Coming Spring/Summer 2024

Back to Index

Chapter 1

The Omega Club

Michael L. Piazza

A warm September breeze blew across Matt’s face as he stood on the patio, looking out at the bright sunny day. The temperature was in the eighties, the usual Mississippi mild heat for this time of year. The forecast was for a clear and sunny afternoon and evening. A warm, but otherwise beautiful day for Rusty's and Charlotte's wedding.

Matt walked into the condo and down the hall to his office. He stood at his desk and opened the middle drawer to retrieve his Task Force smart phone. He was unsure as to whether or not he would need his ID wallet at the wedding, but pulled the phone from the drawer and placed it in his coat pocket. As he removed his current Task Force ID wallet, still trying to decide whether or not to take it with him, he noticed his old Inspector General ID wallet lying just behind where his current one had been.

He opened the old wallet and smiled at the picture. It was taken during his first week as Inspector General, over six years ago. Matt mused at the youthfulness and exuberance that emanated from the face in the picture. A year before that picture was taken, Matt accepted a job with his old friend Jack Leonard, moving back home to Mississippi as the Governor’s Budget Officer. He had grown weary of his years of constant travel and the lack of having a solid base to call home. Though the job with Jack required some occasional overnight travel within the state, it allowed Matt to otherwise have a settled place to come home to each day. A year later, he gratefully accepted the position as Inspector General, and the face in the picture definitely reflected that.

Matt then placed his current Task Force ID next to the old one, and opened the wallet, placing the pictures side by side. He winced at the picture taken just four months ago, compared to the one of six years before. The face in the Task Force ID was almost stoic, as opposed to the genuinely smiling man in the old picture. His eyes seemed tired and strained. There was an overall demeanor of skepticism and cynicism in the face of the man in the Task Force ID wallet. The two pictures did not seem to be of the same person.

As Matt closed the Inspector General ID wallet, he took a deep breath. Three weeks ago was the first anniversary of Herbert Jinson’s funeral. Herb’s death was the beginning of the CAIN System tornado that has roared through his life for the past year. He recalled the day at Herb’s grave and his encounter with Rusty Payton, who then was the leader of a covert four member intelligence team, and now his friend and colleague on the AG’s Special Task Force. In little over an hour, he and Sandy would attend the wedding of Rusty and his fiancé Charlotte Ramson, the Deputy Chief of Security for the current Governor. Closing the desk drawer, Matt shook his head at the changes that the past year had brought to his life.  

His reminiscing was interrupted by the sound of their baby Jenny starting to cry in the next room. Matt immediately walked to the office door and saw Sandy walking into the other bedroom, followed by her mother and Malory Winslow. Matt then stood in the doorway to the other bedroom watching the women hover over the baby bed, tending to the tiny child in the middle of the bed. He smiled at the love and care that the women were abundantly giving to the two-month-old baby.

Jenny had been born the first week of July, right on schedule. On the evening of the Fourth of July, Matt and Sandy had attended the fireworks extravaganza on the other side of the reservoir. Halfway through the event, Sandy started having labor pains. Around midnight that night, Sandy was ready to go to the hospital. Jenny was born shortly after four a.m. Matt likes to say that the fireworks announced Jenny’s arrival, and that she has been a loud and sparkling delight to his life, just as the fireworks filled up the sky the night she was born.

“We had better get going soon,” Matt said, looking at his watch, “we don’t want to be late for the gala event we are invited to. Plus,” he said with a smile, looking at the two women standing next to Sandy, “I guess Jenny must be quite a handful to require two babysitters.”

“Well, she’s quite a darling,” Sandy’s mother Annette said, patting Jenny’s feet, “Malory and I will take good care of her. This is only the second time that she’ll be here without her mother hovering over her, so we want to be sure that she is fully entertained.”

“And,” Mallory said, smiling and lightly rubbing her protruding stomach, “with this one coming sometime around Thanksgiving, I’m getting a lot of experience at being a new mother.”

