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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“The penthouse is brand new,” I reminded her. “All yours and ghost free. You and Roger start fresh here.”

Cassie gave a little frown, then darted off. I followed her into the kitchen, where she gazed blankly at the six-burner Viking stove. She opened the door of the oven warily, as if nervous that the Pillsbury doughboy might pop out.

“Combination heat, with electric and convection currents,” I explained. “The temperature stays even, so it’s ideal for baking.”

Cassie nodded, but from the empty expression on her face, I realized she didn’t plan to be whipping up big batches of Bundt cakes. Probably the only “baking” she’d do was at the Sunless Tanning Salon in Beverly Hills.

She sauntered over to the kitchen pantry, where the smooth-glide shelves rolled out effortlessly. Since she’d asked me to take care of everything, I’d stocked the pantry with life’s necessities—from Hawaiian macadamia nuts to Macallan single-malt scotch.

“Champagne and chocolate truffles on the bottom shelf,” I said. “From my experience, that’s the solution for any marital spat.”

Cassie looked stricken. She’d been married less than a year, so maybe she couldn’t imagine a marital spat. Or maybe my friend Molly Archer was right when she told me Cassie’s marriage had veered into trouble.

As the head of Molly Archer Casting and able to influence most of the media hotshots in Hollywood, my old college pal stayed tuned in to everyone. She’d called me to report that Cassie and Roger had been seen arguing at the chic Japanese restaurant Koi a few nights earlier. After Cassie stormed out, Roger went over to the celebrity-packed Skybar, where he drowned his troubles in a martini—and later left, several sources reported, with “an amorous but unidentified redhead.”

“You realize what that means,” Molly had said ominously.

“He’s lusting after the ghost of Lucille Ball?”

“I like to think Lucy’s happily married in heaven.”

“Isn’t Roger?”

“Darling, this isn’t about passion. It’s about the prenup.” Molly had paused meaningfully. “Young Cassie gets a million bucks if she and Roger split anytime in the first year. After that, the payoff jumps to ten million.”

“He’s a billionaire. That’s not exactly a kick in the wallet.”

“He’s a businessman,” Molly corrected me. “He calculates his investments carefully.”

Now looking at Cassie, I wondered if her panic about the penthouse could be connected to the expiring prenup. Maybe she figured that if she decorated right, she could buy herself another year and a bigger payoff. No wonder she seemed nervous. Much harder to decide whether the antique rug should be Tabriz or Turkish with nine million bucks on the line.

Turning away from me, Cassie opened the Sub-Zero refrigerator and unexpectedly gave a broad smile.

“Kirin green tea!” she said. “I didn’t see this before. How did you know?”

I peeked inside the refrigerator where three green bottles with Japanese letters on them stood neatly lined up.

“It’s always been my favorite,” she said. “A little bitter, but much better than anything you can get in America.” She grabbed one of the bottles, cracked open the cap, and took a long swig. She gave a little shake of her head, then drank some more.

“Did you have this imported from Tokyo?” she asked. “I can’t believe it. You’re really the best, Lacy.”

When I didn’t answer, Cassie gave a tentative smile.

“I’ve loved this stuff since I went to Kyoto during spring break in college. This trip, I drank it all the time in Tokyo.” She took another long sip, then smiled at me, relief written all over her face. “Roger told you to get it, right?” Her smile got even wider. “He’s such a sweetheart, after all. He wanted to surprise me!”

She finished drinking, then put the bottle on the countertop. I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask—including why any college kid would take spring break in Kyoto instead of Cancún—but instead, I stared at the tea. I believe in giving credit where credit was due. But in this case, I didn’t know where it was due.

I picked the bottle up, puzzled, then put it back down.

“Oh, I just remembered something,” Cassie said. “The Rothko in the study.”

She hurried down the hallway into the room that had rapidly become my favorite. I’d had the floor in Roger’s study bleached and cured to a pale maple, and tinted the angular bookshelves that lined three of the walls exactly two shades darker. A stunning brass-and-glass desk stood in the middle of the huge expanse, and the floor beneath it was accented with a checked-tile inlay. I’d provided rolling ladders so Roger could climb up to reach a book at the top of the towering shelves. Instead of the standard wooden library ladders, these were made of sinewy steel. The room felt familiar—but still fresh and modern. I liked giving a new twist to an erstwhile style.

