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Mystery Writers of America Presents The Rich and the Dead
By Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
Edited by Nelson DeMille
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The truly wealthy live in another world. From their multi-national businesses to their palatial mansions to their exotic vacations at glamorous places all around the world, they do everything in a big way. And sometimes, that even includes crime. In this anthology, you'll read about a wealthy writer who plots murder his hopeless agent, an aging actress who clings to her past of wealth and fame, and a spoiled rich boy who steps into dangerous territory with his mean antics, among others. The Rich and the Dead features mystery and crime stories set among the upper crust of society, going behind the scenes of the lifestyles of the two percent of the world that controls sixty percent of its riches–and just how far they'll go to stay on top.
Table of Contents
BY NELSON DEMILLE
It is an honor and a pleasure to have been chosen as the editor of the 2011 Mystery Writers of America annual anthology.
This year's anthology is top-notch, and the stories collected here are in the finest tradition of the mysteries and crime stories that have appeared in this volume over the years.
The theme of this collection, as the title suggests, is rich people who are killed or who kill. And for fun, some of our authors also explore the illegal, illicit, and in some cases, immoral goings-on of the rich. For additional readings on this subject, I suggest any newspaper any day of the week. I think everyone had fun with this topic, and when the writer is having fun, the reader is having fun.
What is it that makes the criminal behavior of the rich and famous so fascinating to us? Often it's not the crime itself, which in many cases would barely make the news if committed by a lesser mortal. It is, I think, aside from the public's obvious fascination with the rich or famous, the idea that someone with so much to lose would risk so much in the commission of a crime. We are captivated by what drove this exalted person to the crime, and we want to know how the law and how society will deal with someone at this level. Will justice be done? Will the notoriety of the accused work for or against him or her? From O. J. Simpson to Bernie Madoff to every crooked politician and ditsy actress arrested for everything from DWI to murder that you've ever seen on the front pages of the tabloids, the answer is not always clear. But it is entertaining and engrossing to read about.
Some of the writers in this collection chose not to make the rich person the perpetrator, but to make him or her the victim. There is a saying in this business that it's hard for a writer to make the reader feel sorry for an unhappy rich girl on a yacht. True enough, but if the unhappy rich girl—or guy—is murdered, or blackmailed, or threatened, then we might feel some sympathy for them. In most cases, however, the rich person who is a victim usually got what he or she deserved. But still, a crime has been committed and now justice must be done. Or does it? Some of the stories to follow examine the moral ambiguities of getting rid of a rich, nasty SOB. Do we want to see this crime solved? Yes. But do we want the perpetrator brought to justice for ridding the world of that rich, nasty SOB? Maybe not.
I WANT TO take this opportunity to thank all the writers who put so much time and effort into this year's anthology, though I won't thank them by name—they're in the Contents. But I do want to thank by name Barry Zeman of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), with whom I had the pleasure of working on this project for the last year. Barry did a lot of the heavy lifting and kept me from getting a brain hernia. Thanks, too, to Margery Flax, administrative manager of the MWA, who was of enormous help to me when I was president of MWA and who was truly the administrative manager, par excellence, for this anthology. I also want to thank John Helfers of Tekno Books, who coordinated all the pieces of this project and did a fantastic job of editing. Thanks, too, to Celia Johnson of Grand Central Publishing (GCP) for pulling it all together. GCP is the publisher for my novels, and I'm happy to be working with them on this anthology.
This book would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the panel of judges, who read nearly two hundred submissions from fellow MWA members and who had the difficult task of choosing the best for me to pick from. Many, many thanks go to Libby Hellmann, Daniel Stashower, Persia Walker, James Lincoln Warren, and Carolyn Wheat.
And finally, I also want to thank the Mystery Writers of America, one of the finest professional organizations in the publishing business, for inviting me to edit this year's anthology. As a thirty-five-year member and former president of MWA, I can say with some authority and experience that the MWA has been instrumental in keeping the mystery story in the forefront of all writing genres and has assured mystery readers a continuous supply of the first-rate stories we love—up to and including this year's extraordinary anthology.
If you love crime and mystery stories, you will love this collection from the men and women who have proven themselves to be masters of the genre.
BY NELSON DEMILLE
On a pleasant Friday afternoon in June, best-selling author Jack Henry sat in the study of his Upper East Side townhouse. He had put his creative writing aside and was now focused on his finances—bills, income projections, royalty statements, and pending deals.
After a few hours, he was coming to the realization that he was on the brink of insolvency. Bankruptcy. "Holy shit."
It just didn't seem possible. He was rich and famous. How could he be broke?
Well, because the money going out was greater than the money coming in. That's how. Actually, he'd known about this problem for some time. But through a process of denial, disbelief, and maybe a little arrogance, he'd put off the inevitable conclusion, which now stared him in the face. "You're broke," he said aloud. "You have no money. You're screwed."
He opened the lower left drawer of his desk, pulled out a bottle of Rémy Martin, and took a swig.
He sat back in his leather chair and stared blankly out the window of his East Sixty-fourth Street townhouse. How did this happen? Well, two financially ruinous divorces had not helped the bottom line. Not to mention that his last two novels hadn't been well received by the critics or the public and had also been turned down by the book clubs. And then there were the movie deals that had never materialized, and the foreign translation deals on his last two books that had dwindled to a few lowball offers from thieving publishers in countries that he couldn't even locate on a map. Lithuania? His agent, Stan Wykoff, wanted him to accept any translation deal, like the thousand bucks just offered by the Bulgarian publisher for his latest novel, Into the Dark Waters. Stan had told him, "I'll see if I can get you a paid trip to Bulgaria to publicize the book." To which Jack had replied, "You go to Bulgaria. See if you can get me another thousand."
Jack took a second swig of cognac. "How are the mighty fallen."
His biggest financial problem seemed to be taxes—federal, New York State, and New York City. A letter from his accountant informed him that his tax obligations—past, present, and future—totaled slightly over half a million dollars with interest and penalties. How did that happen? Well, apparently he'd made enough money to owe taxes, but he'd been spending his gross income as it came in and had not set aside money for his government partners. That wasn't too smart, but he didn't believe he'd been too extravagant in his spending… except of course he had high fixed and necessary expenses, like the two top floors of this townhouse, which cost him ten thousand a month. Then there was his secretary and his housekeeper. And, of course, there was the summer rental in East Hampton at… how much was that? He found the entry in his checkbook. One hundred and forty thousand for the season. Maybe he should have spent this summer in the city. But how could he do that? Everyone was in the Hamptons.
Then there were his incidental expenses like the catered dinner parties; the BMW lease; his club, the Knickerbocker; his clothes; dining out; and a few vacations. Paris in the fall, for instance. St. Barths in January. A few bucks here and a few bucks there, and before you know it, it adds up.
And on top of all this were his necessary business expenses. Typewriter paper. Printer cartridges. Lots of paper clips. Plus a new dictionary. It adds up.
The problem, he was convinced, was not the expenses—he'd always had these expenses. The problem was the income. Expenses were steady; income was down. That was the problem. That was what had led to this alarming gap in his cash flow chart. Or whatever his accountant called it.
And was this declining income his fault? No. It was the fault of his publisher, who couldn't sell crack cocaine to a junkie. And they damned sure couldn't sell books. Not his books, anyway.
The other reason for this income crisis was Stan Wykoff. Laziest literary agent on the planet. And for doing nothing, Stan took 15 percent of everything that Jack made, which, admittedly, had not been as much in the last few years as it had once been. Yet there had been a time when Jack Henry pulled in two or three million a year, and Stan Wykoff skimmed his 15 percent right off the top. How much, Jack wondered, had Stan made off him in the last ten or twelve years? Jack did a quick calculation in his head and came up with about three million dollars. "Bastard."
If Jack thought that Stan Wykoff was sharing in his financial distress, he would have taken some satisfaction in that. But the Wykoff Agency had dozens of authors who Stan ripped off at 15 percent, and as long as half of them produced, then Stan could actually live better than his highest-paid author. For doing nothing.
Jack Henry looked at his watch. It was close to 4 p.m., and he wanted to get on the road and drive out to his summer rental. He needed a break from this depressing reality and a break from his writing, which was not going well. He needed to sit on his back deck and stare at the sun setting over Georgica Pond, a drink in his hand, and his mind on something else. Like fishing or getting a tan. Or the new cocktail waitress at The Palm.
