First book in the series
Case Files of Smith and Jones: The Case of the Cotton Fiber Snuff Tape
Angela K. Durden — Alias/Pen name: Durden Kell
Attorney: Jelani Miller
EMAIL FOR JELANI MILLER
Following Excerpt: 3000+/- words
Overview of Goals for the Case Files of Smith and Jones Series:
A. Series publication, or individual books published
B. Movies or TV shows to be based on these
Week One, Monday Afternoon — A Torture and Death
“Only a bitch,” the first male voice dripped contempt.
“Yeah. Aaahhh, man,” said the second male voice, “that was great. Let’s listen to the tape and see if we got it all.”
“You better got it all,” the first threatened. “The whole thing was perfect. We’ll never find anyone as good as her again.”
“Yeah, she was sweet,” sighed the second.
Carmelita Oliveira pulled her car into the nearest parking lot, rewound the tape to the beginning, and let it play. The second hearing was more horrifyingly real than the first. Begging for her life was not the last indignity the woman suffered, but dying was her final pain and her sweet release.
Carmelita’s stomach churned threateningly. She fought her way out of her seatbelt, bent double, braced herself on the rear bumper, and gulped cold air until she thought her lungs would freeze. When she knew she would no longer throw up, she returned to her car, secured the tapes in a zippered pocket inside her purse, and continued her drive to the grocery store.
Who can tell from this tape when the woman died? After the kids left for school tomorrow she would call the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. She’ll tell no one, not even her husband, Martin, who always freaked about the smallest things and only God knew what he would think or say or do if she told him about this. It was a safe bet he would forbid her to get involved. She would ignore him. They would argue. Yes, telling him would bring nothing but trouble and this dead woman depended on her.
Sickened and horrified, Carmelita operated on autopilot. She didn’t remember shopping — but when she unloaded the groceries she had everything she needed on her kitchen island. Her kids got home — but she didn’t ask about school. Her husband arrived from work — but she didn’t ask about his day. She served dinner — but heard no conversation. She watched television — but saw no images. She brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas, said goodnight to her children, and laid herself in bed — but she could not go to sleep.
The torture of this woman became her torture and the woman’s death her death. Until she did her part in finding these men who thought they had the right to do these things, until she took action for this woman, she could not focus nor could she feel or live or breathe. Yes, she would handle this in the morning.
Week One, Tuesday Morning — Carmelita Reports a Crime
Frank Smith and Al Jones had heard all the jokes involving the words alias and men in black. It certainly didn’t help matters any that Frank was white and wore cowboy boots and Al was black and wore dark sunglasses. The partners often used the resemblance to their advantage. Unlike the movies, though, where the bad guy is usually some sort of genius who outsmarts The Law for a time, in real life bad guys are stupid and gullible. Often the only advantage The Law has is they’re just watchful dogs who won’t leave the bone of injustice alone until they get every last morsel of marrow out of it.
Ask enough broad, open-ended questions with just the right amount of slack-jawed, wide-eyed awe at the genius of the suspects sitting before them, and the bad guys feel as if they’re in a movie script. Suspects always take the opportunity to fill in the blanks of a script they believe they can control. Fake explanations, often clever, always include a kernel of truth. Frank and Al listen closely because it is in that kernel they never fail to seal their fate. Bad guys need to have their fates sealed and Smith and Jones very much want them to get what’s due.
But things had been real quiet for some time. It was as if all the criminals were taking a vacation. Not that Frank wanted anyone to get hurt, he didn’t. But he was trained to find bad guys; his frustration level was high when there wasn’t one to chase. Frank hoped for a complicated case to come across his desk. So when Frank’s phone rang this morning, he hoped this call wasn’t another crank, but a sure-enough real case in the making.
“Yes, sir. I’m not sure who I need to talk to,” said a female, a very slight trace of a Southern accent coming through. “The lady that answered the phone said you could probably help me. I’ve found something weird and thought it wasn’t really something the local police could handle. Would you be the one I need to explain this to?”
“What does it involve?” Frank asked.
“Hmmm…I believe it is what could rightly be called a snuff tape,” she said pausing to wait for his question.
“You mean a movie where it looks like someone gets killed for real?”
