Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lauren Carr's Three Days to Forever - Excerpt from One of my Personal Favorites

The Wedding is to take place on New Year's Eve. Everybody and anybody is heading for Deep Creek Lake and will stay at Spencer Inn... The countdown has begun--3 days to go before Mac and Archie will publicly commit to each other that they will spend the rest of forever with each other... 

Continue to read my review...

While I was checking out my Facebook Page @BookReadersHeaven, I saw the info on Lauren Carr's latest novel. I immediately wanted to read it... But. but while reading,  I also thought spotlighting another of Carr's books, Three Days to Forever, which is set in December. I asked the author if I could use an excerpt on this book, while I finished her new book and she graciously gave her permission...

This book was a little different and considering the world during today's holiday season, I thought I'd start with her beginning note...

Fans of past Mac Faraday and Lovers in Crime mysteries are in for a treat with Three Days to Forever. I have chosen to take a different path with the latest Mac Faraday Mystery. Don’t worry. We have plenty of dead bodies and lots of mystery— as well as intrigue, suspense, and page turning twists. The key job of a fiction writer is to look at a situation, make observations about how things are and how they work, and then ask, “What if …” Then, the writer twists, turns, and manipulates, while maintaining believability, to make for a thrilling plot. This is what I have done with Three Days to Forever. Mac Faraday’s latest adventure plunges him, Archie, David, Gnarly, and the gang head first into a case that brings the war on terror right into Deep Creek Lake. Current political issues will be raised and discussed by the characters involved. Keep this in mind while you turn the pages—Three Days to Forever is fiction. It is not the author’s commentary on politics, the media, the military, or Islam. While actual current events have inspired this adventure in mystery and suspense, this fictional work is not meant to point an accusatory finger at anyone in our nation’s government. If, however, future events prove that circumstances in Washington are as I have depicted them in Three Days to Forever ... well, keep in mind that you read it here first. Happy Reading! 

I saw this book as a turning point for Carr and with over 13,000 hits on my blog, it was clear that the word spread quickly to people wanting to know more...Now, as I am reading Twofer Murder and I must say I'm again overwhelmed by this latest! But more on that later... 

If you haven't already read Three Days to Forever, take a few minutes to whet your appetite for one of Carr's best, that matches those coming from the likes of Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and all the other leading stars in mystery writing!

Prologue Eighteen Months Ago – 
Desert outside Baghdad, Iraq 

“Don’t you do this kind of backwards, Major?” Marine First Lieutenant Oliver Dean asked as he kept his eyes trained through the night-vision binoculars. He was peering down the mountainside to the terrorist training camp hidden in the valley among the desert caves.

“How is that, Lieutenant?” Major David O’Callaghan pressed the earbud to his ear. He didn’t want to miss any confirmations from the members of his special operations team sent out to surround the camp. 

“Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous in Deep Creek Lake for eleven months. Then, in the summer, just when the weather gets great and the sexy young things in their barely there bikinis arrive, you come out here in the desert with us smelly, ugly—” 

“Who you calling ugly, Dean?” Bates objected from the other side of David. Second Lieutenant Hallie Bates puffed out her abundant bosom, which was crammed in under her bulletproof vest and desert fatigues. Raised in a tough neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, the African-American woman’s street attitude flared. “Take any of those rich pampered hos from that fancy-dancy Spencer, strip her of her acrylic nails, shove her into desert fatigues and eighty pounds of gear, and slap a helmet on her prissy head. Then see just how pretty she is.” 

“They do smell better,” David confessed. 

Hallie wagged her head back and forth while asking, “Who would you rather have out here watching your lily white butt, Major? Me and Matilda”—she held up her assault rifle and patted its barrel—“or a sweet smelling deb?” 

The Delta team saved David from having to answer. They were in position on the opposite side of the camp. “Roger that,” David said into his mouthpiece. “Charlie, do you read me?” “Loud and clear, Major. Just waiting for the word.” “Still haven’t heard from Foxtrot and Gamma,” David noted more to himself than to his team of three men and a woman. They all kept their eyes and ears focused on what was supposed to be a sleepy terrorist training camp. “But they have further to go,” he said to soothe his nerves. Seeing lights moving down among the camp, he eased across the makeshift rocky clearing toward the telescope. “What’s going on down there? Have we been blown?” 

