“It’s Hard to Sit on a Bundle of Thorns and Know Which One Causes Pain” A Brohan

Our Doubt is Our Passion and Our Passion is Our Task.” Henry James

After Eam had hauled Micky’s toolbox up a long, steep flights of steps, interviewed the distraught man, and scribbled several pages of notes, including other addresses where Micky might be staying during the next few weeks, he’d developed a powerful hunger. As promised, Langley had kept quiet, mostly. The few questions she asked were actually helpful to Eam’s investigation. Specifically, she wanted to know about her mother’s frame of mind, according to Micky’s recollection, right before he left for New Orleans, and what exactly was the nature of their relationship.

Langley had last talked to her mother a few hours after Dea had driven Mickey to a buddy’s so he could catch his ride to the Big Easy. She wanted to see if Mickey would mention Dea had asked him to complete the back porch build within the next month, and find some other place to “bury his bone,” as Dea had crudely put it. She found him amusing, but there was no romance. Dea called Mickey was a ‘five minute wonder with a two minute attention span.’ He was initially perplexed, then annoyed he was losing very comfortable digs. Dea chuckled when he shrugged and offhandedly said ‘easy come, easy go; just as well; I’d a worn you out.’

The tall, lean muscled man and the delicate boned, spry footed young woman walked to a police issued sedan. Langley brushed off real and imagined dust and dog hairs she’d acquired inside the poorly furnished, dinghy bachelor pad Mickey had temporarily moved into. “It’s getting late. I’m starved and possibly also need to be fumigated. I suppose he told the truth. And there’s another weird thing. I don’t think he and mother actually ever had sex.”

“For real? Eam’s brow wrinkled.  “She let a strapping young buck live there as what, arm candy?”

“Not exactly; mother always had a flavor of the month, until she married Scanlon. After they split, she went three or four months without a lover. The men she picked after that or that picked her, weren’t of the same—caliber. It was almost as if she didn’t care and was grieving something lost, despite telling me more than once she divorced Scanlon because he was like all the others.”

 Langley suggested Eam might like to pick a restaurant for dinner since he hadn’t seemed overly fond of her choice Friday night, and she had more questions for him. She watched dimples form on his chiseled face, and thought his complexion was about one gram short of being a perfect caramel color.

“A wise decision. I was going to suggest a quiet French bistro in Bethesda. Are you up for it? I’m officially off the clock as of now. What time are you meeting your grandparents tonight?”

“They’re my great grandparents. A bistro sounds lovely. By the way…” Langley tucked loose strands of hair behind her ear, lowered her voice and leaned in. “I’m doing my best to avoid Grandee and Sebastian, and Martin and Geneva until tomorrow. You may want to join me for brunch at the Jones condo tomorrow. They were—they ARE mother’s and my—absolutely best friends. How far away is this restaurant? I’m ravenous!”

“So back to Micky; and that last exchange; it was all Mother could do to hold back the irritating laugh thing she does. She told him something like if one could be worn out with boredom, then perhaps he could wear her out.”

“So Mickey did recall that moment fairly accurately. He also mentioned your mother’s, ah wry sense of humor and hair tossing habit.”

“Right. Words were witty little blow darts she threw—only much later did you realize the barbs drew blood. Oh, that hair. It was her trademark—well one of them. She avoided hair salons, only allowed Viv to trim her hair twice a year. I used to brush it when I was a kid and she’d tell me a long haired legend—Rapunzel, Lady Godiva, Queen Bodicea of the Iceni… I’d completely forgotten about that.”

“So Mickey was on his way out.”

“It would seem. I’ve no idea who was next.”  Langley pointed to the waning moon and Eam decided now wasn’t the time to tell her his views about the effect the moon had on all of us.

            “Hang on while I call Theo. Damn, he’s not answering his beeper. He must have it turned off again. He doesn’t like working weekends, said it was family time. He and I are going to have a long talk real soon.”

            “I’m taking Mickey off the suspect list, moving him to person of interest. He exaggerated, but his friends confirm he was with them in the Big Easy last week. We also got a lucky break with the driver from Mississippi. He’s a former Marine, and confirmed Micky was in his car all day Friday until he dropped him off at the entrance to Powhatan Estates.”

“It’s curious that Mother asked him to leave but also told him to take his time.”

“Hey this isn’t a French bistro; it’s a park Eam. And that looks like the vet who—that’s your mother, isn’t it?”

