Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It was Monday morning ten days later when Jon and Tanisha walked back to their classified office, and happened to notice Jennlynn sitting at her desk. "Wow!" Jon piped up, "It's good to see you back."
"It's good to be back," she sighed, "Except you would not believe the crap that's piled up on my desk while I've been gone. It's going to take me forever to get this cleaned up. Come on in for a minute, and close the door."
As soon as they had the door closed, Jon asked, "So, how's Will?"
"Back at Keesler, unfortunately," she sighed. "It would have been nice to have another week or two with him, but the story has pretty much died, so I flew him back to Biloxi in Skyhook last night. I'll tell you what, though, I'd have gone nuts without him."
"Sounds pretty serious," Tanisha smirked.
"I don't know if it's serious or what," Jennlynn shrugged. "I just happen to like the guy a lot, and we fit together real well. I'm not much for sitting around and not doing anything, but I sure like doing it with him."
"So, are you going back to the Redlite?"
"Not anytime soon," she sighed. "Will and I talked about that a lot, and one day we even flew down and talked to George and Shirley about it. George wouldn't mind having the publicity, of course, but we pretty much agreed it would be better for me if I stayed away for a while. So, what's happened with you two since I've seen you?"
"Not a lot," Tanisha smiled. "Oh, a couple little things, like we're buying a house because I'm pregnant."
"Yeah, right, not a lot," Jennlynn shook her head.
"Well, all right, quite a bit," Jon said. "Mom wound up taking the news about Dad better than I expected, so that's not an issue any longer."
"Good, at least that got settled. Hey, I don't want to run you guys off, but even looking at this pile of crap is telling me I've got to buckle down. What do you say we get together for dinner some day this week so you can give me all the dirty details?"
"Sounds like fun," Tanisha agreed. "I take it you don't want to be out in public any more than you can help it, right?"
"Yeah, pretty much. No point in tempting the sharks, after all."
"Well, let's figure on getting together at our place," Tanisha offered, knowing that Jennlynn's apartment was extremely Spartan and not a place to invite company. "Neither of us are great cooks, but we ought to be able to throw together something that's edible."
"Sure, but let's make it later in the week so I don't feel quite so buried," Jennlynn agreed. "Unless a charter comes up, I'm planning on hopping in Skyhook after work on Friday and heading to Biloxi."
"You really are hooked on the guy, aren't you?" Tanisha grinned.
"Since I can't go to the Redlite, it's either go to Biloxi next weekend or hang around here and work."
They had a good time with Jennlynn at dinner on Wednesday night, catching her up on all that had happened over the past few weeks. She filled them in on a few of the things she and Will had done at home, including getting a couple horses from his parents' ranch and doing a horse pack trip. The weather hadn't been particularly warm, but it had been strangely relaxing to sleep out under the stars and wake up with frost on the sleeping bags. It was something they thought would be right up Crystal's alley, but seemed very uncharacteristic for this elegant and urbane woman.
It was still another week before they heard back from Jim Bricklin, and by then their curiosity was getting close to overwhelming them as they wondered what was happening. Finally, one morning they had a call from him, asking if they could get together with him the next morning.
"We could get together right now," an anxious Tanisha told him.
"Can't do it today," Bricklin told them. "I think we want Stan present, and there's someone else I want there."
"All right," Tanisha replied, "I guess we'll have to wait, but the anticipation is driving me nuts."
"You can make it until tomorrow," Bricklin said. "I'll tell you, there's good news, bad news, and interesting news."
"All right," she sighed, knowing she wasn't going to get much more out of him, "See you tomorrow."
The next morning they met in the conference room near Stan's office. Bricklin and a solidly built, conservatively dressed black man apparently in his early forties were already waiting for them, along with Stan. As soon as they got into the room, Bricklin introduced the newcomer: "This is Leroy Kingfisher," Bricklin told them. "He's been overseeing the investigation in St. Louis, and I thought you might want to get some of this right from the horse's mouth."
After a round of greetings, Kingfisher got right down to business. "I'm not sure quite where to begin," he said. "Let's just say the situation for Blythe has deteriorated somewhat since the previous report, which I understand you're aware of. To begin with, church attendance has continued to drop, but not as precipitously as in the past. The impression I had the last two Sundays is that most of the people remaining as steady attendees runs toward older people. This is not to say that people of your age and younger were absent, but they are proportionately less well represented than they were the last time I visited the church."
"You were there?" Tanisha asked, impressed at the very professional and well-spoken manner Kingfisher displayed.
"I've been a casual visitor from time to time over the last four years. I have let it be assumed that I live out of town and only drop by there when my work brings me to the area, which happens to be correct, but not for the reason I've led them to believe," the black man smiled. "I was in fact a St. Louis operative when the first background investigation was done, but I've since transferred elsewhere. However, since Blythe and the congregation are somewhat familiar with me, it's worked well for me to return occasionally. I have to say I find it rather distasteful, since the racist and separatist message Blythe delivers I find to be in extreme opposition to my personal views."
"Some things don't change," Tanisha nodded. "He's guessing that what worked for my father ought to work for him."
"In talking with some of the members of the congregation, that would appear to be the case. In any case, my evaluation is that the drop in church attendance has come close to leveling out, leaving only the true believers behind. I would expect that it will continue to drop slowly in future years as the results of the aging congregation takes effect and, though possible, I seriously doubt he'll be picking up many new members. I was not able to get precise numbers, but the belief of the members of the congregation I talked to indicates that church income has dropped considerably as well, at least partly due to the fact that many of those remaining are elderly and on fixed incomes."
Bricklin nodded and interjected, "We've been speculating that he has to be hurting for money."
"I believe that to be the case," Kingfisher smiled. "Again, I have little in the way of objective data, but the belief of the members that I talked to would support that view. One of them pointed out to me that Blythe has not purchased a new Cadillac in three years, where he used to get one annually."
"He's hurting," Tanisha said flatly. "Both he and Dad just had to have his new Cadillac every year. I used to think it was a horrible stereotype, but I never dared say anything about it."
"I'm of the belief that some of the people who have left over the past three years shared that viewpoint," Kingfisher grinned. "However, there are other factors I have become privy to, as well. I doubt you've heard of the name Myrna Frederick, since she wasn't mentioned in the last report."
"Never heard the name," Tanisha said.
"It's not surprising," the black man smiled. "She's a white woman in her twenties who Blythe spends some time with occasionally. It's common knowledge among the congregation, but not exactly public. Needless to say, there are those who think having a white mistress does not appropriately befit the manner of a man of the cloth."
"Somehow that doesn't quite surprise me," Tanisha sighed. "Do as I say, not do as I do."
"Exactly," Kingfisher smiled. "As I said, there has been no public acknowledgement of the affair on his part, which doesn't strike me as surprising. Out of curiosity I investigated the stories to some degree. Miss Frederick has something of a reputation for being free with her favors, especially with black men, but does not appear to seek financial remuneration for them."
"She's not a hooker, then?" Jon smiled, not mincing words.
"I can't say that she's never taken money, but it wouldn't surprise me either way. But the fact of the affair is immutable. I observed Blythe going to her apartment on two different occasions, one time staying for two hours, the other for two and a half. On the latter occasion there is no doubt that sexual activity was going on, as I approached the apartment close enough to listen at the door. Miss Frederick is rather vocal and Blythe hardly less so."
"Does Shantel, er, Kwame's wife, know about this?"
"I can't say," Kingfisher shrugged. "It wouldn't surprise me if she did, but then again she may not. For obvious reasons I was unable to ask her about it directly. She appears to be a nice woman, rather shy and kept in the shadows by her husband. I've been unable to speak anything but casual pleasantries to her." He shook his head, sighed, and went on. "There are rumors we have been unable to confirm of another liaison going on approximately two to three years ago. The woman involved, a Miss Vivian Hammerstrom, also white, was taken from her apartment violently by parties unknown. There was little evidence found in the apartment, and no trace of her has been found since the disappearance. As far as I know the authorities have not implicated Blythe in the incident, but there are rumors around the congregation that he had to have been involved."
"You're saying she was killed?" Stan said.
"I'm saying that she disappeared under mysterious and unexplained circumstances," Kingfisher said. "No trace of her has been found, and that's not surprising. In St. Louis it's very easy to weight down a body with heavy objects and dump it into the Mississippi. Discovery of a body after the fact is unlikely. I'm not saying that's what happened, but I'm saying it's what might have happened. There is any number of other possible explanations for her disappearance, and some of them are more or less legitimate."
"Still, that's scary," Bricklin observed. "And it raises the threat level a bit. Did you find out more about that?"
