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CHAPTER ONE

New York City

May 12, 1940

 

“Have you entirely lost your hearing along with your mind, Detective? I saw the murder. And I know the killer.”

Detective Jack Flynn and I were in a side room at the Waterbend Arms Hotel, which wasn’t far from the Lexington Avenue exit of Grand Central Station. We were speaking with Miss Antonia Boswell, and, when she was willing, she spoke back to us.

Jack, struggling with exasperation, said, “We don’t even know yet that it’s a murder, Miss Boswell. Maybe you are the world’s greatest mystery writer, but even you don’t have special powers. We’re waiting for the results, and then we’ll know what we’re dealing with.”

“First of all, Detective Flynn, there is no ‘maybe’ about my being the world’s greatest writer, and secondly I can tell you exactly what happened in this overrated and overpriced excuse for a hotel.”

Jack stood there turning red for a few seconds. Then he pulled me out into the hall. “This lady forgot to take her politeness pill today, Charlie. You know why I brought you down here. So you speak to the world’s greatest writer for a while.”

I nodded, and we went back

I tried a smile.

She looked at me as though her tooth hurt.

“Are you mad, young man?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Boswell. I am a private investigator. I have an agency, and you are accusing Katie Walker, who is my partner in the agency and my friend, of being a killer.”

“I accuse her because I saw her. And don’t ever smile at me again.”

“Listen,” I said, “You can mock me all you want. I won’t even yell at you if you make fun of Detective Flynn. Only Katie is off limits. She wouldn’t murder anyone. So, do us all a favor, and just start again at the beginning. Please tell us what you saw. Every detail. I’ve read your books, Miss Boswell. You’re very good at using telling details, the ones that are just right. Those are the ones we need.”

“Fine,” Miss Boswell said. “I do like your flattery. You have my permission to continue offering it. Indeed, you may flatter me at great length. But you are quite wrong to protect a guilty woman, Mr. Singer.”

I stared hard at her.

She ignored me.

“Do you gentlemen know the background of the event?”

Jack spoke up. “It was some kind of literary luncheon, something like that.”

“Detective, I have my quota of words to complete today. I cannot provide basic information that you should already have.”

I looked over at Jack Flynn. He smiled at me and gave me, a “You wanted to come along when I talked with her” look.

“It will move more quickly if you start being more polite, Miss Boswell.”

“I’ve done quite well in my life and career by ignoring silly social rules,” she said. “However, before you bore me with some trite phrase about this being a murder investigation, I shall do my best.”

She paused, stared at me, and then began again. “I assume you know your good friend, Miss Katie Walker, wrote a mystery novel.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was based on a trip we made to Los Angeles last year.”

“A dreadful city. The ‘wretched refuse’ that Miss Lazarus wrote of in the poem on the Statue of Liberty only stopped in New York. They made their way west and settled in Los Angeles.”

“I liked the city,” I said.

“That speaks poorly for your judgment, Mr. Singer.”

“Miss Boswell, the story of what happened. Please.”

She ignored me. “Your partner needed a literary agent to get her book published. She found the agent, or in this case, the victim.”

“Mrs. Janet Alden.”

“Yes. An extraordinary woman. Mrs. Alden was lovely. A very sweet person. She was brilliant with language.”

Jack stepped forward. “Everyone else told us she was a witch.”

“I assure you, Detective Flynn, that she was charming as well as beautiful. The literary world is filled with jealous people and drunks with much overlap between those two groups. The usual agent is an unlicensed thief who does nothing but go out to lunches and steal money from hard-working authors. I’m sure I financed a castle in the south of France for my agent. Mrs. Alden was different. Miss Walker was lucky to have her as an agent.”

“All right,” I said. “So Katie and this lovely literary agent knew each other.”

Miss Boswell stared at me. “Your friend Miss Walker is no Jane Austen. Her novel reads like what it is, a first try. She is very lucky that someone with Mrs. Alden’s talent accepted her in the first place. Of course, Mrs. Alden wanted a great many substantial changes in the manuscript, I’m told.”

I nodded. “This I know. Katie thought the book was being ruined by the suggestions Mrs. Alden made.”

“In that case, Miss Walker was quite ignorant. Mrs. Alden would have made the book a success.”

“Let’s get to the killing,” Jack said. “I have other dead bodies waiting for me.”

I didn’t wait for Miss Boswell to make a comment about Jack and corpses, so I said, “And everyone was here for a party of some sort?”

“Quite. There’s a literary conference, and this was a social gathering. As though we all liked each other, as though everyone here wasn’t jealous of my talent and my success. The food was dreadful. A starving beggar could have done better scavenging though the trash cans behind a soup kitchen than at the Waterbend Arms.”

“Miss Boswell,” Jack said, “I’ve had enough. Just tell us exactly what you saw.”

“Very well, sir. I begin with a confession. I enjoy literary gossip. There’s not so much to enjoy at my age, but chit-chat about the business always interests me. I also was keeping an eye on Mrs. Alden. She was an aggressive agent. I wanted to see how much respect she was shown. I was, in short, thinking of dumping my thief of an agent who is too passive in favor of Mrs. Alden who would be assertive on my behalf. I never got anywhere in this life by being shy.

“At any rate, I was sitting down, trying to avoid listening to the dreadful man next to me prattle on about his reading tastes which were, in a word, regrettable. The man didn’t seem to believe that any worthwhile books existed prior to 1925. He seemed to enjoy locked room mysteries. I confess to desiring that he find himself alone in such a location.”

She looked up at us as though we were an audience. “I stopped listening to him and, as my mind cleared, I looked around me. It was then that I spotted young Katie Walker walking toward Mrs. Alden.”

She held up both hands. “This, Detective, is what is of singular importance. Miss Walker was carrying an uneaten salad.”

“And how do you know it was uneaten?”

“Why, the bowl was filled of course, in just the way every bowl was filled with salad when it was placed before us. Blackened, dry lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, and some objects vaguely resembling cucumbers. I’m sure the dish was the hotel’s specialty.”

I leaned toward Miss Boswell. “So Katie was making her way over to Mrs. Alden.”

“Exactly. She went up to her. Mrs. Alden met her with an icy stare. I took this as a point in her favor. It was a good stare for dealing with editors. After some words between them, I saw Miss Walker hand the salad over to Mrs. Alden.”

“You’re positive you saw this?”

“Detective, I am neither blind nor senile.”

“Okay, Miss Boswell. But here’s the problem with your story, if you don’t mind my saying so. It was later, when Mrs. Alden was over by the piano player when she started to have abdominal pain and respiratory failure. They took her away, and she didn’t die for several hours. How then can you possibly say it was the salad that killed her and not, say, what she ate later? Or how can you say that any food was responsible for her death? It could have been for any number of reasons.”

Miss Boswell stared at Jack for several seconds.

“Did you send to a radio program for your badge, Detective Flynn?”

Jack’s face turned red.

Miss Boswell didn’t seem to notice or care.

“Let me say this again for your deteriorating mind, sir. The two women argued for several moments. Then Miss Walker handed over the salad and left. I saw Mrs. Alden eat the salad. She did not eat any other food including that dry cardboard the chef termed a cake. She eventually wandered over to the piano and was there a half hour later when the symptoms began. I told you, Detective Flynn, that I was watching her, among others. She could only have been poisoned by the salad. I say poisoned because both the symptoms and the timing of their appearance are entirely consistent with poisoning. Miss Agatha Christie is often credited with knowing a lot about poisons, but I know considerably more than she does about writing as well as poisons. In fact, I know considerably more than anyone does about either one of those subjects. You may group Mr. Shakespeare with me and then there are the rest of the writers.

