Looking around the Hotel Dumont, Pamela North sees plenty of people she might like to murder. That’s what happens when she’s left alone at a book party, bored to tears. Her husband is a publisher, and when he’s late to an event, all she can do is look from critic to critic and think that, as messy as it can be, homicide has its advantages. She needn’t worry; a good killing will come along soon.
The party to celebrate Anthony Payne’s latest release is just winding down when the shooter strikes. Payne is midsentence when he drops, a bullet hole in his bald head. And with a single shot, there’s more than enough blood to wash away all the evening’s tedium—and send the Norths on the hunt for a long-distance killer.
Murder Has Its Points is the 25th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Murder has its Points
A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery
By Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge
All rights reserved.
When Gardner Willings came into a room he came in largely. The size of the room mattered very little, nor did the density of its population. The Gold Room of the Hotel Dumont was reasonably large, and on this November afternoon it was filled with the thirsty. And, Pam North thought, the talkative. And why Gardner Willings?
Strait, this afternoon, was the gate into the Gold Room and, at it, behind a table, Miss Arby from the office sat guard. On the table, it was to be assumed, invited guests dropped their invitations and received, in exchange, smiles. It did not seem to Pam, as she looked between people and around people, that Gardner Willings had hesitated long enough to drop. Which was, she supposed, like Gardner Willings. He was his own ticket of admission to anything. At least, he wasn't wearing a sweater. A slight ripple occurred in the crowd as Gardner Willings, his red beard a plow, proceeded through it toward the bar.
"I'm so sorry," Pamela North said. "It's so hard to hear anything, isn't it?"
The woman was quite tall. She was not, Pam thought, with sympathy, quite sure about the pink chiffon dress. Presumably she has a name and, Pam thought, it's skipped off my mind like a skittering stone off water. Somebody's wife, doubtless. Pam was slightly embarrassed by the thought. So, she added, am I. She said again that she was sorry, and added "so" for good measure.
"At home so much of the time," Pink Chiffon said. "At least I'd think — not that Ned isn't a dear but all the same —"
Pam North's mind riffled itself hurriedly. The unexpected advent of Gardner Willings did not justify rudeness; not even if Willings, famously, brought rudeness with him. She must have been talking about something to Pink Chiffon. Something concerning Ned.
"Of course," Pink Chiffon said, "he isn't like yours." She looked down at Pam North rather, Pam thought, as one looks at the feeble-minded. "Ned, I mean," Pink Chiffon said. "What I mean is, he doesn't write."
Husbands, of course. Husbands who did not go to offices. Husbands who merely stayed at home and wrote. No — WROTE.
"Goodness," Pam said. "Neither does mine, Mrs. Um-m-er."
She was looked at blankly. At that, Pink Chiffon had, Pam thought in spite of herself, something of a head start.
Pink Chiffon said, "But —"
"Publishes," Pam said. "He's — he's North Books. I mean — this is North Books."
She started to gesture around the room. Her knuckles hit something hard, and with a ping. "I'm so sorry," she said, to the waiter, who said, "Not at all, miss," in a hopeless voice.
"I was told," Pink Chiffon said, "that you were Mrs. Payne."
"I'm so sorry," Pam said, calling on her reserves of sorrow. "North. Mrs. Gerald." She laughed what she trusted was a hostess's laugh, and thought it sounded a little hysterical. I could have stayed at home, Pam North thought. I could go home. I'll tell Jerry I've got a —
"So hard to keep track of so many —" Pam said and, behind her, heard, "Pamela! Darling!"
She turned, too quickly, and the drink she held — had, it seemed to her, been holding for hours — sloshed. Thank heaven not on Pink Chiffon. She said, "Hello, Alice," to Alice Draycroft, and was conscious of inadequacy. "Darling," Pam added, and knew she missed the lilt. Alice did not fade; Alice kept the lilt. "Mrs. Um-mer —"
"Mrs. Cook. Miss Draycroft."
"Darling," Alice Draycroft said. "Such a brawl, isn't it?"
"Alice is an actress," Pam said. She felt she owed Mrs. Cook, née Pink Chiffon, that. At least that. Get her off on the right foot. Get myself off —
"You haven't a drink," Pam told Mrs. Cook, in a tone unexpectedly one of accusation. "I'll find a —"
An opening appeared and Pam took it. One learns self-preservation. One had better. "Over there," she told a waiter, in passing. "The one in pink. Talking to the one in gray, with mink."
She put her sloshed-out glass on a table, and took what might, with tolerance, be considered a martini from the waiter's tray. A tall, and very thin, and very dark-eyed youth in a white coat picked the used glass up and took it to a tray of other glasses, and lifted the tray to his shoulder. The shoulder of the white coat was dark from other trays. As he went off with it, he seemed to limp slightly.
Poor child, Pam thought. Everybody so gay and he carrying trays of dirty glasses — trays too heavy, filled with glasses marked by the lipstick of the gay. I'm getting maudlin, Pam thought. My soap-opera's showing. When Jerry was his age, Jerry was waiting table at college. And washing dishes. Where on earth is Jerry? I'll tell him I've got a —
"Pam," Tom Hathaway said. "Don't know if you've met Jim Self. Jim, this is Mrs. North. The boss's wife."
Self said, "Mrs. North." Pam said, "I'm so glad." Tom Hathaway — publicity, North Books, Inc. — said, "Get anybody a refill?" He looked quickly at Pam's glass, at the almost full glass of Jim Self. "Get myself one, then," Tom Hathaway said, and slipped from there. (One learns self-preservation. One had better.)
Mr. Self was not news media. A publicity man does not slip from news media, in whatever form. He might be connected, somehow, with the play. An actor? Or —
"I work in a bookstore," James Self said. "Why does your husband publish Anthony Payne?"
The direct type. One meets all types.
"Because he sells," Pam said. If he wanted it that way. "Why do you work in a bookstore?"
"I've heard of you," James Self said. "You're a murder fan."
Which was unfair — which was entirely unfair. When she got hold of Tom Hathaway —
The cocktail party, in dual celebration of the publication of Anthony Payne's The Liberated (North Books, Inc. $4.95) and the impending première of Uprising, a play in three acts by Lars Simon, based on the novel by Anthony Payne, had been going on for almost two hours. As became the co-host, Jerry had arrived early. As became Jerry's wife, Pam had come with him. She had had a drink and a half, counting the sloshed, and neither had been cold and both had had too much vermouth. She had met what she counted, mentally, as hundreds of people and names had poured unregarded, unretained, through her mind. She had been bumped into, and had bumped. Her feet had been stepped on, and had stepped on other feet.
She had said, "I really don't know, I hardly know them," to a (presumptive) gossip columnist who had asked her what there was to the story that the Paynes were splitting up. She had said, "A good many people can't, of course," to woman (red wool suit, with slip showing) who had told her, with superiority, that she couldn't stand cats. She had been left to hold, and had left others holding. She had been photographed, with Jerry and Anthony and Lauren Payne, by a man who wanted just one more until her smile ached and had been told, reassuringly by Jerry, that the chances were a thousand to one nobody would ever publish the picture and that, anyway, she would look fine in it, and that she always did.
This was one of the few times she had met Payne. She had said, "Why?" with a gesture that amplified, and Jerry had said, "God knows. It seemed like a good — there's Mulloy of the Times. Better see that he's —" and vanished.
Mr. Self was quite probably right about the books of Mr. Anthony Payne. Mr. Self would no doubt prove right about many things. Men like Mr. Self quite often were. Mr. Self might well be — Mr. Self probably was — a dedicated seller of books, and of such there are too few.
"Murder," Pamela North said, "has its points. Excuse me, Mr. Self."
It was an exit line — not, clearly, one of the best, but one accepts what the harried mind provides. Pam North turned briskly from Mr. Self, this time not sloshing, and confronted hemming humanity, all of it, it suddenly seemed, very large. An exit line — and particularly one not really very good — requires graceful, if abrupt, departure. One should sweep away, head high. It occurred to Pam North that, if she were to leave Mr. Self, she would have to do it on hands and knees. She turned back, seeking escape beyond him. He was regarding her with an expression of acute detachment. She smiled weakly.
"Lots of people, aren't there?" Pam said, in a voice weaker than the smile.
"Payne's public," Self said. He spoke with bitterness.
"Just people," Pam said. "All kinds."
"Taken to make a world," Self said. "Ugh."
An angry young man? A little out of place? And not, really, quite that young.
"You came," Pam said.
"Yes," Self said. "Also — I go."
And went, parting the hemmers-in with right shoulder lowered. Pam followed into a semi-clearing. Self went on. Goodness, Pam thought. And he's not even a writer.
She looked around, seeking Jerry. The Gold Room of the Hotel Dumont was a large oblong. Jerry was not in sight. Nobody she knew was in sight. The bar ran the long way of the room. The crowd was thickest, there. There seemed, midway of the bar, to be a slight turmoil — a disturbed area. Gardner Willings, no doubt. That was what she wanted to see Jerry about, in addition to the report of an impending headache. Why —
Pam moved, partly by intention, partly as a result of pressure. Along the edges of the oblong there would be chairs and sofas. If she could not rest her ears — how could a hundred people, hardly more, make so great a din? — she might rest her feet. She worked toward the nearest edge. Let Jerry find her, for a change. Let —
It was easier as one retreated toward the nearest edge. There were sofas. The nearest —
"Phew," Pam North said, sitting on the half of a twin sofa now occupied by Lauren Payne. "In a word."
Lauren Payne, wife of the afternoon's lion, was slim and lovely; her hair was coppery and there seemed to be flecks of copper in her eyes. She turned to look at Pam and Pam was conscious, as she had been earlier, of a peculiar nervous anxiety in Lauren Payne's movements. In her movements — in her eyes? I'm imagining it, Pam thought, as she had thought earlier. I'm making it up as I go along.
"Oh," Lauren Payne said. Her voice was unexpectedly deep. She spoke, Pam thought, as if she had come back from some great distance. There was, for a moment, no recognition in the copper-flecked eyes. "Oh," Lauren Payne said again, "Mrs. North." Then she smiled; then she was back from wherever she had been. (From a place of creeping little fears? Nonsense. You're making it up as you go along, Pamela North.)
