Authors: Chester D. Campbell
The Marathon Murders
Greg McKenzie Mystery
Chester D. Campbell
© 2008 by Chester D.
All rights reserved. Without limiting
the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and
the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Post Cold War Political Thriller Trilogy:
Greg McKenzie Mysteries:
Designed to Kill
Secret of the Scroll
Sid Chance Mysteries:
Bad and The
The Surest Poison
I never imagined how much destruction a ninety-year-old car
could cause until I got involved with the Marathon Motor Works case. I had
tackled my share of strange investigations over the years, but this one had
more twists and turns than a Tennessee mountain road. It rumbled onto the scene
one scorching August afternoon when digital signs above Nashville’s major
highways warned of dangerous air quality, a circumstance the TV weather folks
insisted senior citizens and children should beware of. That seniors tag
included Jill and me, of course, though we had little time to worry about it
after the phone rang.
“McKenzie Investigations,” I
“Greg McKenzie speaking.”
“Retired Lieutenant Colonel Greg
McKenzie?” asked a voice that resonated from somewhere in my past.
I hesitated. “That would be me.
“Colonel Warren Jarvis.”
A flood of images played out on my
internal memory screen as I glanced at Jill sitting behind her desk. “Did you
finish your tour in Israel, Colonel?”
“I did. And you’re a private eye
now. I thought this had to be you.”
“Jill and I have been in business
about eight months. Retirement turned out to be a pain in the butt. Are you in
was on my way to Arnold Air Force Base for a speech when I got sidetracked.
It’s a bit of a complicated story. And a rather puzzling one, I might add. We
may need your services.”
“Remember my telling you about a
lady named Abby Farrell, who I worked with on the Raptor Project?”
“The lady who
Don’t tell me you finally found her?”
Can we come over and talk?”
Thirty minutes later, we met the elusive Miss Farrell at our
less-than-sumptuous office suite in a suburban shopping center (for “suite,”
think former beauty shop). Only it wasn’t Miss Farrell now.
“Jill and Greg McKenzie,” said a
smiling Warren Jarvis, “meet Kelli—spelled with
—Kane. And that’s K-A-N-E.”
“Nice to meet you, Kelli-with-an-
,” I said, shaking her hand.
She gave me an indulgent grin. “My
pleasure, I’m sure.”
Jill invited them to occupy the
client chairs that faced our twin desks. Dressed in trim designer jeans and a
white shirt, Kelli Kane moved with the easy grace of someone accustomed to
traveling in sophisticated circles. Long black tresses accompanied a pleasant
smile accented by hazel eyes that had a striking starburst effect. I guessed
her age at early to mid-forties. That made her at least twenty years younger
than Jill or me. On the outside, she had the look of a successful businesswoman
on a relaxing vacation. My sixth sense told me there was a lot more going on
I turned to Jarvis, a handsome man
who made no attempt to hide that precursor of aging, gray around the temples.
“After what you did for us in Israel, Warren, we could hardly refuse our help.”
“We’re not looking for charity,
So what’s the problem? I hope it isn’t too serious.”
He glanced at Kelli. “That remains
to be seen. It could involve a ninety-year-old murder.”
Jill’s brown eyes sprang open wide. “Wow, talk about your cold cases.”
Jarvis shifted in his chair. “True.
But it appears to be heating up.”
Kelli spoke, her expression
clouded. “Before we go any further, we need to agree on some ground rules.”
As a retired agent with the Air
Force’s Office of Special Investigations, I could write a book on dealing with
confidential sources. Considering Colonel Jarvis’s earlier description of Abby
as having apparently operated under deep cover, I wasn’t surprised at her
“I’ve never been a big fan of
rules,” I said. “But let’s see if we can live with yours.”
“Warren has told me about his
previous conversation with you. Forget Abby Farrell. She no longer exists.
That’s really all you need to know of my background. Kelli Kane is the name I
was born with in Seattle forty-plus years ago. And that’s a fact.”
