Excerpt from Murder Under A Black Moon

1

Mona entered the Moon box at Churchill Downs in order to watch the Kentucky Derby.

“Is she here—somewhere?” Aunt Melanie stammered, craning her neck around Mona. Before Mona could take her seat, Melanie pushed her aside to get a better look at the people milling behind them.

Flabbergasted, Mona hurriedly took a seat.  “For goodness sake, Melanie.  Get a hold of yourself.  Mrs. Longworth is with Lord Farley checking the horses out in the paddock.”

“I’m going to greet her.”

Mona grabbed Melanie’s arm.  “Sit down, please.  She’ll be here shortly.  Then you can talk her arm off.”

“How did you manage to wrangle Alice Roosevelt Longworth as a house guest?”

“I didn’t.  Lord Farley is her host.  Apparently, the Roosevelts and Farleys are related.  She wanted to come to the Derby and called Lord Farley up.”

Melanie looked crestfallen.  “You mean she’s not staying at Moon Manor?”

“Afraid not.  She’s Lord Farley’s guest.”

“Quit referring to Robert as Lord Farley.  We all know he is Lawrence Robert Emerton Dagobert Farley, Marquess of Gower,” Melanie snapped.  “And we all know you two are engaged.  Stop rubbing it in.”

Mona grinned.  “It’s eating you up, isn’t it, Aunt Melanie?”

“You know it is.  I had my cap set on Robert.  Then my brother had the rude manners to make you his sole heir to the Moon fortune, and up and died on me before I could get the will changed.  Without you butting in, I’m sure Robert would have fallen for me.”  Melanie straightened her hat.  “I can’t wait to see Manfred and give him a piece of my mind.”

Mona studied her aunt to see if Melanie recognized the irony of her statement.  Melanie would have to be dead in order to talk with her brother.  It was a shame Melanie never saw the futility of her life.  She was a lovely-looking woman with light eyes and blonde hair with pale ivory skin.  She and Mona looked very much alike, but Mona’s hair was platinum and her eyes a startling yellow—only two percent of the world’s population had eyes the color of Mona’s.  They were near the same age as Melanie was the last bloom of her mother’s womb.  When Melanie was very small, Mona’s father (Melanie’s brother) married against his parent’s wishes and left Moon Manor disinherited.  But that’s where the sameness ended as their temperaments were worlds apart.

Mona was a hard worker and college-educated, whereas Melanie whiled away her days lunching and gossiping with the “girls.”  Her education had been a Swiss finishing school that molded young women into potential helpmates for powerful men.

“You know that Alice and FDR aren’t speaking because she supported Herbert Hoover running for president instead of her own cousin.”

“Is that so?” Mona replied.

Melanie sniffed, “It’s not the first public quarrel she’s had.  She supposedly buried a voodoo doll of William Howard Taft’s daughter, Nellie, in the White House lawn after Taft won the presidency.  Both the Taft and Wilson administrations banned her from the White House.  I guess it will be only a matter of time before she does likewise with this administration.”

“Bury an effigy of Mrs. Roosevelt in the White House lawn?” Mona teased.

“Ugh, Eleanor.  I can’t stand that high-pitched voice of hers—like nails squeaking on a chalkboard.  Well, yes, I mean that Alice will do something that will get her banned from the White House again.”

“And yet she is so popular.”

“You know her father, Teddy Roosevelt—”

“I know who her father was, Melanie,” Mona cut in.

Melanie continued unabashed, “Her father, President Theodore Roosevelt, said, ‘I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice.  I cannot possibly do both.’”

Mona looked over her shoulder.  Robert and Alice had been gone for a long time.  She wondered what was holding them up.  “Look at the crowd.  Half the people are here to see the Derby and the other half to see Alice Roosevelt.  I wonder who tipped the papers that she was coming.”

“I have no idea,” Melanie said nonchalantly, looking through her binoculars at the crowd. 

Mona gave Melanie a hard look as she was suspicious of her aunt.  Very few people knew Alice Roosevelt Longworth was coming, but there was always the possibility Miss Alice could have tipped off the papers herself.

Melanie leaned over and nudged Mona.  “You know it is rumored Alice Roosevelt’s daughter is not her husband’s but sired by Senator William Borah.”

