Authors: Janice Kaplan
“Tell me about the wife,” I said, curious now. “Did she win
? The Powerball lottery? First prize in Miss Universe?”
Dawn Rose nodded toward a framed picture of a pleasantly smiling woman in her early thirties who seemed to be average height, average weight, average looks.
“If you figure it out, let me know,” she said with a shrug. “Meanwhile, you can wait in his office. Play with anything you want.”
I stepped into Andy Daniels’s huge suite and my mouth fell open. I hadn’t seen this many diversions since I took the kids to Six Flags Magic Mountain and Jimmy threw up on the Canyon Blaster. A foosball game filled one corner of the room and a basketball hoop hung from the ceiling on the other side. In between stood an Xbox 360 with half a dozen video-game boxes scattered around it, a flat-screen TV, pinball machine, jukebox, miniature pool table, Nintendo Wii, and a half-filled Scrabble board.
I sat down on a slightly ratty sofa—shabby but not chic—and glanced at the disheveled stack of magazines on the Lucite cube coffee table. If this decorating style caught on, I’d be out of a job. An hour later, I’d gone through a week’s worth of
s, three issues of
, and a very old
I got up, took a quick look at the pinball machine, and wandered over to a ledge cluttered with a dozen or two bobble-head dolls.
“You found my award shelf,” said Andy Daniels, bustling into the room, not bothering with
I looked up and he gave me a big grin. He was short and slight, with long curly hair, Levis, cowboy boots, and an open-necked shirt. He must have been in his late thirties, but something about his impish size and the gleam in his eye made him seem more like a kid.
I held up one of the dolls. “What do you win these for?”
“Everything,” he said, sauntering over to join me. “I never get Emmys, so when I do a great show, I buy myself a bobble-head. Smart, right?”
I smiled. Andy’s shows earned huge ratings and made him millions. But they often caused newspaper columnists to declare the end of civilization as we knew it.
Andy reached over and took the “trophy”—a tough-looking guy on a motorcycle—out of my hand. “I bought this one after
World’s Worst Ways to Die
,” he said, rolling it around on his palm. “The show got a twenty-two share—considered by the networks to be ratings heaven. But
The Washington Post
suggested I go straight to hell.”
“I’m glad you’re still here.”
“Me too.” He grinned, and despite still being irritated from cooling my heels for an hour, I grinned back. My annoyance disappeared. Andy Daniels was one of those guys you just had to like.
He put the substitute Emmy back on the shelf and headed to his desk, a rough-hewn piece of wood propped up on two iron T-bars. Then he stopped and turned back to me, his eyes opened wide.
“Wow, I just remembered Dawn Rose said you wanted to talk about Cassie. And here I brought up
World’s Worst Ways to Die.
How’s that for irony?”
“Ironic,” I said.
Cassie’s first job, the one in television, had been working for Andy Daniels. She’d been hired right out of college as a production assistant—a glorified go-fer. Hundreds of eager grads would have been begging to bask in Andy’s shadow, and Cassie had snagged the prime post. She’d lasted only about six months on the job.
“Did Cassie do
Worst Ways to Die
with you?” I asked.
“I think so. Geez, hard to believe she’s dead.” Andy shook his head. “We must have been in production on that one about the time Cassie worked here.”
“A scary show?” I asked.
“Plenty of blood and gore, as I remember.” He laughed, his good cheer at odds with the subject. Though, come to think of it, he had a right to be happy. The show had probably scored with viewers and earned Andy a big enough bonus to buy another dozen pinball machines.
“So what are the world’s worst ways to die?” I asked.
“Hmm, let me think.” He tapped his foot. “My favorite involved a rare South American spider. After the sting, the venom rushes into your blood and travels up your body.” He twisted his fingers as if he were playing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” “First you have no feeling in your toes. Then no feeling in your legs. Pretty soon you have no stomach, no arms, no talking, no breathing, and finally”—he clapped his hands sharply and then raised his palms toward the ceiling.
“You die,” I said, interpreting.
“Die dead. Doesn’t take long.” He gave a slightly maniacal grin. At least the man enjoyed his work.
“You know Cassie died of poisoning,” I said.
