This week we’re heading into wartime. 1943 to be exact. In The Truth We Hide, Betty Ahern is a soon-to-be PI and things aren’t looking to good for her client. There are plenty of twist and turns in this one, so after you get your lines drawn on your stockings we’ll head to the case.
About the Book
May 1943. Betty Ahern is studying for her private investigator’s license when a new client—Edward Kettle—hires her to clear his name after he was dismissed from his job at the American Shipbuilding Company. When Edward is brutally murdered, the dead man’s sister hires Betty to finish the original job and find the killer. The job hurls Betty back into the world of wartime espionage, but with a twist: Edward Kettle was a homosexual. Did he know something about underhanded activities at American Shipbuilding? Or was his secret life the motive for murder? Once again, Betty must unravel the mystery, which requires uncovering truths that others would prefer to keep hidden—a job that threatens not only her morals and beliefs, but also her life.
I held up a hand. “Stop right there. I don’t wanna hear any official secrets. I don’t do that kind of work.” “I wasn’t going to say anything specific. It’s enough that you know the project is big and for Uncle Sam. Although everybody will know in a few days at most.” He took a sip. “I’ve worked on it since the beginning, which was last year. A couple of weeks ago, they caught a reporter from the local press sniffing around. He wasn’t from the Courier-Express. It’s some paper named The Daily. A real rag, from what I hear. Nazis next door, mobsters downtown, a lot of sensationalism, not a lot of facts.” I twiddled my pencil. “Tabloid press.” “You got it.” Edward took another sip. “The Coast Guard ran him off, and nobody said anything about it. Two days ago, he ran a story about our project. It wasn’t very factual, but it did contain a couple of nuggets that were true and not things the general public could have figured out.” “Such as?” I didn’t read the tabloid papers. Pop, a dedicated Courier-Express man, would have skinned me alive for bringing trash like that into the house. “They said the ships we’re building were going to be used in the Pacific, as weapons against the Japanese. The story also said the ships were equipped with a new feature that would put American vessels way ahead of the enemy.” He paused. “The first statement is only sort of true. But the second, well, let’s just say it’s closer to the truth than the company bigwigs want it to be. Naturally, they started looking for the leak.” I’d said I didn’t want to know any government secrets and I meant it, so I ignored that part of the story. “Let me guess. They landed on you and you were fired.” He exhaled, peepers fixed on his java. “I protested, of course, but the head office needed a scapegoat. I’m it.” Lee polished off the last of his pie. “Why would they fix on you?” “The way I heard it, someone said he saw me talking to the reporter as I was leaving the shipyard a couple of days before the story broke.” Edward picked up his mug, then set it down. “Did you?” I asked. He nodded. “The guy waylaid me as I was coming out. He asked a ton of questions, and all I told him was no comment.” “Did the story quote you?” “No. Inside sources, no names…you know the drill.” I did. On the surface, it sounded like Edward got a bum rap. But why? Being seen with a tabloid reporter struck me as flimsy. “That doesn’t answer Lee’s question. Why accuse you? Why not some other guy?” He squirmed in his seat. “What do you mean?” Maybe it was my imagination, but Edward got a shifty look in his eyes. I glanced at Lee, who gave me the teeniest frown. “A tabloid writer wouldn’t corner one joe out of what, dozens who work at the shipyard? Hundreds? He’d talk to as many as he could, ’specially if he was an eager beaver, and I bet most of ’em are.” I tilted my head. “But the brass specifically fingered you. Who doesn’t like you, and what’s the reason?” There was no imagining it. Edward refused to meet my gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been at American Shipbuilding for a couple of years. No one has ever complained about my…my work.” His foot beat a rapid tattoo against the floor, and he clammed up quick. I stared at him. Sam told me once that silence was a great tool in an interrogation. People didn’t like being quiet. The chapter in my private investigator course about questioning suspects gave me the same advice. I waited. Sure enough, before more than a minute had gone by, he broke. “Aren’t you going to ask any more questions?” “No, I think I’ve got enough dope to know the situation.” He turned to Lee. “I’m supposed to take her seriously?” Lee stayed calm. “I’ve seen Betty solve cases with less info than you gave her.” Edward shook his head. “I’m trusting you, Lee. Don’t make me regret it.” He returned his gaze to me. “We’ve talked. I don’t think I said much, but it’s up to you. Do you want to take my case or not?” I was pretty certain Edward wasn’t being completely truthful. Normally, I’d tell him to pound salt for lying, but something about him intrigued me. He didn’t wear a wedding band, but he’d not given the waitress, a cutie who gave Judy Garland a run for her money, more than a tentative smile despite the fact the girl beamed right at him. He felt gentle, his language precise and educated, even though I was pretty sure a guy working as a manual laborer at a shipyard hadn’t gone to college. I’d take his case just ’cause he was a little bit of a puzzle. “I’ll look into it.” “How much?” This was the part I hadn’t looked forward to. Talking money. The correspondence course hadn’t been much help. I couldn’t charge ordinary folks what I’d asked Lee’s lawyer to pay last March, nor could I afford to charge peanuts, not if I hoped to make a living. “Fifty bucks for the week, plus expenses. If the case takes longer than that, it’s fifteen dollars a day, again, plus expenses. Does that sound fair?” Edward thought a moment. “Deal.” He took two twenties and a ten out of his wallet and handed them over. Then he reached across the table, took my pad and pencil, and scribbled a phone number. “That’s the number at my boarding house. If you need to reach me. I’d prefer it if you don’t just drop by. Call, and I’ll meet you. This diner is convenient.” I shot a covert look at Lee, who didn’t look surprised. I’d expected Edward to have to go to the bank first. The bills were not crisp, but they’d still spend. Who carried that kind of cabbage around with him? “Where do you live?” “I’d rather not say.” He was either an intensely private person, or he was hiding something. I’d talk to Sam and see if he’d give me the skinny on my client. I didn’t object to working for a convict, but it’d be nice to know. I held out my hand. “Well then, Mr. Kettle. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, set in the scenic Laurel highalnds and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and The Historical Novel Society. She is the current vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and is on the National Board as the Education Liaison. Liz splits her time between Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, where she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.