Authors: James A. Mohs
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Published by Emerald Book Company
Copyright © 2012 James A. Mohs
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the copyright holder.
Distributed by Emerald Book Company
For ordering information or special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Emerald Book Company at PO Box 91869, Austin, TX 78709, 512.891.6100.
Design and composition by Greenleaf Book Group LLC
Cover design by Greenleaf Book Group LLC
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-937110-16-1
For my wife, Nancy
Always my sweet bride
Before he even got out of bed, Nube Lawson knew he would hate this day. A year ago today his young, loving wife and their unborn child had died in a car accident. Ellie had driven to New York City from their home in Washington, D.C., to visit her best friend and old college roommate, who was Ellie’s maid of honor and was going to be their first child’s godmother. Ellie’s small Cavalier was run off the road by a passing van and into a bridge abutment. Her car exploded and she, and their unborn baby, died instantly. On that day, a part of Nube died as well.
Nube and Ellie had met at Georgetown University, where he was completing his undergraduate degree in criminal justice and she was finishing a sociology degree. They dated all through Nube’s law school days at Georgetown. A contentious aspect of their relationship was Nube’s dream to join the FBI and, hopefully, become a profiler.
Against her better judgment, Ellie reluctantly consented and agreed to postpone their wedding until Nube had completed his twenty weeks of intensive training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Shortly after his graduation from the Academy and becoming an official Special Agent, they were married and settled into an apartment close to the campus. He had always thought it was quite fortuitous he had been assigned to the Washington, D.C., office where he was working in the criminal investigative department. The night before the fateful trip, they had celebrated the completion of his third year with the FBI and were anxiously waiting to learn where he would be reassigned.
He didn’t recall much of the events immediately following the accident. He did recall vividly, however, being at the cemetery for the graveside services. He remembered that when he emerged from his car and began to follow the procession leading to his beloved Ellie’s final resting place that he was suddenly overwhelmed by the stark contrast of life and death that was before him. He became acutely aware of the morning sun’s intense brightness and how it streamed through gaps in the canopy of majestic white oaks, trying to evaporate the final drops of dew on the grass. He remembered staring at the sun and thinking how it represented new life as well as everlasting life.
Then his eyes had settled on Ellie’s casket and he remembered death’s darkness. His body shuddered and tears snaked down his steeled face. He recalled a line from Tennyson he had memorized
years before: “But oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still!”
The service had ended and most of his friends and family had left. He took one last long look at the shiny oak coffin, and as he turned to leave he felt someone grip his left arm. “Lawson.”
The voice froze him as it had on numerous occasions over the past three years. He turned, knowing that he would see his boss, Supervisory Special Agent Allessandra Corrales. An eighteen-year veteran of the Bureau, she stood five foot three with shoes and tipped the scales at 105 pounds, wearing her Sig 9mm. She was clad in her usual workday attire: a charcoal gray pantsuit with a plain white blouse. No frills, just like her. Her jet black eyes and hair both spoke to her Puerto Rican ancestry. The expression on her face always read the same:
Stand at attention, pay attention, don’t screw with me, and don’t screw up. But if you do, admit it
. Diminutive in stature, she was a mountain in persona. Today her voice sounded perhaps just a bit softer and there was even a hint of a remorseful smile on her face.
His response matched her address for brevity. “Ma’am.” Extending his right hand and attempting a small smile, he continued, “Thanks for coming. It means a lot to me.”
She released her grip on his forearm and accepted his hand with a firm, no-nonsense grip. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Nube. Everyone in the office and the whole Bureau is sorry. Listen, spend the day with your family, but I would like you to meet me in my office tomorrow at 0900. Okay?”
“Thanks. Sure, I’ll be there.”
With that she released her grip and left. Nube watched her walk away. Then he continued his sorrowful stroll to the car where his parents were waiting.
WHEN HE ENTERED
his apartment later that day, he was struck by a cold, empty feeling that almost took his breath away. He tossed his car keys into a bowl that Ellie had set on a small table in their foyer. Loosening the knot on his tie, he took his suit coat off and tossed it over a kitchen chair. He saw the blinking red light on their answering machine and reflexively hit the play button. He immediately recognized the voice of his old friend and boyhood boss.
“Nube, this is Steve Smithson. Geez, Nube, I just heard the news and am so very, very sorry for you. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know. Anything at all.
“I’m living in Oak Ridge, Minnesota, now, where I’m the superintendent at a private golf club called Burnt Wood. It’s really a beautiful place, very quiet and serene.”
The message continued, sounding as if the voice didn’t know how to stop rambling. “Look, Nube, if you need a place to go to collect yourself, get your feet back on the ground, you can certainly come and stay with me for a while. I might even be able to get you some work if you want. Just let me know. Again, Nube, I’m so sorry for your loss. Call me.”
He’d heard the speech a million times. He thought he even had it memorized. Corrales would come out of her office slamming the door behind her. She’d stride out to the center of the maze of desks where her agents were working, select a centrally located desk, slam her fist, and then place both hands on it. Before beginning, she would lean forward just enough to strike an intimidating pose, glaring at them individually and then collectively.
“Appointments,” she started. “Children, how many times must I go through this with you? If I say 0900, I mean 0900. Not 0905 and certainly not 0845. If you’re late, you are irresponsible. If you’re early, it means one of three things: one, you have nothing to do; two, you don’t know how to use your time; or three, you are a boot-licking, butt-kissing, patronizing idiot.” For emphasis she always hit the desk again before continuing, her voice rising, “And I hate idiots! Am I clear, children?” She would then reemploy the individual and then the collective stare. Standing straight, she would adjust her suit coat before finishing: “Now back to work.”
That’s why this morning Nube knocked only once on her glass office door at precisely 0858. After hearing “Enter,” he opened the door, quietly stepped in, closed the door behind him, and stood at attention. Corrales was seated on the edge of her chair and turned slightly to her left, offering a hint of a profile. She was staring so intently at her computer monitor that Nube thought she was likely to burn a hole in the screen. At precisely 0900 she turned to face him. With the hint of an administrative smile, she knitted her fingers before placing her hands on her desk.
“Good morning, Lawson. Thanks for coming.” Pointing at the two chairs in front of her desk, she continued, “Have a seat, please. Before anything else, let me again say how sorry I am for your loss.” Gesturing to the room outside her office, she added, “Your fellow agents, the entire Bureau, we’re all so very sorry. If any of us can do anything for you, just let me know.”
She hesitated briefly before continuing. “The reason I asked you to come in this morning is that I have personally spoken to the director about you and your circumstances. We all like your work. It’s been exemplary. We feel that you have more potential than that whole room of slugs out there combined.” Again, she gestured to the room behind him.
“And we, the Bureau, do not want to lose you. That’s why the director has asked me to pass along this message. He wants you to take some time; gather yourself; sort things out. He’s making an exception to any rule in the books in your case. He’s giving you a minimum of six months and if you feel you need it, a year. Go someplace. Get out of town.
“However, there is one caveat. You must check in with me at least once a month, more often if you think it’s appropriate. When you think you’re ready, we’ll talk about your reassignment. Which, by the way, was going to be a plum. Any questions?”
Sensing the meeting was over, Nube began to push back his chair. Before he could stand or respond, Corrales reached out her hand and, beckoning with her outstretched fingers, added, “One more thing, Lawson. Your piece and your shield, please.” With a matronly look she continued, “I’ll hold them for you until you return.”
Nube stood and slowly retrieved his 9mm Beretta with its holster from his belt and then removed his shield from his inside jacket pocket. Handing them to her, he replied, “Thank you, Special Agent Corrales. You’re very kind. And please thank the director for me.” With that, he turned and left the office, leaving Corrales to wonder if she’d ever hear from him, or see him, again.
NOW, NUBE WAS COMPLETING
his first year of work at Burnt Wood, a private golf course nestled along the rocky shores of Serpentine Lake. The lake was named, obviously, for its snakelike route through one of the oldest and tallest stands of white pine in northern Minnesota. He enjoyed the serenity of the rural setting and also found that he liked working for Steve Smithson. What further amazed him was that he actually enjoyed golf course maintenance. But not today. Not on the anniversary of his Ellie’s death. Nube had been invited to play with his friend Doc Allen’s “Men’s Day” group—some of his favorite club members. But because he
was reminded of his overwhelming sense of loss, he declined the invitation and decided to just try and work—to be alone with his thoughts of Ellie.
Nube was repairing the cart path next to the third hole, a punishing 525-yard, dogleg left par five that required an approach shot over water, when Doc’s group finished the hole. The foursome had stopped en route to their carts to talk with Nube when Doc’s cell phone rang, returning them all to reality. Doc listened for a few minutes and then told the group that he would have to leave immediately for an emergency. Nube teasingly reminded him that he was retired and, therefore, shouldn’t have to respond to any emergencies. But Doc told him that Dr. Joe Anthony, the local coroner, had just summoned him to assist at a gruesome death scene. Doc’s facial expression and body language told Nube and his playing partners that this was something out of the ordinary.
Dr. Jay Allen, who was usually just referred to as Doc, and his wife, Emma, retired to Oak Ridge, Minnesota, after thirty-four years as a family physician in a northern Minneapolis suburb. Over the years he developed a fascination with forensic medicine and had spent numerous hours and days working with the county’s forensic pathologist and medical examiner. Supposedly, this qualified him today to assist Dr. Anthony with the crime scene.
Doc knew the site well. In fact, Whitsell’s gravel pit was known by everybody in the Oak Ridge area. It was used by local teenagers for their bonfire and beer parties and it seemed that everyone who owned a gun of any sort liked to spend some weekend time there sighting in their new rifles or plinking cans with their .22 pistols. But as Doc traveled north out of town on the paved county road, he wondered what had occurred to make this abandoned gravel pit become the site of someone’s death.