a mystery novel by Ann Lynes
J.D."How are you making out with our child pornography suspect? Has she given you any substantial evidence?" A voice that I recognized as Agent Morrison asked when I picked up the phone.
It was two in the morning according to my nightstand alarm clock. My window was ajar, blowing in cold air. The flames in the fireplace had burned out several hours ago.
I blinked rapidly, trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness. Sitting up, I pulled the wool blanket close to my shivering body.
"I told you it was going to take awhile. I'll keep you updated."
"Have you made contact?" Morrison persisted, emphasizing each word.
An anonymous tip had led us to Cassandra Martin. A person she had tried to sell child pornography to. It was hard to get a fix on her because she didn't hang out in the sex chat groups like most of our suspects. I had all but given up hope when I stumbled into the #chat channel.
"My method--although slow--in the long run will provide us with far more information." I smiled, thinking of how I had waited hours on the #chat channel that first night for Cassandra, but she finally showed up as she had every night for weeks.
"And yes, Agent Morrison, I have made contact with her."
Morrison was silent for a moment. I could heard his fingers drumming across his desk. One clear sign he was upset. I prayed the silence would last forever, or at least long enough to buy myself time to convince him my way was the best way to execute our investigation.
"Okay," Morrison said after a while, "but I want a detailed updated report every week."
He paused again, "And please don't get yourself into trouble."
I couldn't argue with him. After all, he was my superior officer. His last words stung, though, as if I'd been slapped. I was an adult. I could handle anything that was thrown my way. "Were you able to change Judge Stadler's mind about letting us put the surveillance equipment in the suspects' home?"
"It took a bit of coaxing, but the Judge decided to start the paperwork."
"How much money did you bribe him with?," I retorted. I wasn't sure about this. I knew we had to catch our suspect in the act, but I wondered if we were violating her privacy or breaking the constitution.
"Are you sure the surveillance equipment is necessary?"
"Do you want to catch this scumball or not?" Morrison was silent again. "You aren't re-thinking this, are you? You, of all people, should understand how important it is to catch criminals in the act. Think of your son's future."
He was pulling out all the punches. He knew how much my son meant to me. "Does that mean bribing a judge?"
"We will do whatever it takes." He didn't deny exchanging money for the Judge's approval of the surveillance equipment. Maybe being a FBI agent wasn't as ethical as I had thought.
After I replaced the receiver in its cradle, I realized I was wide awake. There was no way I would be able to get back to sleep. I pulled my lap top out from under the bed, flipping it open. Swiftly proceeding into my Internet account, I grinned when I noticed the e-mail from Cassandra. My heart pounded before I took a deep breath.
"A Tom Hanks type, huh?," I read aloud. "I enjoyed Forest Gump and Philadelphia when I saw them on video," I continued reading, taking a sip of water from a thermos I left on the nightstand every night. I tended to wake up at strange hours with a burning thirst.
"What do you do for a living and in your spare time?," she asked.
I thought about what I was going to tell her. I couldn't tell her I was a FBI agent, trying to squeeze information out of her boyfriend. "I am a police officer. I guess my wife felt that the police station was my mistress. I use to spend all my time there. I slept on a cot set up in the back room. Since my wife left, I now find myself with too much time to think." I mustered enough curious to add, "Are you seeing anyone?"
I waited a few moments before she replied, "I own my own travel agency, working out of my garage." He laughed. He could picture her laying on her stomach, head up, dressed in a lacy black negligee. Her long, trim legs uncovered. Finally returning my thoughts back to her message. "I have been dating a psychologist for a while now."
"What's he like? Anything like your ex-?"
"Nothing--he's sweet, thoughtful, kind, etc."
I must have been talking to the wrong woman, maybe a different side of the same woman. Maybe this was the way she acted to gain someone's trust. I scrolled down to read the rest of her message, "Tell me about your philosophy of life."
That was definitely a weird question. "My philosophy on life," I typed, then stopped. I wasn't sure I had one. "I believed as long as I did my best to be good on Earth, the afterlife would take care of itself, if there was one."
She wrote back, "I was raised in a Christian home, so my belief is that God exists somewhere. I don't understand why he allows bad things to happen to good people in the name of trials and tribulations. Where is he then, I think. Where was he when I was being beat up so often I had my own room at the hospital? Where was he when my sister died of leukemia? My little sister."
I sat there for a moment, staring at the screen, re-reading her message several times. "Yeah, where was He when my wife left me for another man?"
"Do you believe He exists?"
"In some sense, I guess, I do." I never really thought about the existence of a Higher Power before. Every Sunday I dressed up in a suit and tie and was carted off to Sunday School and then to sit in the sanctuary when I was older. I had listened to the stories of Joseph and the coat of many colors and the story of how Jesus died on the cross for the sins of humans, but I was never forced to believe.
In some ways, I felt I was being conned--listening to the sermon for a price, the offering plate that was past around. I could sit home and read the whole Bible for free.
I pulled out the nightstand drawer and retrieved a manila envelope. After shutting the drawer, I slid the photographs out and glanced at the pictures of a woman, in her early thirties. Her dark hair flowed about her shoulders, covering her chest. Her eyes sparkled like greenish-brown stars with a hint of golden flecks. Her thin lips pursed, ready to receive her lover's kiss. Dressed in an eggshell, off-the- shoulder evening gown; her milky shoulder were exposed under her wild mane. The dress hugged her body so tightly that I could make out the soft curves of her feminine hips and even the smallest glimpse of a firm backside.
I found my heart pounding at the very sight of Cassandra. Even if she was in the arms of Richard Schmitz.
* * * * *"How was your outing with your son?" I read as I sat down to my laptop after fixing myself a good stiff drink. The day had been horrible, to say the least. I tried to take Bobby to Kiddyland Amusement Park, but his mother and her new boyfriend, Calvin, were already there with Calvin's twins--Letrisha and Damian. I got the impression Bobby didn't like Letrisha and Damian when he started grabbing my leg, as if it were the last beam of a ship going down. Amber, my ex-, kept whispering in my ear about how Calvin would handle situations differently, particularly when Bobby got blue cotton candy stuck in his hair.
"My son wants to come live with me," I wrote back. Bobby announced half-way through lunch while sitting on picnic tables and munching down hot dogs, potato chips, and drinking Doctor Pepper that he wanted to live with me. I tried to explain to him that the FBI life was too dangerous to include a little boy, but he didn't understand. He kept flashing those big brown eyes at me.
"He's just a boy. He shouldn't be subject to the uncertainty of a policeman's life." The truth was I was secretly thrilled when Bobby made that announcement. It meant that Calvin was taking my place as Bobby's father.
"How does your ex- feel about that?," Cassandra responded. "Doesn't she have a new live-in boyfriend? Calvin, wasn't it?"
I remembered when Amber had pulled me onto the back porch of the home that we had picked out together, spend months decorating, and the home we were suppose to raise our family and grow old in. It was after we had returned from Kiddyland.
"If you think I am going to let you take my son without a fight," her grayish eyes consumed with rage, "you have a real hard lesson to learn." She shook her fist at me.
"She's not pleased," I typed, trying to think of a colorful antidote to lighten the mood to no avail. "Calvin has visitation rights to his own two children. I can't believe our justice system would let a known drug dealer near children with supervision."
"Did you know Calvin before you found him in bed with your wife?"
"I led the police squad that broke up his narcotics ring." I did lead the FBI unit that moved in on Calvin's national narcotics ring, with dealers all across the country. We had been tracking the ring for a year before I went undercover as a new recruit. I made Calvin trust me, and he even had dinner at our house. A big mistake, as I look back on it now. "After he was released, he got his revenge by stealing my wife."
"How are you doing?" I wrote back after a few silent moments. It had occurred to me that in a normal investigation I wouldn't have indulged that much personal information to a suspect. I didn't even know what possessed me. It was almost as if a spell had been cast on me. My stomach tightened.
