Here are the first three chapters.
Francis Chalmers moved quickly.
As warden of one of the nations most heavily guarded prisons, Chalmers was not used to doing anything faster than he felt like. Anyone who didn’t understand and respect that simple fact of life could expect a lightning bolt to the backside. In here he was god and everything happened at his speed, not the other way around.
At least on most days.
Warden Chalmers ran a tight ship.
But today was anything but an average day.
Today, he was in a hurry, but not because he wanted to be. No, today the situation warranted speed and decisive action.
So, naturally, everything that could have happened to slow him down did. Murphy -you know, the guy with the law- always paid a visit when time was of the essence. Still, for all the urgency of the moment, the warden’s wide girth -and being completely out of shape- kept him from running full speed down the corridor. He was intimately familiar with the route. Twice a day every day for the past six years he had walked this same route and checked on the prisoner living in isolation and segregated from the other inmates.
Though usually with much less urgency.
The warden stopped just outside the all too familiar cell in a secluded area of the prison that was set aside for some of the more dangerous inmates. Taking in a deep, calming breath, he looked tentatively inside. He had known that a day like this might eventually come, but he never believed it would be this soon. Plus, he expected to be happier about it. He could not help but wonder, Why aren’t I happier about this?
With surprising hesitancy, the warden stepped uneasily inside the cramped cell.
One of his uniformed guards, Dennis Truchess, was already inside the cell. He had discovered the body while making his rounds. He turned as Warden Chalmers entered, holding a large manila envelope in his left hand. Boldly scrawled across the front of the envelope, probably written with a thick, black magic marker was a name.
The warden was not surprised to find the name was his.
Chalmers noted that only his name was on the envelope.
Not his title.
Just one final example of the contempt his prisoner felt for him. He refused to admit anyone held any power greater that his own. Chalmers knew from firsthand experience the perverse fascination his prisoner -now former prisoner- had with playing mind games. He had a devious mind, dark and twisted, but very intelligent. Dangerously so, in fact.
So it came as no surprise that, even in death, Darrin Morehouse would find a way to lash out at those he deemed as enemies. Francis Chalmers knew he was counted among the growing list of men and women that Morehouse blamed for his capture and incarceration. At times, the warden was almost proud to be on that list. Truly, he was counted among good company.
He could only wonder what game the scheming Darrin Morehouse planned to put them through this time. To pull off a plot against your enemies from beyond the grave. Only a madman such as he would dare be so bold, he thought.
Remotely aware of the attending guard in the small cell, the warden reached for the offered envelope from Officer Truchess without a second glance, but he did not take it. His eyes fixed on the object above him.
“Warden Chalmers...” the guard began, but a look from his superior stopped him in mid sentence.
After a moment the warden simply nodded at the man’s unspoken question.
Truchess assumed that the warden was simply in shock. It was a natural assumption considering the tense relationship between the warden and the former inmate that occupied the cell where they now stood in stunned silence.
It was Officer Truchess that finally broke the stillness. “I’ve placed a call to the morgue,” he said cautiously. The last thing he wanted to do was upset the man, but he also knew they couldn’t simply stand there all day staring at the body hanging from the light fixture.
The warden nodded slightly and the guard hoped that meant his boss understood.
“They’ll be here any minute to take him down,” he added.
A moment passed. Chalmers still said nothing.
“Sir?” Thruchess pressed again, concern visible on his face.
The warden continued to look up at the body hanging from the ceiling. Beads of sweat had popped up on Chalmer’s brow and Truchess was concerned the man was going to have a heart attack. From the angle of the body, Chalmers could not clearly see the face of the dead man. Not that it mattered. The warden knew exactly who it was. What it was. Part of him was thrilled that it was finally at an end, but another part wanted that man to suffer an eternity within this eight-foot by eight-foot cell.
“Bastard got off easy,” the warden swallowed, catching a lump in his throat.
“Yes, sir,” the guard agreed. “He did.”
“He, uh, left this for you, sir,” Truchess said as he placed the large envelope in the warden’s still outstretched hand.
Chalmers accepted the envelope, gazing at it as if he had only then noticed its presence. He unclasped the metal clip at the back and carefully lifted the flap away to peer inside. With the envelope open, Warden Chalmers poured the contents out onto the cell’s single unkempt bed.
The items slid out into an unorganized pile on the disheveled bed.
Eight of them in fact.
Eight small white envelopes had fallen out of the larger one. Each had a name written on it in the same bad penmanship that Chalmers recognized as belonging to the prisoner who lived in this cell. The prisoner always wrote in all capital letters, which made the warden think that everything he wrote looked like it was being screamed.
He scanned the names and recognized all but one of them.
PHILIP JASON HALL
Only one of the envelopes had an address on it. The envelope was addressed to Philip Jason Hall, attorney at law in Atlanta. A sticky note was affixed to the front of the envelope. In the same scrawl it read: LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT OF DARRIN MOREHOUSE. IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH, DELIVER TO MY ATTORNEY AT THE ADDRESS LISTED.
The eighth was not someone the warden knew, but the larger envelope was addressed to him via a law firm so it didn’t take much to put two and two together.
There was a simple, tri-folded piece of paper with the envelopes. Chalmers bent over and retrieved it from the pile of envelopes and unfolded it carefully, as if afraid it might explode. Knowing Morehouse’s twisted mind as well as he did, it was a distinct possibility. He let out a breath when he realized it was simply a letter.
“For Warden Chalmers,” he began reading aloud. “In the event of my death.”
