My name is Freya Holm. I’m a Trooper (II) with the Alabama Department of Public Safety – or rather, I WAS a trooper. At the time this story begins, I was out on short-term disability, recovering from a firearms wound received while subduing a drug trafficking suspect in Jasper, Alabama, northwest of Birmingham and also some residual exposure to chemicals used in the manufacture of crystal meth
I had been assigned to a desk job in Birmingham, and to tell the truth, I was bored to tears and considering my future with the Department. I was 27 years old, in very good physical shape, medium blond hair, blue-eyed, a typical Alabama gal; without the negatives like big hair or loud abrasive voice. I have been told I was attractive enough, as I had done a little modeling in high school before I went to Tuscaloosa to attend, and graduate from, University of Alabama.
I had been with the Department of Public Safety for a little more than six years. I was seated at my battered, government-issue 30 year old desk, doing address trace backs on a burglary suspect, when my boss’s boss, Ben Guzman, the Director of the Criminal Law Division, called me into his office.
“Freya, how’s your rehab coming? Been doing your exercises?” he asked, with a slight smile, his salt and pepper moustache twitching with amusement.
He knew me well enough to know that avoiding exercise, or requirements set by a doctor, were never an issue. If anything, I usually overdid things, just to `be sure.
“And your mom, how’s she doing?” Ben was a friend of our family, as he’d worked with my father when they were both young DPS Troopers chasing speeders on IH-35.
When my father had passed on ten years and six months before, Ben had done what he could to make sure our family was taken care of, so he’d always been special to my mother, brother and me. Not that it gave me any advantages when I became an Alabama State Trooper. If anything, he was harder on me than the others, but that was fine with me. I figured it was the only way I’d get to be the best, that maybe I’d even qualify someday as an FBI Agent.
Favoritism wouldn’t help me there, only how good I really was. But my career was currently on hold with my disability, and as I’ve said, I was up in the air on whether I’d continue on in the field.
“She’s fine, sir, and sends her regards,” I answered him, standing at attention.
“You can stand at ease, Trooper,” he said.
I relaxed, as he leaned back in his chair.
“Freya, I was wondering if you’d be interested in assisting a researcher, helping me out, and burning off some of that vacation leave you have yet to start using.”
“Sir?” I said.
“You see, I’ve got a, er, personal problem. I have a niece, Genet Pena, who’s a researcher into, um, paranormal activities, and she’d like to do some on-site research down in south Alabama. She needs a bodyguard and an assistant. Interested?”
“Paranormal, sir?” I asked, staring at the golf posters on the wall behind him. “Isn’t that college talk for `ghosts?’???”
“Umm, yes, I think so. But I can vouch for Genet, she’s quite level-headed, and normal, not a flake. And I’d consider it a personal favor,” he said.
I sighed. I thought about my present situation, and it wasn’t helping my career attitude very much. Maybe a (hopefully) short term goof job like this would help to clear my head, and if nothing else, I could continue on down to South Padre Island for some beach time, which always helped me think about things. I made my decision.
“Sir, okay sir. I’ll do it – IF it’s not a long-term thing,” I said.
“Great,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to take more than a week, and you’ll make Genet’s job a lot easier.”
“Sir, may I ask a question?” I said.
“Sure,” he said.
“Why does she need a bodyguard? Is it in one of the rough sections?” I asked.
“Freya, do you remember the Castillo killing in Gratiot about 10 years ago? Happened shortly before your father died?”
“Yes sir,” I said. “It was a little girl, I think, wasn’t it? Raped and strangled?”
“Yes, in a school building, one night,” he said. “The building was abandoned shortly thereafter. There’s reputedly been, well, lights and noises spotted there, and several local cops were assaulted under suspicious circumstances while investigating the events.”
“Wouldn’t a local cop be a better choice to pull guard duty, sir?” I asked.
“Possibly, but none of them want to do it, besides, they’ve had cutbacks due to declining population in the area, and frankly, they don’t have the time. Their hands are full with the illegals they’re tasked to keep an eye out for, as well as the random crystal meth labs that pop up on some of the ranches. Speaking of which, any lasting effects from that meth bust?” Director Bonilla asked.
“Occasional headaches, sir, and random flashes of light, but the doc says it’ll pass as the chemicals work out of my body,” I replied.
“Well, take it easy Freya, you’re still not 100 percent, so there’s no point in acting as though you are,” he said, frowning.
“Yes sir,” I said, not seeing any point to arguing with him over that.
But I really only had one speed, turbo, and I didn’t think I could change then. He gave me Miss, I mean `Doctor’ Pena’ phone number, and when I returned to my desk I gave her a call.
A pleasant-sounding voice answered the phone, and turned out to belong to Dr. Pena. Her voice sounded very young, maybe early twenties, which surprised me, as I had pictured her as being in maybe her late thirties or early forties.
She asked me to meet her at her office on the Auburn University campus later that afternoon. I was surprised at the urgency, but the Director had assured me that leave would be no problem, so I notified my immediate supervisor, and he gave me the nod to take the afternoon off.
I drove out in civilian clothes in my personal car, a white 2008 Corvette. It was getting old, sure, but I took good care of it, and I loved it so much that I couldn’t bear to sell it.
Her office was located on the Auburn University campus in Auburn, near the intersection of Magnolia Ave and N. Gay Street, in the basement of Thomas Hall, a short 3 mile trip from our DPS offices on Burton.
I parked in a visitor’s space and headed inside. Following the directions she’d given me over the phone, I made my way to her small office in the basement.
Inside, behind towering piles of paperwork, I found a beautiful Hispanic woman looking as though she were no older than 20, wearing large black-framed glasses. She had long, lustrous black hair, a small frame, perhaps 5′ tall, nice body and a pleasant smile, with beautiful, even white teeth. And deep, deep brown eyes.
“Uh, Doctor Pena?” I asked, doubting that one so young could be a Doctor.
“Yes. Trooper Freya?” she responded.
As I was in civilian clothes, and not wearing my usual `cop’ expression, I could pass for a grad student, though academia is not my preference, at all!
“Um, that would be Trooper Holm, ma’am. Freya’s my first name. But please, ma’am, call me Freya, rather than `Trooper.'”
“Only if you’ll call me Genet, rather than Doctor, or, worse, `ma’am.'”
“Yes, ma’am,” I responded, then we both laughed. “Old habits die hard, ma-, Genet,” I said.
“Please, take a seat, Freya. I guess Ben told you something of what I’m trying to do?” she asked.
I sat down on a gray, dusty armless metal chair that looked as though it had served General Lee when Alabama was a Confederate State. I noticed her perfume Givenchy, if I wasn’t mistaken. It was very nice.
“Not much, Genet,” I said. “He just said that you needed a bodyguard and someone to help you in some investigation into an old murder site, in Gratiot, I think.”
“Yes, but this probably has nothing to do with that. It’s research into some paranormal activity at the same site at which the killing occurred, but I have no idea at this point if it’s related or not.”
As Genet spoke, I looked around, an old cop habit. At her workstation, where most people put the things most intimate to them, there were pictures of Genet holding two or three different cats or kittens, a picture of an older couple, perhaps her parents, and a photograph of a little girl with features and coloring similar to Genet’, perhaps her at an earlier age. No picture of Genet with a husband, boyfriend, or for that matter, girlfriend.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I have a research grant, a very small research grant, to investigate and take visual, audio and thermographic readings at the site, and record my organoleptic impressions, that sort of thing.” She paused.
“Organoleptic?” I asked.
“It means, what you can perceive with the five senses, you know, hear, smell, taste, feel and see. In conjunction with the instruments such as recorders, cameras and recording thermometers, it’s been proven to be valuable to have an individual around who’s trained to be observant. That’s why I think that you’d be so helpful to me. Are you interested?” she asked, looking intently at me.
I wasn’t sure if she had poor eyesight, or if she was just that interested in my reaction.. I looked at her big brown eyes, and her black hair. She seemed to be a pleasant enough person, not at all a dried up old academic, and I figured, what the hell, if it didn’t go longer than a week, it might be interesting, and far enough removed from my day to day to nearly be considered exotic. In other words, semi-vacationish.
“Okay,” I said. “How much are you paying, and just how long will this take?”
“Not very much,” she said apologetically, “to answer your first question, and probably 5 to 7 days, to answer the second. Of course, the grant covers the lodging, travel and meal costs while we’re down there. And we have a choice of the Palm Motel, or the Palm Motel, so plush lodgings are guaranteed!” We both giggled at that.
“Well, the last place I stayed, before the hospital, was in an abandoned cow feed barn hard by a crystal meth lab run by two dirt bags near Jasper, last winter, so I expect that either of those two motels will be fine.”
“Oh my!” she exclaimed. “I should think so.” After a pause she said, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to get started tomorrow, so if there’s a husband, or boyfriend or, anything like that, you’d better let them know.”
“No, nothing like that,” I responded, which seemed to please her, undoubtedly because I’d eliminated one more reason for delay, “Just the Director.”
“Good, can you meet me here tomorrow at 7 AM?” she asked.
“Sure, anything special I need to bring?” I asked.
“Well, your police stuff, that is, your gun and badge, enough rough wear clothes for a week, unless you like doing laundry, and a bedroll.”
“A bedroll?” I asked. “I thought motels had started supplying beds in all their rooms these days.”
She laughed. “Some of the research may require overnighting, or at least a fair amount of time overnight, inside the school. Better to be comfortable. I’ve got lawn chairs for us both, but only my own sleeping bag.”
“Oh, okay, no problem,” I responded.
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