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by Patrick Welch
Category: Dark Fantasy/Mystery/Crime
Description: Gerald Toombs is a psychic investigator hired to prove his client's husband was murdered. What he discovers instead is a government conspiracy involving the perfect assassin: perfect because every killing is made to look like a suicide or accident.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [212 KB]
Reading time: 122-172 min.
Westerfield Drive curved gracefully through a suburban Philadelphia neighborhood of well-trimmed lawns and luxury imports in every driveway. Gerard Toombs could nearly smell the wealth as he searched for number 1286. This was not inherited wealth, however. All the homes were relatively new. The few people he noticed outside were all women, the stay-at-home housewives of their successful, hard-working husbands he assumed, and he briefly imagined the potential sexual exploitation of pool boys or gardeners.
He found the address painted on the curb and stopped in front of a wood-and-stone two story. This area of the development had several homes under construction, and just a brief look at this house proved it was relatively new. The driveway had no cracks or stains, the yard was empty of weeds, even the gutters were virginal white. This house hasn't seen its first winter, he thought as he walked to the front door.
The doorbell was answered promptly by a middle-aged woman. "Mr. Tombs?" she asked, studying him through the screen door.
"Toe-ems," he corrected.
She blushed. "I'm sorry."
"No problem, a common mistake," and he smiled warmly. "You are Mrs. Carruthers?"
"Yes." She tried to smile as well, but couldn't completely hide the pain of her recent widowhood. "Please come in."
"Thank you." As he followed her to the living room, he noticed all the photos and artwork covering the walls, the glassware and knickknacks on the tables. The living room was equally cluttered and he decided that she was a person who hated open space. He strongly suspected she needed to fill every second of her and her family's lives as completely as she filled every nook and cranny in her home.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked as she sat across from him. "Coffee? Cola?"
"I'm fine." And I don't want to risk spilling a drink on your new furniture. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a notebook and a gold pen and set them on the coffee table in front of him. Normally he would settle for a disposable pen, but when working for the wealthy, he found it necessary to appear wealthy as well. The simple blue suit and silk tie he was wearing were the only ones he owned. "So tell me, why did you ask me here today?"
"My lawyer recommended you. Robert Trayner?"
"Robert. Of course." Actually he had never met or spoken to the man, but he had worked often for other attorneys and could safely assume one of them had mentioned him to Trayner. "And this concerns?"
She stiffened as if physically struck. "The recent death of my husband."
"I see." He studied her even as she studied him. Behind her he could see a wedding photo on prominent display. Over the years she had inevitably put on weight and wrinkles and her hair had darkened, probably to hide any gray. He suspected that once she recovered from her grieving and returned to the open market, she would be attending a fitness center regularly. "When did this happen?"
"About six weeks ago."
"And how did he die?"
This time anger entered her voice. "They say suicide, but I know he was murdered. Jason would never kill himself. He loved us too much to do that!"
Now he knew why he had been summoned. "Why are the police so sure? Did they find a note?"
She shook her head, fighting back tears. "They say he was alone in his office when he ...jumped." Suddenly she slammed her fist on the table. "He wouldn't do that!"
Perhaps. "And what do you expect of me exactly?"
It took her a moment to regain control. "You must prove he was murdered. The insurance company ..." She couldn't finish, instead broke into sobs.
He resisted the temptation to comfort her in any way. There was always the chance that what he uncovered would be more unpleasant than the uncertainty she was dealing with now. Instead he allowed her to deal with her grief alone. Only when she sat up and began wiping her eyes did he speak. "The insurance. What about it?"
"They're refusing to pay."
"Really? I thought insurers paid for suicide."
"Not within the first year, not according to the mortgage company. When Jason got his promotion, we bought this house. We've only been living here four months. We have some insurance, of course, but nothing that will pay off our mortgage." Suddenly she stiffened. "I lost my husband. I will not lose this house!"
He nodded as he jotted a few notes. They were in debt up to their eyeballs, he decided. And Mrs. Carruthers probably hadn't worked in years. He glanced again at the photos on the wall. The Carruthers were blessed with a boy and a girl, both, he was certain, currently in a private school. If Herr Carruthers had killed himself, his survivors would be undergoing a dramatic lifestyle change quite soon. "Okay, then." He sat back. "I think we're just about done for now."
She looked at him in surprise. "Don't you need to learn more? How he died? Where he was killed?"
