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Authors: Janice Kaplan

A Job to Kill For (9 page)

BOOK: A Job to Kill For
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“Toothman left him five dollars.”

“Wow—is that for a tooth or an arm?”

“It’s the superhero minimum in this zip code.”

“Well, I’m glad Jimmy still believes,” Dan said, letting his fingers flutter upward from my waist.

“Willing suspension of disbelief. I wouldn’t mind if someone left five bucks in my bed.”

“Would you mind if someone made passionate love to you in your bed?” asked Dan, kissing the back of my neck.

I turned my head so our lips met and we were face-to-face and skin-to-skin. “Come be my superhero,” I said, snuggling closer. “Make me believe.”

 

 

The next day, Molly wanted to talk and suggested we connect at the quilting store on Melrose Avenue.

“Quilting?” I asked, when we met on the corner at noon and exchanged a hug. Despite everything, Molly looked fashionable in a white Helmut Lang blazer and black cropped pants. Her python skimmers weren’t exactly tame, but at least the flat heel meant she wouldn’t break an ankle.

“Quilting’s the craft du jour in Hollywood,” she assured me.

“I thought all the chic people took up knitting. All those articles about Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon clicking their needles on set and giving cameramen handmade scarves at Christmas.”

“That’s so last week. Once middle America started copying, the celebrities had to move on.”

“I hate to break it to you, but the very lovely and talented women of middle America were knitting long before Julia Roberts.”

“Oh please,” Molly said with a groan. “It’s the old tree-falling-in-the-forest question. If a schoolteacher knits an afghan in Iowa but
US
magazine doesn’t report it, does the blanket really exist?”

I laughed. “Only if Rob Reiner buys the rights.”

“And he turns it into a touching movie starring Meg Ryan that wins a Golden Globe and revives her career.”

Now we both laughed. Molly, the successful Hollywood insider, could still see an outsider’s view.

Halfway down Melrose, we stopped at Jenny’s Crafts, a tiny store with classic Americana quilts festooning the window. A handwritten note, hung on the door, said: C
LOSED UNTIL
2:30. I’
M AT
A
GO FOR LUNCH
. J
ENNY.

“I have a feeling she’s not living off the proceeds of the store,” I said, laughing. The restaurant Ago happened to be nearby, but with Robert De Niro as one of the owners, it attracted an A-list power-lunch crowd.

“The store’s probably a hobby,” Molly admitted. “Jenny’s married to someone well known, but I forget who. Everyone successful is connected to someone rich and famous in this town, haven’t you noticed? Makes life easier.”

I put my arm around her. “I know lots of other ways for women to succeed. You’ve done it. You don’t need to marry rich.”

“Not marry. But maybe…” She shrugged. “A friend in the business, as they say.”

“Is that how you saw Roger?”

“He’s been helpful,” Molly said without elaborating.

We stood silently for a moment, staring into the window.

“I’m glad the store’s closed,” I said as we walked away. “The whole quilting and knitting craze feels creepy to me. Why would women who could be running movie studios or programming computers act like Amish housewives?”

“They can do both. Handcrafts are just a way to calm your nerves, and mine need calming. Let’s go find a Starbucks.”

“Cappuccino’s not calming.”

“I’ll get a decaf.”

“According to one study, what restaurants label
decaf
still contains caffeine seventy-two percent of the time. You’ll feel better if we just walk.”

“That’s why women have sewing circles,” Molly argued. “So they can
sit
and talk, rather than
walk
and talk.”

“Walking arouses endorphins. Improves your mood.”

“My mood can’t be improved.” Molly took a few steps, and then flopped onto a bench outside a small Mexican restaurant. At night, throngs of rowdy patrons spilled onto the sidewalk, salted margarita glasses in hand, but now all remained quiet, and the bench did look appealing. I sat next to her.

“It seems strange to be with you during the day,” I said. “What’s happening with Molly Archer Casting?”

“Nothing. Nada. Clients cancelled and nobody calls.”

“You’re being shunned?”

“Like an Anne Klein suit at the Oscars. I’d be willing to go the Mel Gibson routine and apologize. I’d even go into rehab. But what am I supposed to apologize for—having lunch with Roger the day his wife died?”

