A young wife is forced to confront a decades-old deadly secret when a medium connects her to her dead grandfather.
A vicious psychopath wants ultimate revenge against Savich, but first, she wants to destroy what he loves most—his family.
A series of three red boxes are delivered personally to Savich at the Hoover Building, each one containing puzzle pieces of a town only FBI agent Pippa Cinelli recognizes. Savich sends in Cinelli to investigate undercover but someone knows who she is.
Savich and Sherlock are up to their eyebrows in danger, but can they figure out the red box puzzle and the young wife’s secret before it’s too late?
Excerpts for DEADLOCK
Central Detention Center
Marsia Gay would be living like a queen, not like an animal locked in a cell, if it weren't for FBI agent Dillon Savich. He was the one who'd screwed her perfect plan sideways, the man responsible for her being locked in this soulless circle of hell. Of course, the bitch would pay for her betrayal, too, no doubt about that, but he was the one who'd rained this misery down on her, the one she wanted most.
Savich was a dead man walking--but not yet, not just yet. She wanted to savor his downfall. He would die only after she killed the two people closest to him, the two people whose deaths would hurt him most.
She knew she had to snag his interest with something unique, begin with only an oblique threat, nothing too over-the-top, but something enigmatic and bizarre enough that Savich wouldn't be able to resist. And suck him in. She wouldn't underestimate him, not this time. He'd proven he was smart, but she was just as smart--no, she was smarter, and she was going to prove it. She'd make sure Savich knew it was Marsia Gay who'd set everything in motion, who'd had her final revenge. Halloween was coming up. It was the perfect time.
She heard her mother's vodka-slurred voice whisper, Even as a child, when you wanted something, you grabbed for it, didn't think. Didn't work out for you this time, did it?
"I won't fail this time!" She didn't realize she'd screamed the words until the guard, a big lummox named Maxie, appeared at the bars and stared at her. Marsia wished she could tear her face off. "A nightmare, sorry."
Maxie didn't point out it wasn't dark yet, too early to sleep. She only shrugged and walked away. Marsia went over to the narrow window that looked out over the desolate exercise yard with its scarred, ancient wooden tables and benches, the pathetic torn basketball hoop where she usually won playing Horse-- cigarettes, a small bar of soap from a Holiday Inn, an offer of a prison tattoo made from soot and shampoo or melted Styrofoam, no thank you. She saw Angela lounging against a wall, probably giving orders to her minions. What a sweet name for a meanas-a-snake muscled gang leader awaiting trial for the murder of her boyfriend and his lover. It hadn't been difficult to seduce Angela into her orbit. She'd been even easier to manipulate than Veronica. Angela had taken to Marsia right away, told her she'd see to it no one would harm her, if Marsia was nice to her. Marsia had shuddered when Angela lightly touched her arm, but well, Marsia had been nice. Angela always stayed in sight and took care of whatever Marsia wanted. She kept the other bullies away from the pretty artist girl who spoke so beautifully and was always so polite, so of course they hated her instinctively. Angela never tired of hearing about Marsia's sculptures, how she worked with this metal and that. Marsia missed her sculpting, of course, but now she looked forward to returning to her studio once she was found not guilty at her trial, and of course her studio would still be waiting for her. After all, she owned the building.
The wind had stiffened, whipping up the dirt into dust devils. She saw a dozen women wandering around the yard, doing nothing in particular, and one lone prisoner, head down, pacing back and forth, apart from the others. It was Veronica. She'd rarely seen her here. The guards made sure they were kept apart, but soon that wouldn't matter. Marsia knew Veronica well enough to know she felt guilt, awful guilt, about striking the deal as the prosecution's star witness against Marsia in exchange for the safety they'd promised her. Sorry, Veronica, that isn't going to happen; it's going to get you killed. With no witness to testify against Marsia, the evidence would be more circumstantial than not. No, not enough to convict her. Veronica, I'm going to choreograph a special dance for you to mark your exit from the planet. Thank you.
Home of Zoltan
The last place Rebekah ever expected to find herself was in the home of a medium. Zoltan the Medium was how the woman had introduced herself when she'd called Rebekah. But how do you say no when a medium tells you your grandfather who died only a month ago wants to speak to you? Wants you to forget he's dead and calling from the afterlife? Rebekah almost hung up, almost said, if he's in his afterlife, doesn't that mean his life here on earth is over? As in he's dead? But Zoltan had said her grandfather wanted to speak to his Pumpkin, maybe to warn her about something. Zoltan wasn't sure. Rebekah hadn't wanted to believe any of it, but Pumpkin had been his favorite nickname for her, and how could this self-proclaimed medium possibly know that?
She'd felt gooseflesh rise on her arms. She'd had no choice, not really. She knew she had to find out what this was all about, and so here she was, walking behind Zoltan, a woman not that much older than her own twenty-eight years, into her living room. Rebekah had expected to see a table with a long red tablecloth covering it, primed to levitate on command, but there was no table everyone would sit around, only a small coffee table. She saw a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room lit only by one standing lamp in the far corner and draperies rippling in the breeze given off by a low-humming portable fan beside the large front window. Curiously, not far from the fan, a fire burned in the fireplace, low and sullen. However strange the mix, the room was pleasantly warm.
Zoltan wasn't wearing a flowing caftan and matching turban or big shiny hoop earrings in her ears. She was wearing a dark blue silk blouse, black pants, and low-heeled black shoes. Her hair was dark, pulled back in a sleek chignon. Her eyes were a pale blue. She'd looked and seemed perfectly normal when she'd greeted Rebekah. She asked her to be seated on the sofa and offered her a cup of tea. The tea was excellent: hot, plain, no sugar, the way she liked it. Zoltan smiled at her, sipped her own tea. "I know you don't believe one can speak to the Departed, Mrs. Manvers. Actually, I far prefer a skeptic to blind acceptance. I'm pleased you decided to come. I will tell you what happened. As I said when I called you, your maternal grandfather came to me very unexpectedly while I was trying to contact another Departed for his son. Your grandfather was anxious to speak to you. He called you Pumpkin, which you recognized. Do you wish to proceed?"
Rebekah nodded, drank more tea, and kept any snarky comments to herself.
Zoltan nodded. "Good. Let us begin. I want you to relax, Mrs. Manvers--may I call you Rebekah?"
Rebekah nodded. "And you may call me Zoltan. I know this is difficult for you, but I need you to try to keep an open mind and suspend judgment. Empty your mind, simply let everything go. Begin by relaxing your neck, your shoulders, that's right. Breathe slowly and deeply. Good."
They sat in silence for a minute or so before Zoltan spoke again, her voice low and soothing. "Rebekah, when your grandfather crashed my party, so to speak, all he told me was that he had to speak to you. I don't know why he was so anxious; he didn't say. On his third visit, three nights ago, he finally identified himself and you by your married name so I could contact you. He always came when other clients were here. Why? I don't know. Maybe it was easier for him to reach me with the pathway already open. His message was always, 'Rebekah, I want Rebekah, I want my Pumpkin. I must tell her--' A warning? That's what I thought, but I really don't know. I asked you to bring something personal of his with you."
Rebekah opened her handbag and pulled out a letter and a photograph of her and her grandfather standing on the steps of the Capitol building, people flowing around them. He was smiling, eager to get on with his life, and beside him Rebekah, just turned eleven, was clutching his hand and looking as happy as he was. He had no way of knowing what would happen to him, but of course, no one did. The photograph had been taken a year before the series of strokes struck him down and effectively ended his life, leaving him in a coma some sixteen years. He'd finally died last month and been buried in Arlington National Cemetery with all due pomp, with Rebekah's husband standing next to her, his arm around her. Rebekah felt tears swim in her eyes as she handed Zoltan the photograph and the letter.
Zoltan took the letter, didn't read it, but seemed to weigh it in her hand. She took the photograph, glanced at it, then placed it face up over the letter, in front of Rebekah.
