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Authors: Alice Duncan

Tags: #mystery, #historical, #funny, #los angeles, #1926, #mercy allcutt, #ernie templeton

Fallen Angels

BOOK: Fallen Angels
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Fallen Angels

 

A Mercy Allcutt Mystery

 

Alice Duncan

 

Fallen Angels

Copyright © 2011 by Alice Duncan

All rights reserved.

 

Published 2011 by Five Star/Cengage

 

Smashwords edition May 19, 2012

 

Visit
aliceduncan.net

 

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you
share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it,
or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return
to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Dedication

 

For all my L.A. friends. I miss you guys,
although I fear I don’t much miss L.A.

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

Many, many thanks to Carola Dunn and Deb Brod
for their editorial assistance. I need all the help I can get!

 

Chapter One

 

“Is September always this hot in Los
Angeles?” I wiped my perspiring brow with a handkerchief hastily
snatched from my handbag before I could disgrace my sister and drip
on our luncheon table. “Back east, the leaves are starting to
change by this time, and the weather’s getting brisk.”

“In September, it’s generally hotter than it
is in August, actually,” aforementioned sister, Chloe,
murmured.

I thought that was kind of depressing but
didn’t say so. I’d only lived in Los Angeles since late June, and
three months isn’t really a long-enough time by which to judge a
city. Besides, there were so many things I loved about my new life
away from Boston that I really couldn’t complain about anything as
trivial as hundred-degree heat in autumn. Well, except that my
parents (and Chloe’s, too, of course, since we’re sisters) had
decided to buy a winter home in Pasadena. When I first moved out
here to the City of Angels, I’d hoped to keep a couple of thousand
miles between our parents and me forever, barring certain holidays
and stuff like that. Still, Pasadena is twenty-some miles away from
Los Angeles, so Chloe and I shouldn’t be bothered inordinately by
them. We hoped. Hard.

“Hmm, I guess, all things considered, I can
live with the heat. I like everything else about Los Angeles,
including the people I’ve met so far.”

“So do I. It’s ever so much more fun than
Boston.”

Los Angeles was that, for
certain.
Fun
isn’t the first
word that springs to mind when one thinks about Boston. Not only
was Boston and its upper-crust society dull, but my sister and I
had been given ghastly names to go along with them. Chloe was
actually Clovilla Alexandria, and I was Mercedes Louise. Is it any
wonder that Chloe chose to call herself Chloe and I answer to the
name Mercy? I don’t think Mercy is as nice as Chloe, but at least
it isn’t Mercedes. Or Clovilla, for that matter.

Chloe and I, you see, were born into a family
of Boston Brahmins and had grown up feeling pretty darned—a slang
word I’d never have been allowed to utter in Boston—stifled
thereby.

Chloe’d had the good fortune to meet the man
who was to become her husband, Harvey Nash, at a big society party
in New York City. Although our parents weren’t as smitten by Harvey
as Chloe was, they didn’t kick and scream when Chloe and Harvey
decided to marry, probably since Harvey was considered a big cheese
by the same New York society that had hosted the party in his
honor. Since Harvey owned and worked at his own moving-picture
studio in Los Angeles, it was considered natural for her to move
there with him after they were wed. Mother didn’t like it, but she
didn’t have much say in the matter. I don’t think our father cared
a whole lot, to tell the truth.

My own story entailed considerably more drama
than Chloe’s. I not only decided to move west to live with my
sister without the lure of a groom to prompt me, but I did so with
the intention of securing employment, which is something no other
female in my family has ever done. I prepared myself to do so,
moreover, by taking shorthand (Pitman method) and typing at the
Young Women’s Christian Association. Naturally, I didn’t bother to
tell Mother and Father what I was doing until I’d graduated from
the classes.

However, when I announced my intention
to depart Boston for sunny California, my parents were livid. That
is to say my mother was livid. I don’t think my father cared any
more about my moving than he had about Chloe marrying, although he
and several aunts, uncles, and cousins, not to mention my beastly
brother, George, lectured me endlessly on my unfilial behavior. But
really, Father didn’t pay as much attention to his daughters as
Mother did, more’s the pity. Not that I wanted him to pay
more
attention to us, you
understand, but I surely did wish Mother didn’t pay as much
attention to us as she did.

At any rate, I did all of the above regarding
shorthand and typing, and Chloe generously invited me to come west
and live with her and Harvey. Harvey was probably richer than my
parents, but his money didn’t count because it was “new” money.
That’s according to our mother. Personally, I figure money’s money,
and I wanted the novel experience of earning some of it on my own.
This wasn’t so much because I craved money, of which I have plenty
even without having to work, thanks to a nice, deceased
great-aunt’s legacy, but because I wanted experience.

Living as a rich and pampered female person
in Boston does not prepare one to face the world of regular people.
Trust me on this point, because I’ve learned from experience. My
mother discounts my ambitions, mainly because she thinks regular
people are beneath her. I know better. I mean, now that I’ve
started working at a real job and all, I’ve actually met some of
them and, with a few remarkable exceptions, they’re quite nice. So,
by George, I got myself a job.

It took a few days of searching in the
searing heat of a Los Angeles June, but I finally secured a real,
honest-to-God job!

Then, for two glorious months, I got to live
Mother-free in Los Angeles in a charming, albeit huge, house on
Bunker Hill. My mother detested the fact that Los Angeles had
usurped the name Bunker Hill from her eastern betters, but that’s
merely one more thing Mother cared about that I didn’t. What’s
more, I was earning my own keep, more or less, by working as a
secretary to Mr. Ernest Templeton, a private investigator. He used
to be a policeman, but the corruption of the Los Angeles Police
Department got under his skin, and he quit. I know that for a
certified fact, and not merely because Ernie told me so. Several
other people have told me the same thing, so it must be true.

What’s more, I have been personally
responsible for solving—well, helping to solve, at any rate—a
couple of really puzzling murder mysteries. Both times I’ve been in
a teensy little bit of danger at one point or another, and both
times were a tiny bit scary toward the end, but afterward I mainly
recalled the thrill of having been part of the solution of some
honestly vicious crimes.

When my mother learned about my employment,
she was outraged. When she learned exactly what my employment
entailed, she would have suffered an apoplectic fit if she were a
woman who did such things. Being from Boston, she wasn’t. She was
as icily stoical as any of our Boston forebears and/or their
friends. In short, she despaired of me and called me a disgrace to
the family.

I think her attitude is total bunkum. Why
should it be considered disgraceful to earn the space one takes up
on this green earth rather than expect it as a birthright paid for
by others? It isn’t, confound it! My mother thinks I’ve given
myself over to the dark side—or to Eugene Debs, who is the
personification of it—but I haven’t. I just want to earn my way in
the world and gather the aforesaid experience, and there’s
absolutely nothing wrong with that, Mother or no Mother.

And why, you might ask, do I want experience?
Very well, I’ll tell you: I want to write books. Not frivolous
books about rich people who don’t care about anything and their
parties, a la F. Scott Fitzgerald, but books with meat to them.
Never mind that his books are critically acclaimed and nobody’s
ever heard of me. I want to write books that don’t skirt social
issues, but perhaps expose them. Even my mother would have to
admit, if she ever admitted anything, that one can’t expose social
issues, or even write about them with conviction, if one doesn’t
know what they are. She, therefore, is keen on ignoring them, but
not I.

Why, during my very first week on the
job, I met a little girl who not only washed car windows on street
corners in order to earn coins upon which to subsist, but whose
mother worked in a speakeasy and lived with a man who wasn’t her
husband. Not only that, but she—the girl’s mother, not the girl
herself—had disappeared, leaving the little girl parentless. I
never did learn if the child had a father extant. Since that time
I’ve also met a couple of gangsters; a homicidal maniac and a
couple of sister siblings who were
not
nice people; and some phony spiritualists.
Talk about experience!

I’d also met, in person, a few Los Angeles
cinematic celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, John Barrymore,
and Lillian Gish, but they weren’t nearly as interesting as the
crooks. Maybe that’s because I’d been too tongue-tied to speak to
them, but I’m not sure about that.

Anyhow, after my—or Ernie’s and my—first
case, the one involving the homicidal maniac and a certain elevator
shaft, and which also involved a black toy French poodle named
Rosie, I bought myself a precious and wee apricot-colored French
poodle whom I named Buttercup. She’s the joy of my life, although
another joy is expected soon, because Chloe and Harvey are going to
have a baby. Chloe’s going to do the hard work, of course, but
Harvey participated in the child’s creation. Chloe pretends not to
be excited, because that’s the current fashion trend in Los Angeles
where image is everything, but I know she’s excited because she
tells me so when we’re alone.

On this particular Saturday, a little after
noon, Chloe and I were taking luncheon in the tearoom atop the
Broadway Department Store on Fourth and Broadway in downtown Los
Angeles. My workplace was a very few blocks away, in the Figueroa
Building at Seventh and Hill. On the third floor. Chloe and I were
in the Broadway because we’d been shopping for baby things. I
hadn’t realized how much fun shopping for baby things could be
until that day.

“I hope you have a girl, Chloe. Just think of
how much more fun girl clothes are than boy clothes.”

Chloe nibbled on a soda cracker. She was
occasionally bothered by sickness in those days and claimed the
crackers helped to calm her tummy. “Harvey wants a boy.”

“Boys are fine, too, I guess.”

“I don’t really care whether it’s a boy or a
girl.”

“If you have a boy, please don’t name him
George.” I had meant the comment as a joke, but Chloe looked at me
with real disgust.

“I would
never
,” she declared, “name a child of mine
after my brother.” She shuddered, although that might have been
because of her tummy troubles.

“I’m glad of that. But I want you to have a
girl because girls wear prettier clothes than boys do.”

She eyed me with something akin to
disfavor. “One would never know it to look at
you
.”

Chloe had been after me to modernize my
wardrobe ever since I arrived in Los Angeles. And I had done so, up
to a point. Heck, I’d even had my hair bobbed and shingled. The
latter had almost given our mutual mother a heart attack. This day
I told Chloe the same thing I always did when she ridiculed my
wardrobe: “I’m a working woman, Chloe. I need to appear
professional for my job. I can’t wear fancy flapper clothes,
because they wouldn’t be acceptable or professional for someone in
my position.”

“It’s Saturday,” she reminded me. “And Mr.
Templeton doesn’t expect you to work on Saturdays. Not even half
days like most people.”

“Well, yes, I know that. Mr. Templeton is a
very fair and considerate employer.” In actual fact, Ernie didn’t
have enough business to keep the office open on weekends, but I’d
never say that to anyone. “However, my salary doesn’t run to fancy
clothes, even of the non-flapper variety.”

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