Margo opened the door not expecting to see Reaper in the middle of the day. “Reaper, what’s up? Come have some tea. I’m glad you’re here because Bev hasn’t returned my calls today. Is he on another special assignment again?”
Reaper did not move from the door frame or answer her. Margo knew instantly by searching his eyes. Her lovely green eyes began to water. She became weak and unable to stand. Reaper stepped up and cradled her as she fell sobbing. He hugged her tightly. “He was the best, Margo. He loved you so much.” He continued holding Margo close, not wanting to let go. She was the love of his life.
As he drank in the sweet scent of her hair, he remembered the first time he had held her. That day, he had come bearing bad news as well. Bevan’s broken neck at the hands of a defensive end had changed their lives irrevocably.
She had not changed much. Her figure was the same, and her love for Bevan had never wavered in the ensuing fifteen years. Stephen longed to have her love him that way.
“It was quick, Margo. He did not suffer.” Stephen felt like his nickname. The responsibility of reporting death to families had always fallen on his slender shoulders.
He had become good at it. Always the somber face with eyes lowered at the appropriate intervals, his timing was perfect. By instinct, he knew when to touch and when not to touch the grieving family members. He had it down to a work of art, at times amazing himself. After all, he wasn’t the sentimental or emotional type.
He slowly led Margo to the couch not wanting to leave the wonder of her touch and smell. Could she ever love me the way she loved Bevan? Stephen knew he wasn’t as well-built or handsome as Bevan, but women adored him in spite of his slight, bony frame.
He was strong as an ox, despite his appearance, and possessed tremendous agility and quickness. This often took his enemies by surprise as they underestimated his strength and abilities. Coupled with his superior intelligence, it was easy to see how he rose in the ranks to his coveted position.
He gazed into her sad, trusting eyes. “Margo, you know we will take care of you. Everything will be paid for so you won’t have to worry. Do you need someone to be with you tonight?” Stephen prayed she would say yes.
Margo looked away as she tried to make sense of everything. So many feelings were running through her mind and heart. Her thinking was too emotional and unclear, and her vulnerability became increasingly apparent to Stephen. No trace of guilt crossed his mind as jumped ahead to visions of soft lights, music with red wine. “Yes, Reaper, please call Tara for me.”
Reaper watched as Margo drove away. Again. This time was nearly as painful as when she had gotten into the orange Karmann Ghia with cans and boots tied to the bumper and Just Married scrawled in shoe polish on the rear window.
The softness of his expression began to change as he stalked down the sidewalk to his car. His iron-colored eyes lost their luster and grew icily cold. Losing their arch, his eyebrows straightened, accentuating his brow. As his chin dropped, his mouth became a line across his face, and the line of his cheek bones stood out.
Stephen barked orders at his Bluetooth: “Call Paul Salisbury”. The engine of the Testarosa roared to life as Stephen jammed the car into first gear, let out the clutch and stomped the gas pedal to the floor. Acrid plumes of smoke rose from the wide rear tires, and he veered around the corner, shifting into second.
“Salisbury. Can I help you?” Paul spun around in his chair to look out the window over the steam rolling off of his coffee.
“Is the coffee good, Paul?”
As though Reaper could see what he was doing, Paul spun back around like a child caught with only the cookie crumbs. He dropped the cup on the edge of the desk and noisily shuffled papers around. “Hey, Reaper. What can I do you out of?”
“Cut the crap. You just walked into your office with a cup of coffee. What do you have for me on that sheriff?”
Paul was busted and wondered for the three thousandth time if Reaper had a camera or a bug in his office. Digging through the papers on his desk, he located his report and put on his best game face to deliver the news.
“Sheriff John Strickland. In office for the last 16 years. Ran unopposed last two elections. Graduated high school at 19. Went into the army. Tour in Korea. Tour in Vietnam. Honorable discharge after 12 years. No significant citations except two Purple Hearts. VA tour for PTSD. 2 years shiftlessly roaming the countryside. The last sheriff hired him to patrol. 6 years on the road. 2 kills, both ruled legit. Election following year with sheriff’s endorsement.”
Paul felt his throat beginning to dry out and close, but did not dare sip his coffee. “Good ole boy deal got him out of charges of malfeasance and discrimination at his jail. Jail has had 6 deaths, but no one has died in house. All 6 were DOA at the hospital with blunt force trauma and serious beatings. Racial make-up of his staff is 92% white male, 2% white female and 6% black. All three blacks are female and dispatch operators. Constituency is 64% white, 34% black and 2% other. 16 years ago it was 52-46-2.”
“So you are telling me that the only reason he held my agent was because he didn’t act like a ‘good ole boy’?” Stephen realized the tachometer was whining. He downshifted and romped the gas to get around the car in front of him. He felt his neck getting hot.
“Dean was arrested for disturbing the peace. He was designated violent and held without bond. It is backwater justice. It is not like here, Reaper. They live in a country of their own.” Paul sneaked a drink. He could hear the tension in Reaper’s voice. The chill which ran down his spine made his whole body shiver.
“Get me a surveillance team of four ready to roll. They will deploy after briefing. My office. Two o’clock. I want the works- taps, video feed, sat com link, real time, bugs, fingerprints and reports by 0600 in the morning. Don’t think about leaving until you see me. Clear?”
“Crystal, Reaper.” Paul heard Reaper mash the button on the Bluetooth to disconnect. He waited until he heard the dial tone in his ear to let out the breath he’d been holding.
Paul Salisbury couldn’t understand why Reaper was so hell-bent on going after Strickland. The guy had two Purple Hearts, Korea and Vietnam to boot. There were plenty of back-woods justice towns all over the south, and north for that matter. Reaper must really like Dean to go all out for this guy. “Or maybe it’s something else”, Salisbury thought out loud sipping his coffee.
No matter how he tried, Paul had never managed to figure Stephen out. Reaper was such a good name for him. His bony face never alluded to his emotions. In that way, he was Paul’s opposite. Paul read like a book. He knew that fact was the primary in removing him from field service and forever sentencing him to desk duty.
With one cup of coffee and four telephone calls, Reaper’s plan was set in motion. As he wandered down the balcony overlooking the OPS floor toward the coffee pot, Paul wondered what was driving this passion.
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