Excerpt from Domestic Guard | Verso.ink

Excerpt from Domestic Guard

Protecting our community

Shadow Soldiers

By Bill Joyce

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Chapter 1 – A Child’s Grave

Angel stood at parade rest at the foot of the new grave with a tin marker for its headstone. It would be replaced with a small flat stone that would have a gravesite number and the words Jane Doe.

No one but the cemetery staff attended the funeral. She would not have been there except her plane, heading back to Texas, was delayed out of Tampa and she picked up a local newspaper to pass the two-hour wait. The article on a mutilated and abused child’s body found in a dumpster stopped her plans for a quick escape from the Florida humidity.

She came down to visit a distant relative, honoring her mother’s wishes. The party for her uncle Alphonse was wonderful but Clearwater was not the vast Texas open range, and she felt hemmed in by the encroaching plants and huge insects.

Now her plans changed. Somehow, this child of six years grabbed her heart and would not let go. Beaten, sexually molested, and then brutally killed, Jane Doe had a story and it was not being told in a potter’s field.

The impulse to leave the airport, rent a vehicle, and drive from Tampa to Clearwater for the grave site funeral was not an abnormal reaction for this soldier, turned mercenary. Angel loved her work best if it was for a cause her heart could feel. The abuse of children was one of those causes that would make her move mountains. The other was a soldier lost and in need of help.

Sarge continues to use her skills and finds work she is comfortable performing as one of his consultants at WCM, handling special projects. She enjoys the work, like her trip to San Jose, Costa Rica bringing a soldier in from the cold. Colcalcita is her home and when visiting mercenaries come to town, she is introduced as a local. She fits in easily with her jeans, worn boots and a well creased Stetson. Her little cottage now has a barn with three mustangs, always ready for a desert run.

Today the quiet cemetery and the newly turned dirt over the pauper’s coffin held her suspended in time. Her life was one of action based upon the plans of war. Take a hill or capture an enemy combatant for interrogation were easily executed tasks she performed well. Now she needed to investigate and she was ill prepared for the task.

While she knew she could rely on Sarge to come to her rescue, she decided to take charge herself. The first call she made was to H, international banker and spy who had connections around the globe and a kindly ear when one asked. He agreed immediately to help and asked her to call Megs next. Megs is a JASOC agent and was also willing to help in any way she can. Working now out of Galveston TX, Megs had some very interesting Gulf of Mexico resources that could be brought to bear if needed, including her new partner just arriving from a New Jersey police detective’s career.

Around her, life continued to move. At her feet, one special life found its resting place. Her silent vow welled up within her chest until there was no way to hold back the tears. This child’s murderer would not go free.

Chapter 2 – The Evidence

Coroner Emerald Jastone Jones, standing six foot two inches tall and weighing in at just a little over 138 pounds, looked worse off than his patients. His gaunt appearance was accompanied by a rasping, slow cadence making you feel like he was talking to you from the grave. There was no way to excite this man or make him move any faster than his skeletal frame decided to move. He had his process and would not change for anyone.

Placing the last cleaned scalpel back in its place on the tray, he turned towards Angel with his bony hands folded behind his back.

Angel could not figure out the man’s issue. She stopped men dead in their tracks all her life and her current appearance was certainly able to accomplish that task, but Emerald’s eyes seemed vacant and lost to the world.

Finally, he spoke. “My findings are in the Coroner’s Report. I do not see how I can be of further assistance.”

Angel was dumbfounded. How can anyone be so callous about a little girl’s murder? “I will get the report from Detective Casey. Right now I need to know if you remember anything else that would help me find the one who killed her.”

His blank stare moved Angel to the edge of her composure. Just about to explode, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to stare into the eyes of a thirty-something woman neatly dressed in a pantsuit that clearly showed the holster on her hip.

“I am Detective June Casey and I see that you have met JJ. Please let me help you in the other room and allow JJ to get back to his work.” June pointed towards the door and Angel followed her into the front office of the Clearwater Coroner’s Office.

“Sorry about old JJ, he has his ways. It will be easier for me to help you get your answers. He does an excellent job for us but is not very good around the living.” June sat across from Angel at a small conference table and folded her hands on the table. “Tell me about your interest in the Jane Doe case.”

