Read Beginner's Luck Online

Authors: Richard Laymon

Tags: #Mystery

Beginner's Luck

"F
ive?" asked the bookstore clerk when Joyce set the copies of
Whispering Shadows Mystery Monthly
on the counter.

"I have a story in it," Joyce told her. She felt a blush spread over her cheeks as she smiled.

"Really? How exciting!"

"It's my second story. I sold my first to them a few months ago."

The clerk, a young woman who seemed to be about Joyce's age of 19, opened one of the magazines. She moved her finger 
down the table of contents page, along the list of authors. She stopped at Joyce's name. "I bet you're Joyce Walther," she said.

Joyce beamed. "Right! How did you know?"

"Elementary, my dear Watson. I'm a fan of this magazine. I read your first story when it came out. It was very good, by the way. At the time, your name stuck in my mind, because the introduction said you live here in town. And I've also been to your father's store." Grinning, she swept back some wavy brown hair and showed a gold earring to Joyce. "Then, of course, you were in the news for the way you caught those thugs. With all that, how
could
I forget your name?"

Joyce shook her head, amazed. "You'd make a good detective," she said.

No other customers were waiting, so the clerk hurried to the magazine rack. She rushed back to the counter with another copy. "How about an autograph?" she asked. "Make it to Susie."

Delighted, Joyce turned to page 63. Just below her printed name, she scribbled, "For Susie, a real Sherlock Holmes. All my best, Joyce Walther."

"Oh, this is great," Susie said as she read what Joyce had written.

"I hope you like the story," Joyce told her.

"If it's half as good as the first one, I'm sure I will. You've got real talent. And you're a heroine, too."

Joyce was still blushing with pleasure when she finished paying for her magazines and left the bookstore. Turning to the right, she headed down the wide, crowded aisle of the shopping mall. At the far end was another bookstore. She was going to stop there to buy a few more copies of the magazine. Later, she planned to drive all over Santa Monica to buy a lot more.

The magazine's publisher had given her the usual number of copies an author gets---three. But she needed at least 15 just for relatives and friends. And she wanted 15 or 20 more to keep for herself. "You can't have too many," she thought. "They'll be almost impossible to get, once the next issue hits the stands."

"Excuse me, miss," a voice said, interrupting her thoughts.

She turned her head to look at the young man suddenly walking beside her. He was handsome, with blond curly hair and a pleasant smile. His tan jacket was buttoned over a sport shirt.

"Yes?" she said.

"Do you have a blue Ford parked on level one of the mall lot?" He glanced at a scrap of paper in his hand. "License plate 633 TME?"

Joyce's stomach knotted. "Yes, I do," she said. "Why?"

"My partner and I spotted a prowler. We think he broke into your car."

J
oyce suddenly felt sick as she stared at the young man. "Did he take anything? " she asked.

"We're not sure. We spotted him just as he was running away. My partner went after him, and I came to look for you."

"How did you know that I was the one driving that car?" Joyce asked.

He shook his head. "It wasn't easy finding you. There was a woman who saw what was going on. She told me that she'd parked near you and saw you get out. She described you. Unfortunately, this mall seems to be full of young women with blond hair who are wearing plaid skirts. I checked with seven or eight before I got to you. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like you to come along with me. We'll take a look in your car and see if he stole any of your property."

"OK," Joyce said. They walked across the mall.

"By the way, I'm Officer Stevens, Santa Monica Police Department. What's your name?"

"Joyce Walther," she answered. For a moment she was disappointed that he didn't seem to recognize her name. "Don't be silly," she told herself. "It's been six months since you helped catch those thieves. You can hardly expect every member of the police force to remember you."

"Did you have any valuables in the car?" he asked.

"I sure did. My dad's binoculars and camera were under the driver's seat." She remembered her father laughing when she'd asked to borrow them. "Let me guess," her father had said. "You want them handy just in case you run into a 
crime." She had admitted it, and they had both laughed. As it turned out, however, Joyce could've done without the binoculars and camera. All the time she'd been carrying them around, she hadn't even used them once. "Some detective," she thought. "I should have left Dad's gear safe at home." "The thief," she asked. "Was he carrying anything?"

