Sookie didn’t like being right about the things she saw but once she had a vision it was like she couldn’t rest until she did all she could to follow up with it. Since she was pretty sure Danielle was dead, Sookie contacted her friend Lafayette Reynolds, whom she had met through online message boards for people with psychic abilities. There were lots of fakers out there who wanted to make a quick buck off of their supposed abilities and the desperation of others, but Lafayette was the real deal.
As a psychic medium, he had the ability to speak to the dead. Sookie had consulted with him more than once on her cases. The information he provided to her was useful, and always off the record. No way would a judge permit him to testify in a trial since there was no way to verify Lafayette’s abilities. Sookie didn’t tell too many people about her visions but word got around anyway.
They had been working together for months before Sookie finally broke down and told her partner. Mel Hart was sound as a partner and they were good yin and yang for each other. He was good at getting Sookie to take a step back when she got too deep into an investigation. His methods were usually more successful than Sophie’s, anyway. Nine times out of ten he just had to call her Mulder, and she got the message that she was bordering on obsessive behavior.
Sam had initially worried about Sookie spending so much time with another man, especially a single, good looking, buff one like Mel, but Sookie wasn’t his type.
Oh the irony of Sam being worried about Sookie cheating…
“How you been, puddin’?” Lafayette when he answered Sookie’s call.
“Been better. Sam and I broke up a few weeks ago. I moved to Chattanooga and I’m living in the cutest little guest house on a horse ranch nestled in the curve of the Tennessee River. How are you?” Sookie asked.
Lafayette wasn’t from a glamorous upbringing. His mother was mentally ill and hospitalized for her safety and the safety of others. She was schizophrenic and refused to take her medication if left to her own devices. When he was seventeen, before she had been diagnosed with the illness, Ruby Jean Reynolds stabbed her only son while he was sleeping. Lafayette survived the attack, thank God, but as a result his mother was arrested and locked up in a mental health facility. It was the best thing for her but Sookie knew it was hard on Lafayette.
He supported himself by working as an assistant manager at Tara’s Togs, a clothing boutique on the outskirts of his hometown. Like Sookie, Lafayette was from Louisiana. There wasn’t much tolerance when it came to homosexuality and he had two strikes against him because he wasn’t just gay, he was also black. Throw in the loony tunes mom and most folk had him written off as someone to either pity or loathe.
“I gots me a man,” Lafayette replied. “I’s good, baby. He even likes my crazy ass mama if you can believe that. His name is Jesus and he must have something going on with the man upstairs because he got Ruby Jean to take her doggone meds.”
“Sounds like Jesus is an appropriate name,” Sookie laughed.
“Ruby Jean always used to say I needed Jesus in my life,” he replied. Somehow Sookie was sure this wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but then again anything was possible. “What’s new with you, Sook? You on the job?”
“I’m supposed to be taking some time off to get my personal life together but I think there might be a case I need to catch,” she explained. “A girl went missing out of Chattanooga about nine days ago. The longer someone’s missing, the less likely they are to be found alive. I had a vision, Lafayette.”
“Shit,” he muttered.
“I’m pretty sure she’s in a swamp but I don’t know where yet. I was hoping I might be able to get you to check out the spot after I find her,” Sookie said. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done it for her.
Hearing from the victim firsthand gave Sookie a perspective most agents didn’t get. There were plenty who would write it off as junk science. It was easier to say Sookie was crazy than it was to believe it was possible to communicate with the dead or to be able to psychically see how crimes occurred.
“I’m sure we can work something out, as long as you leave that basic bitch partner of yours at home,” he replied. Lafayette didn’t appreciate Mel’s cynicism. He said it made the spirits uncomfortable and therefore harder to communicate with them.
“I’ll leave him at home,” Sookie promised. Truthfully, it wasn’t the mediumship that Mel objected to as much as it was Lafayette’s flamboyant attitude.
Mel didn’t wear his sexuality on his sleeve and didn’t see a reason to figuratively wrap himself in a gay pride flag. Like it or not, there were still plenty of homophobic agents who felt uncomfortable working closely with a gay agent. It was thanks, in part, to the attitude of southerners toward the gay community. It was getting better but there were still plenty of folks who clung to the bible as a way of justifying their bigotry. As if religion excused their prejudice.
Talk about folks who needed Jesus.
It wasn’t exactly a secret that Mel was gay but he didn’t announce it either for fear that he would be judged by his sexuality instead of his job performance. Sookie understood. She had encountered her share of men who still lived in caves and thought the FBI should stay a boy’s club.
Women were too ’emotional’, too delicate for some of the atrocities agents were exposed to. The more she heard that misogynistic horse shit, the more Sookie was determined to prove she could hang tough with the biggest badasses. Besides, if they knew half of the things she had seen thanks to the View Master tucked into her gray matter they’d keep their mouths shut.
Sookie made the mistake of going to an old estate in New Orleans once and she’d had nightmares for weeks. She had to abandon the tour early so she didn’t vomit everywhere when she started to see the demented ways slaves had been tortured by Delphine LaLaurie. Talk about your sick, twisted bitches.
Speaking of people who need Jesus…
“Good. I ain’t interested in one of his speeches.” That was a nice way to put it, really. Mel could get preachy.
“I promise, just you and me and then a bottle of Fat Ass Tequila over over a pot of good ole fashioned gumbo,” she swore.
“Just text me where and when, baby girl. I gots to run before I’m late for my shift. I talk to ya soon.” Lafayette hung up.
Sookie set down her cell phone and sat back on the sofa. The guest house was a good fit for her. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, the living room, a small laundry room and an eat-in kitchen with a lovely view of the woods and the river in the distance. The second bedroom made a nice office. Her computer desk and shelves were set up. The files she was working on were boxed instead of in cabinets that easily jammed. Already Sookie had started to assemble what information she could about Danielle Jenkins. Something about the case was calling to her.
In good faith, Sookie really had tried to ignore the case and the things on the news but it was hard to do that when she was so close to it. Sookie took a deep breath and then reached for her phone again. Records indicated that a Tom Lattesta was working the case out of the Knoxville office. Since she was on the ground there, Sookie figured she could offer her services.
A trio of horses cantered along the path that went past the house. An older man, probably near sixty, was leading the trio. Abe Weiss, Sara’s father-in-law, was a shoot from the hip kind of fella, but Sookie appreciated it. Annabelle Weiss, her mother-in-law was definitely more the religious, God fearing type. Annabelle was a more fire and brimstone version of Sookie’s grandmother.
Sookie dialed her boss’ number and waited. She could pretty much guess what Sophie-Anne was going to say about her joining the investigation but Sookie couldn’t just sit back and wait for this other agent to figure out that Danielle was dead.
So of course she got Sophie’s voicemail. She sighed and left a message. “Sophie-Anne, it’s Sookie. Listen I don’t know if you’ve heard about a missing girl out here in Chattanooga but the police seem to think she was headed for New Orleans. My Spidey senses are tingling on this one. There’s an agent from Knoxville working the case but I’m hoping I can get clearance to join in. Let me know.”
It was a long shot and Sookie knew it, but it was worth trying.
In the meantime Sookie took a drink from her wine glass and watched the horses. Horses were soothing creatures with such gentle spirits about them. She had already been over to the riding stable, courtesy of Sara, and met the horses. An auburn colored one named Dublin had taken to her pretty quickly. Sookie spent some time in his stall, grooming him and brushing out his mane. He had a thick, silky crop of hair growing along his neck. Dublin was a stunning horse.
Sookie turned on the TV so she could watch while she got her supper started. Baked ravioli with garlic toast and a side salad was on the menu so she started the oven and then filled a pot to get water boiling for the ravioli. The evening news started as Sookie started putting together her salad. She was thinly slicing cucumber when the story of yet another missing girl got her attention.
“Breaking news tonight out of Red Bank. Sixteen-year-old Holly Cleary was reported missing last night by her parents, Trish and John Cleary.” There was an array of pictures of a teenage girl with pretty blonde hair and bright blue eyes the color of a summer sky. “Holly was last seen by neighbors walking her younger brothers home from school. She left her home voluntarily to mail a letter and didn’t come back. She was last seen wearing distressed blue jeans, red Converse sneakers and a Scar Tissue band T-shirt. Holly is five-foot-five, weighs 130 pounds and is reportedly fourteen weeks pregnant with her first child. Holly is the third girl in the Chattanooga area to go missing in the last month. If you have seen Holly Cleary please contact local law enforcement agencies.”
One was a tragedy.
Two was coincidence.
Three was a pattern.
Sookie’s dinner plans came to a halt right then and there. She turned off the oven and the water. Just as she was tossing tomatoes into her salad the phone rang. Sookie ran to the living room to answer it.
“Stackhouse,” she answered.
“It’s Sophie-Anne. I got your message,” her boss said. “The agent assigned to the case is being reassigned. He says there’s no evidence to support an abduction.”
“Other than a third girl disappeared yesterday?”
There was quiet on the line.
“I moved the case files to your queue. I want a brief by 0900 tomorrow,” Sophie-Anne said. “I’ll get Mel on the red eye to Chattanooga.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sookie replied.
“I’m getting really tired of cleaning up after Flanagan’s incompetence,” Sophie-Anne muttered and then hung up.
She was referring to Nan Flanagan, the deputy director of the Knoxville office. Despite everyone being on the same team, there was stiff competition for recognition. It could be cutthroat and bizarrely political at times. Sookie didn’t care too much about all that. She didn’t get involved with the FBI to use it as a launching pad for a political career. In fact, in many ways, Sookie despised politics. They had a way of getting in the way of what was right.
Politics and justice rarely saw eye to eye.
In her mind anyone more interested in writing the laws than enforcing them was on the wrong side of the tracks, and had no business working for the bureau.
Sookie took her salad to the office and forced herself to eat while her computer booted up. Missing persons cases were always tricky. Her first thought was trying to figure out if there was a link between Holly and Danielle. She also needed to find out who the third girl was. News of the first girl’s disappearance hadn’t reached all the way to Memphis.
She wondered how long the first girl had been missing for.
She also wondered what the connection between them was, if there was one. Something told her there had to be. The girls lived in low crime areas where abductions weren’t common to begin with, but three so close together was pretty much unheard of.
Danielle and Holly were roughly the same age, came from similar families and were even somewhat similar in description since both of them were white with long hair and blue eyes. Sookie didn’t know what it was but something in her gut was screaming at her that those things weren’t just coincidences. After going over the case files and printing up what she called her “hot sheet”, Sookie shut down her computer and got up to get dressed.
First things first, Sookie needed to go introduce herself to John and Trish Cleary. Just walking around Holly’s room might give her some answers. Having been a teenage girl herself, she may have some insight that the previous agent didn’t. If Holly wasn’t an only child, a sibling might be privy to any information but could be afraid of speaking up because they think they’ll get in trouble for knowing something. Before Hadley was murdered, she was the one Sookie had confided in. She had been questioned extensively after her cousin disappeared and more than one cop had tried to make her feel like she was trying to hide something.
It was both absurd and terrifying. The mishandling of her cousin’s murder case was part of what drove Sookie into law enforcement. She was determined not to make the same mistakes those investigators did. Sookie didn’t just want to close the case, she wanted to get to the truth.
She tucked her shirt into her slacks and then grabbed a jacket from the closet. Running in pumps didn’t work, and they were no match for wet grass either, so she wore comfortable shoes instead of fashionable ones. Sookie left her hair down, grabbed her notes and was out the door to find some answers.