Olivia Brown feels she has nothing left. Tragically, she has lost her fiancé in the Great War and her beloved guardian in the flu epidemic. Yet much to her surprise, her attorney informs her that she does, indeed, have something: an inherited brownstone on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village.
Her building is uninhabited except for one tenant, the strange, nocturnal man who has a lifelong lease on the ground-floor flat. He is, of all things, a private detective. In no time at all, Olivia is working cases with him, selling her sonnets to Vanity Fair, breaking hearts, and flaunting Prohibition at a speakeasy called Chumley's.
Then one evening after too many martinis, she literally trips over the body of a woman. Not only is the woman dead, but her face is shockingly familiar, for she bears an uncanny resemblance to Olivia Brown herself!
Thus begins a mystery that pits the girl from Bedford Street against a keen-witted killer. Her only hope is to somehow smoke out the murderer before everyone in the Village is lamenting the fate of the poet Olivia Brown-the one with so much promise, the one who died so young...
Praise for FREE LOVE
"I guarantee you will fall in love with poet-cum-private eye Olivia Brown. With a quirky taste for good booze, bad men, and women's suffrage-and moving through the textured, fully realized world of gangsters, speakeasies, and flappers that Ms. Meyers brilliantly evokes-Olivia Brown is a wonderful original!
-ROBERT CRAIS, AUTHOR OF LA. REQUIEM
"The 1920s? A competent and independent young woman who investigates crimes? What is the world coming to? Olivia Brown throws a whole new light on what our grandparents got up to...or perhaps it was only in Greenwich Village."
-LAURIE KING, AUTHOR OF 0 JERUSALEM
"Annette Meyers writes of love and murder in old New York better than anybody. Read FREE LOVE!"
-LISA SCOTTOLIINE, AUTHOR OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
"A tempestuous heroine, Prohibition, dry martinis, love, sex, and murder. Who could ask for anything more? "
-JANET EVANOVICH, AUTHOR OF HIGH FIVE
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was the kind of rain that didn't honor an umbrella, for it came down sideways, with sudden frigid gusts of wind. Anybody out in it was sure to get a good soaking. Flooding came on quickly, as the old streets of Greenwich Village were ill equipped with drainage, and the walks, courtyards, and alleys were rife with shallow dips where water accumulated quickly. Which is why no one found the body until the rain let up and we ventured abroad again for something more sustaining than the food of love.
Having rehearsed at the Playhouse through the previous evening, we'd gone to Chumley's for our usual nightcap. It had rained so relentlessly for three days, the courtyard leading to Chumley's was underwater. And Chumley's itself looked more deserted than usual, though we knew there was no less activity.
But that night we were more inclined toward lovemaking, and so we happily bypassed the speakeasy and waded our way to Bedford Street. It was well after midnight. We stayed home in bed reading poetry, smoking and making love, even sleeping, through the night and most of the day. After dark, when we finally came out again, our first stop was the Waverly on Bank Street, where I could indulge my craving for meatloaf and mashed potatoes and chocolate pudding. Prohibition being what it was, the Waverly served no spirits. And we'd already polished off the gin in Whit's pocket flask. Our spirits needed spirits. Arm in arm, we ambled down Commerce Street past the Cherry Lane Theatre to the dim courtyard that led to Chumley's.
And that's how Whit and I ended up being the ones who found her.
We thought it was a redblanket bunched up in the pool of filthy water that filled the courtyard. I never bother with stockings, so though it was cold, I took off my shoes to wade through the mess. Of course, Whit had some choice things to say about dirt and germs. He was a fair enough lover, but such a prig. I never listen to anybody about the way I choose to live my life, so I certainly wasn't going to pay much attention to his "rules and regulations," as I like to call his pronouncements.
It was a mistake; the water was cold and slimy. Still, there was no way I was going to impart this and have him say "I told you so," so I took my time sloshing through it. Oh, prig or not, he probably wouldn't have gloated because he's a better person than I am.
As I was having this whole debate with myself, I tripped over something, arched back to stop my fall, and sat right down on my derriere in the mess next to the soggy blanket. Whit turned around and laughed. I was not amused. I held up what had brought me down. It was a rather elegant, albeit sopping, high-heeled shoe.