“It looks like everyone in that camp is awake,” Lieutenant Dean said. “Maybe they’re practicing nighttime maneuvers.” “Too many lights and movement to be business as usual,” David said while studying three guards running toward the main entrance. The only road leading into the camp cut through a break in the rocky hillsides surrounding it. He thanked God that the members of his team had managed to get across the road before attention had been drawn in that direction. 

“Gamma in place and ready, sir,” his radio announced. The last team followed to tell him, “Foxtrot is set up.” 

I don’t like all this activity, David thought, too busy thinking to acknowledge receipt of the transmission. 

“Do you copy, sir?” Foxtrot asked. David hit the button on his mouthpiece. “Copy. Charlie, Delta, Foxtrot, and Gamma, do you all have visuals?” All four teams reported that they had their equipment and weapons set up for their attack on the camp. 

“Three vehicles arriving,” Lieutenant Dean said with excitement in his voice. “Looks like they’re having a party.” Taking in a deep breath, David focused his blue eyes through the telescope at the two trucks and a Humvee that were making their way across the rocky road into the camp. “Talk about timing,” Lieutenant Hallie Bates moved in to take a closer look through her night binoculars. “They just got two truckloads of weapons.” 

“Are you sure?” 

Lieutenant Dean placed his binoculars back up onto his face. Their answer came when one of the men below yanked the lid off a crate to reveal a box full of automatic assault rifles. “That’s what it looks like.” 

David could hear his team around the camp chattering into the radio. “Everyone hold their positions. I need to report this to command.” 

“Yeah,” Hallie said with a note of sarcasm. “I can already tell you what they’ll say.” 

“Stand-down,” Dean replied before sticking his pinkie finger into his mouth to chew on a ragged fingernail. 

“I’ve been at this a little bit longer than you,” David said. “They may tell us to wait for backup—”

 “With all due respect, sir,” Hallie said, “You guys in the reserves. You haven’t seen what we’ve been seeing. Sometimes, I wonder whose side Washington is on anymore.” 

Even in the darkness, David could catch the frustration in her eyes. Since arriving in Baghdad five days earlier, he had noticed a significantly low level of morale in the fourteen-person special operations team of which he had been put in charge. 

“Major!” the Charlie leader uttered a harsh whisper across the radio. “Check out the dude that got out of the back of the Humvee. It’s Jassem al-Baghdadi!” David could hear him asking the rest of his team. “Isn’t that Jassem al-Baghdadi? He’s like the leader of their military council.” 

David was already peering through the telescope on his sniper rifle. He had memorized the lead terrorist’s face the year before, when intelligence information given to the marines special operations units revealed that Jassem al-Baghdadi was the chief coordinator of a jihad attack on a marine base in Afghanistan. Nineteen marines, all relatively new and on their first overseas tours, had been killed when an enlisted marine drove onto the base in a military truck filled with explosives. Then, he had rammed it into a barracks of his fellow comrades. A deeper investigation of the marine’s background discovered that the Muslim was also a devoted member of Jassem al-Baghdadi’s terrorist network. The attack had been planned for months with numerous communications between the marine and al-Baghdadi. 

The official cause of the attack was listed as workplace violence by a disgruntled soldier. In-depth investigative reports from the few journalists who had uncovered proof of the direct communication between al-Baghdadi and the careful coordination of the attack had been unable to gain any traction within the mainstream media. But all of the branches of the military, and especially the soldiers serving in the Middle East, knew the facts that had successfully been kept under wrap. 

At the moment, Jassem al-Baghdadi was in Major David O’Callaghans crosshairs. The terrorist leader was proudly directing their freshly trained terrorists, who were gazing up at him in awe of his accomplishments—masterminding the death of innocent westerners. 

In contrast to the excitement that David felt building up in the pit of his stomach and working its way to his beating heart, Hallie and Dean were apprehensive. “Hundred bucks says we’re told to let him go,” Dean grumbled to Hallie. “I’ll take that bet.” 

David thumbed the button to connect with Colonel Glen Frost at their base. “How many times has ops had al-Baghdadi in their sites and been told to stand-down?” Hallie asked Dean. “Twice that I know of,” the lieutenant answered. “In Somalia, they were told that there were too many civilians around. Those civilians were confirmed to be pirates holding thousands of westerners hostage.” 

