Vivian coughed as the liquor burned her throat. Heavy-handed was right, she thought, eyeing the elderly housekeeper across the crowded living room. Mrs. Graves was chatting with Oskar, her mother's...well, her mother's new friend. Oskar was on the far side of middle age, with a steel-gray handlebar mustache and a noticeable paunch. Her mother had spoken of him before, but this was the first time Vivian had been introduced. She hadn't had a chance to exchange
more than two words with him, but she knew he was some sort of financier from Switzerland.
Mrs. Witchell beamed from her place at Oskar's side, and Vivian felt a twinge of guilt at begrudging her mother a little happiness. Her mother hadn't seen anyone romantically since her husband's death, and almost eight years was a long time for anyone to go without a little companionship.
Vivian gazed at the Saint Nicholas ornament now hanging on the towering, tinseled fir and frowned. She could feel the weight of the little key pressed firmly against the skin of her breast, the jagged edge making indentations in her soft flesh with every inhale of breath. This key, the money, the secrecy. What could it mean?
"Uh-oh. I know that look."
Vivian turned to her best friend, Imogene, who had sidled up to her. Vivian forced a smile. "What look?"
"The something's in my way look." Imogene stared at her, the corners of her mouth turned down.
Vivian smiled and held her hands out to the crackling fire, even though the air in the crowded room was stifling. She glanced sidelong at Imogene and found her staring in expectation. Vivian sighed. Imogene was right. There was something in her way—a locked drawer full of cash and the sudden niggling suspicion that her father had been up to no good.
"I can't go into it here," she whispered. "But I just found something strange in my father's study."
"Stranger than this?" Imogene reached out and tugged on Saint Nicholas's paper boot, releasing the pungent scent of the north woods from the branches of the tree. Vivian glanced around to make sure no one else was within earshot.
"Like a locked drawer full of cash strange."
"Eight years locked. We all thought the key had been lost." They'd searched for weeks for that key, turning the house upside down. They'd finally given up, and Vivian had forgotten all about that locked desk drawer—until tonight.
"And it's full of cash?" Vivian nodded.
Imogene narrowed her eyes. "Hmm... Sounds like the beginning of a Darkness Knows episode."
"It does, doesn't it?"
"Maybe you should call Harvey Diamond."
Vivian glanced over her shoulder at Graham Yarborough, who stood on the opposite side of the room chatting with one of her mother's society friends. Harvey Diamond was Graham's fictional alter ego on the radio program The Darkness Knows. He and Vivian starred in the popular program together—though Vivian's character got to do little more than fall into trouble and scream for Harvey to save her.
"Not that Harvey Diamond," Imogene said. "The real one."
The real one, Vivian thought. Charlie Haverman's smirking, angular face sprang to mind, and Viv's stomach flip-flopped. Charlie's real capers as a private detective had been the inspiration for Graham's fictional ones. He'd even been a consultant to The Darkness Knows for a time. True, Charlie could help her get to the bottom of this—if it was anything at all. The problem was that she hadn't heard from Charlie in almost two months, not since they had investigated Marjorie Fox's murder at the station, not since they...Vivian flushed thinking about the night she and Charlie had spent together.
"What are you two whispering about?"
Vivian turned to find Graham smiling down at her, his deep-brown eyes twinkling. "Oh, nothing," Imogene said, shooting a glance at Vivian. "Christmas memories."
Vivian cleared her throat. "Speaking of Christmas past, isn't the Carol on?" Listening to the dramatization of A Christmas Carol starring Lionel Barrymore had become a tradition for people all over the country during the past few years.
Graham said, "Yes, but they have Reginald Owen doing it this year instead of Barrymore. Your mother's got some choir from Lincoln Center on anyway." He jerked a thumb toward the tall radio cabinet standing on the far side of the den and mimed a yawn.