Bernhardt's Edge

Bernhardt's Edge

by Collin Wilcox

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A moonlighting director finds his sideline more dangerous than he expected
Alan Bernhardt is just starting rehearsal when his pager goes off. No one in the small San Francisco theater minds—they know that to make it on the stage, you have to be prepared to do all sorts of odd jobs off of it. But this director’s job is odder than most. He works for Herbert Dancer, head of a boutique private investigation service. A corporate secretary has vanished with a sheaf of valuable documents, and it will take an off-Broadway sensibility to bring her home.
Bernhardt is just closing in on the woman and her boyfriend when he learns that she isn’t running for a profit, but for her life. To save her from the men who hired him, Bernhardt must find her and protect her—because his artistic vision does not include blood on his hands.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480446465
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Series: The Alan Bernhardt Novels , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 311
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.
Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.

Read an Excerpt

Bernhardt's Edge

An Alan Bernhardt Novel

By Collin Wilcox

Copyright © 1988 Collin Wilcox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4646-5


As the Falcon Jet's wing dipped, Justin Powers' grip tightened on the arms of his seat as he unconsciously tried to right the airplane. Then, mind over motor reflex, he deliberately lifted his hands from the arms, flexed his fingers, clenched his right hand into a resolute fist, lifted his left wrist, checked his wristwatch. Four o'clock, exactly. They were about to land, then, probably turning to the final approach course. They would be on the ground by 4:15, at the Oakland airport, where limos were allowed on the tarmac. Forty-five minutes, he'd been assured, would be enough time to get into downtown San Francisco, even in the rush hour. Powers tightened his seat belt, reached for his gold-bound appointment book, placed it on a small coffee table. He looked at the notation he'd made on a perforated half page. Yes: Herbert Dancer, Ltd., 350 California Street, Suite 1705. Time of their appointment, 5 P.M. Probable length of the interview, forty-five minutes to an hour. The limo would wait. By seven o'clock, he'd be back in the Falcon, airborne. A catered meal would be on board: cold cracked crab, green salad, French bread, and Chardonnay, all very San Francisco. By nine o'clock he'd be home—or almost home. Sylvia and their guests would still be at the table. Adroitly, Sylvia would have arranged matters so that he'd join them for dessert—chocolate mousse, she'd promised, one of his favorites.

Now the airplane was rocking gently as the landing gear and flaps came down. Through the windows, Powers saw a line of hills higher than their flight path. He checked the time, 4:08. Good. Even concluding an agreement that he dreaded, initiating a sequence of events that could conceivably ruin him, it was nevertheless essential that everything happen on schedule, predictably. For Justin Powers, there was no other way.

"I should be finished by six o'clock," Powers said. "To be safe, you'd better plan to be here by five-forty-five."

"Yes, sir." Holding the door, the driver nodded. "Five-forty-five."

Powers turned away, began making his way purposefully through the press of liberated office workers to the revolving doors of 350 California Street. Dressed in a medium-dark, three-piece suit, white shirt, discreetly striped tie, and narrow-brimmed hat, a man of medium height and medium build, Powers' manner and his appearance were a perfect match, projecting the image of the successful, assertive, assured executive. His face completed the image: a tightly compressed mouth, dark, level brows, impersonal eyes. It was the severely sculpted face of a man who seldom allowed himself to smile. He carried his attaché case as a soldier carries his weapon, a part of himself.

An empty elevator awaited him; at five minutes to five, everyone was leaving the building, not entering. He pressed "17," and was gratified to see the doors immediately slide shut. Solitude, Powers felt, suited his status.

As his office door opened and his secretary performed the introductions, Herbert Dancer rose, moving out from behind his desk.

"Mr. Powers—" Smiling, Dancer extended his hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Thank you." Powers perfunctorily shook hands, put his attaché case on Dancer's desk, sat in a tufted black-leather chair, crossed his legs, arranged his trouser creases, checked his cuffs. He decided not to return Herbert Dancer's smile. Instead, pointedly, he consulted a gold Piaget wristwatch. When he raised his eyes again to Dancer's face, he saw the other man's smile fading. Good. Dancer had gotten the message.

"You were recommended to me by Gardner MacCauley, Mr. Dancer." Now, deliberately, Powers smiled. And, yes, the other man couldn't quite decide whether to venture a smile in return. They were making progress, then, defining their roles. Employees smiled by permission only.

"MacCauley has handled several, ah, matters for me in the past," Powers said. "And when I told him that I needed someone with Northern California—San Francisco—coverage, he suggested you."

"Fine." Expectantly, Dancer drew a pad of legal paper close, clicked a ballpoint pen.

"Actually," Powers continued, "it's the same, ah, problem that concerns me in both cases. That is, I called MacCauley when I—" He frowned, interrupted himself. He was digressing, losing momentum, compromising his authority. He allowed himself a moment to organize his thoughts. Then:

"First, I'll give you the background. I'm based in Los Angeles, as I told you when we talked on the phone. I'm in investments. Venture capital, primarily. Powers, Associates..." He produced a card, leaned forward, placed the card on the gleaming walnut desk, leaned back, recrossed his legs, rearranged his trouser creases, cleared his throat. "I'm the, ah, principal. It's a corporation, of course. But I'm the C.E.O. I've got three vice presidents, and five or six third echelon people. Below them, there're another four or five secretaries, plus several clerks and typists."

