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Authors: LS Sygnet

Tags: #murder, #mystery, #deception, #human trafficking, #corrupt cops

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BOOK: Always Watching
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I thought maybe a softer
touch, female would be helpful,” Crevan eyed me warily, as if he
wondered if I was capable of being calm and nurturing at the
moment.  “Then again, if we have someone talk to her that
could possibly relate to what she’s been through –”

Do we have any officers
out here with a history of slavery in their ancestry?” I

Uh… maybe,” Crevan
said.  “One of our dispatchers.  I think her
great-grandmother was a slave in Georgia.”

Get her up here,” I
said.  “She might be very useful getting Payette to open up
about her history.”

My cell phone started
ringing.  I stared at the screen. 
.  I touched the ignore

Helen, don’t let this
thing blow out of proportion with Johnny,” Crevan said.

I thought I asked you to
get this dispatcher up here,” I snapped impatiently.  “Don’t
forget we’re working on borrowed time.  It’s almost ten
o’clock now.  This baby has been missing for nearly seven

I’ll go get her,” Devlin
offered.  “We’re talking about Beatrice, right?”

Yeah, Helen and I will
wait here until you find her.”  He waited until Devlin closed
the door.  “You know I’m right.  Yes, it was petty for
Tony to call him like that.  It’s not like you don’t know that
he’s one of the most immature people on the force in Darkwater Bay,
Helen.  You also know that Johnny has a soft spot for the old
guy because he showed him the ropes a million years

And the woman he claims
to love just can’t compete with that.”  My voicemail
chimed.  I silenced the phone.

Helen, don’t doubt that
he loves you.  What the hell did you do to piss Tony off this
time?  Did you threaten to kill the kidnapper when we find

No,” I said.  “But I
did grab him by the throat and shut him up.”

As in choked

Oh c’mon, Crevan. 
We’re talking about a hand hold.  One hand.  Thumb,
fingers.  Nothing major.  If he weren’t such a tub of
lard, he could’ve stepped backward and gotten loose.”

Somehow I doubt
that.  I don’t think you know your strength

There’s another point in
his piss poor lie.  I don’t even have my strength back in my
left arm.  Not completely.  I’m practically weak as a

Lioness maybe.  Let
it go.  Don’t let this muck up your relationship with
Johnny.  If you have to tell yourself that you’re not giving
Tony the satisfaction, then do it.  Johnny’s working an
important case.  The last thing he needs is the worry that
you’re not speaking to him, or worse, throwing him out of your life

Did I
that?”  My hand perched on
one bony hip.

It might be open to that
interpretation.  You told him you didn’t want to see or speak
to him.”

Phone in my pocket vibrated.  I pulled
it out.  Johnny again.

He’s not gonna give up
until you talk to him.”

With more than a little unreasonable
defiance, I shut the phone off.  “I’m too angry to speak to
him now.  If you feel the need to report that back to him, go
for it.  I’ve got a missing baby that needs to be found and
the likeliest suspect in her abduction waiting for an effective
interview.  If you don’t mind, I think I need a moment to calm
down before I see her.  Last thing we need is for her to be
scared to death of me too.”

As it turned out Beatrice Simpson couldn’t
have been a better candidate for the interview.  We spoke for
several minutes before I decided that Crevan’s suggestion was a
good one. 

Her soft brown eyes did wonders with my
agitation.  Anger leeched out of my veins, replaced with a
sense of calm.  People had lived through horrors for hundreds
of years without any true advocates from those charged with
protecting the public.  Florence Payette was every bit the
victim that any other person held in captivity had been.

We gotta go easy with
her, Helen,” Beatrice said.  “My granny used to tell stories
about her mama.  How she got beat on a regular basis, but that
she was so loyal to her family she wouldn’t go when the war was
over and she was set free.  She didn’t know any other
way.  This lady is gonna feel the same way.  Last thing
she needs is a cop trying to scare her into giving information
about somebody she sees that way.  This guy that owned her,
he’s not the bad guy in her mind.  He’s looked after her for a
long time.”

Right,” I said. 
“Which is why I think you should do the talking, Beatrice.  I
need some specific information.  First and foremost, I need to
know if someone told Florence to take that baby this
afternoon.  I need to know who she gave her to.  I need
the identity of the person who… owns her.” The words made my
stomach churn as much as the notion of slavery did.

I’ll do my best, but it
might take more than one conversation to get her to trust me. 
Promise me that you won’t say anything that’ll scare

Do my best,” I smiled and
made an X over my heart.  “She’s the best lead we’ve
got.  Time is not on our side, Beatrice.”

I followed her into the interrogation
room.  Florence was not what I expected.  She was long
and lean.  Graying black hair was pulled into a tight bun at
the nape of her neck.  She chewed the fingernails on a
withered hand that trembled before her lips.

Ms. Florence?” Beatrice
began carefully.  She pulled out a seat and sat down. 
“My name is Beatrice, and this is my friend Helen.  We wanted
to come in here and see how you’re doing.  Do you need
anything?  Some water maybe?  A soda?”

Am I in trouble?” Payette

No, honey, not at
all.  We’d like your help with something though.  There
was some trouble at the hospital this afternoon.  You left
before Ms. Helen had the chance to talk to you.”

You’re looking for that
little baby,” her voice took on a very childlike quality, a
sing-song voice.  “I like the little babies.”

They’re very wonderful,
aren’t they Florence?” Bea said.

Florence nodded.  “I like to take care
of them while their mother’s rest.  They say I take real good
care of them at the hospital.”

I believe that,” Bea
said.  “Did you always like taking care of the

Oh yes.  Even before
my …”

Your what,

Florence bit down on her lower lip and
averted her eyes.  Not going to identify her owner easily.

Do you like stories,
Florence?  I’d like to tell you a story.”

Ok,” she whispered. 
“Is it about babies?”

It’s about my
great-grandmother,” Bea said.  “I think her life was a lot
like yours, Florence.  From the time she was born, my nana
wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone unless someone spoke to
her.  She never got to say what she thought or felt until she
was almost thirty years old.”

Florence peeked up through thinning
eyelashes.  “Really?”

Oh yes,” Bea said. 
“But to hear her tell the story, she had a very good life. 
Her job was something called a
.  Do you know what that

She was owned,” Florence

Yes, my great-grandmother
was a slave.  When she was twenty-nine years old, the war that
eventually gave her freedom ended.  Only Nana was
scared.  It was very frightening for her to suddenly have to
live her life differently from the only thing she’d ever

Like when I had to become
a nurse,” Florence said.  “I was so scared.”

I watched this meek woman roll into herself
and wondered what sort of threat could’ve forced her to do
something she had to understand on some level was wrong. 
Whatever it was, anything I could threaten her with paled in
comparison to what the beast who created her fractured psyche would
do if she disobeyed.

Florence, you told the
police that brought you here that someone owns you,” Bea
said.  “Is that the person that made you become a

She withdrew further.

My nana’s master made her
be a house worker,” Bea continued.  “Nana said they told her
she couldn’t work in the fields because she was such a small
woman.  I always thought that she got the good job in the
house because… well, because her master loved her too much to see
her suffer in the fields with the other slaves.”

That got her attention.  She peeked up

Did your mother teach you
about God, Florence?”

She nodded.  “God loves all his
children, even those who are owned.”

God doesn’t believe that
anyone should
another person.  I believe that God sent me and Ms.
Helen to save people from being owned.  I prayed my whole life
that I could live long enough to make my Nana proud of me.  I
thought –
if I can just help one person
who suffered like Nana did, she would know that the world is a
different place than the one she knew her whole

I want to make my mama
proud,” Florence said softly.  “She says I must always do as
Mr. Sherman says.”

Sherman!  The diplomat?  Of all
the unconscionable abuses of power …

You can tell me what Mr.
Sherman wants you to do, Florence.  It’s not a secret, is
it?  He wanted you to become a nurse.  Right?”

She nodded.  “I’m to be good, do as I’m
told, never sass.  Take care of the children.”

Mr. Sherman’s

Oh yes, ma’am.  He
had such beautiful little girls.  And Ms. Sherman promised me
that I could take care of the new baby when she came home from the
hospital too.  Such a pretty baby!  She has blonde hair,
so soft and curly.  Such pretty pink skin.  Ms. Sherman
promised that I could come home with her baby, but …”

Did Ms. Sherman have a
baby this week, Florence?”

Her hands clenched into fists on the

Can I ask what she named
her baby?”

Macy,” Florence stole
another peek.  “She was gonna call her Macy.”

That’s a very pretty
name.  My nana’s name was Gertrude, but everybody called her

Macy is like that fancy
store, where Ms. Sherman likes to go shopping.  She told me
she wouldn’t give her baby an ugly name like my mother gave

I broke my silence.  “Florence is a
beautiful name.  Do you know what it means?”

No Ms. Helen, I surely
don’t.  I liked it more after I learned about Florence
Nightingale.  She was a nurse like me.”

I’m sure your mother is
very proud of you, Florence,” Bea said. 

I don’t know if she is or
not, ma’am.  I haven’t seen my mother in five

Is she in heaven?” I


Florence, did someone own
your mother too?”

Mr. Sherman,” she
whispered.  “He sent Mother away when she got old.  She
wasn’t any use anymore.”


Florence nodded.  “Too old to make
babies, too tired to take care of the others.”

My stomach clenched again.  Sherman, by
all accounts, died a very old man. 

Maybe he sent her to a
place where someone would take care of her, Florence.  Do you
remember how old your mother was when Mr. Sherman sent her away?”
Bea asked.

Sixty-four.”  She
squirmed in her chair.  “I don’t think Mother or Mr. Sherman
wants me to talk about this.  He says people don’t understand
how the world is supposed to be, and I don’t want to get into
trouble.  He’s nice to me, but Ms. Sherman …”

I clenched my fists under the table. 
Five years ago put Florence at 52 – her mother was a fraction
older, only twelve years at the time she gave birth to her
daughter.  My mouth opened, reckless words forming from a gut
reaction of rage. 

That makes me very sad,
Florence.  My mother died when I was young.  She would be
67 years old if she were still alive.  I would never send her
away.  But then, I don’t have someone like Mr. Sherman telling
me what to do.  Ms. Sherman can’t tell us what to do
either.  Would you like it if I made sure Ms. Sherman never
tells you what to do again?”

Her chocolate eyes widened.  “Oh, you
mustn’t do that, Ms. Helen.  I wouldn’t have anybody to take
care of me!”

But you’re a nurse,
Florence.  You’ve been taking care of yourself just fine for a
very long time.”

I only went to the
hospital and took care of the babies.”

Are you saying that you
want to stay with Mr. Sherman?”  Bile bubbled in the back of
my throat at the thought.

If Ms. Sherman goes away,
Mr. Sherman might need me again.  I have to be here if he
needs me.”

When was the last time
you saw Mr. Sherman?” Bea asked.

BOOK: Always Watching
11.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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