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William L. DeAndrea (1952–1996) was born in Port Chester, New York. While working at the Murder Ink bookstore in New York City, he met mystery writer Jane Haddam, who became his wife. His first book, Killed in the Ratings (1978), won an Edgar Award in the best first mystery novel category. That debut launched a series centered on Matt Cobb, an executive problem-solver for a TV network who unravels murders alongside corporate foul play. DeAndrea’s other series included the Nero Wolfe–inspired Niccolo Benedetti novels, the Clifford Driscoll espionage series, and the Lobo Blacke/Quinn Booker Old West mysteries. A devoted student of the mystery genre, he also wrote a popular column for the Armchair Detective newsletter. One of his last works, the Edgar Award–winning Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), is a thorough reference guide to sleuthing in books, film, radio, and TV.
"Hello, good evening, and welcome ..."
David Frost The Frost Report, ITV
IN THE END, IT turned out to be the biggest nest of nastiness I ever found myself exploring. When it was all over, Inspector Bristow told me that the whole thing had involved no fewer than thirty-seven separate crimes, though I have to admit that some of them, like "menacing" and "uttering false documents" were technicalities in the sense that the Major League (or as they say here, Premiere Division) evil could hardly have been carried on without them.
I wasn't left out, either. I'm down in the books as a victim—"Assault with Intent to Cause Grievous Bodily Harm."
I like the "intent" part of that. I was harmed, and I was suitably aggrieved by it, too, but cops everywhere like to go by the book.
It was a huge scandal, and it made the tabloids here go wild (more about them later), and I'm told it even made the media back in the States, hopelessly garbled, of course. But even the Brits never learned of more than a fraction of it. If you want to know what happened with TVStrato Satellite TV, and the death in the family Arking, you're going to need an American to walk you through it. I can do that. I was right there in the middle of it, from beginning to end.
Of course I was. How could I not be? It was exactly the kind of thing I moved to London to get away from.
Roxanne tells me it was Fate, with a capital F, but I blame the animals. I blame the animals because if I didn't, I would have to blame her, and that kind of thing is no good for a relationship.
Maybe I'd better put a capital R on that.
I mean, I have a relationship with the guy who delivers the milk (they still do that in London)—the relationship is friendly near-strangers.
But Roxanne and I have a Relationship. You couldn't say we rushed into it. We've known each other for years. I was working for the Network in New York when I met her. She was the granddaughter of the founder of the Network, and she had run off with an extremely unsavory character who had her on drugs and on the street in that order.
I found her cowering in a tin-roofed shack not far from the railroad in Albany, New York. I took care of the unsavory character (talk about Grievous Bodily Harm) and brought Roxanne back to her family, such as it was, where she proceeded to beat the odds and astound cynical old me by straightening her life out completely without substituting something like an odd religion for it. She did, however, attend a succession of universities, accumulating an incredible number of degrees in different disciplines, before focusing in recent years on history, and actually turning out some prestigious publications.
Anyway, I'd known Roxanne for years before I'd admit, even to myself, that I was in love with her. I'm ten years older than she is, for one thing, and for another thing, with her grandfather and parents dead, she became the largest single stockholder in a major American corporation. In other words, Maj—Premiere Division Rich.
I was old-fashioned enough to let that bother me for a long time. I don't know why I came around. She didn't get any less younger than I am, and she certainly didn't get any poorer. Possibly, I finally got mature enough not to give a damn about what other people thought as long as I knew what the truth was.
All the time I'd known her, I'd had the same job—Vice President in Charge of Special Projects for the Network.
My, that sounds good, doesn't it? Gives you visions of arranging for coverage of presidential elections or the Olympic Games and stuff like that.
Special Projects at the Network in question was in fact a genius bit of euphemism. A "special project" was the housecleaning and coverup work any giant federally regulated industry needs. We handled everything too secret for security and too touchy for Public Relations.
It was interesting work, and challenging, too, but I got sick of it. Special Projects work carried the same occupational hazard as the one that faces cops and reporters and emergency-room workers—you're always dealing with people at their worst moments. It leads to cynicism.
That's not so bad. Cynicism can be fought. The real blow comes when you discover that cynicism is right. That any other attitude makes you vulnerable and ineffective.
I'd run into that wall about eight months ago, when I failed to spot something excruciatingly obvious and inadvertently let a killer run around and do a lot more mischief, all because I liked the guy.
When something like that happens, you have to take a long, hard look at what you're doing with your life. If I was going to go messing around in murders and similar nastiness as a full-time job, I'd have to be prepared for full-time cynicism. Call me selfish, call me a cockeyed optimist, I wasn't ready for that.
On the other hand, if I was serious about wanting to hang on to enough humanity not to feel like an idiot every time I found myself starting to like someone, I had no business doing what I was doing.
So I opted to get away. To say Roxanne was supportive of my decision was an understatement.
The conversation went like this:
ME: Rox, I think I'd better get away from the Net—
ROXANNE: I'm packed!
