The Mysterious Bookshop

Lt. Jones and the Merchants of Death


‘Mr Monk, how do you and your opponent differ on the Pavonia question?’

Several in attendance at the press conference were plants by the Monk campaign to ask softball questions so the candidate could be sure and utter his various catchphrases and keywords for the benefit of the local newscasts that night.  And Monk took full advantage.

‘My opponent, and we won’t even get into the murder charge, has followed a policy of appeasement of the Pavonian dictatorship which has failed. This country needs a much tougher line; weakness is only an invitation for the Pavonian regime to advance its own interests at the expense of ours.  I can tell you, categorically and without reservation, that my administration will give no quarter and spare no resource to contain these expansionists.  We will not tolerate dictatorships in this, or any other, hemisphere!’

Wild cheering and applause.  Lieutenant Jones watched from his position under a tree off to one side of the parking lot where a temporary stage had been erected.  He shook his head ruefully, for he had travelled enough through space and time to see the same pattern repeat itself over and over again.  All a demagogue need do is stoke fear of different peoples and convince a population that they were being threatened, and then how easy it was to increase and consolidate power!  If there was one thing the Lieutenant had learned, it was that history repeated itself and no one ever learned anything; only the methods and the weapons changed.

‘My opponent is soft on dictatorships, soft on crime, soft on the economy, and as we now know, soft on murder!’

More wild cheering and applause.  ‘You’ve all read the stories about the atrocities committed in the name of ‘security’ by the Pavonian regime. My administration will fight them in the streets, we shall fight them in the air, we shall fight them in the sky, and we shall fight them over the airwaves with the power of ideas!  Make no mistake: we will not look for a battle. But neither will we sit idly by as our world is overrun by totalitarian dictatorships!  Preparedness is the key, and on my first day in office, I shall direct Defense to gear up for a possible fight.  Never shall we be caught unawares!  Never shall we be caught without the supplies and ordnance we need to defend ourselves!  Nevermore shall feckless, weak politicians worm out of their responsibilities!’

Lt. Jones had heard enough. As he made his way to the exit, he was aware that Monk was winding up his speech, and winding up his crowd, with more of the same inflammatory rhetoric.  A self-proclaimed mover and shaker, Monk was best known as a former military officer who had parachuted into hostile territory to rescue an American held for ransom.  The fact that he had failed didn’t seem to be part of the narrative forty years later; it was enough that he had defied the enemy government, his own country, and the best advice of all the ‘experts.’  He had built on this incident to oversee a manufacturing empire, most of which was heavily mortgaged, leading some to speculate that Monk wasn’t the businessman he made himself out to be. But naturally the campaign discouraged this kind of talk.

But why was no one making the connection between Monk’s hawkish policies and the fact that a large majority of his manufacturing interests were concerned with weaponry?  It just didn’t figure.

‘So the whole country thinks I killed Mrs. Worthington-Proudfoot, for whom half the things in the state are named.  They also think I give the Pavonian government anything they want.’

‘It can’t be that bad.’  Gates had moved Abercrombie to a trusty’s cell next to his own office, to make questioning the candidate/suspect easier, and to have a buffer between themselves and reporters.

‘’Can’t be that bad?’  Did you hear that speech?  That fool Monk accused me of everything except spreading smallpox, and that’s probably next!’

‘He’s hitting heavy on Pavonia in his speeches, I hear.’

‘Yes, apparently me and Neville Chamberlain are neck-and-neck in the appeasement sweepstakes. Can’t anyone recognize sensationalistic nonsense when they see it?  Can’t anyone realize that we need a common sense approach to international relations, not more saber-rattling? No, I suppose not.’

Suddenly the two men were interrupted by a furious commotion outside the office, in the corridor.  Investigating, Gates was more surprised than hurt when he was knocked to the floor.

‘Sorry, Chief, but this….person….just wouldn’t take no for an answer.’

‘It’s all right, Kalowicz.  Back to your post.’  The visitor plucked the rose from Gates’ boutonniere, sniffed it, and gently placed it on his own lapel.  

‘What’s the big idea?  Oh, it’s you.  What do you want?’

Bennett was still admiring the flower in his jacket.  ‘It’s like pulling teeth to get in here to see you.  I had to lay one your men out cold.’

‘That’s a felony.  Anyway next time make an appointment. What do you want?’

‘We want to know when you’re going to stop treating this crook like such a hotshot and charge him with murder!  What’s the delay?’

‘Look, Bennett, you go back and tell Monk that I can do my job without his help!  Or yours, for that matter!’

‘Sorry, chief, not good enough.  We want action here!’

‘Oh, my mistake.  I thought you were just trying to boost your campaign.  I had no idea that civic-minded citizens like yourself were only interested in justice.’

‘Well, now that you know, what about some action on this?  Or do I have to go over your head?’

‘We’re still gathering evidence to find just what happened, if it’s any of your business. If there’s sufficient cause we will charge him in our own good time.  And how do you propose to go over my head when I’m the chief of police?

‘I’ll go over your head, all right--straight to the people!  I’m a taxpayer, I pay your salary and I want to see some action!’

You?  Pay taxes?  I’m glad to hear it.  And in your case, Bennett, I promise you I’m going to earn my money.  Now get out of here.’

While Bennett was headed slowly for the door, Gates whispered into his intercom that someone should contact the tax people and see if an audit into Bennett and/or Monk was feasible.

But before Bennett could leave the way he came in, the office door burst open with another detective from the Worthington-Proudfoot task force, a Sgt. Avery.

‘What is this, Union Station?  What do you want?’

‘Chief, you can’t hold Mr. Abercrombie for murder!’

‘What?  Why not?’

‘Because Mrs. Worthington-Proudfoot’s death was a suicide!’


Who will win the election?  Who will stay out of jail?  Whose reputation will emerge intact?  Stay tuned!


Meanwhile, check out some of these exciting blackmail stories:


Sidney Chambers uncovers a vicious blackmail scheme against his former curate. But that is only the tip of the iceberg!


A blackmailing private eye, a criminal library archivist, and a well-known investigative journalist make strange bedfellows as they investigate a mysterious file during the most corrupt administration in history.


This thriller from 1945 has it all: amnesia, blackmail, an escaped convict, espionage, murder, and a budding romance. So, what more do you need?

Questions/Comments/48 easy ransom payments?

Written by Ian Kern — August 15, 2016

Specializing in Mystery Fiction and all its subgenres, including Detective, Crime, Hardboiled, Thrillers, Espionage, and Suspense.

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