by Noreen Wald


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943390731
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)

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A Ghostwriter to Die For

A Jake O'Hara Mystery

By Noreen Wald

Henery Press

Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-943390-76-2


This morning I said to my mother, "I'd ghostwrite for the devil himself." By this afternoon, I'd signed the contract. As our dear friend, Gypsy Rose Liebowitz, Carnegie Hill's favorite psychic and a recent guest speaker at my Ghostwriters Anonymous meeting, said, "Beware of buyers." She, of course, referred to the "authors" who hire us to write their books — and not to the purchasers of those books. Since we ghostwriters are seldom seen — or credited — our readers don't know we exist.

After I'd finished ghostwriting A Killing in Katmandu, I realized, once again, I was broke. A habitual state of affairs that, despite over two years in a twelve-step program, I still hadn't managed to change. Some fellow members of Ghostwriters Anonymous have suggested that I continue to spend all my advances — and any meager royalties — because I'm still addicted to anonymity. They may be right.

Certainly, being perpetually poor has prevented me from writing and selling a book with my name on its cover. Once an advance hit my checkbook, it mysteriously took on a life of its own and vanished, sometimes evaporating before it even hit the bank. At least I'd used most of the Katmandu money for a down payment on a quaint, charming, and almost affordable cottage on the South Fork of Long Island.

The summer place was an impulse buy — a reward for surviving my last assignment, which had turned out to be murder. Literally. And Mom had needed a change of scenery too. So she'd been easily persuaded.

Towards the end of June, we'd sat with Gypsy Rose, each of us drinking a different designer decaf, in the tearoom/bookstore that occupied her brownstone's entire first floor while we waited for Dr. Brian Weiss to discuss his latest book. The standing-room-only New Age crowd seemed reminiscent of stoned — or maybe only hypnotized — Grateful Dead fans.

I'd plunged right in.

"How about that beach house? I'll finish ghostwriting this bloody manuscript out on Long Island. What do you say, ladies?"

My mother's blue eyes widened. "Wouldn't that be wonderful ... but could we really afford it, Jake?"

"Sure," I lied.

Mom grabbed Gypsy Rose's well-manicured hand and asked, "You'll come with us — even if only for a few weeks?"

"Why not?" Gypsy Rose's quick response surprised and pleased me. "Everyone and his psychiatrist are in the Hamptons in August anyway."

Mom giggled, and sounding like the pain-in-the-butt Maura Foley O'Hara I knew and loved, asked, "Now which Hampton shall it be?"

"Well, certainly not South Hampton," I said. "That's old money and we couldn't afford an outhouse there."

"East Hampton is every bit as expensive, but we wouldn't want to summer there. It's all new money." Gypsy Rose wrinkled her nose. "You know, the town is filled with movie stars, directors and designers."

"Gypsy Rose is right, Jake," my mother said. "And West Hampton has the wrong kind of money, so that's out."

"How do you know that?" I raised my voice, swinging several New Agers' frowning faces in our direction.

"Everyone knows that, Jake," Mom answered.

"Yeah? Well, I'd bet my advance — blow the whole bundle — that you read that in a Cholly Knickerbocker column, circa 1960."

Gypsy Rose laughed, shaking her head up and down so vigorously that her wild red curls tumbled into her eyes. "Jake would win that bet, Maura."

We wound up in Sag Harbor, where, in lieu of old money, new money, or the wrong kind of money, the town was filled with writers. Mom, Gypsy Rose, and I spent a blithe, breezy summer, refreshing our bodies and restoring our souls, while strolling Sag Harbor's sandy shore, riding the ferry to Shelter Island, digging up fresh clams for our dinner, coming back to sip cocktails at the American Hotel, and, at my mother and Gypsy Rose's inconsistent insistence, driving to East Hampton to ogle the summer celebrities.

Shelter Island was a sentimental journey for my mother. Its Victorian-era Chequit Hotel had been the scene of my conception, specifically, in a room equipped with a bidet that William Randolph Hearst had bought Marion Davies. While Mom had been long divorced from my father, Jack O'Hara, when he'd died and unknowingly left behind a self-created, grieving grass widow, she'd then chosen to consider him canonized. So I've listened to the saga of my embryo's placement in my mother's womb for years, while wondering if the occasion might have been another Immaculate Conception.

Gypsy Rose and I ordered gin and tonics, then Mom opted for a rum and Coke and asked the Chequit's bartender to show us the room where I'd gotten started. He replied that it was the oddest request he'd had all summer. Stumped, he called over the owner, a charming Frenchman, who wore — as if he knew his guests would expect him to — a jaunty beret. Jean Pierre regretted that Madame Davies's bidet had been sold to an antique dealer, but calling Mom a true romantic, agreed to take us on a pilgrimage to the room where it had once been the star attraction. My mother wept as she showed the bed to Gypsy Rose and me. "Your history began in that four-poster, Jake."

