The Case of the Dead Dowager
Retired homicide detective Michaela McPherson and the aging Countess Dorothy Borghase team up again”"this time to match wits with two serial killers stalking children, women and the elderly.
When Dottie Borghase's friend Camilla Rothrock collapses at a lunch gathering of old friends, the countess's only concern is to dial 911 for help. But Camilla's subsequent death has authorities buzzing about international safety and retaliation, because her son is decorated U.S. Army General Stuart Rothrock.
What Price Must The City Pay To Keep Its Citizens Safe?
As other restaurant patrons in Richmond meet similar fates, Michaela and Dottie join forces with the Richmond Police and the FBI to track down the pair of heinous murderers. But in order to catch the killers, they will put their own lives and the lives of others in in serious jeopardy.
Will McPherson and Borghase make it out of this one alive?
Release date: December 2, 2016
Publisher: Bluestone Valley Publishing
Print pages: 280
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The Case of the Dead Dowager
“Perfecto, this stuff looks flawless,” Boris said in his thickly accented voice as he held a test tube to the light. The Russian smiled broadly, his thin lips stretched across his decayed teeth and skeletal face. The light from the window outlined his permanently crushed, but healed frontal skull that gave him the appearance of the monster he was. He agitated the test tube between his fingers and reexamined its contents. It was a masterpiece. “There’s enough here to kill everybody in Yankee Stadium and all the cops in Richmond,” he predicted from his tall, though stooped height of six feet, five inches. He reached for a small glass container and transferred a portion of the five gallons to a laboratory beaker. He held the larger quantity up to the window and examined the liquid. “And look, there’s no residue in the bottom and the fluid is clear.” He turned to his friend and gushed, “Perfecto, tovarich, perfecto!”
Snake laughed and clapped his partner on the back. “Way to go, tall guy. Good deal. You know we gotta maximize our efforts. Neither one of us wants to work hard or take extra chances, especially now since they’re lookin’ for me anyway.” Snake moved closer to the glass carboy and smiled as he saw the colorless, odorless and tasteless five gallon drum of liquid. “Man that looks good. Does it smell?”
Boris bent his shiny, bald head forward and sniffed deeply. “No, not that I can tell. I can’t smell anything, but I haven’t got a good nose anyway. You give it a sniff and see what you think,” he said as he gestured towards the liquid.
Snake moved next to the large glass container and noticed other small beakers and test tubes of fluid sitting to the side. Each container was labeled and numbered. “You must’ve been a hell of a chemist back in the day,” he remarked as he finger-combed his greasy black hair off his face. Sometimes he wore it in a ponytail, but he hadn’t pulled it back today. He bent over and sniffed the carboy. “Nah. Nothing.” He shook his head and said, “I can’t smell nuthin’ either. Good job, my man,” he said enthusiastically, a slow smile spreading across his swarthy, pockmarked face. “You’re a real scientist.”
Boris lit a cigarette, coughed and said, “Man, you have no idea of the stuff I can do. You ain’t seen nothing. I got more killing recipes than Carter’s got little liver pills.” He smiled ominously and showed his rotten teeth. Snake felt a tingle run up his spine. This guy even looked like the monster his reputation claimed he was. He decided to watch himself carefully around Boris and never give him the upper hand.
Snake nodded, “Yeah. Well, I got plenty of chances to see your talents this week!” Once again, he checked out his partner and sized him up. He was a dangerous, unpredictable, scary dude.
“Yeah, but I’m never tellin’ you much,” Boris assured him. “There’ll most likely be one day I’ll wanna kill you,” he admitted, the broad grin again slicing through his pale, skeletal face. This guy’s serious. He is crazy.
Snake ignored him and brushed invisible lint off the front of his blue scrubs. “Shut-up, man. No need for talk like that.” He knew Boris was a madman, a wacko. His handlers had told him to be careful. Money had been the motivator and he knew he could take good care of himself. His reputation spoke for him. He had no idea who his bosses were and he knew little about the Russian scientist. Rumor suggested he’d long been a mortal enemy of the United States and other stories suggested he was a murderer. Snake didn’t want to push the point. He picked up the container of fluid and placed it in front of him, his face a mask of evil.
