Walk Me to Midnight – An Excerpt from Chapter One

“No one is staying at Fia-on-the-Tides,” the butler said as he guarded the door. “We receive at seven o’clock.”

Susan fumbled through her purse and pulled out the hand-written wedding invitation from Bitsy.

“This letter was written by Mistress Pruitt before she passed away,” the butler said. “It’s in regard to the wedding gala, not the funeral celebration.”

As he spoke, Susan noticed a commotion behind him in the marble hallway. Two footmen were escorting an excited man in his late fifties toward the door. The man was overweight but impeccably dressed in a black turtleneck under a white woolen suit. Susan recognized him immediately as Billy Carolina, one of America’s greatest living writers.

Billy Carolina was as small and round as an elf, with star lines around his bright blue eyes. He wore gold-rimmed glasses, and his blond hair spilled boyishly over his forehead. He was immaculate and stylish, yet somehow as wholesome as a Hummel figure. No more than sixty-four inches tall, with chubby childlike limbs, he had always lived an openly homosexual life decades before that had become stylish. He was as famous for his friendships with the glitterati as for his fiction, being a confidant of the British royal family—in particular, the late Princess—as well as many film stars and musicians. Now Billy was speaking softly but regally, in a unique, high-pitched voice with a lisping Southern accent punctuated with New Yorkisms.

“Just what do you think you are doing?” he scolded the servants. “You must learn to think through authority before you blindly follow like Nazis. I can recommend you both for the L.A.P.D.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carolina,” said the butler, “but we can’t admit anyone into the house until seven o’clock.”

“Don’t touch me. I can find the door. Are you being bounced too?”

Susan nodded at him in amazement as he maintained his dignity and formality under the circumstances. Now the two stood together in the elaborate stairwell, as the servants locked the door.

“You must be Dr. Susan Rutledge. Bitsy talked about you all the time. Her brilliant psychoanalyst from the Cherokee reservation. Don’t cry. Come on, we’ll share a suite at Abbey House—I’m already madly in love with you just from what Bitsy said. We’ll spend the weekend wishing we were the right genders. Don’t they teach you how to wear jewelry in New Mexico or wherever you’re from?”

Tucson, Arizona,” Susan supplied as Billy shortened the length of her bird-fetish necklace to align with the neckline of her coat.

“Let’s lose this scarf —you look all bundled up like Peter Rabbit with the croup. You must teach me how to put the Cherokee evil eye on them. Can we drape this fetish around a Cole family gargoyle?”

“It’s Zuni,” Susan said lamely, feeling the power of Carolina’s personality overwhelming hers.

Billy waved aristocratically to her driver to hold the limousine’s door open, and they settled in the back seat.

“Assisted suicide? No, it was murder of course,” Billy Carolina declared as he lit a brown cigarette held in a diamond and gold filter. “It was absolutely a murder and the police covered for little Pepper Pruitt and Doctor Dracula. I hate both of them.”

Susan looked at him in disbelief as he continued.

“Don’t you think I’d know a suicide from a murder? I’ve been through at least twenty suicides in the past year. Besides Bitsy would’ve called you and me.”

“I think she was trying to call me,” Susan said.

He patted Susan’s hand and gave her a monogrammed linen handkerchief for her tears.

“You still have emotions,” he observed. “I like that in a person.”

“It’s just that I loved Bitsy, and I thought if she were suicidal, she would have confided in me, and now I feel …”

“…slighted from the grave.”

“Exactly,” Susan agreed.

“Well, she didn’t slight you, she thought the world of you, and she wouldn’t have checked out without leaving us a forwarding address.”

“I was afraid I was being a narcissist thinking that.”

“They did her in and we both know it.”

“What about her will?” Susan asked.

“Forged.”

“The medical records?”

“Purchased.”

“The video?”

“Spliced.”

“The mask she put on her face?”

“Forced on her.”

“The police report?”

“Officialese.”

“How do we prove it? It’s the perfect crime.”

“There’s no such thing,” Billy asserted. “But they’ll get us first, that’s the only thing.”