Angel, while she had anticipated this encounter, was not fully prepared. Poking into a case of another law enforcement officer could be suspect. Watching June’s eyes carefully, she told her of seeing the story in the paper and wanting to help. She included her attendance at the funeral devoid of mourners, and her desire to bring the culprit of the crime to justice. These were the words the detective would expect to hear.

June’s eyes did not give anything away. She seemed open to hearing about the help Angel could bring to her investigation but she was not about to give in easily.

“I have some friends that may prove helpful to you and I would like to see if we can help with the case.” Angel stopped and waited for a response.

There was none.

“I will provide you with solid references and promise that we will not get in the way of your investigation. We are here to help and nothing more.”

Again silence.

“I see I have disturbed you and will take my leave. Here is my card if I can be of assistance.” Angel handed her WCM business card and began to stand.

“Please stay.” June took the card but laid it on the table and waited for Angel to retake her seat.

“This case will get a bunch of nutcases asking to help and I needed time to see if you were one of them.” Junes smile grew. “I have heard of Warriors Cadre Management and know of Sarge, so you are welcome to join our investigation. We have few leads and no suspects so any help will be beneficial.”

The Murder Canvas

Over the next three hours, Detective June Casey laid out all she had on this particular murder and her concerns that it was tied into other murders here in Florida and in Georgia.

The possibility that the murder was some type of ritual crept into the conversation and the potential of multiple victims added to the horror growing in Angel’s mind. She had delayed her departure out of impulse by reading a newspaper article. Now as the evidence was laid out before her, she began to understand her life would change and her delay would be much more than a missed flight or a few extra days.

“Detective Casey, let’s find some lunch and a little livelier place to continue our conversation. I am going to need to call Sarge with an update and I am going to need a place to stay for the duration.” Angel stood and began to walk as the detective followed her actions. “Do you know of a place out of the way where my team could meet? I don’t want it to be at police headquarters. The ones I am bringing on board do better in the shadows.”

“First, call me June. Next, let’s get some food. Frenchy’s Original Café is just down the road and, while it’s a tourist trap, it still has the best Super Grouper sandwich in Florida. They invented it and they continue to perfect it. Then we will find you lodging. I suggest my place. I won’t be able to put all your friends up but if we are going to work this case, we might as well bunk together. Finally, a place for your team to meet—I have a friend who just closed down an old bar. It is right on the beach but fenced off as he prepares for renovation. I know that he won’t start work for two months so we can have the run of the place.” Detective Casey was a woman of action and as she outlined her plans, she packed up the evidence in her shoulder bag and guided Angel to the door. “You do like seafood, right?”

“My mouth is watering. Take me where you will and yes I would love to bunk with you. We will need a motel close by for the rest of the team.” Angel fell in step with the purposeful detective.

There first stop was an Avis rental just off the main boulevard. Detective Casey handed the keys from Angel’s rental to the manager and instructed him to take care of the paperwork sending it to her office. She placed Angel’s baggage in the back of her police SUV and the two made their way down to the Clearwater beaches and Frenchy’s Original Café. “When your team gets in we can provide transportation if they need it. I have a budget for this kind of investigation.”

Angel, settling into the passenger seat, allowed the detective to guide their steps. During their ride to the restaurant, she got Sarge on the phone for an update and introduction of Detective Casey. She agreed to send him reports on the mission as it progressed and thanked him for personally visiting her mother to help her understand her daughter’s extended vacation.

“He is like a father to me.” Angel could see June had questions. “I met him in Afghanistan. I had left my post to rescue a group of stranded soldiers and some piss-ant commander was setting me up for a court-martial. Sarge walked into my life, saved me from the idiot brass, and made me see that a real soldier has value.”

Angel watched June nod and her smile expand. “He even helped me find a safe place for my mother. Now we work together and I get to be part of a very special team of warriors.”

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About Bill Joyce

Bill is a writer of prose, a poet in his own mind, and self-proclaimed master of words. Long-windedness is due the personal enjoyment of his inside jokes, most of which fall on deaf ears. He calls himself an Author.

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