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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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She fiddled with the clasp and snapped it open. “My mom,” she said, displaying the woman’s picture inside. “She died two years ago.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s been hard,” she admitted, closing the locket. “I miss her.”

I touched her elbow sympathetically. “I lost my own mom to breast cancer right after I got married. I know how you feel. You never get over it.”

“Your dad?”

“Never really had one.” It was too complicated to explain and didn’t even matter anymore. “But you know what? You go ahead and build your own family. That’s why my husband and kids are so important to me. I’d sacrifice anything for family and friends. Nothing matters more.”

“For sure.” We looked at each other, an unexpected understanding passing between us. Then Officer McSweeney regained her official composure and stepped back toward the door. Something was up.

“Actually, I have a colleague in the car who wants to talk to you,” she said. “Mind if he joins us?”

Too late now. I nodded, annoyed at my own naïveté. Did I really think the lady cop had come by for an evening of pity-party girl talk?

Stepping briefly outside, she beckoned in the direction of the black Chevy parked in the driveway. A fireplug of a man jumped out and hustled up the flagstone path, almost knocking over one of the bamboo-shaded lamps that subtly lit the way. He didn’t wear a uniform, but his outfit screeched cop—a nondescript navy suit, wrinkled blue shirt, and well-worn brown shoes. He came in, wiping his feet on the Persian rug in the foyer, apparently confusing a hand-tied antique Sarouk with a Kohl’s welcome mat.

I pursed my lips and didn’t say anything. Annoyed or not, I’d be a proper hostess.

I led them through the living room, past the library, and into the new room Dan and I had added on to the back of the house. I felt a tingle of pleasure all over again at the gracious room. The glass walls dissolved any distinction between indoors and outdoors, and a semicircular atrium swept up into the night sky. Jutting from one end was a greenhouse, twenty feet long by ten feet wide, a place for relaxing and enjoying nature.

Or for talking to cops.

“What an amazing spot,” said Officer McSweeney, looking around appreciatively. She squinted into the darkness, catching sight of the dimly lit greenhouse. “Will you show me your flowers later?”

“There’s not much to see yet,” I said modestly. “This is the first time I’ve started with seeds indoors. Right now the pots are mostly varieties of roses and orchids. But I do have one beautiful pale yellow
Oncidium
.”

“La-di-dah,” muttered the man, speaking for the first time. “Who do you think you are, Nero frigging Wolfe?”

“Pardon me?”

“Nero frigging Wolfe,” he repeated, a little louder. “Fictional detective. Grew orchids in the top floor of his townhouse. That who you’re trying to be?”

“I’m not trying to be anybody except Lacy Fields,” I said, taken aback. “I have enough roles, thank you. Wife, mother, interior decorator. I don’t need to be a detective to grow orchids.”

“Well, I
am
a detective, ma’am. Detective Brian Wilson.” He glared at me, as if daring me to make a joke. When I didn’t say a word, he added, “Yup, same name as the lead singer of the Beach Boys.”

He’d probably spent his whole life being teased. Everything about Detective Wilson suggested beach ball, not Beach Boy. He was short and stout, with a ruddy face and an almost completely bald head. Give him a little kick and he’d probably roll smoothly across the floor.

“I believe you wanted to give me an update, Officer McSweeney?” I said courteously, turning away from her rude partner.

She exchanged a look with Detective Wilson. The department had let her stay on the case, partnered with a detective. Probably a big break for her.

“A few things about the Cassie Crawford case,” McSweeney said, her voice as gentle as his was gruff. “We confirmed that she died from arsenic in the bottled tea. Without your tip, it might have taken us a long time to get to that conclusion. So thank you. Very perceptive.”

“A little too perceptive,” said Detective Wilson, moving closer and planting himself a few inches in front of me. “Even Nero friggin’ Wolfe would have taken a while to figure that one out. So I’m guessing you knew about the tea before you saw Cassie drink it. Which makes me wonder how you knew. And why you tipped us off.”

Since we were almost eyeball to eyeball, I took a step back, trying to get him out of my personal space.

“I appreciate your updates,” I said pleasantly. “But if you have questions, I’d like to have my lawyer present.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” said McSweeney.

“Nah, not necessary,” echoed Detective Beach Ball. “Why lawyer up? We don’t think you did it.”

