Choker (Ike Schwartz Series #5)

( 3 )


Nick Reynolds, his pilot’s rating barely a month old, drops off the radar at night over the Chesapeake Bay. Investigating agencies call it another tragic pilot error accident. No trace of the plane is found in the Bay’s murky waters. Ike Schwartz, erstwhile sheriff of Picketsville, on vacation, is approached by Charlie Garland, an old CIA friend, to look into the disappearance. The missing pilot was engaged to Charlie’s niece and the family is not dealing well with the lack of closure. More importantly, Nick, ...

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Choker (Ike Schwartz Series #5)

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Nick Reynolds, his pilot’s rating barely a month old, drops off the radar at night over the Chesapeake Bay. Investigating agencies call it another tragic pilot error accident. No trace of the plane is found in the Bay’s murky waters. Ike Schwartz, erstwhile sheriff of Picketsville, on vacation, is approached by Charlie Garland, an old CIA friend, to look into the disappearance. The missing pilot was engaged to Charlie’s niece and the family is not dealing well with the lack of closure. More importantly, Nick, just before his disappearance, had placed a call to Charlie moments leading him to conclude something more than pilot error might be involved in the disappearance. Ike accepts the assignment as a favor to Charlie and also because vacations do not work for him. Ike’s wide-eyed entry into a simple missing person’s case catapults him into an international thriller á la Robert Ludlum with intimations of terrorism that might threaten the nation and its leaders. Clandestine operations, angry watermen, and out of place dredging spoil complicate Ike’s efforts to unravel the mystery.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"a high-concept technothriller with a folksy touch and lots of local color, a winning combination that ought to delight Ramsay fans and win new ones." —Booklist

"Ramsay never writes the same mystery twice, and with each book the reader learns more about the intrepid and capable Ike. Here the author combines a Tom Clancy-like knowledge of ground-to-air missiles with a Robert Ludlum-like spy adventure to leave the reader awaiting the next Ike Schwartz."  —Library Journal starred review

"A fast-paced thriller that's quite a departure from Ramsay's Picketsville mysteries" —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Ike Schwartz returns to his CIA roots in Ramsey's awkward cozy-thriller hybrid, the fifth in the series to feature the Picketsville, Va., sheriff (after 2008's Stranger Room). While vacationing on the Delaware shore, Schwartz is asked by former CIA comrade Charlie Garland to look into the mysterious disappearance of his niece's fiancé, Nick Reynolds. Reynolds, a pilot and ex-navy man, left an enigmatic voice mail message before he vanished off the radar over the Chesapeake Bay. Schwartz's investigations indicate that Reynolds may have witnessed activities that threaten national security. A Picketsville subplot involving satanic rituals by high school students and missing Communion vessels distracts rather than contributes to the narrative. Ramsay is best when contrasting the smooth professional spies and military men with lively amateurs like the cranky Bunky Crispins, a fiercely independent waterman who shows that it's possible to be a patriot and a rebel at the same time. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
In the process of doing a favor for a friend, the sheriff of Picketsville, Va., stumbles over a terrorist plot. His CIA buddy Charlie Garland asks Ike Schwartz to use part of his vacation on the Delaware shore to investigate a plane crash that killed Nick Reynolds, an inexperienced pilot who was engaged to marry Charlie's niece. The plane remains undiscovered, but just before he crashed Nick called Charlie and left a cryptic message. Taking to the skies, Ike thinks he sees something in the water far from Nick's planned course. With help from Bunky, a government-hating local waterman, and some equipment borrowed from the CIA, Ike finds the plane not far offshore, near a strangely placed duck blind. Bunky is furious when someone torches his boat, and Charlie and Ike are aghast when a photo on Nick's cell phone shows a freighter unloading a missile near the duck blind. Checking back on satellite photos, they realize that six missiles somewhere close by are poised for attack. Ike figures that they'll probably be launched on Yom Kippur, only five days away. Co-opted by the CIA, Ike, Charlie, Bunky and a team of Navy SEALs search for evidence to convince the reluctant higher-ups that in order to prevent an attack, they'll have to destroy four freighters carrying missiles plus the still undiscovered weapons hidden on shore. A fast-paced thriller that's quite a departure from Ramsay's Picketsville mysteries (Stranger Room, 2008, etc.).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590588512
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Series: Ike Schwartz Series, #5
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Frederick Ramsay was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and received a doctorate from the University of Illinois—Westside Medical Campus. After a stint in the Army, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and also served as an Associate Dean. In 1971 he was ordained an Episcopal priest. Now retired from full-time ministry, he lives in Surprise, Arizona, with his wife and partner, Susan.