While I wrote on the front porch, my mother continued her quest to find a husband for me. She'd say, "You're thirty-three. Tick tock. Do you think Ben's ready for marriage? Let's ask him out for a few days." Or, "Dennis is in Quogue for the weekend."

Not only were NYPD Homicide Detective Ben Rubin and his father Aaron, a retired District Attorney for Manhattan County, who had a major crush on my mother, frequent weekend visitors, so were many of my fellow ghostwriters. And to Mom's delight, my own childhood crush, Dennis Kim, who owned a nearby oceanfront villa, would, often uninvited, pop over in his cream-colored Rolls Royce convertible.

However, Mom insisted that she and I spend Labor Day alone with Gypsy Rose, who'd agreed to build a bonfire and hold a séance of sorts on the beach. Ever since our visit to the scene of my conception, Mom had been obsessed with chatting with my father in the world beyond. Or, rather, with his spirit guide. The lines of communication to the world beyond are somewhat garbled at best. I guess there's no direct dialing. My mother's guilt about dating Aaron Rubin initiated this channeling. So Mom would have to ask Gypsy Rose to ask her favorite spirit guide, Zelda Fitzgerald, to ask Dad's guide to ask Dad if he knew Mom was seeing someone else. When last channeled, Dad had reported he was taking dancing lessons from Fred Astaire in that ballroom in the sky. And Gypsy Rose, for no earthly reason, suspected that Dad wouldn't be reincarnated 'til Mom died, so they could come back together. I decided to leave the ladies to their spirits and drove over to Quogue to down a Devil Mountain Ale with Dennis.

Although Gypsy Rose usually has a high show rate at her seances, I found out in the morning that Dad hadn't come through, but Samuel Gompers did make an appearance.

Now, it was October. Taxes and mortgage payments were about to force Mom and me out of the beach house and into the poorhouse, which explains why, when Jennifer Moran called today, acting as Richard Peter's liaison, I'd agreed to see her. Manhattan magazine's acerbic book critic, Mr. Peter had been voted the man-most-Americans-love-to-hate in a recent poll conducted by his own magazine. His cruel reviews had destroyed many authors' careers, and his roving eye had destroyed as many marriages. His readers confessed that they were disgusted by his poison pen, but along with most of the literary world's writers, editors, and publishers, they came back every week for more. However, his enemies were legion and loud. One author had reviled Peter in a full-page ad in the New York Post. Another had purchased an hour on a network and held a mock trial, in which twelve fellow writers, nursing bruised egos, served as Peter's jury. He was burned in effigy, complete with a better rug than usual.

Jennifer Moran, his latest editorial assistant, sat in the sunshine that filtered through the white shutters of our Carnegie Hill apartment, stirring her third teaspoon of sugar into a tiny Wedgwood cup filled with Twinings English Breakfast tea. "Richard Peter's in deep doo-doo, Jake," she said. "He needs you, like last Thursday."

"How so?" I asked, as my mother passed the Social Tea cookies.

"Well, here's the script." Jennifer shifted the weight of her chestnut hair from one shoulder to the other using her right hand, then reached for a cookie with her left. "Richard Peter's accepted a high-six-figure advance from Pax Publishing, a murder mystery, but the book's like way overdue and he's still rewriting the synopsis. Keith Morrison's threatening to kill him."

"Just how do you fit into all this, Jennifer?" my mother asked. "Who's Keith Morrison?"

"Morrison's the president of Pax, Mrs. O'Hara. And for some reason, Dick Peter seems to tolerate me. I've lasted two weeks. Longer than my three immediate predecessors combined. Mr. Peter took me to lunch yesterday, got drunk, then spilled out his tale of woe." Smiling, Jennifer turned back to me. "I told him, 'Not to worry. Have I got a discreet, talented, mystery-writing ghostwriter for you.' That's your cue, Jake. Get ready for your grand entrance, prepare for center stage."

Jennifer Moran and I had attended Manhattanville College together, where we'd both been English majors. After graduation, despite an accent more Staten Island than Sutton Place, she'd been an aspiring ingénue. Two years later, realizing that wide eyes, big hair, a tiny waist, and long legs don't always add up to a Broadway star's run-of-the-play contract and tired of walk-ons, she married her high school sweetheart, a boring, brash biker. Jennifer still loved to throw out theatrical lines; however, she'd been earning a living for years as a freelance editor.

I asked, "Do I really want to work for this snake? Am I that desperate?" One look at my mother's face convinced me I must be. Jennifer pulled a contract out of a red leather briefcase that matched not only her ankle-high boots but her thigh-high skirt. My mother shuddered ever so slightly; Jennifer never noticed that her ensemble evoked Mom's disdain.

"Okay, okay. Let's see what he's paying," I said, knowing that if the stakes were high enough, I would sell my services and — as I did with all my employers — a part of my soul to Richard Peter.

At four forty-five, I exited the office of my attorney, Sam Kelley, the dirty deal signed, sealed, and about to be delivered, via Jennifer, to Richard Peter. As always, Sam had managed to annoy and exhaust me, and I scolded myself for about the hundredth time. Some writers change lawyers with every book. Why, after more than a decade, was I still contractually wed to old Sam? He had to be the dumbest bunny in the entire city, perhaps in all of America. Or maybe I was.

Sam almost swallowed his cigar when he saw the advance, and this contract, unlike my last ghostwriting assignment's tricky testament to confidentiality, paid royalties. Of course, that contract had been crafted by the sharpest and foxiest multimedia attorney in New York City and, possibly, the universe — Dennis Kim.

A quarter of a century ago, I'd been eight years old and the scrawny new kid on 92nd Street in Carnegie Hill. Twelve and full of self-importance, Dennis Kim wouldn't let me play street hockey with the big boys, so my first bite into the Big Apple had been on his hand. Jeez. Could that same fine hand have custom-designed my new contract with the literary world's Antichrist?


Autumn in Carnegie Hill still made me smile. On Tuesday morning, as I walked south on Madison Avenue, the city smelled clean, the wind having whisked away the odor of the garbage du jour from all seven of the block's restaurants, the air felt crisp, and the clear sky crowned the buildings like a sapphire tiara. My mother called these balmy late October days Indian Summer and mentioned that a dark plaid, transitional cotton dress would be perfect for this weather. Since I only have two dresses, both black, but neither plaid nor cotton, and I didn't even want to inquire what exactly she'd meant by transitional, I decided to wear a Gap pocket t-shirt, navy linen blazer, and khaki pants. Mom's shrug spoke fashion volumes, indicating that once again I hadn't gotten it quite right.

Manhattan magazine's high-rent location on Sixty-ninth Street between Park and Madison proved perfect. In my Nikes, I could cover the twenty-five blocks in less than the same number of minutes. My leather loafers were in my briefcase, together with a banana and a bagel. Born lazy, I did like to walk for two reasons: plot-hatching and people-watching. This morning, I was on the lookout for women wearing dark cotton dresses; however, in a little over a mile, I hadn't spotted a single one. Wait 'til Mom heard that transitional clothes, along with her long-lamented white gloves, seemed to have totally vanished from the New York City scene.

I switched shoes in the lobby while the uniformed guard announced me. The elegant building had once been a private home; a small bronze plaque next to the wrought-iron front door indicated its designation as a landmark. A century ago, the owners would have graciously greeted their guests in this fourteen-foot-high marble rotunda, leading them up the red velvet steps of the sweeping staircase to the second floor salon. Today, the guard sniffed at me suspiciously as I passed through the electronic archway after sliding my briefcase through the baggage check. Just like a mini midtown airport.

"Mr. Peter is on the fourth floor. The receptionist there will direct you. Elevator's straight away on your right." The guard had an indefinable foreign accent, bad teeth, and a rotten attitude. But the elevator operator was an old charmer. Small, squat, and looking like a street-corner Santa Claus who'd arrived two months early. He greeted me with a warm smile.

"Welcome aboard. I'm Steve." The sounds of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" filled the elevator. "Anybody ever tell you that you look like Annie Hall? Top floor? You a new critic?"

"Is that where they keep them?"

"Nearer to God," he said.

While assuring Steve I was no critic and, yes, people have mentioned Annie Hall to me, I noticed his uniform matched the guard's, the jacket sporting the magazine's logo, a bright red apple — with Manhattan embroidered underneath in leaf green — on the breast pocket. And, like the lobby guard, Santa Steve wore a holster on his hip. Stepping out on the fourth floor, I wondered if the elevator operator had referred to God — as in how most of us perceive the Almighty, or to God — as in how Dick Peter perceives himself.

The receptionist stood at a small Louis XIV desk — no computer in sight — smiled and placed an antique phone, minus push buttons, back on its cradle. Manhattan's ubiquitous uniform — Jesus, what would the editorial staffs dress code be? — couldn't hide her shapely figure. "I'm Barbara Ferris. Welcome to Manhattan." Barbara's deep voice oozed warmth as we shook hands. "If you'd follow me, please." Her age could have been anywhere from thirty to forty. I admired her lush dark hair, braided into a plait long enough to swing back and forth over her pistol as we walked. Ripe now, I'd bet that in a few years, when the sand shifted in her hourglass figure, Barbara would battle the bulge big time. Her holster rested on a well-rounded love handle, but the Windsor knot in her tie presented a subtle style statement.

The dentil molding, William Morris wallpaper, and Hopper originals continued on with us as Barbara and I walked through French doors and down a small hall, passing two oak doors on the left. She rapped on the third door.

"Enter." Never had a voice left me less inclined to obey an order.

"Well, good luck now," Barbara said, and retreated at a fast pace.


Excerpted from A Ghostwriter to Die For by Noreen Wald. Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald. Excerpted by permission of Henery 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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A Ghostwriter to Die For 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun read.