With a genius IQ, a past career as a circus acrobat, and a black belt in karate, criminology professor Dr. Robert Frederickson—better known as “Mongo the Magnificent”—has a decidedly unusual background for a private investigator. He also just so happens to be a dwarf.
Investigating illegal CIA activities in Haiti leads Mongo and his brother, former NYPD cop Garth Frederickson, to a grisly discovery: five victims of voodoo ritual sacrifice. But that’s just the first surprise. Soon they uncover a wildly ambitious assassination plot that not only puts them in the cross hairs but also has the potential to change the fate of the United States forever . . .
Employing his “unlimited imagination” and talent for creating “terrific suspense” in the Mongo mystery series, author George C. Chesbro delivers a climax that pulls out all the stops (Publishers Weekly).
Dream of a Falling Eagle is the 14th book in the Mongo Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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We were three-quarters of the way up the long gravel driveway leading to the torturer's house, driving slowly to avoid a number of deep potholes, when Garth abruptly slammed on the brakes and turned off the headlights and ignition of his Jeep Cherokee. We never went anywhere these days without our guns, and I immediately reached for the Beretta in my shoulder holster. "What's the matter?"
My brother put a finger to his lips and whispered, "It looks like the general has already entertained guests this evening, and they're just leaving."
I leaned forward in my seat and squinted as I looked out through the windshield, but the bright lights burning on both floors of the shabby house at the end of the driveway only made the surrounding darkness seem more impenetrable. I tried shielding my eyes with my hand, but it didn't help. "I don't see anything."
"At least three men. I saw them moving across that patch of moonlight on the lawn at the right side of the house, heading into the woods. They're gone now."
"Or moving on us."
Garth drew his Colt and turned the interior light switch to off, and then we both stepped out of the car, guns raised and sweeping the driveway ahead of us and the woods on either side. We moved to the front of the car and stood side by side in the darkness for a few minutes, listening for the snap of a twig or rustle of gravel that might indicate we were being stalked, but there was no sound other than a shrill chorus of crickets wailing their little hearts out in the hot and humid August night. Finally I nudged Garth and we stepped to opposite sides of the driveway, walking slowly toward the house on narrow aprons of grass as we kept our guns steadily trained ahead of us. If the general's evening visitors had seen our headlights and wanted to ambush us, it seemed logical that they would have waited inside the house instead of exiting out the back, but our experiences of the past few months had made us very cautious. Of late, there were an even greater number of people than usual who wanted to facilitate the permanent retirement of the Frederickson brothers, and our current enemies of record were a lot better equipped and more organized than your average gaggle of thugs.
The front door was half open and had a dead thing nailed to it, which we knew meant we would find another dead thing inside. It didn't take us long to find it. What was left of General Vilair Michel was strapped into a straight-backed chair in a corner of his blood-painted second-floor bedroom facing out on the driveway. His severed tongue lay neatly in his lap, and dark gouts of blood were still oozing from his eye sockets, mouth, and the hole in his chest where his heart had been. We didn't bother looking around for the missing organ, because we knew we wouldn't find it. The clear plastic raincoats the killers had used to protect their clothing were crumpled in a heap at the foot of the bed.
"Christ," I mumbled, turning away. I should have been getting used to this kind of scene by now, but I still had to fight the urge to vomit.
"Actually, he's not in as bad shape as some of the other victims," Garth said in a flat tone. "He still has his pants on. We must have interrupted them."
I swallowed bile, took a deep breath to try to settle my stomach. The rank smell of blood and the feces that the terrified Vilair Michel had let loose before he died was overwhelming. "That was real lucky for the general."
"Let's see if our friends overlooked anything this time."
We might have interrupted the killers at their pleasure, but apparently not before they had attended to the serious side of their business, first chatting up the general before carving him up, making sure he told them what incriminating documents, if any, he had in his possession — and then they'd ransacked the place anyway, just to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything in what must have been his paralyzing and mind-shrinking fear in the face of the evil that had seeped into his home from the dark, suppurating sores in his culture. Every drawer and file cabinet in what appeared to have been his office and study had been pulled out or turned over, and papers were strewn everywhere. Using our handkerchiefs to avoid leaving fingerprints, we sifted through the debris, but could find nothing that interested us — no forged passports or other official documents, no list of names, no diary.
In the faint hope that Michel might have squirreled away something useful in another part of the house, we worked our way through the rest of the rooms and closets, inspecting drawers and cupboards and shelves, moving things around with pencils, but we found nothing of value to us. Our last stop was the basement, which was virtually bare except for an old, dilapidated washing machine and dryer, and some rough wooden shelves littered with rusting tools and spattered paint cans. There was a small area at the north end that had been partitioned off from the rest of the basement with unpainted Sheetrock with a doorway cut into it. Garth went in there and turned on a light while I halfheartedly rooted around on the shelves I could reach.
"Hey, Mongo," Garth called from the other room. "Come on in here and check this out."
I walked through the entranceway, stopped, and grunted with surprise. This area, too, was bare, except for what appeared to be a makeshift altar of sorts set up along the opposite wall. The altar was constructed from empty plastic milk crates set on their sides and draped with black velvet that had been kept free of lint and dust with careful and regular brushings. On the altar were candles of various lengths and thicknesses, crudely carved wooden fetishes, curved daggers, and hand-painted vèvès — voodoo symbols similar to the ones scrawled in blood on the walls of the bedroom upstairs — and a large golden cross that looked as if it had gotten lost and wandered into the wrong neighborhood.
"Well, well," I said, walking over to stand beside my brother in front of the altar. "It seems the general was a serious practitioner himself of the old mumbo-jumbo."
"Didn't do him much good, did it?"
The golden cross was in the center of the altar, at the base of a circle of vèvès, daggers, and red candles carefully arranged around a black-and-white photograph that, judging from the blur around the edges, had been taken from a distance with a telephoto lens. The photo was a head-and-shoulders shot of what appeared to be a light-skinned black man, most likely Haitian, like the general. The man had been caught looking directly toward the camera, as if sensing the presence of the photographer, and there was what could be described as an expression of menace on his face, although his features were not menacing in themselves. He had a longish, triangular face with a thin chin, thin lips and nose, and high, angular cheekbones. He had smooth skin, and he looked to be in his early or mid-fifties — although his thick head of white hair suggested he might be a decade older. His eyes were his most striking feature, almost too large and round for the rest of his face, crow-black and piercing. He wore the black tunic and reversed collar of a Roman Catholic priest.
Garth continued, "Now, who do you suppose that is?"
"Good question. Whoever he is, he seems to have been pretty important to the general — center stage on his voodoo altar." I paused, glanced at my brother. "You don't suppose the Spring Valley police would give us a copy of that photograph if we asked real nice?"
Garth smiled thinly. "In your dreams. Maybe in a few weeks, sometime down the line after we've come up with some plausible explanation of how it is we happen to know about the photograph in the first place. We really don't want to answer all the questions they'll want to ask."
"We'll call this in anonymously on nine-one-one after we leave, wait until after the news hits the papers, then go in and ask for a copy after we properly introduce ourselves."
"They probably won't release information about the photograph — you know it's the kind of potential evidence and telling little detail homicide investigators like to keep to themselves. We'd have to explain how we know about it, which would mean admitting we were here at the crime scene. That could spell very big trouble. I'm operating in my own backyard here. Mary and I don't need the publicity that would be bound to come my way, and you and I don't need the distraction. We've got a tight deadline, and we're running out of time."
"Hey, when you're right, you're right," I said, leaning over slightly in the direction of the photograph and rubbing my palms together. "But that photo could prove a lot more valuable to us than to the Spring Valley PD. I don't suppose the cop in you would permit us to just take the thing?"
Garth shook his head. "I want it as much as you do, but swiping items from a crime scene just isn't a good idea. We'll recognize him if we see him."
"Okay. Let's get out of here and find a pay phone."
"Freeze, motherfuckers! Get your hands way up in the air and turn around very slowly! Do it now!"
"Shit," Garth muttered.
"Piss, snot, corruption, pillage, and spitting on the floor."
"You're both a half second from dead, motherfuckers! Get those hands up in the air and turn around slowly!"
Garth and I did as we were told and found ourselves facing two of Spring Valley's Finest, a white male and an Amazon of a black woman who was at least a foot taller than her partner. It was the woman who had spoken. They must have been wearing shoes with crepe soles, because we hadn't heard them come up behind us. Both police officers were standing just inside the entranceway to the altar area, pointing their service revolvers at us.
"Uh-oh," Garth said.
I swallowed hard, nodded to the two police officers, and flashed my most cherubic smile. "You got that right."
The small interrogation room to which I was taken and left alone, presumably to reflect upon the error of my ways, smelled of fresh paint. Everything was a cream color — the floor, walls, ceiling, table, and two straight-backed chairs. Even the large ceramic ashtray on the table was a cream color. The monotone, cut-rate interior decoration had a slightly disorienting effect, which I supposed was its purpose. I could hear the low bass hum of air-conditioning somewhere beyond the walls, but it wasn't cooling this place; the room was hot.
I sat up straight in one of the chairs at the table, hands folded in front of me, and stared at the one-way mirror to my right, wondering how many detectives were staring back at me while somebody ran our names and licenses through the system and checked our bona fides. About forty-five minutes later a tall, slim black man with a large strawberry birthmark on his left cheek entered the room. He looked to be about thirty. He wore a nicely tailored brown summer suit with matching tie, highly polished black shoes. The name tag over his badge read "Beauvil."
