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A dangerous truth revealed… 

A prominent member of the D.C. community has been murdered, pulling Lieutenant Sam Holland into yet another high-stakes homicide investigation that has her trying to connect the dots between a dead woman and the friends and family who’d turned against her right before her untimely death. 

With numerous scandals still fresh within the department’s ranks, Sam is asked to revisit a cold case from her first year on the job that will continue the department’s reckoning with the past well into the future.

All the while, Sam’s husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, faces mounting pressure to declare his intention to run for president in the coming election, leaving the second couple feeling the strain at home—and on the job as the family endures the first holidays without their beloved patriarch, Skip Holland. 

As always, when things become too hot to handle on the job, Sam and Nick turn to each other for solace in the storm. 

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Fatal Fraud

Fatal Series, Book 16

Chapter One

If there was one benefit to Sam’s husband, Nick, being vice president of the United States, it was the motorcade that conveyed them with admirable efficiency wherever they wanted to go. As they made their way northbound on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Sam appreciated that she also got to bring friends on this mission to see their colleague Sergeant Tommy Gonzales in rehab. Since the other benefits of Nick being VP were few and far between, Sam decided they needed to enjoy this one.

“This is the life.” Sam’s partner, Detective Freddie Cruz, had his arm around his wife, Elin, who was snuggled up to him.

“Seriously,” Michael Wilkinson said. His wife, Detective Jeannie McBride, sat across from him, next to Sam, who was in her happy place—pressed up against Nick.

If they had to be trapped in the car for more than an hour, and neither of them had to drive, you bet your ass she was going to enjoy the ride. “The best part is that people get the hell out of the way of the Secret Service,” Sam said.

“Why do they get all that respect when people ignore us?” Jeannie asked.

“A very good question,” Sam said. “What is it about the Secret Service that gets people to do what they say?”

“It must be about the very important people they protect,” Freddie said.

“We’re incredibly important,” Nick said, drawing a laugh from the others. He never took himself as seriously as the Secret Service and others took him.

“Can we discuss the elephant in the SUV?” Michael asked.

Sam groaned. “Do we have to?” One of the network Sunday shows had been on fire that morning, speculating on the next presidential race and the likely candidates for both parties. Naturally, Nick’s name was at the top of the Democratic ticket, even if he’d given no public indication of his plans.

Sam was painfully aware that he was struggling with the decision. She prayed he wouldn’t run but kept her mouth shut on the matter to give him the space he needed to decide for himself. In the meantime, she held her breath and waited while the rest of the world went wild with speculation and assumptions. “Of course he’ll run,” one pundit had said recently. “He’d be insane not to.”

In Sam’s opinion, he’d be insane if he did run and brought that kind of endless scrutiny down on them. The thought of that spiked her anxiety into the red zone, so she tried not to go there. They received more than enough scrutiny as the second couple.

“You may not want to talk about it, but everyone else does,” Michael said.

“People need to mind their own business,” Sam said.

“I hate to tell you,” Freddie said, “but when you’re the vice president, your business is their business.”

Sam scowled at him. “That’s not helpful.”

Nick squeezed her shoulder in a show of silent support. They were both excruciatingly aware that they were going to have to decide sooner rather than later. Sam hoped it would be much, much, much later. She didn’t want him to run for president, and he didn’t want to run either. But sometimes it felt like nobody was listening to either of them as invisible forces propelled them toward an inevitable destiny.

“On another note,” Freddie said, “did you see the thing in the Star this morning about the Kent woman who defrauded all her rich friends in some glorified Ponzi scheme?”

“We didn’t get a chance to read the paper before we left,” Sam said. “We were busy getting Scotty and the twins ready to spend the day with Tracy and Mike.” Her sister and brother-in-law had a full day planned for Sam’s kids and their cousins.

“Apparently, the Feds have been working on this case for almost a year, and it all came to a head this week when they charged her in federal court. Up until then, most of the friends didn’t know they’d been defrauded. From what the paper said, it sounds like there were some fireworks among the privileged class as the word got out that their money is probably gone.”

”So let me get this straight,” Sam said. “She basically stole from her friends?”

“Yep,” Freddie said, “and family. She got them to invest in some business she was supposedly starting, and then lo and behold, she walked away with the money and won’t tell anyone what she did with it.”

“How much are we talking?” Jeannie asked.

“About twenty million,” Freddie said.

“I have so many thoughts about this,” Sam said. “First of all, who just gives their money to somebody and expects they’re just gonna do the right thing with it? Second of all, how did she think she was going to get away with it? Were her friends going to suddenly forget they’d given their money to her?”

“Why does anyone think they’re going to get away with fraud?” Nick asked. “I’d be so afraid of getting caught that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the money.”

“Me too,” Sam said. “How do people sleep at night when they’re stealing from their friends and family? I want you all to know I’ll never steal from you.”

“I’m strangely comforted to know that.” Freddie ducked his head to see out the window. “We’re getting close to Baltimore. Is anyone else nervous about seeing him?”

“I am a little,” Jeannie said. “I want our Gonzo back, the way he was before Arnold died. Part of me wonders if that’s too much to hope for.”

The shocking murder of Gonzo’s young partner had sent him spiraling over the last ten months, culminating in a dependence on prescription meds that’d gotten out of control before he was sent to rehab.

“It might be too much to hope for the same Gonzo,” Sam said, “but right about now, I’ll take any Gonzo I can get. It hasn’t been the same without him.”

Since he’d been in rehab, Sam had lost her father, and they’d closed her dad’s long-unsolved shooting case. Sometimes she felt like she’d lived a whole lifetime since she last worked with her sergeant.

“How come Christina didn’t come with us today?” Freddie asked of Gonzo’s fiancée.

“She said Alex wasn’t feeling great, and since we were going, she decided to stay home,” Sam said.

“What do you think will happen with them?” Jeannie asked.

“I wish I knew,” Sam said, sighing. “I just hope they’re able to stay together, because I think that’ll be critical to his recovery.”

“Have you heard any more about the Feds looking into the department?” Jeannie asked.

“We had a commanders’ meeting about it the other day,” Sam said. “From what the chief said, the FBI will be conducting a top-to-bottom look at the department in light of several of our own being charged with violent felonies. We have a meeting with the Feds this week.”

“That ought to be fun,” Freddie said, frowning.

“I heard someone call it a proctology exam,” Jeannie said.

“That’s about right, but we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Sam said. “This is why I’m always talking about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Our asses are covered. The Feds can poke around all they want. They won’t find jack shit to investigate in Homicide.” At least they’d better not. Sam went out of her way to run an exemplary unit, and if there was corruption to be found within the department, they weren’t going to find it in her pit.

When they arrived at the rehab center in downtown Baltimore, Nick’s Secret Service detail went in ahead of them while they waited in the car.

“Do you have to go through this everywhere you go?” Michael asked.

“Every single time,” Nick said. “And you wonder why I’m not jumping at the chance to be president?”

“I’m not exactly wondering,” Michael said as the others laughed.

They waited fifteen minutes until Brant, Nick’s lead agent, came to let them out of the car. Inside, they were shown to a private room that’d been arranged in advance by the Secret Service.

Gonzo joined them there a few minutes later, hugging each of them and thanking them for coming. “It’s so great to see you guys.”

Sam was relieved to see him looking and sounding more like his old self than he had in the dreadful months since January. The haunted look in his eyes was gone, and the bright, engaged friend she loved so much seemed to be back. “You look great.”

“I feel really good.”

With the Secret Service positioned outside the door, they sat on folding chairs around the table.

“I wish I could offer you drinks or something,” Gonzo said.

“Don’t worry about us,” Sam said. “We’re fine. We want to hear how you’re doing.”

“Much better. The extra month has made a big difference. Andy was here last week,” he said, referring to Nick’s attorney friend.

“How come?” Sam asked.

“We’ve been talking with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I’m going to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.” He’d bought pills on the street during the worst of his addiction and somehow that had been reported to the U.S. Attorney. “It’s the best possible outcome and allows me to keep my job and rank.”

“That’s bullshit,” Sam said, immediately incensed. “You have an illness. You shouldn’t be charged for things you did when you were sick after your partner was murdered.”

Gonzo offered a small smile. “If anyone else in the department got caught doing what I did, you wouldn’t feel that way.”

“Yes, I would. Drug addiction is an illness. If it can be proven that someone is sick when they’re out scoring, they ought to be given a break. I’ve always thought we needed to spend more money on rehab and less on prosecution.”

“I’ve heard her say that before,” Freddie said.

“It’s my fault you got caught in the first place,” Sam said. “My feud with Ramsey led to this. He was looking for a way to hurt me by going after you.” There’d been bad blood between Sam and the Special Victims sergeant for some time now. From what she’d been able to gather, he resented her rise through the ranks, among other beefs he frequently liked to air out to anyone who’d listen. Their feud had intensified when the U.S. Attorney declined to indict her after she punched him and he fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his wrist and suffering a concussion.

“This is my fault, Sam,” Gonzo said. “I took a massive chance with my career, my reputation and my life. I knew it at the time, and I didn’t care.”