Seeing the perplexed look on my
wife’s face, I smiled. “My partner doesn’t understand these things. I’ll
explain it later.”
Jill’s eyes narrowed. “That would
“Now, you or the colonel needs to
tell us what this is all about, and how we might be able to help.”
Kelli crossed her legs, folding
strong, slim hands over one knee. “When I spoke with my grandfather a few days
ago, he asked if I could come to Nashville. He was scheduled to meet with a man
named Pierce Bradley, a construction supervisor who related a rather strange
story on the phone. Grandpa wanted me there to hear all the details when they
Bradley, she related, was job
foreman for a contractor involved in renovating an old brick building near
downtown Nashville that had once housed Marathon Motor Works. Bradley had a
bundle of papers that contained the name of Kelli’s great-great-grandfather,
Sydney Liggett, who was Marathon’s assistant treasurer. A carpenter discovered
them stashed behind the paneling of an old wall he was restoring.
The foreman thumbed through the
papers and found they were Marathon Motors records dated in 1914. A handwritten
note attached indicated Liggett planned to turn them over to the District
Attorney. An enterprising fellow, Bradley made a few calls in the business
community and learned that Sydney Liggett’s grandson, Arthur Liggett, had been
admitted recently to a nursing home on the northeast side of town.
“Your grandfather is Arthur
Liggett?” I asked.
“Yes. I had been out of the country
and wasn’t aware he’d gone into the nursing home. He’s eighty-four.”
Jill donned a sympathetic frown.
“Was it the result of an illness?”
“No, though he has emphysema.”
“So why the
“He fell at home and fractured his
leg in a couple of places. He’s coming along. I think he’ll make it okay, but
it will take a while. I had just completed an assignment and was ready to take
some accrued leave when I called to check on him. That’s when he told me about
I turned to Jarvis. “What’s the
deal on this ninety-year-old murder, Warren?”
“Sydney Liggett disappeared around
the time that note was written.” A trim, muscular man still capable of handling
the controls of the Air Force’s hottest jet fighters, Jarvis squared his jaw.
“They accused him of running off with some company funds.”
“Did he ever turn up?”
“They found him five years later .
. . dead,” Kelli said. “Grandpa says the family never believed he took any
money or left of his own volition.”
It had the sound of a tragic story,
but I didn’t see where Jill and I fit in. “Have you talked with Mr. Bradley?”
A grim look crossed Kelli’s face.
“We were supposed to meet with him last night. He didn’t show.”
“Did he give any reason why?”
Jarvis tapped his fingertips. “We
haven’t been able to locate him.”
“If he’s a supervisor, you’d think
he would be on the job.”
“You would think so, but they
haven’t heard from him over at the Marathon project. They say he doesn’t show
up there every day, but he hasn’t been by the contractor’s office, either.”
“Does he have a wife?” Jill asked.
Kelli opened her handbag and pulled
out a cigarette pack. “Mind if I smoke?”
Jill gave her a polite smile. “We’d
rather you didn’t.”
Jarvis looked at me and grinned.
“Did your wife prod you back off the cancer sticks?”
“She prodded with a vengeance. I
found it pretty tough at the start, but I gritted my teeth and hung in there.
Regarding this Mr. Bradley, did you make an effort to check with his family?”
“He’s a single man,” Kelli said.
“Lives alone over in another county.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Jarvis
said. “We don’t have a lot of time. We want to hire you to find him and recover
Kelli stuck the cigarettes back in
her bag and dropped it to the floor with a pronounced clunk. I took that to
mean she wasn’t too thrilled with the house rules. But she hid it well as she
spoke in an impassioned voice.
“My grandfather thinks those papers
may provide the proof that Sydney Liggett was no embezzler. They could show he
was framed, possibly murdered. Grandpa feels the erroneous allegations have
left a permanent stain on the family name, one that should have been erased
long ago. This is very important to him. He’s in poor health. I want to do what
he’d do if he could. I have some investigative talents, and I’ll do whatever
you’d like me to. But this is your territory. I’m sure you can do the job much
better and much quicker.”
