Authors: Alison Kent
Tags: #Romance, #Crime, #Fiction, #Suspense, #General
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
To Lieutenant Junior Grade Bryan Estell, USCG
for being a true hero
and a host of thank-yous to…
Emma Gads, for handling everything so beautifully
Stephanie Tyler, for the emergency brainstorming
Larissa Ione, for being a survivor
Kara Lennox, for the Dallas help
HelenKay Dimon, for the legal help
Jan and Annette, for waiting patiently for lunch
Kate Duffy, for waiting patiently
Walt, for the therapy sessions, the cooking and cleaning
Holly, for the cleaning and shopping
Casey, for the shopping and cooking
Megan, for the dinosaur food and waiting patiently for lunch
A Gala Reception and Auction in Honor of
General Arthur Duggin
Auction Preview Reception 7:30
Friday April 7, 2006
Benefiting The Duggin Scholarship Foundation
$100 per person—$175 per couple
Speaker: Paul Valoren
Professor Emeritus Political Science
—Sunday April 9, 2006
Open to the public—Free of charge
Grace Emerald Auction Gallery, Dallas, Texas
This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays
—Douglas Adams, British writer (1952–2001)
March 15, 1989–10:15
TOTALSKY CONVICTION CASTS SHADOW ON MILITARY CONTRACT
Washington, D.C.—Dr. Stanley Dean McLain, vice president of purchasing for the TotalSky Corporation, was today convicted of treason for his part in the failure and subsequent loss of two communications satellites contracted and built by TotalSky for the U.S. military. Sentencing details to follow soon.
She had expected better security.
For someone in his position, a man whose life had been devoted to rights and freedom and keeping honor clean, whose final years had been dedicated to homeland defense, General Arthur Duggin hadn’t been quite as careful with things down home on the ranch.
She’d come in with the final tour group of the day. The final tour group of forever, actually. The General, his health failing, had spent his last years at his Dallas home, opening his 160-acre ranch near Waco to the public. Now with the passing of the military legend, history—and tourism—had reached an era’s end.
The cataloging team from Sotheby’s working with the Grace Emerald Gallery in Dallas was scheduled to finish tomorrow with the General’s city estate. The packing crew in place at the ranch was ready to move into action tonight.
First thing in the morning, the antiquities set for auction would be shipped from here to the city. The sale of all residential furnishings would begin this weekend. The first of next week, both homes went up for sale.
She didn’t understand the rush.
She did understand the time frame—and the decided lack of wiggle room it gave her.
Already the workers had started classifying the personal mementos the general had amassed throughout his career, as well as sorting documents from his private library. Those dealing with his life as a public figure would be divided and donated to the university libraries spelled out in his will.
Items of a more personal nature—those of interest to soldiers who had served beside him, to cadets who had studied beneath him, to friends, to collectors, to military hobbyists who had their hearts set on priceless keepsakes—were slated to be auctioned Sunday afternoon. The proceeds would benefit the general’s educational charity.
And then there was the dossier she was here for—the one she wouldn’t be leaving without.
Even knowing as little as she did of the file’s contents, she was certain the general would have bequeathed it to no one. Would, in fact, have preferred to have the file’s explosive details buried beneath his own grave.
More than likely, the dossier had been rounded up with his personal papers intended for auction—though there was the off chance that it hadn’t been found.
She was hoping the latter scenario turned out to be true since she knew exactly where it was.
Any minute now, the tour group would be exiting the 8,500-square-foot ranch house through the main entrance and boarding the tour bus that would return them to the visitors’ center at the property’s entrance.
The doors would be locked at six P.M., and a security sweep made for lingering tourists. At six-thirty, the day staff would begin to leave. At seven, the exterior patrol would commence. At eight, the perimeter alarms and motion sensors would activate.
Her battle with the wiggle room had only just begun.
The entry recess inside the second floor visitors’ rest room hid a dumbwaiter, one used by the staff to transport linens and cleaning supplies. That much she’d deduced by the overwhelming smells of bleach and pine cleaner, and the stack of towels on top of which she now crouched.
She’d discovered the dumbwaiter on her visit last week. Never having used these particular facilities in the past, she couldn’t believe her luck. Or the fact that she managed to fit inside. This time, however, before climbing into the small wooden box, she’d jammed a pocket knife into the motor to make sure she didn’t end up where she didn’t want to be.
She knew the cleaning crew worked mornings before visiting hours rather than coming in nights. Unless there had been a sudden change in that five-year routine, she didn’t fear discovery as long as she stayed where she was until the guard doing the walk-through cleared the room.
She hit the button on her watch to light the face: 6:05. She held her breath, listened. Another minute and the door opened and closed. She heard the squeaking swing of all five stall doors, the flush of a toilet, running water, a metallic smack before an air dryer kicked on for thirty seconds. Then the door again, opening, closing. Silence followed.
This was it. She had to move and she had to move now. She had less than twenty-five minutes to get her hands on what she’d come for and exit with the rest of the staff into the employee parking lot behind the house. Once there, she’d choose her quarry and beg for a ride out.
She had her story set, that of a temp hired for the busy spring break day and abandoned at the last minute by a friend who had sworn to be there at six-thirty to get her. She knew how to flirt, how to wheedle, how to whine, and wasn’t above having to beg. All she needed was a lift.
Once in Waco, she could make her own way to the transit center and the locker where she’d stored her things. From there, a few short hours would see her back safely in Houston at her brother’s place.
She would wait until after the auction, let the media blitz surrounding the general’s passing die down. Then she would pull out the dossier, her ace in the hole, and for the final time plead her father’s case.
Beneath her Baylor University pullover, she wore the same western cut, red bandanna print shirt as did the staff. Her blue jeans and boots matched as well. The uniform store that outfitted the help supplied temps with ready-to-wear, including patches monogrammed on site. She’d learned that when doing her prep work and had found identical items at Wal-Mart, deciding to call herself Pam.
Pushing open the dumbwaiter panel, she climbed out, shucking her pullover and her spiky blond wig. She shoved both into the trash receptacle, buried them beneath the used towels, and gave herself permission to forgo washing her hands, fearing the guard’s return at the sound of running water.
Fluffing the layers of her coffee-brown hair, she avoided her own mirrored gaze. She was a university coed out to make a few bucks, not a treasure hunter intent on clearing her father’s name. She lived in a dorm, not in her brother’s guest room. She was twenty-two, not thirty-four. She was Pam. She had every right to be here.
And with that, she took a deep breath and eased open the rest room door.
The General’s study and bedroom were both in the wing at the end of the long hall she stepped into. When she’d come here to see him three years ago, she’d sat in one of the huge leather chairs in front of his desk.
He’d sat behind it, a stately presence, though even then he’d appeared wan and frail. He’d appeared even more so when she’d brought up the reason for her visit. He’d been devastated to hear of her father’s passing, but told her she needed to accept that Stan’s deathbed ramblings simply were not true.
No matter her father’s insistence, the general did not know the location of the dossier chronicling the TotalSky scandal and missing from government archives now for almost twenty years. What he did know, however, was that the content of the file would in no way change the public’s perception of the man her father had been.
She hadn’t believed Arthur Duggin then; of course he wasn’t going to admit knowing where it was. And dirty his own reputation? Neither did she believe him now. The dossier
tell the tale, would help her clear her father’s name. And, thanks to her father, she knew exactly where to find it.
Hearing no chatter and sensing no movement, she headed for the study. The door stood open. The desk sat to the left and overlooked the massive room. A fireplace of hand-hewn stones along with a cluster of cowhide club chairs took up the space on the right.
The wall connecting the two ends was nothing but a sprawl of windows looking out over grazing lands that she imagined took a fortune to irrigate. But that wasn’t the wall holding her interest. So, with her heart thudding in her chest like a big bass drum, she turned toward the wall of bookshelves that towered behind the desk…and jolted to a stop.
Byron Corgan, the general’s assistant, stood with one of the auction house employees between the bookshelves and desk. One held a pencil and clipboard, one a stylus and PDA. They both looked up at her entrance, which turned bumbling once she got a look at the spread of papers over the desktop and the drawers standing empty and open.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I have the wrong room.” She waved her hands breezily, trying to hide her choking panic and her face from Byron. He’d only seen her once three years before, but still. This was not good.
not good. She took a quick turning step in reverse…
…and plowed right into a broad uniformed chest. Uh-oh. She cringed, totally screwed, and looked up into stern brown eyes that she doubted knew the meaning of mercy. Crap. Just…crap.
“This section of the house is off limits to everyone but authorized personnel.” The security officer’s voice was deep, his tone unyielding, his body doubly so.
“I’m sorry.” She gave an apologetic shrug, her mind racing, plotting, searching for an escape hatch, a way out. “I didn’t know.”
“Let me see your agency card.” His eyes narrowed, his lips, too.
What was he talking about? Had she actually missed something that vital? She patted her pockets, her palms sweating. “I don’t have it with me.”
“If you’ve got the wrong room, then you’re obviously part of the spring break crew.” He held out a meaty hand. “The employment agency would’ve given you an ID card and told you to carry it at all times.”
“They did.” Damn, damn, damn. Forget the flirting, wheedling, and whining. It was begging time. “I guess I just…left it somewhere…”
He nodded, but it wasn’t an agreement. And it certainly wasn’t forgiveness. It appeared to be a judgment call, one that had him reaching for the radio at his belt. “Tim, meet me at the employee entrance. I’m bringing down an unauthorized temp hire. We have a trespasser on our hands.”