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Authors: Sheryl J. Anderson

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BOOK: Killer Heels
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“Aren’t you coming?”

“I need. A moment.” She plopped down in her desk chair and moved a large box of tissues in front of her with a flourish. Funny, for all her sniffing, I couldn’t see a single tear.

There were lots of big boo-hoos out in the bullpen. Most of the guys looked slightly ill and really uncomfortable. The women were evenly split between the badly shaken and the sobbing. The ringleader of the weepers was Gretchen Plotnick, Teddy’s assistant. It made sense that she was taking this hardest, especially since she’d put up with him for longer than any other assistant in his entire career—eight whole months. Liz Isihara in Human Resources sent Gretchen a dozen roses when she hit the four-month mark and set a new record. It saved Liz so much time not having to hunt for a new assistant for Teddy every six weeks.

I tried to keep my remarks to the staff brief and to the point, especially when I realized that Gretchen was going to punctuate them with melodramatic wails every ten words or so. Besides, what more was there to say than Teddy was dead, that sucked? Oh, and first dibs on the article about uncovering the murderer who certainly was not Helen, but Yvonne better start cleaning up her act really quick? Okay, so that part remained unsaid.

“If you have any information that might be helpful to the police, I have the number of the detective assigned to the case,” I added at the end of my lame little spiel.
Dear Molly, At least you thought you had his number. But seems he thinks you’re a killer and not the good kind. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Signed, Just Being Helpful

I counted noses as the staff gathered around Gretchen as though she were the one to be consoled. Certainly, she was the one making the most noise about her grief. But Gretchen doesn’t do much halfway. She dreams big, dresses big, talks big. Her hair is a shade of red approximating strawberry jam, her clothes are usually some bizarre conglomeration of current style and her “own special touches,” and she can outtalk anyone in the office, Yvonne included. She was actually a great match for Teddy—every bit as large, loud, and bossy as he was. No wonder she’d been able to put up with him. She’d lost a kindred spirit.

Everyone on staff was present or accounted for: Yvonne’s assistant Fred Hagstrom was out of town at his niece’s wedding, assistant advertising director Brady Cooper was on an about-to-be truncated vacation in Maine, and Sophie Galliano in Accounting was still recovering from the removal of four impacted wisdom teeth, but everyone else was there. Of course, if you killed a colleague, you’d probably want to show up at work the next day to avoid the appearance of disappearance. Could it be someone on staff?

Yvonne entered from her office at that moment and again there was that flush of guilt—or was it adrenaline—as I watched her and considered suspects at the same time. Could it be Yvonne? But they’d been friends for so long. What could’ve gone wrong?

Yvonne knocked on top of Fred’s computer to get everyone’s attention. Or more precisely, to draw everyone’s attention away from Gretchen. Yvonne loves her moments and it was pretty clear to me that she considered this one hers and not Gretchen’s. It was the Battle of the Work Widows. “I want to take a moment. To remark upon Molly’s remarks.”

Yvonne tried to muster a smile, but made sure we could all see how difficult it was for her before she gave up. She rambled into some story about how much Teddy meant to her and to the magazine and the sort of stuff you’d expect to be said in this situation, but I had a hard time focusing. I was trying to remember where Yvonne said she was when the security guys called her and asked her to come in. She’d changed out of the gray Max Mara suit she’d worn to work when she and the detectives picked me up to go see Helen and was wearing a slightly ridiculous multicolored Versace sheath. Was that because there was blood on the Mara?

Unfortunately, any attempts at luring that information out of Yvonne were going to have to wait. I needed to get down to the precinct and meet Helen and Candy for the identification and all the horrors that might generate. I thought about trying to fake a coma so I didn’t have to go, but then I worried that Yvonne might go in my place and I really didn’t want Yvonne anywhere near Helen until I figured out what was going on.

Yvonne wound down her address to the troops with some trembling proclamation of Teddy’s undying influence on us all, then thumped her chest with her fist like Celine Dion. For a terrifying moment, I thought she was going to launch into song, but she just dropped her head and spun away from the group, a diva move that was amusing by itself but a little pathetic in context. I reached to grab my purse but Yvonne grabbed me first.

“His reception. Has to be magnificent.”

“I’m sure Helen will plan something lovely.”

Her grip on my arm tightened like a falcon clamping down on a perch. Bruises tomorrow weren’t going to surprise me at all. I winced, trying to ease my arm away, but she wasn’t letting go. “I don’t want Helen to worry about such a thing.”

Yeah, and Louis XVI didn’t want Marie Antoinette to worry her pretty little head about such things either and look where that pretty little head wound up. And his own head, for that matter. “What are you suggesting, Yvonne?”

“We’ll pay for the reception.”

I loved Teddy, but I knew my checking account balance. “Define ‘we.’”

“The magazine.” I waited, still suspicious. Yvonne slid her hand down my arm to grasp my hand. At least the blood was flowing in my arm again. “It should be big. As grand as he was. And Helen shouldn’t have to pay.”

What disturbed me was I could understand Yvonne’s logic. If the reception turned into an industry event, which it would unless Helen restricted it to family only or something like that, it was going to get big. And Helen had enough to worry about without footing the bill for that. “I’m sure Helen will appreciate the offer, but—”

“Good. Talk to her.”

Not exactly the point I’d been trying to make, but better me than Yvonne, I supposed. “All right.”

“And your little friend Tricia.”

“Excuse me?”

“She’ll do it.”

“Plan the reception? I don’t know, Yvonne, it’s not exactly her area of expertise.”

“Money’s no object.” Now there’s a powerful phrase. It can make you reconsider just about any decision, at least for a few moments. Funeral receptions weren’t Tricia’s game, but I had no doubt that she could put together a terrific one. And if Yvonne was going to unchoke the money flow, Tricia would be able to give Teddy a great send-off. No losers there.

“I’ll talk to her.”

“Both.”

“Yes.”

“Good. Go.” Yvonne gestured with an imperial vagueness to somewhere other than where I was standing and retreated to her office. I gathered up my stuff and prepared to look death in the face.

The cab ride over to the morgue wasn’t long enough to prepare myself, but a cruise around the world wouldn’t have been either. The building itself is tough enough—cold, institutional and forbidding. It made me think of an old folk song about mining my dad used to sing on long car drives: “Dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew, where the danger is double and the pleasures are few …” My hat’s off to anyone who feels called to this kind of work.

The identification process was horrific on two levels. Helen and Candy arrived looking pretty pulled together, considering, but Helen left resembling one of the bad guys at the end of
Raiders of the Lost Ark
—everything stripped away but the vibrant pain underneath. On the other level was the process itself—Lipscomb led Helen through it so smoothly, almost elegantly, that it drove home the unspoken point that homicide detectives go through this on a regular, if not daily, basis.

I did what I could for Helen, literally offering her a shoulder to cry on. When she seemed to be cried out for the moment, I tiptoed into delicate territory. “Have you thought about his service?”

I might as well have opened the floodgates myself. Helen sobbed anew and Candy squinted at me, not happily. “It’s all a little overwhelming.”

“The magazine would like to host the reception.”

Helen stopped crying so abruptly that she choked. Candy patted her on the back until she stopped coughing, then Helen looked at me with a fierce frown. “What?”

“If it’s all right with you, the magazine would like to pay for the reception. As a tribute to Teddy.”

Helen wiped uselessly at her eyes. “By ‘magazine,’ you mean Yvonne.”

It was pretty clear that line of reasoning was going to take us to a dark place and I wasn’t properly dressed. “No. All of us. Though Yvonne authorized it.”

Helen struggled with something bitter, but Candy cut her off. “Let them foot the bill. It’s the least they can do, all the hours he gave them. All the hours they took him away from you.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way at all. I’d just assumed that Yvonne was looking to show off. But it was a theory I felt comfortable nodding to support. Helen shifted her ravaged eyes between my encouraging nod and Candy’s resolute face a couple of times. “I want to be part of planning it.”

“Oh, of course,” I assured her. Yvonne might not go for that, but Tricia would make sure Helen was included throughout. “A friend of mine will take care of everything and she’ll consult you on all points.”

Helen hesitated and Candy plopped her arm around her shoulders. “You’ve got enough to worry about, honey. Let them do this.”

Helen’s gaze shifted back to my eyes. She was looking for something but I couldn’t tell what. Which made it a lot easier to play innocent, nod again, and muster up an encouraging smile. After a long moment, Helen nodded.

“Okay.”

“Good. My friend Tricia Vincent will call you.” I made sure Candy had all my numbers and understood I was sincere about her or Helen calling if there was anything else I could do. I repeated that to Helen and wasn’t sure she heard me until she whispered back, “His office.”

I hadn’t thought of it yet. Teddy’s office needed to be packed up. “Want me to help you?”

“Could you just … do it?”

“Sure.” I could certainly understand Helen not wanting to deal with the packing or having to see everyone—especially Yvonne—right now. Maybe it would be less creepy to pack his stuff without her there to tell me what personal significance each and every item had. Though there was also the possibility that there wouldn’t be that much and that would be pretty sad, too. My friend Bill works in advertising and is constantly getting cut loose and rehired. He swears that you should never have more personal stuff in your office than can fit in one paper carton. That way, you only have to make one trip when you leave.

But if you’re packing up at the end of a life, not at the end of a job, shouldn’t there be lots of stuff? A proud collection of items that humanized your office and now stand as memorials to all the hours you spent, all the work you did, all the lives you touched? Shouldn’t your life spill over into at least a second carton? For Helen’s sake, I hoped I was going to pack up a rich trove that she could go through at her own pace and find some comfort in.

And, of course, I thought with another adrenaline surge, there was a chance I could find something in his office that might make this whole miserable thing make sense. “I’ll take care of it this morning and call you about a good time to bring the boxes by.”

She thanked me and hugged me. She felt lighter and more fragile than when I had left her apartment, and that provoked the tears I’d been fighting since Lipscomb had first come out to meet us. I patted her awkwardly on the back, detached myself, and turned around just in time to step on Detective Edwards’ foot.

I wished it had been with my heel—the heel on these Weitzman pumps is pretty potent—but it was with my toe. He had been walking up behind me, should have zigged when I zagged, and
pow
. Neither of us was amused.

“Detective Edwards,” I acknowledged and made a beeline for the ladies room. I paced, I peed, I repaired my makeup as much as my blotchy cheeks and trembling hands would permit, and I checked my watch about three times before deciding that I could safely emerge. Surely he and Lipscomb were occupied with Helen or something else by now. But as I stepped back into the hall, Edwards was waiting for me.

There are times I wish I smoked. Lauren Bacall could always buy a moment to come up with the perfect scathing line by doing the whole cigarette case ritual—click, tap tap, long, soulful gaze as the match is struck, deep inhale, lazy exhale, withering line. I could’ve used one of Bacall’s cigarettes just then. Better yet, I could’ve used one of Bacall’s writers.

Edwards made the first move, which would have impressed me more if I hadn’t been dismissing it as technique. “This morning didn’t go the way I’d hoped.”

“Bagel not fresh?” I asked, almost able to taste one of those little pieces of tobacco Bacall was always lifting off her tongue with a perfectly manicured nail.

“I deserve that.” He smiled and it was pained enough to pass for sincere. “I misjudged you.”

“Is this where I excuse you because you’re only doing your job?” Even if it was sincere, the smile was not enough. Not by a long shot.

“That’d be great.”

“I’m sure it would be. Have a nice day, Detective.”

Toucheé
, Leigh Brackett. I felt really good about leaving him that way. Until I told Cassady about it on the cell phone on the way back to the office. “You don’t want to burn that bridge, Molly,” she snapped.

“I’m not going to get involved with a guy who thinks I’m capable of murder. Or of sleeping with Teddy Reynolds,” I said in an effort to defend myself.

“I’m talking about having access to the police department so you can solve this crime and become a world-famous journalist,” she snapped even harder.

“You’re so supportive. One of the many reasons I love you,” I snapped back.

“I am being supportive!” she protested. “I’m thinking clearly for you since you apparently don’t have time for that today.”

Snap, snap, snap.

“What am I supposed to do, Cassady? Thank him for considering me a murder suspect?” One of the great things about Manhattan is that everybody has so much on their minds that they rarely care what’s on yours. You could have sex in the middle of the sidewalk on Sixth Avenue and people would step around you without breaking stride. But I guess my voice got a little shrill on “murder suspect” because three different people looked directly at me—one with horror and two with interest. I turned up the collar on my coat, like that was going to muffle anything else I blurted, and kept walking.

BOOK: Killer Heels
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