“I saw Mrs. Alden collapse and rushed over to her. In addition to the abdominal pain and breathing problems that you mentioned, she was weak and nauseous. She had tremors. Her pupils were dilated. As your medical experts will tell you, Detective Flynn, Mrs. Alden died of hemlock poisoning. She died of the Devil’s Bread.”

Jack and I both stared at her.

“It’s a nickname for hemlock,” she said. “I should think you would know that.”

For some reason at that moment her composure evaporated. She had maintained a seeming calmness throughout our talk, but now her face was strained, and her eyes betrayed the fact that she wished to cry. And then she caught herself.

“I have an appointment, gentlemen. I trust you could absorb all that I had to say.”

We nodded.

Jack and I went back to police headquarters.

We waited. The news came in an hour later.

Jack came over to me, sighed, and said, “The old bat was right. It was hemlock.”

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Charlie, I have no choice. I have to arrest Katie for murder.”

CHAPTER TWO

“It’s too early to arrest her, Jack.”

He shook his head. “No, it’s not. We have them all, Charlie. Means, motive, and opportunity. I wish to God we didn’t, but we do. We also have, God help us all, a reliable witness. Not a nice one, but someone famous, someone any jury is going to believe. That’s way more than we usually have. And it’s certainly not good.”

“Jack, we’re talking about Katie here.”

“You think I didn’t consider that. But you’re prejudiced, Charlie. You saved her life. You gave her a job. She was there to bring you back to reality after your wife died. You’re her friend. You want to protect her. I get that. The truth is I want to protect her. But if you stand back, if you look at it the way you’d look at any other suspect, you’ll see it looks bad.”

“You know her pretty well Jack. You’ve had dinner with us. You can judge people. All I ask is that you talk to her first. Before there are any arrests.”

“I can’t talk to her here at the station and have you sitting in the room.”

“She’s at my house. Do it there.”

“This makes up for everything I owe you.”

I nodded, “We’re even.”

We went to my double wide brownstone on West 76th Street, climbed the four steps, and entered the large hall with its crimson carpet. There was a large coat rack on the right. The kitchen, dining room, and office were on the first floor. We walked past the stairs leading to the second and third floors to the far end. I opened the two doors to the office. Wynton, who insisted on calling himself my valet, was serving a sandwich to Katie who was sitting in a soft leather chair.

Wynton said, “Sir, would you and Detective Flynn enjoy a sandwich or a beverage?”

I looked at Flynn who shook his head. He was going to be all business.

Wynton said, “Very good, sir. I shall be available if necessary.” He withdrew from the room quickly.

“I didn’t do it,” Katie said. “Mr. Singer, you know me. You know I would never do this.”

“Talk to me, Katie,” Jack said. “I’ll listen to your story, but I have to tell you that it is likely that I will be arresting you after we speak.”

Katie’s face grew pale.

“Go ahead, Mr. Flynn. Ask me anything at all. I’ll answer any questions.”

“Good. That’s the right attitude. All right, Katie. Go ahead. Start at the beginning and tell your story. We’re friends. But you have to realize that any lies, any deception, and you will be in big trouble.”

Katie looked over at me.

I nodded glumly.

“You know some of it, Mr. Flynn. After Mr. Singer and I returned from Los Angeles, I was so excited that I decided to try to write a novel. I had to change the names and facts, but the case there inspired me. Mr. Singer and Wynton read the manuscript and they both encouraged me. So I sent it to a literary agent. I had read about Mrs. Alden in the papers, about how successful she was, so I figured I would give her a try.”

“Okay. Stop there. Miss Boswell didn’t explain that to me. Tell me. Why do you need such an agent? Just what does a literary agent do?”

Katie’s face changed. She looked almost happy again. “An agent knows the editors in all the publishing houses and their tastes. When writers finish a novel, they send a letter to literary agents asking them to represent the author in hopes that one or more of them would respond with some enthusiasm. They read the work and see if they could sell the book to a publisher. If they think they can, they sign an agreement with the author. Then the agent approaches editors. If they sell the books, then they look over the contract, try to get the highest advance. The advance is the most important part.”

