Friday, November 13, 2015

The White Russian Caper - Final Preview

Just one week left until the November 20th Official Release of The White Russian Caper. Here's one more preview to whet your appetite.
The White Russian Caper
Chapter Three
I was out the revolving door and halfway to my car when I remembered something important - the red heart that Millie had inscribed around the date on her calendar pad. I hurried back to the hotel and was relieved to see that the gift shop in the lobby was still open. I selected a two-pound, heart-shaped box of Godiva chocolates (the largest box on the shelf) and then cleaned the hotel flower shop out of its remaining stock of red roses. Now properly equipped with 27 red roses and the box of chocolates, I walked back to my car and drove home.
As I pulled into the parking lot behind the Carver Hill Apartments, I glanced up at our living room window and saw the curtains move. When Millie and I married last Labor Day weekend, she gave up her studio apartment and moved herself and her belongings into my third-floor, 600-square foot, one-bedroom walk-up. We’re a bit cramped for space, but the location is convenient - just ten blocks from the office. Millie must have seen me from the living room; she was waiting at the top of the stairs. Her face beamed like a six-year old who’d just been offered a tub of chocolate ice cream all for herself. “Oh, Dick!” She flung her arms around me, squeezing the candy and flowers between us. “You remembered!”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, honey,” I said, ignoring the pricks from the rose thorns. “How could I forget Valentine’s Day? Especially since you took such care to draw that big, red heart on your calendar.” She giggled in reply, and we walked back to our apartment, our arms around each other’s waists. Even though I’d told her to eat without me, Millie had kept dinner hot. We sat down to a meal of spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic bread, and a bottle of Mouton Cadet red wine. We kept the conversation light over dinner and dessert - a home-made chocolate layer cake in the shape of a heart - then adjourned to the living room for coffee. I knew that Millie was curious about where I had been that evening, but her opening gambit caught me off guard.
“What happened to your coat, Dick?”
“Your coat? The one you were wearing when you left home this morning?”
“Oh, that coat.” I feigned confusion. “What about it?”
“Where is it?”
“Left it in the car,” I replied. “It got dirty. I need to take it to the cleaners.”
Millie wasn’t biting. “Pull the other leg, Dick,” she said. “I know you better than that. When was the last time you noticed dirt on any of your clothes?” She looked at me, smiled, then cuddled up against me on the sofa. “C’mon, Dick. Tell me a bedtime story. What have you been up to? Who’s the big bad wolf this time?”
I filled her in on my evening adventure. As always, Millie was a good listener, punctuating my narration with gasps and gollies at all the right places. And when I came to the end of the story, she asked the perfect question. “Where’s the coin, Dick? Can you show it to me?”
“It’s in my trouser pocket.” I reached into the pocket with my free hand and pulled out the coin. She extended her hand, then hesitated. “Go ahead and have a look at it,” I urged. “Don’t worry about fingerprints. Mine are all over it.”
Millie picked up the coin and held it under the reading lamp beside the sofa. “Have you had a chance to look at this yet, Dick?” she asked, as she turned it over to examine both faces of the piece.
“Not really,” I replied. “Why? Can you make out anything?”
“I think it’s a Russian coin. Come and look at it under the light.” I stood up, walked over to the lamp, and knelt close to where Millie was sitting. “See these symbols?” She pointed at some marks. “I think that’s Cyrillic lettering. You know what I mean - the Russian alphabet.”
“But, if that’s a Russian coin, where’s the CCCP?”
“CCCP is the Russian abbreviation for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - USSR.” She looked up, wide-eyed. “The date on this coin is 1811. It’s from the time of the Russian tsars.”
I leaned back and looked at her. “How do you know so much about Russia?”
“Oh,” She blushed and seemed at a loss for words.
“Come back over here.” I sat back down on the sofa and patted its seat in invitation. “I think it’s your turn to tell me a bedtime story.”
“My grandfather - my mother’s father - came from Russia,” she began. “He and my great-grandfather arrived in 1904, when my grandfather was about fourteen years old. They came by ship - in steerage, of course - and landed in Canada. In Halifax, Nova Scotia. Then they took a train to Montreal. My great-grandfather’s brother was already in Montreal, and they lived with him at first.” Millie hesitated for a moment, then continued. “My grandfather’s family was Jewish. They didn’t leave Russia voluntarily. All the Jews in their village were forced out by an edict from the tsar. When they arrived in Montreal, my grandfather was apprenticed to a tailor. There was a large clothing industry in Montreal - not as big as New York City’s, but big enough. He learned his trade and eventually saved up enough to open his own tailoring shop. After about a year, he hired a young French-Canadian woman, Marcelite Dubois, to handle the haberdashery - the shirts, ties, handkerchiefs, and so forth - and the cash register.”
