Speak Nowby Margaret Dumas
Charley Van Leeuwen is about to find out-by way of kidnappings, murders, and nasty relatives-just how much work marriage is....Charley Van Leeuwen can tell by a man’s kiss whether he’s been drinking Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot. Not that she kisses many men, a fact her friends deplore.
Charley Van Leeuwen is about to find out-by way of kidnappings, murders, and nasty relatives-just how much work marriage is....Charley Van Leeuwen can tell by a man’s kiss whether he’s been drinking Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot. Not that she kisses many men, a fact her friends deplore. So imagine their surprise when she comes home to San Francisco with her new husband. Jack Fairfax is the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. But is he the mild-mannered meteorologist he claims to be? Sometime between finding a dead body in her bathtub, tagging along on a ransom drop, and getting rescued by her husband in a hail of bullets, Charley begins to believe there’s more to Jack’s past than he’s willing-or able-to admit. So, here’s Charley, used to her money as a cushion, forced to protect her family and friends and rescue her non-profit repertory theater from artistic and financial ruin. If that means dealing with kidnappings, murders, bitter ex-boyfriends, out-ofcontrol relatives, and vicious former spies-all while staging a play-well, nobody ever said marriage would be easy.
Margaret Dumas holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature, which led her unsuspectingly into a career as a technical writer and computer software executive. Her first novel, Speak Now, was short-listed for the 2003 CWA Debut Dagger award. Dumas lives in the Bay Area, where she splits her time between working on her next novel and searching for the perfect cocktail.
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By Margaret Dumas
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2004 Margaret Dumas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOkay, here's the stereotype: A woman will date a serial killer because he has cute eyes and she's the only one in the world who truly understands him. A man will dump a supermodel who holds a Ph.D. in physics because she gets a hangnail.
Right. Well it's safe to say I've never been the kind of girl who fits that profile. In fact, there are more than a few men who might say I start looking for the exit signs on about the third date. And it's true I once broke up with a senior partner at Goldman Sachs because he used the word "surreptitiously" when he meant "vicariously"—and this man had won a George Clooney look-alike contest.
It's not that I haven't wanted a relationship, really. It's just that I seem to have looked for any excuse not to be in one. I mean, why bother? The whole concept of needing someone to take care of me has always rubbed me the wrong way. I have friends for all my emotional needs, and enough money to meet the financial needs of a small country. As for sex—well, just being in a relationship isn't any guarantee, is it?
So I've been called commitment-phobic. Okay, I've been called worse. My friends have concluded that I'm the most romantically-challenged woman in the Western Hemisphere. Which was going to make it a little awkward to explain how I came to be sitting in the first-class compartment of the British Airways flight from London to San Francisco beside my new husband.
My very new husband. I checked my watch and realized we'd passed the forty-eight-hour point. I think they say the first two days are the hardest. I looked over at Jack's sleeping profile. He didn't seem to be suffering. Neither was I.
I'd known him six weeks if you count the humiliating incident at the Victoria and Albert museum. He'd been living in London and working as a liaison to the Royal Navy while waiting for his discharge papers from the U.S. Navy. He was thirty-eight and a Commander, which I gathered was a fairly impressive rank. I think James Bond was a Commander.
I'd been in London for the theater. I'd spent the past year working as an intern for one of the oldest true repertory companies working in the English language. Admittedly, at thirty-four I was a little over the hill to be an intern, and as I ran my own non-profit rep company in San Francisco, it hadn't exactly been an upward career move. But what I'd learned had been priceless. And, of course, if I hadn't done it I'd never have met the man sleeping in Seat 4A.
Jack was a meteorologist. He looked at weather maps and computer screens and told the fleet when they'd run into fog and things. I'd yawned when he'd first explained this to me. Mistake. He'd shown up the next day with that movie where the fishing boat gets lost in the huge storm.
"It's about weather," he'd said, his eyes flashing.
I'd watched it and thought it was more about the noble futility of man's struggle against nature. But then I tend to be dramatic. And anyway, I hadn't been interested in the movie. I had been interested in the man with the flashing eyes. Jack Fairfax.
Now, stretched out in the comfortable airline seat, I studied Jack, willing him to wake up. Tall and lean, with a jawline sharp enough to cut diamonds, he was chiseled without being all muscles. To me he looked like Gregory Peck in his prime. Roman Holiday Gregory Peck. It would be nice if I could say I looked like Audrey Hepburn, but I'm not delusional.
Actually, I'm more the Isabella Rossellini type. Curvy. Earthy. Dark-eyed and full-lipped. Unless you catch me on a bad day, in which case I'm fifteen pounds overweight and in need of a brow wax. It's all in the attitude.
One dark curl had flopped onto Jack's forehead, making him appear unexpectedly vulnerable, a look I couldn't imagine on him when awake. There was something powerful and self-contained about him. He was, among other things, the most secure person I'd ever met.
He'd need that when we got to San Francisco. I could predict fairly well how my friends and family would react to my marrying a man I'd known for only six weeks. My uncle Harry, who had taken over-protectiveness to an extreme ever since becoming my guardian twenty years ago, would assemble a team of private investigators to turn over every rock they could find in hopes of something filthy crawling out of Jack's background. That would be if he liked Jack.
My friends, on the other hand, would be surprised but supportive. Then they'd start placing bets on how long it would last.
The flight attendant noticed I was awake and sprang into action. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Fairfax." Mrs. Fairfax. After a lifetime of being Charley Van Leeuwen I hadn't actually decided to change my name yet. "Would you care for a drink? Tea? A biscuit?" She was English, and had that desperately concerned way of looking at you with wide eyes until you let her do something for you.
"Tea would be great," I said, trying and failing to return my seat to an upright position. I would miss English tea. San Francisco is a coffee town.
I turned on my side to face Jack. I knew the questions everyone would ask. Why him? Why now? Why so fast? Why marry at all? And I knew the only way I'd be able to answer them would be to point to Exhibit A, the man in question. I considered rehearsing some sort of secretive smile that would keep people guessing.
Jack interrupted my train of thought. "Charley, you know I can't sleep with you gazing at me adoringly." He smiled, his eyes still closed. "Stop it right now or I'll have to do something about it."
"Oh good, you're awake!" I leaned over and wrapped my arm around his.
"Apparently," he said, finally opening his eyes.
"Did you miss me?"
"While I was sleeping?" He cleared his throat. "No, Pumpkin, I've trained myself to dream of you so even when I'm sleeping you're always there." He looked at me in total seriousness.
I grinned. "I do appreciate a good line of bullshit." And I kissed him.
"Why else would you have married me? Where are we?" He glanced at the TV monitor that showed a little cartoon airplane following a dotted line all the way to San Francisco, just like in the Indiana Jones movies. Jack yawned and pulled me closer. "How long until we land?"
"A while yet." I yawned too. "Don't worry, tea's on the way."
But by the time the flight attendant came back we must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew she was shaking me gently and asking us to prepare for landing. We were home.
* * *
I had sold my North Beach flat when I'd moved to London, so Jack and I were planning on staying at a hotel until we found someplace together. I wasn't even sure what hotel. I had left everything up to my friend Eileen. She'd even arranged for the car that picked us up.
"Where are we going?" I asked the driver.
"The Mark Hopkins, ma'am."
Jack looked at me. "Good choice for a honeymoon?"
It hadn't occurred to me that this was our honeymoon. I had just thought of it as going home. "It's great," I said. "Although Eileen wouldn't have known to book the honeymoon suite."
"You really didn't tell her?" Jack asked, pulling me across the seat towards him.
"Not her. Not anyone." I made the universal locking-my-lips-and-throwing-away-the-key gesture.
"Won't your friends be mad?"
"Probably. Probably furious." I thought about it. "Eileen will be upset because of the spontaneity. Here was a fabulous opportunity for her to plan something gigantic and I didn't let her."
Eileen lived to organize things. She was a hugely successful financial manager, and had once confessed—after several tequilas—that her secret hobby was alphabetizing.
"What about your other friends?" Jack hadn't asked much about my San Francisco friends before. He'd been kept pretty busy trying to sort out who was who in the London set.
"Brenda will be ... worried, I think, more than upset. She made me promise once that I'd never get serious about a man until she'd done a Tarot card reading on him." Jack raised his eyebrows. "She's not a flake," I rushed to protest. "She's just ... she went to Berkeley, and then she taught at U.C. Santa Cruz, and ... she's very open to alternative ways of thinking."
"She sounds fascinating," he said dryly.
I punched his arm. "Don't mock her. She's one of my best friends."
Jack held up his hands. "I'm prepared to be nuts about her."
"You'd better be." I stroked his jacket sleeve where I'd punched him. "Did I hurt you?"
He grinned. "I'm tougher than you think."
I resumed counting off my friends. "Then there's the gang from the theater, Simon and Chip and Paris and Martha ... I can't wait for you to meet everyone." I meant it. I wanted to show him off and I wanted him to love all my friends. The gang from the Rep—the repertory theater that I'd established and run before I'd gone to London—could be a little rowdy, and more than a little catty, but I was sure Jack could hold his own.
