PublicBookshelf Book Club
Wayne Allen McClain
Weekly tips on great novels to read.
Dade City, Florida Mindy Holm's hotel room more closely resembled a satellite office. Her laptop perched on the small dresser, notes were scattered across the comforter on the unused bed, and the phone was stretched across the room so that she could talk hands free. She was in constant touch with Eric, because he was in constant contact with the FBI's national wire computer. Also, he was able to fill her in on Mitch Daly's ever changing moods. The last information was crucial; she needed an extension to complete the story, and Mitch was the only one who could grant it.
Finally, she was beginning to make a little progress. She had gotten through to Neil Hammer, a Homicide Detective with the Summerville, Georgia police department. Though he admitted that the details of the double murder were sketchy, he did at least confirm the names of the victims. To Mindy, that was a major find. The small victory though, was almost hollow. The detective spoke in a slow, controlled southern drawl that almost seemed irritated and, figuring that he was not used to working with a woman on a professional level, Mindy could not resist throwing around her FBI title. The important thing though-one-quarter of Bonnie Groom's puzzle had been solved.
After talking to the detective, Mindy unplugged the phone and plugged in her computer. She accessed the Internet and began searching airport records. Every commercial airliner had a flight log-flight logs that listed every incoming passenger on any given day. Mindy narrowed her search to Oregon, and then narrowed it again to the International Airport in Portland. Not quite the computer whiz, she was starting to think that this would be a better job for Eric. He probably would not even need to use a computer; he would know exactly who to call. She had been leaning on him awful hard lately though; it was time to do something on her own.
It took nearly an hour of frustrated starts and restarts, but finally Mindy started making headway on the information superhighway. TransAir was the single major airline dedicated to the Portland airport. She searched deeper and found detailed schedules of flights for the last week. The flights were listed with points of origin and destination, but no other details were given. Nearly two-dozen connecting flights came out of Bonnie Groom's airport in Florida alone. It was nearly impossible to find a name in all the technical clutter, numbers, and ticket information. There was, she discovered, a place where one could go to find flight logs, but those sites were for family members only. The information was stored in a secure location. Unfortunately, she would have to call Eric after all.
She stood and stretched her arms high over her head. She could not believe that nearly three hours had passed since she sat down against the headboard, with the computer on her lap. Somehow, cyberspace time was always faster than real time.
She went to work reconnecting the telephone so she could order lunch. Being a lover of all things greasy, she dialed up and requested a small pepperoni from a local pizzeria, then plopped down on the edge of the bed and looked over her notes from the interview with Bonnie. Once again, she stared at the name Matthew Fox. In fact, she had studied it so many times in the past couple of days that it was outlined in a heavy, repetitive square. Where have I seen that name before! The phone rang.
"Is this Mindy Holm?" a man's voice asked.
Surprised, and taken a little off guard, she answered slowly. "Yes. I'm Mindy Holm. Who is this?"
"I guess I can tell you that much. My name is Spencer Grim."
The name did not ring a bell and she was quickly wrote it down. "Do I know you?"
"If you do, I'd be surprised." There was a pause. "No, you don't know me."
"What can I do for you?" she asked as she searched her memory in the hope of identifying the name. She quickly drew a blank and reached for the notes from the interview with Bonnie.
"I work for Matthew Fox," he said flatly.
Mindy nearly dropped the receiver. She sank onto the edge of the bed and, feeling like all of the air had been sucked out of her lungs, struggled to form words.
He cleared his throat quietly and spoke with authority. "I would have to advise you to drop this story. You don't want to bring Matthew into the public eye."
The notes from the interview with Bonnie did not contain a Spencer Grim. For lack of anything better to say, she asked a simple, "Why?"
"You don't know how dangerous he can be."
"Is that some sort of threat?"
"It's a fact, Mindy." His voice now had grown stern.
"How did you find me, and how do you know I'm working on a story about Matthew Fox?"
"Just listen to me for a second," he pleaded. "Things have gotten out of hand. Matthew can't control himself now. Believe me, it will be best for everyone if you don't pursue this."
She wanted to ask him about Doug Faust's murder, but thought better of it. He obviously knew more than she did-which meant that she had to keep him on the line until he told her why Matthew was so off limits. Now, she was intrigued. "So, tell me, Spencer. What exactly is your connection to the untouchable Matthew Fox?"
He released an irritated sigh. "I work for the man, not to mention that I've known him most of my life."
"So, why is he so untouchable? Is he some kind of politician getting ready for a White House run?"
"Look, Mr. Grim, you have to give me something. I'm almost ready to go to press with this thing, and if you expect me to sit on it-"
"You're lying, and I don't have time to play your games. Take this warning however you want to take it. Things have gotten out of control. That's number one. Secondly, Matthew is not the type of man you want to mess with. Do not bring this stupid game of his out into the open, or I guarantee he'll make you regret it."
"Game? What game?"
"I've said too much already," he mumbled, and then he was gone.
Mindy sat frozen on the edge of the bed. What have I gotten myself into? Who was Matthew Fox? Should she drop the story, like Spencer Grimm advised? A multitude of other questions came to mind before she realized that she still held the receiver to her ear. The dial tone blared.
