Out of Orderby Bonnie Macdougal, Sisi Aisha Johnson (Narrated by)
With a circle of ambition closing in tightly around her, Cam penetrates
On the night of a lavish party celebrating newlyweds Doug Alexander and Campbell Smith, tragedy strikes when the thirteen-year-old son of an influential senator is kidnapped. The senatorDoug's mentorurges Cam, an attorney, to track the boy down. It is an offer she cannot refuse.
With a circle of ambition closing in tightly around her, Cam penetrates layer upon layer of lies and invention. Suddenly, she is forced to question her loyalties, her marriage, even the man she thought she loved. As she pieces together an intricate pattern of abuse and cover-up, as a series of brutal murders looms ever loser, Cam discovers that everyone has something to hideespecially herself...
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"There's my boy!" Ramsay yelled and held an arm out to Doug. A path parted, and another cheer went up as the two men pounded each other's shoulders.
The front door opened again and another chilly blast of air came in, this time admitting an unnatural blonde in a lustrous black mink coat.
"Ahh, here's Meredith now." Ramsay pulled the woman front and center before him. "Everyone--I want you to meet Meredith Winters. I coaxed her up from Washington for the weekend, so you folks be sure and show her a good time."
Jesse Lombard, the Senator's longtime factotum, slipped in the door behind them and was there to catch the woman's mink as she poured it off.
"Who is she?" Cam whispered to Nathan as Jesse unobtrusively bore the coats up the stairs.
"Political strategist. Used to read the news in San Francisco. Now she's running Sutherland's campaign in Maryland."
"Wow." Phil Sutherland was a name even a political agnostic like Cam could recognize. He'd been the commander of the armored division in Desert Storm, author of a bestselling autobiography, host of a hugely popular radio talk show, and founder of a Baltimore inner-city mentoring project so successful it was now the model for a dozen similar efforts across the country. His bid for the Senate was the most closely watched race in the country.
"But isn't it kind of early for Ramsay to be interviewing campaign consultants?" Cam asked. "It's more than four years before he has to run again."
Nathan only looked at her.
"Margo!" Ramsay bellowed. "Where are you? And would somebody please put a glass of something in my hand so I can make a toast here?"
On cue, four white-glovedwaiters materialized from out of the kitchen and came through the crowd bearing trays laden with flutes of champagne. Margo appeared on their heels and swept to her husband's side. He kissed her with a resounding smack, then snatched a glass off the nearest tray.
"All right, attention, everybody," he said. When the buzzing didn't dwindle, he went to the staircase and climbed up a few steps. The piano music cut off, but there were another few moments of excited humming as the crowd jostled into a semicircle around the base of the stairs. The man with the video camera positioned himself carefully in the front line and kept the tape rolling.
"Good evening, friends," the Senator said as silence finally fell. "I'm glad to see you all here tonight on this wonderful occasion, and I'm proud, too, and I'll tell you why. You all know Doug Alexander. Some of you also knew his father, Gordon Alexander, a man I was lucky enough to call my best friend. We lost Gordon too soon. Way too soon. And when Dorothy got sick and Doug was only a half-grown boy, there he was, facing adversity that most of us couldn't cope with as adults. But he never let it get him down. He took good care of Dorothy. No mother could've asked for a better son. His teachers loved him, his coaches couldn't do without him, and as for me, if I didn't see him at my dinner table every Sunday, I didn't call it a good week.
"Doug grew up into the kind of man who never gave second best and never settled for it, either. He got himself through the best schools, he was hired by the best law firm in town-- Sorry, Owen," he said to a man who gave a gracious shrug. "Yours is good, too, but I have to speak my mind here--and he's done nothing but first-class work since he passed the bar. There hasn't been a major real estate development deal in the state that Doug hasn't been a part of. This new waterfront development, every industrialization project that got off the ground in the last decade--they all had Doug Alexander working feverishly behind the scenes to make it happen. The people of this state owe an awful lot to him. And I don't have to tell the people in this room how much the Party owes to him. He's been a good and loyal member and a tireless worker for our candidates.
"But there's always been a missing element to this young man. And it's made Margo and me despair about him more than once."
A few of the guests exchanged uncertain glances.
"But you see, it was the way he was made," Ramsay went on. "He wouldn't settle for second best in a wife, either."
