The Vienna Connection

Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
When dead debutante is found wearing a stolen jewel, Detective Andrea Manos finds herself at odds with a local mafia family, the pragmatic tycoon to whom the jewel belongs, and old secrets that refuse to stay in the past.
First 10 Pages

Vienna, 1968

The morning express train departed late. Fifteen minutes late, to be exact. Long enough to make the more nervous passengers fret it would not leave at all. But then the whistle sounded. A jarring shrill that could have woken the dead. As the train lurched to motion, a sigh of relief escaped every passenger.

Well, all but one.

A woman sat in the back corner of the first-class compartment. The only traveler unaccompanied, she occupied the seat next to the window, but was not looking out of it. Her eyes instead focused on her lap, where her hands were buried in a silk scarf. Anyone who took a second glance could tell the scarf was not hers. The swirls of emerald and sapphire made no sense with the woman’s neutral—albeit well-made—traveling suit. Besides, everything about the woman exuded sensibility, and no sensible woman would wear a silk scarf in the Viennese winter.

But no one bothered with a second glance, and if she had been thinking as she usually did, she would have been nothing short of ecstatic about it. But she wasn’t thinking like herself. At least, she didn’t feel like herself.

Truly, she felt…nothing.

Only when the train jolted forward did she seem to remember that the world outside of her thoughts was not just a fog. All of it was real. Vienna and all the people in it were real…and she was leaving it behind. Clutching the scarf stiffly in her fingers, she let her eyes fall shut. Her numbness disintegrating away, all the emotions that she had been suppressing rippled through her. Her old companion, anxiety, was joined by fear and the sharpest of sorrows. Guilt would come later—would come in bucket loads—but the sorrow is what she would remember years down the line. To think, when she had arrived in Vienna, she couldn’t wait to leave…

“Well, life just makes fools of us all, now doesn’t it?”

The voice in her head—crisp yet sultry, complete with the throaty laugh that always followed that blasted phrase—was so clear that it made her open her eyes. As if the speaker was right beside her. But the seat remained empty. She was still staring at it when the attendant came to her row.

“Madame, are you expecting someone?”

“Oh.” She cleared her throat. “No, I am not. May I have some coffee, please?”

“But, of course! Sugar? Cream?”

“Just black, danke.”

It was before her in a flash, its steam bringing her to her senses. Only once she had taken a sip did she turn her blonde head towards the window. Her brown eyes scoured what was beyond the glass. Vienna’s ornate buildings and still-on street lamps silhouetted against the rising sun, slipping away with each passing second.

Take one last look, Elaine. You will never see this place again.

Chapter 1

“Koukla!” Aunt Val called. “Your phone’s ringing!”

“Shit!” Pushing the mixing bowl away from her, Andrea Manos flew across the kitchen to where her phone charged on the opposite counter. She could already hear her mother sighing about how Andrea would get called into work on today of all days, her grandmother’s 90th birthday.

It wasn’t as if Andrea would be leaving them high and dry—a verifiable army comprising of Andrea’s cousins and siblings kept darting in and out of her parents’s house on party-related errands when they weren’t taking orders in the kitchen from Andrea’s mom and two aunts. But what was a family party without a little good, old-fashioned guilt?

Attempting to wipe her hands free of the flour that caked her fingers, Andrea shouted, “I don’t want to hear it, Mom!”

“I didn’t say anything!” Evangeline protested innocently enough from the other side of the kitchen. Val chuckled beside her as they continued chopping vegetables for the briami. Arguing was a Greek family specialty, one Andrea knew only got better with age. Andrea could hear her theia Helen arguing with her mother—Andrea’s grandmother—that she was not supposed to lift a finger, which sounded as appealing to Yiayia as a surprise root canal. It was the third time Andrea had heard the argument since she had arrived.

“Sure.” Smiling in spite of herself, Andrea put her phone to her ear. “What’s going on, Shay?”

“Manos.” Devin Shay, her partner in fighting crime—literally—sounded like he was seconds away from bursting with anticipation. “You are not going to believe this!”

“Try me,” Andrea said, rolling her eyes.

“What? No guesses?”


He took the hint. “They found the Autumn Diamond.”

“Get out of here!” Andrea gasped above the chaos of the kitchen. “They’ve been searching for that thing for weeks!”

“I know! And that’s not even the most interesting part.”

Andrea waited; Devin was too excited to need prompting.

“They found it on a missing debutante.”

“And what does the young lady have to say for herself?”

“Nothing, and she won’t be.”

Andrea’s stomach dropped. She didn’t have to ask Devin why he had called her to tell her this anymore. “Where?”

“Hilton Hotel and Towers. Twenty-seventh floor.”

Andrea took a breath, ignoring her mother’s resentful gaze. “I’m on my way.”

It had started snowing by the time Andrea got to Michigan Avenue, the glittering front of the hotel glowing in the cloudy air. The hotel still boasted its Christmas decorations and its frazzled clientele, one of whom was yelling at the reception desk when Andrea passed. Andrea scowled as a uniformed officer waved her through the police barriers to the elevator. The holiday season always was a busy one in her line of work, and the paradox never got easier to swallow.

Devin stood teetering on the toes of his loafers when Andrea walked through the door of the suite, hot chocolate in hand.

Seeing marshmallows floating in the Christmas-tree-printed Styrofoam cup, Andrea raised an eyebrow.

“Cutting back on caffeine, Shay?”

“Still in the Christmas spirit,” he replied with a grin. “Double marshmallows!”

“Your favorite!” Andrea laughed, shaking the snowflakes off as she freed herself from her jacket. “How have you not finished it yet?”

“I did. This one’s yours to sweeten up the lecture I am sure you got running out the door.”

“This is why I keep you around,” Andrea smiled. Devin bowed to the compliment, holding out the to-go cup to her. “What do we got?”

“Call came in at 7 a.m.,” Devin said, leading her down the hallway of the suite as he talked. “The maid found her when coming in to do the cleaning.”

“Who does the room belong to?” Andrea asked.

“Did you catch a guy yelling at the reception desk on your way up?” Devin countered. “That charming gentleman is Mr. C.B. Field. He wants to know why his room isn’t ready yet despite the front desk claiming his assistant already checked him in.”

“Let me guess, he doesn’t have an assistant,” Andrea said with a wry smile.

“Bingo,” Devin said. “We’re getting a description from the receptionist.”

“Good. Any chance Mr. Field is putting on a show?”

“Claims he flew in this morning. We’re having someone look into it.”

Andrea nodded, her gaze darting around the suite’s sitting area. With its plush couches, teal and brown textiles, a sweeping view of Lake Michigan, and the empty champagne bottle on the coffee table, the two-bedroom suite could have been a background for a magazine photoshoot of the victim. Instead, she lay dead on the floor, still in her white debutante gown. Her glossy curls that looked effortless but Andrea knew were the result of a tedious appointment with a hair stylist cushioned her head on the carpet. Her head lay turned away as if she didn’t want her open, blood-shot eyes to be seen by those coming in. Below the black and purple bruises marking up her throat, the Autumn Diamond sparkled every time a photo of the crime scene was taken. A pear-cut canary diamond the length of Andrea’s pinky finger offset by a necklace chain made up of smaller diamonds, it was ostentatious even for the girl’s bridal gown, like she had been playing dress-up in her mother’s closet. The thought made Andrea’s own throat constrict.

Wrong. This looks so wrong. How did she get here? Where did she get that?

“Doesn’t seem to have been much of a struggle,” Andrea murmured.

“I doubt she could have fought off her attacker much,” the M.E. said softly from where he knelt at the victim’s side. He was new to the job, or at least to Andrea. And she wasn’t about to interrupt his work for an introduction. “Looks like the strangulation was done by hand…her killer must have considerable strength.”

“And hands that are now cut up, maybe,” Andrea said, gesturing to the necklace.

“Perhaps.” The M.E. gingerly reached around the victim’s neck only to frown. “How odd…it seems that the necklace is being held together by a safety pin instead of the clasp. Wait, I have it…” With a sigh, he lifted the necklace free, showing off the safety pin to Andrea and Devin.

“Definitely not a usual feature of the piece,” Andrea said.

“Oh, I would definitely agree.” The M.E. gave the rest of the necklace a good appraisal before slipping it into an evidence back. “Very strange. Regardless, I don’t see how they couldn’t have gotten cut if she was wearing it when strangled. Perhaps there will be DNA for us.”

“Fingers crossed,” Devin said.

Andrea silently took the evidence bag. The shine of the jewels was almost a taunt, but she still had to admit it was a beautiful stone. While she enjoyed pairing the occasional bauble with her utilitarian work outfits, never in her wildest dreams did she ever contemplate wearing such a thing as the piece she now held. Andrea had seen people kill for jewels half as impressive. (For a lot of things less impressive, actually.) Yet she could say in near certainty that that’s not why this girl’s body lay in front of her.

