Elliot was sautéing vegetables for an order when the host of Russo’s Italian Restaurant, Alonzo came into the kitchen and called his name. “Elliot!”
“Yo!” Elliot called back.
“You got visitors,” Alonzo said.
Elliot turned to look at him in surprise. He couldn’t imagine who would be coming to see him at work. Must be some friends from school coming to check out his cooking skills. Elliot looked over at Russo, the chef, and owner. Russo waved him on and called Michel, the tournament who bounced between stations to take over Elliot’s vegetables.
After giving Michel that rundown on which vegetables went with what orders and how much longer each needed to cook, Elliot wiped his hands on his apron and went out to the front of the restaurant.
It had been almost a year since Dana had seen Elliot in person. They talked on the phone and through emails, but she’d only seen pictures of his transformation. When he walked out to greet Mark and her in his white chef’s outfit, chef hat and all, Dana was stunned by the handsome young man who appeared before her.
Elliot took off his hat and smiled in greeting. “Aunt Dana and Uncle Mark,” he said as he came over. He hugged Dana and kissed her cheek, then shook Mark’s hand and gave him a half hug. “What are you guys doing here?”
“We heard this restaurant had a great legumier on staff, so we had to check it out,” Dana said with a wide smile. She was so stunned with Elliot’s transformation. His dark brown hair was in a short choppy style. His beard was trimmed to a short stubble that gave him a rakishly handsome look.
“Have you got a few minutes to talk?” Mark asked.
“Sure,” Elliot said and motioned them toward an empty table at the far end of the restaurant. It was in between the lunch and dinner rushes so the restaurant wasn’t super busy. In a few hours, there would be no empty tables, and a line would have formed outside of people waiting to get in.
Dana and Mark sat on one side of the table, and Elliot sat facing them. “So what’s up?” he asked.
Mark looked around making sure that no one was within earshot. “They found that girl’s body.”
Elliot did the same scan of the people around and leaned closer to them before asking, “When?”
“Two weeks ago,” Mark said. “Some kids were fishing on a tributary of the Ohio River in Henderson, Kentucky and found a partial skeleton washed up on the shore. The medical examiner extracted DNA from the bones, and they matched it to the girl you identified as the person in your father’s freezer.”
Elliot ran a nervous hand through his hair. “Wow. So what happens now?”
“The agents who’ve been working in Evansville are compiling evidence of other offenses your father has committed. They’ll put it all together and bring him in on multiple charges at once and then offer him a plea package to give up the names of the people in charge of the human trafficking ring,” Mark explained.
“When will I have to testify?” Elliot asked.
“It will be a few months probably, but we wanted to give you time to prepare yourself mentally,” Dana said.
Elliot leaned over the table, closer to Mark and Dana, and asked in a whisper, “Do I have to testify as Jenna?”
“We’ll talk to the DA about your new situation when the time comes and see what he says,” Mark said.
“If anything, it would be for one day,” Dana assured him.
Looking away, Elliot nodded silently. It will be so hard to do that. Fortunately, no one in his life now would know it was him. His life here was so different from when he’d lived in Evansville. He was almost finished with school, had a great job, a nice apartment, and a few good friends. None of whom knew his deepest secret that he was physically still a woman.
“There’s another reason we came to talk to you in person,” Mark said.
Elliot turned and looked at him. “What’s that?”
Mark looked at Dana, who chewed at her lower lip. “Someone has been tracking your father.”
“What do you mean, tracking him?” Elliot asked.
“Your father found a tracking device on his truck last week,” Mark said. “We also have a tracking item on his truck, but ours is more sophisticated and harder to find. Your father found out who was tracking him, and now he’s tracking her.”
Elliot was confused. Who would be tracking his father if it was not the FBI, or some other law enforcement agency? He looked from Mark to Dana, neither would look him in the eye. It hit him then, and he sucked in his breath. “Cara?”
Dana nodded. “She’s in serious danger, and she doesn’t realize it. I don’t think she knows he’s figured out that she was tracking him because she’s still doing it.” She pointed at Mark. “We think she’s hoping he will lead her to you. But, he is probably hoping she will lead him to you.”
Taking a deep breath, Elliot absorbed the information. He thought of Cara often, wondering how she would react to his new persona. After he had testified about the girl in the freezer, he’d hoped that he could talk to her and explain who he was now. Dana was right, if his father knew that Cara was tracking him, he would be pissed. But, he would also think she knew where Jenna was, so he would start following her, hoping to find Jenna. “So what can we do about that?”
“Well,” Mark began, “we are trying to decide what we are going to do.”
“What do you mean you are trying to decide what to do?” Elliot asked tersely.
“Our bosses want to use her as bait to draw Matthews out,” Mark said.
“No!” Elliot said forcefully.
Dana reached over and put her hand on Elliot’s. “I’m afraid you don’t have any say in this.”
Elliot put his elbow on the table and rested his lips on his knuckles. He sat there for several minutes before saying, “There has to be something I can do.”
Dana looked at Mark, who nodded in Elliot’s direction. “Well, there is something we’ve been thinking about.”
“What?” Elliot asked.
