32nd & R
road country

Excerpts from the book

~ The body ~

Halfway up the block, Astrid the dalmatian began pulling at her leash. Her owner, Ron Murray, was in the cool-down phase of his morning jog and was not about to break training by picking up his pace, so he tried quieting the dog with obedience commands. That usually worked, but not this morning. As they approached the corner of Thirty-second and R Streets at the edge of Dumbarton Oaks estate, Astrid became more agitated and barked aggressively. At six-forty in the morning this unseemly behavior would annoy the sleeping residents of well-behaved Georgetown, so Ron reined in Astrid and berated her in hushed tones. Astrid, however, was not to be consoled.

Moments later, as the pair reached the intersection at the top of the hill, Astrid lunged and dragged Murray some twenty feet. In the pre-dawn darkness, Murray was so focused on his dog that he did not immediately see the object of Astrid's interest until he almost stumbled over the body.

~ Junk food ~

It was almost lunch time. She was hungry and the sight of an empty Fritos bag in the waste paper basket triggered a craving for junk food. Some pretzels and a couple of lite beers would help her get through more packing and the packing would at least give her something constructive to do for the day, so she went out to the liquor store on the corner. When she returned the phone was ringing.

~ Gone missing ~

The city bus let her off across the street from a small shopping plaza in Spring Valley, on the far western end of Massachusetts Avenue. Despite its secluded location, the Bagel Bakery was doing a rushing business. Exactly at eight, Jay Gant walked in, ordered a bagel and hot tea, and headed for the table Marnie had staked out. Although Marnie had opted to wear her best interview suit despite the rain and Gant looked like a GQ model for CEOs, they blended into the mix of rush hour commuters and local tradesmen packed in around them. After a brief nod and a dry handshake, Gant went straight into the briefing.

"The head of Washington National Field School has been missing for ten days. You have no doubt read about it in the papers."

"Gee, I ... oh, yes. I must have read one of the follow-up articles in the Post. Didn't say much. His name was Chadwick, and he disappeared on a weekend. No trace. The guy was fiftyish, single, lived alone. Well-liked. Didn't drive a car."

Jay nodded approvingly. By recalling some detail from a newspaper article, Marnie had passed some kind of test.

"The name is Dr. L. Chadwick James. And yes, he was, or is, I should say, a well-regarded fellow. And mind you, he filled very large shoes because the former head of the school is still an essential part of the school's fund raising. Chad has been at Field School two years, long enough for the school's board and staff to get a sense of the man. He didn't come from a wealthy family, they were all academics in the Midwest, as I recall. But, most of his career was spent at an excellent private school in Kansas City, and they paid well. Moreover, his wife likely left him her estate as they had been married a long time and had no children. She was a physician in private practice when she died in an auto accident three years ago. He gave that as a reason for leaving the Midwest and moving here. Wanted a change. Must have missed his wife, her accident was the reason he gave up driving. You see, he was behind the wheel at the time she was killed. He naturally blamed himself."

Gant's pale gray eyes had not left her face since he'd sat down, except when he carefully removed the tea bag from his cup. His pause told her he was emphasizing James' good character. She waited patiently. One did not rush Jay Gant.

"Thus, it came as a second shock to the school's board of directors, that on the heels of his disappearance, a large amount of the school's funds is also missing. . . . "

~ Dead end ~

Marnie nodded and looked away to gather her thoughts. Ratliff was not being helpful. She tried another tack.

"Realistically, after a few weeks, police pretty much have to shift their resources off a case, even a rather high-profile case like this, if they're not turning up new leads. Level with me, Detective, has that happened with Dr. James?"

"Look Ms. Wallace, Dr. James' disappearance made the front page of the Washington Post. I've personally handled steady follow-up inquiries from his wife's family in Kansas City, his old school in Kansas, and, the Field School. As soon as we have something we can release to his deceased wife's next-of-kin and his employers, we'll make that known."

He started to fidget and Marnie knew the meeting was coming to a close. "The Post hasn't had anything on him in two weeks, I think you've reached a dead end, Detective."

"You didn't hear that from me, Ms. Wallace."

He waited until that sank in then stood and extended his hand to her. She rose reluctantly and shook hands. Was he telling her something? Maybe not. She tilted her head and smiled with more warmth than she felt.

~ "Jeez!" ~

"There's a possibility that you've got a dead body in that apartment ..."

A sweating double-jowled face appeared from behind the washing machines.

"Shit. That's all I need. All right, gimme a minute. Hand me that wrench, will ya?"

Fifteen minutes later, Chuck Schultz, the building super, had secured the pipe, wiped his hands and gotten his pass keys. He'd become quiet since agreeing to let Marnie in the apartment so they trooped up the path in silence. After a couple of false tries, Schultz got the door open and they stood at the threshold. At first glance, nothing looked unusual: cheap, unsubstantial furniture and some magazines in the living room, minimal dishes, glasses and cookware in the kitchen, an unmade bed, used towels in the bathroom.

"Smells musty. No one's been here for a while," ventured Schultz, obviously relieved not to find a dead body lying around.

"It looks like your tenant moved out. Her clothes and personal effects are gone .... Jeez!"