“Excuse my ignorance. What’s that?” Jack asked.

Katie’s face was bright with pride. “An advance is money paid before or when the book is published. Even if the book doesn’t sell, the writer keeps the advance.”

“I’m assuming these literary agents don’t do this as a charity.”

Katie shook her head. “They get ten percent of the advance and whatever else the writer gets. But in my case, Mrs. Alden wouldn’t even submit it to editors without me making a lot of changes. She said her reputation depended on every manuscript she submitted. She said some agents submitted to all the editors they could contact and figured if the editors liked it they would make changes. Not Mrs. Alden. She only submitted to a few editors. And she told me she wouldn’t submit a manuscript until it was ready, until it was the very best it could be. We had a number of conversations. She wrote a memorandum to me. There were a lot of changes that she wanted me to make.”

“And you didn’t like that.”

“No, of course not. I had worked hard writing several drafts of the book, and she wanted me to change it all around. There was a character I liked, and she wanted me to take the character out. It was like abandoning a friend. I couldn’t do it. Anyway, I think she was wrong. I read a lot, Mr. Flynn. I know what readers like. I know what I like to read.”

“So,” Jack said. “I imagine that other authors feel the same way you do. That sometimes there is friction between an agent and a writer.”

Katie didn’t look happy. She could see what he was getting at. “Yes,” she said, “Sometimes there is friction.”

“And there was a dispute between you and Mrs. Alden.”

“I wouldn’t call it a dispute.”

“A jury will, Katie.”

“Mrs. Alden liked the book. She had told Miss Boswell about it, and it was Miss Boswell who encouraged her to accept it. Mrs. Alden told me that herself. She said Miss Boswell was very impressed by Mr. Singer’s detective work in Los Angeles. Mrs. Alden said Miss Boswell thought Mr. Singer was the only smart investigator in New York City.”

“She didn’t sound as though she admired me too much,” I said.

“She does. I guess she looks at investigators because she likes mysteries. You should be pleased.”

Jack ignored Miss Boswell’s admiration. “All right. Let’s get to the salad, Katie. You admit giving Mrs. Alden the salad.”

“Yes. I gave it to her. But I didn’t put any poison in it. I don’t even know where to get poison. And I wouldn’t use it if I had it.”

“All right, Katie,’ Jack said. “You give the salad to Mrs. Alden and then what do you do?”

“I walked around. There were so many famous authors there, people I admired. I was like a child. I just wanted to touch them. I started talking to as many as…”

She paused.

“What is it, Katie?”

“I don’t know if this matters.”

“Everything matters.”

“After I left Mrs. Alden, I saw Miss Boswell walk up and speak with her.”

“Well, well, well. The battle axe left that part out. Were they arguing?”

“No. In fact they hugged.”

“Miss Boswell was thinking of switching agents,” I said. “Still, it’s surprising she didn’t mention it.”

“Did you see anyone else talking to Mrs. Alden before or after you went to speak with her?”

“No. I’m sorry. But, as I say, I was too interested in the writers to pay attention.”

“Did you eat a salad, Katie?”

“No. My stomach was in knots from excitement. I couldn’t eat at all.”

Jack got up and stared at Katie.

“Now, the big question. I’ve been holding back, Katie, but I want you to think very carefully about this.”

“I will.”

“Where did you get the salad that you gave Mrs. Alden?”

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot, Mr. Flynn. It was a random salad. A waiter handed it to me. But he had a lot of salads on his tray. He just picked one up and asked me to give it to the woman over there. And then he pointed at Mrs. Alden. I said that was fine because I knew her. So I took the salad. Only I don’t think the waiter picked it out specially. It was just one of many. Maybe it was meant for someone else. That’s always in a mystery story. The wrong person gets killed by mistake. Maybe that’s what happened here.”

“Maybe,” Jack said. “It’s something to think about. But I don’t think so if he pointed the victim out to you.”

“Oh. Of course. But maybe he was pointing to someone else.”

“Why didn’t he walk over to her himself? Why did he have you deliver it?”

“I don’t know Mr. Flynn. Maybe he was very busy.”

“Maybe. Did you see him ask anyone else to give a salad to someone? He would perhaps if he was so busy.”

“I didn’t, but I didn’t stay around him. I went to Mrs. Alden as soon as he gave me the salad. I think you should look at who was standing near her. I didn’t see anyone but maybe he or she walked away. Maybe there is another target and that would prove I had no connection to the victim.”

Jack turned and raised his eyebrows at me, dismissing Katie’s suggestion.

“Who was the waiter, Katie? In case, the right person was killed.”

“I don’t know. I just saw the white uniform.”

“Do your best.”

“He wasn’t that tall. Black, curly hair. His skin…I just don’t remember. I saw him for a couple of seconds.”

Jack sighed.

I needed to move his mind.

“Did he have an accent?”

“Maybe Spanish. I’m not sure.”

“Okay then. Jack, you and I agree the victim was intended to be the victim. We have to ask who else, very much besides Katie, would want her dead.”

“So far we haven’t looked. Charlie, I don’t think we’re going to look. At least very hard. I don’t think we have to look. We are going to check sources for hemlock. If we can connect Katie to any of those places, that’s the last nail. But we don’t need that. There’s more than enough right now.”

“You’re not going to arrest me?” Katie’s mouth was wide open. Her eyes were staring wildly at Jack.

“Katie Walker please stand up. I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Janet Alden.”

“Mr. Singer, help me. Please.”

I stared at Jack. He shook his head sharply at me. I wasn’t going to be able to help.

I watched as Jack took Katie off to jail.

Wynton came into the room.

“Mr. Singer, we must do something. Miss Katie simply could not have done this.”

“I know Wynton. We will have to find out who did “

“Mr. Singer?”

“Yes, Wynton.”

“Might I be so bold as to make a suggestion?”

“Of course. You don’t have to ask.”

“Thank you, sir. As I was reading Miss Katie’s manuscript, I was struck with the brashness of the detective in Los Angeles. I take it the character was based on a real person.”

“Yes. His name is Russ Fante.”

“You need some help right now, Mr. Singer. That is my suggestion. That you call Mr. Fante and see if he can come to New York.”

I knew I couldn’t help Katie alone. There would be too many people to look at. Russ Fante knew how to investigate. He could smell out a liar far better than I could. But I wasn’t sure he was willing to come across the country.

It didn’t matter. I was going to try.

I walked over to the telephone.

CHAPTER THREE

I reached Summer Welles, who was the assistant manager at the place we had stayed in Los Angeles and Russ Fante’s girlfriend. She had wanted to be an actress, but her age and the Hollywood jungle stood in her way. She had always struck me as both kind and efficient. I felt sorry for her and liked her.

I explained the reason for the call. Summer listened. She was shocked because she liked Katie and had taken care of her.

“Charlie, listen. I just don’t think Russ can do it. He’s in some trouble himself.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“He got himself suspended. They put him on leave. There may be a trial and everything. They’re working through it now.”

“What did he do, Summer?”

“You know Russ. A little bit of a temper. Okay, more than a little. There was this guy. The cops knew him. A terrible man. They knew he had kidnapped three girls. They knew three and suspected more. The girls were never found. No one was ever accused. But they knew he had done it. Anyway, he took another young girl. Seven years old, Charlie. This time someone saw him. They caught him right away. He knew they had him. He bragged about it, but he wouldn’t say where the girl was without a deal to walk away. Everyone was afraid the girl would die before they could get him to talk.”

“And Russ got a little physical.”

