Breaking Steele: Book 2 of the Jasmine Steele Mystery Series
It feels like it’s been eons since my cell phone rang. Forever since Officer Garrison drove drunk killing my brother and his wife; leaving me to raise their son, Chase. Years since that same officer went on a killing spree and threatened my family. Months since I killed another corrupt officer to protect them. If you put these events on a timeline, you would see how spread out they are. How long this paper trail started piling up. It was only the beginning.
Regardless of the space between events, in my mind they flood together. I can still smell the rain as I watched them lower Keith Garrison’s body into the ground. Detective Everts shot him to save my life, but I needed to see it, and feel it, just to make sure. As I hid, covered by the trees, I watched Irving Garrison shed no tears while the casket was lowered. A Latino woman, who I didn’t care to identify, was by his side. Closure was grand, but I felt there was always more to the story so I kept digging.
You won’t believe how much you can truly find on a person if you spend a little bit of time online. Forget the social media crap. I’m talking about programs that search your name, your contacts, your investments. Everything you do online, I learned, is ripe for the picking if you know where to look for it. With the help of my lead technology expert and Hadley’s boyfriend, Logan Pevy, I found the pot of gold.
The older Garrison always had his hands in dirty dealings. Drugs, murder for hire, human trafficking — he did it all. Always one hand in the cookie jar, but out just before mom catches him stealing one before dinner. He’s a sly, smarmy, and vile man who puts power above everything else. My mother always said money can corrupt people, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Garrison is as corrupt as they come, but like any other high-powered man, nothing sticks to him.
That’s the worst part of this job, the knowing. Seeing this man free, knowing he is in control with expendable masses below him. You give him a few people in horrible situations with no way out and toss a few hundred dollars their way and they’ll do anything. Worse yet, give him a person with that itch to murder and you have a scary tandem. That person has no remorse, no feelings, no connections. Everything in their life: bodily functions, intimacy, conversation — it’s all a means to an end.
Harry Brandt was one of Garrison’s “friends.” He was good, but Logan was better and we beat Harry at his own game. It came with a significant cost. A lot of things in this life do. I wasn’t adept at the game being played. It was new to me, in an area I was weak, but not anymore. Now I know what to expect. Now I’m playing their game. How do you go after a rat? You can poison it and hope it dies. Or you can go in with fire and force it out of its hole.
Logan and I released everything we could find online—real or circumstantial—for the drama-hungry population, trying to flush out our rat.
It only took a few weeks, but social media picked it up first. Some snippets here, then more posts there but then it became political. Garrison was a well-known political donating force. His money was invested in candidates who supported his businesses, like all powerful donors. Most were bought with funds, some promised small local elections, and others given whatever they wanted. Conservatives took to the airwaves demanding this home-grown millionaire be given a fair trial in the courts and not in the public forum. Only God can judge, they threw out more than once. Liberals screamed Irving was the face of tyranny and abuse of a Republican-based government. Independents just turned their nose up at both and said if he’s guilty, he’ll pay. Until the public became involved, the airwaves were quiet. Now, after the ‘it’s online so it must be true’ syndrome has taken place, the screaming makes me smile sadistically. The rat is out of his hole.
As I watched my work unfold like a bad remake of a cult classic film, the nagging voice in the back of my head warns me to be careful. I know Garrison’s reach is extensive. I know Judge Rufus Killian is in his back pocket. His proclivity towards Garrison’s young male trade was as clear as day. We couldn’t prove it with evidence, but who needs that anymore? Not when we have the online population. If it’s online, it must be true. Take a look at anything trending today and you’ll see that’s the case.
I watch Logan drink his coffee across from me, the worry plain on his face. He tries to stay strong, but the fear of retribution weighs on him. I wonder if our actions will bring unexpected consequences, but part of me doesn’t care.
The rat is exposed and this time I plan on killing it.
