Murder on Madison Square352
Murder on Madison Square352
Former policeman Frank Malloy is frustrated when a woman requests his private detective services to implicate her wealthy husband in adultery, the only legal grounds for divorce in New York state. Although Mrs. Bing seems genuinely distressed about her marriage and desperate to end it, she refuses to tell Frank the reason she absolutely must divorce her husband and admits she has no legal grounds. Frank explains he won't manufacture evidence for her and sends her on her way.
The following week, Frank and Sarah happen to be attending the first ever auto show in Madison Square Garden when they meet the woman's husband, Alfred Bing, who has invested in a company that produces one of the electric motorcars on display. A few days later, the newspapers report that millionaire Alvin Bing has been found dead, pinned beneath one of the wheels of his very own motorcar. But who was driving it? The obvious suspect is Mrs. Bing, but Frank and Sarah find that nothing is as it seems in their puzzling, dangerous search for truth.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Gaslight Mystery Series , #25|
|Product dimensions:||8.10(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A rich lady is here to see you," Maeve said with a mischievous grin. She had closed Frank's office door behind her when she came in so she could make this announcement in private.
"A rich lady?" Frank echoed with a grin of his own. "Is it my wife or my mother-in-law?"
"It's a client," she told him smugly.
"And how do you know she's rich?" he challenged. Maeve had begun her career as nanny to Frank's children, but over time, she had somehow managed to become part of his detective agency, too. Sometimes her detection skills astonished him, although he made sure not to let on.
She sighed in dismay at his question, which she must think demonstrated his lack of faith in her abilities. "Her clothes. She's new money, though."
Frank bit back another smile. "And how do you know that?"
Maeve's nose wrinkled as she considered. "She's not comfortable."
"What does that mean?"
"You know, the way Mrs. Decker is. No matter what happens, she's always so calm and sure of herself."
Ah yes, the confidence that comes from being born with money and knowing you never had to worry about a thing. His mother-in-law had it in spades and so did his wife, Sarah. It had been bred into them for generations. Frank Malloy was new money, though. He would never have that confidence.
"All right, who is she and what does she want from us?"
Maeve reached across his desk and laid a calling card on top of the papers he'd been working on. It was engraved on high-quality paper. mrs. alvin bing. The address was an upscale neighborhood in the city. "She wouldn't tell me what she came for. She said it's private and she would only discuss it with you."
"Show her in, then." Frank laid the card down and straightened the papers on his desk. He stuffed them into a folder and set them aside.
"Do you, uh, need me to take notes?" Maeve asked hopefully. "Gino is still out."
Frank's partner, Gino Donatelli, had gone to deliver a final report to a client.
"If I need you, I'll call you," Frank said. Maybe Mrs. Bing had something to say that wasn't fit for Maeve's ears. "And don't worry, Miss Nosy, I'll tell you all about it when she leaves."
Maeve sniffed in derision at his teasing and went out to fetch Mrs. Bing.
Mrs. Bing appeared to be in her late thirties. She had never been a beauty, but she was a handsome woman who benefitted from being dressed well. Very well, in fact. Maeve had been right about her clothes. Being married to Sarah had taught him how to spot the work of a fine dressmaker. But her fashionable attire could not disguise her worried expression. She was greatly distressed and trying her best not to show it.
Frank introduced himself and invited her to sit in one of the wooden, straight-backed client chairs. His office was intentionally utilitarian since he had the luxury of choosing which clients he wanted to represent, so he felt no need to impress anyone.
"How may I help you today, Mrs. Bing?" he asked when she didn't speak.
Her gloved hands clutched her purse tightly, as if she were afraid he might snatch it from her, and her eyes were tortured when she gazed at him across his desk. "Mr. Ottermeir suggested I see you."
"The attorney downstairs?" Frank asked. Ottermeir had never sent him any business before.
"Yes, he . . . Well, perhaps I should start at the beginning."
Frank nodded his encouragement.
"I wish to obtain a divorce from my husband."
"I see." He was very much afraid he did see. "I'm sure Mr. Ottermeir explained how difficult that will be."
"Yes, he . . . I understand that adultery is the only grounds for divorce in New York."
"That is my understanding as well."
