Did you like the sample of the Prologue of the new Abby Chilton book? If you missed the Prologue, click here. Chapter One will make more sense if you read the Prologue first. Did you read it? Okay. Here is the first chapter for your reading enjoyment! On Saturday, you can get the whole thing! Pre-Orders are available right now on Kindle, Apple, KOBO, and Barnes & Noble.
By Doug Romig
Seneca Jenks paced. He walked when he thought, worried or analyzed a troubling puzzle. Today he was doing all three things at once. The operation had been his idea which made it ultimately his responsibility. At that moment. he was at the mercy of his partner, Abby Chilton.
A month earlier, the two FBI agents had met with an old friend of Seneca’s, Milt Hathaway. Milt was an old buddy from his college swim team. Being one of the few black guys on the team, Seneca endured some chiding from his teammates – including Milt. Once Jenks proved himself in the water, the two became friendly without really becoming friends. That didn’t happen until junior year when Milt had been locked out of the dorm after having too many beers and whatever was in the blue shots he enjoyed at the club. Jenks helped Milt sneak back in, passed the resident assistant, and onto the jock’s floor. A shared, rule-breaking experience can bond men. This was such an indiscretion.
“Have you seen Seneca drunk, too? Did he puke all over the place?” asked Abby during the reminiscence. “I’ve never seen Jenks even buzzed. What’s he like drunk?”
Milt smiled evilly as Seneca gazed unhappily at the ceiling, praying for God to strike his friend mute. “He is more Jenks-like. I saw him scribbling notes about the patterns of the bartender. Something about shorting the till.”
The lanky agent pointed his finger at his friend. “In my defense, he was shorting the till.”
“So, you needed a few drinks to see it?” taunted Abby.
He shrugged. “Not all of us were born doing psychological dissections.”
Milt eyed Abby warily. “Psychological dissections? What the hell do you do around here?”
It was Seneca’s turn to smile evilly. “She is our local, superstar profiler. After ten seconds, she already saw everything worth knowing about you.” Milt paled. “And I didn’t even tell her about Mary and Kerry.” Jenks believed his friend would turn transparent if he lost any more color.
“I-I don’t buy it,” stammered Hathaway. “No one’s that good.” Abby jumped at the challenge.
Jenks laughed. “Big mistake, Milt. For the record, I have never even mentioned you before today.”
“You work in banking,” began Abby, “where you use your height as an advantage to intimidate people who do not agree with you.” She had seen him unconsciously using the same tactic when greeting her. “Your second marriage is happier than the first even though there are some complications with your ex-wife when it comes to parenting techniques.” It was obvious to Abby by his avoidance when Jenks had asked about Emily and the kids. “Overcompensation by a perceived failure at your first marriage tells me your current wife is likely shopping at Turkey Creek since she came with you on the trip.” It was a stretch but his wide-eyed response confirmed her suspicions. “By the way, hotels are notorious for being baby factories. I hope you two kids used protection last night.” She grinned while pausing to watch Milt’s color transform from pasty to crimson in an instant.
“Now about the Viagra…” Abby said, intentionally trailing off.
“Okay, stop! You win!” Milt raised his hands in surrender. “How the hell does she do that?” he asked Seneca.
Jenks put on his best “FBI agent” face. “I’m sorry but it’s classified.”
“Meaning he doesn’t have a clue either,” translated Abby. “But I didn’t get to the best part.” Her looked turned serious. “You are here because of the death of someone close to you.”
Hathaway blinked at the profiler. “How do you know all this…” he tried to find the best word but gave up, “stuff.”
Jenks supplied the answer. “You asked to meet with me and to bring Abby. We both figured you have read about some of our recent work so it was an easy guess.” He let it sink in for a moment before asking, “What happened?”
Milt’s face turned a shade of red which Abby read as anger instead of embarrassment. “It’s Lonnie. He died six months ago.” Turning to Abby, he explained, “Lonnie was my younger brother.”
Seneca raised an eyebrow. “Little Lonnie? How old was he?”
His anger-filled gaze moved to Jenks. “Thirty-seven. He died of heart failure.” Shaking his head, he declared. “There was nothing wrong with his heart. It gave out. At thirty-seven! It’s impossible.”
