Read Carolyn G. Hart_Henrie O_03 Online
Authors: Death in Lovers' Lane
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Women Sleuths, #Henrie O (Fictitious Character), #Women Journalists, #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Mystery Fiction, #Fantasy, #Missouri
My thanks to my old friends and J-School buddies, Eve K. Sandstrom and Mack R. Palmer, for sharing their expertise. And with fond memories of a long-vanished newsroom, a tip of a pica pole to the Class of '58 and to the memory of LBM.
“WAKING up alone has all the excitement of interviewing aâ¦
ONE theory holds that right-brained creative people are very muchâ¦
THE hallway outside The Clarion morgue hosts a row ofâ¦
STEAM curled from the mouth of the thermos. Coffee gurgledâ¦
MY desk was in disarray. In the center were papersâ¦
FRIDAY morning's forecast called for a chance of sleet. Iâ¦
THIS room had a smell, too. Of sweat and never-washedâ¦
MY ankle hurt like hell. The drive through the billowingâ¦
I carried a mug of coffee into my study. Iâ¦
DARRYL Nugent was last seen two decades ago. People changeâ¦
I pulled into the graveled parking area in front ofâ¦
I have no Tuesday classes, but I got to myâ¦
JUDGMENTS, they never come easy.
AT seven o'clock, I pushed back my office chair, stretched,â¦
AS always, I scanned The Clarion at breakfast. No bigâ¦
I packed a small duffel bag with toiletries and clothes.
I walked into Evans Hall slightly after seven. I passedâ¦
IT was fairly late Thursday morning when I reached myâ¦
AKING up alone has all the excitement of interviewing a hamster breeder. And none of the action.” Jimmy's tone was cheerful, but I didn't miss the message.
“We've brought each other some comfort there, these last few years.” I chose my words carefully and kept my voice light.
The silence on the line built.
I could picture Jimmy in his hotel room in Los Angeles. Tall and lanky. In Levi's and a sports shirt. He would be draped casually over an easy chair, a book open on the coffee table. His face is long and lanky, too, with that deadpan quality that often fools those he interviews into thinking him placid, perhaps a tad obtuse. It wasn't a mistake they'd make twice.
Jimmy likes gourmet meals, art museums, small towns, and parties where people know each other.
No wonder he felt lonely.
Los Angeles is a sprawl of broken dreams and lost opportunities, disconnected souls and entertainment junkies. The sunny skies and graceful palms don't redeem jammed roadways to nowhere.
But it wasn't simply that he was in L.A. on a book tour.
“Henrie O.” Jimmy's voice is a pleasant tenor. A nice voice. A nice man. An old friend. A sometime lover. “Henrie O, I've been looking at a house in Cuernavaca. You'd like it.” Eagerness ran the words together. “I've been wanting to tell you about it. I'm going down there next week. I want you to come with me.”
Suddenly, I knew what was coming. And I was totally unprepared.
Since we'd both been widowed and become reacquainted, we'd taken a number of holidays together. And enjoyed them and each other. Butâ
“Henrie O, I want to build a life there. With you. As my wife.”
“Jimmyâ¦” I didn't know what to say. I'd not thought about where we were going. I'd not actually thought we were going anywhere. I'd seen our occasional meetingsâAcapulco, New York, Paris, Charlotte Amalieâas interludes: sensual, satisfying, self-contained; a lovely enhancement but not a basic component of my life.
Yet I've never seen myself as an opportunist. Certainly not in connection with people for whom I have great respect and liking. I'd just never figured Jimmy Lennox into the equation of my life. At least not on a permanent basis.
“Think about it, Henrie O.” The words were still casual, but his voice grew huskier. “We'd have fun. You know that.”
“I know that.” But there is a world of difference between occasional liaisons and a permanent commitment.
“I'll be here until a week from Friday.”
And that was all. I was left holding a buzzing line.
As I walked briskly across the campus, I saw it with a more thoughtful gaze. This had been a healing place for me, after Richard's death. We are none of us ever prepared for the loss of a beloved partner. When the loss comes without warning, the devastation is complete.
Richard's last call had ended, “I'll be home Monday. Love you, sweetheart.”
But when Monday came, Richard, my surefooted, athletic, graceful Richard, was dead from a fall down a rugged cliff. He came home from the island paradise of Kauai in a coffin.
One day I'd been Mrs. Richard Collins. The next I was a widow, a widow remembering how bitterly she'd grudged his island visit.
Nothing softens that kind of loss.
The common wisdom urges no changes for a year. I'd stayed in our Washington apartment, but the joy was gone.
Millay's verse was a refrain in my heart:
Oh, there will pass with your great passing
Little of beauty not your own
Only the light from common water
Only the grace from simple stone
Richard and I had freelanced for a number of years. We'd taken assignments where and when we wanted, as long as we could work together. Without Richard, none of it mattered. It was months later when a good friend who taught journalism called
on me to take over her classes while she recuperated from a broken hip.
So I'd come to the little town of Derry Hills, Missouri, to Thorndyke University, and joined an unusual faculty made up primarily of retired professionals.
That was four years ago.
Now Derry Hills was home, or as close to home as a wanderer would ever know. Thorndyke was a thriving, prosperous school. I liked the weathered limestone and ivy-laden brick buildings, the curving paths among towering oaks and sycamores, the old redbrick bell tower.
Most of all, I enjoyed seeing students, young, old, scruffy, well-dressed, smiling, scowling, but all of them purposeful, going somewhere fast. It might be to a class or the mailroom or for a beer, but they were racing ahead. And whether they knew it or notâand many of them didâthey were starting the lives they would one day lead, building the habits of success or failure, happiness or despair.
I relished being a part of that. I enjoyed this hilly, wooded Missouri terrain, the misty curtains of fog in autumn, the crunch of snow underfoot in winter, the gentle greening in spring. I found each season invigorating, especially winter. But I always move swiftly, no matter the season, a woman in a hurry though the days of hurry are past.
It wasn't simply the beauty of the campus that pleased me, though it was spectacular now as the November leaves blazed. In some ways, I was like an old dog luxuriating in a sunny spot, drawing strength from the vitality that surrounded me. An almost seismic sense of expectation emanates from a college campus. That is the true elixir of youth:
the grand, the glorious, the magnificent hopes and dreams because all thingsâ
thingsâare yet possible.
I quickly passed the granite statue of Joseph Pulitzer, a scrawny figure with a beaked nose and thick stone glasses. Coattails flying, he forever lunged forward, a pad of paper in one hand, a pencil in the other.
Thorndyke's Journalism Schoolâmore formally, the School of Journalism and Mass Communicationsâwas housed in Brandt Hall, one of the University's earliest buildings, three squat stories with crenellated towers on each corner and leaded windows. Steep stone steps led up to a ponderous oak door that had once graced a medieval monastery.
There was a swift clatter behind me. Maggie Winslow darted through the doorway before the heavy panel wheezed shut.
“Mrs. Collins, do you have a minute?” Maggie's brisk voice was pleasant, but imbued with just the faintest undertone of arrogance. And there was arrogance in every line of her slim young body and smooth, confident face.
“Sure,” I told her. Maggie was one of my independent-study students this fall in a one-on-one course on investigative reporting. Only top seniors were eligible to enroll. It was a struggle every Tuesday to tamp her down, keep her leashed. Maggie Winslow's instinct was to dominate every situation.
I was equally brisk. “Let's go in my office.”
My office is one of a series that rim the newsroom of
, the newspaper which serves as both the official Thorndyke University organ and the town paper for Derry Hills.
We were at the open doors to the newsroom.
Maggie gave me a brilliant smile. “Thanks, but I've got to get to the copy desk. I'm due on in just a minute. I just wanted to let you know I've come up with a topic for my series. Here's what I'm going to do”âshe handed me several sheets of paper. She swung away, then paused. “Oh, and I'm going to tell Mr. Duffy. I think he'll be excited.”
I watched Maggie stride into the newsroom. Shoulders back, head high, she moved like a queen, unassailable in her confidence.
Every man in the room noticed her, of course.
The other women glanced up, and I saw my wariness replayed in their faces.
Maggie knew she was noticed. She liked that. She reached up to straighten the patterned chiffon scarf knotted at her throat. The silk accessoryâsplashed with golden peonies and swirls of mauveâset her apart, as did her navy gabardine suit, the slim skirt circus-spangle short. Most Thorndyke students slouched around in faded jeans, T-shirts, and down-at-heel Reeboks. Not Maggie. She could have walked onto the five-o'clock news as a co-anchor any night, midnight-black hair cupping a Nefertiti face.
I gave a little shrug and folded the papers she'd thrust at me. I had been, in effect, dismissed by Maggie Winslow. I'd decided early on in the semester that her every move was calculated. So, I wondered, why? But I didn't focus on it. I had other things on my mind.
