Donald Freed
International Playwright
and Master Teacher

“Who Killed Mona?” To be published in 2012

The audience was on its feet roaring applause, chanting: "Brava!  Brava!"  

Shrill and clear above the others, a single soprano voice sang, “Rae—-burn!”

In her sleep, Mona Raeburn threw open her arms to gather them all to her heart.  She bowed deeply, first to the left, then to the right.  Tears coursed down her face, ruining her makeup….

Suddenly, the theater vanished and she was running along a dank alley toward an iron door.  It swung open before her, clanging shut as she stepped into blackness.

Now she teetered on a narrow ledge, gusts of wind churning her skirt into a parachute that dragged her perilously close to the edge.  Her high heels skidded along the treacherous footing.  She scrabbled to keep her balance.  If she fell, she would spiral endlessly down….

Drifting half in, half out of the nightmare, her flailing hand found the bedside lamp, fumbled with the switch.  Why didn’t the light go on?   Her eyes were open, but the room was as dark as if they were still closed.

The telephone rang, choked abruptly into silence and then the dog growled.  

“What…what….  Oh, shut up, Poochy!” she mumbled and  fell back into her dream.

In the darkness, slow as death, something dropped over her face, thick against her mouth. She raised her hand to tear it away, struggling to breathe, to suck in air.  Her heart pulsed in her ears.

And stopped.

The dog whimpered.

Prologue

The audience was on its feet roaring applause, chanting: "Brava! Brava!"

Shrill and clear above the others, a single soprano voice sang, "Rae—-burn!"

In her sleep, in her dream, Mona Raeburn threw open her arms to gather all her fans to her heart. She bowed deeply, first to the left, then to the right and still they cheered. Tears coursed down her face, ruining her makeup....

The theater vanished and she was running along a dank alley toward an iron door. It swung open before her, clanging shut as she stepped into blackness.

Now she teetered on a narrow ledge, gusts of wind churning her skirt into a parachute that dragged her perilously close to the edge. Her high heels skidded along the treacherous footing. She scrabbled to keep her balance. If she fell, she would spiral endlessly down....

Drifting half in, half out of the nightmare, her flailing hand found the bedside lamp, fumbled with the switch. Why didn’t the light go on?Her eyes were open, but the room was as dark as if they were still closed.

The telephone rang, choked abruptly into silence and then the dog growled.

"What...what.... Be quiet, Poochy!" she mumbled and fell back into her dream.

In the darkness, slow as death, something dropped over her face, thick against her mouth. She raised her hand to tear it away, struggling to breathe, to suck in air. Her heart pulsed in her ears.

And stopped.

The dog whimpered.


 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Where were you on the evening of December 31, 1999?

I was gracing my stepfather Henry’s ballroom in Old Westbury, New York, along with seventy-five of his best friends.

Why was I there working my way through the pate sandwiches when I am not Henry's friend? I am Jake Harmony, a thirty-three year old Homicide detective, divorced and between relationships. And Henry’s stepson.

I was there because Laura, Henry’s daughter, and my sister-in-law, was there and I wanted, I needed to see her.

A small combo hidden behind the potted palm trees scratched out golden oldies,­ heavy on the violins, to which Henry’s guests, garmentos all, twirled, twinkle-toed, under the blazing chandeliers, their expensive perfumes mingling in the overheated air with tobacco smoke and the scent of Casablanca lilies.

At midnight, we toasted the New Year, the New Century and the New Millenium with Henry’s excellent champagne.      Feeling excellent myself, I hugged my brother Phil, slapped Henry on the back and kissed my mother who, that night, resembled a stuffed beefsteak tomato in her red Valentino gown - salted with the diamonds Henry had bought her. With which he had bought her .

I kissed assorted ladies, working my way at last to Laura. My brother’s wife. She kissed me back and promised me the first waltz of the New Year.

I waited until two a.m. for that waltz.

"Dancin’?" I said.

"Askin’?"

"Askin.’"

"Dancin’.

She waltzed into my arms and we were off.

Laura is five foot six and weighs in at about a hundred and ten pounds in her sequined Chanel and stilettos. I’m five foot seven and a quarter in my cowboy boots, weigh in at a hundred and eighty-one, stark naked, before breakfast, on a thin day.

"You look great in that Kingsley tux. Don’t tell me you bought it retail."

"At Beau Brummel."

"Fool! What did it cost? Twelve hundred?"

"They give cops 25% off."

Her cheek touched mine and craving for her ratcheted through me. Yes, I covet my brother’s wife.

She whispered into my ear. "I can't believe you bought it retail. You know Henry’s the money man behind Kingsley."

"That's why I went to Beau Brummel. I don't want Henry's favors."

Buying retail is the first cardinal sin in Henry’s litany.

She wound her arms around my neck. "That suit landed in the warehouse, costs $500."

I clasped the warm skin of her naked back drawing her closer.

"And in the factory in Vicenza, less duty, freight and clearance, it’s $300."

"I don't want any of Henry’s favors ."

"Fool," she said.

We circled the floor faster and faster, the mirrored room swirling around us.

My beeper sounded.

When we stopped dancing Laura leaned against me for a delicious moment, catching her breath.

"I'm on call," I said, "I’m sorry." And I was. Life’s pleasures are too fleeting.

"I’m sorry too." She trailed after me to the library telephone, listening while I called in.

"Possible homicide in Seaview," my supervisor rasped.

"Yeah?" I said, excitement stirring in the pit of my stomach.

"Go take a look. Four Wellington Road. Know where that is?"

"I’ll find it."

