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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“Lacy, you caught me having a drink with my darling Roger,” said a familiar voice. It took me only a second to place it.

“Molly, is that you?” I asked. Molly Archer, my best friend since college, my Tri Delta sorority sister.

“Yes, darling, of course it’s me.”

As fresh-faced kids just out of Ohio State, we’d moved to LA together, and while I got married and had babies, Molly built one of the most powerful casting agencies in Hollywood. She had recently made
Variety
’s list of the town’s most powerful people—well below Jerry Bruckheimer, but several spots above Paris Hilton’s hairdresser.

Next to me, Officer McSweeney shifted uncomfortably, anxious to do her job.

“Molly, tell Roger something happened to Cassie,” I said firmly to my friend. “Something awful. She’s just been taken to the hospital.”

“Oh my God.” The flirtatious tone drained from Molly’s voice, and I heard her repeat the ghastly news to Roger. He got back on the line, and I handed the phone to the concerned cop.

“Officer McSweeney here. LAPD. Am I speaking to Cassie Crawford’s husband?” she asked, as if worried that I’d mistakenly dialed Cassie’s chef, chauffeur, or masseuse. Roger must have said yes, because she reported that Cassie had suffered a medical emergency and the ambulance had taken her to Cedars Medical Center.

“EMT usually goes to LA General, but your friend insisted on Cedars,” McSweeney said, looking at me. Cedars was the best hospital in town—the place where my husband, Dan, had been a plastic surgeon for most of his career.

From my position five feet away, I could hear Roger firing questions at McSweeney. How had this happened? How serious was it? Would she be okay? His loud voice sounded scared.

“She stopped breathing from unknown causes,” said McSweeney, avoiding any specifics. “You should get over to the hospital right away.”

“I’m on my way,” Roger said.

When she hung up, I shakily shoved some papers and fabric samples back into my own Coach tote—not as classy as Cassie’s, but functional—and got ready to leave.

McSweeney casually put herself between me and the door.

“Um, Ms. Fields, if you wouldn’t mind, I could use your help. You’re the only one who might have a clue what happened.”

I should have felt a thump of hesitation. Almost a year ago, Dan had been charged with murder for a death he had nothing to do with. We’d found the real killer, and all had returned to normal. But I didn’t want to go through anything like that again.

On the other hand, nobody had mentioned foul play here. And I had nothing to hide.

“Can I ask you a few questions?” McSweeney asked.

I nodded and sat down on a black Breuer side chair. She put a small digital tape recorder on the table between us. “If you wouldn’t mind, just give me a chronology of events. Everything you saw.”

I didn’t mind at all. I spoke carefully, struggling to make sense of what had happened. But it didn’t make any sense. I had just gotten to the part where Cassie climbed the ladder when McSweeney’s walkie-talkie burst into activity. She apologized and began talking. In the rush of static and excited voices, I finally realized that it wouldn’t have mattered if the ambulance had gone to LA General, Cedars, or the moon. The victim had no heartbeat. The doctors in the ER had valiantly tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late. Cassie Crawford was dead.

 

 

If the police had mobilized quickly when Cassie fell, now they rushed in like bargain hunters at a Gucci sample sale. In what seemed like minutes, so many uniformed cops and plainclothes detectives swarmed in that they probably had a quorum for a union vote.

I had barely absorbed the news about my latest—and late—client when white-coated forensics experts appeared and began dusting for evidence. I sat numbly as my decorator’s dream transformed into a
CSI
showcase. I finally thought to call Jack Rosenfeld, family friend and lawyer. His secretary said he had run out of the office, but when she heard my trembling tone, she connected me to his cell phone.

“Cassie’s dead?” Jack asked, stunned, after I’d quickly outlined the situation for him. “Cassie Crawford, Roger’s wife?”

“It’s too unbelievable,” I said, my voice breaking. “One minute she was showing me a damaged picture frame, and the next minute she was dead.”

“You were the only one with her.”

“Right.”

“Listen to me, Lacy,” Jack said sternly. “I’ll get there as soon as I can. But be careful about saying anything until I arrive.”

“You want me silent?”

Jack sighed. “I’ve learned not to ask for the impossible.”