Abby was in counselor mode. “Tell me all about it. Something’s fishy, isn’t it?”
“They said he escaped. It doesn’t make sense. He wanted to be there. He really wanted help this time.”
The FBI agents were confused. “Where was he? Rehab?” asked Seneca.
“No. Greenview State Mental Hospital in Hendersonville,” he said flatly.
Jenks glanced at Abby. “North Carolina. Outside of Asheville.” Having a PhD in psychology, Abby knew about all the mental hospitals in a two-hundred-mile radius. She had consulted with most of them at one time or another. Greenview was only known to the profiler by reputation – a bad reputation.
“What was his diagnosis?” asked the counselor using her most soothing tone.
Milt looked at Jenks who gave him a reassuring nod. “Lonnie struggled with depression for years. They say it’s a chemical something in his brain that makes him either depressed or hyperactive. There is never any middle ground. I thought it was called being manic-depressive, but I heard it is bi-poplar disorder.”
“Bipolar disorder,” corrected Abby. “It is a more psychological descriptive name for someone who is manic-depressive.” She could use all the correct terminology if the situation called for it, but this was not the moment for a debate about proper jargon.
Hathaway shrugged. “Whatever it’s called, my sister and I committed him when he hit a really bad low. He tried to…” The trailing off told both agents more than they needed to know.
“Lonnie was a danger to himself,” stated Seneca with more tenderness than he would normally show an old college buddy.
“Yes,” whispered Milt. “But he was getting better. I know the reputation of Greenview. They medicate more than talk. It was what he needed. The drugs were helping. Lonnie was happy. Maybe it was the drugs.” He fought back tears as he explained.
Abby came to his rescue. “Often, a combination of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs can do wonders for someone struggling with bipolar disorder. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Abby gave him a moment before pressing on. “You said he escaped from the hospital? Why would he do that?”
The tall man became defensive. “He wouldn’t. There’s nothing those bastards can say to make me think he did. They’re trying to cover their asses.”
Seneca raised an eyebrow. “If they are admitting he escaped, they would have to be covering up something much worse. Do you think they caused it somehow?”
Milt nodded slowly. “I think they did something. Gave him the wrong drug. Maybe another psycho hurt him? For all I know they scared him to death. Something is wrong but no one wants to consider it. They hear Greenview and dismiss his death as a nut-job offing himself. A detective in Asheville said that to me. ‘A nut-job offing himself’. Can you believe it?” Milt was the one who sounded manic. Abby wondered if it was a genetic condition in the Hathaway men.
“This really isn’t our kind of case…” began Jenks, trying to find a way to let his friend down easily. He wanted desperately to help, but knew it was likely a wild goose chase.
“But we can check to see if there is anything suspicious happening,” finished Abby. She had been watching Seneca read his desire to help. One look from his partner and she understood both his surprise at her words, plus his gratitude for the help.
Milt was stunned. “You will?” Abby could tell he hadn’t expected this outcome. He was prepared for another rejection.
“We’re not making any promises, but we can do a little bit of snooping.” Jenks did his best to sound reassuring without offering undue hope.
Hathaway was on his feet, moving toward Jenks. He embraced his old friend. “Anything you can do. I understand, but you have no idea how much it means to me to have someone finally listen.”
Abby patted the man on the back only to be surprised by his pulling her into the hug. Abby was not a hugger but tolerated the affection. Tears filled Milt’s eyes as he backed away. Pleasantries were exchanged and Jenks promised to meet the Hathaways for dinner. Abby and Seneca found themselves alone in his office.
“Thanks Abby. I owe you one.”
Chilton smiled. “Buy me some decent coffee and we’ll call it even. Do you think Milt is paranoid, manic or on to something?”
“Two of the three for sure. The question is, which two?” Jenks gazed at the ceiling tiles, admiring the patterns which reminded him of constellations. “Give me a couple of days to see if there are any odd patterns of patient deaths over the past few years.”
Abby folded her arms, watching her partner. “You think he’s paranoid, not onto something, don’t you?”
“Don’t you? He’s grieving and needs someone to blame.”
Abby arose from the chair. “Unless you find something, I have agent fitness interviews scheduled for the next three weeks.” Pausing at the door, she winked. “Please find something so I don’t have to listen to Brenda talk about how many conquests she had this year.”
Jenks set at his task with his normal efficiency but with little hope of helping his friend. He had a gift for finding patterns in crimes others missed. It was an unusual combination of logic and creativity allowing him to discover things no one else could see. A genius level I.Q. didn’t hurt, either. By the end of the day, he was staring at his screen, disbelief etched on his features. A knock at his open doorway startled him back to reality.
“Hey, Seneca. Didn’t mean to scare you. I need to update a couple programs on your laptop,” said the smiling computer tech. Marcus Shon was the affable computer guru of the Knoxville Field Office. He and Jenks had become closer over the past year due to Abby’s inclusion of Seneca into her inner circle of friends. Marcus, Abby and Tina Jacobs were the people closest to him.
Jenks rose quickly. “Help yourself. I need to talk to Abby.” He blew passed Marcus with a high-five.
Marcus smiled, muttering to himself. “I know that look. Here we go again.”
Abby’s door was closed. It was unusual for the profiler to close the door unless she was meeting with someone or in a bad mood. He guessed it was the latter. Seneca thought for a moment and, throwing caution to the wind, he knocked.
Abby was at the door faster than he had expected. “Oh my god, am I late for our meeting? I’m sorry, Jenks.” She winked at her partner then rolled her eyes. “One moment, please.” Opening the door wide, she turned her back on Jenks. “I’m sorry, Agent Kilgrew. We will have to continue this another day. I forgot I have a case briefing.”
“But…” began the raven-haired woman.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure you are fit for duty. Please, don’t shoot anyone else until we talk again. Bye,” said Abby, ushering her out as she pulled Jenks in.
Closing the door and leaning on it, she shot Seneca an exasperated expression. “Don’t ask.”
Abby looked him up and down. “You found something? Really?”
Jenks had been working with Abby for a year and still could not understand how she read people as well as she did. Most of the time, she let others tell her what she already knew so they wouldn’t be uncomfortable around her. Early on in their partnership, Jenks had told her to be brutally honest with him. He didn’t care how well she could read him, if it made the work flow better. Still, once in a while…
“Really,” he replied, sitting on the loveseat in the conference area of her office. “In the past five years, there have been fourteen heart attacks of patients or former patients of Greenview. Five of them were people who had heart conditions prior to going there. One other was attributed an accidental overdose of some narcotics which were smuggled into the facility. That leaves eight dead in five years.”
Abby considered the abstract art on her walls as she pondered his words. “Unusual, but it doesn’t sound nefarious.” She looked back at Jenks. “What is it? Something has your knickers in a twist.”
“You’ve been watching too much British television again,” said Jenks, noticing her vocabulary.
“Benedict Cumberbatch is hot and Jonas has been on assignment for too damn long again. So, what have you found?”
Jenks walked over to her computer and called up a file. Abby joined him, looking over his shoulder. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. I suspect someone at Greenview falsified the documents to make it appear as if all eight of them either escaped or were released.”
“And how many of bodies were discovered outside of North Carolina?” asked Abby, a gleam in her eyes.
The smile on Seneca’s face told her all she needed to know. “Three in North Carolina, two in Tennessee, two in South Carolina, one in Georgia.”
Abby reached for her desk and handed him a file. He opened the dossier and began to read. The woman had paranoia and borderline personality disorder. She had been in and out of mental institutions since she was fifteen when she suffered a miscarriage. The girl blamed her parents for the loss of a baby she had never known. The next twenty years had been a series of unrequited relationships with the wrong kinds of men leading to her dependence on alcohol and prescription painkillers. After getting sober two years ago, her paranoia returned making her a danger to herself and others. After firing shots at some Jehovah’s Witnesses, she was committed to psychiatric care at Greenview State Mental Hospital. Commitment date would be in three days.
“What’s this?” asked Jenks.
“My cover,” said Abby, smiling. She turned the page to reveal a picture of herself, looking like the patient described. “I had a feeling you’d find something.”
“Nice touch with the JWs.”
The profiler’s grin widened. “I thought you’d like that.”
A month later, Jenks paced. Abby had missed her past two check-ins. Something was wrong.