2 - J.Cross/Stone
THE MYSTERY OF JAMIESON STONE
3 - J.Cross/Stone
The studios of WNN (Worldwide News Network) were as hectic as usual. Producers,
assistant producers, directors, assistant directors and a beehive of workers were all
scurrying around pawning off papers and giving and taking orders. Cameras jostled into
position as the lights focused on where Jamieson Stone would do his nightly news; the
same seat he had sat in for more than twenty years.
Jane Simmons, the head assistant producer and floor manager, shouted at
everyone within earshot, commanding the floor like a general. “Let’s go people! Twenty
minutes to airtime.” Simmons had been with WNN for almost ten years. Her demeanor
was always dour and abrupt, not that it was her natural personality, but she felt that it was
the only way to get attention and respect. She was slated to become the show’s head
producer within three months. She had waited patiently for Alex Trent to retire. Even
though her salary was almost double of anyone else in her position at the other networks,
being the head producer of ‘The Stone Nightly News’ was her entrée into an elite circle
of Producers. “Johnson,” she yelled, “where’s the damn teleprompter?”
“Almost ready,” he said, not wanting to garner her wrath.
4 - J.Cross/Stone
“Let’s get with it, boy,” she thundered, and then spoke quietly into her headset
that nestled over her short, black hair to the director who sat over looking the studio set
behind a bank of video screens. “Have you seen Stone?”
The director replied, “Not a sign,” in between punching up several shots of the
set, still not finding one he liked.
“It’s not like him. He’s always here at least two hours before airtime. I hope he
hasn’t been in some kind of an accident,” she said not wanting to imagine the possibility.
“There’s been no phone calls from the police or any hospital. Probably stuck in
traffic,” he said trying to allay Simmons’ fear.
Just then she saw Stone enter through the green door that read Studio B. Simmons
relaxed. She turned to Annie from makeup. “Get him prepped. Do the best you can.”
Annie nodded and strode off to intercept Stone. “We’ve all been worried about
you Mr. Stone. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Sorry I’m late. Just a touch of blush, okay Annie?”
“You got it Mr. Stone. I’ve got my tray right next to your desk.”
Stone walked over and sat in his usual comfortable chair and slid a small black
leather bag under the desk, but well within arms reach. Annie applied a small sponge to
his face and dabbed in some color.
Simmons watched until Annie was done and then walked over. “You okay, boss?”
“Fine J.S.” he said. “Sorry, if I caused you any problems.”
“Are you kidding? This place is always an insane asylum,” she said with a mock
smile. “The main thing is that you’re alright,” she patted him on the arm. “We’ve got ten
minutes. Need anything?”
“A glass of water would be nice.”
“You got it, boss.”
Simmons collared a woman carrying a clipboard, “Get Mr. Stone a glass of water.
And I mean now. We’ve got eight minutes to show time.”
“Sure thing,” she said and scurried away and returned in seconds with the water.
“Anything else, Boss?”
“No, honest I’m fine,” Stone said sipping on the water.
5 - J.Cross/Stone
Simmons moved the glass out of camera range, “We’re almost ready,” she said
and walked away.
Jamieson Stone sat there watching at least fifty people preparing for his nightly
news cast, plus another twenty he couldn’t see working the controls behind the smoke
colored windows above the floor of the studio.
Over the years, Stone had become the most famous and trusted newsman, not
only in America, but also in most of the civilized world. A hundred and forty countries
tuned in via satellite and Internet – over a billion people at last count. However, his fame
had not been meteoric; he had carefully cultivated and crafted his personae over two
decades. Though, he had been an anchorman on WNN, a fledging network at the time, he
also worked the field better than any other reporter. Over the years, he had taken on the
tough assignments reporting live during the Panama Invasion, the Island war of Grenada,
and from the explosive cities and deserts of Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon, not to mention
that he had almost been blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber while waiting for a bus
He had set himself apart from the rest of the television journalist, not just because
of his imposing presence and commanding voice, but because he reported the truth about
what he saw…the whole truth, no matter the consequence. His journalistic philosophy
was one of integrity; he reported every controversial nuance. For that, he had almost been
fired several times, except for the fact that his ratings were three times that of any other
network news. Today, his ratings eclipsed all networks combined. He was the one man
that the world tuned in to hear the truth, and he never disappointed them.
Tonight, he would not need the teleprompter. What he had to say would rock the
nation. Stone possessed a unique quality; even when the bombs in Iraq were exploding all
around him, he felt a calmness that even he couldn’t explain. His mind had always gone
into that quiet peaceful place within the eye of the storm, while the rest of his colleagues
and the world panicked with fear around him.
Jane Simmons looked at the huge, white-faced clock perched on the studio wall,
and then to Stone who seemed to be waiting patiently as he always did, and picked up a
loud speaker, “Alright, folks, it’s time to relax.” The same words she had always used
before the start of every show. The studio went silent and then to black, except for the
6 - J.Cross/Stone
spotlights that lit Jamieson Stone. His face taut and intense with his hands folded in front
of him. She spread the fingers of her hand below the camera’s lens and curled each finger
as she counted him down…five, four, three, two and then pointed her finger toward Stone
indicating he was on. The camera’s red eye above the lens blinked on and focused on
Jamieson Stone. As the red eye came to life Stone felt a twinge of anxiety, something he
had never experienced.
He began with his usual opening signature, “This is Jamieson Stone reporting live
to the world, telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” He sounded
as if he were taking an oath on some unseen Bible.
The red eye above the lens of the camera glared at him like a laser beam. Stone
stared back as if it were the only thing in the universe. He strained to focus his eyes away
but his mind began spinning as if in the throes of an eddy, dizziness and the oncoming
feeling of nausea flooded over him. “Tonight, I have a special report about our
immaculate Capitol Hill,” forcing his voice through sheer will to retain its calmness.
“What I’m about to report will shake this nation, if not the entire world.” But, as hard as
he tried, the blood-red eye of the camera captured his mind in a vise. He grabbed the
edges of the desk to steady himself. His voiced faltered as he continued to fight off the
dizziness. “Our country has come to expect the best from our politicians…”
Suddenly, his eyes glazed over and his mind went to black. He reached into the
leather bag he had set down next to him and retrieved a pearl, handled twenty-two
revolver, put it next to his temple and pulled the trigger.
7 - J.Cross/Stone
Pandemonium erupted, as the exploding sound of the bullet echoed throughout the
confines of the studio. Stone’s body lurched sideways slipping out of sight under the
desk. The director instantly jabbed a button sending the video screens to black and then to
Jane Simmons’ mind reeled, but like a good general she fought with every ounce
of her strength to retain control. She grabbed the loud speaker and shouted into it, “Call
an ambulance! Call 911! Call the police!” But the one thing she couldn’t contain was her
emotions; her tears streamed down involuntarily into a cascade of horror. She ran to
Stone. His body had buckled under the desk. She threw the chair aside and reached for
his throat, trying to find a pulse. There wasn’t any. She pulled her hand back, and the
sight of her bloodied hand, which dripped red rivulets onto the desk, sent her into
hysteria. “No. No. No,” she screamed and then fainted into her own blackness.
Captain Barton and his men flooded over the studio set. “Get the hell out of the way,” he
shouted as the paramedics wheeled Jamieson Stone’s lifeless body, zippered into a body
bag, through a crowd of shocked disbelievers. “This is a crime scene. Everyone stay
away from the desk.” He turned to a police sergeant standing next to him, “I don’t want
anyone leaving without my permission. Is that clear!”
The sergeant grabbed a couple of officers and headed to the door with the large
red ‘B’ printed on it and stood guard.
8 - J.Cross/Stone
A squat balding man in a dark three-piece suit forced his way through the melee,
doing a version of bumper cars, until he reached Barton. “I’m Daniel Jacobs, General
Manager of WNN,” he announced testily. “This isn’t a crime scene! It was a suicide!”
“It’s a crime scene until we determine otherwise…and, personally, I don’t care
who you are,” the Captain said calmly without looking at him as he scribbled on a
“We all saw it. The man put a gun to his head, and blew his brains out.”
“Must have been a friend of yours,” Barton said sarcastically.
Jacobs relented. “All I’m saying is that no crime was committed. It’s all on video.
The poor man committed suicide. Can’t we keep this to a minimum?”
Barton finally eyed the short rotund man with red veins that criss-crossed his face
like an erratic map. “Suicide’s a crime. No one leaves. I need a statement from everyone.
Is that clear?” Barton said, still not looking at Jacobs.
“For Christ’s sake, just about a billion people saw him blow his brains out.”
“I don’t care if the whole world saw it,” Barton said and continued to scribble in
his notepad. “Look, I’ve got a job to do. So, I’d appreciate it if you let me do it.”
“Well, I’ve got a job to do as well,” Jacobs said defensively.
“Then go do it. I’m sure you’ll put the best spin possible on it. Your ratings will
probably go through the roof,” Barton said without hesitation.
“You know, you’re an ass, Captain,” Jacobs retorted angrily.
“And, if you don’t mind me saying, I think you’re an asshole.”
“I know a lot of people in this town, and they’re going to hear from me,” Jacobs
Barton just shrugged. “Go for it.”
A dozen officers sat in various corners of the studio painstakingly taking statements. No
one really had anything to add that was not already known, but procedures were
procedures, and Captain Barton was a stickler for thoroughness, especially when it came
to high profile cases. And this was just about as high profile as it gets.
Barton looked around and grabbed the first person he saw wearing a WNN badge.
“Who knew Mr. Stone best…I mean who worked the closest with him on the set?”
9 - J.Cross/Stone
The young man startled and flinched for a second. “That would be J.S., Jane
Simmons, she’s the floor manager.” He glanced around the room. “There,” he pointed,
“she’s sitting over there in the middle of that group.”