"Get up out of there, Oliver," Whit said in that supercilious way of his.
He reached over to give me a hand, and I couldn't help it, I gave him a mighty tug. He landed right on top of the sodden blanket.
There she was, wrapped up practically like a mummy. Only wet strings of hair could be seen from one end; from the opposite, long bare toes of one foot and on the other foot, the waterlogged mate of the elegant high-heeled shoe that had tripped me.
We pulled her out of the still water onto somewhat drier pavement, where pinpricks of light leaked from Chumley's darkened windows. I suppose it was the wrong thing to do because the coppers like to have things left intact, as they were quick enough to tell us later, but at the time we weren't thinking too clearly. It was a shock finding a dead body practically in your backyard. And then too, there was little light and we were a bit drunk. We didn't notice that we were stained by her blood.
"Shouldn't we open the blanket so she can breathe?" I set her other shoe down beside her bare toes, my thoughts fluttering about the poem taking shape in my head.
"She's dead," Whit said, but he loosened the blanket anyway, and we saw that she had been strangled with a red cord. "Damn," he said. He looked away, then moved away. Chumley's had no telephone. "I'll get a cop."
Whit went off; a moment later I heard him retching in the darkness. I lit a cigarette and kept watch over the poor creature, once a living, breathing girl like me. I struck a match and looked at her again. Her face was blotchy with makeup, smeared with dirt and death. She seemed vaguely familiar and yet not. She lay as if asleep in the blanket.
Not strangled, I decided. Strangulation leaves the eyes popping and the tongue protruding. I'd seen our stable boy after he hanged himself in the barn when he was fourteen.
What Whit and I'd both thought to be a red cord was the slash across her throat. She'd bled to death, her blood mingling with the rain and filling the courtyard where the dip in the cement formed a valley.
Before long, Max and Mary appeared, then Rae with Merrill and Emma, and Edward Hall. Edward has such a quick mind. I felt a mild twinge of regret we were no longer lovers. He went right into Chumley's and warned them that we were bringing the cops for the dead woman. And quickly, with much groaning and carrying on, all the booze was cleared away and out came the teacups. Pretty soon, everyone was standing around outside looking at the dead woman.
"Does anyone know her?" I asked the assembly.
Someone held a flashlight close to her face. Under the dirt her skin was sheer, white and bloodless. Her lips were blue.
"Poor mouse," a man said.
"Seen her around once or twice," another fellow said.
By then my teeth were chattering. I stubbed out what was left of my cigarette. I'd been sitting far too long on the cold, damp cement, my wet skirt wrapped about my bare legs. I felt a hand clasp my shoulder.
"You are soaking wet. You can't sit out here like this. You'll have pneumonia."
He was tall and slim, to my liking. His dark hair hovered near his collar, shaggy, as if he cut it himself. He knelt beside me close, so he was looking into my eyes. I tasted the gin as his breath brushed my lips. I'd seen him before, at Chumley's, around the Village. He'd been in the War and spoke French with ease. I tried to remember his name . . .
"Andrew Goren," he said. "Come inside and dry off."
Of course. He wrote in a clean, honest style. "I read one of your stories," I said. "You're very good." I let him lift me to my feet. The cement felt rough on my soles. Well, no wonder I was cold. I'd dropped my shoes when I fell.
He brought me into Chumley's, where the chess pieces from the interrupted games awaited the players' return. For the moment the entertainment was outdoors, not in. We sat near the fire, and we drank gin from teacups, smoked.
"I read your poem 'Hay and Straw' in Vanity Fair," he said. "I liked it. I admire your work." He had hot eyes, deepest blue, almost black. Count Dracula eyes. I bade a silent adieu to Whit, for I'd decided then and there Andy Goren would be my next lover. "I've lost my shoes," I said. "I'll carry you home," said he.
Oh, love, I thought.
Outside, we heard raised voices. The police had arrived. He rose.
"Where are you going?"
"I have to talk to the police. I'll be back for you."
"Did you know her?" I asked.
"She was my wife," he said.