Monday, October 24, 2011

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Retired from the Marine Corps and the California Department of Corrections, Major Matt Rommel's life has been one long exercise in applied violence. The gold rush in internet stocks made him a wealthy man. Now, he is a docent at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor. He spends his days surrounded by art treasures and his nights in the Mission District at Vince's bar. Matt Rommel is a grizzled combat veteran who is afraid of women.

The roller-coaster years of the internet boom and bust have also changed the life of Carolyn Kast, leaving her with a failed marriage to a man committed only to his forlorn hope of a technology company. Now, Carolyn is a single mother in her middle forties with a troubled six-year-old daughter who is obsessed with the scarred, giant of a man she saw on a visit to the museum.

As Carolyn struggles to make a living at her fledgling ad agency, Brand Loyalty, and keep her two new partners from each other's throats, it is becoming clear that someone is trying to kill her. Carolyn is at a loss for either a motive or a suspect.

But her daughter Aubrey knows what to do. Go to the man she has decided is an enforcer for Santa Claus: The Scary Man!


Matt Rommel stood at the door, a thoroughly surprised man. That, in itself, gave Carolyn Kast some satisfaction. She was still uncomfortable. How was she going to explain herself?

“Madam, what are you doing here? How else have I transgressed? What new injury have I perpetrated?”

Carolyn looked at Matt Rommel. “You could invite me in.”

“Yes, of course. Won't you please come in?”

Carolyn stepped into the foyer, making a deliberate effort not to be seen looking around, surveying the home, any gesture that could be interpreted as mercantile. She had to know. What was this man doing? Was he living in one place and pretending to live somewhere else? Why? Of course, she knew that before she could reasonably ask, she was going to explain why she was here at all. How was she going to explain her own actions first?

“You're probably wondering why I am here,” she began.

Matt Rommel motioned toward the spacious living room, its carpets and furniture a careful study in tans, browns and gold. The ceilings were high, but it still seemed warm. “Would you like to sit down?”

This reception was much different from the one above Vince's bar. Carolyn had an insight. This was his home and, being his home, the demands of hospitality were greater. “No thank you,” she said. “When I left the bar, I got turned around in traffic. When I finally got things straightened out, I noticed your Cadillac. You were driving so slowly that I thought you might be having car trouble so I followed you in case you had to pull over. When you pulled into the garage, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn't car trouble. I thought maybe you were ill, so I…”

“Knocked on the door to see if I was all right?” Rommel ventured.

“Exactly. I gather you are. All right, I mean,” Carolyn continued.

“Yes, thank you. I'm fine.”

“I'm glad,” she said. “Well, I have to be going. You just remember that little talk we had.”

“About respecting your privacy?”

“Yes.” Carolyn flushed scarlet. However lame it seemed, it was apparent that Mr. Rommel was prepared to accept the pretense so she would just have to bluff her way through. As she stood, a chirpy tune blared from her purse. “I'm sorry. I have to get this,” she said, answering the cell phone.

“Carolyn Kast.”

“It's me, Denni. Are you still in the City?”

“Yes, but I'm just leaving, and I should be there to pick up Aubrey in less than an hour.”

“I don't think so,” Denni responded. Her tone seemed strained.

“Why? Is something wrong?” Without knowing why, she braced herself. She could see, both Mr. Rommel and the dog were responding to her tension, studying her.

“The San Francisco Police called. They need you to meet them back at the office” Denni spoke slowly, choosing her few words with care. “Sarah has been murdered.”

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