Authors: Elizabeth Adler
A MESMERIZING STORY …
A BRILLIANT FABLE FOR OUR TIMES
“NOT TO BE MISSED!
… INTERESTING CHARACTERIZATION AND EXCITING PLOTLINES … A MODERN DETECTIVE STORY, A FAMILY HISTORY, AND A MURDER MYSTERY ALL AT ONCE … WORTHWHILE READING.”—
“TOLD WITH CHARM, WIT, WARMTH AND A GOOD DEAL OF RAW SUSPENSE … THE CLIMAX IS … SATISFYING … THE WAY THINGS
HAPPEN IN BIG, GLITZY NOVELS.”
… THE IDENTITY OF THE TRUE HEIR WILL LITERALLY TAUNT YOU UNTIL THE END.”
“ELIZABETH ADLER WEAVES THE SAGA AND MYSTERY GENRES TOGETHER … ELABORATELY PLOTTED … DAUNTLESS ENOUGH TO ENTERTAIN.”
Books by Elizabeth Adler
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
FORTUNE IS A WOMAN
LEGACY OF SECRETS
THE SECRET OF THE VILLA MIMOSA
NOW OR NEVER
SOONER OR LATER
Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
The morning sunshine lightened the valley from green to gold as Mike Preston strode impatiently into the kitchen and flipped the switch on the coffee machine. To tell the truth, he was bored with the view of the Santa Ynez mountains; he was a man who needed the relentless pace and aggression of New York to spur him on—and yet it was to escape that same frantic life-style that he’d sought solitude in California.
Mike’s talent as an investigative journalist had earned him a Pulitzer prize, seven years ago, for his daring expose of corruption in high places. It was a snarled tale of armaments deals and contract payoffs that had eventually led to the dismissal, in disgrace, of a well-known general and Korean War hero, and the resignation of two members of the President’s personal cabinet.
The book that had followed had swept him to fame and fortune, earning him far more money than he felt any man had the right to possess, and had opened up a whole new career as a guest lecturer in cities as far apart as Geneva in Switzerland and Stanford in California. It had also turned him into a reluctant television celebrity, and changed his life-style forever.
It wasn’t just that he could now afford a lavish apartment in Sutton Place that boasted oak paneling and its own library, as well as a view of the East River, or that he was on every New York hostess’s “A” party list, or that headwaiters in smart restaurants rushed to give him their most prominent table but, for a reason that still mystified him, fame seemed to have made him more attractive. Glossily beautiful women of the kind seen advertising perfumes on billboards, or pictured in
magazine displaying dresses by Calvin and Oscar and Bill, blackmailed their hostesses to allow them to sit next to him at dinner; they
stroked his arm and flashed him intimate glances as he sipped his wine, and they poured suggestions in his ear that would have shocked his aunt Martha back in Madison, Wisconsin.
If Mike couldn’t understand what women saw in him, Aunt Martha surely could. His features were rugged and his battered nose the legacy of a boyhood tennis smash that had gone wrong, but his deep-set eyes were the color of a winter-gray sea and his thick hair was short and usually rumpled because he had a habit of running his hands through it when he was concentrating. Mike thought he looked like a thirty-seven-year-old has-been prize-fighter, but Aunt Martha understood women; she knew it was the unexpected combination of his six-foot-five truck driver looks, and his cultured mind and sensitivity, that caused feminine hearts to turn somersaults. And now, of course, to that was added his international success. “Mike Preston” was a name that could open any door.
Mike had earned a reputation as a man who could see beyond the public facades of the high and the mighty, to the raw emotions that burned beneath, motivating them to acts of folly that eventually caused their downfall. His three best sellers were written with that extra element of suspense—a who-done-it angle that had made them popular, whether he was writing about the real-life career of an automotive giant, a corporate scandal, or a spectacular murder. However, it was two years since his last book was published and he’d promised himself that here, at last, in Santa Barbara, he’d come up with the idea for his next.
he’d been here for six weeks and the typewriter still had its cover on, the wastebasket remained empty and the floor unlittered with balled-up sheets of paper. He had fallen prey to the California sunshine, the blue skies—and the sunkissed blondes.
was still lying on the countertop, unread, and Mike carried it out onto the redwood deck. Propping his feet on the rail, he began to read the usual daily reportage of stalemate politics, global terrorism, murder, property and automobiles, fashion and food … a quick summary of disaster, conflict, and consumerism in thirty pages….
Flinging it to the ground, he stared down at it disgustedly … he’d promised himself he wouldn’t read a newspaper for two months, just so he could confirm his theory that when he did everything would be exactly the same … he wouldn’t have missed a thing. Or would he? He glanced again at the newspaper crumpled on the floor, his eyes drawn as though by a magnet to
the black-bordered advertisement in the lower right-hand corner. It stood out from the pages as though it were written in scarlet letters. It read
SEARCH FOR AN HEIRESS
AS ASSISTANT TO THE PROBATE COURT OF
IN THE ESTATE OF POPPY MALLORY
BORN JUNE 15, 1880, SANTA BARBARA,
DIED JUNE 15, 1957, IN THE VENETO, ITALY,
I AM SEARCHING FOR A DAUGHTER, OR IF
THEN HER ISSUE.
