- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Marvin Kaye (b. 1938) is the author of more than forty books. Born in Philadelphia, he attended college at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with advanced degrees in theater and English literature. After reporting for the national newspaper Grit for several years, he moved to New York City and found work in publishing. He published his first nonfiction book, The Histrionic Holmes, in 1971, and followed it with the mystery novel A Lively Game of Death (1972), which introduced sleuthing public relations agent Hilary Quayle, Kaye’s most famous character. In addition to five Quayle novels, Kaye has written and edited dozens of works of fiction and nonfiction. He is also one of the founders of the Open Book, New York City’s oldest continuously operating reading theater. In 2010, the theater produced Kaye’s Mister Jack, a comedy about Don Juan. Before his retirement, Kaye taught creative writing at New York University, and regularly performed improvised comedy at the Jekyll & Hyde Club.
She was rehearsing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when she swallowed the poison. I was there. It was the third time I had heard her sing.
The first occasion was in Hilary Quayle's office, and I didn't want to listen in the worst way. "Look," I told my employer, "I don't like one-night stands, I'm not crazy about traveling through the South, and country-western music makes me sick! The most recent popular songwriter I can stomach is John Dowland, and he's been dead a couple of hundred years."
She pretended to ignore me. But it didn't take, mostly because I could see a little humorous uptilt creasing the corner of her mouth, Hilary's version of a chuckle. "This," she explained while positioning the tonearm on the edge of the demo disc, "is Amanda's latest hit."
"All right," I objected, swiveling in my chair so I could prop an elbow on the desktop, "if I have to listen, I will, but you're not going to make me change my mind."
The music began. It was a clean sound without any strings or electronic showiness, "basic Nashville," as I've since heard it called.
Hilary sat down next to the phonograph in a spot where she could study my reaction without having to stare straight into my eyes. I swore to myself that, no matter what I thought, I would display no trace of enthusiasm ...
But then I heard Amanda Boulder sing. Though her voice was basically untrained, lacking professional technique in its placement, the phrasing was impeccable and the timbre so warm and eloquent that I almost considered writing her a love letter, sight unseen. It was a sorrowful lyric, and the vocalist made the most of it, every now and then letting a poignant catch in her voice add to the keening effect.
I have seen your eyes and know that they are yearning,
I have fled them down the years, but all in vain,
And the sorrow in my heart is always burning
For I'll never call you sweetheart again.
[Chorus] No, I'll never call you sweetheart again.
Oh, I'll never call you sweetheart again.
You're my dearest love, my angel, you're my darling,
But I'll never call you sweetheart again.
I have friends who talk of luxury and money
And a fame that I am told will never pall
But I'll never reach that land of milk and honey
And instead I shed these bitter tears of gall.
Oh, I'll never call you sweetheart again ...
Well, I cry each time I dream I hear you singing,
Though the pain I feel is nothing like your pain.
Yet no other love will come to ease the stinging
And I'll never call you sweetheart again.
No, I'll never call you sweetheart again ...
When it was over, we sat for a moment listening to the needle scratch against the inner groove. Then Hilary got up and shut off the machine. She turned to me and raised an eyebrow, inviting comment.
I shrugged. "How does a person go about shedding gall? Must be kind of messy, bile leaking all over the ...
"Don't waste your wit," Hilary snapped. "You can't spare any." She gestured impatiently. "Well? Do you like her?"
I turned my chair so I could face her. "What the hell do you expect me to say? I don't have to tell you what you can hear for yourself. She's great—but she's not a country-western singer."
"And why not?"
"Because she's too good."
"Oh, my God!" she murmured, closing her eyes in exasperation. I could practically hear the sarcastic subtext, but she stifled it. Returning to her desk, Hilary rooted through some papers, extracted a stapled cluster of mimeographed sheets and shoved it in my direction. I glanced at it and saw it was a press release, "It Hain't Called Hillbilly No Mo'," issued by the Associated Fan Society of Country Music.
Nashville stands at the crossroads of the Old South and the American West and the musical heritages of many peoples converged to make it truly Music City, U.S.A. The lonely nights of a cowboy crooning on the trail, the country fiddlin' at a Saturday Night Hoedown, the rich humming of the plantation darky, and the birth of the blues in New Orleans all had their parts in the musical melting pot that is Nashville, that has made country music climb to the very nadir of American popular music charts ...
I slammed it down on my desk. "Goddamnit, Hilary, you can fire me if you want to, but I'm not going to read this garbage! Look at this, for Chrissake—'nadir!' You'd think they'd never heard of a dic—"
I stopped, suddenly feeling ridiculous. Hilary knows lousy PR writing always makes me mouth off; I looked at her and saw she had a hand over part of her face, but I could tell she was laughing, though the sound was practically inaudible. It was a rare mood for Hilary. In other circumstances, I might have enjoyed it, but now I could see her eyes, sky blue, crinkling merrily at the corners, and I wondered what they might look like with black circles around them.
