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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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I smiled. “I love them. And what’s ‘me’ isn’t that clear-cut.”

“I know that. And I’m glad.” He stroked my arm. “A lot of guys complain that marriage is dull or their wives have gotten predictable. Definitely not my complaint.”

“You probably have others.”

“Not many. You’re worth it.”

“You are too,” I said, kissing him.

“The weekend turned awfully boring after you left,” Dan said. “And you?”

Not boring.
“I missed you,” I said honestly. “Grant’s home, and Ashley and Jimmy should be back tonight. We’ll all have dinner together.”

“What are you doing until then?”

“Making sure you don’t find me dull and predictable,” I teased.

“Give me a hint.”

Oh, dear. How much could I push Dan’s good nature—not to mention his goodwill? Maybe this time I’d leave out a few details.

“Just going to Santa Monica,” I said. “You know, where the farmers’ market is. Want to come?”

“No thanks. You can buy baby beets without me.” He smiled. “Have fun.”

I slinked out of the house, feeling like a heel. The farmers’ market
was
in Santa Monica, but I didn’t actually plan to go there. I hadn’t perjured myself, but I felt a little guilty parsing my words so carefully. Dan wasn’t a Ninth Circuit judge. But I couldn’t bring myself to admit I had e-mailed Hal Bohr to ask if we could meet tomorrow in his office. Hal had replied immediately, suggesting we meet today, at a skateboarding park near the Santa Monica pier.

I drove to the address Hal had given me. The park wouldn’t make it into any LA travel guides, since it turned out to be little more than a street corner where some teenage boys had set up ramps. But when I pulled up, I saw Hal Bohr, in flowered orange shorts, flying up one of the sloped boards, twisting once in the air, and landing gracefully on the other side.

“Nice!” I said clapping, as I got out of my car.

He turned around and grinned, then, clutching his board, pretended to bow. He fit right in with the teenagers around him—somewhat awkward, trying too hard to be cool. As in his office, social niceties seemed to escape him. Instead of coming over to say hello, he moved over to a low stone wall that had been rigged for more tricks. Taking off from a short downhill, he soared into the air again, went across the wall, spun around, and came down, this time with a clumsy thud. He tripped over the board but managed to stay standing.

“Chopped, dude!” called one of the young men holding his own neon-colored board.

Hal got on his skateboard and zigzagged across the pavement in my direction. Just when I thought he’d crash into me, he jumped backward so the board flipped into the air. He caught it and held it above his head like a trophy.

“The intrepid Lacy Fields comes to see me again,” he said. “Can I teach you how to kick flip? Do an ollie?”

“No thanks.”

“Really, it’s easy-peasy. Just follows the laws of physics. A body in motion stays in motion. What goes up must come down. All very fundamental. First-year Newtonian principles.”

“I want to talk to you about Derek Howe,” I said, knowing Hal could go off on tangents forever. “He died the night of a Delta ij initiation.” I’d promised Grant not to discuss his own initiation—and I wouldn’t.

“Coincidence. Or co-ink-ee-dink, as some like to say. Tragic, tragic. Hard-working boy. I’d been busy with the ceremony that night and he stayed in the lab. I needed some results for the morning.”

“You mean he worked in
your
lab?”

“I put his name on the breakthrough paper I published,” Hal said defensively. “In fact, I listed all three of my research assistants. Of course, I got first author. And full credit as the genius. Because I am.”

A thought occurred to me. “Could it really have been Derek’s breakthrough?” I asked softly.

If I’d hit a chord, it wasn’t obvious. Hal threw back his head and laughed raucously. “My undergraduate assistants crunch numbers. Crunch data. Crunch my M&Ms. If one of them turned out an original theory, I’d eat my kaleidoscope. Never happens.”

I knew enough about college campuses not to be fooled by the ivory towers. Academics could be as cutthroat and competitive as CEOs. But even with that, killing a student to take credit for his work sounded far-fetched.

“Let’s talk about Cassie Crawford,” I said, ready to explore a different direction. “Why did she care so much about Derek?”

“I don’t think she cared soooo much. She cared a little.” He held thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “It was her freshman year, and he took her out on a couple of dates. Then he died.”

