Whiskey Creek Press
Ebook ISBN: 9781611606614
Print ISBN: 9781611608939
[ Romantic Suspense, MF ]
“First Lady Kills President Lovinggood”
December 5, 2018
Thirty years later, Hank Lovinggood embarks on a quest to prove his mother’s innocence and punish the killers who took his family from him. Together Hank and lovely physicist Dr. Kathryn Sinclair confront an implacable, twisted, and merciless enemy who’ll do whatever it takes to hide the truth forever.
Senator Henry Lovinggood dozed in the warm sunshine streaming through the window of his study. A loud, rumbling snore woke him, and he saw his aide Tim Jarvis standing in the doorway.
“Taking a little snooze, Tim,” he boomed as he scrubbed his hand across his face. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
Tim handed a phone to the senator. “You have a phone call, sir. It’s the attorney general. Of California, I mean.”
Senator Lovinggood touched the flat screen, and a hologram of Morton Williams appeared before him. “What can I do for you, Morton?”
“Senator, I’m calling you about the Prescott Flash Train.”
“What about the Flash Train?” Senator Lovinggood growled. “We’ve already had this conversation.”
“Sir, the state has made its position very clear. We have to have that land. Whether the public likes it or not, the bodies at Knollwood must be moved. Some of the Flash Train cables have to be buried, and…”
“I’ve heard it all before. I don’t believe that the engineers can’t find a way to route the train without disturbing a cemetery.”
“Sir, they say they can’t.”
The senator snorted. “I don’t believe it for—”
“Sir, it’s going to happen. President Lovinggood and his wife are scheduled to be disinterred on the twenty-third of November. You and your grandson should decide on a new resting place for them.”
Piqued, Senator Lovinggood rudely turned off the phone and thrust it at Tim. “Damned petty flunky,” he shouted. “Are the transportation people too wimpy to tell me themselves?”
Tim pursed his lips, reminding the senator of an overgrown guppy. “The state attorney general’s office has to approve all exhumations, Senator. Anyway, the president should have been in Arlington all along.”
The senator skewered Tim with a fiery glare. “As you doubtless know, a sitting president is required to make his funeral arrangements so that his wishes are followed in the event of his death. President Lovinggood made his wishes very clear. He wanted to be buried here in California with his family.”
Tim flushed as his lips thinned. The senator saw both apprehension and contempt in his eyes, but he had too much sense to back talk his boss. “Can I get anything for you, Senator?”
“Yes. Some coffee.”
As Tim vanished, the senator gave a brief, inward sigh. He had recruited Tim ten years ago and had regretted it many times. Tim had expected an exciting life in Washington; instead, he had gotten a quiet life in California with a senator who seldom even went to Washington anymore, not unless there was a vote he didn’t want to miss. He made his displeasure known in countless little ways. I guess I should replace him, but why bother? I’m retiring in eighteen months.
The senator heaved himself to his feet and shuffled across the study. Damned arthritis; I move like an old man, and my snot-nosed kid of a doctor had the gall to lecture me about my attitude. “You should be glad you aren’t crippled,” Grant had scolded. “Thirty years ago you wouldn’t be walking at all. You’d also be in severe pain.”
What did Grant know? He’d complain if he wanted to.
He sat down behind his desk and stared at a conspicuously displayed photo of his son, Richard. The photo had been taken on inauguration day. Richard’s wife Elizabeth stood at his side, looking so beautiful that even now it made his heart ache to see her.
Her face glowed with pride and happiness. How could anyone believe that two years later she would kill Richard and take her own life? “They’re all wrong,” he muttered as he made a gesture of repugnance. “I don’t care what anyone says; she did not shoot him.”
He removed a well-worn scrapbook from its place in the bottom drawer, caressing its smooth, cool surface. When he opened the scrapbook, Richard’s face laughed up at him. The photo had been taken right after his grandson, Hank, was born. This was exactly the way he remembered Richard, laughing and happy, his eyes alight with life and promise.
The whole family had celebrated Hank’s birth. Richard and Elizabeth had tried for years to have a baby. They had seen a lot of fertility specialists, but they’d almost given up hope when Elizabeth found out she was pregnant with Hank. Oh, yeah, he’d never forget those days.
“The king of the world,” he muttered. “I felt like the king of the world.”
He turned the pages one by one as he had done so many times before. No matter how often he looked at the scrapbook, he never grew tired of it. Pausing on page five, he studied one of his favorite pictures. It had been taken on Richard and Elizabeth’s wedding day. I’m ninety-eight years old now, and I’ve never seen two people as much in love as they were.
The little half smile on his face faded as his old eyes glazed. It can’t be too much longer before I see Richard again; I can’t wait to find out what really happened that night. He supposed his faith required him to forgive whoever had murdered his son and daughter-in-law, but he daily prayed the perpetrator would burn in hell forever.
He flipped to the back of the scrapbook. God, I hate this part! He had thought of destroying the offensive newspaper articles, but without them, the record would be incomplete. “President Lovinggood Murdered!” the first headline screamed. “First Lady Kills the President” trumpeted another in huge, black letters.
Unwilling to read any more, he turned back to the front of the scrapbook. Look, there was a good picture of Richard and Joan taken in their Halloween costumes. Richard must have been five or six at the time. They looked so much alike some people had thought they were twins, but Richard was two years older than Joan. He remembered that Richard hadn’t wanted his little sister to—
“Put that damned thing away!” a strident, furious voice demanded from the door.
Elaine Lovinggood, the senator’s wife, had gone red-faced with anger. “Why are you torturing yourself, Henry? I told you not to look at it anymore.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Be quiet, Henry!” She slapped the door with the flat of her hand and made the senator jump. “I loved Richard as much as you did, but he’s dead, and no amount of mourning in the world can bring him back. You’ve wasted the last thirty years grieving for our dead son, and I can’t take it anymore.” Her voice rose again. “For the love of God, don’t ruin the last days of our lives!”
The senator tossed the scrapbook into the drawer and slammed it shut. Elaine’s high blood pressure constantly worried him, and her doctor described her heart as a ticking time bomb. It wouldn’t do to upset her.
“I didn’t mean to worry you,” he apologized. “I started thinking about Richard after Morton Williams called.”
“What did he want? He’s a slimy, slithery slug if you ask me.”
Elaine had always loved words. She had a huge vocabulary and especially enjoyed using alliteration. In fact, she and Richard had had some kind of word game they used to play. The last time they all dined together, she and Richard had tried to play the game using the letter x, but both of them had to admit defeat.
“Williams was calling to tell me that Richard and Elizabeth will be disinterred on November twenty-third. We’ll have to make arrangements for them.”
The fire died in Elaine’s eyes as she sank down on the sofa in front of the fireplace, her mouth a drooping, thin line in her wrinkled face. “Why couldn’t I have just died myself and gotten it over with? I’d rather die than see those coffins come out of the ground.” She glared at the senator. “You’d better not get all worked up.”
The senator flushed, feeling like a schoolboy caught in some kind of mischief. She always made him feel this way when she criticized him. “I…”
Elaine turned toward the hallway when she heard the front door slam. “Hank’s home.”
Richard Henry Lovinggood III, Hank to his family and friends, entered the study and gave his grandmother a kiss. “Hey, Grandma. What’s wrong with you?”
The senator’s heart gave a little leap. He looked so much like Richard! Tall and well-built with blond hair and beautiful blue eyes, he turned feminine heads everywhere he went. The expression in his eyes was different, though. Richard had burned within, but Hank had a peaceful, calm center. Elaine always said it was probably a legacy from his cursed mother because he sure didn’t get it from Richard’s side of the family. She was undoubtedly right about that.
Senator Lovinggood joined them in front of the fire. His old bones liked the warmth. “She’s upset because Morton Williams called today.”
“Your parents will be disinterred on the twenty-third. We have to make arrangements.”
Senator Lovinggood blew his nose, the honking sound reverberating around the room. “Do you have any ideas about where you want to put them, Hank?”
“I do. I knew you couldn’t block the train forever, so I’ve been looking around. I visited a very nice cemetery this afternoon. Have you ever heard of Crystal Rivers?”
Elaine shook her head. “No. Where is it?”
“It’s about thirty minutes from here. It’s not a new cemetery, but it’s beautiful as far as cemeteries go.”
Elaine shrugged. “One place is as good as another.”
“If it isn’t a new cemetery, is there enough room for us to be buried there as well?” Senator Lovinggood worried.
“Yes, sir, there is. They’re willing to set aside an entire block of spaces for us.”
Senator Lovinggood’s face smoothed out. “Good. If you like it, Hank, that’s what we’ll do. Do you want to call Williams, or do you want me to? I know you don’t know him, so I’ll be glad to take care of it for you.”
“I’ll call him, Grandpa.”
Elaine cocked her head and stared at Hank. “Why have you decided to call Williams? You always tell Henry to take care of things like this.”
“Oh, no reason.” His eyes rested on the photo on the desk. “It’s just something I can do for Mother and Dad.”
Senator Lovinggood blew his nose again and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “I know exactly how you feel. I’d give my right arm for the chance to help Richard one more time.”
Hank kissed his grandmother’s cheek. “Don’t worry, Grandma. It’ll be over and done with before you know it. Just think how proud Dad would be. His administration laid the groundwork for the Flash Train.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
The senator’s chest swelled with pride. “I’m proud of it too. The Flash Train can travel over three hundred fifty miles per hour.”
Hank rose to his feet. “I want to change clothes before dinner. I’ll see you guys in a minute.”
He dropped a kiss on his grandmother’s cheek and dashed upstairs.
“Just like Richard used to do,” Senator Lovinggood observed.
“Richard didn’t always change before dinner,” Elaine disagreed.
“No. Run up the stairs. Richard used to do that too.”
Elaine rolled her eyes. “I think I’ll change for dinner too.”
“You look fine to me.”
“No, I feel like changing.”
The senator shrugged. “I’m fine as I am.”
Elaine shot him a look he couldn’t define. “If you say so.”
Really! Now what did she mean by that?
* * * *
Elaine slowly made her way up the stairs and went into her room, where she sat down in front of her dressing table. She loved Henry to distraction. So much so that at times she actually wished he had died with Richard. He’d have been happy then. As it was… At first she had assumed he’d eventually get over his hurt and be okay, but he never did. He grieved as much today as he had right after the murder took place and would go to his own grave mourning his dead son.
Sometimes she cursed the Renexin in the American water supply. Who wanted to live to one hundred fifteen? The sooner death came, the better. She’d had enough losses and pain in her life. Enough was enough.
* * * *
Hank shut his bedroom door behind him and threw himself down on the sofa that rested near the window. He had expected this news for some time. The Flash Train could transport both people and goods economically and quickly. Of course the state would move a cemetery to make room for the train.
The small picture of his mother and father that stood on the end table beside the sofa captured his attention and made him think of his grandfather’s study. Until a few months ago, pictures of his father filled every available inch of the study. It had reminded Hank of a shrine, a shrine his grandfather had created for his lost son.
The senator had removed most of the pictures after his grandmother threw a tremendous tantrum that sent her to the emergency room, but he still looked at them when she wasn’t around. I didn’t like looking at the pictures. Why be constantly reminded of all I’ve lost?
He had been three years old when his parents died, so he didn’t remember much about them, but he still felt their loss with every breath he took. Why wouldn’t he? That dreadful tragedy cast a long shadow. His jaw clenched. It hurt like hell to know that in his grandfather’s eyes, he couldn’t measure up to his father.
The senator had never even hinted that he believed such a thing, but he’d have to be brain dead not to pick up on it.
On impulse, Hank wandered to the room next door and peered inside.
This room, which was decorated in an old-fashioned, traditional style, had belonged to his father. Naturally, his parents had had their own home, but the Lovinggoods had been a close family; his parents had often spent the night with his grandparents. They had always stayed in the room that his dad used before his marriage.
In spite of clichés and mental health issues, his grandfather refused to let anyone change the room. A hair brush filled with short, blond hair still lay on the bathroom vanity, and his father’s jacket still hung on the bedpost.
His grandmother had raised hell about it, but his grandfather had had his way.
I agree with Grandma. When the house comes to me, I’ll clear everything from the room.
Hank turned around to go back to his own room, but instead he removed the jacket from the bedpost. Funny, but he’d lived in this house all of his life and never thought to try it on.
The jacket, a charcoal gray sports coat that smelled musty and felt too soft, fit perfectly. Hank flinched when he saw himself in the mirror; it almost looked as if his father had returned to change his clothes for dinner. Everyone said he resembled his dad, but until he saw himself in the mirror he usually didn’t think much about it. Jerking the jacket off, he hung it on the bedpost. He hated this room, this tribute to the past!
Slamming the door behind him, Hank returned to his own room where he belonged and hunted for a clean shirt. Not that I exactly need a clean shirt, but going to the cemetery made me feel dirty.
Now why would he feel dirty? His parents should rest easy in the peaceful, quiet cemetery.
I wonder if it’s too late to call Williams. Probably not. He picked up his holophone, and almost immediately a hologram of Williams filled the room.
“Hello, Mr. Lovinggood. Did your grandfather tell you I called?”
“Yes, he did. That’s what I’m calling about. I’ve decided to place my parents at Crystal Rivers Cemetery.”
Williams nodded. “I’m familiar with Crystal Rivers. It’s a good choice.”
“My grandfather said they’ll be disinterred on November twenty-third.”
Williams nodded again. “Yes, sir. We’ll do it at nine a.m. on November twenty-third. I assume you’ll want to have someone present.”
“I intend to be present myself.”
“Oh, well, that’s fine. We’ll have a military guard to escort the president’s remains to his new resting place, but we weren’t sure if you’d want any further ceremony or not.”
Hank didn’t hesitate. The media would inevitably make a huge deal out of this thing anyway. If they had any kind of ceremony, it would be that much worse. I have no desire to hear the newscasters talk about Mother. “I may have a private service for family members, but that’s all.”
“The state is responsible for the cost of opening and closing the graves, so I’ll arrange it with Crystal Rivers.”
“Good,” Hank said. “Tell them to prepare for burial on the twenty-fourth. I’ll let them know what time.”
“The twenty-fourth?” He saw surprise on Williams’ face.
“That’s right. The bodies are to be taken from Knollwood directly to The Sinclair Mortuary.”
“Yes, sir. We’ll arrange for them to be escorted on the twenty-fourth from the mortuary to Crystal Rivers.”
After they finished their call, Hank had to wipe his hands on his pants because his palms were slick with sweat. He had been so young when his parents died that he barely remembered them. He craved to see their faces as much as any addict on the street craved his next fix. Now, thanks to the Flash Train, he would get his chance.
His plan would horrify his grandmother, who could never understand his need. Both of her parents had lived to a ripe old age; she had enjoyed their company for almost all of her life.
Of course, time might have ruined his one opportunity to look upon their faces. He had taken that into account when he made his plans. The director of the Sinclair Mortuary had agreed to open the coffins and look first. If Mr. Sinclair thought best, he would close the lids, and that would be the end of it.
Hank wiped his hands again. Have I totally lost my mind? Won’t seeing them make their loss even harder to bear?
It didn’t matter. No power on earth could keep him from opening those coffins. God willing, the devouring curiosity that had tormented him for thirty long years would finally be satisfied.