At the height of World War II, Iris is a young Jewish girl living in Munich. One night, while on a double date, she lets herself get talked into staying out far past curfew. When she returns home, her family has disappeared. With her uncle Oswald, Iris races for the frontier, pausing at Saint Hildegard’s Mill to bury the family diamonds. She escapes to the United States, where she lives quietly for five decades. She will never return to look for her diamonds, but she has a friend who will.
Claire Breslinsky lived in Munich during her wild, carefree youth, but those days are long gone. When an old friend invites her to a wedding at Saint Hildegard’s Mill, Claire demurs—until Iris tells her about the hidden fortune that awaits her. Claire returns to Munich to attend the wedding, take some pictures, and do some light treasure hunting. But she will end up investigating a murder instead.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Keeper of the Mill
A Claire Breslinsky Mystery
By Mary Anne Kelly
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Mary Anne Kelly
All rights reserved.
She dreamed of a translucent moon, round and up high in a china-blue sky and a yard full of blowing white wash in the wind. A reward, she acknowledged, awake, her toes now on top of her husband's. A reward for some obscure metaphysical transaction well done.
Claire slipped out of bed and went down the old stairs, glancing at the ballroom-sized closet she'd spent the day before putting in order. She stood still at the bottom and surveyed the quiet floor. It would never look like this again, cleared of the children's toys, smelling of the fruit she'd arranged in a bowl on the table and the Murphy's Oil Soap she'd massaged to a glow in the wood. The still unsettled squall of dust she'd churned up in a frenzy lingered in the stained-glass air. There it was. The housekeeper's tidy universe, infinite and miniature. She yawned and stretched.
Claire went into the kitchen and put the coffee water up to boil. She sat down on a stool by her lamp with the big tobacco-stained shade. If there was no morning sunshine in her kitchen, blotted out as it was by the canopy of evergreen, she at least had this core of orange warmth she'd invented for herself. Claire held on to that warmth for a moment, enjoying it before the others woke up, before the day would formally begin, before Isolde would arrive and take the joy out of all of it.
Isolde Donnerwetter would strew her expensive luggage all over the house and disapprove with a glance of all Claire's fine efforts. She'd make that puzzled smalling of the eyes that imagined, boy, what I would have done with this place! With similar eyes, Claire noticed the piece of pottery on top of the baker's rack. It really was a little too fussy. What she needed was a simple piece of pottery. Claire wrapped her old terry-cloth robe more snugly about her. It didn't matter what Isolde thought. She wouldn't let it.
They'd bought this house, Claire and Johnny had, expecting to stay for a short while and then move on, out to some more suitable neighborhood; only now, happy despite themselves, despite an overwhelming Third World immigration, even, in some cases, because of it, they lived very comfortably, thank you very much, in their plush and shady old house. There were benefits to hundred-year-old, ramshackle dwellings: front porches, back porches, cavernous cellars, and big, dusty attics for children to hide-and-go-seek in.
Claire had, at last, the enormous kitchen she'd always dreamed of and never would have been able to afford if they'd moved somewhere more appropriate. They had a great deal of property for the area, and without the drain of high taxes so many of their friends had to put up with. Friends who'd moved away to more idyllic, "safe" neighborhoods. To which they would certainly reply, "Right, but you've got to pay those killer private-school tuitions." "You have to die from something," Johnny would snort, and shrug. He liked to be near Brooklyn and she liked to be near the city, so it worked out all right. There were twenty-seven full-grown trees in their backyard. It was a good two lots, one opening onto Kew Gardens, the more highfalutin neighborhood with access to the woods, but a shortage of parking spaces, and the other resting in the dowdier but charming Richmond Hill, where you could park wherever you pleased on the roomy, potholed streets. What used to be a barn now served very well as a three-car garage. The broad, sloping hill in front of the house looked clear down to sleepy Myrtle Avenue. It would be quite something one day, when they got it fixed up and all that pachysandra pulled up and grass seeded in. It was as close as you could get to the country in the city. Already she had the backyard almost perfect. Claire padded softly over to the window and looked out. She leaned against the cold sill and watched a robin make his dour way through the snow-creased mud. Just give the grapevine another year or two and they could move the picnic table from under the pines. A nice bottle of that homemade red wine from Johnny's Italian precinct sergeant and some fresh mozzarella from Suino d'Oro on Liberty Avenue, well, these were the pinnacles of any summer evening. Then she could have Johnny move that whatever it was, that old thingamajig statue off to the side. She would put in a pattern of climbing blue slate in a trail up the side of the steep, viney overgrowth. When she got hold of some nice old blue slate, she would.
Claire padded softly over to the window and looked out. She leaned against the cold sill and watched a robin make his dour way through snow-creased mud. It wouldn't be long before spring was here, she shivered. Yes, she would clear away those shrubs. She would do it herself. She was good at that sort of thing, once she got her old jeans on and got going. Just yank the buggers out and before you knew it, they'd have their own prestigious entrance on Park Lane South. An arched trellis. With roses. Big, voluptuous, old fashioned, cream colored roses. And blue morning glory. The idea cheered her and she returned to the tasks at hand. There was a dishwasher Johnny had put in for her under the butcher-block board, but she hardly ever used it. How she had made fun of her mother for not using hers! Now she knew why she hadn't. When you had your sink at the window and a fair, awakening yard to look out on, this squirrel and that, all these birds and the thick virgin wood out the back brimming over, it was almost a pleasure to wash dishes. Well, it was a pleasure, she revised her thought. As long as you'd shackled the garbage cans well the night before. Those raccoons could get pretty ingenious when they caught the scent of last night's pistachio ice cream.
Claire washed herself under the cold-water tap while the coffee steeped. Plenty of elbow grease had gone into the gleaming gooseneck faucet. Hadn't they all told her it was useless and she'd best throw it out! They had. And now look at it. The icy cold hurt her narrow wrists but she didn't want to use the hot water and wake up the house, not yet. Let them sleep. Those pipes rocked and rolled like sneakers in the dryer when you gave them more than one job to do, and she didn't really mind the invigorating torture. It was good for the heart, wasn't it?
She crept up the ceremonial expanse of the stairway, with its disapproving urchins and gargoyles, letting her white fingers trail and linger along the wood. She stole past Johnny. There was only one massive, pelted arm of his to be seen, abandoned in sleep across the crumpled eiderdown. The air was particular with that foreign, tart man smell of him. Mine—she narrowed her eyes and acknowledged—all mine. She sucked it in and swept up her old green cozy turtleneck from the floor. There were underwear and warm socks that matched in a basket of clean rumpled laundry. On the way down, Claire looked in on the children. Their mouths were wide open. They were off in their dreams. Astonishing, she considered, how angelic those cutthroat blackguards appeared in their sleep.
Floozie the dog, never one much for mornings, barely lifted her head. She just thumped her snub tail in greeting as Claire hobbled past, struggling into a pair of ugly rubber boots conveniently left by the previous owner, a Mr. Kinkaid. Mr. Kinkaid was a cantankerous, widowed old gent who'd happily—no, gleefully—signed the whole shebang over to Claire and Johnny and moved to a warm attic apartment down the block.
Claire found her navy pea jacket downstairs on a peg. The phone rang and she grabbed the receiver.
"What are you doing up?" a thick, cigaretty voice accused. It was Jupiter Dodd, she knew right away, She She magazine publisher, cranky and fast making his belligerent rounds, waking up the world and giving them a good yell before they were guarded enough to stand up for themselves.
"I'm just going out," she told him, cocking one ear toward upstairs, happy to hear from him. She was always happy to hear from Jupiter. He was her only source of income in a world with very little income nowadays. Of course, she could always finish off the basement and rent it out, but even that took money, and they didn't have any.
"What's up?" She tried not to sound like a fish on a hook.
"Any ideas for a shoot on Barbados?"
"Barbados?" Her heart leaped. She hadn't been to Barbados in years. "Let me think."
"You see, I knew you'd been there. I'm sending Hideoki with a half dozen Amazons. He's never been, and neither has the stylist. I told them you'd been everywhere and would have an idea."
"Oh," she said, her mind racing to find something to say that wouldn't let on her disappointment.
"It's been such a long time," she drawled. "What was the name of that place I used to stay? I'll have to look through my old appointment books. Can I get back to you?"
"No, I'm going out. I'll call you back this afternoon. Have you finished shooting those accessories I sent you?"
"Um, just about," she lied.
"Good. And please don't use that local stuff as background anymore. We're sick to death up here of Queens railroad trestles done up to look like the banks of the Seine."
"Right-o," she chirped stupidly and they hung up. Claire held the door so it wouldn't slam and made her way outside over the crackly drenched ice and mud. The sky was low and woolly behind the branches, and her breath came out in tight white puffs. There was a great show of padlock and husky chain on the garage door, but it wasn't really latched and any easy push scraped it open. You only had to watch out for splinters. Claire blinked carefully in the startling darkness. There was a smell of rust and old rubbery things. She always checked for raccoons before she went in, not wanting to corner one off guard.
Along the wall her maroon Columbia bicycle waited for her. Her gallant steed. She wheeled it out with doting care, making sure it didn't knock into the Chrysler Royale Johnny was restoring. Johnny was an undercover detective, but he really enjoyed working on what he called "masterpieces" like this. The bicycle he'd come across in a garbage heap in East New York on his way back from a drug bust. He'd thought she might like it. She'd seen it coming, limping up the driveway under his skeptical tutelage. She had loved it, immediately and effusively. Johnny was a little bit jealous of her bike, she suspected cheerfully, hopping on and wobbling away, kicking the door shut, straining not to lose control down the steep drive, setting the deep steel basket straight before she slipped the bulky mitt back into her pocket. Spring was here. She smiled at the tufts of crocus on everyone's snow-puddled lawns. Or would be any minute.
