“The office is cleared and secure, the judge can come up whenever he is ready.” The chief goon said into the microphone clipped inside the right sleeve of his sports coat. Just moments before he and his subordinate, now standing guard just outside in the deserted hallway, had stormed into my office unannounced, the apparent security for the mystery man who was my seven o’clock in the morning appointment.
The goons had caught me off guard while I was in the small adjoining bathroom trying to clean out the sour residue of last night’s tequila in my mouth with an entire tube of toothpaste. The office door was unlocked and both charged in like bulls in a china shop with pistols drawn sweeping the room as if they expected to find a terrorist slumber party. I immediately pegged both of them as poorly trained bodyguards and instinctively knew not to make any sudden moves knowing they were overeager to shoot something. Given the times, whatever lawyer their employer had on retainer would easily take care of any legal mess they created had they blown me away after I made a suicidal rush towards my own weapon.
“Morning fellas, you must work for my new client, I almost didn't hear you come in, you sounded as soft and gentle as the rain outside.” I said, slowly turning back to the sink to finish my morning routine while I listen to them rifle through the drawers in my desk and the cushions of my couch. The metallic clicks I heard behind me told me one of the goons had found my Sig Sauer P226 and removed the magazine then cleared the bullet from the chamber.
Still moving slowly I walked over to my desk and sat down to wait for what must be either a very important person or a paranoid asshole with large egotistical delusions about him or herself. It did not take long to learn I was right on both counts.
From the window behind me lightning flashed, flooding my office with an eerie blue glow with the loud clap of thunder soon following adding a heavy dose of foreboding that even disturbed the robot nature of the bodyguard watching over me. After declaring the office safe, he returned his pistol to his high-tech shoulder holster under his sports coat but kept his arms positioned in such a way that he could remove it in a couple of second. To see him flinch at lightning was funny but I stifled any laugh when I saw two figures out in the hallway reach the top of the stairs.
I immediately recognized the very important person as the former governor of Georgia, Ben Franklin Wright, former actor and unless something bad happened the next president of the United States. The other guy I knew by general reputation, his tailored sports cost was emblazed with the coat of arms of Gilead Military Protection Services, one of the biggest private military contracting companies in the country making him a slightly higher order of lifeform than most viruses. Being a former Marine officer I was of course bias in my opinion, where as many in service still held to a form of honor and duty, private military contractors only answered to who paid the most.
“You must be Evan Connors, the renowned private investigator,” the governor said while grabbing one of the office chairs visitors use while the high paid mercenary stood behind him closing the umbrella that he used to protect his well-heeled boss from the rain. The mercenary had special ops written all over him, the governor must be paying him well for such a degrading job.
“Well, your boys seem certain with them rushing in my office unannounced with weapons drawn. It would have been real funny had they gone into the wrong office and shot some unsuspecting fool.” I say looking at the goon in my office who seemed even less life-like now.
“Excuse my men.” The governor chuckled good naturedly, “it’s one of my promises to the American people; see I won’t use taxpayer’s dollars for protection until I’m elected president.
“November is a long time away governor,” I said. While I detest all politicians in general, seeing Wright in my office he seethed with an extreme arrogance that he tried his best to hide under a good-old country boy’s affable personality.
From the late 80’s to the early 90’s the man made his fame on television as Judge Marcus Tiberius Howard, a modern cross between television’s wise and peaceful Sheriff Andy Taylor and Rambo. During his four years on television, he offered up sage advice to the peace loving citizens of a fictional Georgia county. For criminals and any other person daring to disturb the tranquility of his territory they usually received several loads of buckshot from his Remington pump shotgun named “Gracie.”
After the series was cancelled, he moved to Georgia and parlayed his celebrity into a seat in congress and later the governorship. As the presidential campaign heated up, he had came out of nowhere blowing away the entire collection of lackluster freaks already running for his party’s nomination. With the convention two months away and the economy still in a coma, polls suggested he would crush the current president in a landslide.
