Among the Tylers of Santa Clara are a matriarch lauded as the first lady of American theater, a judicial appointee of the president, a noted fundraiser for international charities, a university vice-chancellor, and an esteemed and admired surgeon. The Tylers are, in their own words, “worthy of Paradise.”
Then, a violently anti-US Middle Eastern leader sends his son to California to be treated by the young Dr. Michael Tyler. The king’s deal: Save his “little prince,” and the lives of the twenty-eight American hostages languishing in his prison will be spared. And there’s another caveat: The agreement must be kept secret. But there’s one more Tyler to contend with.
Rufus Tyler is the family “lemon in the basket,” an underachiever who has finally found his moment in history. By exposing his family to the press as conspirators in a terrorist’s negotiation, Rufus will do more than breach the walls of privacy. He will plunge his family into the dangerous waters of international politics. As unfounded fears and dreadful rumors take hold, an inevitable and shocking act of violence will threaten not only the Tylers, but also the fate of the entire country.
Upon the original publication of Lemon in the Basket, an Edgar Award finalist for Best Novel, Dorothy B. Hughes wrote that Charlotte Armstrong should stand “with the immortal ladies of suspense—Rinehart and Sayers, Marsh and Tey” (Los Angeles Times).
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About the Author
Success came quickly. Her first novel, Lay On, MacDuff! (1942) was well received, spawning a three-book series. Over the next two decades, she wrote more than two dozen novels, winning critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base. The Unsuspected (1945) and Mischief (1950) were both made into films, and A Dram of Poison (1956) won the Edgar Award for best novel. She died in California in 1969.
Edgar Award–winning Charlotte Armstrong (1905–1969) was one of the finest American authors of classic mystery and suspense. The daughter of an inventor, Armstrong was born in Vulcan, Michigan, and attended Barnard College, in New York City. After college she worked at the New York Times and the magazine Breath of the Avenue, before marrying and turning to literature in 1928. For a decade she wrote plays and poetry, with work produced on Broadway and published in the New Yorker. In the early 1940s, she began writing suspense. Success came quickly. Her first novel, Lay On, MacDuff! (1942) was well received, spawning a three-book series. Over the next two decades, she wrote more than two dozen novels, winning critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base. The Unsuspected (1945) and Mischief (1950) were both made into films, and A Dram of Poison (1956) won the Edgar Award for best novel. She died in California in 1969.
Read an Excerpt
Lemon in the Basket
By Charlotte Armstrong
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1967 Jack and Charlotte Lewi Family Trust
All rights reserved.
The under sides of the trees were awash in light. All around the terrace fat yellow candles burned under hurricane hoods, sending off subtle fumes to charm the insects away. Within the magic circle, the summer table was daintily spread; white-webbed chairs were comfortable and cool. The eight people gathered here seemed, on the whole (one of them was thinking), very handsome and civilized, and worthy of paradise.
They were just the family. Here sat a man and his wife, their three grown sons, and the women those sons had married. All here were Tylers, and here were all the adult Tylers. Tamsen, the youngest and newest of them, who had been Mrs. Duncan Tyler for just a half a year and was not quite yet completely out from under the halo of her wedding veil, was seeing the scene and sensing the whole with an especial delight. She thought it was none the less paradise for being a private one.
When the Judge, her father-in-law, rose to his feet, down at the other end of the table, she corrected herself. He isn't handsome at all, she thought fondly, but he is certainly civilized. William Rufus Tyler (who was not, in fact, a judge anymore) had a tall gangly set of bones. His high sloping shoulders were silhouetted against the glimmers on the surface of the pool that lay behind him, in the dark reaches of the lawn. His white brows, raised to ask for attention, were bushy crescents on his long, tanned forehead. The candlelight was kind to the small half-moons of flesh that sagged under his steady eyes and were complemented by the double roll that made a ruff under his long chin. It's a clown face, thought Tamsen (the artist), and yet it isn't comical, nor is it pathetic. It is ... she captured the word she wanted ... endearing!
The Judge was going to be ceremonious. He lifted his goblet of light wine. "As you may know," he began, his deep voice easy on the quiet air, "there is being built in the new Cultural Center a theatre of some magnificence. It is my pleasure to announce its newly chosen name. Shall we toast the Maggie Mitchel Theatre? Or shall we toast Maggie?"
It was the family custom to applaud in a mere pitter-patter, not loud, and in a quick light rhythm. All, applauding, now turned their faces toward the woman at the other end of the table, who was their mother, and yet also, in her own right, "the incomparable Maggie Mitchel," and still a first lady of the American Theatre, although she had not been on a stage for years. Tamsen, pattering away with the rest, watched Maggie take her bow with her own skillful perfection. Just right, thought Tamsen approvingly. None of this phony surprise, or "Who, little me?" stuff. Nor does she look too solemn, as if she took herself awfully awfully seriously. Now, how does she do that?
Maggie Mitchel Tyler was not a large woman. Her flesh was still compact. She was not a pretty woman and never had been, but she could be beautiful, if she liked, or anything else, for that matter. It isn't a rubber face, thought Tamsen, who had long ago despaired of ever painting Maggie's portrait. Still, Maggie knew how to manage so that one saw through her face to whatever she wished to seem to be thinking. Tamsen felt close to her mother-in-law. She and Maggie were in the arts and although they were not in the same art, there was a communication.
"Good going, Maggie," said her oldest son. His wife, Phillida, said gaily, "For whom else should they name a theatre of some magnificence?"
"Wonderful," said the middle son. And Lurlene, his wife, cried, "Say, Maggie, that's really something!"
Tamsen put in shy congratulations and her husband, the youngest brother, said, "Well, well, after all those fragile little old light bulbs, now they are going to carve your name in stone, eh, Maggie?"
Maggie's voice was, of course, a trained instrument. "In marble, on my gilded monument," she said with a touch of mischievous ham.
They drank. As the Judge sat down, Maggie, who was sixty-two years old, contrived to flow to her feet and Tamsen, aware that all arts have their techniques, thought to herself, Now, how does she do that?
"However," said Maggie, "since we are just the family —" (This was a code phrase and meant "don't tell.") "I think we must put a make-believe past behind and drink to something real and present. There is soon to be created a Fact Finding Committee, to which the President of the United States intends to appoint, and appoint to act as the head of it, a certain William Rufus Tyler. Your father, children, will be shooting trouble of some size." Maggie, lifting her glass, looked the very image of the proud little wife who does not really know what her husband does in his business, but is sure that he does it very well.
The pattering exploded. Duncan said, "Facts, eh? Otherwise, knocking stubborn heads together in a fatherly sort of way?" In spite of his teasing tone, his broad and boyish face was radiating pride.
What a pair they are, thought Tamsen, as proud as he. Maggie and the Judge! She thought of something and wailed, suddenly, "You'll be going away to Washington?"
"Washington!" said Lurlene with a startled look, as if the connection President-Washington had not occurred to her.
"Ah, well," said the Judge, "Maggie is being a bit premature. Shall we say that the real-and-present fact is, I seem to be considered for the job?"
"But just to be considered," said Rufus, the middle son, rather solemnly, "that's quite an honor, Dad."
"Indeed it is," said the Judge agreeably.
"And quite a chore, if P.S. he gets the job," said Phillida in her blithe way. "But speaking of honors ..."
Now Phillida Tyler was up. She was a tall slim woman, always perfectly groomed, with a handsome face that seemed to reflect a composure in her mind. She and Maggie, Tamsen thought, are both strong, or even dominating, women, but so differently. Maggie dominates because if she speaks or even just walks into a room, you are compelled to look and listen, and there is no telling how she does that. But Phillida operates behind the scenes. People do what she wants them to do, but she doesn't especially want them to realize that. It is just that what she wants them to do is the best way to accomplish some good purpose. Tamsen and Phillida had, so far, gone their separate ways, but with great goodwill and admiration for each other, just the same.
"Shall we drink to Dr. Mitchel Tyler," said Phillida in her clear crisp voice, "for whom a new operating theatre and a whole floor of the new wing has been designated to provide a place where he is to perform and to teach a certain surgical technique already known in the trade as the 'Mitchel Tyler'?" She wound up, not even breathless.
