Authors: Jana DeLeon
Richard studied Joe's face and decided he was telling the truth. Which made the situation even more interesting. Unfortunately, he wasn't looking to be entertained. He wanted to make an arrest, and he wanted to make it yesterday. This entire case had taken too much out of his life and career. It was time to move on to something else. And despite any opposition from Dorie Berenger, he intended to do just that.
Several minutes later, they docked at the marina and headed across the street to the sheriff's department. Richard was surprised to see Dorie through the plate-glass window of the office.
"How the hell did she beat us here?" Richard asked. "She never passed us, and she wasn't even making a move to leave when we did."
Joe shrugged. "Dorie knows these bayous better than the gators." He pushed open the office door and they walked inside.
Dorie looked up as they entered the office and smiled. "Glad you could join me, boys," she said, knowing full well it would irritate the hell out of Richard and wouldn't bother Joe in the least. Joe smiled. Richard scowled and looked at the items she removed from a U-Haul box and placed on the desk. The scowl vanished and was replaced with a look of incredulity.
"Jesus Christ," he cried. "You've been storing evidence in a cardboard box? Especially this kind of evidence?" He grabbed one of the bags of heroin and held it up to eye level.
"No one's stupid enough to break into the sheriff’s office, Dick," Dorie said. "Besides, we don't have any heroin addicts in Gator Bait. That product may have been moving through here, but it wasn't making any stops. Of that, I'm sure."
Richard's mouth set in a hard line and Dorie could tell he was trying to control his temper. "I wasn't concerned about someone stealing the drugs. I'm concerned that any fingerprints that were on here are now useless because of the way you've handled the evidence. What the hell kind of training do you have for this job?"
Dorie bristled, but managed to maintain her cool. "My training isn't really the issue. And since all this evidence was drenched when we recovered it, there were no fingerprints on it anyway. Not anything useful."
"Then where did you get the print you ran?" Richard asked, his neck beginning to redden around the-tight-collar of his starched shirt.
Dorie pulled the cooler out of a small refrigerator to her left, placed it on the desk and motioned for Richard to open it. He glared at her for a moment, then pulled the lid off the cooler and stared at the contents in obvious amazement.
"How the hell did you get a finger off this man?" he asked, his voice wavering a bit.
"We didn't," she replied. "The finger was already off the man when we found the evidence. The man was long gone."
Richard gave her a hard look. "I need to see the exact place you found this finger, and I need to see it now. If I'm really lucky, there may be other evidence you missed that hasn't been destroyed."
Dorie shot a look at Joe, who shook his head in obvious amusement. "I can't show you where we found the finger," she said.
"What do you mean, you can't show me?" Richard exploded. "Is it some kind of local secret or did the location disappear?"
"It didn't exactly disappear, but it would be damn hard to find again, and it wouldn't do you any good at all."
Richard's face hardened. "Where did you find this finger?"
Dorie gave the man in front of her a quick assessment. The flush on his neck had crept up and now covered his entire face. Frustration and anger oozed from every inch of him. She smiled. Time to drop the bomb.
"Maylene bring those pictures by yet?" she asked Joe.
He nodded and reached for an envelope on top of the filing cabinet. "Yeah, Sammy down at the grocery store did a rush. He didn't believe her, so they bet a case of beer."
She shook her head in dismay. Good God. Maylene Thibodeaux and a case of beer. It was going to be a busy week.
Dorie took the photos from Joe and scanned through them. "This is probably the best shot," she said and handed a photo to Richard.
He took one glance at the photo and the color drained from his face. "You pulled all this out of an alligator's mouth?"
She nodded. "It wasn't that hard, really. You see, he'd broken one of the bags and was high as a kite. I'm guessing that's how he made it into Maylene's swimming pool in the first place."
"You put a call into the hospitals, right?"
"Of course," she replied, annoyed at the question. "We're not idiots. But no match."
"Can I have this?" Richard asked, holding up the photo.
Dorie nodded, surprised by the change in tone and the politeness of the question.
He put the photo in his shirt pocket and walked toward the front door.
"Wait a damn minute!" Dorie yelled at his retreating figure. "Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on here?"
Richard turned to look at her and gave her a forced smile. “That information is on a need-to-know basis. And right now, I don't think you need to know." He marched out of the building, slamming the door behind him.
"Don't think we're going to sit around waiting on you!" she yelled, not believing the nerve of this guy. Who the hell did he think he was?
"That went well," Joe said.
Dorie smirked. "It's probably only going to get better."
"You think Four-fingers is still around?"
She considered the question for a moment, certain she knew the answer Joe wanted, but equally as sure she wouldn't be able to give it. "Maybe," she said finally, staring out the window and across the bayou. "We have a lot of product and a lot of money. People would kill him for losing a lot less than we have. He might just be stupid enough to risk returning for his goods"
Joe sighed. "Then I guess we'd better hide all that shit."
"For tonight, maybe, even though the alarm system on this building would raise the dead." She began placing the items back in the box while Joe put the finger back in the refrigerator. "First thing tomorrow, I'm giving the whole shooting match to Dick. Protecting it can be his problem."
That ought to make him happy."
She shoved the box of evidence on the top shelf of the bookcase with the kitchen supplies. "I'm not trying to make him happy. I'm trying to get him to do his job so he can get this crap out of my town"
Joe fidgeted a moment and she knew what was coming. The very thing she'd been dreading from the moment they had found the finger. "Are you going to tell the sheriff?"
She looked across the street and saw Richard pulling a suitcase out of the back of his tan Honda Accord. As he walked into the motel, she sighed. "I don't have a choice. He's probably heard the gossip by now, so my ass is already in a sling for not telling him at the beginning."
Joe nodded. "You want me to go with you?"
Nah. It was my call. No use you suffering for it, too. Besides, I want a way out of having to work with Dick. I'm hoping I can appeal to the sheriff's better side and get him to give me one."
Joe looked doubtful but a little hopeful. "You think he can do that?"
*We can only pray."
Standing next to his car, Richard made a call on his cell phone and stared at the photo again. Either Dorie Berenger was damn good at her job or crazy. He was voting on the latter for now. He walked across the parking lot and was staring at the bayou when his boss came on the line.
"What do we have?" his boss asked.
Richard filled him in on the source of the fingerprint and the questionable mental state of the local law enforcement. "There's no way I can work with these people. They don't seem to give a damn about anything at all. Can't you send me some backup so we can get this thing over with?"
"Hell, no," his boss's voice boomed over the phone. "Why don't you just take out a front-page ad? Sending a bunch of suits to a town that size would immediately put Roland on notice. And having grown up in a small place myself, I can promise you that those people will not talk to you or anyone else from this agency."
"What do you mean?" Richard asked. "Who won't talk to me?"
The damn townspeople, that's who. You better find a way to make the local law your best friends, or you're never going to get anywhere and Roland will be gone again."
"Friends?" He looked at the photo again, but this time his vision blurred and he saw Dorie wearing short denim cutoffs and a white lacy bra. He shook his head to clear the image. "I don't think that can happen. In fact, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be possible in this lifetime."
"Well, you have two options: Make friends with these people fast, or I send down someone who can and yank you off the case completely."
Damn it! Richard kicked a rock into the bayou and bit his tongue, holding back what he wanted to say because he knew it would only get him a transfer out of Gator Bait. "Fine," he said finally. "I'll go drinking and fishing with them if that's what it takes. But I'm not tanning in my underwear."
The hell you won't! By God, if these people want you to run naked through town wearing a fish like a fig leaf, you'll do it and smile. I mean it, Starke. This is your last chance."
The sound of the phone slamming down resounded in Richard's ear. Holy hell, he thought as he closed his cell. Friends with Dorie Berenger? It would probably be easier to make friends with the alligator.
But he had no choice.
This case went far deeper than catching a criminal and making a name for himself at the DEA. This was personal. Richard grabbed his suitcase from the trunk of his car and walked across the street to the motel, wishing he'd thought to pack Lysol.
No one, especially a two-bit floozy in a hick town, would keep him from getting his man.
A middle-aged woman with big hair and even bigger breasts checked him into the motel and handed him a key attached to a plastic alligator chain with a crack in one side. He thanked the woman, who still hadn't said a word, and hiked up the flight of stairs to his room.
What a pit.
The entire room was barely the size of his townhouse bathroom. The shortest, most narrow double bed he'd ever seen was pushed against one wall, its middle sagging almost to the floor. A table stood just to the side of the bed, and when he threw his briefcase on it, it wobbled from side to side.
The bathroom had a toilet that wobbled just like the table, a sink missing a section of porcelain, and a shower so tiny that only an anorexic could possibly be comfortable in it. He took the single step out of the bathroom back into the bedroom and flopped down on the bed with a disgusted sigh. Somewhere underneath him, a spring gave way.
He'd flipped through his paperwork before calling his boss, but had come up with nothing. As far as he could tell, Roland never had ties to this part of Louisiana at all, but he couldn't argue about the completeness of-his-paperwork now.
According to his inside source-a man long entrenched with one of the New England drug families-Roland had established a new deal just twenty-four hours ago, so as unlikely a place as Gator Bait might be, there was no denying that Roland had been here setting up business. Every time Richard thought he was closing in, this case threw him a new angle. He was positive Gator Bait and Dorie would prove to be the worst one yet.
The woman couldn't possibly be qualified to run a law enforcement agency, much less serve as game warden. And she had no modesty at all. Still, the entire cafe had gone quiet when he demanded to see her. That let him know that his boss was probably right and he'd get absolutely nothing out of these people unless Dorie said it was all right to speak. Just what he needed-a bunch of close-mouthed, beer-drinking fishermen standing in the way of catching one of the biggest and most violent drug smugglers of the decade.
Despite the fact that Dorie Berenger looked like a princess and was built like a goddess, Richard didn't think she was stupid. Not exactly. But she definitely was not trained to handle a man like Shawn Roland.
No, Dorie wanted the problem out of Gator Bait, but she had made the mistake of thinking the backpack was all Roland carried. Richard knew better. The backpack was Roland's private stash. The actual shipment would be at least thirty times that size.
He blew out a breath and rose from the bed. Noise outside of his motel room drew him over to the window, and he peered out to see a large, rowdy crowd entering the bar across the street. Drunk rednecks. He shook his head in disgust and started to move away from the window, then stopped.