I sat back and looked at Molly, then tapped my fingers on the back of the bench. “Look, sweetie, I’m here for you. I know you’re innocent. I want to solve the case and get your agency running again. I like you better when you’re casting shows than casting stitches. But the LA police are asking questions, and you’ve got to tell me the truth. All the dirt. If I hear the worst from you, I can ignore all the other innuendo.”

Molly ran her fingers through her hair, spinning a smooth lock around and around with her pinky.

“Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m guilty of DWI.”

I jolted forward as if someone had pulled the back off the bench. I had certain lines that could never be crossed, and that was one of them.

“Molly,” I said slowly, “you were Driving While Intoxicated?”

“Of course not,” she said. “Dining While Infatuated.”

I put my head into my hands. “Could you be serious, please?”

“I am serious. I’m thoroughly besotted with Roger Crawford. Modestly, I think he’s kind of smitten with me, too. But we’re all business—not what you think. He’s intrigued because not a lot of people talk honestly to him, and I do.”

“He never tried to take you to bed?”

“Never, I swear. If this were a 1950s movie, the censors wouldn’t have a thing to cut. He likes that I’m introducing him to Hollywood, and we have fun together. Before all this happened, I think he had some business plan in mind for us. By the way, he once told me that closing a great deal is better than having sex.”

“You could teach him otherwise.”

“You bet I could. But as long as Cassie was around, there wasn’t a chance. Now that she’s dead, who knows. I have my fantasies.”

I clamped my hand over Molly’s mouth. “Don’t say that out loud,” I whispered. “It just confirms what everyone’s thinking.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, if every fantasy ended in murder, the George Clooney Fan Club would hold its meetings at San Quentin,” she said, pushing my hand away. “I thought you wanted the truth.”

“I can’t handle the truth,” I barked, in my best Jack Nicholson imitation.

“Well, try this. The more likely scenario is that now that Cassie’s dead, Roger won’t even speak to me. If the cops are asking questions, he’ll want to keep his distance.”

I sighed. “Give me some background. How did you meet?”

“His company put about ten million in a movie I cast. Roger had never gone Hollywood before, but a lot of guys who’ve made fortunes in Silicon Valley or Wall Street come here. Investing money in movies is more glamorous than trading pork bellies and coal futures. HBO beats IPO for wooing women, and at cocktail parties you can schmooze about Leo DiCaprio instead of leveraged buyouts. Anyway, Roger showed up on the set a few times, and we talked. After that, he started calling and I’d give him the inside scoop that investors never hear. I introduced him to some hot directors and found him a terrific script to back.”

I smiled. “So he likes you because you could make him money. Cassie wasn’t your competition—it was his broker at Morgan Stanley.”

Molly shrugged. “Roger appreciates that I’m smart and savvy and built my own company from scratch. He calls me B&B because I’m bright and beautiful.”

“And you call him B&B because he’s so full of baloney.”

“You mean I’m
not
bright and beautiful?” Molly asked, making a face.

“Of course you are,” I said soothingly. “But when a guy like Roger coins a phrase, he spends it liberally.”

“Maybe,” said Molly reluctantly. “In business, Roger’s a master manipulator. He’s used to getting what he wants.”

“Could he have killed Cassie?”

“Why would he? He could end the marriage without poisoning the tea.”

“Arsenic’s definitely quicker than divorce. And cheaper.”

“Roger doesn’t behave that way. Doesn’t act just for money.” She shook her head emphatically. “No way.”

“Maybe he worried about more than money. Say Cassie threatened him with something that made divorce dangerous. For example, if he left, she’d let the whole world know that he wears women’s pajamas to bed.”

Molly shuddered. “I confess my great infatuation and you have to ruin it. What an awful image. Next time I close my eyes, I’ll picture the man of my dreams in a Natori nightgown.”

“I’m not saying he has a lingerie fetish. But wives know things. Maybe she picked up on some shady deal at his business that he didn’t want exposed.”

Molly stood up and paced back and forth on the cement sidewalk. I’d obviously been right about the calming effects of walking. But many years of marriage had taught me not to point out that she should have listened to me in the first place.

“Roger’s a self-made man from a working-class family,” Molly said. “He earned everything he has without cheating, stealing, or killing.”

“I’m sure he’s a model mogul,” I said impatiently. “A prince among men. But if Cassie resorted to emotional blackmail, how would he respond?”

