"Tell me about it," I said.
"I'd rather not," she said.
"Force yourself," I said.
"We can talk about it after dinner."
"I can manage both," I said. "I'm the kind of multitasker that makes young multitaskers aspirational."
"It's not funny!" she said in a voice loud enough that I saw people at the nearest tables do some head-swiveling.
"I'll be better able to judge that when I know what 'it' is," I said.
She lowered her voice now, leaned forward. Fewer lines in her forehead than when I'd last saw her. I hadn't given in to Botox. Yet.
"Someone has accused me of literary theft," she said.
I let that settle for just a moment before I said, "Who?"
"I don't know."
"What do they want?"
"I don't know that, either."
Piece of cake, I thought.
We were back at The Newbury in her penthouse suite, having walked back from Davio's, where I was afraid Armando might be considering a career change or perhaps even witness protection after seeing how little of our black cod each of us had eaten.
Now Melanie Joan was on her couch, feet up, sipping a brandy, telling me again how awful it all was.
"I feel as if that was well established before we left the restaurant," I said.
"Don't be snarky."
I smiled. "Make me."
At least she smiled back.
"I did not steal the idea for Cassandra!" she said, and not for the first time.
Cassandra Demeter, of course. The character Melanie Joan talked about as if she were quite real, and had made her quite famous. And stupidly rich.
"I believe you," I said, also not for the first time, not that it seemed to provide any consolation.
Even with all of her theatrical starts and stops, I now knew Melanie Joan's problem. Someone had contacted her via email, telling her that the novel that had put Melanie Joan on the literary map had originally been written by someone else.
"This awful person told me that Cassandra is somebody else's work and he can prove it," she said. "And that there would be no new character for the new TV show if I hadn't stolen the idea for Cassandra in the first place."
"The great-granddaughter," I said. "That new character."
"Destiny," she said.
It was the name of the great-granddaughter, not an assessment of her current circumstances.
A sigh came out of Melanie Joan now that sounded more mournful than a country song. She might have started crying if she wasn't worried about what it might do to her makeup.
"Has anybody ever accused you of plagiarism before?" I said.
"Don't use that awful word!"
She took a big slug of brandy.
"Okay, let's back up," I said. "Whose content is it that you are supposed to have taken?"
"He won't say," I said. "Just that he has proof."
"You know it's a man who's been contacting you?"
"I just assumed," she said. "They've caused most of the problems in my life, haven't they?"
This excerpt ends on page 16 hardback edition.
Monday we begin the book The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood.