Robert L Skidmore is the author of twenty-two novels.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.15(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Pay or PrayThe Odd Threesomes
By Robert L Skidmore
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Robert L Skidmore
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Wake up, lieutenant, your day is about to begin," Theresa, the major domo of the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Fairfax Police Department, announced her presence.
Chase Mansfield, who had been dozing with his feet propped on his desk and his head braced against the wall behind his chair, opened his eyes, glanced at Theresa, blinked twice, and closed them again.
"Very well," Theresa smiled. "I'll call the chief back and tell him."
"Tell him what?"
"That you are not interested in responding to his order to appear forthwith in his office."
"What's he want?"
"I don't know."
"Then ask Barney," Chase referred to his ostensible superior, Major Barney Hopkins, the Chief of the CIB. Barney, once one of Chase's subordinates, had been elevated to the position after Chase who preferred investigations to managing the bureaucracy had declined the promotion. Chase now served in a position he had created, Special Assistant to the CIB commander. He handled sensitive investigations usually assigned directly by Chief Raymond Arthur when Chase did not stumble on them directly from his closet sized office adjacent to the CIB reception room dominated by Theresa.
"I can ask the chief to ask him if you wish," Theresa smiled.
Chase waited for Theresa to explain. Theresa did not. Instead, she turned and returned to her desk. Chase sighed and followed. He found Theresa posing with her hand on the phone.
"How long has Barney been in the chief's office?" Chase asked.
"Shall I tell them you are on your way?" Theresa asked, enjoying their role reversal. Usually, she was the one futilely trying to get Chase to tell her what was happening.
Chase shrugged and headed for the elevator.
"Go right in, lieutenant. They are waiting for you," the chief's secretary greeted him.
"Who's in there?" Chase asked.
The secretary answered by pointing her thumb at the closed door. Chase tapped once and entered to find the chief, Barney, and an oversized, muscular male sitting on the upholstered furniture in the chief's conversational corner that he reserved for conversations with visiting dignitaries.
Chief Raymond Arthur, who had commanded the CIB when Chase had first made detective some twenty years previously, nodded, and turned to the visitor, "Special Agent Cotton, Lieutenant Mansfield, finally."
The stranger turned and glanced at Chase. He inclined his head but did not speak or offer his hand. Chase nodded back, sat down in the last empty chair, and waited for someone to explain. Finally, the chief broke the silence.
"I assume you are aware of the incident at George Mason last night."
"No, sir," Chase answered honestly.
The chief frowned and turned to Barney. "Major, I assumed you discussed it at your morning staff meeting."
Barney deferred to Chase with a glance.
Chase who seldom attended Barney's morning staff meetings did not react.
"Packard and Whitten handled the call," Barney did not directly address the chief's remark.
"Both experienced detectives," the chief spoke to the silent visitor.
"Chief, as I noted, that is not an issue," Cotton said. "We will take over the investigation, and your department need not concern itself."
"And as I noted, Special Agent Cotton," the chief said. "George Mason University is located in Fairfax County, and we will handle the investigation. Given the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security's tangential interest, you may assign one of your officers to work with Lieutenant Mansfield."
Chase looked at Barney who smiled.
"Now, if you will excuse me, I will leave you and the lieutenant to work out the details."
Chase, who did not have a clue what was happening, obediently stood up.
"Major," the chief grimaced. "If I could have a moment of your time."
Barney obediently remained seated.
Chase started for the door, where he paused with his hand on the knob. He turned and looked at the frowning visitor, waiting for him to recognize that he had been dismissed.
Cotton stared at the chief who ignored him. Chase opened the door and stepped into the reception room where he winked at the secretary. By the time he reached the door to the hall, the angry, red-faced visitor stormed out of the inner office.
"Special Agent Cotter," Chase said, deliberately using the wrong surname. "If you would join me in my office, we can discuss the parameters of our limited cooperation." Chase, like most of his fellow police officers, had a congenital dislike of federal officers.
"Cotton," the angry man corrected.
"Like the gin," Chase smiled.
"Lieutenant, you and your chief have just committed professional suicide," Cotton declared, ignoring Chase's feeble attempt at humor by referring to Eli Whitney's cotton gin, a local invention that stimulated an agricultural revolution.
As a native Virginian, Chase had learned of the cotton gin very early in his grade school education. Eli Whitney meant nothing to him personally; the name of the inventor had been the first thing that had popped into his mind when the visitor had made an issue of his surname.
The two secretaries greeted Cotton's comment with applause. Chase ignored the fact they were approving of Special Agent's Cotton's threat, bowed in the direction of the applause, and started for the elevator leaving the visitor in the chief's reception room. Officious FBI special agents ranked very low on his deference scale. Quite coincidentally, the elevator door opened before Chase could push the button. He waited for two smiling county employees to exit and entered. Just as the door started to close behind him, a huge paw caught it, and Major Barney Hopkins joined Chase in the elevator.
"That didn't take long," Chase said.
"It doesn't take the chief long to give a six word order."
Chase pushed the second floor button but did not ask the question he assumed Barney was waiting for him to ask.
They rode in silence until the door opened.
"Don't you really want to know?" Barney asked.
"Know what?" Chase asked innocently.
Barney shrugged and led the way down the hall to their CIB offices where Theresa greeted them with a smile and waited to be briefed.
"Please have Bruce and Charles join us," Barney ordered.
A disappointed Theresa frowned but pointed with a thumb in the direction of Barney's office on her right.
Barney turned left and Chase right, deliberately pretending he did not understand he was to participate.
"Please join us lieutenant," Barney called over his shoulder, ignoring Chase's gesture. "I'm confident the chief would want us to brief you forthwith."
Chase winked at Theresa as he followed Barney into his office and closed the door behind him, knowing that would aggravate Theresa even more. Barney sat down at his desk, nodded at the two detectives, Packard and Whitten, whose faces showed the wear of a long night. Barney sat behind his desk, waited for Chase to take a seat, and then spoke.
"The chief dismissed us with a terse command: 'Don't let Mansfield screw this investigation up," Barney smiled.
"That's seven words," Chase blurted.
"So who around here can count?" Barney countered.
"Do those seven little words mean we can dump this mess on the lieutenant's desk?" Packard asked. Both detectives knew that Mansfield preferred to work alone.
"Yes," Barney answered.
"I don't like sentences that end in a preposition," Chase observed.
"Take it with the chief up," Barney smiled.
Before Chase could think of a reply that ended in a preposition, the intercom buzzed.
"Yes, Theresa," Barney said, gracefully, aware that his secretary was dying to know what happened in the chief's office. He also knew that speaking to her was like using a loudspeaker. Confidentiality was not a word in Theresa's vocabulary. Her access to the department's secretarial grapevine was useful at times but required judicious management.
"Special Agent Cotton would like a word," Theresa announced.
"Please have Special Agent Cotton join us," Barney said.
The door opened, and the red-faced, heavy set Irishman with the physique of a NFL linebacker charged into the room. He glanced at the assembled detectives but did not acknowledge them. "We've got to establish some ground rules," he spoke directly to Barney, the Chief of the Fairfax CIB who presided from behind his scarred and paper littered desk.
"Special Agent Cotton, let me introduce Detectives Packard and Whitten who were first on the crime scene, and you may recall Lieutenant Mansfield, who you just met in the chief's office," Barney said, ignoring Cotton's attempt to establish an agenda. "I caution you that Lieutenant Mansfield is never the first at any scene."
Cotton frowned as he nodded at the others before he returned his attention to Barney. Before Cotton could speak, Barney continued: "Your sudden appearance, though unscheduled, is timely. Detectives Whitten and Packard were just about to brief Lieutenant Mansfield and me on the results of their investigation. You may join us and contribute as you wish."
"You're wasting your time. As I told your chief, this is now a federal case," Cotton declared.
"And as the chief told you, Lieutenant Mansfield will head the investigation and the Bureau can assign an officer to work with him if it chooses," Barney said.
"That's not the last word," Cotton said. He turned and stared defiantly at Chase, obviously expecting him to comment, but Chase ignored him and silently deferred to Barney.
Barney in turn waited for Cotton to react. Chase and the two detectives smiled as they watched the outnumbered but not intimidated Cotton, who clearly was a man accustomed to having his way. After a full minute of silence, Cotton sat heavily in a chair near the door. Although obviously furious, he said nothing more.
"Charles, James, the floor is yours," Barney ignored the visitor's brooding posturing.
Packard and Whitten exchanged amused glances; Whitten deferred to his senior partner with a nod.
Whitten took a notebook from his pocket, opened it, and addressed Chase.