The governor gave me a hard look suggesting he did not care for me questioning his near certain November victory. “That’s what brings me here Connor,” he said,” I need your talents in locating my oldest daughter, Rebecca Wright. She has always been a troubled child and a little over six months ago, she finally ran away. I’ve hired other investigators but they could not find her. I’m friends with one of your former clients and he said you are the best at finding missing people and that you are discreet and a person who asks no questions.”
“That is true,” I said, “but did my former client also say a person with my talents and discreet traits is also very expensive.” While I was a private investigator, I considered myself more of an urban tracker, specializing in finding the spoiled and destructive offspring of the rich and famous without the press finding out.
“I’m all for the capitalist system my friend, you will be paid anything you want as long as you have my daughter back home before the convention in Tampa.” The governor said crossing his arms. It was clear he was disturbed at my lack of fawning over his presence. “Just how much is it going to cost to have my daughter back?”
“Since you can afford such high quality protection,” I said motioning to the mercenary standing behind him, “one million dollars cash, in small bills and the press will never know your daughter left home. I just need a detailed biography on Rebecca, currents pictures, and a list of her acquaintances.” My talent at winning friends and impressing people showed itself again with the mercenary now glaring at me as if he wanted to slit my throat. Given how I feel about mercenaries, any other time I would have handed him a knife and dared him to jump.
The good governor, whose demeanor when entering my office was close to the friendly country boy he liked to display in public, was now closer to an evil sorcerer about to curse some errant soul. My instincts told me this was his true personality.
“Fine, I’ll make sure Charles here gets what you need by tonight,” he said motioning to the mercenary behind him. “But I warn you boy, don’t cross me, it will be the last thing you ever do.” With that, he got up and walked out of my office gesturing all three of his flunkies to leave with him. The mercenary was still glaring at me as he closely followed the good governor out the door. Just for shits and giggles, I blew him a kiss to show my affection. That is when the memories came flooding back.
The images of those dark days in Iraq will be burned in my brain until the day I die. Hell, they may even haunt me after that as my punishment. For weeks after the events, I tried to ignore the scenes as they played through my mind, it was war and like old Sherman said a long time ago it’s a mother fucking hell on wheels.
After realizing the memories would never go away, the next step was justification. I told myself the Iraqi locals had it coming, people in their shit hole neighborhood had fired several RPG’s on an American convoy killing six and burning three others so badly that it would have been far better if their buddies had shot them. Years of painful operations, skin grafts, and therapy just to live out your days in a VA hospital without any arms or legs with even your aging parents unable to look at what remains of your burnt face, now that would be worse than hell for me. So in a way I guess I’m lucky, all I have to deal with are the mental scars.
But I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes sit at my desk with my pistol, a round in the chamber, inches from my hand and a bottle of tequila next it trying to find the courage to put the barrel to my head and pull the trigger. But I don’t, the memories are my special punishment for the things I have done and let other people do.
That evening after the ambush, a search of our sector was hastily organizes with the entire brigade out for vengeance. We fanned out into the neighborhoods busting down doors and tearing apart the meager possessions of terrified women and children who huddled in dark corners while husbands and young men stared at us, their hate so intense they almost glowed.
It was a long, awful night with both Americans and Iraqis bathed in the darkest of human emotions. As the night progressed and each house turned up empty our frustrations only grew and barring a firefight we all wondered how things could get worse. For my platoon the answer to that question was the arrival of three armored vans loaded with army intelligence types, assorted spooks, and heavily armed military contractors wearing Kevlar helmets adorned with the snazzy logo of Gilead Military Protection Services.
They rounded up over twenty civilians, including children, with the clear intent of hauling them off for “questioning”, which my platoon and I knew was a joke even in our bloody quest for revenge. It was when one of the mercenaries went after a young, attractive Iraqi woman with military intelligence gathering the last thing on his mind that my head cleared and I tackled the guy landing several blows from the butt of my M-4 carbine on his head. The next thing I know I was thrown off the mercenary by several of his buddies, then found myself facing the business ends of their rifles.
