Medicine meets murder in Margaret Truman's Deadly Medicine by Donald Bain—the 29th installment of the Capital Crimes series (Available June 7, 2016).
If someone in the pharmaceutical industry came upon a cheaper, non-addictive, and more effective painkiller, would he kill for it?
Washington D.C. private detective Robert “Don't call me Bobby” Brixton, along with his mentors, attorneys Mac and Annabel Smith, discover that the answer is a resounding “Yes,” as they try to help Jayla King, a medical researcher at a small D.C. pharmaceutical firm, carry on the work of her father. His experiments in the jungles of Papua New Guinea in search of such a breakthrough product led to his brutal murder and the theft of his papers.
Did Jayla's father's lab assistant kill the doctor and steal his research? Is this shadowy figure prepared to kill again to keep Jayla from profiting from her father's work? Does her recent paramour's romantic interest reflect his true feelings—or will he sell her out and reap the rewards for himself? And to what lengths would Big Pharma's leading lobbyist go to cover up his involvement, and to protect a leading champion of the pharmaceutical industry—a Georgia senator with a shady past?
As Mac, Annabel, and Brixton soon realize, no pill can ease the pain that the answers to these questions inflict on everyone in this tale of greed, betrayal—and murder.
FLO’S FASHIONS was located on upper Wisconsin Avenue, at the tail end of Georgetown’s main commercial drag. Flo Combes, lady friend of Robert “Don’t Call Me Bobby” Brixton, had opened the women’s clothing boutique six months ago and all signs pointed to it becoming a success. Word had gotten around that the lines of American-made clothing she featured combined casualness with a touch of flair, and business had been brisk. She’d owned a similar shop in Savannah, Georgia, when she and Brixton had lived together in that genteel southern city and before they ended up in Washington, D.C.—after a brief detour to their native Brooklyn—and it was in a retail setting that Flo felt most comfortable.
Although Brixton was proud of Flo and her determination to open the shop, he had mixed emotions, which he managed to keep to himself—for the most part. Since returning to D.C. and establishing his private detective agency in a small suite adjacent to the law offices of Mackensie Smith, Brixton’s patron saint in the nation’s capital, Flo had been his decorator, confidante, painter, booster, lover, and receptionist/secretary. Her decision to strike out on her own and open the boutique had sent Brixton into a funk that negatively impacted the investigative work he did, and it had taken pep talks from Smith and his wife, Annabel, as well as some gentle soothing of his ruffled feathers by Flo, before he snapped out of it and accepted the fact that she was no longer in his outer office greeting clients with her infectious smile. Flo had personally chosen her replacement, Eloise Warden, aptly named as far as Brixton was concerned, a stern, no-nonsense middle-aged woman with a headful of tight graying curls who was every bit as efficient as Flo had been, but who lacked her beauty and outgoing personality. Had Flo deliberately picked Ms. Warden from the roster of women who had applied for the job, most of them young and sexy, to head off competition for Brixton’s affection? Flo had flared when he’d raised that possibility and he’d wisely not brought it up again.
On this lovely spring day Brixton stood across the street from the boutique and admired a new green-and-white awning that had been installed above the large window and door. He’d just returned to the city from time spent following a young Department of Agriculture bureaucrat whose wife was convinced that he spent his lunch hours visiting a lover. Brixton followed the guy from the Department of Agriculture building to a Virginia town where he entered a one-story building in which customers raced miniature cars around a large, elaborate track using a joystick to control the cars’ speed. Brixton figured that as long as he was there he might as well sign up for a session, too, rather than sit outside in a hot car waiting for his target to emerge. He ended up racing the man he’d been following, a pleasant way to spend the afternoon although he lost every race.
“You come here often?” Brixton asked casually, realizing that he sounding like a guy using the oldest icebreaker in the world to chat up a woman at a bar.
“Every chance I get,” the man said. He was short, chubby, prematurely balding, and wore thick glasses that rendered his eyes twice their normal size. Hardly the lothario type.
“I really enjoy this place,” the man said after winning their fourth race. “My wife won’t let me race real cars so I come here. It’s an addiction I suppose.”
“Like sex?” Brixton asked as he positioned his small yellow race car at the starting line in preparation for the fifth race.
“Sex? Addiction? I wouldn’t know. You have that problem?”
“Me? No. But I can see how this can get in your blood. It’s my first time.”
“You’ll get the hang of it. Ready, set, go!”
They shook hands as they left the racing hobbyists’ emporium.
“A pleasure meeting you Harold,” the alleged cheater said, using the name Brixton had assumed. “What do you do for a living?”
“Ah, I’m self-employed. Finance.”
“Well, hope to see you here again. Have a nice night.”
