.1. Ruth Rendell Has my Pen
After I retired I began writing, human
interest stories for our local paper, for which I was paid (not much), and
short stories, for which I received mostly rejection slips. So when, on a
trip to London, my wife and I saw a notice that the English mystery writer Ruth
Rendell was giving a reading at a nearby book store, we made it a point to
When we arrived, Ruth Rendell was
reading from her latest book. She was a dark-haired woman with a pleasant
face, and she read in a soft voice. After the reading, it was announced
that shed sign copies of her book for those who bought them. We
looked at the price and decided it was too high but my wife found a paperback
of an earlier book and asked Ruth Rendell to sign it for me.
Hes a writer, too, you
know, she said.
Not really, I
Hes even had a couple of
I didnt think that Ruth Rendell,
who turned out one or two books every year, would be terribly impressed.
"Thats very nice, she said. She was a nice woman.
We talked a little while more, then Ruth Rendell signed the book. She
didnt have a pen so I gave mine, which Id bought that day as a
souvenir, to my wife, who then passed it on to her. When she handed the
book back to me, I saw that shed written, Best wishes to a fellow
writer, Ruth Rendell. She was a very nice woman.
When we returned to our hotel, I said,
Maybe I should have tried to be a real writer. By the way, do you
have my pen?
Oh, I never got it back from
So Ruth Rendell has my
She must have.
Mmmm. I liked that
But you have her autograph.
Maybe shell use your pen to write her next book.
She probably uses a
But maybe when she got home
tonight she made a note for a book with the pen, possibly about an American
couple visiting London.
I hope she doesnt make us
the victims of one of her crazy killers.
Are you sorry you didnt
start writing when you were younger?
No, I suppose not. Judging
from what Ive earned so far, wed have starved to
So its just as
well. My wife is always sensible.
Once in bed, I thought, I could
write a mystery. Passions ran high in our retirement community, over an
increase in our monthly fees, spending money to renovate our restaurant,
running for club office, even a misplayed bridge hand. It
shouldnt be too hard to imagine somebody who deserved killing, with a
whole host of suspects. I told my wife my idea.
Youre right, she
said. Youd have starved to death. Always
In our annual Christmas letter, I said
wed had a good visit to London and mentioned meeting Ruth Rendell.
Looking back, I suppose it was a good visit. But Ive always
regretted losing that pen.
Ruth Rendell regrettably passed away in
2015; she was 85. She told us that her friend and fellow author
P.D. James lived nearby; in fact, we passed her house on the way from the Tube
back to our B&B. We could tell she was home if we saw her cat
on her doorstep. Ruth Rendell and P.D. James were two of my
literary heroes, or heroines. Every time we passed by P.D. James
house we looked for her cat but never saw it. If we had I
dont know if Id have had the nerve to knock on P.D. James
door, probably not. But I like to imagine doing so and being asked
in for tea. P.D. James passed away in 2014 at the age of
.2. Helen Ingalls
I wanted to send a short story to an
online magazine whose editor lived in England so I unearthed something Id
written about an incident when my wife Sally and I had visited London and
wed met the author Ruth Rendell at a book reading. In the story wed
spoken to Ruth Rendell after her reading and Sally had bought one of her books
which, after Sally had told her I was also a writer, shed inscribed to
a fellow writer, which was pretty close to what
happened. As always, when I re-read one of my stories I made some
revisions but, while I was doing this, what came to my mind wasnt that
visit but the first time Id been to London and had met Helen Ingalls.
This was way back in 1953.
In 1952 when I graduated college the
Korean police action (as it was called then) was going on and I was drafted
into the Army. After the usual basic training I was sent to a couple of schools
and then shipped over, not to Korea, to hold back the North Koreans, but to
Seventh Army Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany to hold the line against the
Russians. I eventually accumulated enough time to have a leave and somehow had
heard of MATS, Military Air Transport Service, in Frankfort. With MATS, I was
told, you could get a plane ride to almost anywhere in Europe. This sounded
good so, it must have been in the fall, my friend Joe Petrick and I took the
train from Stuttgart to Frankfort and somehow made our way to the MATS
airfield. As I recall, we had a choice of flights, to Amsterdam or London. Joe
chose to go to Amsterdam. Id been an English major, had read
many English novels and also mysteries set in London. There was no question in
my mind; Id go to London.
