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ann z. leventhal

violet's mystery

This is the year a thirty-eight-year-old widow named Violet Kaufman will show up on Martha's Vineyard. But not yet. In April, dressed in matching olive-colored boots and camouflage suits, Tom Mayhew and his son T.J. are still shooting rabbits on land dotted with NO HUNTING signs. In May, the Woods Hole Ferry disgorges the first off-islanders. Mostly homeowners, the migrants cluck at the locals and inquire after their broods while the year-rounders watch the summer-folk for houses that needed cleaning, babies that need sitting, any other chance to make a dollar.

Occasionals start appearing in June. And on the July fourth weekend flocks of day-trippers invade the Vineyard and temporarily disappear. "A nuisance, they ought to be banned," says Ben Katz at the Menemsha Store.

Barbara Mayhew counts on day-trippers to buy sodas, snacks, sun screen, T-shirts. Bad enough they passed this new ordinance says ferry reservations for cars have to be made in advance. She jabs a New York Times at Katz and checks him off her list, winking at Vernon Jordan.

As big a deal as he is in Washington, Vernon once told one of Barbara's customers who wanted a zoning variance that he didn't mess with Vineyard politics for three reasons. One, Vernon was on vacation. Two, he'd probably get his butt kicked. And three, he thought the resident infrastructure was doing a great job without his interference. "So, Ben, you going to ban all of them?" Vernon asks now.

"Why not?" Ben's into it, his jowls trembling. "Work it through the Steam-ship Company. Tickets have to be dated. Only home owners allowed on and off for less than a week." Formerly at Harvard, Ben's field is International Law.

Doesn't know shit about business, Barbara thinks. She and Tom have at most four months to earn their year's living, but then, what's Professor Katz care? His wife is loaded. Guy never had to earn a dime. And now he's retired, he has nothing better to do.

So, next thing anyone knows, Katz is introducing to the Martha's Vineyard Commission an ordinance outlawing day-trips. And instead of throwing it out, the Commission tables Ben's motion. A Steamship Company director warns The Vineyard Gazette that, if adopted, they will have to triple the fares.

Somebody ought to fix Ben Katz, Barbara Mayhew decides. "God damn that Professor," prays Tom. "Amen," adds T.J. who needs to pay off his college loans.

So what's this got to do with Violet Kaufman, a self-made art object and interior decorator? She has no idea she'll be this particular story's heroine. Violet just assumes that how much she accomplishes in her month on Martha's Vineyard will depend on whether she can find a hunky landscape gardener willing to cooperate.

Thus, on August first, a gray day, the ferry releases a record number of summer visitors, and Violet Kaufman finally makes her entrance on the Vineyard wearing her silk safari suit and Bruno Magli camel colored (same shade as her hair) espadrilles with gold tone studding. Ignorant of Katz's ordinance and its opponents, she eases her rented Voyager down the ramp. It clunks onto the pier. Like driving in bloody India, Violet thinks, people swarming all around her minivan. Out in the street, a policeman in khaki shorts shrills his whistle while arcing an arm, as if the drivers he is frantically urging on can do more than inch.

Edging forward, Violet consults her directions. She spent her married Augusts on Fire Island. But reminders of her husband, plus her AIDS losses, turned the place into a grief-a-thon, and no way is Violet a devotee of wallowing. East Hampton offered her clients with vacation houses and, (ex the out-sized waves at the actual shore) civilized rusticity cum antiquing. At least for a while. After three years of beach bums interested in checking out chick action not life-saving, Violet is ready for a change of scene. Hence the Vineyard. See what all the hype is about. She is good at finding her way. Violet made the Realtor mail her a key. None of this under the doormat crap.

Outside of town, she speeds up to thirty. Positively racing. Violet douses the a.c., cranks down a window. Nothing around but trees, the air doing that hissing that passes for silence in the sticks. In the middle of nowhere, the Up Island Market. Violet stops for bread, diet tonic, limes, pistachios. She already has her other essentials -- vodka, beer, bubbly. She needs only buddies and an occasion. Violet sees no party potential in this food museum. She drives on.

