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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“I’ll be ready in a jiff, sweetie,” I said, heading to my room.

Given how my daughter looked, nobody would notice me tonight anyway. I settled for Chloe ballet flats, a pink-and-white silk camisole, and a full white skirt. To my great relief, Ashley looked at me approvingly when I came out.

“Ooh, Mom, is that a petticoat?” she asked lifting the soft layer of cotton and touching the tulle underneath. “That’s so right now!”

Right now? Was
Petticoat Junction
lost to the annals of bad TV? Come to think of it, women had spent centuries trying to shake off the burdens of corsets and petticoats. Now that we’d been liberated, we could finally enjoy wearing them.

We drove out to Malibu, and when we pulled up, a twentysomething woman in a plaid mini-dress and flat shoes rushed up to the car. Valet parking at private parties was de rigeur, but the name tag stuck to her chest said H
I
, I’
M
P
ENNY
. Y
OU’RE
L
ADY
V
ALET!

I hesitated, unsure whether to trust my car to someone who spelled
your
wrong. Misinterpreting my qualms, she said, “Don’t worry that I’m a woman valet. I’ve had practice with a Porsche and I’m a fiend behind a Ferrari.”

“It’s a Lexus,” I said, getting out.

“I’d rather strip off my clothes than strip your gears!” she added brightly, a line that probably prompted extravagant tips from overstimulated businessmen.

I handed her the keys and Ashley and I headed to the beach, down a path lit by hundreds of twinkling overhead lights.

“Check out the Big Dipper,” I said, pointing up. “And Orion’s belt.” We couldn’t see stars in the real sky, but the artificial lights had been arranged to look like constellations.

Ashley craned her neck and her eyes sparkled. “Too much!” she said excitedly.

But
too much
never entered Roger’s lexicon. At the end of the path, black-clad waiters stood lined up with magnum-size bottles of Dom Perignon. Ashley and I passed by them, but then stopped for another group of waiters who offered miniature bowls of Osetra caviar with mother-of-pearl spoons.

“Yuck,” Ashley said, taking a taste and wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Why do people eat this?”

“An acquired taste.”

“How’s it acquired?”

“By having lots of money and wanting everybody to know it.”

On the beach, hundreds of palm trees and flowering freesia transformed Roger’s enormous stretch of waterfront into a tropical paradise. Small tables covered in silk voile and set with gilded china glimmered under towering candelabras. The star wattage circulating on the beach clearly outshone the Big Dipper.

“That’s Nicole Kidman!” Ashley whispered. “And she’s talking to Naomi Watts from
King Kong
.”

“Both Aussies. Very friendly,” I said, as if we’d all gone hunting koala bears together.

Ashley nodded, her big eyes wide from excitement. At her age, she didn’t need liner, mascara, shadow, and contouring cream to look naturally wide-eyed.

“Let’s get something else to eat,” I suggested. Noticing a man munching on a maki roll, I said, “There must be sushi.”

A tight crowd of people had gathered nearby, hovering over what I assumed to be a buffet table. Most held polished ivory chopsticks, so I propelled Ashley in their direction. Strange that sushi should be so popular. Unless the fish were still flopping, it couldn’t be too different from prepackaged pieces I bought at Gelson’s.

The man in front of me stepped back, holding a piece of tuna roll in his chopsticks. One piece? Didn’t Roger believe in providing plates?

A moment later, I realized plates weren’t the only problem. Instead of being on a platter, the sushi had been carefully arranged on a long…

“No way!” Ashley yelped, suddenly glimpsing what had attracted everyone’s attention.

A naked, well-tanned blonde lay perfectly still on top of a glass table, her arms stretched above her head. Pieces of raw fish and sushi rolls had been artfully arranged across her body, and only strategically placed flowers and banana leaves kept the scene from being X-rated. The model kept a serene smile on her face as guests plucked their hors d’oeuvres from her flat-as-a-serving-plate belly.

“This is the grossest thing I’ve ever seen,” Ashley said, dropping her chopsticks. “I’m not hungry.”

But most of the guests’ appetites—of whatever sort—seemed to be stimulated. A throng wolfed down the sushi, ready to reveal what lay beneath.

“Is called
nyotaimori
,” explained an impeccably dressed Japanese man standing by the model’s feet. “In America, you say
body sushi.

“Actually, in America we say ‘Put some clothes on,’” I whispered to Ashley.

She giggled. “Good thing the model’s not ticklish. If someone touched a chopstick to my tummy, I’d roll over laughing.”

“And what about allergies?” I asked. “One sneezing bout and it’s Big Macs for everyone.”

“Gives new meaning to calling a woman a dish,” Ashley said.

We both laughed loudly this time, and a woman nearby looked at us disapprovingly. “I believe this is an ancient Japanese tradition, like geishas, that deserves respect,” she said, with just a trace of condescension.

“Really? An ancient tradition?” I looked at the Japanese man for confirmation.

“I think it’s from the 1980s,” he said. “Popular in men’s clubs when the Nikkei boomed and everyone got rich.”

“Come on, let’s find something else to eat,” I said, putting a hand on Ashley’s elbow and steering her away. “At least caviar only exploits the fish.”

We moved away from the crowd and I spotted Molly, standing alone and looking anxiously over at Roger. She waved and made her way over to us.

“Didn’t I tell you it would be a fabulous party?” she asked, with more enthusiasm than she clearly felt. “You both look spectacular.”

She took Ashley’s hands and spun her around.

“You’re the most beautiful one at the party,” she said.

“Not the most beautiful, but maybe the youngest,” Ashley said.

“In this town they’re practically the same,” Molly said, with just a trace of resentment in her voice. I followed her gaze back to Roger, currently standing with two young women who looked like they’d stepped out of the Disney Channel. Maybe Roger was holding auditions for the new Mickey Mouse Club.

“My god, that’s Spider-Man!” Ashley said, her excited voice a little too loud.

I redirected my attention as Tobey Maguire gave her a small smile and continued strolling by, holding hands with his wife.

“Maybe having all the stars see you here tonight will get your business back on track,” I whispered to Molly.

“Not happening,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Roger’s financing movies, so everyone has to be nice to him. But they show how moral they are by shunning me.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I complained.

“Think of it as taking a private jet to Aspen and then renting a Prius. I’m the carbon offset.”

“Well, I’m more worried about your neck than your business. You’re smart not to seem connected in public.”

“Smart?” Molly asked. “He’s ignored me all night. If I killed Cassie to snag Roger, I’d be one pissed-off murderer about now.”

I noticed a flurry of activity at one edge of the palm trees. Three huge bodyguards in black suits—including Vince, the thug I’d already met—circled quickly over to the area. I suddenly realized that the trucked-in border of trees effectively cut off our part of the seaside from any random beach walkers. Probably illegal—the beach remained public property—but what beachcomber would dare confront Roger’s thugs? Confronting one of them the other day had been intimidating enough for me. Three of the steroid-packed brutes could empty the beach down to the Baja border. But oddly, all three now stepped aside, and one of them made a sweeping gesture of welcome as two people swaggered through the foliage. Something about their movements—and the thugs’ deference—suggested one thing.

Cops.

Did they finally have evidence to arrest Roger? How perfect to do it here, at his own party. But they ambled past him.
Oh, no. Don’t let them be coming for Molly.
I put my arm around Ashley and then I blinked a couple of times as the duo strolled in our direction.

Not just any cops. Detective Brian Wilson and Erica McSweeney.

A moment later, they stood in front of me, and Detective Wilson held out a plastic bag.

“Your shoes,” he said. “You left them behind.”

He unzipped the top of the evidence bag, and I suddenly remembered that I’d kicked off my gold-dotted Miu Miu mules when I got on Billy’s boat to keep from slipping. Afterward, I’d fled barefoot. Back in my car, I’d reflexively slipped on the Tod’s driving shoes I kept under the seat and hadn’t thought about the missing mules again.

Now I tried to keep my expression blank as Detective Wilson held open the bag and displayed the gold-dotted shoes. Since they were evidence, he didn’t touch them.

“We retrieved them from the crime scene where William Mann was found a few hours ago,” he said, closing the bag again.

“What makes you think they’re mine?” I asked.

“You wore them when we came to your house,” McSweeney said. “I recognized them.”

I must be the only woman in Los Angeles who could get arrested for wearing the same pair of shoes twice.