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Read an Excerpt


By Frederick Ramsay

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2009 Frederick Ramsay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-635-8

Chapter One

The ancient freighter inched closer to the shore. Its depth finder beeped softly as the bottom rose rapidly toward its keel, with a nearly empty hold, twenty feet below. Any false move on the helmsman's part would put them on the mud. That could spell disaster for all of them. An inquiry by the Coast Guard would not go well. People would have to die.

A gentle breeze blew in from the east, from the shore. He imagined he could smell honeysuckle over the stench of diesel oil, rusted steel decking, and sweat. He mopped his brow with a dirty sleeve and peered into the gloom. He could just make out the red flashing laser. When it stopped flashing and showed as a steady glow, he would have to stop the ship's forward progress immediately—no mean feat for a rusted out World War II-era freighter with an iffy boiler, slack steering, and a displacement of nearly sixteen thousand tons.

He rang all stop, then reverse, and the ship churned to a halt. The anchor, heavily greased and muffled with sacking, bumped through the hawse and dropped with a splash. The steam ship Saifullah, its name painted in white on its stern and prow in both Arabic, and English, heaved to, bow into the current, and thumped against a barge moored some fifty yards from shore. Except for the binnacle's glow, no lights showed—no running lights, all of its portholes painted over—nothing.

When the ship settled, a second anchor was let go aft. He peered off to the starboard. A series of intermittent flashes, this time green and difficult to see, were directed toward him. He murmured into the microphone attached to his headset. The forward anchor chain was allowed to play out. The one aft hauled in. The ship shifted toward the stern.

He signaled for the crew to complete unfastening the hold's hatches and to swing the ship's crane amidships. They would need lights now. The fog that allowed them to move in earlier had started to lift. They would have to work quickly.

* * *

Nick Reynolds had too few hours to fly at night with any degree of competence. That's what his instructor had said. Nick conceded he might be right at some level, but he, like many thirty-somethings, had become a risk discounter. Six years in the Navy, four in nuclear submarines, made him confident, perhaps too confident. Flying an airplane provided fewer degrees of freedom for mistakes than say, sailing a boat, a skill he also possessed. He'd brushed off attempts to dissuade him from night flying.

"I can do it, no worries. I have my IFR rating, I'll be fine." He smiled at his instructor and finished his preflight walk-around. He handed in his flight plan and took off, serene in the knowledge that if he followed the channel buoys to a point two miles south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, then swung southeastward, he'd raise Cambridge. From there he would have an easy final leg to Salisbury.

Nick's bravado faded when, minutes into his flight, he ran into thick fog. Had the weather report mentioned it? If so, he'd missed it. A moonless but clear night did not intimidate him, but flying blind in fog under those same conditions brought him to near panic.

He called the tower at BWI, Baltimore-Washington International, and felt better when they described the fog bank as only a few miles across. They also reported he'd drifted a few miles from his course. He'd need to correct it. He tried to remember what he should do in fog; rely on his instruments, climb, or descend? Climb seemed the most logical but he had an assigned altitude and climbing might put him in the path of a commercial jet on its approach to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He decided to drop down to five hundred feet, skim the water at that relatively safe altitude, and see if he couldn't spot some lights from shore or ships out in the channel.

