Sex Story: Chapter 12 - I'm Winter Jennings, 32, former police officer, current private detective. A now-single mother with a horny son, a friendly-enough ex. My father is about to retire as a respected homicide captain here in Kansas City, Missouri. My work is usually routine, mostly computer-driven. Except when it isn't. Revenge porn, a cult, a wife beater, insurance scams, pimps. A particularly nasty psychiatrist. On a personal front, everyone who knows me well, knows I like sex. A lot.
Walker came to talk with me, one-on-one about Peggy. Peggy and her son. He hasn’t begun to get past the fact that she’s fucking him. But really, Walker wanted to talk about himself. To apologize for the sexual thoughts, fantasies, he had about me.
By the time he stumbled into the real reason for the conversation, he was in full Walker blush. The top of his ears and his cheeks were red, not pink.
I slowed things down, “This is thirsty work, Walk. Open a couple of beers.” It was a Friday evening, Vanessa was at work. And Mindy was at BEAR’s too, apprenticing in the kitchen. Or maybe the front room -- Vanessa had her working the house now.
I took both my son’s hands in mine across our kitchen table. Smiled warmly at him. “Walk, baby boy, this is so ... not unnatural. Shit, that’s a fucked up sentence. A lot of boys fantasize about their moms.” I grinned, “And look at me, honey, I’m fucking hot.”
Walk grinned back. Nodded.
He’d better fucking agree.
I said, “If you know one thing, it’s that you’re loved. By Vanessa and Mindy, of course. But no one loves you like I do.” I squeezed his hands, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.” I leaned closer, “Including fucking you.”
If possible, he went deeper red. Was holding his breath. I reminded myself to breathe out.
Then I eased the pressure, “But I don’t think I have to fuck you. I don’t think you really, deep down, want to fuck me. You know you are loved totally. Unconditionally.”
Walker was listening, actually listening. He nodded slowly, thoughtfully.
I said, “You’re sleeping with me tonight, baby boy. Don’t try to weasel out. I’ll tell Vanessa and Mindy to sleep at the BEAR loft.”
We had country fried steak for dinner. Mindy had taught Walker. As he poured that white, peppery, country gravy over our second helping I thought, “Maybe I’ll give him a blowjob tonight. Probably not. But maybe.”
Jessie Sullivan called again. I drove to Waldo.
“We’ve been cross-checking the Regional Correction Center employees on duty when Blenheim was there. Nothing. But then we noticed that the cop who signed him out was in Assault, not Corrections.”
I looked at little Jessie. An actual clue?
She said, “Detective Mitch Reynolds.”
“Same initials. Mike Rogers.” Problem is, there are always unconnected coincidences.
“Gets better. Reynolds was allowed to resign. Quietly.”
Ah. Yes, I remember now. Civilian complaints. Review Boards. Disciplinary suspensions. Rumors of missing drugs, missing drug money. So many black marks in his file that they got rid of him. Without any publicity.
I would ask Daddy about Detective Reynolds except I couldn’t. Not without implicating Bear. And myself. Fuck! I was just as guilty. More. Blenheim had been my play from the first.
Jessie said, “Word on Whisper Street is that Reynolds is dealing meth. Cooking it too. Probably in the Northland.”
Whisper Street. The digital information bazaar known only to international hackers at a certain level of accomplishment. Northland -- north of the Missouri River.
It was, at best, a tenuous connection between Blenheim and Reynolds. Yet why would an Assault officer sign out an RCC lowlife?
I wrote out another $5,000 check. Just as if I could afford it. “Stay careful, guys.”
It was 1:30 on a Tuesday morning. I was pulling an all-nighter. Blenheim. Currently I was in the middle of a crucial task, deciding whether to have hard boiled eggs or a pastrami sandwich. I was leaning toward: both. My cell rang, Vanessa.
“Winter, where are you?”
“Nice to talk with you too.”
Something in her voice. “Office.”
“Stay there, we’re on the way.”
Vanessa had to have called me while Bear was already en route. Five minutes later they burst in. Looking grim.
