Frank Grimes’ POV
Downtown Los Angeles
The more I thought about Chase and Rori Nygaard, the madder I got. The thought that Chase played me in this whole thing was the worst. If he had fed me all that information just so the Brotherhood could steal their money without getting caught? I didn’t know what I was going to do if that was the case.
I could sing to the investigators about everything, and I’d still be the guy who let men die by tipping off another.
I thought about it; I didn’t have anything that I needed to do in Los Angeles right now. The house was locked up, I couldn’t work, and they could put my stuff in a box for all I cared. I went to a travel website, looking for flights to Minot.
They only flew out of there once a day, and to make it; I’d have to be at the Minneapolis airport before nine in the morning. There was a redeye leaving at midnight, just a few hours away, that got into Minneapolis at six. The last-minute fare was still cheap, meaning the plane would not be full. I booked the flight, then arranged for a rental car out of the Minot airport.
The arrangements made, I looked at the clock. It was past nine at night, meaning it would be past eleven in North Dakota. With twin babies in the house, there was no way I was going to wake them up. I’d call them in the morning.
I got back in my car and drove to the airport, leaving my car in the long-term lot. I went into the trunk and took out my go-bag. As a DEA manager, I could be called to travel on a moment’s notice anywhere in the country. I’d learned long ago to keep a suit and a bag with enough for a few days in a hotel in my trunk. I’d been wearing this suit all day, and I wouldn’t need one in Minot. I took off the jacket, tie, and shirt, leaving them on top of the garment bag with the spare suit, and pulled on a white DEA logo polo shirt. I put on fresh deodorant and used the electric razor to take care of the stubble. I didn’t have a winter coat, but I did have a DEA logo hoodie and thin gloves. That would have to do; I put them inside my garment bag, then headed for the terminal.
I checked my bags and got through security, and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t flying armed. My gun and badge were back at the office in a safe. As I checked in to get my boarding pass, the woman at the counter did a double-take as she looked at my identification and my shirt. “Are you Frank Grimes, the DEA director who got suspended?”
I nodded. “Yes, but it’s a formality. I’m going to take two weeks it will take them to figure out I’m innocent and go visit my grandchildren.”
“Ouch, Minot in December. You must love them to leave this weather for that.” She tapped a few keys. “I upgraded you to First Class on the flight to Minneapolis, but the regional carrier to Minot doesn’t have sections. You’ll be lucky if you aren’t on a bench between the chicken cages and the pilot,” she joked.
“Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate it.”
“My husband is a Deputy Sheriff in Los Angeles, Mr. Grimes. He doesn’t blame you, none of them do. The Sons are a menace, and you’re the man who took them down.” She handed me my ticket and boarding pass, and the gate number. “Enjoy your flight, sir.”
“Thank you, and have a good Christmas, Jennifer.” I walked away, feeling a lot better after that conversation. I didn’t bring a carry-on bag, just a book, and my phone. I got through the TSA checkpoint and found a bar where I could wait for my flight, ordered a beer and some buffalo wings, and opened the book up. It was a good one; Windswept Stars by PenumbraMine. I’d read the other books about Pagosa Cliffs and couldn’t wait to see what would happen with Tank and the others.
I was on my second beer when someone slid into the empty barstool next to me. “This wasn’t my idea, Frank.”
I looked over at the woman in the grey pantsuit next to me. “Agent Jenkins, fancy meeting you here,” I said. She was one of the agents in my office; well, what used to be my office. She was a good agent who just needed more experience in the field. “They send you to see if I’m making a run for the border?”
She nodded. “Your car and phone at the airport caused some concern with Justice. Some expressed concerns you are fleeing the jurisdiction.”
“I’m suspended, not under arrest,” I said. “I’m tired, I’m off the case, and I’ve only seen my son’s baby girls once since they were born.” I pulled up a photo on the phone, my son in his uniform, he and his wife each holding a baby girl. “Christmas is coming, and I’m not going to waste it around here waiting for them to get their collective heads out of their asses.”
“They want you to speak to the investigators,” she said.
“They can speak to my lawyer about that; he will be contacting them in the morning. I’m going to Minot unless you are here to arrest me, in which case they can STILL speak to my lawyer in the morning.” I could see this was difficult for her; she was just a messenger. “I know you can’t drink with me, but can I interest you in some overpriced appetizers and a Coke? I’ve got another hour before the flight boards.”
“Sure,” she said. “I’m supposed to make sure you board the plane to Minneapolis and then report back. I haven’t eaten dinner yet, things have been so hectic at the office.” We had a good time, and I waved to her as I boarded.
The flight was only half full, and I slept most of it in the first-class seat. We landed at six, and the flight attendant told me to check-in at the desk when I got off the plane. “I’m Frank Grimes,” I said to the woman at the gate desk.
“Ah, Mr. Grimes. Bad news I’m afraid; our regional partner has canceled your connecting flight to Minot. There’s a blizzard coming across the state, and everything will be shut down for the next day, maybe two,” she said.
I pulled out my phone, checking the weather report for Minot. It wasn’t good. “Can you get me closer?”
“I might be able to get you on a flight to Fargo or Grand Forks, but those just as likely to be snowed out.”
“Could I drive?”
“Sir, with all respect, people who live in North Dakota aren’t driving in this weather. Roads are closing already. I can book you standby on the flight tomorrow; you could get a hotel room here, maybe see the Mall or something?”
It sucked, but she was right. I wasn’t going to make Fargo, and I was glad I hadn’t called them yet. They would have told me to stay put until it blew over. “Well, I have other business up in Duluth, can you get me there?”
She hit a few keys. “There is a flight leaving at one, arriving at two that I can book you in first class. The morning flight is full, but I can put you on standby if you want.”
“Yes to both.” I handed over my credit card. “Can you make sure my baggage gets tagged for the new destination?”
“Of course, sir. Enjoy your time in Duluth.” I got some breakfast, finished Windswept Stars then moved on to reading JoLeeHunt’s “Heart of Stone” on Inkitt. I didn’t make standby for the early flight, so I did some shopping and bought a heavier jacket and a Minnesota Vikings stocking cap so I wouldn’t freeze so bad. I bought a cinnamon roll and a large coffee, then sat down in the gate area to wait for the flight.
“That roll smells amazing,” a woman said as she stopped in front of me. I looked up; she was a striking woman, probably in her late forties. She had her hair pulled back from her face, a little bit of grey streaking through it. Her eyes drew me in, and I smiled as I waved for her to take the empty seat next to him. She dressed comfortably; designer jeans tucked into tan Uggs, a turtleneck ski top with a fleece vest. She wasn’t wearing a ring; in fact, she wasn’t wearing any jewelry.
“It’s way too much for me, would you like some of it?”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” she said.
“You’d be doing me a favor; this thing has about five million calories, and it will save me an hour on the treadmill tonight if you share it with me.” I reached my hand over the small table between us. “I’m Frank, I flew in this morning from Los Angeles,” I said.
“Colletta, and I had a redeye from Seattle,” she answered as she took my hand in a firm handshake. “Can you watch my stuff? I need a big coffee, and I’ll get myself a fork.”
“Of course,” I said. I watched her closely as she got up and walked off. She was effortlessly beautiful, and her body would make the starlets in Hollywood envious. Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad if I could get a phone number and a dinner date out of it.
She came back a few minutes later; I’d taken the box the Cinnabon came in and tore the top off, placing half of the cinnamon roll in it. Her face lit up as I offered her the extra icing I’d bought. “You’re very kind, Frank,” she said.
“It’s my pleasure. It’s all part of my devious plan to attract desirable young maidens into my lair by using flour, butter, and spices as bait.”
She laughed as she spread the icing. “Well, it clearly isn’t working if you ended up with me,” she said. “I’m nowhere near young.”
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in a long time, and I live in Los Angeles,” I said. “I’d say it’s working perfectly for a soon-to-be-retired guy on a trip to see his twin granddaughters.”
“Oh my word, you have twin grandchildren too?” Her face lit up, and she pulled out her phone. Pulling up a photo, she turned it to show three babies, all sitting together on a blanket. “I’m going up on the North Shore to visit my son and my daughter. That’s my grandson Mark and his twin Cheryl on the right, and my daughter’s girl Hope on the left. They sent this picture last week; I can’t believe they are six months old already.”
“They are beautiful,” I said as I pulled my phone out. “You realize that Federal law requires me to show you the photos of my son’s twin girls now.”
“Well, don’t get in any trouble on my behalf,” she said with a smile. I showed her my granddaughters, both wearing Air Force shirts and pink pajama bottoms. “Oh my, they are so cute!”
“I think so.”
“I love the shirts, is your boy in the Air Force?”
