The Girl with the Golden Earrings, a stand alone, is the seventh book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series.
When Ash Bogle asks Fina Fitzgibbons to follow his wife, she reluctantly agrees. But when a dead body turns up in a seedy row house and they find children’s clothes in the dead woman’s bedroom, the case becomes far more complex.
Here’s how the book starts:
Our new client had offices on the top floor of a brownstone that backed onto the Promenade. Hefty digs, but I figured they were all too affordable for a man who dealt in commercial real estate, and not just in Manhattan, but all over the country. Earlier that day on the phone, he said our agency had been recommended by a mutual friend and he needed some confidential investigating and he needed it done on the quick. I said nothing, waiting for him to continue. He cleared his throat and told me a little bit about his firm, that he’d started out small way back when Brooklyn was just becoming popular with the yups. Over the years he’d worked his way up. His voice was commanding yet pleasant—like a deep stream running over rocks—and he told me he’d like to hire my agency if we could start today. He’d like to meet with me after lunch.
“I’ll have to check my schedule.”
“This afternoon. Take it or leave it. The job can’t wait.”
It had been slow ever since Christmas—the early spring months usually are—so I agreed to a one o’clock appointment, gave Kate the barest of outlines, and told her to come with me.
How to explain Kate Fitzgibbons? She was my half sister, thanks to my father’s double life, something I’d discovered only a few months ago as he lay dying in a hospital bed surrounded by his second wife and daughter. Kate, I could tell, loved and respected her father and grieved for his loss. Unlike me, but that was a complexity to be unraveled on another day. At the very least I’d say my grief over his death was grittier than hers. Anyway, Kate was degreed, fresh out of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in desperate need of work, what with all her college loans and family debt, thanks to my father’s persistent job loss and alcoholism; and if she didn’t get a position soon, she and her mother would be out on the street. That, according to the story Kate’s old lady, Rena, whom I forbore to think of as my father’s mistress, told me on one of her more lucid days. So I’d let them stay on the third floor of the townhouse I still owned and Kate had been tagging along ever since, doing her mandatory two-year PI internship at the firm I started a few years ago, the Fina Fitzgibbons Detective Agency.
We climbed the stoop of the townhouse where Bogle had his office, rang the bell, and took the stairs to the top floor. With my forefinger, I traced the words etched into the plate glass—Ash Bogle Realty. After giving me a sidewise glance, Kate opened the door and we walked inside.
The receptionist—called Wanda, according to the nameplate next to her phone—was a hefty brunette who had parked mint gum on her lower teeth. At least the gum matched her dress, I noticed, whenever she smiled or opened her mouth to speak, which was more often than any receptionist I’d ever met. And that was saying a lot. After a preamble lasting a few minutes, during which she streamed words like air escaping from a pricked balloon, she said Mr. Bogle had been expecting us but, she apologized in that way receptionists have, his conference call was running late, and wouldn’t we have a seat, it shouldn’t be too long. Two or three rivulets of words followed, but I confess by that time I had tuned her out. She must have seen my eyes glaze over for she turned to Kate and gave her a green grin. Could she get us a little something in the meantime? Coffee? Tea? A soft drink?
My throat was parched, and I asked for a glass of water with one cube of ice, my drink of choice before five. Kate squirmed and said she was fine but thanked the woman with one of her sweet smiles. I’d been with the twins for several hours—it was the nanny’s morning off and my turn with them. I love my children and the time I have with them flashes by, but they’d both learned to walk on the same day a few months ago and had graduated into running, each in a different direction, so I’d raced around Promenade Park several times trying to keep up with them and had in no time achieved my daily step goal. On the plus side, the weight I’d gained having them was fast disappearing, and I could even get into my old jeans if I took a deep breath and held it. I had them on now, along with a polo shirt and sweater and my old Dale Evans rawhide jacket, complete with most of those dangly things on the front and running down the sleeves. I looked down at fraying hems and tucked my legs in as far as possible underneath my chair. Cookie, my best friend since kindergarten, told me the other day I needed a whole new wardrobe, but who had the time?
As Kate sat next to me with her hands folded and giving away nothing, I wasn’t sure what she was picking up, if anything, from her opportunity to work with me. I’d spent lots of time these past months training her, but she was too cheeky to absorb much of what I had to offer—almost ten years in the business if you counted my three-year internship with some of the best minds at Brown’s Detective Agency. My hunches about people were usually correct, and I’d taken a dislike to her from the moment I met her. Still, I tried to keep an open mind; sometimes I even felt sorry for the kid, so as we sat waiting to meet Ash Bogle and I felt her tense, I shot her a smile. “Relax, he isn’t the pope, just a new customer, assuming we decide to take the case.”
Waiting well over the “few minutes” the receptionist had avowed and having finished my water long ago, I lost myself in the scene before us. The plate-glass windows on the outer wall of Ash Bogle Realty overlooked all of New York Harbor with the skyline of the city spread out before us, tugboats chugging in the thin early spring light, gulls circling them. Kate yanked at my sleeve when Wanda asked us to follow her, and reluctantly I tore myself away from an up close and personal look at the Statue of Liberty and walked down the hall to Ash Bogle’s office.
A tall figure in his late thirties with a slight paunch and a mouth like a mulberry, Ash Bogle met us at the door all suited up and with a long face. Most people called him Ash, he told us after a perfunctory apology for his tardiness. His full head of brown hair was streaked with blond. Not my type, but then no one ever was after I’d met Denny, my husband and the father of our twins. We shook hands, and I handed him my card while Kate Fitzgibbons stood there, awkward, unsure what to say or do until I elbowed her, and she extended her hand with a slight smile on her lips.
Pulling two chairs up to his desk, he invited us to sit.
“When my friends met Babette, they told me I married up. Way up.” He yanked at his bow tie, making yellow dots swim in a field of deep blue. He used his thumbs to pull at the tie, and they reminded me of two fleshy meat hooks. “Born and bred in Brooklyn, so I know the city’s neighborhoods blindfolded. I can price a property down to the last penny just by hearing the address. Don’t make no difference the quality of the interior. Oh, maybe by a few thousand give or take, unless it’s a real hole. Then I subtract plenty. And I don’t mind telling you, I know how to deal. Yes, I drive a hard bargain. I make money, lots of it, whether it’s a buyers’ or a sellers’ market. Don’t make no difference to me.”
I could tell he made bread by his digs and the suit he wore, a deep navy blue gabardine, the jacket and pants like some magic tailor had sewn them from priceless cloth. His office was large and hushed, in the shape of an oval, the far side with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the harbor, the other walls painted a mint grayish green. Crown molding gave the room a regal finish, and a high cream ceiling was kitted out with a chandelier surrounded by fancy plasterwork. Reflections from the harbor bounced off the crystal, making light waves everywhere, and as I gazed at them, a warm heaviness spread over me.
I won’t spoil it for you, but the mystery gets deeper. Along with the investigation, Fina needs to get more comfortable with her half sister, Kate. Or not. The ebook is available here.
Photo: cover, The Girl with the Golden Earrings. Cover design, Avalon Graphics.