The next stop was at the Network headquarters on Sixth Avenue, in the penthouse office of Tom Falzet, president of the Network, and my on-the-job hair shirt for years.
Since our opinions of each other were reciprocal, you would have thought he would be glad to see the back of me, but no. He appealed to my loyalty. He offered me a raise. He claimed the Network couldn't live without me, which was ridiculous, since it had been in business the better part of fifty years before I ever came along.
He did everything, in fact, except throw me a testimonial dinner to show me how much I was loved.
It became apparent that I was never going to get the heck out of that office unless I gave a little on something. So I let him call my departure an "indefinite leave of absence" instead of a resignation.
Outside on Sixth Avenue, Roxanne kissed me and started waving for a taxi.
"You go to your apartment and start packing," she said. "I'll meet you in two hours?"
"What are you talking about? I thought we could go somewhere to celebrate."
"We can celebrate once we're packed."
"What is this packed stuff?" I demanded. "I thought that was just a figure of speech. Where are we going?"
"It was a figure of speech when I said it." The wind blew a tendril of long dark hair across her mouth. It was summer then, and she had a simple print dress on her small, round self, and she looked simply fabulous.
"You look fabulous," I said.
"Thank you, dear, you look yummy yourself, but let's stick to the subject. It's no longer a figure of speech, because we have to get out of town, preferably out of the country, and damn quick, too. I haven't decided where yet."
"Different requirements for visas, how much money my lawyers can get where, stuff like that."
"I don't mean that," I said. I was beginning to get a little breathless. Roxanne frequently has that effect on me, in all sorts of differing contexts. "Why the hell do we have to leave the country?"
She kissed me again and smiled. "Because you, Matt Cobb," she said, "are a Boy Scout."
"Would it be an imposition to ask you what the hell you're talking about?"
"Not at all," she said. She peered downtown. "No roof lights. God, it's murder trying to get a cab on Sixth this time of day, isn't it? What I'm talking about is your letting Tom Falzet talk you into a leave of absence, dear."
"I'm out, right? Isn't that what we wanted?"
"Oh, it's what we wanted, all right. You just have to remember that Falzet was the Network's top salesman for years before he became president. He's still a salesman at heart, and he's got you halfway to a sale already."
"I don't get it."
"Maybe not, but if we hang around, you will."
I worked hard to keep my voice from squeaking. "I will what?"
"Get it," she said. She went on, more helpfully. "Look. You're home from work, hanging around the apartment, walking the dog, watching TV, making love to me until your brains fall out ..."
"So that's how it happens," I muttered.
She ignored me. "... in other words, everything that makes life worthwhile. Then the phone rings, and it's Falzet, and lo and behold—"
"Are they back together again?"
"You can laugh, but I'm imparting wisdom here. Lo and behold, there's a big-time Crisis at the Network, Communications as we know it is imperiled, and only one man can save the day, namely, you."
"That's silly," I said.
"Sure, it sounds silly the way I'm putting it now, but Falzet will give it the master salesman's touch, and you'll fall for it. Don't think you won't. You've got a hero complex. No. It's worse than that. You actually are a genuine hero."
"Come off it, Rox."
"You rescued me, didn't you?" She went on before I could answer. "Anyway, Falzet would tell you that it was just that one superspecial crisis, but as soon as you cleaned it up, he'd be around with, oh and as long as you're in the building you won't mind having a look at these other trifling problems, just take a few minutes of your time, and whammo! Before you know it, you're sitting behind the desk again, mistrusting your dog."
Jesus, I thought reverently, she's right again. That was exactly how it would happen. When a cab finally showed up, we got in it together, and I helped her pack.CHAPTER 2
Barbara Woodhouse Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way, BBC
SOMEWHERE DOWN IN THE bowels of the house, I heard Roxanne say, "Millings, isn't it time to feed the dogs?"
"Yes, Miss Schick," Millings replied, "Oi shall attend to that doi-rectly."
Millings was a wiry guy, not so little, who looked after the dogs. He loved dogs, any kind, from racing greyhounds to useless lapdogs like Pomeranians or shih tzus. He talked about them constantly in an accent Americans would call Cockney, but wasn't.
It wasn't because, "You see, Mr. Cobb, Oi did not 'appen to be born wivvin' the sound of Bow Bells. Oim a westerner, in fact, from doi-rectly across the Thames from 'ere in 'ammersmith." He had bright white hair, always combed flat to his head, no matter when you met him, bright blue eyes, and a bright red nose, which bespoke his major indulgence, namely the consumption of numerous pints of lager at the Oar and Megaphone, the local pub. I'm not going to transcribe his accent anymore.
Oh. As I found out to my peril, British pints are very big. Twenty ounces as opposed to sixteen. Over the course of what is universally known as "a few," this adds up.
In any case, when I heard Millings tell Roxanne that he was about to feed the dogs, I buried my head under my pillow. Not because I'd been done in the night before by the treachery of imperial measure—I'd learned my lesson about that the first time. Nor was it because I didn't want to hear the voices. Rox's voice is low, with a little raspy note to it, like Blythe Danner's, cute and sexy at the same time. To hear Millings is to be transported back to the pub scenes in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, a world I love, though I admit he can get to be the teeniest bit grating sometimes.
No, gang, I buried my head under my pillow because I knew that when he brought the various foods out into the garden, the ten dogs quartered out there were going to bark as if no one had ever served them food before or ever would again.
Every morning and every evening, it sounded like a goddamn fox hunt out there. It was driving me nuts.
Then there were the cats. Five of them, kept inside the house. They were not vicious cats. They were cute cats, and a lot friendlier than most. They even played with Spot, my dog (more or less mine, anyway), a purebred Samoyed, who, along with the Roxanne Schick millions, was the proximate cause of all this.
These were swell cats. They didn't shed much, or eat horrible, smelly food and breathe on you. They came and sat in your lap, and tunneled their warm, fuzzy heads under your hand when they wanted to be petted, and just did cute kitty stuff until you wanted to sell them to a Chinese restaurant.
Because they never stopped. It got to the point where I was tempted to reach inside my pants and scratch my ass, not because it itched, but because I wanted once to reach for something and be reasonable sure of not getting hold of a wet little cat nose instead.
And you couldn't sell these cats to a Chinese restaurant, anyway. These kitties were the spoiled darlings of Roxanne's society friends. Well, friends is a bit too strong a word. Rox has never had a lot of use for New York Society, and she undoubtedly burned that bridge irrevocably with her runaway episode as a teenager.
Still, as the granddaughter and heiress of most of the Network founder's dough, she was on a long list of charity sucker lists, some of which she actually contributed to. This kept her on speaking terms with her contemporaries and their mothers, who remained immersed in society stuff up to their tasteful diamond earrings.
And once it came out (God alone knows how these things get out) that dear little Roxanne Schick could get their snookum-ookum kitty-witties through that nasty British quarantine, all of a sudden Rox was the long-lost princess of the Four Hundred.
I think I'd better explain a little.
The first thing we had to decide after we decided we were skipping the country was what country we wanted to skip to.
I started by ruling out the Third World. The Third World is loaded with two things I absolutely cannot stand—poverty and hot weather.
I also ruled out any country where the citizens' major pastime was butchering each other for obscure reasons. This left out former Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. We eliminated the rest of Ireland and a whole lot of other places because they harbor terrorists.
"If we keep this up," I said at one point, "we won't even be able to stay here."
"Don't be silly. We've got Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe to go."
"What about Canada?"
She shook her head. "Too close. Falzet doesn't even have to dial zero-one-one to get to Canada."
"Well, I speak French, German, and Spanish."
"Spain would be too hot for you."
"How do you know?"
"New York's too hot for you."
"That's why God gave us air-conditioning."
"God hasn't given Europe air-conditioning to the same extent he's given it to us."
"How do they sleep?" I was half-kidding, but I still kind of wondered. I'm a cool-weather sleeper. Roxanne and I share a bed, but not a blanket. She wants an electric blanket at least, while I, winter and (air-conditioned) summer, am happy with a light comforter, or duvet (doo-vay) as they call them here.
"The thing is," Roxanne said, "you speak four languages fluently, whereas I speak one language. Lousily."
"You mean, no Belgium?"
"Not if we can avoid it, no."
"Shame," I told her. "I like the waffles."
"You haven't done much foreign traveling, have you, Matt?"
"Southeast Asia, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and St. David's Island, courtesy of the Network. I do have a passport."
"How about Scandinavia? It's cold, it's boring, and practically everybody speaks English."
"In the sense of you don't see them on the news wiping each other out."
"Hmmm," she said. "Well, there is John Ericsson...."
"And who," I asked, "is John Ericsson?"
"Was," she said. "He invented the Monitor. Maybe I could visit his hometown and do an article."
"Ah," I said. Roxanne, as I mentioned before, was making a little rep as a historian, and she was kind of focusing in on the Civil War. I'd better say the American Civil War. She had no job to lose, of course, so "publish or perish" didn't apply, but she did like to keep her name in front of her peers.
Now, you might think that after a hundred and thirty odd years of intense scrutiny Civil War scholarship might be about played out, and so did I, but that shows how little you know the Academic Mind, especially the History type. The thrust of Historical Scholarship as I perceive it secondhand, from hanging around Rox, is to keep the argument going at all costs, so that no question, however trivial, is ever settled completely.
What the heck. It makes her happy, and it keeps her off the streets.
But now we had a problem. My darling was hauling me off to Europe to keep me out of the clutches of the Big Bad Network, but if she could, she'd like it to be to a place where she could do something related to her own work.
Excerpted from Killed in the Fog by William L. DeAndrea. Copyright © 1996 William L. DeAndrea. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 6, 2004