Private investigator Robert Brixton has always hated Washington. Against his better judgment, he decides to stick around and take a job as an agent in a new State Department security agency headed by his former boss at the Washington P.D. After work one day he meets his youngest daughter, Janet, for a drink at an outdoor cafe. Shockingly, a young Arabic woman blows herself up, killing Janet and a dozen others. Seeking revenge for his daughter, Brixton follows the tracks of the bomber to a powerful senator's son.
Brixton finds himself digging deep into what turns out to be a small but powerful cabal whose goal is to kill embassy workers from nations involved in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Donald Bain thrills again with Margaret Truman's Undiplomatic Murder, the riveting next installment in the Margaret Truman's beloved Capital Crimes series.
About the Author
MARGARET TRUMAN won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let readers into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation's capital.
DONALD BAIN, the author of 115 books, including forty of the bestselling Murder, She Wrote novels, was a longtime friend of Margaret Truman. He worked closely with her on her novels, and more than anyone understood the spirit and substance of her books.
Read an Excerpt
She was late, no surprise. Brixton’s younger daughter, Janet, was habitually late, pathologically late. Brixton, on the other hand, was a stickler for being on time, which only exacerbated his annoyance.
He and Janet had been at odds for much of her teen and adult years about a variety of things, which Brixton sometimes found to be interesting in retrospect. Janet’s sister, Jill, and she were polar opposites in personality and perception of life, which was usually the case with siblings. Jill had been the proverbial straight arrow for most of her life, her teenage years uneventful, and she’d breezed through college and emerged with a degree in accounting. Her ease with numbers amazed her father. Balancing a checkbook for him was akin to dental visits and watching TV reality shows. She had married a solid sort of guy—at least that’s how Brixton perceived him; he shaved every day, enjoyed fruity alcoholic drinks with little umbrellas in them, and watched the History Channel—and they produced Brixton’s first and only grandchild, at least for the moment, an adorable little baby boy whose smile melted Brixton the few times he’d been charmed by him in person.
Janet, on the other hand, defined for her father the term “flaky.” She’d used drugs during her teen years, run with a controversial crowd, dropped out of college after one semester, and decorated herself with a pair of garish tattoos. She not only had pierced her ears, she wore a tiny gold nugget in her upper lip. Brixton couldn’t even look at the lip when they were together, which hadn’t been often of late. He hated the tattoos and the pierced lip. They detracted from her natural beauty, and the thought of having someone stick a needle through her lip caused him to cringe.
He wasn’t sure how his daughter made a living; he just knew that whatever it was didn’t always provide enough for her to pay her bills. He did know that she was involved in the city’s club and music scene in some capacity, managing some rock-and-roll musicians, promoting concerts, working in recording studios—never anything steady. Her calls to him usually involved a need for money to repair her car or to keep the lights on and the telephone in operation, calls that he sometimes responded to despite resenting it. “Grow up,” he told her on more than one occasion. “Get a real job and take the responsibility of supporting yourself.” She always agreed with him, a smart technique when dealing with an irate father, but never resulting in a change in lifestyle. Meeting today in the outdoor café a few blocks from the State Department in Foggy Bottom resulted from one of those telephone conversations.
* * *
“Hi, Daddy. It’s Janet.”
“Hey, sweetheart. How are you?”
He smiled at her happy tone. At the same time her calling him “Daddy” set up his defenses. She seldom referred to him that way unless she needed something.
“I’ve been going with this dynamite musician, Daddy, soooo talented, a real musical genius.”
“Yeah? What’s he play?”
Brixton pictured this “genius” stalking the stage, leaping up and down, hair flying, amplifiers blaring, the air filled with colored lights and marijuana smoke. As far as Brixton was concerned, rock music shouldn’t be called music. An inveterate jazz lover, he remembered what the great saxophonist James Moody had once said to an interviewer when asked what he thought of rock and roll: “You really can’t play an instrument when you’re jumping up and down,” the gentle jazz giant responded. That summed it up for Brixton.
“Well, that’s great, Janet,” he said. What else was there to say?
“Daddy, Richard—that’s his name—Richard has come up with an idea for a music app that will make him millions, and he wants me, me, to work on it with him—but he needs start-up money and asked me to help raise some and…” She paused for breath. “And so I thought that maybe you would want to get in on the ground floor and…”
“Whoa,” Brixton said. “Slow down. You’re talking to the wrong guy, sweetheart. I don’t have money to invest in anything. I’m a working stiff. Remember?”
