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The Price of Silence [MultiFormat]
eBook by Barry Brennessel

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: A suspicious party invitation is stuffed in Nathan's mailbox. Should he fear for his safety, sanity, and Swiss bank accounts? Nathan Tanyon's encounters with a ditzy social climber are hardly by chance. Helena Arntree claims to know far more details than the police about the death of Nathan's wealthy aunt. Nathan insists she has it all wrong, but she manipulates him into some compromising positions that might harm his credibility. He pays her a healthy sum to keep her mouth shut and go away. So she vanishes--at least for awhile. Two years later she invites him to a costume party in honor of her recent marriage to a man she doesn't bother to name. Nathan soon finds out the real reason for the invite. When he contemplates skipping the party, he fears doing so might place him in even greater danger. Can he ever escape this woman? Just how much is Nathan willing to sacrifice to keep Miss Arntree from spinning her fanciful tales? Just what is the ultimate price of silence?

eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, Published: London, Texas, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011


2 Reader Ratings:
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I could have handled a parking ticket, a summons, an overdue bill--hell, even an eviction notice or depressing news from my stockbroker. They all might have been less shocking than what greeted me when I got home from a weekend trip driving along the coast. Just another of her kicks to the shin. God damn lunatic.

See, this old acquaintance of mine, a Miss Helena Arntree, had the nerve to invite me to a party. Not a backyard barbecue or swanky affair in one of the downtown condos, but a costume party. Some whacky Mardi Gras thing or a deal like you'd see in a play about King Henry's court or maybe inspired by some crazy, high Manhattan coke-sniffers pretending it's Halloween. All in celebration of her recent engagement to someone she doesn't even bother to mention. Meaning the guy has no social standing. This from an eccentric, unstable piece of work who craves fame and fortune like the rest of us need air. Was I suspicious? Oh, you bet.

Now I hadn't seen her for about two years, and thought I'd finally rid myself of her, but then to come home and find the invitation--sealed in a smudged, bent, unstamped envelope--stuffed in my mailbox. Every damn one of our encounters had been disastrous: sex in an alley, stolen goods, assault and battery, blackmail. No chance we would ever became soul mates with that kind of record. How exactly she landed a fiance I couldn't guess, but I'd bet my brand new 1962 Alfa Romeo she'd coerced him with the right combination of lust, foul play, and intimidation.

It was certainly stupid of me, and I've long since regretted not running away the night the convertible she was driving--my old 1960 Alfa Romeo that coincidentally had turned up missing--squealed around the corner of Temple Street, sideswiped a lamppost, and came to rest at the front door of McGreevy's Tailor Shoppe. At three in the morning there wasn't exactly an abundance of passersby to come to her assistance. And thinking back, no matter how many times this scene may have played out, I would have done just as I did that night, since I was raised a nearly perfect gentleman by my dear Aunt Eleanora, and I wasn't about to abandon a woman in distress.

"Are you hurt?" And wow, there they were. Three words that changed my life forever. Not "I love you" or "You are dying." Not "I'll kill you" or "You're the winner." No. For me, it was "Are you hurt?" Charming.

So here sat this woman, slumped over the steering wheel, her body trembling, the whole car shaking. Convulsion? Seizure? I had no clue. I began to panic, and partly to blame for that was the aftermath of a wine-tasting party. Ah, some couple in the Lakeshore District who have more money than they know what to do with, and I needed to get out and clear my head--well, the last thing it did was clear my head, and the world gets wobbly pretty fast when you're surrounded by booze and nuts. Anyway, so I had to stand there watching this accident victim and wrack my brain...elevate the feet, was it? Or a cold compress placed on the forehead? What about the old adage drummed into my head during First Aid Class with Mrs. Ryan, so many years ago? Don't ever move the victim. Well, despite all this confusion, there was one thing I felt confident about; if anyone really needed help here, it was me.

I spotted a payphone conveniently placed on the corner. As I hurried toward it, I fished through my pockets for change, finding nothing but a wad of dollar bills. Then it occurred to me, an operator would place an emergency call for free, wouldn't she? Well, unless the world has really gone to hell. I picked up the receiver. At first, there was silence. Then, after jiggling the receiver, static. Imagine my surprise. Does any payphone in any city--or on the entire planet, for that matter--ever work when you need it most? I've used only about ten in my lifetime, and each time--well, that's neither here nor there. So I slammed the receiver and looked around, searching for someone, anyone...my heart racing...my head pounding...I turned and ran to the other corner... Please, someone, help me... I really can't handle this right now. I'm about to--

Then a sound came from the car. Soft, at first, then pealing out like church bells at noon. Laughter. Hysterical laughter. I turned and looked at her.

"Oh my God!" she shouted, lifting her head, brushing the hair from her face. "Was this not a justifiable ending to an absolutely hellish day?"

I guessed she was in some sort of daze and needed medical attention fast. So I walked closer, but cautiously--her flailing limbs and those shrieks were just a little unsettling. "I've got to find some way to get you an ambulance. Look, look, in the meantime, just lie back and take it easy." I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to ease her back into the seat.

"Please, if you're going to call anyone, call a tow truck and have this heap hauled away." She swung her legs around and hopped out, landing elegantly on her feet.

Heap? "Hey, I think this is my car. Where did--"

She put her fingers to my lips. "Shh. Don't yell. It's late." As she slowly drew her hand away, she added, "I'm barely drunk, if that's what you're wondering." She then leaned over and grabbed her purse from under the front seat. "Have I hit the nail on the head? Are you afraid because you think I've gone mad on gin?"

I stepped back. "Well, if you're going to go mad on anything, better gin than, say, a cheap wine, I suppose." I was speaking from experience, of course. As recently as a half-hour earlier. Awful, awful white wine of some kind at room temperature. Now whether she was drunk, hurt, or psychotic, I decided the best course of action was to be on my way. I would call the hospital, cops, and my insurance agent--when I was a safe distance from her. I would find out soon enough how she ended up with my car, but in the meantime, all I wanted was my safety and sanity in good standing. So I turned and started toward the corner. Thing is, before I took two steps, the blaring of the car horn--my stolen car's horn, keep in mind--echoed through the neighborhood, like a banshee's wail, triggering the most God-awful ringing in my ears. I stopped and faced her.

She stood there, half lit by the street lamp, her diamond choker sparkling. A knot formed in my stomach, and I knew it wasn't from the appetizers I'd eaten earlier that night. Then, in a haunting tone I still remember to this day, she whispered, "My dear, dear friend...Quo vadis?"

* * * *

I stared at Miss Arntree's party invitation, a scribbled mess on plain white paper, one coffee stain in the upper corner. A cheap, out-of-the blue invitation that raised more questions than it answered. First off, the concept of a costume party given by Helena Arntree was unsettling in and of itself. But...why this kind of shindig? What, was this new fiance of hers so hideous she felt she had to hide him? I'm not kidding--this is not too far-fetched for this kook. Or did she feel the need to hide herself, for God knows what reason? Another fraud scheme catch up with her, maybe? Or was it us, her guests, who were being concealed? And why the celebration at all? She'd been engaged practically in secret; what was the point of flaunting it now? Could it be her ego getting the best of her?

Then there was the time of the party: "Promptly at 9:30 p.m." I've never seen any social junkets outside weddings and the like ever begin promptly. Especially a costume party. For whatever failings my Aunt Eleanora had--and there were a few--she was looked on, without rival, as the foremost expert on etiquette by those upper-crust circle of revelers she ran around with. I can't remember any social event my aunt either gave or attended ever beginning exactly by such-and-such a time, which was ideal, for punctuality was as foreign a notion to her as, say, "living within one's means." It just wasn't done.

I suppose I could have assumed that Miss Arntree was a social moron. But I knew better. She could work any situation to her advantage, instantly turning herself into the life of the party, whether it was some soiree for an oil tycoon or a rally for the homeless. Or she could disappear into a crowd and not be seen for days on end; a real chameleon that one. I'd always given her a gold star for her cleverness. But now I was afraid she was trying to earn extra credit.

I folded the invitation in half, deciding enough was enough. Whatever her game, I wanted no part of it. We'd finished our business. I wished her the worst of luck, and prayed this would really be the last I'd ever hear from her. I started toward the window, hell-bent on ripping the thing up and sending it ten stories down, into the rest of the garbage strewn along the curb. Then I noticed it, in red ink, written on the back, in the finest penmanship:

* * * *

Please come, darling ~ it won't be the same without you.

Your costume's waiting at Lambrith's on Fourth, in your name.

Let's put this all behind us. Please don't disappoint me...

Love and such,

Helena

P.S. Silence is costly. Why not bring $ to assure I keep my mouth closed?

Oh, there's irony. I'm just teasing. (Aren't I?)

* * * *

A chill coursed through me, as was always the case when Miss Arntree happened into my life. God help me, I was unable to discard that folded, wrinkled, unadorned piece of paper.


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