“The suspect is Claude Rodaire, sitting CEO and new owner of Rodaire Financial, LLC. Thirty-nine years of age, stands at just above six feet tall. Frequents a lot of the mainstays some of the men we have arrested so far have testified to. As you can see in these pictures, here’s Mr. Rodaire at Alexis’ Coffee, here’s Mr. Rodaire at HotCake Pancake House. And here’s Mr. Rodaire at the bus stop,” Spencer said.
I watched pictures of the infamous Claude Rodaire zoom across the screen as my boss brief my partner and I. The suspect’s auburn hair and brown eyes stood out from a crowd, especially when a man like him wore a tailored suit like that. He looked good in gray. It matched the color of the line he was toeing. For months, we had been chasing down leads as to who was funneling designer drugs into the Detroit area. And after months of Chief Shurtliff’s team combing the streets and slipping money into the hands of those that could keep an eye out for us, they had someone come forward. Testify that they purchased the drugs straight from the hand of the maker.
And when the suspect described the person to the sketch artist, everyone recognized instantly who it was.
The Rodaire family was known throughout Detroit. Throughout Michigan, really. The grandfather–Otis–grew the Rodaire family financial empire and passed it onto his son, Christopher Rodaire. From there, Christopher took it internationally. Based his headquarters out of Detroit permanently and brought multiple jobs back to the city. Christopher was a pillar of the community. Always doing outreach into the homeless population and funding shelters when it was necessary.
But it seemed his son didn’t share the same god-like enthusiasm for this city.
Spencer cleared his throat. “Here’s what we know. We have a bank account in Claude’s name, with massive amounts of money funneling into and out of the account. When we traced those deposits back, it shot us right to the same shell corporations that we confirmed have ties to this drug ring.”
“What are we calling it again? The drug ring,” I said.
“Oh, I came up with that on my own. It’s ‘Double D Ring’. The double-D stands for ‘Detroit Destroyers’,” Aaron said.
“Sounds like something out of a comic book,” I murmured.
“Does that shock you? It’s Aaron you’re talking about,” Spencer said.
“Hey, since when are the two of you ganging up on me? I’m Paget’s partner, remember? We’re supposed to gang up on the boss,” Aaron said.
“I wasn’t aware of these rules,” I said, grinning.
“Enough with the silliness, we need to get back to work,” Spencer said.
But the crook of Spener’s grin still played on his cheeks, lightening the tension that filled the room.
“Do you guys have anything else other than the bank account?” I asked.
“No, we don’t. In fact, a lawyer could technically argue that the account is a little too perfect. No personal withdrawals are happening. Just the money in from the accounts linked to the shell corporations and money being withdrawn into accounts we’re still trying to trace,” Spencer said.
“And that’s where the dynamic duo comes in,” Aaron said.
“Precisely. We need a smoking gun, you two. It’s why I called in an emergency favor with your consulting firm. We need an undercover operation for this, and we need it now,” Spencer said.
“You mean we need evidence, whether or not it proves your theory,” I said.
“However you want to phrase it,” Spencer said.
“No, Chief. She’s got a point. You’ve been on this case for months. You’re personally involved because of what happened to a cousin of yours. You can fool this team, but you can’t fool us. This is important to you, we get it. But Paget and I?”
“Aaron usually doesn’t go in with assumptions. But I never do,” I said.
“We don’t go in with assumptions. That man is innocent until proven guilty. And right now, he’s still looking very innocent,” Aaron said.
“At the very most, to me, he’s curious. And that’s how I’ll play this, if you want me to go undercover for you,” I said.
“We need you on this, Paget. You’re the best in this country, and I’d argue the best in the world since our international forces utilize your specialty as well,” Spencer said.
“Ass-kissing will get you far, Chief,” I said, grinning.
“Assuming we’ll take the case, what do you have for us?” Aaron asked.
“You mean, what rules will I allow you to skirt?” Spencer asked.
“Among other things,” I said.