Barton walked over. “Excuse me,” he said, shuffling a few people aside. “Are you
A crumpled looking tear stained face looked up at him. “Yes, I’m Simmons,” she
said dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes.
“I’m Captain Barton. Can we talk privately for a minute?”
She nodded, and Barton hustled her off to a more or less quiet spot. “I know this
has been very traumatic for you,” he said compassionately, “but I only have a few
“I already gave one of your officers a statement,” she replied, sucking in a deep
“Thank you for that. I’ll make it quick.” He opened his notepad, “I understand
that you and Mr. Stone were pretty close.”
She blew her nose. “Just here on the set,” she said, her eyes filling with tears
“When Mr. Stone arrived was there anything unusual…his manner, or something
Simmons shook her head. “Not a thing. He was always polite and professional.”
“Was it his custom to bring in that black bag?”
“I really didn’t notice the bag. He was late, and everything was frantic.”
“Was he usually late?”
“First time in over ten years that I can remember.”
“Did he say why?”
“No. There wasn’t any time to ask questions. I was just glad he was alright.”
“How late was he?”
“Close to two hours.”
“Thanks, Ms. Simmons,” he said and patted her arm. “We may have to talk
She nodded, and dabbed the handkerchief at her eyes.
Barton finally found his second in command, Lieutenant Washington, who was talking to
the director in the control room hidden behind the smoked glass above the main floor.
Washington was asking, “So, that’s it? He reached under the desk and pulled out a gun
and shot himself?”
“That’s about the size of it,” the director said punching up another commercial.
“If you don’t mind, I’ve got to go to another studio. We’ve got to explain this…somehow
to the viewing audience,” he said. “After all, this is news.” His voice sounded callous.
Washington sighed and waved him to go.
“Wash, what do you think?” Barton asked, as the director slipped from the room.
Washington was jotting down notes, but spun around at hearing Barton’s voice.
“You got me, Captain. Looks like it’s a suicide, plain and simple.”
“Nothing’s ever simple, Wash. There’s always an angle,” Barton said, staring out
at the set below where Jamieson Stone supposedly took his life. “Get one of the
technicians over here and let’s take a look at the replay of this so-called suicide.”
Washington didn’t have to go far, he grabbed the guy in the next chair. “Can you
replay the video of Stone’s last minutes on earth?”
“Sure.” The technician swung his chair over and pushed a couple of buttons.
Barton and Washington watched in amazement as Stone put the pearl-handled
gun to his head and fired.
“Looks straight forward to me, Cap,” Washington said. “I guess the guy
wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.”
“Or in a mystery,” Barton said. But, the suicide replay appeared exactly as
reported by all the witnesses.
“You see something, Cap?” Washington asked.
“Nah, the poor slob just blew his brains out.” But something about the scene
nagged at the back of Barton’s mind. He couldn’t put is finger on it; so, he concluded that
what he saw was the way it went down.
Senator Simon Kensey rapped the brass lion’s head knocker on Susannah York-Stone’s
front door, which was a massive Georgian-style house on the outskirts of Georgetown.
An elderly butler answered the door. “Oh, sir, it’s good to see you. Mrs. Stone has
been hysterical. I’m sure you can help. The doctor has given her some sedatives, but I
don’t think it’s helping.”
“Nasty situation,” the Senator said and walked into the foyer.
“I’ll let Mrs. Stone know that you’re here,” he said forcing a smile and left.
In a matter of seconds, a set of double doors off the foyer burst opened and a
statuesque blond in a blue robe rushed toward the Senator. She grabbed onto him sobbing
in a way little girls do when left in the dark. “I’m glad you’re here, Simon. I’m about to
go crazy,” she sobbed even harder.
Simon Kensey had been Jamieson Stone’s best friend since they had attended
Harvard together. He patted her back, and held her tightly. “I know what’s happened is
unimaginable, but we’ll get through this.” His voice was reassuring. He stroked her head
as she sobbed into the lapel of his coat.
“Why, Simon? Why?” Her voice muffled through his tweed overcoat.
“Come on,” he urged. “Let’s go into the sitting room and talk.”
In the sitting room, he helped her to lie down on a soft, burgundy velvet sofa. He
chose a wing-backed chair and moved it closer to her. He remained silent for a long time
as Susan cried into a pillow, clutching it as if it were a lifeline to her own sanity. After
several minutes, she said through deep intermittent sighs, “We were going to Martha’s
Vineyard this weekend. He had the boat all cleaned, and stocked with our favorite foods
and wine. The Moseley’s were going to join us for the weekend… Why would he do
this? It makes no sense.”
“Suicide never does,” Kensey said.
“You’re his best friend, Simon, how can you believe it? Susan asked through an
avalanche of tears. “I don’t care what the video shows. He never would have…” she
couldn’t bring herself to say the word, suicide. “Simon, I have to know why. Why he did
what he did,” her voice pleaded.
“You’re right, Susan, he was my best friend. I don’t understand this anymore than
you do,” Kensey said, chocked up. And then offered, after thoughtful consideration, “I
know a man, not the most reputable, at least not in political circles, but he might be
willing to help. At least, it will put your mind at ease.”
Susan looked up with her tear stained face, “Thank you, Simon. Please call him. I
have to do something. Even he finds out nothing, at least, I will have tried,” her voice
trailed off, as her eyes began to flutter.
Kensey could see that the sedatives were starting to take effect. “I’ll be in touch.”
He kissed her on her moist cheek, and walked out into a blustery wind.
The phone rang in Michael Brand’s apartment. He put down the Washington Post and
just stared at the phone, never picking it up until it went through the voice-messaging
center. He screened every call in the same manner, most of which he never picked up.
Usually they were some form of solicitation, or someone he had no desire to talk with.
After the machine responded with “No one’s here; please leave a message,” a voice came
on. “This is Senator Kensey, I’d appreciate it if you would return my call…”
Before the message ended, Brand’s curiosity forced him to pick up the phone.
“Senator, Brand here. Sorry, I was just getting out of the shower.” His usual response
when he decided to answer the phone.
“Oh, good. I’m glad I caught you,” Kensey said.
“This is a surprise, Senator. What can I do for you? I’m usually non gratis in your
“You still are. But this is not political, it’s personal.”
“You’ve got a personal problem, Senator?”
Kensey ignored the question. “I assume you’ve seen or heard about Jamieson
Stone’s suicide on worldwide television.”
“I’ve seen a dozen replays. The networks have no shame. It’s always ratings to
them. I know that you were close friends. Stone was an upstanding man. My
condolences, Senator, but, why are you calling me?”
“I don’t want to discuss this on the phone. Do you think you can find some time
in your schedule to meet with me?”
“Is this something urgent?”
“I wouldn’t call you if it wasn’t,” Kensey said annoyed.
“I’ve got time this afternoon,” Brand replied not reacting to Kensey’s tone, he
was much too interested to let Kensey’s arrogance bother him.
“I don’t want to meet in any conspicuous place, I’ve got a reputation…”
“So do I,” Brand interrupted. “I know a small private, out of the way, Mexican
restaurant called Terrazzo’s. It’s on twenty-third. I’m sure your chauffer can find it. Let’s
meet at one o’clock, if that’s convenient?”
Kensey agreed and hung up.
The powerful Chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee needs a favor, Brand
mused, as he skipped to the bathroom to take a shower.
Michael Brand was a uniquely complicated individual. His life had consisted of many
layers of incongruities. He had been born in Colombia. His father was a doctor, and his
mother a Bostonian socialite. At the age of seven, his parents, afraid of the Ruling Junta,
and the insistence of his father’s family sent him to live with his mother’s aunt in New
York, a fashion designer. Fearing discrimination, his aunt changed his name from
Branderos to Brand.
During his high school years he had learned how to live a double life: his days as
an honor student in a prestigious prep-school, and his nights roaming the barrio where he
could feel his Latin heritage and be free to be himself. Moving through both worlds with
equal ease set the pattern for the rest of his life.
In college he had gravitated to politics, he found he had unusual aptitude for it;
maybe it was because he understood that politics was also two worlds: the real and the
unreal. He had chosen Colombia University -- the name alone was ironic and somehow
fed into the fantasy of his double life. After graduating with top honors, he accepted a
position in one of the most prestigious political consulting firms in Washington, D.C. (the
District of Colombia). No matter where he went he was always reminded of his roots.
During his first few years at the firm he had been given the task of running
campaigns that had already been written off as losers, primarily because the campaigns
were under-funded. But to his amazement, and the amazement of his colleagues his
candidates always won. His ingenuity at tapping into the right issues, and his uncanny
ability at fund raising had made the difference.
Soon he was the topic of conversation in the political circles within the Beltway,
and became a frequent guest on the Sunday morning news shows. Not only because he
had garnered a winning political reputation, but his handsome good looks with his
aquamarine eyes and witty commentary made him a more attractive guest than most. His
fame, eventually, had compelled him to open up his own firm at the age of twenty-six. It
was then that he met and married one of New York’s top fashion models, not so much
because he loved her, which he did, but because she fit into the image that he had created
for himself. It wasn’t long after that Michael Brand Jr. was born. To him, his son became
one of the joys of his life. He doted on him every minute.
But his married life, and the crushing pressure of winning elections began to take
its toll. For relief and relaxation he turned to the one thing that made him feel free: the
barrio. The excitement of the barrio, the drinking, the dancing that was in his blood, and
especially the women who tempted him beyond his ability to say no was the beginning of
his downfall. His wife had tolerated his indiscretions, but when he showed up in the
Tabloids with pictures of women hanging all over him, it was too much for her to take.
The divorce was messy and public. It had cost him a small fortune for the privilege of
seeing his son one weekend a month.
His reputation had suffered as well as his business. His ability at fundraising had
been dramatically affected; as a result he started losing races. The aura of the young
‘Beltway’ genius was fading as fast as a setting sun. But that was twenty-five years ago.
Brand parked his car and walked to Terrazzo’s. As he entered, he heard a familiar voice,
”Ah, Senor, Miguel, it’s so good to see you,” Jose, the owner of the restaurant, said
flashing a large grin. ”I have your favorite table waiting.”
“I’m looking for someone.” Brand shifted his eyes around the room, and found
Senator Kensey sitting alone in a small booth wearing ordinary slacks and shirts. “I’ve
got a meeting, Jose -- a private meeting. Comprehende?”
“After twenty-five years nothing changes, eh, Senor,” Jose said understanding
completely. “I will send over a waiter only when you signal.”
Brand padded over to where Kensey was sitting, a menu half covered his face.
“You’re late,” he whispered.
“Relax, Senator, these people here wouldn’t know a politician from a pollywog.”
“Keep your voice down, someone might hear you,” Kensey said, and looked
around, his voice filled with paranoia.
“There’s not a person in this place that speaks English,” Brand lied.
“You can’t be too careful,” Kensey said still unsure.
“Senator, let’s stop this cloak and dagger stuff. Besides, your own mother
wouldn’t recognize you in those clothes. So, what’s on your mind?”
“It’s Stone’s wife. She’s hysterical over her husbands death.”
“From what I’ve seen, looks like an unfortunate, but dramatic suicide.”
Kensey shifted uncomfortably.
“How about a drink, Senator…just to settle your nerves.”
“Good idea. I’ll have a scotch, neat.”
Brand signaled by lifting his hand slightly.
Jose’s peregrine eyes watched for Brand’s signal and then sent over a waiter who
asked in Spanish to take their order.
“Scotch, no ice. And I’ll have a mineral water,” Brand ordered in Spanish. He had
quit drinking ten years ago.
“So, why call me? What do you think I can do?”
“I think she believes her husband really did commit suicide, but she feels she has
to do something.”
“Senator, let’s not play games. What do you want from me?”
“Since you quit your career as a political consultant, ten years ago, you’ve gone
into, let’s say, private practice, and have taken on some very personal, and I might add,
high profile people, and you’ve always been very discreet. I’m counting on that.”
“Senator, I’m going to ask you for the last time. What do you want? Or, I’m
leaving right now.” Brand said, playing with him and enjoying it.
“This is a delicate situation. Be patient.”
“I’m out of patience.”
The waiter brought over the drinks and set them down and left quickly.
Kensey inhaled his scotch in one gulp. “I have twenty-five thousand dollars in
cash in my pocket. I want you to convince…no, let me put it another way. I want you
allay Mrs. Stone’s mind that her husband committed suicide just as we all saw on
Brand’s eyes steeled and glared at Kensey. “You want what?”
“It’s a simple assignment. For God’s sake’s man, all I’m asking is for you to put a
widow’s mind at ease.”
“The police could do that. You don’t need me.”
“She wants…she wants someone objective,” Kensey said flustered.
Brand’s mind went into warp speed. He knew a lie from a half-truth. This was
both. He was about to leave when his instincts kicked in. He immediately decided to take
the case, not because of Mrs. Stone, the grieving widow, but because he saw something
in Simon Kensey’s eyes that said he was hiding an awful truth; and that he had to find
out. “Twenty-five grand’s a lot of money just to hold her hand,” he replied calmly.
“It’s peanuts, if it puts her mind to rest.”
“Okay, sounds simple enough,” Brand said, tacitly accepting the assignment.
Kensey reached into his pocket and withdrew an envelope, and carefully pushed it
across the table hidden beneath the menu.
Brand stuffed it away into the inside pocket of his jacket. “When would you like
to meet again?”
“Never, I hope,” Kensey said. “Just do what you’re being paid to do. I’ll tell Mrs.
Stone to expect you.”
“Fair enough,” Brand said.
Senator Simon Kensey, one of the most powerful men in Congress, left the
restaurant looking more ill attired than any of the patrons. Brand mused at the stupidity of
Before meeting with Mrs. Stone there were a couple of stops that Brand considered more
important: First, to his sometimes’ friend, Captain Barton, and then to WNN to watch the
replay in slow motion.
He and Barton had worked officially and unofficially on more than a dozen cases
over the last ten tears. Their relationship was either good or bad depending upon the
outcome of the case.
A short, but intense, April shower swept through the Capitol city, leaving a sultry air that
seemed to press down gravity. The oppressive moisture lay like a cloud of lead weight.
Brand walked up the steps of the 3rd precinct, his shirt and jacket already soaked through
by the abhorrent humidity. As he entered the building, a cool, sweet smelling air
conditioning flowed over him like the waves of a tropical breeze.
A stern looking Latino sergeant peering over a tall, walled off platform broke into
a smile. “Que pasa, Michael? It’s been awhile. What brings you to this place between
heaven and hell?”
“Just in the neighborhood. Thought I’d pay a visit to Captain Barton.”
“Michael, you’re never just in the neighborhood. You got business with the
“Not really. Is he in?”
“He’s in, but I must warn you he’s in a foul mood. You know what I mean?”
“He’s always in a foul mood, so what?”
“There is foul, and there is foul. Are you sure you want to see him?”
“Unfortunately, it’s a necessity at the moment.”
“I’ll buzz him, but it’s your funeral,” the sergeant said with a sardonic smile.
“Give me a minute.”
Brand walked over and sat on a hard uncomfortable bench and watched as people
and police alike vied for the sergeant’s attention. He handled them as deftly as a concert
After a couple of minutes, “He says, he’ll see you. Tread lightly, Miguel,” the
Brand walked down a long angular corridor until he reached Barton’s office. The
shades were open and he could see Barton pacing around with a phone clamped to his ear
and waving his free arm as if he were sword fighting with some unseen enemy.
Brand watched from behind the open slats of the blinds. Barton finally slammed
down the phone breaking off a small piece of plastic sending it sailing through the air like
a missile. His eyes searched the floor for a second, and then ran his hands through a thick,
black mane of hair.
Brand waited another second and then rapped on the office door, opened it and
poked his head in. He just stood there smiling at Barton.
“What the fuck do you want?” Barton’s face was still twisted in anger and agony.
“Having fun yet?” Brand closed the door just in time before a telephone book
smashed against it. Brand complimented himself on his instincts, and reopened the door.
“Brand, this is not a good time,” Barton said, only slightly calmed down.
“It’s never a good time. Not in our business.”
“Not in our business,” Barton repeated sarcastically. His eyes narrowed into
menacing slits. “Come on in,” he finally said. “Maybe, I can take it out on you.” Barton
slumped into his chair.
Brand sat down on a rather soft corduroy sofa. “By the looks of your
conversation, it was either the mayor or a member of our esteemed congress.”
“The mayor’s an asshole,” Barton fumed.
“So are the vagaries of life,” Brand said as if quoting from a play.
“What? Never mind. What do you want?”
“Same thing you do. Trying to make sense of a mysterious suicide,” Brand said,
hoping it would flush out a few unintended remarks.
Barton held his hands against his temples and squeezed. “Don’t tell me… Please
don’t tell me you’re working on the Stone suicide,” his voice pleaded.
“What makes you think it was a suicide?” Brand asked.
Barton looked up releasing his head, “Who hired you?”
“Now you know that’s privileged.”
“You don’t have any privileges. You’re not licensed in any jurisdiction.”
“That’s why I need you. And, if I might add, you need me.”
“You’re the last ting I need.”
“By my count, together we’ve solved more than a dozen cases. Unless you want
to take credit for all of them.”
“Okay, so you helped. So, what?”
“So, you need some help, Robert. We make a good team.”
Barton rose from his chair and looked out the window. Splashes of sun squirted
through a spongy looking mass of gray clouds. “What do you think you know about this,
“I don’t know anything, but I’ve got a lot of questions. And, I bet you do too,
except the heats on for you to wrap this up into a nice tight ball. No investigation. No
questions. Tell me I’m wrong?”
“You’ve always had good instincts, Michael.”
“You afraid of your job, Robert?”
“You know better than that. After twenty-years, I should give a good goddamn?”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s the bullshit -- always the bullshit. It never ends.”
“Then why don’t you quit?”
“After this case, I think I will.” Barton turned to Brand. “Alright, let’s go for it,”
he said impulsively as the corners of his mouth creased into a sardonic grin. “If
someone’s hired you, then there must be something we’re missing…You’re not going to
tell me who hired you, are you?”
“Not just yet. But, since we’re partners again, I’ll tell you this; I’m working on
behalf of Mrs. Stone. I haven’t met with her yet, so you can assume whoever hired me
was not her.”
“Mrs. Stone, huh? In that case, I assume she doesn’t believe it was suicide?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“This is not the usual kind of case you get involved in, Michael. What’s up?”
“It’s exactly the kind of case I get involved with. Let’s call it the mystery of
“Sounds like a title from a Perry Mason show.”
“I didn’t mean it to sound so melodramatic.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Are we going to quibble, or find out why the most trusted news man on the
planet committed suicide on worldwide television?”
“Okay, okay.” Barton held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “So, what do
“First, we look at the replay of the suicide.”
“I’ve seen it a dozen times. I’ve got a video of it here in the VCR. It’s not going
“Not here, at WNN. I want to see it in slow motion.”
The WNN building was a sixty-five storied edifice built of crimson granite and gold
tinted glass. Barton wondered how many people would be laid off now that Stone was
dead. His nightly news show probably represented more than a third of their revenues,
and Barton couldn’t imagine anyone who was capable of taking his place. He was sure
though that they would try. After all, the news must go on.
“Who was the director that night?” Brand asked as they walked from the unusual
humidity, half soaked, into the cool lobby of WNN.
Barton scrambled through his notepad. “A Danny Greene was the director.”
“Let’s find him, if possible. Did you interview him?”
“No, Washington did. But I came in at the tail end. Seemed a little too cool for the
“Fact or impression?” Brand asked.
