Chapter One, Part 3
Marshal Fraser had Mr. Shiedeger under surveillance and was about to serve him with a felony fugitive warrant when Shiedeger turned up dead. The rest of the River Dogs’ management team were under suspicion of racketeering, money laundering and interstate gambling. It appeared that while the River Dogs were suffering four straight years of financial losses, despite record attendance, some members of the management team were seeing record profits. The State Police were investigating the possibility of fraud, gambling and embezzlement when Mr. Shiedeger decided to take a trip to Vegas. While in Vegas, he met up with some not-so-nice people and engaged in alleged criminal activity. This alleged activity included expanding the sports gambling and money laundering from small town Illinois to big time Vegas. That’s when US Marshals get involved. Now Deputy Fraser was looking for Shiedeger’s killer and he wanted my help.
I was eager to help. We spent the next hour discussing the task ahead. He sat close enough that I could smell him. Whatever he was wearing was intoxicating. I asked Deputy Fraser why in the world he would enlist my help, even while thinking I would be the best damn Girl Friday he’d ever seen if he’d just keep smiling at me with those deep blue eyes.
“Call me Mike.” he started. “Look, it’s unorthodox, I know, but I’ve done a little checking and you’re not from around here. My guess is you’ve no ties and no one to gossip to about what I’m going to ask you to do.”
“You’ve been checking up on me? Creepy.”
“My job, sometimes it’s creepy,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
I took a deep breath to calm my overzealous endocrine system and asked him what he needed me to do.
“Watch. Take notes. Let me know who is coming and going. Who looks in on Shiedeger. Be discreet.”
Okay, I was totally hooked on the idea of spying for the federal government. How insane is that? And, I got to report back to Deep Blue Eyes? Yup, this day did not suck.
I’ll admit it, this was exactly what I needed to shake up things in my life. Sure, I was sorry about Mr. Shiedeger lying naked in limbo on a cold steel table, but since I had no emotional connection to him or his family, it was relatively easy to push away any remorse to the dark recesses of my mind. Remorse would have a lot of company: denial, confusion, and self-doubt were currently visiting that section.
Mike suggested we meet at a pizza parlor near his hotel that evening so I could debrief him. Oh, look at me I’m doing a debriefing. Hot damn. I kept an eagle-eye out the rest of the day, but unfortunately, with the exception of the Widow Martin coming to collect her husband’s cremains, the day was a dud. I discretely inquired about Mr. Shiedeger’s disposition and was told he was in limbo for the foreseeable future and had been transferred to a refrigeration unit. I managed to dig through his paperwork, and found out who they listed as his next of kin. I was surprised to see that instead of a spouse, it was his brother. Maybe this information would be helpful to my Sexy Deputy Marshal, but I had my doubts. I was afraid on my first day of surveillance I was neither brilliant nor successful.
At home after work, I touched up my makeup and threw on what I hoped would be a cute-casual-pizza-bar look of jeans and pink tee. I pulled on my favorite three-inch heeled Coachella boots. I finished up with a delicate pair of silver and pink dangle earrings, stepped back and took a long look in the full length mirror on my closet door. I might be damaged goods but I could still pull off cute and fresh. At least I had that going for me. I grabbed my leather jacket and headed to the pizza parlor on Sheridan. Over pizza and a local brew, I filled Mike in on my day.
“Not much help I‘m afraid.”
“It’s early yet. And you’ve learned one of the first lessons of investigative work: tedium.”
I signed heavily. Tedium was not what I was looking for.
“Why the big sigh?” he asked as he grabbed another slice.
“Honestly? I was looking for a little excitement to distract me from my disastrous personal life.”
“Careful,” he said with a smile, “you might get more excitement than you can handle.”
I almost choked on my beer. Hey, look at me I’m flirting. I might get through this divorce yet. Excitement indeed.
I didn’t know how much I would come to regret that desire.
By day three, I was beginning to think we were going to have to flash freeze Mr. Shiedeger since no one, and I mean no one, wanted to take responsibility for his remains. The police had officially released his body to the family, but repeated calls to his brother went unanswered. Mike postulated that everyone wanted to lay low until they were sure they wouldn’t be implicated in his criminal activity. Mike had a deep reserve of patience, and not just in his work. Despite multiple evenings of heavy flirtation, there were no multiple orgasms. Other than occasionally brushing the curls away from my face, he kept his distance. I assumed work came first, or maybe he had a wife and five little Mikes waiting for him in a tidy house with a tidy yard. I never got the chance to ask him.
After days of inaction, suddenly one afternoon there was a flurry of activity. Mr. Shiedeger was to be cremated and a memorial service held for him on Saturday. Since word of his criminal activities had leaked and was all anyone talked about, not to mention he was a prominent and now infamous member of the River Dogs, the service was going to be packed. Nothing brings out the bereaved like a good scandal. It was going to be all hands on deck. Nick asked me to work the service, to be on tissue box duty. No problem, I doubted there would be a big demand.
The morning of the service, Mike gave me a nifty pin camera that doubled as a pretty broach. With it, he could see everything that was going on around me. My next fun gadget was an earpiece. He’d be able to direct me on where he needed to look; even whisper questions he might want me to ask someone. I was feeling all Mission: Impossible. I thoroughly expected to hear theme music and see Mike slide across the hood of his Hyundai. During the service, he would be out in the alley area in a nondescript van. I asked him if there would be other officers there. By this time, I knew he worked closely with the State Police. Federal Marshals have a broad, but limited scope of duties he told me over hot wings and tequila one night.
“US Marshals are sworn to protect the courts, transport prisoners, protect witnesses, seize assets and chase down fugitives from the law,” he instructed me, “but we don’t have local jurisdiction.” Marshals are an elite group, he continued, about four thousand agents to serve and protect the country on a federal level. And, while it was a dangerous job that kept marshals in risky situations, only two hundred marshals had ever died in the line of duty since its inception. That was 1789. My breath caught in my chest as I recalled Mike’s pride as he told me about the agency, about being a member of this elite team. Now he was gone. I quickly pushed that thought away. It was not going to help me in this moment. Maybe later I’d have the luxury of grief.
Mr. Shiedeger might have been a fugitive, but he was also an asset and the State Police were hoping he could lead them to the core of the illegal gambling operations in Peoria. This complicated Mike’s job.
“My orders were to work directly with the troopers,” he told me. “When it was all over I was to bring Shiedeger in. I’d hoped to be part of the team that seized all the financial assets of those involved.”
But then, Shiedeger turned up dead and everything was thrown into disarray. Mike and the State Troopers were struggling to put the pieces together and not lose the progress they’d made up to that point. They were all hoping something would turn up before Shiedeger was turned to ash and along with him their entire case.
“Do you think it will be dangerous, at the funeral I mean?” I asked Mike as he gave me my instructions that Friday night.
“If I thought there would be any chance of that, I wouldn’t let you anywhere near it. Not even to hand out tissues,” he replied protectively, before kissing my forehead and tucking a curl that had escaped from my ponytail, behind my ear. “You’ll be people watching and I’ll be in a van taking notes. Another day of tedium, I’m afraid.” He smiled knowingly and then began to lay out the day’s plans. I tried not to sigh.
The Saturday of the memorial service would turn out to be forty eight hours long. When it was over, Mike would be dead and I would realize my life, too, was in danger. I didn’t know it then, but I’m beginning to suspect that the Scary Dudes who ran me off the road were not the only ones I needed to be worried about. In the last two days, there have been three attempts on my life and Deputy US Marshal Colby Jameson was present at two of them. He saved my life both times. I think.
If I was going to find anything in this embalming room, I was going to have to turn on the lights so I could find the keys to the personal effects locker. Going through Mike’s stuff was a long shot, but I was desperate. I wanted to be the one to find it, to be in possession of it, to turn it over to…to whom? Colby? The State Police? The truth was, someone tipped off the killers about everything – Shiedeger, Mike, me – and I hadn’t a clue who to trust. I slammed my head back in frustration, making what sounded like a sonic boom as it connected with the hollow core door. “Damn it,” I cursed quietly. I had to stop reacting and start acting. “Be smart,” I told myself. The stress and the smell of formaldehyde were beginning to take a toll. Colby was a good man, he was not trying to set me up or kill me and I’m sure I was not being influenced by his stated desire to see me naked, again. Mostly sure.
I was leaning on the door and trying to feel along the wall for the light switch, all while listening intently for signs of Scary Dudes or Jim, praying for Jim. Suddenly the doorknob turned and the door began to scrape open, meeting with 130 lbs of resistance, as I stood frozen in fear against it.
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