Once Upon A Flash Drive

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Chapter Eleven

“In tough times, everyone has to take their share of the pain.” ~ Theresa May


Susan could feel Travis’ eyes glued to her face as she scanned the files. His scrutiny was discomfiting. Right or wrong, she sensed that he wasn’t beyond censoring information in the future if she couldn’t control her emotions. What she somehow needed to get across to him was that her emotional outbursts weren’t a sign of weakness. She was just letting off steam. She was determined to get to the truth no matter how sordid, or how much pain she had to endure.

As she waded through Maddie’s notes, it became painfully clear that she didn’t really know Maddie. In the past, she’d closed her eyes to Maddie’s darker side. The realization shook her to the core. She’d prided herself on being able to read people, and the truth was she had missed all of the red flags with Maddie.

She could only imagine how frantic Charles must have been when he realized that Maddie was going to expose the corruption in city hall. His protective nature wouldn’t have allowed him to stand idly by and watch his aunt take on the McCorkle machine single-handedly. Her accident must have strengthened his resolve to uncover the corruption. Because of Charles’ involvement, Susan was more convinced than ever of his integrity and his belief in justice.

Maddie’s was convinced that McCorkle was involved in drug, gun and human trafficking. And, that the money that put Donovan Keller into office was dirty. Donovan wasn’t naïve. He must have known the source of the money. Susan was dismayed that such despicable acts were happening right under her nose and the noses of the other residents of Hazelton. She’d been proud to live and work in a community that valued family values. Her illusions were shattered.

As disappointed as she was to learn about Donovan’s involvement, the possibility that Clarke Kitterman was involved was even more devastating. The principal of Hazelton High School a criminal? Had the whole world gone mad? How sad for the students. Were there no role models for teens to emulate?

She met Travis’ gaze and asked, “How could men with so much to lose stoop so low? The mayor, his lawyer, a police officer and the principal of the high school? Beyond the pale!”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Susan. Unless we can prove that Maddie’s allegations are true, there can be no charges brought. A competent attorney would have her notes thrown out. The notes would be described as fiction and Maddie would to be declared mentally incompetent if she chose to testify. No one wants that for her.

"That being said, we at least have leads. We now have reason to believe that Maddie’s accident, Charles disappearance and the corruption at city hall are linked.”

“Just how involved do you think Donovan was?”

“Donovan is just another politician corrupted by power. He is not the first to be seduced by the promise of fame and fortune, and he won’t be the last. As you can see from Maddie’s notes, Donovan began to blur the lines between legal and illegal when he hired Van McCorkle as his lawyer. It’s common knowledge that McCorkle has kept the drug dealer, Zack Costello, out of jail for years.”

“Is McCorkle the heavyset man in the photos on the flash drive?”

Travis nodded. “The man wearing the five-thousand-dollar suit and the five-hundred-dollar pair of shoes.”

“Why would Donovan hire such a shady character?”

“Even the most ethical politicians find themselves blurring the lines between right and wrong when it comes to raising campaign money. Once a favor has been granted, or money for a campaign has changed hands, the die is cast. Since McCorkle has access to unlimited funds, you have to assume that he has wheedled money out of any number of criminals that he has represented.”

Susan’s tone reflected her anger. “Says a lot about our city government, doesn’t it? What’s Officer Danbury’s excuse for being a snitch?”

“Money.”

“How well do you know him?”

“Well enough to know that he’s ambitious. Officers face temptations almost daily. They see thugs with limited education and skills pulling in the big bucks. Danbury’s not the first officer to succumb to the lure of easy money.

"When officers are faced with difficult challenges like unexpected medical bills or college tuition for several children, it’s tempting to take the easy way out. The problem is, what looks easy rarely is. I honestly believe that most of the officers who give in to the pressure start out thinking that they can walk away after crossing the line. Once that line is crossed, going back rarely happens.”

“Danbury has never been investigated has he?”

“Not to my knowledge. His report for Maddie’s accident was sloppy and incomplete, but otherwise, there’s nothing in his record to indicate that he was a cop on the take.”

“I was shocked to see Principle Kitterman’s name in Maddie’s notes. Has there ever been any reason for him to be on the police’s radar?”