“When that baby gets here,” Sandy said, picking Jenny up from the bed, “we can have a jam packed girl’s time together, the four of us having a great time. You, me, Jenny and Tracy, quite a combination.”

“Then I’ll have a double combo of girls to have fun with,” Annette said, gingerly taking Jenny from Sandy’s arms. “Come to your sweet Nettie and let her love on you for a while.”

“I guess we can leave our precious Jenny with her Nettie and Aunt Malory,” Matt said, looking at his watch again, “and go see Rusty Payton forsake his bachelorhood. That’s definitely an event worth celebrating!”

As they all walked to the front door, Sandy stopped and looked at Jenny in Annette’s arms. Tears came to her eyes. “I don’t know,” Sandy said, touching Jenny’s fingers, “maybe you should go on by yourself. They won’t miss me…”

“No, you don’t,” Annette said, shaking her head at Sandy, “you go have a good time, we are fully capable of taking care of this darling baby for a couple of hours. Now, go on,” she said, motioning with her head, “go and have a good time with your husband and your friends. You need some fun time. We’ll let you know if anything comes up.”

Sandy kissed Jenny’s forehead and turned and walked out the door. Matt held her hand as they walked to the car. As Sandy got in the passenger’s seat, she sat with the door open, reluctant to close it.

“Come on,” Matt said, looking at her as he sat ready to start the car, “it’s only for a couple of hours. I have to leave her everyday for the entire day. We’ll be home before you know it. Your mother was right, you need some fun time with me and your friends.”

Sandy nodded and slowly closed the door. “You’re right,” she said with a smile, “let’s go celebrate Rusty and Charlotte getting married. It’s been a fun summer with them, we should be there for them today.”

Matt pulled out of the driveway and up the hill. Sandy had only been away from Jenny for a short time one afternoon last week when Sandy had a doctor’s appointment. Annette and Malory kept Jenny then as well. Otherwise, she had been with her constantly. Matt was glad to see her make herself take some time away from her duties as mother and relax with friends.

Over the summer, Matt and Sandy had gotten together a couple of times each week with Rusty and Charlotte, either at Matt’s condo, or somewhere for lunch or dinner. The two couples really enjoy each other’s company. Rusty and Charlotte had some last minute jitters about making the plunge into marriage, but Matt and Sandy helped them work through it. Today promises to be a good day for the four of them.

After the seventh code element of the CAIN System was wiped out in May by Ben Demopolis in his characterization as Ben Anderson, the bulk of the Attorney General’s Special Task Force’s charter had been accomplished. The only work remaining for the Task Force is to close the pending investigations, and finalize the case files for archiving. After Jenny was born, Malory continued to bring files to the condo for Sandy to help her prepare them for archiving. Their work together will soon come to a close, with only about two weeks of tasks left for them to accomplish.

The current Task Force carry-over funding is adequate enough to carry the agency through mid-October, when all operations are scheduled to be completed. With the Task Force nearing completion and dissolution, only a handful of agents are still on staff, doing specialized work to see the agency through to its closing. Matt and Rusty are playing a vital role in overseeing the final operations.

“Looks like the place,” Matt said, turning into the entranceway to the apartment complex where Charlotte lives. “Made it by four thirty,” Matt said, looking at his watch, “a half hour to spare before the gala event of the day.”

As they pulled in front of the apartment complex office building where the multi-purpose room is located, Matt looked over at the large swimming pool and tennis courts bordering the parking lot. “Not very busy for a Sunday,” Matt said, looking at the few people lounging around the pool area, “guess the heavy summer time stuff has ended. Well,” he said with a smile, “guess we’d better go on inside and see what’s happening.”

They walked through the main doorway to the office complex and saw a sign on a tripod down the hallway which read, “Payton – Ramson Wedding,” with an arrow pointing toward a doorway.

“Must be the place,” Matt said, pointing at the sign. “Shall we?” he asked, holding his arm out for Sandy to join him.

“Yes, indeed!” Sandy said, mildly excited, “you and Mama were right, it feels great to be out for a good time. I can’t wait to see Charlotte as a bride. After you,” she said, placing her hand on Matt’s forearm, “let’s go enjoy this wonderful time with our friends.”

