Undiplomatic MurderRobert Brixton, private investigator here, sitting in my small office suite in Washington, D.C. next to the one occupied by my friend, the attorney Mackensie Smith. When Mac resigned his post as law professor at George Washington University to return to private practice he convinced me to return to D.C. to handle his investigations, along with assignments from others. Mac Smith is one of the good guys in my life since I came back to our nation’s capital. There aren’t many. As President Harry Truman once famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” He knew what he was talking about.

I’ve been accused of being a perpetual malcontent. But that’s just the way I am. I was once a cop in D.C. That lasted four long years, enough time for me to get married, have two daughters, and get divorced. I split and headed for that allegedly genteel southern city, Savannah, Georgia, where I put in twenty on its police force and retired with a paltry pension and a bad knee. From there, I went back home to Brooklyn where people don’t say “ya’ll” when you’re the only other person in the room. I intended to stay, but an old friend lured me back to the District. A big mistake. While working for a private security agency connected with the State Department I lost my youngest daughter, was accused of murdering the son of a prominent politician, and found myself knee-deep in lying politicians and international arms dealers. I’ve been the target of a crazy paid assassin, nailed a conniving congressman from Tampa whose pretty young intern was found murdered, and used my Savannah connections to make a first lady and D.C.’s leading social hostess sweat bullets. Not your run-of-the-mill way to make a living, but it could be worse, like being a member of Congress and having to sit through the never-ending drone of speeches that say nothing.

Fortunately I have Flo Combes, “mah honey”—notice my southern accent?—who puts up with me when she isn’t chastising me for acting like a jerk. She understands me because she’s from New York, too. My receptionist as well as my lover and constant companion, Flo never hesitates to hold a mirror up to me, although I don’t always like what I see.

While I may never win any Miss Congeniality awards, I do have attributes that are invaluable in my job. I easily spot phonies, blowhards, hypocrites, and other D.C. denizens who rise from the swamp this city is built on. I know how to run down a perp and gather evidence against him without tipping off the suspect. I can size up witnesses and figure out how best to approach them. I know the rules and when to break them.

I also know that I carry to extremes my jaundiced views of people and the stupid things they do. Men who wear baseball caps backwards annoy me. Don’t they know that the visor is designed to shield their eyes, not the nape of their necks? People who are oblivious to their fellow pedestrians and walk down the street peering into their cell phones ought to be locked up, along with morons who text while driving. I don’t like jellybean drinks with little umbrellas or martinis made with anything but gin. I don’t go to the movies because I’m not interested in how many explosions and car chases the special effects guys can come up. I want real stories with real characters, like in Casablanca or Brief Encounter.

Okay, so I’m a pain-in-the-neck sort of guy. But Flo Combes loves me so there must be something salvageable here. And Mac Smith puts up with me because he knows that I’m a damn good private investigator who doesn’t fudge the truth, and who will put his hide on the line when the cause is worth it.

Since settling back in Washington I’ve come to appreciate its positive points. It’s a pretty city, with its cherry blossoms, monuments, wide boulevards and low buildings. Summers are tough (but Savannah was no Garden of Eden either), when the heat and humidity (and odors) of July and August settle over the city like a soggy blanket.

All in all, things could be worse. At this moment I’m nibbling on shrimp toast that Flo whipped up and brought to the office, and sipping a perfectly shaken martini. A client just paid me, the humidity outside has dropped a few points, and we have a reservation at a chi-chi watering hole where we’ll meet up with Mac and Annabel Smith. So life is peachy—just as long as some clown at the next table doesn’t have his baseball cap on backwards.


Robert Brixton made his debut in Monument to Murder in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series, joining recurring characters Mac and Annabel Smith. Brixton has gone on to appear in Experiment in Murder, Undiplomatic Murder (published in July 2014 by Forge) and Internship in Murder (July 2015).

Meet the author
Donald Bain worked closely with Margaret Truman on all her Washington-based mystery/thriller novels, and has continued the series after her death. He’s the author/ghostwriter of more than 115 books, including 43 in the bestselling “Murder, She Wrote” series, on which he collaborates with his wife Renée Paley-Bain. His caper novel, Lights Out! was published in May.


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