Authors: B. David Warner
Tags: #mystery, #action thriller, #advertising, #political intrigue
He ran out to the FedEx box, finding the two
copies gone. Damn. FedEx must have had a truck in the neighborhood
when he called.
Caponi dashed back in, careful to lock the
front door. As he returned to the suite he heard a noise from the
rear of the building -- the messenger coming for the disc. He
couldn’t let him have it, not now.
He had to tell someone what he had found.
Caponi reached for the telephone and dialed Cato’s home number. He
got the usual “your call is important” message after the fourth
ring and began to speak into the receiver, leaving a detailed
He felt rather than saw the figure in the
open doorway and began to turn when the nine millimeter hollow
point ripped through his cheek, shattering teeth and taking out
part of the roof of his mouth before tearing through the other
That bullet would have made certain he never
talked again, but it wasn't enough for the man now four feet from
the back of Caponi’s head. A second hollow point ripped through his
brain, blowing his forehead open and painting the control board
with blood, cerebrospinal fluid and bits of bone and brain
What remained of Caponi’s head crashed
against the control board amidst a spreading pool of red just below
the blonde on Monitor B, still smiling, oblivious to the blob of
crimson matter now oozing down the screen.
We had driven for hours in the darkness when
we spotted a Meijer discount department store on M-59.
The sign outside trumpeted 24-hour service,
but the only vehicles in the brightly lit parking lot were the half
dozen employees’ cars parked in a cluster seventy feet from the
entrance. I noticed a vacant spot near the center of the formation
and eased the Avatar in. Higgins and I got out and headed for the
I hoped the Avatar would go unnoticed, but
glancing over my shoulder, it looked like a lion among a group of
Good thing the store was deserted. Noticing
our reflections in the store window on the way in, I realized we’d
be hard to miss, even in a crowd. Higgins, dressed carefully in
black to match – oh brother! – the Avatar he drove earlier in the
day, stood a rangy six-three. His pretty boy Brad Pitt look was
saved by a nose. That is, a proboscis that looked like it might
have been bashed a time or two in “The Big House” where he played
football for the University of Michigan.
I had grown up sensitive about my height,
somewhere just under six feet in heels, thinking of myself as the
typical gawky teenager. A more comfortable feeling of “self” came
later when I played point guard for the Michigan State basketball
team that went to the Final Four my junior year, and got voted onto
the Homecoming Court as a senior. Now the reflection in the window
showed a woman in her early thirties, with light brown hair that
fell just below her shoulders, dressed in the navy pantsuit her
father had given her. Dad and I had grown especially close since
Mom died three years ago, and I treasured the outfit.
All in all, I thought, the picture wasn’t bad
for a once ugly duckling.
We found a bank of telephones inside the
sliding glass doors. Higgins pushed coins into the first and
entered Ken Cunningham's home number. He cocked the receiver so I
could hear. The Adams & Benson executive vice president picked
up after the fifth ring.
"Ken? Sean Higgins."
"What time is it?"
"Quarter to five, Ken. I've got to talk to
"What is it?" Cunningham suddenly snapped
"You’re going to have to give the
presentation to AVC management alone this morning, Ken."
Higgins went through the story, starting with
the Avion disc, the car chase and ultimately, the shooting of the
"Where's the DVD now?" Cunningham asked.
"We've got it."
"Are you sure it’s the disc they’re
"Ken, three people are dead, another is lying
in a coma. That DVD figured in at least three cases and probably
"Who wants it and why?"
“I wish I knew.”
"You said the disc contained an Avion
commercial... the one with all those bikini-clad women on the
"Hell, we ran that thing six months ago.
Don’t see why anyone would want it now. But bring the DVD to me,"
Cunningham said, "I'll have it checked out.”
"Too risky, Ken. We've got to get out of
"Where are you going?”
"My uncle's cottage near Gaylord."
"Not a good idea. The police’ll look for you
"Not unless someone tips them off. The uncle
is my mother's brother. His last name's different from mine."