Her bubbly presentation instantly turned downbeat, as he’d expected it would.
“Won’t you even hear me out?”
“No, I mean really listen to me. I can’t do it justice over the phone. It’s too—well, it’s too complicated, and I have some stuff that he’s come up with, a business plan and things like that. Can’t we get together so I can show you everything and—?”
“Sure,” he said. “When?”
“Okay. I have a meeting at State; should be free by five thirty. There’s a bar and restaurant with an outdoor café a block from State, on Twenty-third. Buy you a drink, an early dinner?”
“That’d be great. I know the place. See you there.”
* * *
What struck Brixton as ironic about their strained relationship was that in many ways she more closely mirrored him than did his more conventional daughter. Despite his dedication to order and routine in his life, he could be as impetuous as she was. His suspicion of authority butted heads with his having been a cop, first in Washington, D.C., and later with the Savannah Police Department in Georgia, where he rose to the rank of detective before taking a bullet in the knee and holding down a desk job for the months leading up to retirement. Like him, she marched to her own drummer and always had.
But what most closely linked them was their unwillingness to walk the straight and narrow and choose the safe route through life. Both their lives flirted with danger, his because of what he did for a living, hers because of a need to chase dreams and to spend her days with others for whom life was but a dream, chemically induced or not.
He finished off his mug of Prohibition Porter, a locally produced Belgian-style dark ale, checked his watch, grunted, and considered ordering a martini. He’d opted for beer rather than his usual drink to ensure that he had all his senses while conversing about Janet’s “business proposition.” He didn’t feel deprived, because he’d had martinis at this place and rated them second-class.
Her arrival distracted him from having to decide. She looked terrific as she approached the café, tight jeans on her long legs, a snug, bright orange T-shirt that showed off her firm, ample bosom, and orange sneakers that matched the shirt. Her dirty blond hair was worn loose and caught the sun. She spotted him at a table next to the door leading inside the restaurant, smiled broadly, slipped past other tables, leaned over, and kissed his forehead before taking her seat.
“You look great,” he said.
“So do you.”
“For an old guy?”
“Oh, you’re not old. How old are you?”
“See? That’s young.”
Because of its close proximity to the State Department, the café was a favorite hangout for diplomatic personnel, at least lower-level employees. With the weather clear and balmy, it had filled up since Brixton had arrived and commandeered the table.
“Nice spot,” Janet commented as a waiter took her order for a cosmopolitan and a second beer for Brixton.
“You don’t drink martinis anymore?” she asked.
“Yeah, sure I do. A beer appealed. Nice day for a beer. Besides, places with outdoor cafés usually make lousy martinis.”
She laughed. “How can that be?” she asked. “Why would an outdoor café serve martinis that aren’t as good as inside places?”
“Because martinis taste better indoors. I remember when I was in Paris. I really liked sitting in cafés and watching the parade go by, but they made lousy martinis.”
“That’s because they’re French, not because you were outdoors. You should have had wine.”
“I’ve had martinis in this place, too,” he said. “They’re not very good. Want another sage piece of advice? Never have a mixed drink in a Chinese restaurant. They haven’t a clue how to make a decent one.”
“If you say so.”
Anxious to change the subject, Brixton quickly surveyed the menu and suggested calamari and an order of boneless ribs to go with their drinks.
They fell into an easy conversation about anything other than the reason she’d wanted to see him.
“A fat day,” he commented, referring to the sunny, brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds to break the monotony, and a cooling breeze that caused their green market umbrella to flap.
“Did you go to Paris with that woman from Savannah that you were seeing?” she asked.
“Flo? Yeah. I met her in Savannah, but she was from New York.”
“You still see her?”
“No. We split up.”
“Did it make you sad?”
“Actually, I was kind of relieved.”
Which was true immediately following the breakup. But he’d begun to miss her within a week and still did. Discussing his love life with his younger daughter made him uncomfortable, and he changed the players but not the subject.
“How’s your mother?”
“She happy with her new husband?”
“I guess so.”
“You like him?”
