Sneak Peek at First Chapters – The Fractured Man

First Chapters of The Fractured Man

A Q.C. Davis Mystery

The Fractured Man Q.C. Davis Mystery 3

The Fractured Man

Chapter One

Thursday, May 15, 12:03 a.m.

Once you’ve lost a person you love, a call in the middle of the night means only one thing.

This one woke me from a dead sleep. I flailed for the phone and whacked my knuckles on the oval table next to my bed. The phone clattered to the floor.

I scrambled to retrieve it from under the bed. My mother’s phone number showed on the display. Her number is one of the few programmed to get through my nighttime Do Not Disturb setting, but she never calls me during the night.

She rarely calls me at all.

Sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor between the wall and my bed, I answered. It was chilly outside for mid-May, and the draft from the sliding glass doors blew across the condo onto my bare legs, but I had no desire to move.

If you’re already on the floor, there’s nowhere to fall.

“Is it Dad?” I said.

It was the only reason I could think that he wouldn’t be the one calling with bad news.

“He’s fine,” my mom said.

Maybe Dad was too upset to come to the phone. Which made me think of my grandmother, my dad’s mother. She’s in good health but in her late seventies.

“Gram? Kendra? The kids?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” my mom said.

I let out my breath and rested my back against the metal bedframe and box spring. I’d covered our whole family. My mom’s anxiety keeps her from sleeping, so by itself her being awake this late meant nothing. Except that it hadn’t occurred to her that I’m normally asleep by ten-thirty and calling at midnight would scare me.

“So you’re calling at midnight to, what, say hi?”

“Caleb called. He’s trying to reach you and keeps getting your voicemail. He says it’s important.”

“Caleb?” I wound my fingers into my long, tangled hair. My brain conjured an image of The Alienist, a book I’d read in high school and loved by Caleb Carr.

“Caleb,” Mom said.

Nothing in the way she said it changed. But as I climbed into bed it sunk in. “Oh.”

I hadn’t heard from him in over a decade, but Caleb was my best friend from fourth grade through the middle of college. A short, skinny kid good at making me laugh, after his parents divorced, he and his mom moved into a rambling three-story Victorian a few blocks from where I grew up. Gram knew his mother from church and insisted she bring him over to meet me because he, too, liked acting.

I scrolled through the missed calls listed on my phone. An unfamiliar number had tried three times in the last fifteen minutes. My phone hadn’t rung because I’d set it on Do Not Disturb.

“Why’d he call you?”

“He remembered I’m always awake all night,” Mom said. “He needs to talk to you.”

My mom still used the same flip phone, and cell phone number, she had for the last fifteen years. Mine had changed, and my law firm website lists only my office landline.

I drew my knees to my chest and wrapped my free arm around them. “Is it his mom or dad?”

Caleb and I had spent so much time in each other's homes that we felt like members of each other's families. Ironically, both our parents had seemed more interested in the child not their own.

“He didn’t say. I’m tired. I’ll text you his number.”

She hung up without waiting for me to respond.

Thursday, May 15, 12:10 a.m.

You can use social media to stay connected, or you can use it to stay away. Caleb did the latter with me.

Over our junior year of college, Caleb became busier and busier. When I texted, he answered, but days later. If I left a voicemail, he responded on social media saying he missed me, things had been crazy, we’d catch up soon. But on the same date I’d see photos online of him drinking pale ale at Kitty O’Shea’s on Michigan Avenue, eating chocolate chip pancakes at the Artists Café, or enjoying Manhattans in the lounge of a storefront theater. Before the opening of a play I’d asked him to see with me.

I stopped checking his feeds. A couple years after college I got off social media altogether. All it did was make me feel bad, and once I stopped acting I didn’t need it professionally again until I opened my own law firm.

So I had no idea what was happening with Caleb now. The last thing I’d seen was that he moved to L.A.

I made chai tea with whole milk and honey while waiting for my mom’s text. When it came, it included only the number, the same one that had tried calling me earlier.

No question about how I was, which I didn’t expect via text. But also no apology for frightening me, which I’d thought might have occurred to her.

With a lot of therapy I’d accepted, more or less, that my mom’s depression and anxiety made it hard for her to step out of her own head. Exhausted and wired after being jarred awake by a ringing phone, though, my acceptance was definitely less.

I dialed Caleb.

“Q.C.?” he said when he answered.

“Quille,” I said. His mistake told me he’d never looked me up online at all. Once I stopped acting, I stopped using Q.C. Davis. My law firm is Quille C. Davis LLC, and my occasional social media posts identify me as Quille, not Q.C. “What’s going on? Your parents okay?”

“Mom’s good. Dad’s on Wife Number 4, but our relationship has improved exponentially.”

Exponentially seemed like an oddly formal word for an after-midnight call. Maybe Caleb at thirty-four was a formal person. But his parents were all right, and I couldn’t think of anyone else we knew in common after all these years.

I set the mug on the steamer trunk I use as a coffee table and shifted to a more relaxed position on the couch. “So what’s going on?”

“My friend died.”

The image of Marco’s dead body, which I’d been the one to find, flashed through my mind. I huddled in the corner of my couch. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry.”

“He was my mentor,” Caleb said. “And boss, sort of. He was the one who — he hired me. Trained me. Believed in me.”

“Are you okay?”

“The police are asking questions. I might need a lawyer. Which you are these days, right?”

“Not that kind. But I share office space with a criminal defense attorney. I’ll text you her info. She’s who I’d call if I were in trouble. She’s a singer, too.”

The last part had nothing to do with law, but Caleb loved singing, so he might feel more comfortable having something in common with her. I still wondered why he’d called at midnight. But Danielle always complained about clients calling her after they talked to the police instead of before. I supposed I should be grateful Caleb was calling now rather than from the police station.

“I want to connect with you, though, too. In person. Tomorrow morning? Or this morning, I guess it would be.”

I rubbed my forehead. A stack of litigation files sat in my office, cases where I’d already gotten as many extensions as I could. In the early part of the year I file taxes for actor and artist clients, which means in late April and May I’m busy playing catch up on everything else.

Carving out time for Caleb when he hadn’t gotten in touch in all these years, and now only called because he needed something, didn’t sound appealing.

But a potential murder investigation was scary. People want to talk to someone they know, not just a lawyer with expertise. And he’d been there for me often enough before college.

“Come to my office at eight-thirty,” I said. If he was still acting, he kept a late schedule. But there was a limit to how much I’d rearrange my day out of the blue.

“You got it. And Q — Quille —can’t wait to see you.”

Chapter Two

Thursday, May 15, 7:13 a.m.

My condo is one of the many brick warehouses and printing factories in my neighborhood that have been converted to loft space. My office is in a similar building a few blocks away. The area is known as Printers Row. I’ve loved it ever since I first walked through it to meet Caleb at Columbia College where he studied music and theater. It’s especially beautiful in late spring. The trees, planted in grates in the sidewalk, are full of leaves and all the potted flowers the businesses put out are in bloom.

On Thursday morning I picked up an Earl Grey tea at the café on the ground floor of the building where I have my office. I took a big gulp in the elevator, hoping it would wake me up, and scalded my tongue and throat.

The suite was empty. I didn’t usually get in before 7:30, but I had no idea how long Caleb’s story was likely to go and I had a legal brief to finish and file with the court. After flipping on the lights, I looked over the changes my virtual assistant had made for me the night before. She works from her home in South Carolina after she puts her kids to bed.

I spotted a mistake in reasoning I’d made, so I reworked the last third of the brief. My tea cooled, its lavender and vanilla notes filling the air as I revised, printed, and reread. Other people came in as I worked, and the air conditioning cycled on. It’s set automatically by the building and goes on whether it gets above seventy degrees outside or not.

I ignored it other than pulling on my blazer.

The bell at the front desk rang. I glanced at the time on my laptop. 8:20. I didn’t expect Caleb yet. When I’d known him, he’d been ten to fifteen minutes late for everything, including auditions and rehearsals. He still got cast because he was good, but not as often as he might have, even in student films.

But we don’t have a receptionist and my office is right off the reception are, so I poked my head out the door.

And there he was.

Had I passed him on the street I wouldn’t have recognized him. He wore narrow-legged light gray chinos and a crisp mint-green collared shirt, open at the neck, and loafers. With tassels. Other than on stage, I’d never seen Caleb in formal or business clothes even when his dad took us out to eat somewhere nice.

