Authors: Janice Kaplan
“I don’t really have cases,” I said.
“Sure you do, Mom,” Grant said. “The police should put you on the payroll.”
“The police would prefer that I only solve decorating problems. Like what to tell my client in Malibu who wants a coffee table made out of seashells.”
“Too tacky for a million-dollar mansion?” he asked, making a good guess.
“Exactly. But she thinks tacky is the new chic.”
“I never know what that means,” complained Grant, rolling his eyes. “I asked a girl in my math class why she wears purple all the time, and she said, ‘Purple is the new black.’”
“And women my age say ‘Forty is the new thirty.’”
“Okay, then, how’s this?” said Grant gamely. “College is the new high school.”
“Only for you, genius boy.” I grinned and poked his arm affectionately. “By the way, how’s your class going?”
“Good. Oh, and I met some people at UCLA who knew Cassie.” He looked at me expectantly, and I had a feeling he’d been waiting all night for this conversation. “Don’t get mad when I tell you how I know them.”
“I’m never mad at you, sweetie.” How could smart, steady, good-hearted Grant do anything that would upset me? “Tell me everything.”
“I got tapped for a secret society at UCLA.”
“Wow.” I tightened the belt on my robe, taking a moment to think. “That was fast. Do they know you’re still in high school?”
Grant shrugged, then pointed to his blue T-shirt with a logo I hadn’t noticed before: a triangle, followed by
“It turns out to be a big-deal club,” he said. “Delta ij. A club for geeky science types.”
“Geeky is definitely the new cool,” I said, trying to keep my tone light.
Grant nodded. “Weirdly enough, it is.
Revenge of the Nerds
and all that. I don’t really know much about the club yet, but I got invited to a meeting this afternoon, and they gave me the T-shirt.”
“How did Cassie come up?”
“A physics professor at the meeting mentioned her. He runs the whole secret society, from what I can tell. He said that since Cassie had friends in Delta ij, the police might come around to ask questions. We could politely say we didn’t have any information.” He looked at me. “Maybe you should talk to him.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Why? Sounds like he won’t tell me a thing.”
“Everyone confides in you, Mom. You have that trustworthy look.”
Probably more like a lined, tired look, but I’d take compliments where I could get them. “Thanks,” I said simply.
Grant scribbled on a scrap of paper and handed it to me. “His name’s Professor Hal Bohr. He has office hours tomorrow afternoon from three to five. Schedule an appointment through your Google calendar.”
I sighed. “Whatever happened to Sierra Club calendars? They looked so pretty on the refrigerator and they never scheduled appointments for you.”
Grant laughed. “I’ll teach you how to do it on Google. The Sierra Club wants you paperless.”
“Not as much as they want my twelve bucks for a calendar.” I took the page of information from him. “If I come over, I’ll try really hard not to run into you. I know the campus is your territory now.”
“Thanks, Mom, but it’s okay.” He smiled. “I’m not embarrassed by you anymore.”
“Anymore?” I tried not to feel insulted.
“You’ve got to be humiliated by your parents when you’re a kid. Like Ashley’s age.” Grant pulled the quilt off his bed, getting ready to turn in. “But eventually you figure out parents aren’t so bad. Nice to have, in fact. They’re around for a reason.”
“Hard to grow up without them.”
“Even harder to pay for college without them.” He grinned. “Not to mention cars, cameras, and late-night pizza.”
“At least I know my use,” I said with a sigh.
“Just joking, Mom.” He checked his cell phone and turned it to vibrate for the night. “I don’t love you because you buy me stuff. I admire you. I like it when my friends meet you.”
“So I can visit this Hal Bohr and you won’t mind? I can ask him about Cassie and Delta ij?”
Grant looked slightly uncomfortable. “Ask about Cassie. But Delta ij is supposed to be a secret society, so he won’t talk about it. I’d hate to get thrown out before I’m even initiated.”
“I hear you.”
Grant sat down on his bed and I went over and kissed the top of his head. Joe College or not, he deserved to know his mom loved him. I ruffled his soft hair. The appealing smell of baby shampoo and talc had long given way to his own enticing tang of hemp shaving cream and Rainforest bamboo soap. Any more ecoconscious products and he’d have a green halo around him.
