Sudden Mischief

by Robert B. Parker

A Spenser Novel

Spenser's back. And Susan's ex is quaking in his boots...

Susan Silverman's ex doesn't call himself "Silverman" anymore -- he's changed his name to "Sterling." And that's not the only thing that's phony about him. A do-gooding charity fundraiser, he's been accused of sexual harassment by no less than four different women. And not long after Spenser starts investigating, Sterling is wanted for a bigger charge: murder...


"Nothing inhibits Spenser and Hawk, his menacing sidekick, from swapping manly repartee. Parker gives these two bruisers plenty of room for their verbal bobbing and weaving, generously setting up great scenes at the gym, on various stakeouts and in one seriously tough bar in the South End. Not a bird or a duck in sight; but with this kind of dialogue in bloom, it must be spring."
The New York Times Book Review

"Parker says he'll keep writing Spenser novels as long as the public wants to read them, which probably means he'll need to keep writing them for the rest of his life. Spenser [is] 'the very model of a modern major shamus.' Part of it is his skill in combat, verbal and physical; Sudden Mischief provides several nimble examples of each. Part of it lies in his sensitivity, which is sorely tried by this unusual case. As usual, what surprises most are the dimensions of the story a reader might not have expected. Parker returns to the personal psychological dimensions that are more characteristic of the middle sequence of the series than the recent volumes."
The Boston Globe

"There are now more than 25 Spenser novels in print, and Sudden Mischief ranks with the best of them."
Rocky Mountain News

"Spenser [is] a hip, premillenium private investigator whose plot-driven novels are as up to date as today's newspaper front pages. Spenser is better than most other authors' best."
Buffalo News

"Robert B. Parker [is] the undisputed dean of American crime fiction. Everybody's favorite private eye makes his 25th appearance since 1973, and the good news is that after so many years in the big leagues, Parker has lost nothing off his fast ball. Once again, it is Parker's agreeable community of continuing characters, combined with the unending combination of sharp wit and stylish discourse he gives to them, that makes the central trio of Spenser, Susan and Hawk such pleasant company."
Salt Lake Tribune

"Readers who pick up Parker's bestselling series for its characters and atmosphere will be delighted."
Publishers Weekly

"Parker writes as mean a page as ever."
Kirkus Reviews

"Robert B. Parker's long line of Spenser novels are pretty much the most comfortable-feeling books around."
Detroit News and Free Press

"Sparkling. The plot works. As always, the dialog works even better."
Detroit Free Press

"Sudden Mischief is reflective and insightful, an intimate, less hard-action novel than most of the Spenser books. It is a highly satisfactory addition to a well-rounded series, but one that engages more because of the characters than the mystery."
Houston Chronicle

"Smooth as silk."
Orlando Sentinel

"A corker."
Buffalo News

Buy the book

paperback | Putnam | 1998 | ISBN: 9780399146961


Chapter One

We were at the Four Seasons Hotel, in the Bristol Lounge. Bob Winter was playing "Green Dolphin Street" on the piano. I was drinking beer and Susan was doing very little with a glass of red wine. There were windows along the Boylston Street side of the room that looked out on the Public Garden, where winter was over, the swan boats were being cleaned, and had there been a turtledove awake at this hour we'd have almost certainly heard his voice.

"I need a favor," Susan said to me.

Her black hair was shiny and smelled slightly of lavender. Her eyes were impossibly big, and full of intelligence and readiness, and something else. The something else had to do with throwing caution to the winds, though I'd never been able to give it a name. People looked at her when she came in. She had the quality that made people wonder if she were someone important. Which she was.

"You know I'm the only guy in the room knows the lyrics to `Green Dolphin Street,'" I said, "and you want me to sing them softly to you."

"Don't make me call the bouncer," she said.

"At the Four Seasons? You'd have to tip him before he threw you out."

"It's about my ex-husband," Susan said.

"The geek?"

"He's not a geek;" Susan said. "If you knew him, you'd kind of like him."

"Don't confuse me," I said.

Winter played "Lost in Loveliness." The waitress looked at my empty beer glass. I nodded. Susan's glass was still full.

"He came to see me last week," Susan said. "Out of the blue. I haven't seen him in years. He's in trouble. He needs help."

"I'm sure he does," I said.

"He needs help from you."

My second beer came. I thought about ordering a double shot of Old Thompsons to go with it but decided it was more manly to face this moment sober. I drank some of my beer.

"Okay," I said.

"I . . ." She stopped and looked out the windows for a moment. "I guess I'm kind of embarrassed to ask you," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "It is kind of embarrassing."

"But I am going to ask you anyway."

"Who else?" I said.

She nodded and picked up her glass and looked at it for a moment and put it down without drinking.

"Brad is being sued by a group of women who are charging him with sexual harassment."

I waited. Susan didn't say anything else.

"That's it?" I said.


"And what was it you thought I could do about it?"

"Prove them wrong," she said.

"Maybe they're right," I said.

"Brad is on the very edge of dissolution. If he gets dragged into court on this kind of thing . . . he hasn't got enough money to defend himself."

"Or pay me," I said.

Susan nodded. "Or pay you," she said.

"That's encouraging," I said.

"I don't love him," Susan said. "Maybe I never did. And he hasn't been in my life for years, but . . ."

"But you used to know him and you don't want to see him destroyed."


"And you don't know what else to do, or who else to ask."


"So," I said. "I'll take the case."

"And the fee?"

"If I get him off, you have to ball my socks off," I said.

"And if you don't get him off?"

"I have to ball your socks off."

The something I had no name for flickered in Susan's eyes.

"Sounds fair to me," she said.

"Okay, I'm on the case," I said. "Tell me about him."

"His name is Brad Sterling."


Susan looked down at the table.

"He changed it," she said.

"From Silverman. As in sterling silver, how precious."

"How un-Jewish," Susan said.

"How come you kept his name?"

"When we were first divorced I guess it was just easier. It was on my license, my social security card, my checking account."

"Uh huh."

"And I guess it was a way of saying that even if I weren't married, I had been."

"Like a guy wearing his field jacket after he's been discharged."

"Except that the jacket will still keep him warm."

"You wish you'd gone back to your . . . what's the correct phrase these days?"

"Birth name," Susan said.

"Thank you. Do you wish you'd kept your birth name?"

"I suppose so, but by the time I was healthy enough to do that, I was healthy enough not to need to."

"Susan Hirsch," I said.

"Sounds odd, doesn't it."

"Makes me think of sex," I said.

"More than Silverman?"

"No, that makes me think of sex too."

"How about Stoopnagel?"

"Yeah," I said. "That makes me think of sex."

"I think I'm seeing a pattern here," Susan said.

"That's because you're a trained psychologist," I said. "Tell me about Sterling."

"I was a freshman at Tufts," Susan said. "He was at Harvard, my roommate and his roommate were cousins and we got fixed up."

Susan was many things, and almost all of them wondrous, but she was not succinct. I minded this less than I might have, because I loved to listen to her talk.

"He was a tackle on the Harvard football team. The only Jew ever to play tackle in the Ivy League, he used to say. I think he was kind of uneasy being Jewish at Harvard."

I made eye contact with the waitress and she nodded.

"He was very popular, had a lot of friends. Got by in class without studying much. I really liked him. We were married the week after graduation."

"Big wedding?"

"Yes," Susan said. "Have I never talked about this with you?


"Didn't you ever want to know?"

"I want to know what you want to tell me."

"Well, I saw no point to talking to you about other men in my life."

"Up to you," I said. "I don't need to know. And I don't need to pretend there weren't any."

She didn't speak for a time. She slowly turned her wine glass by the stem and looked at me as if thinking about things.

"I always assumed it would bother you," she said.

"I'm entirely fascinated with you," I said. "And what you are is a result of what you were, including the other men."

She was quiet again, looking at me, turning her glass. Then she smiled.

"It was a very big wedding at Memorial Chapel at Harvard. Reception at the Ritz."

"Brad's family had money," I said.

"Not after the reception," Susan said. "Actually, Brad's father ran a salvage business in Chelsea. But by the time I came along he'd moved the family to Wellesley. Brad went to Harvard. His sister went to Bryn Mawr."

The waitress brought me another beer. Susan took a sip of her wine. Racing to catch up.

"Then what?" I said.

"Then not much," Susan said. "His father bought us a little house in South Natick."

"Just across the line from Wellesley."

"Yes. Brad's mother was ten minutes away on Route 16."


"And Brad got a job with an advertising agency in town."


"I stayed home and wore cute aprons and redid my makeup every afternoon before he came home for supper."


Susan smiled.

"I know," she said. "It was pathetic. I couldn't cook. I didn't want to learn. I hate to cook."

"Is that so," I said.

"The house was a four-room Cape with an unfinished attic. I could stand in the hall and see all four rooms."

"You can do that now," I said. "In your apartment."

"Yes, but I live there alone."

"Except for Pearl," I said.

"Pearl is not a person," Susan said.

"Try telling her that."

"I hated the house. I hated being alone in it all day, and then when he came home I got claustrophobic being with him all night, sharing the same bedroom, the same bath."

"Space is nice," I said.

"The feeling is still with me. It's why we don't live together."

"The way we live seems about right to me," I said.

"I know, but . . . when I married Brad, if people moved to twin beds you figured divorce was imminent."

"You didn't work."

"No. It would have embarrassed Brad to have his wife working. It would have implied he couldn't support her."


"Oh, God, Yes. He wanted me to have children."

"And you didn't want to."

"Not then."


"I never knew. I just knew I couldn't."

"You know now?"

"It's something I've had a hard time thinking about," she said. "I must have sensed that this wasn't the right marriage to bring children into."

"Not so long ago you wanted us to have a kid."

"This isn't about me," Susan said.

"You think I'd try to rescue Brad from the feminists if you didn't ask me?"

"I know," Susan said. "But it's a part of my life I don't like to talk about."

"Like the part where you and I were separated?"

She was silent looking into her nearly full wine glass.

"If you had a patient," I said, "who couldn't talk about certain parts of her life, what would you tell her?"

Susan continued to look into her wine glass. Her shoulders looked stiff and angular. She didn't speak.

"I withdraw the question," I said.

She didn't look up from her wine glass.

"Thank you," she said. Her voice was tight.

"Got an address for Brad?" I said.

Silently she found a business card in her purse and took it out and handed it to me. The card read Brad Sterling, Promotions. Nice card. Good stock. Raised lettering. Not the kind of card you passed out if you were on the verge of dissolution. Unless you didn't want people to know you were on the verge of dissolution. Susan sat quietly while I looked at the card. Her shoulders hadn't eased much. She didn't look at me.

"You sure you want me to look into this?" I said.

"Absolutely," she said.

I nodded. This thing showed every sign of not working out well for me.

"I'll get right on it in the morning," I said.