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Authors: Warren Adler

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"Did Frankie and Jack get alone?" Cates asked. He
was, as always, traveling in her wake, building theories out of this latest
cast of characters. He may have believed in Frankie's suicide, but he was
determined, as always, to look under every rock.

"You might say Jack was family." A strange gurgle
bubbled up from the jelly of his chins. Fiona caught the unmistakable whiff of
sarcasm. "He was a buddy of Jack McGuire. Choir boys together sort of
thing. Known as the two Jacks. McGuire was the Jack of Diamonds. Grady the Jack
of Clubs."

"How come?"

Foy shot her a gaze of incredulity as if she was supposed
to know all this Congressional District lore.

"McGuire is loaded. Road construction. Need I say
more. Who gives out the contracts? And Grady's committee is Highways. Also
appropriation. The two Jacks. Name fits. Grady has one helluva club. Got
it?"

"Power boys," Cates said, a statement without a
purpose.

"Yeah," Foy nodded.

No mistaking the obvious, Fiona thought. There was no love
lost between Foy and both men. Went with the territory, Fiona decided,
remembering Ronnie Schwartz, her father's AA, the man in the middle, protector
and liar for the great one. Daddy was the sun and the moon to Ronnie, the alter
ego. It had clout, true, but the job, by definition, assumed an obliteration of
persona in the service of the great one.

"I'm really bushed," Foy said. His face had grown
from pure ashen to grey and the little flush marks were fading.

"What about you, Foy?" Fiona asked.

"Me?"

"Not unheard of for an AA to make a run for the seat
when a member leaves. Or dies."

Foy, whose body had been immobile on the couch, like a sack
of potatoes thrown carelessly, all bulgy in the wrong places, suddenly stirred,
the fat quivering.

"Hadn't thought about it," he lied. It was, of
course, presumptuous to think that, but she could sense that it was an ever
looming option, perhaps just taking root, but quite a powerful urge. Besides,
one could sense he would not be the first choice of either Grady or Carter for
AA, despite his expertise.

"But it is possible," Fiona pushed. "I mean
if you decided after checking it out with the folks back home." A long
shot, perhaps. But one never knew. Lyndon Johnson, along with a number of those
holding office in the present House and Senate, had once been an AA.

"Anything is possible," Foy said.

"Even Jack McGuire," Fiona interjected, like
folding a dropped card back into the deck.

Foy's lips stretched over his buck teeth in a smile of
unmistakable sarcasm. Even a gurgle of a laugh rolled out of his throat.

"Jack McGuire in politics," Foy snickered.
"You've got to be kidding. Jack hates politics, hates it with a passion,
hates it more than he hates the Brits."

"I mention it because it's not uncommon for a spouse
to take over a seat upon the death of a member of Congress. Of course, it's
usually the other way around. The wives get the seat."

"Not McGuire. He's not one for kissing butts.
Besides...."

Despite Foy's fatigue, he caught himself up short. Whatever
was in his mind, it did not exit by his tongue. Not this time. For all his
candor, he was holding back, holding back hard.

"Besides nothing," he sighed. "I forgot what
I was going to say. It's been a rough day."

"Just trying to find out who benefits from Frankie's
death," Fiona said. Only then did it dawn on Foy what all this
interrogation was really about.

"You don't think ... Jesus. I didn't mean..." He
seemed to choke on the words, coughing suddenly, his white face growing red
with the effort.

"But it was you who said she hadn't killed
herself," Fiona said gently.

"I hadn't meant them," Foy sputtered.

"Who then, Foy? Who then?"

At that point, he groped for a handhold on the couch and
lifted himself up.

"Really, I'm exhausted. I'm not making any
sense."

"Just remember, Mr. Foy," Fiona said, taking
careful figurative aim. "It was you that put the idea of murder in our
minds."

4

As much as she tried, Fiona could not fully agree with the
Eggplant's instincts. Cates was even more adamant in his assessment of suicide
and as they drove along Massachusetts Avenue in the April sunshine, he
continued to be vocal on his doubts.

"It strains all logical deduction," Cates said in
his melodic accent, but in a tone that did not mask his British education.
Often when in the company of other cops, Fiona felt him straining to blunt the
clipped lilt of his speech patterns, a process he still hadn't completely
mastered.

Cates knew his precise mannerisms made him seem
"uppity" to his colleagues, mostly black men, the sons of postal
clerks, janitors, social workers and low level bureaucrats who had been pushed
upscale to the "Pole Ees" by tough and determined black mamas and by
black fathers hungry for their sons to earn the respect never accorded to them.

The fact was that Randolph Winston Cates III, was a
Trinidadian version of the same antecedents. His father, a fisherman, had died
in a boating accident when he was five and, years later, while he was at school
in England, a Trinidadian perk left over from British colonial rule, his mother
married a Washington cab driver and made young Cates an American citizen. From
the beginning of his American experience he had made it clear that he was
henceforth to be addressed as Cates, never Randolph and, especially, never
Randy, an eccentricity that encapsulated his character.

Like Fiona, his personal dignity was his dominant priority
but it was always at war with his thirst for acceptance. Like her, too, he was
often outspoken, especially at the least tactful moment. And, also like her, he
could be tough, icy mean when cornered, but with very delicate insides,
requiring extraordinary discipline to tame his inherent vulnerabilities.

The Eggplant, true to his vaunted instincts had teamed
them. At first she had interpreted it as an exercise in nastiness and malice,
especially since she had just become an expert, through the Eggplant's previous
choice of partners for her, in the care and feeding of the black machismo
virus, as opposed to the white machismo virus. She was less of an expert on the
latter.

Cates with his jet black shiny skin taut over his
distinctively Caucasion features carried neither the black nor white viruses.
He started out as an enigma to her, then grew into a perpetual challenge and,
finally, into a trusted colleague. But he definitely worked on a different
frequency than herself which made the association interesting, although often
exasperating.

She had turned on the all-news station, keeping it just
audible enough to alert them to any news of the case.

"Do people murder to get the political advantage of
being next in line for a House seat?" Cates asked. His academic approach
to a killer's motivation was always in direct contrast to her own more
gut-oriented
modus operandi
, although at some point, their approaches
invariably intersected.

"Political ambition has a powerful drag," she
shrugged, again remembering her father. Such ambition had dominated their
lives. Getting elected and reelected was everything and she had been privy to
many a conversation that, in retrospect, had had a violent undercurrent.

Remarks like "We'll cut the legs off the bastard"
or, "Let's drown the son of a bitch in his own bile" or, "We'll
club him to death with his girlfriend" were all phrases that stuck in her
mind. Often she had heard such things when her father and his political team
held endless discussions around the dining room table which was the only place
big enough to hold these all-male meetings. She was never allowed to attend, of
course, but their loud raucous tones were easy enough to overhear.

Their remarks with their violent images were commonplace,
hardly ominous to her then, merely figures of speech coined by the rough
Irishmen among her father's coterie, faces flushed by Scotch and excitement as
they talked on into the night through a haze of cigar smoke. Politics, her
mother had sighed, forever trying to shoo her far out of earshot. Such talk,
punctuated by the foulest of language, was not designed to pollute the ears of
nice little Catholic virgins, which made her all the more curious and the talk
itself all the more fascinating.

How they reveled in it. How they loved the hurly-burly of
the political game. It struck her as so Irish, so subject to the paranoia and
parody of the Irish spirit, so punctuated with the Irish sense of grudge wars
and dark funks and dire consequences that often appeared, out of the blue, hard
on the heels of boundless euphoria and blind optimism. Sharp mood swings were
the knell of doom to the vulnerable Irish psyche.

It occurred to her years later that all that late night
Irish blarney had little to do with governing, but a great deal to do with
getting reelected, knocking off opponents and speculating how Paddy Fitz, as
her father, Senator Patrick Ignatius FitzGerald, had been dubbed by the media,
could become a presidential contender.

Her mother, ever the lace curtain Irish snob, was appalled
by the moniker since it reflected a shanty heritage that she had hoped her
marriage to him would obliterate. It hadn't, nor did the common man image it
reflected propel him into a serious contender. Perhaps in that were the roots
of his self-destruction, although she would never call it anything but
"high purpose."

It was true that politics was a bloodsport. But random
murder for political advantage was hardly an option of American politics. As
opposed to political assassination of our Presidents which was frequent enough
in America to be embarrassing. The thought triggered an idea.

"Maybe for a cause," she told him. "Comes
under the heading of ideological reasons."

"Right to Life?"

"Could be. Don't they call abortionists murderers?
These touchy causes make people violent. People on McGuire's side used bombs on
abortion clinics. Could be an act of vengeance."

"You're not serious?" Cates asked.

She shrugged.

"Anything is possible."

Although it was purely a tease on her part, she knew he was
mulling it over, looking for logic.

"Maybe I'd buy that if it was more violent. A cutting
maybe, a real hack job, say, or a shotgun blast, something that made a real
political statement. Perhaps even the bloody work of a fanatic, something
outside of the committees that ran strategies for causes. A loner who needed to
leave a brutal calling card." He tapped his lips with a thin graceful
ebony finger, a familiar tick of his when concentrating. "But a poisoning.
Its too low-key for ideological motivation."

Peripherally, she felt him look toward her, his expression
earnest. He was about to say more, but Fiona had turned up the volume of the
radio.

"Representative Frances McGuire of Massachusetts died
today. Known affectionately to everyone as Frankie, Representative McGuire will
be best remembered for her strong stand against abortion. The forty-seven-year
old congresswoman and mother of four was serving her sixth term. She was
discovered in the early morning hours by Harlan Foy, her administrative
assistant. We talked earlier with Captain Luther Greene, Chief of Homicide, who
was on the scene within moments of being notified."

Fiona harumphed and shook her head.

"Hot dog," she whispered.

"We have not yet determined the cause of death,"
the Eggplant explained. "Considering the prominence of the deceased, we do
not wish to comment at this time until we have fully investigated the
situation."

The hook was in. Fiona smirked.

"Does this mean that Representative McGuire did not
die of natural causes?" the announcer asked.

"We'll know more when we complete our lab tests,"
the Eggplant said. "As you know, Bill, our mandate is to investigate every
death in the District of Columbia. In the case of a distinguished woman such as
Representative McGuire we must be extra thorough as we discharge our
responsibility."

Dulcet tones investing the case with great importance. And
mystery. On television he would see himself as attractive, brilliant,
charismatic, a legend in his own mind. Grudgingly, she gave him high marks as a
performer. He had certainly mastered that end of the business. She clicked off
the radio.

"More like a hambone than a hot dog," Cates
sighed as she accelerated the car down Massachusetts Avenue.

"He set up an appointment," Briggs told them when
they arrived back in the squad room. He was the Eggplant's factotum and general
handyman, a greying white relic of the time when the MPD was white man's turf.
He'd struck his bargain with the Eggplant after being passed over for the job
as homicide chief. For him it was smooth sailing until retirement a few months
down the road. Mostly, he did routine backup stuff for the Eggplant, handling
his scheduling and doling out assignments.

He had a big gut and an ego to match and, although he
pretended to be scrupulously color blind, underneath, as everyone knew, he was
a hard core red-neck bigot. He had often accosted Fiona outside the office to
vent his anger at the "jungle-bunnies" who had robbed him of his career
entitlements.

"You ain't goin' anywhere with the cops, FitzGerald.
Three strikes and out. You're a woman, you're a honky and a ballbuster. Ain't
no room at the top for that M.O."

"Times change, lieutenant," Fiona would sigh.

"Right, babe. Come a time when instead of any whities
in the department, like the ten little Indians, there'll be none."

"A cop's a cop," Fiona muttered. She had tried to
believe implicitly in the idea. Someday, she hoped, all this black/white
animosity would end. It would never end for Briggs. "All this power's new
to them."

"I believed once, FitzGerald. There's a black cloud
acomin'. Pitch black. Niggers are out-screwing us, baby. Power in numbers.
Whitey's finished in this town's cops. We're just tokens now. And you're a
triple. White, woman, snobby smartass."

No point in explaining to the bastard that she was in the
cops for the work and the challenge, that she didn't worry about retirement and
was reasonably well-fixed financially.

Yet, for some reason, perhaps racial affinity, she was
outwardly more tolerant of him than she might have been to others with the same
views. The fact was, that professionally, he was a good cop, a smart detective
in his prime. His respect had been won for his work not for his views.

Her earliest, and most surprising, discovery at MPD was
that the black cops actually related more to a bigoted red-neck than to the
effete liberal. Perhaps it was because both understood each other's anger and
hatred. What was it that Foy had said? Something about being too friendly with
the enemy?

"An appointment with whom?" Fiona asked,
responding to Briggs's pronouncement, glancing at Cates.

Briggs pulled out a pocket-sized battered leather notebook
and flipped the pages.

"Jack McGuire, the lady's husband." Taylor looked at his watch. "Bouta half hour in the icebox. McGuire will be there for
an ident."

"Thanks for the notice," Fiona smirked.

"And the chief has already requested an autopsy,"
Briggs added. He enjoyed doling out information piecemeal, a cop's inevitable
affliction.

"Moving that fast, is he?" Cates said.

In the case of an ambiguous suicide, it was the detective's
option to have an autopsy done. Next of kin, if they were available and
notified of the decision, usually balked. They were not anxious to have their
loved ones mutilated.

"McGuire know about the autopsy?" Fiona asked,
suspecting that the Eggplant had deliberately ducked him. Undoubtedly, he had
already calculated the case's political fallout, which was just beginning to
dawn on Fiona. Congress, after all, still controlled much of the District
government's purse strings and there was some currency in protecting the image
of those stalwart legislators.

"Not exactly," Briggs answered.

"Who notified him to show for an ident?"

"I did." Briggs tipped his head in the direction
of the Eggplant's office. "I just follow orders."

"Then he signed off and left us the shit detail,"
Fiona said, clucking her tongue.

She turned her back on Briggs and walked over to her
battered metal desk, identical with the others in the squad room. As always it
was three-quarters empty with most of the detectives out on the street.
Mornings were a kind of garbage collection service, scouting the O.D.s,
suicides, and homicides and checking out the routines, the natural deaths.

Most death came at night, but the cleanup came in the
morning. It was also, for some unknown reason, seasonal. The grim reaper worked
overtime in the summertime. Not that he ever really rested. Certainly not in
the capital of one of the most violent countries on earth.

She called Dr. Benton, but couldn't get him on the phone
and had to talk to his assistant, a young woman named Melanie Marks.

"He's been on the tables for the last three
hours," Melanie said in her squeaky voice with its broad, pronounced
'brawd', New York, pronounced 'New Yawk', accent.

"We did big business last night." She giggled
nervously. When Fiona didn't respond to the humor on cue she grew more serious.
"We had seven murders and three O.D.s. They're being taken in priority
order."

"What about McGuire?"

"Just a sec." She paused and looked over a
clipboard, which she took from a wall hook.

"As we speak," Melanie said.

So it's rush rush down the line, Fiona thought. Means the
Eggplant's got the mayor's backing. Maybe some kind of leverage deal in the works.
There was no end to political machinations between the D.C. government and its
resident nemesis and provider, the Congress of the United States of America.

"We're meeting the spouse there, Melanie. Tell Doc to
clean up the lady as much as he can. And keep a lookout for him. Jack
McGuire." Jack of Diamonds, she remembered. A man named Grady was the Jack
of Clubs.

BOOK: Immaculate Deception
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