Rebekah, please place your left hand over the letter and the photograph and give me your right hand."
Rebekah did as she was asked. She no longer felt she'd fallen down the rabbit hole. She was beginning to feel calmer, more settled, perhaps even receptive. She let her hand relax in Zoltan's. "Why my right hand? Why not my left?"
Zoltan said, "I've learned the right hand carries more latent energy than the left. Odd but true, at least in my experience. Good. I want you to think about what your grandfather said to you that day the photograph was taken, think about what you were feeling in that moment. Now picture the man in the photograph. Tell me about him."
Before the strokes and the coma, he was in Congress, always on the go, always busy with his political maneuvering against the incumbent majority. I remember that day he was happy. A bill I think he'd authored had passed." She paused a moment. "As for the letter, it's the last one he wrote me. It was chatty, nothing serious. Grandfather rarely emailed me; he preferred to write his letters to me in longhand."
Now, lightly touch the fingers of your left hand to the photograph. Let them rest on your grandfather's face. Excellent. Close your eyes, picture his face in your mind, and simply speak to him as if he were sitting beside you on the sofa. It's all right if you think this is nothing more than a silly exercise, but indulge me, please."
Rebekah didn't resist. She was feeling too relaxed. Zoltan poured her another cup of tea from the carafe on the coffee table. Rebekah drank, savored the rich smooth taste, and did as Zoltan said. Oddly, she saw her grandmother's face, cold and aloof, not her grandfather's. Gemma had been a séance junkie all her life, something that made Rebekah's mom roll her eyes. Grandmother was talking to dead people? No, her mother had said, talking to the dead was crazy, meant for the gullible. Rebekah wondered if her grandmother had tried to contact her husband since his death. Why would she? To gloat that he was dead and she wasn't?
Zoltan said again, "Rebekah? Please speak to your grandfather. Picture him here with you. Speak what's in your heart. Be welcoming."
Rebekah said, her voice clear, "Grandfather, I remember you when you were well and happy before you fell into a coma. I loved you so much and I knew you loved me. Everyone called me your little confidante, and it was true. You trusted me with all the stories you called your secret adventures, even when I was a kid. Do you know I kept my promise to you never to tell anyone the stories, not even my mother, certainly not my grandmother? They were always only between us. You made me feel very special." Her voice caught. "I miss you, Grandfather. I think of you every day and pray you're at peace." She knew, objectively, when he'd fallen into the coma, his life was over, though his body held on. She knew she should have been relieved when his body finally let go, but the reality of his actual death still broke her. She swiped away a tear, swallowed. "Zoltan said you want to speak to me. If you can hear me, I hope you can come -- through." Her voice fell off. She felt a bit silly, but oddly, it didn't overly concern her.
The draperies continued to flutter in the breeze, the fire stayed sullen. The lamplight, however, seemed to dim, then brighten, and dim again. Zoltan's face was now in shadow. She said in the same gentle voice, each word slow and smooth, "Keep talking to him, Rebekah. I can feel a presence hovering close, and it's familiar."
Rebekah didn't feel anything different. Well, except for the dimmed lamplight. Zoltan's right hand held Rebekah's, and her left hand lay palm up on her lap. Rebekah knew she should feel like an idiot, but she didn't. She felt relaxed, curious to see what would happen. "Perhaps it isn't really Grandfather you're feeling, Zoltan--"
Zoltan suddenly raised her left hand, and Rebekah stopped talking. "Is that you, Congressman Clarkson? Are you here?"
The draperies grew still, though the fan continued to churn the air. The fire suddenly sparked, shooting up an orange flame, then the burning wood crumbled, making a soft thudding sound. The lamplight grew brighter, then flickered and went completely dark.
Only the dying fire lit the room.
All tricks, she's pressing some magic buttons with her foot--
She felt Zoltan's hand tighten ever so slightly around hers again. "Someone is here, Rebekah," Zoltan said calmly in her soft, even voice. "I can't be certain until the Departed talks to me, but the feeling of his presence is, as I said, familiar. Do you know of a nickname your grandfather was called? Or did you yourself have a special name for him as he did for you?"
