From the New York Times bestselling author Parnell Hall comes A Puzzle to be Named Later
“If sweet-looking, gray-haired Miss Marple cursed, smoked, and carried a gun in her purse, she’d be a ringer for Cora Felton.”—Booklist
The Puzzle Lady couldn’t be happier. Matt Greystone, the rookie sensation who just signed a huge contract with the Yankees after coming to the team as the player to be named later in a trade with the Diamondbacks, winning seventeen games as a starting pitcher, was coming to town to rehab from an arm injury. A diehard Yankee fan, Cora was delighted when Matt invited her to a weekend pool party.
On the plus side, she got to meet Derek Jeter.
On the minus side, she had to solve a puzzle (that was also named later), and a couple of the guests got killed.
Solving murders is right up the Puzzle Lady’s alley. Unfortunately, someone has broken into the house of a local psychiatrist and rifled her patient files, and Chief Harper wants Cora to solve that, too.
Cora already knows who broke into the house.
INCLUDES CROSSWORDS AND A SUDOKU BY WILL SHORTZ THAT HELP YOU SOLVE THE MYSTERY
About the Author
Parnell Hall is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling Teddy Fay thrillers. He is the author of the Puzzle Lady mysteries, the Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and the Steve Winslow courtroom thrillers. He is a Shamus Award winner, and has been nominated for the Edgar and the Lefty. He lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
A Puzzle to be Named Later
A Puzzle Lady Mystery
By Parnell Hall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Parnell Hall
All rights reserved.
Cora Felton could hardly contain herself. She beamed like the cat who swallowed the cream, batted her cornflower blue eyes. "Matt Greystone," she purred.
Sherry Carter looked up from the stew she was stirring on the stove. "Who?" Cora's mouth fell open. "You don't know who Matt Greystone is? You're lucky I let you use my kitchen."
Sherry smiled. "Oh, now it's your kitchen?"
Cora's kitchen was the one in the old part of the house, the prefab ranch house Cora and Sherry moved into when they first came to Bakerhaven. When Sherry got married, she and her husband added on an addition, a modern two-story affair, which of course had its own kitchen, but Sherry felt more comfortable cooking in Cora's.
"Fine. It's our kitchen, I'm glad you're using it. I'll try to make you feel welcome by eating some of your stew. Don't you know who Matt Greystone is?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me."
"Only the biggest story to come out of Yankee Stadium in the last twenty years."
"Bigger than winning the World Series?"
That caught Cora up short. "What?"
"It seems to me the Yankees won the World Series a few times in the last twenty years. You mean bigger than that?"
Cora shook her head. "You're not a Yankee fan. I can't believe you're not a Yankee fan."
"We're in Connecticut. A lot of people are Red Sox fans."
"I wouldn't say that too loud if I were you."
"I see. And you were going to tell me who that is."
"Come on, Sherry. This wasn't just a sports story. The guy was on every talk show in America. He's the player to be named later."
"I thought you knew his name."
"Don't be a wiseass."
Jennifer, swooping through the living room in pursuit of Buddy, Cora's toy poodle, stopped and pointed. "Auntie Cora said 'ass'!"
"That doesn't mean you get to," Sherry said. "What did I tell you?"
Jennifer made a face, shook her head, rolled her eyes. "Auntie Cora said the Aword."
"That's right. And who's not going to say it in kindergarten?"
"Suzie Bromowitz?" Jennifer said brightly. She giggled, pursued the poodle out the door.
"She's growing up entirely too fast," Sherry said.
"I thought there was a playroom in the basement."
"Doesn't she like it?"
"How come she's never down there?"
"The grown-ups are up here." Sherry turned back to her stew. "You were saying something about Matt Greystone."
"Yes, I was saying something about Matt Greystone. You really don't know who he is? He's the minor league pitcher the Diamondbacks threw in to complete a trade. Surprised everyone by going seventeen and seven with a three-point-two-one ERA. Yankees signed him to a seventy-five-million-dollar extension, and every sportswriter in the world said it was a steal."
"I gather it wasn't?"
"Good guess. Kid celebrated by driving his car into a large tree. Broke his arm in five places. Hasn't thrown a ball all year and probably never will."
"And he's here?"
"What makes you think so?"
"I don't think. I know."
"How do you know?"
"I have it on good authority."
"What good authority?"
"Judy Douglas Knauer. She's been showing him houses."
"Then why doesn't everybody know?"
"She's not supposed to talk about it. It's very hush-hush."
"Then how do you know?"
"She told me!" Cora shrugged. "Hey, it's not like I'm going to tell anyone."
"You told me."
"You're family." Cora shook her head. "I can't believe my niece doesn't know anything about baseball."
"I know who led the National League in home runs in nineteen thirty-two."
"How the hell do you know that?"
"Ott is a very useful crossword puzzle word. That's just one of many ways to clue it. As the Puzzle Lady, you should know that."
Cora Felton was the Puzzle Lady in name only. Her face graced a nationally syndicated crossword puzzle column, and she appeared regularly on network TV hawking breakfast cereal to schoolchildren, but if the truth be told, Cora couldn't do a crossword puzzle if her life depended on it. The truth wasn't told, of course, because it would have meant the end of her career. Sherry Carter was the true Puzzle Lady, and constructed all the crosswords for the column. They put Cora's name on it because Sherry was hiding from an abusive ex-husband. The husband was long gone, he and Sherry were both remarried. The pretense remained because the TV ads were lucrative and the public wouldn't like to find out they'd been duped.
"How can you know that and not know who Matt Greystone is?"
"I know who Matt Greystone is."
"What!" Cora cried indignantly.
Jennifer, swooping through in pursuit of Buddy, stopped to watch.
Sherry smiled. "Cora, I'm married to a newsman. You think I don't know who Matt Greystone is? Besides, I have to keep track of all celebrities in case I want to clue a name that way. His ERA was three-point-two-seven, by the way."
Cora let out an exasperated exclamation.
Jennifer pointed. "Auntie Cora said the S-word!"CHAPTER 2
Chief Harper was nervous as a schoolboy. He was all decked out in his dress uniform, which was getting a little tight. The Bakerhaven chief of police had put on weight over the years, and never felt the few ceremonial functions that required a uniform warranted a new one. "Do I look all right?"
"Chief. Relax," Cora said. "It's just a picnic."
"It's not just a picnic. I have to make remarks."
"Isn't that the first selectman's job?"
"Yes, Iris Cooper will speak. She wants me to say something, too."
"Why?" Cora said.
Harper gave her a look.
"Not that you're not an excellent choice," Cora said. "I mean, isn't Iris enough?"
"Apparently not. They're pulling out all the stops for this one. I have to get up and make a fool of myself."
"You talk on TV all the time."
"Yeah. We arrested so-and-so. We are pursuing leads in the case of such-and-which. That's totally different than spouting ceremonial crap and fawning over a ballplayer."
Cora's eyes widened. "Why, Chief Harper. You're starstruck. Totally understandable. After all, it's Matt Greystone."
"I'm surprised they didn't ask you to speak."
"I don't think Matt Greystone does crossword puzzles."
"Yeah, but you're a celebrity. You've been on TV, he's been on TV. It's a natural."
"Iris didn't ask me, she asked you."
"I was talking to Iris. She doesn't want you to feel slighted."
"I don't feel slighted."
"You're a sports fan. Wouldn't you love to meet Matt Greystone?"
"I'd love to talk baseball with him. I'm not so keen on gushing about how flattered our town is he's graced us with his presence."
"That's what it's going to sound like, isn't it?"
"Relax, Chief. You'll be great."
Officer Dan Finley stuck his head in the door. "Got your speech ready, Chief?"
"No, I don't have my speech ready," Harper said irritably. "I'm not making a speech. Just a few remarks."
"Oh, right," Dan said. "Got your remarks ready?"
"He's rehearsing them now," Cora said.
"Good idea, Chief. Wanna try 'em on me?"
Harper looked from one to the other. "I am not rehearsing them now. I do not want to try them on you. This is not a big deal."
"Good for you, Chief," Dan said. "I'm amazed you can be so cool. If I had to introduce Matt Greystone on national television, I'd be scared to death."
"It's not national television, it's Channel 8 News."
"Yeah, but it will get picked up by network TV. They'll probably play the clip on the evening news."
The phone on Chief Harper's desk rang.
Dan scooped it up. "Bakerhaven Police Department, Dan Finley speaking ... Oh, hi, Amanda ... Really? Well, we'll check it out. Not right away, of course, because we have this picnic, and —"
Harper ripped the phone out of Dan's hand.CHAPTER 3
The Bakerhaven fairgrounds was all decked out with red, white, and blue bunting and banners and streamers and the like, and while it was decked out every Fourth of July, this Fourth of July was something special. Cora noted a hint of pinstripes in the decorations, the number seventeen woven into the motif. She would not have been surprised if the high school marching band, a Fourth of July staple, had expanded its repertoire to include "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
The fairgrounds, an idyllic, grassy meadow sloping down toward the river, had never, at least in Cora Felton's memory, had a fair. Bakerhaven had no livestock, traveling carnivals were prohibited, even the crafts fair was held outside the church. In fact, half the town referred to it as the parade grounds, another misnomer. What few parades the town had started at the high school where the marching band assembled. The parade grounds did boast a bandstand, where presidential candidates were rumored to have once spoken, the most recent of which, depending on who you talked to, was JFK, LBJ, or Richard Nixon, though there was no photographic evidence to support such claims.
The fairgrounds, parade grounds, or what-have-you boasted one annual function, hosting the Fourth of July picnic. Which was actually a pretty tough schedule for the meadow. If it rained on the Fourth of July, it washed out the whole year.
Not this year. The sky was cloudless, the day was sunny and bright, the temperature was in the mid-eighties. The turnout was tremendous. Aside from Chief Harper, everyone was there.
Cora could hardly get a parking place. The lot was full, and cars lined the service road. She finally wound up parking in front of the library and walking. As she trudged the half mile to the fairgrounds, it occurred to her she should have let Dan Finley drive her in.
It was a mob scene. Almost every inch of the meadow was taken up with people picnicking. Cora spotted Sherry and Jennifer on a blanket. Or at least Sherry on a blanket. Jennifer was running around and leaping over people. Such behavior might have seemed outrageous had not all the kids been doing it. Some were tossing Frisbees in the crowd. A few were actually playing football.
The high school marching band was assembled by the bandstand. It was, as far as Cora could remember, the closest the parade grounds had ever come to having a parade. Not that it was about to. Had the marching band actually marched, it would have trampled half the town.
Aaron Grant pushed his way through the crowd. "Hi, Cora. Thought you weren't going to make it."
"I was at the police station, bucking up the chief. He was freaking out about having to introduce Matt Greystone."
"You reassure him?"
"Not entirely. He bailed on the event to check out a robbery."
"Are you kidding me?"
"I think he was all right until Dan asked him if he'd rehearsed his remarks. I could see the panic setting in." Cora jerked her thumb in the direction of the Channel 8 van. "I see Rick Reed's all set to go. You get to park on your press pass?"
"The print media? We're lucky they let us in. I dropped off Sherry and Jennifer and parked in town."
Iris Cooper descended on them from the direction of the grandstand. The first selectman not only wore her Sunday best, but appeared to have applied an extra touch of makeup.
"Hi, Iris," Cora said. "Where's our golden boy?"
"Making a star's entrance, of course. He'll come driving up at one o'clock with the band playing and the cameras rolling. I'm supposed to meet the limo and give him the key to the city."
"We're hardly a city," Cora said.
"We don't have a key, either. It was just a figure of speech. Surely a puzzle constructor can get behind that."
Cora was sure a puzzle constructor could, she just didn't happen to be one.
"What's this I hear about Chief Harper?" Iris said.
"The chief is dealing with a police emergency."
"So I understand. I'd have told him how I felt about that except he didn't dare call me. He had Dan Finley do it. Anyway, Dan said you'd pinch-hit."
"You planning on peppering your welcome with baseball terms?"
Iris laughed. "I didn't even notice. Which shows you how nervous I am. But you'll do it?"
"Do I get a signed baseball?"
