EVIL TOWN: Chapter One - Baltimore Post-Examiner

EVIL TOWN: Chapter One

eviltownthecover

J. David Bethel has been published in popular consumer magazines and in respected political journals. For a selection of his current e-publications, please visit Evil Town, which is available on Amazon Kindle or Barnes & NobleNook.  For the next few weeks Baltimore Post-Examiner will publish a few chapters of this page-turner book Evil Town.  © 2012. Check what people say about it on Facebook. You won’t put this book down. Guaranteed. Read the previous section, such as the Prologue here.

Evil Town Summary:

The wife of popular Florida Congressman (and prospective Senatorial candidate) Clegg Caffery is murdered.  FBI Special Agent Matt Thurston begins an investigation that leads him from the Pentagon to the small town of Clewiston, Florida in search of a photographer responsible for the photo found in the murdered woman’s hand.  He arrives too late.  The man has committed suicide.  Although Thurston uncovers a strange and suspicious story about the dead photographer that he believes is worthy of continued investigation, he is abruptly steered away from the case by his superiors.

Evil Towncover.lAngered by this turn of events, Thurston enlists the assistance of two reporters.  With their involvement, he begins to peel away layers of lies and deceit hiding the truth about the murder.  Along the way, Thurston slowly unravels a complex weave of story lines that includes a sex for hire plot involving the president’s wife; an attempt by computer magnate Norman Bremen to subvert the workings of Congress to ensure the survival of his sugar interests in Florida; and the revelation of a cover-up of a war crime in Vietnam that threatens the presidency.      

Although Evil Town is a work of fiction, it is based on historical and current events. The Vietnam element of the plot delves into the massacre of Vietnamese villagers at Co Luy.  This occurred on the same day as the My Lai killings and happened as described in the novel.  The military and political cover-up of the incident detailed in Evil Town is an interpretation of actual events that relegated Co Luy to the back pages of history.

The description of the political maneuvering related to the restoration of the Everglades, and to the “sugar wars” in Florida, is a dramatization of the intrigue currently being played out by power brokers, the media and Congress on this issue.

While it should come as no surprise that the drug war can be managed and waged for political purposes – a subplot in Evil Town – it is the subtleties of international politics that often allow this to happen.  The novel provides insight on how this is possible.

Through it all, Matt Thurston and his allies match wits with the most powerful in Washington putting themselves in harm’s way.  Truth, honor and justice are slippery concepts in this story of politics and fragile human relationships.

CHAPTER ONE

“Congressman?” Rosa’s voice called through the intercom.

“Yes,” Clegg Caffery answered wearily, leaned back in his chair and combed his hands through jet black hair.

“It’s Senator Dawkins.”

“Shit,” Clegg muttered under his breath.  He had been hoping the call wouldn’t come for a while, especially after the discussion he had with Joanna the previous evening.  She left no doubt where she stood.  She wanted out.  He was not there yet, and wasn’t sure if he ever would be.

“Congressman, do you want to take it?”

“Yes, I’ve got it.”

Clegg straightened, took a deep breath and picked up the receiver.  “Hey there, Will,” he greeted the senior Senator from his state with a familiarity bred during years of political battles fought together in Congress.  “How goes it on the other side of the Capitol?”

“It would be going a hell of a lot better if you were here, Slammer,” Dawkins replied, his gravelly voice carrying loudly through the earpiece of Clegg’s phone.

“Slammer,” Clegg repeated with a chuckle.  “You know, you’re the only one who calls me that anymore.”  The nickname was hung on him when he was the number one player on the University of Florida tennis team.  His long arms and lanky frame allowed him to whip his strength into 110 mile an hour serves that helped place him among the nation’s elite collegiate players.

“I have a long memory.”

Clegg pictured the large, beefy Senate Minority Leader sitting in his small hideaway office in the bowels of the CapitolBuilding, where he made his daily calls trying to build a list of candidates to contest the Republican majority in the Senate.

“Well,” Dawkins challenged, “have you given any more thought to our previous discussions?”

“I’m flattered….”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.  Look, I can guarantee you the funding.  Between the Democratic National Committee, the Senatorial Committee, and with Norman Bremen in your corner—I  told you months ago he’s a friend—you’ll  get what you need to build a hell of a war chest.  It’ll scare away any serious challengers.”

“That’s definitely a plus—and here comes one of those ‘buts’, Will—but I hardly know Bremen.”

“I’ve told you, he knows you.  He has more money than God and he wants to spend some of it electing you to the Senate.”

“I think I ought to at least sit down and talk to Bremen before I get in bed with him,” Clegg answered, adding quickly, “I’m not saying I’m running.”

“Sure…,” Dawkins began, when a voice in the background interrupted.  “Conference him in.”  Returning his attention to Clegg, the Senator’s voice pitched lower, losing its rough edge. “I’ve got someone on the line with us who wants to talk to you.”

“Hello, Congressman.”

Clegg recognized President Ralph Warren’s distinctive Western drawl.

“Hello, Mr. President.”

“I’m calling to put the arm on you.  Now that we’re getting rid of that pain in the ass, Roswein, I’d like to pick up his seat in Florida with someone I know I can count on.”

“I’d sure like to have a solid ally,” Dawkins added.  “Roswein might sit on our side of the aisle, but I never knew where Ross was going to come down on anything.  He spent so much time with his finger in the air, I think I’ll give him a windsock as a retirement present.”

“What do you say, Clegg?” the President asked.  “Can I at least get you to think about it seriously?”

Clegg sprang at the opportunity to waffle.  “Of course I’ll consider it, Mr. President.”  He knew Dawkins was looking for a stronger indication of his intentions, but he would use the President’s opening to keep things on hold.  Now he could go home and assure Joanna that he had not committed to anything.  “I’m flattered you’d take the time to call.”

“No better way to spend my time.  We need you, but I know this is a big step and I want you to be sure.  Will?”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“You keep on him, all right?”

“I’m planning to.”

“Clegg, you can pencil me in for fundraisers, campaign swings, the works.  Whatever you’ll need in the way of help, just let me know.  I’ll get Ken to commit as well.  He’s always looking for a chance to wag that tongue of his and build up a shitload of IOUs.  Hell, he started running for my job an hour after I tapped him as a running mate.”

“We’ll hold you to this and thanks for calling, Mr. President,” Dawkins said.

“You get Clegg to run, Will, and I’ll make sure Florida is a bright spot in my thoughts.  Hear that, Clegg?”

“Yes, Mr. President.  Thanks again.”

“He insisted on talking to you, Clegg,” Dawkins said after the line clicked, his voice growling again.  “But let’s keep him away from home if you decide to take me up on my offer.  He’s got no coattails.  Hell, he’s got no coat.  Right now, Warren couldn’t get elected dog catcher in a one-man race.  We’re going to have a tough enough chore trying to save his butt.  He hasn’t had a coherent program since he came into office three years ago.  The guy doesn’t know what he wants.  He’s got no philosophical center.  He only knows he wants to get reelected.”

“How closely is he expecting the candidate to run with him?”

“Like I said, we’ll keep our distance.  But we need the numbers in the Senate whether he wins or not.  If he manages a second term and we take the Senate, we’ll be able to get those amateurs in the White House to listen to us.  Maybe we can salvage some of our own programs.”

“You really think we can take the Senate?”

“It’s 52-48 now.  With you and a few others, we have a fighting chance.  We don’t stand a prayer in the House.  If the GOP takes the White House, and we don’t have control on this side, we’re fucked.  We’ll get shut down on anything we propose. Those bastards will roll over us and we’ll fade into a permanent minority.  We’d better take our best shot where it’s available.”

“The argument I hear you making says we need a majority in the Senate so we can oppose whoever ends up in the White House, whether it’s Warren or not.  A unique argument.”

“These are unique times.  We inherited wars of attrition in the Middle East, where we’re propping up governments that have no clue how to govern.  The economy is in the shitter and our friends overseas–I use that term loosely–think we’ve lost our minds.”

“I suppose,” Clegg responded, thinking that Joanna had put it somewhat differently.  “There are no rights or wrongs in Washington,” she argued.  “It runs on egos and polls, not values.”  Her final pronouncement the night before still rang in his ears.  “This is a sick place and it’ll make us sick if we don’t get out.”

“We could easily lose Roswein’s seat unless you run,” Dawkins continued, bringing Clegg’s attention back to the conversation.  “The numbers show you beating anyone.  Without you in the mix, the polls show O’Connor running way ahead of the pack, and he’s been a lousy AG, but he knows how to run a campaign.  Hell, I sound like I’m giving a pep talk to a bunch of precinct workers.  You know all this shit.”