“Then there was Syria, when he was on the road home from a party—” 

“I get your point,” David said while covering his ear so he could hear the colonel picking up the call. 

“What’s your status, Major?” Colonel Frost said in a tone that concealed his concern for his team’s safety. 

“The camp just received two truckloads of weapons, sir,” David reported, “delivered personally by Jassem al-Baghdadi.” 

“Are you kidding me?” The colonel sounded as excited as a schoolboy about to take down the playground bully with his secret weapon. 

David peered through the scope on his rifle. “I have him in my sights right now. Permission to use lethal force to terminate the target, sir?” 

“Here it comes,” Dean muttered. The colonel grumbled. “I need to contact central command.” 

David sat up from behind the rifle. “Excuse me, sir? Jassem al-Baghdadi is on the list of terror—” 

“Protocol, Major,” the colonel explained with increasing agitation about the situation. “We have been given orders to check with central command in Washington before using lethal force against any of our targets, even one identified as a high-ranking enemy target who killed innocent marines while they were sleeping.” 

Rubbing the back of his neck, David bit his lip to keep from saying what he was thinking. 

“Told you, sir,” Dean whispered. 

“I’ll have to contact command,” Colonel Frost said into David’s ear. “If they give me the go-ahead, use lethal force at will on my word. Code word Zombie.” 

“Zombie,” David repeated. “I roger that. Zombie.” “Hold on tight, Major.” 

David continued peering through the scope on his rifle and reporting to each member of his team, some of whom were around him, and some of whom were at their posts around the perimeter. “Okay, team, here’s the plan. If we get the go-ahead, I’m going to take out the head of this dragon. Once I take him down, you’re all going to need to be ready. Gamma and Charlie, use the grenade launchers.” 

“Aim for the trucks,” Gamma said. 

“Got to take them both out,” David said. “I want all snipers ready. Identify the leaders. These pawns aren’t anything without someone to give them orders. Take out the instructors and those in command first.” 

“If Washington gives us the go-ahead,” Hallie said. 

“They will,” David said with as much confidence as he could muster to pass on to his team. “We’re at war. We can’t win it if we don’t neutralize the enemy, no matter how nasty killing might be. I don’t like shooting people, but in situations like this, there are two options. Kill, or have my brothers and sisters in arms—or even innocent civilians like those in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and flight ninety-three—murdered.” 

“We may not have forgotten,” Lieutenant Dean said, “but Washington sure has.” 

“Not everyone in Washington,” Hallie said. “Not the Phantoms.” 

“Phantoms?” David chuckled while cocking his head and pressing his radio to his ear to make sure he got the order when it came. 

“It’s a myth.” Dean was laughing as well. “You know how people in the military talk.” Hallie was shaking her head. “A friend of mine who works on the top floors at the Pentagon says it ain’t.” 

“What’s a Phantom?” David asked with a grin. “Do they run around wearing black capes?” 

“According to what I was told—do you remember the untouchables from Al Capone days?” 

“That was before my time, but yes,” David said. “A group of federal agents and cops who banded together to take down organized crime in Chicago. They couldn’t be bribed or intimidated. They were untouchable.” 

“Well, this is the military version,” Hallie said over Dean’s quiet laughter. They were all aware of the camp full of men who would think nothing of torturing and killing all of them if they were discovered. “This team is made up of members of each branch of the government and military, more highly trained than special ops and Navy SEALs,” Hallie said. “You don’t apply to be a Phantom. You’re hand-picked. They have the top equipment and training, and their sole mission is to protect our country and citizens without the influence and intimidation of politicians and deal-makers with their own personal and political agendas.” She jerked her chin at the chief terrorist down at the bottom of the mountain. “Twice we’ve had that man in our sites, and twice we’ve been told by someone high up in Washington to let him go. Why?” She scoffed. “Because killing him would hurt those poor terrorists’ feelings. Like he didn’t care about hurting our feelings when he planned and coordinated the jihad attack in Afghanistan?” With a knowing expression on her face, she said, “It’s going to take a Phantom to terminate him.” 

“They’re a myth,” Dean said. 

“Do you remember that mansion that al-Baghdadi had in Syria?” Hallie asked. “I wasn’t there.” “Huge mansion,” Hallie said. “They say that the downstairs was a command center for ISIS. Well, that mansion is no more. It’s an eighteen-foot crater in the desert.” 

“Caused by an accidental explosion from their own weapons,” Dean said. 

Hallie whispered to David. “That’s the hallmark of the Phantoms. When they strike, it’s never traced back to us. You’d be surprised by what I heard—” 

“Major O’Callaghan …” Sucking in a deep breath, David pressed the button on his radio. “Yes, sir?” “Zombie, O’Callaghan. Zombie,” he heard the colonel say with a smile in his voice. “Terminate target at will. Wipe that camp off the face of this earth. See you when you arrive safely back home.” 

“Thank you, sir!” Chuckling, David bumped fists with the two lieutenants. “You owe me a hundred bucks. We’ve got zombies.” Into the radio, he directed, “Everyone into positions. This is for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.” He focused in on Jassem al-Baghdadi, lining up his broad chest in the middle of the crosshairs in his scope. Even if al-Baghdadi was wearing a vest, the armor piercing bullet would still end his reign of terror. “I’m putting the first shot right through his black little heart,” David said while waiting for his heartbeat to slow. “Second one is going right between his black eyes.” Between the beats of his heart, he pulled the trigger. 

“Drinks are on me tonight, ladies and gentlemen!” David announced after his team hopped off the helicopter that had returned them to the camp. The sun was rising on what promised to be another blistering day. Amid fist bumps and high-fives, the special ops team woke up the camp with their celebratory cheers of success. They had not only taken out the whole terrorist camp and two fresh truckloads of weapons meant to be used against them and their allies, but they had also taken out the number-two man, the leader of the terrorists’ military council who had successfully engineered the murders of their brothers and sisters in arms. 

“O’Callaghan!” a voice rose above the cheers. When David turned around, he saw that Colonel Glen Frost was not jubilant like his other comrades were. The hard look on the older man’s face was not what he had expected to see. His face was red all the way up his forehead and across his bald head. His white mustache was stretched taunt across his upper lip. 

“Yes, sir!” David stood at attention and raised his hand in a salute. “My tent immediately, Major O’Callaghan!” The colonel turned around and disappeared into his tent. The noise of excitement immediately ceased. 

“What’s going on?” a member of David’s team asked. “You’d think al-Baghdadi rose from the dead.” 

“Maybe we were supposed to read him his rights before the major put that bullet through his chest,” Lieutenant Dean said. 

“Put our equipment away and get some breakfast,” David ordered before stepping away. After taking a few steps, he turned back to his team, who was watching him with concern on their faces. “You all did great out there. I’m proud of each one of you.” When David arrived at his commanding officer’s tent, he found the colonel pacing around his desk instead of sitting behind it. 

Immediately, David stood at attention and rose his hand in
a salute. “Major O’Callaghan reporting as ordered, sir.” The colonel returned the salute before closing the door. David sensed Colonel Frost circling behind him. Compared to the marines who served under him, Colonel Glen Frost was short. The top of his head came up to David’s chin. But he made up for what he lacked in height with his commanding presence. Having known the colonel for more than a dozen years, David was both at an advantage and a disadvantage. He knew how Colonel Frost operated, so he was rarely caught off guard by his actions. David knew what was expected of him. The disadvantage was that the colonel knew David equally well and set his expectations for the young officer very high. 

Suddenly, Colonel Frost stepped into David’s space. David felt his hot breath on his neck when he asked, “What happened out there?” The colonel’s anger confused him, and David responded while staring straight ahead. “Target was terminated as ordered, sir. We wiped the whole camp off the face of the earth as you directed.” 

Colonel Frost’s blood shot eyes grew wide. “Ordered? Directed?” 

“Yes, sir, as ordered.” 

“Whose orders, Major?” 

“Yours, sir.” Colonel Frost stepped back and peered closely into David’s face. 

“Major O’Callaghan, when did I give the zombie order, and to whom?” 

“Me, sir,” David answered. “After I requested permission to terminate the target using lethal force, you reported that you needed to contact central command. A few minutes later, I received a radio call from you stating that permission had been granted—using the code word ‘zombie,’ sir.” 

“I said ‘zombie,’ Major?” “Twice, sir.” 

Standing at attention, David wished the colonel would give him permission to stand at rest. His feet and shoulders were getting tired after a night of hiding on the rocky mountainside. 

“Is there a problem, sir?” 

“Yes, Major O’Callaghan, there is a big problem,” the colonel said. “The order was to stand-down!” 

David felt his stomach drop to the floor. It took all of his control to not drop his jaw in a gasp. His whole body broke into a cold sweat. “With all due respect, sir, I did not receive a stand-down order.” 

“And I did not issue the code word to terminate the target,” the colonel said through gritted teeth. Beads of sweat forming on his forehead and rolling down his cheek to his neck, David searched his mind for a solution. “Could the radio signals have gotten mixed up, sir? Your message went to a different team, and I received my message from someone else?” 

“Using our code word of zombie?” the colonel scoffed. “I referred to you by name, Major. I requested a confirmation from you—Major O’Callaghan—that you understood the order was to stand-down, and you and your team were to return to base ASAP. You rogered that you understood.” 

“That is not the order I received, sir,” David replied. “Sir, I have worked under you for years. Have you ever known me to disobey an order, sir? If I had received a stand-down order, I would have stood down and directed my team to do likewise, sir.” 

“Yes, O’Callaghan, I know that.” The colonel turned to go back to his desk. “That is why I am so confused by what has happened.” 

“What now, sir?” David swallowed. “General Thurston Affleck at central command went through the roof at the news that Jassem al-Baghdadi had been killed and the camp had been destroyed.” The colonel allowed a slight smile to form at the corner of his lips. “Good job, by the way.” 

“I expect an inquiry, sir,” David said. “Of course,” the colonel said. “You and I are both ordered back to the states immediately on military transport for an inquiry as soon as we arrive. Then, they will make their recommendations about disciplinary action.” He added in a low voice, “Dishonorable discharge is the least of your problems. Court-martial for disobeying a direct order is on the table.” 

David blinked. “I understand, sir. What about my team, sir?” 

“Captain Fellows will take over as team leader.” “I mean as far as disciplinary action towards them, sir?” David said. “They were following my orders.” 

“I’ll do my best to keep them out of this mess,” Colonel Frost said. “You are dismissed, Major. Go to your tent to pack. We are leaving in one hour.” 

“Yes, sir.” David turned around on his heel and stepped toward the door. He stopped. “Permission to speak, sir?” “Yes, O’Callaghan.” David turned back to him. “I know what I heard, sir.” 

“And I know what I said.” 

It was a long, physically tiring and emotionally exhausting flight back to the United States on a military transport, which was not made for comfort. The short time he was given to pack did not give David time to shower and change out of his desert fatigues. Colonel Glen Frost barely spoke to David, who had considered his commanding officer a mentor and friend. 

During the long flight across the ocean, David would steal glances over at the Colonel—when he was not replaying the radio conversation over and over again in his mind. “Zombie, O’Callaghan. Zombie. Terminate target at will. Wipe that camp off the face of this earth. See you when you arrive safely back home.” Could I have misunderstood? How could I have mixed up “zombie” and “terminate at will” with “stand-down” and “return to base?” 

“Liquid courage?” Colonel Glen Frost held the flask out in front of David’s face. Grateful for the good will gesture, David took the flask, wiped off the mouth of it, and took a large gulp of the scotch. “Thank you, sir.” 

“You’re going to need it.” The colonel pushed the flask back to him. “Just because I’m PO about this whole thing is no reason for you and I to stop being friends. I do consider you a friend, O’Callaghan.” 

“I’m still trying to figure out what this thing is,” David said. “I know I’m not imagining—” 

“Forget that,” Colonel Frost said. “Forget about what happened out there.” 

“That’s what the inquiry is about,” David said. “I need to know what happened.” 

“Like they’re going to believe that I told you to stand-down and you heard zombie?” Colonel Frost chuckled. “We might as well tell them that aliens from outer space gained control of our radio waves.” 

He grabbed the flask out of David’s hand. “Here’s what we’re going to tell them. I did tell you zombie. I did order you to terminate the target.” He took a drink from the flask. “I disobeyed that idiot Affleck’s orders to stand-down. You were following my orders.” 

“But you’re only three years from retirement,” David said. “They’ll court-martial you. You’ll lose your commission.”

“General Affleck is looking for a scapegoat,” Colonel Frost said. “Better me than you. You’re young, David. You have so much to offer to this country—if they’ll let you. I don’t know what’s happened to this country.” He took a drink from the flask. “Actually, I do, but don’t get me started. I told Affleck exactly what was out there. I told him exactly what had to be done. He knew as well as all of us what Jassem’s history was, what he had done, and to whom. You had him right in your sights. He was on Homeland Security’s list, damn it. But Affleck ordered you not just to stand-down, but also to scrub your whole operation. Leave all those weapons that were going to be aimed at us next—do you know why?” 

“Why?” “Because Affleck’s loyalty is not to the military or his country,” Frost was on a roll. “He may be a Marine General, but he’s not military. He’s a suck-up. He’s been kissing butt and playing political games since his first day in boot camp.” The colonel gritted his teeth. “Last night, before I hung up from talking to Affleck, I ended up saying something to him that I have never said to any commanding officer before in my life.”

"What’s that?” David asked. “Whose side are you on?” He turned to David. “He didn’t answer me.” 

After nudging David in the arm, he handed him the flask. “So they’ll buy that I gave you the zombie order—no problem. The best leaders are willing to take a bullet for their team.” His heart pounding, David took a drink from the flask. The scotch burned all the way down his throat and to his stomach. 

“Repeat after me,” Colonel Frost said into his ear, “My commanding officer gave me the order to terminate the target. I was obeying his orders.” 

By the time they returned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, David was wishing that he had refused the flask of scotch. Physical and emotional exhaustion—encased in what felt like two layers of dried sweat—accompanied by alcohol made him feel physically ill. Following Colonel Glen Frost down the stairs to the runway, David noticed a limousine resting on the tarmac. A statuesque woman dressed in a black skirted suit with stiletto heels stepped up to Colonel Frost. On his way down the stairs, David noticed that she possessed the longest, sexiest legs he had ever seen in his life—and he had seen more than his share of women’s legs. 

A black fedora hat covered her hair so that David couldn’t tell its length or color. Her eyes were concealed behind dark sunglasses. She held a leather binder under her elbow like a clutch bag. She offered a long slender hand to the commanding officer. “Colonel Frost,” she said in a sultry voice, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. I was sent to meet you and Major O’Callaghan.” 

When David shook her hand in a firm grip, he noticed that she was almost as tall as he was, six feet two inches, in her high heels. While she was not dressed in a military uniform, the way she stood with her shoulders back and her back straight indicated that she certainly had a military officer’s training. 

“Commandant Amos asked that I escort you to your hotel where you can rest after your long flight.” 

The color drained from Colonel Frost’s face, starting at the top of his bald head. “General James Amos? Commandant of the Marine Corps? Joint Chief of Staff?” 

“Yes, sir.” With a gesture of her hand, the limousine driver hurried forward to take David’s duffle bag. “I hope your flight was pleasant. You will have a day to rest before boarding the private jet tomorrow morning to take you on to Washington for a debriefing before the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are all very anxious to meet you. By close of business tomorrow, the rest of your special ops team will arrive for the ceremony and reception on Friday.” 

“Friday?” David asked. The driver had taken both of their duffel bags and placed them in the trunk. He then opened the rear door of the limousine and waited for them to climb in. 

“I know,” she said with a crooked grin. “Usually these type of things take forever—red tape and blah-blah-blah. But the commandant was so impressed by the report that General Affleck filed with his recommendation that he has personally rushed it through.” 

Feeling his stomach lurch, David hoped he could keep from throwing up on her black stilettos. 

“Of course, considering the sensitive nature of the operation, we can’t publicize the award and why you and your team are getting it. If the terrorist network ever got the names of those who executed Jassem al-Baghdadi, they wouldn’t hesitate to come over here to the states to administer payback.” 

Even though her dark glasses blocked his view of her eyes, David could feel her gaze directed at him. Not only am I going to be court-martialed, but now I’m on the terrorists’ hit list. “Still,” she went on, “we can’t deny your friends and family from sharing in this honor with you. You are more than welcome to invite them to the awards ceremony and the reception afterwards. Many of the military’s highest ranking officials will be there.” 

Colonel Frost’s question came out as a squawk. “Honor? Award? Reception?” 

“Why, of course,” she replied with complete innocence while she climbed into the back of the limousine. 

