by W.E.B. Griffin
& William E. Butterworth IV
[ ONE ]
West Rittenhouse Square
Center City, Philadelphia
Thursday, January 5th, 1:55 p.m.
“Target is moving,” the man behind the wheel of a white Chevrolet panel van called back through the partition after reading the burner phone’s text message. “Get ready.”
The driver—a short small-framed skinny male in his mid-thirties who wore faded blue overalls and a black woolen knit cap—had parked almost an hour earlier at the curb in front of the iconic Smith and Wollensky steakhouse. After walking around the van and placing two reflective orange safety cones at the front and rear bumpers, he had returned to the driver’s seat and waited for the signal on the throwaway mobile telephone.
The position gave him an unobstructed view twenty yards up the red-bricked drive to the valet kiosk and the entrance of The Rittenhouse, a high-rise that held a five-star hotel and ultra-luxury condominiums.
If Center City was considered the wealthiest section of America’s fifth largest city—and it unequivocally was—then The Rittenhouse—overlooking the heavily treed and expensively landscaped Rittenhouse Square park, which William Penn first designed in the seventeenth century—was without question one of the city’s classiest addresses.
The white panel van had magnetic three-foot-square signage on its front doors that read KEYCOM CABLE TV INSTALL CONTRACTOR, PENNA. LICENSE 3-246. Just to the left of the passenger door signage, midway up the body of the van, was a chromed twelve-inch-square door, above which was a sticker with red lettering: A/C POWER 110 VOLTS ONLY!
Inside the back of the van, behind the chromed door, sat an obese olive-skinned forty-year-old with a puffy pockmarked face and thinning greased-back hair. He wore a gray hooded sweatshirt and heavy denim workman’s overalls, and was slumped in a heavy chair that had been salvaged from a Italian restaurant’s dumpster. The wooden chair was bolted to the metal floor of the van directly behind the passenger seat, the chair’s back to the partition.
Across his lap he held a black Remington .12-gauge pump shotgun that had a short polymer pistol grip mounted in place of the longer standard shoulder stock.
“What’s he doing?” the obese man said.
“It’s ‘they,’” the driver said. “Target’s got some jagoff with him.”
Approaching the kiosk were two well-built clean-cut men in their early thirties, one blond and the other dark haired, both over six feet tall and dressed somewhat identically in sweaters, blue jeans, and pointed-toe Western boots.
The man in the back chuckled.
“Sucks to be that guy,” he said.
He fought the urge to crack open the chromed door, from which they had removed the original plug receptacle, and have a quick look.
“They’re getting their car at the valet stand,” the driver said.
“About damn time,” the obese man replied, then inhaled deeply. “This smell of grilled steak is making me starved.”
“Tell me about it,” the driver said, nervously drumming his gloved fingers on the steering wheel. “We’re gonna eat like kings after this job.”
The driver watched as one of the three valets—That really is one fine looking bitch to be parking cars, he thought—trotted to the far leg of the “A”-shaped drive where more than a dozen vehicles were neatly backed into a line of parking slots along the drive’s exit.
She passed a silver Bentley Mulsanne sedan that was at the far end and a red Aston Martin Vanquish coupe before getting into a glistening black Cadillac SUV.
“It’s a Escalade,” the driver said. “And that Caddy’s brand fucking new. Still got the window sticker on it.”
She quickly maneuvered the enormous SUV around the fountain in the center of the drive and brought it to a stop before the two tall men at the kiosk.
The valet hopped down from the driver seat and stood erect, putting her right hand, palm out, against her lower back as she held open the door with her left. One of the male valets went to the front passenger door, opened it, and assumed the same erect stance.
The dark-haired male came around the SUV, handed the valet what looked like a tip, then got in behind the wheel.
“Target is getting in the passenger seat,” the van driver said, starting the engine and pulling the gear selector down into low.
“Got it,” the obese male replied, then after a moment grunted and added, “Not that it’s gonna matter much where the bastard sits.”
The man in back then began shuffling his feet in order to sit up in the chair.
He racked the action of the shotgun, loading a round of double-aught buckshot into the breech with a solid metallic ka-chunk-chunk. He then rotated the weapon onto its side, dug his gloved hand into a pocket, came out with another round of double-aught, and shoved it through the slot in the bottom, topping off the magazine tube.
The van driver saw the brake lights of the Escalade illuminate, then the backup lights briefly flash once, indicating the vehicle was being put in drive. After a moment, the SUV started rolling—then twenty feet later its brake lights lit up again and it came to a stop.
“What the hell?” the driver said.
“What?” the man in back said.
Beyond the kiosk, a tall blond in a long dress appeared from the building. She looked to be in her thirties, and moved quickly toward the SUV. When the passenger reached his arm out the window, she handed him a thick envelope. Then the blond blew a kiss, smiled and waved, and turned back for the building.
“Okay, finally we’re going!” the driver said.
As he began taking his foot off the brake, he quickly checked the mirror on his door for traffic—and saw a black Porsche 911 fast approaching with its right turn signal blinking.
“Shit!” he said, pressing hard on the brake pedal.
The Porsche’s horn briefly sounded twice, then the car cut across his front bumper and went up the drive, pulling in behind the Escalade.
The SUV began to circle the fountain at the top of the drive.
The van driver checked his mirror again, and saw a line of four cars.
“Aw, come on . . .”
“While that might be a valid point, Chad, right now I really don’t give a damn what my doctor says,” Matt Payne said, steering the 911 into the just vacated spot in front of the valet kiosk. He was talking on his smartphone over the Porsche’s audio system, the device plugged into the car’s USB port. “The incision where they worked fixing the bullet damage still oozes a little, mostly around the sutures, but I’m getting better.”
Payne was a lithely-muscled twenty-seven-year-old who stood six-foot and a solid one-seventy-five. He had deep intelligent eyes and dark thick hair that he kept clipped short. He wore a white long-sleeve knit polo shirt and khakis with brown suede chukka boots, and a navy fleece jacket.
Under the jacket a Colt .45 ACP Officers Model semi-automatic pistol hung beside his left bicep from a leather shoulder holster. A bifold wallet held his Philadelphia Police Department ID card and badge.
“I’m really on Amanda’s shit-list right now,” Payne went on. “If I’m going to surprise her with this condo that just got put on the market, I’ve got to do this meeting now—before someone goes and leases the damn thing out from under me. Then I can just get the rest of my stuff that wouldn’t fit in Amanda’s out of my place around the corner.”
To meet a City of Philadelphia requirement that members of the police department reside within the city limits, Payne had been paying his father a pittance to live in a tiny apartment in the garret of a brownstone overlooking Rittenhouse Square. The mansion, which had been in the Payne family since being built one hundred fifty years earlier, had its three lower floors converted to modern office space and now housed the Delaware Valley Cancer Society.
Watching the valet trot over to his door, Payne put the Porsche’s stick shift in neutral and reached between the seats, pulling up on the handbrake. He left the engine running.
“I’ve got to go. Call you later,” he said.
He broke off the connection by tapping the icon on the in-dash multi-function screen, then unplugged the phone from its cradle in the console.
The valet pulled the door open and assumed the erect stance.
“Welcome back, Mr. Payne,” she said.
He stepped out of the vehicle, wincing at the sharp pain from the wound.
The valet noticed.
“Are you all right, sir?” she said, her facial expression one of genuine concern.
“Yeah, fine. Melody, right? Thanks for asking. Indigestion, I think.”
He smiled at her—then, hearing the squeal of tires spinning behind him, jerked his head toward the street.
Payne saw that the white panel van he had just passed was racing away from the curb, an orange safety cone flying off its front bumper. And, a moment later, he watched it screech to a dead stop in front of the Cadillac Escalade that was approaching the brick drive’s exit, about to pull onto the street.
The Escalade, its path now blocked, also screeched to a stop.
Payne then saw a chromed door in the side of the van swinging open. A black tube poked out of the hole.
What the hell . . . ?
“Everyone get down!” Payne shouted, pulling the valet prone behind the nose of the Porsche and using his body to shield her.
He reached inside his jacket and tugged the .45 from the shoulder holster.
At that exact moment there came the BOOM of a shotgun blast. Payne heard the distinctive sounds of the piercing of metal and the shattering of glass.
There were screams as people ran for cover, many fleeing into the park.
Payne looked over the Porsche’s hood when he heard the Escalade’s engine roar. He saw the SUV surging toward the van.
There then came another shotgun blast, right before the SUV rammed the van. The Escalade bounced off it, careened to the right, and accelerated down the street.
After a moment, the van, tires squealing, raced after it.
Payne scanned the area as he got to his feet. With his free left hand, he helped Melody stand up.
He walked her quickly over to the kiosk, behind which the others were crouching.
“You okay?” he said, releasing her arm.
“Yeah. Think so,” she said, her voice shaking. “Thanks.”
Payne, running back around the Porsche, scanned the area. He did not see anyone injured. But he clearly saw that the passenger door windows of the Bentley were shattered and there was a defined bullet hole in its crazed windshield.
That’s not from birdshot, Payne thought. That’s buckshot.
He then heard behind him a woman yelling: “What’s happening? Was that Johnny?”
Payne turned and looked.
Jesus. Is she fucking nuts?
It was the tall blond he more or less recalled walking away from the Escalade when he had pulled up. He had not paid her any particular attention; Center City crawled with really good looking women and he had been distracted by his phone conversation. But now he saw that she was extremely attractive and elegantly dressed. Her sweeping dress and long hair flowed behind her as she rushed out from the high-rise and past the kiosk.
“Police!” Payne shouted at her from beside the door of the Porsche, which was still open. He held the .45 in his right hand, muzzle up and trigger finger along its slide, and pointed with his left toward the building entrance. “Stay back!”
As the woman passed Melody, the valet intercepted her and tried persuading her to return to the building.
Payne squeezed in behind the wheel, wincing again at the sharp pain. After putting his phone and pistol on the passenger seat, he threw the stick shift into first gear, hitting the gas pedal while dumping the clutch.
The 911 leapt into motion, and went screaming around the top of the drive. He caught a glimpse of the attractive blond forcing her way past the valet and heading toward the street.
Payne shook his head.
She must be crazy . . . or have a death wish.
He laid steadily on the horn as he approached the brick drive exit and then turned onto the street.
Ahead, the battered van now was racing almost side by side with the SUV. The two vehicles were quickly nearing the “T” intersection that was at the southwest corner of Rittenhouse Square. A line of nineteenth century buildings loomed directly ahead. Around the corner was the brownstone with bronzed signage reading DELAWARE VALLEY CANCER SOCIETY.
There’s no room for both to make that turn, Payne thought.
Damn—they could hit my place.
Payne then saw the black tube again slide out of the chromed flap on the right side of the van. He waited for another shotgun blast—but then the Escalade swerved hard into the van.
The impact caused the van to go up on the sidewalk and almost into the park. The Escalade then sharply veered right. The driver overcorrected—and the SUV slid sideward, its right tires clipping the opposite curb, causing the SUV to tip and then roll onto its roof.
Sonofabitch! Payne thought.
Sparks sprayed out from the Escalade as it slid down the street and then onto the sidewalk. It struck a tree and a lamppost, causing it to spin. Its rear end then slammed into the heavy stone wall of one of the two-hundred-year-old buildings. The impact compressed and then ripped open the fuel cell. Gasoline flowed out, then erupted in flames.
The white van braked and skidded sideways as it returned to the street. It then managed to make the left turn, passing within feet of the upside-down SUV. Billows of dense black smoke now rose above the thick orange and red flames coming from the rear of the vehicle.
Payne had just decided on the closest spot ahead that he could park in order to extricate whoever was in the SUV. But then he saw two blue shirts—Philadelphia police officer, detective, and corporal ranks wore uniforms with blue shirts; higher ranks, including the commissioner, wore ones of white—run out of the park and approach the scene. They passed more people who were fleeing into the park. One of the officers was yelling into the police radio microphone clipped to the epaulet of his shirt.
Nearing the intersection, Payne waited until the last second before braking hard and downshifting, then shot through the turn, the all-wheel-drive sports car hugging the street as if it rode on rails.
He accelerated quickly after the van.
Ahead, more people bolted from the crosswalks and sidewalks as the van approached Eighteenth Street. The van then made a right onto Eighteenth, tires squealing again as its rear end fishtailed.
Wrong way—that’s a one-way.
Payne scanned the intersection, looking for cross-traffic. He could see across the southeast corner of the park clearly. But the building across the street on the right created a blind corner. It was impossible to see what was happening on the far side of it.
A second later, it did not matter—the shrieking roar of tortured metal reverberated off the tall buildings as a Quaker Valley Foods six-wheeled box truck, apparently having dodged a head-on collision with the white van, came sliding up the two-lane street on its side. It then struck a pair of cars that had stopped at the light, and wedged between them, completely blocking off Eighteenth to the right.
Payne carefully approached the intersection, looking beyond the truck and two cars, but could see only a half-dozen other wrecked cars and boxes of frozen meat scattered along the street.
He smacked the top of the steering wheel with his open palm.
He quickly reached for his phone, connected it to the port, and thumbed the EMERGENCY prompt on the keypad.
“Philadelphia nine-one-one,” a woman’s deep calm voice came over the car’s audio system. “What is your emergency?”
An image of the police 9-1-1 dispatch center flashed in his mind.
The grimy room, in the bowels of the Police Administration Building at Eighth and Race streets, was cramped with rows of workstations holding antiquated computers, and stood in sharp contrast to the department’s high-tech Executive Command Center.
That the dispatchers toiled in such conditions, each working an average of three hundred 9-1-1 calls over the course of an eight-hour shift, amazed him as much as he was disgusted by the petty interagency infighting at City Hall over the modernizing of the separate police, fire, and non-emergency 3-1-1 facilities.
