When the nation’s political elite descends on a small Northern California town, murder follows—and only Vejay Haskell can get to the bottom of the shocking crime
Each year the Bohemian Club—a clique of powerful conservatives whose ranks include Nixon, Reagan, and Kissinger—gathers for a confidential meeting in the backwoods town of Henderson, California. Though their activities are shrouded in secrecy, Henderson meter-reader Vejay Haskell is about to get an all-too-close inside look. Searching the countryside for a coworker’s missing niece, she finds the beautiful gymnast lying dead in the bottom of a sewer drain. The sheriff calls it an accident, but Vejay suspects the girl’s death was connected to the Bohemian Club’s unquenchable desire for drugs, booze, and prostitutes. Finding the killer will mean going head to head with the nation’s fiercest politicians. But compared to the Vietnam vets, pot growers, and backcountry crackpots she normally deals with, the Bohemians don’t frighten Vejay one bit.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Susan Dunlap including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
The Bohemian Connection is the 2nd book in the Vejay Haskell Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Susan Dunlap (b. 1943) is a prolific author of mystery novels. Born in the suburbs of New York, Dunlap majored in English at Bucknell College and earned a masters in teaching from the University of North Carolina. She was a social worker before an Agatha Christie novel inspired her to try her hand writing mysteries. Five attempts and five years later, she published Karma (1981), which began a ten book series about brash Berkeley cop Jill Smith. Since then, Dunlap has published more than twenty novels and numerous short stories. Her other ongoing characters include the meter-reading detective Vejay Haskell, medical examiner Kiernan O’Shaugnessy, and Zen student turned detective Darcy Loft. In addition to writing, Dunlap has taught yoga, worked as a paralegal, and helped found the women’s mystery organization Sisters In Crime. She lives in San Francisco.
Read an Excerpt
The Bohemian Connection
A Vejay Haskell Mystery
By Susan Dunlap
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Susan Dunlap
All rights reserved.
"The reason I am raising my voice," I said, vainly trying to control it, "is that it's after noon; I've got sweat running down my arms, my back, my chest, and all over my face. I've spent the last two hours trying to get my truck off the edge of the hillside ten miles out of town so it, and I, wouldn't go careening down into a creek. There was no house for miles in either direction. If some guy with a pickup hadn't come along I'd still be there." I glared at my boss, Mr. Bobbs, the manager of the Henderson Pacific Gas and Electric office.
"I am submitting a request for repair of the truck, Miss Haskell. That is procedure." In contrast to my sweat-stained meter-reader uniform, Mr. Bobbs's tan summer suit was dry and crisp. And here in his windowless cubicle, the manager's office, it was almost cool, unlike the ninety-seven degrees outside.
I swallowed, using the time to control my anger. Slowly, I said, "This is hardly the first time a meter reader has been stuck on a back road. Suppose one of us were in an accident. He could be injured. It could be days before anyone discovered him."
Mr. Bobbs shifted his gaze to the clock behind me, silently stating that it was his lunch hour, too.
"There are a lot of dangerous people in those hills. They have guns. There are marijuana growers; the last thing they want is someone in a uniform coming onto their land. They've been known to shoot first and check out which department you work for after."
"Are you telling me you want to work only town routes?"
It was tempting after the morning's frustration. But I said, "No, I'm not asking to shift the danger to someone else. I'm saying I gave you a very reasonable suggestion for how to deal with this problem."
He nodded, a motion that did not mean he agreed with my suggestion, or even that he recalled what it was, but merely that he acknowledged that I said I had made one.
"I gave it to you a month ago."
He nodded again. The muscles around his mouth and neck tightened, leaving folds of skin hanging like a worn white scarf. "I put it in Follow-up," he said.
"Follow-up! You stuck my suggestion in a folder that won't come back to you till next week, or next month, or whatever date you put on it! By that time one of us could be lying dead on some back road."
"I've scheduled your request to return to my desk on a date when I have the proper amount of time to deal with it. Now," he said, taking an anxious breath, "it is well after twelve, and I have other responsibilities. I will call you in when the Follow-up folder with your suggestion comes back."
If you don't just plunk it in another Follow-up folder for an even later date, I wanted to add. But I didn't. Instead, I walked out of the cubicle and back to the storeroom in the rear of the office. My route book was still in the middle of the old wooden table, where I had dropped it before stalking into Mr. Bobbs's office. The tan duffle-like San Francisco bag that carried the completed route books to the computer in the city was waiting in the corner. And by the board where we hung the truck keys stood my fellow meter reader, Vida Riccolo.
"Are you okay, Vejay?" she asked.
"After a fashion. I told Mr. Bobbs—"
"I know what you told him. All of the Russian River Resort Area knows, or they would if his office had a window. Come on, what you need is a beer. I could use one myself." She looked like she needed a drink.
"Right." I stuck the route book in the San Francisco bag, relieved that there had been no "changes" (too great an electricity usage or suspiciously little) in any of the customers' reads that needed to be mentioned to Mr. Bobbs. I put the truck keys on the board and signed out.
Vida was parked outside the gate of the truck yard. With her short, thick curly hair and her deeply tanned skin she looked more like a little boy than a forty-five-year-old woman.
"So?" she prompted as I climbed into her pickup.
I shrugged. "My truck is a hazard. This time the reverse gear wouldn't work. You heard what I told Mr. Bobbs; you know how I spent the morning. But that's not really the issue. The thing is, anyone can get stuck back in the hills, and it's dangerous out there. There are Vietnam vets who've lived off the land since they got back who still can't deal with people. And there are our own homegrown drunks and crazies. It's wild country. And we need two-way radios in the trucks. I told Mr. Bobbs that a month ago.
"What did he say?"
"He put my suggestion in Follow-up."
"Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow." Her normally animated voice sounded flat. "Follow-up is the answer to a bureaucrat's prayers."
"In the meantime," I went on, "Mr. Bobbs said he had other responsibilities, by which I assume he meant lunch."
While I had been talking—complaining—we'd driven the commercial block of North Bank Road, inching through town in low gear. In summer, Henderson and the whole Russian River Resort Area was jammed with tourists. And now, the first weekend of Bohemian Week, traffic barely moved. The same people who in March sat in their San Francisco or Oakland living rooms watching television coverage of the Russian River flooding and asked each other how anyone could be crazy enough to live where the streets washed out and their homes filled with mud and debris every few years, now jammed the roads. They crowded onto the main beach in Guerneville and filled the little town beach here in Henderson. They stayed two, three, four to a room in ramshackle motels by the river, the same motels that had been three feet deep in water in March. Those old motels and "vacation cabins" were never quite clean and preserved the odor of mildew from year to year. But the families that came for a week of canoeing and swimming in the deep waters behind the summer dams didn't care. For them the river provided a cheap traditional family vacation. Most of the summer the Russian River area was peopled with a combination of tourist families and the newly insurgent gay population, who viewed the area as a haven of their own. Then there were the winter people like me, who, grumbling at the inconvenience, opened canoe rentals and summer shops, who double-stocked their shelves and made more money in those three months than in the rest of the year.
And in the ten days of July known as Bohemian Week, the Bohemian Grove hosted the business and political leaders of the nation. The area filled with their assistants and servants, with reporters and photographers, and, as with any convention, with pimps and prostitutes—another boon to motel owners and shopkeepers.
