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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“I don’t even want to be here,” she moaned. “Grant made me. I mean, he’s supposed to drive me home from school. That’s the deal, right? Since when does he get to tell me I have to make a stop along the way?”

I turned around to see Grant sitting behind us.

“Hi, Mom,” Grant said cheerfully.

“Hi, sweetie. Jimmy will be thrilled you’re here,” I said.

“You’ve dragged that little kid to so many of my tennis matches, I figure I could make his big swim meet,” Grant said.

Now I smiled. Where did I get a seventeen-year-old like Grant? Handsome, smart, and good-hearted, he’d never bothered with teenage rebellion.

Ashley, however, filled the James Dean quotient for both of them.

The starting gun blasted off, and the six-year-olds splashed into the water.

“Go Jimmy!” I yelled as the flailing freestylers approached our end of the pool. Hearing his name, Jimmy popped his head up and grinned at us before doing a flip turn.

“Nice work,” said Ashley snidely. “You probably added three seconds to his time.”

I kept cheering loudly and Jimmy kept kicking—and a minute later, he touched the finish line in second place.

“Hooray for Jimmy!” I screamed.

Still grinning, my youngest son climbed out of the water and shook hands with the tall boy in lane 8—who’d won by half the length of the pool.

“That big kid doesn’t look like he’s six to me,” said Grant, who’d jumped down to join us. “Think he was red-shirted? Maybe the coach didn’t let him turn seven.”

“That’s stupid,” said Ashley. “Red-shirting only works if it’s by grade.”

“A joke,” said Grant, patting her on the cheek. “Lighten up, huh?”

At the other end of the pool, a race official—actually a mom in white short shorts and a blouse tied at her midriff—handed Jimmy his red second-place ribbon. He turned and waved it madly to show us while we jumped up and down and applauded. It wasn’t exactly his first awards ceremony. Every race at every meet ended with a blue ribbon for first place, red for second, yellow for third, and green for everything else. Heaven forbid anyone leaves without feeling like a winner. Jimmy had so many ribbons that his bedroom looked like the Macy’s gift-wrap desk.

“Can we go now?” Ashley asked.

“Jimmy’s in at least two more races,” I said.

“Don’t make me stay!” Ashley howled. Then she quickly added, “I mean, I have
homework
to do. Algebra. Quadralatic equations.”

“Quadratic,” I said automatically. With pronunciation like that, the only person who’d hire her would be George Bush.

“Quadralatic. Quadratic.
Whatever
,” she said, rolling the word like a would-be Valley Girl.

I suspected Ashley had more interest in working on her manicure than her math, but if I mentioned that, she’d wail that I didn’t trust her. At which point, I’d guiltily 1) beg forgiveness, 2) offer to help with her homework, and 3) promise a manipedi the minute she was done. Sometimes better to take things at face value.

“I’m sure Jimmy wouldn’t want to come between you and
x
-squared plus
y
-squared,” I said.

Sticking around for the whole meet really was beyond the call. With backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle (not to mention individual medley and medley relay) for every age at every distance, a swim meet could last longer than most Hollywood marriages.

I turned around to check out Grant’s plans, but he was talking on his cell phone, his brow wrinkled in concern. Catching my eye, he took the phone away from his ear and looked at me quizzically.

“Mom, I’m talking to Ryan. He says his dad’s looking for you.”

For a moment, I froze. In our circle in LA, two degrees of separation was about as far as anybody got.

For example: Me–Ryan–Ryan’s dad.

Grant and Ryan had been close buddies since about second grade, and our families had become friends, too. Last year, the boys had been doubles partners on the school tennis team. Ryan got all his racket skills from his dad—attorney Jack Rosenfeld.

I’d run out of the Crawfords’ so fast that I forgot that Jack was on his way.

“Tell Ryan everything’s okay,” I said, pulling out my cell phone to call Jack directly.

Grant relayed the message, but then he listened to Ryan for a minute, and his face darkened.

“Mom, it’s not okay,” Grant said, turning back to me. “Ryan says some woman got murdered. You were at her apartment. Mr. Rosenfeld went over to get you out of hot water.”

“We don’t know the woman was murdered,” I said, ignoring the comment about my being in hot water. At least it wasn’t boiling.

