He had been seeing the young prostitute for almost a year now. They had met at the Satin & Lace club in South Salt Lake City where she worked as a nude dancer. They’d hit it off right away. He found her youthful good looks, hard body, and sexual enthusiasm intoxicating from the very beginning. They got together as often as his professional schedule and family demands would allow.
He got up and began to dress. She stirred briefly, rolled over, and went back to sleep. It was almost 11 p.m. He wanted to get home soon in case his wife tried to call him from her parents’ home in California where she was visiting. He deposited a crisp, new one-hundred-dollar bill on the night stand, kissed her gently on the back of the neck, and quietly left the room.
A six-foot-high cedar fence separated the motel parking lot from a McDonald’s restaurant. The familiar smell of fast-food burgers and fries filled the still night air. He climbed into his new Lexus, turned north onto State Street, and headed home into the exclusive Avenues district. For a Saturday night, south State Street was relatively free of the usual transients and hookers who often plied their trade in this part of town. The amount of lust on south State Street would have made old Brigham Young turn over in his grave—clearly not what he intended when the streets of this dusty frontier town were neatly laid out one hundred and fifty years earlier.
Levi Vogue paused to reflect on what a charmed life he was leading. At forty-four, he’d recently been appointed by Governor Nelson Strand to a second five-year term as Chairman of the prestigious and highly visible Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Having established a statewide reputation for being tough on crime and criminals, his political ambition extended far beyond the Board. He was a member of a prominent and wealthy Republican family. He had two grown sons attending college. And he had a supportive, if boring wife, who was the epitome of what former Vice-President Dan Quayle meant when he stumped around the country preaching family values.
# # #
This growing obsession he had for the young prostitute—he knew he needed to end it and end it soon. His occasional stops at the Satin & Lace club were also a problem. It would be just his luck to run into some former prison inmate he had paroled who might remember him. Or worse, what if he ran into some prominent member of the community dallying in the den of iniquity? It was just the type of potential scandal that could jeopardize his position on the Board of Pardons, not to mention ending any hope of a future political career. Besides, she sporadically dated a possessive, jealous boyfriend who had a reputation for dealing violently with strip-club customers who tried to become overly familiar with her. Who knows what he might do if he became aware of their occasional trysts at the Starlite Motel.
He was living on the edge, and he knew it. But, he liked living on the edge.
He glanced quickly at his watch, noting that it was almost 11:30 as he entered the circular driveway that led to the stately, older Victorian home he and Margaret had purchased five years earlier. As he frequently did during the warm spring and summer months, he parked in the driveway near the garage. As he climbed out, he failed to notice the approaching figure who emerged from the shadows next to the house. When he glanced up, he thought the figure looked vaguely familiar, but wondered why anyone would be wearing a long trench coat on a warm spring night.
The advancing figure stopped less than twenty feet from him. For an instant, each looked at the other without speaking. Only when the sawed-off shotgun emerged from under the coat did he realize what was about to happen. He wanted to scream, “No,” but before he could say anything, he saw a bright flash of light and heard an explosion as the shotgun discharged. The deafening blast caught him high in the chest and propelled him onto his back. He felt the warm dampness of his own blood as it puddled under him on the cobblestone drive. A strange numbness followed. He looked up at the stars in a hazy state of disbelief as the dark figure crouched over him. The last thing he felt was the cold touch of the shotgun barrel as it was placed under his chin. The second blast nearly decapitated him.
The telephone woke me from a restless sleep. I glanced at the clock across the room with its small red numbers and strained through bleary eyes to make out the time. I’d been telling myself for months to move the clock closer to the bed or buy another one with bigger numbers. Wearily, I picked up the phone.
“Sam, this is Norm Sloan. Sorry about the hour, but we’ve got a major problem.”
I became instantly alert. Rarely did I receive a telephone call in the middle of the night from the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Corrections. Calls like this always meant that something had gone seriously wrong somewhere, usually at the state prison. As the head of the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Utah Department of Corrections, problems with inmates or prison employees usually ended up on my desk.
