Authors: Max Allan Collins
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
Also by Max Allan Collins in the Mallory Series:
The Baby Blue Rip-Off
No Cure for Death
Kill Your Darlings
A Shroud for Aquarius
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 1986 Max Allan Collins
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
For Ed Gorman
Best friend Mallory ever had
Mohonk Mountain House is, of course, a real place; the Mohonk Mystery Weekend is a real event. But the mystery weekend in this book is a fictional one, as are the characters who take part in it—game-players, celebrity suspects, hotel staff, and the rest. It is my intention to summon
as opposed to doing
roman à clef
portraits of real people.
The Mystery Chronicler
is a fictional publication and is not patterned on any real magazine in the mystery (or any other) field.
My thanks to Faire Hart at Mohonk for her help, patience, and continual graciousness; to Peter Lewis and Kathe Mull for sharing their Sky Top memories; and to Don Westlake and Abby Adams for inviting me to one of the first Mohonk Mystery Weekends, where I had the honor of being the killer.
New York is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. And it wasn’t that great a place to visit, either, this time around.
When you make your living as a writer, at least as a writer of books, whether fiction or nonfiction or both, you must be resigned to the fact that occasional trips to New York City are a necessary evil. New York remains the hub of the publishing world, and if you don’t go in now and then to remind your agent that you are more than a faceless voice attached to a bad phone connection, and to have long lunches with editors who must be similarly reminded, then you might as well have stayed in Iowa.
I might as well have stayed in Iowa. The two editors of mine I lunched with—for two respective houses—were glad to see me and had a lot of wonderful things to say about how nicely some of their other writers were doing. My books, unfortunately, weren’t doing all that well. Oh, there’d been a flurry of activity when one of them sold to TV—and we even landed a book club sale; but a sale to paperback remained elusive and nobody was very optimistic. Including me.
And then my agent made my day... in the Clint Eastwood sense, that is. He had just read the four-hundred-page change-of-pace manuscript I’d sent him a few weeks before—the book that would change my career, my “breakthrough book.”
“Mallory, in good conscience,” he said, “I can’t even advise reworking this. It’d be a waste of bond paper. Put it in the drawer and try again.”
My agent and I went way back—almost ten years. One of my teachers at a summer writers’ conference had liked my first suspense novel well enough to write me a letter of introduction to this well-thought-of, if hard-nosed, agent, who had a stable of top-flight mystery writers. A hard, round ball of a man, Jake Kreiger was renowned for his lack of tact. As Curt Clark once said, “Jake Kreiger thinks tact is something you put on the teacher’s chair.”
I’d never run into this side of Jake Kreiger, not full-blast anyway; he always treated me kindly, if patronizingly. He had taken me on as a client based upon the manuscript I submitted to him way back when, thinking I was a promising kid. Trouble was, ten years later, at thirty-five years of age, I was still a promising kid to him. If I was still a kid, why were my temples turning gray?
So I fired him. He seemed surprised. He was a guy who landed million-dollar contracts for people, after all (not for me). He sat at his big desk in his little walk-down office on West End Avenue and looked, for a moment, like someone had punched him in his considerable stomach.
But he got over it quickly, handing me my thick manuscript with one hand and extending the other, offering it in a handshake, without standing, though he seemed sincere when he wished me the best of luck.
Now I was sitting on a bus, feeling like I was on my way to my draft physical. Anyway, that was the last bus ride I could remember being this depressed on. Of course, on that trip I hadn’t been sitting next to a beautiful young woman, which
was certainly an improvement over the naive Iowa farm boy I’d been sitting by then, a redheaded hick who was excited about getting a chance to “shoot some gooks.” He had pronounced it “gucks,” actually, but I didn’t bother correcting him. Somebody else no doubt would. A gook, maybe.
But all of that was years ago. We’d both been to Vietnam, that naive farm boy and me—an only slightly less naive Iowa farm boy myself, come to think of it. I, at least, had made it back. And after several years of bumming around, in this job and that one, and the requisite bout with drugs, Haight-Ashbury style, I’d ended up going home again, to Iowa, Thomas Wolfe’s advice notwithstanding, where I took in some G.I.-Bill college and pursued my life’s dream of being a writer. Specifically, a mystery writer.
And the dream had come true. Half a dozen books later, and here I was—a published, publishing writer, who had moved out of his house trailer in a questionable neighborhood into a house in an unquestionable neighborhood and even got to go to the Big Apple now and then to spruce up his career.
Which at the moment seemed to be over.
“This is only a setback,” the beautiful woman sitting next to me said. Her name was Jill Forrest, and she was about the only positive part of my life I could think of at the moment. Well, my health was pretty good. Jill Forrest and my health. The rest you can have.
“That’s what General Custer said,” I replied. “Only a setback.”
Jill pursed her lips in a wry little smile. She was a dark woman about my age, with short, black, spiky hair and cornflower-blue eyes and wardrobe by Kamali. She’d grown up in Port City, Iowa, like me, but had gone off to the big city, specifically NYC, and become a success. She’d landed back in
Port City recently for a tour of duty at the local cable station. That’s what she was doing these days: she set up new cable TV systems in cities and towns across the Great Plains, got ’em rolling, then mounted up and moved on to the next gunfight, like John Wayne. Her Port City mission was nearing its end, which was a sore point between us; this New York getaway together was a truce of sorts.
She pressed her hand against my sleeve. “Put those dreadful two days behind you,” she said. “We’ve got a lovely weekend up ahead. We’re just going to forget all about agents and editors and mystery writing.”
“Jill,” I said. “We’re on our way to Mohonk, remember? Going to a mystery weekend to forget about agents and editors and mystery writing is like going to Disneyland to forget mice.”
“We’re going to have a good time, Mal, dammit. You promised.”
“I know I did.”
“Besides, maybe being around some other writers will be good for you.”
“I’ll find out I’m not the only one having problems, you mean? Because it’s a tough business?”
“Yes. But more than just ‘misery loves company’—you can get some advice about finding a new agent.”
worried about that. Working out of Iowa meant I
to have an agent; without somebody looking after my interests in New York, my career would be just another Iowa crop that failed. But I’d had Kreiger from the very beginning. I knew no other agents, had no idea how to go about acquiring one.
“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “I can talk to Curt, at least. He might have some ideas. And Tom.”
“Sure. This really is just a setback. In fact, I’d say it’s for the better.”
“For the better?”
“Yeah. Kreiger hasn’t been doing much for you lately, has he?”
“No. He’s been paying attention to his
“I saw how he treats you. Like a kid. You need somebody who respects what you’re doing. That new book of yours needs an agent who’ll get excited about it.”
“As opposed to one who suggests putting it in a drawer.”
“Right. And as for your editors, they seem to like you and your work well enough. So your last couple of books haven’t set the world on fire. So what? I’m sure they’ll be open to new things from you. In fact, if you can’t find an agent right away, you could show the new book directly to your editors.”
“Yeah! Why not?”
She smiled again. “Why not indeed,” she said.
Well, I felt a little better now. All I needed was a pep talk like that from her every ten minutes or so and I’d be fine.
In the meantime, the bus was moving along the New York State Thruway at a moderate pace; snow was coming down, traffic was slow, and the highway slippery. Me, I was homesick. Wishing I’d never agreed when my friend and, well, mentor Curt Clark invited me to be part of this mystery weekend. I’m not much for game-playing, after all. But the Mohonk people had paid for my plane ticket, in and out of New York City, meaning I could come in a few days early and squeeze in my business trip at their expense, as far as airfare was concerned. Which had made Mohonk seem like a great idea at the time.
I just hadn’t counted on getting so bummed out (once a hippie, always a hippie) in New York. Visions of my agent being
excited over my “breakthrough book,” dreams of editors eagerly asking me to do even more books for them, for lots and lots of money, were replaced by the wet, gray sludge of reality that had settled in the space where my brain used to be.
So much for Jill’s pep talk cheering me up.
I wished I was back in my little house with the river view in Port City, Iowa; sitting in front of the fireplace with Jill and me and no clothes at all, wrapped up in a blanket while the Iowa winter whistled outside and didn’t get in, except through the occasional crack or cranny, and we didn’t give a damn because we had the fire and the blanket and each other.
But I was still in New York—albeit not New York City. Jill and I—and I did have Jill, if not the fire and the blanket—were on our way to Mohonk Mountain House, a resort near New Paltz, upstate. I didn’t know much about Mohonk, except that it was supposed to be a big, rambling old place, much in demand in the nicer months, and in the off-season it had been throwing some very successful, much imitated “mystery weekends.”