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Authors: Janice Kaplan

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BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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Years ago, I’d bought an expensive Givenchy purse and showed it proudly to Dan. From the baffled look on his face, I might have been flaunting a Ziploc sandwich bag.

“Doesn’t turn you on?” I’d asked.

“You turn me on,” he’d said, putting his arms around me. “What you wore to bed last night turned me on.”

“I didn’t wear anything to bed.”

“Right.”

If a bare shoulder had more appeal than a shoulder bag, I could save myself a couple of thousand dollars. Apparently no man had ever been attracted to a woman for her hot Birkin.

I left the accessories department and stepped onto the escalator. Too restless to stand still (Andy Daniels and I had something in common), I walked up the moving stairs and past a woman so skinny she probably hadn’t seen a lettuce leaf since yesterday. I wanted to offer her a candy bar. Hadn’t she heard that the average American woman wore a size 14?

My cell phone rang and I flipped it open.

“Is this Mrs. Fields?” asked a slightly gruff man’s voice.

“Yes it is.”

“I’m Joey Tartufo. Security officer for Anthropologie. I’m calling about your daughter, Ashley.”

“Oh my God.” I grabbed the handrail to steady myself. “Is she okay? Wh-what happened?” Had my baby been attacked? Accosted? Had the poor child gotten lost?

“We caught her shoplifting a pair of gold earrings.”

“Ashley? Are you sure?” It didn’t make sense. Ashley didn’t even like gold. “She usually wears silver,” I said.

“These are gold,” he said calmly. “Listen, Mrs. Fields, I’m calling you instead of the police as a courtesy. If you’d like to come over, we’re at 320 North Beverly Drive.”

“I’m close by. I’ll be right over. Please wait for me,” I said, as if hoping to arrive before he served the soup. Or before he served Ashley with an arrest warrant.

I spun around on the escalator step and started racing down. The emaciated model looked at me in surprise but stepped aside. A moment later, I jumped onto the first-floor landing, rushed out of Barneys, and ran frantically down Wilshire. At the corner of Beverly Drive, I stood for a moment, but when the blinking sign didn’t immediately change to
WALK
, I walked anyway.

“Hey, lady, you from New York? Cops give tickets for jay-walking around here!” a man called out.

He was right, but who cared? The real penalty right now involved my daughter’s reputation.

Inside Anthropologie, a fresh-faced young sales clerk immediately greeted me with a cheerful smile. But before she could show me the colorful skirts, the unusual home accessories, or the jewel-studded shoes (the place seemed to be Barneys for the under-thirty crowd), I said, “I’m looking for Joey Tartufo.”

Her face changed. “Right this way,” she said, leading me to the back of the store. She knocked lightly on a door, and Joey Tartufo opened it almost immediately. Medium height and broad-shouldered, he had a bushy mustache and unexpectedly kind eyes. He reached to shake my hand, but I looked past him and saw Ashley and her friend Tara, sitting close to each other on two hard wooden chairs.

“Honey…” I said, starting over toward her.

“I’m okay, Mom,” Ashley said. She crossed her arms in front of her chest as if warding me away.

Joey dangled a pair of drop earrings in front of us. “We found these in your daughter’s backpack,” he said. “Twenty-two karat gold-dipped silver with emerald drops. Price is two hundred forty-eight dollars.”

“I don’t need to steal,” Ashley said boldly. “My mom buys me anything I want.”

“I wouldn’t buy those for two hundred forty-eight dollars,” I admitted.

“Well, I wouldn’t even want them,” said Ashley irritably.

“They’re probably not real emeralds,” said Tara. “Maybe emerald-colored glass.”

“The inventory sheet says emerald,” said Joey Tartufo, all but stamping his foot, “and the point is Ashley left the store without paying for them.”

“She didn’t
leave
the store,” said Tara. “When you grabbed her, she had her hands on the door, but her feet were still inbounds.”

“This isn’t a game,” said Joey Tartufo.

“You have to play by the rules anyway,” said Tara, tossing back her long blond hair. “My dad’s a lawyer, and I know all about procedure. Why did you stop us, anyway? Did you have cause?”

“One of the sales people observed you two whispering and acting suspiciously.”

“We’re teenage girls. Of course we whisper,” said Tara, rolling her eyes. “Duh. Duh-uh.”

Ashley elbowed her friend, her own demeanor suddenly changing. “It doesn’t matter,” Ashley said, tears welling in her eyes. “The earrings must have fallen into my backpack without my knowing it.” She got up and ran over to me, throwing her arms around my waist. “Mommy, I’m so sorry. You’re always telling me not to leave my backpack gaping open. You’re right! I forgot to close it and he thinks I’m a thief. I’m not a thief.”

She burst into loud sobs. I held her tightly as her whole body shook and her wails filled the room. Joey Tartufo came over and put a comforting hand on her back.

“Don’t
touch
her,” Tara called out. “Illegal!”

But Ashley, gasping with sobs, turned around and grabbed Joey’s hand. “My daddy will kill me if he finds out,” she said. “He was charged with murder once, but this time he’ll do it.”

“Ashley!” I said, horrified.

“A murder charge?” Joey asked.

“He didn’t do it,” I said quickly.

“At least we don’t think so,” said Ashley. Still clutching Joey’s hand, she brought it to her cheek. Tears streamed down. “Please, I swear I’m innocent. My mommy’s been through so much. Don’t accuse me.”

Thoroughly discomfited, Joey pulled his hand away from Ashley’s. “Look, nobody saw you lift the earrings, so it’s just circumstantial. If your mom buys your story, I’ll go with it.”

He looked at me, and I put my arm around my daughter. “Ashley’s a good girl,” I said. “She’d never steal. She probably brushed past those earrings and they fell into her bag.”

Ashley beamed, her sobs turned off as quickly as a TV in an electric storm.

I conferred a few more minutes with Joey Tartufo and signed two papers.

“That’s all,” Joey said to the girls. “But please stay away from the store for a while, okay?”

“Unconstitutional! We have first amendment rights!” cried Tara as she headed to the door. But she didn’t wait around to discuss them.

Back on the street a moment later, the girls scurried a few feet ahead of me, whispering to each other and giggling. I stared at the small Prada backpack slung over my daughter’s shoulders and then stopped in my tracks. I felt my stomach turning upside down. Or maybe that was my heart.

“Girls, come over here,” I called out. I edged under the awning of a store, out of the way and out of the sun. Ashley and Tara exchanged glances but joined me.

“I have a few questions and I want some straight answers,” I said. “To start, what are you two doing in Beverly Hills?”

“I had an appointment with the dermatologist, and Ashley decided to come,” Tara replied.

The dermatologist? Nothing for a skin doctor to do on Tara other than let her sit in the waiting room so other patients could admire her smooth porcelain complexion. Though I’d consider it false advertising.

“How did you get here?” I asked, not letting up.

“My mom dropped us off,” Tara said. “She wanted to Zen out for a couple of hours, so she went for a massage. Some fancy day spa. I knew she’d turn off her cell phone, which is why the security guy called you.”

Okay, not impressed. Tara’s mother let two teenage girls wander aimlessly while a stranger rubbed oil into her back. But I lost some parenting points, too. With school closed for Faculty Planning Day (a day off to plan more days off ), Ashley had agreed to catch up on French homework and read
Pride and Prejudice.
I wouldn’t let her watch the miniseries instead—even though Colin Firth made a darn cute Mr. Darcy.

I cleared my throat, getting myself back on track.

“So you found yourselves bored in Beverly Hills and decided to give shoplifting a try. Is that correct?” I kept my voice even. If I turned judgmental, the information spigot would close.

“Not correct,” said Ashley. “I’m innocent.”

I went over and tapped the top of her tiny pack. “This isn’t the big North Face you take to school that’s always gaping wide. This one’s miniature.” I pulled the zipper. “It’s not likely that earrings would fall off a display into a two-inch opening.”

Ashley exchanged a look with Tara.

“You’re a good detective, Mrs. Fields,” Tara said, tugging self-consciously at the bottom of her pink cotton sweater.

I eyed her critically. “Why don’t you take off the sweater,” I suggested. “It’s warm enough.”

She shrugged and pulled off the top, revealing a ruched and ruffled scoop-neck T-shirt underneath. If that didn’t belong on the shelves of Anthropologie, I’d eat my vintage cashmere.

Now Ashley started giggling. She covered her mouth, but the laughs turned to guffaws.

“You had the shirt on the whole time and that Joey dude never guessed,” said Ashley. “How hysterical is that.”

“You just have to know how to stay cool,” said Tara, dropping her previous posturing. She reached over and locked pinkies with Ashley. “We did it. Girlfriend bond.”

