No Regrets, No Remorse, winner of the first Poisoned Pen Press Discover Mystery Contest.
Sydney Simone, wounded herself, is dedicated to helping via a cloaked website and identity those whose wrongs can’t be righted by orthodox means. First she verifies the client’s story; then she accepts payment: half up front, half on completion of her work. Usually it’s a form of human pest control.
For cover, Sydney works as an assistant at the Rose Madder Gallery in West Palm Beach run by Oscar Leopold. Oscar, a sculptor, has left his law practice behind. But now his former partner Roy is arrested for murdering Big Jack, an attorney with a sleazy television advertising presence. At the same time Sydney is dealing with a client who has seemingly penetrated her defenses and demands she complete a job—rubbing out Big Jack.—an assignment where she has accepted, and pocketed, an unusually large fee. So now Sydney the client gives Sydney a new target and Sydney switches gears: dedicated to saving herself, Oscar, and Roy, even as she continues to operate HumanPestControl.com.
Teaming with Oscar isn’t easy since she can’t tell him all she knows, but soon their investigation leads to a complex insurance fraud scheme that implicates Roy – perhaps he really is guilty. But Oscar becomes an investigative target himself and is arrested, then kidnapped and assaulted as he tries to find the true killer.
The story ranges from the corporate offices of South Florida to the backwaters of the panhandle. The bad guys are dangerous and desperate to keep their careers, their freedom, even their lives. Oscar and Sydney, their own lives and livelihoods at stake, must up their game—Sydney may even have to reveal her game—to survive.
About the Author
Ronald Farrington Sharp practiced law for 34 years and has been a professional sculptor for even longer. He now writes and sculpts in his studio on the beach in Florida where he lives with his wife, the artist Susannah Keith, and their standard poodle, Puccini. His sculpture is featured in the collections of two dozen major universities throughout the country. He is also the author of two non-fiction books in the legal field, Winning the Divorce War, and Living Trusts for Everyone.
Read an Excerpt
No Regrets, No RemorseA Sydney Simone Mystery
By R.F. Sharp
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2012 R.F. Sharp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe job was just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, and though Sydney could have flown directly to Detroit Metro, she took the safer route, a crowded Delta flight to Louisville that would return the next evening. The lie she fed Oscar was a Manhattan shopping trip. Avoiding the slightest risk plus adding a little deception had kept her alive thus far, and she seemed to get more rather than less cautious as time went on. After renting a car using an alternate driving license, she checked into the airport Holiday Inn Express, retrieved the package she had sent ahead, got some fast food to eat on the way, then drove the six hours to Ann Arbor. It was mid-November; cold and overcast, already getting dark. Perfect timing and perfect weather. The drive wasn't bad, and Sydney used the time to think, not listening to the radio.
Just off I-94 about thirty miles from Ann Arbor, the local Walmart had the weapons she needed. The hardware section yielded a small sledge hammer, wire cutters, gloves, various screwdrivers, a small socket set, flashlight, adjustable wrench, and a canvas tool bag. After paying cash, everything but the flashlight and the screwdrivers went into the trunk.
Walmart had security cameras trained on the parking lot, so she traveled side roads seeking a spot with more privacy where she could commit the first crime of the trip. The best choice was a small Greek restaurant with no lights in the lot behind the building. The parked cars in back were probably those of employees and would likely stay until closing. Thin snow slicked the grass, but the pavement was cleared and dry, so no tracks to worry about.
Working quickly, she removed the license plate from a Honda and put it on a Ford that looked similar to her rental. The Ford plate she put on the rental, and the rental plate went in the trunk. Then a half hour more to Ann Arbor.
Mason Feuher lived in an exclusive neighborhood near the Huron River northwest of town. The lots were three to five heavily wooded acres, the winding paved asphalt roads threading through an eighteen-hole golf course. Unlike Florida, there were few gated communities here, even in the affluent areas, which made the job easier. Mason's house was not visible from the road. It was that hateful style she called "Garage Door Architecture": a colonial two-story, its primary feature being a huge two-car garage door, painted white to make a statement—look at me.
From Sydney's extensive research and from the information provided by the client, she knew that Mason would not be home from work until after seven. Mason's office was a forty-five-minute drive even if he didn't stop for his usual drink. To be sure there was time to make all the preparations and set the trap, she called his office from the burn phone and hung up when put through by his secretary. He was some sort of financial planner but enjoyed rather nasty hobbies involving children when not working. Lived alone. No dog.
The telephone line and utilities were underground. A careful walk around the house, checking the windows with the flashlight, looking for but not finding alarm sensors or security cameras. The utilities entered the basement wall near the gas meter. Very convenient, since it allowed her to open the telephone access box and unplug the two lines that fed the house. She then drove around the area for twenty minutes, passing the driveway from time to time. No security or police showed. It was safe to assume Mason didn't have a hard-wired monitored alarm system, since it would have been set off with the disconnect of the telephone line.
The newest thing—and a challenge for those in her profession, was the wireless alarm hooked up to a cell phone system with battery backup, perimeter alarms on doors and windows, and motion detectors. Very difficult, but not impossible, to bypass. She suspected this was what he had but was prepared for that too. From the box she had sent to the hotel she pulled out two devices. The first was a cell phone jammer. Not much bigger than a cell phone, it was highly illegal but readily available on the Internet if you had the cash. She powered it up, got some readouts to be sure it was functioning, and turned on the jammer. Simply put, it interfered with cell phone signals within about a one-hundred-foot radius, so no incoming or outgoing calls could be made. The alarm system, if there was one, would now be neutralized. Sydney had taken it with her to the Gardens Mall food court in West Palm and tried it out. The chattering of dozens of bewildered teenagers suddenly cut off from their texting was proof it worked.
Confident now, she pulled back into the driveway and used the second device. It looked like a simple garage door opener, but an older model no longer available. Taped to the outside was a small Allen wrench, which she removed and inserted in a small hole in the base of the opener, then pressed the open button while slowly turning the wrench. The garage door began opening and she pulled the wrench out of the slot, the programming complete. This particular opener had been marketed years ago by a company intending it as a replacement for the one a person lost. Turning the wrench dialed it through all the frequencies until it hit the one for the garage door. It didn't take long for people like Sydney to figure out it could be used on anyone's door, so it was recalled and discontinued. She still had her sources, though.
If Mason had a newer model opener, this wouldn't work, but she had the tools in the trunk and could then have used a heavy screwdriver to pry the sliding glass door off its track on the rear patio. She could also have picked the lock or broken a window but needed to get this done quickly and unobtrusively. No one would know she had been there if this was done right. She drove into the garage, closed the door with the new opener and carried her tool bag into the house. The garage to house door was unlocked—typical. Sure enough, a control box for the alarm system was near the door and beeping loudly. But the house was isolated and it was unlikely neighbors would hear anything. It was possible the alarm would be triggered once the cell jammer was out of range when she left, but if the sheriff showed up it would register as a false alarm with no visible signs of entry.
The basement door was just off the entryway. She pulled out the flashlight. The natural gas furnace was an older model, not one of the newer high-efficiency units, but the sheet metal covers came off easily to expose the innards. It took several hard blows with the sledgehammer, but the rusted cast-iron heat exchanger finally cracked. She made sure the hammer blows were not obvious and the wide crack was visible. It would, when the furnace was running, leak the combusted gas fumes into the forced air ducts throughout the house, filling it with odorless carbon monoxide.
Everything went back together, and before leaving she turned up the heat a few degrees. If the furnace had been newer she would have pulled the flue apart on the gas water heater for the same result, though it might take longer to fill the house with the fumes. She looked for and found a carbon monoxide alarm in the upstairs hallway and reversed the batteries, wiping the fingerprints.
Mason would die in his sleep. Carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty furnace was a reasonable cause of death, easily discovered in an autopsy, and would not bring on the extensive investigation that shooting the guy would require. Her experience was that unless it was a high profile case, underfunded and overworked police departments were happy to accept the first reasonable explanation for a death and didn't often dig deep. It would have been simpler for her to wait until Mason was home, ring the doorbell, and shoot him in the head when he answered, but the risk was greater. And the investigation would be dangerous.
After plugging the telephone lines back in and doing a final check to be sure everything was the same as she had found it, except for the furnace, she drove out of the garage and pushed the button on her new remote control. Then back to Louisville to the car rental counter after putting the rental plate back on and dumping the tools. It was too risky to return the other license plate so she tossed it as well and smashed the cell phone, cell jammer, and door opener, though they were probably untraceable. Exhausted, Sydney went to the hotel room for a few hours sleep before the flight home.
Killing the Ann Arbor guy was satisfying. A job well done. Her history showed no patience with child molesters. No regrets, no remorse. It had always been that way.
Chapter TwoSydney was nude when the telephone rang.
"I'm answering the phone this time." She hopped off the stool and was already reaching for something to put on.
"No. Let it ring. I want to get this sculpture done. Do you need another break?"
"It might be a client." She grabbed her robe as she walked to the wall phone, careful where she stepped in her bare feet on the cluttered concrete floor of the studio. She had removed her piercings and makeup for the session and in her robe looked as if she had just stepped out of the shower.
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Oscar Leopold put the modeling tools on the stand next to the sculpture and wiped the red clay from his hands onto his jeans.
"For God's sake, put on the smock I gave you for your birthday instead of ruining your clothes."
"Next time. You're acting like a wife. Or mother."
Jesse, Oscar's blond Labrador retriever, lay in the corner of the studio, his head between his paws, staring at him. His tail wagged tentatively whenever Oscar looked his way, hoping for a walk.
It was the third call in the last two hours, and Oscar had managed to convince Sydney to ignore them all until now.
"You can't keep a wife. And your mortgage payment is due, Jesse needs to go to the vet, there's the telephone bill and the electric, and," she said as she reached toward the receiver, "you could use a new car." She looked over her shoulder at him, and he nodded reluctantly. Sweeping her straight black hair back, she spoke in her professional voice.
"Attorney Oscar Leopold's office. May I help you?"
Oscar covered the sculpture with a plastic dry cleaner's bag to keep it from drying out while Sydney dealt with the business. The sculpture was a one-fourth scale seated nude he was doing in terra-cotta. After the sculpture was completed, hollowed, and had dried properly, he would fire it in the kiln in the back room, then patina the surface and put it on display in the gallery window. One or two small sculptures a month sold that way, mostly to the tourists who passed by on their way to the more prestigious galleries on Worth Avenue over on the island in Palm Beach. Sometimes a client would commission a bronze, and that would pay the office expenses for a couple of months. A meager existence, but at least he was doing what he wanted. Sydney offered financial help that Oscar refused, wondering at the time where she would get the money, but he'd accepted her offer to work for free as his model, gallery manager, and former girlfriend. For her part it was a low-profile way to live off the radar, ensuring her real business was kept secret, even from Oscar.
Sydney was talking quietly to whoever was on the telephone and taking notes with a piece of charcoal on a sketchpad.
He mouthed silently, 'Is it my mother?' Sydney shook her head.
He had missed his weekly call up to Grosse Pointe where she shared a condo with her third husband. Oscar made at least two trips a year north to see her which was the most he could handle. His brother Gary lived in Lansing, about an hour away, but rarely called or visited, as their mother made a point of mentioning during every call. Who will take care of me when I get old, she often asked, as if she were assuming it would not be her husband or Gary.
Oscar was washing the remaining red clay from his hands in the corner sink when Sydney held the telephone out to him.
"It's Roy. He's calling from jail. He's been arrested for murder."
He took the call, spoke briefly, then hung up.
"Get dressed. It's time to play lawyer. We're going to jail."
Chapter ThreeOscar showered and put on his lawyer's uniform: dark suit, white shirt, tie, black loafers. He still owned six tailor-made suits. They were getting a little shiny in the seat and elbows and Oscar had no idea whether the lapel width and cut was currently in style. He hadn't been in a good clothing store in the five years since he'd quit full-time practice. They still fit, though they were beginning to get a little tight in the waist, a situation he liked to think meant the suits had somehow shrunk from lack of use. Sydney was no help in the fashion department, preferring that he dress in all black Armani, including the shirt and, if he insisted, a tie. Not suitable lawyer attire according to the ultra conservative judges in the area.
He smoothed down his short blond hair with his palms, no combing necessary now that he had given up his ponytail, admitted that he was balding, and had what was left cropped close to the scalp.
Sydney came into the room in all black minus the piercings and the Goth eye shadow, remnants, she said, of her forlorn and unconventional high school days that she wasn't ready to abandon. It was the way she rolled, as she put it.
"Ready?" she asked.
"I should shave."
"I don't think you need to shave to go to jail. It's pretty informal." They went down the back stairs.
"I hope the Toyota starts," he said.
"Not likely. Do you know how old it is in human years? Ninety-six."
"How do you figure? You using dog years?"
"Same deal except cars are eight years instead of seven." She opened the door to the Toyota and cranked it over until the battery wore down.
"Let's try the Buick. It's a hundred and four, but usually reliable." Oscar stepped over to the rusting black and white four door, clearly a former police car. It was covered with rotting tangerines and leaves from the tree he had parked under three weeks earlier. He opened the door and let it air out a bit before getting in. The built-up heat in the closed car carried the smell of old cigarettes and an unidentifiable perfume. The motor turned over reluctantly, but didn't start.
Pumping the gas pedal, then holding it to the floor and turning the key again caused the beast to rumble to life, belching blue smoke, mostly out the hole in the muffler rather than the exhaust pipe. Rolling down the windows, he backed out into the alley. Sydney got in and they left for the county jail, trailing tangerines, leaves, and branches.
"Why can't we take the Mustang? This thing stinks and it's hot." Sydney had her head out the window, hair flying.
"The Mustang doesn't have air conditioning either; it's a '65. A classic. You know I only drive it on special occasions."
The traffic was, as usual for February, thick and slow moving. From December to April the streets were crowded, the restaurants required a wait at any time of day, and prices escalated on everything from a round of golf to the cost of bait at the marina. Having grown up in the North, Oscar forgave it all as the price of being free of snow.
They pulled into the parking lot of the Main Detention Center, the largest of the four jails in the county, holding up to 1500 inmates. There were no parking spaces left near the entrance except one reserved for Official Vehicles Only. Oscar jerked the aging Buick into the spot.
Sydney looked at him but said nothing.
"Hey, I'm as official as any of them. Besides, the car probably feels right at home since it probably worked here at one time. It still has the holes in the roof where the police strobe light bar was removed."
"I know, it leaks in the rain, even through your duct tape repair. I'll wait in the car in case we have to move it."
"No, you're my legal assistant now, call it a promotion. There's a briefcase in the back with paper and pens. You can help me with the interview. Besides, Roy likes you and needs all the moral support he can get."
"I don't suppose the promotion comes with pay."
They both got out of the car. Sydney looked around anxiously at the uniformed police walking into and out of the facility. There were a half dozen patrol cars in the lot. This was not the kind of place where she liked to hang out.
The intense heat disappeared when they stepped into the air conditioning of the jail's lobby. The waiting room was crowded with visitors, mostly women and children, talking quietly until they could see their incarcerated family members. Two small Latino girls, about three and five, played on the tile floor with a plastic pail and shovels intended for beach and sand.
"I wonder what will be their future," Sydney said softly. "Will the memories of visiting Daddy in jail follow them?"
Excerpted from No Regrets, No Remorse by R.F. Sharp Copyright © 2012 by R.F. Sharp. 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
Normally a romance reader I bought this on the title alone and wasn't in the least disappointed. The character development and plot was just what the title promised. Anyone who has ever wanted to see the victim get justice when it's been denied them will appreciate this story. Where is the Human Pest Control when you need it?