"I said 'yes' to Richard," her response came back. "I figured that 'Mr. Right' was a fictitious concept. Marriage based on friendship has to work out better than my last marriage."
I felt myself whelming up with anger. I had no claim on this woman. Why was I so upset that she was planning to marry? Was it Richard? Or maybe more for her than I had originally assessed? "Are you happy?" When I saw the words on the screen, I wished I could convey to her why she shouldn't marry Richard. If she was our child pornography suspect, there would be no wedding anyway. I wanted to stop the wedding. I needed to distance myself from her. I couldn't fall in love with a child pornography suspect. I turned off the computer, grabbed my brown leather jacket and dashed off to work.
* * * * *A few months had past, and Cassandra and I were becoming more intimate. We talked in our own private channel at eight o'clock every evening. Talking about everything from religion to what we liked when it came to relationships. I kept wondering how to get Richard out of the picture. From what I knew of Richard, Cassandra wasn't in love with him; there was no magic between them, she had mentioned on countless occasions. I wished that Richard would step aside and leave Cassandra and me alone. I didn't even know if Richard knew about me.
I sat in my Lazy Boy lounge chair, fast forwarding a video tape of Cassandra. A small video camera had been installed the air duct above the computer in Cassandra's home and agency, as well as Richard's home computer. I had spent an entire week viewing and studying three months of surveillance tapes.
Cassandra woke up every morning at 6 am, jumped into her twenty-minute shower, fixed her breakfast--scrambled eggs, bacon, a toast with grape jam, and one cup of black coffee-- after putting on the clothes that she had set out the night before. When she was finished skimming the headlines, she headed to the travel agency.
She arrived precisely at 7 am every morning, leaving the agency at 5 or 6 pm, leaving the agency in the capable hands of her assistant Clayton Wilson until 9 pm, when the agency closed. Cassandra took an hour for lunch, where she always dined new clients or new cruise/hotel/car representatives.
Arriving home, she would check her messages--both of the answering machine and e-mail before rifling through the mail--which she sorted into three piles--business, personal, and garbage. She changed her clothes and beautified herself in a fifteen minute make-up, hair-styling session for her seven o'clock date with Richard.
When she came home, she checked her messages, replied to her e-mail, chatted with her #chat friends on IRC for a half hour. Before retiring for the night, she set out her clothes for the next day. Her daily routine was almost hypnotizing. I had to stop myself from falling asleep.
Nowhere in the tapes of Cassandra's business or personal life did I see her down-load child pornography or sell it. The closest she came to selling anything was the SABRE travel on-line software she used to book cars, hotels, airline tickets, cruises, etc. for clients. A dead end.
Absent-mindedly I put the video tape of Doctor Schmitz's hidden camera in the VCR. I played it. I fast-forwarded until I saw Richard utilizing his computer. He was chatting on IRC in the #char channel, so I kept fast forwarding until I noticed him move out of the IRC and back to the main menu. He selected the World Wide Web.
When I paused the frame, a picture of a naked long blond- haired, blue-eyed girl about fourteen years old, stretched out on a bear-skinned rug with a man--dark-haired with gold- trimmed glasses, about thirty--fondling her. I unfreezed the frame, watching him down-load the pictures. He went into his e-mail and sent the pictures to the e-mail address- -firstname.lastname@example.org an attached message.
"Here are the pictures you paid for. Enjoy. Thanks for your business and tell your friends."
I watched as he down-loaded more images and sent them to his clients several more times before I rewound the tape. I carefully rewound it to the point where Doctor Schmitz signed in. I knew Cassandra's login and password. I couldn't see the screen as well as I would have liked, having to concentrating mostly on the strokes of the keyboard.
He lined his fingers up on home row--the A-S-D-F, etc. line. With his middle finger of his left hand, he dipped down to press the "C." His left pinky hit the "A," then the left ring finger hit the "S" twice. Striking the "I" with his right middle finger, he hit the "E" with his left. Cassie. When I saw his left ring finger move toward the "W," I knew he was spelling "Wonka." We had our person.
