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About the Karina Cardinal Mysteries
When you walk the halls of power, make sure your wits—and stilettos—are razor sharp.
An art heist, cybercrime, diamond theft, and artifact forgery. What do they all have in common? Karina Cardinal and her unchecked inquisitiveness.
As a Capitol Hill lobbyist, Karina Cardinal’s quick wit and powers of persuasion are her stock in trade. Unfortunately, her skill set includes a heaping helping of curiosity—and a talent for landing in trouble, where the crooks, conmen, and outright murderers lurk.
Lucky for her, when she finds her stilettos caught in a jam, she’s got lots of friends in the right places on speed dial. Like her intrepid colleague Rodrigo, her on-again-off-again FBI boyfriend Mike, and shadowy Silverthorne Security. Without them, Karina’s next political power suit could be a body bag. And without Karina, who’d keep her building full of nosy, quirky neighbors entertained?
Karina’s stuck between a rock and a hard place-and these rocks are hot property.
Sadira Manon, friend and colleague of Karina Cardinal’s sister Jillian, has been moonlighting at a jewelry store. When a loose diamond falls out of her purse, the police sing her the song of their people-“Miranda Rights.”
Karina, Jilly, and Silverthorne Security join forces to investigate who’s setting Sadira up to take a fall, and why. By the time Karina realizes they’ve dug too deep, Jillian’s in trouble, and Karina’s forced to make that dreaded phone call to Mike Finnegan, her estranged lover-hoping Mike doesn’t let it go to voice mail.
It was merely a glimpse, but, in that moment, memories from almost a decade ago flooded back as if it had happened only yesterday. The pungent scent of gasoline, crackling wood, and black clouds billowing in the air. Screams of terror from women and children trapped inside—only women and children, for the men had already been rounded up and marched off to a camp, the old and infirm shot on sight. Black uniforms of the SS surrounding the burning chapel. Finally, the peppering spray of gunshots, which, at that point, was merciful to those inside. I—on a ridge, too far away to do anything—watching in horror. I could smell the acrid smoke, tasting its bitterness on my tongue. The day’s hot breeze only sought to enhance the jagged memory.
The wail of a small child crying for his mother distracted me, pulling me back to the present and away from the terrible memory. The mother snatched the toddler, who was dressed in a sailor suit, by the hand and chastised him for running away from her.
When I looked back, the man had disappeared. My heartbeat slowed and the memory faded. Perhaps it wasn’t him. My vantage point was about fifteen yards away. His features had been in profile to me, and he’d been speaking to another person who had been out of my line of sight.
Of course, I followed him. Luckily, I was wearing the new pair of espadrilles I’d purchased at the market yesterday. The rope-soled shoes made little sound as I darted past the extravagant sculptures and marbled mausoleums in the Recoleta Cemetery. He’d been wearing an ocher suit, and I heard dress Oxfords tapping along the tile flag way ahead of me. At the next lane, I turned right and hurried forward, catching sight of a man’s brown shoe rounding the far corner. Barely dodging a mourner placing flowers in front of a mausoleum, I received a well-deserved frown and excused myself for disturbing her lamentations. Around the bend, I followed my quarry, only to be caught up short as I practically plowed into a bespectacled, elderly gentleman in a tan linen suit innocently reading the scripture on a particularly ornate angel statue.
“Un millón de perdones!” I gasped.
He mistook my anxiety. “Con permiso, estás perdido? Puedo ayudarle?” he asked kindly in a soft Argentinian accent.
With effort, I lightened my features. No, I assured him, I didn’t need help; I was not lost. Glancing down, I observed his brown Oxfords and realized I’d been chasing the wrong footsteps. Pardoning myself again, I retraced my path.
I put an ear out for the telltale sound of men’s dress shoes. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the Recoleta was full of sightseeing tourists and families who had come to place flowers for their dead. Similar to the famous above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans, the Recoleta was packed tight with mausoleums, and it was easy to lose sight of someone amongst the ten- to fifteen-foot-high burial vaults. Moreover, many of the visitors had come from church and wore their best dress shoes, which clicked and tapped along the tile avenues.
After twenty minutes of traversing the labyrinth of alleyways, with not another sign of the man, I gave up and asked an elderly nun dressed in full habit if she could point me in the direction of the closest exit. Taking the map from my hand, she used her gnarled finger and drew an easy path for me to follow.
I found myself on a different road from where I’d entered at the busy main gate. A car zipped down the street, but there was little pedestrian traffic. The sun, at its zenith, beat down upon my head and shoulders, and the concrete sidewalk seemed to throw the heat back up at me. My hair prickled with sweat beneath my straw hat, and the cotton of my checked mint green-and-black dress stuck to my back. Parched and desperate for a drink, I spotted a handful of outdoor tables indicating a restaurant and headed straight for it.
Three French doors across the front of the building were open, to allow the breeze to enter. Inside, along the right, a dark walnut bar seated half a dozen diners, and tables were lined up symmetrically from front to back. The open windows, white tablecloths, walnut-paneled walls, and general hum of conversation from the patrons created an open and inviting atmosphere. I chose a small exterior bistro table, beneath a Jacaranda tree, and took the menu from beneath the salt and pepper shakers. A waitress in her mid-forties wearing a chambray dress and a yellow scarf around her neck arrived to take my order. I chose empanadas and iced tea.
The feathery leaves of the Jacaranda fluttered in the breeze, and a purple blossom dropped at my feet. I removed my hat and gently fanned myself with it. Closing my eyes, I allowed the murmur of Spanish conversations to wash over me. I’d been in Argentina for two days, and my ear was now attuned to the language.
The tea arrived, and, using the tiny tongs, I transferred the four cubes of ice from the metal cup into the warm tea along with a twist of lemon. The combined earthy-lemon flavor quenched my thirst, and I reflected upon what I’d seen.
The man must have simply borne a resemblance to the Waffen SS platoon officer who’d helped to carry out the destruction of the tiny farming town outside of Lyon, France, in 1944. The town had been destroyed in retaliation for a successful French Resistance mission which blew up a rail line and killed a dozen soldiers, including an SS-Sturmbannführer. Eighty-six people were murdered. I’d been a courier for the team that destroyed the rail line.
Perhaps he had merely been a ghostly vision conjured by my own imagination. After all, I had been roaming one of the most famous cemeteries in Buenos Aires. Why my subconscious would have conjured up such a horrible man, I had no idea.
A different waiter—a young man in his mid-twenties wearing black pants and a white shirt—placed a plate in front of me. “Su empanada, Señora.”
I thanked him and ordered another iced tea. The outer shell of the empanada had been cooked to a perfect golden color. I poked a hole in the flaky crust of the crescent-shaped meat pie to allow the steam to escape and to cool down the pie before eating it.
Laughter erupted at the bar area, drawing my attention.
My breath caught.
The fork slipped from my fingers and clattered onto the plate. The noise was overshadowed by the boisterous merriment. Now, instead of fifteen yards, the man stood only fifteen feet away—behind the bar. A shaft of sunlight clearly lit his chuckling features, and recognition instantly flooded my senses. His hair was longer and bushier—steely locks mixed with the dark curls—and ten years of age lined his features. An extra twenty pounds made his frame stockier, but not outright fat; after all, he’d been on the thin side during the war, as were we all. He’d removed the suit jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt, and was wiping down the bar with a white rag. I supposed he would have been considered rather attractive for a middle-aged man. Knowing the atrocities he’d committed, though, I could see nothing but the monster, even when he smiled in response to a patron’s comment.
My tea arrived, brought again by the young waiter.
“Who is that man behind the bar?” I inquired in Spanish.
The waiter barely glanced over his shoulder before answering. “That is Señor Cabrera, the owner.”
“He is popular with the customers,” I remarked as another round of laughter burst forth. “Has he always owned the café?”
