Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 1
Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Alibi Ebook Original
Copyright © 2016 by Susan Breen
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alibi, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
ALIBI is a registered trademark and the ALIBI colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Ebook ISBN 9780399594908
Cover design: Tatiana Sayig
Cover images: Shutterstock
By Susan Breen
About the Author
Maggie Dove loved her new detective agency. At an age when so many of her friends were grappling with downsizing and gum disease, she felt blessed to have tumbled into an exciting new career. She had a badge. She had an office. She had two partners. She had stationery. The only problem she could see on the horizon was that she had no clients.
Not a one.
Occasionally one of the patients from the dentist’s office next door meandered into Maggie Dove’s detective agency and asked questions, but she suspected they were just killing time until the numbness passed. Cassie Fletcher wanted to hire Maggie to find her driver’s license, but it was in her wallet, so Maggie couldn’t see charging her. Though she did make up a folder. Old Henry Stample wanted her to do genealogical research for him. That seemed promising, but then he died.
Maggie’s business partner, Agnes Jorgenson, was hoping to drum up marital-domestic investigation work. This, Agnes claimed, would be a perfect niche for them. To that end, Agnes had put up some discrete flyers at the Darby-on-Hudson Bar & Grill, but so far nothing had come of those. Agnes herself had met a woman at the bar though, and that seemed to be going well.
Under other circumstances, Maggie would have prayed. She was a Sunday School teacher and prayed a lot, but she couldn’t see asking God to bring her business. Detectives thrived on misery: on people whose spouses were cheating or had employees who were stealing or family members who were lost. She couldn’t bring herself to pray for misery when she’d spent a good portion of her 62 years trying to avoid it.
So Maggie threw herself into marketing. She sponsored a girl’s football team. She sponsored a boy’s football team. She gave a class at the library. She gave a talk at one of the bank’s Thursday evening soirees. On career day at the elementary school, she talked to Edgar Blake’s first grade class. Edgar was the son of the third partner of the detective agency, and he bounced with excitement at having Maggie visit, though the class was devastated she didn’t have a gun. In vain did she try to explain that she felt reading The Brothers Karamazov was as useful to being a detective as owning a firearm. They didn’t buy it, and Edgar wept that night, until she let him look through one of Agnes’s many catalogs of private detective equipment. He found a teddy bear with a hidden video system. She didn’t know when they’d ever use it, but she bought it anyway. She supposed it fit in with the female-centric vibe of their agency. Still, she paid for it out of her own money.
Now it was the first Monday in October and Maggie was sitting in her office, beginning to feel the prickles of anxiety she associated with waiting rooms. It was four months since they had opened. They couldn’t stay in business indefinitely without an income. Agnes was bankrolling their agency, and she had a lot of money, but she also had the attention span of a gnat. Maggie suspected that soon enough Agnes would want to convert their office space into a sculpture gallery, or a donut shop, or whatever caught Agnes’s fancy next. Maggie would then have to return to her house and the staid, somewhat melancholy life she’d been living before all these adventures started. She didn’t want to go backward. She feared being sucked into the past, into the grief of losing her daughter that had paralyzed her for two decades. She felt fidgety.
It was a cool blue Technicolor day that reminded Maggie of the movies of her youth. The sky vibrated blue. The leaves, just starting to turn, were so bright as to seem artificial. She could imagine the people in her village suddenly breaking into song and tap-dancing up and down Main Street.
Maggie had a panoramic view of Main Street from her office window. She could see all the goings on: who went in and out of the police office, or D’Amici’s deli, or the library. She could see who was rushing to reach the train station and who was meandering by with a cup of coffee, on his way to walk along the Hudson River trails. She noticed the piano teacher Mr. Cavanaugh walking by with his little dog, Fidelio. The Garden Club was out deadheading the chrysanthemums in the flower boxes. The recreation department crew was cutting up rolls of butcher paper and taping them to the storefront windows; later they would be used for the village Halloween poster contest.
Maggie noticed Racine Stern plowing down the hill, her eyes on the ground. It was always easy to spot Racine because she wore a red beret. Never took it off, as far as Maggie knew. She’d gone to France as a young woman and the experience had stayed with her. She and her mother, the elderly Madame Simone, were the richest people in Darby-on-Hudson. They lived in the vast Stern Manor in Belvedere Park. And while they sat three rows in front of Maggie at church, they never shook hands during the passing of the peace. They spoke only to the minister. And God, she supposed. They even brought their own communion cup, apparently not wishing to use the silver that was good enough for everyone else.
Now she watched as Racine banged right into Joe Mangione, strolling along with his coffee. She didn’t stop. Didn’t apologize. Just kept moving forward. Maggie wondered where she was going in such a rush. Not the dentist, Maggie felt sure of that. It was a matter of pride for Racine and her mother that they only went to doctors in New York City. Perhaps the train station, then. She was dressed carefully in a black skirt, a black blouse and a black sweater—but then, Racine always wore those clothes. People who didn’t know her thought she was a nun. She had a sort of Mrs. Danvers vibe, Maggie thought.
Racine kept barreling down the hill until suddenly, to Maggie’s amazement, she stopped right outside the detective agency. Racine
And then Racine was there, in Maggie’s office.
“You don’t have a secretary?” Racine asked.
“Not yet. Agnes is looking for one,” Maggie Dove replied, which was true enough. Agnes seemed to be looking for all sorts of women, but best not to go into that now. Too late, Maggie realized she hadn’t stowed away The Brothers Karamazov. She didn’t want to give the impression she’d been sitting around reading. Granted, she had been, albeit with a purpose, but as smoothly as possible, she set the book down by her feet and kicked it under her chair.
Fortunately Racine was still scanning the office with disfavor and seemed not to notice.
“Who does your secretarial work?”
“I do,” Maggie said.
“Then how do you have time to be a detective?”
“So far it hasn’t been a problem,” Maggie said, in perfect honesty.
She beckoned to Racine to sit down at the table, which occupied a large space in the office. Agnes had thought it would make more sense to have one big table than three small desks, so she’d bought a huge slab of cherrywood, which was propped up by four sturdy legs—sturdy meaning that come the next Flood, this table was not going to move. It was more opulent than Maggie would have chosen, and yet she loved it. Turned out the world was full of surprises, if you could just allow yourself to see them. The chairs were best of all. They cushioned you. They embraced your back as you sank into them. Even Racine had nothing negative to say, Maggie noticed, as she settled her slim body into one.
“How can I help you?” Maggie asked.
She drew out a pad of paper and wrote down the date. She wrote down Racine’s name and the time, for good measure.
Racine licked her lips. They looked chapped and Maggie noticed her wrists were flaked with dry skin.
“I want to hire you,” she said.
“Fabulous.” Maggie wrote down “hire” and underlined the word three times. She knew there were official New Business Sheets in one of the file cabinets, but she didn’t want to interrupt the momentum. She could fill one out later.
“What do you want us to do?”
“I want you to stop my sister from coming home,” Racine said.
“Domino’s coming home?”
Racine’s sister had been away for almost 40 years. She’d left Darby when she was just a girl, gone out to Hollywood to be in movies, married a rock star, and they’d managed to stay together all this time. Domino’s picture had been in People magazine. Her husband’s antics were often reported on the gossip sites. Once he’d peed over a balcony, right onto the heads of his fans. Another time he’d thrown his TV out a hotel window and given a man a concussion.
“She’s coming home for my mother’s birthday,” Racine said.
“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing,” Maggie replied. “Won’t your mother be glad to see her?”
Racine compressed her lips into a tight line. All of Racine was compressed, it seemed to Maggie. She looked worn down—but then, Maggie supposed that wasn’t a surprise. While her sister had been off gallivanting around, Racine had devoted the last four decades to taking care of her mother. It was an old story. One sister the caretaker, the other one free of care.
“I am going to tell you something I believe only you will understand, Maggie Dove, because you are a Sunday School teacher.”
“My sister is evil,” Racine said. “You believe in evil, don’t you?”
Maggie remembered a night last April when evil had come close to taking her life. She could still smell the honeysuckle. Cold prying eyes that sought to destroy her. “Yes,” she said. “I believe in evil, but I don’t know that I’m equipped to deal with it. Can you tell me what scares you?”
“Oh, I’m not scared,” Racine said. She ran her finger across her lips. No manicure. “Domino can’t hurt me with those witch’s tricks of hers. I don’t believe in that. But she’ll scare my mother, and I don’t want my mother upset. She’s had enough sorrow in her life, having to leave her country behind, and then being widowed and having her daughter leave her. She does not deserve any more heartache.”
