Avia IV - Sample Chapters


Chapter 1

Avia and Brian

Sunday in Sarasota



Brian snuck out of bed at five in the morning and quickly dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Not that he thought anyone would mind if he walked downstairs in his boxers. He was more comfortable dressed, even if it was just a version of his gym clothes.

He still felt hungover from the previous night, but he needed to get some work done before Avia woke up. After tucking her in and making sure she was warm enough without him, he walked down to the office he used when he was at her house. It always amazed him how much Avia’s house felt like his. Brian didn’t own a separate house apart from his room at the McAllen ranch. Occasionally, he went out to an empty cabin he had claimed years ago when he needed to escape L. He was glad Avia didn’t hold his lack of a house against him.

At 36 years old, he should have owned a house, but every time he thought about it, he couldn’t decide where he wanted it. For work purposes, he needed one in Texas, specifically between McAllen and LaPryor. For his personal happiness, he wanted a house close to Avia’s. Either way he sliced it, he was still undecided.

Brian booted his laptop and started looking through his emails. By the time he got to the fifth one, Charles brought in a large mug of coffee.

Black coffee,” Charles said.

Thanks.” Brian picked up the mug and took a drink. “Didn’t think you’d be up this early.”

We’re awake when you’re awake,” Charles said.

I’m the only one up. Avia is still asleep. I’m just trying to get a jump on today. Feel free to go back to bed.”

The pot of coffee is in the kitchen,” Charles said.

Appreciate it.” Brian turned his attention back to his emails. Not five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. “Come in.”

Cops at the gate. They want our security footage for the cameras facing Avia’s pier,” Charles said.

Do they have any legal documentation for it?” Brian asked.

They do not,” Charles said.

No,” Brian said. “We can’t turn that over.”

What should I tell them?” Charles asked.

Brian took another drink of his coffee. “Tell them we cannot turn that footage over at this time. Once you do that, ask the security team to make sure I’m not on the footage for the overnight hours. Not me. Not my car.”

It will be done,” Charles said.

Brian spent another hour working before he shut his laptop down and walked upstairs to the master bedroom. He was thankful Avia was still asleep. Brian took off his sweatpants and t-shirt and slid into the bed next to her. When she rolled onto him, he wrapped his arms around her.

Brian drifted into a light sleep. When Avia moved, Brian could have sworn he’d been in bed less than 30 minutes. He kept his eyes closed. He wanted to see if she was just changing positions or awake.

Avia inhaled and opened her eyes to view Brian's chest. She could feel his arms around her. She stretched and leaned over the bed to open the nightstand.

Brian tightened his grip around her. "What are you after?”

Avia turned her head. “My case. Were you awake?”

"Not really," Brian said. “And you don’t need your case.”

Like hell, I don’t.” She reached into the drawer. When she felt nothing, she leaned further over the bed to view the inside. All she saw was the bottom. It was empty. “Shit. It’s not here.” She was not in the mood to tear apart the bedroom, trying to figure out where she left it.

Brian pulled her back onto the bed. “Avia, you’re still asleep. It’s not supposed to be there.”

Where the hell is it?” Avia asked.

Brian could feel the tenseness in her muscles, and her expression was one he knew well. She wanted her heroin and couldn't find it. Unfortunately, he didn't have good news for her. “In a landfill somewhere. They went through the entire house and removed everything before the cops raided it last month.”

"Fuck!" She started to get up but felt Brian holding her in place. "We have to go. I have to..."

"Avy, stop." Brian kept a firm grip on her. "You're fine. We don't have to go anywhere." When she frowned, he continued. “You are on medication.” He turned his head to view the clock. “You get your next dose in about an hour.”

She groaned. “Seriously?”

Brian wrapped his arms around her. “You’re still asleep. Just relax for a minute. Does your head hurt?”

She shook her head.

Does your stomach hurt?” Brian asked.

I don’t think so,” Avia said.

Your next dose of medication is in an hour,” Brian said as he silently hoped she’d wake up enough to understand what he was telling her.

Avia frowned and blinked. “Oh shit.” She sat up, straddling him. “I forgot.”

It’s all right,” Brian said, relieved that he didn’t have to explain this to her six more times and thankful that he’d been here with her. “All it means is that it was part of your morning routine, but humor me and tell me what you were thinking.”

I was thinking I needed to hurry up and get out to the pier. My plane is scheduled to arrive, and the sooner I got a hit, the sooner I could take a shower."

It’s not going to be here for hours, but we do need to get your medicine and take a shower,” Brian said as he sat with his back against the headboard and pulled her against his body.

Avia inhaled and settled against him. "Too bad we don't have that shipment."

I wish we had it too. That would have been some easy money.”

"What are we going to do about that?" Avia asked.

"I was thinking about taking it directly from the cops," Brian said. “They owe us four million.”

"That is too risky,” Avia said.

"I'll call our contact in the SPD. Get some information, and we’ll make a plan."

"They are not going to have four million dollars, not even between them," Avia said. "I don't think the risk is going to be worth the reward."

Brian pulled the blanket around her shoulders. "What do you want to do?"

"You're asking me?" Avia asked as she relaxed with her head on his shoulder. "You feel good."

Brian chuckled. "Are you starting to calm down?"

Avia nodded.

"I want your opinion because you seem extremely uncomfortable with the idea," Brian said. "Tell me your thoughts." He kissed the side of her face. He needed to call for her medicine. She was starting to tense, which was a sure sign that she was going into withdrawal.

"I want the stuff they stole from me," Avia said.

"What was that? Drugs? Guns?" Brian asked.

"Drugs, guns, equipment," Avia said.

Brian contemplated. "Are you sure they took it all out of your warehouse before they burned it?"

"None of it was there when I went into the site after the fire was out. Not even the damned ash," Avia said.

"I have to think about that. That's not going to be in the evidence locker downtown. I have to find whatever second or third storage facilities they have."

"Can you do it?" Avia asked.

"Maybe. I’m going to have to think about this and get a serious amount of information."

Avia kissed him.

Brian slid his hands through her hair. "Of course, if we can pull it off, it won't just be your stuff in that warehouse, and cleaning out the entire thing, means the hammer will come down on this entire precinct.”

Avia grinned. "That'll teach them."

And I’ll fence it through the Vitalis,” Brian said. “Not that I’m happy with them right now.”

Why can’t we sell it?” Avia asked. “The profit would be much higher.”

We’ll keep some of it, but the vast majority of it can’t be in our hands.” He slid a hand down her back. “You’re really tense. Do you need your medicine?"

"Is it an injection day?"

"I think it's a pill day. Can you wait, or do you need it now?” He doubted she could wait, but he wanted to give her the choice.

Now,” Avia said.

Brian picked up the phone and called the medical wing. "I need Avia's medicine up here." He put the phone back on the receiver. "They'll be up here in two minutes.”

"I'll be glad when this is over," Avia said.

"Give it a year. Mornings like this will be a thing of the past."

"I hope it’s sooner than a year," Avia said just as there was a knock on the bedroom door. “That was fast.”

"Come in," Brian said.

"I have Avia's pill," the nurse said.

Avia turned to grab it and the glass of water. She’d felt like shit since she’d opened her eyes. Now, it was really setting in, and Avia wasn’t sure this pill was going to help. However, she swallowed it with the water.

The nurse waited. "That should take about thirty minutes before it starts working."

"She hasn't eaten," Brian said.

"Twenty minutes," the nurse said. "If you don't feel any better after breakfast, let us know."

"Thanks," Avia said.

Brian didn't move until the nurse was out of the bedroom, and the door was shut. He helped Avia off his body and out of the bed. Then, he walked into the bathroom and turned on the hot water. "You’ll feel better after this shower."

"Because the shower takes twenty minutes," Avia said.

"I was trying to be positive. I know you're having a rough morning." He waited a few minutes before testing the water. "It's ready.”

Avia stepped behind Brian and wrapped her arms around him. “I appreciate it.”

Brian turned around and kissed her. "I bet there's coffee downstairs."

"I need a gallon," Avia said.

If you want a gallon, they’ll make it for you.” Brian grabbed a washcloth and lathered it. He slowly washed her body as if he were giving her a massage. He wanted to take his time so that her medicine kicked in by the time they were finished. Brian tossed the washcloth on the shower floor and grabbed the shampoo. He washed her hair and massaged her scalp. Once he was finished, he nudged her under the water so he could wash his body and hair.

I may squeak once I get out of here,” Avia said.

Brian laughed. “But how do you feel?”

Better.” Avia stepped out of the shower and dried her body. She walked over to the sink and brushed her teeth.

By the time she finished rinsing her mouth, Brian was out of the shower.

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the side of her neck. "We'll put some Bailey's in your coffee."

Avia turned around in his arms and kissed him. "We need to get to the pier."

Brian stepped over to the sink so he could brush his teeth. "We'll do that first thing after breakfast. How are the mechanics getting back to Texas?"

"I have no idea," Avia said as she walked into the bedroom. She threw her towels on the floor and walked into her closet.

"Are they staying here?" Brian walked into the bedroom and located a pair of boxers, undershirt and socks.

"They can," Avia said. "They may want a break from L, and there's nothing for them to do when the Seneca’s not there." She slid a dark green summer dress over her head.

"You're going to become the next Company headquarters." Brian put on his underclothes then searched his closet for a pair of jeans. Charles was notorious for ironing all the jeans and hanging them up.

Avia walked out of the closet. "That doesn't bother me."

Brian slid his jeans on and fastened them. "It doesn't bother me either, but you don't have a maintenance shop or much storage. If this goes on for any length of time, we’ll need to add both.”

"I can build a maintenance shop if I buy the block next to mine on the pier," Avia said. “And I had storage until they burned down my warehouse.”

"You’re gonna make me do math, aren’t you?" Brian located a long-sleeved button shirt and put it on.

"If you want those things, I need more property,” Avia said.

I’ll run the numbers.” Brian finished dressing and walked downstairs to the kitchen with Avia. Their coffee mugs were already filled and on the table. Brian grabbed the Baileys out of the cabinet and poured a hefty amount into his and Avia’s cups.

Avia took a long drink before sitting down at the table across from Brian.

"Are they landing your Seneca on the water?" Brian asked.

"It has a pontoon conversion. That’s why I want to be there."

"Can you land it on the ground after they do that?" he asked.

"I can. The pontoons have wheels on the bottom. The increased drag is a bitch though."

"What about the landing gear?" Brian asked as the chef placed their plates on the table.

"Locked in the up position," Avia said. She picked up her fork and started eating the hashbrowns and scrambled eggs.

How do they do that?”

Steel bar over the controls, and I think they pull the fuse,” Avia said.

I’m not sure I like that.” Brian drained his coffee while he watched Avia eat. It was obvious to him that she felt better. He sat his cup on the table so it could be refilled and started eating his pile of food. Brian easily had twice as much as her, but he was two and a half times her weight. As he glanced across the table, he realized Breck was missing. “Where’s Breck?”

Haven’t seen him this morning,” the chef said.

When he makes an appearance, tell him we’re going to the pier,” Brian said.

Will do.”

Brian speared a sausage link and waved it in front of Avia. “Sausage link.” When she started to tell him she didn’t like them, he stuck it in her mouth.

Avia chewed and swallowed it. “What are you doing?”

Seeing if you’d eat that.” He speared another link and held it in front of her.

There’s no ketchup,” Avia said.

Brian dunked it in ketchup.

Avia ate it. “I feel better than I did earlier.”

Just making sure.” Brian leaned over and kissed the side of her face before he dove into the remaining food on his plate.

Avia laughed. “You act like you haven’t eaten for a week.”

I love the food here,” Brian said. “It’s a thousand times better than the shit served at L’s ranch.”

I don’t like the food there either.” Avia picked up her toast and took a bite.

Brian finished his food and coffee then stood. He turned his gaze toward Avia. "You ready to go?"

Avia glanced at her toast.

Bring your toast. I want to get a jump on something while we’re at the pier.”

Avia looked him up and down and realized he had adjusted himself. She grinned, grabbed her toast and stood. “I’m ready.”

"Did you want to take my car or one of yours?" Brian asked.

"I don't want to drive," Avia said.

"I'll drive," Brian said.

Avia turned to see Charles walking into the kitchen. "Can you get the Mercedes out of the garage?"

"Of course." Charles grabbed the keys off the hook and walked outside.

Brian waited while Charles drove the dark red Mercedes out of the garage.

Avia slid in on the passenger's side and closed the door. By the time she finished her toast, Brian had the engine started.

He drove out of the estate. Instead of turning toward the pier, Brian drove straight.

Avia positioned herself fully onto the seat, turned and wrapped her arms around him. “Where are you going?”

"To get some security cameras," Brian said. "And a better motion detector. And a computer to run all of it." He cast a sideways glance at her when he reached a stoplight. “Did you want something?”

"The mechanics to hurry up with my plane," Avia said. “And to know where you hid it?”

Brian laughed. He knew exactly the ‘it’ she meant. “You can find ‘it’ later, and even if they took off an hour ago, we'll still be stuck there most of the day. I might as well get this done. Your security at the pier is non-existent.”

It’s been non-existent since it was built. Why is it a problem now?”

It’s always been a problem. I meant to do it last time I was here, but shit got in the way. Now, with the potential for snooping cops, I need to get it done,” Brian said.

"Shit.” Avia flopped back in the seat. “What about that guy last night? Is my pier going to be a crime scene?"

Yes, it is.” Brian stepped on the gas when the light changed. "They wanted the security camera footage from our house last night. Specifically, the cameras that face the pier.”

I don’t think they see that far. That’s three blocks down the road,” Avia said.

They were probably looking for any cameras in the area,” Brian said. “That road would be an escape route.”

Did you give it to them?” Avia asked.

Hell no,” Brian said. “If they want it, they can get a warrant. I’m not in the business of helping the police.”

Is that why we took my car?” Avia asked.

"The rifle I used is in my trunk. It’s rather expensive, so I’d prefer it not confiscated.”

"I don't know what's in this car," Avia said.

"You're going to look while I get the new security system," Brian said. "You need to throw away any drugs."

"What about guns?" Avia asked.

"Put those away," Brian said.

"I don't know if this car has been modified," Avia said.

"I'm sure it has. I wouldn't be surprised if I did this one myself," Brian said as he turned into the parking lot of a large electronics' store. He turned off the engine and triggered the button to open the trunk.

Avia stepped out of the car and walked around to the trunk.

Brian triggered a button on the underside of the latching bar. A panel in the back of the trunk popped out. "That's your hole. It pushes back into place. You'll feel it latch." When Avia looked at him, he kissed her. "I need to get this crap."

Avia grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer. “Now I remember. You drove off with this car and called me later.”

Don’t even insinuate that I stole it with as many times as you’ve driven off with my car.” Brian kissed up her neck to her ear. "We will continue this after I install the security cameras."

Avia let go of his shirt. “Oh yeah?"

"If your airplane doesn't arrive by then." Brian turned and walked toward the retail store’s electronic doors.

Avia dug through the glove box, side pockets, backseat and under the seats for any drugs or guns that might have been left in the car from the last time she used it. She found two medicine bottles and a revolver. She tossed the revolver in the trunk compartment and closed it. Then, she closed all the doors and the trunk before walking up to the nearest trash can and throwing the pill bottles away. She hated doing it. There were several grams of heroin in those bottles, but even she had to admit that she wouldn't use heroin that was more than a year old, especially when it was stored in a car.

Avia turned to walk back to the Mercedes when she felt a hand on her arm. She jerked around to view Locke. "What the fuck!"

"You were about to walk in front of a car," Locke said and motioned as a sedan drove past them.

Avia glared at him. "Can you let go of me now?"

Locke released her arm.

"What's going on?" Brian asked as he walked out of the store with a shopping cart full of electronics.

Locke turned to view Brian. "Saving your girlfriend from getting hit by a car." He held up a bag with two two-liters. "Aside from that, I was getting Cokes."

"Thank you," Brian said. He looked at Locke. "And what the hell are you doing here? You’re a little far from home."

"Visiting Josephine," Locke said. "By now, you've probably heard I've been fired."

"I heard you're off our case. I didn’t ask why,” Brian said.

"Fired, pending the conclusion of an investigation," Locke said as he looked at them both.

Don’t look at me. I don’t have time to make your life a living hell. As you just saw, I have my hands full.” Brian motioned to Avia before guiding her toward the Mercedes.

He put the packages in the trunk then opened Avia’s door. Once she was inside, he closed her door, walked around the car and stepped in on the driver's side. He started the engine and backed out of the parking space.

Avia nudged him with her elbow.

"I know this is your escape city, but he’s not staying at your house. He’s probably staying with Josephine," Brian said.

"I still think he's planning something," Avia said.

"I wouldn’t put it past him." Brian kept his eyes out the windshield as they approached Avia's pier. “But he’s probably here to get fucked, and we have bigger things to tackle.”

Shit,” Avia said as she counted ten cops and six cop cars on and around her pier. “It’s a crime scene.”

"Hang tight. Let me see if they’ll let us through," Brian said.

Should we just turn around?” Avia asked.

Nope. They’ve already seen us.” He turned into the small lot in front of Avia's warehouse and stepped on the brakes when two cops started running for the car. Brian grabbed Avia’s arm when she reached for the door handle. “Don’t. Let me handle this.”

"What are you doing here?" an officer asked as he approached their car.

"This is our warehouse," Brian said.

"That building?" He motioned.

"Yes," Brian said.

"Can you prove that?" the officer asked.

"The deed is in the building," Avia said.

"Is there something going on here?" another officer asked as he approached the car.

"He says he owns that warehouse," the first officer said.

"And the pier you're standing on. What the fuck happened?" Avia asked.

"Someone was shot on that boat last night," the second officer said. "Have you ever seen that boat, and were you expecting a boat at your pier?"

"I've never seen that boat, and it did not have permission to dock here," Avia said. "That's where my airplane docks, and it's due here later today."

"The seaplane may have to wait. We’ll be done when we’re done," the second officer said. "The warehouse is fine. We've already checked around it, but don't go near the pier."

We have to search them,” the first officer said.

Let me see your IDs,” the second officer said.

Brian pulled out his ID and Avia’s and handed them to the officer.

Brian Colcort and Avia Bays,” the second officer said.

Avia is listed on the deed,” the first officer said.

The second officer handed the IDs back. “Go on. Stay around the building. Don’t go out to the pier.”

"Thank you." He pulled forward in front of the overhead door. “Wait a minute.” Brian checked all the mirrors and around the car. The cops were walking away. “Now open it.”

Avia stepped out of the car and closed the door. She walked up to the overhead door and input the code before pressing the button to open it. She walked inside ahead of the Mercedes and turned on the lights. Once Brian had parked and turned off the engine, she hit the button to close the overhead door.

"That was interesting," Brian said. He was a little miffed that Avia interjected, but since it had worked out well, he decided to let it go.

That shit makes me nervous,” Avia said.

They’re just trying to do a job. They don’t want any bullshit. The worst they would have done was tell us to turn around and come back tomorrow.”

"They don't have a clue what happened last night," Avia said.

"They know what happened. Some dumbfuck got shot, but they’ll never put it together enough to arrest anyone.” Brian grabbed the equipment out of the trunk.

Why do you not dispose of the bodies?” Avia asked.

Like in the movies?” Brian asked as he waited for Avia to open the door between the garage and living area.

Yes.” She held the door open for Brian.

You don’t want to do that these days.” He walked into the kitchen.

Avia closed the door. “Why?”

Brian unboxed the pieces while he talked. “Because the minute you step into a crime scene, you’re going to leave something behind. It could be a fingerprint, a bootprint, hair. Even blood if you happen to get injured while committing the crime. Rich police departments will even look for clothing fibers, like say if my shirt rubbed up against the guy’s jeans and left the equivalent of dryer lint behind. This is why I’ll cut brake lines. I’ll shoot through a window. I don’t want to be in the area if I don’t have to be there.”

Avia grabbed two beers out of the fridge and set both on the kitchen counter. She pushed one toward Brian and opened the other one.

Brian picked a box up off the counter and handed it to her. "Before you get excited, it’s just your new phone.”

So, it’s not a present.” Avia opened the box and pulled it out.

It was the nicest one they had in the store. It should be ready to go. That's your regular number. I cleared your messages. It was nothing important." Brian picked up his beer and took a long drink.

"How do you know they weren't important?" Avia asked.

"It was six messages of Benton begging you to answer the phone, and ten from your dealers, or people asking about product that you don’t have.”

Avia sighed.

"Let me get these cameras setup. Then, hopefully, your plane will be here." Brian said as he resumed pulling out several cameras, wires, a DVD recorder and a few other pieces of equipment. He skimmed the directions for the CCTV system. Once he was certain he knew how to install it, he picked up a camera. "I have eight of these. Where do you want them?"

"Around the doors and focused on the pier," Avia said.

"What about the road?" Brian asked.

"One on the road to see who comes in." Avia took a drink of her beer. "There is a bedroom here, and a full bathroom.”

Brian dug through the drawers for a power drill. He eventually found one under the sink. “Why is there an apartment in here, and are the rest of the tools in the warehouse?"

"They should be," Avia said. “And it’s here in case the delivery is extremely late at night. I’ll hear the buzzer on the back door from the bedroom.”

Did you want to stay here tonight?” Brian asked then motioned to a door at the far side of the room. "That door?"

"I’d really like a distraction-free night," Avia said. "The light switch is next to the door on the other side."

Then, that’s what we’ll do.” Brian walked through the door and turned on the light to the warehouse. "Damn. This is empty."

"The giant toolbox thing is along the far wall," Avia said. "I haven't had any shipments here in a long time."

Brian walked back into the living area and grabbed the boxes of equipment. “This may take a while. Stay inside.” He carried the equipment outside.

Avia finished her beer and grabbed another one out of the fridge before making herself comfortable on the couch. She flipped through her new phone for the better part of an hour. It was similar to her old phone, but the screen was bigger. Eventually, she set it on the coffee table and turned the TV to a random movie.


It took Brian two hours to setup the camera system outside. Then, he walked inside and setup the computer system in the large bedroom closet. By the time he finished, it was almost one. “It’s done and operating.”

Avia finished her fourth beer just as Brian walked out of the bedroom. “Does it record?”

"I thought you'd be laying naked on the bed when I walked out of the closet," Brian said. “It does record. There are two drives in the computer. One of them is entirely for video storage.”

"I thought about laying on the bed naked, but my plane radioed. They're an hour out." Avia walked over to the fridge and grabbed another beer.

"How many are in there?" Brian asked.

Avia pulled one out and handed it to him. "Plenty and several cases in the garage. The bar is also fully stocked."

Brian opened his beer and took a drink. "How many people are on that plane?"

"I think it’s just Joe," Avia said.

"Who's that other one you like?"

"Mike, and I don't like him," Avia said.

"I thought you fucked him.”

"He has a cock.”

Brian laughed.

Avia grabbed her beer and walked over to the couch and sprawled across it. "Are you going to call that cop?"

"Eventually,” Brian said before taking another drink of his beer. "What made you redo the warehouse? This seems like overkill since your house is three blocks away."

"In case they raid the house again," Avia said.

"Is this in your name?" Brian asked.

It is.”

"That's not going to help you for very long," Brian said. "They could search both."

"Damn," Avia said.

Brian walked into the living area. “It’s still beneficial. It’ll hold excess cargo. The garage helps ensure people don't realize you're here, and you were complaining about all the people you've been around for the last eight months." He leaned down and kissed her. "You have a view of the water, and you can get some private time without your staff if you really need it."

"Speaking of private time, I’m surprised Breck hasn’t made an appearance," Avia said.

"Your house is better than a hotel,” Brian said as he unzipped her dress. “But he should be here at some point.”

Avia slid her hands down his shirt, unbuttoning the buttons. "Do we have time?"

"We're going to make time." He pulled Avia’s dress over her head and tossed it onto the coffee table while she unfastened his pants.

She pulled out his cock. Avia had planned to tease him but he was already hard. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

All morning.” Brian sat down and pulled her into his lap.

Avia straddled him. “You should have said something while we were in bed.” She sunk down on his cock with a gasp.

You wanted held.” Brian wrapped his arms around her and drug his lips along her neck. “And you didn’t feel well.”

Avia shifted her hips, feeling his cock slip in and out of her pussy. “I would have done it.”

Brian grunted. She was already tight around him. He brought his hands to her breasts and massaged them, teasing her nipples with his thumbs before her words registered in his mind. She would have fucked him this morning even though she wasn’t interested. “Avy, stop for a minute.”

Avia stopped and looked at him. Her pussy tingled, and she was ready to feel him cum. “What’d I do?”

Brian kissed her. “Nothing, and you don’t have to get out of my lap.” He slid his hands down her arms. “I just want to say something.”

Avia gazed at him. She couldn’t read his expression, but he was definitely thinking. “Okay.”

I would never ask you to have sex when you don’t feel up to it,” Brian said. “If I have in the past, I want to apologize right now.”

Avia wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply. “You’ve done the same for me. If you have to apologize, so do I.”

Brian slid his hands into her hair. “I think that just gave me a bigger erection.”

Avia shifted her hips and inhaled. “Oh, that feels good.”

Brian grunted. “Ride it.”

Avia gripped his shoulders and shifted her hips. She moaned as her pleasure increased.

Brian wrapped his hands around her hips. “Slower. No one’s going to interrupt.” At least, he hoped not. He guided her into a rhythmic pace.

Avia moaned and panted. She writhed as her orgasm got closer.

Brian thrust into her. As much as he wanted to last longer, it wasn’t happening. He was seconds from blowing. Thankfully, Avia seemed to be close. He pulled her down onto his cock as he groaned and released.

Avia screamed and spasmed before collapsing against him.

Brian drug a hand down her back just as he heard a sound near the doorway between the warehouse and living area. Brian half-expected to see a cop. Instead, he looked up to see Breck. Brian laid his head against the back of the couch.

"I stepped in to tell you I was here," Breck said.

Brian waved a hand in Breck’s direction. “We’ll be out.”

"I don't know about that. Avia looks awfully comfortable," Breck said.

"I am comfortable," Avia said with her head on Brian's shoulder.

Brian chuckled.

Take your time. I’ll breathe in some Gulf air.” Breck turned and walked back through the warehouse.

Brian inhaled. “I’m glad that wasn’t a cop.”

Or Benton,” Avia said.

That would not have gone well,” Brian said. “You’re naked and still on my cock. I would not be able to talk my way out of this.”

Have you had to?” Avia asked.

