The story begins
For a guy
who’d had a major problem with much of Metro Nashville’s finest a
little more than a year ago, I was hardly overjoyed at finding
myself in the midst of the department’s most tormenting case in
years. Okay, maybe not in the midst. I was more like on the
periphery, which was still a lot closer than I cared to be.
happened on one of those spectacular early spring days that could
have inspired a poet to grab pen and paper. The sky appeared so blue
it dazzled. Early-blooming lilacs spread like a purple haze along
the driveway, heavily scenting the nippy morning breeze. Jill and I
left home full of anticipation, bound for lunch at Nashville’s
spectacular Opryworld Hotel. We were meeting a prospect we hoped to
make the first major client of McKenzie Investigations.
gentleman in question, one Jesse Logan by name, awaited us in the
spacious Lakeside Lobby on the far side of the sprawling hotel. He
stood next to a mammoth fluted column with a Corinthian style
capital, although I doubted the good folks from Corinth ever
sculpted a stylized guitar on all four sides. Even if I’d not had
the benefit of a previous investigative career, Logan would not have
been all that difficult to spot among the throng of stockbrokers,
analysts and such who had descended on the hotel for a meeting of
securities dealers. Logan had told me he would look a little bit
like Tiger Woods. In fact, he appeared to be early- to mid-thirties,
medium height, trim, dressed in a brown knit shirt and khaki slacks.
He didn’t share Tiger’s tentative grin, but I found him leaning
against a tall, leather-adorned bag from which a mob of wood and
metal heads protruded.
approached him with a confident smile. “Mr. Logan?”
glanced at his watch. “You must be Greg McKenzie. Right on time.
Punctuality, I like.” Looking across at Jill, he said, “And this
would be Mrs. McKenzie?”
indeed. He reached out to take Jill’s hand, giving rise to what I
called her motherly smile. Though old enough to be a grandmother
several times over, she had coal-black hair and an attractive face
and figure that made too many people wonder if she might not be my
daughter. Happily, she was not. I’d had neither sons nor daughters
but one wife for over thirty-five years.
pleasure to meet you, Mr. Logan,” Jill said.
his hand also, approving of the firm grasp, then noted a set to his
jaw that appeared to signal he was not the type who preferred
standing around making small talk. “Ready for some lunch?” I asked.
am. I just got in from playing the Summerhouse Course with a lawyer
I’m consulting about our situation. If you don’t mind, I’ll just
bring the bag along and save some time. No telling how long it would
take to get to my room and back.”
that,” I said. The Opryworld’s room wings wandered off in every
conceivable direction from its numerous lobbies and ballrooms and
its monstrous areas under glass. “Bring the clubs. There’s a good
eating place in the Lakeside area.”
he said, smiling broadly. “I’ll confess, though, I’m a bit of a
stickler when it comes to my menu preferences.”
from Atlanta, had told me on the phone he was southeast regional
manager for Leisure Foods Group, which operated a chain of specialty
restaurants called King Cole’s. That had led me to speculate that he
might be a merry old soul. The age category certainly didn’t fit.
hotel’s restaurants were a tad pricey, but we were here to impress a
prospect. Jill was decked out in a fashionable blue and white outfit
and, though I preferred more casual attire, I wore my dark gray suit
with the patterned red tie. I would certainly have been impressed
were I in Logan’s shoes. We escorted him through a brick archway
into an area that resembled a tropical garden. Large green plants
grew in profusion among pools dotted with dancing water spouts. Off
to the right was one of the hotel’s half a dozen eating spots, one
that resembled a sidewalk café not far from a high waterfall that
gushed out of huge manmade rocks. Nearby, a rotating lounge sat like
a lily pad on an indoor lake. High above, you could see blue sky
through what looked like acres of glass. Now that was
Jill and I had ordered sandwiches considerably more expensive than
McDonald’s and Logan had vetoed everything but a fruit plate, I
asked him how he’d come to know Metro Detective Phillip Adamson, the
officer who had recommended us.
his name from a friend in the Atlanta Police Department. When I
talked to Adamson, he said you two had been in business for only a
few months. But he pointed out that you were retired from the Air
Force Office of Special Investigations and had been an investigator
for the DA’s office in Nashville. He also told me about the murder
case you folks solved down in Florida last fall.”
Adamson had become a good friend–one of few in the Metro PD–despite
a rocky start nearly a year and a half ago when I had stonewalled
him while struggling to track down a group of Palestinians who had
proceeded to explain the problem that plagued him, which involved
the King Cole’s unit in Hendersonville, a trendy town just across
the county line on the northeast side of Nashville. It seemed that
several employees, possibly including the manager, were suspected of
skimming cash from the operation. The customer base appeared to be
holding firm, though gross receipts were sliding down a slippery
want to get the cops involved and risk a rash of bad publicity,” he
said. “We’re looking for a private detective agency to get a handle
on the situation.”
waitress brought our food, and as Logan picked his way through a
mound of fruit and cottage cheese, Jill and I dug into sandwiches
big enough for King Kong if not King Cole. As we ate, a burly
ex-Metro police captain named Haley Edwards waved at me, then took a
seat at a nearby table. He was security chief at the hotel. I had
met him during my all-too-brief tenure with the District Attorney’s
office. In light of his own problems with Nashville’s police
hierarchy, he had readily expressed sympathy for my agonizing
well into charting some possible routes the King Cole’s
investigation might take when I saw Edwards jam a cell phone against
his ear. His eyes widened. His face took on a doomsday look. He
jumped up from the table, nearly knocked over his chair, and ran for
the clatter and seeing the puzzled look on my face, Logan turned in
time to catch a glimpse of the fleeing hotel official. “What the
devil was that all about?”
head of Opryworld’s security,” I said. “From the looks of it, I’d
say he has a major problem.”
that as a cue and donned a demure smile. “Why don’t we get back to
Investigations can help with your problem, Mr. Logan?”
my wife to seize the moment.
actually, you’ve pretty well convinced me you’re the people to solve
our dilemma,” he said. He looked across at Jill. “I like the idea of
your going in as a hostess to take an inside look at what’s
happening out there. Tell me a little more about what you have in
moment, I’m just kicking around some ideas,” I said. “We could be
dealing with embezzlement of funds, or it might involve the waiters
stirred the tea in his glass, then looked back at Jill. “As an
insider, you might be able to get some servers to talk.”
would be our hope,” I said.
kind of fee are we talking about?”
told him, he nodded.
reasonable. Let me get with corporate and be sure we’re all singing
from the same hymnbook. We should be ready to start something in a
day or so.”
prospects appeared so favorable that I blew the budget and ordered
an exotic-looking dessert for the three of us. While we waited,
Logan told us about being raised by his grandmother in the projects
in Birmingham. She had done a heroic job of molding him into the
successful young businessman who sat across from us.
dessert came, it was a monstrous concoction of cake and ice cream
and various toppings. One serving would have done for the three of
us. Or so I thought, though Jill and Logan demolished their portions
rather thoroughly. After coffee and a final bit of friendly banter,
we shook hands, I paid the check, Logan shouldered his golf bag for
the trip to his room, and Jill and I headed back out to the lobby.
dismay, we found the scene there pure bedlam. Uniformed officers
stood at every outside door, barring anyone from leaving the
building. A police sergeant shouted orders. Desk clerks and bellmen
scurried about in complete confusion. Clusters of guests, many
wearing convention badges, chattered like seagulls on the beach
beside our Florida condo, their faces twisted in bewilderment.
stared. “What in the world is going on?”
know,” I said. “It’s obviously not a meeting of the Greg McKenzie
looked about, I recognized a few Metro detectives in plain clothes
questioning people in the lobby. Happily, my old nemesis, Murder
Squad Detective Mark Tremaine, was not among them. But after
searching the crowd a few moments, I spotted Phil Adamson talking to
a stocky young man in a black windbreaker I thought I remembered as
an FBI agent. Oh, for the good old days when the feds only wore
conservative blue suits. At any rate, obviously something major had
Jill toward where Phil stood, his face pinched into its usual dour
expression. Though not impressive to look at—tall, gaunt, with
thinning brown hair and a beak of a nose that appeared slightly out
of joint—Adamson was a sharp, intelligent cop. Assigned to Homicide,
he and his colleagues investigated other violent crimes in addition
turned away from the FBI guy, I tapped him on the shoulder.
around, raising both eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing here,
grinned. “Having lunch with the client you sent our way, Phil.
Thanks for the recommendation. What’s happening?”
glanced toward Jill. “Hi, Miz McKenzie.” After looking around to
check nearby faces, he lowered his voice, which had a somber,
gravelly quality. “Somebody just shot Dr. Elliott Bernstein. Very
chairman?” I recalled reading in the paper that he would be in town
for a meeting at the local Federal Reserve Bank and to speak at the
securities dealers convention.
Adamson said with a nod. “Looks like an execution.”
after two o’clock by the time we reached the office. The drive
hardly took twenty minutes, but there had been the inevitable delays
while the police, the FBI and the Secret Service tried to put things
at Opryworld into some sort of perspective. Thanks to the
intervention of Detective Adamson, we were allowed through the
hotel’s guarded exit without excessive hassle. However, it didn’t
take an old-time investigator to deduce the reason for the dark
looks I got from a few of the cops at the door. Too many in the
ranks still viewed me as something of an enemy.
scanned the radio dial on the way to the office but learned little
more than we already knew about the Opryworld affair. Dr. Elliott
Bernstein, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, whom some people
called the second most powerful man in the country, had been killed
by a gunshot while being escorted through the Governors’ Lobby by a
group of convention officials and his two Secret Service bodyguards.
Both Metro Police and the FBI were on the scene, but no one in an
official position had commented on who the killer might have been or
what could be the motive. The media, however, had already plunged
headfirst into what it does best, speculating wildly on the
possibilities. In the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, the
Iraq war, and continuing problems with Al Qaida, they called it a
likely terrorist act.
rate, all was calm at the office of McKenzie Investigations when we
showed up at the strip center a few miles from our home in
Hermitage. This suburb on the southeastern side of Nashville was
named after Andrew Jackson’s historic home. Being a native of St.
Louis, I wasn’t all that conversant with our seventh president until
the Air Force sent me down here as a short-haired shavetail in the
sixties. After meeting Jill, I was quickly enlightened on the
Jacksonian references that abounded in the area. Old Hickory
Boulevard, for instance, which is our office address, came from the
“boulevard” sounds fairly grand, our office was not. The space had
been occupied until recently by a small beauty shop. The large
window in front offered little in the way of privacy—not a good
selling point for clients who preferred anonymity. We had discussed
painting it with some kind of mural but couldn’t agree on the scene.
Jill wanted a seashore with palm trees. I opted for mountains with
colorful hardwoods. The only privacy we could offer at present lay
in the rear, namely a storage room and a small bath. Up front
McKenzie Investigations, being an equal opportunity employer,
provided identical his and hers desks, small but adequate. Client
chairs, a file cabinet, a paper shredder that gobbled up
no-longer-needed working papers, and a narrow table for the
essentials—coffee maker, fax, copy machine/printer and small
TV—occupied the rest of the space. Our lone computer sat on Jill’s
desk. As the only financial genius in the family, she served as
gathered the mail, mostly junk, from beneath the door slot and took
it to my desk. Jill stashed her handbag in a drawer, then headed for
the miscellany table.
see if the TV folks have learned anything new,” she said.
tossing junk mail. “Or guessed at anything more deviously.”
picked up an envelope that showed a possibility of interest when the
door opened and a woman wearing a short brown skirt and a
well-filled green sweater walked in. She appeared thirtyish at first
glance, though I upped that estimate by a few years when I saw the
crow’s feet in the corners of large gray eyes. She had long
reddish-brown hair and a shapely body that she maneuvered
seductively as she crossed the room. I found her face attractive,
even with a troubled cast to her eyes.
help you?” I asked.
so,” she said, stopping halfway to my desk. She glanced across at
Jill. “You’re the McKenzies?”
“Right on both counts.” I motioned to one of the client chairs.
“Won’t you have a seat, Miss—?”
she said. “Molly Saint.”
glad it wasn’t Saint Molly. She really didn’t fit my vision of
somebody ready for canonization. Apparently not my wife’s, either.
Jill quickly switched off the TV, strode over and leaned against the
side of her desk as Molly took a seat across from me.
