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Authors: Julia Buckley

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BOOK: Cheddar Off Dead
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“Oh yeah. Brad never had trouble finding a new show. He really was talented. I heard him audition a number of times, and he would just take whatever script it was, whatever crazy lines, and make it sound totally natural, like he was just making it up himself as he went along. He was
good. Cleo told me that he'd had a couple of calls from Hollywood in the last weeks, when scouts saw his Shakespearean performance. But anyway, I don't have to look it up. I have a playbill from his new show.”

She jogged out of the room and returned two minutes later with a program from
The Tempest
. “Brad was Prospero! What a great role. It was out in the suburbs, not the city, but it was getting lots of good press.” She looked away for a minute, and I realized she had tears in her eyes.

“You guys were close friends, huh?”

“We kept in touch, ever since our first show together. And yeah, I knew him pretty well. Better than he even knew I did.” She wiped at her eyes and gave me a rueful smile.

“Really? Listen, I happen to know the cop who's looking into Brad's death. He might want to talk to you about your last conversation.”

She shook her head. “Nothing significant there. We were just shooting the bull. Besides, I'm not a huge fan of cops.”

I hesitated; Tabitha could offer a lot of information about Brad Whitefield. “Well, listen—if you remember anything significant, you can call me. Let me give you my number.” I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted down my cell phone number and my e-mail.

“Okay. Thanks. If I remember anything.”

“Even if you don't think it's important. I know that Detective Parker likes to have every little piece of the puzzle—and you can count on him to find your friend's killer.” I thought about it and said, “And if you find out any funeral information—I think I'd like to go and pay my respects.”

Her eyes looked moist again. “Sure. I'll let you know, and if I hear of anything or think of anything else for your
police friend, I'll call. Thanks, Lilah. And thanks for being on the show.”

“Sure.”

I left the studio and went to the lobby, where Cameron had fallen asleep in his chair and now resembled a handsome homeless man. The guard at the check-in station seemed to suspect this very thing, so I approached him and explained that Cam was my brother, and had been waiting while I taped
Cooking with Angelo
on the fourth floor. He nodded grudgingly, and I woke my protector so that we could return to one of Chicago's many notoriously expensive parking lots that charge eighteen dollars for the privilege of parking for two hours.

“Unbelievable,” Cam said, shaking his head at the parking sign. “Anyway, how did it go with Mr. Charming?”

“I really have no idea. I was so nervous I barely knew what I said, and the audience would have cheered no matter what happened because they clearly all wanted to sleep with Angelo.”

“Guys like him really get my goat,” Cam said, unlocking his Volkswagen.

“Why? Because they attract beautiful women? Seems to me you might have Angelo beat, if I start counting your girlfriends. Let's see—who was the first one? Amy Parkman, in seventh grade?” We climbed into the car; I was giggling.

“Don't start,” said a scowling Cameron.

“And then there was Jennifer Pietrowski. She was really pretty. I remember envying her ability to use a hair straightener,” I mused, buckling in.

“We never really dated,” Cam said. “I just liked her.” He backed out of his spot and started moving forward.

“Ah. Well, if we're going by who we
liked
, then I might have the longest list of—”

A loud noise, like glasses shattering, caused me to jump, then turn and see that the backseat was in fact covered with glass, and the right side passenger window was gone. Cam swerved the car in reaction. “Whoa! What was that?” Cam peered into the backseat and saw the glass. “Lilah, I think—”

“Drive, drive, drive!” I screamed.

Cam drove, faster than I thought possible, down the circular parking garage lanes and out into Chicago traffic. I saw my own fear reflected in his eyes. “Is anyone behind me? Look, Lilah!”

“I'm looking. I'm trying to keep my head away from the window, because I don't want it to get exploded like that—”

Cam's hand touched my leg while he steered with the other one. “Okay, okay. Let's both take a deep breath. Then get Parker on the phone.”

I took out my cell with trembling fingers and pressed 2 on my speed dial.

His voice was beautiful music. “Parker.”

“Jay?”

“Lilah. What's wrong?”

“Someone—I was with Cam—and someone—”

That was as far as I got before I started bawling in Parker's ear. He said, “Lilah, put Cameron on.”

I handed Cameron the phone, and to his credit he managed to speak calmly to Parker while he negotiated Chicago traffic and kept his eye on the rearview mirror for potential sniper fire. Suddenly my brother seemed like a superhero, or an adroit spy. “Yes,” he was saying. “We're all right. Whoever it was must be a pretty bad shot, because it didn't
come close to Lilah. The bullet burst the back passenger window.”

“Close enough,” I said through my tears.

Cameron looked at me. “That's what Parker just said.”

Parker told us to get back to Cameron's and he would meet us there.

Cameron agreed and hung up the phone. He handed it to me, I slid it back into my purse, and then I clutched my brother's hand. “I love you, Cam.”

He squeezed back. “It will be okay, Lilah. And I love you, too.”

*   *   *

We got back to Cam's apartment, and he parked illegally in front. “I'm not taking a chance on walking from another parking garage,” he said.

Philip, Cam's doorman, appeared at my window, recognizing Cam's car. “Mr. Drake? You okay?”

“Philip, we just had a close call. Can I leave the car here until the police come?”

“You got it, Mr. Drake.”

I had developed a residual case of the shakes, and Philip, with some special instinct I didn't think a man in his early twenties possessed, seemed to realize I needed to be handled gently. He opened my door and helped me out of the car, then walked me up to the entrance, speaking calmly to me all the while. My eyes darted everywhere, seeing an enemy in every passing pedestrian.

Cameron jogged behind us, and we all breathed more easily once we were in the building. I thanked Philip, and he returned to his station. We walked past Rosalie's Salon,
and I saw Enrico Donato's face watching me through the window. I stared, openmouthed. Had he done this? He knew who I was. He knew what I saw (or didn't see). Could he have coldheartedly arranged for my execution? But if that were so, and he was really a mobster, would he have hired someone so clearly ineffectual?

While I mused, he came toward us on his slippered feet. “Miss Drake? Are you all right?”

“Were you hoping I was not?” I asked, my voice sharp.

“What happened?” he asked. His skin had turned white.

Cameron put his arm around me. “Listen—it's Mr. Donato, right?”

“Yes.”

“My sister and I just had a shock. We were—attacked. So I just want to get her upstairs and hand her a stiff drink and get her calmed down.”

He moved forward. “Who attacked you?”

“We don't know,” I said, suddenly weary. “A bullet came through our car's window. Rather near my head. Are you saying it wasn't you, or one of your men?”

“Lilah!” my brother said, his face a picture of warning.

Donato didn't even look at him. “I can assure you, Miss Drake—it was not. But I will make it my business to find out. Believe me. You are a friend of mine. Do you understand? I owe this to you and to young Brad. And we will be watching out for you. Keeping you safe.”

Perhaps it was a sign of my odd state of mind that this former gangster's words brought me great relief in that moment. Someone else would watch out for us; someone else had our backs.

Cam did not want me talking to Donato. “We need to get
Lilah home. The police will want to talk to her soon. Thank you for your concern,” he said to the old man as he pulled me toward the elevator. I sent one last inquiring look to Donato, who still stood there with quiet authority, studying me. Then I turned and went with Cameron.

When we emerged from the elevator on the fourth floor, Cam stopped me in the hall outside his apartment. “Listen—we have to tell Serafina about this.”

“Oh God. Cam, I can't deal with her right now.”

“I know. So let me go in first and warn her that you'll want some recovery time and that she shouldn't kiss or hug you until you're ready.”

“That will probably kill her,” I said, with a weak grin.

Cam grinned, too. “She can hug me; I'm used to it.”

“Go—break it to her gently.”

Cam went in. I heard his voice greeting his wife, then a pause, then Serafina's voice, high-pitched and frightened. Then lots of heartfelt Italian.

The elevator pinged, and I stiffened, but it was Parker who turned the corner and ran toward me now. I threw myself into his arms without thinking; his coat was still cold from the outdoors, but it was open, and I burrowed inside it, to his warmth.