Brixton didn’t like the guy who’d married his ex-wife, an attorney who looked like he spent all his time in a tanning salon and probably had a dental hygienist on a retainer to keep his teeth white.
“So, tell me about your business proposition,” he said.
Brixton half listened as Janet explained what the music app was all about. It sounded silly to him, although he didn’t do anything to transmit that reaction to her. She talked fast, her conversation filled with “like” and “you know” and “right?” He couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm, her conviction that what she was excited about would change the world and everyone in it. Her eyes opened wide, then narrowed, speaking a language of their own. She paused occasionally in her soliloquy to see whether he’d understood, and took his nod to indicate that he had.
His attention drifted away from her words, captured by a couple who’d passed the café a few times. The woman appeared to be of Arabic origins. She wore a long, loose black dress and a scarf that covered her hair and neck. She looked young, a teenager, Brixton judged. Her companion wasn’t of Middle Eastern origins. He was dressed casually—jeans, a blue-and-white-checked shirt, and a New York Yankee’s baseball cap with longish blond curls sticking out beneath it. What attracted Brixton’s attention were the furtive glances they cast on the crowd in the café, and he wondered why they hesitated coming in. There were a few empty tables, one directly across the doorway leading inside the restaurant from where Brixton and his daughter sat. It was on their third pass that they stopped and made their way to that table. A waiter asked for their order; the young man said, “Lemonade.”
“Two?” the waiter asked.
“One,” the young man said. “Just one.”
Brixton tried to eavesdrop but wasn’t able to hear because of the buzz of voices around him. He continued to glance at them. At one point the young man leaned across the table and spoke in low tones, his mouth almost touching the cloth that covered his friend’s ear. She said nothing in return. She turned once in Brixton’s direction, and he clearly saw her face—what he read on its unblemished youth was fear. Her companion also glanced at Brixton, who noticed the seawater green color of his eyes—eyes with no expression.
The waiter returned with the lemonade and placed it on the table. The young man pulled coins from his pants pocket, deposited them on the table, picked up the glass, and downed half of its contents. Then, after uttering something else to the girl, he stood and walked from the café, leaving her alone with the partially consumed drink.
“I’m sorry,” Janet said. “I’ve been yakking away and the food is getting cold.” She dipped a piece of calamari in the red sauce. “This is good,” she said. “Yummy. Aren’t you going to have some?”
Brixton took a piece.
“So, where was I? Oh, right. Richard’s idea is sooo smart, Daddy. It’s, like, it’s right on with the music scene that’s going on today, so with it. It’s like, you know, like when Steve Jobs invented the Apple and—”
“Whoa,” Brixton. “You’re comparing this fellow Richard to Steve Jobs?”
“Well, maybe not like him exactly, but apps are big these days and…” She noticed that Brixton wasn’t listening as closely as he had been. “Did you hear what I said?” she asked.
She laughed. “What world are you in?” she asked.
“Let’s get out of here” was his reply.
He slapped cash on the table and stood.
“Daddy! I haven’t finished.” She pulled sheets of paper that she’d wedged into the top of her jeans and placed them on the table. “Richard has it all figured out. See? Here are the numbers and—”
He grabbed her arm and tried to pull her to her feet. “Come on,” he said.
She looked up at him questioningly. “Is something wrong?”
“We’re leaving,” he said. “Come on, we’ll go somewhere else.”
She stood. Assuming that she was following, Brixton moved to the sidewalk. He looked back for Janet, who stood tasting another curl of calamari.
“Hey, come on,” he called.
As he again turned in the direction of the sidewalk, the young woman wearing the hijab suddenly stood and began screeching a chant in Arabic. Brixton spun around. Janet was looking at the woman as though she were a street performer entertaining passersby.
“Janet!” he barked, and started back into the café, his hands outstretched toward her. He’d gotten only a few feet when the explosion occurred, an ear-splitting blast whose force hit him in the chest, sending him sprawling on his back on the sidewalk, his head making sharp contact with the concrete. Parts of a splintered table came flying in his direction, and he threw his arms over his face to shield it from the wooden shards and other debris that rained down—plates, glasses, skin, limbs, eyeglasses, knives and forks, carafes of wine and mugs of beer, clothing, pieces of chairs, calamari, boneless ribs, pizza slices, and a toy gorilla that had been held by a child at a table two removed from where they had sat.