As they walked into the multi-purpose room, they noticed a small amount of wedding style decorations. On a table against the wall was a small wedding cake with a punch bowl next to it. Standing around the room were people that they did not recognize. They slowly walked over to a couple in their mid-to-late sixties and introduced themselves.

“Well, it is really great to finally meet you,” the woman said with a smile, “I’m Marsha Ramson, Charlotte’s mother. And this is Tom, my husband. I’ve heard so much about you from Charlotte,” the woman said, giving Sandy a slight hug, “I don’t think she would have been able to do this without you.”

While they exchanged pleasantries, Matt studied Charlotte’s father Tom. He was a retired executive from the Department of Public Safety, having served a couple of decades in the field as a Patrolman. Matt vaguely remembered him from an audit that he had conducted on the DPS budget, but he and the man did not have much interaction. He did recall that they laughed that Charlotte, an investigator with the Bureau of Narcotics at the time, was a “chip off the old block,” following in her father’s footsteps.

Two younger women walked up and Mrs. Ramson introduced them as Charlotte’s sisters, both several years to Charlotte’s junior. Charlotte had told Matt and Sandy that both of her sisters were business majors and worked as administrators for the state. Neither had any interest in law enforcement, but preferred the challenges associated with managing budgets and running their portions of the government.

“Have you met Rusty’s parents?” Mrs. Ramson asked, pointing to a couple in their mid-seventies.

“No, we haven’t,” Matt responded, looking at the couple standing only a few feet from them. He immediately saw a resemblance to the woman and Rusty. A lot of the same facial features. The man and Rusty had a lot of the same physical features, but little to no facial similarities.

“Manny and Rita,” Mrs. Ramson said, walking over to Rusty’s parents, “I would like to introduce you to Matt and Sandy Petricelli. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about them from Rusty.”

“Yes, we’ve certainly heard a lot about y’all,” Mrs. Payton said with a smile, “so glad to meet you.”

As they talked, Matt could see a lot of Rusty’s behaviors were shared by his father. Mr. Payton was a retired military executive who served in Vietnam and had minor deployments to several other skirmishes before being promoted into the executive ranks. He was quiet, polite, with a very self-controlled demeanor. Matt could tell where Rusty got many of his attributes.

Matt’s concentration was diverted when he saw George Trane, Chief of Security for the Governor, walk through the door. Charlotte works as Deputy Chief reporting directly to Chief Trane. As he entered the room, Chief Trane stopped and made a quick observation of the room and the few guests that were there, then looked into the hallway and slightly nodded. In walked Frances Woodriff, the current Governor.

Frances is an attractive woman in her early sixties, full figured and about five feet six inches tall, shoulder length blonde hair with some gray mixing in. She has a commanding presence and projects an aura of authority. As she entered the room, everyone looked her way. She walked directly up to Matt and reached out and shook his hand.

In private, Frances shows more emotion with hugs and embraces, but in public, she restricts her interactions to a formal, but cordial greeting. When Matt and Sandy visited with her in the privacy of her office during the first week of June, Frances gave both of them long, and strong hugs. Today, in public, she stood aloof and professional, shaking their hands.

“Well,” she said, looking at Matt and Sandy, “I’m sure you are as excited about today as we are. I believe these two were made for each other, so it is great to see them join in the union of marriage.”

“Well,” Matt said with a smile, “wasn’t sure they would actually make the leap, but it looks like we are here and ready for them to make everything official.”

The three of them talked briefly about Rusty and Charlotte, and how they comfortably manage their individual roles and the related levels of confidentiality with their work. Governor Woodriff said that she believed that they both have what it takes to maintain their relationship while leaving much of the happenings of their jobs at the door each evening.

“Enough about them,” Frances said, smiling and looking at Sandy, “how is that wonderful baby of yours? I’m now enjoying time with our new grandbaby and absolutely loving it.”

