Read an Excerpt
I was sitting in my office above the bank with my tie loose and my feet up, reading a book called Play of Double Senses: Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Susan Silverman had given it to me, claiming it was my biography. But it wasn’t. It turned out to be about the sixteenth-century English poet who spelled his name like mine. The guy that wrote it had become the president of Yale, and I thought maybe if I read it, I could become Allan Pinkerton.
I was just starting the chapter titled “Pageant, Show, and Verse” when the phone rang. I picked it up and said in as deep a voice as I could, “Allan Pinkerton, here.”
At the other end a voice I remembered said, “Mr. Spenser, please.”
I said in my Pinkerton voice, “One moment, please,” and then in my normal voice, “Hello.”
The voice on the phone said, “Spenser, do you expect to deceive anyone with that nonsense?”
I said, “You want to hear me do Richard Nixon?”
“No, I do not. I haven’t time. Spenser, this is Rachel Wallace. I assume you recall me.”
“Often,” I said.
“Well, I have some work for you.”
“Let me check my schedule,” I said.
She laughed briefly. “Your sense of humor is much too complete for you to be busy.”
“Are you suggesting I offend people?”
“Yes. Myself included, upon occasion.”
“Only upon occasion?”
“What would you like done?”
“There’s a young woman in California who is in trouble. She needs the kind of help that you are able to offer.”
“Where in California?”
“Los Angeles. She has uncovered what appears to be a large scandal in the motion picture industry and she fears that her life may become endangered.”
“And you’d like me to go out and look after her?”
“I didn’t do all that well with you.”
“I think you did. I recommended you to this woman.”
“She’s a friend?”
“No, I met her only once. She’s a television reporter and she interviewed me on the last leg of a book tour. I told her about our adventures. Later on she contacted me through my publisher and requested your name.”
“You must have spoken well of me.”
“I told the truth. You are strong and brave and resourceful. I told her that. I told her also that our politics were miles apart.”
“Politics is too abstract for me,” I said. “I don’t have any.”
“Perhaps you don’t. I told her if you were committed, you would never give up and that, politics aside, you were quite intelligent.”
“I’m reading a book by the president of Yale,” I said.
“Good for you. Will you help the young woman in California?”
“I need more details.”
“She will supply them. I told her I’d call and clear the way, so to speak.”
“When will I hear from her?”
“This afternoon. Shortly after I hang up.”
“What’s her name?”
“Candy Sloan. Will you do it?”
“Good. Give my love to Susan.”
“Perhaps next time I’m in Boston, I can buy you lunch.”
“Yes,” I said. “Call me.”
“I shall. Good-bye, Spenser.”
I hung up the phone and stood and stared out the window. It was June. Below, at the corner of Berkley and Boylston, good-looking women in summer dresses crossed at the light. A lot of men wore seersucker jackets. I didn’t. Susan said I wasn’t the type. I asked her what type I was. She said leather vest, no shirt. I think she was kidding. It was June, seventy-two degrees, clear. The murder count in the city was down ten percent from last year, and I was willing to bet that somewhere someone was hugging the bejeepers out of something.
I looked at my watch. Four thirty. Susan was taking another summer course at Harvard, and I was supposed to pick her up at five. In L.A. that was barely past lunchtime. They were probably still sipping Perrier at Ma Maison.
Across Berkley Street the young dark-haired art director in the ad agency looked out the window and waved at me. I shot at her with my forefinger and she smiled. I smiled back. Enigmatic. Byronic. Once you have found her, never let her go. The phone rang. I said hello.
“This is Candy Sloan.”
“Rachel Wallace spoke of you,” I said.
“Oh, good. Then you know the situation.”
“Only very generally,” I said. “Rachel said you’d give me details.”
“Oh, God. Over the phone? I hate to talk about it.”
“How about I make up a set of circumstances and you tell me if I’m getting hot or cold?”
“Excuse me? Oh, you’re being ironic. Rachel warned me that you would be.”
“Ironic,” I said.
“Well, of course you’ll need to know things. I can give you details when you get out here, but essentially the situation is this. I’m a reporter for KNBS-TV, here in Los Angeles. We’re doing an investigative series on labor racketeering in the film business, and I came across pretty solid evidence that production companies were paying off labor-union figures to ensure a trouble-free shooting schedule.”
I said, “Um-hmm.”
“When we started digging a little deeper, I got a threatening phone call and recently, when I’ve gotten off work, the same car, a maroon Pontiac Firebird with mag wheels, has followed me home.”
“What was your pretty solid evidence?”
“It’s followed me three nights in a row.”
“No, I mean of payola in the movies?”
“And what deeper digging did you do?”
“We began questioning other people in the business.”
“Any documentary evidence?”
“Like checks, photographs, that sort of thing?”
“Yes. Stuff that couldn’t be threatened or bought off.”
I had the phone tucked into the hollow of my shoulder and my hands in my hip pockets. While I talked, I looked out the window.
I said, “Um-hmm.”
“So,” Candy Sloan said, “the station has agreed to hire someone to help me with this. To act as a bodyguard and help with the investigation.”
“Why not someone out there?” I took my left hand out of my pocket and looked at my watch. Four forty-six. I was going to be late for Susan if I didn’t close this off.
“We couldn’t be sure they would be reliable, and by coincidence, I had recently interviewed Rachel Wallace, and she spoke at length about her kidnapping and how you found her.”
“She mention how I lost her in the first place?”
“She said that was her fault.”
“Will you come out here?”
“Two hundred dollars a day and expenses.”
“That will be fine. The station will pay.”
“And you gotta promise to show me a movie star.”
There was silence on the other end.
“Or whoever you can find,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be Dale. Mala Powers would be good.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she said. “Are you really this goofy all the time?” There was a giggle at the edge of her voice.
“Goofy?” I said. “When I meet Mala Powers, I’m going to tell her you said that.”
“All right,” she said. “When will you arrive? I’ll meet you at the airport.”
“I’ll take the noon flight on American. Gets in at four.”
“You’ve been to Los Angeles before?”
“Do you like it?”
“I think so,” I said. “It makes me smile a lot.”
“Good,” she said. “Fly first class. The station won’t blink. I’ll page you when your flight arrives.”
I looked at my watch. Ten of five. If the traffic was okay, I might still make it on time. “Okay,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Good. Is there anything about you that would make you easy to recognize? Rachel told me you were big.”
“Yeah. I look just like Cary Grant would have if he’d been hit often in the nose.”
She giggled again. It was a nice sound. I liked it. She didn’t sound too awful scared, and I kind of like that too.
“See you tomorrow,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. And hung up.