‘Change of Plan’
Written by Charley Biggs
Edited by Molly Ward
“Smith, so help me...," Gomez was putting a vest over her clothes. She didn’t finish as he popped out from behind a tree with his phone to his ear.
Wearing a vest over his dress shirt, sans tie, Smith pointed to the phone mouthing, ‘Thorney’ as he nodded mostly to himself, then grunted back into the receiver as apparently Jim was giving him some sort of rundown.
The office building where the meet was taking place was close, only two blocks away. Corriola was supposed to be there, along with one of the DeMeo sons, Christian. There was a small and quietly busy staging area for one of three different FBI-led teams that would be converging on the location if and when the signal was given. It was hot and bright outside, and Maria wore her sunglasses, a more modern version of the old aviators Jim often wore, whereas Smith wore sporty wraparounds that were more in keeping with his athletic appearance.
Mostly ignored by the FBI field agents and the one special agent present, Gomez and Smith were left to keep in the loop with Jim, whom was calling Smith on and off in between updates directly from Rosenthal. It was a convoluted mess, but Jim wasn’t trying to work it remotely, he was there in the office with Rosenthal. Here, he could interact and represent the U.S. Marshals as the two deputies prepared to join in on the major arrest. Calmly waiting on Smith to get off of the phone with what she could already tell was a jumpy and irritable Jim, Gomez ducked into the car they had rented from Lexington and pulled out her travel case, sliding an Oliva O Series Torpedo in a maduro wrapper from it. Snagging her coffee, she walked to the rear of the car where she set the paper cup down on the trunk and proceeded to clip the head of the cigar before putting it to her teeth and swapping her cheap cutter out for a vintage zippo, a gift from Jim. Cupping her hands around it as she flicked it open, Gomez lit the strong, heady cigar, turning it slowly to get a nice even burn, letting the smoke on her palate shut the rest of the world out for the moment.
Snapping the lighter shut and cramming it back into her pocket, Gomez left the cigar in her mouth supported by dark red lips as she stood in a haze of smoke in the windless parking lot. Toying with her coffee mug and unbothered by the crowd of agents around them, she took the moment to enjoy the cigar, its strong flavor and smooth touches mixing with the complex dark roast she was drinking washing over her.
Calm, Gomez's thoughts shifted to the task of getting Corriola. The little voice in the back of her head said something was off. At two in the afternoon, the meeting shouldn’t have been until later, or should have already happened. Something in the way the FBI personnel were sculking and talking with each other left her feeling that this arrest was a bust.
Maria cut her eyes toward Smith from behind the dark lenses of her sunglasses, she could tell that they were done here. Walking towards her with hands spread, a gesture she’d seen Jim make quite often, she took the cigar from her mouth and draped her finger over it, taking her coffee mug in the same hand. Gomez's now free hand lifted to halt Smith a few yards off as she exhaled a cloud of smoke. “What happened? Gimme the short version.”
“Corriola didn’t show…Christian DeMeo did though." Smith shook his head and tucked his phone away. "The arrest is a go, but we’re not involved. Rosenthal can’t get us in on it if he’s not here….”
“What do you think?" She asked.
"Me?" Smith took a moment to consider it, “I think that Corriola got here late last night. His presence was coincidentally timed. He probably left this morning for some other location.”
“Not my idea of a good start with this guy…he didn’t just vanish. He was tipped off." Gomez hung her head, looking irritable.
“No telling what happened.” He shook his head.
Maria washed the sour taste in her mouth with a swallow of coffee, then turned to look at the Agents preparing to make the arrest. One in particular caught her eye as she spoke to Smith, pointing at him with her cigar.
“Call Thorney. Tell him we’re heading back to Lexington. I’m going to talk to the supervisor here," turning away on the ball of her foot, she left Smith to get in touch with Jim and made a beeline for the small group standing around a large van.
One Agent in particular was on a cellular phone talking calmly to someone on the other end, trying to assure them he was good to go. Maria knew that position all too well, didn't envy it. As she drew closer, it was easier to get a good look at his face...he was gorgeous.
Standing a little over six feet tall, built similarly to Smith, what she could only guess was about 190 lbs, lean and solid. Tanned skin was offset by sandy brown hair that hung to his shoulders, and as she walked up to him to wait for his conversation to end, Maria was met a green eyed and toothy smile from the tall square-jawed man.
Drawing from the cigar and taking it from her mouth with the hand holding her paper coffee cup, she took her time as she smiled back, “So”, she said with a mouthful of smoke, “We won’t be involved today…”
Shrugging, holding the cellular with both hands, the man nodded, “I heard…I’m sorry we can’t help you, but with no sign…”
“Nothing right now..." that unspoken but lingering in the air.
