Sterling Morris reaches across the aisle to select Kaki Smithson as his Presidential running mate, uniting a polarized nation. But when an assassin's bullet leaves the new President critically wounded in New Orleans' Charity Hospital, tenacious journalist Ronnie Tamlin set her sights on a conspiracy and gives it a name: The BENEFACTORS - an organization that may have orchestrated Kaki's rise to power and Sterling's fall - and the consequences may prove fatal.
Flashback to 1945:
WWII is coming to a close. The Nazis and the Japanese have looted their empires and are secreting vast treasure. Leading the ranks of the OSS, three brazen agents, Herbert Mannington, Anthony Laperose, and Charles Constantine aid the U.S. to victory and in doing so, commandeer unimaginable wealth. As the world rebuilds, these well-intentioned renegades remain determined to establish a new world order while the pull of unfettered power begins to erode their sense of direction.
The Gold Factor, the first in the series and based on real events, is a twisting tale of intrigue that follows the rise of The BENEFACTORS, the legacy of a man who would see them stopped dead in their tracks, and the lives of four women entangled in a plot to assassinate a modern-day President.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.89(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Wesley Miller, Jeff Callan
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 MCAG Financial Management, LLC.
All rights reserved.
HOUSTON, TEXAS—MARCH 1928
Herbert Irwin Mannington—HIM to his friends—rotated a glass between his thumb and forefinger on the bar at Cora's Place off McKinney Avenue. He watched the illegal beer swirl around inside, pushing the remaining foam in small waves like incoming surf. The huge goon behind him roared with laughter and chewed on Mannington's nerves. The union man spewed anecdote after anecdote about putting screws to the rail line owners to get their demands met. Mannington ground his teeth with each bloated guffaw.
"We got them to bend over hard, and the first scab across the line went to the hospital with a bagful of his own teeth," the goon laughed.
Mannington set his beer down on the bar. He knew the guy they were laughing about, a family man with four young kids. HIM was all of six foot one, athletic, good looking, with a brush haircut. The goon was humongous and might easily outmatch him. The bluster continued, and Mannington's restraint continued to erode. Against his better judgment, he spun off his stool to face the drunken giant. "You sound pretty proud of yourself, asshole."
The goon, standing about six-four, with a meaty jaw and hands the size of pie plates, glared back and sized his antagonist up and down. "Butt out, pretty boy, or you won't be so pretty going home to Mama."
The two were quickly nose to nose. The other patrons spread and circled, expecting a cockfight.
"The puke got what he deserved!" the goon spat.
"You apes need to learn that might doesn't make right."
"Wanna bet, you little pri—" The goon lashed out to grab a piece of his challenger but never finished his sentence.
Like lightning, HIM cut a convincing feint to the monster's midsection. The goon's hands dropped to cover, and he never saw the left hook coming. HIM heard the goon's jaw crack, and the man fell to the floor in a pile.
The place began to erupt. A second later, the bartender slapped a scattergun down on the counter and diffused the situation. A couple of locals worked to peel the fallen man off the floor and led him to the door as he moaned and slurred threats along the way.
The bar settled down, and HIM went searching for the last of his beer. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He snapped around, hands cocked.
"Whoa! Whoa!" A guy in suit, tie loose at his neck, offered his palms. "Just wanna talk." He introduced himself as Randall Devers, representing the Bureau of Investigation—the BOI.
HIM sighted a path to the door and considered bolting on the spot.
Devers caught the situation and padded the air with his palms. "How would you like to put a badge and the weight of the federal government behind that left hook of yours, son?"
Mannington was between jobs; an athlete and star quarterback in high school, he'd been working at a local garage but got let go after a fight with the owner's son. Devers asked about his interest in academics, specifically in law and math. Mannington looked down, rubbed the reddened knuckles of his left hand, and smiled. "Uh, athletics and looks are pretty much what I've been relying on," he said. With an absentee father and mother working two jobs, he saw his prospects growing thin, and being on the menial end of a shovel wouldn't satisfy his ambitions. He didn't own a suit, but he decided that a career that required one held more promise than one that didn't. He recalled seeing a bureau recruiting poster with a smartly dressed agent sporting a sharp fedora and pistol, who leaned off the running board of a shiny black car, and he admitted to being intrigued.
They chatted for a few more minutes until the bartender caught Mannington's attention. "Union's got friends downtown, HIM. They'll be coming for you."
Randall pulled out his card, jotted his hotel and telephone number on the back, and slipped it into Mannington's hand. "I leave for Washington in the morning. Pack a bag and meet me for the first train out."
"I'll think about it."
* * *
Mannington kept to the back streets and made his way home. Peering around the last corner, he spied a Lincoln Phaeton touring sedan, an asset of the Houston Police Department, idling outside his apartment. Across the street, another sedan sat surrounded by four civilians milling on high alert, no doubt friends of the broken jaw, union roughnecks. Mannington eased back, made his way to a pay telephone, and dialed Devers's hotel. The operator put him through to the hotel switchboard that patched him to Randall's room. "I want to sign up," he said. "Tonight."
"Great. You can head to Washington with me in the morning."
"No, it's gotta be tonight," Mannington said.
"If you need a place to stay, I can put you up in a hotel."
Mannington thought about it and checked his watch. "No. Houston North Shore has a coach to Baytown tonight. I'll be on it."
Devers agreed to meet him at the station. "I forgot to ask. How old are you, son?"
Devers sighed. "Congratulations—you just turned twenty-two. I'll back you up. Got it, Herbert?"
"Yeah, sure." Then, before he hung up, he said, "HIM."
"What? Him who?" Devers asked.
"Herbert Irwin Mannington, h-i-m ... my friends call me HIM." He dropped the handset in the cradle and immediately picked it up again. He should call his mother. Just then, a car passed by with its headlamps off. He kept his back to it, listening for it to slow, ready to run, if necessary. The car moved along down the street. He set the handset back down without dialing and took off for the station.
The train would eventually get HIM to Washington. Three months later, he was back on a train bound for New Orleans for his first field assignment.
* * *
HIM spent his first few weeks tagging along on a number of prostitution raids for violations of the Mann Act and several arrests at the port of New Orleans to close down smuggling operations—everything from liquor to immigrants. Eventually assigned a partner, he was paired with a seasoned field agent named Donald Parker, and began work in earnest for the bureau. On a tip, they investigated alleged corruption and fraud involving local officials and the dockworkers' union. The lead came from a scab who crossed a union picket line and later took a heavy beating for it. Beatings, coercion, and extortion were common themes with the unions and added to HIM's resolve to take them on when opportunities arose. They met the scab in an alley off Canal Street.
"You'f no idea who you dealing wit," the scab said through a busted lip and a couple of missing teeth.
"Why don't you fill us in, and we'll bring it back to the guys that did this to you." Parker said, and he wasn't kidding. Watching his work, HIM decided that Parker was committed and tougher than most of the roughnecks they arrested. Being the nephew of former governor John M. Parker afforded Parker some clout and political cover for the harsh tactics he often employed; not that he needed much cover. New Orleans was bubbling with opportunity for the bureau to flex its muscle, and Hoover gave his agents sufficient leeway to get the job done, even if that meant bending the rules a bit.
Squinting like a swollen raccoon, the scab referred them to Father Eugene Vermette, a priest who ran a small chapel and soup kitchen near the waterfront. "Heesh in with the bigs, knows who's who. You ash him about da dinner, y'hear?"
"We're not going over there to enjoy a bowl of soup," HIM cut in.
The scab scowled and then winced. He raised one soiled finger to Parker. "Just ask about the da dinner."
They found Father Vermette behind the soup line. He waved the agents into the kitchen and through a door into the back of the Chapel of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of fishermen. The priest shifted uneasily when Parker mentioned the scab.
"Tell us about the dinner," Parker said.
Father Vermette sighed aloud, drifted to the door to ensure that it was closed, pressed his ear to it, and then brushed his long, narrow fingers down the sides of his cassock. Anguish pulled at his jaw and the corners of his eyes. The priest wavered for another moment and then leaned in to the two of them.
"Tomorrow night, there is a dinner at the Restaurant Mandich in Bywater. The mayor, the union, and others you will recognize will be there." He looked each agent in the eye. "You get an ear in that conversation, and if you have the stomach, maybe you can do something about it."
They left the chapel and grabbed dinner at a small dive in the Vieux Carré. They dropped into a booth and ordered gumbo and sweet tea. Parker got up to use the pay telephone at the back of the place.
The bureau extended its reach by putting its own pay telephones into private clubs, restaurants, and speakeasies, indistinguishable from the public versions. As the law did not require a warrant to wiretap a privately owned telephone, the practice led to many arrests and leads for the bureau. HIM wondered if the phone at the back may have been one of them and then decided that it would fit Parker's style to avoid a company phone.