“That would have been unusual in those days, wouldn’t it? Your grandfather must have been a very modern-thinking man to have hired a woman to work in a men’s wear shop.”
“He was,” Millie nodded. “He took some flak for it, but this was 1915 - wartime. Canada entered World War I in 1914 when England declared war, and there weren’t many men available for clerking or sales jobs. He was modern in another way, too. He and Marcelite fell in love. He married outside his faith.”
“Marcelite was your grandmother, then?”
“That’s right. I used to call her ‘Memère’ when I was little - I couldn’t pronounce ‘Grandmère.’ My grandfather was ‘Zayde,' which means ‘Grandpa.’ After the war was over, Memère and Zayde moved to New York to get away from their families - neither family approved of the marriage. My mother was born and grew up in New York. She met my father while on a visit to Atlantic City with her parents.”
“What happened to your grandparents? Are they still living in New York?”
“No, Memère died when I was about three years old. My parents invited Zayde to live with us in Atlantic City, but he decided to return to Montreal instead and make peace with his brother. My parents took me to visit him a couple of times in Montreal, so I remember him better than I do Memère.” Millie hesitated, then looked up at me. “Zayde is still alive. He must be over ninety years old now. I’d really like to see him again, Dick. Do you think we could manage a trip to Montreal one day?”
“Of course. I’d like to meet the old guy myself.” I gave her a squeeze. “But we seem to have strayed off topic. What does all this have to do with Cynthia’s mysterious coin?”
“Well, Zayde had saved a few old Russian coins. He showed them to me the last time my parents took me to Montreal for a visit. Except for the hole in this coin, the design and lettering remind me of them. Especially the two-headed bird.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have any of those old coins stashed away somewhere, would you?”
“No, ‘fraid not.” Millie shook her head. “But a coin dealer might have some old Russian coins that you could look at.”
“Stephane Major asked me to drop by his office tomorrow morning. I’m seeing him at nine. After I’m done, I’ll look into this coin.” I slid the coin back into my trouser pocket, placed my arm around Millie’s waist, and drew her to me. “Now, where were we before you asked about my overcoat?”
I woke the next morning to the sound of the WMID call signal on my clock radio. The seven o’clock news was as old as a stale bagel: Iran had lodged yet another complaint with the United Nations Security Council, whining that Canada had insulted Iran’s sovereignty by smuggling six US diplomats out from under the considerable nose of the Ayatollah Khomeini; President Carter had threatened, once again, to boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics over the USSR’s continued military presence in Afghanistan; and US interest rates had risen another notch in lock-step with the rising rate of inflation, while the economy continued its downward trend. The national sports news was more encouraging. My New York Knicks handed me a Valentine’s Day present by managing to eke out a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, and the US Olympic Hockey team had done likewise by crushing the Czech national team 7-3 in Lake Placid. In local news, the announcer informed his listeners that, due to a sudden and unspecified illness, the reigning Miss America had been forced to postpone several appearances. There was no mention of the vicious beating she had suffered - Stephane Major had succeeded in keeping that juicy story out of the hands of the media. Once I heard the weather report - cloudy with a chance of early morning and late evening snow flurries, and a forecast high of 39ºF - I ran out of excuses and rolled out of bed.
Millie was already dressed and on the phone with our answering service. She looked feminine yet businesslike in her brown wool slacks and long-sleeved yellow blouse, which was accented by a paisley scarf that she had tied around her neck in a big, floppy bow. The Harris tweed jacket she was planning to wear over the blouse was draped over the back of a chair. Her blond, shoulder-length hair was done up today in some sort of spiral style. She must have felt my eyes on her, because she tucked the receiver between her ear and her shoulder, freeing a hand to send a casual wave in my direction. As she returned the receiver to its cradle, I walked up to her and put an arm around her waist. She turned in my embrace and greeted me with a kiss, “Good morning, lazybones.”
I gestured at her notepad. “Anything important?”
“Could be.” She wrinkled her brow. “Derek Turpin wants to see you at nine this morning.”
“Derek Turpin, the hotel magnate?” I asked. “What does he want?”
“He didn’t say. Just that he has something to discuss with you. He said you should come to his penthouse suite at the Ritz.”
“But I’m seeing Stephane Major at nine.”
“Not any more.” Millie tapped her notepad. “The other message was from Mr. Major. He’s changed his appointment to eleven and wants you to meet him at the hospital instead of at his office.” She smiled. “If you get a move on, I’ll fix you a proper breakfast while you shave and shower.”

Millie believes in starting the day with a good breakfast, and today was no exception: fresh-squeezed orange juice, French toast topped with Vermont maple syrup and a sprinkling of mixed berries, and a bottomless mug of fresh-brewed coffee. By the time I had finished my last swallow of coffee, the clock on the microwave oven read 8:38. We made short work of the breakfast dishes before leaving the apartment and heading for our cars. I watched Millie slide behind the wheel of her ’75 Corolla before I climbed into my Celica to head for The Ritz.
Copyright © 2015 Phyllis Entis. All Rights Reserved

THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: A DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERY (Kindle edition) is available now on Amazon for pre-order. Order now at a discounted price of $3.29, and receive the download automatically on November 20, 2015 on your Kindle device or Kindle App.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The White Russian Caper - Another Teaser

Halloween is almost upon us, and I've decided to offer a "treat" by previewing another chapter from The White Russian Caper.

The White Russian Caper
Chapter Two

Cynthia Mills was lying naked on the floor of the closet on top of a pile of clothes. Her face and body bore the marks of a severe beating; her left arm and both legs were bent at impossible angles. Coagulated blood matted her ash-blond hair and clung to her upper lip and the corner of her mouth, and her nose displayed an unnatural kink. Her body was a canvas of developing bruises; her face was swollen, and both eye sockets were outlined in purple-black. 
“Major,” I barked, “call 9-1-1. We need an ambulance and the police.” Cynthia stirred and moaned. “And notify hotel security,” I added.
She moaned again and her eyes fluttered open for an instant. “Cold,” she exhaled, her voice barely a whisper. I took off my overcoat, crouched down beside her, and covered her. “This will keep you warm,” I told her. “Help will be here soon.” Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. She shifted her right arm a couple of inches, and her hand twitched feebly at the edge of the carpeting along the track of the sliding door. “Here,” she said, “take…”
“You want me to lift the carpeting?” I asked.
“Take,” she breathed. I pulled out my Swiss Army knife and used one of the blades to pry up the carpeting. “Take,” she repeated. I reached under the carpet pad, and my fingers made contact with something metallic. I peeled back the carpet and its pad until I was able to grasp the piece of metal and free it from its hiding place. It was bronze, about the size of a silver dollar, and appeared to be some sort of coin or medallion. One surface was embossed with a double-headed eagle. Near the rim of the coin, a small hole surrounded by a decorative border was centered just above the bird’s twin heads. I showed it to her. “Is this what you were looking for?” I asked.
Cynthia opened her eyes just long enough to see the coin. “Yes,” she whispered, laboring to breathe. “Take. Keep…. safe.” I placed the coin in my jacket pocket. “Rest quietly, Cynthia,” I said, gently brushing a strand of hair from her forehead. “I’ll keep this safe for you.” She managed a fleeting smile as she passed out.
As I leaned over to check her pulse, I heard a metallic clink from above. I lifted my head and listened hard. I heard it again. It was coming from the forced-air heating vent. I rose to my feet, grabbed a chair, and climbed up to examine the vent grille on the wall above the closet. The grille was loose; the screws that normally secured it in place had been removed. With my ear against the opening, I could hear a scrambling sound. Someone was crawling through the heating duct. A soft thud from the next suite was followed by the sound of a door slamming shut. I ran through Cynthia’s suite past a startled Stephane Major and flung open the door. As I looked up and down the hallway, I was just in time to see the door to the emergency exit staircase swing shut. I raced to the end of the hall, and flew down the stairs. But by the time I reached the street door, my quarry had disappeared. Admitting defeat, I walked around to the lobby entrance and took the elevator back up to the ninth floor.
Stephane Major was waiting for me in the doorway to Cynthia’s suite. He grabbed me by the arm. “What happened? Where did you go?” I shrugged him off and returned to Cynthia’s side. She was lying with her eyes closed, and the rise and fall of her chest was almost imperceptible. Crouching back down, I leaned over and placed my fingers on her jugular to check her pulse. It was feeble. “Hang on, Cynthia,” I urged. “Help will be here soon.” As I stood back up, I heard a sharp intake of breath from behind me, followed by a dull thunk. I turned to see the body of Stephane Major lying crumpled on the floor in the bedroom doorway. He had fainted dead away. With a muttered curse, I picked my way carefully through the chaos over to where he lay. I bent over and slapped his cheeks to bring him around. He moaned and stirred. “Lie still a minute,” I told him. “You passed out.”
He moaned again, his color pasty-gray. “It was her face, her poor, bruised face. I could see it reflected in the mirror.” He pointed with a trembling hand to a full-length wall mirror that miraculously had remained intact except for a single diagonal crack in one corner. “She was so beautiful,” he added as he struggled to sit up, propping himself against the doorjamb.
“She still is,” I replied. “Did you make those calls?”
“Yes.” He reached out a hand to me. “Help me stand, please, Mr. Dickens.”
I pulled him upright and guided him over to the sofa. “Sit here,” I ordered, “and don’t move.” He leaned back into the unyielding cushions. “Don’t touch anything,” I snapped, as he reached out to stroke the fake scrollwork on the armrest of the sofa. “This is a crime scene. The police will be dusting for prints.” He snatched back his hand like a turtle retracting its head into its shell for protection and sat rocking slowly back and forth, his arms folded across his chest.
