There are two Washington, D.Cs. One is a city of inordinate beauty: imposing architecture, world-class museums, statues, monuments to the giants of the past: Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington...a city of verdant parks, cherry blossoms, and velvet air.

The other Washington, D.C., is a citadel of the homeless, a city with one of the highest crime rates in the nation, a labyrinth of muggings and murders.

The Monroe Arms is an elegant boutique hotel discreetly tucked away not far from the corner of 27th and K streets. It does no advertising and caters mainly to its regular clientele. The hotel was built a number of years ago by an enterprising young real estate entrepreneur named Lara Cameron.

Jeremy Robinson, the hotel's general manager, had just arrived on his evening shift and was studying the guest register with a perplexed expression on his face. He checked the names of the occupants of the elite Terrace Suites once again to make certain someone had not made a mistake.

In Suite 325, a faded actress was rehearsing for a play opening at the National Theater. According to a story in The Washington Post, she was hoping to make a comeback.

In 425, the suite above hers, was a well-known arms dealer who visited Washington regularly. The name on the guest register was J. L. Smith, but his looks suggested one of the Middle East countries. Mr. Smith was an extraordinarily generous tipper.

Suite 525 was registered to William Quint, a congressman who headed the powerful drug oversight committee.

Above, Suite 625 was occupied by a computer software salesman who visited Washington once a month.

Registered in Suite 725 was Pat Murphy, an international lobbyist.

So far, so good, Jeremy Robinson thought. The guests were all well known to him. It was Suite 825, the Imperial Suite on the top floor, that was the enigma. It was the most elegant suite in the hotel, and it was always held in reserve for the most important VIPs. It occupied the entire floor and was exquisitely decorated with valuable paintings and antiques. It had its own private elevator leading to the basement garage, so that its guests who wished to be anonymous could arrive and depart in privacy.

What puzzled Jeremy Robinson was the name on the hotel register: Eugene Gant. Was there actually a person by that name, or had someone who enjoyed reading Thomas Wolfe selected it as an alias?

Carl Gorman, the day clerk who had registered the eponymous Mr. Gant, had left on his vacation a few hours earlier, and was unreachable. Robinson hated mysteries. Who was Eugene Gant and why had he been given the Imperial Suite?

In Suite 325, on the third floor, Dame Gisella Barrett was rehearsing for a play. She was a distinguished-looking woman in her late sixties, an actress who had once mesmerized audiences and critics from London's West End to Manhattan's Broadway. There were still faint traces of beauty in her face, but they were overlaid with bitterness.

She had read the article in The Washington Post that said she had come to Washington to make a comeback. A comeback! Dame Barrett thought indignantly. How dare they! I've never been away.

True, it had been more than twenty years since she had last appeared onstage, but that was only because a great actress needed a great part, a brilliant director, and an understanding producer. The directors today were too young to cope with the grandeur of real Theater, and the great English producers - H. M. Tenant, Binkie Beaumont, C. B. Cochran - were all gone. Even the reasonably competent American producers, Helburn, Belasco, and Golden, were no longer around. There was no question about it: The current theater was controlled by know-nothing parvenus with no background. The old days had been so wonderful. There were playwrights back then whose pens were dipped in lightning. Dame Barrett had starred in the part of Ellie Dunn in Shaw's Heartbreak House.

How the critics raved about me. Poor George. He hated to be called George. He preferred Bernard. People thought of him as acerbic and bitter, but underneath it all, he was really a romantic Irishman. He used to send me red roses. I think he was too shy to go beyond that. Perhaps he was afraid I would reject him.

She was about to make her return in one of the most powerful roles ever written - Lady Macbeth. It was the perfect choice for her.

Dame Barrett placed a chair in front of a blank wall, so that she would not be distracted by the view outside. She sat down, took a deep breath, and began to get into the character Shakespeare had created.

"Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep the peace between

The effect and it!"

"...For God's sake, how can they be so stupid? After all the years I have been staying in this hotel, you would think that..."

The voice was booming through the open window, from the suite above.