Parker returned just as the waitress dropped two bowls of steaming crawfish gumbo down in front of them. "All set," he said.
"All set for what?"
"Your date for tomorrow night, with a front-row seat for the mayor and his pals."
HIM grinned. "Who's the lucky lady? And she'd better not look like my aunt Agnes."
Parker's face cracked into a broad grin. "My boy, she makes the kaiser look like a prom queen."
The following night, they rolled a bureau-owned '26 Buick up Claude Avenue, arriving early, just ahead of nine o'clock. They parked one block up from the Restaurant Mandich in a spot with a good view of the entrance. Parker went in to secure seating in the booth next to the dignitaries, which Vermette told them was always reserved in the largest booth at the back of the place. Parker returned, and the two of them waited for HIM's date to arrive.
HIM shifted uneasily. "What if something goes wrong and they get on to me?" He imagined himself sitting there with a strange woman and being confronted by a cadre of high rollers, some of whom were elected officials with a lot of sway in the city.
Parker snapped a match, checked his watch, and lit his third cigarette. "Pull your gat, and smack the lowest-paid guy at the table."
"You laugh, but he'll be the one there for muscle and the first one to shoot you if things run off the rails."
HIM ran a nervous hand through his short brush-cut hair.
"Listen, nothing is going to go wrong. Just try to remember every word you hear. Better yet, if you need to take a note, use your cards but keep them low inside your coat or under the table out of eyeshot." Index cards were standard bureau issue, along with a Colt revolver. The cards captured agents' field notes and eventually made their way back to the steno pool and Hoover's filing cabinets. "Just pin a card to your leg, and write with one hand." Parker demonstrated, writing something without taking his eyes off the front of the restaurant and handing the card to HIM.
HIM read it aloud. "'HIM kissed the kaiser.' Very funny."
"Here comes the kaiser now," Parker said. A woman approached from the next block, shoes clicking on the cobblestone walk. She let herself in to the backseat of the Buick.
"Sabrina, meet HIM, your new man about town."
"Don't even rate a name yet, good lookin'?" She smiled and offered a narrow, velvet-gloved hand over the front seat.
HIM reached awkwardly and clasped her hand as gently as he could. He introduced himself and explained his nickname, trying to sound the federal agent, yet completely distracted by her. Sabrina Mutter was a German immigrant, about twenty-one, with a sleek blonde bob, and a complete knockout. Her perfume drifted a mix of powder and leather with a hint of smoke that filled HIM's head with thoughts of seductive conversation in intimate wood-lined backrooms flanked with sideboards topped with expensive hooch in crystal decanters. He found himself breathing her in. She looked nothing like the kaiser or his aunt Agnes. Clara Bow's better-looking sister, maybe. He caught Parker grinning at him.
"Herbert? My uncle had a pig named Herbert." Sabrina smiled. Then turning, she said, "Raiding the orphanage again, Agent Parker?" She told HIM that Parker nabbed her earlier in the year on a prostitution charge along with a few high-class fish. He cut her loose in return for a future favor.
They discussed the plan for a few minutes, and Parker slapped HIM on the arm. "Better get in there." They exited the Buick and headed up the block. HIM wondered how unobtrusive they'd be once he got a full look at Sabrina in her evening dress with its tank-style top, cut daringly low at the neck, and flowing streamers at the shoulders. She was svelte and sophisticated, her breasts moving freely beneath the blue silk chiffon. HIM felt underdressed in his brand-new suit.
Sabrina caught HIM looking and winked.
Parker ushered the couple toward the door. "Be nice to HIM, Sabrina. He isn't worth much to the bureau, but he's all I've got." He tipped his hat. "Dinner is on Mr. Hoover, ma'am." Parker remained outside, and the couple headed in.
The mayor and three other men sipped coffee as a waiter led HIM and Sabrina to an adjacent booth. One of the men, broad shoulders straining his brown suit, eyed them closely as they approached. HIM figured the brown suit for the muscle. He avoided any eye contact with the next table, but he noticed Sabrina offering a subtle smile. Once seated, HIM's back lined up two feet behind the mayor's. He could feel their eyes on them but chalked it up to his own nerves and the stunning blonde across the table from him. If he were sitting at the next table, he'd be looking to catch a lingering glimpse of Sabrina himself.
