When Senator Charles Jamison dies in an apparent accident in Afghanistan, some people grieve, some celebrate, and the federal investigation into his corruption begins a controlled shutdown.
But when Sean McCloskey, an Atlanta teenager, overhears conspirators saying Jamison was murdered, he neither rejoices nor mourns. He disappears.
Detective John Mason is assigned to find Sean, but no one has a clue — not his mother, not his sister, not his friends — until Sean begins calling home every day. His cell phone is only turned on for a few minutes at at time, but the location trace shows him calling from unpredictable, random places all over metro Atlanta and beyond.
But the police aren’t the only people looking for Sean. Can Mason discover the link between Sean’s disappearance and the dead senator’s? Can he find Sean before the cabal? Will the conspiracy be unmasked? Will justice finally be served?
A deleted chapter
Below is a chapter I deleted. This event happened prior to the start of the published book; it was deleted because I felt the story was more interesting if it started at a later point.
Tuesday, September 9
One Tuesday in early September, about halfway between the start of school and the first hint of autumn air, a tall, broad-shouldered man with steel gray hair, deep blue eyes, and no wedding ring strode into the office of Fleming Properties with an assistant in tow. Lisa McCloskey recognized Charles Jamison, U.S. Senator, at once.
“Hello, Senator, my name is Lisa McCloskey. How may I help you?”
Senator Jamison softly cleared his throat — he chronically forgot to take his sinus medicine — and smiled and said, “I’m very pleased to meet you. I’d like to see Mrs Fleming, if she has a few minutes.”
“Ms Fleming was due back a little while ago, but she was delayed by traffic — I believe there was an accident on the interstate. She expects to be here in fifteen minutes or so. May I get you some coffee while you’re waiting?”
“Is there a chance you have any tea, with perhaps a spoonful of honey, instead?”
“Yes, sir, we do. Step into the kitchen, and I’ll show you what we have.” Just as they entered the kitchen Lisa’s phone rang, so she asked, “Could you wait half minute? That may be Ms Fleming calling.”
As Lisa was telling Ann that the Senator had arrived, and Ann was saying she would be at the office soon, Senator Jamison asked his assistant, “‘Ms’, not ‘Mrs’? You told me this Fleming woman is married.”
“Yes, sir, she is, but her husband’s name is Mason, not Fleming.”
Lisa returned to the kitchen and said, “I’m sorry for the interruption, but that was Ann on the phone — she should be here in less than five minutes.”
As the senator nodded acknowledgement, Lisa said, “Here is our selection of tea. Does any of them suit you?”
A smile flickered at the corners of Senator Jamison’s mouth, and he said, “Yes, I think I’ll have the lapsang souchong. Should I heat the water in the microwave?”
“No, sir, we have heated, filtered water here.” Lisa indicated an extra tap next to the main faucet on the sink. “Please be careful — it’s very hot.”
As Jamison opened the teabag packet and filled his mug with water, Lisa pulled out three jars of honey. “We have grocery store honey, orange blossom from a trip to Florida, and a local dark wildflower honey. Please help yourself.” She heard the door open, and said, “I’ll get Ms Fleming’s purse, and I’m sure she will be with you in just a moment.”
Lisa was worried about something. No, she thought. It couldn’t be. His hair’s too short and anyway … She pushed the thoughts aside when she got to Ann’s desk.
Senator Jamison studied his choices for honey and settled on the wildflower. The number of choices for both tea and honey seemed to be a function of the upscale clientele to which Fleming Properties catered. When he picked up the spoon to measure honey and stir, he noticed the heft — the spoon was stainless, but heavy, in a discrete pattern, and sported a gold accent.
Just as the senator was putting his spoon in the sink, Ann Fleming came into the kitchen with Lisa at her heels. Where Lisa’s grooming and attire said “efficient real estate agent,” Ann’s lightweight, very light taupe silk suit, her black onyx earrings (not too large), her confident posture, and her perfect, dark brown hair whispered, class.
Lisa said, “Senator Jamison, this is Ann Fleming. Ann, this is Senator Charles Jamison, and — I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name …”
The senator’s assistant, a young man a little shorter than average with a round face and glasses, stepped forward and offered a hand to Ann. “I’m Corwin McAlister.”
Lisa almost mumbled when she said, “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” and melted back to her own desk. Jamison glanced at her and blinked twice as she retreated.
“I see Lisa showed you the tea — would you like something to nibble on as well?”
“No, thank you. Let’s start right away. I have an appointment at five o’clock and dinner with the mayor at seven. The last time I bought a house, my wife did most of the legwork. Now that I am wifeless and houseless,” — his third wife had kept the house — “I’m going to be more personally involved.”