“However?" Gomez tacked on, taking another puff of the cigar, smoke clouding around her glamorously as she held it and the coffee cup like a glass of cognac.
"Well, we'll be questioning people after the arrest." He chuckled, dragging his eyes across her face. Gauging her. "Maybe I could get copies of transcripts and bring them to you?" A moment of hesitation, and he gestured with an open hand, "...maybe over a drink tonight?"
"I'll be heading back to Lexington shortly," Maria answered.
"So will we. We don't have an office here..." he pointed out, still offering his open hand between them. “I’m Cooper by the way. Harry Cooper…”
Taking his hand, Gomez flashed him a professional and somehow coy smile, “Gomez…Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Maria Gomez," then she hung her head as they let go of each other’s hands, chortling, “it's a mouthful, I know.”
“Yeah!”, Cooper replied, laughing with her. “I’m a Special Agent…not supervisory though. I just happen to be one of the people most involved, hence how I'm-" he gestured, sweeping his hand around at the other agents, “-supervising."
“Well, Special Agent Cooper," reaching into her pants pocket, having moved her card wallet there when she put the body armor on, she fished it out and pulled out a business card. “Here's my number, cell included. Just text me a time and a place tonight. I’m not going to turn down an offer to help, we need all we can get with this guy.”
Taking the card, Cooper toyed with it. “I don’t blame you. I’ve been after him before, he’s tough to catch," and as Gomez started to turn to go back to the car with Smith, he held out a hand, “by the way-”
“Yes?" Gomez asked, pausing, free hand on her hip, an arched brow visible above the dark lens of her sunglasses as she looked at him over her left shoulder.
Letting the hand drop, he smiled again, “call me Harry.”
Grinning broadly, Gomez nodded, “well then, Harry…call me tonight and let me know where to meet you." She began to walk off, making it a few steps before turning to look over her shoulder, “oh…and you can call me Maria.”
Holding up the card to show her he was putting it in his pocket, Harry called after her, “see you tonight Maria…”
In the busy downtown area of Columbus, not far from the university, a throaty rumble was heard coming up the street, a restored 1967 Plymouth Fury III rolled into view as it came to a stop at the entrance to a nice Apartment building. Shutting the engine down, parking on the street, Jim Thornton stepped out of the car slowly, wearing a black pinstripe suit and a blue shirt with a yellow silk tie. Putting his keys in his pocket, he went around to the entrance, but before he could open the door to the lobby, his date for the evening arrived.
Jim, up until now, had been dreading this, but when Shauna came out to join him, he was actually taken aback. Just standing there like he’d never before looked upon a woman, he was struck a bit dumb as he met her smiling gaze. Oh, she still had a sheen of crazy that scared him shitless, but at present, she was looking too beautiful for him to ignore or push away.
Standing there with both hands squeezing her clutch purse to death, and starting to color bashfully as finally a man she found herself undeniably attracted to was seeing her, and seemingly seeing her as a person and not an asset for the first time. Wearing a classy dress of deep blue that displayed her curves, dark hair worn up, a strand hanging down the side of her face, and the silver seeming more frosting than the signs of stress that they were. Shauna took her time as she picked her way to the car, it had just rained, and she was wearing a pair of brand new pumps after a quick search revealed she had neither dress nor heels in her closet that fit or weren’t belonging to a suit for work.
“Shauna, I've got to hand it to you…you clean up well”, a serious understatement he reminded himself, because she was stunning. Jim opened the car door for her, rolling his eyes.
Looking up from the leather seat she slid into, Shauna made a coy expression, cooing back in return, “you do too…not so wild in this light.”
Jim didn’t have an answer other than to close the door on her before walking around to the driver’s side and getting in. It was a blessedly short drive to the restaurant, and as the Valet came to take the old car, Jim put a finger under his nose, “don’t let me catch you burning rubber in this thing…behave and there’s twenty bucks in it for you.”
Eyes lighting up, the young man took the keys and had the car rolling off at a respectable pace. From the curb, with Shauna hanging on his arm, Jim watched for a long moment before walking her inside for dinner.
Seating themselves at a small table in the dim light, Shauna and Jim made their drink orders and relaxed, Jim taking a coffee and Shauna a glass of Riesling. After making small talk, and getting Shauna to giggle a little, Jim finally sat back, toying with the rim of the coffee mug, his other hand under the table playing with his phone, sending a message to Gomez to see how her little meeting was going.
Looking up from his lap, Jim’s grin faded and he canted his head slightly to the side, “so…any news on Corriola?”
Smile turning to a cautious pursing of blood red lips, Shauna looked down and to her right before thinking of an answer, “not much." Looking Jim in the eye, she shrugged, “we aren’t sure if Corriola was called for something else, or whether he was tipped off. It was a real mess.”
Staring at Shauna for a long while, processing her body language and words, he sighed, “a mess…but you nailed down Christian DeMeo. A good deal, and it makes me wonder what he had to say to Corriola.”
Biting her lip, holding her hands out on either side of her glass, she shook her head, “I haven’t received the transcripts or the recordings from the interrogations. I have no idea what’s been said at this time….”
“Sure about that? Because I have a line on your end that says otherwi-" he swallowed his words, gripping the coffee mug and the edge of the table before tugging to loosen his tie. Catching his breath, he glared at Shauna who was innocently sipping her wine.
“Stop that," he ordered flatly.
“Stop what?" She asked as she inspected the smear of her lipstick on the wineglass. Meanwhile, beneath the table, one of her heels lay on its side, and her foot was in Jim’s lap.
Starting to push away from the table, Jim stopped, realizing it would create a scene. Not to mention how good it felt…so clenching his jaw, he tried to at least appear calm as the waiter arrived.
“Good evening, what can I get for you this evening. Might I say you make a lovely couple!”
“Thank you," Shauna said with a pleased smile, meanwhile, Jim forced a smile, still maddeningly at her lack of mercy. “I’ll have the chicken alfredo with the penne pasta…”, then she let off of Jim under the table so he could talk without embarrassing himself.
Inhaling sharply, Jim grimaced at Shauna and then the waiter, “I’ll, ah, have….let’s see here," looking at the menu for the first time, he saw something at random that caught his eye, but he couldn’t pronounce it so he turned the menu so the waiter could see it, and tapped the item with a finger, "this."
Nodding, and having the good grace not to correct Jim on the name of the dish, the man purposefully headed back for the kitchen to put their order in. Jim was about to say something to Shauna, but promptly forgot it as that foot pressed back in to his crotch.
“Why can’t we just relax and enjoy each other’s company? Does it always have to be about work?" She asked, her smile staying, but struggling to be held.
Grinding his teeth, Jim shook his head, “it’s only ever been about-" catching his breath as she teased him, he tugged at his collar again, “-will you knock that off!” He hissed. “I only did this as repayment for the favor you did me…and the favor tanked.”
She didn’t stop, but she did lighten her touch, her eyes went to her wineglass, “Jim…I’m sorry. I did everything I could. Corriola just wasn’t there…but if anything pops up…”, then she caught his eye, giving him a moment’s respite, “I’m here, Jim. I told you I would wait. That won’t change.”
About to answer, there was a buzz in his pocket, and Jim tugged his phone from his pocket. There was a message from Gomez: TALK TO ROSENTHAL. INTERROGATIONS TURNED UP TARGET ITENERARY. BOSS FOUND DEAD.
Stuffing the phone back into his pocket, Jim grabbed Shauna’s foot, gripping it firmly, giving her a look of surprise, “anything pops up, huh?” He asked, locking eyes with her. “So…how about Christian DeMeo? He have anything to say? At least that you heard?”
It took her several seconds, “Jim….”
“Answer the question, Shauna. I told you I wasn’t here for personal reasons, and I don’t intend on having a discussion about us tonight anymore than I did two nights ago.”
“We got nothing from him so far as I heard…it-" she shook her head, her eyes growing wet, "-it could take some doing.”
“I bet it could," he said coldly, then shoved her foot down out of his chair, making her wince and shift positions.
“It takes time, Jim….”
Sending Gomez a message, Jim ignored her for the moment: ROSENTHAL PLAYED US. GET WHAT YOU CAN AND MOVE WITHOUT ME.
Laying the phone on the table, Jim held up a hand without looking, stopping the waiter. “Box that and bring the check…”, he snapped. Waiting for the man to go ahead and serve Shauna then depart, then he leaned forward as she picked at her food, “I hope whatever you got was worth it…because you just pissed away whatever trust I had left in you.”
Realization hit her like a ton of bricks, tears welling up, “Jim…I-”
Cutting her off, he sliced a hand through the air, making her jump. “No…whatever you have to say, keep it to yourself. You screwed us.”
“Can I at least finish my dinner?” She asked, trying to hang on to her composure.
“Do what you want. I’m leaving.”
“But how am I supposed to get home?”
“Take a cab, walk, blow some guy in the kitchen…either way you choose, it’s not my problem," taking his dinner and paying in cash, he left her sitting there shocked.
An hour later, finished with her food, red eyed, and a little drunk, Shauna walked out the door to the valet, hoping somehow Jim had come back. He hadn’t. Digging around in her clutch, she searched through her stuff, including a compact 9mm pistol that made the valet shy away from her. Phone forgotten, she sighed, trying not to lose that last shred of composure she had, and turning to the Valet, she pointed at him.
