In Carol Higgins Clark’s tenth book in the Regan Reilly mystery series, “Cursed,” her protagonist takes a case that calls her back to her old stomping grounds in Los Angeles. She leaves her new home in New York City to embark on a mystery-filled adventure helping her friend Abigail. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.
Snow and sleet were swirling in all directions as Regan Reilly steered her car onto the lower level of the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge in Manhattan, headed for Long Island City. This might not have been the best day to get ambitious about moving old files to a storage unit, she thought. The early morning had been cold and gray, with threatening skies and a prediction of what forecasters liked to call a "wintry mix" for later in the day. It wasn't even noon yet and the storm had arrived. It would have been a good time to hunker down indoors with a cup of tea or a mug of hot chocolate. But Regan was proud of herself for getting this far.
Ever since Regan had moved east from Los Angeles to marry Jack "no relation" Reilly, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad, her mother, Nora, had been asking politely, yet with increasing frequency, what Regan was going to do with all the things she'd stored in her parents' garage. "Now that the bad weather is hitting us," Nora had said the other day, "we'd like to be able to park both our cars inside."
"Okay, Mom, I'll take care of it," Regan had said, somewhat daunted by the thought of figuring out what to do with the remains of her life in Los Angeles. A private investigator, Regan still missed the small office that she rented in an old building in Hollywood. When she first walked in there, it had reminded her of the office building where her grandmother had worked on West Fifty-seventh Street in New York City. Black and white tiles on the floor dating from the year one, dark wood molding in the hallways, doors with thick, foggy glass, the feeling of a place from another era. Even its smell was familiar and comforting. Regan had been intrigued. She had the sense that the old walls held the stories and secrets of the people who had worked there over the years. Being of Irish descent, Regan had a special interest in tales of any sort. It was part of her genetic makeup. With thoughts of her grandmother, she'd signed the lease and never looked back.
But when it was time to leave, for what was a wonderful change in her life, she couldn't bear to part with her scarred old desk, her one-of-a-kind funky floor lamp, which she'd found at a yard sale at an old estate in Beverly Hills, and her battered file cabinets that the former tenant of the office left behind. To her they had a certain charm and would always bring back memories of her salad days as a PI. Among other things she kept was the thermos that she'd brought to work every day, filled with coffee. None of it belonged in Regan and Jack's newly renovated loft in Tribeca, where she had a home office replete with a custom-made cherrywood desk and matching wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, but to forsake these earthly possessions seemed impossible. They were like old friends.
"Perhaps we can turn the guest room upstairs into a replica of your western office," her father, Luke, owner of three funeral homes, had joked. "If you ever become president, we can turn it into a museum and charge admission."
"Dad, believe it or not, I have a sentimental streak."
"So did the Collyer brothers," Luke remarked, referring to the brothers who lived in a brownstone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and became infamous after they died in 1947 thanks to their stunning inability to throw anything away. When the police received an anonymous tip that there was the smell of a dead body emanating from the residence, they tried to enter the house through the front door but were blocked by a wall of old newspapers, boxes, and piles of junk that you'd find on a street corner waiting to be taken to the local dump. A patrolman entered through a second-story window and found the body of Homer Collyer. It was presumed that his brother, Langley, had skipped town. Only after the authorities had spent a couple of weeks working to clear out the more than one hundred tons of rubbish from the residence was Langley's body discovered, just ten feet away from where his brother had been found, hidden under a pile of newspapers. After that any mention of the Collyer brothers brought to mind one heck of a mess. They even had a syndrome named after them.
Regan ignored her father's quip. "Living in the city, Jack and I don't have a basement or attic so I have no place to put this stuff."
"Thank God," Jack had joked.
Now all three of them were away. Her parents were in Palm Beach, Florida, and Jack had left yesterday for a law enforcement seminar in Miami. I'll show them, Regan had thought early this morning. She hadn't slept well. It was the first night Jack was away since they had been married. Funny how things change, Regan had thought. I was single until I was thirty-one and used to being on my own. Now that I'm with Jack, I feel out of sorts when he's not around. How easily one gets accustomed to a good thing.
After Regan crossed the bridge, she turned left on Northern Boulevard, and stopped at the light. She'd been down this road three hours ago after looking in the yellow pages and calling several storage companies. At Store Your Stuff they had a special deal on an available unit that was the right size and climate controlled. Regan had checked it out, filled out the necessary paperwork, then been fingerprinted.
"We don't want to do business with anyone who won't give us thumbs up," the receptionist had joked. "There's always a creep or two who'll want to use our facilities to hide ill-gotten gains."
"I can imagine," Regan had replied, thinking she should leave them her card. She'd then driven to New Jersey, loaded up her car with boxes and files, and headed back to New York. Maybe tomorrow she'd rent a van and get someone to help her load the unwieldy items like the desk and the lamp. Her mother was going to be so shocked when she returned from Florida.
When the light changed, Regan started to drive, passing a stretch of industrial buildings. A subway train went speeding by on the tracks above the road. After a few blocks the big sign atop Store Your Stuff 's warehouse beckoned her. Here we go, Regan thought as she turned down a dead-end side street just past the sign, backed her car into the loading area, wheeled a cart up to her trunk, and started to unload. When she was finished, she pulled her car back out onto the dead end in case someone else with a Collyer brothers streak needed the space to drop off whatever junk it was they couldn't part with. Twenty minutes later, having deposited her precious cargo on the floor of her newly acquired rental property, and padlocking the door with a brand-new lock, Regan was stepping back out into the cold.
There goes a hundred bucks a month, she thought as pelts of what was certainly a wintry mix stung her face. She pulled her keys out of her pocket and hurried to the car. Her cell phone began to ring as she was opening the driver's door. She reached in her pocket again, grabbed the phone, and glanced at the caller ID. From the area code she could tell it was a Los Angeles number.
"Hello," Regan said as she gratefully sank behind the wheel and turned on the ignition.
"Regan, it's Abigail!"
"Abigail, how are you?" It was a question Regan was almost afraid to ask. A former neighbor, Abigail Feeney had moved into the apartment across the hall from Regan in a building in the Hollywood Hills not long before Regan moved back to New York. A hairdresser who worked in film and television, Abigail believed she'd been cursed since birth. Not only was she born on Friday the thirteenth, her parents had unwittingly given her a name that, combined with Feeney, added up to thirteen letters. In Abigail's book that was a bad start. Since then she'd had her share of unlucky things happen to her, including breaking her leg in the eighth grade just before a class trip, graduation, and all the swim parties. In high school she came down with the chicken pox right before her prom. As an adult she'd been unlucky in love more times than she liked to count. Shortly before Regan moved to New York, Abigail had met a guy she really liked. A guy that Regan instinctively didn't trust.
In October, Abigail had called Regan and told her that her boyfriend, Cody, had disappeared right after she lent him one hundred thousand dollars.
"He signed an IOU, Regan, that said he'd pay me back in three months. Then, a week later, I came home from work to find a note he'd left for me. He said he had to go out of town for a few days but he'd give me a call. That was five days ago and I haven't heard a peep out of him! And he won't respond to the messages I've left on his cell phone!"
"If it's a three-month IOU, then I don't think there's anything you can do just yet," Regan had told her.
In November, Abigail called Regan to tell her that she'd been injured on a movie set. A piece of scaffolding fell, knocked her over, and she broke her arm in two places. "Can you believe this Regan? I had to have surgery. They put pins in my arm. I obviously can't work, and the production company is acting like the accident was somehow my fault. I'm going to have to hire a lawyer. Furthermore, I tried to get in touch with you-know-who and his cell phone is disconnected."
Now it was a new year. Regan had called Abigail over the holidays but her home phone had also been disconnected. Regan didn't have her cell number. She braced herself for Abigail's answer to the state of her well-being.
"Regan! The no-good bum has been spotted in downtown Los Angeles. I desperately, and I mean desperately, need the money he owes me. The IOU runs out tomorrow, January thirteenth, which just happens to be my birthday. Can you please come out here and help me track him down?"
There was no need for Regan to confirm with Abigail the identity of the no-good bum. She remembered being in her apartment and seeing Cody Castle, the so-called producer, sitting by the pool, bent over his cell phone, text messaging nonstop. A good-looking guy who knew it, he was a little too impressed with himself for Regan's taste. She hadn't liked him and was quite sure that the feeling was mutual.
"Track him down?" Regan asked half-heartedly as cold air blew from her dashboard.
"Yes! I have to at least try. I didn't tell you where I got that one hundred thousand dollars I lent him."
Regan frowned, visions of loan sharks dancing in her head. "Where did you get it, Abigail?"
"Yes. From the time I turned eighteen, she's been putting ten thousand dollars a year in an account for me. She wanted me to eventually use it for a down payment on a house or an apartment. I had every intention of doing that. But the other day she called and said she feels terrible that I had this accident and that Cody and I broke up. She's decided she's going to come out here and stay at her friend Margaret's condo on Kings Road in West Hollywood. Her friend is selling the place, and if it meets with my grandmother's approval, she's going to buy it for me. With cash! That cash is supposed to include that one hundred thousand dollars! If she ever finds out that I lent the money she scrimped and saved, and I do mean scrimped and saved, she'll kill me!"
A loan shark suddenly doesn't sound so bad, Regan thought. "When is she coming out?"
"Tomorrow. For my birthday! She's flying out from Indiana. I tried to stall her but she's already bought her ticket. I have to find him, Regan. I have to get my money back!"
Regan's feet were frozen, her nose was red, and Jack was out of town. Abigail had been awfully nice to her last winter when she had the flu, bringing her homemade chicken soup. Regan thought of her own grandmother and how hard she'd worked. I would never have wanted to face her if I'd lent one hundred thousand dollars of her money to some fly-by-night guy. "Okay, Abigail. I'll go home and check with the airlines. The weather's bad, but hopefully I can get a flight out tonight."
"Thank you, Regan! You won't be sorry. It's eighty degrees out here."
"I look forward to that. Oh, Abigail, I had tried to call you in December but your home phone was disconnected."
"Another disaster! The owner of my apartment returned from her adventure overseas. She gave the required thirty days' notice. With a broken arm I had to pack up my stuff and get out of there before Christmas. Most of my stuff is in storage."
Regan blinked. Abigail and I will have a lot to talk about, she thought. "Where are you now?" she asked. "Where will we be staying?"
"I'm looking after three different homes whose owners are away. My primary duties are watering plants and collecting the mail. Don't worry. You'll have a place to sleep."
Terrific, Regan thought. I should have appreciated my lonely bed last night. "Okay then, Abigail."
"Okay, Regan. Call me when you book your flight. You have no idea what this means to me."
From “Cursed” by Carol Higgins Clark. Copyright © 2009 by Carol Higgins Clark. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc, N.Y.