Authors: Steven Rigolosi
Copyright © 2014 by Steven Rigolosi
The Outsmarting of Criminals. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, and any semblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rigolosi, Steven A.
The outsmarting of criminals / by Steven Rigolosi.—First U.S. Edition.
Summary: “A cozy introducing Miss Felicity Prim, who believes her ample experience in reading mystery novels has prepared her for a new career in private detection”—Provided by publisher.
ISBN 978-0-9773787-9-1 (hardback : alk. paper)
1. Women private investigators—Fiction. 2. Detective and mystery stories. I. Title.
I offer my sincerest thanks to Christian Alighieri (
il miglior fabbro
), Cathy Lee Morrison, Marc Lieberman, Dorothy McIntosh, Emily Marlowe, Max St. John, Cheryl Solimini, everyone at Deadly Ink, and, of course, The Partridge. I would also like to thank J. E. Larson, the immensely talented artist who illustrated and designed the cover and book jacket. Finally, to Chris and Debbie, Dave and Annie, Jules and Katie: Much gratitude for showing me how it should be done.
Mystery has energy. It pours energy into whoever seeks the answer to it.”
A House in the Country
When, after many years of living quite peacefully in New York City
, Miss Felicity Prim felt herself being mugged for the first time, her initial thought was:
My handbag is caught on something
. As she lay in the hospital, watching Doctor Poe set her fractured arm, she wondered:
Why did the mugger choose
Then she vowed:
This will never happen again.
But she had to recover before
taking action. The doctor had prescribed an intense regimen of relaxation and inactivity (a challenging requirement for an active New Yorker). She was to remain at home for a month, in her bright, rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment on East 26th Street, and focus on getting better. Her sister, friends, and coworkers would run her errands, pick up her dry cleaning, and bring her whatever she needed or wanted: meals, groceries, magazines.
And what she wanted most, she found, were
the books she’d scoped out during her last visit to the Union Square Barnes & Noble. She’d scribbled the titles on the notepad she kept in her handbag—the same handbag that had contained her wallet, which the mugger had probably tossed in a trashcan after removing the cash from it. Fortunately, she didn’t need the notepad to remember the books she’d planned to purchase. She’d been awaiting payday, turning the titles over in her head, thinking about the hints they provided regarding plot and character. Miss Prim rattled off the list to Dolly, who returned several hours later, apologizing that she’d lost track of time. As if such apologies were necessary! Because that is what one
in a bookstore: One loses track of time.
one arm in a sling and a book in her hand, Miss Prim looked out of the window of her front room. Ten stories beneath her, city workers were situating the latest art installation in Madison Square Park. A man wearing a cowboy hat (the artist?) waved frantically at the installers. As Miss Prim settled into her easy chair near the window, she thought:
Perhaps getting mugged was a blessing in disguise.
At last, I have time to read as much as I want to. Over the next month, I shall read without being jostled, poked, and prodded on buses and subway cars. I shall read
I like, and not just for an hour before I go to sleep, or at my desk while I hurry through lunch.
How she admired
the protagonists of her books, those worthy men and women of crime fiction!
did not work in a doctor’s office ten hours a day, five or six days a week.
did not get mugged while walking along city streets and minding their own business.
took charge of their lives. When they encountered a mysterious situation, they took matters into their own hands. Uncooperative politicians, corrupt corporate raiders, overworked policemen, those who insisted that everything was perfectly lovely despite the heroine’s fears: None of these stood in the sleuth’s way. In the end, justice was served and the universe was restored to balance. Why? Because, by the end of the novel, the sleuth had used her superior intelligence—not common violence—to outsmart the criminal.
A month passed and the sling was removed from her arm. The evening before she was due to return to Doctor Poe’s office, she reminded herself of her vow—
This will never happen again
—and studied herself in the mirror.
needed to get in shape. Once an athletic young woman who could hold her own in a badminton tournament, she had allowed a certain thickness to set in around the waist and ankles. She’d become lax about walking when cabs were plentiful, and she’d begun indulging in her favorite New York caloriefest, the black-and-white cookie, rather too often. The confection was, she was forced to admit, nothing more than a sugar-slathered, fat- and cholesterol-laden cake masquerading as something less insidious. She marched into her kitchen, located the cookies Celia had given her a day earlier, and pitched them into the garbage pail.
day she took her usual route to Doctor Poe’s office, looking over her shoulder often; much more frequently, in fact, than she’d done in the 1970s, when New York City was much more dangerous, or in the stressful days after 9/11. In the past, she’d enjoyed watching people, wondering about the lives and loves of those she passed on the streets. Now she found herself wondering why
looked so suspicious,
appeared dangerous, and
the other one
seemed to be up to no good.
night, after her joyous return to Doctor Poe’s office—for everyone in acknowledged that they simply could not have gone on any longer without her—Miss Prim stopped at Chelsea Piers, a co-ed gym on the Hudson River. The time had come to join a health club, and her goal was to find one in an inconvenient location. Walking to and from a somewhat distant health club, she reasoned, would provide more of a workout than taking a cab to a local one.
