Murder at the Circus
Excerpt from Chapter 1
“Your son is missing.”
Had she heard the headmaster of Kingswell Academy correctly? Mrs. Ginger Reed, known by some as Lady Gold, stared at the black receiver of her rotary desk phone and then spoke into it. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Boyle?”
“Your son Samuel is missing.”
Ginger blinked at Scout’s formal name. “What do you mean, missing? Did he miss a lesson? Perhaps he’s late back from a walk? You know how lads lose track of time.”
The headmaster released a sigh. “No, madam. His bed wasn’t slept in. His things are gone. He must’ve packed a knapsack after the evening inspection and sneaked away after dark. I’m terribly sorry. We do everything we can to rein in our most troubled—”
“Yes, well, you are aware that young Master Reed has had difficulty adjusting.”
Ginger and her husband Basil, a chief inspector at Scotland Yard, had decided to send Scout to boarding school in January. They probably should’ve sent him the autumn before, but they’d only adopted the lad two years earlier. After spending his childhood on the streets of London, barely cared for by an ailing uncle, it seemed rather too much to expect him to jump into a uniform and blend in with the children of the elite when he’d barely just stopped dropping his Hs.
It was only after Scout’s uncle had died and his older cousin Marvin Elliot had joined the Royal Navy—an alternative to the prison he was headed to had Ginger not intervened—that Scout became Ginger’s ward. Then, once she and Basil had married, they adopted Scout.
All had gone swimmingly until the birth of Rosa, after which Scout felt he’d lost his position of favour with his parents.
The timing of sending Scout to boarding school was unfortunate, but purely coincidental. In no uncertain terms, she and Basil hadn’t sent their son away to remove him from their family—of course not! They sent him for the same reason all parents sent their children to school—to give them the best education and opportunity in life.
Sadly, Scout hadn’t seen it that way despite Ginger and Basil’s reassurances.
“Have you asked his friends?” Ginger asked. “Surely, someone must know where he is.”
Another imperceptible sigh. “Master Reed has had, er, difficulties making friends, madam. He refused to engage in activities and do anything to integrate himself with his peers.”
Ginger’s chest squeezed with worry and regret. They should’ve taken their son’s unhappiness more seriously.
“I see,” she said. “Have the police been notified?”
“Please do keep me informed. My husband and I shall do what we can to find him on our end. Hopefully, he’s finding his way home.”
In her study, Ginger sunk into the chair at the large desk that had once belonged to her father. She stared blankly at his portrait, painted when he was younger than she was now. Scout knew how to take care of himself on the streets. If any child—at thirteen, he could hardly be called a child much longer—could make his way on his own, it would be him.
His safety was of concern to Ginger, but her heart broke that her son had felt unloved and unwanted, so much so that he’d taken this drastic step.
Yes, he had the ability to survive, but that didn’t make his situation less dangerous; in fact, if his cousin Marvin were any indication, it would most certainly lead him to a life of crime.
As if sensing Ginger’s distress, Boss, Ginger’s Boston terrier, roused himself from his bed by the fireplace and went to her side. She patted his little black-and-white head as he laid his chin on her knee.
“Oh, Bossy. What has our boy done?”
Ginger was about to lift the receiver when it rang. Basil’s voice came through, loud and clear.
Ginger pictured Basil’s worried face, the deepening lines around attractive hazel eyes, greying temples growing greyer with this new concern. “I just spoke to Mr. Boyle,” she returned.
“Scout’s run away,” Basil said. “I’ve heard from the local police.”
“What do we do?”
“There’s not much to do, love. Our men are on the lookout now.”
“Very well.” Ginger pushed a wayward lock of her red, bobbed hair behind her ear. It wasn’t that she didn’t have confidence in the London Metropolitan Police, it was that she had more confidence in Scout’s ability to evade them.
Ginger rarely felt as she did now, unsure of what to do next. She left the study, searching for Pippins, her darling butler, with Boss following behind, his nails clicking on the tiled floor.
“Pips,” she called out when she caught sight of the back of the butler’s balding head. “Has the mid-morning post arrived?”
“It’s just arrived, madam,” Pippins said, turning to her voice.
Tall and slender with bowing shoulders and skin wrinkled in map-like lines, Ginger’s long-time and long-suffering septuagenarian butler presented a silver tray with a single piece of post on it.
“No envelope, madam,” Pippins said. “Just a folded piece of paper slipped through the letterbox.”
“How odd,” Ginger said, plucking the paper off the tray. A quick peruse to identify the author caused her heart to flutter.
“It’s from Marvin Elliot.”
“Yes, madam. I didn’t read the contents, but I couldn’t help seeing the sender’s name.”
Ginger felt her cheeks redden as she quickly read the poorly scribbled notation riddled with bad grammar and spelling errors.
Dear Lady Gold,
Scout is wiv me and safe enuf. They kicked me out of the navy cos of fightin too much and that I punched an officer by mistake.
I’ll take kair of Scout for now but I rekon you mite want to come and get im at the circus in Clapham.
“Is everything all right, madam?”
“I’m afraid not, Pippins. Scout’s cousin has left the navy and joined the circus.”
“How unfortunate,” Pippins said.
“And Scout’s gone with him. Oh mercy. Pips, please tell Clement to ready my motorcar.”
Murder at the Savoy
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Kensington Addison Road train station was a beehive of excited, anxious, and weary travellers: hurrying or waiting, hugging loved ones, or sauntering off alone. Some collapsed damp umbrellas as others waited in the queue to make a purchase at the tea and sandwich stall. Steam trains chugged and whistled, spewing black smoke, as they either slowed to a stop or wound up to speed away.
Mrs. Ginger Reed, known by some as Lady Gold, stood at the barrier at the end of the platform with her husband, Basil, a man she adored and whose good looks—warm hazel eyes, greying temples, and a debonair stance—garnered the admiration of many female pedestrians as they passed by. Like Ginger, some of the women dressed in the latest spring of 1927 fashions: pleated skirts landing just below the knee, fitted spring jackets with long collars and hems hitting the lower hips, colourful scarves or masculine-like ties adorning the neck, and the quintessential cloche hat covering short-cropped hair.
Ginger, too, was used to getting similar glances of appreciation from the opposite sex—her red locks often caught the eye—but the baby in her arms kept looks from lingering.
Ginger was more than fine with the exchange. She had her man and her baby. Smiling down at her dark-haired little girl, she said, “Rosa, love, you’re about to meet your Aunt Louisa and Grandma Sally!”
“Do you see them?” Basil asked as a new group of passengers disembarked from the Liverpool train.
Ginger craned her neck, looking for the familiar faces, Louisa with dark hair and green eyes, Sally with salt-and-pepper locks. Ginger’s emotions were a mix of anticipation and apprehension. She loved her half-sister dearly and harboured a measure of fondness for her stepmother, but rarely was time spent with either of them a relaxing event. Her American relatives seemed to love drama and brought it wherever they went.
Suddenly, there they were. Ginger handed Rosa to Abby Green, their competent, sturdy-looking nanny who’d been hanging back, and then lifted her arm into the air. “Louisa! Sally!”
Louisa grabbed her mother’s arm as they hurried over. A gentleman wearing a brown fedora followed behind, but Ginger assumed he was a fellow passenger headed in the same direction.
“Ginger!” Louisa squealed as she threw an arm around Ginger’s shoulder. She then fell into Basil’s arms, startling him. Ginger missed this enthusiastic affection. The British were much more reserved. A similar round of hugs, if less affectionate, continued with Sally, which immediately moved to American-accented baby-talk as Nanny Green held Rosa out for inspection.
“Oh, Ginger,” Louisa said. “She’s a doll!”
Sally sent Ginger a look of approval. “Well done.”
Ginger laughed. “I can hardly take full credit but thank you.”
The gentleman in the fedora hovered behind, a broad grin on his face, and Ginger raised a brow in question.
Louisa took the fellow’s arm, her face breaking into a wide smile. “Ginger, Basil, this is Cornelius Gastrell, my fiancé!”
Ginger, a master at keeping her emotions reined in, allowed herself to express her shock. “Louisa?”
“I know, I know. I wanted it to be a surprise!”
“And it is,” Ginger said. She offered a hand to Louisa’s gentleman. “Mr. Gastrell, it’s a pleasure.”
“The pleasure’s mine, ma’am,” he said with a drawl. “And you must call me Cornelius.”
Cornelius moved to shake Basil’s hand. “Good to meet you, Basil,” he said, probably assuming they were all on a first-name basis. He whistled. “Never been to London before. Can’t wait to see what all the fuss is about.”
“Shall we head to the motorcars?” Basil asked. They’d brought Ginger’s Crossley and Basil’s Austin to accommodate everyone.
Cornelius walked ahead with Basil as the ladies followed behind.
Louisa gripped Ginger’s arm. “Isn’t he just the bee’s knees, Ginger?” Her words burst forth like a fountain with the water pressure too high. “Can you believe I’m to be married? Finally! You must come back to Boston for the wedding.”
Sally laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and added with less enthusiasm. “A date hasn’t been set yet. Now, let Ginger catch her breath.”
Mr. Gastrell drove back with Basil whilst Louisa and Sally went with Ginger. There was much to catch up on during the drive back to Hartigan House, and Ginger shared about life with Rosa, presently held tightly by Nanny Green, and Scout, who was away at boarding school. Louisa boasted about the social scene in Boston, which Ginger found entertaining but didn’t miss.
Mrs. Beasley, Ginger’s cook, had luncheon prepared for when they got back, and once everyone was settled in their rooms at Hartigan House, they descended on the dining room. Added to their number around the long wooden table was the Dowager Lady Gold, the grandmother of Ginger’s late husband, Daniel, Lord Gold, and Daniel’s sister, Felicia, and her new husband, Charles Davenport-Witt, the Earl of Witt.
Introductions were made and places taken. Once the maids had served the roast duck and potatoes, conversation resumed. The electric chandelier overhead created a pleasant ambience, highlighting the paintings hung from a picture rail along the top of the walls.
“Nice pad you have here,” Cornelius said. “Everything around here seems as old as the hills.”
Ginger wasn’t certain if she should say thank you or not. “Hartigan House has been in the family for ages. It’s my childhood home. I inherited it from my father when he passed away.”
“And I got the crummy brownstone,” Louisa said with a pout.
“It’s hardly crummy,” Sally said sternly. “It’s in a coveted Boston neighbourhood.” She gave everyone at the table a look, then added, “On the Commons.”
Louisa had the decency to look sheepish. “I know, Mama. I was only teasing.”
An awkward silence filled the room, broken, thankfully, by Basil. “Did anyone catch the Boat Race yesterday?”
“We listened to it on the wireless on the BBC,” Felicia said. Like Louisa, she had dark hair cut in a bob, though hers had been ironed into waves. “It’s the first time it’s been broadcast that way.”
“If I were a betting man,” Charles started, “I would’ve called Oxford, but Cambridge won by three lengths.”
“It’s a shame we missed it,” Ginger said. “Basil’s work called him away, and I was busy with the baby.”
Cornelius, becoming less charming by the moment, held a fist to his mouth, barely concealing a small belch. “What kind of boats are we talking about here?”
“Rowing boats,” Basil said. “The Boat Race is always between Oxford and Cambridge.” For clarity, he added, “Universities.”
“Row boats?” Cornelius huffed. “Not motorboats? Y’all have a different idea of a worthwhile sporting event.”
Basil stiffened. “I’m not sure what—”
“Take that game y’all like over here where they try to combine baseball with bowling or some such thing.”
Ambrosia blinked slowly, her round eyes looking more bulbous. “Do you mean cricket, Mr. Gastrell?”
“That’s it!” Cornelius slapped a thigh. “Named after a bug! Now baseball, that’s a man’s game.”
“You do realise cricket has been around for hundreds of years longer than baseball,” Basil said.
Cornelius grinned. “Old doesn’t make it better.”
“I’ve heard about the baseball player who recently signed a contract for an absurd amount of money.” Charles said.
“Seventy thousand smackers!” Cornelius said as if it were he who’d come into the fortune and not a sports celebrity.
“Seventy thousand American dollars?” Felicia asked. “Is that a lot?
“It’s around fifty thousand pounds,” Charles answered.
Felicia gaped. “To play a game?”
“Americans have their priorities,” Basil said dryly.
“Darn tootin’ they do,” Cornelius replied. “We work hard and play hard.”
Ginger forced a blank expression. She glanced at her sister, who’d become uncharacteristically quiet.
“Have you nothing to offer on the subject?”
“No,” Louisa said firmly. “Sports bore me.”
Basil wasn’t so keen to let the man’s comment ride. “So, Mr. Gastrell, what do you do for work in America?”
“Watch the stock market.” Cornelius stabbed a piece of duck flesh with his fork, waving it about as he continued. “You will, too, if you’re smart. Easiest money I’ve ever made.”
When the table was cleared of lunch, Lizzie, one of the family maids and Ginger’s favourite, brought the tea tray.
“Thank you, Lizzie,” Ginger said.
The diminutive maid nodded her pointy chin then bobbed before leaving again.
“What about coffee?” Cornelius shouted after her. He laughed at the table of stunned faces. “Can’t stand that dishwater you call tea.”
Lizzie raced back into the dining room, her wide eyes on Ginger. “Madam?”
“Ask Mrs. Beasley to brew a pot of coffee for our guest.”
Cornelius went on. “You sure do know how to train your help.” He draped an arm around Louisa. “Maybe we should ship a couple of maids over to Boston. It can be my wedding present to you.”
Ambrosia sat straight and stiff thanks to an antiquated corset. She looked regal with her jewelled hands and flowing day frock as she let out a breath of disbelief. “Dear me, how one talks in America.”
“We like to get to the point,” Sally returned. “When George was alive, God rest his soul, it used to make me crazy how he circled to get to what he was driving at.”
“A measure of propriety and self-control benefits society,” Ambrosia offered.
“Americans have self-control,” Louisa said defensively. “We just say what we mean.”
Ambrosia’s lips—deeply lined and uncoloured—twitched. “How delightful for you.”
Ginger loudly cleared her throat, then turned to Felicia desperate to change the subject. “Have you decided on wallpaper?” To her new guests, she explained, “Felicia and Charles have recently acquired and moved into the house across the street.”
Charles had a larger family home in London, but Felicia, new to the role of mistress of her own residence, had found the prospect overwhelming, especially since her new husband’s work often took him away from home.
Ginger was happy to have Felicia nearby on Mallowan Court. Felicia had lived at Hartigan House before she married, and Ginger had missed her terribly when she’d moved out. As a bonus, she could help her former sister-in-law decorate!