"I still think you'll be safer somewhere
else. Let me do some checking. Where can I call you?"
"I'm at a pay phone. I'll have to call
"Give me fifteen minutes."
Now it was my turn to make a call. I started
“Who are you calling?” Higgins asked.
"Garry Kaminski. I want someone on the police
force to hear our side of the story.”
"Okay, but make it quick. I’ll be inside
grabbing a cup of coffee."
The phone rang six times before my former
"Kaminski. You'd better have a damn good
reason calling this early."
"Darcy? Where the hell are you? The Roseville
police put out an APB on you and your buddy Higgins. Our desk
sergeant recognized your name and called me after midnight.”
"Garry, I swear the shooting wasn't our
fault. Another man held the gun. Higgins reached for it, and it
"Darcy, the two guys they arrested in the
Viper are telling their version of the story. Every badge in town
is looking for you. You've got to come in.”
"Garry, you don't understand..."
"I understand they've got a description of
you and Higgins in a black Avatar, and you're lucky you haven't
been picked up already."
"But there were witnesses."
"Three witnesses say Higgins shot the cop,
three say the other guy shot him, one says it looked like an
accident. But the two other guys are talking and you're not."
"It's that disc Vince Caponi had, Garry. It’s
at the bottom of everything.”
“Darcy, you’re betting your life on that.
Think about it. Higgins is the prime suspect in one murder and now
he’s wanted for another.
"Look, my caller ID’s got the number you’re
calling from. Stay there, I’ll come get you."
With the Roseville police looking for us, and
a Detroit cop who also happened to be my ex-husband racing our way,
I had to do something.
Twenty minutes later, Higgins sat sipping
from a Styrofoam cup as I approached him from behind.
"Let's get on the road."
Startled, Higgins choked on his coffee. He
looked up. "I need to get back to Cunningham."
"Call him later. Kaminski’s on the way. We've
got to get out of here. Now."
We started walking quickly--out of the small
coffee shop, past the sleepy cashier manning the only open
register, through the automatic doors and into the parking lot.
The cars hunched in the small group were
still the only vehicles in the lot. As we approached them, I
wondered how long it would take Higgins to notice.
"Where's the Avatar?"
"Over there," I pointed. “The white one.”
"The white one? What the hell do you mean,
the white one?"
"I painted it."
"You...what?" We were now standing next to a
very low, very white, Avatar AVX.
"It took five cans of touch-up paint. They
were on sale. Didn't you see the display?”
"Are you nuts?" Higgins’ face was beet red.
"You’ve screwed up a sixty-thousand-dollar paint job. It took six
weeks to get it right. By hand."
"Are you nuts? The cops are looking for a
black Avatar. They find it, we're in prison. For life.” Higgins had
to admit I was right. While the AVX was a prototype with a much
more powerful engine than the standard Avatar, it shared the body
style familiar to sports car enthusiasts around the country. The
white color would give us a better chance at freedom.
I held his gaze. "Now, are you driving, or am
Higgins held the keys. A touch of the remote
button and the car’s gullwing doors unfolded.
"Watch the paint," I said, sliding into the
passenger seat. “It's wet." Higgins shot me a sour look. A turn of
the key provoked a snarl from the engine.
Pulling out of the parking lot onto M-59,
Higgins kept to the right, melding into the morning rush hour.
Watching on-coming traffic, I saw my former husband, the cop, speed
by in the opposite direction.
I couldn’t help smiling as I thought of him
running around the store looking for us.
"I heard you tell Ken Cunningham you have
relatives up north,” I said.
"My aunt and uncle have a cottage in Gaylord,
about forty miles below the Mackinac Bridge.”
"Think they'll put up a couple of
"They're in Florida.”
"We're going to break in?"
"I know where they hide the key."
But would we make it that far?
Seven Days Earlier
Monday, Oct. 11 – 9:15 a.m.
