Nice Girls Finish Lastby Sparkle Hayter
Robin Hudson has a new secret/b>/i>
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TV news reporter Robin Hudson descends into New York’s underground sex clubs to solve the murder case of her Paul Newman–lookalike gynecologist in this mystery that Entertainment Weekly calls “hilarious” and “keenly written,” by award-winning author Sparkle Hayter
Robin Hudson has a new secret weapon: Positive Mental Attitude. And it is about to be put to the test when her aunt Mo comes to town for a church convention—and to reform her rebel niece. Then a man who almost saw Robin naked is found handcuffed to a chair in his medical office, with a bullet through his heart. Except it isn’t the murder of Robin’s gorgeous new MD that her boss at All News Network wants her to investigate. It’s the dead doc’s possible connection to one of Manhattan’s most notorious S&M clubs.
While Robin is learning more than she ever wanted to know about whips and chains in the erotic dungeon of the Marquis de Sade Society and lusting after a hunky homicide cop, a sniper is taking pot shots at her male colleagues. When someone else with a connection to Robin ends up dead, she starts to wonder if she could end up in the boldface column . . . as the next obit.
The Robin Hudson Mystery series is a winner of the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.
Nice Girls Finish Last is the 2nd book in the Robin Hudson Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
Sassy and bright, with real laughs at the end of the funny lines.
Read an Excerpt
Nice Girls Finish Last
A Robin Hudson Mystery
By Sparkle Hayter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Sparkle Hayter
All rights reserved.
Someone had left a guillotine in front of my building.
It was a Tuesday night, and I'd just come from picking up my cat, Louise Bryant, at her agent's office, where I received a lecture about her bad attitude, how she refused to eat the sponsor's cat food, fell asleep under the hot lights whenever she felt like it, and kept clawing the Teamsters, one of whom had come down with rather a bad case of cat-scratch fever. We had one more shoot before our contractual obligation was fulfilled and I could retire the old girl.
She was whiny and I was tired when the cab let us off on Avenue B at Tenth Street, in a part of Manhattan known variously as Loisaida, Alphabet City, and the East Village. Con Ed was venting steam through a big orange and white striped tube, sending big, misty clouds into the air. Because the city had recently installed new streetlamps with a pinkish glow, the steam was pink, and gave the street a sinister, demimondaine cast. A slow wind blew the pink fog my way, enveloping me, and I had one of those chills, you know, the kind they say you get when someone is walking over your grave.
That's when I saw the guillotine, wedged between two garbage cans in front of my stoop as if someone had thrown it out with the trash. The absence of severed heads in the vicinity told me this was not a working guillotine, as the practicality of such an item in a neighborhood crawling with youth gangs known for dispensing summary justice would not have gone untested. Closer inspection showed the blade to be rubber and firmly bolted in place.
"Now that's what I call a deterrent," I said to Louise Bryant, who was growling softly in her carrier.
Pink mist swirled around the guillotine. When the mist cleared, I saw the telltale signature CHAOS REIGNS in red spray paint on the sidewalk. CHAOS REIGNS is a guerrilla art movement that drops its work randomly throughout New York's Lower East Side.
As my head was on the company chopping block at the moment, this seemed anything but random to me. No, this was an omen if ever I saw one.
My name is Robin Jean Hudson and I am a reporter in the sleazy Special Reports unit at the prestigious All News Network, where I have an ironclad contract that binds me to them, and them to me. And no, I am not one of those faces you see set before the hills of Sarajevo or the august halls of government or the wreckage of a natural disaster. You see me, trying very hard not to look embarrassed, in those four-minute reports on shoddy sperm banks, UFO abductees, and the shady side of the hairpiece industry.
Things were not good at the All News Network. Ratings and advertising revenue were down across the board—except for the two fat cash cows, Special Reports and the Kerwin Shutz show. Rumors of cutbacks, shakeups, and reshuffles were rampant. Morale was abysmal. The company mandarins were in intensive meetings and the place was crawling with high- powered talent flown in for these meetings. Something was brewing, the air was heavy with it. And it would happen soon.
The most persistent rumor was that older, third-string reporters would be taken off the air and put in other jobs to make way for the peppy, attractive reporterlings coming up through the ranks, kids who would kill to get even my crappy on-air job.
Well, I just happened to be an older, third-string reporter. I'm only thirty-seven, but that's a lot in TV years, which are rather like dog years.
I'll be honest, the report card on me for the previous year and a half would be pretty mixed. On the plus side, there was the award-winning series on vigilantism I had done while my boss Jerry Spurdle was overseas filling in for the Berlin bureau chief, and there was Nicky Vassar, a fraud I'd helped nail. Of course, my boss Jerry Spurdle took credit for both those things, which was His Lordship's right as executive producer of Special Reports. But the people in the know knew who had done the real work.
On the minus side, there were several threatened lawsuits that had come out of my ill-fated special report, "Death in Modern America." However, I had redeemed myself somewhat by taking full responsibility for that disaster, writing long, eloquent letters of apology to the Hackensack widow and to avant-garde undertaker Max Guffy. Only the cryogenics people were still threatening to sue.
So things were very uncertain. Each day I went in wondering if it might be my last day on the air. A guillotine on a dark sidewalk, therefore, was fraught with significance for me, and definitely not conducive to a Positive Mental Attitude.
I was, you see, a new woman with a new attitude. A good attitude. Yes, I was singing in the rain, walking on the sunny side of the street, making lemonade out of lemons. Life was just a box of chocolates. Or something that kind of looked like chocolate anyway.
So when my boss Jerry Spurdle marched into my office two months earlier, flashed me his evil "I control your economic destiny" smile, and said, "Get the crew. You're going out to Long Island City. I've got six bald guys with brain abscesses from a faulty hair replacement system who want to talk to you," I smiled and nodded, got the crew, and did the interview.
And when Jerry handed me my most recent script on UFO abductees and I saw that he had changed most of it and loaded it with sensationalism and cliches, I took it, looked at it, and smiled the sweetest smile I could muster, which was not like me at all.
Or, rather, not like the old me.
The old Robin Hudson would have fought long and hard with Jerry Spurdle, fought to the last sacrosanct semicolon. The old Robin Hudson would have taken that mutilated script to the tracking booth and ignored it, read her original script instead. She would have complained vociferously to her mentor, Bob McGravy. She would have anonymously called a half dozen funeral homes and arranged for their representatives to drop in on Jerry unannounced to discuss his final arrangements.
(This last option in particular was tempting me, as I had recently received a publicity package for a new service—"Parting Glance Funeral and Memorial Service Consultants—and had toyed with the idea of signing Jerry up for the customized Cage aux Folles service.)
But I took no revenge. What had brought about this radical change in my pathological behavior? Had I mellowed with age? Perhaps I had mellowed, a little. Perhaps I had come to the mature realization that there are times in life when one must compromise and play the game if one wants to get ahead, especially if one has an ironclad contract and one's professional redemption is largely dependent on the beneficence of Jerry Spurdle.
(Well, those lawsuits and the rumors about a major reshuffle probably had a bit more to do with it than maturity did.)
I always say it takes seven major muscle groups just to hold my tongue, so you can imagine the strain on me of having a good attitude under these conditions. Let me tell you, even with all the incentives I had, it was hard to be a goddamned ray of sunshine all the goddamned time.
If it wasn't for one final, important factor, I couldn't have pulled it off at all. I didn't have the fight in me anymore after my postdivorce boyfriend Eric and I split up. It just seemed easier to take the path of least resistance, you know what I mean? If I just played by the rules, for a change, what could go wrong?
I keep forgetting that my life is ruled by no law but Murphy's. What could go wrong? Only everything.
The guillotine had me spooked but, as part of my new positive attitude, I shrugged it off. Bloody guerrilla artists, disturbing my peace of mind that way. I kicked the guillotine. It made me feel better.
Very gingerly, I inserted my key into the thick steel door of my apartment building, a prewar on East Tenth street, slowly opened it, and peeked into the foyer, dimly lit by a yellow bug light. The coast was clear. My downstairs neighbor Mrs. Ramirez was not waiting by the mailboxes, as she often was.
