Would You Date a Murder Suspect?
Greg Chase is a sixteen-year-old boy whose heightened deductive powers serve him well in his position as the New York Police Department’s youngest ever civilian consultant.
Forced to leave his job after his actions lead to the death of a suspect, Greg returns to school and finds himself immediately drawn to the new girl, a deviant loner named Mel Locket. Greg and Mel quickly make a connection—and build a romantic relationship—only for Greg to learn that Mel’s withdrawn and mysterious exterior hides a dark secret. She might have murdered her former classmate and best friend.
Greg believes her innocent and takes it upon himself to prove it, but he’s in a minority. The police, Mel’s therapist, and even her mother think she’s violent and unstable, capable at least of murder. They’re all right, of course. But did she really kill her old friend?
Targeted Age Group:: 14 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was primarily inspired to write this book as a result of my childhood dreams of writing installments in my then-favorite book series, The Hardy Boys Mysteries. I wanted to write a Mystery Series for young boys–but one that was aimed more so at teenagers and young adults, as well as one that tackled the subject matter of crime and detective work with a bit more realism. And I decided to write with one main male protagonist instead of two mostly because doing so was the easiest path to follow for my debut novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Once I knew that I'd basically be writing "Hardy Boys for teenagers," and once I knew that there was only going to be one main male protagonist, I began outlining the story. As I went along, I decided which characters would best suit the story that I had decided to tell.
April 28, 2017
The sunny skies and mild weather of the Saturday morning didn’t betray the grim nature of the gathering. Neither did the refined scenery of the Westchester County mansion—with its Gothic design, manicured lawn, and pruned shrubbery.
Cop cars and news vans crowded the mansion’s grounds. Police personnel were gathered on the lawn, talking to each other and speaking into their radios. News reporters and journalists were reporting on and filming the scene.
About a hundred men, women, and teenagers were gathered on the lawn. Some wore suits. Others, more casual clothing. None were smiling. None were happy. Most somberly stared at the stage and the speakers thereon.
In front of the mansion was a raised stage that held eleven people—nine teenagers and two sixtyish adults—who were all wearing striking suits or dresses. The stage contained three loudspeakers and two large easels, one on either side of the stage. Mounted on each easel was an enlarged portrait of a beautiful black girl who was about sixteen.
One of the adults onstage, a tall and attractive graying man, turned to the other—a regal woman with dyed blonde hair—and nodded, a silent signal.
She nodded back.
The man faced the crowd and raised a hand for quiet. Though it took several moments, the people obeyed. After all, they were there for him.
“Good afternoon!” he said. “As you all know, I am William Morse. And I am here to address the recent tragedy that has befallen my community.
“I’m certain that most of you know me, either personally or by reputation. Perhaps from my firm in town, my restaurants or hotels, or possibly from my recent bid for the position of New York Attorney General.
“But ten years ago, I made a choice. I decided that I was too lucky, had been afforded too many opportunities in life, to meet my maker without having given something back to the planet that had given me so much. And I decided that one of my best ways to do that would be to give back to the at-risk and impoverished children of the New York Community.
“So my wife and I created Project Rebound. Each year, my staff and I choose ten sixteen-year-old children of diverse backgrounds but with one uniting factor besides: they’re all brilliant individuals who are, nevertheless, at-risk or orphaned youths in the New York City area.
“Now these people are our future. They are every bit as bright and gifted as other children. Their only disadvantage is that they were born into hardship. Rebound works to eliminate the setbacks incurred because of that disadvantage and place these kids on the path to becoming this world’s next generation of successful professionals. As a part of Project Rebound, my team and I mentor them—during their sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school, as well as throughout their college careers. And all Rebound Fellows qualify for my own Morse Foundation Scholarship, which covers in full the costs of tuition, room, and board at any accredited college or university of their choice.”
William paused, briefly closed his eyes. “Tammi Greer was a member of the most recent class of Rebound Fellows. She was fatherless, an impoverished kid from the Manhattan Projects. But she was fully devoted to making the most of this opportunity, to making the most of herself. Her high school classmates defined her as brilliant. Her Rebound classmates—the people you see behind me on this stage—defined her as driven. Devoted to leveraging this opportunity to the maximum. To creating a better life not only for herself but also, eventually, for as many other children in her situation as she could.”
