Chief Kimball was waiting for Rob at the main door. “Rob my boy, so how was the academy?” The Chief was an old friend of Rob’s father and was almost an uncle to Rob.
“Great. Passed everything. Boy, they really cram in the courses.” Rob noticed that the Chief must have added another twenty pounds to his already fat body during the five months Rob was at the academy.
“Good. Good. Well, c’mon into the office and we’ll talk turkey.” The Chief pounded Rob on the shoulder and waddled into the office just off the lobby. The Chief settled himself behind the desk while Rob sat stiffly in front.
Rob was 22 but looked eighteen. A point guard at State, he was tall, well-muscled and had clear skin and bright blue eyes. His dark blond hair was groomed to look tousled.
”Well son, I bet you’re curious where I’m going to put you.” He picked up a file and rifled through it.
“I know you don’t want to go back on patrol after doing so well at the academy. That’s what we usually do with you newbies. But I’ve looked around and think I’ve found a perfect place for you in Vice.”
Rob’s heart sank. Vice. The three vice detectives were shunted away in a crummy office down in the basement. No one seemed to know or care what they did. Vice. “Vice?”
“Vice. We’re taking heat from everybody to be more active in that department. I think you’ll be able to really contribute.”
“I’m afraid we didn’t cover much of that at the academy, sir.” Rob didn’t want to show how disappointed he was — but the Chief’s second choice might be even worse, so he continued, “But I’m game to give it a shot.”
“Good boy. Oh, and you won’t have to wear a uniform — they do most of their work down there in kind of sloppy clothes.”
“Oh, okay.” At least that’s a plus. He didn’t mind most of his uniform but the hat made him look like an idiot.
“Oh, here, when you are in the building wear this around your neck. Always. I’m really firm about that.” The Chief handed Rob a nametag on a black cord.
Rob glanced at it and shoved it into his pocket. The tag on his uniform just had his last name, Allen. The new tag gave his full name in very large print, ROBIN ALLEN. How he hated his first name. His mother told him he was named for Robin Hood but he secretly thought it was for either Batman’s boy or the sweet Christopher Robin in Pooh. Damn. First thing he had to do was get a new name tag. If it became known he was a Robin. God. It would be middle school all over again.
“Well, let’s go down and get you introduced.”
Rob followed the Chief across the lobby, through a long corridor toward the back of the building, and down a long flight of stairs to the basement. The basement was used mostly for storing records and evidence. The locker rooms were there once but these had been moved to a new building after women joined the force. The lights were dim, the air humid, and the cement-block walls were painted a horrid mustard color.
The door to the Vice room was open and several men lounged outside smoking. When they saw the Chief they hid their cigarettes behind their bodies but made no move to put them out. The Chief pushed past them and led Rob into the office.
There were two desks, two phones, three chairs, some filing cabinets, and no computers in the office. A large older woman sat at one of the desks talking on the phone. She raised her chin to welcome the Chief.
“Guys, get in here.” The Chief’s face was red as he bellowed to the bunch outside. Two men, one tall and thin, one fatter than the chief, sauntered in. They had lost their cigarettes.
“Okay Rob. Here are your detectives.” He pointed to the woman. “Pickett over there protects the prostitutes. The skinny guy, Fry, arrests them, and the man who looks like me, Dupre, doesn’t do much of anything in Vice but we need him around. He knows more people in this city than anyone else. Valuable. Well, guys, go to it.” With that the Chief left, closing the door.
Rob stood nervously. How was this going to work? He knew people thought he was the Chief’s pet. Worse, he knew precious little about vice and even less about vice in this city.
Pickett stood up and smiled. “Well, Rob, welcome to our little hellhole. We’ve been chatting this morning and decided who you’d partner up with. When there were three of us we didn’t do partners but we thought we should link you to someone to get you started at least.”
After the Chief left and the door closed, Rob felt abandoned. And overdressed: he in his crisp uniform, the others in casual clothes that looked slept in. Detective Pickett wore a shiny purple dress with huge shoulder pads and grease stains all down the front. Detective Fry looked like a dancer in Grease: skinny jeans, black t-shirt, worn black leather jacket. Detective Dupre was in rumpled gray pants from a 1940′s suit and a frayed polyester striped shirt straining to stay buttoned over his huge belly.
Rob felt a tug at his pocket and reacted too slowly as Dupre grabbed his nametag. “Hey kid, what’s this? Robin? Hah! That’s a pitiful name for a cop.”
Fry looked at the name tag and sneered, “At least for a boy cop.”
Pickett waved them off. “C’mon guys. It’s not his fault, it’s his mother’s. Give it here.” She snatched the nametag and put it in her purse. “Don’t worry, Rob. I’ll get them to change it. Geeez, that’s tough though.”
Fry walked to the door and pulled it open. “Well, let’s get the partner thing going.” He opened the door and left. A second later he came back. “C’mon kid. You poor bastard, you’ve got me for a partner.”
Rob gave Pickett a quick thanks for the nametag and ran after Fry. He found him in the parking lot getting into an old Chevy Camaro: cherry red with a poorly fitting lime green hood. Rob hurried to the passenger side and got in. “Nice car.”
“It’s a damn classic.”
“Everyone in town must know it.”
“Lesson one, kid. We use cars seized in drug arrests. Use a different one every day. Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the bozos at the garage. They put the new takes in the same place every day for us to grab.”
“Oh, thanks.” “Jesus,” Rob thought, “I wonder how many lessons I’m going to get.”
“Lesson two. Coffee.” Fry pulled up to a neighborhood park and stopped in the shade. He reached for a thermos in the back. “Tomorrow you bring the coffee for both of us. I like mine black and strong.”
Fry sat back and sipped his coffee. “So, kid, where’ya from?”
“Here. Grew up here. Went through high school here.”
“Relatives still around?”
“Mum and dad. An aunt lives out on the Odlin Road.”
“What does your dad do?
“All kinds of things. He does sales for companies too small to have their own sales staff. He goes all over New England. Does very well.”
“Where’s he live?”
“Must be doing very well. Funny, never heard of him. Now, down to business. I’m your partner for now. I’m the only one of us who makes arrests so you can follow me on some of those. Pickett’ll take you around town to give you the lay of the land where it comes to prostitutes. Dupre won’t do shit for you … maybe take you to lunch now and then. But if he does ask, by all means go.”
Fry stared at Rob. “Do you have any idea what we do?”
“Chief gave me a section of the organization chart which had sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling on it.”
That’s true, sort of. I mean, that’s what we’re supposed to do. But we mostly ride herd on prostitution. And we don’t really do that well. Mostly just pick up the street girls. When the legislature is in session we do a few stings for johns. I like to do that. Get a few of those pompous pricks every time. We usually use a rookie cop from the patrol bunch for bait … obviously can’t use Pickett. Say, how do you look in a dress?”
Rob stayed silent and hoped he didn’t blush.
Fry tossed the thermos onto the back seat and drove off. “I want you to have coffee with me every morning to report. Sometimes I’ll take you along on an arrest, but otherwise I want you out there working on your own assignments. Right now the state’s up our ass to find the pervs with huge loads of porn on their computers. All we have to do is ID them – the state has some mucky muck from the FBI who thinks he can use the info to find crime bosses we don’t have a clue about. Anyway, here’s the file on that. I don’t have a clue how you’ll find them. But give it your best shot.”
Rob took the file. “Has anyone in the department ever found any big porn users before?”
Fry gave what sounded like a giggle. “No. But a few years ago some poor idiot over at the court went on vacation. The city’s IT department upgraded his hardware and found a mother load. All adult porn. Nothing illegal. But he was fired for breaking some departmental rule. Forget what. Anyway … good luck. I’m off. See you tomorrow. Oh, by the way, none of us use the office except first thing in the morning. You can work from home or from anywhere in town. Oh, and yeah, there’s a computer room right next to our office you can use.”
With that, Fry stopped in front of the police station and was off again before Rob had a chance to close the door.
The next morning Rob passed Dupre in the basement corridor.
“Good luck kid. You’ll need it.” Dupre lumbered up the stairs chuckling.
Rob wondered what was up – he could hear laughing in the office as he got closer. The laughter stopped when he entered. Pickett and Fry were sitting at the desks.
“Ah, here’s my coffee,” said Fry.
Rob twisted the cups off the thermos and poured.
“Hey, not bad. Maybe we’ll keep you.” Fry smiled – it didn’t look natural.
“So, Rob. Do anything yesterday?” asked Pickett.
“Yeah. Read the file from the state and started going through the info on the web. Also called the FBI guy… forget his name … anyway, he was in Washington. I’m to call later in the week.”
Fry and Pickett were still looking suspicious. “Okay. What’s up with you two?”
“Nothing really. We just have a job for you tonight and it’s … it’s … well, it’s just a little bit funny.” Pickett burst out giggling.
“C’mon Pickett, it’s not that unusual. We’ve done it before. Rob. Go home. Get a good barber’s shave around five and meet us at the motel downtown on Fern Street at eight. Room 107. We’re doing a john sting.”
“I thought you did those just when the legislature is in session.’
“Usually. But the Chief is screaming for arrests and Margaret Elizabeth here doesn’t want me taking in any more of her girls. So we’re after the johns tonight.”
“On a Tuesday?”
Pickett shook her head, “Oh, sweetie. This is a seven-day-a-week crime. You won’t have any trouble reeling them in.”
