Excerpt from Shell Game by Carol O'Connell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shell Game

By Carol O'Connell

Shell Game
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  • Hardcover: Jun 1999,
    374 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2000,
    416 pages.

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Wooden blue sawhorses barricaded the crush of onlookers along Central Park West. The crowds would be fifty-people deep at the midpoint of the parade route, and denser still in Herald Square, where Broadway performers were tap-dancing their hearts out to keep warm. But here on the Upper West Side, where it all began, the crowd was only a thick band of spectators lining the park side of the boulevard.

The detective sat on the edge of the magicians' float, his legs dangling from the wide brim of a top hat scaled for King Kong, and he wrapped his coat tighter against the high wind. Riker had the best view in town for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he blamed his partner for this. He turned to the young blonde behind the aviator sunglasses. "Mallory, tell me again. What am I doing here?"

"You're earning a turkey dinner at Charles's place." Detective Mallory lowered her dark glasses to glare at him properly, to make it clear that she was not up for a rebellion this morning. A deal was a deal.

In the long slants of her sunlit eyes, there was a perverse green fire with no warmth. Riker found this standout feature slightly less unnerving in her adult face. As a little girl, she had frightened people.

Ah, but she still frightened people, didn't she?

Well, to be fair, Kathy Mallory was taller now, five ten, and she carried a gun. Fifteen years ago, the street kid had cleaned up well after only one bath, revealing luminous white skin in sharp contrast to a red pouting mouth. And even then, the delicate bones of her child's face were sculpted for the high drama of light and shadow.

This morning, she wore a long trench coat. The black leather was too light to offer much protection from the weather, but she seemed not to feel the bitter chill in the air. And this fit well with Riker's idea that she was from some other planet, dark and cold, farthest from the sun.

"Mallory, this is a waste of time. Even Charles thinks it was an accidental death. Ask him. I did." He knew she would never ask. Mallory didn't like to be contradicted. However, the other eight million New Yorkers believed Oliver Tree had died because of a magic trick gone wrong.

He turned around to look at the giant playing cards set into the enormous hatband of bright metal. Between an ace and a deuce, the center card was a portrait of the great Max Candle, who had died thirty years ago. Twelve feet above the top hat's brim, the late magician's younger cousin was standing on the crown with two other men in red satin capes and black tuxedos. Six feet four without his shoes on, Charles Butler created his own scale of gianthood on the high circular stage.

Though Charles was not a real magician, it was easy to see why he had been invited to appear on the float. The resemblance to his famous cousin was very strong. At forty, Charles was near the age of the man in the photograph. His eyes were the same shade of blue, and his hair was also light brown, even curling below the line of his collar in the same length and style. Both men had the same sensuous mouth. But thereafter, the similarity was distorted. The late Max Candle had been a handsome man. Charles's face was close to caricature, his nose elongating to a hook shape with bird-perching proportions. The heavy-lidded eyes bulged like a frog's, and his small irises were lost in a sea of white. Max Candle had had a dazzling smile. His younger cousin smiled like a loon, but such a charming loon that people tended to smile back.

Charles Butler was Max Candle trapped in a fun-house mirror.

And now Riker caught his own reflection in the wide hatband of polished metal. He stared at his unshaven face and veined eyes. Graying strands of hair whipped out beneath the brim of his old felt hat. He was wearing a birthday present from Mallory, the finest tweed overcoat he had ever owned, tailored for a millionaire-which explained why he looked a homeless bum in stolen clothes.

Reprinted from Shell Game by Carol O'Connell by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Carol O'Connell.

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