Seeley was surprised to see a nice looking brunette answer the door. He went over the file in his mind and remembered her name. Chris Gipp nee Parker, married to the subject for fifteen years, dating status prior to marriage unknown, how they met also unknown. She obtained a Bachelors Degree from Purdue in Elementary Education, stopped working with the arrival of the first child twelve years ago. Marriage to the subject had produced three children. She'd spent the past twelve years working as a substitute teacher. Her photograph didn't do her justice. It was old and she looked better now. Motherhood seemed to agree with her.
"May I help you?" She was cautious, probably unsure why a suit would be showing up at her door. Unless her husband was still engaged in activities he shouldn't be, then she was probably just afraid. Criminals never thought how a life of crime affected their loved ones.
He took out his badge and identification, presenting them to her. She opened the storm door just enough to take them from him. She was careful, he gave her that. Of course, it could have been the one hundred plus pound Rottweiler that was eyeing Seeley with wearied interest. He watched as she scanned the ID, flicked her gaze to him, and then closed the wallet-like holder before giving it back to him.
"What can I do for you, Agent Booth?"
"Is your husband home?"
"Not right now."
"Do you happen to know where I might find him?"
She smiled then, and he realized she knew exactly what he had assumed.
"Yes, work. He's been an honest man for quite some time, Agent Booth. Or don't your records reflect that?"
"Records aren't always accurate, Mrs. Gipp, as I'm sure you're aware. You know of his past?"
She laughed then. "I can't answer that, you know that. I can say that our paths crossed in a most unusual way and it changed both of our lives forever. For the good."
Well, that was vague but oddly somewhat informative. So, they'd met somehow in connection with his activities. There was no record of her engaging in anything criminal. In fact, the locals were baffled by a west suburban woman from a nice neighborhood whose world was her oyster marrying the likes of Joe Gipp. Seeley knew love made people do strange things. Like give up a career of crime for a good woman. And he didn't need to see much of her to know she was all of that. Yeah, he could see that.
"Can you tell me where I can find him, Mrs. Gipp?"
"Sure. Hold on, I'll get you one of his cards."
"Thank you, ma'am," he said politely. He stood on the step, regarding the house and the dog inside who pressed its nose against the windowpane of the storm door. Who needed a security system with this guy here?
It was a nice place, suburban, upper middle class, two-story with a two-car garage but not too flashy. The house was paid off, he knew that much. They owned a second property in Wisconsin near Michigan's UP. It was not too long of a drive from here from what he gathered.
They had two cars, one was a little flashy but nothing over the top, and one pickup truck registered here, a SUV registered at the address in Wisconsin. The two children that were school aged, both boys, were above average students but not off the charts. At ages twelve and eight they did what normal kids their respective ages did. The third child, a girl, was around three and still at home. Unless he was seriously mistaken, she was working on a fourth now. She hadn't given him much of a chance to really observe her, but he recognized the physical signs of pregnancy when he saw them.
"Here you go, Agent Booth. I'm not sure what his schedule is today, but you can call him on his cell phone if it's important."
He coughed when he saw the card. There had been information about the business Joseph Gipp was involved with currently. The police believed it was a front. There it was, JOSEPH GIPP, insurance adjuster. If that wasn't ironic. How many insurance companies had to pay out claims because of him in the past? Were they still?
"Is my husband in trouble, Agent Booth?"
"Do you have reason to believe that's the case?"
"Well, no, but the police haven't stopped pestering us, me included. So, I have to wonder if they called you in for some reason."
"Mrs. Gipp, if there's one thing I can assure you of, it's that the local police would not call in the Bureau on a guy who's evaded their attempts at catching him for over the course of a couple of decades."
She looked relieved and he couldn't blame her. He didn't add that he was here because his name had popped up as being one of the best car thieves in, not just Chicago, but the United States. He'd never served time in prison, never had been arrested for boosting cars. From all appearances, he had just walked away one day from a lucrative and successful career.
"Have a nice day, Mrs. Gipp. Thanks for the contact information," he pulled his sunglasses from his suit coat pocket and slid them on. He took a step or two away from the house. The Rottweiler was still standing guard Seeley noticed. If he had a family to protect he'd want a dog just like this one. "Oh, and congratulations."
"On the next child."
Her hand went to her abdomen, she rubbed it as he'd seen pregnant women do countless times before. "Thank you."
"Have a nice day, Mrs. Gipp."
He found Joe Gipp eating lunch just as the admin. said. He was eating alone. Seeley recognized him immediately. Joe Gipp might not be a killer, but he had eyes that missed nothing. Seeley knew Gipp saw him for who and what he was. It went both ways.
"What's good here?"
"Anything," Gipp offered. "They're calling out the big guns, huh?"
"When people start getting killed, yeah, they generally do that."
"I'm out of it. Have been for years."
"I get that, you have too much at stake now. That wasn't always the case, which is a story for another time. I'm not here to be your friend, Mr. Gipp. I am, however, thinking that maybe you might have an idea who's behind these crimes."
"Assuming I was ever in a position to know such people. That would have been a long time ago."
"Yes, it would have been. I'm not wearing a wire. I'm not here to trip you up about some cars you boosted when I was still in high school."
"They've stepped up to killing."
"That's right. You want it to be your pretty wife and that little girl of yours next? You think she'll be exempt because she's pregnant."
Seeley watched as he lowered his gaze to his hands that clutched the coffee cup he hadn't taken a drink from since Seeley entered the restaurant.
"I don't have contacts anymore. I pretty much severed all ties the night I met my wife. Oh, I didn't retire permanently for a little while, but when you punch out the present day Al Capone of Chicago's underground auto trading syndicate you don't exactly get ringing endorsements."
Seeley couldn't help but smirk at that. "You punched him out?"
"Rumor has it, Bleak didn't last too much longer."
"I don’t pay much attention to rumors, but I would suspect without a guy good at acquiring the product Bleak provided that, yeah, his business would fall pretty fast."
"Do you miss it?"
"You've been to my house?"
"It was the first place I went, yes."
"Would you miss it if you had that?"
"I wasn’t always an FBI agent. I did some things I'm not too proud of that make boosting cars look like kids play. So, I know where you're coming from."
Seeley slipped a card from his pocket and slid it across the table.
"I told you I don't know anything anymore."
"Ask around. There must be someone, anyone you can get some information from. Think of your wife, driving that pretty girl of yours around."
"Don't play that card with me. You don't think I haven't thought about it. Hell, as soon as I read about the carjackings I knew. The cars they're boosting, they're in demand."
"You'd know that how?"
"A man has to have hobbies, Agent Booth," Gipp said after an almost imperceptible glance at the business card Seeley had put in front of him a minute ago. " It's like a gambler who knows he shouldn't put the money down on roulette, but can't resist making his way over the table to see how other peoples fortunes are going. The temptation is gone, I've got better things to spend my time doing. That doesn't mean I don't keep abreast of what's hot."
He smiled then, apparently realizing his play on words about the same time Seeley did. He had to admit it was a nice smile, youthful despite a hard, street-wise life, happy. He could see how a woman like Chris Parker could fall for him, though, Seeley was sure there were many who wondered and speculated. Fifteen years of marriage and the oldest child being twelve didn't point to a marriage of necessity.
"Figuratively speaking, of course."
"I'll see what I can do." He took the card then, running a fingertip along the edge. "I make no promises. And I don't want you harassing my wife. She's liable to think I've done something I haven't even thought of doing in a long time."
"I already assured her that wasn't the case."
"Yeah, well, you don't know my wife very well. She's not dumb. Carjackings, someone gets killed, the Bureau shows up looking for me. Nuh uh, Agent Booth, my wife, my home, and especially my kids is off-limits. I get wind you've shown up at their schools or something, I'll tear this card up and you'll never hear from me."
"Will you be able to get information for me?"
"I'll try. There are a couple of people I think are still around and active. You going to tail or bug me? They won't talk to me if they see your government issue car lurking."
"No, so long as if you find out one of your associates is the perpetrator you bring me the information."
"Is Detective Strong still around?"
"Yes, he had a few choice things to say about you."
"Yeah," Gipp said with a light chuckle. "I just bet he did. Tell him I say hello if you see him again. And you don't have to worry about me going to anyone but you on this."
Seeley knew when he was being dismissed. He'd agreed to try and help. It was more than he'd expected without twisting his arm a little more. Metaphorically speaking. Apparently, his wife and kids, family, really were his Achilles heal.
Seeley hadn't seen it happen very many times. Once a criminal, always a criminal. Old dogs can't be taught new tricks. Leopards don't change their spots. All clichés with some truth behind them. Joe Gipp appeared to be one of the few that had gotten away from his life of crime, learned a new trick, and had, in fact, changed his spots.
Seeley stood from the table, extending his hand to Joe who took it. It was a strong handshake, confident. If Joe Gipp was afraid Seeley was here to bring his world crashing down around him, he gave no outward indication that's how he felt. Good. He didn't much like dealing with people who were scared of their own shadows anyway. Everyone had pasts after all. As far as Seeley was concerned, it's what you did with today to make tomorrow better that counted.
He left the restaurant knowing he'd get answers. They might not be enough to solve the case, but Seeley would do anything in his power to protect Parker. Even Rebecca, she was Parker's mom after all. He couldn't imagine being married, having a life with someone. Joe Gipp wasn't an idiot, he'd want to protect his family.
Story ©Susan Matthews/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com