“Me? … Me?” Rob shrieked. “Oh, Jesus. You want me to be a hooker? You’ve got to be kidding. So that’s why all the hilarity this morning. Can’t I do something else during hazing week? Wash the floor with a toothbrush? Sweep Main Street? Oh, damn.”
It took an hour for Picket and her helper, an ex-prostitute named Jodie, to dress Rob to their satisfaction. They gave up on heels; despite his athletic prowess he just couldn’t walk in them without wobbling. But with makeup, a wig of real long blond hair, a glittery tunic (with a filled bra), and lounging slacks, Rob was more attractive than most of the street girls.
Jodie was combing out the wig. “You’ve got a good ass Rob. The guys will flip for it! Now talk.”
Rob in his best falsetto chirped, “Jodie darlin’, how in hell can you wear lipstick – it tastes terrible.”
“Go a little higher Rob.” Pickett ordered.
Rob strained, “Go jump in front of a truck, Margaret Elizabeth!” Oops. Rob wasn’t sure he could call Pickett that.
“That’s no way to talk to a lady!” Fry came in and walked around Rob. “Not bad. Now, do you know what to do?”
“Yup. Jodie took me outside before all this …” He looked down at his outfit. “I stand, I prance, I preen, toss my hair. Guy stops and wants me in his truck. I refuse, say I’m in the motel. It’s more comfortable.”
“And what will you do and how much do you charge?”
“I’m no blow artist. Real straight sex. No kissin’, condom, $200, money up front, pay my man at the door and then we’ll be okay.’
This last sentence Rob delivered in his girlie voice.” The ‘okay’ in the script is a well-known shorthand between prostitutes and johns, signifying consensual sex.
“Hey, Pretty good. Guess we’re ready to go. I have an undercover officer who’ll be your pimp and I’ll be in the next room watching the video – we’re taping the corridor and the room.”
Rob was nervous as he walked out to the street. Thank God it was dark out. He walked back and forth a few times twirling a pocketbook, then leaned against a streetlight. Ten minutes later a car stopped. Rob turned the guy away … he just wanted a blow job. The next car was driven by a well-dressed man in his fifties. Rob followed the script and was amazed. The man parked his car, followed Rob to the room, dug $200 out of his wallet, handed it to the cop at the door, and was arrested. Just like that. Twenty minutes later Rob was back on the street.
This went on until one in the morning. When they called it quits, Rob collapsed on the bed. “Whew. I’m exhausted. But that was kind of fun. How many arrests were there?”
Fry hollered from the adjoining room, “Thirteen. Not bad.”
“What’s the fine””
Fry came into the room ready to leave. “Depends on whether they’re repeats. It doubles in this town for each arrest. Some of the guys looked familiar. We’ll know more tomorrow. Good work guys. Rob, I’ll see you first thing as usual. Night.” With that Fry was gone.
Pickett picked up her coat. “Well, Rob. Good work. You can clean up in the room. There’s a suitcase in the closet; just throw everything in there and bring it in tomorrow. Night.”
Rob lay back in the bed and closed his eyes. Two days in Vice. What’s next?
Rob was late. He hurried to the Vice office and found Detective Fry there alone.
“Kid. About time. Dying for coffee.” Fry ground his cigarette out on the desktop.
Rob checked his watch. He was fifteen minutes late so decided he didn’t have to act too contrite. “Sorry. Overslept and then the car stalled in town. Would’ve been early but had to wait for the tow.”
“Crap happens. Well. Good job last night. And here’s a little bonus for the bull you took.” Fry pushed an envelope across the desk.
Rob picked it up and looked inside. Bills, but he couldn’t tell what denomination they were. “Thanks.” He put the envelope in his pocket. “I didn’t know we got bonuses.”
“We do. Now today I’ll take you to the garage to pick up a car then you’re on your own in that computer caper. Okay?”
A few minutes later Rob drove to the park and stopped. He took out a list of computer repair shops he’d made at home. Where to start? The bigger companies probably had all kinds of rules and couldn’t help. He decided to drive around and find a small shop.
As he drove off he chuckled. It was still hazing week. At the garage Fry and the workers there had his car? … truck? … all shined up and ready to go. A GMC Caballero. 1987. Now, there were three perfectly good Ford pickups on the lot but they just had to give him this wreck. Rob had never seen anything like it: a space-age cab designed to look like a car which flared down to a long, low truck body in the rear. And someone had hand-painted it silver … the brush strokes went every which way.
It wasn’t until after eleven that Rob found a small computer shop that looked right. It was in a one-story building with an insurance company in front and the shop in the back. The parking lot was at one side.
A bell jingled when he came in. A woman was working at a desk just inside.
“Hello. May I help you?”
Rob looked around. Three men were in the back working with several banks of shelves between them and the front area. “Yes. Is the boss or owner here?”
