Dead Crazy, p.1Nancy Pickard
PRAISE FOR NANCY PICKARD’S
“A well-controlled sense of the absurd runs beneath the surface of the narrative, and Pickard is also deft at sharply rendering her characters’ strong personalities. The plot eventually widens to include extortion and blackmail, all adeptly ferreted out by Jenny, as independent and imaginative as ever in her fifth mystery.”
“Jenny’s sardonic asides are delightful…. a sprightly mix of social issues and amateur detection.”
“Pickard nicely balances the action with her complex portrayal of Jenny….”
—The Kansas City Star
A MYSTERY GUILD “EDITOR’S CHOICE” SELECTION
Look for Nancy Pickard’s
Marriage is Murder • Generous Death Say No to Murder • No Body
Jenny Cain Mysteries Available from POCKET BOOKS
Books by Nancy Pickard
Marriage Is Murder
Say No to Murder
Published by POCKET BOOKS
Scripture quotations identified (GBN) are from the Good News Bible, the Bible in Today’s English Version. Copyright © 1966, 1971, 1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1988 by Nancy Pickard
Cover art copyright © 1989 Richard Bober
Published by arrangement with Charles Scribner’s Sons
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-15324
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Charles Scribner’s Sons, 115 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003
ISBN: 1-4165-8375-0 ISBN: 978-1-4165-8375-2
First Pocket Books printing June 1989
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Phyllis Brown and Lewis Berger
I wish to thank my friend Jane Van Sant, who is the director of the Transitional Living Consortium in Kansas City, Missouri. Thanks to the TLC and Network staffs for being so patient and helpful not only to me but also to the clients they serve so well. Thanks to those clients, who are some of the most courageous men and women I’ve ever met. Thanks to Barbara Bartocci and Sally Goldenbaum for “picking all nits.” Love to my family. And special thanks to Lenore Hammer, from whom I stole a great line.
The woman was driving me crazy.
I should have been grateful to her because her unexpected visit to my office was allowing me to postpone the next item on my schedule—the one I’d been dreading ever since I decided it had to be done. But I wasn’t grateful. She was annoying me beyond tolerance.
Her name was MaryDell Paine—appropriate, since she was one—and she was seated across from me, on the other side of my desk at the Port Frederick, Massachusetts, Civic Foundation, where I’m ostensibly the boss. Her mission, on this cold, gray October day in “Poor Fred,” was to persuade the foundation—as represented by me—to purchase a site for a recreation hall for former mental patients and to do it immediately, this very week. It was a ridiculous, an impossible request—we may be small, but we’re still a bureaucracy. We don’t just instantly write out checks for thousands of dollars to anybody who walks through the door with a sad story.
“I am the president of the board of directors of a local organization which is devoted to helping these poor people mainstream back into society,” Mrs. Paine had informed me, pompously, straightaway.
First of all, the “which” annoyed me—it should have been “that.” Which just proves how tightly strung I was that day. Second, “mainstream” is psychologists’ jargon for living like a normal person. Ever since she’d rushed into my office half an hour earlier, without an appointment, she’d sprinkled her conversation with pseudowords like that, as if there weren’t enough plain and simple ways to say the same things. Every time she did it, I wanted to mainstream her back into the interpersonal socialization from which she’d come. I knew it wasn’t fair of me, but I did have an excuse for my antipathy toward this messenger, if not toward her message. My own mother was a resident of a psychiatric hospital and had been for years. Having lived with the ugly reality, I had little tolerance for people who sentimentalized it or who detached themselves from it with words like poles. But Mrs. Paine was impassioned, and it’s my job to listen to impassioned people plead for money, even when they annoy me. I reminded myself that it was not the fault of the crazy people that they were represented by a patronizing fool of a patron.
It is also true that I was in a foul mood even before she barged in, and she was, innocently in a way, only making it worse. I—equable, even-tempered, famously sweet-natured I—was in the sort of mood that’s blamed on premenstrual syndrome, but on this day raging hormones had nothing to do with it.
My visitor was at the upper end of middle age and the lower end of rich; short, chubby as a cookie jar, expensively packaged, and enervatingly energetic. From her red leather pumps up through her red silk suit to her stiff, dyed blond hair, she radiated kinetic energy and resolve. Just being in the same room with her made me want to go home and take a nap. Through luck and planning, I had managed to avoid serving on any committees with her, so until now we had had only a formal, nodding acquaintance. She was the sort of woman who did so many good works around town that I felt guilty for not liking her any better than I did, which was not at all. This meeting was accentuating the negative.
