Authors: Amy Leigh Simpson
“Hey man, where are you?” Archer snapped his attention to his clock. Nine fifteen! “We got some leads for the Westwick case. I thought we were gonna get after it early today.”
“Sorry, I overslept. I’ll be there in twenty.” Archer hung up and threw himself out of bed, into the shower, and out the door in ten minutes.
The vividness of his dream about Jimmy left him shaken. He wasn’t sure he’d ever thought about their conversation until today and now each word and every thought played in his mind with perfect clarity.
Ignoring the speed limit, he Nascar-maneuvered through the remnants of morning traffic.
Moments after he sat down at his desk there was a knock at the door. He saw Agent Mackenzie through the glass and motioned for her to enter.
“Hey, sorry to interrupt, got a name and address of one of the guys that served with Charles Westwick. Name’s Roger Halwell, started in the corps of engineers the year Westwick left the service, served as a sort of apprentice under him. Anyway, dates coincide with the missing journal, thought it might be worth checking into. He lives in an assisted living facility about forty miles south.”
“Good work, Mackenzie.” Archer accepted the file and started scanning the information.
After a few moments he looked up. Cara Mackenzie was still there, leaning against the filing cabinet, crossing long legs inappropriately exposed for the workplace. “Is there something else, Agent Mackenzie?”
Not attempting to conceal her outright stare, she tipped her lips in a wicked grin before finally responding. “Oh, sorry, no. I just wanted to let you know I’m available … to look into anything else for you if you need me.” She sent out a flirtatious smile, waiting yet again for reciprocation that wouldn’t come.
Narrowing his eyes, he lifted the file. “This is fine for now. Thank you.” The woman was about as subtle as a streaker at Busch Stadium. Turning slowly, she made her way out, jutting her hips as if working a catwalk.
Archer knew a lot of the guys in the office thought the redhead was easy on the eyes. And if he stopped to think about her, he supposed she was attractive. But the way she communicated an unspoken invitation with her eyes reeked of desperation. He couldn’t be more turned off by her predatory behavior.
Maybe honesty was the best policy. He could just tell her “Never gonna happen” so they could have a comfortable working relationship, free of her unwelcome overtures and innuendo. But as much as he admitted he didn’t know about women, he had a sneaking suspicion that that particular tactic might not go over so well either.
At least she was gone.
Archer got to work making some calls to question the family. They were all coming in town for a memorial service for Charlie this weekend at a local church, meaning Archer wouldn’t have to drive several hours to question them.
Desperate to jump-start his day, he went to the break room and grabbed a cup of coffee guaranteed to singe the hair off his chest before swinging by Sal’s desk.
“Well, mornin’ Sleeping Beauty.” After a swift appraisal, Sal dropped the sarcasm. “Are you all right? You look like crap.”
“Gee, thanks.” Archer was pretty good at hiding his emotions. And though Sal might come off as aloof to some, Archer was learning that there were very few things the rookie didn’t pick up on. “Contrary to oversleeping, I didn’t get much rest.”
“Wanna talk about it? Might help.”
“Nah, I’m good, but thanks.” He sipped the burnt coffee and settled on the corner of the desk. “I have to go down to Festus to question a vet who served under Westwick. You coming?”
“Heck yeah. We also got a call from one of the vic’s friends, claims he has some information. We could probably stop by there first, it’s on the way.”
“Sure, but give me a few. I need to run by Jensen’s office since we just tied up the Sullivan case.” Archer gloated with a grin, proud to have closed the hellbender that had been passed around the bureau for years.
solved the Sullivan case!”
“Man, that case was a killer. Who did it?”
“Get out! I thought there wasn’t enough evidence to—”
Archer held up his hand, glancing at his watch. “I’ve gotta get over there, I’ll fill you in later.”
His heart rate charged as he hastened to Director Carl Jensen’s office, wondering if there might be more to this meeting than a pat on the back.
