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Authors: Gillian Roberts

Time and trouble

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Table of Contents

Copyright

Time and Trouble

For

Acknowledgments

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Thirty-Four

Time and Trouble

By Gillian Roberts

Copyright 2014 by Judith Greber

Cover Copyright 2014 by Untreed Reads Publishing

Cover Design by Ginny Glass

The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.

Previously published in print, 1998.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Also by Gillian Roberts and Untreed Reads Publishing

Caught Dead in Philadelphia

Philly Stakes

I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia

With Friends Like These…

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

In the Dead of Summer

The Mummers' Curse

The Bluest Blood

Adam and Evil

Helen Hath No Fury

Claire and Present Danger

Till the End of Tom

A Hole in Juan

All’s Well that Ends

You Can Write a Mystery

Murder, She Did: 14 Killer Short Stories

www.untreedreads.com

Time and Trouble

Gillian Roberts

For

Alan and Barbara Greber

Joe and Nicole Greber

Deborah and John Dent

With major love

Acknowledgments

Many, many thanks to these people for their patience, goodwill, and expertise: Jane Walsh for avian information; Susan Dunlap and Marilyn Wallace for the selfless act of critiquing this work-in-progress while I gallivanted; my editor, Ruth Cavin, for her enthusiastic gift of life to the book; my agent, Jean Naggar, for just plain being great; Robert Greber for graciously enduring my see-saw ride and for making me laugh about it, and Kathleen Martin’s entire now-graduated fifth grade class at St. Francis de Sales in Philadelphia for invoking truly great powers on my behalf!

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.

—Dorothy Sayers

One

Emma sat with her feet on top of her desk. It made her feel taller and it eased a nagging tightness in the small of her back, so she could concentrate on the man on the other end of the line. He was infinitely annoying. He was also right.

“Of course I can deliver,”she said.“You know me, Harold. You know my agency. It’s not like we’re the new kids on the block.”He was not satisfied. His insurance clients expected a quick response, and so did he. Hadn’t she said the reports would be ready? This was a competitive world, hard facts, friendship’s one thing, business another. And damn but he was right, which left her with nothing but bluster. The report was late and going to be later. Dobson was supposed to have done it, but Dobson was gone, had quit her. Her agency was crumbling, losing employees like so many rotten teeth. Two this week, Dobson and the idiot receptionist–slash–office manager temp who’d replaced the last incompetent temp.

Philosophical differences, the dolt had said, packing her lifetime supply of tissue and allergy pills. As if she could spellphilosophy,let alone have one. And Dobson, after all this time, claiming personality differences, whatever asinine inconsequential nit-picking issues he meant. He’d said she had a reputation for being impossible. Asked if she’d wondered why she couldn’t keep employees. Snapped,“Hire a detective and find out why!”

“Let the delivery date be my problem,”she said into the phone. Not much of an offer since it, along with everything else, already was her problem. Nobody left to share the burden, unless Atlas dropped the world and shouldered her load.

She heard a halfhearted, mousy knock. Who? Why? She leaned forward as much as she could, given the straight-out position of her legs, and pushed papers around the surface of her desk with her free hand. Where was that note from the answering service? What time was her next appointment?

The door opened a slice. A head poked around it. Emma’s shoes framed a blonde. Pale. Straitlaced. Mid-twenties.

“Mrs. Howe?”The voice was timid and low, but it nonetheless sounded of training. Elocution lessons. How now, brown cow.“There’s nobody in the outer office,”it continued.“I waited, but then I thought—is this all right? I’m sorry—you’re on the phone. Should I—Where do you want me?”

Two to one she was selling cosmetics. Had ignored the No Solicitors sign downstairs.

No. She was too fresh-scrubbed, up-with-America wholesome to be pushing makeup. Make that household—office—cleaning supplies.

Emma waved her hand in aScat!motion while Harold, on the other end of the line, continued complaining.“Early next week,”she promised into the phone.“You have my word.”What was Harold going to do? Start all over with a new investigator? That’d set him back more than Dobson’s defection had.

The head at the door stayed put.“But we—I—I was told to—”

“Busy!”Emma hissed.“Not talking to you, Harold. Somebody just popped—”She shooed the blonde with her hand. Did not need a cleanser peddler. Did not ever need that shiny species of woman.

Organized and efficient. Homework in on time, no coloring outside the lines, never a detention, the Good Citizen award at graduation. But the only things she’d know would be what she’d memorized.

Emma made further promises to Harold and hung up.

The young woman was still at the door.“Mrs. Howe,”she said with more authority,“we have an appointment. I’m Billie August.”

For Christ’s sake. Emma pushed back in her chair and pulled her legs off the desk.

“BillyAugust,”the idiot temp had written. As if that sweet-li’l-me voice wouldn’t have sounded a trifle high-pitched for a Billy.

Emma cleared her throat.“Sorry. I thought—Never mind. Sit down. The receptionist’s ill.”

Billie settled into her chair elegantly, crossing her legs at the ankles, the way good girls should.“Mrs. Howe, I—”

“Ms. Or Emma.”

“Miz Howe, I want you to understand how eager I am to—”

She wanted the job. Shiny-head wanted to be a private investigator. Of course it wouldn’t work. For a million reasons, it couldn’t. Although Emma Howe of all humans wasn’t prejudiced against her own sex, still and all, she hadn’t imagined replacing Dobson with a female. It had always been Emma, the boss, with two or three men working for her. There was a pride in that, versus something embarrassing about adding another woman. Particularly now that it would be just the two of them, at least for a while.

Emma’s all-girl agency. She would die before admitting anything like that out loud, but damned if those words weren’t singsonging in her mind with all the mortifying force they might have had on a third-grade playground.

And even if she did take on another woman, it wouldn’t be this one with her no-risk perfection, her pale hair, straight features, and Career Dressing suit. She looked more like the next Grace Kelly than an investigator.

The woman passed her a manila envelope.“My résumé. Your receptionist said to bring it with me, since the appointment was so soon after I’d called.”

Emma skimmed the page and tried not to laugh out loud. Boarding school in Connecticut. A fine-arts degree with a double major in drama and music. Of what human use was this hothouse flower?

“Is there a problem?”the young woman asked.

“Why?”

“You’re shaking your head.”She leaned forward, all eager Junior Leaguer. Whatever she was wearing smelled expensive. Eau de Right Side of the Tracks.

“No problem. I was reading your…”Might as well be honest. Or at least sound that way.“Frankly, before we get—The truth is, I was hoping for somebody with more ex—”

“Excuse me, but your ad said interest and aptitude were required, not experience. Or did I misread it?”

Spoken crisply and forcibly, like a well-bred drill sergeant who didn’t need to shout. The sweet-li’l-me voice was so far gone Emma doubted that she’d ever heard it.“You read the ad correctly,”she reluctantly admitted.

“Good. I assumed you’d prefer a novice. That way, you pay the minimum for six thousand hours. Win-win. I learn, and you have cheap labor for years.”

Damn cocky, acting like she had the job just because she showed up. Emma’s skin prickled with resentment, then she backed off and tried to understand what it was about this Billie that set her teeth on edge, made her thoughts ping every which way like angry pinballs. Her looks? She was the cultural ideal, not Emma’s. Nothing about her appearance she had to compensate for, hide, or“cleverly disguise”as the magazines would have it. Two strikes against her right there, maybe?