Something would turn up that would get him out of this predicament. It always did.
As he tidied up his desk, he came across a bill that his secretary had marked "Important." It was an annual premium notice from the National Life Insurance Company. Five thousand two hundred and thirty dollars. It took him a few seconds to recognize what this was. It was, in fact, the bill for a policy that he had taken out on the life of Stan Wykoff. The death benefit was five million dollars and the beneficiary was Jack Henry.
Jack stared at the premium notice, recalling better days when he was doing well financially and he and Stan had a substantial insurable interest in each other's lives. Stan, he knew, had a similar policy on him. In fact, he recalled, they had taken their insurance physicals together, then gone out for drinks and later playfully pretended to push each other in front of moving vehicles. He smiled; then the smile faded as he thought about Stan getting his premium notice and paying it without a second thought or a second notice.
As for their present insurable interest in each other, Stan would not suffer a significant loss of income if Jack died, so the five million was all gravy for him. And if Stan died… well, Jack's income would go up. Five million. And Stan, who had seemed so irreplaceable when the policy was taken out, was now easily replaceable. In fact, Jack would have a new agent before the embalmers finished with Stan Wykoff.
Meanwhile, however, this was a term policy and the premiums were rising faster than Jack's and Stan's ages. And Stan, with nothing to do all day, went to the gym a lot and kept fit. Jack on the other hand was tied to his desk sixty hours a week, and perhaps he drank too much. In fact, he realized that Stan had a much better chance than he did of cashing in on the five million dollars.
Bottom line here, he thought, this is a good place to save some money. He threw the premium notice in the wastebasket, stood, and walked toward the door.
He stopped. Then turned, walked back to the wastebasket, and retrieved the bill. Five thousand two hundred and thirty dollars. That's what it would cost him to make five million if Stan died in the next twelve months. But what if Stan didn't die? Why would Stan die? How would Stan die?
Jack stared at the bill. His lottery ticket. The solution to all his money problems was pressed between his thumb and index finger. Stan was healthy… but even healthy people had accidents.
Jack came to his senses, then laughed silently at the crazy thought that had formed in his mind. "This isn't a novel by Jack Henry. This is real life. Real people don't murder people for insurance money." Actually, they did. Desperate men do desperate things. But he wasn't a murderer. He was a financial idiot, but not a killer. He threw the premium notice back in the wastebasket and left his office.
He called the garage for his car and began packing a few things for his long weekend in East Hampton.
His life, as he knew it, was coming to an end, and he tried to be philosophical about it. "Better to have had money and lost it than never to have had money at all." Better to be poor and honest than to be rich with a crime on your conscience. Behind every great fortune is a crime. He looked at himself in the bedroom mirror and said, "I can live without this townhouse, without the BMW, without the house in the Hamptons, without Paris or St. Barths. I can clean my own small apartment in a cheaper neighborhood and do my own laundry and my own secretarial work. I don't need to dine in expensive restaurants—I can learn to cook. And I don't need all the women that money can buy. And if I never get laid again…"
He went quickly back to his office and fished the insurance bill out of the trash.
JACK HENRY SAT in a rocker on his cedar deck and faced west. The big red sun was sinking into the wetlands around the large tidal pond. He sipped his gin and tonic—his third—and felt relaxed, but also tense. He had the means to turn financial ruin into financial gain. The five million dollars—a tax-free death benefit—would pay off the government and his creditors and buy him three or four more years of comfort, and also buy him time to turn out a few more best sellers. The last two books, written perhaps too quickly under the stress of financial pressure, had not been up to his usual high standards. He could do better than that with a five-million-dollar cushion. He owed that to his readers.
And, of course, he'd have a new agent. Someone who believed in him. Someone who could negotiate a high advance for a three-book deal with a better publisher. "Someone," he said aloud, "younger and hungrier than the late Stan Wykoff." The late Stan Wykoff. He liked the sound of that.
Or he could liquidate everything here, take the five million, and move to St. Barths or the Bahamas. Maybe the Cayman Islands. He pictured himself in a nice beach house with servants. He smiled.