            Eam hopped from the car and sprinted over to where his mother stood holding a long lead. Terroir was attached to the other end of it. She’d created a charcoal fire the grate. The coals were a cherry red and radiating warmth. Strip steaks and marinated chicken breasts were throwing off intense, spicy aromas. Yellow candles flickered inside two chunky clay pots. Mother and son embraced, and the dog broke loose and raced towards Langley, nearly knocking her down.

            “Oh, you big goofy dog. Get down. Didn’t mother teach you anything? Are you part bloodhound Terroir? I bet you could find her, couldn’t you boy?”

            Langley extended her hand. “Hello Mrs. Able, lovely to see you again. Do you think Terroir could track Mother’s scent and lead us to wherever she’s been taken? Look at that big wet snout.”

            “Hello Langley, nice to see you too. She kissed her cheek. That’s an interesting question. Eam thought you might like a visit from someone close to your mother. I don’t know much about tracking dogs, or how a dog can track someone taken away in a car. I leave that business to my son—he’s the detective. Terroir’s recovered from whatever drug he was given. He was really lonesome for you, weren’t you boy? Would you like me to keep him for a week or so until you get your mother’s estate in order? Or would you prefer for him to keep you company?”

            “I can’t imagine what I’d do with him. I live in a condo in the middle of DC. Of course, our family owns the building so I guess if I wanted a dog there, it wouldn’t be a problem, except he’s so big. I don’t have time to take care of a dog. Mother spoiled him terribly.”

            As if the dog knew he was being described in not the best of terms, he dropped and lowered his head onto Langley’s feet, then gazed up at her.

            “Oh no you don’t. I’m not falling for that manipulative behavior. Yes, Mrs. Able, if you’d please take him back with you. I’ll let you know in a few days what I decide. It might be a mote point—mother will have surfaced by then. . .” Her voice trailed off.

            “Langley’s been most cooperative. She’s even offered to put her considerable computer talents at our disposal. But she needs to return to her regular job.” Eam glanced at Langley. “Mom, thanks for cooking the meat for us carnivores. Would you like to stay and have dinner with us?”

            “Thanks. I need to get back to your father. He’s playing Dr. Dolittle while I’m gone and I mean that in a literal sense. Someone has to do more than talk to the animals. I need to feed all the critters and tuck them in. Good luck Langley. And son, if you need anything, you know where to find us.”

            Langley hugged the big dog and watched him obediently jump into the back of the van and stare, with wet, wistful eyes, out of the small glass window in the back of the van. She turned quickly away and drew a sharp breath, waving her hand in front of stinging eyes.

Eam spread a checkered tablecloth and unloaded from a basket plates, plastic utensils, avocado halves stuffed with crab salad, fruit, cheese, and bread.        

“It’s too beautiful to stay inside. The world may not be quite ready to burst into spring, but I am.”

“We’ll keep this short. It gets cold early. Would you like me to fetch a blanket from the car?”

“Nope. This is my kind of weather. Thanks very much, and pass the steak.” Langley saluted him with her empty glass.

Earl shook his head. This woman was no wimp. She knew things she wasn’t willing to divulge to him—yet. “I hope it was okay asking my mother to bring Terroir by. He was missing you, and I thought you might be missing him as well. If you hand me the cork screw, I’ll open this Bordeaux while there’s still enough light to see. My mother prepared all food. I threw in the wine and a thermos of coffee.”


Later, while reviewing his notes, Eam realized he had far more history about the O’Hennessy and Brentain families than he needed for an action report. Cullen Doon Brentain, Dea’s grandfather, arrived in Philadelphia via Ellis Island in 1928. He was 19 years old; in hs pocket was the equivalent of about $200 cash today—earned the hard way, working twelve to twenty hours a day (when work was available) as a dockhand and cooper, while bartending and bookkeeping part time in the pub that had belonged to his family before the troubles—culminating in the 1916 Easter risings. He’d lost his entire family, and wanted nothing more than to escape the cruel country of his youth.

Cullen wanted to be part of a country that had the ability to continually build and rebuild itself, that didn’t spit in your face because you wore orange or green or went to a different church or no church at all. Though Ireland had gained some hard earned freedoms, the energy required to continue the fight was more than he could muster. Besides, he was done with the gods—of his church and his heritage, and the gods of ancient myths his grannie insisted he learn about.

For the past seven years he’d worked at the pub where, as a lad, he’d spent long hours polishing mugs and brass railings. It was repossessed by the English landlord that had claimed most of the village near Kilkenny, including his uncles smithy, and his grandfather’s inn. He was the eldest and only remaining son. Finally, he was on his way to America to make his fortune in honest trade, or as close an approximation as feasible, as his recently ‘departed from this mortal coil’ father had entreated.

            The O’Hennessy brothers fared better than most of the third class steerage passenger’s that crossed to America on the same ship that had brought Cullen Brentain over a year earlier. Sebastian Angus O’Hennessy, an incredibly well formed son of Erin, had caught the eye of an English landowner’s daughter. Though he was only seventeen, she ensured he was given a position in her father’s stables near Kilnbeggan in County Offaly. The stables included many fine thoroughbred horses, several of which had been Grand National winners.

Sebastian possessed a remarkable talent for diagnosing and treating ailments, both human and animal, and whipping up potions, tonics, or poultices to cure illnesses and injuries. The landowner’s daughter was most grateful to Sebastian for giving her a tonic that eliminated an unwanted pregnancy. The cost to her was a day or two of nausea and the immediate onset of her menses. He provided her with another tonic to ensure she wouldn’t become pregnant again, unless she desired it. A kiss was all he’d asked from her in return.

His healing talents were more of a naturopathy ability than an aptitude for treating specific ailments. He could sense what was needed to restore balance and often recommended courses of action beyond those that simply treated an immediate problem. Sometimes this involved instructions about changes in posture, sleeping habits, or diet. More often it involved the addition of certain herbs, minerals, and combinations of food not typically part of that person’s diet. Indirectly, his personal and business interest in non-prescription drugs would lead him right to the American doorsteps of the house where his future wife, Deandra McBride, lived.

Sebastian looked after his younger brother Dinard O’Hennessy, sending him to school during the day, and pumping the lad most evenings to teach him what Dinard—or Dinny as their mother had called him—had learned in school. Though the landlord’s daughter had agreed to an arranged marriage to a widower from Yorkshire, she was grateful to Sebastian for making her last days as a free woman memorable.

Before boarding the ship for America with his brother in 1929, the lady presented him with a leather pouch stuffed with pound notes, and several going away satchels filled with tins of meats, jars of pickled vegetables, fruit preserves, dried fruit, biscuits, and bottles of wine and fine Irish whiskey. He had little use for the fancy food, so he traded about ½ of it for better clothes for himself and his brother, a gold plated pocket watch, a pair of brown riding boots, and a small, ornately carved dagger. Prohibition had been enacted in the US in 1919. He was sure he could trade the whiskey for American sawbucks.

            The Irish had been settling in America since the 1600’s—well before it was called America. None of Cullen’s ancestors had made the journey. He was the first Brentain to reach America’s shores. He was fortunate to slip quietly into the New York harbor and be granted admittance after being processed through Ellis Island, for new quota laws were being enforced. Many felt the US had more than enough Irish Catholics. His family was Catholic, but they’d learned to hide that fact. Cullen was an able bodied lad, though he hoped to find employment as a bookkeeper at one of the large department stores, Wannamaker’s or Strawbridges.

            During his first few months on America’s eastern seaboard, the only work he could find was at the Philadelphia docks, hauling dry goods, and loads of timber and steel to expanding communities around greater Philadelphia. It was on one of these trips Cullen impressed the construction foreman when he pointed out he was being overcharged for a shipment of raw lumber and a gross of shingles that could be had for much less if he were willing to pay cash.

The foreman, a second generation Irish named Shaun O’ Shannon, whose grandfather had reached US shores during the potato famine years by way of a tramp steamer out of Galway, also owned the construction company. His bookkeeper had been recently diagnosed with TB and planned to move his family out west as soon as a replacement was found. Cullen was hired on the spot. A friendship quickly formed, and strengthened when O’Shannon discovered Cullen knew how to brew hearty beers and ales. His family had taught him well. O’Shannon had become mighty thirsty in recent years. He made a yearly trip to Canada to bring back whiskey and rum, but it was a tall pint of dark beer he’d been craving, having drank his modest stash months earlier.

            With money earned producing and selling bootleg beer, Cullen enrolled in law school, while still managing O’Shannon’s books. It was there he met small, quiet, grey-eyed Margery O’Neal, daughter of University of PA, Nelline County, Law School dean Mitchell O’Neil. They were married in 1931, and were fortunate to not experience great hardships during the depression. They were actually able to help those less fortunate. Neither O’Shannon nor Cullen had invested money in the stock market. Cullen wisely advised his boss to pull most of his money out of Philadelphia banks and buy up cheap land. They would build affordable housing on some of the lesser parcels of land, and use the money they received to make other investments. Cullen was more than fulfilling his destiny to become a self-made man. America was indeed a land of opportunity for those willing to take a few risks.

