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A Mystery Book Duet to Read on Galentine’s Day

By Alison Bunis

As I’m sure you know, today is everyone’s favorite female friendship holiday. That’s right―happy Galentine’s Day! How are you celebrating? Sitting in a cozy room with all your female friends while you each read a book? Though I suggested that, my friends opted for a more classic going-out-to-dinner-together-style celebration.

For the uninitiated, the delightful holiday of Galentine’s Day was invented by Leslie Knope on the television show Parks and Recreation in 2010. That year, Leslie told viewers that although February 14th is about romance, she makes February 13th about celebrating the awesome ladies in her life. The amazing idea has caught on, and now Galentine’s Day is everywhere you go. Stores have sales on girl-power and female-friendship related items. Late night shows do gal-pal related segments. Celebrities post pictures of themselves on their Galentine’s Day outings.

Image Place holder  of - 7Naturally, we at Forge don’t want to be left out. We’ve scoured our list to find the perfect gal-pal mystery books to celebrate this esteemed holiday, and we’ve hit on a winning pair: Design for Dying and its sequel, Dangerous to Know, by Renee Patrick.

Seriously, if you haven’t read them what are you waiting for? They’re set in Los Angeles during the 1930s, aka Hollywood’s Golden Age, and one of the heroines is a fictionalized version of real-life designer Edith Head, who was the inspiration for the visual appearance of the character Edna Mode in The Incredibles. Edith’s partner-in-crime-solving is Lillian Frost, a plucky, fast-talking girl who had dreams of stardom, but is now just another department store salesgirl. When the pair meet in Design for Dying, a party girl’s murder has landed Lillian on the suspect list and put Edith’s job at Paramount Pictures in jeopardy. So of course, the two team up to solve the case themselves, and in the process they forge a fantastic friendship.

Poster Placeholder of - 61Their adventures continue in Dangerous to Know, where Edith and Lillian deal with career challenges, see the war clouds gathering over Europe, run into the likes of Jack Benny and Marlene Dietrich, and unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office. All while dressed to the nines, of course―this is Hollywood, after all.

So come on, make Leslie Knope proud: tell your gal pals you love them, grab a couple books, and read about ladies celebrating ladies.

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New Releases: 3/13/18

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Dayfall by Michael David Ares

Placeholder of  -59 In the near future, patches of the northern hemisphere have been shrouded in years of darkness from a nuclear winter, and the water level has risen in the North Atlantic. The island of Manhattan has lost its outer edges to flooding and is now ringed by a large seawall.

The darkness and isolation have allowed crime and sin to thrive in the never-ending shadows of the once great city, and when the sun finally begins to reappear, everything gets worse. A serial killer cuts a bloody swath across the city during the initial periods of daylight, and a violent panic sweeps through crowds on the streets. The Manhattan police, riddled with corruption and apathy, are at a loss.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Place holder  of - 83 As darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire, the once precarious balance of power among the four Londons has reached its breaking point.

In the wake of tragedy, Kell—once assumed to be the last surviving Antari—begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. Lila Bard, once a commonplace—but never common—thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry.

Chasing Shadows by David Brin & Stephen W. Potts

Image Place holder  of - 86 David Brin, Hugo award-winning author of The Uplift War, presents Chasing Shadows, a collection of short stories and essays by other science fiction luminaries. As we debate Internet privacy, revenge porn, the NSA, and Edward Snowden, cameras get smaller, faster, and more numerous. Has Orwell’s Big Brother finally come to pass? Or have we become a global society of thousands of Little Brothers—watching, judging, and reporting on one another?

Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick

Image Placeholder of - 56 Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Poster Placeholder of - 73 In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

NEW IN MANGA

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (Manga) Vol. 1 Story by Ryo Shirakome; Art by RoGa

Devilman VS. Hades Vol. 1 Story by Go Nagai; art by Team Moon

The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil A Rún Vol. 4 Story & Art by Nagabe

Monster Musume Vol. 13 Story and art by OKAYADO

Sorry For My Familiar Vol. 1 Story and art by Tekka Yaguraba

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7 Books by Writing Duos

Sometimes two really is better than one. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, but not for these dynamite duos – with their powers combined they can create stories that are twice as amazing. From the historical mysteries by Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (known as Renee Patrick) to the quarter-century partnership between Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, here’s a selection of titles that show what happens when writers partner up.

American Drifter by Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray

Image Place holder  of - 50New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham has teamed up with celebrated actor Chad Michael Murray. The two met through Graham’s daughter, and after discussing Murray’s idea for a book, they decided it was a match made in heaven! The result is a novel of passion and danger in the captivating thriller, American Drifter, the story of young army veteran River Roulet and the enchanting Natal, the journalist he falls in love with.

Dangerous To Know by Renee Patrick

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. The two teamed up to write the Edith Head and Lillian Frost mystery series, bringing to life glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Dangerous to Know is the second installment in this series, starring aspiring actress Lillian Frost as well as well known historical Hollywood figures Edith Head, Jack Benny, George Burns, Marlene Dietrich, and more.

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Placeholder of  -36Doug Preston and Lincoln Child have been writing novels together for more than twenty-five years. Over that time, their process has changed, but the result hasn’t—Agent Pendergast has been hailed as a “ruthless descendant of Holmes” by Publishers Weekly, and has become one of crime fiction’s most enduring characters. How do they do it? Lincoln Child says it’s easy, so long as you respect your partner and are willing to accept criticism and learn from them. Here’s to many more years of collaboration, and many more Pendergast novels!

Moon Hunt by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

Place holder  of - 75 In addition to being married, New York Times bestselling authors Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear have written more than thirty novels together across genres. Their first collaborations were written in a tiny Colorado cabin with no running water and only wood stoves for heat. Their latest, Moon Hunt, is the third epic tale in the Morning Star series about Cahokia, America’s greatest pre-Columbian city.

Without Mercy by Col. David Hunt & R.J. Pineiro

Poster Placeholder of - 4Some writing partnerships are all about what you can bring to the table. In the case of Col. David Hunt and R.J. Pineiro, one brought the real-world knowledge and the other the writing chops of an acclaimed writer. The result is Without Mercy, a terrifying and topical thriller that feels like it could happen at any minute. When ISIS detonates nuclear weapons in two key American strongholds, the United States plunges into chaos and the CIA scrambles to prevent a third tragedy.

Never Never by James Patterson & Candice Fox

Image Placeholder of - 99James Patterson is famous for collaborating with a huge variety of authors. He’s worked with Maxine Paetro, Michael Ledwidge, Mark T. Sullivan, and many, many, many others. He’s got a tried-and-true process: Patterson provides a detailed outline, sometimes as long as 80 pages, and then his co-author starts writing chapters. Weekly phone calls between the collaborators contain honest feedback and discussion of the project, resulting in consistently amazing commercial fiction. We particularly like his collaborations with Candice Fox. The Detective Harriet Blue series is hard-boiled crime with an Australian background and a likeable main character.

The Dangerous Ladies Affair by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini

The Dangerous Ladies Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill PronziniMarcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are, so far as we know, the only living couple to share the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. They also share books, partnering up to write the charming historical mystery series Carpenter and Quincannon. Muller writes Carpenter’s viewpoint and Pronzini writes Quincannon’s in a brilliant collaboration from a longtime couple and writing team. The Dangerous Ladies Affair is the most recent novel featuring the firm of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services.

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New Releases: 4/11/17

Here’s what went on sale today!

Place holder  of - 23 Avengers of the Moon by Alan Steele

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret after the murder of Curt’s parents.Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition and assassinate the president. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future.

Dangerous To Know by Renee Patrick

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Image Placeholder of - 57 All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s every-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together—to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

Image Place holder  of - 69 Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

Promise Paen, captain of Victor Company’s mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.

Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She’s returned home to heal. But the nightmares won’t stop. And she’s got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don’t kill them first, she just might do the job herself.

Placeholder of  -14 Quicksand by Carolyn Baugh

Officer Nora Khalil is used to navigating different terrains. As part of a joint task force set up by the Philadelphia Police Department, the FBI, and the local sheriff’s offices, she works to keep Philly’s mean streets safe from gang violence, while trying to honor the expectations of her traditional Egyptian-American family. She can hold her own against hardened murderers and rapists, and her years as a competitive runner ensure that no suspect ever escapes on foot.

Nora tries to keep her professional and personal lives separate, but when a mutilated body is discovered in a tough section of town, Nora must rely on both her police training and her cultural background to find out whether this is another gang-related killing or the grisly evidence of something even darker and more disturbing.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Poster Placeholder of - 35 Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones

On a desperately overcrowded future Earth, crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none. Governments turn to Big Science to provide them with the dreams that will keep the masses compliant. The Needle is one such dream, an installation where the most abstruse theoretical science is being tested: science that might make human travel to a habitable exoplanet distantly feasible.

