Authors: Matt Leatherwood Jr.
AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY!
NIKKI FRANK’S PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
“If you live among wolves, you have to act like a
(October 24, 1939—February 17, 2006)
Thank you to
the following individuals. Without their contributions and support, I couldn’t have written and published this book.
Michael Crawley, my instructor at Winghill Writing School. Thank you for teaching me the craft of fiction writing.
Larry Brooks, author and story coach (www.storyfix.com). Thank you for your expert analysis of this story’s concept, your positive affirmation, and the title suggestion.
Angela Brown, my seasoned editor. Thank you so much for your assistance in refining this story. Your keen eye, industry expertise, and command over language helped me further develop as a writer. I’m so pleased with the final product and truly believe we have an audience winner.
Owen County; Twenty Miles Outside of Parkbridge, Georgia
he automated gates to the Madelyn P. Shaw Women’s Correctional Facility clanked shut. Inmate #30822 stepped forward as the white Chrysler 300C limousine pulled up to the curb. The chauffeur placed the luxury vehicle in park, stepped out from behind the steering wheel, and made his way toward the passenger side.
The well-groomed man, wearing a clean, crisp suit with a matching chauffeur cap, opened the door. “Ms. Frank,” he said, motioning with his free arm for her to get into the 300C.
What in the world?
“Ms. Frank, please,” he prompted again. The repetitive sound of the engine droned on in the background.
“All right, Paris Oaks Assisted Living Facility then.”
Nikki ducked her head and climbed inside the vehicle. The interior was trimmed in a Circassian walnut veneer that complemented the limo’s sandstone leather seats. A minibar contained an assortment of alcoholic beverages along with Italian-cut champagne flutes and etched glassware. On the seat near the partition sat Spencer Taylor, holding a glass of Martell Cordon Bleu. He was a peach-skinned man, six foot one, with brass-blond hair. His stubbly beard contained more brown strands of hair than blond, giving his square face a dull appearance. Spence took a quick sip of the cognac then placed the glass back on top of the minibar. “Long time no see.”
Nikki stared at the three gift boxes next to her on the seat. “Three years, six months, and nine days, but who’s counting?”
“Apparently you are. I thought it was a five-year sentence.”
“It was. I got a year off for good behavior, and with the overcrowding situation, my being a nonviolent offender pushed my release date up even sooner.”
“Fantastic. It’s great to see you again, Nikki.”
“I’d say the same thing, but my last memory was of you shoving me to the ground and hightailing it in the opposite direction to avoid arrest.”
A smug look swept across Spence’s face.
The chauffeur eased the limo into traffic. An awkward moment of silence passed. Nikki took a deep breath. Jasmine and bergamot from Spence’s cologne filled the cabin. The smell was refined, refreshing.
She motioned to the gifts beside her. “All this,” she said, changing topics, “seems a bit over the top, don’t you think?”
“Over the top?” He shook his head. “Not for my girl. You deserve the best. Don’t think I don’t appreciate you doing the time.”
“Frequent visits would’ve sufficed…or at least one visit.”
Spence simply nodded.
“A letter, phone call, something,” Nikki added. “As they say, actions speak a lot louder than words.”
He sighed. “Look, it wasn’t my call. Shortly after your arrest, Cordoza had us disband and go underground for nine months. We worked as much as we could independently. We just didn’t associate publicly. We were secretive about meetings and communication. When we finally did resurface, an entire year had passed since your arrest. Don’t you think I wanted to visit you? Write you a letter? Make a phone call? Panic set in—everyone was scared. We didn’t know if you were gonna toe the line or crack under pressure. Either way, we had to assume the authorities had you under surveillance while you were in prison.”
“You guys overreacted.”
Spence let out a huff. “No, we didn’t. That’s your ego talking.”
The comment surprised Nikki. Spence was right; she just didn’t want to hear it. Switching topics again, she asked about his suit.
Spence grinned. “Custom designed by our friend Big Al on Lennox and Fifth. Single-breasted jacket, black with white-wine pinstripes. Matching vest and wide-legged trousers. Gorgeous, huh?”
Nikki nodded. “Impressive. Looks like you’ve done well since I’ve been gone.”
“Don’t worry. I picked something up for you as well.” He motioned to the packages next to her.
Nikki grabbed the largest box first and opened it: a Vera Wang maize-colored cocktail dress.
“Dupioni silk. Big Al had it shipped in last night, express from New York.”
Nikki’s fingers ran over the shimmering fabric. It felt so good to the touch, so much more elegant than the prison uniform she’d worn the past few years. Without hesitation, she removed her thrift-store-issued, peony-print blouse, exposing a standard white bra beneath. The contours of her breasts jutted forward.
Spence’s greenish-blue eyes widened. “What are you doing?”
Ignoring him, she removed her pants. Spence caught a glimpse of her skin, with its nutmeg and reddish undertone, that had been concealed beneath the denim. Nikki’s seminude body revealed the sleek muscle tone and definition from her consistent workouts in the prison yard.
Spence quickly hit the partition switch to activate the tinted glass privacy divider. “Are you nuts?”
“Look,” Nikki said, “I’ve been showering with thirty to sixty women every night for the last three-plus years, so whatever shred of modesty I might’ve once had is long gone. The last thing I’m worried about is you or the driver ogling me while I change.”
Spence gawked in disbelief.
“Besides,” Nikki said, easing the straps of the dress over her shoulders, “I gained the unwanted attention of the warden and found myself on some of his ‘special hygiene’ details.”
“He’d often say, ‘Hygiene inspections are a necessary formality in the running of an efficient penal facility,’ then smirk. Funny thing was, there were never any medical staff present at any of the routine checkups.”
Nikki raised the dress’s side zipper up. “Maybe, but it is what it is.”
Spence shook his head.
The designer dress accentuated the symmetrical curves of Nikki’s athletic frame. “Nice fit,” she said. “Glad to see you got the size right.”
Spence picked his glass up again and took a drink, then another one. “Of course I got it right.”
“As well you should.”
“Handpicked the dress myself.”
Nikki gathered her secondhand clothing together. She reached into her pants pocket and removed a folded white envelope. Inside was a fourteen-karat-gold dog-tag pendant necklace along with a twenty-dollar bill.
She discarded the envelope, stuffed the cash down her bra, and held on to the pendant. “Burn these,” she said, gesturing to her clothes on the seat.
Nikki stared at the pendant. Etched on the highly polished surface was an image of her marine father and toddler self. She turned the pendant around and read the inscription: “So small, so sweet, so loved. —Dad.”’
“What’s that?” Spence asked.
Nikki put the necklace on. “Nothing.”
“If you say so.”
She grabbed the second box, held it for a moment to admire the silver wrapping paper, then opened it up: Jimmy Choo matching heels. Nikki smiled. Handmade.
, she thought.
Not bad at
“So…” Spence said, placing his glass back on the minibar. “They meet with your approval?”
“Yes. Definitely a yes.” Excited, Nikki ran her fingers across the intricate suede-and-Chantilly-lace trim before trying them on. “These are amazing.”
“I’m glad you like them.”
She finished sliding into the heels—which, like the dress, fit perfectly—then looked up from the floorboard. Their eyes locked. Spence was drawn into the golden-brown starburst of her pupils, which bled into several yellow-and-blue streaks, making her eyes look green.
Nikki reached over and opened the final box. Inside was a makeup kit, hairbrush, and compact. She recognized the brand instantly, Cover Girl Queen Collection. Her face melted into an expression of sheer joy. With limited access to hair and beauty products on the inside, Nikki had found herself, like so many female prisoners before her, using food, lotion, and other facility items to concoct her own makeup. “Fakeup” they called it. She opened the compact and looked in the mirror. The prison-aged image reflected back to her was four years older and showed laugh lines around the mouth and hair that was beginning to thin.
, she thought.
I’m just thirty. Where’s my youth gone?
She adjusted her head in a couple of different angles then applied her makeup.
Spence folded his arms across his chest and tensed up his body. “Now let’s talk business.”
“So soon?” Nikki said, putting the makeup away. “You sure know how to kill a mood.”
Business was the last thing she wanted to talk about. Thoughts of a warm bubble bath, a nice filet mignon with a glass of red wine, and a visit with brother, Marty, preoccupied her mind. Nikki continued to stare past Spence, creating an illusion of undivided attention.
Spence ignored the snide remark. “We’ve come a long way since you’ve been gone. No more ATM boosts, check-cashing scams, electronic pickpocketing, or identity theft. We’ve gone corporate, so to speak.”
“Corporate,” he repeated proudly. “What do drug dealers, organized crime outfits, and anyone else on the take, generating large amounts of cash, need?”
“One helluva defense attorney.”
Spence laughed. “Besides that?”
I’m in no mood to play games
, she thought.
For a few seconds, the two of them sat quietly.
Spence broke the silence. “Someone to make ill-gotten gains appear legitimate.”
“Bravo. Or street magic, as I like to call it.”
Nikki took a deep breath while she processed what she’d just heard. Instinctively she knew Spence was onto something. Laundering money would better insulate the crew from the violence of the street, expose them to a greater network of criminals, and had the potential to increase their profit margin severalfold, globally. And the best part? The client always supplied the product while the crew determined the means.
“Well, Houdini, seems like you’ve got it all figured out. What do you need me for?” she asked blithely, although she definitely was curious about her role.
Spence chuckled. “Nice to see prison hasn’t robbed you of your quaint sense of humor.”
“No, just my modesty, my sense of style, and the length of my hair.”
“Cordoza’s done a lot, and we’ve done two deals so far…small, less than a hundred thousand each,” he explained. “But to take this to the next level—where we should be—we need another outside-the-box thinker besides me. Your idea to use Bluetooth technology to skim ATMs for cash was one of my all-time favorite schemes. Who would have thought short-range wireless communication could be so easily manipulated to generate a five-figure income?”
Nikki grinned, acknowledging Spence’s praise. It was quite easy: attach a skimming device to an ATM, mount a false keypad, then use Bluetooth to transmit the card number and PIN to a remote laptop in real time. If the process were executed properly, a single afternoon could net 2,500 card numbers and PINs with relative ease.
“Anyway, to level the playing field with, larger, more experienced money-brokering groups, I’ve been working on a program that takes advantage of the nation’s ACH Network.”
Nikki recognized the acronym for the Automated Clearing House, a national electronic network for financial transactions that processed large volumes of credit and debit-card transactions in batches. Last year alone, the network had been used to pay $9.2 billion in consumer bills nationwide: everything from cable-TV bills to home mortgages. “ACH,” Nikki repeated, suddenly realizing the implications. “This could be huge.”
“That’s the idea.” Spence’s eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled, exposing his perfectly straight teeth.
“If you could pull this off, you wouldn’t just level the playing field, you’d severely tilt it in your favor.”
Spence lowered the tinted glass divider to get some air circulating within the cabin. “Tilt it? Obliterate is more like it. However…” He hesitated.
“I’ve encountered some resistance on two fronts. For one, the source code has turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, putting me behind schedule. That’s where you come in. With both of us attacking this ‘project’ from separate angles, not only will we get back on track, but we could possibly exceed expectations.”
“And the second?” Nikki asked.
Nikki leaned forward. “Lacey who?”
“Cordoza’s latest stiletto-heeled vixen,” Spence replied, casting a sour look. “Took up shop with us shortly after your arrest. Been with us ever since. She’s got the boss man skipping to her beat, and the only way to keep him focused is to keep them separated. It’s like he’s got ADD or something.”
Nikki wondered if Cordoza’s penchant for strip clubs had finally gotten the better of him, his past having been a revolving door of buxom blondes, mysterious brunettes, and redheads with far too much attitude for their own good.
“Can’t wait to meet her,” she lied. On the one hand, Nikki was curious about this new woman who had asserted so much influence over Cordoza; on the other, she didn’t want to deal with the drama Lacey would inevitably bring forth. Three and a half years at the women’s correctional facility had provided more than enough drama for her in this lifetime.
For instance, there was Adamant Ann, a prison activist protesting everything from strip searches to religious rights, who’d filed so many grievances within a five-year period that the warden had hired a special mediator just to deal with her complaints on a day-to-day basis. And who could forget Malady Molly? She’d spent more time in the infirmary than on her prison work detail. There wasn’t an ailment out there that she wasn’t familiar with or supposedly had at one time or another—from the common flu to food poisoning to obscure tropical diseases. And finally Brawling Betty: an aggressive inmate who thrived on physical confrontation. Her rage made no distinction between corrections staff or inmates, ultimately leading to her doing half her time in the hole, separated from general population. Drama was something Nikki was well versed in but had no desire to deal with now that she was out of prison.
“Oh, you’ll get your chance,” Spence warned her, glancing at the Cartier on his wrist. “In about ten minutes, when we pull into the Compound.”