BEGINNER'S LUCK
In Runner’s High, an attractive trophy wife, Nikki
Sills, plunges to her death from an Atlanta skyrise
during the annual Peachtree Road Race.Was it an
accident, a suicide, or a murder? Her husband,
Mark Sills, seems content to accept two million
dollars in insurance and move on with his life.
Insurance investigator, Paul Grey, soon discovers
Mark Sills wasn’t the perfect husband or the hard-
working stock broker he made himself out to be.
Mark Sills’ involvement in money laundering, loan
sharking, and the mob put him neck deep in trouble
and his gambling left him over his head in debt. And
Mark’s wild undertakings weren’t confined to money
only. Were some dangerous friends trying to send
him a message by tossing his wife over the railing?  
Did one of his lovers murder Nikki out of jealousy?
Did Mark kill her for the money?

As Paul searches for the answers to these puzzling
questions, the dead bodies continue to pile up.
Clearly, he must find the killer soon, because the
deeper Paul digs, the more likely it is he’s digging
his own grave.
Paul Grey doesn’t know much about art, politics, or
detective work for that matter, but he’s about to get
a crash course in all three after Senator Allan
Puckett dispatches his blackmailer to the hereafter
then turns the weapon on himself. At least that’s the
way the cops say it went down. Paul must follow a
trail of fraud, treachery, and corruption to locate the
single clue that will reveal instead a double murder.
His suspects are the arrogant, delusional,
manipulative, and sometimes homicidal players that
inhabit the political and artistic circles of Atlanta.
Using his smarts, occasional brawn, and a whole lot
of beginner’s luck, Paul tackles the case. From
shooting ranges to golf ranges, Paul pounds the
pavement in search of an unlikely assassin. Will he
expose a double murderer? Or will this, his first
case, be his last?
PROLOGUE

Wilma Fleming's eyes flew open; she thought she had
heard a noise, something like a tire blow-out. She lay still in
the bed, not moving, not breathing, just listening. She lay
there thinking perhaps she had imagined it or dreamed it.
She lifted her head slightly to look at the clock. Without her
glasses, she found the hands hard to read, but she thought
it was about 2:00 A.M. She let her head fall back into the
soft, down pillow and almost drifted back off to sleep, but
she heard the noise again, a loud popping noise. She
quickly sat upright, swinging her feet out of the bed. It was
her moral, if not civic duty, to make sure everyone and
everything was all right. There wouldn't be too much to
check she thought as she donned her robe and slippers.
She had only one neighbor; the rest of the houses in the
area had gone commercial. Before she even reached the
window, she heard tires
squealing out of the driveway next door.
If she'd had Mr. Meeker's phone number, she would have
called him to make sure he was all right, but she didn't have
a number for him. She barely knew Mr. Meeker or anything
about him, only that he was a bachelor. Still, determined to
check on his well-being, she turned on the outside lights
and carefully went out the kitchen door, which took her to a
window of his antique gallery. A dim light was on inside.
Leaning across the shrubbery and rapping gently on the
glass, she called out, "Oh, Mr. Meeker, I'm sorry to disturb
you, but are you all right?"
No reply. She tapped louder and repeated her query. Still no
response. She maneuvered herself into the shrubbery so
she could look through the window, using her hands
cupped around her eyes to cut out the glare.
Ralph Meeker lay sprawled on the floor a few feet from his
office door. She could see his figure plainly. She wondered
what had happened to him, but judging from the hole in his
head, she knew he was dead.

CHAPTER 1                  
                        
I don't remember the thirty-minute drive at all. My eyelids
heavy, my thoughts sleepy, my mind switched to autopilot,
and in what seemed like moments, without remembering
how I got there, I was at home. The familiar sound of the
pavement crunching under the tires, a welcoming sensation,
I parked in the driveway. As I got out and stretched my six-
foot-three frame, I looked toward our bedroom window.
Feeling deep into my pant's pocket, I fiddled with the silver
thimble inside. It was a gift for my wife, Lindsey; she was
just about the only thing I'd done right in my life. I sighed
deeply into the damp July night. I glanced back at the
window, where everything looked normal. All the lights were
out, yet, not knowing why, a wave of anxiety washed over
me. I quickly unloaded my carry-on bags.
Hurrying up the sidewalk, I anticipated that wonderful feeling
I get when I step inside my house after a trip. Door unlocked
swiftly, I swung it open with my free hand and took in a deep
breath. I released it in a burst as Lindsey rushed to me and
grabbed my arm.
My heart leapt. "What are you doing up?"
I'd been traveling for years, and Lindsey never waited up for
me when I was this late. I knew immediately, before I'd even
finished posing the question, something was wrong. Was
she hurt? Did someone die? Did she want a divorce?
"Don't they have phones at your job site?" she asked,
pulling me down the darkened hallway to the living room.
"Were there no phones at the airport? You didn't call me."
"What is it? What's wrong?" I asked, panic growing at the
sight of tears on her face.
"It—it's Allan." Her body shook as she spoke.
I pulled away and held her arms down by her sides,
searched her eyes. Puffy-faced with splotchy red cheeks,
she had been crying a long time.
"Allan? What about him? Did he hurt you? Did you get in an
argument?"
"No, no." She shook her head. "Dead, suicide."
"What?" I dropped my hold on her. I'd seen Allan the night
before I left for my trip, alive and well. There had to be a
mistake. I needed to sit down, close my eyes, stop thinking
for a minute.
"It was in the paper today. I've been trying to reach you. I
called your office. Didn't they page you?" Lindsey handed
over the local news section.
"No," I answered dumbly. I swept away a pile of Kleenex
tissues so I could sit down to look at the article, but the
letters were not forming into words for me. Lindsey paced
back and forth, rambling on as I struggled to read the paper.
"They say he killed someone, some antique dealer. They
say he killed this man and then himself," she explained.
"They?"
"They—the police, the news—they say it." She pulled a fresh
tissue to wring in her hands.
"When? How? I mean, good God, why?"
"Yesterday," she wailed. "They said he killed the guy two
nights ago and then himself yesterday morning."
"But why? Why would Allan kill someone? He was a good
person, liked by everyone. He didn't have any enemies, did
he?"
"Well, no. Not that I know of." The tissue was tightly wadded
now.
"You're like his daughter. You should know. Give me that," I
removed the tissue from her clenched fist and holding her
hands pulled her down to sit on the sofa.
"No, no enemies. I mean he is, was a Senator. Maybe
political enemies," she shrugged.
"Who was the guy? Did you know him?"
"An antique shopkeeper. I didn't know him."
The eleven o'clock news was on its late-night repeat. Allan
was their main story. "Senator Murder-Suicide." I became
mesmerized by the upbeat newsanchor reporting the case.
"Allan Puckett, Atlanta's fortieth-district veteran Senator has
been implicated in what is now classified by police as a
murder-suicide. The Senator allegedly shot and killed art
dealer, Ralph Johnson Meeker, early Tuesday morning
before returning to his home and taking his own life. The
police, tight-lipped about the case, have given no comment
regarding motive or evidence.  We go now to Rebecca
Bartles at the police station downtown—"
"Ralph Meeker?!" I repeated in shock and amazement as
the story continued.
"Yeah, why? Did you know him?" she asked, brows
furrowed.
"I met Ralph Meeker only about a week ago on a late flight to
Dallas."

CHAPTER 2

Ralph Meeker had been on the same late flight to Dallas/Ft.
Worth from Atlanta as I was; I being on my way to the
outlying city of Plano for several days of business work.
Observing Mr. Meeker from across the aisle at 34,000 feet, I
didn't like him from first sight. He was short and overweight
and wore an expensive suit and lots of gold decorations that
I would hardly call jewelry.
His nose was red and puffy, aggravated by the altitude
change, so he sniffled constantly as he spoke with the
woman beside him about teakwood dressers. He knew
altogether too much about teakwood dressers, and his
victim was visibly distressed with her predicament. Finally,
when there was a lull in the conversation, the woman
decided to take a nap. He turned in search of another soul
to speak with.
To avoid attracting his attention, I averted my eyes from him
and back to the persons in my own aisle. The young girl
next to me was playing solitaire, while the gentleman on the
other side of her, presumably her father, read the stock
exchange. He grumbled something unintelligible, obviously
frustrated he stuffed the pages into a briefcase and was
coaxed by the young girl into a
game of cards.
My gaze was startled upwards as the person in front of me
turned around, knees in the seat, and extended his right
hand.
"I'm Ralph Meeker," he said.
"Paul Grey," I said, as I reached to shake his hand.
He gave it a quick jerk, a power shake. He had changed
seats mid-flight in an attempt to find someone to converse
with.
"You're the teakwood dresser fellow," I said somewhat
sarcastically. "I couldn't help but overhear."
I hoped my tone would deter him, but he persisted.
"Arts and Antiquities, to be precise," he sniffled proudly. "I
own an art gallery in Atlanta. I do a little bit of everything—
furniture, stained glass, classic artworks, even pottery and
African pieces. I can get practically anything anyone wants,
for a price."
"Do you always use your sales pitch on strangers in
airplanes?"
"Well, no." He paused to sniff again. "But I never know
where I'll find business, so I try to mention it in conversation
whenever possible."
He handed me a business card.
"I see. I'll certainly call you if I ever need any art or—," I
glanced at the card, "or antiquities."
Sensing that our conversation was over, Mr. Meeker went on
in search of more business contacts. I stuffed the unwanted
card in the ashtray and thought nothing more of it.
However, my path collided with Ralph Meeker again on the
return trip, a strange coincidence.
PROLOGUE

