The Case of the Uneven Playing Field

A Harry Boroditsky Mystery

Part 2 of 2


I headed back to the library. It was lunchtime and nobody was at the desk. Dollface and I were supposed to meet for lunch but she had called and postponed our meeting because she was having lunch with the Women Oppressed by White Heterosexual Ignoble Males Support Group. (WowHim). The Ladies Who Lunch, as Sondheim might say.

I quickly checked through back issues of Publishers Weekly, the special mystery sections. I hoped to discover that macho Mike Hammer-type detectives were all the rage, but there it was: “Well, now that the white heterosexual male detective in an urban environment has gone the way of the dinosaur....” And, again, "Women have not only arrived in the mystery field, they now dominate the field."

Of all the lousy luck. Professional female mystery editors, publishers and book buyers all said the same thing: The mystery field was completely open to any talented woman or man provided New York publishers thought they could sell at least thirty thousand copies of a novel. And since most novels didn’t sell that many, most manuscripts of either sex were rejected. But from what I had uncovered, there had never been a better time to be a female mystery author with a female protagonist. In fact, contrary to what it had been like when Ray and Dash and Mac were alive, women writers and/or women detectives seemed to be preferred. But I knew I couldn’t sell that to my client. I had to come up with something. And fast!

I knew I needed help with this one and made some quick phonecalls. But Matt Scudder had left for a meeting for people addicted to AA meetings; Meyer said Travis McGee was off on his boat doing the nasty with some young chick who would eventually be killed but whose demise Travis would avenge; his third wife said that Judge Dee was practicing his calligraphy with his fourth wife and couldn't be disturbed; and I knew if I involved Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones, they might just start shooting everybody in the library to insure they got whoever was guilty.

So I decided to drop in on an old friend living in retirement at the edge of town. It was dark by the time I got there. The yellow moon was full but parallel rows of clouds streaked across it making it look like a pair of brass knuckles about to come crashing down on me. I knocked on his door. A raspy voice from inside said: “Velma?”

“No, Moose,” I said. “It’s Harry. I got a job for you.” Moose Malloy wasn’t exactly what you would call the intellectual giant of our age; he would never be invited to host a Bouchercon; but I knew he was the one man who could help me. And if I told him it was something Velma wanted, he’d do it.

We worked all night. He at his assigned task, me at mine. It was rough, but by morning we were both finished. Just in time. I headed for the library.

Dollface was sitting at her desk when I walked in. She wore a bright red dress with a pearl and jade necklace. A colorful parrot was perched on her shoulder. I dropped the large grey envelope in front of her. She gave me a strange look, then opened it. “These look like...birth certificates.”

“They are,” I said.

“They are!” the parrot said.

“But, what-“

“Take a good look at them.” I pointed to the one at the top. “Parnell Hall? But, what-“

“Look more closely at the name.”

Her eyes widened. “Parnella?”

“Parnella?” the parrot said, spreading its wings in shock.

“That’s right, Angel Eyes. Parnella Hall. And look at all the rest. Male mystery writers who have been dropped by their publishers. Only they weren’t born male. Every single one was born a woman. When their publishers found out their little secret, they were dropped.”

“This is incredible! And what about male mystery writers who have had their novels rejected?”

“You were right all along, glamour puss. The fix is in. They get paid money under the table to get ‘rejected’ so as to make it look as if its not fixed in favor of men. The truth is, the mystery publishing field is as phony as a Jesse Ventura wrestling match.”

“I knew it! You see? Bless you!” She jumped up and kissed me hard on the lips. I recognized the brand of lipstick by taste: Heat Wave a la Mode. The same kind my ex-wife had on the day I dropped the dime on her and they took her off to the Big House. “I can’t wait to tell WowHim!”

This is where I knew it could get a bit tricky. “That might not be smart, sweetheart.”

“Not smart,” the parrot said.

She eyed me suspiciously. “Why?”

“You wouldn’t ‘out’ a gay person who didn’t want to be outed, would you? For whatever reason, these women carry themselves off as men. They deserve their privacy. But at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you were right. You’re not a self-indulgent whiner, wallowing in self-pity, pathetically pretending you're a victim, blaming your problems on a non-existent, uneven playing field controlled by men. Isn’t that satisfaction enough?”

She thought for a long moment. “You’re right, Harry. But I am going to tell everyone about how male authors who are rejected are paid off under the table.”

“Sure, doll, you do that.”

“Do you think people will believe me?”

“Why not?” I said. ‘Send in the Clowns,’ I thought.

I turned to the window. “And take a look outside,” I said. “The playing field.”

“Oh my God, it’s uneven!”

“Uneven!” the parrot said.

“It sure is.”

“I knew scheming men were behind an uneven playing field!”

“You got that right.”

“I’ll go powder my nose,” she said. Her lips formed a lascivious smile. A wave of her Hungry- Tigress-on-the-Prowl perfume hit my nostrils. “Then we’ll go to my place,” she purred. “You deserve a reward. I’ve still got the Librarian Special, you know.”

As she walked off, the parrot shifted its weight on her shoulder and glared back at me, as if he was privy to my dirty little secret. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a parrot at all. It was a falcon. Which was fine with me because falcons don’t squawk. Maltese or otherwise.

But I had done my job well and now I would have my reward. I smiled, remembering the last time she dressed up in her ‘librarian special’: the glow-in-the-dark, red-and-blue lingerie with the mesh “overdue-brand” stockings and purple “off-duty-brand” librarian garter belt and frilly white gloves and stiletto-heeled, knee-high, gold leather boots. Not that I’m kinky, understand.

I glanced out the window. Men sure were behind the uneven playing field. At least one man. Moose Malloy. While I had been doctoring documents, he had worked all night to transfer earth from one side to the other. I had told him his Velma would be proud. And, sure enough, what Moose didn’t know, was that before she disguised herself as a librarian my sweetheart had been his Velma. She didn’t get that necklace on her librarian’s salary.

In fact, dollface had entered the Witness Protection Program. A little known fact is that most librarians are actually people who dropped the dime on some badass hoodlums and were trained as librarians and placed in the Witness Protection Program.

Librarians: you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them. Sure, she was a little ditsky. They all were. But I’m Harry Boroditsky and this is one librarian who fits me like a glove. If you get my drift.

And, yeah, I cooked the books a bit about my findings. But hey, the client was happy; and she was about to make me happy. Isn’t that the way all cases should end?




This concludes The Case of the Uneven Playing Field, a Harry Boroditsky Mystery. We hope you enjoyed it; if so, please tell your friends; if not, kindly inform your local librarian immediately.