“I just received a call from the governor. Levi Vogue has been gunned down in the driveway of his home. The preliminary examination of the crime scene appears to suggest an execution-style hit.”
“Oh, shit. Is he alive?”
“No. They pronounced him dead at the scene.” “What about his family?”
“Out of town from what I was told.”
“Do you know if the governor is planning to involve the state attorney general’s office in the investigation?” I asked.
“The governor didn’t say anything about it. As far as I can tell, this one’s strictly in the hands of Salt Lake City P.D. and the county prosecutor.”
“Who’s been assigned as lead investigator?”
“They’ve given it to that hot-shot female homicide detective— you know, the one who gets more publicity than the Pope.”
“That would be Kate McConnell,” I said. “They couldn’t have made a better choice. She’s as talented as they come.”
“That’s her,” said Sloan. “Look, Sam, I’m assigning you as my personal liaison to Salt Lake P.D. Do everything you can to help them get it solved quickly. And Sam, don’t delegate this to anyone else. Nobody knows our prison and parole populations better than you. Let’s just hope the perp turns out to be some asshole not connected to our offender population.
“In a worst-case scenario, if the offender turns out to be one of ours, the politicians will do what they always do—look for scapegoats. It’s probably occurred to you that in the assignment of blame, you will be perceived by some as culpable. It’s your office that serves as the intelligence gathering unit for the department. There are those on the governor’s staff, and in the state legislature, who will ask how an incident like this could have gone undetected. I’ll expect you to provide daily briefings either to me or my administrative assistant, Brad Ford. Get on it, Sam, and good hunting.”
Sloan was a survivor. He started at the Utah State Prison thirty-two years ago as a clinical social worker and clawed his way up the ranks to the top. The governor appointed him as executive director five years ago.
He and I have bumped heads more than once. My dislike of authority, chains of command, and political maneuvering have often gotten me into hot water. Fortunately, I’m very good at what I do, and that keeps me employed and him out of trouble.
Sloan had made no secret of his worry that the killer might be one of our ex-cons with a score to settle. Damage control would be at the top of his agenda. While I wanted to give Sloan the benefit of the doubt, the tenor of his message wasn’t lost on me. If the killer of Levi Vogue turned out to be an ex-con, I would make a tempting sacrificial lamb for the political bureaucrats. I wondered if Sloan might become one of those bureaucrats.
I scratched a note on the kitchen chalkboard to Aunt June explaining that I’d been called out on a case and would phone her later in the morning. As the single parent of an eight-year-old, I don’t know how Sara and I would have made it without her. After my divorce, she moved in to assist with my transition into single parenthood. That was almost two years ago. She has since become an indispensable part of our lives. I looked in on Sara, and then quickly left the house.
I live in the resort town of Park City, not far from the base of the ski mountain. It’s not exactly convenient to working at the Utah State Prison, but a great place to live if you can tolerate the thirty-plus-mile commute.
As I crested Parley’s Summit and began the descent into Salt Lake City, a scary thought occurred to me. Rather than an isolated attack, what if the murder of Levi Vogue was part of a broader conspiracy to kill all of the parole board members? The lives of the other board members could be in imminent danger. An unlikely scenario? Yes. Something I could afford to ignore? Definitely not.
I reached for my cell phone and dialed Salt Lake P.D. dispatch. I was connected to the dispatch duty sergeant.
“Sergeant Malone; how can I help you?”
“Sergeant Malone, this is Sam Kincaid from the Special Investigations Branch of the Utah Department of Corrections. I’m on my way to assist your homicide unit at the home of Levi Vogue and I need your help with something.”
“What can I do for you?”
“We’ve got two parole board members who live in the city and two who reside in Salt Lake county. If I get you their names and addresses, could you have patrol officers contact them and make sure that everybody is okay?”
“Not a problem—be glad to do it. We’ll contact the ones in our jurisdiction and I’ll have the sheriff ’s office send deputies to the homes of the two who reside in the county. Anything else?” “Yeah, there is one more thing. Do you think you could arrange special patrol coverage of their homes for the remainder of the night?”
“Not a problem.”