“Can I borrow your phone?”, she asked sharply.
Holding his hands up as if being robbed, the kid held it out to her, “Lady, you can borrow anything you want, just don’t kill me!”
Narrowing her eyes and snatching the phone from him, she dialed a cab.
Putting her phone away, Gomez looked up from the bar, surprisingly quiet for this time of the evening, and frowned at Cooper thoughtfully.
“This could end badly," she warned.
Wearing a violet shirt and black pants sans the tie, sleeves rolled to the elbow, Cooper looked ready for the office more than for a night at the bar. Sitting there with a margarita, he grinned, shaking his head to her warning, “I’ll be fine. No one knows I made copies…or for who. You’ll just have to owe me sometime down the road."
Wearing a cream colored blouse and black skirt, Gomez looked the part of a woman on a date…just about. Shrugging, she took a sip of her whiskey and then tapped the stack of papers he’d given her, “just watch yourself. If they actually managed to get Rosenthal to lie to Jim…God only knows what else they are doing.”
“Rosenthal? Lie? I find that hard to believe.”
Picking up her phone, she waved it and set it back down, “well Jim wouldn’t lie…and he never jumps to conclusions. She tried to tell him DeMeo was still alive."
“Shit is right," she answered. “This is going to get messy, and Smith and I will have to head out in the morning." Sliding off the barstool, she was unexpectedly met by Cooper standing in time with her, hands to her waist.
“I guess this is goodnight?" He asked.
Breath hitching in her chest, Maria parted her lips but no answer came. Finally, slowly, her hands found his and after a moment started pushing them back down from her hips. “Yes…this is good night."
Harry smiled, glanced down at his hands hanging by his side and then looked into her eyes, “do it again sometime?”
Smiling, Maria pursed her lips, “maybe…but if you grab my ass again, I may have to break your hand."
“That’s cold," he laughed. “If you’re taken, I’m sorry…didn’t mean to uh-”
“It’s complicated. Don’t apologize," reaching to take the stack of paperwork and reports, she patted his chest. “I owe you one, Harry. Just keep yourself out of trouble in the meantime.”
Taking her hand and patting her knuckles, Harry nodded, “stay safe, Maria. If you need anything, you have my number." About to step away, letting her hand go, he stopped and turned around, “oh…and goodnight”
“Goodnight," watching him leave ahead of her, Gomez picked her phone, went to Smith’s messages, and punched SEND.
Now home, still in her blue dress, Shauna was standing in her kitchen barefoot, uncorking a bottle of red wine, her home phone on speaker mode as it dialed out. Just as she got the cork out, a male voice answered, “what is it, Rosenthal?”
“Mr. Roberts…the US Marshals know we’re withholding information," she answered, pouring herself a healthy glass of Merlot.
“I thought you had it handled? Deputy Marshal Thornton was supposed to be easy."
“His partner found out that DeMeo was dead.”
“Jesus Christ! What else do they know?”
“I’m not sure. Thornton went cold as soon as he was tipped off.”
“Was it one of our people?”
Eyes widening, Rosenthal shook her head vehemently. “No! It can’t have been, they were all briefed. Must have been one of the local cops that were involved in the arrest."
“Still think you can keep a line in on the Marshals with Thornton?” Roberts asked.
“I don’t know," Shauna said, managing to keep her voice steady, but a tear slid down her cheek, “he doesn’t trust me now.”
“Figure it out…but we need a line into that office again. There’s a lot riding on this, and you’re skating on thin ice.”
“Sir, this is wrong…it’s unethical.”
“Ethics is a matter of perspective…the Federal Bureau has a job to do, and the Marshals are now swimming in our territory. I doubt a committee would hear you out…and besides, you’re getting close to retirement age.”
Shocked, her jaw dropped, “I’m forty-three!”
“Close enough to retire in a few years...if you don’t want to be forcibly retired instead of that promotion, I’d suggest that you get this case back on track.”
“I don’t care what you have to do to Thornton, get him back on your side!" Hanging up, Roberts left Rosenthal alone in her kitchen, wineglass in one hand, head in the other. How could she get Jim to trust her? She just lied to him about a case that the Senate Committee overseeing the review of the US Marshals was watching closely. Short of turning Roberts into the Internal Affairs people, she wasn’t sure it was possible…and she had been so close to getting him to let her in.
The FBI was asking her to throw away a relationship all because one of the directors had it out for the other agency and had a line in on the Senate committee. Shauna had tried everything to stay out of the middle, but kept getting sucked into it.
As the realization that she was fighting a losing battle with both the FBI and James Thornton hit her like a ton of bricks, so did the tears. Sinking down to the floor, back against the cabinets, Shauna Rosenthal sobbed into her wineglass.