Chapter 4

“Hello, I am Bridget, how can I help you,” the young blonde girl behind the desk asked. 

“Hi. I am Martha, and this is Samantha Crouse. Her mama Mrs. Crouse is ready to be picked up from the morgue and prepared for the service. 

“There will not be a service,” said Samantha, taking both Martha and Bridget by surprise. Martha put her hand on her hip and said, “I know this is overwhelming for you, but we have to do this. There are so many people who will want to say goodbye to your mama.” 

“My mama never wanted a service. She was very adamant on that. That’s why daddy did not get one either.” My mama said, “if they cannot come visit you when you’re alive they do not need to visit you when you’re dead.” “We will just do a cremation and I will take her home and put her next to daddy on the mantel. Can I pick out the urn, and how long will it take to get her back? I can pay for everything today if needed.” 

Bridget stared at Samantha as if she had never experienced such an encounter with a customer previously, Bridget glanced at Martha, and stood. “Follow me and I will show you where we keep the urns. Do you know what kind you are looking for?” Bridget asked Samantha with a somber look on her face. 

“No, I wasn’t part of my daddy’s funeral so I do not know what, but I am sure I will know it when I see it.” replied Samantha. Following Bridget into the only room on the right side of the hallway, she was

surprised by the number of urns that lined the walls and shelving. She never thought it was going to be that many to choose from. 

“I will give you a few minutes to look. This can be an overwhelming experience so please feel free to walk out and take a minute if you need to. I will come back when you have had some time.” Bridget said as she turned to walk out the door back to her desk. 

Martha stood by the door as she watched Samantha slowly make her way around the room running her fingers down the urns that were within reach. Samantha walked around the room, and grazed her fingers over each urn she passed. She took time to stare at a couple of them, hoping that one of them would be the urn she would choose. Suddenly she stopped and reached out to grab one. Holding it in her hands she looked over every inch of it to ensure there weren’t any flaws. The urn was sky blue, with red roses decorations. The red roses could be felt by running your fingers across the urn as they were outlined in gold. Running her fingers around each rose showing the perfection in the artistic ability, when it was made. This urn reminded her of how she had always seen her mama, flawless. She knew that sometimes her mama was a hard person to deal with, but to Samantha, no matter the difference she and her mama had, she was flawless. Martha came over to check on Samantha, and without saying a word let Samantha know that she was there. Samantha looked away from the urn, locking eyes with Martha letting her tears pour out of her eyes and down her cheeks. Martha embraced Samantha just letting her tears flow, not saying a word. 

They stayed like this for a good fifteen minutes, when Bridget entered the room again. “I see you have picked one out. Is that the one that you want?” 

Samantha wiped the tears from her face, and nodded. She knew before coming here, that this whole process was going to be hard. However, she never expected to get so emotional over an urn. Bridget had come back into the room sometime ago and was standing off to the side. Samantha walked over to her and handed her the urn. Bridget led them to a separate room in the building where they all sat down. 

Bridget took the time to walk Samantha through a couple forms, the pricing and a few extra details. She let Samantha know that the urn would be ready to pick up in a couple days. Samantha, satisfied with the information she received, extended her hand to Bridget, and thanked her for taking care of everything. 

As Martha walked out the front door with Samantha, she stopped and looked at her. “Are you okay? I mean I understand having your mama cremated, but to not have a service, not even a memorial, are you sure that is what you want? Are you sure it’s what your mama would have wanted?” Martha, said to Samantha. 

Samantha, not looking back at Martha, just nodded her head and kept walking. She couldn’t think about this right now. Her mama didn’t have many friends, and those that Samantha knew of had all passed away. At least she believed so. Who would come to her mama’s service, if she had no friends, and there was no other family? Without another hesitation Samantha headed for Martha’s car. “I think I am done for the day, can everything else wait?” Samantha asked Martha.

Twenty minutes passed in complete silence as Martha and Samantha drove back to the house. Neither of them had anything to say. As Martha pulled into the driveway, she started to get out, but Samantha stopped her, “I think I just need to be alone for a while. Can we start back tomorrow with everything?” 

Martha looked at Samantha curiously and responded with a simple nod followed by, “I will be back here tomorrow around ten o’clock. Samantha waved as Martha put her car in reverse and left the round driveway. Samantha stood there for a few more seconds watching Martha drive away, then turned around and headed for the kitchen. 

