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Interview with a Romance Author
“Please state your name for the record.”
I jolted; I had just been studying Detective Colin Seward with an eye to borrowing some of his characteristics. That gorgeous head of grey-streaked black hair would be perfect on a lighter-weight, more Mediterranean man. And then there was that delightfully precise pattern of impatient taps as his fingers hit the table while he waited for me to...
“Oh, yes, of course. My name is Mrs. Diana Jane Houston Barrett Custer Chatworthy.” I smiled, a little sadly, “The ‘Mrs.’ doesn’t feel quite right anymore, now that I’ve lost my sweet William.” I met Det. Seward’s eyes earnestly, “He was the one, you know. Victor and Ronald were nothing compared to him,” I named my first two husbands, dabbing at my eyes with a scented lavender lace hankie.
“Indeed. Ma’am, we’re here to discuss your relationship with Phineas Calvin.”
I shuddered delicately, pressing a heavily-ringed hand to my bosom. “Oh! That horrible man! Why must we speak of him?”
“He’s been murdered, ma’am. Last night.”
“Goodness gracious!” My hands clapped over my mouth as I vacillated between horror and delight. “He was murdered, truly?”
“Oh, how positively dreadful! He was a disgusting man, but murder is so, so, so...nefarious!” I was pleased with having found the perfect word.
“Yes, ma’am, we think so too. Could you tell us the nature of your relationship with the deceased?”
“Oh, yes. He was my editor, only I fired him last week. He...he made the most lewd suggestion to me!” My back stiffened in remembered outrage, my lip curling in disgust. “I had just told him he could have done a better job editing my last novel, The Scotsman’s Pride, when he told me to...I can’t repeat it!”
“So you fired him; most understandable, ma’am,” Det. Seward’s voice was gentle, sympathetic. “Did you see him again after that?”
“Certainly not! I was not going to expose myself to that kind of abuse again.” My bosom heaved with righteous indignation.
“Where were you between eight and eleven o’clock yesterday evening?”
My eyes widened, “Am I a suspect? How positively horrid!” My voice squeaked with what might have been terror, or possibly glee.
“Well, ma’am, by your own admission you had no reason to like the man, and if he threatened you in some way It could be argued that you acted in self defense when you...” his voice trailed off suggestively.
“No, no,” my voice was almost regretful, “I’m afraid you’ve painted me as a bit of a femme fatale, but I’m not nearly that exciting.” I ignored his raised eyebrow and sighed wistfully, “Perhaps in my younger days.”
“Where were you last night?”
“Oh, um, well, I was at a certain house on 53rd St., downtown you know. Not a very nice neighborhood, but it was necessary.”
“1158, the one with the lovely lace curtains but very dingy glass.”
Det. Seward frowned, did a double-take, “1158? Isn’t that...”
“A house of ill-repute, yes, I know.”
“Why were you at Madam Mabel’s?”
“Oh, so you know it?” I smiled brightly and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“We get called out there every so often to deal with disputes, would you please answer the question?” There was a hint of belligerence in his tone that hadn’t been there before.
“I went there for research, of course,” I was getting a little impatient as the novelty of being in a police station began to wear off. “My next novel is about a lady named Annabella Rosamund, a southern belle in the Civil War era. Both her father and brother died in the fighting; Confederate side, of course. As the sole heir of a wealthy plantation, she becomes prey to fortune hunters, including her wicked uncle. He has her kidnapped and carried out west and sold to a brothel. The virtuous maiden then meets the rugged sheriff who, underneath his tough, scarred exterior, has a kind heart and a tragic past. He saves Annabella Rosamund and gives her the honorable living of cook at his ranch. But this is not to last forever; her uncle...”
“Yes, yes,” Det. Seward interrupted hastily, “I get the picture. So you felt you had to visit a genuine, modern brothel?”
“Most definitely. While the amenities may be more advanced, people have not changed over the years. I needed to get a realistic feel for the sort of person that would frequent or work in such a place. The best stories are the ones with the best characters.”
“How did you arrange for this meeting?”
“It was very simple; I went in as a customer.”
Det. Seward, who had just taken a generous sip of water, began to choke violently.
“Oh dear, are you alright?” I inquired solicitously, offering a fresh hankie, which he rudely ignored.
“I’m fine. Did you say you went in as a customer?”
“Mmm-hmm, it seemed easiest. They do cater to women there, you know. All I did was request on of their newest lady’s company for two hours. It was quite expensive but well worth the trouble. Miss Amber Starling was very informative and remarkably easy to get along with.”
Det. Seward was staring at me with a look of somewhat appalled fascination, “And did you take advantage of her skills, for the sake of research?”
I was scandalized, “What sort of woman do you think I am?”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t presume, ma’am.”
“We had a nice long chat about a variety of subjects; what drove her to her current career, what sort of clients she entertained, how she and the other scarlet ladies get along...”
“Soiled doves, ladies of the night, surely you don’t require me to spell it out?”
“No, no, that will not be necessary. When was this appointment, exactly?”
“I arrived just after nine and left perhaps half past eleven? I didn’t see a clock so I cannot be absolutely certain.”
“Miss Starling will vouch for your presence?”
“Oh, yes, she won’t forget me anytime soon.” I blithely ignored the very strange look he was giving me. “I promised to name the fictional brothel’s Madam after her.” I cocked my head thoughtfully, "Do you think that would constitute a bribe?"
"I have no idea, ma'am."