If there was ever something that can brighten up my day, wake me from a sound sleep, or make the sunshine a little bit brighter, it’s coffee. If Frankie could hear my thoughts, she would have her one eyebrow raised and a smirk firmly placed on her lips. I can’t help it. Sure, Frankie and Chase make my day every day, but they can’t change my moods all the time. Frankie’s the same with food. Put her in front of some really good food, and I swear her face lights up brighter than the sun. Give Chase a free weekend with a new video game, a full day at lacrosse practice, or a no-rules day — he lights up like a Christmas tree. The point is, we all love each other, but there are some things that just make each of us a bit happier.
Getting out of a warm bed though, not so much. The bruises on my body from apprehending Harry Brandt might have healed, but the deeper wounds remain. The mental scars shake me when I’m sleeping. The hallway straight out of a horror film still finds me, and some nights I can push them away. I don’t have a physical space to divert the negative energy anymore. Frankie saw to that when she ripped apart my basement hideaway. It’s now Chase’s sports gear storage room. My nightmares simply persist.
I hear Chase calling from the kitchen. Their voices were quieter before. They must have thought I was still sleeping. I wish. I slide my feet to the floor and feel the cold wood against my skin.
No dreams linger in my mind. The smell of fresh brewing coffee slides effortlessly into my sinuses and the left corner of my mouth rises unconsciously into a slight smile. Like I said, it’s the little things.
Dragging my old tired body into the kitchen, Frankie sits with a mug in front of her. Her glasses perched at the tip of her nose, wavy blond hair cascading down her left arm as her perfectly polished nails hold up a piece of paper closer to her face. Her dark gray suit contrasts beautifully with her naturally tan skin. Slight wrinkles in her forehead add to the look of confusion etched on her face.
Chase sits in his normal jeans and a name brand t-shirt next to Frankie. He’s grown up so much in these last few years. I wish his parents were here to see him now. I force myself out of my reverie to clear my throat announcing my presence.
“About time!” Chase looks up at me. “Aunt Frankie made a fresh pot for you so you could help me.”
“The whole pot, just for me.” I say sarcastically.
“Trust me, you’ll need it,” Frankie gestures towards the papers. “I’m considering adding some whiskey to mine.”
I give her a sideways glance as she looks back down at the papers in front of her. Her right hand holds her mug, and the left hand rubs her left temple. If Frankie looks this lost, whatever those papers are can’t be good. I pour my coffee, put my normal dash of milk in it, take a deep whiff of the intoxicating smell, and turn to the table. Time to face the music. I take a sip of my beautiful morning ritual and my mouth puckers instantly — Decaf. I look up to Frankie, who simply smiles smugly in return.
“You’ve been cutting back a lot. Now we go with none.” She simply says.
“Okay, so I’m here.” I sit down looking at the papers filled with random numbers. “What the hell is all of this?”
“The bus will be here in a little bit, and you haven’t finished your homework?”
“Jasmine, we were up pretty late trying to figure it out. It was a parental decision that he needed sleep.” Frankie’s voice and facial expression remind me there is no room for discussion. She was here while I worked on some mindless — but necessary — paperwork. I have no right to criticize.
“Point taken.” She smiles at me and turns her attention back to Chase. “So, what’s wrong with the math homework?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, if it involves Tom or Billy taking two different trains but one leaves earlier than the other and they travel at different speeds, don’t worry about it. It won’t matter when you’re older.”
“Jasmine!” Frankie shoots me a glare above her glasses.
“What? It’s the truth. It doesn’t matter when Billy or Tom get to where ever they’re going. We’re all slaves to the system and the time schedules, so they’ll get there when they get there. You have to plan ahead to ensure you’re on time.”
“You’re silly Aunt Jazz.” Chase laughs at me. Frankie’s face calms down as she watches him enjoy breakfast with the only family he’s known.
“Your Aunt Jasmine needs to let her anger at getting the answer wrong go.” She stares right at me and smiles. Damn her and that smile, always prevents words from actually forming in my brain. Between her and that kid, I swear this part of my life is not my own. I love it.
“Okay kiddo, hit me.”
“Answer this problem. What is sixty-two plus twenty-six?”
“That’s what has you hung up?”
Chase nods simply.
“Okay,” I grab a pencil off the table and write the numbers on the page. “First you add the two plus the six. That equals what?”
Chase looks at his hands and starts to count. Frankie stops him, gently putting his hands back on the table.