“Come on in,” Jensen called at Archer’s knock, standing as he entered. Rounding to the front of his desk, Jensen leaned against the front edge, crossing his arms and ankles in a choreographed move Archer had seen him execute many times. “Heard it was you who solved the Sullivan case.” He tipped his chin up to gain an edge on Archer’s towering stature. The florescent light cast a hard glint off the shiny surface of Jensen’s bald head.
Archer gave a tight nod. “I couldn’t have done it without the team, sir.”
Jensen had a likeness to Ed Harris the actor, but with a faint marring of acne scars on his angular cheeks and thick neck. His scrutinizing gaze bore into Archer and finally concluded with a sharp smile. “Wanted to be the first to congratulate you. The Special Agent in Charge
position … all yours, Hayes.”
“Are you serious?”
“No one keeps their head in the game like you do. You’ve earned it.” Jensen extended his hand.
“Thank you, sir.” Archer’s attempt at composure failed when his handshake took an erratic turn, syncing with his racing heart.
“We’ve got a couple big cases coming in on the white collar division if you want to get out of the trenches of serial and homicide for a while. I understand you’ve been heading up the Westwick investigation—what little there is of it. I’m sure you could pass it on to one of the newer guys, Salivas or Thorton could probably handle it. Or you could send it back down to the local PD?”
“If it’s all the same to you sir, I’d like to see it through.”
“Suit yourself. But don’t make a mess of it. Media’s trying to play up our involvement, you know how they get when they start digging for scraps. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to do this one by the book. I’d hate for anyone to question your new position of authority.”
Archer nodded, hearing the not so thinly veiled threat loud and clear, and let himself out. His first inclination was to pump his fist in celebration for nabbing the highly coveted promotion. But then he thought about Jensen’s warning for the Westwick case. Thought about the feisty and deliciously curvy temptation that was Sadie Carson.
He shut down the very not-by-the-book vision that came to mind. Done. It wouldn’t be a problem.
Not for the new Special Agent in Charge.
“Saw Jessica Rabbit in your office this morning.”
Archer groaned, rolling his eyes.
Sal chuckled. “You need to just put that poor girl out of her misery and ask her out.”
“No chance, man.”
“Anyone with eyes can see the girl’s obviously into you. A girl that looks like that …” Sal whistled. “Gotta be good for the ego, bro. Why not take her on a date, see how it goes? It’s not like you’re seeing someone else, are you?”
Archer gritted his teeth against the same image of Sadie invading his mind yet again. Maybe not just an image, a fantasy. The sound of her laughter. That playful glint in her gemstone eyes. Her sharp wit. Her unpolished charm. It all combined and struck him like a virtual stun gun to his senses. When he let it spiral further, he could imagine her pressed against him, his lips painting the silky skin of her neck.
He tightened his fist on the steering wheel. The woman was a virus. And not one of those innocent two-day bugs.
If he were a different kind of man, he’d be crazy not to have asked her out by now. As much as she was volatile and irritating, she was also mysterious. Intriguing. In other words, irresistible to an investigator.
Archer was yanked out of his thoughts when he swerved, the car next to him honking in response to his jog into their lane. This was exactly why he didn’t need a woman in his life. Too distracting. Not to mention it was against the rules. Okay, maybe not exactly. She was no longer a suspect, but it was still a gray area. Archer didn’t mess with anything but black or white. And this case, as Jensen said, needed to be by the book.
An excellent reminder of why he needed to avoid all things Sadie Carson. Thoughts included. Hadn’t he already decided he was done there?
“No, I’m not seeing anyone else. But I’m one hundred percent not interested in Cara Mackenzie. Besides I’m not big on casual relationships.” Relationships, period.
“I’ve noticed. But dude, you do need to get out more. All you do is work.” Sal shook his head. “It ain’t right.”
“Well, that’s certainly not gonna change anytime soon now that I’m the new SAC.” Archer grin came without effort. He glanced over at a slack-jawed Sal out of the corner of his eye.
