Times are tough in Savannah for former cop and current PI Robert Brixton, so when he agrees to take on a 20 year-old murder case, he figures he’s got nothing to lose. It’s not long before the trail leads him deep into the corrupt underbelly of Savannah’s power elite, and right into the lap of a secret government organization that’s been offing “troublesome” politicians for decades. The cold case heats up when he joins forces with former attorneys Mackensie and Annabel Lee Smith to investigate the organization and the murders they committed in the name of patriotism.
With what he knows, Brixton can bring down Washington D.C.’s leading social hostess, if not the administration itself. But can he outwit an organization that is hell-bent on keeping its secrets—secrets that go all the way back to the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy?
Margaret Truman brings us into the corridors of Washington power as only she can, where the end too often justifies the means, where good people are destroyed by those for whom the only goal is survival... whatever the cost.
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MARGARET TRUMAN won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let readers into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation’s capital. She was the author of many nonfiction books, including The President’s House, in which she shared some of the secrets and history of the White House, where she once resided. She lived in Manhattan.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Mrs. Eunice Watkins was seated in the cramped reception area when Bob Brixton walked in on that steamy Savannah August morning. He was late for the appointment. He always seemed to run late during Savannah summers, reluctant to leave the AC of his apartment until the last possible moment.
After telling Mrs. Watkins that he’d be with her in a few minutes, he entered his office, followed by Cynthia, his secretary, assistant, and foil.
“Bad night?’ she asked.
“Why do you always ask that?” he said. “I don’t have bad nights or good nights. They’re just nights. What’s your read on her?”
“Seems like a nice lady,” she replied in a drawl that seemed to thicken once summer arrived, like the humid air. “Very proper, didn’t say much.”
“No hint what she wants?”
Cynthia shook her head. “Where’s your coffee?”
“I was running late and didn’t stop. Send Mrs. Watkins in.”
She escorted his potential client into the office, asked if she wanted coffee or tea—“No, thank you, ma’am”—and went downstairs to get Brixton an iced coffee from the deli that occupied the ground floor of the two-story building.
“Please, have a seat,” Brixton said, indicating one of two green club chairs across the desk. He’d had only a fleeting glimpse of her as he passed through the anteroom. Now, he took a closer look. She was an attractive woman whose age he pegged at sixty, give or take a few years. She had probably been a beauty as a younger woman. Now, “handsome” was more apt. Her ebony face was relatively free of wrinkles, her gray hair carefully coiffed. She sat ramrod erect, hands folded on a purse that rested on her lap. Her carefully pressed dress had a tan-and-white floral pattern and she wore a lightweight white cardigan, hardly necessary considering Mother Nature’s sauna outside. She locked eyes with him as though doing some sizing up of her own. No smile. Waiting for him to say something.
“So, Mrs. Watkins, you’re obviously here because you feel I might be of help in some matter.”
“Yes, sir, that’s right.”
“A personal matter?”
She looked down, then back up. “A very personal matter, sir. You were an officer with the Savannah Police Department as I’m told.” She spoke slowly, deliberately. Brixton figured that she was a born-and-bred Georgian and her accent supported that.
“Uh-huh. A few years ago.”
“I thought that might be helpful.”
She gathered her thoughts before continuing. He had the feeling that she was girding against crying and gave her points for that. Weeping women always unsettled him.
“I was wondering if you might remember a case from a number of years ago. It involved my daughter, Louise Watkins.”
Brixton leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes in a display of trying hard to recall. He opened them and said, “Can’t say that I do.”
“My daughter was murdered.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me more.”
“It happened sixteen years ago, in 1994.”
And she expects me to remember that far back?
“My daughter had recently been released from prison when she was killed. Murdered in cold blood.”
“How was she killed?” he asked.
“She was shot on the street. Someone in a car drove by and fired at her.”
“They ever find the shooter?”
Brixton drew a deep breath and came forward in his squeaky swivel chair. “If you’re here to ask me to try and solve your daughter’s murder, Mrs. Watkins, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. That’s a police matter. I’m a private investigator.”