“We don’t think your father is going to do anything before the Fourth of July. The news on the grapevine is that the leaders of the human trafficking ring your father is working with are going to have a big powwow at Cave Run Lake over the Fourth. If that’s true, there has to be someone around Cave Run Lake area who is making the arrangements for the party. We’ve got a couple of people in the area doing surveillance,” Dana said. “One of the guys said that he was surprised that there wasn’t a restaurant in the area that served fresh lake fish.” She looked at Mark. “We were discussing it with headquarters, and there’s an agent who just retired, and she’s always wanted to own a restaurant. She said she would go down there and check out the possibility of opening a restaurant in that area.”
Elliot furrowed his brow and looked at Dana questioningly. “Someone is going to open a restaurant just to help bust this ring of human traffickers?”
“Not exactly,” Mark answered. “Former Special Agent Sandy Cannon is from Mayfield, Kentucky and was planning on opening a restaurant there. After she had checked out Cave Run Lake, she fell in love with the area. She, too, was surprised that there wasn’t a restaurant that specialized in fresh water fish, so she decided to open one.”
“So she’s already opened the restaurant?” Elliot asked.
“Yes,” Mark answered. “And it’s doing really well. One of the other agents who were just down there for surveillance offered to get to the local hunters and fishermen and get in with that group because we know that fishing and hunting are part of what ties the leaders of this chapter of the Cobras together.”
“How big is this organization?” Elliot asked.
“It’s not as big as some of the organized crime families, nor is it as big as some of the gangs involved in this type of activity. We think there are roughly fifty footmen who do everything from acquiring girls and boys for the prostitution to selling drugs. There are roughly eight, maybe ten people who are actually in the leadership, and if our intelligence is correct, there’s only one guy who is in charge of the whole thing,” Dana explained. “Your father is one of four men that are considered the waste management. They get rid of dead bodies and cover up the mess so that it doesn’t link back to the Cobras.”
“Wow,” Elliot said with a shake of his head. “So what can I do?”
Mark looked around the room and saw the host hovering around the greeting desk. He turned back to Elliot. “Sandy needs an excellent cook.”
Elliot’s eyebrows shot up, and he stared wide-eyed at Mark. “You want me to give up my job here to go cook in some small town grill? Do you know how hard I worked to get on here? I can’t just give this up?”
Mark shrugged. “Well, that’s up to you, but we’re trying to get to your dad before he goes after Cara. Our sources tell us that the guy who runs the Cobras is a big fisherman and hunter and likes to eat wild game. They say he takes all his kills to a place in Cincinnati that prepares it for him. We’re banking on this guy taking an interest in a restaurant that specializes in fresh water fish, especially fish that are considered a specialty food like Muskie.”
“I don’t know,” Elliot said and leaned his forehead into his hands, his fingers raking through the short hair.
“You would be the head cook,” Dana said. “I’m sure Sandy would give you plenty of room to experiment and create interesting dishes.”
Elliot ran his hands down his face, steepling them in front of his lips as he thought over the offer. “So, are you trying to draw the guy, or group, to the restaurant, or just get enough people in place to bust them when they get there?”
“Both,” Mark admitted. “Plus, you may have met some of the men your father hunts and fishes with. Did he ever bring home any of his buddies he went on these trips with?”
Elliot spent several minutes trying to remember the people his father brought to the house. “There were a couple of guys that came from eastern Kentucky to go fishing with him at Kentucky Lake. He said they were the same guys he fished with over here.” Narrowing his eyes in thought, Elliot said, “Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that he said they had fished at Cave Run Lake.”
“We’re pretty sure about that too,” Mark said. “In fact, we think this may be where he met the man they call C1, or Cobra One. We’ll need you to get with a sketch artist and give us some descriptions of what you remember.”
Nodding in agreement, Elliot said, “I think that may have happened about six years ago. He’d always been secretive and a jackass, but it wasn’t long after a trip over here that he bought that freezer. He said it was for his kills. No one thought he meant killed people; we assumed it was deer, turkey, or bear. I always thought he kept it locked because he was hunting animals during the off seasons and hiding that he’d killed something in a season he wasn’t allowed to hunt.”
“Hey, Elliot! You coming back to work, or what?” Russo yelled from the kitchen doorway.
“Yeah,” Elliot said and stood. “Can we get together in the morning?”
“Yes,” Mark said. “I’ll text you around eight, and we’ll pick a meeting spot.”
“Cool. I’ll see you guys then.” Elliot hugged Mark and kissed Dana on the cheek. “Glad you guys came by. Love ya,” Elliot said and waved as he headed back to the kitchen.
“Who was that?” Russo asked.
“My aunt and uncle. One of my other aunt’s is having some issues that they thought I should know about.” Elliot had created a back story for his life in which his parents were dead, and he’d been raised by his aunt and uncle.
“The ones you lived with?” Russo asked, still watching Elliot suspiciously.
“Yeah,” Elliot answered and put his hat on.
“What’s the next order?” Elliot didn’t trust Russo any more than Russo trusted him. Elliot couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something off about Russo. Maybe going to work for this Sandy person would be a good idea. Even though Elliot was thrilled to be working at this popular restaurant, being in control of creating new dishes would be a lot of fun.