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, “You already know my routine. 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 Burger King drive thru to get a spicy chicken sandwich with tomatoes and a nice milk shake to wash it down. Tomatoes are brain food ya know. I vacationed in Jacksonville with my brother once. I’m going to take you to that Burger King at the St. John’s Town Center on the south side of town to have some lunch and milkshake 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. Besides his primal physical attraction to Rhonda, Gary cared deeply about her physical and mental well being. He vowed to always have her back and protect her in the field. He hated to see her stressed out by all the rigors they encountered with their ever growing caseloads, and Gary always did his best to do things with Rhonda to help her decompress.
The Massage Soleil spa was a great place to decompress and relieve stress. Benjamin Hudson could have definitely used their services after nerve-racking day he was having. He spent most of the morning arguing with Crystal who was the mother of his two year old daughter Destiny. Things didn’t work out for Ben and Crystal as a couple and they had been separated for many months, but shared custody of their daughter. Ben went to Crystal’s house to pick up his daughter, but Crystal informed him that their daughter was spending time with her grandmother for a few days. Ben was upset and this led to a pretty heated argument. Ben eventually stormed out of Crystal’s place before things escalated, but he was so distracted that he backed right into a passing and unsuspecting motorist as he reversed out of Crystal’s driveway.
“Shit,” Ben cursed and punched his steering wheel.
Behind the wheel of the car Ben backed into sat Cynthia Stone. She was struck by Ben, literally and physically. As Ben stepped out of his car to assess the damage and check to see if she was okay, Cynthia marveled at his toned physique and dashing good looks. Handsome younger men like Ben always peaked her interest. The minor collision was the least of Cynthia’s concerns. After one look at Ben, the wheels in her head began to spin. At her age of 45, the prospect of seducing a handsome and stylish younger man always aroused Cynthia. Her guess that Ben must be in his mid twenties was correct. He had celebrated his 25th birthday only two weeks prior. Cynthia had immediately made up her mind and was intent on seducing Benjamin no matter what it took. Unaware of this fact, Ben approached Cynthia’s driver side window and gave it a light rap with his knuckles.
“I’m so sorry ma’am. I totally spaced out and wasn’t paying attention. Are you okay?” Ben asked after Cynthia rolled down her window.
“Oh, it’s just a minor fender bender. I’m all right, thank you,” Cynthia said as she stepped out of her car.
“You shouldn’t thank me. This is completely my fault. I feel horrible,” Ben said.
“Seriously, it’s okay. There’s not much damage as far as I can tell,” Cynthia said.
“Still, right about now is when we should exchange insurance information or something. Maybe we should call the cops to make an accident report.” Ben explained. “Lord knows I can’t really afford a hike in my premium, but I was in the wrong here. I wanna do right by this whole unfortunate situation. Hell, the old me would have just bolted on you honestly, but I’m not like that anymore.”
“Well, I certainly appreciate your honesty. Such upstanding character in young men is so rare these days,” Cynthia said.
“So, my insurance card is in my glove box. I’m just gonna grab it real quick,” Ben stated.
“No. Please, don’t bother,” Cynthia insisted. “There’s no need to get insurance companies or the police involved.”
“Well I don’t know any other way to resolve this. I mean, you’re gonna need some bodywork at least, and those type of repairs aren’t cheap. I’ve got decent collision coverage,” Ben said.
“Oh, I’m not too worried about that. I can send it to an old friend of mine who will fix it right up, no problem. And he’ll give me a good deal.”Cynthia responded.
“But it won’t be free, will it?” Ben asked. “I still feel obliged to make sure you get reimbursed for the costs. And where are my manners? I’ve just crashed into your nice Lexus. You are being so cool about this, and I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Ben, by the way.”
“Oh, short for Benjamin. I like that name,” Cynthia admitted to Ben. “Benjamin was my second ex-husband’s name. My name is Cynthia Stone.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Stone,” Ben shook her hand gently.
“The pleasure is all mine, Benjamin,” Cynthia blushed, “and please call me Cynthia.”
“Okay, Cynthia. You seem intent on giving me a pass for smashing your ride, but I wanna take some responsibility in this matter,” Ben said. “I’d fix it myself, but I’m just a lowly plumber by trade. There aren’t any pipes or drains in cars I can fix.”
“Ah, a plumber how interesting,” Cynthia said.
“Not as interesting as you think,” Ben said. “I learned the trade from my father and then took the family business over once he fell ill a year ago. Cancer, but he’s doing better now. The plumbing business though, isn’t as lucrative as I hoped it would be.”
“Nonetheless, it’s good that you have a trade, and take it from me, running a small business is all about hills and valleys. Things will get better for you soon I’m sure,” Cynthia said.
“I hope so,” Ben said. “You say you run a small business too?” What is it that you do?”
“Well, I own a couple of small novelty shops. One is in Daytona and the other is in Savanah. I’m thinking about expanding again and opening a third location in Jacksonville. I’m actually on my way to check out a commercial lease property that’s near a place where I like to get a massage when I’m in Jacksonville,” Cynthia told Ben.
“See Cynthia, now I feel worse,” Ben said. “You were on your way to handle some important business until I backed into you.”
“I told you already it’s no big deal, Benjamin. I’m fine. My car will be fine, but if you want to repay me some way for the damage, I may have an idea,” Cynthia said.
“What might that be?” Ben questioned.
“You say you’re a plumber, and I just happen to be having a problem with the some pipe leakage in the master bathroom at my home in Daytona,” Cynthia explained.
“Ah, I think I see what you are getting at,” Ben understood. “I can come down to Daytona and make those repairs for you, and we can call it even. That sounds like a good idea to me, Cynthia. I can live with that if you can.”
“Most definitely. Here, Benjamin, take one of my cards,” Cynthia handed it to Ben. “At the moment, I must run along so I’m not late for my meeting with that landlord. Give me a call in a couple of hours, and we can hash out the details.”
“Cool,” Ben took Cynthia’s card as he returned to her Lexus and drove off with a flirtatious wave in parting.
Ben smiled politely and waved back at Cynthia. Then he looked down and read her card:
2323 Jordan Dr. Daytona Beach FL, 32116
Cynthia Stone, Owner