“Well, Jenny is doing great,” Sandy smiled back, “and her grandmother, along with my BFF Agent Winslow, are watching her while we are here. As much as I trust them,” she said with a sigh, “I still miss holding her myself.”

“And it is always that way with the first child,” Frances said, touching Sandy’s forearm, “but with time, you will slowly but surely let go. Just wait until she leaves for college! That’s when your heart will be racing beyond description.”

The two women laughed and nodded in agreement. Frances quickly scanned the guests in the room, then looked at Matt and softly asked, “Are Charlotte’s parents here yet?”

“Yes,” Matt answered, “that’s them over there,” he said pointing to the couple.

“I just met them a few minutes ago,” Sandy interjected, “I’ll be glad to introduce you.”

“Wonderful!” Frances said with a smile, then looked into Matt’s eyes, “after the ceremony, can we spend a few minutes together? I sure would like to get a quick update of where the CAIN thing stands.”

Matt looked at Sandy who nodded to him, then he looked back at Frances, “No problem, just let me know when you are ready and we’ll chat.”

As Sandy and Frances turned and walked toward Charlotte’s parents, George Trane walked up to Matt and shook his hand. “Good to see you again, Matthew, a great day for a wedding,” George said with a smile, “I’ll be glad when this is done so Charlotte will get back to normal. The whole nervous bride thing, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, George,” Matt smiled, “I can only imagine what she has been like. But, these two seem meant for each other, so I think it will be a good start to a long life together.”

George quickly glanced around at the people standing close by, then reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. “So, Matthew,” George said softly, handing the card to Matt, “the last time you, Rusty and me met, y’all were looking for a seasoned database person who really knows the Backstage system. This is the best person I know of,” George said, pointing to the card in Matt’s hand.

“Norman Satora,” Matt read from the card, “PC Supplies and Service. Norman Satora,” Matt repeated, looking at the card, “that name sounds familiar,” he said, looking back at George. “Why does his name seem so familiar?”

“I’m sure that you remember the Mother’s Food Program blowup from about five years ago. Norm was at the heart of bringing that scam to light,” George said seriously. “Your staff wasn’t able to be officially involved, but they advised him some and reviewed the findings when it was all over.”

“Oh, yeah!” Matt said, holding the card in fingers, lightly shaking it, “didn’t he end up having to do some kind of whistleblowing thing with the Fed Agency over the MFP? If I remember, things didn’t turn out too well for him.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” George said with a frown, “the guilty agency did their best to discredit him, then booted him out of the agency with only a partial retirement. He’s been labelled ‘a dangerous whistleblower’ since. Hasn’t been able to get work in any other agencies since that incident, so he’s tried to make his way the best that he can. Thus, the PC work,” George said, pointing to the card. “I don’t know of anybody who knows the Backstage software better than Norm does.”

“Thanks, George,” Matt said, putting the card in his coat pocket, “I’ll sure get in touch with him and see if he can help us out.”

“Be careful when you approach him,” George said frowning, “suffering the repercussions of being a whistleblower has caused him to become really caustic and cynical. But, you should be able to handle that pretty easily.”

“Yeah,” Matt responded, a sad look on his face, “he has every right to be that way. The CAIN thing has brought quite a bit of cynicism to my life as well. I know just how he feels.”

“Just one piece of advice,” George said seriously, “be sure to be totally honest with him. He can spot BS from a mile away. After what he has been through, he’s not interested in playing puppet or patsy for anyone. Shoot straight with him and I believe he’ll really give you his best.”

“Thanks, George,” Matt said, shaking George’s hand, “we need all the help that we can get, especially from someone of Norms’ ability.”

George looked over Matt’s shoulder and waved to Mrs. Ramson and smiled. “Excuse me, please,” he said to Matt, “I need to go visit with Charlotte’s parents.”

“Sure thing,” Matt replied, “thanks for the card. I’ll definitely get in touch with Norm first thing tomorrow.”

“By the way,” George said, shaking Matt’s hand as he turned to walk toward the Ramsons, “Norm loves Jared’s Java House. When I need to get on his good side, I treat him to the daily lunch special there.”

