The brutal murder of a friend drags Mac Smith and Annabel Reed from their newlywed bliss into an unholy web of intrigue and danger. When a second murder is commited in England, which the honeymooners had just visited, the Smiths go back across the seas, and straight into the center of an ungodly plot of secret agents, a playboy priest, a frustrated lover, a choleric cleric...and a murder so perfect it's a sin.
About the Author
Margaret Truman won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let us into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation’s capital. She was the author of many nonfiction books, including The President’s House, in which she shares some of the secrets and history of the White House where she once resided. Truman lived in Manhattan and passed away in 2008.
Read an Excerpt
The National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.—A Very Hot Morning in August
“Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and woman in Holy Matrimony.”
Mackensie Smith, contented professor of law at George Washington University, formerly discontented but preeminent Washington, D.C., criminal lawyer, told himself to focus on what was about to happen. He’d been thinking moments before about what an ambivalent structure a cathedral was, even this relatively new addition to the world’s cathedral population. So much majesty and awe—so much stone—so much bloodshed in the older ones over centuries. How inspiring these Gothic monuments to the simple act of believing in something greater and good, and how dangerous, as with all religion, when in the hands of creatures who get carried away and misuse the potent metaphor of faith.
Those thoughts banished, Smith glanced to his left. The stunning, mature woman who would become his wife in a matter of minutes turned to him and smiled. Annabel Reed had reason to assume that his thoughts at that tender moment were only of his adoration and love for her. She was largely correct, although her husband-to-be had room in his capacious mind for less romantic contemplations. He was also wishing that the priest conducting this ceremony in the Bethlehem Chapel of the National Cathedral weren’t compelled to be quite so formal. Smith understood, of course, that there was a certain amount of religious boilerplate that had to be indulged. Still, he would have preferred something a little less stiff, perhaps something between an elaborate high mass in the cathedral’s nave, and a last-minute midnight, minimal, bread-and-butter ceremony in an Elkton, Maryland, justice of the peace’s home.
The priest, Paul Singletary, paused after intoning the tender words from the Book of Common Prayer, and smiled at Smith and Reed. The couple had known him for a time; Smith went back six years with him. Mac Smith was a close friend of the cathedral’s bishop. George St. James was out of town that week, which was not the reason Smith hadn’t asked him to officiate. It had more to do with what Smith termed “a reasonable level of modesty.” Asking the bishop to marry them would have smacked of a certain overkill. Just a priest would do fine, thank you, especially one known to them.
Smith again looked at his bride. A tiny drop of perspiration was proceeding on a slow but steady descent down the right side of her lovely aquiline nose. Should he reach over and remove it? An affectionate gesture certainly, but probably not good form, so he didn’t. Outside, the final days of August in the nation’s capital had turned, characteristically, viciously hot and humid. It was cooler here in the chapel below ground-level, but even God’s natural stone air-conditioning was wilting under the meltdown that Washington called summer. Carved figures of King David with his harp and Ruth with a sheaf of wheat looked down from their niches on the south wall as though they, too, might begin perspiring at any moment. The Bethlehem Chapel, one of four in the cathedral’s substructure, was the first to be completed. Since 1912 it had been the site of many services, and was the church home over the years for the services of various denominations—Polish Catholic, Jewish, Russo-Carpathian, Serbian, Greek Orthodox. A national cathedral.
Reverend Singletary looked once again at the Book of Common Prayer. Smith looked into the priest’s eyes. Was he amused at something? He seemed to be, Smith decided. Marriages made later in life always had a different aura from that accompanying the ritual of officially coupling the young for the first time.
Smith was widowed; his wife and only child, a son, had been slaughtered on the Beltway by a drunk driver. Annabel Reed had never married, although, God knows, more than a few attractive and successful men had energetically pursued the idea. That she had decided upon Mac Smith was flattering to him. But not humbling. No false modesty here. Smith was a handsome man by any standard, slightly taller than medium, stocky and strong, hair receding slowly and within acceptable limits, face without undue deficits.
Annabel’s beauty was even less debatable. Playing the whom-do-you-look-like game, which Smith detested (his least-favorite version of it being “Which of us do you think the baby looks like?”), it was inevitable that Rita Hayworth was mentioned. Yet Annabel was more beautiful than any actress, at least in Smith’s eyes. She was, to put it simply, the most beautiful female creature he’d ever seen, not much at acting, for she never put up a false front, and rather nice to boot. By virtue of the ritual being performed here today—all day?—she would be his wife. Let’s get on with it, he thought. Enough.
Though any clergyman could make a determination as to whether the lawfulness of a proposed marriage was in question, Smith was surprised when Singletary chose to invoke that medieval section of the marriage ceremony. “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now or else …” he said, allowing scant time for the clearing of a questioner’s throat, much less speech, “forever hold your peace.”
There was a silence that Smith hoped was not pregnant. The Bethlehem Chapel seated 192 people; thirty of their close friends, including a few former members of Smith’s law firm who had forgiven him for closing it down following the deaths of his wife and son, were clustered up front.
Mac’s thoughts were on only one person, however—Tony Buffolino, a disgraced and dismissed former Washington MPD vice-squad cop whom Mac had once defended, and who’d become an unlikely friend in the best odd-couple tradition. If anyone pretended to raise an objection to the marriage just for kicks, it would be a character like Buffolino. Mac turned his head slightly, saw Tony, who winked at Mac, started to raise his hand, brought it down, and lowered his head.
Paul Singletary smiled at her as he said, “Annabel, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?”
“Oh yes, I will,” she said with unmistakable cheer in her voice.
Singletary repeated the vow to Smith, who replied, “I will,” in a surprisingly gruff, emotional voice.
Smith looked to the choir loft, where four members of the cathedral’s boys’ choir—the few who preferred music to baseball in August—had gathered to sing. Later in the service they would perform Annabel’s favorite hymn, “Wilderness,” the choice of which had pleased Father Singletary because of its humanistic, contemporary theme.
Singletary read the verse beginning “Love is patient; love is kind” from I Corinthians, and the four boys got through “Wilderness” rather quickly; the usual tempo seemed to have been accelerated by a third. Mac Smith approved. He was also impressed, as was everyone else in the chapel, with the strong, bell-like voice of one of the boy sopranos, whose tones rang out above the others.
Soon, it was time to exchange rings. Annabel had virtually no family. She had friends, of course, but her hectic schedule as an attorney-turned-art-gallery-owner and almost constant companion to Mac Smith had severely limited time to cultivate and nurture friendships. She was being given “away” as a wife by his mother, Josephine Smith, as spry and sparkling as a split of champagne, a tiny woman who lived in the Sevier Home for the Aged in Georgetown, a facility operated by the Episcopal church, and who often said that she considered Annabel as much a daughter as she did Mac a son, and sometimes more. Smith’s best man was the new dean of GW’s law school, Daniel Jaffe. Josephine Smith and Jaffe handed the rings to their respective charges.
Mac and Annabel Smith slipped the gold bands on their ring fingers, and Singletary blessed them, concluding with the familiar “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”
“Amen,” said their friends.
As Mac and Annabel knelt (It’s always the knees that go first, Smith thought), Singletary intoned the final blessing of their union. They stood. They kissed. Eyes met eyes.
“The peace of the Lord be always with you,” said the priest.
“And also with you,” came the reply.
After the ceremony everyone went outside, where friends took quick point-and-shoot photographs, delivered quick point-and-kiss greetings to Annabel, and grasped the groom’s hand, with an occasional teary kiss for him, too. Properly, they congratulated Mac, who said in mock modesty, “It was nothing,” and added, “just a four-year chase.”
“Going on a honeymoon?” one of Smith’s colleagues at the university asked him.
“London, but not right away. Somehow it seems you don’t take an instant honeymoon at this stage in your life.”
Another professor laughed. “You two have been on a honeymoon for years.”
“I suppose we have,” Smith said, not precisely caring for the innuendo in the comment.”