In the kitchen, Samantha poured herself a glass of Sweet Iced Tea, went out onto the back porch, and sat down on the same chair her mama would sit in. As she sat there, she watched the farm hands do their work without needing any sort of directions. They moved around like they were on a mission, and nothing could stop them. As she watched them load the hay onto the trailer bed, she couldn’t help but notice the one farm hand she had never met before. He was tall with short wavy hair that seemed to stay in place no matter what he did. His skin was a dark tan and the sweat seemed to just bead down his arms, glistening in the sun. The t-shirt he was wearing outlined every muscle he had in his arms, abs, and chest. She had never seen such a beautiful man before. As she was admiring the jeans that seem to fit perfectly in all the right places, she realized he had stopped moving. Trying hard to avert her eyes, but failing tremendously, she let her eyes meet his. He had beautiful brown eyes, with a smile that could just make her melt. It was perfect, warm, and inviting. He raised his hand to wave in her direction, Samantha returned the wave along with a smile, and she was sure he could see she was blushing like a teen girl who likes a boy. He gave her one last wave, a wink, then turned and continued to do his daily work. 

Who was this man? Where did he come from and how do I get to know him? Should I even try to get to know him? All these questions ran through Samantha’s mind. Standing up and breaking her eyes away from him, she entered the house and shut the door behind her, leaving the events of her day and the beautiful man she just saw outside, and locking herself in with her thoughts and fears once again. With that thought, she went upstairs, took a nice long hot shower, and laid down in bed. Even though it was still light out, Samantha seemed to be struggling to keep her eyes open. No longer fighting sleep, she closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep. 

Santiago smiled as he threw hay onto the trailer. He was finding it hard to concentrate on his work after seeing her again. Her brown hair, light skin sitting there as she sipped on her sweet tea, made him smile bigger than he had in a very long time. All the pictures Santiago saw of her showed a woman who was your ordinary woman. She wasn’t model beautiful, nor was she the type that he would have normally found desirable, but he could not shake her smile from his head. 

Realizing he was being talked to Santiago stood up straight and pushed the thought of her smile out of his head. “What did you say?” he asked in his Spanish-American accent. 

“You’re not putting the hay all the way on the trailer, it’s hanging off.” Rick said as he pointed to the hay bale that was hanging off the trailer looking as if it was going to tumble down at any time. “You need to make sure it is on the trailer completely or as we go down the road it will fall off and every other

bale around it will go with it. What is your deal lately? You haven’t been completing any of your tasks lately without having to redo it in some way.” Rick said as he pulled a hay bale off the trailer, starting to rearrange it. 

“I am fine. Just not sleeping well at night. Maybe I need to spend the extra time I have off this weekend sleeping. That should cure this issue.” Santiago said. He was spending his daytime working at the farm, and after five o’clock when everyone else goes home, Santiago sits in his truck just off the main road in the woods keeping an eye on the house where the woman who has caused him to be distracted lives. He gets a few hours of sleep here and there, but his main reason for being here was to protect her. From whom exactly, he wasn’t sure, but he knew he was there to make sure that nothing happened to her. From what he understood, her ex-boyfriend got into some trouble and since he was taking something that meant something to Martinez and his goons, they wanted to take something from him that was meaningful. 

Going back to his work, he continued to work adding the bales of hay onto the trailer. It was four o’clock and he would be off at five tonight. He knew he had an eight hour shift later, but for now he just had to concentrate on his hay, so that Rick, the farm manager, would stop asking questions. Throwing the hay precisely he worked fast and efficiently to finish the trailer off by four thirty. 

As they finished up the trailer, Santiago’s phone rang. Pulling it out of his pocket he glanced at the caller I.D. and silenced it immediately. He couldn’t answer that call with so many people around. There must be some kind of information that had come in if his boss was calling him. Sliding the phone back into his pocket he felt it vibrate, which meant there was a text message demanding a call back immediately. Grabbing the last of the hay bales, he tossed it on the top, jumped down off the trailer and picked up the hay that had come loose so he could toss it into the horses’ trough on his way by. 

“Is there anything else you need from me tonight?” Santiago asked Rick. 

“No, we can do the rest tomorrow when we get back from delivering the hay. Make sure you are here by six thirty. It’s a two-hour drive one way to where we’re delivering this, and I want to get back before lunch time.” 

“Why are we going that far with all this hay? Why didn’t we have someone closer buy this hay?” Santiago asked while he continued to look the ground over and pick up the tools he’d used for the day. 

“We’re not selling this hay. We’re giving it to another rancher who needs hay for their animals, and they once bailed out Mr. Crouse when he was alive. Around here we return favors. Things are going okay for the farm, and we can do things like that. We try to be as hospitable as we can around here just on the off chance, we are the ones in need of a favor.” Rick said as he rounded the trailer with a tarp. It looked like it might rain tonight, and he did not want to take the chance of ending up with wet hay. “Help me get this tarp put over the trailer and you can leave.” Rick said as he threw one corner of the tarp to Santiago. 

“No problem boss.” Santiago said as he pulled the tarp to his side of the trailer. “Do you just want it slid under the hay bales?”

“Don’t call me that, my name is Rick. Yes, just slide it under the hay on the bottom. We can strap it down tomorrow morning before we leave.” 