“No.” The young man shook his head and put a hand on his hip. “He bought it in 1946. I grew up nearby and remember it was a rubbish street café. Señor Cabrera has made many physical improvements to the place. Now it is a true restaurant. He hired a Swiss chef and expanded the menu to include European dishes, such as the schnitzel and croute au fromage . . . my favorite,” the young man said with pride. “Europeans living in Buenos Aires come often to enjoy a taste of their own food.” He placed my empty ice cup on his tray.
The boy seemed quite proud to work at the establishment, and I needed him to continue talking. “It is quite an inviting place. Is Señor Cabrera from Spain?” I peeped at the waiter from beneath my lashes, delivering a tentative smile.
Not immune to my charm, the young man reddened. “No, he grew up on a farm in Mendoza and only came to Buenos Aires in 1945.”
“I see. But he speaks other European languages?”
“Oh, yes, French and German, some English. He spent time traveling the continent . . . when he was younger,” he said with pride.
Yes, I remember just how well he spoke French as he ordered the women and children into the village chapel before his men set it ablaze.
A patron flicked his wrist at my waiter, indicating he wanted the check.
“You have other customers; I mustn’t keep you any longer.”
He bowed and retreated.
The perspiration on my neck had dried. I replaced my hat, pulling it down onto my forehead, and shifted my chair further behind the Jacaranda tree trunk, out of the bar’s line of sight.
There were a few things I knew—first, Señor Cabrera did not grow up on a farm in Mendoza, Argentina. Second, German was his first language, not the adopted Spanish which he spoke fluently. Third, his real name was Helmut von Schweiger, and he was from Reinsberg, Germany—a small farming village west of Dresden. Finally, Helmut von Schweiger looked mighty sprightly for a supposed corpse.
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2. Karina’s Sister.
5. One of the J squared crew.
6. Diamonds & Deception: _____ Manon, Jillian’s teacher friend.
10. Karina’s kookie older neighbor.
11. Fellow lobbyist from Fatal Legislation.
12. How many phones does Karina carry in Swindler’s Revenge?
13. Where is the death mask from in Pharaoh’s Forgery?
1. Name the security company Karina turns to in a bind.
3. Name of the stolen painting in Isabella’s Painting.
4. The super hero moniker Karina gives Rick.
7. Where do Karina’s parents live?
8. The Senator who dies at Karina’s feet.
9. Pharoah’s Forgery: _______ the crap weasel.
In Butler’s engrossing fifth mystery featuring Washington, D.C., lobbyist Karina Cardinal (after 2020’s Pharaoh’s Forgery), Karina has ended her romantic relationship with FBI cybercrimes division special agent Mike Finnegan, but she gets involved with him again after her apartment is raided by an FBI team searching for him. The lead agent, Gerald Newcomb, who has a warrant authorizing a search of Karina’s home, explains that Mike is suspected of stealing over $1 million. Karina later learns a man calling himself Mike Finnegan and matching her ex-boyfriend’s description opened a new account at Mike’s bank. That same day, $1.2 million was transferred into the account from the Cayman Islands, and the next day, when Mike called in sick, the man who opened the bank account withdrew that entire amount, a suspicious transaction flagged by the IRS. With Mike’s current whereabouts unknown and indications that Newcomb has an axe to grind against him, Karina determines to help her former lover. Butler keeps the plot barreling ahead. Fans of intelligent escapism will look forward to more.
The knock, or I should say pounding, on my door startled me out of the rainy Saturday morning HGTV home renovation coma I’d slipped into. The clock read half past ten, and I realized I’d been watching back-to-back shows for over three hours. I picked up my coffee to finish it, but the half inch at the bottom of the mug had gone cold and skimmed over.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I clicked off the show. “I’m coming! Keep your pants on!”
The knocking likely came from one of my fellow condo neighbors. Winding my auburn hair into a bun and tightening the knot on my chenille robe, I shuffled to the foyer.
“Who is it?” I asked, peeking through the peephole.
The man on the other side wore a long overcoat opened to reveal a barrel chest in a dark suit, white shirt, and striped tie. He had gray-brown hair and a bulbous nose. Not a neighbor.
“If you’re peddling your religion, you can move along. I’m quite happy with my own beliefs. Thank you!” I hollered.
“FBI. Open the door, Ms. Cardinal. I have a warrant to search the premises.” He held his badge in front of the peephole. It read “Gerald Newcomb”.
Warrant? I turned off the security system, unlocked the deadbolt and the floor bolt, and pulled it open. “May I see the warrant, please?”
The agent, a little shorter than my five-foot-nine height, invaded my personal space as he laid the piece of paper onto my open palm. “We’re looking for Michael Finnegan.”
“Mike?” I glanced over the sheet. “Your information is out-of-date. We broke up a few months ago, but feel free to search away.” I pulled the door wide, and two other agents wearing Men’s Warehouse suits followed Newcomb into my tiny foyer. The first guy was in his late twenties, with freckles and reddish blond hair. I held out a hand to stop him. “Your ID, please.”
“He’s with me,” Newcomb snapped.
My mouth flattened and I delivered him a side-eye. “It wasn’t a request. Identification, please.”
“Brandon Keller, IRS, fraud division.” The freckled fellow held out his card.
The olive-skinned, black-haired man following Agent Keller held up his badge as he entered, but he needn’t have. I recognized Amir from the last time he’d been in my home more than a year ago. “What?” I mouthed. Ever so slightly, Amir shook his head. Something slammed in my kitchen. Newcomb and Keller had already begun their search of my two bedroom, two bath condo. Abandoning Amir, my fluffy pink slippers and I shambled over to investigate.
My kitchen was U-shaped with an island in the center. Newcomb opened and closed each cabinet, needlessly slamming them shut with a bang. However, he had no such luck with the soft-close drawers that were put in when I updated my fifty-year-old condo a few years ago.
“Wow, it’s ten thirty on a Saturday. Judge-let’s see . . .” I scanned the paper in my hand. “Here it is-Judge Robinson must really love you.”
The agent didn’t respond and started with the lower cabinets along the back wall.
I leaned against the island and drawled, “Mike is six foot tall and a solid 185 pounds. Do you really think he’s going to fit in the cabinetry?”
“Please stand back, Ms. Cardinal, and let us do our job,” Newcomb stated.
Crossing my arms, I moved aside to allow him to check out the island cabinet behind me. “I’m telling you-you’re barking up the wrong tree. We broke up over two months ago.” My volley didn’t receive a response. “Agent Newcomb, what division of the FBI did you say you worked in?”
“White Collar,” Newcomb replied in a clipped tone as he pulled open the cabinets beneath the sink.
White Collar? Hm, did I just fall down a rabbit hole with Alice? Mike worked in the Cybercrime division.
Newcomb opened the tiny microwave above my stove, and I rolled my eyes.
“You know, Mike once told me that they found an entire safe inside the dishwasher. Maybe I’ve stuffed him in there.” I pulled it open and whipped out the racks. Dirty dishes rattled and clanked. Newcomb jerked upright, putting a hand to his hip in an action I’d seen from Mike. Amir hustled in from the other room.
“Nope, not in there. Don’t forget to check the fridge. Oh, and there’s a washer and dryer in the pantry.” I pointed. “Maybe he’s hiding in there.”
Newcomb was not amused. “Ms. Cardinal, I can arrest you for interfering in an investigation, or you can go sit down and wait until we’re finished,” he said in a menacing voice.
“Interfering? Why, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to help,” I explained in my sweetest southern debutant accent.
Amir cleared his throat and caught my eye. His silent message was clear: “Don’t.”
“Okay, fine.” I threw up my hands. “I’ll leave you to it. Let’s see what the tax man is up to.”
I discovered that Keller had moved from the living room on to my bedroom, and he was searching my dresser drawers.
“Is fingering my lingerie part of the warrant, Mr. Keller?”
His freckled face bloomed like the red tide.
“Then I suggest you get your mitts out of my panty drawers and check places where an adult male might hide. Under the bed, closet, bathroom. You get the picture,” I snapped.
He slammed the drawer shut.
