Monday, August 24, 2015

Enigma excerpt by Lloyd A Meeker

In Enigma, a Russ Morgan Mystery by Lloyd A Meeker, who’s blackmailing the high-profile televangelist whose son was famously cured of his homosexuality fifteen years ago? Now in 2009, that ought to be ancient history.

It seems there’s no secret to protect, no crime, not even a clear demand for money—just four threatening letters using old Enigma songs from the 90′s. But they’ve got  Reverend Howard Richardson spooked.

Proudly fifty and unhappily single, gay PI Russ Morgan has made peace with being a psychic empath, and he’s managed to build a decent life since getting sober. As he uncovers obscene secrets shrouded in seeming righteousness he might have to make peace with a sword of justice that cuts the innocent as deeply as the guilty.

Wilde City Press (August 28, 2013)
ISBN: 978-1-925031-40-9


[The Setup: Russ Morgan interviews James Richardson, who apparently emerged from reparative therapy in 1994 completely cured of his same-sex attraction. Since that time James has assisted his father Howard in his evangelical outreach through The Abundant Life and Gospel Ministry Church.]

I got back to Kommen’s office in time to cool off a bit in their air-conditioned foyer while waiting for Colin to appear. He did, radiating his rosy-cheeked sincerity, precisely at one-thirty.

He’d already collected the contact info for the courier, Rocky Mountain Mercury, and their tracking number for the fourth letter. He was quick—a smart, decent gay kid trying to do his job right in what was undoubtedly a very precarious environment, and more power to him.

Colin didn’t lead me back to the big suite off Kommen’s office, but to a smaller, still well-appointed conference room down the hall. He parked me in one of the upholstered armchairs and scurried off, I assumed to fetch James. I wondered if Kommen was always this obvious in his messages about status difference between father and son. Given how he’d behaved toward me, I figured it likely.

In a moment, Colin opened the door and Kommen appeared with Richardson beside him. James sat down opposite me, but Kommen stayed at the door.

“I have a meeting,” he announced, glaring at me like it was my fault. “No recording this. I’ve instructed James to refuse to answer any question he feels uncomfortable with. Afterward, he’ll be reporting to me on your conduct. In detail.” He wheeled and was gone.

As he closed the door, I caught Colin’s eye. He knew his boss was an asshole, too. I watched him through the glass wall as he scooted down the hall. I could see that some days, he’d have to work hard at being cheerful.

I wanted the atmosphere to settle a bit before I got started, so I took my time pulling out my pen and notebook and getting set up. When I looked up, Richardson was sitting back, waiting with his arms on the chair and his knees wide apart. He had big thighs, and not from fat. Very fit.

He was an attractive guy in a button-down collar, perfect teeth, only slightly weathered, collegiate kind of way. Solid intelligence in the eyes, but I saw more pain than kindness there. Good jaw, but also hard, somehow. Dark hair like his father’s in the old press photos I’d looked up. James had a bigger, more athletic frame, though. He obviously worked out, but not obsessively. His features reminded me more of his mother, although I’d seen only one photo of her. Pretty nice overall, but not gut-grabbing sexy.

I gave him a conciliatory smile. “I can’t promise to ask you only comfortable questions, but my goal here is certainly not to harass you.”

He shrugged dismissively. “I know. Kommen is a martinet, and it gets old in a hurry. I’m a big boy and can take care of myself.”

“I have no doubt of that,” I said, grinning.

I shifted my focus to watch his energy. “I’ve learned a lot about the Enigma album containing the lyrics used in these letters,” I said, pen at the ready. “Do you think there’s any significance to the fact that it was released while you were in therapy?”

“No, I don’t,” Richardson said. Big lie—his aura blazed with it, plus anger. I made a note as slowly as if I were just learning to print block letters. I was half tempted to stick my tongue part way out with the effort.
“Do you have any idea at all as to who might be behind these letters, even just a wild guess?”

“None at all.” Again, a big lie, highly charged. Instead of anger, this time I saw searing pain. He had an idea, for sure. And now so did I.

“Your father believes that these letters are an attack on him, using you and your background as the point of attack. Do you think that idea is at all valid?”

“It could be. Leaders of some other churches would love to see my father disgraced. The math says donation dollars that go to one church don’t go to another, and our draw for members and donations is growing fast.”

“Is it possible that this is an attack on your father directly? Church funds, moral misconduct?”

