Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty Two-

This time Jeff allows me to sit up front. Throughout the ride to the scene at Casey’s house, Jeff wants to know everything from the moment I arrived in town. I tell him as much as I can remember leading up to the events after my date with Brooke. I can tell his hands grip the steering wheel harder as I tell him about Jesus following us in his car. That could be another reason Jesus has taken this to heart. Considering he usually wins in the street races he does on the side, being outwitted and losing his car by me has made this personal for him. I continue to apologize to Jeff, but he just waves me off. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to gain his favor, but I hope so. I can see Jeff as a father figure in my life and I don’t want to come between him and Brooke.

As we grow closer to Casey’s home, the flashing red and blue lights nearly blind us. They decorate half of the street, sitting along the curb or the grass in front of his house. Casey’s house is smaller than Jeff’s who has a second story. Casey’s house is all one story but stretches out in brown and dark orange colors. Jeff is forced to park along the curb a bit further down in front of a neighbor’s house. When he places the truck in park, he turns to me. There’s a serious and stern expression on his face.

“I need you to listen to me. We can’t go in here half cocked. Let me do all the talking, just follow me and keep quiet.” Jeff waits for my nod before we can step out of the truck. My hands are shaking so I slide them into the front pocket of the dark hoodie. While the flashing red and blue lights decorate the area, thankfully the sirens aren’t actually one. Different cops stand around the concrete drive way and pour out of the house with plastic bags of evidence.

“Jeff, over here!” The voice is familiar, the voice on the phone. Jeff turns us both walking toward a man in plain clothes. There’s a silver badge on his jacket identifying him as a detective. Great. Probably one of Jeff’s old detective buddies from his days on the force.

“Kevin,” Jeff says, shaking the man’s hand. Now that we’re closer, his dark skin and hair nearly melt into the background. The whites of his eyes and dark eyes flicker toward me for only a second.

“Jeffery. I would say it’s good to see you, but not in these circumstances. Who’s the kid?” Kevin reaches into his back pocket pulling out a small notepad, glancing at me. Jeff pauses, looks over at me. We both know as a bail jumper I can’t be on the scene.

“Brooke’s boyfriend, Ford. Ford, this is Kevin, a detective. We know each other from my days on the force.” I reach over to shake Kevin’s hand, giving him a nod and forced smile. I’m not sure whether to jump for joy that Jeff seems happy to call me Brooke’s boyfriend.

“Nice to mee you, kid. Well, guess since Jeff approves, let’s head inside. That note is inside, evidence and all.” Kevin escorts us around uniform cops toward the house. I spot a larger man in plain clothes, part of me recognizes him from part of my past. The inside of the house is almost packed like sardines. Cops stand around while forensic specialists squat toward the floor picking up evidence.

The front door opens right into the living room, into the heart of the damage. There must have been a glass coffee table as glass covers the white carpet. A turquoise flower pot is also broken as cops try to walk around without disturbing the scene. A small multicolored afghan rests on the arm of the couch while the pillow is torn on the floor, knife slash through the pillow case. I spot the blood the same time Jeff does, near the front windows. The white carpet has a stain of red as Casey must have dragged himself across the carpet to sit up. I wonder how he did it with a gunshot in both his leg and shoulder. It’s a miracle Casey Whitney didn’t succumb to blood loss.

“The best we can figure out,” Kevin says over looking the room. “They must have picked the lock either at the front or back door. Jeff seems to have been sleeping on the couch. We found a guest room on the other side of the house, bed unmade. We assume the commotion may have caused Brooke to come around from the guest room.” Kevin pauses as a uniformed cop walks between he and Jeff. He shakes his head as he points toward the couch. When he does, I spot the first tinkles of blood. “I guess they must have woken Jeff on the couch. We’ve taken samples of the blood, not sure if it’s Jeff’s or one of the intruders. The biggest section of blood is in the middle where the coffee table was. We assume when Jeff was shot in the shoulder, he fell over the glass coffee table.”

“Why shoot him in the leg?” Jeff mutters aloud, fingers rubbing at his chin.

“To keep him from following,” I answer instinctively. I can feel Jeff and Kevin both looking at me. When I look at them, I realize I spoke aloud, my cheeks darkening. “Uh, sorry.” I give a guilty grin, rubbing the back of my neck. “It appears he kept fighting them even after the wound to his shoulder. Though I think he was shot in the shoulder when he was distracted. Maybe Brooke came down, distracted him long enough for someone to shoot him, stop his actions.”

“That makes sense,” Kevin says, his voice in awe.

“Yeah. He has a point.” Jeff says dropping his hand. “They probably shot him in the leg when Jeff tried to get up. I know Brooke, she would have told them to take her, leave Casey behind. The only way that would happen, shot him in the leg, he couldn’t follow them.”

Suddenly a forensic officer approaches, a woman in dark brown hair, tied back in a pony tail. Her green eyes are bright in her head light which she flips off as she stands before us. Lifting her hand, she gives Kevin a plastic bag which holds a white piece of paper.

“The note you requested, sir,” she says lowly, before walking away.

Kevin glances at the bag before handing it to Jeff who lets me to peek over his arm.

Ashford,

We warned you. You owe us. We are not to be messed with. If you want the girl back alive, you will follows these instructions. Only you or the girl dies. Her fate, her life, rests in your hands.

It takes a moment for me to realize exactly who took her. While the words are obviously from Alonzo, I know it wasn’t him. The damage to the house isn’t his MO. Jesus must have come with a group sanctioned by Alonzo. I must have pissed Alonzo off more than I thought. He doesn’t normally cause such a scene like these. Hurting police or bystanders isn’t Alonzo’s way of doing business. There’s a reason he’s flown under the radar in the past few years. The only ones that really know about Alonzo are law enforcement.

Jeff glances at me at the same time a uniformed officer approaches Kevin. “Detective Straight?”

Kevin sighs, turning toward the young officer. “Yes, officer?”

“I was told to inform you for an incident with a Kathy Wiser. We’ve been informed her body was found at her home earlier in the afternoon. She’s the mother of Ashford Rocks.”

Jeff’s eyes bore holes in the side of my face as Kevin looks between us. “Thank you, officer.” Kevin looks back at us, having the officer wait. “I’ve got to deal with this. Make sure you give that over when you’re done.”

Kevin pats Jeff’s shoulder before following the officer out of the house. Jeff looks at me, knowing that I heard what the officer said about my mother. Jeff gives a few officers a smile before taking my shoulder and pushing me in the direction past the front door. We locate an empty bathroom, Jeff nudging my back for me to walk in first. He closes and locks the door behind us, swearing under his breath.

“You didn’t tell me about your mother.” Jeff’s head rests against the door, eyes close.

“How was I supposed to tell anyone?!” My voice cracks at the image of my mother’s corpse in the bathtub. “I found her body in the bathtub. It was a threat to me, not to leave town. I was going to leave with Brooke at first, but after finding my mother I was going to hand myself over. I was so sure that after I was caught by you, they would stop. They haven’t. I was still coming to terms with my mother’s death.”

Jeff leans off the door as I set against the sink. He hands over the bag with the note to which I quickly skim. My eyes roam left and right over the words. Flipping the paper around, I notice the code in the words at first glance. It’s instructions, directions to an abandoned slaughter house on the other side of town.

“I know where they’ve taken her.” I twist around staring in the mirror. “I’m going, Jeff. I told I would get her back and I’m not taking back that promise. Not now.”

Jeff steps closer surprising me. He squeezes my shoulder. “You don’t have to go alone.”

I shake my head at him, twisting around. “You and I both know this is the cartel. They won’t hesitate to put a bullet between her eyes if someone besides me shows up.”

Jeff sighs before stepping back and turning to a cabinet in the bathroom. It shocks me when he opens the door, pushes on the wall inside the cabinet. “Casey has been a bit paranoid after a couple cases. His wife humors him most of the time. This bathroom is closest to the kids rooms at the front.” He suddenly pulls out a dark black bullet proof vest. “Put this on under that hoodie.” The vest hits my chest as I instinctively grab it in my hand.

Pulling the hoodie over my head, Jeff helps me into the vest strapping it in the right places. Once it’s secure, he looks me in the eyes, hands on my shoulders, squeezing gently. “For what it’s worth, Ashford, I think you’re a good match for my Brooke. You’ve grown up, know what’s right and wrong now. You understand that you’re lucky to have Brooke. I’d been glad to call you my son in law.”

My lips curve just a bit at his words. They honestly warm my heart. I never once thought that Jeff would approve of me for his daughter. Maybe I have grown up more than I thought by now. Tears glisten my eyes at the look in his. When he pulls away, he surprises me by squatting down and retrieving a gun from his ankle.

“It’s not much, but I’m not letting you go without something for protection.” Jeff removes the gun showing me exactly how to use it. Even though I’ve done things in my past, guns have never been my thing. Even with Julio, I never used a gun to protect him. In all honesty they scare the hell out of me.

He holds the gun out for me to take. It feels heavy in my hand despite how small it looks. “I can show you how to use it.” Jeff spends the next few minutes showing me every aspect of the gun. The safety button, to the rounds in the clip, and even the proper way to hold it in my hand. “Okay, I think you’re looking pretty good. Here’s the ankle holster. You’ll need it around here.”

As Jeff hands over the ankle holster, I feel the metal and hear the jingle of keys. Jeff gives me a look but says nothing. I squat and wrap the ankle holster around my right ankle for my right hand. The keys are dropped into my jean pockets as Jeff also hands over the note in the plastic bag. I watch as he removes it from the bag folding it to hand over.

“We can get arrested for this. Tampering with evidence, but I’ll do anything for my daughter. I know the consequences of not doing the same before with my wife. I won’t that mistake again.” Jeff looks determined. He’d risk his life and career for his daughter. It doesn’t like he would have done that before when his wife was still alive.

I place my hand on his shoulder this time. “It wasn’t your fault, Jeff. You’re wife was sick.”

“I could have gotten her more help, been around more. It’s too late now, the past is the past. Only thing I can do is try to make up for it.” We share a look. Even though we are two different people, it seems we share so much more. We both love a young girl named Brooke and we’ve both done things we regret, but we’re here trying to make it right.

Jeff and I share a sigh as we leave the bathroom. The house is still insanely packed as we leave outside. Kevin stands with officers as Jeff approaches after sharing a look with me. Thankfully I already have it covered, pulling out the old pack of cigarettes from my back pocket. While Jeff is distracted himself and the officers around him, I find a place to smoke and everyone pretty much ignores me.

Half way through the cigarette however, I spot my chance. Dropping the cigarette to the grass, I hear commotion inside the house which gains Jeff and Kevin’s attention. The forensic specialist comes out again, her facial features frantic.

“Where’s the note?!” She screams. While she’s screaming, I’m walking fast toward Jeff’s truck parked against the curb in front of the neighbor. Unlocking the driver’s side door, I climb inside the truck settling a bit higher than my own. When I look out the windshield I notice, cops are searching the area and I spot Jeff who’s already looking in my direction. He subtly nods as I slide the key inside turning the engine.

At the sound of the engine, the cops look toward me, eyes wide.

“He’s got the note!” Someone screams which I can hear through the window. I watch as someone shoves Jeff against the back of a patrol car as I change gears, leaving the scene to save Brooke.

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