I nodded in between bites of the still-warm Cinnabon. “He is. He went to the Air Force Academy, and now flies the B-52 Stratofortress out of Minot Air Force Base.”
“That’s wonderful, and you must be so proud of him! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a B-52, but we see B-1 bombers sometimes flying over. I mostly live in the Cascade Range, east of Mount Ranier in Washington.”
“Beautiful country out there,” I said.
“Winters aren’t fun. We’ve seen six feet of snow, and it’s not even Christmas yet. I think you have the better winters,” she said. She finished up her Cinnabon, taking my box and throwing the trash away. “That was more sugar than I needed, but it’s soooo good. Thank you again.” She glanced down at my left hand and looked away when I caught her.
“Divorced sixteen years ago,” I said as I showed her my ring finger. “We’re still friends; it just didn’t work out for us. I was always tied up with my work in the Drug Enforcement Administration, and she was always tied up naked in our neighbor’s bedroom.” Her jaw dropped, then she busted out laughing. “I got my son out of it, and now grandchildren.”
“You never remarried? No girlfriend?”
“I was bitter, and I threw myself into my job. I rose to the highest levels of the DEA, only to lose everything yesterday. Now I’m sitting here in an airport, with nothing but the company of a beautiful lady. Today is the best day I’ve had in a long time.” She blushed, and I reached over and took her left hand, turning it to show her empty ring finger. “No ring or tan line for you, what is your story? How is a smart, beautiful, and classy woman like you stuck here in an airport, eating pastries from a stranger?”
She giggled but didn’t pull her hand away. “My husband died a little over a year ago.”
“I’m not. He was a good man and a good husband at first, but at the end, he was a real asshole. I left him before he could hurt us more.” I squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back a little. “It’s been hard, but I still have my three sons and one daughter, all but one who are now m… married. I spend some time with each of them, moving on when they get ‘Mom’d Out’ as my oldest boy says.” I laughed a little at that; my Mom used to have us that way by the end of her visits. “So, I’m going to spend a few weeks with my son and daughter to celebrate their first Christmas with the babies, and then I’ll visit my boy in the Donner Pass area of California.”
I just shook my head. “You need one of your kids to move south. The Donner area gets more snow than you do in the Cascades!”
“I know. If only I knew someone in a warmer climate.” I’d moved my other hand over hers, lightly stroking the back of her smooth skin. Her eyes were wide, her mouth slightly parted, and she licked her lips. I started to lean forward, and she tilted her head slightly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that my flight plans changed so I could meet Colletta instead.
“Now boarding, Delta Flight 2429 to Duluth in Gate Bravo Forty,” the announcement came.
“That’s us,” I said. I grabbed my new coat while she picked up her things before we walked together to the boarding line. “What seat do you have?”
“Three A, window seat,” she said.
“I think God is smiling on me today,” I said as I showed her my boarding pass. It was Three Bravo. “I get to enjoy your company a little longer.”
We sat in our first-class seats and talked, as I learned more about this woman who fascinated me. She asked about my job, and I was honest with her as I gave her a condensed version of my past week. I could see the emotions on her face as I told her of the raids and the loss of life that led to my suspension.
“They didn’t even ask your side of the story,” she asked.
“No, and now that it’s tied up in disciplinary space, I’m not inclined to cooperate. I already told my boss that when my suspension is over, I’m retiring. I’ve had enough.”
“I heard about you on the news, Director Frank Grimes. You seem to be a good man; I’m sure it will all work out in the end.”
“Just Frank now. Or Grandpa Frank.” I held her hand as we taxied out and waited our turn. We didn’t say anything for a while, we took off, and she looked out the window at the city below.
She finally turned to me as we got above the clouds. “So why are you going to Duluth? Your son is in Minot, that isn’t exactly on the way.”
“There’s a blizzard in the Dakotas, so I found out this morning that getting out there isn’t happening for a day or two. One of the Steel Brotherhood members I worked with in Orlando, he and Canvas live up near Two Harbors. I wanted to clear up some questions, and let him know in person that I’m off the case now.”
“Frame and Canvas?” Her face was white as a sheet as she pulled out her phone. “These two?”
She showed me a photo of Chase and Rori, standing next to their motorcycles on an overlook on Lake Superior. It was my turn to have my jaw drop and turn white as a sheet. I just nodded. “Your son is Chase Nygaard?”
“Yes, I’m Colletta Nygaard, and Chase is my youngest.” What are the odds? I should buy Lotto tickets as soon as we land. “What the hell has that boy done now?”