Chalmers and Thruchess exchanged a look before Chalmers read the letter. He read it twice just to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. The letter contained a list of instructions to be carried out in the event of his death. The envelopes were to be delivered, unopened to his attorney, Philip Jason Hall care of the law firm of Johnson, Murdoch, and Lower.
Apparently, Morehouse had one last game he wanted to play. One final hurrah as he shuffled off to the hell where Chalmers hoped his mortal soul would burn for eternity. Morehouse had visited with other attorneys since his incarceration, but Chalmers could not recall Mr. Hall being among them. He would check the sign in logs to verify that, but when it came to Darrin Morehouse, the warden stayed up to date on his activities.
“Damn,” the warden said, wondering aloud, “What game does that madman have planned for us this time?” In death, Darrin Morehouse may very well be as dangerous as he had been in life, if not more so. Now he had nothing to lose. How do you bring a dead man to justice?
“Damn,” he muttered again, shaking his head.
What more was there to say?
“Lock this place down,” he ordered the guards. No calls in or out without my written permission. I want this cell searched top to bottom then sanitized. Cover all the bases, but do it with as few people as possible. The less who know about this the better we’ll be able to contain the fallout.”
“If he truly hung himself, then that’s great. It just means there’s one less scumbag in the world I have to put up with and I’ll drink a toast to the bastard shuffling off of this mortal coil.” Chalmers’ expression darkened. “However, if he didn’t do the deed himself than that means someone helped him. And while, personally, I’d love to give that person a medal, I can’t abide it in my prison. If someone killed him then I need to know that too.”
“Yes, sir,” Truchess said as he clicked on his radio.
“We keep this quiet,” Chalmers reminded them. “Understood?”
The guards nodded.
“I mean it. Not a word. If the press gets winds of this it’ll be both your asses, you got me?”
The guards nodded again, this time a little less enthusiastically. It wasn’t often that the warden pulled rank like this, and he certainly never leveled these types of threats to his guards, which only drove home just how serious the situation before them was. Morehouse’s death was a powder keg and if they weren’t careful it could very well explode beneath them.
“Good. Let’s get to work.” Chalmers took one last look around the cell before leaving it. He had to hurry back to his office.
“I’ve got to make a phone call.”
As he headed back to his office he could hear the voice of the dead man in his thoughts. It was something he had heard the man say many times before, yet somehow it seemed to fit the current situation. Morehouse was a schemer. Perhaps he had been planning this day for some time. Chalmers was not certain, but nothing Darrin Morehouse did surprised him anymore. Or so he thought until today.
The warden did not know how or why, but something told him that his headaches were just beginning.
Darrin Morehouse’s voice echoed in his memory.
Let the games begin.
Six years earlier.
How it all began.
Fulton County Courthouse
The circus was back in town.
Cameras surged as reporters jockeyed for position on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse building, each one vying for that perfect angle, the one shot that would catch and hold the attention of their viewers. Despite the bone-chilling thirty-four degrees and light drizzle, the crowd outside continued to grow as the moment grew closer.
Fabian Alexander shrugged off his warm coat, which his shivering assistant then cradled to her chest in an effort to salvage any leftover body heat. She knew that the reporter must have been freezing, but she also knew the man. It was always better to look good than be comfortable.
“You ready?” Alexander asked as he straightened his tie and flicked a piece of lint from the front of his tailored sport coat.
“We’re live in,” Mike Greenway, the cameraman said between chattering teeth. “Four... Three…” He mouthed the words two and one before the reporter started speaking.
In his ear piece, Alexander heard the anchors in their nice, warm broadcast booth introduce him. “We go now live to Channel Ten’s own Fabian Alexander who is on scene outside the Fulton County Courthouse on this frigid December morning.” She turned to look at the monitor where the reporter waited on the scene. “How are you doing out there, Fabian? Are you staying warm?”
“It is very cold outside the Fulton County Courthouse today, Monica,” he started. “But you’re right. It has been a very busy morning here. Today, in what is being referred to as a bold move by the Atlanta Police Department, suspected head of a large, and as yet unnamed criminal syndicate, Darrin Morehouse was arrested and charged with a list of charges ranging from murder to conspiracy to commit murder.”
The television monitor switched to file footage that had been shot earlier of the accused, Darrin Morehouse, at one of the many political fundraisers he attended.
“From what we’ve been told, John and Monica, it appears that the District Attorney will indeed be, as they say in the movies, throwing the book at the man. Information received earlier tells us that this extensive investigation into Mr. Morehouse has been ongoing for the last three years.”
One of the anchors interrupted with a question. As much as the reporter hated it when the guys in the booth did that, he knew it was good for the show and he rolled with it even though it meant standing out in the freezing cold for another minute. “Has the district attorney’s office given any indication of which specific charges they plan to bring against Mr. Morehouse?”
“Not yet, John,” Alexander answered. “The Atlanta Police are being tight-lipped about this case for the moment, but we expect to hear from a police department spokesperson before long. We will, of course, keep you up to date on any further progress. For Channel Ten Up To The Minute News, Fabian Alexander reporting. Back to you in the studio.”
“And we’re clear,” Greenway said as the light winked off his camera.
“Thank God,” Alexander said as he retrieved his coat and put it on. “It’s fucking freezing out here.”
“It’s too early in the morning for stupid questions, Angela,” the reporter said. “Just get me the damned coffee. Quicker is better.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and ambled off toward the Starbucks across the street.
“I swear, that girl is worse than useless,” he complained as he got into the news van that was only slightly warmer than outside. What little warmth there was inside was welcoming and he felt a tingle creep back into his fingertips.
“Yeah, but at least she’s hot,” the cameraman said with a knowing smile.
“If only that’s all that was necessary to do her job,” Fabian sighed. “Anyway, as soon as I defrost we can shoot the coverage. I want some face time with Bartlett before our next pickup.”
“He’s not going to like that.”
“Do I look like I fucking care what he likes?”
“Not especially,” Greenway said, still smiling.
“Just keep an eye out for him. We move as soon as he exits the building.”
* * *
5th Precinct, Atlanta Police Department
Fabian Alexander was freezing.
Once again without his coat and gloves, he stood outside for the live report. This time in the rain, although an umbrella covered him, albeit off camera and held by his assistant as she stood perched on a ladder just out of frame.
“As you can see behind me,” he said, pointing toward the throng of police officers escorting their prisoner inside. “Police are taking Darrin Morehouse inside the Atlanta Police department building behind me in handcuffs. Morehouse, a prominent citizen and local businessman who is often seen at charity events around the country, was arrested last evening by Atlanta Police Officer John Bartlett. The lead detective in the case, Lieutenant Bartlett has served with distinction on the Atlanta Police Force for just over ten years. Three of those years were spent gathering evidence against Morehouse. Lieutenant Bartlett had this to say to our cameras...”
The monitor switched from the freezing reporter to a handsome man in his late thirties, maybe early forties. He had a face that the camera loved.
“All I can say at this time,” police officer John Bartlett started, “is that we have a very strong case against Darrin Morehouse and that I am personally working very closely with the District Attorney and we will put this criminal behind bars where he belongs. That’s all. No more questions.”
The camera light winked back on and Fabian Alexander continued. “Lieutenant Bartlett was one of two individuals primarily involved in bringing the Morehouse to trial. The other is Benjamin West. Mr. West, whose name you might recognize works as a photojournalist with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, admitted in an earlier interview that he had become an unwitting pawn in a revenge plot against Detective Bartlett by the accused, Mr. Darrin Morehouse. We hope to have an interview with Mr. West tomorrow on Channel Ten Up To The Minute News at ten.”
“And we’re clear.”
Fabian Alexander pulled his overcoat back into his place, shaking his head as his camera man stepped over to help his assistant off the wet ladder. He had watched as the fool had fawned over her all day in a feeble attempt to score some brownie points. Part of him found it amusing, knowing that the cameraman stood less than a one percent chance in hell of getting in her pants. Another part of him felt sorry and wanted to tell him that the only way to get in her good graces was to have some sort of power or influence that could help her career. The fact that she had already boned most of the male producers at the station was evidence of that.
Mike Greenway was many things, but powerful and influential he was not.
Yes, Alexander felt sorry for Mike until he remembered that he really didn’t care for the man so he decided to just sit back and enjoy the show.
* * *
Fulton County Courthouse
The media circus surrounding the Morehouse trial continued on Monday.
As soon as the national news got in on the act the city bulged with reporters and activists from around the country, a few even flying in from other countries to film the craziness that had become the Morehouse trial.
Reporter Alanis Cooper replaced Fabian Alexander as the face of Channel Ten at the proceedings as more seasoned reporters began vying for more face time than their rookie counterpart. Although Cooper was more experienced than he in terms of broadcast years, she did not resonate with the viewers quite the way Alexander had.
Although Fabian Alexander loathed the thought of sharing his story, he was happy to spend the day inside where it was warm. Especially once the light snow began to fall. Snow in December was something of a rarity in Georgia. He knew that is would probably be ice by tomorrow and all of the reporters would be doing remotes in the freezing cold as the city ground to a halt and the winter weather became the top story. It was sad, but all it took was a hint of snow and the state of Georgia went into panic mode, buying bread and milk and closing schools and businesses before the first flake was spotted. It was comical because even in the worst snowstorms that hit Georgia, the roads were passable by the afternoon. Yet, every time the people panicked.
Cooper handled herself well, but this early in the trial there wasn’t much that was actual news that had not been reported on already.
“Superior Court Judge Nathan Hughes today refused bail for the defendant in the Darrin Morehouse trial,” Cooper said as if she had just announced the winner of a Presidential Election. “Morehouse, the fifty year-old Atlanta native and suspected head of an as yet unnamed alleged criminal consortium has been in police custody since December 19th. A police spokesman announced today that Morehouse’s arrest was only the beginning. During that press conference we were told to expect more arrests for Morehouse’s suspected ‘cronies in crime,’ as the police commissioner had dubbed the still as yet unnamed suspects in this court case that grows more interesting by the day. Only time will tell if these promised arrests do indeed happen as police officials promise.”
The reporter turned to point toward the courthouse behind her.
“Inside the courtroom Morehouse’s attorney, Laura Sellars, has thus far bested the District Attorney at every turn. Our experts tell us that the District Attorney’s case is not going well, but also reminds us that it is still very early in the proceedings and that such a hot topic trial as this one can turn on a dime. Police sources close to the investigation who wished to remain anonymous, told us earlier today that once the next batch of arrests were made it would be a whole new ball game. Guess we’ll have to wait and see what the prosecution has up its sleeve. Court resumes at ten a.m. tomorrow. Live from the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse, this is Alanis Cooper. Stay with us here at Channel Ten for more on this fast breaking story. Back to you in the studio.”
* * *
Channel Ten Studios
Edwin Mathis smiled for the camera.
As host of The Atlanta Forum Hour Featuring A Weekly Talk and Discussion Segment Called “Focus On Atlanta,” As host, Mathis sat in the center of a semicircle arrangement of chairs where his guests would sit after the commercial break. On each side of him were two chairs, with room for one more on each side if necessary depending on the number of guests featured that evening.
Tonight, he had gathered four guests for his program dedicated to studying the intricacies of the case of the State of Georgia v. Darrin Morehouse. His first guest was former Fulton County District Attorney Jameson Underwood. The former DA was there to comment on the strategies being played out by the District Attorney arguing the Morehouse case. His second guest was Parker Hunt, a defense attorney with offices in Los Angeles and New York. His firm only handled big cases. He was there to provide a strong counterpoint to the former DA’s argument. The ratings always went up when the panel got into a heated discussion so Mathis and his producers always looked for panelists with strong viewpoints and a penchant for exuberance. The other guests included retired police detective Peter Mace and Angela Adams, a former reporter for the AJC who was currently between assignments.
Granted, none of the panelists had any knowledge of the case beyond what had been reported on the news. Not that this lack of firsthand knowledge dissuaded them from putting forth their opinions on the matter. He and his producer had discussed the possibility of bringing in Channel Ten’s own Fabian Alexander, who was probably the most knowledgeable Channel Ten employee in regards to this particular case. After a heated back and forth argument, it was decided not to invite the reporter on the show, mostly at Mathis’ request. The producer did not understand the host’s reluctance to use the man since he was available to them, but he capitulated nonetheless.
Despite the absence of Fabian Alexander, Mathis’ producers found a perfectly good mix of guests, each with expertise in the areas of interest happening in the case. And they were all rather opinionated and had no trouble arguing their point of view ad nauseum.
It was bound to be a stellar show.
The producer signaled that they were on and Mathis leaned forward in his chair to address the camera. “Tonight on ‘Focus on Atlanta’ we take a look at the life of Darrin Morehouse. For those not familiar with the case, Darrin Morehouse is a local Atlanta businessman accused of heading up a substantial criminal syndicate in our fair city. With his trial slated to begin soon we are going to take a look at his distinguished life, career, and his previous commitment to the community. We’ll be back with our panel of experts to discuss the hot button topic after these messages.”
* * *
Fulton County Courthouse
With the dawn of the New Year, Fabian Alexander returned to the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse. As his approval rating with viewers soared, the producers at Channel Ten began increasing his on camera time, much to the annoyance of Alanis Cooper, who now found herself with less and less screen time.
The behind the scene politics at Channel Ten had become more tense than usual, which was saying something. If only the viewers could see the soap opera bickering and backstabbing that happened when the cameras weren’t watching the ratings would no doubt increase. In fact, though none of the anchors or reporters were aware of it, the segment producer had pitched a reality show to the networks that would follow the reporters around. The networks were concerned that showing the foibles of the on air talent might have a negative impact on viewers who were supposed to trust the news as reported by these people.
Cooper had threatened to break her contract and walk because she was unhappy with her change in assignment. More over, she was not happy playing second fiddle to Fabian Alexander and she wasn’t shy about sharing her feelings with everyone. She had used the breaking her contract tactic for years to get her way and it usually worked.
This time, however, management called her bluff. They were willing to break her contract rather than argue the point. Fabian Alexander’s growing popularity made it easy for the management to stand their ground.
Cooper backed down and handled the story she had been assigned, but she made sure everyone knew how unhappy she was about it. Until Channel Ten management put a spot to it, readers of her online blog were treated to a daily spewing of vitriol against her employer, her producers, and most especially the wet behind the ears punk she considered her chief rival.
“Trial begins today in the case of The State versus Darrin Morehouse,” Alexander started. “The defendant’s attorney, Laura Sellers, seemed convinced at a press conference held earlier this morning that her client would be cleared of all wrongdoing and would be released.”
“In her words,” he started as he held up a piece of paper in front of him so the camera would pick it up. There was a statement from the defense team that he had been asked to read. “Mr. Morehouse is a pillar of the community, a businessman, and a family man.” He stopped looking at the paper and focused once more on the camera.
“District Attorney Michael Coombes counters that Morehouse did in fact commit the crimes with which he has been charged and insists that his office has undeniable proof to back up their charges and that they will bring this evidence to light when the state presents its case.”
Alexander walked up the steps toward the door where other reporters were also doing their pick ups. The camera followed. “Despite the forecasted winter weather advisory now in effect for Atlanta and surrounding areas, the trial is expected to heat up for several days as the District Attorney presents his case on the other side of these doors.”
He pointed to the guarded entrance at the top of the stairs.
“Reporters have not been allowed inside the courtroom for this trial with the notable exception of photojournalist, Benjamin West. West, as you may recall, is one of the key witnesses for the prosecution along with Atlanta Police Officer John Bartlett. We will continue our live coverage from outside the courthouse. Please keep it here on Channel Ten News. Back to you in the studio.”
* * *
Fulton County Courthouse
Alanis Cooper opened the midday news with an update on the Darrin Morehouse trial. As Fabian Alexander’s popularity continued to rise, the veteran reporter found herself being relegated to the noon news while Alexander worked the more widely viewed nightly news. She had started drinking heavily back in December and her family and friends were starting to worry. As were her producers.
“Today in the Morehouse case, Atlanta Police Officer John Bartlett took the stand for the first time. He made mention several times of how the accused loved to play games and how he and Photojournalist Benjamin West had almost died as the result of those games. This heated trial continues tomorrow. Tune in for hourly reports by our Channel Ten News anchors and a full report tonight at Five, Six, and Ten o’clock.”
All smiles, she moved on to the threat of yet another impending onslaught of wintry mix coming into the Metro Atlanta area.
* * *
Channel Ten Studio
“Today, the prosecution in the Morehouse case dropped a surprising bombshell by calling Vivian Morehouse to the stand,” Alanis Cooper reported from the anchor desk at the Channel Ten studio in Atlanta.
“Sources inform Channel Ten that Mrs. Morehouse has allegedly turned states evidence against her husband. Mrs. Morehouse’s attorney would offer no comment on whether a plea had been reached with the District Attorney, but our legal advisors can think of no other reason for Mrs. Morehouse to take the stand as spousal privilege would have prevented her from testifying against her husband in this trial. This could be a crushing blow for Morehouse’s defense. However, Defense Attorney Laura Sellars told Channel Ten News that it is only a minor setback and that they are prepared for it.
Only time will tell how accurate her assessment is.”
* * *
Channel Ten Studio
Fabian Alexander was all smiles on his first day behind the anchor desk at Channel Ten News’ evening newscasts, airing at five and six p.m. While this meant that he would no longer report from the field, he would get more on screen time, which was never a bad thing as far as his career goals were concerned.
After coming out of a remote with Alanis Cooper, who had happily picked up the location shoots that he had been doing, he added, “The prosecution rested today in the trial of alleged criminal mastermind Darrin Morehouse. The trial will resume in two days.”
* * *
Fulton County Courthouse
Alanis Cooper showed no emotion as she repeated the verdict that had been read just moments before inside the courthouse.
“Guilty,” she said, pausing to let the word sink in before repeating for effect.
That was the verdict today in the trial of Darrin Morehouse. The suspected leader of a criminal empire, Morehouse was sentenced to life in prison today. District Attorney Michael Coombes, attributed this victory to solid testimony by Atlanta police officer John Bartlett and reporter Benjamin West, but it was the surprising testimony of the defendant’s wife that had the strongest impact on the case. Vivian Morehouse refused to comment publicly about the fate of her husband and his businesses. She was escorted out of the courtroom under guard and did not make any statements to the press.”
“However, in a Channel Ten exclusive, both Officer John Bartlett and photojournalist Benjamin West were on hand today and offered their opinions of the verdict on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse.”
The camera switched off as the monitor showed the prerecorded question and answer session.
“Mr. West! Mr. West, can you comment on the verdict?”
Benjamin West stopped on the steps of the courthouse as the reporters swarmed around him like bees around honey. “I am just grateful that this is finally over,” he said once the reporters stopped shouting to get his attention. “The past few months have been a burden on all of us, but we can feel secure in the knowledge that justice was served and the good guys won one. Thank you. I have no further comment at this time.”
Not content with the response, Alanis Cooper blocked the journalist’s escape. “Just one thing further, Mr. West. Did Darrin Morehouse threaten you in any way during the trial?”
The comment brought Benjamin West up short.
The reporter noticed a muscle twitch in his cheek and knew she had him.
“No. He did not threaten me during the trial. He did, however, try to kill us just prior to his arrest, if that counts for anything. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Miss Cooper.”
He pushed past her and for a moment she considered following until the State’s star witness, Officer John Bartlett, exited the courthouse. Bartlett was not known for his willingness to speak to the press, but he had a prepared statement.
The reporters ran up the stairs and shoved microphones at the police investigator.
“I have a statement, but will not be answering any questions,” he said, quite certain that they would hurl questions at him regardless. He really hated reporters, but had promised his captain and the DA that he would keep his temper in check.
After clearing his throat, Bartlett began. “I’m just glad it is over. Darrin Morehouse was - is - a dangerous man. I, for one, am happy that he is off the street and behind bars where he belongs.” He paused as if finished before looking directly at the cameras instead of at his notes. “Darrin Morehouse liked to play games,” he said sternly. “This man took a perverse thrill from the suffering of others, but the games finally caught up with him. Darrin Morehouse was snared by one of his own traps and now he has to live with the consequences of his actions.”
“As for me…” he started and took a deep breath.
“As for me, my game playing days are over.”
* * *
Channel Ten Studio
“My game playing days are over.”
“With those words, Atlanta Police Officer, Lieutenant John Bartlett left the Atlanta Superior Courthouse for the last time as a member of the Morehouse case.” Once again behind the Channel Ten anchor desk Fabian Alexander delivered the final summation of the trial of Darrin Morehouse, the news story that had launched his career.
“That was yesterday,” the anchor said.
“Today, Darrin Morehouse was remanded into custody at an as yet unannounced maximum security prison. The name and location of that prison has not yet been released for fear that a rescue attempt by Morehouse’s alleged criminal conspirators might be made to free him from police custody.”
The anchor paused as if lost in his thoughts. He shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. “On a personal note,” he continued after a moment. “This trial has been a long, hard battle for all parties involved. Having been here since the beginning, I can identify with Detective Bartlett’s final statement to our reporter yesterday when he said...”
The tape cued up and once again John Bartlett uttered the words that would follow him for the rest of his career.
“My game playing days are over.”
The Rusty Mug Pub was widely known as a favored hangout for the city of Atlanta’s Law Enforcement Professionals. Simply put, The Mug, as it was affectionately called, was a cop bar.
From the outside, the Rusty Mug Pub looked like a relic from a bygone era where everything had a rustic, old home feel. The wrought iron grating running along the outer edges of the concrete tiled sidewalk was older than most of the bar’s patrons. The walls were made up of deftly placed red bricks made from red Georgia clay. The bricks had probably been manufactured not far away from the very spot many, many years earlier. Who knows, perhaps maybe even before Sherman’s famous fire sale all those many decades past. The place looked like it should have been on a historic tour line instead of serving as a local dive.
It was the kind or place Norman Rockwell would have painted in his day.
And thanks to the clientele, it was a place where everyone truly knew your name and one place no one would ever dare think of robbing.
The Mug was a beautiful place on the outside and the patrons loved it, but the inside told the true tale. On an average night thick smoke would fill the air and the smell of alcohol and cheap cologne would mingle with the smoke from at least a dozen cigars, forming a fragrance unique to the Rusty Mug. The Mug was one of the last public places in the area where public smoking was not banned. Okay, technically, it was banned there as well, but who was going to call the cops when they were the ones doing the smoking? Don’t ask, don’t tell was the rule when it came to smoking at the Rusty Mug Pub.
And then there were the stories. Oh the tales of bygone glory days.
People would talk for hours on end. Stories about stalwart heroes, vile villains, and beautiful damsels in distress were the norm, even though many of them -if not al-) were blatant fabrications. At the least the stories were cleverly exaggerated, weaving intricate plots along with colorful characters that rivaled anything penned by many a professional writer.
Many were the nights that the Rusty Mug Pub would bring about good fiction.
That came later in the evening, after the sun had set behind the city’s many skyscrapers. But during the day, the pre-lunch crowd consisted of only a small handful of patrons. Which wasn’t so unusual for the 11:45 a.m. on a Thursday.
Most sat at the bar, but a few of the regulars sat in the booths. Some played cards while others read. Many of the regulars were retired Atlanta PD who came in just to give themselves something to break up their day. The occasional off duty officer out for a mid day belt or some retirees coming in to relive the good old days in the quieter, familiar setting of midday. A couple of the old detectives got together a few times a week and worked on cold cases just to give themselves something to do. Or just to get out of the house for awhile.
There were other reasons to be bellied up to a bar before noon on a slightly chilly Thursday in October. If one thought hard enough, he could probably even come up with believable excuses.
Inside the Rusty Mug Pub, police lieutenant John Bartlett was sitting at the bar, nursing a beer that had stopped being cold about twenty minutes ago. Piled next to him on the wood grain bar was a small stack of file folders, each crammed beyond capacity with neglected paperwork that he should have been working on instead of sitting behind a bar during the day. His mail was also lying there in a heap. It had been nearly a week since he had stopped by the Post Office to pick it up and there was no telling what was in there. Mostly bills, he assumed. Probably past due by now. Not that such things really mattered to him anymore. Since his wife left him he could care less if the house fell apart or caught fire. Part of him wanted to sell it, but the sentimental part refused to part with it on the off chance that one day she decided to come back.
Now that he had retrieved the envelopes, he just couldn’t muster up the energy or desire to open any of them. Most likely bad news anyway, he suspected. Not that I’m a pessimist or anything. He took another sip of his warm beer and grimaced.
John Bartlett had sought out the Rusty Mug Pub for one particular reason. He and the owner, Mac Sperling, were very good friends. Lieutenant Sperling had been a police officer for nearly twenty years until he was injured in a drive by shooting about eight years earlier. Luckily, Mac survived, but he lost most of the mobility in his right leg. That injury was more than enough to have him pulled from street duty and placed behind a desk. To this day he still walked with a pronounced limp, but he remained positive. “At least I can still walk,” he liked to say whenever anyone started to feel sorry for him.
His superiors offered him a promotion and the dreaded desk job, but Mac Sperling was a beat cop. If he could not be on the streets, he wouldn’t be happy. Rather than becoming saddled with a desk job he knew he wouldn’t like, Mac opted for early retirement. He bought the bar less than a year later with some mad money he’d stashed away, changing the name from the unimaginative Carl’s Place to the more interesting The Rusty Mug Pub shortly thereafter.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Mac was always there to lend a helpful ear to John Bartlett, not to mention any other person, law enforcement officer or not, that needed to talk. Mac was an excellent listener, which turned out to be an extremely good quality for a bartender. Not such a bad thing for a police officer either, John thought.
Mac had helped him through some tough times in the past. The first time John shot a suspect had been emotionally draining, but it was nothing compared to what he went through when Elisabeth left him. Their marriage had been anything but perfect, but John was committed to making it work. He thought she was too until one day he came home and she was gone.
He never heard from her again.
John almost lost his mind. The only thing that saved him was burying himself in his work. If not for the job and friends like Mac, he might not have been able to pull himself back from the brink. He still missed Elisabeth and from tie to time thought about trying to track her down. Each time he stopped himself. He decided that if she ever wanted to talk to him then she knew how to find him.
After the crappy day that he had endured, and it’s only just getting on noon for Christ’s sake, he noted, Bartlett needed a friendly face and some sage advice from an old pro like Mac.
Unfortunately, Mac was not at work today. He had taken the day off, a rare occurrence indeed, to spend some much needed quality time with his son, Shaun. Mac had been absent for most of the boy’s formative years, which was a fairly common occurrence in their line of work. If he had children, John assumed his situation would hardly be different, as the job demanded more and more. At least, Mac was finally able to make up for lost time while his son was still willing to accept him. His friend was lucky. Not everyone in his situation was so fortunate.
John would just have to wait before he could tell his friend about his day. Sure, he could have simply called Mac on his cell, but he did not want to disturb father and son bonding time. He had considered leaving since Mac was out, but, honestly, he had nowhere else to go.