Ever since she had barged into my office, she had been trying to impart a sense of urgency to her request. So far she had not said anything to convince me to rush tens of thousands of dollars of foundation money to the aid of her cause.
“I beg you!” she was exclaiming now.
She seemed to have a habit, when saying melodramatic things like that, of
I told myself I was being a creep.
She was still gazing soulfully at me, and I was beginning to stutter some reply, when my assistant director, Derek Jones, strolled into the outer office, forty-five minutes late from lunch. Instantly, my blood pressure rose another ten points.
“Derek,” I called out. My voice sounded brittle. It startled Mrs. Paine, so that she jerked her head around to see who I was yelling at. “Come in here, please.”
He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his baggy khaki trousers and sauntered in, nodding at my visitor before offering to me his best irrepressible, I-know-I’m-impossible grin. He wore old, scuffed Italian loafers on his feet and a sweater that also looked old and Italian. The total effect was that of a man who should have been sitting under a café umbrella in Paris, rather than walking into an office in New England. He said, in lazy tones of no particular regret, “Sorry I’m late, Jenny.”
I had heard that phrase so many times in the last couple of years out of the five that he had worked for me that I had by now lost all curiosity as to why he was late. Flat tires, dead batteries, slow waitresses, bad traffic—Derek had run through them all innumerable times. Because of that and because of his increasing tendencies to skip Mondays altogether and to slough off his assignments onto other people, I had finally placed him on a three-month probation six months earlier and then extended that for another three-month period that was up today.
His grin, his cocky Derek-walk, his general insouciance informed me that he had forgotten—or didn’t give a damn about—the significance of this date. I had not forgotten. It was on my calendar, staring up at me now.
It was the original source of my agitation.
“Mrs. Paine, this is Derek Jones …” I found myself pausing, before completing the introduction, “our assistant director. Derek, this is Mrs. MaryDell Paine….”
He grinned charmingly as he slipped into the empty chair beside her. Ironically, or perhaps not, he had become cuter—there’s no other word for it—as he got more irresponsible. By now, short, trim, and curly-haired, thirty-year-old Derek, resembled nothing less than the most popular boy in some senior class. I tended, cynically, to think of it as a high school class.
“I think we may have met at the last fund-raising dinner for multiple sclerosis, Mrs. Paine,” he said in a mock-respectful tone that fooled only her.
“Oh?” she replied, with a stiff hint of nobility responding to peasantry. But a dimple appeared in her fat cheek, the side that faced me. Derek had that effect on women: they (we) wanted to pinch one of his cheeks but slap the other.
Briefly, I explained her mission to him.
In upper-class accents, Mrs. Paine now deigned to include Derek in her plea.
“Mr. Jones, Mrs. Cain …” She’d been in my office forty minutes, and she hadn’t gotten my name right once. “Plead with your trustees. Persuade them to contribute funds to our recreation hall. Really, you simply must.” Her voice dropped dramatically on the last word.
“Really, it’s not so simple,” I said.
“But this is so dreadfully important!”
As if the foundation’s other projects weren’t, I thought sourly just inconsequential little jobs like a pediatrie surgery center and cancer research. (God, I thought, you are a bitch today, Cain.) But Mrs. Paine had a reputation for bulldozing through people, projects, and committees to get her way.
I exchanged glances with Derek.
He widened his eyes at me in a dangerous imitation of our guest. In spite of everything, I had to stifle a laugh. I felt some of the hot air of irritation seeping out of me. Derek could still punch a hole in my bad moods, even when he caused them. Would he make a joke when I fired him?
She said, “I’ll admit this is short notice, Mrs. Cain, but we didn’t know the landlord would try to sell the building out from under us! And so soon!”
She didn’t speak, she exclaimed. I wondered if that’s what she sounded like all the time. When she pulled up to a gas pump did she cry: “I want unleaded! Oh, fill it! Do it right away!”
She was saying, “There’s no way we can come up with enough money in time!” To which she added coyly, “At least, not without your help. We simply must put a deposit on the building immediately—this week, the sooner the better, tomorrow if possible …”
“Whoa,” I said.
But this horse was at full gallop and didn’t respond to my tug on the reins.
“… or we’ll lose the best site in town! Mrs. Cain! If the foundation doesn’t help us, we’ll have no defense against the opposition, and if we don’t open the hall, there will be no safe refuge for our clients!”
“Safe refuge,” I said.
