The Apostrophe Thief

The Apostrophe Thief

by Barbara Paul

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In her last week on the force, a strange robbery draws Marian Larch into a backstage murder case

A madman points a gun at the NYPD’s Marian Larch, and prepares to pull the trigger. She charges, disarming him before he can fire the shot. The gun skids to the feet of Agent Curt Holland, who presses it against the madman’s head and blows him away. It was the right move, but that doesn’t make it legal. To save Holland’s career, Larch testifies that she was the one who fired the final shot. She doesn’t care what happens; she doesn’t want to be a cop anymore.

Even when Internal Affairs rules the shooting a righteous kill, Larch plans to quit at the end of the week. But a lot can happen in seven days. When an actress friend asks Larch for help after her Broadway theater is robbed, NYPD’s toughest female detective stakes out the Great White Way—and discovers a highly theatrical murder.

The Apostrophe Thief is the 5th book in the Marian Larch Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504032513
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 03/15/2016
Series: The Marian Larch Mysteries , #5
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,188,898
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Barbara Paul is the author of numerous short stories and novels in both the detective and science fiction genres. Born in Maysville, Kentucky, she went on to attend Bowling Green State University and the University of Pittsburgh, earning a PhD in theater history and criticism. She has been nominated for the Shamus Award for Best PI Short Story, and two of her novels, In-Laws and Outlaws and Kill Fee, have been adapted into television movies. After teaching at the University of Pittsburgh for a number of years, she retired to write full-time. Paul currently resides in Sacramento.

Read an Excerpt

The Apostrophe Thief

A Marian Larch Mystery

By Barbara Paul Road Integrated Media

Copyright © 1993 Barbara Paul
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3251-3


When she woke up the next morning, Holland was gone. Breathing a sigh of relief, she padded barefoot through her apartment, praying he hadn't left her a little note somewhere.

He hadn't.

The shower head was turned to its strongest massage setting and the hot water pounded at her. She stood motionless under the barrage, wondering at the sheer animal need that had overtaken the two of them last night. He might as well have been a stranger; she'd never gotten inside his head, didn't truly know him. She didn't always like him, even. Holland was a curious man, very private, thought highly of himself, downright condescending at times. A cutting, sarcastic sense of humor, if humor was what it was.

The two of them had been thrown together almost against their wills — working allies, the FBI and the NYPD, joined by necessity, until last night when it had all come to a head. They'd turned to each other for ... reassurance? Validation? For confirmation of some treasured cliché such as Life goes on? They'd needed something, and they'd needed it desperately.

Because he had killed a man, and she'd helped him do it.

A quick shampoo and she stepped out of the shower. The ventilator wasn't working properly and steam had fogged up the mirror; she rubbed a clear place with her fist and stared at her reflection. By no stretch of the imagination could she be called pretty; "plain" was the kindest adjective that came to mind. Always that same undistinguished face staring back at her. Plain yesterday, plain today, plain tomorrow. "But so was Jane Eyre," she said aloud. And she had ended up with Mr. Rochester.

Yes, Jane and her Mr. Rochester had lived happily ever after. But only after he had been symbolically castrated. Not your standard romantic ending.

The man she'd spent the night with had his own kind of trouble. The killing had been self-defense ... but no one would ever believe that, not in a million years. He and the man he'd killed openly hated each other, had done so for years. No one who knew the two of them would ever think that the shooting had been in the line of duty — which it was. She'd been there, she'd seen. She'd helped Holland get hold of the gun that got them both out of there alive. But even with her testimony to back him up, he had too long a history of doing things outside the limits of the strictly legal to escape arrest and trial. And because of that, she was going to live with a lie for the rest of her life.

So, live with it, she told herself as she toweled her hair. When the time for accounting came, she had taken the credit/blame for shooting the criminal they'd tracked down together; no one would suspect her of eliminating a personal enemy. It all boiled down to one thing: she could take the heat, he couldn't. And take it she would; he'd saved her life last night.

She dressed hastily and strapped on her service revolver, completing the picture of who she was: Sergeant Marian Larch, NYPD detective. For a little while longer, at any rate.

It was nine o'clock and she was already an hour late. No sweat; no one was going to be yelling at her today. For a while, at least, she'd be the fair-haired girl of the Ninth Precinct. Marian figured she had about a week before the memory of last night's spectacular shoot-out began to fade, and by then she'd be gone. This was her last week as a cop. She had had it, she was fed up, she was through.

She was through working with a partner whose incompetence had endangered her more than once. No more spending the productive part of her life in a profession that had turned so sour that even its ablest practitioners no longer felt they could make a difference — a practical difference, not the idealistic, save-the-world, rookie-cop kind of difference. And no more putting her ass on the line to make some double-dealing bureaucrat of a precinct captain look good to his superiors.


Marian wanted to walk in that very morning and announce her resignation, but too many loose ends were trailing about. Her hair still damp, she pulled on a raincoat and ran to her car; a gray, icy drizzle more suited to November than September was coming down. And it was Monday; oh yes, it was very Monday. On the drive to East Fifth Street she rehearsed her story. Tell the truth about everything that happened except who actually pulled the trigger. Lie about that. Lie like crazy.