“No.” Big lie. “Our books are rigorously audited and summarized annually for our members.” True.
I waited for him to address the moral misconduct part of my question. He didn’t. If his first answer was a lie, but the second was true, then moral misconduct sat big and broad in the equation somewhere. I’d gotten my answer from his silence.

“Your dad also says that you’ve been instrumental in expanding your ministry into Latin America. Do you think the threat comes from there?”

James shook his head. “I really don’t think so. Our membership there doesn’t care much about the competition between churches in the US. On top of that, our presence in Latin America extends back only a few years, probably no more than about 2002. Long after my experiences as a teenager.”

“Do you think they would know about those experiences?”

“Certainly. It’s a story worth repeating as often as possible.” He gave me a smile radiant with the Gospel’s glory, but his aura swirled up dark and angry. “My personal salvation is a testament to my father's faith, and the invincible power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I’m glad for you.” I wanted to sound sincere, but I don’t think I made it. “Has any spark of that old temptation ever presented itself since those days?”

“No, thank the Lord.” His lie spiked out, even bigger than the others. James sighed a deep breath and gazed out the window, as if savoring his God-given liberation for the first time. Poor guy. What kind of hell was he living in, pretending the hand of God had fixed him, living a straight man’s life?

“Were the methods of your therapy harsh? I’ve heard they often are.”

Richardson’s aura boiled up with pain, grief, and rage, but his face remained an angelic mask. “I don’t have to answer that, but I will. Yes, they were harsh. But they were warranted. My very soul was at stake.” He paused, his eyes opaque with the flat stare of a bouncer. “And that’s a closed chapter you and I will not be visiting.”

I nodded. “Got it,” I said, making my note. “Is there any other light you can shine on this business right now?”

“Not at the moment.” To my amazement, he was telling the truth. He knew a lot about this, but he couldn’t shed light on it now. James Richardson was in this up to his neck. But how? Why?
I leaned forward, caught his eye and held it for a few heartbeats. I wanted him to know that I knew he knew something else. I pulled out one of my cards and offered it to him. As he took it I said, “In case anything else comes to you, I’d really appreciate a call. I promise not to badger you or anyone in your family. I’m just trying to solve this.”

“I will do that, Mr. Morgan,” he said, sounding thoughtful. “Something else may come to mind, and if it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.” He pulled out one of his cards and wrote on the back before he gave it to me.
I must have looked as surprised as I actually was, because he gave me a little smile, aura welling up in sadness. “My cell. In case you think of other questions for me,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, tucking the card in my shirt pocket, pretending I didn’t understand the gesture was a significant invitation, maybe even a request. We shook hands. I tried not to wince. James Richardson was a man in serious pain, and some of it burned in my knuckles. We headed down the hall.

Colin appeared before we’d taken half a dozen steps, steering Richardson away on some vector that didn’t include me.

I headed on to the elevator.

As I walked down the 16th Street Mall, I called Rocky Mountain Mercury and set up an appointment with the dispatcher in an hour. It was Friday afternoon, and they were already slowing down. I gave them the document number so they could be ready. I promised to be in and out in just a few minutes.

The dispatcher at Rocky Mountain didn’t hand me a case-solver, but I did get a couple of interesting pieces of information.

Delivery of the fourth letter had been charged to the account of Stelnach, Kommen and Breyer. It had been picked up at the front desk, only to be delivered back to the same location an hour later. The same receptionist had signed off on the pickup as for the delivery.

That seemed strange, but when I asked the dispatcher about it he just shrugged. The courier’s pay was a low hourly base with a per-item delivery count determining the remainder. Even if the courier noticed that the letter was to be delivered to the same place where it was picked up, and he probably did when he scanned it into his handheld, he’d do it anyway. The rationale behind the letter’s origin wasn’t his problem, and the delivery meant another dollar in his pocket.

On my walk home, I pondered the varied nature of the deliveries—inter-office mail, regular post, taped to a shower door, and courier using Kommen’s own account number. Two things became clear.
First, Enigma had at-will access to the innermost workings of Richardson’s life. I’d got that already, but using Kommen’s corporate account number for this delivery and having it physically picked up at the law office showed significantly broader access than I’d imagined. There weren’t many with access to both Richardson’s shower door and his attorney’s office downtown.

Second, Enigma was bedeviling Richardson with item one. The deliveries had been orchestrated to that end. There was no other reason to use such a variety. Enigma was toying with the good reverend like a cat torments the mouse it will eventually kill.

No wonder Richardson’s aura had fried with panic. He could feel hot cat breath in his whiskers, but he couldn’t squirm out from under its paw. Howard Richardson was being punished.

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