This was a good omen. Mrs. Ramirez is eighty-one years old, has a hyperactive hearing aid, reportedly hasn't had a man since 1942, and imagines I am having all kinds of sinful fun she never had. I only wish I were. Lately, she had been off my back a little, ever since Sally moved in next door to her. Sally is a painter, a tarot reader, and a witch. Really. She's a good witch, though. She casts good spells only, because she believes good and evil deeds both come back to you threefold, and she's still trying to clear her karma for that spell she put on Brooke Shields when they were both freshmen at Princeton.
Sally's beliefs are no wackier or more harmful than those of any other religion. But Mrs. Ramirez saw in Sally an agent of the devil sent to deliver a curse unto her and was convinced the witch was making her hair fall out, her bowels shut down, and her feet swell. All I knew was, since Sally moved in, opening the way for an influx of other odd characters, such as the mysterious guitar-playing man who lived above me, Mrs. Ramirez had been spread a little thin and hadn't had as much time to trash my reputation.
As usual, the elevator was out of order, which meant I had to climb four flights while schlepping Louise in her carrier. Louise is a big, heavy cat, it was a long climb, and I had had a very long day. When I dragged my sorry carcass through the door of my apartment, I was exhausted. Even my face was tired, stiff, and sore from smiling so much, which took a lot of energy. Not to mention the energy it took to keep from barfing whenever my boss, Jerry Spurdle, said something crude or stupid, which was often. For example, that day he asserted that self-control came much easier to his gender than to mine. The temptation to remind him how he had nearly bankrupted himself recently in pursuit of an eighteen-year-old exotic dancer was powerful indeed. But I kept mum, because my desire to disprove Jerry's self-control hypothesis was even more powerful.
All I wanted in the world at that point was eight hours of solid z's—harder and harder to come by lately. Physically, psychologically, and emotionally exhausted, I could have dropped onto my bed in my clothes and high heels. But Louise Bryant was howling for her dinner and she hates to be kept waiting, so I fed her her regular dinner of cat food sautéed with bok choy and oyster sauce, cooled to lukewarm. Ignore her or try something new at your peril.
After brushing my teeth and checking myself for signs of necrotic fascitis, I put on my flannel pajamas and cued up a CD of lullabies and chants sung by monks in a rain forest. I picked up my sated cat and got into bed with her, petting her until she started to purr. Well, petting is probably an understatement. Every night, I gave the old girl the kitty equivalent of a shiatsu massage, just to get her to sleep with me so I wouldn't have to sleep alone.
Once she fell asleep, I curled up next to her, listening to my soothing CD and reciting the Serenity Prayer, putting the day safely behind me. Just as I was about to close my eyes, the phone rang and my answering machine picked up.
"Robin, this is your mother," I heard.
"Yes, Mom, I recognize your voice," I said softly, but I didn't pick up the phone. I was too tired.
"I just called to remind you that your Aunt Maureen is arriving in New York today for two weeks," Mom said, in her guileless voice. "Something to do with her church."
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that in order to "remind" someone of something, you had to have told them about it previously. And my mother had not mentioned it. I would have remembered. You meet my Aunt Maureen once, you never forget, no matter how hard you try. Aunt Mo is a force of nature. Think Mussolini in a corset and a wig, and you won't be too far off the mark.
No, she did not expect to stay with me, thank God. Instead, Mom said, she was staying in a hotel just a few blocks from my place of employment.
Well, this was not good news. I know, I know. Blood is thicker—and stickier—than water and I should have picked up the phone and called Aunt Maureen and asked about her plans, but I didn't. My plan was to avoid her at all costs. If my Aunt Minnie, who lives with Mom, or Aunt Flo, or my father's black-sheep sister Aunt Lucille came to town, I'd sleep on my fire escape so they could sleep in my bed and I'd show them all around town.
But Aunt Mo—no way.