I hoped she was right on both
counts. From her description, it sounded like a no-brainer. I had a bad
feeling, though. Brush aside something that looked no more complicated than a
twist of rope, and the next thing you knew it could pop up as a coiled snake
and take a bite out of your behind.
But we owed Warren Jarvis. Whatever
it took, I was determined to track down those errant records.
After Jarvis and Kelli left for the nursing home, Jill
pulled her chair over to my desk. “I don’t suppose the police would consider
Mr. Bradley a missing person,” she said.
“You don’t suppose correctly.”
“So what happened?”
“It’s a nice Tuesday afternoon in
August. He probably went fishing.”
“That’s not what happened to me two
“True.” No way
forget that. “But I found out pretty quickly you’d been kidnapped.
Until we get some positive evidence that it’s otherwise, we have to assume Mr.
Bradley, for whatever reason, simply chose not to keep an appointment.”
“So how do we find him, boss?”
That “boss” bit was delivered
tongue-in-cheek. Although Jill held a license as an apprentice investigator
under my supervision, she considered herself a full partner in the firm.
Which she was, of course, though I sometimes wondered why I let her
talk me into pursuing this wacky profession in a partnership.
suppose you could say I qualified as the lead investigator on this case.
“We start with Mr. Bradley’s boss.
Where are your notes with the contractor’s name?”
After consulting the notes, I
called Allied Construction and got the owner’s secretary, a Mrs. Nelson. Her
voice reminded me of my mother’s, laced with overtones of patience and
tolerance. When I explained my problem, she gave a musical laugh.
“I’m not all that surprised. His
transportation probably played out on him. Pierce Bradley is a stubborn young
man. He insists on driving an antique Jeep.”
That’s the Jeep I had driven the past few years.
It’s a real Jeep. You know, that military color.”
“That’s it. Looks like surplus from
some ancient war.”
I knew about ancient wars, too,
having served an Air Force tour in Vietnam. “Does it break down often?”
“I wouldn’t say often. But a lot
oftener than he’d like, I’m sure.”
“I’ve had experience with Jeeps
like that. Where does Bradley live?”
“In Walnut Grove.
It’s a wide spot in the road up in Trousdale County, about forty miles
northeast of Nashville. I think he’d like to move down here, but he’s got some
problems. Would you like his phone numbers?”
She gave me both home and cell
numbers. I thanked her and turned to Jill. “Mr. Bradley probably had car
trouble. He drives what sounds like a Vietnam-era model of what Jeep now calls
She fixed me with a wary frown.
“Why didn’t he call and tell somebody?”
Good point, but I played devil’s
advocate. “If he didn’t have anything pressing, he probably didn’t feel it
“I heard you repeating phone
numbers. We should try calling him, right?”
“Shall we divvy up?”
“You try at home. I’ll try the
We were big on serendipity, economy
of effort, all that good organizational stuff.
Neither of us got an answer, which
was troubling. We left messages on both phones to call us, regardless of the
It was almost time to close shop
when Jarvis called back.
“Having any luck?”
“Not so far. How’s Mr. Liggett?”
“He’s doing fairly well, but the
pain medication leaves him a little confused at times. I think it would be
profitable for you to come over and hear his story, though.”
“And you want him to see that we’re
on the job.”
“Might improve his
“When is a good time for us to make
“He’s eating supper now.”
“Why don’t Jill and I get a bite,
then we’ll drop by.”
Kelli and I’ll be here. I don’t have to be down at Arnold for my talk until in
Jarvis’s current assignment was
with the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. He had flown into
Nashville to rent a car en route to Arnold Air Force Base near Tullahoma,
seventy-five miles to the south. He planned to brief delegates attending a conference
at Arnold Engineering Development Center, the Air Force’s big supersonic wind
tunnel facility capable of testing most anything that
, on the situation in the Middle East.
Our storefront office in a suburban strip center had
acquired a little more dignity since we’d covered the plate glass windows with
a mural depicting the Gardens of Versailles.
Quite a step up
for an ex-beauty salon.
Being the daughter of a symphony violinist, Jill
had insisted on a classical look. That, however, marked the extent of our
elegance. The rest was strictly utilitarian, more in tune with my Scottish
roots—a couple of green metal filing cabinets, a well-stocked bookshelf, a
paper shredder, and a table with printer, fax, copier, and a small TV.
I had found the location ideal for
a guy who likes to eat, being convenient to numerous restaurants. We stopped at
a nearby ribs place and ordered a pile of food that would embarrass a porker. I
had just cleaned the last bone of its barbeque sauce-slathered meat when Jill
gave me her be-prepared-to-duck look.
“After eating all that, you’d
better be ready to march in the morning, Colonel McKenzie. Considering what you
put away, you may have a stomach cramp, but that won’t work as an excuse.”
Most mornings we trekked the
neighborhood on a two-mile jaunt before breakfast. We’d shower and eat and head
for the office around eight. This morning I had begged off walking because of a
“Okay, babe,” I said. “I’ll be
can cancel the whip-cracking routine.”
My bride of nearly forty years had
become a firm taskmaster of late when it came to my maintaining a healthy
lifestyle. I tend to gravitate to what is politely called hefty. She not always
politely reminds me to back away from the table.
Afternoon rush hour traffic had subsided, although a
conglomeration of cars and trucks cluttered Old Hickory Boulevard as we took
the circumferential highway to the north. It led past President Andrew
Jackson’s restored Hermitage mansion, for which our community was named,
through an area called Old Hickory, another
reference, and the tiny incorporated village of Lakewood. The traffic slowed to
a decent 45 miles per hour there, thanks to its reputation as a speed trap.
I had never been to this particular
nursing home. We found it in a fashionable neighborhood of large post World War
II houses built on sizeable lots with brawny oaks and maples and lawns as
smooth as golf course greens. Though I couldn’t say if it was a conscious
effort to stash away the ranks of the infirm, the facility lay hidden behind a
woodsy façade. We would have missed it except for the modest Safe Harbor sign
at the driveway entrance.
A nurse wearing a colorful smock
directed us down a tiled corridor infused with a pervasive antiseptic odor. We
passed a huddled woman in a wheelchair, a few wisps of gray hair clinging to
her bowed head. She talked to herself in low, unintelligible tones. It left me
with a hollow feeling inside, a feeling I should do something to help her but
without the vaguest idea of what I could do. It was similar to what I felt when
encountering a homeless guy on the street. I usually gave them a buck and hoped
it would be spent in some useful manner, if not a wise one.
We found Arthur Liggett’s name
beside the door to a room not a lot more spacious than a broom closet. It
housed a bed, a lounge chair, and a three-drawer wooden chest. A few aluminum
stack chairs had been squeezed in for our benefit.
A large man with thinning white hair,
Liggett had a full face and a silvery mustache in need of trimming. I suspected
his granddaughter would get around to that shortly. Hooded eyes gave him a
lethargic look. Small oxygen tubes fed into his nose, a circumstance that
struck me as demeaning, though necessary. Neither age nor physical impairment
had lessened his desire to maintain the formality of years in management,
however. He wore a white shirt with red tie beneath the blue sweater donned to
combat the robust air-conditioning system. My approach to retirement had taken
the opposite tack. After a lifetime of being forced to dress up in coats and
ties, I took pains to avoid them except when an absolute necessity, and never
during a mid-August heat wave.
After introductions, I shook Mr.
Liggett’s large, gnarled hand and took a chair beside the battleship gray wall.
“What in the world are you doing here, Mr. Liggett?” I asked. “You look like
you’re ready to run a marathon.”
He leaned his head against the
lounge chair and gazed out through thick oval lenses, the bare hint of a smile
tilting a corner of his mouth. “You can’t see the gruesome part . . . under
this blanket covering my legs. I never did run too fast, though. Maybe it won’t
He spoke in a low, breathy voice,
the words coming slowly.
“As long as I’ve known him, he’s
never been a complainer,” Kelli said.
I wondered about that “as long as
I’ve known him” but let it pass.
“You were a hospital
administrator?” I asked.
“Yes. You’d think I’d seen enough
of this sort of environment, that I’d figure out how to avoid it in any way
“How long were you in the hospital
He took a deep breath, looked up at
the ceiling, then back at me.
“Practically all my life.
I served in the Army Medical Corps during the war.
work in a hospital after my discharge.
I only needed a year to finish
college. They were generous enough to let me do that while I was working.”
Kelli leaned forward. “He was
manager of one of the city’s largest hospitals when he retired at
“You’ve spent a long time in the
trenches,” Jill said.
“Time for you to get a rest.”
Only rest I’m likely to get’s in the grave.
Kelli says you’re detectives. I hope you can find out what’s going on.”
“Tell us how this came about,” I
“A few days ago I got a call.” He
glanced at the phone on the bedside table. “Fellow said—what was his name?”
“Pierce Bradley,” Kelli prompted.
“Yes, Pierce Bradley called. Said
he was a foreman with a contractor rehabbing the old Marathon Motors buildings
on Clinton Street. It’s just beyond downtown, near the Inner Loop. I knew the
place, of course. That’s where my grandfather worked years ago.
Bag Company used the buildings in its operations
for a while, but they’d been vacant a long time.”
“Somebody new had bought them?” I
making office space for photographers and artists and musicians.
remember his name. Anyway, this—Bradley, was it?—said one of his workers had
found a sheaf of papers behind some wood paneling. It was addressed to the
Davidson County District Attorney General.”
“The worker gave the papers to
“Did Bradley show them to anybody
“I don’t think so. Said they were
obviously quite old. The building had been vacant for years. Derelicts had
trashed the place. Bradley said he started to throw the papers away but decided
to take a look first. He’s not a financial type of fellow. He wasn’t sure what
to make of it. But he talked to the building’s owner and learned of Marathon’s
bankruptcy. He knew there had been a lot of controversy. Then he saw my
grandfather’s name, that he was the assistant treasurer.”
“How did Bradley connect it with
you?” I asked.
“I think he started with the
Chamber of Commerce. They suggested he contact somebody else. After a few
calls, he came up with my name.”
“I imagine you’re pretty well known
in the Nashville business community,” Jill said.
He allowed a full smile for the
first time. It had a touch of shyness to it. “You could probably say that.”
I looked up from the notes I was
jotting in my lap. “That part about the District Attorney sounds like your
grandfather thought something criminal was involved. Did Mr. Bradley give you
any clue as to what the records contained?”
Liggett took another deep breath
before replying. “I don’t think he really had any idea. He didn’t know anything
about Sydney Liggett’s disappearance.”
“Tell us about that.”
Liggett shifted in his chair, a
beefy hand smoothing his tie. “It’s one of those things you’d rather forget,
but can’t. The first I knew about it was when I was in the first or second
grade. This uppity boy got mad at me one day and said, ‘Your granddaddy was a
thief.’ I thought he was just inventing an insult until I got home and told my mother.
She sat me down and told me not to believe such things. My grandfather had been
accused of taking money from the company, but the family was convinced he
didn’t do it.”
“That was a terrible way to learn
about it,” Jill said.
“It was. My mother told me Grandpa
Liggett had disappeared. They found nothing but bones when they discovered his
body several years later. The legal system ruled him guilty, but his wife and
son, my dad, always believed in his innocence.” Albert Liggett rubbed his eyes.
“I’d like to be able to prove that, and these papers sound like they just might
Jill leaned over and whispered in
my ear. “He’s getting tired.”
I agreed. I stuck my little
notebook in my pocket and stood. “We certainly enjoyed meeting you, Mr.
Liggett. This little chat should help get us off to a good start. You take it
easy now and get well. I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.”