Secret Desires Pt. 05bymadam_noe©
The secretary nodded with blurry eyes. "A week ago. Suicide. He was so young!"
The men looked to her and Shannon sighed. Stepping up to the petite woman she patted her arm. "We're so sorry for your loss."
She looked up at Shannon, bottom lip trembling as tears rolled down her mocha skin. "I loved him."
"Is there anyone who can stay with you?"
"My mama, she's here."
"All right then. Sorry again for you loss. Come on, guys, let's go."
She lead them down the sidewalk to the car, walking quickly. Nick laughed. "Scared of a crying girl, cher?"
She stopped at the front passenger side door. "What? Just because I have estrogen I'm supposed to play mom?"
"Come on, kids, let's go talk to the police. Nick, you'll take the lead on this." Aiden unlocked the doors and as they climbed in he settled and started searching the GPS. The firm secretary lived on the other side of Porte Barre from he police station and they drove there quickly, parking in the small lot.
Inside, Nick transformed from good time boy into serious cop. Shannon could only stand back in awe as his presence filled the small office. His influence dazzled the young dispatch officer, but it was Aiden's smile that made her move to find their local chief.
He was a large man, tall and broad, his muscular build aging gracefully. Smoothing his wiry red hair back he introduced himself as Chief Duvalle. Aiden and Nick introduced themselves, and Aiden slipped in that she was his partner. Duvalle took that to mean she was with the FBI, and walked them to his office with no questions.
Inside it looked like a tornado has passed through file cabinets, spraying them everywhere. It took three long minutes for Duvalle to clear his couch and the woman from the front desk brought them all water as they waited.
"Sorry about that. You say you're interested in James Finnegan?"
Nick nodded. "Yes, sir. He was the lawyer who handled a land deal when the strip mall was built over in Belle Trouver. Now I'm sure you've heard about our mayor who's missing. When he left he took his records on the deals and deeds with him. It may be a dead lead, but our hope is dat Mr. Finnegan's records might tell us somethin'."
Duvalle settled in his chair and picked up a coffee mug with a picture of a bulldog on it, the time stamp still on the corner. As he worried it the other side showed "World's Best Dad." "I can't say for sure just what you'll find, but as it happens everything from his office is here."
Setting down his mug, Duvalle sat up. "His death is still under investigation. Man was happy by all accounts, doing well. He was gonna marry Stella, his secretary, had the wedding all paid for. Now I'm sayin' this with the FBI present, but no one is taking over my case, y'hear?"
Aiden nodded, sitting forward on the couch. "No sir. We have no interest at present in James Finnegan, only what our files might tell us about Parker."
"All right then. Now Finnegan doin' so well raised my curiosity. He had some cash deposits, real regular, and they don't match up with his client lists. Real suspicious, but we have no link to where it comes from."
"Sir, I think if you're of a mind, perhaps we should talk and my friends here could take a look at those files, see if Finnegan's deposits match up with some expenses on parkers end."
"We'll turn over anything we find, share openly, and cooperate fully, sir," Aiden hastily added.
Duvall glanced at them, scanning Aiden and Shannon up and down. "Joanne'll go with you. You want copies, you come to me, y'hear?"
"Joanne!" Duvalle hollered, and the officer from the front reappeared. "Show Mr. LaBeau and Miss Moreau to those records from Finnegan's. If they want copies you come and let me know."
Nodding, she turned. "Follow me."
The three walked to a back room crammed with boxes. It was fairly small, not well organized, and it took long minutes but she found the ten boxes marked with the name James Finnegan, taped over regular office file markings.
"I'll be just outside, catching up on some work. "Again she spoke to them both but kept her eyes on Aiden.
"Must be tough being such a pretty boy," Shannon teased as the officer left.
"I kept trying to break my nose but it just wouldn't happen," he smiled. "I do have a few scars though." He leaned in and dropped his voice to a husky whisper. "If you're nice, I'll show you."
She was tempted, awfully tempted, but laughed and pushed him away, relieved by his smile. "Sinclair, Taylor, Ozenne, and Martel, those are the names to look for. Sinclair at the very least should be here."
"You take Parker, Sinclair, and Taylor, and I'll look for the other two."
Digging in Shannon made short work of it. For a time she'd clerked in a law firm during law school which meant she was a certified champion at paperwork and filing. "No Sinclair, no Taylor."
"Nothing on the other two, no Mingham. Are you sure this is the guy?"
"Nothing on Parker. If you're on the M's, check for a Miscellaneous file. Lawyers are lazy, it should be the biggest one."
"Is that a fact?"
"The paperwork is killer. I glanced at some of the other files, all standard. If Finnegan's little deposits match Parker's embezzlement, we have our blackmailer, but I doubt he'd keep anything like that in these files."
"Well, if there are no files it at least shows forethought."
"Not necessarily. Lawyers never do their own paperwork. Lucy's without a secretary right now and it's piling up. They use secretaries and clerks for the grunt work. So perhaps he was just waiting to file it, or he as smart enough to keep everything off the books."
"On it." Aiden searched the thick folder in the middle of the second M box, and after a minute he stopped and pulled a smaller folder out. "Taylor has a folder but it's empty."
She frowned. "Taylor...is he the one that just died? If Finnegan was handling hiss estate as well it may all be filed under a child's name. If he had a daughter and she's married, it'd be under that name."
"Gotcha." Aiden pulled out his cell and pressed a speed dial number. After a minute a woman's voice came on and he asked to find the records on Jonathon Taylor. He waited a moment, humming along to the bland music she heard, making silly faces. Shannon couldn't help but laugh.
"Okay. Simmons, Clarice Simmons. Thank you."
Quickly she moved to the right box and found it. "Bingo!"
Hanging up Aiden came to stand over her shoulder. She opened it up. "These files don't include a will, these are basic transactions. Look at this, his daughter got eight thousand dollars and his possessions."
She closed the folder and looked over her shoulder into his light blue eyes. "So? This kid at the retirement home says it costs seventy-five thousand a year to stay there. Adele isn't on a list to move out."
She sighed and turned. He didn't back up, and she forced herself to swallow at the electric singe of heat between their bodies. "So? That means at the very least Taylor should have had seventy-five thousand in his estate. It says he had just over twelve, and Finnegan took four as his fee. Where's the rest?"
He reached around her, brushing the side of her breast and Shannon inhaled deeply. Folder in hand, he scanned it. "This is bare-bones to say the least, darlin'. All right, looks like Finnegan stole from Taylor. Seems to me I think we can assume this is the case: Finnegan and Parker set this up by getting exorbitant loans from the bank to buy the land. They turn the land over to Mingham who assumes the debt and they stash all the homeowners in that rest home but skim the money.
"Finnegan turns on Parker, figures he wants a bigger cut, and so he blackmails Parker who embezzles the money to cover the payments. Meanwhile Parker wants to leave town with your sister but he can't just leave his wife, he has to leave his blackmailer. Something goes wrong and he kills Finnegan, that's why he disappeared so fast."
"Two things wrong wi' dat," Nick drawled from the doorway. "Finnegan died after dey left, an' somethin' suspicious is in de cornoer's report. " His accent was so thick Shannon knew he was worried so she crossed to him to lay a hand on his arm. "Aiden, cher, he had a puncture mark, test gotta come back, but I bet anything it's belladonna."
Aiden wore a shocked expression and Shannon looked between it and Nick's grim set. "What? What does it mean?"
Aiden swallowed. "The Piementes. Local mob, they ran the bayou doing drug drops, transporting it north or south. I put them all away two years ago, all but two people. Their head, and a hired serial killer they called a bag man."
Nick put his arm around Shannon and held her to his side. "Cher, dis be a bad man. He worked for dem, killin' people by injecting them wi' belladonna, then smotherin' them. He got creative wi' Finnegan and pretended he'd hung himself."
"That's why they ran. Oh God, a killer is after my cousin!"
The hardest thing Shannon ever had to live through in her adult life was listening to Aiden give Suzie's description to the NOPD in case she turned up dead. He'd been quite busy on the phone so Nick drove them north, the only thing they could think to do, while Aiden did his job.
He asked a secretary to get all digital copies of the Piemente files to his email, asked for logs of forensic evidence on the Belladonna Killer. Then he put out the alert on Parker and Suzie, specifically aiming for hospitals and the morgue. Hanging up, he sighed, sitting back in the back seat.
Shannon twisted around to look at him.
"It's going to be all right. They ran. It was actually the smart thing to do. The Belladonna Killer waits for people to be alone, isolated. He's never struck in New Orleans. It's not his territory, he's not familiar, Parker is. They're safe for now."
"They've been gone two weeks. They were safe, but now...who knows? What happens now?"
"We keep on as before, cher," Nick interjected.
"I'll convince my boss the Piementes may still be active, but we're going to need proof. We're heading to Mingham now. If what I assume is correct, he'll be the only one who can connect this damned land deal, Parker, and Piementes."
Making a noncommittal sound Shannon turned back around to stare out the window at the bland highway sights.
"You remember dat time we went to de Ludwig farm all drunk up and tried to tip one of dose skinny cows?"
Aiden chuckled and leaned forward, elbows on the shoulder rests of the front seat. "If I recall it was Lucy who called you chicken, dared you to."
"Girl shoulda known better. And she chickened out, was just us three."
"And I was the only one with enough balls to even approach a cow," Shannon added, getting into the spirit.
They kept the tension down that way, trading old stories, keeping their worries in the background like white noise. It wasn't a long trip, but it had been a long day and their trip had hit heavy road construction delays, so by the time they got to Natchitoches Mingham Development was shut up tight for an early weekend. They found a diner and Nick and Shannon went inside as Aiden stayed out to get a home address and cell phone number for Mingham.
After freshening up they all sat in a booth, hungrily awaiting dinner after a skipped lunch, and worry had them tense. There was only pop, tea, water, or coffee available, so Shannon had a diet coke, Nick coffee, and Aiden took a sweet iced tea. The caffeine would help her think, though her heart was still on full steam.
It was air conditioned, a nice little diner with lots of chrome and waitresses in pink and white gingham dresses. Shannon had been the last to return from the bathroom and had to choose where to sit. After a long moment she slid in beside Aiden, and silence reined for a moment.
"What next?" she asked when their drinks were set down.
"We'll try Mingham at home. Either we'll talk to him tonight, or tomorrow morning. If not tonight normally I'd say we should head back, it's not that far of a drive, but I'm probably going to have to get a fax. We need to know more about what we can be dealing with. I had the lead on the case but I focused more on the racketeering and drugs, cooperating with the DEA. The Belladonna Killer was someone else's file and I want to review it as soon as possible. It's all going to be easier if we get a room here."
"Just one?" Nick raised a brow.
"Three meals I can expense, two rooms I can't, but a double will work."
Shannon almost choked on her soda. "Well, uh, let's hope we find Mingham tonight."
"Realistic," she replied dryly, though her voice was a tad higher than intended.
"Hope you packed yo' jammies," Nick replied without missing a beat.
Her reply was saved by the arrival of dinner. "That's two jambalayas, here's your corn bread, and one chicken dinner with potatoes and corn. Here's the Tabasco, can I get y'all anything else?"
"Actually, could you tell us where we could find Charles Mingham?" Shannon asked politely.
"Oh, him? Man's a rat bastard if y'ask me. Comes in here for lunch every Tuesday, never leaves a tip. What do y'all want with him?"
"Actually he's friends with my second cousin, she asked me to stop in, say hi. Do you know where he lives?" Aiden inquired, taking his cue from Shannon.
"If you go down Peach Lane you'll see that monstrosity he built. All Victorian charmers on that road, and he builds something that looks like a bunker. You won't find him there, he's out of town. Earl, that's the owner here, saw him head out with his fishing boat just after lunch. He sometimes does that, never know where you'll find him, but he'll turn back up late tomorrow. His poor housekeeper's gonna have to clean all the catfish he'll catch."
"Bad tipper, eh? Dat ain't right," Nick said.
The middle aged woman with a nametag that said GINGER smiled at Nick in his full bad-boy mode, and she almost touched her hair, flushed. "Oh, he's a rat bastard. Hires them illegal aliens, screws the local boys over, runs around with anyone woman in town, real greedy li'l sumnabitch."
"What about his secretary?" Aiden asked.
Ginger's eyes stayed on Nick. "Tina's a good girl, not all there, tips three dollars no matter the amount. She lives in those apartments across the way, Three B."
"Thank you," Shannon smiled at her. Ginger just nodded to Nick and toddled off. "Well let's be sure to tip well. And maybe one of these days, I'll no longer be invisible." That earned her strange looks. Figured, she thought, two pretty boys with no clue.
They ate in companionable silence, cleaning their plates, none of them wanting to discuss just what it meant that Mingham had left town, despite their appointment. When she finished Shannon pushed hers away and sat back with a sigh. "Why don't you boys relax, Nick you can have that smoke I know you've been itching for. I'll go talk to the secretary see what I can get."
"I'll come with," Aiden immediately said.
"I think we keep looking for Mingham. That means the secretary is a good first bet. I know how to talk to women who work for a jerk, and, sorry Aiden, but having a man with me won't help. This is likely a single woman, if she's living in those tiny apartments, and she works for a womanizer. A little bitch-fest about men will loosen her up."
"And cher, you'd hate that."
She stood and stretched slightly. "Can't imagine why." She left them laughing to step outside, dodge light traffic, and find the buzzer for 3B on the brownstone. The name said D. MacArthur, and a feminine voice answered the buzz.
Working as a process server had taught Shannon many tricks, but the classics worked best. "Floral delivery for MacArthur."
The door buzzed open and she stepped inside. It was a walkup, the old building dated from the '30's with real wood and peeling wallpaper. Up on the third landing a petite woman waited with expectation in her blue eyes. "Sorry 'bout that, Miss MacArthur. My name is actually Birdie Calhoun, and your boss asked me out, but I think he's been doggin' around on me." She smiled and forced her southern accent back to life. "I was wonderin' if you could tell me about him."
Half an hour later she emerged on the street victorious. Aiden was leaning on the streetlamp in front of the diner waiting for her. "Well? I tried Mingham's cell phone but just got voicemail."
"I know where he'll be tomorrow and it ain't here. And I know some more about that development deal."
"Come on, darlin', Nick volunteered to run out and grab some more supplies. Let's get settled into the room and you can tell me about it. I have a surprise for you."
They walked together the two blocks to the small hotel and watched the people around them. It was so different than the world Shannon had come to know. College had been a huge college town, filled with people, always active, and Chicago was the same. There was no relaxation, just a feeling of shifts passing in the night rather than ships. Here the world slowed, took it easy as the humid night filled with the perfume of the south.
She couldn't drag her mind from it until they hit the lobby and the clean tang of air conditioning covered the taupe carpet and similarly bland furnishings. "Danielle MacArthur, that's the secretary. She said that Mingham is, in general, a real piece of work," she opened as they waited for the elevator.
Once inside he pressed a button and she leaned against the back wall, gripping the metal banister. "However she said these land deals made him nervous. Normally he uses a broker of his own to buy land but when it came to getting the four plots in Belle Trouver he went it alone and got shot down. Then Parker came in and he panicked big-time, Danielle's exact words.
"Things calmed down when Parker came on board, but Danielle mentioned it was strange. Normally the broker dropped off when Mingham took over the land, they only stayed on if it was a partnership through development."
Aiden frowned. "Parker sold it outright to Mingham, but let me guess, he kept coming around."
She nodded as the doors opened and they walked to the room. "Mingham would meet him but never in the office. Once a week, all up until he disappeared. Well after the land was developed, and the most interesting thing? Mingham would always sell to a management company, but he's still the legal owner, collecting rent, only he set up an external company and it's under their name."
Opening the door he held it for her and she walked into a medium sized hotel room, two queen size beds, the usual tiny desk/dining table, the dresser, and a reasonable bath. Her bag was on the dresser and their smaller bags lay on the table. It was all cherry wood and earth tones, the bedspreads bright white. Anonymous and soothing yet it struck her she was alone in a room with her first lover.
"This would almost suggest that Parker was blackmailing Mingham, except Parker was the one paying up. My guess is Finnegan blackmailed them both and perhaps they were meeting about what to do about it."
"So what does that mean exactly?" Shannon asked, sitting on the bed closest to the bathroom.
"If it weren't for the method of death that suggests a connection to the Piemente family, I'd almost say that Parker and Mingham killed Finnegan. All I know is this land has some connection to a disbanded mafia family. I don't know what it is, but I know we'll find it."
Aiden knelt to the small refrigerator and pulled out a familiar four pack of beer. "Dogfishhead stout. Can't believe you like fancy beer."
She hopped up with a smile. "Some people like wine, I was just blessed with good taste in beer." Grabbing it she looked around for an opener until he pulled one from his pocket. Putting the others back, he took the bottle back and opened it. "Wait," he said, setting it on the dresser.