Friday, October 14, 2011
Stand In for a Dead Man: My Newest Release
Gunfire erupts on a Chicago sidewalk and controversial secretary of State Henry Landis lies bleeding from an assassin’s bullet. But who really pulled the trigger? GLOBAL magazine reporter Stephanie Bosworth Thornton, the Deputy Secretary of State’s estranged daughter, fears the worst when her dying father tells her the President was actually responsible. She threads her way through a labyrinth of mystery, danger and romance searching for the truth in an attempt to exorcise her own demons of guilt and betrayal. On the way, she meets handsome Danny Flint. But is he only using her to cover up his own involvement in the crime? And as her suspicions mount, her editor and former fiancé, Nick Orlan, warns her to stay away from Flint. But she wonders about Nick’s true motives and still has feelings for him, even though he has a new girlfriend in tow. Stonewalled by government officials, pursued cross-country by unknown assailants, threatened by renegade CIA agents, and even the President himself, Stephanie is caught up in a dangerous web of intrigue that spirals out of control as the story hurtles to its startling conclusion, one almost everyone nearly overlooked.
A horseshoe of humanity began forming around the main entrance to Chicago's famed Blake-Warren hotel. The double doors were still closed, the soft yellow carpeted lobby barely visible through the rain-spotted glass. Metal posts with thick purple ropes stretched in front of Stephanie, where she stood waiting with the rest of the media. Some reporters had TV cameras sitting atop shoulders, others had microphones, muffled from the rain, and pocket tape recorders at the ready, should they catch sight of the controversial Secretary of State, Henry Wadsworth Landis. Electrical cables curled everywhere under her feet, like black snakes on the wet concrete, heavy insulation tape shielding them from the moisture.
She didn't want to be here, but events beyond her control had dictated otherwise. It wasn't the Secretary of State she dreaded interviewing. It was the Deputy Secretary, her father, Jennings Bosworth. Things hadn't been right between them for years, ever since her mother Lois had died. Stephanie blamed him for her suicide and he knew it.
Anticipation assumed a heavy presence of its own, adding to the damp autumn smell and sharp chill hanging in the air. Feverish whispers flew through the crowd like wildfire, in response to Landis' latest bombshell, his questionable call for a worldwide U.S. defense policy. Klieg lights forged a strange daylight glow flashing on and off and the buzzing of the voices around her intensified. Rain dappled the oversized glasses Stephanie wore as she squeezed next to her ex-fiancée and former editor, Nicholas Orlan, and the GLOBAL magazine photographer, Earl Taber.
"Well Radar, what are you going to ask?" Nick asked, huddled inside his customary rumpled khaki raincoat, stained at the cuffs and spotted with rain.
Stephanie flinched at the sound of the familiar nickname he’d given her. Radar. Because she’d always been able to read his mind. She didn’t know if she could do that anymore. "Why is he so confident the President's response will be favorable--"
"And does he feel it's the function of the Secretary of State to make policy without consulting the President?"
"Won't Jennings Bosworth be surprised when he sees who's asking the questions!" Nick teased, but Stephanie ignored him.
She twisted her head to study the twenty floors of the white concrete and smoked glass façade of the newly remodeled hotel, wondering when her father would emerge. Her heart skipped a beat as her gaze returned to street level. The doors swung open and Secret Service agents dressed in bland gray and blue suits wrapped themselves around Landis and her father like a blanket so that only the tops of their heads were visible. She caught a glimpse of Nick's brother, Peter, one of the hotel's security guards, bringing up the rear. Agents continued shielding them when suddenly a mass of bodies surged behind Stephanie, threatening to squeeze her out of position. Flashbulbs popped like lightning and the TV cameras rolled, bathing the scene in a surreal yellow glow.
"Secretary Landis, " Stephanie shouted, holding up her tape recorder, and elbowed her way to the front of the pack with a vicious shove. He glared at her and suddenly her father's face emerged over Landis' shoulder. A split second later, a dozen others drowned out her voice. Her father's eyes widened, registering shock, but raised arms soon blocked her view. Across the street, hordes of spectators booed and applauded, hoisting protest placards and chanting peace slogans. Reporters' questions were lost in the madness of what Stephanie feared might soon turn into an ugly and dangerous mob scene. On an impulse, Stephanie threw her tape recorder in her purse and reached in her pocket for a digital camera, thinking she might have a better angle than Earl Taber.
Landis was smiling and looking down when it happened, the right arm raised, acknowledging the crowd, the other clutching a leather portfolio. Three gunshots exploded like cheap firecrackers, slamming into his body, hurling him backward. Landis' arm dropped to his side, his portfolio flew out of his hand and splashed down into a puddle. Blood spurted from his stomach and head.
Still instinctively snapping pictures, Stephanie zeroed in on Landis until Nick yanked her to the ground and her legs flipped out from underneath her. She landed painfully on her tailbone, but kept a tight grip on her camera, her fingers depressing the shutter repeatedly. A blonde woman on her left tumbled across her lap, screaming. Stephanie strained her eyes for another view of her father amid more screams and piles of shuffling, scrambling bodies, her mind numb with shock, her body paralyzed with fear.
"Over here, over here, over here!" someone yelled, sharp and staccato.
Stephanie scrabbled up on one knee, pushing the woman aside, and watched a mound of struggling police restraining someone. Nick grasped her arm again and flung her backward on top of him. However, the image of the bloodstained suit of Landis and two other crumpled figures lying around him near the street still blazed in her brain. Nausea welled up in her throat, preventing her from screaming.
She fought to stand again and managed to peer above the crowd. A distraught Secret Service man shielded the body of one of the other victims, who lay twitching beneath him, blood dribbling from his mouth. She struggled to her feet for a closer look, her stockings bloodied, wet and torn from scraping the sidewalk. A wall of bodies still blocked her path and she began shouting her father's name. A reporter was standing over Landis snapping pictures. Stephanie pocketed her camera, unwilling to capture any more of the gruesome scene. Another Secret Service agent placed a towel beneath Landis’ head, applying pressure to the gaping wound on his left temple. A dazed group of strangers circled the other victim curled at his feet.
Next week: What is your heart's desire and a giveaway of "The Montezuma Secret"