“And you know it’s too early to start counting chickens.  We’ve got a year until the election.  People have plenty of time to change their minds.”

“If you announce soon, we can solidify your lead.  Scare everyone else off, especially once you start collecting that money.  I say get into it and lock up the numbers.”

“I’ll think about it.  I really will.”  Clegg felt the prick of excitement.  He was drawn to the challenge of a hard fought political race.  Campaigns infused him with an adrenaline rush, an energizing nervousness that he had enjoyed as an athlete.  The mano-a-mano aspect was electric and this is what kept him from rejecting Dawkins outright.

“Joanna still down on the idea?”

Clegg weighed his response.  “We’ve had a few discussions.” He wanted to drop the matter but knew Dawkins would pursue it, so he took the conversation in another direction.  “When I ran for the House, I made a commitment to serve no more than five terms. This is my fifth term, and if I announce for the Senate it’ll look like I’m trying to weasel out of my promise to stay here no more than ten years.  I’m uncomfortable with that.”

“Oh, Christ, man, I can take that monkey off your back.  That’s easy.  I’ll issue a statement saying I’m urging you to run for the good of the state.  We can always get others to do the same thing.  Private citizens, local officeholders, whoever.  That’s not a problem.”

Clegg chafed at this indifferent dismissal of his dilemma.  “It’s a problem to me.  I’m the one who made the promise.”

“I’m just saying there are ways around it if you want to look for them.  But is Joanna okay on staying?”

Clegg could see that Dawkins wasn’t going to let this go.  “Frankly, she’d prefer to head home.”

“I thought she was doing well at K and B?  Maybe in line for a partnership.  Isn’t that an incentive to stick around?”

“Not for her.”

“Um,” Dawkins grunted, then followed quickly with, “I’m not going to lay the ‘you’ve got to do this for your country’ routine on you.  I’m not even sure I could do that with a straight face, but I’m still enough of a believer in public service to say that you could make a difference.  Think about it, Clegg.”

“I will.  I promise.  And thanks again.”

“My pleasure.”

Clegg hung up the phone and slumped in his chair, driving his long legs under the desk.  He reached over and tapped his intercom button.  “Rosa?”

“Yes, sir?”

“I was afraid you were still going to be there.  Go home already.  We’re going to be in late.  I’ve got it covered from here.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.  Put the answering machine on and take off.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Clegg heard the patter of raindrops against the window behind his desk.  His eyes went to the umbrella rack near the door of his office, where a red and white golf umbrella stood ready.  Joanna had insisted that he take it, cautioning about the forecast of heavy afternoon and evening rains despite a cloudless morning sky.

Clegg stood and looked out the water-streaked window at the brightly lighted Capitol.  How many times had he ushered constituents into his office and walked them to this spot to admire the view from his coveted corner in the LongworthHouseOfficeBuilding?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  He had persevered and risen up the seniority ladder, landing this office with his previous election.  Now, one way or the other, he would be giving it up.

He smiled at the irony of his situation.  Initially, his involvement in politics was fueled by a disgust for politicians. Democrat, Republican, they had all been the same to him.  He ran for Congress as a Democrat because the incumbent was a Republican.  He simply wanted a platform from which he could rail against the breakdown in the system.  The gridlock.  The parochialism.  The lack of responsible leadership.  He hit every button.  He and Joanna worked from their kitchen, spent a few thousand dollars on fliers and canvassed the neighborhoods on foot.  This “anti-campaign,” as he called it—and continued to call his campaigns—caught on, and to everyone’s surprise, especially his opponent’s, he was elected.

Clegg moved closer to the window, squinted and stared across the Capitol lawn toward the Senate side of the Hill.  He reviewed the arguments he had with himself about running since Will Dawkins first approached him six months before.  Why the Senate? Why stay in Washington?  Throwing stones to get elected in the first place had been the easy part.  Clegg knew he had only been able to establish his credentials as a Democrat by exercising his rebelliousness, by voting against the policies of the Republican who preceded Warren in the White House.  He had merely continued his “anti-campaign” in Washington.  It wasn’t a positive experience.  He wasn’t accomplishing anything.  What was the point?  Had he been co-opted by the trappings?  The attention?  Other than the game of getting elected, what was it that kept him intrigued?

Clegg stretched and returned to his desk.  He stared down at the islands of highly polished wood visible in the current of paper and recalled hearing somewhere that when a Member of Congress retired, he was given his desk.  Or was it that he was allowed to buy it at a nominal cost?  Clegg tapped the solid wood with his knuckles and decided he would definitely take his desk with him when–if–he left.  Where would he put it?  He and Joanna hadn’t reached the point of discussing what either of them would do if they left Washington.  Maybe that was an argument for staying put.

***

Rain pelted the windshield as Clegg drove across the Whitehurst Freeway toward upper Georgetown.  Rush hour traffic, delayed late into the evening by the weather, was still crawling. Clegg rolled slowly past office buildings that hovered above the road on one side, while the inky Potomac slid by on the other.

After the day’s session adjourned, Clegg remained in the office sorting through his thoughts on how best to approach Joanna about his conversation with Will Dawkins.  He considered leading with the fact that the President had joined the call to coax him into the race, but then thought better of it.  Given the strength of her opposition to the whole idea, Joanna wouldn’t be impressed if Jesus Christ himself was applying the pressure.  She wanted to leave Washington and that was all there was to it.  Clegg decided to keep things simple.  He would mention that Dawkins called again to gauge his interest and Clegg told him he still hadn’t made a decision.

He rehearsed what he would say, practicing a casual approach, but his comfort level eroded as he inched closer to the end of the freeway.  By the time Clegg exited Whitehurst and merged into faster moving traffic along M Street, he knew Joanna would only hear that he had not turned down the request.  Easing his foot off the gas, he reconsidered his strategy.  It might be best not to mention the conversation.  After all, Joanna had no idea he would be getting a call from Dawkins that evening.

As he made a right onto Reservoir Road and slowed in front of a block of brick and stone townhouses adjacent to the grounds of GeorgetownUniversityHospital, Clegg added a wrinkle to his plan.  He gave himself a deadline of one week to decide.  Then he would sit down with Joanna.  This definitely eliminated any need to get into the matter that night.

“That makes the most sense,” he mumbled as he pulled to the curb.

Clegg concentrated on his footing while he slogged up the slick, rain-soaked steps leading to the townhouse and did not notice that the windows were dark until he reached the front door.  He glanced quickly at his watch.  Seven forty-five.  Not particularly troubling.  Joanna had been working long hours for a few weeks, crashing to complete the Bremen project.

Clegg made a mental note to ask Joanna how things were going.  He had reported her involvement with Bremen Enterprises to the House Ethics Committee to avoid any possible whisper of a conflict of interest concerning a public figure like Norman Bremen.  It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that Joanna would probably have to give up the account if he ran for the Senate.  Bremen would be a major campaign donor.  There would be too many questions if Joanna was handling his business.  Clegg shook his head.  Another reason not to court trouble until he decided what to do.

He reached for the pad that controlled the security system and noticed the green light blinking indicating that it had been deactivated.  He swung around and searched the block for Joanna’s car, which he spotted on the far corner.  As he turned the key in the lock, Clegg tried to recall if she had carpooled downtown.  She often did when she was going to spend the day in the office. No, as he left the house Joanna said something to him about a client meeting that day.  She would have taken the car, unless there was a last minute change of plans.

Clegg felt a crunch under his foot as he stepped onto the landing leading inside.  He looked down at small shards of glass, fragments of a light bulb, then noticed that the bulb above the front entrance was broken in the outlet.

After sweeping his foot along the landing and pushing the shards of glass into a bush, Clegg walked inside and closed the door behind him.  He switched on the foyer light and dropped his keys into a dish on a small side table.  He noticed that Joanna’s house keys were not in this customary spot.  She must have gotten a ride after all, he decided, but it was not like her to leave the security system unarmed.

“I’m home, Molly,” Clegg called to the ancient Irish Setter he and Joanna indulged like an only child.  The greeting was a habit.  The dog had been deaf for years.  He stomped on the floor to get the animal’s attention.

Clegg brushed his hand across a series of switches in the hallway, lighting the rooms on the first floor.  He peeked into a large kitchen where the dog usually slept under a table in the breakfast nook next to the air vent, where she kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  No Molly.

He started across the hall toward the living room and noticed mail spread along the floor a distance away from where it had dropped through the brass trimmed slot in the front door.  Clegg smiled.  Molly hadn’t attacked the mail for years.  Maybe she was enjoying a second childhood.  Second puppyhood?

He gathered up the mail, glanced into the living room–still no Molly–and started up the staircase leading to the bedrooms.  Clegg made his way to the entrance of the master bedroom where he stood for a moment shuffling through the mail.  As he stepped across the threshold, a dark spot on the rug near his foot caught his attention.  He turned on the light and stared at the reddish-brown stain.  It had not been there that morning, and Joanna never would have left the house with this blemish on the white bedroom rug.

Clegg’s eyes picked up a trail of stains leading to the bed centered against the far wall.  A streak of red was splashed across the yellow comforter, which was pulled toward the space between the bed and the side wall.

It was blood.  He was looking at blood.  The room.  The closet had been stripped.  Clothes were strewn across the floor. Drawers in the chests were open, spilling more clothes.

Clegg realized he was struggling to breathe.  His throat was closing.  He felt the mail slip from his hands as he approached the bed.  He was working hard with every step.  His legs were heavy.  A high-pitched sound began squealing in his ears.

Joanna’s body was pinned between the bed and the wall.  Her head was turned at an odd angle.  Her throat had been cut.  Blood was puddled underneath her head.  Molly lay at Joanna’s feet, her side slit open.

Clegg stared.  He tried to open his mouth.  He wanted to scream but nothing happened.  He felt tears streaming down his cheeks.  He dropped to his knees and started crawling toward the bed.

***

Squier drove up Pennsylvania Avenue, passing the Capitol and the Senate office buildings.  He turned onto Maryland Avenue and worked his way through gentrified neighborhoods, where congressional staffers and federal employees had shut themselves in for the night.  They lived behind reinforced doors and barred windows insulating themselves from the crime, desolation and squalor that haunted lives only blocks away.  There the desperately poor of America’s CapitalCity constructed their own protections, numbing themselves to the conditions with drugs, alcohol and violence.

Squier traveled into this damaged corridor, not foreign territory to the former DC narcotics cop.  He was familiar with the darker side streets and the blocks of abandoned and boarded buildings.  The apartment projects were scarred with graffiti, doors hung loose from their hinges at public entrances, or had been completely torn away.  Window screens, discarded furniture and other debris littered yards and recreation areas, which were mostly pools of mud.  The hard rain was creating rivulets in the streets, where garbage, strewn in the gutters, clotted the storm drains.

Hidden by the dark, Squier attracted little attention as he toured the shadowed streets.  His late model car was not out of place among the BMWs, the Legends and other customized luxury cars that were common to this area, where prosperous drug crews preyed on the human misery.

Squier passed knots of men and women seated on milk crates in front of seedy bars and small package stores.  They pressed close to the walls to keep dry.  There were others sprawled on the sidewalks, soaked and huddled in fetal positions.

He cruised purposefully and circled the blocks slowly before settling across the street from a line of dilapidated row houses. His attention was attracted to a house in the center of the block that was entertaining a steady stream of traffic, welcoming and disgorging people who appeared extremely cautious, even nervous, as they entered and left.  Squier sat late into the night.  When the activity slowed, he waited patiently for his victim.

He ignored a number of women who skulked down the steps and disappeared into the dark.  He also ignored men in pairs, or those who stayed on the far side of the street.  Squier leaned close to the windshield and watched a man come down the steps.  “Over here,” he whispered to himself, then smiled broadly when the solitary figure crossed the street and walked unsteadily in the direction of the car.  As the man ambled past, Squier moved swiftly and was on his victim before he was detected.  He held the silenced 9 mm Beretta at the base of the man’s skull and pulled the trigger.  As the body crumpled into a heap, Squier dropped a purse alongside the shattered skull.  He bent over the body and placed a bloody knife in the pocket of the man’s pants.

***

The words washed over him like noise in a dream.  “Congressman?  Congressman Caffery?”

Clegg blinked until a figure sitting across from him came into focus.  A man, his breath smelling of cigarettes and coffee, was becoming more insistent.  “Congressman?  Congressman Caffery?”

Clegg felt something above his head and tilted his face slightly.  A Tiffany lamp.  He was sitting at the table in his kitchen.

“Oh, God.”  The image of Joanna lying in her own blood came back to him.  Clegg buried his face in his hands unaware that he was streaking blood across his cheeks and forehead.

“I’m sorry,” the man said weakly.

“I’ve got it now,” another voice intruded, and Clegg felt a second body move in front of him.  “I’m Special Agent Matt Thurston,” this voice said softly.  He waved his ID in front of Clegg’s eyes.  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you a few questions, sir.”

