THE SOCCER MOM ASSASSIN
Peering out the window of Jessica’s Café reminded Rachel Goodman of the night she left Orlando. The pounding rain summoned images of frightened motorists and disappointed tourists evacuating the area as Hurricane Charley made its way up the Florida Peninsula. Although more than a decade had passed since that fateful night, Rachel often wondered what happened to those anxious souls who braved the winds of impending doom. People from various walks of life endeavored to get back to worried loved ones who prayerfully awaited their safe return. The enchanting beauty didn’t know their stories, but she was fairly certain few of them shared her reason for beating a hasty retreat. While no one needed more encouragement than a category 4 storm to vacate the Sunshine State, Rachel stood to lose a lot more than a home and a tarnished collection of neglected possessions. In fact, her very existence was at stake. Twelve hours after crossing the Mississippi line, this intrepid sojourner became the prime suspect in the investigation of her late husband’s murder.
Realizing how difficult it would be to carry on without the luxuries she had enjoyed for the past seven years, Rachel set her sights on a sleepy little town in Kansas. A distant relative she kept in touch with lived there. Despite the precarious nature of the fleeing widow’s odyssey, there was one truth that couldn’t be disputed. The value of the riches she was leaving behind paled in comparison to the treasure she was about to bring into this world. So with a new social security card and drivers’ license, Marla Cooper became Rachel Goodman.
After seventeen years on the lam, Rachel never imagined she would ever willingly return to Florida. However, news of her father’s declining health compelled her to risk exposure for the chance to lay eyes on the old man just one more time. The desolate expression on the forty-six year old fugitive’s face seemed to mirror the gloomy conditions outside. Years of hiding in plain sight had taught the svelte offender the dangers of trusting the wrong people. Yet, when local crime boss, Conner Henson, requested a private meeting at Jessica’s Café, she had to find out what he knew about her.
There was nothing particularly special about Jessica’s place. As expected, the floor and the tables were immaculate. The juke box on the far end of the room played one standard after another and the aroma of country fried steak seemed to linger in the air. However, there was something that troubled Rachel. Some of the local business owners near the café told her the greasy spoon was very successful. Yet, she hadn’t seen a customer since she walked in. The modern-day desperado had no doubt her crafty host had arranged this eerie set of circumstances. Even the cooks and waitresses had abandoned the establishment.
Rachel had never met Henson, but the venerable gangster’s exploits were legendary. His organization had a hand in every criminal enterprise in the Panhandle city of Emerald Gulf Florida. Drugs, racketeering, extortion and illegal weapons were merely a few of the unlawful endeavors that occupied his time. He wasn’t ashamed to flaunt his wealth. Several times a year, the dapper Don attended special outings all decked out in one of his Kiton K-50 suits and Aubercy Diamond shoes. Although he was approaching seventy, there wasn’t a strand of gray in that modern textured quiff. Over the years, he’d become quite proficient at concealing the vindictive monster lurking behind those cunning green eyes. Anyone familiar with this malefactor’s reputation knew he didn’t take no for an answer. For Rachel, that made contemplating his arrival even more stressful.