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The Pentecost & Parker series “takes gritty 40s noir, shakes it up, gives it a charming twist, and serves it up with unforgettable style” (Deanna Raybourn, author of the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries). From the author of Fortune Favors the Dead and Murder Under Her Skin.
New York City, 1947: For years, Holly Quick has made a good living off of murder, filling up the pages of pulp detective magazines with gruesome tales of revenge. Now someone is bringing her stories to life and leaving a trail of blood-soaked bodies behind. With the threat of another murder looming, and reluctant to go to the police, Holly turns to the best crime-solving duo in or out of the pulps, Willowjean “Will” Parker and her boss, famed detective Lillian Pentecost.
The pair are handed the seemingly-impossible task of investigating three murders at once without tipping off the cops or the press that the crimes are connected. A tall order made even more difficult by the fact that Will is already signed up to spend her daylight hours undercover as a guileless secretary in the hopes of digging up a lead on an old adversary, Dr. Olivia Waterhouse.
But even if Will is stuck in pencil skirts and sensible shoes, she’s not about to let her boss have all the fun. Soon she’s diving into an underground world of people obsessed with murder and the men and women who commit them. Can the killer be found in the Black Museum Club, run by a philanthropist whose collection of grim murder memorabilia may not be enough to satisfy his lust for the homicidal? Or is it Holly Quick’s pair of editors, who read about murder all day, but clearly aren’t telling the full story?
With victims seemingly chosen at random and a murderer who thrives on spectacle, the case has the great Lillian Pentecost questioning her methods. But whatever she does, she’d better do it fast. Holly Quick has a secret, too and it’s about to bring death right to Pentecost and Parker’s doorstep.
Also by Stephen Spotswood
Murder Under Her Skin
Fortune Favors the Dead
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2022 by Stephen Spotswood LLC
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.
Doubleday and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design and illustration by Michael J. Windsor
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Spotswood, Stephen, author.
Title: Secrets typed in blood : a Pentecost and Parker mystery / by Stephen Spotswood. Description: First edition. | New York : Doubleday,  | Series: Pentecost and Parker; vol. 3
Identifiers: LCCN 2022013531 | ISBN 9780385549264 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780385549271 (ebook)
Subjects: LCGFT: Detective and mystery fiction. | Novels.
Classification: LCC PS3619.P68 S43 2022 | DDC 813/.6—dc23/eng/20220321
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022013531
Ebook ISBN 9780385549271
the best co-conspirator I could ever ask for
I think everyone enjoys a nice murder…provided he is not the victim.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
WILLOWJEAN "WILL" PARKER: Partner in crime-solving to Lillian Pentecost. She loves her job, but it doesn't always love her back.
LILLIAN PENTECOST: Arguably the greatest detective in the five boroughs and beyond. On a two-woman crusade to make the world a better place, one captured criminal at a time.
HOLLY QUICK: Prolific crime-magazine writer. She's killed a thousand people under a dozen pseudonyms. Now someone's ripping her murders from the pulp pages and trying them out for real.
MICHAEL PERKINS: City health inspector and boozehound. Someone thought hanging wasn't good enough for him, so they shot him for good measure.
CONNOR "CONNY" HAGGARD: Army veteran and unemployed machinist. He got caught napping and ended up with a blade in his belly.
FLAVIO CHECCHETTO: Art and antiques dealer. Was his sideline selling murder memorabilia the reason he was left gutted?
DARRYL KLINGHORN: Private investigator with a nose for philandering. He can sense when someone's lying and he's sure Pentecost and Parker aren't playing him straight.
BRENT AND MARLO CHASE: Owners and co-editors of Strange Crime. Has their love of crime bled into the real world?
JESSUP QUINCANNON: Wealthy philanthropist and student of history's bloodiest murderers. Does his patronage extend to killers who are still building their résumés?
DETECTIVE DONALD STAPLES: Up-and-comer in the NYPD. Smart, ambitious, and more than willing to toss a private detective or two behind bars if it gets him a collar.
LIEUTENANT NATHAN LAZENBY: The top homicide cop in the city, at least for now. He'll let Pentecost and Parker bend the law, but won't sit by while they break it.
ELEANOR CAMPBELL: Scottish émigrée and faithful housekeeper. Worth her weight in scones.
SAM LEE BUTCHER: Circus roustabout turned morgue orderly. Learning how to speak for the dead but willing to put his life on the line to help the living.
KEN SHIRLEY: Senior partner at Shirley & Wise. What does a middling tax lawyer have that Olivia Waterhouse wants?
OLIVIA WATERHOUSE: Shadowy mastermind with a grudge against the rich and powerful. Good intentions don't give her a pass from Pentecost and Parker.
The kidnapper was good, I'll give him that.
He parked himself right next to the trash can, then pulled out a cigarette and a book of matches. He flubbed the first match and tossed it in the bin. That gave him the chance to eye the paper bag sitting on top of the lunchtime leftovers and discarded morning papers.
He flubbed the second match—not a hard thing to fake on a blustery January day. He tossed that second match in the bin, which gave him the opportunity to glance around and check out the people in his immediate vicinity.
There were plenty.
There might have been busier intersections in New York City than the corner of Forty-second Street and Madison Avenue, but you'd have to go hunting. Two dozen restaurants, bars, and greasy spoons were throwing their lunchtime crowds onto the sidewalk. Everyone was hustling to get out of the cold and back to work, warmed by overcoats, hats, and three-martini lunches.
It was a smart place and a smart play. It gave the kidnapper cover, and it made anyone standing still look mighty conspicuous.
People standing still included:
The newsstand owner hawking the latest copies of Life and Vogue and the Monday, January 20, 1947, edition of the Times and its competitors. The kidnapper had probably scoped this spot out several days running, so he'd recognize the owner for genuine.
The drunk panhandling at the mouth of the alley twenty yards down. Too old to have served in the Pacific, but that's what his cardboard sign proclaimed. The line seemed to be working for him if the pile of coins in his hat was any indication. He was a regular, too.
The girl in the phone booth, the one in the private-school uniform arguing with her mother in that kind of why-me whine fifteen-year-old girls hold a patent on.
"I want to see the matinee and it's closing this week and Billy invited me!…He is not…. He would never. He's a gentleman. His dad is vice president at Mavis and Mulgrave."
No one to set off the fine-tuned alarm bells wired into the kidnapper's nerves.
The man in question was dressed in assorted grays—light-gray suit, charcoal overcoat, gunmetal-gray porkpie. He had the kind of easy-smiling face you'd hire to play second-fiddle in a Seagram's ad.
Pleasant and forgettable.
That forgettable mug and careful planning were the reasons he hadn't gotten caught. And we were pretty sure he hadn't gotten caught a lot.
This was a sample of what was going through my head as I defended fictional Billy to a dead telephone line: "I'll come home after the show, I promise…. But, Mom, we've already got our tickets."
I was thinking he didn't look much like a kidnapper. Then again, they never do.
To be fair, I didn't look much like a fifteen-year-old girl playing hooky. Even with the wool skirt and the school jacket and my frizzy red curls pulled into place with plastic barrettes.
Up close, I looked every bit my twenty-four years. Maybe a couple more, once you factored in mileage. But through the smeared, breath-fogged glass of the telephone booth, I could pass.
Also, I had the whine down pat.
"No, Mom, I love Billy. I loooove him."
The easy-smiling man tore off a third match, struck it, and lit his smoke. He shook the match out. Then he carefully placed it in the garbage can, dipping ever so slightly to scoop up the paper bag at the top.
He took a moment to feel what was inside—three stacks of tightly bound bills. Then he was off, moving as fast down Madison Avenue as the post-lunchtime crowd would let him. I was out of the phone booth a moment later, hurrying to keep up, slipping in between the cracks in the masses with ease. I top out at five-two in flats, with a narrow frame that makes dress-fitting a pain but helps when I need to tail a crook.
Twenty seconds in and I was only three people back. The hope was that I could ride the kidnapper's slipstream all the way to Wyatt Miller.
Wyatt had been snatched from his pram in Central Park three days earlier. His mother had been distracted giving directions to a German tourist, and when she turned back she found her fourteen-month-old darling gone. In his place was a typewritten note.
we have wyatt.
do not call the police.
we have people on the force.
we will know.
go home and await further instructions.
Gloria Miller ran back to her Upper West Side apartment and showed the note to her husband, who did the reasonable thing. He picked up the phone and asked the operator to connect him with the cops.
An overly gruff voice answered.
"This is Simon Miller. My son's been kidnapped. My wife was in Central Park and—"
The voice cut him off.
"What did we tell you, Mr. Miller? We told you not to call the police. We have people everywhere. This is your only warning if you want to see your son again."
Then the voice instructed the Millers to gather ten thousand dollars in ransom money. The voice went so far as to instruct them on the best way to do it, naming bank accounts and telling them to cash in this or that stock.
The kidnapper really did seem to know everything.
What he didn't know was that Mrs. Miller played a weekly bridge game with a group of wives, one of whose sister's best friend had had something similar happen to her daughter a year before.
Back when it happened, it had made for juicy conversation between bids or rubbers or whatever the lingo is. I'm a poker girl, myself.
Naturally, the chatter had expanded to include what each card player would have done if such a thing happened to them. Someone had suggested that a private operator would be the best choice—someone who could work to bring the child back without the flash and show of the NYPD.
Gloria Miller raised the idea with her husband, who quickly nixed it. Private detectives were nothing but glorified grifters, he told her. While Mrs. Miller loved and cherished, she didn't always obey. Which is why, with her husband tying up the house phone making calls to his bank, she walked down the street and made a call of her own. This one to the offices of Pentecost Investigations, Lillian Pentecost being known far and wide as the greatest private detective working in New York City in that year of our Lord 1947.
That reputation was kept fresh through the efforts of her erstwhile assistant, Willowjean "Will" Parker, who made sure her boss's name appeared in the paper as often as legitimately possible, sometimes going so far as to flirt shamelessly with the editors. Which, if you'd met the editors in question, you'd know took a lot more acting chops than playing a whiny schoolgirl.
We took the case.
What followed was a whirlwind seventy-two hours. While the Millers got the ten grand together, Ms. Pentecost and I tracked down the friend of the sister of the bridge player—a Mrs. Diane Neary.
We couldn't pick apart the Millers' lives. There was a chance the kidnappers had them under surveillance, and we didn't want to trip any alarm bells. So we dissected the Nearys'.
We talked to grocers and bankers and lawyers and landlords and housepainters and hairdressers and everyone listed in their address book. If we'd ever worked faster, I couldn't remember it.
By the time the Millers got a call from Mr. Gruff giving them the details of the ransom drop, we had a theory and a plan and I was the first person on Mrs. Miller's phone tree.
When the call came, I was camped out at a hotel two blocks from the Millers' apartment. I'd spent the morning lounging in a robe, waiting as patiently as humanly possible. Laid out on the bed were a dozen choices. There was housewife, cabdriver, delivery girl, socialite, and barfly, among others.
As soon as Mrs. Miller told me the drop location, I hung up and placed a call of my own, relaying the information and confirming my own quick calculus that schoolgirl was the way to go.
I set a land-speed record for dressing, then ran downstairs and took a cab in the direction of the ransom drop. I got out five blocks short and walked the rest of the way in character, just in case the kidnappers had a lookout.
I got there about ten minutes before Simon Miller arrived, clutching the paper bag in both hands and looking terrified. I had already grabbed the phone booth, dropped in a nickel for show, and was deep into my one-sided conversation.
Ten minutes later, Mr. Pleasant-Face showed up.
Two minutes after that, I was riding his wake down Madison Avenue.
Now you're all caught up.
I was two arm's lengths away when Mr. Pleasant-Face made his move.
He put on a big show of looking at his watch, then took off running. I'd expected it. The fastest way of checking for a tail is to start sprinting and see who keeps pace.
Forewarned or not, he gained half a block on me before I got up to speed.