I must have looked as different to Caleb as he did to me, if not more so. His wardrobe had been casual but had flattered his lean build and dark hair. In contrast, offstage through my teenage years I’d worn mostly faded, loose-fitting jeans I got at thrift stores and oversized, stretched out T-shirts. Now I wore what I thought of as a variation of my office uniform: low heels with skinny jeans, a white tank top with a gold and silver twist necklace, and a charcoal pinstriped blazer. I’d spent a few extra minutes smoothing my hair into long waves. While Caleb and I had never been romantic — we weren’t one another’s type — I’d still wanted to show how much I’d changed while he’d been gone.

However different his look was, his scent was still the same. A blend of coconut, lime, and some spice I’ve never been able to identify that makes me think of vacation. Though I’d meant to shake his hand as if he were a new client, when he reached out his arms I stepped forward and we hugged.

When we moved apart, he surveyed me. “The professional look really works for you, All Eyes and Hair.”

“You don’t look bad yourself, Tiny Boy.”

Caleb shook his head. “It’s a wonder either of us stayed in theater.”

The nicknames came from a director who’d spent more time critiquing our appearances than our performances. After having been a fairly cute kid, that year I’d become an awkward twelve-year-old. Skinny with braces and medium-length hair that bushed out all over the place, the director’s barbs about my bony arms, oversized eyes, and unkempt hair made me cry.

Caleb, always the shortest and skinniest kid in the class, told me that one day he’d be taller and I’d become a beauty but the director would always be a no talent jerk. Caleb even hunted down awkward childhood photos of some of my favorite actresses.

“The play, though,” I said.

It had been one of my favorites, written by a Chicago playwright who went on to win multiple grants and awards.

“Exceptional,” he said. “And our one time acting together. I’ll never forget it.”

I ushered him into my office and shut the door. Danielle, the criminal defense attorney, was out at court all day today. My desk stands kitty corner from hers along one of the windowless interior brick office walls. I sat and spun my desk chair so I faced Caleb. He sat in one of two green vinyl visitor chairs next to the closed door.

“How serious are the police about you? Did they ask you to come into the station? “ I said.

“Not yet. But when they questioned me at the scene, they said they’d follow up.”

“Danielle said she’ll try calling you tonight. She’ll give you good advice.”

“Thank you. It means a lot.” He folded his hands together and leaned forward. “You must be wondering why it took a murder for me to get back in touch.”

“It crossed my mind,” I said.

“I take full responsibility. I fractured our relationship. That’s past, but I want to remedy it now.”

He sounded like he was reading from a script.

“Remedy it how?” I said.

“I’ve thought a lot about it. Why I disappeared on you.” He unclasped his hands and made a small spreading gesture with his arms. “I was jealous.”

“Jealous? But you — “

“Yeah, maybe that’s why I recognized it.”

My first boyfriend had been an actor. As I got more and more paid acting jobs, the relationship started falling apart. I didn’t make the connection, but Caleb did. And he was right.

I’d never imagined Caleb felt jealous of my success at acting, though. If anything, I’d felt jealous of him. How easily he fit in with other people. How much more fun he seemed to have no matter what he was doing. And how often my mom pointed out that his personality was like that of my middle sister, the original Q.C. She’d been blond and bubbly and laughed all the time. Or so I’d been told by everyone who’d known her.

“But you disappeared after I decided to quit theater,” I said.

“I couldn’t believe you were walking away from it.” He sat back in his chair, his legs sprawling. “And I knew any minute my dad would start saying I should be sensible like you.”

“I wasn’t being sensible. I was doing what I wanted.”

I’d loved acting and had felt proud of earning my own money at it as a kid. But the longer I did it the more disappointed I’d felt when my mom didn’t react to, or sometimes so much as notice, my successes. Whatever I did on stage, I’d always been less of a star than her lost child would have been.

At the same time, the business classes I’d taken so that I could better manage my acting career turned out to be fun. I especially liked accounting. Numbers meant something. They were predictable. When you got the right answer, the books balanced. Later I found that in law I could bring together my love of performing with my business skills.

Caleb nodded. “I knew that. You knew that. But my dad never would.”

“That wasn’t my fault.”

“It wasn’t. But you know, with my friends at Columbia, I felt like a god. Half of them were never going to be actors anyway. They were killing time until they went into their parents’ businesses or got into grad school or started selling insurance. They thought I was amazing.”

“I thought you were amazing.”

“I know.” He met my eyes. “I was messed up, and it was terrible to do that to you.”

“It made me feel — it reminded me of my mom. Like the only thing interesting about me was my work in theater.”

“It so was never about you, Quille. I wanted to blame you, blame my dad, blame everyone but me for what I didn’t like in my life. It took me a long time and a lot more mistakes to take full responsibility for myself. Vincent, my friend who’s gone now, helped me see that I needed to do that. And I don’t blame you if you don’t forgive me. Or if you forgive me but don’t want to help. But if you could, it would mean so much to me.”

Chapter Three

Thursday, May 15, 8:59 a.m.

In the suite’s narrow kitchen, I made myself a cup of tea from the Keurig machine and filled a glass of water from the tap for Caleb, who waited in my office. It gave me a moment to think. I’d offered to make him coffee, but he’d said he didn’t drink caffeine anymore.

I didn’t know how I felt about him coming to me for help. Or what I could do for him other than sending him to Danielle. But I knew how hard it was to deal with loss. I wouldn’t send a stranger away in that circumstance without at least listening.

So I’d do that for Caleb.

He stood at my windows, looking down at Dearborn Street. “Neighborhood’s a lot busier.”

“Wait until you check out south of Roosevelt.” I handed him the glass. “So tell me more about your friend.”

He set the glass on a coaster on the credenza next to Danielle’s printer and settled into the vinyl chair again. “Vincent Lenzi. He introduced me to Seminar and was my mentor from then on. More like a dad, really. But a good one.”

“What kind of seminar?”

“No, no. Seminar. With a capital S.”

He took out his wallet and pulled out a business card. His phone number and email address appeared on it in small type under a single word: Seminar, printed in bright green ink. The S was twice the size of the remaining letters and had extra swirls at the top and bottom. The color and flourishes might make it a trademark or some other type of protected logo. The company name itself struck me as too generic to be memorable.

“What is it?”

“An educational personal growth program. Founded by Scott Gary.”

He said the name as if I ought to know it, but I didn’t.

“He used to be a psychiatrist, but he left the profession when he realized he could help more people and create global change by working with groups rather than individuals.”

I made a note to look for Seminar’s website and see if that exact language appeared. “And how did you meet Vincent?”

“My dad sent me to him a couple years after I graduated. He’s a business coach. You were right, BT double-V. Took me six years to get my degree.”

I’d always found his way of saying By The Way annoying. But at least he sounded more like the Caleb I knew.

That it had taken him six years to get his bachelor’s degree didn’t surprise me. He’d regularly dropped classes after the official drop date, leaving him short on credits at the end of every semester. He’d ribbed me about sticking with classes I disliked, but my partial scholarships didn’t cover the full tuition as it was. I couldn’t afford extra years. It was different for Caleb. His dad hadn’t liked him majoring in theater, but he still paid the bills.

“And after? When you moved to L.A.?” I said, then clamped my lips together. Too late. I hadn’t meant to show I’d checked on him at all. But he didn’t seem to notice.

“Mostly storefront theatre. A lot of auditions. No musicals. Never quite got there despite all the voice lessons.”

While Caleb’s voice had a warm quality, and he could project, he didn’t have a wide enough range for most lead roles in musical theater. He also had trouble singing harmony. A baritone, he could sing a duet with me because I’m a soprano and our parts would always be far enough apart. But when he sang with a tenor, alto, or bass, he drifted off key, struggling not to sing the other person’s part. As if he couldn’t help joining the voice with the range nearest to his rather than go his own way.

“Did Vincent have theatre contacts?”

“No, no. He did business coaching for Fortune 500 execs. He suggested I move to Austin. Audition for corporate films. Eventually I did, and he was right. I got work.”

“Enough?” I said.

“Not once I hit thirty.”

Caleb’s dad had agreed to help support him while he pursued acting, but only until Caleb turned thirty. Which had seemed forever away when we were in college. Now we were both thirty-four.

I flipped a page on the legal pad. “So what’d you do?”

“Accepted a job offer from a company whose corporate films I was in. It was sales. Commission only. My dad agreed to help out a little longer so I could get on my feet. And my manager suggested — strongly — that all new salespeople go to Seminar.”

“The manager was in Seminar, too? Is this a bigger organization than I’m thinking? Because I’ve never heard of it.”

My phone pinged five times in quick succession, my scheduling app reminding me of tasks I’d planned to do today. And I still needed to finish my brief. Federal court allows until midnight to e-file, but leaving things to the last minute is a recipe for stress. If you have a computer glitch, or the court does, at best you’re stuck writing a motion asking the court to let you file late. At worst you’re not allowed to file at all.

“No, the sales manager knew Vincent from Seminar. That’s part of how I got the job offer.”

“So you don’t work for Seminar, you take courses there?”

He held up his hand to forestall more questions and took a long drink of water.

With a prospective client at that point I’d share my hourly rate and explain my twenty-five-hundred-dollar retainer policy. That repelled people who’d been hoping to chat my ear off for free, get my thoughts, and then call the next lawyer on the Internet in the hope of more free advice.

It also meant people who did hire me got to the point faster. When you realize rambling for half an hour will cost you over a hundred dollars, you cut to the chase.

He crossed one leg over the other and stretched his arm across the back of the chair next to him. “I work at Seminar now. But I started by taking part in an Event. Not a course. There are no courses. My first Event led to exponentially exceptional change for me.”

Exponential, exceptional — he really was talking out of a corporate handbook, complete with emphasis on words like Event so they sounded as if they were capitalized.

“So Seminar helped with your salesperson job?” I said.

“Yeah. I kept taking part in Events, and I did better each year at work. Then Seminar offered me a position, and I love it. But now I not only lost my friend, my mentor, I’m afraid people at Seminar will blame me. For Vincent’s death.”

Caleb’s shoulders drew together and his whole body seemed to fold in on itself.

“Blame you? Why?”

“Because the police questioned me.”

“The police must have questioned a lot of people,” I said.

“Yeah, but they spent a lot of time with me. I was at the offices late Sunday night. The night he was killed.”

“Who else was there?”

He told me the names of two men and one woman. I printed them neatly on my legal pad so I could hand it all off to Danielle if she ended up representing Caleb. “Did you see Vincent that night?”

“Yeah. Around seven we ate dinner as a group in a conference room. He went to a back office to prepare for the Events starting on Monday.”

“That was the only time?”

“Yeah. But I heard him arguing with someone. A man, I’m pretty sure, about a half hour before I left.”

“Which was when?”

“That I left? Around ten.”

Caleb told me he’d been working down the hall in the kitchen, which was at the opposite end of the suite from Vincent’s office. When he passed by to get to the supply closet, he heard Vincent yelling and another man shouting back. Vincent’s door was shut, so Caleb didn’t see who it was, but he was sure it was someone in person, not on a speaker phone.

“Did you recognize the other man’s voice?”


“Would you have noticed if it was an unfamiliar voice? Someone who wasn’t supposed to be in the office?” I said.

He rocked his chair again. “Probably. I guess.”

“And are you sure one of them was Vincent? Or did you assume because it was Vincent’s office?”

He stared at the ceiling. “Before you asked I would have said yes, definitely Vincent. But you’re right. Maybe I assumed.”

It probably had been Vincent, but I’d learned in my law practice and life that assuming can be dangerous.

“What were they saying?”

“I don’t know. The insulation’s really good, and the doors are thick. It’s hard to hear much from outside an office.”

“You tried?” I said.

“Not then.” He glanced down at his hands. “A couple different times the month before. When I was wondering how I was doing at Seminar. Didn’t press a glass to the wall or anything. But paused a few times out of sight to see if I could overhear. I never could.”

“So how can you be sure Vincent wasn’t on the phone?”

“Their voices, they sounded about the same level. Not like one person right there on the other side of the wall and the other on a speaker.”

I still didn’t see why Caleb thought the police might be focusing on him. What he’d overhead explained why they spent extra time talking to him.

“Do you have something to gain from Vincent’s death?” I said. “Or would other people in Seminar think you do?”

“I’m not in his will if that’s what you mean.”

“Are you in line for his job?”

“It’s not like that in Seminar. Promotions are based strictly on performance.”

