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The ninth Stan Turner Mystery takes place in 1976 while Stan is in law school at SMU. You'd think going to law school would be enough, but Stan juggles family, job, an election campaign, and a crusade to clear the name of a friend accused of an brutal murder-suicide.
After being discharged from the United States Marine Corps, Stan ends up in Dallas where he intends to finish law school. In the spring of 1976, while attending SMU, he is recruited into the Republican party, elected county chairman, and finds himself helping President Gerald Ford in his campaign against Jimmy Carter. The campaign is marred, however by an untimely FBI investigation into the financial dealings of a major party contributor, Brad Thornton.
The investigation unleashes an avalanche of misfortune beginning with the alleged murder-suicide of Stan�s friend, Rob Shepard, his wife Cindy and their three children and culminating in the resignation of two Republican candidates for the 67th District's state representative seat. Stan, who can't believe his best friend could have murdered his family, launches his own personal investigation to clear Rob's name. When the investigation turns up new evidence that threatens members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel, Stan becomes the target of Cartel thugs and hit men. Undaunted by these threats, Stan enlists the help of a resourceful classmate, Paula Waters, and a law professor, Harry Hertel (aka Snake) and undertakes a dangerous mission to extract a key witness held by the Cartel at a Mexican resort.
Still saddled with the responsibly to field a candidate in the 67th District Stan recruits his assistant, Kristina Tenison, for the job. Kristina is reluctant to run as no woman has ever been elected to this office since Reconstruction, but when Stan agrees to be her campaign manager, and promises her she'll win, she reluctantly enters the race against the veteran incumbent, Ron Wells. But as the election draws near and she still finds herself lagging in the polls, she wonders if she hasn't made a big mistake and questions Stan's continued assurances that she'll win.
Stan Turner knew only too well that anyone hoping for a career in politics needed to have an unblemished public record. During his youth, he’d been particularly careful to avoid trouble, and as a result, he was a model student. He’d done well becoming an Eagle Scout, graduating number two in his high school class, serving as a congressional intern for his local congressman, and graduating from UCLA with honors. When he was drafted into the Marine Corps fresh out of law school, it was Stan’s intention to have a stellar military career from which to launch his political career. Unfortunately, fate wasn’t in his corner. Just a few days into officer candidate school, he found himself in the worst trouble of his life—accused of the murder of his Drill Sergeant.
He’d been acquitted of the murder, but when the trial was over he’d had his fill of military service, so he requested and was granted a general discharge. Despite his acquittal there were those who still believed he was guilty and he knew he faced a lifetime of suspicion and doubt on that score.
At the time he was drafted, Stan had been in law school in California, but his father-in-law had been transferred to Dallas in the interim. Rebekah wanted to be close to her parents, so after Stan was discharged, he applied for entry into SMU School of Law for the fall semester of 1975. There were a lot of questions about his trial and disastrous military career, but the Dean of Admissions admitted they couldn’t legally hold his court martial against him since he’d been acquitted. So, after many interviews and endless paperwork, they reluctantly and grudgingly accepted his application.
Although getting into law school was a big relief for Stan, it also triggered a myriad of problems, not the least of which was how to survive financially—particularly because he was married with four children. His wife Rebekah was an ER nurse, so her income was good, but it was not enough to pay SMU’s steep tuition and the cost of books, along with all the other regular family expenses. Stan had little choice but to get a job to pay for his legal education or mortgage his family’s future by taking out student loans. Since he already had unpaid student loans from college, Stan elected to get a job instead of going further in debt.
His job hunting had been difficult, and the best thing he could come up with was selling life insurance for Cosmopolitan Life. He hated the job, but the hours were flexible, so he could work around his schedule at SMU, and the pay was just enough to cover his tuition and books. During his six-week training course, he not only learned about insurance but a lot about marketing as well. He found this interesting and suspected it would be useful knowledge to have when he started his law practice. They gave him some nifty little gadgets too—calculators, an insurance needs slide rule, and a briefcase with a built-in audio-video player-recorder for making fancy presentations. He also soon discovered that insurance agents often were asked by their clients for referrals to lawyers for needed legal services, so the connections he made in the insurance industry could be very beneficial to him when he started his law practice.
