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Fall had arrived in Milton with cooler weather, less mosquitoes and a reprieve from the humid hot summer. Braxon Carter was surrounded by family, aunts, uncles and many male cousins, a buzz hummed in the air from the many voices as he studied the group from a distance. Every conversation and activity stopped as his Aunt Macie and her son Gov. Ian Carter Morrison arrived at the Carter Family Harvest Party. Family members swarmed to greet them. Braxon caught Sean’s attention through the crowd of family and waved him over to the patio table.
“What’s in the box?” Sean asked as he got to the table.
Braxon opened the top of the box to reveal thumb drives and a cell phone.
“Is this what I think it is?” Sean made a low whistle sound and ran a hand through his wavy auburn hair.
“Yes.” He had two ideas on what to do with the information his cousin Clayton and wife Selah, had delivered to him. The family side of him wanted to chuck it off the dock into the river, dispose of the information that had caused deep divides between them. The cop wanted to dive into the data for clues to who killed Stacy Sutton and bring the culprit to justice. As the Police Chief of Milton where Stacy’s body was found, it was his responsibility to ensure every stone was turned to solve her case.
He felt as if Stacy had a hand in directing him from the grave, opening and closing doors. He’d never had to surmount so many obstacles, personal and professional piece together a case and an unsettled feeling fell over him. “This isn’t going to be good,” he confessed to his best friend with a heavy voice as they stared at the box.
“What did Selah say when she gave it to you?” Sean raised an eyebrow with a curious gaze.
He looked up from the box. “She said to find who killed Stacy and put them away or drop them in the swamp to rot.”
Sean gave a small laugh, “She gave you two choices. I’m on board with the last one. I’m sure Paul Sutton is too.”
“Has the good Governor gotten back with you?”
“Well, he’s here…” Sean trailed off and shrugged. “The devil arrives,” he muttered under his breath as Ian walked up to join the men.
“Gentlemen,” Ian said as he approached. Sean addressed his boss as Governor while Braxon used his cousin’s first name. “I’m glad you’re here. I meant to get back to you after our last conversation. I apologize it has taken me so long.”
“I’ll excuse myself.” Sean turned to leave.
“Stay, Mr. Stewart,” Ian told him as he glanced in the box on the table and gave Braxon a quizzical expression.
“Evidence, recently discovered.” Braxon offered more information. “These things belong to Stacy Sutton. Did you know her?” Braxon asked Ian casually assuming he was socially acquainted with the former mayor Paul Sutton, his wife, and their daughter.
Ian was quiet for a few moments as he stared into the box of thumb drives and Stacy’s cell phone. He inhaled deeply and as quietly as he could and turned his focus to Braxon with direct eye contact. “Yes. I loved her.”
Ian’s admission had the power of cannon fire. Of all the things Braxon had expected him say, admitting to a personal relationship was not one. It took all his self-control not to comment.
“The reason I took so long to get back you. I needed time, she wouldn’t marry me. Said our marriage would ruin my career. I didn’t care and now…” Ian trailed off being incredibly candid for someone in his position of power. His gaze focus over Braxon’s shoulder at something then shifted back. “Someone killed her, someone, close to me.”
They didn’t move a muscle while Ian spoke, understanding what he left unspoken. The man didn’t trust anyone around him anymore.
“What do you want us to do?” He inquired of his cousin noticing he’d let Sean into the inner circle.
“I heard there were video messages Stacy left. Has anyone seen them yet?” Ian stared blankly at the open box as Sean moved away from them.
“Yes, only one person has viewed them. Selah. She handed it to me ten minutes before you arrived. These videos created a lot of pain for some of us.” Braxon admitted candidly in return.
“I know, I keep tabs on the family,” Ian smirked at him with a sly grin. “Heard you got the ass whoopin’ of a lifetime from Clay.”
“Let’s just say I’ve dialed back my drinking and need to unearth every little nugget in an investigation.”
“You’re gonna have to dial it back up.” Ian stated flatly and they glanced up to see Selah walking over to them holding Sean’s arm as they chatted.
“The person you need to talk to Ian.” He heard an intake of air come from Ian.
“She’s a gorgeous woman.” The Governor replaced his melancholy expression with a charming smile. The smile no doubt won the hearts of many women voters and Stacy.
“Smart too. We’ll give you some space.”
“SeeSee,” Braxon addressed her with her nickname as she arrived, “Ian wants to ask you some questions. We’ll let him explain,” they excused themselves politely to let them converse.
