NOVEL: The Panic Pure, by Harper Kingsley [mm suspense] – Chapter Fifteen

Title: The Panic Pure
Author: Harper Kingsley
Genre: mm suspense thriller
Rating: mature

Summary: Daniel Worth, billionaire and CEO of Worth Enterprises is questioned by FBI agent Marshal Newman about the disappearance of one of his employees. They strike up a conversation and soon are regularly meeting and begin dating. However neither realizes just how close danger is lurking.
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There’s some mention of child abuse, but it’s just talking about previous abuse and FBI stuff. That’s about as deep as I’m going with that. Sad feelings will be had, but no graphic depictions of the child abuse.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN
=THE SPACES IN-BETWEEN=

It felt a bit like a betrayal, nosing in where he didn’t belong, but it was something he had to do. Marshal was his friend and it was obvious that he was crazy about Worth.

Hamilton wasn’t the kind of man that was willing to let a mystery go, so it had felt perfectly natural to take the information Conway had given him and run a few checks. And what he’d dug up was enough to make the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

Screw up after screw up until it wasn’t incompetence anymore. It had to be purposeful sabotage of the investigation.

Someone hadn’t wanted the Worth murders solved, and they’d gotten their way. It was just a question of who and how many agents had let themselves be lured by money into becoming just as bad as the crooks they busted. Worse even, as they were supposed to be on the side of the angels. Not helping innocent people be murdered for their fortune.

Acid was bubbling in his stomach and more than anything he wanted to go back in time a week to before he’d known any of this. But it was what it was and there was a crime for him to uncover and arrests to be made.He now had a crate of hard copy files to go through, all pertaining to the Worth Case, and he’d notified his immediate superior–a woman he knew he could trust–that they were going to have to run an internal investigation to find all the bad seeds. The reaction made him feel as though he’d knocked over a bee hive and it was only a matter of time until people started getting stung.

And on top of everything else, his coffee pot was on the fritz and the one in the break room on his floor produced the kind of sludge he’d expect to be used to tar roofs. Definitely not anything he’d want to drink.

So he grabbed his mug and headed down to the floor below. And like fate, when he stepped into the elevator to return upstairs, he recognized one of the men leaning against the wall.

Arthur Conway was wearing a three-piece suit that probably cost more than the monthly rent on Hamilton’s condo, but he carried himself the same as when he’d been in a tee shirt and jeans. There was a pair of expensive sunglasses pushed up on top of his head and he looked bored.

Hamilton nudged his way through the elevator crowd to stand next to him. “I wasn’t expecting you here today.”

Conway blinked at him, then smiled. For a lawyer, he came across a lot less sleazy than he was charming. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here either. Danny had me bring Marshal his lunch.” He rolled his eyes good-naturedly.

“Huh. So this is a normal thing for you now?” Hamilton asked.

Conway shrugged. “It makes Danny happy to think that Marshal is eating a good meal while working. So he has me drop something off here before going back to the office with his lunch. It’s not that far out of my way and sometimes it’s nice to get out a little and stretch my legs.”

“I bet.” Hamilton rubbed his hands together. “Listen, there’s something I need to discuss with you. Do you think you could come back to my office now?”

“For a few minutes,” Conway said after glancing at his watch. “Danny likes to have his lunch at a specific time, so I can’t give you too long.”

“That’s all right. I just need a minute.” He wasn’t prepared to mention anything in the pseudo-public of he elevator, but he felt as though Conway could help him with the case.

He led Conway back to his office and closed the door behind them. “I read that you have Daniel’s power of attorney.”

“Yes,” Conway said, perching on a chair like a well-dressed falcon. From everything Hamilton had seen about him, Arthur Conway was not someone that fooled around. He was justifiably feared.

“Isn’t that a strange arrangement, Mr. Conway? That he would trust you with so much?”

“I have always had his back, no matter the situation. I am a lawyer. There’s no way I’d let him get scammed anywhere. I’ve also got him listed as my proxy as well. He can make life or death decisions for me just as I can for him.” Conway’s expression didn’t shift an inch. It perked Hamilton’s interest. Such passion hidden; it made him curious what else the bespoke suit covered, the depth of his loyalty.

“You are a great friend to him, but I needed to make sure for a moment.” Hamilton leaned against the corner of his desk, watching for Conway’s reaction as he loomed above.

Conway was completely cool and collected. He’d folded his hands on his lap and his ankles were casually crossed. “And now that you’re sure, what did you have to say?”

Hamilton’s lips turned up. “I can’t go into too much detail, but there’s about to be a real shit storm coming down. I didn’t want to have you get blindsided, but things are already in motion. That’s all I can say.”

“I see.” Conway didn’t acknowledge the curse word. “I suppose I’ll be notifying the PR department to beef up their ranks. I’ll also be visiting with the legal department to make sure they’re in order.”

“That would be a very good idea,” Hamilton said. He appreciated when his advice was so readily accepted. “I will let you know if there’s anymore happening.” He gestured toward the door.

Conway rose with easy grace, sweeping his hand down his thigh. He opened the door and said, “It has been a pleasure. Please feel free to call me Arthur next time.” He flashed a swift smile over his shoulder, then was gone.

Hamilton leaned back against his desk, unable to resist a softly pleased hum. He liked a person that listened to his advice, but he also liked someone that pushed back when he was playing his games.

Conway–Arthur–was the kind to play back. That pleased Hamilton.

* * *

The instant Arthur was back in the office he called two overlapping meetings. He needed everyone to be at least prepped for the trouble coming down on all their heads. They needed to keep the Worth name strong in the business world.

“Here’s his lunch.” He held the cloth bag out to Sophia. “When you get a chance later, come by my office.”

“Of course,” she said. Her eyebrows were arched questioningly, but she would wait to find out.

He gave her a nod, then retreated toward the elevator. He had some phone calls to make and a few things to arrange just in case Hamilton came through.

Arthur wasn’t sure how things were going to go, but he was hoping that whatever Lauren had caught herself up in would result in her seeing the inside of a jail cell. She needed to pay for all that she’d done, and she’d gotten away with her crimes for way too long. Though Arthur wasn’t sure how well old child abuse cases could stand up in court, he was hoping the mismanagement of funds would come and bite her on the ass.

Once he got back to his office, he closed the door and went directly to his Keurig machine. He needed coffee.

Thoughts of Lauren Green drifted through his head and he couldn’t help wishing that he could go back in time and get his younger self to handle things differently. Sure, no one around the estate was willing to do anything to stop her–not even his father, which had really hurt to watch–but there were things that Arthur wished he had done. He could have at least sent anonymous tips to child services or something.

At the time though, she had been such a terrifying figure in his life. She had been the Wicked Witch living in the castle, sucking the life out of everyone that got too close. And she had wrapped herself tight around Danny, strangling him with her presence until Arthur had been too terrified to do anything more than watch.

Cupping his mug in his hands, Arthur sat in his chair and gazed out the wide window at the courtyard below. He could see some landscapers working at the base of one of the Japanese maple trees.

He remembered being a kid with Danny and helping the gardeners. They would sneak around finding things to do all day, and though the gardeners had probably been annoyed by the presence of two small boys, they’d let them plant flowers and dig holes. It had been exciting at the time, and he could almost feel the sun beating down on his head as he worked shoulder to shoulder with Danny, smoothing the soil in the flowerbeds.

When Arthur looked back at his life, Danny was always there. They had been best friends from the first moment they met at six years old. Arthur had moved onto the estate with his father and he’d met Danny two days later. It had been kismet.

After Danny’s parents died, a pall had fallen over the estate. Everything had gotten quiet and there had been this breathless sense of waiting. At the time, Arthur hadn’t been quite sure what had happened, except that Mrs. Leanne and Mr. Kevin were gone.

Then Danny had come back pale faced and tired looking accompanied by Dr. Green, and everything had been different. A lot of the laughter had disappeared, and over the course of eight months most of the staff had been let go. They’d been a family for years, yet they were sent away as though they were less than nothing.

Sometimes Arthur wished that he had demanded Danny tell him what was going on inside the house, but he hadn’t, and he still didn’t know everything. All he knew was what he’d seen, the livid marks against Danny’s arms, legs and back, and the quiet misery Danny had carried around like a blanket. He had looked like he was dying, fading away a bit more each day.

As an adult, Arthur realized that Lauren had done everything she could to strip any semblance of security from Danny’s life. She’d wanted him vulnerable to her control, and that’s exactly what she got. Somehow, in that house behind drawn curtains and thick wooden doors, she’d broken Danny down into component pieces. Using her skills, she’d taken him apart as easy as one of Danny’s Lego men.

The hatred Arthur felt for Dr. Lauren Green was the kind that burned hot and never went out. She had been the first proof he’d seen that some monsters could be human.

There was a knock at his door. Arthur twitched and realized that he’d been staring into space with a cup of coffee cradled between his hands for nearly half an hour.

“Come in,” he called, schooling his expression for work.

* * *

Gathering up the warrants and getting them signed by the judge took a lot less time and effort than he thought it would. It turned out that some people remembered Lauren Green, and there wasn’t a whole lot of love there. She seemed to be the kind of woman that created enemies out of everyone she met.

Hamilton didn’t lead the team that arrested her, though they were some of his minions. He’d never been much for field work and the day he’d become senior enough to delegate the more strenuous roles had been a relief.

Marshal liked to call them “paperwork ninja,” and though Hamilton would have put it in less juvenile terms, he agreed with the concept. Their very lack of physicality had been what drew them together first in college then through the academy. They had been the brainy book nerds dealing with life amongst the gung-ho trainees.

