Jennifer is a research scientist and writer of historical mysteries. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine mystery, history, humor, and romance. In addition to two Colorado Author’s League Writing Award nominations, her novels have been nominated for three prestigious Lefty Awards, the Macavity Award, and have won a Mystery & Mayhem Award and the Colorado Gold.
Jennifer grew up in Southern California, but has traveled to such places as Greenland, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She’s been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. Jennifer currently lives in Denver, Colorado, with her two teenagers, three dogs, and a cat. There she conducts research on the jails.
The following is an excerpt from “The Body in Griffith Park.”
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
When Anna returned to Central Station, she was stopped in her tracks by the shrill voice of a lady who clearly had feelings to spare. It was the tight-lacer from the Friday Morning Club, and she was completely unhinged. She hurled loud, angry words in the general vicinity of Matron Clemens—but perhaps not at her—something about fools and retribution. Her feather hat shot two feet into the air, quivering like the mad lady attached to it.
Matron Clemens stood tall, her face placid, and spoke in a cool, soothing voice. “Yes. I see. Mm hm. A detective is just the thing.”
It was a matron’s duty to soothe lady victims, gain the trust of female suspects, and cope with all feminine disasters. While Matron Clemens was up to any challenge, Anna thought she should come to her aid on principle—especially since Anna had dealt with more than one irate lady of means. She had, for example, dyed the hair of Mrs. Masterson’s formerly white poodle a shocking blue black. It was an experiment that needed to happen, and spared Anna from a similar fate. She had been eight.
Anna assumed a pleasant smile and glided over, making gentle hushing sounds and gesturing gracefully that the lady should keep it down.
The tight-lacer turned on her. “Don’t wave your hands at me, Anna Blanc!”
Mr. Melvin shuffled over with a steaming cup of tea, which Matron Clemens had no doubt ordered. He extended the teacup to the quivering lady with both hands, his eyes averted.
The lady stopped mid-quiver and took the tea. “Thank you.” She sipped. Anna couldn’t help but wonder if her sudden silence was merely the eye of the storm.
Matron Clemens smiled. “Now could I trouble you to start over? Why don’t you sit down and tell us more?” She ushered the lady into an interview room and over to a chair. Anna followed. The tight-lacer sat. Her abdomen bulged beneath her tiny waist.
Matron Clemens continued. “Then, I’ll better know which detective is needed. Have you been robbed, or—”
“My husband’s being blackmailed!” The lady assumed a sarcastic tone. “He’s as innocent as a baby but thought it a better idea to pay out three thousand dollars to a criminal than to stand up for himself. The only thing he’s guilty of is weakness.”
“Have you considered a cure for manly weakness? I see them advertised in the paper all the time,” Anna said helpfully.
The lady stared dumbly at Anna.
“I’m sure they are extraordinarily useful. They would never make them for ladies, though, lest we dose ourselves up and take over the world.” Anna chuckled.
Silence followed this comment.
Matron Clemens, with her usual blank expression, spoke. “Indeed.” She turned to the tremulous lady. “Mrs. Morgan, I assume you and Assistant Matron Blanc have met.”
“We’re slightly acquainted,” said Anna. “Mrs. Morgan is the Vice President of the Friday Morning Club.”
“I’m Mrs. Octavius Morgan.” The tight-lacer said as if this should impress them.
Anna hated it that women couldn’t simply use their own names but instead had to wear the brand of their husband’s name. If married people had to have the same name, they should simply choose a new one together. Her mind wandered to new last names that would suit Joe Singer, like irresistible and Delicious.
The lady continued. “My husband has been making payments to . . .” She threw up her hands. “Oh, I don’t know. Someone. He—the black-hearted blackmailer—claims that my husband . . .” She snorted.
“Do go on,” said Anna, interested.
“That snake accused him of consorting with bad women at the Jonquil Resort, and said he would reveal everything, but it’s just an attempt to extort money.”
Anna beamed. “That’s wonderful news!”
The lady frowned. Matron Clemens looked blank.
“You don’t believe he would do such a thing?” asked Matron Clemens. “Some men do.”
The woman set her chin. “I don’t doubt my husband for a moment.”
Anna tapped her lip. “He’s stopped, no doubt. The blackmailer has stopped.” Dead men did not extort.
“Well, yes. But I want the money back.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible unless you want payment in ugly suits and atrocious settees. Your blackmailer is dead, and I will need to question your husband regarding his demise.” She covered her mouth with her hands and looked at Matron Clemens. “Did I say, ‘I?’ That’s silly. I meant Detective Singer. I’ll just go get him.”
Anna flounced off to find Joe. She arrived at his desk slightly breathless with excitement. He sat writing a report and singing softly to himself. “Virginie baby, you make me crazy.” He scowled at her.
Anna lowered her voice and hissed. “Virginie is my middle name. You can’t sing about Virginie here. People will guess.”
“I can’t not sing about you.”
“Then give me a pseudonym.”
He held her eyes and crooned. “Sherlock baby, you make me crazy.”
He was making her crazy and she tingled everywhere. Anna closed her eyes to break the spell, opened them, and lifted her chin. “I have happy news.”
“Oh yeah?” He sipped coffee from a tin cup.
“Samuel Grayson—I’m almost positive it was him—was blackmailing a different innocent man.” She frowned. “One Octavius Morgan. But this victim suffered from manly weakness. His wife is here complaining about it.”
“I think you mean something else.”
“I know what I mean. Unlike George, this weakly victim paid. Don’t you see? Grayson was in the habit of blackmailing innocent men.”
“Oh, I see.” His chair scraped the floor as he stood. “I want Georges to be innocent. I really do.”
“Then we’ll both be happy.”
“Lead the way to the dissatisfied woman.” He flashed her a grin, looking, unfortunately, irresistible.
Anna clapped her hands. “She’s the one screeching in the interview room.”
When they arrived, the lady was sitting quietly alone. Joe sobered his expression.
“Where is Matron Clemens?” Anna asked.
“She and an officer are summoning my husband. His office is just around the corner. She said the police would need to speak with him. Is this the detective?”
Joe extended his hand. “Mrs. Morgan, I’m Detective Singer. I’m sorry for your troubles.”
“I’ll be assisting Detective Singer with this investigation and asking you questions,” said Anna. “For example, if Mr. Morgan is innocent, why did he pay? I mean, besides manly weakness.”
A violent coughing fit overtook Joe.
Anna gave him a reproachful look.
“Because he’s in discussions with the Episcopal church to design their cathedral. Even a whiff of scandal could sink the deal.”
Joe had recomposed himself, though his face was still red from his coughing fit. “Mrs. Morgan, when did you discover your husband was paying a blackmailer?”
“I noticed the money was missing from our bank account. I asked him directly and he explained the situation. He’d never lie to me. I told you he was an honorable man.”
Anna had heard that before. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. He’s an architect. Quite renowned.”
“Oh.” Anna wrinkled her brow. “Your husband’s an architect. Is he by chance designing a hotel on the waterfront?”
It pained Anna, but she forced herself to say, “He doesn’t have a scrawny mustache, nor a very magnificent mustache? He has an ordinary mustache? Or none at all?”
“Why, he has a famously luxuriant mustache.”
“Jupiter.” Anna’s posture sagged. She gave Joe a meaningful look.
He squinted at her. “Mrs. Morgan, will you excuse us for a moment?” Joe linked his arm through Anna’s and drew her out of the room. When they stood safely in the hall, separated from Mrs. Morgan by a thick oak door, he lowered his voice. “Sherlock, what was that look?”
“I had thought that if Mr. Morgan were another innocent victim of blackmail . . .” Anna squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “I was wrong. Octavius Morgan is guilty of more than just manly weakness. Remember at the Jonquil? The magnificently mustachioed man talking with his friend with the scrawny mustache about plans for a new hotel? Sue and Clementine’s lovers? You know, the twins?”
Joe blew out a breath. “Oh.”
“If Mr. Morgan is magnificent mustache man, we know for a fact he’s broken at least one blossom. This makes him our number one suspect in the murder and perhaps he is our man from Mars or the real Black Pearl.”
“Okay. Let’s talk to him.”
Five minutes after Matron Clemens escorted Mrs. Morgan out the door, a patrolman escorted Octavius Morgan in. Anna recognized him immediately as Sue’s lover—the magnificent mustachioed man from the Jonquil Café. His eyes roamed the station wildly as Matron Clemens escorted him past Anna and Joe and into an interrogation room. His mustache gleamed, turning up at the ends in perfect curls.
“Yep, that’s him.” Joe turned to Anna, “Why don’t you question him?”
Her face lit up. “Really?”
“Really. I’ll just sit next to you and look menacing. You know. You charm him. I’ll be the threat.”
“All right.” Anna beamed at him like a ray of sunshine. “You be the threat. I’ll question him first for as long as I can, and when he clams up, we’ll bring in Matilda. He might be our man from Mars.”
She was still beaming as they entered the interrogation room. Beside her, Joe’s face hardened into stone.
Anna led. “Good afternoon Mr. Morgan. I am Assistant Matron Blanc, and this is Detective Singer. My, what a luxurious mustache you have.”
Mr. Morgan’s hand reached up and touched his upper lip. He grunted unintelligibly and shifted in his seat. “Why am I here?”
“We just want to question you,” Anna smiled sweetly. “Your wife has accused you of manly weakness, but I don’t believe it for a moment.”
A hint of a smile flitted across Joe’s stony face.
Mr. Morgan looked confused. “She accused me of what?”
“Don’t worry Mr. Morgan. It’s not a crime.” She tossed her head dismissively. “And, like I said, I don’t believe it. Rather, I’m accusing you of bad timing, among other things.”
“Bad timing?” Little specks of sweat beaded on Mr. Morgan’s forehead. A rivulet trickled down his nose and disappeared into his mustache. Was it guilt?
“Case in point—if you were going to kill your blackmailer, you shouldn’t have paid him first. He only gambled the money away and spent it on ugly suits. His suits are criminal, and now you are an accomplice.”
The suspect paled. His collar was soaked from sweat; his breathing had become quick and shallow. He loosened his necktie leaving it slightly askew.
Joe leaned forward. “Would you like a cup of water?”
“No, that’s my line.” She frowned. “But I don’t want to get him water.”
“All right. Let’s switch,” said Joe. He went to the door and poked his head out, whispering to someone in the hall. “Could you please bring Matilda here. I think she’s upstairs. Oh, and a cup of water please.”
Anna’s mouth hardened. She stood and paced behind Mr. Morgan, lowering her voice. “We know you contributed to the delinquency of Miss Sue Henry, exchanging money for her attentions. I saw you together and she will testify. And for this you will pay. Do you deny it?”
“It’s not illegal. She’s a whore.”
Anna slammed her fist down on the table, causing him to jump. “It is illegal. She’s a child, and you ruined her. And she’s not a whore. She thought you were courting her.”
“I didn’t know how old she was. You can’t prove that I did.”
“And when Samuel Grayson blackmailed you, threatening to tell your wife and the whole world, you killed him. But stupidly, you paid him first. Bad timing.”
“I didn’t kill Samuel Grayson.”
“Where were you four weeks ago Tuesday?”
He rolled his eyes up in thought. “I was in Fresno visiting my aunt.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Yes. I can provide half a dozen witnesses.”
“Are you loaded? Do you buy garnet cross necklaces for girls at the Jonquil? Are you the Black Pearl?”
His eyes flashed. Helmut Melvin opened the door carrying a cup of water and accompanying a quivering Matilda who seemed to be holding her breath. When she saw Mr. Morgan, she exhaled.
“Miss Matilda, is this the man from Mars?”
She blinked her blond lashes. “No.”
Mr. Morgan leapt to his feet. “I won’t be made fun of by a woman.”
Joe put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down into his chair. “Sit down and answer Matron Blanc’s questions.” He loomed with menace.
Anna drew her brows together and looked at Joe. “Now no one is being nice.”
“He doesn’t inspire kindness. Let’s put him in a cell,” said Joe.
When Octavius Morgan was settled in the bull ring, Joe walked Anna upstairs to her storage closet. Her face registered disappointment.
“Good work, Sherlock. You caught him.”
“Not yet, I didn’t.”
“We arrested him for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. That’s not nothing.”
“Agreed. It’s just I was hoping he was the killer, I mean, if Edmands isn’t the killer, which he probably is.”
“Morgan might have done it. We haven’t checked his alibi. I’ll ask his wife before she finds out we arrested him. Then, I’ll follow up with whoever it was he allegedly visited in Fresno.”
“It’s just . . . when I accused him of corrupting Sue, he sweat. He didn’t seem worried enough about the murder.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “I’ll look into it thoroughly. If he did it, he’ll pay for it.”