PLEASE ADDRESS INFORMATION TO ADVOCATE JOHANNES LIEBER, 14, RUE GARONNE, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, OR TELEPHONE GENEVA 73-63-03
Mike forgot all about the coffee perking in the kitchen, he forgot the blue skies and the blondes and the temptingly slothful California sunshine. He knew a hook for a story when he saw one—and this was too good to miss. Poppy Mallory’s name seemed to breathe mystery and intrigue. He could only imagine the dozens—maybe hundreds—of hopeful people who would reply to that ad.
He stared out to sea, trying to figure out a reason why Poppy Mallory, a woman born here in this very county, had died alone in Italy, so far from her home. Why had her daughter not come forward to claim her inheritance in all those years? And if, as was possible, the daughter was now dead, then who would be the heir or heiress? There was just one place to find out. Checking his watch, he reckoned it would be four-thirty in the afternoon in Europe. Picking up the telephone he dialed the number of Advocate Johannes Lieber in Geneva.
Mr. Lieber was obviously an important lawyer—it took three messages via his secretary to convince him to take his call, and only then because Mike had emphasized his familiar name.
“Mike Preston? The author of
I admire your work very much, sir,” Lieber greeted him. “It was one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I’ve ever seen. Of
course, we are all suspicious of corporate takeovers where people are making fortunes trading the market on insider information, but it took someone like you to bring it out into the open—and to name the culprits. I congratulate you, sir, on your courage in taking on the establishment—and in winning.”
Mike smiled. “Well, thanks, Mr. Lieber. I’m always glad to meet a fan. But I’m calling you in the hope of a little insider information myself. About Poppy Mallory.”
“Are you a relative then? Or maybe you have some new information?” Lieber was suddenly businesslike.
“No, sir. I’m just a writer on the scent of a good story. I was wondering if you could tell me who Poppy Mallory was, and how much her estate is worth?”
There was a long silence and then Lieber said, “I’m not sure of the ethics of this conversation, Mr. Preston. I must think of my client.”
Mike ran his hand through his hair impatiently. “Since you haven’t got an heir, do you in fact have a client yet?—sir,” he added appeasingly. “You just said how good a job you thought I’d done on
Well, maybe I could do the same sort of job for you—with Poppy Mallory. After all, you could say I’m your man on the spot—I’m right here in Santa Barbara, where it all began. We could help each other. I follow up the Poppy Mallory story for you, and if I find your missing heir—or heiress—I get to write the book. If I don’t succeed—or if the missing heir turns up anyway and there is no real mystery—then no book. What do you say?”
“We-ll.” Lieber’s voice sounded cautious and Mike frowned. He suddenly wanted this story more than he’d wanted anything in years. He had to find out about Poppy Mallory, his instincts were telling him there was something more than a missing heiress, there was something special about this woman.
“I can tell you that the Mallory estate is considerable,” said Lieber, “yes, considerable … around five, six hundred—”
“Oh, millions, my dear man,
Maybe even more, when we are finally able to assess it all.”
Mike whistled softly. “Then I guess you’re gonna have a fight on your hands. You’ll be inundated with claims from every con man or woman who sees a quick way to a fortune.”
Lieber sighed heavily. “That presents a problem, of course, but we are still hoping to find Madame Mallory’s daughter alive.
The ‘Madame’ is a courtesy title, you understand. Poppy Mallory was never, to our knowledge, married.”
“Okay,” said Mike. “And if the ‘heiress’ is dead? Then who is in line for the millions?”
“Who indeed?” asked Lieber with a chuckle. “If anyone.”
There was a short silence and then Lieber said: “I’m going to trust you, Mr. Preston, because I believe you can be helpful. I would appreciate your assistance—even though it is unorthodox. But then this is a very unorthodox case. Madame Mallory’s will only came to light because of the question of the title to a parcel of real estate in Beverly Hills. She died at her home, the Villa Castelletto near Verona in Italy. She had lived alone for many years. Apparently she entertained no one—and had not a single friend. Apart from that, no one in the area seems to remember anything about her. The first my office knew of Poppy was when we were contacted by California lawyers whose clients wished to purchase a Beverly Hills property, apparently owned by her. Poppy’s will had been prepared by a local country lawyer; he was an old man himself and neglectful. The estate just moldered on and eventually the old lawyer died too and his business was taken over by another, who later moved to Milan, taking all the old files with him. The Milan office became successful in dealing with international law and eventually, in 1968, merged with ours. When the question of the title to the property arose, a search through our archives revealed an unwitnessed will—and the mystery. As it was unwitnessed, the will was never probated and it can only be taken as an indication of who Poppy’s heir, or heirs, might be. And that’s why we are in the position we now find ourselves. It’s up to us to find her true heir. So,” he concluded briskly, “Poppy remains an enigma.”
“I assume you ran this ad internationally,” Mike said quickly. “Can you tell me what response you’ve had to it so far?”
Lieber laughed. “Let’s just say, you are not
“Thanks, Mr. Lieber.” Mike was already riffling through the pages of the Santa Barbara telephone book and finding nothing under the name
“I appreciate your cooperation. Do you think you could fax me a list of all the claimants so far? I promise I’ll guard it with my life,” he added jokingly.
As he put down the phone he knew exactly where he was heading next.