Authors: Maggie Sefton
Tags: #Mystery, #Fiction, #congress, #soft-boiled, #maggie sefton, #Suspense, #politics
Â© 2012 Maggie Sefton
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First e-book edition Â© 2012
E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-3228-2
Book design by Donna Burch
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I want to to thank my agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC,
for believing in and supporting the Molly Malone Suspense
Mysteries and for always believing in me.
Washington, D.C. lay spread
out below me like a seductive old whore. White monuments and grassy parksâjewels on fine garmentâonly disguised what awaited this lover's embrace: the knife hidden in the folds of her gown. My breath still caught at the sight of her.
The passenger jet banked to the left as it began its approach to Reagan National Airport, and the forested subdivisions of Northern Virginia edged into view. Memoriesâbittersweet and painful rushed in. Home. Family and friends waiting for me. A grave sheltered on the banks of Rock Creek.
Descending, the plane dropped over that glistening ribbon of the Potomac as we approached the runway. From the corner of my eye, I caught sunlight reflecting off the Capitol dome, and other memories crept from the dark. Old enemies. They had prospered, while I'd run off to Colorado to lick my wounds.
Wheels touched down, and I joined the ritual grabbing of cell phones that now marked the end of every airline flight. Mine beeped into life, joining the shrill rings that bounced off the cabin walls, as we all scrambled into the aisles, laptops and briefcases slung over shoulders. Hurry up and wait.
Two missed calls. Nan and Deb both checking on me. My cousins and closest childhood friends, Nan and Deb had made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Free room and board while I started over.
. I was tired of starting over. It seemed like I'd been doing it my entire life. I didn't know if I could start over again, especially here.
“Molly, where are you?” Deb's voice demanded. “I've driven around National three times already.”
“We've just landed. I'll grab my suitcase and be out in front as soon as I can.” Straightening the skirt of my interview suit, I inched forward behind my fellow passengers. “Let's hope the luggage isn't delayed.”
“Okay, look for me. I've got the Jag. See you soon.”
“Deb, thanks again for doing all this. I mean picking me up and everything.”
“Are you kidding? We've been dying to get you out here since forever.”
“Well, thanks anyway, for being there, I guess.”
“We're family, Molly. Besides, it's time. Time for you to come back home. See you in a few.” Deb's phone clicked off.
I grabbed my carry-on from the overhead compartment and pondered what my cousin said. Time to come home. Denver had been home for over twenty years. Could I slip back in time, just like that? I didn't know. But I'd run out of options and excuses. I had nowhere else to go.
“Both interstates are clogged, so we'll take the parkway,” Deb said as she merged into traffic. “Besides, that'll give you a chance to enjoy the view of the city. Kind of reacquaint yourself. You've been avoiding it so long, dummy,” she added in an affectionate tone.
“I already reacquainted myself as we were landing.” I reached for the carryout coffee Deb had thoughtfully brought along. “Washington is as beautiful as the last time I saw it. And just as treacherous, if you believe the newspapers.”
“Let it go, Molly.”
Deb. Always keeping us on track. Nan and I used to call her the “policeman” when we were little kids and getting into mischief. As much mischief as was possible in sleepy Arlington, Virginia, a suburb in the early 1960s. Whenever one of us suggested something too far off base, Deb would always rein us back in.
“I'm trying, Deb. But it's going to take me a while.” I watched the green of East Potomac Park roll by across the river. The George Washington Memorial Parkway dipped and curved into the deep shade, the Potomac peeking through the trees. How many times had I driven this road?
“Take as long as you need, Molly. You're doing the right thing by coming here, you know. This is the Land of High-Priced Consultants, and you've got the background. You've been working for that Denver developer for years. You'll nail this job, I'm sure. You're perfect for it.”
I wished I felt as enthusiastic as Deb. “I hope so. There's enough in the bank to get through this month, but it's not my bills that are worrying me. It's Patricia. Her salary's due at the end of the month.” I stared into the blue sky above Lincoln Memorial as the road curved. “That's a lot of money.”
“How does your mom like Patricia?”