“I noticed them because they’re so unusual,” she continued. “But I figured they’d be too expensive for me.”

“Forty percent off at Neiman’s,” I confided. “Miu Miu is Prada’s lower-priced line. You won’t see rip-off copies at Nine West the next week like you do with regular Pradas.”

“Good to know,” said McSweeney. “Shoes make the outfit, as everyone says.”

“Are you both finished with the shopping tips?” Detective Wilson snapped.

“Sorry,” McSweeney said.

Wilson tucked the bag under his arm, and puffing out his chest, swaggered closer to me. Sticking his face next to mine, he growled, “So, Mrs. Fields, from the discussion with my partner, I assume you can identify these shoes as yours?”

If Erica McSweeney had asked, I might have just said yes. But Wilson’s blustering put me on edge—and made me cautious.

“No way to know, is there, Detective? A lot of women must have bought the same mules. Saks carried them. Probably Barneys.”

“Size seven and a half,” he reported. “Want to try them on?”

“I’m not Cinderella.” And he’d never be Prince Charming.

“Good thing, because I don’t believe in fairy tales. Just facts. And here’s one. You were on William Mann’s boat shortly before his death,” Detective Wilson said, drawing his own conclusion.

“Wrong,” I said. “Absolutely wrong. Even the Brothers Grimm wouldn’t get away with that.”

“We have evidence other than the shoes,” the detective continued. “We found bloody footprints on the deck. By the way, footprints are as individual as fingerprints.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

“Uh, usually,” he said, momentarily embarrassed by his own fabrication.

“We also have eyewitnesses,” chimed in Officer McSweeney, helping out her colleague. “A man on the pier described you to a tee. Or more specifically, to a sheer white blouse with a ruffle down the front.”

I sighed. Despite my average height, average weight, and average-length blond hair, the man in the madras shorts would be able to pick me out of a lineup in a flash. His confusing me with Cassie in the yellow dress wouldn’t matter anymore. We’d talked in broad daylight, so he wouldn’t have any doubts.

“Billy was dead when I got there,” I said softly. “I hardly knew him. We’d met once before.”

“So you admit that you did visit the boat earlier today,” Detective Wilson barked.

“Complete coincidence. I have no idea who shot Billy. In fact, when I saw the blood, I worried that the killer might still be on the boat. I could have been murdered myself,” I said, my voice rising.

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt,” said Erica McSweeney. I’d take the smidgen of sympathy, though she didn’t sound too concerned.

Detective Wilson tried to hide his smug smile. “Really, Ms. Fields, it’s dangerous being around you. First Cassie, now Billy. One dead body can happen to anyone. Two is just carelessness.”

“I’m not dangerous,” I sniffed. “But after all this, I might be in danger.”

“Then we’ll protect you,” said Detective Wilson snidely. “You can come with us right now.”

“Let’s make it tomorrow,” I said. “I’m with my daughter at the moment.”

“No, you’ll come now,” said McSweeney, an edge creeping into her voice. “Someone else will have to take your daughter home.”

“Are you arresting me?” I asked.

“We’re bringing you in as a material witness.”

“Leave my mother alone!” screamed Ashley, suddenly erupting. She’d been slowly moving forward and now she pointed an accusing finger at Molly. “She’s the one you should be arresting! You’ve always thought she did it! Not my mom.”

Detective Wilson gave Molly a long look. “Your friend is definitely on the list,” he said. Then, turning back to Ashley he added, “But your mom’s moved up to number one.”

Chapter Twelve

 

I
sat for over an hour in the police station, refusing to answer any questions. My friend Erica McSweeney stopped being so friendly. I didn’t offer any more tips on where to find bargain Prada.

Jack Rosenfeld finally arrived at the station and rushed into the room in an Armani tuxedo and patent leather shoes.

I felt a surge of relief at seeing him—and then a surge of guilt for disturbing his evening.

“Did I drag you away from a party?” I asked, ready to apologize for making him leave early.

“Benefit night for the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” he said. “Very impressive young conductor.”

“What was the program?”

“Innovative combination. It started with an original composition and then…”

“I’m trying to run an investigation here,” barked Detective Wilson, interrupting. “Beethoven hasn’t been charged with anything.”

“Neither has my client, I understand,” said Jack.

BOOK: A Job to Kill For
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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