Dark Passage

Marcia Talley

Dark Passage

Book 12 in the Hannah Ives series, 2013

For Susan, Alison and Deborah… and for our sister, Katie,

alive forever in our hearts and memory.

What happens with sisters, stays with sisters.


Writing is a solitary business, yet it takes a team to put a novel into the hands of readers. With thanks to my incredible team:

My husband, Barry Talley, who agrees that going on luxury cruises is a fine way to conduct research. And it’s tax deductible, too.

My editor, Sara Porter, my can-do publicist, Michelle Duff, publisher Edwin Buckhalter and everyone else at Severn House who makes it such an incredibly supportive place for a mystery writer to be.

Daniel Stashower, who, before he became an award-winning author helping his friends invent ingenious devices like the Turbine of Terror, used to thrill young Cleveland audiences with his act, ‘Dan and Mike, Magician and Clown Extraordinaire.’

Glenn Cairns, Security Officer for ships in the Carnival Line, who taught me how to run a safe, secure ship. If Glenn had been in charge of security on my fictional liner, Phoenix Islander, there would have been no story.

Cliff and Liz Rowe, whose generous bid at a charity auction sponsored by the United Church of Christ in Lovell, Maine, bought them the right to play starring roles in this novel.

My friend, Marie Cherry, for the ‘ah-ha’ moment. When Hannah grows up, she wants to be just like you.

Jim Steinmeyer, internationally-acclaimed designer of magical illusions and theatrical special effects, for permission to quote from his fascinating book, Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear, Da Capo Press, 2004.

Once again, my fellow travelers at various stations on the road to publication, the Annapolis Writers Group: Ray Flynt, Mary Ellen Hughes, Debbi Mack, Sherriel Mattingley, and Bonnie Settle for tough love.

To Kate Charles and Deborah Crombie, dearest friends, confidantes and advisors; surely the reason why Skype had to be invented.

And, of course, to Vicky Bijur.

‘The end result becomes a little work of theatre, a play with a simple plot that exists on a fairy tale level. The fantasies of a magic show can often be appreciated in everyday life: causing someone to disappear, becoming someone else, acquiring the ability to escape or walk through a wall. The play might be seconds long or be elaborately written to include a full story.’

Jim Steinmeyer, Hiding the Elephant,

Da Capo, 2004, p. 94


On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.

W.C. Fields (1880-1946)

Philadelphia. The Birthplace of America. The Cradle of Liberty. The City of Brotherly Love.

Philly’s only two hours away from my home in Annapolis, but I hadn’t been there since the winter of 2008 when Navy trounced Army 34-0. I probably wouldn’t have visited Philly on that mild day in May, either, or found myself sitting on an overstuffed chair in a restored brownstone near Rittenhouse Square, flanked by my two sisters, except for a bit of Fatherly Love.

And Aunt Evelyn, of course.

Evelyn was the widow of our father’s older brother, Fred, who had died at the Battle of Inchon in 1950. She’d never remarried.

Ruth leaned into me. ‘Look, Hannah. She’s wearing the same outfit she wore to my wedding.’

I’d recognized it, too. A sequinned, ice-gray, gold-fringed tweed jacket and matching sheath that complemented her perfectly-coifed helmet of platinum hair. Her makeup, too, was perfect. Dark lashes, pale blue shadow, a touch of peach blush on her alabaster cheeks. Revlon’s ‘Love That Pink’ – Aunt Evelyn never wore anything else – colored her lips and nails.

‘I helped her pick out that suit,’ Ruth continued brightly. ‘At Nordstrom. Eleven hundred dollars, give or take.’

‘She looks amazingly good, doesn’t she?’ I said.

Georgina, on my left, stiffened. ‘No, she doesn’t. She looks dead.’

We stared at the open casket – solid walnut polished to a high gloss and decorated with antique bronze hardware – where our late aunt lay on a bed of soft, almond-colored tufted velvet.

‘Good for eighty-eight,’ I amended, nudging Georgina lightly with my elbow. ‘And under the circumstances.’

‘Daddy owes us,’ Georgina whispered. ‘I’m here, but to tell the truth, I never liked Aunt Evelyn all that much.’