One entry for the good news column.

“I never knew about that Kirin tea until I saw it in the refrigerator,” I said. “After Cassie got sick and, um, died, I just put two and two together. And got to four.”

“Yeah, the obvious answer,” said Detective Wilson. He picked at the cuticle on his thumbnail. “The other obvious answer is your friend Molly. She likes this rich guy Roger, but she doesn’t like that he’s married. You give her access to the penthouse, she brings in the tea.”

“We’re not saying you knew her plan,” said Officer McSweeney quickly.

“But once you realize what happened, you feel guilty,” continued Wilson. “Death’s never as simple as it seems, right? You don’t want to be charged as an accessory. So you help us along by mentioning the bottles in the refrigerator.”

I stood frozen for a moment. At least I knew the police theory now. Molly brought in the Kirin to kill Cassie. I knew about it, or at least had guessed. Now I could either turn in Molly or face charges of my own.

“Interesting speculation, but I decorate on my own. Molly never came with me to the penthouse.”

Detective Wilson seemed to be waiting for that. “So you wouldn’t know anything about the fingerprints,” he said.

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Remember all that powder being shaken around the penthouse? Wasn’t to take care of babies’ bottoms. CSI identified three sets of fingerprints on the refrigerator: Cassie’s, yours, and Molly’s. We know you were there. We know Cassie was there. But Molly? She didn’t say a word about an earlier visit. Makes you suspicious, doesn’t it? Even of your own friend?”

I ambled over to the door of the greenhouse.

“Officer McSweeney, would you like to see my flowers?” I asked.

She looked surprised. “We should finish talking first.”

“We’re finished,” I said calmly. “As for the flowers, I’m told there are at least twenty-five thousand species of orchids. I have a very beautiful
Phalaenopsis
with purple and white stripes on delicate petals that’s my favorite right now. But who knows what else is out there? I’d hate to jump to a conclusion. I’m sure you understand. It’s the same with what you do.”

The cops looked at me blankly. Okay, I’d spell it out.

“Flowers are like suspects,” I said. “Don’t pluck the first one you see.”

Detective Wilson snorted. “Flowers and suspects? Sure thing. They both stink.”

 

 

The next day, Molly drove with me to Cassie Crawford’s memorial service. The funeral had been private—this clearly wasn’t.

“Is it a memorial service or the Academy Awards?” Molly asked, as I tried to maneuver the Lexus through the lengthy stretch of black limousines double-parked in front of the church. It seemed like half of Hollywood had come out either to remember Cassie or suck up to Roger.

Inside the church, throngs of LA power players milled around, their concerned expressions offset by Armani suits and Zegna ties. With the town’s executive suites emptied, any deals that got done today would involve a handshake in the back pew. Molly and I both wore tailored black dresses, but I noticed a fleet of suits in navy and enough in dark chocolate to significantly raise HDL levels. Apparently gloomy didn’t sell in LA, even for funerals.

Roger stood near the front as colleagues and friends huddled around him, offering sympathy, hugs, and pats on the back.

“Do you want to extend your condolences?” I asked Molly.

“Not in public,” she said. “Later.”

Molly and I drifted toward the back of the church, away from Roger and his crowd. Here everyone was quieter—in both spirit and jewelry. I guessed that the row of young women who seemed genuinely devastated had been Cassie’s college friends and the men wearing khakis rather than Canalis were her pre-Roger pals. I got only a glimpse of Cassie’s family as they walked in—an attractive, dignified couple flanking another daughter, who looked strikingly like Cassie. Unlike Roger, the three of them spoke to nobody but one another, their grief palpable across the church.

We slid into seats and picked up the white-ribboned booklets waiting at each place, an unusual cross between
Playbill
and prayer book. Cassie Crawford had lived a short life, but she’d earned a long service. Six people were speaking “in memory” and five “in tribute”; there would be four “prayerful remembrances,” three “poems and writings,” and two “musical salutes.” Either Roger had dedicated himself to creating the perfect program or some LA party planner had a niche market in memorial services.

“Check out the second musical tribute,” Molly whispered. She leaned over and pointed to the name on the program.

“Paul McCartney?” I asked. “The Beatle? Singing an original song?”

“Roger knows him,” Molly said with a hint of pride.