In Chilmark, she turns left at the blue mailboxes, and lurches down and up and around the dirt track her directions call a road. Out of a gigantic dustball, a Jeep appears. Violet freezes. He (a guy with white hair) backs up and pulls over. Waving thanks, Vi heads into his dust, and arrives, over a mile from the county highway, at the house she has rented. A gray shingled stuck together, all very New England. No visible neighbors. Worse outside than in.


Next day, trying to figure out the rhythm of Martha's Vineyard, Violet enters the Menemsha Store. Packed. She's hemmed in by Triskets, English Muffins, Saul Bellow in a Speedo. No one appears to notice him. Or else they actually have no idea who he is. "Hey Mr. Bellow," Violet says, "how you doing?"

He glares at her and veers away.

Okay, so Violet isn't going to hobnob with a Nobelist. Who then? She gets herself on the Times list, and asks Barbara Mayhew if after closing she wants to come over for a cookout. Violet says Barbara can bring someone.

"After work, Tom and I are real tired." Wearing a plaid shirt, jeans, and warped rubber-soled moccasins, Barbara gives this barefoot kook in her merry widow and petticoat a frank I thought I'd seen everything, but I don't know what to make of you look.

"No problem." Hell, Violet doesn't quite know what to make of herself now she's in transition. "Come and go whenever you want."

"Tom and I eat late, then go to sleep."

"I'll have everything ready." Accustomed to Fire Island's flashy nights and noon wakeups, and to Hampton chic, Violet finds herself in a place where last night by ten, the only visible lights were on poles next to the road, and early this morning a group straggled to the beach outside her bedroom window. Scratched awake by their voices, Violet lay in bed, solo. "Nine-thirty, ten. You name it," she tells the store lady

"You want us to bring something?" Tired of making up excuses, Barbara figures this nutty but intriguing invitation has to be about free groceries.


But it isn't. Violet Kaufman really lays it on for the Mayhews. Lobsters. Sweet corn.

"Hell of a cookout." In Tom's fist, a Heineken can looks like a shot glass.

"Didn't know this place had a piano." Barbara sets her glass on the coffee-table, and hovers in front of the upright.

Violet, who can't find coasters, slides a saucer under Barbara's glass.

"Our first time inside this house." Tom eyes the cornflowers and asters and zinnias and snapdragons plunked just about everywhere.

"There's only so much you can do with a rental," says Violet.

"I'm real familiar with the land."

"How's that?" Violet faces the picture window where the three of them float on darkness, Tom in clean khakis, Barbara in pastels, Violet in her Donna Karan cat-suit. She flops down on the sofa.

"Me and T.J., we shot many a bunny out there near that deck," Tom says.

"Who's T.J.?"

"Our boy." Barbara drops her fingers and strikes a chord.

"Married?" Violet asks.


"Old enough for me?"

Barbara looks up. "At twenty? Anyway, how old are you?"

"Thirty-three." Still not too old to have a baby. "Know any likelies? I'm not looking for commitment."

"Chilmark's lousy for man-hunting. You'd do better down island." Barbara plays the one piece she knows by heart, Onward Christian Soldiers.

"Great." Violet hoists herself up. "Revival time." She heads for the john and when she gets back, Barbara is playing the Strauss waltzes from inside the piano bench. And, beer in hand, Tom is dancing. So Violet, who thinks these guys are after all a hoot, pours herself a nightcap, does a little parallel waltzing, and listens to Tom and Barbara curse Professor Benjamin Katz.

Later, the Mayhews offer to help clean up, but Violet shoos them out. She loves restoring order. When she turns out all but the hall light, the dishwasher's swish and click remind her that for a while she was not alone. Only now there is again darkness, and sea clatter, rock on rock, water on water, sorrow on sorrow. She takes a pill, but only Dramamine. Violet saves the Xanax.

Next morning, she stares through her glass doors at a little ratty grass and a lot of what looks like weak Vichyssoise. So much for the beach.


Edgartown's Harborside Inn is a dark gin mill where preppy lushes stop talking the second she enters. "This the action?" Outside the picture window, empty sailboats waggle at the dock.

"Pretty much." The studly barkeep shrugs.

