The Queen Is Deadby Jane Dentinger
Tessa Grant was one of Jocelyn “Josh” O’Roarke’s greatest heroes. She was Josh’s mentor in school and a continued inspiration throughout her/b>/i>
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In the fifth book of the Jocelyn O’Roarke series, when the lead actress in a collegiate production of A Winter’s Tale dies, Jocelyn takes on a lot more than just a role
Tessa Grant was one of Jocelyn “Josh” O’Roarke’s greatest heroes. She was Josh’s mentor in school and a continued inspiration throughout her career. When Tessa’s death from an apparent heart attack leaves her production of A Winter’s Tale at Josh’s alma mater without a Queen Hermione, Josh jumps at the opportunity to help out, taking over the role. But when she arrives at the school, Josh finds a journal among Tessa’s possessions with something major to say: Her death was no mere heart attack. Now determined to solve the case, Josh runs into Frankie Mauro, her old roommate, and Phillip Gerrard, her old flame. With their help, she must navigate the labyrinthine world of backstage politics, not only to find the killer, but also to convince the world that her mentor’s death was actually murder. The Queen Is Dead is the fifth book in the Jocelyn O’Roarke mystery series, which begins with Murder on Cue and First Hit of the Season.
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The Queen Is Dead
A Jocelyn O'Roarke Mystery
By Jane Dentinger
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Jane Dentinger
All rights reserved.
There are three things every true New Yorker knows as surely as his or her own name and address: water-main breaks always occur at either nine A.M. or five P.M. so as to flood the subways during peak travel hours, leaving the greatest possible number of commuters stranded; after unusually mild winters, a sudden cold front will invariably blow in for the first day of baseball and turn Shea Stadium into a frozen tundra; and one can never, ever find a cab when it's raining. These are the Murphy's Laws of Manhattan, and Lieutenant Phillip Gerrard of the N.Y.P.D. knew them as well as anyone. And he accepted them, normally, with the stoic grace of a man somewhat fatalistic by nature.
However, when all three laws conspired to go into effect at once, in this case on a Monday in late April that had begun with deceptively balmy skies, even the most philosophical of men might feel a bit aggrieved. Actually Gerrard was way past aggrieved; he was pissed as hell as rain trickled down the collar of his coat as he pounded the pavement on East Eighty-fifth Street, heading for the entrance to Central Park. Not only were there no cabs in sight, but the transverses at Seventy-ninth and Eighty-sixth streets were both so flooded that even the buses couldn't get across the park. Running hard now, he saw his breath misting in front of him and felt his lungs starting to ache from sucking in cold, damp air as he splashed through dirty puddles that were quickly soaking into his brand new cordovan loafers.
"Son of a bitch! This is so stupid," he cursed to himself. "I feel like a damn ... rabbit," By which he meant the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland since, for the last few blocks, his footsteps had seemed to be keeping tempo with the silly refrain in his head: "I'm late, I'm late—for a very important date."
Only it wasn't a date, he admitted to himself. Technically it takes two consenting people to make a date; so this had to be classified as a "surprise visit." And he'd intended it to be a great, classy surprise, but all his careful plans had gone awfully awry. He regretted this bitterly because, as he knew from hard experience, when trying to get back in Jocelyn O'Roarke's good graces, having the element of surprise on one's side was crucial.
And Phillip had been trying for several months. But it was no easy thing to woo a woman who was five thousand miles away. Especially when said woman, after their two-year love affair and a stormy falling-out, had left town shortly after he'd gotten engaged to another woman. By the time Gerrard realized that he'd made a big mistake—which, fortunately, his fiancée had realized as well when he'd called her "Josh" for the third time in as many days—O'Roarke had already begun a new acting career in L.A. and, worse yet, a new relationship with some jerk hairdresser who owned a horse farm. But the hardest pill to swallow was the fact that she'd gotten involved in the Buddy Banks murder case and cracked it, all on her own with no help from him, thank you very much. Irrational as he knew it was, Phillip couldn't help but feel mightily betrayed by this. It was like watching your old flame dance with another man to a tune that had once been "our song." Solving murders together had been their song.
God, that's so twisted, he thought. I must have a macabre sense of romance ... No wonder she didn't want to get married.
That had been the reason for their initial rift: Gerrard's desire to get hitched as opposed to Jocelyn's need to remain untethered. But it didn't matter now. The important thing was she'd come back to New York, though Phillip had no idea what part he'd played in that decision, if any. He'd first called her right after the Banks case, ostensibly to congratulate her on a job well done, though he'd managed to work in the fact that he was no longer betrothed. O'Roarke had been supremely neutral on this point, replying with a bland, "Sorry it didn't work out. Better luck next time."
It hadn't been much to go on but he had gone on, in slow, careful stages, like a general hunkering down for a long siege. A forthright man by nature, he'd amazed himself by the trickery and subterfuge he'd resorted to: wriggling her new address and phone number out of her writer friend, Austin Frost, so he could send oh-so-casual notes with some news clipping about a pal of hers opening in a new play. His last letter was, he felt, the pièce de résistance; he'd attended the Equity Fights AIDS Easter Hat Parade, the Broadway community's finest shining hour, often the best show of the year and one that Josh had never missed, and the letter he'd written her about it had, hopefully, made her green with envy and awash with homesickness.
Yet she hadn't even let him know that she was coming back. He'd bribed that bit of news out of their mutual friend, the renowned actor Frederick Revere, with a bottle of vintage Napoleon brandy that had cost him half a week's salary.
"This is the nectar of the gods," Revere had said after a moment's blissful savoring. "And so kind of you to give me a bottle that's actually older than I am."
"Aw, c'mon, Freddie. Josh always says that you're beyond age, and she's right ... By the way, heard from her lately?"
"Oh, dear boy," Freddie had tsk 'd sadly, "such a good brandy ... such a bad segue. Not like you at all. Since I've already accepted your lovely bribe, spare us both the shoddy subterfuge and out with it, man!"
"All right, all right! I called her the other night and got some ditzy girl on the phone who said she was out of town. So where the hell is she?"
"That's better." Revere, after taking another languorous sip, had added, "She's in Washington."
"Huh? The state or—"
"D.C., of course. And I'm sure, if you put your excellent mind to it for a moment, you won't need me to tell you why."
"Let's see. Can't be an acting job, I would've read—"
"Aha! Subscribed to the Theatrical Index, have you?" Referring astutely to the monthly industry publication that lists all upcoming productions and their slated casts, Freddie had given him an approving wink. "Clever move. And you're absolutely right ... Now what else would prompt our Josh to leave such sunny climes and—"
"Got it! The Pro-Choice rally. But that's today!"
"That's right. And she'll be here tomorrow. She's coming in on the Metroliner at two-thirty."
"Is she back for good?"
"I wouldn't presume to guess. But she'll be here for a bit anyway. You know I've been house-sitting for her—well, cat-sitting, really."
"Yes. And how is ol' antsy Angus?"
"Oh, a holy terror, a furred fiend incarnate," Revere had said with a Shakespearean moan. "He's shredded six pairs of my best socks. Why she sets such store by that creature, I'll never ... Well, that's neither here nor there. Fact is, as fate would have it, I've been asked to do a small part in the new Merchant/Ivory film and—"
"Freddie, hot damn! That's fantastic. Congratula—"
"A minor, minor role, really," the old actor had demurred though his face had suffused with keen anticipation. "And it's shooting in Cornwall, so I'm off next week for the Merry Ol' Motherland. And Jocelyn is returning for a tender reunion with that feline shredding machine. But what her future plans are after that, I've no idea."
That was when Phillip had started making plans of his own. The initial idea was to surprise her at Penn Station with champagne and flowers, then whisk her uptown for the tender reunion with ol' Angus and, hopefully, one of their own. It had all the right ingredients—surprise, flair, and romance—designed to appeal to her love of well-orchestrated theatrics and, more importantly, make that hairdressing horse farmer look like a rube.
Unfortunately, an assistant D.A. named Bernard Saperstein had a different agenda.
Bernie the Sap, as he was known at the precinct, was a greenhorn prosecutor with delusions of grandeur and designs on running for office someday. If Gerrard had his way, that day would never come, since Bernie was already exhibiting every sign of becoming a law enforcement liability of the first order, the kind of gung ho prosecutor so hot to get a conviction that he'd ride roughshod over due process and let the perps slip through legal loopholes almost as soon as they'd been indicted.
That morning the Sap had issued a search warrant for the home of a suspect in a rape-murder case that Phillip had been investigating. Badly as he wanted to nail this goon, Gerrard knew there wasn't sufficient evidence to justify the warrant yet and it was sure to be overturned later—unless the goon's lawyer was even stupider than Saperstein, and the chances of that were infinitesimal. So he'd had to go over the little twerp's head and that had taken hours, first waiting outside the DA's office, then, once inside, arguing against Bernie's lame whines about "demonstrating our potency to the public" and "striking while the iron's hot!" When, at around two o'clock, he'd made a last-stand assault on Gerrard's "A.C.L.U.-ish overconcern for the felon," Phillip had reached over and yanked him up by his Givenchy tie.
"Listen, dickhead, I was there. You weren't. I saw the body and what he did to her. You—you just want to make a splash and see your name in print. I want him inside and I want him to stay there—which we've actually got a shot at this time 'cause he's got priors. Now, I'm twenty-four hours away from nailing down a witness who can place him at her building just before and after the attack. You blow this for me on a flimsy warrant and I'll make damn sure you get more press than you ever dreamed of ... and all of it bad. And then I'm gonna come over to your house and break your little pinhead."
Saperstein had threatened a lawsuit and demanded a new tie, but the D.A. had overridden him and agreed to do it Phillip's way. But by then it was three-thirty and it was pouring.
Coming out of the park at Mariners' Gate on West Eighty-fifth Street, a sodden Gerrard made a supreme mental effort to buck himself up for the task at hand.
"Okay, just take a different tack. Like I just heard she got back and ran pell-mell over to see her. So I show up looking like a drowned rat, so what? Looks impetuous—dramatic. No, comical. What the hell. Josh always liked a good laugh at my expense."
When he rang her buzzer, he was surprised at being buzzed in immediately. Could she be expecting him? Or had her months in L.A. just made her lax? Whatever the reason, he took the stairs up to her apartment two at a time. No champagne, no flowers, still—it would be quite an entrance.
Even before he knocked, the door swung open and he found himself face-to-face with ... Freddie.
"Phillip! You look quite drowned."
"Yeah, couldn't get a cab."
"Well, of course not. It's raining."
"I know ... Where's Josh?" He was dripping and panting, leaning forward with both hands on his knees as he scanned the familiar brownstone apartment that he hadn't seen in so long, that had once been his second home. Did she still have his old dressing gown in the bathroom? "Where is she, Freddie?"
Even before Revere spoke he knew something was wrong—something intrinsic was missing. No Angus, that was it. That cat had never once failed to greet Phillip at the door by running his claws down his legs, using him as a human scratching post.
"And where's Angus?"
"Gone." Frederick pointed to the loft space where the cat carrier was usually stored. "The both of them, I'm afraid. Dear boy, I am sorry. It was all very sudden."
"What was? You mean she's already been here and left ?!"
"Well, yes. You see, this arrived at noon." The old actor handed him a rumpled telegram. "Josh took one look at it, packed her feline baggage, and bolted. You'll see, it was rather urgent."
Phillip, feeling like he'd just been struck with a poleax, allowed Frederick to peel off his sodden coat and deposit him in the bentwood rocker by the fireplace. It was hard to focus on the telegram while rocking, but the kindhearted old actor handed him a glass of the Napoleon brandy and, after a moment or two, the print came into focus. It read:
TESSA GRANT DIED UNEXPECTEDLY SAT STOP GREAT LOSS STOP FUNERAL IS TOMORROW STOP NEED YOU HERE DESPERATELY STOP PLEASE COME ASAP TO FILL IN AS HERMIONE
Using the towel Freddie had gotten him, Phillip mopped his head and wondered vaguely, "Who sends telegrams anymore?"
"People in desperate straits, I'd say."
"And who the hell is Tessa Grant?"
"You don't know?"
"I'm not certain. The name's vaguely familiar. I dunno, maybe Josh mentioned her once."
"More than once, I'd guess," Revere said, a quiet severity in his voice. "If you'd been paying attention, you'd know."
"Know what? Was she a good friend of Jocelyn's?"
"Not exactly. But she was something more. She was the reason Josh became, as a professional at any rate, what she is today."
"And she's dead? ... Oh, shit."
"AND, FINALLY, TO PARAPHRASE Shakespeare—which I think, in this case, is only fitting, since dear Tess was prone to rearrange the Bard's words from time to time—"
A faint but appreciative chuckle rose from the crowd and rippled through the small chapel, which was filled to capacity, as the diminutive old gentleman on the dais beamed down at them with moist eyes and cleared his throat.
"When she shall die,/Take her and cut her out in little stars,/And she will make the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night,/And pay no worship to the garish son." Professor A.J. Hargreaves put a hand on the podium to steady himself before finishing. "Apt words, indeed, for Tessa Grant shone like a star all her life as she will continue to, I trust, in all our memories and in the great hereafter." His voice a mere whisper now, he raised his eyes upward and said, "Shine on, Tessy."
If there was a dry eye in the house, Jocelyn O'Roarke couldn't spot it. But then she could barely see the pew in front of her since waterproof mascara isn't all it's cracked up to be and hers, after a steady onslaught of tears, had run into her eyes and down her face. Raising a sleeve to wipe her cheek, she was checked by a soothing Southern voice.
"Don't, darlin'. You'll ruin that pretty blouse. Here, take this."
She nodded gratefully and dabbed at her eyes, leaving oily black streaks on the snow-white hankie with the initials RC stitched in one corner.
"Thanks, Ry. Oh, lord, I've ruined it ... I'll get you another."
"Nonsense. I got a drawerful. My Aunt Mamie sends me a box of 'em every Christmas. I could wallpaper a room with 'em," Ryson Curtis said with a soft, silky laugh as he ushered her out of the pew and down the chapel aisle. "Besides, it brings back fond memories. Like that time I found you caterwauling in the hallway after you blew your audition at the Public."
"Oh, right. You gave me your hankie then," Josh said with a ghost of a smile. "I remember ... God, I'm just like Scarlett, huh?"
"Exactly." Curtis put a comforting arm around her shoulder as he lowered his voice to a bass growl. " 'Never at any crisis of your life have I known you to have a handkerchief.' And a lucky thing, too, or we never would've met."
"Lucky for me anyway," she sniffed as Ryson opened the door of his BMW for her and she slid in. Josh knew exactly what her old friend was up to: distracting her from her misery by leading her down memory lane. But she was more than willing to be led after the emotional roller-coaster ride she'd been on for the last forty-eight hours.
First there'd been the incredible high of being at the rally in Washington; hearing Faye Wattleton, Ron Silver, and Gloria Steinem speak, among others; marching alongside a tiny girl in a stroller who'd raised a chubby fist in the air and caroled out, "Choice! Now!" Then there were the Gorilla Girls, the supremely enraged Carolyn Findley, and the signs and banners everywhere you looked that ranged from the profound (IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN ABORTION, DON'T HAVE ONE) to the sublimely silly (LEGGO MY EGGO). Seeing the masses of young college women there, she'd been filled with pride and, at the same time, heartsick that they had to be there to fight this battle yet again.
Excerpted from The Queen Is Dead by Jane Dentinger. Copyright © 1994 Jane Dentinger. 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.
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Meet the Author
Jane Dentinger was born and raised in Rochester, New York. She graduated magna cum laude from Ithaca College with a BFA in theatre, then moved to Manhattan, where she still resides. After making her stage debut in Joe Papp’s production of Pericles at the Delacorte Theatre, she acted off Broadway in All My Sons at the Roundabout Theatre and in Jack Heifner’s Vanities for ages.
By the time Vanities finally closed, there were a lot of people she wanted to kill, and hence, she wrote her debut mystery, Murder on Cue, on a grant of sorts from the New York State Department of Labor. It was the first of six novels featuring actress Jocelyn O’Roarke, whom the New Yorker dubbed “an artsy Philip Marlowe.”
While writing her novels, Dentinger managed Murder Ink, a preeminent mystery bookstore in New York City, for eight years. In October of 1999, Dentinger became senior editor of the Mystery Guild Book Club. In 2005, she was made editor in chief, a position she held until December, 2013.
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