Former Chesapeake Conference Center security guard, Jill McCormick, is summoned by the U.S. Secret Service to assist in security operations during an international summit at the pestigious facility. After Jill discovers evidence of a potential bomb on the conference center property, she confronts the would-be assassin, putting herself, as well as the President and other world leaders, in deadly danger.
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Too Close For Words is the second book in the Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series by Diane Marquette.
Jill McCormick worked as the security guard at the world-renowned Chesapeake Conference Center on Maryland's Eastern Shore during many high-level government meetings, including the Mideast Peace Talks and the historic United Nations conference. The fact that during her employment there Jill solved a murder and single-handedly apprehended the killer hasn't hurt her reputation in law enforcement either.
Now a deputy with the local sheriff's department, Jill is summoned by the U.S. Secret Service to assist them during the upcoming Chesapeake Economic Summit at the conference center. The most powerful leaders in the world, including the President of the United States, will be in attendance for this historic week-long meeting, and Jill's knowledge of the center's buildings, routines, and staff will greatly assist the Secret Service and the FBI in protecting the prestigious visitors. She helps the agents in securing the property, learning many of the techniques the agencies use to foil terrorist attempts to ensure tight security during the meeting.
Just before the Summit begins, Jill uncovers evidence that someone may be plotting to explode a bomb on the premises. Before she can enlist the help of her lover, sheriff's deputy Mitch Garrett, to help her make sense of what she's found, the evidence disappears. Mitch insists that Jill tell the Secret Service and FBI about what she had found, but without any suspects or evidence to back up her suspicions, Jill stubbornly delays alerting the authorities until she can produce hard proof.
When the actions of a new conference center employee put Jill on alert, she digs deeper into the man's past, becoming convinced that she has the suspect in her sights. She pushes him, hoping to expose his deadly scheme. As the evidence begins to mount, Jill becomes aware that the suspect is not working alone. Too late, she realizes her mistake, putting herself and the world leaders in deadly danger.
Confronted with impossible odds, Jill must stop the would-be assassin, while preventing him from delivering the bomb to its target, and hopefully saving her own life at the same time. Mitch begins to piece together the evidence and pursues the suspect, who has abducted Jill. Within seconds of reaching its destination, the bomb is diverted by Jill, who overpowers her assailant and returns the Chesapeake Conference Center to a state of peaceful potency.
Too Close For Words
Book #2 in
The Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series
by Diane Marquette
Through a leafy screen of white oaks, the October sun glinted off two endless lines of parked police cars. Bumper to bumper they stretched, lining both sides of the lane. I steered the Sheriff’s Department car down the gravel road, scanning both sides for any available spot where I could park the beast. I checked my watch. Great. This was not the impression I’d wanted to give the Secret Service.
I crept past black and olive Maryland state troopers’ cars, black and whites sporting various town or county shields on their doors, and cars from every law enforcement agency this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The hell with this. I punched the gas pedal and the heavy car left a dusty trail as I maneuvered it down to the end of the road. I braked quickly and turned the steering wheel sharply to the left, barely squeezing between the front bumper of an unmarked state cop car and a huge oak tree. I drove on the manicured lawn, zigzagging around the large oaks and pines until I could see the back of the Chesapeake Conference Center’s main building. Pulling onto the parking pad at the bottom of the steps, I glanced around at the dozen civilian vehicles, pleased that being an ex-employee had paid off in nabbing such a choice parking place.
I slid the gearshift into P, shut down the heavy engine, and grabbed my notebook and hat. Taking the steps two at a time, I paused before turning the knob. I adjusted my deputy’s hat, blew out the breath I’d been holding, and tucked a wisp of hair behind my ear. My right hand brushed the holster on my hip and I smiled.
I yanked open the solid door, and a blast of cool air greeted me as I stepped into the narrow hallway/storage area. I worked my way around the stacks of boxes that took up most of the floor space, moving in the direction of the employee kitchen.
“Jill, you’re late,” Sandy hissed. “They started twenty minutes ago.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I muttered, hurrying through the small, bright room where my best friend was eating her sandwich.
I crossed the lobby as quickly and quietly as my equipment belt would permit, nodding to Kimberly, Sandy’s lunch relief, who was sitting at the front desk. About a dozen men and one woman, in an array of law enforcement uniforms, faced the open double doors of the main conference room. Casting glances in my direction, they stood with their heads tilted, listening to the amplified male voice coming from the other side of the opening.
