Authors: Edita Petrick
When Meg Stanton walks out of a
convenience store to find a dead man sprawled across the hood of her car, she
thinks he’s been shot. It’s the worst assumption she’s ever made in her
ten-year career as a cop. Forty-eight hours later, a hotel waiter drops dead
while serving the CEO of the third largest national bank. Meg suspects the
victims are links in some kind of scheme…but she has no idea she is its key element.
And then her daughter’s father
reappears in her life…
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cold Scheme Copyright © 2010 Edita A. Petrick
Edited by Helen Woodall
Cover art by Dar Albert
Electronic book publication March 2010
The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are
registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Edita A. Petrick
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
7-Eleven: 7-Eleven Corporation
Acura: Honda Motors Co. Ltd.
Chevrolet: General Motors Corporation
Chrysler Concorde: Chrysler Corporation
Denny’s: DFO Inc.
Doctors without Borders: Bureau International des Medecins
Ferrari: Ferrari SPA Italy Joint Stock Company
Ford: Ford Motor Company
Freer Gallery: Smithsonian Institution
Grand Prix: General Motors Corp.
IBM: IBM Corp.
IMF: International Monetary Fund
Kevlar: E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
Lamborghini: Automobili Lamborghini
Maserati: Maserati SPA
McDonald’s: McDonald’s Corporation
NASA: U.S. Government Federal Aeronautics and Space Agency
New York Stock Exchange: New York Stock Exchange Inc.
Phantom of the Opera
: Really Useful Group Ltd. U.K.
Porsche: F. Porsche AG Corporation
Salerno’s Pizza: Arnaldo Salerno U.S.
: CBC Broadcasting Inc.
University of Maryland: University of Maryland Public
Visa: Visa International Service Association
Yellow Pages: Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association
It was one of those nights that hell’s accountants crow
about, full of black ink and rising death statistics.
A citizen, running an errand in a dependable quiet
neighborhood in Woodbrook, was found lying prostrate on the hood of the
My shock wore off quickly. Its byproducts were fatigue and
“He’s dead, Kenny,” I said to my partner.
He finally gave up administering CPR to the male victim,
Caucasian, mid-thirties and dressed like any other Baltimore dweller who skips
out to a convenience store at ten o’clock at night, in jeans and a navy blue
“What the hell happened here, Meg?” He backed away from the
car, bloodied latex-covered palms upturned.
It was a strange question. Viewing dead bodies with
professional objectivity was our job.
On a harsh day, when the pile of cold cases on our desk grew
so tall we could no longer see each other, I’d ask him if he wanted to take a
rotation—with our bomb squad. It always worked to clear his perspective. He
would call Brenda, his girlfriend, to reassure her that he had survived another
day as a homicide cop.
Now, looking at the body sprawled on the hood of Ken’s car,
I wondered whether, upon rising, I had missed a divine sign—a warning.
* * * * *
The new dawn of work-filled pleasures had started on a
decent note. It was a vibrant morning, sunny and sea-fresh, the fifth such
glorious day in May. Half the city of Baltimore, which translated into
two-thirds of the government employees, decided to take Wednesday off. The
traffic was light. I made it downtown in half an hour and stopped to pick up
two large cappuccinos at the Urban Bean. The manager had flirted with me. At
thirty-two, I didn’t think I looked like Sandra Bullock’s high school rival but
it made me laugh. The coffee sales were brisk. He was having a good morning and
tried to get my phone number. I flipped out my badge from my denim shirt and
let it dangle on the twisted cotton braid that my daughter had made for me the
year before at the summer camp.
He raised his hands, alarmed. “Whoa there, Officer! I meant
“None taken, sir.” I smiled.
As I walked away, a couple of suits standing in line did a
circle-check. I wished they had whistled. It was that kind of irreverent
By nine o’clock, wired and ready to take on the world, I had
attacked a looming paper pile. They were all old and cold cases, waiting for
resolution. Our Cold Case Unit was humble in staff numbers but our caseload was
three times that of the here-and-now homicide unit.
By noon, Kenny and I had reviewed seven old cases and picked
out a dozen “tags” that we had previously missed. We felt a sense of
accomplishment, went outside, bought hot dogs at a vendor’s stand and practiced
After stuffing down dogs slathered in all kinds of unhealthy
condiments, we returned to our desks and spent the afternoon arguing about the
order of importance of the seven cases we planned to follow up.
I like to start with the simplest case first.
A list of evidence collected from a stockbroker’s office,
had, among the wastebasket contents, a discarded bulldog grip. I checked all
the reports attached to this homicide-disappearance. No one had bothered to
tour the neighborhood gyms. The stockbroker had left his secretary slumped in
an ergonomic posture chair, a bullet hole in her forehead. He was a marksman.
He may have toned his muscles in a local gym. Estrelle Gomez did not deserve
the kind of job performance review her embezzling boss gave her. We owed it to
her next of kin to keep trying to apprehend her killer. I stuck this folder
into the first metal filing slot on my desk and moved on.
Ken had made fresh new photocopies. He’d turned the printer
contrast to maximum because the paperwork was five years old. That’s how he
discovered someone’s hand-scribbled notes on the margin. Sidhi Ben Ahbib was
gunned down at midnight, closing down his gas station franchise in Greenmount
neighborhood. Since he was a Syrian immigrant, we’d been working a terrorist
angle. He had kept a gun in his till. It was an Israeli issue, a “Baby Eagle”,
Jericho 941, with a 12-round, .40 magnum capacity, the cherished companion of
every urban commando. The handwritten notes on the margin claimed that Ahbib
was a gambler—and a womanizer. The Muslim community frowned on such risky
hobbies. What if it was a jealous husband or an irate father? We decided that
we would pay a visit to Ahbib’s family and gently broach this difficult
character issue. Five years were certainly enough to speak well of the dead. It
was time to reflect on his lifestyle faults and solve the case.
The third case was a paradox. A thirty-one-year old
economist, Jonathan Anderson Brick, had disappeared from a 7-Eleven in Dundalk
four years ago. I had tried to avoid this file as often as I could. In my
experience, there was no such thing as solid moral fabric. A dedicated
churchgoer, a devoted family man, might take a walk and never return to his
genetic and financial obligations. I told Ken that women grew and sank roots
that stabilized the slopes of life. Men just liked to climb them.
Patricia Vanier—Brick’s fiancé—had become unhinged when
she’d given a statement at the Central District headquarters. Her Johnny just
went out to get popcorn and pop, to spice up their evening entertainment. The
7-Eleven was a block down the street. He took the car to get back faster. He
could not possibly have been steeped in thought to a degree that saw him drive
to Dundalk, to visit their 7-Eleven.
Our colleagues four years ago had assured her that he was.
She had reported him missing the next morning. Six hours later, the owner of the
7-Eleven in Dundalk handed over the shop surveillance tape and swore on a
string of meditation beads that citizen Brick had visited his establishment
A lot more manpower would have been thrown at this case, had
Patricia not insisted that her fiancé was kidnapped, threatened, tortured—and
possibly murdered. That brought her under the scrutiny of Preston Jacks, a
consulting psychiatrist for the Baltimore Police Department
I glanced through his report and felt sorry for her.
Thanks to her four previously filed
missing-kidnapped-tortured-murdered reports, when Brick went to the 7-Eleven
and lingered longer than she considered appropriate, she was recommended for
extensive mental therapy. Since he had returned each time, the reports were
stamped with “ERROR” and filed in the “false alarm” drawer.
What I got from the dispirited perusal of her
historical-hysterical term papers, showed that Brick was not just a
career-climber but also a peripatetic spirit. Each time he had gone out at
night to a convenience store, he’d gone further—and lingered longer. She was
just starting to question the “lingering” part when he disappeared.
Jacks had pointed out this developmental trend to her. Her
loyal, loving, sensitive and well-paid boyfriend, was most probably trying to
walk away from the engagement ring she wore on her finger. He had never
returned from Dundalk’s 7-Eleven. Jacks had spelled it out for her. Brick had
made up his mind to end the relationship. Patricia went into withdrawal, then
depression and finally into full-time residence at the Mongrove Psychiatric
Brick didn’t resurface. That’s how we ended up with his
It had been four years since the 7-Eleven in Dundalk had
swallowed him. We should pay a visit to Ms. Vanier, I decided.
I sighed and scribbled down a note to track her down. We
should at least ask her if she’d ever heard from him.
The other four cases were homicides where the killer had
kept on running—under several different aliases. We needed to check as to
whether any of the names might have landed in any of our penal institutions.
After all, our criminal and justice system worked—sometimes. We closed three
cold case files that way last year.
At six o’clock, Jazz left a message on my pager that she was
running away from home. I phoned Mrs. Tavalho, my housekeeper. She assured me
that my daughter was still in residence and so were three other ten-year-olds
who would be sleeping over.
“Blackmail?” I sighed.
“Not to worry, Miss Stanton,” she assured me. “You know she
always does something like this when she wants her friends to sleep over and
knows you wouldn’t allow it. I’ll have a chat with her.”
“I’ll be home by ten, eleven the latest,” I told her. She
confirmed that our arrangements for her overnight stay stood and told me to
have a good time at the party. I thanked her and hung up.