As Ann was leading them to the conference room, she said, “Since your social calendar is quite busy, I believe I have the general idea what you are looking for: a very large dining room and similar drawing room. Of course, you will need kitchen facilities adequate to prepare for your largest gatherings.”
Her ending question, “What else did you have in mind?”, was timeed to perfectly coincide with their sitting down.
Unlike the dwelling mere mortals live in, Charles Jamison, millionaire and U.S. Senator, needed a house that would be both livable and usable as a social gathering place for people who were powerful or rich or (preferably) both.
“Well, Ms Fleming,” the senator responded, “Corwin here tells me we should have a ballroom, though I’m not sure what for.”
Young McAlister supplied the reasoning: “It’s really a space that can be used either as a ballroom or for overflow dining for the Senator’s largest dinners.”
“I see. So you think each of these spaces should have about how much floor space?”
“The total of the floor space should be about four thousand square feet for dining, drawing and ballrooms,” McAlister replied, “with no one of them smaller than one thousand or so.”
Ann nodded and said, “Of course, you’ll want living quarters. Do you plan for any of the staff to live in?”
“Yes,” Jamison replied. “There should probably be an apartment for a married couple and apartments for two or three singles.”
“Very well. How much living space will you require for yourself?”
“What was the number you came up with, Corwin?”
McAlister said, “I believe it was between two and three thousand, Senator.” To Ann he explained, “In addition to living there, Senator Jamison will use his living space for his smaller social gatherings.”
Recalling what Lisa had said earlier, McAlister said, “I think we should be heading out, sir, due to the traffic.” To Ann he added, “I can act as a go-between for paperwork and other details. I should be reachable when the Senator is not, especially during floor sessions and hearings.”
As they headed for the front door, Ann said, “That will be fine, Mr McAlister.”
“Call me Corwin.”
“Thanks. The traffic report on the radio said that you might possibly get some kind of break by going down Hutchison Boulevard, though that may have changed since I got here.”
“Thanks, but we’re going east, not south,” Corwin replied. “I’ll try to give you a call tomorrow morning. What time would be convenient?”
“I should be in around eight, but I have an appointment at ten, so can you call by, say, nine thirty?”
“Not a problem. I’ll talk to you then.”
After the senator and his assistant had left, Ann stood by the door and chewed the inside of her lip for a moment, then went to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. Next, she settled into a chair across from Lisa, and asked, “Were you following all that? This is a great opportunity.”
“Not closely, I’m afraid,” Lisa frowned. “I was distracted by a family matter.”
Ann was immediately concerned. “Is there something I should know about?”
Lisa shook her head no.
Ann thought for a minute, then asked, “Have you had any prior contact with those men? McAlister in particular?”
Lisa’s reply was slow. “No, I’ve never met either of them.”
“Okay, but if there’s any kind of problem, be sure to let me know.”
“Okay, thanks. You know the senator’s reputation, don’t you?”
Ann thought for a moment. “Yes I do. He may try to set one of us — or both of us — up as another notch on his barrel, but that is a game I won’t play. The rules here” — they both knew that she meant Rule One: Do nothing unethical — “apply to me just as much as to anyone else.”
“I hope you’re right, Ann.” For both our sakes, she thought “But God! what gorgeous eyes.”
Ann’s voice grew light and a playful smile danced across her face. “True. But who could be attracted to someone who drinks that nasty lapsang tea?”
Lisa couldn’t help laughing. “Isn’t that the truth?”
One day she would tell Ann, but not today.
For now, relieved of that thought, Lisa returned to Senator Jamison’s need for a large house. She had been listening more closely than she had realized. “There can’t be half a dozen houses in the entire Atlanta metro area that meet the senator’s need for a combination residence and convention center, and I bet none of them is for sale. Should we have recommended an architect rather than a real estate broker?”
Ann said, “Perhaps. But we won’t know until after we have done some research. It’s easy to find out which properties have lots of footage, even servants’ quarters and a fully-equipped commercial kitchen. But to know which ones have the three large open spaces — that will take some work. I guess we should get our dialing fingers ready for tomorrow.”
Lisa was thinking now as well. “Who will we … oh, wait, I know … we’ll be calling the brokers that sold those houses last to find out what they’re willing to tell us. And I bet we shouldn’t mention the Senator will be involved.”
Ann nodded. “Right. There are some owners who will be completely unwilling to talk if they find out Charles Jamison is the buyer.”
“I appreciate your letting me help on this, but this is way outside my experience. Could I watch you do a couple of the calls to get the feel for it?”
“Sure,” Ann said. “First we’ll compile a list of houses with the footage, then we’ll start calling the previous brokers to see whether the properties meet the other requirements.”
Lisa asked, “Is first thing in the morning okay? I’ve got a band parents meeting in an hour.”
Ann nodded again as she rose. “It’s so late in the day, I was going to suggest getting started in the morning anyhow. I’ll see you then.”