Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories

BOOK: Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories
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Death Wears a Beauty Mask


When the Bough Breaks

Voices in the Coalbin

The Cape Cod Masquerade

Definitely, a Crime of Passion

The Man Next Door

Haven't We Met Before?

The Funniest Thing Has Been Happening Lately

The Tell-Tale Purr

About Mary Higgins Clark


n 1972 I began a novella that I called “Death Wears a Beauty Mask.” After fifty pages I was not sure how I would end it and put it aside to write
Where Are the Children?

Going through old files, I came across it, decided I liked it and finished it this past summer. It was fun to work on it from the perspective of its setting in 1974.

This collection contains nine of my short stories including my first published story, “Stowaway.” This book represents my early years as a writer but I hope not yet the end.

Along the way there are people whom I am happy to recognize for their assistance. First and foremost, my editor and dear friend since the beginning, Michael Korda. He has steered the ship for all my writing and is indispensable.

I want to thank Marysue Rucci, V.P., editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster. It has been wonderful working with her these last few years.

My home support group is Nadine Petry, my assistant; my son David Clark and my daughter Patty Clark. Thanks for all your support and suggestions.

And, of course, to my spouse extraordinaire, John Conheeney, who listens patiently as I tell him, “This book is not going well.” His response is, “I've heard that for the last thirty books.”

And many thanks to you, my dear readers, without whom I would
not exist as a writer. I value each and every one of you. I hope you enjoy “Death Wears a Beauty Mask” and the other stories in this collection.

Cheers and Blessings,


Dear friend and magnificent lady

Death Wears a Beauty Mask

June 1974

he Pan American Clipper began its final descent into Kennedy Airport at 8:00
Janice pressed her forehead against the window as she tried to peer through the grayish clouds. Mike leaned over, fastened her seatbelt, gave a quick pat to her thigh and said, “You won't be able to see your sister from here, honey.”

He stretched out his legs, which felt too long and cramped in the meager space allotted by the airline as suitable for tourist-class passengers. At thirty, Michael Broad, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, had retained the muscular leanness of his college track-team years. His brown hair was already showing liberal streaks of gray . . . a hereditary manifestation which secretly delighted him. His low-key personality didn't fool the discerning for too long. His gray eyes had an almost constant expression of quizzical irony. Defense witnesses being cross-examined had come to fear the steely, penetrating quality of those eyes. They would not have believed the expression of tenderness he invariably showed when he looked at the girl sitting next to him.

Janice, his twenty-two-year-old bride of three weeks, was tanned, slender, narrow-hipped and long-legged. Her dark blonde hair stopped three inches past her shoulders. They had met a year ago when she escorted him to the stage at the University of Southern California, where he had been invited to lecture on student safety.

She smiled at Mike as she settled back in her seat. “You can't see a darn thing,” she complained. “It's so cloudy or smoggy or whatever. Oh, darling, I just can't wait to see Alexandra. Do you realize it's been nearly a year and she's the only relative I have in the whole world?”

Mike pointed to his brand-new wedding ring. “What about me?” he said dryly. She grinned at him, then restlessly turned back to the window again. She knew it was hard for Mike to understand her eagerness. With a mother, father, two brothers and two sisters, he had always been surrounded by family.

With Janice it had been different. Her mother died when she was born. Her sister, Alexandra, older by six years, had taken over as substitute mother. Alexandra left Oregon and went to New York when Janice was twelve. For a long time she had managed to get home every few months. But then as her modeling career zoomed, the get-togethers became more and more scattered. The last one had been in New York when Janice had spent ten days with Alexandra last summer.

Alexandra had planned to attend Janice's college graduation from USC. But she'd phoned to say that she had to go to Europe to do a commercial. When Janice told her that she and Mike had decided to have a small wedding—Mike's family and twenty of their close friends—at the Church of the Good Shepherd church in Los Angeles right after her graduation and use Mike's vacation time for a honeymoon, Alexandra made Janice promise that they'd spend the last week of it with her. This was the ideal time to visit. Mike would be going back to work and Janice would start her master's degree in English in July. Since she was a child she had known she wanted to be a teacher.

“I'll be at the airport with a brass band, darling,” Alexandra had said. “I've missed you so much. This damn, rotten job . . . I pleaded with them to delay the shoot but they can't. I want to see you so much and meet Mike. He sounds wonderful. I'll show you New York.”

“Mike knows New York inside out,” Janice said. “He went to Columbia Law School.”

“Well, I'll show you places you just don't go to when you're a student. All right, darling . . . that's June 24. I'll be at the airport. Just look for the brass band.”

Janice turned back to Mike. “I can't wait for you to meet Alexandra. You'll love her.”

“I'm anxious to,” Mike said. “Although I must say I haven't exactly missed having other people around the past few weeks.”

They'd spent the past three weeks in England and France. Janice thought of the out-of-the-way inns in Devon and Brittany with Mike's arms around her. “Neither have I,” she admitted.

Thirty minutes later they were at the head of the line. An inspector studied their passports and stamped them. “Welcome back,” he said with a hint of a smile.

They hurried to the baggage area. “I know ours will be the last to come in,” Janice lamented as she watched bag after bag tumble onto the conveyor belt. She was almost right. Theirs were the next to last to arrive. Finally, as they came to the doors of the main terminal, Janice raced ahead. Friends and relatives of their fellow passengers were gathered in small welcoming groups.

Alexandra would have stood out in the crowd. In one this small it would be impossible to miss her. But she wasn't there.

Janice's look of anticipation wilted. Even her shoulders sagged as she said, “I guess the brass band got held up in traffic or something.”

Mike replied good-naturedly, “Lateness seems to run in your family.” Her habit of being at least fifteen minutes behind schedule
everywhere had improved only slightly after a series of lectures when she'd kept him waiting.

The suggestion restored some of Janice's equanimity. “Alexandra always is a little late,” she admitted. “She'll probably be along any minute.”

But half an hour passed . . . then an hour. Three times Mike phoned Alexandra's apartment. An answering service volunteered to take a message. He got coffee for them and they sipped it from paper cups, afraid to leave the area. At noon Mike said, “Look, honey, it doesn't make sense to keep waiting. We'll leave a message for Alexandra here and take a cab to her apartment. We can probably get the superintendent to let us in.”

Alexandra lived in an apartment building bordering the Henry Hudson Parkway on 74th Street. She had a private entrance and a terrace. Janice described it to Mike in the cab. “It's just gorgeous. Wait until you see the views of the Hudson.”

The decision to go to the apartment had obviously picked up her spirits. Mike nodded encouragingly when Janice said that undoubtedly Alexandra had gotten stuck on an out-of-town modeling job and had probably sent a message they didn't receive. But he had already sensed something could be very wrong.

When the cabbie reached 74th Street, Janice directed him around the back of the building where the private entrances faced the river. “Maybe she just got back from Europe and overslept.”

When Mike rang the bell, a short, stocky woman opened the door. Her hair was tied in a knot at the top of her head. Her blue eyes flashed like searchlights anchored in her plump face.

“You've got to be the sister,” she said abruptly. “Come in. Come in. I'm Emma Cooper.” The housekeeper, Mike thought. Janice had talked about her. Last year when she'd been in New York to visit Alexandra, the housekeeper had been on vacation, so they had never met.

Janice hadn't exaggerated when she'd enthused about the apartment.
Lime walls and carpeting made a subtle and elegant background for fine paintings and obviously expensive furnishings. Mike whistled softly. “Too bad you're so homely, honey,” he said. “I'd send you out to model too.”

Janice wasn't listening. “Where is my sister?” she asked the housekeeper eagerly.

A frown that might have been disapproval or worry added creases to the other woman's forehead. “I don't know,” she said. “I know she got in Monday evening but she didn't come home and didn't call. She was looking forward so much to your visit and talked about nothing else. I don't know what she expects me to do. She redid the guest bedroom for you. The painter was here two days ago. ‘Was this the right shade?' he asks me. What am I supposed to say? I told him to go ahead. She'll probably decide it's all wrong. Phone's driving me crazy. Every ten minutes it's been ringing. I stopped picking it up. Let the answering service have the job. Yesterday, Mr. Wilson, the agency guy, was practically shouting at me.”

BOOK: Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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