The Trees Beyond the Grass (A Cole Mouzon Thriller) (10 page)

BOOK: The Trees Beyond the Grass (A Cole Mouzon Thriller)
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met his sister at the police station to drop off Billy and ran back to the hotel for a quick nap. It was almost six by the time he snuck in a forty-five doze and then showered. There was a voicemail from the number he had called the night before. Agent Leas’ heavy voice indicated he needed to talk to Cole as soon as possible and was flying into town tomorrow. He would contact Cole when he landed.
What the hell?
The mental wall went up, cutting off further consideration of why the FBI would be chasing him down. His evening was planned and he didn’t want to worry.

Cole was no spendthrift, but he did admire nice clothes. So, when Gilt had a sale on Armani suits, he’d pounced. The dark grey striped two-buttoned suit fit like a glove, thanks to a tailor back in Denver. He matched it with a crisp white spread-collared shirt, leaving unbuttoned the top two buttons. He almost always rolled his sleeves, the result of shirts never fitting the length of his arms, and also a style dictated by humid, warm nights. But that would have to wait until after the Spoleto event scheduled for later in the evening.

“Holy shit, you look gorgeous!” Ann had swung the door to her room open in a grand, sweeping move, revealing her in a gown that would demand any man’s attention, even the Pope’s. With a gold fading to grey base, it was studded with all sorts of gems that emphasized the extreme V which cupped her overflowing breasts. It was off the shoulders, and short. She had put her hair in some type of bun and Cole suspected the use of a ‘bump-it’ to create the extra height. “Why, thank you. Do you think this will get me laid tonight?”

“Tonight? Hell, I can get you laid right

“Ha ha, I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t think my tickets are accepted on that fun park ride.” They smiled playful, growling smiles at each other and walked out of the room to head to the main entrance of the hotel where a stranger held the door open for them. The friendly nature of Charlestonians was always apparent to Cole. The city’s inhabitants went out of their way to say hi and look you in the eyes like they were on the set of
Gone With the Wind
, promenading about. If you tried that in any other city, you would cuss yourself because people would either look at you like a creep or put out their hand for your spare change.

Walking a few blocks from the hotel into Slightly North of Broad, or SNOB as the locals called it, Spoleto’s energy engulfed them and poured through the city’s streets. Ann and Cole had barely arrived when Daniel walked through the door, with a guest.

“Wow! Y’all look amazing. I am clearly underdressed.”

“Thanks man, and who is
?” Pulling back to take in the woman to Daniel’s left, Ann pressed him for information.

“This is Janet.” They exchanged pleasantries as Cole admired his friend’s obvious date. Her light brown eyes glowed against the green and black cocktail dress she wore and her auburn-red hair. He had immediately recognized her from the bar the previous night, the image of the event flashing before his eyes. The hostess walked up just as he was about to play dumb and ask Janet how she met Daniel.

Janet leaned around her and whispered, “We just met last night.” Cole smiled at his old friend and admired his confidence.
You dirty dog

Sitting, the introduction continued, with Janet telling the table she was a local anesthesiologist. “Oh, I’ve handled a few cases with them. An interesting bunch…” Cole stopped himself before insulting their guest with a harsh generalization of such doctors being pill and needle poppers. Ann and Cole followed with their introductions, disclosing their professions and how they knew Daniel. Janet seemed deeply intrigued by their careers and prodded Cole to tell story after story of his legal experiences.

“Janet, have we met before? I don’t mean last night. I swear I have met you or seen you somewhere recently.”

“Nope, I don’t think so. I haven’t been to Denver in years.” The thought frustrated Cole. Ordinarily his memory was precise and crisp. But, if he didn’t pay enough attention to the event or image he was observing, it came in fuzzy, ragged at its edges like an out of focus camera. He let the frustration pass as the continued to talk.


with crab sauce remained on his plate when Cole disclosed the strange message he had received from the FBI agent the night before. Daniel and Cole had known each other since kindergarten and knew each other’s teen secrets like brothers.

“So, he said in the message that he was curious if anyone had tried to contact me or had made any threats against me. Listening to it, I thought to myself it was always possible that I could be threatened; after all, I was a trial lawyer and certainly have pissed off a few people in my cases…but nothing serious. The worst I have ever seen was that crazy murder case when I worked in Georgia and I pointed the finger at the sheriff’s office. I got a personal warning from the sheriff saying that he couldn’t control his boys if I kept pushing. Nothing ever came of that though.”

Daniel asked, “Did he tell you why he was asking?”

Cole shrugged his shoulders. “No, man. That was the entire message. Just ‘I got some questions for you’ and then that he would be in contact. How cryptic is that?”

“Did he say how he got your name? How scary!” Janet piped in, concern showing on her face.

“I bet he got your name from one of your old criminal clients. I wouldn’t worry about it. Plus, if someone is coming after you, they would have to get through me first.” Daniel pounded his chest, causing the two ladies to laugh.

Cole had only seen Daniel in a fight once, during a basketball game, and the victor wasn’t the other guy. Daniel also played receiver for the Wando Warriors in high school and he didn’t dodge people, he plowed through them. Though he was a tech start-up guy now, Daniel hadn’t lost his bulk, and looks alone said to not mess with him.

Cole playfully elbowed his friend. “Awe, love you, too, man.”

“But if you would like me to look into it, let me know. I have some contacts in D.C. who I bet can get me some information.”

“I appreciate that man. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”

Looking across the table to Ann and Janet talking, Cole interrupted, “Drink up ladies. Ann and I have a show to see.
An opera
!” Cole threw his hands in the air in a theatrical loop.

“It’s been great seeing you Cole. You too, Ann. Don’t be a strangers, you hear me? I’ve missed that ugly face of yours Cole.”

“Hey man, better than that bull-dog of a mug you call a face.” Daniel put Cole into a loose headlock as they exited onto the sidewalk. “Oh, it’s on now!” Cole smiled as he walked backwards with Ann, looking back at his friend.


had passed since her last kill, but Poinsett’s final kill was close, driving her to into frenzy like a starved dog over food. She could taste death in the damp air; the unworthy would die. Mouzon would die. Sipping her Earl Grey outside the Slave Market across from the Charleston Place hotel, she wondered if he knew that he was about to die. She had found him in this old city…hiding. Did he sense his hunter closing in, her hot breath breathing down his neck? Or would he be ignorant until the very moment she announced her presence?

Putting away her pen, she stared at the square note card sitting on the black wrought iron table where she was seated. The notes were the prefect touch, in her mind. It told them everything they needed to know. How they were never intended to live. That by living they had deprived her, robbed her of her life. And that they would die for what they had done. The process was about enjoying herself, after all. Some people had cars, others played cards. For her, it was the hunt of retribution.

If they knew what she went through as a little girl, the pain, the abuse of it all…they would understand their guilt. They might actually have welcomed their fate. Those before had died not knowing just how miserable they had made her life. Mouzon would be different. She needed him to
her pain.

She thought to herself that it was pretty easy to locate him really; she’d called his office in Denver after leaving his house Friday morning and told them she was his sister and wanted to surprise him with a bottle of champagne for his visit. His assistant coughed up the information with glee. She giggled as the phone hung up
. Stupid little girl.


HOTEL had Charleston vomited all over it. The furniture, the walls, the decor all screamed the Holy City in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Mahogany four-poster beds, beige linens, historic oil paintings of birds and long-dead people hunting foxes and rabbits adorned its walls. The buildings surrounding the hotel’s tan brick facade were painted what most would consider black at first glance, but was actually a color called ‘Charleston Green.’ Poinsett had learned in history class that the paint was the very colorful city’s revolt from using the Union-issued black paint after the Civil War; so the locals added yellow and blue to create the deep black-green still used today. A short walk around the city exposed any visitor to homes which, if they weren’t pink, robin blue, or yellow, were white with Charleston Green.

Inside the hotel, she wandered its hallways looking for this room. Stealing from housecleaning always got results in her experience; and according to the guest list found in the cart, his room was on the fourth floor, facing east. She watched as he left the hotel that morning with some tall brunette with big Texas hair.
Doubtful, since they weren’t staying in the same room.
That was definitely possible, but from what Poinsett knew his sister lived here. Either way, she figured this was her opportunity to taunt him.

As she exited onto the fourth floor she noted this hotel tried to mix traditional fare with a high-end hotel. To her it was Hilton meets a bed and breakfast. Poinsett found the room and slid the stolen white access card she’d picked off of housekeeping into the door. A green light;
we are in

The room was tidy. A carry-on was splayed open between the bed and window, with shoes and a belt sitting on the floor in front of it. Poinsett opened the closet: some pants and shirts, hung way too tidily for her taste.
OCD much?
Hugo Boss, Armani Collezioni, nice
. There were no personal items otherwise, only an iPhone charger on the nightstand next to the bed.

She pulled out a sealed white envelope exactly like the ones she’d used with Whitney and Tony. A red wax seal worked to hold the folded ends together as she placed the note on the tan and powder blue-striped stool at the end of the bed for Mouzon to find. Exiting the room, her phone buzzed in her purple leather purse. Work was calling.


U.S. premiere of a Japanese opera about a monk who comes across two sister spirits bound to earth until they can be released from their lover’s spell. The irony of the conversation earlier in the day about not being able to let go of the hurt of the past was not lost on Cole as they read the handbill. He had demanded they attend because the sets looked amazing to him on the Spoleto website, and it was a reunion of sorts. The last opera he’d attended was Madame Butterfly, with Ann at the Sydney Opera House several years earlier, so it seemed only fitting their next should be Japanese-themed as well. But he now wondered if subconsciously his mind was telling him to move on.

It was venued at Dock Street Theater, the oldest theater in America, having originally been built in the early 1700s, only to be destroyed several years later in the Great Fire of 1740 that took half the city. According the brochure in Cole’s hand the hotel was built on the site at the heart of Charleston’s French Quarter by the early 1800s. But the 1800s were not kind to Charleston. Between the Civil War and the 7.3 earthquake of 1886, the Holy City was left worn and damaged. It would be another forty-nine years before the theater would reopen in 1937, after the hotel was gutted and remodeled in London style from the architectural remnants of the nearby Radcliffe-King Mansion. Though DuBose Heyward was named writer-in-residence at the theater and together with Gershwin, wrote the opera Porgy and Bess on nearby Folly Beach, it would not be until 2012 that his opera would play at Dock Street. Charleston was changing, but like grapes to wine, it was a slow process.

The theater was wide and shallow, with dark wood everywhere. Walking into the theater, earlier Cole and Ann were escorted to their lower level seats only a few rows back from the stage. Cole liked aisle access, otherwise he felt claustrophobic, his long legs often hitting the seat in front of him. The curtain was still covering the stage as they continued their conversation about work at Ann’s previous employer.

“I’m telling you, they are crazy. You would think with a million senior managers they would have it figured out. But no. All they do is piss off their employees and cash the checks.” Ann spoke with terse words.

“I’m so glad you got out of there. I mean, I know you loved working for that Douglas guy, but he wasn’t able to shield you from the other partners.”

“I know.” She grimaced with disappointment.

“Well, I can say you certainly sound happier now than when we last we talked about all this.”

“Oh my god, it’s so much better. I love working for PWC. It was just meant to be.” Ann had switched to PricewaterhouseCoopers nine months earlier.

At that moment the theater tone chimed like an old doorbell, warning everyone the show was about to start. Cole leaned back in his seat and Ann slipped her arm between the bend in his, taking his arm. Cole loved their ‘date nights.’ To him, it had been too long.

The lights went dim and the curtain was pulled back. The stage itself was bare. In the middle of the set stood a giant artistic tree that looked more like an icicle dragon. The lighting was dramatic, and emphasized the stark contrasts in the Asian-inspired costumes. Rich blues, greens, and reds were balanced against white.

As the production unfolded, Cole’s mind wandered back to the dream that had been dominating his sleep lately. Unlike the geisha-like faces of the spirits on the stage, his demon remained faceless. There was that hand, just that hand.
What did it all mean?
Cole’s thoughts were distracted by the pulsing of his phone; someone had just texted him. He ignored it and pushed his thoughts of the dream out of his head, forcing the wall higher. Watching the opera, he accepted that his mind was trying to say,
Let it go, move on

The opera impressed, as both Cole and Ann had expected. Ann commented on the final few acts and the spirits’ pain as Cole and she walked out of the theater.

Halfway out the theater Cole’s pocket buzzed again. Digging around in his suit jacket pocket, he withdrew his phone and half the powder blue silk lining, but that was enough to see the caller’s ID. He flashed the phone’s screen at Ann. “Look: Jackie. She’s calling about what that damn FBI guy had to say, I’m sure of it.” The phone was shoved back in his pocket.

“Okay, total buzz-kill.” Ann responded.

“I know, right? How about this… Let’s go back to the Omni and hang at the bar at Charleston Grill. They have those comfy leather chairs, and we can drink till close and crawl into our rooms without hassle.”

“Ugh, boring. But I think you’re right. Plus, if we still have energy after closing down the bar we can just watch porn.” They both erupted into laughter. Ann was referencing a prior trip to Puerto Rico where they’d landed in a hurricane and had only porn, protein bars, and booze to subsist on for a day. He grabbed her hand and took a step off the grey slate sidewalk onto the cobblestone below. “Yes, my darling, there will always be porn.”


BOOK: The Trees Beyond the Grass (A Cole Mouzon Thriller)
6.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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