Author's Note: Thank you to all of you who took time to read the first chapter and offer feedback. I must say the Academy has a great group of readers and I enjoyed all of your comments. As promised here's more of the story.
This story will eventually contain a "loving"relationship between two women.
The characters, town and storyline are all products of my imagination. Although Tennessee is "really"a state!
December 2006 J.A. Breeze
By J.A. Breeze
At first glance, Jennifer Gibson looked like she would be more at home in a ballroom than in a boardroom sparing with a group of hardened newspaper veterans. Her natural poise and slight five foot four inch frame, sparkling green eyes and shoulder length blonde hair with natural waves often caused people to underestimate her abilities as an intuitive journalist and astute businesswoman.
In reality she was a commanding presence in the world of journalism. Known for her hard hitting and precise news coverage, more than one state official had watched his political aspirations crumble under her pursuit of the truth and the people's right to know.
Through the years she had learned to control her responses allowing only a handful of those she trusted the most inside the barriers she had erected mainly to protect herself from being hurt. She had learned the hard way that someone you call friend today could be tomorrow's page one news. As a result she didn't have many true friends. Few would believe she had allowed herself to fall victim to the scheme of a blackmailer that could cost her everything—her family, her career, her reputation.
As she prepared to face her department heads, she gave herself a pep talk.
You can do this. It's just business as usual. Keep it together.
When Jennifer reached the door to the conference room she paused, took a deep breath and tugged the sleeves of her suit jacket into place one more time. Then she reached for the doorknob.
All eyes turned to watch as she entered the room and the chatter she heard as she opened the door quickly dwindled into silence.
With her head held high, shoulders square and back straight she moved to her place at the center of the large oval conference table. She took just a few seconds to allow her eyes to move round the table resting on each person one by one. Some met her eyes straight on. Some offered smiles, while yet others quickly dropped their heads and began to shuffle stacks of notes placed in front of them.
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen we have a lot on our plate so let's get started."
Looking to her left she called upon her senior sales executive.
"Bill, why don't you get things rolling by giving us an overview of how we're doing financially?"
"Well, Jennifer, I wish I could say that we're on target and the anticipated revenues were being achieved."
"But, we are lagging about twenty-two percent behind last year,"the sales executive said.
"Well, Bill,"Jennifer said, purposely using the same phrasing he had chosen. "That simply is not acceptable. What are you going to do about it?" Bill McCarty had been sales manager at The Gazette for about twenty years. He was mostly unenthusiastic and stale. And his lack of ingenuity had carried over to his sales team. The ideas of the "new kids", as he liked to call them, were quickly crushed under his rigid ways and failure to listen.
Perhaps it's time for some new blood in the sales department, Jennifer thought as the sales executive rambled on about direct mail, cable television and Internet advertising.
"Bill, we have an investigative piece that should cause paper sales to soar over the next few weeks. Increased readership should give your sales team an edge with advertisers,"Melinda Davidson, The Gazette's executive editor, interrupted.
"That's good to hear. We can always use a strong news piece as a sales tool. Can you tell us more?"
"It seems there are at least five key city and state officials who are being blackmailed. And there have been similar incidents in other parts of the state. We're just about ready to release our first story in the series. So far we've identified four of the five victims here and should know who the fifth person is soon."
Hearing Melinda's voice quickly drew Jennifer's attention back to the discussion.
Oh my God! My own news staff is on to this story. Just what I need! I have to put a stop to this, now!
"Melinda, perhaps it would be best to keep the details within the news department for now. Why don't you see me in my office later this afternoon to fillme in?"Jennifer said rather curtly as she hid her trembling hands in her lap.
Melinda, somewhat shocked by her boss's sharp tone said, "Sure, Jennifer, I'll be glad to fill you in."
Jennifer noticed that several in the group were giving her questioning looks.
I have got to get out of here.
"Does anyone else have something we need to address? She paused and glanced around the table. Seeing no takers, she rose to her feet. "Okay, everyone. I think that's enough for today. Thank you for your time".
Jennifer abruptly made her way to the door leaving a group of stunned department heads behind.
Winston Roddy was serving his third term as the Wilmington District Attorney General. With just two years left on his current eight-year term, he was looking forward to retirement and hoped to leave office with an unblemished record.
As he listened to the investigator assigned to the task force, he began to wonder if he would be able to maintain that record.
"Winston, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this situation has all the makings of a major media frenzy. If word gets out, we may never salvage this investigation. Are you sure Casey Jarnigan is the person you want on this with us?"
"There is no one in this office I trust more. Casey has an instinct for finding the truth unlike any other prosecutor I've ever worked with and she can be trusted with the most delicate information."
"It's just that this is going to get rather complicated and I want you to be sure,"the investigator replied.
"Like I said, Casey is discretion itself. I don't want you holding anything back from her. She is my choice to lead this task force and you are to respect her authority. In the future take your concerns to her. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, sir! I understand you perfectly."
"Good. That's all I needed to know. Sam, you and I have worked together for a lot of years and I know you aren't too fond of having someone like Casey, especially a woman, telling you what to do but if you'll give her a chance you'll find that Casey Jarnigan is the real deal—an excellent investigator and a hell of a prosecutor."
"I'll do my best Winston, but I'm still not used to all these women throwing their weight around. I think I liked it better when it was a boys' game."
"Those days are long gone, my friend, so you may as well get in step with the times, starting today,"the DA said in a warning tone.
"I have a meeting with your dear Ms. Jarnigan this afternoon. I will of course fill her in with all the details we have so far."
"Give her a fair shake, Sam. It'll work out. You'll see."
"I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing,"the investigator said as he gathered his files and stood to leave.
As he watched his longtime friend leave his office, Winston couldn't help but quietly chuckle as he shook his head.
That old dog is going to learn some new tricks really soon if I know Casey. I bet she'll have him following orders in no time. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!
Winston had hired Sam Hardin as his staff investigator a couple years earlier when Sam needed a break from the demands of being a TBI field agent. He and Sam went way back to the days when they were just starting out—Winston an untried assistant DA and Sam a rookie TBI agent. Their friendship had weathered a lot of storms through the years. And almost thirty years later they were nearing retirement.
He couldn't have been more pleased than to have his old friend working with the shining star of the Wilmington DA's office.
With those two working together, I just know the job will get done. Assuming they don't kill each other first.
Casey Jarnigan was sitting at her desk reviewing the task force file when someone knocked on her door.
She looked up from the files she was reading to see who had entered and couldn't help but smile at the sight that greeted her. She was well acquainted with Sam Hardin but this was the first time they would work together.
Give the guy a cigar and a trench coat and take away the Santa belly and I'd have my very own Columbo.
"Hello, Sam, have a seat,"she invited with a smile.
"So Winston tells me he wants us to work together on this task force the governor requested,"she offered to get the conversation started.
It was all Sam could do to move forward and take the offered seat. Casey Jarnigan had a heart-stopping smile and for a few seconds it stopped him in his tracks.
"That's what he tells me too, kid, but I'll be damned if I can figure out why he needs a lawyer on the task force."
Casey's eyebrows arched as he called her kid but she decided to let it slide, for now.
He thinks he's a crusty old fart. We'll just see about that!
"You know, Sam, I may be an attorney but I'm also a damn good investigator. I also know that you are the best Wilmington has to offer and I'm sure we'll work very well together."
Casey hid a smile as she watched the veteran investigator's face turn slightly pink as he puffed out his chest at her compliment.
Sam straightened the front of his rumpled suit jacket and adjusted his tie as he cleared his throat.
"So, kid, you had a chance to read the report the TBI sent over?"
"Actually, I was reading Agent England's report when you came in."
"What do you think so far?"
"I think we've got a lot of work to do if this is all we've got to work with."
The veteran investigator let out a chuckle before he could stop himself. "I saw a lot of holes in the report, too. You know, kid, maybe we'll get along better than I thought!"
"I'm not so sure about that Mr. Hardin. I'm thinking that if you call me kid one more time that I'm going to kick your ass off this task force."
"You can't do that,"he replied as he huffed. "Winston assigned me to this and there's nothing you can do."
"But Winston put me in charge and if I want to remove you from the task force that is my decision to make!"
Damn this kid's got guts. Kind of reminds me of well ... me!"
"Okay. You win. I'll watch what I say from now on."
That was easy. I never expected him to back down that quickly."
"Alright, Sam, let's just forget it and get on with the business at hand."
Jennifer Gibson yanked off her suit jacket as she entered her office. Tossing it on a chair, she headed straight for her private bathroom.
Oh my God! I can't believe this. How in the hell did I get into this mess?
She turned on the tap and cupping her hands she caught handful after handful of water to soothe her flushed face. Finally feeling more in control she reached for a towel and raised her head. She studied her reflection in the mirror over the sink, noting the dark circles under her eyes and the pasty gray palor of her skin. "You look like hell and have got to get a grip,"she said as she leaned in close and tapped her reflection with her index finger.