The woman smiled and stood. “I’m both. Catherine Moore, and you are?”
“Rob Allen. I’m with the police.” He pulled out his badge. “Can we talk privately here?”
“Oh, they can’t hear us. College kids, iPhones and ear buds. What’s the problem?”
“No problem. But I’m looking for computers that have a lot of pornography on them. I was wondering if you could look through computers you service and find them for us.”
“Is that legal?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s funny. People have rights to privacy going to and from the shop but when it’s in the shop they have none.”
“As long as it’s legal. I can look at the ones we’ve just finished repairing.”
Rob was amazed she had no more questions. He sat and read magazines as she opened laptop after laptop. She was quick.
“Aha! Here’s one.” She turned the laptop around so Rob could see the files. “All of these are pornography. Most are copied from the same site. But it’s owned by Mildred Pressey. I know her – she was the high school librarian. I don’t think she’d be interested in porn. Of course you never know.”
Rob watched as Catherine opened more files. “But wait here. I know she’s had the computer less than a year. She came in to have me teach her how to Skype with her grandkids. And … let’s see … the porn is old. The newest file is over two years old. Just a sec.”
She picked up the phone and Rob hear her talking to Mrs. Pressey. “There. I knew it. She bought the computer from the Goodwill store over in Brownville. I’ve seen the shop; it’s right on Main Street next to the empty five-and-dime. And she did buy it just about a year ago.”
On the way to Brownville, Rob stopped at a little restaurant for lunch. Waiting for his BLT, he picked up the newspaper. There was an article about the previous night’s sting toward the back of the local section. Rob shook his head and reread the small story. It was about 12 arrests and they had arrested 13. What happened? All the arrests seemed to go without a hitch.
Then Rob remembered the envelope Fry had given him and pulled it out. Inside were 11 very used hundred dollar bills. He paled. He’d accepted a bribe! On the job for three days and he was a dirty cop. Damn. He’d been worried about the cost of repairing his car and just pocketed the envelope. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Well. Too late now. Suck it up Rob. He calmed down and ate his sandwich. After a second cup of coffee he left to find the Goodwill Store.
He moved mechanically through the afternoon. At Goodwill, It turned out they had good records and after an hour watching the supervisor flip through computer files, Rob was able to discover the original owner of the computer loaded with pornography.
Stunned, Rob drove home wondering what should be his next step.
– Day 4 –
Rob left Goodwill and got in the silver truck, and sat. His hands were shaking as he took out the piece of paper the lady at Goodwill had given him. Fourteen months before, the computer that the librarian bought had been donated. The donor had requested a receipt for tax purposes and Rob held a copy of it in his hand.
Henry Allen had valued the computer at $200. His father! His own father had owned all that porn and was stupid enough to ditch his computer with it still in there. Porn? Rob was never interested in pornography and couldn’t imagine his father having so much of it. But maybe Rob wasn’t normal. Maybe his dad, like lots of men, liked the stuff. It wasn’t illegal or anything. But the state and the FBI wanted his name and it was Rob’s job to give it to them.
It was too late to check in at work so Rob drove toward his apartment. What to do? He couldn’t turn his dad over to the state. Could he? He couldn’t ask the Chief. And he certainly couldn’t talk to his father about it. He and his dad weren’t close. They weren’t unclose either, but Rob could never really talk to him. His father either knew everything “for a fact” or he didn’t want to talk about it.
At home, Rob sat in front of the TV and drank two beers. His head was spinning. What to do? Finally he laughed. He remembered an old girlfriend from high school. Mary Lee. She always said “If you don’t know, don’t.” So maybe he should just go to bed.
The next morning Rob, still driving the silver streak, was at work on time. The three detectives were flipping through their notebooks and making expense reports. Rob poured Fry’s coffee then stood, leaning against the wall, drinking his own. There were still just three chairs in the office.
Pickett looked up. “Rob. Michael Sharpe from the FBI called. He’s in town and wants to meet about your computer porn progress.”
Rob tried to stay calm. “Great. Did he say when, where?”
“Right here, kid.” Pickett waved a slip of paper.
“Thanks.” He looked at it. Ten o’clock at a diner around the corner.
“Well I’m off.” Dupre threw his coffee cup into the waste basket.
“Right behind’ya.” And Pickett started to leave. “Oh, Rob. I forgot. A Mrs. Moore called and said she had some more for you. Whatever that means”
“Thanks. Ummm… Thanks, that’s good news.” Rob still didn’t know what to call Pickett. Margaret? Rob sat down and stared at Fry.
“What? What?” Fry jabbed. “What’s up, kid? You don’t look too chipper.”
“I’m in a bind. I know something and I don’t know what to do with it. I only wish I could unknow it.”
“Dammit kid, you sound like a daytime soap. Spit it out. Can’t be all that bad.”
So Rob told Fry about finding the computer.
“Hey, not bad. Got a fish on the first cast. Find out who the original owner was?”
“That’s the problem. Yes I did. And I just can’t give the name to the state like I’m supposed to.”
“Who is it?”
Fry hooted. “Jesus! You really stepped in hot tar this time!”
“What should I do?”
“Easy. You can’t tell any other person. Not the Chief. Not the state and positively not the FBI. And not your father either. Tell any of them and you get in real trouble, kid. And most important … you didn’t tell me.”
“But what should I do?
Just forget about it and go get some more names. That’ll patch that leak.
-Day 5, cont’d.-
Rob felt better after telling Detective Fry about his father’s owning the porn-laden computer. When Fry left, Rob returned the call from Catherine Moore, the owner of the computer store. What a find she was! She’d found two more computers with a lot of porn on them so they arranged for Rob to stop by the shop on his way home.
His meeting with the Michel Sharpe, the FBI man, wasn’t until ten so he went outside and returned the ‘silver streak’ to the barn, with thanks to the men there. He was pleased they’d saved a pickup truck for him that looked like a game warden’s vehicle.
Rob had no idea how long the meeting with Sharpe would be but decided that afterward he’d go look for another computer shop that would be willing to help.
It was nice out and he had time to kill so he walked to the diner. Funny, when he got there he looked in the window and there were men at three different tables who looked like FBI guys on TV shows: serious men in gray suits. Rob thought about it and approached a man in a booth near the back of the diner who looked like Barney Fife: thin, nervous, pale, dressed in polyester.
He walked over to the table. “Hi, you Sharpe?”
The man looked up. He was chewing a toothpick. “Yah. How’dya know:”
“You don’t look like a TV FBI guy.”
“Most of us don’t. So sit”
Sharpe gave Rob a thick folder. “Here’s some background material. Do you know what we’re doing?”
“Not exactly. The chief just told me to find computers with lots of porn on them. Don’t even know how much is ‘lots’.
“I’m not surprised. Your chief is something else. We’ve given him tons of information. The short answer is any porn collection that takes over 100 gigabytes is what we’re after – it’s not a whole lot, but we find that’s a good cutoff point.”
Sharpe signaled for his check and continued, “We developed a method of finding sources of kiddie porn that we’re now using for legal porn. We get huge databases of users and then the computer finds connections between them all. It’s all that metadata magic. We find we can locate heads of criminal activities who are the smart ones. They’ve never been arrested. They don’t throw money around, have families and legitimate jobs. But they run huge crime organizations. Their connections to any one criminal can be explained as legitimate business or a believable social activity – but when their connections to criminals builds into the hundreds, it’s worth looking at. Now, have you found any big users yet?”
“I’ve found a shop that’ll look for me. The owner just called and said she had two big users. But I don’t know if they’ll meet your cutoff value though. I’m going there this evening.”
“Great. Look, no matter how big the collection I want you to use these discs.” Sharpe handed Rob a box. ” Slip a disc into a computer and It pulls out the porn data plus search history and all sorts of stuff. It sucks the data out and doesn’t leave a trace. Then you put the disc in your computer and it dumps the data over to us. Use each disc just once. It takes maybe ten minutes per computer. Piece of cake.”
“Let’s leave it at that. You use this box of discs; when you’ve sent me all the data from these we’ll meet again. Thanks. Glad the Chief finally got someone on this.” Sharpe rapped his knuckles on the table, stood and left.
Rob sat thinking about his father. Fry warned him not to tell him anything, but it was his father. There was a pay phone outside the diner so he went outside to use it.
The phone rang several times. “H’lo.”
“Dad. It’s me, Rob.”
“Robby. Hey! How’s it going? I’ve been meaning to catch up but I’ve been out of town most days lately.”
“That’s what Mum says. Hey, I’ve got to talk to you.”
Rob looked around, it looked safe. “Dad. I’m working on a porn case and I found an old computer of yours that had a ton of it.”
“So? It’s legal you know.”
“I know Dad. But just listen. The FBI has a fancy computer program that’s tying porn users to crimes. I just wanted to give you a head’s up. That’s all. If you have porn on your computer now I’d dump it.”
‘I’ve got nothing to do with any crime, Son.” His voice was icy and loud.
“Dad. I just don’t want you suspected, that’s all. You know how things can get.”
‘Well. Thanks… I guess. Oh… other phone. Gotta go. Bye.”
Rob hung up, worried. Dad sounded strange, like I’ve done something wrong. He couldn’t be into crime. Could he? Maybe he was just embarrassed about the porno.
-Day 5, cont’d.-
Rob left the diner not knowing what to do. He’d told Catherine Moore at the computer shop that he’d be by that evening but decided to do it now.