The Grove was reputed to be a glorified boys' camp where for ten days the rich and powerful could cavort with impunity, secure from the eyes of the uninvited. Bohemian Club members included the President of the United States, presidents of multinational corporations, and even the chairman of the board of PG&E, though not all members attended each encampment. They were reported to put on skits in drag, get drunk, and pee in the bushes. Like Boy Scouts, they lived in tents, albeit luxurious ones, and competed to see whose chef was best. During Bohemian Week, helicopters flying in caviar and Dom Perignon were not uncommon sights. And although there was supposed to be a ban on discussion of business, major speeches at encampments in the past had been given by men like Henry Kissinger and Caspar Weinberger. The Bohemian Club publication even stated that the idea for the Manhattan Project, which led to the atom bomb, came out of one Bohemian Week. While all that went on, the public was barred from the grounds, as was the press, and women in any capacity. The anti-woman rule was so strongly enforced that we women weren't even allowed to read their meters during those ten days.
When the limousines of the powerful arrived outside the Grove they would be greeted by lines of protesters—anti-nuclear, anti-poverty, anti-military. But the people of Henderson viewed the encampment with amusement. Whatever the big shots did in private, they brought publicity to the area and plenty of money to the town.
And a lot of cars and people. The limos would start coming this evening. Our congressman would be in town Sunday. But already the advance people, the newspeople, and the hangers-on were here.
"Where are we going?" I asked as Vida started up the hill away from the main street. "I thought we were headed for a beer."
"We are—at my niece's house."
Her normally energetic voice was almost still. I realized that we had sat in silence since the end of my jeremiad. There were fatigue lines around her mouth, dark circles under her eyes.
"You look worn out, Vida. That's not like you. You can usually go twice as long as anyone else."
She turned left onto a narrow hillside street. "Michelle," she said in a barely audible voice. "My niece Michelle, she didn't come home last night. I don't know what happened to her."
I waited for Vida to go on.
"Craig, her husband, didn't call me till this morning. I guess he didn't want to worry me. He should have called last night. This morning I couldn't take time off from work. You know Michelle, don't you?"
It was like Vida to assume that I would. Vida had grown up in Henderson, raised three sons here, then finally, years after she should have, divorced their father and left him to the bottle. Anybody in town was either a relative, one of her husband's relations, a son's friend, someone from St. Agnes' Church, or at least someone she had met doing one of the town routes.
"I might know her by sight," I said. Having lived here only a year and a half, with no husband now, and no children, my acquaintances were more limited. From reading the town routes I knew most people in a general way. I knew about their electricity usage, I knew if they weeded their yards or fixed their porches, I knew about their dogs and cats, and I knew the odd tidbits people chose to tell me. But I didn't know the most basic things about many people—where, or if, they worked, how many children they had, how they voted, or what they liked to read. In spite of that, as Vida pulled up in front of a new chalet-type house, I realized that I did know her niece.
"I've read Michelle's meter here. She's very pretty, isn't she? She looks something like you, Vida, but her hair is long, darker, and curled back. And she has," I paused, hunting for the right words, "a lot of curiosity and drive."
"You don't need to be polite, Vejay. What you mean is that Michelle can be a pain in the behind."
"No, I don't. Well, not after you know her. At first, when she stopped me to complain about her bill, I would have agreed with you. According to her then, not only was I incompetent, but PG and E was corrupt and focused entirely on cheating her and those like her."
Vida nodded knowingly.
"But Vida, once I showed her how to read her meter, and gave her the tips on saving electricity, then she was really enthusiastic. The next month she was waiting for me by the meter with her figures ready, anxious to see if she had read it right." I smiled. "She was pretty proud of how much energy she saved. She had reason to be."
Vida pulled the truck up next to the spot where the sewer construction had ended for the week. The hole blocked the road. "Enthusiasm or nuisance, take your pick," she said. "It depends on which side of the issue you're on."
"Don't you like her?" I asked, climbing out. For someone who was so obviously upset by her niece's disappearance, Vida seemed to have a very negative view of her.
"It's not a question of like. She has her good points and her bad points. Like you say, she's got a lot of drive. But she's not mature enough to focus all that energy. She goes from one cause to the next. It can be a nuisance. But that doesn't mean I don't love her. She is my only sister's—God rest her soul—daughter." Vida's voice trembled. "Vejay, I dropped her off at this anti-hookers' group meeting at St. Agnes' last night and she hasn't been home since. I don't know what to do."