Even though Stan knew a political career wasn’t an option for him anymore, he was still keenly interested in politics and soon found himself involved in the local Republican Party. In the summer of 1976, the Democrats still controlled almost every political office in north Texas, but that was changing, and for the first time since Reconstruction, Republican candidates in northern Dallas and southern Collin counties actually had a chance of beating their Democratic opponents. This excited Stan. He loved a good fight, particularly when he was fighting for the underdog. When the members of the executive committee learned of his legal training and experience as a congressional intern, they asked him to run for county chairman. When he protested that he didn’t have the time to take on that kind of responsibility, they assured him the staff would do most of the work and he wouldn’t be expected to put that much time into the job. Despite Rebekah’s protests, he accepted the job and was elected in the June primary.
On Saturday, July 3, 1976, Stan and Rebekah were attending a barbecue at the home of a wealthy businessman, Brad Thornton. The home was a palace compared to Stan and Rebekah’s $18,000 Fox and Jacobs tract home they’d recently purchased. As they strolled past the parade of Cadillacs, Lincoln Town Cars, and Jaguars parked in front of the house, Rebekah spotted their friends Rob and Cindy Shepard coming from the other direction.
“Cindy! Hi,” Rebekah said.
“Hi, Rebekah. How are you?”
“Fine. Can you believe this house? It’s huge.”
Cindy nodded. “Yeah, I love this French country home style. This one’s got five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. We looked at it before the Thorntons bought it. It’s almost as big as my parents’ house.”
Cindy Shepard was in her mid-twenties, short, with light brown hair and beautiful green eyes. She had a nice figure and a beautiful complexion. She came from a wealthy family that owned a lot of real estate and operated several prosperous businesses in north Texas. Rob’s family had been around a long time too, but they hadn’t accumulated near as much wealth. Cindy’s parents hadn’t been thrilled when the two of them announced they were going to get married, but Cindy had a mind of her own and didn’t much care what they thought. As a result, there had been a lot of tension between the two families, and that strained Rob and Cindy’s marriage.
“Hey, Rob,” Stan said, shaking his friend’s hand.
Rob was tall and muscular. He’d been the star quarterback on the high school football team and consequently was quite well known and popular in the community. That was why Brad Thornton had recruited him to run for state representative. The Republican Party needed someone well known if they were to have a chance at upsetting the Democratic incumbent, Ron Wells.
“Hi, Stan. Can you believe this heat?” Rob asked.
The temperature in Dallas in July usually hovered around a hundred degrees, and this day was no exception. The girls were dressed in shorts and halter tops since it was an outdoor party. Stan gazed at Cindy’s long, sexy legs then smiled at her when she caught him looking.
“Yeah, thank God for air conditioning,” Stan replied.
“Look! A waterfall,” Rebekah said, pointing to the corner of the courtyard.
“Wow! That’s cool,” Stan replied enviously.
They entered the courtyard, appreciative of the shade provided by several large cottonwoods. Stopping for a moment, they admired an assortment of exotic plants and a pond full of tropical fish. A small stream ran in front of the house from the waterfall to the pond. They continued to the front door, where they could see guests inside through a stained glass window. Rebekah knocked on the door. A second later and Melissa Thornton swung the door open and smiled out at them with her ultra-white teeth and bright blue eyes. She was a dirty blond in her early forties, but with the help of a skillful plastic surgeon, she still looked quite stunning.
“Hello. Come on in,” she said.
“Melissa, this is Rebekah and Stan Turner,” Cindy said.
“Oh, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Melissa replied. “Hi, Rob.”
