In Dead Politician Society, the mayor falls down dead in the middle of a speech, and a university secret society promptly claims credit for the murder. Clare Vengel is given her first undercover assignment: to pose as a student and penetrate the society. She’s a mechanic in her spare time, and thinks book smarts are for people who can’t handle the real world. Instead of infiltrating the club, she alienates a popular professor, and quickly loses the respect of police superiors. When two more politicians die, Clare knows that the murderer she has to unmask is someone she has come to consider a friend. She only hopes that the friend doesn’t unmask her first.
In the second book, Death Plays Poker, world-class poker players are being strangled in their hotel rooms, and Clare is given her second big assignment: to pose as a poker player in a major televised tournament, befriend the suspects, and find the killer in their midst. As more victims lose their lives to the cunning Poker Choker, and her cover role’s legitimacy comes under attack from two directions, Clare wonders if her handlers are right: Should she pack it in and go home to a dull life as a beat cop? Or will she find the killer, prove her worth?
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Clare Vengel Undercover Mysteries
By Robin Spano
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2011 Robin Spano
All rights reserved.
Clare Vengel tossed a leg over her Triumph and kicked it into gear. The sun was shining, the mayor was dead, and Cloutier wanted to meet with her. As she sped along Dundas Street, weaving a bit too quickly through traffic, visions of her first undercover assignment played in her head.
At Dundas and Dupont, she found the agreed-upon donut shop. Sergeant Cloutier was already seated with two enormous coffees.
"So." Clare flashed her brightest smile. "Who am I?"
She slid into the cushioned booth, and set her helmet on the seat beside her.
Cloutier opened a bag and pulled out a dutchie. "I'm not pleased to be using you."
"Okay." That was fair. She was as green as they came. Clare determined to please him with results.
"We need someone who looks young. We also need someone with field experience. Apparently in this enlightened age it's the packaging that counts."
Clare sipped her coffee. What was she supposed to say?
Cloutier nodded to some sugar packets in the center of the table. "You're not gonna use those?"
Clare wrinkled her nose. "No, thanks."
Cloutier took one and added it to his own coffee.
"You're going back to school." He slid a plain white envelope across the table. "You're a third-year political science student."
"Political science?" Clare opened the envelope and discreetly observed a student card, driver's license, and other documents that identified her as Clare Simpson. "Is that more like politics or science?"
Cloutier shook his head irritably. "Politics."
"Oh." Clare would have preferred science.
"You think you can get up to speed fast enough?"
"Of course." She'd stay awake all night if she had to. "Is there a reason I'm only half undercover?"
"You're keeping your first name to make things easier on you."
"Thanks." Clare wasn't sure whether to feel protected or insulted.
"This isn't a permanent transfer." Cloutier broke a piece from his donut. "Screw this case up, and it's back to the beat for a very long time."
"Okay." Again, fair. Most cops had to put in years in uniform before they'd be given an undercover assignment. She'd been on the force for three months. "How did the mayor die?"
"Do you live on this planet?"
Clare eyed Cloutier's dutchie. She wished she had one of her own. Or something greasy, like bacon or sausage, to soak up her mild hangover.
"Hayden Pritchard died at last night's Working Child Benefit. He collapsed in his own vomit. It was all over the news."
"Oh." Clare was supposed to feel ignorant because she didn't spend her evenings glued to the local fucking news? Fine, maybe she felt a little bit ignorant, but she wasn't going to show it.
"Just read this." Cloutier passed a printed email across the stained Formica table.
Hayden Pritchard: July 27, 1954-September 6, 2010
We hereby launch our campaign to create a political utopia for the real world. Hayden Pritchard made a dramatic exit from life last night, facilitated by the poison we slipped him.
Pritchard became mayor thirteen years ago, at which point he began to skillfully destroy the city's economy. He spent piles of money to cultivate all kinds of fringe votes, and when he went over budget, he simply raised taxes to compensate. Small business owners closed up shop or moved to the suburbs in response to punishing tax hikes, and Toronto was ranked the worst place in the western world to do business. We might have been fine with this if that money had been used to save some wildlife or give scholarships to inner city kids, but as far as we can tell, society's problems have remained intact. Pritchard and his staffers are okay with all this; they've received a fifty percent pay raise.
With another election three long years away, we have decided to free taxpayers from Pritchard's socialist nightmare.
This has been a message from the Society for Political Utopia.
Clare wasn't sure why her fingers trembled as she handed the page back to Cloutier.
"This email was sent to Annabel Davis, the assistant obituary editor at the Star."
"Obituaries?" Clare rolled her eyes upward, and saw that the drop ceiling was badly in need of repair. "I guess there isn't a homicidal rants editor. Is the newspaper printing it?"
"Not for now."
"Do we know who sent the email?"
"Yeah. That's why we need the investigation."
Clare wanted to groan, but reminded herself to stay positive.
"The source computer was wireless." Cloutier took one of the unused creamers and added it to his coffee, not bothering to stir it in. "A laptop, or one of those fancy Internet phones. The address was nicknamed 'Utopia Girl.'"
"I presume we know that the mayor actually died from poison."
"You don't need to do any presuming. We have detectives for that. But yes: the medical examiner found massive organ damage consistent with some common poisons. Pritchard's genitals and urinary organs were congested with blood."
"You mean his cock was hard," Clare said, then immediately felt morbid.
Cloutier looked Clare in the eye. "Pritchard's death was painful and miserable."
Of course it was — her comment had been callous and horrible. She tried another tack. "Had he recently started a new medication? Viagra maybe? If he was already on some other drug, for his heart or something, the two could have interacted badly."
"Thanks for your medical opinion."
Clare tried to take a sip of coffee, but ended up dribbling most of it down her chin and onto her favorite T-shirt.
"Your job is basic, Vengel: go in as a student, keep your eyes and ears open, and get in touch when you find something that might help us."
"Okay." Clare stroked her helmet, which sat beside her on the plastic bench. "How about an obvious question: Why do we think this 'Utopia Girl' is the killer? Doesn't every nutcase and his brother pop out of the woodwork when a famous person dies?"
"The inspector obviously thinks there's something to it."
Clare leaned forward. "Which inspector?"
"Detective Inspector Morton hand-picked you for this assignment."
"Cool." Clare liked Morton — and apparently he thought she was worth a chance. He had hardly been exuberant when she'd met him, but he at least hadn't laughed her out of his office when she'd approached him about undercover work. "And — last question, I swear — what's the connection to the university? Is that where the email was sent from?"
"Looks that way." Cloutier ate the last of his donut and stuffed his crumpled napkin into the bag. "Your first class is at eleven a.m. if you can make it, but the course that most interests us is your two o'clock. It meets twice a week. Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings. It's called Political Utopia for the Real World."
Clare's eyes scanned the obituary upside down. "Is it a large class?"
"Twenty students, plus you. Now go. You have pencils and notebooks to buy."
"Can I invoice the station for them?"
"Of course. Just don't buy anything fancy."
"Do I look like I'd want something fancy?" Clare picked up her helmet.
"No, you don't." Cloutier smirked. "Have a good day at school."
Clare rode off into the morning.CHAPTER 2
Matthew leapt aside to avoid the tattooed adolescent riding full speed down the footpath. He protectively balanced his full, steaming coffee, and allowed himself a cautious sip once the kamikaze student was three buildings away.
On another day, Matthew might have snarled at the kid, or thrown him a sarcastic comment about being more considerate. But today was his favorite of the year: the first day of school. Students rushed around campus, energizing it with their flurry of self-centered activity. The Gothic buildings were regal in the late summer's light. Matthew himself felt natty and hip in designer blue jeans and his retro tweed jacket. It would take more than a socialist on a bicycle to knock him off his perfect cloud.
Since he'd been a child in Scarborough, he'd always loved the first day of school. The first day held the promise that the coming year would be the great one. He could be voted school president by an overwhelming majority, or win an academic award that had Oxford knocking on his door, or Mariana Livingstone might finally recognize his je ne sais quoi and fuck his brains out behind the football field.
Now, Matthew felt like his great year had come, at last and to stay. He arrived at his office building, the concrete and glass block that was home to several other departments in addition to Political Science. He climbed the wide stone staircase, and smiled at a group of teenaged girls who had the doe-eyed look of first-year students. They made up for all the Marianas who never had given him the time of day, behind the bleachers or anywhere else.
"Dr. Easton!" An eager voice accompanied light footsteps running up the staircase behind him.
Matthew turned to see a student from a previous year's introductory course. She was a stunning girl — tall, fair-complexioned, and full of original ideas. "Jessica. How was your summer?"
"Terrible." The girl scowled. "I spent it looking after my sick grandmother in her gloomy old mansion."
"How depressing." Jessica shifted the faded leather bag on her shoulder. "I was supposed to go tree-planting out west, which I was totally stoked about. Anyway, her health conveniently cleared up right at the end of the summer."
"Well that's ... good news?"
"It is." Jessica sighed. "And I'm thrilled to be taking Poli Real World this year. It's great to have one course where we're actually encouraged to have strong opinions."
"I'm delighted to hear it." Matthew reached for the door handle. "I look forward to your contributions in class."
"I'm just so angry sometimes with the whole system. It boils my blood that there are no checks and balances to keep the politicians accountable."
"Frustration keeps the course going," Matthew said. "And it's useful. Last year when we submitted our course conclusions to our local representative, he brought two of our ideas to the table in Parliament."
"Yeah?" Jessica seemed rooted to the steps. "Did it change any policy?"
"Not this time. But we'll get there. Was there anything else?"
"Um, no, I don't think so." Jessica chewed on her lip. "I'll see you around?"
Matthew slipped inside the building, opted for climbing two flights of stairs instead of making conversation with his colleagues in the elevator, and let himself into his office for the first time in four months.
The room was ugly and institutional. The cheap metal bookshelf held political texts spanning the twenty years from his high school days until now. All that was missing was a book with Matthew's name on the cover. Although of course he would have preferred sturdy wooden shelves in a musty room in an ivy-covered hall, having his own private corner of this large, prestigious university made him feel like he'd arrived.