I immediately dialed Agent Morrison. "I've got all the evidence we need to put our child pornography suspect behind bars."
"Wonderful." I could hear a smile crack Morrison's lips. "We'll finally put this case to rest."
I stopped the tape. "I've been watching hours of Ms. Martin's boring routine of going to work and never even going near the World Wide Web."
"I thought you said you had evidence."
I interrupted him. "Doctor Schmitz--I've got three months worth of tapes of him using Ms. Martin's account to down- load and sell pornography."
"Are you sure its Doctor Schmitz?"
A silence hit the telephone waves for a moment before Morrison replied, "You and Agent Hoffman are flying out to Phoenix to lead the local police to him."
"Hoffman?" My eyes widened. "Amber? No way. Couldn't you send anyone other than my ex-?"
Another silence. "She's one of the best FBI agents I have. You will be civil."
"But, Agent Morrison, you're putting me in a very awkward position."
"I have every confidence that you'll handle it just fine." The phone went dead in my hand.
Cassandra wasn't the criminal after all. She was going to marry that child pornography criminal. Oh God, I had to warn her. Warning her would mean exposing my true identity. I wasn't sure whether to tell her myself or let her find out when the conviction of Doctor Schmitz hit the national newspapers. I decided I had to visit while I was "in the neighborhood."
Cassandra and I were about to meet face to face. My heart beat so rapidly, I was afraid I was having a heart attack.
* * * * *Amber and I accompanied two male police officers--dressed in dark blue, pressed uniforms with shiny silver buttons and badges and the gold Phoenix bird on their sleeves--in two separate white, blue-striped police cars. The Phoenix city logo on the doors.
We pulled up in front of Doctor Schmitz's large, two-story, white house with a waist-high chain-length fence around his freshly manicured, green grass. His shutters were painted a brick red like the trim.
Unlocking the gate, we marched up the sidewalk leading up to the house. I emerged in from the small crowd to knock on the door. "FBI. Open up." I pulled out my revolver.
I heard a feminine voice from within shout, "Come on, Richard, open the damn door. You have nothing to hide."
The voice matched the voice on the videotapes that I had come to recognize as Cassandra's. God, I didn't want to have to involve her anymore than I had to.
Finally the door opened, revealing a dark-haired man with smoky-blue eyes. I caught a glimpse of Cassandra in the background, wearing a long, forest green sweater that brought the green out in her eyes and a pair of new jeans.
The police officers moved forward and were forcefully turning Doctor Schmitz around when I found my voice. "Doctor Schmitz, you are under arrest for down-loading and selling child pornography."
He wiggled wildly, kicking as the officers tried to handcuff him. "You've made a mistake. She's the guilty party." He pointed to the calm woman with her arms crossed against her chest.
Cassandra didn't speak or move a muscle.
"We were originally under the same impression, Doctor, but we reviewed the surveillance tapes from our hidden cameras." I tightened my grip on my revolver.
"I'm sure you know what we found. You selling pornography via Ms. Martin's account." I nodded to the officers as they led Doctor Schmitz to the police car.
"I'll need you to come down to the Police Station as well, Ms. Martin." I put away my revolver, holding out my hand. "My suggestion is to have your e-mail account's login and password changed immediately."
She nodded, slowly moving toward me. She seem reluctant. "I don't remember giving my current ones to him," she whispered in a shaky voice.
"You may not have." I reached for her arm as she came close enough. "He is very sneaky."
I led her out to the police car. Since Amber and one police officer were already pushing Doctor Schmitz into one police car, I helped her into the back seat of the other car. I climbed in beside her.
Home · Chapter One · Chapter Two · Chapter Three · Chapter Four · Chapter Five
Chapter Six · Chapter Seven · Chapter Eight · Chapter Nine · Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven · Chapter Twelve · Chapter Thirteen
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