A sudden excited buzz from the crowd attracted their attention.
Iris turned to look.
A black limousine was making its way through the crowd that had spilled out onto the road.
Iris sprang into action. "Clear the way! Cue the band! Volunteers, ready to direct the limo to the bandstand."
The limo rolled to a stop. The back door opened and a little man with a pencil-thin mustache and his hair slicked back stepped out. He wore a light-gray summer suit and a red tie knotted in a Windsor knot. He identified Iris Cooper's reception committee, walked over, and shook her hand.
Iris Cooper knew nothing about baseball, still she realized this was not the young pitcher she'd been waiting to welcome. "How do you do?" she said. "I'm Iris Cooper, first selectman."
Rick Reed, Channel 8's clueless on-camera reporter, was also aware this wasn't his quarry, but he wasn't about to miss the sound bite. He moved in behind Iris, thrust out the microphone to pick up the exchange.
"Pleased to meet you," the man said. "Lenny Schick, Matt's agent. You might want to knock off the music. Matt's not here."
"He's not coming?" Iris cried in dismay.
"Oh, he's coming. He wouldn't ride in the limo. That's Matt for you. He's walking from town, just like everybody else."
Per arrangement, Rick Reed's microphone was tied into the speakers on the bandstand, so the last exchange went out to the crowd. The surge of excited fans mobbed the road. Some even started down it back toward town.
"Oh, for goodness sakes," Iris said. She darted off to get her volunteers to control the crowd.
Rick Reed hesitated a moment, and followed.
"Looks like we're left in the lurch," Cora said. "Aren't you going to join the herd?"
"There are limits to how far I want to go for a puff piece," Aaron said. "Even one destined for the front page. You notice my wife and child resisted."
Over half the picnic blankets in the meadow were still occupied. Sherry was on hers. Jennifer, given more space, was racing in ever widening circles.
Watching the little girl, Cora's eye was caught by a young couple at the far end of the meadow strolling hand in hand along the river.
Cora grinned. "Yeah, hang in here, Aaron."
Aaron looked. The couple had left the river and were weaving their way through the maze of picnic blankets.
The agent rushed to meet them. "There you are. It's about time. How am I supposed to run a campaign if you keep sabotaging it?"
The young man smiled good-naturedly, patted the little agent on the cheek. He was tall, clean-cut, with sandy hair and an engaging grin.
The woman on his arm was everything you'd expect a superstar's wife to be. Glossy auburn hair, girlish face, slim yet voluptuous body discreetly encased in loose-fitting cotton summer attire.
Matt Greystone had none of the steroidal bulk of the power pitcher who threw in the upper nineties. He was thin and wiry, a finesse pitcher, who mixed a fastball that was nothing to write home about with a slow curve and a slower changeup. Hitters waved at his pitches in frustration, wondering why they couldn't hit them.
Matt turned to Cora and Aaron. Before he could introduce himself, his wife stepped in front of him. "Ditch the limo, Lenny."
"Jackie. How are you?"
"Fine. Ditch the limo."
"We walked here, Lenny. Let's not stage a photo op that makes it look like he came in a limo."
The agent gave in with poor grace, signaled to the limo driver to drive off.
Iris Cooper came surging back, with Rick Reed and his microphone in tow. "Matt Greystone. Iris Cooper. I'm the first selectman. It is an honor to welcome you to our town."
"Well, thank you, but that's not necessary. This is the Fourth of July. That's what the day is about. That's why all you people are here. I wouldn't want to do anything to take away from that."
"Well, that's a fine spirit, I'm sure," Iris Cooper said.
Perfectly handled, Cora thought. Now if only Iris is quick enough to forestall Rick Reed, who seemed poised with a question. In light of the young man's tasteful statement, it would be the worst of all possible worlds.
Iris Cooper said, "There's just one person I'd like you to meet. Allow me to introduce the Puzzle Lady, Cora Felton."
The young man looked pained as he turned to her. Cora felt for him. He couldn't rudely ignore her, but prolonging his time in the spotlight was the last thing in the world he wanted.
Excerpted from A Puzzle to be Named Later by Parnell Hall. Copyright © 2016 Parnell Hall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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