Friday, Lake Charles, Louisiana
FBI Probationary Agent Benjamin Samuels, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation sat in his van staring at nothing. He glanced at his watch for the third time in the past ten minutes. A sigh escaped his lips. Time was moving slowly. Boring.
The house he was watching had been still for hours. He reached over to the passenger seat and opened the cooler bag. Hmm…tuna sandwich, apple, a bag of peanuts, a couple of ding dongs, and some bottled water. He grabbed a ding dong, downed it in three bites and washed it down with coffee from a thermos.
He changed the CD that was playing to a more upbeat sound and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of the music. He sang along with the song and threw in some ad libs of his own. Anything to help pass the time.
It was a dead end street with lots of bushes. He was parked down the block from the home that was his assignment, well-hidden in an old overgrown driveway. There were no houses directly in front of him and he had a clear view of the old cottage and the driveway that ran up the side of the property. The black pick-up parked there, hadn’t moved since yesterday, according to the nightshift agent. Ben’s dayshift started four hours ago.
Ben heard the gurgling of his stomach and felt a sudden burning in his chest. Indigestion. Shouldn’t of had that left over chili for breakfast. He’d been late rising this morning and the chili was the only quick food he could find in his near empty fridge. Ben reopened the cooler bag and grabbed a bottle of water. He drank half the bottle, while rubbing his abdomen.
It wasn’t the FBI’s case originally. It came from out-of-state. He didn’t have all the details, except that it was a joint venture between the FBI and US Border and Customs Protection, reporting directly to a committee of Homeland Security. The subject under investigation had returned to Lake Charles, Louisiana to attend to his mother’s affairs. She’d died a week ago. The field office in New Orleans had been contacted. They covered sixty-four parishes in Louisiana, divided up under six satellite offices. Lake Charles was one of the six resident satellite offices in the state. New Orleans had passed the case on to his boss, Cam Hutchins, Resident Agent in Charge.
Ben’s job was to watch and record the subject’s activities. So far, nothing of interest had occurred—a small funeral attended by the deceased woman’s son, who was their subject, with a few Bingo lady friends, and a couple of neighbors; a quiet reception at the house; and a visit to a lawyer. Garbage bags had been put out on pick-up day and some cardboard boxes were delivered to a thrift shop. All had been confiscated by his agency, unbeknownst to the subject. All very mundane. The man had a return plane ticket to New York state and would be leaving in a few days. The field office would forward a report of their surveillance to the powers that be back east and the role his office played in the case would wrap up.
His radio crackled. “Agent Samuels? Motz here. Do you copy?”
The agent picked up his radio and addressed the SOG Specialist. The Surveillance Operations Group was contracted by the FBI to provide trained personnel to assist their Agents in surveillance ops. This arrangement freed up time and manpower for other FBI projects. “I’m here. What’s up? Over.”
“I’ll be out of the car for five minutes. Pee break. Over.”
Aaron Motz was parked out of sight one block over; ready to pick up the tail should their subject be on the move.
Ben felt a discomfort pass from his stomach into his intestines. He squirmed in his seat and drank more water. Damn chili.
As a probationary agent, he’d been with the bureau for ten months. He knew he had to cut his teeth on jobs like this. He’d spent his whole life wanting to be a part of the FBI and here he was. All he had to do was pay his dues and find ways to deal with the humdrum side of the job. These days would pass and he had big dreams for his future with the Bureau.
A few gas bubbles welled up inside his chest and he burped them out, bringing some relief to his indigestion. But he sensed he was in trouble as the discomfort grew in his lower abdomen. A glance around the van confirmed that in his rush to get to work this morning, he’d left an all important item at home—a roll of bathroom tissue. Shit. Ben groaned. Great choice of words, Einstein. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d retreated behind bushes or down laneways while on surveillance. It was a hazard of the job. Nature had her own schedule. Ben had no problem relieving himself in this manner, but no way would he succumb to this particular urge without that precious square of paper. And it had started to rain.
He glanced at his watch and noted ten minutes had passed since his conversation with Motz. “Motz, you there? Over.” Static and more static. “Motz? Over.” Damn.
Flatulence gurgled through his intestines until the gas escaped, forcing him to roll down his window for some fresh air.
He stared at the house down the street and came to a decision. One turn of the key in the ignition and the van started. He turned right onto the street and drove in the opposite direction of his charge towards the gas station two blocks down.
A few minutes later, he was back with a fresh thermos of coffee and feeling all the better for it. Ben turned around in the abandoned property and reclaimed his position in the bushes. Motz confirmed he was back in place. He released his seat belt and adjusted his seat for better comfort. Might as well be comfortable. Ben opened the thermos and poured some coffee into the lid.
He searched out the house down the street. “Oh fuck…” His hand holding the coffee to his lips froze. His eyes searched up and down the street.
“Ooh no… no…” He pounded the steering wheel with his other fist. “You’re in deep shit now.” The black pick-up was gone, leaving the gravel driveway empty, except for tufts of overgrown grass blowing in the breeze.
Fifteen minutes…fifteen fuckin’ minutes. That’s all I was gone. Ben stared at his cell phone charging in the cigarette lighter. He had no choice but to call it in. All he could think of was how he’d blown such an easy assignment. All because of some spicy chili.
The call was picked up by a receptionist. “Resident Agent Hutchins, please,” he said in a defeated voice. He punched the steering wheel one more time. Hutchins’ gonna be pissed.
Two days earlier, Wednesday afternoon
The plane dropped, tilted sideways and rose up hard. Coffee flew out of the cup in Georgia Charles-Dixon’s hand, landing on the front of her white shirt.
“Damn.” She set the cup back onto the tray and dabbed at the stain with a napkin. The plane took another dive and she put the lid on the cup and secured it in the slotted tray.
The seat belt light bonged and flashed as the P.A. system came to life. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some air turbulence. Please remain in your seats and fasten your seat belts. Thank you.”
Georgia glanced nervously at her husband in the seat beside her as she engaged the seat belt. She knew turbulence was a natural phenomenon and with all the air miles she’d clocked, she should be used to it. Fat chance.
Sean took a hold of her hand and squeezed it. “Relax. It’s nothing to worry about.” His soft soothing voice made her feel better.
She looked through the window and saw nothing but forests below. They were somewhere over northern California. Soon they’d be landing in Los Angeles. Her thoughts focused on their trip. Sean would remain in L.A. for three days on movie business. She was catching a connecting flight to Houston, Texas to appear as a guest speaker at a Writer’s Convention. She had come to enjoy speaking at events. They brought her to places she would never have visited and introduced her to many interesting people. But, lately, they’d become a chore.
The plane shuddered and shook as they hit another air pocket. “Uhh …” Georgia sucked in her breathe, her body tensing against the back of the seat.
Sean leaned closer to her and tightened his grip on her hand. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course. I’m being silly. I’ve never been fond of flying, but since I’ve become a parent, I’m more aware of my mortality.”
“I think parenthood does that to a lot of people, especially mothers.”
“It doesn’t help knowing the girls were upset we left them with Grams.” Georgia thought about her daughters, Kaela and Shelby. They’d just celebrated their ninth birthday..
Sean loosened his grip on her hand. “It’s the first time that we left them without one of us being there.”
Kaela was her birth daughter from a previous marriage. Shelby was Kaela’s half-sister. The girls were born a couple of weeks part, the result of her ex-husband’s affair during his marriage to Georgia. Both women became pregnant around the same time. Georgia adopted Shelby when her ex-husband and his second wife had both died only months apart. Two and a half years ago, Georgia married Sean and he adopted the girls as his own.
They were a family.
Georgia sighed. “I knew Shelby might be upset with both of us away. But it’s been four years since she lost her birth parents.”
“We can’t keep her in a cocoon forever, hon. Sooner or later, she needs to accept that we’re not going anywhere.”
“You’re right. I’ve been thinking that with the girls in school full-time, I’d like to get involved with something else part-time.”
“Like what?” Sean asked.
Georgia laughed, which turned into a snort. “I haven’t a clue. But I’m thinking this will be my last speaking engagement to do with my past and my books.”
“I thought you loved all of this. You’ve kept it pretty low key since the girls started school.”
“I do love it. But I want to do something more meaningful. I’m tired of talking about me.”
“That I understand but what you’ve been doing has inspired other people.”
Georgia nodded her head. “I suppose. I guess I’m bored and I need a new challenge. My life needs to move forward as well.”
“Then you must find one.”
“Hmm … I’m not sure how.”
Sean brushed her hair out of her eyes and kissed the tip of her nose. “Then let it find you. When it does, you’ll know.”
The turbulence stopped and the rest of the flight was without incident. Georgia watched as they flew out to sea and changed their approach back to the coast. Ten minutes later they departed from the plane at LAX and headed to the ticket counter to check Georgia in for her connecting flight to Houston.
Sean walked her to the security check point. “Call me when you’re settled into the hotel.” “I will.” Georgia slipped her arms around his waist and placed her head on his chest.
He held her tight and whispered, “I love you.”
She lifted her head and looked into his eyes. “I love you too.”
Sean tilted his face and kissed her good-bye. “Have fun, hon.”
Georgia watched him walk towards the exit door to a waiting taxi. As if sensing her gaze, he stopped and turned. Sean gave her a wave and disappeared outside. She sought out the end of the security check line and took her place. It took her twenty minutes to get through the line and walk the distance to the waiting lounge. No sooner had she settled into a seat, when her cell phone rang. It was her grandmother’s number in Gibsons. She smiled, knowing it would be her daughters.
“Hi Mommy.” It sounded liked Kaela but her voice sounded muffled.
“Hi sweetheart. How was your day at school?”
“Okay I guess. Darcy Brooks got caught throwing a spit ball at me. He’s such a dork and …oops...Shelby, stop it.”
Georgia could hear both her daughters in a fit of giggles. “You there?”
“Yes, Mommy.” A crunching sound came through the line.”
“You’re eating in my ear, Kaela. Do you know what that sounds like at this end?”
“Sorry. Grams made us chocolate chip cookies. Shelby made me laugh and a piece fell out of my mouth.” More giggles. “Where are you, Mommy?”
“I’m in L.A. airport waiting for my connecting flight to Houston. Won’t be long now.”
“Is Poppy with you?” Kaela asked.
“No, he’s on his way to his hotel.” Georgia smiled. The girls had decided when Sean became their adoptive father, they would call him Poppy. The name had stuck and Sean couldn’t have been prouder.
“Okay. We just wanted to check in with you. Shelby wants to say hi. Love you, Mommy. Bye.”
“Love you too, sweets. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Bye.”
Georgia waited for her other daughter to say hello. Shelby took the phone, dropped it with a clatter. Another fit of the giggles came through the phone.
Shelby finally spoke. “Hi, Mommy.”