Deck the Halls

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9780743212281: Deck the Halls
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When Regan Reilly's father, Luke, mysteriously vanishes just before the Christmas holidays, she turns to her parents' neighbors, Willy and Alvirah, for help in finding him, only to discover that Luke and the driver of the taxi in which he had been riding have been kidnapped and are being held for ransom by the disinherited son of his Luke's partner. (Suspense)

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About the Author:

Mary Higgins Clark, author of twenty-two worldwide bestsellers, lives with her husband, John Conheeney, in Saddle River.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

from Thursday, December 22nd

Regan Reilly sighed for the hundredth time as she looked down at her mother, Nora, a brand-new patient in Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery. "And to think I bought you that dopey crocheted rug you tripped on," she said.

"You only bought it. I caught my heel in it," the well-known mystery writer said wanly. "It wasn't your fault I was wearing those idiotic stilts."

Nora attempted to shift her body, which was anchored by a heavy plaster cast that reached from her toes to her thigh.

"I'll leave you two to assess the blame for the broken leg," Luke Reilly, owner of three funeral homes, husband and father, observed as he hoisted his long, lean body from the low bedside armchair. "I've got a funeral to go to, a dentist's appointment, and then, since our Christmas plans are somewhat altered, I guess I'd better see about buying a tree."

He bent over and kissed his wife. "Look at it this way: you may not be gazing at the Pacific Ocean, but you've got a good view of the East River." He and Nora and their only child, thirty-one-year-old Regan, had been planning to spend the Christmas holiday on Maui.

"You're a scream," Nora told him. "Dare we hope you'll arrive home with a tree that isn't your usual Charlie Brown special?"

"That's not nice," Luke protested.

"But it's true." Nora dismissed the subject. "Luke, you look exhausted. Can't you skip Goodloe's funeral? Austin can take care of everything."

Austin Grady was Luke's right-hand man. He had handled hundreds of funerals on his own, but the one today was different. The deceased, Cuthbert Boniface Goodloe, had left the bulk of his estate to the Seed-Plant-Bloom-and-Blossom Society of the Garden State of New Jersey. His disgruntled nephew and partial namesake, Cuthbert Boniface Dingle, known as C.B., was obviously bitter about his meager inheritance. After viewing hours yesterday afternoon, C.B. had sneaked back to the casket where Luke had found him stuffing rotted bits of house plants in the sleeves of the pin-striped designer suit the fastidious Goodloe had chosen as his last outfit.

As Luke came up behind C.B., he heard him whispering, "You love plants? I'll give you plants, you senile old hypocrite. Get a whiff of these! Enjoy them from now until Resurrection Day!"

Luke had backed away, not wanting to confront C.B., who continued to vent verbal outrage at the body of his less-than-generous uncle. It was not the first time Luke had heard a mourner telling off the deceased, but the use of decaying foliage was a first. Later, Luke had quietly removed the offensive vegetation. But today, he wanted to keep an eye on C.B. himself. Besides, he hadn't had a chance to mention the incident to Austin.

Luke considered telling Nora about the nephew's bizarre behavior, but then decided not to go into it. "Goodloe's been planning his own funeral with me for three years," he said instead. "If I didn't show up, he'd haunt me."

"I suppose you should go." Nora's voice was sleepy, and her eyes were starting to close. "Regan, why don't you let Dad drop you off at the apartment? The last painkiller they gave me is knocking me out."

"I'd rather hang around until your private nurse gets here," Regan said. "I want to make sure someone is with you."

"All right. But then go to the apartment and crash. You know you never sleep on the red-eye flight."

Regan, a private investigator who lived in Los Angeles, had been packing for the trip to Hawaii when her father phoned.

"Your mother's fine," he began. "But she's had an accident. She broke her leg."

"She broke her leg?" Regan had repeated.

"Yes. We were on our way to a black tie at the Plaza. Mom was one of the honorees. She was running a little late. I rang for the elevator..."

One of Dad's not very subtle ways of getting Mom to hurry up, Regan thought.

"The elevator arrived, but she didn't. I went back into the apartment and found her lying on the floor with her leg at a very peculiar angle. But you know your mother. Her first question was to ask if her gown was torn."

That would be Mom, Regan had thought affectionately.

"She was the best-dressed emergency-room patient in the history of the hospital," Luke had concluded.

Regan had dumped her Hawaii clothes out of the suitcase and replaced them with winter clothes suitable for New York. She barely made the last night flight from Los Angeles to Kennedy, and once in New York had paused only long enough to drop off her bags at her parents' apartment on Central Park South.