“We did it, but it almost fell apart,” said Ashley. “You said if anything happened, you’d get us off by spouting legal stuff and talking about your dad.”

“Instead, you talked about
your
dad,” said Tara, giggling. “So brilliant. Plus all the sobbing. Omigod, Ashley, I almost believed you myself.”

The pretense of innocence gone, Ashley’s face glowed in triumph. Maybe the girls had forgotten that I was standing there or figured I wouldn’t care. But I did.

“You lied,” I said softly to Ashley. “And you got me to lie for you. That’s wrong.”

“Oh, Mom, lighten up,” she said. “You defended Daddy on a murder charge, and now Aunt Molly. You had to support me.”

“But Daddy and Aunt Molly weren’t guilty,” I said.

“How do you know?” Ashley asked, her voice rising.

“I know. In fact, I’m
sure
,” I said firmly.

“And I’m
sure
the earrings fell into my backpack,” Ashley said, mimicking me. She laughed rudely. “Come on, Mom, it’s pretty easy, right? Go for what you want and screw the truth.”

Chapter Six

 

I
tossed and turned so much that night I could have starred in a Lunesta ad. By the time Dan got home from the hospital, I’d kicked off the comforter and gotten totally tangled in the pale beige one-thousand-thread-count sheet that I’d had hand-embroidered by a Swiss seamstress. For all the comfort I felt tonight, I could be sleeping on burlap.

“Everything good with you?” Dan asked, falling into bed next to me. His voice sounded weary from a long day in the operating room.

“Not all good,” I admitted. “But we can talk in the morning.”

“I have another surgery at six a.m.,” Dan said. “Better tell me now.”

I put my head on his shoulder, then decided to give him the bad news quickly.

“Ashley shoplifted a pair of earrings, and I got her off, which I shouldn’t have, but I did because she cried and convinced me she hadn’t done it,” I said in a rush. Then, picking up the pace even more, I continued, “If she’s such a good actress, maybe she should try out for the school play. It’s
South Pacific
this year, and always liked Nellie, the cockeyed optimist. Anyway, her friend Tara stole a T-shirt and wore it right out of the store. I called Tara’s mom, even though Ashley threw a fit and said that would ruin her life, but the mom was in the middle of a manicure and she couldn’t have cared less. So I hung up and talked to Ashley about peer pressure and having an internal moral compass and knowing wrong is wrong.”

I finally stopped and took a deep breath.

Dan lifted his head from the double down pillows. “Good lung capacity,” he said. “But I’m not sure I completely followed.”

“Where’d I lose you?”

“Somewhere around the cockeyed optimist.”

I sighed. “Ashley’s complicated. Sometimes I think she doesn’t know whether to be bad or good.”

“So tell her to be good for goodness’ sake,” said Dan.

“If she still believed in Santa Claus, maybe that would work.”

Dan put his arms around me. “Thank you for dealing with all this, Lacy. I don’t say it enough, but I appreciate you. I really do. I’m sorry about how busy I’ve been.”

I hugged him tightly. Dan spent more hours than I liked at the hospital, but I’d never be able to change that. I’d fallen in love with a man who happened to be good and kind and generous. He got his sense of self from taking care of his patients and staying busy. Like every man, Dan needed action, not analysis.

“Can I share two more family headlines before you fall asleep?” I whispered.

“Go for it.”

“Grant’s taking a college physics class after school. Our very own Presley Prep didn’t have any science classes left to challenge him, so the headmaster made all the arrangements at UCLA.”

“When did that start?”

“The morning after Cassie died. Molly had been questioned by the cops all night and she popped over for breakfast. I was so distracted I didn’t even notice that Grant had spiffed up in nice jeans. Anyway, we talked that night. I apologized.”

“I’m glad,” said Dan. “Men like their mothers to notice their nice jeans.”

“You’re teasing me,” I said, rolling over.

“Teasing you but loving you,” Dan said, spooning behind me. He pressed his strong chest against my back. “By the way, you look way too young to have a son in college.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” I said, as he cupped his hand against my hip.

“You said two family headlines,” Dan said. “What’s the other?”

“Jimmy lost another front tooth.”

“Did Toothman come?” Dan asked, stroking my bare skin. When Jimmy announced one day that he didn’t believe in the tooth fairy, Dan told him he was right. No fairy flew through the sky to leave money under a pillow. But a superhero did. To the pantheon of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, we introduced—Toothman!

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