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Robert Brixton and his paramour, Flo Combes, stood with Mac and Annabel Smith in a suite at Washington’s iconic Willard Hotel. Brixton had decided that “paramour” was a classy way to refer to Flo rather than “girlfriend” or “sweetie” or “partner.” He was too old to have a girlfriend, he felt, and “partner” sounded like they ran a business together. But “paramour” had a nice ring to it, sort of literary. Of course, marrying Flo would solve the question of how to explain their relationship but he wasn’t ready for that, nor was Flo sure she wanted to legally commit to the occasionally volatile, mule-headed Brixton. He wasn’t known as Robert “Don’t Call Me Bobby” Brixton for nothing.
Their attention was focused on the strikingly beautiful woman who’d been encouraged to take center stage by one of a dozen “suits” at the gathering, attorneys of the international law firm of Cale, Watson and Warnowski. Walter Cale waited until conversation had ebbed before saying, “I propose this toast to Elizabeth Sims, our newest partner.” He glanced at a note in his hand and added, “Take a look at our other partners and you’ll agree that she adds a needed dose of beauty to the firm.”
There was laughter. “Here’s to Elizabeth—although if you get to know her well enough she might allow you to call her Liz.”
“To Liz,” the gathered said in unison as glasses were raised. “To Lizzie,” a man who’d had too much to drink slurred.
“Thank you so much,” Elizabeth said, lifting her champagne flute.
“She’s beautiful,” Annabel commented.
“And obviously smart,” her husband, Mac, said. “There aren’t many female full partners in firms this size.”
“It’s the law firms that are getting smart offering partnerships to women,” Annabel quipped. “They’ve been missing out on a lot of talent. How is your friend David Portland?” she asked Brixton. “We haven’t seen him in a while.”
“David’s in London,” Brixton said. “They call him back frequently to report to his boss. That’s why he keeps his flat there. He’ll be returning in a few days.”
David Portland was a member of the security staff at the British Embassy to the United States on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., along Washington’s famed Embassy Row. He also happened to be the ex-husband of Elizabeth Sims, the attorney at the center of attention that evening.
“Do they find it awkward living in the same city?” Annabel asked.
Brixton chuckled. “No,” he said, “David’s pretty cool about it. They talk from time to time but not often. He says she wasn’t thrilled when he took the job at the embassy and moved here, but they’re grown-ups, live busy separate lives, the way it should be. He called me from London. I’ll pick him up at the airport.”
“It was tragic what happened to his son,” Annabel said.
“David’s never gotten over it,” Brixton said. “Not that you ever do. He told me that he’s come up with new information about what happened to Trevor.”
“The boy’s death goes back a long way, doesn’t it?” Smith said.
“Not that long,” Brixton said, “maybe two years. David has never been able to let go of it. I understand where he’s coming from.”
Brixton’s empathy was fueled by having lost an adult child of his own, a daughter who was slaughtered in a terrorist bombing in an outdoor café not far from the State Department, where he’d been employed at the time.
“Trevor was Elizabeth’s stepson?” Annabel said.
“Right,” Brixton said. “David’s wife Trevor’s birth mother died when he was a little kid, and his grandmother raised him until she died, too, from cancer. He was eight or nine at the time. That’s when David met Elizabeth. He’d been bringing up Trevor best he could, considering that his work had him constantly traveling. When he met and married Elizabeth in London she took over the job as Trevor’s surrogate mom and continued even after their divorce. David says she was terrific at it.”
“How long were they married?” Flo asked.
“A couple of years,” Brixton replied. “David is—well, he’s tough to get along with at times.”
Flo’s laugh was wicked. Brixton gave her a stern look. She raised her hand, still laughing. “I didn’t say anything,” she said, still laughing.
They were interrupted by a tall, angular man with the look of an Ivy League professor. Despite the Harris Tweed jacket with brown leather elbow patches, pale blue button-down shirt, regimental tie, and highly polished ankle-high brown boots, Brixton knew that he didn’t spend his days in a classroom. He was Cameron Chambers, a retired Washington, D.C., cop who headed up the law firm’s investigative unit and who’d recruited Brixton to augment his full-time staff on an as-needed basis. Brixton had been one of two private detectives in the city who’d signed on as contract employees, available when Chambers needed help on an investigation for a client.
He apologized for breaking into the conversation and said to Brixton, “Spare me a few minutes, Robert?”
Brixton followed him to an unpopulated corner of the lavish suite. “What’s up?” he asked.
Chambers looked across the room to where Elizabeth chatted happily with other attorneys. “She’s a knockout, isn’t she?” he said.
“No argument from me.”
“I understand that you’re friends with her ex,” Chambers said.
“We know each other.”
“You stay in contact with him now that he lives here in D.C.?”
“We’re friends, only we don’t get to spend much time together,” Brixton said. “Why?”
“His reputation is—well, let’s just say that he has a penchant for making trouble.”
Chambers’s pinched-nose way of speaking grated on Brixton. Chambers had never been a cop who’d dirtied his hands working cases, had never walked the mean streets of Washington’s less genteel neighborhoods. A Maryland native, he’d gone off to college at Dartmouth, where he received a degree in sociology. Upon returning home he was pursued to help flesh out a growing intelligence unit within the Washington PD and eagerly accepted the job. He went on to get his Master’s Degree in psychology from Georgetown University under MPD’s tuition assistance program, and after six years was tapped to run the intelligence unit, which he did until his retirement. Although not a lawyer, he had the self-assuredness of one, a man without any doubts about his views and conclusions. He’d been married twice and had two sons by his first wife, one of whom lived in Los Angeles, the other in Boston. His second marriage fell apart after a brief run.
“Making trouble?” Brixton said. “What sort of trouble?”
“I’ve done some checking on him, Robert. He wasn’t a stranger to getting into scrapes around the globe, personal and legal.”
Brixton laughed away the comment. “You’re talking past tense,” he said. “David was on the wild side when he was working as a security pro for hire, but those days are behind him. You don’t get hired by the British Embassy unless your background check comes up clean.”
“That may be true, Robert, but my sources tell me that he enjoys sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“I don’t follow,” Brixton said, although he thought he knew where Chambers was going with it.
While Portland hadn’t been specific when he’d called, he did say that he’d been doing some “nosing around” into XCAL Oil, the company for whom Trevor’s geological surveying firm had been working in Africa at the time of his death. XCAL was Cale, Watson and Warnowski’s biggest client, generating almost half of the firm’s sizable income. And Elizabeth Sims, who’d gone back to using her maiden name following her divorce from Portland, was the lead attorney on the XCAL account. A small world indeed.
“I received a call from London,” Chambers said. “It seems that Mr. Portland has been asking questions concerning XCAL’s possible involvement with his son’s unfortunate demise.”
Portland had shared what had happened to his son with Brixton over many dinners, lunches, and drinks. After receiving a degree from West Virginia University in geological surveying, the young man had gone to work for SealCom, a geological survey company working in the Niger Delta under contract with XCAL.
“All I’m suggesting, Robert, is that if you hear anything along the lines of what I’ve just alluded to you let me know,” Chambers said.
“Sure,” Brixton said, anxious for the conversation to be over.
“That would be helpful, Robert, very helpful. I see that your glass is empty. Mustn’t ever allow that to happen, must we?” He slapped Brixton on the back and walked away.
Brixton watched Chambers move gracefully through the crowd in the direction of Elizabeth Sims. Chambers was a smooth operator, no doubt about that. Washington, D.C., teemed with smooth operators and Brixton tried to avoid them whenever possible.
“What do you say we get out of here?” Flo said after Brixton had rejoined her and Annabel.
Annabel’s husband, Mac, had drifted away to speak with an attorney for CW&W whom he knew from practicing law in Washington. Smith, like Brixton and Portland, had also lost a child, a son, who’d perished along with his mother in a crash on the Beltway years before he’d met Annabel. That event, and the relatively light sentence the drunk driver of the other car received, had shaken Mac’s faith in the law, at least as a practitioner. He closed his office and became professor of law at George Washington University, where he stayed until recently when he again put out his shingle and reentered the combative world of trial advocacy. Annabel, too, had been an attorney when she and Mac met but had abandoned her matrimonial law practice to open a successful pre-Columbian art gallery in Georgetown.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Brixton said to Flo.
“You two run along,” Annabel said. “I have a feeling that Mac is in for a long conversation.”
Flo, who mirrored Brixton’s disdain for stuffy D.C. cocktail parties—Washington parties of any sort for that matter, especially those populated by lawyers and politicians—happily took Brixton’s arm as they headed for the door. He considered seeking out Chambers to say good night but decided to not bother despite knowing that it would have been politically correct. The retainer with the law firm’s head of investigations would pay plenty of bills.
They did stop to congratulate Elizabeth, who graciously accepted their good wishes. She, of course, was aware that Brixton and her former husband were friends, and her infrequent conversations with Brixton were always with that knowledge and the restraints it placed on what was said.
Once back in their apartment on Capitol Hill, Brixton and Flo fortified the party’s finger food with bowls of pasta and a salad.
“I get the feeling that you don’t particularly like Mr. Chambers,” Flo commented after they’d changed into pajamas and sat in front of the television, their meals on folding TV tables.
“He’s a type,” Brixton muttered.
“Everyone’s a type,” she said.
“Right, but there’s good types and bad types.”
“And he’s a bad type?”
“Maybe he falls somewhere in between,” was Brixton’s response. He filled her in on the conversation he’d had with Chambers at the party.
“I’m glad you didn’t get into an argument with him,” Flo said, speaking from experience. Brixton’s fuse was notoriously short, especially when it came to someone like Cameron Chambers. “It was good of Mac to set you up with him,” she added. “We can use the money.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s a good deal getting paid to be on tap in case they want something from me. With any luck they won’t.”
As they carried their empty plates to the kitchen Brixton said, “David’s due back in town in a few days.” He recounted what Portland had said during his phone call from London.
Flo winced as she filled the dishwasher. “Your friendship with David puts you in an awkward position with Chambers,” she said.
“Chambers is just blowing smoke,” Brixton replied. “David’s been around, working all those security jobs in every corner of the globe. So maybe he got into a few hassles along the way. Hell, so have I.”
He didn’t add that he knew of a few assignments that Portland had undertaken over the years as a soldier of fortune that resulted in his taking of a life in order to save his own. He ended his defense of Portland with, “David’s a straight shooter.”
“Like you,” Flo said.
He put his arm around her. “I accept the compliment,” he said. “You know, I kept wondering while we were at the party with all those high-paid lawyers whether the rumors are true about the law firm.”
“About them helping launder money that some Nigerian scam artists raise over the Internet from suckers who buy their pitch.”
“Where did you hear that?” she asked.
“From one of Mac’s clients whose father got scammed by the Nigerians. Mac’s trying to come up with a legal path for the son to take, but there’s not much he can do. Enough about that. Let’s catch a movie.”
They returned to the couch and debated which film to watch. After coming to a consensus they ordered their choice with a few clicks of the remote. As the opening credits crawled down the screen they settled back for another evening of domestic bliss, Robert “Don’t Call Me Bobby” Brixton and his paramour, Flo Combes.
Copyright © 2018 by Estate of Margaret Truman