Natalie dragged her feet through her apartment building lobby an hour later. Seeing smudged mascara of her face, the doorman asked what was wrong. “Can I get anything for you, Ms. Mercedes?” he asked. Heading straight for the elevator like a zombie, she apologetically responded, “I’m not in a talking mood right now.” She slumped into the elevator and pressed the 7th-floor button, burying her head in the corner during the ride up. When the elevator doors split open, she noticed a package propped up against her door. Her depressive trance had broken. “What’s this?” she thought while examining the package. Her name was on the front, but no return address above it. Could it be junk mail? Losing her enthusiasm, she tucked the package under her arm like a football while flipping through her ring of keys.
Track lighting lit up the living room like a rock concert the moment she entered her apartment. She tossed the package on the coffee table and stepped on her heels to pull the sneakers off her feet. Slouching toward the bedroom, she pulled off her clothes and threw them on the bed. A black Brooklyn Nets
jersey along with a pair of heather gray gym shorts were taken from her workout clothing folded in the bottom dresser drawer.
Shock. Anger. Disgust. Every thought instilled within her brain, mixed with unstable emotions. Her best friend. Sole family member. Gone. She wanted to crawl under the covers and cry some more, but the anger boiling in the pit of her stomach wouldn’t allow her to waste time.
Two new messages left on her answering machine. According to the caller
I.D., none of them were from Martha’s ex-husband. Does Samuel even know? It doesn’t matter. He was a waste of flesh anyway. But how was she going to break the news to Henry? One thing she wanted to give him was retribution, after saying the persons responsible are behind bars or six feet under. Therefore, Natalie held off talking to Henry until that day came to past.
First message came from her cousin Rhonda:
“It’s a been a while, Nat. Mind if we talk someday? Later.”
She quickly pressed the delete button. The second message, however, made her gasp. It came from Martha!
“Listen, I left you a lil’ Christmas present. Please don’t open it until I get there. Explain later. Love you.”
Her heart sank because she’s not coming. Not ever. The package! Natalie ran to the living room and ripped the top of the envelope open. She dumped a memory stick and printouts onto her computer desk. Fluttering down lastly was a post-it note. It had Martha’s handwriting:
You’re the only one I trust. Very important!
Could that be the reason for her death? Evidence?
Freshly brewed Hazelnut flavored coffee fragranced the entire apartment. Natalie had been working for hours scavenging through the files to uncover the missing link. Flipping through the stack of papers, she noticed the same name highlighted: John Hart. Opening her arms as wide as an eagle’s wings, she stretched the tiredness out of her back, cracking a few bones in her neck as well.
Taking a long gulp of her hot beverage, Natalie rethought her path of investigation. The printouts would be deemed circumstantial if she submitted them to the FBI as evidence. Let’s bring it back a bit. She flipped back to the first page and hoped to stumble upon an inkling that was unwittingly passed over.
Hart’s last few cases were considered to be the biggest of his career. But, hold on a sec. His medical reports seemed shady. His last one was taken last year, after arresting mafia boss Ralph Pizzano. Large amounts of alcohol and cocaine were traced in his bloodstream. Yet, he got assigned another case in a
matter of days. In fact, he’d been awarded the most undercover operations in his department. “Is this guy that good or just plain lucky?” she wondered.
Reading his psychological profile, he’s been recorded for multiple acts of recklessness and insubordinate behavior. “How is he still on the force?” she questioned. “Who approved this review?” Her eyes rolled to the top right corner of the page. Oh my God! Coffee exploded on the floor as the mug slid from her fingertips. It was Judas Lee.
Could he have ordered the hit? No. His body language seemed disheartened, more like putting on an act than hiding guilt. “The mafia hits had to be inside jobs. Hart did the dirty work and Lee cleaned up his tracks. Martha got close to the truth…and they killed her for it.” Rage told her to put a hole in Lee’s head, but her cop instincts provided a voice of reason. Proof. Anything to connect both Hart and Lee to the assassination. Impossible, but doable.
From out the kitchen rang the house telephone. Since her number was private, it had to be Jill Spiccolli, Natalie’s office manager and part-time assistant. She called Jill earlier to dig up any skeletons Detective Hart might’ve carelessly buried.
Although not physically fit as Natalie, Jill is a five-foot-seven, slender, young Italian woman who loved this kind of work. Brilliant enough to be a special agent, but her ego was too big to follow any kind of protocol. Working with Natalie was a dream job: serving justice with no jurisdiction. Her abilities are used to their fullest potential and she answers to only one boss, a woman she greatly admired.
