Flying to Baltimore for his class reunion, mystery writer Frank Smith leaves behind the unsolved disappearance of his wife and dogged persecution by the police. He finds another mystery at his school: boys who went missing twenty-five years ago.
|Publisher:||Poisoned Pen Press|
|Edition description:||Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||6.06(w) x 9.04(h) x 0.85(d)|
About the Author
Frederick Ramsay has published fourteen books that range from historicals (The Jerusalem Mysteries), to Africa (The Botswana Mysteries), to police procedurals (The Ike Schwartz Mysteries). In addition, his stand-alone Impulse was named one of the Best 100 Books of the Year in 2006 by Publishers Weekly. He is an iconographer and an accomplished public speaker. He lives and writes in Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
By Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2006 Frederick Ramsay
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrank Smith stepped to one side at the top of the escalator, turned and studied the passengers behind him struggling with their luggage on the moving stairs. He inspected each in turn looking for tell-tale signs, for any indication that one or two might be following him. But they all seemed painfully normal. None appeared even remotely interested in him. He resumed his march toward the security check point. Sky Harbor, Phoenix's busy airport, teemed with men and women, many more than he would have expected on a Wednesday morning. He glanced backward once more and marginally increased his pace. He muttered to himself for his foolishness. If Ledezma or anyone else, for that matter, wanted to know where he was going, he would only have to step up and ask. Four years of suspicion and guilt had made him paranoid.
The whole idea was ridiculous, of course. No one chased anybody through airports anymore. No more O.J. Simpson careening through crowds to get to a plane on time. It was O.J., wasn't it? Time and circumstances changed so many things, memories dim, and O.J. has been reduced to the quintessential persona non grata in the civilized world.
He reached the security check point and joined the hundred or so men and women standing in the sixteen ranks of a serpentine line waiting for their turn to show an ID, a boarding pass, and be handed off to one of four screening stations. He had a brief Mel Brooks moment as he inched forward a few feet at a time—a movie scene, two men tearing through the airport, one in hot pursuit of the other. The first drew up at this slow moving line and stepped in. Then the other man joined it four or five places further back and together they moved slowly forward, two feet at a time ... shuffle, shuffle ... shuffle, shuffle. Finally, the first cleared the x-ray and screening, and resumed his mad dash through the airport. The second followed a moment later, hopping on one foot as he struggled to get his shoe on. Frank smiled and looked over his shoulder one last time.
* * *
The plane was nearly full, but he managed to get a window seat. He'd used his computer to print his boarding pass the night before and had made a point of being one of the first to board. He wanted to scrutinize the other passengers as they made their way between the seats, dragging their carry-on luggage down a cramped aisle scant inches too narrow to allow that to happen. A damp man in a rumpled suit squeezed into the seat next to him. He stowed his laptop and what appeared to be lunch under the seat in front of him. Frank squirmed around in his now more confined space. He wished he could have flown first class or at least business, but this trip did not qualify for a tax break and Southwest didn't offer first class seating anyway. He envied his row mate's foresight. He should have packed a meal. Now he would have to resign himself to a narrow seat, a bag of peanuts, and a snack pack. They'd dueled for the best elbow position on the common armrest. During the course of this unacknowledged combat, his seatmate recognized Frank. The good news, he'd been awarded the best spot. The bad news, he had to engage in a conversation he'd sooner have avoided. The man turned toward him with a too familiar look.
"Let's say you're a murderer...." Frank flinched. "... How do you do it? I mean, I bet you must get that question all the time." For a split second, Frank wondered if it were possible this man had, in fact, followed him on the plane, if his question was more than idle curiosity. He decided to play it straight and see.
"I do, get the question that is. Well, in my opinion, murder, real murder, is ordinary and boring. Most of them are committed by desperate, angry, or demented people who've slipped out of control and are acting on impulse. Typically, they leave a trail a mile wide and they are almost always caught. The few who do get away with it are either lucky or someone or something interfered with the process. No, murder is pretty dull stuff."
Frank knew better—knew that the vast numbers of murders were never solved, that in Los Angeles alone, the last time he looked, something like 8,000 murders were unsolved and the number grew daily. The process, as he'd called it, bogged down more often than not, because there were many more killers than there were homicide detectives to catch them. LA had more cops in its internal investigation unit than on the street as detectives.
"It's means, motive, and opportunity," he replied, trying to look deep and wise, and at the same time not appear pompous. "If I were plotting a killing, for example, I would find a way to mask all three and then do it. The last thing I want is for those characteristics to stick out and attract the notice of a detective. Otherwise, it's 'find them and book them' ... dull stuff."
"That's it?" His companion pushed back a pale lock of his comb-over and looked disappointed. "I mean, I would think anything as important as killing another human being is pretty serious stuff and involves all sorts of—"
"No, that's a common misunderstanding. In real life, murder is almost always mundane. It's rarely planned, premeditated, or thought out."
"But in books ... I mean, I read a lot of mysteries ... yours for example, and the murders are so elaborate and, well, elegant."
"I don't write about real life. I write fiction. You wouldn't buy, much less read a book that accurately described most of the killings that cross a police blotter every day. Writers like me make up complicated and sometimes very shocking ones, serial killers, hatchet murderers, and the gorier the better. We describe autopsies with horrific precision. Don't ask me why, but people seem to be fascinated with the graphic details of that process. Watch CSI some evening. Anyway, we're in the entertainment business, not the truth business."
"Oh. Well then, what if you had to solve a mystery? I mean with all the times you've written about them, I bet you could solve a real one. Do police departments ever ask you to?"
He did not mean to sound abrupt. This man could not possibly know what had happened and asked a perfectly reasonable question. Why wouldn't people who studied and wrote about crime be good at unraveling them? Why indeed? Because writers solved their crimes backward. They always knew who done it before they did it. He'd toyed with solving one once or twice, a long time ago, and thought he might like to again someday, but not today, not here, and certainly not under the present circumstances. He picked up the brochure from his lap and turned toward the window, hoping to signal an end to the conversation. The man looked crestfallen. He had a three by five card and a pen at the ready. Frank smiled and signed the card, Best wishes, Meredith Smith. The man nodded his thanks and left him to read his brochure.
He turned and stared out the window. The ground fell steadily away. In the early morning light, shadows etched the desert floor, giving texture to shrubbery too far away to see clearly. Among the shadows he could make out longer ones, some branched, attached to thousands of saguaros which looked like Gumbys marching northward toward Sedona and red rock country. They would never make it. Fifty miles out I-17 they would come to an abrupt halt, their northward migration from Mexico stopped by temperature and altitude.
Soon the morning heat would send columns of air shimmering across the expanse below, distorting the shapes, tricking the eye into seeing things that weren't there. And somewhere down in that dead, brown Arizona desert lay the bleached bones of his wife, missing now for four years and presumed dead. Another of those murders he'd so blandly dismissed moments before, one that went unsolved. No motive, no body, no suspects—except, of course, the most logical one, the one always favored by the police—him.
The plane leveled off, its engines settled into a low whine, and it turned its nose east toward Baltimore.
Chapter TwoBrad Stark inspected the twelve watercolors on the walnut paneled wall. He'd seen them a hundred times, when they were raw and fresh in Albert Magarry's art classroom. That would have been before Magarry had been discovered by the art world and left the school for better, or at least more exalted company. Next, for several years they hung in the school's art gallery, and now they adorned the walls of the headmaster's outer office. Mixed in with them and set at regular intervals along the walls were plaques extolling the headmaster for services rendered to a plethora of worthy causes, organizations, and institutions. He thought they looked like Stations of the Cross and wondered if the boss might not perform some private ritual in front of them from time to time. He inhaled the scent of freshly cut roses bunched in a Waterford crystal vase. The headmaster's office always had fresh cut flowers. He didn't know whether that came about because the headmaster or his secretary arranged for them to be delivered. The latter picked up the phone, murmured something Brad couldn't make out, and looked up at him.
"He'll see you now, Mr. Stark."
He nodded to the secretary and pushed open the heavy mahogany door that separated the headmaster from the world. More than a metaphor, he thought. Darnell, Doctor Felix Darnell, had assumed the headmastership of Scott Academy after a career that included teaching posts at several private schools and dean of a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. His chief attraction at the time seemed to be his doctorate. A month after his installation as the school's twelfth headmaster, it came to light that the degree was not a Ph.D. or even an Ed.D., but a D.Litt.—an honorary degree bestowed on him by an obscure university in northern India which had a reputation for selling them to rich or ego-needy Americans. Nevertheless, Darnell used the title that came with it and insisted staff and students do the same. In his favor, he had a talent for administration and fund raising, the chief attributes needed for a headmaster in this day and age. But he was not a naturally warm and friendly man, a fact which distanced him from his students and annoyed his faculty. Brad served directly under him as the Academy's Chief Development Officer and Alumni Secretary.
"Dr. Darnell, we need to talk about Frank Smith," Brad said, without waiting for an invitation to speak. Darnell liked to control conversations and expected his visitors to respond to his cues regarding both the content and direction of any interviews he had. Brad knew this, but today chose to ignore the protocol. Alumni would be arriving soon and he had work to do. Class gifts to be totaled and, hopefully, increased in size with the right amount of gentle pressure—one-third charm, one-third guilt, and one-third luck. He did not have time to fence around with Darnell. The headmaster waved his hand in the general direction of a crewel-upholstered wing chair, inviting him to sit. Brad knew from experience that the cushions in that chair were exceedingly soft and he would sink into it, allowing Darnell to look down on him. Power games. He remained standing.
"Which Smith are we talking about? We have many Smiths. The phone book's full of them."
"Frank Smith, Franklin M. Smith, here for his fiftieth."
"Okay, Frank Smith. What about him?"
"Well, this is the first time he's communicated with the school in any way since he graduated. He's never attended a reunion, never responded to any of our fund raisers, and never completed an update for the directory. Nothing, until now."
"I can't see that's so odd. Many graduates disappear. They drift away, don't recognize the value of the experience they had—"
"Frank Smith is the son of one of our more distinguished former faculty members, Doctor Charles Addison Smith." Brad laid an emphasis on doctor. Smith's degree was earned, a Ph.D., a relative rarity for a prep school in his day and one the Academy touted all the years he taught there. "He taught English and retired when he hit sixty-five."
"Oh, yeah, the ascetic looking guy hanging in the teacher's lounge."
"His picture, yes. We should move it, by the way. It was painted from a photograph. He refused to sit for a real portrait."
"Really? Why not?"
"We kicked his other son out of the Academy. The kid committed suicide later that year and Dr. Smith was never the same after that."
Brad finally sat and scanned the office. Darnell had it built as part of his agreement to accept the headmastership. With the paneling, oriental carpet, and custom desk and bookcases, Brad guessed a six-year full-boat scholarship could have been offered for what it cost.
"Why'd we bounce the son?"
"Not sure. Record says 'for behavior unbecoming a cadet.' When we functioned as a military school we were a much more rigid institution. That's all they ever put in the record."
"Do you know why?"
"Just rumors, and even if we knew, there's nothing we can do about it now."
"No, I suppose not. Still, it would be good to know since he's coming. He might bring it up. Find out for me, will you? Someone ought to know, one of the old-timers, maybe."
Darnell fiddled with an ornate letter opener, turning it between his fingers, sending a splash of light darting around the room's dark paneling. Brad thought he could make out Presented to Doctor ... on the haft.
"Did you have him?" he asked.
"Who? Dr. Smith?"
"Yes, who else are we talking about?"
"No, he was long gone before my time. According to the year books they used to call him 'Jolly Cholly.' I think in the end it was more like 'Angry Addison.' He took what happened pretty hard."
"So the problem with Frank Smith is ...? I assume you came in here to fill me in on a problem,." Darnell said, sensing, Brad guessed, a chance to assume control of the conversation.
"Frank Smith is an author of a couple of dozen mystery stories. You may know him as Meredith Smith—"
"Meredith Smith is a man? I read her ... um ... his stuff all the time. Great story teller, and there was theTV series based on his Episcopal minister detective—what was it called?"
"Collars. Smith taught English like his father. Ended up in Phoenix at some prep school out there. Then his books hit and the TV show went big time for three or four years—I think it's still in syndication on PAX. He's made a lot of money but we haven't been able to squeeze a dime out of him. That's the problem. My guess is he's been angry at us all these years, but he'll be on campus this weekend and I thought you'd—"
"I'll have a word. No, let's put him at the High Table at lunch next to Elizabeth Roulx. She's our English maven now and she's a reader. I'll have her butter him up. Then I'll pitch him and you can close. Anything else?"
"No, sir, that'll do it. Well, there's his portrait, we should hang it in the dining hall so he can see it, Smith, that is ... and—"
"And? Please don't tell me you have another problem?"
"Dexter Light. He may show up again. Unlike our Frank Smith, he loves reunions."
"Loves a free lunch and a chance to embarrass us, you mean. God, I'd have thought his liver would have exploded by now. Give me a heads up if he comes on campus. And then call security."
Brad left the office complex and stepped into the bright sunlight. He wandered over to the quadrangle. From there he could see the progress made for the next day's festivities. The big tent was up. Men from the rental company unloaded folding chairs from a van parked nearby. Women in aprons laid table cloths on the trestle tables under the tent. The temperature hovered in the low seventies. The heavy humidity that would characterize the area later on had not yet arrived, and it promised to be a splendid weekend. Sunlight streamed through old maples, dappling the tent and the grounds. By Friday night there would be four bars, two long tables laden with catered food and desserts, and best of all, no rain. At least none predicted. A reassuring bit of news, although they said of the area, "If you don't like the weather in Pikesville, wait an hour." Still, he felt safe enough.
Excerpted from Impulse by Frederick Ramsay Copyright © 2006 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One morning mystery writer Frank Smith¿s wife went out walking, but never returned home. The police especially the detective in charge believe he killed her for the insurance money. The cops never pursued any other potential suspects concentrating exclusively on Frank.---------------- The writer attends his fiftieth prep school reunion in Maryland having not been on the campus since he graduated because his brother committed suicide after being expelled from there after an accusation by another student. At the school Frank meets his childhood sweetheart Rosemary. The two seniors hit off romantically. Frank is challenged to solve a mystery that has haunted the school for twenty-five years. A group of boys were seen entering Old Oak Woods, but never came out. Frank and Rosemary search the records and interview people when his wife¿s body is found. Sergeant Ledezma digs deep to prove Frank killed her.---------------- IMPULSE is an entertaining cerebral mystery that contains two simultaneously running investigative subplots. Frederick Ramsey effortlessly guides his audience back and forth between the police inquiry and Frank¿s prep school case keeping readers¿ attention on both. The protagonist proves that life continues in spite of the clouds hanging over him and his advancing years. Mr. Ramsey tells a strong tale that keeps fans guessing whether Frank did it or not until the final moment.---------- Harriet Klausner
A great mystery book. ADD ME!!!!!!!