By Roxanne Dent
Chapter One:“Ivy Sings the Blues”
New York City, 1928
I poured a second cup of java and glanced out the tall windows of my third-floor walkup on St. Luke’s Place. Below people rushed to work. The sound of police sirens rent the air. Gangs wiped each other out daily, but the mood of the country bordered on euphoric.
I was bored. It was almost a month since I’d sent out flyers and advertisements to the Times, the Herald and the Sun, announcing the J.R. Turner Detective Agency was open for business. The only one who answered the ad withdrew once they realized J. R. stood for Josie Turner. Women had the vote, but a female Private Detective was still an anomaly.
Someone pounded frantically at the front door. It wasn’t yet 9 a.m.
“Josie, darling, open up. It’s a matter of life and death.” The voice belonged to Ivy Langford, my friend and the out of work actress on the second floor.
Living at Number 5 St. Luke’s Place was never dull. The building was full of artists, writers, actors and poets who usually didn’t rise before noon.
I unlocked the door. Ivy rushed in. She wore an open, navy wool coat that stopped at the hips, over a gas blue, velvet skirt that ended just below the knees, blue suede heels and a lace blouse. Her natural gold curls framed a delicate face that turned men’s headsthe moment she entered a room.
“I’m positively shaking with terror, darling. Look,” she said holding out her hand before she collapsed onto the chair opposite me.
“Why are you up, dressed, and all in a dither at this hour?”
“I can’t pay you, but I’m desperate. I’m going to be fried,darling. Fried to a crisp in that horrid electric chair like an overdone piece of bacon.” She burst into sobs.
I handed her a box of tissues. “Rehearsing for a new play?”
Ivy glared at me, her eyes full of unshed tears. “I expect such cruelty from Francine or Eddy but et tu, darling?”
“Who did you kill?”
“No one, but that won’t stop that ghastly, little detective with the ridiculous mustache, from arresting me for murder. I’ve been at the police station since 6 a.m.”
“Who was murdered?”
“My odious godmother, Mavis Bankes. It’s so unfair. I haven’t seen her for months. Yesterday was my birthday. She invited me to lunch at Gallagher’s. I haven’t had a decent meal in a week.” Her blue eyes glazed over. “Gallagher’s steaks are divine, their potatoes creamy, the salad fresh and the deserts so yummy—”
“Ivy, ” I sighed.
“Besides,Gallagher’s is in the theater district. You never know who might see you, even at lunch, so of course I accepted.”
“Did you accidentally stab her with one of the steak knives?
“Don’t be silly. You know I hate the sight of blood. Besides, for once, she didn’t accuse me of being a hussy or suck her teeth at how high my skirt was, or how much makeup I had on. To be honest, I was shocked.She looked pale and she’d lost a significant amount of hair. She barely touched her lamb chops, excused herself twice and took a pill for indigestion. She let me run on and on about the theater, which now that I think about it, was odd.”
“She used to say actors were morally bankrupt. When we parted she said I might be a bit of a rattletrap, but honest unlike some. I left for an audition and she went off for an appointment with Madame Roskovich.”
“The medium. You must have heard of her. She’s famous. All the movie stars see her. She contacts the dead.”
“I know what a medium is. Who did your godmother want to drag back from the dead?”
“Billy. He was her only child. He committed suicide this past summer. Left his clothes on the beach and walked into the ocean poor baby.”
“It was. I won’t go so far as to say Mavis made him do it, but she did make his life hell. Pen yen didn’t help.”
“Billy was an opium addict?
“Toward the end, he was pretty bad. Mavis gave him an ultimatum. Check into a sanitarium, get clean, and marry Clara, or the money stops.”
“So, he was engaged?”
“Clara and Billy were going out for a few months. Mavis thought she was a sobering influence. If you ask me, that’s why he topped himself.”
“What! I only met her once. A plain Jane, and a real killjoy.”
“Tell me about Madame Roskovich.”
“Mavis insisted she was the Real McCoy.”
“Did Madame Roskovich tell the police you murdered your godmother?”
“Don’t talk hokum. The police said Madame Roskovich told them when Mavis arrived, she was sweating and complained of cramps but insisted on having the seance. Just as Madame R. was in the process of producing ectoplasm, which is not an easy thing, she groaned, rushed out,vomited in the hall, collapsed, and went into spasms. If you knew her, you’d know how shocking that was.
“Sounds like poison.”
Ivy’s lips trembled. “That horrid detective accused me of feeding her arsenic at lunch.”
“You told him about the pill she took?”
“I did. That only made it worse. He intimated I gave them to her or slipped arsenic into her tea when she went to the ladies room.”
“If you seldom saw Mavis, and she wasn’t an actual relative, what reason would you have to murder her?”
“See, that’s the thing. Mavis left me everything in her will. If I wasn’t under suspicion for murder, I’d be dancing the Charleston in thestreet. Over $300,000.”
