As a ten year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rhonda Banks was accustomed to, but not desensitized by the amount of death she was exposed to in the field as a special agent. There she stood on the edge of a grassy marsh in Middleburg, Florida. The weather was muggy, but not near the unbearable extremes one can come to experience at the end of a summer in North Florida. Yet another corpse lay before Rhonda. The decomposition of the dead body was obviously advanced by the humidity of the First Coast Region. Rhonda stood in silence for a moment. The initial phases of a murder investigation always put her in a tantric trance. Even at this early stage, she could sense that this case would be of the atypical variety. Her partner Gary Black’s sudden and curt remark snapped Rhonda out of her mesmeric daze.
“This is a new one for me, a disemboweled gimp in a swamp with a severed penis,” Gary said. “Damn, Agent Banks, it smells like day-old cabbage stewed with rancid roadkill out here.”
“I won’t ask how you know what that smells like, Agent Black,” Rhonda commented.
Gary and Rhonda worked closely as partners for five years. Gary was strapping and brawny man with a thick southern drawl. He was raised in Moultrie, a small rural town in Georgia. His humble upbringing on a farm was a stark contrast to the way Rhonda was raised. She got used to that ephemeral and transplanting lifestyle that came along with being in a military family. She couldn’t count how many times she was uprooted and had to pack up to move when her father was transferred to another Naval Base. More times than not, they were coastal cities, so Rhonda grew up loving the beach. Still, the country boy Gary and the beach girl Rhonda, although and odd pair, worked well and as a cohesive investigational unit. They got on each other’s nerves and clashed on occasion, but they truly trusted and respected one another.
The crime scene in Middleburg was cordoned off. It was a muddy and wooded area not far from the northern flowing St. John’s River south of Jacksonville off US Highway 17. The Clay County Sherriff’s Office, the local authorities, alerted the FBI. Gary and Rhonda weren’t too far away in Daytona Beach investigating a high profile missing person’s case, so they were immediately summoned to the crime scene. A week prior, Blake Adams, the eldest son of a prominent US Congressman named Bill Adams from Miami, vanished without a trace. Blake had travel led to Jacksonville to attend the first road game of the Miami Dolphins’ 2014 NFL season versus the Jaguars at Ever Bank Stadium. Bill happened to also be in town at the time accompanying his wife Linda Adams, a published and renowned self-help author that had a scheduled speaking arrangement at a conference at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium in downtown Jacksonville. Reportedly, Blake hade made his way to Daytona after the football game to celebrate the Dolphins’ thrilling overtime victory over the Jaguars with some of the players he was acquainted with. Blake was last seen leaving an upscale gentlemen’s club called Emperors’ off the strip in Daytona Beach with an unidentified woman.
Back in Middleburg, Agent Banks and Agent Black surveyed the area with local cops and crime scene technicians. They examined the dead body which was dressed up in a full-body leather BDSM gimp suit, complete with mask and ball-gag strapped in his mouth. A large gash in his abdomen exposed his intestines. The ankles were bound with chains, and the wrists were handcuffed behind his back. There was a lot of blood, but it wasn’t immediately evident whether or not part of the attack occurred on the scene, or elsewhere, or if the man was assaulted, gutted, and dumped alive to bleed out.
“Can somebody please remove that ball-gag from his mouth and take off that mask?” Rhonda asked.
One of the CSI’s obliged Rhonda’s request, then Gary said, “Holy honeycombs! That’s our guy. That’s Blake Adams.”
This is was no longer a missing person’s case for Rhonda and Gary. It was a homicide, and a gory one at that. The overkill was evident.
“Who discovered the body?” Rhonda asked.
One of the police officers answered, “A man was walking his dog on a nearby trail when his dog got loose from the leash and ran into the woods. The man gave chase then stumbled across this. He phoned us right away.”
“Where is this man now?” Rhonda asked.
“Right over there,” the cop pointed.
“Officer, we are gonna need you to escort that man to the station to get a detailed statement from him,” Gary said. “Have your people finish securing the scene and take as many pictures as possible. Collect and document as much trace evidence as you can. Then, carefully bag up the body, and take it to the coroner, so they can conduct a detailed medical examination and autopsy.”
“Officer Williams,” Rhonda read the name above his badge. “We appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the Clay County Sheriffs’ Office. Now, my partner and I must go to Jacksonville to give the victim’s parents the bad news. Try to keep the press suppressed, and don’t give any official statements to the media until tomorrow. We may handle that.”
“Alerting the next of kin: this was always a difficult and uncomfortable undertaking. Bill and Linda Adams were still checked in at the Hyatt in downtown Jacksonville. Needless to say, they were absolutely distraught and grief stricken when Agent Black and Agent Banks delivered the about their son’s death in person. Gary and Rhonda expressed their sympathies and assured the Adams family that the FBI would find whoever was responsible for such horrible atrocities and bring them to justice. After delivering the devastatingly horrible bad news, Gary and Rhonda stood on the Riverwalk outside the Hyatt. Gary could see the anguish in Rhonda’s face.
“Ronnie, we are going to catch this guy,” Gary assured her. “We always do.”
“I know, Gary,” Rhonda replied.
Then, Gary made a suggestion, “Let me tell you what I like to do once I get to the meat and potatoes of a big case like this one here.”
Rhonda asked him, “What’s that, Gary?”
He explained, “I like to get a deep tissue massage to decompress. I vacationed in Jacksonville with my family once. I’m going to take you to Massage Soleil at the St. John’s Town Center on the south side of town, my treat.”
Rhonda just nodded. She had learned long ago not to reject Gary’s insistences. He was very persistent and persuasive person, and sometimes he knew what was best for Rhonda. That’s why they worked so well together…