Bodies on the Potomac: A Thriller

Bodies on the Potomac: A Thriller

by Daniel O'Neil

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Karl Blumenthal’s Bluffton, South Carolina automobile dealership is being terminated by Universal Motors. He believes it’s because he’s failed to financially back the reelection efforts of the sitting US president.
For guidance, Blumenthal calls on good friend and former Washington power broker Taylor Clark. But Clark is skeptical. However, when a live round fired from a silenced pistol narrowly misses him, Clark begins to fear the worst—that the country could be on the edge of the messiest national scandal since Watergate.
Clark immediately engages his boss, Loraine Sinatra, a feared Washington operator who secretly controls a black unit buried deep within one of America’s least understood but most powerful and autonomous law enforcement organizations. Clark and Sinatra search desperately for footing in the investigation, tapping sources they haven’t called on for years. When they arrive seconds too late to prevent a firearms confrontation on Blumenthal’s front lot, it becomes clear that a national catastrophe looms. It isn’t long before they discover that Bluffton is nothing more than a single speck in a bold scheme masterminded by Russian billionaire Mikael Azarov to bend the president of the United States to Moscow’s will by seizing control of Universal Motors for himself.
Azarov’s daring plot places his $25 billion fortune at risk—but he has killed before, and he’s willing to kill again if that’s what it takes to win. It’s up to Clark to stop him.
From the Lowcountry of South Carolina to the halls of power in the nation’s capital, from the skyscrapers of San Francisco’s famed financial district to the stormy streets of flooded Savannah, Clark’s resourcefulness and nerve fuel his pursuit of the truth—a pursuit that ultimately ends in violent public death.
A work of fiction, Bodies on the Potomac is pure entertainment that will leave the reader wanting more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497669352
Publisher: Open Road Distribution
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 393
File size: 510 KB

About the Author

Daniel O’Neil is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a former radio and television broadcaster, and currently, an insurance consultant. His personal collection of fiction is extensive and serves as his inspiration for introducing his own writing in Bodies on the Potomac, his debut novel. O’Neil, the father of two sons, has lived in a variety of locations, including Wisconsin, California, Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina. He currently resides in Florida, where he is at work on his next book.

Read an Excerpt

Bodies on the Potomac

A Thriller

By Daniel O'Neil


Copyright © 2014 Daniel O'Neil
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6935-2


Bluffton, South Carolina

Taylor Clark had a problem with authority. Especially the governmental type, despite his years of service and sometime practitioner of its implementation.

It was particularly annoying, this authority, when it was wrongheaded. And these days, Clark considered as he stood in his country kitchen waiting on the coffeemaker, wrongheaded was pervasive if not yet constant. He conceded that his view was shaded by his ideology, but even at that, he was concerned about the enormous bulk of the bureaucracy, the uneven way it could shift—even unintentional heavy-handedness was painful to someone.

A harsh buzzer sounded, pulling him from his thoughts. He lifted an oblong carafe from its heating station, the aroma of freshly ground and brewed espresso beans pushing along his morning, moving it to a better place. He poured into a chipped white mug, the one with a Badger mascot on one side and a deep red W on the other, both heavily eroded by decades of dishwasher abuse.

Clark debated, then risked a sip without blowing to cool. He winced. But repeated. Finally, he dropped a single cube of raw sugar to the bottom, added a splash of half and half, stirred with a butter knife and sipped again. He sighed contentedly.

It was, he knew, exactly how Carmen liked it.

He left the kitchen, steam trailing behind him as if he were a locomotive. He strode down a short hallway, past a cozy sitting area on his right, then on toward the master bedroom and into the bath area.

There the great Carmen Wild stood, wrapped in a black and gold Chinese silk robe, toothbrush poking from her left hand, raven hair cascading over her eyes despite her best efforts to secure the extraordinary mass with her right.

He never tired of the sight, and damn sure never took for granted that, somehow, she'd chosen him. Heart racing, Clark stole one final sip before setting the mug onto the dark granite vanity with a satisfying clunk.

"For you, Love."