A burst of relieved laughter sounded as Cam's face began to burn.
"But guess what, folks? It turned out he didn't have to! It took him a while to find her, but he got himself a dilly." He peered down into the crowd. "Whoa, hold on. We're missing the bride here. Campbell, where are you?"
"Go on up," Nathan hissed in her ear.
A smattering of applause sounded as she was propelled through the crowd to Doug's side at the foot of the stairs.
"There she is," Ramsay declared, pointing. "You can all see for yourselves her obvious attractions, but folks, I'm here to tell you that she's also smart and sassy and she's gonna keep this boy on his toes for the rest of his life!"
Doug gave her hand a squeeze as the guests laughed and applauded.
"We couldn't be prouder of Doug Alexander if he were our own son," Ramsay said. "But we also know that our proudest day still lies ahead. For tonight it's my honor and privilege to announce to you--and I thank you, Norman Finn, for letting me be the one to announce it--that Doug Alexander is the Party's choice for this November's election to the United States House of Representatives!"
Cam almost buckled at the knees. Doug's hand slipped free, and she looked up through swimming eyes to watch him shaking hands and beaming a thousand-watt smile through the crowd. Ramsay pulled him up beside him on the stairs and threw an arm around his shoulders.
"Friends, I give you Doug Alexander!" He held his glass high. "Our next United States Representative!"
"Doug Alexander!" the crowd roared.
Cam's fingers clenched on the stem of her glass as the guests tossed back their champagne.
"Better get up there with him," a voice said out of a cloud of floral perfume. Cam turned and looked into the sharp features of the blond woman, Meredith Winters. "Go on," she said, and pried the glass out of Cam's hand. "These photo ops don't come cheap."
Cam stumbled toward the stairs, and when Doug reached a hand down, she grabbed it and held on like a woman overboard.
He made a speech, and even in the ice fog swirling around Cam, she could tell that he'd written and rehearsed it in advance. He was lavish in his thanks to the Senator, whom he'd come to regard as a second father. No one could have grown up with a finer role model than Ash Ramsay. He was warmly appreciative of Margo, who'd never failed to make him feel welcome in her home. He was deeply moved and honored by the trust and confidence the Party was showing in him tonight. He singled out Norman Finn and thanked him for the many opportunities to be involved in the Party's work, to make a real difference in the lives of Delawareans. Nothing could make him prouder than to continue that work in Washington.
"As most of you know," he said, "my number one priority is full employment for the people of Delaware. And by full, I don't mean moving names off the unemployment roll and onto the McDonald's payroll. I mean real jobs, with real benefits. Jobs that require the best of your abilities. The kind of job you can spend your life in and raise a family on."
He paused to give a disarming smile. "But much as I'm for full employment, there's one citizen of Delaware who's been employed too long and too far beyond his abilities. And sadly, I think it's time for him to get on the unemployment roll. And the man I'm talking about is ..." He raised his arms like an orchestra conductor, and the entire crowd shouted out in unison: "Hadley Hayes!"
Doug waited with a grin until the laughter and applause died down, then said softly: "You know, I thought the happiest day of my life was the day this incredible woman here beside me consented to become my wife. But then I realized I was wrong, because the happiest day of my life came two weeks ago Wednesday when she looked up at me and said 'I do.'"
Cam looked up at him now, astounded that the man who barely stammered through his marriage proposal was broadcasting his feelings to a houseful of strangers.
"But now, with my wife here beside me, and all of my friends here before me, I realize I was wrong both times, and that the happiest days are those that lie ahead of us--as we win this race and march on to Washington!"
Nathan Vance brought his hands together in a rhythmic, hollow clap, and it caught and swelled into a deafening round of applause. Doug turned to Cam and kissed her, long and lustily, while the cheers echoed through the narrow hallway and roared inside her head.
Outside and a mile away a long, loose line of boys was ambling aimlessly down Sentry Bridge Road. The adrenaline rush of the mailbox-bashing was over, and now they were laughing and stumbling and sticking their legs out to try to trip each other. At the head of the line, Jon Shippen dug his hand in his pocket and turned around with a grin to show the rest. "All right, Ship!" went up the cheer when they saw what he had: a joint pilfered from his brother's stash. He lit it and took a drag, and the sickly sweet odor rose up and swirled through the smell of wood smoke that already hung heavy in the crisp night air.
