When the corpse of a young woman is found floating down Washington’s C&O Canal, everyone is shocked to learn the victim is none other than Valerie Frolich—a senator’s daughter, Georgetown graduate, and a rising star in the cutthroat world of investigative journalism.
Washington Post reporter Joe Potamos is good at unearthing the skeletons in the nation’s capital, so when he’s assigned the Frolich story, he immediately senses this case is rife with secrets. As he digs further to uncover the truth about Valerie’s death, it soon becomes apparent someone wanted the young, beautiful reporter dead.
And when Joe’s search reveals an evil labyrinth of intrigue involving murder, bribery, kidnapping, and even international espionage, he’ll have to race to find Valerie’s killer—before his own life is snuffed out.
“Truman[’s] . . . murder mysteries . . . evoke brilliantly the Washington she knows so well.” —The Houston Post
“Truman does it again!” —United Press International
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The broad barge creaked in the still May night as a team of mules on the towpath strained against their ropes to free it from its mooring. Six musicians in straw hats and red vests launched into a brassy version of "Rampart Street Parade." The mules' efforts finally overcame inertia, and the barge — and the music — slowly moved up the C & O Canal.
"Delicious idea for a party," the stout wife of Georgetown's leading banker shouted. She wore a gray robe over a crimson jupe in the style of seventeenth-century France. An elaborate lace collar defined the broad dimensions of her bosom.
"Who was Henry Fleet?" her friend — who wore a gown more appropriate to eighteenth-century Germany — shouted back.
"He was ..." She laughed. "He was the Rosendorf Evans of his day." Her mention of Washington's leading furrier caused both women to shake with laughter.
The party had been conceived to honor the 1632 arrival of an English fur trader named Henry Fleet, who, history had it, was the first man ever to come ashore in Georgetown. (Captain John Smith reportedly sailed past in 1608 but never bothered to get off his boat.)
New Jersey senior senator John Frolich stood to the side of the bandstand with his friend, multimillionaire real-estate developer Marshall Jenkins. Both wore dark business suits; a sizable number of the nearly 100 guests had chosen not to costume themselves.
"Who persuaded the canal commission to hand over the barge tonight?" Frolich asked.
Jenkins shrugged and muttered, "Louise, who else?" Louise Walling was Georgetown's reigning social hostess. It was said she lived and breathed parties, woke up at 4:00 A.M. with ideas for them. She was partial to theme gatherings. When someone mentioned Henry Fleet over lunch at Le Lion d'Or, this night's party was only an invitation away.
Jenkins looked across the barge to where his wife, Elsa, stood with Frolich's wife, Henrietta. Henrietta Frolich, who was short and matronly, wore a beige linen suit. Elsa Jenkins's tall, shapely figure was nicely displayed in a yellow silk dress that clung tightly to every contour of her body. It was cut low, revealing the upper reaches of full, loosely bound breasts. The two women were closely watching a girl dressed in an Indian maiden's costume who was sinuously dancing to the band's slow version of "St. Louis Blues." Her partner was a young man with long hair cut in a punk fashion. Two earrings hung from his left ear. He wore only a leather loincloth, and his bare torso glistened with sweat as he and the girl gyrated their hips to the drummer's backbeat.
Jenkins nodded at the dancing girl. "She never runs out, does she?"
Senator Frolich smiled ruefully. His daughter, Valerie, suddenly intensified the movement of her hips, inching closer to the young man until their pelvises touched. Frolich's eyes met his wife's and they both grimaced. "Young people," Frolich said gruffly. He moved over to the bar and ordered vodka on the rocks.
The band finished the blues number and there was applause for the dancing couple. The pianist, a young woman whose femininity was concealed by her Dixieland outfit, began to play the "Royal Garden Blues," her delicate left hand creating surprising thunder as she created a rolling bass line that would have pleased Fats Waller.
"Precious, isn't it?" a tall, elegant man with silver hair said to Frolich.
