Hologram: The Provocation of Detective Brooks by Nancy Miller - Read Online
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Summary

When a mysterious cold case file arrives in Detective Brooks’ mailbox, it doesn’t take much to provoke his curiosity. Sparks fly when Brooks falls for Samantha Bowman, a key witness, only to unearth evidence implicating her in a murder plot. Brooks’ ivestigation summons a dangerous psychopath from a life on the lam; he returns, with his sights set on Samantha. Torn between duty and desire, Brooks unravels the tangled web of a deadly plan, bringing him face to face with a killer who plans to make Brooks his next victim. 

Published: Nancy Miller on
ISBN: 9781513019970
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Miller

Acknowledgements

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I would like to thank the following people for their help and support:

My husband, Mark Miller, whose love, support, and encouragement makes my writing possible, Cindy Gray, Jeanne Myers, Tracey Delaplain, and Teri Milner, good friends who gave their valuable time and expertise.

Lastly, I would like thank everyone who has taken the time to write a review or given me encouragement, which is more important than they can imagine.

Other Books by Nancy Miller

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Find out where it all began: Hologram: The Seduction of Samantha Bowman.

Visit Nancy’s website: www.CaliforniaMuse.com

Chapter One

—Prologue—

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On April 12th 2012, WTBS News out of Phoenix interrupted their regular morning program to report the crash of a small plane in the Arizona desert. WTBS’s reporter, Debbie Drayton, was on the scene. Standing in front of the camera with the wind buffeting her mic, Debbie covered the story:

A private plane crashed late yesterday afternoon, just before sunset, here outside of Nogales. Reports of a giant fireball in the sky brought authorities to the crash site behind me. The TSA has confirmed that a flight plan, along with portions of the aircraft’s fuselage with the tail number, identify the plane as belonging to the Holotech Corporation, based in Los Angeles. Corporate officers Dante Burke and Niles DeMortaine were reportedly on board and are presumed dead. The body of an unidentified woman has been recovered from the scene. Authorities are investigating a possible link between Holotech and a human trafficking operation with ties to Mexico . . .

Authorities set up operations on the valley floor, at the base of the mountain. The media camped out for days, the salacious words plane crash, human trafficking, body, and dead, drawing their attention like yellow jackets to raw meat. The debris field spread for miles, much of it over steep and treacherous terrain. Forensic experts climbed mountains and repelled from helicopters, recovering evidence.

The FBI arrived and created a task force comprised of the federal agents, the Arizona PD, and the LAPD. Under pressure from the FBI, Debbie Drayton with WTBS divulged her source regarding Holotech and a link to human trafficking: Ernie Boyd, a detective with the LAPD. Unfortunately, when the FBI came calling, Ernie had neither answers nor evidence. Nothing to implicate Dante Burke, Niles DeMortaine, or Holotech in human trafficking. He could only point a finger at one of Holotech’s subsidiaries unsavory business dealings—the subsidiary produced pornographic films, porn that featured two juveniles listed as missing persons. The FBI’s task force did not include Ernie.

Other than the initial discovery of the woman’s charred body and some mangled pieces of fuselage, authorities recovered little else from the scene. Cleared of the scattered wreckage and evidence collected, the barren desert left nothing to report. If anything remained of Dante Burke and Niles DeMortaine, the scavengers took it. The media went home. It was over.

Chapter Two

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Detective Brooks made a dash to the street in his T-shirt and boxers to collect the mail and scoop up the morning paper. Returning to the house, he waved at Mrs. Newton, peeking at him through her kitchen curtains. He sucked in his gut and frowned at a small manila envelope with unfamiliar handwriting, noting the lack of a return address.

Curious, Brooks grabbed his coffee and strode down the hall to his office where he tossed the bills and the newspaper on the desk. He pulled on latex gloves and carefully slipped the blade of his pocketknife under the flap, opening the envelope. A file lay inside. Not a file in the traditional sense of the word, but a file saved to a memory stick, wrapped in bubble wrap. Brooks turned it over in his hand. He sat down, pulled up his chair, and plugged the stick into his laptop. A folder with the label porn/5 missing appeared. A click of his mouse revealed an assortment of documents. The labels and links told him there was a connection to his recent assignment, the Holotech case.