He slid a hand down the back of the robe making him wonder, not for the first time, if the robe or her skin was the smoother surface.

Carmen patted her mouth with a white hand towel, looked at him with eyes the color of pre- doctored coffee, and smiled. "Hey, Cowboy. I wonder if you'll always be this good to me." She pecked him on the lips, then took her own tentative sip. "Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Perfect as always." She sipped again.

Clark remained silent. He got to thinking that a delay in heading out this morning wouldn't be the worst thing, but just as he'd begun to make his intentions known a high pitched repeating tone—something like the siren on a French police cruiser—ruined the moment. The "bat phone" was located in his office and it didn't ring often. When it did, however, it meant something.

Carmen chuckled. "By the time you finish with whoever that is, Buster, I'll be dressed."

He considered letting it wail, but only for a moment; he knew better, and headed off.

His office was cramped but warm. It had once been an afterthought bedroom in this eighty-year- old structure, one that sat on twelve plus acres high above the May River in Bluffton, a mainland community connected by bridge to Hilton Head Island. He'd furnished his space simply but pleasantly with a small legacy hand carved wormwood desk that had been in his family since the 1800s, a high back leather chair, and a single oak filing cabinet.

Washington had provided the bat phone, and it was a hard line. It was also secure, responding to a number known only to an extremely limited handful of people. Still, Clark considered the damn thing nearly radioactive because no matter who was on the other end, they typically announced bad news.

Forgetting the headset, he stabbed at the speaker button, adrenaline already running. "Talk to me," he said.

"They're at it again."

He knew the voice. Loraine Sinatra, a wickedly smart bureaucrat with over thirty years experience crawling over the fallen and the pushed to get to the top. During her career Loraine—not Lori, woe to the poor soul who tried that informality—had amassed sufficient authority, and had cultivated enough of the suits that, given the right circumstance, she was in all likelihood more powerful than the president, no matter which party.

"Now what," replied Clark.

"I think this calls for some face time, Darling."

Clark translated with ease: what Loraine wanted was a break from Washington, and the furthest tip of South Carolina was a better spot than most.

"Most people in DC can't wait to get there," he pointed out. "You can't wait to leave."

"You remember; you were here long enough. It's stifling. And I'm not talking the weather."

Clark grinned. "But all the shakers—and by God, Loraine, you're a shaker—you all want the mountain to come to Mohammad."

"An inartful phrase, Clark. Considering everything." She laughed. "But I'm the rare one. Can't stand all these limestone buildings, all the traffic, all the forced greenspace—and who thinks up words like greenspace anyway? A bunch of damn bureaucrats with nothing to do between cashing paychecks, that's who."

"That might be a little harsh, but I'll forgive you, being the superstar that you've become."

"I'd blush if it weren't true. By the way, check your email. I sent you your contract renewal confirmation about half hour ago."

"Hang on a sec, let me fire up ol' Sparky here." He went to work getting his Mac Pro on line for the day.

Loraine was talking about a three-page agreement he'd originally signed through her, one he renewed each year by executing a one-paragraph affirmation of its terms. The deal wasn't particularly binding, it wasn't exclusive, and it didn't call for much pay. But it was a way for him to continue to serve his country without being a full time slave to Washington.

A moment later he was speed-reading the document. "I'll have the signed version back to you today. Any good recruits to your little team?"

"Our team, Clark. Our team. And no, but I'm ever-vigilant."

His eyes cut to a framed newspaper article—a story from page 7 of the March 21, 2002 edition of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel—hanging on the wall adjacent to his desk. Only a select few knew its significance.


Police confirm the arrest two nights ago of three men at the Brookfield Square shopping mall on Moorland Road. According to Brookfield authorities, the trio was acting suspiciously, and security believed the men were a threat to other shoppers. No names have been released. It remains unclear what charges are being considered or where the men are being held.

"Yeah, you found something in me in Milwaukee, didn't you." Clark finished with a soft chuckle.

"Hey, it's not everyone who can stay on task while going nearly seventy-two hours without sleep."

"To this day I don't know how you knew I could drag the information out of those assholes."