Luckily I'd added a pair of ten-inch military-style boots to my schoolgirl uniform. Not easy on the feet, but great for getting traction on the slush-slick sidewalk.
Early in the chase he glanced back and saw I was following. He picked up speed, then without warning dove into traffic. He slipped through unharmed, but I had to juke and dodge. A delivery truck screeched to a halt, its grille coming so close to my face I could feel the heat of its engine blast against my cheek.
At the end of the block he turned right on Thirty-ninth Street, sprinted the long block, turned left, sprinted another two blocks, then turned right again.
It seemed random, but I knew it wasn't. This guy was a planner. He would have an escape route.
The best-case scenario had been trailing him unawares to wherever he was keeping Wyatt Miller. That was out.
The worst-case scenario was that he disappeared into one of the many office buildings we were passing. Then it'd become a snake hunt, and we didn't know how much time Wyatt had.
I saw the move before he made it.
There was an alley halfway down the block. He sped up, glanced at the alley, then quickly looked away. I waved my arm in a circle over my head, sending a signal I hoped would be understood.
He darted into the mouth of the alley and I followed a second later.
Halfway down, he leapt over a broken crate. I opted for around rather than over, seeing too late the chain that had been stretched knee-length across the width of the alley.
I hit it full speed and went ass over teakettle, landing hard on concrete and filthy snow.
I wasted half a second making sure nothing was broken, then stumbled to my feet and started running again. By then he was nearly at the end of the alley. There was no hope of catching up.
A squeal of brakes and a chorus of car horns, and suddenly the mouth of the alley filled with the broadside of a yellow cab.
Pleasant-Face slammed against it and rebounded. He managed to stay on his feet and began a stumbling run back toward me. By that time I was up to full speed.
I brought my right leg up, kicking straight out and sending my size-seven boot deep into his gut.
He collapsed like someone had cut his strings.
I took the paper bag out of his limp hand and tucked it in my coat pocket. He groaned, and I saw him shoot a look past me and back to the end of the alley where we'd come in.
"Please don't," I said, unzipping my school jacket and giving him a peek at the holstered Browning Hi-Power. "My boss would like a word."
The door of the taxi creaked open. I helped Pleasant-Face to his feet and led him over. He slid into the backseat of the cab and I followed.
Inside, he found himself sandwiched between me and a woman of about fifty, wearing a black overcoat and a three-piece suit tailored in heavy black wool. Her elaborate braids were hidden by a matching watch cap, her long-fingered hands kept warm inside tight leather gloves. Both were clasped on the silver-headed cane propped between her legs.
Lillian Pentecost was not a fan of the cold, thus the bundling and having the cab's heater cranked up to sauna. The cold burrowed its way into her bones, she said, and turned the periodic ache from her multiple sclerosis into a consistent throb that lasted from Christmas through April.
All that is to say that she wasn't in the best mood for a number of reasons, and you could see it on her face: lips pressed in a line so straight you could use it as a level, almost-hook of a nose looking sharp enough to cut. Her eyes—glass and good alike—might as well have been windows into the cold, blue-gray January sky.
I slammed the door and nodded to the driver to start moving. Then I tossed the paper bag into my boss's lap.
"One kidnapper, complete with ransom, delivered as promised," I said. "I'd have gift-wrapped him, but I forgot to bring a bow."
"Look, I don't know what's going on here," Pleasant-Face said. "This dame started chasing me and I was just trying to—"
My boss held up a hand.
"Please, Mr. Kelly. We don't have the time for excuses or equivocations."
If her tone didn't put him on his heels, her use of his name certainly did. She pressed the advantage.
"You are Thomas Kelly, currently employed as a technician with the Bell Telephone Company. You have been arrested three times, twice for mail fraud and once for assault, though that was under the name Thomas Koon in Newark, New Jersey—a charge for which there is still an active warrant for your capture."
She gave him time to process.
"Fine, my name's Kelly and I did my time," he said. "But I don't know who this Koon guy is. That's not me. You got it all wrong."
"Would you like to see the mug shot?" Ms. Pentecost asked. "While you've dyed your hair and shaved your mustache, the resemblance is still unmistakable."