“Okay.” Santiago said as he thought about whether or not to ask about the woman he saw. He knew it had to be Samantha, but he had questions, and Rick was the only one he knew that might be able to answer. “What will happen to the farm now that Mrs. Crouse has passed? Will it stay in the family, or will it get sold?” 

Taking a deep breath, Rick responded, “I honestly don’t know. I haven’t talked to Sami about it yet. I would be surprised if she lets it go though. That girl was always out on the farm with her daddy and enjoyed every minute of it. She only left because her mama made her. Didn’t want Sami to turn into a housewife and give up on her dreams like she did.” 

“That’s a lot to put on a teenage girl. Does Sami come around a lot?” Santiago asked. 

“Do not call her that. I am the only one she has ever allowed to call her that, and she will let you know it if you do. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Rick said as he stood up and checked the tarp over. “She hasn’t been home as much as I expected her to be, but she is home now and that is what matters. We will continue to do our job of keeping the farm going until she says otherwise.” 

“Thanks for letting me know not to call her that. I wouldn’t want her to get mad at me for that mistake. She seems to be in her element here. Just noticed how comfortable she seems despite not coming home all that often.” Santiago replied without trying not to arouse any suspicion. 

Rick walked over to the barn doors and closed one hard, as he walked to the other one, he responded, “She has no one left now, just the farm and she has always been comfortable here. Even when she was a kid, she wanted to be out with the animals and not with the other kids. It doesn’t surprise me that she is home and in her element.” Rick stopped and watched Santiago closely as he kept looking towards the house. “You are not to mess with her. You are here to work and that is it, do you understand me? She is not one that you want to hurt.It won’t do you any good, son.” Rick said with a father-like concern. 

It was obvious to Santiago that Rick had been around Samantha all her life and loved her like she was his own daughter. He could see the pride and love that Rick had when he talked about her. “I would never. I am just here to earn money. Nothing else.” Santiago said as he held his hands up. “I do not have time for a woman right now, and they are in too much trouble anyways.” Santiago looked Rick in the eyes as he said that, but there was a feeling he couldn’t shake as he spoke those words. 

“Just don’t make me have to make you pay. Go on, get out of here. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow. We might have to stay late if we don’t get back in time to get our work done.” Rick said as he turned and started walking to his truck before Santiago could say anything else. 

Santiago watched him as he got in his truck, raised his hand to say goodbye, turned and walked to his truck. As he slid in the driver’s seat, he couldn’t help but wonder about the woman he saw today. There was just something about this woman that piqued his curiosity. She seemed like your all American girl, which made him question if she really could have anything to do with something like a drug ring. As he started the truck and put it in drive, he heard his phone ring.

Answering on the second ring, he didn’t even get hello out before Special Agent in Charge Marshall started talking on the other end, “You didn’t answer the last time I called. I know you’re undercover, but you’re supposed to answer when I call you. Have you gotten any information as to how long she will be there? Has there been anyone lurking?” Marshall questioned, not taking a single breath as he spoke. 

“No boss, there hasn’t been anyone around out of the ordinary. She just got back into town two days ago. Today she went somewhere with the nurse who cared for Mrs. Crouse, but I don’t know where they went. I got the old man who runs the farm to talk about her briefly. He isn’t too forthcoming about talking about her. We are going to be on the road for four hours tomorrow so I can try to see if he knows anything about that boyfriend and what the story was with the two of them. I am sure he will know what involvement she had in ripping off the local drug dealer if anything. I really don’t think she had anything to do with it. I think she’s an innocent bystander who just got involved with the wrong guy.” Santiago said with a slight irritation in his voice. 

“First off, I am not boss, I am SAC Marshall for the ten thousandth time, and we do not go off of a feeling here in the DEA, we go off actual evidence making sure that we have that evidence in hand before we say the perpetrator is innocent. Do you have any evidence to show that she isn’t involved?” Marshall asked in his deep condescending voice. 

Interrupting Santiago’s thoughts, Marshall stated in a huff, “I want the evidence not what you see. You are in the big leagues now. You are not just some traffic cop pulling over drivers for speeding. You didn’t make it into the DEA because you could solve a crime without evidence. Find that crack in the story, you are so good at finding. Do not go into this with blinders on. Do your job Special Agent Perez. I hope this will be the only time you will need to be reminded of what your job is.” Marshall said before hanging up, not giving Santiago a chance to respond. 

Santiago pushed the off button, before tossing his phone onto the seat next to him, still thinking about the conversation as he drove to the end of the driveway and turned right like he had done every day for the last month. He went down just past the tree at the end of the property and backed the truck into the clearing he’d made in the vegetation. Settling in for the night, he pulled the lunch box he had on the floorboard out, grabbed a sandwich and a Dr. Pepper, just watching and waiting.

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