“I’m going to go with the paisley print for the living room and lilies for the drawing room,” Felicia said. “At least I think so.”
“Excellent choices,” Ginger said. “I shall bring Rosa over later to have a look.” Then, to be polite, she addressed her guests. “What are the plans for you three?”
“We’ll take the rest of the day to relax,” Louisa said, “but tomorrow we have plans for the opera; first we’re going to stroll around the grounds of Buckingham Palace.” She patted Cornelius’ arm. “Cornie’s hoping to get a glimpse of the King.”
“I’m afraid the public aren’t allowed on the grounds,” Ginger said, “but you will be able to watch the Change of the Guard at the front of the palace.”
“I’m eager to see this New Scotland Yard,” Cornelius said, his eyebrows lifting.
“Oh, yes,” Basil began. “I’m afraid the Yard is not meant for tourists. You’re welcome to walk along the Victoria Embankment, however. The architecture of the building is delightful.”
Cornelius guffawed. “Delightful. If American men used words like that, we’d be lynched on the street.”
Even Ginger couldn’t keep a gasp from escaping her lips.
“Really, Cornelius,” Sally said, her jaw tight. “Some sentiments are worth keeping to yourself.”
Having never bonded with her stepmother, Ginger felt a rare sense of appreciation for the woman who was proving to be more sensible than Ginger had remembered.
Then, as if on cue, Ginger’s faithful butler, Pippins, tall with shoulders folding forward from seventy years of effort, entered, his blue eyes flashing. He carried a silver tray that held a single envelope.
Approaching Basil, he said, “The afternoon post, sir.” With a barely perceptible glance at the American contingent at the table, he added, “I thought you’d like it now.”
“Oh yes,” Basil said, obviously eager for a diversion. He picked up the envelope and stared at the handwriting of his name on the front.
“Do you recognise it?” Ginger asked. She wondered if Basil would excuse himself and leave them all in suspense, but he removed the folded piece of paper.
“Darling?” Ginger said.
“It’s from an old acquaintance, a Percy Aspen. He’s been out of the country for eleven years and has just returned. He’s asking us to join him for dinner tomorrow night at the Savoy.” His gaze landed on Ginger. “He says to bring my new family.”
To Ginger, this would include Felicia and Charles, and Ambrosia. However, at present, her family went beyond that, and Louisa burst out joyously. “The Savoy! That sounds scrummy. Cornelius, we must go to the Savoy.”
“What’s so great about the Savoy?” Cornelius asked, giving Ginger a moment of hope that he’d veto the idea.
“It’s a hotel. The most luxurious, and a favourite of the rich and famous,” Louisa said. “Almost as much as the Ritz.”
“And a breakthrough in modern engineering,” Charles added. “Electricity is steam generated with water provided by the hotel’s own artesian wells. One can turn the room lights on and off at will, and hot water is available whenever needed.”
“The hotel also has a grisly past,” Felicia added with a glint in her eye. “Four years ago, a wealthy young Egyptian prince was murdered by his French wife.”
“Sounds like an unhappy union,” Sally said with a half glance at her daughter.
“Indeed,” Ginger said. “The widow was acquitted when it was revealed that her husband had treated her cruelly and had threatened to kill her.” Ginger hoped the morbid story would divert her sister’s interest. To Louisa, she said, “What about the opera? Are you sure you want to miss that?”
“We can go to that another day,” Louisa said, squelching Ginger’s hopes. Louisa turned to Sally. “Right, Mama?”
“I don’t know,” Sally said. “This Percy fellow won’t be expecting us.”
“He said for Basil to bring his new family,” Louisa protested. She motioned dramatically to herself, Sally, and Cornelius. “That’s us!”
Ginger flashed an apologetic look at Basil and whispered, “Perhaps we should tell him we will meet him another time.”
“Aspen is quite clear it has to be tomorrow night. He’s leaving the next morning on important business.”
Ginger did a quick headcount. “Felicia and Charles?”
Charles chuckled. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
Relieved, Ginger went on to Ambrosia. “Grandmother, you shall join us?”
It was a directive disguised as a question. She needed the elderly lady there to keep Sally company and to help smooth out the conversation.
“I suppose I shall,” Ambrosia said with a twist of her lips. “I fear I owe you a favour or two.”
“Fabulous.” Ginger reached for Basil’s hand. “Do tell Mr. Aspen we’ll be pleased to join him. Our number is eight.”
Murder at the Fiesta
Excerpt from Chapter 1
“Do you, Rosa Mary Anna Reed, take Miguel Rico Belmonte to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Rosa stared at Miguel with wide-eyed admiration. So handsome in his suit, his loose trousers with cuffs resting on leather loafers, a rose boutonniere pinned to the lapel of his jacket, the last button unfastened. The morning sun streamed through the colorful stained-glass windows of St. George’s Church, filling the near-empty nave with ethereal light. The church, a stone structure, was older than any building found in Santa Bonita.
Rosa had to pinch herself to prove she wasn’t dreaming.
She was getting married!
Miguel’s idea was to marry in London and return to Santa Bonita as husband and wife. In his words, he’d waited over a decade for Rosa to be his bride already, and since they would be living in his home country, it was only fitting that they tied the knot in her home country.
Her parents, Ginger and Basil Reed, were exceedingly supportive, but that was something Rosa had grown to expect. After the shock of their engagement announcement and their plans to marry soon wore off, both Ginger and Basil were blissful in their approval.
Rosa worried that her American relatives would feel slighted, but they’d already gone to the trouble and expense of coming to London slightly over a year earlier. Rosa had been about to marry Lord Winston Eveleigh, who was left in the chapel, waiting for a bride who had fled.
They weren’t likely to risk another potentially scandalous wedding, and besides, Rosa feared her Aunt Louisa and Grandma Sally wouldn’t be in favor of her choice of groom, a man who, in their minds, came from “the other side of the tracks.”
“What will your family think?” Rosa had asked of Miguel. “And your mother? I haven’t even had the chance to meet them. They’ll think you’ve eloped with a foreigner.”
“Sure, they will be shocked at first—you’re the first non-Catholic in the family—but they’ll be fine,” he’d said. “They’ll love you.” He squeezed her shoulders. “How could they not? I’ll send a telegram letting them know the happy news.”
Rosa wasn’t as confident about their acceptance, but her fiancé knew his family, and since she did not, she’d have to trust him.
Ultimately, Rosa was convinced to proceed when Ginger had pulled her aside and confided that Basil had been having health issues, which was why he had finally retired from his position as a superintendent at Scotland Yard.
“Nothing to worry about,” she’d said. “The doctor says he only needs to rest and take it easy, but I don’t know how he’d do on an arduous journey to California. And he’d not miss your wedding, Rosa, for the world.”
Her father was in his seventies, and though Basil Reed appeared as fit as a fiddle, Rosa had no intention of subjecting him to something that might change his health status.
Once Rosa had decided the wedding was on, she was thrilled and couldn’t wait to make plans. Flowers were ordered and a cake baked. She and Ginger found the perfect dress on the floor of Feathers & Flair, her mother’s long-standing and successful Regent Street dress shop. The fitted bodice accentuated Rosa’s trim form, with short sleeves capping delicate shoulders. The satin skirt flared from the waist, the hem landing just shy of her white shoes, her height lifted by two-inch heels. Her veil was traditional, tiering down her back and pinned to her short brunette locks with a faux crown.