She looked in the direction of the office’s only window, in which the air conditioner did its blessed work, and returned to him. “There’s more to Louise’s death than the fact that she was murdered.”
He squirmed against a back spasm. He wanted a cigarette. He didn’t smoke in the office because Cynthia had put down her size-seven foot and threatened to quit if he did. It looked like he was in for a lengthy tale and he hoped that when it was over he’d at least have a paying client. Business had been slow, as slow as the way people walked in summery Savannah.
“Go on,” he said to Mrs. Watkins as Cynthia carried in his iced coffee. “Stay around,” he told Cynthia, “take some notes.”
If having a third person in the room recording what she said unnerved Mrs. Watkins, she didn’t show it. She said matter-of-factly, “My daughter was paid to go to prison.”
Cynthia stopped writing and looked at Brixton.
“That’s an unusual allegation, Mrs. Watkins,” he said.
“But it’s true.”
“You’re claiming that your daughter was paid to take the rap for someone else?”
“Yes, that is what I am saying.”
“What was she in the can—in prison for?”
“Manslaughter. She was accused of having stabbed someone to death.”
The case started to come back to him in fragments. Sure. Louise Watkins. Drug addict. Eighteen or nineteen years old. High as a kite on drugs and booze. He hadn’t caught that case while with Savannah PD but was close to the detective who had. Brixton had been with the Savannah PD for eight years at the time it took place and had been promoted to detective just one year prior to that.
The stabbing had occurred in Augie’s parking lot, one of those clubs that come and go and lure the gotta-be-hip crowd, the young crowd, with a bouncer at the door making sure the teenyboppers he let in showed enough skin, and the macho young guys weren’t wearing flip-flops on dirty feet. Class act all the way, until it was closed by the department’s narcs for selling drugs over and under the bar. As Brixton recalled, she’d claimed the guy had tried to rape her and had stabbed him in self-defense, which the judge evidently bought when he sentenced her, a lenient sentence that had nettled Brixton’s fellow cops.
“The case is coming back to me now. How much time did she do?”
“She was in prison for four years.”
Four years for stabbing a guy to death. She got off easy.
“So, you’re claiming that your daughter didn’t do it.”
“That’s right, Mr. Brixton.”
“So, who did?”
“I don’t know, but I believe my daughter when she said she wasn’t the one, that she’d been paid to confess to it.”
“Paid? Somebody at the club paid her to say that she’d killed the guy?”
A nod, and stiffening at the disbelief in his tone.
“Who?” he repeated.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’ve come to you, Mr. Brixton. I was hoping that you could find out for me.”
He took a swig of coffee, swiveled in his chair, and grimaced against a shooting pain in his right knee. Brixton’s chiropractor called him his retirement fund, a walking orthopedic nightmare, arthritis in every joint, spinal X-rays that read like a train wreck, and one knee that bowed out five degrees, causing him to walk as though carrying a loaded suitcase on the opposite side. Taking a bullet in the bad knee hadn’t helped. Not that he didn’t get around pretty good. It was just that there was always pain, sometimes worse than other times, nothing to cause him to ask for a wheelchair at airports or get offered a seat on a bus. Annoying, that’s what it was. Annoying. Every sign of getting older was annoying.
“Let me ask you something, Mrs. Watkins,” he said. “Your daughter’s murder happened sixteen years ago. How come you’ve just now decided to open it up?”
She chose her words carefully. “My son, Lucas—he was three years older than Louise when she was killed—is a man of God, Mr. Brixton. Lucas is pastor of the Southside United Freedom Church. He has been tormented ever since the day Louise was killed—not by her murder; that was bad enough—but by her having spent four years in prison for a murder that she did not commit. I should tell you, Mr. Brixton, that Louise was a problem child. She became addicted to drugs when she was thirteen and left home at seventeen, living on the streets, begging for money to support her habit, and I’m ashamed to say selling her body. She was eighteen when she went to prison, twenty-two years old when she was killed. In a way she acted honorably in taking money to keep someone else out of prison. It’s better than the other ways she’d sunk to on the streets.”
“Your son’s the one who wants the case reopened?”
“Yes, and I now agree with him. When Louise died, I felt it was best to allow her to rest in the sort of peace she hadn’t found when she was alive, to rest in God’s kingdom, to forget all the pain she had suffered, and to let me cherish my memories of her before she got into trouble. But Lucas has always said that Louise deserves to have her name cleansed, not for the way she lived her life in those final years but from the sin of having taken another person’s life. She didn’t kill that man in the parking lot, Mr. Brixton. She was paid to say that she did.”
“Your daughter told you that she’d been paid to assume responsibility but didn’t name the person who’d paid her?”
“She said she’d promised never to reveal it. I admired her for that.”
“What did she do with the money?” Brixton asked.
“She gave it to me.”
Her resolve not to cry crumbled and she wept silently, ladylike, never changing her erect posture, simply pulling a tissue from her purse and dabbing at her eyes. “Sorry,” she said softly.
“That’s all right,” he said. “Want some water?”
“No, thank you.”
“How much?” he asked.
“How much money was involved?”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
Four years behind bars, twenty-five hundred a year. She’d sold out cheap, although based upon the lifestyle her mother claimed she’d had, a bed and three squares a day might have seemed like winning an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii.
“She gave it to you just like that?” he asked.
“Actually, Mr. Brixton, Louise didn’t personally give me the money. It arrived shortly after she’d been convicted of the murder.”
“Who gave it to you then?”
“I don’t know. I returned home one day and there was an envelope wedged between my screen door and the other door. I opened it and found ten thousand dollars in cash. I was shocked, as you can imagine.”
“But you said you knew it came from your daughter.”
“Not at that moment. I mentioned it to her the next time I visited her in jail. That’s when she told me how she’d agreed to confess to the crime in return for the money. I pleaded with her to tell the authorities but she was adamant. She said that jail was the best place for her to get straightened out, get off drugs, and find God. She also said that she wanted me to have it for all the pain she’d caused me. That’s all she said. I pleaded with her again not to do it but Louise was always headstrong. I hid the money away.”
“Yes, until now.”
Brixton surreptitiously glanced at his watch. Cigarette time.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll see what I can find out from friends still with the PD. My fee is four hundred a day plus expenses.”
He expected her to express shock. Instead, she issued her first smile of the morning and said, “That will be fine. I still have the ten thousand and I’m willing to spend all of it to clear her name.”
Brixton experienced dual silent emotions—pleasure at seeing a nice payday, and a desire to reach out and hug her for what she was determined to do. Her dead daughter had been a junkie, a drunk, and a hooker, no hesitation in admitting that. Yet, her main concern was to prove that she’d gone to prison an innocent person. Go figure. It didn’t seem to matter a hell of a lot at this point, but who was he to challenge what was important to a client?
“I’ll need some up-front,” he said.
“Will a thousand be sufficient?”
He caught a small smile on Cynthia’s face. “Yeah, a thousand will be fine. You can trust me. I’ll give an honest accounting of my time and expenses.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will.”
“By the way, Mrs. Watkins, what brought you to me? There are bigger investigative agencies in Savannah.”
She stood and ran her hands over the front of her dress. “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with a larger agency,” she said. “I’m sure they have more-important cases to look into.”
He didn’t take it as a put-down.
“You aren’t from Savannah, are you?”
“No, ma’am, I’m not. I came here from Washington, D.C. I was born in Brooklyn.”
“I knew that from the way you talk.”
“I never got around to picking up a drawl.”
“When can you start on my case?”
“Well, I’ve got a couple of others I’m in the process of wrapping up but I’ll get to it as soon as I can.”
Cynthia’s raised eyebrows chastised him for stretching the truth.
“Cynthia will take down all your contact information in case I have to reach you,” he said. “And there’s a short retainer agreement for you to sign. Simple. You can bail out anytime—and so can I. I’ll be in touch.”
Copyright © 2011 by Estate of Margaret Truman
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Book Description Forge Books, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110765326094
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