Solving a murder is
a lot like falling in love. The first time, you do it without thinking about it, certainly before you’ve analyzed the consequences, weighed the possible outcomes, or thought about how badly you might get hurt. You get caught up in the momentum, the intoxication of “It has to be right,” and you hurtle along, powered by instinct, adrenaline, and naïveté.
It’s over. Before you know it. Before you’re prepared for it. And you suddenly find yourself cleaning up, sorting things out, trying to make sense of everything, and thanking your lucky stars you weren’t hurt any worse than you were.
So then you vow, “Never again.” And you stick to that vow, change your ways, and live a quiet, sane life while your wounds heal and you regain some perspective on the world.
Until the little voice in your head says, “Well, maybe just one more time.”
Actually, it wasn’t a voice in my head. It was in person. The person of Tricia Vincent, one of my two best friends. And that’s the most dangerous thing about friends. They can talk you into doing things that you would never consider
doing on your own. Like going out with someone. Or tracking down a killer.
She didn’t try to strong-arm me. She was lovely and polite because Tricia would be lovely and polite in the middle of an alien abduction and probing; she’s just wired that way. She just said, “Molly, I need you to figure out who killed her.”
I hadn’t gone to the Hamptons intending to get involved in this sort of thing. I’d actually gone to get away from it, or from the fallout, at least. But there I was, on the rebound as it were, and there was Tricia, asking me to take the plunge again. Naturally, I’m always willing to do anything I can to help Tricia, but, just as we have to ask ourselves after a devastating breakup if we’re ready to plunge back into the potentially horrifying world of emotional entanglements, I had to ask myself if I was ready to deal with another murder.
There was a time in my life when the only dead bodies I’d seen were in open caskets in funeral homes. And I hadn’t even seen very many of those because the Forrester family thankfully has pretty good genes in the longevity department and those who had passed away did so with the lid down. (Probably the first time some of the Forrester men had ever left the lid down.)
But Teddy Reynolds moved me to a whole new level of dead body contact. Teddy was the advertising director at
the magazine where I work here in New York City. I tripped over his body and wound up trying to solve his murder with some help from Tricia and my other best friend, Cassady, and despite the protests of a seriously hot homicide detective named Kyle Edwards. This all came from my brilliant idea that I could not only solve the murder before Kyle did, but could write an amazing feature article about it and redirect my career.
What’s that saying about people making plans and God laughing?
To be fair, I did solve Teddy’s murder. I wrote the article and Garrett Wilson published it in
magazine, a top-flight credit in my circle. I got that far and I have a mounted, laminated copy of the article and a bullet scar on my left shoulder to prove it. But after the dust settled, so did the rest of my plans.
The lovingly imagined transformation from advice columnist to crusading girl reporter didn’t happen. My article created a nice buzz, but not enough to get anyone to take me seriously as a full-time feature writer. We got a new editor at
because our old editor … never mind, that’s another story. Though you can order my article from
’s archives through their Web site if you’re interested.
Anyway now we had a new boss at our magazine, an iceblooded horror who took great delight in shooting down every idea I had outside my column. And my relationship with Kyle Edwards continued to defy description, classification, and reason. So I hadn’t been planning on hunting down another killer any time too soon.
But this was Tricia. Crying and asking me to dive in all over again. I’ve never been very good at turning down a friend, especially a friend who’s also in tears. I always thought “A friend in need is a friend indeed” deserved a corollary: “A friend in need needs a friend in deed.” Besides, I knew Tricia’s plea for help was heartfelt and based on her own judgment of how I—excuse me, we—had handled the first murder. Despite some initial hesitation, she and Cassady had been quite supportive, on both the emotional and investigative levels, so she knew what she was getting into. Or assumed she did.
But if good intentions pave the road to hell, assumptions
form the median strip. Not that I expect life to lay itself out neatly, with easy-to-follow directions and shiny game pieces and fun prizes. I know that part of life’s beauty is its unexpected twists and turns. But wouldn’t it be nice if life occasionally turned in the right direction?
“What’s the fun in that?” Cassady asked when I ran the theory by my two best friends one afternoon, a couple of days before Tricia’s tearful plea. We were having lunch at ’Wichcraft, an amazing sandwich place in the Flatiron District, and I was doing my best to make sure the tomato relish stayed on my meat loaf sandwich and didn’t wind up all down the front of my brand-new white James Perse crewneck tee. My chest is a natural tomato magnet, especially when I’m wearing white. Or maybe it’s the size of my breasts; the tomatoes think they’ve found kindred spirits.
Tricia was quiet and thoughtful, which is not that unusual. She has an innate sparkle, but she keeps it contained and unleashes it only after careful consideration. People make the mistake of assuming that she’s malleable because she’s quiet and darkly delicate, but she’s just coiled. Her emotional outbursts carry far more impact, because of their rarity, than mine do because of their appalling regularity.
While Tricia often idles, Cassady goes full throttle. Today, Cassady was in fix-your-life mode, to the point that the counterman, a buff beauty of a boy, was flirting with her and she hadn’t noticed. Cassady’s stunning, with that if-sheweren’t-so-much-fun-you-might-hate-her combination of long legs, auburn curls, green eyes, and great body. Men flirt with her all the time, and she generally manages to acknowledge, if not participate, but right now she was completely zeroed in on me.
“It’s not about fun, it’s about satisfaction,” I countered, quickly licking up the relish that was dripping down my
thumb before it could leap onto my shirt and introduce itself to my breasts.
“Those aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they should be required to be inclusive.” Cassady’s an intellectual properties lawyer and I’ve often accused her of deliberately choosing a profession in which she gets paid to manipulate both the language and the people who use it. She’s never disagreed, she’s just pointed out that she’s very good at doing both, so it makes sense that she’s turned that into a career. Satisfaction and fun, a case in point.
“What about ‘grim satisfaction’?” I volleyed.
“That’s like ‘gallows humor,’” Cassady explained. “You concede the direness of the situation, but still admit there’s an element of fun or pleasure in the result. C’mon, Molly. Didn’t you feel grim satisfaction when you caught Teddy’s killer?”
“I felt huge relief,” Tricia said. Tricia’s an event planner, which fulfills her need to make people happy. It also appeals to her desire for order, organization, and a smooth flow of foreseen incidents. Being part of a murder investigation had been very trying for her.
“As did we all,” Cassady admitted. “But now, with some emotional distance …”
“Okay. Grim satisfaction. And maybe, actually, not all that grim. What is grim is the fact that I don’t know what to do next.”
“Concerning the career or the boyfriend?”
“Neither one is where it should be.”
Tricia sighed in disagreement. “Isn’t it more of a case of ‘where you want it to be’?”
I shrugged. “Well, as the philosopher said, ‘You can’t always get what you want.’”
“Don’t start quoting the ancients.” Cassady leaned in.
“Listen, I know you thought this whole Teddy Reynolds thing was going to change your life and you think it’s failed to do so. 1 contend it has changed your life and will continue to change it, but more gradually and insidiously than you’re comfortable with right now.”
I looked to Tricia for backup, but she was nodding in support of Cassady’s theory. “Patience has never been your strong suit.”
“What’s this, tag-team therapy?”
“We want you to be happy,” Tricia said firmly.
“I am happy.”
Cassady arched her eyebrow so perfectly, no makeup artist could have painted it on better. She and Tricia had personally observed many of the ups and downs of my relationship with Kyle and had heard my recitations of most of the others. After all, you can only discuss your problems with a man with that man to a certain point. Then you need to get some genuine perspective, which means asking your best girlfriends what they think.
They thought he was delightful. And sexy. And charming. All of which I was in agreement with. But they hadn’t learned to relax around him completely. I was struggling with that, too. He was a pretty intense individual in an incredibly intense profession. He’d always make a point of asking how things were going at the magazine, but how could advising some lovesick public relations exec that it was time to ask her boyfriend to move in with her, even though it meant learning to understand fantasy football, ever compare to solving a murder? My work paled next to his because his changed the world. And, truth be told, I was jealous.
Dating any man is a challenge and, with the column, I have a front-row seat at the dizzying parade of complications that trying to synchronize two lives can bring, especially in
the areas of emotional baggage and outstanding commitments. But when you date a man sworn to uphold the public good, the stakes increase dramatically. Now you’re not just competing for his attention with the ex-girlfriend, the ex-wife, the hockey buddies, or the doting mother, you’re competing with a higher calling at all hours of the day and night. Even if you’re very high-minded and secure in your place in the universe, it can be difficult to find your footing in a relationship that’s constantly hitting the hold button because his cell phone is ringing again, and never with good news.
Kyle and I had tried taking time off from each other, but we couldn’t stay apart. We’d even tried starting over again from the beginning, with proper dates and plans, but we’d been through so much together by that point that it felt artificial. So we went back to this odd in-between space of being intensely close and still not knowing each other as well as we wanted to.
“I’m just not as happy as I’d like to be,” I confessed to Tricia and Cassady as a blob of tomato relish evaded my thumb and threw itself at my cleavage. Such as it is.
“That’s the human condition,” Tricia offered, immediately dipping her napkin in her water glass and handing it to me.
“Exactly So I’m learning to live with it and I’m changing the subject. Is it rub, not dab or dab, not rub?” I asked, damp napkin poised above the relish stain.
“Maybe we could get the chef to lick it off for you,” Cassady suggested.
“Dab,” Tricia said. I dabbed.
Cassady’s perfectly arched eyebrow slanted unhappily. “None of this is about the career. It’s about the man.”
“The Man keeps us all down. You, of all people, should have learned that at your parents’ knee.” Cassady’s parents currently run an educational foundation promoting literacy
in inner-city schools, but they met as Eastern Studies majors at Berkeley in the late sixties. Cassady’s named after Neal Cassady. (As Tricia’s named after Tricia Nixon, they make quite a pair.) Cassady refers to her parents as “evolved hippies.” They’re intensely cool, but never call attention to it. Which is where Cassady gets it from.
“When’s the last time you talked to Kyle?” Cassady persisted.
“I don’t remember.”
“You remember the date, the time, and what you were wearing. Or not wearing, as the case might be.”
“He called yesterday” I tried to leave it at that, but Cassady shook her head to let me know I couldn’t get away with it. “Last night. Eleven-fifteen. There was a slight breeze from the southeast and I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt because I was lying on the couch, watching
The Daily Show.”
“You turned Jon Stewart off for him?” Tricia asked.
“What did you talk about?” Cassady asked.
“Movies. Politics. We veered perilously close to the weather, but all sorts of internal alarms went off and I brought up football instead.”
“How very high school of you,” Cassady said.
“How long were you on the phone?” Tricia was driving at something, but I couldn’t get a sense of the direction yet.
“About an hour.”
“And you hung up without a date being scheduled?” Cassady asked, probably pulling an eyebrow muscle or two to get them to arch so high. “I withdraw the snarky high school comment.”