She remembered her grandfather's face, clear as day, saw him throw back his head and laugh at something she'd said. She whispered, "Methodist, that was his nickname. He told me his cohorts in Congress called him Methodist, too. The name got out, and even his own staff began calling him that--'Methodist believes this, Methodist said that.'" She swallowed tears again, hating they were so close to the surface. "I remember hearing Grandmother tell me he was a buffoon, he'd made up the name himself. When I asked him, he admitted it, said he didn't want anyone else making up a name for him, particularly the opposition, and Methodist practically made him a poster boy for God, full of probity and sheer boring honesty. A lot of people called him that before his first stroke."
Call him by his nickname."
Very well, play along, why not? At best, it's entertainment, but you're here, so why not go along with it? But is it only entertainment? Grandmother would believe it, maybe, but not me. She felt foolish, but she cleared her throat. "Grandfather--Methodist?--it's Rebekah, your granddaughter. If you are here, tell me what's so important."
A puff of dense black smoke plumed up from the fireplace embers, making an odd sucking sound. The lamp brightened, then darkened again.
Rebekah's throat was dry, and she drank some more tea. She knew the lamp, the fire, the billowing draperies were simple stage props, but she didn't really care, it wasn't important. She had to know what her grandfather wanted to ask her or what this woman wanted her to believe he did. Rebekah was surprised how calm she felt, her body and mind relaxed. Still, how could any of this be true?
Zoltan said, "I'm not sure if it's your grandfather I feel. Is your grandmother alive, Rebekah?"
Yes, she is. Her name is Gemma Clarkson. She's in her late seventies. She continues to run all of Grandfather's businesses in Clairemont, Virginia, west of Richmond, where she and my grandfather lived all their lives. Clairemont was in his district."
Did your grandfather and grandmother have a strong bond? Would speaking about her to him perhaps make him come through the Verge? That's what I call the threshold the spirits have to cross back over into our reality."
No," Rebekah said, nothing more. It was none of Zoltan's business. Even Rebekah couldn't remember a time when her grandparents had shown any affection for each other, and her memories went back a very long way. She'd never seen her grandmother at the Mayfield Sanitarium during those sixteen long years her grandfather had lain there helpless, his only sign of life his still-beating heart. She'd asked her grandmother once, back in the beginning when she'd been young, why she didn't visit Grandfather. Her grandmother had merely said, "Perhaps I will." But Rebekah didn't think she had.
I think my grandmother was glad when he died. She did go to his funeral, but she had to, didn't she? I doubt she'd want to be here in my place if she thought her husband would show up. Even though she'd believe it."
Your grandmother is a believer, then?"
Yes, but she's always careful because she thinks most mediums are frauds. That's what I heard her tell my mother."
She wanted to ask Zoltan if she was a fraud, but when she looked into Zoltan's eyes, darker now in the dim light, and felt her intensity, she let the thought go.
Your grandmother is perfectly correct. There are many frauds." Zoltan began to hum softly, then she said, her voice barely above a whisper, "Congressman Clarkson? Methodist? Are you having trouble coming through this time? If you are, reach out to me, and I will speak for you to Rebekah. Come, I am open to you. I am your conduit. You've already connected with me, you know you can trust me. Your granddaughter is here. You must try again."
The lamp bulb burst into brightness that reached the far corners of the living room. Thick black smoke erupted upward from the fireplace embers, and the draperies began to move again. Rebekah held perfectly still. She heard her own voice whisper, "Grandfather, is that you?"
Zoltan said in the same soft chant, "Come in through me, Congressman. Let me speak for you. Give me your words so I can tell Rebekah what concerns you so greatly. Come through me."
Nothing happened. Rebekah took another drink of her tea, realized she was perfectly content to wait. The air was warm, and she felt calm, open, expectant, which she should realize was silly, but it didn't seem to matter.
