It was no wonder why Grey Dawson was one of the most notorious field agents in the FBI. He was wildly intelligent, quick to the draw, cool under pressure, and stealthy as a cat in search of a mouse. There were few people in law enforcement that hadn’t heard of him, in one form or another. After all, his name had been linked to several high profile cases that were well know to people from every walk of life. The one conquest that seemed to stand out in everyone’s mind however, was his take down of one of the most wanted men in America.
It happened about five years back, too long ago for people to still be holding onto so tightly. Still, that particular incident had catapulted Grey into fame and placed him atop a pedestal that he most definitely did not want to be on. He was considered a hero to many, a title that he deflected as often as possible since he felt undeserving of the title. Taking down an imminent threat was what he was trained to do, what he was paid to do, and what he truly loved to do. He respected peoples’ appreciation of his good job, but anything beyond that was unnecessary.
Sure, Grey had done some good work and he’d put his life on the line more than a handful of times, but that was what his career entailed. In his opinion, he was no more responsible for those arrests than the men and women who were beside him on those calls. Those were the people that had helped keep him alive and it was their diligence that aided in tracking down those criminals so that Grey and his crew could make the capture. They stood outside those locations in bulletproof vests covering theirs chests and guns raised to their shoulders, just as he had been. He considered every one of his team members a vital piece to the puzzle that was an investigation, even if the media sometimes ignored them. It was no surprise that those agents tended to snub him from time to time. It wasn’t their names that headlined newspapers or was dropped in modest conversations among the big-wigs. Grey couldn’t blame them for their misplaced anger. He was just as annoyed with the extra attention as they were, even if they didn’t believe him when he told them that.
Recently, that unwanted limelight had been taking quite a toll on him and his job. The attention from the public was beginning to put unneeded pressure on him and it was starting to show. It difficult to blend into a crowd when half the people around him recognized his face from the television. Instead of being able to do a normal stakeout like before, now Grey was hounded by the news outlets and fans, making it nearly impossible to blend in like he’d been able to do in past years. Now he was forced to take a backseat most of the time because it was too dangerous for him to be seen and disrupt the whole sting.
The massive publicity surrounding him was becoming increasingly more annoying and Grey wasn’t the only one to take notice of it. His partner, his co-workers, even the head of their department had become frustrated by the nuisance that it was becoming. Suffice it to say, his boss was not very happy with what he saw. Grey was starting to wonder just how much longer they would deal with his fame before being forced to let him go.
Now might be a good time to start thinking about retirement.
It had been seventeen long years that he had given to this career and he had been looking forward to putting in his full twenty. He would go even longer if he was fit and able. This wasn’t just his job, this was his life. Some people hated their jobs, simply went through the motions day in and day out, but not Grey. Though there were bad days and endless threats to his life, he felt truly blessed to have this position and considered himself lucky to actually enjoy his work. Maybe he was a tad crazy as well. Then again, one had to be, in order to this kind of job.
After getting his bachelor degree and working security at random locations, Grey took his experience to the police academy and graduated with ease. Starting off as a rookie cop in New Jersey, he worked the ghetto and run-down neighborhoods of the city with dedication and thoroughness, even if it was the work left for the bottom-feeder. Grey treated his job with respect and made sure his co-workers did too. Eventually, he became well liked and well known (much faster than most). He was able to quickly climb the ranks of his local beat and his hard work somehow drew a lot of attention. In time, Grey’s name and record caught the interest of the FBI. To his good fortune, they recruited him just before his fifth year on the force, practically unheard of for such a young age.
Grey worked a desk for a year or so before they let him go out in the field. The paperwork was tedious and boring and he hated it, but he soldiered through it and patiently waited to get called up to assist in a case. Once they finally did allow him to participate, he was not disappointed -- and neither was the bureau.
A long time agent had been directed to take the young Mr. Dawson along with him, to his dismay. So, the man practically dragged Grey alongside him, out to a call in a dirty, mostly rural area outside the city limits. It was a disturbance call with a possible sighting of a weapon on the suspect. They would typically leave such calls for the local Police Department to handle, but this particular suspect was reported as looking eerily similar to a wanted man out of Virginia that the FBI had been tailing for weeks.
It took them all of ten minutes to reach the location, with sirens and lights wailing. They switch all that off when they reached the scarcely populated area. If they knew the cops were in their hood, the residence would quickly send out an alert. In this type of neighborhood, loyalty was everything. So, once the two of them had rolled into the center of town, they parked at the end of a fully lined street and walked the rest of the way to the house where they had been dispatched to.
Grey kept his mouth shut and his head down, out of respect for his partner, who was utterly annoyed with the idea of bringing him along. From behind broken windows and padlocked screen doors, people watched the two of them with a suspicious eye. Yet, no one seemed to be too overly concerned. Cautiously, the agent approached the house and kept an eye out for potential threats, with Grey following close behind. His hands were sweaty and his heart beat wildly, though he tried not to let his nervousness show. The truth was, he wasn’t sure if he was more scared or excited.
They were rounding the corner of an old two-story house when they caught the attention of a nearby man in the middle of a drug transaction. He was tucked away in a narrow space between the houses, an alley of sorts, along with his client. The two of them quickly looked up and both of their eyes got wide. The seller’s face went pale, and he reached for his pant waist. The other man cursed and ducked, his hands covering his ears as he went to the ground. That was how fast everything changed. In the blink of an eye, what was supposed to be a typical call, ended up turning into a full on fire fight in the middle of the ghetto.
Shots rang out and few screams could be heard from the surrounding buildings as people became savvy to the situation. After taking refuge behind some large dumpsters, Grey and his senior agent drew their guns and prepared for a showdown. It got pretty heated, pretty fast. The suspect had nowhere to run, one side blocked by a cyclone fence and the open end leading right past the awaiting officers. Instead, he ducked down close to a stairwell leading to the porch of the nearest house and fired round after round into the metal trash cans the agents behind, sending up loud echoes into the alley they were perched in.
The other man laid flat on his belly, hands still covering his ears as he waited for the attack to cease. Every loud ‘ping’ that sounded against the metal container at his back, caused Grey’s adrenaline to pump faster and faster. Meanwhile, his fellow agent waited for a safe time to retaliate. There wasn’t much space between shots to peek out and return fire, but somehow Grey managed to find a hole between the cans and lock the suspect into his view. With his steady hand and keen eye, he managed to take the shooter down with just three shots. Just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. His partner was shocked, yet impressed, as was the rest of the bureau when they found out.
It had been a gut-wrenching, terrifying feeling that also thrilled him in a way that he could never compare anything else to. Grey was instantly in love. From then on, he was considered a force to be reckoned with and honestly, he kind of enjoyed that. Case after case, he continued to prove himself worthy, inching his way closer to the top. Twelve years later, here he was, still going strong, at the peak of his career. Yet now he was starting to rethink how much he really liked being that man anymore.
All the interest in him was no longer about his good work, it was now because of his stardom. He had become a celebrity overnight because of one job he did, a job that deserved recognition, but not as much as he received. Grey thought that the effects would fad after a few weeks, maybe a couple of months at the most. Boy was he wrong. A year passed and then another and another, and the media still wanted an interview with him for this newspaper article or that television segment. He could hardly walk down the street without people recognizing him and asking for a picture. Half the time Grey would casually brush them aside, the other half of the time he wanted to strangle them for not staying out of his way. However, he was widely considered to be the face of the FBI, so he had to keep his composure, no matter how hard it was.
Here, at the bureau, they still treated him like an employee, like a co-worker, like a person. They probably had no idea how much Grey appreciated that. Even the grumpy side-eyed looks he got from some of his office mates was a considerable upgrade from the nauseating fake smiles of reporters and overzealous hugs from adoring fans. Here, he could still feel human -- though that was quickly fading with every headline that bared his name in the title.