While receiving a tour of the facility she nearly fled in embarrassment,
almost believing she’d stumbled into a Victoria’s Secret or
“Women of Manhattan” photo shoot, what with all the well-coiffed, perfectly lipsticked and mascara’ed young women so provocatively dressed in skintight Spandex leggings and sausage-casing bras. Yes, these are the models, Miss Prim thought; and the young men with the large biceps in tank tops and skinny legs in cargo shorts were the photographers or tech crew. But no, all of the males appeared to be working out on intricate machinery or with various weight bars, stopping every few minutes to admire themselves in the mirrors. At Doctor Poe’s office she’d become aware of the narcissism of the younger generation, that hyperconnected yet disaffected cohort attempting to find its way in the big city. But until she stepped foot into Chelsea Piers she hadn’t realized quite how out of control things had become.
She signed a contract for a shockingly expensive three-month trial membership.
At a women’s center in Greenwich Village, she enrolled in a self-defense course taught by a tough-looking man named Sal who, Miss Prim discovered during the fourth class, was actually a woman. She learned how to perform an arm twist to extricate herself from an unwanted grip, as well as effective methods to prevent herself from being strangled.
Still, it is one thing to take on a
trained instructor within the confines of a controlled classroom, quite another to confront a crack or meth addict. (Yes, Miss Prim knew about these substances. One does not work in a doctor’s office for decades without learning about life on the streets.) In certain situations—those in which charm and intelligence do not succeed in disarming attackers, and those in which one is outnumbered—more drastic measures might be necessary.
drew a nonnegotiable line at firearms, however. She’d been raised to believe that violence creates more problems than it solves, and as she’d matured she had found her own belief system mirrored by that particular piece of indoctrination.
A taser, Miss Prim decided, was the answer
. She asked Dolly to purchase one for her, as Dolly was quite facile with using computers to purchase hard-to-find items. Dolly, still shaken by Miss Prim’s recent misfortune, agreed, and a week later she handed her friend the latest in electrical self-protection technology, the Laser Taser 3000. Miss Prim took ownership of the device while vowing never to use it. Unless absolutely necessary.
Several weeks after taking possession of the Laser Taser 3000, Miss Prim arrived at her apartment building on East 26th Street and headed for the staircase, which was tucked into a remote corner of the lobby. Taking a deep breath, she began walking up the ten flights of stairs. This was part of her new physical fitness regimen. Walking up the stairs, she’d read, is much, much better for the waistline than standing in an elevator.
She’d reached the third floor when she thought she heard a staircase door open behind her. And then … the sounds of someone climbing the staircase aggressively, perhaps two stairs at a time.
Miss Prim picked up her pace. It was fanciful to think someone was chasing her up the staircase. Wasn’t it?
As she began running up the stairs, she heard the person behind her
approaching rapidly. She wasn’t going to make it to the tenth floor. He—it must be a
, mustn’t it?—was younger, faster, breathing heavily. She felt a hand touch her shoulder.
hat did she do, after taking that course to boost her self-defense abilities and her confidence? She kneeled in a corner of the landing and screamed.
“Miss Prim, are you OK?”
The voice belonged to George, the sweet-natured, slightly overweight doorman who’d worked in her building for more than twenty years. He extended his hand and helped Miss Prim to her feet.
“Miss Prim, I’m
real sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Your sister stopped by today and left this package for you.” He held out a small box. “I was putting the broom away in the closet when I saw you go into the stairway. I thought I could catch you before you got up to your apartment.”
After Miss Prim returned to her apartment, locked the door’s three bolts, and placed the safety bar under the doorknob, she sat at her kitchen table and unwrapped Celia’s package: low-gluten, low-carb
, low-fat, low-cholesterol minicakes from a trendy bakery that had just opened in Celia’s West Village neighborhood.
Miss Prim caught a glimpse of herself in the
reflective foil in which the minicakes had been wrapped. She didn’t recognize the person looking back at her. A haggard, fearful mess had replaced an upbeat, positive, independent woman.
And she knew, as deeply as she’d ever known anything, that
it was time to leave New York City. To retire. To find a little house in the country where she’d be safe.
As Miss Prim planned the next stage of her life, wondered: What would Papa (which she pronounced by accenting the second syllable) have recommended? What would Mama (which she also pronounced by accenting the second syllable) have advised?
Papa would have
Do you think, perhaps, that after so many years of living in Manhattan, you are longing for the summers we spent on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard? You often spoke about how much you loved the house we rented, how free you felt having your own four walls, a yard, and a garden. A house in the country is a wonderful thing; and if you want one, you should have one.