Authors: Janice Kaplan
She seemed to perk up a little.
“What if I didn’t have an extra pair of panty hose in my purse?” I continued. “Would he have let me go? Seems like our assailant wasn’t too prepared.”
Another moan from Molly, but this one sounded like she wanted to say something. Stopped by the gag, the word came out as a guttural grunt.
“Okay, he had a gun,” I said, interpreting for her. “But he didn’t shoot. We’re alive.”
Molly looked so miserable, she probably would have considered death a good option. I hadn’t recognized our attacker, but something told me Roger had sent him. Another one of his entourage of thugs. Any fantasies Molly harbored about her rich guy as would-be husband had to be crumbling.
Molly made another garbled sound.
“Much as I’m enjoying this one-sided conversation, we need to get out of here,” I said. It made the most sense to get one of our hands free first. But I could tell Molly desperately needed to lose the gag.
I sidled around as best I could so we sat back-to-back. Then I pulled up onto my knees, getting my bound hands as close as possible to the knot in her scarf. I had thought I could just pull the whole thing down, but as soon as I tried I could tell that it had been tied too tightly.
“This is going to take a couple of minutes,” I said. I ran my fingers over the knot. When Grant had first started hiking and camping, he’d walked around the house with a piece of rope, practicing his knot-making skills. Slip knots. Square knots. Granny knots. He had always tried to teach me how to do them. “It’s the key to survival on a mountain,” he’d explained earnestly. A closet wasn’t exactly Kilimanjaro. But I still had to do this right.
I began picking at the gag, but nothing seemed to get loose. I manipulated the fabric as best I could, but facing backward and with my wrists bound, I couldn’t make any headway. A few minutes later, I gave up in frustration. The silk wouldn’t give.
“You should have worn a cheaper scarf,” I said. “Polyester wouldn’t be this difficult.” I sat back down. “Let me try your hands.”
My shoulders hurt from the odd position, and my upper arms had started to cramp. But the rope belt was easier to maneuver. The top half of the knot quickly gave way, and I felt a surge of triumph.
“Almost there,” I promised her. I kept working at it, and persistence paid off. I got the material free and quickly unwound it from Molly’s arms. She shook them, getting back her circulation, then quickly came behind me to release my bonds.
“I’m never wearing panty hose again,” I said as she struggled. “From now on, it’s bare legs and self-tanner.”
Once she got me loose, I gave a huge sigh. I’d lost some feeling in my fingers, so I began opening and shutting my fists to get the blood flowing again. My fingers started tingling—a good sign. Molly had started working on her gag, and now I came around to help. In a minute, we tossed the Hermès scarf to the ground.
“Thank god,” said Molly. She rubbed the corners of her lips and opened her mouth tentatively, as if surprised to find she could talk again.
“You’re okay,” I said, giving her a quick hug.
But she wasn’t. She touched the red welt on her forehead, then pushed at the door. “We’re locked in. We’re going to die,” she said, her voice breaking.
“No, we’re going to get out.” I tried the door, knowing that every builder cut corners somewhere. “A closet doesn’t have a very solid lock, just a simple latch. I could probably open it with a credit card. If I had one handy.”
Molly buried her head in her hands and I saw her shoulders shaking. “I…I have to get out of here,” she said, between sobs. “I c-c-can’t stand this.”
We’d already been here too long. If Molly couldn’t hold herself together now, trying to jimmy the lock would just prolong the agony.
I looked around. Nothing in the closet except a few padded hangars I’d put in and the mandatory fire extinguisher the builder provided. Work with what you have, I figured. I lifted the heavy fire extinguisher from its holder on the back wall.
“Move out of the way,” I said to Molly. She hesitated, then retreated to a corner.
“What are you doing?” she asked. At least the surprise had stopped her tears.
For an answer, I held the heavy metal canister from a rung on top and began swinging it back and forth, building momentum. Then I took a step forward and, with a huge grunt of effort, slammed it forward. The door trembled, but stood firm.
“Aim for the middle,” Molly suggested, suddenly part of the plan. “The spot where the folding doors come together might be vulnerable.”
“Okay.” Panting from the exertion, I started swinging the fire extinguisher again. My arm felt like rubber, but I didn’t care.
“Do it!” Molly shouted.
This time I released the handle, throwing the canister with all the force I could muster. I fell back from the rebound and landed hard on my butt. Which gave me the perfect seat to watch the door splinter open.
“Free!” said Molly, as I scrambled to stand up. “You’re Wonder Woman.”
She started to rush out, but I grabbed her hand. “I don’t want to fall into another trap,” I said.
“You think he’s still outside? Waiting for us?” Molly asked.
I thought for a moment. “I don’t think he really wanted to hurt us. He just had to give himself enough time to get away.”
I stepped cautiously out of the closet, then crept to the quiet front hall. Molly followed. The contents of my purse still sat scattered on the floor, and I scooped them back into the black patent bag. Even my wallet had been left behind. I opened it. The credit cards were untouched—as was the cash.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, no longer worried.
“Should we call the police?” Molly asked.
“What do we tell them? Our story’s not exactly going to hold up under questioning. We came to the penthouse to look for a Cartier Roadster you hadn’t really lost.”
“But maybe Roger told someone about the watch. This thief heard about the story and followed us to steal it,” Molly said.
“He didn’t even take my wallet,” I said. “Only sixty bucks in cash, but a normal thief wouldn’t let it go. You have to figure our attacker got just what he wanted. If he’d come for a twenty-five-thousand-dollar watch, he wouldn’t rush out with some worthless papers instead.”
“You think they’re worthless?” Molly asked.
I waited a beat before answering. “Honestly, to somebody, they’re probably priceless.”
olly felt too unhinged to go home alone, so I brought her to my house and opened a bottle of wine. She needed something to calm her down. For dinner we ate Triscuits directly from the box and hunks of blue cheese and Jarlsberg from the fridge. Grown-up comfort food. I suggested she spend the night.
“Lots of empty bedrooms tonight,” I said, sweeping away some crumbs.
“You told me the kids are away. Where’s Dan?” Molly asked.
I gave her an abridged version of our brief fling in Phoenix: Dan’s initial reluctance about my detecting, then his unconditional encouragement.
“You’re lucky,” Molly said. “You and Dan may not be perfect, but it sure looks that way to the rest of us. You have everything that matters. You even look good together. Like Ken and Barbie.”
“I thought Barbie dumped Ken for some new surfer dude,” I said, remembering a headline about Mattel’s big switch.
“The surfer turned out to be the doll version of New Coke,” Molly said. “So Ken came back. Stick with what works.”
“I’m sticking, I’m sticking,” I said. I took a sip of wine and then refilled Molly’s glass. “Dan’s first theory was that Cassie’s murder may be connected to Delta ij. Grant’s secret society.” I didn’t mention that Dan’s second theory, espoused in Phoenix, tied the murder to Molly. “From what I glimpsed of Cassie’s hidden papers tonight, I think he may be right.”
“The papers weren’t about Roger?” Molly asked, surprised.
“No.” I filled her in on what I’d seen.
Molly seemed unimpressed. “An old newspaper clipping. An office report on a potential donor. And a diary. How does that add up to murder?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But given that I’ve just had a gun in my face and seen my best friend gagged with her own Hermès scarf, I’m taking it seriously.”
Molly nodded. “I guess I should call Roger to tell him what happened. It’s his penthouse.”
And maybe his hitman,
I shrugged. “Whatever you think.”
“I hate to admit that I lied about what we were looking for.”
I took a deep breath. “Molly, don’t you think Roger already knows?”
From the shocked expression on her face, I realized she hadn’t thought that at all. I didn’t mind that love was blind. But it shouldn’t also be stupid.
Molly left early the next morning, and I went to my computer to Google Derek Howe, the student who’d died. An hour later I sat back, amazed as ever by how much you could find out on the Internet. All those vast databases collecting information. I always warned Ashley that the funny pictures she posted online could be seen by friends, relatives, and strangers. You didn’t need a dusty library to dig up the past anymore—just a couple of mouse clicks.
Following a few links, I learned that Derek Howe had been found dead in the front hallway of the physics building his junior year at UCLA. He’d been an honors student, science genius, and all-around star. The cause of death in a healthy, athletic twenty-year-old wasn’t immediately obvious. The coroner settled on cardiac arrhythmia. The department head concluded that Derek had been leaving an all-nighter at his research lab, since the body was found at 5
by a security guard coming to work. Derek’s grieving parents had set up a foundation in his name.
A tragedy, no question about it. But as I reread the pages I’d printed, nothing jumped out at me. I went down to the kitchen, looking for some diversion.
Why had Cassie kept a clipping about Derek’s death?
I wondered as I washed some fresh strawberries, removed the stems, and put them on a plate.
How did Derek connect to Randall Scott?
I asked myself as I took a ripe cantaloupe and began slicing. I’d looked up Randall Scott, too. He had founded a high-tech company during the first Silicon Valley boom, then sold it for enough millions that he would never have to work again. Three years later, he had another idea and began putting in twenty-hour days all over again just for the fun of it. The new company went public, doubling Randall’s net worth. He’d just announced his third start-up. “Nothing makes me happier than long nights eating donuts and working with my fellow geeks,” he’d said in one interview.
Startled, I looked up from the cutting board as Grant sauntered into the kitchen and dropped his tennis bag.
“Hi, honey,” I said, bringing myself back to the moment. “How was the meet?”
“Pretty good. Ryan and I made it to the finals in doubles, then lost in a tiebreaker in the fifth set. Bummer.”
He didn’t seem too upset, so I said, “Sounds like you did great.”
He took a strawberry from the plate, then looked at the cantaloupe. “Is this fruit for me or Jimmy?”
“Then why is it all cut in little shapes?”
I looked down. Deep in thought about murder and millionaires, I’d cut the melon into tiny geometric pieces.
“I guess my mind was elsewhere,” I said, slightly embarrassed.
“Anything I can help with?” he asked. Before I could answer, he popped a piece of cantaloupe in his mouth. “Juicy,” he said, catching a dribble before it hit his chin. Then, going for another bite, he added, “But the circles and squares taste the same, just so you know.”
I took a piece myself and chewed slowly. “Mmm, try a triangle,” I joked. “Tastes like chicken.”
Grant laughed and slid onto a stool at the counter. “So what’s up?” he asked, turning serious. “What got you busy thinking?”
“Derek Howe,” I said.
Grant nodded, recognizing the name. “I’ve heard about him. The kid who died on campus a few years ago, right?”
“Right.” I looked up surprised. “What have you heard?”
“Not a lot. Some guys in Delta ij lit a candle for him the night of the initiation.”
I put down the paring knife and stared at my son.
“So Derek Howe was in Delta ij?”
“Nobody publishes lists, but yeah.”
“Did he die during the initiation? Is that why they lit the candle?” I asked. It wouldn’t be the first hazing scandal on a college campus.
Grant shook his head. “Nope. He’d been in Delta ij since he was a freshman, and he died his junior year.”
“Okay, but his junior year, would he have taken part in the initiation somehow?”
“You’re asking me stuff I don’t know,” Grant said. He picked up an oversize strawberry and took a bite. “We did it in secret groups. You only see the people you’re with. Anyway, I think he died after being in his lab all night or something like that.”
Don’t get Grant involved,
I told myself. But then another voice argued back
“Could you find out one thing for me?” I asked, remembering the date on the newspaper article. “Not a big deal. Just the date of the Delta ij initiation the year Derek Howe died.”
“February 13,” Grant said, without missing a beat.
My knife clattered to the floor and Grant reached down to pick it up. “Apparently, having initiation on the thirteenth was a Delta ij tradition for years,” he continued amiably. “I guess Professor Bohr changed it a few years ago. I don’t know why.”
Changed it because it happened to be the same day on which Derek Howe had died? Professor Bohr. I had to talk to him again. I took a deep breath.
“So tell me more about your tennis meet,” I said to Grant, ready to change the subject now. “Hit any hundred-mile-an-hour serves?”
By late afternoon, Dan had come home, bearing turquoise-and-silver earrings for me from an artsy store in Scottsdale.
“They’re pretty, but I wasn’t sure if they were ‘you,’” he said as I put them on.