Writing on the yellow pad, Dancer quickly noted 3 VPs, 5–6 assts, 10–15 flunkies. "Yes, I see."

"The problem," Powers said, "developed with one of the third echelon people. Her name is Betty Giles." He leaned forward again, opened the attaché case, withdrew a single sheet of paper, which he slid across the desk. "That's a fact sheet on her." As Dancer dropped his eyes to the sheet of paper, Powers broke off. Quickly, Dancer scanned the page, obviously extracted from a personnel file:

ELIZABETH (BETTY) GILES, born 1953, San Francisco, CA. Parents divorced. Father's current whereabouts unknown. Mother, Norma Heckler/Giles/Farley, currently divorced from her second husband, living at 456 Brady Street, San Francisco. Betty Giles currently resides at 5022 Klump Avenue, apt. #603, Los Angeles.

Education: B.A. art history, U.C. Berkeley, 1975.

Employment record: 1976–1978, Researcher, Appleton Systems, Inc. San Francisco.

1979–1982, Assistant Director, Standard Oil Community Development Program.

1983–present, Researcher, Assistant Supervisor, Powers, Associates.

Evaluation: Excellent.

The evaluation was handwritten, signed, and dated.

"This is her picture—" Powers handed over a colored 3" x 4" head-to-waist picture of a young, dark-haired, dark-eyed woman with regular features. Her mouth was upcurled in a hesitant smile. Her eyes didn't pick up the smile. She wore a demurely tailored blue dress, pleated in front. Her face was oval, her torso was slim. Her breasts were in determinant.

"You'll notice," Powers was saying, "that she was born in San Francisco, and her mother still lives here. Her mother's name is Nora Farley."


"That's why I've come to you."

Dancer nodded, but decided to say nothing. Almost twenty years as a private investigator had taught him the value of strategic silence.

With the air of someone reluctantly getting down to unsavory business, Powers paused heavily. Then: "That report doesn't really tell much about the nature of Betty Giles' work. But the truth is that, during the past year, especially, she was involved in developing some very, ah, sensitive material for us. We have interests worldwide—Europe, Asia, South America. And research—information—is absolutely vital. The more we know about a given situation, the better we can predict the future. And when you're involved in multinational investing, the future is what it's all about. Educated guessing, in other words. Do you follow?"


"Good." Briskly, Powers nodded. His manner was more decisive now, as if the hardest part was behind him. "Well, especially during the last year, as I say, Betty was doing some highly classified work for us. Which meant that she was dealing with material that could be very damaging, in the wrong hands."

"And now she's disappeared," Dancer said. "With some sensitive material."

Powers was satisfied with his reaction. His face, he was sure, revealed nothing. Without allowing the cadence of his speech to change, slightly flattening his voice, he said, "MacCauley called you, then."

Dancer shook his head. "No, I haven't talked to MacCauley in months. You mentioned educated guessing. That's my business, too. Educated guesses."

"Well," Powers answered, "you're right." He glanced again at his watch. Almost five-thirty. Marginally on schedule. "But that's only part of it. The rest of it is that she's demanding money, to return what she took."

"Whether or not she returns it," Dancer said, "she could make copies."

"That's true. But it's also a matter of what she knows."

"So you want to talk to her. You want us to find her, so you can talk to her."

Gravely, Powers nodded. "That's it exactly."

"We can't hold her. We can't restrain her. You know that."


"She's committed a crime. Embezzlement. Do you want us to contact the police, once we find her?"

Quickly—too quickly, Powers realized—he shook his head. His reply, too, probably came too quickly: "No—no. When you find her, I want you to contact me. I want you to keep her under surveillance. Then you—" He frowned, began again: "Then I'll decide how to handle it, when you've found her—when you've contacted me. But the important thing is, you're not to contact anyone but me. I want to stress that." Across the desk, he stared at Dancer, making hard eye contact. Yes, he could see the urgency registering, even though the other man refused to drop his eyes, as a hireling should. Irritated, Powers took his confidential card from his wallet, slid the card across the desk. "Those are my private numbers. Day or night, you can get in touch with me at one of them. They're, ah, classified. Do you understand?"

Deliberately, Dancer allowed a moment to pass as he used an outsize plastic clip to fasten the fact sheet, the photo, and the business card together inside a fresh manila folder he'd taken from a drawer. Then, initiating his own eye contact, seeing the other man's gaze almost imperceptibly falter, he finally nodded. "I understand."

Another silence passed as Powers looked away, frowning. He'd known this would happen, this insubordination, these knowing looks, that subtle sneer. But he was helpless. Totally, abjectly helpless. As surely as a murderer was destined for the gas chamber, he was destined to be here, enduring this indignity inflicted on him by the man across the desk. This was his destiny, sitting abjectly in this chair, shuddering deep inside himself. Impaled.