The lingering reverberation from the blast mingled with screams, final sounds from the maimed, expressions of horror from witnesses to the carnage. Brixton’s ears rang. He frantically discarded what had landed on him, twisted his torso, and used his hands to push himself up to a sitting position. He sat on the rubble-strewn sidewalk, blood dripping from the side of his face and back of his neck. He shook his head violently to try to clear the grayness from his mind, to make the incessant ringing stop, to make sense of what had just happened, of the legs and shoes of people rushing to the scene, of painful moans and wails of disbelief.
Brixton stumbled to his feet to see what moments earlier had been a bustling café filled with happy people. That a slaughter had taken place was vibrantly and visually displayed. Bodies were everywhere, some piled on top of others, blood covering everything and everyone.
He touched the side of his face and pulled bloody fingers away from the wound. He looked back into the café in search of his daughter but saw only a tangle of limbs and clothing where they had been sitting. “Oh, my God,” he whispered, then yelled, “Janet!” As he took a step in that direction, a second blast occurred, sending a ball of flame from somewhere inside the restaurant through the entrance to the outdoor area, its heat searing his face and eyelashes and causing him to stagger.
Twenty-third Street had been busy with pedestrians at the time of the blast, and they were joined by people pouring out of office buildings and other restaurants. Despite attempts to get closer to the ruins, Brixton was caught up by the throng as they fled in panic. “My daughter! My daughter!” he kept crying out as the wave of people pushed him farther away.
He turned from the carnage and looked across the street to the crowd that had gathered there. He shook his head again and blinked rapidly to bring things into better focus. The ringing in his ears grew louder, and he cupped his hands over them in an attempt to silence it. He thought for a moment that he might pass out. But something caught his attention, and he focused on it. At first he didn’t believe what he saw. Watching the chaos was the young man wearing the Yankees cap, who’d been with the woman who’d just blown herself up and slaughtered God knows how many people. Did he have a smirk on his face? Brixton thought that he did, and an anguished cry came from him.
A wave of nausea rose and he forced it back. That was the son—of—a bitch responsible for Janet’s death. Cold now but focused, Brixton skirted the crowd, ignoring the uniformed policemen who’d arrived on foot, and the sirens of the squads of blue-and-white-marked patrol cars converging on the scene. He chose not to cross the street and confront the bomber’s friend. Instead, he used the crowd to shield him from the young man’s view. When he was certain that he wouldn’t be noticed, he made his way across the street, bringing him to within fifty feet of the side of his target. Brixton moved behind the crowd until he was behind the young man. He had a decision to make—try to subdue him or look for a cop and point him out? A quick glance around made the decision for him. All the police were on the other side of the street trying to help the survivors.
Brixton squirmed past people until he was within striking distance. A few people saw the bleeding wound on his face, grimaced, and moved away. He poised to wrap his arm around the young conspirator’s neck, but the man turned and a flash of recognition crossed his face. Brixton acted instinctively. His right fist landed squarely on the man’s nose, flattening it and sending him crashing into others.
“Grab him!” Brixton hollered.
No one did.
The young man righted himself, turned, and pushed through the crowd, sending a woman holding a baby to the ground. Brixton stepped around them and took off after him. Someone yelled, “Stop that man!” and Brixton assumed that he was referring to the young man. Brixton’s arm was grabbed. He shook it off and continued running.
The conspirator broke clear of the crowd and raced into an alley separating two office buildings. Brixton followed him and paused. His lungs ached, his right knee throbbed, and back spasms caused him to double over. Breathing came hard. He peered into the narrow passageway and saw the man scramble behind a large Dumpster. Brixton drew a deep breath, pulled his Swiss-made SIG SAUER P226 pistol from its holster nestled in his armpit, and slowly approached.
“Hey,” he yelled, “I know where you are. Don’t be stupid. You screw with me and you’re dead.”
The screeching, chaotic sounds from the restaurant where the bomb had gone off, and the incessant wail of sirens, pulsated down the alley like a computer-generated sound track run amok. The acrid smell of the bomb’s explosive elements had by now wafted over the area and stung Brixton’s eyes as he neared the Dumpster, his weapon held in both hands and aimed directly at it. “Come on, come on,” he said, closing the gap. “Don’t mess with me. I’m armed.”
Brixton moved within a few feet of the Dumpster. He heard sounds from behind it, scraping sounds, something metal being turned over. Was the guy armed? Brixton had to assume that he was. Dizziness came and went as the pain on the side of his face intensified. He leaned against the wall of the building and twisted his neck against stiffness. “Come on, damn it, come out of there.”
The bomber’s accomplice emerged from behind the Dumpster. Blood was smeared on his mouth and chin from where Brixton had broken his nose. Brixton trained his weapon and ordered, “Get your hands up!”
His quarry appeared ready to do as he was told. But as he brought up his right hand, light glinted off something metal that seemed pointed at Brixton. Brixton didn’t hesitate. He squeezed off one shot that found its mark in the man’s forehead, sending him tumbling back against the Dumpster. Simultaneously, Brixton heard multiple hard footsteps behind him. He looked back. Four uniformed policemen ran into the alley, guns drawn and shouting orders. Brixton turned to face them. As he did, he realized that the weapon he held would be viewed as a threat and probably get him killed. He lowered the SIG to his side and raised his other arm.
“Drop the gun,” one of the officers said.
“It’s okay,” Brixton said. “I’m a U.S. agent.” He went to return his weapon to its holster, but a burly cop attacked, twisting his arm and causing the SIG to fall to the cement. A second cop pushed him against the wall and held him there, his gun inches from Brixton’s temple.
“Take it easy,” Brixton said. “You’ve got the wrong guy. Look across the alley.”
The cops wrestled Brixton to the ground; one sat on him and pressed the heel of his hand against his head. People who’d seen the police run into the alley followed, pressing into the narrow passageway.
Brixton was allowed to sit up. The police attack on him, coupled with the earlier impact of the explosion caused every inch to ache. He was pulled up to his feet and slammed against the wall.
“There, damn it!” he managed, using his thumb to point at the body.
“What?” a cop said.
“There,” Brixton said, this time using his whole arm to point. “The guy on the ground was with the suicide bomber.”
Two officers went to where the lifeless body of the young man was sprawled, his Yankees hat cockeyed on his head. One of them placed a call on his radio.
“Hey, look,” Brixton said, “I don’t feel good. I need to sit down.” He’d no sooner said it when a wave of light-headedness swamped him and he keeled over into the arms of one of the officers, who let him drop to the ground.
“Name?” the officer said, kneeling next to him.
“Brixton,” he managed. “Robert Brixton. State Department.” He tried to reach back to retrieve his ID from his pants pocket, but it was too painful. “My wallet,” he said. “My ID’s in it.”
The cop pushed him on his side, pulled out the wallet, flipped it open, and read the card indicating that Brixton was an agent for SITQUAL, an outsourced division of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) apparatus. He waved over the officer in charge and showed him the card. The officer nodded. “Give it back to him,” he said. The cop shoved the wallet into a side pocket of Brixton’s suit jacket.
A siren separated itself from the general cacophony as an ambulance entered the mouth of the alley. It arrived almost simultaneously with a second vehicle that carried members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s crime-scene investigation unit. By now the authorities had pushed many of the bystanders back into the street, but their numbers were replaced by officials examining the scene.
Brixton’s eyes fluttered open and he tried to get up on one elbow.
Two emergency technicians stood over him.
“I was there,” Brixton said, his voice raspy.
“What are you doing in this alley?”
“Him.” He pointed to the young man’s body that was now surrounded by officers.
Two ambulances inched forward, their progress hindered by the crush of people clogging the alley. Sharp orders to disperse were issued as the EMTs helped Brixton onto the gurney despite his protests that he was all right and didn’t want to go to a hospital.
“The Dumpster,” he said to no one in particular.
“What about it?” the EMT asked.
“The kid, the young punk who was sitting with the gal who blew herself up. Look. He’s there. I shot him.”
“I shot him. He pulled a gun on me and…”
His voice trailed off as he was deposited in the back of the ambulance. The police officers decided that one of them should accompany him on the short ride to George Washington University Hospital on Twenty-third Street. His final thought before he passed out was of his, young, sweet, enthusiastic daughter who’d died at the hands of another young woman whose aspirations were decidedly and tragically different.
Copyright © 2014 by Estate of Margaret Truman
Table of Contents
Before the Bombing,
After the Bombing,
By Margaret Truman,
About the Author,