She rustled about in her pocketbook and pulled out a small piece of paper. “I have Domino’s phone number,” she said, setting the plain white paper on the cherrywood table.
“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars. Just talk to her and persuade her not to come.”
Maggie looked at the piece of paper.
“I assume you’ve already told her not to come.”
“She won’t listen to me. She knows I hate her. But I hope she’ll listen to you.”
“Racine, I know you think your mother doesn’t want to see her, but I suspect that she does. After all, Domino is her daughter and your mother is getting on in years. She might not get this chance again. You would feel badly if your mother died with regrets.”
Maggie thought of her own daughter, Juliet. Imagined how joyful she’d be if she found out she was returning after having been away for 40 years. Maggie’d always felt a special tenderness for the father in the parable of the prodigal son. The old man asked no questions of his fallen son. He didn’t blame him or criticize him for burning through all his money and living a dissolute life. Instead he ran to him and kissed him and threw him a wonderful party. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. It always made her tear up.
“So you won’t help me,” Racine said.
“I’d be very happy to help you,” Maggie said. “I just feel like, no matter how hard it may be, in the end you will be glad if you welcome your sister home.”
Racine stood up and glared at Maggie. She tugged her black sweater more tightly around her. “You have disappointed me,” she said, and then left without another word.
Maggie looked down at the sheet of paper on the table, the one with Domino’s phone number. She felt her eyes swim. As she looked at it, the numbers seemed to change into claw marks. For a moment she felt dizzy, and then she crumpled up the paper and threw it away.
Maggie just assumed Agnes would agree with her handling of Racine. At worst, she supposed, Agnes would joke about it, or tease Maggie for being foolish. What she didn’t anticipate was that Agnes would be seized with anger. Not since Maggie saw The Exorcist, many many years ago, had she seen such fury.
“You did what?” Agnes bellowed.
It was a warm October afternoon. The office windows were open, the blinds up. Parents were gathering on the street, chatting while they waited for the school buses to drop off their children. It was a calm and happy scene.
“Agnes,” Maggie hissed. “Get hold of yourself.”
But Agnes had moved way beyond self-control. She wheezed so hard that the top button of her silk blouse popped open. She always wore clothes a size too tight, whether out of hopefulness or seductiveness, Maggie wasn’t sure. She’d had her blond hair done at a new place and it was now crimped into many small waves. She was all movement and pulse. And anger.
“You turned away a client,” Agnes roared.
“Do not talk to me like this,” Maggie said. “Sit down and we’ll discuss it.”
She couldn’t understand how Agnes got so angry, so fast. Since they’d joined together to form the detective agency, four months ago, following the solution of a murder mystery, Agnes had been all good humor and excitement. She texted Maggie all the time. She called her at night to chat. They went out to dinner, and she’d even introduced Maggie to one of her girlfriends, though that particular relationship hadn’t lasted. Maggie considered Agnes more friend than business partner, a sensation that quickly dissolved under the brunt of Agnes’s anger. For just a moment, Maggie wondered if she might be joking. But no,
“I’ve been working so hard to drum up clients,” Agnes cried out. “I’ve been developing contacts and taking an online course and begging people to hire us. And all the while you sit here reading that Brothers Karamazov book of yours and praying.”
“That’s not fair,” Maggie said. “I’ve been doing a lot to talk up our agency as well. You said yourself it would take a while to get our footing. Darby’s a small village.”
“This village is ripe with potential work. Do you know how many people here are having affairs? We could be doing surveillance work. We should be checking out au pairs. We could be profitable,” she cried out. “Instead we’re sitting here spinning our wheels.”
Maggie noticed a woman leaving the dentist’s office. She walked into the little tree out front, a tender little ash planted on Arbor Day. It looked like it might fall over under the assault.
Edgar’s bus was due to show up in a few moments. She had to go outside and wait for him. She’d promised his mother she’d take care of him this afternoon. Maggie’d planned to watch a new Detective Grudge video; it was their new favorite hobby. Detective Grudge ran an online detective school, Maggie was studying to get a certificate and every week there was a new Detective Grudge video. This latest one was about surveillance and she and Edgar were most excited. She had to fill out a test after each video and she’d already earned two As. Detective Grudge had written her personally, saying she was his best student. I’m trying, she wanted to cry out. I’m trying.