Murder and intrigue on the steps of the United States capital building pulls Robert Brixton into his most personal case yet, in Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC.
2017: A military transport on a secret run to dispose of its deadly contents vanishes without a trace.
The present: A mass shooting on the steps of the Capitol nearly claims the life of Robert Brixton’s grandson.
No stranger to high-stakes investigations, Brixton embarks on a trail to uncover the motive behind the shooting. On the way he finds himself probing the attempted murder of the daughter his best friend, who works at the Washington offices of the CDC.
The connection between the mass shooting and Alexandra’s poisoning lies in that long-lost military transport that has been recovered by forces determined to change America forever. Those forces are led by radical separatist leader Deacon Frank Wilhyte, whose goal is nothing short of bringing on a second Civil War.
Brixton joins forces with Kelly Lofton, a former Baltimore homicide detective. She has her own reasons for wanting to find the truth behind the shooting on the Capitol steps, and is the only person with the direct knowledge Brixton needs. But chasing the truth places them in the cross-hairs of both Wilhyte’s legions and his Washington enablers.
Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC will be available on February 15th, 2o22. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
WASHINGTON, DC; THE PRESENT
“Are you sure about this, Mac?”
“No, Robert,” Brixton’s best friend, Mackensie Smith, said. “I’m not. That’s why we’re having this conversation.”
Brixton adjusted the notepad in his lap and readied his pen. “Tell me about her.”
He knew the bulk of the associates in Mac’s law firm used iPads these days, but Brixton still favored pen and paper. Mac made it a practice to almost never close his office door, but Brixton watched him do just that now and then retake the leather armchair in the office’s sitting area.
“She’s twenty-five, beautiful, and whip smart.”
“In other words, nothing like the man she claims is her father. And you’re forgetting something.”
“Her name, Mac. I will need that, you know.”
Mac returned the smile that Brixton had hoped might put him more at ease. “Alexandra. Alexandra Parks. Parks being her mother’s name.”
“Next question: Have you considered using an investigator with more objectivity?”
Mac looked thrown by that for a moment. “Not even for a second. It has to be you, Robert. You’re the only one who understands what this means to me. Like another chance at something I never thought I’d experience again.” Mac had been one of Washington’s top criminal lawyers for years, a go-to guy when a case seemed hopeless. But after losing a son and his first wife to a drunk driver on the Beltway—and seeing the drunk get off with what Smith considered a slap on the wrist—he closed his office and accepted a professorship at the George Washington University Law School, where he’d taught fledgling attorneys about the real world of being a lawyer.
While his stint in academia had been satisfying, the call of the courtroom became too loud to ignore. After many long, heated discussions with his second wife, Annabel Reed-Smith, herself a former attorney and now owner of a pre-Columbian art gallery in Georgetown, he resigned his post at the university and hung out his shingle again.
Not surprisingly, his modest return to the law ballooned into a booming practice once more. A single office and reception area gave way to a suite of offices for associates, then an entire floor as those associates multiplied, followed by a second floor with connecting stairwell to accommodate partners and junior partners, with additional office space reserved for the likes of the firm’s top investigator—Brixton himself.
Mac had considered downsizing, the year before, only to change his mind. He had started to scale back when word leaked of his involvement, along with Brixton’s, in destroying the most dangerous conspiracy in the nation’s history. Though the actual facts of that conspiracy were known to extraordinarily few, rumors of Mackensie Smith’s involvement in its destruction were known to many. The result was an unprecedented number of calls and inquiries looking to hire his firm. Although Mac had earned the right to be discriminating about which cases he took on, the client load necessitated an expansion, and the firm had relocated to the vacant and newly renovated top two floors of the city’s Warner Building, located on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.
Brixton knew Mac loved the work, loved the action, loved the fact that the firm had license to avoid the kind of lobbying efforts and representation of politicos that had so soured Mac on the law in general—and on backroom politics specifically. The latest infusion of cash from hourly billings and retainers was substantial enough for the firm to take on more than its share of pro bono work. And when COVID-19 had forced the closure of Annabel’s art gallery, she had returned to the law to head up that department with the firm in its new space.
“You understand what it’s like to lose a child, what it does to you, as well as I do,” Mac continued, referring to Brixton losing his own daughter, Janet, to a terrorist bombing.
“I was lucky in one respect,” Brixton told him. “I had another kid.”