Mrs. Bing closed her eyes for a moment, as if gathering her courage. "Mr. Ottermeir said that to obtain a divorce, I would need proof that Mr. Bing was . . . unfaithful."
"That's right, and as I'm sure he also told you, such proof is very difficult to get."
She drew an unsteady breath. "He also explained that in such cases, it's possible to, uh, trick a man into providing such proof."
Frank would need to have a talk with Mr. Ottermeir, if this was the kind of business he thought he could send up to him. "Did he tell you how that is usually done?"
"Yes." Obviously, she found the subject as distasteful as Frank did, but she said, "He said that there are, uh, young ladies who will assist in these matters, for a fee."
Frank leaned back in his chair and sighed. "So I am told. I'm sure Ottermeir also explained that the man in question is somehow lured to a hotel room and there he is met by a scantily clad young woman and a photographer who takes pictures of the woman embracing the man. These photographs are then used in court as proof of adultery in order to obtain a divorce."
"Yes," she said weakly. "That is exactly what he told me."
"And did he send you to me because he thought I could arrange for your husband to be caught in such a compromising position?"
Mrs. Bing was now mangling the purse she held in her lap as her hands gripped it ever more tightly. "He said . . ." She paused to swallow. "He said that many private detectives are able to arrange such things."
"I'm sure some are, but I'm afraid Ottermeir misled you if he suggested I am one of them."
Mrs. Bing blinked in surprise. "Oh."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Bing. I can see you are, uh, distressed, and I understand that a woman might have many good reasons for wanting to divorce her husband, but New York State only recognizes one of them. Did Ottermeir suggest that you could move to another state where the laws are more accommodating?"
"He did mention that, but I don't . . . I can't just pick up and move to Indiana or the Dakotas. I . . . I don't have any money of my own, you see."
"You aren't likely to have any after your divorce either. I'm sure Ottermeir warned you that judges rarely grant wives a settlement or alimony."
"I've been poor all my life, Mr. Malloy, at least until I married Mr. Bing, so I'm not afraid of that. I just . . ." Her voice caught and she clapped a hand over her mouth as if to stifle a sob.
Frank jumped up and went to the door. "Maeve," he called. "Will you get Mrs. Bing a glass of water?"
"I'm so sorry," Mrs. Bing said, digging in her purse for a handkerchief.
"Don't be. I'm sure this is very difficult for you."
"And even more difficult now that I know you can't help me."
For a second, Frank had a twinge of regret. Rarely did he face a situation where his own moral code prevented him from helping someone in need. But maybe Mrs. Bing's problems were of her own making. She hadn't really told him why she wanted a divorce. For all he knew, she was the unfaithful one in the marriage.
Frank moved back to his chair behind the desk. "Did Ottermeir suggest a legal separation as an alternative?"
"He did, but . . . Mr. Bing would never agree to it. Even if he did, I . . . I fear he would insist on retaining custody of my daughter."
"Yes, the courts do usually grant the father custody of the children, since he is more likely to be able to provide for them."
"Mr. Bing is not Carrie's father," she said defensively. "This is a second marriage for both of us, you see, and . . ."
Maeve had appeared with the glass of water. She offered it to Mrs. Bing with a reassuring smile. "Are you all right? Can I get you anything else?"
Mrs. Bing accepted the glass and gratefully took a sip. "Thank you, no, I'll be fine now."
Maeve gave Frank a hopeful look, but he shook his head and she slunk out with obvious reluctance. He needed to find out more about Mrs. Bing, if only to have something to placate Maeve with.
When the door clicked shut again, he said, "I can't help you stage an adultery scene, but if you are in a difficult situation, I may be able to help you some other way, especially if you are in danger. Is your husband violent, for instance?"
She sighed wearily. "No, not at all. He . . . he also provides well for me and my daughter."
"You said this is a second marriage for you both. How long have you been married?"
"Almost nine months."
Frank blinked in surprise. Nine months wasn't very long to decide a marriage wasn't working out, especially if Bing wasn't unfaithful and was a good provider. Many women would be more than satisfied with that, no matter what other bad habits Bing might have. What could he have done to send her out to find an attorney? "Perhaps if you told me the reason you wish to divorce your husband, I could-"
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Malloy," she said, rising so abruptly the water sloshed out of the glass she still held, splashing onto her glove. She hastily set the glass down on the edge of his desk. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"It's no bother, Mrs. Bing. I really would like to help you if I could."