The detective sat down across from me, stared at me for a few moments with his dark eyes, then said evenly, "You and your brother are in deep shit, Frederickson."
"Yes, Detective. I know."
"Your brother tells quite a story about how the two of you came to be in that house at that particular time. Let's see how yours matches up to it."
"Meaning no disrespect, Detective, but my brother hasn't told you anything but his name, rank, and serial number."
Beauvil's eyes narrowed slightly. "You seem pretty certain of that."
"My brother can be sullen, uncooperative, and even downright cranky. I'm the one with the sunny, cooperative disposition, so he always lets me do the talking in situations like this."
"Do you think this is funny?"
"No, sir. I was explaining why I was certain Garth hadn't told you anything."
"What kind of situation is this?"
"Very, very sticky."
"You've already been read your rights when you were arrested at the crime scene. You've declined legal representation, but I'm going to ask you again. You want a lawyer?"
"I suspect you do."
"You suspect wrong. Why so solicitous, Detective? Are you this polite to all your perps?"
"Who you are commands a certain amount of respect. Also, the fact that you're both so well known means that your arrest is probably going to generate a lot of national publicity. Everything's going to be done by the book. I don't want the Spring Valley PD to end up looking like the LAPD. Now, considering your reputation and all you have to lose in this matter, I would think you'd want a lawyer representing you at this interrogation."
"Thanks, Detective. I really do appreciate your concern, but you can let me worry about that."
"You had three handguns between the two of you — your brother's Colt, and your Beretta and Seecamp."
"All three duly licensed, with special carry permits."
"You don't have a license not to report a brutal crime."
"We were just about to do precisely that."
"Unfortunately for the two of you, somebody beat you to it."
"Who? If it was a man with a Creole accent, it was probably one of the killers. They're an impatient lot, and they wanted to make sure you didn't take too long to discover their handiwork."
"You know the drill, Frederickson; I'll ask the questions." He paused, leaned back slightly in his chair, and regarded me rather archly. "The two of you may be famous, but you're also a couple of cold-blooded and arrogant sons of bitches. You see a man who's been slaughtered like a pig, and then you calmly proceed to take a tour of his house, disturbing the crime scene."
"I don't know how cold-blooded and arrogant we are, but we didn't disturb any crime scene; the place had already been tossed before we got there. As for our reaction to the torture, mutilation, and murder of the victim, we've seen it before, and the man got what he deserved — not necessarily in that order."
Beauvil blinked slowly, said quietly, "You'd better explain that."
I glanced toward the mirror, addressing whoever might be looking in and listening. "Things are moving along pretty quickly here, and they could get out of hand. Again meaning no disrespect, Detective, but I'm not certain how much detail the Spring Valley Police Department really wants to know. Maybe your chief should join us, and we could go to another room that isn't quite so public."
"You'll deal with me right here and now, Frederickson!" Beauvil snapped, slapping his palm on the table for emphasis. He paused, lowered his voice to just above a whisper. "You don't seem to realize the seriousness of your situation. It's more than just 'sticky.' We're not just talking about the two of you losing your P.I. licenses. You could end up doing some very serious jail time."
I looked away from the mirror, sighed. "Detective, what I'm most worried about at the moment isn't jail time, it's getting fired."
"Are you crazy? You and your brother could be facing first-degree murder charges."
"Spare me that heat, Detective. I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you. I understand we've got problems here, but being charged with murder isn't one of them. The vic was missing a heart. You didn't find it in our pockets, and your investigators won't find it at the house. You think we ate it? Right now it's reposing in a clay jar, right beside the rum bottle that holds the victim's spirit captive. That's part of their drill."
The detective tensed slightly. He started to look toward the mirror, then caught himself and stared hard at me. An ashen pallor had appeared around his strawberry birthmark, and something that looked very much like surprise moved in his ebony eyes.
I continued, "You haven't been to the crime scene, have you, Detective? This interrogation is a rush job. There are symbols called vèvès painted all over the vic's bedroom walls, which means this was a goddamn voodoo ritual murder. That's going to create quite a stir in Spring Valley, considering the size of your Haitian population. Do Garth and I look like voodoo priests? Before you start threatening to charge my brother and me with murder, you should be thinking about just how you plan to release this information and handle the investigation. What's happened is going to be very unsettling to a lot of people in your village."
The detective controlled his reaction quickly, but not before I had seen fear film his eyes and tighten his lips. He had been visibly shaken. Considering the fact that this minor breakdown in proper interrogation technique was taking place under the eyes of others, one or more of whom might be his superiors, I felt sympathy for the man. He'd been sent in virtually cold, with a limited briefing, and had apparently had little idea of what he was going to hear.
"You're Haitian, aren't you, Detective?"
"I said I'd ask the questions, Frederickson."
Excerpted from "Dream of a Falling Eagle"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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