There was a long silence. Clark knew what Loraine was thinking: that she'd saved at least a thousand lives that night. Sure, she'd had to trample the 'profiling' objections of both the Brookfield and Milwaukee police brass. And there'd been a furor when she ordered in her own handful of former special operators, ex-Delta-ex-Seal. But it had quieted quickly when they'd neutralized three massive body bombs by firing fast acting tranquilizer darts into the necks of the three jihadists.

When the assholes returned to consciousness, they were restrained and hooded in separate bedrooms of a farm house about twenty miles outside the metro area where the special operators stalked the grounds, preventing access to anyone uninvited. Clark's role had been crucial, and the assholes were left with no doubt about his intentions from the moment he kicked off the interrogations. They'd hung in there longer than he'd anticipated, and by the time Clark finished he'd been a physical and mental wreck, so exhausted that he'd slept nearly around the clock. But the information he'd acquired put a stop to scheduled attacks in three other cities, ones that were set to occur on a weekly basis in an attempt to destroy what was left of America's morale.

"Hey Clark, besides being one hell of a black operator, all I can tell you is that you're the poster boy for a girl being able to trust her instincts."

"Ok, enough Happy Days, Loraine, can't wait to see you. We can fish, golf, eat and drink. Any or all. When?"

Her laugh rang back at him. It was one shaped by years of first hand cigarette smoke. Loraine's view, one that she'd shared with him frequently, was that something would get her eventually so why not enjoy the ride. As far as Clark was concerned, the smoky laugh was almost sexy.

"I'll steal one of the small jets first thing and land at Savannah tomorrow morning around 9. If you'll be out of the sack by then."

"If not, I'll send one of my footmen."

He slowly replaced the receiver while trying to recall when, if ever, he'd finished on the bat phone and actually been in good spirits. Which brought Carmen to mind.

"You dressed yet?" he hollered.


The bluffs atop the Lowcountry's meandering May River vary in their distance to the waterline below, the highest maybe thirty or thirty-five feet. And while the setting would remind no one of the cliffs on the Monterey Peninsula, Clark found the serenity and the beauty conducive to considered thought.

His property sat, give or take, halfway between a five-star resort a couple miles to the west and what's known as Old Bluffton to the east, toward Hilton Head. The elevation where he'd worn a worry path over the past five or so years might be as much as eighteen or twenty feet, high enough to provide a majestic view across the wide riverbed. It also generally offered at least a slight breeze, and one had just now begun to build. It would be a hot one, Clark knew, unusual for this late in the year, high-eighties to low-nineties for sure, with a shirt-soaking splash of humidity.

Downstream, generally southeast toward Caliboge Sound, and under a stunningly blue sky, the tidal river widened further. But even where Clark stood it was at least a quarter mile across, a mighty swim, he concluded, even for his lab, Duchess, who was about to pop out onto the far shore. What she'd decided to chase was anyone's guess, but Clark wasn't worried, she'd return when he whistled or when she got hungry, she always did.

For now, Clark let his thoughts wander as he enjoyed the water's morning stillness, a mirror like image that made it easy to spy and enjoy any frolicking dolphins—at least he was pretty sure it was dolphin, porpoise tend to stay further from shore. Later in the day a chop would typically rise and at high tide, like now, a patchwork of sand dunes turned invisible although, for the most part, not dangerous to sport craft with modest draws.

However, it wasn't hidden sand dunes that concerned Clark. It was political power grabs, fiduciary misdeeds—public and private—legislative slight-of-hand, unchecked regulations, those were the matters of concern. And while memory is a tricky thing, his recollection was that back in the day when he was the top aide to the Speaker of the House, most bills were aimed at creating running room for business. Today, it seemed, virtually all legislation was either an attempt to stifle innovation, or was written in intentional doublespeak so that, ultimately, the bureaucrats who wrote the implementing regulations could interpret new law in such a way as to defeat personal liberty and opportunity.

He knew he could be wrong; it was easy out here in the pasture to remember and kibbutz. It was seriously more difficult to actually do something. But, he questioned, giving it his say-it-out-loud test, "With our current mass of bureaucracy, could we possibly build the Hoover Dam today?"