"He appeared to have objects hidden under his jacket."

"Oh, man," she muttered.

At the end of the corridor, Officer Stevens pushed open the glass door and held it for Joyce. They entered the parking area.

"Maybe we'll be in luck, Joyce. My partner's quick on his feet. He probably chased down the suspect."

"I sure hope he did."

They crossed the lane and walked past the rear bumpers of parked cars. Joyce's car was still out of sight, around the bend. But she scanned what she could see of the lot, looking for Stevens's partner. The few people she saw all looked like shoppers, either on their way into the mall or out.

Stevens grabbed Joyce's arm and yanked her out of danger as a station wagon backed up. Its rear bumper brushed the front of her skirt.

"Hey!" Stevens pounded its roof with his open hand. The car jerked to a stop. Bending over, he peered through the open passenger window. The tail end of his jacket slid up. Below its hem, Joyce saw a gleaming curve of metal---a rim of his handcuffs. "You almost ran this young lady down," Stevens told the driver in a stern voice. "I ought to run you in for reckless driving.
But I have more important matters to deal with. In the future, be more careful."

"Yes, sir," the driver said, sounding frightened.

"Be on your way," Stevens ordered as he stepped back to let the car finish pulling out. He turned to Joyce. "Are you all right?"

''I'm fine," she said. "Thanks for stopping me."

"My pleasure," he said. Smiling, he patted her arm. "You'd better watch where you're walking," he warned in a gentle voice. "I'd hate for anything bad to happen to a young lady as pretty as you."

H
is compliment, plus the way he'd patted her arm, made Joyce uncomfortable. He was being a little too 
friendly for a police officer, she thought. But he had, after all, just saved her from possibly being hit by a car. Because of that, maybe he felt especially protective.

When they rounded the turn in the lane, she looked up and spotted her car. She half expected to find Stevens's partner standing near it, the suspect in custody. Instead there wasn't anybody there.

"Where's your partner?" she asked.

Frowning, Stevens shook his head. He didn't answer right away. As they walked toward her car, he finally answered, "Do you know what probably happened? Rick must've caught him. I can't imagine
anyone
getting away from Rick---he was a star sprinter in college. He must have caught the suspect and taken him in."

"To the police station?" Joyce asked.

"That's probably just what he did." Shaking his head as if amused by his partner, he said, "Rick's a real hot dog. He probably hauled the guy in, all by himself. Then he wouldn't have to share the collar with me."

"Doesn't that make you mad?" Joyce asked.

Stevens shrugged, then smiled in a carefree way. "I'm an easygoing guy. It takes a lot to make me mad."

They stopped beside Joyce's car. She was glad to see that none of its windows were broken. The lock buttons all appeared to be in the down position. She sighed with relief. "It doesn't look like he got in."

"We'd better make sure," Stevens said. Joyce took the key case from her purse.

"Let me," he told her. She gave the leather case to him. Choosing the right key, he slid it into the door, turned it, and pulled the handle.

Joyce hissed through her teeth.

"What?" he asked, looking over his shoulder.

"Nothing," she said. "I'm just a little nervous."

"If he did get in, you probably just loused up his fingerprints," she thought. But she didn't say it because she didn't want to embarrass him.

Stevens ducked low and slid a hand under the drivers seat. He straightened up slowly, shook his head, and turned to Joyce. "Nothing there," he said. "I'm afraid he got the camera and binoculars. He probably 
got in using a coat hanger to flip up the lock button. But don't worry. I'd bet a month's pay that Rick has the guy safely behind bars by now."

"I sure hope so," Joyce said.

"My van's just over there." He nodded toward a row of cars parked across the lane. "I'll take you over to the station. If we're in luck, your dad's equipment will be there and you can fill out a complaint against the suspect."

"If the suspect is there," Joyce said, feeling discouraged.

"Don't worry, he will be."

Joyce followed him as he stepped between a nice, shiny car and a beat-up green van. The van had a broken tail light, a Nevada license plate, and a crumpled side panel.

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