“Well, it’s too late, anyway. I’ve told them what happened, and they asked me to stay and sign a statement. I’ll just stick with the truth. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That’s what Martha Stewart said before she went to jail.”

Given the current stock price, jail had turned out to be a good thing. Before I could mention that, I heard a loud
thwack
in the background.

“Are you playing tennis?” I asked. Not really a surprise. Jack played hard in a court of law, but he generally preferred a court with a net.

“I’ll shower and come right over.”

“Don’t worry. Play well,” I said, nobly.

“No, I’ll quit right now,” Jack insisted. “My opponent happens to be the LA district attorney. If I default, he moves up the ladder. He’ll love that. And from what you’re telling me, I’d better keep him happy.”

Default a set? Jack must be seriously worried. The tennis ladder at the Beverly Hills Racquet Club aroused more competitive instincts than
America’s Next Top Model
. The winner got a magnum of champagne, and the sixty-buck bottle of bubbly seemed to mean more to most of the men at the club than their seven-figure salaries. Now Jack would give up a victory to come be my advocate—and I hadn’t even known I needed one.

We hung up, and a thought about Cassie’s last minutes suddenly struck me. I headed back to the library to investigate, but yellow crime-scene tape had been strung across the doorway and two burly cops stood staring at the blood-spattered floor.

Unexpectedly, I heard the melodic notes of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat, also known as the
Archduke
trio. The frenzied activity in the apartment came to a sudden halt as everyone looked around.

“What’s that?” asked one of the cops.

“The doorbell,” I said, slightly abashed. I prided myself on being the decorator who thought of everything. Setting the right mood mattered, and I’d decided that a simple
ding-dong
would never do for the Crawfords. So I’d had the ringer programmed with something a little classier.

In the foyer, the front door stood slightly ajar. With all the cops coming in and out, nobody had actually closed it. When the Beethoven sounded again—wrong music for the current mood—I followed Officer McSweeney to the front, where she swung open the door.

“Can you believe it?” said the man on the other side, loudly. “I never even got keys to my own apartment. Cassie had them.”

With that, Roger Crawford strode into the penthouse he’d paid for but apparently never seen. A few worry lines streaked across his brow, but otherwise he seemed like a man in control. His perfectly tailored, blue-striped Brioni suit didn’t have a wrinkle, nor did his crisp white shirt. The French cuffs at his wrist sparkled with engraved gold cufflinks and were just the right length not to cover the Patek Philippe watch. In the areas money couldn’t buy, he was less impressive: slightly balding and barely average height. He got his stature from his success, not his size.

The woman who came in a moment after him, however, took my breath away.

“Molly, what are you doing here?” I hissed to my barely recognizable longtime best friend.

“Roger needs me,” she said nobly. “He’s devastated. I couldn’t abandon him at a time like this.”

“Cassie’s dead,” I said bluntly.

Molly nodded. “We raced to the hospital, but it was too late. Roger wanted to come over here. He’s shocked. We’re both shocked.”

Something about that
we
sounded a little too cozy to me. And everything about Molly had me reeling. Instead of the practical Prada pantsuit she always wore to work, she’d wrapped herself into a neck-plunging Diane von Furstenberg dress that swung sexily as she walked. She’d traded her much-loved Tod’s flats for strappy stiletto sandals that showed off an unexpectedly perfect pedicure. Most stunning, Molly’s trademark mass of thick dark curls had disappeared and shiny, stick-straight red hair now framed her pretty face.

“What did you do to yourself?” I asked, too distracted by her transformation to stick to more serious subjects.

Molly coyly tucked a glowing strand of hair behind her ear. “Fabulous, right? Japanese-process hair-straightening. Seven hours, but worth every minute.”

A plainclothes cop came over, planting himself a little too close to Molly. “Ma’am, I’m Detective Burrows. If you’ll come with me for a moment, I’d like to ask you a few questions,” he said.

Molly looked briefly shaken, probably more at being called
ma’am
than at the thought of talking to a cop.

I put a hand on Molly’s arm.

“She needs to come with me to the ladies’ room first,” I said, anxiously digging my fingernails into her soft skin.

Molly looked puzzled. “Why is that?”

“Tampax problem,” I said.

Detective Burrows stepped aside stiffly, too embarrassed (or confused) to follow us. I practically dragged Molly into the guest powder room, quickly locking the door.