“Let’s see how cool he is under fire.”
“Whoa,” Barton said. “This guy’s boss, a Daniel Jacobs, the General Manager of
WNN called the mayor, and he chewed my ass out for ten minutes.”
“Because of this Greene guy?”
“No, because I had a run in with Jacobs…I called him an asshole.”
“You really don’t care about keeping your job do you?”
“He pissed me off.”
“The whole world pisses you off. Greene wasn’t there, was he?”
Barton and Brand approached a huge, plum colored curved marble reception
counter that was at least forty feet long with a sole receptionist seated in the center that
was handling the phones in a staccato fashion. “Please hold… Please hold… He’ll be
with you in a minute…” Her fingers danced across the over-sized phone’s keyboard.
“This could go on forever,” Brand jabbed Barton in the ribs.
“Excuse me, miss,” Barton said politely, holding up his badge. “I’m here on
The over worked receptionist eyed the badge, and blew a blond curl from the edge
of her mouth. “One second,” she said to Barton, and then spoke into her headset. “All
lines are tied up for now, please call back.” She looked at Barton. “This place is crazy,
and the other receptionist decided not to show,” she said completely frustrated.
“I’m Captain Barton of the D.C. police. I’d like to see Danny Greene. Is he in?”
“Let me check.” She punched in a couple of numbers. “A Captain Barton from the
D.C. police to see you…Fine,” she answered without blinking. “Greene’s on the twenty-
fifth floor, room 2505. He’s expecting you. The elevators are up the stairs and to your
right,” she said and returned to the phones. “Hold please…”
“Thanks,” Barton said, wishing he had a receptionist like that.
The elevator was a slow trip up to the twenty-fifth floor, stopping at every floor
with people bustling in and out. Barton hated it, while Brand just picked at a fingernail.
After walking through a maze of corridors, they finally found Greene’s office and
entered. Everything was some shade of purple or plum, the carpets, the walls, the
furniture, even the clothes of the secretary, who looked more like a flight attendant than a
“May I help you?” she asked looking up from her computer.
“We’re here to see Mr. Greene,” Barton said showing his badge.
“I’ll see if he’s available,” she said with a practiced smile and picked up the
Barton was about to explode when she said in an almost singing voice, “You can
go right in, he’s waiting for you.” And pointed toward a hallway.
Barton and Brand, who had remained silent since entering the elevator on the first
floor, walked down a purple hallway toward a magenta door that snapped open as they
“Gentlemen, I only have a few minutes. I’m on deadline,” Greene said and
ushered them over to a grape colored leather couch. “So, what can I do for you? I thought
this episode was all wrapped up?” Greene asked as if he were referring to a completed
installment of a weekly TV dramatic series.
“Who told you that Mr. Stone’s tragic death, which was viewed across the world,
was all wrapped up?” Barton laid a heavy touch to his words.
“Jacobs, our General Manager.”
“Well then, I’ve got news for you, Mr. News Director. This is a full-blown
investigation into the death of Jamieson Stone, and it’s starting with you.”
Greene’s eyes widened. Look, I don’t know anything. I was just sitting behind the
video console. You saw what I saw.”
Brand interjected. “That’s why we’re here, we want to see the replay again, but
this time in slow motion. I know that you don’t want to be held on obstruction in an on
going investigation, so, let’s get your fairy ass down to a private viewing room. Do you
catch my meaning?”
“Completely,” he uttered.
As they walked to the elevators Barton whispered to Brand, “Damn the
torpedoes.” He was glad to be with his sometimes friend again. He hated to admit it, but
he missed him. Brand always brought the best out of him. Maybe, it was the competition.
But, whatever it was, he felt invigorated.
Greene punched up a video screen and asked, “Where do you want to start?”
“From the beginning,” Brand ordered.
“You mean from before Stone arrived on the set?”
“We want to see everything from the beginning, and I mean everything; from the
time you first began focusing your cameras, to the positioning of lights, and everyone on
the set. You had three cameras running at the same time, I want you to punch them all
“Individually, or all at once?”
“Individually,” Brand said. Except for some of the modern technology, Brand
knew his way around a studio set and the director’s console as well as any. He had
directed and produced over a thousand political commercials, and this wasn’t any
Greene, afraid to disagree with anything, punched up camera One. “This is about
ten minutes before Stone arrived,” he said.
The picture on the video jilted and tossed, much of it blurred until it settled on a
part of the set that included the door with a red ‘B’ printed on it. “That’s the main
entrance to the set,” Greene said. “This camera will remain static until after Stone’s
introductory monologue. We use it as a side shot when going to commercial.”
“Is it on the whole time?”
“Yes. At my signal it focuses on Stone.”
“When’s that?” Brand asked.
“About a minute before Stone finishes his introduction. We work from the
teleprompter, but Stone wasn’t reading from the teleprompter, he was ad-libbing. So, the
camera never focused directly on him. I was about to have the cameraman swing around,
just in case, but by then Stone had already fired. I immediately went to black and then to
“Let’s see all that camera One saw,” Brand ordered.
“With all due respect, I’ve got a show to direct in five minutes,” Greene said.
“Call the assistant director, I’m sure he’ll fill in nicely.”
“But,” Greene began to protest…
“It’s that or a night in jail,” Barton chimed in.
Greene nodded his understanding and pushed a button that let camera One roll, he
then picked up the phone and spoke a few words into it.
They watched the video on camera One as it remained stationary taping an
assortment of people dashing around, which appeared to Barton haphazardly, until the
door to the studio opened and Stone walked in. A petite brunette quickly approached
Stone and led him out of camera range.
“Stop tape,” Brand said. “Back up. Who’s the young lady?”
“Annie Jackson, make-up. You’ll see her again on camera Three.”
“Did anyone take her statement?” Brand asked Barton.
“I’m sure they did, I’d have to go back through the files.”
Brand let Barton’s answer stand, and then said to Greene, “Pick it up when Stone
enters the studio, slow motion.”
They watched the scene unfold in slow motion, nothing unusual. Stone seemed
cordial and relaxed as Annie Jackson led him off screen. Both Brand and Barton
observed the black bag he carried loosely at his side.
“Did he usually carry in that bag?” Brand asked Greene.
“Not usually. Sometimes he carried a briefcase, sometimes a bunch of folders,
most times nothing. He was never consistent.”
“Let’s go to camera Two,” Brand said.
Camera Two was a hodgepodge of nothing. It was to the far right of the set, only
a long table with donuts and coffee, with various people standing around drinking and
eating. Stone was nowhere in sight.
Greene said, “This camera is used for Stone’s second break. An opposite side shot
before going to commercial.”
“Let’s get to camera Three,” Brand ordered.
Greene pushed a button, the video screen snapped on to a test pattern. “This is the
main camera, the pattern is for color only.”
The video then immediately flashed on showing Stone sitting behind the desk
with Annie Jackson applying makeup to his face. In seconds, she wheeled her cart away.
“Stop tape,” Brand shouted. “I didn’t see what Stone did with the leather bag that
carried the gun.”
“I didn’t punch up the camera until Stone was already seated.”
“There was no reason to. This is the main camera, I was only interested in lighting
and making sure that Stone was centered in the frame.”
Brand accepted the answer for now. “Roll tape.”
Immediately, Jane Simmons entered the picture. “Stop tape,” Brand ordered
again. “Is there any audio at this point?”
“No,” Greene said. “It’s only activated when the red light above the camera lens
comes on which let’s the anchorman, in this case, Stone know that video and sound is
live. Otherwise it would confuse him.”
“Continue,” Brand said.
They watched as Simmons talked briefly with Stone. Their conversation appeared
normal as Stone sipped from a glass of water, after which Simmons moved it out of
“Stop tape,” Brand asked again. “Run it again in slow motion.”
Brand was especially interested to see if Simmons’ hand had disappeared at any
time under the desk. It had not.
After less than a minute, Stone’s face appeared full frame on the screen. They
watched the same scene unfold as they did a dozen times before.
“Stop tape,” Brand shouted. “Take it from where Stone starts to speak.”
Greene rolled it back. The video started to replay in slow motion.
Brand yelled, “Stop. I want this section frame by frame.”
“What for?” Greene asked.
“Because I said so.”
Greene nodded and pushed another button, the scene began to unfold frame by
frame. “The audio will be squelched.”
“I’m not interested in the audio at the moment. I want you to focus in on Stone’s
face as tight as possible.”
Greene pushed the zoom button. “It’s going to be slightly grainy, but I can clear it
A crisp picture finally emerged on the screen. Brand studied it intently. “One
more time, just before he reaches for the gun.”
“What are you looking for?” Barton asked.
“Patience, my friend.”
Several frames into the video, Brand yelled, “Stop. Can you zoom in closer on his
eyes?” he asked Greene.
“Sure, it’ll take just a second.”
The picture reemerged with Stone’s eyes filling most of the screen. Brand
watched with a trained eye as the frames passed one by one.
“Thank you, Mr. Greene. You’ve been most helpful. We’re done here. Could I
have a copy of the last part of the close up?”
“Sure.” Greene ran off a copy and handed it to Brand.
“Thank you again, Mr. Greene, for your cooperation.”
Greened nodded, and hastened to leave.
“You found something?” Barton asked.
“I found everything,” Brand said as he stuffed the videotape into his jacket
“What did you find?”
“When we get back to headquarters, we’ll discuss it.”
Once inside Barton’s office, Brand shut all the blinds tight. “Turn on the TV and VCR.”
Brand handed Barton the tape from his jacket.
“I don’t think I can watch another second of this,” Barton said bleary-eyed, but
shoved in the tape.
“This you’ll want to see,” Brand said smugly. “It wasn’t suicide, it was murder!”
Barton glowered at Brand. “What are you talking about?”
“Just watch and learn.”
The picture flickered for a second and then settled down revealing Stone’s face
from the top of his brow to just below his nose. The scene played out frame by frame.
“I don’t see a damn thing,” Barton said, “other than what we’ve already seen.”
“Play it again. This time, I’ll take you through it frame by revealing frame.”
Barton rewound the tape. “You know, sometimes, I hate you.”
“Sometimes, I hate myself, Brand said. “Now, just watch it again. This time focus
solely on Stone’s eyes.”
The frames slowly slipped by, one by one. “There. Freeze it!” Brand said.
“Describe what you see?”
“I see two big, black eyes staring at me.”
“Pupils,” Brand corrected. “Back it up a frame.”
Barton acquiesced, and stared intently at the screen. “The pupils of his eyes are
smaller, so what?”
“The pupils are smaller because the intensity of the lights focused on his eyes are
causing them to contract.”
“Then why are they getting bigger? They should remain the same.”
“Go to the head of the class.”
“I don’t understand,” Barton said, still confused.
“Now, slowly move the tape forward about four frames and then freeze it.”
“His pupils are slowly enlarging; they’re almost to the outer edge of the irises,”
“Exactly. They’re dilating. The absolute opposite of what should be occurring.”
“It makes no sense.”
“Oh, but it does. It makes perfect sense,” Brand said and began explaining. “The
pupils of an eye contract according to the amount of light they’re exposed to. When it’s
dark the pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible. But, this is where a small piece
of science comes in to play. We do not see with our eyes. Light, or what we call seeing,
comes through the pupils, but is reflected in our brain. It is the brain that tells the pupils
what to do, depending on the stimuli.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“For the brain to tell the pupil whether it’s light or dark, the brain must be
“You mean that Stone’s brain was not functioning properly?”
“Exactly. Something was interfering with Stone’s perception. Roll the tape
through the final frames,” Brand said.
Barton seemed to be mesmerized as the frames changed like a slide projector.
“That’s it,” Brand said. “Coming up is the place where Stone is reaching under
Barton studied the frames.
“Freeze it!” Brand said just before Stone pulled the trigger. “See how his eyes are
completely dilated, and he hasn’t blinked once. Right, now, I’d bet anything his brain is
registering that he’s in total darkness.”
“How can you be sure?”
“The eyes don’t lie, my friend.”
“So, what would cause this?”
“My guess is that he’s under the influence of a heavy narcotic.”
“You got all this from the fact that his pupils are dilated, and he hasn’t blinked?”
“You’ve got it, Captain Barton, Chief of Detectives,” Brand announced with some
“How can we prove it?”
“Impossible. And you know it.”
“All suicides in the District of Colombia require an autopsy,” Brand said flatly.
“The powers that be want this wrapped up by tonight.”
“Are going to do what the law requires, or are you going to hang on to your job
like an aging lion by his toenails?”
“So, I’m between a rock and a hard place. Damn! Working with you is a constant
source of unending aggravation.”
“That’s why you love me,” Brand smiled. “However, if you’re chicken-shit, I can
arrange for an autopsy. Remember, I’m working on behalf of Mrs. Stone.”
“Alright, I’m a chicken-shit. So, What’s next?”
“My friend, and I say this with all sincerity, I’ll be amazed if you have a job after
Greene talks to his General Manager. But, if he’s smart enough, he’ll keep his mouth
shut…I’ll arrange for the autopsy.”
Barton just stood meekly without saying a word. His body language spoke
“Don’t worry, the autopsy will prove that I’m right.”
“And, if it doesn’t?”
“Then we’re back to square one. While I’m convincing Mrs. Stone to agree to an
autopsy, I suggest a few things.”
“Like what?” Barton asked apprehensively.
“We’ll have about three, maybe four days before the toxicological findings are
completed…that’s if I can convince Mrs. Stone. In the meantime, there are a lot of
questions unanswered. And, if I’m right, we’ll have a head start.”
“Like what?” Barton asked again.
“For starters, he could have ingested the narcotic from the glass of water.” Brand
started pacing around as he spoke. “Have forensics go over the leather bag for any traces
of a narcotic. Whose gun was it? And have it checked for any narcotics as well. These
kinds of drugs can also be absorbed through the skin. Have the lab look for anything that
produces a hypnotic effect. Also, check out the makeup that this Jackson woman applied
to his face…You get the picture,” Brand said. “I’m sure you can up with a lot
more…And for God’s sake, find out why he was late!”
Barton just sat at his desk as Brand spieled out at least a weeks worth of
investigation. “You should join the Department, you’re the best detective here. Hell, you
should have my job.”
“I got lucky. I’ve done a thousand commercials. I just happen to know what I’m
“You know what scares me the most?” Barton said shaking his head, “It’s the
thousands of cases where we probably missed the crucial forensic evidence to convict or
set free a suspect.”
“Life’s not perfect,” Brand said. “Or fair.”
Barton nodded. “But getting the lab to do what you want may be another thing.
There’s lot of pressure on the Department.”
“If Mrs. Stone orders it, they’ll have to comply. However, if the lab still refuses, I
know someone at the FBI that will gladly do it.”
It was time to visit the illustrious Mrs. Stone. Brand parked his BMW in the circular drive
in front of the massive Georgian mansion with its columns of white marble, standing like
sentinels, seemingly guarding the entrance to an elegant fortress. He walked up a flight of
stairs between the columns to a set of huge double doors, and rapped a brass lion’s head
knocker, and waited.
An elderly man dressed in a butler’s uniform pulled opened one of the huge
doors. “Whom should I say is calling?” he inquired politely.
“Michael Brand, on orders from Senator Kensey,” he replied.
“Please step in. The humidity is simply atrocious.”
Brand walked into a grand, rotund foyer that was at least thirty-feet high and with
a colorful assortment of flowers that cascaded down like a waterfall into a three-tiered
lava stone pond with giant Koi fish.
“I’ll let Mrs. Stone know you’re here. Please wait,” the butler said and exited into
a side door off the foyer.
The butler returned within seconds. “Mrs. Stone was not expecting you. Could
you wait in the library, please?” The butler ushered him into an expansive room, which
Brand thought looked like a replica of an Alexandrian library. Bookshelves, from ceiling
to floor, were stacked in volumes around the room. Brand wondered if they were all real.
He then looked around the room; his eyes focused on what appeared to be ancient maps
and artifacts from distant places and times. Off to the side of the room, he noticed what
looked like a comfortable sitting area next to a stone fireplace. He sat down on a
burgundy velvet sofa and admired the museum-like statues, which were situated in
alcoves that separated the bookshelves, giving the room an artistic balance. Brand
wondered how much money it would take to acquire such a collection, let alone a
mansion like this.
While he waited, he went over the suicide/homicide scene he had viewed with
Barton, and tried to find any discrepancies. For now, he couldn’t. He hoped Mrs. Stone
would be amenable to an autopsy. Before his mind became too entangled, Mrs. Stone
“I’m so pleased you could come, Mr. Brand,” she said, hurrying in and extending
her hand graciously.
Brand rose immediately, and stepped forward to shake her hand. The heretofore,
unimagined, Mrs. Stone was nothing like what he had expected; she was absolutely
stunning as she seemed to glide across the room in a gossamer-like, blue flowing dress.
She looked like a version of Scarlet O’Hare, except for the golden curls, which dripped
down just below her shoulders. A hint of lilac wafted through the air.
“It’s my pleasure, Mrs. Stone. I’m sorry we have to meet under these unfortunate
circumstances,” Brand said, stating the obvious.
“Please sit, Mr. Brand,” she said, taking a seat across from him.
He could see a tear welling up in the corner of Mrs. Stone’s eye. “I came over as
soon as I could after talking with Senator Kensey. He must be good friend?”
“Actually, he was my husband’s friend. But, under the circumstances, he was the
only one I could think of who might be able to help,” she said, fidgeting with her hands
which were folded on her lap.
“The Senator was not very clear as to what you would like me to do precisely,”
Brand lied, and stared at her as if she were some kind of an angel misplaced on earth.
“The Senator, and what I can gather from the news, believes that my husband
committed.”…She still couldn’t say the word.
“Suicide,” Brand uttered, knowing that it was imperative to get the declaration out
in the open.
“Alright, Mr. Stone... Suicide,” she said emphatically. “Is that what you want to
hear?” she asked with a touch of anger.
“Actually, Mrs. Stone, why I’m here is not because the Senator asked me, but
because I have some grave questions about your husband’s apparent suicide. Before I
came to see you, I did some investigation. There a lot of unanswered questions.”
“Like what?” she asked, her face immediately lit up.
“At the moment, it’s too complicated to go into, but I do have a few questions, if
you don’t mind?”
“I’m not a simpleton, Mr. Brand,” she said testily.
“I didn’t mean to infer that. It’s just that, before any conclusions can be drawn, a
full investigation has to take place. Forensics… and an autopsy… with your permission.”
“Is that necessary?”
“Only if you want to get to the truth.”
“That I do, Mr. Brand. Make no mistake. The truth is the only the thing that is
driving me. I need to know why my husband would do such a cowardly act. I just can’t
believe it…” Tears began cascading down her face.
“There’s something I need to know?” Brand asked, trying to ignore her tears. “If
I’m going to find out the truth, I’m going to need your help.”
“Such as?” she asked through her tears.
“Mostly, personal. If you’re not willing, then I’ll be forced to walk away, and the
incident of your husband’s death will stand as reported.”
“Are you one of Kensey’s stooges?” she accused. “How much is he paying you,
and exactly what does he want you to do?” she asked, her tone and demeanor hardened.
Brand stared off into space, thinking for a long time before answering. “Mrs.
Stone, we don’t know each other, but can I confide in you?”
“I hope that you would,” she said with a touch of anger attached.
“I mean, really confide. Just between us, not Kensey, or any other living soul?”
“You want me to trust you, is that it?”
“More than that. I want to know if I can trust you?”