Blessed with an easy metabolism and a body that crafted six-pack abs after a handful of sit ups, Marshal had never had any trouble passing the fitness tests. It was one of the few things that Hamilton envied, as he himself felt like he was fighting a losing battle against his love for fatty foods and his waistline’s desire to balloon out horror movie fashion.

He kept himself fit enough for the office, but he would never be the type to want to get into shootouts and wrestle perps. He was much happier sending out his minions to grab the suspects and handle the interrogations while he floated papers around and decided their fates for them. It was so much better than dealing with real, possibly violent people.

Especially people like Lauren Green.

Conway had called her a monster, and after seeing what she’d been up to, Hamilton could only agree.

Rasher, one of his agents, had sent him preliminary reports on their findings at her hotel room. There’d already been a quick peek at her computer and Hamilton’s suspicions had been confirmed.

Child pornography.

It was an ever growing business in a world run on technology, pictures and videos making their way around the world for the sick titillation of pedophiles. And Lauren Green had used her young patients while in America, then bought the time of children from their poor parents in poverty stricken neighborhoods in other countries, and as a last jab she had continued to peddle the pictures she had begun her business on. Pictures of her nephew from ages nine to seventeen.

Hamilton was beginning to understand how she operated and it wasn’t conducive to his peace of mind.

With all the info coming in, he could already tell that the case against Lauren Green was going to be a big one. Careers were going to be made and storybook lives were going to be ruined–Lauren Green had dealt with a lot of children, enough to make him feel sick to his stomach.

The updates Rasher sent raised the number of domestic victims from fourteen to thirty-seven to fifty-three, and there were still more coming.

“Guess she really was the Wicked Witch of the West.” Agent Rhonda Kelley shook her head, the ends of her dark auburn ponytail just brushing the collar of her shirt. “We’re going to have to send out to other labs for help processing everything. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to sleep again.”

Kelley had two girls at home. Hamilton didn’t bring them up, not when they were dealing with this horror story. Instead, he just said, “Sleep is overrated. We’re the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Insomniacs.”

She snorted. “You should cross-stitch that on some placards and we’ll hang them around the office. I’m sure the Director won’t mind.”

“What won’t I mind?”

“Evening Director,” Hamilton said, giving Kevin Crane a nod.

“Assanti. Why don’t you fill me in on this case you’ve got going. We’re already fielding calls from the higher ups and there have already been several reporters snooping around.”

Hamilton barely refrained from sighing heavily. It was one of the rare times when he wished he were out in the field. At least then he’d have a little time between making the arrest and briefing the boss.

“Well, sir,” he began.

* * *

Over the years Arthur had come to respect his instincts when they started screeching at him that everything was about to blow up. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but he could tell that trouble was about to come down the pike.

So he wasn’t surprised to receive a call from Hamilton Assanti letting him know that Lauren had been arrested.

“I can’t go into any details now, but I thought I should give you a heads up that it’s going to be bad. Given the statute of limitations, you might suggest that Marshal put in for some vacation time and arrange for him to take Daniel far away in a few weeks. Otherwise Daniel is going to be looking at some very uncomfortable media attention when this all goes public.”

Arthur clenched his hand on the phone. “Will Danny be facing charges?”

“No, but he will be asked for a statement. What we found… It’s bad and there’s a lot of it. He won’t want to be around once the trials start.”

“‘Trials,’ as in plural, more than one?” Arthur asked.

Hamilton sighed. “We’ve found some of her accomplices. It’s about to become a three-ring circus. I just thought I’d let you know that trouble was coming.”

“Thanks for the heads up. I’m really grateful for the warning.” And he was, because if there was one thing Arthur hated it was being blind-sided.

“Well, just thought I should warn you. Stuff is coming, and it’s not nice. Now, I’ve got to get back to work. We have a lot of evidence to go through.”

Arthur thanked him again before hanging up. He slumped back on his couch and dropped the phone on the cushion next to him.

He was at home, paperwork in semi-neat piles on the coffee table in front of him along with the beer he’d barely cracked open before the phone rang.

He scrubbed a hand over his face, wondering what evidence Hamilton and the FBI had gathered. Everything he came up with that might lead to a media flurry made him dread finding out.

Just because he had suspicions about the kind of abuse Danny had suffered didn’t mean he felt strong enough to stomach the hard proof of it. But that was what was going to happen.

Danny had been so happy lately. It hurt to know that delicate contentment was going to be ruined.

Arthur considered going to Danny and telling him everything that was going on. Then he decided to wait. He would let Danny enjoy a few more days of ignorance. The time would have no effect on the case against Lauren Green, but it would mean everything to Danny, who had had so very little happiness in his life.

Hopefully Marshal would stick by Danny even with the drama to come. Because if the man ran, Arthur would hunt him down and beat the shit out of him. Then he’d come back to help Olivia make that strawberry ice cream Danny liked and maybe those chocolate cream cheese cookies.

I’d do anything for you, buddy, he thought.

He took a drink of his beer and got back to his paperwork. There was always so much he had to get done.

/CHAPTER