I hadn’t known Vince Caponi, but news of his
death touched me. Years ago, married to a Detroit street cop,
violence became my constant companion. When I divorced Garry
Kaminski, I thought I had jilted that companion too, leaving it
behind when I bolted for Grand Rapids. Now, returning to the Motor
City, I found my old nemesis on hand to greet me the first day on
When Garry and I split, too much of my former
husband remained in the places we had known –- the Fox Theatre
District, Greek Town, Belle Isle –- for me to feel comfortable
anywhere near them.
I moved back to Grand Rapids. My father,
alone after Mom’s death, welcomed me home, and at first the
situation seemed comfortable as the proverbial old shoe. But I soon
realized my hometown had become several sizes too small.
Nearly five years passed before the call came
from Ken Cunningham, Adams & Benson's executive vice president
and an old family friend. The position of creative supervisor on
the American Vehicle Corporation account had opened. I’d been
recommended by A & B’s executive creative director, my former
boss, Sid Goldman. "And by the way," Ken had added, "Sid had a
heart attack. He almost died."
After getting past the shock of Sid's heart
attack, I weighed the proposition. The job paid well and I’d be
back writing about my first love: cars. The truth is, I know more
about wheels than most men.
Two weeks later I moved back to Detroit.
My office turned out to be on six, a floor
routinely sealed off from the rest of the agency during the months
of creative planning for next year's AVC models. You needed a key
to open the door when the elevator stopped there. I learned that
because of this tight security, the account team of Niles
VanBuhler, third party candidate for President of the United
States, had insisted on taking over half of the floor when they
moved here from D.C. three months ago.
As I stood gazing out the floor-to-ceiling
window of my new office, the view of the Detroit River with
Windsor, Ontario, on the other side was breathtaking. I could see a
cabin cruiser bouncing eastward, fighting white-capped waves toward
Lake St. Clair. To my right, the cylindrical towers of the
Renaissance Center shot into the sky. Below, the A & B parking
lot stretched two hundred feet along the river.
I vowed to do something about the bare wall
on my left soon. I’d been an avid art collector since college,
scraping together dollars to buy a lithograph by one artist or
another. My favorite genre was the American southwest and painters
like Remington, Russell, Inness and Whittredge. My collection
remained in Grand Rapids. I’d bring a few lithographs next trip, to
cover some of that wall space.
A stack of folders sat on the center of my
desk, each containing a work profile of the writers and art
directors on my new staff. I had known a couple from my previous
stint at A & B, but several had joined the agency in the
interim. I spent the morning reviewing the profiles.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been nervous
about taking this job: a huge step from a small town to directing
the creative product of an account spending nearly a billion
dollars in a single year. Every creative person goes through
periods of self-doubt, and right now I had to fight to keep those
thoughts at bay.
“Just because it’s your first day doesn’t
mean you can’t break for lunch.”
Startled, I looked up from the last profile
to see a six-foot-two male of African American descent in the
doorway. I recognized Matt Carter from the photograph in his
personnel file. Behind him stood two others: a short,
dark-complected man in a blue striped short-sleeved shirt and a
taller, sandy-haired man in a business suit.
“Hi, Darcy, I’m Matt Carter and your two
other lunch companions are Manny Rodriguez and Paul Chapman.”
The shorter man, Manny Rodriguez, smiled and
nodded. “Nice meeting you, Darcy. I like the work you did on the
Avatar last time you were here. Your ads remind me of the early
Volkswagen campaign.” I had just finished reading Rodriguez’
folder. A late bloomer, he had joined Adams & Benson as a
copywriter after a long career in the Army.
“We promise we won’t let Manny bore you,”
said the taller man, Chapman. “He’s a walking encyclopedia of
"You account guys are all alike," Rodriguez
smiled. "You don’t care about the creative product as long as you
have directions to the client's country club."
"Somebody’s got to schmooze the clients so
they’ll approve the copy you write,” Chapman said.