Today's Reading

A few feet away stands another young African-American I recognize from mug shots as Cloud's number two a man named Lamont—Cloud's bodyguard and driver. He is short and muscular and has bright, orange hair.

"Yo, my man," I say to Cloud. "You better not mess up my car." Cloud moves slowly away from my Jag.

"I don't want any scratches," I say. "I like to keep the car looking sharp."

"Your car got no scratches, man," Cloud stops directly in front of me, close and menacing. "You may scare a lot of folks in this town but you don't scare me."

"That's your first mistake of the day, Cloud."

"Sister Grace wants to see you. This morning. Nine sharp."

"I'm busy."

"Don't fuck with me, Detective. Be there!"

"I'm investigating a murder."

Cloud shakes his head. "Your stiff can wait. Sister Grace can't. You don' want to keep her waiting, know what I mean? You disappoint Sister Grace, you die. That be the rules. You of all people should know that." Cloud glances at the police activity on the Mall. "That your new murder?"

"That's the victim," I tell him.

"You tag a brother?"

I shake my head as I open the door to my car.

"Better not," Cloud says to me. "Remember, Sister Grace expectin' you at nine. Don' be late." He walks away, followed by Lamont. They climb into a gleaming, black Lincoln Town Car parked in a "no-parking zone" on Constitution Avenue, Cloud in back, Lamont at the wheel. They drive away.


My Fennix Italian oxfords are ruined. When the EMS team and I, along with the two uniformed cops, responding to the 911 call, arrived at the Reflecting Pool we plunged right in, hoping whoever was in the pool might still be saved. Naturally, we gave no thought to what the water would do to our shoes. It's a shame though; I was particularly fond of those oxfords. I wonder, vaguely, whether I can put the cost of new shoes on my expense account but decide that's not a good idea. The Department would probably give me grief about the price and it would not be a good idea to draw attention to the cost of my wardrobe. At least I had the presence of mind to take off my Vacheron Constantin watch before reaching into the water. That would have been a major loss.

After changing into dry clothes and new shoes, I go to the kitchen to make myself a dark Sumatra espresso. My kitchen faces east and, at this hour, is filled with cheerful, morning sunlight. Through the window I can see the trees of Rock Creek Park swaying in the morning breeze.

I start up the espresso machine then turn on a small television set that sits on the black, stainless steel counter-top and I half listen to the morning news while the machine does its thing. A perky young woman stands in front of a weather map pointing at numbers showing temperatures and wind directions and humidity. "The fourteenth day without rain," she announces cheerfully. The program shifts to national news and a story about the death of a former Army general and prominent political figure. I switch off the TV. I have no interest in dead generals.

I put the evidence envelope on the counter and study the bracelet through the transparent plastic. The bracelet is a slender, rather delicate, affair, with a metal link chain and a medallion with an inscription that reads:

Sandra Wilcox
Peanut/Tree Nut

This is followed by a telephone number beginning with a 202-area code.

There are three miniscule red dots on the medallion. Using my cell phone, I dial the number on the bracelet. It's picked up before the second ring. A man's voice repeats the number I've just called.

"My name is Marko Zorn," I announce. "District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. Homicide Division. Who am I speaking to?"

"I am not at liberty to provide that information."

"What is the name of your organization?" I ask.

"I am not at liberty to provide that information."

Okay, I think. I'm dealing with some kind of high-level security organization whose employees are trained to be sphinxlike. So I say: "Please pass along this message. One of your employees was found dead this morning. The name of the employee is Sandra Wilcox. If your organization has an interest in this individual, call me." I gave the voice my cell number.

"That is not the number of the Metropolitan Police," the voice informs me.

"You are quite correct." I cut the connection.

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