In Oakbluffs, the genteel blacks, salt water taffy, and Victorian funk scream Modern Maturity. Vineyardhaven has a synagogue and a shoe store that sells Hush Puppies. And this is the hopping down-island scene. Back in Chilmark, Violet turns onto the long dirt track that jerks her and her Voyager into its depressions, slams them into its submerged rocks, stops in front of the walled lawn, the weathered gray shingles, and the fogged vista she has shelled out eight thou to inhabit.


Next day, there is sun. Roused by kiddy voices, Violet lunges out of bed and into her rose-pink Gottex swimsuit with its matching sarong. She slathers herself with S.P.F. 45, wraps her head in a pink scarf, tops that with a pink straw hat, thrusts her feet into pink flip-flops (bankrupt or not, that fucking Barney's has real nerve charging two and a quarter for plastic beach shoes), and heads for the sea which is at last visible.

One good thing, she'll be a role model. Martha's Vineyard needs fashion Violet thinks as, a mug of triple strength coffee in hand, she picks her way along a skinny path through tick-laden poison ivy. Her destination is after all called Stonewall Beach. So that means the track ends with her slip-sliding over rocks, splashing coffee over her hand. To get to what?

Violet scopes out the scene. There's Bellow again, standing with a girl in a bikini -- his daughter? -- and an old guy who slings his arm around the kid's bare waist. Bellow veers angrily away, instantly trailed by the girl who grabs his hand and wriggles against his arm. Evidently not a daughter. Now the groper is heading for Violet who can either wait for him, or quick go sit somewhere.

A flamingo in the midst of sparrows, no way does she belong with the not as young as young mothers used to be, this particular bevy wearing faded Land's End bathing suits. That too smart to care style affronts Violet. And not one of the scattered males, -- bellied or stringy grandfathers, or else heavy-hitter dads on second or third mates -- is doing anything to make himself attractive. Violet eyes Bellow's fellow reject, a geeze with saggy nipples and a white buzz cut. The Jeep driver.

"You just get here?" His eyes slide down her face and into her cleavage.


"How long you staying?"

"Rest of the month, if I can stand it."

"Which house?"

"That one." Violet waves back and sees he's impressed. Beachfront.

"And you are?" The dude's eyes slam into hers.

"Violet Kaufman."

"Ben Katz."

Ah. Violet studies the underslung eyes and corrugated forehead. "The Professor." The hand he thrusts around hers, lingers.

"So you've heard of me." The light in his eyes flares.

"You want to ban day trips." Violet yanks her fingers out of his soft clasp.

"And how about you? What's your line?"

"I'm a writer," says Violet since decorator sounds too East Hampton.

"What sort of writing do you do?"

"A journal called Sex for the Savvy Single." Her diary.

"Composed, I presume, from experience." Katz's jowls actually vibrate.

"You could say that."

"Married, then?" He is slinking his arm around her shoulders.

"Not at the moment." Never mind what happened to her husband. Violet asks this scuzz who, for all his pawing, looks as if a steaming mug of Metamucil is as close as he gets to a hot time, "What do folks do in Chilmark for fun?"

"As a matter of fact..." Ben Katz is so near that Violet smells his Noxema. "...there's a party scheduled for tonight."

And? Violet waits, but instead of inviting her, Katz steps back, dropping his arm. "Happy," he says. "I was just talking about you."

Violet turns and confronts a raven. And with what a wing span! For a moment, she blocks out the sun. Violet shivers.

"This is my wife," Katz says.

Happy Katz, Queen of the Night. "Violet Kaufman." Violet extends her hand.

"Yes well." Mrs. Katz flicks Violet's fingers. "It's time for lunch, Ben." Turning to Violet, Happy draws her lips up under her extensively overhanging nose, a movement that could either be a grin, or a grimace. "We're having people over."

And? Again Violet expects to be invited.

"Sorry," says Professor Katz, "didn't realize it had gotten so late."

"You so often lose track of time when you're busy making it." There is now no misinterpreting Happy's expression.

Violet waits for them to get well ahead of her before she clambers over the rocks. A black and white TV, and her bottle of vodka wait in the house. Maybe she'll go down-island, pick up some coasters. Or pack up and go back to the city. Cut your losses, Violet hears her husband advising. Day five


August seventh is T.J.'s birthday, and this year he's twenty-one. So height of the season or no, Tom and Barbara pretty well have to have some kind of party. They have to pay Violet back for dinner. And since T.J. is dating Mayzelle Luyten, Barbara also invites her mom and dad. Course only Randall Luyten shows up. His Mrs. never goes anywhere. Word has it she drinks. Barbara hopes T.J. knows what he's getting into if he does marry Mayzelle. She wishes she'd warned poor Violet, Randall was married.

But it is kind of funny watching a woman who wears underwear to do her shopping, go after him, Violet flopping braless in a yellow T-shirt that leaves her thighs showing. "You a real Wampanoag?" She leans right into Randall, sucking at her Jello mold all sexy-like.

"Yeah." Randall's count-me-out look gives Barbara the giggles. The only one in the room drinking lemonade, not beer, the half Portuguese half Indian Randall, owner of all Gayhead but the reservation, acts one hundred percent Puritan.

"Was there really a Queequeg?" Violet is asking.

Barbara has no idea who that could be, but Randall astonishes her.

"Not sure," he says, "but there was definitely a Tashtego."

"And you're his descendant." Apparently Violet ran across this relative of Randall's.

"If you go back far enough, all us Gayhead Indians are kin."

"Like the rest of us, victims of the great white whale," whom Violet considers a death symbol.

"Could say that."

You just never know, Barbara marvels. "What's that on you?" She leans back to make out the black letters on Violet's shirt. "Donkey?" Violet is full of surprises. If anyone could push Randall off the straight and narrow, it'd be her.

"No. DKNY stands for Donna Karan New York. She's a designer."

"Shows how fashionable I am." Barbara pads into the dining room to fill her plate. Nothing fancy. Ham. Rabbit stew. Baked beans. Potato salad. Lime Jello with fruit cocktail in it the way T.J. likes. He and the other young people have taken their supper outside to the picnic table. Barbara joins her generation in the living room. "Move over, Randall." She squeezes in on the sectional and can't help noticing, it's like scrooching next to a boulder.

Only this boulder's complaining. "I can't believe the council's even considering it." No one would guess that, in his jeans and workshirt, Randall owns property brings in around a quarter million a year.

"They're set to vote next Wednesday." Tom pops a Bud and hands it to his wife.

"Right," Randall says. "Commission probably going to kill us out in Gayhead. Like always."

"Here, let me take your plate, " Violet says, "or would you like something more?"

Randall's head-shake says no to more than a refill.

"Didn't your Mrs. used to be on the Commission, Randall?" Barbara asks, by way of a warning to Violet who doesn't seem to be getting that the guy's hitched. "What's she have to say about it?" Rock of Gibraltar be more likely than Randall to go for a fling.

"I don't know." Even talking, he doesn't hardly move. It's a wonder Randall had even the one child, assuming Little Mayzelle really is his. "Big May and Vernon Jordan cooking up some kind of silent protest," he says.

"The Vernon Jordan?" Violet pauses on her way into the kitchen with the plates.

"Vi here knows everybody," Barbara says.

"Not everybody. But I did run into your Professor Katz yesterday."

"The Vernon thinks Ben's proposal has racist undertones," Barbara says.

"Vernon thinks everything has racist undertones," Tom says.

"Everything does," says Randall Luyten.

"If they did vote it in, which they won't," Barbara says, "I don't think they'd have the legal authority to keep American citizens from coming over here for as little or as long as they want. The Steamship Company's private."

"That ain't what Katz says, and he teaches law," Tom reminds her.

"Taught," Barbara says, "Ben's retired."

"Not yet he hasn't," Randall says. "Not fully."


If only Violet had gone straight home after the cake and ice cream, she could later have given Tom and Barbara and Randall their alibi. When she left, they were still there. But T.J. and Mayzelle and their friends were going dancing down in Oakbluffs and they said it would be great if Violet came along. She could take her own car, and that way no one would have to stick around if they didn't want to. Lots of people, T. J. and Mayzelle assured Violet, showed up at the disco without dates. Ever the optimist, Violet never asked how old these dateless hordes were.

Twenty-five tops. And almost all of them female. So after making a fool of herself dancing solo to "Dirty Deeds and They're Done Dirt Cheap," and telling a kid who looked maybe sixteen that she was sorry, she couldn't stay and dance with him because she had an early wake-up, Violet took off for Chilmark. Which gave everyone plenty of time.


Even after dancing, Violet felt stuffed. Bloated. No wonder Tom and Barbara are so beefy, she thinks, eating like that. If she keeps this up, she'll be a fatso too. Violet should never have committed to a place where she didn't know anyone. She should never have started out without a game plan.

On the other hand, here she is, taking a deep drag of grassy salt air. And not knowing anyone means Violet can be whoever she feels like. No game plan means making one up as she goes. She imagines gorgeous hikes, shopping for chatzkeys, enrolling in the writing class advertised on the Menemsha store bulletin, turning her journal into a best seller. Violet might still meet a good guy. And if not, she can import friends who would kill for a free week on the Vineyard. She pulls up to her garage, hoists herself out of the van.

Something, not moonlight, makes Violet look up. This place does have the most gorgeous stars, the big dipper distinct against a blackness unadulterated by neon, the milky way a galactic river. Staring up into the immense splendor as she crosses the walled lawn, a thrilled Violet trips, stumbling against a mass. And this pressure, the top of her foot wedged for an instant, the feel of that other body absorbed into her flesh before she catches herself -- Violet could have landed on it, all of her tainted by the sensation in her instep -- that sensation stays with her and makes her stand swaying, clutching her elbows.

Whoever it is, is as cool as gelatin. And not moving. When Violet brings herself to turn around and look, she sees it is someone face down in a dark shirt and dark pants. The back of his head is dark, the air violent with the odor of blood. In most stories, Violet would throw up, but in this one, waves jolt her, not nausea. The place where her instep touched him. The stink. The hole in him all dark. If she does not hold on, she will disintegrate. She will pass out. Violet thinks maybe she should roll him over, try c.p.r., not just stand here, davenning.

And in a while she does move, not toward the body, but toward the house, the phone. Police.


Ben Katz's murder presents Violet with a choice. She can sit around wondering what the fuck about her attracts death. Or she can get to work. Violet knows all about open investigations, the robber who killed her husband in the jewelry store still at large. And now this mess right outside the place where she is living.

The first call, from CNN comes in at four in the morning (How did they get the number?). By ten, Chilmark's Chief of Police has ushered in a gaggle of reporters. Now, with cameramen and paparazzi, they mill around taking photos of the area marked off by yellow police tape that flutters from the stone wall to the house, and from the garage to the wall. To get where she needs to be, Violet leaves by the deck, and walks around the house.

She is engulfed, microphones thrust at her like porcupine quills.

"If you want me to talk to you, you'll have to move back." Wearing the Emanuel Ungaro she has been saving for special, -- black linen jacket, white spandex tee, short silk print sarong -- Violet waits for them to realize she means what she said.

At first they keep peppering her with questions, poking mikes at her for answers. "Did you know Professor Katz?" "Where were you coming from last night?" "Where were you when he was shot?" "Did you see anyone else when you got here?"

Violet gazes into the camera-eye and mutely communes with all the TV watchers in Massachusetts, one of them possibly Mr. Right. After a while, instead of shouldering and poking her, the reporters elbow each other and form a circular barricade that gives Violet her space.

Aware of acting in the round, she turns, smiles at those behind, those on the side, those in front. "Now then, one at a time." Violet has established that this is not a free-for-all. "Yes, I met Professor Katz. No I saw no one leaving the scene. I saw no signs of a struggle. I didn't realize at the time who it was. Yes I am aware of the day-trip controversy. No, I wasn't expecting Professor Katz last night." Violet answers every question until every question is a variation of a question that one of them has already asked. "Yes I met Professor Katz. On the beach. Yes I knew his reputation."


"Okay, folks." The Police Chief squeezes into the circle, his uniform, Smoky Bear hat, and especially the gun buckled to his waist, convincing. "That wraps it up. This way, Ms. Kaufman." He nods Violet toward the house through the aisle he has opened for her. "I like to remind the rest of you, this here is private property." The Police Chief and his men herd the reporters and camera people back to their cars and vans. "Clear out to the County Road."


Right after finding the body last night, Violet locked herself in the house. She pulled all the shades and curtains, turned on a light and made hot coffee. When the Police Chief knocked, she stifled her scream.

Chief Nathaniel M. Rice had a scanty face behind huge eyes and a rudder of a nose. After questioning Violet, nursing the coffee he said hit the spot, he confessed that this was his first murder. She told him about her husband and how she got pretty good at fending off reporters. Never yet handled no off-island media, Nate said with a gigantic smile and a few wrinkles, but no cushions above or hammocks below the greengage eyes. Under fifty, Violet guessed. But he'd learned way back when, with the Ted Kennedy incident.

Last night, Nate had his men set up lights, do the forensics, stake out the ferry piers and the airport; the Police Chief had the coroner to pick up the body before he put the first bulletin on the air. A shotgun wound to the head from middle range. No need to bring in the Dukes County boys. Everything under control before even local reporters got wind.

Under control, just the way Violet liked it. Remembering what Tom Mayhew said about how he shot 'the bunny' right off her deck, she suggested this might have been a hunting accident.

"In August, after dark?" Nate laughed, but in a friendly, not jeering way.

But that was last night. This morning, having ended the Press Conference, Nate comes into the kitchen and tells Violet how well she did. The Police Chief says Violet can, if she likes, be his unofficial spokesperson. That's one task he sure as hell doesn't mind delegating. And the guy actually blushes.

When he leaves, Violet walks him outside, she watches the dust follow his jeep down the dirt track, she assumes Barbara would have mentioned Nate as a possible if he was one. Sighing, Violet turns back, and finds that the place she has rented looks more televised than real, with yellow police tape twisting in the sea wind.

She expects the grass to be flattened where Ben lay. Instead, the grass everywhere else has been trampled by news people. The square of grass inside the tape is green, perky. Inside the body's white spray-paint outline, a robin pecks at what? A blood spot, or maybe just a worm. Back in the house, Violet shakes off the silence, shoves a lid on the whimwhams, gets out her journal. She lists her suspects.

Tom and Barbara Mayhew.

T. J. could possibly have left the disco when she was dancing. Violet does not remember seeing him or Mayzelle after the first fifteen minutes. Assuming that they were off somewhere making love, Violet had left without saying good-bye.

Randall Luyten. He said he had his own 'good reasons' and that Ben Katz had not yet retired fully. And Katz threatened his livelihood.

And it isn't just the locals who had it in for Katz. Saul Bellow was jealous.

Happy Katz was betrayed. She could've hired a hit man to revenge her. Or done her own shooting.

Vernon Jordan. Could Ben's racism make a man like him snap?

Violet can picture anyone on her list lifting a shotgun and taking aim, or paying someone else to do it. In fact, she can feel the cool weight of the side by side gun barrel in her left palm, her elbows propped against her hips, the wood stock fit tight into her shoulder, her body tilted to withstand the recoil, her right pointer squeezing the trigger. Violet can feel Ben Katz's body against her toe.

On "Murder She Wrote" Angela Lansbury has only a writer's nosiness and understanding of human character to go on. Violet has more. This isn't her first real life murder. And how much she has learned since the last one!

Investigating beyond her immediate confines is impossible. Day or night, the instant Violet leaves private territory she is surrounded by news hounds. And unlike long-term celebrities, she has no body guards to whisk her into a waiting limo, though Violet does expect Nate to return later in the evening. Not for sex or anything. Flirting is one thing. But Violet doesn't touch married, if they're living with the wife. The Police Chief is dropping by just to fill her in on the medical report.

Which turns out to be a bombshell.

Nate could end up looking like a fool. He most probably is a fool. But he has sense enough to agree to a deal. He'll get the suspects over to Violet's house, and let her tell them about the report. In return, Violet will fend off the press.


The instant he's out the door, Violet calls Barbara. What about this Nate? He's separated from Barbara's sister, so Barbara couldn't very well introduce him to Violet. Two kids. Violet could pre-check Nate's genes.

She hangs up, drags chairs from the kitchen, and arranges them around the living room. A decorator and a cop? She empties and refills ice cube trays, and hardboils eggs for deviling. She shoves bottles of bubbly into the fridge. Violet sets out bowls for nuts, platters for cheese and crackers. Room temp for the cheddar; last minute for the crackers. Not a cop, this cop. Singing something about soggy soggy dew (her husband would have groaned at that), Violet turns on the t.v.. No color. No cable. But even in the dark ages, Violet shows up.

On Eyewitness News. Really she has got to lose fifteen pounds. If at thirty-eight she's already got that belly, by the time she turns fifty she'll be a hippo. Of course, there's no guarantee she'll get to fifty. Violet wonders exactly how old Nathaniel is. Odd that Ben Katz was such a big deal. One of the last living architects of the U.N. Charter. Ted Koppel is going to devote Nightline to his death. Violet might see if she can get some bookings on the tabloids. Have to work fast. She's only got her fifteen Warhol minutes.


Everyone knows the convention. The suspects congregate for the showdown with the fictional detective, in this case Violet Kaufman. One of the people in the room is a murderer.

Saul Bellow, Vernon Jordan, Happy Katz, Randall Luyten, and the Mayhews aren't used to mingling socially. They are all, even the Police Chief (What's that he's got on? Old Spice?), wrapped in so much strangeness the crowd all but crackles. And as hostess, Violet has to make them comfortable.

If only she could hand out drinks. But drinks are never included in a showdown unless liquor is a factor in the crime. So Violet stands, pushing up the sleeves of her Coogi cotton V-neck sweater in the trademark multicolor patterning. She waits for a silky silence, then listens to ocean slip-crashes through the open glass door. "Shall we begin?" she asks, before launching into the classic who had reason and opportunity to kill Ben Katz? "Everyone of us, " Violet says.

"I hardly think so." Saul Bellow subjects her to his violently gentle gaze. "In fact I was stunned when Nate said I had to be here this evening."

"Mr. Bellow," Violet says, " you were obviously jealous of Ben Katz."

"At his age?" Shaking his head, Bellow smiles.

"Your wife seemingly has no objection to older men," Violet reminds him. "And Mr. Jordan, you believed Katz's plan to ban day trippers was racially motivated."

"And white people think that's reason enough for black men to blow their heads off," Vernon Jordan says. "It isn't."

"Just theorizing." Violet blushes. "Mrs. Katz, forgive me, I know you're in a state of shock, but you knew Ben was at least a would-be Don Juan."

"I can testify he was more than a would-be," Randall says.

"Which gives you your motive," Violet says. "Plus you, Tom, Barbara, and T.J. stood to lose business if Ben got the Commission to pass his ordinance. A lot of people have murdered for money."

"So cut to the chase." Tom is tapping his heel, bouncing his knee up and down. "Which of us, according to you, did it?"

"None of us," Violet admits. "Ben Katz suffered a massive heart attack. The coroner says he was already dead before some bonehead, -- could even have been a day-tripper, -- shot him."

"This true?" Randall asks Nate, who nods.

"But why pump bullets into a corpse?" asks Vernon.

"Does it matter?" Violet asks. "The guy was lurking outside my window."

"Fair game, you could say." Tom Mayhew chuckled.

"Was that your motive, Violet?" Saul Bellow assumes her guilt. "You never said."

"Protecting my honor?" Vi gives him a serious you nuts? look.

"You can do better than that, Vi," Barbara points out.

"Well, I was desperate for action," Violet agrees.

"In real detective stories," says Randall, "the detective solves the crime."

"But in this one, how the victim died doesn't matter," Violet says. " What counts is how we get past his death."

"I don't get it," T.J. says.

"No one your age does," Violet says, "and some people never." On October 10th, she will be four years a widow. Four minutes, one lifetime. Catching Happy's eye, Violet nods to admit that fact is a fact. "But my personal system is to pick up a glass of nature's own tranquilizer, and rev myself up no matter what, for even more than a fucking wake. For a blast."

"And that's your ' mystery'?" asks Randall, his lips a tight seam.

"I can't think of a better word for it," says Violet on her way into the kitchen to bring back the champagne, and her platter of deviled eggs, each speckled golden dome a joy.

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