When I heard the distant chime of the elevator bell, I stepped into the corridor. A pair of paramedics set a brisk pace, walking on either side of a gurney that was loaded down with their emergency response gear; they were followed by two Atlantic City Police Department uniformed officers. “Down here,” I waved. As they approached, I recognized one of the cops. My old nemesis, Sgt. Conan Sherlock, was easy to identify: short, balding, and with a gut that spilled over his gun belt and threatened to pop the buttons on his uniform shirt. We’d bumped heads on a number of occasions in the years since I left the force and became a private investigator. He had made no secret of his delight in arresting me the previous summer for the murder of my client, Celine Sutherland, and I’d heard through the law enforcement grapevine that he had been bitterly disappointed at my exoneration. “Mark my words,” he’d told a group of junior officers, slapping the palm of his hand with his nightstick for emphasis, “Dickens is a bad egg. We’ll crack him one day.”
I led the paramedics through the bedroom to the closet where Cynthia lay, then returned to the sitting room. Major was already talking to a fresh-faced constable, who was nodding his head as he frantically scribbled in his notebook. Sherlock was waiting for me and motioned me over to the dining area. We sat down facing each other across the table. Sherlock opened his notebook, licked his forefinger, and used it to flip to a fresh page. Then he took a ballpoint pen from his pocket and clicked it several times. “Let’s have it, Dickens.” He glared at me and I returned his stare, willing him to look away first. He glanced down at the blank page of his notebook, clicked his pen again, and looked back up at me. “Well? I’m waiting, Dickens.”
I took a deep breath and walked him through what had happened, beginning with Major’s phone call to me. “I chased after whoever it was in the room next door,” I finished, “but I never got a good look at the suspect. The exit door swung shut behind me, so I had to go around to the front to get back inside. You guys showed up shortly after I got back to the room.”
Sherlock threw me a skeptical look. “And that’s all?” I nodded in silent response. “You’re not holding anything back?”
“Of course not!” I put on my most sincere face - the one I use when I’m trying to dodge a question. I had said nothing about the coin. I wanted to know more about it first.
Sherlock snorted. “Why don’t I believe you?” Then he shrugged, jotted a final item in his notebook, and slapped it shut. “My nose tells me that you’re mixed up in this somehow, Dickens. I’ll get something on you yet.”
“And it’s such a noble nose,” I replied, standing. “Be careful where you poke it, Sherlock. It might get pinched.”
Sherlock turned and barked at the constable who was questioning Major. “Aren’t you done yet?”
“Just finishing up, Sarge.”
The paramedics had been working steadily while Major and I were giving our statements, and they were ready to move their patient. Major almost passed out again as Cynthia was wheeled past us on the gurney. I waited in the room with him for a few minutes; even so, he was still pale and shaky when we rode the elevator down to the lobby. “I think that we could both use a drink,” I suggested, steering him to the hotel lounge. The place was empty, except for a couple of guys nursing their double Scotches at one end of the bar, and we found a quiet table near the back. As is my habit, I chose a seat with my back to the wall; Major sat across the table from me. The waiter came over. “Bushmills, please, on the rocks,” I told him, before asking Major, “What are you having?”
“A White Russian, please. And may I have the cream on the side, if you wouldn’t mind? I prefer to adjust the proportions for myself, n’est ce pas?” he explained. The waiter looked at me, raising his eyebrows and shoulders in unison before walking away.
“White Russian?” I asked.
“It’s quite delicious, really. It consists of vodka on ice, coffee liqueur - I favor Kahlua, but Tia Maria is satisfactory, I suppose - and light cream.” He licked his lips, and his eyes sparkled in anticipation, his distress over Cynthia’s shocking appearance temporarily forgotten. We sat without speaking until the waiter returned, carrying our drinks and a bowl of mixed, salted nuts. “Nuts are in the house,” he announced, then blushed slightly. “Sorry, I meant on the house.” He placed the bowl of nuts on the table between us and left. I watched Major fuss with his cocktail, adding a smidgen of cream, stirring, adding a few drops more, stirring again, and repeating the process until he was satisfied. He took an exploratory sip, put his glass down, nodded, and sighed, “I needed that.” He sipped again and looked up at me. “What happens now, Mr. Dickens?”
I thought for a moment. “I assume you have Cynthia’s next-of-kin information in your files?”
“Yes, of course.” He stopped to take another sip. “Her parents, Rachel and Joseph Mills, live in Florida. I met them during Pageant week.”
“You need to notify them.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s after nine o’clock. Do you think it’s too late to call?”
“I think they need to know as soon as possible.”
Major sighed and pushed himself to his feet. “Then I guess I had better return to my office and make that call, n’est ce pas.” He paused and looked at me, a plea for help in his eyes. “Unless you could undertake that service for me?”
I shook my head as I stood to leave. I wasn’t going to let him wimp out of that job and toss it in my lap.
“Very well, Mr. Dickens. But could you come to see me tomorrow morning in my office?”
“Sure,” I replied, “Around nine?” I draped my bloodstained coat over my arm and walked out of the lounge. Millie was expecting me, and I was late.
Copyright © 2015 Phyllis Entis. All Rights Reserved

THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: A DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERY (Kindle edition) is available now on Amazon for pre-order. Order now at a discounted price of $3.29, and receive the download automatically on November 20, 2015 on your Kindle device or Kindle App.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The White Russian Caper - A Preview

The publication date for my second novel, THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: A DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERY, is just one month away. To celebrate, I have decided to release the entire first chapter of this second installment in the Damien Dickens Mysteries series.

The White Russian Caper
Chapter One

I was on my way out the door when the call came in. Millie already had left for the day; I covered the distance to her desk in two long strides and grabbed for the telephone. “Dickens Detective Agency,” I announced.
“Is this Mr. Dickens? Mr. Damien Dickens?”
The voice in my ear was vaguely familiar. “Yes,” I replied. “This is Dickens.”
“Oh, Mr. Dickens,” the soft male voice exhaled. “Thank heavens! I didn’t know whom to call. Then I remembered your visit last year to my establishment. I require your assistance.”
“Who is this?” I interrupted.
“Why, it’s Stephane.” He paused, waiting for my reaction. “Stephane Major, n’est ce pas? Do you not remember me?”
I recognized the voice then. It belonged to the General Manager of Boardwalk Hall, the venue of The Miss America Pageant - Atlantic City’s crown jewel. I had met the fussbudgety Mr. Major about six months before, when I was investigating the murder of Celine Sutherland. “Yes,” I acknowledged, though not without some reluctance. “I remember you, Mr. Major.”
“Oh, thank heavens.” I could almost see his hand fluttering against his chest. “Oh, I don’t know what to do. I need your help, Mr. Dickens. It’s about Miss America, n’est ce pas?”
“What about Miss America?”
“She’s missing.” He paused. “You must find her and bring her back.”
Transferring the receiver to my left hand, I reached for a scrap of paper, noticing in passing that Millie had traced a large red heart around today’s date on her calendar pad. I tucked the subtle reminder that it was Valentine’s Day into a corner of my brain as I fumbled around in her desk drawer for a pen. “Have you called the police yet?”
“Well,” he began. “Well, I…. Well…” His voice trailed off.
I put down the pen. “How long has she been missing, Mr. Major?”
“Well, she was scheduled to arrive this morning by air. She was to address the student body at Atlantic City Senior High at 1:00pm, but she never appeared. I’ve tried to telephone her several times, to no avail. I realize that she has only been incommunicado for a few hours,” he added in a small voice. “But, Mr. Dickens, our reigning Miss America is always so reliable. We have never had this happen in all the years during which I have been associated with the Pageant organization. I simply did not know where to begin. I thought of calling in the local constabulary, but I was hesitant to do so.” He paused, and I could hear his shrug. “The adverse publicity, n’est ce pas?”
“Uh huh, I see.” The telephone receiver slipped; I caught it as it was about clatter against the desk, and repositioned it before continuing. “The police won’t accept a Missing Persons report on an adult until the person has been missing for at least 48 hours,” I told him. I could hear his gasp, and knew what he was thinking. A lot of things can happen to a beautiful young woman in that first 48 hours. Most of them bad. I could smell his incipient panic over the phone and added. “We needn’t wait for the police, Mr. Major. I can get started on this right away. Where was she staying? Can you meet me there?”
“Oh, Mr. Dickens. Oh, thank you. Oh, if you could only meet me at her hotel! Then we could move forward, n’est ce pas?”
“Which hotel is that, Mr. Major?”
“The Resorts. Meet me in the lobby of the Resorts Hotel on the Boardwalk. We maintain a suite of rooms in the hotel for the current Miss America to use whenever she is in town. It’s more convenient than renting and maintaining a furnished apartment, n’est ce pas?”
“OK,” I acknowledged, “the lobby of the Resorts Hotel. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
I hung up the phone, cutting off the last part of his effusive response, locked the office door, and left by the back stairs. The offices of the Dickens Detective Agency are located on the second floor of a nondescript building at the corner of Atlantic and North Carolina. We occupy the corner suite, consisting of an outer reception area - Millie’s domain - and my private inner office. The window behind my desk overlooks North Carolina, and is situated directly above Happy’s Bar and Grille, a favorite hangout for Millie and me. I proposed to Millie in Happy’s back booth last August, and we were married in the aisle beside that same booth a month later. But that’s another story.