Davy Kimble couldn’t understand why some people chose
to run the six miles of the Peachtree Road Race as a way of
celebrating the fourth of July. Running for fun never made
sense to him. He had done too much running in boot camp
to want to do it for sport. And running in this heat—it was so
damn hot, even for July. Davy shifted, uncomfortable in his
uniform as droplets of sweat trickled down his neck. No
sprinklers running this year, at least not at his post in front
of Colony Square. A little cool mist every now and then
would’ve been nice. He pulled at his collar.
  Watching the tens of thousands of runners go by made
him feel nauseated—so many, so close together, heads
bobbing up and down like waves. Queasy, he had to turn
away. Across the road an apartment complex towered. Davy
squinted and looked up. Someone above had taken it upon
themselves to provide motivational music for the racers. He
caught a reflection of a chopper in the green glass of a
nearby skyscraper. Over the roar of the crowd, the runners,
and the boom box, he could hear the thumping of helicopter
blades cutting the air. A police chopper hovered, as if time
stood still.
  A small boy dressed in red and white patriotic garb tugged
gently at Davy’s sleeve, wanting a photo. Davy shot him a
gruff look that said no.
  “Well, you shit,” he silently cursed himself. “You don’t have
to ruin other people’s fun.”
  He softened his look, shrugged at the boy, and then
smiled. At least it’s a break. He took the boy’s hand. As he
knelt down to be photographed by the boy’s mother, he
glanced up one more time into some glare off the
apartments. The boy waved his tiny flag, the camera
whirred, and over the mother’s shoulder Davy saw a large
object, a person, fall behind the fence and trees of the
Magnolia Apartments. A person? he thought, shaking his
head.  It couldn’t be. Piercing screams and shrieks rang
out, followed by children’s cries.
  A few people fled the scene, but a growing herd of
spectators gathered quickly at the spot, pulling in more and
more people from up the street and even some of the
runners. At the same time, word of what happened spread
out away from the scene like a stone’s ripples in a pool of
water. A senior police officer on the other side called for
Davy to assist him. Davy left his post, leaving the barricades
unguarded. Naturally, the audience on his side pushed in,
following him. The race was at a stand-still. Davy looked up
through the mass of people at the balconies above.
Spectators stared down in horror at something he hadn’t
seen yet, something up ahead. He radioed to the top of the
hill to stop the race and barricade the road since hundreds,
maybe thousands, still raced forward.
  “Police, coming through!” He pushed his way in, pausing
to set up barricades with another officer.
  Although he knew what it would be, he wasn’t prepared for
what he saw. A body heaped up on the pavement. The arms
and legs twisted and contorted and barely recognizable as
such. Silvery pants and white shirt contrasted sharply with
the burgundy pool of blood beneath the body. Parts, he didn’
t know what, had escaped the woman’s abdomen. At least
he thought it was a woman with bloody, blonde hair.
  “She’s not alive, is she?” Davy asked, unable to look away,
until his stomach swirled and his gag reflex tightened up.
  “No,” the officer replied. “Now help me keep this crowd
back.”
  With the assistance of a third officer, the three men used
the race barricades to block off the scene. An ambulance
had been stationed nearby for heat-exhausted runners. The
viewers parted to let the ambulance in, flowing back in
behind. The EMT’s jumped out, but merely shook their
heads; nothing could be done.
  “We’ll have to take the body to the hospital to be
pronounced dead,” the EMT commented.
  “I’ll go,” Davy volunteered.
  “Can’t go yet,” another officer replied. “We have to wait for
the detectives before we move the body.”
  “Until then, don’t let anyone touch anything,” the senior
officer said. “We need to write down everything we’ve seen
and done. We need to isolate the best witnesses and start
getting statements.”
  Davy turned on his heel and looked around. There were
hundreds of people—-all witnesses. “You’re kidding, right?”
He felt the heat at his neck multiply.
  A runner burst through the crowd.  His voice trembled. “I
heard about the fall. I live in this building. I think from the
description I heard in the crowd, I might know her. Let me
see; let me see.”
  Davy allowed him through the first set of barricades.
  When the man reached the crime scene barricade, he
dropped to his knees and held the bars, looking through
them. “Oh, God,” he cried.
  “Do you know this woman?” Davy approached.
  The man nodded. “She’s my wife.”
EXCERPT (not sequential to scene above)

  I was off to see Betsie Jordan, my contact at the medical
examiner’s office. She and my wife, Lindsey, were good
friends and would have lunch together every other week or
so. Lindsey tried to keep me updated on her current look so
I wouldn’t be shocked each time I saw her. Betsie liked to
change her appearance frequently and some of her
attempts were outlandishly funny. The last time I’d seen her
was a little over two months ago so I was prepared for
anything. The only sure way to know I was in the right place
was the glow of her peach colored walls and
overabundance of plants in her office.
  This time her hair was braided in tiny rows. She had
startling green contact lens to mask her deep brown eyes.
Her skin was the same dark cinnamon color as before.
  “Betsie?” I asked with some hesitation.
  “Yes?” She looked up to see who the visitor was.
  “It’s me, Paul Grey.” I reached to shake her hand.
  “Oh, yes. I knew it was you, or else a dead ringer.” She
laughed at her own joke.
  Medical examiners seem to have their own brand of
humor. It comes from spending so much time with dead
bodies. On her desk were some particularly gruesome
photos of a man split open from neck to hips on the autopsy
table.
  Seeing the look on my face, she quickly covered them.
“Sorry. I see it every day and I’m totally desensitized, well
usually anyhow. What brings you here? Another insurance
claim?”
  “Yes, the woman who fell from her apartment on the fourth
of July, Nikki Sills.”
  “Oh, yeah. Not my case, but let me see if I can find the file.”
She stepped around her desk to the door. “I’ll be back in a
sec. Make yourself comfortable.”
  How comfy can you get in a building full of dead bodies?
Sitting alone in her office reminded me of movies like Night
of the Living Dead. You wouldn’t find me around a place like
this after dark, even though her office was bright and cheery.
  Betsie returned in a few moments with the file.
  “Let’s see, as with all accidental deaths and suicides, we
did a complete medicolegal autopsy.” She thumbed through
it. “Nothing much to say on this one. Nikki Sills—no alcohol,
no illicit drugs, no signs of a struggle.”
  “They scraped under her nails?” I asked.
  “Yes; no tissue from any assailant was found. No unusual
bruises or scratches either, from what we could tell.”
  “What do you mean?”
  “You see, the body was in terrible shape. She was almost
completely unrecognizable. We identified her from
fingerprints and dental records.”
  “How did the husband know it was her? Didn’t he identify
her?”
  “Yes, by her clothing, but we went a step further.”
  “What about toxicology?” I asked. “You said there was
nothing in her system?”
  “A minute amount of Antivert, a prescription drug. Nothing
else.”
  “What is Antivert a prescription for?” I noted down the drug
name.
  “Various things like nausea, motion sickness, dizziness,
vertigo.”
  A visit to the doctor was definitely in order.
  “The official cause of death?” I inquired.
  “Broken neck.” Betsie pulled out an x-ray and pointed.
“See, the fall snapped her neck. She also broke fifteen
major bones, too many small ones to count, and ruptured
several internal organs.”
  I wrote down all the information.
  “Of course,” Betsie added, “she would have died even
without the broken neck.”
  “What was the manner of death? Has it been ruled an
accident?” I asked.
  Betsie nodded and pursed her lips sourly.
  “It couldn’t have been a suicide?” I sensed she disagreed
with the ruling.
  “Not in my estimation.” Betsie frowned as she thought.
“She didn’t land feet first the way most jumpers do. A
suicide is usually a controlled fall and can be survived even
from heights of 100 feet. She was in an uncontrolled fall,
like when you slip.”
  “She was caught off guard, so she landed awkwardly.” I
leaned forward.
  “Exactly.”
  I absorbed this information and its ramifications for a
moment. “An uncontrolled fall could be the result of either
slipping or a push. Which do you think made her fall?”
  Betsie shrugged. “It wasn’t my exam. The police will be a
better source since they had a detective present at autopsy.
Evidently the woman was standing on a chair and it shifted
out from under her. The examiner lists the manner of death
as accidental.”
  “You don’t agree?” I asked.
  “It’s not my place to disagree with the other medical staff
on my team.” She avoided an answer. “I wasn’t in the
autopsy room. I don’t know what information the detective
had.”
  “You don’t agree.” I sat back and folded my arms across
my chest. “You think it was a homicide. Tell me why.”
  Betsie got up, crossed the room, and shut the door to her
office. She leaned against the closed door and sighed. I
turned in my chair so I could face her.
  “I don’t think she would have been up on a chair. She
suffered from vertigo or dizzy spells, hence the medication
in her blood.” Betsie paused to let this sink in, then leaned
down and whispered close to my ear, “Besides, a pregnant
woman is usually more careful than that."
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RUNNER'S HIGH