(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores October 2023.)
Early April saw the last of the cherry blossoms drop at the edge of the Tidal Basin. They did not foretell the three homicides that would occur in the District of Columbia over the next twelve hours. Homicides that seemed unrelated—but were actually connected. One of those cases would be assigned to Detective Mac Burke.
* * *
As Monday evening fell, the offices in Northwest D.C. emptied of most employees. Many headed for the Metro stations, while some retrieved their automobiles from the self-contained car parks under their office buildings or walked to public garages where they had monthly spaces reserved.
At Gideon & McCaffery, work wound down a little later. The law firm's fifty-five attorneys occupied two complete floors of the middle-aged Charter Building on L Street NW. By the time the cleaning crew arrived around eight in the evening, most of the staff and all but one of the partners had left. Most of the associates had also departed, except those working on appellate briefs or pleadings with impending deadlines.
Weldon Van Damm, the managing partner of the firm, was in his office in the southeast corner of the 12th floor, the one with the best view of Farragut Square and Lafayette Park. There was a copy of the Washington Post laid open next to his desktop computer. Van Damm's office was the largest in the firm, as befit his position.
After a light rap on his door, he looked up to see a young woman in a blue business suit. Gideon & McCaffery was one of the few law firms that did not endorse the trend toward casual dress in the office. The woman could easily have been one of the young attorneys the firm hired each year, worked hard for several years, then decided they were not partner material and let them go. He did not recognize her, but he had trouble remembering the names of the annual additions to the associate ranks.
She moved toward his desk and held out a folder containing about a quarter inch of papers. As he reached for the folder, she deftly jabbed something in his neck and just as quickly withdrew the syringe. Van Damm's eyes went wide, and his head and neck shook for several seconds. Then he slumped forward onto his desk. He was dead within twenty seconds of hitting the blotter.
The young woman had touched nothing inside the office. She picked up the folder, and used a knuckle to turn off the lights and depress the lock button on the inside of his office doorknob. Using a tissue, she pulled the door shut and checked to make sure it was locked. She then took the curving internal staircase down to the 11th floor and used the stairs next to the elevator to walk down to the parking decks below street level. Leaving the parking garage, she turned her white car right on L Street and headed toward Georgetown.
My name is McDermott Burke. I was named after my mother's father. I currently live in a restored row house in the 700 block of Morris Place NE in a part of the District of Columbia referred to as the Capitol Hill area.
I live with my ex-wife, Maggie Hampton, some three years after we got an amicable divorce, which not even our closest friends know about. We had been married about four years before we mutually agreed on the split.
Maggie has never revealed what she does for a living—not even to me—although I have long assumed that she works for the CIA in some capacity. I call her Mags. She calls me McDermott, my full first name, although nearly everyone else calls me Mac.
Sometimes it is friends with benefits—and sometimes not—when she occupies one of the guest rooms. She still leaves for a month or two, always with no warning that she is departing—or that she is coming home.
The best indicator that she is away is whether her classic 1959 Porsche Speedster is missing from our two-car garage. She had the Speedster convertible when we got married.
* * *
On Tuesday morning, I woke up about six thirty.
By seven, I was showered and dressed. I ground a batch of Starbucks Pike Place beans and made a pot of coffee, which I took out to the deck on top of the garage at the back of the house. I sat at the wrought iron table in the shade of a red maple. My guess was that the maple was around a hundred years old, probably about the same age as the house. The sky was clear with a comfortable spring temperature. I was into my second cup and first Marlboro in the dappled shade when my cell rang.