From the doorway of the hospital room, Luke looked back and smiled at the sight of the two women in his life, so alike in some ways with their classic features, blue eyes, and fair skin, but so different in others. From the Black Irish Reillys, Regan had inherited raven black hair, a throwback to the Spaniards who had settled in Ireland after their Armada had been destroyed in battle with the British. Nora, however, was a natural blonde, and at five feet three inches was four inches shorter than her daughter. At six feet five, Luke towered over both of them. His once-dark hair was now almost completely silver.

"Regan, I'll meet you back here at around seven," he said. "After we cheer your mother up, we'll go out and have a good dinner."

He caught Nora's expression and smiled at her. "You thrive on the urge to kill, honey. All the reviewers say so." He waved his hand. "See you girls tonight."

It was a commitment Luke would not be able to keep.

Across town, apartment 16B at 211 Central Park South was in the process of being decorated for Christmas. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly," Alvirah Meehan sang, off-key, as she placed a miniature wreath around the framed picture of Willy and herself accepting the $40 million lottery check that had changed their lives forever.

The picture brought back vividly that magical evening three years ago, when she'd been sitting in their tiny living room in Flushing, Queens, and Willy had been half asleep in his old club chair. She had been soaking her feet in a pail of warm water after a hard day of cleaning Mrs. O'Keefe's house when Willy came home, really bushed, from repairing a burst pipe that had sent showers of rusty water on the newly pressed clothes at Spot-Free Dry Cleaners down the block. Then the announcer on television began to read the winning lottery numbers.

I sure look different now, Alvirah thought, shaking her head as she examined the picture. The brassy red hair that for so many years she had dyed herself in the bathroom sink had been transformed by Madame Judith, to a soft golden red with subtle shadings. The purple polyester pants suit had long ago been banished by her classy friend, Baroness Min Von Schreiber. Of course, her jutting jaw was the same, a product of God's design when he molded her, but she'd gotten down from a size sixteen to a trimmer size fourteen. There was no question about it -- she looked ten years younger and a thousand times better now than in the old days.

I was sixty then and looked like I was pushing seventy. Now I'm sixty-three and don't look a day over fifty-nine, she told herself happily. On the other hand, she decided, looking at the picture, even dressed in that bargain-basement blue suit and skinny little tie, Willy managed to look handsome and distinguished. With his shock of white hair and vivid blue eyes, Willy always reminded people of the late, legendary Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill.

Poor Willy, she sighed. What bad luck that he feels so rotten. Nobody should be stuck with a toothache during the Christmas season. But Dr. Jay will fix him up. Our big mistake was to get involved with that other guy when Dr. Jay moved to New Jersey, Alvirah thought. He talked Willy into getting a dental implant even though it hadn't worked last time, and it's been killing him. Oh, well, it could be worse, she reminded herself. Look what happened to Nora Regan Reilly.

She had heard on the radio that the suspense author, who happened to be her favorite writer, had broken her leg the evening before in her apartment in the very next building. Her high heel had caught in the fringe of a rug, Alvirah mused -- the same kind of thing that happened to Grandma. But Grandma wasn't wearing high heels. She had stepped on a wad of bubble gum in the street, and when the fringe of the rug stuck to the bottom of her orthopedic sneakers, she went sprawling.

"Hi, honey." Willy was coming down the hall from the bedroom. The right side of his face was swollen, and his expression was instant testimony to the fact that the troublesome implant was still killing him.

Alvirah knew how to cheer him up. "Willy, you know what makes me feel good?"

"Whatever it is, share it right away."

"It's knowing that Dr. Jay will get rid of that implant, and by tonight you'll be feeling much better. I mean, aren't you better off than poor Nora Regan Reilly, who'll be hobbling around on crutches for weeks?"

Willy shook his head and managed a smile. "Alvirah, can I never have an ache or a pain without you telling me how lucky I am? If I came down with the bubonic plague, you'd try to make me feel sorry for somebody else."

Alvirah laughed. "I suppose I would at that," she agreed.

"When you ordered the car, did you allow for holiday traffic? I never thought I'd be worried about missing a dentist appointment, but today I am."

"Of course I did," she assured him. "We'll be there long before three. Dr. Jay squeezed you in before he sees his last patient. He's closing early for the holiday weekend."

Willy looked at his watch. "It's only a little after ten. I wish he could see me this minute. What time is the car coming?"

"One-thirty."

"I'll start to get ready."

With a sympathetic shake of her head, Alvirah watched her husband of forty-three years disappear back into the bedroom. He'll be feeling a thousand percent better tonight, she decided. I'll make some nice vegetable soup for dinner, and we'll watch the tape of It's a Wonderful Life. I'm glad we delayed our cruise until February. It will be good to have a quiet, at-home Christmas this year.

A...

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