"Get a grip, now!"
After taking a few minutes to freshen her makeup, Jennifer returned to her office to stand once again gazing out the window over the Tennessee River.
There has got to be a way out of this mess. I just need to think it through carefully and I will find the answer.
Casey let her mind travel back six months to when it all started with a phone call.
"Hey, Jenny. It's Janie."
"Janie, it's been forever since we talked. How are you? And where are you?"
"I'm in Wilmington and I was hoping we could get together and catch up."
"That sounds wonderful. I'd love to."
"How about meeting me at the Third Street Bar at about seven o'clock tonight?"
"Oh, Janie I'm not sure about going there."
"Come on. It'll be fun. You didn't used to have a problem with going to a women's bar. I promise to protect you from all the big, bad lesbians," she teased.
Allowing a laugh to escape, Jennifer said, "Glad to know you're still a nut. Some things never change, do they?"
"Actually, I'm hoping that is something you'll tell me ... if things do change."
Later that evening as Jennifer left her building and drove to meet Janie, she never noticed a dark sedan that followed close behind.
When she walked into the bar, she immediately spotted her old friend at a corner table at the back of the room.
She watched with a huge smile on her face as Janie finally saw her approaching. Her friend was soon wearing a matching smile and jumped up to engulf her in a hug.
"God, Jennifer, it's good to see you. You haven't changed a bit. You're still as gorgeous as ever."
"Well, I can't say the same about you. Look at you," Jennifer said as she stepped back and eyed her old friend. " When did you get so buff? Just look as those muscles," she teased.
She began to laugh out right when she saw the blush that quickly spread across Janie's face.
"Are you going to get me a drink or what?" she asked cutting her friend some slack.
"Sure. What'll you have?"
"Let's see. How about we pretend we're back in Bowling Green? Bring me an ice cold beer."
"Coming right up,"Janie said as she turned to make her way to the bar.
She's as crazy as ever. But what a body, Jennifer thought as she watched Janie at the bar.
Janie was soon back with two frothy mugs of beer. "Here you go. Bottoms up."
Jennifer accepted her mug with a laugh. She couldn't help but sigh in pleasure as she took her first sip.
"Damn, that's good. I can't remember when the last time was I had a nice, cold mug of beer."
"Too long, I'm thinking by the look on your face. You look like someone who's just been given a four-alarm orgasm."
Jennifer, who had just taken a sip, choked at her friend's words and began to cough as she tried not to spew beer across the table.
Reaching over Janie gave Jennifer a quick pat on the back. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine. Just give me a minute," Jennifer breathed out as she used her napkin to wipe the tears from her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you all choked up," Janie said innocently but with a twinkle in her eyes that belied the words.
"I can see that I'm still going to have to watch out for you. A four-alarm orgasm? You are crazy," Jennifer taunted as she shook a finger at her friend.
"So tell me what have you been up to? And just how long has it been since we've seen each other?" Jennifer quickly changed to a safer subject.
"Let's see. We saw each other at our ten-year reunion and then again just after I returned from Iran. I'm guessing it's been about eight, maybe nine years."
"Nine years. That just doesn't seem possible."
"I know but you know what they say time does fly."
"So they say. Come on tell me what you've been doing. Are you still working with the Associated Press?"
"Well, I just got back from eighteen months in Iraq. I think that may be my last AP assignment."
"Really? That surprises me. I thought you enjoyed traveling all over the world and documenting stories with your photographs."
"I do ... I did," she quickly corrected herself. "Jenny, I'm tired. I've been on the go for twenty years and I find myself wanting to settle in one place. My God, do you realize that we're forty-two years old?"
"So you're feeling old, are you?" Jennifer teased as she chuckled once again.
"It's more than that. It's— " she paused.
"Come on spill it. You obviously have something on your mind."
"Do you remember Alex?"
"Of course. How could I forget her? She was like another appendage back in college. Wherever you were, she was too."
"Recently, we've been back in touch. E-mails. Phone calls. And last week we got together for dinner."
"And after all these years, she still does it for me."
"So, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to land myself a job at a newspaper or magazine and settle down."
"Does Alex know that?"
"Not yet but she will soon."
After that first night, Jennifer met Janie at the Third Street Bar regularly for drinks. She had missed having someone in her life to just hang out with and laugh. Sometimes Alex joined them and sometimes she found herself stopping by for a quick drink by herself. She found she enjoyed being there in the company of women. Just like it was in simpler times when she was still in college.
