Authors: Janice Kaplan
“I wish. I wish.” Tears sprang to her eyes, and she pulled a tissue out of a vinyl see-through tote that could have been either Kmart or Kate Spade. Amazing what designers could call chic.
Paige walked across the room, and I scurried to keep up with her long strides. She pointed to a classic Ming vase encased behind glass, the shaded blue flowers almost alive on the shiny porcelain.
“Don’t you think that would have looked pretty on the Biedermeier table in Cassie Crawford’s place? Or would the styles be too different to combine?”
I took a long moment to compose myself.
“I’m a fan of mixing epochs and styles,” I said finally. “Biedermeier’s straight lines gives it an unexpectedly modern feel. Oddly enough, the balance and harmony of Ming pieces does the same. Putting them together would create a very special synchronicity across centuries and continents.”
“How interesting,” she said. But I had the feeling she didn’t really care much about Biedermeier, bling, or Ming.
“Is Cassie the friend who couldn’t come?” I asked softly.
She nodded and dabbed at her eyes again. “You decorated beautifully for her. Exactly what she wanted.”
“You saw the penthouse.”
“The day before she died. She loved everything about it.”
I nodded, starting to understand why she’d called. “So you heard about me from Cassie. I’m not really here to help you decorate, right?”
She smiled. “Well, you can if you want. But I’ve just felt so helpless. Someone has to solve her murder. You were there.”
“And you’re her friend. Maybe we can help each other.”
She nodded. “Exactly what I was hoping.”
Paige moved away from the vase and sat down on an ornate divan. I hesitated, but since the piece looked to be nineteenth-century French rather than fourteenth-century Chinese, I figured it had been put there for using, not selling. I sat down next to her and realized the seats had been positioned carefully so that we both directly faced an exquisite painting of Daoist immortals walking on water. According to the catalogue, the piece had a floor bid of five million.
“I didn’t know Cassie had been at the penthouse the night before she died, but I’d guessed. Were you the only one with her?” I asked.
“Yes, just us,” Paige said. “We didn’t stay long. She had some papers she wanted to stash.”
“In the library?” I ventured.
“Right.” Paige let my deduction pass. “Cassie scampered up the ladder, and we joked that she could always have a future clearing gutters.”
“Any idea what the papers were?”
She shook her head. “No. I thought maybe something about Roger. Information to protect herself if he turned cruel during the divorce.”
“Had that been settled? That they’d divorce?”
“Not really. Cassie believed in happily ever after, but I told her she was in denial. She loved him. I don’t know why, but she really did.”
“She certainly wanted to impress him with the apartment.”
“I don’t think he had any intention of living there. He bought it for her. Smart, right? It looks better in front of a judge if you give the ex a place to live, even though it’s not in the prenup. Three mil and he comes across as mister generous—and no judge will make him give up one of the houses he really cares about.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “How do you and Cassie know each other?”
“We were friends since eighth grade,” she said. “My dad was in the foreign service and we moved all the time—Chile, China, India, and Portugal. When we got to Orange County, the kids seemed very provincial, and I didn’t try to make friends. But Cassie was nice to me and it stuck. I moved to Hong Kong in eleventh grade, but we stayed in touch.”
“Did you go to college together?”
“No, I took a degree abroad. We connected back here.”
“Very. And we kept getting closer. She didn’t have a lot of people to talk to about her marriage. It was all too public. But we trusted each other. She knew I’d always be on her side.”
I nodded, understanding. Paige and Cassie. Molly and me. In a wild, ever-changing world, the old bonds mattered. A friend should be more than someone you met on Facebook and sent a text message on her birthday. History had weight. Loyalty made a difference. Like the Ming vase, a real friend had irreplaceable worth.
“You must know the people in Cassie’s life,” I said. “Do you have a favorite suspect?”
Paige studied her fingernails for a moment. “I just think the police are missing something. Their perspective gets distorted when there’s this much money involved.”
“A billion can be distracting,” I admitted.
“Cassie didn’t care about being rich,” Paige said. “Now that she’s…gone, the press has turned her into the bimbo who got the billionaire. It’s not fair.”
“How would you describe her?”