“Who was sired by Senator Borah?” Willie Deatherage asked, entering the Moon private viewing box with a small tray of Mint Julep drinks and handed one to Mona and Melanie.

“Thank you, dear,” Mona said.  “Very thoughtful of you.”

Melanie said, “I so love this drink.  Wouldn’t be Derby Day without a Mint Julep.”  Seeing Willie’s stricken face, Melanie added, “Oh, sorry, Willie.  I forgot that you are on the wagon.”

Willie took her seat and ignored Melanie’s snide remark.  She made it a habit long ago to pay little attention to the woman. 

Dexter Deatherage, his hands full of drinks also, stumbled into the box.  “Here, someone help me before I drop these.  I got extras because I don’t want to be running up and down the aisles for refreshments.”

Mona and Willie reached over and relieved Dexter of his burden.

“Who are we talking about now?” Dexter asked, handing his wife a cold Coca Cola bottle from his pocket and a ginger ale from his other pocket.

“I was saying that it is rumored that Paulina Longworth is not the child of Nicholas Longworth, but Senator William Borah,” Melanie said.

“This is unseemly talk,” Mona admonished.  “Gossip like this can ruin a woman.”

Ignoring Mona, Willie said, “I heard she wanted to name the baby Deborah.  Get it—de Borah.  The family nicknamed the child Aurora Borah Alice.”

Dexter suggested, “Ladies, quit talking about our distinguished guest like that.  It is scandalous.”

“Oh, Dexter, you’re such a stick-in-the-mud,” Willie complained about her husband.

“Be that as it may, my dearest, let’s show some decorum.  Robert and Alice will be here any moment.  I passed them on the way.”

Mona asked, “What’s taking them so long?”

“Mrs. Longworth is being bombarded by the crowds wanting her autograph or presenting her with Teddy bears.  They’re making their way through slowly.”

“Aren’t the Pinkertons keeping the crowds away?” Mona asked, perturbed.  The last thing she wanted was for Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of a popular dead U.S. President to be harmed on her watch.

Dexter answered, “It seems Mrs. Longworth is having a grand time meeting her devoted public.  The Pinkertons are helpless but to obey her commands.”

Mona sighed in relief until she heard sharp voices rise from the spectator box next to theirs as a young man and woman were arguing.  “Melanie, let me see those binoculars.”

Melanie swung the binoculars over to the couple.

“What are they saying?” Willie asked.

“They are arguing over another woman,” Melanie said.

An older couple tried to quiet them down.  Finally, the young woman burst into tears and rushed out of the box.  The middle-aged couple and the young man looked astonished.  The young man started to rush after the fleeing woman, but the older woman pulled him back and coaxed him into his seat. 

Mona assumed the older couple were the young man’s parents. Grabbing the binoculars from Melanie, she said, “Give back my binoculars.  I wish you’d buy your own.” 

“I would if you upped my pitiful stipend.”

“Oh, stop with that.  You make more money in a year than ninety-nine percent of the country.” 

“You can never be too rich or too thin,” Melanie replied.

“Who are they?” Mona asked.

Melanie scrunched her nose and said, “They are Jeannie and Zeke Duff.  New money.  Oil wells from somewhere west of the Pecos I expect.  The young chap in the seersucker suit is their son Cody.”

Willie shot Melanie a disdainful look.  “They are oil people from Texas.  They had black gold on their land and cashed in.  They have relocated here and are itching to break into the horse business.”

“Good luck to them,” Melanie said, ruefully.  “They are nothing but social climbers as far as I’m concerned.  The last thing the Bluegrass needs is more parvenus.”

Willie rolled her eyes.

“And the young woman?” Mona asked.

Willie added, “The tearful woman is his new bride, Helen.”

Dexter added, “From Texas as well.”

Willie said, “I hear they are having a difficult time blending in, especially the new wife.  She wants to go back to Texas.”

“I can attest to how difficult it is to make friends here if one is new,” Mona said.

‘‘I resent that,” Willie teased.

‘‘I don’t mean you and Dexter, of course, but born and bred Lexingtonians are very snobbish.  You must admit that, Willie.”

“We don’t like to see new money come in and buy up our land,” Willie said.