When the Needle’s director offers her underground compound as a training base, Kir is thrilled to be invited to join the team, even though she knows it’s only because her brain is host to a quantum artificial intelligence called Altair.

But Altair knows something he can’t tell.

NEW IN MANGA: 

Not Lives Vol. 5 Story and art by Wataru Karasuma

Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn Vol. 7 Story by Masamune Shirow; Art by Rikudou Koushi

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On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in April

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in April! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

Marie Brennan, Within the Sanctuary of Wings

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Saturday, April 29
Borderlands Café
San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM

Cory Doctorow, Walkaway

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Tuesday, April 25
Vroman’s Bookstore
Pasadena, CA
7:00 PM
Also with John Scalzi and Amber Benson.

Wednesday, April 26
Santa Cruz High School Auditorium
Santa Cruz, CA
7:00 PM
Hosted by the Bookshop Santa Cruz, also with John Scalzi.

Thursday, April 27
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
6:00 PM
Also with John Scalzi.

Kevin Egan, Shattered Circle

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Thursday, April 6
Mysterious Bookshop
New York, NY
5:30 PM

Jon Land, The Rising

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Wednesday, April 5
Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
6:30 PM

Ken Liu, Invisible Planets

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Tuesday, April 4
Hong Kong Association of New York
New York, NY
6:00 PM

Renee Patrick, Dangerous to Know

Tuesday, April 11
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Saturday, April 22
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
2:00 PM
CozyCon 2017 – also with Tessa Arlen, Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay, and Francine Mathews.

John Scalzi, The Collapsing Empire

Monday, April 3
Books & Co
Beavercreek, OH
7:00 PM

Tuesday, April 4
Cayuga County Public Library – Parma-Snow Branch
Parma, OH
7:00 PM

Wednesday, April 5
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA
7:00 PM

Thursday, April 6
Gibson’s Bookstore
Concord, NH
7:00 PM

Friday, April 7
Odyssey Bookshop
South Hadley, MA
7:00 PM
Also with Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear.

Saturday, April 8
Madison Public Library
Madison, WI
7:00 PM
Books provided by A Room of One’s Own.

Monday, April 17
Jean Cocteau Cinema
Santa Fe, NM
7:00 PM

Tuesday, April 18
Boulder Bookstore
Boulder, CO
7:30 PM

Wednesday, April 19
University Temple United Methodist Church
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM
Books provided by the University Bookstore.

Thursday, April 20
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
7:00 PM

Tuesday, April 25
Vroman’s Bookstore
Pasadena, CA
7:00 PM
Also with Cory Doctorow and Amber Benson.

Wednesday, April 26
Santa Cruz High School Auditorium
Santa Cruz, CA
7:00 PM
Hosted by the Bookshop Santa Cruz, also with Cory Doctorow.

Thursday, April 27
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
6:00 PM
Also with Cory Doctorow.

Brian Staveley, Skullsworn

Thursday, April 27
Phoenix Books
Burlington, VT
7:00 PM

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Excerpt: Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick

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Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.

Dangerous to Know will become available April 11. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

“The food was too rich, for one thing. So were the guests. The dinner party was a dud long before the Nazis got involved.”

I looked over at Edith Head, a blur of motion behind her sketch pad. “But you’ve heard my Chaperau saga before. More than once.”

“True, dear, but your account is so entertaining.”

“You can’t buffalo me. This is about Lorna Whitcomb’s column this morning. Are Paramount stars involved?”

“One hears rumors, so one seeks facts. You were there, eyewitness to history. Humor me. Don’t mind my sketching. I can draw and listen at the same time. It’s the essence of the job.”

A trace of paint fumes perfumed Edith’s office in the Wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, olfactory proof she had finally arrived. The suite had formerly been home to Edith’s mentor Travis Banton. She had assumed Banton’s responsibilities in March when the studio opted not to renew the brilliant but bibulous costume designer’s contract. Paramount hadn’t been in a hurry to bestow his title or office on Edith, though, the formal announcement coming after she’d been doing his job for months. Her first official act as Paramount’s lead designer had been to have her new domain repainted, the walls now a soft gray. “Like a French salon,” she’d said. “A muted palette places the focus on the actress, where it should be. Besides, if I don’t change something in here no one will take me seriously.”

Edith’s personal transformation was more dramatic. She’d abandoned her bobbed hairstyle in favor of bangs with a chignon at the back. The new coiffure was a touch severe when paired with Edith’s owlish spectacles, but it suited her businesslike demeanor perfectly. I’d complimented her on it when I’d entered the office that morning. She’d waved me off. “Copied from Anna May Wong. A new look for the new position. With my unfortunate forehead, I’m afraid the options are rather limited. Then I remembered how striking Miss Wong’s hair looked when she returned to the studio to make Dangerous to Know. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep it.”

I owed my presence at the infamous dinner party, along with a bounty of other opportunities, to my friendship with Edith. If she wanted to hear the story again, then she’d get the full roadshow rendition. My goal: uncork a spellbinder to make her set aside her sketch pad.

“The entire trip happened at the last minute. That’s how it is with Addison.” Meaning Addison Rice, the retired industrialist who had inexplicably seen fit to give me a job. “His wife Maude was about to sail for Europe with a companion, but the grim news from the Continent was giving her second thoughts. Addison decided to see her off in New York, and asked me to come along.”

“Because it’s your hometown,” Edith said.

“I think it was more he wanted company on the trip back. It was a whirlwind jaunt. We waved our handkerchiefs at the Queen Mary, leaving me enough time to race out to Flushing and visit my uncle Danny and aunt Joyce.”

“How are they?”

“Dying to meet you. I gave you some buildup. While we were in Gasparino’s Luncheonette, Addison ran into a familiar face on Fifth Avenue.”

“Albert Chaperau. The producer.”

“Who’d been haunting Addison’s parties, looking to meet people. So thrilled was he to see his bosom pal that he finagled us invites to a Park Avenue dinner. Instead of going to a picture at Radio City Music Hall, Addison and I turned up like foundlings at the home of a state supreme court justice.”

I described our hosts. Judge Edgar Lauer, a bluff man in his late sixties, wore the authoritative air of someone who handed down verdicts even when he wasn’t on the bench. His fiftyish wife Elma made a more vivid impression, thanks to the wardrobe she’d chosen for the occasion. “That gown,” I whispered, still thunderstruck lo these six weeks later.

Edith looked up from her sketch pad, but her pencil kept moving. I hadn’t won her over yet.

“Picture a floor-length sheath of white silk jersey,” I said. “With a gargantuan royal-blue bow covering most of the bodice. The points of which unfortunately emphasized Mrs. Lauer’s sagging jawline.”

“It sounds quite audacious.”

“That’s one word for it. It wasn’t designed for a matron entertaining at home. It was meant to be worn in some Parisian boîte by a woman half her age.”

“Someone like you?” Edith said with one of her patented closed-lipped smiles. “I don’t believe you ever told me what you wore that evening.”

“I made do.”

“With what, exactly?”

“You’ve seen the dress. Ice-blue satin with a square neckline and short matching jacket.”

“For a formal dinner?” Edith raised an eyebrow. Now I prayed she’d continue sketching, not wanting to earn her undivided attention this way.

“Didn’t I say it was a whirlwind jaunt? That was the best outfit I brought.”

“You are the social secretary for one of the most prominent men in Los Angeles, and you weren’t prepared for the possibility of a formal dinner? A floor-length dress, evening shoes, and a wrap would have taken the same amount of space.”

“Not the way I pack.” It didn’t seem the time to point out how far I’d come in the year since I’d been a failed actress turned shopgirl without a pair of evening shoes to my name. “It’s not as if Addison had a tuxedo. He wore blue serge!”

Edith closed her eyes with tremendous forbearance. “Go on.”

“The Lauers throw more sedate affairs than Addison’s. Their guests hail from politics, industry and the Social Register. Albert Chaperau was completely out of place. You’ve seen his picture in the newspapers? Heavyset fellow, head like a salt block? All these staid sorts and there’s Chaperau, filling the air with ideas like so many soap bubbles, not caring virtually all of them were destined to pop and leave only slickness behind.”

“A taste of Los Angeles,” Edith said.

“Truth be told, I enjoyed having him there for that very reason. He was just back from Europe and had a whole slate of projects he’d discussed abroad, including an American version of his film Mayerling.”

“I know it was a huge success, considering it’s in French,” Edith said. “But how does he propose to get that ending out of the Breen Office alive?”

“That was my first question. Actually, my first question was, ‘Can Charles Boyer star in it again?’ Chaperau said the murder-suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and his young love was a matter of Austrian history, and any American retelling would be true to the record.”

Edith clucked dubiously, just as I had.

“Dinner was served,” I went on, “the first course a deathly white cream of mushroom soup. I was seated next to Serge Rubinstein, a financier who’d cornered the market in coarseness. Addison mentioned he’d just sent his wife off on a tour of the Continent. Chaperau asked where she was visiting. ‘I wouldn’t put faith in maps much longer,’ he says. ‘Those poor souls in the Sudetenland didn’t think they were in Germany.’ Everyone at the table had recently been in Europe and had a dire report to contribute. Judge Lauer believed the Austrian Anschluss and the Sudeten crisis had only whetted Hitler’s aggression. Mrs. Lauer said their summer shopping had been spoiled by the mood of despair. All the while Addison is turning paler than his soup.”

“The poor man,” Edith said. “He must have thought he’d dispatched his wife into near-certain doom.”

“For his sake I wanted the war talk to stop, so I went to my can’t-miss subject. Who should play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind?

“Still stumping for Joan Bennett?”

“She’s only the perfect choice. Admit it. But sadly, no one took the bait, because Chaperau insisted on polishing his credentials. He announced he was recently named attaché for the government of Nicaragua. Which came as a surprise, because I thought he was French. Rubinstein asked what a banana republic needed with a picture maker, and Chaperau held forth on films as a universal export, shaping ideas around the globe. He claimed Hitler himself knew this, and it was why the exodus of talent from the UFA studios in Berlin distressed him. Then Judge Lauer weighed in. ‘Hitler’s a madman who must be stopped. We’re fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.’”

Edith made a quiet sound of satisfaction. Whether at the judge’s politics or her own still-in-progress sketch, I couldn’t tell. Time for bold methods. Time for me to act.

I stood and began staggering around the room. “Throughout the conversation, Rosa the maid had been refilling glasses. Now she stops and slams her tray onto the sideboard.” I performed the scene, reeling into Edith’s desk. My Rosa had a clubfoot, my hammy instincts getting the better of me. “Mrs. Lauer asked if she was all right. But Rosa, her face bright red, was not.” I gave my next words a Teutonic twist. “‘I am happy to work in your home, Mrs. Lauer. But first and foremost, I am a true German. I love Adolf Hitler. And I will not abide anyone speaking this way about the Führer. If these insults do not cease at once, I will stop serving. The choice is yours.’”

Edith finally put down her pencil and gaped at me. I had her captivated at last. Game, set, and match, Frost.

“It was so quiet after Rosa’s outburst, I was certain everyone in the dining room could hear my heart racing. Then Rubinstein asks, ‘Is Park Avenue part of the Sudetenland, too?’ Judge Lauer, an old hand at pronouncing sentences, stands up. ‘Then you may go at once, Rosa.’ The maid storms out one door, Mrs. Lauer scurries out another in tears. I went after her. She was still apologizing to me when Rosa appeared, wearing a coat as black as a nun’s habit. She looked at Mrs. Lauer and said, ‘Madam. There remains the matter of references.’”

Edith hooted with laughter. “Rosa certainly has her nerve. Marvelous accent, by the way. You sound like Marlene Dietrich.”

“Addison’s is even better. We’ve been telling this story a lot. Rosa’s request hit Mrs. Lauer like a bracer. She drew herself up and asked Rosa if her sister still worked as a retainer for the former Grand Duchess Marie of Russia. ‘Not only will I not provide you with a reference,’ she proclaimed, ‘but perhaps I will telephone the grand duchess and let her know what kind of blood runs in your family.’ To which Rosa replied, ‘Only good German blood, madam, something the grand duchess already knows. Much as you know there are telephone calls I, too, can make.’ With that, Rosa moved past us and out into the night. Mrs. Lauer and I linked arms and returned to our soup.”

“Remarkable,” Edith said. “But of course it wasn’t over.”

“Oh, no. Throwing Manhattan’s most awkward dinner party since the Gilded Age wasn’t enough. The next day, Addison and I belatedly made it to Radio City to see The Mad Miss Manton.”

“Ah, Stanwyck.” Edith sighed, with me happily taking a second chorus. Barbara Stanwyck was one of our favorite people.

“While the picture played, the Lauers’ world collapsed. Rosa Weber, freshly unemployed, marched into the U.S. Customs offices and spilled every bean in her possession. The Lauers, she told the authorities, were guilty of smuggling, along with Albert Chaperau. It seems Mrs. Lauer cleaned out various ateliers on her summer excursion to Paris. Chaperau then transported her purchases in his luggage, which bypassed customs inspection owing to his dubious diplomatic status as a representative of Nicaragua. Consequently, Mrs. Lauer avoided paying import duties on the clothes. A few days later, Albert Chaperau—right name Shapiro—was taken into custody at his suite at the Pierre. He was in white tie and tails at the time, having been at the Stork Club until four in the morning. I say if you have to be arrested, that’s the way to do it.”

Edith nodded in agreement.

“Customs men also raided the Lauers’ apartment, hauling cases of couture away. By then Addison and I were back in Los Angeles. A Customs agent, gruff man name of Higgins, drove out to ask us about the dinner party. He said last year the Lauers hadn’t declared a load of fancy clothes and jewelry, costing them more than ten thousand dollars in duties and fines. Agent Higgins made it clear the Customs Service was not in the second-chance business. He also said Mrs. Lauer had hied herself to a sanitarium. I felt for her. She didn’t strike me as particularly black-hearted or criminal. Just another rich woman insulated from the real world. Plus she agreed Joan Bennett would make a splendid Scarlett O’Hara.”

“I almost sympathize with Mrs. Lauer for going along with Mr. Chaperau’s proposal,” Edith said. “I had no idea I was supposed to pay import duties on the gowns I purchased when the studio sent me to Paris this summer. There I am on the dock, suddenly owing a fortune! A man from the New York office had to come down and set matters right. Mrs. Lauer’s outré dinner party gown had been smuggled in by Mr. Chaperau, I take it.”

“It’s now being held as evidence. Your turn to spin a yarn, Edith. What have you heard about Chaperau’s West Coast operations?”

“Only that he appears to have made his services available to at least one figure at Paramount. The place is in an uproar. An encore of your account of the dinner seemed in order.”

Typical Edith, gathering intelligence on behalf of the studio where she spent every waking moment. I pressed her for the suspect star’s name knowing she’d keep mum. Such was her loyalty. Were Paramount under siege, tiny Edith would hoist a pike and defend the Bronson Gate.

Bested, I asked, “What were you sketching away madly on?”

“Dorothy Lamour’s costumes for the new Jack Benny picture.”

“Speaking of Jack—”

Edith huffed out a sigh. “I haven’t forgotten my promise to get you into an early screening of Artists and Models Abroad.” In addition to starring my favorite comedian Jack Benny and my personal Scarlett O’Hara Joan Bennett, Artists and Models Abroad boasted a fashion show sequence already being touted in fan magazines: a parade of gowns from the finest designers in Paris. Schiaparelli and Lanvin, Maggy Rouff and Alix. I was champing at the bit for an advance look, and my eagerness undoubtedly chafed Edith given her costumes were being upstaged by the haute couture.

Edith’s receptionist knocked on the door. “Pardon me, Miss Head, your next appointment is here.”

Marlene Dietrich coasted into the office, crooked smile first. She wore a pale green daytime suit with a subtle checkered pattern and slightly flared skirt. The matching emerald veil on her low-crowned hat did extraordinary favors for eyes that required no help.

Edith and Dietrich embraced, the actress bending to kiss the diminutive designer on both cheeks. Edith introduced me, my knees knocking at the prospect that Dietrich had somehow heard my cut-rate imitation of her. “But Lillian and I have already met,” Dietrich said, her accent an ermine wrap around every syllable. I sounded nothing like her. “At a party hosted by your lovely employer Mr. Rice. Perhaps you remember?”

“How could I forget? You played the musical saw.” The image of Dietrich flicking her dress to one side, tucking the handle of the blade between those impossible legs, remained a high point of my Hollywood sojourn.

Dietrich crossed those legs now as she sat down and took immediate possession of the room. I rose, preparing to leave the ladies alone.

“Thank you for arranging this opportunity to consult with your esteemed guest,” Dietrich said.

I cocked an expectant eye toward the door only to discover that Dietrich gaze again aimed squarely at me. Apparently, I was the esteemed guest.

What had Edith walked me into?

Copyright © 2017 by Renee Patrick

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