I shushed her. A shuttle bus from Riverview on the Schuylkill, the retirement complex where Aunt Evelyn had spent her final years, had just disgorged a stream of residents – on the high side of fifty-five and over – onto the plush, round Tabriz that decorated the marble floor of the funeral home lobby. As his sister-in-law’s only surviving relative, Daddy stood at the door, greeting the mourners as they filed by ones and twos into the parlor where his daughters sat on straight-backed upholstered chairs opposite the coffin like a trio of obedient see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys.

I had to admit that spending extended lengths of time with Aunt Evelyn had always been an act of charity, at least for me. In the early fifties – when the use of tamoxifen and targeted drug therapies for breast cancer lay well into the future – she’d undergone a radical mastectomy. Following my own bout with breast cancer – I’m totally fine, now, thank you very much – Aunt Evelyn sensed in me a kindred spirit, one who would surely never – as had her ever-dwindling circle of friends and bridge partners – tire of hearing lengthy tales about her debilitating surgery, her lymphedema, her phantom breast pain – in exhausting, clinical detail. Even Mother Theresa would have been driven to drink.

‘I have no patience with hypochondriacs,’ Georgina continued, keeping her voice low. ‘If anybody ever deserved the epitaph, “See, I told you I was sick,” it’s our own dear Aunt Evelyn.’

I bowed my head and stifled a giggle.

‘She kept her kidney stones in a glass jar, for heaven’s sake!’ Georgina added, upping the volume.

‘I didn’t know that!’ Ruth chirped.

A woman leaning on a walker swiveled her head in our direction, an artfully drawn ebony eyebrow raised.

‘Shhhh.’ I laid a hand on Ruth’s arm. ‘You were away at college during the kidney stone ordeal,’ I told her. ‘It was pretty spectacular. The pain was excruciating – for all of us.’

‘The doctor let her keep the stones?’ Ruth asked. ‘Gross.’

‘Not exactly,’ Georgina explained. ‘Every day Aunt Evelyn peed into a sieve until they passed. “I nearly died!” she quoted, pressing the back of her hand melodramatically against her forehead. “They were enormous! Big as marbles!” ’

With a gentle hand on the man’s arm, Daddy nudged a blue-suited octogenarian in the direction of his sister-in-law’s coffin, captured the hand of a younger woman next in line in both of his while sending a scowl aimed at us over her red plaid shoulder. If we didn’t clean up our act, there’d be hell to pay at the dinner we planned to have at Parc, a nearby brasserie, following the viewing.

Feeling chastened, I mused, ‘You know, it’s a shame that we only get together for occasions like this – weddings and funerals. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there’s always so much else going on that we really don’t have time to visit each other properly. How long has it been since you’ve been to Annapolis, Georgina?’

Georgina bristled. ‘I have four children, remember.’

As if I could forget. When Georgina’s family came down from Baltimore for a visit – a short thirty-five-mile drive – it was like a military operation, requiring a movement order – ten typewritten pages, with appendices. Before I could think up a snarky reply, Ruth leaned across my lap and said, ‘I think there’s enough guilt to go around. I haven’t been the best of aunts myself, but now that I have a full-time shop assistant at Mother Earth, there’s no reason I can’t pop up to Baltimore to visit with you and the kids more often, Georgina.’

I’d been about to elaborate on the amount of time I spend helping to care for my grandchildren – Chloe, Jake, and Tim – while my daughter Emily and her husband Dante are busy managing Paradiso, their luxury health spa, but I wisely kept my mouth shut. ‘I think we should do something special,’ I said after a moment. ‘Just sisters. Just us girls.’

Georgina’s sea green eyes sparkled with interest. ‘Like what?’

I shrugged. ‘I don’t know. The idea just popped into my head.’

‘Sisterly bonding,’ Ruth mused. ‘We could use a bit of that.’

Georgina squinted at a wall sconce, looking thoughtful. ‘I know! We could go for a mani-pedi!’

Ruth, our superannuated flower child who had never, to my knowledge, even set foot inside a beauty parlor, let alone dipped her toes into a pedi-spa, grunted.

‘With tea afterwards, and little sandwiches, or…’ Georgina bounced in her seat, looking directly at me. ‘If we asked nicely, do you think Scott would spring for a weekend getaway package at Spa Paradiso?’

Althou ...

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