Authors: Janice Kaplan
“I don’t know if Roger had motive,” I said, “but when he showed up, he rang the bell. The cops had left the door open, but he didn’t just come in. I had the sense he wanted everybody to hear that he didn’t have keys.”
“Let’s get some facts before we speculate,” said Jack, suddenly every inch the lawyer.
Ali came back with an elegantly wrapped package and discreetly took Jack’s American Express card.
“Gina’s going to be thrilled,” I said as we waited for the transaction to be finished.
Good old Jack. I looked longingly again at the bracelet inside the case. If I mentioned it to Dan, he’d probably tell me to buy it. But nah. Given my allergies, the diamond daisies would probably make me sneeze.
y cell phone started pulsing at 6
, announcing an incoming message, but it didn’t wake me. I’d already spent an hour culling through fabric samples for a client who wanted ginger-colored upholstery. She’d previously rejected sixteen different silk swatches, and so far this morning I’d come up with fourteen more possibilities. But I didn’t like a single one. Whether the labels said ginger, carrot, or tangerine, the fabrics looked orange. Good enough to eat, but all wrong for dining room chairs. Unless you expected to spill a lot.
After scanning the message, I texted back and then went downstairs to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, I opened the back door for Molly. She stumbled in and collapsed on the couch.
“Are you okay?” I asked, tugging at the belt of my soft cotton Hanro robe.
Molly had on the same neckline-plunging dress she’d worn the day before, but her makeup was streaked, her lipstick bitten off, and her perfect Japanese-straightened hair in a tangle.
“Cassie died of arsenic poisoning,” Molly said, without bothering with any niceties. “They found it in her urine and traced it to a bottle of tea in her refrigerator.”
“Arsenic,” I said slowly. Well, that seemed simple. Not long ago, the Russians had poisoned a former spy with rare polonium, but here in LA, we didn’t fuss that much. No need to go to elaborate lengths when you could find arsenic in everything from pressed wood to pesticides.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know,” said Molly. “The cop who questioned me all night said you tipped them off. You thought that since I’m so close to Roger and probably want him all to myself that I might be responsible for Cassie’s death.”
I swung around so fast that I almost smacked Molly in the face. “Not true!” I said. My voice rang out unexpectedly loud and high-pitched—and I immediately worried that I’d woken the kids, still sleeping upstairs. On the other hand, my scream couldn’t be any more jarring than the Jay-Z CD that Ashley blared every morning on her Bose radio.
“That’s not true,” I repeated, more calmly this time. “I never said you might be responsible.”
“It’s precisely true,” said Molly. “At least true that the cop said it.”
She stared at me, and I took a deep breath.
“He’s lying,” I blurted. “I mean, not about the first part, the tipping them off, because I did tell Jack that I thought Cassie had been poisoned, and he reported it. But I never, ever, I mean never, ever,
said a word about you. For God’s sake, Molly, why would I do that? Even if I thought it could be true I wouldn’t say it, and it couldn’t be true so I couldn’t say it without…”
Molly held up her hand to get me to stop babbling.
“Okay.” She looked miserable. “I didn’t really believe the cop. I just wanted to hear a denial directly from you.”
I sat down next to her.
“A cop was interviewing you all night?”
“Seemed like it. Then Roger found out and sent one of his lawyers to rescue me.”
“I didn’t even know about you and Roger,” I said softly.
“Nothing to know,” Molly said stoically. “We’re friends. Just like those
you can watch every night on three different channels. Our Central Perk just happens to be The Grill in Beverly Hills. Better coffee.”
all ended up lovers, as I recall. Not to mention that at least one set got married.”
“Roger’s already married,” Molly said.
married,” I said emphatically.
Molly looked at me, and our eyes locked for a long moment. Her expression changed—as if the point had finally sunk in.
“So I’m a prime suspect,” she said slowly. She stood up and went over to the counter in the center of the kitchen, leaning her elbows against the slab of Giallo Antico granite I’d imported from a little town in northern Italy. Frankly, I’d have done better buying one of the cheap synthetic rip-offs available at any strip mall. The Umbrian original had gorgeous color and an intricate pattern, but it turned out to be way too porous to be practical. Some runny cooked carrots had caused a stain, and the counter still smelled of garlic a week after I’d made pesto sauce. I could have been twice as happy for a tenth the price.
“Let me get this,” said Molly, walking around the granite island and patting it every few feet, as if she were playing Duck Duck Goose. “Rich man’s wife dies unexpectedly. So first suspect is the devoted friend and pining spinster, who must have knocked her off to get said rich man for herself. Is that how it goes?”
“It’s hard to cast you as the pining spinster.”
“I’m over forty, darling. That’s not just pine—it’s petrified wood.”
Molly leaned against one of the ultrasleek kitchen stools that looked like elongated, inverted mushrooms. Modern and amusing, but frankly, another mistake. Other than a beetle, who wants to sit on a mushroom?
“Maybe Cassie wasn’t poisoned on purpose,” Molly ventured. “Remember all those problems with products from China? Could be the same with Japanese imports. Easy enough to figure the Tokyo factory got mixed up and put in arsenic instead of sugar.”
“Unsweetened tea,” I said mildly. “And besides, somebody placed those bottles in the refrigerator.”
Molly closed her eyes briefly. “I’m so exhausted I can’t think anymore,” she said. “Actually, I don’t
to think anymore. I’m going to catch a couple of hours’ sleep and get to my office. Just pretend last night didn’t happen.”
“Want to crash here?” I asked. “Nobody will bother you. The guest bedroom has a new handmade quilt and goose-down pillows.”
“I’m allergic to down. The only pillows I can stand are cheap foam.” She rolled her eyes. “See? No way I’d need a billionaire to keep me happy. I’m more Ramada Inn than Four Seasons.”
Just then Grant sauntered into the kitchen, wearing new Banana Republic jeans and a button-down shirt. He had on Top-Siders instead of Nikes and looked a little neater than usual for school.
“Aunt Molly!” he said, seeing her. “What are you doing here so early?”
“Having breakfast,” she said, perking up enough to give him a little hug. “Best places to eat before noon in LA are Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles or your mom’s kitchen.”
Grant grinned. “Mom hasn’t figured out that nobody but us sits down to breakfast anymore. You know her theory: Life’s problems can be solved over cereal.”
“Or made better with a bagel,” said Molly.
“She’s a danger to Dunkin’ Donuts,” joked Grant.
“A menace to McDonald’s,” parried Molly, and they both laughed.
I rolled my eyes. They could make fun of me, but I firmly believed that family meals were the key to civilization. I had breakfast with the kids most mornings and insisted on family dinners at least a few times a week. I suspected that lively conversation at the kitchen table could add more SAT points than any Princeton Review course.
Grant popped a piece of whole wheat into the toaster. “Can I make you some toast, Aunt Molly?” he asked.
“No thanks. By the way, you don’t have to call me ‘Aunt’ anymore. That was cute when you were little, but you’re definitely all grown up.” She looked fondly at my six-foot-tall son.
“Oh, come on, Molly, you’re the only aunt I’ve got. Even if you’re a fake one,” Grant joked.
“He’s right. You’re family,” I said, going over and putting my arm around her. “Sorority-sister blood is thicker than water.”
“Did I hear something about blood?” Ashley asked, flouncing into the kitchen. She had on a pink ruffled mini-dress (vintage sixties), purple leggings (forgettable eighties), and bright red Pumas (what decade would be willing to claim those?).
“Blood as in bloodlines. I’ve apparently been adopted into yours,” said Molly. Then, taking in Ashley from head to toe, she added, “Your outfit is fabulous, darling. So retro you’re postmodern.”
Ashley did a little pirouette. “I guess I got my style from you,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm. “Very retro that you’re hooking up with a married man, Molly. But postmodern that he’s a billionaire.”
The room fell as silent as if we’d been hit by a nuclear blast.
“What are you talking about?” I asked finally.
Ashley smiled smugly, pleased that her bombshell had landed. “I got up early to finish my history paper, and as soon as I turned on my computer, I heard everything,” she said. “Check it out, Molly. GossipGrrls.com says you and Roger have been sneaking around together. They put it at two-to-one that you killed Cassie. YouTube has a video of you and Roger dancing at some fancy party last week. Lousy footage, probably from a cell phone. But still.”
“Geez, Ash, is that how you write a history paper?” asked Grant. “From GossipGrrls? When your teacher said to write about the storming of Paris, she didn’t mean Hilton.”