I looked around his room. Grant might be growing up, but I still liked being his mom. And moms liked to be needed.
“Anything I can do for you?” I asked, thinking I might iron his tennis shirt or pack him lunch for school.
“You don’t have to do everything,” Grant said. “Go to sleep.”
“You too, honey. Sleep well.”
I left the room and closed the door, then went downstairs to make sure Jimmy had put his book report into his backpack. Inside the L.L. Bean bag, I found a torn Skittles wrapper and two broken pencils. I threw them away and put in a granola bar and newly sharpened pencils. Sometimes I felt like the hamster running on the wheel. I kept going, thinking only I could keep the world turning.
The next morning, Molly arrived just after the kids left for school. I made her a banana-yogurt protein shake with blueberries and wheat germ and fiddled with the new espresso machine for her requested double decaf half-skim cappuccino with extra froth. If Molly didn’t get back to work soon, I might start charging for breakfast.
At least she listened intently while I described my adventures with Billy Mann.
“Wild night,” she said,
“Can you make any sense of it?”
“Maybe he wanted to seduce you,” she said taking a sip of the cappuccino. Too much froth. She wiped her lips with a napkin. “A ride on the bike and then onto a boat—it all sounds pretty alluring. Unless you’ve been married too long to notice.”
“Married isn’t the same as dead,” I said. “Billy Mann has a sexy side, I’ll give you that.”
“So as you asked me with Roger—did he try to get you in bed?”
I groaned. “Molly, may I remind you he knocked me into the water with the boom?”
“You don’t know if he meant to. Maybe he’s just a lousy sailor who made a mistake. Then he brought the boat around and rescued you, thus becoming your savior, redeemer, and knight in shining orange-life-jacket armor.”
“You’re suggesting he thumped me into the water so he could haul me out? Sounds like some nautical version of Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome.”
“Oooh, I saw that on Maury Povich once!” Molly said enthusiastically. “A woman secretly hurting her child so she could be the center of attention and make her better.”
“I don’t think that’s what happened here,” I said. “Billy already had my full attention.”
“Then he had some deeper motive,” said Molly. “Think about it. A ride on the Harley to get you revved. Then the romance of a boat set against your panic in the water. When he brings you to safety and into his arms, you’re nothing but nerve endings.”
“He did get me out of my clothes,” I admitted.
“I’d gotten soaked and kicked off half my clothes. He handed me a Nina Ricci vintage gown. Funny thing to keep on a boat, right? Bright yellow, by the way.”
“Reminds me of a hit show at Lincoln Center in New York a few years ago with a lead character known as The Girl in a Yellow Dress. Audiences fell in love with her. She got so famous in Manhattan, she had to wear black to leave the theater and go outside.”
I laughed. “So you brought her to LA and cast her in a movie?”
“Nope. Turned out everyone knew the role, not her.”
I could identify with Molly’s Broadway riff more than she realized. Anybody who saw me at the pier yesterday would remember me as The Girl in a Yellow Dress. Like the Broadway star, I’d be recognized only because of the bright yellow gown.
“I bet the vintage Nina Ricci belonged to Cassie,” I said to Molly suddenly. “It fits with everything I know about her style.”
“Why would Billy have it?”
“Let’s say Cassie came to his boat one night and stayed over. The next morning, she couldn’t leave in her evening dress. Billy lent her a long sweatshirt, or maybe she had a pair of jeans along. She didn’t want to take the dress with her, so she left it behind, figuring she’d get it next time.”
I heard Molly inhale sharply. “You think Cassie married Roger and was still seeing Billy?”
“Seeing, yes. Screwing, I don’t know.”
“Could she have been that stupid?”
“Maybe she loved Billy but needed more money. So she married Roger, figuring she could get his money and go back to Billy.”
“I think Henry James already tried that plot,” Molly said.
I laughed, remembering the student in Elsa Franklin’s office reading
The Wings of the Dove
“You’re right,” I said. “Big mess that didn’t work out at all. Love and money and death, with all the needs getting confused.”
“How could Billy and Cassie screwing lead to murder?” Molly asked.
I let the question linger in the air. Molly knew the answer as well as I did, but neither of us wanted to think about it. “Roger could have found out about her night on the boat and drawn his own conclusions,” I said finally. “He would have been furious.”