McKenzie,” she said. “This is my husband, Greg.”
she put a little more emphasis than necessary on the husband part,
but I suppose it’s a woman thing.
we help you?” I asked.
problem with my husband,” Molly said.
her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Saint, but we don’t handle
domestic relations cases. We can give you the names of some other
agencies that do.”
Saint had placed her denim-clad handbag on the floor. Now she
twisted her hands in her lap. “It’s not what you’re thinking,” she
said. “I’m not looking for somebody to snoop around and catch him in
bed with another woman. I haven’t decided about a divorce.”
She had a
voice that sounded somewhat argumentative. It made you want to hold
up your hands and say okay, I believe you. I leaned my elbows
on the desk. “Then what’s the problem?”
you to do what I guess you’d call a background investigation on
have you been married?” Jill asked.
my head. “Isn’t it a bit late to be checking on his background now?”
lowered her eyes. “Probably.”
what are you looking for?” I asked.
to keep my voice from mirroring the skepticism I felt. “So why check
him out at all?”
stopped twisting her hands and looked up. “I’m afraid of him.”
frowned. “Has he been beating you up?”
been to the police about this?” I asked.
there’s no grounds for them to do anything, so they won’t. But I
know he’s capable of violent things. I don’t think he realized I was
watching, but a couple of months ago I saw him take a large
knife—like a machete—and go after a neighborhood dog that kept
barking at him.”
horrible,” Jill said, cringing. “Did he hurt the dog?”
Thank God the dog got away.” Seeing Jill’s sympathetic reaction,
Molly turned to her. “I’m really scared. If I tell him I’m leaving,
he’ll do something terrible to me. I know he will.”
don’t tell him,” I said. “Just take off. Leave a note if you want
come after me,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t quit my job.
I’ve worked too hard to get where I am.”
you work?” Jill asked.
Motor Freight Lines. I’m taking a few days off. My nerves are shot.”
didn’t look all that stressed out to me. I also couldn’t picture her
in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler but couldn’t resist asking. “Do
you drive a truck?”
brought a frown I took as irritation. “No. I’m an administrative
assistant. I work directly under Mr. Crenshaw, the owner.”
heard of Grant Crenshaw. He was a wheeler and dealer around
Nashville, owning several large office buildings among other
investments. He had started out with the truck line and had a
reputation as a hard-driving businessman, the quintessential
husband done anything else that concerns you?” Jill asked.
feel it in my bones,” she said. “It’s the way he looks at me. Things
he doesn’t say. Damon was in Vietnam. One of the drivers at work
told me about some guys who fought over there. He said they did some
real nasty things when they came back.”
had enough of Miss Molly and her goofy generalizations. “That was
thirty years ago,” I said. “Those guys are either in prison or
mental hospitals or living on the streets. Most of the guys who
fought in Vietnam are no different from the rest of us. I doubt you
have anything to worry about. If your husband should start stalking
you or making threats, you can go to court and get a restraining
grimaced. “Come on, Greg. You know how that works. Restraining
orders don’t restrain men determined to do bodily harm. Why don’t we
find out a little more before we make any judgments?”
can be so damned rational at times.
about Damon, how you met him?” Jill asked. She wheeled the chair out
from behind her desk and sat facing Molly.
woman rubbed her cheek with one hand and looked around. “You got a
water fountain? My mouth’s awful dry.”
about coffee?” I asked. We were coffee drinkers, first and foremost.
water’ll be fine.”
have a water fountain, but we had a supply of soft drinks in a small
refrigerator in the storeroom. “We’ve got Cokes, Sprite, that sort
of thing,” I said.
would be nice,” she said.
to the back room as Jill rephrased her last question. “How did you
around five years ago,” she said. With the door open, I could easily
hear her reply. “I had just broken up with this guy I’d been with
for quite a while. I was at this bar having a few drinks one night
and somebody suddenly started talking beside me. He was a very
ordinary-looking guy, you know. I hadn’t paid any attention to him
before that. Anyway, when he spoke he had this deep voice like a
radio announcer. Only he talked real soft like and polite.”
accepted the Coke can and a plastic cup with a silently mouthed
wasn’t the handsome prince?” Jill said with a grin.
But there was something attractive about him. He was around your
height, lots of muscles, long black hair. I never went for guys with
long hair before that. I guess it was the eyes that really got to
me, though. They’re dark as night, and when he looked at me, I felt
like he was seeing right down into my soul. Whatever he saw, he must
have liked. He asked me out the next day.”
“Was it a
very long courtship?” Jill asked.
took a swallow of Coke. “I went out with him two or three times and
suddenly he wanted to marry me. Like I said, I was on the rebound.
He seemed nice enough. What the hell, I thought. Why not?”
there was more to it than that. Most likely some shenanigans in the
bedroom she didn’t care to go into.
married him,” Jill said. “How much did you know about him at that
about some specifics,” I said.
sipped on the Coke, then twisted the cup in her hands. “Well, he
said he was raised in an orphanage and had no family.”
was he raised?” I asked.
city. It could be a little difficult to check out but was no big
deal. “What did he tell you about his military service?”
served in Vietnam. He retired from the Army later and lived mostly
on his pension.”
pension does he get?”
said. It goes directly to his bank account, which is separate from
certainly on target when she said her knowledge of her husband was
he lives mostly on his pension. What else does he do?” I asked.
for Heritage Car Rentals. Ferries cars back and forth between local
and out-of-town offices. They let him work as much or as little as
he wants to.”
working today?” Jill asked.
nodded as she finished her Coke. “I called the office. He left for
Chattanooga this morning. That’s why I came over here now.”
turned to me. “What do you think, Greg?”
my hands and looked at Molly. “Nothing you’ve told us raises any
major alarms. Apparently he didn’t harm the dog you mentioned. He
was probably just chasing it off. I still don’t see any reason to
panic. And I have no idea what you want us to look for.”
clasped her hands again, stared down at them, then back up at me. “I
guess I’d just like to know more about him. You know, has he been in
any trouble? Has he hurt anybody? as
I want to know if my fears are real or just imagination.”
could reply, Jill jumped in. “Let us talk it over tonight, Mrs.
Saint. We’ll give you our decision in the morning.”
not the reply I had intended to give. I sometimes wondered about
this monster I had created when I let Jill talk me into her being a
detective and my partner in crime. She had even bought a small
revolver that would fit in her handbag and took firing lessons,
despite having expressed great reservations over the necessity of my
carrying a gun while on active duty. She did really well on the
range, though with that little .38 the targets weren’t too far away.
My choice of weapon was a 9mm Beretta a bit smaller than the one I
was issued in the Air Force. We both had permits to carry concealed
weapons but, like most private investigators, saw no need to carry
rate, I heard Molly exhale sharply as I sat there looking flustered.
call me,” she said. “I seldom know where he’s gonna be. I’ll call
rang as Jill accompanied Molly Saint to the door. Jesse Logan
greeted me with word that he needed a little more embellishment on
my ideas regarding how to pursue the King Cole’s investigation. I
had been talking off the top of my head during lunch and told him
quite frankly what I had in mind only amounted to bare bones at the
moment. I would need more time to flesh out the plan. However, I did
some quick improvisation and came up with enough meat to hopefully
satisfy his bosses.
you got caught in the same dragnet I did after lunch,” he said when
we finished our business.
Did you get interrogated by the cops?”
he said, a note of irritation in his voice. “After I finally
convinced them I was a guest in the hotel and had just eaten lunch
in the Lakeside restaurant, they let me go. I had no idea what was
going on until after I got to my room and turned on the TV.”
been too busy to check out the tube,” I said. “What’s the latest?”
“According to the last I heard on CNN, I’d say there was a little
friction between the FBI and your local police. An FBI spokesman
said it appears to be the work of a professional assassin. He said
it could be a conspiracy that relates to Bernstein’s position with
the Fed. The Nashville police chief leans to the theory that it
might have been somebody local with a grudge against the chairman.”
have any evidence of that?”
the Fed office in Washington received a threatening letter from
Nashville several months ago. It was anonymous.”
like they have their work cut out for them.”
Logan said. “The cops apparently think the murder was committed by a
black male who’s a present or former employee of the hotel.”
that’s why you got the treatment,” I said. “I’m sorry about that. I
hope you won’t hold it against us.”
said, “you guys had nothing to do with it. In fact, I understand
you’ve had your own troubles with the local gendarmes.”
did you hear that?”