She gave him a smile that was ghastly in its despair. "I appreciate that."
"Here," he said, snatching up one of his business cards from a holder on his desk. "Take this in case you change your mind, and don't hesitate to call on me if I can assist you."
She took the card, albeit reluctantly, slipping it into her bag along with the handkerchief she no longer needed. Then she headed for the door. He had to hurry to get ahead of her so he could open it for her. Then she scurried through the front office and out into the hallway without even glancing at Maeve.
When she was gone, Maeve gave him a chastening glare. "What did you do to her?"
"I had to tell her I couldn't help her."
"What on earth did she ask you to do?" Maeve knew he wasn't above bending the rules if that's what it took.
"She wants to get a divorce. Ottermeir told her I could set up a trap for her husband with some floozy and a photographer."
"Ottermeir? That shyster on the second floor?" she marveled.
"The very same."
"I'm surprised he doesn't have his own floozy and photographer on staff."
"So am I. I need to pay him a visit to discuss the kinds of work I'm willing to do."
"I should hope so. And in the meantime, what about poor Mrs. Bing? Did she tell you why she wants to divorce her husband?"
"She did not, although I did ask her outright. I told her I might be able to help her in some other way, but she just stormed out."
Maeve frowned. "She stormed out when you offered to help her?"
Maeve shook her head. "I find that hard to believe. What exactly did you say to her?"
"I . . ." He tried to remember. "I did tell her I'd like to help her. I asked if Bing was violent, and she said he wasn't."
"And you believed her?" she demanded.
"She wasn't upset by that question, so yes, I believed her. She also said he's a good provider, and apparently he is faithful, since she would have had to stage a scene with a floozy to prove he wasn't."
"He sounds like a prize."
"A lot of women would agree, but then . . ." He replayed the scene in his mind. "It was when I asked her to tell me why she wanted a divorce, if he wasn't guilty of the usual sins, that she jumped up and left."
"Yes, oh my."
"Do you think she's the one who has a lover, and she didn't want to admit it?"
"That's one possibility."
"And I guess there are all kinds of reasons a woman might want to divorce her husband."
"I can think of a few," Frank said with a sad smile. "But New York State doesn't recognize most of them as valid."
"So, I guess you'd better be sure before you marry someone in New York, because you're in it for life."
"Yes, you are," Frank said, "unless you find someone with a floozy and a photographer."
The poor woman," Sarah said that evening when Frank and Maeve had finished telling her and Gino about their mysterious visitor. Gino had come over for supper, and the four of them were sitting in the parlor now, relaxing after the children were in bed for the night. Frank's mother sat off in a corner, knitting by the light of an electric lamp, which was the one advantage she seemed to really enjoy now that her son was a millionaire.
"Why do you assume she's the injured party?" Gino asked. He and Maeve were sitting together on the love seat. Sarah noticed they were sitting a little closer than friends would sit, but not as close as lovers would sit. Maeve still wasn't ready to admit her feelings for him, although Gino had made his plain.
"Because the woman is always the injured party," Maeve informed him.
"Well, not always," Sarah felt obligated to say, "but very often she is."
Gino shrugged. "You're probably right, but she said he's rich and he doesn't have a mistress and he doesn't beat her."
"He doesn't sound all that bad, does he?" Sarah admitted. "But she said she'd been poor all of her life until she married him, and she's willing to give that up and be poor again to be rid of him. He must have done something that upset her terribly if she wants to divorce him after only nine months," Sarah said. "I'm not sure I'd even want to guess what that might be."
"And it doesn't even matter," Maeve said, "because she won't be able to get a divorce because of it."
"Maybe she'll find another detective who will help her stage the photographs," Gino said.
"Maybe she will," Sarah said sadly. "In any case, I hope she manages to get away from him if he's as bad as he must be."
The conversation turned to other topics then and after a while, Gino turned to Malloy and said, "Do you think this is a good time?"
"I don't think there will ever be a good time," Malloy said with a twinkle, "but you might as well tell them."
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