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Authors: Sparkle Hayter

Nice Girls Finish Last

BOOK: Nice Girls Finish Last
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PRAISE FOR THE ROBIN HUDSON MYSTERIES

What's a Girl Gotta Do?

“Put down the paper right now and go out to buy
What's a Girl Gotta Do
.… This is a mystery where you wait on the edge of your seat not for the next murder, but for the next thing that Robin is going to say.… It's the kind of book you'll laugh at out loud, or take to work to read around the coffee machine.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“The most uproariously funny murder mystery ever written.” —Katherine Neville, author of
The Eight

Nice Girls Finish Last

“Witty, irreverent, sometimes bawdy … A rollicking blend of deftly aimed satire and neatly plotted murder mystery.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A hilarious, keenly written romp across the gender divide, downtown Manhattan's alternative scenes, and the frenetic world of TV news.” —
Entertainment Weekly

Revenge of the Cootie Girls

“Sexy, irreverent and wacky. Robin Hudson should be Stephanie Plum's goilfriend.” —Janet Evanovich, #1
New York Times
–bestselling author of
Top Secret Twenty
-
One

The Last Manly Man

“Offbeat and outrageously funny.”
—The San Diego Union
-
Tribune

“Fast-paced plotting, witty dialogue, fleshed out characters and enough red herrings to distract from the real villains and maintain suspense.”
—Newsday

The Chelsea Girl Murders

“Quirky characters, tough guy talk, romantic longing and unexpected twists … Hayter [is] writing at the top of her game.” —
The Milwaukee Journal

“What a phenomenally entertaining writer Hayter is.”
—The Times
(London)

Nice Girls Finish Last

A Robin Hudson Mystery

Sparkle Hayter

for Diana, Sandra, Nevin

and an eighteen-pound turtle named Henri

A
NNOUNCER
:

Mr. Question Man, why is it that people walking on the bottom of the earth don't fall off?

E
RNIE
K
OVACS
:

That's a popular misconception.

Actually, people are falling off all the time.

—
The Ernie Kovacs Show

1

S
omeone had left a guillotine in front of my building.

It was a Tuesday night, and I'd just come from picking up my cat, Louise Bryant, at her agent's office, where I received a lecture about her bad attitude, how she refused to eat the sponsor's cat food, fell asleep under the hot lights whenever she felt like it, and kept clawing the Teamsters, one of whom had come down with rather a bad case of cat-scratch fever. We had one more shoot before our contractual obligation was fulfilled and I could retire the old girl.

She was whiny and I was tired when the cab let us off on Avenue B at Tenth Street, in a part of Manhattan known variously as Loisaida, Alphabet City, and the East Village. Con Ed was venting steam through a big orange and white striped tube, sending big, misty clouds into the air. Because the city had recently installed new streetlamps with a pinkish glow, the steam was pink, and gave the street a sinister, demimondaine cast. A slow wind blew the pink fog my way, enveloping me, and I had one of those chills, you know, the kind they say you get when someone is walking over your grave.

That's when I saw the guillotine, wedged between two garbage cans in front of my stoop as if someone had thrown it out with the trash. The absence of severed heads in the vicinity told me this was not a working guillotine, as the practicality of such an item in a neighborhood crawling with youth gangs known for dispensing summary justice would not have gone untested. Closer inspection showed the blade to be rubber and firmly bolted in place.

“Now that's what I call a deterrent,” I said to Louise Bryant, who was growling softly in her carrier.

Pink mist swirled around the guillotine. When the mist cleared, I saw the telltale signature
CHAOS REIGNS
in red spray paint on the sidewalk.
CHAOS REIGNS
is a guerrilla art movement that drops its work randomly throughout New York's Lower East Side.

As my head was on the company chopping block at the moment, this seemed anything but random to me. No, this was an omen if ever I saw one.

My name is Robin Jean Hudson and I am a reporter in the sleazy Special Reports unit at the prestigious All News Network, where I have an ironclad contract that binds me to them, and them to me. And no, I am not one of those faces you see set before the hills of Sarajevo or the august halls of government or the wreckage of a natural disaster. You see me, trying very hard not to look embarrassed, in those four-minute reports on shoddy sperm banks, UFO abductees, and the shady side of the hairpiece industry.

Things were not good at the All News Network. Ratings and advertising revenue were down across the board—except for the two fat cash cows, Special Reports and the Kerwin Shutz show. Rumors of cutbacks, shakeups, and reshuffles were rampant. Morale was abysmal. The company mandarins were in intensive meetings and the place was crawling with high-powered talent flown in for these meetings. Something was brewing, the air was heavy with it. And it would happen soon.

The most persistent rumor was that older, third-string reporters would be taken off the air and put in other jobs to make way for the peppy, attractive reporterlings coming up through the ranks, kids who would kill to get even my crappy on-air job.

Well, I just happened to be an older, third-string reporter. I'm only thirty-seven, but that's a lot in TV years, which are rather like dog years.

I'll be honest, the report card on me for the previous year and a half would be pretty mixed. On the plus side, there was the award-winning series on vigilantism I had done while my boss Jerry Spurdle was overseas filling in for the Berlin bureau chief, and there was Nicky Vassar, a fraud I'd helped nail. Of course, my boss Jerry Spurdle took credit for both those things, which was His Lordship's right as executive producer of Special Reports. But the people in the know knew who had done the real work.

