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Authors: Mary Higgins Clark,Alafair Burke

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BOOK: The Cinderella Murder
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“Pretty strange he just happened to give the role to a novice actress who provided him a convenient alibi,” Brett said, rubbing his chin, a sure sign that he was on board.

“This is a good case for the show, Brett. I feel it. I
know
it.”

“You know I love you, Laurie, but your gut’s not enough. Not with this kind of money at stake. Your show ain’t cheap. The Cinderella Murder is just another cold case without Frank Parker. You lock him down for the show, and I’ll give you the all-clear. Without him, I have a surefire backup.”

“Don’t tell me: the child pageant queen?”

“You said it. Not me.”

No pressure, Laurie thought.

9

F
rank Parker looked down at Madison Square Park from fifty-nine stories above. He loved New York City. Here, looking north out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of his penthouse apartment, he could see all the way to the top of Central Park. He felt like Batman watching over Gotham.

“I’m sorry, Frank, but you made me promise to nudge you about some of those to-do items before the day ended.”

He turned to find his assistant, Clarence, standing in the entryway of the den. Clarence was well into his thirties but still had the body of a twenty-year-old gym rat. His clothing selections—today a fitted black sweater and impossibly slim slacks—were obviously intended to highlight the muscles he was so proud of. When Parker hired him, Clarence had volunteered that he hated his name, but everyone who heard it remembered him because of his god-awful moniker. So it worked for him.

The entire flight from Berlin, Clarence had been trying to get Frank’s attention about interview requests, phone messages, even wine selections for an upcoming premiere party. On the one hand, these were the kind of nitty-gritty details for which Frank had no patience. On the other hand, the people who worked for him had learned by now the types of decisions that could send him over the edge if someone made the wrong call. He had a
reputation as a micromanager. He assumed it was what made him good at his job.

But as poor Clarence had begged for Frank’s attention on the plane, all Frank could do was continue reading scripts. The chance to read in peace on the private jet had been the only part of the trip he enjoyed. Though it made him sound provincial, he hated leaving the United States. For the time being, however, foreign film festivals were all the rage. You never knew what tiny gem you might find to remake into an American blockbuster.

“Don’t you know by now, Clarence, that when I make you promise to interrupt me about something in the future, it’s simply my way of delaying a conversation?”

“Of course I know that. Feel free to send me on my way again. Just don’t snap at me tomorrow if the sky falls because you wouldn’t let me relay these messages.”

Frank’s wife, Talia, paused in the hallway outside the den. “For Pete’s sake, stop picking on poor Clarence. We’d probably have the lights cut off if he didn’t keep life running for us. If you wait until we’re back in Los Angeles, you’ll end up getting too busy once again. Look out your pretty window and let him do his job.”

Frank poured an inch and a half of scotch into a crystal highball glass and took a spot on the sofa. Clarence got settled into a wing chair across from him.

First up on Clarence’s list was the studio’s insistence that he sit down for a lengthy interview for a feature magazine article to promote his summer film release, called
The Dangerous Ones
. “Tell them I’ll do it, but not with that wretched Theresa person.” One of the magazine’s writers was known for presenting her subjects in the worst possible light.

Next was a reminder that an option he had on last year’s hottest novel was about to expire. “How much are we paying?”

“Another quarter of a million to extend the additional year.”

He nodded and waved a hand. It had to be done.

None of this seemed urgent enough for Clarence to have been bothering him all day.

Clarence was looking down at his notes, but when he opened his mouth to speak, no words came out. He let out a long breath, smiled, and then tried again. Still nothing.

“What’s gotten into you?” Frank asked.

“I’m not sure how to raise this.”

“If I could read minds, I wouldn’t need you, would I?”

“Fine. You got a letter from the producers of a television program. They’d like to meet with you.”

“No. We’ll do publicity closer to release. It’s too early now.”

“It’s not about
The Dangerous Ones
. It’s about you. The past.”

“Isn’t that what I just agreed to on the magazine article?”

“No, Frank, I mean the
past.
The show is
Under Suspicion
.”

“What’s that?”

“I keep forgetting that you’re a genius about film but refuse to learn anything about television. It’s a crime show. A news special, really. The concept is to reconstruct cold cases with the help of the people who were affected by them. You were involved in the Susan Dempsey case, and they want you to be part of their next special.”

Startled, Frank turned his head and looked again out the window. When would people stop associating him with that awful event?

“So they want to talk to me about Susan Dempsey?” Clarence nodded. “As if I didn’t talk enough back then to police, lawyers, studio executives—who, incidentally, were on the verge of dropping me . . . all I did was talk about that damn case. And yet here we are again.”

“Frank, I had been waiting for a good time to speak to you about the letter. Now the producer—her name is Laurie Moran—has somehow gotten my number. She has called twice today already. If you want, we can say you’re too busy doing edits on
The Dangerous Ones
. We can even redo a couple of aerial shots in Paris if we have to make you unavailable.”

The tinny sound of a pop song played from Clarence’s front pants pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and examined the screen. “It’s her again. The producer.”

“Answer it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Did I sound unsure?”

“This is Clarence,” he said into the phone.