I crossed the newsroom, nodding to reporters and editors. As I unlocked my office door and flicked on the light, I had a sudden vision of a hotel room in Paris with aged stone walls just like these. But in the hotel, almond-colored light from bronze
sconces cast a soft golden glow and Jimmy was turning toward me, arms outstretched.
I slipped out of my cardigan, hung it on the walnut coat tree. I suddenly saw my reflection, wavering and a little ghostly, in the glass fronts of my bookcases. My black hair is streaked with silver, my face strong-boned and stubborn. My eyes are dark. They have seen much and remembered much in almost fifty years of newspapering.
Sunlight streamed through the window behind my desk. I keep the blinds up all the time. Yes, I like plenty of light. I settled in my chair, welcoming the sun's warmth on my back.
I still held Maggie's sheets in my hand. I stared down at them, my glance cool. I don't like being manipulated. Then I shrugged and began to read.
When I finished, I aligned the pages. Hmm. Obviously, Maggie had absorbed enough of my philosophy of reporting to be well aware I wasn't going to like her plans. But if she thought I'd come storming into the newsroom for a public confrontation with her, she still had a few things to learn.
I was grading a stack of editorialsâ“Should Spanish Be a Second Language?”âwhen Maggie arrived for our two-o'clock appointment.
I greeted her pleasantly and saw the sudden look of surprise in her eyes. And satisfaction.
Oh, Maggie, don't underestimate your opponent
That quick thought surprised me. I hadn't realized just how irritated I was.
So perhaps we both stopped for an instant to reconsider.
Maggie sat a little sideways in the oak armchair, her beautiful legs crossed. “Duffy's crazy about my idea.”
I could have told her a classy bridge player never smirks when trumping an ace. I could also have pointed out the reason why: it takes more than one trump to win most hands.
Instead, I picked up her proposal and held it out to her. “Good. You can do these stories for him.”
She didn't take the papers from me. “And for my series. For you.”
“No.” My voice was still pleasant, but quite definite.
She swung around, both slim feet on the floor. She leaned forward, “Duffy thinksâ”
“Duffy runs the newsroom. I run my courses.”
“But heâbut they've got everything!” In her intensity, Maggie jabbed a scarlet-tipped finger toward me. “Sex, money, human interest.”
“Right,” I said agreeably. “All they lack is a reason.”
“Mrs. Collins, this is the kind of story AP might pick up.” Her eyes met mine boldly. Her unspoken judgment hung in the room.
Oh, lady, you're Ice Age. Don't you know anything? Gonzo journalism, that's what makes it in today's world
Maggie's derisive look challenged me. “If I do itâand I will do it, Mrs. CollinsâI can have my pick of jobs.”
Shark pools are recreational havens in comparison to the job-hunt arena for new college grads, especially journalism graduates. Or communications majors, as they are called today. Colleges across the country spew out thousands of these graduates annually, and there are newspaper and television openings for hundreds. You do the math.
Give Maggie ten years and she'd look hard. The
sharp appraisal flashed in my mind like pinball lights.
I suppose my face spoke for me.
Her jaw tightened, accentuating the dramatic planes of her face, the hollowed cheeks and deep-set eyes. “I thoughtâ” She broke off.
“You thought I'd roll over and play dead if Duffy liked the stories. Even though you're smart enough, good enough to know this isn't the kind of series I want. This is lazy, Maggie. All you've got here is a plan to rehash some sensational crimes. That's not investigative reporting. And if you think this is a ticket to a big job, you're wrong. This is fluff.”
The silence wasn't pleasant.
“Look, Mrs. Collins, I know I've got something here.” Once again her voice was intense, abrasive. “Three crimes that shocked Derry Hills, crimes that were never solved. I can do interviews with the people who were involved and describe the scene and the background. People will eat it up. I'veâ”
“Wrong on all counts.” My voice was level and crisp. “All you'll have is a roundup from old stories. And that's not good enough. Not for me. I want real investigative reporting. I want a series of articles that bring out information nobody has, information that will benefit the public, informationâ”
“Mrs. Collins, wait a minute.” Her malachite eyes glistened with excitement. “Will you agree that if I come up with information about these crimes, information nobody else ever found, that it would be investigative reporting?”
“Sure, but that's not what you're talking about.” I rattled the papers. “All you've got here is a
Maggie's eyes narrowed in concentration. A crimson-tipped finger pressed against one cheek. “I'll gouge to the bone. There
to be stuff the police didn't find. And I can find it. I can do it.” She spoke with utter confidence.
And yes, her face was hard, but I felt a sudden spurt ofâwell, if not liking, certainly admiration.
And God, how I envied her certitude. I know some things without qualification.