“You know what, Boris old man, I’m thinking we can wipe out an army… or at least a police force with this stuff. Whaddaya think?” He gave him a half smile.
Boris stared at him, his cold gray eyes, bony face and crushed skull glistened in the light from the barred windows. His eyes roamed the room to the large aquarium that housed all kinds of prickly fish and marine life. The huge tank glowed eerily in the fading light. Boris stared at his fish fondly, gave Snake a strange look and said in a quiet voice, “Of course we can. I already said that. What do you think the plan is?”
“Dottie, where did you get that marvelous Italian leather bag? I’d die for one like that,” Camilla Rothrock gushed in her drawn out Alabama accent. “I’ve just gotta have one.”
Dottie held up her newest leather pocketbook so all of her best friends could ooh and ah over it. “I had it made especially for me in Italy,” she bragged. The bag was beautiful, soft and buttery between her fingers. “I love it. It has a special gun pocket stitched in so I can carry my Glock,” she said proudly as she pulled her holstered gun out of her purse and swiftly returned it before anyone noticed.
Margaret Massie glared from across the table. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Dottie! Give it a rest! Whatever do you need to carry a gun around for? We’re a bunch of old women. No one is gonna mess with us,” she admonished as she rolled her eyes and batted her false eyelashes at her best friend of many years. “We’re hardly ever left on our own.”
“Margaret Massie, how can you possibly be so short-sighted?” The Countess Dorothy Borghase exclaimed, disgust obvious on her aging, but still lovely face. She flipped her head and a long piece of silver-white hair escaped from her elegant chignon. “After all you’ve been through?” She stared at her friend in disbelief and continued, “That’s precisely the reason we need to pack some heat. Because we are old, weak, and can’t run as fast. We’re sitting ducks for most of the bad guys out there.”
Margaret squinted her eyes and frowned at her. “Pack some heat? Really? You sound like you’re in a…” Margaret paused for a moment and looked at her friends, “what do they call it, a gang? What is it? Gangsta talk, or however you say it?” she added sarcastically. The wife of one of the wealthiest men in Virginia and a blueblood from birth, Margaret didn’t know much about gangs or crime. “But still, Dottie…, a handmade purse… from Italy, nonetheless, especially designed for your gun? Puh-leeze. That’s ridiculous, a bit over-the-top, wouldn’t you agree, Kathryn?” Margaret asked as she glanced over at Kathryn Lee who watched her friends with an amused look on her face.
Kathryn Lee of Wyndley Farm in Hanover County laughed, her blue eyes crinkling in the corners as she smiled over her water goblet at her friends of many years. Kathryn was the wife of law and order politician Adam Patrick Lee of Virginia and she clearly had an opinion. She was an excellent target shooter and could shoot better than most men. She opened her mouth to respond when Dottie interrupted her.
Dottie rearranged one of the intricate wire combs holding her classic updo in place. Her silver hair gleamed under the brass and crystal chandelier in the elegant restaurant at Richmond’s historical Hotel Madison. “I didn’t design it just for my gun,” she said defensively. “I designed it for my cell phone, my makeup, for the color of the leather, the intricate stitching, the design, and beyond that, the label,” she replied in a snarky voice. Dottie paused for a moment and added, “Besides Vitrio Lanbrucci has been designing fine leather for the Borghase family for over a hundred years.”
Margaret rolled her eyes and turned to Kathryn. “So, Kathryn, what do you think? I know you’d tried to answer my question a few minutes ago,” she said pointedly as she turned to stare at Dottie, “but the countess forgot her manners. Don’t you think Dottie’s gun purse is a little over the top?” she asked, a smirk on her face.
Kathryn opened her mouth to answer when Dottie interrupted again, her vivid blue eyes wide with concern. She stared at Camilla who looked strange, frightened, actually. Her pupils were wide and she seemed unable to speak.
“Camilla, whatever is the matter with you? Your face is flushed and your eyes are enormous. Are you ill?” Dottie asked as she rose from her seat.