Before the applause was over, the oldest Tyler son stood up, as Tamsen had somehow known he would. She began to squirm with the knowledge that here, at this not unusual family Sunday night supper, on the east terrace of the Tyler house in San Marino, California, on a night in August — this time, something was ballooning. An inflation was happening. Eight people on a summer evening, and among them Maggie, whom the world called "incomparable," and the Judge, whom the world trusted, and Dr. Mitchel Tyler, who had earned a clearing of his path toward an even greater contribution to the world. All these honors and more to come! More to come!
"If we are naming names," the Doctor began a little gruffly. Mitchel Tyler was not short, but burly enough to seem shorter than his five-eleven. His face, however, was thin, and his dark good looks gave a sharp effect as if he were destined to become wizened, and not too long hence. Tamsen thought he was both clever and brave and she was glad he was alive.
"In the wall of the new Free Clinic for Handicapped Children, in the Valley," Phillida's husband said, "there will be embedded a bronze plaque in praise of Phillida Tyler."
"Who worked very hard." The Judge beamed, when another spate of lively pattering was fading.
"Who scampered about, raising the money," said Phillida impudently. "Oh, it's money that counts, you know."
"My goodness," said Lurlene weakly, "everybody's names!"
Rufus said, "Well, well, well. A Tyler here and a ..."
But Tamsen had gathered up her nerve. Was it her turn? Yes, surely it was her turn now. So she stood up, abruptly, before she should lose the nerve to do this, a small girl, small and dainty enough to seem more of a child than she was, at twenty-five. She had pinned her long dark hair up neatly for this occasion. Her brilliant eyes were looking frightened in her small face, and her voice, ordinarily soft and low, came out too shrilly, she feared, in her effort to give it volume. And too soon, because it cut off Rufus.
"Shall we toast —" she said. "Oh, excuse me, Rufus."
"... and a Tyler there," he finished lamely and fell silent.
"Shall we toast," Tamsen began again, "Professor Duncan Tyler, who has just been appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University's newest branch, to take office in January?"
She did not feel that she had put her news as gracefully as the others had known how to do, so she sat down in a fluster. But the pitter-patter of hands rose even faster than before. This made five out of the eight of them that the world was choosing to honor.
Duncan was saying, "And don't tell me I'm too young, because that's been said."
"Of course you are not too young," said Maggie, making her face as fierce as a terrier's. "What has age to do with it?" "Never fear," said Phillida. "That job will age him rapidly."
"Good going, Duncan," said the Doctor. "That is, if you want administration."
Duncan was answering that he did, and why, when Tamsen saw that Lurlene was licking her lips and looking lost. "Vice-Chancellor just means ... well ... subchief," she said because Lurlene might not know. Tamsen felt a rustling beside her. She turned. "Wouldn't you say, Rufus?" It was her impulse to defer to him, in some way.
Duncan, abandoning his own exchanges, said, "Hey, if it weren't for old Rufus, pretty soon all Chiefs, no Indians."
Tamsen winced, but to her surprise Rufus answered cheerfully. "Fewer Indians every day. How about some more firewater for us Indians, eh Tamsen?" Tamsen dimpled at such wit. "Oh, us Indians ..."
But there was Duncan, getting to his feet.
"Oh, gosh," said Tamsen under her breath. (More to come!) She felt Maggie's quick supporting sympathy as Maggie caught her shyness and then threw it away from them both. Even Maggie was riding above herself, as they all were. Or almost all.
"You may conclude," said Duncan in his most pompous lecturer's voice, that he didn't often use on Sundays, "that we must be, on the whole, Very Important People, with our names, one way or another, on their way into the history books. But if you would care to consider immortality, you must include the fact that Tamsen Tyler has been hung!"
"Oh, ho!" cried Maggie, as her fingers pattered.
"Is that so?" beamed the Judge, inane with pleasure.
"What do you mean, hung?" said Lurlene in a startled whine.
"Twenty by twenty-five inches, County Art Museum," said Duncan, losing his professorial pose and looking even younger than his chronological age of thirty-three. "One oil." He thumped down.
"Darned good going, Tamsen." That was Mitch.
Phillida leaned around to cry, "I'm hanging on to my original."
Lurlene said, "But I mean, hung?"
"Oh, well, that's a phrase they use in the trade. It means ..." Duncan began to translate, kindly.
Maggie picked up her little bell to summon Hilde and the shrimp, because the balloon had gone as far as it could go.
But Tamsen, who was often painfully aware of all kinds of invisible currents, heard herself saying to Rufus Tyler, the second son, "I'm just lucky, you know. It doesn't take too many brains ..." She caught her breath and hurtled on. "I only keep thinking how my children are going to be proud. It is a wonderful thing just to belong to this family!"
The she felt like dying. She had sinned; she had gushed.
He didn't answer. His large eyes rolled in her direction, briefly. He was thirty-four years old and already getting bald. His round face pinched in at the bottom to a tiny pointed chin. His full lips did not move.
But Lurlene was gushing responsively, "It certainly is, Tamsen. It's like too much! I mean, how lucky can you —"
Maggie came in, stepping on that line, to say, "Oh, did I tell you? I've had another letter from Alice Foster."
The talk must turn. It was right and proper for the family to toast those of its members who had been honored by the world. Six out of eight! And to enjoy all this in concert. It was right and proper to celebrate each individual's achievement, but the Tylers were not going into a long session of group-gloating. Not if Maggie could help it, and she could. Tamsen approved.
Maggie had chosen a good subject to swing this supper party into another mood and another pattern. Tamsen knew all about it.
Duncan said quickly, "No. What's up in Alalaf?"
But Tamsen, for a moment, only half listened. She was ashamed to have been so clumsy, that her intention to be tactful had come out insultingly. She didn't look at Rufus but watched Lurlene, who had presentably fine features, a straight nose, well-shaped eyes, a good enough chin, but whose hairdo had emerged from some neighborhood beauty parlor and bore no relation to her face or personality; whose body, at not much more than thirty, was slopping into too many soft lumps, whose dress was too busy with too many printed flowers and did not flatter the body, whose basically well-cut mouth was wearing a twist on it.
Or was Tamsen imagining? When that mouth opened too wide to receive too large a portion of the shrimp cocktail, and a bright fingernail came up to push in a spot of sauce at the mouth's corner, Tamsen turned her eyes. She had never yet had what could be called a conversation with Lurlene Tyler. Tamsen sighed and began to pay attention.
"Alice, and Jaylia too, are really pushing, and it doesn't do to underestimate them, you know," Maggie was saying. She became a Sybil, with veils. "It will happen."
"What will happen?" Rufus rumbled.
Tamsen knew what Maggie expected to happen. A little boy's life was going to be saved. And the fact that this little boy was a member of the royal family in a small country all the way around at the other side of the earth would make no difference. The Tylers would save him. Tamsen couldn't help agreeing with Maggie. She felt a mystic certainty, tonight, that anything the Tylers proposed to achieve would be achieved. Oh, there were complications and impediments, but no matter.
This Alice Foster was a woman with whom Maggie had gone to school, long ago. A person, Tamsen had gathered, of some force, who, although seldom seen, had retained, as some people know how to do, her status as an old chum, forever loyal. Alice Foster's only daughter had married a young man who was a prince, and however small his country, he was not only rightfully a prince, he had been in line to become a king.
But this prince was dead; he had been killed in a spectacular accident. His little boy was now, by several strokes of fate, in line to become the King of Alalaf, when the present monarch, the child's aging grandfather, should die, or as soon thereafter as the boy himself came of age.
The question was, would he ever become of age? The little prince had a very serious physical defect. Tamsen knew it had to do, somehow, with his heart. This condition was expected to end his life fairly soon unless something drastic was done about it.
It was Duncan who had discovered all this and involved the Tylers. A year ago, Duncan the college professor had, through the channels of the old friendship between Maggie and Alice Foster, been invited to the tiny kingdom of Alalaf, to visit the new university which the fabulously wealthy old king had very recently caused to be built in his capital city. Once there, Duncan had, of course, been entertained at the Palace and he had then heard about the child's condition. So Duncan had bethought himself of his brother, Dr. Mitchel Tyler, and his brother's position as the pioneering expert in the field.
At last, at last, and only last week, the Doctor had been invited and implored to come and see. So Mitch had flown to Alalaf, where in conference with the doctors there and by what examination he was able to make on the spot, he had held out hope that if the boy could be brought to Mitch in his own hospital, where he had his batteries of instruments and aides, perhaps he could, as Mitch would put it, be patched up.
Excerpted from Lemon in the Basket by Charlotte Armstrong. Copyright © 1967 Jack and Charlotte Lewi Family Trust. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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