Brixton surreptitiously followed the guy home until he pulled into his driveway. On his way back to the District Brixton could only laugh at what he would consider writing in his report to the suspicious wife: “Husband skipped out of work and spent the afternoon being aroused while playing with his joystick.” Nah. Don’t be a wise guy Robert. Make the wife happy by reporting that her husband’s passion wasn’t another woman, just little model cars going around in circles.
He dodged traffic as he crossed Wisconsin Avenue and stepped into the shop where Flo was busy with a customer. She waved and flashed him a smile. “Robert,” she called, “I want you to meet someone.”
Brixton circumnavigated clothing racks and went to where Flo stood with a strikingly beautiful woman who was admiring her image in a full-length mirror.
“Jayla,” Flo said, “this is the Robert I’ve been telling you about.”
The woman with the unusual name smiled at Brixton. That she had African American blood in her genetic makeup was obvious from the rich cinnamon sheen of her face and hands. Her features were what writers termed “classic,” a thin nose in perfect proportion to her facial architecture, somewhat angular, a lovely set of lips above a proud chin, all of it framed by ebony hair that glistened in the shop’s overhead lighting. Brixton recognized the tan fitted dress she wore. Flo had shown that model to him when the shipment had arrived two months ago from the San Francisco designer with whom she’d forged a close working relationship.
“Hi,” Jayla said, extending long, slender hands tipped in red to match her lipstick. “Flo is always talking about you.”
“Probably better that I not know what she says about me,” Brixton said through a grin.
“Would I ever say anything bad about you, Robert?” Flo asked, feigning hurt.
“Probably, but then I suppose I deserve it.” He kissed Flo on the cheek and said to the customer, “I see you’re wearing one of Flo’s creations, Ms.…”
“King, but please call me Jayla.”
“I don’t create it,” Flo protested. “Jason in San Francisco creates it. I just sell it.”
“But you have a very good eye for what looks good,” Jayla said.
“I’ll accept that,” Flo said.
“I second it,” Brixton threw in. “Nice name, Jayla King.”
“I obviously didn’t choose it,” Jayla said. She turned to Flo. “I really like this dress.”
She disappeared into one of three fitting rooms at the rear of the boutique.
“A knockout of a woman,” Brixton commented.
“Isn’t she beautiful? She’s a scientist.”
“A beautiful scientist,” Brixton said reverentially.
“She does medical research for a company in Bethesda.”
“Maybe she can give me something for my bald spot,” Brixton said. “It’s getting bigger.”
“It’s supposed to. You’re a man. Get a testosterone shot.”
“Bad for the prostate.”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
Jayla emerged from the dressing room wearing the new dress. “I love it,” she announced, doing a pirouette in front of the mirror. As she did, her cell phone, which rested on a small table next to her purse, sounded. She picked it up and said, “Hello?… Yes, this is Jayla … Eugene?… Is something wrong?… Oh, no…”
She sat heavily in one of two tan barrel chairs near the dressing rooms.
“How, Eugene?… When?… Oh, my God … Yes, of course I’ll come … As soon as I can … What?… The lab?… Why?… I know, I know, I’ll know soon enough … Thank you for calling, Eugene … Yes, good-bye.”
“Something wrong?” Flo asked her.
She slumped in the chair, her face a portrait of despair. “That was my father’s lab assistant. He’s been killed.”
“The lab assistant?” Brixton asked.
“No, my father. He’s been murdered.” Her fingers trembled as she brushed a hand through her hair.
Brixton and Flo expressed their dismay at the news and asked if they could do anything.
“Thank you, no,” Jayla said. “I have to get home and pack, book a flight.” She realized that she was wearing a dress that she hadn’t purchased. “I love it but—”
“I’ll put it aside for you,” Flo said. “Please, Jayla, let us know if there’s anything we can do.”
Jayla changed back into her own clothes, gave Flo a brief hug, and shook Brixton’s hand. “It was good to meet you,” she said. “I have to run.”
“Travel safe,” Brixton said. “Sorry for the reason for your trip.”
After Jayla had left, and the shop was empty aside from Brixton and Flo, Brixton took a bag of trash to a dumpster in the alley behind the shop. He returned, made sure that the back door was securely locked, and rejoined Flo. “Her father was murdered, huh?” he said. “Where’s she from?”
“New Guinea. Papua New Guinea.”
“Where’s that? In Africa?”
“Somewhere near Australia. I feel terrible for her. She’s a terrific person and a good customer. Let’s turn out the lights and go home. It’s been a busy day.”
Copyright © 2016 Donald Bain.
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Donald Bain, the author of more than 115 books, including forty of the bestselling Murder, She Wrote novels, was a longtime friend of Margaret Truman. He worked closely with her on her novels, and more than anyone understood the spirit and substance of her books.