched a bit. I could feel the hard tips of her own nipples brushing against my back and shoulders as I writhed atop her.
“Touch yourself,” she whispered in my ear and I whimpered as her warm breath tickled the whorls of my ear and caressed the tiny hairs within. I lifted a nearly asleep arm and did as she requested, treating my other breast to the same ministrations she made upon the other. As she quickened her circles, so I mimicked. When she rolled my peaked nipple between her thumb and forefinger that too, I repeated.
The strange combination of my touch and her touch had me panting with need.
Her fingers teased my clit gently at first but grew bolder with my husky breaths. She stroked my slit, spreading my moisture up and around my clit with torturous caresses. A fingertip slipped between my folds and pushed up and into me. My ass ground and squirmed above her mound and I felt the flutter of her stomach along my spine.
She worked her digit inside me, petting my inner walls and tapping on the spongy nerves of my G-spot. Adding a second finger, she swirled her wrist and flexed her hand. A third finger and I was bucking wildly atop her.
The whole experience was different. We had made love often since we’d met – as much as possible given our circumstances – but always face to face. This time, however, unable to see Mel and to watch the desire flare in her eyes or the flush of her body as her own orgasm grew ever nearer, literally in her hands, I felt closer to her than I had ever before. I felt safe, loved, and adored.
Despite my undulations, Mel continued to pleasure me slowly and gently. When I cursed softly, begging her to move faster and deeper, she laughed that laugh that I’ve both loved and loathed since I first met her. This time, her throaty chuckle got me hotter. She was so damn sexy!
“We have all night, Dana, let me love you.”
I rolled my eyes and dropped a hand between my legs to cover hers. We shall see...
Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
Noland Troutman III looked at himself in his rearview mirror and adjusted a lock of his sandy blond hair to be just so. He guided the black Audi that was a present from his father for his 21st birthday to the front door of the Zanesville City Club. The car had a few years on it now and he had decided it was time for a new one but that would have to wait until after the election.
As he stepped out in front of the valet station, he straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and checked the fall of the crease in his pants. He wished he could have worn his Columbus Police Department dress blues to look older and more authoritative, but he was here representing himself today and not the hour distant department. He shook his head at the thought that he wouldn’t have to be going around making speeches at all if Crane hadn’t gone and thrown her hat into the ring.
The Valet approached him. “Park it away from other cars. I don’t want any dings.” He handed off his keys and went inside.
The membership of the club was a roster of the politicos and the old money families of Zanesville. His great grandfather, a sawmill owner back in the day, had been one of its founding members. His grandfather, Noland Troutman Jr., was a current member but he wouldn’t be present today. He maintained a residence in Zanesville, but he wasn’t there often. Right now, he was Sail fishing in the Bahamas. It was just as well; Noland wanted to work the good old boys of the Club before and after his speech without the input and the meddling of his grandfather. This was his chance to score some covert points with the real movers and shakers in town.
A tuxedoed man at the member desk greeted him. “May I help you sir?”
Troutman didn’t extend his hand to the man. He was the help after all, not a member. He drew himself up though and stated, “Noland Troutman III, candidate for Sheriff. I’ll be addressing the Club today.”
“Very good sir. One moment.” The man stepped away and returned moments later with a portly balding man with a Roosevelt style mustache that must have been years in the making.
“Mr. Troutman, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” The man clasped his hand. “I’m Stanley Chappell, the club Secretary.”
“Mr. Chappell, the pleasure is mine.”
“Our families go quite a way back, the Chappell’s and the Troutman’s. Your Grandfather speaks very highly of you. I must say though, I thought you were a little bit older.”
Troutman grimaced internally but steeled his face. “I’m 24 Mr. Secretary and I’ll be 25 by the time I take office as your next Sheriff. I believe it’s experience and drive that counts, not my age.”
A third man, one with roughhewn features who appeared to be in his late 50s or early sixties, joined them at that moment. “Experience you say? Crane, who’s already serving in the position, has several years on the force and more than a year as the Sheriff. She’s doing a fine job.”
“Noland...I presume it’s all right to call you Noland?” At his affirming nod, the Secretary continued, “Might I present Aiden Quinn Jr., our reigning club President.”
“Mr. Quinn.” Troutman extended his hand but withdrew it quickly when Quinn ignored it. In a little bit of a setback for himself, he knew Crane had just cracked a major case that involved Quinn properties and employees and he had half expected Quinn to be one of her supporters. The open hostility to him though came as a surprise. The Troutmans and Quinns had always maintained a cordial local relationship.
He nodded to Quinn, “With all due respect to Ms. Crane sir,” he reminded himself not to call her ‘Sheriff’, “I too practically grew up here. I know the area and the people here quite well.” Troutman looked between Chappell and Quinn pointedly, letting the implication that he also knew the unspoken class structure of the area sink in. He continued, “A few years on the Columbus City force has prepared me well beyond my years to handle any criminal activity going on in Muskingum County and my background will assist me in handling more delicate matters.”
A bell sounded. A man in tuxedoed livery informed the gathered men and a small smattering of women milling about that luncheon was served.
Noland Troutman looked about. The stars of the small city had come out for this luncheon meeting, no doubt to hear him speak. He puffed out his chest a bit but then grimaced as he noticed the Mayor among the crowd, a Democrat in a city of mostly conservative Republicans. He’d have to be sure to get out the old money and the senior votes to win the election and he knew just what to do. That’s why he was here, in this particular place, after all.
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