~ Word gets around ~

"Say you've got a couple of skeletons in your closet, you come from a country riddled with corruption where the government has been overthrown by revolutionaries and you were on the wrong side, the losing side, before the revolt. Maybe your status now in your new homeland isn't exactly legal, nor are your business activities. You may be able to hide all this from the authorities in your new country, but, for a lot of reasons, you hang out with other people like you from your old country. They understand you, help you, you do business with them, honor the same codes and customs, speak the same language, whatever. So, word gets around about where you are, what you're doing, the kind of money you're making, how you're spending it. If you've got anything to hide from anyone, back home, over here, wherever, you're a source of easy money, and, you're involuntarily enrolled in a pay-for-protection plan. And believe me," Julia looked carefully at Marnie to be sure she heard her, "no matter what kind of crook you are, no matter what you've done, or how tough or how powerful you are, you pay up when these folks pass the collection plate around to you. Comprende?"

~ The dog ~

The cement block house was newish but neglected, an old dented Ford sedan sat in a rutted front yard and inside some of the window blinds were pulled up half-way but resting at odd angles. A second car was parked in an open garage but on a closer inspection it had a deflated rear tire. Marnie stepped across the road and cautiously walked to the driveway before pausing. It was lucky she had hesitated before moving onto the property because as she looked about her a thin black dog warily appeared around the far corner and assumed a hostile posture as it stealthily approached. Marnie stood still but the dog kept coming so she began to back up, hoping she wouldn't stumble into the ditch which separated the yard from the road. The dog was closing in on her when she made the decision to turn and run, its bared teeth convinced her he would not let up. She prayed she could cover the twenty feet to the driver's side or that the dog would stop at the property line as she flew past the ditch. The car door came into view as she rounded the tail lights and she rehearsed the motion of opening it in her mind's eye. Her left hand grabbed the handle as the dog broke into a run and she could hear its nails crambling on the ground just behind her. Then she had the door open and realized with a plunge of her heart that her window was open, too. A vision of the dog lunging through her window had her struggling with the manual roll up knob with her right hand as she closed the door with her left.

Suddenly, the dog was at her side, front paws on the door, her face inches from its angry grimace as it growled between bared teeth. Her heart pounded unnaturally as she cranked up the window, catching the dog's head for a moment until it pulled itself out. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before. Never had she been so close to pure animal savagery. She leaned on her horn and gulped air, trying to convince herself that she was safe from the predator which kept jumping up and scratching her window.

~ Danger~

Marnie's walk with Shep was disconcerting. She kept looking over her shoulder, trying to read the faces of people who passed her on the quiet residential streets off Connecticut Avenue. Small things like a whirlwind of dead leaves rustling on a lawn caused her heartbeat to quicken. Marnie was no wimp but she had never really faced danger, the kind that targeted her in a crowd. Now the Summerlin case had become personal. Now, even if she dropped the case, there was no certainty that she would be safe again. She was getting close to something and she still did not know what it was. Someone, somehow, had found out enough about her to raise questions, maybe put her in danger. Her thoughts kept going back to Atwood. If she was going to go back to a normal life, she would have to crack the case. In the meantime, she would need protection. She did not want it, she needed it.

~ Yo-Yo ~

Marnie was dressed in an old navy pea jacket, jeans and dirty running shoes, and her hair was tucked under a dark knit ski cap. Yo-Yo wore an old army fatigue jacket and carried his equipment in the pockets. He too had on a dark ski cap, one which was too large for him and looked more like a small turban. She almost laughed when she saw him. Unless they were seen head-on at close range, they would be mistaken for locals, possibly homeless, who wandered through this kind of neighborhood in the dead of night. Only Yo-Yo's mouth full of gold teeth would set him apart and be easy to remember. Minutes later he called her. He was in.

~ Shep! ~

It had been a long night and Marnie was exhausted by the time she took the Metro back to her apartment. She nodded to the watchman when he turned to buzz her in, barely tearing himself away from his textbooks, or the TV, it was hard to tell which.

Her neighbors' dinners had been over for hours but the cooking smells lingered. She put the key into her top lock, expecting to hear Shep's sniffing, but she only half-registered that there were no familiar canine sounds as she realized the top lock did not click open, it was open. Perhaps, she thought to herself, it was giving her trouble again. She turned it the other way. It clicked, locking the door. She unlocked it, then unlocked the bottom one. Shaking her head, she opened the door. The dog did not come to her. "Shep? Shep, girl! Shep, where are you?" Marnie's instincts kept her rooted at the threshold. Something was definitely wrong. She opened the door and held it wide, preparing to dash out down the corridor if she heard anyone inside. She caught her breath and listened. All she could hear was her thumping heart. Quietly she moved an umbrella stand over to the door to prop it open in case she had to retreat quickly, then flicked on the hall light at the wall switch. Her stomach immediately knotted into a hard lump and her throat constricted. "Shep!"










And some more key words about Marnie:

In her work, Marnie was used to dealing with mundane matters such as insurance, loans, and mortgages. A person's credit rating was something she could find out in her sleep. Things were a little more interesting when an attorney was involved as well.

She knew that searching the internet for "lawyer" and "Geogetown" was a waste of time because there were too many hits. That was no way to tart investigating an insurance claim, for example. It was like looking for people hosting a friend from out of town.

She liked participating in a conference call, for example trading jokes about how the software on her computer was always giving her trouble, especially during recovery from the frequent crashes when trading files, even when just transferring a file from one folder to another. In a conference call no one could see that she was overweight.

Check the gas; check the electricity -- that was what she'd learned about how to find out whether anybody was actually staying in the apartment. It could all be done simply, even in a building under rehab. She called this "the utilities treatment." If the apartment's owner had been murdered in cold blood, the needles on those dials wouldn't change much over time.