The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel

P
RAISE FOR

The Tolling of Mercedes Bell

“The Tolling of Mercedes Bell
is Jennifer Dwight’s masterful suspense novel about gripping intrigues spawned in a fictional California law firm in the 1980s. The true-to-life details of this finely wrought tale arise from Dwight’s inside knowledge of law firms, and draw the reader into paralegal Mercedes Bell’s struggle for survival at the hands of a gifted con-artist and attorney, Jack Soutane. This compelling work is a mustread for anyone who has worked in the law or who wants an unforgettable taste of the San Francisco Bay Area during a troubled time. The characters and message of the book will remain long after the last page is read.”

—Chere Estrin, author of
Paralegal Career Guide,
The Successful Paralegal Job Search Guide, Everything You Need to Know
About Marketing Your Paralegal Program,
and
Hot Jobs & Amazing Careers:
Smart Moves for Paralegals;
President and Co-founder of
The Organization of Legal Professionals

“In her stunning novel, Jennifer Dwight serves a Bay Area banquet of fashion, food, fraud, and fear deliciously combined and relentlessly plated, page-on-page, with cultured sensitivity and appreciation for the tenuousness of truth and of life. Throughout, her heroine Mercedes Bell cleaves to love and truth, to probity and law as antidotes to the violence, shock, and deception of married life. This work never falters. Its trajectory, entirely direct, trills with both charm and surprise. The reader, as I did, will applaud from page one to the very last chapter the tolling of Mercedes’s bell.”

—Tim Jollymore, author of
Observation Hill
and the award-winning
Listener in the Snow


The Tolling of Mercedes Bell,
set in San Francisco amid the excess of the eighties, is the suspenseful story of a single mother caught up in a love-turned-lethal. Jennifer Dwight’s skillfully crafted characters and descriptions linger long after the last page, but the novel’s revelation is that our greatest flaw may not be how we deceive others, but how we deceive ourselves—and risk paying the ultimate price.

—Kristen Harnisch, award-winning author of
The Vintner’s Daughter
and
The California Wife

THE TOLLING
of
MERCEDES BELL

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Dwight

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, digital scanning, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please address She Writes Press.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published 2016
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 978-1-63152-070-9 pbk
ISBN: 978-1-63152-086-0 hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-63152-071-6 ebk
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015954337

CHAIN OF FOOLS – Words and Music by DON COVAY © 1967 (Renewed) PRONTO MUSIC, INC., FOURTEENTH HOUR MUSIC, INC. and SPRING TIME MUSIC, INC. All Rights Administered by PRONTO MUSIC, INC. All Rights Reserved.

STAYIN’ ALIVE – Words and Music by BARRY GIBB, MAURICE GIBB and ROBIN GIBB © 1977 (Renewed) CROMPTON SONGS LLC and GIBB BROTHERS MUSIC
All Rights for CROMPTON SONGS LLC Administered by WARNER-TAMERLANE PUBLISHING CORP. All Rights Reserved.

Stayin’ Alive – Words and Music by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb Copyright (c) 1977 by Yvonne Gibb, The Estate Of Robin Gibb, Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. and Crompton Songs LLC. Copyright Renewed. All Rights for Yvonne Gibb and The Estate Of Robin Gibb Administered in the U.S. and Canada by Universal Music – Careers. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.

More Than This – Words and Music by Bryan Ferry. Copyright (c) 1982 BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd. All Rights Administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation

Rain – Words and Music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright (c) 1966 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. Copyright Renewed. All Rights Administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 424 Church Street, Suite 1200, Nashville, TN 37219. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation

“One More Night’ by Phil Collins © 1984 by Phil Collins LTD. & Imagem CV Administered worldwide by Imagem CV. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

Cover design © Julie Metz, Ltd./metzdesign.com
Author photo by Mark Bennington
Formatting by Stacey Aaronson

For information, address:
She Writes Press
1563 Solano Ave #546
Berkeley, CA 94707

She Writes Press is a division of SparkPoint Studio, LLC.

For Laurel and Julian

The truth is incontrovertible.

Panic may resent it,

ignorance may deride it,

malice may distort it, but there it is.

—WINSTON CHURCHILL
May 17, 1916
Speech in the House of Commons

CONTENTS

ONE
A
KIND
of
TAROT

TWO
T
HE PINK PALACE

THREE
T
HE FREDERICKS CASE

FOUR
I
N
the
COMPANY
of
WOLVES

FIVE
C
APTIVE AUDIENCE

SIX
R
AND TAYLOR

SEVEN
A
TISKET,
a
TASKET

EIGHT
B
ELVEDERE

NINE
H
IDDEN
in
PLAIN SIGHT

TEN
O
NE MORE NIGHT

ELEVEN
C
OMING
to
TERMS

TWELVE
F
EET
in the
WATER

THIRTEEN
T
WO WORLDS

FOURTEEN
E
LEANOR

FIFTEEN
S
EALED
with a
KISS

SIXTEEN
T
HE DOOR CLOSES BEHIND

SEVENTEEN
T
AKE ME DOWN

EIGHTEEN
T
HE ANNOUNCEMENT

NINETEEN
B
REAKING
the
CODE

TWENTY
T
HIEF
in the
NIGHT

TWENTY-ONE
F
LORENCE

TWENTY-TWO
F
ISSURES

TWENTY-THREE
G
ETTING AWAY

TWENTY-FOUR
R
AIN

TWENTY-FIVE
N
EW FRIENDS

TWENTY-SIX
T
HE NEW REGIME

TWENTY-SEVEN
E
PIPHANIES

TWENTY-EIGHT
P
UTTING TWO
and
TWO TOGETHER

TWENTY-NINE
T
HE NEW MATH

THIRTY THE
M
YSTERY THEATER

THIRTY-ONE
U
NMASKED

THIRTY-TWO
T
HE DARK STAR SHINETH

THIRTY-THREE
W
AR
and
ROSES

THIRTY-FOUR
O
NE LAST WISH

CHAPTER ONE

April 1982

A KIND
of
TAROT

D
ozens of index cards were laid out like a board game on the dining room table. The old manual typewriter and a ream of good bond paper were the tools of survival in her now-desperate campaign to find a job. Copies of letters already mailed sat in a thick stack next to the cards on which she’d written the name and address of every law firm within driving distance. Hundreds of calls and letters later, she was down to the end.

It has to be one of these,
thought Mercedes Bell, arranging the last cards in front of her like some obfuscated Tarot reading. She stared out the open windows onto her neighbor’s lawn and felt a hollow ache inside. Of all the many she had tried, there were only four law offices left to pursue for the elusive paralegal job.

Pull yourself together. It will be one of these four,
she thought. She typed the letter she knew by heart, introducing herself, enclosing a résumé. There was something wonderfully satisfying about pounding out a letter. The table shook a little, the wood floor vibrated beneath her bare feet, and at the end of each line—
ding!
—the carriage return.
When she’d finished the letters, she sealed them and held them in her hand for a moment.
Please just give me a chance.

She walked into the kitchen, stomach growling from not having eaten in hours, took an apple from the bowl, and went out back. The red paint peeling off the porch where she stood felt crinkly under her toes. She looked at the yard tools leaning against the house where Eddy had left them, and then at his work gloves on top of the wood pile. Strange, but she half expected him to come through the gate. In the weeks since his death, anxiety, sorrow, and anger had cloaked and choked her.

A soft breeze brought the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine and moved her long curly hair. She had hardly noticed the onset of spring. The plum trees budded and blossomed as though in a movie. The mourning doves returned to the bower outside the bedroom window where she’d lain sleepless, often holding Germaine. The daylight increased in length each day, a march of light toward some ineluctable end. The money was running out, and the full weight of what had happened lay heavily upon her.

Before Eddy died, she’d enrolled in a training program for paralegal work, a promising new career that was sprouting up all over the country. She wanted to have a means of support whenever the inevitable split-up occurred. She knew she couldn’t endure his abuse indefinitely, and it would only be a matter of time until Germaine became his next target.

But here she was, only a few weeks from finishing the course, and Eddy had trumped her one last time. There was no time to study anymore. Her survival and her daughter’s depended on finding work
now.
Mercedes relished the idea of breaking into something so new she could be one of the first—if she could just get her foot in the door.

Other books
Abnormal Occurrences by Thomas Berger
The Rose of Provence by Susanna Lehner
Someday Soon by Debbie Macomber
Today's Embrace by Linda Lee Chaikin
The Next Contestant by Dani Evans, Okay Creations
Sex, Lies and Midnight by Tawny Weber
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Pirate's Golden Promise by Lynette Vinet
Desert Wind by Betty Webb
Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd