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Posts Tagged ‘suspense’

Earlier this week, Scotland Yard announced it was investigating new information about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. A former member of the British Special Air Services the (SAS) boasted to his former wife that the SAS had brought about her death. His former parents-in-law reported the claim to the military police who passed it on to Scotland Yard.

The original announcement was appropriately neutral. Scotland Yard informed the public of the information and indicated the police would assess it for credibility. But Scotland Yard also said it would not reinvestigate Diana’s death at this time, a wise conclusion since no one yet knows if the new information can be believed.

The press, however, have transformed this simple bit of factual reporting into a speculative circus. Some commentators insist all possible “conspiracy” theories have been debunked and only crazy people believe them while others see a plot lurking in every corner. Rather than the wait-and-see position of Scotland Yard, most press reports require the reader to take a position: believe or disbelieve. The press’s approach to the new information illustrates the rule that human beings like to organize data and reach conclusions just as they prefer to return to the tonic tone in melody. In other words, we don’t like unanswered questions.

But it isn’t likely that the “truth” of the princess’ death will ever be resolved. Or, if it is, the answer will be revealed a lifetime or so later. Think about it. If powerful governmental and multinational forces brought about her assassination, they have every tool on the planet available to perpetuate their cover up. They aren’t going to make any dramatic confessions based upon the ex-parents-in-law’s letter. And, if Diana’s death was a tragic accident, people who love a conspiracy are going to continue to spin their own yarns.

This whole controversy reminds me of speculation about the fate of Tsar Nicholas of Russia’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. When I was growing up, a German woman named Anna Anderson made out a case that convinced many people she was the grand duchess and had miraculously survived the cellar execution in Ekaterinburg. Anna Anderson appeared to have information only the real Anastasia would have known. Some who had known the grand duchess believed Anna, but many others dubbed her an impostor. She wound up married to an eccentric professor of history in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she died in 1984. In 1956, Ingrid Bergman stared in a movie loosely based on Anna Anderson’s life and claims. Litigation to determine whether Anna was the real Anastasia never reached a conclusion.

In 1977, two investigative journalists, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, wrote a book called The File on The Tsar, claiming that not all of the royal family died at Ekaterinburg and the survivors became pawns in an international power game. They claimed Lenin, the Kaiser, the British royal family, and British intelligence were all involved. I read it at the time, and found it interesting and persuasive.

But The File on the Tsar illustrates how facts can be manipulated to fit the end the writer wants to believe. In 1991, the bodies of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters were found in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg. DNA testing confirmed their identities. Then, in 2007, Alexi and the remaining daughter were found, and DNA testing confirmed that all seven Romanovs had died in the cellar that day. By that time, Anna Anderson had been established as an impostor because in 1984, when she died, DNA testing showed she was not related to the Romanovs.

The deaths of famous people hold our attention, especially when they happen under odd or mysterious circumstances. In fact, our fascination with these stories lies in our inability to know exactly what took place. If the facts were known and settled, we would go looking for another more interesting tale whose facts were not resolved.

Scotland Yard had it right in its neutral announcement; and the press, insisting on belief or un, had it wrong. No one can really decide what happened in Paris on August 31, 1997, based upon this new little bit of information. More than likely whether Diana’s death was deliberate or an accident will never be resolved. Or if it is, the truth will come out after a much longer time, as with the Anastasia mystery. In the meantime, the circumstances surrounding Diana’s death create material for fiction writers like me. I wanted to write about a beautiful woman whom I admired because she grew up in difficult circumstances on the world stage. She transformed herself from a naive girl into a charismatic woman who spoke for compassion and love, and she was willing to share her struggles with the rest of us who are struggling. Dance For A Dead Princess is not an argument for or against what “really happened.” It is intended to be a highly entertaining story about interesting and lovable people.

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

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I’ve spent the week writing blog posts for Dance For a Dead Princess for blogs that didn’t happen. Sigh. Oh, well. And I’ve been working on novel three (novel two being in the editing stages), so since I haven’t had time to write for my own blog, I’m sharing the first chapter of Dark Moon with you this week.

CHAPTER ONE
August 2013

She was sitting at the bar, staring at the full moon over the glass smooth, night-black Pacific. Her back was toward him, but Jim Mitchell could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Her dark hair was very short like a child’s pixie cut, and she was all eyes. They were the saddest brown eyes he had ever seen as they gazed through the window at the blank ocean.

Judging by her long elegant legs and graceful posture, he guessed she was a model or a dancer. But no, he told himself. Models and dancers don’t hang out at La Jolla’s exclusive Trend Bar in conservative black couture suits and impossibly expensive white silk blouses. She was obviously a business woman. A retired model, he decided who now ran her own modeling agency. He was glad he’d worn his business casual tan chinos and thrown his navy sport coat over his white knit shirt. She didn’t look as if sloppy have appealed to her.

She was lost in thought, and she didn’t turn when he slid onto the stool beside her. He wondered what such a beautiful woman was doing alone on a bar stool at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, and he wondered how many of the losers several stools away had tried to gain the seat he now occupied. And he wondered how long she would let him hold it.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Help yourself.” Her eyes riveted on his, still sad but now guarded. He noticed a long scar snaking across her left cheek. He guessed it must have ended her career in front of the camera. She watched him glance down at her left hand.

“If I were married, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Me, either.” The bartender shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for his order. “Martini, two olives. And may I get something for you? Your glass is just about empty.”
“Another one of my usual.”

