In this third book in the Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series, the Governor of Maryland holds his annual staff retreat at the prestigious conference facilty, and sheriff's deputy and former conference center security guard Jill McCormick is assigned as the bodyguard to the governor's threatened bride. Jill quickly realizes this assignment may be her biggest challenge yet as she gathers evidence in the case while protecting the second First Lady, a former beauty queen and royal pain.
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Suitable For Framing is the third book in the Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series by Diane Marquette.
Having once worked as a murder-solving security guard at the prestigious Chesapeake Conference Center, and having saved the life of the President of the United States during a global summit at the center, local Sheriff’s Deputy Jill McCormick figures she’s got the makings of a pretty good resume.
When Maryland’s Governor chooses the secluded site on the Eastern Shore for his annual staff retreat, he contacts his former college roommate, local Sheriff Mitch Garrett. Because his new wife will be accompanying him on the trip to Mitch’s jurisdiction, and because she’s received recent death threats, the governor wants Mitch to personally take charge of her safety, in addition to the round-the-clock Maryland state police protection afforded the couple.
Mitch can think of no one better suited to the task of personal bodyguard than his deputy and girlfriend, Jill. The governor’s new wife, a former Miss Maryland and chronic royal pain, may be Jill’s most irritating challenge yet, prompting Jill to consider shooting the woman herself.
Suitable For Framing
Book #3 in
The Chesapeake Conference Center Mystery Series
by Diane Marquette
Mitch was standing in the bedroom doorway, looking professional and handsome in his tan and brown sheriff’s uniform. The look on his face told me breakfast would have to wait. As I stepped into my matching trousers, he spoke quickly.
“Don just called. There’s been a possible accident over on Davidson Road.”
I reached for my tan shirt. “What do you mean, ‘a possible accident’?”
“I’ll tell you in the car. Come on, we’ve gotta roll, Jill,” he said and was gone.
I pulled on my regulation thick-soled brown leather boots, left the laces dragging, and grabbed my equipment belt, fastening it around my hips as I hurried down the hall to the kitchen.
Gunther’s ample black and white body was planted firmly in front of his bowl of dry cat food. He looked up and studied me as he chewed. “I’m glad Mitch already fed you or else you’d have to wait, pal. See you later,” I said, grabbing my heavy brown coat from the back of the closest chair.
As I shrugged into my parka and pulled the kitchen door closed behind me, sharp pellets of sleet hit my face and hands.
Trying to avoid the patches of ice-covered snow on my back steps and driveway, I carefully made my way to the passenger side of the idling sheriff’s car, getting in and pulling the door shut as Mitch turned on the rooftop lights.
I fastened my seat belt as he steered the heavy vehicle past my parked sheriff’s department car, and onto the deserted street. Either the extremely early hour or the rude weather was keeping everyone indoors. Maybe both. The freezing rain pinged off the car, but clung to the wipers, making visibility increasingly difficult in the feeble morning light.
I unfastened my seatbelt so I could lean down and tie the laces on my boots without cutting myself in two. “Jeez, I’m so sick of winter, I could scream.”
“And it’s only January,” Mitch said helpfully.
“Well, it’s one day closer to spring anyway,” I said, re-fastening my seatbelt.
Mitch was driving the speed limit, which would have been fine had it been a sunny day in May, but suddenly the car fishtailed, nearly striking a truck parked on the shoulder of the street. He took his foot off the accelerator, gave the car time to recover, and then proceeded a bit more slowly.
“Tell me again what Don told you,” I said as I quickly rubbed my palms together.
“A motorist called the station and said a vehicle traveling in front of him near the high school may have gone off the road.” Mitch checked his watch and frowned.
“It’s been twenty minutes since the man called.”
“I still don’t get it. How could he say that it ‘may have gone off the road’? Did he see it happen or not?”
“He said it was still snowing heavily at the time, so visibility was very poor. At that time, the snow hadn’t changed to sleet. According to Don, the caller said there was a gray SUV in front of him one minute, and it was gone the next. He pulled over and got out of his truck. He told Don he saw what could have been some tire tracks leading over the embankment on the right side of the road, but because of all the snow, couldn’t see far enough down the hill to spot any vehicle. He called 911, and said he’d wait for us.”
“Well, but let’s get there safely ourselves,” I said, watching the wipers’ futile attempt at clearing the windshield.
“It happened near the bridge that goes over that old overgrown streambed, where the shoulder of the road drops off,” Mitch said. “You know where I mean?”
I nodded. “That doesn’t sound good. It’s really steep there, isn’t it?” I asked, pulling my hands up inside my sleeves, and crossing my arms.
“Very,” he said as he adjusted the controls for the car’s heater. “They really should put up a guardrail.”
We rode in silence for a few moments until I realized the noise of the sleet had stopped because the snow had begun falling heavily again. The defroster had helped clear a small semi-circular area low on the windshield, and the wipers were doing a better job dealing with the white stuff than the ice.