Jennifer's musings were interrupted when her phone rang.
"Jennifer, your daughter is on line one."
"Hello, honey. What's up?"
"Mom, you do remember my recital this afternoon?"
"Sure, honey, I promised to be there and I will."
"Okay. Good. Now, I'm going to call Dad and remind him."
"You do that and I'll see you at the theater later. I know you'll do wonderful."
"Thanks, Mom. See you later."
"Bye now. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Damn, how could I have forgotten Courtney's recital? What if she hadn't called to remind me?
Pushing the intercom button, she rang her secretary.
"Maria, will you let Melinda know that I can't meet with her this afternoon? I have somewhere to be."
"Yes, I'll call her now. Is everything okay with Courtney?"
"There's nothing wrong. She just has a dance recital this evening and I promised to be there. It had slipped my mind."
"Good. I'm glad everything is okay. Do you want me to reschedule your meeting with Melinda?"
"Yes, check my calendar and the earlier the better for tomorrow."
As she started to hang up the phone, she had an idea. Checking her Rolodex, she found the number for her florist and dialed.
Although Courtney doesn't know I forgot, I'll feel better if I make her night special.
After ordering a dozen red roses to be delivered to her daughter at the theater, Jennifer gathered her things and prepared to leave for the day.
Getting into her black Lexus 470-GX, she pulled out of the parking lot onto Central Avenue and headed north toward the theater. She never noticed a dark sedan that had pulled out to follow.
"We know for a fact that there are at least four victims here," Matt England, the TBI agent assigned to the case, told Casey Jarnigan.
The agent had arrived just minutes after Sam Hardin had left and had spent the last half hour filling in the assistant DA. Most of their time had been used with Casey asking questions to fill in the holes he had left in his written report.
"Tell me about the four victims and how you have determined they are part of this case."
"First of all we received a tip that the bids for building the new convention center and complex were going to be fixed."
"How's that possible? Aren't there checks in place to prevent that from happening?"
"Yes, but there are ways to get around them if you have the right people involved."
"Like the city planner who is responsible for opening the bids for one."
"Alright, so you get a little help being the lowest bidder. But you also have to be the best bidder. The mayor isn't going to let just anyone build that center."
"He will if he is also one of the victims."
"Yes, the mayor is the second victim we've identified."
Good Lord. Sam is right this case is going to be a mess. "So who else is involved?"
"The chairman of the planning commission and the assistant commissioner of the state building commission are the last two victims we've identified."
"So you're telling me that all the top officials needed to get the contract to build the new convention center are being blackmailed?"
"But how can someone do that and it not become public. Those are public entities and their records are open. The media watches them like a hawk."
"I know that. That's one aspect we're still working on"
"Have you interviewed these victims to see what they have to say?"
"Yes, but no one is talking but the assistant commissioner. In fact he took this straight to the governor and has already given his resignation along with a promise to fully cooperate with the investigation."
"Your report says this has happened before, right?"
"Right. There are reports of similar things happening in both Memphis and Nashville."
"Were the blackmailers caught?"
"Because no one came forward. The assistant commissioner admitted to the governor that he had been involved with rigging bids in those two cities."
"I think I get the picture. Basically, the assistant commissioner blew open this whole mess, right?"
"That's the way I understand it. I haven't gotten to question him myself but plan to do that later this week."
"Let me know when you get the interview scheduled. I want to be there."
"I'll let you know as soon as it's done. Just so you know, the governor and attorney general have asked the assistant commissioner to stay in place and work with us to catch these guys."
"That sounds like an excellent plan. Just call and let me know when we're heading to Nashville and I'll be ready."
"Is there anything else you want to know?"
"Actually, there is one more thing. Sam said there are probably five victims. Who's the fifth person?"
"That's something we don't know yet. The assistant commissioner claims he doesn't know who the fifth person is but swears there is one."
"Do you have any other questions?"
"Not for now. I think you've brought me up to speed very well. But let's touch base daily. I don't think I have to tell you how important it is that we do this as quickly and quietly as possible."
"I understand completely, General Jarnigan. You can trust me to be discreet."
"I'm sure I can and Agent England—?"
"It's Casey, just Casey."
"Thanks Casey. And I'm Matt."The agent gave the DA a shy smile as he softly closed her office door.
I wonder if the missing piece might just be my mystery woman. I think I need to pay Ms. Jennifer Gibson a face-to-face visit tomorrow.
To Be Continued.
Please let me know what you think. firstname.lastname@example.org
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