Private Investigator Mallory Petersen, a fourth degree black belt with her own taekwondo school in Des Moines, Iowa, splits her time between teaching martial arts and her often inane cases. It’s not that she wants bad things to happen to people, but it makes life more interesting when they do.
When Mallory accepts a case to find Cheryl McGee’s kidnapped eight year old daughter, she is pulled into the dark underworld of child pornography. The trail soon leads to the Quad Cities, where Mallory partners with an officer from the Special Case Squad.
As the investigation deepens, Mallory discovers there’s more to the girl’s disappearance than her client let on.
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– “5 Stars This book grabbed me from the beginning and I read it in one sitting. Recommended for all who enjoy reading a mystery genre and know what happening but not know how it’s going to end.” – http://misslynnsbooks-n-more.blogspot.com/2011/11/beta-by-stephen-l-brayton.html#comment-form
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Ten minutes later, I drove into a neighborhood I thought must have been built as an afterthought. “Hey,” somebody decided, “we forgot about this section of the city, let’s put up some houses.” I passed mostly one-story middle class homes. I passed the KGGO Classic Rock that Rocks radio studio set back about fifty yards off Broadway.
The clapboard building’s glass front doors reflected the front parking lot and a red and white tower needled the gray clouds. The station’s colorful van, used for live remotes, idled in the parking lot, exhaust puffing from the tailpipe like smoke from a cigarette on steroids.
My mood determines my music choices. Classical for serene times, country for sing-along happy moments, oldies for some doo-wop motion. I’m somewhat confused by modern Top Forty, hip-hop, and rock. I know I’m not yet out of my twenties, still part of the ‘younger generation’, but half the time I can’t tell if the name the DJ announces is the song’s title or the name of the band.
I don’t listen to KGGO very often but once in awhile, usually during the summer, I’ll crank down the Dart’s windows and the radio’s volume to maximum and risk a speeding ticket on the interstate.
Sometimes, you gotta let go.
As I passed the station, I wondered what type of music Darren enjoyed. There’s a small boom box on the file cabinet in the office, but it’s never playing unless I turn it on. In fact, I don’t recall him ever listening to it, not talk radio, music, or CD’s brought from home. I’d have to remember to ask him about his musical tastes.
A quarter mile west of the station, I parked on the far side of the street opposite McGee’s rental house with its sickly robin’s egg blue vinyl siding, salt and pepper shingles, and three sided carport. A minuscule red storage shed was the lone outbuilding exiled to one corner of the backyard. The front yard would need less than five minutes to mow. An unattractive, if functional half-pipe drainage ditch near the street ran under a gravel drive. Two rows of bare maples bordered the property on either side. One forlorn sapling shivered on the northeast corner of the house. A cracked stone walk led to a concrete porch and a cheap aluminum storm door. From behind the carport, a dog barked. It couldn’t see me, but registered my presence. I hoped the constant noise wouldn’t attract neighbors’ attention. As I surveyed the property I thought, this guy drives an Infinity? He must have been driving it somewhere else because the carport was empty and, similar to my several attempts at Rosenberger Apartments, I received no answer to my knock on the door.
I wondered if the cops had taken the time to get a really good look at Charles. They might have leaned on him a little, considering his history, but moved on if they felt there was no overwhelming probable cause to pursue the matter further with him. If Charles made himself scarce, however, suspicions might be renewed.
I stood on the porch, inhaled a full supply of air, scrunched up my face, and debated my options. To B&E or not to B&E. That was the question. Whether ’twas nobler in the mind to stay noble or to suffer the slings and arrows by saying, “Hell, go for it.”
I went for it.
I glanced around to ascertain the dog’s barking hadn’t summoned upset neighbors, and whipped out my trusty key ring with the extra ‘goodies.’ In less than a minute, I was in violation of Chapter 713 of the Iowa Code.
Inside, I found Charles McGee’s abode a study in contrast. It must have come already furnished because the furniture and the store bought items lay on opposite ends of the scale. A plain refried bean colored recliner faced a forty-two inch plasma television. Against one wall, he’d placed a seven-foot beige couch with three dead cushions where he could sit and fiddle with the remote for the RCA
DVD/Blu Ray combination unit. I stood on nauseous threetone shag carpeting and studied the AIWA stereo system. An old scratched table boasted the latest Dell hard drive and flat screen monitor. In the bedroom, a second hand dresser squatted in the corner, but $800 suits hung in the closet. The kitchen cabinets revealed expensive bottles of alcohol, but nearby sat a rickety table an auctioneer wouldn’t touch. The only item on the table was an old faded matchbook with the logo of S&T Racing and Oskaloosa, Iowa, printed in smaller letters near the gray striker stripe.
In the bathroom, a top of the line electric shaver lay on a sink two feet from a toilet I wouldn’t touch even if I were wearing a decontamination suit.
The entire house and the man’s life were in transition. Bits and pieces of the old shared residency with the new material possessions-and not only new, but expensive new. They did not seem the kind of creature comforts a warehouse foreman with an off and on schedule would own. An overworked auditor could see Charles knew of another source of income for himself. I poked through desk drawers hoping to discover a bank account statement, but he must have kept his paperwork, including bills, in a separate location. The computer required a password to view any files.
I stood in the middle of the living room with my hands on my hips wondering about this guy’s story. He definitely rated further investigation. However, I’d have to wait for another time. I wanted to try one more avenue before fulfilling my evening responsibilities.
Exiting Charles’house, my heart rate suddenly raced like a rabbit’s as the animal ran from a fox. Pulling up in the drive was the man himself. Our eyes met and his widened. He threw the Infinity into reverse and squealed back out onto the street. I bolted for my car. His quick reversal proved his guilt of
something and I was bound to discover what.
Why run? He should have been irate at the home invasion. Then another thought hit me: was I actually going after him? Had this mystery turned into a made for television movie with the obligatory car chase?
I guess it had, although the sensible part of my brain screamed in protest, futilely, as the adrenaline rush hit my system. By the time I reached my car, Charles had gained a quarter mile advantage. As I gunned the Dart’s engine and took off after him, I mentally reviewed the metro area street map, attempting to anticipate avenues of escape.
The merry chase started on the west end of Broadway, and Charles had already turned north toward the interstate by the time I reached Second Avenue. He swerved around slower vehicles and speed up the entrance ramp as I hit the shadow of the overpass. The Infinity is a great car with a decent engine. It can get up and go when requested. However, my Dodge, despite being thirty years old has been kept in excellent condition and there have been some, shall we say, modifications made. True, I rarely had a chance to taste the pudding for the proof, but I knew what this baby could do. Angry horns and screeching brakes greeted my frantic entrance onto the interstate.
The city streets had been a blur and now I raced along on the Des Moines Autobahn with a straight shot for about six miles before the left curve into Urbandale where the driving can get a little tricky even under ordinary circumstances and this was the beginning of rush hour. Over the Des Moines River into a short stretch of open countryside to the north, Beaver Creek flowing alongside the highway, Charles and I wove in and out of traffic and I wondered where he might exit because he’d run the risk of bottle necks at any of the off ramp lights.
We zoomed past the Merle Hay exit and in what seemed like no time had reached Northwest 86th Street. I thought Charles might decide to take the easy sloping ramp, but when he didn’t, I figured he’d attempt to lose me around the next curve. I had to use extreme control because drivers who frequent this stretch of the interstate seem to be a little on the wild side. Maybe it’s the west side neighborhood, I don’t know, but negotiating traffic can be a challenge.
Farther along this section, Charles had several choices for exits, and if he timed them correctly, could leave me stuck. Douglas Avenue, the long ramp at Hickman, the longer one at University, and finally, the ultimate mess at the west Mixmaster taking vehicles west on I-80 to Omaha, I-35 south to Kansas City, or the freeway east back into the metropolis.
The highway teemed with vehicles and I had difficulty keeping the Infinity in sight. Clouds shrouded the afternoon sun and dusk eagerly encroached. Most drivers already had switched on their headlights. We passed the next four exits, and with the Mixmaster behind us, raced along on a straight
southern course. I barely registered the clone condo apartments on my right and a new housing development to my left. The nearest exit lay about two miles further at Grand Avenue. Surprisingly, we had not cut across the paths of any police cars, but stopping McGee was the best thing, since I might find out why he had decided to run even if I risked getting a speeding ticket in the process. He
made an abrupt right onto the exit ramp with me hot on his tail. Squealing tires around the clover leaf ramp, I hit Grand Avenue amidst a cacophony of horns and veering cars.
Damn! Heading back into town, he potentially could shake me on the side streets if he got too far ahead. A speed limit sign flashed in my peripheral vision. Charles and I were well above the 45 mile per hour mark as we passed slower traffic on both sides. I could only imagine what people thought seeing a couple of maniacs whipping by on the shoulder. It had happened to me once and I hadn’t
forgotten the unnerving experience.
The avenue dog-legged to the left, but I saw the Infinity take a sudden right turn into Raccoon River Park. Charles seemed to know where he was going and I only hoped he’d make a mistake to put him into a ditch. The park angled northeast for about half a mile before it gave way to an industrial center. Off-shoots of pavement led to picnic areas, a Rorschach test shaped lake, and several smaller ponds. On any summer’s weekend, this place would be packed. Three days shy of Thanksgiving it was desolate, gray, and looked like it had reverted back to a developmental stage. Here the speed limit signs showed a mere fifteen, but we both ignored them. At the park’s northern property line, Charles again made a right turn, through an open swing gate. I’d been in this area only once, when playing explorer, I stumbled onto the property before I knew it was an actual business. West Des Moines Sand and Gravel. A dusty strip fifty yards wide, dotted with piles of sand and stone and lonely looking dump trucks ran alongside several processing plants and an elevator before petering out at First Street just south of historic Valley Junction.
I tracked Charles by the trail of dust his car spit up. Combined with mine, we looked like those super-powered cars tearing across the Nevada desert flats trying to break a land speed record. Here’s where my Dart could shine. I edged up on his right, intending to force him into a skid. Side by side, I glanced over at him. In profile, I saw the plain features I’d studied in his photograph at Cardeman. He didn’t return the look, but just kept his eyes straight ahead.
Which is what I should have done? As I steered closer, trying to spook him, I returned my eyes front and one of those dump trucks appeared from behind a twentyfoot pyramid of sand.
I screamed a naughty word while slamming on the brakes. The Infinity shot past the gigantic truck with less than a foot to spare and I ended up in a barely controlled skid. Before smashing the car into the metallic monstrosity,
I jerked the wheel to the right and plowed the Dodge into the sand pile. I didn’t impact hard enough to cause damage to the front end, but the car caused a small avalanche.
Cursing again, I reversed, went around the pile, but Charles had disappeared. I hightailed it out of there, not wanting to get into a discussion of my presence with the truck driver.
By the time I reached First Street, I saw no sign of the Infinity, but I wondered, not for the first time, why the hell had he been running?
Or from whom?