Dexter argued, “But, darling, the old aristocrats don’t have the money to hang on to these farms. They are expensive to run.  The Depression has hit everyone.  Look at John Keene.  He wants to sell his farm for Lexington’s new racecourse, and his family has been here since the 1700s.”

“Well, the Wrights didn’t do so badly buying land for Calumet Farm,” Melanie concurred.  “Old man Wright saved the land from the bulldozer.”

Willie mused, “I wonder how it’s going with the son changing it from a Standardbred horse farm to a Thoroughbred horse farm.  Big difference in training.”

“I saw Warren Wright the other day.  He said things were going fine at Calumet Farm, and he hopes to have a champion soon,” Mona said.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Melanie scoffed.  “He’s got nothing but plugs at the moment.”

“I’m not sure I would agree, Melanie,” Dexter said.  “Warren Wright is a sharp cookie.”

Melanie harrumphed.

“Who are the other couples in their box?” Willie asked.

Melanie strained her neck in order to get a good gander.  “The woman in the red dress and big Derby hat is Natasha Merriweather and her husband Tosh.  She is the daughter of an iron magnate and, like the Duffs, wants to learn the racing business.  They recently bought Pennygate Farm.”

Mona nodded.  “I had heard Pennygate had been sold.”

“Well, they bought it,” Willie added.

“And the other couple?” Mona asked. 

Melanie stood and twisted toward their neighboring box, waving to some friends who had yoo-hooed her.  Sitting back down, she said, “That’s Rusty Thompson and his wife.  He’s a trainer and buyer for folks who have cash to burn.”

“Was,” Dexter said.

Mona turned to watch Dexter take a sip of his Mint Julep. “What do you mean by ‘was?’”

Willie fanned herself with a racing program.  “Mona, don’t you know anything that’s going on in town?”

Mona laughed, “I’ve been preoccupied.”

“Did you say you’ve been preoccupied, darling?  I hope it’s because you’ve been planning our wedding.”

Mona looked up and smiled.  There Robert was—the light of her life.

Robert escorted a distinguished looking woman wearing a blue chiffon day dress into the Moon spectator box.  “Everyone, I’d like you to meet my guest, Mrs. Nicholas Longworth.”

Everyone in the box stood in greeting as did everyone around them who was eavesdropping.

Mrs. Longworth took her program and patted Robert on the chest with it.  “Dear boy, always introduce a woman by her own name.  I hate that ancient practice of introducing a woman by her husband’s name, especially if he’s deceased.  Rather Edwardian, don’t you think?”

Grinning, Robert gave a small bow.  “Excusez-moi, Madame.  May I present Alice Roosevelt Longworth.”

“I found the name of Alice Roosevelt gets me in the better addresses rather than Longworth, and I only refer to my dead husband’s name when I need money from the bank.”

Everyone twittered.

Mona felt Willie give her a small nudge as if to say “I told you so.”

Robert helped Alice to her seat and took the one next to her before introducing everyone. 

Alice gave the once-over to Melanie and Mona.  “You girls sure stick out with your hair color.  Are you sisters?”

“I am Melanie Moon, Miss Alice.”

“I got that in the introduction.”

“Mona is my niece.”

Alice gave Mona a long hard stare.  “So, you are the cartographer who runs Moon Enterprises.  Everyone is losing their shirts, but Moon Enterprises is having a profitable year and employing more men.  My hat off to you, young woman.”

“Thank you, Miss Alice.  High praise coming from you.”

“I think of such people as yourself as the real key to getting this country back on its feet rather than my cousin’s ridiculous federal programs.  People need to rely on themselves and not the government to get them out of a jam.”        

“I find that people who hold such beliefs are people with lots of money at their disposal,” Mona countered.

Willie murmured, “Oh boy, here we go.”  She gulped down some ginger ale, knowing of Mona’s strong support for FDR’s New Deal programs and Alice’s dislike of them.

Melanie interjected, “I think what my niece means is—”

Alice cut in, “I know exactly what your niece means.  You interested in politics, Miss Moon?”

“Not really, but I help those less unfortunate where I can, but call me Mona, please.”

“I shall.”

Mona leaned forward.  “You and I agree on this, Miss Alice—it’s jobs that are going to turn this country around.  Putting men back to work.  The unemployment rate is still twenty-one percent.”