I inched my way through the group and inserted myself through a narrow gap between two state troopers who had planted themselves right in the doorway. I stood behind a trio of county cops for a moment, focusing on the words coming from the ceiling speakers.
“Most of you have been through this before, two years ago during the Mideast Peace Talks, and the big UN meeting the year after that, so you know the drill. This Summit will be similar to the Peace Talks as far as the security level required. It’s anticipated that the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the other world leaders and their staffs will arrive here three days from now, on Thursday. They’re scheduled to be here for six days, but that could change.”
By standing on my tiptoes and stretching my neck, I was able to see a tall, trim man in a black suit standing at the podium. He had Secret Service written all over him. Clones were stationed throughout the room, roughly twenty feet apart. I scanned the crowd, looking for Mitch. Every available chair was taken, the long conference tables in front of them littered with clipboards, pocket notebooks, bottled water, and a variety of official hats.
The chairs along the two side walls were also filled, and more officers stood against the wall of windows at the back of the room. The troopers wore the brown and black ensembles, while most of the county and town cops wore white or pale blue shirts with their navy or black trousers.
I spotted Mitch standing in one of the back corners. He was watching me, and winked when he caught my eye. The sight of Mitch’s handsome face and tall, lean body never failed to give my heart a jab. And there was Lynda at his side, looking like she belonged on the cover of a catalog of police uniforms for Playmates.
With my head down and murmuring “sorry” repeatedly, I made my way in their direction. I quickly lost sight of them in the crowd, but knew they weren’t going far, so I focused on the agent’s speech.
“For those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, I’ll give you a brief overview of the world-famous Chesapeake Conference Center,” the agent continued. “This facility is used for both private sector and high-level government meetings. Although the Center owns several hundred acres of land, all the activities are concentrated around the three primary buildings, all of which are located within walking distance of each other.
“The building we’re in contains this main conference room as well as a dozen smaller meeting rooms. The second floor is where the administrative offices are located. There’s both an inside staircase and an outside staircase for access. About thirty yards from here is the dining facility. The third building in the triangle is used as the guest quarters, and is about fifty yards away from the other two buildings.
“There are a number of smaller service buildings scattered throughout the property. These are used mostly for the storage of equipment used by the groundskeepers, and tools and supplies used by the maintenance staff. The layout of the property is ideal from a security standpoint because there’s only one road in and out. The Bay borders the property on one side, and that will be covered by the Coast Guard during the Summit.
“As in the past, two checkpoints will be established along the road that leads back here. The first will be at the entrance to the property, immediately as you turn off the highway. The second checkpoint, about a mile beyond that, will be set up near the lake, which is about a half-mile from here. The Conference Center employees who obtain security clearance for this event will be issued badges that must be worn while they are on the premises. The staff will be working 24/7 until this thing ends, but no one gets onto the property without a badge. No exceptions.
“Employees will not be permitted to drive their cars to any of the three main Conference Center buildings. At the second checkpoint, each car will be searched by agents with dogs and the vehicles will be parked in the field near the lake. After the employees themselves are screened and their belongings searched, they will be shuttled to the building where they will be working their shift.
“We’ll establish a helipad near the lake since the President is planning to travel to and from Washington each day. He’ll ride the short distance from the helipad to the conference center by motorcade. There’s the possibility he may stay overnight on the property, but we’ll know more about that after our briefing with the White House. The other dignitaries will also be arriving by helicopter on Thursday.
“Any questions so far?” he asked the crowd. A few coughs and throat clearings broke the stillness.
“Will any of us be assigned to be here on the property?” a young man in a county cop uniform asked. A few chuckles followed his question.
“I shouldn’t think so,” the agent said. “While the Summit is in session, this property will come under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Maryland State Police.” A few more chuckles. “But we’ll call you if we need you,” the agent said, not even trying to hide his smile.
“Then why are we here?” someone in the back asked in a loud voice. All heads snapped in that direction, craning to get a glimpse of the bold questioner.
The agent’s smile slipped. “You were invited to this meeting to reinforce how vital it is that you do your jobs during this critical time. The FBI and Secret Service can’t secure the entire Eastern Shore of Maryland; that’s for you to maintain. The federal agencies will be focusing their attention on the property of the Chesapeake Conference Center. If there’s going to be trouble, it’s going to come from your jurisdiction, from the outside.
