include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Candidate for Murder by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Candidate

for

Murder

A Mac Faraday Mystery

By

Lauren Carr

Candidate for Murder: Book Information

All Rights Reserved © 2016 by Lauren Carr

Published by Acorn Book Services

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted  in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or  mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author.

For information call: 304-995-1295

or Email: writerlaurencarr@gmail.com

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Designed by Acorn Book Services

Publication Managed by Acorn Book Services

www.acornbookservices.com

acornbookservices@gmail.com

304-995-1295

Cover designed by Todd Aune

Spokane, Washington

www.projetoonline.com

Published in the United States of America


Table of Contents

Candidate for Murder: Book Information

Dedication

Cast of Characters

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Epilogue

About the Author

Check Out  Lauren Carr’s Mysteries!

Crimes Past

Dedication

To My Muse—

The Real Gnarly

Cast of Characters

(in order of appearance)

Gnarly: Mac Faraday’s German shepherd. Before Mac inherited him from Robin Spencer, Gnarly served in the United States Army, who refuses to talk about him.

Lieutenant Frank Watson: Leader of an army unit stationed in the Iraqi desert. He is Gnarly’s commanding officer. Those who serve under him call him “Patton.”

First Sergeant Scott Scalia: Soldier in Lieutenant Watson and Gnarly’s unit.

First Sergeant Belle Perkins: Gnarly’s handler and partner when he was in the army.

Private Drew Samuels: Soldier on Gnarly’s team. Gnarly stepped up to bat to save him, Private Samuels does the same for him.

Police Chief David O’Callaghan: Spencer’s chief of police. Mac Faraday’s younger half-brother by their father, Patrick O’Callaghan, Spencer’s late police chief.

Police Chief Patrick O’Callaghan: David’s late father. Spencer’s legendary police chief. The love of Robin Spencer’s life and Mac Faraday’s birth father.

Dallas Walker: David O’Callaghan’s girlfriend. Investigative journalist. Comes from Texas.

Storm: A Belgian shepherd, Storm is Dallas’ canine companion and Gnarly’s good friend.

Tonya: Spencer Police Department Desk Sergeant. She runs things at the police station.

Nancy Braxton: Candidate for Spencer’s first woman mayor. Wife of Nathan Braxton and chair of Braxton Charities. She has been running unsuccessfully for public office for three decades. If she fails in this election, she’ll be running for dog catcher.

Nathan Braxton: Nancy’s husband. Former professional football player. Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Sandy Burr: Investigative journalist found dead in a bath tub in his hotel room at the Lakeside Inn. Both wrists were slashed with a razor blade. Suicide note found on the bed, but many believe it was murder.

George Ward: State chairman for Nancy Braxton’s political party. He’ll go to any lengths for her to win.

Erin Devereux: Nancy’s executive assistant. She holds the record for longest time in her position.

Officers Fletcher, Brewster, and Zigler: Officers with the Spencer Police Department. They serve under Police Chief David O’Callaghan.

Bill Clark: Candidate for Spencer’s mayor. Member of the town council. Born and raised locally.

Deputy Chief Arthur Bogart (Bogie): Spencer’s Deputy Police Chief. David’s godfather. Don’t let his gray hair and weathered face fool you.

Fiona Davis: Witness in Sandy Burr case. She had dinner with victim hours before his death.

Bernie and Hap: Two of Spencer’s beloved characters. They become Gnarly’s campaign managers.

Mac Faraday: Retired homicide detective. On the day his divorce became final, he inherited $270 million and an estate on Deep Creek Lake from his birth mother, Robin Spencer.

Robin Spencer: Mac Faraday’s late birth mother and world-famous mystery author. As an unwed teenager, she gave him up for adoption. After becoming America’s queen of mystery, she found her son and made him her heir. Her ancestors founded Spencer, Maryland, located on the shore of Deep Creek Lake, a resort area in Western Maryland.

Archie Monday: Former editor and research assistant to world-famous mystery author Robin Spencer. She is now Mac Faraday’s wife.

Dr. Dora Washington: Garrett County Medical Examiner.

Jessica Faraday: Mac Faraday’s lovely daughter. Attending Georgetown University School of Medicine for doctorate in forensics psychology. Her inheritance from Robin Spencer thrust her into high society, which she left when she married Murphy Thornton.

Murphy Thornton: Jessica’s husband. Second Lieutenant in the United States Navy. Naval Academy graduate. He’s not your average navy officer.

Tawkeel Said: Murphy’s colleague and friend.

Marilyn Newton: She breaks all stereotypes for middle-aged church ladies. She campaigns to win the evanglical vote for Gnarly.

Sheriff Christopher Turow: Garrett County Sheriff. Retired army officer. His wife was killed while serving in Iraq. He’s one of the good guys.

Carmine Romano: Owner of Carmine’s Pizza. He’s endorsing Gnarly.

Cassandra Clark: Bill Clark’s third wife. Less than a year after they said “I do,” the honeymoon appears to be over.

Hugh Vance: Nancy Braxton’s brother. He runs Braxton Charities.

Caleb Montgomery: Reluctant witness in a cold murder case.

Nigel: Jessica Faraday and Murphy Thornton’s butler.

Spencer/Candi: Jessica Faraday’s blue merle Shetland sheepdog.

Newman: Murphy’s bassett hound. He’s a couch potato.

Tristan Faraday: Mac Faraday’s son. Professional student at George Washington University. He’s an intellectual and proud of it.

Sarah Thornton: Naval academy cadet. Murphy’s sister. Tristan’s girlfriend.

Salma Rameriz: Producer of a local news program. Her type of journalism knows nothing about being fair and unbiased.

CO: Murphy’s commanding officer. She leads the Phantoms.

Bruce Hardy: Agent with the Central Intelligence Agency. Worked undercover in the Middle East.

Newt Wallace: Executive Officer to the Director of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency

Camille Jurvetson: Director of Operations at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Simon Spears: Bill Clark’s campaign manager.

Epigraph

Politics have no relation to morals..

Niccolò Machiavelli

Italian author, 1469–1527

Prologue

Four Years Ago—Iraqi Desert near the Border of Syria

The blazing sun and sweltering heat made it impossible to sleep in past sunrise in the military camp. Members of the army squad moved about quietly as if there was some possibility that their teammates could sleep in.

