Jeremy P. Holcraft was found dead in the master bathroom of his stately Portland, Maine home the morning after his company’s IPO celebration. To say his death was embarrassing would understate the case. Jeremy P. Holcraft died in one of those freak situations that makes every mother who has ever expounded the virtues of clean underwear stand up and say, “I told you so.” Underwear was all Jeremy P. Holcraft was wearing. The only other item on his body was the toothbrush sticking jauntily out of his foamy mouth.
His housekeeper’s 911 call was followed by several weeks of exhaustive investigation on the part of Detective Lieutenant René Mirande, a man convinced, against all evidence of simple heart failure, that this was murder.
Despite the Lieutenant’s best efforts, the case was on the verge of being declared a simple death-by-natural-causes, when fate intervened in the form of Vanessa Pleasance, a popular mystery writer whose celebrity was compounded by her reputation as an amateur detective.
An unwarranted reputation, René Mirande thought uncharitably. A reputation that delighted her readers and the media, and was perpetuated at the expense of whatever local law enforcement had the misfortune to have Mrs. Pleasance and a high profile murder case converge upon them simultaneously.
Lieutenant Mirande was especially annoyed that the Holcraft investigation remained open, not by any effort on the part of the Portland Police Department, but because a celebrity busybody had poked her nose into it.
“I guess we owe her, huh?”
Mirande looked up from the case file and caught Detective Quinn Campbell in a glare he hoped was chilling.
Campbell leaned against the doorjamb and grinned. “Sucks, huh? But consider the alternative.”
“The alternative,” Mirande said, “is that we produce due cause to pursue a professional homicide investigation instead of becoming guest stars in a celebrity whodunit. Otherwise we look like a troop of Gomers.”
Campbell shrugged. “Yeah, but if the case gets solved...”
“Camp, if we solve this case we may get to say ‘I told you so’ to the DA’s office, but the fact will remain that Vanessa Pleasance was able to do what we couldn’t. We’ll have won the battle and lost the war. She’ll be credited with solving yet another murder case and we will be the butt of jokes from here to Portland, Oregon.”
“C’mon, René. It can’t be that bad.”
“No? You remember her last novel, THE MILE-HIGH MURDER?”
“I only read dead guys: Doyle, Gardner, Hammett... Pleasance is still breathing.”
“’Ripped from the headlines’,” quoted Mirande, using his hands to “frame” the words. “She got involved in a murder investigation in Denver on Connie Granger’s watch: a leaper who turned out to be an unwilling suicide.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember Connie. Started with the Augusta PD, didn’t she?”
Mirande nodded. “She arrived to arrest her prime suspect only to find that Mrs. Pleasance had gathered all involved parties at the crime scene in order to force a confession out of him. The media was all over it. Granger lost control of the situation completely.”
“So, she lost control of the situation. That doesn’t mean you will. Look René, the investigation is open. Let’s make hay. Just keep an eye on Vanessa Pleasance.”
“You,” Mirande accused, “are annoyingly perky.”
Campbell grinned. “Yeah. That’s what everybody tells me. But I tell you what: I don’t spend a dime on Maalox. So, does our mystery writer have a theory?”
Mirande nodded, consciously unclamping his jaw. “She thinks he was poisoned.”
“What a coincidence. So do we.”
“Yeah. Question is: how was the poison administered, and by whom? My money’s on the beautiful, young business partner. She had opportunity and, if the relationship was what it appeared to be, possible motive.”
“Isn’t that rather too pat, Lieutenant?”
Mirande looked up to see the inimitable Mrs. Pleasance framed in the doorway of his office, a look of intense concern on her face.
Detective Campbell stepped aside to allow her to affect the grand entrance.
“In a murder mystery, maybe,” Mirande said aloud, waving the writer to a chair on the opposite side of his desk. “Not in reality.”
Pleasance wagged her head. “Ms. Lauren is only one-third of the HALcraft executive team, Lieutenant. Jason Atherton has as much to gain by J.P. Holcraft’s death as she does.”
“Ms. Lauren and the deceased were more than business partners,” countered Mirande. “Otherwise, I doubt she’d have been included in Holcraft’s will—a will that might have been about to change. As I understand it, the relationship was in trouble. Holcraft had another woman. A woman for whom he’d purchased some rather expensive jewelry.”
Vanessa Pleasance’s hands fluttered in a dismissive gesture and a sparkle of blue topazes that almost exactly -- [End of Preview.]