Looking down at the notes in her lap, she saw only one name: Spencer Grim. Next to it was the name Matthew Fox with a slash mark through it. Why was she warned so emphatically not to bring this man into the spotlight? And, even more troublesome yet; if Spencer Grim was able to find her so easily, what was to stop Matthew Fox himself from tracking her down?
Another ten minutes passed before a light tap sounded on the hollow door of the hotel room. Mindy jumped. "Pizza," came a young woman's voice from the other side of the portal. Mindy took a deep breath to calm her rapidly beating heart, then moved to open the door. She was greeted by the tantalizing smell of melted cheese and pepperoni. She paid for the pizza and tossed in a generous tip-compliments of her government food tab.
She sat on the edge of the bed again and started on the first slice of pizza, and as the silent minutes grew, so did her anger. How dare that man threaten her! She worked for the FBI, for heaven's sake! She had the right to investigate anyone, as long as there was just cause. If anything, the threat made her more determined to find out all she could about Matthew Fox. Her first instinct was to drop the other four off the list and bump Matthew to the top.
She picked up the remote control and turned up the volume on the TV with her greasy fingers, but after countless runs up and down the dial, she soon discovered that there was nothing worth watching. She clicked off the set at the same moment that the telephone rang.
"What are you doing?" Eric's cheery voice asked.
"I guess we've outgrown the usual hellos," she muttered in her usual bantering tone. She grabbed a napkin from the stack on nightstand and tried to soak the grease from her fingertips.
"Is there a Ronda Sandler on your list?"
"Why? Oh, yes there is. Wait a minute and let me get my notes from the interview." She reached across the bed, grabbed her notebook and flipped through the pages until she found the list of names written in a sloppy script.
"I've been working hard for you up here, I'll have you know. Mitch thinks I'm working on the investor story, but I'm over that crap."
"Yes. Ronda Sandler was at Matthew Fox's home with Bonnie Groom and the others. She's involved in this thing, too."
"You can mark her off the list, Mindy."
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"You might be onto something big down there."
"It's not just down here."
"It's not," he stated, rather than asked.
"It's everywhere, Eric. It's all over."
"What do you mean?"
She brushed off his question with a wave of the hand. "First, tell me about Ronda."
"A 911 call went out from a little hotel in the western part of Virginia early this morning. When the cops arrived, they found one woman on the floor behind a counter with a smashed in face. Another was dead in the bathroomâ€¦her neck had been broken. That victim was none other than Ronda Sandler."
Mindy swallowed convulsively and it took her a moment to regain her composure. "Who made the call?"
"Got me. The report didn't say."
"You got this from the national wire computer?"
Eric laughed, but it held no humor. "Sure did. I'm struggling with this thing for you, Mindy, and believe me, it's not easy."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I have no idea about what I'm doing. I just turn the thing on and read. Don't ask me to search in any great detail, because I'd be lost."
"Right." The caustic reply showed her skepticism, and she continued as if he had not interrupted. "So, we have two confirmed kills. Both victims were at Matthew Fox's house when Bonnie Groom was there. In short, both solved the emailed crossword puzzle, which was just a fancy invite."
"I think you may be right. Who else is on your list again? You told me earlier, but I didn't write it down. For some reason, I remembered the name Ronda Sandler."
"There are only two left. Christopher Gilbert and Ricky Sutton. They are, I assume, still alive."
"I'll check the wire again after lunch," Eric said. "I'll also see what I can find on Matthew Fox."
"I have a little news on that one," Mindy informed him.
"Spencer Grim. Try to remember that name, too, while you're at it. He called me a little while ago and warned me to drop this whole thing."
"He warned you?"
"He sure did. He said that things were getting out of hand, and that I would be wise not to bring Matthew into the public eye."
Eric laughed. "Not supposed to bring a murderer into the public eye, huh? Well, that's a good one. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," she said, letting go of a long sigh. "I really don't know."
"How did this man find you?"
"He didn't say. He knew I was working on a story though, and that Matthew might be a key figure. You're right, Eric. He could be behind these two killings."
"You need to tell Mitch about this."
"No way. He'll pull me back."
"I know. He should."
"No! Promise me you won't say a word to him about this. This is exactly what I've been looking for. I can solve this thing, Eric."
"I know why you're doing this, Mindy. Believe me, I know. In a way, I wish it were me. But you found the story yourself. You deserve it. But you don't deserve to be threatened, and you don't deserve to be killed."
"I'll be fine. Matthew Fox doesn't even know about me." I hope. "And, like I said before, it wasn't a threat. It was a warning. He never said that he would do something to me if I kept pushing."
"I don't think he needed to. It's sort of implied."
She knew he was right, but did not want to admit it. More precisely, she did not want to abandon her story. It was her baby.
"Okay, well, if I can't talk you into dropping this thing and running home to the safety of my arms, then at least promise me that you'll be careful."
"I will. You know that."
"I'll keep an eye on the national wire computer for you. I hate it, but I'll do it."
"Well, you know where I am. And it looks like I'll be here for a while. I can do a little research using my computer and the telephone right here in the room. I'll call you when I figure out what I'm going to do next."