In April of 1933, as the happy couple prepared for the birth of their first child, Cullen received word that Shaun O’Shannon had been killed in an auto accident, blindsighted by a Molaska Incorporated truck with its lights turned off. It was full of molasses all right—as well as Caribbean rum and bootleg beer. The contents were destined for a warehouse reputed to be owned by a Jewish gangster. Ironically, prohibition would be lifted in December. No one would need to sneak alcohol into the city in dead of night, including one Sebastian O’Hennessy, who along with his brother Dinny, worked for that Jewish gangster and his alleged secret killing club. From 1933 until 1940, the brother’s murderous talents were used mostly against Russian and Germans spies as America prepared for war.

Though it was far too soon for the man he’d come to know as a friend to depart for the great perhaps, Cullen thought O’Shannon might have appreciated dying covered in something he truly loved, good amber lager. His boss had never married. Cullen Brentain was the only person named in O’Shannon’s will. He inherited a business valued at nearly a million dollars—not bad for such depressing times.

Cullen quit law school, over the protests of his father-in-law, and devoted himself to running O’Shannon Construction full time. In May, Margaret O’Neal Brentain, after a long and difficult delivery, gave birth to their only child, a son they named Mitchell Shannon Brentain. After his birth, Margery insisted on attending the local Catholic Church, though Cullen forbad his wife from having the boy christened. He understood members of Philadelphia society would never allow a Catholic into their ranks. He had no need of faith or prayer. Hard work and lady luck were the only things you could count on.

            Wanting to keep his crew employed during the final months of a depression that was slowing lifting as talk of war increased, he had them nearly gut and totally renovate an elegant country house on ten of the choicest acres O’Shannon had purchased. It was land that had once been used by the Lanape Indians, land where they buried their dead and honored the great super chief in the sky. The house was intended to be occupied by a large family—a clan like the one he’d had in Ireland, before poverty, sickness and unsanitary conditions, fighting, and what he called the ‘scourge of Brits’ invaded his homeland and decimated his family’s holdings.

One relative remained in the old country, unknown to Cullen. From afar, from the safety of the fine country home she shared with her English husband and his two small children, she followed Cullen’s fortunes. She knew, at some point in the future, they would meet again.

            Mitchell Brentain attended the finest private school in Philadelphia, for times were changing, and Main Line families that once controlled admittance to Philadelphia society no longer held such tight reins. Some family’s wealth and standing had been destroyed during the depression. Other’s simply didn’t produce future gifted generations or they weren’t inclined to uphold the social graces practiced rigorously by previous generations. A few of the post-depression upper crust family heads realized they needed new blood and money—if the Philadelphia they loved was to continue.

This was the Philadelphia of weekly Regatta races and rowing at the Vesper Club. Philly was the capital of sculling, and many of its elite members were inordinately fond of horses and fox hunting, just like in the old country. It was a city used to pairs of prosperity: two baseball teams, Philly’s and Athletics; two rivers, the Schuylkill and Delaware; two superior department stores, Wannamaker’s and Strawbridges; two magazines, The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal; two prominent areas, Main Line and Chestnut Hill. There was also Bassett’s & Breyer’s ice cream; two proper clubs, Philadelphia and Rittenhouse; two jewelers and two undertakers. And Philly had its singular pleasures: it was the first city to make large quantities of excellent lager beer, it was home to the constitution and America’s first capital city, home of Fish House Punch and cream cheese. It’s where Stetson hats and Philco appliances were manufactured, and steel and oil were produced and shipped to far reaches of the globe.

Philly’s city of ‘brotherly love’ had strong black, Italian, Polish and Irish communities where many native ethic traditions were maintained. It was a city Cullen was awed by and came to love—a city Sebastian O’Hennessy and his brother Dinny found ideally tailored to their needs and ambitions. Unfortunately, signs of inertia and stagnation began appearing in the 1930’s in this city long known for its economic prestige, controlled with ruthless efficiency by its wasplike Protestant members. Stetson and Philco would take their manufacturing business elsewhere in the 60’s and 70’s. Companies like Baldwin Manufacturing never fully recovered from the glory experienced in the railroad heydays. Crime, which moved in during the 1920’s and 30’s in the form of bootlegging as a result of Prohibition, expanded to include prostitution, drugs, and black market trafficking. It never left. It helped erode less fortified parts of the city.