And now, she and Miguel stood before the Reverend Oliver Hill, a tall man with stooped shoulders, graying red hair, and a perpetual smile. He’d been Rosa’s vicar for her entire life, and it was fitting that he’d be the one to preside over her wedding.
It was so different from the last time she was about to walk down the aisle. Then the pews were filled with the fashionably dressed elite. Now, it was only Rosa, Miguel, Ginger and Basil, Reverend Hill and his wife, Matilda, along with Aunt Felicia and Uncle Charles, who had returned from their trip earlier than expected and who were acting as Rosa and Miguel’s witnesses.
Rosa couldn’t have been happier.
“I do,” she said.
The ceremony was simple and precise, just what it took to make it legal and binding. Mrs. Hill took photographs using Rosa’s camera.
“You are a beautiful couple,” she said, beaming. “Your mum and dad look so pleased.”
Rosa understood Mrs. Hill’s unspoken meaning. Compared with last time.
But that was in the past.
She and Miguel were now husband and wife, bound by the authority of the Church of England and the law of the United Kingdom.
“I only wish that Scout could’ve made it,” Ginger said wistfully. “He’ll have to be satisfied with the photographs.”
“He can come to California to visit,” Rosa said. She loved her brother dearly, but she didn’t know him that well. With twelve years between them, he’d spent most of her early childhood away at boarding school and was out on his own when she was in her teens. Rosa felt like an only child.
Uncle Charles and Aunt Felicia, an attractive couple who constantly made the news in the London papers’ society section, offered their congratulations.
“Small and quaint,” Aunt Felicia said, looking a little perplexed. “But it does the trick.”
“It’s just the way I like it, Aunt Felicia,” Rosa said. “No fuss, no bother.”
“Oh, but it’s the fuss and bother that make it fun! But, to each their own.” She gave Rosa a sincere hug. “I wish you both all the happiness I’ve had with Charles.” She gripped Rosa by the shoulders. “There will be bumps in the road, believe me, but love and stamina will win the day. Fight for your love, my dear. It’s worth it.”
“Thank you, Aunty,” Rosa said.
Uncle Charles shook Miguel’s hand, and Rosa hoped he didn’t offer too much advice. Rosa could hardly imagine what an English earl, such as Charles Davenport-Witt was, could have to say to an American police officer of Mexican descent.
After a lovely week’s honeymoon in France, a gift to them from Ginger and Basil, Rosa and Miguel returned to Santa Bonita. The newly minted Mrs. Belmonte was about to meet the elder Mrs. Belmonte, her new mother-in-law.
“I’m nervous,” she confessed to Miguel as their plane began its descent into Los Angeles.
He gripped her hand. “I am too.”
Rosa gave her new husband a sharp glance. She knew flying was a white-knuckle event for him, but she worried that it was more than the fear of crash-landing that he was referring to.
“I mean, about meeting your family for the first time, as your wife. You’re sure your mother will like me?”
Miguel settled his beautiful copper-brown eyes on her, but his dimples didn’t appear. “I’m sure, Rosa. But she’s an older lady set in her traditions . . .”
His dimples appeared, and Rosa relaxed. “This isn’t a good topic to joke about.”
“Maria Belmonte is a wonderful, loving woman. Opinionated, sure, but a caring person, and a terrific mother. You’ll love her.”
Rosa had no doubt about that. She wasn’t so sure, however, that the feelings would be reciprocated.
Murder in London
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Miss Rosa Reed returned the telephone receiver to its cradle on the desk in the Forrester mansion study. Her breath hitched as she mentally replayed the conversation she had had with her mother, who lived in London, several time zones away from Rosa’s new home in Santa Bonita, California. With her eyes closed, she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. If it hadn’t already felt like her worlds were colliding with the unexpected arrival of her former fiancé, Lord Winston Eveleigh, this phone call had really brought the point home. Rosa’s head felt dizzy from the juxtaposition.
In a near daze, she walked back to the dining room where a dinner party was underway. Along with the awkward addition of Winston were Rosa’s family members, consisting of Aunt Louisa Forrester, Grandma Sally Hartigan, and her cousins Clarence and Gloria. Aunt Louisa’s new gentleman friend, dude ranch operator Elliot Roundtree, and Rosa’s boyfriend, Detective Miguel Belmonte, were also in attendance.
The room quieted when Rosa entered.
Aunt Louisa, who managed to eat without losing her lipstick, asked, “Is everything all right?”
Rosa, remaining poised, took her seat. Miguel’s copper-brown eyes narrowed in concern, and he reached under the table for her hand and squeezed.
“I’m not sure,” she answered, then looked across the table at Winston. “My parents have heard from the police. About Vivien. There’s a new lead with Vivien’s case.”
Winston’s face immediately drained of all expression. No one else spoke.
Elliot Roundtree, the one person at the table who’d never heard the name before, stroked his thick white mustache and asked innocently, “Who’s Vivien?”
“Lady Vivien . . . my sister,” Winston said, still staring at Rosa.
“She was my best friend,” Rosa added.
Aunt Louisa, not seeing the need for tact, clarified. “She was murdered.”
Mr. Roundtree, a rugged outdoor man who was rarely shaken, looked stunned. “Golly. Sorry to hear it.”
“Almost six years ago,” Rosa explained. “The case was never solved.”
“A fresh break in the case?” Gloria said eagerly, pushing her short dark hair behind her ears. Seven years younger than Rosa, Gloria worked at a newspaper as a junior journalist and had a strong interest in Rosa’s work as a private detective. The phrase “break in the case” was one of Gloria’s favorite new expressions.
“I don’t know all the details yet,” Rosa said. “Apparently, they’ve captured a fugitive robber who they believe may be responsible for the crime.”
Winston drank what remained in his wine glass then waved about for a servant that didn’t exist. Rosa passed an open bottle to him, and he poured himself a generous portion. Then, holding the nearly empty bottle in the air, he said in his thick English accent, “Is anyone else interested?”
Clarence, who until this announcement had been enduring the dinner engagement with barely concealed boredom, held up his glass, and Winston emptied the bottle.
“As much as I regret it, I must cut my trip short,” Winston said after another sip of wine. He gave Rosa a meaningful look. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”
Miguel’s grip on Rosa’s hand tightened.
With her free hand, she cupped Miguel’s reassuringly. “I do plan on returning to London as soon as possible, but not as your companion, Winston.” She turned to Miguel. “Would you’d like to come?”
Miguel’s dark brows shot up in surprise. “To London?”
“We’ll fly! You can do that nowadays, you know. It’s how I traveled last time.” She paused for a moment. “I know it’s sudden.”
Miguel smiled, and the dimples that Rosa simply adored appeared. “Absolutely,” he said. “Delvecchio owes me some vacation time.”
Winston abruptly pushed away from the table and whipped his cloth napkin onto it like a gauntlet. “I will see you in London, Rosa.” He stormed out of the room, leaving everyone speechless.
Mr. Roundtree smirked. “Why do I have the feeling there’s more to this story than meets the eye?”
Aunt Louisa folded her arms, having given up on the rest of her meal. “I’ll tell you about it someday, Elliot.” She steadied her gaze on Rosa. “It has all the elements of a Perry Mason novel.”
The following day, Rosa, Gloria, and Aunt Louisa stood looking down at Diego, Rosa’s brown tabby cat, who was curled up on the blue Scandinavian-style living room sofa. Aunt Louisa presented herself in a powder-blue dress with capped sleeves, a thin matching belt which emphasized her narrow waist, and a dramatically printed skirt, extra full thanks to the two or more crinoline slips underneath. But her face expressed doubt. Her arms crossed, and her foot tapped in annoyance.
Diego stared innocently up at them, his green-yellow eyes blinking slowly, as if he had a heart full of good intentions.
There wasn’t one person in the room who believed that to be true.
“Are you sure you can’t take him with you?” Aunt Louisa said.
Rosa shook her head. “I’m afraid not. The long journey would be very hard on him, and it would complicate matters.”
“It’s not exactly uncomplicated leaving him here,” Aunt Louisa returned.
Rosa looked at her apologetically. Ever since she had brought the shivering and abandoned kitten home to the Forrester mansion, the tension between her aunt and the poor kitten had been evident. Then there was the incident with the imported drapes, the debacle with the expensive carpet in the library, and the scandal of the claw marks on the leather lounge chair. The list was extensive, and the cat unrepentant.
Even though “Deputy Diego,” as Miguel liked to call him, had serendipitously helped to uncover evidence in several murder cases, his stock had not risen in Aunt Louisa’s eyes. Grandma Sally had recently warmed to him somewhat, though. Rosa regarded this as miraculous, considering the numerous times the cat had startled the elderly lady by suddenly streaking through the living room, bounding on top of furniture, and knocking over plants in one of his trademark bursts of energy. One time, he had even knocked her reading glasses off while she attempted to read a book.
“He will be my responsibility,” Gloria offered as she scooped his limp, furry form into her arms. “Diego loves me. And when I have to go to work at the paper, Señora Gomez will watch him.”
As if on cue, the Forrester mansion’s housekeeper and cook breezed past the open door, slowing when she registered the three women congregating. Her gaze settled on Diego in Gloria’s arms. “Aww, look at him. Es un ángelito. A little angel!” She smiled at Diego before continuing to the kitchen.
Gloria buried her nose in the top of Diego’s furry head as she spoke to Rosa. “I’ll help you pack.”
Rosa’s bedroom had generous space with matching ornate wooden furniture and its own bathroom—something Rosa would miss when she was back at Hartigan House in South Kensington. Gloria placed Diego on the jade-green quilt and dramatically threw herself down on her back beside him. Rosa smiled. She knew that when Gloria offered to help pack, what she really meant was, “I’ll lie on the bed and talk your ear off while I watch you work.”
“You know, I don’t leave until tomorrow afternoon,” Rosa said. “I’m only going to pack a few things right now.” Her suitcase lay open on the floor with a few sundry items in it.
“I wish I could go with you.” Gloria sighed as she rolled onto her side to look at Rosa. “This place will be dullsville without you here.”
“Well, I don’t doubt that,” Rosa returned cheerily, “but I’m sure you’ll manage to keep soldiering on without me for a little while.”
Gloria rubbed the bridge of Diego’s nose, a gesture that always caused him to close his eyes and calm down, if only for a few moments. “I don’t know that much about Lady Vivien. Care to tell me more?”
Rosa lowered herself onto her vanity chair and regarded her image in the mirror. Like Gloria, she had short dark hair, curled stylishly at the nape of her neck. Though she’d taken after her father, Basil Reed, in looks, she’d gotten her mother’s eyes, a striking green, and like her mother, did her best to choose dresses and makeup that brought them out. Rosa and Vivien had been opposites that way. Vivien had found fashion and society a challenge, preferring reading and scribbling in her notebooks to social gatherings. As a Lady, her duties rarely allowed for such personal indulgences, and she often confessed to envying Rosa’s freedom in that regard. It wasn’t until Rosa had become engaged to Winston that she herself had felt the burden of social conventions to that degree.
“Vivien and I were the closest of friends since we were young girls. We shared a love for the law and a certain fascination with bringing those who broke the law to account. Though it was extremely unconventional, Vivien found her way to Birmingham to study law. Winston was livid and tried to prevent her from going to university, but, as she said, these were modern times, and men didn’t own women anymore. Vivien had her own trust fund and could do what she wanted. Fortunately, Winston wasn’t the type to hang around the house, and Vivien was free to come and go as she pleased without having to deal with his constant disdain.”
“Seriously, Rosa,” Gloria said. “You paint a grim picture of Winston. How did the two of you ever get to the point of engagement to be married?”
Rosa’s shoulders fell. “Winston is older than Vivien and me by five years, and I’d created a romanticized version of him in my mind. He was older, dashing, and adventurous, or at least that’s how he presented himself in those days. When he enlisted in the army, we both worried together if he was going to survive the fighting on the Western Front.” Rosa watched Gloria in the reflection of the mirror, her youthful eyes bright with interest.
“As it turns out, he never was sent to the front, but he did look dashing in his uniform.” Rosa sighed. “I confess to fantasizing about marrying him, more because he was Vivien’s brother than from feelings of love. I wanted us to be sisters, if only by marriage.”
Rosa twisted in her chair to face her cousin. “In my defense, I was only thirteen.”
Gloria laughed. “Completely understandable.”
Diego brushed against Rosa’s leg, and she reached down to pull him onto her lap, where he instantly purred.
“Our emotional attachment didn’t happen until after Vivien died. Our grief brought us together, and we found comfort in one another. Over time, we just settled into a friendship that, in hindsight, meant more to Winston than to me. He’s the type of fellow who’s used to getting what he wants. And he can be very persuasive. I think he just convinced me we should be married. We had such a comfortable friendship. I thought perhaps he was right.”
Rosa gazed out the window at the palm trees swaying in the breeze; the Californian sun hung in the sky like a bright beacon. “I’d been in love before, and I didn’t believe that could happen more than once in life, so I finally relented.”
“Who did you love?”
Rosa looked at her cousin, who stared back at her, fists on her chin and eyes dreamy.
“I know you love him now, but who did you love before?”
Rosa smiled. Gloria had only been a child when Rosa had lived with the Forrester family during World War Two. So she hadn’t known about the forbidden love affair.
“Miguel. He was a soldier stationed in Santa Bonita. I was a senior in high school.”
“Golly!” Gloria sat up so quickly, she startled Diego. Rosa “umphed” as the cat sprung off her lap and shot under the bed. Gloria continued undaunted. “That is the dreamiest thing I’ve ever heard. But, hey, did Mom know?”
“Not at first, and believe me, she wasn’t happy when she did.”
“Oh, Rosa. I can only imagine. But how romantic! And now he’s going to London with you. No wonder Winston is so frosted.”
They were interrupted by a soft knock on the door.
“Come in,” Rosa called.
Bledsoe, the Forresters’ butler, opened the door but was careful not to step into the room. “Lord Winston asked me to let you know he would like to talk to you right away.”
Rosa shot Gloria a look. “Speak of the devil.”
To Bledsoe, she said, “Please tell Lord Winston I’ll be with him shortly.”
Winston stood in the morning room, glancing out at the expansive Forrester mansion’s backyard. He inhaled from his cigarette and exhaled a swirl of smoke. The kidney-shaped pool, three Mediterranean-style water fountains, and a tennis court were impressive, but the most eye-catching was the sparkling Pacific Ocean in the distance. He breathed in another puff and exhaled quickly. Rosa had mentioned she’d often enjoyed having her breakfast sitting poolside.
“I’m beginning to see why you’ve stayed here for so long,” Winston said as Rosa entered the room. As usual, he was dressed casually but fashionably. This morning he wore a cardigan sweater over a white button-down shirt with a black tie and gray trousers. His hair, parted on one side, was held in place with a good portion of oil. Dotting his long, aristocratic nose were a few freckles, suggesting he’d spent some time at the pool. It was a profile Rosa had spent a lot of time looking at. While she, Gloria, and Clarence, who were all different shades of brunette and had similar features, Winston and Vivien had borne little resemblance to each other, with sharply contrasting complexions and hair color.
Rosa, in a very un-English sort of way, got straight to the point. “You wanted to talk to me?”
Winston glanced at her sideways with his penetrating blue eyes. “Yes, please.” He gestured to one of the chairs at the empty table and sat down opposite it. “Am I right to assume that the reason you are eager to return to London is to take part in the investigation?”
“That’s correct,” Rosa said, refusing the proffered chair. Despite her sense of goodwill, she was rather enjoying the slight look of irritation on Winston’s face at her defiance.
Winston crossed his legs and lit another cigarette. “I really wish you wouldn’t.”
“I think this time you should just let the police manage my sister’s murder investigation.”
The unnecessarily possessive use of the words ‘my sister’ was not lost on Rosa.
“She was my best friend.”
“Precisely why you should not get involved. You know what it did to you last time.”
Rosa had gone through a wretched time of loss and grief, which had manifested physically in weight loss and sleeplessness.
“I’m concerned about you,” he pressed.
“Nonetheless, I’ll be taking part. I’m sure the police will allow it.” Rosa didn’t like the defensiveness that had crept into her voice. “Besides, Miguel will be there and can offer an objective viewpoint.”
Winston snorted derisively. “By gosh, Rosa. Your naivety astounds me. Do you think he’s going to be any kind of help? It seems bringing your latest fling with you will only complicate matters.”
“He’s not a fling!”
“See here, I’m glad you’re returning to London,” he said, ignoring her protest. “In fact, I think it would be good for you to see your parents, perhaps visit some of your old haunts, renew your friendships, and so on, but to get entangled once again in all of this torrid affair . . .” He flicked long fingers in the air.
“You forget that I am a police officer—”
“You were a police officer,” Winston corrected. “You left the force, did you not? Regardless, I can assure you that I’ll be in close contact with the police the entire way, and I can keep you thoroughly updated as we go along. Besides, it’s been a while since I visited Hartigan House, and I would be glad to see your parents again.”
Rosa glared. How dare he minimize her talents and her capabilities. “I—”
“I want this murder solved as much as you do, Rosa.” He stood and placed a warm palm on her arm. “Knowing Vivien’s killer is still on the loose doing God knows what eats me up. He may even kill again for all we know.” He whispered in her ear. “I’d hate anything to happen to you.”
Rosa stepped back and pulled her arm free. “I can take care of myself, Winston.”
He grinned. “You always were a fiery one. Still, I think it’s best that you just trust me to take the lead on this, for your sake and the sake of my sister’s memory.”
Rosa gritted her teeth. Worried she’d say something she’d later regret, she didn’t trust herself to speak at that moment.
“I managed to get a flight later tonight,” Winston said. He nodded curtly and walked out of the room, pausing briefly to add, “I’ll see you in London.”
Murder in Belgravia
Excerpt from Chapter 1
There was nothing like a good wedding to get the blood pumping and the nerves rattling, even if you weren’t the one getting married.
“I remember your wedding day, Mrs. Reed.”
Ginger, known as Lady Gold when working in her capacity as a private investigator, smiled at her maid, Lizzie.
“Two years ago, now,” Ginger said with a nod. “It’s hard to believe we’re racing to the end of 1926.”
Lizzie flipped through Ginger’s wardrobe in the large bedroom on the upper floor of Hartigan House, Ginger’s Kensington home. Removing a lovely yellow-velvet drop-waist dress with a handkerchief hem embellished with gold embroidery and a large velour bow on the hip, she held it up for Ginger to see.
“It came in just in time, madam,” Lizzie said. A petite girl with short, mousy-brown hair pinned under her maid’s cap, Lizzie fussed over the gown they had chosen earlier. It will do the trick nicely. And the colour goes so well with your red hair.”
The “trick”, of course, was to conceal Ginger’s growing belly, helped by the loose fit and dark colour, the child due in a month. Most ladies never ventured out in public when their condition was so obvious, but she wasn’t about to miss the nuptials of her former sister-in-law Felicia and Lord Davenport-Witt—not for the world.
Lizzie tittered on as she helped Ginger into the gown. “Weddings are so exciting. Yours and Mr. Reed’s was the last one I went to. So lovely. Even if I almost ruined the whole thing!”
“Shh,” Ginger said, even though an unfortunate misunderstanding involving her maid had nearly caused a delay. “All’s well that ends well.”
Lizzie finished fastening the back of the gown. “You’re so kind, madam. I honestly can’t believe you didn’t sack me then.”
“And how happy I am that I had no need.”
Lizzie, young and spritely, was one of those rare finds with maids. Cheerful, grateful, and good with children and dogs.
As if he could read her mind, Boss, Ginger’s seven-year-old Boston terrier, raised his chin from his position on her four-poster bed where he’d been curled up on the gold, textured quilt in a long nap.
After donning a long white-pearl necklace and matching earrings, Ginger sashayed across the Persian carpet centred on the wooden floor as if for her dog’s benefit. “What do you think, Boss? Will it do?”
She paused in front of the full-length mirror tilted on its frame in the room’s corner. Trimmed in elaborately carved wood, the mirror matched the bed frame and chests of drawers. Ginger appraised her reflection; she looked like she’d swallowed a large melon. It was a good thing she carried low. “With a shawl and a large, well-placed handbag, no one shall be the wiser.”
Ginger might misguide the wedding guests, but her aching back wasn’t fooled. Placing her palms on the aching lower back, she settled into one of the gold and white striped chairs that flanked a small table. By the tall south-facing windows, Ginger turned toward the low-intensity of the morning autumn sun.
The bride-to-be was on her mind. Felicia was the younger sister of Ginger’s late husband, Daniel, Lord Gold. Like an older sister, Ginger had taken Felicia under her wing—there was a decade between them—and, more recently, as a friend.
Felicia would soon be a married lady, and Ginger was happy for her.
The Earl of Witt, known as Lord Davenport-Witt, and Charles to them now, was a decent man. Felicia’s elder by a decade, the earl was moneyed and titled with his reputation intact. Ambrosia, known as the Dowager Lady Gold and Felicia’s grandmother, was ecstatic.
None of them knew what Ginger knew about the earl. She and Charles had more in common than anyone knew; the two were keepers of secrets. Each other’s, and the Crown’s.
Lizzie’s voice brought Ginger’s thoughts to the present. “Are you all right, madam? Should I fetch some tea?”
A pot of tea wouldn’t put off the inevitable.
“It’s quite all right, Lizzie. I think I’ll see how the bride is doing.”
“Yes, madam. The excitement from down the hall has ended now that her bridesmaids have gone.”
Having helped Felicia get ready, her six bridesmaids had left taking their giggles and teasing with them. Ginger hadn’t been invited for the pre-preparation and felt a twinge of hurt when she’d first discovered that. However, Ginger placed a hand on her belly, smiling at the movement going on there. She could see how she’d become more of a mother figure than a sister, and Felicia had asked her to help with her veil before they left.
Ginger checked her wristwatch. It was time to check up on Felicia.