I put my arm around Vida's shoulders and waited till her shaking stopped. Then we started up the stairs of Michelle's house.
"Have you called the hospitals, the highway patrol, the sheriff?" I asked.
"Craig called the hospitals three times, the last time right before he left for work this morning. He called the highway patrol and left a number. They said they'd let him know if they found Michelle. But they won't find her; she wasn't driving."
"She could have been riding with someone else," I said.
Vida walked across the deck and unlocked the door to Michelle and Craig's house. She motioned me into a large, paneled, and surprisingly empty room. "Michelle wasn't riding," she said. "I called Father Calloway at St. Agnes'. He dropped her off in town after the meeting."
"Well, what did the sheriff say?"
Vida stopped. "We didn't want to call the sheriff. Henderson is a small town."
"If a person's missing you call the sheriff."
She began to pace the length of the room. "Vejay, you know Sheriff Wescott. Maybe you could see if he's heard anything."
"Like what? Like he's found a body?" As soon as I said it I regretted it. "I'm sorry, Vida, but either Michelle is missing or she's not. If she's missing, you need the best help you can get."
She continued to pace. I had to strain to hear her. "We talked about that, Craig and me. But suppose Michelle comes home, suppose she spent the night with a friend and the phone went dead. Then next week we'd pick up the newspaper and there'd be a paragraph in the Sheriff's Report announcing that Michelle Davidson's husband reported her missing overnight. Regardless of the cause, everyone in town would be talking. Michelle would be humiliated, and she'd be furious. And it wouldn't be good for Craig's nursery business either." She took a breath. "I'm doing the best I can by asking you to help, Vejay. You've solved a murder. You know about these things."
"That investigation didn't win me any friends in town, or in the sheriff's department either." It had been only a few months ago when my friend Frank Goulet, the bartender at Frank's Place, was shot. I was the last person seen there, a fact that had caused the sheriff to view me with suspicion. I had searched for Frank's murderer more to save myself than to promote justice.
"Vejay." Vida's mouth trembled. I had never seen her this upset.
Vida was our union representative. She had fought to get me my pay for the days I'd been suspended after my investigation of Frank's murder, even though the preparations for the hearing had taken more of her time than the total of the hours I had been docked. It was Vida who was always ready to listen to the rest of us meter readers, to hear our gripes, to consider our problems. When I had had the flu last winter it was she who brought me a week's groceries and enough cold remedies to cure all of Henderson. I owed Vida a lot. She was a good friend—which made her anguish all the more distressing. I said, "Of course, I'll do whatever I can. You know that. Tell me what you want."
"Just see what you can find out. Talk to the neighbors. Maybe they saw something. You can tell them you're looking for Michelle and you can't get a hold of her. That doesn't sound like her husband doesn't know where she is."
There were two director's chairs in the room, the only places to sit. I took one. "You drove Michelle to this anti-hookers' meeting. Tell me about that."
Vida sat in the other chair, uncomfortably, as if it took all her effort not to leap out of it and continue to pace. "It's Michelle's latest cause. The group is going to picket outside the Grove this weekend. Michelle said the prostitutes create a bad atmosphere for children here. She even took her kids to her sister's in Santa Rosa." In spite of her agitation, there was a weary annoyance in Vida's voice. "Michelle called me and asked if I could drive her to the meeting. Craig had their car."
"Did she say anything on the way there?"
"She might have intended to, but she didn't. The thing is, Vejay, I've kind of lost patience with Michelle. I know I shouldn't have. She doesn't have her own mother to talk to. But I've been busy. I've ... I don't know. I've been short with her. And now she doesn't talk about her causes. Last night I was relieved that she didn't. I didn't want to hear about this silly group. In any case, she was all caught up in her ongoing row with her neighbor Ward over his cesspool."
Excerpted from The Bohemian Connection by Susan Dunlap. Copyright © 1985 Susan Dunlap. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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