The third Charlotte Diamond mystery.
Retired FBI senior investigator Charlotte Diamond finds herself jetting from murder on one coast of the United States to kidnapping on another in attempts to save both her lover and her former husband. Charlotte follows her new-found companion, the leading movie actress, Brenda Brandon, to Hollywood. Brenda had abruptly abandoned Hollywood and the movies and returned to her hometown of Hopewell on the Choptank, on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. But a cameo movie role she cannot turn down returns her to the scene of an old murder, for which she now is the leading suspect. Barely having dealt with that mystery on the West Coast, Charlotte is called back to Ocean City, Maryland, where her former husband and his new gambling casino have been targeted by the mob, and his new wife kidnapped.
Torn from West Coast to East Coast and thrown into the sphere of an even older and brighter flame than her former husband just when she had thought that her life was settling down, Charlotte is finding out that retirement looks a whole lot similar to when she was working on all cylinders at the FBI.
“I can’t believe you had the nerve to come back here,” the woman hissed at Brenda, the belligerence in her voice matching the ugly expression on her face. The young man who had been sitting with her was hovering just behind her and plucking ineffectually at her arms. “But I’m glad you did. They’ll get you this time. I’ll see that they do.”
“Please, Gretchen, not here. Not now. People are watching.” The voice was Brenda’s. She was not looking at the young woman but, rather, was turning her crystal water glass this way and that, picking up a rainbow of colors from the chandeliers overhead, and using a calm soothing voice.
“Yes, Brenda, people are watching. Just what I want them to do,” The young woman hissed, although she said it over her shoulder, because the young man now had her wrapped in his arms and was pulling her away from Brenda and Charlotte’s table and toward the restaurant’s exit. “And we’ll be giving them plenty to watch, you and I,” the woman growled as, with the help of the restaurant staff, she was bundled out of the restaurant.
Indeed, all action in the restaurant had stopped during this brief interlude, and all were looking at Brenda and Charlotte’s table, their eyes big and luminous, their jaws on their chests and working back and forth, at the ready for their faces to lean into those of their companions and to start assessing what they’d seen in low, excited voices. Charlotte was quick to note that the older couple they had been discussing had disappeared from the room.
“Quite an entrance back into Hollywood, wouldn’t you say?” Brenda said, her voice still calm, her body still under complete control. “Ruby Robey will have a field day with this tomorrow.”
For anyone who didn’t know Brenda as well as Charlotte did, it no doubt looked like Brenda wasn’t fazed at all by that little scene. But Charlotte could tell that her companion, under that superb job of acting, had been knocked off her pins and was both embarrassed and concerned. Her cheeks were burning and her eyes were flashing.
“I take it not one of your admirers,” Charlotte murmured. She was speaking from behind her menu, like Brenda, trying her best to play like nothing had just happened. “But Ruby Robey? Who’s she?”
“Ah, I keep forgetting that you are a Hollywood neophyte. Ruby is the movie colony’s very own gossip columnist—not the only one, of course, but the queen bee of the dastardly genre. I knew she’d have quite a good time with my return, but this is a gold mine for her pick and shovel. And me just a small-town girl from Maryland. She’d have a field day with my rural upbringing if she knew about that.”
“Hardly a small-town girl, Brenda,” Charlotte said, with a laugh. “Your family was probably the most prominent one on the eastern bank of the Chesapeake.” But then she stopped talking, remembering that Brenda had once said she was sent away from Hopewell by her father after her mother had been murdered and suspicion had been cast on Brenda.
The women were both silent for a moment, as they pretended to study their menus.
“I should have introduced you to the young woman,” Brenda said to end the period of silence. “But she didn’t really give me a chance. I have no idea who the nice-looking young man was—and I feel sorry for him being dragged into the middle of this. The young woman was Gretchen Lund. I’ll no doubt run across her at the studio again. She’s one of the studio’s premier makeup artists and a favorite of my film’s producer, so it’s quite likely she’ll be assigned to my movie. But I’m sure they will be sensitive enough not to assign her to do my makeup.”
“Is that all?”
“No, obviously not. She’s also the daughter of the woman I was living with in Beverly Hills before I left Hollywood, Helga Lund. I have told you about her. The award-winning costume designer.”
“And this young woman disapproved of her mother’s living arrangements.”
“I’m afraid it goes a bit beyond that. Gretchen believes—truly believes, it seems obvious—that I murdered her mother.”