“I know.” Ivy took my free hand in hers and squeezed. Her grip was painful. I winced. “You’re clever and need a case. Take mine. You’ll discover who killed her. I know you will.”
I was touched.
“Once I inherit, I’ll pay you five grand. I promise. Cross my heart.”
I patted Ivy’s shoulder. “You’ll be my first case.”
She hugged me and removed an Art Deco cigarette case from her purse with a shaking hand, lit up a gasper with a silver lighter, and took a deep breath.
“Fill me in a little more on Mavis.”
“I told you all I know,” she insisted. “Ciggy?” She offered me the silver case, decorated in brilliant blues and greens in a floral motif given to her by one of her many admirers.
“No thanks. When Mavis said you might be a rattletrap, but at least you were honest, who do you think she was referring to as being dishonest?”
Ivy frowned. “No idea. We didn’t socialize. She was a terrible bluenose. Unlike Clara, Mavis didn’t approve of me.”
“She left you her fortune.”
“It was a complete shock. I thought after Billy died, she’d leave it to some charity. She was on dozens of committees.”
“What about nieces, nephews, cousins?”
“Dead. Dead. Dead.” Ivy took another puff. “There was Alice, but she cut her off years ago.”
“Who is Alice?”
“Her dead husband’s great niece. When Alice was 10 her parents died. Mavis took her in.” Ivy shuddered. “I can’t imagine what life was like living with Mavis. Her face looked like she was swallowing cod liver oil if she caught you smoking. She disapproved of all the latest fashions and was positively Victorian about men.”
Keeping Ivy on track wasn’t easy. “Focus, Ivy. Why did she cut Alice off?”
“She joined the circus and had an illegitimate child. Mavis was furious. Alice was never mentioned in her presence again. Although, at lunch, she did say Alice died.”
“After her son’s death, Mavis might have had a change of heart and looked her up.”
“She didn’t have a heart.”
“For someone who inherited her money, you don’t seem grateful.”
“You didn’t know her or be forced to spend your summers with her. Besides, leaving her money to me will probably get me fired.”
“What was Alice’s child’s name?”
Ivy took several puffs before answering. “Thomasina. I suppose Alice thought that would sway Mavis who despite having Billy, preferred girls.”
How old would she be?”
“I don’t suppose you know Thomasina’s last name.”
“Alice was 10 years older. We didn’t keep in touch.”
“If she had any regrets about Alice she might have left a modest legacy to her daughter. People have killed for less than you inherited.”
“Mavis didn’t have regrets. From what my mother told me, Alice begged her for help when she learned she was pregnant. Mavis slammed the door in her face.”
“People can change. If Thomasina thought Mavis put her in the will, she might have decided to kill her before she had a chance to change her mind.”
“Josie Turner, you have an evil mind.”
“We need other suspects for the police to investigate besides you.”
“Oh! Ask Chester, my godmother’s lawyer.”
“What about the medium? Could Mavis have discovered Madame Roskovich was a phony and threatened to report her for bilking her?”
Ivy blew a smoke ring my way. “Don’t you believe in spiritualism?”
“Well, it’s all the rage. And I for one, refuse to believe when we die, our bodies rot and that’s it. Your theory doesn’t hold up. If Mavis thought someone stole one cent from her, she wouldn’t use threats. She’d drag them to the nearest police station by their hair.
“I’ve never been to a medium,” I said. “I think I’ll schedule an appointment.”
Ivy pulled out a scarf, covered her golden curls and put on a pair of cheaters. “I’ll go into hiding until you uncover the murderer.”
“If the police think you’re guilty, they probably have a cop tailing you.”
“I’m being followed?” Ivy squeaked.
“Don’t worry. They would have arrested you by now if they had any proof.”
“Can I stay here? I won’t be a nuisance, and I’m sure the fuzz won’t look for me at your place.”
“Stick to your regular schedule. Don’t you have an audition for the understudy in No No Nannette?”
Ivy’s face lit up. “You’re right. Look at the time. I’m going to be late.”
Ivy ran out the door, leaving the scent of Jasmine and Hyacinth in her wake.
One of the first extravagances I purchased was a telephone. I dialed information, got the number for Madame Roskovich, and requested an appointment. I was surprised, when after a few seconds, she agreed to meet me at four
Roxanne Dent lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and has sold nine novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres to anthologies, including Paranormal Fantasy, Regency, Mystery, Horror, Middle Grade and YA. Her fantasy, The Day the Demons Came, recently sold to the anthology, In the Shadow of the Mountain, Elder Gods Publishing. And My Zombie Valentine, sold to Blood Red Shadows, Night to Dawn, and will be out around Valentine’s Day. She has also co-authored short stories and plays with her sister, Karen Dent. Their plays Young at Heart and Monkey Girl Blues, were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport.