by Noreen Wald


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943390779
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)

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Remembrance of Ghostwriters Past

A Jake O'Hara Mystery

By Noreen Wald

Henery Press

Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-943390-80-9


"His penance must have been Hell," my mother said, referring to the killer she'd just confronted in St. Thomas More's church. "Jake, I can't believe Father Blake is dead. God, murdered in the confessional."

Mom had witnessed the shooter in action. Less than an hour ago. Now, sitting in our cheerful beige and white, super neat, cleaner than an autoclave Carnegie Hill kitchen, I thought it was no wonder she couldn't believe it.

"Go on, Mom," I said.

"I'd arrived at six, just as confessions were ending. The church appeared empty, but Father Blake's light was still on, so I slipped into the penitent's seat on the left side and waited for Father to slide open the screen." Mom's always expertly applied mascara had stained her cheeks and her ash-blonde Diane Sawyer haircut had gone askew, resulting in a Dennis the Menace-style cowlick. She sighed, then wiped her eyes. "He was my favorite confessor and now ..."

"Here." I handed her a cup of tea. 'Take a sip; you'll feel better." Tea has been the O'Hara family's panacea since long before my ancestors sailed from Ireland and landed in New York.

"I didn't realize there was anyone on the other side of the booth and I wondered if he'd left, forgetting to turn off his light." I could hear the hysteria in my mother's voice. "But Father Blake shouted, 'My God, so this is the way it will end!' And I realized that he'd been listening to someone's confession."

Ben Rubin, Chief of Detectives at New York City's Nineteenth Precinct and my on again, off again boyfriend — at the moment, off, but since I hadn't told him, I guess he didn't know that — said, "Maura, what happened next? Did the priest say anything else? And the killer? What did he say? From what you're telling us, they may have known each other."

Totally complicating my so-called love life, my mother was engaged to Aaron Rubin, a retired New York City District Attorney, a current candidate for the United States Senate, and Ben's father. Tonight, looking at Ben's handsome face, his dark eyes filled with concern, I thought maybe I should rethink my split decision. As always, I didn't know what or who I really wanted. But I decided this was not the time to let my fickle heart interrupt my brain's concentration.

"Ben, it was so strange." Mom started weeping, then moaned as she tried to pull herself together again. "Father Blake — he sounded terrified — started to say, 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,' and I thought ..."

"He made an act of contrition, Ben," I explained. "A penitent recites that to the priest, not the other way around."

"I knew something was very wrong," my mother continued, "so I gently slid my screen open ... and God Almighty ... there was this man with his arm stretched through the window on his side, holding a gun against Father Blake's temple ..."

"Then?" Ben prompted.

"I screamed." Mom's pale face went stark white. I wanted to stop Ben's questions and put her to bed. Our old friend, Dr. Carter, was on his way over. But Mom moved on. "I think I heard a muffled shot ... Father Blake fell forward. Blood ... there didn't seem to be much blood. It stained his collar. He hardly ever wore his collar, you know."

"Did you get a look at the killer?" Ben held my mother's hand.

"Yes. He had a cap pulled down over his brows, and it's dark in the confessional booth, so I didn't see much of his face. Definitely a man, slim, in black clothes."

"And did he see you?" Ben leaned forward.

"Yes. He shouted 'Rotten bitch!' That's when I ran out of the booth, up onto the altar, and into the sacristy, knocking poor Father Newell to his knees."

Christ. The killer had seen my mother.

"You know, Ben," she said, "there was something rather odd about the killer's voice."

"How so?"

"Well, he could have been your typical movie hit man, dressed all in black, with that hat covering his hair and the top of his face — but his voice sounded cultured, even though he was shouting."

"Did he follow you?" Ben asked.

"I don't know, Ben." My mother shook her head. "I never looked back. Father Newell and I dashed out the side door and into the rectory, where he dialed 911. Then I called Jake." She stood, turned to me, and smiled. Weak, but warm. "Jake, you must have broken the record for running from 92nd Street to 89th Street. With all those crowds of people on Madison Avenue coming home from work, I hope you didn't injure any innocent pedestrians."

"That's okay, Mom." I slipped an arm around her slim waist. "This book I'm ghostwriting is so damn dull that I welcomed the opportunity to get a little exercise."

Dr. Carter left after giving Mom a sedative which she had refused to swallow in favor of a martini, and Ben went back to homicide after giving me a chaste kiss on the cheek. Maybe he'd lost interest in me.

Gypsy Rose Liebowitz, who'd dashed out of a Deepak Chopra signing at her New Age bookstore when I called, had arrived. She stood at the stove, dressed in her Charles Jourdan pumps and her coral pink Chanel suit that rather than clashing looked great with her mass of curly red hair, deftly cracking eggs into a white bowl, while she, Mom, and I attempted to put the pieces of the mystery together.