Clegg sat up in the chair.  A square-jawed young face confronted him, green eyes staring steadily into his own.  The man offered him a handkerchief.  Clegg stared at it until Thurston placed it in his hands.  Then Clegg noticed the blood staining his shirt.  He jumped out of the chair and began tearing at his shirt.

Thurston put his hands firmly on Clegg’s shoulders.  “Please sit down,” he said softly.

Clegg resisted only momentarily and slowly fell into the chair as if exhausted.  Thurston picked the handkerchief off the floor, where it had dropped, and placed it back in Clegg’s hands.

“You told the 911 operator you came home and found your wife dead.  Is that right?”

Clegg flinched.  Dead.  It was spoken.  It was official.  In the books.  He thought he was going to be sick.

“Take a sip,” Thurston said, holding a bottle of water in front of Clegg’s face.

He drank carefully, unsure if he could get the water down.  “I don’t remember making the call.  I don’t know how I got here,” Clegg said hoarsely, placing the bottle on the glass-topped table.

“The responding officer found you sitting on your bed with the telephone in your hand.  He brought you downstairs.”

Clegg nodded.  “Upstairs.  I found her upstairs.  Someone broke in.”

“That’s what it looks like.  Is there anything else you can tell us?”

Clegg shook his head slowly.

“The blood.”  Thurston pointed at Clegg’s shirt and jacket.  “How did that get there?”

“I don’t know,” Clegg said, sobbing.  He raised his arms and hands, and gawked at the front of his shirt.  He leaned forward trying to keep the blood-soaked material away from his body.

“It looks like the body was disturbed.  Did you move it?”

Clegg felt like he was floating away from the table and listening to two strangers talking.  He began to sway side-to-side grabbed the arms of his chair.

“Congressman Caffery, did you touch anything upstairs?”

“I don’t know,” he responded irritably.  “Wait….  I held her.”

Thurston let his head drop and said nothing for a moment.  Then, “You didn’t see anything that caused you to think something might be wrong before you found your wife?”

“Not before.  Not really.  Now I see that there were things that weren’t right.”

“Like?”

“It looked like no one was home.  The house was dark but the alarm system had been turned off, and Joanna’s car was parked out front.”

“Why didn’t you think anything was wrong when you came into a dark house and the alarm was off?”

Clegg heard an insinuation of carelessness; the implication of a lack of concern.  His anger flared.  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, sir.  I’m only trying to get a sense of how this happened.  How the intruder got in…and out.”

Clegg considered his answer before continuing.  “There was nothing so unusual that it made me suspicious.  A lot of little things weren’t right, but they could all be explained.”

“Tell me about these little things, besides the car and the security system.”

Clegg ran down a list.  The dog.  The mail.  The shattered bulb.

Thurston glanced up at a uniformed man standing next to him. “Take a look at the porch light would you, please?  And see if you can get any prints off the security system.”

“We’re dusting everything, but whoever did this covered his tracks pretty well.  It looks like he even vacuumed the rug upstairs.”

Thurman arched his eyebrows.  “He vacuumed and then threw the clothes all over the bedroom?”

The man shrugged.  “That’s the way it looks.”

“Let’s find that vacuum cleaner.”

“We did.  It’s been emptied.”

“Check the garbage.”

“Nothing there.”

Clegg leaned toward Thurston, his eyes narrowed in question.  “Did you say special agent before?  You’re from the FBI?”

“Yes sir.  You’re a federal official.  This is just a precaution.  Have you received any unusual mail at your office?  Threatening letters, maybe?  Anything like that?”

“What?” Clegg blurted out.  “A precaution?  What’s going on?”

“We’re checking all the possibilities.”

“What possibilities?”

“There are a lot of sick people out there, sir.  They target public figures like you and your wife.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Thurston held up a plastic bag.  “We found this in your wife’s hand.”

Clegg recoiled from the object.

Thurston pulled it away, but held the baggie at eye level.  “It appears to be the corner of a photograph of something.  There’s no image on it but it has the slick quality of paper that photographs are printed on.”

Clegg leaned forward and studied the small piece of paper.

“Do you have a place where you keep photographs?  You know, like in albums or boxes?”

“We have scrapbooks and photograph albums.”

“Would you mind if we took them with us?  We might find something that could help.”