Then he frowned. Yes, he had the solution—but did he have the will to… well, do it?
In his younger days he had been a risk taker, but the risks were always calculated and the reward was always worth the risk. What he was contemplating might not be worth the risk, even with a five-million-dollar reward. But… well, what was the alternative? Poverty. No more nights at Elaine's. Cleaning his own toilet.
In his early writing career he'd written a number of police procedural novels—crime novels—and he'd done a lot of research on the subject of murder. A homicide detective by the name of John Corey had once told him, "The perfect murder never looks like a murder. It looks like an accident. Right out in the open. And the murderer calls the cops right away. The best accident is the victim falling off a boat. Off the cliff is good, too. Gun went off by accident is a little dicey, but it can work. Everyone knows it wasn't an accident, but how you gonna prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was murder?" Corey had added, "Have a good story and stick to it, and make sure there are no witnesses."
Detective Corey had given him some good inside tips on the perfect murder, and Jack remembered all of them and had incorporated some of them into his novels. His fictional detectives always got their man, of course, but Jack had always wanted to write a book where the killer outsmarted the law. "That happens in real life," he assured himself. "Smart killers get away."
A big crow sat on the railing of his deck and stared at him closely, waiting perhaps for him to move off and leave his bowl of peanuts. The crow, he thought, must be a literary agent. He grabbed a handful of nuts—about 15 percent—and flung them at the big black bird. The crow flew off, then circled back, and landed on the lawn where the nuts had fallen and began pecking at them. "Vulture," Jack said. "Bloodsucking parasite." Which reminded him to call his agent. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed Stan Wykoff.
Wykoff answered, "Hi, Jack. What's up?"
"Not much. I'm out at the beach, and I thought I'd catch up with my old pal and agent."
"Okay. Well, not much to report."
"How's the deal going with Columbia?"
"The country or the movie studio?"
"The movie studio, Stan."
Stan replied, "There is no deal, Jack. Just some interest in Into the Night."
"Into the Dark Waters."
"Right. They like it. It got good coverage, but—"
"Don't take less than half a mil for a two-year option."
"Let's see if they offer."
"I want points and a screen credit no smaller than the producer's."
"Okay… I'm in the middle of something, Jack. Can I call you back?"
"What are you doing this weekend?"
"I'm not sure."
"Come on out. I have a great place this year. Plenty of room. Pool and tennis court."
"Sounds tempting, but—"
"I'm going to the Southampton Library fund-raiser tomorrow afternoon. Fifty, sixty big authors under the tent, all signing their latest for a good cause. You can poach."
"I don't poach, Jack."
"You can make their acquaintance, buy a signed copy of their book, and leave your card on their table. They all hate their agents, anyway."
There was a short silence, then Stan said, "Well…"
"Take the train out. I'll pick you up at East Hampton station, we'll go to The Palm for a few drinks and a steak, then maybe we can prowl. Call me with your ETA."
"I can't promise we'll get laid, but I can promise we'll get drunk. And tomorrow you'll have fifty potential victims under one tent. Plus a cocktail party afterwards with lots of top editors who you'll know. See you later." He hung up.
Jack sat back in his rocker and finished his gin and tonic. Well, he thought, this story is going to have a twist. Author bites agent. Plus a happy ending. Author keeps a hundred percent of what he makes.
JACK MET STAN Wykoff at the East Hampton train station, and by 8:30 p.m. they were at the bar in the celeb-studded Palm restaurant. The Palm in Manhattan and the one here in East Hampton were Jack's kind of place: overpriced, which kept the riffraff out, great steaks, Alpha male clientele, waiters who knew who he was, and women who appreciated all of the above. And if things went right this weekend, he could continue to be a regular at both Palms. If things did not go right, he'd be getting his beef at Burger King.
Jack had a scotch and Stan had white wine. Jack chatted up the lady bartender who was young enough to be his daughter. Stan played with his BlackBerry, probably, Jack thought, texting his ex-wife, imploring her to come back. Stan Wykoff was the antithesis of the macho male characters that Jack Henry created in his novels, and the antithesis of Jack Henry himself. And yet, they'd once been friends and still called each other friend. The truth, however, was that they'd grown to dislike each other, and the only bond that remained was professional. And even that had been weakened when they'd stopped making money for each other. It was like a bad marriage—worse, actually, because they both secretly feared they might be worse off without the other. So they continued the charade.
Their table was ready and they sat. Stan had a salad and fish, and Jack had a bloody red steak and more scotch. This, Jack thought, was why he hated Stan Wykoff. The man ate like a bird, drank like a worm, and took care of himself like he was going to live forever. Plus, Stan was cheap and never picked up the tab for anything. Agents were supposed to give back a little of the 15 percent. Like send a limo now and then or maybe buy a goddamn lunch once in a while.
Jack Henry was a generous man, and he had the Amex bills to prove it. Cheap people pissed him off. He wanted to remind Stan that he couldn't take it with him. But he could leave five million behind.
They talked about the publishing business, and Jack realized, not for the first time, that Stan Wykoff was not current on the new challenges facing the industry. Nor was he up on any good gossip. In fact, Stan had no clue about what was going on along Publishers Row. Stan did not read the trade journals or online publications or go to seminars or trade fairs or do many lunches with editors. In fact, Stan Wykoff mostly sat in his Upper West Side apartment doing who knew what all day. Meanwhile his midtown agency was run by two clueless, underpaid recent college grads whose most outstanding attributes were their tits. How, Jack wondered, did this guy survive? Well, partly on his past reputation and mostly on his stable of authors who hadn't fired him yet. In fact, most of his authors lived out of town and weren't around enough to figure out that Stan Wykoff was lazy and out of the loop. The editors knew this, of course, but they liked Stan Wykoff because he never drove a hard bargain. Jack Henry could attest to that.
And to add insult to injury, Stan Wykoff's reputation, such as it was, was enhanced by his being the agent of best-selling author Jack Henry. It occurred to Jack, perhaps because of the alcohol, that both their careers and reputations were in decline and that this relationship—symbiotic or parasitic—was no longer working for them. They were both dying. The writer couldn't write, and the agent couldn't agent. And that, Jack knew, was the truth. In scotcho veritas.
But one of them could survive if the other was dead. Thanks to the National Life Insurance Company.
The bill came and Jack said, "I'll get it."
"Thanks," Stan replied.
STAN DID NOT want to go club hopping, and Jack was just as happy about that. Stan was not a good wingman. In fact, he had a knack for driving the women away, especially when he told them the long, sad story of how his wife had left him for a dweeby college professor—English literature—who she'd met when taking a class at NYU. As Jack liked to tell people, she got an A in the course and Stan got an F.U. Jack had always wanted to use that in a book but thought Stan might be offended.
They drove to Jack's rental house, a big contemporary on Georgica Pond. Jack pulled into the long gravel driveway and said to Stan, "Do me a favor. I like to garage the car. Can you move that bicycle?"
Stan got out of the BMW and walked toward the bicycle that Jack had left in the driveway.
There wasn't another house in sight and no traffic on the dark road. In fact, no witnesses.
Jack put one foot on the brake and pressed slightly on the accelerator. The engine revved, and the car strained forward.
Do it! Now!
Just as Jack was about to hit the gas and release the brake, a thought flashed into his mind. What if the impact doesn't kill Stan? He'd have to back up and run him over again. Then he'd have a lot of explaining to do to the cops: Well, Officer, I… I don't know why I backed up and ran him over again. I was distraught.
Jack realized he was pressing harder on the brake and the accelerator, and the engine was roaring.
Stan turned and looked back at the car, and Jack saw him staring at him like that proverbial deer caught in the headlights.
Jack slumped in his seat and took his feet off the pedals.
Stan hesitated, then wheeled the bicycle onto the grass.
Jack pressed the remote and the garage door lifted—revealing a garage filled with sporting equipment, bicycles, storage boxes, and other junk. Not much room for a car.
Stan stared into the garage, then turned and looked back at the BMW.
Jack took a deep breath, killed the lights and the engine, and got out of the car, forcing a smile as he walked up the driveway. He glanced into the garage and said to Stan, "I thought I cleaned this out."
- On Sale
- May 2, 2011
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing