GHOSTWRITER FOR HIRE

GHOSTWRITER FOR HIRE

by Noreen Wald

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943390816
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.46(d)

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Ghostwriter for Hire

A Jake O'Hara Mystery


By Noreen Wald

Henery Press

Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-943390-84-7


CHAPTER 1

"Greige," my mother said. "So perfect for fall, don't you think?"

"What?" the bridal consultant asked, entering the dressing room, her arms filled with yards of taupe silk. No doubt yet another prospect for my maid of honor gig.

"Jake's gown. Isn't greige great?" Mom asked the harried but beaming consultant, who nodded, smiled even wider — exposing lots of white teeth — then eagerly agreed.

Why shouldn't Sally the Sales Shark be happy? Closing in on her prey, smelling a big kill, savoring a hefty commission. For God's sake, this number sported an eight hundred-dollar price tag.

I knew from greige ... a combination of gray and beige. After all, I'd grown up surrounded by neutrals. The only baby girl in Queens dressed in head-to-toe ecru. And I knew that Maura O'Hara's wedding gown and the dresses worn by her maid and matron of honor would be every bit as colorful as her ivory-to-cream wardrobe and her cream-to-caramel decor.

"I'd call that pewter," Gypsy Rose Liebowitz, our old family friend, New York's favorite fortune-teller, and Mom's matron of honor, said as she adjusted the folds in the full skirt of the taffeta gown that I couldn't zip up. In my unspoken opinion, the color in question looked more like three-day-old cigarette ashes.

We were all standing in Bergdorf Goodman's Bridal Salon — in a dressing room larger than many Manhattan studio apartments — staring at my reflection in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. So far, I hadn't said a word. No one had seemed to notice.

"Pewter?" Mom's eyebrows scrunched together and her voice took on a testy tone. "Gypsy Rose, do you mean to tell me that you see more gray than beige in Jake's dress? Won't that clash with the champagne tones in my wedding gown?"

I sighed and reached for the taupe silk.

"You'll love this one," Sally the Sales Shark gushed. "No conflicting undertones. Like caviar, taupe is destined to go with champagne."

Since my checkered childhood, when Mom had inherited our co-op on Ninety-second Street from her great-aunt, we'd lived on Mom's income from copyediting, working part-time in Gypsy Rose's New Age bookstore, and creative credit card juggling. Then, after I'd become a ghostwriter, my income helped to cover the monthly maintenance fee. And, recently, more than just the basics. So I've remained a ghostwriter.

Through the years, I've tolerated Tiffany because of its proximity to FAO Schwarz and, as I grew older, because of the Truman Capote-Audrey Hepburn connection, but Mom's never-ending romance with Bloomingdale's and Bergdorf s — mostly during their sales — has sent me shopping at department stores. Amid all this Fifth Avenue elegance and pre-wedding excitement, I would have preferred to be at one right now.

A week from today, my mother would be marrying my on-again/currently very much off-again boyfriend's father. The groom, Aaron Rubin, a tall, slim, gray-haired, living, breathing, walking, talking Ralph Lauren ad patriarch, had recently been elected the junior senator from New York, following his predecessor's demise. A messy murder case that his son, Ben, an NYPD homicide chief, and I had helped solve. Though not working side by side. Whenever I played detective, Ben considered me a big-time pain.

Despite our unresolved issues, next Friday evening at St. Thomas More Church in our Carnegie Hill parish, Ben would serve as his father's best man and I would be my mother's maid of honor.

Complicating all this cozy intrigue, Dennis Kim, New York City's top entertainment attorney and my other on-again/off-again boyfriend — our relationship has remained in a constant state of flux since I was eight and he was twelve — would usher. And his father, Mr. Kim, another dear old family friend, as well as our local greengrocer, would give the bride away.

"Jake, come back from wherever you are," Mom said, "and take a look in the mirror."

Shaking off wedding day woes, I obeyed my mother.

Totally amazing. After eight weeks, seven stores — starting and ending in Bergdorf — and thirty-six rejects, I'd put on a dress that was love at first sight. Based on the enthusiasm in Mom's voice, the glint in Gypsy Rose's eyes, and the satisfied smirk on the bridal consultant's face, I gathered they all loved it as much as I did.

The object of our mutual admiration was a silk shantung sheath with a Sabrina neckline and a bell-shaped skirt that slimmed my hips and flattered my waist. Taupe and terrific.

Gypsy Rose laughed. "Jake, I'd just about accepted that you'd walk down the aisle in one of your Annie Hall pantsuits. Complete with that god-awful tie you've been wearing since your thirteenth birthday."

She and my mother had picked out and been fitted for their outfits two months ago. Right in this very dressing room. Mom immediately renounced ice cream and Milky Ways until after the wedding reception. Her soft silk champagne gown and matching tiny silk tiara reminded me of Empress Josephine's style, while Gypsy Rose's elaborate cafe au lait gown could have come straight from the court of Marie Antoinette. Vera Wang with a French twist.

Sally the Sales Shark sailed off to find the seamstress, pausing long enough to deliver a dramatic exit line: "The poor dear will have to work double time to get you ready, Jake."

I waved the price tag in her wake. "At nine hundred and fifty dollars, I hope the alterations are included." She never veered from her course.

Actually, I shouldn't have been complaining. As a wedding present to Mom, Gypsy Rose, the most generous woman I know, had insisted on paying for all three of our dresses.

Two hours later, Mom, Gypsy Rose, and I celebrated with tea and huge blueberry muffins in Sarabeth's Kitchen. Crossing off another item — get Jake's dress — on our long list of premarital tasks.

The restaurant, located in Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue, around the corner from our co-op, has been part of my life and its small successes since shortly after Mom and I had moved to Carnegie Hill from Jackson Heights twenty-six years ago.

As has Gypsy Rose Liebowitz. A good-looking redhead, with fashion flair as wild as her curls, an untamed curvy figure, and great legs, she's now a senior citizen, with a child's sense of exploration. And expectation. Her remarkably youthful spirit, depth of soul, wicked wit, and worldly wisdom have brought grace and color into our lives. Not even Mom can live on beige alone. Since Gypsy Rose was a widow with no children, I've been the lucky recipient of her loving nature. Mom and I adored her.

Though sometimes her psychic connections both puzzled and alarmed me. An evening at Gypsy Rose's could include guests from the world beyond. Zelda Fitzgerald and Emily Bronte have shown up. Zelda, on occasion, brings a message from Jack O'Hara, my late father. Even George Sand made a cameo appearance. I remain a skeptic, but can't explain what the hell happens when Gypsy Rose channels the spirit world. I do believe that Gypsy Rose believes. And way beyond belief, communications from these long-dead writers have helped me catch killers. As Sister Mary Agnes told me in the third grade: "Life's a mystery." Apparently death is too.

As if reading my mind, Gypsy Rose gave me an impish grin and said, "Jake, darling, I want you to know Zelda tells me your father approves of your mother's upcoming marriage."

I swallowed the last bite of my muffin, then said, "Oh?" Mom, the intrepid chatterbox, kept quiet. We both stared at Gypsy Rose, waiting.

"Yes." Gypsy Rose smiled. "Zelda showed up rather inconveniently last night while I was waiting for a soufflé to rise. She'd been playing Hearts with Jack. As usual, he'd won. Anyway, Zelda knew the wedding was on my mind, and had asked Jack how he felt about it. He'd wished Maura happiness and long life. Said he'd be the one waltzing her around eternity, but he didn't mind Aaron cutting in."

While I found my dead father's answer to be somewhat ambiguous, my mother smiled and sounded relieved. "Isn't that wonderful, Jake?"

Mom and Dad had been long divorced before his untimely move to the world beyond. Upon his death, Mom assumed the mantle of widowhood — both she and Gypsy Rose had totally overdosed on Jackie Kennedy — and canonized my father's memory.

"Just great." What else could I say?

'Well, after Jack Kennedy died," Mom pressed on, "Jackie married Ari. Now that they've all gone to the world beyond, I'm sure they've worked out ..."

Elizabeth Taylor's eight marriages crossed my mind. Fortunately, my cell phone rang before I could speak.

"Jake."

"Hi, Dennis."

"Where are you? I need to see you right now. Can you grab a cab down to my office?"

Mom's frown sent me outdoors. I stood on the corner of Ninety-second and Madison, the wind whipping autumn leaves over my boots and blowing ash blonde hair into my eyes. And memories clouding my mind. Memories of Venice in June, Dennis and I walking across the Bridge of Sighs, where he'd proposed for the third and last time. Still feeling his lips on my cheek. Still wondering why I hadn't said yes.

"What's so urgent, Dennis? I'm celebrating at Sarabeth's with Mom and Gypsy Rose. I finally found a dress for the wedding —"

"Jake, you do know that Sir Gareth Selby-Steed's coproducing Suzy Q?"

"Of course I know." Hadn't I ghostwritten Kate Lloyd Connor's A Killing in Katmandu, the novel the musical had been based on? Hadn't Dennis invited me to attend Suzy Q's opening night? Selby-Steed was one of his biggest clients. Why did Dennis sound so frazzled? Very out of character.

"The show's in big trouble, Jake. The leading lady's about to walk. The music's marvelous, but the dialogue's deadly. Gareth needs a ghostwriter to prop up the lines. Get some life into them. Quick. The show opens Thursday night."

"You can't be thinking of me, can you? Mom's getting married on Friday!"

"Jake, you'll remain anonymous, but the pay is astronomical. You'll breeze through this assignment."

"Get another ghostwriter. I'm too busy being the bride's maid of honor. Every night from now to the wedding is booked. The rehearsal. Gypsy Rose's party. Your own dinner party for Mom at —"

"Come on, if you pull this off, you can retire on the royalties."

"I've heard that song before."

"But wouldn't you just die if you passed up this opportunity to work with Elaine Eden?" Dennis actually sounded desperate. "It could be the lady's last hurrah." The truth was — and he damn well knew it — Mom would be the one who'd die and want to kill me too if I refused Dennis Kim's offer.

