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Authors: Scandal in Fair Haven

Tags: #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Journalists - Tennessee, #Fiction, #Tennessee, #Women Sleuths, #Henrie O (Fictitious Character), #Women Journalists, #General

Carolyn G. Hart_Henrie O_02

BOOK: Carolyn G. Hart_Henrie O_02
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PRAISE FOR CAROLYN G. HART
WINNER OF THE AGATHA, ANTHONY, AND
MACAVITY AWARDS
AND
SCANDAL IN FAIR HAVEN

“Carolyn G. Hart’s thoroughly engaging and unfailingly contemporary sixtysomething sleuth drives fast, thinks faster, and isn’t afraid of the dark side. Citizens of Fair Haven be warned: Henrie O has turned down a rocking chair for an MG and replaced knitting needles with a sharp wit, keen intelligence, and pointed observations. Brava!”

—Marilyn Wallace

“Henrie O is the Jane Marple of the 90s—modern, mature, and
chutzpadik
.”

—Aaron Elkins

“Henrie O’s no feeble village spinster, but a dynamic woman who knows human nature all too well and utilizes her experiences in this skillfully narrated story of relationships gone sour in a perfect neighborhood.”

—Joan Hess

“I’ve missed Miss Marple and Miss Silver; and though we’ll never see Henri O knitting fuzzy pink thingummies, this sixtysomething sleuth is definitely their updated, street-smart sister under the skin.”

—Margaret Maron

DEAD MAN’S ISLAND

“A sassy heroine … She says what she thinks (when it serves her purposes) and pulls no punches. Think of today’s no-nonsense Lauren Bacall.”


Chicago Sun-Times

“An older sleuth of forceful charm and infinite wisdom. A surefire winner!”


Library Journal

Also by Carolyn G. Hart

D
EATH ON
D
EMAND
D
ESIGN FOR
M
URDER
S
OMETHING
W
ICKED
H
ONEYMOON
W
ITH
M
URDER
A L
ITTLE
C
LASS ON
M
URDER
D
EADLY
V
ALENTINE
T
HE
C
HRISTIE
C
APER
S
OUTHERN
G
HOST
D
EAD
M
AN’S
I
SLAND
M
INT
J
ULEP
M
URDER

Available from
Bantam Books

With love to my son, Philip
.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank Joan Hess, Chris and Ellen Myrick, and Corinne Stoddard for their very good suggestions, and my agent, Deborah C. Schneider, for her encouragement and insight.

1

I always opt for life.

Even when it’s desperately hard to do. Even in the midst of death and travail.

That’s why I walked up the stairs from the intensive care unit, where my friend Margaret was struggling to survive, to the second floor of the hospital.

I’d first found my way upstairs in mid-morning, seeking respite from the life-and-death drama that unfolds—inexorably—in the lounge that serves the intensive care unit.

I’d slipped quietly out of the waiting area as a weary surgeon in bloodstained scrubs slowly walked toward a mid-thirties man and woman. Their faces flattened in grief as he came reluctantly closer. The doctor’s rubber soles squeaked against the marble floor. It was the only sound until the mother began to moan. Cars and youth and alcohol.

I didn’t want to see those parents grieve. It hurt too much.

So I slipped away, up the antiseptic gray stairs to the second floor and the maternity ward, where life was beginning.

Yes, there could be heartbreak here too.

But not this April afternoon.

One of the babies, a little boy, scrunched up a red, puckered face and began to cry, the utterly unmistakable mew of the newborn. God, how precious life is. I thought of my family, of my grandchildren.

It wasn’t the kind of nursery I’d expected, of course. But the only constant in life is change. A brisk nurse explained to me what appeared to be the dearth of babies. Babies today don’t stay in the nursery in bassinets with cards affixed, Baby Boy Jones, Baby Girl Smith. Today’s babies are in the room with their mothers, right from the first.

Sensible, of course.

They spend only brief periods in the nursery, for weighing, for checking.

I wandered down the hall. Many doors were open. I had other glimpses of new babies, new mothers, new adventures beginning.

I returned to Margaret’s bedside much refreshed.

The nurse moved near. “She’s conscious now, Mrs. Collins. Don’t let her talk much.”

Margaret’s hand was quiet and cool in mine. Her eyes fluttered open.

“You’re doing fine.” I spoke quietly. “I talked to the doctor. No major damage to the heart muscle. The surgery was successful.”

Her breathing was shallow, her lips bluish.

“Henrie O …”

My late husband Richard gave me, Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, that nickname. Richard used to say I packed more
surprises into a single day than O. Henry ever put in a short story.

“Be quiet now, Margaret. Rest.”

She licked her lips.

I reached for the plastic cup with ice shavings, gently spooned a cool mound on her tongue.

Margaret swallowed, closed her eyes in thanks.

The visiting period was over.

This time when I walked upstairs, it was during the shift change. A flurry of scrub-clad attendants, nurses, nursing assistants, doctors, orderlies, passed me.

So why did I notice the bone-thin woman who stood in the hallway?

Her face was hidden behind a curtain of long, straight hair as she looked down at the infant cradled in her arms.

A pale blue receiving blanket and a tiny hand. That’s all I saw within the protective embrace. Faded green scrubs sagged against the woman’s bony shoulders, exposed her thin wrists. A stethoscope dangled around her neck.

I’d passed dozens of men and women similarly attired since I brought Margaret to the hospital late last night in the throes of a heart attack.

I watched as she—nurse? nurse’s aide? doctor?— passed the nursery.

She picked up speed.

Her scuffed black leather flats slapped against the floor.

Faster. Faster.

She reached the stairs, gave a swift look behind.

And saw me.

I didn’t hesitate.

“One moment, please.” I held up my hand. Imperiously, if you will. And strode quickly toward her.

She stood frozen, her face impassive, her arms curved tight as steel bands around that small, helpless bundle.

With every step I took, I became more certain of my suspicions.

I’ll never forget looking into her eyes, dull green eyes necked with amber and despair. Straggling light hair, darker at the roots, framed a gaunt, hollow-cheeked face. Her mouth was slack, loose, straight lips that had long ago forgotten how to smile. A pulse throbbed in her throat.

I held out my arms.

Her shoulders sagged. Tears edged down her wan cheeks. Slowly, as if the tiny creature were too heavy to be borne, she handed me the precious mewing bundle.

She whirled away, yanked open the door, plunged into the stairwell. Before the heavy door eased shut, I heard the clatter of her shoes on the cement stairs.

My arrival in the nursery caused a stir, of course.

The alarm went out immediately.

And a sobbing new mother held her baby—tiny six-pound James Allen Wilson—cradled in the sanctuary of her arms.

The head nurse caught me as I walked toward the stairs. Her ruddy face was touched with paleness, her commanding voice wavered. ‘They found her in the parking garage. The police are on the way. She’ll be charged with attempted kidnapping.’ The nurse stopped, swallowed, briefly closed her eyes, blocking out the frightful vision of what might have been, what almost was. “God. We’re so grateful. But how did you know? How on earth did you know?”

I looked down and pointed at the head nurse’s Reeboks.

“The scrubs were right. She had a stethoscope. But have you ever seen anyone who works in a hospital wearing thin-soled leather flats?”

“Christ.” The nurse was forty-five, stocky, with an air of
certitude. She cleared her throat, “I probably shouldn’t tell you. We have a doctor who wears stiletto heels. Thank God you didn’t know.”

I left it at that.

But it wasn’t simply the shoes, the wrong shoes. It was the almost half century I spent as a reporter. Body language tells so much. Without ever seeing her, I knew the stiletto-heeled doctor exuded assurance, command.

The rigid back of the kidnapper shouted fear.

And if I’d been wrong? So? I don’t embarrass easily. And I’ve learned to play my hunches. For good or ill.

It was a good day all around. They moved Margaret out of intensive care and into her room. I was relieved enough to pick up my regular schedule the next morning, my last class before spring break.

I still find it hard to see myself as an academic. Probably because I’m not an academic. But it is my pleasure to serve on a rather unique journalism faculty, one that employs retired professionals rather than degree-laden and experience-poor academics. The professors at this small college, nestled in the wooded rolling hills of southern Missouri, are people who have crafted ads, waged campaigns, worked public relations magic in the wake of industrial fiascos, and covered wars and famines and jugular politics for all kinds of media. Our students might not have contact with academics flourishing in the sanitized arena of juried journals
(You kiss my ass, I’ll kiss yours)
, but they are exposed to how the media world really works.

I carried a small box of divinity when I visited Margaret in the afternoon.

She looked much better, her color improved, her eyes clear. Margaret has such a civilized face. I’ve seen its counterpart on tapestries in Brussels—an aquiline nose, almond-shaped eyes, a soft, rosebud mouth.

I waved away her thanks for my vigil. I know how much a handclasp matters when life hangs in the balance. Not as much as oxygen, but more perhaps than Margaret’s beardless young doctor realized.

She’d heard from her night nurse about yesterday’s excitement.

BOOK: Carolyn G. Hart_Henrie O_02
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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