Frolich turned, smiled at George Alfred Bowen. "A little too much so," Frolich said.
"Never too precious for Louise," Bowen said. "I just wonder what the poor thing will do after this gala. She's running out of worthwhile historical figures. Henry Fleet? What's left?"
Frolich laughed and sipped his drink. Bowen, America's most famous and influential columnist, ran his index finger over a pencil- thin white moustache, raised his eyebrows, and sighed. "Are you still planning to be there this weekend?" Bowen asked.
"I told Marshall we should try to make it earlier on Friday. Is that all right with you?"
"Fine," Frolich said. He moved away, casually snaking his way through the tight cluster of guests.
Bowen looked Louise Walling up and down and said, "A splendid costume, Louise, but a bit risqué for the period, isn't it?"
Walling glanced down at her bosom. "Of course not," she said with mock indignation. "It's Spanish and extremely authentic for the period. They began lowering the neckline early in the sixteen hundreds, although God knows they weren't fans of the bosom. They used to strap lead shields over young girls' breasts to keep them from growing. Harrison told me that." Harrison — it was his only name — provided costumes to Georgetown's elite partygoers, as well as to Washington's leading theatrical troupes.
Bowen smiled. "Be that as it may, Louise, I still find it shocking."
She guffawed. "You haven't the right, George, to find anything shocking, not with your reputation. Which young, innocent thing are you corrupting tonight?"
"I can't imagine what you're talking about, Louise. I'm here alone, anxious only to celebrate Mr. Fleet's historic arrival."
"You're impossible," she said, splaying a fan across her face.
"Difficult but adorable," said Bowen. "Excuse me. Lovely party. Mr. Fleet would have been proud." He walked away, his slender body aristocratically erect, gray eyes in constant motion as he cut a skillful path toward the bandstand. "Good evening, Valerie," he said to Frolich's daughter.
"Hello, professor," she said sweetly, then giggled. "Are you about to ask me for this dance?"
Bowen smiled. "No, although the idea isn't without appeal. I didn't realize you'd be here tonight."
"I hadn't planned to be, but ... well, it was better than studying. The assignment you gave us this afternoon is dull."
"I'm sorry you found it so. I consider the question of libel and slander to be of primary concern to fledgling journalists."
"'Fledgling.' It makes me sound like a tiny, wingless bird."
"Which is exactly what you are, you and your fellow students. I watched you dance before. It was very provocative."
"Was it? Good. I like to provoke."
"I'm aware of that, as is your father."
Valerie looked past Bowen to her father. He had slipped away from a knot of people and was heading her way. "Speak of the devil," she muttered.
"Hello," John Frolich said to his daughter.
"Hello." It was a flat, emotionless response.
"Could I speak with you for a minute?"
She glanced at Bowen, who raised his eyebrows and slipped away.
"Talking about the seminar?" Frolich asked.
"I told him it was dull."
"That's not very smart. He is your professor, as well as my friend."
"That doesn't make it more exciting."
"Valerie, I ..."
Her face was awash with defiance.
"I want you at the house tomorrow. Your mother and I wish to talk to you."
"You know perfectly well about what."
"Dad, I ... Look, this is silly. I see things one way, you and mom see them another. What I do with my life is my business. I just want to be left alone."
"To do what, to destroy ..." He bit off further words. "Damn it, Valerie, you take what pleases you but won't return any kindnesses. It's because of my friend Marshall Jenkins that you have an apartment. You go to school because I foot the bills. Stop pretending you're a grown-up. You're anything but."
She started to walk away, but he grabbed her arm. "Let go. You're hurting me."
"Be at the house tomorrow at six."
She wrenched herself free and disappeared into the crowd. Frolich looked up at the piano player, who smiled at him. "Any requests, senator?" she asked.
"What? No, no thank you."
Standing alone near the bar, Elsa Jenkins had been watching the scene between Frolich and his daughter. It was obvious they were not engaged in pleasant conversation. She thought of the Frolich family: the senator, patrician features, clothes custom-made in London, power emanating from every pore, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, confidant to the president, presidential material himself, rich and privileged — and arrogant. Henrietta Frolich, on the other hand, was dowdy and dull, shapeless mousy brown hair, thin-lipped, and with the demeanor of a frightened sparrow. Their only child, Valerie, was twenty, with energy threatening to burst through her skin. Short like her mother but less boxlike, she was full-breasted and narrow-waisted, with huge brown eyes in a constant receiving mode, always laughing. Valerie was in her third year at Georgetown University, a journalism student, straight A's, the only junior to be accepted into George Alfred Bowen's twice-a-week seminar. But she was virtually estranged from her family. Elsa knew how much it upset John. He never could hide it.
Frolich came to Elsa's side.
"You're upset," she said, traces of her German heritage still evident in her speech. She squeezed his arm.
"No, I'm ... she's a very difficult girl."
"Yes, and charming. She'll come around."
"Maybe. How are you?"
"All right. Marshall wants to go to Rome next week."
"Yes, I'll go with him. Only a week."
The band began to play again — "The Muskrat Ramble." Guests started dancing. Frolich saw Valerie rejoin the young man in the loincloth on the dance floor.
"I'd better see to Henrietta," Frolich said.
"Are you coming back to our house later?"
"No. I have a heavy day tomorrow."
* * *
Buses and limousines awaited the arrival of the barge at the upper end of the canal. As the barge slowly approached the dock, a corpulent lobbyist who'd had too much to drink teetered on the edge, lost his balance, and fell into the water. There were whoops of laughter as everyone ran to peer down at him. Two crew members threw him a line and he was pulled to safety.
"Idiot," John Frolich commented to Marshall Jenkins, who'd joined Frolich and his wife near where they would exit to the dock.
"A buffoon," Jenkins said.
"I'll see you this weekend," Frolich said.
Jenkins said, "Call me."
Valerie Frolich and her dancing partner stood next to them, waiting for the barge to touch the dock. Her mother asked where she was going next. "Why not come back to the house?" she suggested. "I'll cook something and —"
"Can't, mom," Valerie said. "Another time." She kissed her mother on the cheek and she and the young man jumped to the dock, hand in hand, and ran off together, their laughter ringing behind.CHAPTER 2
A trio of vagrants had witnessed the passage of the festive barge party up the C & O Canal the night before. They'd set up housekeeping beneath the bridge only a month ago, but they got along, each with his designated spot on the ground for a mattress of newspapers. Their personal belongings were carefully stored in shopping bags from Conran's, whose sign loomed large on the opposite side of the canal. A skinny yellow dog that had joined up with them a week ago had been named Blondie after a careful examination to determine its sex.
The weather had been kind to the partygoers. Now, at seven the morning after, a steady, gentle rain created thousands of dimples on the canal. Because the barge party had attracted so many people to the towpath, panhandling had been profitable, and one of the vagrants had gone into town in search of breakfast, returning with a bag of doughnuts and the morning paper, Blondie at his side. The men made coffee over an open fire and sat in dry contentment beneath the bridge.
"Don't give her the jelly," one of them said. "I like the jelly."
"I'll give her the cinnamon," another said, handing a doughnut to Blondie.
The third man leaned against the stone wall and started to read the paper, a steaming cup of coffee at his side. He'd finished the business pages and was about to turn to the sports section when Blondie started to bark.
"Shut up," the reader said.
"Hey, look," the vagrant closest to the canal said. The other two glanced up. "Over there." He pointed to a spot on the other side where a formation of concrete block jutted into the water. "What's that?"
The three men crossed the towpath and stood side by side on the canal's edge. "That's a body."
"Nah, it's only —"
"No, no, it is, damn it. Look — those are legs sticking out from the brown thing. See? Just under the water."
"It is, it is. It's a goddamn body. The cement caught it."
Two of them went in search of a policeman while the third remained on the towpath. Minutes later a Washington MPD patrol car pulled up on the narrow street fifteen feet above the vagrants' home, and two uniformed officers came down a set of stairs. "Where's this body?" one of them asked, his voice indicating his skepticism.
"That's not a body," said one of the officers.
"Yeah, I think it is," said his partner.
"We better get backup from headquarters," said one.
A half-hour later the body of a young woman wearing an Indian maiden's dress was pulled from the water. One moccasin was missing. Her face was swollen with large purple bruises.
"No I.D.?" one of them asked.
"No. What'a you figure, twenty, twenty-one?"
A large detective wearing a cheap black raincoat and tan rainhat stood beside the three vagrants and their dog. "That's it?" he asked. "That's all you saw?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"That your dog?" the detective, whose name was Peter Languth, asked.
"You got a license for it?"
The vagrants looked at each other.
"Get a license — 614 H Street. You hear me?"
"Yeah, we hear you."
"And stay around. We'll want to talk to you again."CHAPTER 3
The jarring ring cut through Joe Potamos like a machine gun. He groaned, twisted his pillow into a new shape, and forced his head into it. The ringing continued — louder each time, it seemed. He groaned again, then swore softly into the pillow. The clock at his bedside said noon. He'd gotten home at eight after covering a drug-related double murder.
He propped himself up against the headboard and angrily jerked the receiver from its cradle. "What?" he said loudly.
"Yeah. Who is it?"
"Yvonne." Yvonne Masters was an editor at the Washington Post, where Potamos was a reporter assigned to the police beat.
"Come on, Yvonne, you know I was out all night. I just got to bed."
"Joe, I'm sorry, but this is a biggie. Senator Frolich's daughter has been murdered."
Potamos blinked and scratched his belly through a gap in his pajamas, shook his head, and said, "Yeah? Jesus, when did that happen?"
"Sometime last night. They pulled her out of the C and O early this morning. We just got a positive I.D. on her."
"The senator's daughter. That's ... yeah, that's a biggie all right. Who caught the case?"
"Let's see ... Languth. Detective Peter Languth."
"Peter. They must be punishing him. He's got nineteen in. All right, I'll get to it."
"Joe, I am sorry but —"
"Gil wants you to call him."
"Gardello? All right. A shower, I need a shower. See ya."
Potamos's dog, Jumper, had slept through the call at the foot of the bed. He'd inherited her six years ago at the scene of a rape/murder of an old woman in Foggy Bottom who lived alone, the dog her only companion. Whoever killed her had beaten the animal pretty badly. It had lost an eye in the process. Potamos had taken her to the vet and, after an expensive week there, brought her home. She was a mongrel through and through, but Potamos decided after watching a public-television special on African termites that she was descended from the rare African aardwolf. Aardwolves, according to the special, used their front paws to pound their way through the thick walls of termite mounds, then leaped high to flick the insects from the air with their tongues. Jumper possessed both traits: She could jump higher from a standstill than any animal Potamos had ever seen, and she woke him most mornings by pounding him with her paws.
"Get up," Potamos mumbled as he got out of bed and went to the bedroom window. It was raining harder now, and a wind had kicked up, hurling raindrops against the panes.
He stumbled into the bathroom, tossed his pajamas into a corner, and turned on the shower, letting it run while he brushed his teeth. He stepped into the stall. The water was ice-cold. "No hot water. Great, just goddamn great." He put his head beneath the water, lathered his hair, and shivered as cold rivulets found his body. He rinsed, dried himself, used a blow dryer on his thick, black curly hair, and returned to the bedroom, where Jumper was now curled up contentedly on his pillow.
"Get up," Potamos said. "No pillows. How many times I have to tell you that?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in Georgetown"
Copyright © 1986 Margaret Truman.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
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