Do you want to know about Johnnie King?
Hi, sorry for not updating the blog for a while; I have been busy working on the second novel in the Johnnie King series.
Viewing my posting of my July blog; it is entirely possible that I should have provided a bit more to entice readers.
Based on the request and inquiries, I have decided to revise the previous blog with an extended version.
I do hope you have the opportunity to read this extended version. Not to worry, it doesn't contain a spoiler.
Please note the book’s dedication to our law enforcement; who serve and protect with integrity.
To our law enforcement personnel, who serve and protect us with integrity.
Meet Johnnie King, former FBI agent, settling into a mundane life is now working at The First National Bank of Ackers, WV.
Vandalism strikes Johnnie’s office, leaving a body in her office closet. Johnnie and Detective Terry Nichols attempt to tackle the case.
Things change when the state attorney Mirah Anderson and her traveling companion FBI agent John Erickson insists on coming to Ackers.
Now bodies are accumulating. Who will be next?
Johnnie, Terry, Michael, Johnnie’s husband, and her former boss from the FBI, Noah Drake and his team find that this case will take more than their efforts to unravel. How many entities are involved in this dark and dangerous small town and its bank?
Watch for more adventures of
Johnnie King and the team.
The night brought cold winds early this year and Johnnie King could hear the wind blowing outside her office window and almost feel the gusts as it rattled the windows in the old bank building.
The architecture of this place amazed her. Built around the turn of the century, six floors to its structure and her office was perched on the top floor. She loved just roaming around the building when she was first hired. She told Gary Percy, her supervisor, about her wanderings in the open places. Continuing a habit she developed when she worked for the FBI, Johnnie wanted to know her surroundings.
Johnnie liked having a desk in a private office. An office was never going to happen with her previous employment. She was either working in the field or in a cubical. She did enjoy the challenge of fieldwork, but there were times when she would be away from home for several days. This job was different. She worked at a bank before the bureau, and liked the idea of closing the day with a completion of the day’s work in balance.
She knew she was fortunate to have landed the job at the bank. She never expected to be in management when she applied since her expertise was far from banking, but things had worked out well like having her own office.
She certainly did not start out in the position of processing manager. She went through a few other positions while working through the ranks before attaining this position. Johnnie did not think she would exceed this level, and she was content with staying in this position.
She loved the job and her co-workers. Well, for the most part that was true. Some were vain and some just had to have their eyes and nose into everything. That was true no matter where you worked. She sat back in her chair and looked around. It was a nice office with two windows, bookshelves and a huge desk. Most people thought it indulgent but the truth about the matter it was an old wooden desk with a larger top attached. The oversized desk was more about the work, getting involved in tracing outages or doing research made it necessary to have room to spread the work out on a large surface.
The walls were some sort of unusual grass wallpaper painted white before she was hired. Blue being her favorite color, she loved the azure border along the ceiling that matched the drapes over the windows and the glass panel by the door. She rarely closed her door during working hours. She wanted her co-workers to feel welcomed. She even kept a bowl of candy on the corner of her desk for the employees.
Johnnie referred to the people who worked in her department as co-workers. She wanted the department in her care to be a team. In the bureau, being a part of the team could be the difference between a good ending and something else.
Johnnie already put in 10 hours of this eight-hour day. “Banker’s hours” where are these perks, and who gets such a thing? Such glories went to the big boys.
Before leaving every evening, she checked with the night crew to see that things were moving along well. If they had the slightest problem, she would stay. She felt it was her duty to be as much a part of the work team as anyone.
Walking into the confirmation department’s room, she asked if there were any problems. Mary Edgington leaned back in her chair. “Things are going well and we should be wrapping up in just a bit. After I film the work, the day will be history.” Mary always saw the best in every situation. Johnnie often wondered how she was able to stay so cheery even on the most difficult days.
Walking into the computer room, she found Karey Cousins. “How goes it Karey?” Karey was busy sorting checks and arranging them in the proper trays. “Okay, should be out in good time tonight, about seven.” Johnnie loved it when the days went smoothly. “Great, but you have my number if you need anything.” Karey smiled, “You say that every night.”
Johnnie grinned as she waved good-bye to the night crew, before returning to her office to collect her things.
Back in her office, she secured some of the files she had been working and locked her desk and credenza. Wow, it was finally Friday, walking to the front of her office; she went to the closet in the corner and gathered her coat and purse. It was her habit to close her office door every night before leaving the bank. She never locked the door, if someone wanted to get into the space, there was always the full-length window next to the door.
Walking through the parking lot in the crisp fall air, she found it invigorating and chilling. Late September in West Virginia could definitely put a nip in the air. Wishing she had worn a heavier coat and scarf, she could only pull the collar up around her neck as she walked the across the lot.
Getting into her car, she locked the doors, secured her seat belt, and took out her phone. “Hey honey, I am on my way home. Do you want me to pick up anything on my way?”
Michael Joseph King, Johnnie’s husband of just over eight years, normally did the cooking for the two of them.
Michael, standing six foot one weighing in at 176 pounds, with black hair and gorgeous green eyes was a man comfortable in his own skin. Some people never do achieve the sense of self that he possessed.
“No sweetheart, I have everything under control. I think you will like tonight’s dinner. How about your favorite Italian white bean soup served with hot bread and those no bake cookies you like so much?”
Johnnie was more than ready for dinner and soup on a blustery night was perfect. “I am really ready for the soup. Do you know how cold it is tonight?”
Michael laughed. “Why do you think I made the soup? Besides it is so easy and quick, I had no choice. I only got home about a half an hour ago.”
Johnnie had to ask. “If you got home a half an hour ago, just how did you make bread?”
This banter back and forth between the two was pretty much normal for this couple. “Did I say I made the bread? You know there are these things, called bakeries. I picked up two loaves and they are in the oven waiting for you. Those little ciabatta loaves you like so much. ”
Johnnie was ready to pull out of her parking spot. “I guess I will just have to hurry home to enjoy dinner. I have to ring up now, getting ready to drive.” She never used her phone when she drove.
As always, dinner was perfect especially since they ate sitting on the floor in the family room in front of the fireplace. The room had a raised hearth and it was easy to use the inglenook as a table of sorts. Well, until the fire truly started to roar.
After the meal, Johnnie said she was going upstairs to put on her snuggie, as she called the lounging nightwear, and come back down. She had scrubbed her face, used her night moisturizer, and brushed her teeth. She was ready for bed. She knew the fire would lull her to the stage where she fought to keep her eyes open.
Although the kitchen was very large, more than enough for the two of them to work together, Michael would rather work in the kitchen on his own.
Johnnie walked in the room with a huge smile. She recognized the bottle of wine that Michael had opened. Together they sat comfortably on the floor with the large pillows pulled from the couch, and the wine was Johnnie’s favorite Australian red.
Johnnie loved this old house, the family room a wood burning fireplace, and dark stained hardwood floors. The walls were the palest shade of salmon and well matched to the brick of the fireplace.
After a glass and a half, Johnnie knew something was up. “Okay what is going on here, dinner, roaring fireplace, and now my favorite wine. What gives?” Johnnie snuggled a bit closer, and Michael put his arm around her.
Michael took on a very serious tone. “Are we ever going to talk about adopting? I know finding out that we could not have our own children has been a devastating setback, especially since you left the FBI so we could start our family. Moving to Ackers was because we decided it was the perfect place to raise a family. However, we have to face the facts. If we are going to have a family, don’t you think we should talk? I don’t claim to know what you went through or what you are still going through, but I am trying. I really am. Give me some sort of idea what you want.”
Johnnie dreaded this subject. Finding out that she could not have children really shook her to the core. She remembered as a child she told her mother she wanted six kids, and now she would have none. “I know we need to talk about it, but I was thinking if we waited, we could always adopt an older child. You know; give a good home to someone who really needs love and care. Don’t you like the idea of an older child?” The despair in Johnnie’s eyes said everything. “Do we really need to discuss it right now?”
Michael took a deep breath. “How long do you think we should put off our plans?”
Johnnie felt like her emotions were welling inside. She could handle armed gunmen, talk down a volatile hostage situation, she could keep up with any man in the FBI training, but this topic came close to breaking her. “I just want more time, I don’t want to seem selfish; but I really am not ready. Michael, I have thought this over a hundred times in my head. My dream of being a wife and mother always came first, The FBI or the bank just secondary. Now, I just don't know. To be very honest, I don’t know if I will ever be ready. I think I would like to go to bed now.”
Before she got off the floor, she gave Michael a kiss that said she was not upset with him, only the subject, and the circumstance. “Are you coming up?” She said with hope in her eyes.
He just smiled and got up, taking the wineglasses to the dishwasher; he then followed her upstairs.
Friday night was a night to remember. She may not be able to have a baby; but there was nothing wrong with trying.
Monday morning, how did it roll around so fast? She didn’t even remember enjoying her weekend.
In the morning, Michael brought Johnnie’s tea up as usual. He told her he was going to Clarksburg to meet with a prospective customer, but his meeting was not until mid-afternoon. He would be home until one o'clock. He asked. “What are you planning today? Do you know what time you will be home?”
Johnnie really didn’t like the vault days. “Ugh, I have vault day. I don’t even like to think about a day in the basement. Guess I can’t put it off, so better get started. The lower vault is full of dust, dirt, and worst of all spiders. How did those creatures get into a sealed vault? I shouldn’t be too late tonight, once I prep the film for shipment that is about all I can do for the day.”
“I could see by your outfit you weren’t planning on being in your office today.” Michael always noticed the little things.
The dress for the day needed to be casual and yet professional. Jeans would have been nice, and much more sensible, but still she needed to be able to meet with a customer should the need arise. Her obligation is to the bank, she needs to appear at all times as a proficient and organized employee. Her outfit for the day was her favorite pair of black leggings with a long black tunic. She did have to dress it up a bit with some jewelry. Although when working in the vault she would tuck her ornamentation inside her tunic, she never did wear rings other than you wedding rings on heavy workdays. She did not want to lose a finger or a ring. Therefore, she would turn the engagement ring to the inside of her hand and even tape it in place. To play it safe, in case she needed to meet with someone, she kept an apron in the lower vault for such workdays.
Johnnie always tried to think of every possible scenario, even personal safety while working in out of the way places like the lower vault. That must be why Gary Percy, her supervisor and senior vice president of the bank assigned her the contingency plan.
It was part of her job to review the organization of the lower vault, which she did on a semi-annual basis. However, today’s review would give her a good opportunity to pull the microfilm she would need to continue the project assigned to her by Tom Midland, Executive Vice President of Lending. She didn’t know why he assigned the project, but she always carried out instructions.
Giving Michael a kiss goodbye, she started her day. The morning air was chilly so Johnnie grabbed her heavier coat. She did not want that night chill to catch her again. The scarf she wore matched the collar of her coat and wide enough to keep her neck warm. The weather reports called for falling temperatures. She knew West Virginia’s eastern panhandle got some cold weather, but this early?
Pulling into the bank's parking lot, Johnnie took her favorite parking place. The first row of parking after the drive in teller lane was for the employees. Johnnie chose to park in the section under the street light. Leaving the bank at odd hours, she preferred to have her vehicle in a well-lit area. It certainly wasn't to show off her car. She was still driving her old station wagon, which she loved regardless of Michael's opinion. This green monster may be out of style today, with all the SUVs on the road, but she loved this vehicle and its power.
Don greeted Johnnie at the door. Don Phelps was the maintenance man for the morning. He usually started at seven in the morning and left about three in the afternoon. He was a pleasant chap who just took care of the bank’s maintenance mainly because he loved the old building. He knew every nook and cranny in the place. He was probably the only one besides Johnnie who knew where to look for the unusual items one might request. He lived close so it was easy for him to walk to work. Don was a man of stocky build with a rough complexion, average height, and thick graying hair. He always had a smile from ear to ear, as he greeted the employees. It seemed as though nothing could destroy his mood.
“Good morning, Don. How goes it today?” Johnnie greeted every employee she encountered.
“Pretty good day so far, but then it is only 7:25 on a cold Monday. Glad to see you dressed for the chill.”
After her brief encounter with Don, she crossed paths with Harrison. Harrison Magers was a good-looking man, six feet tall, black hair and blue eyes, very symmetrical features. Too bad, he was the bank clown. He could really go beyond his present position customer service manager if he would just take his job more seriously.
“Hey Harrison, how’s your day looking?”
Harrison was standing by the partition separating his office from the lobby. “I don’t have much planned, but I see this must be vault day. You are dressed for rough work.”
“What makes you think you I am working in the vault today?” Johnnie smiled.
Harrison laughed at her comment. “Come on, you are known for your high heels and today you are in flats, a sure give away.”
“Okay you caught me, it is a dirty job; but somebody has to do it.” Johnnie waved as she headed to the steps. She always took the stairs. She wanted the small bit of exercise that the climb to the sixth floor provided.
Half way up to her office, she encountered Tom Midland. “How is the research project coming along? You have been able to keep it secured and away from any prying eyes, right?”
Johnnie found Tom’s concern about the assignments he gave her almost brotherly. “All is well, not to worry. Today I will pull the microfilm I need along with several other rolls as a part of my semi-annual lower vault inspection.”
Tom again slowed her down, and looking in both directions in the stairwell before speaking. “You do realize this research is centered on Victor Andropov. He is dangerous, and if he knew you were gathering this for the state’s attorney general, he just might try to do something none of us want to see happen. He can be a violent man, and he has his, shall we say, body guard near him every second of everyday”
“Not to worry, I have not told anyone, except Michael, of the project. I am doing all I can to keep the research project secret. I have no desire to turn this into an encounter with the likes of Victor Andropov or his bodyguard.”
Johnnie arrived on her floor. As she neared her office, she noticed the door. The door standing open, was not a good sign. She knew she closed the door Friday night when she left. It was still early so only the morning computer operator was on the floor at present. If Silva had been snooping, she would have been smart enough to close the door.
As she drew nearer to the door, she could see files scattered and opened on her desk. She noticed her credenza drawers opened. Her heart sank, not only would this change her entire day; the potential of danger to her co-workers could become real. She needed to get Frank Ridges from security up to her office now. This was important and needed to be on record.
After calling Frank, she called Tom to keep him up to date. “Tom, someone has been in my office and broke into my desk and credenza. Don’t worry, the materials for the project are not kept in my office; all is well. It remains secure. I do, however, want to know if someone from the attorney general’s staff has been talking about this project.”
Tom was very concerned his first question was if she called Frank.
“It's okay; I called Frank as soon as I saw the files lying on my desk.” Johnnie knew Tom was truly concerned for all concerned.
The security officer, Frank Ridges, came up to her office. Frank asked if she had entered or touched anything in her office. Explaining that she did not, but thought it was necessary to have a record of the invasion. As former law enforcement, she knew not to touch the scene.
Frank went into the office. His hand on his gun, ready for use should the need arise. A bit melodramatic, this did not seem like an event that would require such action. At least until he used his radio to call for backup.
Unaware of what was going on in the office, she did her best to keep the employees from getting too excited. She asked all but her assistant Ana to go on with their day. She needed to keep the atmosphere calm. People in the state of chaos make errors, so it was important to proceed as though it was a normal day.
Johnnie could hear Frank on his radio. “Chuck, I need you and Pete up here on six at Johnnie King's office now. I have put in a call to the police department, but I want this door secure. We will need to have the employees come through the back lunchroom door.”
Chuck and Pete came up to her office, they kept a perimeter around her office cleared. Johnnie stood near the elevator and stair area to instruct employees to enter by way of the lunchroom side door. Word spread through the bank like wild fire. Having security to any part of the bank apparently caused anxiety. She didn’t know what was going on and it was her office. Calling security was just for a matter of record. What was Frank thinking?
Soon other officials started showing up on the floor. This was a secured floor, how could anyone have gotten to her office in the first place? The elevator had a code in place. This just did not seem like a simple snooping job, not the way Frank and his crew were acting.
When Johnnie turned her door station over to one of Frank’s men, she sat at Ana’s desk just outside her own office for the moment. Johnnie was still sitting at Ana’s desk when a woman in a navy blue suit, raven colored hair, cut in a simple easy style, approached her. This woman had uniquely violet colored eyes.
The woman introduced herself as Terry Nichols a detective with the Akers police. “You can call me Terry; I prefer to keep things casual. You are Johnetta King and I understand it is your office that has been broken into?”
Johnnie could see the cool confidence of this woman. Her eyes had an intensity to them that made the violet all the more noticeable. Terry Nichols stood approximately five foot eight inches and wore a shoulder holster. Most would not notice the telltale sign of a gun, but Johnnie noticed everything.
“Yes, I am Johnetta King, you can call me Johnnie. I don’t understand why the police have been called in for a vandalized office.”
“I would appreciate you accompanying me to the police station.” Johnnie knew whatever happened she had no part in the event, but apparently; her office was a crime scene beyond simple vandalism.
The woman was pleasant, but she was rather insistent that Johnnie come with her. “I need you to accompany me to the police station, now.”
She asked the detective, “You want to tell me exactly what is going on, after all it is my office that seems to have caused a fuss.”
“Mrs. King, Johnnie, I would much rather discuss this at the station. I will tell you everything we know once we are at the precinct.”
Johnnie observed the woman’s face and body language. “I know you are attempting to create a casual atmosphere in an attempt to get me to talk to you. You don’t need to worry, I would be happy to tell you everything. Although I can’t tell you what you want since I don’t know what is going on in my office.”
“Please, Johnnie, let me explain everything at the station.”
Johnnie did not want to cause a problem so she picked up her coat and purse and went along with the detective. As soon as they got into the car, the detective turned to her. “I know this is out of the norm, but I know of your law enforcement days. You have quite a reputation among the law enforcement community. When the papers announced you chose Ackers as you home, I did some checking on you. I am guessing it would be useless to ask you if you touched anything in your office? I know you would have kept the scene pristine.”
“I am confused, why would you check up on my FBI days?”
“Well, you are like a celebrity here in Ackers. To have a FBI agent chose to move to our little hamlet is the most exciting thing to happen in a long time. We are after all, a small town and you are accustom to big city living. The newspaper article was rather vague about your reason for coming to Ackers, but here you are in the flesh”
“I didn't know about a newspaper article. Back to your question, as I got close to my office I saw the mess the office was in, and I knew something was wrong. Locking my desk and credenza is a part of my standard operating procedure. I know better than to touch or disturb anything. So I did not go into the office.”
“Why lock your desk?” Terry asked.
“I hate to say that some of the employees have prying eyes. When I first came to work at the bank, I didn’t lock anything. I simply cleared away my desk and that was that; but then it seemed as though someone was interested in employee payrolls. Grudgingly I started locking my desk and filing cabinets. I hated the idea that it was necessary to lock everything. Whoever broke in put things away just not in the right files. This was so different it looked like someone was searching for something. Someone wanted me to know they had been in my office.”
“So your office has been broken into before.” The detective was very interested in this news.
“I would not call it a break in at that point since I didn't and still don't lock my office door. I simply close the door.” Johnnie could tell this was going to be an interesting meeting.
Terry pulled into the parking lot at the police station. As Terry continued with the personable approach, they chatted about nonsense as they walked to the detective’s cubical.
Bullpens and cubicles caused an instant flash back for Johnnie. The detective took off her coat and hung it on the hook on the corner of the cubical. She put her purse in the drawer, and took her gun off and put it in a drawer and locked it.
“So, why do you lock your desk drawer?” Johnnie parroted.
Terry laughed, “Old habit. When I was a beat cop there was an individual brought into the station. He was higher than a kite and he went for one of the officer’s gun. From that point on, I take mine off and lock it so that can’t happen with my gun. The poor guy was only brought in on a minor charge that quickly grew to a felony.”
Terry walked Johnnie down the hall, and opened the door to a conference room. Johnnie walked into the room.
“What? No one way mirror?”
Terry explained. “You are not a suspect. I just wanted you away from the bank and others so we could talk freely.”
“Is there anyone you would like to call?” Terry asked.
Johnnie raised her eyebrow. “Is this where I call my attorney?”
Terry repeated. “As I said, you are not a suspect. Nor are you under arrest. I just thought you might want to tell someone where you are. However, if you think an attorney is necessary.”
Johnnie reached for her cell phone. “I will just call my husband. Although I don’t know what I can explain to him.”
“Hi Honey. This day is off to a strange start. Someone has been in my office and disturbed a number of files. I am with Detective Terry Nichols of the Ackers police department. If you could delay your meeting and come to the station, I would appreciate it. My car is back at the bank.”
“Johnnie, we can wait for Mr. King, or would you rather we get started now. It is up to you.” Terry did seem like the type of person who would be easy to work with on a case.
“I think I would rather start now. I want to know what happened and why am I here away from the rest of the bank employees?”
Terry took the seat opposite of Johnnie. “I first would like to know your feelings about Herb Jennings?’
“Herb, what does he have to do with the reason for my being at the station? Has he accused me of something?”
Terry raised her left eyebrow. “Why would you ask such a question?”
“Honestly, I can’t think of a reason why you would have me here and ask me about Herb. So, did he say something, does he know what happened or who was in my office?”
Terry again referred back to the question. “I need to know your feelings on Mr. Jennings.”
Why was the detective asking such a question? Johnnie thought she best respond as any employee would when asked. “Mr. Jennings is the Exec VP and a valuable employee of the bank for a number of years.”
Terry watched Johnnie as she sat straight and secure. “Johnnie, the reason you are here is that I need the truth about your impressions of Mr. Jennings. It would also be helpful to know the general sentiments of all the employees.”
Johnnie knew that she needed to answer the inquiries as to her true attitudes. “Okay, if you need to know the truth. I am not fond of Herb Jennings. I believe him to be a bully. He enjoys his authority and uses it to intimidate employees.”
“Thank you. We also need to have some insights as to the opinions of the staff. This is not about you or your opinions of Mr. Jennings. This is about his death.” Terry watched for Johnnie’s reaction, but as seasoned former law enforcement, she remained calm.
“Herb is dead? How? When? Has anyone notified his children or his ex-wife?”
“His was a violent death, and for some reason was dumped in your office closet. Can you tell me why he would have been dumped in your office?”
“I am at a loss to think of a reason why such a thing would happen. I admit that we did not get along, but he stayed on the executive floor and I stayed on my floor for the most part. When I did to go to the administrative floor, it was to Gary Percy’s office. Gary is my boss. He is much easier to work with than Mr. Jennings. Still I don’t know of a reason why anyone would kill Herb and then leave his body in my office.”
Johnnie and Terry were discussing what few details Terry had at present when Michael, escorted by Sergeant Will Hastings, came into the room where Johnnie and Terry were sitting.
“Hi Sweetheart, what is going on here? I noticed the floor directory, why the homicide division.” Michael was still standing by Johnnie when Terry approached him with an extended hand.
“Mr. King, I am Detective Terry Nichols, we prefer a casual approach here, so please call me Terry. Your wife and I have been discussing the discovery made in her office today.”
Johnnie could see that Michael was concerned and responded in a cautious nature. “What was discovered in your office?”
Johnnie looked up at her husband with a weak smile. “Herb has been found dead, apparently murdered. He was in my closet, but since I saw files scattered on my desk, I didn’t enter. Actually, because of the disarray on my desk, I called Frank from security. I wanted it on record that someone had been in my office because of the research project I have been doing.”
Terry interrupted. “What research project would that be? Was Mr. Jennings involved in any way with your project?”
“No, Herb was not involved in the project. Tom Midland assigned the inquiry. He is Herb’s counterpart at the bank. I am to examine all records and transactions that Mr. Victor Andropov has made over the last four years and report my findings directly to Gary Percy. Tom wanted the task to be done so that no one would be able to determine what I was doing, or who I was assigned to examine.”
Terry seemed to find it very interesting just now learning of this development. “Shall we discuss this venture of yours? I would like to know more about what exactly you have been doing for Mr. Midland and why this was requested in the first place.”
“The project came through the office of the state’s attorney general. Tom asked that I do most of the work outside employee hours. That meant the early morning computer employee and the late night crew should not be in the bank or at least not able to see the work. I did a lot of late nights and weekends to progress to the point I am currently. If whoever broke into my desk and credenza was looking for the result of my efforts, they were disappointed. I don’t keep the work in my office. I keep one copy in the main vault and the working copy in a lock box inside the upstairs vault. The lock box is behind trays of signature cards. The cards being stored in the vault will be microfilmed later. In addition, to get into the vault it requires two keys. I keep one, as does Gary these are the master keys and the second key is kept in the computer room. I will admit that I have accessed the upstairs vault. When I have finished a portion of the research, I use my master key and the one from the computer room. I do however, register my access on the roster. I have mixed feelings about accessing the upstairs vault at odd times, so as soon as possible I have Gary initial the roster reflecting my access. It isn’t like there is anything of true value in that vault. It is used for maintaining a rotating stock of computer disk and the signature cards, nothing else. Then once a week, if I have had the opportunity to work on the project that week, I update the copy that is in the main vault.”
Terry still had questions. “Have you found anything of interest in your assignment?”
“To be honest, I haven’t found anything that would warrant interest by anybody. Let alone the state’s attorney office. At first, I thought they were looking for money laundering activities; but there is no indication of such doings. I understand this Victor Andropov is a person of interest in several unresolved crimes.” Johnnie was now looking to Terry for answers.
Michael wanted to ask a few question. “Excuse me, do you know anything about this individual, Terry?”
Terry was ready to answer the questions she could. “Andropov has been in this area since I can remember. He owns The Flames Steak and Pasta Restaurant. He has his hit man, slash, bodyguard with him almost constantly. His name is Sebastian Osis.”
The name got a reaction out of Johnnie. “Sebastian Osis, the man suspected of about a dozen murders? Wonder who his hidden angel is, it has to be a person with power? He appears to be untouchable.”
Terry retorted. “Whoever it is must be higher than we will ever deal with in this life. If he were not a killer, he would be a nice guy. He talks like an educated man, not bad looking. Unfortunately, he is on the wrong side of a badge.”
Michael commented on the topic. “I don't know this Sebastian person.”
Terry slipped into police mode again. “Can you tell me what it is that you do Michael?”
“I have a security company called Security Now. I supply personal security, armament, investigations and premise security. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people, but I do not recall a Sebastian Osis.”
Terry grinned. “I guess you don’t deal with the criminal element.”
“Oh, I am exposed to the criminal element; I just don’t do any work for such enterprises or persons. On the rare occasion, if something that doesn’t set right with me, I call the authorities that are best suited to handling the circumstances.”
Terry still had questions. “Have you ever been approached by what could be deemed as a threat? I would think with your company it could happen.”
Michael preferred to keep this part of his operation quiet. “I was a Navy Seal. Our training included the ability to recognize questionable episodes and I know the right people to contact in such cases. It is something I would rather keep off-the-record.”
Terry agreed to the need of secrecy.
Terry’s cell phone rang. She stepped away from Johnnie and Michael to take the call. It seemed to distress her.
“That was Debbie Hughes. She is the medical examiner. The autopsy has barely started, but she did find one factor she wanted to report. Mr. Jennings had a substance in his nasal passages. Since this particular signature is familiar to us, we believe it to be the work of Sebastian Osis. The substance is a particular salt that comes from Soledar in the Ukraine. Soledar actually means ‘gift of salt’. We know this signature, even in our little state. Again, this makes us think that Sebastian is a hit man for Andropov since the salt is from the area where his parents lived before coming to the States.”
Johnnie was on her feet. “Andropov? How would he know I was involved in the research? Outside of Michael and Gary, my boss, I have not shared anything with anyone else.”
Michael spoke up. “Have you given any thought to a leak coming from the general attorney’s office?”
Terry wasn’t comfortable with that thought. “If the leak is from the AG’s office, then we don’t know how far word has spread.”
Johnnie wanted to get back to the bank. She was concerned for the employees. This was going to have a devastating effect on everyone. “Terry, I don’t believe at this point I will be of any help. I would like to return to the bank. By the way, have all the other employees been accounted for now?”
Terry said that she would call her partner, Murphy O'Shea and get an update.
Again Terry stepped away to call Murph. “Murph, how are things at the bank? Has everyone been accounted for at this point?”
“Hey Terry, things have calmed down a great deal since the body has been removed. Her office is sealed. We had a hard time finding the morning computer operator. Finally found the woman in a small room off the computer room. We didn’t know about the room, but Don Phelps found her. He said he knows every nook and cranny in this building. You can tell Mrs. King her office is sealed. Maybe she will be more help answering questions.” Murph was the one in the team to work the scene of any situation while Terry was great at working with the subjects.
Returning to the couple Terry asked them to sit down. “According to Murph, everyone has been accounted for. Your computer operator was hiding in a little room inside her workspace. Don Phelps was the one that located her.
“Johnnie, they have sealed your office until the crime scene techs can do their magic. I would like you to stay a bit longer. We could cover some more details.” Terry explained.
“I don't know what other details I could provide. You know everything I know. I would like to get back to the bank. I had planned to work the lower vault today, so I won't be in my office. It will remain as is for the techs to do their thing.”
“Terry, I will agree Johnnie and Herb were on different ends of the spectrum when it came to management style, but you don't kill someone because of management differences. What other information could you possibly need?” Michael didn’t know if Johnnie had explained this point, but knowing her insistence on details, Terry most likely knew this already.
Terry motioning to the table for Johnnie to sit down again continued with her thoughts. “Management styles aside, what other differences were you aware of regarding Mr. Jennings?”
Johnnie sat down. “I know that Herb likes to be the center of attention, he will be front and center at any function. He often times overshadows Ernie Compoto, the bank president. There are rumors, but I don't like to take part in rumors.”
Terry pursued the topic. “What have you heard regarding Mr. Jennings' drug use?”
“That's the gossip that I don't like to spread. I have no proof of his partaking of drugs of my own observations.” Johnnie recognized Terry's style, more conversational than questioning.
“Those are the rumors we are looking into. Did you know Grammar Jonas?” Terry asked.
Johnnie had to think for a moment. “I have never met Mr. Jonas, but I have seen pictures of him from attending various bank conferences. Most of those pictures contained Herb you think he and Herb were partners in crime?”
Terry pulled up a file on her computer tablet. “Mr. Jonas has been mentioned as a part of a drug ring involving high ranking bank officials.”
“Not this bank official. Besides, I am not high enough on the food chain for him to include me in anything. Guess that sounded a bit self-effacing, but we are in two different leagues when it comes to banking. Can I ask how is it that you have access to information regarding a banking drug ring?”
Terry continued. “Mr. Jonas had definite ties to a drug ring and money laundering at his bank. As far as his death the same foreign substances was in his nasal passages. The same signature was reported involving two boys from near this area.”
Johnnie looked Terry straight in the eye. “The salt found was the same kind exactly?”
Terry said that it was and they were trying to make the connection. “You had never seen Mr. Jonas visiting your bank?”
“I have never actually met Mr. Jonas. As I said, I have seen pictures of him with Herb from the picture boards displayed at the cocktail parties at various conferences. I believe he had already passed away by the time I came into banking. I will admit that I have heard of such a signature as you described, but with different substances being used in different areas.”
Terry half smiled. “Yes, it does seem that Sebastian Osis has been around. I know you want to get back to the bank, but we have plenty of questions. Some you can help with, and some you may not be able to. At any rate having your input will be quite helpful.”
“How does lunch sound?” Michael chimed in. “Would you ladies like to join me?”
Terry and Johnnie agreed to lunch and left for a restaurant known for their steak sandwiches. The establishment had great onion rings as well. Terry and Michael enjoyed the sweet and crispy morsels. Johnnie however, had cottage cheese with her meal.
Lunch was a pleasant escape from the questions about Herb and his death but it didn't stop Johnnie from thinking about him or the bank.
Back at the station, Terry was anxious to move forward with her questions. “Johnnie, you mentioned you had made some observations regarding Herb, what type of observations did you make that lead you to believe in Herb's alleged drug use?”
“I think everyone knows the same signs. Herb had become increasingly hyper over the time of my employment. He was losing weight, constant sniffle, as well as sudden nosebleeds. I am sure if encountered on a regular basis you would detect the same symptoms. My contact with Herb, however, was limited to bank meetings or product development planning. We did not socialize, and I spent as little time with him as possible.” Johnnie was thinking back on the few times she did work with Herb. She knew he was not a well-liked man, but no one deserves murder. She could not believe that after her time with the bureau, she still found the death of anyone disturbing.
Terry continued with questions, but Johnnie was lost in her own thoughts. “Johnnie, did you hear me? I asked you if you had ever noticed anyone coming into the bank that caused you alarm?”
“Sorry Terry. I can say the only person besides Herb that caused discomfort was Logan Ferns. Again I did not have dealings with him, but he had a sulking way that always made me think he was hiding something.”
Terry found this very interesting. “What do you mean sulking? Did he spend any time with Mr. Jennings?”
Johnnie's expression was somewhat of a frown. “No, I never saw him with Herb. Just around the bank. If he was there to see Herb, he did so without me noticing. Again, my contact with Herb was very limited. What do you know about Logan Ferns?”
The detective blew out a puff of air that made her bangs lift in the air. “Logan Ferns is one of those small time hoods that want desperately to make it to the big time. You know the saying 'he's a big fish in a little pond' well Ferns is a little fish in an even smaller pond. There have been suggestions that he has made connections with someone who will make him at least move up to medium fish. He doesn't realize he will never be a criminal mastermind. He is not the brightest bulb in the box, but I will have to say he is loyal. At least as far as the criminal factor is concerned. It will probably get him killed one of these days.”
Johnnie was taking all of this information in but providing little in return. “I am sorry Terry, I am not as helpful as I believe you would like. It is just that I had my area of expertise, and it did not intersect with Herb, Ferns, Sebastian, or Andropov. Well other than Andropov’s research I am working. I would truly like to be of assistance. I know there has to be some way in which I can be of help.”
Terry was grateful for Johnnie's candor, and she knew that they would be talking again. “Well, I guess that is all we can cover for now. I would like it if you could give the situation some thought and maybe we could talk a bit later.”
“I think that would be advisable. Right now I am drawing a blank, but in the past I have always found that I do better when I step away for a while then come back to a situation.”
With that, Johnnie and Michael left the station. “Do you want to go back to the bank? Or we could go straight home?”
“You know home sounds good to me. I want to cuddle up in my favorite snuggie and just think about the day. I do have to say I am glad I didn't go into the office. I would have hated to have anyone see Herb's body. As it was, with Frank's team they kept the employees at bay. They did a good job I guess not all rent-a-cops are inept.”
“Hey, watch it you are stepping on my business now. We employee lots of what you would call ‘rent-a-cops’ and you know most of them have had training beyond the average contracted guardians. They have been in the service, many from specialized forces or military police. It is a requirement for my company. The security business is not what it used to be, but I have to admit I do find it more challenging and definitely more intense.” Michael was grinning. He knew Johnnie did not mean anything negative with her comment. It just wasn't in her to be derogatory about most things.
“Sorry, Husband, I know your company hires only the best, and apparently Frank has handpicked his employees as well. The same cannot be said for everyone.”
Michael and Johnnie pulled up into their driveway.
“Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.” Johnnie smiled.
Johnnie and Michael entered the house and Michael turned off the alarm. As Michael joined Johnnie in the kitchen, he found her making a pot of tea. “Are you sure you are not English? I think you drink enough tea for all of the British Empire.”
Johnnie turned around and greeted Michael with two cups in her hand. “Join me? I started a pot of spiced Christmas tea.”
“It’s not Christmas but you do know how to tempt a guy. I can smell the cinnamon from here.”
“I wanted something to relax me. Today has not been my best day. Might even break my diet and have some of those cookies you keep buying.”
Sitting at the table, they broke open the package of cookies. “You know I think I could eat this entire package. Do you want any more?”
The doorbell rang just as Johnnie got up from the table. “Who could that be, I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
Michael told her to stay at the table he would check the door. As he walked through the hall, he stopped at the side table and opened his gun box. Loading a magazine, he put the gun behind his back in his waistband.
Johnnie saw him and she cocked her eyebrow as her heart skipped a beat. Michael just turned and motioned for her to sit down.
As he opened the door, he was surprised to see Terry on the porch. “Terry, why are you here, is something wrong?”
“No, I just really needed to talk to Johnnie and you too. I need to clear a few things in my head.”
“Well, come on in, we have been enjoying a cup of spiced Christmas tea. Let me get you a cup.” Johnnie was up to get the cup and a dessert plate for more cookies.
“I am sorry to just show up like this, but I really wanted to talk to you both.” Terry took the cup and sat down. “Christmas tea, aren’t you a bit early for the season.”
“It is my favorite tea for when I need to relax. Today, I think I could drink the entire pot.” Johnnie could not help but wonder what more she could tell the detective.
“In that case, you may need to make a second pot.” Terry seemed to be more unnerved than she was at the station.
“Terry, what has upset you so much? I thought we were doing okay with the investigation. I don’t know what else I could tell you.”
“Johnnie, have you met Mirah Anderson?” Terry again seemed unusually uncomfortable.
“I know that she is the state’s attorney general. Why?”
“My captain told me she heard of Herb’s murder and she was coming up to Ackers. She will be here tomorrow.” Terry seemed upset by the news.
“Is there a reason why it is so upsetting for you?” Johnnie and Michael were both a bit uncertain of what to make of Terry’s reaction.
“I take it you have not had dealings with her in the past. She is every law enforcement officer’s nightmare. She will nag you through the entire investigation and then she will step before the cameras and she will do the press conference. It is not that she takes the glory for whatever the incident may be, it is that she paints the police in an entirely incompetent way. It is as though the investigation was in need of her personal attention.”
“Terry, I can’t say as I have had the occasion to meet Ms. Anderson, but I think we will do just fine with or without her in the middle of the investigation.” Johnnie placed the plate of cookies in front of the detective.
“Here’s the thing.” Terry continued as she sipped her tea, “she is not going to be involved in the investigation. She will just impart the impression of this being her investigation to the press, and in the process will discount any efforts made by the police. It is not a matter of pride; it is a matter of having our citizens loses faith in our police department. We haven’t had a murder here for a long time, and this one is very frightening to everyone. We all know you’re an extremely capable investigator, Johnnie, and well, we thought if you were involved with the investigation it might keep her off her game.”
“Whoa, I don’t want to become a pawn in the political atmosphere of the local police and the attorney general. What makes you think it will be any different if I were involved?” Johnnie and Michael were both dismayed with this development. Johnnie had played with the idea of returning to the bureau, but she did not want to become involved with an attention-seeking attorney general.
“I was hoping you might know John Erickson. He is an FBI agent that travels with Ms. Anderson. Do you know him?” Terry was unhappy with the development and she wondered about this traveling FBI agent. “It isn’t like I can tell her not to come. She is after all the State’s Attorney General.”
Johnnie was sympathetic, but had no idea what she could really do. “I don’t actually know Mr. Erickson. I know he came into the bureau as I was leaving, but that is about all I know about him. That would mean he has some experience. Do you know why he travels with her?”
“No one seems to know why she has her own personal FBI agent. Is he a bodyguard, or an investigator, or is this duty some sort of demotion?” Terry was trying to relax and let the tension drain from her. Just sharing her tension with someone seemed to calm her.
“Do we know where Herb was murdered?” Johnnie was slipping into police mode. She also did her best to get Terry to talk of other things.
“All we know at this point is he was not killed in your office.” Terry knew the response would be a bit of good news for Johnnie.
In an off-handed way, she asked Terry about her years growing up in West Virginia. “Have you always lived in Ackers? Ever think of moving away?” With this effort, Terry became more relaxed and let go of her misgivings about having Ms. Anderson at the bank.
The early evening continued with just mundane conversation. Still the conversation would drift back to the arrival of the attorney general and her traveling companion.
“I don’t want to wear out my welcome. I believe I should be heading out and allowing you both your own time. I most likely will be at the bank tomorrow. I will see you then, Michael it was a pleasure to see you again and I am sorry I invaded your personal time.” Terry stood to shake Johnnie’s hand. “Hope you don’t mind, but I am a hugger.” Johnnie embraced Terry rather softly.
Michael walked Terry to the door, as he bid her good bye. Johnnie stood at the door with Michael and waved good-bye to Terry. “Terry is a rather trusting soul. Never approach the home of someone involved in a case for a personal visit. I am surprised by her actions.”
Michael put his arm around Johnnie. “I think she senses in you those reasons why I fell in love with you. You have a habit of being so naturally inviting.” “So says you.” She leaned her head on Michael’s arm as they continued to watch Terry proceed down their street. Johnnie was feeling the effects of the day. “I know it is early, but how about an early night?”
“I think I had better send an email to the client I was to meet this afternoon. I will need to set up another appointment. But I will join you as soon as I can.” Michael went to the study upstairs.
Once Johnnie had gone up to the bedroom with a book to read, Michael called Josie. Josie Callow was Johnnie’s niece and he knew she would want to know what was going on with her aunt. “Hi Sweetheart, I am sure you have heard about the happenings at the bank today.”
“Oh, Uncle Michael, I have been worried to death about Aunt Johnnie. I wanted to come over; but I was afraid she needed her rest.” Josie was the only daughter of Johnnie’s older sister Angela. There were many years between Angela and Johnnie, almost 16. Result was that Josie was closer to Johnnie’s age. Johnnie being only five years older, it seemed as though they were more like cousins, or even sisters, than aunt and niece. Still Josie had a great deal of respect for her aunt. She even moved to West Virginia when Johnnie and Michael relocated.
“Honey, if you are not tied up tomorrow morning I would like for you to come over and sort of look after your aunt.”
There was never any doubt that Josie would immediately respond. In fact, she asked if it was all right if she came over and spent the night.
Michael was more than happy to have Josie spend the night. That way she would be there when Johnnie woke.
Johnnie woke on Tuesday morning with a blearing head as Michael came into the room with her tea. He noted her complexion was somewhat pale. “You look a bit worn out this morning. I am sure that Gary would not mind if you were late today”
“I feel like I was on a binge last night, and I didn’t have a drink of anything other than tea and water. Go figure. As for the late arrival, I would love that, but it would not provide a good example for the rest of the employees. I have a job to do just like everyone else. I need to be there to provide stability for everyone. Well, I don’t mean me, personally, but it is necessary to keep things as normal as possible.” Johnnie sipped on the tea and recognized it as ginger. Michael always knew when she needed a pick-me-up.
Michael sat on the edge of the bed as he continued his conversation with Johnnie. “What are your plans for the day? I would think that your office is still off limits or covered in dust from the CSI crew. I thought you and Josie could spend some time together to get your mind off of the situation.”
“I don’t want Josie involved in this. We don’t know who or why Herb was killed. Face it, I may be drawing unwanted attention. Josie being near me, well; she could get caught in a crossfire. Besides I need to be there, remember the attorney general is coming is today. I am still not sure the reason she is coming. I honestly do not believe there is any. We could send her emails and keep her informed if necessary via Skype.” Johnnie placed the teacup on the nightstand. “I need to get started on a day that I am sure will be a challenge.”
“Well, then you won’t like the surprise in the family room. Josie is here, she came over last night. She is as worried about you as I am.”
“Did you two forget that I have been known to handle situations far more volatile than this one? I can handle myself. Besides, if anyone is in the limelight, it will be Ms. Anderson. So don’t worry.” As she tossed back the covers, she reached up to Michael and hugged him. “The sooner I get there, the sooner I will know what I will encounter today.”
“Well, I will be downstairs, what do you want for breakfast?” Michael enjoyed cooking and he had been spoiling her since the day they got married.
Johnnie showered and picked out one of her favorite blue slacks and a white blouse. A bit underdressed; but she didn’t feel like being Ms. Banker today. She finished adding the final touches, putting on the earrings that Josie had given her for Christmas.
Johnnie stopped in the doorway of the kitchen. Michael was making her favorite, French toast. “Hey chef, if you are trying to spoil me, it’s working.” “That is only because I love you.” Again, the right words at the right time. “Why don’t you let Josie spoil you today?” Michael smiled as Josie came out of the family room.
Josie helped Michael finalize the breakfast. Michael finished the French toast, and Josie warmed the toasted pecan syrup.
Johnnie sat down at her favorite seat at the kitchen table. “I imagine I will be spending some time with Gary. Herb’s death is most likely going to add a lot more pressure on him. Maybe I can help him out in some way.”
“That’s my girl, always planning on a way of helping someone else. Just don’t let yourself become overburden.” Michael placed her plate in front of her as Josie placed the warmed toasted pecan syrup on the table.
“Come on, you two sit. I would love a few sane moments today.” Johnnie wasn’t exactly sure what she would find when she got to the bank.
Josie sat down with a plate and added a piece of French toast to her own plate. Michael said he was rushed. He went upstairs to the study to collect some contracts.
“Aunt Johnnie, Uncle Michael said for me to take the day and keep you occupied. So why don’t we do something fun?” Josie was normally very good at sidetracking her aunt. Today was not going to be one of those days.
Johnnie finished her breakfast and was getting ready to leave. Michael came into the kitchen with his jacket. “Guess the day needs to start.” Michael gave her a kiss on the cheek and started out the door. Michael stopped to say, “You best be careful today. They still don’t have very many answers and it could be dangerous for any one at the bank.” Johnnie reacted as though he had not warned her, she simply blew him a kiss.
“Aunt Johnnie, are you sure you need to go in at your regular time? I would like to hear about yesterday.”
“Nice try Sweetheart, but I will let you drive me to work. I left my wagon at the bank yesterday.”
Johnnie instructed Josie to vary the normal route to the bank. The standard operating procedure was to keep your routine unpredictable. Johnnie followed the rules, but never envisioned it as something that was necessary in this quaint little town. Now with Herb’s death, she was taking these precautions very seriously.
Josie brought her all the way to the back steps so that Johnnie could use her key and enter by way of the back stairs. She was not looking forward to meeting up with anyone today. She knew there would be so many questions, and she didn’t know enough to answer. Besides, if she did she would not discuss an ongoing investigation.
Johnnie decided to stop on the executive floor and talk with Gary. She found him at his desk with several files sitting around his normally cleared desk. “I see you are already overburdened. I thought maybe there was something I could do to help you.”
Gary smiled and asked her to sit. “I will be more than willing to give you some of these files. It seemed that Herb had more going on than he ever shared with me. I could use some help just going through these files. I need to find out what they are and if we can determine what he was working on recently. Maybe we can find a clue as to what happened to him.”