Cassie paused and looked appreciatively at the books. I even had the feeling she’d read her share of them. But then she turned to the simple two-toned painting that would probably bring in twenty million bucks at auction at Sotheby’s. “I think there’s something wrong with the frame,” she said.

The Rothko had been in one of Roger’s other houses and I’d had it brought in. I’d used the most reputable art-trucking firm I knew. They’d never damaged anything before, and come to think of it, I’d inspected the picture carefully when it arrived. But sure enough, the lower-right-hand corner of the frame was freshly broken off.

“No damage to the picture,” I said, studying the orange and red color fields.

“Can you get it fi-fi-fixed?” asked Cassie, suddenly panting slightly. I looked over. Her forehead was sweating and she clutched her stomach. Something more than art-lover’s distress had struck her.

“Are you okay?” I asked her.

She was almost doubled over now, and when she opened her mouth to speak, she seemed to be gasping for words.

“I—I have to…” Her eyes rolled toward the top of her head, and she seemed to be choking. But she grabbed for the ladder by the bookshelf and put a foot on the first rung. Swaying heavily, she started to pull herself up.

“Be careful,” I said from across the room.

“Up—up,” she said, gasping. “Have to g-g-get it.” Her voice was raspy, and her face was suddenly whiter than a geisha’s. She kept climbing, and I saw a spittle of drool dripping from the side of her mouth.

“Cassie,” I said anxiously. “I think you’re sick. You’d better come down.”

“Delta,” she said. She stumbled on one of the rungs and barely managed to catch herself. She kicked off her shoes and the Jimmy Choos flew down, landing with a thump on the ground.

“Come down, Cassie.” Worried, I took a step forward. “If you need a book, I’ll get it.”

Cassie shook her head. The penthouse ceilings soared twenty feet high, and Cassie had to be eight feet off the ground now. Suddenly she gave a shout of pain and turning, clutched at her throat with both hands. Nothing connected her to the ladder except her pedicured toes. Her head bobbed, and then she plunged forward, her arms spread wide, as if she planned to soar across the room like an angel.

But Cassie was no angel. She wasn’t even the Flying Nun.

She landed with a sickening thud, head first, on the polished floor.

“Cassie!” I screamed, rushing over.

I fell to my knees next to her. A huge gash had opened in the back of her head. Cassie gave a little moan and then turned silent.

I watched in horror as the wound began spurting, covering the floor in blood, the deep red color of a Rothko.

Chapter Two

 

E
ven as the blood gushed, I knew I had to stay cool. Last time I saw a spurter like this I panicked, which hadn’t helped anyone. Running in our backyard, my then-two-year-old daughter Ashley had crashed into an Adirondack chair (did toddler-proofing require rubber furniture?) and split her forehead. I’d rushed her hysterically to the hospital where my husband, Dan, the best, kindest, and handsomest plastic surgeon in LA, met us at the emergency room. While I sobbed that he couldn’t let our baby die, Dr. Dan stopped the bleeding and pointed out that Ashley didn’t even need a stitch.

All that happened years ago, but I always remembered what Dan told me that day.

One: Head wounds bleed profusely, even when they’re innocuous.

Two: People don’t die as easily as you think.

Three: I love you.

Number three didn’t happen to be relevant right now, but hearing Dan in my head did calm me down.

I tried to assess the situation.

Cassie’s head wound was bleeding profusely—but given rule number one, the injury could be innocuous.

On the other hand, if people don’t die that easily, why was Cassie not breathing?

I made a fast call to 911, then dropped the phone. CPR. I’d taken a class back when I was pregnant the first time, wanting to be prepared for all emergencies. Could I remember anything? I pushed Cassie’s jaw forward to open the airway, then put my lips against hers and breathed twice. I sat back, put my palms against her chest, and pumped fifteen times.

No response.

I kept going. Breathe twice, pump fifteen times. Breathe twice, pump fifteen times.

Cassie sputtered.

Thank God.

Her chest was moving up and down, just slightly. I had to do something about the head gash. I rushed to the bathroom, grabbed a pale yellow Hermès towel, and charged back, pressing it against the wound to stanch the bleeding. In a moment the towel was bright red. I got another and held them both tightly against her head.

“Cassie, what happened?” I whispered.

Her lips were chalky, her eyes still closed.

I heard someone pounding on the front door and rushed to the foyer, flinging open the door. Two EMTs in short-sleeved blue uniforms stood at the ready, holding their emergency medical equipment.

“She’s barely breathing!” I screamed. “You’ve got to do something! She could die!”

“Where is she?” asked the taller of the two, who couldn’t have been old enough to buy a beer. His elbows stuck gawkily from under his sleeves, and he had a rash of acne across his forehead, but he charged in, not hesitating for a second, and followed as I raced back to the study.

“Tell me what happened,” he said.

Choking out a few details, I dropped to my knees next to Cassie. The lanky young EMT pushed me aside and quickly evaluated the patient.

“No pulse. No breath,” he called out, starting to press on her chest, with the CPR maneuver I’d already tried. “Prepare to intubate her. Start an IV.”

The second EMT—shorter than his partner, but with the broad chest of someone who spends a lot of time at the gym—put a hand under my elbow. “You need to move aside,” he said, practically lifting me up. Then he grabbed for his radio and I heard him calling for backup.

The next few minutes passed in a confusion of blood, equipment, needles, and tubes. I stood to the side, reeling in horror.

“No response,” said one of them.

“Give her some epi,” insisted the other. “We’ve got to get this heart started.”

The backups started arriving, two by two. A pair of policemen came in, and then two LA firemen. A second pair of EMTs dashed in, and then another couple of cops—the emergency-response version of Noah’s ark. People called out suggestions and radios spluttered with static and barked instructions.

“Let’s get her to the hospital,” someone said. “We’re not saving her here.”

In seconds, Cassie was on a stretcher, being whisked out the door. I rushed after, negotiating with the EMTs about which hospital they’d go to. We exchanged a few sharp words, but then they nodded and were gone. Far below, I heard loud sirens blaring—and then silence.

I went back to the living room, sunk into a chair, and dropped my head to my knees. The buttery leather cuddled around me, but I didn’t feel any comfort.

“You okay, ma’am?”

I sat up and looked straight into the concerned face of a cop. She was slim, with clear skin, bright blue eyes, and straight brown hair pulled into a ponytail. The stiff uniform masked her shape, but she’d cinched her belt tightly around her waist and her gun just accentuated the gentle curve of her hips. I had to figure her for a real cop, but she might as well have wandered off a primetime set at CBS.

“I’m okay, but I don’t know about Cassie. It happened so fast,” I said.

“Are you a relative?”

“No, I’m Lacy Fields. A friend, I guess. Her decorator.” I shook my head, trying to clear the confusion. “But her husband. We should call her husband. Roger.”

The cop—whose nametag identified her as Officer Erica McSweeney—pulled out a clunky phone that doubled as a walkie-talkie. “What’s the husband’s phone number?”

“No idea,” I admitted. “Maybe I can find it on Cassie’s cell.” I stood up shakily, headed back to the foyer, and grabbed Cassie’s bag from where she’d casually abandoned it on the gold-flecked eighteenth-century table. At another time, I would have paused to admire how the bold shades of the leather-and-alligator Louis Vuitton purse played gracefully against the mellow-colored antique. Now I just grabbed the bag (which, according to
Vogue
, cost fourteen thousand bucks and had a four-month waiting list) and rummaged inside, finding a slim silver phone tucked inside a perfectly sized felt pocket. With Officer McSweeney peering over my shoulder, I scrolled down, found an entry for
ROGER—CELL,
and hit the button.

Three rings. Four. Just as I started to hang up, I heard Roger’s voice.

“Cassie, hello,” he said. The caller ID must have flashed on his screen, and I noticed a slight chill in his voice.

“It’s not Cassie. It’s Lacy Fields.”

No reply, but I could hear noise in the background and a waiter saying, “May I get you another glass of wine?”

“Lacy Fields, the decorator. I’m at your apartment, and Cassie…”

“I know who you are, Lacy,” Roger said, his voice unexpectedly warmer. “In fact, I’m having lunch at The Grill, and you’ll never guess who’s with me.”

He repeated my name to someone, and suddenly I heard gales of female laughter. Roger chuckled, said something sweet to his companion, and handed the phone over.

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