“Thank you, brilliant brother,” said Ashley snarkily. She stomped over to the refrigerator and took out a plain yogurt. “Oh, by the way, CNN says the police are calling Molly ‘a person of interest.’”
The kitchen got suddenly quiet.
interesting,” Grant said loyally.
“I don’t think they’re referring to her profile on eHarmony,” Ashley said with a snort.
Molly struggled to her feet. “I have to get to my office,” she said shakily. “I’m doing a screen test this afternoon with a young actress for an indie flick. Daniel Craig’s coming in to work with her. James Bond.”
“Ooh, I love him,” Ashley said, briefly impressed. “Tara and I saw
three times. Best part was that scene in the shower where he kisses the girl’s fingers. Sooo sexy.”
“Daniel’s got everything,” Molly agreed, recovering slightly. “Those blue eyes that bore right through you. Face so craggy it should be on Mount Rushmore. Never lets down his guard. He’s so cold it’s hot.”
Ashley dipped her spoon into the yogurt and slowly swirled it around. “No way he shows up at Molly Archer Casting this afternoon. No way.”
“Why not?” Molly asked. Her normally porcelain skin seemed flushed and blotchy and a little tic fluttered under her left eye.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Molly, don’t you get it?” asked Ashley, sounding a little too much like a character from
. “You’re poison in Hollywood now. Whether you poisoned that girl or not, you’re poison.”
I spent much of the morning furious that my daughter had been catty, crude, and rude.
And much of the afternoon fuming because she’d also been right.
Just before noon, Daniel Craig’s agent contacted Molly to say 007 couldn’t do the screen test.
“When should we reschedule?” Molly asked.
“Maybe never,” the agent said bluntly. “He has an aversion to arsenic.”
Molly called me and reported the news. “James Bond is afraid of me,” she said despairingly. “He can outlast torture and terrorists, but I’m too dangerous.”
“Bring back Sean Connery,’” I said. “He’d be willing to die another day.”
“Sean Connery wasn’t
Die Another Day.
That was Pierce Brosnan.”
“Fine. My point is that most people in Hollywood aren’t totally judgmental. They’re willing to live and let live. Or Live and Let Die.”
“Who lost his Licence To Kill, I believe.”
“Not him. Timothy Dalton.”
“You remember everything. You’re still the best casting agent around.”
“Right now it doesn’t matter. I haven’t heard ‘yes’ in so long I might as well be Dr. No.”
“For heaven’s sake, pull yourself together. Daniel Craig may be the world’s sexiest spy, but he’s just one client.”
“If only it were just him. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing this morning, and none of it good news. Producers are flipping me off faster than burgers on the Fourth of July. Studio heads are acting like I have bird flu. ABC pulled the plug on a pilot I’d already started casting.”
“ABC’s owned by Disney,” I said. “They’re a Mickey Mouse organization, so of course they’re acting daffy. The hint of scandal scares them. When Rupert Murdoch cancels, I’ll worry.”
The next day, Rupert Murdoch cancelled a contract for Molly to cast a FOX sitcom. I was officially worried.
“Forget cops and courts—I’ve been convicted on the Web,” Molly said.
She decided to close her office for a few days, hoping the rumors would recede. But instead the situation got worse. On day four, Officer Erica McSweeney rang my doorbell at ten o’clock at night.
“May I talk with you for a few minutes?” she asked with a friendly smile. “I’d like to update you on the Cassie Crawford situation. After hours, so off the record.”
I hesitated briefly. Did I want to let in a cop? Upstairs, Jimmy was sleeping, Ashley sulking, and Grant studying. Dan had gone back to the hospital for an emergency, which in his plastic surgery practice could mean anything from a horrible accident to an actress with a zit.
Jack Rosenfeld had warned me not to talk, but Officer McSweeney seemed more friend than foe. I opened the door and she sauntered in, looking even more striking than the first time we’d met. Her glossy brown hair swung freely at her shoulders, and her face glistened with shimmery eye shadow and shiny lip gloss. She still had on her standard-issue police uniform, but given that it was after hours, she’d opened the top button, revealing an antique gold locket on a chain.
“Pretty necklace,” I said, leaning in to look.