"I'm sorry, Gene," she said at last, still smiling, "I didn't mean to make fun, but you are so predictable."
"And I suppose you're not?" I asked. "If you ever run out of men to take apart, you could always change hobbies and geld stallions."
Once, she slapped me for something like that, and I thought she might repeat the performance, but all she did was stare at me coldly. I wondered for the fiftieth time since Hilary hired me as her secretary months ago why the two of us could never make human contact without squaring off like boxers.
After a moment, she spoke. "Harriet Marker over at the Thomas agency gave my name to the Boulder Clan. Their manager just fired their PR agent and they're interested in giving us the account. You're going to go check them out. Period."
"Now you listen to me," I replied, walking over to her desk and glowering down at her. "I don't know enough about country music to talk meaningfully to the prospective client. That's the first point. Second: I hate 'the road'; it's a lousy way of life and a rotten institution. The food is greasy down there, the constant driving jangles my nerves, and the water in some of those states turns my stomach and gives me dizzy spells. I don't want to go, you can't make me go, and I won't go! What do you say to that?!"
"Here's your airplane ticket," said Hilary Quayle.CHAPTER 2
I knew damn well I'd end up flying to Atlanta on Saturday, but I had to lodge a protest just to keep up my end of the tug-of-war. Before I took the job, Hilary used to run through male secretaries (the only kind she would hire) like a termite in a toothpick factory. The personnel turnover came to a halt once I joined the firm.
The firm, by the way, is Hilary Ultd., Ms. Quayle's own public relations agency. Initially, she did most of the work herself and my duties consisted chiefly of running errands, answering the phone, opening the mail, and pounding out routine releases, but lately she's been giving me more responsibilities. The boss lady is a frustrated detective. In New York, though, there is an apprenticeship period that has to be worked through in order to be eligible for an investigator's license. Hilary could not fulfill the stipulation, mainly because she's so arrogant she could never get a job procuring raunchy snapshots for divorce lawyers. But she discovered that I once used to work for just that kind of sleazy operation, and the upshot was I reactivated my file and got accreditation as a private snoop. So now Hilary uses me as her eyes and ears. Because of this, she suffers me to mouth off the way I did about the trip to meet the Boulder Clan. Of course, I don't get away with much—she still pays my salary—but at least I can bitch a little without getting sacked.
Two days after she played the record for me, I parked myself in a window seat of the no-smoking section of a United jet and unfolded the itinerary Hilary had worked out after talking to Charlie Lisle, the Boulders' manager. The group was performing a series of one-nighters for a number of weeks in a six-state area throughout the South and Midwest, ending up in Nashville in time for the Country Music Awards ceremony to be telecast live from the Grand Ole Opry. I was supposed to join the tail end of the tour and stay with them until they got to Nashville, where Hilary would fly down and meet us in time for the awards broadcast. (She was too busy to come for the whole ride, and anyway, it gave her a reason to make my life gratuitously miserable.)
The Boulders, all six of them, were the latest incarnation of one of America's oldest bluegrass-singing families. Around the time that Tom Edison was pestering anyone even remotely noteworthy to preserve their voices and talents for posterity, Pappy Boulder was learning how to scratch out a tune on a homemade fiddle. A railroad engineer, he used to relax between runs by playing at hoedowns and county fairs. Eventually, he married June Starrett, eldest daughter of a country music dynasty, and the two set about raising an army of children. By the time they stopped, the couple had a roll call of twenty-eight kids, and were so poor from providing food and clothing for a score or more Boulders, that music was the only form of entertainment they could afford to while away the evening hours. The youngsters didn't mind: They learned to pick dobros, slap bass, blast mouth organs, strum jaws-harps, drum on washtubs, or invent whatever other form of rustic orchestration they could master.
Though he never attracted Edison's attention, Pappy Boulder eventually began to believe his neighbors' assurances that his family could put some of the early discoveries of the recording industry to shame. So he picked out a few of the most dedicated children, trundled them off to a round of fairs and barn dances, and ended up by turning the clan's pastime into a paying business.
As the years passed, various Boulders joined and quit the family enterprise, some of them to follow their own singing careers, some to get married. The most recent information I could garner about the Clan was a capsule biography in a magazine which listed its performing members as Pappy; a son, Samson; a nephew, Brian Lucas; two daughters, Amanda and Dolly, and their respective husbands, Merrill Gannett and Josh Mackenzie. But in the time since the article had been published, I'd heard that Merrill passed away, Pappy died at the age of 90, and Amanda left the act, being replaced by one of the younger daughters, Pearl. Out of public sight for nearly two years, Amanda had recently returned as the featured singer with the family group.
I smoothed out my itinerary and studied it once more. It spanned an eight-day period and stopped in four more towns before we hit Nashville on Thursday. After that, the Clan was booked solid for the next few days with a governor's reception, dress rehearsals for the telecast, a Saturday morning press conference, and the awards ceremony itself at 9:00 P.M. that night. Hilary planned to fly in late Friday afternoon and expected me to pick her up promptly upon arrival.
Stapled to the edge of the page was a small color photo of Dolly Boulder, who was to meet me at the Atlanta airport. She was a pretty woman who looked about twenty-five years old trying to pass for eighteen. But when I read the capsule bio of the group, I was startled to learn that she was fifth down from the top of the Clan and was therefore in her early forties. Maybe the picture was an old one. Dolly had long auburn hair framing a heart-shaped face; her complexion, though delicately hued, looked healthy and her high cheekbones reflected the light. There was no trace of eyeshadow, rouge, or lipstick upon her light skin, and Dolly's thin lips curved almost imperceptibly in a ghost of a smile, which suggested that she might have a subtle, well-controlled sense of humor. Yet, there was also a vague faraway quality in the stare, which I couldn't quite define. It was somewhat touching and, during the long plane ride, I looked at the photo again and again.
I arrived late in the afternoon and immediately made my way to the semicircular curb in front of the airport, but Dolly wasn't there. The flight had been delayed, and I was afraid she might be driving around trying to find a place to park, but I needn't have worried. I returned to the terminal to retrieve my bags, and then waited nearly an hour before a spangled VW bus pulled up next to me. Large banners proclaimed that it was property of the Boulder Clan. The driver's door opened and Dolly hopped out.
The picture I had studied was not an old one, but it didn't do her justice; she was prettier and younger looking in person. Except for a few lines of tension around the eyes, I saw no hint of that ambivalent smile. Instead, I was greeted heartily with a broad grin and a mischievous display of dimples. Brushing a strand of hair from her eyes, Dolly looked me up and down, stuck out a hand and, introducing herself, pumped my own in a firm and friendly grip. Then she reached down to pick up my luggage. I tried to stop her, but she good-naturedly brushed me away, hefting and stowing the suitcases into the back seat. I rounded the front of the bus, held the door open for her, then retraced my steps and got in on the opposite side. She put the gear in drive and pulled smoothly into the traffic lane leading to the downtown highway.
It was a warm afternoon and the sky was a pallid white. Sunlight picked out a stark array of architectural oddities dotting the Atlanta skyline: the sports arena, the Merchandise Mart, the futuristic contours of the Regency-Hyatt House. Dolly drove carefully, eyes riveted on the road. She was barely five feet tall and sat on a cushion so she could see comfortably over the top of the dashboard.
I stared at her, mentally contrasting her with the photo. She wore a white leatherette miniskirt and boots of the same material; the latter were ornamented with gold filigree that echoed the color of her short-sleeved silk blouse. Dolly was well-developed, and as she stepped on the gas, I became keenly aware of the briefness of her skirt. The figure she boasted was worth boasting about.
"Well, what do you say?" she asked, the faintest trace of a drawl in her voice and a wry smile on her lips. "Am I as cute as I think?"
Laughing, I assured her she was everything I'd hoped for. She wrinkled up her nose, pleased, but did not turn her head away from the road.
"Have you ever heard me sing?"
"Not solo. I've heard some of the Clan's recordings, but I don't know which was your voice."
"That's not surprising. I never get a chance to sing by myself. I'm the best damn mandolin picker east of Bakersfield, and I do some pretty cute prancing, but I never get a solo spot." We stopped for a traffic light and she turned to me. "Would you like to hear me sing? I'll do a concert just for you ...
I told her it was a date, and she was pleased. But then she asked me who my favorite female country singers were, and I had to admit I wouldn't know Loretta Lynn from Lynn Anderson if I was standing next to them.
Dolly made a little moue of good-natured displeasure. "Well," she remarked, "you'll probably get a chance to do just that Thursday night at the governor's party. They'll all be there: Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins—you name 'em, and you'll find 'em."
"You'll have to tell me which is which, because I won't know one from the other. The only country music I ever listened to was on WWVA."
Dolly laughed, "Wheeling, West Virginia! That's my hometown! When I wasn't traveling with the act, I had my ear glued to the radio listening to WWVA."
I stuck the tip of my tongue firmly between my teeth and applied pressure. I'd almost made a crack about her pet station. I realized it was going to be a hell of a week: I'd have to keep reminding myself that I was smack in the middle of aficionados who loved whatever I couldn't stand. I was there to do a job for Hilary, not to vent my personal opinions.
"Tell me something about yourself," I suggested. "How long have you been with the Clan?"
She didn't answer at first, and I wondered if she'd heard me. But just when I was going to ask her again, Dolly spoke, a faraway look in her eyes.
"My pappy," she said, "handed me my first mandolin when I was a little under five years old. He told me, 'Dolly, baby, you gonna learn to play this better'n anybody else in the whole country, y'understand?' And he kept at me until I did. I guess I was maybe ten or eleven when he put me in the act." She laughed briefly, stopped. "Kept a couple of miles ahead of the truant officers. Pappy taught us our lessons while we were driving to the next gig."
Excerpted from The Grand Ole Opry Murders by Marvin Kaye. Copyright © 1974 Marvin Kaye. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/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.