Excerpt from Hard Time by Sara Paretsky, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hard Time

By Sara Paretsky

Hard Time
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  • Hardcover: Sep 1999,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2000,
    255 pages.

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Regine and the other gossip columnists weren't of much interest to Trant tonight: I recognized the Speaker of the Illinois House and a couple of other state pols in the group close to him and had a feeling that the man he was talking most to was another businessman. Regine, peevish at being stiffed, made a big show of inspecting the hem of her black satin trousers, to show me I'd torn them or scuffed them or something. As I pushed my way through the melee toward a corner of the bar I heard her say to her counterpart at the Sun-Times, "Who is that very clumsy woman?"

I edged my way to the wall behind Sal's horseshoe mahogany bar. Since my assistant, Mary Louise Neely, and her young protégée Emily Messenger had come with me, I knew I was in for a long evening. In her current manic state Emily would ignore any pleas to leave much before one in the morning. It wasn't often she did something that made her peers jealous and she was determined to milk the evening to the limit.

Like most of her generation Emily was caught up in Lacey-mania. When I said she and Mary Louise could come as the guests my ticket entitled me to, Emily turned pale with excitement. She was leaving for France next week to go to a summer language camp, but that was bore-rine compared to being in the same room with Lacey Dowell.

"The Mad Virgin," she breathed theatrically. "Vic, I'll never forget this until my dying day."

Lacey got the nickname from her lead in a series of horror flicks about a medieval woman who supposedly died in defense of her chastity. She periodically returned to life to wreak vengeance on the man who tormented her--since he kept reappearing through time to menace other young women. Despite the pseudofeminist gloss on the plot, Lacey always ended up dying again after defeating her agelong foe, while some brainless hero cuddled a vapid truelove who had screamed herself breathless for ninety minutes. The films had a cult status among Generation X-ers--their deadly seriousness turned them into a kind of campy self-satire--but their real audience was Emily and her teenage friends, who slavishly copied Lacey's hairstyle, her ankle boots with their crossed straps, and the high-necked black tank tops she wore off the set.

When I got to the end of the bar near the service entrance, I stood on tiptoe to try to spot Emily or Mary Louise, but the crowd was too dense. Sal had moved all the barstools to the basement. I leaned against the wall, making myself as flat as possible, as harassed wait staff rushed by with hors d'oeuvres and bottles.

Murray had moved to the far end of the bar from me, still with the woman in silver gauze. He seemed to be regaling her with the tale of how Sal acquired her mahogany horseshoe bar from the remains of a Gold Coast mansion. Years ago when she was starting out, she got me and her brothers to climb through the rubble to help her haul it off. Watching the woman tilt her head back in a theatrical laugh, I was betting that Murray was pretending he'd been part of the crew. Something about the shape of his partner's face or the full-lipped pout she gave when she was listening was familiar, but I couldn't place her.

Sal stopped briefly by me again, holding a plate of smoked salmon. "I have to stay here till the last dog dies, but you don't--go on home, Warshawski."

I took some salmon and explained morosely that I was waiting on Mary Louise and Emily. "Want me to tend bar? It would give me something to do."

"Be better if you went in the back and washed dishes. Since I don't usually serve food here at the Glow my little washer is blowing its brains out trying to keep up with this. Want me to bring you the Black Label?"

"I'm driving. San Pellegrino is my limit for the evening."

Murray maneuvered his way across the bar with his companion and put his arm around Sal. "Thanks for opening up the Glow to this mob scene. I thought we ought to celebrate at some place authentically Chicago."

Excerpted from Hard Time by Sara Paretsky. Copyright© 1999 by Sara Paretsky. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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