Kathryn was alarmed as well since Camilla was unable to respond. Her eyes stared wildly at them and she opened her mouth, but no words came out. Suddenly, she fell forward, and her head lolled on the table.
“Kathryn, call 911 on your phone. She must’ve had a stroke or something,” Dottie commanded as her heart raced with fear. It could be my head lying on the table and not Camilla’s. Life seemed very precious to Dottie at that second. I sure don’t wanna die in Lamaire Restaurant in the Hotel Madison. What a spectacle that would be! Of course, she knew Camilla didn’t want to die there either. As she stood by her friend, tears popped into her eyes. I’ll have to call General Rothrock and tell him something dreadful has happened to his mother.
Kathryn flagged a waiter, moved closer to Camilla’s chair and checked her pulse. She could barely feel it; it was weak and irregular. Kathryn looked into Camilla’s eyes. Her pupils were large pools of fluid. Her face was flushed and red.
A moment later, a young waitress carrying a serving tray staggered forward and fell to the floor, spilling food, water and wine on the oriental carpet. She lay prone and unresponsive.
“Make that two ambulances,” Dottie motioned to the maître d’ who was on his way over.
“What’s wrong with this young woman?” the emergency medical technician student asked the paramedic working with her. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she added as she stared at the unconscious young waitress. The patient’s face was bright red in color and her heart rate was over 150 beats per minute. Her mouth and lips were dry and her pupils were fixed and dilated. “She looks like she’s gonna die or something. Is she?” Fear etched the student’s face.
The paramedic scratched his head. “Don’t know, but she can’t feel anything. I think she’s paralyzed. Watch this,” he said as he scratched a pin across the waitress’s foot. “See, she has no response so she must have some kind of paralysis,” he added.
The student gawked and nodded. “Yeah, if you ran that pin across my foot, I’d be kicking you by now. But, what’s wrong? Look at her pupils. They’re huge, and they don’t react to light,” the student said as she used her penlight to check the young woman’s pupil response. “I thought that meant brain injury or something.”
The paramedic shined his penlight into the girls eyes, “Yeah, they are. She’s must have some neurological involvement. The restaurant staff said she’d had a massive seizure so that could have caused some brain damage. What did the maître d’ tell you?”
“He said she lost her balance and fell carrying a tray loaded with food. That’s about it,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.
“If that’s the case, she must have hit her head on the floor. What’s our ETA?” the paramedic asked the driver.
“We’re five minutes out,” the driver said. “Here, talk to the emergency doctor. He’s on the line now,” he said as he passed the phone back to the paramedic.
“How is she, how’s Camilla doing? Is she better?” Margaret wailed into her cell phone. Do they know what’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know, Margaret. Now, will you stop calling me so I can talk with the doctor?” Dottie snapped, her patience at the breaking point. “Do not call me again and tie up my phone. I’m trying to reach Michaela,” she hissed into the phone.
“Humph. Now, Dottie, don’t get all ‘countess’ with me. I know that frosty, hoity toity, aristocratic voice. It won’t work,” Margaret declared. “Just don’t even try it.”
Dottie gritted her teeth and pressed the red disconnect button on her iPhone. She looked over at Kathryn and moaned, “She’s driving me nuts. I’m glad she didn’t come with us to the hospital, aren’t you?”
Kathryn patted Dottie on the shoulder. They’d been friends for years. “Well,” she said slowly, “it probably is making you crazy. She’s still excitable and has been since all that happened to Allison. It was a good decision not to bring her,” she commented as she looked at Dottie. Dottie’s face was flushed. Kathryn’s heart flip-flopped. “Are you feeling okay, Dottie? I don’t want anything to happen to you,” Kathryn added as she surveyed her friend critically.
Dottie sat on one of the couches in the Medical College of Virginia’s emergency room waiting area. She fingered the soft, buttery feel of her new leather purse. The bulk of her gun comforted her. She reached inside and touched the cool metal. She felt her heart slow down. She didn’t like it when it felt like her heart would jump out of her chest.
“Yes, sure, I’m fine. Just a little excited, that’s all. I want to find Michaela. She’s been out of town, but she’s due back this afternoon.” She smiled broadly, “It’s Tuesday and she’s never gone longer than three or four days. She never misses going to Biddy’s for more’n four nights. Besides, tonight is police night and all the cops will be there for reduced-priced Guinness. Especially, the Irish ones,” she added with a smile.
Kathryn laughed. “Well, good for them. They need it based on what they do. It’s a great restaurant, great décor, and great food. Adam and I had dinner there a couple of weeks ago. We were in Richmond on a Thursday evening. I had the Shepherd’s pie and it was the best I’ve ever eaten,” Kathryn added. “We’re taking some friends there soon.”
Dottie smiled, “Great. I’ll tell Mic. How is the congressman?” Dottie had a secret crush on Congressman Adam Patrick Lee, the senior legislator from Virginia. She liked his looks and his sense of humor. She always had a grand time when he was around. But she knew that Adam only had eyes for his “bride” of fifty years.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Same as always. Works all the time. In D.C. half of the time. Hasn’t slowed up a bit… although, I do see he manages to be at home more now that Alex is around,” she added with a broad smile. “That man does love his granddaughter.”
Dottie nodded. “I’m sure. I’m delighted that Michaela and Alex have become friends.”
“Me too,” Kathryn agreed. “They’re good for each other. Both are single, accomplished, beautiful and perhaps a little too daring,” she said with a smile. Kathryn was proud of her granddaughter, Alexandra Destephano, who was currently in Virginia on leave from her job as an attorney for Crescent City Medical Center in New Orleans. “Oh, look, Dottie. Here comes the doctor.” The two older women clasped each other’s hand and stood up.
“He looks grim,” Dottie said in a low voice, almost a whisper. “I don’t see a smile hiding anywhere on his face. I hope he doesn’t have bad news.”
The two old friends tightened their grip on each other as they watched the young physician’s long strides as he moved quickly to them.
The young man smiled with his eyes. “Are you here for Mrs. Camilla Rothrock?” he asked as he looked at the two older, fashionably dressed women over his half glasses, his gray eyes filled with concern.
“Yes, yes, we are,” Dottie said fearing the worst. “I’m Countess Dorothy Borghase and this is Mrs. Kathryn Lee. Camilla is our close friend.”
“How is she?” Kathryn interrupted.
The emergency room physician looked grave. “I’m Dr. Spencer. I’m one of the ED doctors here at MCVH.”
“How is our friend?” Dottie asked in a brusque voice. She didn’t give a damn what his name was. She wanted information.
Dr. Spencer shook his head slightly. “Not well. I’m afraid she’s very ill. She’s suffered a heart attack and she’s not conscious. She was confused when she came in but gradually became lethargic and slipped into unconsciousness,” he said as he surveyed the women who were definitely part of Richmond’s aristocratic, blueblood society.
“Whatever do you mean?” Dottie asked angrily. “You slip on the floor and fall down. How on earth do you ‘slip’ into unconsciousness?”
Kathryn placed her hand over Dottie’s well-manicured nails to quiet her. She knew Dottie Borghase well enough to know she was a nano-second away from adopting her hoity-toity countess voice and that would get them nowhere. At least nowhere in the United States and most likely nowhere anywhere else in the world. "You'll have to excuse my friend. She's quite upset," Kathryn admitted to the emergency room doctor. "Can you tell us what happened to her so that we can understand?"
The physician examined the two women over his glasses, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Frankly, we don't know."
Kathryn felt Dottie bristle next to her as she said, "Surely, you have some idea?" What’s wrong with this man? Is he an idiot? Medical College of Virginia usually had great emergency doctors.
Dr. Spencer ignored the sarcasm in Dottie’s voice. "Can you ladies tell me exactly what happened? I understand you were out having lunch, correct?"
Dottie nodded, "Yes, we were eating at the Hotel Madison. Camilla was fine and contributing to the conversation. In my opinion she was having fun," she said as she glanced over at Kathryn for affirmation.
Kathryn nodded. "I agree. Camilla was just fine. There was nothing wrong with her at all. But suddenly, I looked over at her and her pupils were wide and she had a flush on her face and she couldn't answer my question. She tried to talk, but she couldn’t. We kept asking her what was wrong and she wasn't able to talk with us."
Dottie noticed the furrow deepen on the physician’s face.
“Then she fell over on the table and we called 911,” Kathryn finished.
"So," Dottie began again as she attempted to hold her temper in check. "Now, what do you think happened to her? Why’s she so sick?" Dottie's ice blue eyes flashed her impatience, as her aristocratic heritage demanded an answer. She impatiently smoothed her updo with her hand and rearranged a comb to make sure she looked perfect, or as perfect as she could for someone eighty-two years of age.
The physician shrugged his shoulders and said, "Ladies, I don't know. She’s had a rather severe heart attack. There's no question about that. We've done a panel of blood work and so far, nothing seems unusual based on her age and state of health. We've sent other samples away for further testing."
“Was she poisoned?” Dottie asked abruptly.
Dr. Spencer raised his eyebrows, “I don’t know. We’re considering that. Do you think she was?”
“I don’t know. You’re the doctor,” Dottie responded flippantly, a hint of anger in her voice.
“But why would you ask such a question?” the physician asked as he stared at Dottie. "What did she have for lunch? Did she say anything about her lunch? Maybe it tasted bad or something?"
Kathryn shook her head. "No. She had the Chesapeake crab cake sandwich with fresh fruit and coleslaw and she said she loved it. I had the same thing and it tasted fine."
The doctor turned his attention to Kathryn. "So you feel absolutely fine, correct?"
"I feel great. There's absolutely nothing wrong with me. I promise you. And the lunch was good, very good in fact."
The physician nodded. “Good.”
"So when will you get the results of the blood work?" Kathryn asked.
"I'm not sure to be honest. Hopefully by this evening. We put a rush on it. And shortly, we'll move her to the critical care unit so she can be constantly monitored."
"She'll make it, won't she? Dottie asked, her eyes brimming with tears, as her anger dissipated. Dottie looked at Kathryn and Kathryn saw fear in her eyes.
Dr. Spencer locked eyes with the Dottie and said, "I honestly don't know. She’s critically ill. She has other medical issues that aren't working in her favor and by that I mean her heart and vascular disease."
"But," Dottie began, as she looked over at Kathryn for support.
The doctor checked his iPhone and said, "I've got to go. Does Mrs. Rothrock have any relatives close by?"
Dottie shook her head and said, "No. Her son is a retired army general and he lives in Florida. Does he need to come up here?" she asked, as a shadow passed over her face.
The physician nodded, "I think that's the best thing. She's quite ill. Here’s my phone number. Please have him call me ASAP."
"Should we stay here?” Kathryn asked him. “Or do you think we would just be taking up space in the waiting room?"
Dr. Spencer shook his head. "Honestly, there's nothing you can do here. We’ll move her shortly to the ICU and you can call the nurse caring for her directly for updated reports. I think it's best if you leave and go somewhere more comfortable but that's up to you," he offered.
"Please, please take care of our friend, Doctor. We’ve been friends for sixty years and there's just a few of us left," Dottie said. “Camilla’s in great shape, she’s a triathlete.
Dr. Spencer nodded. "I promise I will. Take care of yourselves, ladies. The best thing you can do is be strong and healthy for your friend," he said as he headed back to the patient care area.
Kathryn and Dottie sat on the hard plastic chairs, each caught in their own thoughts. Finally, Kathryn broke the silence and said, "I wonder what happened to the waitress who passed out there as well?"
Dottie shook her head. "I don't know. I intend to find out. Something here’s just not right."
Kathryn nodded and stood, "I think you're on to something, Dottie. Let's go."
"I'm calling Mic as soon as I get in the car. We'll get to the bottom of this nonsense," she declared, as she stuck her nose up and assumed her countess ramrod posture.
Kathryn gave her a bright smile and said, "Let's have at it." She smiled to herself. There was no one in her world like the Countess Dorothy Borghase. She was sure of that.
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