Derek, who knew redundancy was a pet peeve of mine, scratched his side and smiled down at his lap. And suddenly, I experienced a surge of helplessness, frustration, and sadness. I had given him every chance, hadn’t I? I had tried everything I knew to motivate him. This was the consequence of his own actions, wasn’t it? But I was going to miss his grin, his devilish wit, even his irreverent attitude toward me, an attitude that usually contained just enough respect to restrain his natural impulses toward flirtation.
Mistaking my echo for interest, Mrs. Paine nodded so violently that her pinked cheeks shook.
“Exactly right,” she said, compounding the error.
Safe refuge. Baby puppies. I dislike redundancies in speech, and I am trained to avoid them when spending foundation money on charitable grants to good causes. Furthermore, I’m suspicious of people who don’t recognize them in their speech or lives: once is enough for almost everything but sex and chocolate; history only repeats itself for people who aren’t paying attention. And that was why I was going to fire Derek this afternoon: his procrastination, his tardiness, his failures, his laziness were all infuriatingly, boringly redundant by now. I was exhausted by that history. It wasn’t going to repeat itself anymore.
I realized I wasn’t paying attention to her.
“They’ll be lost, Mrs. Cain!” She widened her eyes dramatically. I narrowed mine. I knew I was being nearly as obnoxious as Derek was, but I couldn’t help it. “They’ll wander the streets, they’ll end up eating out of garbage pails, they’ll become beggars and bag ladies! They’ll be lost to themselves and to society! But if we obtain the recreation hall, we’ll have a place for them to come in out of the weather, a place for them to be with each other, to socialize …”
In mental-health jargon, that meant make friends. I dislike jargon, and I’m suspicious of people who use it.
“… have a hot meal, learn simple crafts …”
If she was such a patron, I thought, why didn’t she spend her own damn money?
“Who’s the opposition?” I asked.
“Oh, the neighbors, of course.” She turned down the corners of her plump red mouth and flicked a manicured hand at me, then at Derek. “They’re getting up a petition. A petition! The way they carry on, you’d think we wanted to move homicidal maniacs onto the block.”
“Mrs. Cain, these dear people are perfectly harmless!”
I should have recognized Famous Last Words when I heard them, but then, I should have been paying more attention to her altogether. But I wasn’t, not at that moment. I wasn’t even taking her seriously. I was focused not on her but on Derek and on myself.
“It’s Ms. Cain,” I said, with emphasis, and not for the first time. Her glance flickered to my wedding ring, still fairly shiny, then back up to my face. Derek grinned and coughed behind his fist. I sighed. “I’m married to a man named Geoffrey Bushfield—a policeman. He is Lieutenant Bushfield. I am Ms. Cain. We thought that was better than Cain-
She had failed to laugh at my little witticism.
Derek, however, was now grinning openly at me. He was safe in doing that; she’d never get the joke—she probably never got any joke. I wondered if MaryDell Paine knew any of those “dear people” personally, or if she only administered her good works from the safe and sanitary confines of a boardroom. And had she bothered to speak personally to any of those antediluvian neighbors? Had she tried to understand and assuage their concerns, or did she just take it for granted that she was compassionately enlightened and they were reactionary idiots? She probably never got her fat little hands dirty by actually touching any real people with real feelings. Just by looking at her, all dry-cleaned and permed, I could tell she was one of those professional volunteers who go to meetings to learn how to hold better meetings. If she had been a football, I’d have kicked her.
She was pleading prettily again, an ugly sight in a middle-aged woman. “Do give us the financial backing we need, Miss Bushfield! Oh, do! It would simply make all the difference in the world!”
Do give. Simply make. She needed a good editor and a tough aerobics instructor to excise the flab that puffed out her red silk suit and her sentences.
“I’ll have to talk to a few people,” I said.
“They’ll agree with me!” she declared.
“And then, if I think this is a project the foundation might fund, I’ll have to present it to our trustees. As it happens, they’re meeting this week, so it’s possible that I might have their decision by as early as Thursday.”
She actually brought her hands together and clapped them, arcing the tips of her fingers so she wouldn’t knock off any of her red fingernail polish.
“But”—I affected a warning tone; I didn’t have to fake the frown that accompanied it—“that’s less than four days away. I won’t even have an opinion until I take a look at the site for the recreation hall, or until I talk to some of the other proponents and the neighbors as well. You’re asking me to work this out a good deal faster than we usually move, and I don’t want you to get your hopes up about whether or not I can manage it.”
Dead Crazy by Nancy Pickard / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes