Looks That Deceive - Chap. 1

MedAir Series #1

464 pgs

Available in paperback and eBook

Chapter One

Did your doctor miss the diagnosis? Call Brumly, Grimshaw, and Payne. Has a medical error led to the loss of a loved one? Call Brumly, Grimshaw, and Payne. Has your doctor failed to rid you of your accursed hemorrhoids? Call Brumly, Grimshaw, and Payne.

Their ads flooded the local television channels throughout the night and early morning and again during a myriad of afternoon talk shows, resulting in unrivaled success for the corporate partners. Their two-story office building in Ladue – an inner ring suburb of St. Louis with its population of 8,500 – with its worn, but stately, red brick Georgian architecture and park-like grounds, looked as if it had occupied its lot for decades. Ladue was a neighborhood defined by its history, its classical style, and its well heeled, country club populace; and the building radiated that character. From its ivy-covered southeast corner to the hammered copper rooster weathervane on its cupola, the building presented itself with a refined elegance that lent its occupants a sense of permanence and a genteel air of sophistication.

Yet, within the two-year-old brick veneer, with its synthetic ivy and mail-order reproduction weathervane, there was a state-of-the-art legal firm with posh offices, chic conference rooms, a heavily secured computer network, and an unrivaled media production complex where the partners produced more than slick courtroom visual aids. Brumly, Grimshaw, and Payne, LLC had spared no expense to attain that image of gentility.

Edward Payne glanced at his watch. Six fifty-eight. His legal assistant had just left for the evening, and he decided he would stay no longer than seven-thirty before he, too, would leave for home. The last to leave. He would have it no other way. Turning from his beautifully hand-carved teak desk and matching credenza to his computer, he hit a keyboard combination that saved his current case file first to the firm’s network server and then to an off-site backup server. Data security and preservation. It was a lesson learned quickly by many companies following the catastrophic loss of the World Trade Center.

As he opened his last case file for the day, the monitor flickered. A second later, he sat bewildered, watching a strange flow of random characters march across his screen. His first instinct was to initiate an emergency shutdown of his system to prevent the spread of a potential virus, but the current of digits, letters, and dingbats mesmerized him. He couldn’t have been watching for more than fifteen, twenty seconds when the horizontal stream ended, and a digital clock materialized in its place. Six fifty-nine and thirty seconds.

“What the …” He reached for his phone to call their network administrator. The dial tone clicked in, and he punched the first digit of the speed dial number as the clock hit six fifty-nine and forty-five seconds. A new message appeared. “Goodbye Edward!”

At seven o’clock, as he heard the second ring of the administrator’s distant phone, a fireball erupted from the first and second floor windows, and 1535 Ladue Road became a flaming memory.

*     *     *

Lynch Cully, startled from a sound sleep, glanced around, momentarily confused by his surroundings. His bedroom didn’t have beige walls and four old, wooden desks, their edges worn smooth by years of hard use and their surfaces cluttered, as stacks of paper fought recently-purchased computer hardware for space. Maps, charts, and a large dry-erase board sat interspersed along the walls. It took a moment to remember stopping by his office to pick up another unsolved crime file.

His unexpected, three-day call-up to the MCS, the Major Case Squad, had turned into an unprecedented stint of three weeks of twelve to fourteen-hour days, seven days a week. This case had taken on a life of its own. Just when it seemed to grow cold, a new victim ratcheted up the political heat. Half a dozen local departments had given up detectives to the squad for extended duty. And the way things were going, those half a dozen police chiefs didn’t expect their people back anytime in the near future.

To say he looked worse for the wear would be an understatement. He worked his hands through his ruffled oil-black hair to smooth it out and then checked his watch. Twenty-one thirty hours. Ten, maybe fifteen, minutes had passed. If that was a power nap, who drained my battery? he thought, feeling worse than before sitting down. His lower back and neck, stiff from stretching the top third of his six-foot two-inch frame across the top of a much too small desk, ached as if he’d been there for hours. The side of his face tingled from the pressure of laying it atop his forearms.

Lynch arose from the desk, still wobbly, and pulled his keys from his pocket. He unlocked a nearby file cabinet, opened the second drawer, and rifled through the cramped jumble of manila folders. He sighed in frustration. The file he needed wasn’t there. He released his breath slowly, took a deeper breath, and started at the beginning of the folders once again, taking care to move through them one by one, more slowly this time. Ah! There it is. I’m more tired than I thought.

He slid the folder up and out from between its neighbors, opened it to assess quickly its contents and, satisfied, closed and relocked the cabinet. Back at his desk, he placed the file in his open, overstuffed briefcase and with more effort than he thought it should take, snapped closed the case, and prepared to head back to the MCS’s temporary headquarters. No, what he needed was to drive home and go to bed, in his real bed, not on a couch that, like his desk, would award him a stiff back and sore shoulders come morning should he fall asleep there. The file would be there for review over breakfast, a meal he planned to enjoy for the first time in three weeks.

Lynch was three yards from his car and a night’s sleep when he heard the click of the electronic door lock behind him.

“Cully!”

He stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath before turning to respond. It was his supervisor, Bob Janick, a good cop, mediocre detective, and astute politician who had played his cards close to his vest and pulled an ace from someplace dark to move up to team leader. The two men’s styles were about as compatible as a breast-baring costume malfunction at a Pentecostal tent meeting, but he knew why Janick tolerated him and continued to grant him excellent ratings on his yearly evaluations. He made Janick look good. Their team’s solve rate was the best in the county, due largely to him, the wunderkind, Lynch Cully. Yet, their arguments frequently threatened the thin filament of camaraderie connecting them.

Lynch had never been the compliant child, but he disliked being described as rebellious. Among the first signs of his defiance was his refusal to use his first name. That was his father’s name, not his. At the age of thirty, he wasn’t even sure where the name ‘Lynch’ came from, other than it was most likely what his father wanted to do to him during some really rough teenage years. Gifted in mathematics and the sciences, he resisted the harangues of his parents to utilize his intellect fully, as they defined ‘fully.’ His physician father had encouraged him to follow in his medical footsteps, while his university professor mother was a bit more broadminded. Still, they had both blown aneurysms when he chose police work. To them, this was yet one more mutinous act, but he saw no future in a profession hamstrung by insurance companies and government.

Criminology, Psychology, and Investigative and Forensic Science interested him, and human behavior mystified him with its unpredictability, its range of emotion, and its sometime moral depravity that could lead to grave mistreatment of others. More importantly, he had a gift, one that made him perfect for his current assignment. Rebellious? No. Independent? Yes. The term ‘maverick’ suited him and he embraced its roguish undertone.

Lynch turned to face his team leader, who had caught up to him. “Hey, Janick. What’s up?”

“We are. Got a probable homicide we need to check out. You want to follow me, or ride with me?”

“Now? Look, I’m on loan –”

“Yeah. I know. I know. You look like you’ve been run hard and put away wet, and I figure you need more than a good night’s sleep. But your boss at the squad wants you to check into this one. Fire’s out, and our presence is requested.”

“Fire? My case has nothing to do with arson.”

“Maybe. Or maybe now it does. You’re the guy who sees things no one else sees, right? A lawyer got toasted, along with his entire building.” Janick started for his car. “Coming with me?”