Thinking Out Loud: A Sammi Evans Mystery -- First Chapter By Jeanne L. Drouillard
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Rated "G" by the Author.
Sammi Evans has a special talent that helps her solve crimes. In her world very few know about it, but she shares with her readers.
Samantha Evans grabbed her black handbag from the kitchen counter, took a quick look around and headed for the front door. She grumbled as she turned back remembering her car keys. Taking time for a calming breath, she headed out a second time, realizing everything was finally in order. As she reached the door, the telephone rang. She paused, irritated at the timing. Should she bother to answer it? She was somewhat in a hurry. But then she’d wonder who it was. Waiting impatiently until the answering machine picked up the call, she recognized the excited voice of Dave Patterson.
“Sammi? Hello Sammi. If you’re there, pick up I need to talk to you. It’s urgent.”
Dave Patterson was one of the lead detectives from the local precinct. She’d known him since college and he often consulted with her, usually when he was stuck and needed information. She had to pick up.
“Hello, Dave,” she said in an exasperated tone.
“I’m so glad I caught you. I desperately need your help.”
“No, Dave, please. I’m on my way out the door. My bags are already in the car. I’m heading to Ontario. You know that vacation I keep planning and then canceling?”
“Oh damn, is that today? Do you think you could postpone? Not cancel, simply postpone it a little. I really need you.”
“I cancelled two weeks ago, remember?”
“But I desperately need your help. Give me a minute to explain. Just listen to me, okay?”
“Okay,” said Sammi believing she was being played again. “Tell me what’s going on. I don’t promise anything, but I’ll listen.”
“Okay, good enough. We’ve got a problem with someone on the governor’s staff. The Harrisburg police have asked for our help and I’m right in the middle of it. There’s been a few too many mistakes happening lately. Some documents on file have disappeared totally and others get lost and then show up a few weeks later changed in some way. I can’t say anymore than that. But I need you to attend a party tonight. And with me! See how lucky you are? We need to see if you can find out anything.”
“Dave, is this desperate? Can’t it wait a week? I’ve planned this trip three times already.”
“It’s got to be tonight. The party’s the perfect cover and everyone will be there. We need to find out who’s involved, at least that. Who do we start to target? What’s this all about? We’re stuck. We don’t even know whom to watch right now. Anything you pick up could help point us in the right direction. That’s all I want.”
“What you want is for me to cancel my plans again. Gee, I don’t know.”
“I know I can’t force you, but I could if you’d let me hire you.”
“No, thanks. That I don’t want. Well, I guess another day wouldn’t matter. Just this party tonight, right?”
“Yeah, just this party. If you could listen in on a few people, it would really help. I’ve got the names of three we’re wondering about. And they’ll all be there. That’s everything I need right now. I promise.”
“Well … okay,” said Sammi, irritated because her civic duty wouldn’t allow her to say no. “But you owe me--again.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Sammi,” said Dave.
“That’s right. You can’t thank me enough.”
“It’s formal, so dress for the occasion and I’ll pick you up at eight o’clock.”
Sammi puckered up her face as she put down the receiver. He did it to her again. Why did all these crucial matters happen at the last minute when she had already made plans? She was somewhat irritated, but couldn’t easily refuse. She did have her ways of finding out information and only a few people knew about it. Her parents had a slight inkling, but they were now deceased. And she had never trusted her two older brothers with the news. So besides Dave, there were a total of three other people in the entire world who knew what she could do. And they were people who had needed her help in the past and had been sworn to absolute secrecy.
Most weren’t sure how she did it. She wasn’t entirely sure herself. She’d been called a psychic and all those things, but she was none of that. It’s simply that she could hear what people were thinking. If she stood next to someone and concentrated, his or her thoughts talked to her out loud, like a regular conversation. Strange, right? But true , nonetheless. She didn’t know how she did it, but she had done it since she was little. It was natural to her and nothing she’d practiced. When she was around seven years old it had started, and it never stopped.
* * *
Dave had found out accidentally. They had met for lunch several years back and he was in the middle of telling her about some frustrating criminal case he had been working on when the suspects surprisingly walked into the restaurant and sat down two tables over from them. They were flaunting their ability to always be one step ahead of the police and even casually waved to Dave in triumphant victory from their table.
“They’re so smug,” said Dave. “We don’t know how they do it, but they’re always two steps ahead of us. They’re smart; I have to give them that. Probably have a mole somewhere in our unit, but we can’t figure out who that could possibly be. We do run a tight group. Anyway, someday we’ll get them.”
“What are they doing?”
“They deal in contraband coming in from Cuba, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, you name it. Some of it’s pretty valuable stuff, and that’s bad enough, but they also move heroine and cocaine. We’ve got to stop the drugs, especially. We’re always a day behind on the ship loads and they’ve already moved the cargo out of whatever warehouse or storage unit by the time we get there. It’s so maddening.”
“Quiet for a moment,” said Sammi.
“What?” asked Dave surprised at her curt manner.
“Give me a moment.”
And Sammi sat looking at Dave with her concentration obviously on the other table.
“What are you doing?” asked Dave.
“Give me some paper and a pencil--quick. Then pretend you’re telling me something to write down.”
Dave looked puzzled.
“Humor me, okay?”
Dave cooperated and then waited rather mystified to see what this peculiar turn of events was all about. Sammi was in deep concentration and she kept writing swiftly on her paper. Finally she stopped. About this time they heard his two suspects laughing cheerfully as if they were having a great time.
“Seems like they’re having fun, don’t you think?” said Dave showing slight anger.
As she slowly handed him her notes she said, “Well, remember you’re the cop, so don’t make a big deal when you read this, okay? It might be a good idea if you laugh out loud to show you’re having a good time, too.”
Dave began to read Sammi’s notes and his jaw dropped. Then, remembering, he laughed out loud as suggested. She knew he’d have trouble concealing his amazement and his glance questioned her.
“Does it make sense to you?” she asked.
“Yeah, it sure does. Is this for real? Are you sure?” asked Dave.
“That I don’t know. All I can tell you is that’s what they were talking about. That’s exactly what they were thinking and they were laughing because they said nobody would ever figure out how it’s done.”
“Holy shit. How’d you do this?”
“That’s not up for discussion, but wait a minute.”
Sammi got quiet again for a few minutes. She was in obvious concentration for a second time.
“I hope you can get them. They’re so arrogant. They said it was fun watching you from this distance and talking about their next job because you police were so out of it.”
“Sammi, I’m speechless.”
“No, you’re not. You’re never speechless.”
“Well, that’s true ,” Dave laughed. “But this is about the closest I’ve ever been. Are you sure about this? How can you do this?”
Sammi explained. “Look, I’ve told you what I’ve heard. I can’t guarantee that this is what they’ll do. But I do know it’s exactly what they were thinking about right now. Other than that, I don’t know.”
“But they’re two tables away. I can’t hear them.”
“We can discuss that some other time, but for now, don’t you have work to do, maybe people to call? I’m ready to leave anyhow.”
“Sorry, Sammi, I don’t mean to be suspicious, but this seems impossible.”
“Only to those who don’t believe. Are you going to follow up on it or not?”
A few weeks later Sammi got a call from Dave. He had turned from a doubter into a complete believer. They nabbed the guys at an obscure ship loading area with the new cargo being unloaded. It was done exactly as Sammi had said. They also had managed to make it to a previously unknown warehouse before the last shipment was moved. They had them on a double violation. And these guys weren’t so smug anymore. But Dave wanted to know how she did it.
“I don’t talk about it, Dave” said Sammi, obviously uncomfortable at the question. “People would think I’m weird. You thought so, too, and you’ve known me for quite a while.”
“But my superiors are trying to find out how I knew all this stuff.”
“Oh come on, Dave. You cops always have secret sources, don’t you?”
“Yeah, we call them snitches.”
“Yuck, I don’t like that and I’m not a snitch. You’d better think of a nicer name for me.”
Dave laughed. “You can be my valuable secret source, how’s that?”
“Seriously, can you do this all the time?”
“Dave, I’m glad you caught those guys, but that’s all I have to say. Hope you get a raise for this.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, “but I’ve known you for years and I had no idea…”
“Let’s keep it that way, okay? It’s between you and me, right?”
“Right, Sammi. Thanks.”
Of course a few months later Dave asked Sammi to help him out again and she did with more good results. So for the last several years her usefulness as a valuable secret source was private business between the two of them. And that’s how Sammi planned for it to continue.
* * *
The phone rang a second time. Again Sammi waited for the answering machine. It was Louise Jensen. She had worked with her a while back. Louise always suspected Sammi had another side to her life, but could never prove it. That didn’t stop her from continually trying to find out what it was. And that succeeded in keeping Sammi constantly on her guard. She didn’t pick up the phone. The extra stress was not welcomed at this moment. Besides, Louise called her once a day everyday. Sammi thought she probably called everyone once a day to keep on top of her agenda.
She listened to the message.
“Hi, Sammi, this is Louise. I hope I didn’t miss you. I wanted to talk to you for a minute before you left on your trip. I didn’t get your itinerary. Could you let me know before you leave? Thanks.”
Sammi had to laugh at her boldness, but she was honest. The one good thing about her was that everybody could read her thoughts. And they didn’t need any special skills. Mostly, Louise had a good heart, but she did have some problems that no one else knew about. And that’s one reason Sammi tolerated her gossipy friend. She knew she had a grim secret which would one day explode. And Sammi wanted to be around when it happened.
After making herself a cup of tea, Sammi relaxed on her patio in the cozy lounge chair that Dave had gotten her after her last assignment. It seemed quiet without her dog, Kali, a ruby-colored cavalier spaniel who held her heart. But she had taken her to the kennel earlier in the day. She’d leave her there and take advantage of a few hours to unwind. Then she had to think of the party at the governor’s house. Not exactly the type of gathering she enjoyed, too formal for her, but she could look at it as a job for tonight.
She was comfortable with her life. At forty she was single. She’d had a few chances, but always changed her mind. Her mother had said she was too picky and perhaps that was true . Her father told her to do what she felt was right for her. She liked that idea better. She had a good job as a junior executive at a bank. And she had managed to get two degrees, one in business and another in philosophy. Her main focus was in the extra talent she possessed. It was an area that she wouldn’t get recognized for, and she counted on that. Her impression was that if she flaunted her gift to the world, it would diminish.
* * *
After a luxurious bath and a little pampering, Sammi was ready to go in her new mauve ensemble that she had bought to wear in Ontario. Primping in front of the mirror gave her a reflection she felt proud of and the confidence she needed to face her evening. Not bad, she thought. And her new hair style complimented her dark blonde locks that were pulled back in loose curls for tonight’s sophisticated gathering. She relaxed waiting for Dave to arrive and her thoughts wandered to her young days when her grandfather was still alive. He was the one other person she’d ever met who could do what she did. And he guided her along an experimental road and taught her how to rely on herself. She couldn’t help but recall one particular day when she was fourteen and had spent some time on his farm.
She’d been sitting under the oak tree near the old horse barn. She liked to look out onto the grassy fields that stirred occasionally, disturbed slightly by light pleasurable breezes. She easily got lost sharing the secrets of nature and getting messages in return, hoping to understand the benefit of what she could do. Had she finally learned to resist the pleasure she sometimes felt in the available knowledge that came her way? She hoped so.
Suddenly her Grandpa Logan called to her from the other side of the tree. “Hey, Sammi, what about that bird in the tree right there? Can you pick up his thoughts?”
She smiled inwardly as she heard her nickname. Her entire family called her Samantha, except her grandpa. “Some animals are tough for me. They’ve always been. How about you?”
Grandpa had coached her from the beginning, helping to keep her grounded and rational about her gift, although he never called it that. He used to tell her it was being totally aware of the moment and focusing completely on one thing. Sammi wasn’t so sure.
“They can be trickier,” Grandpa said as he walked over and sat down near her, “but they’re not as complex as humans. Well, you know that. They’re not constantly jumping back and forth in their thought world and resenting one person, hating another, being jealous and committing all types of horrendous mental acts. But they’re concerned about survival. So we do have that in common.”
“But you didn’t answer me, Grandpa. Do you have trouble reading animals?”
“Don’t you know?” Grandpa teased and looked over for a serious moment, but couldn’t hold the incredulous look and cracked his famous gotcha smile. “Honestly, Sammi, I have more trouble with animals, too. Dogs are easy for me, cats are a little tougher, but birds and crawly things are my difficulty. Butterflies and I connect very well.”