William paused again. “Her life was tragically taken one week ago, a day before she was to leave for a Spring Break vacation that my staff and I had planned for her Rebound class. My wife, my staff, Tammi’s Rebound class, and I have offered the New York City Police Department our full support in investigating this matter. And as I’m sure that you’ve all been made aware by the various news outlets, the police have finally made an arrest.
“Gary Clarke, a teenager in Tammi’s high school class, has been arrested for the crime. Mr. Clarke had a history of harassing Tammi, a history of violent criminal offenses in and around the neighborhood that he and Tammi shared. And as Tammi’s supervisor and friend, I feel obligated to offer a few words regarding this incident.
“I speak on behalf of my staff, my wife, and Project Rebound when I say that we offer our sincerest thanks to the police and to everyone who assisted in their investigation. More importantly, we offer our pledge to honor Tammi’s memory by continuing to live our lives with a determined servant-mindedness.
“But now, we ask that the media and the public be respectful of our situation and of Tammi’s and give us some time and… space… and privacy to grieve for our friend. We ask that you give Tammi’s mother the same and allow her to mourn this tragic loss….”
The speech continued, but Greg Chase was no longer listening. He’d been standing a few feet from the stage, next to one of the homicide Detectives, since before William had started talking. Now, he wordlessly broke away from the Detective—a tall black man named Jeff Rooney—and discretely slipped through the mansion’s unoccupied, open front door.
As he entered the mansion, the front foyer’s artificial lights illuminated his head and shoulders. Greg was sixteen but already had the body of a world-class athlete. His hair, long but neat, was brown. His green eyes were serious but playful.
Passing through first the foyer, then a kitchen, then a living room, Greg noticed a multitude of pictures. William, his wife Mandi, and their three kids at various stages of childhood. William and Mandi and their kids when the kids looked to be in their late teens. William and every past Rebound class. Then William and individual members of several Rebound classes. There were plenty of pictures of William alongside young men of different ethnicities—even more of him with various young ladies.
Greg paid particular attention to the ones that featured Tammi. There were many pictures of her with her Rebound class and William but many more of her with William. She was smiling in a few of them but was straight faced—nigh emotionless—in most. As Greg saw Tammi’s face repeated so many times, he remembered the salient and sad details of her case.
William Morse was a New York lawyer and businessman—a powerful one. The managing partner of an international law firm. The President and CEO of a top-flight restaurant and hotel enterprise. And a noted philanthropist.
In 2006, he and Mandi had, at his lead, started Project Rebound. The Project aimed to find and mentor gifted but marginalized teens of diverse origins and mold them into the next generation of powerful professionals, following them from their sophomore years in high school until the end of their senior years in college. Past program participants had gone on to Ivy League graduate programs or to jobs at Fortune 100 companies. Every participant, past and present, loved the program.
But one week prior, Tammi Greer, one of the girls from the most recent Rebound class, had been found dead in her low-rise apartment home. She’d been savagely beaten with what investigators had ultimately determined was a steak mallet from her own kitchen. Her mother, who had been away from her and Tammi’s apartment for most of the night of the murder, had discovered the body.
Tammi had been killed one day before she was set to go with her Rebound class on a Spring Break trip to the Bahamas that William and his staff had planned. The first-responding cops had found her suitcases messily packed, though they’d also found the ticket for her flight torn up in a trashcan. They hadn’t found any signs of forced entry into her home, and they hadn’t found the mallet. Presumably, Tammi’s killer had taken it with him.
William, his Rebound staff, Mandi, and every member of Tammi’s Rebound class had given statements to the NYPD and fully cooperated with its investigation. They’d all agreed that Tammi had been determined to make something of herself. She had, since joining the Rebound program, devoted herself to not wasting the opportunity. And she and her efforts were the envy of every other member of her class. She’d also idolized William and Mandi for the chance that they’d given her.
A local troublemaker, Gary Clarke, had quickly emerged as the prime suspect in her murder. Clarke, who lived in Tammi’s neighborhood and attended her high school, was her ex-boyfriend. Tammi had broken up with him soon after she’d become a Rebound Fellow, and it had been no secret to her mother and peers that Gary resented her. He’d believed that she was betraying her roots by becoming a part of Project Rebound—a part of William’s world of privilege and luxury.
And Clarke had a robust record of violent criminal offenses beginning when he was ten.
According to witnesses, Gary had been stalking Tammi before her death and sending her threatening letters. The police had collected the letters and positively matched their handwriting to Clarke. They had confirmed via witness testimony that Clarke had spent over an hour smoking and loitering near Tammi’s housing complex on the night of her murder. The first Detectives on the scene had collected several fresh cigarette butts from the yard near Tammi’s home and had also made plaster casts of footprints found there. DNA analysis from the cigarette butts had proven that they were Gary’s. An examination of Clarke’s shoes had proven that the footprints were too.
Gary Clarke had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The NYPD’s working hypothesis was that his motive was anger over Tammi’s dumping him—and possibly envy of her position in Project Rebound.
The police believed that Clarke initially stalked Tammi and tried to intimidate her with threatening letters but eventually decided to confront her more physically. They believed that on the night of the murder, he waited outside of her home until he knew she was alone, then talked his way into her apartment. They believed that he somehow convinced her that he was there for peaceful purposes but that once he got inside, things took a turn for the worst—ending with his murdering her and tearing up her plane ticket in anger.
Because of Tammi’s connection to William’s program, her case had quickly become a high-profile affair. The announcement of her murder, the subsequent investigation, and the eventual arrest had all been major New York news items. William, as Tammi’s mentor, had invited the media to his home so that he could make a public statement on behalf of Project Rebound. And he had invited the NYPD for purposes of further commentary to the press.
Greg continued through the mansion, ascending a set of marble stairs and walking down a long hallway until he came to and entered an impressive, plush office. To his left was a fully stocked drink cupboard. To his right was a coffee table with three sofas. And in front of him, on the far side of the room, was an aircraft carrier of a main desk with an expensive-looking leather chair behind it.
More pictures hung on the walls. One of William with Mandi and their children when the children were toddlers. Many of William with various dignitaries—Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and a few U.S. Presidents were among the number.
Greg went to the desk and started inspecting it. Save a few papers, the top was empty. The desk’s drawers were neatly arranged, and most only contained folders.
In a drawer near the very bottom of the desk, Greg found a gun—a Beretta 92FS—buried beneath a mound of papers. Removing and examining the weapon, he noted that it was well cleaned and fully loaded.
Fifteen minutes later, William Morse entered the office, a cautious look on his face. It took him a few seconds to realize that Greg was seated on one of the sofas, having helped himself to a bottle of mineral water from the cupboard.
When William noticed Greg, he studied him with mild surprise for a few seconds before going to him.
“Ah, hello?” he asked more than said. “I’m William Morse. One of the men outside, a Detective Rooney, told me that the police wanted to talk to me in my home office. I’m, ah, waiting for them now. Who are you?”
Greg left his water, stood, and extended a hand. “Greg Chase,” he said. “Good to meet you.”
William shook his hand. “Pleasure. But like I said, I’m actually expecting¬—”
“I am the police,” Greg stopped him. “… Or at least, police adjacent.”
“What?” he said finally. “I, um, I imagined—”
“Someone older?” Greg stopped him again.
This time, William didn’t reply at all. ¬¬
“Well, I confess,” Greg said, “that I’m not the actual police. Funny story. I used to make quite a hobby of helping the police solve particularly hard cases—by calling in anonymous tips. Now they just… use me. As a sort of… unofficial consultant, I think, is the best term.”
William just looked confused, like he didn’t know what to say next.
Greg continued, “Right now, you’re thinking, ‘What could a kid know about investigating crimes? How could he help the actual trained police?’
“Well, the answer is simple. The work of a policeman is knowing things… seeing things. And I’m very good at doing both.”