“If they left it on the body…” Devin began, seeing Andrea’s face.

“It’s not what got her killed,” Andrea finished. With a final scowl, she placed the evidence bag next to the growing pile of them on the coffee table. Champagne bottle…but no glasses. Which meant few fingerprints and no DNA unless someone chugged it. Kneeling besides the M.E., she asked, “Any clue when she died?”

“Between midnight and one a.m., I would say,” he answered. Devin groaned outright.

“We only have access to the security tapes before midnight,” he said to Andrea’s questioning glance. “We’re still trying to get the rest.”

“We’ll have to put more pressure on them then,” Andrea said. “What about key card access to the room?”

“Out of the two issued for this room, one was sitting next to the girl’s purse.” Devin pointed to the pearl-studded clutch on the coffee table. “No prints.”

“Of course,” Andrea muttered, getting back up. “What do we have on the victim?”

Devin flipped open his notebook. “Susana Sommers. Nineteen, sophomore at DePaul. Family lives in the northern suburbs. Was a part of the cotillion…thingy that was going on in the Grand Ballroom last night. Except when they called her name, she was a no-show.”

“And no one thought that was odd?” Andrea asked.

“According to the hotel staff, her parents only started calling around when she didn’t show back up this morning.”

Andrea’s eyebrows rose. Not a good sign.

“Have they been notified?”

Devin nodded. “They’re waiting for us in one of the conference rooms. I also asked them to bring in some of Susana’s friends in this shindig. They might know something.”

“About the diamonds or the murder,” Andrea agreed.

Susana’s mother, Joanna, still couldn’t stand up properly when Andrea and Devin arrived to interview her and her husband. Even sitting seemed a strenuous effort. Her hair remained heavily hairsprayed in the windswept curls that had made up her up-do from the night before, leftover mascara running down her face with her tears.

“My baby…” Her sobs made her Southern accent more pronounced. “My baby…”

Susana’s father’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears, keeping one arm wound protectively around his wife.

“It might take us a minute, detectives,” he said in a shaking voice, “but we will help you as much as we possibly can.”

“Take your time,” Devin said. His tone couldn’t have been more soothing. He took out his notebook, flipping to a fresh page. It had become his and Andrea’s system early in their partnership. He was persnickety about how he liked his notes taken; Andrea liked to focus on watching the interviewees during her first interview with anyone. Their tag-teamed effort ran like a well-oiled, suspect-identifying machine. “When did you last see Susana?”

“Cocktail hour.” Her father, Keith, rubbed his jaw. “We…we went down from our suite together. We had a slot with the photographer at six.”

The idea of their last family photograph made Joanna sob even harder.

“It’s not real…it can’t be real…”

“And you didn’t see her after that?” Andrea asked.

“No,” Keith said with a shake of his head. “She went off with her friends and we were with ours…”

Joanna urgently patted her husband’s arm to get his attention. “You need…they need to talk with the women in charge of the girls, Keith.” As if Andrea or Devin didn’t hear her, she turned wildly to them. “They kept the girls sequestered from everyone between cocktail hour and their debut. You need to talk to them.”

“We absolutely will, Mrs. Sommers,” Devin assured her. “We’re speaking with them soon.”

“Good!” Joanna’s breathing grew ragged once again. “And find out…which one of them let this happen so I can kill them!”

“Joanna!” Keith cried. Andrea and Devin exchanged a covert glance.

“Well, it had to be one of them not looking,” Joanna sputtered, “letting someone get at our baby!”

“So, Susana didn’t have anyone who wished her ill?” Andrea asked quickly. “Maybe an ex-boyfriend?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Keith said. His wife shook her head in agreement. “She had never really dated anyone seriously…”

“It’s one of the reasons I wanted her to do this,” Joanna cut in, a dreamy note to her voice. “To see if she would meet someone…Lord, did she fight me on it.”

“She didn’t want to do the cotillon?” Andrea made sure she was the one to ask, knowing Devin’s voice would give away his own trepidations about the practice.

Joanna bobbed her head. “Hated it…hated me for it…”

That explains why no one was shocked when she didn’t show up. Andrea thought.

“She made a few friends in it,” Keith jumped in, tightening his grip around his wife. “But she didn’t mingle too much with the boys from what we could tell.”

Devin cut his eyes to Andrea again. This line of questioning clearly would go no further.

“Did Susana come down to the cocktail hour wearing a necklace with a yellow diamond?” Andrea asked.