He knew that dispatchers had to very quickly discern which calls were genuine emergencies and then how to properly respond to them, and which ones were, for example, pranks and worse. While bored middle-school-aged kids still called in hoaxes to liven up a slow day in the neighborhood with sirens, dispatchers now also dealt with older tech-savvy “swatters” calling in bogus hostage or active-shooter threats and giving a rival’s address so that responding police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactical) teams would kick down the rival’s doors, scaring the living shit out of him—or worse.
And now Payne had no doubt the dispatch center was already lit up with a flood of legitimate calls for help at Rittenhouse Square.
“This is Sergeant Payne,” he said, and gave the unique identifier code that would confirm him as badge number 471. He turned left on Eighteenth, and announced, “I’m in a black Porsche in pursuit of the vehicle involved in a shooting at Rittenhouse Square that caused two major wrecks there. Shooter’s vehicle is a white Chevy van with white magnetic signs on its doors that say KeyCom installer . . .”
After taking the immediate first right off Eighteenth, which was Locust, he then took the next right, and headed down South Seventeenth.
Payne kept the Porsche in second gear, repeatedly pushing the tachometer needle near redline. Its engine roared.
“. . . Did you copy that?” Payne said.
“Sergeant, I can barely hear you.”
Payne raised his voice as he spoke slowly: “I repeat, Rittenhouse Square shooter is in a white Chevy van headed south—the wrong way—on South Eighteenth. I am driving a black Porsche in pursuit . . .”
“Okay. Got it. Description of the doers? White? Black? Skinny? Medium build? Anything?”
“Negative. Only the vehicle, a white Chevy with significant damage on right side and door signs reading KeyCom installer. Also, need Fire Rescue for vehicle fire and multiple collisions at south Rittenhouse Square—”
“Priority One Call for Service already made on the fire and collisions. Stand by.”
Payne flew down Seventeenth, hoping he could maybe get ahead of the van and cut it off. The Porsche shot, block by block, from ten m.p.h. to nearly sixty, then back to ten as Payne slowed and looked down every cross street toward Eighteenth.
Finally, at Spruce Street, he again stepped heavily on the brakes, looked toward Eighteenth—and saw the white van. There was no missing it, especially because it now was dragging its rear bumper. A shower of sparks flew as the bumper bounced wildly off the street.
The van quickly turned onto Spruce, fishtailing as its rear tires lost traction. More sparks sprayed.
Payne raised his voice: “Shooter vehicle now on Spruce headed toward South Nineteenth.”
Payne turned and sped after the white van, relieved that at least it now was going with traffic on the one-way street.
“Westbound Spruce at Nineteenth,” the dispatcher confirmed.
He heard her relay that over Police Radio, then she said, “Multiple units on their way, Sergeant.”
At Nineteenth, the traffic signal cycled red and Payne had to cut between three cars blocking the intersection. Then, at Twentieth, he blew through the signal that had just turned red, narrowly avoiding a SEPTA bus.
He shot through the next two intersections, barely slowing to clear them, each time the car becoming momentarily light on its suspension as it crested the crown of the cross-streets.
The traffic signal at Twenty-second was about to cycle to green—he saw the Don’t Walk signal on the far corner, its flashing upraised hand having turned solid red—but not in time. He had to brake hard to miss ramming a taxi cab that was last through the intersection.
Still, he saw that he was closing the distance with the van.
As he raced even faster over Twenty-third, the street crown caused the Porsche to leave the ground. He pulled his foot completely out of the accelerator and, as a precaution, hovered it over the brake pedal as the vehicle tires finally returned to the street.
He watched the van make a sliding left onto Twenty-fourth, its rear end clipping the front fender of a rusty school bus that had CHRISTIAN STREET YMCA painted on its side. The impact caused the van’s bouncing bumper to break loose. It sent out a spray of sparks as it spun beneath the engine compartment of the bus.
“Shooter’s van now heading down Twenty-fourth just south of Spruce,” Payne announced loudly as the car decelerated from fifty.
“Southbound Twenty-fourth between Spruce and Pine,” the dispatcher said, then repeated the information over Police Radio to the responding units.
“Move,” Payne then muttered to himself. “Move, move, move.”
As the Porsche flew up on the bus, a series of enormous clouds of black smoke belched out from under it. It then started to slide sideways, coming to a stop when the front tires struck the curb.
“Damn it!” he said, smacking the steering wheel again.
Payne saw a shiny black slick spreading on the asphalt.
Bumper must have speared the oil pan, he thought. Not good . . .
He shoved the brake pedal toward the floor, and instantly felt heavy vibration kicking back through the pedal, indicating that the anti-lock braking system was functioning.
The car stopped just short of the bus and the edge of the oil slick.
Payne looked up at the bus. Above its windshield a sign read OUT OF SERVICE. The emergency flashers came on and the STOP sign swung out from its side. The tall twin glass main doors opened outward and a big man wearing what looked like mechanic’s clothing stepped out. He went to the front, where he began surveying the damage.
“Say again, Sergeant Payne?” the dispatcher’s even voice came from the speakers.
In the distance, he heard the overlapping whoop-whoop of multiple sirens.
“Sergeant? You okay?”
As the distinct heavy smell of hot tire rubber and brake pads started filling the car, Payne scanned the intersection. There was no way around the bus. And no time to turn back and take another route around. He knew he could never catch up to the van now.
He shook his head in frustration.
“Pursuit ended,” Payne announced. “Shooter’s van still at-large. Last seen southbound on Twenty-fourth. I’m headed back to scene of the shooting at Rittenhouse Square.”
“Hold one,” the dispatcher said.
He heard the dispatcher talking over Police Radio and then heard a reply, the labored voice of a male officer speaking rapidly.
After a moment, the dispatcher said to Payne: “Vehicle matching your description has been located on Twenty-fourth at Fitler Square. Abandoned. The units responding, ten of them, are conducting a search of the area.”
“Thank you. Nothing further,” Payne said, grunted, then reached over to the cellular phone and ended the call.
As he put the gear shift in reverse, the in-dash screen flashed with his phone caller ID. It read: RITTENHOUSE REALTY. He left it unanswered.
Damn it, he thought, looking back over his shoulder while shaking his head. And so much for Amanda’s surprise.
[ TWO ]
Ten minutes later, Payne turned off Twentieth Street onto the narrow tree-lined one-lane Rittenhouse Street. He scanned the busy scene ahead.
Police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians seemed to be everywhere.
Blue shirts strung yellow POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape at the nearest corner, where the Cadillac Escalade was still on its roof. The fire was extinguished. Soot now darkened the front of the two-hundred-year-old building that the overturned SUV had struck. An acrid burning smell hung heavy in the air.
Next to the police tape, firemen worked with practiced precision around Engine 43 and Ladder 9 from the Market Street firehouse.
Across the street, one fire department Emergency Medical Services unit was departing the scene—the red and white ambulance’s emergency lights flashing and siren sounding—while an EMT from a second unit was administrating first aid to the two blue shirts who Payne had seen running to the burning SUV.