Satisfied the bar tender scurried away to earn his tip.

“If he knows your usual, you must come here often.”

“Not an original pickup line. Besides, you had me at ‘mind if I sit down.’ My office is just down the street. I like to come by on Friday night to wind down.”

“But happy hour is long over.”

“I don’t do happy hour. Too crowded.”

“Me, either.”

“Is you office just down the street?”

“No. I work out of my home in Pacific Beach.”

“Then why aren’t you in a bar in Pacific Beach?”

“Too loud. Too noisy. And I’m too old.”

He saw the first glint of amusement in her dark eyes as she appraised him. “You don’t look too old.”

“I’m forty-two. That’s too old for twenty-something coeds.”

She laughed, a deep honest laugh that he liked. “I know plenty of men your age who wouldn’t agree with that.”

“They have their preferences. I have mine. If I feel like a drink on Friday night, I drive up here. What about you? You could be down in PB with the party crowd.”

Her eyes darkened slightly, but her tone remained light.

The bar tender appeared with their drinks, and he noticed her “usual” was red wine.

“To Friday night! I’m Jim Mitchell, by the way.” He held up his glass.

“Sarah Knight,” and she lightly touched his glass with hers.

Afterward he said, “I’m not believing the ‘too old’ stuff about you.”

“Thanks, but it’s true. I’m four years ahead of you.”

“You look ten years behind me.”

She smiled. “I’ve finally reached the point in life where that’s an advantage. When I first started out as an attorney, no one took me seriously.”

“You’re an attorney?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. Lots of women are these days.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I took you for a former model, now head of her own agency.”

Sarah threw back her head and laughed. “Now that’s a first. Thank you. I think.Ever heard of Craig, Lewis, and Weller?”

“Sure. They’re big time rivals of my old man’s stomping grounds, Cravath, Swain, and Moore.”

“Well, I went with Craig, Lewis out of law school– ”

“Which was Harvard, I bet.”

“Wrong, Yale. And I became a partner in their white collar crime section eleven years ago.”

“A woman who looks like a model and who does white collar crime.This has got to be a movie. I would never have guessed.”

She smiled. “I think looking like a kid gave me an advantage in front of juries, particularly with the female jurors.”

“So what brought you back to San Diego?”

“I grew up here, and I got tired of New York winters.”

“I can relate to that.”

“If your dad was a Cravath partner, you obviously grew up in New York.”

“Well, not in the city. We had the regulation big house in the Connecticut burbs.”

“And you are Jim, Junior, and your father wanted you to follow in his footsteps.”

“Now, I think you’re psychic. James Chapman Mitchell, III. He sent me to Andover because it was his prep school, and he sent me to Brown because it was his college, but then I rebelled and went Georgetown because it wasn’t Harvard, his law school.”

“And did you go to work for Cravath?”

“For one miserable year. And then I joined the FBI.”

“It’s difficult to see that as an act of rebellion.”

“As far as my father was concerned, it was.”

“Why’d you pick the FBI?”

“I wanted to put the bad guys away. I thought it would give some meaning to my life.”

“And did it?”

“Too much meaning as it turns out. I got very caught up in my work. Finding a lead in a cold case was like an addiction. But my partner, who was single, had no trouble leaving work at six o’clock to hang out with my wife, who was tired of sleeping alone. Seven years ago, Gail handed me the divorce papers and put Josh’s ring on her finger instead of mine.”

“Sounds tough.” Her eyes were unreadable again.

“The toughest part is being away from my son Cody. He’s thirteen, and I only get a few weeks with him every summer. He’s just gone back to Baltimore where his mother lives. What about you? Ex-husbands? Children?”

“No time. Remember I made partner at a Wall Street firm at thirty-five. I couldn’t date my clients, and I don’t like office romances. That left the dry cleaning delivery boy and the kid who brought Chinese takeout when I got home before midnight. And I don’t do younger men.”

“Darn. And I was just getting ready to proposition you.”

“An ex-FBI agent propositioning a criminal defense attorney? In what universe?”

“This one. I’m a private investigator now. I had to leave the Bureau after Gail married Josh. I saw and heard too much, and I couldn’t take it. I’m still in love with Gail, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I noticed.”

“I moved out here two years ago to get a fresh start. I literally closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map. And San Diego it was. Here’s my card. I’m really good. You never know when you might need an outstanding gumshoe.”

She took the card in her long, graceful elegantly manicured fingers and studied it for a moment. She seemed to be thinking something over. Finally she said, “Actually, I do need someone.”

“I can’t believe my luck.”

“You might not think that when I tell you about the case.”

“Try me.”

“Do you know who Alexa Reed is?”

“Sure. The daughter-in-law of United States Supreme Court Justice Coleman Reed. She was arrested here in June for the murder of her husband, Michael, and a local psychologist, Roland Brigman. She and Michael, who was a partner at Warwick, Thompson, and Hayes were locked in a custody battle for their two children. Brigman seems to have been on Michael’s side. The papers say Alexa was losing custody even though she had given up her career at Warwick, Thompson to be a stay-at-home mom. She snapped and killed Brigman and her ex.”

“I was appointed to represent Alexa today.”

“Wow! That’s going to be a tough one.”

“You have no idea. There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it here in public.”

“Of course not.”

“Are you in?”

“Definitely. Hey, I know a great little restaurant where we can talk. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Ok. And where would that would be?”

“My place. Here’s the address.”

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