When I started to think about that visit
to London the thing that came to my mind was that on my first or second day
there I was looking into the window of a bookstore and behind me saw the
reflection of an attractive girl and there she was, Helen Ingalls, whom
Id met the day before on the ferry going from France to England. So I
guess I hadnt gotten a direct flight to London but to somewhere I could
get that ferry. How I managed this I have no idea but I had met
this American girl who was visiting London. She was not only attractive but she
was rich, or from a rich family. She told me her father did something in the
State Department. They lived in Washington D.C., shed graduated from some
snooty college and now she was touring Europe, where she knew people
everywhere. But even without being told this Id known she was a rich
girl, she had that look, as did her clothes she wore. As for me, I was just a
poor kid from the Bronx. As Ive said, I had gone to college, but it
on a scholarship and I had no idea what I was going to do after the
Needless to say, I didnt expect to
see Helen Ingalls again after that ferry ride. She was staying at some hotel,
the Strand, I think, and I would be staying at some place for GIs Id been
told about, probably like a youth hostel. But now here she was, a Hollywood
meeting, the start of - well, who knows?As it happened, she had no plans for
that morning. Id planned to see the Tower of London so we found the right
two-decked bus to get there, sitting on top and looking at all the London
sights as we passed them. The Tower was as interesting as Id expected and
we took pictures of the Beefeaters, saw the chopping block where Anne Hathaway
had lost her head and oohd and ahd at the crown jewels.
Afterward, we walked along the Thames
and found a nice café to have lunch. So here I was, the poor kid
squiring the beautiful rich girl around, just like in the movies. Then we went
back to her hotel and - no, Im afraid not. Whatever else I remember about
that encounter with Helen Ingalls, it was chaste. First, it wasnt the
1960s yet; it was the still conventional 1950s.
Secondly, I was young, had gone to an all-male high school and college and so
had virtually no experience with girls. Finally, Helen was due to
meet some friends in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day with
them. So, I escorted her back to her hotel and left her there. I
did get the number to call her. Then I spent the afternoon walking around
London, and thinking of Helen Ingalls.
For the rest of my weeks stay in
London I did meet Helen a few times. One time I remember is having a late
breakfast with her at the Strand. It was the large English
breakfast and we lingered over it while I tried to entertain her with stories
of Army life in Germany. Then she was off to visit someone in the English
countryside. This was typical of our meetings. The one I most clearly remember
was our last one. Id found that tickets to plays in London were
incredibly cheap and had tried to see a play every night. On my next to last
night there Id gotten tickets to, I think, Guys and Dolls, and Helen for
once was free at night so I invited her to come with me.
I cant remember if we had dinner
before the play; if we did Im sure I tried to select an inexpensive
restaurant. I do remember that we enjoyed the musical and then we went back to
her hotel, which was the Strand. This time at her door there was an awkward
moment or so and then I gathered my nerve and kissed her. She kissed me back,
but in a chaste way, and she didnt ask me in. As Ive said, it
wasnt the 1960s yet. She gave me her address back in the States and
I said Id write her.
When I got back to Stuttgart my friend
Joe Petrick regaled me with stories of the girls hed met in Amsterdam and
said thats where I should have gone. I didnt tell him about Helen
Ingalls, Im not sure why. But I did write her in the months I had
remaining in Stuttgart and she wrote back. It was nice to get letters from a
girl and I got some teasing from Joe and the other guys. When I ended my tour,
finally, and returned to New York I wrote to Helen and suggested that we might
possibly get together, but at that time Washington seemed far away. I had a
harder time than I expected getting a job in New York as evidently employers
werent anxious to hire English majors. Everyone asked how come I
wasnt going into teaching. I eventually did land something with an
advertising agency, but, although advertising had become a glamour business,
starting salaries were, as I found, pretty low.
Meantime, my correspondence with Helen
had fallen off and then, around Christmas, I got, not exactly a Dear John
letter but one intimating she was seeing some guy, from another wealthy family,
I was sure, and it was serious. So that was that. After a couple of years I
left New York for California, got a job there, married, had three sons, and now
I was retired and had taken up writing. I have to say Id forgotten Helen
Ingalls but she must have remained in some corner of my memory because I had a
clear picture of my looking into the window of that book store in London and
then seeing her image reflected in the window, turning around and - well, you
know the rest. A Hollywood beginning but a real life ending. Still, if
shed been in New York instead of Washington, if Id managed to get a
higher-paying job, well, it probably still would have come to nothing. But you