About the Author
The #1 New York Times bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark has written thirty-seven suspense novels, four collections of short stories, a historical novel, a memoir, and two children’s books. With her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, she has coauthored five more suspense novels, and also wrote The Cinderella Murder, All Dressed in White, The Sleeping Beauty Killer, and Every Breath You Take with bestselling author Alafair Burke. More than one hundred million copies of her books are in print in the United States alone. Her books are international bestsellers.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Lottery Winner The Body in the Closet
If Alvirah had known on that July evening what was waiting for her at her fancy new apartment on Central Park South, she would never have gotten off the plane. As it was, there was absolutely no hint of foreboding in her usually keen psyche as the plane circled for a landing.
Even though she and Willy had been bitten by the travel bug after they won forty million dollars in the lottery, and had by now taken a number of exciting trips, Alvirah was always glad to get back to New York. There was something heartwarming about the view from the airplane: the skyscrapers silhouetted against the clouds, the lights of the bridges that spanned the East River.
Willy patted her hand, and Alvirah turned to him with an affectionate smile. He looked grand, she thought, in his new blue linen jacket that matched the color of his eyes. With those eyes and his thick head of white hair, Willy was a double for Tip O’Neill, no mistake about it.
Alvirah smoothed her russet-brown hair, recently tinted and styled by Dale of London. Dale had marveled to hear that Alvirah was pushing sixty. “You’re funning me,” he had gasped. She knew such compliments were probably hollow, but she liked to hear them anyway.
Yes, Alvirah reflected as she watched the city below, life had been grand to her and Willy. In addition to allowing them to travel at will and to buy all the creature comforts one could desire, their newfound wealth had also opened new doors of opportunity in unexpected ways, such as her involvement with one of the city’s major newspapers, the New York Globe. It all began when a Globe editor talked to her and Willy after they won the lottery. Alvirah had told him that she was realizing her longtime ambition to be a guest at the elegant Cypress Point Spa, and it wasn’t just the makeover she was looking forward to—it was also the chance to be mingling with all the celebrities she loved to read about.
The newspaper editor, obviously spotting in Alvirah some special talent for sniffing out news, plus the perseverance to pursue it to the end, persuaded her to take on an assignment for him. He asked her to keep her eyes open and her ears alert, with the idea in mind of writing an article about her experiences at the exclusive spa. And to further aid her in the process of gathering news and impressions, he gave her a lapel pin in the shape of a sunburst that actually contained a tiny recording device. That way she could record her impressions while they were fresh, and she might even pick up a few bits of conversation from those very people she was so anxious to meet.
The results had proved even more dramatic than either she or the editor had hoped, for at the spa she recorded someone who was in the act of trying to kill her, an attack brought on by her sleuthing into a murder that had occurred there. With the help of her detection—and the handy recording device—Alvirah had not only helped to solve a crime but had embarked on a whole new and unexpected career as occasional columnist and amateur sleuth.
Now, as she sat buckled into her seat, thinking back over her most recent trip, she fingered the sunburst pin—a more-or-less permanent fixture on any outfit she wore—and reflected on how disappointed her editor was going to be. “This trip was wonderful,” she said to Willy, “but there wasn’t a single adventure I could write about. The most exciting thing during the whole trip was when the Queen stopped in for tea at the Stafford Hotel, and the manager’s cat attacked her corgis.”
“Well I for one am glad we had a nice, calm vacation,” Willy said. “I can’t take much more of you almost getting killed solving crimes.”
The British Airways flight attendant was walking down the aisle of the first-class cabin, checking that seat belts were fastened. “I certainly enjoyed talking with you,” she told them. Willy had explained to her, as he would to almost any willing ear, that he’d been a plumber and Alvirah a cleaning woman until they won the forty-million-dollar lottery two years ago. “My goodness,” the flight attendant said now to Alvirah, “I just can’t believe you were ever a char.”
* * *
In a mercifully short time after landing they were in the waiting limousine, their matching Vuitton luggage stacked in the trunk. As usual, New York in August was hot, sticky and sultry. The air-conditioning in the limo had just gone on the fritz, and Alvirah thought longingly ahead to their new apartment on Central Park South, which would be wonderfully cool. They still kept their old three-room flat in Flushing where they’d lived for forty years before the lottery changed their lives. As Willy pointed out, you never knew if someday New York would go broke and tell the lottery winners to take a flying leap for the rest of their winnings.
When the limo pulled up to the apartment building, the doorman opened the door for them. “You must be melting,” Alvirah said. “You’d think they wouldn’t bother dressing you up until they finished the renovations.”