CHAPTER 2

Forty years ago, Mom had been first runner-up in the annual Miss Rheingold contest. The winner had been Maria Elena Buttofuco, who'd taken her prize money, moved from Rego Park to Greenwich Village, enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and morphed into Elaine Eden. Broadway star. A household name — even in the hinterlands. In the 1970s, the Tony Award-winning stage actress, whose only screen role had put an Oscar on her mantel, recorded a country album and won a Grammy.

Maura Foley, on the other hand, had received several cases of Rheingold beer, married Jack O'Hara, and eventually produced me. Some consolation prize.

My childhood bedtime stories included an ongoing series of news bulletins about Elaine Eden's life. Far more entertaining than Mother Goose. The theater's first lady had accumulated six Tonys and had married seven times. Her only son, fathered by her first husband, would be about my age. Last I'd heard, he'd been living in a monastery in Tibet.

Since their shared spotlight all those decades ago, Elaine had neither returned Mom's calls, nor sent her as much as a Christmas card. Yet that star power still pulled my mother, albeit vicariously, into Eden's life.

When I returned to the table, Mom egged me on. "What a marvelous opportunity, darling. Since you wrote the original manuscript, you're the perfect book doctor to cure what ails Suzy Q." Giggling like a schoolgirl, she added, "Then we can all go to opening night."

Gypsy Rose seconded her opinion.

I called Dennis back, accepted his offer, and negotiated for him to drive over to Sarabeth's and pick me up.

After he'd sweet-talked Mom and Gypsy Rose, pocketed a muffin for the road, and paid our check, my mother issued a final request. "Please have Jake back by seven, Dennis. Tonight's the last literary salon I'll be hosting as Maura O'Hara. I don't want either of you to miss it." The lesser literary lights of Carnegie Hill gathered once a month at Mom's. The membership had topped out at thirty. Mostly unpublished writers — though every once in a while some obscure literary journal would "buy" one of their stories, paying them with free copies. Mr. Kim, Dennis's dad, was a charter member and the group's resident poet. In our neighborhood, his odes were as much admired as his produce.

Pointing to her long list of things yet to be done, I said, "I thought you might cancel tonight's meeting, Mom."

"Cancel?" She sounded appalled. "Never. Why, since this is such a special occasion, Gypsy Rose is channeling Erle Stanley Gardner as our ghost guest of honor. Don't miss this, Jake. You might learn something."

I couldn't quibble with that.

Ten minutes later, Dennis and I sat in his Rolls Royce en route to the Waldorf-Astoria to meet with Suzy Q's music man and co-producer.

Two years ago, the newly knighted Brit had taken America by storm with his rock opera, Lady Godiva's Hair. Last year, his gaudy — some said tasteless — show, Catherine the Great's Horse, won the Tony for best musical. Sir Gareth Selby-Steed must have a thing for jockeys.

Dennis, still sweet-talking, said, "Just think, Jake, you'll be rewriting the words for a show with the great Gareth's music. What better billing could a fledgling playwright want?"

"Have you switched from entertainment law to fiction writing, Dennis? You, of all people, know a ghostwriter gets no credit."

"Listen, credited or not, Suzy Q needs a fast rewrite and a dose of Jake O'Hara's snappy dialogue. With the opening only days away, the producer's willing to pay big bucks for a little wit." Dennis talked money, knowing that would be the direct route to my inspiration.

Though I'd never admit it to either Mom or Dennis, I too thought this would be an exciting project. The musical had caught Broadway's fickle fancy. And its players were the tabloids' current darlings. The casting question had rivaled the search for Scarlett. Every over-the-hill Broadway and Hollywood actress auditioned to star as Suzy Q. After all, how many starring roles were there for sixty-something-year-old actresses?

But the role had gone to Elaine, who possessed all the necessary accouterments. The lady could sing, dance, act, and was sleeping with the show's director, Philip Knight.

Dennis pulled into a no-parking zone on Lexington and Fifty-first, and we walked down a block to the Waldorf. I loved the lobby. Stretching east from Lexington to Park, and north from Forty-ninth to Fiftieth, the hotel's vast space, through some marvelous decorating skills and clever placement of furniture, offered its guests an aura of gracious, timeless living.

"Where are we meeting Sir Gareth?" I asked as Dennis exited the revolving door.

"Bull and Bear," he said, leading me to the restaurant's crowded bar. Lots of wood and brass. Lots of men. I could count the women on one hand. Five thirty p.m. The "masters of the universe" were holding court. The markets had posted their final numbers. The ad agencies had drafted their final copy. The senior NBC News staff — some of whom actually had worked there since the days of Huntley and Brinkley — knew when to take a martini break. And the bankers, who always beat the other professions to the bar, had been perched on their favorite stools for at least an hour. Interspersed with the gray hair and gray three-piece suits were the young lions in navy blazers and chinos. The few women wore black.

But no sign of Gareth.

I asked Dennis, "Isn't this atmosphere a tad clubby and conservative for a man who moves to the sound of a different orchestra?"

"Hello! Over here!" I swung around. Selby-Steed and entourage had arrived, in all their glitzy glory.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Ghostwriter for Hire by Noreen Wald. Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald. Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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