In Suite 425, J. L. Smith, the arms dealer, was loudly berating a waiter from room service. "...they would know by now that I order only Beluga caviar. Beluga!" He pointed to a plate of caviar on the room-service table. "That is a dish fit for peasants!"

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Smith. I'll go down to the kitchen and - "

"Never mind." J. L. Smith looked at his diamond-studded Rolex. "I have no time. I have an important appointment." He rose and started toward the door. He was due at his attorney's office. A day earlier, a federal grand jury had indicted him on fifteen counts of giving illegal gifts to the secretary of defense. If found guilty, he was facing three years in prison and a million-dollar fine.

In Suite 525, Congressman William Quint, a member of a prominent third-generation Washington family, was in conference with three members of his investigating staff.

"The drug problem in this city is getting completely out of hand," Quint said. "We have to get it back under control." He turned to Dalton Isaak. "What's your take on it?"

"It's the street gangs. The Brentwood Crew is undercutting the Fourteenth Street Crew and the Simple City Crew. That's led to four killings in the last month."

"We can't let this go on," Quint said. "It's bad for business. I've been getting calls from the DEA and the chief of police asking what we're planning to do about it."

"What did you tell them?"

"The usual. That we're investigating." He turned to his assistant. "Set up a meeting with the Brentwood Crew. Tell them if they want protection from us, they're going to have to get their prices in line with the others." He turned to another of his assistants. "How much did we take in last month?"

"Ten million here, ten million offshore."

"Let's bump that up. This city is getting too damned expensive."

In 625, the suite above, Norman Haff lay naked in the dark in bed, watching a porno film on the hotel's closed-circuit channel. He was a pale-skinned man with an enormous beer belly and a flabby body. He reached over and stroked the breast of his bedmate.

"Look what they're doing, Irma." His voice was a strangled whisper. "Would you like me to do that to you?" He circled his fingers around her belly, his eyes fastened to the screen where a woman was making passionate love to a man. "Does that excite you, baby? It sure gets me hot."

He slipped two fingers between Irma's legs. "I'm ready," he groaned. He grabbed the inflated doll, rolled over, and pushed himself into her. The vagina of the battery-operated doll opened and closed on him, squeezing him tighter and tighter.

"Oh, my God!" he exclaimed. He gave a satisfied groan. "Yes! Yes!"

He switched off the battery and lay there panting. He felt wonderful. He would use Irma again in the morning before he deflated her and put her in a suitcase.

Norman was a salesman, and he was on the road most of the time in strange towns where he had no companionship. He had discovered Irma years ago, and she was all the female company he needed. His stupid salesmen friends traveled around the country picking up sluts and professional whores, but Norman had the last laugh.

Irma would never give him a disease.

On the floor above, in Suite 725, Pat Murphy's family had just come back from dinner. Tim Murphy, twelve, was standing on the balcony overlooking the park. "Tomorrow can we climb up to the top of the monument, Daddy?" he begged. "Please?"

His younger brother said, "No. I want to go to the Smithsonian Institute."

"Institution," his father corrected him.

"Whatever. I want to go."

It was the first time the children had been in the nation's capital, although their father spent more than half of every year there. Pat Murphy was a successful lobbyist and had access to some of the most important people in Washington.

His father had been the mayor of a small town in Ohio, and Pat had grown up fascinated by politics. His best friend had been a boy named Joey. They had gone through school together, had gone to the same summer camps, and had shared everything. They were best friends in the truest sense of the phrase. That had all changed one holiday when Joey's parents were away and Joey was staying with the Murphys. In the middle of the night, Joey had come to Pat's room and climbed into his bed. "Pat," he whispered. "Wake up."

Pat's eyes had flown open. "What? What's the matter?"

"I'm lonely," Joey whispered. "I need you."

Pat Murphy was confused. "What for?"

"Don't you understand? I love you. I want you." And he had kissed Pat on the lips.

And the horrible realization had dawned that Joey was a homosexual. Pat was sickened by it. He refused ever to speak to Joey again.