“I bet Roger paid him, too,” I said. Not that Paul needed the money. Even after the divorce.

Molly pursed her lips, but she didn’t reply because the first chords of the organ sounded. Mendelssohn’s Fugue in A Minor. Roger had definitely gotten advice.

The next hour and a half provided a crash course in Cassie’s life. From the various speakers, I learned that she’d grown up in Orange County, the younger of two pretty sisters, attended UCLA, and had a brief first job in television. She returned to UCLA to work in the development office, raising big bucks from already big donors. A dean who spoke explained that Cassie met Roger on the job and convinced him to give five million dollars toward a library. “But Roger didn’t need any convincing to give her a Harry Winston engagement ring,” the dean said with a little chuckle.

Paul McCartney’s song had been rewritten especially for the occasion. It wasn’t exactly “Candle in the Wind,” but it brought plenty of people to tears.

Despite everything being said, nobody could address the one subject that really mattered: who killed Cassie. I kept looking around the church, convinced somebody here had the answer—as well as the motive and means. Assuming Cassie had visited the newly decorated penthouse before our meeting, she probably hadn’t gone alone. Somebody had come along who knew her well. And a good bet said that person also knew her taste for iced tea.

In the little time I’d known her, Cassie had struck me as egotistical, entitled—and scared to death. I’d thought her biggest fear involved keeping her husband happy. Maybe it was keeping herself alive.

I noticed several people glancing over at Molly, and others staring at her while whispering to friends. A haze of suspicion seemed to have gathered around her like dust around a comet. I clenched my fists. Since college, Molly had been a real friend whenever I needed her. My kids considered her their aunt. I might not be Nancy Drew, but I had a little experience now in solving mysteries. A haze of suspicion? Time for Lacy Fields to help clear the air.

Chapter Five

 

A
t 9:30 the next morning, I got to the FOX lot on Pico Boulevard and found my way to a silver trailer marked Genius Productions. I had a 10
A.M.
appointment with the head genius, Andy Daniels. I’d arranged the meeting after the memorial service when Molly suggested it. She didn’t know Andy well, but she’d done casting on some of his hugely popular reality shows.

“Reality shows get cast?” I’d asked Molly, surprised. “Doesn’t sound very real.”

“And the Easter Bunny brings painted eggs,” she’d said, rolling her eyes.

Now I strolled over to the front desk, where a pretty young assistant sat applying Lip Plumpers Lip Gloss to her already shiny and full red lips. She rubbed a tiny dot of gloss into each cheek (the secret of an all-over glow! Who knew?), then snapped her little mirror shut. She tossed back her thick hair (could I ask what conditioner she used?) then flashed her BriteSmile white teeth.

“You must be Lacy Fields. I made the appointment for you,” she said eagerly, as if the call had bonded us for life. Maybe we’d become Facebook friends.

“Right, thanks,” I smiled tentatively. “I got here early.”

“What a shame. You shouldn’t have done that. Andy is always late.” She peeked at the watch on her wrist, the face almost hidden by the puffy pink leather band. “Oooh, way early.”

“Should I walk around and come back?” I asked. I wouldn’t mind wandering around the FOX lot and peeking into one of the soundstages. A lot of the TV shows were shot right here. Maybe I’d get a glimpse of Kelsey Grammer. Or Homer Simpson.

The assistant, whose name card said Dawn Rose, tucked her hair behind her ear. “It’s hard to know when Andy will arrive. He likes to have breakfast at home with his wife. Then he has to drive all the way in.”

“Where does he live?” I asked.

“Thousand Oaks.”

“Thousand Oaks?”
The swanky horse country outside LA offered elegantly gated communities, but the commute would be at least an hour. Two, if traffic turned bad.

“Why don’t you schedule his first appointment later in the morning then?” I asked, trying not to get grumpy.

“Doesn’t work. Sometimes after Andy gets in, he has one meeting and then heads home for lunch.”

I believed in family mealtimes, but this sounded ridiculous.

“He must be a fussy eater,” I said, though who would go bumper-to-bumper on the freeway for a turkey sandwich? Even if Andy were a vegan, he could bring his broccoli with him.

“Andy likes to have lunch with his wife,” Dawn Rose said, trying to hide her grin.

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