"At exactly twelve thirty-five last night the George Mason campus police duty officer called to report a homicide. Pack and I were up next on the wheel, and we responded. The duty officer met us at the front gate and escorted us to," Whitten consulted his notebook, "Robinson Hall A, where," Whitten smiled, "we learned they indeed had a homicide on their hands. In a chair, actually. A cleaning lady a short time before entered a second floor office to do her thing and was shocked to find one of their professors slumped in a chair behind his desk with a bullet hole in his forehead and a second in his chest. She immediately retreated, called the campus police who in turn alerted us. As soon as we made our preliminary survey-it appears we have a pristine crime scene-we summoned the techs. The victim, a Professor Thomas Hamid Jesperson," Whitten smiled when he stressed the odd middle name, was a male who appeared to be in his late forties. We subsequently spoke with his chairman who had nothing but praise for Doctor Jesperson, describing him as a cornerstone of their department of history where he specialized in the Near East. Jesperson was a published author who in the past had served as an area consultant to the Congress and the White House; most recently he taught graduate seminars and concentrated on his writing. He has a book coming out soon which the department head anticipated would attract considerable attention."
Whitten paused and looked at Chase. "Of course you know a lot more about something like that than either Pack or I do."
Chase reacted coldly. Whitten referred to the fact that Chase was a published author, an avocation that Chase did not discuss at the office, and Whitten knew it. A confirmed bachelor, Chase enjoyed writing in his spare time and his modest success as an author of mystery novels was something that he tried to keep completely separate from his professional life as a police officer. Although he made a concerted effort never to let his writing intrude on his career, particularly never used actual cases as material for his creative efforts, he knew that others, either because they might be jealous of his success in either realm or because they did not like his admittedly difficult personality, would use the odd mixture to denigrate him. The chief was aware of Chase's literary output under the pseudonym Travis Crittenden, and, unfortunately, thanks probably to Theresa, many others in the department were also knowledgeable. Chase, however, determinedly never publicly admitted to the fact that his vocation and avocation coincided.
Whitten, Packard and Barney all smiled but did not comment. Barney considered Chase, who had once been his supervisor, a friend, and indulged him while Whitten and Packard enjoyed provoking Chase but never explicitly challenged him because no one knew how he might react. Cotton, despite his own personality shortcomings, was astute enough to recognize unspoken byplay when he heard it, did not know what was going on, but filed the observation away just in case it might prove useful as he anticipated that he and Mansfield would undoubtedly clash in the future.
"The department head told us that Jesperson was a bachelor who lived alone. He could not identify a single friend or associate who was close to the victim. He described Jesperson as an academic loner who lived for his work. In the chairman's opinion, Jesperson was not a natural teacher, did not particularly enjoy working the classroom, and merely tolerated the students. Research and writing were his milieu. He had over the past few years after the modest success of his early books had withdrawn to the point where he had reduced his classroom work to highly specialized graduate seminars. In fact, Jesperson had devoted the past academic year in Iran to researching his new book."
"Did the department head provide any interesting leads?" Barney asked.
"Just one. Last night Jesperson had a prominent guest. It seems that Jesperson and the current Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, James Howard Townsend, were old college buddies, and Townsend responded to a Jesperson invitation to address a select group of graduate students and faculty members of George Mason last night. Townsend did so, and after the session the two retreated behind the closed door of Jesperson's office to share a drink and apparently rehash old times."
"What does Townsend say about that?" Barney asked.
"And this is where I come into the story," Cotton interrupted.
"Not yet," Whitten replied.
Cotton smiled but did not comment.
After a pause, Whitten continued. "There were two glasses and an almost empty bottle of something called Araq on the victim's desk, but no other sign of the alleged visitor, Townsend. The techs were preoccupied, and we were trying to make sense of the scene when two excited Feds who identified themselves as members of Townsend's security detail appeared demanding to see their boss." Whitten paused, obviously enjoying the enhanced interest of Barney and Chase, particularly the latter who was pretending to be bored by the process.
"And where was he?" Barney asked the obvious question.
"Who the hell knows?" Whitten answered. "I told the Feds we wanted to chat with Townsend too. When I observed that Townsend was our number one, our only suspect, they laughed and departed with their tails between their legs."
"Very funny," Cotton said. "After you inform the major that the Secretary of Homeland Security is missing, his wife is in hysterics, the White House is involved, and we have a priority search underway, I will have something to say to this august group."
"Do you think the Honorable Secretary murdered the professor?" Barney asked with a straight face.
Cotton ignored the question.
"We definitely want to talk with Secretary Townsend when he reappears," Chase joined the discussion.
Cotton stared coldly at Mansfield while he digested the remark. Suddenly, he smiled as he realized the implications of what the Fairfax lieutenant had just said.
"Agreed," Cotton nodded. "Fairfax investigates the homicide, and we handle the secretary's disappearance. I'll give you a call when the secretary is ready to chat."
Excerpted from Pay or Pray by Robert L Skidmore Copyright © 2011 by Robert L Skidmore. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.