Hilary Quayle will do anything to get a client a bit of good press—no matter how late she has to stay out or how many martinis she has to knock back. But even though she is the best PR woman in Manhattan, she has a weakness: She has always wanted to be a detective. So when Trim-Tram Toys’ hot new product is stolen and sold to a knock-off huckster named Sid Goetz, Hilary can’t resist the case. And it only gets more interesting when the theft leads to murder. Hilary and her assistant, Gene, push their way through the crowd at the bustling Toy Fair, but when they reach Goetz’s showroom they find it strangely subdued. Sid lies dead, shot in his sizeable stomach, three Scrabble tiles clutched in his fist. Chasing killers may not be a game, but that doesn’t mean that Hilary won’t have a good time playing.
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A Lively Game of Death
A Hilary Quayle Mystery
By Marvin Kaye
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1972 Marvin Kaye
All rights reserved.
Second of all, Hilary and I drove over to The Toy Center, where I got a pair of unpleasant shocks.
The first thing? I guess that'd be the phone call from Scott Miranda, followed by the browbeating of three Trim-Tram VPs ... but those details will have to wait a while. Hilary thinks I'm pretty stupid starting partway into the story, but I don't give a damn about my blue-eyed boss's opinion; her sense of literary structure is, as far as I'm concerned, in inverse proportion to her personal structure. With a pair of stiffs to work in, an industrial spy, a sheaf of obscene photographs, a missing toy dowel, and a nude production of Hamlet, I'll be lucky to sort things out in any kind of order. I have to simplify, which is almost a contradiction in terms.
So, in the second place, Hilary and I took a trip to The Toy Center, which sounds like one building, but is actually a pair of skyscrapers playing Eng and Chang in Manhattan's Chelsea district. Situated at the juncture of Twenty-third Street and the convergence of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the Center is composed of two edifices linked at the ninth-floor level by a bridge across Twenty-fourth Street.
In the old days, before a zealous building management rechristened the sister structures Toy Center North and South, they were simply referred to by their respective addresses: 1111 Broadway and (the larger of the two) 200 Fifth Avenue—sometimes just called FAB for "Fifth Avenue Building." And just as die-hard New Yorkers persist in calling the Avenue of the Americas by its less colorful, but more informative title, Sixth Avenue, veteran toymen still know The Toy Center as "1111" or "FAB," depending on which half they maintain a showroom in.
Within the complex are headquarters and showrooms of just about every major (and secondary) toy, hobby, craft, and decorations manufacturer in the U.S.—including Trim-Tram Toys, Hilary's biggest account.
Once a year, in early March, a kind of corporate frenzy sweeps the halls of The Toy Center. It's known as the American Toy Fair. For more than two weeks, buyers from all over America and abroad flock to 1111 and FAB to view new lines of playthings designed for the coming Christmas season. Manufacturers trot out their latest items, show current TV commercials, shower visiting buyers with presents, prizes, and free lunches, then whip out order pads and hope to sell enough merchandise to get an early reading on which numbers are likely to be in greatest demand.
There is no more crucial market in the toymaker's year than Toy Fair, and many concerns have thrived or dived solely on the strength or weakness of their performance during one or two consecutive Marches.
Now when Hilary and I showed up at the Center, it was very early in the morning of the opening day of the eighty-ninth annual Fair. Corridors were packed with out-of-town buyers and sales reps, while knots of toymen—God knows why they like to be called that—milled in front of showroom doors. At a desk in the FAB lobby, new arrivals queued up to receive their lapel identification badges (just try to get into a showroom without one) while nearby, toothsome models in micro-miniskirts smiled vacuously and touted the wares of one of the more promotion-minded suppliers.
We stepped on the express elevator to the ninth floor, then walked across the bridge into 1111, making poor time because of the thick pedestrian traffic. At the far edge of the bridge, I noticed a cluster of businessmen gathered about a card table, all of them staring downward. I peeped over some shoulders to see what the attraction was, and I could have saved myself the effort. The table held a stack of trade newspapers bearing banner headlines that pompously proclaimed the "hot" news that Toy Fair had officially opened.
Our quarry, Sid Goetz, had his showroom on the tenth floor. Since 1111 elevators are few and slow, we decided to walk up.
As soon as I pushed open the fire door to the tenth floor, I knew something was wrong. The first thing I saw, directly opposite the exit stairwell, was the entrance to room 1006 of 1111 Broadway: Goetz Sales Co. Across the glass portion of the showroom door was plastered a large sheet of brown paper, the kind that butchers use to wrap chunks of raw meat.
The paper concealed the room's interior from view. I didn't like what I couldn't see.
Let me explain one thing: the mere presence of the wrapping paper was not, in itself, sinister. Goetz was only following a common toy-industry practice of blocking off from view all showroom doors and windows for several weeks prior to the Fair. The purpose of this procedure is to prevent competitors from glimpsing new merchandise and possibly stealing design ideas. (In Goetz's case, the use of brown paper was ironic. For twenty years, Goetz was the most unscrupulous industrial thief in the business. In trade parlance, he was king of the knockoff artists.)
