The Mind Sleuth Series
Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Date Published: May 18, 2022
Publisher: Mind Sleuth Publications
When Violet Cruz accused U.S. Representative Alan Barclay of being “the spawn of a Martian whore” and took a shot at him, everyone agreed that she was delusional. It was just another conspiracy theory in Washington, DC, where such bizarre claims had become all too common.
Tiring of the media harassing the family, however, Cruz’s cousin brought the case to Private Investigator Rebecca Marte. She figured that the public was probably right. Rebecca was, however, willing to give the case another look as Cruz’s sudden, total break from reality without any apparent cause was almost as strange as her beliefs.
With his background in psychology, working with Sam “Doc” Price made sense to Rebecca and she welcomed him as a consultant. But soon, the two, who had worked so well in the past, found themselves at each other’s throats. She dropped him from the investigation, but with his “dog with a bone” determination, Doc went on alone.
Unfortunately, the now-divided team was going after an adversary more cunning and more ruthless than any they’ve faced before. If they’d realized the odds of their survival apart, they would have found a way to put their differences aside before it was too late.
There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality;
and then there are those who turn one into the other.
Wednesday, April 6
Morning, The National Mall, Washington, DC
“At least you didn’t have to take a bullet for the guy.”
Renee Portnell heard the words but made no attempt to find their meaning in the fog of pain that filled her mind. Rather, she watched in numbed disbelief as a trickle of blood inched closer to a Washington Senators baseball cap that sat on the sidewalk. She had to be ten yards away sitting on a park bench and the sun was just beginning to crest the buildings ringing the National Mall, but with a half-dozen Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department cars now parked on the grass, all with their headlights blazing, she could move another ten and the horror of the scene wouldn’t fade.
Portnell slowly turned toward the sound of the voice beside her, an MPD officer, his name already forgotten. “What?”
“The guy? I heard he was a senator or something. Figured you’d have to take a bullet for him if it came to that.”
“U.S. Representative Alan Barclay,” said Portnell, every word drawn out like she was from the deep south rather than Connecticut. “Although, that’s Secret Service, not private protection services.”
Portnell shook her head to clear it, each of her senses slowly returning to the here and now, each becoming preternaturally acute for an instant before succumbing to the next. She heard the murmur of voices filled with urgency and authority all around. She registered the acrid smell of car exhaust mixing with the sickly-sweet of cherry blossoms that had reached their peak the week before. She tasted gunpowder on her tongue, her saliva no match for its bitterness. But when her gaze fell on the woman lying on the sidewalk, the round-robin of sensations ended. She couldn’t pull her eyes away. And all the while she wondered, how could Barclay’s ball cap have landed so close to the woman and so far from him?
The police and paramedics had already moved away from the female. Portnell wasn’t surprised. She’d always been an excellent shot and any of the four rounds she’d squeezed off could have been fatal. The only difference between them and the thousand she’d fired before today was that the previous ones had only penetrated paper. These last four had found flesh and bone, blood and muscle. As she watched, the woman’s blood inched ever closer to the cap.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Portnell knew. In her eight years with the military police, she had never fired her sidearm in the line of duty. And when she had retired, her recruitment into the private sector had emphasized the fact that female body guards were often instrumental in de-escalating violence. But when the threat is shooting at your client, gender is not going to stop the onslaught. Only a bullet could.
“Renee, look at me.” The drop in his volume pulled Portnell’s eyes to the officer’s face. “From what I hear, you got nothing to worry about. The shooting was righteous. She shot first and you have the right to protect yourself and others from deadly force. Only question seems to be, she get off two shots or three?”
Portnell thought it could have been more. Hadn’t she stared in disbelief for seconds? Hadn’t she fumbled with her firearm when drawing it from her shoulder holster? The only thing that had gone smoothly was the Weaver stance-aim-fire sequence, a routine that was burned into her muscle memory from those thousand practice shots at targets that she couldn’t harm.
“Not that you need insurance, but she was obviously a wacko,” said the officer. “I mean, what the hell was it she said?”
Portnell stared at the man’s face, wondering how many times she was going to have to repeat those words? Of course, it wasn’t like she’d ever forget them. “When she first approached, she said, ‘You must find it hard to represent the folks back home.’”
There was nothing particularly memorable in that part of her statement, but her voice was so melodic, almost childlike. Perhaps that was why, when Portnell started forward to ask the woman to move on, Barclay had given her “the signal”—a hand held low at his side, palm facing backward. Of course, the woman’s physical appearance may have played a part in his decision as well. Although Barclay had a reputation as a family man, even he could dream and the woman was the stuff of men’s dreams—a dark, exotic beauty in a pure white dress.
“Then, she said, ‘I mean, it’s gotta be tough for the spawn of a Martian whore like you.’”
“Spawn of a Martian whore,” said the MPD officer, chuckling and shaking his head. “Where the heck do these kooks get this crap? I mean, you knew the guy better than me. There’s no truth to her words, right?” The officer laughed again like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Portnell just stared.
She suspected that it was the incongruity of the hate in the woman’s words and the lilting tone that had carried them to her ears that had caused her hesitation. She remembered thinking, could this be real? She knew, of course, that this might happen one day. But in her mind’s eye, it was always the silhouette of a crazed man. It was the practice target of the firing range given life.
But while her response had been hesitant, the woman hadn’t vacillated. A gun materialized in her hand where moments before there had been none. The crack of her first shot brought Portnell out of her trance. She reached for her handgun, but it caught for an instant on her jacket. The woman fired again. Portnell saw Barclay spin to the ground out of the corner of her eye, perhaps as a defensive reaction, but probably from the impact of the round. His cap flew from his head, which now explained where it had landed on the sidewalk.
Her handgun came free and from that instant on, she no longer needed to think. Each of her four shots produced a new bloom of red on the woman’s simple white dress. But unlike Barclay, she stayed upright, as if she was one of the paper targets hung from the carrier at the firing range. Finally, the woman crumpled to the ground.
“Two,” said Portnell, the words indistinct in her ears.
“She fired twice.”
The officer didn’t say anything, but Portnell could hear him moving. After a moment, the man crouched down in her line of sight. Her vision dimmed and she collapsed to her back on the bench. The officer yelled, “Get a paramedic over here. She’s going into shock.” It sounded like he was twenty yards away, not standing over her.
Lying down helped, and Portnell’s vision and hearing cleared a bit. She rolled to her side, watching as the trickle of crimson reached the bill of the baseball cap. Now, the darkening fabric marked the slow march of the woman’s blood. She stared at the woman’s face. Once, it had reflected an energy to match her voice, but now, it looked more like frozen stone, her naturally dark complexion faded from the loss of blood. Only her eyes seemed to show signs of the person she had been; they twinkled with an inner light, although Portnell knew that was impossible.
Another man appeared in her line of sight. “Stay with me, ma’am.” He turned away. “Get that stretcher over here. Now!”
It was help, and Portnell thought she should feel relieved. She didn’t. She knew no one could help her with what she needed most—getting the image of the beautiful woman in white with the melodic voice out of her mind forever.
About the Author
Bruce Perrin has been writing for more than 25 years, although you will find much of that work in professional technical journals or conference proceedings. But after completing a PhD in Industrial/Organization Psychology and spending a number of years in the research and development of advanced learning technology with a major aerospace company, he’s now applying his background to writing. Not surprisingly, most of his work falls in the techno-thriller, mystery, and hard science fiction genres, examining where technology and psychology meet, now and in the future.
In addition to pounding the keyboard, Bruce likes to tinker with home automation and is an avid hiker, logging nearly 2,500 miles a year in the first eight years of Fitbit ownership. When he is not on the trails, he lives with his wife in Aurora, CO. For a closer look at his writing life, book reviews, and progress on his upcoming works, please join him at brucemperrin.com.