We turned up Nob Hill toward the hotel. "What about your family?"
He'd asked about my family before, and I'd always successfully dodged the questions. I wasn't about to break that streak now. "Look, there's the hotel!" I pointed. "We're here!" I kissed him quickly to stop him from replying. "God, I can't wait to get into a hot bath!"
* * *
There are newer hotels in San Francisco, and swankier hotels. But the Mark Hopkins has the distinction of being the place where Brenda, Eileen, and I had wound up after ditching our dates during a particularly hideous high school dance. We'd produced fake IDs and gotten first silly and then deadly serious over several bottles of mediocre champagne. Sixteen years had passed since then, but we still had a tradition of returning to the Mark for celebrations.
The suite was reserved in my name. After we registered it took a swarm of bellmen led by an intrepid concierge to escort us to our room.
As soon as we stepped through the door Jack summed up the place. "It looks like a duke's drawing room."
At the far end was an elaborate green marble fireplace with an overstuffed couch and two comfy chairs in front of it. Bookshelves lined either side of the mantle. There was a huge armoire which I assumed would discreetly contain a huge television. A round table big enough to seat six was off to the side, buried under a pile of gift baskets, champagne bottles, and flowers. Apparently word of my return had gotten out.
The most spectacular thing about the room was the view. I pulled Jack over to the window and swept my arm out theatrically. A classic, fog-free, pink and orange evening on the bay. Alcatraz island formed a black silhouette on the purple water. The buildings spilling down the hills to the bay were blushing with embarrassment at being so well-lit. "There it is. Isn't it gorgeous?"
He looked from the window to me and back out the window again. His mouth twitched with a suppressed smile. "I suppose it'll do."
A polite cough interrupted us. We turned to find the bellmen gone and the concierge waiting to give us the grand tour. There were two bedrooms, one on either side of the main room. I'd told Eileen I was bringing a friend from London, and apparently she had assumed it was a separate-bedroom sort of friend, or at least she'd wanted to give me the option.
"Never mind," I told the concierge. "I'm sure we can find everything. Right now all I want is a long hot bath."
Jack tipped the man and closed the door behind him. Then he caught my arm and pulled me towards him. "Are you sure all you want is a bath?"
Tempting. I wrestled with my options as Jack flicked his tongue down my neck. But didn't someone once say marriage was about compromise? "I know," I said, backing away slowly and hooking my finger in his belt. "How about we both take a bath?"
Jack grinned and started unbuttoning. "I knew it wasn't a mistake to marry a smart woman."
I turned and went through the bedroom. It had a massive bed, a walk-in closet, and assorted chaises, benches, and chairs. None of which interested me at the moment.
"How do you feel about bubbles?" I asked, flipping the bathroom switch.
The light was bright on the white tile floor and shining fixtures. At first I blinked, not really understanding what I was looking at.
And then I screamed.
* * *
Jack pulled me away from the door, but I couldn't take my eyes off it. Off her.
She was about my age, with dark curls half-hiding her face. She was in the bathtub, her left arm hanging over the side. She was naked. She wasn't moving.
"Jack, is she—"
"Don't look. And don't go in there." He put his arm around me as I took a step towards her.
"Jack, her eyes are open. She might—" I struggled to break his hold on me. There had to be something I could do.
He pulled back. "Charley—" he spun me around to face him. "She's dead."
I realized I was holding my hands over my mouth. Part of my mind registered this as a hopelessly theatrical gesture, while the other part knew it was necessary to keep from screaming again. Jack moved me away from the door.
"Just breathe," he said, walking me slowly back to the living room.
He called the police and the hotel manager. The manager, a man with the look of a former high-school jock and an attitude that implied we must have been mistaken about a naked dead woman in our room, was there in roughly seventeen seconds. He made I'm-sure-this-is-just-a-misunderstanding noises until he was joined by the head of hotel security. Then he said "In there?" and gestured in the direction of the bathroom. Jack nodded grimly.
When they came back, the manager had lost his reassuring look. The security man was the first to speak. "You've called 911?"
"Yes," Jack said.
The man nodded, then asked the question that would be repeated at least a hundred times in the next several hours. "Who is she?"
* * *
The police came. There seemed to be dozens of them, but only a few actually went into the bathroom. "They must be the crime scene people," I said to Jack, having watched enough television to figure that much out. We'd been waiting and watching and answering the same questions for long enough that the immediate horror of what we'd seen was fading. I was trying to focus on the activities of the police, hoping if I concentrated hard enough I'd stop seeing the image of that pale white skin in clear still water.
The hotel manager was speaking to a policeman. At least I assumed the man was with the police, because he was making the manager nervous. He was Asian and looked about fifteen years old. He wasn't in uniform. In fact, dressed as he was in a stylishly tailored dark gray suit with a narrow cream pinstripe, he looked like he'd been paged from some ultra-hip club. I nudged Jack. "Who do you think he is?"
The two men turned to look at us. "I think we're about to find out."
They approached, the manager speaking first. "Mr. Fairfax, Miss Van Leeuwen, this is Inspector Yahata. He's in charge of the investigation."
So he probably wasn't fifteen. "Hi," I said.
"I understand you've already given statements to the uniformed officer," Yahata said briskly. He gave us each a slight smile. "I hope you don't mind going over it all again for me."
I didn't imagine it would make much difference if we did mind. The detective seemed to be operating on his own electrical current. He buzzed with energy, from the quick movement with which he produced and opened a small sleek notebook to the overtly curious way his quick gaze shifted from Jack's face to mine. He raised his eyebrows expectantly and I wouldn't have been surprised to see a spark fly up from his tousled, spiky hair.
Jack spoke. "We checked in, we told the concierge it wouldn't be necessary for him to give us the tour, we decided to freshen up, and we found her."
The detective blinked. "You didn't enter the bathroom?"
"Not more than a step or two," I said. "Then Jack stopped me. It was obvious ..." I hesitated.
"Quite," the detective said crisply. He was taking notes, writing with a thin silver pen while maintaining eye contact with us. I couldn't help but wonder if that level of multitasking was entirely human. "And you say you don't know the woman?" he asked.
"We don't," Jack said firmly.
"No," I agreed. "Do you know who she is?"
I think the question startled him. "Not yet. And you didn't take anything from the room? From any of the rooms?"
"No," Jack said. "The bellmen took our luggage to another room, but we hadn't opened anything yet."
Excerpted from Speak Now by Margaret Dumas Copyright © 2004 by Margaret Dumas. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. 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
Margaret Dumas is a technical writer and computer software executive. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is at work on her next novel and is still in search of the perfectly balanced life.
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Charley Van Leeuwen surprises everyone by returning from London with a new husband, Jack Fairfax. A mild mannered meteorologist who is tall, dark and handsome. But Charley begins to suspect there is more to Jack than meets the eye, especially after finding a dead body in their bathtub, following him on a ransom drop and being rescued by Jack while bullets are flying. Charley has her hands full dealing with kidnapping, murder, bitter ex-boyfriends, crazy relatives and trying to stage a play for her struggling repertory theater. Margaret Dumas has written a delightfully funny mystery featuring Charley and Jack who are reminiscent of Nick & Nora Charles with a modern twist. Witty banter, humorous characters and a good solid mystery keep you enthralled from beginning to end. An entertaining debut novel that will leave you wanting to hear more about the adventures of these madcap newlyweds.
As she returns from London to San Francisco, Charley Van Leeuwen wonders how her friends will react to the hunk sharing the first class row with her as everyone knows Charley as the ¿most romantically challenged woman in the Western hemisphere¿. Charley is bringing with her a husband Jack Fairfax whom she met six weeks ago, but the hunk¿s eyes hooked the commitment phobic woman.......................... Jack and Charley stay at the Mark Hopkins, but when she goes to turn on the water in the bathtub, she finds a corpse there. SFPD Inspector Yahata leads the investigation, but Charley asks all the questions. The honeymooners go to another room, but Charley¿s ensemble of friends arrives to interrupt....................... Converting from single life to married becomes more chaotic as Charley is in the middle of a tangle involving a ransom and bullets aimed at her and Jack. Realizing her spouse is not just the weatherman, Charley takes charge of insuring he, Uncle Harry, other family members, and her friends are safe from kooks, killers and kidnappers while also trying to keep her not for profit repertory theater from bankruptcy.............................. SPEAK NOW is a fabulous screwball mystery that is reminiscent of the zany 1930s Bob Hope movies. The story line is action-packed but with a tongue in cheek manner as Jack comes across as James Bond but ¿protected¿ by his theatrical spouse. While Jack and Charley adapt to marital bliss, the ensemble (friends and foes) interrupt their romantic moments. Readers will take immense delight with this solid amateur sleuth espionage thriller that never slows down until the final confrontation with the realtor............................ Harriet Klausner