"Nothing concrete. I happened to mention it to one member of the congregation, about your age, Mrs. Chladek, a Martin Clemmens, who commented to me that, quote, 'Hammerstrom had it coming to her,' end quote. He did not explain why he made that statement, but I found it illuminating."
"Martin Clemmens," Tanisha snorted. "He's the guy Kwame and Dad were trying to jam down my throat. I'd be willing to bet that if Kwame was involved in the disappearance, Martin did the dirty work."
"You wouldn't be alone in that belief," Kingfisher grinned. "There are people in the congregation who fear Clemmens, and with good reason. Again, I'm not terribly clear on the details, but apparently there have been incidents when Clemmens has been involved in suppressing opposition to Blythe's policies, both inside the congregation and out."
"So Kwame is using Martin as muscle to keep people in line?" Tanisha nodded. "That's not new. I know Dad was using him for that a little before I left, but at the time his father was the main enforcer."
"That's what I understand. However, Jermain Clemmens has not been a factor in the last three years, and isn't now since he has another seven to seventeen years to do as a guest of the Missouri Department of Corrections in Jefferson City. Young Clemmens has also been a guest of the city on two different occasions, but hasn't made it to the state prison system as yet. He's currently on a work release program, working for the city as a mobile sanitation engineer."
"A tail gunner on a garbage truck?" Jon smiled.
"That's what it's commonly called," Kingfisher grinned. "My understanding is that Blythe was the one who arranged it to avoid further incarceration, and, I presume, to have him available if needed."
"All this is very nice," Stan shook his head. "But it doesn't get us any closer to the core of the problem, which is, how much of a threat Kwame Blythe is to Tanisha."
"That's very difficult to evaluate, especially since I've not been able to substantively talk to Blythe on this issue, for obvious reasons. Speaking in terms of capabilities, I have to say that a kidnapping such as has been feared is probably a very low threat, simply because it would be very difficult for Blythe to hold Mrs. Chladek incommunicado for any length of time. Now, if he had other intentions, such as silencing or eliminating her, that might not apply. Although the elder Blythe mentioned Mrs. Chladek's quote 'treachery' end quote from the pulpit any number of times, apparently the subject has not come up since the younger Blythe has taken over the church."
"I guess that means the magic question is, does Kwame know where I am?" Tanisha said.
"That's one I can answer," Kingfisher smiled. "Almost unequivocally, he does not. At least if he does, Clemmens doesn't know about it, and I'd have to say that if Clemmens knew about it you'd be getting a less than friendly visitor. It seems he's still rather upset that you disappeared after you had quote, 'been promised to him,' end quote, by the elder Blythe. We had a talk after church about it on Sunday, and Clemmens was quite vehement and profane on the subject. I have to assume Blythe is aware of Clemmen's feelings on the matter and might pass along any information he had learned."
Tanisha shook her head and sighed. "You can see why I don't have much use for any of them. That's the guy they were trying to jam down my throat. God Almighty, Jon, am I glad you ever took me out of that hell hole." She was crying now as she added, "That's all I ever was to them, a body to pay off their enforcers with. That pisses me off. I mean, it really pisses me off. I always sort of knew it but there's proof. The hell with them."
"I'm right with you on that, Tanisha," Jon said, taking her by the hand and wishing there were more he could do to console her with others present. "But it's over with now. It's all in the past. We did manage to get you out of there, after all."
"Yes, but it's still hanging on, and how the hell am I ever going to be able to live without the fear of them coming after me? I mean, are they still looking for me, or what?"
"What do you think about that?" Bricklin asked Kingfisher.
"Obviously I can't evaluate the security measures you have on this end," the black man said. "I don't know anything about them, other than the fact that you're under Halloran protection to some extent and your name has changed. I'm quite sure Clemmens would like to find you, if only for vindictiveness. However, he told me he had no idea of where to even start looking, and my impression of him was that he wouldn't be able to use a simple Internet search engine if he even thought of it. Blythe, on the other hand, might have some resources, but I suspect he has few leads. Again, I can't evaluate the level of his motivation."
"So," Jon said thoughtfully, "I guess that brings the question down to what do we do?"
"Good question," Bricklin said. "My gut answer is there are two choices. The first is let sleeping dogs lie and keep an eye on them. We might get some warning if they're up to something."
"To be honest, I can't promise anything," Kingfisher said. "Most importantly, while I've been able to learn some useful information, I'm nowhere close to being inside enough to be able to provide any sort of reliable warning. I might be able to provide some information after the fact, but I can't promise it even then. Even if I did, the information might come too late to be of any use. Besides, given the cover I've used it would be difficult for me to spend much more time on the subject than I have in the last two weeks. Also, I have responsibilities elsewhere, and I need to be paying some attention to them, too."
"I was afraid you were going to say something like that," Bricklin sighed. "Still, letting sleeping dogs lie and depending on security is an option, but it would be nice to know just how strict the security we'd have to provide would be."
"Having that much security around would be a pain in the neck, but I suppose we could live with it if we had to," Jon said. "But isn't there something proactive we could do?"
"That's the other option," Bricklin nodded. "I'm not sure how we'd go about it, though. Leroy, there's no chance of the Hammerstrom thing turning into an active investigation that would tie them up, is there?"
"Not without new evidence," Kingfisher shrugged. "It's in the cold-case file. As I said earlier, there's no evidence that she's actually dead. There are plenty of rumors, but they're only rumors. There's a huge difference between what people suspect and what can be proved."
"I figured you'd say that," Bricklin sighed. "Don't get me wrong, I think you've done a good job on finding out what you have and still kept the investigation covert and maintained your cover. But there's still a lot of things that would be nice to know."
"I realize that," Kingfisher said. "But it's going to be very difficult to find out what's going on inside Blythe's head. We could plant a listening device, I suppose, but there's a good chance we might waste a lot of time and not find out anything useful. I would point out, though, that if any active threat develops, Clemmens is almost sure to be involved. But I wouldn't be surprised that he might not know anything unless he's told. As I said, I'm getting to the point where I shouldn't go around there for a while or I might compromise my cover, but we have another operative I've worked with on this who might be able to keep an eye on Clemmens once in a while."
"Well, that's something," Bricklin said.
"I'll tell you what," Jon said, "I wish there were some way to let Kwame and this Clemmens character know we're not easy targets, and that just knowing where we are isn't an invitation to come waltzing in and do what he wants to do."
"It'd be hard to do that without compromising the knowledge of where you are, and that's the big key to your whole security. I mean, that's the one thing that's pretty solid. But I agree, if Blythe had that knowledge it might give him second thoughts about trying anything."
A silence fell over the room as everyone turned thoughts over in their heads. Jon glanced at Tanisha, pretty sure what she was thinking. It had potential, at least to learn more. "Open the door," he murmured to her.
"Risk," she smiled, obviously thinking along the same lines. It would be a risk, Jon realized she was thinking, but they'd taken a few risks before. This one had different consequences riding on it, but it was much the same thing.
"Do it right," he said. It would take planning and preparation, and there were things they'd have to be very careful about, but they could get everything worked out ahead of time, including options to take at critical moments.
"Have to," she smiled. "It might work."
"Jon, Tanisha," Stan spoke up. "You two have been thinking at each other again, haven't you?"
"Just kicking around an idea," Jon smiled.
"What would you say if we set up a carefully controlled meeting with Kwame?" Tanisha asked. "I mean, something in the St. Louis area? If we know what we want to say and work it out ahead of time, we might be able to get a feeling about what he really has on his mind."
"With some preparation," Jon added, "We ought to be able to do it without giving away our location, and still get the message across that we'd be tough nuts to crack."
"You might stir up a hornet's nest, too," Bricklin pointed out.
"Then at least we'd know for sure we'd need active security, wouldn't we?" Jon pointed out. "At least that's more than we know now."
"How would you keep it under control?" Stan asked. "I mean, what if Kwame shows up with this Clemmens and maybe a few other hoods and tries something?"
"Might be better that way," Jon grinned. "There's no reason we couldn't hold the meeting surrounded by a small army with enough artillery to start a war."
"I couldn't be a part of that," Kingfisher pointed out. "If I showed up at something like that it would blow my cover wide open."
"No big deal," Bricklin said, starting to like the idea. "If we can't get enough local Halloran security for a meeting like that, we can bring some from here. But you kids may have something to build on. I think we need to work on fleshing it out. Leroy, can you hang around for a while to help us with that?"
"I've got the rest of the day," Kingfisher said. "It'll be nice to stay around here and talk like the educated person I am before I head back and have to start talking like a street hood again."
"All right, then," Bricklin grinned. "Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work. Tanisha, how do you think you could get Kwame to a meeting in the first place?"