Authors: Janice Kaplan
I pulled into a clearing, got out of the car, and walked slowly toward the low-slung white building in front of me. A rehab center? Spa? Buddhist retreat? I couldn’t tell.
This time, I didn’t have to wait for Andy. As soon as I walked in the door, he strolled toward me, wearing a white terry bathrobe and sandals. His curly hair jumped out from his head, wild and uncontrolled, but otherwise he looked calmer than last time. Somehow, he’d contained the hyperactive energy in his small, slim frame.
“You were my inspiration,” he said when he saw me. “So you have to hear about my new show.”
“Oh,” I said, taken aback. Like last time, he hadn’t bothered with “hello.” But I’d come all this way to talk television?
“Right after you came to my office, I had a breakthrough. You wanted to talk about Cassie, so it suddenly hit me. How could I have missed it?
Doo-do DOO-do, Doo-do DOO-doo…
” He let his voice rise and fall in the singsong theme of
The Twilight Zone.
“Weird, right?” he continued. “Cassie works on
World’s Worst Ways to Die,
and then she dies. She’s an assistant on
How to Bed a Billionaire
and she marries a billionaire. Something’s going on. Must be energy fields.”
“Or coincidence,” I suggested.
“No such thing,” Andy said. “Come on outside.”
I followed him through the room—empty except for a skylight and highly polished wood floors—to a back door.
Outside, we walked along a dirt hiking trail, then passed through a locked fence that opened when Andy punched in a digital code. On the other side, the scenery changed, the dirt path taking on a reddish glow and the vegetation becoming low scrub and cactus. We went up an incline, steep enough that I started breathing heavily, which then flattened out to a large, smooth surface, probably fifty feet in diameter.
Andy walked to the center and turned to face a free-form red-rock sculpture that towered over us. He lifted his chin so the sun shone down on his face, closed his eyes, and spread his arms to the side. I thought I heard a gentle humming from him.
Something about the area seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
“Where are we?” I asked Andy, not concerned about interrupting his meditation.
He dropped his pose and came back to me. “The Vortex,” he said. “Can you feel the energy?”
“From the Spirit Woman.” He waved in the direction of the rock, and I remembered a trip Dan and I had taken a few years ago to the red-rock country of Sedona. While enjoying the brilliant scenery, we heard about the New Age locals who scoped out areas—the “vortex sites”—where special magnetic fields could provide spiritual energy. In search of one, we hiked to a popular area dominated by a rock dubbed Kachina Woman. About a dozen people stood in front of the spirit, meditating in that same head-tilted, arms-outstretched pose Andy had just assumed. I’d tried it and started giggling so uncontrollably that Dan grabbed my hand and pulled me behind the rock. Out of sight of the spiritualists, Dan put his arms around me and kissed me. “I’ll show you what will really please Spirit Woman,” he’d said, as we lay down on the red rocks.
“The only time I heard about a vortex was at a place just like this in Sedona,” I said now to Andy.
“Exactly! I used to fly there on weekends when I needed inspiration. But my wife got tired of all the trips, so I had our own vortex built here.”
I looked around, stunned. “You built this?” I asked.
“Not just me,” he said modestly. “A few of us got together. Mostly other TV execs. Once I explained that all my show ideas came from the energy of the vortex, they wanted in.”
“So this is…” I waved my hands, taking in the hiking trails, the red rocks, the towering sculpture.
“A spot to stimulate the brainwaves,” Andy said, finishing my sentence.
The place must have cost a small fortune to build. But given the odds against having a success on TV, looking for encouragement from a fake rock didn’t seem that strange. Every TV season brought thousands of pitches, hundreds of pilots, and maybe one or two that scored big. What other business gave you a bonus for a .010 batting average? Given the money that spewed from a hit, I could see why anxious execs would try anything. A few seasons of
and you could have all the Kachina women you wanted. Produce another
and you should sacrifice Prada-and-pearls to the statues every night.
“It’s lovely here,” I said looking around. “But if I remember from Sedona, you have a vortex at a spot where the earth’s energy is increased.”
