Maggie's Hunt, page 1
by Karen Woods
Cover art: Alan Fore
©2010 and 2012 by Karen Woods
Published 2012 by The Fiction Works
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations to books and critical reviews. This story is a work of fiction. Characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Hunt Thomas sat across the desk from the red-haired man. The small room was decorated in the style which Hunt privately called “Utilitarian bureaucrat:” a small metal desk, two wooden chairs which had seen better days, and a battered filing cabinet. The only objects in the room less than twenty years old were the telephone, computer, and the shredding machine. Those were state of the art.
“Listen, O’Shay, this really isn’t a situation I want to get involved in. I am not a babysitter,” Hunt said as he raked a hand through his dark, just beginning to gray, hair. “That’s not my strong suit at all. Even when I was still active, it was never my area.”
“There’s an old saying that you can buy in for a penny, but that it costs two to buy your way out,” Colonel John J. O’Shay, III, replied with a smile. “I need this favor from you. I wouldn’t ask otherwise.”
John smiled again. “Michael McLaughlin will be in the running for the presidential nomination.”
Hunt smiled slightly, amusement in his slate gray eyes. “That should be interesting. But, I don’t understand what this has to do with your sister. Or with me.”
“Mags, my half-sister, is Michael’s stepdaughter.”
“Ah. And thus the request for a bodyguard. Why not the secret service? They are better equipped for that sort of thing. Taking care of the families of candidates and public officials is their job.”
“Mags would be miserable. She hates minders. Besides, I can’t believe that the Secret Service would put up with the stunts that she would pull if she were to be placed under their supervision. After a few run-ins with my mule-headed sister, they would be only too glad to wash their hands of her rather quickly, I should think. Either that or place her in protective custody. Neither of those options are particularly palatable.”
“What kind of stunts she is likely to pull?” Hunt asked, carefully, in spite of the firm knowledge that by asking, he had just told O’Shay that he was becoming interested in the Colonel’s sister.
“Let’s just say that over the years, Mags became, and probably remains, quite adapt at losing bodyguards and then disappearing into the woodwork, only to resurface when she gets good and ready to do so.”
“She makes a habit of doing that?”
“I don’t know that ‘habit’ is the right word. She’s had instances where she has done so. Sometimes, I think that she is the reason why Michael went completely gray. I know that I have been concerned about her over the years, and she’s never really been my responsibility. I can only imagine how she and Michael must have fought. Of the two of them, I don’t know who is the more stubborn. As far as I can tell, it’s dead even.”
“Her relationship with the Senator is shaky?”
“I’m not certain that you could say that she still has much of a relationship with Michael.”
“She did a bunk from Michael’s house right after she turned eighteen. We only got a line on her because she wanted to be found. If she hadn’t wanted to be found, I’m sure that locating her would have been a fluke.”
“Was there a reason that she left?”
“I’m sure that there was a reason. But, she refuses to talk about it. Her fiancee’s funeral had been the day before she disappeared. I think that she just needed some time alone to think things out.”
“Eighteen is awfully young to be engaged,” Hunt remarked quietly.
“Mags has always been extremely precocious. She won the Leeds International piano competition when she was sixteen. She was the featured soloist with a major orchestra by the time that she was seventeen.”
“Margaret Mary O’Shay,” Hunt replied lowly with a whistle. “This is your Mags?”
“Ah, you’ve heard of her.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard her play. She is brilliant.”
“Yes. She is brilliant. But as far as I know, she hasn’t played for an audience in years. Not since J. Roger died.”
Hunt nodded in acknowledgment. He remembered the story. “Why do you think she would accept a bodyguard, now?”
“Let’s just say that I would feel more comfortable knowing that someone was looking after her.”
“You would feel more comfortable. That doesn’t answer why she would accept a bodyguard.”
“I’m not certain that she would. In fact, I am fairly certain she wouldn’t like the idea at all,” John O’Shay replied with a small smile. “If she knew.”
“If she knew?”
“You and she have friends in common. It would be easy for you to infiltrate her life without her knowing about your protective role.”
“Chuck and Natalie Ferra. Natty, Dani Faulks, Rusty Davis and Mags were roommates at boarding school.”
Hunt raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure exactly what you want from me, O’Shay. Playing bodyguard to a woman who hates bodyguards isn’t exactly my strong suit, you know that. Your suggestion that I pass myself off as her lover would require cooperation from the lady in question.”
“Not necessarily, Hunt,” John said quietly.
Hunt was silent for a long moment. “Those aren’t games that I play, Colonel. There are specialists in the intelligence community who are trained for that sort of thing.”