The building was undergoing a total overhaul. When they had bought the apartment in the spring, the real estate agent had assured them that the refurbishing would be completed in a matter of weeks. It was clear from the scaffolding still in the lobby that he had been wildly optimistic.
At the bank of elevators they were joined by another couple, a tall, fiftyish man and a slender woman wearing a white silk evening suit and an expression that reminded Alvirah of someone who has opened a refrigerator and encountered the odor of eggs gone bad. I know them, Alvirah thought and began ruffling through her prodigious memory. He was Carlton Rumson, the legendary Broadway producer, and she was his wife, Victoria, a sometime actress who had been a Miss America runner-up some thirty years ago.
“Mr. Rumson!” With a warm smile, Alvirah reached out her hand. “I’m Alvirah Meehan. We met at the Cypress Point Spa in Pebble Beach. What a nice surprise! This is my husband, Willy. Do you live here?”
Rumson’s smile came and went. “We keep an apartment here for convenience.” He nodded to Willy, then grudgingly introduced his wife. The elevator door opened as Victoria Rumson acknowledged them with the flicker of an eyelid. What a cold fish, Alvirah thought, taking in the perfect but haughty profile, the pale-blond hair pulled back in a chignon. Long years of reading People, US, the National Enquirer and gossip columns had resulted in Alvirah’s brain becoming the repository of an awesome amount of information about the rich and famous.
They had just stopped at the thirty-fourth floor as Alvirah remembered her Rumson tidbits. He was famous for his wandering eye, while his wife’s ability to overlook his indiscretions had earned her the nickname “See-No-Evil Vicky.” Obviously a perfect match, Alvirah thought.
“Mr. Rumson,” Alvirah said, “Willy’s nephew, Brian McCormack, is a wonderful playwright. He’s just finished his second play. I’d love to have you read it.”
Rumson looked annoyed. “My office is listed in the phone book,” he said.
“Brian’s first play is running off-Broadway right now,” Alvirah persisted. “One of the critics said he’s a young Neil Simon.”
“Come on, honey,” Willy urged. “You’re holding up these folks.”
Unexpectedly the glacier look melted from Victoria Rumson’s face. “Darling,” she said, “I’ve heard about Brian McCormack. Why don’t you read the play here? It will only get buried in your office. Mrs. Meehan, send it by our apartment.”
“That’s real nice of you, Victoria,” Alvirah said heartily. “You’ll have it tomorrow.”
As they walked from the elevator to their apartment, Willy asked, “Honey, don’t you think you were being a little pushy?”
“Absolutely not,” Alvirah said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Anything I can do to help Brian’s career is A-OK with me.”
* * *
Their apartment commanded a sweeping view of Central Park. Alvirah never stepped into it without thinking that not so long ago she had considered her Thursday cleaning job, Mrs. Chester Lollop’s house in Little Neck, a miniature palace. Boy, had her eyes been opened these last few years!
They’d bought the apartment completely furnished from a stockbroker who’d been indicted for insider trading. He had just had it done by an interior designer who, he assured them, was the absolute rage of Manhattan. Secretly Alvirah now had serious doubts about just what kind of rage he’d been talking about. The living room, dining room and kitchen were stark white. There were low white sofas that she had to hoist herself out of, thick white carpeting that showed every speck of dirt, white counters and cabinets and marble and appliances that reminded her of all the tubs and sinks and toilets she’d ever tried to scrub free of rust.
And tonight there was something new, a large printed sign taped to the door leading to the terrace. Alvirah crossed to the door to read it.
A building inspection has revealed that this is one of a small number of apartments in which a serious structural weakness has been found in the guardrailing and the panels of the terrace. Your terrace is safe for normal use, but do not lean on the guardrail or permit others to do so. Repairs will be completed as rapidly as possible.
After reading the notice silently, she read it aloud to Willy, then shrugged. “Well, I certainly have brains enough not to lean on any guardrail, safe or not.”
Willy smiled sheepishly. He was scared silly of heights and never set foot on the terrace. As he’d said when they bought the apartment, “You love a terrace, I love terra firma.”
Willy went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Alvirah opened the terrace door and stepped outside. The sultry air was a hot wave against her face, but she didn’t care. There was something she loved about standing out here, looking across the park at the festive glow from the decorated trees around the Tavern on the Green, the ribbons of headlights of the cars and the glimpses of horse-drawn carriages in the distance.
Oh, it’s good to be back! she thought again as she went inside and surveyed the living room, her expert eye observing the degree of efficiency of the weekly cleaning service that should have been in yesterday. She was surprised to see fingerprints smeared across the glass cocktail table. Automatically she reached for a handkerchief and vigorously rubbed them away. Then she noticed that the tieback on the drapery next to the terrace door was missing. Hope it didn’t end up in the vacuum, she thought. At least I was a good cleaning woman. Then she remembered what the British Airways attendant had said—or a good char, whatever that is.
“Hey, Alvirah,” Willy called. “Did Brian leave a note? Looks like he may have been expecting someone.”
Brian, Willy’s nephew, was the only child of his oldest sister, Madaline. Six of Willy’s seven sisters had gone into the convent. Madaline had married in her forties and produced a change-of-life baby, Brian, who was now twenty-six years old. He had been raised in Nebraska, written plays for a repertory company out there and came to New York after Madaline’s death two years ago. All of Alvirah’s untapped maternal instincts were released by Brian, with his thin, intense face, unruly sandy hair and shy smile. As she often told Willy, “If I’d carried him inside me for nine months, I couldn’t love him more.”
When they’d left for England in June, Brian was finishing the first draft of his new play and had been glad to accept their offer of a key to the Central Park South apartment. “It’s a heck of a lot easier to write there than in my place,” was his grateful comment. He lived in a walk-up in the East Village, surrounded by large noisy families.
Alvirah went into the kitchen. She raised her eyebrows. A bottle of champagne, standing in a wine cooler which was now half full of water, and two champagne glasses were on a silver tray. The champagne was a gift from the broker who’d handled the apartment sale. The broker had several times informed them that that particular champagne cost a hundred dollars a bottle and was the brand the Queen of England herself enjoyed sipping.
Willy looked troubled. “That’s the stuff that’s so crazy expensive, isn’t it? No way Brian would help himself to that without asking. There’s something funny going on.” Alvirah opened her mouth to reassure him, then closed it. Willy was right. There was something funny going on, and her antenna told her trouble was brewing.
The chimes rang. An apologetic porter was at the door with their bags. “Sorry to be so long, Mr. Meehan. Since the remodeling began, so many residents are using the service elevator that the staff has to stand in line for it.” At Willy’s request, he deposited the bags in the bedroom, then departed smiling, his palm closing over a five-dollar bill.
Willy and Alvirah shared a pot of tea in the kitchen. Willy kept staring at the champagne bottle. “I’m gonna call Brian,” he said.
“He’ll still be at the theater,” Alvirah said, closed her eyes, concentrated and gave him the telephone number of the box office.
Willy dialed, listened, then hung up. “There’s a recorder on,” he said flatly. “Brian’s play closed. They talk about how to get refunds.”
“The poor kid,” Alvirah said. “Try his apartment.”
“Only the answering machine,” he told her a moment later. “I’ll leave a message for him.”
Alvirah suddenly realized how weary she was. As she collected teacups she reminded herself that it was 5:00 A.M., English time, so she had a right to feel as though all her bones were aching. She put the teacups in the dishwasher, hesitated, then rinsed out the unused champagne glasses and put them in the dishwasher too. Her friend Baroness Min von Schreiber—who owned the Cypress Point Spa where Alvirah had gone to be made over after she won the lottery—had told her that expensive wines should never be left standing. With a damp sponge, she gave a vigorous rub to the unopened bottle, the silver tray and bucket and put them away. Turning the lights out behind her, she went into the bedroom.
Willy had begun to unpack. Alvirah liked the bed room. It had been furnished for the bachelor stockbroker with a king-sized bed, a triple dresser, comfortable easy chairs, and night tables large enough to hold at the same time a stack of books, reading glasses and mineral ice for Alvirah’s rheumatic knees. The decor, however, convinced her that the trendy interior designer must have been weaned on bleach. White spread. White drapes. White carpet.
The porter had left Alvirah’s garment bag laid out across the bed. She unlocked it and began to remove the suits and dresses. Baroness von Schreiber was always pleading with her not to go shopping on her own. “Alvirah,” Min would argue, “you are natural prey for saleswomen who have been ordered to unload the buyers’ mistakes. They sense your approach even while you’re still in the elevator. I’m in New York enough. You come to the spa several times a year. Wait till we’re together; I will shop with you.”
Alvirah wondered if Min would approve of the orange-and-pink plaid suit that the saleswoman in Harrods had raved over. Looking at it now, she was sure Min wouldn’t.
Her arms filled with clothing, she opened the door of the closet, glanced down and let out a shriek. Lying on the carpeted floor between rows of Alvirah’s size-10 extra-wide designer shoes, with green eyes staring up, crinkly blond hair flowing around her face, tongue slightly protruding and the missing drapery tieback around he...
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