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Authors: Jerrilyn Farmer

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BOOK: Killer Wedding
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stripped off the black tank top and let it fall to the floor, where it joined the shorts I'd just stepped out of along with various other items of discarded clothing. I noticed the little pile did a fair job of covering the tiny white hexagonal tiles on the bathroom floor. Sometime soon I'd gather up the laundry into the basket. Maybe July. Such are the minor luxuries of living alone.

Fingers under water, I checked the shower temperature. Old pipes take a minute. Out the bathroom window, the early evening sky was gray and cloudy. Like yesterday and the day before. June gloom. It passes for a season here in L.A. And a state of mind.

I was relieved to finally step under the hot needles. Water rushed over my head. The shampoo was found. And all the while, I kept wondering about this Vivian Duncan thing.

I squeezed conditioner over my thick tangles and combed my fingers through, turning the problem over more thoroughly in my mind. Maybe this Albert Nbutu had nothing to do with Vivian's death. But maybe he had seen something.

I spent the obligatory hour getting my hair dry and putting on fresh makeup, while thinking about how I might track him down. When I left the country club, I'd put in a call to Freddie Fox, but he was no help. He had
hired Albert through Chef Reynoso and had no other contact information. Another dead end.

I selected a thin, gray V-neck sweater to wear over a silk camisole and a long black skirt. Back in the bathroom, stepping over the scattered fashion debris, I checked the big mirror. This first date business was tough.

The floor. Hmm. Did being newly single give one the freedom to be sloppy? Or, conversely, must one be hyperneat, so one's nest is in shape for any last-minute romantic possibilities? Ah, there was the rub.

I carefully straightened damp towels and scooped up scattered clothing. Walking to the hamper in my bedroom, I felt marvelously organized and virtuous and, well, open to whatever the heck might come.

Next to my bed, I keep a small wooden box with a sweet family history. This high school woodshop project had earned my brother, Reggie, an A
in ninth grade. Reggie's way with pine could not be denied. That boy had always had a talent for design, and his experimental use of dove joints had taken my young breath away.

I perched on the side of my bed and swung the lid of my brother's box back on its hinge. Ta-daa. The Madeline Bean jewelry collection. No big whoop. One watch, a four-thousand-dollar Tag Heuer knockoff. Wes loves to buy me $20 sidewalk specials from the Manhattan corner vendors when he's back east. One pearl and aquamarine ring from my parents on my thirteenth birthday. One good pair of small, heavy gold hoops. I put those on, removing the tiny diamond studs I often wear.

I had a fair amount of good silver from the time Wes and I catered a party in Rosarito Beach a few years back. It marked the end of all those ocean scenes they shot there for the movie
. We spent a week setting up the party on the beach. We had thought of holding the party on deck of the mock ship they had constructed. But it turned out no one wanted to go back out on that ship again.

In between running all the food and water across the border from San Diego, I prowled the vendors in town. In one dusty antique shop, I discovered some very old silver pieces. By week's end, I'd worn the owner down with brilliant bilingual bargaining. I loved my prizes, but they were wrong for this evening.

I looked through my small holdings. How do other women manage to acquire all their expensive baubles and bangles? Perhaps, I reasoned it out, they withhold sex until after a suitor pays up with a ruby necklace or something. I smiled. No wonder I didn't have any fine jewels.

Which of course, brought to mind my former boyfriend, Arlo. We had had our moments. Many of them. We had, I thought with regret, been quite hot. At one time. I sighed, looking at myself in the small mirror in the jewelry box.

To give Arlo credit, he had tried to be generous. I had shut him down. He bought me the diamond stud earrings. And once, early in our relationship, he'd picked out an outrageous gift, a very expensive watch from Van Cleef. It was back at our first Christmas together. Naturally, I had insisted he return it. Too weird. I mean it practically cost as much as the balance on my mortgage. How, I wondered at the time, could anyone wear such an expensive item on her wrist? Now, I wondered how it might look sitting in my jewelry box. Older and wiser, that was me.

In a tiny black box was my favorite necklace. I picked out the long, thin gold chain that held a tiny cross, covered in
diamonds. This had been a gift from a previous boyfriend. I dangled it from my raised hand, watching the tiny diamonds glint off sparks. Again, too many memories. Perhaps this evening called for a necklace that did not come attached to the history of a former lover.

Of course. Wesley had given me a choker. Tiny gray pearls were spaced out between short lengths of gold
chain. Perfect. I raised it to my neck and reached around to clasp it.

It was almost eight o'clock and I hadn't yet heard from Honnett. Not that I was getting nervous. I checked my answering machine and, sure enough, three messages had appeared since I'd entered the shower.


Hello, Madeline. Beryl Duncan here. I heard from my father that your friend managed to pick up Esmie…


Oh, right. The dog. Wesley was amazing, I thought, as I fiddled with the strap to my watch.


…What a relief. I am so swamped here at work, and I expect you aren't busy, so please do make that call to pick up Vivian's messages, would you? I'll be at my office number all night, if you need to reach me


That woman had somehow leeched herself onto me, and didn't show signs of letting go. If I weren't so terribly curious about what Vivian had been up to, just before her last wedding, I would blow busy Beryl off. But, damn it, I
curious. And concerned. And interested in everything. Always. My life and welcome to it. The thought did drift through, just fleetingly, that if I came up with anything interesting, I might offer it up to Lt. Honnett.

What was I thinking?

Sad, I acknowledged, but true: even though Honnett was a cop, even though, for all I knew, he was probably married, even though he'd never made a serious move on me, even though we had a history of botched dates, I was attracted to the guy. I had better get a grip.

This is what came of too much leisure time and no work. This is what came from loneliness and feeling sorry for myself after breaking up with Arlo. This is what came from having a little too much money and getting comfortable. Ancestor Puritans I'd never before
realized I must have lurking in my gene pool, asserted their voices in subconscious protest. I needed to get back to work. Ah, well. I jotted down Vivian's message service number.

The truth was, I was missing that rat, Arlo. Maybe that was the root of my troubles. If only Arlo hadn't been so…well, Arlo. With his food fussiness and his quirky moods. If only he had been capable of more than joking around. But then, those jokes were part of the attraction. Not to mention, those jokes had won him an Emmy, earned him a fabulous salary, and made him a producing superstar on his sitcom, writing scripts. So changing Arlo wasn't the answer either.

The doorbell rang, interrupting my downward spiral of self-analysis, a pursuit which always leaves me with the bittersweet realization that while I may get the occasional clue as to what it is I really want in life, it's probably bad for me, anyway. Better, I figure, not to go there.

Down the stairs, I almost tripped trying to get to the door. Had Honnett decided to just drop by?

“Hey, Mad.”


Standing at my front door was the unannounced, uninvited Arlo Zar.

“Arlo. Hi.”

“So, can I come in?” He moved up to me, slipping an arm around my waist. In my bare feet Arlo has maybe an inch on me. And I'm only five foot five. Arlo held me a little tighter than a friendly hug.

“I thought we weren't going to be dating anymore, Arlo.”

“I know. We agreed. You're right. But I wasn't thinking of tonight as a date, so that's all right.”

“Uh huh.” I stood looking at the man I'd been seeing exclusively for the past four years. He was undoubtedly cute, in a wire-rimmed, curly-haired, great smile, really thin sort of way.

“What's up?” He must have noticed my outfit and my general state of fixed-upness.

“Here's the thing…” I let it hang there for a minute. God help me, but he looked really good. The rat.

“Am I interrupting something?” He tried to grab a look through one of the front windows. My house is up a full flight of stairs from the curb and, standing there at the doorway, he could look into the bay window of my downstairs living room. It was dark. “Look, Mad. I have things to say.” He gave me his best puppy dog look. “But they sound much better, you know, like,

“Maybe,” I suggested, “we could get together for lunch some time. No patio seating, I promise.” Arlo and I were trying to make this difficult transition from lovers to friends. I figured lunch was a “friend” kind of deal.