“In a Russ sort of way. He took the guy to a roof, supposedly where the guy had taken the girl, and dangled him over the edge. Charlie. There was another cop on the roof, too. He tried to pull Russ back, but that was impossible.”

“So what did Russ do?”

“He let the guy go, Charlie. Only Russ grabbed him again before he fell. Russ said it was the last chance. The other cop was screaming at Russ. The guy talked. In fact he yelled out the location. Still Russ didn’t bring him all the way back on the roof. He waited until the other cop called it in. Russ wanted to make sure the police had the girl safe. Russ couldn’t hold on for so long so he pulled the guy so he was halfway up and rested on the ledge. But Russ wouldn’t let him all the way up. Finally, Russ found out. The cop who was up on the roof was now down on the street. He yelled up that all was good, that the girl was safe and that Russ should pull the guy all the way up.”

I said, “Then he pulled him back and hit him a few times, right?”

“No, Charlie. Then he really let the guy go.”

I was too stunned to talk.

“Charlie, that cop below saw him. I don’t know what Russ was thinking or if he was thinking at all. Russ is in big trouble, Charlie. At first, they were talking San Quentin. Charlie, he wouldn’t survive there. There are plenty of guys Russ sent there. They’re not exactly going to set up a welcome committee. Now there are different talks going on. I’m confused by it all. You can talk to Russ. I wish you would. He just went out for some food. He’ll be back in maybe twenty minutes.”

“Please have him call, Summer.”

“Sure, Charlie. I guess you and me we’re both in a mess because of people we care about.”

We said good-bye, and I waited.

Wynton brought in some coffee. It was terrible. It had been three years since Wynton’s coffee had begun tasting sour. I couldn’t say anything to him. He was Wynton.

Russ called me back about a half hour later.

We said hello, and then he said, “Summer told me about Katie. I’m real sorry. She’s not a killer. We all know that. Unlike me I suppose.”

“What you did doesn’t sound good, Russ.”

“My arrest record is the best. I locked up a lot of bad people. I didn’t want this guy hurting any more little girls, Charlie.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“I got a good lawyer. He says that when all the madness calms down everyone will want to call it an accident, but that’s only if I quit. The force doesn’t get a bad name that way. The thing is, I need the work. I don’t just mean the money. Oh, I need that too. But I mean I need to take bad people and make them stop being bad. I can’t quit. I’ve got to fight it.”

“Russ, I’ll never forget what you did for me when we were out there. I’m very sorry. I…”

“You there, Charlie?”

“Yeah, I’m still here. Only I had a thought. I need help, Russ. Katie needs help. I was going to ask if you can come here.”

“I’ve got to clear my name if I can, Charlie. Only I don’t think there’s any room for me in the Los Angeles Police Department.”

“Russ, I want to ask you a question. It’s a suggestion really.”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“I want to bring you here to help me. Can you come?”

“Listen, Charlie. I just said…”

“I want to hire you as an investigator, Russ. Go ahead and quit your job. With the job working with me, you’ll still be helping people, and you’ll still have money coming in. I’ll more than match your salary.”

“That’s real nice of you, Charlie. Only I can’t leave Summer.”

“Then bring her.”

“What can she do? They call her the assistant manager here, but it’s really just secretarial work. That’s all she’s ever done.”

“Then she’s the firm’s new secretary. Only we’ll call it a personal assistant. And maybe we can find other work to do. She’s an actress after all.”

“I don’t know, Charlie. I mean…”

“I need you Russ.”

“You’re willing to take a chance with me. People find out what I did, maybe they don’t hire you. Maybe the New York cops aren’t too cooperative.”

“I’ll take the chance.”

“You’re desperate, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Only you have to promise me that you go by the law. We have to do that or I’ll lose my license. Just make sure the finding there is that it was an accident. I can’t bring you here if it is called a murder.”

“I can take care of that. They’ll do handsprings if I offer to quit. I’ll talk it over with Summer. She thought of Katie as a little sister. For some strange reason she even liked you. Only, Charlie?”

