Cover image for Hush, it's a game
Hush, it's a game
Carlon, Patricia, 1927-2002.
Publication Information:
New York : Soho Press, 2001.

Physical Description:
188 pages ; 20 cm
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A small girl has been locked inside the kitchen of an apartment in which her baby-sitter has been murdered. It is Christmas week; her mother is dead, her father away on business. No one will miss her until he returns. Can she free herself before the murderer realizes his mistake and comes back to kill her?

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Originally published in Australia in the 1960s, Carlon's superb crime novels are finally appearing in the U.S. (this is the seventh title Soho has published since 1996). Carlon returns here to one of her favorite themes--a murder witness who is trapped and in danger from a killer. As in The Price of an Orphan (1999), the witness is a child. When her baby-sitter tells six-year-old Virginia to hide and locks her in the kitchen, the young girl thinks it's a game. Unaware that the sitter has been murdered, Virginia gradually discovers she is trapped--on Christmas Eve. As she makes numerous heartbreaking efforts to free herself, the killer plots to get rid of her. Once again, Carlon sets up a psychological tennis match, creating delicious suspense by switching point of view between Virginia, the killer, a cruel janitor, and three kind strangers who have noticed the young girl waving. Vivid characters, excruciating tension, and an insightful look at human nature. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Long popular in Australia, Carlon was recently brought to U.S. attention with Soho's reissue of six of her fine psychodramas (The Price of an Orphan; The Whispering Wall, etc.). This seventh reissue, originally published in 1967, hits a rare false note. Lacking the suspense and compelling moral dilemmas of Carlon's stronger offerings, the novel opens with ex-con Frank Aldan killing his former girlfriend, Isobel Tarks, shortly after his release from prison. What Aldan doesn't realize until after he has left Isobel's apartment is that she was babysitting a six-year-old neighbor girl, Virginia, at the time. Virginia, whose father had gone away on a business trip, leaving her with Isobel for several days, was locked in the kitchen when the woman was shot to death. It's Christmas Eve, and Virginia can't get out. All she can see through the keyhole are Isobel's legs. Can she free herself before Aldan figures out that she is a witness and returns to finish her off? Will a group of concerned neighbors manage to discover Virginia's predicament and rescue her? Despite a clever, ironic ending, the novel is unexceptional. Young Virginia's quandary never comes across as all that direÄafter all, she's trapped in a well-stocked kitchen, not a dark, cold cellar. And Aldan, a small-time crook, simply doesn't come across as a potential killer of small children. Still, the story shows some flashes of the quirky characterizations and nail-biting tension of Carlon's best work. (Feb.) FYI: Hush, It's a Game is published in conjunction with a paperback reprint of Unquiet Night. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One For the six months of his parole, an observer would have sworn Aldan was intent on one thing only, to start a new life. He had left prison knowing that his long interviews with doctors and clergymen had been faithfully recorded, filed away with the notation that his hatred of Isobel had died away and had been replaced by shame, contrition and indifference to her present whereabouts.     He could still hear in memory his own voice, speaking solemnly into quiet prison air, slowly building up a certainty from supervision for himself once he was released. "It was jealousy you see, sirs. I thought there was another man. Maybe I was wrong. I still don't know for certain, but now it doesn't seem to matter. Funny to think I nearly killed her, put myself here and yet, she doesn't even matter now. I expect that's hurt pride in a way, would you say so, sirs? She told me, that last day, what she thought of me, you see. It was partly how I'd thought actually--she'd hung on to me for what she could get. Till someone better came along, I suppose. I thought so. I don't know for certain. It doesn't matter now. I got suspicious you see, when I was free of my wife Greta, at last, and Isobel ... she hedged, and ... well, you'd have thought she'd have wanted to rush straight to the altar, wouldn't you? But no. She reckoned a few words said over us wouldn't make any difference. It didn't seem ... right to me. Would it to you? Sure, we'd been living together for three years, but that was because I couldn't get free and we didn't want to wait apart. But when I was free ... it seemed all wrong to me when she said no to our wedding."     He had thought since that the worst part of the whole business was that he hadn't been suspicious at all. Oh yes, he'd been surprised when the divorce papers had come and Isobel had simply said, "Well, it doesn't make any difference does it? Not really, Frank. We're married already in our own opinions and who else's opinion counts?"     