My trusty (though somewhat rusty), ice-blue, ’71 Toyota Celica was parked in a small lot near the building’s rear exit. I opened the trunk and retrieved my Smith & Wesson 29 from its case, checked its load, and tucked the gun into my shoulder holster. No telling what, or who, we might find in Miss America’s suite. I started the car, turned left out of the parking lot onto Mansion, hung another left onto Atlantic Avenue, and left again onto North Carolina. I pulled into the large outdoor parking lot adjacent to the Resorts at the foot of North Carolina, locked the car, and walked along the Boardwalk to the main entrance.
I spun through the revolving doors into the lobby of the Resorts Hotel and Casino. I’d been there before, of course. Half the population of Atlantic City had toured the town’s first legal casino in the weeks before its official opening in 1978. The lobby was pretty much as I remembered it - a study in scarlet and brass, suggesting that the interior designer had been smitten by the Denver house of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. A sweeping marble staircase, carpeted in red pile and bordered by an ornate brass balustrade, faced the main doors from across the lobby. The registration desk and concierge counter lined the perpendicular wall to the left of the entrance. A series of glitzy shops and a lounge inhabited the wall to the right; a lounge was tucked discretely into the back corner of the lobby. Behind the staircase, a hallway led to meeting rooms, public restrooms, and a half-dozen pay phones. Clinks, clangs, and beeps, which coalesced into a genre of music unique to casinos, drifted down the staircase from the mezzanine level into the lobby, playing a counterpoint to the soft jazz tempos that oozed from the lounge.
Millie was expecting me home by 7:30. While I waited for Major, I used one of the pay phones that hung from the wall behind the grand staircase to call her. I told her to go ahead and eat without me; that I’d explain when I got home. Then I returned to the lobby to watch for my new client. I spotted him almost immediately, walking in my direction from the bank of elevators. He hadn’t changed much in the six months since I had last seen him - he still looked like a triplet to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In deference to the winter season, his suit was light gray, with a charcoal gray pinstripe. He sported his trademark white silk shirt, open at the collar; but his red, paisley foulard was askew, revealing a slit of pasty, white skin along one side of the ‘V’ formed by the open neck of the shirt. When he offered his hand to me in greeting, I could see that his gold cufflink was fastened improperly, threatening to fall out of the French cuff at his wrist. And, although his nails were freshly buffed and polished, the thumb nail on his right hand was bitten to the quick. I extended my hand to him in response, and he sandwiched it between both of his. I extricated myself from his sponge-like grip and gestured toward the elevators. “Have you been up to her room yet?” I asked.
He nodded. “I just came from there. I knocked on the door, but there was no response, although I thought I may have heard something. Perhaps the television set?”
“Have you a key to her room?”
“Yes. I obtained a key from the desk clerk while confirming that Miss America had checked in as expected.” He half-smiled, and gave a self-deprecating shrug. “I am not a brave man, Mr. Dickens. I suppose that I should have entered the room, but I lacked the courage to do so, n’est ce pas. I decided to wait for your arrival.” He put a hand into his jacket pocket and withdrew a hotel room key. “Her suite is on the seventh floor. Room 703.”
We stood side by side in silence as we rode the elevator to the seventh floor, Major now working on his left thumb nail. Room 703 was near the end of the hall, on the side of the building that faced the ocean. A “Do Not Disturb” sign hung from the handle. I motioned to Major, and he knocked on the door jamb. “Miss Cynthia?” he called out in a gentle voice. “Miss Cynthia? It’s Stephane Major, Miss Cynthia. Are you in there?”
There was no answer. I took the key from Major’s trembling hand and inserted it in the lock. The door swung open at my touch. “Is anybody here?” I called out, as I walked past a short hall that led to a bathroom. I stood in the center of the large sitting room and looked around. The room was decorated in the pseudo-Victorian style preferred by institutional interior designers who were in rebellion against the recent Danish modern trend. The sofa was upholstered in beige-on-brown brocade, chosen for its ability to hide stains. Its legs were walnut colored, and molded to resemble lion’s paws. The sofa frame was embellished with a border of plastic-molded scroll work, crowned with a facsimile of the MGM lion. A matching wing chair stood against the wall at a 90º angle to the sofa. A square table filled the corner between the sofa and chair, and a low, rectangular coffee table completed the furniture arrangement. The tables were finished in a walnut veneer that was almost a match for the false woodwork of the sofa and chair. A fussy table lamp bearing a tasseled lampshade stood in the center of the corner table, a telephone at its side. Beyond the sitting room, a small dining area was furnished with a walnut-veneer table and two matching chairs with wood backs and upholstered seats. A window next to the table provided a view of the ocean.
Major was hovering a few paces behind me; I turned to him and asked, “What is Cynthia’s last name?”
“Mills. Her name is Cynthia Mills.”

I pointed to the closed double door in the wall opposite the sofa. “Is that the bedroom?” Major nodded. “Stay here,” I said. “And don’t touch anything.” I walked to the door, knocked gently, and called out, “Miss Mills?” There was no answer, so I rapped with greater force. “Miss Mills? Cynthia? Are you in there?” I tried the door; it was unlocked. I opened it partway and looked inside. The room was disheveled, the bed unmade. Half-open bureau drawers vomited their contents helter-skelter; clothes were strewn over the bureau, chairs, bed, and floor. I opened the door the rest of the way. One of the bedside lamps had been knocked over; glass shards from its shattered bulb sprinkled the carpet where it had fallen. “Miss Mills? Cynthia?” I tip-toed over to the en-suite bathroom so as not to disturb the debris, and looked through the open door. Towels were strewn over the floor; the shower curtain had been ripped from its rings, and lay in a heap in the bathtub. Then I heard it. A muffled groan issued from the bedroom closet. As I walked back into the bedroom and over to the closet, I called out her name again, and was rewarded with a second groan. I eased my pistol out of its shoulder holster. Holding the gun in my right hand, I slid open the closet door with my left.

Copyright © 2015 Phyllis Entis. All Rights Reserved

THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: A DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERY (Kindle edition) is available now on Amazon for pre-order. Order now at a discounted price of $3.29, and receive the download automatically on November 20, 2015 on your Kindle device or Kindle App.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Celine's Sorrow - A Damien Dickens Prequel

Celine sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the envelope in her hands. The sounds of the household - a knock at the door, a baby crying, footsteps on the stairs - were muffled by the beating of her heart. As she had done countless times in the last few months, Celine opened the flap of the unsealed envelope and drew out a newspaper clipping. Carefully, she unfolded the paper, which was threatening to tear at the well-worn folds, and smoothed it flat on her lap.
Too bad you weren’t here. S.” The characteristic loops of Sylvia’s self-confident script sprawled in bright red ink that mocked her from the surface of the page. She would recognize Sylvia’s handwriting anywhere, even without the stylized curlicues of the ’S’ - her usual signature.
“Tobacco Heiress Weds,” announced the headline that straddled the entire width of the Society page of the South Jersey Times. “Atlantic City, NJ. Friday, December 26, 1969. Sylvia Sutherland and Gordon Sethwick were married in the chapel of the Atlantic City Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve in a quiet ceremony,” the story began. “The bride, who is the daughter of the late Ann Olivier Barnstable and stepdaughter of Arthur Sutherland, was draped in a long-sleeved, scoop-necked white silk sheath gown. The skirt was overlaid with antique white lace onto which were sewn at random a plethora of white pearls. She wore antique white lace gloves and white peau de soie pumps. White pearl earrings and a white pearl choker completed her bridal outfit. 
The bride was attended by her Maid of Honor, Susan Sutherland, and was given in marriage by her stepfather, Arthur Sutherland. The groom was attended by Mr. Arnold Barnstable, the bride’s brother, who acted as Best Man. The newlyweds will honeymoon on Hawaii before returning to their respective positions at the family firm, Sutherland Smokes.”

Celine refolded the news clipping, replaced it in the envelope and looked around the room. The closet and drawers were empty; her suitcases were packed. The baby’s cry penetrated her consciousness and she automatically rose to go to her son - then sat back down. He was no longer her son, she reminded herself. He belonged now to Mary and Zeb. Mary would cherish him; would keep him safe and happy. No one would every know about her son. Not Celine's father, not Baby Arthur's father. And most definitely not Sylvia.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Time For Another Teaser

Here's a snippet from Chapter 16 of THE GREEN PEARL CAPER. Hope you enjoy it.

I walked the perimeter of the clearing until I found a path that entered the woods. I had followed it for a few hundred yards, watching for any sign of life or lodging, when my eye was caught by a large boot print in a patch of drying mud. It wasn’t Benny’s - he was too small to have such large feet. I compared it to the size of my own shoe. I wear a 10½; this print had to be at least a size 12. I skirted the area, taking care not to disturb the impression of the boot in the hardening mud. My pace quickened; a sense of danger prickled the hairs on the back of my neck. The main path curved to the left, while a narrower footpath branched off to the right. I followed the right fork deeper into the woods and found myself facing the blank rear wall of a small cabin.
The building - little more than a shack - was constructed out of rough, unpainted planks. The shallow-pitched shake roof was punctuated by a narrow stovepipe near one end. A pile of firewood was stacked neatly against the side of the cabin. My nose caught the characteristic perfume of eau de outhouse - an aroma comprising equal parts of disinfectant and decomposing body waste. I glanced to my right. Sure enough, I could see the source of the odor about 100 feet away. I walked around to the front of the cabin.
The front door was open and askew - hanging by a single hinge. I stopped short, automatically reaching for my gun, before I remembered that I wasn’t carrying one. I returned to the woodpile and selected a log that would serve as a weapon of sorts. Gripping it tightly in my right hand, I eased into the cabin and looked around. No sign of life, except for the swarm of flies that were buzzing about a half-eaten bowl of cereal on the kitchen table. The chair was toppled over onto its side, a large rust-brown stain on the floor nearby.
I backed away, trying not to disturb anything. As I left the cabin, I noticed a pair of shallow parallel lines etched in the dirt, pointing toward the forest. On a hunch, I followed their track, walking a couple of feet to the side to avoid stepping on them. The lines disappeared once they entered the woods, to be replaced by a trail of torn twigs and mashed mulch. That trail led to another clearing, at the far end of which was a large house. One of Sophia’s well-heeled neighbors, no doubt. Once out of the woods, the trail was harder to follow, but I could see the remnants of parallel lines gouged into the tall grass. I followed the lines to the top of a small mound and found myself standing on top of a buried septic tank. I had reached the end of the trail.
I stood for a few minutes, staring at the lid of the tank. I knew what I had to do. I knelt down and used the grip holes to turn the manhole cover counterclockwise. It gave easily. I removed the cover, extracted a penlight flashlight from my pocket, and shone it into the tank. I reeled back, stunned by the stench and by the sight of a pair of unblinking eyes that stared back at me from a familiar face. I had found Benny.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Following is a short except from THE GREEN PEARL CAPER, in celebration of the release of the print edition.

I stood at the side of a freshly dug grave and looked down at Celine as she stared back up at me from the bottom of the rectangular pit. She was dressed in her favorite outfit: faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and penny loafers on her otherwise bare feet. Her hair was drawn back into a ponytail and tied with a yellow ribbon. The same green pearl stud earrings that she was wearing when she first came to me for help were in her earlobes. “Help me, Damien,” she said. “Find my killer. Protect my son.”
I jerked awake. My heart was pounding and so was my head. The display on my clock radio read 03:27AM. But I was done sleeping. I could still see Celine’s face and hear her voice. “Find my killer,” I heard over and over in sync with the pounding. “Find my killer. Protect my son.”
I got up and stood under the shower to wash away the remnants of the dream. Slowly, my heart rate returned to normal and the throbbing in my head softened to a tolerable level. I wrapped a towel around my waist, padded into the kitchen, and poured myself a tumbler of ice water. A couple of aspirins took care of the rest of my headache, but Celine’s voice lingered still. “Protect my son. Find my killer.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Birth of a Novel

Dear Readers,

I am excited to announce the publication of my new Kindle ebook, THE GREEN PEARL CAPER. This novel is the first in a series of Damien Dickens mysteries and is set in Atlantic City in the summer of 1979. The story begins with the following Prologue:

I killed Celine. A couple of teenagers found her body last Sunday morning, half-hidden under the Boardwalk, a single bullet hole through her chest. The bullet came from my Smith & Wesson 29, the gun found on the beach not far from where Celine lay.
It wasn’t my finger that pulled the trigger. I wasn’t there when she died. Even so, I killed her. She came to me for help; I had bailed her out of a tight spot in the past, and she trusted me. But, this time, I let her down. I didn’t believe she was really in danger. I screwed up, and Celine paid the price. She was murdered, and it’s my fault.
Celine walked into my office on July 16, 1979. Less than one week later, she was dead.