This story is by Donya Dunlap and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“John Rathbone? NCIS. Open up.”
The pounding on the door intensified his throbbing headache. With a curse and a groan, John pushed himself up from the couch enough to read the clock on the microwave. 10:52.
“Go away.” he shouted, slumping back into the cushions, pulling an old, worn afghan up to his chin. He heard muffled voices then a quick knock.
“Jbone, it’s me, Patterson.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you.” John growled, grabbing the neck of an empty bottle and throwing it at the door. The shattering glass sprayed across the tile entry.
“John, either you open this door or we’re breaking it down.” Patterson said. “It’s important.”
More cursing ensued as John untangled himself from the blanket and made a path through the empty food wrappers and Heinekens. Stepping carefully over the green shards, John fumbled with the chain and deadbolt, opened the door, and spit on the shoes of the man who used to be his partner.
“What could possibly be so important for you to climb off your high horse and come wake me up in the middle of the night?”
“It’s morning, John. And like I said, it’s important.” Patterson used a handkerchief to wipe the spittle off his newly shined wingtips. “You look awful man.” he said, rising to meet John’s eyes.
“Yeah, well I wasn’t expecting company.” John mumbled, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “Who are they?” he asked, referring to the man and woman standing behind Patterson in dark suits, hands hovering over unbuttoned holsters.
“My new partner, Pete Montgomery and FBI Special Agent Charlotte Russell. We need to talk to you about the Lambros case.”
John turned his back on the trio, shuffling to a small round table beside the kitchenette. He pulled back a chair, waved an unspoken invitation to sit, then crumpled into the other, cradling his head in his hands.
Patterson directed Russell to take the sheets off the windows as he made coffee. Montgomery remained near the door, feet spread and arms crossed as if guarding an inmate at the DC Central Detention Facility instead of meeting a former federal agent in his Alexandria studio apartment.
“Take these.” Patterson instructed, placing a mug and two pain killers on the table.
John threw back the tablets and downed the hot liquid in three big gulps.
“Good.” Patterson began. “Can you focus? We need your help.”
John squinted at the investigators with angry, bloodshot eyes.
“You didn’t need my help six months ago when you pushed me out.” he seethed, rising from the table to pace, kicking refuse out of his way as he went.
“Do you see that couch over there?” he continued. “That’s the only thing I have left from 22 years of marriage. I had to sell everything to pay for Margie’s medical bills and funeral expenses. You might have known that had you bothered to show up to pay your respects.” He hurled his words like darts, the veins in his neck threatening to break through the skin.
“I hated the whole God forsaken mess, John. I did. I know how hard the last year has been with Margie’s chemo and then you losing your job. I wanted to be there for you man, but we were so close to catching Kori Lambros’ killer, and…”
“Enough.” John interrupted. “Why are you here.”
Special Agent Russell cleared her throat and stepped forward.
“Honestly Mr. Rathbone,” she began. “We are only here because Patterson insisted you could be a valuable asset.” Patterson’s pained expression told him Russell was telling the truth. “We have reason to believe Kori Lambros is still alive.”
“You have got to be kidding me.” John said with a throaty laugh. “It took you six months to figure out what I was saying all along?” Another bottle airborne, this time shattering the television screen in the corner.
Montgomery stepped forward, unholstering his gun with one hand, extending the other towards John as he urged him to calm down.
“Calm down?” he thundered. “I was a good cop. I told everyone we were taking the investigation down the wrong path. And what did it get me? Forced retirement.” John emphasized his frustration with a punch, leaving a dent in the drywall. He leaned heavily onto the cheaply constructed counter and covered his face with his hands.
Patterson stepped between Russell and John, extending his arm as a barrier.
“Listen man, you were right. I never doubted you. But Kori being the Rear Admiral’s daughter…the brass just wanted the case closed.”
John sighed, then straightened to his full 6 foot 4 inches.
“What else do you have?” he asked, directing his question to Russell and Montgomery.
“Last night, a former classmate of Kori’s called the FBI Tip Line to report seeing her at an outlet mall near Raleigh, North Carolina.” Montgomery shared. “The witness stated Kori responded to hearing her name and appeared frightened. A man standing near Kori then grabbed her arm, pushed her into the stock room and presumably out the back door of the store.”
John nodded. “Is that all?”
“Yes.” Russell chimed in. “As you know, we have been directing our efforts towards finding her body and killer, not suspecting she had been kidnapped.”
“She wasn’t kidnapped.” John replied. “She was trafficked. I think I know who has her and where they might be headed next.”
“What?” Montgomery scoffed in disbelief. “Are you sure you didn’t just dream this sleeping off the six pack you drank last night?” he asked.
“I’m not hungover.” John snapped. “I’ve just been too busy tracking these bastards to worry about housekeeping. Or sleeping much for that matter.” he explained rubbing his eyes. “You give me back my badge and gun and not only will I bring Kori Lambros back from the dead, I’ll give you enough to put away the biggest human trafficking ring ever suspected to work the Eastern Seaboard.”