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Authors: Warren Adler

Tags: #Fiction, Mystery and Detective, Women Sleuths, General, Police Procedural, Political

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BOOK: Immaculate Deception
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"Very sensible," Fiona had agreed, exchanging
glances with Cates, who had nodded his understanding.

"And you can dispense with that patronizing
bullshit," the Eggplant snapped, reverting to character. He had shot them
a snarl, walked back to his chair, picked up the
People
magazine, relit
his panatela and lifted his feet to the desk signaling an end to the interview.
Cates had risen, but Fiona had continued to sit there watching him. It was a
long time before he reacted. He looked over the magazine and took a long drag
on his panatela.

"I want to know something, chief."

"So?" A stream of smoke had poured out of his
mouth.

"From the beginning..." She remembered feeling
suddenly embarrassed and had again cut a glance at Cates. Would he think she
was toadying? Such conduct was considered sinful. It was a subject beyond race
and rank. She shrugged it off, had to know. "You seemed so dead certain it
wasn't suicide..." She had stumbled for a moment. Cates had ascribed it to
pure gluttony for publicity. But that was a given, a constant. This was sixth
sense, an inborn talent. One of the great challenges of the job was to best him,
cut him down to size. On a number of occasions, she had actually done it,
albeit without his public ackowledgment. Surely, inside of himself, he had
acknowledged her victory.

He had smiled. More smoke had poured from his nose.

"Women," he told her, shaking his head, offering
his favorite smile signifying derision and sarcasm. "I've been studying
them since I was eleven."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Fiona
had snapped, tossing another glance at Cates, hoping the sudden outburst had
redeemed her in his eyes. It was important to show them that she could give as
much as she got, another ritual for gaining respect.

"You call yourself a detective," the Eggplant had
said, sighing derisively. "Never yet met a woman who greased her face
without a genuine desire to wake up in the morning."

Embarrassment had registered profoundly on Fiona. She stood
up absorbing the rebuke. She had missed it. No question. Touché. Her face had
grown hot with her blush of shame. Cates, somewhat less moved, had lowered his
eyes.

"Happens," the Eggplant had said sighing
theatrically, hiding his face discreetly behind the
People
magazine,
relieving her of having to watch his smugness.

"Could have been habit," Cates told her.
"She may have wanted to look good for St. Peter."

"Jesus," Fiona had replied.

"Him, too," Cates had said, offering not the
shred of a smile.

The service in the rotunda had taken all of an hour and the
crowd, losing some of its solemnity, began to mill about. A knot of mourners
surrounded McGuire and his children offering condolences, shaking hands or
embracing them depending on the levels of intimacy.

Charles Rome and, Fiona assumed, his wife Barbara, spoke
briefly with McGuire and his children, then moved through the crowd like
royalty. Rome had all the bearing and demeanor of a "man of power."
She knew the type well. Her father had been a quintessential example, smiling,
eye-engaging, erect, commanding, judicious in laying on of hands to manipulate,
comfort and charm.

Barbara, the equally quintessential politician's wife, easy
in her role as an old shoe, traveled in Rome's wake, spit-polished, as a
Dresden figure, not a hair out of place, not a crease in her clothing, smile at
the ready, complementing her husband's sense of command, showing the kind of
distaff charm that underscored the Rome image, spreading the gospel of the Rome
power and his worthiness as someone to be idolized and, at the same time,
offering a strong hint of wifely influence.

She reminded Fiona of her mother who, in the end, had not
adjusted well to her loss of power, had privately and naggingly balked at the
senator's stand on the war, had railed at him for going against the grain, for
forfeiting his position, for losing his place. Unfortunately, the moral
highroad her father had taken, while winning him martyrdom had relegated her
parents to exile in a political and social Siberia from which they never
returned.

It was this place, the familiar rotunda, where she had
sometimes passed the time waiting for her father, playing among the somber
statues of famous men and, of course, the context of death, that brought forth
this blast of painful memories. The funeral ritual, however distant the
relationship of the deceased, always produced personal pain in the spectator.
She had attended enough of them in her professional life to understand this
truism. In the face of anyone's death, no one, however hardened and aloof,
could be disinterested.

As the Romes moved comfortably through the milling crowd,
the woman who had heckled his oration, elbowed her way toward them. The man who
had sat beside her during the service moved to restrain her but she nudged him
away. It was one of those little dramas that one might easily miss if one
wasn't, like Fiona, a professional observer.

Fiona followed her on the assumption that any confrontation
might offer some insight into the mystery of Mrs. McGuire's strange demise.

