Monday, April 6, 2015
A Prayer for the Dead excerpt by Victor Banis
Stanley, accompanied by Chris, is convalescing at a Big Sur monastery, St. Marywood. Tom is back in San Francisco, with their new Girl Friday, Delightful - aka Dee - about whom Stanley is less than delighted.
A Prayer for the Dead
Dreamspinner Press (later, 2015)
They were in those guest rooms, getting ready for bed, when Stanley’s cell phone rang, a tinny version of the can-can. He had gotten so used to the quiet here at Saint Marywood that Stanley was surprised, almost startled, by the sound.
“It’s Tom,” he mouthed at Chris, answering, and into the phone, “Yes, we got here just fine and everything‘s okay, only Father Brighton…well, he was dead when we arrived. That’s kind of put a damper on things.”
“Dead? How so, dead?” Tom asked.
“Dead,” Stanley repeated. “You know, no more tick-tock…”
Tom sighed loudly. “I meant, how did he die?”
“Natural causes. At least, that’s what they say.”
“You’ve got any reason to doubt that?”
Stanley thought about that for a moment. But the truth was, he didn’t have a single valid reason to suspect otherwise. It was what he used to call the detective bug. You get so used to looking for problems, you saw them even when they aren’t there. But when he tried to think of what they had learned since they had been here, he was forced to admit he had too little to go on. It was like trying to grope one’s way through a maze of spider webs, only when the webs were all torn down, there was nothing to be found beyond them. The spiders had moved on. Or – the thought popped into his mind - were too clever at hiding to be so easily spotted. Spiders could be so sneaky. Murderers, too, in his experience.
“No, not really,” he admitted with a sigh of his own. “I have to admit, there’s nothing to suggest otherwise.” He decided he’d keep the poison pen letter to himself for the moment. It might, in fact, have nothing to do with the two deaths. To change the subject, he asked, “How’s Miss Dee doing?”
“Delightful,” Tom said, a bit too cheerily, it seemed to Stanley. Tom was by nature something of a grump. There were only a few things that got him sounding like Jiminy Cricket - one of them being women. Attractive women especially, though Stanley sometimes thought Tom found them all attractive, just in varying degrees.
“I was afraid she might be. Where are you? I hear music in the background.” Yes, he could hear Patsy Cline singing something mournful in the distance. They had no Patsy Cline music at the office. They didn’t even have a boom box there since an errant elbow – his, alas - had sent the old one toppling out an open window to crash on the sidewalk below.
“We’re at that place in Westwood – Jimmy Canary’s. You know, we’ve been there, you and me. For lunch, one day.”
Stanley scrunched up his face and tried to recall. “I don’t remember it – And anyway, it’s way past lunch time. So, tell me, why exactly are you at Jimmy Songbird’s?”
“Canary. Jimmy Canary.”
“Those songbirds all sound the same to me. Is Jimmy singing about that divorce you were working on?”
“Well – no, not exactly.”
“Uh, you are still working on that divorce?”
“No, not really – the husband’s been laying low of late. I haven’t been able to catch him up to anything.”
“Which leaves us with the same question as before - what are you doing there? At this bird’s place?”
“Just having a drink. Before dinner.”
“I see.” Stanley paused. “Drinking alone is not good for you, Tom.”
“Well, yeah, I know that, only, see, I’m not exactly alone.”
“I see,” Stanley said again. He suppressed another sigh. He had a pretty good idea just where this conversation was headed, and he did not much care for the destination. “And just exactly who is keeping you company at Jimmy Robin’s”
“Canary. Jimmy Canary.”
“Don’t split birds with me.”
Tom took longer than should have been necessary to answer that. “Dee is…well, she’s sort of with me.”
I was afraid of that, too, Stanley thought, but did not say. “And?”
“We’re just chatting. She was telling me her mom was in movies at one time.”
“Yes, I remember her.”
A moment of puzzled silence. “You do? But I haven’t even told you her name yet.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Stanley said, “everyone knows Lassie.”