It’s Preview Friday where you can get a sneak peek of an upcoming release. This week, read Chapter 2 of HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT (A Billy Jo McCabe Mystery, Book 2).
“So I see you do know how to make coffee,” Carmen Zarco said, dressed in the brown deputy uniform she always wore. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was holding an empty mug. Her dark eyes were unsmiling, but then, Mark didn’t think she ever smiled.
“Of course I know how to make coffee,” he replied as he reached for the carafe, which was still filling, and held it up to pour her a mug and then himself.
Carmen set her mug down, reached for a packet of sugar and powdered creamer, and stirred them both in using one of the clean spoons Gail kept organized at the coffee station. She said nothing else.
Carmen wasn’t known for talking. Maybe that was why she and Mark got along so well, but then, what did he know about a woman who held her cards close to her chest? Not much.
“So what’s on the island agenda for today?” he said. “Seems pretty quiet.” He never really knew what Carmen was up to when she did her rounds, driving through Roche Harbor, talking to people. She didn’t share much.
She flicked her gaze up to him after dropping her spoon in the sink, then lifted the steaming coffee, blew on it, and took a swallow. She made a face as if it were too hot. “You trying to jinx it? Just the same old. I’ll head out for rounds in a minute after I finish all the paperwork, but it seems the summer craziness is finally slowing down, with the return to school. There’s still the usual fall tourists, with parties and noise complaints, public intoxication, camping in the park, general indecency…
“Oh, and my favorite last night was the million-dollar yacht now half underwater in the public dock because the owner figured drinking and driving laws didn’t apply to boats or him. Thankfully, that falls on the coast guard and not on me. Let them deal with the asshole and his fancy lawyer, who’s trying to spin some technical bullshit about how the dock doesn’t meet current federal guidelines, which require a specific allowance from shore.” She gestured to his face. “My response exactly. Seriously, these rich assholes show up here and figure they can do anything they want. Then their shithead lawyers spin it so nothing is their fault. Trying to pin it on a dock, really? And what pisses me off is that he’ll get away with it.”
“Hmm, glad I wasn’t there,” Mark said. He knew Carmen hated calls like that. Usually, the chief handled anything that required hand-holding and schmoozing.
He heard the door and turned to see a tall, dark-haired man, casually dressed. The man looked over to Gail, the chief’s wife, who was just packing up her bag on her pristinely neat desk.
“Hey, Jim, great to see you,” Gail said. “What brings you down here?”
Apparently, they knew each other. Mark turned back to Carmen, who was staring over at the man, watching him the same way she watched everyone, as if he were suspicious and up to something. Yeah, trust issues ran deep here.
“You talk to the chief this morning?” Mark said. If Gail was leaving, that generally meant the chief was on his way in.
“Nope, but I’m sure we will soon,” Carmen said. “Guess I’d better get that report filed before he demands it.”
As she walked over to her desk, not far from his in the bullpen, also neat and tidy, the station door opened to reveal Chief Tolly Shepard, a big man in a ballcap and sunglasses. His mustache appeared freshly trimmed, and he wore khakis and a golf shirt.
“Well, this is a surprise, Jim,” the chief said. “Didn’t know you were coming down. You working an angle for another golf game, trying to whoop my ass again?” He shook the man’s hand and patted his arm. So they were golf buddies.
“Yeah, well, I’ll win every time,” Jim said. “There was no angle there. The one and only time you won was an off day. Just remember that! But I’m here on another matter, just something I need you to check into. An issue showed up on my doorstep this morning, and I’m hoping you can steer it away or make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Mark wondered what the issue was.
The chief gestured Jim into his office. “You bet,” he said. “Come on and fill me in, and I’ll do what I can.”
He watched as they strode into his office, still talking in a friendly back and forth, and closed the door. The chief knew a lot of people on the island and was friends with many. He did the schmoozing thing well.
An incident…maybe a theft? The chief’s friends didn’t call 911. They simply dropped in or called the chief, and the chief would handle it. That, or it would suddenly become Mark’s top priority, to be handled the way the chief expected.
“Okay, kids, I’m off,” Gail said. “Don’t go making a mess of anything. Mark, I expect you to turn off the coffee pot when you’re done. I’m not coming in to clean up after you anymore. Wash your own mugs out. Tidy up. Remember, I’m not your maid or your mother.”
Carmen only gave a wave to Gail, then kept on typing as the older woman walked out. Mark had noticed the passing of husband and wife, the silence, the way Gail and the chief never worked together.
He heard the chief’s door open. “Hey, Mark, come in here a second,” he called out.
There it was. Whatever the problem, it was now being handed over to him. He looked over to his boss, who was unsmiling, before putting his coffee mug on his desk and striding over.
“Jim, this is my detective, Mark Friessen,” the chief said. “Mark, this is a good friend of mine, Jim Jackson. He says a woman showed up at his door this morning, and he’s a little concerned. Apparently, she upset his wife. Can you describe her again? Short, brown hair, freckles…”
Mark found himself wondering what this was. He dragged his gaze from the chief to Jim, who was about his height, solidly built, and gestured toward them both. “And what did the woman do, exactly?”
There was a second of silence, during which he realized he wasn’t supposed to have asked that.
“She upset his wife,” the chief said.
Mark hadn’t known that was a crime, and he wondered whether his expression and the rough laugh he let out would earn him any points. “Sorry, I’m missing something,” he said. “I need a little more than that your wife is upset. Did the woman issue a threat of bodily harm, or did your wife feel as if she were being threatened in any way? Was there damage to your property or something?”
Jim suddenly seemed awkward, on edge, at the realization that Mark wasn’t falling in line with his way of thinking. He could see the chief was expecting him to handle this, which was not something he appreciated.