She'd have to face down Internal Affairs. And the FBI would want a debriefing, since it had been a joint Bureau–Ninth Precinct investigation. She could handle that, presumably; but facing the precinct captain was another story. Somehow she'd have to find a way to keep herself from tearing his eyes out. How could he face her? He would, though; the man had no shame. Ambition, and industrial-strength self-interest, and a cunning ability to turn every situation to his personal advantage. But no shame.

The icy drizzle hadn't stopped when she pulled into the parking lot across the street from the Ninth Precinct stationhouse. It was the same lot where only a short time ago Marian and Captain DiFalco had gotten into a shouting match, where he'd threatened her with career death if she didn't fall into line. If Marian hadn't already made up her mind she was finished being a cop, that little scene would have convinced her.

Inside, a solicitous greeting from the desk sergeant, sympathetic murmurs or overhearty hellos from a few uniformed officers. Up the stairs to the Police Detective Unit room, queries of Are you all right? and a friendly hand or two on her shoulder. They all knew she had killed a man the night before, or thought they knew. They also "knew" it was her first — always traumatic, sometimes insurmountably so. Marian didn't know what it felt like to kill a man, but she did know what it felt like to be a hypocrite, garnering so much undeserved sympathy.

"How you doin'?" Detective Gloria Sanchez stood before her, concern written on her face.

"I'm doing just fine, Gloria," Marian said. "Don't you worry about me." Please don't worry about me.

"I wish you'd let me go home with you last night. You shouldn't have been alone."

I wasn't alone. "It's all right. I'm sorry it ended in a killing, but I'm not lacerating myself about it."

"That's cool. That's real cool. It had to end the way it did — you didn't have no choice."


Marian sat down at her desk, aware that her partner at the next desk was watching her out of the corner of his eye. "So you got him," Foley said low so only she could hear. "You must be feeling pleased with yourself." Resentful.

"Yes, to both."

He let his anger show and he forgot about keeping his voice down. "You couldn't call me, could you? It'd really burn your ass to call me! You just had to keep the kill all to yourself."

Marian didn't expect understanding from her partner, but he was being even more stupid than usual. "That's sick, Foley! I didn't know I was going to have to shoot him." Nor that anybody would. "He was trying to kill us."

"Us? Oh yeah, you and your FBI buddy — how could I forget? You doin' all your work with the FBI now, Larch? Ninth Precinct not good enough for you anymore?" He pointed a crooked finger at her. "You should have called me, you fucking glory hog."

Marian stared at her partner. Foley was symptomatic of all the things that were so wrong in her job that she simply couldn't stomach it any longer. Ineptitude, laziness, bad attitude, lack of concern — they were all spelled Foley. "Why should I call you?" she asked him in a reasonable tone of voice. "You've already put me in jeopardy a couple of times by failing to back me up when you should have. You whine and you bellyache and you don't do a lick of work you don't have to do. You jump to conclusions and never check things out unless you're made to. You're never where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there. You're a menace to anybody you're partnered with, and you've always got an excuse. You're a bad cop, Foley, and you're never going to be any better than you are right now. That's why I didn't call you."

The room had fallen dead silent. No cop ever told another cop he was bad at his job, at least not in front of other cops; Marian herself would never have said what she did if she'd been planning to stay on. The faces of the other detectives in the room reflected a mixture of shock and reluctant agreement with her assessment of Foley's abilities. Pleasurable scandal. Great way to start the week.

Foley's face went dark purple. "Who the hell do you think you're talking to, you bitch? You sleep your way to that sergeant's badge and you come in here and —"

"Knock it off, Foley," someone said.

"Yeah, Foley, watch it," Sanchez added. "Remember what she's been through."

Marian sighed. "Thanks for riding to my defense, Gloria, but don't make excuses for me. Let it stand. I meant every word." Change the subject. "Is Captain DiFalco in?"

"Yep, making important phone calls, he sez. Do Not Disturb."

But Foley wasn't that easy to shut up. "You think you're riding high, don't you? But you're gonna get your ass kicked, Larch, that's what's gonna happen. You acted against orders and DiFalco's not gonna let that pass. You may even lose your badge."

"She stopped a killer, for Christ's sake," Sanchez said. "She's gonna get a citation!"

He muttered an obscenity and turned his back on them. Marian didn't give a damn what Foley thought; a few more days and she'd never have to look at his sneering face again. She winked at Sanchez as she rolled some forms into the old mechanical typewriter and started making out the report on how she had shot a wanted felon in self-defense. Marian was halfway through when her phone rang; Captain DiFalco wanted her in his office.

She was calm and distantly curious as she got up from her desk, wondering how DiFalco was going to handle it. He'd ordered her to lay off the investigation and she'd gone on with it, drawing in others to help her whose services she had no authority to commandeer. And in doing so she'd committed the worst offense possible: she'd proved herself right and her superior wrong. Captains didn't like being shown up by sergeants.

Last night when the shooting was over, DiFalco had gone before the TV cameras and taken credit for the resolution of the case, claiming Marian had been acting under his orders all along. Was that to be the deal — DiFalco would take no punitive action if she kept her mouth shut? Or would he follow through with his threats to make sure her career was at a dead end? Not that it mattered either way; Marian would listen, and nod, and hand in her resignation in a few days' time. And then she'd send registered letters to the Zone Commander, the Borough Commander, and the Chief of Operations, all of them aimed at exposing DiFalco's lies.

Whoa. That would sound as if she'd resigned in a fit of pique because DiFalco stole her thunder; whatever she said would be dismissed as sour grapes. This needed more thought.

Captain DiFalco was on the phone when she stepped into his office. He pointed to a chair, finished his conversation, and hung up. "Glad you're here — shooflies are on their way over. I didn't expect you before noon."

"Loose ends need tying up."

"Yah." He thought a minute. "The thing is not to get angry," he said. "They'll try to provoke you, bug you into blurting out something or contradicting yourself." He stared up at the ceiling. "It's IA's job to try to trip you up."

"I know," she answered. "I've had a brush with Internal Affairs before. A detective at Police Headquarters was being investigated." Where she'd worked before being transferred to the Ninth Precinct.

"Investigated for what?"

"For accepting bribes. There was nothing to it — some dealer he'd arrested tried to get a little payback by accusing him of being on the take. Still, IA made everybody connected feel like dirty corrupt sleazescum not worth wiping their feet on ... even those of us who were just witnesses."

DiFalco was nodding, his eyes unfocused. "That's Internal Affairs, all right. Look, they'll be talking to you in Baxter's office. Just tell it straight, answer their questions as briefly as possible, and don't volunteer anything."

"All right. I thought Lieutenant Baxter was getting back from vacation today."

"He's back. But IA asked for a private room and that's it. After they finish with you, they're going to talk to Holland. I sure as hell hope your stories jibe."

"They will." Unreasonably, she resented the casual way the captain tossed off the name.

"Then you've got no problem. It was a righteous kill, Larch. They have to investigate, but they got nothing." A pause. "You holding up all right?"

Marian was bemused by this new solicitous attitude on the captain's part. Was this the way he was going to play it — they just weren't going to mention anything wrong between them? They were going to pretend she hadn't acted against orders and he hadn't grabbed the credit for her work? DiFalco hadn't looked her straight in the eye once since she'd come in.

Marian told him she was holding up as well as could be expected. "Where is Holland? Is he here?"

"Coming in at eleven. The FBI wants to talk to you too. They're going to keep you and Holland separated until you've made your statements." Still not looking her in the eye. "Are you sure the two of you are telling the same story?"

"I'm sure."

"Good. There's one more thing. You're going to have to see the police psychiatrist"

"Captain —"

"It's mandatory, Larch, you know that. You're involved in a shooting, you see the psychiatrist. You have to convince him you're fit to return to duty. Can you do that?"

"Oh, I suppose. I'm not suicidal, if that's what he's looking for."

"I don't know what the hell he's looking for. Play it by ear. But make him see you're handling it. You've got a three o'clock appointment — the FBI should be finished with you by then."

Marian wasn't thinking about the psychiatrist or the FBI as much as she was about DiFalco. The conversation seemed to be over, so she got up and left. DiFalco was playing for time, most likely, waiting to see whether she was going to make waves or not. Ha! She'd show him waves. Get a life jacket, Captain.

Foley got up and left his desk when he saw her coming back. Marian sank down in her chair dispiritedly. Her so-called partner and her two-faced captain — the two people who should be her closest allies, and both were enemies. DiFalco was interested only in making the right career moves, and Foley ... Foley wasn't interested in anything. Neither of them should be a cop. Yet they were staying and she was leaving.

Marian found a note on her desk in Gloria Sanchez's handwriting: Kelly called. Marian frowned. She should have phoned her friend, early, before Kelly had time to see the news. Yet she was reluctant to call even now. Marian didn't mind lying to her police superiors, since they weren't going to be her superiors much longer. But lying to Kelly ... that was hard.

"Sanchez!" said a new voice. "You and Roberts — in my office." The speaker was a stocky, hoarse-voiced man doing his best to look and sound tough; the results were spectacularly unsuccessful, especially as he was wearing a necktie decorated with mermaids.

Sanchez groaned. "I was thinking of taking some personal time."

"Take it tomorrow," said the hoarse growl. "Smash-and-grab on Tenth Street, an electronics store. Same MO as the others, but this time a bystander was hurt."

"I worked late last night!"

"Unauthorized overtime, the way I hear it." He looked down at Marian. "And you've been busy, too, Larch. Congratulations on a good shoot."

"Hello, Lieutenant," Marian said. "Enjoy your vacation?"

"I never enjoy my vacations," Lieutenant Baxter replied, "because I know every time I go away something is going to happen here. It never fails! I take even one day off, something happens."

Marian was tempted to say something happened there every day, whether he was there or not. "Hazard of the profession."

"Got your report on last night made out?"


Excerpted from The Apostrophe Thief by Barbara Paul. Copyright © 1993 Barbara Paul. Excerpted by permission of 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.

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