Brooks sat back and stared at the screen. This had to be Ernie’s work. Ernie worked missing persons. He’d been running down a connection between Holotech and a couple of missing girls when he blew it; Ernie trusted a reporter, the hot little blonde from WTBS with the sensational legs—Debbie Drayton. Brooks grinned, picturing Debbie in heels and a miniskirt with a mic in hand, standing before yellow crime scene tape strung between two cacti. She was all legs, eagerly reporting the news of Holotech’s plane crash with the wind blowing her skirt.

Debbie was Ernie’s downfall; he blabbed to the media and brought the FBI down on him like a two-ton gorilla. After going a few rounds with the Feds, Ernie decided he’d had enough; it was time to retire. He died of a heart attack two weeks before the party.

Now, nearly six months later, the Attorney General had determined the case warranted no further action. Subsequently, the executors of the Burke and DeMortaine estates petitioned the court to issue death certificates. This was where Brooks’ paperwork came in. The court wanted each jurisdiction’s take on the deaths of Burke and DeMortaine. Specifically, the court wanted to know if there was enough evidence in the absence of a body, circumstantial evidence that would provide a reasonable person reason to believe the individuals are deceased based on the balance of probabilities. Brooks caught the assignment as the LAPD officer assigned to the task force was out on family leave.

He sighed and sucked up the last of his luke warm coffee. He didn’t need complications. The task force hadn’t unearthed a damn thing. The TSA’s final report concluded the accident was likely the result of an engine fire. Brooks’ eyes narrowed, focusing on a photo of the mountainside and valley floor littered in debris. He envisioned DeMortaine speeding toward the ground in a nosedive, attempting to blow out the flames like you’d blow out a match, knowing all the while that the aircraft would break apart if pushed beyond the limits of its frame. Brooks shook his head. You’d need brass balls and nerves of steel to perform that maneuver. While the TSA’s report was ultimately inconclusive as to the cause of the accident, the report and the photos left no doubt in Brooks’ mind that Burke and DeMortaine were dead, based on the balance of probabilities. There was no way in hell anyone walked away from that disaster alive.

Brooks planned to spend the morning writing a short report advising the court of this conclusion, until Ernie’s mysterious file arrived. An uneasy premonition said things were going to get messy. He wasn’t in the mood to open a new can of worms. He had a shit-load of paperwork to complete before some well-earned time off. He was heading into the home stretch; after a meeting tomorrow with the Captain he’d be set, looking at two sweet weeks of vacation. The plan was to spend the first week at home refinishing the floors, and then head down to San Diego for a few days of fun in the sun with his daughter, Mandy. She wanted to go to Ensenada. Maybe, Brooks thought with a smile.

Curiosity getting the best of him, Brooks scanned the file’s numerous documents and internet links. A two-page .pdf of scribbled writing on lined yellow paper had to be Ernie’s notes. Brooks opened a folder labeled photos, and clicked a link. Up came an article from the society page of the LA Times. The story covered last January’s launch party for HolotechLive, new technology developed by the Holotech Corporation. Quite a bash, according to the article. A photo of guests in fancy dress accompanied the story. The caption identified one of Holotech’s shareholders, Charlie Bowman, and his wife Samantha.

Brooks squinted at the photo. Samantha Bowman was a knockout. She wore a little black dress with a low neckline showing off some awesome tits. Another party photo featured Holotech’s shareholders: Dante Burke, Niles DeMortaine, and Charlie Bowman—the only remaining partner. They stood side-by-side, smiling for the photographer. Burke and DeMortaine were the younger men, in their mid to late thirties. Brooks shook his head. Who in their right mind would name a kid Dante? A Nicholas Cage look-a-like with a cocky stance, Burke’s dark good looks and the defiant tilt of his chin claimed the name. DeMortaine had the fine features and aloof bearing of an aristocrat. Bowman had at least ten years on his partners, and looked like a techie.