Another fire engine and ambulance were beyond that scene, at the farthest corner of the park at South Eighteenth, where a Tow Squad wrecker was pulling one of the cars away from the overturned wholesale food distributor truck.
And a line of television news trucks was parked along the southern end of the park. Reporters stood facing tripod-mounted cameras, giving live reports on the damage behind them.
Payne rolled halfway up the block, then eased the Porsche over the low curb and onto the sidewalk. He depressed the dash button that activated the flashing hazard lights, and got out.
Payne walked over to where the EMT stood with the two officers at the open rear doors of the ambulance. He saw that both officers had bloodstains all over their uniforms. The blue shirt whose black nameplate read FOSTER had his right hand neatly bandaged. The other, with a nameplate reading HARKNESS, was getting his left forearm wrapped in gauze.
The three glanced at him. Payne flashed his badge. The EMT, a somewhat pudgy male in his twenties whose uniform showed his name was Simpson, nodded then started to return his attention to wrapping the forearm before quickly looking back at Payne.
“Is that your blood?” Simpson said.
Payne realized he was motioning toward his belly.
When Payne looked down, he saw that beneath his unzipped navy fleece jacket there was a fresh stain about four inches in diameter. Blood had seeped beyond the bandage and onto his white polo shirt.
“Shit,” Payne said.
He pulled back the jacket a little and thought: Must have hurt it pulling the valet to the ground, and didn’t notice it with everything else that’s going on.
“You going to be okay?” the EMT said.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Payne said, letting go of the jacket. He forced a smile. “Only hurts when I breathe.”
“You better let me have a look at it,” Simpson said as he began taping the wrapped gauze. “Soon as I’m done here.”
“Really, it’s fine. But thanks.”
Payne looked between the blue shirts.
“What about you guys?” he said. “You okay?”
“Yessir,” they said over one another.
Payne thought that the two looked like they could still be in high school. They had youthful faces, ones now caked in dried sweat and soot. Their eyes reflected the fatigue and shock that came after an enormous rush of adrenaline.
“That’s a lot of blood,” Payne said.
“Mostly the victim’s,” Officer Foster said, then shook his head. “Lots of it. That was my first time responding to a really bad scene. I only got out of the academy a few months ago.”
Simpson said: “You oughta ride with us sometime. We average twenty runs a shift. Never a dull moment.”
Harkness stared at Payne, then his eyes grew large.
He said, “I thought you looked familiar. You’re Sergeant Payne, right? Homicide?”
Harkness glanced at the bloodstain.
He said: “And that’s where you took the bullet from that fucking heroin dealer you chased down, right?”
Payne raised his eyebrows and nodded.
“Guilty,” he said. “And a word to the wise: Try not to stand near me. I tend to attract bullets.”
“Jesus, and you’re already back on the job?” Harkness asked. “How you doing?”
“No need to worry about me,” Payne said, and gestured toward Harkness’s arm. “That going to be okay?”
He shrugged. “Yeah. Just scraped it up real good after cutting the driver’s seatbelt free. I mean there really was blood all over. Had no idea that it could be so slippery.”
“So, then,” Officer Foster said, nodding toward the car, “that was you in that black Porsche, wasn’t it? Chasing the van.”
“Yeah, looked like you guys had this scene covered, and clearly you did. Decided that going after the shooter was the thing to do.”
“You get the bastard?” Foster asked.
Payne raised his eyebrows again and shook his head.
“Unfortunately no. But they just found the van, abandoned, and are searching the area for the doers.”
Then he nodded toward the Escalade.
“Can you tell me about that scene?” Payne said. “Who was in the vehicle? Their condition?”
“Two white males, both from Florida, who are staying at The Rittenhouse,” Foster said, and glanced at Harkness. “Me and him hauled them out right before the fire spread to the inside. Didn’t get much info before the EMTs went to work on them.”
Harkness pulled a small spiral notebook from his shirt pocket. He flipped pages, read his notes, then looked at Payne.
“Driver’s a guy from West Palm Beach named Kenneth Benson, thirty-two years old,” he said. “He was unconscious. Shot up real good. That’s where all the blood came from. The EMTs working on him said he took multiple hits to the upper body, with one to the neck. Said it looked like with buckshot.”
“That’s what it looked like back at the scene of the shooting, buckshot,” he said. “How about the passenger?”
“The passenger,” Harkness went on, “is a thirty-five-year-old named John Austin. He somehow missed getting hit. Suffered some cuts from glass, was pretty badly banged up, but that was it. Call it a miracle, or something. He got transported to Hahnemann first.” The wail of the siren from the ambulance that just left the scene could be heard as it headed up Eighteenth Street, and he added, “The driver got put in that meat wagon. The paramedic said they’ll probably pronounce him at Hahnemann’s.”
“That makes this job yours, right?” Foster said. “I mean Homicide’s.”
“That’s what’s known in the unit as job security,” Payne said, triggering another chuckle from the EMT. Then he added, “If it was single-aught buckshot, each round has nine pellets, and each of those lead balls is the size of a .32-caliber bullet. And I saw the shooter get off two rounds. How the hell did the passenger manage to not get shot?”
Foster shrugged. “Just damn lucky, all I can figure. Except for getting banged up. Didn’t have his seatbelt on, and got thrown around the back of vehicle.”
Payne looked at him a long moment.
“No seatbelt?” he then said. “Maybe that’s it. He got lucky and saw the shotgun before the first round went off, or got even luckier when it did, ducking down on the floorboard and using the engine block for cover.”
Foster and Harkness exchanged glances.
“I just figured he’d left his seatbelt off,” Foster said, nodding thoughtfully. “Hiding behind the firewall makes sense.”
“Their friend,” Harkness said, “she showed up right after we dragged the two out of the vehicle. Said she’d run down from The Rittenhouse. That’s how I found out they were all staying there.”
“Good looking blond woman, mid-thirties, nicely dressed, right?” Payne said.
“Yeah,” Harkness said. “A real beauty. The rich kind, you know? Wasn’t happy she couldn’t ride along in the ambulance. She calmed down real quick when I flagged a cab to take her to Hahnemann.” He paused, then added, “So then you saw her?”
Payne nodded. “Near the shooting. Who is she?”
Harkness pulled from his notepad what looked like a business card and handed it to Payne.
“She gave me this.”
Payne’s eyes went to card.
“I’ll be damned,” he said. “Camilla Rose Morgan. That was her. Didn’t recognize her.”
“She someone important?” Harkness said.
“That is what’s known as a vast understatement, but you were right about the rich part,” Payne said. He motioned with the card. “I can keep this? You have the info off it?”
“Sure thing, Sergeant Payne.”
“By the way,” Payne said. “Nice work, you two. Pulling those guys out took real guts. Not everyone would’ve taken the risk.”
“Thanks,” they said over each other.
“You would have done it,” Simpson, the EMT, said. He gestured toward Payne’s bloodstained shirt. “You have done it. Just one example is ol’ Ray-Ray damn near making you number 373.”
The blue shirts nodded their agreement and obvious admiration.
