The Puzzled Heart (Kate Fansler Series #12)

The Puzzled Heart (Kate Fansler Series #12)

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by Amanda Cross

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Kate Fansler's husband, Reed, has been kidnapped--and will be killed unless Kate obeys the carefully delineated directives of a ransom note. Tormented by her own puzzled heart, Kate seeks solace and wise counsel from both old friends and new. But who precisely is the enemy? Is he or she a vengeful colleague? A hostile student? A terrorist sect? The questions mount as… See more details below


Kate Fansler's husband, Reed, has been kidnapped--and will be killed unless Kate obeys the carefully delineated directives of a ransom note. Tormented by her own puzzled heart, Kate seeks solace and wise counsel from both old friends and new. But who precisely is the enemy? Is he or she a vengeful colleague? A hostile student? A terrorist sect? The questions mount as Kate searches for Reed--accompanied by her trusty new companion, a Saint Bernard puppy named Bancroft. Hovering near Kate and Bancroft are rampant cruelties and calculated menace. The moment is ripe for murder. . . .

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Intelligent . . . Literate . . . Kate is right on the ball."
—The New York Times Book Review

—Associated Press

—Los Angeles Times

"ENTERTAINING . . . Rich in both wry comedy and fiendish plots . . . Kate Fansler is deservedly popular with readers, and her new case will not disappoint."
—Baltimore Sun

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Kate Fansler Series , #12
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Random House
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2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Kate Fansler's arrival on Leslie Stewart's doorstep was thoroughly uncharacteristic.

Leslie Stewart was, at the moment the doorbell rang, trying to persuade one grandson not to pull out the cat's hair in handfuls and the other grandson, happily ensconced in a high chair, to put his applesauce to internal rather than external uses.

"Will you see to the door, Jane?" she called in what she hoped were plaintive rather than irritable tones. "I'm rather tied up here."

And indeed, Leslie thought, I would far rather be literally tied up or in almost any other situation but this. Grandchildren she cherished, but only, it came to her with sudden clarity, at their more adorable moments and in anticipation of departure, either theirs or hers as the case might be. Today, unfortunately, the case was neither.

"Jane," she called again. She could hear, then, a growl of acquiescence and Jane's footsteps as she crossed the loft to the front door, whose bell had again sounded, this time with urgency.

Jane Berlin had long liked to point out that she had remained childless for good reason and had fallen in love with Leslie when she too seemed well past the possibility of childbearing. It was the likelihood of grandchildren that she had failed to take into account. Apparently, having passed one's genes on to one generation, one felt impelled to encourage, even to assist, in the flowering of those genes into yet another generation. Jane felt, in a word, betrayed. Outraged was another word that might, without exaggeration, be employed. The strength of her feelings was in no way mitigated by Leslie's assurance that she agreed with her, and that this particular occasion was unavoidable and not likely to be repeated.

Jane's far-from-rapid progress was, toward the end, and at the bell's second ring, hastened by the happy thought that perhaps this was the boys' parents returning. She was almost smiling when she threw open the door.

Kate Fansler stood on the doorstep, looking so harassed that Jane did not even think to mention her disappointment in Kate's failure to be the retriever of the children.

"Are you all right?" Jane asked, somewhat rhetorically, since Kate looked far from all right. "Leslie's in the kitchen preventing cruelty to animals and swathed in baby food." Concerned, Jane followed Kate to the kitchen.

Leslie looked up in surprise. "What is it?" she said, clearly expecting the worst. And with reason. For Leslie, Kate's closest friend, knew that, in the first place, Kate never dropped in, never appeared unannounced, considering such behavior uncivilized; and, in the second place, would certainly not have chosen this afternoon to change in this respect since Leslie had told Kate of her, Leslie's, obligation to babysit for her grandsons. Kate was notorious for her lack of delight in the very young.

These thoughts were the matter of a few seconds. Abandoning the children, she went to Kate and pushed her into a chair. "I'll make some tea," she said. "Strong and sweet, for shock." And she did move toward the kettle.

"I'll do it," Jane said. "Unless you two would rather be alone."

"Reed's gone," Kate said.

"Left you?" Jane asked. Leslie glared at her.

"Not left me. Gone, vanished -- kidnapped if you insist on an exact description."

Even the boys were quiet, as though sensing the tension. Then the baby began to cry, his mouth turned down in the image of tragedy, his eyes scrunched up. The eyes of the older boy, as though in sympathy, welled up; a tear rolled slowly down his cheek. The cat departed, not caring for the atmosphere.

Jane put up the kettle and waited for the water to boil. Personally, she would have recommended brandy, but perhaps Leslie was right. Leslie, being older and subject to more frequent familial perils, had dealt with crises more often than had Jane.

"Start at the beginning," Leslie said. She and Kate had seen each other through many trials, though it seemed to Leslie that laughter more often marked their conversations. They would begin in despair and end in laughter -- that was about the size of it -- but nothing, not even Leslie's losing her husband and taking up with a woman, had seemed as daunting as this. Pray heaven that Reed, the most unlikely man for it, had not had one of those male life crises and run off with a younger woman or, she suddenly thought, a man. Good God.

"We were to meet at a restaurant at six-thirty; we were going on to a concert at Lincoln Center. Reed is never late, or never really late, so after a time I called the lobby of our building to ask the doorman if perhaps Reed had forgotten and was planning to meet me there. The doorman said he hadn't seen Mr. Amhearst all day."

By this time the tea was ready, but Kate could barely be persuaded to take even a sip. "It's hot," she said.

"That's the point," Leslie said. "Do sip it at least." Kate, obeying, sipped.

By this time the boys had become more vocal in their sorrows. Jane gathered them up; holding the baby on one arm, the older boy by the hand, she left the room with them.

Grateful, and terribly worried about Kate, Leslie nonetheless had the horrible thought that she would have to pay for this. I am becoming a monster, she told herself. "Go on," she said to Kate.

"Then I called the law school. His assistant Nick, a pleasant young man whom I've met, seemed surprised to hear from me. 'Actually,' he said, 'I watched Reed go, from the window; he had said he was going to a concert with you, and I thought how nice, when I would have to spend the evening studying. Then he got into the limousine and drove off.'

"'What limousine?' I naturally asked. Reed calls limousines only for rides to the airport. Nick said he thought the men in the car had been waiting for Reed and were giving him an arranged-for lift. He didn't recognize the men, and when I told him that Reed was supposed to have met me at the restaurant, he became silent. 'Don't make too much of this, Kate,' he said, 'but now that you mention it, I did notice that the men got on either side of him and seemed to be, well, helping him into the limousine. It wasn't obvious, or I would have done something. I just think, looking back, that it was, well, funny. Can I do something, Kate?' I told him to hold off for a while and say nothing at all to anybody. He very nicely said he would be home all night if I needed him, he would go home instead of to the library."

Kate almost automatically sipped again at the tea. "After that call I went home. It was now perhaps seven-thirty. I didn't know what to do; every idea I had seemed less practical than the last. By nine o'clock I had about decided on some more telephone calls, when a message was delivered. That was a whole twelve hours ago; I still haven't thought what to do. The letter told me to be at home tonight at seven. Meanwhile," Kate concluded, "I'm here. I didn't know where else to go. I was afraid if I stayed home I would call the police or feel compelled to do something, anything, and I thought I'd better talk it through first. But maybe I should get back."

Leslie had never seen Kate so worried, so indecisive, so panicked. "I'd better go," Kate said. "I ought to be where someone can reach me. It was silly of me to come, but if I had to do something sudden and idiotic, this seemed the best choice."

"It was," Leslie said. "We'll go back together. I'll just have to get my daughter and her husband to come for the kids."

"It's all right," Jane said, appearing at the kitchen door. "They're changed and dressed now and can hang out with the less experienced of their two grannies, as Leslie's daughter calls us." Here she smirked. "It occurred to me while changing and dressing them that if Leslie's daughter were homophobic, she wouldn't have dreamed of leaving her little ones with us. Enough to make a cat laugh, isn't it? You two go ahead to Kate's house, after Leslie calls the parents. I'll stay here till they come, trying to prevent serious injury to animals and children."

"Jane," Leslie began.

"Never mind Janeing me," Jane said. "Just call the parents and tell them to get on their bicycles and pedal over here."

"Wait a minute," Kate said. "You must have taken the kids for a good reason. Don't let --"

"And I'm giving them back for a good reason," Leslie said. "Nobility has its limits, and they've just been reached. Listen," she added, as Kate looked dubious and worried, "after a certain time in life, friends come first. Perhaps they should always come first. I was just trying to give the harried parents some much-needed time off, remembering my own years of child raising. But Jane hasn't taken my offer well, to put it mildly, so Tony and Sarah might as well find out how the land lies now as later. Actually, you're doing me a favor, giving me a good reason to back out now. Jane comes before grandchildren too, any day. Just let me have a word with her. Try to drink a bit more of the tea."

Dutifully Kate dropped back into her chair and tried to sip the tea, now cooler but still overpoweringly sweet. She too remembered from somewhere, English novels perhaps, that sweet strong tea was good for shock.

"Was that all the letter said?" Leslie asked when they were in a cab on their way to Kate's apartment. "Just to be home at seven?"

"For another message, I supposed," Kate said. "Letter or telephone. The other letter was hand-delivered. I asked the doorman, who said it was given him by a boy -- obviously hired for the job, no connection to the kidnappers likely."

Leslie paid the cab and hurried after Kate into her apartment house. Kate was interrogating the doorman, who said that nothing had been delivered for her except the usual mail. Hurrying upstairs, they found the "usual mail" on the doorstep. Kate flipped through it; there was nothing unexpected or pertinent.

"Let's sit down," Leslie said. "I think you'd better start at the beginning. Have you the slightest idea why anyone would kidnap Reed? Some disgruntled criminal from Reed's D.A. days, out of prison and bent on revenge? An angry student; a disappointed client from one of his law school clinics; what?"

"It's me," Kate said. "It's because of me."

Leslie looked dubious.

"I've been warned," Kate said. "I guess you could say I've been picked as the feminist who's being taught that feminism doesn't pay. I've had warnings from some right-wing group, with one of those names -- you know, the Institute for Family Values or something, the League for the Protection of Men. I forget what they were called. Anyway, they sounded crazy; I didn't take them seriously."

"These people shoot doctors who perform abortions," Leslie said. "They say God told them to do it."

"I know. I thought the warning was about me, they were going to do something to me. And I couldn't think what they could do except murder me, and I could hardly prevent that. As to whispering campaigns and false information to the media -- that sort of thing -- well, I wasn't going to stop living my life on that account. I never dreamed...."

"Of course you didn't. How many warnings were there?"

"Several. I didn't pay that much attention. Something called the League of Right-Wing Women wrote diatribes against everything I've worked for. They seemed to be in favor of sexual harassment, battering women, date rape, and child abuse. Perhaps that's a bit strong. But they certainly don't believe any of these things happen on a large scale, and saying they do is all a plot to harry men. Leslie, I just thought they were crackers. In addition, I thought they were probably sending those warnings to many women. I didn't take it all that personally. The letter last night made it very personal."

"Let me see it," Leslie said.

Kate, who had held on to her purse, now took the letter from it and handed it to Leslie, who read it aloud:

We have taken your husband. If you do not publicly recant your insane feminist position, he may come to harm. Be at home tonight at seven when further more detailed instructions will reach you. Do not contact the police or anyone else if you hope to see your husband alive again.

Leslie let the letter drop into her lap. "Kate, don't hit me, but is there any chance this is a joke? A stupid joke, in frightfully bad taste, but a joke. Some of those academic types you work with might think this was sort of funny; you know, the types who go off in the woods, pee against trees, and pretend to shoot each other."

"There's nothing I haven't thought of during the night," Kate said. "I don't think it's a joke, and the reason I don't is the two men Nick saw putting Reed into the limousine. Some of the guys I work with might try to frighten me, but they would find a time when Reed was away, or they'd think up some other prank. I can't believe they would actually force him into a car, that they would go that far, and then send this letter."

"It does seem to be the kind of letter they might write though. It's like kid stuff."

"Leslie, the right wing in this country, Christians though they may call themselves, are besotted with their message. They are like fundamentalists everywhere, certain of their correctness and of being ordered by God to destroy those who disagree with that certainty. I think perhaps we should stop fooling ourselves about them."

"I'm not fooling myself about them. I'm just saying that it's not that easy to distinguish that letter from a joke letter, the kind of anonymous note sent by nuts."

"I might agree with you if Reed were here. If I had heard from him, or had the slightest idea where he was. Now that I think of it, it was my certainty that I wouldn't hear from him that allowed me to go to you. I'm so frightened. And I feel so helpless."

"Which," Leslie said, "is why we have to get help. The question is who and how. Let's come up with several possible plans while we're waiting for seven o'clock -- and their next message."

By the time they had reached this point, Kate was somewhat calmer, a bit more collected, though still capable, Leslie was certain, of collapsing into despair at the slightest provocation. Most ominously of all, she refused a drink, as though, Leslie surmised, Reed was doomed if Kate had a drink without him. By the time seven o'clock came around, and the doorbell rang announcing the delivery of the next message, Leslie had decided that coping with this kind of suspense required a wholly new, and for her unpracticed, support. Thinking of her grandchildren -- by now, she hoped, claimed by their parents -- she decided that life was never empty of new challenges, but with age one might have the fortitude to resist or meet them. Having, when push came to shove, resisted the grandchildren, she now sat with Kate hoping for the necessary fortitude.

The seven o'clock message demanded that Kate announce, through paid advertisements or articles or op-ed pieces in specific newspapers and journals by the time of their next publication, why she was abandoning feminism and joining the right wing in its efforts to restore true family values. A list of the publications and a concise but terrifying definition of "family values" was appended. If Kate failed to comply with these demands, Reed would be killed. The message concluded: Neither the police nor any government agency must be contacted.

"I hate people who use contact as a verb," Kate said. It was, Leslie considered, the first sign that her mind had clicked back into place.

"I thought these people believed in the police," Leslie said, hoping to encourage this rational bent. "Or is that only for inner cities and against black men and boys?"

"We have to do something," Kate said.

"You don't think they'll kill Reed, not really?" Leslie asked. It struck her that this conversation horribly resembled one of those prime-time programs she occasionally watched when overcome with exhaustion.

"They've killed doctors who do abortions; they're fanatics. But it's not a very sensible demand. What's to stop me from denying the whole thing once Reed is back?"

"That's easy. In the first place, you'll be tarred with what you said, no matter what explanation you offer. That's how the media work. You can't ever correct reporters' misstatements, they just go on making them anyway. In the second place, fear for Reed will restrain you. And if it doesn't restrain you, it will be because Reed insists it shouldn't, and that will lead to further complications of a marital sort. No, they're clever all right. It's always easy to be clever if compassion is not part of your aim. Just think about the way Pat Buchanan's mind works, or Rush Limbaugh's, and you'll have a good sense of what you're dealing with, even though neither of them has anything to do with this particular caper. Kate, are you listening?"

"Listening and thinking, along the same lines. Thank you for coming home with me, Les. I've just had a thought."

"Thank God for that. Do you plan to share it?"

"I think I know where to go for help, or at least for an initial conference. There's a woman I met last year named Harriet. I'll phone her."

"Don't phone. Give me a message and I'll deliver it. In these days of cyberspace, I don't trust any phone. If I'm being paranoid, better safe than sorry, as my mother used to say."

Kate wrote out the note.

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