HIM ordered dinner and made small talk with Sabrina while the conversation at the next table focused on the menu, horses, and women. HIM learned that Sabrina came to the States at a young age to escape growing tension in the region prior the start of the Great War. Her father owned a toy factory in Cincinnati. Her mother was a painter. Their entrées arrived, filet for HIM and speckled trout for her.
The conversation at the next table took on a new tone. HIM straightened up to listen, straining to catch the details of the muted conversation behind him. He slipped an index card and short pencil from his pocket as covertly as he could. The mayor's guests included Glenn Guillaume, the local head of the machinists' union, the brown suit, introduced as Martin AuCoin, and Leroy McKay, a ranking Democrat in the Louisiana State Legislature. When he unconsciously straightened and cocked his head for the second time, Sabina slid her plate across the table and came around to his side of the booth.
"Two heads are better than one, liebchen," Sabrina whispered in his ear and kissed him on the cheek.
The soft, wet peck tingled on HIM's face. He did his best to jot notes in secret. Sabrina leaned on his arm, cupping his elbow, and whispered snippets of what she heard, her sweet, warm breath in his ear. While working to return a full note card to his pocket, she ran her finger up the inside of his leg. He fumbled it, and the card flittered to the floor beneath the table. His sense of duty grasped for purchase and found none.
Sabrina offered an innocent smile—devilish, demure, and delicious.
"Please don't do that," HIM said. The voice in his head echoed his mother's, as he would as soon have put his own Colt to his temple and pulled the trigger than ask her to stop.
Sabrina caught her breath. "I dare say I've found myself in the presence of a gentleman."
"You can thank my momma for slapping my face more than once to learn it," HIM said.
The provocative veil left her eyes, and Sabrina smiled warmly. "I may just do that."
HIM cocked his head. "You were testing me, weren't you?"
"Don't worry, lover. You passed," Sabrina said, patting his arm. "Did you catch that?" she cooed. "They think one of the shippers is leaking to the feds."
HIM nodded even though he'd completely missed it. To his left lay the rest of his index cards, to his right the smooth landscape of Sabrina's neck trailing down to the curve and perfect skin of her breasts—her nipples in riveting relief through her silky top. He might as well have been adrift in the gulf for all the good he was doing the bureau.
As if she could read his mind, Sabrina eased the pencil out of his hand, scooped up the cards, and took over.
Excerpted from The Benefactors by Wesley Miller, Jeff Callan. Copyright © 2014 MCAG Financial Management, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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
edge of your seat mystery! wondering how much of this really happens?? intriguing! I also enjoyed the past/present play on the story! easy read!
I just finished The BENEFACTORS: Gold Factor and the best way to describe my excitement is to say I'm “out of breath.” I love spy and intrigue thrillers. I love the historical grounding and close tie-ins in fiction works. I have a philosophical bent and seek novels that force me to ask questions for which there are no ready answers. This novel hits the bulls-eye on each of these dimensions! OK - so sometimes I just like to immerse myself into an exciting story well told – and with the Gold Factor I was transported out of reality and into the murky world of the BENEFACTORS. Like gaining a super-power, how could I NOT be intrigued with gaining the means to change the way the world works! The authors effectively convince me it could - and did - happen. The book is at once, a fast-moving suspense / thriller – but has many sophisticated dimensions: On the one hand, there are the two, seemingly different plot lines – one that arises from the ashes of the world at the close of World War II, and the other spinning around the apparent assassination of the president in contemporary time. In one, we're treated to three strong willed men of remarkable virtue. In the other we're engaged with 4 equally remarkable and strong women. The book explores the classic enigmas of idealism, power, corruption, and the downward spin to perdition. How did it all go wrong? Can redemption be had? I love how the authors have tied their tale into actual historical events with a very smooth style – their fictional characters engage and interact with recognized historical people using natural and plausible dialog within feasible events and historically accurate venues and circumstances. The Gold Factor story might not be fiction, I convince myself, and I'm not always sure what is the author's creation and what might have actually happened. Then there are the clever and subtle plot elements that create multiple layers of web-like strands linking events, people, and story lines throughout the book. All of these characters, and the two main story lines are inexorably linked. This is a master tale of cause and effect – and it soon becomes evident the book is really only the first chapter of a tectonic landscape that defines all we see in the world around us, today. But if you prefer to simply enjoy a spy thriller, it is that too. Jeff Callan and Wes Miller have created an immensely entertaining story with real-as-life characters, sparkling dialog, surprising twists, and exciting action. I can't wait for the next book in the series! Walt Washburn is a published non-fiction technical author who lives and works in Colorado Springs