Johnnie picked up two of the stacks from his desk. “I will be more than happy to help, but I may just have to work in the board room. I have no idea what my office will look like after the techs finished up yesterday. I will let you know what I find upstairs.” She said good-bye to Gary and stopping in the boardroom to leave the files before continuing up to her office.
Johnnie found Terry already standing in her office doorway. “Hello, is there any news?”
“The only thing I can tell you is that the techs made a mess in your office. I am sorry about its condition. Just so you know Murph stayed with the techs last night.” Terry was concerned about the bank’s exposure.
“Please thank him for me. I wish I knew what Herb had gotten himself into, whatever it was most likely got him killed. I doubt it had anything to do with the bank or me. However, it is a good way to stymie an investigation. Leaving the body in my office puts me in the spotlight; I know it was just a tactic for distraction.”
Terry leaned back on the desk in front of Johnnie’s office, trying to stay clear of the finger print dust on the desk. “Well, I doubt you will want to work in your office. Is there somewhere else you are going to work?”
“I mentioned to Gary that I would work in the boardroom. In the end that just might be more convenient. It may just keep Mirah away from the employees.” Johnnie knew her weak point was always thinking of someone else.
Terry told Johnnie, “It will be okay. After today, most of the investigating will be interviews. I don’t know when she will be arriving?” Just then, Terry’s phone rang. Again, she excused herself and stepped away. Terry returned to Johnnie. “That it was Murph who called. Ms. Anderson had called the station to say she would be in Ackers around 11 tomorrow.”
Terry and Johnnie were both glad to hear that she was not heading up from Charleston immediately. With the body removed, and the crime scene techs finally finished, now the interviews that Terry spoke of would begin.
Mirah Anderson would be available for interviews to the press, but as the state attorney. She does not do investigative work. Because of the research, it gave her a viable reason to come up from Charleston. There had been rumors that she wanted to be the US Attorney General, so she must have had someone in the FBI that owed her a big favor.
Johnnie was anxious to get her office back in order. She asked if Terry knew of any cleanup crews in either Virginia or Pennsylvania. Terry told her she would have her office email over a few contacts and give her a list. Terry called her office and Murph answered; he said to wait a minute and he would email the list over to her. Terry asked if it was okay to forward the list, she had just received to Johnnie’s email address. Johnnie said she appreciated the help, and would take the list down to Gary. After the quick email, Terry said she would be at the station and if Johnnie needed anything, call. To be certain that Johnnie had her number, she gave Johnnie her business card. Then she asked if she could leave by the back steps. Johnnie told her it was okay, but that the bottom door would lock when she exited.
Johnnie went to Gary’s office to talk about hiring a crime cleanup crew. Gary looked up from whatever he was working on asked her to come into his office and pulled out a chair for her. Instead of returning to his place behind the desk, he sat next to her. Gary was definitely one of the good guys in the bank.
Johnnie looked at Gary; he was not as tall as Michael was and his hair showed signs of graying already, and his gray eyes looked very tired. He always did his best to soothe every situation, but this one was going to be a bit harder to soothe. “Are you okay?” This time he was in her court. “I am fine. I have had a lot of experience with various crimes, just never thought I would be in the middle of one myself here at the bank. I am more concerned with the employees. I have a list of cleaning services and would like to get the office back to normal.”
She gave him the list that the detective had provided. She asked if he had a preference. She knew he would not, but he was her boss and she wanted everything done properly. She wanted nothing coming back to haunt her in this case.
As expected, he had no preference. She told him she would check out the companies. Going into a bank where there was sensitive information she did not want to just call anyone; but she did want it done as fast as possible.
She was ready to leave when Gary spoke up again. “Do you want some time off?” Johnnie smiled. “No, I have seen worse. All I want right now is to get a crew in here to clean up the office. I am planning to come back to the bank when we can get a cleaning crew in here; hopefully that will be done quickly. When the office is cleaned, I think the employees will feel more comfortable.”
Returning to the boardroom, she got online with the computer in the room. She did a check for complaints and service records of the various cleanup crews. Then she called Luke McGuire of Taking Your Crime to the Cleaners, who promised he could have a crew there by early evening.
Johnnie filled Gary in on who was coming to do the cleanup. She told him she was going to make it a short day. As soon as she sorted the files she had taken from him into priorities, she was going to take off. Reviewing the files took a fair amount of time, but she felt better having something to do. With that completed, she was ready to head out. She was glad she had left her car in the lot the night before.
Returning home, Johnnie was able to sleep for a few hours but now she was hungry. She called to see if Michael wanted to go to lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, a crepe restaurant. Their menu was great for when you needed to eat, but didn’t want anything heavy. Michael said he would be by to pick her up.
She called Josie and invited her to lunch with Michael and her. There was no doubt that she would take the opportunity to see her aunt.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was very fresh and upbeat. The place used round tables, and the tablecloth had the appearance of the green ivy climbing on latticework. The top of the table was glass so their trademark tablecloths stayed clean.
Johnnie always felt refreshed when they came to The Ivy Crepe. Her favorite dish was the Bananas Foster crepe. The delicate pancakes topped with a luscious cream that added to the richness of the dish. Michael decided on a heartier dish, while Josie followed suit with her aunt; but she favored the strawberry crepe with cream cheese filling and warmed strawberries on top.
Afterwards Michael took Johnnie to the bank, and told her to call when she was ready to come home. He did not want her walking the lot.
Johnnie would have preferred to go home, but work was work. She had told Luke that she would be waiting for him. Luke said he and his crew arrived about 6:30. She did not want strangers in her office with her not there to protect bank information. As she went to her office, she found Grace Harvest, the bank’s auditor sitting in at Ana' desk. “Hey, Grace, I did not know you would be here tonight, but I can say I am glad to see you. I was uncomfortable leaving my office unattended and now we can keep each other company.” Grace was a shy girl approximately 26 years old; her green eyes were large and very expressive setting off her beautiful auburn hair. Both ladies were dressed for comfort. Jeans with a T-shirt for Johnnie, while Grace enjoyed wearing dresses. She must have been fun growing up. Johnnie wondered if Grace had a room filled with a variety of dresses.
Grace came to the bank near the same time as Johnnie. She did her job well. “Gary told me about the cleanup crew. He thought you would need more rest, so he asked me to come into the office.”
The cleanup crew arrived with Don escorting them to the secured floor. Johnnie thanked Don and he returned to the first floor. Johnnie and Grace sat outside her office with the curtains opened so they could watch the crew while continuing their conversation outside the office.
Around 7 o’clock, Terry arrived. Don had returned to the bank, he did not like the idea of strangers in the bank. So he was able to let Terry in and take her upstairs to Johnnie’s department.
“Hi, Terry, have you met Grace Harvest? Grace is the bank’s auditor. She wanted to be here the same as I did, and apparently the same as you wanted.” Johnnie rolled another chair over to the desk where she and Grace had been sitting.
“Hi Grace, I am relieved to see several of us here. I don’t foresee any danger tonight; but with the added people here, I am sure nothing will happen.”
Grace looked at Terry. “Thanks for that. I had not given the idea of danger a thought.”
Johnnie put her hand on Grace’s shoulder. “If I thought for one moment there would be any danger, I would have sent you home as soon as I saw you sitting at Ana’s desk.”
The cleaning crew did a great job and soon they were packing up to leave.
Johnnie said she needed to call Michael to come and pick her up. “You know sometimes I think he is ridiculous, I can take care of myself. Hey, what’s a gal to do with a sweet guy like him?”
Terry spoke up. “I can take you home.” Johnnie responded. “That would be nice, but I have to call Michael and do one other thing before leaving. Grace, let’s meet in the lobby and we can all leave together.”
Terry did not want to say anything about the state’s attorney in front of Grace, but she wanted to talk to Johnnie about Ms. Anderson. Johnnie called Michael and told him that Terry would bring her home, so he could stand down.
Grace said she would see them in the lobby and returned to her office on the executive floor to collect her coat and purse, and then wait for them in the lobby.
“What else do you have to do? I thought you wanted out of here as soon as possible.” Terry stood by Johnnie’s office door as she spoke.
“Little trick.” Johnnie went to her office and pulled a strip of tape from the dispenser in her office. “Oh, I get it, your own little private alert system.” Terry grinned.
“I just want to make sure no one else goes in the office until I get back tomorrow.” With the tape placed, Terry and Johnnie went to the lobby to meet Grace. Johnnie told Don that he should go home too, and would he like a ride. He said he was content to walk the two blocks to his apartment and he wanted the exercise.
The three women left the bank together. The cars were parked side-by-side making the walk more comfortable for Grace. She felt better going out in a group.
Once Terry and Johnnie got in the car, Terry immediately locked the doors and secured her seat belt, as did Johnnie. Johnnie looked at Terry. “What is worrying you about the AG?” Terry felt a bit sheepish about asking, but she really needed to know. “Before she gets into the middle of the investigation, is there anything else you can think of that I should know.” Johnnie laughed. “This is where you say, any detail could be helpful, right? I told you everything I know about Herb and the research. You won’t get any surprises out of me.” Terry said she felt terrible asking, but she wanted to make certain. Johnnie reminded her that she knew how it felt to be blindsided during an inquiry.
Johnnie asked Terry if she would like to come in, but she said she was meeting Will Hastings. “Isn’t that the sergeant that was at the front desk?” Terry smiled. “You don’t miss a trick do you?” Johnnie bid Terry good night and to enjoy what was left of the evening.
Johnnie was glad to be home, she just wanted some tea and toast, and Michael to snuggle with tonight. She did not want to think of the bank, Herb, or Ms. Anderson, just alone time with Michael.
Michael must have read her mind, he had the teapot sitting on the hearth in its little cozy, and even the empty cups were warming by the fire. “Want some toast?” Johnnie could not believe how he knew her every thought.
She answered in the affirmative, and he went into the kitchen. Returning moments later with a plate of six slices of cinnamon toast. “Do I look that hungry to you?” Johnnie took the plate as Michael sat down on the floor. “Well, I know you do tea and toast to unwind; but I thought you just might let me have a slice or two.”
“You can have all you want, I just want you near me tonight.” Johnnie said. “My thoughts exactly” replied Michael.
Johnnie was beginning to hate mornings. It had only been a couple of days, and she could feel the stress. If she had more control of the investigation, she would do much better. However, she is not in the driver’s seat for this one and it was frustrating. She was use to watching and covering every detail of a situation. This standing on the sideline was maddening.
Johnnie arrived at the bank early and went directly to her office. Checking the tape on the bottom of the door by sight only she was satisfied that the place was secure. She did not want anyone to know she had the placed this little alert on her office door. Since the tape was undisturbed, she went down to the boardroom where she found Terry waiting for her.
Johnnie and Terry worked well together. It seemed as though they fit together like a hand and glove.
Johnnie decided to continue working from the boardroom to keep Mirah Anderson away from the employees. It was not long before Don called from the lobby. He told her he would be bringing Ms. Anderson up to the boardroom.
Don knocked on the door and brought in the new arrivals. Johnnie and Terry exchanged glances knowing there was nothing either could do about the additional law enforcement involvement.
Ms. Anderson and John Erickson joined the detective and Johnnie in the boardroom. The detective thought it better to meet behind closed doors. If they were in Johnnie's office, there would be lots of attention and speculation to the gathering.
Ms. Anderson was right to the point. “What can you tell us about Monday morning?”
“Okay, we will jump right in to the matter. Monday I thought I would have a busy day since I was planning on working in the lower vault. However, as I drew closer to the office I could see that the door was open. That’s when I called for Frank from security.”
“Okay, but why call security? Was there something of importance in your office?” Ms. Anderson had assigned the research project so she no doubt wanted to know if the materials were safe.
“This is a bank, we have lots of confidential information, and then there is the research project that you assigned that was not meant for the others to see. I maintain a lot of such information in the office. As far as the research project, it is not in the office. I keep it in two different secured locations”
“Yet you had no trouble having the security officer going into your office?” It was obvious that Ms. Anderson had never worked an actual crime scene. Johnnie just wanted to groan, but she stayed professional. “Mr. Ridges, our security officer, has been with the bank for many years and to be truthful if he wanted he could have seen anything in my office without leaving such a mess. I asked for security more out of making a record of the invasion. I totally expected him to come out and ask if I wanted to call the police for a crime scene detail. When he came out and called for backup, I was surprised. I had no idea what he found in there other than my disturbed desk and credenza. I was not expecting trouble.”
Ms. Anderson then asked about the research project she had ordered on the Andropov group. “I had all the details for that research locked in a box inside the upstairs vault used for keeping the backup tapes for the work of the previous days. The second copy remains in the vault downstairs. If that is what the individual was looking for, they didn’t find it.” Johnnie could almost see relief come into Ms. Anderson’s eyes.
“Why did you keep it in this upstairs vault? Would this not have made the employees inquisitive?” Ms. Anderson must have thought the research had something to do with the murder. “Have you ever shared your findings with Mr. Jennings?”
“I was told the research was confidential and to only return the research findings to Mr. Percy. I would not have shared it with Mr. Jennings. I am not in the habit of ignoring my instructions. As to the upstairs vault, my instructions were to keep it secured. Keeping it on the floor allowed me to work on the project when I was alone in the office. If the only copy were kept in the main vault I would not be able to work it after hours.” Johnnie had seen the attorney on TV with various news conferences in the past and understood that this was just Mirah’s way. She did have a reputation as being abrasive.
John Erickson on the other hand was a very low-key man. He sat quietly listening to the exchange. Johnnie still didn’t know why John was with Mirah, but she found that she liked him, in spite of not knowing his story.
“Okay, let’s leave the research details alone. Was there a reason for Mr. Jennings to come to your office at night?” Johnnie knew that interviews go on repeatedly looking for any discrepancies in the story.
“I have no idea why he was up there at any time. He pretty much stayed away from the floor. Only on holidays, he did make an appearance in the lunchroom. That is when a covered dish lunch by and for the employees of the bank is held.” Making direct eye contact with the state attorney general Johnnie continued explaining. “Herb never came up to my office. He preferred to call people to his office. It would appear that my office was chosen for the dump site and I have no idea why.”
Ms. Anderson then asked how Mr. Jennings died. At this point Detective Nichols responded. “Mr. Jennings had been shot in the back of the head twice. Some take that as a professional hit, but we are not prepared to say that or to release that detail. There was the same signature we have seen before and typically associated with Sebastian Osis. We know he was killed somewhere else and moved to the office, it was a dumpsite. We don’t know if it was in the building or if he was killed and brought into the bank. On the other hand, who would have been able to get into the bank after hours? Although the crime scene techs have been over the bank and haven’t found any evidence of his being killed in the building. We too still have questions.”
A professional hit. Johnnie thought moving to a small city would prevent her from encountering such a situation again. She preferred not to divulge rumors of Herb’s life. But then again, they would find out in their investigation, so she hesitatingly added the suspicions involving Herb. “I don’t like saying this, but it had been rumored that Herb had a drug habit. Rumor was he was involved with cocaine. I don’t know if that it is true, and I have never spoken about it to anyone other than Michael, my husband and Detective Nichols. To do so would damage Herb’s reputation, and the bank would suffer as well.”
“That could explain why a hit, but still does not tell us why your office.” Mirah questions needled Johnnie. Johnnie was far more comfortable talking with Detective Nichols; she just didn’t understand why Mirah Anderson came to Ackers. Maybe she had heard that Herb was involved with drugs and she was waging a war on drugs. Who knows what goes through the mind of political people?
Ms. Anderson continued with the drug angle. “You have heard of Logan Ferns I would assume?”
“Yes, I have heard the rumors and I have read the papers, but I don’t know the man. He lives in a different world than mine I don't know him personally.” Johnnie just had answered the same questions to the best of her ability and hope that Mirah would get tired of asking questions.
Detective Nichols entered the conversation. “Logan Ferns has been investigated recently. I wish we could find a way to put him where he belongs, but he seems to have powerful friends with money and lawyers and even politicians. Every time it looks like we have a case, someone makes waves. He seems to be untouchable; but we will get him on something someday.”
Ms. Anderson seemed a bit put off by the detective’s comments and she did her best to continue the conversation without taking obvious offense. “What evidence have you collected on this Logan Ferns? Have you sent it to my office? Have you shared your investigation with any other law enforcement agencies? Did you send it to the FBI?”
Terry said. “Whoa, so many questions, yes we have evidence on the man, yes we have sent the materials to your office and as for the FBI unless I can bring them into the investigation or he crosses his enterprises over state lines, I am not sure what to do about the FBI. My one attempt was met with, shall we say, negative reactions.”
Johnnie hated the dog and pony show Mirah was putting on for someone’s benefit. She no doubt knew who had received the information and who did not; she was just showing she was the alpha.
Johnnie was glad to return to her office in hopes that Mirah would find individuals on the executive floor more interesting. No doubt, she would find Gary. Mirah decided to stay in the boardroom the remainder of the day.
Johnnie had encountered so many types in her law enforcement days, but Mirah Anderson took the cake. Johnnie was never so happy to see five o’clock come but before she could leave the bank, she wanted to continue her routine as she had done before all of this happened.
She checked with the employees in the back, confirming the day was going well and she felt comfortable enough to leave the bank. She then returned to her office and followed through with her closing procedures. She cleared away everything, collected her coat and purse, and continued to use the tape routine on the door. She was able to put fresh tape on the door without anyone seeing her.
Exiting by way of the back steps, she felt the cold air blow through the stair well. If it is this cold in September, she hated to see what this year’s December would be like.
Her night felt short. Thursday morning came far too quickly. It seemed like Johnnie had just fallen asleep when she woke at 6:30 as usual. Michael was stepping out of the bathroom, “Hey, thought you were not going to rush into the office?” “Well, that was my plan; but my internal clock didn’t seem to know it was allowed to sleep in today. Besides I am concerned that Mirah will question employees and I am not comfortable with that idea.”
Michael came to her as she sat up in bed; he kissed her on the forehead and asked if she wanted her tea. “I think coffee might be more the order this morning, but I will come down with you and enjoy your morning company. I would much rather spend time with you than Ms. Anderson.”
Johnnie was not one to sit when she knew something needed attention. After one cup of coffee, she told Michael she really did need to hit the shower and get moving for the day. The morning computer operator, Silva, was already at the bank and Johnnie did not want her alone for too long.
Silva was a short woman, with light brown hair and of Eastern European decent. She had long slender fingers that provided her with extra income as a hand model. Silva was using the extra income to pay for her son’s trip to the National Swim Competition.
This morning Silva was nervous about needing to talk to someone about Monday morning. She was not going to tell Johnnie or those detectives. She wanted someone up the ranks, and when the attorney general and that FBI man came to the bank, she knew whom she wanted to tell.