Brooks closed the link and opened an incident report from the night of April 12, 2012, the day the plane went down. An officer interviewed a gunshot victim, Charles Bowman, at UCLA Medical Center.

Whoa . . . what the hell? Brooks gave his head a shake; someone shot Charlie Bowman the same day the plane went down? All three of Holotech’s officers suffered mortal accidents on the same day? He read the report twice; it was short. Officers dispatched to the Bowman residence relieved Charles Bowman of a twenty-two caliber pistol. An ambulance took both Bowmans to UCLA. At the hospital, Charles cooperated with law enforcement, telling the investigating officer his shoulder wound was the result of an accident. As Bowman told it, he came home from work early and his wife, Samantha, shot him when she mistook him for an intruder.

Huh. Brooks scratched his chin. Now there’s a vision, the lovely Mrs. Bowman greeting her techie husband with a gun. The officer spoke to Mrs. Bowman, also at the hospital, where she was receiving treatment for shock. She corroborated her husband’s story, although the officer noted she was under sedation. The last page of the report contained four photographs of the room where the shooting occurred. According to the file’s properties, Ernie entered the report on his last day on the job, three days before he died.

Brooks glanced at his watch and made a quick note of the Bowman’s Hollywood Hills address. He pushed away from the desk and headed for the shower. He had an 8:00 a.m. meeting with his team.

Brooks met with his team and received status briefings on their open cases. He assigned Tony, an Italian with a flair for the dramatic, as acting supervisor in his absence. Tony might be flamboyant, but he was solid. In a culture where planting evidence wasn’t far from the norm and bending the truth to support another officer’s version of events was almost a duty, Brooks’ men soon learned he didn’t dick around. He played by the rules; if that alienated him from some of his peers, so be it. After dismissing his team, Brooks spent the next four hours on paperwork. Just after 1:00 p.m., he headed for the parking lot.

He climbed into the unmarked sedan, cranked the ignition, and headed north toward the Hollywood Hills, where he planned to pay Mrs. Bowman a visit. With any luck, she’d be wearing a low-cut top. After that, he just might catch Charlie Bowman at Holotech. He had a few questions for the Bowmans about the night of April 12; the night Mrs. Bowman popped her husband with a .22.

Brooks didn’t second-guess his decision to probe the Holotech case. Ernie put in his time; he’d been a good detective who got a bad rap at the end. He was gold as far as Brooks was concerned. Ernie saved his life once, years ago, when they were partners on patrol. A punk jacked up on meth had Brooks against a wall with a knife to his throat. Ernie arrived in time to teach him some table manners. Brooks had no idea who sent the file, but he owed it to Ernie to check it out. What could it hurt, asking a few questions?

He drove north, out of the city. On the fringe of the Hollywood Hills, he cruised through one of the older neighborhoods checking the street numbers. Pulling to the curb in front of a bungalow, he parked under the shade of a sweet gum. The leaves were turning the vivid colors that gave the trees their nickname, Liquid Amber. His mom taught him that. Brooks smiled at the memory. Growing up, she always pointed out trees and plants, telling him their names.

After a quick check in the rear-view for food in his teeth, Brooks adjusted his tie and ran a hand over his short brown hair. He stepped from the car, leaving his blazer behind in favor of shirtsleeves on the warm day. Dark slacks and a shirt with a tie were professional enough in Southern California. He rolled up his sleeves as he passed the late bloomers on either side of the path leading to the front porch: birds of paradise, azalea, and roses. It was a sweet set-up, a classic California Craftsman. He stepped up to the porch, crossed the flagstones to a heavy oak door, and lifted the knocker. Taps against the brass plate brought forth a brittle sound. After a minute, a shadow appeared through the frosted sidelight. The window hinged open a few inches with a squeak.