Archer chuckled. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Man, congratulations! That’s awesome.”
Archer smiled to himself and silently relished having someone to celebrate with. When he’d received the news from Jensen he realized he couldn’t think of a single person to call with the good news. He’d missed another call from his mom today, but she wouldn’t know what he was talking about anyway. He could just tell her another time, when he wasn’t so busy.
They ascended the steep driveway of Charlie’s friend’s sprawling stone ranch. “What’s this guy’s name again?”
Sal riffled through his notebook. “Uhhh … Here it is, Al Wexler, eighty-nine, widower, retired engineer, worked for Boeing with the vic during the seventies.”
As they approached the front door, Archer noticed the curtains shift back into place. After he knocked he heard a thin, gravelly voice. “Who’s there?”
“Mr. Wexler, FBI, we have a few questions about Charles Westwick.” Archer paused. “I understand you called with information about Charlie. We’ll only take a few minutes of your time.”
The door moaned, easing open a few scant inches. The chain stretched across the narrow space revealing a sliver of the old man’s face. “May I see your identification please, you can never be too careful.”
Flashing their badges, Archer provided introductions and they were granted access to Al Wexler’s home. The house was nice, maybe a little outdated with the burgundy plaid sofas and numerous mallard statues. And the stuffed and mounted deer heads on the far wall didn’t do much for him, but otherwise, it was spacious and tidy. Although something in the air hinted at tuna fish, and not in a good way. Al offered them a seat and shuffled to an adjacent chair.
“Mr. Wexler, as I’m sure you heard on the news, we are investigating the murder of your friend. We were wondering if you had any information about who might want to harm Charles.”
“Well, I don’t know who, but I do have some information that might be helpful.”
Archer and Sal waited for him to continue, everything about the man progressed at a painfully slow pace.
“Well, Charlie was secretive about a lot of things. And I know you all are thinkin’ he was a bit of a nut, but if you knew him, you’d trust that if he was paranoid, it was for good reason.” Al’s tired, hazel eyes glazed over with unshed tears.
“I remember, we were working on a new design for an aircraft, when was it … seventy-three or so, and Charlie got real up in arms about a drafting error in the real early pre-production stage. I mean he really got worked up about it. So, I asked about it later when he’d cooled off and was done yellin’ at me and the rest of the team, and I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, ‘Al, sometimes it’s the tiniest mistake that has the biggest consequences. And even if you catch it, you still can’t save ’em.’”
Al sighed and slowly shook his head. “I sure as heck didn’t know what he was talking about, but he always got that same faraway look in his eye when he talked about the war. He told me to come clean about everything I could and live a life without regrets.”
“Did he ever tell you anything else about his time in the service?” Archer leaned forward on the sofa, the spring beneath him letting out a squeal.
“Never. And I asked too. Always was curious about what made that man tick.” Al reeled in and released a flimsy breath. “Other thing I wanted to tell you was the year before he retired, that was let’s see … eighty-seven, he received a threatening letter at work. He was acting real strange after I saw him read it, so I snuck a peek at it when he left for lunch that day.
“It was from the son of some guy that served in the battalion with Charlie, harassing him about dishonoring his father, driving him underground—said Charlie had it coming. It also said something about blaming Charlie for his father’s attempted suicide. That’s all I can remember, but it was a very disturbing rant about justice and punishment. I didn’t get to finish the whole thing because Charlie came back early. But after that he was a little squirrely for a while, you know, like scurrying around trying to watch out for coons while balancing all them nuts.”
“We will, ah, definitely look into that letter.” Archer caught a glance of a stuffed raccoon on the table beside Wexler and forced his lips into a firm line. “Is there anything else you can think of Mr. Wexler? Did he have any other enemies?”
Al’s sluggish fingers scratched his head, trilling as he brought his hand back down to rest on the handle of his quad cane. “Well, sure there’s always Joe at bingo. Said if Charlie kept winning every week, he was gonna have to bump him off!”