A serious vibe hung in the air as if circulating from the vents. Special Agent Angel Blondeaux strode with purpose along the New Orleans FBI field office's main hall, ignoring the pain in her toes from breaking in a new pair of short-heeled pumps.
Donald Lester had summoned Angel to the important conference room. Many of the state's most significant operations were born and strategized from the table in that room. Just the NOPD alone had been the target of concurrent investigations for decades. Those chairs launched many careers.
Angel straightened her fitted blue jacket over a shoulder holster. Her fingers reconfigured a loose ponytail. Someone must have complained, or a bad decision came to light. This meeting was probably about a misstep coming back to bite her in the ass. It wouldn’t be her first suspension.
Two men and a lady saw her approach from inside the encased glass box. Each had water within reach. Donald Lester stopped speaking mid-sentence, waving Angel in. The three agents were positioned on the same side of the square, lacquered table, which was large enough for twenty. Next to Donald was John Belcher, the Executive Assistant Director, or EAD from Quantico.
Angel kept her eyes on the third person, a serious black woman with a light touch of makeup. The way her thumbnail flicked under her manicured fingernails betrayed her calm, reserved appearance. The name badge was too small to read.
“I was told there’d be cake.” Angel stood across from Donald, her case handler.
Donald pressed a button on the table’s embedded control panel, and the glass walls instantly frosted over so no one could see inside. He looked at his watch. “Thanks for coming on short notice. This is Special Agent Gail Ruby.”
“Okay.” Angel waited.
“Just left White Collar Crime to join Human Trafficking.” She stood, reaching to shake her hand.
Angel reciprocated. “Trafficking, Donald? I told you…”
“Just hear us out,” he cut in.
Angel stemmed her concern. She accepted a seat opposite this tribunal, near a pen, paper, and water. Her feet immediately slipped from their patent leather bindings.
“Is someone bringing the cake?” Angel looked around.
John’s posture turned rigid. “Don’t mind her, Agent Ruby. She’s actually behaving.”
“I’ve heard you can be a handful.” Ruby’s chair swiveled left and right. She hadn’t learned to hide her nervous tells yet.
“A handful? Guess I’m not trying hard enough.” Angel’s eyes darted between each of them. “This feels like the principal’s office.”
John waved his hand. “This has nothing to do with any of your current operations.”
“Then, it’s about my family and that damn bus. You know they hate me, John.”
Ruby said, “We were hoping to get another shot before your grandmother’s secrets are lost forever.”
“You mean before she dies. And you want me to ask her what happened? Hey maw maw, did you sell those boys on the black market? Can I see your receipts?”
“Look,” Ruby continued, “We know it’s a long shot. But, if any of those boys were sold into slavery, there’s a slim chance we can track at least one of them down if we get a name. A location. Anything. What about your grandmother’s brother, Earl Blondeaux? He was sheriff at the time. He moved away from the family like you did. Lives in Brockton now.”
"I've talked to him on three separate occasions, and he's told me to screw off every time. They let him retire, which means he's keeping his mouth shut."
Ruby still pushed. "He's old and living alone. At some point, he's going to want to unload."
Angel squinted. “Thirty years, Agent Ruby. Considering a case goes cold after forty-eight hours, you’re a real optimist.”
“You’re always so quick to refuse.” John’s jaw muscle twitched.
“My relatives won’t crack. How do you think they manage to launder money for the past hundred years?” Angel fiddled with the pad of paper. “Remember my Uncle Doug Blondeaux’s murder investigation seven years ago?”
“Of course,” John admitted. “We had high hopes during that time.”
“I was talked into going then, too. I accomplished nothing. They froze me out. The Blondeauxs are literarily the law out there.”
“You obviously haven’t heard the news from home yet.” Donald leaned forward.
“My home?” Angel’s hand touched her chest. “Lemon Twig?”
Donald soothed his tone. “We received word that your Aunt Lorna passed from an apparent overdose.”