“Murdered?” asked Ashley, her eyes getting wide and her voice rising. “Who was murdered? Oh my God, who was murdered
now
?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.

“A woman got murdered and it doesn’t
matter
?” asked Ashley, practically screeching.

We all stared at one another.

“Mom, are you in the middle of a murder again?” Grant asked bluntly.

“I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” I said. “Or maybe the right place. I tried to save her.”

“Are you a suspect?” asked Grant.

“Of course not.”

Ashley started moaning. “I can’t handle another killer in the family,” she said, groaning.

I wanted to remind her that we had no killers, criminals, or crooks in the family. Her father had been totally cleared of all charges months ago. But who could speak reason to a teenager? Give Ashley an hour with Spinoza, and the entire Rationalist theory would go out the window.

Grant handed me his cell phone. “Ryan just conferenced in his dad. Talk to him.”

I took Grant’s RAZR and heard Jack Rosenfeld’s booming voice.

“Lacy, are you there? It’s Jack. I just left the Crawfords’. I tried calling you half a dozen times. I was getting worried.”

I glanced at my own Motorola and realized I’d unwittingly set the ringer on mute. If only these hi-tech toys had buttons you could actually see.

“Sorry, Jack, I should have called. I raced out to Jimmy’s swim meet.”

“Frankly it’s just as well you got out when you did,” Jack said ominously. “Roger started strutting around demanding action, and the police went into panic mode. You and I need to talk.”

I opened my mouth and then closed it again. Ashley and Grant stood staring at me. Ryan might still be listening on the line. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jimmy running toward us with his ribbon. (Didn’t anybody tell kids not to run on slippery surfaces anymore?)

“Where should we meet?” I asked Jack, hoping Jimmy would understand if I missed his medley for a murder. “Your office?”

“Actually, I’m heading over to Beverly Hills to pick up something for Gina. Today’s our anniversary.” He cleared his throat. “Uh, want to meet me? I could use some advice on necklaces. Gina loves your taste.”

I gave a little smile. Fair swap. Jack needed something pretty to put around his wife’s neck. And I apparently needed someone to save mine.

“Be there shortly,” I said.

 

 

Traffic moved slowly on Santa Monica Boulevard, so I turned north onto Sunset Boulevard and drove west. What happened to the famed LA smog when you needed it? The sunny blue sky blazed so brightly that even my oversized Chanel sunglasses couldn’t keep out the glare. I sped easily along Sunset and turned south on Rodeo Drive, getting caught only briefly at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard. My roundabout route might have added extra miles, but it saved at least ten minutes. Nice to be smarter than my GPS.

I ignored the municipal parking lot on the corner and cruised along, pulling up next to a small sign for valet parking. I opened the door of the Lexus, leaving the key in the ignition. A handsome young actor type in khaki pants and a pink polo shirt rushed up. His arms were so muscular he could probably appear in Matthew McConaughey’s next film, but for now, he handed me a parking stub.

“Just leave it right here,” he crooned. “I’ll take care of everything.”

I smiled gratefully. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I’ve kept my Midwest frugality in most matters. I don’t indulge in facelifts, Ferraris, or foie gras. But valet parking is something else. Nothing is better than stepping out of a store and having your car magically materialize. The rap on LA is that people come here from all over America in search of a dream. For me, that dream includes never having to parallel park.

I crossed the wide, sunny boulevard of Rodeo Drive, brushing past a tall woman wearing crystal spike heels, a black sequined miniskirt, and a V-neck angora sweater that barely contained her size D fake breasts. A round, bald man—a foot shorter and three decades older—had his arm around her. He might have bought her for the day, though the diamonds dripping from her neck and ears suggested a bigger investment.

Passing Bijan, said to be the most expensive store in America, I peered through the window. An obviously bored salesman smiled at me. Big surprise that a place where socks are ninety bucks isn’t packed day and night. I had a sudden urge to go in, but a bold sign confirmed shopping by appointment only. Still, I had a feeling that if I rang with fifteen thou to spend on a suit, he’d let me in.

Continuing down the street, I spotted the jewelry store David Orgell. A discreet Harry Winston–type place, it hit the big time years ago when Michael Jackson would come by to shop and the store would close to give him full attention. Now, if Jackson dropped in, the owners would probably summon security.