“Seriously, Chief, unless I’m missing something here, someone showing up on your doorstep and upsetting your wife isn’t exactly a crime…”
“But someone pretending to be lost only to work some scam or agenda is a problem,” Jim said. “The visitor was unwanted. A friendly warning needs to be issued to her to stay away and not show up on our doorstep again, as she was trespassing. I have rights regarding who’s on my property. Give her a warning and bar her from setting foot there again. I don’t want my wife feeling cornered. She said the woman was a nuisance, working some angle on the locals, but I think it was more than that. I’ve never seen my wife so upset, so rattled. She tried to dismiss it when I asked her, just said not to worry about it, but I would like you to find her and warn her off. Make it official or not, but I don’t want her showing up on my doorstep again. If she does, she won’t be able to corner my wife next time.”
From the way the chief nodded, Mark could feel his next order coming. “Mark, you find this lady and have a talk with her about not bothering the Jacksons again. If she doesn’t take the friendly warning, then issue her a trespassing ticket.”
He realized the chief was serious, but he was still lost. Working what angle? Specifics were required. “Okay, fine, but who is she? You have a name, something…?”
Jim just shook his head. “No name. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with shoulder-length brown hair, dressed neat and tidy, so not some homeless transient. She drove away in a gray Corolla, and I did get a partial plate.”
The man really had been watching. As Mark stared at him, though, he already knew who it was. He slid his gaze over to the chief and said, “Can I have a word with you for a second?” before opening the door and stepping out of the office.
The chief hesitated, then let out one of those sighs that meant he wasn’t happy about something. “Don’t you worry, Jim. I’ll see to it that this is taken care of and she doesn’t show up again. I’ll be right back,” he said. Then he followed Mark over to the coffee station, just enough out of the way.
“That sounds like Billy Jo McCabe,” Mark said. “You know, the social worker here? You want me to track her down and issue her a warning? If she showed up on their doorstep, maybe there’s an issue we don’t know about, some complaint. Do they have kids?”
The chief stared long and hard at him, one of the things he could do well. “They have two girls, but they’re fine parents, Jim and Carly. If Ms. McCabe is sniffing around, it’s because of some bogus claim, so I want you to shut it down. Then you have a chat with her, find out what she was doing, and warn her off. Jim and Carly are good people. She’s got no business nosing around there. See to it she understands that.”
Then the chief walked away, back into this office, and Mark watched through the glass as he said something to Jim, shook his hand, and laughed.
Mark realized Carmen was looking his way. Her expression, though never amused, seemed more guarded than usual, maybe even a little pissed. But she shook her head and said nothing. He wished she’d just say whatever dark thoughts she’d been thinking, as she clearly knew something he didn’t.
He started over to his desk, lifted his coffee, and reached for his cell phone to thumb through his contacts until he found Billy Jo and called her. He listened to the ring, hating this part of the job. It went right to voicemail.
“You’ve reached Billy Jo McCabe. I can’t take your call. Leave your name and number, and I’ll call you back.”
He shook his head and took in Carmen, who was watching him while pretending to work. “Hey, Billy Jo,” he said. “It’s Detective Friessen. A bit of an issue has just come to my attention, and I need to speak with you about it, so call me back.” Then he disconnected and pocketed his phone.
Carmen was holding a file, likely her finished report, as she stood up.
“So how often does this happen?” he said. He knew he didn’t have to elaborate, because her expression said she understood.
“You mean doing something for the chief’s friends that you wouldn’t do for someone else?” she said, cutting right to it without really answering him. She raised a brow and didn’t look over to the chief in his office. Just then, the door opened and Jim and the chief walked out.
“Again, don’t worry, Jim. My detective will handle it,” the chief said. “I look forward to seeing you and Carly tonight at that shindig.”
Jim stopped in front of Mark. “You’ll handle this today, Detective,” he said, not a question. Apparently, the man thought he could give him his marching orders.
“I know how to do my job. Good day, Mr. Jackson,” was all Mark said.
Jim glanced back to the chief. “Tolly, you’ll follow this up?” he said. There it was, cutting him off at the knees, going over his head. He hated this puppet shit.
“Don’t you worry, Jim,” the chief said. “My detective is good at what he does.”
Jim evidently took that as his answer, as he started out of the office and pulled the door closed behind him. Mark realized Carmen was nowhere to be seen now, likely in back. How had she managed to slip out so quietly? The chief gave him a long, lingering look.
“What?” Mark said. “Seriously, Chief, what is this? You have no idea what’s going on. If there’s an official investigation into a child welfare issue, I can’t interfere, and you know that. What is this? A friend of yours walks in and says someone’s bothering him, and I’m to shut it down, make this person go away? Do you think if someone else had walked in, you’d still be all over it? This really isn’t a good use of my time. Abuse of power is kind of what comes to mind.”
“Are you finished?” the chief said. He had a way of handling things that Mark would never understand.
Mark reached for his keys in his pocket and pulled them out, feeling the bite in the chief’s tone. There was a time to push, and then there were times when pushing would have him looking for another job.
“I’ll go find Billy Jo,” Mark said. “If it’s her, I’ll find out what’s what. But you may want to ask yourself, if she showed up there, whether something may be going on with your friends, or maybe just the wife. Everyone has secrets, Chief.”
His boss just pointed to the door and said, “Go handle it,” then walked away.
All Mark could think was that there was a puzzle here. Secrets, lies… What exactly was going on with Jim Jackson and his wife? If it had been Billy Jo at the door, what was the real story?
He’d find out and then decide how to handle it. Just maybe, this would be the final straw, and he’d have to find himself another job someplace else.
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