He'd forgotten what remained yet to be said. Certainly they must sign something, a contract, with a retainer. Once more, he glanced at his watch, 5:32. Every hour, disaster came closer. Yet he was forced into this meaningless charade, this pretense of equanimity, of urbane unconcern.

"Do you have reason to think she's here, in San Francisco?" Dancer was asking.

"Not specifically. But she's close to her mother, keeps running to Mother, apparently, when she's in trouble."

"She's in trouble?" Dancer frowned. "How do you mean?"

"It's a—" He broke off, searching for the word, the phrase: "It's a figure of speech."

"Hmmm ..."

There it was again: the insolence, the suggestion of a knowing leer.

"Was MacCauley looking for her, in Los Angeles?" Dancer asked.

He'd known the question would come. For this question, he was ready. "Briefly, he was looking for her. But he didn't find her. And it's pretty clear, MacCauley says, that she left town, left Los Angeles. We think she's traveling with a man. His name is Ames. Nick Ames. They lived together, and they both disappeared at the same time, just about a month ago."

Nodding, Dancer noted the name, then slid open his center drawer, withdrawing a single sheet of paper. "This is our standard contract, Mr. Powers. We have a minimum charge of five hundred dollars a day, for three days. Then there's travel outside of San Francisco, of course, and lodging, if that's necessary. I'll report to you, personally, three days from now, whether or not there's any progress. If you'll read the contract, and sign it, then all we need is an advance of five hundred dollars."

Powers put on horn-rimmed glasses, skimmed the contract, signed it, quickly wrote out a personal check, flicked both away from him. The time was nine minutes to six.

"Will you be handling this yourself?"

Dancer shook his head. "Sorry. I can't. I've got twelve full-time people, plus another five people that work part-time, investigating. Then there's another four, in the office. It's all I can do, frankly, to keep everything on track. Actually, I'd like to get out in the field. But it's impossible."

"If it's a question of the fee..."

"It's not. Believe me. But I promise you, I'll put one of my very best people on it."

"I'd assumed," Powers answered brusquely, "that that went without saying."

Aware that the tone of the other's voice demanded a counter in kind, Dancer nodded curtly. "Then you assumed correctly." As he said it, he saw Powers' mouth tighten slightly. Yes, he'd scored a point, found a small chink.

Recovering, also countering, Powers sharpened his tone, hardened his gaze. "There's one thing—one restriction." He waited until he'd compelled Dancer's full attention, "You're not to contact any of my people. None of them know anything about this. And that's the way it's got to stay. Is that clear?"

Eyes steady, Dancer nodded. His voice, too, was steady. "Perfectly clear."

"Good." Powers stood up. "I'm counting on you, Mr. Dancer. I don't know whether you've checked on Powers, Associates, but our balance sheet would impress you. We're simply too big to let someone like Betty Giles threaten us. Do you understand?"

Also rising, Dancer shook his head. "I'm not sure I do, Mr. Powers."

"What I'm saying is that she's got to be found. She's got to be—" He hesitated. "She's got to be neutralized. There's simply no other way. And cost, as I'm sure you know, is of no consequence."

"I understand. I'll be in touch. And thank you for contacting us."

Powers nodded, put on his hat, took his attaché case from the desk. "You're welcome." He turned abruptly to the door.

Dancer waited until he judged Powers had left the outer office, then pressed an intercom button, spoke into a speaker phone: "Has everyone gone, Marge?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, you can go. Any calls? Anything important?"

"Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, I'd say."

"All right. Good night. Lock the outer door."

"Yes, sir."

Dancer turned to the room's single window, a large one, behind his desk. He'd chosen the building for its views, and now, reflectively loosening his tie, he stood looking out over the rooftops of Chinatown. Beyond the northern edge of the city, the waters of San Francisco Bay were deepening into purple as the sun began sinking slowly toward the great orange arc of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Dancer drew a long, deep breath. Expanding his chest, he arched his back, lifted his chin, rose on his toes, raised his arms high over his head, exhaled, drew another deep breath. He was a compactly built man, impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit that could have been made by Justin Powers' tailor. At forty, Dancer was as slim as he'd been at twenty, and just as wiry. His gray eyes were shrewd, yet curiously empty. His small mouth was slightly pursed: a corrupted cherub's mouth. His chin was small, slightly indented. His nose was curved, a little too large. His forehead was broad; his sandy hair was receding. Except for the eyes, so cold, so empty, the face was mild, even benevolent. But it was the eyes that defined the man—as many had discovered, too late.


Had Powers meant to say it?

Some people used words very precisely. Others didn't. Powers was a precise man, a man who obviously understood words, and could calculate their impact. It must be assumed, then, that "neutralized" had been carefully chosen.

Meaning that, when Betty Giles was found, Powers would call MacCauley. And MacCauley would call the leg-breakers.

Because, behind his suave banker's face, Powers was badly frightened. Terrified, perhaps, of Betty Giles.

A rich client, a terrified client ...

Potentially, it was a promising combination, one that Dancer had often turned to considerable profit.

Dancer smiled and turned to his desk, and the phone. From memory, he touch-toned a number.


Excerpted from Bernhardt's Edge by Collin Wilcox. Copyright © 1988 Collin Wilcox. Excerpted by permission of
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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