For an answer, Paige turned to me and gave a little smile. “Let’s start this way. What would you guess I do?”
I wisely hadn’t tried to deduce her age or finances—now I had to speculate about her career? Dancer or model seemed obvious. Maybe a producer or publicist. She had definite flair.
“Something in entertainment,” I said, going for the obvious.
“I teach sixth grade at an inner-city school in LA,” she said flatly.
I nodded, grateful that she’d ended the guessing game before I fully embarrassed myself. “It might have taken me awhile to come up with that,” I admitted.
“Cassie and I stayed friends because we shared values,” she said. “Being wealthy allowed her to be charitable, but she got annoyed at all the society women with their blatant displays and fancy balls.”
I smiled. “I know the feeling. My husband always wants to know why he has to put on a tuxedo to make a donation.”
“Cassie contributed in ways that people would never know.”
I nodded again, not doubting her. But before we conferred sainthood on the deceased, I had a couple of questions.
“Did you know her friend Billy Mann?” I asked.
“I knew of him but never met him. They dated years ago and stayed good friends.”
“I think they saw each other quite recently.”
“Cassie didn’t have an affair, if that’s what you’re suggesting,” Paige said. “She didn’t believe in them. Even for revenge.”
I paused, taking it in. “You mean you think Roger dallied?”
“I do,” she said evenly. “I think he dallied with your friend Molly. In fact, I don’t have any doubt.”
I turned away from her, and briefly focused on the painting centered on the opposite wall. Birds and plum blossoms fluttered around a kimono-clad woman who knelt sedately in the bottom left. I suddenly wanted to buy the painting and absorb its Zen vibes. Or maybe I just wanted to go join her in the seventeenth century. Though with my luck, her samurai husband would die under suspicious circumstances.
“Molly and Roger had a complex relationship,” I said, echoing what my friend had once told me. “But not what you think. You really shouldn’t make accusations.”
Paige ran a finger across the smooth edge of her thumbnail.
“Cassie left her sunglasses in the penthouse.”
“After we left that evening, she realized she’d forgotten her Chanel shades. She had to rush to a dinner, so I said I’d go back and get them for her. When I arrived, Molly and Roger were there.”
“You saw them?”
“I came in with Cassie’s keys, and I heard voices. So I tiptoed to the study and peeked in. Roger had his arm around a woman. I didn’t even know who she was until Cassie died and I started reading all the rumors.”
“Did they see you?”
“No. They had their heads down, giggling. I just tiptoed out again.”
“Heads down, and if they didn’t see you, they must have had their backs to you, is that right?” I asked.
“You sound like a prosecutor,” she said. “I didn’t know I was on the witness stand.”
“Just trying to figure it all out,” I replied calmly.
“You want to figure that it wasn’t Molly. But it was. When I walked by her at Roger’s party, I had no doubt. She wears Annick Goutal Passion perfume. Very distinctive. Same scent I’d noticed in the apartment.”
“You smelled her?” I asked, baffled.
“I have a good nose,” she said modestly.
I held out my wrist. “What am I wearing?”
She sniffed. “Easy. Jo Malone Wild Fig and Cassis. Also distinctive.”
“Quite a talent,” I said.
“I work nights at the fragrance counter at Bloomingdale’s. Just don’t get me started on Lovely versus Beautiful versus Happy. Can’t do it.”
Despite myself, I smiled. Paige was the real deal. Given her style, I’d unconsciously assumed that she topped off her teaching salary with a trust fund, not a job pushing perfume.
Then my smile faded. “You have no idea why they were at the penthouse,” I said, getting back to her accusation. “Sitting in the study isn’t exactly criminal behavior.”
“So why all the secrecy? Roger had told Cassie he didn’t want a key until they moved in.”
“Then he made sure the police knew he didn’t have a key,” I added thoughtfully.
Our eyes met, and we exchanged a long glance. I wanted Paige to be wrong, but nothing about her suggested she was lying.
“So what’s your theory?” I asked finally.
She strummed her fingers delicately against the divan. “Here’s what I know. Three people were definitely in the penthouse the day before Cassie died: Roger, Molly, and me. Any one of us could have poisoned the tea. Here’s the other thing I know. It wasn’t me.”
n Saturday night, Jimmy and I cuddled under a green blanket in the family room to watch
. If kids have such short attention spans, how come they beg to sit through the same movie fifty times?