"Clear sailing now, Mister Congressman," the
woman hissed. She was a tall intense woman, as tall as Rome, with a large bony
face and fierce blue eyes that seemed to have burned their way into her
cheekbones. Her dyed blonde hair was styled in an old-fashioned bouffant and
she wore a flannel navy blue suit embellished with a single strand of pearls
which drew attention to a scrawny neck. Her lips were thin, uneven and seemed
locked into a perpetual scowl. The way she held herself, her look and persona,
marked her unmistakably as single-minded, fearless and determined.

"Surely not now, May," Rome said, touching her
arm, which she shrugged away. Barbara's confident look disappeared and she
seemed to actually step behind him as if he were a protective shield. Neither
had noticed Fiona's proximity. Nor were any of the others aware of the
impending confrontation.

"Why not, Congressman," May said sneeringly.
"With Frankie gone you think it's over, don't you?" She watched his
face and blocked his way. "Godless murderers. You think there won't be
others to take her place. We'll get stronger, more powerful, and beat you and
all your liberal abortionist killers. Let me tell you that someone will pick up
Frankie's relay stick..."

"I'm sure of that, May," Rome said politely, with
an air of futility. He started to take a step forward but the woman continued
to block his path. "This is ridiculous, May. The least you can do is have
some respect for Frankie."

"Respect for Frankie? What respect did you show
her?"

"She was my friend," Rome said.

"Double standard hypocrites," the woman muttered.
"You're everything we detest. It's disgusting. That committee of yours.
Funding murder. Abortion is a sin against mankind. You'll be punished in hell
for this."

"Really, May, this is ridiculous."

"Why? Your vaunted system can't be criticized? We must
all be ladies and gentlemen about this? Always tea time with the enemy after
battle, is it? I never agreed with Frankie's opinion about that and I resent
your speaking at this service."

"You expressed yourself on that point, May."

"Jack McGuire was a fool to let you."

"Without me, you wouldn't have been able to hold
Frankie's service here. This required a bit of clout."

"If Jack McGuire had any guts he would have rejected
it if your help was needed. Your presence here is an insult to her
memory."

"You are an unforgiving bitch," Rome snapped, his
facade of easy charm collapsing. "Get off your high horse, May. The
country is not behind you. Abortion is here to stay."

"We'll never stop until you and your ilk have been
crushed."

"I know you're upset about Frankie's death," Rome said unctuously, getting on top of his brief blast of anger. "As always, I'll be
glad to debate the point with you or your people. But not here and now."

"You'll hear from me, Congressman. You can bet on
it."

He shook his head in mock despair, sidestepped, reached out
for his wife's hand and walked quickly out of earshot, disappearing down a
corridor.

"Beast," the woman muttered, suddenly becoming
aware of Fiona, taking her for one of the mourners and, therefore,
automatically an advocate. "The height of bad taste for him to be here.
The man opposed everything she stood for. It's people like that murdered
Frankie..." She paused, looked down and shook her head. "A casualty
in a great cause, that's what she was. No other way to look at it. Satan's army
is very powerful. Very powerful." Her fierce eyes, dancing behind her
cheekbones, burned into Fiona's face. The only sensible action was to offer
nothing confrontational. The woman, Fiona knew, took her silence for the
advocacy of an ally.

"You're May Carter, aren't you?" Fiona asked.

"I am. And you?"

Fiona fished in her pocketbook and took out her badge.

"Sergeant FitzGerald, Washington MPD."

May Carter lifted her eyebrows, continued to study Fiona's
face. Surprise, too, was a police weapon. By then Cates had crossed the rotunda
and came up to her side. Fiona introduced him. May acknowledged the
introduction with a nod.

"You here to arrest me?" May asked, with little
glint of humor in her eyes. A hard case, Fiona thought. Little Ms. One-Note.

"Think we can talk for a few moments?" Fiona
asked politely. May hesitated, perhaps remembering Rome's comment about this
being not the time and place.

"It's very important, Mrs. Carter," Fiona
prodded, noting a wedding band on the woman's finger.

May Carter looked at her watch, then nodded.

"How long will this take?"

"Not long."

They waited until Mrs. Carter said her goodbyes, then moved
out of the rotunda. A glance backwards told Fiona that their exit was not lost
on Jack McGuire and she noted a puzzled look on his face.

8

They found an empty bench in the little park across from
the Capitol building. It was a glorious spring bud-popping day as only an April
day in Washington can be, crisp, clear, the light making the neo-Greco facades
of the buildings in the Capitol complex shine like new pennies. Hardly the
place to probe a question of murder. It was eleven and the lunch hour crowds
would soon begin to sprawl over every square inch of the park.