Cassie and Derek had dated? Interesting information. But I didn’t need to let on that it seemed important. “Hal, I really meant why Cassie cared recently. Last time we spoke, you said she’d been asking you a lot of questions about Derek.”

Hal looked around, then pointed in the direction of the giant Ferris wheel at Santa Monica pier.

“How much do you like riding that Ferris wheel?” he asked.

“Never been on it,” I admitted.

“Unacceptable.” He put down the skateboard and grabbed my hand. “We’re going right now.”

“Actually, we’re not.” I shook my hand free. “I don’t like heights.”

“That’s why you need to go,” he said. “Gives some perspective. Go way up high and everything below seems so small. You wonder why you’d fretted so much. Like fussing about ants.”

“Another time,” I demurred.

With a demonic half smile on his face, he turned to me and whispered, “Worried we’ll get to the top and I’ll throw you off?”

“It never occurred to me,” I said.

“Well, Lacy Fields, maybe it should occur to you. You worry about the wrong things. And people like that end up dead.”

 

 

We had a rousing family dinner, with everyone sitting on the deck and competing to tell their best stories from the weekend. Take-out food served on bright-colored plastic plates didn’t exactly qualify me for the Martha Stewart Medal, but I’d go for camaraderie over cuisine any day. In the glow of the candles, I looked at my children and knew all over again that I’d do anything in the world to keep them safe. I didn’t really understand Hal Bohr’s agenda—or his final threat to me. Now I wished I’d issued a threat in return.
You want to know who ends up dead, Professor? Anyone who threatens my children.

The next morning, I got the kids off to school, then called Paige to say I needed to talk urgently.

“I’m going for a power walk in the mountains when I finish teaching,” she said. “I have an early day. You can join me.”

I peeked out the window at the gray, drizzly sky. Anybody who bragged about LA sunshine had never been here in the winter.

“Interested in meeting me for a pedicure first?” I asked. “I know a great place run by a registered nurse. Very sterile. My treat.”

“No thanks. Seems silly to have someone else polish your toes when you can do it yourself.”

“As long as you can still reach them,” I joked. But she took me seriously.

“Oh. I didn’t mean to insult you. Maybe you should do yoga.”

“Never tried,” I admitted.

“Then let’s meet at the Yoshi Bikram yoga studio. I’ll switch and do the power walk tomorrow. I can be flexible.”

I’d bet she could be flexible. I pictured her long legs tucked behind her ears. Well, at least we’d be sitting. Lesser of two evils. “What time?” I asked resignedly.

When I arrived, early that afternoon, Paige had already changed into pale blue spandex shorts and matching top that left a wide expanse of tanned, toned midriff exposed. I hastily threw on my gray sweats.

“You may be uncomfortable in that,” she said, eyeing my outfit as we walked to the studio. As soon as she pushed open the door, I staggered back.

“Why’s it so hot in here?” I asked.

“Bikram’s done in a warm room to help the muscles relax and encourage an energy flow.”

“More like a sweat flow,” I said, wiping my brow. “What’s the temperature in here?”

“About one hundred thirty degrees.”

I clutched my chest. “I think you die at one hundred seven. The brain fries or something. Jimmy had to go to the ER once for a fever of one hundred five.”

“That’s different,” she said. She calmly settled on to a mat, folded her lithe legs so her heels rested on her thighs, and waved to me to join her. “I’ll show you a few positions before the yogi gets here. Classic lotus. Very simple.”

I sat down and stuck my legs straight in front of me. I had a better way to spend a few minutes.

“Paige, I need your help. You and Cassie were close friends. Did she ever talk about a guy named Derek Howe? She might have dated him for a while back in college.”

“I don’t know the name,” she said, her back straight and her hands resting gracefully on her knees. She closed her eyes, a peaceful expression crossing her face.

“He died,” I said urgently. “The papers Cassie hid in the library that night with you weren’t about Roger—one was about him.”

Paige’s eyes shot open. I’d clearly blown her yoga bliss. “Oh, you mean Doogie. Sure. She hadn’t talked about him in years, but he came up recently. Something about his death had her worried. It started because a rich guy wanted to donate an endowed chair for the physics department. I forget who.”

“Randall Scott,” I said.

She unwrapped one lissome leg from lotus position and tucked it behind her. “Right. It would have been the Randall Scott Chair in Theoretical Physics. Cassie figured the first person to get it would be a young professor named Hal Bohr. Something about that worried her.”

