This story is by James Cook and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
He took his tactical position: back corner booth facing the door. Here he couldn’t be ambushed. The aroma of Rick’s Cafe’s famous blueberry muffins filled the air. Special Agent John Rathbone could smell only vengeance.
“Mic check — you reading me, John?” SA Donna Cooper’s voice crackled through the nearly invisible ear-piece.
He blushed at the sound of her voice. “Affirmative — loud and clear.”
“You don’t have to do this. You could — we could —”
“I’m not going out like this — Henderson dragging my name through the mud and destroying my career.”
“More coffee, John?” The waitress said holding a steaming carafe.
John looked up, met her smile, pointed to the phone he was holding to his ear for cover. He nodded as she poured.
“Maybe it’s time, John. We’re not getting any younger.”
“Maybe you’re right — on my terms though…my time.”
“John…I-I love –”
“Hate to interrupt. I got Henderson,” a deep baritone blurted. “Block north, getting out of his Jeep.”
“Good eyes, Chance. Alone?” John said.
“Thank again, guys — I know you’re sticking your necks out.”
“We’ve got your back, Rath. You’ve always had ours.”
John glared at the front door; he could feel his pulse quickening and cheeks flushing. He took controlled breaths to calm himself and focused on his anchor thought: building sandcastles at Virginia Beach when he was six. Little tricks he picked up to still the nerves after years in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service – twenty-four years in all. Oftentimes stressful and chaotic but bringing closure to victims’ families, solving cold cases, and incarcerating deadbeats who disgraced their uniform made it worth every minute. Now he was forced into retirement.
SA Dirk Henderson screwed up his life like a tornado in a Paper Store. He once liked Dirk. Young, smart, eager to please. A good agent whose only weaknesses were his over-amped ambition and lack of patience. Henderson was eyeing an executive position – perhaps the Directorship. John was certain he could do it. What he didn’t know were the lengths Henderson would go to get there.
“He’s approaching the door. He’s made us,” Chance said.
“I figured he would,” John acknowledged. “He’s not stupid.”
Bells announced his entrance. Henderson locked onto John as if he knew where he’d be sitting and marched over like a happy cat with a mouse in its teeth.
John was reviewing the plan in his head and was lamenting lost time. He was old enough to be Henderson’s father. He envied his thick auburn hair slicked back and his cocky swagger. I had both once.
“So what’s this about?” Henderson plopped himself into the other seat and sat back, elbows out, his hands across the back of his head.
“Good morning to you, too.”
“Cut the shit, John. You have no business with me. You’re retired.”
“Not by choice.”
“You made your decision when you fucked up another case.”
John crushed the sugar packet he’d been twiddling in his fingers, then exhaled slow. “The facts disagree.”
“Oh? You got two agents in a surveillance van two blocks down.” Henderson lurched across the table and pulled down John’s shirt collar popping the top two buttons off his crisp, white shirt. “A wire? For what?”
Henderson ripped the taped mic from John’s chest. John cringed as precious chest hairs were taken captive.
“Chance? Is that you?” Henderson said. “Oh, and I’m sure the lovely Agent Cooper is in on this.”
“John, you okay?” Donna’s voice yelped into his ear.
“Fine!” John called out, “You knew I’m wearing a wire.”
“Was.” Henderson wrapped the mic line around his hand and pulled disconnecting it from its receiver letting it crumple onto the table. “My, my, John, I’m surprised at you.”
“You know what you did.”
“What I did?” Henderson put his palms on his cheeks in mock surprise.
“You screwed me. For what? So I wouldn’t stand in your way to promotion? I didn’t want the position.”
“John, you’re getting senile. You fucked up the chain of custody on the bloody knife in the Slipkowski case, remember? The case was dismissed because it wasn’t admissible. Bye-bye, Agent Rathbone.”
“Coffee?” The waitress said looking at Henderson.
She backed up a step. John smiled. “Jess, he doesn’t deserve any.” She nodded and retreated.
“You’re lucky you got forced retirement and not prison.” Henderson smiled as he plucked a daisy from the vase between them.
John’s jaw clenched. He pictured his anchor and relaxed. Sandy beaches. “So I’m senile? I found a witness who saw you take the knife from the back of my SUV. Another agent saw you in the evidence locker later. Somehow, you avoided the cameras.”
“That amounts to zero evidence. You fucked up before; that’s why you’re still just an SA. I knew they’d buy it. I don’t give a shit if you got my fingerprints. I planned a defense for every contingency if this got back to me.”
John bolted up. “Dammit, Dirk, this is more than just a job. It’s my life! Why would you—”
“Because, though you’re a total dipshit, they were still going to promote you. I deserved it more. I’ve carried this team. Now I got two more agents out of the way.” He began plucking petals off the daisy as he spoke. “Chance and Donna: surveillance without a warrant,” plucked a petal. “Misappropriation and abuse of agency assets.” Pluck. Pluck. “I’m sure there’re others –”
“Obstruction of justice, mishandling evidence, impeding a federal investigation?”
“Maybe,” Henderson said as he crushed the flower and threw it on the table.
“You were a great agent, but you never minded your surroundings, Dirk. Did you get it?”
“Every word,” Chance laughed.
John pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “Dirk Henderson, you’re under arrest –“
“But you got nothing on me, ass –”
“Only your confession — from the laser mic on the wall photo. Oh, and there is a warrant.”
“John,” Donna whispered. “About what we were talking about before….”