"I can get that from the police." If I feel it necessary. "Actually I only need one more bit of information."
"Where is your husband buried?" * * * *
Malcolm Abraham smiled as he pulled his Porsche into the parking lot. The building for the Internal Waterway Development Agency had been completed in the past six months, four stories of steel and glass and sandstone on a four acre wooded lot. All of it for him. Which was only right, he believed, since very few could do what he did. Or do it so well.
He pulled into his reserved spot, one just a short, canopied walk from the side entrance. He never used the main entrance as the regular staff didn't know and wouldn't recognize him. He only worked for and reported to the agency director. Everything and everyone else involved with the agency was just for show.
He stopped in front of a side door once he entered the building. The sign said "Maintenance," which he also found amusing. He entered the code in the keypad and the door unlocked, revealing an elevator. The cab had only two buttons and he pressed the top one. He was the only one who used this and only a few people even knew it was there. It opened into the inner office of his superior. He stepped out and the door closed. From the outside, the elevator entrance looked no different than any of the wood paneling gracing the small office.
The clock on the desk indicated he was early, which was fine with him. He could announce his presence at any time just by pressing a button on the side of the desk, but decided instead to relax. There was always a bottle of Dahwiddie inside the single end table. It was just for him and he poured himself three fingers of scotch, then sat and lit a cigar. The building was "no smoking," but those rules applied to everyone else, not him. The aroma, he decided, would summon his supervisor soon enough, so he relaxed with the scotch and cigar and waited.
As he had expected, the smoke told of his presence. The door to the outer office opened and Calvin Mankowski walked in. "Good afternoon, Malcolm," he greeted with a huge smile. "Have you been waiting long?"
"Not at all."
"I see you've managed to amuse yourself." He said it without recrimination.
"You're always the perfect host, Mr. Mankowski."
"I try. So," and he sat behind his desk, "how have you been? Feeling okay?"
This was not a casual question, Abraham knew. Depending on the severity of the contract, it could take him several months to recover. "Fine. Quite fine, thank you."
"Good, good," and Mankowski smiled broadly. "I was a little concerned about you after that last episode. Rather spectacular, even for you I must say."
He had expected this as well. "I had little choice. You pushed up the timetable, if you'll remember." That much was true, but there was more to it. He had planned on forcing Jason Carruthers into a fatal auto accident, but that became impossible when he lost contact with his prey while Carruthers was driving to work. By the time he had found a parking place, Carruthers was in his office. Then, he would admit reluctantly, impatience and frustration had set in. He had stood outside with binoculars watching until Carruthers appeared at the window. That was when he had seized the man and forced him to break the window with a heavy chair, then leap to his death. Distance was not important, but he had to be able to see his target and that was his first opportunity. That bit of information, however, he had no intention of ever revealing to Mankowski.
Abraham's handler remained apologetic. "I'm sorry. It was ...unexpected. Everything was in place for our own man to become director of international sales. When they appointed Carruthers instead, we had to go to Plan B on the fly. Still, though. Couldn't you, say, have him walk in front of a bus or drive off the road or something less dramatic?"
Abraham gazed darkly at Mankowski over the rim of his glass. "It was my first and best opportunity. He was alone in his office. I only had so much time, you realize."
Abraham suppressed a smile as he saw beads of perspiration appear on Mankowski's forehead. Both knew who was really in charge and both knew what he could do to Mankowski at any time. "I'm not criticizing," the agency director said quickly and his beefy hands shook slightly. "My supervisors just had a few questions is all."
"But they're satisfied with the results, right?"
"Of course. No one has ever complained about your efficiency, Malcolm. Our man is now in place, right where we need him."
Abraham poured more scotch before continuing. "So, you summoned me. Another assignment?"
"Indeed. In Las Vegas, actually. One I think you'll enjoy." He opened a desk drawer and removed a manila envelope. "The details are in here," and he slid it toward Abraham.
"Las Vegas. Yes, that could be fun. What's the timetable?"
"End of the month should suffice. Please watch your expenses, though. Thanks to your last trip to Monaco, we had to lay off three employees."
He laughed as he took the envelope. "We all serve our country in one form or another. I'll read this at home. If I have any questions I'll call you."
"Of course." Mankowski pressed a button under his desk and the door to the elevator slid open. "Enjoy your trip."
"Always." Abraham saluted with the envelope, then entered the elevator and pressed the button.