“They’re in a bookcase in the living room,” Clegg answered and gestured dismissively with his hand.

Thurston stood, reached into his suit coat pocket, pulled out his wallet and removed a card.  “If you think of anything else that might be helpful, please call me at the number on that card.”

Thurston started to walk away and then turned.  “Do you have someone you can call?  Maybe a friend you can stay with tonight, or maybe they could come stay with you?”

Clegg stared at Thurston before shaking his head.  “I’ll be fine.”

On his way out of the house, Thurston called over a D.C. police officer.  “Would you or one of the others stay with him a while?”  He nodded toward the kitchen.

“You want us to follow him if he leaves?”

Thurston, his eyes on the townhouse, answered, “He’s not going anywhere.  No need.  He didn’t kill his wife.  This whole thing’s too clean.  Professional.  I just want to make sure he’s okay, that’s all.”

“Yeah, sure.  I’ll stick around.”

“Thanks.”

“No.  Thank you.  I’ll be getting overtime.  But you could let my captain know what a prince of a guy I am.”

***

Norman Bremen tugged at his ear lobe as he paced.  “I asked you to talk to her, that’s all,” he said calmly.  “And I certainly would have preferred that you not bring this news to me here…at home, at this hour.”

“Is everything all right, Norman?” a voice whined through the door of the study.

“For obvious reasons.”  Bremen gestured toward the door.  “Go to sleep, Lorraine.  I will be up shortly.”

“I thought you’d want to know right away,” Squier responded contritely.

Bremen didn’t answer.  He walked to a head-high fireplace on the wall facing the study door, struck a long wooden match along stone bordering the hearth and lighted a row of balled newspapers arranged neatly under a stack of logs.  The logs began to burn almost immediately bringing a warm glow to the cozy room, which was furnished with burnt-red leather couches and chairs.  The dark wood walls were bare except for a portrait of Seminole Indian Chief Osceola hanging above the fireplace.

Bremen lowered himself into a chair and gestured at another across a coffee table.  “Sit and tell me what happened.”  He leveled a withering glare at Squier.  “Tell me everything.”

“I got to her place before she did.  I waited in the car and then followed her to the door.  I told her who I was, and said I had some information you wanted her to look at.  She said she wasn’t interested.  I tried again.  Politely,” he emphasized, ”but she wouldn’t listen.”

“All this went on where?”

“At the front door.”

“So we have a scene brewing.”

“Not right away.”  Squier shut his eyes briefly, ordering his thoughts.  “She told me to leave and threatened to call the cops.  I tried again.  She forced my hand, started screaming at me.  I had to break the light on the porch to make sure no one saw me pushing her inside the house.  I tried to calm her down.  Told her I was only there to show her these.”  He laid the manila envelope on the coffee table.

“Did she look at the photographs?”

“Yeah.  She calmed down while she was doing that and then wouldn’t give them back.  She said to tell you that you made a big mistake.  That you had given her something to prove what you were trying to do to her husband.  It got out of hand.  She tried to run upstairs and lock herself in her bedroom.”

Bremen rubbed the center of his forehead with his fingers.  “It certainly appears I underestimated Mrs. Joanna Caffery.”  He brought his hand down to the armrest.  “Are you sure no one saw you coming or going?”

Squier shook his head.  “I don’t think so.  We weren’t outside that long.  It was raining pretty hard.  No one was around.”

“How about inside?  Did you take care of things inside?”  “Sure.  I know what the cops will be looking for.  This should go in the books as a robbery-homicide.  I turned the room.”

Bremen shot Squier a questioning look.

“I made it look like someone had gone through the room searching for valuables.  I grabbed some jewelry and took her purse.  The cops will find the purse, her keys, jewelry and the weapon with someone who robbed the house for drug money and then killed her when she walked in on the robbery.  That’s the way I’d see it if I was them.”

Bremen came out of his chair.  “You gave these items to someone?”

“Dead men don’t talk,” Squier answered as Bremen lowered himself back into the chair.  “I made this an easy case to close. Drug-related robbery and killing, then the junkie becomes a victim.  A nice package because no one’s going to care who killed a junkie.  The department will be happy to take it off the board.”

“‘Dead men don’t talk.’  Very poetic,” Bremen said icily.

Squier placed the binder on the table between them.  “Got that like you said.”

