A Mary MacDougall Mystery Duet by Richard Audry
The year is 1901 and Mary MacDougall has a rather improbable ambition—to become a consulting detective. With her nose in mystery novels and crime memoirs, 18-year-old Mary MacDougall dreams of bringing villains to justice—despite the disapproval of her wealthy father and almost everyone she knows. A Mary MacDougall Duet features the two cases that establish her as a force to be reckoned with.
In A Pretty Little Plot, Mary’s painting instructor, the darkly handsome Edmond Roy, is accused of kidnapping two of his own pupils. It falls to Mary to dig up the truth. Is Mr. Roy merely an innocent painter of landscapes and still lifes? Or a devilishly clever criminal? Should Mary defend him? Or fear him?
As she feels her way through her very first investigation, Mary not only learns the hidden facts of the case. She discovers the real secrets are those that she finds deep in her own heart. The spirited young heiress is not as immune to feelings of attraction as she thought. Mr. Roy has awakened a longing within her. Will she help to exonerate the man? Or condemn him to years in prison?
In the second novella, The Stolen Star, Mary is enjoying a holiday season full of activities—including the Gala Christmas Musicale, starring opera diva Josie Borrell. But when the celebrated sapphire that Josie wears for her performance goes missing, Mary is drawn into the hunt for the purloined gem.
Did a master thief swoop into town to nick the Star of the North? Was it the lovelorn maid? The manager with money troubles? The foul-tempered chef? The pianist with the scandalous past? Or was it the famous singer herself?
In the middle of all this tumult Mary has to cope with the unexpected appearance of the only man who has ever aroused her longing—and the lovely woman who seems to have captivated him.
As she unpeels the layers of deceit and duplicity behind the Star’s disappearance, Mary juggles affairs of the head and of the heart, driving her practically mad. In the end, the matter of the stolen Star comes down to the simplest of clues. While the matter of the man she loves couldn’t possibly be more complex.
Both Mary MacDougall novellas are also available separately as e-books.
About the Author:
D. R. Martin is a novelist who used to be a journalist and marketing-communications writer. He has published many hundreds of articles and reviews in magazines and newspapers, and written advertising and technical copy for scores of companies and non-profits. He was the science fiction/fantasy book reviewer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for many years. And he was a PR writer and script writer on the popular PBS TV show, Newton’s Apple. Lately, he’s devoted himself to writing fiction–from kids’ fantasy adventure (the Johnny Graphic series) to canine cozy mysteries (the King Harald series) and historical mystery/romances (the Mary MacDougall series). The latter two are written under his pen name, Richard Audry.
Excerpt from A Pretty Little Plot:
Mary and Mrs. Springer went into the dingy green interrogation room. It looked as if it had last been painted sometime back in the Grant administration. The floor was filthy. A white porcelain coffee cup with a crack in it rested on a battered square table. Brown stains caked the inside of it. There were two spindly chairs nearer to the door, and a single chair opposite.
The chair Mary sat down on swayed slightly and squeaked ominously. She hoped that it wouldn’t pitch her onto the floor in front of Mr. Roy. That was not the impression she wanted to present. Feeling fidgety, she took off her gloves, folding and unfolding them in her lap.
Mrs. Springer sat next to her and leaned toward Mary. “I won’t speak, Miss MacDougall. This is your show.”
A moment later, the door behind them creaked open and the guard brought Mr. Roy around the table. Mary looked up at him and smiled. In return, he appeared a bit baffled.
“Miss MacDougall, what on earth are you doing here?”
The doughy guard pushed him down into the chair, then stood off to the side.
“Mr. Roy, I apologize for this unexpected visit,” Mary replied. She hoped he wouldn’t notice the nervous tremor in her voice. “But I wanted to ask you a few questions about the day of your unfortunate luncheon with Harriet and Daisy.”
“But I was told I couldn’t have visitors. Are you supposed to be here? And who’s your friend?”
We’re not off to a good start, thought Mary. Mr. Roy didn’t seem very happy to see her. Mary had expected a warmer welcome. Maybe her visit wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“She’s my…legal advisor.” Mary looked at Mrs. Springer, whose face remained inscrutable. “But please, Mr. Roy, we’re wasting time. May I ask you a few questions?”
“But why?” Mr. Roy’s bafflement continued.
“I find it hard to believe that you would have involved yourself in a crime like this. But the police and the papers, it seems to me, have already convicted you. I think it may not be quite that simple.”
Mr. Roy had the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up and wore a very wrinkled pair of trousers. Obviously, they were what he had on when he had been taken into custody, and it looked as if he had slept in them. He was unshaven, leaving a shadowy, dark stubble on his face. His eyes were bloodshot, with circles below. His raven hair, normally well slicked back, was now a jumbled mess. But Mary noticed that even in his disheveled state, he appeared to be fit—well muscled, almost athletic.
The scent of his cologne had faded, replaced by something earthier. Oddly, Mary found it not unpleasant. He smelled very masculine, very natural.
Mr. Roy gave her a doubtful look. “You’re not playing at detective, are you, Miss MacDougall?”
Mary’s first instinct was to be offended. But, of course, he was right.
“What I’m playing at,” she said, trying not to sound miffed, “is something that might, with a bit of luck, help you. Would you rather I didn’t?”
“I just don’t want you to get into trouble on my account,” he answered wearily. “Evidently, I’m suspected of being a predator of rich, young women.”
“You’ve already wasted three minutes,” Mrs. Springer muttered in Mary’s ear. “Get on with it.”
Mary looked at her painting instructor. “Don’t you fret over me. But we need to hurry. First, tell me whose idea the luncheon was.”
He made a deep sigh. “Miss Crosby asked me and said that Miss Larkin would be coming. Otherwise, it might seem a bit improper. You know, the teacher and student alone in a restaurant.”
“I understand perfectly,” said Mary.
“And I got the impression that Miss Babcock had invited herself along,” he said. “I guess Miss Crosby didn’t mind, even though she was paying.”
“What did you talk about?”
“About painting and artists. About Vollard and acquiring a Cézanne for Miss Crosby’s mother. Would you believe it—Miss Crosby’s father puts no more thought into buying a Cézanne than you or I would put into buying an ordinary etching.”
Mr. Roy stopped and smiled, the first time he had during their visit. Mary felt good to see him relax—if even just a bit. It was a lovely smile, besides.
“Well,” he added, “I suppose you might not have any problem acquiring a Cézanne, either.”
She held her tongue, but again he was quite right.
“I told the ladies about my sojourn in France. And about how I was hoping to have a gallery show in a year or two.” His shoulders slumped, and he shook his head. “Now that doesn’t even sound possible. What a hellish mess I’ve gotten into.”
He looked so woebegone and defeated—compared to the confident, talkative painting teacher—that it almost broke Mary’s heart. But there were still more questions to be asked.
“Tell me, Mr. Roy, how did your dining companions act during your lunch?”
“Well, they all seemed in good spirits,” he answered. “Miss Crosby was unusually bubbly and full of questions for me. Miss Babcock waited for pauses in the conversation to share the latest gossip that she’d picked up. And Miss Larkin was every bit the flirt, as she usually is.”
He squirmed a bit in his chair, looking apologetic. “I don’t mean to sound critical of Miss Larkin. But it’s just in her nature to flatter her male companions. Though it does get tiresome at times, especially in the classroom.”
Despite her good looks and charming manner, Daisy’s coquettish behavior apparently had not had the effect on Mr. Roy that she intended. Mary was always pleased to encounter a gentleman who wasn’t taken in by feminine wiles.
“Mr. Roy, what do you know about the police case against you?” Mary was curious to find out if any new evidence had come to light.
“Well, apparently they are suspicious of a phone call I made in the school office before we all left. They think I was calling an accomplice. All I was doing was phoning my landlady to find out if an important letter I was expecting had arrived.”
“Can’t she confirm that?”
“No, unfortunately I didn’t get any answer. So I can’t prove that I called her.”
Bad luck, thought Mary. The landlady’s confirmation would have helped Mr. Roy. Mary made a mental note to ask Detective Opdahl if the telephone operator had been questioned. She might remember the call.
“Was there anything else that the police confronted you with?”
“I was told that the ransom note was on green paper with an unusual watermark. After they searched my apartment and my locker at the school, they found the same kind of stationery. It’s Dickson’s finest linen paper with a swan watermark. It’s one of my little indulgences—I love to buy expensive paper. But I think it would have been rather stupid of me to use it for a ransom note, don’t you?”
“Yes, quite stupid,” agreed Mary. But criminals often overlook the details that ultimately lead to their demise. Mr. Roy’s possession of the distinctive paper certainly bolstered the case against him.
