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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“Thank you, darling,” I said. Then, sidling closer, I whispered, “Do you think a more complete exam would be a good idea? I can undress.”

“No,” he said, his voice as chilly as a dish of Pinkberry shaved ice. “I’ve seen what I have to.”

I sat back on the exam table, mildly stung. “You seem angry.”

“Not angry.”

“What have I done wrong? Talk to me.”

“Lacy, I have a busy schedule of patients. We can talk tonight. Short version is that I’m not thrilled when someone poisons my wife. I can’t understand why you put yourself in these situations.”

“To solve a murder,” I said. “To protect Molly. You’ve got to admit I got some interesting information.”

“Not as interesting as you seem to think,” Dan said, irritation in his voice. “A major TV exec hauls you out to a pseudo-desert and goes to elaborate lengths to scare you. And you believe all he wants to hide is that he had sex once with a dead woman?”

“You obviously don’t believe it.”

“A one-night fling is about as newsmaking as brushing your teeth. Tell me someone in this town who hasn’t had one.”

“Me,” I said quietly. “And I’d hope you.” I looked away, suddenly afraid to catch his eye.

The silence filled the room. I waited for Dan to come over, put his arms around me and say, “Of course I’ve never been with anyone else, sweetheart. Why would I want anybody other than you?” But Nora Ephron hadn’t written him a script. And he’d never seen
Sleepless in Seattle.

“All I’m saying is watch your back,” Dan growled, an endearment that never would have made it to the first cut of
When Harry Met Sally.
“Trouble comes when you least expect it.”

“I just discovered that,” I said. And I picked up my pocketbook to leave.

 

 

Back in the car, I hardly noticed the burning in my throat because a new pain had replaced it. Maybe Dan considered a fling just a fact of life, but I considered it a big problem. The solid foundation for our marriage seemed to be slipping away like a Malibu house in a mudslide.

Was Dan having an affair? Grimly, I gripped the wheel and hunched forward, visions of pretty nurses, grateful patients, and horny Hollywood housewives dancing in my head. I thought of my last conversation with Grant and wondered if he had picked up something about his dad. Maybe my detecting skills would be better used at home.

Suddenly a car coming toward me across an intersection blared its horn and swerved, missing me by inches. I slammed my brakes.

“Asshole!” the driver screamed. “You’re supposed to stop at a frigging stop sign!”

Shaken, I waved my hand in apology and continued through the intersection, but then I pulled to the side of the road and touched my sweaty forehead to the cool steering wheel. Did I need a burning bush to make this any clearer? I prided myself on my perceptions, but I’d obviously been missing key signposts—on the road, with my husband, and possibly with the people I’d been investigating.

I grabbed my cell phone to call Molly for advice but got her voice mail. She’d probably tell me not to be so naïve. Boys would be boys, and as long as Dan came home every night, what more could I want?

Actually, a lot more.

Dan and I had our tiffs, but outside of a Hallmark Channel movie, marriage didn’t get much better. We laughed together and still had fun. Sure, Dr. Dan could be unemotional, but his skill awed me. Wielding a scalpel in the operating room, he’d cut into a face without flinching, and he had to stay detached when confronted with deadly disease or disfigured patients. If that cool competence in the hospital sometimes felt like a deep freeze at home, I understood. The flip side of what you admired about someone also became what most annoyed you.

I eased the car back into drive and cautiously pulled away from the shoulder. Tonight, I’d ask Dan straight out what he’d meant by dismissing one-night flings. If he said I’d misinterpreted, I’d demand that he tell me the truth about who and when and…

Oh, heck—no, I wouldn’t. Whether in murder or marriage, once you point an accusing finger, everything changes. I wouldn’t turn into Detective Wilson and risk the trust Dan and I had built over all these years. I’d just pay more attention.

At the next light, I moved to the left lane and made a U-turn. I needed something to distract me. I’d e-mailed Billy Mann yesterday to ask if we could talk, and he’d sent a cheerful message back that he’d be on the boat. Stop by any time. Well, I’d do just that. Billy had been very close to Cassie. The necklace, the yellow dress—a lot of clues pointed his way. Maybe he knew more about the murder than even he realized.

I traveled down Santa Monica Boulevard, got onto the 405 freeway, and zipped along at the speed limit for about five miles. Then traffic came to a dead halt. I flipped on the radio to hear the traffic report, which, sure enough, announced big back-ups on the 405 South. Why listen just to find out what I already knew? I turned to another station, featuring Dr. Phil. Since he also seemed to be spouting the obvious, I moved on to a rap station. Much more likely that Jay-Z had something new to say than Dr. Phil.

For the next twenty minutes, I crawled along, barely moving a mile. Inexplicably, the traffic broke and I raced along—then it stopped again. More frustration. Almost an hour later, I pulled up to Marina del Rey. Out of the car at last, I stretched my legs, went to the yacht owners’ entrance, and tried to remember where to find Billy’s boat. I wandered along the pier until I recognized the yacht
Lucky Duck
. A portly older man in madras shorts and an LA Lakers cap looked up from hosing down the deck and waved at me. Billy’s boat had to be nearby. I sauntered down the pier, the sun warm on my face. Instead of enjoying it, I immediately worried because I didn’t have on sunscreen. Most women I knew would rather run naked through the Staples Center than venture outdoors without a layer of micronized titanium dioxide to protect against wrinkles. My dermatologist had given me one that also contained licorice extract, chamomile, green tea, and Vitamins A, C, and E. If it didn’t work on my face, I could always have it for lunch.

I found the
DreamRide
bobbing gently in its mooring and called out Billy’s name. His jacket had been flung across the deck, but he didn’t reply.

“Billy?” I called again.

I stepped tentatively onto the boat, the kitten heel of my Miu Miu mules sliding on the smooth surface. I kicked them off and walked across the small deck, then took the two steps that led down to the galley kitchen, the tiny bathroom, and a closed door.

“Billy? It’s Lacy.” I knocked on the door, then pushed against it.

A couple of beer cans and a half-empty bottle of Glenlivet rolled across the floor as I came in, and something wet seeped against my toes. Disgusting: spilled beer. Light crept in only through the edges of two small portholes, each covered by a white pull-down blind. Once my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I could make out Billy sprawled facedown on the bed. He had on a pair of jeans but no shirt, and a snake tattoo coiled its way up his bare spine. I sniffed. After a night of too much drinking, he was sleeping it off, dead to the world. I’d come back another time.

I left the dark room, stepped back through the galley kitchen, and started toward the brighter deck. As I looked down, my Revlon Perfectly Plum pedicure glinted in the sunlight. But oddly, the color seemed to have run. My toes, sticky from what I had thought to be beer, were now…

Bloodred.

I stopped in horror. The mess I’d stepped through in the cabin hadn’t come from a Michelob can. For a moment I stood frozen, one foot on the stair, deciding what to do. Leaving sounded good. But maybe Billy needed help. With gritted teeth, I went back to his room, grimacing as I stepped carefully across the sticky floor.

“Billy, are you all right?” I asked, knowing he wasn’t. I yanked open the one drawer across from the bed and rifled through, quickly finding a small flashlight. I beamed the ray on Billy and saw what I’d missed before. At the very top of the tattoo, the snake’s head was gone, pulverized by a bullet that had left a clean hole in the skin—and probably gone through to Billy’s heart. Blood had seeped down through the blankets. I touched Billy’s cheek. He wasn’t just dead to the world—he was cold dead.

Panic seized me. Could the killer still be on board? I flashed the light around the room, but no intruder lurked in the corners. He’d probably escaped long ago, but I couldn’t be sure. I glanced back at Billy and briefly considered the CPR I’d used on Cassie. But Billy had moved well beyond chest-pounding help. I knew I should leave, but curiosity got the better of me, and I made another sweep with the light. The room didn’t seem any more disordered than when I’d been here the first night, changing into that yellow Nina Ricci gown. This time, no couturier dresses or even Juicy Couture Ts tumbled out. Shining the light into the top drawer again, I saw a jumble of tissues, hand cream, condom packets, and Vaseline. A purple hair scrunchy and a plastic bangle bracelet suggested a woman or two had been here—but neither remnant hinted at classy Cassie.

A banging noise intruded from somewhere and I knew I had to get out. I slipped along as quietly as I could, getting up to the main deck, then stepping onto the pier. Rushing along the slippery boards, I skidded to a stop when the man in the madras shorts climbed off
Lucky Duck
and blocked my path.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

I nodded dumbly, fumbling for my cell phone and deciding what I wanted to say to the police.

“I’ve noticed you here a couple of nights with Billy,” he said, a little too jovially. “Hard to ignore you in that beautiful yellow dress. And I never forget a pretty woman.”

There it was—proof that eyewitness identification couldn’t be trusted. But instead of debating, I asked, “Are you and Billy friends?”

“We see each other on the dock. Sailing fraternity brothers, you might say. In fact, he borrowed my bailer. Seeing you before reminded me I need it back.”

“I wouldn’t try to get it now,” I said softly.

“Isn’t he on the boat?”

On the boat but dead. Not in condition to return your bailer.
The obvious answer wouldn’t come out of my mouth.

“He’s a nice fella,” the man continued. “Has that whole hippy-dippy look, but a good heart. Takes care of that disabled brother of his. Not everyone would do that.”

Not the time for me to discuss Billy’s finer qualities.

“I have to make a call. Excuse me,” I said, making my way around his large frame.

As soon as I’d gone past him, I broke into a run, thinking how many times I’d told Jimmy to slow down on a slippery deck. But I kept upright until I got to a main area and found a shower—not unexpected at a boat basin—and let hot water pour down over my feet. I watched as the now-rust-colored refuse swished down the drain, removing any traces of where I’d been.

I had to call the police, but I didn’t want to hang around. Sure, I knew you couldn’t leave the scene of an accident. But a shooting where I’d found the body long after the fact and couldn’t give any information anyway seemed different. I glanced at my watch and imagined the endless hours the cops could keep me at the station. I wanted to be a good citizen, but not at Ashley’s expense. She’d been talking all week about going to Roger’s party tonight. I had to get home to take her. No way I’d let her down.

Shaking, I looked around for a pay phone, but I might as well have been tracking the last living dodo bird. I went back to the car and dialed 911, hoping Los Angeles hadn’t become efficient enough to track all emergency calls.

As soon as an operator answered, I started talking.

“The police need to get to Marina del Rey. There was a crime on a boat called the
DreamRide
. A man may be dead.”

“Stay calm, ma’am. May I have your name.”

I ignored the question and instead gave the boat location as best I could. “He’d already been shot when I found him,” I said, disconnecting quickly.

I knew 911 calls got taped. So it’s not that I disguised my voice. It’s just that my great-great grandfather’s Irish brogue took that moment to assert its DNA.

 

 

The moment I got back to Pacific Palisades, I went online and checked out half a dozen local news sites and blogs. But not one had a report of a dead man on a boat. Maybe Billy’s body hadn’t been found yet. More likely, another murder in Los Angeles—if the victim wasn’t a billionaire’s wife—didn’t count as big news. More interesting to discuss Paris Hilton’s flashing a bare breast at Bar Deux last night at 4
A.M.

I heard Ashley in her room and took a deep breath. I had to put Billy’s murder aside for the night. No sense ruining the time with my daughter. As a mom, I’d long ago taught myself to compartmentalize. When you have too much to do and too many people who need you, you have to focus, focus, focus. Don’t fret about the kids when you’re at work or work when you’re with the kids. Concentrate on where you are and who you’re with.

Okay, I wouldn’t think about Billy, dead, lying on his bloody bed. I wouldn’t think about who might have killed him. In other words, I wouldn’t think about the pink elephant in the room.

“Mom, you’re not dressed yet!” said Ashley, strutting into my study.

“But you are,” I said, looking up at my stunning daughter.

I smiled to myself. Looking at Ashley, I could probably forget Billy for a while after all. She’d pulled her long hair into a chic chignon as sophisticated as the Pucci sundress that outlined her increasingly grown-up body. Her long, tanned legs teetered on cork wedge-heeled sandals—so in style they’d be out of style in a week. But then, like the Pucci design, they’d probably make a fashion comeback in another four decades.

“You look amazing,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “Sorry I lost track of time.”

“Moooom, I don’t want to be late,” she wailed. “How could you get distracted? What were you doing today, anyway?”

What was I doing? Let’s see. I’d been poisoned by a wacky TV producer, stumbled onto a dead body, and worried about my husband’s fidelity. But I should have been ready for the party. I hated to think I’d hit the age where my cranial neurons started overloading. Though given today’s input, the whole system had probably short-circuited. Smoke might be coming out of my ears.

BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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