So it wasn't the paper that bothered me; it was the timing. Goetz Sales was the only silent spot in the whole brouhaha of the trade show. Something had to be out of kilter; it was unthinkable that the monarch of the fast-buck merchants would not be open for business on the biggest single market day of the entire commercial year.
Hilary strode across the crowded corridor and, as usual, a sea of men parted to let her pass. I managed to stay close behind, not without some toe-trampling, suffered and inflicted.
The door was unlocked, another disquieting omen. Hilary shoved it open and walked inside. I followed, noting that all the showroom lights were on.
It was a big place. Most of it was devoted to a sales-display area filled with circular, white-topped tables and crimson-tinted plastic chairs. Fluorescent lighting shed an eye-wearying glare throughout the suite ... a glare that was aggravated by the stark white of the pegboard walls.
But those walls were also offset with plenty of color. A riot of brightly hued toys dangled from hooks or perched upon shelves. There was everything from scarlet firemen's hats and lemon-yellow sandpails to action hockey games in Day-Glo boxes. There were also mod-toned automobile models, pastel-tint preschool activity sets, and one platinum-tressed, buxom, walking-talking-dancing fashion doll. Even to our hurried glance, it was apparent that the items in Goetz's line shared little in common, mute testimony to the knock-off artist's eclectic approach to R&D (research and development).
Off to one side, an open door led into a small, unoccupied office, presumably Goetz's.
On first glance, the showroom seemed to be empty and nothing appeared to be out of place. (The latter was understandable: Goetz had a reputation for being so fanatically neat that he'd once fired a salesman for habitually dog-earing order blanks.) I turned out to be wrong on both counts.
Hilary nudged me. I looked where she was pointing and saw something untidy in a far corner of the room, near one of the circular tables. It was a group of small objects, spilled carelessly about. I squinted, but the harsh glare made further detail impossible to discern. I walked across the room for a better look.
If you've ever played Scrabble you know that there are small polished blocks of wood used in the game to form words with. Each tile, made of close-grained wood from the Black Forest, bears a letter of the alphabet on its face, together with the scoring value of that letter. These letter tiles were the small objects that I had seen scattered on the top of the round table and across the floor. As I drew near, I also noticed the game box on the tabletop, while the lid was tossed aside, several feet away.
I walked a few steps, stooped to pick up the lid, and froze.
Behind the table, partially hidden by it, a heavyset man was sprawled facedown upon the rug. I rolled him over partway, saw that the front of his shirt and jacket were badly rumpled.
Then I noticed the bullet hole in his gut.
Hilary joined me, saw the remains. Her composure was unruffled by the sight.
"Goetz?" I asked.
She nodded. Then she walked off in the direction of Goetz's office.
I searched the area around the body. Except for the helter-skelter letter tiles, which made the tan carpet resemble a sea of alphabet soup, nothing else seemed to be out of place.
But something was bothering me, something I'd seen from the corner of my eye. I returned to the table and carefully scrutinized the immediate vicinity again.
And then I saw it clearly: a small corner of wood protruding from the clenched right fist of the dead man.
I pried open the fingers, and got my second shock.
The lifeless hand clutched three of the glossy-faced wooden letter tiles, a desperate terminal message from the victim.CHAPTER 2
Before I tell you what was on those Scrabble tiles and why they figuratively socked me in the gut, I have to backtrack and set Hilary in perspective.
Hilary Quayle heads her own PR—public relations—agency, a one-woman operation called "Hilary Ultd." Though she does most of the work herself, she tries to keep a man handy to answer the phone, sort the mail, pound out routine releases, and run errands. She will hire only men, even though the pressure of working for her apparently used to keep the turnover fairly high. But she never minded the time she had to invest in the past training new secretaries. Just the opposite, in fact. Until I took the job, breaking in new lackeys—or just breaking them—was the lady's hobby.
The day before I got the job I returned to New York, a little to the lee side of being hopelessly broke. It was late afternoon; I was unsuccessfully attempting to fight off a bout of depression in one of those overpriced bistros off Shubert Alley that hang celebrities' pictures in the windows, yet rarely draw any business from working thespians.
I was downing a Bushmill's-on-the-rocks when a resort comic I knew poked my shoulder and exchanged banalities with me. I was prodigal enough to stand him to a drink. Midway through the libation, I asked him where I could find work.
He mumbled something about the job market being pretty tight and eyed the door. But he asked me what I could do.
"Not a hell of a lot," I shrugged. "Back in Ohio, I used to knock out a couple of news stories for the local paper, strictly relief-shift crap. Otherwise? Well, I don't have any other qualifications in particular."
"There you are!" he beamed, patting me on the back. "You're perfect for PR!"
The following day, I found myself walking up West End Avenue to an address in the high Eighties. My friend's PR gal, a lady named Hilary who handled him on contingency (and still does), needed a new assistant. Experience not essential.
The only thing he would tell me about her was her name. But I had a clear mental picture—and Hefner wouldn't hang it in his bedroom—of the kind of independent PR woman who would put nothing but "Hilary Ultd." on her letterhead.
I was way off base. She turned out to be quite striking, with a long, curved neck; light golden hair that might look silky if it weren't tied severely in back, and a pair of sky-blue orbs capable of a large repertoire of moods. I guessed her to be in her early thirties.
Hilary is not a pneumatic nightmare, and some men would probably dismiss her as "small" ... which would be their loss. "Petite" is le mot juste; within that frame of reference, any mature male ought to find her in excellent proportion—subtly, but amply curved. And she has a knack for dressing in a businesslike fashion that somehow simultaneously manages to be tantalizing ... no mean sartorial trick. The day I met her, she was wearing a sedate blue wool suit that might have hung depressingly straight on another woman. But on Hilary, it clung.
During the interview, I found her manner enigmatic. I think she wanted to appear quietly, perhaps cautiously, charming. But I sensed an internal tightness, a kind of coiled tension, which I've since learned is the quintessence of the woman.
That session was extremely unorthodox. Oh, it included the usual literacy test and typing run, as well as the expected serving up of a few polite fictions from my past. But I didn't expect her to include martini mixing as one of her requirements....
There were a few other odd trials in store, but I'll skip directly to the capper. She rose from her chair and motioned me to follow her into a back hallway.
Pointing to a door, she said, "It's more convenient for me if my secretary lives in. This is where he usually sleeps, next to the library." She smiled at me. "That's handy, in case of insomnia."
Her eyebrows arched knowingly, Hilary asked me if the "live-in" arrangement would be suitable. I stammered my acquiescence to the condition, rather staggered by her apparent directness. Not shocked ... just stunned, as if I'd walked into the Smithsonian and the curator awarded me the Hope Diamond as a door prize.
But I was completely misreading her. The lady pushed open a second door, farther down the same hall. Saying, "This is my bedroom. I may want you to bring me something from it sometime," she stood by the threshold, apparently expecting me to look inside.
So I did. Through the open portal I was able to view a queen-sized bed, an unfrilly dresser with attendant mirror, and a small night table next to the bed. On top of the table lay a pile of books ... and one wicked-looking revolver.
Hilary shut the door and walked away.
I was hired.
Soon I learned why Hilary prefers to have her assistant living on the premises. She generally has to stay out till all A.M.'s chaperoning reporters at late press suppers, sitting in on corporate conferences, sometimes pitching last-minute promotional campaigns to network execs.
Consequently, Hilary rolls into bed most nights at erratic, entertainer's hours and is seldom up again before noon. So one of my prime duties is to answer the telephone in the early morning, take messages, and when possible, carry on routine business. Most important, I have to constantly remind clients of Hilary's first commandment: "No interruptions before twelve noon"—a dictum that enables her to avoid accruing a burdensome number of accounts.
Now Hilary's oldest and biggest client, as I mentioned, is Trim-Tram Toys, a company headed by one of her closest college friends, Scott Miranda. Well acquainted with Hilary's idiosyncrasies, Scott knows and respects the lady's don't-call-in-the-morning rule.
So it was surprising to pick up the receiver Toy Fair morning and hear Scott pleading with me to wake Hilary and get her to the phone.
It wasn't even seven o'clock, and I was barely awake myself. As usual, Hilary had been out late the night before. I hadn't even heard her come in. If it had been anybody else calling, I would have refused point-blank to embark on what promised to be a suicide mission. I'd rather goose a tiger than enter Hilary's boudoir and peer down her pistol barrel.
But Scott, who knew the score, was still asking me to get her to the phone, so I figured it was a first-class emergency. I screwed up my courage, crossed my fingers, turned the knob to her bedroom, and walked in.
My instincts weren't far wrong. As soon as I tapped her on the shoulder, Hilary woke, whirled, and grabbed the gun. She pointed it at my chest.
"I was wondering when this would happen," she rasped, flint-hard.
I thought of a few things I wanted to snap back at her, but I restricted myself to a brief, factual bulletin on the phone call.
It surprised her as much as it did me. Kicking off the covers, Hilary slid out of bed. I blinked. She was completely naked.
There are four major curves to the spinal column, and Hilary wore them all well. I only got a glimpse of the rest, for she quickly pulled on a robe as soon as she realized what she'd done. She wasted no time on false modesty, but shot me a single look which seemed to tell me that any flip comment would prove terminal.
The conversation didn't last long. Sitting by her desk in the office, Hilary spoke to the president of Trim-Tram in throaty monosyllables. After half a dozen question-and-answer exchanges, she cradled the phone on its hook and her head in her hands.
Her hair was hanging down, and it was indeed silky.
A long, silent moment passed. When Hilary finally spoke, it was without moving from her attitude of suffering.
"Get out the car keys," she groaned. "We have to rush over to Trim-Tram."
"Somebody stole Tricky Tires and sold it to Sid Goetz."
Excerpted from A Lively Game of Death by Marvin Kaye. Copyright © 1972 Marvin Kaye. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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