With Silva’s habit of being the bearer of news, she was excited. This was biggest news she had ever uncovered. She went downstairs to get some copies. It made for a good excuse for being on the executive floor. As she just happened to pass the boardroom, she saw John Erickson. He may not be the state attorney, but a FBI agent would be someone special.
Stepping into the room, Silva asked if he had a moment that she could talk to him. John’s first reaction was to ask if she remembered something about what happened.
Silva said, “I don’t know if you know it or not, but I was a good friend of Herb Jennings. I want whoever was responsible for his death to pay. I did see someone Monday morning. I didn’t think it was anything to worry about until I saw him go into Johnnie’s office. He was not an employee. He was tall, white and had red hair, and wore a window washer’s security harness and he was carrying something big into her office. That could be how her office got out of order. He could have been very innocent. I did see window washers here the same day, but I only saw him once. I think it was too cold and windy on Monday to do the exterior of the windows. It seemed strange that he would be in her office and it scared me. I figured I would lock the computer room door and turn off the lights and hide somewhere safe.”
John seemed very interested and he wanted all the details. This was perfect, she may lead them to the killer, and afterward she would be like a hero. Who knows, maybe there would be a reward in it for her. It could be enough to pay for Aces trip for the Nationals. She could definitely become the hero that Johnnie was not, the way she called for security. Silva gave it some more thought. Yes, this was just what she needed; this could end up being a career move for her. Herb’s death did sadden Silva, but she knew he would be the first one to take advantage of any given situation.
John asked Silva who else she had spoken to regarding what she saw. She said she had not spoken to anyone else. He suggested she inform the local authorities about what she observed, and he would be happy to take her written statement. He told her they were all working together; but he would make sure that Mirah Anderson would hear of her information. This just put Silva in seventh heaven. She liked the idea of the attention from an authority figure like an FBI agent and even more so with the attorney general. She could maybe someday cash in a favor.
By the time, Silva left the boardroom employees were coming into their offices. Quickly she took her place by the copy machine. She did not want anyone knowing what she had really been doing on the executive floor.
“Hey Silva,” called Helen Flint, “We don’t get to see you too often on this floor. You are always so busy in the computer room”. Silva did not want to attract attention so she started making copies of the papers she had brought along as a diversion.
“I know it seems like a treat to get out of that room. It is either too hot or too cold in there. And they say that it is climate controlled.” Silva was quick with her response.
Helen walked over to Silva and continued with small talk as she finished copying the papers. Silva knew the distraction of the papers would allow Helen to believe that was the reason for her being on the executive floor.
Silva returned through the front, since the back door locked when it closed. Darn, she forgot to put something in place to hold it ajar. She had to knock on the back door of the executive floor. Since she was still holding her copies, she hoped they would assume she needed another copy. To play it safe she stopped at the copier again and made one more copy.
She took the elevator up making a show of holding the papers she had copied. She returned to the computer room and continued her work without another word of what she had seen.
Employees were settling into quiet conversations. Johnnie knew this meant they were still talking about all the commotion, but it was only natural, so she did not try to curtail any talk. Besides, everyone needed an outlet to express grief and emotions. Herb might not have been a favorite, but he was still a bank employee. He did interact with the employees at the Christmas party, and the occasional bank breakfast the bank catered for the employees, as well as the holiday covered dish lunch.
Johnnie needed to speak with Tom. She wanted to ask Tom if he had a minute. However, before she had the opportunity to ask. Tom spoke first. “I don’t want you doing any more research until this is all resolved. As it is now, the situation may solve itself. Gary tells me you are not finding anything out of the ordinary in your efforts. So let’s just put it on hold for now.” Tom was a considerate person and he did not want her staying late. He wanted her home and safe until all this murder business was finished. Tom had a demanding way about him; but if you did your job, he was appreciative. This time Johnnie was the appreciative one; she did not
want to be working late hours until this was resolved. Just playing it on the safe side, Tom arranged for Frank Ridges to escort her to her car in the evenings. She had strict instructions not to come in early. She was to arrive at normal time and park in the first parking place; no more back lot until this was finished.
Johnnie did not like preferred treatment. She wanted the same for the employees of the morning and night crews. She even voiced her concern for the cleaning crew. Tom had told her he would put out a notice to all the employees.
The remainder of the day was uneventful. Johnnie was glad to be leaving at regular time. She walked out of the bank with the last employees from the day shift on her floor. In an effort, not to draw attention to the crew that was leaving, Johnnie told Frank she could walk out with the employees. Still he stayed until he saw the last employee drive out of the lot.
Johnnie’s night at home was a whirlwind of thoughts and scenarios. It seemed like all she was doing was thinking about how the investigation was proceeding. It made for a very quick and stressful evening. At night, she turned to Michael. He was her rock.
“How long do you think it will take the press to stop running stories on Herb?” Johnnie asked. Michael thought about it for a second, “I suspect it is probably the most exciting thing that has happened in this little community. I guess it will take something bigger for the press to drop the stories and speculations. You know how a major political scandal becomes old news when some celebrity gets married or has a baby, or a bigger scandal comes along. Johnnie, you know how the press works. As long as it sells newspapers, they will continue to carry the story. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have seen it before, so you should not be surprised. I know since this one seems personal you are feeling it more than you did when you were working a case.” Michael and Johnnie both knew it was true, but it did not make it any easier.
“I know I am lousy company tonight, so if you don’t mind; I think I will just get ready for bed and curl up with a book.” Johnnie was an avid reader, and it took her mind off current situations. Her favorite topic in her reading material would naturally be crime stories. Sometimes it would be medical thrillers or action stories; but she would always return to the crime stories.
“It‘s okay Honey. I have plenty of paper work to do, not to mention the design layout for a new project up in Wheeling. You go ahead, I am going to the study to work. I will be in later, most likely much later.” Michael really had little to do; but he knew Johnnie needed her time.
Johnnie went to the upstairs study to look for a book to read. The shelves were overflowing with her crime novels; but she did have one section she reserved for earth sciences. Once read, she would mark the tops of her books so she could find one to read. Tonight she just wanted something to absorb her mind. She did not want a murder mystery book tonight. She opted for a book for strictly entertaining. Strangely enough, entertainment to Johnnie was to read about geology.
Johnnie was determined to have a good day. Michael was there at the bedside with a fresh brew cup of coffee.
“You can read my mind, can’t you?” Johnnie smiled.
Michael handed her a cup of her favorite coffee. “T.G.I.F. and I thought you might enjoy coffee with hazelnut creamer, I know it is your favorite.”
“I am glad someone is on my side. I have to get to the bank on time so I can meet up with Mirah. Not looking forward to the day, but what can I do, it is out of my hands. I don’t think Gary likes Mirah being involved; but there isn’t anything he can do either. So I guess the sooner the day gets started the sooner I will get back home.”
Johnnie arrived at the bank at the normal time. She went to her office to check the tape. Once she was comfortable that the office was secure, she went in and put her coat and purse in her closet. She was so grateful that the traces of the tragedy were gone.
Afterwards she went to the computer room, no Silva. Where was she? Maybe she could be down stairs. No, she did not remember seeing her car in her parking place. She immediately called Frank. “Frank, have you seen Silva this morning?” He told her no; but he thought that maybe she got a ride to the bank so she would not have to walk the lot so early in the morning.
Johnnie returned to her office, and called Detective Nichols. “Terry, maybe I am over reacting; but Silva isn’t in yet. She should have been here at 6:30 and that makes her two hours late. She is a punctual employee, by 8:30 she should be in the computer room. I will not be able to work today until I know she is safe. I tried calling her; but no answer.”
Terry did not like the sounds of this development. She told Johnnie that she would send someone to Silva’s house and make sure everyone was okay, and would call her back as soon as she knew the status. Terry’s partner, Murph, went to Silva’s house using an unmarked car.
Johnnie tried to stay busy and keep things normal, but then she looked up to see Terry at her office door. “I didn’t expect you to come in because I called. I don’t want to overdramatize her absence. People around here are still shaken over Herb’s death.”
“I know you didn’t expect me; but I am as concerned as you about Silva. I told them to call me on my cell as soon as they knew something.” Terry sat in one of the guest chairs in Johnnie’s office. “I thought I would just wait with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, I will admit I am worried. This is not like her to be late. Even if something held her up, she would have called and left a message.”
Terry and Johnnie sat in the office nervously talking.
Terry wanted to ask Johnnie about her name. “Just how did you get a name like Johnnie? It is very unusual for a female.”
“My mother wanted to name one of her children after her father. His name was Nicolai John. My sister was named for my dad’s mother Angela. Mom wanted to name one of her children John. She thought Nicolai was a bit too old world. I guess being a girl I ended up with Johnetta Lynn. I do have to admit, I kinda like it, believe me no one else in my school had a name like mine.”
The detective’s phone rang, and they both stiffened. Terry answered and Johnnie could tell by the color draining in her face that the news was bad.
“What happened?” Johnnie held her breath waiting for Terry to tell her the details.
Terry hated telling Johnnie the news. “I asked my partner, Murph, to go over to Silva’s house. When he arrived, he could smell smoke and attempted to ram the door down; but it was open. He found her on the floor with a head wound. I am so sorry. She didn’t make it. She was already gone even though the EMTs kept heroic measures going all the way to the emergency room.”
Johnnie sank back into her chair. This cannot be happening she thought. First Herb’s death and now Silva's,