Over the bar, a TV newscast anthem faintly broke through the idle chatter around The Mug as the anchors were introduced by a deep, professional, James Earl Jones-ish voice. The noon news, just like the evening news, always started with a big story. Normally, John might give the news broadcast a second glance if for no other reason than simple curiosity. Wondering, What would be today’s big story?
But not today.
No, today he had a pretty good idea what the lead story would be.
The anchor for Channel Ten Noonday News, Fabian Alexander, began the broadcast with a welcome to his friends in the city of Atlanta. The same cheesy greeting he had given every day since he was promoted into the anchor spot a few years back. Bartlett did the math in his head. Going on six years. He tried not to grimace at the anchorman’s less than genuine personality. Perhaps he only thought that because he had gotten to know the man during the course of his career.
John did not like the media and he truly had no love for reporters like the one on the TV screen. Ironically enough, they loved him. Everywhere he went, every turn, every motion was captured on film and transmitted for all the world to see. They haven’t left me alone since we nailed Morehouse, he groused. He often repeated this complaint whenever the press came around.
Fabian Alexander was one such media personality, and Bartlett had no great love for the man, but he was by no means the worst. No, there were other so-called journalists out there that he disliked even more than the arrogant television anchor. There was one in particular, but John tried not to dwell on the subject because thinking about it only made him angry.
The anchor began the broadcast with a big lead in as usual. It was a story about a courageous act that “local hero; City of Atlanta Police Department, Detective John Bartlett” had performed earlier in the day.
John assumed they liked to pull out the “local hero” angle to attract viewers. He did not consider his actions as heroism, quite the opposite actually. He considered it to be just doing his job, but the reporters chose not to see it that way.
Just doing my job wasn’t sexy enough for the news.
Looking at the monitor above the bar as he downed the last of his warm beer, Bartlett groaned as video images of him entering a run down looking brownstone, just three hours earlier this morning, were shown. With the camera angles used and the quick, choppy editing, what little footage of the morning’s incident looked like something out of a big budget Hollywood action flick. Such tricky with the video only added to the Hero Cop tag that had been attached to him since Morehouse.
The bartender, noticing Bartlett and a few of the Pub’s regulars watching the television set turned up the volume with the remote control he kept hidden in his shirt pocket. Just one more way of serving the customer.
He had been tuning out the drone of the television until he looked at it. Once he noticed the familiar presence on the screen he could no longer ignore it. Fabian Alexander’s on air voice broke the silence. He was in mid-spiel. “--saving the lives of both mother and child. We were unable to reach Lieutenant Bartlett for comment, but his superiors at police headquarters were more than happy to praise the heroic efforts of this courageous officer.”
“Oh, please.” John simply shook his head while listening to an on-the-scene reporter whom he did not personally know drawl on and on and on in a never-ending string of well known television cliches. ‘Heroic efforts.’ ‘Courageous officer.’ He knew that, if he kept listening the words ‘racially charged’ would make their way into the report somehow.
“Give me a break,” John mumbled.
It sounded like they were talking about someone else.
Unfortunately, knowing Fabian Alexander as well as he did, there was little doubt tonight’s evening news would feature a follow up on the life and career of John Bartlett, Atlanta PD. Every time he made the news, Alexander pulled out that old sound bite from the end of the Morehouse trial and replayed it over and over again. “My game playing days are over.” He had regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. And now, six years later, he still regretted saying it.
John’s attention was drawn back to the TV when the image on the screen shifted from the anchor to show his boss at the scene after the suspect had been taken into custody and rushed him off to the hospital under guard. John had conveniently exited stage left before anyone could shove a microphone in his face.
His boss, Captain Miller loved the spotlight. The spotlight did not return the favor. John would have been glad to give the media frenzy that clung to him over to his boss. However, John guessed that after a minimum of two days of endless hounding by reporter after reporter, even Captain Miller would lock himself away in his office, never to be seen again. If only that option were available to me, John wished.
The captain continued. “The suspect, one Philip Carteros of Atlanta, reportedly opened fire on Lieutenant Bartlett as well as a minimum of six hostages whom he had taken earlier in the morning in the apartment building behind me. As ranking officer on the scene, Detective Bartlett went into the building to communicate a peaceful solution to the situation before the suspect could kill any of his hostages.”
“Captain, is it true that Detective Bartlett shot Philip Carteros?”
Miller paused as if to search for a proper response. He cleared his throat before continuing. “The suspect fired on my officer and, as he has been trained to do, defended himself. Detective Bartlett had no other recourse available than to return fire,” Captain Miller said, looking directly into the camera. It was a rehearsed speech and John knew it. Hell, half the city could probably tell. Captain Willie Miller was rigidly stiff and spoke in choppy sentences as he pretended not to read his lines off of a cue card he had hidden just out of the camera’s view. Bartlett always knew his boss had a bright future ahead of him in politics.
Captain Miller concluded his statement in his customary way, saying, “The department stands behind Detective Bartlett one hundred percent. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have a lot of work to do and I should get back to it. Thank you.”
“Well that’s good to know,” Bartlett said with a smirk. He knew he wasn’t in any sort of trouble with the department or his captain. If he were he would be sitting at the station instead of nursing a beer at the Mug. There would be an official IAD investigation, but that was standard procedure with any officer involved shooting. He had no doubt Internal Affairs would clear him.
The image of Captain Miller faded out quickly, only to be replaced a scant millisecond later by Fabian Alexander in his position behind the anchor desk, a large, green numeral 10 positioned behind him in bold, three dimensional lines. “The suspect mentioned by Captain William Miller, was one Philip Carteros of Atlanta, age 34, is currently at Grady Memorial Hospital in stable condition, but under the strictest police guard until he can be safely moved to one of the local police stations for processing. Channel Ten’s Monica Kennedy is standing by at Grady Memorial and we will, of course, keep you posted on Mr. Carteros’ condition later in this broadcast.”
The anchor continued to talk, but John had heard enough. His attention moved elsewhere, toward the glass on the bar in front of him.
The glass was empty.
His life was empty.
If he’d had the strength, he would have laughed at the irony, but he was tired. This morning’s shoot out, which was far more involved than the news had made it out to be, had sapped him. Maybe a few hours of shuteye will help, he thought even though he doubted it would. He’d not had a truly good night’s sleep since Elisabeth left. Sometimes he wondered if he would ever get a peaceful night’s sleep again.
It was at that moment a familiar waitress walked up next to him, leaning with her elbows behind her on the bar. She tilted in close to John, so that he could hear her soft voice. “Looks like you get to be a hero again, John.” She knew how much he hated the spotlight, but she could not let the opportunity to get in a good zinger pass her by. Thankfully, he knew she was only teasing.
“Yea, me,” John said with as little enthusiasm as possible.
The waitress placed another bottle of beer in front of him. He hadn’t ordered another and he looked at her curiously, wondering.
“What’s this?” he asked when no explanation was apparently forthcoming.
“It’s on me.”
He gave her a quizzical look, eyebrows raised. “Why, Stella, I must say this is a surprise. I’ve been coming here for years and I do believe this is the first time you’ve ever bought me a drink. What’s the occasion?”
She flashed her winning smile. “What can I say, you’re the only super hero I know.”
“Gee thanks. I’m almost touched at your sincerity.” He paused to take a sip of his beer. It was nice and cold, frost still on the bottle. “And I am not a super hero!”
“Well,” she said in mock annoyance. “Take away the camera crew and the mob of reporters and John Bartlett is a human being after all.”
He gave her a wink. “A scary thought, huh?”
She shrugged. “Maybe a little.”
“Just don’t spread it around, okay? I’ve got a reputation to protect.”
“Your secret is safe with me, officer,” Stella said, returning the wink.
Bartlett smiled in spite of himself.
“Come on, John,” she prompted. “Doesn’t it feel good to be labeled a hero? I mean, you do your job day in and day out with little or no fanfare. Usually, the news only reports on the mistakes.”
“Yes they do.” He took another long pull on his beer.
“So, it must be gratifying to get a little respect for it every now and again.” She turned to the bartender to enlist his help in making her point. “Wouldn’t you say, Ernie?”
Ernie, a new bartender that Mac had hired about a month before wasn’t as much of a conversationalist as the Mug’s owner, or apparently, the waitress. Ernie let out a fake laugh before returning to his work wiping off the bar. “Leave the customers alone, Stella,” he told her. Ignoring the bartender, the waitress simply shrugged off his suggestion and turned her attention back toward Detective Bartlett.
“Besides,” she continued, “it gives all of us little people hope when the good guys win one.”
“If you say so,” John said. “Too bad we win so few of them.”
“Oh cheer up. Tomorrow’s Friday. You can gear up for the weekend. Maybe those bosses of yours that are so very proud of you will see their way clear to give you the day off.”
“Yeah. That’ll happen. My luck doesn’t work like that, Stella.” He sighed.
“Maybe it’s time for your luck to change,” she told him. “You shouldn’t be so... you know... Mr. Glass is half empty. You should try to be more sure of life.”
“I guess my glass needs a refill, huh?”
“Ha. Ha.” Stella showed no enthusiasm and made no attempt to hide her annoyance at his self-deprecation.
John simply shrugged it away. He was in no mood to be optimistic. He was even less interested in having someone try to cheer him up.
“Have a little faith,” she told him.
“I have faith. I know that the worst is yet to come. That’s why I’m here.” He looked down at the drink she had only seconds ago placed on the bar in front of him. With one gulp, he downed a sizeable amount. It was good and cold. “I prefer to be drunk when the other shoe falls,” he added for emphasis as he clanked the bottle down on the bar.
As if on cue, the outer door opened and the bell above the door jingled. Bartlett turned slightly to see who had entered the bar. A younger man walked in and he immediately recognized the new arrival. His arrival wasn’t, but it wasn’t anyone Bartlett had any desire to see.
It was Benjamin West.
Benjamin West. The one newsperson John Bartlett disliked more than Fabian Alexander.
“Ah, shit,” John said under his breath.
“I beg your pardon?” the waitress asked.
Bartlett did not answer, turning back toward his beer as the new arrival walked across the floor straight toward the bar. West took a seat next to Bartlett without asking. Then, the new arrival pushed aside the officer’s case files and stack of mail.
John looked up at the waitress with tired eyes.
“Stella, I’d like you to meet the other shoe.”
To Be Continued in Deadly Games! Now On Sale.
They played the most dangerous game of all and death was only the beginning...
Six years ago, Police Detective John Bartlett and journalist Benjamin West were instrumental in the capture of notorious master criminal Darrin Morehouse. Their story played out in the media, rocketing both Bartlett and West into local celebrity status.
Today, Morehouse, still a master game player and manipulator, commits suicide while in prison. His death initiates one final game of survival for the people Morehouse felt wronged him the most. At that top of the list are Bartlett and West, who must set aside their differences to save the lives of Morehouse's other victims and solve one last game before a dead man’s hired killers catch them and his other enemies.
DEADLY GAMES! can be purchased in print and ebook editions at the following:
Print at Amazon
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