I have. Luckily, Benton has terrible timing. He’d always show up after we fucked and took a shower, and you were usually asleep,” Brian said. “So, I’d just tell him he wasn’t home. You were cold, and he knows how that goes.”

Avia laughed. “Does that work?”

Have you ever been woken up by Benton yelling at me because I fucked you?” Brian asked.

No,” Avia said.

There ya go,” Brian said. He tapped her thigh. “But we really do have to get cleaned up.” He helped her off his cock and out of his lap.

Avia walked into the bedroom then the bathroom to take a quick shower while Brian washed the slime from his cock.

It didn't take her long to wash and rinse. She stepped out of the shower to dry her body and hair. Then, she walked into the living area and picked up her dress. She slid it over her head.

Brian stepped behind her and carefully zipped her dress. Then, he kissed the back of her neck.

Avia grinned and turned around.

Brian kissed her mouth.

"Did you ever call your contact?" Avia asked.

I’ll do it tomorrow.”

"Tomorrow is Monday," Avia said.

"Later tonight," Brian said as he walked with her through the warehouse and out the exterior door.

"You're just in time," Breck said. "I think I hear the Seneca.”

"That is definitely the Seneca," Brian said as he turned his head to look out at the water.

They’re late,” Avia said.

Be glad they’re late, or we would have had more of an audience earlier,” Brian said.

Avia turned her head toward Brian. “They would not have watched.”

They would have and probably jacked off to it,” Brian said.

You are awful.” She watched her plane come into view. “And you said we wouldn’t have an audience.”

Didn’t know when Breck was coming by.” Brian watched Avia's Seneca taxi next to the pier. "That is a hell of a setup."

"The pontoons?" Avia asked.

"They're a lot bigger than I thought," Brian said.

"Almost as long as the damned plane. That's why it's a bitch to fly," Avia said as she heard Joe turned off the engines. They watched as he climbed out of the twin-engine airplane and walked down the pier toward the warehouse.

"Sorry, I’m late. The tailwind turned into a headwind," Joe said as he walked over to Avia, Brian and Breck.

"Where's Mike?" Avia asked.

"Texas," Joe said. "Doing storm damage repair."

Avia rolled her eyes. "And Benton didn't show up in McAllen for the flight?"

"No. Thankfully, and he knew we were going. He called four times wanting me to fly to La Pryor and pick him up. I told him no. The G's on landing and takeoff wouldn't be good for his shoulder."

"Does it need fuel?" Avia asked.

"It does need fuel. I don’t think L is paying the damned avgas bills. Everything we had at the ranch is in the plane.”

Are you fucking serious? The tanks are out at the house?” Brian asked.

They are empty, Brian,” Joe said. “I filled her tanks. Drained the water, and filled them again until it stopped giving me gas. It filled her main tanks and half-filled her secondary tanks.”

I’ll take care of this right now.” Brian pulled his cell phone out of its holster and called their tank repair guy. “Hey, it’s Brian.” He listened. “Can you get over to the ranch and see what’s going on with my avgas tanks? The bottom was full of water.” He paused while the repair guy spoke. “No emergency. I’m out of town, but my pilot just called. Said she filled enough to get off the ground, but the tanks are empty and what was there was mostly water.” Brian rolled his eyes. “Tuesday is fine… Yes. Call me at this number.” He ended the call. “I hate that guy, but he’ll be out Tuesday.”

"What's it got in it? Quarter tanks?" Avia asked.

"Little less than that," Joe said.

"It'll burn that on takeoff," Avia said.

"You'd be coasting into Venice," Joe said.

"Not with those pontoons," Avia said.

Brian dialed. “This shit is why we need to get rid of L. Avgas is critical. If she has no gas, it becomes a real pain in the ass to deliver.”

"Who are you calling?" Avia asked.

"The fuel truck." Brian listened while the phone rang. He spoke once someone answered. It didn't take long for him to place the order and he ended the call. "They'll be out later tonight."

"Do we have to be here to pay?" Avia asked.

"No. I gave them the business credit card." He reholstered his phone. “Did any other shit happen in the last twenty-four hours?”

Same shit different day,” Joe said. “How’s it out here?”

Uneventful for the most part,” Brian said. “We had some cops out here earlier today. Some guy got shot on a boat last night, and Locke’s in town.”

Holy fuck,” Joe said. “And that’s uneventful?”

Given the last few weeks, it is,” Brian said.

I see your point,” Joe said. “Anything else?”

You missed the show, Joe. Front door was completely locked when I got here. I had to walk around to the water-side door,” Breck said.

Oh man. I know where this is going,” Joe said.

I get to the door. No one’s around, so I head on inside,” Breck said. “I get about halfway through the warehouse. And I swear it sounds like someone is getting murdered.”

Oh fuck. You did not...”

Police training and all that,” Breck said. “I walk through the interior door and those two are all but passed out on the couch. No blood. No murder scene.”

How the hell long were you standing there?” Brian asked.

You looked up almost immediately.”

Avia looked over at Joe who was absolutely losing it. “Joe!”

It’s hilarious, Avia,” Joe said. “I’m surprised Brian could even move.” He turned to Breck. “She wears you out.”

I believe it,” Breck said.

You need my workout program, Joe?” Brian asked.

Hell no. I saw half your workout one time,” Joe said. “Watching it was enough.”

Brian laughed.

Are you complaining about how I fuck?” Avia asked.

No,” Brian and Joe said at the same time.

Anyway, that’s not a frequent thing, if you’re wondering, Brian,” Joe said.

I wasn’t going to ask,” Brian said. “But given she’s almost never in Texas...”

Avia grumbled.

Don’t grumble at me,” Brian said. “I’m not mad. That crap is in the past.”

You sure you’re not mad?” Avia asked.

This shit has been so off and on for decades.” Brian leaned his mouth toward her ear. “If I’m mad at anyone, it’s myself for not saying something sooner.”

You could have said something sooner,” Avia said.

I meant to,” Brian said. “Anyway. Let’s go inside and get some beers.”

That's a winning idea to me,” Joe said. “That was a long flight.”

Brian led everyone inside the warehouse. He walked over to the fridge and grabbed several bears. He opened one and took a long drink.

Avia passed out the rest of the beers and opened one for herself. “How’d my plane fly?”

Well enough, considering it had the pontoons on it,” Joe said. “I need to do some engine tweaking. It was a little choppy for my liking.”

It was probably the gas,” Avia said.

I thought about that,” Joe said. “But it didn’t smooth out. I’ll get it done before your next run.”

My next run is wherever Brian needs to go,” Avia said.

No deliveries scheduled that I know of, but I may need her to drop me somewhere in the next week,” Brian said.

I can get it done by the end of the week,” Joe said.

Fuel should be here tonight,” Brian said.

"Are you staying at the house for the week, Joe?" Avia asked.

"I thought I might," Joe said. "Broken airplane or not, L is on my last nerve."

He’s on everyone’s last nerve,” Brian said before taking a drink of his beer.

I thought there was a plan for that.”

There was, then, Benton got shot.”

I heard he was brought up on felon in possession of a gun,” Joe said.

We don’t think it’s going anywhere. His defense is that he was protecting Avia from being kidnapped, and for once, that’s the goddamned truth.”

They still want to press charges after learning he grabbed the gun because Avia was being kidnapped?” Joe asked.

I was kidnapped for a couple hours,” Avia said. “And yes. They really think a jury is going to convict him.”

That’s not happening. Jury gets one look at you, and they’re going to lose their case,” Joe said.

I don’t see them getting very far with it,” Brian said. “Xavier six-five and two-twenty. Jamie is five-six and one-thirty, and Avia is five-three and eighty-five pounds.”

Benton’s over six feet,” Joe said.

And about two-hundred,” Brian said. “Xavier is bigger than Benton.”

Is he bigger than you?”

He’s bigger than me too,” Brian said. “Benton and I are about the same height. I have about twenty more pounds of muscle, but Benton doesn’t have to climb trees on a regular basis.”

Avia looked around the living area.

Are you looking for a tree?” Brian asked.

Yes,” Avia said.

Brian laughed. “I’ll climb a tree for you later.”

Quick question,” Breck asked as he opened his beer. “How are we getting back to the house? Charles dropped me off.”

Car in the garage,” Brian said. “But we should probably get going before I’m too drunk to drive three blocks.”

Joe drank his beer in one swallow and threw the can in the trash.

Avia scowled. This is not what you said.”

How about tomorrow night?” Brian asked.

You said tonight,” Avia said.

I know, but we really should all go to the main house together. It’ll make it easier for the staff.”

"They can drive the car back," Avia said.

"Then, we have to call a car in the morning," Brian said.

Fine. We can go."

Brian did one last check of the doors before getting in the car and driving Avia, Breck and Joe to the main house.




Avia sprawled on the couch with a vodka and Coke. They’d been home about 30 minutes. Breck wanted to show Joe the bowling alley, even though Avia was pretty sure Joe had already seen it. Either way, they could practice bowling before she and Brian kicked their asses.

Avia turned her head when Brian walked into the room. He’d walked out when they’d first arrived so he could make calls. She started to say something when she realized he was still on the phone.

Brian leaned down and kissed Avia while he listened to his SPD contact. "Did you just say Locke was living with Josephine?" Brian asked and listened. "And that's your police chief?" He made a contemplative sound. "I knew he was in town. I saw him this morning. Was he at pier 173?" He paused. "Okay, good.” He listened.

Avia bolted upright on the couch. “Are you talking about Locke?”

That was Avia,” Brian said then paused. “She’s doing rehab here at the house.” He rolled his eyes. “She’s doing well.” Brian sat down in an oversized lounge chair. “Anyway, do you remember that warehouse raid? ...Yes, the one late last year.” Brian put the phone on speaker.

That was downtown,” the contact said.

And it was burned to the ground,” Brian said.

Someone said you guys set it up to burn,” he said.

We did not. Your police force did that,” Brian said.

Well, shit. Okay, what about it?” he asked.

Where’s the stuff?” Brian asked.

In the evidence room,” he said.

I guarantee you it’s not in the evidence room. It was a ten-thousand square foot warehouse, and they cleaned it out.”

I was told it all burned in the fire, or the vast majority of it. That’s why charges were never pressed.”

They don’t know who owns the property,” Brian said. “That’s why no charges have been filed, but they walked away with all the stuff.”

I don’t know where it would be,” he said.

Find out,” Brian said.

You’re not serious.”

Very serious. We’re talking about millions of dollars worth of inventory that was stolen.”

That’s a liberal interpretation of stealing,” he said.

I don’t think so,” Brian said. “Is anyone going to jail for it?”

Not so far.”

Then, it was stolen, and I want it back,” Brian said.

I’m not breaking into a police evidence locker.”

You don’t have to. I just need to know where it’s at.”

I’ll get the information if it’s anywhere to be gotten,” he said. “Give me a few days. They have some extra storage facilities, but I’m pretty sure there’s only one that’s going to hold that much stuff.”

I want everything about it,” Brian said. “What’s in it. Who’s guarding it. Shift rotations.”

I’ll get as much as I can.”

Call me later.” Brian ended the call.

"What was that?" Avia asked.

Me starting the process of getting your stuff back,” Brian said. “And Locke is living with Josephine.”

I can’t believe anyone would fuck him.”

Neither can I,” Brian said. “As for the rest of it, we’ll see what my contact says in a couple days.”

Avia stood after finishing her drink. “Breck and Joe are bowling downstairs.”

Let’s go do that. It’s still a few hours until dinner.”

"Too bad it's Sunday," Avia said as they walked down the hall to the basement stairs.

Why is that?” Brian asked.

We could go out,” Avia said.

I do want to take you out to a nice dinner this week,” Brian said.

A date?” Avia asked as they walked out of the parlor and down the hall that would take them to the basement staircase.

Brian paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked at her.

Avia watched him. “You’re turning red!? Are you serious? Are we going on a date?” All of a sudden, she felt nervous, which was ridiculous given the number of times they’d fucked.

Brian grabbed her and pulled her into a tight embrace. “I am not the only one turning red. Did you have to use that word?” He didn’t think he could feel any more embarrassed. Then again, he hadn’t asked anyone out on a real date in what felt like a hundred years. Brian kissed the top of her head. “I think we should go on one, don’t you?”

Yes… Just...” She inhaled.

Feels a little weird, doesn't it?” Brian asked.

Very,” Avia said.

Do you want to do it?” Brian asked.

Yes. Are we just going out to eat?” Avia asked.

I thought we could go to a movie afterward,” Brian said.

I feel like I’ve just been asked out by the hottest guy at the airport,” Avia said.

Brian laughed. “I might be the hottest guy at the airstrip.”

Avia laughed.

Brian kissed her deeply.

Avia smiled. “Are you going to wear a suit?”

If you wear that red evening gown you wore a couple years ago.”

Oh. What was that event?” Avia asked.

I don’t remember, but I remember that dress,” Brian said. “It matches your hair.”

I think I still have it.”

Are you guys all right?” Joe asked from the doorway.

We’re fine,” Brian said. “Are you guys ready to play?”

We’re set up and have you plugged in. It’s me and Breck against you guys,” Joe said.

Can we play cards after dinner?” Avia asked as she followed them into the bowling room.

Of course.” Joe walked over to the center console.

Does that scoreboard say we’re going first?” Brian asked.

It does,” Breck said.