On the minus side, there were several threatened lawsuits that had come out of my ill-fated special report, “Death in Modern America.” However, I had redeemed myself somewhat by taking full responsibility for that disaster, writing long, eloquent letters of apology to the Hackensack widow and to avant-garde undertaker Max Guffy. Only the cryogenics people were still threatening to sue.

So things were very uncertain. Each day I went in wondering if it might be my last day on the air. A guillotine on a dark sidewalk, therefore, was fraught with significance for me, and definitely not conducive to a Positive Mental Attitude.

I was, you see, a new woman with a new attitude. A good attitude. Yes, I was singing in the rain, walking on the sunny side of the street, making lemonade out of lemons. Life was just a box of chocolates. Or something that kind of looked like chocolate anyway.

So when my boss Jerry Spurdle marched into my office two months earlier, flashed me his evil “I control your economic destiny” smile, and said, “Get the crew. You're going out to Long Island City. I've got six bald guys with brain abscesses from a faulty hair replacement system who want to talk to you,” I smiled and nodded, got the crew, and did the interview.

And when Jerry handed me my most recent script on UFO abductees and I saw that he had changed most of it and loaded it with sensationalism and cliches, I took it, looked at it, and smiled the sweetest smile I could muster, which was not like me at all.

Or, rather, not like the
old
me.

The
old
Robin Hudson would have fought long and hard with Jerry Spurdle, fought to the last sacrosanct semicolon. The
old
Robin Hudson would have taken that mutilated script to the tracking booth and ignored it, read her original script instead. She would have complained vociferously to her mentor, Bob McGravy. She would have anonymously called a half dozen funeral homes and arranged for their representatives to drop in on Jerry unannounced to discuss his final arrangements.

(This last option in particular was tempting me, as I had recently received a publicity package for a new service—“Parting Glance Funeral and Memorial Service Consultants—and had toyed with the idea of signing Jerry up for the customized Cage aux Folles service.)

But I took no revenge. What had brought about this radical change in my pathological behavior? Had I mellowed with age? Perhaps I had mellowed, a little. Perhaps I had come to the mature realization that there are times in life when one must compromise and play the game if one wants to get ahead, especially if one has an ironclad contract and one's professional redemption is largely dependent on the beneficence of Jerry Spurdle.

(Well, those lawsuits and the rumors about a major reshuffle probably had a bit more to do with it than maturity did.)

I always say it takes seven major muscle groups just to hold my tongue, so you can imagine the strain on me of having a good attitude under these conditions. Let me tell you, even with all the incentives I had, it was hard to be a goddamned ray of sunshine all the goddamned time.

If it wasn't for one final, important factor, I couldn't have pulled it off at all. I didn't have the fight in me anymore after my postdivorce boyfriend Eric and I split up. It just seemed easier to take the path of least resistance, you know what I mean? If I just played by the rules, for a change, what could go wrong?

I keep forgetting that my life is ruled by no law but Murphy's. What could go wrong? Only everything.

The guillotine had me spooked but, as part of my new positive attitude, I shrugged it off. Bloody guerrilla artists, disturbing my peace of mind that way. I kicked the guillotine. It made me feel better.

Very gingerly, I inserted my key into the thick steel door of my apartment building, a prewar on East Tenth street, slowly opened it, and peeked into the foyer, dimly lit by a yellow bug light. The coast was clear. My downstairs neighbor Mrs. Ramirez was
not
waiting by the mailboxes, as she often was.

This was a good omen. Mrs. Ramirez is eighty-one years old, has a hyperactive hearing aid, reportedly hasn't had a man since 1942, and imagines I am having all kinds of sinful fun she never had. I only wish I were. Lately, she had been
off
my back a little, ever since Sally moved in next door to her. Sally is a painter, a tarot reader, and a witch. Really. She's a good witch, though. She casts good spells only, because she believes good and evil deeds both come back to you threefold, and she's still trying to clear her karma for that spell she put on Brooke Shields when they were both freshmen at Princeton.

Sally's beliefs are no wackier or more harmful than those of any other religion. But Mrs. Ramirez saw in Sally an agent of the devil sent to deliver a curse unto her and was convinced the witch was making her hair fall out, her bowels shut down, and her feet swell. All I knew was, since Sally moved in, opening the way for an influx of other odd characters, such as the mysterious guitar-playing man who lived above me, Mrs. Ramirez had been spread a little thin and hadn't had as much time to trash my reputation.

As usual, the elevator was out of order, which meant I had to climb four flights while schlepping Louise in her carrier. Louise is a big, heavy cat, it was a long climb, and I had had a very long day. When I dragged my sorry carcass through the door of my apartment, I was exhausted. Even my face was tired, stiff, and sore from smiling so much, which took a lot of energy. Not to mention the energy it took to keep from barfing whenever my boss, Jerry Spurdle, said something crude or stupid, which was often. For example, that day he asserted that self-control came much easier to his gender than to mine. The temptation to remind him how he had nearly bankrupted himself recently in pursuit of an eighteen-year-old exotic dancer was powerful indeed. But I kept mum, because my desire to disprove Jerry's self-control hypothesis was even more powerful.

BOOK: Nice Girls Finish Last
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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