Death of a Pirate King

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It was not my kind of party.

Sure, some people might think the dead guy made it my kind of party, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment of my entertainment needs -- or my social calendar. I mean, it had been a good two years since I’d last been involved in a murder investigation.

I sell books for a living. I write books too, but not enough to make a living at it. I did happen to sell one book I wrote to the movies, which is what I was doing at a Hollywood party, which, like I said, is not my scene. Or at least, was not my scene until Porter Jones slumped over and fell face first into his bowl of vichyssoise.

I’m sorry to say my initial reaction, as he keeled over, was relief.

I’d been nodding politely as he’d rambled on for the past ten minutes, trying not to wince as he gusted heavy alcoholic sighs my way during his infrequent pauses. My real attention was on screenwriter Al January, who was sitting on the other side of me at the long, crowded luncheon table. January was going to be working on the screen adaptation of my first novel,

I pushed back from the table as the milky tide of soup spilled across the linen tablecloth. Someone snickered. The din of voices and silverware on china died.

“For God’s sake, Porter!” Mrs. Jones exclaimed from across the table.

Porter’s shoulders were twitching and I thought for a moment that he was laughing, although what was funny about breathing soup, I’d no idea -- having sort of been through it myself recently.

“Was it something you said, Adrien?” Paul Kane, our host, joked to me. He rose as though to better study Jones. He had one of those British public school accents that make insignificant comments like

sound as interesting as

“Oh, hell,” I said, and hauled Porter out of his plate. He sagged right and crashed down onto the carpet, taking my chair and his own with him.

“Bloody hell,” exclaimed Paul Kane staring down, his normally unshakable poise deserting him. “Is he --?”

It was hard to say what Porter was exactly. His face was shiny with soup; his silvery mustache glistened with it. His pale eyes bulged as though he were outraged to find himself in this position. His fleshy lips were open but he made no protest. He wasn’t breathing.

I knelt down, said, “Does anyone know CPR? I don’t think I can manage it.”

“Someone ring 911!” Kane ordered, looking and sounding like he did on the bridge of the brigantine in

“I’m getting over pneumonia,” I told him. I shoved the fallen chairs aside, making room next to Porter.

“Uh-oh,” January said and bent over Porter.

We had adjourned by then to the drawing room of the old Laurel Canyon mansion. There were about thirty of us, everyone, with the exception of me, involved one way or the other with movies and moviemaking.

I looked at the ormolu clock on the elegant fireplace mantel and thought I should call Natalie. She had a date that evening and had wanted to close the bookstore early. I needed to give Guy a call too. No way was I going to have the energy for dinner out tonight -- even if we did get away in the next hour or so.

Porter’s wife, who looked young enough to be his daughter, was sitting over by the piano, crying. A couple of the other women were absently soothing her. I wondered why she wasn’t being allowed in there with him. If I was dying I’d sure want someone I loved with me.

Paul Kane had disappeared for a time into the dining room where the paramedics were doing whatever there was left to do.

He came back in and said, “They’ve called the police.”

There were exclamations of alarm and dismay.

Okay, so it wasn’t a natural death. I’d been afraid of that. Not because of any special training or because I had a particular knack for recognizing foul play -- no, I just had really, really bad luck.

Porter’s wife -- Ally, they were calling her -- looked up and said, “He’s dead?” I thought it was pretty clear he was a goner from the moment he landed flat on his back like a harpooned walrus, but maybe she was the optimistic kind. Or maybe I’d just had too much of the wrong kind of experience.

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