You Can't Stop Me

ONE

The Crime

Chapter One

John Christian Harrow had never much cared for the Iowa State Fair.

He was uncomfortable around throngs of people, and the cacophony of chatter, ballyhoo, and music always put a crease between his eyebrows. The skyline of vast barns, art-deco pavilions, Ferris wheels, and even a mammoth slide held no magic for him; overhead open-air cars of airsick passengers swaying like fruit about to ripen and fall made him question the general sanity of the human race.

The smells, whether the stench of farm animals or the lure of frying batter, did not appeal—they made him neither want to milk a cow nor risk his arteries on a funnel cake. And now and then an unmistakable upchuck bouquet would waft across his nostrils. At least the day wasn’t sweltering, as August often was here. It was eighty and humid and no picnic, but this wasn’t heaven, this was Iowa.

At six-two, barely winning the battle to stay under two hundred pounds, Harrow might have been just another farmer gussied up to go to town, forty-something, short brown hair, penetrating brown eyes, strong chin, high cheekbones, a weathered, slightly pockmarked complexion, tie loosened and collar unbuttoned.

But J.C.—as anyone who knew him for more than five minutes called him—was not farmer but a detective. He was in fact a seasoned field agent and criminalist for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation. And right now he detected a damp stripe down the spine of his dress shirt, and wished to hell that the Kevlar vest underneath came with pockets for ice bags. His sun-soaking, unbuttoned navy suitcoat concealed his holster and nine-mil, clipped to his belt, riding his right hip.

This was no day off to take in the state’s most celebrated festivities. And it wasn’t the normal workday where he found himself either at a crime scene or in a lab or even in the field interviewing witnesses and suspects.

Today Harrow had drawn a special assignment as part of the extended protection team working on the President of the United States’s visit to the nation’s most famous state fair.

Usually cops augmented the President’s Secret Service detail, but the events of September 11 had changed that. Ever since that tragic day, security weighed heavily on the minds of most Americans, and the government had become more creative in ways to protect those in their charge. They kept cops on the streets when they could and when necessary, used qualified others, like DCI Field Agent Harrow, to fill in.

The rule was, you had to have a badge to work protection detail.

Today, his DCI badge—probably aided by the fact that he had a background in local politics—seemed to make him the perfect candidate for this particular task. Which sounded far more exciting in practice than it really was. He’d done very little in the morning other than walk around the fair and assess threats.

He had deemed the cow sculpted from butter as non-menacing unless the President decided to ingest it, in which case it would be death by cholesterol overdose. In the afternoon, before the President was introduced, Harrow stood on the stage, eyes processing possible troublemakers in the crowd, then maintained his vigil from stage left throughout the Commander in Chief’s address.

A thin man with too heavy a jacket for an August day, another who seemed jittery, a woman with a purse big enough to hold a gun or a bomb or God knew what…

Harrow saw them all and reported them up the food chain to Secret Service. A certain amount of stress came along with searching for a potential assassin, but on the whole this was