Moments later, he broke out of the fog bank. There wasn't much to see. To the east and west he saw the flashes of bright lights and the spreading star shells from a half dozen firework displays. The headset and engine noise kept him from hearing them, but he could imagine the thumps from the explosions. Happy Fourth of July. In front of him and a little to the southwest he could just make out the dim outlines of a ship. He should be over Eastern Bay, he thought, south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and not near the channel at all. As he drew closer he saw the ship had a loading crane positioned on its starboard side and in the process of offloading or retrieving something from a barge. What looked like a buoy dangled from the crane's cable.

Funny, that. The Coast Guard usually handled buoys. And as far as he knew no ships' channel came this far into Eastern Bay. The ship below him did not have the classic white hull and bright red-orange marker stripe of a Coast Guard vessel. It looked more like a tramp steamer from an old movie, barely showing either running or marker lights. And what would anyone be doing on the Fourth of July, in the middle of the night, and so close to shore? Not positioning a buoy, certainly.

He put his right wing over and started a lazy turn around the ship. The fog bank still lingered over most of the bay behind him. Nearby, a fireworks display had started, pop ... hiss ... flash ... boom, pop ... hiss ... flash ... boom—the last very close. Where would that have come from? When he had completed a little more than half of his turn he recognized the object suspended in the air beside the ship's hull. He scrabbled for his cell phone, aimed the phone's camera lens toward the ship and pressed the "capture" button repeatedly. He opened the phone and speed-dialed. One ring, two.

"Come on, come on."

"Hi, this is Lizzy. I can't come to the phone right now ..."

"Lizzy, pick up ... pick up."

"... but if you leave a message ..."

"Lizzy, pick up."


"Lizzy, call your uncle Charlie. Tell him that there is something really bad going on ..." From the corner of his eye, Nick saw the orange trail of yet another rocket arc up and toward him. A very big rocket. Too big for the Fourth of July. The plane lurched. He dropped the phone. It slid under the pedals at his feet.

* * *

"What was that?"

"What was what?"

"I heard an explosion."

A brief flash of light flickered through the port hole, just enough to light the tiny V-berth. A thump followed a second or two later. He rolled toward the girl, and the thirty-two foot Jeanneau sail boat rocked to port.

"Like that one?" he said.

"Yes, only louder, and then there was all this splashing outside."

"Splashing?" More flashes and thumps followed the first one. "It's the Fourth of July, Deedee. There'll be explosions all night somewhere. The splashes were probably caused by a school of fish breaking the surface."

"Hell of a big school, then. It sounded more like people doing cannon balls off a high board—louder even."

"If a school of big fish, rock fish say, were after a bunch of smaller ones and they all broke at the same time—"

"You think?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"I'm going on deck to see the fireworks. That's why we sailed over here in the first place, isn't it? If it hadn't been for the fog ... If we can see the flashes it must have lifted or something."

"Stay here, I'll show you some fireworks."

She laughed and stood up on the berth. The forward hatch was open so her head and shoulders cleared the deck line.

"Wow, you should see this, Ralphie."

She climbed on deck and he felt the boat rock as she made her way to the cockpit. He grabbed a torch, wrapped a towel around his waist, and climbed up after her. The fog had lifted. The flotilla he'd planned to join in the bay had disappeared hours ago when the fog bank rolled in. Watching fireworks from boats rafted up in Eastern Bay had become a local tradition, but fog had ended this year's gathering. They were alone.

"Look at that," she said and pointed westward in the general direction of Gibson Island. Flash ... pop ... thump. "Hey, let's skinny dip."

"No, not in the dark." He noticed for the first time that his marker lights were out. He'd forgotten to run the generator and the battery must have died. He hoped there'd be wind tomorrow. There was no way he'd get the little diesel started if both the cabin and engine batteries were dead. "The tide is running out. If you go over the side you could be caught in it and with no light—"

"Don't be such a wuss. Turn on the torch thing and we can home in on it." With that she dove into the inky black water and disappeared. He swung the light around looking for her. No sign. The light arced back and forth as he looked for her head to break above water.

