FBI AGENTS TOM MERRITT AND STEVE FRANKANO aren’t accomplices to murder, but they’re beginning to feel that way. As they watch a young woman’s mangled body being removed from a landfill, they know who committed the crime. They also know he’s an evil man of powera politician who stays beneath the law enforcement radar. And yet they can’t arrest and convict him.
Because the murderer is also guilty of treason,
the US government waits in hopes that the treason is what will ultimately bring down the man in question, retired US Air Force Colonel
Simon Moss. Moss is a charismatic official who is climbing the political ladder. On the side, he’s also selling secrets to the Syrian government. If
Merritt and Frankano bring him in for murder,
how will they catch Moss’s Syrian connection?
It’s not an easy war being waged as espionage takes precedence over cold-blooded killing.
The FBI watches and waits as more innocent lives are lost, but the law can’t wait forever.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.35(d)|
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ONE HAND on the PODIUM
By John E. Harper
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 John E. Harper
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART ONE Alex Spencer
Flies and maggots feasted on the open wounds of the nude female body that workers were exhuming from under piles of landfill garbage. The young woman's wrists and ankles were bound together behind her back with twine. On that thick, muggy July morning, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Tom Merritt, and his partner, Steve Frankano, stood in the mist from the dense fog hugging the mounds of refuge. They looked on in disgust at the victim's bloated, pale gray naked body, holding handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses to cope with the rotten stench, their eyes watering, as police search teams and their dogs scavenged the area for further evidence.
"Jesus, that's horrible." The agents walked back to their car and leaned against the front fender. "Is she the girl we've been looking for?" Merritt asked.
"'Fraid so," Frankano muttered. He had a habit of running his hands over his clean shaven head as if he hoped he'd find the black waves he'd once had. He'd shaven it on his fortieth birthday, refusing to opt for a comb-over like his dad.
Merritt looked down, shaking his head at his mud-covered shoes. He picked up a stick and scraped each one as clean as he could get them.
"Well, Tom," Frankano asked, "what do you think?" Frankano found an unbuttoned button on his shirt and stuck his forefinger through it to scratch an itch on his large dark black hairy stomach that nagged at him right then. He didn't worry that anyone might have seen his stomach showing through, since his dress habits weren't much better than his sloppy housekeeping at his home back in Maryland. Except for his drinking binges, Frankano had many other personality traits that were more redeeming, so his close friends and associates easily overlooked his grooming.
"I'll tell you what I think," Merritt said as he tossed the stick aside. "I think this whole investigation has gotten out of hand." He looked at his partner, then raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips.
"I agree with you, Tom. But there's not much we can do except wait."
"Damn it, Steve, come on. You saw what he did to her. She's been mutilated, for Christ's sake!" Merritt rubbed his red-bearded chin and looked at his fingers to see if any mud was on them. Then he did it again, to be sure. "We promised this little Illinois farm girl we would protect her and we failed. We're responsible for this. We fucked up, big time."
"I'm not blind to what's going on here, Tom," Frankano said. "I know how you feel. It's very frustrating for me too. But we came here to do our job and that's what we are going to do."
"I'm not sure anymore, Steve. I don't think it's our job to stand by and let this continue," Merritt said. "This is a whole new thing, right? How long can we let this go on?"
"I wish I knew, Tom. I really wish I knew."
"Well, I'm ready to get out of here and head back home to Maryland. I never liked the Midwest. It's so fucking depressing here. Besides, I miss my wife and kids," Merritt revealed. "Jenny wants me home for my twin's birthdays this year. I've missed it the last few years."
"I'm ready to get out of here too. I'm supposed to report in to the Washington Bureau tonight to get our next orders. Hopefully a decision will be made soon."
Merritt paused, looked around, then over at Frankano. "Your shirt's unbuttoned, Steve." He nodded his head indicating the open button hole.
Frankano clumsily looked down over his big belly, making a face with his mouth as though to help him see better, "Oh, yeah, I knew that." He didn't bother buttoning it.
"Does the agency realize the extent of what this guy is doing, Steve?"
"Yeah, Tom, 'fraid so. They know everything."
* * *
An old fighter jet plane, used in the Vietnam War, a useless piece of machinery, was still listed in Washington's inventory database and had to be accounted for, something no one was able to do, at least up until now. The Pentagon sent their man, Spencer, to locate it and take inventory of all its parts.
The hotel clerk waited patiently for Alex Spencer to sign the register. At six-one and a hundred eighty-five pounds, Alex towered over the clerk, but his baby face easily knocked ten years off his thirty-five years. He had just arrived in St. Louis along with his new bride, Mary, for what was a combination honeymoon and assignment.
"Here she comes now. Mary! Mary! Over here!"
"Hi, Sweetheart. Almost done?"
"You bet. We're just finishing up here."
