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  • Susan Russo Anderson

A Mass of Writhing Snakes

Dorset in the Dark, a standalone novel, is the sixth book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series.

Summary: On a cold spring morning, private investigator Fina Fitzgibbons finds Cassandra Thatchley slumped over on a park bench, the victim of a memory-impairing drug. Her ten-year-old daughter Dorset is missing. Meanwhile, Fina's father is hospitalized, and Denny wants to move away from Brooklyn.

Here’s a scene from the book. It occurs in an early chapter.

NYPD Detective First Grade Jane Templeton stood before me, clothed in a dark blue Armani suit, which hugged her hips like cellophane wrapped around a statue of the evil queen, her fists ramming her waist. My nemesis. She was accompanied by her partner, the long and bony Willoughby, who loped toward me, flapping his tie. He looked like a tired greyhound. Although we’d worked together on several cases, I still didn’t know his first name.

“They collect around you like flies,” Jane said, whisking away a strand of her blond hair. “Explain.”

Willoughby said nothing, just nodded his hello.

I didn’t bother to reply because the woman on the park bench was beginning to stir. The paramedics gathered around her, taking her pulse and sticking needles into her. “What’s your name?” one of them asked her.

Two spots of red appeared on her cheeks. At that moment, she reminded me of a painted Russian doll with a prominent nose, a little bit worn and disheveled, her wiry hair falling over her face, and my heart squeezed for her as she mumbled something unintelligible and wiped drool off her chin.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

She nodded, then shook her head.

The EMS guy looked up at me. “Been slipped a mickey.”

Jane crossed her arms. “You know better than to say that.” She radioed for the crime scene unit.

As if in echo, Jane’s partner Willoughby crossed his arms and moved his head up and down.

The EMS guy and I exchanged a look. “He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know,” I said. “Did you check if she has a purse, anything in her pockets, or are you two just decoration this morning?”

“Time enough to investigate,” Jane said. “Brooklyn General?”

One of the paramedics nodded.

“Wait.” I sat down next to the woman. “Can we call someone for you? Your husband?”

She held her head in her hands. “They’ll be …”

I waited a while, but she didn’t finish the sentence, so I stood up and looked at Jane. “Let me know if you need me.”

“Where do you think you’re going?” Willoughby asked. “Your statement?” He held out a form.

“One of the few times I’ve seen you without food in your mouth,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. As I scribbled down a few sentences, the woman began talking.

“What’s happened to me?”

“I think you’ve been drugged,” I said, ignoring the jab from Jane’s foot. “What’s your name?”

The woman shook her head. “Where am I?”

“Pierrepont Playground,” I said, trying to be helpful.

The blonde detective shot me her angry eyes. “I’ll do the questioning.”

“And freedom of speech?” I asked.

Jane brushed her sleeve and turned to the woman. “Do you have ID? A bag or something?”

The woman stared at her.

“Maybe a driver’s license in your pocket?”

“Why would she have her purse with her, or for that matter, a driver’s license in her pocket?” I asked. “She was out for a morning think in the park. Same as a lot of other people. Same as me.”

Jane looked at the sky. “A key to your house?”

The woman groped in her pocket and brought out a phone and a set of keys.

“Your address?”

Willoughby spoke up. “Look in her phone.”

I was about to remind him that her mobile wouldn’t flash back a name and address for whoever picked it up when the woman, who’d been staring at the glass and metal in her hand, gazed back up at us with a blank look. Willoughby grabbed the phone and pressed the home button, but of course the device was locked.

The woman couldn’t remember her name, much less the password to her phone. She triple blinked. “Help me. Please.”

“How can we help you if you can’t unlock your phone and won’t tell us your name or where you live?” Jane asked.

By this time, I was disgusted. “She can’t. She doesn’t remember it. Give her time.” I handed the woman my card and watched as she scanned it.

“You’re Fina Fitzgibbons?” she asked, peering up at me with a blank look.

I nodded. “Private investigator. Call me if you need help.”

She stuffed my card into her pocket along with her keys and phone.

I watched as the paramedics loaded her into the ambulance and shut the door.

“Let me know what you find out,” I said to Jane, and was walking away when suddenly there was a banging coming from inside the ambulance.

A muffled cry. “Help!” The woman’s head appeared in the window. She must have been pulling at her hair because the image staring back at me looked like a contemporary version of Medusa with her head a mass of writhing snakes.

She screamed, “Dorset! Where is she? What have you done with my daughter?” She pounded on the window as the driver pulled away.


Photo: Cover, Dorset in the Dark. Cover Design, Avalon Graphics

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