“Tampax problem?” she asked, with a little giggle. “Have you forgotten how to use them?”

“I had to think of something to say,” I said brusquely. I took my hand off her arm and sat down on the red brocade bench I’d imported from Paris to grace the far side of the makeup table. No guest of the Crawfords should have to stand to put on lip gloss.

Molly took a bottle of Annick Goutal perfume from the countertop (I’d accessorized every inch of the place) and started to dab a drop behind her ear. I grabbed the bottle from her and slammed it back into place.

“What’s going on?” I asked angrily. “Roger’s wife is dead. The police are swarming. And you flounce in here like some femme-fatale floozy. Are you crazy?”

“Roger’s a friend,” Molly said mildly.

“I had no idea you even knew him.”

She raised a well-tweezed eyebrow. “How do you think you got the assignment to decorate this place? I mentioned you to Roger and he told Cassie.”

I started to stand up, then plopped back down, my knees shaking too hard to hold me.

“You never said anything.”

Molly sat down next to me. “I would have,” she said putting a comforting hand on my shoulder, “but we haven’t seen each other much lately. I’ve been wild at work. You’ve got those three gorgeous kids keeping you busy. It’s happened before. We always catch up eventually.”

True enough. My daughter, Ashley, and her new best friend, Tara, talked together all day at school, gossiped via cell phone in the afternoon, and IM’d all night. But friendship changed between fourteen and forty.

I looked at my redheaded pal.

“Are you and Roger involved?” I asked.

“It’s complicated,” she whispered, even though nobody could hear. “Involved, but not how you think. We’ll talk about it later.”

I nodded. “We will. But get this—cops don’t deal with complicated. They deal with suspects. Here’s how I see it. Roger’s the husband, so he’s tops on their list already. I happened to be the last one to see Cassie alive, so put me at number two. Now if you’re involved with him
and
me, you’re right up there at number three.”

“Roger wouldn’t kill Cassie,” Molly said, a look of horror crossing her face. “Neither would you. Or me. Anyway, who says someone killed her? The doctors told Roger the cause of death was unknown.”

Now I did manage to stand up. “Maybe it’s unknown to them right now,” I said. “But trust me. By tomorrow, everyone in LA is going to know that Cassie Crawford was murdered.”

“She couldn’t have been murdered. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Murder never makes sense.”

“What are you going to do?”

Well, that seemed a fair question. I peered in the mirror and swiped on some Kiehl’s lip balm. What was I going to do? In the midst of all this madness, I had to keep my priorities straight.

“I’m going to Jimmy’s swim meet,” I said calmly. “If I leave this minute, I can get there before the medley relay.”

“You’re joking.”

“Why would I be joking? Cassie will still be dead tomorrow. But today is the only chance for the Pacific Palisades Porpoises to win the six-and-under league championship.”

I tucked the Kiehl’s back in my bag, kissed Molly on her perfumed cheek, and left the bathroom. As I swept out of the penthouse, I smiled at the cop now positioned by the front door. Right now, I wouldn’t worry about anything except whether or not Jimmy had finally learned how to do a racing dive instead of a belly flop.

Chapter Three

 

I
got to the pool and grabbed a spot in the stands just as eight little boys in red-and-blue team swimsuits scrambled onto the starting blocks at the other end. I waved, hoping one of the would-be Michael Phelpses would wave back. Nobody did, so I leaned forward and squinted. The kid in lane 4 had dark curly hair, and the one in lane 8 towered above the others. The rest were sandy-haired six-year-olds with skinny legs, tanned tummies, and big round Speedo goggles that obscured their features. “Which is Jimmy?”

Ashley, my fifteen-year-old daughter, slipped onto the bench next to me. I hadn’t known she was coming to watch her little brother swim, but I kept my surprise in check.

“Got me,” I said. “They all look alike at fifty meters, don’t they?”

“You don’t recognize your own
son?”
she asked, contempt dripping from her voice. She’d stopped being my sweet baby girl a long time ago.

“Help me out,” I said mildly. Arguing with Ashley was never the way to go.

Ashley, who looked suspiciously blonder than usual, crossed her arms over her too-tight T-shirt. With a scowl, she leaned back—a good trick on a backless bench.

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