“Lilah,” he said, his voice gentle. I felt something soft on the top of my head—Parker was kissing my hair. “I'm so sorry. I should have gone with you today. Or convinced you not to go.”

“You couldn't have known someone would shoot at me!”

“I know now. And you won't be alone again.”

I leaned away from him. “What?”

“I'll be assigning an officer to you indefinitely.”

“How about assigning yourself?”

He smiled down at me. “That is a very appealing thought. But I can't look for this person and protect you at the same time. I'll be here as much as I can, of course.”

This would have been thrilling if I weren't so afraid of being murdered.

“I'm so much trouble,” I said.

“This is our job. To serve and protect, right?”

I smashed my face against his chest, which smelled nice, even through his shirt.

“It's okay, babe,” Parker said in what could only be called an intimate tone.

Cameron came out then and ruined it. He stood stiffly in front of us and said, “Oh, hello.”

“Mr. Drake.” Parker shook his hand with me still clinging to him. “Can we go inside? If you'll give me the exact location, I'll send a unit there to look for the glass; they'll try to get a sense of where the shot came from. I've already sent them pictures of the vehicle—the one right in front of the building, right?”

“Yes—thanks for coming so quickly,” Cameron said. I could sense the mixture of his disapproval and his grudging respect.

I pulled away from Parker with obvious reluctance and saw—because I was looking for it—the micro-expression on his face, which had included a tiny smile. I'm sure my brother never saw it. I was getting good at reading the subtext of Parker.

We went into Cam's apartment where Serafina, who had clearly been briefed by her husband, held back behind the pretty red-tile counter despite her obvious desire to come
and swamp me with “thank goodness you're alive” kisses. “Would anyone like tea?” she asked.

“Yes, thanks,” Parker said.

“Me, too. Thanks, Serafina.” I sent her a grateful look, and she gave me a little wave. Cam followed Parker and me to the living room, where Parker and I sat on the couch and Cam claimed a chair across from us.

Cam described the area where we'd been parked, and our detective did some rapid texting. Then Parker put down his phone and said, “Now. Any ideas about who might have known you were there?”

I shrugged. “Anyone could have known if they made a point of following us from Cam's apartment.”

“And who knew you were here?”

I started counting on my fingers. “My friend Jenny; Enrico Donato and his whole clan; my family. That's all I can think of, aside from my coworkers. Oh, and the people in the studio could have followed Cam and me to the parking lot.”

“Right,” Parker said. He made some notes on his little computer. “Donato is just downstairs, right? I'll talk to him next.”

“Um—I talked to him in the lobby. I asked if he tried to have me killed.”

Parker sighed.

Cam said, “Yeah, that was a weird exchange. But the guy seemed genuinely shocked. He did say that he would put his men on protection duty.”

“Great,” Parker said drily.

“Are you telling me that this guy is seriously in the Outfit? Little Mr. Donato from the hair salon?” Cam looked sort of excited about it.

“He was reputedly active in the syndicate in the eighties and nineties. Then he was off the radar for a while. Lately the word is that he is retired.”

“He seems worried, though,” I said. “He got very pale when I told him someone shot at me.”

Parker turned to me with an exasperated expression. “You don't need to tell strangers these things, Lilah.”

“I was angry! I wanted to know if he was responsible. I don't think he was.”

“But he could have hired someone who was.”

“I guess.”

Parker sighed again. Then he tried a new tactic, asking, “Why would anyone at the studio have followed you?”

I sat up straight. “Yeah, I forgot to tell you. The woman who did my makeup—Tabitha something—said she was good friends with Brad, and that he wasn't an out-of-work actor at all, but was getting regular work in the Chicago area. She said he was starring in
The Tempest
at some theater in the suburbs.”

“Okay.” He typed.

“And she was nice, she was fine, but I got the sense that she knew more than she was saying. She said she's known Whitefield for years. They met doing a show—she was makeup and he was talent. But she seems to do all sorts of stage tech stuff.”

BOOK: Cheddar Off Dead
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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