Travis shook his head. “No. From her notes, it appears that she suspected that Metcalf and Kitterman of being one and the same. If you remember, Dennis Metcalf was a street kid in New York that she wrote an article about. Wesley is checking it out. He’s looking for background information using the names Kitterman and Metcalf. In a preliminary search, I traced Kitterman back to his college days. Then zilch. Wesley might be able to hack into his college records. If he can, he should be able to tell us where Kitterman was living and who he was living with.”

“As I recall, that particular article lamented the plight of street kids. She pointed out that kids with few resources frequently got involved in crime as a means of survival. Metcalf was picked up by the police when he was a teen. He escaped before charges were brought against him.”

Travis said, “I’m not sure why that article caught my eye, but it did. He was another one of those unfortunate street kids who never had a chance, or so I thought. But if Kitterman turns out to be Metcalf, the man’s come a long way.”

Susan’s look was one of confusion. “I’ve had dealings with Kitterman. I can’t picture him as a tough street kid.” She paused. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Kitterman per se, but I’ve always wondered how a kid raised on the streets could find the courage to break out of a crime cycle. Where do they find the resources? If that’s what happened to Kitterman, he’s to be admired.”

“Maddie was a stickler for accuracy in reporting. It would have been helpful if she’d given a hint about what prompted her to check out Kitterman’s background, but she didn’t. Do you happen to know when they met?”

“My guess is that she met him three and half years ago when she was the facilitator for a writing seminar at the high school. It’s possible that she knew him earlier than that, but I doubt it. Since he is principal at Lara’s school, she would surely have mentioned that she knew him.”

“Three and a half years ago would correspond with the date she began researching her new book.”

“Maybe I’m naïve, Travis, but I just can’t see Kitterman involved with a thug like McCorkle. His record at the high school is exemplary.”

“Perhaps he was threatened with exposure. How far would Kitterman go to protect his reputation and family?”

“To great lengths, I imagine. And . . . the most damning evidence is that Maddie had an appointment with him at eleven o’clock the evening of the accident. That’s a strange time for a meeting about school matters. Even so, I don’t want to judge him. He certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of man who would force a car off the road.”

Travis said, “I agree. Why don’t we put aside the speculation for now? Kitterman’s job is hard enough without having to deal with reputation damaging information that is bogus or misguided. For now, let’s concentrate on Charles’ case, and your family’s safety. I think that we have to be especially concerned about security on the night of your concert. Wesley and I will both be there, and I’m certain that one or two of Traynor’s officers will attend.”

Susan said in exasperation, “I’m not worried about security for the concert, but I do have concerns. I have an uneasy feeling that we are missing some important pieces of the puzzle. Something’s off, but I can’t put my finger on it. And . . . why in heavens name does McCorkle consider me a threat. I don’t know diddly swat about McCorkle or his activities. Why would they think that I do?”

“We can’t read their minds, Susan. My guess is that they thought the break-in would neutralize you. Perhaps the theft was a warning. If Danbury is the rogue officer, his job would be to keep McCorkle informed about police chatter. You and I have both been asking questions. And now, an FBI agent is sniffing around. McCorkle has to be nervous.” Travis looked down at his vibrating phone. “Give me a sec. Wesley sent a text.”

When he put aside his phone, she asked, “So, where do we go from here?”

“Wesley is two steps ahead of us. His text informed me that you are to expect an out-of-town guest tomorrow.”

Susan’s brow furrowed. “Pardon me. What out-of-town guest?”

“Your cousin, Anna Singleton. You need to advise your friends, the symphony director and the members of the symphony that Anna will be visiting while her husband is on assignment out of the country. And, you need to temporarily move in with Maddie.”

“You didn't tell me that you and Wesley were considering security?”

“Security hasn't come up in our conversations. Wesley didn’t ask what I thought. Anna is friend, and fellow agent. She will be staying at Maddie’s until further notice.”

“I don’t like it. A guest will be distracting, and four women in the house could get a little dicey.”

“You don’t have to worry about Anna. Wesley claims that she knows how to disappear into the woodwork.”

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