Stabbing in the Senate

Stabbing in the Senate

by Colleen J Shogan
Stabbing in the Senate

Stabbing in the Senate

by Colleen J Shogan


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Life is good for Kit Marshall. She's a staffer in D.C. for a popular senator, and she lives with an adoring beagle and a brainy boyfriend with a trust fund. Then, one morning, Kit arrives at the office early and finds her boss, Senator Langsford, impaled by a stainless steel replica of an Army attack helicopter. Panicked, she pulls the weapon out of his chest and instantly becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Circumstances back Kit's claim of innocence, but her photograph has gone viral, and the heat won't be off until the killer is found. Well-loved though the senator was, suspects abound. Langsford had begun to vote with his conscience, which meant he was often at odds with his party. Not only had the senator decided to quash the ambitions of a major military contractor, but his likely successor is a congressman he trounced in the last election. Then there's the suspiciously dry-eyed Widow Langsford. Kit's tabloid infamy horrifies her boyfriend's upper-crust family, and it could destroy her career. However, she and her free-spirited friend Meg have a more pressing reason to play sleuth. The police are clueless in more ways than one, and Kit worries that the next task on the killer's agenda will be to end her life. Book 1 in the Washington Whodunit series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603813310
Publisher: Camel Press
Publication date: 11/15/2015
Series: Washington Whodunit , #1
Pages: 238
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan is a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is the former deputy director of the Congressional Research Service and previously served as a staffer in the United States Senate. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American government at Georgetown University, Penn, and George Mason. Colleen is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her BA from Boston College and her doctorate from Yale. A member of Sisters in Crime, she lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband Rob Raffety and their rescue mutt, Conan.

Read an Excerpt


Ascending from the underground depths of the Metro, I confronted the alabaster dome in the distance. The sight never failed to leave me awestruck. It was an imposing reminder of the city's fundamental purpose. New York City has the Empire State Building, Paris the Eiffel Tower, and Washington, D.C., the Capitol Rotunda. The stillness of morning on the Hill was a rare gift. Only a few ambitious politicos beat the nine o'clock cattle call summoning over 10,000 congressional staffers to their lairs.

A gentle breeze blew mist from Columbus Fountain across my face as I strode toward the landmark. Debilitating heat would descend in a few hours. People forget that our nation's capital was built on a swamp. Stately monuments sit where the marshes once stood, yet the climate in July is reminiscent of the original ecosystem that thrived for thousands of years prior to the ascendancy of the political muck.

I silently congratulated myself for being early to work, atypical for me. After crossing Upper Senate Park, I arrived at the Hart Senate Office Building. The police at the staff entrance glanced at my official identification badge, and I hustled toward the elevator. I was alone in Hart's vast marble atrium. The only other obstacle was Alexander Calder's massive industrial fifty-foot statue of steel mountains and clouds. Unlike law firms and the military, Congress didn't subscribe to the "early to bed, early to rise" axiom.

I exited the elevator on the sixth floor and mechanically made the left turn down the hallway. My destination was the office of Senator Lyndon Langsford, a prominent New England legislator with a recent penchant for ignoring his fellow Democratic partisans and voting his conscience. His newfound independence had staffers like me scrambling to explain his complicated politics. Reaching for the glass door, decorated with Langsford's nameplate and the requisite state and American flags, I discovered it was locked. Muttering a few choice four-letter words, I rummaged through my purse for the office key. I couldn't remember the last time I'd used it. I found it in a zippered pocket, stuck to an unwrapped piece of chewing gum.

It was eerie entering the suite in silence. Our office was normally a constant buzz of activity and noise. After locating the light switch, I headed to my cubicle. Private offices were reserved for senior staffers who had toiled for countless years on Capitol Hill. My "office" was a small, semi-walled compartment with little privacy. Since I considered myself a person with few secrets, working in the open wasn't much of a sacrifice.

Senator Langsford needed a memorandum I was supposed to have written yesterday about an Appropriations Committee hearing later in the week on the renewal of a mega defense contract. It was my job to make sure he was prepared for that hearing. Langsford was the only senator on the committee who hadn't announced his position. So far he had refrained from public comment. He needed to read the background memo this morning so we could talk about it later in the day. I had printed it out the night before and my immediate supervisor signed off on it, but I missed the early evening deadline for getting memos to the senator prior to his departure. Most senators, Langsford included, didn't read memos via email. The only option had been to get him the memo as early as possible this morning.

I unlocked my file cabinet drawer, deposited my purse inside, grabbed the memo from underneath a stack of papers, and headed toward his private office. I zipped by the desk of the senator's personal assistant, situated right outside his sanctum. Even Kara, right-hand keeper of the inviolable senatorial schedule, still hadn't made an appearance.

The senator's office door was ajar, and I barreled forward to position my memo on the top of his "to read" pile of papers. Staffers weren't supposed to enter the senator's office without a reason. Kara might turn the corner any moment. If I could just slip in and out unnoticed, this memo would be the first document he read when he arrived for work.

I glanced toward the sitting area. A hand rested on the arm of a regal chair. The chair, turned away from me, faced the windows and a beautiful view of the Capitol grounds. Royal screw up. I wasn't the only person in the office. Senator Langsford was already here! He always arrived through a private entrance, not the main door. I had infiltrated his office unannounced. There was no way I could back out of the office gracefully.

I cleared my throat and stammered awkwardly, "Senator Langsford, I'm sorry, sir. It's Kit Marshall, Senator. I didn't quite finish up the Appropriations hearing memo before you left last night. I wanted to put it in your inbox this morning so you could read it, and if you'd like, we could discuss it later today or whenever."

No response. After a minute, I asked, "Would you like me to put it on your desk?" I waved the memo back and forth.

Lyndon Langsford was a suave politician who rarely missed a beat. That was why I enjoyed working for him. Nothing fazed him. Persistent protesters, disgruntled constituents, slimy lobbyists, and aggressive political reporters — he handled all with ease. In my thirty years on the planet, I wondered if I would ever manage to exude a fraction of his panache. Yet I never felt self-conscious around him. I waited for him to say something polite to let me off the hook for my transgression.

Utter silence. Was he asleep? It was an odd time for a power nap. Beads of sweat trickled down my neck, saturating the collar of my blouse. Senator Langsford was well-mannered, often to the extreme. Had he decided to give me the cold shoulder this morning? The stillness was stifling.

I could just put the memo on his desk, sidle out the door, and pretend I had never spoken. But I would not be able to work at my desk for the rest of the day, thinking Langsford was upset with me.

"Senator, I'm sorry," I repeated. "I feel terrible for interrupting you. Should I leave the memo on your desk so you can read it?"

I'm not sure how long I stood there. A few seconds seemed like an eternity. I noticed there was no physical reaction at all to my question. That was weird. If he was irritated, his body language should have indicated annoyance. He had to be asleep.

As I approached tentatively, I noticed crimson drops of blood on the thick carpeting of his office. His head was thrown back, and two vacant eyes stared at me. Lyndon Langsford wasn't giving me the cold shoulder. He was dead.


I stumbled around the armchair to look at Langsford straight on. A stainless steel replica of an Army attack helicopter protruded out of his chest. Dribbles of blood were oozing onto the propeller blades. It was a ghastly sight — a senior senator stabbed with a miniature prototype of a helicopter he had proudly helped fund for years with federal dollars. I wanted to run, but every muscle in my body was tense.

My next move was stupid. The only defense for my actions was a desperate belief that Senator Langsford had survived. I had watched too many Matlock reruns.

A burst of adrenaline propelled me into action. I grabbed the Apache model with my right hand. Pulling with all my strength, the helicopter came out of his chest more easily than I anticipated. I fell backward to the floor.

At this precise moment, Kara appeared. She saw me on the floor with a bloody model helicopter in my hands and looked puzzled. When she moved closer and spotted Senator Langsford dead in his chair, she screamed.

After a few high-pitched squeals, I realized she wasn't screaming for medical help. She was shrieking because she thought I was the killer. "Help me, there's a murderer in here, and she's killed the senator! Somebody help me!" Before I could explain to her what had happened, she ran out of the office.

I picked myself up off the ground and followed, still carrying the helicopter. The senator's press secretary and a few other people were gathering outside the office. The group stepped back once they spotted the bloodstained Apache in my hand.

Kara backed herself into the corner of her workspace, her fingers furiously punching the phone number for the Capitol Hill Police. She squawked into the phone and stared at me defiantly. The senator had been murdered, and the woman who killed him was still in the office.

Kara was the glue that held our office together. If a congressional office was dysfunctional, the source of woe was often situated in one of two places — with the member of Congress or the scheduler. The best staff could do little to mask an inept, frantic member of Congress. The most intelligent, dedicated member of Congress could accomplish little with an unhinged, disorganized scheduling assistant.

Kara was a terrific employee, though known for her dramatic flair in the office and her tendency to rule with an iron fist. New staffers feared her. She guarded Senator Langsford's appointments with extreme care. She was his lifeline, and that explained her meltdown. Each staffer in the office had a personal connection with Senator Langsford, but Kara knew as much as could be known without sharing physical intimacy. She had internalized every one of his preferences, from the type of breakfast bar he ate in the morning to his policy positions. Seeing his body had sent her over the edge.

As I took a few steps toward Kara, she yelled to a young male intern across the room, "Tackle her now! She killed the senator with that helicopter!"

Sam, barely out of college, had earbuds firmly in place and didn't hear Kara's order. His bewilderment gave me a chance to get a word in edgewise.

"Kara, I didn't kill him. I found Langsford in his office right before you walked in. I tried to save him!"

But Kara didn't wait for me to move closer. Lunging, she knocked the murder weapon out of my hand. It fell to the ground, breaking in half.

Two Capitol Hill Police officers stormed the office suite with guns drawn and commanded, "Put your hands where we can see them, and step out of the office immediately." Kara and I obliged, walking slowly out of the office. With blood on my hands, I was obviously the more likely culprit, and the officer immediately slapped handcuffs on me and pulled me into the hallway.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my best friend and office mate arrive for the day, clutching her Kate Spade bag, her blond bob perfect and her makeup flawless as ever. Meg's mouth hung open, as though gaping in shock but also forming a question. I just grimaced weakly, cutting her off before she could say a word.

"Meg, Senator Langsford is dead. I found him in his office. Call Doug and tell him I need one of his family's lawyers to sort this all out."

She couldn't quite process the news, but her hands obeyed. She grabbed her BlackBerry from her purse and typed furiously. Doug was my main squeeze. For many years we had an on-again/off-again relationship. Right now we were in the "on" phase and lived together. His family had considerable connections, and he could find a good criminal attorney if necessary.

Before anyone could ask what had happened, my immediate boss, Matt Rocker, arrived on the scene. With one of his legislative assistants crying and another in handcuffs, he probably thought he was in D.C. district court instead of the Senate office where he had worked for the past ten years.

I couldn't look Matt in the eyes. Although the senator's legislative staff argued incessantly about policy priorities and who got more precious time and resources for their assigned initiatives, we universally admired Matt and enjoyed working for him. Our chief of staff wasn't so certain about hiring me, but Matt had stood up for me. Standing in front of him in handcuffs compounded the misery of the current situation.

Matt was a slight guy in his late forties. His hair was sort of bushy, and he constantly tried to push it out of his eyes. It was a nervous habit. If Matt thought the senator was about to make the wrong decision on a vote or undertake a politically dangerous line of questioning at a hearing, he would tug at his hair, trying to get it to lie flat on his head. Now he was almost pulling it out of his scalp.

