It was dark and humid. The scent of sweet magnolia and honeysuckle was heavy in the warm southern night as she crouched and ran. “The porch lights are on,” she breathed with a finger near her ear mic. “Something’s up. Reed never leaves the lights on,” Ellie whispered in a barely audible voice. Like a ghost through the night mist, she slipped back into the brush and crouched next to a sweetgum tree. It took a little maneuvering, but Ellie positioned herself where she had a visual beyond the open veranda and into Reed’s study. The musky, bitter scent of wild muscadine grapes pricked her senses as sweat trickled down her back.
Two men stood in front of Reed’s desk. They were arguing and flailing their hands. She could hear raised voices, but the words were inaudible. The fat one, Ellie knew as McGregor, New Orleans crime family gorilla. The smaller man poked a finger in McGregor’s face. In a flash, McGregor pivoted, delivering a powerful uppercut to the smaller man’s jaw. He staggered and Reed stood abruptly. He glared at them, then lit a cigarette.
The men stepped back, standing at attention and eyeing Reed warily, the argument forgotten.
Ellie watched as a woman moved into the room with a tray of cocktails and served them. McGregor joined her on the sofa, while the smaller man leaned against the wall.
Reed remained standing… pacing and smoking. He downed his drink in one long pull and threw the tumbler at McGregor, who deflected it with his forearm. Reed opened the safe and stuffed a small duffel with bundles of cash. He tossed it at McGregor, shouting, and pointing his finger at him. Ellie had been in deep cover for eighteen months. She knew Reed well and she was excited. Typically, he is reserved, and unemotional. Something has upset him. She knew the team was recording every word. “I hope this is enough.”
“Fancy meeting you here,” Franklin said, laughing, interrupting her thoughts, and motioning with a snub nosed gun barrel for her to stand.
Franklin was Reed’s driver and self-appointed goon. She remained squatted, hands in her pockets, no sudden moves, eyes fearful. “Why… why do you have a gun?” she said in a small voice and raised her hands slowly. She tapped twice with her thumb at her ear, opening the mic and alerting her team that she had a situation.
“Get up,” he grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet. “Walk,” he growled and prodded her with the gun.
“When he made me leave… I… I thought he was meeting a woman,” she whimpered, half walking, lagging, and making him drag her. She caught her toe in the muscadine vine and fell to her knees, unsnapped the hidden holster on her inner thigh, and thanked God for the terrible smelling vines.
“Bad move,” he said, jerking her upright, half dragging her, and shoving her through the veranda doors.
“Reed,” she cried and rushed to him. The air smelled like stale tobacco smoke and alcohol.
“She was in the bushes,” Franklin told him. “Watching.”
He threw up his arms and screamed in frustration. “I told you two hours!” She recoiled in the persona she had created for this mission.
“I thought you were meeting a woman,” she wailed. Her eyes accusing and her tone petulant.
“Damn,” he said, looked down and shook his head.
“Take care of it, Franklin.”
“Reed? What do you mean?” she cried, panic in her voice. “What do you mean?”
“You heard me,” he told Franklin and turned his back on Ellie.
“This way,” Franklin said, gripping her arm and leading her out the front door. She caught the greedy look in his eye as he watched her body move. “We’ll have us some fun tonight,” he whispered close to her hair.
Ellie didn’t answer, and she didn’t resist as he led her outside with a steel grip on her upper arm. He was holding her so tight it was cutting off her circulation. Franklin was clearly enjoying himself.
He led her down the walk to her car. He clicked open the trunk, and she balked. “I’m not getting in there.”
“Yes, you are,” he spoke softly and raised his hand to strike her. His eyes held a crazed expression and Ellie ducked reflexively, but he never delivered the blow. Jake, her second in command, hit him with a taser.
“Get to the car,” he nodded toward the waiting sedan. “They’ll get you to the safe house.” She ran as she saw her team advancing. All exits covered, she thought as she slid onto the cool backseat. The whirring fan of the air conditioner blowing in her face felt wonderful. She watched her team, Matt in the lead, waiting for the driver. It took him a while.
He slipped into the front seat and threw the car in reverse as the team led three suspects down the walk.
“Where’s the other one?” Jake called.
“Look,” Matt shouted at Jake, pointing as the sedan moved backward and Ellie’s driver lay on the ground. They ran on a diagonal to cut off the car, guns drawn.
Ellie hadn’t seen them. “Wait,” she told the driver. “There’s only three. Stop!”
Reed laughed. “Thought you had me didn’t you, baby?”
She drew the .38 in one silent move and shot him. Ellie had no illusions about what Reed would do to her. She braced herself as the car careened backward into a tree at the edge of the drive and stopped. Ellie rolled out and stumbled to her feet. Her trembling gun on Reed slumped behind the wheel. Matt turned back toward the others, but Jake reached her, heaving as Ellie wiped the blood from her nose with the back of her hand. He leaned over Reed, two fingers on his throat. “He’s gone,” he said.
Ellie buckled to the ground. “He’s the last one,” Jake gasped as he sat beside her, still fighting for air. “It’s finally over.”
Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett is a Texas girl, born and bred! A paralegal and private investigator turned journalist and author. Her published work is available on Amazon and her website. Elaine makes her home in the Texas Piney Woods amid her children and grandchildren.
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