“I don’t have to tell any of you how many dangerous people are out there, and make no mistake, they are closer than you may think. In your own jurisdictions, you know the routine petty troublemakers and you know the ones that you have to take more seriously. Anyone is capable of making a threat; some are capable of carrying it out. They’re the ones you have to be concerned with, especially over the next two weeks. You will also have to be more alert to strangers in the area. Your job is to stop any trouble at your level, so it doesn’t become our problem here on the Conference Center property. This is a team effort in every sense of the word.
“The area back here where the main buildings are will be the most secure, of course. Agents with dogs will be on constant patrol between the buildings, and we’ll have our sharpshooters in the trees. Both the Secret Service and the FBI will establish offices in temporary trailers outside this building. And of course, airspace will be restricted.
“All Conference Center mail, including UPS and FedEx shipments, will be held at the Bridgewood Post Office until after the Summit is over, and agents will be monitoring that material daily. As a security precaution, the Conference Center management was notified of the Summit only a few days ago. Since then they’ve been stockpiling the food and supplies they anticipate needing for the duration, and each delivery is being screened.
“No one from the media will be allowed on the premises during the Summit. They’ll set up their base of operations at the high school over on Davidson Road. That means everyone from the local newspaper right on up to CNN. A spokesman from the State Department will address the reporters at the high school on a regular basis while the Summit lasts. The media will get their chance to see the facilities here the day after tomorrow, when they’ll be allowed a brief tour given by the general manager, Claire Stewart. They can ask all the questions they want and take any photos they need at that time. The White House photographers will be allowed in during the Summit, but they’re the only exception.”
Everyone sat in stunned silence, no doubt taking in the magnitude of this operation, just as I was. “Any other questions?” the agent asked. A few murmurs, but no one spoke up.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”
As dozens of law enforcement officers vacated the room, I tried to keep Mitch in sight. I saw him nearing the door, Lynda still at his side. I worked my way toward them, using my elbows when necessary to get through the throng of uniforms. When I finally got to the lobby, I saw Mitch and Lynda standing at the front desk, talking with Kimberly.
“Good afternoon, Deputy McCormick,” Mitch said. “Glad you could join us.”
“Sorry I was late, but I had a personal emergency. I’ll explain later. Did I miss anything important?”
“The agent guy said there’s going to be about fifteen VIPs here from all over the world. It’s so exciting! I can’t wait to see them,” Lynda purred.
“You’re not going to get to see anybody, Lynda. Agent Atwell said they don’t need our help, remember?” Mitch said.
“Well, darn,” Lynda said, stamping her foot. “I’d just love to meet the President. There must be some way to get in.”
“Only if you’re willing to get shot,” I said. “Once the authorities secure this property, a ghost wouldn’t be able to get in.”
“Jill should know,” Mitch said, flashing me one of his killer grins.
“Oh, that’s right, you worked here, didn’t you?” Lynda asked, scowling. “You’ve probably already met the President.”
“As a matter of fact, I have, but it was the one before this one. I was here for the Peace Talks and the UN thing.”
“And the murder,” Kimberly offered. “Jill helped pull the body out of the pool, and then she caught the bad guy all by herself.”
“I know. Uncle Lyndon told me,” Lynda muttered.
“Jill knows more about the security at this facility than anybody, except the Secret Service, of course,” Mitch said.
“Being with the local Sheriff’s Department, I think we should get to meet the VIPs. I’m going to talk to Uncle Lyndon about it,” Lynda said.
“What the hell for?” I asked. “There’s nothing Sheriff Clark could do anyway, Lynda. Just accept the fact that you’re going to be stuck back at the station answering the phone, and get over it. And remember, we’re supposed to be doing our usual jobs during this Summit, so you might as well not get your hopes up, okay?”
“Speaking of the station, we’d better get back. Come on, ladies,” Mitch said. “See you later, Kimberly. Good luck with all this.”
“Just another day in the life of a conference assistant,” she said. “I’ll keep reminding myself how much fun I’m having while I’m working those twelve-hour shifts.”
We turned toward the front door just as a Secret Service agent approached our group.
“Deputy McCormick? Deputy Garrett?” he asked in a level tone. We nodded. “Please follow me.”
Mitch handed Lynda the car keys. “You take my car back to the station, and tell Don that Jill and I will be there as soon as we can.”
Mitch and I turned, following the agent back toward the conference room. I glanced over my shoulder, and saw Lynda take a few steps in our direction. “That’s okay, I can wait, or I can even come with you,” she said before a second agent blocked her path.