The unit chief sighed. “There’s a charity ball coming up in a week that Claude is going to be at. In fact, he’s the one putting it on. On behalf of his company or some shit. It’s the perfect ‘first meeting’ place for something like this.”
“It is. Theoretically, I could go undercover and see what I can find. Listen in on conversations. Aaron can be parked out front talking in my ear. We could link Aaron with your technical specialist in order to help things go a little smoother,” I said.
“So, you’ll do it?” Spencer asked.
“Not so fast. You know what I want to know,” Aaron said.
I rolled my eyes. “Men and their toys.”
“Officially, you can’t use anything that isn’t sanctioned by the department,” Spencer said.
“But unofficially?” Aaron asked.
Spencer’s eyes darkened. “Use whatever the hell it takes.”
I looked over at my partner. The man that had been with me for nine years. I took in the way he panned his gaze over to me. His blonde hair and his baby blue eyes contrasted his tanned skin. A beach bum. That was the definition of my partner. His favorite vacation spot was Miami and he loved walking the lengths of ‘muscle cove’. Which didn’t shock me anyway, because Aaron was stacked with muscle. He had a gaze so intense that he could look wrong at a door and it would fall to its knees. Yet when it came to operations where we could use the toys he built on his own, he was like a kid in a candy shop.
Well, a small bull in a candy shop.
“What do you think?” Aaron asked.
“They’re in a tight predicament. And coming off the case we just got done working, this would be pretty easy,” I said.
“We could take it as a vacation.”
“Something easy in between international locations.”
“On the one hand, they do have the bank account. If someone got a good enough lawyer–.”
Spencer groaned. “Take the damn job.”
My shoulders shook with my giggle. “Yes, we’ll take the job, Chief. Now hand me that folder, I have to go prepare.”
“Thank you. Finally. And remember, I have to approve of your plan before we swing it into action,” Spencer said.
“And you’ve never not approved once, Chief. So! I’m going to go tweak some new toys I’ve been working on. Give you a call in the morning, Paget?” Aaron asked.
“I’ll be up all night researching. You know that,” I said.
“Then maybe I’ll just come over with coffee.”
“If you come, it better be with coffee. Otherwise, you shall not pass.”
“The two of you are ridiculous,” Spencer mumbled.
“Hey, we have to keep it light somehow,” I said.
I left the FBI office in Detroit with Aaron and headed to my car. And all the while, my eyes scanned the file. I had just shit of a week to prepare for this ball. Which gave me plenty of time to tailor myself to the type of woman Claude Rodaire enjoyed. That was the thing with financial gurus who had more money than they could stand. They could afford perfection. So, wiggling my way into his atmosphere demanded perfection on my part. Aaron opened my car door and I slid in, tucking the folder underneath my arm.
“Coffee in the morning? Seven o’clock?” he asked.
I reached out and grabbed my door. “See you then, Kuklish.”
“Ah, officially in work mode again. When was the last time you took a vacation?”
I pulled away from the curb and made my way home. I drove through my neighborhood and made my way to the back. Down the length of the cul de sac that dead-ended straight into my driveway. I grabbed the folder and made my way for my home, then stopped as I stood on the porch.
I drew in a deep breath and closed my eyes. Some days, I couldn’t remind myself why I rebuilt the house. Some days, I couldn’t answer Aaron’s question of why I didn’t simply find somewhere else to stay. The porch was the only thing in the fire that hadn’t been ravaged. It was the only thing that hadn’t been devoured by the flames that rose up from the roof of my childhood home.
And that included my parents.
I pressed my hand against the wood. I felt the memories of my childhood pulse underneath my palm. Mornings spent listening to my parents giggle on the porch swing. Nights where my mother curled up with me in the porch rocking chair and read me a story. Evenings where we all ate dinner in our laps in chairs on this very porch simply because the sunset streaking across the sky was too beautiful not to watch.
My hand slid from the wood and I finally found the strength to move forward.
I walked into my kitchen and grabbed the pot of coffee. I started making myself some, allowing the kitchen to fill with the aroma. I walked into my room and reached for my laptop, then took it back out to my kitchen table. I didn’t have an office in my home for a reason. I didn’t have a specific place to do work. Not because I didn’t want to bring work home, but because I always did. And if I had an office to work in, I’d never seen any other part of my house.
With a laptop, I chose where I worked for the night. Which meant I actually got to see some parts of the house I rebuilt over time.
As coffee streamed into the pot and the scent filled my nose, I started my research the way I always did. With a basic internet search. And with a family as prestigious as the Rodaire clan, there was a lot to sift through. Award ceremonies and galas. Hollywood events and clandestine pictures of Christopher and his son going to and from work. It was easy to piece Claude’s life together. I could have if I took the time. But my focus wasn’t on knowing his life.
My focus was on the type of woman he wanted.
I didn’t find much in the way of Claude’s dating life. But I did find a handful of women he had gone public with. Out of the six women I found, only three of them had stuck around for more than four months. So, I focused on what they had in common. I researched them and dove into their psyche, slowly forgetting about the pot of coffee I had simmering and ready for me.
It wasn’t until I heard it click off automatically that I got up to get me a cup.
The three women had a few particular things in common. Mainly, their love of travel, their dedication to their families, and the symphony. Every damn picture I found of him and those women were coming out of some sort of sophisticated venue. The opera. A choral concert. A damn Rio de Janeiro orchestral performance. I jotted that down for future reference. But honestly, it wouldn’t be hard to remember. It was a passion I had as well. The symphony, at least. It was the first thing I ever enjoyed with my father. He took me to see Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, back when my mother still played flute for a living.
It captivated me, body and soul. And after I lost my parents in the house fire, I made it a point to go to the symphony every year on their wedding anniversary.
There were a few mindless articles on Claude. Interviews he had given. And I found that the two of us had a great deal in common. He apparently enjoyed old movies, and I found him quoting a great deal of them in his interviews. A couple of them made me chuckle, especially since the interviewer hadn’t caught the reference. But, I caught them. I understood where his mind went and any given moment. Another reason why I was so good at what I did. Claude was also a fan of poetry, and that would prove to be challenging. Not something I was familiar with, but I could get behind it enough to study up on it. Claude Rodaire was sophisticated. A man with genuine tastes for the finer things in life.
This undercover operation would be the easiest of my career.
After jotting down some things he enjoyed, I moved to the women. What did they look like? How did they talk? How did they hold themselves? This department was even easier, because they all had a similar look. Long legs. Blonde hair. Rolled-back shoulders and a closed-off look in their eyes. The eye color varied, but they were all bold and bright colors. That would require a wig and some colors contacts for me, but nothing my makeup skills couldn’t handle. My hair was stark black. So much so that it looked purple to some people. And even though my eyes were green, they were dark. Rich, like my hair.
But again, those were easy fixes.
The women on his arms weren’t too scantily clad, thank fuck. I’d just gotten off a case where the scraps of material I wore left little to the imagination. But, the women on his arms did wear tight clothes. Nothing was exposed, but everything was outlined.
“So he likes a tease,” I said to myself.
Throughout the night, Claude exposed himself to me. His mind and life gave way to me at the stroke of my fingers. In my research, in my analysis of his world, and in the way I delved into his psyche, I painted a picture of the man I’d make my mark. He smiled well for the camera. There was a glimmer in his eye that not too many hardened criminals had. It took a true professional to put on that type of show. Which meant he’d be a tough cookie to crack. Maybe I needed to reach out and have my makeup done professionally. Have my wig put on by someone else. I had to be tougher. I needed to step my game up to his level. My colored contacts would have to stay moisturized at all times so they wouldn’t slip. And my knowledge of the finer arts and poetry had to be on point. I had to do all of this while being the exact right percentage of alluring and approachable.
But, by the time I was done? Claude Rodaire wouldn’t know what hit him.
Not until we slapped the handcuffs on that son of a bitch’s wrists.