Courtesy wasn’t the sole reason for their silence. The entire camp was grieving over four soldiers who had been killed the afternoon before.

Dressed in desert fatigues, Lieutenant Frank Watson exited his tent into the bright morning sun and stretched. Directly across from his quarters was First Sergeant Belle Perkins’ tent, which was eerily quiet. Recalling the events of the day before, the officer sucked in a deep breath.

“Good morning, sir.” First Sergeant Scott Scalia trotted up to his commanding officer. “Sleep okay?”

The angst was etched on his face. Rarely, if ever, had the soldier seen the lieutenant smile. “How do you think? Cut yourself shaving, Sergeant?”

Scalia rubbed his fingers along the deep scratch across his jaw. “No, that happened during the ambush yesterday. Still came out much better than many in our team, and it would have been much worse if it hadn’t been for your exceptional leadership.” The young soldier’s face glowed in the morning sun. “Your ability to command in the hottest—”

“Did you get in touch with command?” Lieutenant Watson cut the sergeant off.

“Sending a chopper to pick up their bodies this afternoon,” Scalia said. “Unfortunately, sir, it looks like we’ve got another problem.”

“Another?”

“Frost is missing, sir.”

Lieutenant Watson’s eyes grew wide before immediately narrowing to slits. “Missing? Are you sure, Sergeant?”

“Yes, sir,” Scalia said. “Mr. Frost requested that I wake him this morning to give him the ETA for the helicopter transport because he had a pouch going to HQ. I went there just now, and he wasn’t in his tent.”

“Maybe he’s—”

“Not in the mess tent, sir.” Scalia was ahead of him. “No one has seen him, sir. Plus his gear appears to be gone, sir.”

“Damn it!” Lieutenant Watson said. “We’ve been escorting that damn contractor all over this hell they call a desert for the last month. We’ve lost six members of our squad protecting his butt. Two last week and four—”

Scalia shot a glance in the direction of the first sergeant’s tent. “The way things went down yesterday—it would have been a whole lot worse if it hadn’t been for Perkins and Gnarly. The way they had all of us pinned—”

The howl that came from the tent was heard across the camp. Soldiers spilled out of their tents and ran to First Sergeant Belle Perkins’ tent to uncover the cause of her canine partner’s distress.

Lieutenant Frank Watson was the first one inside. The interior of the tent was a shambles. The bed had been overturned. They found her German shepherd draped across her dead body. The dog was licking her from one side of her face to the other, and they were unsure of whether he was doing so in the hope of bringing his master back to life or because he wanted to kiss her farewell. When he received no response, he threw back his head and uttered a long, mournful howl.

“Whoever took Frost must have killed Perkins!” When the lieutenant stepped toward them, the German shepherd lunged at him with a hundred pounds of fur and teeth.

Grabbing for his service weapon, the army officer fell back.

“Maybe Gnarly went nuts and turned on her,” one of the soldiers said as his canine teammate snarled at them from where he was standing protectively in front of Sergeant Perkins. “I’ve heard of that happening—PTS.”

“Stand down!” Another soldier familiar with dogs pushed through the throng of soldiers, all of whom had their hands on their weapons and were ready to take down the anxious canine. “He got hurt in the ambush yesterday. Dogs instinctively feel the need to protect themselves and their partners—especially when they’re injured.” Slowly, the soldier inched forward.

“You’re going to get yourself killed, Samuels,” Scalia said. “We all saw what that dog did to those terrorists yesterday.”

“Yeah, I saw.” Private Drew Samuels continued inching forward with his hand held out to the German shepherd. “Gnarly stuck his neck out to save our butts. We can stick our necks out to help him—he deserves that at the very least.”

Samuels was within striking distance of the dog. Gnarly sniffed his hand.

Aiming his gun at the dog, the lieutenant said, “If he tries anything, I’m taking him out.”

“Give me a chance.”

Gnarly’s grand bronze-colored ears fell back, and he uttered a whine while glancing over his shoulder and back at the woman lying on the floor of the tent behind him.

“I know, boy.” Samuels dared to touch the top of Gnarly’s head. “We want to help her. Let me look.” While stroking the German shepherd, the army medic moved past him to look down at the K-9 handler.

She was dressed in her fatigue pants and a T-shirt. Sprawled out on the floor, she was gazing up at the ceiling with dead eyes.

Everyone in the camp squeezed in through the door. Those unable to get inside stood on their toes and looked past their fellow soldiers to catch a glimpse of the dead K-9 officer and her partner, who was lying next to her with his snout buried in her dark hair.

Looking down at Gnarly, the commanding officer asked, “What happened here?”

Chapter One

Present Day—Spencer, Maryland

“You didn’t tell me you were into blindfolds,” Dallas Walker said to David O’Callaghan. “Call me a prude, but I’m gettin’ nervous as a fly in a glue pot.”

“Whatever that means.” David peered closely at her face to make sure that she couldn’t see through the bandana he had tied around her head.

While the lanky brunette had never exhibited any trouble moving around in her high heels, the process of walking down the circular staircase in David’s luxurious house on the shore of Deep Creek Lake while blindfolded was a different story. Every window in the home, which had been built in the shape of a circle, provided a lake view.

Their long-distance courtship was proving to be a success. Dallas Walker, who was in her midtwenties, owned a thousand-acre ranch in Texas that made some demands on her. As one of the heirs to a billion-dollar fortune, she did have a full staff of ranch hands to keep the operation going, but her love for the quarter horses she bred demanded that she return to Texas periodically.

Yet her investigative-journalism career required frequent and unexpected trips away from both homes to follow leads for particularly juicy cases.

As the chief of police in the small resort town of Spencer, Maryland, David O’Callaghan found that he was enjoying his freedom when Dallas was gone—and enjoying their passionate reunions when she returned.

With his investigative instincts, he had not failed to notice that Dallas was moving into his home one suitcase at a time. The latest piece of luggage was a dog crate that contained a Belgian shepherd named Storm. Slightly smaller than a German shepherd, she had a thick sable coat and a bushy tail that caused her to remind David of a giant fox.

After being apart from Dallas for a full month, David was anxious to pull out all of the romantic stops for her return, including a home-cooked dinner of Chateaubriand for two, candlelight, and champagne. It was his first venture in trying to cook a gourmet meal.

While Dallas had been upstairs getting dressed for their evening in, David had set the perfect table and put on soft lights and music. He then escorted her to the dining area.

As Dallas maneuvered down the stairs in her high heels, David kept a firm hold on her while admiring her long legs, which were displayed in a short skirt. Her thick, wavy locks spilled down to the middle of her back. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, he ushered her over to the table. “Okay, take off the blindfold.”

Anxious to see her expression, David watched her push the bandana up and over her head. Her light-brown eyes met his sparkling-blue ones. Then, as she looked beyond him to the romantically set dinner table, her eyes grew wide with shock. Her mouth dropped open.

Not expecting such a reaction, David turned around just as she let out a shriek followed by loud laughter.

David had set the table for two with a place setting at each end of the table. Painstakingly, he had arranged their main entrée and garnished each plate to make it a work of art. There was a crystal champagne flute next to each plate and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket in the middle of the table.

Everything was as David had left it when he’d run upstairs to fetch Dallas—except for two additions.

Two additional guests had made themselves at home at the table and were in the process of cleaning the plates of the last remnants of the meal.

David’s multimillionaire half-brother, Mac Faraday, had left his dog, Gnarly, a hundred-pound German shepherd, in his care and had taken his wife, Archie Monday, on a river cruise in Europe. While Gnarly had a mind of his own, David usually didn’t have any trouble with him—until he met Storm.

The Belgian shepherd’s sweet, loving manner concealed her true nature, which David suspected was conniving—especially when she joined forces with Gnarly, the mastermind of the pair. In the very short time that the two dogs had known each other, the hundred-pound German and the female Belgian had become partners in crime.

The only thing worse than one sneaky kleptomaniac canine is two.

At that moment the two culprits were sitting at the table. Gnarly was licking the last drop of sauce from David’s plate. Across from him in what should have been Dallas’ chair, Storm was standing with her front paws on the table, finishing off her meal by lapping up Dallas’ champagne from the crystal flute.

“You—” Unable to think of which nasty word to say first, David sputtered before working up to a scream that sent both dogs flying. The chairs were overturned in the melee that followed. David lunged for Gnarly only to have Storm cut him off, which caused him to narrowly escape falling across the table. By the time David was able to regain his footing, the shepherds were galloping up the stairs.

Both plates had been licked clean. They’d even eaten the parsley garnish.

“I swear!” Dallas was doubled over with laughter. “If they’d run any faster, they would’ve caught up with yesterday!”

“Do you know how hard I worked to cook that dinner?”

Dallas wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “Really, sugar, it’s your own fault.”

“My fault?”

“Even in the short time I’ve known Gnarly, I know he’s a thief,” she said. “If you were smart, you would have put them outside before leaving our dinner unguarded.”

David’s eyes narrowed. “I did.” Pushing her away, he turned to the French doors leading out onto the back deck where he had put the two food thieves. One of the doors was wide open. With the palm of his hand, he smacked himself on the forehead. “But I forgot to lock it!”

“Lock it?” Her eyes grew wide.

“Gnarly can open doors, even doors with round doorknobs,” he said. “But he hasn’t figured out how to pick locks yet.” He picked up a linen napkin from the floor and tossed it onto the middle of the table. “Give him time. I’m sure if he sets his mind to it…”

Coming up behind him, she hugged him and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m sure they appreciated it.”

“I didn’t cook it for them. All I have left in the kitchen is mac and cheese.”

“I didn’t get a Brazilian wax job for mac and cheese,” she whispered before planting a lingering kiss on the back of his neck.

“Storm is a good dog,” Dallas said during their drive up to the top of Spencer Mountain to the five-star inn owned by Mac Faraday.

“She ate your dinner and drank your champagne.”

“Only because she looks up to Gnarly. I’m willin’ to bet he started it.”

Chuckling at Dallas’ bias toward her beloved dog, David turned the wheel to pull into the inn owner’s reserved parking space. Since Mac was out of town, David was sure that no one would be using it. Upon reading the sign announcing that evening’s events, David groaned.

“What’s wrong, love?” Dallas reached across the seat to squeeze his arm.

He nodded his head at the huge poster announcing the mayoral debate that would take place in the banquet room. “I forgot that the town council is hosting a political debate tonight.”

“Maybe we should go see it,” Dallas said while watching the crowd of well-dressed patrons cruising past the doormen.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” David said without humor in his tone.

There was puzzlement in her eyes. “Why not? I’m a journalist.”

“Spencer is a small town,” David said. “The population is fewer than a thousand most of the year.”

“And ’bout half of that population was raised on concrete in Washington.”

“Didn’t use to be,” he said. “People only found out about Deep Creek Lake in about the last two decades. Then they started moving in with their mansions and their big ideas about having laws controlling everything from dog leashes to clotheslines.”

“Clotheslines?”

“Clotheslines, believe it or not.”

Uncertain of whether he was joking, she looked him up and down.

The corner of his mouth curled up.

“Okay, lover, I’ll bite. What’s the thing ’bout clotheslines?”

“This spring, the town council quietly passed a bill outlawing clotheslines within Spencer’s town limits,” David said. “No heads-up. No discussion. No debate. No one even knew they were considering it. They were very quiet about it.”

Dallas’ eyebrows lifted up into her bangs. “Outlawed clotheslines?”

David nodded his head. “Can you believe it? I didn’t know about it until the law, signed and sealed, appeared on my desk.”

“How—”

“Local residents living in this lakefront community are no longer allowed to hang their wet clothes outside to dry. It’s a lake community where many families do water sports. Now they have to keep their wet swimsuits inside, where no one can see them. The town council’s excuse? Outdoor clotheslines bring down property value.”

“If you ask me, the folks on that town council are so low that they’d have to look up to see hell.”

“You got it, babe,” David said with a sigh. “Within days of the new law’s passing—before most of the town’s residents were aware that such a law had even been proposed—the city folks bombarded my department with complaints about their lowbrow neighbors drying their clothes outside. The locals have been posting scathing editorials in the newspapers and on social media. I even had to break up a fight between an older woman who liked the smell of her sheets when they were dried by the lake breeze and a Washington lobbyist who didn’t want her dinner guests to see her neighbor’s bedsheets.”

“Are you tellin’ me that the clothesline ban was the shot that started a civil war in Spencer?”

“Spencer has been cracking down the middle for the last seven years,” David said. “The clothesline prohibition was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A grin came to Dallas’ lips. “Sounds like the makin’ of a hot debate.” With a playful punch to his arm, she giggled. “I can’t wait.”

“I don’t want to go to the debate.”

Dallas didn’t hear him. She was already out of the cruiser. With a tip of his cap, a doorman held the door open for her and took the time to take in a view of her rear while she trotted inside.

When David caught up with her in the hotel’s lobby, where she was looking for the right direction to go in, he repeated his protest. “Wouldn’t you rather have a romantic dinner in the restaurant and then go home for dessert than sit in a stuffy banquet room watching two self-absorbed politicians spin one lie after another?”

“Oh, come on, sweetie,” she said while brushing her fingertips across his cheek. “From what you just said, this is gonna be livelier than a buffalo stampede.”

“I know both candidates,” David said. “Bill Clark is the head of the town council. He’s an arrogant bully who thinks he’s above everyday manners—unless he wants something from you. Nancy Braxton is a compulsive liar.”

“In other words, both of them would steal the flowers off of their grandmas’ graves.” She grinned. “They’re politicians. Being crookeder than a dog’s hind leg is the first requirement in that job description.” Playfully, she grasped the front of his dress shirt and pulled him to her. She locked her brown eyes, which were the color of cognac, onto his blue eyes. After kissing him on the lips, she whispered in his hear. “Just ten minutes. Please. And then we’ll go have dinner, and…if you want…we can go back home for dessert, and I’ll do that thing that makes you—”

David sucked in a deep breath. Dallas’ deep, raspy voice never failed to excite him, even when she wasn’t trying to seduce him. After letting out his breath slowly, he whispered, “Ten minutes. Not a second more.” He led her by the hand back to the banquet room.

“You know what, darlin’? Back home, we don’t consider it to be a proper political debate until fists start flying.”

The Next Morning—Spencer Police Department

The jingle of the bell over the front door announced the entrance of the police department’s desk sergeant, Tonya. Startled out of the snooze into which he had fallen while resting his jaw against a cold compress, David looked up from her desk.

Tonya slapped a paper bag down onto the desk in front of him. “I thought you could use this.” With a shake of her head, the middle-aged desk sergeant took note of the tear in David’s suit coat and of his disheveled appearance. Even his blond hair, which was usually neatly combed, was messed with a lock dropping down onto his forehead. His gold police chief’s badge was displayed on the utility belt he wore over his dress slacks.

David peered into the bag and discovered that she had brought him a bear claw.

“If anything, you proved your lack of partisanship to the citizens of Spencer,” Tonya said. “How many police chiefs would arrest both nominees for mayor—one of whom is destined to be your boss after the election?”

“How many people running for office would get into a fist fight with their opponent in front of a hundred people?” Taking the pastry out of the bag, he grumbled. “Dad used to say that only a crazy person would throw his or her hat into the ring. So you know that by virtue of the fact that they’re running for office, every candidate is mentally incompetent.”

“That’s why I don’t vote.” Tonya waved for him to get up from her desk.

David almost choked on his bear claw. “You don’t vote! Do you know how many countries in the world have dictatorships where people don’t have any say in what the government decides to do? Your vote is your voice. You need to exercise it.”

“It’s a right,” Tonya said. “Not an obligation.”

“People like you deserve what you get.” David waved the pastry at her. “I don’t ever want to hear you complain about our country going to pot again.”

The door to the police station opened again. Instantly, Gnarly and Storm charged in, practically dragging Dallas behind them. Once inside, she dropped both of their leashes and closed the door. Since he was in the midst of getting up from Tonya’s desk, David was unprepared to defend himself when Gnarly leaped from the floor to snatch the bear claw out of his hand. As soon as he noticed that his breakfast had been taken, David turned to lunge for the German shepherd only to have Storm dart between the two of them to cut him off. Without pausing, both dogs galloped across the squad room and up the stairs to David’s office.

“They’re like the canine Bonnie and Clyde,” Tonya said.

Seemingly unperturbed, Dallas set a lunch container on the reception counter. “That’s okay, my love. I brought you a better breakfast.” She didn’t notice the arched eyebrow Tonya was directing toward her in reference to the danish. “I felt so bad about our date gettin’ ruined last night,” she said, holding out an egg casserole baked into a single serving dish. “And you had to spend the night here with the candidates in jail—”

“They’re still here!” Gasping, Tonya whirled around in her chair. “Do you want to get fired after the election?”

“They both assaulted a police officer.” David pointed to the welt on his cheekbone. As he took the breakfast goody from Dallas, he gave her a soft kiss on the lips. “After spending all night listening to them blaming each other for getting arrested, an hour ago I called Fletcher and told him to come take over the babysitting.”

Dallas followed David to the empty desk where he sat down to eat. “You would think that since they’re such highfalutin, important folks, people would have been here like that”—she snapped her fingers—“fixin’ to get them released.”

“Their party bosses have been calling everyone on the town council and every other political office all night,” David said. “These two idiots are the cream of the crop. I can’t understand how anyone could’ve voted for them in the first place. I certainly didn’t!”

“I know for a fact that Nancy Braxton didn’t legally win her party’s nomination,” Tonya said with a shake of her head. “My daughter-in-law works for the county clerk. She was there when they tallied the votes. The leaders of Nancy’s political party didn’t want her opponent to get the nomination. They felt he was too white and had the wrong genitalia to represent their party in this election. It’s high time for Spencer to have a woman mayor—even if that woman is an incompetent bitch.”

“Are you saying that the party committed voter fraud?” David whirled away from his coffee mug, which he was in the middle of filling, to face her.

“Tiffany told me that the vote was close and that the party leaders just tossed out about a hundred ballots for the other candidate. Nancy won the nomination by only sixty-four votes. If they had counted those other ballots, Braxton’s opponent would’ve been the nominee and would’ve won by around forty votes.”

“Has anybody reported this? Why didn’t you contact the board of elections after you heard about it?” David asked over the top of his coffee mug.

“And what would the board of elections have done?” Tonya asked. “They would’ve asked everyone who was in the room what happened. Everyone would’ve said that nothing happened, knowing that if they didn’t, they’d be blacklisted by those in that party who hold political offices. Worse yet, what if something had come of it? No whistle-blower wants to end up like Sandy Burr.”

“Who’s Sandy Burr?” David asked.

Tonya’s eyes grew wide. She turned to David, who was sitting at an empty desk, and Dallas, who was perched on a corner of it—one long leg draped across the other. They were both looking questioningly at her.

Tonya had known David since his childhood. Over twenty-five years earlier, she had started working at the Spencer Police Department for David’s late father, Patrick O’Callaghan, who had been the chief of police.

“Investigative journalist,” Tonya said, “who was found in a bathtub at the Lakeside Inn with both wrists slashed. The suicide note found on the bed said that he was sorry. The last person he’d been seen with was Nancy Braxton; they’d been in the hotel’s lounge about twelve hours before his body was found by a maid. He’d been doing a story about her charity organization. Your father, who’d only been chief for a few months at that point, and Bogie were the first on the scene. Burr actually told his sister and a couple of friends that if he ended up dead because of the story he was chasing, they shouldn’t believe that he’d committed suicide.”

“Did Dad ever close the case?” David asked.

Tonya shook her head. “He was forced off of the investigation by the state police because Nathan Braxton, Nancy’s husband, complained to the governor. Nancy felt that Pat O’Callaghan wasn’t giving her the respect she deserved. Since Nathan was the Redskin’s quarterback who took the team to the Super Bowl, the governor couldn’t yank the case away from us fast enough. The state police immediately closed it as a suicide—though everyone knows that it was murder and that Nancy did it.”

Immersed in the story of the long-cold murder case, they all jumped when the front door opened and a short, exceedingly slender man with black hair and thick, dark eyebrows stepped in. With his slight frame, heart-shaped face, and dapper, tailored suit, he resembled a leprechaun. “I’m looking for Police Chief O’Callaghan,” he told, rather than asked, Tonya.

A young woman with short ash-colored hair who was dressed in an ill-fitting pantsuit and flat shoes slipped in directly behind the leprechaun.

David stood up from the desk where he was eating. “That would be me.”

Barging forward, he extended his hand to David. “I’m George Ward, the state chairman for Nancy Braxton’s party and this is Erin Devereux, Ms. Braxton’s executive assistant. I understand there was an incident last night.”

David answered him by pointing to the bruise on his jaw.

“The bruise on his cheek came from the other party,” Dallas said.

George laughed. “These political debates can get quite passionate.”

“‘Passionate’ isn’t the word I would use,” David said without humor.

“From what I’ve been told, Bill Clark started it,” George said.

“Those sources are wrong,” Dallas said. “Ms. Braxton was the one who threw a water bottle at Mr. Clark after calling him a warmongering fascist. You can see the whole thing from start to finish on the video I uploaded to my blog this morning.”

“Did you record the part where Clark called her a fat pig and told her to shut up?” Erin asked.

“She needed to shut up,” Dallas said. “It was a debate and his turn to answer the question, and she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgeways. I swear, it’s like no one ever told her that it’s better to keep quiet and let people think you’re dumb than to open your mouth and prove ’em right. Every time she opened her mouth, somethin’ stupid came flyin’ out.”

“I guess we know who the police department is supporting in this election,” George said. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

“Actually, you’re wrong,” Dallas said. “Mr. Clark isn’t any better. From what little I was able to hear from Mr. Clark, it was plain that if he had a brain, it’d die of loneliness. After seein’ those two in action, I’d vote for a snake before I’d vote for either of ’em. Snakes are smarter and won’t lie to you ’bout plannin’ to bite you in the butt the first chance they get.”

Tonya let out a loud laugh.

With a roll of his eyes, George dismissed Dallas as unworthy of argument and turned his attention back to David. “With all due respect, Chief, Ms. Braxton was simply defending herself, and you got in the way. She had no intention of striking you. That being the case, I can understand your arresting Clark, but Ms. Braxton?” He tsk-tsked at him.

At the end of the hallway, the door leading downstairs to the holding cells opened, allowing loud curses from the cells below to float upstairs.

“What have you ever really accomplished, Braxton, besides giving feminists a bad name?”

“Shut up, you sexist pig, before I come over there and—”

Fletcher, a young officer with only a few years on the force under his belt, jogged into the squad room. “Chief, how long are we going to hold those two?” he asked while jerking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the cells. “They’re really getting ugly.”

“What do you mean, ‘getting ugly’? They were horrid before the debates even started.” Wiping his mouth, David packed up the casserole dish and handed it to Dallas while kissing her on the cheek.

A thin smile crossed George Ward’s lips. “With all due respect, Chief, the solution is really quite simple. Keeping Ms. Braxton locked up is going to do your office more harm than good. Word is getting out to the media, and my office will be forced to release a statement about how an overzealous small-town police chief with a political agenda overstepped his authority—”

“Overstepped his authority?” Dallas was on her feet. “Those two polecats would’ve torn the roof off of the Spencer Inn if David hadn’t broken it up.”

“Your candidate started it!” Erin said, jabbing a finger in Dallas’ direction.

“He’s not my candidate!”

There was a plea in Fletcher’s tone. “Chief, if Clark calls me a loser one more time, I swear that I’m going to shoot him.”

David sighed. “Okay.”

“So we’ll let them go?”

“No,” David said with a sly grin. “You have my permission to shoot him.”

Fletcher’s eyes bugged out. George Ward’s and Erin’s mouths dropped open.

“Shoot Braxton, too,” David said. “We’ll tie blocks to their bodies and dump them in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night.”

George was the first to find his voice. “That is completely inappropriate, Chief!”

“He’s joking,” Tonya said with a sharp tone. “You are kidding, right?”

“Yeah,” David said with a tired sigh. “Bring them up to my office.”’ When George and Erin turned to follow him up the stairs to his office, he added, “Alone! I want to talk to the children alone.”

Her eyes wide, Erin pushed past George so that she could follow David. “You can’t interview Ms. Braxton without me.”

“Why not?” David’s tone dripped with the authority of his position as chief of police. This was his town, and he was the one in control of this matter.

Erin dropped back a step. After regrouping, she gave him a fiery look. “I’m her assistant. It is my job to always be available for her whenever she needs anything. Wherever she goes, I go.”

“If she needs anything during our talk, I’ll call you.”

David’s corner office occupied the second floor of a log building that resembled a sports club more than it did a police station. His office windows looked out onto the police dock, which held four speedboats and six Jet Skis. The police fleet also included all-terrain vehicles for patrol or searches in the deep woods up and down the mountain.

When David went into his office, he found Gnarly and Storm occupying the sofa—seemingly licking each other’s lips to pick up any remnants of the bear claw. Upon seeing David, the two large dogs stopped and looked at him with questions in their eyes. Their pointy ears stood up tall.

With a shake of his head, David crossed the office to take a seat behind his desk. Within minutes, he heard Councilman Clark and Nancy Braxton loudly protesting their treatment while Officer Fletcher escorted them up the stairs.

Bill Clark shoved his political opponent aside to enter the office ahead of her. His tie was undone. His tailored suit had been torn in the previous night’s altercation. “O’Callaghan, I knew you were stupid—”

Upon seeing not only Gnarly but also a second dog only a fraction smaller than the German shepherd glaring at him from the sofa, Bill Clark stopped to regroup.

Past middle age, Nancy Braxton’s face, which was as bloated as her figure, was the image of displeasure. To accentuate her equality to men, she was never seen wearing anything but a pantsuit. She glared at David with small, beady eyes. Fearlessly storming past the dogs, she charged his desk. “How dare you lock us up like two common criminals!”

“Seriously?” Showing no fear, David chuckled. “You two assaulted an officer of the law—”

“How were we supposed to know you were a police officer?” Nancy said. “You weren’t wearing your uniform.”

“You both know me,” David said. “You know that I’m the chief of police, and you both threw punches at me.”

“I wasn’t aiming for you,” Nancy said, “I was aiming for him.” She pointed at Bill Clark, who had cautiously maneuvered up to the desk while keeping an eye on Gnarly, who was watching him closely.

“Like any good mayoral candidate would have done,” David said.

“He started it,” she said.

“You started it,” Bill said.

“How dare you, Clark, bring up my getting expelled from Princeton Law School for cheating!”

“You were a cheat thirty years ago, and you’re still a cheat,” the councilman said.

“And you’re a blackmailer! I have witnesses who said that you pressured members of the town council into approving your clothesline ban!”

“Enough!” David shouted while holding up his hand. “I’ve had it up to here with your childish accusations!”

“They’re not childish,” Nancy said. “Political leaders need to be strong and decisive and of the best character—”

“Which both of you lack!”

“I’ve never!”

“On the contrary, Braxton! You do all the time!” David laughed. “I’m not some uninformed, unwitting voter capable of falling under your pathetic-though-well-rehearsed act of sincerity. I know you! I know both of you! You’re both the most self-absorbed, corrupt, power-hungry, pitiful excuses for American leaders I’ve ever seen.”

“Watch it, O’Callaghan,” Bill said through gritted teeth. “One of us is going to be your boss after this election.”

“And since you know us, you know that both Bill and I have very long memories,” Nancy said.

“So I’d watch my mouth if I were you.”

“I’m out there every day talking to the citizens in this town,” David said. “You two are so out of touch that you don’t realize how angry we are. You don’t know the real issues that everyone faces and the divide that has occurred between the locals and the city folks moving in. We see you two and the rest of the town council strutting around—all proud about how we placed our faith in you to make things right—yet none of you have ever lifted a finger to do what we elected you to do.”

“That’s just your opinion,” Nancy said.

“No, it’s not,” David said. “Yes, you two are the only names on the ballot. How you got there speaks to the condition of the political establishment itself. The fact is that no one in Spencer likes either one of you. If we had a real choice, we’d vote for Gnarly before we’d vote for you.”

Following the wave of David’s hand, they turned to where the German shepherd was sitting behind them, scratching his shoulder with his hind leg. His head was down, his ears were falling to either side of his head, and his mouth was hanging open with delight at finally reaching the spot that itched.

Bill Clark laughed. “Yeah, right.”

Chapter Two

The Next Morning—Spencer Police Department

The deputy police chief, Art Bogart, who was called “Bogie,” had just completed the paper work from the weekend and was enjoying his last cup of coffee for the morning when Dallas Walker stepped through the front door of the police station.

Storm rushed around the reception counter to give a greeting to Tonya, who greeted the dog warmly. “Chief isn’t here.”

“I know,” Dallas said. “He took Gnarly and ran off first thing this morning, saying he had some business to take care of in Mountain Lake Park.” Smiling at Bogie, she added, “There’s the man I want.”

“I’m taken,” the sixty-five-year-old career police officer said, chuckling over the top of his coffee mug.

“If I were you, I’d keep my hands off,” Tonya said. “His girlfriend is very good with a scalpel.”

“Ignore her.” Bogie held out his arm to usher Dallas into his office. “She’s always cranky on Monday mornings.”

With Storm leading the way, they went into the deputy chief’s office. Even in her high heels, Dallas noticed that Bogie towered over her. In spite of his silver hair and moustache and weathered face, Bogie had the muscles of a much younger body builder. He shot her a wide grin. “What can I do for you, Dallas?”

“Sandy Burr.” Dallas took a seat in front of his desk. “Tonya told David an’ me ’bout his murder. Nancy Braxton was your prime suspect. David has no memory of the case.”

With a chuckle, Bogie closed his office door. “And being a journalist, you can’t resist digging into a murder case in which a political candidate was the prime suspect.”

“’Zactly.”