“Jesus, Maddie. You're killing me, here. Can't I come in for a minute? I mean what's the harm? Do you have a date tonight or something?”

It had been almost three months since we broke up. For real. And another two or three months before that, when we kept meaning to break up but kept drifting back. It had been hard to make that clean break. And yet, when we'd tried to work things out, nothing much changed. Holly said it was because I was evolving while Arlo was stagnating. Emotionally. Something like Arlo was from Mars and I was from Venus. I had to take her word for it. She kept up on the romantic state of the solar system.

The phone rang from inside the house.

I turned to look. “I better get that.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure. Don't want to keep the new boyfriend waiting. Don't worry. I can let myself out. Oh!” He smacked his forehead. “That's right. I
out. Perfect.”

“Call me first, next time,” I said, and then closed the door on the last chapter in my romantic life. See? I can move on.

I got to the phone in my office a few seconds too late.
The call had already been picked up by my answering machine. I could hear Chuck Honnett's voice, coming from the speaker, leaving a message.

“…was going to drop by, but I guess you aren't home. Maybe I'll try your other phone num…”

“Honnett?” I picked up the handset and interrupted his message.

“That you, Bean?”

“I just got in.” Well, I had. “What's up?”

“I'm in the car. I just had dinner with a few of the other investigators working the Vivian Duncan murder, so I wondered if I could maybe swing past your place and…”

I waited. Was he going to say “ask a few questions,” or “hang out and relax”?

“…try to apologize for screwing up our evening.”

Ah. Even better. He said he'd be by in half an hour. My, my, my! Ain't life a kick! My mood was 100% improved.

While I waited, I played back the remaining two messages. One was from Sara Silver, the abandoned bride. She was staying at her grandfather's house up above the Sunset Strip, and wondered if she could talk to me. She had questions about some wedding etiquette and Vivian was, well, gone.

I shook my head. Poor kid. If this was one of those questions like—if the wedding consultant takes a nosedive into a dinosaur, and the bridegroom takes a hike, must the poor bride return all the lovely wedding gifts?—I was not quite experienced enough to guide her. I wrote down her grandfather's address and played the next message.


Madeline? If you're there, pick up




It's almost seven and I'm figuring you are out for the night with that big lug, Honnett. Honey, behave!
Holly and I are going out to eat, so call me if you need me


I smiled. Those guys. I picked up the phone, but it wasn't Wesley's number I dialed.

Sitting back, I found the number I'd written down and called Vivian Duncan's phone mail account. Beryl had left me her mother's private password, and after a few more seconds I heard a mechanical voice saying, “You have,” long pause, “ten,” another pause, “new messages.”

I switched the phone to speaker and listened, taking down names and numbers that meant almost nothing to me. Most of the messages dated from the afternoon of the Silver-Bell wedding, before Vivian had died. They were mostly routine. But it was so sad—listening in on the woman's private messages, knowing she'd never return any of these calls, hearing those voices speaking to Vivian as if she were alive.

Whatever else Vivian Duncan had been, she had been a strong and vital woman. What could have possibly gone so wrong in her life that it had ended in murder? I continued listening to the various unknown voices, most of them so concerned about their own little dramas.

Some left little messages along with their names. One woman wondered if the fruit from Paris had arrived? Fruit from Paris? Another young woman left a long list of questions about dentists and the timing for getting her teeth bleached. One mother wanted to fly to New York with Vivian to look at gowns—not wedding gowns, but mother-of-the-bride gowns. I would have to call them all back tomorrow. They must have heard about Vivian's death, by now, but they wouldn't know where to turn for their upcoming weddings.

I sighed. I would also have to visit Whisper tomorrow and see if he was up to taking over. It really was Beryl's responsibility, but as she was dumping on me, I figured I could see it through. I continued taking notes until a voice came through the speaker that sounded vaguely
familiar. It was a man's deep bass, with a hint of a European accent. British.

BOOK: Killer Wedding
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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