“Detective Adamson. He said it was all a big misunderstanding, that
I shouldn’t believe anything I might hear about it.”
good guy. By the way, did CNN say what brought on the black employee
“Something about a black guy in a black hat and trench coat seen
heading through an employee exit.”
got off the phone, I told Jill what Logan had said about the
Bernstein murder and his request for more details on our
investigation. She quickly let me know she had more interest in
Logan’s problems than those of the police and the FBI. I did, too,
of course, but I couldn’t ignore the lure of a high-profile murder
kind of initial retainer do you think we’ll get from Leisure Foods?”
scratched my chin, entertaining thoughts about what this case might
lead to in the future. “Enough to take care of the office for a few
months, I’d think.”
wasn’t all that much, but the overhead included lights and water and
telephone. Fortunately, our interest in the agency didn’t center
primarily on the money. It might be more properly called a
rehabilitation project. I equated the term “retiree” with being put
out to pasture, and I had no desire to lie around and eat grass. But
the Air Force had declined to promote me to full colonel and cited
regulations that insisted I had overstayed my welcome in the
service. After re-locating to Jill’s hometown, I quickly found I had
enjoyed all the leisure I could stand and took a job as an
investigator for the DA. Then came the big flap over my comments in
the newspaper about Detective Tremaine. The DA insisted I retire
again. After I took on the task of solving the murder of a friend’s
son in Florida last fall, Jill was nearly ecstatic. She said I acted
like a new man. Not merely new, but someone with a purpose and, even
more gratifying to her, a man with a pleasant disposition—something
I had apparently lacked during my latest round of forced inaction.
Since she had been a major factor in solving the Florida slaying,
she proposed that we start our own detective agency, picking and
choosing the cases we wanted to pursue.
talk about Molly Saint,” I said.
behind my desk, arms folded, head cocked at just the right angle,
looking very judgmental and not at all compromising.
Jill walked over and put an arm around my shoulder. “I had thought
we would save that for pillow talk.”
askance. “I’m shocked, babe. You would stoop to using womanly wiles
to sway a business decision?”
my chair around, she plopped into my lap and looked up with those
big brown eyes that made you feel in danger of falling in and
drowning. “Unconscionable,” I murmured, then laid a big kiss on her.
away, I shifted my head and looked toward the front window. “What’s
that boy staring at?”
jumped off my lap and turned toward the window, straightening her
skirt. She frowned. “What boy?”
kidding,” I said with a chuckle. “You’ll have to admit it would’ve
made a pretty steamy scene if a potential client had walked in.”
punched me in the ribs. “You dog. I’d have told them I was just your
secretary asking for a raise.”
you certainly got a rise out of me.”
her head and returned to her desk. “I think we should take Molly
Saint as a client.”
sure her carpet goes wall-to-wall,” I said.
about feeling it in her bones. Things he doesn’t say. Unfounded
inferences because he was a Vietnam vet. Hell, she married him on a
lark. What did she expect?”
she didn’t expect to be frightened out of her wits. The look in her
eyes was fear, Greg. Fear with a capital F.”
some reservations about that.”
another thing that concerns me.” She continued right on as though I
hadn’t spoken. “There’s something vaguely familiar about Molly. I’m
sure we’ve never met before, but it’s...well, I have this eerie
feeling about her.”
often spoken of hunches I’d had on cases, about going with my
intuition. I figured that’s what she was driving at.
about King Cole’s?” I asked. “We’ll probably have our hands full
said they wouldn’t be ready for a day or so. It shouldn’t take long
to check out Mr. Damon Saint. If something is really wrong, you
don’t want to be responsible for what might happen to that young
woman, do you?”
I let out
a deep breath that must have sounded like what it was, a sigh of
said. “We’ll take the case. But if there’s any inkling that she’s
gone off the deep end or lied about any of this, we’ll cut her off
in a flash. I don’t care if she’s Saint Molly or Saint Mary. And
we’ll demand a healthy advance against our fee.”
Deadly Illusions excerpt Copyright © 2005,
Chester D. Campbell
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used
or reproduced, in any manner whatsoever, without the written
permission of the Author.