“But there needs to be an opening for someone to move up, doesn’t there?”

“No. It’s more that positions are created for talented people.”

That might be the party line, but any business can only support so many people at the top. Seminar might be different from the small and medium-sized companies I usually represent, but I doubted it was that different.

“Who found him?” I said.

I’d found Marco’s body. While I hadn’t been a serious suspect, the detective spent a long time questioning me. I still dreamed about that night and answering questions while the techs carted Marco’s body out. Except in the dream we sat in the living room with Marco still lying on the couch, white faced, his body stiff.

“His wife,” Caleb said. “She came into Seminar’s Chicago office suite Monday morning and found him on the floor.”

“How’d he die?” I said.

“No one’s saying. People at Seminar talk about Now, not Past.”

Like Event, he spoke the two words as if they were capitalized. More buzzwords.

“But it was only a few days ago,” I said. The idea that no one was talking about a recent sudden death confused me.

“It’s still Past.”


“You can only live an exponentially excellent life if you focus on what you can do and change. What happened before can’t be changed. It’s Past.”

I rubbed my hands over my arms. This bot version of Caleb unsettled me. If I stripped away the buzz words, though, his point sounded a little like what my therapist in college encouraged me to do as I struggled to deal with my feelings about the original Q.C. and my family. But I couldn’t imagine my therapist telling me to stop speaking of something traumatic two days after it happened.

“Could Vincent have died of natural causes?”

Caleb shook his head. “The police didn’t think so. And they said there was a big gash on the back of his head.”

My laptop trilled, a signal that someone I’d marked as a priority emailed me. Right now, the only people in that category were parties in an unfair competition lawsuit. We had a court hearing tomorrow.

“Danielle can help you with the police issues. What is it you’re asking me to do?” I said.

“Can you find out if people in Seminar suspect me?”

I looked up from my notes. “How? The only person I know in Seminar is you.”

“You found out what happened to your boyfriend last year.”

I set my pen down. Nothing about my being involved in Marco’s death investigation had been in the news. And I hadn’t posted anything on social media, which it seemed clear Caleb hadn’t been checking anyway. “How do you know that?”

“Your mom told me. I called her last summer looking for you. She said to give you some time because of what happened to Marco.”

I was at the same time pleased my mom felt concerned about my emotional state and frustrated she’d never mentioned that my best friend from childhood had called.

“She didn’t tell me.”

“Don’t be mad. I told her I’d call you in a couple months. But my moving got delayed until mid-January. Between getting all my stuff here and sorting it out with my girlfriend— ex now — and settling into my new position at Seminar, I just didn’t have a chance.”

Caleb had always been more forgiving about my mom’s absence from my life than I was. He said at least my parents didn’t go out of their way to make me miserable.

“How would I get these people who don’t talk about anything to talk to me?”

“Come to a Seminar cocktail party with me. Tomorrow night. I can’t ask anyone about Vincent because as a Seminar Coordinator I can’t dwell on Past. But you can. And people will talk to you because you’re my friend.”

“Then they’ll talk to the police.”

“They won’t.” He reached out and took my hands. His fingers felt cool. “But if you say you’re interested in learning more about Seminar and ask how Seminar helps them deal with it all, they’ll answer. It’s something the cops can’t do. And it won’t take long. 6:30-8:30. I’ll take you out after for dinner. We can catch up. If you’re not busy.”

“You seem more worried about what your Seminar friends think than the police,” I said.

He ran his hand through the front of his short, dark hair. “Seminar’s the first thing I’ve succeeded at. First thing my dad doesn’t think I’m wasting time doing. So, yeah, maybe it’s whacked, but it matters what these people think. Especially the founder. Please, Q.”

“Quille,” I said. Q is what people who’ve been in my life forever sometimes call me if they have trouble switching to Quille. After all his years away, though, I wasn’t willing to let Caleb use it.

“Quille. I’ll get used to it, I promise.”

I opened my calendar, but it was only to stall for time. I had plans with the guy I’d been seeing the last few months. But he’d understand if I cancelled to help an old friend.

“You really think I can find out something helpful in one night.”

“It can’t hurt. All the powerful people in Seminar will be there. Including Vincent’s wife.”

“But she won’t be there, will she? With her husband having just died?”

“Sure she will. She’s hosting.”

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