“Anything I tell you must remain strictly between us,” Brand said. “And I
promise the same.”
“I just want to know the truth,” she said and held her hands up covering her face.
Brand handed her his handkerchief. “I know what it means to lose a loved one.”
“Do you?” she asked through the muffled sound of the handkerchief.
“Yes. I lost my son when he was only seventeen. I know, Mrs. Stone. Believe me,
“I apologize, Mr. Brand. I’m not acting very professional,” she said, doing her
best to compose herself.
“It’s I who should apologize for my callous manner.”
“I guess that’s what you private-eyes are supposed to do.”
“Private-eye,” Brand grimaced. “Is that what the Senator said I was?”
“No. I just assumed.”
“For the record, I’m just an ordinary citizen, but with a lot of experience…a kind
of consultant if you wish.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Brand ignored her attempt at an apology. “Do we have an agreement about
keeping things just between us? It’s imperative, or I can’t help you.”
“Why is this secrecy so important?”
“To tell the truth,” he hesitated, “I wasn’t going to take this case until I talked to
“Because I must have your promise in regards to secrecy, Mrs. Stone, before I can
“Alright then, I agree,” she said firmly. “Now, tell me why it’s so important.”
“Frankly, Mrs. Stone, I don’t trust Senator Kensey. And I don’t think you do
“Why do you think that?”
“On your part, it’s just a feeling. For mine, primarily because of why he hired
“And why did he hire you, Mr. Brand?”
“He hired me to convince you that your husband’s death is exactly as reported – a
Mrs. Stone was flabbergasted. “I’ll have to…”
“Ah, ah, Mrs. Stone, you promised secrecy. Kensey will only lie to you, and then
will hire someone else to do the job.”
“He said you were not a very reputable man. So, why should I believe you?”
“Why would he hire me then?”
“I don’t know,” she said becoming confused.
Brand reached into his pocket and handed Mrs. Stone the envelope containing the
money that Kensey had given him.
“Twenty-five thousand in cash to convince you.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“On the contrary, for a case like this, I would charge a minimum of $250,000, for
starters. I accepted the money, because I believe that Kensey’s hiding something. As I
told you, I don’t trust him; so I took to the money to find out what he’s hiding.”
She glared at him and started to hand back the envelope.
“No,” he said. “Give it to your favorite charity.”
“Are you asking me for your minimum wage?”
Brand laughed, inappropriately. “No, Mrs. Stone. This one’s on the house. I
believe you have a right to know why your husband did…what he did.”
“You’re either a great con, or an extraordinary man, Mr. Brand.”
“If I accepted that money, I would violate my own perverted sense of ethics, and
would be bound to comply with the Senator’s instructions. Now, I can investigate this
case with a clear conscience.”
“What would like me to do, beside keep my promise?”
“Nothing…On second thought, there is. Call Captain Barton, Chief of Detectives,
at the 3rd precinct and give him permission for the autopsy. And, while you’re at it, you
can ask him about my reputation; but under no circumstances must he know that Kensey
“Now?” she asked, unprepared.
“If you don’t mind. Time is of the essence; the Senator wants this case closed by
tonight. The only thing that will keep it open is your request for an autopsy. The Senator
must believe that you insisted on it, against my better judgment. Is that clear?”
“Mr. Brand, you’re going to have to stop treating me like a child. I am completely
competent as to the wiles of this world,” she said picking up the phone on the table next
to her. “What’s the number?”
Brand told her.
“Captain Barton, please. This is Mrs. Stone calling.”
The phone rang a couple of times before Barton picked it. “Mrs. Stone, I’m sorry
we have to speak under such dreadful circumstances.”
“Not to mind, Captain. I’m calling to insist that you perform an autopsy on my
“You are calling to insist, not request, is that correct, Mrs. Stone?”
“That is correct, Captain.”
“I’ll order it, immediately.”
“Oh, one more thing, Captain. Are you familiar with a Mr. Brand?”
“You mean, Michael Brand?” he asked playing dumb.
She covered the phone. “Is your first name, Michael?” she asked whispering.
“Yes, that’s the man.”
“What would you like to know?”
“Is he trustworthy? And what kind of reputation does he have at doing what he
“And what is it that he’s doing for you, Mrs. Stone?” Barton asked, containing
himself from laughing out loud, but still very curious.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“Well, I’ve known Mr. Brand for ten years, and during that time I can attest to his
trustworthiness, and especially his tenacity at finding out the truth.” Barton hoped he
hadn’t over played his role.
“Well, thank you, Captain. I expect you to keep me informed,” she said and hung
up the phone. “It seems you have a fan in the police department.”
“We’ve worked on a few cases together.”
“Being that we’ll be working together, and that we now have some kind of a
blood-oath secrecy pact, please call me Susannah…I mean, Susan.”
“And, you can call me Michael. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll call you, Mrs. Stone.”
“As you wish, Michael,” she said tersely. “Is there anything else you would like
me to do?”
“At the moment, no, but I’ll be in touch…On second thought, make sure any
conversations that we may have, either in person or on the phone, not be in hearing range
of your butler.”
“You may be trustworthy, but you certainly are not trusting,” she answered.
“I don’t know how close your butler is to the Senator. He might inadvertently say
“Alright, Mr. Brand. I’ll be the model of what you expect.”
She was already more than what he had expected. “You can call me any time, day
or night,” he said and handed her his card.
Brand left, skipping down the stairs and into his car. He could still smell the hint of lilac.
He decided to head to Barton’s office.
As he entered the office, Barton was on the phone engaged in a furious argument.
“I don’t give a good goddamn. The wife insisted on an autopsy, besides, it’s procedural in
these cases.” Barton slammed down the phone. “I’m getting a lot of static, we may have
to use your FBI contact,” Barton said completely frustrated. “I’ve never seen such
pressure to close a case so quickly.”
“Somebody knows something that they want to keep secret.”
“Or, it just may be that they want to play down Stone’s suicide.”
“Murder,” Brand corrected.
“Nothing’s been proven. All we’ve got…you’ve got… is speculation.”
“Speculation is for amateurs, I’ve got experience and instincts.”
“Who do you think you are, Phillip Marlow, detective extraordinaire?”
“Point made. But you know there’s more to this than a simple suicide…in front of
a worldwide audience.”
“I’ve got Lt. Washington working the investigation…on the sly.”
“Yeah, it seems that the twenty-two caliber, pearl handled gun was registered to a
one, Mrs. Stone.”
“Damn,” Brand said, and chastised himself for being so enamored with the
beautiful Mrs. Stone that he forgot to ask one single pertinent question. “Who else but a
woman would own a gun like that,” Brand said, trying to cover up his own ineptness.
“Yeah, where else would he get a gun like that,” Barton conceded. “I hope my
testimonial helped you with Mrs. Stone…I presume it did, she insisted on the autopsy.
You really amaze me sometimes,” Barton added.
“Sometimes I amaze myself.” But Brand’s mind was racing again into warp
speed. “There’s too much for Washington to cover alone. I’m going to jump in.”
“Be my guest. I could use all the help. I’m expecting the mayor to call anytime
now for another ass chewing.”
“Don’t sweat it, you’re a tough cop.” Brand was already on his way out of the
“Where you going?” Barton called after him, but it was too late, Brand was half
way down the hallway.
Brand drove through the tortured afternoon traffic and tried to assemble the pieces as he
knew them: The most trusted news man in the world, apparently beyond reproach, blows
his brains out on live worldwide television. He was convinced it was an ingenious
murder, but he couldn’t be absolutely sure until the toxicological reports confirmed it.
For now, it had to remain just a well educated guess, even he had convinced Barton
otherwise. He had no choice, or Barton would have refused to investigate.
There had to be someone who knew, or had some information as to what Stone
was about to reveal that would shake the nation, as Stone put it. The only person he could
think of was Jane Simmons. He found out her address from the harried receptionist at
WNN. She hesitated to give it out without permission, but finally relented after not being
able to reach anyone of authority. Brand had timed it just before five o’clock, knowing
that the upper management were either in discussions, or had gone home for the day.
Brand parked his car and walked the short distance to an upper end D.C.
apartment. He located her name, and pushed the button. After several rings, a soft voice
answered, “Who is it?”
“This is Michael Brand with the D.C. police. Captain Barton said that you would
be expecting some follow up questions,” he said, hoping that Barton was true to form.
“Just a minute,” the answer came back. “I’m in apartment 506, I’ll buzz you in.”
Brand pushed the security door open and took the elevator to the fifth floor.
Finding 506, he knocked.
A muscular looking woman with short black hair and a dark green robe opened
the door with the security chain still attached. “You got a badge?”
Brand showed her a mock up of a badge, which he carried just for this expressed
purpose. It was illegal to do so, but Brand didn’t care.
She closed the door, and he could hear the chain sliding across, until the door
“May I come in?” Brand asked.
“Sure, why not,” she said as she turned her back and wobbled into the center of
the room with a drink in her hand. “Have a seat, anywhere.”
Brand presumed she was drunk, or close to it. This would work to his advantage.
It was only seven o’clock, but he apologized for the lateness of the hour. “I have only a
few questions, and then I’ll be out of here,” he said and smiled reassuringly.
“No hurry,” she said, and plopped down on a curved tan leather sofa. “My
career’s in the shitter, and I’m back doing what I did ten years ago. I’m starting from the
fuckin’ bottom again.” Her voice trembled in anger.
“I’m sure it’s only temporary, “ Brand said.
“What the fuck do you know? You’re a civil servant; you got a job as long as you
live… Do you want a drink?”
“No thanks, I’m working.”
“Well, shit, please sit down, you’re making my head spin.”
Brand thought he probably arrived too late. She appeared to be almost gone, but
he had to try. “Do you know what Mr. Stone was working on for the broadcast? I
understand that he was not using the teleprompter that night.”
“Mr. Stone was a class act, but he kept everything to himself. Most times he read
from the teleprompter, except when he had a scoop. Obviously, he had something
important to say, but we’ll never know what. He blew is brains out, along with my
career,” she said, and threw her glass against the wall, exploding it into a thousand
Brand moved quickly away, missing the flying shards of glass. “Who was Mr.
Stone’s personal assistant?” he asked as if the incident hadn’t occurred.
“He didn’t have one. He always typed everything personally, and then handed it
to a production staffer before airtime to have it put on the teleprompter.”
“Did he use a computer?”
“What generation are you from? Who doesn’t?”
“And, in reading through the files,” he continued, “you said he had never been
late, is that correct?”
“Not in the ten years that I worked with him.”
“Well, I guess that just about covers it, unless you want to add something?”
“I’ll tell you this…whatever Stone was going to report, it must have been
“Why do you say that?”
“Because, whenever he didn’t use the teleprompter, it was always a top secret
expose’…know what I mean?”
“I think so,” Brand said and started to leave.
“How would like to spend the night with a horny broad?” she asked with eyes half
“I’ll take a rain check.”
The interview was useless, except for one thing she said, “It must have been dynamite.”
Brand drove down the slickened streets caused by a sudden drizzle. The image of Susan
Stone flashed before his eyes, and the smell of lilac still lingered in the air. He couldn’t
wait until he talked to her…saw her again.
He entered his apartment to a red eye blinking incessantly on his answering
machine. He pressed the message button; it hummed until a recorded voice began
speaking. “This is Kensey. We need to talk. Call me.” The voice sounded urgent. The
next message was from Barton. “Call me if you came up with anything.” The third
message was from an hysterical Susan Stone. “Someone’s broken into the house. Come
as quick as you can,” her voice pleading with fear.
Brand ran from his apartment to his car, and sped the ten minutes to the Stone
estate. His mind reeled with scenarios, all of them foreboding. He skid the car to a stop in
front of the mansion, jumped out and scaled the steps to the entrance. He banged on the
door with the lion’s head knocker, but there was no answer. He then rushed around the
side of the house, stopping at the Alexandrian library glass doors. He smashed his coated
elbow into the glass, reached inside and opened the door. He sprinted into the dimly lit
room, and then through the door that led to the foyer. Spotlights illuminated it, and a
broad curved staircase. He climbed the steps two at a time until reached the second floor
landing. It was dark. “Susan,” he yelled. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the bedroom.”
It was a faint cry off to the right. He headed anxiously toward the direction. At the
end of the landing he found the bedroom, and burst through like a running back toward
the goal line. Something caught his foot in the darkness, and he tumbled head over heels
landing on his back.
“Is that you, Michael?” A whispered voice floated over the room.
“It’s me all right.” Brand said, breathing heavy. “Are you are okay?”
A small bed light lamp snapped on, and a terrified Susan Stone rushed around the
bed and leapt on Brand who was lying flat on his back.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, her face just inches from his, and her body
pressed against him. The smell of lilac enveloped him.
“What happened? Brand asked, and circled an arm around her waist.
“I heard a noise down the hall. It came from Jamieson’s bedroom. I crept over to
his bedroom, and flashed my mag-light. A tall man, dressed totally in black, panicked and
ran right at me, knocking me over with his arm and bolted down the staircase. I didn’t
here a door open, so I thought he might still be somewhere in the house. That’s when I
“Why didn’t you call me when you first heard the noise?”
“I wasn’t sure, I had just gone to bed, and this house has been known to have
some very strange noises. I wanted to be sure.”
“Why didn’t you call 911?”
“The police? I wouldn’t think of it. You’re supposed to be helping me.”
“The police have guns,” Brand said.
“I have a gun, but I couldn’t find it.”
“A pearl handled twenty-two?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“A lucky guess.”
The soft light from the lamp on her face, and the sweet smell of lilac made
Brand’s heart race. He squeezed her waist a little tighter.
“I think I should get up,” she said.
Brand was inches from her lips; he wanted to kiss her. But that was out of the
question. “Certainly,” he said.
She got up, straightened her robe, and extended a helping hand to Brand. He
struggled to his feet feeling a sharp pain in his back.
“I’m sure the intruder is long gone. Can we go somewhere and talk?” Brand
asked, and winced again from the pain.
“Down stairs,” she said, and led him to a large gourmet kitchen with a small
dining table. “Would you like some tea? It’ll only take a minute.”
The butler appeared from a door off the kitchen in a short, dark robe over a pair of
plaid pajamas. “Oh, it’s you, madam,” he said, exhaling a sigh of relief.
“We had an intruder, Jonesy,” Mrs. Stone said as she reached for a box of tea.
“I didn’t hear a thing until just a minute ago,” he said raising his hand to his
mouth in shock. “Are you alright? Was anything taken? Shall I call the police?”
“That won’t be necessary, but I do have a few questions,” Brand said.
“Certainly, sir,” the butler said accommodatingly.
“I had to smash the library door window to get in, it made quite a sound.”
“My bedroom is just off the kitchen, the library’s on the other side of the house;
but if there was an intruder, the security alarm should have gone off.”
“Do you set the alarm?”
“At exactly eight o’clock, each evening.”
“I may be old, sir, but I’m not addled. Tonight was no exception.”
“Assuming, the intruder entered before you set the alarm, and waited, it should
have gone off when he left the house.”
“Maybe, he’s still here,” the Butler said and tightened the robe around him as fear
flashed across his face.
Brand shook his head no. “If the alarm was on, my smashing the window would
have set if off…Would you go and check if the alarm is on or off?”
The butler hesitated. “Me, sir?”
“I assure you it’s safe,” Brand smiled.
The butler left, and Susan set down two cups on the table. Brand asked, “What do
you think he was looking for?”
“I couldn’t imagine,” she said, pouring the tea.
“After our tea, we’ll go up and check.” Then Brand remembered she had said it
was her husband’s bedroom. He decided to wait and ask her about that later.
The butler returned. “It’s most curious. The alarm was off. I’m sure I set it,” he
“If there’s nothing else, Mr. Brand, could Jonesy retire?” Susan asked.
“Just one more thing. Who knew the combination, other than yourself, and of
course, Mr. and Mrs. Stone?”
“Only the two maids that lived here.”
“And where are they now?”
“After Mr. Stone’s…well, they were too afraid to stay and left the next morning.”
“Didn’t you find that peculiar?”
“Two Jamaican’s, sir. They’re very superstitious when it comes to these things
“All right, Jonesy,” Brand said. “And don’t forget to have the window fixed first
thing in the morning.”
“Right you are, sir. Would you be needing anything else?”
“No,” Susan said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Susan sat across from Brand and sipped on her tea. “Chamomile, helps soothe the
nerves,” she said.
“You don’t seem so upset anymore?”
“Why should I? You’re here.”
“And when I’m not here?”
“I’m not one to be afraid of the dark,” but then asked, “If it’s not too much
trouble, I’d appreciate it if you could spend the night? I certainly would feel safer. We
have nine guest bedrooms; you can have your choice.”
Brand thought for a long minute as he sipped on his tea. “Okay, if it’ll make you
“Just for the night, of course.”
“Of course,” Brand said staring at her, almost forgetting where he was; but then
quickly took control of his emotions. “Earlier today, I said that I might be asking you
some personal questions.”
“Why did you and your husband have separate bedrooms?”
“Do want the short version, or the long one?”
“How about something in between.”
“Jamieson and I met twenty years ago, I was twenty-four and he was thirty-
Brand knew that there wasn’t a woman alive that could tell a short story.
“…He was young and ambitious, very educated; an intellectual, you
Brand interrupted, “Maybe, the more condensed version, at least, for tonight.”
Susan frowned. “About ten years ago, his job required to him to be away for
months at a time. I got use to sleeping alone. During the time he was home, he usually
worked mostly throughout the night. It became more convenient for him to have his own
bedroom, you know, like the President and the First Lady.”
“And what about your personal relationship?”
“You mean our intimate relationship? Is that relevant, Mr. Brand?”
“Could be,” he lied. Brand was mostly curious.
“Well, it’s been at least five years.”
Brand then asked as if what he had just heard made no impression, “Did you ever
talk to your husband about the stories he was working on?”
“In the beginning, we talked constantly, he was a very interesting man…”
“What about the last few months or weeks, especially anything about what he was
working on before…”
“As I was about to say, over the last few years we had become distant. His job
was his career, and mine was to be the best hostess in Washington. We hardly saw each
other, except when we hosted parties together. We entertained everyone from Head’s of
State to the last several Presidents. Everyone wanted to be on Jamieson’s good side.”
“I can understand,” Brand said knowing the politics of the town. “I’d like to take
a look at his bedroom now, if you’re ready?”
“But what about you? Are you married? Have children? About your job?”
“We’ll do that interview another time,” Brand said. “Right now, it’s up to the
“Well, I do declare, Mr. Brand,” she said fluttering her eyes.
“You know what I mean. Let’s go.”
Susan snapped on the light as they entered Stone’s bedroom. The desk drawers
were opened, an oak cabinet was ajar, the floor was strewn with file folders; it looked
almost as if it were staged, but Brand factored in that the intruder was trying to be as
quiet as he could which would account for the scene.
“Could you tell if anything were missing?” he asked.
“No, I rarely came into this room, Jamieson usually kept it locked when he was
“See if you can find an address book, or an appointment book. They’re usually the
most telling,” Brand said.
Susan and Brand searched, but found nothing.
“I think the intruder found, at least, some of what he was looking for,” Brand said,
and then asked, “Where would he file his old appointment books?”
“I haven’t the slightest,” she said, “Except for maybe his safe.”
“Is it here in the room? Do you have the combination?” he asked excitedly.
“Yes, it’s behind that painting of Stoney. I’ll get the combination.”
