NOTES: Well, lucky you. I woke up this morning with this scene in my head, and I couldn't get it out. I had to draft it so I can enjoy the last of today before the week really starts.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I ate WAAAAY too much, but had a great time with the family and enjoyed your comments from Chapter 8. More tomorrow, but for now, enjoy the show...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done, so please keep your spelling and grammar fixes until the Beta Reader rounds.)
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
6:02am, December 6th
Special Agent Robbie Barrett had a pounding headache and it had nothing to do with overindulging the night before. Although he lived well and liked to enjoy the finer things in life, he maintained certain peculiarities in with his work. One of his steadfast rules was that he never touched alcohol while he was on a high-profile case.
The death of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps was a tragedy, but it was also an opportunity for Robbie Barrett.
He’d spent the evening before with a young woman his mother had introduced him to at a family event at the Barrett home in Orlando. She was cute enough and plenty smart, but his mind couldn’t focus on the conversation.
He could tell that she thought he was off cue for not even taking a sip of the eighty-dollar bottle of wine he’d ordered, but she didn’t say anything. He’d deposited her back at her brand new apartment, and barely gave her a peck on cheek before he was speeding away back to his home office.
And there he’d stayed until well past three in the morning. The case was as plain as he’d seen. A guy has a shitty day, or maybe even a shitty life, and he decides to end it all. Nothing new in Barrett’s world. He’d investigated possible murders and countless suicides in military barracks, run-down motels and even the one time he’d had to pick through a pile of stinking red snapper to get to the body covered underneath.
As he walked another loop around the scene of the Gen. Ellwood’s ultimate demise, Barrett wondered if he was looking because there was actually something there or because he wanted something to be there.
If there was another angle, some conspiracy that the Marine general had wriggled his way into, that could mean lots of media exposure. That could thrust him into the spotlight, a proposition that made him more than a little excited. Maybe if his mother and father finally saw that he was doing something important, something that could garner the attention of the public, then maybe, just maybe, they’d stop pestering him about using his law degree for something useful.
They hadn’t understood his decision to leave his father’s firm and enlist with NCIS. That’s what they’d called it: “enlisting”. As if either of them had the faintest idea what military service meant. He hadn’t know much when he’d started, but he learned quickly, busted his ass to prove that he belonged amidst the ranks of former-military.
So while his parents schmoozed their friends and whispered their hopes that someday Robbie would “get over his service and come back to the family”, he spent his days doing what he could to rise through the ranks at NCIS.
He knew that the other NCIS agents called him names behind his back, Pretty Boy, College Boy, Trust Fund…but he ignored it all. The Barrett family’s fuel was success, and Robbie Barrett had stuffed handfuls of it in his pockets as his colleagues watched, mouths watering. They could say whatever they wanted, but it didn’t change the fact that he was fast becoming the face of the NCIS in Florida.
Only half paying attention to his surrounding, he backpedaled to get a better look at the crime scene. His heel caught on a something hard and Barrett felt his momentum propelling him back, arms already moving to stop the fall. Before he hit the ground, something grabbed him, arresting the wipeout.
“Gotcha,” came a voice.
Much less gracefully than he would’ve liked, Barrett regained his footing and whipped around, his hand searching for his firearm.
He stopped when we recognized the man standing in front of him, blonde hair pulled tight in a ponytail. If he was amused, he didn’t show it. Daniel Briggs stood with a look that bordered somewhere between curiosity and determination. Barrett could feel the man’s eyes taking him in, as if he were assessing NCIS agent’s worth.
“What are you doing here?” Barrett asked, a bit of quiver in his voice that he tried to cover with a quick cough.
“I thought I’d take a look around,” said Briggs, bending down to look at something on the ground.
If Barrett was being honest with himself, he would have admitted that the two Marines unnerved him. It wasn’t the fact that they’d been sent by the Commandant, or even that they were treading on his turf (he dealt with Washington outsider on a too-frequent basis). It was the way they carried themselves, especially this Briggs character. He had the look of a man who’d seen things, done things. Like a poet who’d finally found his harmony with the world, Daniel Briggs exuded something that Barrett wished for daily: tranquility.
“Cal’s seeing what he can do to help Mrs. Ellwood and the family,” said Daniel, not looking up as he moved to another spot a few feet away.
“You know we’ve been over the area a hundred times,” said Barrett, seeking to regain the upper hand.
“I know. Not trying to step on any toes. Just thought I’d soak it in without anyone being here.”
At that moment Barrett realized that the Marine had probably been there much longer than he had. What had he seen? What was he looking for? But rather than snap a reply, Barrett’s mind wondered if his hunch had been right, if there was something more to the case than a run-of-the-mill suicide.
“You have much experience with this?” he asked, following Briggs’s path.
“You mean crime scenes?”
Briggs looked up. “Yeah.”
“Personally or professionally?”
There was something in the comment and the tone that subtly told Barrett to back off.
“You don’t say much, do you?”
Briggs shrugged on continued his inspection of the area.
“How far out did your teams look?” Briggs asked.
“A couple hundred yards. Figured there wasn’t much need considering the circumstances.
“Hey, if there’s something I need to know, it sure as hell would be helpful to know it before I file my initial report,” said Barrett, matching Briggs’s pace as he moved farther into the brush.
“I want to show you something.”
Open space turned to tangle, and then back again. While Barrett swatted away branches, Briggs seemed to melt in and out of the landscape. His footsteps were light, his gaze moving constantly.
They reached a small rise and climbed it, the pines needles under their feet still wet from the morning dew. Briggs turned around when they’d reached the top.
“Look,” he said, pointing back the way they’d come.
Barrett did as he was told, squinting, and then taking off his suddenly fogged sunglasses to see what Briggs was seeing. It took him a moment, then his eyes went wide. They were probably half a mile away, but there, clear as day, was the yellow taped crime scene, his Escalade parked just where he’d left it.
“How did you know this was here?” asked Barrett, the possibilities already tumbling around in his head.
“I had a hunch.”
Briggs walked over to a clump of trees, his eyes taking in the area. He went to his knees, and then down to his hands.
Barrett watched as he maneuvered around the small copse that looked more like a nest on the ground, probably big enough to be home to a deer. It dawned on the special agent what he was seeing. This wasn’t a private refuge for animals, it was…
The loud crack of splintering wood overhead made him look up on confusion. He saw the shattered remains of the tree branch not a foot above his head. It took a split second for him to realize what it was. Just as he did, the wind was knocked from his chest as Daniel Briggs tackled him and the pair rolled down the backside of the hillock. Over and over they went, pitching over prickly palmettos and narrowly missing saplings as they went.
They finally came to rest with a splash in a knee high body of water. Briggs had a pistol out. He put his index finger to his lips and motioned for Barrett to follow.
Embarrassed by his slow reactions, Barrett slid his own sopping wet weapon out of its holster and tried to pretend that he knew what was going on. He’d never been shot at before. He’d never pulled his service pistol in the line of duty.
“What happening?” he whispered, trying to calm his breathing.
Another crack overhead. This time Barrett realized it was high-caliber round, a rifle most likely. He ducked involuntarily, but Briggs just kept moving. If he was worried, he didn’t show it.
“Who knew you were out here?” asked Briggs, his voice dead calm.
“What? I…I don’t know. Why?” stuttered Barrett, the edge of panic in his brain creeped down his arms.
Briggs shook his head. “Nevermind. How well can you swim?”
“How well can you swim?”
It was then that Barrett noticed that they were up to their chests in the murky water.
“I can take care of myself.”
Briggs nodded and pulled off his shirt with a swift tug. “Strip down if you need to. We’re going that way.” He pointed deeper into the gloom when trees hung over the waterway with their drooping tendrils, roots visible and they formed skeletal cages against the banks.
Barrett debated kicking off his shoes but thought better of it. As he gulped the thought of crocodiles and whatever else was lurking under the surface, he followed Briggs, hoping they’d make it out before a bullet found them and left them for the swamps.
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