“I think your skills are much better than mine. I don’t always know what people are thinking or feeling. Usually I do, but not always. And I can’t call it up at will. You can, can’t you?”
He was thoughtful. “It takes time, you know, and a lot of practice.”
“I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still not sure I know the purpose of being able to do this,” she said.
Grandpa looked at her in a soft manner. His face could always reassure a person.
“First of all,” he began seriously, “I’m much older than you. I’ve had a lot more practice, and I still don’t have one hundred percent knowledge at all times. Thank God. And the purpose will be different for you than it was for me. That’s really all I can say about that. You’ll know in time. It can be distracting enough anyway.”
“When we talk like this, I can turn it off. Do you know what I mean?”
“I have so much to learn, and if I couldn’t turn it off sometimes, I think I’d be in trouble.”
Grandpa laughed in his usual pleasant cackle. He seemed to amuse himself at times. “Well, Sammi, I do know what you mean and I’ve learned to turn it off, too. But it took me a while longer.”
“But I’ve had you to help teach me things. Did you have anybody?” Sammi asked.
Looking at the expression on her Grandpa’s face, she knew the answer before the words were spoken.
“No, there wasn’t anyone to help me. I was pretty much on my own.”
She realized she’d have to wait a few moments for Grandpa to continue. He liked to chew on the sliced barks of trees and seemed to be enjoying one right now. So she sat quietly and waited. It was a relaxing time. Finally, he resumed, “I’m sure a few other people in this world can do what we do, too, but not anyone I ever knew well enough to question. Not in my family, in school or even any of my friends. So I had to figure out methods and skills as I went along.”
“That must have been tough, Grandpa. You’ve helped me a lot.”
“I learned by doing a lot of things wrong, and then, learning to do them right.”
“I’m lucky I have you. It helps to share, doesn’t it?” She smiled at him. He seemed pleased. “You know if I had to explain this to someone I wouldn’t know how. Sitting here talking with you, I’m not bombarded by your thoughts. I can have a regular conversation. But other times, with regular people, sometimes I’m not even sure what they’re saying out loud and what their thoughts are. It’s almost the same to me. I hear them both.”
“Well, that’s how it works. You don’t always hear or feel or see thoughts. Although I don’t think it’s a gift exactly, I do think the universe knows when it wants you to hear something. That’s how I’ve always explained it to myself. Why and when? I don’t think I’ll ever know that.”
Sammi hadn’t thought of it like that.
“I won’t always be here, Sammi, although I’ll always be around somewhere, remember that?”
“You’ll be around for a while yet. Hopefully for quite a while.”
“I think you’re quite grounded now. I’ve noticed it for the last few years. My thoughts will always be out there for you to see, especially when you’re out with nature. If you need to get my thoughts, get out in nature by yourself. I’m not positive, but I think I’ll be able to find you that way. We’ll connect in nature you and I.”
“You mentioned the color,” she pointed out. “I don’t always see the colors, but sometimes I do. They help me put feelings to the thoughts and they’re calming. But I can work without them. Do you always see color, Grandpa?”
It was wonderful talking to someone who understood. Without Grandpa, she was sure her life would have been much more complicated. But she did have her Grandpa.
“Not always, but sometimes I see only color and can’t find the thoughts. It’s a strange process, but it can work either way.” Her Grandpa looked at her with satisfaction as he realized she finally understood how to work within parameters.
“Does it make you nervous, Sammi?“
“A little, but it doesn’t distract me like it did when I was seven. Remember back then, when I first began, I’d get so lost in other people’s quiet conversations that it made me nervous and I’d cry. I even got sick a few times. I didn’t want to hear all that stuff.”
“Happened to me, too, at first, but then I got it under control and you have, too. I couldn’t have told you how to do that. We’re all different. But you figured it out.”
“But did you ever hear thoughts, Grandpa?”
“A few times. And that was a step forward as far as I’m concerned. But I didn’t move much in that area. You’re ahead of me there. For me, it was seeing or knowing and the colors. I guess you’ll have to wait and see.”