My mother's longtime best friend and Carnegie Hill's favorite fortune-teller, she possessed psychic abilities that frequently matched her cooking skills. Gypsy Rose whipped those eggs with a vengeance, adding sun-dried tomatoes and finely chopped bits of parsley, then placed homemade biscuits into the toaster oven to warm.

I'd have preferred to see Mom in bed, following doctor's orders, but I knew she'd never rest when she said, "My closest friend and my only daughter can't work on my murder without my input." So I agreed to mix her a martini.

Father Billy Blake had been the most charming and controversial priest in the Archdiocese of New York. An anti-death penalty activist, in addition to his duties at St. Thomas More's Blake had been serving as spiritual advisor to the Metropolitan Correction Center's current criminal-of-the-century resident. Notorious hit man Nick Amas would be transported later this month from the center to Terre Haute, Indiana, Federal Penitentiary's death row. He'd been convicted for three highly publicized and particularly cold-blooded drug-related murders. Amas had cut out his victims' tongues and sliced off their ears and noses before putting a bullet through their brains. Then he'd sent the spare body parts to the United States Attorney. Shipped them. Collect.

After a six-week federal task force's nationwide search, he'd been arrested in a whorehouse in Las Vegas, tried, and convicted. Mom and Gypsy Rose had followed the trial on TV. And only yesterday, Nick Amas, supposedly, had made what could be his last confession to Billy Blake. A Mexican drug cartel, the Office of the United States Attorney, and most New Yorkers were really curious about the content of that confession.

"So," Gypsy Rose said, "do you think Father Blake's murder is connected to Nick Amas?"

"It would seem likely. A bullet in the head. Hit man-style." I finished my fourth cup of tea. "Maybe the shooter believed that Nick had told Father Blake something —"

"That would incriminate another criminal," my mother broke in. "A fellow murderer or ..."

Gypsy Rose stopped scrambling and spun around to face us. Her green eyes filled with anger. "Or something to land that drug lord in jail. You know, the biggie, Senor Cali, the one the Feds can't seem to get enough evidence on to indict."

"The seal of the confessional can't be broken," my mother said.

"That's true." I nodded. "But the killer may not be up on canon law."

Mom frowned. "Well, Jake, that eliminates Cali. He may be a drug czar and the head of Mexico's most murderous cartel, but he is a practicing Catholic. Never misses Sunday Mass. I read that in People. Cali would know about a priest's vow of silence."

There was no arguing with her logic.

Gypsy Rose placed plates of steaming eggs in front of us. Along with the biscuits and her strawberry jam. I knew the taste would equal or surpass the presentation. "You need strength. Eat, Maura," she ordered my mother, who, to my surprise, picked up her fork and dug in.

"This is wonderful, Gypsy Rose," I said, thinking how rubbery Mom's eggs always were. The O'Haras were not chefs. For sure.

"I'm going to ask Zelda to contact Father Blake's spirit guide," Gypsy Rose said as she sat down. "We need some answers and we need them fast." I knew Gypsy Rose must be as terrified as I was that the killer would come after Mom. I also knew that Zelda Fitzgerald, one of Gypsy Rose's three personal spirit guides in the world beyond, had come through for us before.

"That will be great," my mother said. "I'll feel ever so much better with Zelda on the case."

As a ghostwriter, I've worked with some mighty strange clients. Totally way out there. Certifiable fruitcakes. But none stranger than the two dear New York nuts who sat with me at the kitchen table, contemplating a chat with the dead. God. Had I become as weird as they were?


At eight o'clock, Mom and Gypsy Rose settled down to watch one of their all-time favorite Katharine Hepburn movies. Knowing that Aaron Rubin had just hopped off the Washington shuttle, returning from his meeting with the senior Senator from New York, and was on his way here from LaGuardia, I figured it would be okay for me to disappear for a while. With questions reeling round my mind, I wanted to pick Dennis Kim's brain. Maybe that wasn't all I wanted from my childhood crush.

My mistake was switching on the news before Mom turned on Summertime. Father Billy Blake's murder hadn't made any of the networks' six-thirty national news programs, but our cable news channel interrupted anchor Wendy Wu's — an annoyingly attractive woman and Dennis Kim's ex-wife — exclusive Madonna and child interview to bring America the gory details of the celebrity priest's murder.

The entertainment corner in Mom's big, old high-ceiling bedroom included two cream and white striped club chairs with ottomans, a round table with a reading lamp, and two tall bookcases. A large white wicker armoire housed a television, a DVD player, many old movies, filed by decade, a CD player, and a small selection of CDs. Sinatra, Bennett, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, and Johnny Ray. Except for a few show tunes, my mother had no music more recent than 1960.

I'd grown up listening to my maternal grandparents' records from World War II. I still prefer jazz and the old standards like "As Time Goes By" and "I'll Be Seeing You" to the top forty, though I did drag Mom and Gypsy Rose to see Tommy on Broadway. They loved it; Gypsy Rose even went so far as to compare the rock opera to Madam Butterfly.

