INSIDE AN AIR FORCE ACADEMY SEX SCANDAL INVESTIGATION, ANOTHER HEINOUS CRIME COMES TO LIGHT: MURDER.
Major Nathan Malone figured his DWI charge was about to get him fired from the Office of Special Investigations. Instead, he's pulled from his holding cell to take on a shocking case: during an ongoing Congressional investigation into a sex scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy, two female cadets are found brutally murdered. Accustomed to living on the edge, and used to his chiseled looks opening doors, Malone finds his devil-may-care attitude is shaken to the core as he and his partner, the uncompromising Marva "Mother" Hubbard, track a sadistic killer intent on keeping the secrets of the past buried deep.
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June 30, 2010
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Excerpt from The Shattered Blue Line by Patrick A. Davis
United States Air Force Academy
Saturday, November 5, 2005
No one familiar with the military would have mistaken the lone occupant of the Security Forces holding cell to be a field-grade Air Force officer. He appeared a few years too young, no more than late twenties, and his disheveled black hair pressed the limits of military grooming. Instead of a blue uniform, he wore an expensive silk suit -- slightly wrinkled since he'd spent the night in it -- that far surpassed the budgetary constraints of an officer of his rank.
Major Nathan Malone lay on a cot, a tie folded over his eyes to block the light, his breathing deep and regular. Since it was only 7:00 A.M., he could have been asleep, but he wasn't. For the past five minutes, he'd been listening to muffled shouts and the squawking of radios, trying to determine the cause. Twice, he'd been on the verge of asking someone, but decided to wait. If they needed him, they'd let him know...assuming he still had a job.
Malone felt a twinge of regret over what had transpired last night, but there was nothing he could do about it now. Officers arrested for a DWI rarely get a second chance. Officers who commanded the local Office of Special Investigations detachment, the Air Force's equivalent of the FBI, never do. As the base's top criminal investigator, he more than anyone should know better than to drink and drive.
As usual, a woman was responsible for his predicament. As long as Malone could remember, they'd found his chiseled good looks and spare, six-five frame irresistible. And his affluent lifestyle certainly didn't hurt, funded by an inheritance courtesy of his grandfather, a former military officer who'd made a fortune on Wall Street. At thirty-four, Malone had never come close to settling down because he knew he'd never be able to resist the temptations that swirled around him.
For once, he should have tried.
The woman at the Officers' Club bar last night had been a stunner. A brunette captain with a body to die for and a face like an angel. She struck up a conversation, batted her lashes and cooed all the right things in his ear. How was he supposed to know she had a light colonel boyfriend, and the guy would show up --
Footsteps coming toward him.
Outside, the commotion had died off. When the footsteps stopped, Malone removed the tie and focused on the one-way mirror installed in the solid cell door. His head throbbed dully against the brightness of the fluorescent lights, a reminder that tequila and beer don't mix. At the click of the lock, he eased his long frame off the cot.
The door opened, revealing a baby-faced security cop and a compact major in Class A service blues. Malone frowned at the major. He'd expected to be released into the custody of his boss, the air base wing commander. Instead, he was looking at Seth Wilson, the executive officer to --
"I'll take it from here, Airman Crotter," Major Wilson ordered.
As the cop departed, Wilson entered, cryptically eyeing Malone, who towered above him. "Jeez, you look like a bag of shit, Malone." Wilson sounded pleased. Years earlier, Wilson had been an upperclassman in Malone's basic cadet training squadron; he'd resented Malone's lack of military bearing then and cared for him even less now.
"Heard about the altercation at the club," Wilson went on. "The lieutenant colonel must have been the one who tipped off the security cops that you were driving drunk. Hell, it had to be him. You were hitting on his girl. Hope she was worth it."
"I love you, too, Seth," Malone grunted warily. "What are you doing here?"
"The boss wants to see you."
Wilson's boss was Lieutenant General Neal Crenshaw, the Academy superintendent.
Wilson shrugged. "No clue. I was told to spring you from custody."
"Cut the shit, Seth. He going to fire me?"
A thin smile was the only response. It was enough. Malone felt stung by the realization that General Crenshaw wanted to personally fire him instead of letting the air base wing commander handle it. Obviously, the general sought to extract his pound of flesh, not that Malone blamed him.
This was another bridge he burned long ago.
Following Wilson into the hallway, Malone remarked on the near-empty Security Forces squadron building. Normally it should be bustling with activity. He asked, "Mind telling me what's going on, Seth?"
Wilson walked away as if he hadn't heard him.
Malone sighed, shaking his head. The little prick was determined to play I-got-a-secret.
At the duty desk, Malone signed for a packet containing his wallet and personal items, including his cell phone. His badge, holster, and nine-millimeter weapon were turned over to Wilson.
Wilson said, "You might want to clean up a little."
"Why?" Malone asked mildly.
"For chrissakes, you're about to see a three-star general."
"Didn't you learn anything while you were a cadet, Malone? It's about respect. You show up looking like that and you're telling General Crenshaw you don't respect him."
"You have a razor or a toothbrush, Seth?"
"Well, no -- "
"A change of clothes, maybe an extra sports coat?"