Among her special talents—which had once included rooting out communists in the public libraries and Girl Scout troops of northern Minnesota in the 1950s—was that Aunt Mo knew how to reduce me to my insecurities, so I couldn't risk seeing her. Ironically, I was trying hard to be the kind of polite and obedient young lady she'd wanted me to be, and her presence would be a threat to my Positive Mental Attitude because something about her brought out my rebellious instincts. Maybe it was those monthly letters chastising me for getting divorced and telling me what I could have done to save my marriage, if I wasn't such a pigheaded fool agnostic.
Maybe it was the fact that because of Aunt Mo I hate the taste of Tabasco. When I was a kid staying with Aunt Mo, she'd put Tabasco on my tongue whenever I said a bad word or told a lie. In fact, she put Tabasco on my tongue just as often when I told the truth. This is the part that gets me. She put Tabasco on my tongue even when she knew I was telling the truth, if it was an uncomfortable truth she wanted me to keep to myself. It was an early experience in censorship. To this day, when I taste Tabasco, I taste hypocrisy.
I guess that sounds like a petty thing, Tabasco, but all my complaints against Aunt Mo are not petty. After my Dad died when I was ten, Aunt Mo tried to get custody of me, citing my mother's mental illness. (My mother believes she's a member of the British royal family, which, even if true, is nothing you want to boast about to the neighbors.)
My mother had forgiven her for the custody fight. I hadn't.
Thinking about Aunt Mo, I couldn't sleep for shuddering. It took me fifteen minutes just to will away the image of her that appeared every time I closed my eyes. I was able to relax only after replaying my CD twice and imagining myself in a beautiful place with a handsome man I used to love once, a long time ago.
So there I was, perched on the edge of the gentle abyss, when, suddenly, the low-pitched siren of a car alarm went off on the street below, sending me bolt upright.
I hate those fucking car alarms.
Another went off, emitting intermittent shrieks, then another, and another. I opened my window, stuck my head out, and saw a man running through the Con Ed mist, grabbing the handles of car doors and setting off all their alarms, including one that activated a car horn, which in this instance played the first few bars of the Godfather theme over and over. The man ran away. Up and down the dark steamy street, lights turned on and heads appeared in windows.
The insane symphony of car alarms was soon joined by a chorus of loud cursing that rained down on the heads of embarrassed car owners as they went out and turned off their alarms. After fifteen minutes only one alarm remained, the one with the intermittent shriek. Another fifteen minutes and someone started shooting at the offending car until the alarm stopped.
Jesus, there were guns everywhere. Well, this answered one of Life's big questions: Is the whole world nuts, or is it just me?
The car owners were all gone, windows went dark again. The street was quiet now. All I could hear was some man's laughter, increasingly distant and hollow, like someone laughing into a wide-mouthed jar.
When would this day ever end? Louise was awake too, and looking like she might go sleep elsewhere, so I closed the window and went back to bed, giving her another rubdown, playing my CD again, re-reciting the Serenity Prayer, and, finally, gently, falling to sleep.
I was in that comfortable, swimmy limbo, the hypnagogic space between consciousness and unconsciousness, when the phone again rang and I heard my machine pick up.
"Ms. Hudson, this is Detective Mack Ferber of Manhattan South—Homicide Division ..."
I reached for the phone.
"Robin Hudson," I said.
"Oh, Ms. Hudson. Is this Robin Hudson or her machine?"
He sounded young.
"This is Robin Hudson. What's your name again?"
"Detective Mack Ferber ... Homicide ..."
"And what do you want?"
"Um, Ms. Hudson ... did you know Dr. Herman Kanengiser?"
Excerpted from Nice Girls Finish Last by Sparkle Hayter. Copyright © 1996 Sparkle Hayter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Sparkle Hayter has been a journalist for CNN and other news organizations, a stringer in Afghanistan, a producer in Bollywood, a stand-up comic in New York, a caretaker for an elderly parent in Canada, and a novelist of seven books. And some other things that are kind of a blur now. The first novel in her Robin Hudson Mystery series, What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, is the recipient of the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for best first mystery novel, and the series is a winner of the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective. Hayter’s articles have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Nation, and New Woman. She currently lives in Canada with her rescued Nepali street dog, Alice, and is working on a new book.
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