Kenny nodded at me. “It’s time. Let’s change.”
Fifteen minutes later, I looked as good as any of those
women who deliver authoritative weather reports. I was about to knock on the
men’s washroom to see if he was ready, when my pager went off.
Mrs. Tavalho must have told my ten-year-old what she thought
of her prank. Jazz had left me another nasty message. She said that since she
never had a father and didn’t know whether there ever was one, she saw no point
in having a mother either. She wanted to be an orphan. Ken came out—hair gelled
and slicked back. He was dressed in a white shirt and dark slacks. He looked
like a groom who had been dieting for months, not a guest heading to a staff
dinner party for our office supervisor who was getting married.
“Jazz?” he asked.
We’ve been partners for three years. He could read my face.
“Torching the house?”
“Not this time.”
“Drowning the cat?”
“The theory about nine lives is true. She gave up on that.”
I laughed. “We’ve exhausted that threat.”
“The father issue?” He averted his eyes. He knew this topic
would not grow into a discussion.
“Let’s go. We’ll be late,” I said.
We had a good time at the Carmine Steakhouse. What seemed
like the entire Homicide Section was there. Audrey was well liked. She tempered
her administrative clout with common sense and compassion. It was her second
marriage to a cop. She had buried the first one after twenty happy and loyal
years. We wished her and Barry Grant from Traffic, all the best.
At quarter to ten, I said to Ken, “I ought to be going. Do
you want to stay? I’ll take a taxi.”
He shook his head and said he would drive me home.
We headed west on Fayette, when I remembered that with three
guests, there better be enough pancake mix and syrup to feed the army in the
“There’s a convenience store just up the Woodbrook,” I told
him. “Mind if I run in? I have to pick up some stuff for breakfast.”
“No problem. You know, they have these mediators. They’re not
expensive. They charge fifty, maybe sixty dollars an hour. They come to your
house. You tell them what the problem is and they sort of ease the two of you
“Ken! No mediation. When I’m ready, I’ll talk to my daughter
about her father.”
“She’s ten years old, Meg. She should know. It’s natural.”
“Natural? How long have you been dating Brenda—since
college? You’re thirty-five years old. Do you think dating a woman for fourteen
years is natural?”
“I’m a cop. Marriage statistics for cops are…”
“I know damn well what marriage statistics for cops are.
People like Audrey are part of those statistics. Hell, if her husband hadn’t
died of cancer she would still be happily married to a cop. Don’t abuse words
like ‘natural’, all right?”
“Do you know who her father is?”
“At least I don’t lie to Brenda—or my partner.”
“Brenda is a diamond-in-the-rough I can’t figure out,” I
“She understands,” he said, defending his peculiar lifestyle
“Or just likes her freedom as much as you do. Of course, with
a woman, you never know when that glorious feeling of independence is going to
fade and a nesting instinct will take over.”
“Would you marry her if she wanted to start a family?”
“You heard me.”
“We’ve never discussed…it’s not an issue.”
“Are you sure?”
“We’ve never discussed…” His voice trailed off.
“Take a walk on the wild side, Ken. Try it—but make sure
Brenda has smelling salts ready to revive you.”
“Why didn’t you ever get married?”
His question surprised me. The answer was—I still am. There
are two more names hiding beneath Meaghan Stanton but that’s been buried so
deep there’s no chance it will ever rise to surface.
“I’m a career woman. One day I’d like to see ‘Detective
Colonel’ as part of my job title, along with a division full of productive
police officers, like you.”
“You’re thirty-two. In nine years you rose from a police
cadet to Detective Sergeant,” he chuckled. “Another year or two and you can
make your bid for a Squad Supervisor.”
“Make a right here,” I interrupted him, pointing at the
street sign that said Woodbrook Ave.
We pulled into a little strip plaza with a 7-Eleven. He
decided to come inside.
Ten minutes later, shopping bags in hand, we stood rooted to
a spot on the sidewalk, outside the store.
It was after ten o’clock and the little plaza was deserted.
Ken’s Malibu was the only car parked there. Off to the side was an asphalt
apron. It belonged to the neighboring gas station. I saw a car parked at the
fuel pump but no one was pumping gas. The body lay sprawled on the hood of our
car, hands stretched, palms down, as if he was embracing the front of the
vehicle. It occurred to me that someone could have tossed him across the car
We were not in a police frame of mind and didn’t move for a
few moments. We’ve seen our share of dead bodies but I doubt there was a
homicide detective in BPD who had ever exited from a 7-Eleven to confront a
dead man sprawled across the hood of his car.