The news media was still reporting, weeks later, on Homicide Sergeant M. M. Payne’s foot chase of eighteen-year-old Rayvorris Oliver, a street corner drug dealer, after “Ray-Ray’s” partner had just shot up The Daily Grind, a North Philly coffee shop.
Payne, who had been in the coffee shop talking with a confidential informant who had been their target, took out the shooter when he attempted to aim his semi-auto at Payne. Oliver fled the scene.
After running through multiple overgrown weed-choked lots, Payne had been ambushed by Oliver—and took a bullet in the gut.
Payne returned fire, then collapsed from his wound.
Ray-Ray died at the scene, making him homicide number 372 for the year. His partner had become number 371, moments after his bullets killed an innocent bystander—number 370—who had been eating at the coffee shop’s back counter.
The shootings had been, and remained, big news because the city was not only living up to its unwelcomed epithet of Killadelphia—it was doing so with record numbers of deaths.
And there was no reason to expect a reprieve anytime soon.
“Thanks,” Payne said to Simpson, then looked between Harkness and Foster. “But fact is I let you guys go into harm’s way while I chased—and lost—the shooter. And you performed admirably.” He paused, then added, “If you’ll excuse me.”
Payne took a couple steps away from them, then pulled out his cellular phone and thumbed a text message: “Can you meet me at Hahnemann ER in maybe 20?”
A moment later, his phone vibrated once with a reply message: “Once again, boss, you’re a day late and a dollar short. I’m already at ER. And you’ve been requested by name.”
[ THREE ]
Hahnemann University Hospital
Center City, Philadelphia
Thursday, January 5th, 4:30 p.m.
Matt Payne took Sixteenth Street a dozen blocks up from Rittenhouse Square, then turned right onto Vine Street. He braked for the red signal light at Seventeenth Street. The emergency room entrance at Hahnemann’s was a half-block ahead on the right, and he could see a few marked police sedans and fire department ambulances parked along the curb out front.
He glanced left and then right, and his eye went to the enormous banner attached to the tall chain-link fencing that had been erected around an old parking lot that was being turned into a construction zone.
The white vinyl banner read: HAROLD MORGAN CANCER RESEARCH CENTER – COMING SOON!
In the middle of the banner was an architectural rendering of a new twenty-story tower that would have a skybridge over Seventeenth Street connecting it to the existing hospital complex.
The banner also had multiple listings of those involved in the project.
Under the largest heading, PLATINUM DONORS, he saw the names of at least forty companies and individuals, many prominent ones he immediately recognized. Payne was not surprised to see at the top was Morgan International, which Camilla Rose Morgan’s father had built from a small pharmaceutical manufacturer in Philly. Directly beneath that was Richard Saunders Holdings, which he knew to be the parent company of Francis Franklin Fuller V’s multi-billion-dollar empire that included major media and real estate companies, among other ventures.
Along the bottom of the banner, in smaller lettering, under the heading FOR THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, was listed every politician from the mayor’s office and the city council to the local state house representatives.
Camilla Rose spearheaded the fundraising for that building to honor her old man and his losing battle with that aggressive cancer, Payne thought.
And I know this because Amanda had me write a nice check.
Damn sure not platinum level, but more than I wanted.
Payne heard honking behind him. He looked out the windshield; the traffic signal had cycled to green. He drove through the intersection and after passing three of the red and white ambulances that were idling short of the ER drop-off, he turned into the covered bay.
He parked the Porsche in a spot next to an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria. He could see the driver of the gray Police Interceptor, Detective Anthony Harris, standing inside the sliding glass doors of the emergency room entrance and talking on his cellular phone.
After entering the ER doors, Payne moved toward Tony Harris, who he now saw held a brown folder.
Harris, who was thirty-six and slight and wiry and beginning to bald, had fifteen years on the police department. Having worked cases with Payne—in Special Operations and now in Homicide—he counted himself among those who did not buy into what some had said both behind Payne’s back and to his face after Payne had joined the department. To wit: that he was “just a rich kid with connections playing cop.”
Tony not only liked and respected Matt, he enjoyed working with him. Harris had been around the block enough times to know that some cops would never be satisfied that Payne, who was both tough and smart as hell, genuinely had earned his stripes. Including his recent promotion to sergeant, after scoring number one on the examination.
Harris’s eyebrows went up as he looked at Payne’s midsection. He ended his call and slipped the phone in his pocket.
“Jesus, you here to be treated or what?” Harris said, motioning toward the dried bloodstain on Payne’s shirt.
“Damn,” he said, zipping up his fleece jacket enough to cover it. “I forgot.”
“Is it okay?”
“Yeah. I apparently aggravated the wound ducking for cover when I saw the shotgun.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Long or short story?”
“Make it a short one, or longish short.”
“Okay,” Payne began, “so I ditched a doctor’s appointment in order to meet with a realtor at The Rittenhouse—”
“Very nice,” Harris interrupted.
“This will be the long-long version if you intend to keep interrupting.”
Harris gestured grandly with his hand for Payne to continue.
Payne said: “You were right about Amanda being really pissed about me getting shot. It’s caused all kinds of serious problems. So, attempting to spread oil upon troubled waters, I went there . . .”
A few minutes later, he finished, “. . . and they’re trying to run to ground the shooter and driver and anyone else who may have been in the van. I went back to the scene. After hearing that it was Camilla Rose Morgan who was connected to the victims, and that she had followed them here, figured I’d see what I could find out.”
“You mean what ‘we’ could find out. You texted me, Sergeant, boss, sir.”
Payne knew that Harris, who had a decade more time on the job than he did, took some pleasure in needling him about it. But Payne also knew that, though technically on paper he was Harris’s superior, he had a helluva lot to learn from him.
When Payne transferred from Special Operations to Homicide, Harris had been in Jason Washington’s squad. Both were happy to have the newly-promoted Sergeant Payne join it.
“Right, ‘we,’” Payne said. “I checked in with the Black Buddha, and he said I should find out all that I can—all that we can. He’s sent McCrory with a bunch of other detectives to the scene.”
Homicide Lieutenant Jason Washington, Payne’s immediate supervisor, was enormous—six-feet-three, two hundred twenty-five pounds—and very black. Washington—who regarded himself, and was generally regarded by others, as not only the best homicide detective in Philadelphia but possibly the best on the entire Eastern Seaboard—took no offense to the nickname. He said a buddha was wise and deeply thoughtful, and there was no denying his distinct complexion.
Payne added, “Jason also relayed the news that the van, which came up as having been stolen months ago, had in back at least two spent shells of double-aught buckshot.”
“Jesus,” Harris said after a moment. “You really do attract the bullets.”
“How did you get here so quickly? And to talk with the Morgan woman?”
“I was already here. Had to come get this file for the Polaneczky case. When I was headed out they were wheeling in the Rittenhouse victims. One of the EMTs recognized me, and when I nodded toward the gurney, he said, ‘ART.’”
“Art?” Payne parroted.
Harris chuckled. “Yeah, I wasn’t familiar with it, either. He made the translation: ‘Assuming Room Temperature.’”