Brand looked at the picture. It was of a German Shepard with his front legs
standing on a small boulder and his ears at perfect attention. An heroic stance if ever he
Susan dashed back into the room, and pulled on one side of painting, opening it
like a door. Her fingers dialed the combination, and the safe sprang open. She stepped
aside, Brand peered in, snatching the contents and laying them on the desk. He shuffled
through an assortment of bearer bonds, the beginning pages of an autobiography, a thick
file of tax returns, a folder of his last will and testament, and ten small books with the
words embossed in gold leaf, Calendar of Appointments. “This is it,” Brand said,
presuming it contained a chronology of people, places and numbers. He sat down behind
the desk, adjusted the goose-necked lamp and flipped opened the first book. The dates on
the books were chronicled by years. He spread the books out over the desk.
“What are you looking for?” Susan asked.
“The last book he wrote in. As you can see,” he said, handing her some pages, “he
was beginning an autobiography, and he was using these books to jog the memory of his
Susan remained silent as Brand rifled through the books, finally finding Stone’s
latest. At first he skimmed the pages, and then slowed down as he read getting closer to
the end. He finished, and the started again from the beginning.
“What are you looking for now?”
“Recurring names, places and numbers.” Brand, this time, was more meticulous,
studying each page for a clue. One entry kept appearing: every other Thursday a name
and time was written in bold red ink: Prof. Zlatamir, 3:30. “Have you ever heard your
husband speak about someone by the name of Zlatamir?”
“Not that I can remember. Is it important?”
“It was someone he was meeting with every other Thursday at three-thirty, I’m
assuming it was p.m… Doesn’t ring a bell, huh?” Brand asked.
“Jamieson was very secretive, especially if he was working on a story.”
“This was no story. These meetings have been going on,” he flipped through the
pages of the year before, “for at least two, maybe three years. In front of the name is
written Prof., I assume that to mean Professor.”
“My husband was involved with many professors, I told you he was an
“That may be true, but not in this case. The amount of times he met with this
Zlatamir he could have achieved a Ph.D.”
“What do you think it means?”
“It means he met a lot with this Zlatamir.” Brand looked at his watch, it was
nearly midnight. “I think we could use some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
Susan led him to a guest room that was situated at the furthest part of the landing
from her bedroom. “I want you close, but not too close. I’m sure you’ll find everything
you need. Every guest room is completely equipped. I’ll see you in the morning, “ she
said, and walked over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thanks for staying.” She
smiled and left, leaving a lingering smell of lilac in the room.
Brand looked around the guest room; it was bright and cheery with green leaves
printed on white wallpaper, and a matching comforter on a four-poster bed. The
bathroom was spacious with a double sink, a Jacuzzi bathtub, and a shower that could fit
five people. He opened the mirrored closet and found an assortment of clothes hanging
neatly. Something for everyone, he mused.
He tried to sleep, but his mind raced with a series of incongruities. What was the
intruder looking for, if in fact there actually had been one? Why hadn’t Susan called the
police? Why was the alarm off? Was her asking him to spend the night just a pretense?
Did she sense that he was attracted to her, and was manipulating him to assume certain
things? To her credit, she had immediately disclosed where the safe was and opened it,
but that too could have been a set up. However, he had found a clue: Prof. Zlatamir,
three-thirty every other Thursday. Did she want him to find it, or was she as innocent as
she appeared? He decided that his Latin blood had gotten the best of him, but no more.
He would rein in his emotions, and find out the truth. The soft humming of the central
heating system finally sent him off into a conflicted sleep.
A bright sunlight shot through the slats of the blinds, and forced him awake. It
took him a minute to orient himself, and then languished under the comforter trying to
decide how to handle the mysterious Mrs. Stone. From now on she was just a client, and
he would treat her accordingly. His watch read six-thirty. He decided not to take a
shower, put on his clothes from the night before, and go to work. Even though he wasn’t
being paid he felt an obligation -- a promise made is a debt unpaid, especially one he
made to himself.
He dressed and scurried down the steps to the front door and to his car. He was
glad that Mrs. Stone was nowhere in sight. He arrived at his apartment and took a long
shower. After, he squeezed an orange into a glass, and popped a couple pieces of bread
into the toaster.
Brand then headed to Barton’s office believing that something was very wrong.
Truth can be very illusive, and when it is, it is very dangerous. The humidity was starting
to build at an early hour as he entered the 3rd precinct, and raced down the corridor to
Barton’s office. Barton, as usual, was on the phone.
“This is not only procedural, but the victim’s wife has insisted. Do you want a
written statement for your records?…Fine, I’ll get it. Anything else?…Okay.” Barton
slammed the phone down. “I hope you’ve got something?” he snapped at Brand, not in
the best of moods.
“Mrs. Stone’s house was burglarized last night. She accosted the intruder, but was
thrown aside, and the intruder escaped. She called me, and I went over the crime scene.”
“Why didn’t she call the police?” Barton asked.
“She said she didn’t want the police involved, and that I was hired to help her. I
tried to get her to call the police, but she refused, so I did the best I could. I went through
Stone’s safe, which the intruder hadn’t discovered, and I found, at least, one interesting
“What was that?” Barton asked, resting his chin on both hands.
“Have you ever heard of a Prof. Zlatamir?”
“I found the last ten years of Stone’s calendar and appointment books in his safe.
The current year was missing; I presume the intruder took it. I found the beginning pages
of an autobiography, and he was using his calendar of appointments to reconstruct his
“Why do you presume that?” Barton asked
“Are you awake, or should I come back later?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve got a head the size of a watermelon. Go on,” Barton insisted.
“What was the clue you uncovered?”
“The last two years of his appointments indicated that he was seeing or meeting
with a Prof. Zlatamir at three-thirty ever other Thursday afternoon.”
“So, the intruder took Stone’s current appointment book.”
“That’s the clue?”
“You know, I might just as well be talking to the wall,” Brand said frustrated.
“I apologize, my wife had an ulcer attack -- I was up all night. Maybe, I had two
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you want me to come back later?”
“No, please continue,” Barton said, sounding pathetic.
Brand forced himself to continue. “The last two years indicate that this Zlatamir
was an important part of Stone’s life.”
“What do you think it means?” Barton asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know, except that all of the entries were written in red ink, and
nothing else in any of the appointment books were written in red.”
“How can I help?” Barton asked through half-closed eyes.
“I need unfettered access to your computers.”
“Not a problem. I’ll tell Thomas to take an extended break.”
Brand was as comfortable around computers as he was around the WNN
director’s console. He logged onto the internet and searched for the name Zlatamir. The
computer posted five names. Only one read Professor Ivan Zlatamir. Brand focused the
mouse on it, and clicked. In seconds, the computer gave a brief history: author of five
books, three on physics, and two on psychiatry. Received his Doctorate in physics in
Moscow, and his Doctorate in psychiatry in Vienna. It also listed some other biographical
information that Brand, at least for now, considered unimportant. He quickly did a name
and address search. The computer whizzed up an address in Virginia. He scribbled it on a
piece of paper, stuffed into his pocket and started to leave, but then hesitated, and took
the address out and read it closer – not far from Langley, he mused.
Brand popped his head into Barton’s office, “Gotta go, I’ll talk to you later.”
Barton just stared at him through blank eyes.
Dark gray clouds covered the city like an impenetrable dome. Brand swerved in and out
of traffic to an unscheduled visit with the mysterious Professor Zlatamir. On the way, he
decided to stop at one of those upscale bookstores that contained everything, including
juices and café latte. With the inept help from one of the clerks, he finally found and paid
for two books written by the Professor: one on physics, the other on psychiatry. He
glanced over the table of contents of both books. Only two things potentially stood out.
The one on physics, “Nuclear Power, The Salvation For The Ages; the other on
psychiatry, “Cures For Anxiety and Depression.” Maybe something. Probably nothing.
The chapter headings were run of the mill for a thousand other books on the same
Brand found Zlatamir’s address. It was located in a posh professional building for
the successful, and wealthy. He parked his BMW in the underground garage, checked the
listings for a Zlatamir, and rode the elevator up to the fifth floor. He walked down the
broad, rose-colored hallway until he came to a mahogany door with a small brass plate
that read, “Professor Zlatamir.” He entered into a sedate, but plush outer office with a
hatchet faced receptionist sitting behind a lap top computer. Her black hair was pulled
back so tightly into a bun that Brand considered that it might be an alternative to a face-
lift. Even if it was, it didn’t help.
“May I help you,” she asked sternly, but politely over a set of half-glasses set low
on her over-sized nose.
“Professor Zlatamir, please,” Brand reciprocated in his own stern voice.
“I’m sorry, the Professor’s not accepting new clients.”
“Tell him, I’m here on behalf of Mrs. Stone.”
Her eyes widened slightly. “Who did you say you were?”
“I didn’t. Tell the professor that Mr. Brand is here to see him. It’s urgent that I
speak with him.”
The receptionist pushed a button and spoke into the phone, “A Mr. Brand is here
to see you on behalf of Mrs. Stone…Fine, sir,” she said. “Professor Zlatamir will be with
you in a minute,” she said stoically to Brand. “Please have a seat.”
But before Brand could sit, the door opened and a lean man with a salt and
peppered goatee that framed a set of thin lips appeared. “I haven’t had the pleasure,” he
said with a heavy European accent.”
“Neither, have I professor, but I’m sure we’ll change that,” Brand quipped.
“You say you’re working for Mrs. Stone?”
Zlatamir studied the brash man. “Please, come in. But, I warn you I only have a
Brand stepped into the inner sanctum of the professor’s domain. It resembled the
Stone library, except on a much smaller scale.
The Professor sat down behind his too large dark mahogany desk. “I’ve never met
Mrs. Stone. But, please give her my utmost condolences on her tragic loss. So…what can
I do for you, Mr. Brand… is it?
Brand sat down in front of the desk without being invited to do so.