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  • Susan Russo Anderson

Worse than Being Clueless

Updated: Aug 21

Dorset in the Dark is Fina’s sixth book. It’s a mystery, although from the opening chapter it’s evident who two of the villains are.

But knowing only part of the truth is worse than being clueless, as Fina is fond of saying, and I think there’s a surprise at the end, at least many of my readers tell me they were amazed to learn who was behind all the drugging and the kidnapping.

In this scene, Fina discovers the Cassandra Thatchley, Dorset’s mother:

Here’s a summary of the book:

On a cold spring morning, private investigator Fina Fitzgibbons is having a think in her favorite park when she discovers a woman slumped over on a bench. She learns that the woman, Cassandra Thatchley is the victim of a memory-impairing drug. Worse, her ten-year-old daughter Dorset is missing. Fina begins an exhaustive search for the girl. Meanwhile, Fina’s father is hospitalized and Denny wants to move away from Brooklyn. Dorset in the Dark is the sixth book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series.

In this scene, Fina discovers Cassandra Thatchley, Dorset’s mother:

The Woman in the Park

It was Denny’s turn to get the twins ready for the nanny, so earlier that morning, not suspecting what lay ahead, I watched the rise and fall of his perfect body and kissed him as he slept while Mr. Baggins jumped up on the bed and began purring in my ear. But I had work to do, or at least some heavy planning. After dressing in my usual outfit—jeans, baggy sweater, and down vest—I tiptoed out of the room, one ear cocked for any noises that might be coming from the cribs across the hall. A sudden squeak from Robbie’s rubber giraffe sent my heart flipping, and I tiptoed to the door, opened it a crack, and waited while my eyes adjusted to the gray light seeping through the blinds. For several seconds I stood there surveying their room, listening to Robbie’s rasping, Carmela’s soft breathing, resisting the temptation to wake them and cuddle them and love them. We’d been lucky, Denny and I, with two babies who for the first six months of their lives had given us nothing but joy. No fevers, no coughs, no allergies. I entered their room and stood still for a moment, breathing in their scent. Just then I felt something soft curling between my legs and looked down to find their guardian, Mr. Baggins, who after he’d wound himself around me a couple of times, plunked his fat body down on the rug that lay between the two cribs. I left their door open a notch in case Mr. B needed a break, and slipped down the stairs. Unmindful of the dietary promises I’d made to myself the night before, I grabbed a donut from the kitchen counter and made a beeline for the front door, taking care not to slam it.

Outside, a cold March wind hit me full in the face. We’d been lucky so far this month—no frost to spoil the magnolias that bloomed in the backyard and the grass was doing a good job with green although the air that morning had a distinctive dampness to it, as if it were longing for the white stuff. I noticed a few new leaves on the ornamental pear tree in the front yard as I wrapped my arms around me and thought of warmer days soon to come. In the distance, the lights lining the Brooklyn Bridge gleamed and I quickened my pace. No sounds except for distant trucks rattling across metal, although in the early morning light, long shadows began spooking me, so I jogged the rest of the way to the park a few feet from the Promenade. That was when I saw her, a woman in a dark coat sitting on a bench in front of the swings.

“You’re out early,” I said, running in place to keep the blood flowing. She didn’t answer. She’d probably come here to be alone and think, just like me, and I was disturbing her.

I walked to the fence separating the playground from the Promenade and gazed across New York Harbor to the Statue of Liberty. I tried to focus on work, but my brain was fizzing with last night’s pandemonium, what with the babies crying and Denny moaning about the high cost of living in Brooklyn and swearing we had to move and the phone buzzing with a crazed neighbor’s call asking me to investigate another robbery in his drugstore on Montague Street.

While I stared out over the slow-moving water, the past intruded. I thought of Mom and the many times we’d stood on this very spot together. And then in my mind I was back in high school and sitting next to her on the subway as she went for her umpteenth job interview shortly after she’d been fired from Heights Federal. Waiting for her outside the office into which she’d disappeared, I prayed for her just to be calm and impressive, not that frenetic, insistent Mom I’d known of late. I leaned against a wall, watching the traffic on Canal Street, wishing I understood Chinese while two men quarreled outside a hardware store and a shard of late afternoon light slashed pedestrians standing on silent corners. I could still see the slump of her shoulders when she returned. “Not this time,” she’d said. It was the lowest we’d ever gotten, and I knew I had to do something or we’d lose the house, so I began taking out the garbage for old Mrs. Adams across the street, then graduated to scrubbing her floors and throwing out old newspapers. Soon she recommended me to two of her neighbors, and before I knew it, Lucy’s Cleaning Service was born, a business that kept us off the streets. I can still remember the day I came home with a check to cover half the mortgage, waving it in front of Mom’s shocked face. It was enough so that our lawyer could plead our case with the bank. And after that, we’d never missed a payment. But cleaning homes and offices every night after class and on weekends meant I barely squeaked through the last two years of high school.

The wind picked up and seagulls squawked overhead. “You’d like your grandchildren,” I whispered as the sky lightened, rosy and cloud-ladened, and I let the clean smell of the ocean dispel the ache in me. “Carmela has your eyes and Robbie, your temperament—thank God.” I heard the breeze laugh, and before I got too far down maudlin lane, reminded myself how lucky I was to have a husband who loved me; to have two healthy, happy toddlers; to have a mother-in-law who didn’t meddle and helped with my business; to live close to my best friend since kindergarten, Cookie, who also helped me in my detective agency. I needed to get her involved in the drugstore robberies.

Watching the sun glint on the windows of a passing tug, I gave up on planning and turned back to the woman on the bench, who by now was pitching over, about to fall off her perch. Was she sleeping? In an alcoholic stupor? My heart skipped a beat. I walked over and, putting a hand on her shoulder, tried to steady her. “Ma’am?”

No response. I noticed a slight film of perspiration on her forehead as I removed her gloves and felt for a pulse. She was alive. I lifted an eyelid. Her pupils were dilated, it seemed to me, but I was no doctor.

“Are you okay?” I tried to ask, but my voice wouldn’t cooperate. In the distance, I heard the moan of a foghorn and sounds of runners on the Promenade, indistinct words, the beat of happy feet pounding the asphalt.

No answer from the woman.

She was thin, about five six or eight, much taller than me, with a high forehead, long dark wiry hair beginning to fleck with white, and a jutting nose. She wore jeans and, underneath a long coat, a polo shirt with a collar beginning to fray. Uggs on her feet. Observing the fine lines surrounding her mouth and eyelids, I pegged her as being middle-aged. On her left hand, she wore a wedding band with a hefty diamond. Her nails were long and painted with sky-blue polish. Not one chip. She was old enough and fit enough and well-put-together, so what was she doing here?

I shook her gently on the shoulder. Still no movement. I called 9-1-1. Ω

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

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