Mitch took his foot off the accelerator. “Somewhere along here,” he said, leaning forward in his seat. I did the same, peering into the dense whiteness that swirled in front of the car. The high beams of the headlights did nothing to improve our visibility, but I hoped the lights would make us visible if another vehicle were approaching.
We were just barely coasting through what looked like a blanket of cotton. The white was seamless, enveloping the ground, the areas around the car, and as far overhead as I could see. I looked out my side window, trying to determine where the edge of the road was.
Suddenly Mitch tapped the brakes. The heavy car came to a stop after sliding a little bit to the right. He put the gearshift in Park and reached over the back of the seat to get his brown cowboy-style hat. Without looking at me, he said, “Be careful where you walk,” and then got out of the car, slamming the door and leaving the red and blue roof lights pulsing.
I opened my door and stepped out onto the crunchy snow on the narrow shoulder of the road, and could see that the right front wheel of the angled patrol car was only about a foot from where the ground seemed to fall away into nothing but more whiteness.
As I jerked the heavy coat’s hood up over my hair, and turned in the direction Mitch had gone, the snow hit me full force in the face. I took my gloves from the coat pockets and pulled them on. Not wanting to risk plunging head-long down the slope, I hugged the fender and hood of the idling car, and slowly slid my feet forward, one boot length at a time, until I was safely in front of the car, and standing between the twin headlight beams.
Ahead of me I could make out several sets of brake lights, the smell the automobile exhaust pungent in the crisp air. I walked as quickly as I could in that direction and saw Mitch in a discussion with three men, their breath visible. Apparently they were the drivers of the idling vehicles which lined the shoulder of the road.
Standing behind Mitch, I squinted through the assaulting snow, and looked down the steep slope a few feet to my right. It was maybe a forty foot drop, ending in a wide tangle of snow-covered tree limbs and brush. I scanned the area, searching for any sign of the tire tracks Don had mentioned, but saw none. If there had been any evidence, it had been quickly covered.
The voices stopped. Mitch turned to me. “I’m going down,” he said, walking quickly back toward the car.
“Are you sure something actually went down that hill?” I asked, trying to keep up with his long strides.
“Based on what the original witness told me, yes,” he said, opening the trunk with his spare key.
“Shouldn’t we call the fire department and the paramedics?” I asked, as I positioned myself with my back to the driving snow. “They’re better equipped for a rescue like this.”
“I’m not going to bring those guys out here until I’m sure what we’ve got.” Mitch had slung a length of coiled rope over his shoulder and picked up a pair of heavy gloves and a flashlight. He paused as though considering what else he might need to take.
“I’ll go with you,” I heard myself saying.
Frowning, he looked at me for a few seconds, before replying, “Okay. Take this,” he said and handed me a second flashlight. I hesitated for a split second before accepting it. I’d been sure Mitch would have refused my offer, but it was too late to take it back now. I took the flashlight and clicked it on, checking the strength of the beam.
“Let’s go,” he said, slamming the trunk shut and heading off in the direction of the three men.
While one man secured an end of the rope to the trailer hitch on one of the trucks, Mitch called Don and reported what the plan was, and then clicked the phone shut and handed it to me. I shoved it deep into my coat pocket.
Mitch descended first, the other end of the rope around his waist. He’d told me to follow at a considerable distance, so that in case I fell I wouldn’t crash into him.
After giving Mitch a good lead, I gripped the rope tightly with my leather gloves and made my way down through the driving snow. There was nothing reassuring to place my feet on, and so I descended, sliding and falling more than walking. By the time I reached the bottom, my uniform trousers were soaked and heavy from the ankle-deep snow.
The end of the rope that had been around Mitch’s waist had come out just short of the bottom of the incline. Squinting and peering through the heavy, swirling snow, I could see him walking toward the thicket directly ahead of him, sweeping the surrounding white ground with his flashlight beam. Staying behind and a little to his right, I did the same, my fingers and toes quickly becoming numb. The sky was still leaden, and seemed not to have brightened any since we’d left my house.
We walked along the tangle of weeds and tree limbs at the bottom of the slope, Mitch glancing back up toward the road several times to assess our location. We continued walking away from the primary search area Mitch had targeted. “This is too far away from where the witness said it happened,” Mitch said, stopping. I stood next to him.
Suddenly Mitch took a few steps away from me and I saw what had caught his attention. Not until we’d gotten this close was it apparent that a large portion of the brush in this area looked different. Although covered in snow, it was not quite as tall as the surrounding hedge of growth and debris.
Mitch knelt down and aimed his flashlight beam through the opening, and then quickly stood up. “I can see lights on the other side. Headlights maybe,” he called over his shoulder as he took giant strides into and over the thicket.
I followed him, my feet and legs feeling heavy and cumbersome. I climbed on top of the mound, branches and twigs cracking under my weight, and then clawed my way forward. When I landed on the ground, I heard Mitch talking loudly, but not to me.
The silver SUV was on its side, nearly covered by a layer of matching snow. It was almost invisible even at this close range, and impossible to see from the road above.
Mitch called out to me. “There’s a woman and child in here. Call Don. He’ll know what to do.”