Frank had gotten where he was by trusting his instincts. Always. As he heard his assistant recite the familiar “I’ll give Mr. Parker the message
,”
he held out his palm. Clarence shook his head, but Frank leaned forward, more insistent.

Clarence did as instructed, voicing his displeasure with a loud sigh as he handed him the phone.

“What can I do for you, Ms. Moran?”

“First of all, thank you for taking my call. I know you’re a busy man.” The woman’s voice was friendly but professional. She went on to explain the nature of her television show. Having just heard a similar description from Clarence, Frank was beginning to understand the reenactment concept. “I wanted to make sure you got my letter inviting you to tell your side of the story. We can work around your schedule. We’ll come to Los Angeles or whatever other location is most convenient. Or if for some reason you’re uncomfortable discussing your contact with Susan, we’ll of course make a statement during the show informing viewers you declined to be interviewed.”

Clarence had accused Frank of knowing nothing about television, but he was expert enough about entertainment generally to realize this woman could be bluffing. Would anyone really want to watch a show about the Cinderella Murder if he wasn’t part of it? If he hung up now, could that stop the production in its tracks? Perhaps. But if they went forward without him, he’d have no control
over their portrayal of him. They could place him at the top of their list of people who remained “under suspicion,” as the show was called. All he needed was for ticket buyers to boycott his movies.

“I’m afraid I did not learn of your letter until just now, Ms. Moran, or I would have gotten back to you sooner. But, yes, I’ll make time for your show.” Across the table, Clarence’s eyes shot open. “Have you spoken yet to Madison Meyer?”

“We’re optimistic that all the relevant witnesses will appear.” The producer was keeping her cards close to her vest.

“If Madison’s anything like she was the last time I had contact with her, I’d show up at her front door with a camera crew. There’s nothing more compelling to an out-of-work actress than the spotlight.”

Clarence looked like he was going to jump out of his chair.

“I’ll let you work out the details with Clarence,” Frank said. “He’ll have a look at the calendar and get back to you.”

He said good-bye and returned Clarence’s phone to him.

“I’ll make scheduling excuses until she finally takes the hint?” he asked.

“No. You’ll make sure I’m available. And I want to do it in L.A. I want to be a full participant, on the same terms with all the other players.”

“Frank, that’s a bad—”

“My mind is made up, Clarence, but thank you.”

Once Clarence had left him alone, Frank took another sip of his scotch. He had gotten where he was by trusting his instincts, yes, but also because he had a raw talent for controlling the telling of a story. And his instincts were saying that this television show about Susan Dempsey would be just another story for him to control.

•  •  •

Talia watched from the hallway beyond the den as her husband’s assistant left the apartment.

She had been married to Frank for ten years. She still remembered
calling her parents in Ohio to tell them about the engagement. She’d thought they would be happy to know that her days of auditioning for bit roles and advertisements were over. They would no longer have to worry about her living alone in that sketchy apartment complex in Glassell Park. She was getting married, and to a wealthy, successful, famous director.

Instead, her father had said, “But didn’t he have something to do with the death of that girl?”

She had heard the way her husband had spoken to Clarence and to that television person on the phone. She knew she had no chance of changing his mind.

She found herself twisting her wedding ring in circles, watching the three-carat diamond turn around her finger. She couldn’t help but think that he was making a terrible mistake.

10

L
aurie was exhausted by the time the 6 train stopped at her local station, Ninety-Sixth Street and Lexington. As she climbed the stairs up to street level, her new Stuart Weitzman black patent pumps still not broken in, she quickly reminded herself to be grateful for her freedom to ride the subway without fear, like everyone else. A year earlier she wouldn’t have dared.

She no longer scanned every face in every crowd for a man with blue eyes. That was the only description her son, Timmy, had been able to offer of the man who had shot his father in the forehead, point-blank, right in front of him. An elderly woman had heard the man say, “Timmy, tell your mother that she’s next. Then it’s your turn.”

For five years, she had been terrified that the man known as Blue Eyes would find and kill her and Timmy, just as he had promised. It had been nearly a year since Blue Eyes was killed by police in a thwarted attempt to carry out his twisted plan. Laurie’s fears hadn’t entirely died with him, but she was slowly beginning to feel like a normal person again.

Her apartment was only two blocks away, on Ninety-Fourth Street. Once she reached her building, she gave a friendly wave to the usual weeknight doorman on her way to the mailboxes and elevator. “Hey, Ron.”

When she reached her front door, she slipped a key into the top bolt first, then a second key into the doorknob, and then secured both
locks behind her once she was inside her apartment. She kicked off her heels while she dropped her mail, purse, and briefcase on the console table in the entryway. Next was her suit jacket, which she tossed on top of her bags. She’d find time to put everything away later.

It had been a long day.

She headed straight for the kitchen, pulled an already-open bottle of sauvignon blanc from the refrigerator, and began pouring a glass. “Timmy,” she called.

She took a sip and immediately felt the stress of the day begin to peel away. It had been one of those days when she hadn’t had time to eat or drink water or check her e-mail. But at least the work had paid off. All the pieces for
Under Suspicion
to cover the Cinderella Murder were coming together.

BOOK: The Cinderella Murder
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ads

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