I signaled Farley, Henry's butler, to bring my car. Laura helped me into my coat and went with me to the door of the million dollar hovel Henry calls home. She kissed me on both cheeks and watched me run down the ice-slick marble stairs.At midnight at the end of the century and on the brink of the Millenium, Farley was listening to the weather while I was kissing Laura. My own eyes watered a little. For him or for me?

In the curving driveway, dignified old Farley huddled under an umbrella alongside my gleaming ’69 Corvette.

"Thanks for bringing the car around in this mess," I said. "Happy New Year, Farley."

"To you as well, Mr. Jake." His faded blue eyes were watering. Probably from the cold and not my sentiments.

He opened the door for me, stooping a little. "According to the midnight weather forecast," he said, "the snow plows have cleared the parkways, but the entrances and exits are blocked with stalled cars. I suggest that you avoid the Southern State. Sunrise Highway appears to be the better choice."

"Thanks, Farley, I’ll do that." At midnight at the end of the century and on the brink of the Millenium, Farley was listening to the weather while I was kissing Laura. My own eyes watered a little. For him or for me?

He held the umbrella over my head as I ducked in.

"Drive carefully."

"I’m always careful."

I slammed the car door, waved goodbye and floored the accelerator, going to work. To do what I know how to do very well. I could say better than most.But I don't want to brag.

Seven minutes had passed since the Homicide Supervisor’s call, and it took me another thirty-five to crawl the twenty miles from Henry Slater’s estate to the village of Seaview, with the drone of the police band radio to keep me company.

Red and, green reflections danced in front of my headlights, striping the wet pavement and the glazed snow-banks along the edges of the road. Thick flakes of snow clumped on the windshield.

Snow depresses me; ever since the day I stood with the tears frozen on my face, gripping my mother's hand while snow flakes piled up into a white shroud on my father's coffin. My mother, my brother Phil and I; stood mourning our dead hero.

We didn't want a hero. We needed him alive.

At Seaview, I turned off Sunrise and drove south, keeping my eye peeled for Wellington Road. It turned out to be a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill. I skidded up the rise and rolled to a stop at a driveway blocked with police vehicles. Number four.

Crime Scene and Forensics were on the job before me, securing the scene. I pulled up behind a silver Jetta parked in the cul-de-sac. When I opened the car door, a small river eddied down the road. It'd ruin my boots.

I clambered across the leather bucket seats, hauling one leg at a time over the emergency brake, hunching my way out of the passenger door and ended up with a mean cramp in my leg.

While I was stretching it out, I noticed a curtain lift at an upstairs window at the house next door. Discreet. Usually they stand three deep outside a crime scene.

Wind bit at my face as I slogged up the path to the brick split-level already cordoned off with yellow police tape. Overhead, billows of snow clouded a string of blinking Christmas lights.

The officer stationed at the front door beat his hands across his jacket and stamped his canal-boat boots. I stamped the snow from my own silver-studded size nines.

"Jake Harmony. Homicide," I said.

The uniform lifted his chin out of his turned-up collar. "O'Neill," he said. He wrote my name on his time sheet with gloved hands, spelling aloud, "Detective H-A-R-M-O-N-Y. 2:45, A.M. Cold enough for you tonight?"

"Right," I said, and went inside. It was 2:48 on my watch. A Patek Philipe Henry’d given me for a birthday. Whatever it goes for retail, Henry didn’t pay it.

In the entry hall, another uniform and Dr. Ritner, the Forensics Medical Investigator for Nassau County, stood in a holding pattern dripping melted snow on an antique Kilm runner. They had been busy looking at each other. Now they looked at me.

Ritner, the FMI, said, "Yo, Jake. Crime Scene’s still working." He pointed to a room on the right. "Alberts is in there."

I looked around as I unbuttoned my coat. Directly ahead and up two stairs a formal living room was painted pale yellow and carpeted to match. Too fringed and tasseled for my taste.

I turned right, into the family room, and a fog of Shalimar.

A woman’s naked body lay sprawled, face up, on a pillowed daybed; her matted red hair tangled across a mask of makeup and streaked black mascara. Maybe she’d been pretty. The body was middle-aged, big breasts sagging, heavy thighs dimpled.

One ringless hand hung stiffly over the edge of the bed, the other splayed palm up, almost touching a red plaid kilt.

My stomach heaved. After eleven years on the force, six in Homicide, I don’t react to death with my gut. It was the Shalimar that got to me.

Charlie Alberts was studying the body. She popped a square of grape Bazooka gum into her mouth as I came in. I wish I could be as nerveless as Charlie; she’s phlegmatic as a cud-chewing cow.

A big-bodied, fifty-five-year-old woman with a disillusioned stare and a flat nasal voice, Charlie’s twenty-two years older than I am. And my mother's cousin.

"Hi-ya Jake. Cold enough..."

I gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Happy New Year, Charlie."

"Oh, quit that," she said. Her bloodhound eyes traveled from my black tie to my boots. "Hoo-ha! Get a load of you. All dolled up."

I ignored the crack and pointed to the body. "What do we know?"

Charlie blew a violet bubble. "Name's Mona Raeburn. Divorced. Lived alone. Daughter was called to make the ID."

"And the daughter...."

"Is having hysterics in the kitchen."

"Odd," I said, "that kilt next to the body."

Charlie’s hand disappeared into the inside pocket of her shapeless jacket and came out with a notebook. "It's a kilt? I called it a skirt." She worked a Bic pen out from under the rubber band and made a new entry.

I looked down at the corpse that had been Mona Raeburn."Who found the body?"

Charlie shrugged. "Anonymous male called it in at one-thirty-five. The uniforms arrived at one-forty-five. By the time I got here they were all stomping around, busy destroying evidence. A goddam clusterfuck."