"When was the last time you saw Frances McGuire
alive?" Fiona asked as they settled on the bench. In an unspoken strategy
it was assumed that Fiona would lead the interrogation.

Mrs. Carter raised her eyes skyward.

"Couple of days. But we were constantly in touch. I'm
on the road, out of South Boston, about a week a month. This was my week for Washington."

"How did she strike you?" Fiona asked.

There was a certain awkwardness about the situation since
they were all sitting in a straight line. To face her directly, Fiona had to
twist her body. Mrs. Carter, on the other hand did not do this, crossing long
legs and often answering a question without looking at Fiona directly. This put
Fiona at a disadvantage since there was much to be learned from eye contact.

"Why are you asking me these questions?" Mrs.
Carter snapped.

Fiona was tempted to provide the usual answer.
"Routine." Instead she said, "There is some question about Mrs.
McGuire's suicide."

Only then did Mrs. Carter confront Fiona full-face. Her
forehead creased and her deep-set eyes probed like lasers. Then, as though a
dark cloud had passed over her face, Mrs. Carter brightened, the creases
flattened, the lasers shifted.

"I suspected as much," Mrs. Carter said.

"You did," Cates asked suddenly.

Mrs. Carter chuckled, glanced briefly at Cates, then looked
toward the Supreme Court Building across the park.

"There," Mrs. Carter said raising her chin.
"Them. Over there. Where nine men decided the fate of a nation of unborn
children. Roe v. Wade. A cannonball aimed directly at God himself declaring
that a woman can decide, by herself, the fate of life within her. The opening
shot of a great war. Since then we have murdered millions. No one can sit still
in the face of that. No one. Who will fight God's battle, if not us? The enemy
is powerful, ruthless. He will stop at nothing ... including murder." She
seemed to be just winding up, offering the well-honed and surely spellbinding
theatrics of her advocacy. The woman was quite obviously obsessed totally by
her cause and, because of it, every answer to their questions would somehow be
related to it.

Determined to get back on the track, Fiona had interrupted.

"Are you saying that Mrs. McGuire might have been done
away with by..."

"No question about it," Mrs. Carter interjected,
talking now at hyper speed. "Frankie McGuire was our battering ram. Why
wouldn't they want to get her out of the way. She was gaining seniority, getting
too powerful for them. We're winning, you know. In the end we will win..."

"Who specifically did you have in mind?" Fiona
asked.

"Oh, they wouldn't be so crude as to stick their own
necks out. No way. Probably the work of some hit man. Some stranger who they
contracted to do the job."

"Poison is not exactly the weapon of choice for a hit
man," Cates said, obviously annoyed and impatient over the woman's
drumbeat of polemics.

"Got you confused, hasn't it? They're clever,
deceitful. They have their own agenda and their own methods." She lowered
her voice suddenly and looked around. "I've received hundreds of threats.
Keeps me on my toes, I can tell you. But I look at it as acts of desperation,
proving conclusively that we've got them on the run. And this thing with
Frankie only underlines that fact." She turned once again to look at Fiona
full-face. "You'll never catch her killer. Long gone, he is. Probably
spirited away on a plane somewhere to Europe or Asia." The assumption made
her almost gleeful, as if it was additional proof of the cleverness of the
enemy.

"So it's a conspiracy theory then," Cates asked,
making no effort to hide his ridicule.

"It's not a theory," Mrs. Carter said smugly.
"It's a fact."

"Like some governing body is giving orders, calling
the shots."

"Of course. Those lezzies that run the pro-choice
outfit and their liberal cohorts. All interconnected. All one cabal." She
lowered her voice. "Of course, I could never say this publicly and I'd
deny it if pushed. That's not the strategy that will win this fight. Won't give
them the ammo to dub us crazy right wing fanatic or religious freaks, part of
the pope's army. Our job is to stay in the center. What we're selling is God's
choice and that cuts across the spectrum."

It was growing late. Already the lunch hour crowds had
begun to pour out of their Capitol Hill offices, sprawling over the park,
opening their brown bags. Mrs. Carter began taking quick glances at her clock,
pinned to the lapel of her suit.

"So who goes for Mrs. McGuire's seat?" Fiona
asked, almost casually. It was an inescapable motive and had to be explored.

"Jack Grady would give his eye teeth for a shot at
it."

"Has he a chance?"

"If I don't oppose him," Mrs. Carter said. She
snickered. "That was him sitting next to me up there. Quite solicitous, I
may add. For obvious reasons."

"Would you run?" Fiona asked innocently.

"Question is where would I be the most effective.
Inside or outside. I haven't yet made up my mind. Jack has got some baggage. He
and McGuire are old buddies. Jack of Diamonds and Jack of Clubs. Too much
scrutiny will do him in. Oh he's a pro-lifer to the core, alright. No one gets
elected in South Boston who isn't. Thing is, a woman gives the Congressional
battle more authenticity. Not that we don't need strong men to carry the day.
Problem is I know my strengths and weaknesses. I don't have Jack's blarney
charm. Some people think I'm too severe." She turned her laser eyes on
Fiona and for a brief moment her guard went down showing the real person beneath
the fanatic. "You know what I mean. I'm a realist. An aggressive man is
dynamic, forceful. An aggressive woman is just a pushy bitch." She bit her
lip and as swiftly as it had gone, the guard came up again, armed to the teeth.
"Anyway, the longer I hold out, the more solicitous he has to be. Power is
in the perception, you know."

"What about Harlan Foy?"

"For Frankie's seat?"

Fiona nodded.

"A little too prissy, don't you think? I don't approve
of course. It's against God's will to be like that. But not once did I ever
suggest that Frankie get rid of him. His life was her. No love lost between us.
We argued like the devil and sometimes he tried to bar the door to old May, but
he was good backup, damned good backup." She shook her head. "Take
her seat? No way. Okay as a number two. But let's face it. Our issue gives him
a bit of a credibility gap, don't you think?"

The explanation left Fiona strangely relieved, although it
did not absolve Foy entirely. Perception, despite May Carter's interpretation,
could be illusory. Foy could not be as he seemed, although she agreed that his
running for Frankie's seat was a long shot. But he could not be ruled out on
the other. Not yet. He did have access to Frankie McGuire's apartment. Access
could not be ignored in a murder investigation. And there were other motives
available. Mrs. Carter looked at her watch again, spurring Fiona to press on.

"What about Mr. McGuire, the old Jack of Diamonds
himself? Might be able to get the sympathy vote. You know, spouse of the
victim. Might sell well as a possibility."

"Sounds like you know the game, sergeant," Mrs.
Carter said.

"It's in the air," Fiona said, her gaze
connecting with Cates, who smiled.

"The Jack of Diamonds you called him," Mrs.
Carter said, throwing her head back, an attitude designed for hysterical
laughter. But it never came. "No way." She paused and shook her head
from side to side.

"Above all. Not that one. He's not just carrying
baggage, he's got cement blocks on his feet."

"I don't understand," Fiona probed gently.

"Listen, he can play the bereaved husband down here.
But up there where it counts Jack McGuire has a different agenda." Again
she turned toward Fiona. "You're not serious are you? Surely, you know
about Jack McGuire."

"Know what?" Cates asked.

"I think you people need a course in detecting,"
Mrs. Carter said, with obvious sarcasm. Then she looked at her watch once
again, stood up and primly smoothed her skirt. "I'm already late. I hope
I've given you some help."

"What about Jack McGuire's different agenda?"

"Not for me to say. Least we can do is let Frankie's
public image rest in peace."

"And you insist that this was a hit man murder?"

"Makes sense to me." She started to back away,
but before she could turn, Fiona touched her arm, the kind of gentle gesture
that was emphatic.

"Just for the record, though, Mrs. Carter," Fiona
asked. It was, of course, the essential question and Fiona had deliberately
reserved it for last. "Was there anything about Frankie..." Fiona
felt comfortable using the dead woman's nickname. The dead congresswoman was
taking on an intimate persona in Fiona's mind, a sure sign of an intensifying
engagement. "Was she depressed? Was there something on her mind, something
gnawing at her? Something that might have triggered a self-destructive act?"

Mrs. Carter pondered the thought for a long moment.

"Frankie could be moody," she admitted. "She
could also be difficult. We used to have words about her being overly friendly
with the enemy, especially the Romes. She bucked at that. Depressed? Maybe enough
to be suicidal? No. My theory is far more compelling."

"Are you saying she was depressed?" Fiona coaxed.
"To some degree."

"Not depressed, exactly," Mrs. Carter said. But
she was far more tentative than she had appeared earlier. She was applying her
memory now, quite obviously mulling a recent impression.
"Will-o'-the-wispy, I'd say. Not quite concentrating. It happens sometime.
She didn't seem as focused as usual." To Mrs. Carter, Fiona decided, that
might have mean not being as intense about "the issue."

"She didn't confide in you? Did you detect ... well
did you get the idea that she might be holding something back?"

"Frankie?" She shook her head emphatically.
"Not to me. The fact is, sergeant, Frankie and I had no secrets between
us. None."

With that, she turned and headed back toward the Capitol,
wearing her determination like a neon sign.

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