Anthony Award–winning author Linda Barnes is perhaps best known for her six-foot-tall, redheaded ex-cop and Boston-based private eye Carlotta Carlyle. But fellow Bostonian Michael Spraggue, a former private investigator who caught the acting bug, just can’t seem to leave his past career as a sleuth behind him.
Blood Will Have Blood: When Michael lands a part in a new production of Dracula, it’s not just because of his acting talent. With his private-eye background, Spraggue is perfectly cast to investigate some strange goings-on in the reputedly haunted old Fens Theater, including a pitcher of Bloody Marys holding real blood. When the pranks turn lethal, Michael needs to find the killer before it is curtains for all.
“Ms. Barnes and Mr. Spraggue should be around for a while.” —The New York Times Book Review
Bitter Finish: Shooting on location in Boston, Michael gets an urgent call from Kate Holloway, his on-again-off-again lover and partner in a fledgling Napa Valley winery. Their winemaker has disappeared. When the police find a corpse on their property, Kate is arrested. To free his girl and save his winery, Michael will have to find a killer with a lethal case of sour grapes.
“A fine job—expertly written, with an ingenious wine caper set in the Napa Valley.” —The New York Times Book Review
Dead Heat: Brian Donagher, a junior senator from Massachusetts who took Washington by storm, is running for re-election—but he may soon be running for his life. He’s getting death threats, and his bodyguard asks his old pal Michael Spraggue for help in tracking down whoever is targeting the politician. The senator plans to run the Boston Marathon, so Michael will have to race to blow the whistle on a killer if Donagher wants to cross the finish line.
“Like its predecessors, Dead Heat is worth reading. . . . Characterizations are well worked out, and when evil gets its comeuppance, the reader may start cheering.” —The Washington Post
Cities of the Dead: Dora Levoyer, who has cooked for Michael’s aunt Mary since he was a boy, will always be family. While on vacation in New Orleans, she attends a banquet held by the finest chefs and sees a man who looks just like the husband who abandoned her years ago. Before she can confront him, he is found with a chef’s knife embedded in his heart—and Dora is suspected. Michael catches the next plane to the Big Easy—a place where the dead, like the living, have dangerous secrets.
“Well written, sharply observed, logically plotted.” —The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
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"So what's the big deal?" Spraggue said. "Nobody's ever quit on you before?"
"Not one week before goddam opening night!" Arthur Darien shook his balding head vigorously. "It must have been the Bloody Marys. That really got to him."
Spraggue nodded, said nothing. Darien had requested — demanded — the conference. As soon as he tired of his own ranting, the story would spill over.
"Listen, Michael," Darien said abruptly, "the Bloody Marys, all the damned pranks, have some connection to the Dracula legend — like the garlic the bastard put in Mina's sewing basket."
"Chases away the vampires," said Spraggue.
"Right." Darien beamed approvingly. "And when you kill a vampire you have to cut off his head and stuff it with garlic."
"Prevents him from rising."
"The severed head alone might do that," said Spraggue.
"So goes the legend."
"Right. Who got the snootful of garlic, Arthur? Who plays Mina?"
"Caroline Ambrose. Remember her? Tony Award. Great actress. But then, I've got a terrific cast; an all-around dynamite company —"
"Arthur," Spraggue interrupted. He couldn't blame Darien for moving past the subject of Ambrose as quickly as possible. Caroline Ambrose: almost enough right there to make an actor quit a paying job. "You know, garlic in sewing baskets doesn't seem very apocalyptic to me."
"Michael, that's the tip of the iceberg. Lights flicker onstage. Someone hums this haunting, eerie tune, enough to make your blood freeze. Actors see strange figures in the darkness...."
As Darien spoke, he stared. Spraggue sat motionless, relaxed under the scrutiny. At least the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art taught that much. Spraggue controlled a smile. Had he stood up under Darien's famous glare as well at their first meeting? He doubted it. He'd been — what? — nine, ten years younger. Just twenty-one, a Harvard dropout, a mere apprentice in a British repertory company come up to London to audition for the great American director, Arthur Darien.
"Why don't you tell me exactly why Frank quit?" said Spraggue.
Darien took a deep breath, bulging out his pink baby cheeks. He searched for a way to avoid answering the question, gave it up, shrugged, and began. "Frank Hodges had a passion for vodka. He'd make a pitcher of drinks at home, fill a thermos, and leave it in his dressing room. During breaks he'd visit his cache. He never really overdid it. I won't work with an alcoholic. ..." Darien's voice threatened to trail off, then regained strength. "He handled it, like I said. Then two days ago, he nips downstairs, pours himself a quick one, and gulps it down —" Darien paused dramatically.