Claire tooled down to Jessy's candy store on Myrtle, now actually Mohammed's Chapadi Emporium, but he still sold New Jersey milk and eggs and poppy-seed rolls and the Daily News, did Mohammed, so the early-morning regulars continued to gather there, and they still called it Jessy's, never mind it reverberated curry and there was a rainbow curtain of ladies' punjabis along the wall. Mohammed put on "News Radio" for them till nine o'clock, when he'd go back to "Bangladesh Top Twenty Hits." Then the sleepy Indian housewives would begin to tiptoe in.
"Good morning, Mrs. Claire." He displayed a set of enormously healthy-looking white teeth and gave a half-bow. Claire smiled tentatively back. Mohammed refused to believe Claire was not some wealthy heiress. "Such an important house, on top of the entire Richmond Hill," he would cluck admiringly, shaking his head.
"Mohammed," she'd admonish him, piling items into her ecologically correct net bag, "I am just another mortgage-impoverished Queens housewife and you only badger me to make me feel good, don't you?"
"Yes, 'tis true," he'd say, wobbling his head and holding the door open for her, "but you have visited my country, have you not?" He liked to remind her of this as she pedaled away, as if that made her the same just-flown-in from Delhi apparition in her freshly ironed and nevertheless wrinkled linen jacket. As indeed she once had been. Once. She sighed and carried on contentedly and pedaled up the potholed street, passing crazy Lydia Schuler as she bumped along. Lydia Schuler was harmless, just another burned-out, zigzagging pedestrian of Richmond Hill. Claire hardly looked as Lydia, nearing fifty, banged her head against the graffitied mailbox on the corner. Claire checked her watch. A quarter to seven. She had a couple of spare minutes before the family started to wake up. She'd stop off and bring a roll to Iris von Lillienfeld. She leaned her bike against the bent sycamore and went lightly up the steps of Iris's magnificently intact antebellum. It would take her a long time and a lot of grief to get over not having this old lady around to talk to. Originally a gruff enigma, Iris had become her blithe, if elderly, mentor.
Claire, charmed with her own thoughtfulness, rattled on Iris's relic-of-a-sea-horse knob. It lay sideways, and you had to turn it like the key in a music box.
Iris, meanwhile, stood with weary eyes, wispy sprigs of pale chin whiskers fluttering in the draft and a digestion gone merrily berserk. She stood behind the expanse of the refrigerator. Perhaps, if she stood very still, Claire would go away. She should come back later. Claire always did, no fear of that. You'd think she'd have the decency not to be so good so early.
"Iris!" Claire's imperious whisper carried through both helpless doors.
"Fool!" Iris groaned. She would wake the cat. He was so old, though, Lü the Wanderer was, one wondered if he heard anything at all at this point, or just read lips. He had to be twenty-seven, or twenty eight. Iris was afraid to wake him up and at the same time she was afraid not to. One day she would shake him and he would be cold and stiff. She didn't want to deal with that. She supposed it would be better, though, than him finding her cold and stiff. Who would look after the old fellow? Who would care that his teeth were very bad and he could only manage tapioca and the like? Iris moved with a decisive lurch out into clear view. Better Claire than the ASPCA.
"Ah. There you are! I was just about to worry."
Iris unlatched the inside door and let her in.
"I didn't hear the clock."
"You mean the bell." Iris was always mixing up common words. Iris moved away in case there was a lingering trace of booze about herself from the night before. Claire would get all worked up and sermonize. Little did she know that Claire had her own silent soldier of Bordeaux dying fast in the back of the crockery cupboard, justified primly by Tilset- and Appenzeller-loving veins and arteries that nowadays, thank God, the experts admitted, required such slosh.
"I've brought you a nice fresh roll," she said. She waited. Iris did not smile but turned her back and retreated past the grand piano to her bedroom. Perhaps she was not well? Claire hesitated. Iris came back out, her teeth installed, and rewarded Claire with a filmy grin.
"You're out early," she growled in her still thick German accent.
"I've got that friend of mine coming from Munich today," Claire reminded her, remembering herself. Her heart sank.
They shared an intimate grimace. Iris knew that Claire had had a whole other life over there in Munich and didn't much like dredging it up again. Well, she liked it but hated it at the same time. It was complicated. Iris understood because she'd lived other lives over there as well. You didn't switch entire continents when things were going hunkydory. It was all right, though. It would be all right.
"Better you than me," Iris said, referring to Claire's company. Or any company, for that matter. Her own letter from Germany lay propped against the Tiffany lamp, along with bill receipts and unopened Hanukkah cards. She batted her eyes, struggling with fatigue. All night long she'd walked around the empty house, awake. She might as well not even go to bed till dawn, for all the good it did her. She didn't get a wink till then anyway. Iris nudged Claire out of the way and went to the sink to fill the kettle. Claire stood there indecisively. "Well," she said, "I suppose I'll head on home and get my crew up and at 'em."
"So soon?" Iris pouted insincerely.
"Tell you what ... I'll stop back later. It will give me an excuse to get away. Just in case Isolde drives me nuts. Which she will."
Excerpted from Keeper of the Mill by Mary Anne Kelly. Copyright © 1995 Mary Anne Kelly. Excerpted by permission of OPEN 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.
Table of Contents