"It's nice to sit down," Lauren Payne said. "Very exciting and great fun but — it's nice to sit down." She smiled. No anxiety in her smile. "Such a lovely party," she said. "We're both so — happy about it."
She was animated, suddenly. She seemed, to Pam North, to pull animation about her. A moment before — as Pam moved quickly toward the empty seat, only half conscious of its other occupant — Lauren had looked weary, drained. Pam remembered that now — now that animation became a cloak, shiny as a cellophane wrapper. One saw something; afterward assessed the seen. Lauren Payne had looked drained.
"A lovely party," Lauren said again, and made her face sparkle with the loveliness of it all.
"I'm glad," Pam said, remembering she was, by association, hostess. "A little — noisy."
Lauren Payne did not deny that it was a little noisy. She said, "Who are they all? I mean —"
"I know," Pam said. "I often wonder. Bookstore people. Newspaper people and there's always a hope of reviewers, but most of them don't. And gossip columnists and people who write columns about books. And people who work for reprint houses and this time, of course, people connected with the play." Pam North searched her mind briefly. "And writers," she said.
As she spoke she had looked around the crowded room, seeking guidance. Now she looked back at Lauren Payne.
And the animation had been wiped away. Pam was not certain that attention had not been wiped away with it. Lauren turned toward her again, and again Pam was conscious of an abruptness in the movement of Lauren Payne's body — a kind of jumpiness. It was as if — as if, somewhere, somebody had said, loudly, "Boo!"
"So good for Anthony," Lauren said, and pulled animation once more about her. "So — so stimulating. I —"
She stopped speaking and looked up at a man — a very tall and handsome man, dark-haired, mobile of face — who had suddenly appeared and stood in front of them and looked down. Looked down, very specifically, at Lauren Payne; looked at her as if he were, in some fashion, measuring her; in some fashion questioning her.
"Fine," she said. "Perfectly fine, Blaine." She smiled up at him — smiled a smile of animation.
He looked at her with continued seriousness, still in appraisal. He was, Pam thought, looking at her as a doctor might at a patient, seeking in face and body, listening for in voice, hints for diagnosis. I might as well not be here, Pam thought. Here, I intrude. I might much better not be here.
"You know Mrs. North, of course?" Lauren said.
The handsome dark man — he must be, Pam thought, about Lauren's age; certainly far younger than Anthony Payne — looked at Pam as if, for the first time, he realized two women were sitting on the sofa. For a second the intenseness of his scrutiny did not alter. Then he smiled. Smiles change all faces; his was more changed than most. He said, "Mrs. North," and in a tone of pleasure. One could not fault the tone. One had, of course, no reason to believe in it. He did go to the trouble. There was that.
"Blaine Smythe," Lauren said. "With 'y' and 'e.'"
"But Smith for all that," Smythe said. "The fault of ancestors."
There was a little of England in his speech. It was not emphasized.
"Very jolly party," he said. "Quite a thing for Tony."
"I was just telling Mrs. North —" Lauren said, and Pam, seeing a chance, stood up.
"And I," she said, "had better circulate in it. So nice, Mr. Smythe. Mrs. Payne."
This time she could exit, although this time with no line left behind. She looked back, before the crowd surrounded her. Blaine Smythe had sat down beside Lauren. He was leaning toward her. He seemed to be talking very quickly. Pam had a feeling that he was talking firmly. Me and my feelings, Pam thought, and continued her search for Jerry.
She sighted him at some distance and, for a time, it was as if she had sighted a mirage. Progress toward him was difficult; one inched along an obstacle course. Item: A food columnist who was compiling a cookbook which Jerry hoped to publish. Cookbooks never fail. Would Pam tell Jerry what a wonderful party it had been, in spite of the (so understandable) dryness of the canapés? Item: Had Pam met Faith Constable, of whom, of course, she knew, as didn't everybody? Faith Constable — of whom Pam most certainly knew, as who did not? — was a quick, somehow shimmering, woman in (it had to be, but challenged belief) her middle fifties. She, further, had a starring — anyway, co-starring — role in the forthcoming production of Lars Simon's adaptation of Uprising. She was also, although now Mrs. Constable, the first wife of Anthony Payne.
Faith was, admittedly, fun. The malicious often are. Did Pam know that Gardner Willings was there? With, Faith would suppose, blood in his eye. The eye, of course, dear Tony had blackened. "Tony's dear, dirty little mind," Faith said, fondly. Did Pam darling know —
Jerry wasn't where he had been. He had been talking to a man who, from that distance, appeared to be Livingston Birdwood (Productions) who was half-giver of the party. He and Jerry, Pam suspected, might be now, belatedly, asking each other why the hell? Now Birdwood — if it was Birdwood — was moving somberly toward the bar, and Jerry was not —
Excerpted from Murder has its Points by Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge. Copyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I very much liked this story, but it kept introducing new characters until it got a bit overwhelming. So i was a bit muddled about the "who and why". Still a bit fuzzy about some things, actually.