“I… still don’t… what can you possibly see here?” William asked.
“Oh, lots of things,” Greg said. “For instance, you don’t actually like golfing, do you? I know that you play almost religiously, but you really only do it because so many of your friends do and you don’t want to be considered out of touch.”
William’s eyes widened.
“You’re secretly pleased that your eldest son has something of a violent streak,” Greg continued. “Like any good father, you don’t want him to be a bully. But like most men, you also don’t want your son to be a wimp.
“You travel the world now to make up for not having done it much when you were younger. You want to retire to Australia, to Sydney. You’ve recently begun having trouble sleeping. When asked, you’d say that your favorite color is blue. But in reality, you don’t have one.”
“I… I don’t understand,” William sputtered with befuddlement. “What is this? What are you supposed to be? A… a magician or something. This is a trick, and you’re reading my mind?”
“No,” Greg said patiently. “I told you. I’m just… paying attention.”
In another instant, William made up his mind. “Stop, okay. Just stop. Now, whatever you are… magician or observer or whatever. The reality is that a real murder has occurred. The police… we all… are looking for real answers. And—”
“The murder of Tammi Greer?” Greg interrupted. “I already solved that. I was just telling you all of that other information so that you’d know how futile it would be to lie to me.”
For a second, William looked indecisive. Then he incredulously said, “I’m… I’m sorry. You solved it? Young man, the NYPD solved that murder. They have the killer in custody now.”
“No,” Greg said simply. “They have a criminal who, on paper, looks like a very good candidate for being the murderer but who didn’t commit this crime.”
“Oh?” William asked condescension. “But you’ve got the real killer picked out though?”
Greg ignored the condescension. “Yes. I do.”
William sarcastically waved him on. “Then pray tell. I want to know.”
“We’ll get to that in a minute,” Greg said. “But first, tell me. Do you honestly believe that Gary Clarke killed Tammi?”
William passed Greg and sat behind the desk, deeply exhaling. Greg just watched him.
“Yes, I do,” William said. “The police have hard evidence. Footprints. DNA. Means, motive, opportunity. Now, are you suggesting that he was… framed? That he’s not the real murderer?”
“Framed?” Greg said. “No. He’s quite guilty of stalking and possibly contemplating harming Tammi. Not the real murderer? Yes.”
“Then who is the real murderer, young man?”
“Well, that’s simple. You are.”
William almost fell from his seat. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Y-You’re joking,” William said tiredly.
“Drop the act,” Greg replied. “You played the grieving mentor bit well, but I think you and I both know the truth.”
“Why?” William barked. “Why would I have murdered a devoted star student who idolized me and who wanted nothing more than to use my program to make the most of herself?”
“An innocent man would’ve ordered me out of his office by now.”
“Why?” William pressed.
“Well,” Greg said, “here’s the deal. You and your wife started growing apart after your kids were out of the house, probably after they’d gone off to college. It’s a common problem among married couples whose children leave the nest. And it’s a problem that I can tell that you and your wife had because there are no easily visible pictures in this house of just you two together. Every one that has you both also includes your children at young ages.
“Like most men who grow apart from their wives, you began to fantasize about sex with other women. But like most wealthy men who are married, you likely had a prenup in place such that if you divorced your wife under the wrong conditions or were caught cheating, you’d lose more money than you were willing to pay.
“And then at some point, you realized that your Rebound program could actually be the perfect solution to your problem.
“Project Rebound naturally allows you to regularly interact with vulnerable, impressionable young women, many of whom idolize you. These girls, knowing the things that you could and probably do offer to do for them, would likely quickly succumb to your advances. They would also likely be very unwilling to report you. You hold all of the power. They see being in your program as their ticket to a better life. And even if they did attempt to report you, the odds would be heavily stacked against them. The role of any such girl would be that of impoverished, minority woman opposing a wealthy, powerful white man.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” William shouted. “Are you accusing me of… child molestation?”
“More like statutory rape,” Greg said. “And murder….