Alice asked, “You interested in politics, Melanie?”

Melanie scoffed, “Hardly.”

“I’m surprised.”

“Why is that?”

“Because politics is a blood sport, and I think you might be pretty good at blood sports.”

“Thank you, Miss Alice,” Melanie replied in a small voice.  She wasn’t sure if she had just been insulted or praised.

“Enough of this bantering,” Robert said.  “The race is getting ready to start.”

Everyone stood to sing the Kentucky Derby anthem—My Old Kentucky Home.  After the song, there was a crowd murmur as the Derby horses pranced onto the racetrack. Once all horses were placed in the starting gate, a bell rang and they were off with the crowd rushing onto the track itself and running behind the horses.

——————-

AND THEY’RE OFF!  Peace Chance and Mata Hari speed off with Mata Hari stepping into the lead.  Turning in front of the stand with the mob screaming loudly, Mata Hari is in the lead at three comfortable lengths with Quasimodo second and Speedmore third.  On the backstretch, it’s Mata Hari opening up with Sgt. Byrne now head to head.  At the mile post, it’s Sgt. Byrne now in front with Mata Hari second.  Cavalcade now coming up and challenging both Sgt. Bryne and Mata Hari. Heading home, it’s Cavalcade on the outside with Discovery shooting ahead.  Cavalcade and Discovery fighting it out as Mata Hari and Sgt. Byrne fade. Two hundred yards to go, it’s Discovery in front and here comes Cavalcade fighting for the roses. They are neck to neck with Cavalcade not giving up.  Cavalcade is too much for Discovery.  Cavalcade can’t be stopped, and it’s Cavalcade two and a half lengths ahead.  Cavalcade wins the sixtieth run of the Kentucky Derby!  Discovery is second and Agrarian comes in third!

——————-

Robert tore up his ticket.  “That does it.  I bet on Mata Hari.  She just gave out.”

“I told you to bet on Cavalcade.  Look at his wide chest.  Lungs are what wins these races,” Alice said, looking smug and holding up her ticket.  I’m going to cash mine in.” 

A piercing scream rang out over the noise of the crowd, causing everyone to search for the source.

Mona stood.  “I don’t think that scream sounded like someone who has the winning ticket.”

“Or they lost the winning ticket,” Willie said.

The scream sounded again and continued into a low mournful hum.  Another woman started screaming and sobbing.

“It’s coming from the next box!” Mona said.

Everyone in the next box was huddled around a man slumped over in his seat.

“What happened?  Do you need help?” Dexter called out as he climbed over the rail that divided the review boxes.

Mona and Robert followed Dexter into the next box.

“Do you need a doctor?” Mona asked a pale and sweating Zeke Duff.

Duff replied, “No, I’m afraid we need the police!”  He pointed to the man slumped over. 

Mona went over to feel for a pulse when Dexter grabbed her hand.  “Don’t touch him, Mona.  He is beyond your ministrations.”

Mona looked closer and noticed small drops of blood trickling down the man’s shirt and tie.  It was then she realized the unfortunate man was truly dead and caught the sight of the gruesome cause.

The victim had a woman’s hat pin protruding from his bloodied left eye!


2

Detective McCaw wetted his pencil with his tongue before writing in his pocket notebook.  “What’s your name?”

“Madeline Mona Moon.”

“The reason you are here?”

“The same reason the other sixty thousand people are—to watch the Kentucky Derby.”

“Who are you with?”

“This is a family box—the Moon family box.”

Detective McCaw looked up from his notes at Mona.  “You mean that Moon family?”

“Yes.”

Detective McCaw didn’t seem impressed, which caused Mona to take a liking to him.  The detective was a rugged-looking man with a ruddy complexion and close-cropped hair.  He smelled of Aqua Velvashaving lotion, and a thick scar ran from his left ear down his neck.  His clothes were pressed and clean, but his shoes were grimy.  Mona deduced he must have been working on another murder prior to this one, which had occurred in a muddy field.  One of Detective McCaw’s eyelids twitched a bit.  Mona wondered if that was a remnant of the trauma that had to do with the scar.  McCaw was not handsome, but wonderfully masculine—the kind of man who naturally draws women to him.

