All That Glitters: A Jake & Laura Mystery

All That Glitters: A Jake & Laura Mystery

by Michael Murphy

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804179324
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/06/2015
Series: Jake & Laura Mystery , #2
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 266
Sales rank: 164,361
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Michael Murphy is the author of The Yankee Club and a part-time urban chicken rancher. He lives in Arizona with his wife of more than forty years and their five newly adopted children. He’s active in several local writers’ groups and conducts novel-writing workshops at bookstores and libraries. His next Jake & Laura mystery, Wings in the Dark, will be published by Alibi in August 2015.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Naughtiest, Bawdiest Year Yet

I struggled to carry three overstuffed suitcases through a crowded Grand Central Station, and keep up with Broadway actress Laura Wilson. I accidently bumped her backside and apologized.

She stopped and glanced at me. “Jake Donovan, did you just pat my bottom?”

I couldn’t help laughing as several passengers gave me a cold stare.

Her playful smile faded. She turned her back and pretended to fluff her black curls with her white-gloved hands. She spoke in a whisper I could barely hear over the din of the travelers. “Don’t look now, but two broad-shouldered lugs in dark suits are following us.”

“Three.” I dropped the bags and flexed my fingers. “The other is pretending to read a LIFE magazine next to the hot-dog vendor. They’re government agents making sure we get on the train.” I couldn’t wait to get out of New York City and leave behind our recent bouts with danger and intrigue.

“You knew and didn’t say anything!” Laura took off in a huff and left me with the luggage.

I grabbed the bags and made my way through the crowd. I caught up to her near a newsstand. “I should’ve said something, but I didn’t want you to think three agents meant we were in—”

“Danger.” She folded her arms. “I don’t need you to take care of me, darling. If that’s why you’re coming to Los Angeles with me, then stay here.”

At least she still considered me her darling. She was right, of course. I’d looked after Laura since high school, but each time I left New York and returned, she’d grown tougher and more independent, a trait that often worked against me.

I wasn’t traveling to California to take care of her. I was here because she asked me to come with her, and we both knew we were meant to be together.

Before I could apologize, a slightly built gent in a tweed suit bumped against her purse. With a clipped British accent, he begged forgiveness, tipped his brown derby, and hurried off.

I dropped the bags and rushed after him. I jostled several travelers, apologizing as I went. I brushed against a rabbi who gave me a Bronx cheer. I apologized and sidestepped a plump lady. I couldn’t avoid her onions-and-salami breath that jolted me like a Jack Dempsey uppercut. I begged forgiveness and received a kick in the shin. I winced and grabbed my leg but spotted the brown derby bobbing toward the exit over the sea of travelers.
As he reached for the door, I snagged the man’s sleeve and spun him around. I rubbed my shin and caught my breath. “Skinny Levinson. What a surprise seeing your mug in Grand Central Station.”

Wide-eyed, he didn’t blink for several seconds. “Jake, I . . . “ His English accent vanished, replaced by the Bronx dialect I’d known since the year I opened my detective agency and pinched him in a bus depot. “Come on. I thought ya moved to Florida.”

“And I heard you quit picking pockets.”

Skinny held up both palms. “Times are tough, you know?”

One of the agents appeared, grabbed Skinny’s arm and yanked it behind the pickpocket’s back. “You all right, Mr. Donovan?”

The crowd parted like we had the plague.

“It’s okay.” I clapped Skinny on the shoulder. “I spotted an old pal I hadn’t seen in ages and didn’t want him to get away.”

The agent let go. “Just doing my job, Mr. Donovan.”

“And I appreciate it.”

The agent backed up, allowing me room to use a trick Dashiell Hammett taught me in our Pinkerton days. Pretending to smooth my old friend’s suit, I stepped between the men, slipped two fingers inside Skinny’s suit coat, and retrieved Laura’s wallet without either of them noticing.

I hid the wallet behind me and shook Skinny’s hand. “Stay out of trouble.”

He bowed slightly, and his English accent returned. “A pleasure to see you again, sir.”

The agent stepped aside. The pickpocket pushed through the door and disappeared into the noise of honking cars, whistles, and shouts of New York streets.

I stuffed the wallet into the back of my trousers and thanked the agent for his careful attention.

Moments later, I found Laura with the other two agents beside her. I handed over her wallet.

She threw her arms around me and kissed me like I’d just returned from the war. She stiffened and let go.

“Chasing after bad guys again? That’s these gentlemen’s job. You promised, Jake, no more gumshoe work until you’re old and sitting with me on a porch somewhere. When strangers stroll by, you can guess their occupations.”

The agents exchanged uncomfortable glances. With a hint of sympathy for me, they tipped their hats and blended into the crowd.

“Old habits are hard to break, but I promise.”

She touched my cheek with her gentle fingertips then slipped her arm in mine. “Let’s go find our compartment.”

A woman called Laura’s name. A dozen well-wishers pushed through the rush of travelers. Seconds later, in the middle of the train station, Laura and I exchanged hugs and kisses with people I hardly recognized—her fellow Broadway actors.

Without being too obvious, I stepped away so Laura could say her final good-byes to friends who had struggled for years to make it on Broadway, like Laura.

A kid about twelve hawked the day’s headlines from the corner newsstand a few feet away. “President Roosevelt declines comment on plot against the government.”

I’d tired of the story, the embellished rumors, and the press’s outright exaggerations. Most of all I’d grown tired of reading my name in the papers.

A Los Angeles Times lay on the counter beside the newsboy. The headline of the week-old paper drew my attention. 1933—Hollywood’s Naughtiest Bawdiest Year Yet.

I picked up the newspaper and scanned the article about a Hays Commission determined to do something about the movie industry’s deteriorating morality.

“Mister.” the irritated newsboy held up both palms. “Ya readin’ or buyin’?”

I flipped the kid a nickel, tore out the article, and stuffed it into my suit coat pocket. Naughty and bawdy? How would the Hays Code affect Laura’s decision to leave Broadway for Hollywood?

First call for the Los Angeles Limited sounded over the speakers, and I rejoined Laura. She hugged and kissed her friends a final time, dabbing her eyes with a balled-up handkerchief.

Laura grabbed one of the bags. We carried our suitcases to a wide platform. The thick air smelled of oil and diesel from the nearby trains. Men in soot-covered work clothes unloaded trunks and other luggage from rusted wooden carts.

Laura found the rest of our bags the hotel had sent ahead. I tipped a porter, who took care of loading everything onto the train.

We located our cramped compartment, which would no doubt grow smaller over the next six days. I tested the sofa, which promised little comfort. “Bunk beds. Normally I’d let you take the lower, but with my leg injury, I won’t be able to climb on top.”

Laura flashed a randy grin. “If that’s your preference, then I guess I’ll have to be on top.”

I planted a kiss on her lips, but she playfully pushed me away. “Not now, darling.”

I let out a sigh and hung my suit coat on a hook beside the door. Out the window stood the three government agents. They apparently intended to watch until the train pulled away from the station.

Laura began unpacking her bags. With her back to me, I slipped the article from my suit coat and sat on the lower bed. Hollywood had adopted the Hays Code in 1930, but the new standards were largely ignored by the studios. The story mentioned that Tarzan movie my Florida poker buddies and I saw a year earlier. To many who enjoyed forcing others to abide by their view of morality, Maureen O’Sullivan’s nude swim with Johnny Weissmuller was the final straw. Steps were about to be taken to enforce the Hays Code. Enforcement would change Hollywood forever.

I stuffed the news article into my pocket. “I’ve been hearing about the Hays Code.”

Laura chuckled. “Darling, the Hays Code was the reason the Carvilles signed me to a contract. They think I have this innocent virgin look that will help them transition to more wholesome pictures.”

Virgin? The train whistle blew a familiar mournful moan. The train shuddered and heaved into motion, belching steam. Laura steadied her hand against the wall. Her hips swayed inches from my face.

The train slowly moved from the station. “You okay?” She hung a tan jacket on a hanger then cocked her head.
“Marvelous.” I tried to pull her onto the sofa as the train picked up speed.

Laughing, Laura pulled a dog-eared screenplay for her movie, Midnight Wedding, from her suitcase. “Want to help me rehearse?”

That wasn’t my first choice.

She flashed a coquettish smile. Her southern belle voice emerged. “I’d be ever so grateful, Mr. Donovan.”

I snatched the screenplay and opened it to the first page. “Fade-in. In a restaurant parking lot’s dim light, a beautiful woman dashes through the rain and collides with a stranger.”

Laura raised both hands. “I’m so sorry, sir. I should be more careful where I’m going.”

Subtle gestures and voice inflections brought her character the emotion and humor she conveyed so well on stage. Her ability to transform from Laura Wilson of Queens to characters of various backgrounds and dialects always amazed me.

By the time the train left the city, I’d read the parts opposite Laura in all her scenes.

I flipped to the front page. Screenplay by Eric Carville. Laura would dazzle audiences, but the writer in me couldn’t help question the screenplay’s quality. “Who’s Eric Carville?”

Laura let out a quick bark of laughter. “Eric’s the son of the studio head, Norman Carville. His brother Todd saw me in a play last year.” She smirked. “That’s right, you’d relocated to Florida, playing poker with your old-folks pals. Anyway, Todd returned a month later and brought along a contract for Carville Studios and, well, you know the rest.”

“Midnight Wedding will be a smash.” I kept my opinion about the screenplay to myself. I earned a living writing novels, not screenplays.

“Oh, darling, do you really think so?” Laura’s excitement about her initial movie reminded me of a kid’s first trip to Coney Island. I tossed the screenplay on the suitcase and pulled her to the sofa.

She feigned resistance. She was an actress after all. She sat on my lap and wrapped both arms around my neck. After a long kiss, I began to unbutton her dress. The touch of her familiar curves, her black hair’s flowery fragrance, her moist red lips, brought back old memories and created exciting new ones. We spent a passionate, though challenging, afternoon making love on the narrow sofa.

Afterward, as the compartment gently swayed, we lay in each other’s arms. I’d loved Laura since we were kids, long before the New York papers called her one of the most beautiful women on Broadway. At times, I took her beauty for granted, but at other times, like this one, she left me breathless.

With the train gently rocking, her glistening body lay snug against me. She ran a glossy red fingernail across the still-angry bullet wound on my thigh from two weeks earlier. “Does it hurt?”

“Only when I laugh.”

Laura kissed me. “I’ve loved you since high school. You were so handsome even then. How’ve we managed to never get married?”

“You turned me down four times, as I recall.” I remembered each occasion, where we were, what she wore, and each searing stab of rejection.

“Four!” She raised her head. “Are you sure?”

“Four.”

Laura’s soft lips nibbled mine. “I was young, impetuous, and focused on my career. I won’t be so silly next time you pop the question.”

Marriage was long overdue for two people who had loved each other as long and as deeply as we did. I’d have asked her right then like she was expecting me to, but a girl like Laura deserved a special moment.

I’d tucked a ring in a pocket in one of my bags. I planned the perfect time to propose, our first night in Hollywood at Manuel’s, my favorite Mexican restaurant. She’d never tasted authentic Mexican cuisine, and I knew she’d love the spicy flavors. Dinner, dancing, and a diamond for her left hand.

Laura kissed me with surprising urgency. She wanted another go-around, and I was more than ready.

A knock at the door ended those plans. “Porter, Mr. Donovan. Telegram.”

I froze. “Just a minute.”

Laura rose and wrapped a sheet around her. She glanced at my condition and snickered, “It might take more than a minute.”

How could I lose a robe in such a tiny compartment? “Can you just leave it by the door?”

“Ah . . . as you wish, sir.”

Mildred, my editor, sent the telegram. She’d be thrilled to know she interrupted our lovemaking. The message encouraged me to work on my next Blackie Doyle novel, as if suggesting I wouldn’t or couldn’t write with Laura around. Mildred made no secret she believed Laura hindered my productivity.

I had to prove her wrong. I set up my Underwood on the sofa and typed away as if Mildred stood beside me watching.

Blackie Doyle was falling in love. He’d tried to deny his feelings to himself and his buddies, but after spending two weeks with the sultry assistant DA, he recognized the symptoms he’d seen in his friends. He rarely finished a meal. He woke up at night for no reason except to think of Tess. He even drank less. Sure. He’d loved plenty of dames but had never fallen so hard before.

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