Basil Reed found refuge playing football with his son, Scout, in the back garden of Hartigan House. When he’d married Ginger, he’d made peace with sharing a home with several strong-minded ladies and their maids. A few more had been recently added, but he’d lost track. But with a wedding in the mix, there was too much feminine energy for the men in the house to bear. Clement, the gardener and sometimes chauffeur, busied himself raking autumn leaves. Pippins, the only other male member of staff, hovered by the door at the furthest boundary possible, keeping himself available to Ginger.
Ginger kept those duties light. In her mind, Pippins, nearing eighty years old, the butler at Hartigan House when she was a child, was more family than staff. Basil admired the man’s mettle Pippins’ cornflower-blue eyes always sparkled, even as he kept his expression neutral.
When they stopped for a rest, Pippins, with a slight bow, asked, “Shall I bring out some lemonade, sir?”
“That would be splendid, Pippins, thank you.”
Basil felt a twinge of guilt about adding more work to all the bustle in the kitchen, and he hoped the cook, Mrs. Beasley, would overlook his intrusion.
He needn’t have worried, as Pippins quickly returned and placed a tray containing two glasses and a jug, beading from the cold beverage inside it, and placed it on the patio table.
“Do we have to go to the silly wedding, Dad?” Scout said after gulping half his glass. The lad nearly wiped his mouth with his sleeve before Basil stopped him, handing him a napkin from a pile sitting on the tray instead. The boy had lived much of his life on the streets before Basil and Ginger adopted him, but some habits refused to die.
“Yes, we do, and weddings aren’t silly. Your aunt is very excited, so we must be on our best behaviour to support her.”
Scout pouted as only preadolescent lads could. “Yes, Dad.”
Basil settled into one of the patio chairs. Even though the nights were getting chilly, they’d been gifted with a few warm autumn days, and fortunately, this was one of them. It wouldn’t last for long. “I suppose we’ll have to put the back garden to bed,” he said to Pippins.
Pippins agreed. “Clement and I have spoken about it, sir. We decided to wait until after the wedding.”
“A good decision, indeed.”
Basil inhaled the crisp air and exhaled—perhaps to fortify himself to endure all the festivities to come: the ceremony at St. George’s Church and the party afterward at Charles’ house in Belgravia. It wasn’t the wedding plans that had him feeling nervous—Charles seemed a fine chap, and Felicia was happier than a clam—it was that Ginger, after seeing the guest list, had asked him to provide security. Just a couple of constables, she’d said, just in case.
When he’d asked, in case of what, she’d waved him off and changed the subject. Quite expertly, he thought, by bringing his hand to her stomach to feel the outline of the baby’s foot.
Later, when he examined the guest list for himself, he could find nothing that would cause alarm, no names of note or notoriety.
He knew Ginger well. If she asked for something out of the ordinary, such as wanting the police to attend the wedding of familial or friendship connections, where the bride and groom were of the noble class, then she had her reasons. Braxton and Newman had agreed to come in the guise of footmen, Newman for the free meal served below stairs, and Braxton out of curiosity. Braxton had fancied Felicia at one time, though that socially uneven coupling had never had a chance.
Basil glanced at his watch then turned to Scout. “Time to get our suits on. I promised your mum I’d get you ready.” He’d negotiated with Ginger when he suggested he and Scout could play outside for a while.
“No buts.” Basil got to his feet. “Let’s go. Chop-chop.”
Murder on Location
Excerpt from Chapter 1
One of the first things that attracted Rosa Reed to Dr. Larry Rayburn, assistant medical examiner for the Santa Bonita Police Department, had been that he was the picture of Texas charm. As a former Woman Police Constable for the London Metropolitan Police, Rosa had worked with many pathologists and found most capable and efficient, but they were a little, well, “stiff”. Perhaps that came with the job of examining corpses all day. Larry Rayburn, however, defied any stereotypes Rosa had ever had. As a Londoner, she appreciated his gentle formality—but just below that was a funny, unpretentious, and kind man that Rosa enjoyed.
Still, she had to occasionally stifle a giggle when he came to pick her up for a date. He drove a 1948 faded-green Chevrolet pickup truck with its heavy rounded hood, large bug-eyed headlights, and painted grille. Larry had regaled Rosa with stories about how he used to drive the machine on his father’s ranch in Galveston, and though he kept saying he meant to trade it in for “a nicer chariot”, Rosa suspected her date was a little more attached to the truck than he liked to let on. So tonight, as she watched him trundle into the elegant and expansive Forrester estate in his faithful mechanical steed, she grinned at the incongruous sight.
The Forrester mansion was a sprawling Spanish-style structure, built on a low hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and was a testament to her late Uncle Harold’s wealth and his success as an oil baron. It boasted many acres of land, manicured gardens, a swimming pool, and a tennis court. The long driveway was lined with swaying palm trees and ended in a circle surrounding an angel-pouring-water fountain.
Not bothering to wait for Larry to come to the door—and saving him from another embarrassing interrogation by her Aunt Louisa who, in Rosa’s opinion, was overly enthusiastic about her budding relationship—Rosa stepped out into the warm and breezy California sunshine.
Already out of the truck and opening the passenger door, Larry tipped his straw fedora, winked with his deep-blue eyes twinkling, and said, “Hiya, Miss Reed.”
“Hello, Dr. Rayburn,” she teased as they were on a first-name basis. Rosa, shifting the crinolines of her black-and-white checkered skirt—embossed with red cherries that matched her red form-fitting, fine-knit sweater—kissed Larry before she climbed into his truck. Gloria, her younger and society-minded cousin, had been with Rosa when they were lingerie shopping and had encouraged the purchase of a bullet brassiere, named such for its rather pointy design. Rosa felt a tad self-conscious wearing it, but Larry, if one could go by his cheeky grin, seemed quite taken with her outfit.
Along with her white half-hat angled on her head of short chestnut curls, short white gloves, and black ballet shoes, Rosa was appropriately dressed for going to the movies and was looking forward to the evening.
Showing at the Santa Bonita Cinema was an action flick called The Last Clue starring Nicholas Post. Though Rosa had only recently heard of the star, Gloria had told her, most emphatically, that in America, he was as famous as Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.
“You should like this one,” Larry said as they moseyed along the main road. “Nicholas Post plays a hard-boiled private investigator.”
“I’d hardly call myself hard-boiled.” Rosa had recently set up Reed Investigations in Santa Bonita, and though she worked as a private investigator, she didn’t think she could be compared to the character in this film.
Larry chuckled and took her hand. “No, darlin’, you are definitely of the softer-boiled variety.”
“Isn’t The Last Clue about the mob?”
“Yes, ma’am. Nicholas Post is hired by the mob boss to investigate a string of murders committed by rival gang members.”
After arriving at the theater and picking up the reserved tickets, Larry bought two sodas, a big bucket of popcorn to share, and a movie magazine called Inside the Silver Screen that featured the very movie they were about to see.
Once seated, Rosa opened the magazine. “East Shore Productions Incorporated produced this film,” she said. “It says here they are based in Boston.”
“This movie is set there too, isn’t it?” Larry said. “In 1912.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize the year!” Rosa looked closer at the article. “Aunt Louisa was born and raised there,” Rosa said, “and though my mother was born in London, she grew up in Boston. She’d have lived there that year. I’ve never been to Boston, so I think I’m going to enjoy this!”
Larry draped an arm over Rosa’s shoulder. “And I’m going to enjoy watching you enjoy it.”
The theater darkened and the newsreels began: news that San Francisco’s iconic cable line was being replaced by buses, and the winner of the Formula One Drivers’ Championship.
“NASCAR is planning an exhibition race here in Santa Bonita,” Larry said. “In November.”
“Aunt Louisa mentioned that,” Rosa returned. “One of her organizations is sponsoring it.”
Dramatic music filled the theater as the credits began, and the moviegoers cheered. There was not a seat to spare, and it seemed much of Santa Bonita was excited to start watching.
As the movie progressed, the costumes of the times—the long stiff skirts worn by the women along with their modest long-sleeve blouses with high, button-up collars—intrigued Rosa. And the parasols and big hats could hardly have eased the summer heat. Rosa felt thankful to live in a time where a lady could wear a skirt that ended at the knees, and blouses with no sleeves at all!
But it was the setting of the city of Boston that interested Rosa the most. Boston Harbor differed greatly from Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean, or London on the River Thames. Her mother had often talked about her transatlantic trip from Boston Harbor to Liverpool. That trip had been significant in several ways. It had been the first time that her mother, Ginger Gold, had met Rosa’s father, Basil Reed, another passenger on the ship. It was also the first time Ginger had helped solve a murder with Basil leading the investigation.
Rosa owed her existence to that voyage. Had her mother never gone on that ship, Rosa would never have been born just a few years later. The ship had been called the SS Rosa—Rosa’s namesake.
Every time the camera panned a shot of the city or the harbor, Rosa, fascinated with it all, leaned forward in her seat. Less impressive to Rosa, however, were the skills of some actors. The main villain in the movie, played by an actor named Scott Huntington, certainly looked the part with his dark, brooding good looks. Still, his acting seemed melodramatic, especially the scene where he was shot, which was a long, painfully dramatic affair causing Rosa to roll her eyes.
The magazine article hinted at a rivalry between this stuntman and Nicholas Post. Was that actually true or something fabricated for publicity to promote the movie, Rosa wondered.
“I’d put my money on the dark-haired feller in a real fistfight,” Larry whispered in her ear as the two main characters brawled in an Irish pub. “Neither one of ’em seems to know how to operate a gun. They must’ve shot at each other at least a dozen times in that last scene, and no one got so much as a powder burn.”
When the story reached the point where the private investigator rubbed a pencil across an old notepad to reveal hidden letters underneath, Rosa whispered back to Larry, “That’s such an overused trick in detective stories. I’ve never once done that myself, and I doubt if any other detective ever has.”
However, Rosa couldn’t afford to be critical. Though she’d opened her office a couple of months earlier, business was slow. But she didn’t want to think about that problem now and forced herself to focus on the film. Rosa realized that despite her critiques, she was pulled into the movie’s plot and felt a sense of disappointment when the story ended.
As they stepped into the evening air and onto the sidewalk along with the rest of the movie patrons, Larry suggested drinks. “There’s a bar just down the block.”
“Yes, I would like that.” Rosa linked her arm with his as they strolled down the street on a pleasantly cool evening.
While in her office the next morning, Rosa arranged the magazines on the teak coffee table for the third time. Did the room look more welcoming now? She’d placed an ad in the Santa Bonita Gazette that had garnered her a few new clients, but not enough to keep her mind and body busy.
She had worked at her mother’s office, Lady Gold Investigations, in London. A long-running establishment—starting its operations since from before Rosa was born—Ginger Gold’s business never hurt for clients. Her stellar reputation had been passed by word of mouth and hers was the first agency considered when most people needed a detective.
But how did one gain those qualities with a new business in Santa Bonita, California?
“What are we going to do, Diego?”
Rosa’s brown tabby kitten, curled in the corner of the couch, feigned indifference to his owner’s plight. He slowly closed his eyes and purred. Apparently, this new office space was even too boring for her cat.
A moment later, the door burst open, and there stood Gloria—all bright eyes and shiny red lipstick.
“Rosa! I thought I might find you here.”
Gloria wore an emerald-green A-frame dress patterned with flecks of red and gold. A V-shaped neckline enhanced the capped sleeves. Around the creamy skin of her neck, a pearl choker hung, and her matching pearl belt emphasized her figure. Short curly hair framed her heart-shaped face, and although she’d tested a platinum-blonde look, her natural dark locks suited her much better.
Gloria waved the flyer in her hand. “Look what was posted on the bulletin board.”
Rosa picked up on Gloria’s infectious smile as she reached for the paper. It might be a flyer advertising Reed Investigations, Rosa thought. However, her name and business were nowhere to be found on the flyer.
“Still a little slow?” Gloria asked, looking around the small office and stating the obvious. But Rosa’s rapt attention was now fixed on the small white flyer.
It read: FILMING ON LOCATION IN SANTA BONITA, QUICK STRIKE—A WESTERN FILM BY DIRECTOR FREDERICK FORBES. EXTRAS NEEDED!
“That’s intriguing,” Rosa remarked. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s the same director as last night’s movie.”
‘It’s the same director,” Gloria confirmed. “Frederick Forbes is a very influential figure in that industry.”
The qualifications for those who might be interested in extra work were listed under the heading. Prospective extras were people in their twenties with no distinguishing features such as scars or birthmarks on their faces. On the first day of filming, the possible extras had to be prepared to spend the first few hours going through the selection process, and then came makeup and wardrobe allocation.
Gloria came around Rosa and peered over her shoulder to read the flyer, even though Rosa couldn’t imagine that her cousin hadn’t already memorized every word. “It starts tomorrow,” Gloria said. “I already asked if I could miss class—I thought the experience could be helpful.” Gloria was a student at a local acting studio. She waved her hands around at the empty office. “It looks as though you’re free too. Why don’t you come with me?”
The idea of being in a movie—a Frederick Forbes film, no less—pumped more than a little extra adrenaline through Rosa’s veins. It certainly beat rearranging coffee-table magazines all day while waiting for the telephone to ring.
“Rosa?” Gloria prodded. “You’ll do it with me?”
“I don’t know,” Rosa hedged. “Acting isn’t something I do well.” She was purposely modest. In her line of work, she often had to pretend to be someone she wasn’t.
Gloria pouted. “You don’t have to act as an extra, not really. Anyway, I’ll do all the work, you just have to respond to my cues.” Gloria tugged on Rosa’s arm. “Come on! It’ll be fun!”
Rosa’s hesitancy had nothing to do with acting, and she knew it. It had everything to do with a certain detective’s fiancée, Charlene Winters, who Rosa knew would be on the set.
Rosa sat on the couch beside Diego and sorted out her crinolines and her emotions. Hadn’t she carefully filed away her tumultuous romance with Miguel Belmonte into the past? Hadn’t she been enjoying the time spent with her new boyfriend, the intelligent and respected Dr. Larry Rayburn, who had the prestigious position of assistant medical examiner?
Hadn’t she moved on?
Rosa reached over to pet her kitten’s soft fur. “What do you think, Diego? Can you live without me for a day?”
Diego’s eyelids opened briefly but shut again as if the effort to look up at Rosa was too much. Rosa’s mind spun quickly. Just because Charlene Winters would be on set, didn’t mean she and Gloria would encounter the actress. Movie sets were notoriously busy places, and she knew she’d be one of many extras who milled about. And what about Miguel? Since he had his job to do at the Santa Bonita Police Department, there was no need to worry about him showing up.
Her choice was to while away the time in her office, hoping a client would call, or making her cousin happy.
She smiled up at Gloria. “Let’s do it.”