Suddenly, Zoltan whooshed out a breath and stiffened. Her eyes closed, and her hand tightened around Rebekah's, then eased. Rebekah felt a fluttering of movement, a brush against her cheek, and jumped. What was that? The hair lifted off the back of her neck as if there were electricity in the air. She whispered, "Grandfather?"
The room grew dim again, the embers quieted. Zoltan's lips began to move, and out came a flat low voice, not quite like Zoltan's own voice, but deeper, sounding somehow distant, and older--like her grandfather's voice. "My dearest Rebekah. To speak to you again, even through this woman, it brings me great joy. You visited me when I still breathed earthly air. I knew it was you, always, and I understood you when you spoke to me. You came nearly every day, and I loved you for it. You held my hand, talked to me, and I savored each of your words, your loving presence. Everyone believed I was gone, even the doctors believed I was locked helpless into my brain, nothing left of my reason, nothing left of me, no awareness, no consciousness, and some of that was true. But even though I was unable to speak to you, unable to respond to you, I heard, yes, I heard everything, heard everyone. Do you know, I remember when Gemma came, only once, at the beginning, and she whispered in my ear she wished I'd just hang it up once and for all, and stop wasting everyone's time. She punched my arm; I felt it. But your visits were the highlights of my day, and you came to me throughout the long years I lay there like the dead, which, thankfully, I finally am. It was only a month ago, wasn't it?"
Zoltan paused, her eyes flew open, and she stared at Rebekah. Time froze. Then Zoltan spoke again, her voice still deep, another's voice, still blurred, still distant. "Look at you, so beautiful, like your mother. I remember how proud you were when you told me you had earned your master's degree in art history at George Washington, that you knew you had the 'eye,' you called it, and you had decided to make yourself an expert on fraudulent art. You couldn't wait to start consulting with
museums and collectors. You'd already begun your search to find a partner, someone who could work with you to identify stolen originals. And you told me you found the perfect person."
Yes, yes, my new partner, Kit Jarrett, now my best friend, a perfect fit, my lucky day. But wait, finding out about Kit Jarrett was easy enough. It wasn't a secret.
Your excitement made me want to smile, on the inside, of course, and you couldn't see it. And now you are married, to another congressman. Manvers interned for me a very long time ago. I always found him a real go-getter. I think he was born knowing how to play the game. He's playing it well. Other than being a politician, Rich Manvers is a fine man, but isn't he a bit old for you, Pumpkin?"
Perhaps, but what's important is he understands me, and he loves me." Rebekah licked her lips, drank more tea to get spit in her mouth, and managed to say, "Pumpkin--that was the nickname you gave me when I was six years old. Not many people know that."
Zoltan's brilliant dark eyes opened and fastened onto something beyond Rebekah. Rebekah turned but didn't see anything. Zoltan's lips moved, but no sound came out. There was no expression on Zoltan's face, only smooth blankness. Then her grandfather's voice again. "Yes, I remember the Halloween you carved a pumpkin to look like me. You nearly burned the house down."
Rebekah heard herself say, "Yes. I still have a picture of the pumpkin, and you're standing behind me, your hands on my shoulders. I have so many photos of us together over the years. Of course, I came to see you as often as I could in the sanitarium. I loved you. Grandfather, I will love you until I die. I know this sounds strange, but are you well now?"
The distant deep voice seemed to laugh. "Yes, Pumpkin, of course I'm well. I'm always well now. There is no more pain since I died--well, there was hardly any even before I died. I
remember you were such a brave girl, never left my side during those long, final earthbound hours. You held my hand until I was able to depart my tedious life."
She remembered, too clearly, the shock, the pain, and the relief, too, when he drew his last breath. Dr. Lassiter, a kind, attentive man, had stood beside her, touching her grandfather's other hand. "John is at peace now," he'd said when it was over, and she'd finally known what that old chestnut really meant.
Rebekah said, "Yes, I remember. What is it you want to tell me, Grandfather?"