Natalie knew she was a character from the day she hired her, from her
round glasses and cute freckles, down to the color of her chin-length hair, which changed almost every month. Currently, it’s dark purple. The rest of Natalie’s staff consisted of two other investigators, Tyrone Smith and Cornelius Bennet, and an in-house counsel, Coral Nuñez. Though their all good at what they do,
Jill is the most dependable employee. Therefore, she’s the only one the private
eye would entrust such classified information with.
“What’s up, Jillie,” Natalie answered. “Got something for me?” “Yup!” Jill responded. “Just found a huge needle within the gigantic
haystack our super cop currently has riding on his scrawny shoulders. And it’s good!”
“Lay it on me, girl!”
“Okay! I started working backward and searched through police detail on the precinct raid Hart conducted earlier. Unbelievably, a public access news crew was the first to arrive on the scene and they filmed the entire thing from beginning to end.”
“Are you for real?”
“So fo’ real! Physical traction ain’t my thang, but for you, I made an exception. With a few whiffs of airs, mixed in some clicks and key taps, I discovered the warehouse where they broadcast their show from. Seeing how
I look, they automatically thought I was some lonely blogger looking for some followers or conjure up some clickbait. Therefore, since they considered me a non-threat - are you ready for this? They gave me the entire footage! All of it! Unedited!”
Natalie gasped. “Jill, you better not tell me that you’ll get it to me first thing
in the –”
“Check your email.” Jill sighed.
Natalie logged onto her account and Jill’s message was on top of the
inbox. She clicked it open and found an attached zipfile. Jill whistled the theme of Charlie’s Angels as she patiently waited on the other line. As the zipfile downloaded onto her desktop, taking five minutes to complete, Natalie asked, “Will this show me anything related to who Martha’s killer might be?”
“Not really,” said Jill. “But I’m sure you can find a loose end amongst the chaos. So many things happened at once with so many people around, I doubt Hart was able to keep everything and everyone in line. I know there’s something in here you could use against him, but my eyes aren’t as keen as yours. That’s why you’re the boss.”
Downloading completed. Natalie opened the footage and clicked the play button. Despite the wobbly camera, it showed excellent picture quality. Simultaneously, Jill played her footage copy on her laptop, working together on finding the loose end.
John Hart was seen storming the gates like King Leonidas leading his army to battle. Natalie skipped ahead a few minutes at a time, viewing the implausible
turmoil occurring on the streets. “Hold it!” Jill excitedly shouted. “Skip to the
Natalie hit the pause button and clicked to the middle of the timeline. About the 15:25 mark, there came the advantage Jill spoke of. The camera viewed the side of the precinct and, even though it was for a split-second, Natalie caught the cop who escaped the raid. “Did you see that?!” she shouted.
“Yup!” Jill responded. “Not all of them were caught!” “Have they played this video on their news program yet?”
“Not only did they play it, but they sold copies to all the major news networks. It’s safe to say that state and city police are hunting for this guy right now.”
“Let ’em try. I’m getting him first.”
“How? The footage barely shows his face. Not even mainstream media would be able to identify this guy, if that even is a guy - well I doubt a pudgy white woman would drop out of a window from the second floor - but hey! Who am I to discriminate. Anyway, we have no names, no numbers or no leads. What possible plan could you concoct that’ll guarantee you’ll get this cop first?”
“Jill. What’s my name?”
She laughed and responded, “You’re Natalie Mercedes: the woman who delivers ten times out of ten.”
“Exactly! I’m getting him first.” Though still heartbroken, she was thrilled that her ride down the road of vengeance had quickly gained momentum. “This is phenomenal, Jillie. Thank you.”
“For you, anytime. Besides, you didn’t hire for my attractive good looks.” Natalie hung up the phone and thumbed through the printouts again. Being
such an outstanding agent, Martha not only printed out the entire manifest, but
she attached her list of cops red-flagged by Internal Affairs. Comparing both lists, she noticed the tally on John’s list was one number less than Martha’s. “Got him!” she shouted.
There was one name John failed to report. Not very smart detective work. She took a red marker and circled the name of the officer on the run. The one who can maybe prove the city’s golden detective was truly a deranged killer. Tomorrow, the hunt begins for Officer Don Crass.