“She loves her, especially the Irish accent.” Remembering the lilting voice of the woman I'd hired as my elderly mother's companion, I congratulated myself again. I'd hired her on gut instinct alone. References were great, price was, well, not great, but it was in the ball park with all the other senior companions. My gut, as always, was right. My mom loved her. Of course, Mom wasn't exactly sure why she needed Patricia, but she enjoyed the company.
“Boy, I can't believe what they charge.”
“Yeah, it's a growth business, from what I've heard.” Spying the familiar riverside outlines of Georgetown and Key Bridge edge into view, I checked my watch. “We're getting a little close with time. Maybe I should call Parker's office and let them know we're on the way.” I dug for the cell phone at the bottom of my purse.
“Good idea. If the parkway is clear, then we should be in Fairfax in half an hour.” Deb brushed her rust-colored hair over her shoulder before taking a sip from her travel mug.
Deb's hair was still a gorgeous rusty red. Silver-gray might be intruding, but she didn't care. As for Nan and me, we kept trying to fool Mother NatureâNan with her blond hair getting blonder every year and me with my shorter frosted cut. Hide as long as you can.
I thumbed through the cell phone's directory for Parker's number. Jeff Parker and Associates. Commercial developer extraordinaire.
“Nan's making her special peppercorn-encrusted tenderloin in celebration.”
I punched in the number. “Let's hope we have something to celebrate.”
“We've got to do something about your self-confidence, Molly. You never used to talk like that.”
“By the way, Karen may be coming over tonight. She called while I was leaving the airport. Wanted to wish me luck.”
“It'll be great to see her. She still working for that congressman from Nebraska?”
“Yep. Six years nowâ” I heard Parker's office receptionist on the line. “Yes, this is Molly Malone. I've got a three o'clock appointment with Mr. Parker. My flight was a little delayed, but I'm on the way now. I should be there in half an hour.”
“Ms. Malone? Mister Parker asked me to put you right through if you called. Hold on, please.”
Something in the receptionist's tone of voice set my instinct buzzing. Why would Parker need to speak to me right now? The cold sensation that had become my constant companion for the last month settled into my stomach once again.
“Ms. Malone, Jeff Parker, here,” a high-pitched tenor voice came on the line. “I was hoping you'd call. We've had some bad news.”
. I braced for what I was about to hear.
“We just heard today. Our financing fell through. It's been a bear, Ms. Malone. Money's been tight this year as you know. I cannot tell you how sorry I am. I assure you, we had every expectation of bringing you on as head managerial accountant for this project, but we've had to put everything on hold. It's chaos right now, Ms. Malone. We've made commitments all over, and â¦”
“So, you won't be needing me?” I managed to say, putting the coffee cup in its holder before I spilled it all over the Jag's interior.
!” Deb sputtered, choking on her coffee.
“No, no, we won't. In fact, we may have to let people go. I'm sorry, Ms. Malone, believe me, we've heard nothing but glowing reports about you, and we were looking forward to having you join our team â¦”
I held the phone as Parker went on about nightmare delays and permits that didn't materialize and payments to subcontractors, and money drying up. His nasal voice droned, insectlike, while my old companion Cold claimed me completely.
Oh, my God
What do I do now?
“Son of a bitch. Give me that phone.” Deb didn't ask. She grabbed. “Jeff, what the hell do you think you're doing? Molly's come all the way here from Colorado for
project! You were drooling at her credentials three weeks ago. Now, you're ditching her? You can't do that. It's not ethical.”
I only halfway listened as Deb chewed out Jeff Parker for firing me before I was even hired. Meanwhile, I concentrated on trying not to throw up.
“I don't care if that project went down. Plug her into another project. I know real estate, Jeff. You can do that.”
Deb was good, but not good enough. Even loyal friends couldn't change the facts. Parker and Associates were strapped for money right now. Overextended. No way could they pay my salary, or rather, the salary I needed.
“Jeff, I'm not going to forget this,” Deb threatened, before she snapped off the phone and tossed it into my lap, her face puckering in a frown I recognized from childhood. Deb was fiercely protective of her own. “He'd better not ask Nan and me to do another one of his parties.”
“Deb, it's not him, it's the money. He doesn't have it.” At least the accountant inside was awake. The rest of me was going numb as the deep green of the parkway enveloped us, tall trees shading the road beside the river.
“Wait'll I tell Nan. She'll hit the ceiling.”
“Better call and tell her to save that tenderloin for another time.”
“The hell we will. We're still going to celebrate your homecoming,” Deb said defiantly. “Then we're gonna brainstorm and find you another job.”
“Can you pull over first? I've gotta throw up.”
Deb steered into a scenic overlook. “Okay, tourists on the left at nine o'clock. I'll distract âem. You're good to go on the right.”
I didn't even wait for the car to stop before I opened the door.
“Just got off the phone with one of my clients. He confirms everything that Parker told you, Molly. Developers are taking a big hit right now,” Bill Anderson said as he settled into the patterned cushions of the white wicker garden chair. “Damn. I thought commercial was heating up again.”
“So did I,” Deb said as she placed a plate of fresh Camembert on the round table in the center of our little circle.
Nan, Bill, Deb, Deb's husband Mike, and I were seated in one of the many patios surrounding Nan and Bill's gorgeous colonial home deep in the woods of Vienna, Virginia. From here, traffic was a distant memory. This patio was crowned by a white lattice wood arbor, wisteria and climbing roses dangling through the top and along the sides. It looked like a photo spread for
. Nan's flowerbeds dotted the backyard, shady and sunny, ready to burst into bloom. Since it was mid-March, the daffodils and crocuses were already out, flaunting their royal colors.
I reached for a wedge of Camembert, which was beside an overflowing antipasto tray and another platter of cheese and nuts. God forbid we starve. “We're not going to have any appetite for that tenderloin,” I said before sipping my Cosmo.
Mike Beringer scooped up a handful of cashews. “Don't worry about the beef, Molly. Besides, you need something to absorb that vodka. We're still brainstorming.” He gave me a wink.
“Well, storm away, but don't you dare fill up,” Nan warned as she balanced her martini glass on the chair arm. “That tenderloin is perfect.”
“I don't understand. There are shopping centers going up all over the place, all the time,” Deb said, rattling the ice cubes in her empty glass. “You can't tell me they don't need someone with Molly's experience.”
“Sure they do. We simply have to find the firms that are still hiring,” Bill said in the declarative tone of a successful corporate attorney. “Let me refill that, Deb.”
Deb wordlessly handed the glass to her brother-in-law as he headed for the outside bar, which was only slightly less stocked than the inside bar.
“Meanwhile, you can stay here as long as you want, Molly,” Nan added. “The downstairs has been empty for ages.”
I took a big sip of the martini, then smiled at my friend. “You mean the French Suite? I'm afraid to set a glass on the furniture. You've got antiques down there, for Pete's sake. It looks like a guest house in Provence.”
“It should. She redid the whole room after she read that book,” Bill said, putting a vodka-filled glass in Deb's waiting hand. “You don't want to see the bills.”
Nan gave a disparaging wave. “Don't believe him. Deb and I got great deals at the antique shops in Leesburg.”
“Plus, we use a lot of the furniture for clients, depending on the event. Some hostesses want a special look. And we provide it, for a price, of course,” Deb said with a knowing smile. She was the one who kept the books of their successful business.
“Boy, that hobby-turned-business has really blossomed. I'm so proud of you two.” I held my almost-empty glass high. “To the Babson Sisters, Entertaining by Design.” I tossed down the rest of the Cosmo and felt the vodka tingle through my veins. I didn't even bother to reach for the cheese.
That was the nice thing about relaxing with old friends. You could drink and get silly or sentimental or angry or whateverâand they still loved you. Thank God somebody did.
I'd grown up in Nan and Deb's home as much as my own. Since I was the only child of older parents, Nan and Deb were the closest thing to sisters I ever had. Daughters of my father's younger sister, we all lived in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Arlington was our backyard, and Washington was our playground next door. A stone's throw across the river. Arlington was quiet and sleepy then, not the crowded urban suburb it was now. In those days we could play anywhere, even ride our bikes through Fort Myer all the way to National Cemetery, waving at the smiling Army soldier guarding the gate. If we tried that now, we'd probably be shot on sight.