David followed the colonel. Not forward enough to sit next to the woman who had chosen to sit with her back to the driver, they took the seat facing the front. Still, in the dim light of the limousine, she continued to conceal her eyes with the dark glasses. David didn’t care. He was more focused on the long pair of bare legs beckoning for his touch. 

She waited for David and Colonel Frost to get comfortable before continuing. “General Affleck recommended that you and each member of your team be award the Bronze Star for taking out Jassem al-Baghdadi.” She cocked her head at them. “What did you think all this was about?” 

His grin encompassing even his white mustache, Colonel Frost nudged David in a sign to be silent. “We’re just surprised by all of the fuss. After all, Major O’Callaghan and his team were only doing what they had been trained to do to defend our country.” 

“Exactly. They had the courage that, unfortunately, others have lacked.” After the limousine had started to move away from the airfield, 

David asked, “What did General Affleck say in his recommendation?” 

“I’ll be sure to give you both copies of it,” she said. “You may be interested in knowing that General Affleck’s recommendation on your behalf was his last official act before his death.” 

“General Affleck is dead?” Colonel Frost asked. “When? How?” 

“His body was found yesterday morning,” she replied in a tone devoid of emotion. “I guess you were traveling at the time—” 

“How did he die?” David asked. 

Ensuring that the window between the back and the driver was closed, she whispered, “It’s embarrassing for the current administration, but … it was auto-erotic asphyxiation.” 

“Are you serious?” David had never met the general, but he knew that he was a man of strict discipline who expected the same of everyone around him. 

She was nodding her head. “Yesterday morning, a cleaning woman found him hanging in the closet at the Ritz across from the Pentagon. All he was wearing was his white skull cap—” 

“White skull cap? He was Muslim?” Colonel Frost asked. “I’ve known the man for years and I never knew he was Muslim.” 

“Yes,” she answered with a nod of her head. “The clerk at the hotel desk remembers him checking in with a very ugly transvestite who is known to be a prostitute. NCIS is looking for him, but the ME has already placed the cause of death as accidental. It’s very embarrassing for a lot of people, from his wife and family to the president—especially because Affleck was appointed to that position by the secretary of state. Everyone in Washington has been flailing since extensive evidence was found on his computer proving that he has had a long history of leaking government secrets to Islamic terrorist branches throughout the Middle East.” 

“Leaking secrets to Islamic terrorists?” Colonel Frost practically jumped out of his his seat. “No wonder Affleck repeatedly ordered special ops to stand-down when we’d get prime terrorist targets in our crosshairs.” 

“Like I said, it’s embarrassing,” she said. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress are already ordering a full investigation of what General Affleck knew and where that information went.” 

Unable to read her face due to the dark glasses, David studied her body language in an attempt to read how much she truly knew beyond what she was saying. She gave him nothing. 

“If General Affleck was working for Islam instead of for us,” he said, “why would he give the order for us to terminate the target, and then put our team in for the Bronze Star?” 

“Guess we’ll never know for sure,” she replied. 

“I know one thing,” Colonel Frost said, “dirty traitor got what he had coming. Feeding information to our enemies and ordering us to sit by and twiddle our thumbs while they were out there killing us and our people. Now everyone is going to know General Affleck for what he really was—a twisted perverted traitor to his own country.” 

David still had his blue eyes locked on her. “I’m sorry,” he said, “it’s been a long last few days. I didn’t catch your name.” 

“That’s because I didn’t give it,” she replied. 

Part One: Three Days to Forever Thursday, December 29

Chapter One Spencer Manor, Deep Creek Lake, resort area in Western Maryland 

In the heart of Maryland, a cedar-and-stone home rested at the end of the most expensive piece of real estate on Deep Creek Lake. The peninsula housed a half-dozen lake houses that grew in size and grandeur along the stretch of Spencer Court. The road ended at the stone pillars marking the multi-million dollar estate that had been the birthplace and home of the late Robin Spencer, one of the world’s most famous authors. 

Cautious of the boiling hot coffee, Robin Spencer’s son, Mac Faraday, took a sip from the mug and cringed. Not only was it too hot, but it was also too strong. Screwing up his nose, he set the mug on the bed stand and turned to glare at the deep brown eyes peering up at him from the pillow on the other side of the bed. 

“Why don’t you start earning your keep and learn to brew a decent pot of coffee?” The German shepherd’s ears stood up. As if to inspect what had caused his master’s displeasure, he lifted his head and looked across Mac’s bare chest in the direction of the bed stand. “I may have to make an emergency stop up at the Inn just to get a cup of coffee.” Mac sighed. “Archie’s been gone only four days and I already miss her.” 

With a whine, Gnarly dropped back down onto her pillow and buried his snout in an effort to take in her scent. Mac stroked the top of Gnarly’s head. “Yeah, I can see you miss her, too.” 

Knocking Mac’s hand out of the way, Gnarly sprung from the bed with a series of loud barks. The eruption caused Mac to almost knock over his coffee cup. 

The action would have normally sent Mac reaching for the gun he kept in the night table, except for the fact that he heard the familiar roar of the delivery van’s engine over the barks. Yet another delivery of wedding presents. Climbing out of bed, Mac threw on his bathrobe and slippers before following Gnarly, who kept running back to urge him to hurry, down the stairs to Spencer Manor’s two-story foyer. 

By the time he arrived, the driver was waiting on the other side of the cut-glass door. Tightening the belt of his robe and closing it across his chest to block out the freezing morning wind whipping off the snow, Mac yanked open the door. Gnarly rushed outside to give the delivery man a nasal pat-down, which concluded with sniffing the oversized box he was delivering. 

After handing the German shepherd a dog biscuit, the delivery man greeted Mac. “Good morning, Mr. Faraday. Are you ready for the big day? Saturday, isn’t it?” 

He handed Mac the tablet to sign for the box. “I’ve been ready.”
Mac signed the tablet and handed it back to him. “All I have to do is show up at the church. Archie’s the one doing all the work.” 

He took the box and read the return address. Celeste Danford. He recognized the name as that of an elderly actor who, twenty-five years earlier, had starred in a movie based on one of Mac’s birth mother’s books. She had won a couple of Academy Awards. Like many of the famous folks sending wedding presents, Mac had never met her. 

After thanking the driver, Mac put his hand on the door to close it, but first he paused to call Gnarly back inside. “It looks like someone left you something else, Mr. Faraday.” The driver knelt to retrieve an envelope that Gnarly was sniffing next to the door. It was anchored down with a rock to prevent it from blowing away in the wintry wind. “Maybe it’s a card.” Holding it up to keep Gnarly from snatching it out of his hand, the delivery man handed it to Mac. 

After thanking him, Mac closed the door and carried the package and envelope into the drop-down dining room to add them to the massive collection of wedding presents that were growing on a daily basis. 

Curious, Gnarly pranced at his side. After setting down the package, Mac studied the address on the over-sized brown envelope left at the front door. It was too lightweight to be a card. The only writing on the front of it was “Lieutenant Mac Faraday.” That had been his rank when he had left the police department in Washington, DC. The only other writing was a stamped return address in the upper left corner: Beaver Dam Motel Route 340 Accident, Maryland 

His blue eyes narrowing with suspicion, Mac slipped his finger under the seal, tore the envelope open, and slid the contents out to view. It contained one color picture with a yellow note stuck to the front. The picture was of Mac’s bride-to-be, Archie Monday, standing at a bar holding up a margarita glass. She was beaming with joy and surrounded by her friends and sisters-in-laws, most of whom were her bridesmaids for their upcoming wedding. 

A single man was among the group. A flabby middle-aged man wearing thick glasses and slightly worn clothes beamed at the camera. His arm was slipped around Archie’s waist. Mac’s blood ran cold as recognition set in. Russell Dooley. Mac recalled the note mailed to his home shortly after Thanksgiving. It was a “thinking of you” greeting card. Inside was a newspaper clipping announcing the prison suicide of Leigh Ann Dooley, the convicted murderer of Harris Tyler. The homicide detective who had broken the case? Mac Faraday. 

The greeting card contained two sentences: “You took my happiness away. Now, I’m going to take away yours.” The yellow note stuck to the picture was written in the same handwriting. “I got this close.”

Wow! Just rereading the start of this fantastic book seduces me to continue reading, even though I've already read it...Lauren Carr's books are like that... Don't forget this would make a perfect gift for your reader friends...

No, I'm not going to reread this one at least not now...I've got a few pages to finish before I start writing the review for TwoFer Murder! 

Coming Next!!!

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