She looked up when he entered. “Hi. Expected you later.”
“I know, but I was at a stopping place at work. Thanks for calling. I hope the computers are still in the shop.”
“Oh, yes. And I found another one this morning.”
“You’re a regular porn magnet.”
“Not funny. Well, maybe a bit. I wrote the names and addresses for you.” She handed him an envelope.
“I have a disc I need to put in each one. Will take maybe ten minutes. I’ve been told it doesn’t leave any trace on the machine.”
“Sure. No problem. Hand them over and I’ll get them started.” She went to the rack right behind her and pulled out two laptops and linked a monitor to an old desktop. She took the discs from Rob and had the three computers working in what seemed like seconds.
Rob wanted to open the envelope but thought it best to wait. They chatted about the goings-on in town. Then she got a call and spent some time talking someone through a connection problem.
The computers stopped and she handed him the discs. “Well, happy hunting. Want me to keep looking?”
“Yes. If you don’t mind. And, um…., hate to ask but do you know of any other shops that might help as well?
“Not off the top of my head. At least, not right in town. But I’ll give it a thought. I may know someone else.”
Just then, three people lugging computer parts came into the store so Rob and Mrs. Moore said quick goodbyes with her promising to call soon.
Back in the truck, Rob sat and opened the envelope. Three customers. Rob recognized one name, a popular dentist in town. Another was unknown to him, but the third was a shock: Detective Pickett.
Damn. How much of this can he take? Detective Pickett? How to handle this one. He couldn’t tell Fry. He can’t tell the Chief. Finally he decided to man up and confront Pickett herself. There was probably the same problem as with the librarian … she’d purchased the computer with the porn on it already. That had to be it.
Just as he was about to call Pickett his phone rang.
“This is officer Rob.”
“I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Jodie Freese. I helped with the sting the other night.”
“Oh, yes. You were a great help.”
“And you were a great hooker. Rob, I need help. Can I talk with you?”
“Sure. Where are you?”
“I’m at the gas station down on Main.”
“Be right there.”
Relieved he didn’t have to deal with Pickett right then, Rob sped to the station just a half mile away. Jodie was hiding behind the telephone booth.
He stopped and she ran to the truck and jumped in. “Drive. Please!
“Anywhere. Away from here.”
“What about to the station?”
“Jeepers no. They’ll kill me.”
Wanting to know what was going on, but hearing the fear in her voice, Rob drove to his apartment. Once they were inside he gave Jodie a bottle of water and settled her on the couch. He sat in his armchair and waited.
Jodie finally sat up straight and spoke, “You’re working on sex crimes, right? Like Mrs. Pickett and the others?”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
“Since I retired from hooking I’ve been the housekeeper for a man who was one of my best customers. He was always kind to me, rented a motel room. We’d have sex just once and he’d leave – but he paid for the whole night and I could wash up and sleep a while. Anyway, lately he’s been scared. Last night a man came and I could hear him threaten Tom. Tom wanted to stop doing something and the guy said if he didn’t get those girls they’d kill him.”
“Did you ask him about it?”
“I live in a little apartment upstairs. When I came down this morning he was gone. There was a note he wouldn’t be back until late tonight.”
“What do you think I could do?”
“Rob. I don’t know. But Tom is basically a good guy. He runs a little used car lot and does yard work on the side. He gave me this job so I could get off the street. And we don’t have sex in case you wondered. And I don’t know what he has to do with getting girls.”
“One thing might help. Does he have a computer?”
“Yes. Big one in the study. I use it to find recipes.”
“Go home and put this disc in the computer after you turn it on. It’ll run a program for about ten minutes then it’ll kick it out – and it won’t leave any trace on the computer. Then bring the disc back to me.”
“You think that’ll help him?”
“It’s all I can think of right now.”
“Okay. Can you drive me back?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be seen with a cop. I’ll get you a cab. Here’s some money. Take another cab back here. You can stay here tonight if you’re afraid to stay at Tom’s.”
Day 5 cont’d.
Rob had just finished emailing the disc contents from two of the computers to Michael Sharpe at the FBI when Jodie returned with the disc from her boss. She looked worried.
“No. Not really, but the disc took a whole lot longer than ten minutes. I thought something was wrong but it finally stopped.”
Rob put the disc in his computer and here, too, the disc took forever to send. “I wonder what’s in it?”
He looked down and saw that Jodie had labeled the disc. Tom Thibodeau. The name sounded familiar. Could it be? He went to his computer and opened his notes from the sting. Tom Thibodeau was one of the men he had arrested and he was the one man whose arrest was not recorded. Rob shivered. Tom Thibodeau was the person who had given Fry and Rob the bribe.
Rob’s heart sank. He’d been trying to forget the bribe. If Thibodeau was involved in anything big, he’d bring Rob and Fry down with him.
His phone range. “H’lo.”
“Allen. This is Sharpe. Where are you?”
“Where’d you get that last disc?”
“A woman helped me get it from her boss, Tom Thibodeau.”
“Where is she?”
“Here. She just brought me the disc.”
“You guys had better leave the house. I’ve got deputies coming to get you. Get out now and drive north on ’95. Keep your phone on and we can track you. The deputies will flash their headlights twice when they drive up behind you. Just keep driving until you see them signal for a turn.”
“What’s the matter?”
“No time to talk. Just get out of your house now.”
“Okay… But…” Sharpe had hung up.
“Jodie, we have to leave.”
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
“You can’t. I’ll explain later. Let’s go.” Rob took his computer and his jacket, picked up Jodie’s handbag and coat and pulled her out of the building and into the truck.
As soon as they were both in and before they buckled the seat belts, Rob pealed away and headed toward ’95.
“Where are we…” Robin started.
“Shhh. Wait. I have to concentrate. While I drive look behind us and let me know if anyone looks like they’re following us.”
“Shhh! I don’t know. Let’s concentrate.”
About fifteen minutes later, they were on the highway and no vehicles were behind them. “Sorry, Jodie. That was my FBI contact on the phone. Something excited him about the disc from your boss and he wants us to come to the capital. He’s afraid someone might try to hurt one of us.”
Jodie turned around to kneel in her seat and concentrated on watching behind them. “Who would want to do that?”
“Jodie, I can only guess that your Tom is into something hot. Sharpe didn’t even suggest I try driving to the station … just to get on ’95 and head north.
“Rob! There’s a black SUV behind us that’s moving up fast. Can’t you go faster?”
“This is as fast as I can go. Let me know if their lights blink.”
“They did! Is that bad? Are they going to crash into us … they’re awfully close!”
“No. That a deputy. We can go slow now. Let me know if they signal for a turn and we’ll turn ahead of them.”
They were silent as two more black SUVs joined the motorcade and escorted them toward the state capital.
“Rob, I have to pee! Now!!!”
Day 5 cont’d.
By the time Rob got off the highway and stopped at a filling station, Jodie was soaking wet.
“Sorry, Jodie. I didn’t dare stop. I’ve got a track suit behind your seat, go on in and change.”
“And why did you tell me your FBI guy said to go to the capital. We were in the capital and we left it.”
“I was rattled. Meant to say the state police barracks.”
“Glad to see someone else was scared. Damn, it stinks in here.”
Jodie fled toward the station while Rob cleaned up the truck with his old gym clothes as well as he could. He was glad it wasn’t his own car.
Three huge black SUVs dwarfed his truck. After a few minutes the state police deputies left their vehicles and stood off to one side talking on cell phones and to one another. Rob glanced at them and they glanced or pointed at him but they didn’t approach.
When Jodie came back he let her sit in the driver’s seat and he approached the deputies. “Hey guys. Where should we go? Michael Sharpe told me to follow you into town.”
“We have transportation coming for you. It’ll be here in ten minutes. Just sit tight.” The deputy didn’t identify himself and barked his words at Rob.
“But what about the truck?”
Another deputy scolded, “Don’t worry about the damn truck!”
So they waited. Another huge black SUV drove up with two deputies. One got out and directed Jodie to a seat behind the driver and Rob to a seat in the back. They didn’t say a word.
Jodie tried to talk to them but they didn’t respond. She turned to Rob and whispered, “I feel like I’ve been caught spying in some foreign country. What’s their problem?”
The driver glanced in the rearview mirror. “Don’t talk. Our orders are that we don’t talk and you don’t talk.”
Jodie shrugged. Rob was confused.
Things didn’t improve when they reached the state police barracks. Two deputies led Jodie in one direction and two others led Rob to an interview room.
Rob could smell sweat in the room. The florescent lights hummed and flickered. The furniture was simple: 4 old metal chairs with no cushions, a metal table with scarred Formica top, and a metal wastebasket. No windows. No clocks. No art on the wall.
Jesus, don’t they know I’m one of the good guys?
After more than an hour, two grey-suited men came in. One dragged a chair into a far corner, the other sat opposite Rob at the table. “I’m agent Jones, FBI. Like to review some information with you.”
Jones ran through the information Rob had given Sharpe about the discs he’d collected.
“Do you know this Tom Thibodeau?”
“I arrested him Tuesday during a john sting.”
“And you didn’t know him before that?”
“No. At least I don’t think so. He lives in my hometown and I’ve lived there all the time except for college. So I may have seen him or met him and don’t remember. But he didn’t seem familiar when I arrested him.”
“We don’t have a record of the arrest.”
“I know. I was surprised but figured he had a good lawyer.”
“You know more than you’re telling me.” Jones had kept his face neutral up until then, now he scowled.
“He may have bribed someone.”
“And….?” Jones stood. “Are you trying to protect yourself or someone else?”
“Okay. Detective Fry gave me an envelope, said it was a bonus. It wasn’t until I saw in the paper the next day that Thibodeau hadn’t been arrested that I figured it was probably part of a bribe. But I didn’t know what to do. It’s my first week in vice… I don’t know who to trust.”
Jones smiled. Rob couldn’t tell if the smile was real. “There. That wasn’t so hard was it?”
Rob didn’t answer. “So what’s happening about the discs and everything?”
“Can’t say. The state is going to keep you here tonight and we’ll take you back to court in the morning.”
“Court? What for?”
“Can’t say. A young fellow will come and take you to a holding room. Don’t worry…it’s like any old motel room. Even has a mini fridge with beer, wine and nibbles. And a flat screen TV with good cable. Someone will call and take your supper order.” Jones left.
Rob put his head down on the table and tried to stop the questions scribbling all over his mind.
Saturday, Day 6
Rob was groggy the next morning as he sat in the back of another big black SUV with silent grey-suited men he assumed to be FBI. He’d watched TV most of the night before and felt as if he’d just fallen asleep when a young state police deputy shook him awake. He’d been given time for a shower but afterwards had to put on rumpled clothes that smelled of Jodie’s urine. And no breakfast. They did give him a small cup of coffee for the ride.
Why am I going to court? What do they think I did? This mantra cycled in his head. They reached the courthouse in what seemed like seconds, drove around to the rear of the building, and entered an underground parking space. When the electric door closed, Rob saw a fleet of big black SUVs and a couple of state police cars. No civilian cars.
“Come with me.” The younger of the grey suits ordered and reached for his elbow.
“I’m coming. You don’t have to hang onto me.”
So Rob was led to an elevator and they rode, attached, to the top floor. They went into a small courtroom with seats for a jury, high bench for the judge, but just three rows of mostly empty seats for spectators. Rob was led to a seat in the back row. His grey suit stood too close beside him.
Rob looked around and saw Michael Sharpe, the FBI man, sitting with several more grey suits. He looked back at them and realized one of the grey suits was his father! His father didn’t look back at him.
There was a rustle and the judge came in followed by three deputies tugging a large woman between them. Her hands were cuffed behind her. Her large body forced her arms upward at an awkward angle that looked painful. She stumbled along looking down at her orange jumpsuit, black hair covering her face.
The judge clicked his gavel; the woman was led to face him. Rob couldn’t hear the mumbling of the judge or the woman but woman’s attorney stepped up and loudly proclaimed her innocence. The woman was then led away in the same fashion as her entry.
What was all that about? Rob’s grey suit pulled at his arm again and let him toward Sharpe.
Sharpe was smiling and so was his father.
“Great work Rob! I never thought we’d get the king. Ahem, the queen.” Sharpe stepped forward, shook Rob’s hand, and pummeled him on his shoulder. “Never in a million year would we have suspected her!”
“Who?” Rob was in a fog.
“You don’t know?”
“Look, all day yesterday and today I’ve felt like a criminal! I don’t have a clue what is going on.”
“That last disc you emailed was a gold mine, Rob. Your man, Tom Thibodeau, turned out to be the treasurer of a big multi-state crime syndicate. They were into everything. Child porn, gambling, sex worker trafficking, drugs. I mean everything. They were using the Deep Web for making deals and untraceable Bitcoins for currency so they were buried deep. Except for Thibodeau. And that led to Pickett. She…”
“That was Detective Pickett?”
“She ran the whole thing. It started when she was teaching high school. She ran the computer lab and one of the students taught her about the Deep Web where there are so many layers of encryption that you can stay anonymous. At first she set up a site just for fun, then dabbled in regular porn for fun. But she branched out quickly to everything else. She ran much of New England’s crime from the police department in this little city.”
“Why’s my dad here?”
“He’s an FBI agent. Always been one. He’d discovered the layer right below Pickett but couldn’t crack the last nut.”
“What about Fry?”
“He’s just a cop… A little sticky fingered but he’s okay.”
“And the chief?”
“He’s stupid but that’s not a crime.”
“Oh, and Laura?”
“She’s squeaky clean. We just had to protect her while we rounded up the whole gang. We’ve got over 200 of them in court this morning.”
Rob was relieved; when they’d led Laura away yesterday, he’d felt responsible for getting her involved. He sat down while the grey suits were hammering out some details. Finally, his father sat down beside him. “So how was your first week in Vice, son?”
Rob couldn’t help it; he collapsed in a full-blown giggle fit – complete with tears. Had it been just a week? How much more of this could he take? He finally stopped. “Fine, dad. Just fine.”
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