“What’s your address?”

“Mooncrest Farm, Lexington, Kentucky.”

“Who is in your party?”

“My lawyer, Dexter Deatherage, and his wife, Wilhelmina.  Robert Farley, my fiancé.  My aunt, Melanie Moon, and Mrs. Alice Longworth.”

“Is this Alice Longworth related to you as well?”

Mona gave Detective McCaw a blank look.  “You’re pulling my leg, of course.”  She couldn’t believe McCaw didn’t recognize one of the most famous women in the world.

McCaw looked at Alice saying, “I don’t kid around with murder.  Who’s the lady in question?”

“Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.”

McCaw calmly wrote in his notebook.  “Is that why so many bodyguards are hanging around and blocking up the aisles?”

“One of the reasons.  My lawyer insists on the Pinkertons for my protection as well.”

“Well, they’re a nuisance, Miss Moon.”

“Yes, they are, but unfortunately, needed.”

“I see.” Turning, he muttered under his breath, “Great.  A bunch of swells.”  He waved to another officer to take Robert’s statement.

Mona gave a faint smile.  Detective McCaw retained a certain disrespect when it came to the rich.  She knew how he felt. 

“Are you the lead detective in this case?”

“I am, ma’am.”

“It’s miss.  Remember, I am engaged to Robert Farley.”

“Sorry, Miss Moon.  I’ve been up for over twenty-four hours now.  The Kentucky Derby brings a lot of riffraff to Louisville.”

Mona bit her tongue as she felt McCaw’s statement was a dig at her.

“I’m sure it does, Detective.  How may I help?”

“Tell me what happened.”

“Right after the race, we heard a woman scream and deduced it came from the box next to us.”

“How could you single out this scream from the cries of the spectators?”

“A woman’s scream that is fearful is a very distinctive cry.”

McCaw nodded.  “Who was screaming?”

“Mrs. Thompson.”

“Where was she?”

“Standing next to her husband on his left, leaning over him.”

“Then what did you see?”

“Mrs. Duff started screaming as well and calling for a doctor.”

“Where was she?”

“Standing with her husband near Mr. Thompson.”

“Did you see Mr. Thompson?”

“No, everyone was standing in a circle around him.  It wasn’t until we went over to help that we saw what the matter was.”

“Who are we?”

“Dexter Deatherage went over first.  Robert and I followed.”

“How?  Did you go around to their box?”

“No, we climbed over the railing.”

McCaw shot a look at Mona’s black and white dress with her white Derby hat and its black trim while making a notation.  He also glanced at her black and white shoes.  “Then what happened?”

“We pushed through the circle and saw Mr. Thompson hunched over in his seat.  I attempted to check his pulse, but Mr. Deatherage stopped me.  It was then that I saw the hat pin sticking out of his eye.”  Mona shuttered.  “It was awful.”

“Miss Moon, can you account for all your hat pins?”

“I can.”

“May I see them?”

Mona bowed her head as McCaw counted them.

“How many hat pins had you started out with today?’

“Two.”

“Describe them.”

“Fourteen carat gold with a drop pearl top.”

“Okay.  Take a seat.”

“When will we be able to leave?”

“When I’m finished with ya.”

Another plainclothes detective came over and whispered something into McCaw’s ear.  “You’re in luck.  You can leave, Miss Moon, but I’ll have to ask you not to leave town.”

“You mean Louisville?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, Detective, but I’m giving a party for Mrs. Longworth tomorrow.  The governor is coming.  I have to go back to Lexington.  My guests had nothing to do with this.”

“Oh, yeah?”  McCaw thumbed over his shoulder. 

Mona saw a policeman lead a stunned Willie Deatherage away in handcuffs with Dexter following close behind.

“What is going on?  Why is Mrs. Deatherage in handcuffs?”  Mona noticed Robert, Melanie, and Alice standing in a little knot watching Willie being led away.    

Mona said dryly, “I guess I’ll be staying after all, Detective.”



MURDER UNDER A Black MOON



Series
: A Mona Moon Mystery, Book 6

Publisher: Worker Bee Press
Genre: Mystery
Length: TBA
Lightning Source ISBN: TBA
Amazon Paperback ISBN: TBA

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