“We have all the sequels,” I told Jimmy, looking hopefully at the lineup of unopened kids’ DVDs on the shelf.
“The original,” he said firmly.
Knowing the ritual, I turned down the sound so Jimmy could recite the funniest lines of dialogue. When we got to the final, rousing “I’m a Believer,” Jimmy jumped up, danced around, and belted out the words. Very cute. Eventually, some movie studio would catch on and put out a karaoke DVD for six-year-olds. (And save a fortune on Eddie Murphy’s fee.)
“Want a piggyback to your room?” I asked him when we turned off the movie.
“Yup!” He grinned and jumped on my back. I staggered slightly under the weight of his firm little body but let him wrap his legs around my waist. I dreaded the day that Jimmy would decide he’d become too grown up to be carried. On the other hand, my vertebrae would send a thank-you note.
I made it upstairs and plopped Jimmy on his bed. I’d recently redecorated his room, having been forced to replace the astronomy-themed wallpaper once Pluto was no longer a planet. Parents in this town competed to give their kids every educational edge, so normal kid décor (Spider-Man? cowboys?) was out of the question. I’d settled on a world-maps motif. I liked to think that if Jimmy got into Yale someday, he’d thank me for the bedspread that taught him how to spell Uzbekistan.
“Can I have a story, Mommy?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s already late,” I said, glancing at my watch. I suddenly felt exhausted.
.” He reached over and handed me
James and the Giant Peach
, and I opened it to where we’d left off the previous night. For some reason, Roald Dahl’s scariest scenes were more comforting to kids than milk and a Double Stuf Oreo. Sure enough, Jimmy fell asleep with a sweet smile on his face, lulled by the fantasy of the lonely orphan and his insect friends.
By the time I went to bed, my own fantasies involved creepier images than mutated bugs. I tossed and turned, spooked by Paige’s vision of Molly and Roger buzzing around the penthouse. Admittedly, she’d seen them fully clothed in the library, not naked and necking. But my imagination provided the next scene. What was Molly hiding from me?
I flipped over and felt a little pool of perspiration forming between my breasts. I needed somebody to comfort me, but Dan had gone to a medical meeting in San Diego for the weekend to present a paper on a new technique for reattaching severed fingers. Right now, I was worried about severed friendship.
, the phone rang. I leaped across the bed to answer it. Late-night calls came in regularly for Dan, and they rarely got my blood stirring anymore. But this time I felt my heart pounding. A hospital emergency when he wasn’t home?
“Hello?” I said.
“Mom, I’m sorry to wake you up.” Grant’s voice sounded strained on the phone, soft and raspy.
“Can you come pick me up?” he asked.
“Sure, where are you?”
“On campus. Tonight was the initiation into Delta ij, remember?”
Of course I remembered. I hadn’t liked the idea, but part of being a parent involves letting kids break free. He’d planned to sleep over Jake’s afterward. Obviously, there had been a change in plan.
“Are you drunk?” I asked. We’d made a deal long ago that he’d never drive after drinking. If he got into a bad situation, he could call me any time of the night, no questions asked. Of course, I’d just asked a question.
“Not drunk, but it’s a long story,” he said. “I’m not up for driving home, and it’s too late to go to Jake’s.”
“I’ll come get you.” Even as we talked, I quickly made my plan. I could dash out and be back home long before Jimmy woke up. Ashley was home in case anything happened. “Just stay where you are, honey. I’ll be there.”
He gave me an address, and twenty minutes later I pulled into the residential part of campus. Lights still shone in dorm-room windows, and I heard the sounds of late-night partying and drunken catcalls. Grant must have spotted me before I saw him, because he emerged from the shadows of a building and got into the Lexus.
“Let’s go,” he said.
I took off, feeling as if I were at the wheel of a getaway car, but not knowing why we needed to get away.
I took a few sideways glances at Grant who seemed pale and shaken. I didn’t smell liquor on his breath, though maybe he’d been drinking vodka. He had red lacerations on his left arm and an angry welt swelling at his neck.