He can't help it, thought Spraggue. He's been around actors so long. He stole Darien's punch line with a grin. "And somebody'd switched Frank's Bloody Marys with the weekly Red Cross donation."
"You didn't have to speak to the guy! You didn't have to look at him. He'd thrown up. There were still flecks at the corners of his mouth —"
"I get the idea."
"Frank quit. He wouldn't even talk it over. Said there was a lunatic in the company. I couldn't keep him."
"Arthur," Spraggue said, "are you offering me a part in your play?"
Darien relaxed into a smile. "I always said you were an abrupt bastard. I'm giving you background, Michael. This is a tough business to explain and it's going to take me a little while."
"Then it's not a part," Spraggue said flatly. Time for the old financial touch.
"Dammit! Sit down! Yes, it's a part, but there's something else, something more."
Spraggue sat. Darien fumbled with a pipe, lit it.
"Smoke doesn't bother you, does it?" he asked.
"I'll open the window." Spraggue was glad of the chance.
"Nothing but exhaust fumes out there."
Window open, pipe lit, Darien focused his eyes on a space over Spraggue's head and resumed speaking. "Remember that trouble we had in London?" he said. "That girl —"
That incredible woman. Spraggue was no longer sitting in a cramped office, breathing stale smoke. He was riding on top of a red double-decker bus, laughing at the rain while —
"You helped the company out then." Darien's voice brought him back. "It was hushed up, but I found out."
"It was nothing. Petty thievery."
"The situation could have gotten out of hand. Tempers were frayed —"
"Did you invite me here to reminisce, Arthur? After all these years?"
"You're not making this any easier, Michael. I know you were a private investigator for a while —"
"I don't do it anymore. It didn't work out."
Arthur Darien folded his plump hands on his desk. "With Frank gone, I do have a cast opening: Dr. John Seward. Not a lead, but not a support, either. An odd role, a young character part. Seward's an alienist. Brainy. Runs an asylum. One of his patients is in Dracula's power."
"Renfield," said Spraggue.
"You do remember the book."
"The movie. Bela Lugosi was one of my heroes."
"Read the book. It's an amazing work. Dark and hypnotic, frightening and real. Stoker tapped some source of primal horror, some phenomenon I doubt even he understood. You'll feel the power." Darien inhaled, coughed pipe smoke. "The play it could be, should be, hasn't hit the stage yet. That old Deane-Balderston melodrama barely caught the flavor of the book. There was so much those guys couldn't say, couldn't even hint at in the twenties. Hell, back then, the word stomach wasn't mentioned in polite society! Sex scenes were taboo! And, God, the technical advances alone! New fog machines! Projected scenery! Deane and Balderston had to set their show totally in England. We can go from Transylvania to England and back to Transylvania again, really follow the three-part structure of the novel! And, I've got a cast, an incredible cast! For Dracula: John Langford. Is that inspired?"
Spraggue whistled under his breath. Langford. He'd make up for Ambrose and then some.
"And there's romance," Darien said teasingly. "Seward's in love with Dracula's first English victim, Lucy. Emma Healey plays Lucy."
At least he wouldn't have to make love to Caroline Ambrose. "The name's not familiar, Arthur. Should it be?"
"No, but the body should. Glorious redhead. Advertises suntan muck on the tube. You've seen her. Deep tan, tiny white bikini. A credit to lewdness in advertising. Your love scenes should be spectacular."
"Strictly Victorian, I'll bet."
"If I were your age, I'd grab the part. Even if I didn't get to ball Emma on stage! There's always an occasional afternoon off! And Seward's a fascinating guy. Introspective, but not passive. More Horatio than Hamlet. Very active at the climax of the play."
"And what's your other offer —"
"And you could play him, Michael." Darien rode over the interruption. "You're an actor. The years away from the profession don't matter. You're back now. God, I envy you that face, that adaptability. Your nose is a nose, your mouth is a mouth. Nothing outstanding but those cat's eyes. You've got that wonderful variety. You remind me of Laurence Olivier when he was young."
Spraggue lifted one eyebrow. The very best butter, he thought. The hidden half of the deal must be pretty raw.
He waited. It was hard to rush Arthur Darien. He studied the room, made an actor's exercise of memorizing the contents.
Darien's office in the old Fens Theater was small and musty, stuffed with old theatrical props. The little director was dwarfed by the mahogany throne he sat in. A bishop's chair, probably salvaged from some long-forgotten run of Murder in the Cathedral. At least it looked comfortable. Spraggue's own rickety chair must have seen service in a French drawing-room farce. Fake plants almost blocked the single window: the conservatory scene from The Importance of Being Earnest. The room had more doors than windows, two heavy wooden ones besides the entry from the hallway. A huge boarded-up fireplace filled the far wall. Over it: crossed swords. Cyrano de Bergerac. The daggers beneath were Macbeth's. Or would Macbeth have used knives with that curious cross motif etched into the brass handles?
No decanters decorated the top of the sideboard. No bottles on the windowsill. No smell of whiskey. Darien's hands were nervous, but steady. Very different from the last time they'd met.
"We're doing vital work here, Michael," Darien said finally.
Spraggue nodded dutifully. Off on another tangent.
"All New York wants is gimmicks, musicals, glitter, and flash! Here, away from that madness, we can rebuild. This theater was due for the wreckers when I found it. Can you believe that? An exquisite relic like this? And historic! The last legit playhouse built in Boston. Home of the glorious Boston Rep, the best damn resident stock company in America. Their director poured his entire family fortune into this theater. No scrimping. The very finest equipment: turntables, fly space, wonderful lighting positions —"
"Did he make his money back?"
"You kidding?" Darien laughed, a full rich roar, and the London days came flooding back. "Theater's always been a lousy investment. The talkies came in, theater bombed. The old guy went broke. Samuel Borgmann Phelps, his name was. Ever heard of him?"
"The last of his kind. A true nineteenth-century man of the theater. He did everything — directed, produced, even built his own playhouse. A man of vision, a man of dreams —"
"What happened when the money ran out?"
"A man with a great sense of theater. When his last show folded, he opened the grand drape, trained the spots on center stage, and hung himself from the catwalk. An unforgettable closing night. A few of my cast members figure he still haunts the place."
"Do they think he fed Frank his bloody Bloody Marys?"
Darien concentrated on an ant crossing his desk. "I didn't tell the cast about Frank. I was afraid to stir up trouble. I told them something — some personal reason he had to leave. I couldn't risk losing anyone else so close to opening. The actors are nervous as hell."
Here it comes, thought Spraggue.
"Michael, I need your help. You could stop this joker. You'd be there, in the company, onstage —"
"Spying," Spraggue added flatly.
"This play deserves a chance to be born." Darien's voice dropped. "I want a chance. Everything I own is tied up in this project. I need this play! I can't just let it go!"
Spraggue shifted in the uncomfortable chair. He could feel the iron seat beneath its tiny pink cushion. "May I suggest you call in the police?"
"I want a show, not an investigation! Imagine rehearsals with the troops belching in the balcony! Picture the publicity! Absolutely not."
"Arthur." Spraggue waited until Darien's wide blue eyes met his before he spoke. "Is there anyone you suspect? If there is, tell me now."
"If I knew, if I had any idea, I'd tackle the bastard myself."
"Is there anyone you can positively eliminate?"
"Yes." Darien closed his eyes, rubbed his temples with shaky fingertips. "First of all, the crew. The disturbances started before they came up from New York. My house manager, Dennis Boland. He was out of town when a few of the pranks were pulled. My stage manager — no. You'll have to leave her in."
"Karen Snow. Excellent stage manager. Very professional."
"That leaves the cast, Arthur."
Darien threw up his hands. The feeling, Spraggue supposed, was sincere. The gesture was pure theater. "I can't believe any one of my actors would try to hurt this show. Why, Michael? Why would anyone want to —"
"That's the question," Spraggue agreed. "Why?"
Darien shoved a dark blue folder across the desk top. "Then you'll do it? I knew — well, let's say I hoped you would. Here's the script. Nine o'clock tomorrow morning. ..."
"Wait a minute. No commitment yet. If you're really serious about this, I'll need a lot more than a lousy script. I'll need a cast list, a crew list, résumés, a list of your financial backers —"
Darien held up a silencing hand. "I have responsibilities toward those people. I can't give you any money stuff. Look" — he was thinking hard — "how's this? You can meet the backers next week. I'm going to throw a party, a gala like the ones old Phelps used to host when the theater first opened. The backers will all be there and —"
"I'm supposed to sit on my butt for a week? There's not enough time as it is. Too many people involved, too many possibilities."