"You wanna run me in, go ahead," Kelly muttered. "But I ain't talking."
She shook her head.
"I am not the police, Mr. Kelly. This charge in New Jersey is not my concern. What is my concern is the health and well-being of Wyatt Miller."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "I don't know who that is."
He cast a quick glance at the doors of the cab, doing the math on how fast he could leap across one of us, open the door, and dive. The cab was at that moment making its way along Eighth Avenue, managing to miss the lights and staying at a decent clip. If he dove, he'd be rolling the dice.
Maybe he was willing to chance snake eyes.
I slipped the nine-millimeter out of its holster and held it in my lap, barrel pointed casually at his gut.
"Get those thoughts out of your head," I told him. "A bullet will hurt a lot worse than my boot."
He eased back into the seat, unhappy but resigned.
My boss continued.
"Your methods were really quite ingenious," she said. "By tapping the Millers' phone lines you were able to glean information about their habits and their finances. You were also able to intercept their call to the police, pretending to be a corrupt officer and ensuring they would not go to the authorities until after the ransom was paid."
I kept an eye on Kelly's face, but I didn't really need to. I'd helped with the homework and was confident we had him nailed.
"I am assuming that Wyatt Miller is currently in the care of Beatrice Little, your common-law wife and past collaborator. I'm also assuming she was the one who physically took him from his pram while you distracted Mrs. Miller by acting the part of a tourist and asking for directions during her walk in the park three days ago. Both of you deserve to be locked away for the rest of your natural lives."
With each word I saw the hope in Kelly's eyes die just a little more.
"But your imprisonment is not my goal," she told him. "I was hired to deliver Wyatt Miller safely back into the hands of his parents. If I were to take you to the police now, you would be arrested, arraigned, interrogated—all of which takes time. Time during which Miss Little might panic. She might try to dispose of the evidence."
The implication being that "the evidence" included a fourteen-month-old boy. I'll leave "dispose" to your imagination.
"I would like to propose a deal, Mr. Kelly. One that will give us both what we want."
The light reignited in Kelly's eyes.
"You will lead us to where Miss Little has Wyatt Miller. Once he is recovered, I will release you. You and Miss Little will leave this city and never return. I will even let you keep the contents of this bag. You may use it to start a life somewhere far away from here. One that does not include the abduction of small children."
I waited as Kelly worked through his options. His face didn't seem all that pleasant anymore. It was the hard, ruthless mug I'd seen on a hundred wanted posters and one New Jersey mug shot.
"How do I know you're on the up-and-up?" he asked my boss.
"I'm afraid you will have to take it on faith, Mr. Kelly," she said. "And on whatever knowledge you have of my reputation for keeping my word."
Apparently he knew something about something, because after a thought or three, he nodded and told us the address. Ms. Pentecost repeated it to our driver, and a few minutes later we were pulling up to a run-down apartment building in Hell's Kitchen.
I hopped out and went inside. Keeping the Browning down at my hip, I made my way up to a third-floor apartment and used the key Kelly had given me to unlock the door.
Inside, I found a bleached blonde, who might have been a looker twenty years and a hundred hard miles ago. She was lounging on a mattress on the floor, applying a fresh coat of Revlon to her toenails.
"Who the hell are you?" she sneered. "Get out of here!"
I showed her the gun and that put a quick end to her attitude. She shrank back, her bottle of polish tipping over and spilling crimson onto the floor.
"Where's Wyatt Miller?" I asked.
Her mouth said, "I don't know who you're talking about." Her eyes pointed to the bathroom.
I found Wyatt in the bathtub. A sheet of chicken wire had been laid on top and bent around the tub's edges to create a makeshift cage.
The toddler was curled in a ball, naked and covered in his own filth. As I tore the chicken wire away, his eyes fluttered open. I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding.
I grabbed a ratty towel that was lying on the floor, wrapped him as best I could while holding the gun, and walked back into the living room.
I'd half expected Bea to make a break for it, but she was still on the mattress, frozen and mute.
- On Sale
- Dec 13, 2022
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Hachette Book Group