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Authors: Howard Engel

Murder on Location

BOOK: Murder on Location
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PENGUIN CANADA

MURDER ON LOCATION

HOWARD ENGEL
is the creator of the enduring and beloved detective Benny Cooperman, who, through his appearance in twelve best-selling novels, has become an internationally recognized fictional sleuth. Two of Engel's novels have been adapted for TV movies, and his books have been translated into several languages. He is the winner of numerous awards, including the 2005 Writers' Trust of Canada Matt Cohen Award, the 1990 Harbourfront Festival Prize for Canadian Literature and an Arthur Ellis Award for crime fiction. Howard Engel lives in Toronto.

Also in the Benny Cooperman series

The Suicide Murders

Murder Sees the Light

The Ransom Game

A City Called July

A Victim Must Be Found

Dead and Buried

There Was An Old Woman

Getting Away with Murder

The Cooperman Variations

Memory Book

East of Suez

Also by Howard Engel

Murder in Montparnasse

Mr. Doyle & Dr. Bell

HOWARD ENGEL

A BENNY COOPERMAN MYSTERY

PENGUIN CANADA

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Published in Penguin Canada paperback by Penguin Group (Canada), a division of Pearson Canada Inc., 1986

First published in Canada by Clarke Irwin & Company Ltd., 1982

First published in the United States of America by St. Martin's Press, 1985

Published in this edition, 2008

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)

Copyright © Howard Engel, 1982

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Manufactured in Canada.

ISBN-13: 978-0-14-316755-6

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication data available upon request to the publisher.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Visit the Penguin Group (Canada) website at
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or call 1-800-810-3104, ext. 477 or 474

For William and Charlotte

and in memory of

Ted Adams and Prynce Nesbitt

ONE

I was sitting in the lobby of the Tudor Hotel in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of the river, looking at the back section of the
Star-Enterprise
and glancing up from time to time to catch who was coming in and going out the revolving front door. Perched behind a potted palm I felt like a hotel dick as I read for the sixth time about local births and deaths. When I ran out of cigarettes, I bought a pack in the smoke shop just a couple of doors away, and was back at my post before my quarry could have come and gone more than a dozen times. Private investigation is an imperfect craft and my methods are hit and miss. It's doggedness that pays off in the end.

The lobby was more crowded than usual that evening: couples checking in, noisy groups going up to the top-floor bar or to the convention rooms. A uniformed policeman stood chatting with the bell captain. Some of the movie people had started to arrive, so there was more than the usual amount of bustle on the part of the staff. Those who weren't staying at Butler's Barracks—the local, unofficial name for the posh Colonel John Butler Hotel—were booked here at the Tudor. The Colonel John was bigger, running for most of a block across the river,
but the Tudor was more exclusive. I wondered how David Hayes had managed to afford the Tudor. Maybe he'd landed that big movie job he'd set out to get a week ago.

I was chewing on that when the light of the lobby chandelier was cut off by a body getting in the way. For a minute I thought it would go away, so I didn't look up. When it wouldn't move on, I guessed it was looking at me.

“Well, if it isn't Benny Cooperman, my favourite private eye. How's it going, Benny? You making a buck?” It was Wally Skeat from the Falls TV station. He used to be a disc jockey in Grantham before he got fired, and now he was a working journalist, a card-carrying member of the press. I'd seen him reading the evening news.

“Hi, Wally. You hustling too?” He tried on a tortured smile to show how I misjudged him, pulled over a high-backed chair with dark corkscrew legs and settled down opposite me. I could still see the door over his shoulder.

“This is the big time, Benny. Are you trying to land a part in the movie?”

“You know better than that. I do all my play-acting looking for strayed or stolen spouses.”

“Come on. I remember you were in Ned Evans'
A Midsummer Night's Dream
in Montecello Park last summer.

“Yeah, my Starveling really stole the show.”

“Never mind,” he said letting his bass notes tumble down to the rug and roll around heavily. “Experience is experience. Don't knock it. And from what I hear,
Ice Bridge
is going to be a great flick. Remember where you heard it first. It's got everything going for it: there are stars like Dawson Williams and Peggy O'Toole, the director's James A. Sayre, and the local boy himself, Neil Furlong, working on the script. Now is that a winner or is that a winner?” For a second, I thought I heard some treble notes sneaking into his voice, but I don't think Wally'd heard about treble. “And,” he continued, “it'll all be photographed against the background of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It can't miss. Nothing since Marilyn Monroe made
Niagara
in the 1950s can touch it. I hear it's got a budget big enough for two pictures. That's a lot of chips and gravy, Benny.” Wally stopped to breathe at last.

“How long will they be here?”

“Three weeks on the nose. Every minute planned. The stars have started arriving. Miranda Pride is here. She was a star when they were still cutting them out of pure gold. And Dawson Williams. Damn it all, it's exciting. And all happening right here.” He sat with a smile on his shining moon-face, probably thinking of Williams as Robin Hood back in the fifties. I was. Then he leaned over, shortening the gap between us. “Look, Benny, are you looking for a part? There are extras to be picked locally, and a few bits with lines. Say the word and I'll talk
to Ed Noonan, the local casting director. I'm serious, Benny. You know, for you, it's up to here.” He made a chop at his left arm with the edge of his right hand.

“You ever hear of a Grantham girl named Billie Mason? She might be trying to get a part.”

“Her and a thousand others. Why, even Ned and his gang from Grantham are here staying at the Clifford Arms, that old firetrap. Noonan's a hard guy to see, Benny, but just say the word, just say the word.” In another minute, after reciting the names of other actors who were coming out from Hollywood to be in
Ice Bridge
, he took his leave to go back to work. Wally worked in the Pagoda, the newest of the tourist towers overlooking the falls. The TV station rented studio space near the top, and a revolving restaurant turned once an hour just above Wally's newscast.

I should explain my interest in being at the Falls was only indirectly connected with the movie. Wally was right. I'd been a pretty good Starveling in
The Dream
, but it was bread and butter that brought me from my Grantham office to Niagara Falls this frosty first Monday of the year. It was then about eleven at night. Nine hours earlier, I'd been sitting in my office on St. Andrew Street wondering where I was going to get half a big one to renew my licence, when in walks a living, breathing client, with slip-on rubbers and an astrakhan collar on his coat. He was a man of forty with a solid, tanned face topped with short, greying hair that looked like you could scour
pots and pans with it. Solid was the word for the rest of him too, except for his belly, which pushed the front of his coat through the door ahead of him. He held in his hand one of those furry fedoras that look like the offspring of private doings on a crowded hat shelf in the dark. His yellow eyes were worried and gave the lie to the smile pencilled in with no great conviction.

We fooled around sparring for a few minutes, then I began to find out why he'd dropped in. His name was Lowell Mason, he ran a real-estate organization on King Street, and his wife, Billie, had gone missing just after Christmas with no warning. After giving me the life story of both of them, and a quarterly report on his business, he showed me an eight-by-ten picture of a good-looking woman in her mid-thirties with ash-blonde hair.

“What are you most afraid of?” I finally asked him.

“To tell you the truth,” he said to the coat rack, “I think she's been murdered.”

“Murdered” was not a word I heard across my desk every day, and it took a minute to develop and print it. “That's serious stuff, Mr. Mason. Who would want to kill your wife?”

He shook his head helplessly. All I could come back with was the usual drill about how few people get murdered. I was sure that she would be found in one piece. Then I told him that it sounded like a missing-person job and that the police were still front-runners in that market.

BOOK: Murder on Location
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