Authors: Melissa Brown
Strike one. Don’t back down, Cooke. Stare him down, get him to talk.
I shrugged. “Mmm, she’s not my type. A little too sweet. I like to get in and get out, and she seems like someone who’d get attached.”
Jim licked his lips and nodded. “True enough.” After letting out a belch, a cell phone rang and Jim stood up, reaching into his front pocket. He held up one finger, excusing himself before stepping a foot away from the bar.
Slowly I shifted my weight on the stool in an attempt to listen in on his conversation.
“When?” he asked the caller. “How much? Fuck yeah, I’ll be there. But, shit, maybe a little more notice next time? I’ve had so many beers, my dick’s soft as shit. Yeah, okay. Give me an hour.”
He returned to the bar, pushing his glass to the edge of the bar and plopping a twenty-dollar bill next to it. “I gotta take off.”
“You sure you’re okay to drive?” I asked. “I can drive you home if—”
“Nah, that’s okay . . . my, uh . . .
just came up.”
“Ah,” I said, my stomach churning. I was pretty certain he was headed to the compound, and that thought alone made me want to tackle his sorry ass to the ground, pummeling his face until it was bloody and raw. Obviously I couldn’t act on my primal urge to fuck him up, so disguising my disgust, I laughed heartily. “Some side-piece action? You dog.”
He chuckled. “Something like that. Get in, get out, right?”
“You got it,” I said, raising my glass. “I’m jealous. Maybe you’ll hook me up after all.”
“See you around,” he said, ignoring my blatant hint, before stumbling out of the bar. I knew it was irresponsible of me as an officer of the law not to bust him the second he got behind the wheel of his vehicle, but that would jeopardize everything.
However, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t do it.
Walking to the window near the front of the bar, I watched as his Dodge Durango peeled out of the parking lot. After catching the license plate, I called into the station, rattling off the details to dispatch.
No side piece for you tonight, you sick fuck.
“He’s a real prize,” I said to Linda Jean when she returned to pick up the money Jim left on the bar.
She shrugged. “He’s a regular. I’m used to it.”
“Did he leave enough to cover my drink?” I asked. Linda Jean paused, then shook her head. “I didn’t think so. Here.” I grabbed forty dollars from my wallet and handed it to her. “Thanks for the excellent service.”
“Oh no, you only had two beers, I can’t accept—”
“You can and you will.” I winked. “See you again soon.”
“Hope so,” she said with a shy smile before offering me a friendly wave goodbye.
Retreating from the Broken Oar, I sent a text to Aspen’s burner phone.
-Made contact and have laid the groundwork. Just give me time, Little House. We’ll get him.
With a yawn, I settled into my car and drove back to my building, smiling when I heard the ping of my phone, knowing it was her. And with a stupid yet satisfied smile, I read her encouraging response, knowing that spending time with that shithead Penowsky was a hundred percent worth it if it meant cracking this case and saving Aspen and her family.
This won’t end well, Cooke. Not well at all.
I was in too deep, of that I was certain. I didn’t care. Not one fucking bit.
Another night at the Broken Oar . . . my ninth night, to be exact. Seven of which I pretended to commiserate with the miserable sack of shit that was Jim Penowsky. Nights of nursed beers and flirtatious stares from Linda Jean. Stares that, despite her obvious beauty and perfectly attractive personality did absolutely nothing for me. Nope. My focus was entirely on a woman at the compound. A woman who was texting me several times a day, desperate for answers.
And the truth was, despite my efforts, I had none. Nothing. Bupkis. Nada.
Penowsky wouldn’t crack. It didn’t matter how many beers he consumed or how suggestive our discussions became, there was no way he was giving up the prophet. And so my next step was to follow him, which I planned to do if and when he received the call from Clarence or whoever the hell was alerting him to the availability of “companionship.”
God, he disgusted me.
Since I figured I was past the point of no return, I might as well go for broke. I was going to give one last attempt at gaining information from the disgusting piece of shit seated next to me.
“You know, man, I get the distinct feeling you’re holding out on me.”
Jim belched, blowing the air ahead of him. I caught a whiff of it and my stomach turned over.
What does that mean, professor?” he asked with an arrogant chuckle.
“You keep telling me you can’t hook me up with any action, yet almost every night I’ve sat here with you, you get called away. You’re withholding the pussy, aren’t you?”
He laughed again under his breath. “You’re a riot, you really are.”
I licked my lips after taking a swig of my beer. “I’m serious, friend. My gut tells me that you just don’t want to share. And I must say I’m hurt.” I pretended to clutch my chest in a humorous, over-the-top way.
“Oh, I can tell. Listen, pal . . .” He hesitated, taking a sip of his beer. “I’d like to help you, I really would, but that just isn’t possible.”
“I won’t tell your wife, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Ha,” he said, his voice raised. “She’s the least of my worries,
“Then, what is it? I’m horny as fuck. My wife won’t have sex with me, and I don’t have a girlfriend back home. I’m desperate, man.”
Jim leaned in, motioning with his hand to bring my voice down. “I told you, Hot Pants over here is sweet on you. Tap that. I guarantee you she’s up for it. Straight-up guarantee, man.”
Linda Jean was, once again, the barrier to my plan. Jim would never give up the information as long as her stares lingered and her interest in me continued to be obvious. She was quickly becoming the thorn in my side, despite her pretty eyes and adorable smile.
Damn you, L.J. Why couldn’t you be ugly as sin?
“And I told you, she wants more than a quick lay . . . and that’s all I’m looking for. Just a little stress release.”
“Listen, let’s just say the companionship I seek is different from what would get your motor going, okay? And let’s leave it at that.”
Different meaning underage and powerless? Thank God I didn’t come across as a heartless rapist.
His eyes turned serious before he spoke again. “That’s all I’m gonna say, professor. Now fucking drop it, all right?”
I lifted both hands in surrender. “Okay, okay.”
Leaning back on my barstool, I turned my attention back to Linda Jean, who was chatting with an older couple at the other end of the bar. “Maybe I will give her a shot. What do I have to lose, huh? I’m leaving town soon anyway.”
“Exactly,” he said, patting my back. “That’s all I’m saying.”
All right, shithead. You asked for it. I’m following your ass as soon as your call comes through.
When his phone rang and his face lit up like a damn Christmas tree, I felt the familiar feeling of conflict. Of course, I wanted to follow him, and that could only happen if he received a call from the prophet. But that call meant someone was going to be abused at his hands. That call was another innocent victim of the prophet’s evil.
Jim walked away as he always did and promised to be on his way after finishing his beer. He drained his glass, left a pathetic amount of money for his drinks, and said his goodbyes.
“See ya around, professor.” He patted me on the back, staring at Linda Jean. “Tap that. I’m telling ya.”
Playing along, I laughed. “We’ll see. Have a nice night.”
“Oh, I will, my friend. I will.”
Fury rose in my gut as his voice echoed through my brain. Quickly I called Linda Jean over, gave her a couple of twenties and pretended to go to the bathroom, where instead, I slipped out the back door and into my car. Jim always parked near the front of the building, so I knew he wouldn’t suspect a thing. Besides, he had no clue what kind of car I drove.
The lights of his Durango were pulling out of the parking lot just as I rounded the corner of the building. I followed from a safe distance all the way until we reached the entrance of the compound. I knew I couldn’t go in, but since I could see the new temple from the entrance, I put my car in park and turned off the lights, watching as he left his car on a dirt path about fifty yards from the hulking structure of the temple. The roads were dark, but a few outside lamps glowed from the side of the building, so even though I lost sight of him as he walked along the path, the lamps helped him come into view as soon as he reached the temple. He stopped at the door to look over his shoulders briefly before entering the building.
That’s it. That’s all you’re gonna get, big shot. Now what?
Now we wait . . . we see how long he’s there . . . see if Clarence emerges from the building with him . . . see whatever I can fucking see before admitting to Aspen that I’ve got nothing.
The thing about warrants is, they’re a pain in the ass to get. A fucking pain in the ass. I needed a witness, a victim, someone to come forward and
about what they’ve seen, heard or experienced. And aside from Aspen’s botched spy job at the temple, we had nothing to go on. Jim hadn’t given me shit. I’d invested hours of time with that waste of life and had nothing to show for it. Nothing whatsoever. All I could do was listen to Cat Stevens on the radio, sit back in my seat, and wait.
Thirty-three minutes. That’s how long it took for good ol’ Penowsky to get his rocks off. The thought of a poor little girl underneath him, smelling his godawful breath, powerless by the weight of him on top of her—it killed me.
Get it together, Cooke, ‘cuz here he comes.
Another text from Aspen . . . it came through just as Penowsky climbed into his Durango, a shit-eating grin on his disgusting face.
-You’re avoiding me . . . that’s not a good sign. Tell me what’s happening, Jonathan. I need to know.
With a sigh, I tapped at the screen, attempting to give her an honest answer . . . a real one explaining my lack of information. I typed and erased. Typed and erased more than half a dozen times. And then I gave up. Closing my eyes tight, I punched the ceiling of my car as hard as I could, feeling powerless. With a harsh sting, pain radiated from my knuckles to my wrist. I didn’t care. I deserved that pain. I owned it.
You’re a sorry excuse for a cop. Those girls need someone to save them, and it sure as hell ain’t you. Pathetic fucking loser.
Once Penowsky was long gone, I tossed my cell phone to the passenger seat and drove my sorry ass home, knowing that eventually I’d have to give Aspen an explanation for my failure. I couldn’t handle that tonight. It had to wait.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Wha-what?” I woke up with a start and checked my watch. Nine thirty-seven.
Shit. I overslept.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I sat up, putting my feet on the floor.
Coffee. I needed coffee.
Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.
Someone was at the door . . . and whoever it was, they were not going anywhere until I answered.
“I’m coming,” I said, throwing my bathrobe on and trudging my way to the door. When I saw the scowl on her face, I wished I could have avoided her altogether and stayed in bed. Anything to avoid that look of disappointment, of anger, of downright rage. Aspen was pissed.
“Why haven’t you returned my texts?” she asked, pushing past me to enter the apartment.
Reluctantly, I closed the door behind her. “What are you doing here?”