To the enterprising and ambitious Sebastian and his brother, Philadelphia in 1929 held great promise. These two transplanted sons of Erin were not merely seeking their fortune. They were going to seed this fertile country with their ancient pedigree, and introduce a chosen few to the heritage and knowledge they carried within them. Woe to those who got in their way or had other ideas about how the O’Hennessy’s should market these talents.

Sebastian was intrigued by this inland seaport city. It reminded him a bit of Belfast, with its heavy industry and English properness blending with the rowdiness of any international port of call. Many streets were named after trees, which reminded him of the Ogham tree alphabet he’d been taught by his granny, and by those who’d initiated him into ancient ways.

It was less than two years ago Sebastian had learned the full meaning and burden of his family name. As the oldest remaining son, it was his duty to protect and maintain the honor his legendary ancestor had been accorded more than 1800 years ago. Sebastian would become the 33rd O’Hennessy to hold the title of Chieftain. But that would not happen until the early 1940’s, when he and his brother returned to their homeland, as American citizens, to fight the Germans. In Northern Ireland on his 31st birthday, in August of 1942, Sebastian would accept the title of Chieftain and leader of the secretive O’Hennessy Clan, and all that implied. Later that same day, he would bury his brother Dinny at sea, off the northern coast, near Malin Head. Every privilege exacted a price.

            The Crash of October 1929, occurring a few months after the brother’s arrival, put a ‘hitch in the giddy up’ of their plans to establish a prosperous, legitimate business in Philadelphia. The ‘landed gentry’ here, as Sebastian called them, were horsey people, but there was little money to be made caring for other people’s animals. Borrowing tactics used by the DuPont’s, who made several fortunes developing and producing ammunition and chemicals, he would do the same. He grew a list of customers that paid cash for the ammunition and arms. Sebastian didn’t ask their names. His pharmaceutical and medical knowledge was also put to good use producing elixirs with a high ratio of alcohol. That part of his business was perfectly legal. He acquired a license to dispense alcohol in the form of medicine, though it had cost him and Dinny much of the money they had saved. He wasn’t worried. He knew his coffers would soon be replenished.

            Dinny, strong and clever, had a real craftsman’s knack for fixing and creating things. He was apprenticed to a local group of Irish bricklayer’s, though the life of a laborer was not why he’d come to America. He itched to put his hands and talents to better use. An opportunity presented itself in 1931.

            Complimenting Sebastian’s business instincts was an ability to observe, while remaining almost invisible. He watched petty criminals gun each other down, and noted who were the most successful crime bosses. One in particular, a Russian Jew, usually emerged unscathed from deals where other less fortunate enterprising men were caught or mowed down by the cops. He thought the little man just might have the luck of the Irish. Unfortunately, one late evening when the Jew was receiving payment for a big shipment of booze, he was ambushed. He would have been killed and dumped in the harbor if not for Sebastian’s quick thinking. He took a bullet in the shoulder intended for the Jew. Dinny had positioned himself behind a tower of packing crates. The men ordered to take out the Jew were crouched next to a stack of pallets. Dinny took careful, quick aim with a harpoon gun and killed one of the men. The second he strangled with his bare hands. He never fired the gun Sebastian insisted he carry.

            Later that night, after pouring some excellent Canadian whiskey down his throat and on his wound, Sebastian instructed Dinny how to pull out the bullet and sew up the four-inch scar. Sebastian then removed two bullets from one of the Jew’s men, then applied a thick, brown salve coated, but not unpleasant smelling bandage. He was rewarded with a position as distributor of the Jew’s East coast booze shipments. Dinny was recruited by another branch of the Jew’s enterprises, Murder Inc. During the five years the brothers worked for the Jew, they quietly acquired reputations for being best in their business.

            By 1935, as the US emerged from the great depression, Sebastian had saved enough to open Optimum Distribution Network Industries, or ODN, as it soon came to be known. The brothers were one of the few able to make a clean break with their criminal ties, though Sebastian would never forget the associations he had made and the obligations that went with their former associations with the cream of the crime world. His ties to unions and the black market were never broken, only buried.

            Sebastian developed an affinity for the dark complexioned workers who were always the first to be laid off from jobs in factories and the docks of Philadelphia. Their families were forced to move temporarily to Hooverville’s, shanties on the outskirts of the city, fit for neither man, woman, nor child. He found work for 100’s of these men, helped them join unions, sponsored scholarships for their children, and they, in turn, allowed the O’Hennessy’s into the upper reaches of their very secret, and surprisingly influential society.