Darien waved the script in front of Spraggue's eyes. "Just read it," he pleaded. "Come back tomorrow and give me your answer."
"I can give you half an answer now. I'd like to play Seward. But one week —"
"Hell, Spraggue, you're a quick study. If I didn't know you could do it, I wouldn't have spent three days tracking you down. I had to call your aunt personally, beg her to get you to come and talk to me. I'm not saying it'll be easy." He jerked open the top desk drawer, located a single sheet of paper. "Here's a rehearsal schedule. We're well into the crunch; you won't get a day off for two weeks —"
Spraggue lifted his eyes from the neatly printed timetable. "And then it'll be Monday."
"Right. It's good-bye weekends."
"Matinees on Sundays," Spraggue said.
"And Wednesdays," Darien added. "I know you don't need the money, Spraggue —"
"But I'd like the work."
"I was hoping you'd say that."
"It's just that the other half of the deal doesn't exactly smell like lilacs to me."
"You'd be helping all of us. The actors are scared. Hell, I'm scared."
Spraggue got to his feet. "I'll read the script," he said.
"That's all I can ask."
The hallway felt miraculously cool and dark after the overheated office. Spraggue shut the door and stood silently for a minute, reviewing the conversation in his mind. Arthur Darien ... It wasn't his words; they were mundane enough. It was just that you never got a chance to realize how ordinary they were while Darien spoke. He fixed you with that blue-eyed stare, turned the full force of his personality on you, and you succumbed. What an actor he would have made! What an actor he was.
Spraggue heard the door click and moved hastily forward. He didn't want the director to collide with his backside. But the door stayed shut; Darien didn't emerge. One of the other doors to the office must have opened. Inside, voices murmured. Spraggue moved off down the hall, but not before one sentence caught his ear.
"I just hope you know what you're doing," said an oily voice that was not Arthur Darien's.CHAPTER 2
Spraggue waited for the Dudley bus at the corner of Mass Ave and Huntington. The hazy late-August heat was little improvement over Darien's stuffy office. Not even a breeze to rattle the piles of broken beer bottles and empty Coke cans.
A chance to act for Arthur Darien again. A good role in a successful play. All Darien's shows worked — when he was sober.
Why were there always goddam strings attached?
Usually the pitch was financial. A part, yes, but would Spraggue be willing to guarantee just a bit of the backing? No? So sorry, but the part was taken ... A name actor, a star would be needed. At least Darien wasn't after cash.
The bus came, backfiring flatulently. Spraggue boarded along with a floral-hatted matinee contingent from Symphony. He stood at the back of the bus — less crowded there.
A spy, a company spy. In the cast, but not of it. An outside observer, reporting every innocent conversation, each misunderstood gesture, straight to Arthur Darien.
He got off at Harvard Square, end of the line, and walked the mile home.
The box was centered exactly in front of the door of the Fayerweather Street triple-decker. It was wrapped in creased brown paper that had started life as a shopping bag, and tied with limp white string. His name was penciled in block capitals: MICHAEL VINCENT SPRAGGUE III. No address; it hadn't come through the mail.
His name was spelled right. So many people, tricked by the long A, gave the last name only one G. Of course, when they realized the family connection, knew he was one of the Spraggues, the mistake never occurred. Great-grandfather Davison Spraggue had taken care of that. Gossip columnists, hustlers, senators with bottomless campaign chests, they all knew how to spell Spraggue.
The sidewalk was clear. Two kids rolled a red dump truck up a tree root across the street. They didn't look up; too busy rerouting pebbles.
Spraggue hefted the box and climbed the stairs to the second floor.
The package was light — box, string, wrapping, and all came to not more than two pounds. Fourteen inches wide, a foot long, maybe three inches deep. It made a slight rustling noise when he shook it. He set the box on the kitchen table.
If he were still a licensed private eye, he'd be more suspicious, Spraggue decided. Fingerprint the paper? Useless. Too rough. Maybe open the whole shebang under water in the kitchen sink.
With his pocket knife, he cut the string.
There was birthday wrapping under the brown paper. Mickey and Minnie Mouse cavorted with Donald Duck. Huey, Dewey, and Louie danced in a circle around a pink-iced cake decorated with three flaming candles.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Michael Spraggue Mysteries"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of 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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Table of Contents
BLOOD WILL HAVE BLOOD,
CITIES OF THE DEAD,
About the Author,