“How would any of us respond?”

“Badly,” I said. “Hence, arsenic in the tea isn’t that crazy. All he had to do was go into his own penthouse the night before.”

Molly stopped pacing and gazed off in the distance, as if she’d just thought of something. “Possible, I guess. I don’t know. I really don’t.”

I stood up. “One other thing. The police say they found your fingerprints on the refrigerator.”

Molly pinched her lips together. “Wow,” she said finally. “They told you that?”

“They did. That’s direct from the duo of Wilson and McSweeney, no less.”

“All these distortions.” She shook her head. “That first night, they told me you’d already pointed the finger at me. Now they tell you…” She let the sentence drift away. “I’m their favorite target.”

“Then it couldn’t be true?”

Molly didn’t answer. At least she wouldn’t lie to me.

“If true, it needs an explanation,” I said softly.

Suddenly Molly smiled. “I was at the penthouse
after
Cassie died, remember? When I saw you. In all the confusion, I probably touched the refrigerator.”

Possible. Maybe she got thirsty and wanted a Poland Spring. Of course, Molly usually argued for tap water instead of bottled, but who’d be thinking about saving the world from plastic bottles in the midst of a murder?

“Sure,” I said. “Simple enough.”

Molly put a hand on my arm, “Lacy, darling, I’m trying to stay sane, but this is all too strange. I can’t stand the suspicions. You’ve got to help.”

“I’m trying, I swear.”

“I know. I really do.” She paused. “But could you please find a killer other than me or Roger?”

I rubbed my nose thoughtfully, wondering how far I’d go to help my friend. I had a daily life crammed with people: neighbors who shared carpool duty, fellow parents from the PTA, moms I met at swim meets. Then came colleagues and clients, yoga buddies and couples friends, and the seventy or so chums still on Dan’s Christmas-card list. (Maybe we’d try eCards.com next year.) But nothing matched having one person who understood your deepest soul—and did everything to protect it.

When I got my heart broken in college by a boyfriend, Molly came to my room at 4
A.M.
and held me while I cried. Then she produced a box of chocolate-covered cupcakes and swore that while boys might come and go, we’d have each other’s backs forever. A promise sealed in sticky icing had endured. The day Ashley was born—six weeks earlier than expected—Molly arrived at the hospital within an hour, giving me a hug and a tiny pink cardigan and footie set from Petit Bateau. “She’ll wear it home,” Molly said confidently as we stood in the neonatal ICU and I gazed in horror at the tiny tubes and wires attached to my baby. “Until then, don’t leave her for a minute.”

While Dan and I floated in a haze of anxiety for the next weeks, hovering day and night over our wrinkle-skinned daughter, Molly moved into our house to be pal, parent, and playmate for two-year-old Grant. She read him his favorite
Frog and Toad
stories before bed and raced him on his tricycle in the park. She taught him the words to “Frère Jacques” and held his hand the first time he came to meet his sister. Molly never wavered in her good cheer, so the rest of us didn’t either. When Ashley finally left the hospital, pink-cheeked and perfect in her Petit Bateau, we were all ready to be a family. Molly would forever be part of it.

Now, standing on Melrose and looking at my best friend, I gave a little smile. How far would I go to help Molly? The ends of the earth, probably. But she didn’t need to know that.

“A suspect other than you and Roger won’t be easy to find,” I said grumpily. “But I’ll do what I can.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” she said. “I can’t ask anything more.”

Of course she could. A vow of friendship made on cupcakes (even store-bought) should never be broken.

 

 

As soon as I got home, I made a list of possible leads. I called UCLA and managed to get through to the dean who had spoken at the memorial service. He was polite but not forthcoming. He suggested that if I had any further questions, I might talk to Cassie’s former boss at the development office, Elsa Franklin.

The next day, I drove over to Westwood, passing by a gallery that specialized in modern American artists. Many years ago, I’d bought an unusual glass vase there for about fifty dollars. Recently, an art dealer who’d come by to see my Liza Lou beaded teacup (worth a stunning twenty-five thousand now, though you could find copies on the Internet for fourteen bucks) spotted it. Without asking, she’d lifted the vase from the shelf to check out the signature on the bottom.

“Just as I thought,” she said, pleased with herself. “An original Dottie Mather. Her work has skyrocketed since she died.”

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