A few months ago, I'd cajoled Too-Tall Tom, my best friend and a fellow ghostwriter — late in the craze — to take a series of Lindy Hop lessons. The beat that I'd danced to so many years ago when Mom and I jitterbugged around the apartment, lived on in the 86th Street ballroom.

Wendy Wu's hyped-up, rapid-fire reportage swept away those stardust memories, and a panic attack, sharp as pellets, ripped through my gut when Wendy announced, in her best Bette Davis voice of doom imitation, "An unidentified witness has described the gunman."

"That's not true!" Gypsy Rose jumped off the ottoman and shouted at the screen. "The witness saw nothing."

"I certainly couldn't pick him out in a lineup." Mom sank back into her chair. "Oh God. Of course, the killer doesn't know that."

Gypsy Rose and I stared at each other. Wendy Wu's dramatic presentation continued. "Our sources have confirmed that the New York City Police Department will be working in close cooperation with Gregory Ford from the United States Attorney's Office."

Jesus. That woman had just issued an open invitation for the drug cartel to put out a contract on my mother.

The downstairs buzzer signaled Aaron Rubin's arrival. I dialed Dennis.

Fifteen minutes later, I sat next to Dennis Kim, inhaling the delicious scent of the leather in his cream-colored Rolls Royce convertible as we drove down Fifth Avenue, going nowhere.

With the top down, the sights, smells, and sounds of the city's prettiest avenue competed for my attention. I love New York in June, and this early summer evening was so delicious. And the sky so full of stars. Many of Carnegie Hill's residents were out for a stroll. Kids, seniors, joggers, grande dames, Rollerbladers, politicians, and actors. I spotted Woody Allen, shoulders hunched and hands jammed into his windbreaker's pockets, as if he were freezing in the seventy-degree night air. There was no problem separating the locals from the tourists. Plenty of the latter on the town tonight; they loved New York in June too. But only to visit.

At 86th Street, Dennis pulled over and bought two hot salted pretzels and two Diet Cokes from a sidewalk vendor in front of the entrance to Central Park. The last of the big spenders.

"Let me guess why you called," he said. "Sounded like serious stuff. Are you finally ready to fire that sad sack agent of yours, Sam Kelley, and hire an entertainment attorney who will earn his fifteen percent? Or, better yet, are you finally ready to tell me that you love me?"

I felt my toes heat up. His presence has ignited my feet for over a quarter of a century. At the age of eight and the new kid on the block, I'd tried to crash an all-boys street hockey game and had taken a bite out of the hand that held me back. Dennis Kim's.

My heart may have been wavering about him all these years, but the tingles in my toes had remained constant. Even not acting as my agent, Dennis had tried to advance my ghostwriting career, but some disaster or death always seemed to terminate my assignments. Much as I yearned to write my own mystery novel, with my own name on its cover, lack of money had kept me an anonymous ghostwriter.

After my last cruise into murder's uncharted waters, I swore that in the future, my only dealings with death would occur on the pages of a manuscript. That same experience had brought Dennis and me to the edge of a real romance, and I'd promised myself that I'd straighten out my personal life.

Tonight I realized not only had I not changed either my professional or my personal life, both had become even bigger messes. Murder had popped up again, putting Mom's life in danger. And I, while totally incapable of commitment, still wanted two men.

"I guess you haven't heard. Father Billy Blake's been murdered and Mom was an eyewitness."

"Christ!" Dennis swerved to the left and some of my soda splashed on the front seat. 'Tell me exactly what happened."

By the time he made a right on Madison, heading back uptown, I'd hit the highlights. "Where are we going, Dennis?" We'd passed 90th Street.

"Back to your co-op. I have to speak to Maura."

"Why? Talk to me. I'll tell her whatever it is." I would have preferred not having my prospective stepfather, Aaron Rubin, and his son's competition, Dennis Kim, under the same roof. Not tonight.

"No, Jake, I need to tell her myself." He double-parked in front of his father's fruit stand on the corner of 92nd and Madison.

Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi were sharing a kiss, but no one was watching. Dennis Kim's announcement captured Mom's, Gypsy Rose's, and Aaron's complete attention.

"Billy Blake hired me yesterday to represent him in a seven-figure book deal. His memoirs reveal death row confidences — though not the convicts' confessions — and include two tell-all chapters about the Mexican mob. The book is scheduled to be published on the day that Nick Amas is transferred to Terre Haute's death row."

Gypsy Rose gasped. "Surely Father Blake knew that by signing that contract, he'd signed his own death warrant."

Aaron Rubin nodded. "That's right, Dennis, why would Blake do such a thing?"

"He asked me to arrange for half the advance and all his royalties to be given to Amnesty International. With the balance — a hefty sum — Blake could have a new life and a new identity."


Excerpted from Remembrance of Ghostwriters Past by Noreen Wald. Copyright © 2016 Noreen Wald. Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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