"Deedee," he called, "where are you?" His heart began to race. Then he heard her laugh. She'd swum under the boat and surfaced on the other side. Idiot! With a four and a half foot draft under the keel and in the dark ...

"Come on in, you big sissy," she shouted and stroked away into the night.

He dropped his towel and positioned the light so he could see it from the water. He'd lowered the swim ladder and started down when she screamed.


"Ugh, I think something touched me," she said and swam back to the boat. "I'm done here. Yuck."

He pulled her aboard. He could feel the goose bumps on her body. She took a towel from the boom and dried off.

"Rockets red glare in the forward bunk," he said and she giggled. He doused the flash. In the dark he scanned the horizon. A hundred yards out he thought he saw the outlines of a small freighter. He frowned and then shrugged.

Their lovemaking caused the boat to rock gently, bow to stern. They were too absorbed in it to hear the gentle thump as a Zodiac came along side, or to hear the muffled footsteps aft. Only the flash of light in their eyes told them they were not alone, but by then it was too late.

Chapter Two

A brisk wind blew out of the east and across the deserted beach. Late September in Dewey Beach meant few people, except for the weekenders down from Washington or Baltimore to winterize their properties before the big nor'easters blew down the coast, tossing beach equipment and sand against the sea walls and jetties. The chilly early morning air smelled clean and salty. Months before it carried the cloyingly sweet smell of coconut-scented sun block and the voices of hundreds of people trying to squeeze one more day, one more hour, of vacation from the time allotted them. Ike Schwartz placed his coffee cup on the deck railing, propped his feet up next to it, and watched, fascinated, as the sun struggled to clear the horizon.

Sunsets he knew. Sunrises were a relative rarity for him. In the Shenandoah Valley, sunrises were screened by the mountains to the east. The sun didn't make a sudden appearance as it did at the beach. It seemed to just materialize and then the day began. But this ... this was spectacular. The sky reddened, turned orange, and golden light bathed everything. Looking at it one could believe that every day arrived clean and innocent in that brilliant bath. Clouds trailing southward glowed pink and orange against a lavender sky, and then, pop, "Here comes the sun, here comes the sun ..." I should do this more often, he thought. His only regret? No Ruth.

"A month's vacation is what you need," Ruth had said. "When was the last time you just kicked back?"

"I had that long weekend with you in Toronto."

"That doesn't count."

It didn't. They had spent the days talking about where they were headed. How could they blend two widely divergent careers and still make a go of it? She had a college to run, she'd said. President of Callend College, now Callend University, or not, she had to pitch in with the rest of the faculty. Next year would be a "make or break."

"You will not always be the president of Callend," he'd said.

"And what about you? Will you always be the sheriff of Picketsville? We have a way to go, Ike. We should take time out," she'd said. "We are not in a place or at a time when either of us can commit to anything permanent." Her voice had nearly cracked then. He'd let it pass.

He watched as the sun continued its ascent. The gold light faded to pale ginger ale and then flat daylight. He wished he'd persuaded his father to come to the beach with him. But Abe Schwartz's ebullient and garrulous nature seemed to have died with his wife in December. Theirs had been a storybook love affair, and with her no longer a part of his daily equation, Abe looked old and worn. Nothing Ike could say would convince his father to accept his help.

"You go on down there, Ike," he'd said. "I'll be all right. I just need to say goodbye to your Momma my own way."

He'd been saying goodbye for nearly ten months.

So, Ike, who had not had a vacation in years, rented a cottage off-season at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and now sat contemplating the stretch of deserted sand and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Somewhere across the horizon he imagined an Irish fisherman might be staring back at him.

He missed his routine, missed his friends, and missed Ruth. She had said, barely glancing up from piles of paper on her desk, "Maybe a weekend, Ike. I'll try for a weekend. No, I can't say which. Send me your address after you settle in, and if I can, I'll surprise you. I've got your cell number."

