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Authors: Linda Barnes

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A Trouble of Fools

BOOK: A Trouble of Fools
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A TROUBLE OF FOOLS

by

LINDA BARNES

 

Boston-based private eye Carlotta Carlyle is the newest creation of the author of the lively Michael Sprague mysteries. In addition to being red-haired, 61 tall, a former cabbie and an ex-cop, Carlotta is the sort of storyteller capable of enlisting readers’ sympathies at the very outset. Her first adventure involves a missing person. An elderly Irish woman hires her to find her brother, Eugene, who has vanished from their home, leaving behind a mysterious cache of $13,000. Eugene’s cronies, who, like himself, are drivers for a taxi fleet and secret sympathizers with the Irish cause, seem to be involved with a scheme in support of the IRA. Having once worked for the cab company herself, Carlotta hires on again to monitor their activities, an action that eventually sets her at odds with a major drug ring, the FBI and a certain Mafia-connected former lover. All of the above learn that it’s not wise to step on the toes of someone who wears size 11 shoes. Carlotta first made a brief appearance in a prize-winning short story called “Lucky Penny”; in this longer form, she’s pure gold.

 

Also by Linda Barnes

THE BIG DIG

THE SNAKE TATTOO

DEEP POCKETS

COYOTE

STEEL GUITAR

SNAPSHOT

 

Available from St. Martin’s/Minotaur Paperbacks ST. MARTIN’S PAPERBACKS

 

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

“Three Marching Songs.” Reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Company from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Copyright 1940 by Georgie Yeats, renewed by Georgie Yeats, Michael Butler Yeats and Anne Yeats.

 

“No Second Troy.” Reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Company from 77k Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Copyright 1912 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed 1940 by Bertha Georgie Yeats.

 

“Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell Š 1969, 1974 Siquomb Publishing Corp.

All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

“Angels From Montgomery.” Words and music by John Prine. Copyright Š 1971 Walden Music, Inc., and Sour Grapes Music (ASCAP). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A TROUBLE OF FOOLS

Copyright Š 1987 by Linda Appelblatt Barnes.

Cover photo by John Halpern.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

 

ISBN: 0-312-35943-8

Printed in the United States of America

 

St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition published 1987

St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / July 2006

 

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

 

In loving memory of

Bertha and Jacob Grodman,

my bubbe and zaide

Ł6.99

 

Remember all those renowned generations,

They left their bodies to fatten the wolves,

They left their homesteads to fatten the foxes, Fled to far countries, or sheltered themselves

In cavern, crevice, or hole,

Defending Ireland’s soul.

 

Be still, be still, what can be said?

My father sang that song,

But time amends old wrong,

All that is finished, let it fade.

 

Remember all those renowned generations,

Remember all that have sunk in their blood,

Remember all that have died on the scaffold,

Remember all that have fled, that have stood,

Stood, took death like a tune

On an old tambourine.

 

Be still, be still, what can be said?

My father sang that song,

But time amends old wrong,

All that is finished, let it fade.

 

Fail, and that history turns into rubbish,

All that great past to a trouble of fools;

Those that come after shall mock at O’Donnell,

mock at the memory of both O’Neills,

Mock Emmet, mock Parnell,

All the renown that fell.

 

Be still, be still, what can be said?

My father sang that song,

But time amends old wrong,

All that is finished, let it fade.

 

—William Butler Yeats

from “Three Marching Songs”

1939

 

I’d like to thank my reading committee: James

Morrow, Karen Motylewski, Richard Barnes,

Bonnie Sunstein, Steve Appelblatt, Amy Sims,

and Susan Linn. The ladies who lunch—Bonnie

Sunstein, Joan Dunfey, and Gail Leclerc—helped

with their support and friendship. I’d also like to acknowledge Matthew Bruccoli and Richard

Layman, editors of A Matter of Crime, for their enthusiastic response to “Lucky Penny”; my editor, Michael Denneny, for his valued insight; and

especially my agent, Gina Maccoby, for taking

such good care of Carlotta and me.

CHAPTER 1

If Margaret Devens had told me the truth right off the bat, things might have turned out differently. Or as my mom used to say, in Yiddish or English depending on the situation, “If your grandmother had wheels, she would have been a truck.”

I never met my bubbe, my grandma, the source of all my mother’s Yiddish proverbs, but thinking about it now, I guess I wouldn’t mind if she’d been a ringer for Margaret Devens—stubborn, smart, and crafty behind the sweet-old lady facade.

 

“congratulations, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas C. Carlyle,” the letter began cheerily. The stationery was thick and creamy, sharply creased, names typed in boldface, the way they are in those “personal” computer-generated mailings.

No such couple existed. I read on.

The vacuum cleaner hummed pleasantly. If you’ve never considered your Hoover’s voice soothing, you’ve probably been shoving it across a high-pile carpet. From the right distance, propelled by other hands—in this case the paint smeared hands of Roz, my tenant cum new-wave artist cum sometime assistant—vacuum cleaner buzz could make the lullaby obsolete.

Roz gets reduced rent in exchange for basic household chores. As a cleaner, she’s a great artist. My spice rack is color-coded, my knickknacks adroitly arranged. Books and papers are stacked in tidy piles at attractive oblique angles.

 

My floors have never been filthier, but then Roz doesn’t have much time for nitty-gritty cleaning. She dyes her hair a new color every three days and that takes up the hours. I like Roz.

A firm of Omaha lawyers was pleased to inform me that the above-mentioned Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle were the lucky recipients in their GRAND GIVEAWAY After a courteous tour

of a “luxurious time-sharing condominium resort,” located someplace I’d never want to visit, much less live, I—or rather Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle—could claim the GRAND GIVEAWAY

FIRST PRIZE of, take your pick, a trip to Italy for the entire family, all expenses paid—or twenty thousand bucks.

I searched for the fine print that said “valid until yesterday,”

or “provided you make a thirty-thousand-dollar donation to the United Church of Holy Poverty.” I didn’t find it. I read the whole thing again. It said trip to Italy, all expenses, twenty thousand dollars.

Claiming the prize was going to be a problem.

I know Mr. T.C. Carlyle pretty damn well. The T.C.

stands for Thomas Cat, aka Tom Cat. Right. A good sort, Mr.

Carlyle, but definitely of the feline persuasion. Sleek and black, with a right forepaw so white that it looks like he dipped it in a dish of cream, Thomas Cat has a disposition you could describe as independent, which I prefer, or surly, which is closer to the truth. He is not your eager three-piece suit-and-tie type. I have trouble getting him to wear a bell around his neck, a necessary indignity that keeps him from dumping dead sparrows on my carpet, which in turn prevents the parakeet from going bonkers.

I list my home phone under Thomas C. It’s okay with him.

He loves getting calls from admirers of the late essayist, survey takers, anyone at all. I didn’t want to put my name in the book, first because women get crank calls, and second because ex-cops get crank calls. So I listed Tom, since he’s the only male I share the place with regularly. And what do you know, he started getting letters. Begging letters from charitable organizations and pleas from campaigning congressmen.

Credit card offers and magazine subscriptions. He subscribes to the New York Times Book Review and Mother Jones.

As far as cats go, Tom’s a prize, but I didn’t see how I could get him married off in time to claim the trip to Italy or the cash.

The doorbell sounded over the vacuum hum, the way it does when you’re wearing ratty sweatpants and have your mouth half-full of Swiss cheese and roast beef on rye. I waited, hoping for three rings. Three rings means Roz, the third-floor tenant.

The bell rang twice, stopped.

“Hang on!” I yelled, swallowing fast.

The bell rang again, twice in rapid succession.

It isn’t that I have far to travel from the dining room to the hall. It’s that I have about five locks on my crummy front door. Filing burglary reports has replaced baseball as my neighborhood’s prime pastime.

It was slightly past noon on a late September Sunday that had no business being so cool, and I wasn’t expecting anybody.

I squinted my left eye shut and pressed my right one to the peephole. If I had been expecting someone, it wouldn’t have been the cozy old lady who perched on my front stoop like an inquisitive bird. As I struggled with the last deadbolt, always sticky, she turned up the collar of her wooly pink coat, and got ready to hit the buzzer again. She wore white cotton gloves. I haven’t seen a pair of white gloves in ages.

“Coming,” I yelled, forestalling the buzzer.

She was too old for a Mormon missionary, so I steeled myself for the Jehovah’s Witnesses pitch. Possibly Antivivsection.

I hoped she was antivivisection. I wondered if I could keep a straight face while I asked her where to donate the parakeet for lab research.

She had sparse white hair, like powdered sugar frosting on her pink scalp, and a round face that must have been cheerful when she smiled. Her skin was crosshatched with fine lines.

Deeper ridges creased her forehead and carved channels from her broad nose to her small anxious mouth. Her gray eyes, unsettlingly steady, stared gravely at the peephole.

The lock gave, and I yanked open the screen, apologizing.

She didn’t respond like a proselytizer or a fund-raiser.

 

“Margaret Devens,” she announced hopefully. “Miss,”

she added, “Miss Margaret Devens, spinster.”

I smiled at the quick glint of humor in her eyes, at the outmoded term, at the clean white gloves, but the name meant nothing to me. She stretched her small mouth into a grin, and nodded as though it should.

“And you,” she continued, giving me the once-over with a nice touch of disbelief, “are Miss Carlyle, the investigator?”

Now I admit I have looked better. My sweats had seen their heyday long ago, and most of my right knee was visible through a tear. My shirt was slightly more reputable, an oversized bright red pullover. I don’t wear it much because, to tell the truth, it doesn’t go well with my coloring. I’ve got red hair, really red hair, the kind that beggars adjectives like “flaming,” and Mom always told me to wear blues and greens, but every once in a while I break loose. For the rest, I was barefoot, and hadn’t even thought about makeup. I go barefoot a lot because I’m six one and I wear size 11 shoes.

You may not realize this, but for all practical purposes, women’s shoes stop dead at size 10. Much of my life is spent shoe shopping. I hoped I’d brushed my hair before I plunked it on top of my head and stuck in the hairpins.

Probably I had. I mean, I don’t always remember brushing my teeth in the morning, but I do it. With my hair under control, I almost look my age, which is on a different side of thirty than most people suspect.

“I usually work by appointment only,” I said, not so much to discourage her as to excuse my appearance.

“This is not a usual matter.” Her voice was soft and quavery, with the hint of a brogue.

With a caseload so light I was reading the cat’s mail, I figured I ought to welcome any nibble, so I ushered her inside and draped her coat on the rack in the foyer. My nose twitched with the smell of mothballs and lavender. Underneath, she wore a blue flower-print dress of such high collared respectability that she must have come straight from church. The wooly coat had given her an illusion of bulk. Without it, she was so thin I could see the sharp shelf of bone between her shoulders.

She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out except a small dry cough, so she closed it again and spent some time fiddling with her gloves, rolling them together in a tight ball and depositing them in the pocket of her coat. My clients are a nervous lot, on the whole. Most of them would rather have root canals without novocaine than discuss their troubles with a stranger. I offered coffee to break the uneasy silence.

BOOK: A Trouble of Fools
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