Authors: Laura DiSilverio
Tags: #laura disilvero, #mystery, #mystery novel, #mystery fiction, #political fiction, #political mystery
Â© 2016 by Laura DiSilverio.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2016
E-book ISBN: 9780738749624
Book format by Bob Gaul
Cover design by Lisa Novak
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: DiSilverio, Laura A. H., author.
Title: Close call / Laura DiSilverio.
Description: First Edition. | Woodbury, Minnesota : Midnight Ink, 
Identifiers: LCCN 2016016806 (print) | LCCN 2016021719 (ebook) | ISBN
9780738749204 | ISBN 9780738749624 ()
Subjects: | GSAFD: Mystery fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3604.I85 C58 2016 (print) | LCC PS3604.I85 (ebook) |
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016016806
Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
Mentor, sage, partner in crime, voice of sanity
and, most of all, dear friend.
Thursday, May 4
Sunburn and a hangover.
Those were the dangers Emily most associated with tubing trips down the Guadalupe River, even after spring storms pushed the water level higher than usual, churning the river's gentle undulations into wannabe rapids in one or two places. Having kayaked Class Four rapids in her native Maryland, Emily disdained the slight drops that had her University of Texas roommate squealing.
“Puh-leeze, Rach,” she said, tummy-down on the tube, stroking with her arms. “There are kiddie rides at Six Flags more thrilling than this.”
The green water cooled her skin and dragged at the T-shirt she wore to prevent her upper arms from chafing when she paddled. The river bottom flowed past below her, not more than three feet down, smooth pebbles and sand. By the bank, brush submerged by the rains frothed the water. The water's clean scent mingled with the petroleum stink of sun-warmed rubber and a whiff of coconut oil. Bliss.
Rachel shrieked again as she floated backward over a two-foot drop and swirled to face Emily, her legs hanging over the inner tube's side, her hand clutching a pink straw hat to her head. “Mark!” She pushed at their buddy as he playfully bumped her tube with his, making it lurch.
Emily could see freckles popping out on her redheaded friend's fair skin, despite the hat. And Mark's shoulders virtually glowed. Sunburn and hangover, she thought again, and maybe a stray moccasin or two. She glanced into a quiet pool notched into the bank and scanned the cottonwood branches overhanging the river, their shadows offering brief sanctuary from the glaring sun. No snakes. Satisfied, she flipped over on the tube so her cutoff-clad butt hung into the water. She'd tubed this river when it was so low her ass scraped the bottom. Thank God for rain. With one hand, she hoisted the gallon milk jug tied to her tube. Her blond braid trailed in the water as she swallowed two gulps of rum and Gatorade and carefully replaced the cap.
“Catch,” she called to Mark, unclipping the bottle from the carabiner that secured it to a loop of rope. She flung the jug and it plopped into the water within an arm's length of her target, sinking for a moment before bobbing to the surface.
“This is the life, huh? Done with finals, graduation next week, Spit in the Wind concert tonight â¦” Mark drank deeply and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We'll be bona fide MBAs in a week. That would mean more if I had a job to go with it like you two.” He took another swig and ducked his chin to peer at Emily from over the top of his sunglasses. “You sure you want to get shackled so soon? Gainful employment plus a hub sounds way too adult. Call it off, live a little. You can always get married later.”
“Just because you're still into hook-ups and beer pong doesn't mean we all are,” Emily said, splashing him. “I'm ready. Ready to settle down with the man I've loved since I was twelve. I can't wait.”
Mark lobbed the jug back her way and it sideswiped her temple, toppling her into the river with a splash.
Mark doubled over and almost laughed himself into the water.
“Mark!” Rachel reprimanded him, half laughing too.
The milk jug popped to the surface, several yards down river. “Get the booze,” Mark called.
“What about Emily?”
“She's fine. Just get theâ”
Rachel screamed and pointed. Mark jerked his head back to where Emily had gone under as a blood-dark cloud stained the river's surface. Tendrils of red diluted to pink as the flow tugged them away.
Tuesday, August 1
When someone starts a
conversation with “Are you okay?” and you have no idea what they're talking about, it's a sure sign that fate has trampled you with cleats and you just don't know it yet.
That thought zipped through Sydney Ellison's head as she slowed in the middle of a rush hour DC sidewalk to answer a call from her mother.
“Are you okay?” Connie Linn asked, anxiety tightening her voice.
“Why wouldn't I be?” A man jostled Sydney and she walked faster. The sidewalk was almost as jammed as the street, and the pedestrians had fewer hesitations about ramming into each other.
Connie inhaled sharply. “You haven't heard. Oh my God. Sydney, it's George.”
“George?” There had only ever been one George in her life, one George who had
her life, but she asked anyway. “Manley?” The name brought with it memories she tried to keep corralled in an
part of her brain. Nausea roiled her stomach and she swallowed hard. “What about him?”
“How? Whaâ” Sydney was abreast of an Electronics Emporium, its display window crowded with high-def TVs. Images of her and George from long ago played on the screens. She sucked in her breath and stopped dead. “Connie, I can'tânot now.” She hung up on her mother without apology and edged closer. She was fifteen years younger and twenty pounds heavier on the screen; it was like looking at a badly distorted image, a fun-house mirror. Her face flamed and she looked over her shoulder. No one was pointing or staring. People trotted down the Metro stairs. Jaywalkers snarled traffic. Thank God for small favors. She turned back to the window as her younger self shrouded her head with a coat to escape the reporters jabbing microphones at her.
George's image filled the screens.
Oh my God
. In his sixties, his silver
hair matched the gray of his suit and his hooded eyes challenged the viewer. A name and a brace of years underscored the photo:
George Manley (D/Ohio), former Speaker of the House, 1948â2016.
He was really dead.
Oh my God.
Her knees buckled. She splayed a hand on the cool glass to keep from falling.
“Hey, lady, this yours?” A beefy stranger held out her briefcase. She hadn't even felt it fall.
“What? Oh, thank you.” She strangled the handle, torn between wanting to know what had happened to George and an unwillingness to hear newscasters rehash their past. The anchor, face solemn, narrated silently, and she tried to read his lips. Had he said “affair”? Anger prickled in her scalp and in her hands and feet. She swung away from the window. God knew she had plenty of reason to hate George, but he was dead. Why did the networks alwaysâ
âhave to zoom in on the sordid? How sadâtragic, evenâthat their affair was haunting George even in death. He'd have wanted to be remembered for his education bill, for three decades of public service, not for screwing a coed younger than his daughter. Even if that girl had loved him more than â¦ more than was safe.
Anger, humiliation, and something that wasn't quite sadnessâmore like regretâmixed it up in Sydney's stomach as she pushed open the deli door four storefronts away. A bell tinkled, drowned by customers shouting their orders to harried clerks, cell phones spraying Bach or the Beatles, and cash registers pinging. She inhaled a peppery hint of salami and the vinegar tang of pickles and pepperoncini. Better. Her jangled nerves quieted. Leaning against a glass-fronted case, she let the cool seep through her sweat-damp dress. DC summers could double as a Dantean circle of hellâone reserved for politicians, George used to say.
She tore her thoughts away from George Manley. Even though she'd never live down her past, she didn't have to relive it just because he was dead. She didn't need the painful memories spoiling her evening with Jason.
Half a pound of sharp cheddar
, she forced herself to think instead. Two roasted chicken dinners and a few of those garlic olives Jason liked. Did they need more coffee? Supplies like coffee and toilet paper seemed to evaporate with Jason in the house. One more week and he'd be back in his newly renovated condo. A pang of guilt zipped through her at the thought and she bit the inside of her lip. It'd been a little claustrophobic at first, having Jason around more, but she liked bumping against him now as they cooked dinner in the small kitchen, liked hearing the details of his day and snuggling with him every night, not just on weekends. She could live with the whiskers in the sink, but his racing bicycle couldn't stay in the living room, even for just another week. They'd have to find somewhere else to keep it ifâ
“Ma'am? It's your turn.” A man nudged Sydney from behind. He bounced from one foot to the other, horn-rimmed glasses balanced on his sharp nose. “Can you hurry it up? I've gotta get my kids from daycare. They charge ten bucks for every minute you're late. Per kid.”
She stepped to the deli counter with its four cash registers and ordered, on impulse getting a piece of chocolate cheesecake for Mrs. Colwell, her neighbor with the chocolate jones and fixed income. She had to lean forward to be heard over the men on either side, both jabbering into their cell phones. The aproned clerk dumped two white bags with handles onto the counter, and Sydney's phone rang.
“Sorry.” She checked the number. Connie. Calling back to check on her okayness. She didn't answer. Putting the phone beside her deli bags, she pulled out a fifty, maneuvering around the man on her left and his six pizza boxes and the man on her right scrambling after dropped coins.
“Sorry. I don't have anything smaller,” Sydney told the clerk, a youth with pimples and straw-colored hair. Good grief, she sounded like the battered women she'd set up Winning Ways to help:
sorry, sorry, sorry
“It's cool,” the clerk said, counting out her change. He peered at her in a way she'd come to dread. “You look familiarâ”
She didn't need this. “Thanks.” She gave him a small smile and looked away, desperate to be gone before he said more.
“HeyâI just saw you on TV!” He jerked his head toward the tiny television suspended above the counter's far end. “Cool! You're thatâ”
Impatient, the man behind Sydney elbowed her aside and knocked against a pickle jar, streaming briny water over the counter. The clerk sprang back. Warty green pickles rolled across the Formica and plunked to the floor. She swept her phone and damp change into her purse and almost ran out the door, praying that no one had heard the clerk.
“Jesus H. Christ!” and “Oh, shit, I'm sorry!” followed her out of the deli.
Two blocks away, she paused to take a deep breath, not minding the exhaust fumes held at street level by the oppressive humidity that slicked her skin. In another half hour, this part of DC would quiet as the commuters fled to suburbia. She and Jason could enjoy dinner on the balcony, have a glass of wine, talk. She picked up her pace. Ten minutes brought her to the one-way quiet of G Street Southeast. Townhomes lined both sides, cooled by mighty oaks old enough to remember flames erupting from the White House just three miles away, the eerie quiet of the streets during the flu pandemic, and windows darkened by blackout curtains.
A block from home, she heard a cell phone's faint
âa plain ring, not her “Rhapsody in Blue” ringtone. She looked around. No one in earshot.
. It trilled again, from inside her purse.
. She knew what must have happened even as she set the deli bags down and found the phone. It was a simple pay-as-you-go model, just like hersâshe hadn't had a cell phone contract since her account got hacked by unscrupulous journalists when the relationship with George made the headlines.
A man's voice started speaking before she could even say hello. “Time for round two. Remember to make the Montoya job look like an accident. There's a bonus if you take care of it before the election.” The voice was terse, accentless. “Payment as previously arranged. Make it happen.”