            Dinny liked the ladies and they liked him back. He didn’t feel the pressure his older brother did to marry and produce heirs to carry on the O’Hennessy name. Both brothers realized it wasn’t necessarily by procreating that they would achieve their highest goals. It was their willingness to take risks, to challenge outdated moral codes, and insist on tested standards, which set the brothers apart and aided them in their quest for wealth and power.

            Sebastian’s legacy carried with it the burden of restoring the family name to its previous prestige. To do this, he needed to hide certain details about how he’d earned the money required to fund ODN. He also needed to attach himself, via marriage, to an Irish American family who had already achieved a measure of distinction and respect. With that in mind, he set his sights on Deandra Kilbride, daughter of third generation Irish American Lucas Kilbride III, who had inherited and doubled money earned via multiple transportation investments made by his father and grandfather, including cargo ships, river boats, and road building across the USA. He turned his inheritance into a larger fortune by being a silent partner in several profitable early 20th century ventures, also involving transportation and the modernization of America.

The Kilbride family had deep roots in Ireland. Fiona MacGiolla Kilbride, born in 1880, was the matriarch of a small, respected group of women descended from the Irish Brigeda’s, exalted servers of the people. It was a very exclusive group, never more than nine; and you could not buy your way in. If the stars lined up just so, you were courted, initiated, and sworn to secrecy. At least, that was the legend surrounding the Brigeda’s. Some referred to them as the Society of Biddy’s. Their charter was to effect positive change through charitable good work both in the USA and in Ireland. Deandra O’Hennessy stepped in as matriarch in 1965, shortly after Fiona’s sudden death. A year later, her daughter Aubra, a Brigeda member, would also be dead.

It was past the time for Deandra to pass the mantle. Her granddaughter Perdura had been the logical choice, but Dea had other ideas. Her decision was the source of bad blood between these two red headed women. Langley had recently learned Dea’s best friend, Vivian Jones, had been admitted into the society. She had intended to ask Dea about the appointment. It was a minor source of annoyance to Langley that she’d never been asked to join, not that she would have accepted.

Deandra’s mother Fiona was a great beauty in her day. She was tall and willowy, like all the O’Hennessy women, with titian red hair a shade darker than Aubra’s.  In love she was lucky. She and Lucas were inseparable through their long years of marriage. She often traveled with him across the rapidly evolving USA and abroad. She could charm a crying baby and sooth an angry man. Her ways with words was so magical, she could insult you without your ever realizing it. Dea inherited that ability but wasn’t subtle about it. Lucas died in the early 70’s, a month after Fiona, after a short illness.

Fiona had been close to Dea and Aubra, but estranged from her daughter Deandra. Deandra inherited a sizable fortune, nearly 35% of the Kilbride net worth, though it was not as much as she’d expected. Deandra did inherit the family mansion, several holdings in California, and a plantation in Jamaica. Nearly half of the Kilbride fortune was put in trust for Aubra, to be passed to her offspring in the event of her death. Aubra was also bequeathed land in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, and a hunting lodge in Nova Scotia. The reminder of the money and investments went to various charities, including the Brigeda’s and the Sisters of the Flame, a society near Kildare, Ireland.


“Let me help you look for that number. Sit yourself down and finish this.” Gov handed Viv another glass of fortified punch. “You probably put it inside the cover of whatever book you were reading then. How many recipes, receipts, and lost photos have I found by shaking your books upside down? Viv, honey, we’ll get through this. Langley sounded strong. She’ll be needing our help—soon. If Dea was killed, she’d want us to pull it together and help Langley find out who did it. Look here, there jus ain’t no thing as a crying detective in any of your books. So let’s start thinking about possibilities and suspects. Dry them eyes. Here, use this.”

            Viv took the tall glass from her husband’s hands and drank half of it down. She scrubbed tears from her cheeks, and placed both hands firmly on her hips. “I’m calm, Gov, and I’m going to calmly find that frigging phone number and calmly talk to that lying, lousy Brit. You and I both know if Dea was killed, HE had something to do with it.”

            “Now why you think that? Dea told us just a few months ago she hadn’t talked to him in years—not since their meeting in Paris. Why are you so suspicious of Griffin honey?”

            “Cause that lying weasel broke our girl’s heart, and not just once. He stomped it flat as Stanley more times than I can count. He never cared what he’d done. He . . .” Viv’s voice faded as she moved from room to room, opening drawers and riffling through papers and stacks of books.

            Governor followed behind her, straightening or fanning books she’d touched, examining candy wrappers, photos, and notes on scraps of paper that floated from the pages. “Who’s this Stanley? You know I love Dea as much as you do. She coulda had Griffin. She didn’t care he was married. She coulda talked Sebastian into buying his company. If you want my opinion, you need to talk to the grand duchess herself. The only woman I know more willful than Dea is her grandee. Ummmm, ummmm, she’s still one headstrong woman.”

“Well I’ll be, come look at what fell out of your book of Virginia Woolf poems. I didn’t even know she wrote any. She had a mighty glib tongue. Is this Griffin’s number scribbled in your handwriting? Didn’t I tell you we’d find it in a book? Hey, didn’t Virginia Woolf commit suicide. I don’t like what I’m thinking here honey. This’s not a happy sign.”


“Northfield residence. Whom shall I say is calling?”

            “This is Vivian Jones. It’s very important that I speak to Mr. Northfield—immediately. He’ll know who I am. I have extremely sensitive information to relay to him. Please put me through?”

            “Mr. Northfield is away on business. I am most happy to take a message Ms. Jones. What, may I say, is this in regard to . . . ?”

            “Look I know it’s late. I must speak to Mr. Northfield, to Griffin. I assure you he would want to hear what I have to tell him. You must put me through.”

            “Madam, Mr. Northfield is not at home, nor do I know, at present, where he may be contacted. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Northfield is in residence this evening. If you will be so kind as to leave your number . . .”

            Viv hung up the phone and turned to her husband, hands perched again on hips. “Damn, he’s either really ‘not at home’ as that stuffy old bugger says, or he’s instructed Hobbs or Jeeves to say he’s not in. This is bad Gov, this is really bad. It’s what, about 9:30 pm in the UK? Now I’ll have to wait until Monday to call his office. I know I have that number too—somewhere. Help me look Gov.”

            Gov stared at a picture he’d taken of Dea and Viv clinking glasses at a New Year’s Eve party in Washington DC last year. He sighed and picked up the phone. “Yes operator, I’d like the number for the executive offices of Wyn-Lennox Ltd. in London, England. Thank you.”

            Viv held the paper with the phone number to her forehead as if she were absorbing the numbers into her brain. She grinned at the very sensible man she’d married nearly twenty years ago, and gazed painfully at the picture he now held in his hand.


“Their revolting, dynastic ambition will set the country back decades—reminds me of Georgie l of England—not that I knew him personally. The German bugger never bothered to learn English, and was handed the kingship—after Queen Anne died. Our pres doesn’t exactly speak our native tongue either…so many parallels. Georgie’s loyalty was to Hanover; the pres to Texas. They both took, took, took.” Dea huffed, poured the last bit of bubbly into her flute, and continued.

“Viv, I’m not going to any of the inaugural balls. I won’t be bushwhacked and I can’t fathom why you’re attending! I don’t know how involved I want to be in exposing him though; there’s more bushes lurking in the shrubs. Why isn’t Grand Sebastian supporting me? I’ve watched this circus for a decade. Maybe, it’s time to find a new country.”

In mock salute, she raised her glass and not too daintily emptied it. “I’m a fine one to talk, now that Grand Sebastian’s turning on the pressure again for me to accept the VP job at ODN—and I’m actually considering it. Money and power, blood money, hush money, laundered money.” Dea grabbed a glass of pedestrian champagne off a passing tray. Her gaze moved along the line of tall potted plants pulsing merrily with soft pink and gold lights—and fixed onto a skyline view of Washington DC, which glowed luminously outside the hotel’s windows.

“Waiter deary, we need another bottle of champagne post haste—make it Perrier. We’ll double your tip if you can refill our glasses in three minutes or less. Oh, and a few more of those luscious chocolate covered strawberries please.” Viv pulled a $20 from her sequined bag to add to Dea’s waving $20. She scanned the room to make sure her husband wasn’t close by.

“Dynastic! Is that your new word for this new year? So you’re finally considering working for your grandfather. Why exactly? Your family is still among the fortunate 50 richest. Have you decided to make the ‘grand man’ happy for a change? There’s some powerful good you could do with all that money you don’t want. You could donate to any number of good causes. Ayn Rand said wealth is the product of one’s capacity to think. So think about being even richer than you already are.”

“Is that ‘50 richest’ figure according to Dow Jones or Vivian Jones? What about keeping up with the Jones? You’re not so very poor yourself. Right now I’d rather remember what Auden said, ‘Certainty, fidelity/on the stroke of midnight pass/like vibrations of a bell . . .’ And hold on, there’s more ‘. . . every farthing of the cost/all the dreaded costs foretold, shall be paid . . .’ Midnight approaches, the bell will toll—accounts will be paid.” Dea pursed her lips and idly fingered the moonstone dangling from a long silver filigree chain round her neck.

Gov leaned over and in a low voice said “That’d be according to Dow AND Governor Jones. My dear Ms. Brentain, the price of sharing is to have to listen to Vivey’s advice. And if you keep spouting quotes and poetry, you run the risk of turning into a fortune cookie at midnight.”

Dea nodded and placed a tapered finger over her mouth. “Yes well, eat as much oriental food as I do and it becomes easy to spout fortune cookie wisdom. She who have power in hand, shouldn’t worry about plants or bushes.’

Viv eyed her friend and started to ask a question, then decided not to and reached towards her. “So let’s enjoy this glass of liquid starlight and these decadent strawberries our lightening quick waiter brought us. What shall we toast to? I assume your divorce from Scanlon is under way, though Milt mentioned he hasn’t received any paperwork. Once you’re single again, who or what will you wish for? Your dream man’s out there sweety.”

Dea scraped her chair backwards and started to rise. “Wishes, desires, demands—isn’t it all the same? Trust me Viv, there’s no fortune large enough—nor force strong enough—to get me what my soul desires. All my grand designs and scheming have come to nought.”

“There you go again, adopting those anglo’isms—it happens every time you go over your limit, and think of that stuffy Brit, who shall remain nameless. I meant were you going to make a wish for world peace or an end to hunger or something magnanimous for a change?” Gov stood next to Dea and twirled the overpriced scotch in his glass.

“I’ll table that question and raise you—a chocolate strawberry dipped in whipped cream. Save one for me. I’m going hunting. Here’s your new year’s good luck kiss Viv. And one for you too Gov. Off I go to find a man that will kiss me shockingly hard. Or I’ll kiss him until he’s hard!

Dea refilled her glass, tossed her long curls backwards, and headed towards the hotel lounge, moving like a lioness searching for unsuspecting prey. Her prey tonight was Oliver Cahill, recently divorced, darkly attractive, and five years her junior. To Dea, he was fair game.

Viv Jones wrapped her bare arms round her husband as the 60-second countdown began. Over his wife’s delicately shaped café au lait shoulders, he watched Dea head towards a group of mostly pipe smoking, whiskey or scotch drinking men engaged in animated conversation. One gentleman in the group wore a crimson red and black plaid dress kilt and fitted black jacket. His hair was gathered in a neat pony-tail, held by a thick silver disc. Dea headed straight for him. Gov shook his head, musing that men who wore vivid red made excellent targets.

“I don’t think our girl’s ending this year on a different note than the last, Gov. Or any before that. She brought HIM, figurately, to the party again, that damn Brit. If I had him here, I swear I’d… ”

“Relax darling. Look, Dea’s already found a new—interest. That’s Cahill, the architect we met last fall at the Kennedy Center. Any man brave enough to wears bright red kilts and swill whiskey like it was the water of life should be able to fend for himself. He’s a big, strapping guy.”

“Whiskey IS the water of life. Haven’t you learned anything in the past fifteen years from your associations with Dea’s family? Should we warn him about the invisible man? Or should we warn him about our girl?”

When they caught up with Dea on the dance floor, one of her arms was loosely flung over Cahill’s shoulder. The other held her champagne flute. His ample arms, straining through the brushed silk jacket possessively circled her waist. His mouth was pressed to her ear like a suction cup. Viv thought Dea’s eyes were far too shiny, and not from the bubbly. Her pale cheeks glistened with a sheen of moisture, and hinted at pain only the dying reveal. When she realized Viv and Gov were dancing next to them, she subtly used Cahill’s sash to blot her face. Resolve, that’s what we agreed to show the world, playing the long game with them all—waiting for the perfect moment to….  

“Happy—not crappy New Year Jones’. May I introduce you to Oliver Cahill. We’re going skiing in the Catskills tomorrow.”


It was nearly 3 am before Eam climbed into bed. He scribbled one last note before nodding off: put a priority 1 on body autopsy

Up next Chapter 5 The Cost of Love, the Price of Pain