He did not try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. He usually received at least one of these calls every month. This would make the second in two weeks. He always followed up, but each time the film was a badly written, cheaply staged cinematic effort by a budding filmmaker who couldn’t keep up with his own footage.
“No, sir. Not a film. An audio tape. You see, on Monday, yesterday, I was shopping at Tuesday Morning when —”
He interrupted, “Wait. You were doing what, when, and where?”
“Shopping.” She paused to let that sink in. “Monday; yesterday.” She paused again. “At Tuesday Morning.” Pause. “It’s this great store where you can get things for the house and other neat stuff at a bargain.”
He was impressed. She had actually understood his sarcasm heavy, three-part question, answered it lucidly, and didn’t get mad.
“Okay. Gotcha. Neat stuff. Go on.”
“Okay. So, I saw this book on tape by John le Carré. A novelist; great stories. But one of the tapes has something on it that’s very disturbing. I would like to bring it to you.”
“Ya sure whatcha heard wasn’t part of the story?”
“Yes, sir. More than sure,” she replied.
For some reason, Frank believed her. Maybe it was her calling him sir. Maybe it was her respectful tone of voice. “Okay. Well. Let me get some information. What’s your name?”
“Carmelita Oliveira.” She spelled it out for him.
“Where are you located?”
“Ellenwood. Why do you ask?”
“My partner and I could get the tape tomorrow morning and make a report. Would that be convenient?” Frank usually offered to pick these things up. If the call was truly a crank, the person hung up and never told them where he lived; like he couldn’t trace the call, but problem solved nonetheless. This respectful crank had a better idea.
“Agent Smith, I appreciate your willingness to come out here, I really do. But I don’t want to be responsible for this tape anymore. Can’t I bring it to you, like…now? I can be there in an hour…that is,” she assured him with a slight laugh, “barring any accidents on Two-Eighty-Five.”
He laughed, too. Traffic on Atlanta’s ring highway is legendary. Every day there is at least one auto flambé at morning rush hour and two in the evening’s rush, two or three king-sized mattresses in the middle lane looking for love in all the wrong places, and three extension ladders straddling the two middle lanes — and those are just for starters. He had never had a civilian offer to bring him evidence.
“Uh. Sure. You need directions?” he offered.
She confirmed GBI headquarters address. “No. I’ll Mapquest the address. Besides, I think I know where it is. See you shortly.” She hung up.
Traffic must have been good. True to her word, one hour later he received the call. When the elevator opened, Frank noticed a woman, medium height and build, late thirties to early forties, holding a paper sack as if it contained explosives, carrying an expensive black leather bag slung over one shoulder.
He held out his hand when he reached her, “Yes. Mrs. Oliveira?”
“Yes, you’re right, it is Mrs. Oliveira,” she said emphasizing the Mrs. “You can call me Carmelita, though. Do I give this to you here?”
Normally he would have said yes, taken the bag and said goodbye. But when he saw her, he knew he wanted to know this woman, and he wanted her in his office.
You old dog, where did that thought come from, Frank? He shook his head and answered, “Not here. Let’s go upstairs to my office. This way.” He led her to the elevators.
He covertly studied her stance in the highly polished elevator walls. He had never given any thought to the reflective nature of the inside of those boxes. But today, he wanted to thank the designer. She was taller than he had thought at first glance but had a way of standing so her height was minimized, as if she was ashamed of it. Yet she seemed perfectly at ease, as if he was the visitor and she the one who belonged in this building. The too-short ride ended and they were at the fourth floor.
“Here we are.” Smith gestured ladies first and enjoyed the view as she stepped out and waited for him to lead the way down the hall. She followed to his office. She sat the bag on the desk but did not remove her hands from the top of it.
Here we go. Here comes the weird stuff. She won’t let me see it. Shit. She seemed so normal. Frank waited for the weird stuff to begin. You never knew what shell a nut would come in and this was one hot shell.
“Okay, before I open the bag, let me tell you what’s in it. The entire packaging the tapes came in, including the tape with Genesis, the band not the Bible book. Also,” Carmelita opened her handbag pulling out one typewritten sheet of paper handing it to Frank as she finished, “I wrote down the information I thought you might need.”
A quick glance showed him a concise report with every bit of information spelled out and perfectly organized. Where the tape was purchased. A copy of the receipt. The order in which she listened to the tapes. Her contact information, cell phone number only, no land line. He was impressed. She lifted the bag and placed it in front of him.
Okay, so maybe not a nut after all.
As he opened the bag to reach in, she grabbed his hands to stop him.
“What?” Surprise at her action was followed immediately by a mental kick to his butt. He knew what she was going to say for such a newbie move. Even while kicking himself for that bit of idiocy, he was glad he did it because she touched him. He liked her touch and had a difficult time concentrating on her next words.
“Aren’t you gonna wear gloves?”
She held his hands. He could feel her heat. He blinked twice, cleared his throat, and finally managed, “Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.”
Frank felt like a silly little school boy who forgot to put on his rubber boots and rain coat before he went out in the rain. Am I blushing? I am blushing.
He pulled a pair of gloves from his briefcase. She nodded her head in approval. He felt proud of her approval.
What the hell?
He shook his head to clear his mind and refocus on the task at hand. He put on his gloves. As he reached in Frank said with his best disarmingly contrite smile, “You know, of course, I feel pretty stupid right about now.”
Frank might be able to smile at such a time because he was used to dealing with crime, but Carmelita wasn’t. She smiled distractedly as she pointed indicating the tape in question. Frank pushed it into the portable player and hit play. For a full minute they listened to bits and pieces of words and the shhh of a blank tape.
He raised his eyes to her.
Without taking her eyes off the machine all she said was, “Be patient.”
She had not looked at him and she knew what he was thinking. Again he felt childish but didn’t know why. Get it together, man, he silently chastised, then listened more closely.
His patience was rewarded when he heard the voices of two men and one woman, all of whom sounded young, though voices are not always indicators of age. Carmelita already told him she had listened to the entire tape and therefore she would know what was coming. He saw tears fill her eyes, then her face harden as she steeled herself for hearing it again. Along with the tears and steel, though, there was hope. Hope that somehow this was all a big joke and that he, Agent Frank Smith, expert in all things bad, would pretty please prove her conclusions wrong.
A full fifteen minutes later he turned off the tape. Experience told him this wasn’t a joke. It was real. Even he was sick. He, an experienced field agent who had seen plenty of murdered and mangled bodies. He, a battle-hardened combat vet who had seen and heard death, and hell, had killed other men in battle up close and personal. He, who knew violent death was never the neat, quiet, or quick process people thought it was as they watched movies. He, who knew there was no glory in killing, had hated doing it even if it was the enemy he had to kill in the time-honored game of war.
But this? This was not an honorable death. He had never heard the murder and torture of a true and innocent victim. He wondered how this woman in front of him had been able to handle this knowledge. His admiration for her grew as he saw her deal with what most people would have run from. He removed the tape.
Carmelita knew from Frank’s expression her hope for a happy ending would go unfulfilled. Out of respect for the victim, for the full fifteen minutes she stood in place, ram-rod straight, at attention as a man would when a fellow soldier’s body bag passed by. Hope was no longer in her eyes. Her tissue wiped at the tear tracks on her face. “It’s real, isn’t it?”
“Look. Uh. Look, I don’t wanna say conclusively,” he said. “I’ll see if I can get the sound techs involved and some other agents to listen, too. See if they come to the same conclusion. Thank you for bringing this to me.”
With his answer, she blew out a long breath, reached behind her and felt for a chair. She welcomed the reprieve. “You’re welcome. I…I did not listen to the other tapes all the way through, so I can’t say whether or not anything is on them. I guess you’ll have to listen. Except tape one with Genesis.”
Frank raised his eyebrows. She explained. “You know, the band? I listened to it, both sides. All the way through. Didn’t hear anything except their music but I’m sure you will want to check and make sure.” She stood up, relieved this dead woman was now in good hands. “Well. Okay. I guess that’s it. Thank you for seeing me. If you need anything else, you have my cell number.” She drew a deep breath, straightened tensed shoulders, leaned towards him, put out her hand, he held out his, she shook it — one pump, a pause, release — and walked out.
He watched from his door as she walked the long hall toward the bank of elevators. Damn. This was one time he was happy his office was at the far end. Still watching, leaning against the door jamb, he called his partner on his cell.
Damn, damn. Damn, he thought as he listened to the ringing.
Al answered. Frank said, “Jones? Get over here. Now.”
He flipped his cell shut and slowly tapped his chin with it. He watched as the elevator doors opened. He watched as she stepped in. He never blinked as she faced the opening. He stared at her as she punched the button. He held up his phone in a solemn goodbye after she gave a little wave and flashed him a slight smile. The doors slid shut. He didn’t move. He didn’t move because he couldn’t. He could barely breathe. He simply stared at the elevator. Damn.
“Hey, Smith,” said Jones a minute later to a staring Frank. “Whatcha doing, bro? Hey!”
Jones snapped his fingers in front of his partner’s face. That got Frank’s attention. “What’s up?”
Smith turned his attention to the other woman — the dead one. “We gotta case.”
What the heck? What’s going on with me?
As soon as the elevator doors slid shut, Carmelita’s knees almost buckled. She tried to convince herself her imminent collapse was the result of emotion from hearing the murder again. But she had to be truthful with herself — it wasn’t the murder. She knew she was having a purely physical reaction to the agent. She could barely remember the last time her body had been that fired up. She knew nothing about him except his title and name, but if he asked her to run away with him, she would scream yes and jump in the car. This was not like her level-headed, calm, unromantic self at all. Fighting the weakness in her knees and attempting, though unsuccessfully, to ignore the tingling in her thighs, Carmelita eventually made it to her car. The short trip to the parking lot seemed to take forever, but the cold air cleared her brain. She remembered his blush and smiled.
What was that blush about? Aww. He was so sweet.
Her phone vibrated when she turned the key. “Hello?” Martin’s voice, a bucket of ice water on her heated thoughts, quickly doused the raging fire in her thighs. “Where are you?” he whined. “I’ve been trying to reach you for an hour.”
“Really? The phone hasn’t rung once until just now,” she told him. “Sorry. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I couldn’t find you, that’s all,” he said sullenly. “Where are you?”
“Running errands. You need anything while I am out?” Carmelita asked.
“I’m almost out of antacid.”
“I’ll pick some up. Okay? Okay. Bye. See you this evening,” she said, gratefully hanging up.
She checked her phone. Her husband called several times yet she had never thought to check her phone. Well, how could she? Her attention had been on the murder. Until she did her duty to this dead woman, everything else had been insignificant.
Week One, Tuesday Afternoon — Frank Jones and Al Smith
For the third time Tuesday afternoon, Frank Smith and Al Jones listened to the tape. It didn’t get any easier, yet nothing they heard on it or the other tapes as they listened to them did anything to dissuade them from believing this was a genuine murder. The other tapes contained bits and pieces of voices. The two males were the same throughout, at least they thought so. The sound techs would attempt to confirm that.
The females’ voices changed from tape to tape, though. This was not going to be pretty and it would take a lot of time and effort to solve it, even if it could be solved. Already their notepads were filling with questions and comments. Two kills could be confirmed if what they heard was true. The sound techs would earn their pay on this one, for sure. The egos of the two murderers would be their undoing.
“Whaddaya think?” said Alfred George Jones the Fourth. He didn’t look like an Alfred. He didn’t act like an Alfred. But he was the fourth to carry this name and his forebears were people he was proud to lay claim to. Still, Al suited his persona better. At thirty-six, he was still unmarried, and his mama despaired there would never be an Alfred the Fifth.
“We’re gonna have a hellavu time tracking this down, that’s what I think,” Frank C. Smith the Third sighed. He wasn’t proud of his ancestors though their antics provided him with myriads of tales many thought he made up and embellished with each telling. If they only knew the best stuff — which he kept to himself — they would think he was lying. “If she found the tape like she said she did —”
“You don’t believe her?” Al asked.
Frank raised a hand, “Let me finish. So, if she found the tape like she said she did, then how did it get there?”
“Yeah. I can see the problem. That was one of my first thoughts, too,” Al said, slapping his pen on the notepad.
“Let’s get it down to the lab and let ’em have a go at it. Maybe they’ll come up with the smoking fingerprint or something.” Smith placed the tapes in the bag. “Wanna come?”
“No. I’m gonna call the store — Tuesday Morning, right? — and start asking some questions,” Jones said as he walked out the door and down the hall.
He hollered back, “Hey, you know what we need, doncha? We need that lady’s fingerprints so we can eliminate her. You wanna call her and get her back in here or you want me to?”