Silently, tears in her eyes, Vanessa handed me her iPad. Breaking news. The body of a young woman had been found in the doorway of the Commerce Bank headquarters. She was blonde, looked a little like me. Similar age, similar slender build.
Both of her hands had been crushed to mush. We would learn later that morning that striated marks from an industrial vice were so deeply imbedded that they looked like part of her bone structure.
Tears were running down my cheeks. “I have to tell Daddy.”
What I meant was that I should have told Daddy. The second Sarah Cunningham saw him coming out of City Hall. An innocent girl was dead because I’d tried to protect Bear and me. And Commerce Bank was the cover story I used to con my way into Blenheim’s house.
Clever, so fucking clever.
Daddy hadn’t ‘caught the squeal’ as they say in mysteries. But he was awake when I called. Awake and up. The Homicide Division called The Captain every time there was a murder, his rotation or not.
He had fresh coffee brewing and we sat around the familiar kitchen table. I had eaten breakfast there, done homework, fought with my sister.
Now Bear, Vanessa and I faced my father.
“I fucked up, Daddy.”
Vanessa was still quietly crying, I had forced myself to stop. Bear looked stoic, as usual.
Daddy, in his pajamas and robe, made a tell-me gesture with his hand.
I told him. I told him what I should have told him weeks ago.
About Hugo Blenheim. The social worker who called me. Margie Carson, the common-law wife. Sarah Cunningham, my eyes on the creep. My going to Blenheim’s house on Holmes. The taser. The pepper spray. Calling Bear in a panic.
What Bear did to Blenheim.
I knew Daddy didn’t really mind up to this point. Blenheim was a grotesque, a dangerous psychopath, and the civic authorities hadn’t dealt with him properly.
My father’s acceptance of this made it all the worse that I hadn’t told him when Blenheim resurfaced. If I had, maybe...
“Then 26 days ago, March 2, Sarah called me. She saw Hugo Blenheim coming out of City Hall.”
An expression I’d never seen flitted across Daddy’s face. Disappointment in me. My chin quivered, I whispered, “Sorry, Daddy. So sorry.”
Bear, that deep rumble, said, “Tell him the rest, Winter. It’s important.”
I told him. The Sullivan twins. The mug shot. The tentative connection to that disgraced detective, Mitch Reynolds. The meth / Northland rumors.
I felt disembodied. Like my voice was coming from someone else. I’ll never forget that look in my life. Disappointment.
Daddy stood, held out his arms. I melted into him, sobbing now. He just held me, gently rocking until I fought my way under control. Disappointment.
He looked at Vanessa and asked gently, “You okay?”
“Not really. Poor Winter.”
Bear rumbled, “Winter’s tough.”
I could feel Daddy nod, ‘Yes, she is. She’ll get through this.”
The Blenheim manhunt began. With a parallel one, unpublicized, for Reynolds.
In my mind, and in my wish, events move along in a reasonably straight line. Of course they never do.
At work, I fielded a call from Lucy Cuthbert who manages the Unicorn Club. Of which I was one of six founding members. It’s a private dining and drinking establishment in a forlorn section of the West Bottoms, hard by the Missouri River.
Lucy and her family are from low country South Carolina. Their Gullah past, and culture and recipes saved the Unicorn Club from an embarrassing minuet with bankruptcy. She called to say one of the busboys was stealing liquor.
“Fire his ass, Lucy.” With l’affaire Blenheim, I was in no mood to deal with a petty thief.
Just as I was hanging up, Bulldog Bannerman glided into my office.
Bulldog. The fixer. I suppose most cities have at least one Bulldog. The hand behind many thrones. The maker-of-mayors, a quiet behind-the-scenes presence.
He’s in his 70s now, a compact man who doesn’t talk much, but people listen when he does.
He hadn’t called to tell me he was stopping by. But I knew that he knew I would be in my office. Bulldog just knows things.
He put both hands on my shoulders and said in his quiet, gruff voice, “We got your back, Winter.”
My eyes didn’t fill up with tears, I haven’t regressed that far, but I felt a swell of emotions. I didn’t know specifically who the ‘we’ entailed, but it was the Kansas City establishment. If Bulldog’s on my side, so is Mayor Tom Lynch, whether he knows it yet or not.
One week later, another body. Another girl. Another blonde. Pulverized hands. This poor soul was dumped at a Commerce branch on West 47th. Right on the fucking Country Club Plaza.
Does this mean that the police wouldn’t have found Blenheim if I’d told Daddy immediately after that first sighting?
No. Or rather, no way to know. And I wasn’t about to try to assuage my guilt because another girl was brutalized while the cops were fully engaged.
Daddy asked Vanessa and Bear to meet him in my office. I later figured out it was partly because he knew how terrible I felt. Worse than I’d ever been in my life.
The meeting was to be at 10 on a Thursday morning. Jessie Simmons called me a couple of hours earlier.
“We may have something on Mitch Reynolds.”
“We can use anything.”
“Okay. We ran Collins-Smythe on him. Every iteration of his name along with the photo recognition shit. A Mitch Franklin bought a quarter acre of land just north of the river a year and a half ago. Franklin is Reynolds’ middle name.”
My heart raced, just a little, in hopeful anticipation, “What about Collins-Smythe?”
I could hear the smile in Jessie’s voice, “Bingo. He bought the land from NorthRiver Realty. They save the internal security tape for every sale, every listing, every likely transaction. It’s Reynolds, no question.”
“I need it, honey. Like yesterday.”
“Jesse’s on the way. Tape, photos, deed of sale, everything we have.”
“Where in Northland?”
“Randolph. The 8900 block.”
“Just east of there.”
While I waited for Jesse, I went online. SubTropolis. Amazing manmade caves dug into limestone. Temperature controlled storage. Miles of roads and railroad tracks.
I kept scrolling. 5-K run. Parties.
I thought: caves and meth. There would have to be ventilation. But, like those fucking forensic scientists, I was leapfrogging ahead. Assuming facts that I didn’t have.
Jesse, the little redheaded leprechaun rushed in, grinning. He went over the physical discovery materials. And showed me the link that Jessie had just sent me.
I could have kissed him.
Except it was Daddy time.
“Stay safe, Jesse.”
Vanessa and Bear arrived first. I gave them a quick outline. Then Daddy. On time as always.
He looked solemn, “Honey, this was my idea, but I recommend you tell me no.”
I held up my hand, palm out, “If it’s your idea the answer is yes. But first let me show you what our ... online investigators uncovered.”
Daddy, Vanessa and Bear crowded round. Daddy said, “Sweet Jesus.” He thought, looking off into the distance. “Okay, I gotta take this to the DA. He’ll get us into Judge Leander this afternoon.”
He hugged me. As happy for me as he was for the lead.
“What about your idea?”
He waved the Reynolds bundle, “Later.” And was gone.
Why the fuck were tears running down my cheeks? I’ve been like a child lately. Vanessa took me in her arms, gently rocking me as Daddy had done.
Sergeant Louise Finch and her homicide team staked out the Randolph Street property for two days and three nights. But Reynolds was a former cop and didn’t show.
We still didn’t know for sure that he and Blenheim were hooked up. But surveillance tapes from both Commerce Bank locations showed two men, hooded and masked, dumping the bodies.
Given the crushed hands aspect, it was hard to overlook the likelihood of Blenheim’s involvement. Whether Reynolds was the second asshole was still very much a question.
Daddy figured Reynolds had made the police stakeout, so he executed the search warrant at 5 AM Sunday morning.
It was, as Granny would say, if I had a Granny, a doozy.
I later saw photos and the media ran with the videos of the raid. The white limestone cave itself was unfinished, not ready for commercial storage. It was unpaved, about half the size of a football field.
The raid and seizure took five hours until around 10 that Sunday morning. It was a righteous bust. Even with police and media exaggeration taken into account, over $10,000,000 in powdered and crystallized meth was a lot.
But visually, the equipment was even more impressive. Compressed-gas cylinders along with dozens of portable stoves. What looked to the camera like miles of rubber tubing.
Holes were drilled into the ceiling every few feet. Commercial grade smoke eaters drew the deadly hydrogen chloride gas fumes up to carbon filters.
Small mounds of medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine created a hilly urban dump site. The typical ingredients -- volatile organic compounds, alcohol, ether, bags of cat litter, paint thinner, Epsom salts.
A bloomin’ factory.
I don’t know if this put Reynolds, and possibly Blenheim, out of business, but surely it must have put a serious dent in the operation.
The loss of the meth lab enraged Reynolds and, as of Monday morning at 2 AM we were pretty sure, Blenheim.
Two more blonde girls were mutilated, killed and dumped at Commerce Bank locations. One was just over State Line in Kansas, which brought in the FBI.
The city howled at Mayor Tom Lynch. The media howled at Mayor Tom Lynch. He couldn’t lash out at the Board of Police Commissioners because he was one of the five Board members. The only one not appointed by the governor. Who was considering sending National Guard troops to patrol the mostly deserted nighttime streets.
The President of Commerce Bank, a revered city leader, was publicly more restrained. Behind the scenes, he was applying all the pressure that a genuine civic aristocrat could.
All eyes turned toward the Police Chief. Who, in classic self defense called a press conference. Introducing Homicide Captain Dave Jennings as the head of a new task force.
Daddy knew it was 90% politics, but he was patient, answering questions, good ones and inane ones. The city wasn’t mollified, understandably so. There would be unease until the killers were caught.
But it seemed like many people took a breath because The Captain was a known quantity, not some faceless chief in a fancy uniform.
Since that first poor girl had been killed, I lost most of my appetite for food. Even wine. In the process, I lost 12 pounds, about 10% of my body weight. Vanessa didn’t nag. She understood.
If I hadn’t gone after Blenheim, four girls would still be alive. And maybe there will be more to come.
Six hours after the discovery of the two most recent bodies, Daddy and Sergeant Louise Finch came by our Wrigley loft. Incongruously, Bear was with them.
Daddy and Louise were drawn, no telling how long since they’d slept.
The five us sat at our kitchen table, I poured coffee and set out bagels. Coffee, yes, bagels, zero.
Daddy handed around everyone a sheet of paper, “This is Blenheim’s profile. Courtesy of Hank Morristown.”
The FBI Special Agent in Charge, Kansas City edition.
My heart swelled with love. Daddy had done this before the body in Kansas, before the FBI was officially in. He winked at me, tired as he was, “I told Hank that cunt was after you and he walked it through. Personally.”
I’d met Agent Morristown exactly twice. Both times at my parents’ house. No, I hadn’t made a marvelous impression on the man. This favor had been for Daddy. One of the few cops who actually cooperated with the feds. I remember Daddy had told me, “It’s silly not to tap into their experience, that talent. It’s just another tool in the tool kit.”
In summary, the Quantico profiler wrote, “Suspect (Blenheim) is obsessed with female civilian (me). Obsession unlikely to abate without closure.”
Daddy said, “I talked with Hank a few minutes ago. He is convinced that Reynolds and Blenheim are together. And that they blame you for the loss of their lab. And product. And equipment.”
I said, “I think I know what that idea you have is.”
Daddy nodded. Secretly, I think he likes me better than Autumn. Surely he must.
Sergeant Finch said, “You don’t have to do this, Winter. I’m on the record downtown as advising you not to.”
Vanessa spoke for the first time, “What? Bait.”
Daddy said, “Bait.”
Vanessa nodded, “We’ll do it.” Fearless. But she was right. About me anyway. I will do it.
I said, “How will we work it?”
Daddy said, “The mayor is going to present you with a ... what, Louise?”
“The Key to the City. Along with a Certificate of Appreciation from the City Council. For your honorable work with the East Side Sisters.”
That could be plausible. The local television stations would cover it if the Mayor’s Office asked them to. And Mayor Lynch had media contacts at the Star, various radio stations, online pubs.
There was a chance Blenheim or Reynolds or both of them would see me. But how would that lead them to me? Of course. An ex-cop, once he knew my name, wouldn’t have any problem finding me.
I saw two problems and knew how to solve one of them. We’d move Walker and Mindy to Mission Hills. Reynolds might find out about my son, but he would be unlikely to learn about Mindy in the short term.