“Not furious enough for murder,” said Molly sharply. “I already told you Roger’s a smart businessman. If he tracked infidelity, he’d probably have grounds to void the prenup, get a divorce, and pay her nothing.”
I sighed. Molly would defend Roger to the end. I could only hope he’d do the same for her.
“Let’s get back to the yellow dress,” I suggested, ready to try out my newest theory. “Think about this one. Cassie comes to the marina one night and various people notice her as a figure in a yellow gown, walking along the pier. Then they see me last night—same gown, same pier. They assume it’s the same person, right?”
“Your butt’s a little bigger, darling, and tits smaller. But you’re right—nobody’s measuring.”
“The point is that if the police come by tomorrow and ask questions about a woman who died a couple of weeks ago, nobody makes the connection that the murdered girl is The Girl in a Yellow Dress. Unless they believe in ghosts. Because they’ve seen her too recently.”
“I’m following you,” Molly said thoughtfully.
“Billy doesn’t have to worry about the cops finding Cassie’s dress in his boat, because I’ve taken it away. I have no reason to give it to the police. Hiding it in plain sight.”
“So you figure Billy dumped you in the water to get you wet and out of your clothes—but only to parade you in Cassie’s dress. Not romance, but intrigue.”
“Do you think Billy’s smart enough to have concocted such an elaborate plan on the spot?”
“Desperate men take desperate measures,” I said direly.
Hal Bohr’s office, on the third floor, up a well-worn staircase, had a handwritten sign on the wooden door: F
Figuring I counted as neither, I knocked gently. Getting no answer, I turned the knob and stepped inside.
The room could have been the set for
Scary Movie 3.
Cobwebs hung from the ceiling while scattered newspapers and open books fell off dusty shelves. A broken laptop sat in the center of the room and a squealing rodent—mouse? rat?—ran around and around in a cage that stood propped on stacks of bound folders and science journals. Though I didn’t see anyone, a voice suddenly broke in out of nowhere.
Not exactly a threatening expression, but it was creepy in the seemingly empty room. Then I noticed a flicker of motion. Two feet clad in orange socks banged against the far wall at about eye level with me, sticking straight up from a pair of green corduroy pants. Curious, I started to make my way through the obstacle-course room to get a better look.
“Are you standing on your head?” I asked.
“Yes, just a few more minutes. Blood to the brain is important.”
I wended my way around a faded leather chair that had filler dribbling out of a worn spot on the back and came face-to-toes with Hans Bohr.
“Hi, I’m Lacy Fields,” I said, as if unsurprised to be encountering an upside-down man.
“Nice to meet you. You’re right on time.” Removing one of his three anchor points, he extended his right hand and swayed slightly. I crouched down but, concerned that I might pull him over if we shook, stood up again.
“I could come back,” I said.
“Don’t bother. This is a good time. I hear you’ve already talked to Elsa. You want to know about Cassie Crawford.”
Word traveled fast on campus.
“Right. Did you know Cassie?”
“Not in the biblical sense. I never slept with her.”
Hmm. A real conversation stopper. What could I reply?
seemed silly and
over the top. Somehow, I’d inched a bit too close to his crotch, so I took a giant step back.
“Cassie never took my class,” Hal said emphatically.
“What do you teach?” I asked, as if soliciting his syllabus was the key point of my visit.
For an answer, Hal pushed off from the wall, did two somersaults, then stood up, arms above his head, as if he’d just finished his floor-exercise routine at the summer Olympics.
“I teach quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and Newtonian mechanics,” he said in a singsong tone usually reserved for
The Cat in the Hat
. “Plus electricity, relativity, and gravity.”
At the last word, he leapt into the air in the kind of split-jump that cheerleaders do after a touchdown. He spread his arms to touch his toes, then landed hard on the ground.
“As you can see, the laws of gravity are still working. I like to check now and then.” He smiled broadly and a little dimple appeared on his right cheek. His thick curly hair had popped back into place after his acrobatics and a gold stud glimmered in his ear. I couldn’t decide if he belonged at Cirque du Soleil or the fifth-floor psych ward at Cedars Medical Center.