“David was just a kid when it happened,” Bogie said while pulling out his desktop computer’s keyboard. He began typing away. “It was, like, twenty years ago, a couple of years after the Braxtons built their summer place up on the mountain. Nathan Braxton had retired from football, but he was still a big star and was making millions off of endorsements.”

“You would think that the wife of a famous Super Bowl quarterback being the prime suspect in a murder would’ve been big news,” Dallas said.

“Nathan Braxton was very popular, especially in this area,” Bogie said. “He’s a nice guy. Charming. Nobody has a bad thing to say about him. So the media protected him…and her—even though she is a witch.”

“If she’s such a witch, why is her political party shovin’ her down Spencer’s throat?”

“Good question.” Bogie grinned. “Nancy Braxton runs Braxton Charities, which is a huge charitable organization. Animal rights, the environment, medical research, hunger—it helps tons of different nonprofits. People with lots of money give it to Braxton Charities, which distributes it to the charities under its umbrella.” He held up his finger. “One of those charities is Nancy’s political party. As long as she’s happy, millions of bucks per year keep going to her party. If they don’t back her, she has the power to shut off the faucet.”

Dallas’ light-brown eyes narrowed to slits. “So say I was to start donating several million dollars to Nancy’s political party. They would back me to run for president of the United States—even if I was a pathological liar with no moral compass who was capable of betraying our country and selling out the men and women defending us on the front lines for cold, hard cash?”

“From what I’ve seen, pretty much.” Bogie shrugged his broad shoulders. “Politics isn’t about patriotism anymore, Dallas. It’s all about power. Whichever party has the White House holds the power. That’s all both parties care about. What’s best for America is irrelevant to the parties running the show.”

Confusion crossed her face. “I thought it was the people running the show.”

“Supposedly.”

“My pappy used to tell me and Phil that every single person has the God-given power to change the world,” she said. “All they have to do is use it. Momma wrote her books to expose criminals and corruption. Pappy donated money to build hospitals and schools in countries that no one ever heard of and would rather forget existed.”

Bogie chuckled at her youthful idealism. “Not everyone is a Walker, Dallas.”

“Neither were Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin.”

The deputy chief turned away from his keyboard and computer screen.

“Two women who, separately, back in the sixties refused to go to the back of the bus and started a whole revolution.” Dallas grinned at him. “They weren’t rich or politically connected. Both of them saw that something was terribly wrong and decided to do something about it. They acted—not in a violent or obnoxious way. They just took stood up, or rather sat down, in the front of the bus and changed the world.”

The silver-haired deputy chief and young investigative journalist stared at each other in silence.

“Yeah,” Bogie finally said, “but how do we use this power your pappy told you about.”

“By keeping corrupt killers out of positions of power,” Dallas said. “Tell me why Nancy Braxton would have killed Sandy Burr? Were they having an affair?”

“Hardly.” Bogie laughed with a shake of his head. “According to his friends and family—he had a sister—Sandy Burr was working on a story about Braxton Charities donating a grant to a research team at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. They were doing research into the effects of repeated head injuries to football players and into how to improve helmets.”

“Sounds like research that Nancy Braxton, the wife of a former professional football player, would’ve been interested in,” Dallas said.

“According to Sandy’s sister,” Bogie said, “a medical student from a team doing the same study in Arizona claimed that the team in Virginia stole their research. Seems that someone in Arizona was dating someone from the Virginia team, and he stole his girlfriend’s notes.” He waved his hand. “None of that is really relevant. The important thing is that as Sandy started digging into how the Virginia team had gotten the grant, he discovered some of what he called ‘irregularities’ in how Braxton Charities awarded its research grants.”

“What type of irregularities?”

“That, we never got a chance to find out,” Bogie said. “Burr got his hands on copies of Braxton’s public financial records and talked to a lot of donors to Braxton Charities. He also talked to some people inside the sports-equipment company sponsoring the research into the football helmets. That led him in another direction and then another until he started saying that he was onto something big. He was coming to Deep Creek Lake to meet a confidential informant who was supposed to piece together everything he had dug up.”

“Nancy Braxton, the president of the organization herself?” Dallas asked.

“Maybe someone inside the organization, and Nancy got wind of it and decided to confront Sandy to personally put a stop to his investigation. Sandy’s sister, Flo, said that he brought all of his notes with him when he came here to Deep Creek Lake. He kept all of his papers in a boot box. This was before the days of laptops and thumb drives.” He shook his head. “We didn’t find any papers in his hotel room or car.”

“But Nancy Braxton was the last one seen talking to Sandy Burr.”

Bogie nodded his head. “Sandy Burr checked into the Lakeside Hotel on Friday, April twelfth, at two o’clock. The next day he was seen having breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then spent most of the time in his room alone—or so we think. Around one o’clock, someone saw Sandy having lunch with a man at The Pier.” Seeing her writing down the name of their lunch spot, he added, “The Pier is no longer there. It burned down, like, ten years ago.” He sat forward. “This is where it gets interesting. At around five thirty that afternoon, Sandy was seen having drinks in the hotel lounge. He had struck up a conversation with a fellow guest, a woman. She was traveling by herself, and they got to talking. He told her that he was a writer. They ended up having dinner together.”

Dallas arched an eyebrow at him. “Dinner and what else?”

Bogie smiled. “Nothing else. Her name was Fiona Davis.” He watched her write down the name. “She lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I can give you her address—at least the address we had back then. That was a long time ago.”

“What happened then?”

“After they finished eating, they got separate checks. Fiona went back to her room at about seven thirty,” he said. “But she told us that she went out later, a little after eight, to go for a walk along the water and saw Sandy in the lounge, at the same table where they had eaten dinner. The description of the woman she saw with Sandy matched that of Nancy Braxton. The bartender knew Nancy Braxton and positively identified her as the woman Burr was having a drink with after dinner. Not only that, but according to the medical examiner who did Burr’s autopsy, he was killed less than three hours after he had eaten with Fiona Davis, based on the state of digestion of the food found in his stomach.”

“That means that he was dead less than two hours after he was seen with Nancy Braxton,” Dallas said. “Did you find any evidence to prove that Braxton killed him?”

Bogie shook his head. “Never got that far. As soon as Nancy Braxton became a suspect, the case was yanked out from under us, and the state police closed it as a suicide.”

“Sounds to me like a woman with somethin’ to hide,” Dallas said. “Besides the guy Burr was seen havin’ lunch with, were there any other suspects that you looked at?”

“Let me look at our copy of the case file.” Bogie adjusted his reading glasses and studied the information on the screen.

“Was there any physical evidence that indicated anyone else at the scene?” Dallas asked him.

“Fingerprints,” Bogie said. “A set of three beautiful prints on the door above the doorknob. We ran them through the system but didn’t get any hits. The state police argued that since it was a hotel and so many people stayed in the room, they’d most likely been left by other guests.”

“True,” she said. “Wouldn’t hurt to run them again though.”

“Tell that to the state police. It’s not our case anymore.” Scanning the information on his computer screen, Bogie let out a laugh. “I forgot all about this.”

“What?”

“The fat man.”

“The fat man?” She laughed.

“The bartender in the lounge said there was a fat man sitting at the bar at the same time that Burr was meeting with Nancy Braxton. He had a feeling this customer was watching Burr, and he noticed that he left right after Burr left the lounge.”

“Could’ve been a coincidence,” Dallas said. “Isn’t that sometimes the thing with witnesses? They’re so anxious to help that they start imaginin’ things. The bartender might have just thought he was watchin’ Burr because the idea was planted in his mind after he heard heard about the murder.”

“That’s what makes information from tip lines so difficult,” Bogie said. “Thing is, we never identified the fat man. The bartender swore that he never saw the guy before, that the guy paid cash, and that he never saw him again. Plus he left a fresh drink behind when he followed Burr out. That’s what made the bartender suspicious.”

“Can you see Nancy Braxton gettin’ her hands dirty and killin’ someone?” Dallas asked.

“No,” Bogie said. “That’s why we were so interested in the fat man—who we never did locate.”

“Maybe I’ll have better luck.”

Garrett County Board of Elections

“Good morning, Gnarly.” A man in farm overalls stopped on his way up to the counter to bend over and pet the German shepherd lying at David’s feet.

Gnarly laid his ears back and wagged his tail. The toddler straddling the dog’s back giggled with joy.

David glanced down to make sure that Gnarly wasn’t playing too rough with the child whose mother was busy completing paper work on the other side of the work counter. Seeing that both child and dog were safe and happy, he checked the registration number on the metal tag in his hand to ensure that he had written it correctly on the form.

“Hey, Gnarly, how’s it going?” one of the office clerks said, patting him on the head. After scratching his ears, she continued on through the door and back to her work cubicle without acknowledging Gnarly’s human companion.

After pocketing the tags, David signed the application.

“Gnarly! What’s up?” a young man said as he hurried by and waved to the dog.

The German shepherd replied with a bark.

“Time to go, Austin!”

“I want to stay with Gnarly,” the child said when his mother lifted him by the arm off of the German shepherd.

“Austin,” his mother said in a low voice.

With a pout, the toddler threw his arms around the dog. “Thanks for playing with me, Gnarly.”

The shepherd sat up and licked the child’s face.

“Thank you for watching Austin, Gnarly.” The mother gave him a scratch behind the ears. Then, taking her child by the hand, she hurried up to the counter to turn in her paper work.

David led Gnarly up to the counter. Upon seeing the next available clerk, an older woman wearing turquoise reading glasses, his heart sank.

It was Edna.

Bracing for a fight, David clutched Gnarly’s leash and stepped up to the counter.

“Chief O’Callaghan, what a pleasure to see you,” Edna said with a forced smile.

“Hello, Edna.” David slid the paper work in her direction.

Abruptly, Gnarly jumped up to plant his front paws on the counter. The sudden move prompted a shriek from Edna that was heard throughout the office.

Gnarly’s mouth hung open in a grin.

“This is—” David said.

“I know Gnarly.” She reached over to pat the dog on the top of the head. Her usual sour tone turned agreeable. “What brings you here today?”

“Filing to run as a candidate.” David gestured to the paper work in her hand.

Tearing her attention away from the dog across from her, Edna read through the application. Upon reading the name on it, her eyebrows rose up on her forehead. She adjusted her eyeglasses and read the information again.

“He’s been a resident in Spencer for the last four years,” David said. “He’s registered with the county—”

“So I see.” The corners of her lips turned upward. “If he’s elected mayor of Spencer, will he do anything about that speed trap on Lake Shore Drive?”

“That’s not a speed trap,” David said.

Cocking his head at David, Gnarly uttered a low, guttural noise.

Edna frowned.

“Look,” David said. “I know the speed limit along that stretch of Lake Shore Drive used to be thirty-five, but then all those big houses went up, and the residents petitioned to have it lowered to twenty-five for a good reason: there are a lot of kids in that neighborhood. It would be unsafe to raise the speed limit back up to thirty-five.”

Edna’s frown deepened.

“But,” David said, “Gnarly would suggest that instead of taking Lake Shore Drive, you take Spring Road, which runs parallel to Lake Shore.”

“That would be a longer route.”

“Yes, it would be longer,” David said. “But only by about two miles. Since it’s more rural, the speed limit is forty-five. You can travel Spring Road in less time, and it comes out only a quarter of a mile from where you come out when you take Lake Shore.” He sucked in a deep breath. “That’s what Gnarly would suggest.”

She regarded David for a long moment before saying, “Gnarly has a lot of sense.” With a flourish, she stamped the application with an “approved” stamp and handed it back to David. “He’s got my vote.”

Well, that’s one vote! Trying hard not to dance out of the office, David led Gnarly out the door. Once they were out of sight, Edna took her cell phone out of her bag and searched her contacts for a phone number. The call was picked up on the second ring.

“Got anything interesting, Edna?”

“Oh yeah,” Edna said. “You’ll never believe who’s running for mayor of Spencer, Maryland.”

Once Gnarly’s application to run for office had been officially approved, David felt that it was time for a celebratory breakfast—including a danish for the new mayoral candidate. Upon returning to Deep Creek Lake, David pulled his cruiser into Beagle Bailey’s Bagels for a hot cup of coffee. The summer weather was pleasant enough that he and Gnarly could sit out on the deck along the lakeshore.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-35 show above.)