Sammi remembered that particular conversation in its entirety. It was the last one she’d had with her Grandpa. He died a few weeks after and she had taken to memory every word that he had said. He was her mentor and he was gone, but she felt lucky to have had him as long as she did.
* * *
The doorbell rang and jarred her completely and roughly out of her daydreams. She took a moment to calm herself down before she answered the door.
“Whoa, look at you. Aren’t you fancy?” said Dave. His expression showed how much he approved of her dress.
“You look pretty stylish, too.”
“I do look different out of uniform, right?”
“You sure do, and mighty handsome,” she said and watched him relish in the compliment. “As for me, I did buy a few things for my Ontario trip, you know, the one I’m going on tomorrow. But you like this dress, do you?”
“Yeah,” said Dave. “It shows more cleavage than anything else I’ve seen on you. I think it’s charming.”
Sammi felt a little shy. “You sure can turn on the charm, can’t you?”
“No, no, I mean it. You look great. Too bad this isn’t a real date.”
They both laughed. Sammi got her coat and they left without further delay. They had a long drive ahead. It was about two hours from Scranton to the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg. During the ride Dave got serious about the ongoing trouble.
“This problem’s getting out of hand. We were informed about two months ago that some banking files and other ledgers were being compromised, but at first, security thought it was a one time thing or possibly twice and some kind of fluke. But now we know it’s more than that. It’s happened several more times and we can’t figure out why. When two files were recovered a few weeks ago, changes had been made. But the changes didn’t make sense.”
“I’m sure they make sense to somebody,” said Sammi.
“You’re right there. But like the last time, numbers weren’t even changed. But the order of the names was switched. Why would anyone care about that?” Dave shook his head in confusion.
They drove on for a few moments in silence. Dave looked over at her, but she remained quiet. Then he chuckled, “I don’t have to tell you how worried I am. I think you know.”
Sammi gave him one of those looks. “Now Dave, I usually have everything turned off when I’m with you. I’ve told you that it took years to learn how to do that, but it gives me the break I need. Mostly, I’m tuned out, except for a reason.”
“On the other hand, I’m always tuned in, but I can’t get the information you can get.”
“With most people I communicate the usual way, but sometimes from somewhere I get a warning and my system kicks in without my conscious effort. That’s usually when it’s an indication for me to pay attention. Do you know what I mean?”
Dave looked confused. “Honestly, Sammi, I’d love to answer I know what you’re talking about, but I don’t. But I can understand how you wouldn’t want to hear people’s thoughts all the time. I know I wouldn’t.”
“Other than being distracting, it can be depressing. Anyway, enough about that. What do I have to do tonight?”
“Oh, okay, see that blue notebook on the floor.”
“Turn to page two.”
Sammi retrieved a messy and crushed notebook that could only belong to a hard working cop. He must have spent hours and countless cups of coffee mulling over these notes.
“There are three names I’m concerned about. I think there’s one more involved, but he won’t be here tonight.”
“Okay, Jerome Macy, who’s he?” asked Sammi.
“He’s the communications expert for the governor. He’s involved with all the computer stuff and with those files that went missing. Been with the governor about two years. So there’s not a long, loyal road there.”
“Next is Samuel Tomkins?”
“Right, he’s the assistant to Jerry Macy. In fact, Jerry hired him. So that’s a duo I need to look into. By the way, I’m working with the governor’s security staff, just so you know. They’ve asked us if we could help. We hope these guys are straight, but you never know. But if they make too many inquiries themselves, it could tip somebody off.”
“I see. Oh,” said Sammi in a teasing manner, “last, but certainly not least is Linda Saunders. Is this the same Linda Saunders you were dating a while back?”
“The same,” said Dave without any emotion. “We dated a few times.”
“It’s kind of strange. There wasn’t much there, a little sex a few times, but that’s all. Yet in the last few months she’s called me about four times and acted like we had a big thing going and she regrets that it ended. I happen to mention it to Charlie Freeman from the governor’s security unit and that’s when they asked for our help. They thought she might be trying to get information out of me.”
Sammi laughed out loud.
“What? What’s that for?” Dave asked.
“Well, if I know you, she’d get out of you what you’d want her to know and that wouldn’t necessarily be the truth, right?”
“Yeah, I’m too old to be fooled, at least that way.”
“Hey, you’re not much order than me. Don’t make me old along with you.”
“I think I’ve aged more than you in the last few years.”
They were both silent for a few minutes. Sammi knew that Dave was thinking of his late wife. She died about five years ago getting innocently caught up in a setup scheme thinking she was helping her husband. It was a pain that would probably never leave him.
“How does Linda figure in this?” she asked.
“Oh, she’s kinda like an administrative assistant or gofer as I call her. She’s mainly in the communication’s area, but has her nose in legal, financial and almost anywhere she can. I think she reports to Jerry Macy, but I’m not sure.”
“Oh, I see. So she has access to a lot.”
“Yeah, she’s all over the place. And be careful around her, okay? She’s not too fond of you.”
“Me? How does she even know me? I don’t think I’ve ever met her.”
“I’m not sure, but she mentioned you a few times when I talked to her. I was surprised, too. She played it like she was jealous of you, but I knew that wasn’t true . She was trying to get something on you.”
“Interesting. I’m not sure I even know what she looks like, so you’ll have to introduce me to her and to all the others, too.”
“I don’t think I’ll wander too far from you tonight. Don’t think I’m being a big brother, but I need to be cautious.”
“Don’t make me nervous.”
“Oh, no, no. Nothing like that. But we need to look like a date, okay? Not necessarily a big love thing, but at least a date, maybe a budding relationship, if you can handle that. If that’s too much, then at least real close friends, alright?”
“I can handle that.” Sammi was amused.
“And I’ll keep you steered into the right groups where I want you to pick up… what do you call it?”
“Quiet conversation. That’s my term.”
Dave laughed as he pulled into the driveway to the governor’s house. Many cars had already arrived and the valets were out welcoming the guests. They patiently waited in line in the circle drive as the vehicles inched along toward the front door.
“I should mention something to you.”
“What?” said Dave with a concerned look.
“Not a big deal, but you need to be aware. When I’m concentrating sometimes I can get lost in other people’s thoughts. I know it sounds strange, but that’s what happens. And tonight with all these people around and no doubt a lot of noise, it’s more difficult because I know that I have to be social, too. So I’m glad you’re going to be around, as you’ve hinted. Now, if someone talks directly to me and I don’t answer, then nudge me or cough or something and it will break my concentration, okay?”
“I’ve seen you work before and I know you can get intense, but I don’t think anyone else will notice.”
“Yeah, but usually I don’t have to be social, too.”
“Right, I see your point. Trying to concentrate in a busy room with a lot of noise going on--yeah, right. I understand.”
“I wanted you to know that if I ignore you sometimes, I didn’t want your feelings to be hurt,” she teased.
Dave laughed. “Well, I appreciate that, but it’s not my biggest concern.”
They still had a few cars ahead of them. It gave Sammi a moment to look at the outside of the home and appreciate the four large white pillars that adorned the front. The generous porch ran the entire width of the house with chairs and tables that could be used for intimate outdoor meetings. Sammi had driven by the mansion on several occasions and paused a few times to admire the landscape, but never had occasion to enter the front door. She was anxious to see what she had heard and read about.
As they reached the front door and the valet opened her side of the vehicle his rehearsed speech was still enjoyable for her.
“Good evening, it certainly is a lovely night.”
“That it is,” answered Sammi.
As he helped her out of the vehicle he remarked that he liked her husband’s car and especially liked the choice of color.
Dave heard and didn’t react, so Sammi went along with the obvious well-meaning valet. They both smiled as he got in the driver’s side and drove away.
“Well, Mrs. Patterson,” said Dave as he took her arm, “shall we enter?”
“Don’t get too carried away,” said Sammi.
As they walked up the six stone steps to the front door they both had a tendency to pause and look at the beauty of the home. The impressive front door was solid oak with leaded beveled glass and flanked by huge columns that left one breathless. It was not something familiar to either Sammi or Dave. She stood for a moment taking it all in and relishing the feeling it gave her. Dave seemed to be doing the same, although his stare showed he enjoyed Sammi’s reaction the best.
“I’m sure the inside of this home will be truly amazing,” said Sammi.
“Yeah, to think some people live this way.”
Sammi smiled as the door opened and they walked in to see how other people lived.