I went inside and paused to get my bearings. Cases with sparkling jewels on one side, distinctive silver and tableware on the other. An attractive young woman asked my name, nodded slightly, and said, “The gentleman is expecting you.”

As she led me to the back, I played with my wedding ring, and she gave a little smile.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “We’re very tactful.”

I laughed. “Jack’s not buying the jewelry for me, if that’s what you think. I’m not his mistress. I’m his client.”

She raised an eyebrow, but—tactfully—said nothing more.

When he saw me, Jack gave me a hug.

“I intend to lecture you later,” he said. “Right now, help me pick.” He had two black velvet trays in front of him, each holding a necklace.

“Oooh, how beautiful,” I said, gazing at an oversized choker that interwove clusters of crystals, colored gems, and gold wire. “That’s gorgeous. So creative.”

Jack looked relieved. “So I’ll go with that one?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Creative is good for kindergarten kids in clay class. Dance troupes on Doheny. But for an anniversary…” I looked at the other tray, where an oval-cut emerald hung on a gold chain, surrounded by baguette diamonds. “Got to go with class.”

Behind the counter, the store manager, a slim man named Ali, held up the necklace, catching a ray of sunshine from the window. Light-filled bursts of green and gold suddenly exploded all around us.

Jack looked at me, and I gave a tiny nod. Ali caught the exchange and smiled.

“Excellent choice,” he said. “I’ll go have it wrapped.”

After Ali stepped away, Jack shook his head. “I trust you, Lacy. But twenty’s supposed to be the big anniversary. If I get Gina the emerald for nineteen, what happens next year?”

“Check with Indiana Jones,” I joked. “He found some nice baubles inside that tomb, didn’t he?”

Jack smiled and I looked down into the glass case. A bracelet with gleaming diamonds shaped into dozens of delicate flowers caught my eye. What exquisite workmanship. Delicate, different, and well designed. Just what I liked.

“Lovely,” said Jack, following my gaze. “Want to try it on?”

“Well, I’ve had a tough day so I deserve a splurge,” I said. “But I’ll hold off on the diamonds. Maybe a mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks.”

“Big spender,” said Jack.

We smiled at each other, and then he turned serious.

“Okay, Lacy. Matter at hand. I got the full story about Cassie Crawford from the cops. What do you know that they don’t?”

“A lot,” I said briskly.

Jack looked around, but the store was mostly empty. An attractive Asian couple studying antique tea sets stood too far away to hear us—and we weren’t as interesting as nineteenth-century pewter, anyway.

“Something doesn’t add up,” I said, speaking softly and quickly. “She knew about a chipped frame on the Rothko in the study before we got anywhere near the room.”

Jack wrinkled his brow. “I’m not following.”

“Cassie said she hadn’t been to the apartment since they bought it. The Rothko arrived two days ago. Unless she had a private ghost whisperer, she’d been there since.”

Jack took in my news, but seemed unimpressed. “It’s her place. No crime in stopping by.”

“Right. So why was it such a secret?”

“Maybe she wanted to check out what you’d been buying.”

“I asked her half a dozen times to come over with me. She had no interest. Zilch.”

“She could have been cheating on her rich husband,” said Jack, “but I don’t really see that. Drug orgies or wild parties?”

“Who knows,” I said. “But here’s the other thing. Somebody put a few bottles of Kirin iced tea in the refrigerator. Cassie gave me the credit and made a big deal that Roger must have tipped me off how much she liked it. She drank one down in one chug.”

Jack sighed. “Now I’m fully confused. You think she snuck into the apartment and put Kirin in the fridge?”

I shook my head. “Bigger problem. She didn’t put the tea there. Somebody else did. I’m pretty sure the tea was poisoned.”

Jack jerked back, catching himself on the big glass jewelry case.

“It didn’t hit me right away,” I said, continuing, “but when I replayed the day in my head, I realized everything about her changed right after she drank the bottle.”

“Did you tell that to the police?”

“No.”

Jack looked at me. “We’ll have to, so they can test it.”

I pinched my lips together. “When they find out it was poisoned, who gets blamed?”

Jack took a moment thinking about it. He got my drift.

“Murder needs opportunity and motive,” Jack said carefully. “You had the opportunity, but that’s it.”

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