* * *
Clayton viewed his wife in a very intimate conversation with his Governor cousin. “Wanna tell me what is going on?” He asked as his wife took Ian’s arm and they walked down the property away from the crowd of family.
“Ian was having a relationship with Stacy. Selah is the only one who’s seen all the videos she left. He needs to ask her about them.” He gave little detail.
“Stacy never said a word to me,” Clay confessed floored with the information. “I was pretty sure she was seeing someone. Never in a million years would I pegged her with Ian.”
The men saw them sit on a wrought iron bench under a red maple tree as Ian’s security detail followed discretely at a distance. She held his hand while he talked with his head down staring at the ground. Braxon realized Ian couldn’t share his grief with anyone and was grateful his career couldn’t be the next day’s news headline.
“This sucks.” Clay commented and they agreed. “They’re gonna be a while. Let’s go eat.”
The men sat down to eat as several family members left and the crowd dwindled down. Clayton’s father walked over and stood near the men looking out across the lawn, “Son, you might wanna keep an eye on your pretty bride.”
“Lawyer stuff Dad. No worries.” He covered up the seriousness of their conversation, reminding his father of his wife’s law degree.
“Ah..that’s right,” and his father sipped his beer quietly before speaking again. “Well son… I know he’s kin, but he’s still a man…and a politician.” He stated bluntly and left.
“How serious is this Brax?” Clay asked. “We don’t need any more high drama bullshit.”
“Serious.” He gave other details and the hair on the back of his neck prickled thinking about the implications of what Stacy had secreted away.
“This doesn’t concern Selah right?”
“No one has seen all the videos but her.”
Clay leaned toward Braxon. “Is there’s anything you’re not telling me?”
Braxon and Sean exchanged a look and he lowered his voice to whisper. “Ian thinks someone near him had Stacy killed.”
Clay looked back out across the yard at his wife and cousin. “Did you ever think someone killed Stacy for what’s in the files? If word gets out, Selah had them for months then what? Those drives are loaded with data.” His voice was low, harsh and heavy with concern.
“Yes. Months ago I told you both we needed those videos. I can’t tell you if there’s something on those videos to harm anyone because they were withheld from the investigation.” Braxon kept calm, he didn’t want to open old wounds but son-of-a-bitch, no one would listen to him then, maybe they would now. “Stacy didn’t kill herself. Someone overdosed her and dumped her body. Sean and I found a thumb drive at Moria’s grave site. We needed more. We needed the information Selah had months ago, the information she gave us today. There was no reopening the case without it. I had no idea there was data on those drives Clayton, until you mentioned it.” His mind spun as more details were dumped.
“And you’re telling me this now, Braxon? I don’t like this one fucking bit. So you better figure out real quick what’s what. Cause if any harm comes to my wife or my unborn children. It’s gonna get real ugly, real fast.” Clayton warned angrily as he rose to his feet.
Braxon stood with him outwardly calm voice while raging on the inside, put his hand out to halt him from leaving. “Clay, you want me to give you assurances I can’t give. It’s been four months since Stacy died. No harm has come to anyone else. I’m working blind here, cause my hands got tied by you, Selah, her father the judge and the family.”
He realized he had his cousin’s arm in a vice grip and let go. “Now I’m not even sure what to do with the box of dynamite you both handed me an hour ago. What do you want me to say??” He got made out to be the ogre in the ordeal from summer after Stacy’s death. And yes, he manhandled Selah. He wasn’t proud of his actions but even in his drunken rage Braxon remembered what he’d said to her and now the information Clay shared, and the evidence from Stacy’s personal effects, were starting to make his warning to Selah ominous.
“Ask her what I said. If you can. If she remembers. I was angry. But not for the reasons you think.” Braxon studied his cousin’s face etched with uncertainty. “We’re family. If you say dump it in the river. It’s gone. If you want me to re-open the case. I’ll do that too. It’s your call legally. Just remember, even though you and Selah loved Stacy,” Braxon pointed toward the couple on the bench, “That man out there, he was IN love with her. He wanted to marry her and now he wants heads to roll over her death. He also has the power to make it happen.”
Braxon watched a light of realization come into his eyes, as he’d made the association between Ian and Stacy clear. Ian was here, more than likely after doing some preliminary investigation of his staff to turn up the gas on Stacy’s murder investigation. If Clay was in Ian’s shoes and Selah was six feet under. He’d be relentless in obtaining answers and would hold anyone’s feet to the fire to get them, like Braxon tried to do them the weeks after Stacy’s death.
