2135 words today. As I was writing the last page or so, I really started having fun. It sucks that the fun started as I was concluding for the day, and not at the very beginning. I added my draft progress to each day, basically so Rosie could read it, but you can read too if you want. I’m sure that after this first draft is done, I’ll need to tear this thing apart, and decide what to do with it.
“I specifically told you two that Collins was not to be disturbed!” Lance pivoted on his heel as soon as the trio were in the hallway. His voice was inappropriately loud, but the alternative was throttling one or both of the federal agents. The fact that his shouting drowned out the cacophony of doctor voices, all the medical machinery alarms, and Tiffany gently urging Teresa to calm down, was just an added bonus. “I spoke to your liaison, Agent Tyler, and she assured me there wouldn’t be anyone harassing Collins while she recovered.”
Being removed from the frenzied activity just beyond the door did nothing to calm down Rawlins. His hair was plastered with sweat, and his face and neck were beet red. He set his jaw, squared his wide shoulders, and quietly seethed while Lance read him the riot act.
“That was before CSU finished processing the crime scene.” Rawlins pointed his chin toward Teresa’s room. “We waited to get her statement until…”
“Is that how the FBI gets statements these days?” Lance stepped forward, invading Rawlins personal bubble. “Handcuffing a sick woman to her hospital bed?”
“Colonel Bishop,” Lance interrupted.
Rawlins rolled his eyes and ignored Lance. “I don’t know what your organization is all about, and frankly, I don’t care. But if you or your operatives screw with my case…”
“We aren’t screwing with your case!” Lance started to shout again, but an orderly brushed past them and shot both men a dirty look. His voice dropped to a strangled growl. “There isn’t a case being investigated by us right now. I’m not sure what the hell happened, but it has nothing to do with us trying to ruin your case, or some sort of pissing contest you seem to think we’re having.”
Dunbar stepped between his partner and Lance, possibly hoping to diffuse the testosterone in the hallway. Three thin fingers that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Hallowe’en display, were brandished like a talisman. “Colonel Bishop,” he responded, the honorific emphasized as he shot a look at Rawlins, “we’ve had Guastavino under investigation for three years now. He rallied the different criminal element in this city and consolidated them all.”
“Murder, racketeering, drugs, counterfeiting, human trafficking,” Rawlins stepped closer, trapping Dunbar’s hand between him and Lance. “Hell, we couldn’t even nab him for those fake cellphones he brought in a few years back. The man is practically untouchable.”
Dunbar nodded vigorously. His eyes darted from Rawlins to Bishop, probably hoping his mere presence would calm his partner down. He was fighting a losing battle.
Rawlins kept working his jaw, the grinding of his teeth audible even over his angry breathing. “Local PD picked Donaldson up on suspicion of…”
“Unlawful imprisonment, rape, and murder. I know all about your case,” Lance interrupted. He remembered Tiffany’s outrage when she learned of the sweetheart deal the federal prosecutor offered for him to turn against his boss.
“We don’t have proof of murder,” Dunbar quickly corrected him. “Local PD had DNA samples, some video from some closed-circuit surveillance, but no bodies, and no witnesses.”
“What about the statement from victim number three?” Lance asked to no one in particular.
Rawlins scowled, and his eyes clouded. “That information wasn’t for public consumption.” He sighed. “Besides, she recanted her statement.”
Lance scoffed. “It’s a good thing you guys found her. She was in worse shape than Teresa when they found her.” He frowned. “Donaldson was a depraved son of a bitch.”
“And Guastavino’s accountant,” Dunbar offered, before Lance could speak ill of the dead.
“More like ‘accountant with benefits,'” Rawlins scoffed, and took a step back from Lance, to the relief of his partner. “He offered the FBI details on every bank account and shell company here in the U.S., and overseas. We’re talkin’ nine figures here – hundreds of millions of dollars in seized assets. Enough for a hundred counts of money laundering and failure to pay taxes.”