“I wouldn’t set a raven at my sister. Damn. What do you take me for?” John O’Shay replied hotly.
“We’ve known each other for years, John,” Hunt replied firmly. “I don’t have to take you for anything. We both know who the other is, and of what he is capable. Why have you picked me for this?”
“Because you are well trained. Because in all the years you were active in covert operations, there was never as much as a hint of a chink in your cover as a businessman. Because you are the sort of tough SOB whom she could identify with.”
“Are you complimenting me or insulting your sister?”
“Mags is an exceptionally strong woman,” John O’Shay replied, diplomatically, with a smile. “Strong, strong-minded, strong tempered, a loyal friend, and a fierce enemy. She’s quite a woman. She’d run over any man who was weaker than she is. Fortunately, you aren’t in that class.”
“I repeat, why me?”
“I already told you. You share common friends with Mags. You can meet her as a social equal. You can plausibly use the cover of a romantic interest in order to explain your presence in her life. You aren’t likely to raise eyebrows.”
“I always knew you were a cold bastard, John,” Hunt replied dryly.
John smiled, but the expression didn’
“Something like that.”
“You going to be seeing Natty and Chuck while you are stateside?”
“I’ve got an invitation to stay for a week or so with them, yes.”
“Mags spends a lot of her free time with them. You’ll probably run into her. If you had been able to get back to Connecticut for the wedding, you would have met Mags there. She was Natty’s maid of honor.”
Hunt recalled the wedding photographs Chuck had sent to him. The maid of honor had been a tall, striking, redhead, with eyes as green as those belonging to the man on the business side of the desk. “You are a real piece of work, you know that?”
“Look, Hunt, I am asking you for a favor. I can’t leave London for long enough to keep an eye on her during the election. And I know I would never talk her into leaving her job in order to come here.”
“What does she do? Now that she’s abandoned her music?”
“Pharmaceutical sales for Faulks. She’s extremely good at her job. In fact, she’s been the top salesperson for the last several years. I really thought she would have gone back to music by now.”
Hunt digested that information. “She sounds like a woman with her feet firmly on the ground.”
“I think that we can safely say that she is that. Look, Hunt, I need someone whom I trust to look out for her.”
“Trust. Can’t you trust the Senator to look out for his own stepdaughter?”
“Mags hasn’t spoken to Michael since she left his house. She goes out of her way to avoid him. I don’t know the precise reason for the estrangement. In all these years, she has never spoken of it to me, except to warn me off the subject. Whatever the reason, I would wager it is explosive and quite dangerous to her, especially now, with Michael in running for the nomination.”
“Would the Senator harm her?”
“I don’t think so. She has always been like a daughter to him. But, that doesn’t mean some of Mike’s enemies wouldn’t like to get their hands on her.”
“What sort of relationship do you have with your sister?”
John sighed. “Not as close as we should be. We exchange cards on Christmas, birthdays, that sort of thing. There is the occasional long chatty letter exchanged between Emily and Mags. Once in a while, I’ll call her and we’ll talk. I would like to be closer to her. But, it’s difficult to maintain any degree of closeness when we are so far away from one another.”
“What about your sister? Assuming I enact the scenario which you have charted—I get her to fall for me—how is she going to feel when the election is over and I am no longer in her life?”
“Broken hearts mend a lot better than broken bodies.”
Margaret Mary O’Shay sat, reviewing her planned sales calls, in the rabbit warren of the small gray metal and cloth cubicles assigned to the members of the sales force. Confident that she would turn more than enough sales volume to earn the leadership awards for the quarter as well as for the year, Maggie rose from her desk and went to the small kitchenette to get herself a cup of coffee.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror that hung on the wall just outside of the kitchenette area. As usual, her appearance was of the feminine, yet still consummate professional: long auburn hair skillfully arranged in a simple, but elegant, soft Victorian knot atop her head; makeup and jewelry understated; hand tailored skirted linen suit in a shade of green which exactly matched her eyes; and handmade, low heeled, lizard-skin pumps. Yet, she wondered if anyone ever saw under the trappings of her professional image to the woman underneath. Frankly, she wondered if she would ever be ready to let anyone see underneath that protective coloration which she had worked so hard to achieve.
‘Confident’, ‘cool’ and ‘collected’ were three words upon which she had built her public image. Added to those were the descriptors, ‘competent’ and ‘conscientious’. She would have liked to have been the woman whom the image suggested.
Nearly eight years had passed since the day that she had come here to beg her stepfather’s half-brother for a job. Maggie smiled as she thought of the changes that had happened to her over the last few years. She was hardly the same woman. Thankfully. The day that she had taken a job here had been a day that she knew that she would never forget. It had been a little over a month after she had buried her fiancee, a month after the day that she had read the mechanic’s report about the ‘accident’ which had taken Jarod’s life, a month after the day that she had fled from her stepfather’s house in fear for her life. She had left Michael’s house without any clothes except those on her back, and with no possessions except for her bankbooks and a few irreplaceable sentimental treasures, and an album of family photographs which she had hastily crammed into her oversized shoulder bag before fleeing from the estate.
The fact that Jarod had been driving her car when he died told her more than she had wanted to know about who had been targeted as the ‘accident’ victim. She had never, never, allowed anyone else to drive her car. Jarod had taken her car, without permission and out of spite, after she had broken their engagement.
That confrontation had replayed itself in her dreams—nightmares—frequently enough over the years, so that she now could repeat it verbatim.
The conservatory at Michael’s estate had been a musician’s dream. It should have been, Michael had spent a small fortune on equipping the room when he had married Maggie’s mother, Patricia. This was the room in which Maggie had spent more of her time than in any other in the house.
However, for most of the time after Patricia’s death, Maggie had been in Switzerland at a boarding/finishing school where she had been sent.
Looking back on it, now, Maggie couldn’t blame Michael’s then new bride, Susan, for shipping her off. Maggie had taken a strong dislike to Susan on sight. And the feeling had been more than merely mutual.
Jarod and Maggie had been sitting on the piano bench. She had just finished playing a piece she was to have performed in concert in two weeks time.
“Well?” she had asked as she looked at her fiancee.
Jarod had smiled at her. Funny, now, she remembered his smiles as condescending.
“Technically, your performance is flawless, as usual. You have a brilliant technical ability, Margaret.”
The piece was one that she had always found moving. It had pained her that she hadn’t been able to convey the depth of the emotions of the music.
Jarod had put his arm around her. “Don’t worry about it, Margaret,” he had assured her. “So what if it your performance is a little naive? No one expects anything else from you at this point.”
“I expect more than a technically perfect and emotionally cold performance from myself!”
“Not cold, Margaret. Extremely naive. Sweet. Just like you, Margie,” she remembered that he had whispered softly in her ear. “However, we could work on building your emotional awareness, your knowledge of passion. Let’s get out of here. Come back to my place.”
“I think that I’ll stick to being naive.”
Then Jarod, normally placid Jarod, had become angry. “For God’s sake, Margaret! We are going to be married in three months time. I want you to share my bed. You are eighteen years old, not eight. Grow up, will you?”
When she was particularly angry, her eyes glittered. She knew that her eyes must have been glittering then. “Jarod, how many times do we have to discuss this? I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage.”
“You won’t share your bed, or anything else. You are a selfish bitch who will not open your heart to anyone. And you share nothing other than your heart, either. Why do you think that your music is so technically perfect but emotionally vacant? You can’t even share your thoughts, your feelings. There are times that I’ve wondered if you have any
Maggie remembered flinching under his scathing tone. She yanked the gaudy diamond ring forcibly from her finger and gave it back to him. “I think that you had better leave now. Don’t come back. I don’t need that sort of abuse from anyone,” she had replied in a deceptively calm tone while underneath she was seething.
“Poor spoiled rich girl. You are so straight-laced that you can’t even lose your temper. Who was it? Who tightened the strictures of propriety around you so firmly that you can’t even raise your voice? You know that if the Senator had not been your stepfather, you would have never gotten this far in your career. He bought you the position with the symphony. And he offered me two hundred thousand dollars, if I would stay away from you.
“I could have saved myself a case of terminal frostbite, if I had done as he suggested,” Jarod had said in a voice full of disdain, almost hatred.
“That’s a lie!”
Jarod had smiled at her, but the smile had been vicious. “Is it?” he challenged just before flung the ring back at her. “Keep the ring, Margaret. You need it more than I do. I, at least, have a career based on my talent. That is more than I can say about you. By the way, I took the money that the Senator offered. I thought that we could use it for a start on our life together. And I knew he would never tell you that he had tried to buy me off. I used part of the money to buy the ring. So, you might as well keep it. You may need to hock it one day so that you can have something to eat, because your talent alone will never see you through life.”
Then, he had stormed out of the room.
If she hadn’t left her keys in the ignition of the Jag, Jarod might have still been alive.
Nasty thing about tampering with the brake system on an automobile, the saboteur can never be certain that he will be going to strike at the intended target, or only at the intended target.
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