“Yeah?”

“You of all people know I go by Fante’s Rules. The most important of which is not to get caught. I won’t get you into any trouble. That’s my promise. Whatever happens, it will be only on me.”

“Talk to Summer,” I said.

“Okay. You keep investigating and, if it’s a yes, we’ll get there as soon as we can.”

We hung up.

I remembered what Russ Fante had done for me in Los Angeles. He had done it so I wouldn’t have to. And it was as illegal as it gets. I had no right to judge him for wanting to protect children however much his actions made me uneasy.

While I waited for Russ and Summer to decide, I figured I had better get some background about the victim.

I called her office.

I got Patsy Kirk, Janet Alden’s assistant. I asked if I could speak with her, and she said I could come right over.

The office was in the Flatiron Building, named because of its resemblance to a very large clothes iron. I made my way up Fifth Avenue to East 22nd Street and went inside. The office was small, but with nice furniture. People were running around.

Miss Kirk was young, clearly uninterested in the clothing styles of the day. She wore a black scarf, a black skirt, and a black blouse.

She nodded when I introduced myself.

“This is a madhouse,” she said. “We’ve got to try to keep up with the manuscripts we’ve accepted and with our roster of clients. We’re not taking on any new clients. I’m not sure we’ll be here in a month. We just have to take care of everyone.”

“I’m glad the work goes on,” I said. “Mrs. Alden would want that, I suppose.”

“Yes, she would.” Kirk said. I thought her voice was icy. I knew something about grief, so I let it go.

“We still have books to sell and bills to pay,” Kirk said. “And I’m helping Mr. Alden make arrangements for the funeral. Everyone will be there. Deals will be made.”

That startled me, but I went back to what I had planned to say. “Let me start at the literary luncheon,” I said. “Did you see Miss Walker go over to Mrs. Alden with the salad?”

Kirk shook her head.

“I’m sorry. I was talking to an unhappy client when the salads were being given out. Mrs. Alden sent me to deal with the difficult ones. I took some pride in that.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought an assistant might always be at the boss’ side.”

“Not in this business, Mr. Singer. You’re talking egos ten miles high. We have to calm them down or excite them or flatter them. They want to scream at someone about a review they got or a review they never got or about why we didn’t take out full-page ads about their books. All that hand-holding can’t be done while you’re standing with the boss.”

“No,” I said. “I guess not. So you didn’t see Miss Walker actually hand over the salad?”

“I did not. Of course, anyone would prefer Miss Boswell as a witness to me.”

“Of course.”

It was time to move along. “I’m interested in helping the police,” I said, not even staying within a country mile of the truth. “I’ve volunteered to come here to get information about Mrs. Alden. May I take a quick look at her office?”

“I don’t suppose that can hurt. There is confidential information, but it’s all business related.”

“I understand.”

Translation: Miss Kirk had already gone through the office and taken out all the personal information. That is any material that I might useful.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I started reading mysteries in childhood and never stopped. I like being taken to different times and strange places. It’s a way of cheating death and exploring lives I might have led. Along the way, I’ve worked in my father’s store, as an English professor, and an adviser to two members of Congress. I’ve written many books including a variety of historical mysteries. Writing is as exciting as reading because I’m never sure where I’m going to be on the next page.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I like mysteries because I enjoy the puzzle and the idea that justice will prevail. I like to identify with the protagonist, to take part in another person’s life. I enjoy historical mysteries because I can escape the present more fully, learn about the past, and feel what it was like to live then.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
When I was 13, I got out the book Babbitt from the library because I mistakenly thought it was funny. I sat down to read it and was astounded at how much truth a writer could put on a page. I couldn’t give voice to it then, but that was the moment that my decision to write was born.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because I enjoy playing with words the way someone else might enjoy tennis or taking photos. I like the feeling of discovering the right phrase or figuring out how a complex character might act.

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