By Patrick D. Peay
As a ten year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gary Black was accustomed to, but not desensitized by the amount of death he was exposed to in the field as a special agent. There he 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 was sprawled out before Gary and his partner Rhonda Banks. The decomposition of the dead body was obviously advanced by the humidity of the First Coast Region. Rhonda surveyed the scene with a stern look of concentration on a face filled with such delicate and attractive features while Gary stood in silence for a moment. He found himself drifting off into a daydream themed with an all too familiar forbidden fantasy.
Gary worked closely and in conjunction with Rhonda for the past six years. All the while, he tried his best to conceal his secret admiration for her. What started as an innocent crush turned into a lurid obsession and even he was ashamed to admit that to himself, so he kept these desires for her pent up inside him as best he could. Everything about Rhonda was so alluring and attractive to Gary. She was brilliant, beautiful, and something about her attitude and the way she carried herself was irresistible to Gary. He wondered if she ever noticed his longing stares. He had the impression that Rhonda could be a subtle seductress if she wanted to be. That desire to throw caution to the wind and conventional wisdom always festered inside Gary. Everyone knows how complicated feelings like this could complicate work relationships. Still, sometimes Gary wanted to hold Rhonda. He wanted to caress her. He wanted to sensually kiss her and explore her whole body with his tongue. He typically didn’t see Rhonda out of her stark professional attire, but Gary imagined she would look absolutely stunning in lacey lingerie.
Rhonda was keenly focused during the initial phases of a murder investigation. Gary was in a tantric trance. Even at this early stage of investigation, Rhonda could sense that this current case would be of the atypical variety. Rhonda’s sudden and curt remark snapped Gary out of his mesmeric daze.
“This is a new one for me, a dead and ball-gagged gimp in a swamp,” Rhonda said.
“Damn, Agent Banks, it smells like day-old cabbage stewed with rancid road kill out here,” Gary remarked.
“I won’t even ask how you know what that smells like, Agent Black,” Rhonda commented.
Gary and Rhonda worked closely as partners for six 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 an odd pairing, worked well as a cohesive investigational unit. They got on each other’s nerves sometimes 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 United States Congressman named Bill Adams from Miami, vanished without a trace. Blake had travelled to Jacksonville from his home in Miami to attend the first road game of the Miami Dolphins’ 2014 National Football League regular season versus the perennially lousy Jacksonville Jaguars at Ever Bank Stadium. Blake’s father 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 women’s empowerment conference at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium off Jefferson Street in downtown Jacksonville. Reportedly, Blake hade made his way to Daytona Beach south of Jacksonville after the football game to celebrate the Dolphins’ thrilling 26 to 20 overtime victory over the Jaguars. Bill travelled in a convoy with some of the Dolphins’ 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, Special Agent Banks and Special 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. There wasn’t an apparent cause of death that they could see. The ankles were bound with chains, and the wrists were handcuffed behind his back. There was a not lot of blood, and it wasn’t immediately evident whether or not part of an attack occurred on the scene, or elsewhere, or if the man was assaulted violently, and dumped severely injured to expire alone in the swamp.
“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 definitely Blake Adams.”
This is was no longer a missing person’s case for Rhonda and Gary. It was a homicide, and a weird one at that. The uniqueness of this murder was evident.
“Who discovered the body?” Gary 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 have to 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 Hotel on Market Street near the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville. Needless to say, they were absolutely distraught and grief stricken when Special Agent Black and Special Agent Banks delivered the about their son’s peculiar and violent death in person. Gary and Rhonda expressed their sympathies and assured the Adams family that the Federal Bureau of Investigations would find whoever was responsible for such horrible atrocities and use all the resources at their disposal to bring the perpetrator of such an awful and inexplicable crime 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. He wanted to comfort and console her.
“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 murder case like this one here.”
Rhonda asked him, “What’s that, Gary?”
He explained, “It’s kind of a superstition. After I find a body and have to alert the next of kin, I like to go to a restaurant to eat a juicy steak with a glass of wine to decompress. I vacationed in Jacksonville with my brother once. I’m going to take you to Maggianno’s at the St. John’s Town Center on the south side of town to have some steak and wine with me, my treat. After that we can go to Massage Soleil at the Town Center. According to Blake Adam’s itinerary he got a massage there Sunday morning. We need to question the staff and review their surveillance footage.”
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…