“What? Oh…” Joanna sniffed. “Yes. I begged her not to…it didn’t suit the look we were going for at all…but I couldn’t tell her anything. Wait, why?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Sommers,” Devin asked after a moment, “have you heard about the theft of the Autumn Diamond?”

Joanna’s eyes widen, more tears spilling down her cheeks.

“Elaine Rinadli’s necklace?” Keith asked. Andrea nodded, filing the name away for later. “That’s impossible!”

“You didn’t recognize it, then?” Devin questioned further.

“No!” Joanna shrieked. “Why would we? We don’t associate with those people—wait. Are you saying my daughter was killed because…?”

“We are just trying to find out how she got it,” Andrea cut in.

“Do you have any idea how Susana could have gotten her hands on it?” Devin asked, nearly wincing as Joanna collapsed into incomprehensible sobs.

Keith massaged his forehead, shaking his head repeatedly.

“No…I didn’t even recognize it. I thought…I thought my wife had given it to her to placate her about the event.”

“I thought you did!” Joanna shot back when she lifted her head. As the two parents looked at each other bewilderedly, Andrea felt more pity for Susana than she did at the beginning of the interview.

“That’ll be all for now, Mr. and Mrs. Sommers,” she said. “If you can think of anything else, don’t hesitate to call.”

“I hope her friends were more observant,” Devin muttered as they went off to find them.

Andrea wasn’t surprised when Susana’s friends told a different story. What did shock her, however, was they started with the necklace.

“It was a gift,” Emily Peterson said immediately. She fiddled with her rose gold watch as she spoke—she was the first person Andrea had seen from this event that was properly dressed when they came down for their interviews. “She…Susana told everyone that it was a gift.”

“She didn’t know it was stolen?” Andrea pressed her skeptically.

“If she did, she didn’t say so,” Rebecca Marks grumbled, yawning into her clearly slept-in sweatshirt. Her eyeliner-smudged eyes squinted at Andrea as if she was the sun burning directly at her. “And if she did know it were stolen, why would she say so?”

Andrea had to keep herself from glaring back. Hungover teenagers hit number three on her top five least favorite witnesses to interview.

“Did she say who it was a gift from?”

Rebecca’s eyes opened fully for the first time. “Oh yeah. The guy she had been hanging out with. Connor…something.” She nudged Emily. “What’s his last name?”

“I never caught it,” Emily said. “He never said.”

Devin nodded as he scribbled away. “Was he her escort?”

Emily shook her head so vehemently her headband almost came off. “No, no, not at all!” Looking at Rebecca nervously, she admitted, “Susana ignored every single other guy for him, though.”

“And there was no shortage of other suitors,” Rebecca added mockingly.

“What do you mean by that?” Devin asked.

“Just…that,” Rebecca said with a half-hearted shrug. “Susana was the type of girl that made every guy in the room fall to his knees. She knew it, too…but one of the things I liked about her was she didn’t give two shits.”

“Rebecca!” Emily hissed.


“Did any guy in particular react negatively to that?” Andrea asked.

“Not really,” Rebecca said. “None of us took this thing too seriously, you know? It would make it less fun if we did.”

“Would one of the other girls hold a grudge against her, then?” Devin asked. “Who was Connor supposed to escort?”

“No one,” Emily answered. “He…I’m not sure he was even involved in the cotillion.”


“I can’t prove it…but I looked for him on the Facebook group we all had to be in. He wasn’t in it. Looked like he didn’t even have an account.”

“He might as well have been in it though,” Rebecca said scathingly. “He showed up at all the parties we had to attend. Most of the girls figured he was a friend of one of the guys who wanted to take advantage of the atmosphere.”

“Was he?” Devin asked. The two girls exchanged another glance.

Rebecca rubbed her cheek as if she had a toothache, mumbling, “Shit, he could have been friends with…? I don’t…”

Emily shrugged haplessly. “I can ask.”

“We will ask,” Andrea said sharply. Taking a breath, her next words were smoother. “But thank you. Could you describe Connor?”

Emily nodded. “Tall…ish.”

Hungover teenagers bumped up to spot #2.

The rest of her description proved to be better: “Ashy blonde hair, kind of shaggy. Not pale but not quite olive-skinned either…blue eyes, I think? Yeah, they’re definitely blue. Oh! He has a tattoo. A bear claw on his shoulder.”

“Do you know which shoulder?” Devin asked without looking up from his notepad.