Avy, go first. I’ll mix some drinks,” Brian said as he walked over to the minibar to make everyone whiskey sours.

Can I just have a Coke?” Avia asked.

Absolutely,” Brian said. “Do you want any flavoring? I see lemon, cherry and vanilla.”

Cherry,” Avia said as she picked up her first ball. “And a splash of the chocolate liquor.”

Like a one percent drink?” Brian asked as he added the cherry flavoring.”

Yeah,” Avia said. She stepped up to the line and threw her ball.

Throw your next ball, then come here and taste this,” Brian said.

“Are you making her an alcoholic chocolate cherry Coke?” Joe asked as he heard Avia’s second ball crash into the pins.

“Yep,” Brian said.

“I’ll take one of those,” Breck said.

Avia walked over to the minibar and tasted the drink. “Little more.”

Brian added more chocolate. “That’s like three percent alcohol.”

Avia tasted it. “Perfect.”

Brian mixed the rest of the drinks and handed them out. He made himself a whiskey sour.

“This is damned good,” Joe said.

"You can pour that over ice cream too,” Brian said as he walked over to the ball chute. He sat his drink on a small table, picked up his ball and threw it, watching as he knocked down eight pins. He hit the other two with his second ball. “You guys’ turn.” Brian grabbed his drink and walked over to the seats. He sat down and pulled Avia into his lap.

Joe picked up his ball and threw it down the lane. He hit seven pins. “You might be in trouble tonight.” He picked up his second ball and threw it once the three pins he’d left behind were settled.

Keep thinking that,” Brian said as he watched Joe gutter his second ball.

"Someone brought up an interesting point this morning," Avia said. "No one likes being in Texas with L. Until we can get rid of him, we should consider making this our base of operations."

"I don’t disagree, but you can't fit your plane on this property," Joe said. “And I don’t recommend leaving it in the water.”

"I can buy the block next to my pier and build a hangar," Avia said.

You need a real seaplane if you want to do that. Your Seneca will corrode if you keep it near the water for an extended amount of time,” Joe said.

Avia frowned. “It doesn’t do me any good to keep it at an airport.”

I wouldn’t do that either,” Joe said. “Look, I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m saying that you cannot do it for a long time.”

Avia nodded. “Well, I don’t get to decide if I get a new plane.”

I don’t know,” Brian said.

Either way, I think moving operations here is fine,” Joe said. "I hate L. Don’t much care for Mike either. He can stay in Texas.”

Okay. What the hell is wrong with Mike?” Brian asked. “That’s two of you now telling me Mike is shit.”

I know the termination policy. That’s why I haven’t said much,” Joe said. “I don't think he’s a danger to the business, but he sure as fuck doesn’t work. I have to double-check everything he does, and Avia won’t fly until I test fly all the repairs, even if Mike already flew it.”

Can you downgrade his duties? Make him keep the hangar organized and the runway in good repair? Mow the grass?” Brian asked.

That’s what he’s doing now,” Joe said. “Avia is never at the ranch.”

And you’re positive he’s not a spy?” Brian asked. “Someone brought that up when Alejo was around.”

I can’t say for certain, Brian,” Joe said. “If we got wind of another spy, I can’t say he wouldn’t be my first suspect.”

I’ll deal with him next time I’m in Texas,” Brian said. “But more to the point, Benton is in no condition to take care of our L problem. Until he is, we'll quietly move here."

"Won’t L get suspicious?" Breck asked.

"I doubt it," Brian said. "Benton is on medical leave and being cared for by Marie and Grant. Avia is on medical leave, which means I have to be here, and Joe is testing her airplane. These excuses will work fine for at least a month, if not longer."

"I'm on board," Joe said.

"It's fine by me," Breck said just as Charles appeared in the doorway.

Dinner is ready,” Charles said.

"We'll meet you up there. I want to talk to Avy for a minute," Brian said.

As soon as everyone left the room, Brian pulled Avia into his arms and kissed her.

"This can't be why you wanted to be alone," Avia said.

"It can be." Brian slid his hands down her back and squeezed her ass. "But it's not the entire reason. How are you feeling about Benton?"

Avia looked up at him. "How are you feeling about Benton?"

"Nervous," Brian said as he tightened his grip around her. “I answered. Your turn.”

Avia was surprised by his admission. "Part of me misses him. The other part doesn't think he's going to change."

Brian nodded. “You want a Benton update? I have to get one in case L calls.”

I guess,” Avia said.

Brian pulled out his phone and dialed. It went to voicemail. “Oh come on, you son of a bitch. I’m dialing on my phone, not Avy’s.” He redialed.

"Sorry," Benton said. "I was asleep."

How are you feeling?" Brian asked.

"I'm okay. It seems to be getting better," Benton said.

"Are you still at the hospital?" Brian asked.

"I am. I guess I'm going to be here until I'm healed, but I think my lawyer is working on something to try and get me out of here," Benton said.

"Have they charged you?" Brian asked.

"Felon in possession of a weapon," Benton said. "But my lawyer and his team don't think it's going to stick. Did you guys make it to Sarasota?"

"We're at Avia's, and we're all fine. Locke is in Sarasota though."

"Fucking figures," Benton said. "I heard he was fired."

"He's under investigation," Brian said. "There's been no decision. He's in the same boat as Breck."

"Damn," Benton said. "Is Avia there?"

"She is. Would you like to talk to her?"

"I thought she was ignoring my calls," Benton said.

It’s just been a chaotic few days.” Brian handed the phone to Avia.

"Benton?" Avia asked.

"How are you feeling? They told me they had you on some new medications," Benton said.

"The mornings are kinda rough," Avia said. "How are you?"

"I'm doing better. Can I still come and see you when I get medically cleared?"

"You can come to Sarasota," Avia said. "But we won't have much to talk about."

"Why is that?" Benton asked then immediately decided he didn’t want to hear the answer. “Nevermind, Avy. Don’t answer that.”

"We're not good for each other,” Avia said. “We have to...”

Benton laid his head back in the pillow and closed his eyes. “Avy, please...” He started to say more when he found himself at a complete loss for words.

Avia listened to the silence. "Benton?"

"I'm still here," Benton said.

"Did you hear me?" Avia asked.

"I heard you...." Benton could feel tears rolling down his face. "I'm so sorry, Avy. I didn't listen. I didn't answer your calls. I took you for granted, and I am so... so sorry."

Avia laid her head against Brian's shoulder. "Was there ever a ring?”

Benton thought about the ring he had stashed in the glovebox. The conversation he had planned to have with Avia, and he said. "No. I... was lying. There was never a ring, and I never bought those plane tickets to Hawaii."

"I thought as much," Avia said.

"Never could fool you," Benton said. "But I guess I should get some rest." He ended the call.

Avia handed Brian's phone back to him.

"How'd he take it?" Brian asked.

"He finally admitted that there was no ring," Avia said.

"Figures he chooses this moment to tell the damned truth," Brian said. "Are you okay?"

"I think I did the right thing," Avia said.

"I think you did too," Brian said as he held her.

"Are you okay?" Avia asked.

I just have this overwhelming need to kick the shit out of Benton,” Brian said. He kissed the side of her face. "You want to go upstairs and get some dinner?”

No. I feel like we just ate,” Avia said.

So do I, but let’s go see what it is.”

Brian walked with her up to the dining room. Dinner looked to be steak and baked potatoes.

Avia turned and hugged Brian tightly just as they walked through the doorway.

Brian pushed her against the wall and kissed her passionately. The noise in the dining room stopped as he kissed his way from his mouth to her ear. “Are you that excited about steak and potatoes?”

I might be,” Avia said.

Brian chuckled. “I know where you’re sitting.” He pulled her over to the table and sat in his chair before pulling her into his lap. “I need a bigger plate.”

Charles swapped out Brian’s plate with a serving plate. Then, loaded two steaks, three baked potatoes and two cups of coleslaw onto it.

Breck and Joe laughed as they loaded their plates.

You two are funny,” Breck said.

I can tell you this, Benton would have never done that,” Joe said.

Not unless he was really fucking loaded,” Brian said as he cut both steaks. He sliced the baked potatoes and piled butter into the center. “However, I can’t do this in Texas either. Everyone is fucking watching. Here, it’s not like that. The staff doesn’t care. The guests don’t care. Walk around in your damned boxers, and you might get asked if you want a blanket, but that’s not because of the boxers. It’s because they want you to be comfortable.”

Avia grabbed her fork and speared a steak chunk. “There’s no gossip here. Well, nothing that’s going to go anywhere.”

They barely gossip,” the chef said. “What they want to know is if you’re home, how many guests we have and if they need to do anything special to make everyone feel welcome.”

Now I’m curious,” Brian said. “What’d they do with this group? Breck’s never been here.”

The prearrival briefing included the information that Avia was on a new medical program, and she needs to be checked on more frequently if she’s by herself,” the chef said.

Adverse reactions,” Brian said.

Exactly,” the chef said. “I was informed that she needs high-calorie foods. Brian and Joe have both been here before, so it was just a matter of making sure they had their same rooms and favorite foods on hand. Mr. Breck has never been here, so we were told to give him a guest room with a view and check on him frequently to see if he needed anything.”

And they have. Someone comes and asks me if I need anything about every one to two hours unless I’m asleep,” Breck said.

They check on you overnight too,” Avia said. “You might want some three-am hot chocolate.”

Brian laughed. “She’s not kidding. I got up at five, and Charles had hot coffee for me within ten minutes of my getting to my office.”

We do our best to make sure you are comfortable,” Charles said as he walked into the dining room. “And speaking of chocolate, we have chocolate cake with whipped icing tonight.”

You’ve spoiled the surprise,” the chef said. Though, she was smiling.

You can bring that out now,” Brian said as he speared a steak chunk.

Between him and Avia, they managed to empty his plate.

Charles removed everyone’s plates once they were finished and replaced them with dessert plates and fresh forks.

I think she ate more this time,” Joe said.

I ate quite a bit of it,” Brian said as Charles cut the cake and laid pieces out on the plates. “But she ate more of the coleslaw than I did.”

Twenty minutes later they were finished eating.

I have to do more work,” Brian said as he tapped Avia on the thigh.

Bowling?” Joe asked Breck.

Sure. Avia?” Breck asked.

I need to work,” Avia said. She slid out of Brian’s lap. “I haven’t looked at my email or anything else recently.”

We’ll be downstairs if you want to join,” Joe said.

Avia walked out of the dining room, down the hall and into her office to check her email and any potential phone messages. After booting her computer and checking her email, she realized she had exactly zero messages. She supposed that wasn't surprising. She had partially ended it with Benton, and there were no deliveries on her schedule due to Locke and the Sarasota Police Department. Not to mention, Brian had deleted all her voicemails.

Avia wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but she was certain he hadn’t done it maliciously. Well, he hadn’t deleted the dealer messages maliciously. She was still too early in her recovery to deny a direct phone call offering her heroin. Avia had to admit that she might have gone to pick it up. Although, she preferred the heroin the Company sold. She felt like it was safer, if there was such a thing as a safer heroin. The deletion of all Benton’s messages, however, told her that Brian was worried or angry at Benton. He could have left one message on her phone, but at the same time, he’d told her that Benton called and even called him. Still, she was slightly perturbed.

Avia sighed. She turned off her computer and walked out of her office. No one was in the parlor, and the second office door was closed, which meant Brian was still working. Avia paused outside the door. She didn’t want to interrupt him, but she did want to talk about the handling of her phone. Avia opened the door and walked inside. She closed it behind her.

Brian looked up from his computer. He stood. “Something wrong, Avy?”

A little bit,” Avia said.

He walked around from his desk. “More than a little bit. You rarely interrupt me when I’m working at your house.”

I was checking my emails and messages, and there’s nothing,” Avia said.

We’re not doing much right now,” Brian said. “I have very few messages. I’m mostly just paying people.”

Where are we getting that if there’s no income right now?” Avia asked.

I’m really good at managing the business finances,” Brian said. “Plus, we still have Grant’s shipment, and I should see that money any day.”

Has he shipped it?” Avia asked.

He should have shipped it yesterday,” Brian said. “But I don’t think you’ve told me what’s bothering you.”

I’m a little upset you deleted my messages,” Avia said.

You feel like I overstepped,” Brian said.

Yes,” Avia said.

Give me your phone.” Once she handed him her phone he dialed her voicemail and pressed the button to review the messages in the trash. Then, he handed it back. “Take a listen. That’s everything I deleted. They were in your voicemail trash.”

Avia brought the phone to her ear and listened. She frowned.

Brian leaned with his butt against the executive desk, watching her expressions. She didn’t seem impressed with the content in the messages.

Avia ended the voicemail call and sighed. “You were right. Those were awful.”

Was there anything in any of them that you needed to call someone back?” Brian asked.

Benton, but we did that,” Avia said. “And he just needed to leave one, not six.”

And those were all dealers wanting to sell to you, not buy from us?” Brian asked.

I didn’t hear anyone wanting to buy anything,” Avia said.

That doesn't mean that I didn’t overstep when I deleted them,” Brian said. “I did, but I also didn’t think you needed them, especially not from drug dealers. Also, I thought you only bought from us.”

I guess, sometimes I didn’t,” Avia said.

Have you ever shared needles?” Brian asked.

Never. I don’t even reuse my own needles,” Avia said.

When was your last AIDs test?” Brian asked.

When we got back from Michigan,” Avia said.

You mind if I verify that?” Brian asked.

Go ahead.”

Brian called down to the medical wing. He spoke when they answered. “Quick question. When was Avia’s last AIDs test?” He listened then smirked when they kept rambling. “Okay. Thank you.” He ended the call and looked at Avia. “You’re clean. They’ve tested you a few different times since we’ve gotten back. No STDs. Hormone levels are all good, and you’re not pregnant. He did say that you need your implant changed.”

The birth control? Has it expired?” Avia asked.

He said you’re within 30 days. He wants to get it changed out,” Brian said. “He also said they’ve tested me within the last six months, and I’m also clean.”

Is that all they said?” Avia asked.

I was told to slow down the drinking,” Brian said.

We already knew that.”

I’m aware. And he wasn’t kidding about that implant. He said it twice.”

Now?” Avia asked.

Yes, now. We never use condoms.”

I don’t want to deal with condoms,” Avia said.

Neither do I,” Brian said. “Are you going to fight me on this?”

No. It’s just every time they change it, I get sick,” Avia said.

Brian sighed. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.”

That was a suspicious look. Why?” Avia asked.

Because it doesn’t expire for another thirty days,” Brian said.

Fuck. Seriously?” Avia questioned. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

They… don’t always check that in your file from what I understand. They’re good for five years. Your last two were expired by a lot,” Brian said. “They didn’t tell me, and I forget why I needed to look at the files. Probably to get you into rehab.”

Oh,” Avia said. “Were… um… How bad was it? They didn’t even tell me.”

Bad,” Brian said. “I read the notes. They did the ultrasounds. They have to before they do that procedure. If it had gone on, you would have miscarried, and I understand how inappropriate it is to hear this from me. Just know that I didn’t go looking for it. I tripped over it while I was looking for something else.”

It’s all right,” Avia said. “I’m just surprised I wasn’t told.”

That, I can’t answer. I wasn’t there,” Brian said.

I’ll get it changed now. If you don’t see me for several days….”

Brian pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “If you’re not back up here in 30 minutes, I’m going down there.”

Now, I’m nervous,” Avia said.

Tell you what, nothing I have going on is immediate. Let’s get it done.”

You’re coming with me?” Avia asked as they walked out of Brian’s office.

I want to hear this fucking shit they tell you.” Brian led her down the hall to the medical offices.

The doctor looked up as they walked into the office. “I didn’t expect both of you.”

Have you read her files?” Brian asked.

I have. A few concussions. A couple broken bones. No chronic diseases. No STDs and a rampant narcotics dependency that we’re treating,” he said.

Did you read about her last implant switch?” Brian asked.

The doctor frowned. “I did, but that information is quite personal. I’m not sure I should be sharing it with others in the room.”

They didn’t tell her,” Brian said. “I just told her, and no, I didn’t snoop in her files. I needed to read some shit to answer some questions for whatever rehab stint she was going to at the time.”

You’re the HR manager?” the doctor asked.

I am,” Brian said.

Hold on.” He sat down behind his desk and pulled up Avia’s medical file. The last switch was in two-thousand one. It was four months late. They changed the implant and did a pregnancy test. What did they tell you about the results?”

I don’t remember them telling me,” Avia said.

It was positive,” the doctor said. “They did an ultrasound. Without going into the details, let’s just say it wasn’t viable. They cleaned you out and kept you sedated for four days. They did a follow-up two days after that. Everything looked fine. It was done at the McAllen ranch. And you knew nothing about this?”

I remember being told I had a serious stomach virus,” Avia said. “They never told me the test results.”

That’s bad medicine,” the doctor said. “Is that doctor still at the ranch?”

No,” Avia said.

Well, let’s avoid that this time. Why don’t you give me a urine sample? We’ll test you right now. Then, I’ll change your implant,” the doctor said. “I need to run a drug screen on you anyway. Everything is already in the bathroom.”

Avia stood and walked into the bathroom. She pissed in the clear cup, wiped, washed her hands and walked out of the bathroom.

The doctor took the sample from her. “Give me three minutes.” He walked into another room.

Avia sat down next to Brian. “I hate this shit.”

This is the only way you know,” Brian said. “Have you ever had a period?”

Avia contemplated. “Not in a really long time.” She turned her head and looked at him. “I can’t believe you’re sitting here.”

I can,” Brian said. “And it looks like I should have sat in on more of your appointments. Me or Benton, anyway.”

What would you do if it was positive?” Avia asked.

Have an immediate heart attack,” Brian said.

Avia laughed. “You would not.”

Oh, yes I would,” Brian said. “And after I recovered, Benton would kick my damned ass.”

Avia continued to laugh. “How would you know it’s yours?”

We have fucked almost every night for the last month,” Brian said.

Would you want it?” Avia asked.

I’ve never thought about it,” Brian said. “I know you don’t.”

Have you ever thought about getting a vasectomy?” Avia asked.

I have, actually,” Brian said.

It’s an in-office procedure,” the doctor said as he walked out of the back room. “And yes, we can do them here, but you can both relax. It’s negative. The drug screen will take more time, but you seem pretty coherent to me, so I’m guessing you’re sober, barring the medication we’re giving you.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved,” Brian said.

Now, we can change this implant, and you’re done,” he said.

Do we have a contingency plan if her medication stops working?” Brian asked.

If you notice any severe withdrawal symptoms, call us immediately,” the doctor said as he wiped Avia’s arm with alcohol. “We can change the parameters as needed. Did you have some concerns?”

I don’t think that pill is going to work for her much longer,” Brian said.

The doctor nodded. “I wondered about that.” He turned his gaze to Avia. “How do you feel about the pill days?”

I don’t like the pills, but I can’t say it’s not working,” Avia said.

Let me know if that changes,” the doctor said as he prepared Avia’s arm to remove the old implant.

Avia nodded.

You have to wear the pressure bandage for 24 hours.” the doctor said.

That means no showering,” Avia said.

You can wipe off, but don’t get under the water.” He injected her with a local anesthetic.

Ten minutes later, they walked out of the doctor’s office.

A pink pressure bandage!?” Avia looked at Brian.

Brian laughed. “It’s the most adorable bandage on the planet.”

You are awful, because this is hideous!” Avia said.

I am. Just wait till tonight,” Brian said.

You gonna test out the effectiveness of this new implant?” Avia asked.

I am,” Brian said as they walked toward the basement stairs.

Did you need to finish working?” Avia asked.

I’ll finish before we go to bed,” Brian said.

Thanks,” Avia said as they walked into the bowling alley.

You feel better about those implants now?” Brian asked.

Much better,” Avia said.

Something happen?” Joe asked.

Just a quick checkup in the medical wing,” Brian said. “Avia was nervous, so I sat with her.”

You really are in love,” Joe said.

No comment.” Brian looked at the scoreboard. “Are you even playing?”

We both got inundated with phone calls shortly after we got down here,” Joe said.

Anything important?” Brian asked.

L bitching because Mike’s the only one in the hangar,” Joe said. “I told him I’m stuck where I’m at. Avia’s plane isn’t flying right, and I have no way back until it is.”

Nice,” Brian said.

"I texted a colleague,” Breck said.

Any news on your investigation?” Brian asked.

He said they aren't saying much about me or Locke."

"Is that normal?" Avia asked.

"I think so," Breck said. "But I really couldn’t tell you. I’ve never been investigated before.”

I think that was Locke’s doing,” Brian said.

So do I, and he’ll get his. Even if I’m not fired, I’m sure he will be. The guy did give me a little bit of information on the evidence. He’s heard people complaining about a lack of evidence for my case, but they seem to have more on Locke.”

How the hell is that possible?” Avia asked.

He always did long personal reports on his work computer prior to filling out the official forms,” Breck said. “I guess some of the thoughts he put in those are pretty incriminating.”

How so?” Brian asked.

They read like a journal,” Breck said. “And his hatred for you guys is readily apparent.”

He’s going to get fired,” Brian said.

If you guys had been convicted, he would be looking at prison time,” Breck said. “But anyway, we were about to pour some drinks and play a game. You guys interested?”

Brian glanced at the clock on the back wall. “Is that clock right?”

Avia looked at it. “It’s already ten.”

I gotta finish my work,” Brian said. “Avia, did you want to play or come upstairs and watch me?”

I think I’ll just take a bath,” Avia said. “I feel like it’s been a stressful day.”

We’ll see you in the morning,” Breck said.

Avia walked upstairs with Brian.

You can’t get that pressure bandage wet,” Brian said.

Well, shit.”

Give me an hour to get this stuff done. Then, we’ll see what we can do about some relaxation,” Brian said.

What am I supposed to do for an hour?” Avia asked.

Put on a movie and grab a glass of wine,” Brian said.

Avia walked into the master bedroom and turned on the TV. She found a random movie and laid across the bed. She wasn’t sure what Brian was planning. She couldn’t think of anything better than a steaming bath, but she was willing to let him try. It meant a lot to her that he was willing to walk down to the medical offices with her, even though it wasn’t an in-depth appointment.

She was half asleep when she heard the bedroom door open.

Decided to take a nap?” Brian asked.

Avia sat up. “What time is it?”

Just after eleven,” Brian said as he rolled in a cart. “Thought you could use a midnight snack.”

What did you bring?” Avia asked.

Chocolate cream cake, a several doughnuts and a bottle of wine,” Brian said as he parked the cart at the foot of the bed. “Bottle is already open.”

Avia grabbed the bottle and took a drink. “Is this what you had planned?”

Not all of it,” Brian said. “One second.” He walked out into the hall and rolled another cart into the room before closing the door. “This, you might like a lot better.” He pulled off the towel, revealing lotion and heated towels.

Is that a massage cart?” Avia asked.

With hot towels,” Brian said as he removed his shoes and pants.

Avia sat the wine on the first cart. She pulled off her dress and tossed it onto the floor.

Brian waited until she laid on her stomach, then he grabbed one of the steaming towels, unrolled it and laid it across her back. He laid more towels across her arms and legs.

Avia inhaled as she relaxed into the bed. “I love you.”

Brian leaned down and kissed the back of her neck as he started massaging her shoulders. “I think you just love my hot towels.”

Avia laughed. “How’d you do it?”

Brian worked his way down her back. “Had the staff throw them in the dryer on high heat for a few minutes.” He lightly kneaded the muscles of her lower back. “Are you warm enough? Can I remove the towel on your back?”

Is the lotion warm?”

It is,” Brian said. He pulled the towel off and applied lotion to his hands. Then, he started again at her shoulders.

Avia closed her eyes and relaxed while Brian massaged her with the warm lotion. She was certain it was hotter than it was supposed to be, but Avia thought it was great.

Brian kneaded her butt them moved down her legs. “You can roll over unless you want more butt.”

More butt.”

Brian brushed his hands over her butt cheeks. He slowly massaged and rubbed the muscles. He knew she loved this. Avia had the most sensitive butt he’d ever encountered. “Now roll over.”

Avia rolled on to her back.

Brian leaned down and kissed her. "You are absolutely adorable."

"Am I?"

"Oh yeah." Brian kissed down her neck to her chest. He drug his tongue over one of her nipples then the other. Brian kissed down to her stomach then across to her hip bone.

Avia squirmed. "That tickles!"

"I haven't even started." He caressed his hands over her hips then down her thighs. Brian massaged the muscles slowly. He found a couple tight spots in her thighs and calves and decided to work them out to spite the fact that this was supposed to be a sensual massage.

Avia huffed and attempted to pull her leg from his grasp. "Is this supposed to be a sports massage?"

"No," Brian said as he gripped her ankle to stop her from pulling away from him. "Just hang on. I almost got it." He kneaded the muscle to spite her protests. “What did you do to this?”

"Pulled it the other day," Avia said.

Brian finished working out the knot. He kissed his way up her body to her mouth. "Better?"

Avia slid her hands down his chest to his abs. “Much better, but did you have to do that right now?”

I want you to be fully relaxed.” Brian drug his hands down her breasts, stopping briefly to tease her nipples with his thumbs before positioning himself between her legs. He slowly guided his cock into her pussy. The massage had worked exactly as he had hoped. She was relaxed and soaked. He pistoned, sinking himself deep then reversing his thrust.

Avia inhaled. "Damn that's hard."

Brian increased his pace.

Avia gripped his forearms as her pleasure increased.

When Avia moaned, Brian was tempted to thrust faster. Instead, he leaned down and kissed her deeply, while he let her feel the full length of his cock inside her. He resumed at a much slower pace.

Avia writhed. “Are you massaging it?”

Brian made a sound of affirmation. “A deep massage.” He pulled his cock out and teased her opening with the head until she was squirming and moaning. Then, he pistoned faster.

Avia met his thrusts until the pleasure was overwhelming. She spasmed and screamed.

Brian gave her a few more hard thrusts before he sunk his cock in deep and groaned. “Oh, Avy.” He continued to push into her as he came.

Avia leaned up and kissed him as he finished.

Brian held her until they calmed down enough to move. He pulled out and helped her off the bed so they could clean up.

It didn't take them long to scrub the slime from their bodies.

Once they were in bed, Brian pulled her against him. When she wrapped around him, he wasn't surprised. He pulled the blanket tighter over her and waited. Avia was always cold when she first got into bed. Eventually, she'd warm up, stretch out and fall asleep, and Brian didn't close his eyes until she was stretched out and sleeping deeply on his chest.




Chapter 2

Locke and Josephine

The Murder Saturday Night into Sunday



Josephine jolted awake to the sound of her phone ringing. She rolled over and grabbed it off the nightstand. With her eyes half-open, she pressed the answer call button and attempted to say hello, but all the came out was a breathy H.

"I'm guessing I woke you up," Deputy Chief Mark Jones said.

Josephine glanced at the clock on the dresser. "It's two in the morning."

"I apologize, but I wouldn’t call if it weren't important," Mark said.

Josephine moved to sit on the side of the bed. She looked over at Greg. He was still asleep. "Hang on. I don't want to wake my company." She quietly walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Josephine walked into the living room and turned on the light. "What's happened, and is it going to be on the six am news?"

"The FBI fucked up, and yes, it's going to be on the damned news," Mark said.

"Tell me it's not the Company investigation they were doing.”

"You know it is," Mark said.

Josephine cursed. "And our men were providing backup."

"That's why it's also our problem. I guess you'd like to hear the problem."

"That would be nice," Josephine said.

"The guy delivering the cargo was shot," Mark said.

"Where at?" Josephine asked.

"On the damned boat at the pier," Mark said.

"What?" she questioned. "Does that mean he parked the boat to make the drop and was shot?"

"Pier 173," Mark said. "Shot in the neck."

"Were the guns still on the boat?" Josephine asked.

"They're examining the crates now," Mark said.

"When did you get called?"

"About an hour ago. I've been at the dock less than thirty minutes," Mark said. "It's swarming with our men and FBI agents."

"Are any of the Company members there?"

"No," Mark said. "It's just cops, a dead body and a boat."

"Fantastic," Josephine said with zero enthusiasm. "Give me forty-five minutes. I'll be there."

"I'll see you when you get here.”

Josephine ended the call. She walked through the master bedroom into the bathroom, making sure to close the door before turning on the light. Josephine started the shower, letting the water warm while she grabbed a washcloth out of the linen closet, which was located between the sink and bathtub-sized stand-alone shower. By the time she stepped under the water, it was warm.

She washed quickly, cursing the FBI agents who had undertaken the task of bringing down the Company with a drug buy. Obviously, they hadn't planned it well, got overconfident, and now, they were all fucked. It was going to hit the news, and there was nothing Josephine could do. She turned off the water after rinsing and stepped onto the bathmat. Josephine dried her body and hair inside the bathroom. Then, brushed her teeth. It was backwards from her normal routine. Normally, she dried and dressed in the bedroom, then brushed her teeth, but she wanted to let Locke sleep for as long as possible.

Josephine opened the bathroom door without turning off the light and flipped the master bedroom switch. She didn’t want to do it, but she had to have the overhead light on to find her clothes. When she heard Locke shift in the bed, she said. "It's just me."

Locke rolled over and sat up with a groan. His eyes were not ready for any type of lighting. "What are you doing? What time is it?"

"Almost three. Getting ready to go out to Pier 173," Josephine said.

"Isn't that Avia's pier?" Locke asked.

"It is, and you were right. The gun buy didn't go as planned," Josephine said.

"Who got shot?" Locke asked.

"The snitch," Josephine said as she walked into her closet.

"That's going to be a rabbit hole," Locke said.

"You and I know that." Josephine pulled a pair of jeans and a t-shirt off two hangars before walking into the bedroom. "The first suspect is the Company. Of course."

"Was anyone found at the pier?" Locke asked.

"Mark said it was just cops. No Company members." Josephine put on her jeans and t-shirt.

"Were the guns on board?" Locke asked.

"He said they were. He doesn't know if any are missing," Josephine said.

"I'd bet money that there's not a damned one missing," Locke said.

"Hopefully, they can find some prints or evidence that someone from the Company was on that boat," Josephine said. "Even if they left the guns."

"We can hope. Do you need me to come with you?"

"No. I should be back before noon." Josephine put on her socks and shoes.

"Call me if you need me," Locke said.

I will.” Josephine walked out of the master bedroom. She grabbed her keys and her purse and exited out the back door.

It took her less than ten minutes to drive to Pier 173. She parked on the side of the road and turned the engine off. There was already a line of police tape around most of the parking lot.

"You made it," Mark said.

"I did. Did they forget to rope off the building?" She motioned.

"No. they checked. It's locked tight. No one appears to be inside, and there are no shell casings or anything else around the building. They ruled it out as an origin point for the gun," Mark said.

"So they're focusing on the pier and the boat," Josephine said.

"That's what they told me," Mark said.

Josephine looked around. "Who's in charge?"

"Big dude walking toward us.”

"Are you Chief Josephine Archer?" the man asked.

"I am," Josephine said. "I heard things didn't go well tonight."

"That's an understatement. I'm Marcus Westing. Head of this operation. My apologies for not being able to talk to you sooner. I heard you were out of town."

"Helping with an investigation in another state. Ironically, it was also about the Company."

"What was that in regards to?" Marcus asked.

"Drugs and guns found in a car in Michigan," Josephine said. "I got involved because the car owner's house is down the street."

"Who's the owner of the house?" Marcus asked.

"Officially, Avia Bays, but she has half a dozen aliases.”

"Can you prove any of those other aliases?" Marcus asked.

None that matter,” Josephine said.

And she owns the pier?”

"And that building," Josephine motioned.

"Do you see her here now?" Marcus asked.

"She is not here," Josephine said.

"How do you know that?"

"Because she's half my size with long red hair. You can't miss her," Josephine said.

"What does she do for a living?".

Josephine looked at the FBI agent. "How much research have you done on that family?"

"Extensive. I just want to know what you know.”

"You need to do more," Josephine said. "But for your information, officially, Avia is independently wealthy."

"Unofficially?" Marcus asked.

"She's the Company's drug and gun-running pilot," Josephine said.

"Do you know what she flies?"

"A Piper Seneca," Josephine said.

"Are those capable of landing on water?"

"I have no idea," Josephine said. "But if your next question is asking me if I see an airplane on the water, I do not."

"And you don't know which airport she uses," Marcus said.

"I do not.”

"Do you know if she's in town?" Marcus asked.

"I just got in town myself. I have no idea. The investigation I was on ended last week."

"What ended it?" Marcus asked.

"Grand Rapids police department shake-up," Josephine said.


"That's where it started. Detective Greg Locke was in charge of the investigation," Josephine said.

"I've heard of him. He's pretty good, if the papers are to be believed."

"He's a fine police detective," Josephine said. "But his police chief was put on leave, and Locke’s per deim was canceled."

"Is he in Michigan now?"

"He was also put on paid leave pending an internal investigation," Josephine said.


"Biased investigation," Josephine said. "It's suspected that he had ulterior motives for tracking the Company across three states."

"And that's when you left," Marcus said.

"That's when I left the investigation and came back to Sarasota," Josephine said.

"Were any charges brought up for that investigation?"

"None. You can have my case files if you think it'd help," Josephine said. "Crimes were found but nothing the DA wanted to pursue."

"No smoking gun.”

"All we found were drugs. Avia is a known drug addict. It wouldn't put her in jail. It'd put her in rehab," Josephine said. "The DA was not interested."

"She'd be out in thirty days.”

"Thirty or ninety," Josephine said. "It wouldn't get her off the street."

"Well, this would have.”

"It would have, if it had worked," Josephine said. "But you have a dead informant."

"Shot through the neck. Someone is either a very good shot, or they missed his head," Marcus said.

"If it was the Company, they meant to shoot him through the neck."

"But why the neck? Why not the head or heart?" Marcus asked.

"I don't know, and I don't particularly want to speculate. Did they take any guns?"

"We don't think so. All the crates looked sealed," Marcus said. “But they’re double-checking.”

"Are you getting fingerprints?" Josephine asked.

"Lots of fingerprints.”

"Was this his first assignment?" Josephine asked.

"It was.”

"Was he a known gun smuggler?" Josephine asked.

"We tripped over him, but he'd been transporting guns to various groups for at least a decade," Marcus said.

"More than just the Company," Josephine said.


You do realize that if any of those organizations found out he was working with the Feds...."

"You don't need to say it. I've already thought of it," Marcus said.

"The Company is very good at working technicalities," Josephine said. "If you slack off in any way, they will find your hole and punch you through it."

"I heard one of them only got five years for murder.”

"Reduced on a technicality," Josephine said. "He's up on charges again in Texas, and if I were a betting woman, I'd bet he doesn't spend one night behind bars."

"What's the charge?”

"Felon in possession of a gun," Josephine said.

"That's cut and dry. He's going to jail for at least three years."

"His fiancee." Josephine motioned behind them to the block-sized mansion that was not in view. "Was being kidnapped by the Sanchez at the time."

"Oh, son of a bitch. So, what's the defense. He grabbed the gun to protect her?"

"That's the theory," Josephine said. "He was shot. He's spent the last several weeks in the hospital, and the Sanchez are indicted for attempted murder and kidnapping."

"Damn. That is convoluted," Marcus said.

"This is what the court system has to deal with every single time they deal with that family. Benton Docks is a bad son of a bitch, but no jury on this planet will send him to prison for trying to stop his fiancee from being kidnapped by a Mexican cartel."

"I doubt that even goes to trial. The attorneys will work something out," Marcus said. "But are you still in contact with Detective Locke?"

"I am," Josephine said.

"Can you get him down here to talk to me?" Marcus asked.

"I can try. When did you want to meet?"

"As soon as he lands." Marcus pulled his wallet out of his pocket and handed Josephine a business card. "Call me when you know when he can meet."

Josephine pocketed the card. "Is it mandatory? He'll ask."

"No, but I would appreciate being able to talk to him," Marcus said.

"I'll tell him, and I'll call you regardless of his response," Josephine said. "Do you need me here?"

Marcus looked around the area. "No, but can I have your number?"

"Of course." Josephine walked back to her car and opened the door. She pulled a business card out of the glove box and handed it to Marcus. "It has my personal cell on it as well as my phone at the station."

"I'll keep you informed of what we find here."

Josephine looked at him. "Oh really?"

"Maybe we should team up on this. You seem to know a lot.”

"Maybe." She watched as Marcus got pulled away by another officer.

Mark walked up to her. "Headed out already?"

"He doesn't know anything," Josephine said.

"Nothing other than the obvious," Mark said. "I'm about to head out of here myself. I'll talk to you at the station later today?"

"I'll be in. I'm not sure what time," Josephine said.

"I'll be there when you get there. We can talk," Mark said.

Josephine got into her car and started the engine. She pulled out onto the road as soon as everyone had moved from in front of her car.




Josephine parked her car in the garage and walked into the house. The lights were off. That was a good sign. It meant Locke wasn't waiting for her. She turned on a light and got a beer out of the fridge. After opening it, she took a drink.

After turning off the kitchen light, she headed into the living room with her beer. Rather than flip light switches, she walked through the living room, down the hall and into the master bedroom by memory. Unfortunately, she had to turn on the bedroom light to get undressed.

Locke inhaled and opened his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Almost five," Josephine said.

Locked rolled over to face her as she undressed. "How'd it go?"

Josephine sat her beer on the nightstand. "I didn't get very far onto the property. I was stopped by Agent Marcus Westing." She took off her t-shirt and jeans.

"Never heard of him," Locke said.

"He's heard of you," Josephine said.

"Is that good or bad?" Locke asked as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed.

Josephine motioned to her beer. "I don't know, but he wants to talk to you."

Locke took a drink of the beer and set it back on the nightstand. "I think I need my own beer. Right after I take a piss."

Josephine walked into her closet and pulled out a long t-shirt. She slid it over her head. "I'll make an early breakfast. Then, we can go back to bed."

"I guess you're going in late," Locke said as he walked into the bathroom.

"It’s Sunday. The guy is dead, and there's no one to interview yet. I’ll get there when I get there," Josephine said.

"You know they say it's two-hundred percent more likely that a case goes cold if it's not solved within forty-eight hours," Locke said as he closed the bathroom door so he could pee.

"Thankfully, it's not my fuck-up." She walked out of the bedroom, through the house and into the kitchen. She turned on the light, thinking if she had a dollar for every time a crime woke her up in the middle of the night, she’d be able to pay her electric bill and put money into her savings account.

Josephine opened the refrigerator and pulled out the eggs, milk and cheese. She grabbed the frozen potatoes O'Brian from the freezer and sat everything on the counter.

Locke walked into the kitchen a few minutes later. "All my favorites."

Josephine grinned as she cracked the eggs into a bowl. "This is just easy for this early in the morning."

"Can I help with anything?"

"You can get us some more beers," Josephine said.

Locked opened the fridge and pulled out two beers. He sat them on the counter. "It's beer-thirty somewhere." He opened both of them before sliding one to Josephine. Then, he took a drink of the other one. "What did that agent want to talk to me about?"

Josephine scrambled the eggs and added butter to a skillet. Then, she poured the eggs into it. She pulled out another skillet and added oil and the frozen potatoes. "I assume it's your knowledge of the Company."

"Does he know I'm being investigated for that knowledge?" Locke asked.

"I told him. He didn't seem to care," Josephine said.

"What did he say about the informant?" Locke asked.

"It's a crapshoot. There were no Company members on the property. This was his first assignment, and he's been gun-running for at least a decade."

"He had other clients," Locke said.

"Exactly. Anyone who got wind that he was working with the Feds could have shot him."

"It's just par the damned course," Locke said.

"It gets worse. There's no gate or fence around that property. Anyone could pull up in a car or boat."

"Unlike the houses," Locke said.

"Other than the building, which was locked, the whole place might as well be open to the public," Josephine said.

"Did they look inside the building?" Locke asked.

"They looked around the building. No shell casings. No broken windows. In fact, I'm not sure it has windows," Josephine said. "All the doors were locked."

"I guess the airplane wasn't sitting there either," Locke said.

"It was not," Josephine said. "No evidence to suggest Avia or any other member has been there in the last six months, let alone last night."

"We don't even know if she's in town," Locke said.

"We saw them in Texas. They could have driven here since we saw them."

"Avia is the only one who lives here," Locke said.

"She was in no condition to drive when we last saw her, and you can bet money that Benton can't travel yet," Josephine said.

"Brian," Locke said.

"He was the only one in good enough condition to travel anywhere, but as far as I know, he works and lives in Texas," Josephine said.

"We need to see if she's in town. If she is, Brian might be. He would have had to drive her home," Locke said. "He's also the hitman, right?"

"That was the vibe I got from him," Josephine said. "If he is the Company's problem solver, he may be able to shoot a target from extreme distances."

"Like a sniper. Unfortunately, that means he could have been miles away."

"What's the drop distance of a bullet fired from an extreme distance?" Josephine asked as she turned the potatoes.

"I'd have to look it up," Locke said.

"I was just thinking. The man was shot in the neck. If Brian were firing from an extreme distance, he could have been aiming for the man's head."

Locke took a drink of his beer as he walked out of the bedroom and back into the bedroom. He grabbed his cell phone and typed 'shooting from extreme distances' into his phone's browser. He walked into the kitchen just as Josephine was flipped the eggs. Locke skimmed several articles. "If there is a drop, it's not here."

"What is there?" Josephine asked as she got the plates out of the cabinet.

"Once you're scoped in, the only thing to account for at long distances is wind," Locke said.

"So, we have to assume the shooter hit what he was aiming for," Josephine said.

"As far as I can tell, if the shooter would have missed, he would have missed by two or more feet. That bullet would be in the gulf," Locke said.

"And the informant would still be alive," Josephine said as she plated the food.

"In theory." Locke put his phone down and grabbed the butter and ketchup out of the refrigerator. Locke sat them on the table. "Let's hope they left their fingerprints all over the boat."

"We can hope." Josephine turned off the burners. She grabbed the plates and sat them on the table before sitting down.

Locke looked at the plates and chuckled. “I think you’re still asleep.”

"I forgot the silverware," Josephine said and shook her head. “It is too damned early.”

"I'll get it." Locke grabbed the silverware out of the drawer and handed Josephine a fork and a knife. Then, he sat down to eat his early breakfast. "Does this FBI agent know I am in town?"

"He does not. I said I'd call and asked if you wanted to come down and talk to him."

"Well, I might as well see what he has to say," Locke said. "Call and tell him I'll meet with him at four. I think that sounds plausible if you called me early in the morning, and I caught the next flight."

"I guess I can leave the station at half-past three to pick you up from the airport," Josephine said.

"I'll load my carry-on. He'll notice if there's not a bag in the backseat."

"If he meets us in the lot," Josephine said.

"We have to assume that he'll see your car," Locke said between bites.

Josephine ate her food. "I guess you better pack a bag."

Locke drained the rest of his beer. "Did you want to clean this up?"

"Not right now. I'm exhausted."

Locke made sure nothing perishable was sitting on the counter before joining Josephine in the master bedroom.




Josephine parked her car in the SPD parking lot at ten till noon. She'd woken around ten. Locke was already in the kitchen, cooking a second breakfast and coffee. She showered, dressed, ate breakfast, which consisted of cheesy scrambled eggs on heavily buttered toast, and drove to work. Judging by the number of cars in the lot, the FBI crew was here.

Josephine grabbed her giant travel coffee mug out of the center console holder and walked inside the SPD police station.

"You know it’s Sunday, right?" the front desk officer asked.

Unfortunately,” Josephine said. "Is Mark in?"

"He's in his office.”

"What room is the FBI using?" she asked.

"The large conference room at the end of the hall," he said.

"Thanks." Josephine walked through the station to her office. She unlocked her door and sat her coffee on her desk before walking over to Mark's office, which was next to hers.

"I wondered when you'd get in," Mark said.

Josephine closed the door behind her. "How long have you been here?"

"About two hours," Mark said.

"Did they find anything else last night?" Josephine asked.

"You might want to get your coffee. I'll tell you what I know, then Marcus should be here..." Mark looked at the clock. "In about thirty minutes."

"I'll be right back." It took Josephine less than two minutes to walk to her office, grab her coffee and return to Mark's. She closed the door. "What do we know?" she asked as she sat down.

"Nothing was found on the property," Mark said. "There wasn't a footprint on that dock. The parking lot was undisturbed, and the warehouse, or whatever the hell that building is, was locked."

"Why am I not surprised?" Josephine asked.

"Because you’ve been chasing these guys for most of a month. When I got here this morning, the guys down the hall were running fingerprints. They found about ten different sets. One of them belonged to the gun runner. One belonged to an unknown, and four didn't match the Company members on file," Mark said. “The other four were matches, and they're trying to locate those guys.”

"Avia, Brian and Benton were not on that boat," Josephine said.

"Or Larry Bays," Mark said.

"The family patriarch," Josephine said.

"I don't know how they got those. I didn't know he'd ever been arrested," Mark said.

"Must have been before my time. Isn't he about sixty?" Josephine asked.

"Sixty-three," Mark said.

"Born in 1943," Josephine said after doing some quick mental math.

"Forty-two. His birthday is in August," Mark said.

"How old are the kids and cousins?" Josephine asked.

"Avia is adopted. I guess we all knew that," Mark said.

"That's pretty obvious. She doesn't look like L or the boys," Josephine said.

"Avia is May 1976. She's thirty. Benton... I think he said 1971. He's about thirty-five. Brian is a little bit older than Avia, but I forget what he said. Low thirties. Thirty-one or two."

"So, none of them are in their twenties," Josephine said.

"They're all just a little bit younger than us," Mark said. "Did you say you met them while you were out there?"

"Locke and I walked into the hospital room. Brian, Benton, Grant Bays, Marie Bays and Avia were all in the room. Then, we had lunch with Brian and Avia," Josephine said.

"Why the hell did you have lunch with them?"

"We wanted to talk to them about the Sanchez," Josephine said.

"Were they any help? What the hell were they like?"

"We actually learned a lot when it came to the Sanchez," Josephine said. "The Bays' family's inter-dynamic was extremely interesting. Avia didn't say much. She was more interested in the food than she was us."

"And she's underweight," Mark said.

"Very," Josephine said. "I believe she's in some type of recovery program, so Brian would answer our questions, but at the same time, he was looking after Avia."

"Split attention. Did he fuck up anywhere useful?" Mark asked.

"Not even a little bit," Josephine said.

"He's had training," Mark said.

"Maybe so. That never occurred to me."

"We may need to dig into him a little farther. What does he do?" Mark asked.

"Human resources," Josephine said.

"What is that in a crime family? There's no way it's just benefits and pay," Mark said.

"I think it's exactly what it sounds like in that context. He may do pay, benefits and hiring, but I’m guessing the termination policy is vastly different," Josephine said.

"That's a nice way to put it. Does he have the attitude of a hitman?"

"He could be anybody that you would meet off the street," Josephine said. "He was cautious, but not paranoid. Attentive, but not overly so."

"He wasn't nervous?"

"Not even a little bit," Josephine said. "We might as well have been four friends meeting for lunch."


"Have they completed a full background check on the informant?" Josephine asked.

"They're working on figuring out all of his contacts, but it's a quagmire, as you can imagine," Mark said.

"Criminals don't exactly like having their contacts known," Josephine said. "That research could take months."

"Unfortunately, which means if they don't find any evidence of Company involvement, this case could remain open for a long time," Mark said.

"Well, Locke agreed to meet with Marcus. I have to pick him up later this afternoon."

"Maybe his information can help," Mark said.

"I hope," Josephine said just as the door opened, and Marcus stepped through.

"Am I interrupting?" Marcus asked.

"I was just updating Chief Archer on what we know so far,” Mark said.

"Not much," Marcus said. "We pulled all those fingerprints. A couple were from known criminals. A few are unknown, and not a damned one of them match any Company member on file."

"Figures," Josephine said.

"They were either not on the boat or wearing gloves," Marcus said.

"Did it look like the boat had been wiped down?" Mark asked.

"No. It looked like a well-used boat," Marcus said. "With minimal cleaning. The railings, knobs and doors were covered in prints and filth."

"Was there a GPS? Maybe it stored previous locations?" Josephine asked.

"There was, and I have people looking at it," Marcus said.

"What about the body?" Mark asked.

"Coroner's report isn't ready yet," Marcus said. "Expecting it late tonight."

"Locke agreed to meet with you," Josephine said. "I'll pick him up later this afternoon."

"Do you know what time?" Marcus asked.

"He thinks he can meet with you around four," Josephine said.

"You must have called him early," Marcus said.

"Woke him up," Josephine said.

"I appreciate it. We need to know more about these people." Marcus looked at Josephine. "And yes, I did look up Locke's record. He is on leave pending an investigation of his last investigation. Is it fact or a rumor that the Company killed his daughter?"

"It depends on who you talk to. The female found shot at the Company ranch had no immediate family. DNA tests that were conducted much later revealed she was related to Locke, but you know the types of DNA tests they do at that point."

"Someone in Locke's line was a match," Marcus said.

"Exactly," Josephine said. "Could be Locke. Could be a cousin or a relative much more distant, but it's almost a moot point. Locke believes it, and he claimed the body."

"That would make him biased on almost any investigation regarding the Company," Marcus said.

"So, while he has a lot of information, he attained it for the purposes of finding a crime, not solving a crime," Josephine said. "Or, at least, that's what they need to figure out with the IA investigation."

"Let's be clear. You are providing information, not making a conclusion," Marcus said.

"Correct," Josephine said. "I am not qualified to make assumptions on Locke's motives. He did have a car full of drugs and guns in Michigan, and it was traced to an alias of Avia Bays."

"And she lives here," Marcus said.

"She does," Josephine said.

"Why was she in Michigan?" Marcus asked.

"She was accused of defrauding a woman and murdering her for several millions of dollars," Josephine said.

"I read the papers. They walked," Marcus said.

"The argument was that the Shaughnessy detectives and Victor actually did the crime," Josephine said.

"Where are those people?" Marcus asked.

"Presumed to be on the run," Josephine said.

Marcus looked at Mark. "May I use your computer?"

"Of course." Mark stood and walked around his desk to sit in the chair next to Josephine's.

Marcus sat down and pulled up the FBI database. He logged in. "What were the names of those detectives?"

"It was the Shaughnessy Agency," Josephine said. "I have no idea what their names are."

"Not a problem." Marcus typed Shaughnessy Agency into the database search engine. "Detective Jody Shaughnessy and Jason Trace. Business started in 2000. Hired Tasha Quade and Benton Docks last year. No criminal records on the detectives, except the trial. There are warrants out for both of them," Marcus said. "Who is this Victor?"

"Victor Kail," Josephine said. “And Tasha Quade was the alias I said didn’t matter.”

Why doesn’t it matter?” Marcus asked.

Because the only thing linked to that alias was a red Dodge Stratus, and it’s disappeared,” Josephine said.

How the fuck does a car in police impound disappear?” Marcus asked.

How does all the evidence related to that case disappear?” Josephine asked.

Jesus. Someone dumped it,” Marcus said. “The police chief is also under investigation?”

He is,” Josephine said.

Marcus typed Victor Kail into the database and watched as the file appeared. "You've got to be kidding me."

"No information," Josephine said.

"He is above my pay grade. That rarely happens," Marcus said.

"Let me guess. Big black boxes," Josephine said.

"I have a picture. A name and some dates," Marcus said. "Spaces for education and degrees and work history, but someone murdered a Sharpie on this guy."

"We figured he might be part of a hidden government agency," Josephine said.

"I can call some people, but it's a crapshoot as to whether or not anyone wants to talk. When it's this blacked out, the dude is bad news and working for someone."

"He is a known Company associate," Josephine said.

"It came out in the trial," Marcus said.

"We thought he might be a gun runner," Josephine said.

"It's possible." Marcus logged out of the database and closed the web browser after deleting the history for the last twenty-four hours. "I need to find out more information on him. That guy's association with the Company could be bad news for anything we want to know about the informant, the Company and the pier."

"It may not have been Brian," Josephine said.

"It may have been this guy," Marcus said. "And if that's the case, we all have better things to do with our time."

Josephine shook her head.

"I know," Marcus said. “But when they look like that, these guys can literally get away with murder.”

Josephine sighed. "Well, I guess I better get some work done before I have to pick up Locke."

"You can just bring him straight down to the conference room," Marcus said.

Josephine nodded. She walked out of Mark's office and into her own, closing the door behind her. She walked over to her desk and sat down. It took her computer two minutes to boot. She logged into the SPD system and checked her email. Then, she electronically signed various documents so her officers could complete their cases.



At three-thirty, she left the station to presumably drive to the airport. Instead, she drove to her house where Greg was waiting for her with his carry-on. Josephine wasn’t sure if he’d put anything in it, but it helped give the appearance that he’d just gotten off the plane.

Locke tossed his mock carry-on bag and laptop bag in the backseat and slid into the front passenger's side of Josephine's car. It was almost four. They were going to be a few minutes late. Of course, Locke felt like that would only add credibility to their story. "Did he say what he wants?"

"He wants to pick your brain on the Company members," Josephine said as she drove out of her driveway and onto the road. "I told him what I know, but you know a lot more."

"We'll see. I'm surprised he wanted to talk to me. Or even knew who I was."

"You've been in the papers quite a bit for your extraordinary busts," Josephine said.

"Is he concerned about my IA investigation?" Locke asked.

"He asked about it, but didn't really indicate whether he was concerned or not." Josephine stepped on the brake briefly at a stoplight before stepping on the gas when the light turned green. "Have you heard anything about the investigation?"

"Not a damned thing. I may not hear anything for weeks or months. They have to finish Breck's."

"I forgot about that." Josephine turned into the SPD parking lot and parked in the space she was in previously.

Locke stepped out and grabbed his laptop bag out of the backseat. After closing both doors, he walked inside with Josephine.

"It's this way. They're using one of our conference rooms," Josephine said as she led Locke down a long hallway.

There were five FBI agents in the room. Three were sitting at the large table. The other two were at opposite ends, working on laptops at smaller tables.

"You must be Detective Greg Locke," Marcus said as he stood from the conference table.

"I am." Locke shook the man's hand. "I heard you have some questions about the Company."

"Lots of them, and I'm hoping you have the answers." Marcus motioned for Locke to sit as he retook his seat.

Locke sat in a chair as Josephine walked out of the conference room. "I can tell you what I know."

"Let me make sure I know who everyone is first," Marcus said. "Larry Bays runs the Company."

"That's correct.”

"Benton is second in command. Brian is human resources. Avia is the pilot," Marcus said.

"Then, you have Grant and Marie Bays, located in La Pryor," Locke said.

"What do they do?" Marcus asked as he looked at his computer screen.

"It's a ranch. I think it's a warehouse and transportation station," Locke said.

"But you can only confirm it's a Company ranch," Marcus said.

"Right," Locke said. "And they are all family. L is Avia's adopted father. He's an uncle for Brian and Benton. Grant and Marie are another aunt and uncle."

"On what side are Grant and Marie?" Marcus asked.

"Grant is Larry's brother," Locke said.

"Is he also Brian or Benton's dad?" Marcus asked.

"I've not figured that out. My impression is that there are two more siblings of Larry's that we don't know about. Brian's last name is Colcort. Benton's last name is officially Docks."

"Two sisters to Larry," Marcus said as he typed information into his file.

"Exactly. And it seems to be patriarchal. So, the sisters may not have wanted anything to do with the family business."

"But Avia is a pilot," Marcus said.

"An anomaly for a patriarchal family. She has those cousins wrapped around her finger," Locke said. "They bend over backwards to make sure she is happy."

"Interesting." Marcus typed a few words into his file. "She doesn't play by the family rules."

"I don't believe she does," Locke said.

"Is she a weak link? Could we use her?"

"I believe she's extremely manipulative," Locke said. "She's in our database. Pull her file."

Marcus opened the browser and logged into the criminal database. He entered her name. When the file appeared, he clicked on it. "Oh hell. No wonder Josephine said you can't miss her." He read the file. "Ninety pounds? Is that a typo?"

"No, and she's even thinner now," Locke said.

"What's the dynamic between the cousins and her?" Marcus asked.

"She is engaged to Benton," Locke said. "But since he's been in the hospital, Brian has been taking care of her."

"Why would she need a caretaker?"

"She's a heroin addict, and she is in treatment, I think."

"You think?" Marcus asked.

"Chief Archer asked. Brian said she was being treated, and that was all he said. He did not elaborate.”

Marcus contemplated. "Oh, I see. Benton can't help her, so she's got Brian."

"That's what makes me think she's manipulative," Locke said.

"And you never saw her by herself in Texas," Marcus said.

"Not one time.”

"And Benton is the known con artist," Marcus said.

"Right. He was nailed for murder a few years ago," Locke said. "But that's not what he does. He's an income generator."

"And Brian is human resources," Marcus said.

"That's a nice way to say he kills people for a living," Locke said.

"And Avia is the pilot but she's spent a considerable amount of time around her scumbag cousins," Marcus said.

"Which means she's probably picked up a few things from both of them," Locke said.

"That might make her twice as dangerous," Marcus said. "And when you get them all together..."

"You get what we had in Michigan. They not only killed their target, they robbed her blind, and they walked."

Marcus leaned back in his chair with a hefty sigh. "And your latest investigation?"

"Imploded. There's no evidence anywhere that matters, except in Texas."

"What's going on in Texas?" Marcus asked.

"The La Pryor police department has Benton on felon in possession of a gun," Locke said.

"Chief Archer told me about that. And he's going to walk because Avia was kidnapped by the Sanchez," Marcus said.

"The charges on the Sanchez look like they're going to stick, but Benton’s another story," Locke said.

"I have to agree. You're talking about a man watching the love of his life get kidnapped by a Mexican cartel. No jury is going to convict him because every single one of them would have done the same damned thing," Marcus said.

"I think it's actually a Brazilian cartel," Locke said.

"Moot point," Marcus said. "What do you think about the chances of getting them for killing the informant are?"

"Next to zero. Josephine caught me up on the morning details," Locke said. "You can't place them at the scene. No one stole any guns. The warehouse was locked, and there was no evidence they've been there recently. They happen to own the property where the crime was committed, and that's not a crime."

"And the property isn't gated or fenced," Marcus said.

"I've been chasing these guys for months. They are not stupid. You can catch Avia with drugs in her pockets, but she's never caught with a plane full of them."

"Catch Benton with a gun, but not with the money he's stolen from his victims," Marcus said.

"Exactly. You'll get them for jaywalking but not the reason they were jaywalking."

Marcus nodded. "Well, you're on the team."

"Team?" Locke asked.

"The FBI team investigating the Company," Marcus said.

"You're kidding. You know I'm under investigation," Locke said.

"It doesn't matter. I think you are the foremost expert on that family, and we need you on the team." Marcus slid a large packet of paperwork across the desk. "What were they paying you up in Michigan?"

"About seventy-five a year," Locke said.

"I'll give you twice that," Marcus said.

Locke opened the packet. "Do you want me to do this now?"

"It looks worse than it is," Marcus said.

Locke pulled out a pen. "It's good to be on the team."

"I do want to make it clear that it's just this case. This isn't a permanent offer," Marcus said.

"That's fine. After this, I plan to go into private detective work," Locke said.

"If you're cleared, you have no plans to go back to the GRPD?" Marcus asked.

"None," Locke said. "It's time for me to move on."

"Let me know when you get that paperwork done."

"Will do," Locke said as he started filling out the stack.

"Do you need a car?" Marcus asked.

"My car is in Michigan, but Chief Archer's been kind enough to lend me her spare bedroom since this was so spur of the moment."

"Come in with her tomorrow morning. I'll have your car and a place for you by then," Marcus said.

"Thanks," Locke said.

The paperwork wasn’t as complex as it looked, but it still took Locke an hour and a half to fill it out. Once he was finished, he left the conference room and walked down to Josephine’s office where he spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening minus a short stint to grab some Cokes and sandwiches for lunch while Josephine caught up on paperwork leftover from Friday and Saturday.




Locke took off his shoes and set them by the back door. It was after seven, and one of the longest days he could remember.

"What do you want to eat?" Josephine asked as she closed and locked the back door.

"Whatever you want," Locke said.

"Pizza it is." She pulled out her phone and dialed the local pizza shop. She ordered two large pizzas, one pepperoni and sausage, the other jalapenos, onions and pepperoni, extra garlic butter and two large Cokes. She ended the call. "Should be here in about 40 minutes."

"Sounds good to me." He walked over to the fridge and pulled out two beers.

Josephine took one and opened it. "You said Marcus had an idea if they can't find any evidence linking the Company to the murder."

"A really shitty idea. He asked me if Avia could be swayed."

"Because she's the drug addict, she's automatically the weak link," Josephine said.

"That's his thinking." Locke opened his beer and took a drink.

"I've never seen her without a cousin," Josephine said.

"Neither have I," Locke said. "And I told him that. I also said she may be more manipulative than the boys."

"She plays her size and appearance to the fullest. She would be a real struggle to deal with and remain professional for any length of time, and to maybe get any information, you'd have to spend weeks around her."

Speaking of that, guess who I ran into getting our Cokes this afternoon,” Locke said.

Oh shit. You didn’t,” Josephine said.

Avia and Brian,” Locke said. “They are in town.”

How the hell did you run into them?” Josephine asked.

Avia was throwing something away, and before you ask, no I did not dig through the trash,” Locke said. “But she turned and damned near stepped in front of a car.”

And you grabbed her out of the way,” Josephine said.

"Fucking reflex. I saw it happening and just snatched her back. I didn’t even realize it was her until she yelled, but I'd be worried that anyone we send would start acting like those cousins. Willing to take a bullet for her. Ordering her food.”

Was she mad?”

When she saw it was me, she was furious. Brian walked out about that time too, and I had to explain that she was two seconds from getting hit by a car. Like I’d fucking touch her otherwise,” Locke said. “Brian thanked me. I’m sure he choked on it as he grabbed her and pulled her toward their car, which by the way, was a Mercedes.”

"That may be a new one. Did you see that one when you looked up her DMV records?” Josephine asked.

I don’t remember,” Locke said.

Well, anyway… Did Marcus have someone in mind to infiltrate the family?" Josephine asked. “Because that’d be the only way you’d get anyone close to Avia.”

"He didn't mention anyone," Locke said.

"If he were insistent on moving forward with that plan, the individual would have to be vetted extremely well and monitored closely. The minute they start making her breakfast and reading her bedtime stories, they'd have to be pulled."

Locked laughed. "Sounds funny, but it isn't."

"It is funny," Josephine said. "But it's also very serious. Think of our dinner with them."

"It was like eating with friends I've known for ten years instead of an interrogation," Locke said.

"We made mistakes. Brian and his lawyer did not," Josephine said.

"It was hypnotic. He'd say something to us. Check on Avia. Say something to us. Change Avia's order..."

"He's had years of practice," Josephine said. She took a drink of her beer.

"If whoever it is goes in unaware, we're screwed," Locke said.

"I agree, but I don't disagree with the general idea. Planting someone in a crime family's inner circle is a great way to bring them down," Josephine said.

"I know," Locke said. "I shouldn't be hesitant on it. It's been done before."

"I understand where you're coming from. A run of the mill crime family... Absolutely. But these guys feel different. They just don't give off the same vibe as the stereotypical Italian mob."

"None of them are Al Capone," Locke said.

"No ringers for Frank Nitti either," Josephine said.

"Can you think of anyone in the department that can befriend them without getting noticed?" Locke asked.

Josephine contemplated. "Maybe. I have one officer that's extremely professional. As far as I know, he hasn't hit on anyone. He hasn't lost his temper, and he hasn't looked up any skirts."

"How are his reports?" Locke asked.

"Thorough," Josephine said. "Sometimes to the point of drudgery, but I can't fault him for that."

"He sounds good. Let me know who it is, and I can tell Marcus if he brings it up again," Locke said. He finished his beer just as the doorbell rang.

"I bet that's our pizza." Josephine sat her beer on the side table and walked over to open the door.

Locke followed her and took the pizzas so Josephine could pay. He walked into the kitchen and sat the boxes on the table before opening them.

Josephine sat the Cokes on the table and turned to get classes and whiskey out of the cabinet.

"There we go," Locke said as he spotted her with a large bottle of whiskey.

"I thought we could use something a little harder since we had to work on a Sunday." She sat the bottle on the table along with two glasses. It didn't take her long to mix the drinks.

Locke grabbed two plates and filled them. He sat down at the table and slid one plate toward Josephine as she slid him his glass. Locke took a large drink.

Josephine ate her pizza and drank her whiskey and Coke. "Does Marcus know you're staying here?"

"No. I told him you were generously letting me stay the night. He said he'd have someplace for me to live and a new car by tomorrow.”

"That's generous of them," Josephine said. "How long does it last?"

"Until the end of this case, I would imagine," Locke said.

Josephine nodded.

"Are you okay with that?" Locke asked.

"It's fine. I wasn't expecting you to move in permanently."

"I'll see if I can line something more permanent up at the end of this case. That way we can spend time here or at my place."

"I think we can probably do that with the house they give you," Josephine said.

"That too," Locke said. He finished his food and drink.

"I still want you to go to counseling," Josephine said.

"I know. I'll get to it. I don't think I've gotten a break since I arrived."

Josephine looked at Locke. "You're right. It's been non-stop since your plane arrived. I apologize."

"It's okay. It feels like I've been here a week, and I've been here less than two days.”

"Maybe we can find some time to relax next weekend," Josephine said. "It wasn't my intention to run you ragged when you arrived."

"Maybe we can spend some time at the beach after work," Locke said.

"I know a great bar we can go to tomorrow night. It's a cop bar, but it's pretty fun. I've been there a few times."

"Sounds good to me," Locke said.

Josephine finished her drink. "I think I'm ready for bed."

"So am I." Locke helped Josephine put away the leftover pizza before following her into the bathroom, so they could shower and sleep.



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