“What have we got on Mendez?”
He was speaking directly to one man, who immediately recognized Grey’s voice and turned his head to acknowledge him. He gave him a weary look and turned his stare back to his work, nonchalantly waving Grey over to where he sat. There were well over twenty other people in the office, typing meticulously on their keyboards while their computer screens flashed with the work they were doing. None of them even glanced in his direction when he barged into the room, they were used to his presence by now.
The cold air was thick with the scent of their coffees still steaming in decorative mugs and the overwhelming smell of their doused-on cologne. Some of the other agents mocked their work and called them ‘techies’, but Grey knew they deserved the utmost respect.This was their counter intelligence department and these people were some of the most serious and masterful that Grey had ever met. They were technologically savvy beyond belief and were the best defense against criminals that they had in this day and age. Though they were severely unappreciated, he was sure to show them some appreciation. If it weren’t for their help, he wouldn’t have been able to close many of the cases he’d worked on in the last few years. After all, nearly everyone had access to computers and internet in this decade, leaving a digital footprint in the lateral lines of the web that only these people could find.
“Here,” the man responded to Grey’s question as he tapped a few keys, connecting his computer to a wide screen that was anchored to the wall in front of all the desks. On the large white board, a profile of the suspect was being displayed. No one else cared to look at it. Grey, an the other hand, was intrigued by what he saw.
Shoving his hands into the pockets of his suit pants, he took a few steps forward and read over the information carefully. This guy had a record a mile long -- not that that was surprising. The man was under suspicion of at least twelve different murders along the shores of the east coast. He was among the worst of the worst when it came to serial killers, torturing his victims before killing them and then mutilating their bodies. Most of which were later dumped in the nearest river or lake and left for the authorities to find. He was not afraid of leaving evidence or being caught, and had even left a few personal notes with some of the bodies, explaining his motives. It was a psychological game that many similar killers had done in the past. This lead Grey to question if this man was a new face or just a copy-cat.
The unknown suspect had been hunted by the media and law enforcement both, creating a sense of fear among all local residence and eventually he became a household story across the entire United States. It was now up to the FBI to find and capture this demented murderer, dead or alive.
“He’s got Facebook, Twitter, even an online dating profile. If this is our guy, he’s not doing a very good job of staying hidden,” the man offered, shrugging one shoulder and pecking at this keyboard once again. Windows flashed open and closed on the board in front of Grey too quickly to keep track of.
“Maybe he’s just trying to look innocent,” Grey offered.
“That is a possibility, but judging by his activity, you wouldn’t think so,” his co-worker responded. He pulled up the man’s Facebook page and scrolled down, showing Grey what he had discovered. There was a posting almost everyday, mostly of humorous comics and quotes from songs. He had hundreds of ’like’s on the postings from an array of people and a few had even commented on his wall. Wall: that used to mean the stucco-ed dividers of a room. In this case, it meant something else entirely.
Grey despised social media. What the younger generation’s infatuation was with updating strangers on their current feelings and/or location, he couldn’t understand. Not only was it idiotic and pointless, but it was also dangerous. Most sexual predators found their victims on the internet now and by posting your personal information on an open network, you were basically putting up a want ad to potential murderers and rapists. Grey would have a lot less crime on his hands if people stayed off of the damn web.
“Who’s this?” Grey asked, pointing out a woman who had been very active on the page. She had commented on a few things flirtatiously and had ‘liked’ almost every post of his. His colleague recognized right away who he was speaking about. He clicked on the profile and brought up the page.
It was a woman about the same age, with an equally active profile. She was petite, with a fancy hairdo and barely any scraps of clothing covering her torso. Her big round eyes gave the camera an innocent look while her body relayed an opposite greeting of sexiness. Grey was quick to notice that she was ‘friends’ with over a thousand people, most of which were men. He instructed his co-hort, “Scroll down.”