My platoon responded immediately pointing their weapons at the hired thugs, spooks, and army pencil pushers with a fire fight between us a real possibility. At least the mercenary I tackled and beat the hell out of was still on the ground.
“Stand down you motherfuckers!” An army colonel yelled running toward us taking a position between the two units. My gunnery sergeant and another Marine from my platoon pulled me away from the Gilead people and I whipped out my sidearm taking dead aim at the mercenary in charge, had that colonel not pushed me back I would have blown the bastard away.
“Don’t do it lieutenant,” the colonel yelled at me, “I know these bastards are thugs but you and your men will lose if you go against them, they have friends in high places. Stand down, I’ll do my best to protect these civilians.”
With that I did stand down watching the mercenaries gather up scared people innocent of everything but being born in a poor third-world shithole that had some significance in the geo-political game played by governments and corporations.
The high-paid thug I had beat was back up, again going after the young woman he had taken an interest in. “What goes around bitch comes around,” I heard him say as he threw the woman up into the back of a cargo truck. I did my duty the best I could for the rest of my tour in Iraq, after returning home I served out the remainder of my enlistment and left the service after that.
Three weeks after my meeting with Governor Wright, I’m sitting in my rental car outside a seedy Los Angeles diner in a very bad neighborhood reviewing the information I had on his daughter. Finding Rebecca was easy, the girl had disappeared from her father’s house on Tybee Island off the coast of Georgia without a trace leaving all forms of identification, credit cards, and possessions behind. The trick at finding Rebecca was determining her best friend was a girl named Jennifer McDonald who lived several houses down on the same seaside street. After that, everything opened up like a cracked egg.
It didn’t take long to discover that an illegal from El Salvador working in the McDonald household had contacts with people who made forged identification. Putting a little squeeze on the poor guy got me the name of the forger, applying significant pressure him got me the name Rebecca was working under, but not the location. For that, I had to watch Jennifer McDonald and wait for her to make a move.
The other investigator’s Governor Wright hired had of course thought of bugging the Jennifer’s home phone and tracking the wireless communication of her cell and laptop but that got them nothing, what they did not check was the local library and her using the internet there. It took over a week of discreet observation and stealthy shadowing but I eventually collected enough information from her that after breaking into the room the library kept the internet server I was able to hack into Jennifer’s secret email account. I only had to read three emails from Rebecca before I discovered her location.
That’s when things fell apart, Rebecca was not acting like the usual self-destructive brat. Instead of living on the street, doing drugs and prostitution she had taken a job as a waitress and was living a quiet life in a rundown apartment complex a few miles down the road. Needing more information, I hacked back into the email exchanges between her and Jennifer. While they did not say anything in the open, it was clear they shared some dark secret. I wanted more time to understand what was going on but I had mistakenly told the governor I had found his daughter and he was demanding I bring her home immediately. Going against my usual habits, I broke into her apartment while she was at work looking for some insight into her reasons for running away.
Breaking in was child’s play but once again I found she went completely against the grain of the usual self-destructive rich kid. Her apartment was clean and well organized with no drugs or alcohol anywhere to be found. The answers came from her handwritten journal I found on the small desk in her bedroom. It chronicled her life from the death of her mother, the governor’s first wife, and then years of sexual abuse by her father. More bone chilling was how Rebecca wrote that the governor’s entourage, namely his personal Gilead bodyguard, Charles, covered up her abuse. The reoccurring theme through all of this was how all she wanted was to be free of her father and to have a normal life. However, the saddest part was reading of how powerless she felt in the face of what Governor Wright was doing to her and how no one would believe her if she went to the police.
Four hours later the keys jiggling outside the door warned me Rebecca was home. After reading everything, I found myself unable to move, much less leave her apartment. Both she and I were too entangled with her ambitious and deranged father to ever be set free, we were both dangerous loose ends that could be fatal to his plans on becoming the next president. That left only one real option and unfortunately Rebecca would have to bear the brunt of my plan.
The door opened and Rebecca froze like a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing car seeing me inside her apartment. Before she could scream or move I slammed the door shut and placed my hand over her mouth. It was vital I gain her trust as quickly as possible so I had to choose my words carefully. “Rebecca, I know what your father has done to you for years. I have a plan that will mean a normal life for you free of your father and his flunkies. But it is dangerous and very dirty. Do you want to hear it?”
The young lady silently looked at me for several seconds, in her I mind I suspect she weighed the chances of some strange man she did not know appearing out of nowhere and having good intentions. But after reading about her nearly twenty years of torture I guess she was ready to grasp at any chance for help that might come her way. “Yes, I will do anything you want if it gets my father out of my life.” She said after I moved my hand away.
Sometime the next morning her father and his chief protector and ass kisser, Charles, were to arrive at a private airport outside Los Angeles so things had to move fast if my plan was going to work. I sat Rebecca down on her worn couch and removed the .357 derringer I kept hidden in an ankle holster and after removing the four bullets inside handed it to her. Rebecca looked like she was about to panic handling the small weapon but I began explaining what she had to do and she slowly calmed down. Everything depended on whether Rebecca could conceal the derringer and keep it very close until her father made his usual moves.
The next morning Rebecca and I were waiting at the private airport as Governor Wright’s private jet arrived. After the door to the small plane was opened, Rebecca wordlessly walked over from my car to her father and Charles and climbed abroad the aircraft never acknowledging their presence. The good governor at least had the grace to hand me the duffel bag full of cash before re-boarding himself and leaving. As the jet disappeared into the California sky, I said a small prayer to an inattentive god that Rebecca might soon be free.
Several days passed after Rebecca returned home with no news coming out of the Wright household except the usual stuff about the certainty of his upcoming presidential nomination. I almost began to worry that something had gone wrong or that Rebecca had become to frightened to act.
Then suddenly the American press goes ballistic with word that the former governor was murdered in his Tybee Island mansion. Days passed with wild speculation ranging from a terrorist attack to political skullduggery by the other party. Things got even crazier as word leaked out that his oldest daughter was claiming her father, the near certain next president of the United States, had raped her and that there was DNA evidence to prove it.
The usual media suspects claimed it was all a grand conspiracy but the level of law enforcement that had been called in prevented any of the tragic truth from being covered up. Soon after that various people on the former governor’s staff came forward with statements that they had known something was wrong but could never exactly figure out the problem or issue. The key figure law enforcement wanted to talk with was the former governor’s personal bodyguard, a Charles Bakker, but he had apparently fled the country. A month later I am in Panama taking refuge from the heat in a seaside bar after tracking down Charles to a resort area just outside the capitol.
After checking my watch I paid what I owed to Miguel the bartender and walked out into the steamy Panamanian night. I did not have far to walk, the lights of the nightclub with its glamorous people was worlds apart from that horrible night back in Iraq with rage and fear creating a Hell-like atmosphere.
I was strangely calm and felt no need to rush the night so I took a seat on a bench across the street and waited, truthfully after all my years of finding rich brats I had more than enough money for the rest of my life and had decided to make Panama my home. Enjoying a late night breeze and planning my future I just sat there, eventually the nightclub closed with a few stranglers stumbling out. I had watched my target for days and as usual, he and the attractive lady he was living with were the last to come out and began walking up the street towards their apartment.
After that it all happened quickly, seeing them come out I rushed ahead several blocks and was waiting in the proverbial dark alley. It’s terrible when a former special operations soldier gets so lazy in observing his surroundings he becomes a joke, but who am I to look a gifted horse in the mouth.
Charles was so drunk he never felt the impact of my blows. Two guys I hired grabbed the woman with him and after placing a bag over her head to conceal our identities took her away to safety. Charles eventually sobered up enough to know the trouble he was in but by that time, my Sig P226 was an inch from his chest. I must admit at feeling unnaturally happy when he recognized me. A smile appeared on his face and I could see his muscles tensing as he made ready to counter attack.
I tried to think of something witty to say but only one thing came to mind. “What goes around bitch, comes around.” I then shot him twice in the heart and watched him die. I walked out of that alley with a clear conscious and actually looking forward to the rest of my life.