I am currently working on The Trespass, which is an exciting, intricate mystery that brings back Jamie Kelly and Joe Rampone. Catch up with them below!
The bored-looking redhead curled the corner of her mouth and snagged a menu as she led me to the table I had pointed out against the back wall. The End Zone was nearly empty, languishing between the lunch and dinner crowds. Not counting the young couple sitting in a booth near the window, I appeared to be the only other customer.
Boise is a college football city, and the interior of the bar and grill was littered with Bronco paraphernalia, the exterior painted orange and blue. It wasn’t a place I frequented, however, which was the main reason I had picked it. Things had not been going well for me, and I wanted to avoid prior acquaintances.
The redhead stared at me after I sat down, hip-cocked with a questioning tilt to her head.
“Just water for now, thank you.”
“Seriously.” I smiled. “Check back when there are two of us sitting here.”
The redhead seemed placated by that and promised to return with my water.
Over the years there have been few people I would trust with my life. At the moment, the only person in that select group is Jamie Kelly. She stands forefront in my mind because of her loyalty to her friends and her commitment to make the world a better place.
When I first met her, she had just begun a crusade to help a childhood friend. Little did she or I know she was taking on a gang that called itself the Violent Human Predators. She was only eighteen and had set her sights on becoming an Army Ranger like her father had been, so even then she was a force of nature and had a mind of her own. But I also saw she had a good heart, and once she was on a mission, she didn’t stop until she was finished.
I was a patrol cop then, and we became good friends during the ordeal. It was a rough time for Jamie because her father had returned from Iraq in a persistent vegetative state due to a roadside bomb. She courageously dealt with the tragedies in her life and moved forward.
True to her dreams, she became an Army Ranger. I later promoted to detective. We kept in touch even when she was halfway across the world. When she was debating leaving the Army, I was one of two people she confided in. The other was her marital arts teacher, Mario Parris. We both told her we would support her in whatever she wanted to do.
When Jamie called to say she was on her way home, I was licking my wounds from a botched kidnapping investigation and my subsequent resignation from the Boise Police Department. I hadn’t told her much about my situation other than I had quit my job, too. She wanted to talk, which I thought was ironic. Anyone who knew Jamie would understand why. She tended to be a closed individual.
She told me to pick the spot and she’d pick the time. The End Zone was close to her home, which she had rented out when she left and I had more or less managed for her since.
I was ten minutes early. I settled into my seat, checked my phone for messages, and tried to avoid noticing the couple now parked nearly on top of each other at the front of the bar. Their booth was close to the window but not catching much light. Not enough to keep the groping from going unnoticed.
I smiled politely, but they were not paying attention and I was happy not receiving any.
I appreciated that the back of the bar appeared deserted, and for the first few minutes I thought I had arrived before Jamie. But I should have known better. She was one of the first female Army Rangers, which meant she was not likely to be tardy for anything. Plus, she had seen combat and earned medals and commendations I’m positive she couldn’t talk about, so surveillance and recon would be second nature. When I noticed her, she was sitting with her back against the wall in the darkest shadows of the bar. I stood when she came over, luckily having braced myself enough not to stagger when she tackled me with an emotional hug. I held her for several moments, choking back my own emotion.
“It’s good to see you, Joe,” she said, finally peeling away, her voice husky. This was something I learned about Jamie years ago. She could be tough as nails, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have feelings. She simply masked them well.
Though we had kept in touch by email and telephone once she was no longer in the field, the last time I saw her was after I made detective and she was between combat tours. Her father had died while she was deep in Afghanistan—so deep she didn’t learn about his death until a week later. She came back as soon as she could and asked me to visit his grave site with her.
Jamie couldn’t stay long then. I wasn’t sure if it was the Army that needed her back so quickly, or if she needed to return, but she left the next day. I got the impression she felt closest to her father when she was fighting for her country.
But now she was out of the Army for good.
We sat down and ordered chips, salsa, and Diet Coke to start. Neither of us wanted anything stronger. I didn’t need the temptation. At that point in my life, I felt I was living a country music song, and in the most recent stanza, my wife had left for San Francisco. I still had my truck, but I honestly didn’t know for how long.
Jamie asked how I was doing. I lied by omission. I hadn’t told her about my wife, but she knew about the job situation. I told her I was looking at other options.
This was one of the reasons she had called me. Jamie said she was leaving the Army and had an idea she wanted to discuss. She had suffered a serious fracture during a parachute jump and collected enough pins and miscellaneous hardware in her left leg to keep her from ever going back to active duty. She spent the last year instructing and hated it. She was only twenty-seven.
While we waited for our food order, we made small talk, but I knew she wanted to broach a larger subject. I could see it on her face. Jamie never would have been a good poker player. After several moments of silence, she reached out and put a hand over mine. I felt the strength and callouses, and my thoughts drifted back to when we first met. Almost ten years had done a remarkable job of fashioning a teenager into a competent and beautiful young woman.
Despite the dim lighting, her dark hair still shined, and her eyes watched me with such expression I couldn’t remember if she had asked me a question or not.
“I think we should work together,” she said, her eyes studying mine.
So, she hadn’t asked me a question, but she was making a suggestion and I had no ready response.
“You haven’t thought of anything you’d enjoy doing yet, have you, Joe?”
I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk about my job, or lack of one at the moment. “Why the interest in my career?”
“I’m actually interested in both our careers. As you know, I’m without one, too.”
“But you quit,” I said.
“So did you,” she responded with a little squeeze of my hand.
“I was forced out.”
“So was I.”
“Different circumstances,” I said. I wanted to move on to another subject, but I also knew Jamie’s persistence would prevent it. As I remembered, once she set her mind to something, she was determined to see it through. She also knew how to outmaneuver people verbally as well as physically, so before I understood the game plan, she was already flanking.
Jamie took her hand away and interlaced her fingers. “Joe, you helped me through a rough time when we first met. I know you put your reputation on the line, maybe even your career. I’d like to return the favor if I can. You could have ordered me to stay out of it back then.”
“I thought I did.” This was delivered tongue-in-cheek. But seriously, I thought I had. I played along. “Why didn’t I?”
“Because you trusted me.”
I think I knew what she was getting at. We had developed a mutual respect for each other, and in our worlds, that was proving scarce. Our appetizer arrived, and Jamie tested the salsa, pursed her lips and said it was good. “Aren’t you going to try it?”
“I will. What are you getting at, Jamie?”
Another expression, this one melancholy. I could see she was remembering the past, as if she’d replayed it a dozen times before today. She put another chip heaped with salsa into her mouth. After brushing the crumbs from her hands, she looked at me and smiled. “I think we should start a personal protection service. Be partners. What do you think?”
To be continued in The Trespass.