Grains of sand danced across the porch decking, urged along by the steady breeze and collected in miniature dunes beside his empty boots. He shivered and folded his arms across his chest. His coffee started to cool, and he still needed to make a decision about breakfast. Breakfast was his favorite meal, but he had never acquired the skills to make a decent one. He could fry eggs and bacon; who couldn't? And making coffee only meant measuring the correct amount of grounds and water in the basket and pot, respectively. After that things became more complex. He tried to make those crispy diner hash browns and ended with greasy mashed potatoes. And you can forget fried tomatoes. His grits were invariably lumpy and had the consistency of Portland cement so, back home in Picketsville, he ate breakfast at the Crossroads Diner, where regulars gathered to be fed and abused by its proprietor.

The telephone rang. He'd been told the land line service had been discontinued. That bit of information had pleased him very much. He had his cell phone for emergencies and had instructed his staff not to call. He intended to leave it off but would check his voice mail a few times a day. A real emergency would require catching him when he had it on, or a call to the Delaware State Police. The phone rang again. Nobody he knew could possibly have the number, even if it was in service. He'd picked it up to listen for a dial tone when he first arrived. There had been none. But now ... it rang again. Finally, to stop the noise and satisfy his curiosity, he looped a finger through the handle of his coffee cup and shuffled indoors.

"Yeah," he said into a phone so permanently lubricated with a season's worth of sun screen it nearly slipped from his hand. He half expected someone asking for the previous tenant or the owner.

"You had breakfast yet?" Charlie Garland asked.

"I won't even guess how you did this, Charlie, but I have to tell you, it's scary what you spooks can do."

"I tried your cell phone but all I got was voice mail. You should stay in touch."

"I had the reverse in mind, actually. What do you want?"

"There's a nice breakfast place in Rehoboth Beach. I could meet you there."

"Meet me? Where are you, Charlie?"

"I am sitting in an official-looking black SUV on Ocean Highway about ten miles out. Can you join me?"

"Sure, why not. Are you going to tell me why you're in Delaware at this hour, or will that be the price of breakfast?"

"The Avenue Restaurant, on Rehoboth Avenue, a block or so from the beach, I'll be there in five minutes."

* * *

"Trasker, fetch!" Barney threw the stick—farther this time. It sailed over the edge of an embankment and out of sight. The big German shepherd galloped away and disappeared over the rim of a streambed. He waited. The seconds ticked by. By now the dog should have come crashing back to him, stick in mouth. That worried him. He knew the dog was probably okay, but ever since the Dumonts' two shepherds, Fritz and Otto, disappeared the previous month, he'd become slightly paranoid about Trasker. He knew he could take care of himself and, unlike Fritz and Otto, rarely strayed far from home.


Excerpted from Choker by Frederick Ramsay Copyright © 2009 by Frederick Ramsay. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Frederick Ramsay provides readers with an entertaining Ike Schwartz mystery

    Picketsville, Virginia Sheriff Ike Schwartz is relaxing at the Delaware shore on a vacation when a former associate at the CIA Charlie Garland asks for his help. Charlie wants Ike to investigate the disappearance of his niece's fiancé, Nick Reynolds. Charlie agrees to make inquiries though he wonders why Charlie did not go to official channels-------------------

    A former US Navy pilot, Nick left a strange voice mail message just before he disappeared over Chesapeake Bay. Ike begins to find frightening information that makes the sheriff wonder if the missing aviator observed a threat to national security that required his being eliminated or going underground.----------------

    CHOKER is an exciting investigative thriller that freshens up the Schwartz police procedurals (see STRANGER ROOM) with the CIA connection. The story line is superb as Ike delicately balances espionage agents, military brass, and cantankerous civilians. However, when the tale returns to Picketsville where Frank Sutherlin is acting sheriff, the plot loses steam as his inquiry into high school students conducting satanic rites subtracts from the prime investigation. Still with great characterizations and a fascinating main plot, Frederick Ramsay provides readers with an entertaining Ike Schwartz mystery.------------

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted February 5, 2010

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