Can I help you? she asked.

From the slice of her visible through the opening, she was a red head. Yes, ma’am, I’m Detective Brooks from the LAPD. I’m looking for Samantha Bowman. He reached to his rear pocket and pulled out his wallet, flipping it open. He held his badge to the window.

I’m Sam Bowman. What’s this regarding?

I’d like a few words with you about last April twelfth.

There was a long pause. What would you like to know? she asked, a green eye looking him over.

Ah, maybe I could come in? He glanced over his shoulder as if an eavesdropper lurked behind a shrub.

The window closed. A few seconds later, the bolt disengaged and the door opened. She was indeed, pretty. A pretty woman who had pointed a gun at her husband and pulled the trigger. Forty something, with a small frame and green eyes, she stood about five four. While it wasn’t low-cut, he had no doubt the breasts beneath her T-shirt were impressive.

Brooks stepped inside. She closed the door and turned toward the interior of the house. We can talk in the kitchen, she said with a backward glance, leading the way.

They passed a neat and modern living area. Rays of afternoon sun shone through skylights in open beam ceilings. Stylish sofas and chairs with plump cushions in warm colors furnished the room. It looked like a home where people should be happy. There wasn’t any evidence of Mr. Bowman in sight. No easy chair with an end table full of techie magazines. No jacket hung on a hook.

Their footsteps echoing on glowing hardwood, Brooks followed Mrs. Bowman into the kitchen. Cornflower Blue was the color his grandmother called walls. Glass-fronted cabinets showed off pottery inside. High-end stainless steel appliances shared the space. A greenhouse window over the sink overflowed with herbs: garlic chives, basil, cilantro, and Italian parsley. Classy and cozy, home sweet home: where Samantha Bowman shot her husband.

Thanks for inviting me in. Brooks said. Any chance you have a cup of coffee?

I thought you wanted to ask me some questions. She turned to face him, leaning back against the counter and crossing her arms.

I’m just trying to break the ice, he said with a shrug and his best we-don’t-have-to-be-this-serious grin.

I’m not interested in making small talk. You said you were here because you had questions. I’m sorry, I don’t have any coffee.

Not even some instant? he asked with a little frown, wondering if he was losing his touch. She was downright prickly. He wondered why.

She held his gaze for a few beats, sighed, and turned to a Cuisinart grind and brew. Going through the motions, she put beans in and filled the water chamber. She pushed on, and the grinder blasted and whirred, filling the air with the aroma of freshly ground beans.

He liked coffee, but mostly he wanted to put her at ease. Doing something familiar might help her relax and take her mind off his questions. He leaned back against the counter island, resisting the urge to cross his arms.

You know I already told them everything, she said with her back to him, reaching into the cupboard for a mug.

Brooks’ eyes flickered over her backside with appreciation. Yes, I read the initial report. This is just routine follow up. 

She turned to face him, leaning against the counter and crossing her arms once more. What exactly are you investigating?

So much for distracting her with coffee. The crash of Holotech’s company plane last April.

Oh, I don’t know anything about that.

Well, as it happened on the same day as the accident here, I’m doing some due diligence to make sure there isn’t a connection.

Then you’re wasting your time. I was barely acquainted with Dante and Niles and don’t know anything about their business dealings. She arched an eyebrow. Do you take anything in your coffee?

Just some milk, if you have it. He liked it black—another small distraction. She filled the mug with coffee and set it on the counter along with a spoon on a napkin and a carton of milk.

You’re not having any? he asked.

No, I don’t think so.

He stepped next to her at the counter, added milk to the mug, and stirred. She wore perfume, something soft, with a little spice. You’re not familiar with Charlie’s work? he asked. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring; he glanced at the garden window above the sink. No rings, just herbs and a piece of blue beach glass.

She shrugged. Sure, we’re set up here at home with Holotech live and I’ve seen the shows, she replied with a touch of bitterness in her smile. They’re amazing.

But you didn’t talk to Charlie about his partners, about the business? He picked up the coffee. An open shoebox filled with an assortment of props sat on the counter: red rubber lips, black man of steel glasses with a plastic nose, long rubber witches’ fingers, and plastic eyeballs. He stepped back to the island, giving her some space. He leaned against the counter and blew on the steaming brew.

No. Well, Charlie talks about Integrated Vision all the time; it’s his passion, his dream. I’m afraid I don’t have much interest, so I can’t tell you anything about it. He rarely spoke of his partners. She tucked an auburn lock behind her ear.

You met them then, Niles and Dante?

Yes, we went out to dinner once, with some investors.

What was your take on them?

She shrugged. I don’t know, I was a little surprised, I guess. Dante seemed rather . . . rough. Niles was just the opposite. He was very well mannered.

So Niles was charming? Brooks asked.

Yes, he was, she replied. The color rose in her cheeks.

And that was it? You never met either of them again?

That was it. Just dinner. 

What about your work, Mrs. Bowman. Brooks took a sip of coffee. What do you do? He’d guess a teacher or a nurse. If she was a teacher, it was a sure bet her kids didn’t mess around.

I teach at Oceanside Elementary.

Bingo. He smiled at his intuition. What grade? he asked.

I teach special needs children, third through fifth.

That’s got to be a challenge. Are those for your class? Brooks nodded at the props in the shoebox.

Yes. She replied. They’re just some things for Halloween.

Who wears them, you, or the kids? He read her face and grinned. Mrs. Bowman might be tough, but she knew how to have fun.

Me, she replied with a guilty smile. Not this year though; I’m not scheduled to teach until the spring. Do you have children, detective? she asked with a glance at his left hand.

Yes, a girl. She’s twenty. He wouldn’t learn a thing if she didn’t let down her guard. Sharing personal information was part of earning trust. Typically, it took three face-to-face meetings to make a connection. She was quite a handful growing up, the teen years were rough. Things are better now. How about you?

Two boys, Neal and Devin. They’re in college.

You’ve been married a long time . . . how many years has it been?

Twenty-three.

Wow, that’s a record now days. So, you and Mr. Bowman, do you agree on most things?

Yes, we do. Charlie’s happy with most anything as long as it doesn’t interfere with his Integrated Vision. He’s a simple guy. She shrugged.

So you never argue? he asked.

Rarely. Are you going to ask me about our sex life? She raised a brow.

He’d like to, but thought it best to keep that to himself. Ah, no. Why don’t we start with that day? Why don’t you tell me what happened?

Her green eyes held his for a beat. She turned away and stepped to the sink where she concentrated on picking dead leaves off the herbs. It was an accident, what happened to Charlie. She paused for a few seconds before turning to him with a hard stare. You talked to him already, didn’t you?

No, I haven’t, he said with a shake of his head.

She turned back to the plants. So you think it wasn’t an accident . . . ?

Why would I think that, Mrs. Bowman?

Because you’re here, asking me questions.

Just due diligence, it’s a high profile case. Your husband’s partners were becoming quite well known in LA’s social circles.

There was something on the news that first day about Holotech being involved in human trafficking. And then, that was it, there wasn’t anything more about it. That sounds crazy. Were Dante and Niles up to something illegal?

We don’t know, Mrs. Bowman.

She stopped grooming the plants and turned to him with a chill in her eyes. You don’t suspect Charlie of anything do you?

Not at this time.

If you’re thinking Charlie was involved with Dante and Niles, doing something illegal, you’re wrong. Charlie isn’t capable of participating in any sort of illegal scheme. Dante and Niles are dead. It was a bad day, detective, a very bad day. But it’s over, done. I don’t know anything that can help you. I’m sure Charlie can tell you everything you need to know.

Mrs. Bowman . . . could I have a little warm up, please? He held out his mug as if she were neglecting him.

She pursed her lips. Sure. She gestured to the carafe.

"I’m sorry to bother you with all these questions, but with