“And now, maybe, I do too. I worry that’s clouding my judgment, not seeing all this clearly. I want it to be true too much.”
“What’s she like?”
Mac cast his gaze out the window, a tell Brixton knew indicated he was uncomfortable addressing the subject. The Warner Building’s location, detached from the cluster of government offices, iconic and otherwise, left it without much of a view to offer, but the building was a mere five-minute walk from the Federal Triangle Metro stop, which featured access to the Orange Line, the Silver Line, and the Blue Line, assuring easy access for the firm’s lawyers and its clients. Much of the world might have moved online for meetings, but initial client meetings went much better in person and, being old-fashioned, Mac always suggested coming in as opposed to logging on.
“Charming, charismatic, full of personality, and beautiful. In other words, you’re right, Robert. Nothing like me.”
Brixton made some more notes. “Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, Mac.”
“The way everyone was looking at her in the Capital Grille, there must be a lot of beholders.”
“That’s where you met the first time?”
Mac nodded. “Her choice. Turns out it’s her favorite place to eat in the city, too.”
“Like father, like daughter.”
“I didn’t know restaurant choice was genetic.”
“Tell me more,” Brixton urged.
“Did I mention how bright she is?”
“‘Whip smart’ was the term you used,” Brixton said, without consulting his notes.
“Neuroscience and organic chemistry major at MIT, if you can believe it. That’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
“I think I heard that someplace.”
Mac smiled and shook his head. “I sound like a doting father, don’t I?”
Brixton nodded. “You do.”
“For a daughter I’ve known for all of a week.”
Brixton weighed his next words carefully. “Tell me about Alexandra’s mother.”
“Beverly Parks. New York socialite and head of the family’s magazine empire.”
“The name sounds familiar.”
“Beverly or Parks, Robert?”
“Parks, for sure.” Brixton hesitated. “And this was twenty-five years ago?”
Mac met his gaze. “The answer’s yes, Robert.”
“I didn’t ask a question.”
“You wanted to. Something like ‘It was an affair, wasn’t it?’”
“I would’ve been more tactful in my phrasing.”
“I was married at the time. My first wife and son were still alive. It was the worst mistake of my life—at least that’s the way I’ve always looked at it.”
“Until a week ago.”
“Do you blame me?”
“Not at all, Mac. We all have a right to be happy and fulfilled. I know that better than anyone.”
Mac nodded, smiling. “Speaking of which . . . Have I told you recently how wonderful it is to see you and Flo back together? Annabel and I feel like we have a social life again.”
Brixton smiled back. “Not that I’m much fun anymore.”
“You mean since you quit drinking.”
“It snuck up on me, Mac. Sometimes you don’t know how far you’ve fallen until you can’t look up and see the light anymore.”
Brixton had blamed his breakup with longtime girlfriend Flo Combes on the malaise that had overtaken him. He’d gotten too accustomed to doing business over dinner and drinks, until the two became virtually indistinguishable. But when the business dried up, the dinner, and especially the drinks, had remained. That had all changed a year ago, when Brixton had climbed back on the horse—almost literally, given that he had proposed to Flo outside her New York clothing boutique after clip-clopping up the street in a horse-drawn carriage. She had dropped down to the pavement, where Brixton knelt on bended knee, and hugged him tight.
“Can I take that as a yes?” he’d asked her.
She’d moved back to Washington. COVID had led Flo to close her New York boutique, leaving her clinging to the DC venue for dear life. Fortunately, Brixton had remained steadily employed through the pandemic, living in Arlington instead of the city proper, a location far friendlier to their finances. The truth was, Brixton had found himself happy to be able to provide for Flo while retail continued to struggle. It felt like redemption to him, a means to make amends after a breakup that had been entirely his fault.
“I know that feeling,” Mac said, shocking Brixton back to the present and the matter at hand. “I fell into a pit for a time after the accident.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“But I’ve never stopped replaying that night in my mind. What I could have done differently, what might have happened if I hadn’t been out of town. Maybe they’d still be alive.”
“Have you ever heard the word maybe used in a positive light?”
“Not off the top of my head.”
“What about in terms of whether Alexandra Parks is really your daughter? Have you confirmed all this with a DNA test?”
“I don’t have to. I know she’s my daughter.”
Brixton weighed not just his best friend’s words but also the veil of certainty through which he’d said them. “But you don’t know her, do you?”
“That’s why you’re here, Robert. There’s something I haven’t told you yet.”
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