He reached down, hefted a smooth, dark stone about half the size of his palm, and fired it with such force that he winced with the complaint from his forty-seven year old rotator cuff. He watched the splash, the drifting ripples. Soon there was nothing, as if the stone never was.

He gazed across the river where Duchess pranced along the far bank, water splashing over her ankles. Her tail wagged mightily. Clark whistled, a shrill sound that perked her ears.

"C'mon girl."

Duchess cocked her head, barked once, then bounded into the deeper water to make her way home.

Just then his phone vibrated. A text from a guy who owned one of the local car dealerships.

You busy?

Contemplating. And marveling at Duchess. Why?

Something came up. Call you in five or ten.


Clark stared at the screen for a moment, curiosity lit.

He then stowed the phone, took a pull from a water bottle, and went back to his thoughts. Couldn't build that damn dam today, not without ten years of environmental impact studies, another ten of lawsuits.

Maybe that was good? He didn't think so. If you need the water, you need it quickly.

He laughed softly. Even Loraine might have a tough time selling such a project if she had to contend with two fatalities during the early feasibility process. He'd found the story online. It was 1922, six years prior to eventual authorization. A couple guys named Tierney and Connelly were conducting geological surveys on the Colorado River when they fell overboard and drowned. That happens today? Project goes wobbly, probably buried. If it survived, any one of the reported ninety- six other deaths attributed to the actual construction would have, at the least, been the cause of congressional hearings, meaning expensive delays.

"Good Lord," he said aloud as he tracked Duchess. "Look how freaking long it took us to drive a nail at Ground Zero."

Clark finished off the water before stuffing the bottle into the back pocket of his jeans. A Levi's guy since the age of eight or nine, he sometimes thought that as a concession to age he should stop with the denim. But he'd vowed long ago to make no such concession until or unless it was forced upon him.

His physique remained excellent; when he weighed himself this morning he was under two-twenty, and at six feet four that was a good ratio. He also had a superstition, one that whispered to him that if he surrendered to the age idioms that the first thing to go would be the hair, a headful of silver and black that he knew damn well most people would kill for. As a result, the only true changes to his routines over the years were additions to his exercise regimen, things like bouncing his mountain bike through the forest, his daily isometric rotas, the Monday-Wednesday-Friday five mile runs, and sessions of shadow boxing combined with work on the heavy bag when he could fit it in. To feed his competitive urges he kept at the tennis, the golf, a bit of pickup basketball, even some croquet.

He glanced at his watch, realized it was closing in on his ten o'clock at the Starbucks in Bluffton. He lifted a hand to shade his light blue eyes—a color that could look gray in certain light—and rechecked Duchess; well beyond the quarter pole.

Due to her disturbance, Clark had seen no dolphins this morning, and regretted the need to leave. But he sighed, and turned away. He crunched along a path worn deep among the pine, the cedar and the moss-dripping oaks, and by the time he could see his roofline he sensed that Duchess was close. He rounded a bend. Carmen was gone, her Porsche no longer in the circular drive. She'd had Savannah on her schedule today so he didn't expect to see her until evening.

A moment later, Duchess hurtled out of the underbrush, tongue lolling, yellow fur glistening. She knew better than to leap, and Clark knew to stand still. She dried herself on his jeans while he ruffled the top of her head. The ritual complete, he pulled a biscuit from his pocket and dropped it into her mouth.

Which was the moment his cell chirped. A quick glance confirmed it was the car guy.

If you lived in Bluffton for a time, and arrived with a relatively high profile like Clark's, it was inevitable that certain folks would gravitate your way. And Clark mostly enjoyed his notoriety, primarily because it presented him intriguing puzzles and challenges, created certain opportunities. So contact from a friend who also happened to be an influential member of the community didn't surprise him, but it did come with a little mystery.

He brought up the call. "Hello, Karl, what's the good word."


Excerpted from Bodies on the Potomac by Daniel O'Neil. Copyright © 2014 Daniel O'Neil. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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