“Hi, Mrs. Thornton,” Rob said. “How are you?”
“Fine. Go on over to the bar and get yourself a drink. Brad’s around here somewhere. I’m sure you’ll run into him.”
“No doubt,” Rob replied.
They went to the bar, got drinks, and then went onto the back patio where most of the guests were mingling. A half dozen children were swimming in the large pool, and a catering company was setting up a buffet. Rebekah spotted an empty table, and they went over and staked a claim to it. After a few minutes they were joined by Brad Thornton.
“You finally made it,” Brad said to Rob. “I’ve been anxious to find out how your meeting with the chamber of commerce went.”
“Everyone seemed friendly,” Rob replied, “but you never know what they are thinking.”
Brad Thornton was a tall, thin man with dark hair and a thin mustache. He was never without a Stetson on his head and a grin on his face. Rebekah thought he looked a little like Clark Gable.
“True. A lot will depend on how the presidential race goes. If Reagan gets the nomination, you’ll have a good shot at winning.”
Ronald Reagan had trounced Ford in the May 1, 1976 Texas primary, winning all 100 Texas delegates, despite the fact that the Republican establishment had been squarely behind Ford. Rob had been one of the Reagan delegates scheduled to go to the Republican Convention in August. Stan was a Ford supporter but narrowly missed being elected a delegate to the convention.
“I hope Reagan gets the nomination,” Rob said. “He’s a hell of a lot more popular around here than Ford.”
“Don’t you think the conservatives would prefer Ford over Jimmy Carter?” Stan asked.
“Sure,” Brad agreed, “but they won’t turn out in the same numbers for Ford as they would for Reagan.”
“I don’t know,” Rob said. “The thought of Jimmy Carter becoming president is pretty scary.”
They all laughed.
After a few minutes, Brad left to mingle with his other guests, and Stan and Rob went for more drinks. On this way to the bar, Stan was stopped by Kristina Tenison, one of the volunteers assigned to help Stan with this duties as county chairman. Besides being young and beautiful, Kristina was very well organized and efficient. Stan had been in awe of her from the moment they’d met. In fact, he felt a little guilty because Kristina did most of his work and he got most of the credit for it.
“Hi, Kristina,” Stan said, smiling broadly.
“Oh, Stan, I’m so glad I ran into you.”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“I got a call yesterday from Robert Brown, Ford’s Dallas Campaign Chairman.”
“Yeah. The President’s coming to Dallas at the end of the month. There’s going to be a reception for local officials and candidates. Robert would like you to pick a dozen people from this area and invite them.”
“Really? Why me?”
“Because you’re one of only a few who signed up to be a Ford delegate at the convention. Most everyone else is backing Reagan.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t get picked to be a delegate.”
“That doesn’t matter. They know where your allegiances lie.”
“Anyway, he needed an answer right away, so I told him you’d do it.”
Stan laughed. “Okay.”
“Are you mad at me for accepting the job for you?” Kristina asked. “I didn’t want you to miss such a great opportunity.”
Stan shook his head. “No, no. It’s fine, as long as you’re going to help me decide who to invite.”
“Of course. Monday’s a holiday. Maybe we can get together for a few hours to work on it. ”
The thought of spending time with Kristina excited Stan. As a child, he’d been overweight, shy, and not very attractive to girls. When he’d approach one he liked, he’d often be rejected and humiliated. It was frustrating for him to be around so many pretty young girls while he was growing up, unable to sustain a relationship with any of them. By the time he was in high school, however, things had changed. He’d grown taller, slimmed down, and begun to excel in school. After a while, girls began to hang around him more and even flirted with him. Stan loved all this attention, and the girls liked hanging around Stan because he was a good listener and actually paid attention to what they had to say. From then on, if Stan met a pretty woman, it was a good bet they’d soon be good friends. In fact, most of Stan’s good friends were women, which made Rebekah very jealous.
“Okay. It will be great meeting the president in person.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Stan smiled. “Thanks, Kristina. You’re amazing.”
Kristina blushed. “Why do you say that?”
“You always seem to know what to do and never hesitate to act. I don’t know why they asked me to be county chairman. They should have asked you.”
“They’d never elect a woman county chairman.”
“Why not?” Stan asked.
“They just wouldn’t.”
Stan resisted a strong urge to put his arm around Kristina. So far, he’d managed to resist any show of affection toward her, but it hadn’t been easy. Several times they’d been alone at Republican headquarters, and he’d had trouble concentrating on the work they were doing. He wondered if she felt the same way about him or if it was just her nature to be flirtatious with the men she worked with. He vowed not to seek an answer to that question, as it might be his undoing. I’m a happily married man with a wonderful family, he often told himself, and I shouldn’t be looking for trouble.
When Stan and Rob got back to their table with fresh drinks, Rebekah and Cindy had already filled their plates with barbeque and were starting to eat.
“We got tired of waiting for you,” Cindy said to Rob. “What took you so long?”
“It was Stan’s fault. Kristina grabbed him the moment we got in the house.”
Rebekah’s eyes narrowed. “What did she want?”
“Oh, the President’s coming to town, and his staff wants me to invite some guests to a reception he’s having. I’ll put you on the list, Rob, if you’re willing to be seen with him.”
Rob frowned. “If I thought it would help my campaign, I would, but I’m not sure.”
“It couldn’t hurt. He is the president.”
“Let me give it some thought. I’ll let you know on Monday if I want an invitation.”
Stan and Rob took their plates and got in the food line. Ten minutes later, they were back and dug in. After dinner, when it got dark, everyone gathered in the back yard to watch the annual fireworks show put on by a church down the street. When it was over, they went inside and caught the end of the big bicentennial celebration in New York on TV. An hour later, Stan looked at his watch and sighed.
“Well, this has been a blast, but we’ve got to go,” Stan announced.
Rebekah nodded in agreement. “Yes, we promised our babysitter we’d be home by ten.”
“I’ll call you on Monday,” Rob said.
“Oh, just put us on the list already,” Cindy said. “You’re not going to miss a photo op with the president.”
Rob shrugged. “Okay. I guess you’re right.”
“Good,” Rebekah said. “We’ll all go together. It should be fun.”
Stan and Rebekah said goodbye to Melissa and Brad and then left the party. When they got home, Jenni, Reggie, and Mark were watching the bicentennial celebration on TV. Jenni immediately got up, obviously delighted to see them.
“How were they?” Rebekah asked.
Jenni shrugged. “Okay. Peter went right to sleep at nine, but I had trouble getting Marcia to go down. She just fell asleep a few minutes ago.”
“She was probably overtired,” Rebekah said. “I have trouble getting her to sleep sometimes.”
Stan paid Jenni, and she left.
“Alright, it’s bedtime,” Stan said to Mark and Reggie. “It’s after ten o’clock. You guys should already be asleep.”
“We were watching the fireworks,” Reggie protested.
“Well, if you two don’t get in bed in the next two minutes, you’ll see some real fireworks.”
Mark and Reggie ran up the stairs, and Stan followed them to tuck them in and to check on Peter and Marcia. When he returned, Rebekah was sitting on the sofa watching TV. Stan gazed at her from the top of the stairs for a moment. He loved her long black hair, big brown eyes, and smooth olive skin. He went to her and gave her a long kiss.
“What was that for?” she asked with a sly smile.
“Just celebrating the bicentennial,” he said, turning off the lamp next to them.
He kissed her again, and they began discarding unwanted clothing. Soon, they were making frantic love. They both came quickly, and when they were done, they moved their passions to their bedroom and made love again, this time slower and more methodically—trying to make their ecstasy last as long as possible. An hour later, when the two were finally spent, they fell into a deep slumber.