“Gotcha’!” Matt smiled, “thanks again.”

Matt looked at the doorway and saw Reverend Amy Jindel walking in. She is one of the priests from Charlotte’s church and will conduct today’s ceremony. Matt glanced at his watch and it was four fifty-five, just a few minutes before the ceremony would begin. Rev. Jindel smiled and waved to Matt as she walked to the front of the room.

Rev. Jindel had invited Matt and Sandy to attend two informal meetings in the past three weeks with Rusty and Charlotte as they grappled with making their final decision about getting married. Matt was impressed with her pastoral skills in helping them make their decision, and enjoyed his interaction with her. Matt smiled as he realized that he usually sees people in their professional attire first, then sees them somewhere “out of uniform” in their informal attire. The opposite was true with Rev. Jindel. In the two meetings, she was in casual clothes, but today she was wearing a black robe, a white minister’s collar, with a brightly colored epitrachelion (a sash worn by priests). He smiled as he acknowledged her in her role as the minister in charge of the ceremony.

Matt looked around the room at the small crowd. Because Charlotte’s supervisors Chief Trane and Governor Woodriff were in attendance, noticeably absent to Matt were Rusty’s supervisors, Deputy Attorney General Kendra Fondren and Attorney General Dave Stanford. Matt immediately retrieved his Task Force phone from his coat pocket to see if he had missed any texts or messages from them. There were none.

Just as he started to become concerned, Kendra Fondren came into the room and walked directly over to Matt. “Wow!” she said out of breath, “got caught behind a fender-bender and thought I was going to be late. Looks like I’m just in time.”

“Glad you made it,” Matt said, looking at the door, “is Dave Stanford with you?”

“No,” Kendra said, attempting to catch her breath, “you know he was attending that conference in Orlando. They invited him to participate as a panelist in an open session today and tomorrow, so he should be back sometime Tuesday.”

When Kendra said that, Matt immediately reflected to the day at Herb’s funeral when Brand Reiger told him that Jack Leonard would not be attending the funeral because of the same kind of presentation Jack would be involved in at a Governor’s conference he was attending. A scowl came across his face.

“Look, Matt,” Kendra said, noticing Matt’s reaction and placing her hand on his arm, “you and I both know that Rusty could give hoot if Dave is here or not. You and I are the important ones, and we are here for him.”

“Okay,” Matt said, relaxing, “I guess you are right. It’s just that it seems to me if the Governor can take time from her schedule to be here, certainly the Attorney General could do so as well.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Rev. Jindel spoke, interrupting their conversation, getting the attention of the small group of people in the room, “we will begin in just a few minutes. If you would, please take your seats so that we can begin. The first row,” she said, looking at the three rows of chairs, “is reserved for the families of the bride and groom. Everyone else should simply sit where you are comfortable.”

“Mind if I sit with you?” Kendra asked, looking at the small group of people in the room, “don’t seem to know anyone else.”

“Yes, you are very welcome to,” Matt said, looking at Sandy and motioning to the end seats on the second row. Sandy nodded and headed towards him.

Matt allowed Kendra to sit on the end seat, he sat in the next seat, Sandy sat in the seat next to him. Frances Woodriff walked over and sat next to Sandy, with George Trane sitting next to her. They all relaxed and prepared for the service to start.

“Good to see you,” Sandy said to Kendra, reaching over Matt to shake Kendra’s hand, “it’s so good to be here to celebrate with these two.”

“You are so right,” Kendra responded, “and where is your precious baby. Thought you might bring her with you.”

“No,” Sandy smiled, “I wanted to, but Mama and Malory wouldn’t hear of it. So she’s there with them. I’m sure they’re having fun.”

Rusty came in and walked to the front of the room, and stood on the left-hand side of Rev. Jindel. He turned and faced the small group. He had on a dark, pin-striped suit and a warm-colored blue tie. Matt smiled at how good the suit looked on Rusty.

After a moment, Charlotte came in the room, and slowly walked to the front and stood on the right-hand side of Rev. Jindel. She turned and faced the small group. She had on a white dress with lace over her shoulders and chest, holding a small bouquet of flowers.

“Doesn’t she look stunning,” Sandy said to Frances, “a far cry from the cop look she has most days.”

“Yes, she does looking stunning,” Frances said smiling, “definitely a different person than the one that comes to our offices each day.”

As she had promised in the meetings with Rusty and Charlotte, Rev. Jindel performed a very simple and short ceremony, quickly getting to the part for them to exchange their vows. After they placed the rings on each other’s hands, Rev. Jindel said,  “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride,” she said softly to Rusty. The two held a short embrace as they kissed, then turned and looked back at the minister.

Rev. Jindel spread her arms wide and said enthusiastically to the small crowd, “Please congratulate these two as they enter into their new life together!” Everyone stood and gave the couple a hearty applause.

Matt quickly walked up to Rusty, shook his hand and hugged him. “Congratulations, my brother!” he said with a smile, “wanted to be the first to congratulate you!”

“Thanks, brother,” Rusty said with a big smile, “I don’t think we would have been able to do this without you and Sandy standing with us.”

“Our pleasure,” Matt said, giving him another hug, “I’m getting out of the way so everyone else can congratulate you. We’ll talk in a few minutes.”

Matt walked back to where Kendra was standing. Sandy had walked over and was standing next to Charlotte, greeting people and having a great time. Matt was glad that Sandy made herself take some time away from constantly caring for Jenny and have some fun. She definitely needed the break.

As Matt and Kendra chatted, a tone sounded that Matt had not heard before. He could not tell where it was coming from. Kendra frowned and reached in her purse and pulled out her phone, looking at the screen.

“What in the world would the office want on a Sunday afternoon?” Kendra said, pushing the button on the bottom of the screen. “This is Kendra,” she said into the phone. Kendra frowned, and said, “When did this happen?” Kendra walked off, obviously seeking privacy for the call.

Frances Woodriff walked up and shook Matt’s hand, looking around the room. “Looks like that arrogant and lousy so-and-so Dave Stanford derelicted another one of his duties! I can’t believe, after what Rusty has done for the Task Force, that he would not be here to support him and Charlotte! What a jerk!!”

“Kendra said he had to stay at the conference he was attending and participate in a panel…” Matt stammered, reacting to Frances’ harsh tone towards Dave Stanford.

Frances interrupted him and said sharply, “Yeah, I guess another day at a resort property was too much for him to pass up. Especially to attend such a humble event as this,” she said, her eyes flaring as she pointed around the room. “People like him make me sick to my stomach!" 

Matt didn’t know how to respond. Frances has always been calm and unemotional, much the way Rusty had been when he first got to know him. To see such an emotional reaction from her left Matt speechless.

“Well, kind sir,” Frances said after a moment, regaining her composure, “doesn’t look like this is going to be a good time or place for us to visit.” She pulled her phone out of her purse and swiped a couple of times. “Can we get together,” she said, looking at the screen, “say, after lunch on Tuesday? Perhaps two o’clock?”

“I don’t know what I have then,” Matt responded, caught off guard by her quick change of topic. “I can look tomorrow and let you know.”

“Rusty will still be out of town then,” Frances said, typing on the screen. “I have you down for two on Tuesday,” she said, smiling as she put her phone in her purse, “if you have a conflict arise, call me and we can reschedule. Otherwise, see you then.”

Frances shook Matt’s hand, turned and signaled to Chief Trane. The two of them quickly left the room. No one seemed to notice, since Rusty and Charlotte had become the center of attention. As Matt was trying to recover from the emotions shown by Frances, one of Charlotte’s sisters walked up and smiled at Matt, holding a piece of wedding cake and a small cup of punch.  

“Here you go, Mr. Petricelli,” she said, handing Matt the cake and punch, “please enjoy these in celebration of Rusty and my sister. I know you have been a good friend to them.”

“Well, thank you so much,” Matt said, smiling back to her, “I will definitely enjoy these in their honor.”