Under the woman’s information section, it was listed that she was an aspiring model and current stripper at a local venue. That would explain her hefty friends list and flirty status updates. Grey grabbed a piece of paper from a nearby desk along with a pen and jotted down the name of the girl and the place of business at which she worked.
“When was the last time he posted something?” Grey asked after scribbling the information on the wrinkled sheet of paper. The man went back to the main profile page of their suspect and opened up his activity log.
“Last Friday. Here,” he clicked on a posting and opened it wide enough to view the date and time stamped at the edge of the bar. It was another song lyric that could be referring to something, or could simply be a rouse for attention. There was no real way of telling.
“He seems to have gone silent after that. I’m trying to track the last computer he used so that we can lock down a radius. I’ll let you know what I find.”
“Keep me updated on his activity,” Grey nodded and patted the man’s shoulder. Turning back toward the door, he called back, “I want to know when he posts something again and what it says. This might be our guy.”
Folding up the handwritten note, he shoved it into his coat pocket and left the room in a hurry. Re-buttoning his suit jacket as he walked, Grey assessed the new information in his head. Not all of the dots had been connected quite yet, but perhaps this young stripper might be able to help draw some new conclusions. It was time to go see what the woman might know about their suspect and if she knew where he had disappeared to. Because if they found him, then they would definitely get some fresh answers to the questions they’d been asking for the past few weeks.
Typically, around this time, she was getting dressed and ready to head in to work. However, today was a bit different than usual. There was some sort of virus floating around her workplace lately and she had managed to catch the tail end of it. For three days now she had been stuck in bed watching reruns of the worst shows on television and surfing the channels repeatedly, hoping something good might miraculously pop up. She had been circulating from her bedroom to the bathroom on a pretty normal schedule, vomiting every three hours or so. In between which she would try to eat some bland foods like rice or crackers. Lucky for her, her neighbor had been kind enough to stock her with enough bottled water and club soda to last a week.
That’s who she thought must be at her front door when she heard the knocking coming from the adjoining room. Her apartment was small enough that she could hear the baby crying three doors down so, it was clear as day when the loud pounding came from the front area. It rattled her aching head like an earthquake and left her feeling just as shaky. She rolled off of the mattress she’d been cuddled up on and slowly stood on weak legs. Then, with a labored pace, she made her way to the entrance. Her legs felt as if they weight twice as much as usual, making it incredibly difficult to drag herself to the other room. At the impatient second knock, she groaned and called out that she was coming as quickly as she could. After reaching for the handle, she unlocked the deadbolt and unlatched the chain. Opening it just enough to see through, she peeked through the crack. With blurry vision, she tried to focus on who stood just beyond the threshold.
“Candace Sampson?” a tall man in a black suit asked her.
Her mother had given her the horrible, matronly name at birth, but she had rejected it as soon as she was old enough to speak. Fortunately, she had the option to shorten it to the more appealing version of Candy. It worked extremely well for her current job, acting as a sexually explicit idealism for men and women alike. She didn’t mind the attraction and certainly didn’t mind the nickname in comparison to her birthright.
“Uh… yeah,” she answered, utterly confused. She was still swaying from side to side on her wobbly knees and trying to clear her cloudy vision. Blinking against the bright lights of the corridor, Candy lifted her chin to look up at the stranger looming outside her door. The next thing she saw was a shiny metal badge being held in front of her face that read ‘Federal Bureau of Investigations’. Once she had read the words, Candy felt as though she might faint. All of the blood left her face, making her pale as a ghost. Her upset stomach twisted into a tight knot and she was sure that she was about to hurl.
“I’m Agent Dawson, this is Agent Fowler. May we come in and speak with you for a moment?” the man enquired.
All she could do was bob her head curtly before throwing open the door and rushing in to her tiny kitchen. Bending over the sink, she proceeded to violently retch. Too much stress and not enough rest was the reason behind her unforgiving current ailment. She had hoped to keep her stomach contents down today, but that hadn’t lasted very long thanks to the strangers at her door. Hoping that they weren’t watching, Candy rinsed her mouth with some cold water when she had finished emptying her stomach. Then wiped her face with a damp towel that was laying on the counter next to her. When she looked back over her shoulder, she noticed that the two men were still standing patiently at the front door, only now they were inside of her home. Both were shuffling their feet uncomfortably while they waited for her to rejoin them.
“Sorry,” she said as she walked back into the living room, holding a trembling hand over her sore tummy. Once she reached the couch, Candy simply let herself fall into the fluffy cushions and surrounded herself with it’s comfort. Next, she raise up her hand and silently welcomed the agents to take a seat. They both nodded a thanks and moved closer into the center of the room.
“Miss Sampson,” Agent Fowler spoke first. “We just have a couple of question we would like to ask you, if that’s alright.”
“I don’t need a lawyer or something, do I?” she questioned, nervously. She had never talked to cops before and she had no idea what any of this was about. The only experience she had was from watching crime shows on T.V. and even that was limited. She figured if she was in trouble, they’d be reading her the Miranda Rights already so, Candy decided that must not be why they were here.
“Not unless you feel that you need one,” Agent Dawson told her.
“Okay then,” she said softly, bobbing her head in understanding.
“We’re actually here to talk to you about Leonard Mendez,” Agent Fowler followed up. He was sitting across from her in one of the reclining chairs. A pair of skinny jeans hung across the arm and a scarf was haphazardly laying atop the headrest. Most women would be embarrassed by the mess, though Candy could care less in her current condition. She hadn’t planned on doing anything at all until her illness faded away, especially not cleaning her apartment. Actually, she probably wouldn’t have bothered picking up even if she weren’t sick. She hated doing chores and had an affliction to cleaning up after herself.
“Sure, I know him,” she told the man. she rubbed her palms with her thumbs and was unable to bring her eyes to meet either of theirs directly. Letting her chin drop, she answered honestly, “We’re friends online.”
“Have the two of you ever met in person?” Agent Dawson, asked. The intimidating law man was still standing, towering over the opposing chair with a stern look on his face. He was making Candy extremely nervous and the two of them had only been there for a couple of minutes. Still, the whole thing was making her tense beyond her physical limits. She was afraid she might puke again if they didn’t get to the point soon. Swallowing back the vile that threatened her throat, Candy responded to his question.
“No, we just talk on the computer once in a while.”
She and Leonard had shared a few flirty comments here and there, chatted a few times via messenger, but beyond that she hardly knew the guy. Candy had been equally as attentive with at least a dozen other men on the internet -- it was good for business. The more people that she could entice to come watch her at the bar, the better money she’d make and that was what it was all about, essentially. She had responsibilities to take care of, just like everyone else.
Once she had enough saved up, Candy planned on heading off to California, Los Angeles to be exact. That’s where stars were made and she wanted to be just that: a star. She had ambitions to be a famous dancer or maybe even a model or actress. It didn’t matter what it took to get her there, just as long as she got there. Sooner, rather than later. She wasn’t getting any younger and the more time that passed, the more anxious she became. She was so close to reaching her goals that she could practically feel it in reach. In the meantime, Candy rallied up clients and danced her heart out to make that money. Exotic dancing, or as most people called it ‘stripping’, might not be the job of choice for a large majority of people, it worked for her. She made a good amount of money in a short period of time and that was the whole point.
Leonard had simply been one of the many men she’d asked to come to one of her shows. Though, he was one of the few that had never actually came out to see her. Candy hadn’t given it much thought before, but now she was wondering why he never did show up and if it had anything to do with why these scary FBI guys were in her living room right now.
“Do you know very much about him?” Dawson asked.