“Thank God for RICO,” Dunbar chimed in.
Lance’s jaw worked as he fought to control both his expression and his voice. “In exchange, you ignore the killings of two women. The FBI’s okay with murder, now?”
Rawlins’s nostrils flared at the thinly veiled insult. “The DA didn’t have enough proof to go after him for murder. Those woman…”
“What ever,” Lance seethed, “corpus delicti is bullshit and you know it. There was enough circumstantial evidence, and a jury would’ve had a field day. You just wanted Guastavino more than you wanted justice for those women.”
Rawlins grunted, his non-committal flippant. He glanced over his shoulder at the hospital room, and the large orderly blocking the doorway, doing his best to not listen to what was going on in the hallway.
At least he didn’t try to deny it, thought Lance, and he followed Rawlins’s gaze into the hospital room. It was quieter now, the staff was talking in murmurs now instead of shouts. That must be a good sign.
“It’s a moot point, now,” Rawlins retorted. “Your agent killed our star witness. Our case is completely FUBAR’d.”
Dunbar shot Lance an apologetic look as he pulled out and handed over a file from his attaché case that never left his arm like a toddler and his favorite security blanket. Lance flipped it open, and scowled at the first photo. It was of a bloody switchblade, its handle stained with fingerprint dust, and the clear shape of a thumbprint at the base where the blade retracted. He shuffled the photo back, and saw the AFIS printout and a photo from one of Teresa’s press IDs.
Teresa had lamented that that was probably the worst photo of her in existence. She claimed that even her driver’s license had a better photo on it.
“We have the full set. All fifteen points match,” Dunbar replied, his voice low and steady, a definite contrast to his partner’s. He shuffled a few more papers in the folder, and pointed to a lab analysis report. “The blood on Collins’s blouse, jacket, and pants were tested. A perfect match to Donaldson.”
“Ya wanna know what I think?” Rawlins spoke up.
No, thought Lance, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell me. He stared at the photo of the bed Teresa was unconscious on, and then under. Donaldson’s blood had covered every inch of that bed, and even soaked through to drip on Teresa hiding underneath. Nothing was safe from its sanguine encroachment.
Rawlins’s sausage-like finger stabbed the air between them. “I think Donaldson heard the rumors about your organization, and hoped for something better than WitSec. After all, you supposedly can do better than relocating him, a new identity, or even plastic surgery.” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. “Except Collins gets greedy. Years of working the D.C. beat, she’s seen all the palm greasing, the kickbacks, the bribes. She finally saw a chance to get some of it for herself. She shakes her ass, gets Donaldson’s tongue wagging, and…”
All the progress Dunbar had made with the pair of alpha males was lost. “Oh sure, blame the victim!” Lance bellowed. He slapped the file against Rawlins’s chest. “D’they teach you the proper way to slut-shame at Quantico?”
Rawlins’s eyes followed the folder as it slid down his chest and landed on the floor, the murderabilia contained within scattering.
“You saw the bruises,” Lance growled, eyes narrowed to slits, daring the two agents to contradict him. “Whatever the hell happened, it wasn’t her choice.” He clenched his jaw in an effort to keep from elaborating. Somehow, he felt like denying that it had happened would somehow make it untrue.
Rawlins grunted, unimpressed by Lance’s protestations. “The doctors said there wasn’t a sexual assault.”
“I know what they said. I was the one who had to insist they check for that.” His voice ratcheted up an octave. “On my own agent!” He glowered at their unmoving expressions. “What? D’you think she planned all this?” He waved at the hospital room to emphasize his point. “She obviously gave herself a date-rape cocktail with enough Rohypnol to overdose and go into respiratory distress, fall into a coma for a day and a half, for some story?” Lance breathed hard from the effort not to shout. “I’ve got news for you two, Teresa Collins didn’t need money or a career-making story. She’s been sitting on a humdinger for months now.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Rawlins sneered. “Recent trip to Africa on documentary work with her brother.” He emphasized documentary work with air quotes. “She even got you shot, didn’t she? Trouble at home…” Rawlins leered at Tiffany. “Problems at work…” Rawlins sized up Lance before continuing. “She has passports, and with Donaldson’s help, she would have a few hundred million reasons to help him disappear. Bruises fade, cartel money is forever.”