“Right. Everything we created here increases the earth’s energy.” He spun around, as if being pulled by that very energy. Who was I to say it couldn’t be transported? Some of the souvenir shops in Sedona sold containers labeled V
ORTEX IN A
Now Andy walked to the other side of the clearing and motioned to me to join him. I noticed that six glass tea cups, each half-filled, had been lined up on a rock.
“I’ll give you a demonstration of the new show I created with the help of the energy fields,” Andy said. He picked up one of the cups and held it out to me. “To start, drink up. Chamomile tea with Ginkgo biloba. Very good for you.”
I took a sip. The liquid was warm from the sun, slightly sweet and very pleasant. I drank a little more.
“Imagine you’re a contestant on a game show,” he said. “The more you drink, the more money you win. Drain five glasses, and it’s a million bucks. But here’s the rub. One of the cups is poisoned.”
My mouth had started burning. I dropped the cup and watched it smash against the rock.
Andy grinned. “Arsenic. Cyanide. Diethylene glycol. All sorts of possibilities. I finally figured out the problem with most game shows. You don’t really have anything to lose.”
He reached down for another cup and handed it to me. I stepped back.
“You didn’t really poison one of them,” I said, with more certainty than I felt.
“Why not? Russian roulette is the greatest game of all time, and it’s never been on TV. We’d have an antidote ready for contestants who cooperated.” He looked at me steadily. “Get it?”
“What do you want me to do?” I asked in a scratchy voice. My tongue seemed to be swelling in my mouth and my throat felt ripped raw. Was it poison or sheer terror?
“How are you feeling?” he asked, looking at me carefully.
“Not good,” I admitted. My whole head burned, and I put a hand up to my throat. No, it wasn’t psychosomatic. Something other than sugar had been in that cup. If only I’d read the tea leaves.
“Wouldn’t that be something if I accidentally gave you the bad cup,” he said, tightening the belt on his terry robe. “What are the odds? Just one in six, but you never know.”
“Odds are one hundred percent,” I said. “You filled the cups and put them out.”
“Well, as I said, an antidote.” He took a vial out of his pocket and held it in his hand.
I sat down, barely noticing as the red earth imported from Arizona stained my Tracy Burch white pants. Right now, I didn’t care about clothes, Cassie, or Kachina. I just wanted to keep from fainting. I put my head between my knees.
“Tell me what you want from me,” I said, feeling beads of perspiration popping out on my forehead.
Andy sat down next to me and folded his legs under him. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. I just needed to get your attention. It’s like the start of a show. Grab ’em and you’ve got ’em.”
“Okay, you’ve got me.”
“So here’s what I want you to understand,” he said, tossing the vial from one hand to the other. “You came to my office and asked a lot of questions about Cassie. But she worked for me years ago. She left years ago. And what happened then has nothing to do with…anything.”
It suddenly came back to me how uncomfortable Andy had been at the very end of our conversation last time, when I asked why Cassie had left Genius Productions—just got up and left her perfect job. I hadn’t thought to investigate any further, but he didn’t know that.
“The whole scandal about Cassie leaving your company got nicely covered up,” I said, taking a stab. How far off could I be? In LA, scandals ranged from a drug-driven orgy in the private room of a celebrity club to losing so much weight that the size 0 Versace didn’t fit.
Andy flushed. “Maybe it would have been a scandal if we worked at Goldman Sachs, but this is television. The entertainment business. Late nights, close contact, a lot of adrenaline. Sex happens.”
“You and Cassie,” I said, catching on and trying to picture the two of them.
“I’m in love with my wife!” Andy said, springing up from his seated position to a crouch. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Really. I swear. Nobody loves his wife more than me.”
“So I’ve heard,” I said.
Andy plopped down again and stared at me with his big blue eyes. “Everybody’s entitled to one stupid mistake, but I don’t want it coming out during a murder investigation.”
“Your wife doesn’t know?”
“Of course not. It had nothing to do with her.”
“But you slept with Cassie.” Was Grant right that everyone in LA behaved badly?
“More like we fell into bed together very late one night when we were out on a shoot. The next day we both regretted it.”
“You regretted it because you felt guilty. What about Cassie?”
“Come to think of it, maybe she didn’t regret it. I’m pretty good in the sack.”
More than I wanted to know. “Anyway, you fired her.”
“Never. I wouldn’t have done that. Cassie decided she didn’t want to put me in a bad position. She quit at the end of the week.” Andy looked at me, concerned. “How you feeling now?”
“Lousy.” I licked my bottom lip and felt blisters forming on my tongue. Is that what happened just before you died?
Andy stood up. “Everybody had forgotten about my dumb fling. But then you came to my office asking about Cassie and why she left.” He shook his head and rubbed his sandal into the red sand. “After you left, I talked to one of the honchos at the network to get some advice. My shows make them so damned much money, he didn’t want any scandal.”
“So he told you to poison me?”
“He told me to do whatever it takes to make sure the story doesn’t come out.”
I wiped the back of my hand across my damp forehead.
“Only reason I’ll spill your story is if I find some other connection between you and Cassie,” I said. “Otherwise, your secret’s safe. I’m glad you’ve got a guilty conscience, but that’s between you and Spirit Woman.”
“Thanks,” Andy said, with the first hint of humility I’d ever heard in him. “So we have a deal?”
“Deal. Now can I have your poison antidote?”
Andy tossed me the vial he’d been playing with. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “The stuff in the tea just causes temporary symptoms. Same chemical that’s in hot peppers. Capsaicin. I know it feels lousy, but there’s no permanent harm.”
“Then what’s this?” I asked holding up the blue liquid that I’d thought would save my life.
“Listerine Cool Mint. In case my story left a bad taste in your mouth.”
I got unsteadily to my feet and moved a few steps forward so we were eye to eye. “You seem to know an awful lot about poisons,” I said. “Hobby of yours?”
“Just research for my shows,” he said. “America likes to be revolted.”
“Put that revolting Russian roulette show on the air and our deal’s off,” I said.
“It’d probably get a nineteen share.”
“Go for that nineteen share and I tell everybody what I know about you and Cassie.”
Andy shrugged. “Fine.” He turned to the sculpted rock and steepled his hands in front of his face, as if in prayer. “I can always find another concept.”
y the time I got back to my car, I’d already started to feel better. I called Dan just to be safe and gave him a brief synopsis of what had happened.
“You’d better come by my office,” he said gruffly. “Get here as soon as you can.”
When I arrived, the nurse immediately whisked me out of the busy waiting area and into an examining room. Dan bustled in a moment later, his white coat crisp and spotless and a stethoscope tossed casually around his neck. His sandy-blond hair framed his elegantly patrician features, and his broad shoulders set off a body that had stayed lean and muscular from jogging and mountain climbing. After all these years, I still felt lucky every time I saw him.
“At least you’re not looking sick,” he said, which was not quite as complimentary as I might have hoped.
“The worst of it passed quickly,” I said.
“Tell me the whole story.”
I did, recounting the strange conversation with Andy as well as I could. When I finished my narrative, Dan nodded, his impassive expression giving nothing away.
“Let’s check you out,” he said without any emotion.
I hopped on the paper-covered table, and Dan busied himself examining my mouth and throat, listening to my heart, and then feeling the glands at my neck. His strong, competent fingers prodded the skin just above my open collar.
“Mmm, I like when you touch me there,” I said. “Your fingers feel good.”
I might have been one of the seductive patients doctors learn to handle in medical school. He ignored my enticements and finished the exam.
“Your symptoms are consistent with capsaicin ingestion,” he said in a professional tone. “Unless something further develops, I think we can assume you’re in the clear.”
“Nothing I need to do?”
“No. A glass of milk might neutralize some of the acid. If the tongue is burning, lick on an ice cube.”
“How about a mango frozen yogurt at Pinkberry?” I asked, only half joking. I’d brave the crowds at the West Hollywood store only on doctor’s orders. No matter how many branches of the dessert palace opened around LA, the lines kept getting longer. You’d think half of LA had been starving pre-Pinkberry. And given the number of women subsisting on spinach salads and Diet Coke, they probably were.
“Whatever soothes is fine,” Dan said, not sounding very soothing himself. “As I said, you haven’t sustained any permanent damage.”