Payne grunted. “So that was Benson.”
“Right,” Harris said, and looked at his notes. “The deceased is Kenneth Benson, thirty-two. He’s got a Texas ID—”
“Texas?” Payne interrupted. “Harkness and Foster, the guys who pulled him and Austin from the Escalade, said they were from Florida, specifically West Palm.”
Harris nodded. “Both victims have home addresses in Houston. Benson is—was—the C.E.O. of a pharmaceutical company based in Boca Raton. It’s called NextGenRx. The ER doc, after pronouncing him, said he counted four hits of buckshot. Pellet that got him in the neck ripped open the carotid, and the severed artery clearly is what caused him to bleed out.”
Payne nodded. “Harkness said there was an enormous amount of blood in the SUV. What about Austin?”
“John Tyler Austin, a/k/a ‘J.T.’ and ‘Johnny,’ thirty-five, also of Houston, has a vacation home in Florida, in West Palm. He has his own investment firm that specializes in wealth management. Maybe more important: he’s romantically involved with Camilla Rose Morgan. I got that from her. And that that new Escalade they were in was registered to her.”
Payne nodded thoughtfully.
“McCrory should be grabbing copies of the surveillance videos,” he said, “especially from the steakhouse and the hotel. Can you get someone to run deep background on Benson and Austin, including any social media? Hell, for that matter, Camilla Rose, too.”
“That’s one of the things I was arranging for on the phone just now.”
“Great. I’ve already had the Black Buddha’s mantra repeated to me.” Payne then mimicked Washington’s deep sonorous voice, “‘Turn over every stone, Matthew, then turn over the stone beneath it.’”
Harris grunted, then said, “This Morgan woman said she knows you. Which is why I said you were requested by name.”
“She did? Now that’s really interesting. I know some people who do know her personally. But I know her mostly by reputation.”
“Camilla Rose Morgan has been running charities since she was an undergrad at Wharton College—”
“A gala is what she said she’s here for,” Harris interrupted. “Her Camilla’s Kids fundraiser is Saturday night. Something about special camps for children dealing with terminal diseases.”
“Yeah, mostly cancer patients. They’re probably holding it in the hotel ballroom at The Rittenhouse,” Payne said. “She’s one of those super-sized personalities who is always happy and who everyone likes. The ultimate party girl.”
“She sure as hell didn’t look like that when I saw her just now.”
Payne nodded, then went on: “And that partying has led to a long history of rehab visits. Not that that’s been a big secret. She always called it ‘going to the spa to get a cleanse.’ And she readily pointed out all the Hollywood celebrities and rock stars who did the same.”
“She mentioned that more than a few celebrities, her ‘special friends,’ she said, are attending the event,” Harris said, then chuckled. “You know, with any luck, you can get temporarily assigned again to Dignitary Protection.”
“Not no, but hell no. Been there, got the t-shirt. That did not work out well last time. I have no patience with the ‘special’ types. Rather rip out my stitches with a dull knife first.”
The protecting of VIPs visiting the City of Brotherly Love fell to the Dignitary Protection Unit. Sometimes there were a few VIPs in town requiring protection, sometimes dozens, and sometimes none at all—which caused staffing of the unit, dependent on demand, to fluctuate wildly.
The solution to supplying the surges was the temporarily reassignment of detectives from their divisions. Usually these detectives—who wore coats and ties, not uniforms—came from the Special Operations Division, as did the uniformed officers of Highway Patrol, which fell under Special Operations. Having city-wide authority, members of Special Operations were more familiar with policing Philadelphia as a whole than, for example, an officer or detective assigned to patrol just a single district.
It didn’t hurt that Highway Patrol officers were the elite of the department. And that they put on quite a showing with their elaborate 1920’s-style uniforms—gleaming black leather double-breasted jackets, Sam Browne belts, black knee-high Calvary boots with breeches tucked in and bloused—while riding massive Harley Davidson motorcycles with lights flashing and sirens screaming.
Thus, a dignitary being escorted around town could have as many as a dozen of the city’s best-equipped, best-trained street-savvy uniforms protecting him or her.
Payne went on: “But no surprise about the celebs. People flock to her like moths to a flame. Of course, doesn’t hurt that the Morgan fortune is in the billions of . . .”
Payne didn’t finish his sentence as he looked beyond Harris.
Down the hallway, a door had opened partially, and the tall blond Camilla Rose Morgan was stepping through it. Payne saw that she had a weary face, one deep in thought, and she moved with slow deliberate steps. There was dried blood on her clothing.
As Payne began walking toward her, she lifted her head and her eyes went to him.
“Matthew,” Camilla Rose Morgan said, her voice strained. “How are you?” She made a faint smile. “You’re not going to yell at me again, are you?”
“Ms. Morgan,” he said, holding out his right hand. “I understand Mr. Benson was a friend. My condolences.”
She stepped toward him and shook his hand.
“Thank you. And please. It’s ‘Camilla Rose.’”
He nodded, then said, “Forgive me, but I don’t recall our having met. And when I yelled by the valet stand, I did not know it was you. I’m afraid I didn’t immediately recognize you. My focus was on the shooter.”
“No apology necessary,” she said. “And we haven’t met formally, but I feel like we have. We have a number of mutual acquaintances. Daffy Nesbitt, for one. And of course your father’s firm represents a number of my projects.”
“I think I knew that Daphne was,” Payne said, nodding. “Her husband, Chad, and I have been close since we were kids. I was not aware of the connection with my father’s firm.”
“Brewster always speaks so very highly of you,” she added. “I suppose that getting shot did not change your mind about continuing with the police department. But then I do understand how it is sometimes not to see eye to eye with one’s father.”
“I don’t think I follow you.”
“You graduated top of your class at the University of Pennsylvania. Isn’t it fair to say that everyone expected that you would be working at your father’s firm by now? Or at least practicing law somewhere?” She paused, then added, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why that came out. It’s not my place to say.”
“But you’re right. It’s what they expected,” Payne said, and changed the subject. He gestured at Tony Harris. “I understand you have met Detective Harris?”
“I have had the pleasure,” she said. “I asked him if he could contact you for me. No offense to Detective Harris, but I thought I would feel more comfortable discussing this with you.”
“Let me assure you that anything you want to tell me you can tell Detective Harris,” Payne said. “When will we be able to speak with Mr. Austin?”
“The doctors said they’re going to keep Johnny overnight for observation,” Camilla Rose said. “In addition to some cuts and heavy bruising, he has a hairline fracture in his right forearm and a possible concussion. They’ve given him some mild medication for the pain. Before he drifted off to sleep, he asked that he not be bothered. With what Johnny’s gone through, especially losing his friend, I’m sure you understand.”
He said, “Did he say if he had any idea who would do this? Would you have any idea?”
Camilla Rose met and held Payne’s eyes as she nodded thoughtfully.
“At first, I thought it might be a robbery. Johnny had an envelope containing fifty thousand dollars.”
“Fifty grand in cash?” Harris said.
“Yes, cash. In hundred-dollar bills.”