"Of course not -- "
"I got an overcoat in the car. Best I can do." He brushed past Wilson and headed out the door.
Another spectacular Colorado morning. The snow had stopped, the air was crisp and cold, and the sun hung low on the horizon, framed against an easel of brilliant blue. Wilson drove off in a staff car, Malone trailing in a black BMW turbo that he'd bought for cash. Early in his career, he'd resisted flaunting his wealth, figuring that would make it easier to be accepted by his fellow officers. It was wishful thinking. Working for the OSI was like being an IRS auditor. It seemed everyone had a guilt complex and once they learned what Malone did, they'd take off. It got to be a joke with Malone. He'd hold out his hand and say, "I work for the OSI," and mentally start a time hack. It rarely took more than two minutes before the person beat a retreat.
Not that Malone particularly cared. If he was looked upon as a black hat who got his rocks off busting people, so be it. Besides, he was free to enjoy his toys.
Two blocks later, Malone eased behind Wilson, who'd stopped at the intersection across from wing/base headquarters, the building where the OSI offices were located. After his arrest, Malone had phoned the night duty officer, to notify him what happened.
"I'll call Mother, sir," the DO said. "She might know someone who could smooth things over."
"Sir, Mother has contacts who might -- "
"Don't call her. That's an order."
The DO sounded confused when he hung up. But Malone wasn't up to facing Mother. Besides, this was the military, not some civilian cop force where favors could be called in.
Wilson turned west on South Gate Boulevard, heading toward the cadet area nestled at the base of the Rampart Range mountains. Since it was early on a Saturday morning, traffic was nonexistent. In a few hours, that would change when the crowd arrived for the game against Utah. It was another sellout; for the first time in a quarter-century, Air Force was undefeated, with two games left in the season, and was ranked in the top five.
Settling in for the short drive, Malone felt his trepidation grow, recalling the last time he'd faced the full wrath of General Crenshaw. Even though it was almost fourteen years earlier, the memory was still vivid. He'd been a sophomore or third-class cadet and Major Crenshaw was the Air Officer Commanding, in charge of Malone's squadron.
Crenshaw had put him in a brace and was holding up a bottle of Scotch, saying, "So you admit this is yours and your roommate Cadet Wasdin knew nothing about it?"
"You know this means you're gone? You're already on conduct probation."
"I understand, sir."
Crenshaw contemplated him disgustedly "You don't really give a damn, do you? You want to leave."
Malone was silent.
"You figure a rich, pampered kid like yourself doesn't have any reason to put up with the hassle. That it? You going to work in the family firm? Get some cushy job on Wall Street where you can sit at a big desk and play grab-ass with your secretary?"
Malone still said nothing.
"What I don't understand, Malone," Crenshaw went on, "is why you did it this way. You've played by the rules for almost two years, yet lately you've been screwing up by the numbers. If you wanted to leave, you could have quit. Why make us throw you out?"
"It's the only way, sir."
"Only way for what?"
It was too complicated to explain, so Malone didn't bother.
Two days later, he was out-processed and escorted off the base. Before he left, Crenshaw told him he would regret leaving. "Maybe not now, but eventually. They all do."
"I doubt it, sir."
"You will. You're better than this. You're not a quitter, but that's what you did. You quit, took the easy way out."
Crap, Malone had thought. But in the ensuing years, Crenshaw's words gnawed at him. He told himself he had nothing to prove, but the compulsion grew. After graduating from Colorado State, he'd applied for Officer Candidate School with no expectation of being accepted. After all, he'd been tossed from the Academy and the last thing he thought was that the Air Force would take him back now.
Even then, he almost didn't join. Among the reasons he'd orchestrated his departure from the Academy was he'd tired of the rigidity and blind obedience to the seemingly senseless regulations. Still, he had to admit it was the one place where he'd found acceptance and a sense of camaraderie he'd never before experienced. What finally swayed him was the realization that he had no other good options, nowhere else to go. His grandfather had passed away and with his mother's recent death from cancer, he had no family except for a father he barely knew. Malone was two when his father left and other than the generous court-mandated support checks, he'd had almost no contact from him. On his fourteenth birthday, Malone's mother finally explained his father's abandonment; he'd believed she'd tricked him into the marriage by becoming pregnant.
"He thinks I was after his money. It's me he's angry with, not you."
"Then why doesn't he want anything to do with me? I'm still his son."
"He will. Someday. Give him time."
But someday never came.
After his mother's funeral, Malone was surprised to see his father waiting for him in a limo. He was accompanied by his fourth wife, Molly, a big-haired redhead with a drop-dead figure and a reputation for using it. Molly sipped a martini and greeted Malone with a sloppy smile. She looked like she'd put on a little weight.
As usual, his father was all business, not even bothering with condolences over his ex-wife's death. With a trace of irritation, he announced, "You haven't returned my calls."
As if he actually expected Malone to do so.
Malone debated whether to tell him to go to hell or simply walk away. Before he could decide, his father thrust a folder through the window.
"A quit-claim agreement for you to sign over your voting rights in the firm's board."
His father had tried once before to deny Malone his legacy, but his grandfather had intervened. "And if I don't sign..."
"I'll contest the terms of your grandfather's will."
"You'll lose. I satisfied his conditions."
"His intent was for you to graduate from a service academy. Since you never -- "
"His terms stated I couldn't resign. I didn't."
An icy smile. "It doesn't matter. My lawyers will tie up your money with injunctions. You'll be an old man before you can spend another dime."
Malone had no doubt that his father would carry out his threat. He supposed he should have been angry; but he wasn't. He'd used up his anger long ago.
He took the file. "If everything is in order -- "
Watching him sign the documents, his father said, "I'm sorry it never worked out between us."
But he didn't look sorry. Malone shrugged. "I'm not. This way I don't feel guilty."
Malone stooped down, so he could see Molly. She noticed him looking and giggled. Malone said to his father, "Remember when I was in New York to sign the acceptance of the will -- "
He winked at Molly. "I invited her to my hotel and she accepted. I fucked her."
Molly gave a gasp and dropped her glass. His father turned bright red and snarled, "Why, you miserable son of -- "
Malone tossed the folder into the car and calmly walked away.
Two months later, he was in Officer Candidate School. Because of his Academy experience, Malone breezed through training and had his pick of assignments. Since he was too tall to fly -- he exceeded the ejection-seat height requirement -- he chose the only other profession that held any interest.
Military criminal investigator.
What attracted him to the job was that it freed him from the usual military protocol. OSI investigators worked in civilian clothes and acted with an autonomy their uniformed counterparts could only dream about. To Malone, these benefits far outweighed his exclusion from the base social scene.
Over the years, Malone had solved a number of big cases and moved up the chain. While his superiors criticized his less-than-military demeanor and overly aggressive methods -- he'd received letters of reprimand for insubordination and use of excessive force -- they couldn't deny his results. Whenever a big case came down, it was invariably entrusted to Malone.
Upon receiving the assignment to head the Academy office -- a job he'd lobbied hard for -- Malone felt he'd come full circle. He'd never intended to make the military a career and considered separating when he learned Crenshaw would be the new superintendent. Crenshaw's appointment was made in response to a growing scandal in which one hundred forty-four women, mostly female cadets, alleged they'd been sexually harassed, intimidated, and/or raped. In the subsequent uproar, the majority of the Academy leadership -- none who had been present when the incidents occurred -- had been summarily dismissed. Crenshaw was being installed to conduct damage control, revamp the training system, and determine the extent of the sexual misconduct.
At the Officers' Club reception the night Crenshaw assumed command, Malone made a point of walking right up to him. When they came face to face, there was no look of shock or surprise on Crenshaw's face. Just the opposite; the general seemed to expect him.
He immediately drew Malone off to the side and blindsided him with the pronouncement: "I'm relieving you, Malone."
Just like that, after all these years. Malone was floored. "But why -- "
The general was already telling him. "It's the scandal, Malone. Congress, the public, and the media are up in arms. As the OSI chief, you're going to be caught right in the middle. The pressure will be intense. You'll be investigated and your conclusions will be second-guessed. The bottom line is I need someone I can trust. Someone who won't cave in to the pressure when -- "
"You mean quit," Malone said.
Crenshaw gave him a long look. "You quit once before."
"I was dismissed, sir."
"Still sticking to that song and dance, huh? Well, your reliability isn't my only concern. I've studied your record. Over 90 percent of your cases solved, but you're still a loose cannon. Jesus, you broke a suspect's arm -- "
"He killed two people and resisted arrest."
"I don't give a damn. There's simply no justification for -- "
"One victim was a child, General," Malone said. "The bastard raped and strangled her. The girl was five years old."
Crenshaw swallowed. "Jesus..."
A female colonel with a clipboard came over. "General, Senator Smith and Congressman Martin have arrived."
Crenshaw eyed Malone. "They're here to provide guidance on the scandal. That's the kind of scrutiny you'll be under."
"A chance, sir. I'm only asking for a chance to prove you're wrong about me."
"I'm sorry, but I can't afford -- "
"You were wrong about me before. If I am a quitter, would I be here, sir? Would I?"
Crenshaw didn't reply. Malone realized he'd planted a seed of doubt.
The colonel said, "General, the senator wants to get started right away. He's on a tight schedule -- "
Crenshaw shot her a look and she clammed up.
"All right, Malone," he said reluctantly. "You can remain in place for now. You check out each allegation and report directly to me. You cross every i and dot every t. You give no one an opportunity to second-guess your findings, you understand?"
"I understand, sir."
"One fuck-up and you're gone."
Since that conversation last summer, Malone had investigated eight of the most serious allegations. In each case, his methods had been thorough and above reproach. Only last week, Crenshaw had complimented his work.
Only last week...
"Shit," Malone muttered.
He followed Major Wilson up Interior Drive. They were on the back side of the Academy, against the mountains, the planetarium and the chapel's gleaming aluminum spires just ahead. In between stood a long building resembling a bread pan with feet.
It was Harmon Hall, the office of the superintendent. As Malone pulled into the parking area and retrieved his overcoat from the backseat, he recalled a popular military ditty, one that explained his predicament.