“She didn’t like Bohr?” I asked. I felt my heart pounding harder and clenched my fists. Better if I didn’t faint from the heat before she answered.

Paige moved her willowy limbs again. “King Pigeon position,” she said. “Want to try it? Your muscles should be warm by now.”

I crossed my legs Indian-style. “Bohr,” I repeated.

She nodded, her long, supple neck glistening. “Roger had introduced Cassie to Randall, so she worried about any whiff of scandal. Nothing could go wrong. If I remember, she’d dug up some connection between Bohr and Doogie that she didn’t like. She decided to discuss it with her boss, Elsa.”

“Did she ever do that?”

“I don’t know,” said Paige, stretching her nimble torso backward. She stayed there a moment, then pulled herself back up. “We spent most of our time talking about Roger.”

Worry about the wrong things and you end up dead.

“Cassie planned for every eventuality with Roger,” Paige said, back on her favorite subject. “She even talked about cashing out some jewelry so she’d have her own money if he left. She didn’t want to be desperate during a divorce.”

My brain had turned soggy from the heat. I dropped my head to my knees.

“Nice stretching!” Paige said encouragingly.

Cashing out jewelry. Selling a necklace at Christie’s. Billy with a million-dollar diamond. “Do you know how she planned to sell?”

“Secretly. Roger couldn’t know, in case he
didn’t
plan to leave.” Paige rolled her eyes, obviously disliking deception. “I think she asked someone to do it for her. Not me. I’m not good at conniving.”

“How about Billy Mann?”

“Could be. Cassie trusted him. The biker with a heart of gold, she called him.” Paige slowly rolled her shoulders forward and backward, loosening her upper body. Then she looked up at me. “Are you okay? Do you want to stretch some more before Yogi Yoshi arrives?”

I staggered to my feet, seeing black spots in front of my eyes.

“I think I’m stretched about as far as I can go,” I said.

Just then, the door opened and a yogi dressed in white minced in on pale bare feet.

“Ah, good afternoon, ladies,” he said.

I gave a loud, wheezing cough and tried to get past him. He looked at me and raised his thin eyebrows. I had sweat pouring down my face, hair stuck to my forehead, and a hand clutching the door so I didn’t fall over. “I like my studio filled with tranquility,” he said in a high reedy voice. “I’m not feeling that now. We clearly need to seek harmony.”

“I’m with you on that,” I gasped. “Harmony and tranquility. I could use them. But I know a better place to look.”

 

 

Without changing out of my sweats, I drove over to Jack Rosenfeld’s office. From the look the receptionist gave me, I might as well have come in wearing sackcloth and ashes.

“He’s on a conference call and can’t be disturbed,” she told me when I asked for Jack.

“I swear I’m a client,” I said, repeating my name. “I was in the other day. Better dressed.”

“He’s on a long conference call. With London.”

“It’s the middle of the night there.”

“Then Hong Kong.”

I sighed. “Is Rachel Royce available?”

She turned her back to make a call and seemed surprised when she hung up. “Ms. Royce said you can come right back,” she reported.

I gave her the haughtiest glance I could muster, then scurried down the long hall. As an associate in the firm, Rachel had a less impressive office than Jack’s, but the large window still offered a decent view. Three vases of flowers at various stages of wilting suggested grateful clients, amorous admirers, or both.

“Hi, Lacy,” she said, bouncing up with her bright smile. Apparently nobody had told her that associates at law firms were overworked and miserable. “Would you like to sit down?”

“My sweats are kind of sweaty,” I admitted, brushing a hand across my backside.

“Don’t worry.” But she gestured to a hard-backed chair instead of the upholstered couch.

“Are you working with Jack on this crazy case I’m involved in?” I asked, perching on the edge of the chair.

She nodded. “Yes, but Jack’s the senior partner. I’m not really supposed to have direct client contact.”

“Well, he’s busy. Plus he thinks Molly’s a reasonable suspect.”

“She has motive,” Rachel conceded. “And then there’s the fact that you were at the scene of two crimes.”

I hadn’t really thought of it that way.

“I found out why Billy Mann had the necklace,” I blurted. “Cassie gave it to him to sell for her. She didn’t want Roger to know.”

BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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