WHEN the school librarian led me into the rare book room, locked the door, threw her arms around me and passionately kissed me, I suspected she wanted something. We had been lovers in college but ever since she joined Suspects in Custody (SinC) I hadn’t seen much of her.
She was dressed in the usual style of the modern librarian: fuschia-streaked hair, nose ring, lip ring, studded leather neck collar, studded velvet-trimmed black leather blouse, short red skirt, plaid socks, sling-back sandals trimmed with fur. Each of her fingernails had been painted a different color.
I pried her hungry, tattooed arms from around my muscular, well-tanned body. “Take it easy,” I said.
“You don’t like me anymore, Harry?” she asked.
“Sure, sweetheart,” I said, “I like you just fine. In fact, if I could relive my life, I’d marry a librarian.”
“That sounds like a great title for an autobiography, Harry,” she said.
“Or a song.”
She patted me on the behind. “Or a bumper sticker.”
I glanced at the books lining the wall behind her desk. It was either the mystery section or a recipe section; these days it was hard to tell. “So what was it you wanted to see me about, doll?”
She looked out the window. “The playing field.”
“What about it?”
“It’s not level.”
I stared at the playing field. “It looks level to me,” I said.
She sat down on the near corner of the table, a move which did nothing to conceal her gorgeous gams. “Oh, well, that’s because you’re a white heterosexual male who’s been suppressing women for thousands of years and you can’t see it...Nothing personal.”
“I never take nothing personally, kid. Any suspects?”
“We suspect that the invisible conspiracy of white heterosexual males which has been suppressing women for thousands of years has been favoring men over women when it comes to being published in the mystery field. That’s why the field’s not level.”
She cracked her knuckles and knit her perfectly plucked brows. “Something funny?”
“Sweetheart, the publishing business has become even more dirty and callous and bottom line than the private eye business. It’s all bottom line, sweetheart. Look what happened to Parnell Hall. If they drop guys like him, how can you say the dice are loaded in men’s favor? And do you really think Robert Parker wanted to start a series with a female detective, Sunny Randall, no less? He knew which side of his bread was-”
She looked through me as if I’d made a non-sequiturial remark about the weather. Her flimsy skirt offered little resistance as she crossed her not unattractive legs, reminding me of the days when she dressed up for me as a slatternly airline hostess. Not that I’m kinky, understand. “So, will you take the case or not?”
Truth is, I needed the money. And this wouldn’t be the first client who didn’t let facts stand in the way of their theories. If I only took cases from well adjusted clients, I wouldn’t have any cases at all.
“All right, doll, you got yourself a detective.”
She jumped up and started to wrap her arms around me again. Truth to tell, she was a good looking dame. But the Death-by-Twilight perfume she wore was the same my ex-wife used to wear just before she went to the Big House and that gave me the strength to resist.
I pried her aching arms from my perfectly sculpted, masculine torso. “I got work to do, doll. And you know what they say about relationships that begin in the rare book room. They rarely work out.”
She pouted. “As a comedian you’re a bust, Harry.
I glanced down at her red and green Wonderbra. “As a bust, you’re a comedian.”
“Get out of here and start working the case before I cancel your subscription to Library Journal, you animal!”
I left the library while wiping Nevada Sunrise lipstick off my lips and chin. This was one of the strangest cases that had ever come my way and I had a feeling that if I couldn’t break it, it would break me.
Sure, I know, my name sucks: I had an Italian father half Polish on his Romanian mother’s side and an Irish mother half Caucasian on her Eurasian brother’s side. Friends just call me Boro. Enemies call me Ditsky. But not for long. If you get my drift. And I was determined to get to the bottom of this case. If it was the last thing I did.
The next day dawned bright and sunny. Except for the thick clouds and persistent rain. I made my way across town to the Association of Literary Agents. I figured maybe here I could discover the male conspiracy that operated undetected inside the publishing industry.
At first, the secretary with the brown hair, sunglasses and blood red dress didn’t want to open up their books but when I mentioned I was working on behalf of women mystery writers, she got friendly. A little too friendly, if you catch my drift. A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell, but let’s just say from the taste, I’d say her lipstick was CarmineCrimeEntrapment. I knew that because my last secretary had been wearing that when the cops found her in that motel room off Santa Monica Boulevard. But, no, it seemed that the majority of literary agents, especially those handling fiction, were women.
So I made my way over to the Publishers Association. I figured this might well be the place. But I found that the vast majority of editorial assistants - those people who decide if a manuscript will be sent up the chain of command - were young women from Smith and Vassar and places like that. And they loved women writers. And the majority of associate editors and editors who worked in the mystery field were also women.
One of them eyed me suspiciously. She was a tall brunette wearing a skirt about the size of an eye patch. “Aren’t you Harry Boroditsky?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“I knew your first wife.”
I tried not to stare in the direction of her gorgeous gams. “Oh, yeah?”
“She said you never put the toilet seat down during the entire marriage.”
“My first wife was an Akha hilltribe woman and we lived in the Golden Triangle where there were only squat toilets,” I said. “Nobody had toilet seats.”
“That’s the dumbest story I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah, but you’ll have to admit it’s a story with legs.” Whoops. “I mean, a-legedly. I mean allegedly.”
“Get out of here, Harry.”
I knew when to take a hint. Every great P.I. does. Anyway, I still had to check the statistics on active buyers of mysteries. But again the news was bad: More women than men.
This wasn’t going well. Not well at all. If I didn’t find something to confirm my client’s theory, I might not receive my paycheck, not to mention other less conventional forms of remuneration. If you get my drift. But I had one card left to play.
The Case of the Uneven Playing Field
Part 2 of 2