“Do whatever Ian wants to do. He deserves answers. We all do.” Clayton said as he walked away to escort his wife home.
* * *
Ian came to sit with them after grabbing a long neck and a plate of food and they waited for him to speak. “She got offers from law firms when she graduated W&M I only dreamed of,” he spoke with admiration.
“I knew she had a lot of them.” Braxon didn’t realize how prestigious they were or what she gave up for him at the time. “Hopefully she put some of your concerns to rest, Ian.”
“She did. She said Stacy talked about me, but there was never an indication of who I was. Selah said she would have never guessed Stacy was talking about me. There were several people in my inner circle who hated the fact I was seeing Stacy.” Ian confessed. “I’m going to make Senate run next election cycle. Our party seems to think I can carry a Presidential election. If she married me, I wouldn’t have tried for the White House. Many of my inner circle knew. You can go higher in our political realm unmarried, but married to a recovering addict. It’s death of your political career.” He explained. “In the day and age, you can’t cover up cat shit without someone recording it on a cell phone. The media would have hounded us, which is why she always said no on the marriage.”
“Ian, we found one of the disc drives buried at Moira’s grave site in Richmond,” Braxon informed him, “We think Stacy buried it the night she was killed. Clay’s also concerned for Selah’s welfare. Do you have any idea what Stacy copied?” Braxon asked point blank.
“I don’t,” Ian admitted, “I do know my personal cell phone number is on her phone. She had unlimited access to me and my office. And I can’t trust anyone inside my circle until we find out.” He sat back for a moment in silent though and his demeanor changed as he gave his attention to Sean. “I need a special investigator. I was told what you did for the family and checked your background. I’ll give you the full backing of my office to find who killed Stacy and why with Chief Carter as your back up.”
“On one condition…If or when we find anything incriminating or proof of foul play, it doesn’t get covered up like cat shit because it is politically expedient to do so. It’s one of the reasons I left the FBI. I got tired politicians and diplomats walking free when they should be in prison or on death row. And I want it in writing.” Sean negotiated with Ian, who nodded in agreement and put out his hand.
“Done.” Ian stood to leave, “I’ll get you the paperwork tomorrow.” The men shook hands and the Governor left with his security detail in tow.
“This is gonna to be a big a pot of shit soup,” Sean announced once Ian was out of earshot.
“Get a big spoon,” Braxon advised as he picked up the box.
* * *
“Clay, you’re being ridiculous.” Selah accused her husband standing in their bedroom. “I’ve had those files for months and no harm has come to me. We’re not going to wire this house for sound, just because of what Braxon and Ian think. Do you know what that would cost?” She asked incredulously. “I’m going to work tomorrow just like I always do.”
“I have to go to Richmond tomorrow for a meeting. I’m an hour away from home more with traffic. It’s the last one, then I’m a wild and free telecommuter. They felt this serious. I don’t want to argue with you, but I will wire this house for sound if I think it’s warranted.” He stated firmly as he embraced her and kissed her.”You’re my life. It’s worth any price to make sure you and the babies are safe. Got it?”
“Got it.” Damn, it was hard to argue with his hands on her body. “I understand really. I have three bank assessments to do tomorrow. I can’t blow them off. They’re on twenty-four hour turnarounds.”
“Can’t Della do them?” He didn’t like the idea of her traveling alone out in the county, especially with it’s spotty cell service and he needed to find out what Braxon told her the night of her meltdown but didn’t want to upset her. More than anything he wanted to leave the past in the past but it kept coming up to bite them in the ass.
“Della’s out of town for the week. So no, otherwise I’d pass it along. I’ll be okay Clay.” She insisted kissing him again. “I’ll do them first thing in the morning then head straight back to the office. Promise.”
“Take the Shield with you,” Clay demanded of her. This was the part of her job he hated, he out on the road, in and out of vacant properties, at least she owned a gun and knew how to use it. This gave him a little peace of mind but not much. “And no more BPO’s until Braxon and Sean get this thing cleared up. Agreed?”
“Agreed. I will leave the property list with Earlene so you know where I am. Now…are you going to take me to bed or just stand here and fret all night?” He pulled her close with a small growl and a deep kiss and lifted her into his bed.
Download your copy of Confidential Secrets on Amazon on sale for $0.99