“That was the addiction speaking,” Sam said. “The Gonzo I’ve worked with would’ve cared. It’s not something you would’ve done if you hadn’t been sick. And why were you sick? Because your partner was murdered right in front of you on the job.”

“I know this is upsetting to you, Sam—”

“If you do this, you’ll never move past sergeant,” she said.

“I know, and I’ve made my peace with that.”

“It’s wrong,” Jeannie said. “You’re the best of us all. You could be chief someday.”

“Once upon a time, I might’ve wanted that, but I’m learning to find comfort in what is rather than what used to be or what might’ve been.”

“Before you sign anything, let me have a word with the chief,” Sam said.

“I agreed to the deal. I’m due to sign the paperwork when I get out of here, and that’s what’s best for me, to not have this shit hanging over my head.”

She wanted to scream, yell and break shit over the sheer injustice of him pleading to a criminal charge when scumbags like Ramsey were getting away with ruining the career of one of the best cops Sam had ever worked with.

“When do you get out?” Freddie asked.

“They’re saying this week sometime.”

“How’re things with Christina?” Jeannie asked.

“Better,” Gonzo said. “We talk a lot, and we’re both ready to get back to normal, whatever that is after everything I’ve put her through.”

“She loves you, man,” Freddie said. “It’s gonna be okay.”

“I hope so. I guess we’ll see. So, enough about me. What’s going on with you guys? Tell me everything about the Tara Weber case. I feel so cut off in here.”

They filled him in on the case they’d recently closed in which the president’s mistress had been murdered, leaving Sam and Nick once again breathless with dread as they waited to see if President Nelson could hang on to his office through yet another scandal.

“You guys must’ve been dying,” Gonzo said to Sam and Nick.

“Ah, yeah, kinda,” Nick said. “I expected that being his VP would be mostly boring—and it’s been that too.”

“You couldn’t have predicted his son would become a murderer, or that he’d have an affair while his wife was undergoing cancer treatment,” Gonzo said. “I still can’t believe that. It’s so disgusting.”

“That was the hardest part for me to swallow too,” Sam said. “Gloria is a really nice lady, and she’s stood by his side through his entire career. She deserved better than what she got from him.”

“At least she left him,” Jeannie said. “None of that ‘stand by your man’ nonsense that political wives are known for.”

“This political wife has already told her man the same thing,” Sam said, grinning at Nick.

“And my wife knows she has nothing to worry about on that front.”

“The word castration was used,” Sam said, making the guys wince.

“She’s all bark and no bite,” Nick said.

“Um,” Freddie said, “I think there’s some bite behind her bark. Just sayin’.”

“That’s right,” Sam said with a big grin, “and don’t you guys forget it.”

“I miss you all so much,” Gonzo said with a sigh. “I can’t wait to get back to work.”

“How much longer?” Freddie asked.

“A few more days in-patient, and then they want me to take a week or two at home before I come back part-time.”

“We’ll take whatever we can get,” Sam said.

They spent another hour chatting with him before they stood to leave. Nick went to the door and gave a knock to let Brant know they were ready.

“We have to wait for him to come get us,” Nick said.

“This is fascinating,” Michael said. “Truly.”

“Glad you think so,” Nick said. “It drives me bonkers.”

“But it beats the alternative.” Sam took hold of her husband’s hand, hoping to calm the agitation he felt whenever he was reminded of the many restrictions of being vice president.

They said their goodbyes to Gonzo and loaded up the SUV for the ride back to the District.

“He seems really good,” Nick said when they were on the way out of Baltimore.

“So much better than he was,” Jeannie said.

“I’m fuming about him pleading to anything,” Sam said.

“Ah, yeah, we could tell,” Freddie said. “As usual, you had no poker face.”

“It’s complete bullshit,” Sam said. “I’m not about to pretend otherwise.”

“Is there anything that can be done?” Nick asked.

“I’m going to talk to Malone,” she said, referring to the detective captain who was her boss and mentor. “And the chief.”

“Gonzo sounded pretty determined to take the plea,” Freddie said tentatively.

“He’s going to screw his entire career if he takes that plea,” Sam said. “We can’t let that happen.” She caught Freddie and Jeannie exchanging concerned glances and knew what they were thinking. Tommy’s recovery was fragile. This was what he wanted. And she respected that, but if there was anything she could do to save him from taking this massive hit to his career, she was going to do it.

Her phone rang with a call, and the single word on the caller ID made her groan. “Dispatch.”

Which meant someone in the District had been murdered, and that was now her problem.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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