Pat Murphy loathed homosexuals. They were freaks, faggots, fairies, cursed by God, trying to seduce innocent children. He turned his hatred and disgust into a lifelong campaign, voting for anti-homosexual candidates and lecturing about the evils and dangers of homosexuality.

In the past, he had always come to Washington alone, but this time his wife had stubbornly insisted that he bring her and the children.

"We want to see what your life here is like," she said. And Pat had finally given in.

He looked at his wife and children now and thought, It's one of the last times I'll ever see them. How could I have ever made such a stupid mistake? Well, it's almost over now. His family had such grand plans for tomorrow. But there would be no tomorrow. In the morning, before they were awake, he would be on his way to Brazil.

Alan was waiting for him.

In Suite 825, the Imperial Suite, there was total silence. Breathe, he told himself. You must breathe...slower, slower.... He was at the edge of panic. He looked at the slim, naked body of the young girl on the floor and thought, It wasn't my fault. She slipped.

Her head had split open where she had fallen against the sharp edge of the wrought-iron table, and blood was oozing from her forehead. He had felt her wrist. There was no pulse. It was incredible. One moment she had been so alive, and the next moment...

I've got to get out of here. Now! He turned away from the body and hurriedly began to dress. This would not be just another scandal. This would be a scandal that rocked the world. They must never trace me to this suite. When he finished dressing, he went into the bathroom, moistened a towel, and began polishing the surfaces of every place he might have touched.

When he was finally sure he had left no fingerprints to mark his presence, he took one last look around. Her purse! He picked up the girl's purse from the couch, and walked to the far end of the apartment, where the private elevator waited.

He stepped inside, trying hard to control his breathing. He pressed G, and a few seconds later, the elevator door opened and he was in the garage. It was deserted. He started toward his car, then, suddenly remembering, hurried back to the elevator. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his fingerprints from the elevator buttons. He stood in the shadows, looking around again to make sure he was still alone. Finally satisfied, he walked over to his car, opened the door, and sat behind the wheel. After a moment, he turned on the ignition and drove out of the garage.

It was a Filipina maid who found the dead girl's body sprawled on the floor.

"O Dios ko, kawawa naman iyong babae!" She made the sign of the cross and hurried out of the room, screaming for help.

Three minutes later, Jeremy Robinson and Thom Peters, the hotel's head of security, were in the Imperial Suite staring down at the naked body of the girl.

"Jesus," Thom said. "She can't be more than sixteen or seventeen years old." He turned to the manager. "We'd better call the police."

"Wait!" Police. Newspapers. Publicity. For one wild moment, Robinson wondered whether it would be possible to spirit the girl's body out of the hotel. "I suppose so," he finally said reluctantly.

Thom Peters took a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to pick up the telephone.

"What are you doing?" Robinson demanded. "This isn't a crime scene. It was an accident."

"We don't know that yet, do we?" Peters said.

He dialed a number and waited. "Homicide."

Detective Nick Reese looked like the paperback version of a street-smart cop. He was tall and brawny, with a broken nose that was a memento from an early boxing career. He had paid his dues by starting as an officer in Washington's Metropolitan Police Department and had slowly worked his way through the ranks: Master Patrol Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant. He had been promoted from Detective D2 to Detective D1, and in the past ten years had solved more cases than anyone else in the department.

Detective Reese stood there quietly studying the scene. In the suite with him were half a dozen men. "Has anyone touched her?"

Robinson shuddered. "No."

"Who is she?"

"I don't know."

Reese turned to look at the hotel manager. "A young girl is found dead in your Imperial Suite, and you don't have any idea who she is? Doesn't this hotel have a guest register?"

"Of course, Detective, but in this case - " He hesitated.

"In this case...?"

"The suite is registered to a Eugene Gant."

"Who's Eugene Gant?"

"I have no idea."

Detective Reese was getting impatient. "Look. If someone booked this suite, he had to have paid for, credit card - sheep - whatever. Whoever checked this Gant in must have gotten a look at him. Who checked him in?"

"Our day clerk, Gorman."

"I want to talk to him."

"I - I'm afraid that's impossible."

"Oh? Why?"

"He left on his vacation today."

"Call him."

Robinson sighed. "He didn't say where he was going."

"When will he be back?"

"In two weeks."

"I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm not planning to wait two weeks. I want some information now. Somebody must have seen someone entering or leaving this suite."

"Not necessarily," Robinson said apologetically. "Besides the regular exit, this suite has a private elevator that goes directly to the basement garage... I don't know what the fuss is all about. It - it was obviously an accident. She was probably on drugs and took an overdose and tripped and fell."

Another detective approached Detective Reese. "I checked the closets. Her dress is from the Gap, shoes from the Wild Pair. No help there."

"There's nothing to identify her at all?"

"No. If she had a purse, it's gone."

Detective Reese studied the body again. He turned to a police officer standing there. "Get me some soap. Wet it."

The police officer was staring at him. "I'm sorry?"

"Wet soap."

"Yes, sir." He hurried off.

Detective Reese knelt down beside the body of the girl and studied the ring on her finger. "It looks like a school ring."

A minute later, the police officer returned and handed Reese a bar of wet soap.

Reese gently rubbed the soap along the girl's finger and carefully removed the ring. He turned it from side to side, examining it. "It's a class ring from Denver High. There are initials on it, P.Y." He turned to his partner. "Check it out. Call the school and find out who she is. Let's get an ID on her as fast as we can."

Detective Ed Nelson, one of the fingerprint men, came up to Detective Reese. "Something damned weird is going on, Nick. We're picking up prints all over the place, and yet someone took the trouble to wipe the fingerprints off all the doorknobs."

"So someone was here with her when she died. Why didn't he call a doctor? Why did he bother wiping out his fingerprints? And what the hell is a young kid doing in an expensive suite like this?"

He turned to Robinson. "How was this suite paid for?"

"Our records show that it was paid for in cash. A messenger delivered the envelope. The reservation was made over the phone."

The coroner spoke up. "Can we move the body now, Nick?"

"Just hold it a minute. Did you find any marks of violence?"

"Only the trauma to the forehead. But of course we'll do an autopsy."

"Any track marks?"

"No. Her arms and legs are clean."

"Does it look like she's been raped?"

"We'll have to check that out."

Detective Reese sighed. "So what we have here is a schoolgirl from Denver who comes to Washington and gets herself killed in one of the most expensive hotels in the city. Someone wipes out his fingerprints and disappears. The whole thing stinks. I want to know who rented this suite."

He turned to the coroner. "You can take her out now." He looked at Detective Nelson. "Did you check the fingerprints in the private elevator?"

"Yes. The elevator goes from this suite directly to the basement. There are only two buttons. Both buttons have been wiped clean."

"You checked the garage?"

"Right. Nothing unusual down there."

"Whoever did this went to a hell of a lot of trouble to cover his tracks. He's either someone with a record, or a VIP who's been playing games out of school." He turned to Robinson. "Who usually rents this suite?"

Robinson said reluctantly, "It's reserved for our most important guests. Kings, prime ministers..." He hesitated. "...Presidents."

"Have any telephone calls been placed from this phone in the last twenty-four hours?"

"I don't know."

Detective Reese was getting irritated. "But you would have a record if there was?"

"Of course."

Detective Reese picked up the telephone. "Operator, this is Detective Nick Reese. I want to know if any calls were made from the Imperial Suite within the last twenty-four hours....I'll wait."

He watched as the white-coated coroner's men covered the naked girl with a sheet and placed her on a gurney. Jesus Christ, Reese thought. She hadn't even begun to live yet.

He heard the operator's voice. "Detective Reese?"


"There was one call placed from the suite yesterday. It was a local call."

Reese took out a notepad and pencil. "What was the number?...Four-five-six-seven-zero-four-one?..." Reese started to write the numbers down, then suddenly stopped. He was staring at the notepad. "Oh, shit!"

"What's the matter?" Detective Nelson asked.

Reese looked up. "That's the number of the White House." Copyright 2016 - 2024