Jack Sprat Could
Success has always come easy to socialite MaryBeth Gilland. Following her father’s death, however, she needs some cash, quick.
As head of an in-house detective agency owned by her father, Gray Wheeler has had it cushy as well. Suddenly, he’s got to turn a profit to stay in business. But when MaryBeth sashays in looking for a job with adventure, he hires her on the spot. Now he really needs to produce.
Enter a client who claims her sister is being murdered, even as they speak. The victim is in a coma, but it's only a matter of time. The client insists her brother-in-law Leland “Jack” Sprat is to blame, and she’ll pay big money to see him behind bars. Time for MaryBeth to show she's more than just a pretty face and Wheeler to prove he can actually investigate. If they don’t kill each other first.
MaryBeth spoke quietly. “Then, Mrs. Goodner, are you saying you think Jack Sprat might be inclined to show love by feeding someone?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Goodner said, brightening. “That’s just the kind of thing he might do. Like I said, he was always eager to do things to get approval.”
A timer sounded. Mrs. Goodner turned and hurried through a door which obviously led to a utility room.
“MaryBeth,” Gray said in a stage whisper, “you’re talking yourself out of our only suspect in this case.”
“Maybe we should try looking for another one,” she said, puzzling over Mrs. Goodner’s comments.
“Who?” he asked.
“If it isn’t Jack, who has the most to gain by Clover Sprat’s death, especially her death at this specific time?”
“I don’t know. Who?”
“That’s what I’m asking you,” she said impatiently. “You’re the experienced detective here. You can’t expect me to do all the crime-solving myself.”
“Sweetheart, in a homicide, anybody can come up with questions. That’s not the tough part of detecting. The tough part is coming up with answers.”
She looked surprised. “Okay, I’ve been doing the amateur’s part, feeding you pertinent questions. Now you need to contribute something, don’t you know,” she finished, mimicking Mrs. Goodner. She stood and looked toward the utility room door, then raised her voice. “Thank you, Mrs. Goodner, for your help.”
MaryBeth walked toward the utility room just as Mrs. Goodner reappeared. MaryBeth patted the older woman’s shoulder. “Meeting you has been both pleasant and enlightening.”
Mrs. Goodner walked to the sink and turned on the water to rinse the coffee cup she had left there earlier, then she linked arms with MaryBeth for a slow procession to the front door.
Though not invited to join them, Gray Wheeler swigged the last of his coffee, took his cup to the sink, rinsed it, and followed the ladies out.
Mrs. Goodner was smiling into MaryBeth’s face, a startling contrast of old and young. “It’s been nice meeting you, too. By the way, I have a vacant room now, don’t you know. If you hear of someone nice who needs a place, steer them my way.”
In the passenger seat, MaryBeth looked woeful as she turned to wave good-bye.
In an attempt to draw her back to the present, Gray said, “She didn’t even recognize you. Does that bother you?”
“What are you asking, Wheeler? Do you think I should feel like a has-been?ˮ
Gray winced. “You know perfectly well that wasn’t what I meant.”
MaryBeth wasn’t in a mood for placating. “Yes, well, maybe I do feel a little over the crest of my modeling career, but then looking at you makes me feel better.” She gave him a sidelong glance, and he braced himself. “I am consoled by the thought that it’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.”
Gray said a quiet, “Touché.” At the same time, he made a mental note. Crossing verbal swords with MaryBeth Gilland could be hazardous to one’s ego, although the damage was mitigated by the sparkle in her eyes and the hint of a smile just before she zinged him. This partnership was working out fine, just fine.
He risked a long, heated look at her. Yes, sir, this partnership had potential written all over it.