AN EXCERPT FROM THE GEM CONNECTION

A sapphire Jaguar XJS convertible cruised onto the circular driveway of a Mediterranean-styled, Southwest Hills mansion with all the stealth and agility of its namesake, its headlights beaconed through light rain and descending fog. Water beads reflected like liquid diamonds upon its shimmering shell. Maneuvering around the concrete fountain, it whispered past a blind statue of Apollo, banking smoothly toward six connected garages east of the mansion. Clinton Windell pressed his fat thumb on the wide red button of his electric garage door opener. The Jag coasted into a well-lit space, wide enough for two of its kind. The garage door automatically closed. Minus the whispering engine, the garage was as quiet as a tomb.
     Windell grabbed his alligator briefcase, calfskin gem bag, and Baitz doll out of the trunk. To his left was the Bentley Sedan. To his right were the 1965 Alvis TE21 saloon, 1952 Lambert Simplicia, and 1924 Dagmar petite sedan. The missing Ford Explorer meant Genevieve was not home. He would tell his wife his great news as soon as she returned.
     Windell walked down the corridor that connected the garage to his mansion. Motion sensors turned lights on and off as he entered and exited their detection fields. The walk gave him a chance to reflect on his good fortune. It had been a glorious day. Amsterdam was his coup de main. When he told the Bellingham Jewelers board he would personally handle the next major purchase, his enemies had been delighted. Those who called for his head had falsely wished him well with energetic handshakes and cynical smiles. His friends counseled against such a plan in light of mounting dissatisfaction amongst board members who wanted him ousted.
     Clinton showed them he was still on top of his game. Delivering twenty million dollars of first-rate gemstones, once cut, polished and set into precious metals would be worth twenty times as much.
     The mutinous board members who blamed Clinton Windell for dwindling sales of the largest fine jewelry chain in the northwest would be shamed into silence. Even Andrea Bettencourt, who wanted his CEO spot bad enough to kill for it, would not have sufficient votes to unseat him. Delaying his overthrow would buy him enough time to complete his plan. After which, Andrea Bettencourt could have his seat with his blessings.
     Clinton was dismayed upon entering the kitchen, and then irritated that his butler, Edward, was not there to greet him. Through the kitchen, dining room and living room he walked with a confidence many correctly perceived as arrogance. A tailored Armani suit gave his thick, tall body elegance he could achieve in no other way. When it became apparent his butler was missing, Clinton resolved he would fire Edward for leaving his daughter alone.
     Second door to his left at the top of the carpeted stairs was his daughter’s bedroom. The master bedroom he shared with his wife was next door.
     Clinton set his gem bag alongside his briefcase outside the master bedroom door. He heard familiar voices coming from his daughter’s room. He crept up to his daughter’s bedroom door holding the Baitz doll behind his back. When he looked in on Pamela, she was asleep in her Pocahontas pajamas curled up with Soochow, a doll Clinton had brought back for her from Canton. The Wizard of Oz was on the TV screen watching Pamela. Dorothy had accidentally doused the wicked witch of the west with water.
     “Aaaeee! You cursed brat!” the wicked witch screamed. “Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh what a world. Who would’ve thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?” Clinton watched the witch melt like hot candle wax until all that remained was her black dress, black cape and pointed black hat heaped amongst hissing steam.
     Clinton placed the Baitz doll on Pamela’s dresser. He stopped the DVD and turned off the entertainment system. Gently, Clinton lifted Pamela from her bed. His six-year old daughter was as light as a bag of cotton in his hands. In the cradle of his arms, Pamela stirred briefly. Clinton threw back her Cinderella bedspread and tucked her in. “Sweet dreams, precious,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. He positioned the Baitz doll on the dresser so Pamela would see it when she awoke, turned off her lamps, and softly closed the door behind him. 
     When Windell switched on the master bedroom ceiling light, he noticed his wall safe was open. Two steps later, he felt a dull pain near the base of his skull. Dazed, Windell fell to his knees. The second blow propelled him into darkness.
     A man wearing a Woodstock II T-shirt, blue jeans, tie-dyed ski mask, black leather jacket, gloves and dusty Doc Martens closed the door. Another dressed in crisp military green, polished combat boots, black ski mask, and black leather gloves put away his blackjack and checked Windell’s pulse. The assailants stared at each other. Their identical clear blue eyes met. They smiled identical smiles. Woodstock checked the gem bag. Military knelt by the unconscious body. A nod from Woodstock made them smile again. Military turned Windell over. Each man grabbed Windell under an arm and sat him upright on his bed. Clinton looked as if he had fallen asleep reading a newspaper or viewing television.
     From customized blue leather cutaway holsters hidden beneath their jackets, the two men detached silver forty-four Smith & Wessons fitted with silencers. Military squeezed off a shot. The forty-four spit a bullet that ripped through Windell’s left temple, obliterating the right side of his face. Woodstock followed with one through the heart.
     They holstered their weapons assessing their gruesome work. Side by side with calm fascination, they regarded the speckles and rivulets of lambent blood, splattered flesh and splintered bones juxtaposed against that, which remained whole of Clinton Windell. Woodstock whispered into Military’s ear, “While life often imitates art, death is an original masterpiece.” Military grinned and nodded. Each man grabbed an arm and crossed it over the now crimson torso of the deceased. With a thumb’s up, they agreed, their masterpiece was complete.
     Woodstock closed the wall safe. Military picked up the gem bag. Woodstock switched off the light and closed the door behind them.


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CHAPTER ONE