“Really? Whoops!” He put a hand in front of his mouth, as if wanting to push the previous words back in. “Not a South American spider, I hope.”
Andy wrinkled his nose. “Arsenic? Isn’t that kind of…ordinary?”
“Real life happens that way.”
“Poor Cassie. Beautiful, beautiful, rich, rich, rich. If it were my show, she’d have died from ingesting gold dust.” He shook his head slowly, his producer’s instincts offended by the lousy last act. It was as if
had ended with the screen going blank. Oh wait—it had.
Andy went over to a bright orange exercise ball in the middle of the room and plopped down. He put his chin into his hand like Rodin’s
—only Andy’s Thinking also involved bouncing up and down. He bounded higher and higher off the rubber ball, then gave one sudden spring and rocketed onto his feet.
“I think I’ve got an idea for a new series,” he said cheerfully.
“Don’t tell me you’re replacing
Death by Gold Dust
“Not yet.” He laughed. “There are a lot of reality shows on the air right now about singing and spelling bees. But gruesome will come back. It always does.”
“What other shows did Cassie work on with you?” I asked.
“Let’s see, she would have been around for
How to Bed a Billionaire
.” Andy gave a knowing chuckle. “Guess she paid attention to that one.”
“Killer concept. We sent five gorgeous girls into an ultra-exclusive club in New York that only admits billionaires. Whoever got her Richie Rich into bed first won a million bucks.” Andy grinned happily.
“I must have missed it.”
“Never aired.” His cheerful face crumbled, the sting of rejection still fresh. “The network got nervous. First problem was we filmed undercover at the club without permission. Second, the whole idea of having sex to win scared the top brass. And third”—he held up three fingers for emphasis—“the billionaire who first went to bed with one of our girls turned out to have a spanking fetish.”
I saw what made Andy such a master. Just hearing about the show left me slightly appalled—and eager to see it.
“I don’t know what’s happened to network television,” Andy complained. “A little spanking is not a terrible thing.”
“No spanking, and then they fire Molly,” I said sarcastically. “What’s going on?”
Andy made a face. “Sorry about Molly. I like her. In fact, I introduced her to Cassie.” He paused to consider. “Hey, so if Molly killed Cassie, I’m sort of responsible, aren’t I?”
“Molly’s not the culprit,” I said firmly.
Andy sat down at his desk, then got up again almost immediately. I could see why he didn’t spend much time in the office—he had way too much energy to contain within four walls. He walked over to a big gumball machine that tottered on top of a bookshelf. A pile of nickels stood beside it, and he took one, put it in, and grabbed the green gumball that clattered down.
“So if not Molly, who?” he asked.
“I was hoping you might have an idea.”
Andy seemed to ponder the possibilities as he tossed the gumball from hand to hand. Then he lunged forward like a puppy going for a Frisbee and caught the candy in his mouth.
“If only Cassie had listened to me,” he moaned, chomping down on the gumball. “Right after she got married, I proposed we shoot a reality show about her. I wanted to follow her around with cameras for a few weeks to find out what it’s like being rich. Do you drink the rare, sixty-thousand-dollar vintage Macallan scotch every night? Take the private jet to Paris if you want a good brioche? Buy the diamond-studded bra from Victoria’s Secret?” He paused to blow a bubble with his gum, then added excitedly, “This is what America wants to know. What America
to know. The big question facing our nation: If you don’t care what’s on sale at the drugstore, which brand of toothpaste do you buy?”
I smiled. Only Andy could make it a matter of national urgency whether Cassie used Colgate Total or Crest Tartar Protection. But his enthusiasm was catching. I kind of wanted to know myself.
“Cassie turned you down?”
“Nope. She liked the idea. But Roger threw a fit. He said he had too much dignity to allow that kind of attention. If she wanted a rich guy with no class, she should have married Donald Trump.” Andy’s eyes twinkled. “That argument alone would have gotten me a twenty share.”
I laughed. “Do you know much about Roger?”
“We did some research on him,” Andy said. He looked toward his door, and as if on cue, Dawn Rose came in. Come to think of it, she really had taken the cue. Her cubicle was within earshot, and she’d been listening avidly from her desk.