“Leave my shoeboxes alone, too. He’s not hiding in them, either!” I delivered the parting shot and strolled across the living room and down the hall to my guest room, where I found Amir searching the walk-in closet.
“Amir,” I whispered, “what the hell is going on? Is Mike in trouble? What are you doing with White Collar? I thought you worked in Cybercrime.”
Amir put a finger to his lips to shush me. “Ms. Cardinal, I believe Agent Newcomb asked you to take a seat while we finish the search,” he said in a normal tone. Then he took my hand and placed a tiny, folded piece of paper in my palm.
Shoving the paper deep into my robe pocket, I harrumphed, “Fine. I’ll go wait in the living room.” I stomped to the living room, plopped down onto the sofa, and flicked the TV back on to the home renovation show.
A few minutes later, Newcomb came into the living room. I turned up the volume.
Keller also joined us in the living room. “The bedroom is clean.”
“Did you check under the dining table?” I snarked, then caught Newcomb staring at the sofa. “Oh, for the love of Pete!” I muted my show, stood, and picked up the cushions one at a time. “He is not in my velvet couch. And if he did dare to try and crawl in there, you would be the least of his worries!”
Newcomb didn’t seem convinced and continued to stare.
“What? Do you need to check behind the couch?” I yanked the armrest and it moved about six inches.
Keller trotted over to give the backside a gander. He pulled it out farther and shook his head. “Nothing back here.”
Shoving my favorite piece of furniture back in place, I collapsed down and put my fluffy feet on the coffee table.
Newcomb pulled up the safety bar and unlocked the slider.
I sighed as he spotted the door on the far-right side of the deck. “You’ll need the key for the utility closet.”
“Please open the closet, Ms. Cardinal,” Newcomb requested in a very nice way.
Amir joined us in the living room. “All clear in the guest bedroom and bath.”
“Agent Amir, would you please retrieve my car keys from the glass bowl by the front door?” I asked sweetly, copying Newcomb’s tone.
When Amir returned, Newcomb indicated I should open the door for them. Instead, I plucked out the key to the closet and held it between two fingers. “I prefer to keep my distance from the creepy closet. Last fall, a copperhead slithered in there while I was replacing the furnace filter. I locked that sucker tight and haven’t been in since.” I wiggled the key. “It’s all you.”
With interest, Newcomb took the key. All three men piled onto my tiny deck, standing tense and at the ready, as if waiting for Mike to jump out of the closet like a jack-in-the-box.
“Be careful. That deck gets slippery when wet!” I hollered from the comfort of my couch. I considered shouting “boo!” when they opened the door, but I decided I might get shot.
The agents were doomed to disappointment. The door swung open, revealing my furnace and rusted water heater. Newcomb said something to Keller. The poor guy pulled a small flashlight out and dove into the depths of the three-by-five-foot snake- and spider-infested room. I hated that closet and shivered in disgust just watching him. He returned dusty and holding a dried-up snake carcass.
Jumping to my feet, I cried, “See! I told you there was a copperhead.”
“Ma’am, it’s just a rat snake. They’re good snakes. They eat rodents and vermin.”
“There is no such thing as a good snake if it’s in my home,” I replied to Keller’s misconceptions. “There’s a dumpster out back where you can dispose of it, please.” I added the please in a particularly wheedling tone, because there was no way I wanted that snake to be dropped in my kitchen trash.
I guess the show was over, because after closing and locking the closet, Keller and Amir filed through my apartment and out the front door.
Newcomb returned my keys. “Your boyfriend-”
“Ex-boyfriend,” I clarified.
“-is in big trouble. He’s wanted for questioning. If he contacts you, please give me a call.” He passed me his business card.
Following Newcomb to the door, I said, “Pardon me, but I’m having a difficult time believing my Boy Scout ex did anything illegal. What exactly is he accused of?”
No one responded.
Newcomb paused, with his hand on the halfway closed door. “It seems he’s scarpered off with one point two million dollars. We need to find out why.” The agent shut the door in my mouth-bobbing shocked face.