“Why?” Payne said.
“Certain vendors are due today an advance for the gala. They prefer cash, and offer a significant discount on their services for it.”
Payne and Harris exchanged glances.
“Who, for example?” Payne said.
“It’s not what I suspect you are thinking,” Camilla Rose said. “I run an above-board program. Besides, no one knew that he had the cash. I’d just given it to him. Johnny was in such a hurry I had to stop them before they almost drove off without it.”
“Where is the money now?” Payne said.
“The vendors still need their advances. I had my assistant come get the envelope. Johnny had stuck it in his sweater right before . . . before what happened . . . and when the EMTs came, Johnny told them to give it to me.”
Payne thought: Sticking it in his sweater? Maybe that’s why he was not wearing a seatbelt.
“So, aside from the cash,” Payne said, “any other ideas? Because I really do not believe robbery was the motive. I saw the whole thing go down.”
“I asked Johnny the same thing, if he had any ideas. Maybe someone had made any threats against him, or against Ken?”
“And?” Payne said.
Camilla Rose hesitated, then said, “And all he said was, ‘You know.’ He repeated it.”
“What did he mean by that?”
She glanced around the room.
“May I buy you a cup of coffee?” she said. “Or maybe something a bit stronger?” She absently wiped at a large patch of dried blood on her sleeve. “After I get changed?”
Harris held up the file folder.
“Matt, I need to drop this off in the case file,” he said. “I’ll get going on what we discussed, then head over to the scene and see how McCrory is doing.”
“Ms. Morgan,” Harris said, “thank you for your help.”
“You’re welcome, Detective. A pleasure to meet you, despite the circumstances.”
As Harris headed toward the glass doors of the ER entrance, Payne nodded in that direction.
“My car is right out there, too. Take you back to The Rittenhouse? How does going to the Library sound?”
She made a small smile. She knew the inside line about the small Library Bar. Simply saying one was “going to the library” came across as completely innocuous.
“Excellent. The Library it is.”
[ FOUR ]
As Payne drove down Broad Street, with City Hall, the world’s tallest masonry building, looming in the distance, Camilla Rose said: “I don’t know if you did this by design—I suspect that you did—but this is the perfect place for what I have to say. I won’t repeat this in public.”
As Payne glanced at her, he saw an open parking space at the curb ahead. He quickly pulled into it.
He turned to her, and said, “Okay.”
“It’s about what Johnny said when I asked.”
“He said, ‘You know.’ So, do you?”
She met Payne’s eyes, and nodded.
On her lap she held tight to a small clutch purse. She reached into it and produced a miniature bottle of vodka.
“My nerves are a mess,” she said. “Do you mind?”
“By all means, help yourself.”
“Would you like one?”
“I can wait.”
“Then you’re not going to judge me, are you? It’s not like you haven’t needed a nip or two at some point.”
“With me, it’s more like three or four. So no judging.”
She made a wistful smile.
“You’re too kind, Matthew.”
Payne watched as she twisted off the top and drained the bottle.
After a moment, Camilla Rose, carefully screwing the cap back on and putting the empty in her clutch, then said, “Johnny means that Mr. Morgan is behind the shooting.”
Payne thought: But old man Morgan is dead.
She’s not saying that he calls the shots from the grave?
“Mr. Morgan? Your father?”
“My father passed, Matthew,” she said, her tone now cold. She looked out the passenger window and sighed. “Which is a great deal of why this situation is so grave.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t follow.”
She looked ahead, out the windshield.
“My father and I were very close when I was young. I was a classic daddy’s girl.”
She pointed in the direction of the thirty-seven-foot-tall bronze statue of William Penn standing atop City Hall.
“He used to take me up to the observation deck there, then over to LOVE Park, before going shopping along Walnut Street. Lots and lots of time together. And, despite the divorce and my mother moving the two of us out to L.A., my father and I stayed in close touch throughout the school years—he paid for my schooling in Beverly Hills, of course, and kept an active interest in how I was progressing—and I spent my summers here with him.
“As I grew older, he saw to it that I had jobs here that introduced me into the family businesses. After graduating prep school, I came back from California to go to Wharton, with plans to eventually get my masters in the business school. My father was a Wharton grad. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. And I did . . . until Mr. Morgan.”
What the hell is she saying? Payne thought.
He said, “So . . . who is this Mr. Morgan?”
Camilla Rose sat silently staring out the window a long moment. Then she inhaled deeply, and let it slowly out.
“I really don’t know how to say this,” she finally said, still looking out the window. “No one will believe it, I know. And even if they did, Mr. Morgan has proven to be untouchable.”
“I’ve heard pretty much everything.”
She turned to look at him.
“I’m sure you have. That is fine for most folks, I suppose. It’s just that we do not air such dirty laundry. Heaven knows the paparazzi makes up enough of it without our adding more.”
Payne nodded. He had seen the wild headlines and photographs triggered by her family name.
“Mason Morgan,” she began, practically spitting out his name, “has long despised my mother for what he considered her having broken up the marriage of his mother.”
“Then Mason Morgan is your brother,” Payne said, his tone making it a question. “I didn’t know you had any siblings.”
“Half-brother, if you please. And after what he’s done, after his brazen betrayal, I refuse to refer to him by his first name, especially to his face. Doing so would suggest we are on at least some level of a cordial relationship. I can assure you that we are not. He was ten when my mother married our father, and I was born a year later. I can understand his displeasure with my mother—she is a five-star bitch and she likely was a home-wrecker—but I never did anything to harm him.”
She looked back out her window and laughed.
“Five-star might be short-changing her,” she said. “I hated being a debutante. My mother made me. And she did so not for my sake—she really knew I hated it—but simply to spite my father, who tried to talk her out of it when I asked. This was while he was fighting to cut off her alimony because everyone knew she was shacked up with that actor Tom Smyth, in essence married to him. My mother knew that if she actually remarried—poof—there went the two-hundred-grand a month that she had fought so hard for, as she said in the divorce proceedings, ‘to maintain the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.’ My father had had to agree to pay it—he wanted out of the marriage because he would not tolerate her infidelity—and she knew it and she really stuck it to him.”
“Two hundred thousand a month in alimony? Wow. That’s—”
“A real five-star bitch,” she said, looking at him and nodding. “And that’s not all. That was on top of the lump sum she got and certain assets, such as the houses in Coral Gables and Pacific Palisades.”
“So how is it that Mason is behind today’s shooting?” he asked. “How would Johnny know?”
Payne had used their first names without thinking. He realized that using the “Mr.” struck him as awkward.
“Because he hates Johnny. Has since I met him. And it’s all over pure greed. And power. Same as what happened right before my father became sick.”
“Father was grooming me to eventually take over the pharmaceutical business while Mason would continue running, also under father’s direction, the commercial real estate companies. I was, as now, already running the Morgan philanthropic arm that I had built at father’s request. He told me he was impressed with how I had started Camilla’s Kids while I still was earning my master’s.” She paused, then briefly began, “Unfortunately, I also was getting . . .”
Her voice trailed off as she looked back out her window.
After a moment, she cleared her throat, and went on: “I felt absolutely invincible back then. And because of that I made some mistakes.”
“A lot of college kids do. Hell, most do. I did.”
“Thanks, but not like I did. I had it all. And I could do it all. Juggling school and the fundraisers and working with my father came to me fairly easily. I worked hard . . . and so I played hard. Really hard.”
“And wound up in rehab,” Payne said, softly.
Looking out the window, she shrugged.
“Everybody was doing it,” she said. “I didn’t see the problem with it, especially after I finished my MBA. I came out of the rehabs and picked up where I left off. Everything was wonderful. Except I didn’t see how my father was really viewing my behavior.”
“He didn’t say anything?”
She turned and looked at him.
“Oh, sure he did. He made subtle suggestions. But we got along so well, and I told him I was fine, and my work did not suffer—I just thought all along that I still had earned his trust.”
She inhaled deeply again, then let it out slowly as she looked back out her window.
“They first found the cancer while I was away for two months in West Palm,” she said.
“Same place where I first met Johnny,” she said. “Anyway, they decided—my father told me later—not to tell me because it would have interrupted my treatment.”
“My father and half-brother, who really was the catalyst.”
“Catalyst? For what?”
“For marginalizing me. He essentially convinced my father, as well as got some board members and other officers at the companies to agree, that I was too young and unstable to be in the positions I was. Especially without my father being there.”
She looked at him.
“Yeah. ‘Wow.’ At first, my father was not convinced. But as that goddamn disease quickly progressed, as it ate away at him, and his mental and physical capacities weakened, he began to agree to certain changes. Small ones at first, then the bigger ones. In the end, I was left overseeing only the philanthropy arm with a set budget of five million a year. My father’s estate, which held the vast majority of Morgan International shares, was redrawn to provide me personally with a million every quarter.”
“I feel uncomfortable asking, but four million a year isn’t exactly hardship, is it?”
“And that makes me sound like an ungrateful five-star bitch, too, right?” She did not allow him to respond, and went on: “I would agree. Except for the fact that he convinced my father that for the company’s sake—specifically the preservation of the Morgan family fortune—that I would have no access to the principle, only the quarterly payments that would end when I died. Meaning at which point my principle would be distributed to the surviving family.”
“Which would be Mason.”
“But we’re still talking about four million a year, no?”
“Matthew, the pharmaceutical company is valued alone at eleven billion. Everything else nearly doubles that. It is unjust and an outrage that Mr. Morgan manipulated my father in his weakened state so that he could take control while patting me on the head with quarterly payments. Greed, power, ego. That sums up the son of a bitch.”
She paused and when she looked him in the eyes, he saw tears welling.
“Do I need more money, Matthew? Or course not. Not personally. But goddamn it neither does he! So I’m pressuring for the release of my share of the principle—not just the payments, the whole principle—for two reasons. One, because I will see that the money goes to good causes now, as my father wished.”
“Because it will drive Mr. Morgan absolutely crazy. He loves believing that no one can get to him.”
Payne looked out the windshield in thought, then turned back to Camilla Rose.
“And you are saying that that is why Mason Morgan arranged for someone to shoot John Austin?”
“I told you he hates Johnny. Especially after Johnny told him he was going to help me. For the record, I do not need Johnny’s help. But I do like the fact that he thinks Johnny’s interference could cause him problems, particularly if we married. There is a clause that says, should I marry and have issue, the quarterly payments on my death would continue.”
“The payments would go to your spouse and child? Or just the child?”
“Just the child, or children. It was designed that way to cut off gold diggers looking to marry then make out like bandits in a divorce. As my mother did.”
“Interesting. And are you going to marry?”
“Certainly not with Johnny. After all I’ve seen about what marriage does? Would you? And I don’t think I’m cut out to be an everyday mother. I have plenty of interaction with children at my ranches. Children I can really help. I’ve found that’s my real calling. And I want the money to do more of it now.”
“And to zing Mason.”
She laughed again.
“There is that,” she said, digging back in her purse and producing another miniature bottle of vodka. “Anyway, that’s far too much about me. What about you? How long are you going to continue with this cop thing?”
She reached over and pulled back on his fleece jacket, revealing the bloodstain on his shirt.
“My God, Matthew, I saw the news reports, and then someone told me that you almost died. Is catching another miserable heroin pusher worth losing your life?”
She opened the bottle and drank half of it.
He said: “Another miserable killer-slash-heroin-pusher, to be precise. But you’re not the first person to make that point.”
“I don’t have an answer right now. Except maybe to quote the great Marine Corps General Chesty Puller, ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ And I find it interesting you press the point while I’m trying to track down who killed your friend today.”
“You’ve made a lot of headlines, Matthew. You don’t need any more.”
“I might say the same about you.”
Once more Camilla Rose laughed, this time loudly. She smiled broadly.
“Touche,” she said, holding up the miniature bottle of vodka in a mock toast. She swallowed the rest, then added, “Except my headlines have been fun ones. Mine never said I almost died in some godforsaken ghetto.”
As Payne turned the Porsche up the brick-paved drive of The Rittenhouse, he felt in his pocket his cell phone vibrate once, indicating a new text message. He ignored it as he scanned the line of cars parked across the drive and saw that the shot-up Bentley was gone.
Before turning into the drive, he had looked to the southern end of the park and noticed that those crime scenes were gone, too. Where the streets were all blocked off traffic now flowed freely. Only the soot on the stone façade of the building remained, and even it looked as if it had been mostly hosed off.
If this were anywhere but Center City, he thought, the crime scene tape would be flapping in the wind for weeks, all faded and ragged.
Here, thanks to those business-funded cleaning services, everything already is tidy. It’s like nothing happened.
Which is exactly the way they want it.
He stopped at the valet kiosk. There was a new crew of valets, two of whom trotted toward the car doors.
“Matthew,” Camilla Rose said, “would you be offended if I asked for a rain-check on the Library? I am suddenly exhausted, and there is still work to do for the gala. I really don’t think I have anything more to add to what I probably should not have shared already.” She sighed. “But this is part of the fight I’ve chosen.”
He waved off the valet approaching his door, then wrote on a business card and handed it to her.
“That’s my personal cell phone number,” he said. “The others are my work numbers. We’ll talk more later. Please call at any time if you think or hear of anything else. And let me know the soonest I can question Johnny. The first forty-eight hours are the most critical in finding a murderer.”
She nodded. “I will. Thank you.”
“Oh, and would you happen to have your brother’s number?”
“You bet your ass I do.”
She tapped on the face of her phone, then looked at the card Payne gave her, then tapped again.
Payne’s phone vibrated.
“There,” she said. “I sent you all his numbers, addresses, everything. Good luck with getting to the bastard. Let me know how else I can help.”
BROKEN TRUST — BOOK XIII
in the bestselling
BADGE OF HONOR series.
Published 6 October 2016.
Order copies here
©2016 W.E.B. GRIFFIN & WILLIAM E. BUTTERWORTH IV.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.