“The background on Roger,” she said, handing him a folder. “I pulled it just in case you’d need it.”
The girl got extra points. It couldn’t be easy staying a step ahead of Andy—or even a step behind.
“Thanks.” He quickly flipped through the pages as Dawn walked out again.
“Anything interesting?” I asked.
Andy shrugged. “All that’s interesting about him is the dollar signs. He earned a fortune in investment banking, then started a hedge fund that made him seven hundred million in one year. He paid off his first wife big and they divorced amicably. From everything I see, they still say nice things about each other. He moved to LA and played the playboy for a while with starlets. Second wife, a model from Brazil, lasted two years. Had a solid prenup there and got off easy. Then Cassie.”
“Two from wife number one.”
“Maybe the kids wanted to get rid of Cassie to protect the inheritance.”
Andy consulted his notes. “Teenagers. At boarding school in Switzerland.” He slapped his thigh and grinned again. “See? This Roger’s a piece of work. He would have been great TV. Who sends their kids to B.S. in Switzerland?”
“B.S. meaning boarding school?”
“B.S. meaning I wonder what this guy’s full of.” He turned a page. “Anyway, forget the inheritance motive. Their mom got the kids ironclad trust funds in the divorce.”
“Still, there’s always revenge,” I said. “If my husband dumped me for a twenty-seven-year-old, I like to think my kids would have the courtesy to kill her.”
Andy nodded. “I know you’re joking, but that’s the thing. Who’d kill Cassie? Everybody and nobody. Everybody because she was rich and made people jealous. And nobody because—” He paused. “Well, because outside of TV land, murder is serious.”
Andy put down the folder and started playing the pinball machine. Neon lights flickered and the machine
ed. But Andy Daniels, the genius behind
World’s Worst Ways to Die,
turned away with a sigh. He seemed as puzzled as a kid who’s spent too much time with video games and now can’t understand why real life doesn’t have a P
“If you’re pissed at her and you really want to teach someone like Cassie a lesson, you plant a nasty story in the
. You don’t—”
“Kill her,” I said, finishing his sentence.
Andy shook his head. “Geez, somebody killed her. How do you like that? On a TV show, I’ll do anything. But real life should be different.”
Andy went back to his exercise ball, this time lying across it and closing his eyes. I had the feeling I’d lost his attention for now. I turned for the door, then paused, wanting an answer to just one more question.
“How come Cassie lasted only six months with Genius Productions?” I asked.
Andy seemed to flinch but didn’t open his eyes. “Who knows? Young kids are always a little flaky.”
“So she just left? You didn’t fire her?”
“Don’t think so.”
I hesitated a little longer. Andy probably got a hundred résumés a month from twentysomethings desperate to get a first foot in TV. Most would be grateful to get him coffee and take in his dry cleaning. Cassie had actually worked on shows.
“Strange that she’d leave,” I said. “Seems like she had the proverbial job to die for.”
Andy sat up. “She didn’t die on the job.”
“I know that. I’m just wondering what didn’t work out.”
Andy stared at me, his face an odd mix of anger and apprehension. “People move on,” he said. “That’s all. She moved on.”
I drove west down Pico for a few blocks, took a left, and just before Wilshire Boulevard turned into a small parking lot next to Barneys. One of my clients demanded throw pillows for the Eames sofa I’d found for her den. I’d tried to explain that the designer’s leather, teak, and polished aluminum gem didn’t need anything to clutter its clean lines. But the modern vibe didn’t sing to her. She wanted pillows, and she wanted them handmade, beaded, and one-of-a-kind ornate. I could either stop here or get on a plane to Pakistan.
Inside Barneys, I skipped by the shoes and paused briefly on the main floor to admire a buttery-soft Lanvin handbag.
“One of my favorites,” said a saleswoman coming over. “It’s called the Kansas tote.”
I glanced at the tag. When did four figures become reasonable for a purse? For this price, I could make a down payment on a small ranch in Kansas.
“I could also recommend the Kentucky velour leather,” she said, displaying another bag.
Two hundred bucks more. So maybe a horse farm in Lexington. At least I had options.
“They’re lovely, but not today,” I said, scurrying away. If I browsed bags any longer, I’d end up buying the entire state of Texas.