The stony-eyed glare of a gargoyle could not have been more intimidating than the intense gaze of the woman across from her. Anne’s palms grew damp within her prim gloves.
“I am very protective of my girl sleuth. Through the years Lacey Carew has become like my own daughter.”
Anne found herself nodding in agreement as if she were listening to a sermon in church.
Mrs. Adams tapped Anne’s portfolio with a finger gnarled by arthritis. “Your work impressed me, however, and I believe you can handle the assignment. Indeed you remind me a little of Lacey.”
Anne glanced down at her neat three-quarter sleeved jacket and pencil skirt.
“Not the way you look of course, but in the way you carry yourself. There is a certain... something.” She pursed her lips and regarded Anne. “No, it’s gone. Here I work with words and yet sometimes they elude me.”
Mrs. Adams smiled ruefully, and for the first time, Anne saw a vital humanity beneath the businesswoman exterior. Pushing through her awe, she summoned her voice.
“I would be thrilled to write a Lacey Carew for you. I’ve loved the stories since I was a young girl.”
Mrs. Adams sat back in her seat. “Lacey Carew is our top performer. I hesitate to risk her on an unknown.”
Anne nodded and swallowed hard. Another dead end.
“But, some of our established authors and I have had disagreements about how she should be portrayed. It may be time to bring in some fresh blood.”
Anne perked up and met the older woman’s gaze steadily. What precisely was she getting at?
“I propose a trial. I will provide you with the latest outline and three weeks. If you can produce a satisfactory manuscript, I will assign you more work.”
A small gilt clock on the bookcase behind Mrs. Adams warbled an odd little chime as if it were underwater.
“I recognize that this will require a good deal of effort on your part, but since this is a trial, I will offer only $75 for the completed work. Should the work be satisfactory the remuneration you receive will be properly adjusted. You will, of course, be required to sign the usual contract including the confidentiality clause.”
Anne nodded. She would agree to just about anything if it meant getting her foot in the door of the publishing world.
* * *
“Carol!” Anne stood to give her friend a hug. “I haven’t seen you in so long. You look great.” Guiltily, she crossed her fingers. It was a lie. Carol looked wan and distracted.
“Oh, Anne.” Carol stepped back and looked at her for a second still hanging on to one of her hands. A bright sheen of unshed tears glistened in her eyes. “It is good to see you.”
Anne frowned, brow furrowed. They settled into the comfortable booth as a waitress appeared with a pot of coffee.
“So what brings you to East Orange?”
“Is everything okay?” Anne leaned in and covered Carol’s hand with her own.
“Yes, of course. Everything is wonderful. I have a terrific job and a nice apartment and…“ She seemed to run out of steam, and pulled her hand away. “What more could I need?”
Anne sat back and picked up her coffee cup. She was still concerned, but Carol would talk when she was ready. She had always proceeded at her own pace.
“So what did bring you all the way out here when you have a job and an apartment in New York?”
“A writing opportunity.” Glancing about, Anne moved closer to Carol. “Can you keep a secret?”
A small grimace quirked her friends lips. “If anyone can keep a secret, I can.”
Anne’s percolating enthusiasm boiled over again and she launched into a recital of her meeting with Mrs. Adams. Carol seemed to shake off whatever had been bothering her and followed along with admirable enthusiasm.
“So I finally have my foot in the door. I mean, I know I won’t be writing the Great American Novel, but it will mean earning my living as a writer.”
“You always did want to be an author, ever since we were little.” Carol held up a forkful of chocolate cake. “Here’s to you. You finally made it.”
Anne couldn’t help the tears that dampened her lashes. “I can hardly believe it. I will make it though. The Lacey Carew I write will be the best darn manuscript she’s ever seen.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Anne caught sight of a clock on the wall near the door. “Is it really so late? I’ve monopolized the whole conversation. You have to tell me why you were so upset.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Carol stood and took up the check. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to the train station.”
* * *
The sun set with a brilliant burst of fuchsia and gold.
A cluster of three men in business suits, ties and fedoras stood at the far end of the platform, each studiously absorbed in his newspaper. Littering the intervening space, were an elderly lady engrossed in her knitting and a gaggle of high school boys wearing letterman jackets. The little twerps were obviously up to no good. One of them winked and beckoned to Anne. She rolled her eyes.
A chill wind skittered by and Anne shivered. Carol lingered with her a few moments, chatting over their childhood days. The revived camaraderie warmed Anne and she regarded Carol fondly. Her friend’s color was better than it had been and some of the sparkle had returned to her gentle brown eyes. Even as she watched however, Carol seemed to focus on something behind Anne and her eyes grew wide.
Anne turned to see what had drained the joy from her friend’s features, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary. A few more people had filtered onto the platform, but no one paid them any special attention. She turned back to find that her friends expression had shuttered tightly closed as if in preparation for a tempest.
“Carol, what is it?”
A smile traced a sketchy path over Carol’s palpable anxiety. “Would you believe it, Anne, I forgot about a very important meeting. I have to run.” Opening her arms wide, Carol leaned in and embraced her. “I’ve missed you. We’ll have to get together again soon.”
“Of course. I’d love to have you come visit me in the city for a whole weekend. We would have a great time.” Anne’s bag shifted and slid off her shoulder. “Whoops, I can’t lose that. I’ve got that precious outline from Mrs. Adams.”
Carol nodded and gave her hand a final squeeze. She turned on her heel and her wide skirt swirled as if she were at a dance. Anne bit her lip and wandered to a nearby bench. She would write Carol first thing in the morning and find out what on earth was going on.
Somewhere out in the street a car’s engine growled to life. The tires screeched a protest as the vehicle sped away.
The train would be another ten minutes at least. Anne patted her oversized handbag. Her future lay securely tucked in the bag. She stilled the impulse to clutch it to her chest and chuckle maniacally.
She had work to do, but at last, at last her dreams were coming true.
A high-pitched wail sliced the sleepy atmosphere. Anne straightened and looked about for the source of the sound. The others on the platform had stiffened like Bambi’s mother scenting the air for danger.
Anne stood and then, as if the movement had broken her free of some spell, rushed toward the noise. A sobbing woman barreled into her driving the breath from her chest.
“It’s awful, terrible.” The woman said. Her sobs came in fits and starts. She pointed a trembling finger toward the parking lot.
Anne passed the woman off to an elderly lady who drew her into an embrace. Following the men who had hurried in the direction the woman indicated, she found them hovering around a crumpled form. She shoved her way through the circle.
She recognized that yellow dress and jaunty straw hat. Oh, Lord please help her. Crouching beside Carol, she reached out to feel her neck for a pulse. Tears pricked the back of her eyes and her nose began to run. Anne shook her head. No, no, no.
It was simply not possible. They had just been speaking. She searched again for a pulse, lifting a limp wrist that felt surprisingly heavy. No luck. Forcing herself to breathe, she mentally went through the steps of her Red Cross training. Maybe she could resuscitate her.
Someone leaned closer. “She’s a goner, Miss.”
She smoothed the hair back from Carol’s face and her fingers came away stained by blood. The gash she revealed was thick and deep exposing shattered bone beneath.
The man was right. He was right. Oh, God, be merciful.
Heedless of her pencil slim skirt and last pair of silk stockings, she slumped to the damp pavement, still clutching Carol’s hand. Who could have done this?
* * *