"Here's your key, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer. You have a lovely room on the tenth floor, real nice, great view. I've written the number here, on your key holder," he said, indicating room 1011. "We hope you enjoy your stay."
"Thank you, uh—," Alex stooped to read the clerk's name tag, "—Robert."
"If you need anything, don't hesitate to call the front desk or room service. We do our best to accommodate."
"Okay then. Ready, Mary? Do you want to take the small suitcases and leave me the others?"
Robert quickly interrupted, "Oh, no, no, no, please, the bellman will bring the bags to your room. You let us do the work. We want you to enjoy your stay."
The couple smiled at each other. Holding hands, they turned towards the elevators, headed to their room.
* * *
Word had reached Alex's supervisors at the Pentagon that a retired Air Force colonel, Simon Moss, who still kept an unofficial office at Scott Air Force Base, located near Belleville, Illinois, about twenty-five miles east of downtown St. Louis, knew the whereabouts of the missing jet. Alex's assignment was to find the colonel, talk to him, and inventory the airplane's parts.
Under normal circumstances, Alex Spencer would not have been the person sent from Washington to investigate this sort of thing. Procedure required someone with much more experience than he had, with very little other than a few minor-league investigations in the D.C. area.
Alex had worked as an intern at the Pentagon through a program at his university during his senior year in college.
A career military man, a staff sergeant, recognized Alex's ambition and intelligence and took him under his wing in the press briefings department at the Department of Defense (DOD), where Alex could use his communications degree. Alex loved that job and enjoyed working closely with his mentor. But after five years on that job, the sergeant was reassigned to Iraq during the Gulf War, and Alex found himself reassigned to a more mundane position, researching for the DOD library in the archives and records department.
Alex was low man on the totem pole and never seemed to make his mark. But any time the opportunity presented itself, he vied for a better, more responsible job, working on more visible projects. After three years passed, a new supervisor, a civilian, was aware of, and appreciated Alex's motivation and also his willingness to take on more than his share. His boss gave him this plumb assignment without hesitation when it came up. Alex's wedding plans and honeymoon trip to Chicago had been in the works for quite awhile when the assignment arose. His superiors asked if he would detour first to St. Louis for a couple days and stop at the Air Force Base before heading to the Windy City for his honeymoon. To sweeten the request, the Pentagon would foot the entire bill for the plane fare.
Alex jumped at the opportunity and convinced Mary it would not affect their honeymoon plans. Rumor had it the colonel was up to something more deviate than what was on the surface, and probably couldn't be trusted. This was a high- visibility case. The daily drudgery of Alex's desk job could not compare to this. He figured this was his big chance to prove to those in charge he could handle an important job and maybe it would prove to be the impetus his superiors needed to promote him to a much-coveted field investigator position.
* * *
Alex and Mary entered their suite. True to Robert's description, its location in the hotel held a sweeping view of the St. Louis downtown riverfront and the Gateway Arch. They removed their coats and walked around the room, taking in all the details. Mary was in awe of the decor and amenities. It seemed the interior design team had overlooked nothing. Alex turned on a small lamp sitting on the corner of a desk next to the king-sized bed.
"This is really nice, Alex," Mary said with an innocent, excited glow as she bounced her small, shapely frame on the bed.
"No kidding," he answered, eyeing his bride. Alex was madly in love with Mary. In all his years of dating her, he had always been captivated by her looks. She had long blond hair that she usually wore tied back in a cute, bouncy ponytail. Her eyes were brown and her full lips shone with soft red lip gloss. Her teeth were bright white and almost perfectly straight. She created higher cheek bones with her rouge and darkened her brown eyebrows to accent her eyes. She wasn't drop dead beautiful, but she was pretty and she took great care to present herself in public that way. Her breasts were large and her stomach flat. Alex always complimented her on what she wore. She liked it when he did.
Alex had a certain amount of insecurity about him that normally made it necessary to choose a partner who didn't garner a lot of attention from other men. He had a jealous streak and hated when Mary had lunch or private meetings with other men. But for the most part, he felt safe with her. Maybe it was because he felt she truly loved him.
Alex was easily aroused when she tossed her head, flipping her hair back and glancing at him over her shoulder in that sexy way she had. In return, he told her — maybe more often than he should have but he couldn't help spoiling her — that she was pretty and he loved her madly. She liked that too.
Mary lay back on the bed, her blue-flowered cotton dress hiked up, revealing her thighs. He wanted to pull off her pantyhose, to feel the warmth of her skin against his.
"Lock the door," she told him. He immediately went to the door and locked it, then walked back to Mary while unbuttoning his shirt. She lay very still on the bed watching him in the dimming daylight. It was almost six. The St. Louis streetlights flickered on in the streets below and the room was filled with shadows cast from the small table lamp.
Alex removed his clothes and let them fall to the floor beside the bed, never taking his eyes off her. His naked body glistened with nervous anticipation as their eyes met. The message they conveyed held the longing for one another they had denied the past few years.
* * *
Mary Spencer had saved herself for this moment. Alex was not her first relationship. She had sex with other men before meeting him. But after a lousy relationship with a man who led her on about getting married, she rediscovered her Catholic faith after she unceremoniously dumped him. She promised herself that she would never again have premarital sex and made it clear to Alex when they first met that her faith forbade it.
It was a hard pill for Alex to swallow, especially since he knew she had slept with her previous boyfriend, but he came to the conclusion that Mary was the girl he would spend the rest of his life with and he sincerely respected her beliefs and wishes. Since he came from a Catholic family, too, he had no problem understanding, and eventually accepting her wishes. He began to learn more than he ever knew before about being a practicing Catholic. It made them even closer than he could imagine. They were on this journey together, and he respected her, doing his best to maintain his self-control when they were together. It was tough.
This was the day he had waited for and Mary knew how important it was to him. She was ready.
* * *
He reached down to her feet, then carefully removed her shoes and pushed them aside. She felt her passion building, her body crying out for him.
Alex leaned into the sweet scent of her perfume and reached under her dress, all the way to her waist. His warm fingers, without pausing, found the elastic waistband of her panty hose and slowly pulled them down. She lifted herself slightly to allow him to get them past her small, shapely hips. He smiled as though to thank her for assisting. Mary breathed deeply, her well-endowed chest about to burst through her buttoned- up dress.
"Oh, Alex, I love you," she moaned.
"You're my beautiful girl, Mary. You're my one and only," he whispered.
Her eyes begged for him, but he continued, slowly, moving her legs apart enough to reveal what he had been so anxiously waiting for. His knees touched the end of the bed as he lowered himself between her trembling limbs. He pressed his face to her soft skin, kissing her flat belly, and teasing her with his tongue then moved lower. Mary placed her hands on his head and let her fingers gently massage his thick scalp as he sought the spot that took her breath away.
With one hand stroking her thigh, he let the other find the tiny buttons where the front of her dress covered her chest. Seconds later he was vigorously squeezing her right breast.
"Easy, easy, Baby," she moaned in pain, grabbing his hand for a moment.
He lifted his face to look up at her. "I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?"
She smiled and pushed his head back where it had been, then placed the end of his fingers where they were before, getting them started in a slow circling motion. She moaned her approval and tilted her head back, eyes closed, enjoying the sensation.
* * *
When Alex first met Mary in Washington she was a congressional assistant on Capitol Hill. They had come in contact with each other through telephone conversations. One of his duties was to pass on certain information from his department to some of the Congressmen. Mary's job was to insure the information got to the proper people. Eventually, after more than a few phone conversations, Alex's curiosity got the best of him. He was attracted to Mary's soothing, quiet voice, and made excuses to call her just so he could hear it. Eventually he got brave enough to ask her out to dinner and a play. She showed little enthusiasm toward his first offer, but after meeting him, it was love at first sight.
Mary told all her friends her relationship with Alex was like a fairy tale romance. Her girl-friend, back in Washington, knew everything she had been through in her previous troubled relationships and was a sounding board to Mary's late-night phone calls. She was always there to listen and offer Mary support.
From the moment they met, Alex and Mary were inseparable. Even after Mary quit her job to continue her education, there wasn't a day they weren't together. They grew to be the perfect pair.
* * *
Mary touched Alex's back with her soft fingers, sending shivers through his body. Just then, someone knocked on the door. Alex sat up, feeling clumsy and irritated by the interruption. Mary grabbed at the material of her dress and pulled it down to cover herself, worried someone would just walk right in, even though she had seen Alex lock the door earlier.
"Who is it?" Alex called out as he moved towards the door.
"Bellman, Mr. Spencer," a young boy's voice answered.
"I have your luggage, sir."
Alex turned to Mary, smiled and whispered, "Oh, yes, of course." He turned to face the door, "Just one moment, please."
"You take care of him, Alex. I'm going into the bathroom and getting rid of this dress. Come get me when he's gone."
"Good idea. I won't be long," Alex smiled. He would make this short.
Mary got up from the bed and began to undo the remaining buttons on her dress as she made her way to the bathroom in the corner of the suite. Alex put his trousers back on; carefully pulling up the zipper to avoid pinching himself, then opened the door.
The bellman walked into the room with their luggage and set it on the floor next to the bed, realizing what he had interrupted when he saw the disheveled covers on the bed. As Alex handed him a five-dollar tip, he had to keep himself from laughing when he saw the bellman's blushing face.
Excerpted from ONE HAND on the PODIUM by John E. Harper Copyright © 2011 by John E. Harper. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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