Trey breathed it all in as he waited for the joint to reach him at the back of the pack. This was his favorite time, after the spree, when all of his senses came alive. Everything seemed sharper to him now. There was an edge to the light that let him see the things he usually missed: the faint quivering of the pine needles; the road slush crystallizing into ice as the nighttime temperature plunged; the hundred different shades of black in the sky. If he could paint this night, he'd use greens so deep and dark they'd blend to black. He'd call it--what else?--Greenville Night.
Jason had the bat, and he was dragging it in the snow behind him, leaving a track like an animal with a wounded leg. He passed it over to Trey when the joint reached him. It was down to half an inch by then, and he had to hold it with the precision of a watchmaker to get it to his lips. Trey dragged the bat the same way Jason had and looked behind at the trail it left. For fifty feet, he imagined, a crippled animal had been following them through the night. His gaze drifted upward, to the car that was rolling slowly behind them with its headlights off.
"Shit," he hissed and grabbed Jason by the arm.
Abruptly the headlights flashed on, the siren screeched awake, and the lights started spinning on the roof.
The boys in front of him took off, and Trey dove over the berm and rolled across the snow, then scrambled on all fours through the undergrowth of the hedges. He tore through to the other side, jumped to his feet, and went into a flat-out run across the field. He heard Jason huffing behind him and slowed a second to let him catch up, then side by side they ran on, their boots crunching loudly through the snow until they reached another hedgerow. On elbows and bellies they inched forward through a tangle of branches. Trey raked his hair back out of his face and peered through to the other side. Martins Mill Road lay below them, deserted.
"We lost 'em," Jason said with a panting laugh.
Trey scanned the road. The sirens were still wailing distantly, but there were no cop cars here. He rolled to his side and looked back the way they'd come. The tracks they'd left in the snow looked like a line of black ants marching over white sand dunes.
Jason flopped onto his back, fished a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. "Want one?" he asked, dragging deep.
Trey didn't answer. The sirens cut off abruptly, and he crawled forward for another look at the road. To the right, where Martins Mill crossed Sentry Bridge, he could see the dim outline of a car. It was waiting there, halfway between him and home, which meant he'd have to go back the way he came, across the field, pick up Sentry Bridge down below, then circle around Chaboullaird and come out farther down on Martins Mill.
He was up on his haunches, ready to start the run back, when a quick beam of light swept over their footprints in the field.
Trey wheeled one way and Jason the other. As Trey burst through the hedges, the headlights flashed on from the cop car at the corner. He spun left and galloped along the shoulder of the road, but it was no use. The snow was dragging at his feet, and the sirens were closing in behind him.
"Hey! Over here!"
Trey's head swiveled left. A man stood beside a van parked in a driveway. The side door was open, and the man was waving him in.
Trey didn't stop to question. He tore up the driveway and dove into the van, and the door slid shut with a crash behind him. He was in a cargo compartment, and there was a wire mesh screen separating it from the seats in the front. A minute later the driver's door opened and closed, and the man ducked his head down low behind the wheel. He didn't speak, and neither did Trey.
The sirens crescendoed to their highest pitch, and for a few seconds the flashing lights of the cop car reflected in a dancing array of red and blue against the sheet metal interior of the van. Trey crouched down low on the floor, until at last the lights passed by and slowly the sound of the siren faded away in the distance.
"Whew." Trey came up on his knees on the carpeted floor. "Thanks, man. I owe you one." He reached for the handle on the sliding door. "Wanna pop the locks?"
The man turned the ignition, and the engine started with a low growl.
"Hey!" Trey didn't know whether he should say more. The neighbors were always going out of their way to do favors for his family; the guy was probably just giving him a lift home.
But when the van backed out of the driveway, the wheels cut the wrong way. "Hey!" Trey lunged for the rear doors, but they were locked, too.
He scrambled forward and yelled through the wire mesh. "Hey! Do you know who my father is?"
The man looked back over his shoulder and locked eyes with Trey.
"Yeah," he said. "I do."
Meet the Author
Bonnie MacDougal is a trial attorney who practiced law in Philadelphia; Anchorage, Alaska; and Little Rock, Arkansas. Ms. MacDougal is the author of Breach of Trust and Angle of Impact. She lives with her husband and two daughters on Philadelphia's Main Line.
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