“Not Really. I know he’s unemployed at the moment. Though, he does DJ on the weekends sometimes,” she shrugged. Pushing her stringy, limp hair aside, Candy went on, “I guess he used to have a big-time job, made lots of money, but then he lost it for some reason.”
“Did he ever tell you anything else about his past?”
“He used to be married,” she said after thinking about it for a moment. “Always talked about getting his wife back and stuff. I never really paid much attention to it. Not exactly my area of expertise, if you know what I mean.”
“Did he ever talk about seeing any other women?” he asked curiously, disregarding her last statement. He was peering at her through squinting eyes under a wrinkled brow.
“No. I wouldn’t care if he was. It’s not as if we were a couple or something,” Candy said, straightening her spine defensively. She was a professional, she didn’t get mixed up with customers and she surely wasn’t interested in any old deadbeat like Leonard Mendez. She had plans for herself. Big ones that didn’t include any man, especially not one that was easily a decade older than her, who didn’t have a job or a house or anything to show for himself. No, Candy didn’t have time for guys like that. Waving off the question, Candy relaxed and rolled her eyes at the agents, telling them, “As far as I know, all he cared about was his ex-wife.”
“Ex-wife, huh? What did he tell you about her?”
Candy had to ponder that for a moment, as her brain was still a little foggy. It made her uneasy answering questions about a guy she hardly knew. She felt like she was tattling and there really wasn’t much to tell. If they wanted dirt, they ought to go and find his ex, she would be the one with all the answers.
“Mostly how bitter he was about the divorce,” Candy explained, wiping a thin layer of sweat from about her brow. “Leonard told me that he gave her everything he possibly could and she still left him. He said that he loved her to the moon and back, but it wasn’t enough. He tried to save the marriage and she wasn’t having it.”
“I wonder why he felt the need to share such a personal dilemma with you,” Fowler arched his eyebrow. He was obviously insinuating that their relationship was more serious than Candy had let on. He was wrong.
“He told everyone,” she informed him. “Leonard posted about it all the time, talking about his love gone wrong and posting sapping song lyrics… He was planning on winning her back somehow, though by the sound of it, she’s probably long gone.”
The two Agents were silent for a moment, which made Candy very suspicious of them. She wondered what they were thinking and if it were about her. Whatever Leonard had done, she wanted no part of it. Having Federal Agents show up at her apartment was bad enough, let alone the fact that she had to try and explain herself to them. She was covering for herself and didn’t even know why. It was frustrating and annoying.
“Did he ever mention her name or any personal information about her?” Fowler asked. He was rubbing his pudgy cheek with his coarse fingertips and appeared to be irritated, though she couldn’t think of a reason why. If anything, she was the one who should be agitated. They were in her apartment, pestering her with questions, not the other way around.
“Said her name was Anna or something,” Candy replied weakly.
Agent Dawson withdrew a notepad from his jacket pocket and pulled out a pen before writing down the name. then he shoved the items back into his coat and looked up at her, “Well, thanks for all of your help.”
He stepped toward her, offering his hand for her to shake. She reached up with her tired arm and grabbed his palm, shaking it politely. Then the other officer stood and did the same. He pulled out a card and handed it to her, explaining, “Call us if you think of anything else that might be helpful.”
“Say…” Candy wrinkled her eyebrows together, inquisitively. “You never told me what all of this was about. What did Leonard do?”
“He’s a suspect in an investigation,” Agent Fowler relayed to her.
“What kind of investigation? Like murder or something?” Her question was rhetorical, but she was a little worried. Both about why they were here and what Leonard had done to get their attention. It had to be something bad, otherwise the local police department would have been the ones to show up at her door, not the FBI.
Both agents paused at the threshold of the entry and turned back to face her. With a stern expression, the first man wordlessly instructed the other to go on ahead of him. As Agent Fowler slipped out the door, Dawson looked back at where Candy still sat on the couch, arms wrapped around her midsection tightly. With the severest of honesty, he replied, “Yes. Exactly that.”