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Memorial to the Dead
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Charles gives an overview of the book:

DC PI Al Pennyback is approached by an old man asking for help.  He claims there is some kind of conspiracy and an old wrong that must be put right.  Before he can tell Al what its all about, he's found dead in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  Al then finds himself in the middle of a federal investigation, dealing with rogue federal agents, and hunted down by Chinese gangsters.  He must learn what the dead man, Edward Carson, was afraid of and who killed him before he becomes a victim himself.
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DC PI Al Pennyback is approached by an old man asking for help.  He claims there is some kind of conspiracy and an old wrong that must be put right.  Before he can tell Al what its all about, he's found dead in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  Al then finds himself in the middle of a federal investigation, dealing with rogue federal agents, and hunted down by Chinese gangsters.  He must learn what the dead man, Edward Carson, was afraid of and who killed him before he becomes a victim himself.

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CHAPTER 1
There's something unreal about a dead body.

When life has left the body, what remains is a husk that in no way resembles the living being it was a moment before.

The corpse, face down in front of the Vietnam Veterans. Memorial wall on the Washington, DC Mall, looked more like a mannequin that had been tossed aside than a formerly living person.

He had been a white male in his mid-sixties, dressed in faded and torn blue jeans and an old army field jacket that was covered with unit patches from the Vietnam War era. The red and black plaid shirt, frayed at the collar, was covered with blood and skull fragments. He.d been shot in the back of the head. A small entrance wound could be seen through the stringy grey hair. It had obviously been a large caliber bullet from the mess it had made of his broad forehead as it exited.

A couple of evidence technicians and one of the District.s coroners knelt beside the body, taking measurements and making notes. Uniformed cops, supervised by plain clothes detectives, scoured the area around the memorial for any other evidence of the crime.

"Pennyback, glad you could make it,"  a big, beefy white detective wearing a crumpled brown suit said. Clayton Baird was about my age, but showed it more than I did. He was my height, but probably had at least twenty pounds on me, and it was clear from the paunch around his middle, he didn.t work out like I did
"I.d like to say no problem, but at four in the morning, it wasn.t easy,"  I said. He stuck out his hand, and I shook it. "Why do you need me here? It's a bit unusual for the police to call in a private detective."

"They didn.t tell you when they called?"

"No, just that there was a crime scene here on the Mall and my name came up," I said.

"Damn," he said."You can't depend on anyone these days."  He turned and pointed at the corpse, which the technicians were covering. "The victim had one of your name cards clutched in his hand. I wanted to know if you could shed any light on him."

The victim's face was a bit torn up from the force when the body pitched forward onto the hard surface in front of the memorial. That, along with the massive damage to his forehead from the exit wound, had distorted his features, but I recognized him.

 I'd only met him once, about two days earlier, when I'd visited the memorial. Just one of the many aging veterans of that misunderstood war who hung out there reliving their past, or trying to exorcise the ghosts that often drove them into the bottom of a bottle, or worse. The Wall had become a rallying place for them, a place where some of them found a little peace and relief.

"I can.t really say I know him, but I did run into him here two days ago," I said. "He wanted me to work for him."

Baird snorted.  "He had two crumpled five dollar bills in his wallet. How was he planning to pay you?"

"That's just it," I said. "He said that as a fellow veteran, I should take his case for free."

"You, of course, said no. But, how did he get your card?"

"Well," I said. "I didn't actually turn him down. I told him to think about it, and call me later. I wouldn.t take the case for free; after all, I have bills to pay. But, I told him that if he could come up with five hundred bucks, I'd think about it."

"Buster said you were a soft touch for the downtrodden," Baird said. "What did he want you to do?"

"He didn't say. Said, when he came up with the money he'd give me the details."

"Guess you'll never know what oddball case you missed this time," he said.

They had bagged the body and were wheeling it away to the morgue ambulance. The rest of the cops were assembling near the stands that provide directions to find names on the wall.

"Any idea who might have killed him?" I asked.

"Nope. He was just another wounded vet down on his luck. No motive, no clues. Maybe the ME will be able to tell me something when he digs the slug fragments out, if there are any. If I didn't know better I'd say this was a professional hit. Looks like he was shot execution style. No casings and no bullets. The slug went through his head; there was a scratch on the stone where it hit. But, the place has been swept clean. Now, why would anyone want to put out a professional hit on a derelict?"

The question was rhetorical; hell, I didn't have an answer. My brief conversation with the victim, who told me his name was Edward Carson, didn't leave me thinking he was anything other than an old guy with delusions who wanted attention.

charles-a-ray's picture

This is the third in the Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring DC-based private detective Albert Einstein Pennyback.

About Charles

A native of East Texas, I have been involved in leading organizations (particularly those in trouble) for over 40 years.  I have written a number of articles on history, culture and leadership, and have written three books on leadership in addition to my fiction works. The Al...

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Published Reviews

Oct.31.2008

kudos to Charlie for his terrific book "Things I Learned from my Grandmother about Leadership and Life ." I gobbled it up and it would be wonderful reading for whatever incarnation of leadership training...

Jun.08.2009

Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life is a small book that makes a great impact. Charles Ray, the author blends his fond memories of his grandmother with his dual career as a...