“This is simple math, you can do it in your head.”
I watch Chase bounce his head up and down counting each number. “Eight,” he says proudly.
“That’s right; it’s eight. Now what is six plus two?”
He bounces his head again before answering. “Wait, it’s eight again.”
“That’s right. So your answer is what?”
“Right, see it’s easy when you think about it.”
“But that’s not how Ms. Mills does it.”
“How does she do it?” I look over to Frankie, waiting for an answer.
“You take away the extra numbers from the main numbers. Then you add the extras together and then the first numbers. Then you add them both together.”
I look at Chase all confused and he slaps his hand over his eyes.
“Say what?” I ask my voice sounds like an exaggerated cartoon character.
“Forget it, Aunt Jazz. I’ll just get half the points for not explaining my work.”
“What’s there to explain? It’s adding numbers together, not rocket science.”
The bus honks outside, and Chase rushes to put his papers in the solid black backpack. He kisses Frankie on the cheek and then hugs me.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Jazz. If Frankie didn’t understand, I should have known you wouldn’t either.”
He looks at me pitifully before patting me on the head like a puppy and running out the door.
“Have a good day,” Frankie yells after him.
“What did I miss here?”
“Common Core math isn’t the math of our childhood.”
“What the fuck is that bullshit? It’s six plus fucking two. Seriously, kids have other shit to worry about other than removing integers then adding by subtraction. It’s just six plus fucking two!”
“Tell me how you really feel?” Frankie smiles as she finishes her cup of coffee. My cell phone chirps on the counter. I stand to get it.
“How can I help him if this makes no sense to me?” Frankie shrugs as I grab my phone. “Steele,” I say a little more irritated than I intend.
“I’m sorry to bother you so early in the morning detective,” I hear Captain Tyler say.
“Sir, sorry. I was just . . .” bitching about the inability of this country to teach math properly, I finish in my head.
“I don’t care Steele. I need to speak to you in my office.”
“Yes, sir. When?”
The call disconnects and the pit of my stomach drops. Does he know of Logan’s side project? Frankie destroyed my basement but we recreated it digitally. We have a map of everything. All by my memory. Does he know we released the information to cyberspace? This is why secrets never last. They always find a way out of the shadows at the wrong time. Being conscious about who knows what always eats you alive. That and somehow you always manage to let someone down. Like the old saying goes: three people can keep a secret if two are dead.
“Someone better get to work before their boss rips them a new one for being late. You know, with schedules and stuff.” Frankie smiles at me with her light hearted humor.
“You’ll be home later?”
“Normal business hours for me. Chase said he was going to try and teach me one of his shooting games tonight. Something about a zombie apocalypse and needing bait.” She shakes her head with a slight laugh.
That woman has no idea how much I love her, truly love her. That laugh makes everything go away for a few fleeting moments. I trust her with my life, but if the Captain is calling me for this whole Garrison fiasco — I need to finish it. I also can’t lose her, but self-actualizing prophecies are my specialty.
It’s interesting how many people stare at you when you are in deep shit. Like when your siblings know you’re in trouble from Mom so they make subtle noises, point and stare as you walk towards your punishment. I can see the expressions on the officers around me as I weave through the desks towards the Captain’s office. They think my eyes looking straight ahead means I don’t see them, but I feel them looking at me. Sad really. This is our future: untrained wannabes who will cower to anyone because they would rather not end up on the news. They don’t want to be educated or trained. They want the power and the paycheck.
I want justice for the victims. To speak for those who no longer can. This new crop of desk jockeys don’t understand that. They see benefits, pensions, and power. I wish they were more like Will and I. We’re a dying breed, figuratively and literally. Half of those I graduated with have moved on, moved up, retired early, or lost the good fight. This life can break anyone if it wants to.
I take a deep breath and open the door to face my captain. I don’t know what information he has, but I’m sure it will lead to some kind of suspension. As long as it lands solely on me and not Logan. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.
“Jasmine, please sit down,” Captain Tyler says calmly. He’s lost all his hair over the last year, but his brown eyes still read your soul from a mile away. Maybe it’s the dad bod he’s developed since becoming the head of this department, or just his personality. Either way, he hasn’t been on the street since I was a rookie detective. At least he shaves his head now, instead of that bad comb over from years ago when we first started going after Garrison.
I sit quietly as I watch him push papers around on his desk. To the outside world it might look like he’s working. Hell, he might actually be working, but the piles look disorganized and overwhelmingly high.
“I called you in to speak to you about the Garrison case.”
Hear that sound of something whistling as it crashes to the ground behind me? That’s the other shoe.
“Are you aware of the media speculation of Mr. Garrison’s underground dealings?”
“And are you aware that some of this information was deemed classified at given points in time?”
“I was not aware of that, no.”
Captain Tyler puts down the papers in his hand and stares at me. I know he can read through my lies. He’s been around me too long not to see the truth. Like a well-staged crime scene though, I can be an Oscar-worthy actor. I’m not going to make it easy on him.
“Well, it has opened up a much larger, shall we say, emphasis, into various cold cases.”
Cold cases? The information released online was mostly financial in nature. Anything else was purely circumstantial. So, how could this have become a cold case issue without concrete evidence?
“The FBI and others have been digging deeply into the financials of Mr. Garrison and his companies. In the meantime, the police chief spoke to Judge Killian about his connections, and they want us to dig through similar cases for the past twenty years. See if there’s some sort of connection or history we missed.”
“Judge Rufus Killian.” The man who likes tiny humans incapable of consenting. Like I said, smoke screen.
“Yes, is there a problem?”
“No.” Damn right there is.
“I’ve got all the new recruits looking through prior cold cases.”
“Then why do you have these on your desk?”
“These cases are specific. These I know are related.”
I immediately know what he means. These are the more recent cases. The ones that might have mentioned a connection to a holding company, person who worked for one, or even a direct connection to Garrison. That means my brother’s file is in that stack.
“And you need me to do what, exactly?”
He leans back in his chair and stares at me. I know that look. He wants me to stay out of it. He always wants me to avoid it, but it never happens. Some call it irony. I call it Karma. The more I want justice, the more it feels like vengeance. The more it feels like vengeance, the more it feels like the inevitable. And when it feels like the inevitable, the more I feel like I’m falling down the rabbit hole.
“I need you to stay out of the office until this is concluded,” he finally says.
“How am I supposed to do that? Are you suspending me?”
“No, Steele. I want you to work as normal, work your normal cases. I just don’t want you in your office or on the main floor.”
“And if a case leads me to him?”
Tyler folds his arms and looks up to the ceiling. His breath solid and steady. I wish I knew what he was thinking. In one motion, he could remove me from all cases. He could transfer me or take away any case that even hints at being connected to Garrison. I need to finish this like a junkie needs drugs to stay out of withdrawal.
“Jasmine, I’m not a fool. I know you need to see this through more than anyone else. I also know we have to do this by the book. There can’t even be the slightest hint of impropriety.”
He leans forward and stares right at me. His eyes tell me everything I need to know. I’ve got free reign.
“They all know. If it’s something related to Garrison, you’re the detective they call. I’m trusting you and Detective Everts won’t make me regret my decision?”
“Of course not, sir.”
“Good,” he pauses, grabs a file off his desk and tosses it to me. “This call came in this morning. Bodies are in the morgue, but you and Will should check it out.”
“A video game store, sir?” I ask staring at the notes scribbled on the manila lip.
“Suspected as a front for drug trafficking.”
“Okay, what does this have to do with Irving Garrison?”
“It’s rumored he’s a minority owner, but we don’t have anything specific. Yet. But the scene has all the signs of a professional cleanup job.”
“He’s tying up loose ends.”
“Possibly, but it could also just be a bunch of fools shooting up the place. One thing we know for sure is the manager and assistant store manager are dead.”
“Garrison’s not a hands-on kind of guy.” I say as I scan the first page of the file.
“Which is why you are going to look into it.”
I nod, stand and leave the office. I hit Will’s number on my cell phone and send him a quick text with the location. Nothing more. My mind is still reeling from what the captain told me. Do it by the book, but I get to finish this. I get to hunt down these vermin and end his career. Power is intoxicating.