Matt gestured toward my handcuffs. "Are those absolutely necessary? Kit Marshall is a valued staffer in this office, and I doubt, with the police presence, she's a flight risk."

"Sorry, sir." The police officer shook his head. "This is a murder investigation. This woman was found at the scene holding what could be the murder weapon."

I tried to protest, but Matt cut me off. "Kit, stay quiet for now. This will be sorted out quickly. I have no idea what happened here, but I need to find Lucinda and Mandy." Matt was referring to our chief of staff, Lucinda Porter, and our press secretary, Mandy Lippman. Lucinda was his boss and had been friends with the senator for almost twenty years.

Above all else, Lyndon Langsford was a politician and therefore was often guided by mutually beneficial relationships. Lucinda knew the right people and had good connections. Every chief of staff on the Hill recognized Lucinda, and she received invitations to A-list Beltway soirees without fail. Furthermore, she had a Rolodex full of donors with big pockets. Profound policy ideas could come from people like Matt, Meg, and me, but politics is about "who you know," and everyone knew Lucinda.

Staff understood why the senator kept Lucinda around, yet the same couldn't be said for Mandy. Press secretaries often cultivated tenuous relationships with the policy gurus in a congressional office. Policy people cared about passing legislation and press folks cared about selling their boss's persona to voters, and rarely the twain shall meet. That said, Mandy was beyond unpopular in our office. In a nutshell, she was a typical Washington cliché, hunting to work for anyone she thought potentially powerful. If Langsford didn't meet her standards, she would switch jobs in a heartbeat.

Langsford had recently fostered a reputation as a political maverick. Nearing the twilight of his career, he had begun to buck the party leaders in the Senate, taking several controversial stances. Due to his unpredictable behavior, he had become a media darling and a favorite on the Sunday morning talk shows. Mandy showed up soon after Langsford's political stock had started to rise. She was more than an opportunist. The whole city was full of opportunists. Distaste for Mandy proliferated because she didn't bother to mask her unprincipled ambitions.

Not that I wasn't ambitious, too. Besides possessing raw political intuition that in my line of work passed for street smarts, the primary reason for my success on Capitol Hill was that I implicitly understood one basic fact. I worked for a senator, but I wasn't a senator. It seemed like an obvious concept, one too many people on the Hill failed to grasp. The problem with thinking of yourself as a quasi-member of Congress is that from time to time, your boss is going to take your advice and essentially flush it down the toilet. I understood that Senator Langsford made the final decision. The sooner a staffer realized how it works, the better.

That's what bugged me about Mandy. Pretty much everyone else who worked for Langsford had a "do-good" look in his or her eyes. He was famous for hiring people with small egos and a strong work ethic. I never figured out how Mandy had slipped through the cracks. Somehow she had managed to pull the wool over the senator's eyes. Unless ... perhaps Langsford could see perfectly well, given she was a silhouette size-four redhead who sauntered around the office in stiletto heels and skirts stretched tautly over her toned behind.

A moment later a chunky, middle-aged guy with a bald spot entered the hallway and checked in with the uniformed officers. They nodded and pointed in my direction. As the only person standing around in handcuffs, I was hard to miss.

The man walked over and introduced himself. "Hello, Kit. My name is Detective O'Halloran. I understand you have some information about what happened here. I need to get a statement from you, and the sooner, the better. In about ten minutes this story is going to leak. So how about we sit in a conference room here, and you tell me what you know?"

I hesitated. I wasn't a lawyer, but on television shows, the dumb suspects never ask for legal counsel and usually end up saying something incriminating. But I was innocent and had nothing to hide. One side of my brain said to take him up on his offer so I could clear my name. The other side said I needed to wait to hear from my boyfriend and the lawyer he would soon be dispatching.


Excerpted from "Stabbing in the Senate"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Colleen J. Shogan.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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.

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