Bremen glanced at the binder, then picked up the manila envelope, opened it, shuffled through the photographs, separated one from the stack and it held up.  “We have a problem.”

Squier considered a torn edge of the photograph and nervously ran his tongue along his lips.

Bremen stood and walked past the fireplace toward a set of French doors that opened onto a small porch overlooking a rose garden.  He stopped on the far side of the doors, pressed against the wall, which revolved, revealing a wet bar.  Rows of bottles were reflected in a mirror behind a double sink that sat above a small refrigerator.  Bremen reached for a bottle of scotch.

“Ever been to Clewiston?” he asked as he tipped a bottle of Chivas Regal toward a heavy glass.

“No, sir.”

“Do you know where Clewiston is?”

“No, sir.”

“It’s in Florida.  My hometown, in fact.  There’s someone there I want you to visit.”

 

 


About the author

J. David Bethel

J. David Bethel is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been published in popular consumer magazines and respected political journals. He is the author of Evil Town, a novel of political intrigue that has received high praise from Washington opinion leaders, and is one of only a few novels available through Kindle that has been rewarded with Five-Stars by all readers who provided reviews. Bethel spent 35 years in politics and government. He served in the Senior Executive Service as a political appointee where he was Senior Adviser/Director of Speechwriting for the Secretary of Commerce; directed speechwriting offices for other Cabinet officials, serving as Chief Speechwriter to the Secretary of Education; and lead speechwriter in the Department of Transportation's Office of Policy and International Affairs. He also served as press secretary/speechwriter to members of U.S. Congress. Bethel authored the speech given by Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nevada) nominating then-Governor Ronald Reagan as the GOP candidate for President. Bethel works as a media consultant for a number of prominent communications management firms, including Burson Marsteller and The Wade Group. He writes speeches, opinion editorials and Congressional testimony for CEOs from the nation’s largest corporations, including the Monsanto Corporation, Hilton Hotels Corporation, and Royal Caribbean Lines. His op-ed pieces have appeared in The Washington Post and other prominent newspapers around the country. Bethel graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Tulane University and lives in Miami, Florida. Contact the author.
COMMENT POLICY
  • Kristen Bruscha

    No doubt about it, David is a gifted writer. I found myself hooked from the very beginning and the pages kept turning and turning. I can’t wait to finish the book!

  • P. Tennessee

    Mostly read this book during my daily commute to and from work. However, there were many times I caught myself reading into the middle of the night before realizing I was losing beauty sleep.! This is a good read!

  • Carolyn Settles

    Carolyn Settles, President, Settles & Associates

    Arlington, VA

    If you like thrillers written by someone who knows Washington, DC both geographically and politically, then Evil Town by David Bethel is a must read for you. Between the complex overlapping plot lines and the astonishing number of truly evil characters, you will be drawn deeply into the unique world that is our nation’s capital

  • Amber Antonelli

    Already hooked just by reding this excerpt… Downloading the book right now!

  • Patricia

    I’ve read the chapter and loved it!

  • Noelle Soto

    I’m looking forward to reading the excerpt given the good things I’ve heard about this novel!

  • Phil Bolos

    Washington D.C. is a beacon for freedom and justice in an unjust world. In Evil
    Town by John David Bethel, it is also home to the world’s most corrupt and evil
    politicians. Conspiracies and secrets run rampant as the leaders of the free
    world do what they have to in order to raise their personal profits and bend the
    will of the public to their own desires. Caught in the middle of all this is
    Clegg Caffery, the seemingly last honest politician in Washington. Senator
    Caffery is in a unique position to shift power in the senate if he is willing to
    stay on for additional terms. Caffery wants to stay, but his wife wants to go
    home to Florida and their old life. Others need him to stay, and will do whatever is necessary to see that he does.
    As I began
    reading Evil Town, I found myself being drawn into a world where strong-arm
    tactics rule the day and those who resist are dealt with in the harshest of
    fashions. Murder, cover-ups, and closed-door dealings assault the reader as John
    David Bethel weaves an intricate web showing the dark side of politics. Evil
    Town is an amazing read with exquisite attention to plot, setting, and character
    development. No matter what your political views may be, Evil Town will make you
    question the workings of our government and how much faith you are willing to
    place in it.
    - Phil Bolos, author of Fiend The Manifestation

HOME / ABOUT / CONTACT / JOIN THE TEAM / TERMS OF SERVICE / PRIVACY POLICY / COMMENT POLICY