He dusted off his swivel chair and a portion of his desk, and pulled a pile of paperwork from his briefcase. He enjoyed one short sip of coffee before a knock at the door interrupted him.
"Come in, Shirley!"
"Is my knock so distinctive?" Dr. Rosenblum poked her head into Matthew's office, and followed with her compact body. "How was your summer?"
"Productive," Matthew said. "I've finished the first draft of my book, and my editor finally seems to understand my vision."
"You relented on the editorial bias, then." Shirley lifted an eyebrow. "Good for you. Have you also considered changing your public outlook on Hayden Pritchard?"
"Public? I don't think Pritchard is anywhere in my book."
"I meant for your students. I know you've circulated at least two summer reading articles bashing Pritchard and his policy."
"I'm flattered that you take such an interest in my courses."
"Oh, stop your preening. I'm serious. I don't want you maligning a man whose corpse isn't even cold."
"What do you take me for? Some kind of lunatic zealot?"
Shirley patted her already immaculate gray curls into place. "It's not the worst description."
"Well you have my word of honor." Matthew took a long sip of coffee before continuing. "I won't bring champagne to class, and I won't expose my real opinion, which is that I think Pritchard self-destructed naturally when his crummy karma came knocking."
"Funny. By the way, you have a new transfer student. Clare Simpson. I know you like to hand-pick the class list, but I took the liberty of adding Clare to Poli Real World."
"I'm sorry. But the Registrar asked as a special favor. I got the impression that Clare's parents are friends with someone important in administration."
"You just got that impression, did you?"
"It was implied that the Chancellor would appreciate the concession."
Matthew shook his head. "This is exactly what's wrong with the system. Don't you see? Privilege breeds privilege."
"I thought it was socialists you hated."
"I hate socialists when they're hypocrites." Matthew couldn't get the coffee into his system fast enough. "Like Hayden Pritchard. May he rot in peace. But a million times worse is some entitled little bitch who gets to bypass all the hurdles that make an accomplishment worth anything. How am I supposed to congratulate my twenty other students on being selected for the course when Clare fucking Simpson comes breezing in with Daddy's gold card?"
"I agree that the world shouldn't work this way," Shirley said. "But it does, and there it is. More power to you and your students when you finally succeed in changing it."
"Fine," Matthew said. "I'm not going to fight you. But no special grades. Clare either holds her own like the rest of the students, or I won't hesitate to fail her."
"That's all I'm asking."
"Shall I cc you in the email when I send the class their revised reading list?" Matthew felt this was a strong enough dismissal, except that when he turned back to his work, his elbow caught his nearly full coffee and launched it into its death spin. He scrambled to save the papers on his desk, which thankfully were minimal after a summer away from the office. He faced Shirley, and noticed the misshapen ceramic mug in her hand, "World's Coolest Grandma" painted inexpertly onto the side.
"Oh, not your look." Shirley grimaced, but her eyes were smiling. "It isn't your gourmet dark roast, and I can't offer you any fancy soy milk, but yes, I have a pot of coffee on in my office."CHAPTER 3
Laura Pritchard was washing up from breakfast when Penny Craig called from the Star. It was a shame, Laura thought, that Hayden wasn't alive to appreciate the drama. He wouldn't care that he was dead — even as a young man, he'd never seemed particularly involved in his own life. But all this press and intrigue? He would have been in Hayden Heaven. Laura closed the dishwasher and gazed out upon her backyard garden.
"Thanks for calling," she told Penny. "I promise, not a word until the story comes out."
"I appreciate it," Penny said. "The police have asked us to hold publication indefinitely."
"Can they make you do that?" Laura pulled a stool out from the marble counter, and sat down.
"They can ask. It helps that the inspector in charge has promised the Star an exclusive interview once they've finished their investigation. If that letter isn't a hoax, this is the story of a lifetime."
"I imagine it must be."
"My god. I'm so insensitive. Are you going to be all right? I'm tied up all morning, but I can make time for lunch if you want to chat."
"Thanks, but my head's going to be all over the place." When had she ever met Penny to chat? "Does anyone else know about the email?"
"Only Annabel Davis. The poor woman has been made to fear for her job if the smallest word slips through her lips."
"I can imagine." Laura had witnessed Penny's wrath in high school, thankfully never directed her way. "So why are you telling me?"
"God, Laura, I'm not a piranha. Sure, I want my exclusive, but friends come first. Besides, I trust your discretion."
Susannah stomped muddily through the kitchen door, causing Laura to shake her head with mock horror.
"These tomatoes are coming up nicer every year." Susannah plonked three juicy-looking samples onto the counter Laura had just finished scrubbing.
"Listen, Penny. I appreciate the call. Susie's come inside, and it's her first day back at school, so I'd like to see her off."
"How cute. Have you packed her a lunch?"
"Don't be ridiculous. She's thirty-five. She's been getting her own lunch for a year now."
Penny laughed. "You won't say anything about the email, though, right? Not even to Susannah."
Excerpted from Clare Vengel Undercover Mysteries by Robin Spano. Copyright © 2011 Robin Spano. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsBOOK ONE Dead Politician Society,
BOOK TWO Death Plays Poker,