Lance wasn’t sure if it was the smug, self-aggrandizing smirk Rawlins made when he mocked Tiffany, the lewd insinuation, or just because this guy really grated on his nerves, but when he drew his fist back, the only thing that popped into his mind was disregarding the consequences of breaking his hand on on Rawlins’s gigantic chin.
A throat clearing at Teresa’s door instantly diffused any untoward actions that would’ve transpired while blood pressure was high, and these two alpha males were busy measuring their dicks. Just because Lance was justified, didn’t make the situation any less a lame show of testosterone and bravado. The two men stepped away from each other, their eyes locked as if one of them were a coiled rattlesnake, and breaking eye contact would cause the other to strike. Dunbar breathed out a sigh of relief, and Lance’s fist dropped.
“Lance?” Tiffany’s eyes surveyed the hallway. The tension was palatable, and her gaze darted between her husband and the federal agent. Lance recognized her pursed lips, and left eye slightly closed. He saw the same look when he fed the dog scraps from his dinner plate.
Lance shoved his hands in his pockets. “How’s Teresa,” he asked.
“She would likely feel much better,” she responded, working her busted gaze from Rawlins to Dunbar, and back again, “If she wasn’t handcuffed to a hospital bed.”
Rawlins worked his jaw, and inhaled deeply to argue, but Tiffany continued. “So…” she started, her lips curving slightly. Dunbar and Rawlins stole furtive glances at each other, the wariness plastered across their faces. “Teresa asked me to return these to you.” Two sets of handcuffs dangled off her index and middle fingers. Her fingers closed around the shiny metal, and she pointed them like a talisman first toward Dunbar, then Rawlins.
Lance bit back a groan, and the urge to smirk when Dunbar reached in front of his partner and plucked the handcuffs out of Tiffany’s grip. The pendulum of anger that was Rawlins was starting its upswing again. His face moved through a myriad of reddish colors during the exchange of federal property. Lance wanted to be there when steam, Old Faithful-style, popped off his flat head, and it bounced in the torrent of escaping pressure. When Rawlins turned his back to Tiffany, her exaggerated eye-rolling forced Lance’s smirk to the surface.
“If Collins makes a statement, it’ll be to me,” Lance focused on Dunbar, the only one of the pair of FBI agents that seemed to have an emotion other than the spectrum of anger. “I’m her direct supervisor, so you two need to back off.”
“If…” Rawlins began, but Dunbar, gently placed the tips of his fingers on his partner’s chest. Rawlins looked down at the four skeletal fingers, and his expression was as if a fly had landed in his soup.
“Colonel Bishop,” Dunbar tried, keeping the trill of his voice non-threatening, “Miss Collins was the last person to see Donaldson alive.”
“She made sure of it,” Rawlins muttered under his breath. He returned Lance’s scowl without remorse.
“If you want to talk to Collins, you see Tyler first.” Lance crossed his arms as if the conversation was over. “I’ll pass along any information relevant to your case.” He bared his teeth in a lopsided grin. “Interdepartmental cooperation, and all that jive.”
Rawlins glanced first at Tiffany, next at Lance, and finally at his partner before letting out a sigh. “Collins can’t hide in this hospital forever,” he seethed, spin on his heel, and stalked off. Dunbar made a small apologetic gesture with his shoulders, and chased after his partner.
“Didn’t think so,” Lance mumbled under his breath. He was aware that Tiffany had slipped her arm around his waist, and gave him a small squeeze.
“Is everything okay with Teresa?” Tiffany asked, watching the pair of FBI agents disappear down the hallway.
Lance squeezed her back, and kissed her on the top of her head to avoid lying to her.