Why hadn't he suspected then that she wanted a way clear and straight in front of her to shed him as soon as she liked? He still didn't know. Perhaps custom--the sameness of having her always there, working together with her, had dulled his sense of danger, letting him think that things would never change.     He'd said simply, "Have it your own way," and she'd smiled, that pursed-lip smile that touched her small thin features with self-satisfaction.     The smile should have put him on guard, too, he had thought afterwards--it should have warned him that she had a special feeling of satisfaction in him agreeing so readily. But he'd simply smiled back and the days had drifted on till the morning he'd woken and found her gone with the money.     He hadn't known that fact at first. She'd left no note or explanation. She had simply been gone, but she had pointedly left open every closet door so his waking eyes should see her clothes and possessions were gone, too.     He hadn't understood even then, not till he'd gone to the store and found she'd left there, too; not till he'd wondered if she was gone for good and if she'd drawn any money from their joint account; not till he'd been to the bank and found the account closed.     He had seen, in the clerk's startled, frightened eyes, what had been in his own face. He hadn't tried to smooth things over, but had simply turned on his heel, and walked out, thinking only of finding her, of getting the money and making her pay for her duplicity.     Finding her had been laughably easy. At first he had thought of her heading straight for interstate where she could disappear so easily. He had sat throughout the night smoking, thinking of her likes and dislikes, where she might head, what she might do. It had come back to memory then--her almost crazy keenness on opera, her thrill over the then current opera season, her groaning at the price of a season ticket, but her purchase of it all the same.     He had thought then of the streak of meanness in her. He had thought it a good trait enough, that determination to have every pennyworth's value out of everything she bought, and that night he had been sure that if she was still somewhere in the city she'd use the ticket for the final two operas of the season. Her streak of meanness combined with her craze for opera wouldn't let her pass up the chance.     It had been a start towards finding her, anyway. He hadn't been able to think of any other lead, but he'd gone to the theatre without any real hope of finding her, sure that some other city would hold her by then.     Yet she hadn't gone interstate. She'd been there at the theatre, in the middle of the crowd coming out. He'd mingled with it, followed after her, grasped her arm and dragged her to the car before she'd gotten over the first open-mouthed shock.     Jealousy had been his explanation to the police, because truth would have made his sentence the harsher. It wouldn't have gained him back a penny of the money either. He'd screwed out of her, before he'd attacked her, that the cash was salted away. He had known she could deny all knowledge of it and could claim he had forced her to help him and when she'd finally baulked and left him he'd caught up with her and beaten her up because she wouldn't return and go on with the game.     He had left the explanation at jealousy and Isobel had stood up in court, eyes downcast, thin small face quivering, hands twisting at black gloves, saying in her smooth little voice that yes, Frank had always been terribly jealous. There was no truth, of course, in there being another man. She wasn't that sort, but she couldn't get that into Frank's head. He was always imagining things which was why she'd refused to marry him when he was finally free of his wife.     She had had three years of his jealous scenes by then and had been tired of them. Why, he'd even been jealous of the men at work, she'd said quiveringly. So much so she'd had to keep changing jobs to satisfy him.     He had admired her then, even while he'd hated her, because the lie had neatly explained her constant job changing if the police, probing into her background along with his own, had wondered about that.     He had left the dock with her voice crying after him, "I never, never want to see him again!" promising himself that she should and that they'd meet alone.     He had known that even with his protests in prison, she'd be afraid of his release day and would seek out some form of protection--a watch on himself to see what he'd do about tracing her.     Patiently, apparently ignoring her existence, he had gone through the hands of the Prisoners' Aid Society, working steadily at the job they had found for him, and taking the modest room they had also found and he had, as a final touch that had made him sometimes chuckle in the night, solemnly paid out to Greta, his divorced wife, the alimony the court had awarded her.     He had returned to the apparent model of respectability he had been before the night he had sent Isobel to hospital with a fractured skull, and as he knew quite well, Isobel was behaving in a similar fashion.     It had been simple enough to get a prisoner going out, granted freedom, to take a message to contacts outside, to start a search and watch on her. When he came out he had simply phoned a number, been given all available information on her, and had sat back to work and wait till he could get her alone, without interference.     He had long ago, with firm finality, put the idea of the money out of his head. He had known, quite definitely, that by the time he came out, Isobel would have dealt with it in her coolly efficient manner, so that he could never touch it.     He had even been able to approve, quite calmly, her wisdom of the purchase of a north shore home unit, and furniture and her investment of the rest in Government bonds that brought her a steady, if small income. She had also gone back to work, apparently respectably this time.     He had wondered, for a while, after sifting the information, if she had found another partner and was working their old dodge, but she seemed completely solitary, and after all, he had thought grimly, with all she had why should she risk imprisonment now? Isobel had always yearned for security--nothing more. A home, a settled income, smart possessions was her idea of heaven on earth.     That, he had reflected in prison, should have been another warning to him. He should have known that his own plans of drifting round the world, footloose, spending as he went, till the money finally ran out, would never appeal to her; that in the end they would have quarrelled over the spending of the money that had been steadily piling up in the bank under the name of Pascoe.     They had decided on that in case they were ever caught, so the police couldn't trace the money and confiscate it, and he'd made it a joint account in case something happened to one of them and a sole survivor was left. He had agreed to that without hesitation, for Isobel's protection. That remembrance was laughable, afterwards.     The whole idea had been his own in the first place. It had come to him years before he'd even met Isobel, when he'd been working in the big stores himself and had seen how stock simply disappeared. The items taken were quickly noticed by the staff, because it was stores policy never to sell the display stock--the staff went to the storerooms behind for an identical model, so that each day should end with the same display as when the store had opened. The countings and checkings at day's end were rigid routine. It had never failed to amaze him that the same rigid routine simply became a shambles behind the scenes. The stockrooms and stock lists were often in such disorder it was never possible, even at stock-taking, to pinpoint exactly what items had vanished--only the difference between the prices paid for things to the wholesalers, and the amount of money flowing in for items bought, told a sorry tale.     Always of course there were checks on the staff. An assistant could never leave the stores with bags unchecked, or parcels unqueried. There was no loophole there, but there was one big enough to earn him a small fortune he was sure, if he co-aid find the right partner.     He'd found that in Isobel. She had been ruthless enough not to baulk at the breaking up of what had been left of his marriage, He had tried her out tentatively with his idea, left her to think about it and finally they had gone into action together.     All through those three years he had kept on his own modest, respectable job as a clerk. Always Isobel was just as apparently respectable. They lived modestly and the only slur that could have been cast on them was the fact Isobel had no right to the use of his name, or the sharing of his home.     Isobel had had the perfect asset, in the shape of two thoroughly respectable references, covering ten years work in big country stores. Faced with them, with her air of thirtyish respectability, her obvious experience and commonsense, no staff manager had hesitated a second in taking her on, and when she had finally left, always within three months, they had been sorry to see her go.     No one remarked anything odd in the fact that during the peak hour rushes in the various city stores where she worked, between one and two and just before closing time, Isobel was often in earnest talk with a man--a man who never looked the same twice running, and that she always finished in an apparent sale to him.     Electrical goods were her speciality. So she claimed. So her references said, and she knew them thoroughly. She was an asset to her department and no one thought anything of seeing her busily packing up yet another shaver, a mixer, a portable radio or TV set, or similar equipment.     The fact that no docket was made out, no money passed, was never remarked in the crush either. There were always plenty of people in the electrical departments at those hours, either just looking and envying, or buying, or comparing brands and prices for future deals. Aldan was never noticed and with his parcel properly wrapped in store paper he simply walked out unchallenged.     Wherever possible it was the display goods that were slipped into the packages, so the disappearances were put down to ordinary shoplifting. Otherwise goods from the stockroom were taken. Never once had their weekly profit been below sixty dollars. The average was away past it. At times such as the weeks before Christmas and anniversary times, or sale days, their takings had soared almost incredibly.     Professional criminals might have laughed and scoffed at the profits compared to such a strength of days and work in their gathering, compared to one breaking in and a ruthless haul, but he and Isobel had been content with the percentage of value of the items which they'd received in the end.     Isobel had earned, he had acknowledged to himself, a right to half of the money they had piled away. But not a right to it all. The idea and the planning had been his own and more than half the work. His had been the job of always appearing as a different person, yet as a man who had about him no outstanding point, no freakish point, that could bring him into notice. Sometimes he had gone from his job in the lunch-hour or after work, to some public lavatory, and combed his thinning dark hair a different way, or used one of the two wigs--one dark, one fair--he'd bought. Occasionally he relied on the use of suntan lotion--at others he powdered his face lightly to appear paler and older. Because his features were so ordinary he had discovered that a change from his usual rimless spectacles to frames of different sorts made an almost incredible difference to his looks and he had collected seven different pairs of assorted shapes and colourings.     Hats made another big change. So did clothes.     Isobel, he knew, had considered it all easy. She had never seemed to understand how much care it needed--how much planning.     The weeks before Christmas had been their time of greatest gains. Then, with the crowds, disguise was hardly necessary at all, and shoplifting was so bad they could afford to be reckless in the amount they took.     He remembered, this Christmas Eve, as he packed his case and made ready to go, that it was just after that other Christmas, when the Pascoe account was swelled with their seasonal luck, that Isobel had disappeared, stealing everything he'd worked for, along with his dreams of footloose wandering round the world.     He went to the window of the modest room in the little shabby boarding house and stood looking out. The people in the house opposite had put a tired-looking Christmas tree in their front window, decorating it with a confused jumble that downcurved the branches and practically hid the greenery.     Christmas Eve, he reflected, wondering if Isobel was sparing a thought to that other Christmas, and how he had caught up with her afterwards.     If she was, she must now be certain, after the last six months, that he'd given her best and decided to forget all about her. Certainly there was no one watching over her. He had made sure of that by writing a detective agency, enclosing a fee, stating what he wanted, saying he would ring at certain times for the information he wanted.     He knew now she was on her own, with no protection, no real friends and few acquaintances. She was the sort of woman who would never be missed and asked after if she had been invited to some Christmas festivity and failed to turn up. He hadn't even bothered to consider the possibility she might have arranged a party of her own. Nothing of what he had learned of her new life showed that she had changed at all from the Isobel of the past who had considered party-giving a sheer waste of money and time.     Four days, he reflected, still gazing at the tired tree opposite. Four days before she would be due back, with the reopening of the store where she worked, at her job. Even then enquiries about her wouldn't be started at once. After a long holiday break staff absences were notoriously heavy. It could be as long as a week before even the first enquiry was made; longer still before a real attempt was made to find her.     Even the thought of milk bottles piling up outside her door wasn't a worry. At this time of the year people were invited away at the last moment and left without cancelling deliveries. Milkmen were used to it. When they found a filled bottle hadn't been taken in they simply stopped delivering till they were rung up and told to come again.     Four days at least, he thought complacently. By the time she was found he'd be out of the country, settling into a new life, and perhaps the headache that had been there behind his eyes every time he thought of her and the money, would have gone away for good and left him some measure of peace.     You're going to die, Isobel, he told the hot still evening. There was neither anger nor hatred in the quiet whisper. Simply satisfaction, a feel of completeness and rightness in what he was going to do. Copyright © 1967 Patricia Carlon. All rights reserved.