“And then, there’s my older brother, Amos, who is well-acquainted with the police in Milwaukee and Chicago. He’s been a pain and burden for my parents, in and out of jail since he was young. I’m told that he’s wanted for a jewel robbery now, and is on the run.”
Mary looked at the guard standing off to the side, and wondered if Mr. Roy was spilling any beans that he shouldn’t. She hoped not. “They think the two of you might be in league?”
“So it would seem. To my regret, I was involved in one of his escapades when I was thirteen. So, I have a criminal record of my own.” He looked dispirited, making this confession. “I didn’t even know I was helping him commit a robbery. He just told me to wait for him at the entrance to the store.”
He rested his clasped hands on the table and stared at them. When he finally looked back up at Mary, she saw sheer frustration on his face.
“So, you see, presumably Amos and I cooked up this plan to grab Miss Crosby and Miss Larkin. As I sit in jail, he supposedly holds the two of them hostage. Truth is, I haven’t seen him in several years.”
“And that’s it?” Mary asked. “That’s all the police have told you?”
Mr. Roy’s body stiffened. “They also mentioned that they know I’m half Indian.”
Mary shook her head in disgust. “That’s just ludicrous. And totally irrelevant.”
“That’s reality, Miss MacDougall,” he said with resignation. “And besides, I have no alibi. I was walking downtown at the time of the kidnapping, but there’s no one who can vouch for me.”
Mary frowned. Things did not look good for the painting instructor.
Mrs. Springer nudged her again. Time was running out.
“One more thing, Mr. Roy,” Mary said, fixing her eyes on him. The question she was about to ask might reveal whether she herself would have been a kidnapping target. And she wanted to study his facial expression when he responded.
“Why did you ask me to join the four of you for lunch?”
The question apparently caught him off guard. He took a moment to answer. “Well, truth be told, I’ve always found your views on art well-informed. You never seem shy about expressing your opinions. I just thought it would be more enjoyable, having you along.” His gaze shifted downward, and Mary realized that her question had perhaps embarrassed him. For that, she truly felt sorry.
At that moment, the guard who had been standing to the side cleared his throat and tapped on his pocket watch. The interview was over.
Impulsively, Mary reached across the table and laid her hands over Mr. Roy’s, squeezing them hard. They were strong and a bit rough—probably from the turpentine and paints—and they felt very good. Mary’s heart raced and her cheeks suddenly flushed.
The painting instructor looked surprised, but not displeased.
“This nightmare will end,” Mary said. “Don’t worry.”
“Now, no touching!” the guard barked with a frown. “Let go there. This little party’s over. You’ve had your ten minutes.”
Pulling on her gloves, Mary got up to follow Mrs. Springer out of the dismal detention area. But she turned back to look at Mr. Roy, and their eyes met. She could see the fear behind his cheerless smile.
“Thank you for trying to help,” he said.
She simply nodded in return.
Out on the street Mrs. Springer turned to Mary. “Miss MacDougall, I’m not quite certain what your motive is as far as Mr. Roy’s case is concerned. That’s entirely your own affair. You seem to be a sensible girl with an observant eye and a logical mind. Maybe you can uncover some facts that will lead to his release.”
The lawyer then paused, as if to weigh her choice of words. “I would caution you, however, to keep your emotions in check. I’ve had years of experience dealing with criminal cases. And I’ve been amazed at how often guilty persons manage to generate unfounded sympathy for their plight.”
Mary was taken aback at the older woman’s words. Did Mrs. Springer sense a lack of honesty in Mr. Roy’s explanations? And did she feel that Mary had acted inappropriately in her parting words?
Mary tried to hide her discomfort. “I appreciate your advice, Mrs. Springer. Thank you for helping me to obtain this interview. I will most certainly remember my debt to you, should you ever need my help.”
The two women parted, and Mary strolled slowly down the sidewalk, turning Mrs. Springer’s words over in her mind. It had been foolish for Mary to grab Edmond Roy’s hands. But she hadn’t even given it a thought. It was almost like a pure reflex, something she couldn’t control.
Mrs. Springer was right about one thing, though. Mary had to understand why she was doing this. And now, having talked to Mr. Roy, she did. Finally.
Mary was convinced that the man was innocent—a victim of lies, circumstance, and his own blood. And as far as she was concerned, she would do everything within her power to free him.