Matt looked around the room as he ate the cake and sipped the punch. He noticed Sandy standing in a small group of women, laughing and talking with Charlotte and her mother. He was very glad that she was having a good time out with friends. He knew that when she missed Jenny enough, they would leave. Until then, he would mix and enjoy himself as well.

After a few minutes, Kendra came walking back into the room with her phone still to her ear. She stopped about three feet from Matt, said something into the phone, then put it in her purse. She had a deep frown on her face as she walked up to Matt. 

“Doesn’t look like good news,” Matt said, looking at her expression. “Anything I can help with?”

“Well, actually,” she responded, lips tight, “it is about you. Jack Leonard made a call to our weekend emergency line and requested a meeting with you tomorrow morning.”

“Wow!” Matt said, eyes squinting, “I thought he's in the process of being transported to a federal prison. What could he need to see me about?”

Jack Leonard had been awaiting the final trials and sentencing for his role in the seventh code scheme and the related impact in the overall CAIN system. On Friday, the final counts were adjudicated and the judge ordered Jack to spend five years in federal prison, possible parole after two years. Most people felt that it was a very minor sentence in light  of the severity of the abuses that Jack had perpetrated during his second term as governor.

Matt had decided that these Omegas that Jack told him about had shielded Jack from any severe repercussions for his actions, since he in essence acted on their behalf. Waiting until the investigation was all but closed to sentence Jack seemed like a shrewd tactic to Matt. With the press coverage and public attention almost nil, Jack could quietly leave the state and go serve his sentence without any fanfare or exposure.

“And what worries me,” Kendra said, shaking her head, “I can’t fathom what he wants to visit with you about. He says he wants to extend to you a farewell amends. Not sure just what the hell that means. Do you have any idea of what he could be talking about?”

“Not a clue,” Matt answered sincerely, “after our last meeting in May, I didn’t expect to see Jack again. Much less have him request an eleventh hour meeting with me.”

“I just don’t know,” Kendra said, shaking her head again, “something is not right with this. It seems too weird. I’m just not sure I want to let this meeting happen. On Tuesday morning when the feds take him into custody he is theirs, but until then, he is still under our jurisdiction. I’m just not sure,” she said, looking at the floor, “if this should happen or not.”

Matt saw Rusty, Charlotte and Sandy walking toward him and Kendra. Matt figured that Sandy was ready to go home and see Jenny, so Rusty and Charlotte were coming to tell him goodbye. Rusty and Charlotte were going to take a quick trip to New Orleans and be back to work on Wednesday. He wanted to congratulate them again and wish them well on their trip.

“Look, Kendra,” Matt said, motioning with his eyes, “Sandy and the bride and groom are coming our way. You don’t have to decide this now. I’ll be at the office at the usual time tomorrow, and you can let me know then. If you need me to go, I will. If you don’t think it’s a good thing, I won’t go. Your call,” he said, smiling.

“Okay, thanks, Matt,” Kendra said, smiling at Sandy as she walked up, “we’ll talk in the morning. Well,” she said, grabbing Sandy’s hand, “looks like somebody is ready to get home and see her baby!”

“Yeah, I’m starting to miss her,” Sandy replied, “I know Mama and Malory have taken good care of her, but I’m ready to be back home with her. It’ll be time for her supper before too long, don’t want to keep her waiting.”

“Congratulations, again,” Kendra said, embracing Rusty, then Charlotte, “take you time getting back. The world can operate without you for a couple of days.”

“I’m not too sure about that,” Charlotte said, rolling her eyes toward Rusty, “this one thinks the world is on his shoulders. But, we’ll have a good time, just the same.”

“Thanks for being here, Kendra,” Rusty said with a smile, “it meant a lot for us to have you here. Seriously, let me know if anything comes up that you need me for.”

“Will do,” Kendra smiled, shaking her head, then smiling at Charlotte, “I’ll call you every fifteen minutes and give you updates.”

They all laughed at Kendra’s poking fun at Rusty. Kendra visited with the four of them for a few minutes, then looked at her watch. “Guess I’d better be getting home,” she said with a smile, “these new shoes are killing me. Stay safe and see you on Wednesday,” she said to Rusty as she turned to leave.

“She didn’t look too happy,” Rusty said quietly as Kendra left the room. “Anything you can let me in on?”

“Not really,” Matt replied, looking at the empty doorway, “just some last minute details with Jack Leonard’s transfer to the Feds. No big deal.”

“So, Matt,” Rusty said, with Charlotte and Sandy standing close by, “Tom told me that George Trane and you seemed to have an intense interaction. He said it looked like George gave you a card or something. What’s that all about?”

“Oh, my goodness,” Matt chuckled, “you cops never stop do you? Even at your wedding!”

“Becomes our natural way,” Rusty smiled, “kinda gets ingrained in our behaviors, I guess.”

“Or,” Matt laughed, “it could be some type of affliction!”

As the four of them laughed at Matt’s statement, he pulled the business card from his pocket and handed it to Rusty. “If you must know,” Matt said, “George passed this along as his recommendation for a database person. Ever hear of him?”

“Norman Satora,” Rusty said, reading from the card. “Doesn’t ring a bell,” Rusty said, handing the card back to Matt.

“Mother’s Food Program scam,” Sandy said, looking at Matt. “We didn’t bother you with it back then, but Norman came to our offices and visited with Bob Pierce, our other Audit Manager,” Sandy said, looking from Matt to Rusty. “Since the program wasn’t directly under our purview, we weren’t able to help him, but Bob did spend some time trying to advise him. Got pretty messy when it all came out.”

“Yeah,” Matt replied, “George said he thought that our staff reviewed some of the findings. You think I should talk with him?” Matt said to Sandy.

“I would,” Sandy replied, nodding her head, “he’s really a sharp guy, and from what we understood, a very proficient database guy.”

“Okay,” Matt said, putting the card back in his pocket, “enough abut all of this. I can tell this sweet mother is anxious to get home to our baby.”

“Yep,” Sandy said, giving Charlotte a hug, “it was great to be here, but Matt’s right. I’m really ready to get home to my precious Jenny.”

“Thanks so much for being there for us the past few weeks,” Charlotte said with a tear in her eye, “and for being here for us today. You are special to us! Words can’t express…”

“We must let these two get on their way,” Rusty said, politely interrupting the emotional interaction of the two women. “We’ll have plenty of time when we get back to catch up on everything.”

The two couples embraced as Matt and Sandy wished them a fun two days in New Orleans, then invited them over on Thursday night for an early dinner. “I’ll let you know if anything comes up,” Matt said, shaking Rusty’s hand, “otherwise, enjoy your time in New Orleans!”

“Will do,” Rusty said, patting his coat pocket, “got my phone with me so I’m only a button push away.”

As they drove out of the apartment complex, Matt could tell that Sandy had a wonderful time at the wedding, but that she was ready to be home with their Jenny. They carried on small talk about the wedding and the guests, but the closer they got to home, the more Sandy began to talk about Jenny, wondering how she did while they were away. When Matt pulled into the garage of the condo, Sandy looked over and kissed Matt’s cheek.

“Thanks for a wonderful time out,” Sandy said with a smile, “it was a needed break for us.”

Before Matt could answer, Sandy had opened the door and was on her way into the condo. Matt chuckled at her urgency. When they entered the condo, they found Annette and Malory sitting quietly in the living room, with Malory holding Jenny and slowly moving back and forth in the rocking chair. Jenny appeared to be asleep.

“Shhh,” Annette whispered, before Sandy could say anything, “she had a wonderful time and fell asleep about ten minutes ago. She had a great time, but I know she’ll be glad to see her mother when she wakes up.”

Sandy sat on the couch next to Annette and lightly touched Jenny’s toes as Malory rocked her. Matt excused himself and went into the bedroom and changed to his shorts and tee shirt. He smiled as he stood in the hallway, ready to go out to his patio sanctuary. “This scene,” he said to himself, “is something I could never have imagined in my empty condo. Life is good,” he smiled.


View Chapter 2