“I’m guessing you slept with many girls from your Rebound classes over the years. The fact that there are—in plain sight in this house—more pictures of you with individual girls than your own wife leads me to suspect that. Tammi Greer was your latest conquest, but something went wrong. Maybe she became uncomfortable with whatever arrangement you two had.
“You went over to her apartment that night without being noticed by Gary or any of the witnesses who placed him there. That must’ve been easy enough. I can’t imagine that sneaking into a neglected neighborhood in the Projects at night would be too hard. You came to see Tammi. Perhaps you just wanted to talk—maybe to get her to reconsider ending things with you.
“The situation got out of control. You and she had an argument. I’ll bet she tore up her own plane ticket and threw it away—as an act of defiance. She said she didn’t want to go on vacation with the Rebound class. She was probably of the strong persuasion that she wanted to call off her affair with you, possibly of the strong persuasion that she wanted to expose you. You lost it… and you grabbed the nearest blunt object… and you killed her.
“Then you had to cover your tracks. You knew about Tammi’s past with Gary. You’d maybe even seen him outside of her home that night. So you quickly set about framing him as best you could. You packed Tammi’s suitcases to make it look like she wanted to go on the trip, like all was well in your mentoring relationship with her. But you did a crap job of it, like a man packing a woman’s things. That’s why her suitcases were so messy when the cops found them.
“You sat back and watched as the police focused on Gary, and fortune favored you in that he was a perfect suspect. He had means, motive, opportunity, and a criminal past…. Easy pickins.”
“Th-That’s it?” William asked haughtily. “Messy clothes and some pictures in my house! Y-You have nothing! That’s not proof! That’s just… just conjecture!”
“You’re right,” Greg said. “What I just gave you wasn’t real proof.”
Then Greg reached into back pocket and pulled out a medium-sized, leather-bound book with one word—DIARY—printed across the center of its front cover. He held the book up to William’s eyeline.
“Real proof would be if I had searched Tammi’s bedroom, discovered a secret hiding spot, and found a diary in her own handwriting in which she admits to the affair with you….
“Wonder what the police will think of this?” Greg let the cynical question hang in the air. “Why don’t we go and ask them?” he unceremoniously added, immediately turning and walking towards the door.
“Wait!” William ordered—his voice absolute, commanding.
But it wasn’t the voice that caused Greg to stop. It was the sharp clicking noise that accompanied it. Greg knew well what the noise meant.
He slowly turned and saw that William was now pointing the Beretta, safety disengaged, at his head. A cold expression was on the man’s face.
“Gimme the diary,” William said.
Greg quickly crossed to William’s desk and offered him the diary. William snatched it then waved Greg back with the gun.
His eyes never leaving Greg, William swiftly thumbed through the diary, looking for the incriminating words that he knew must be there. But to his surprise, he quickly found himself thumbing through only empty pages. The book’s leather was well worn and made the diary seem used. But every page after the first was empty. And the first page only held a brief message: IF YOU’RE READING THIS, THEN YOU’RE GUILTY AS SIN!
William darkly chuckled. “Amusing.”
Greg smirked. “I try.”
William’s eyes lingered on Greg, but the man stayed silent for almost a full minute—and Greg could easily guess that he was doing the math. He knew he’d been caught. Even though there was no diary of incriminating evidence, he knew that Greg knew what he’d done. That Greg was a witness who could still make a very large problem for him.
The police weren’t currently investigating him as a suspect in Tammi’s murder. But if they were to do so, evidence might well be found to implicate him. Witnesses to his past affairs might emerge from the woodwork to provide motive. Detectives who made it their mission to pick apart his life could surely prove means and opportunity. And if forensic investigators were to thoroughly search Tammi’s house and suitcases for his DNA, it was feasible that some stray, forgotten piece of hair or fleck of blood might be found.
William hardened his face and made his decision. He stood, dropped the phony diary onto his desk. “Let’s go,” he coldly told Greg.
“Downstairs, to the basement, to my wine cellar.”
“Actually, I’m a bit young to drink.”
“You think this is a joke?” William’s voice rose.
“No. I just figured you were being serious enough for the both of us.”
“I don’t like this anymore than you do,” William said. “And for what it’s worth, I didn’t want to… Tammi…. She was a mistake. She… just wouldn’t listen and…” William stopped there, like he didn’t want to dig himself any deeper. “And you?” he eventually continued. “You shouldn’t even be here! Children belong at school! Not at crime scenes! You should’ve known that!”
He said it all like he was trying to convince Greg, himself, or both that murdering a teenage girl and planning to murder a boy of the same age was somehow justifiable.
“Now move!” he forcefully concluded, stepping within two feet of Greg and nodding towards the door.
“Hmmm,” Greg said, like he was contemplating whether or not he wanted to comply. Then he added, “I think not…. Detective!”
Immediately, Detective Rooney walked into the room, his own gun high, trained on William’s head. William gasped.
“William Morse,” Rooney shouted, “drop the gun, put your hands on your head, and get down on your knees!”
William made no move at all. He was too stunned by Rooney’s sudden entrance.
And in Morse’s silence, Greg spoke again.
“Mr. Morse, I must admit that I was very cynical,” he said casually. “When I asked Detective Rooney to ask you to meet me in here, I also asked him to discretely follow you and wait outside. I thought you might keep a gun in here, that this discussion might get violent. Turns out that I was right.”
“Drop the gun!” Rooney repeated. “Do it!”
Now William seemed dazed, like he couldn’t believe that this was happening to him, that his life as a free, respected man of privilege was over. Some part of him just refused to accept it.
“N-No!” he stammered. “I have a… a hostage!” he shouted, his voice retaking its certainty as he stepped closer to Greg and jerked the gun at his head for emphasis. “Back off or he’s dead!”
“Greg, stay calm!” Rooney told Greg, though Greg already seemed perfectly calm. Then Rooney again addressed William. “William, think about what you’re doing! There’s nowhere for you to go! Just put the gun down!”
“I’m getting out of here!” William protested. “I won’t—”
“Detective Rooney. Mr. Morse,” Greg interjected, “calm down. There is no need for violence. Mr. Morse’s gun won’t work. I removed the firing pin earlier.” Then he looked to Rooney. “So, just… come on over and arrest him.”
William glanced at his own gun, silently questioning if it would actually work if fired.
Greg looked back at him and mischievously said, “Yeah. You remember that I got in here several minutes before you did.”
William aimed his gun away from Greg’s face and at the ceiling, test firing it twice. Surely enough, the gun’s only reply was an empty click sound each time.
Rooney, with renewed confidence, beckoned Greg to him but kept his gun levelled at Morse. Greg walked to Rooney’s side. Morse—looking increasingly defeated by the second—didn’t even protest.
“Mr. Morse!” Rooney shouted again once Greg was clear, “Give it up! Drop the gun, put your hands on your head, and get on your knees!”
Morse did slowly drop the gun. But he didn’t comply with Rooney’s other directives. Instead, he determinedly nodded once—then quickly reached into his left jacket pocket.
“Don’t move!” Rooney shouted, a final warning.
When Morse didn’t stop, Rooney fired thrice. The first bullet hit Morse in the neck, the second in the far right of his chest, and the third in the upper part of the arm that was reaching for his pocket.
Morse collapsed wide-eyed and back-first to the floor. He coughed once. Then he went still.
Both Rooney and Greg grimly observed the newly dead man for several seconds. Meanwhile, the shots brought every cop from outside running into the mansion, guns drawn. In another minute, nearly twenty policemen were in Morse’s office, surrounding Greg and Rooney and Morse’s body—which was still bleeding into the carpeting beneath it.
One of those policemen, NYPD Chief Charles Eagan, speedily processed the scene with his eyes then wearily focused those same eyes on Greg. Once he did, Greg could promptly tell that the man was already expecting the worst—anticipating the deluge of lawsuits and bad press that could descend upon the Department like a hurricane on a housing district.
“Chase,” he said with exhaustion, “what have you done now?”
“H-Honestly, Chief,” Greg innocently replied, “I guarantee you that this looks far worse than it actually is.”
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