Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For (4 page)

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
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“Looks more like Ralph Kramden to me.”

“Very amusing.”

“Listen, Jaine. You’re always complaining about not having enough work. Did it ever occur to you that one of the reasons why you’re not working as much as you’d like is your image?”

I hated to admit it, but maybe he had a point.

“This stuff may wow them at Toiletmasters,” he said, waving at the contents of my closet, “but Grace Lynbrook is a different story. You know who she is, of course?”

I shook my head.

“Grace was one of the top fashion models back in the seventies. The woman has spent her whole life around designer clothes. I hate to break it to you, kiddo, but she’s not going to be impressed with your cotton/poly blends.”

“But I can’t wear that crazy stuff she stocks in her shop,” I said, shuddering at the memory of those clown pants. “You saw how silly I looked.”

“No,” he agreed, “you have to go the classic route. Simple, elegant, clean lines, reeking of money. Make her think you don’t need the job. That’s when people want you. When they think you don’t need them. Now get dressed. We’re going shopping.”

A half hour later, I found myself in a dressing room at Barneys trying on a $3,000 Prada suit. It was an icy-gray cashmere, soft as a baby’s bottom. I stepped out of the dressing room and modeled it for Lance.

“Very nice,” he said, nodding his approval.

I looked darn good, if I do say so myself. Those clean Prada lines took ten pounds off my body, many of them in the dreaded hip/tush zone.

“Didn’t I tell you you’d look marvelous?” Lance beamed.

Suddenly I had a vision of a whole new me. A cool, elegant me, lunching at Spago, doing deals at Paramount, coming home to my Wilshire Boulevard penthouse, where I’d fix myself cosmopolitans at my imported marble wet bar. Unfortunately, the bubble burst when I pictured me getting the bill from Barneys.

“Lance, there’s no way I can afford this suit.”

“You don’t have to buy it, silly. Just borrow it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Put it on your credit card, wear it to the interview, and then return it.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Of course you can. People do it all the time. I get shoes returned at Neiman’s that have been worn to the Himalayas and back.”

“You really think it’s okay?”

“Absolutely!”

I wish I could tell you that there was a tiny voice inside me telling me not to do it, that it was morally wrong and unfair to Barneys. But the only voice I heard at the time was the one that was shouting,
You look ten pounds thinner!

Which is why, with my checking account practically on life support, I found myself charging a $3,000 Prada suit on my Visa card.

It made perfect sense at the time.

“We’ve got to do something about your hair,” Lance announced as we got on the elevator and headed down to Barneys’ parking lot.

“What’s wrong with my hair?”

“Nothing, if you don’t mind looking like Shirley Temple on the
Good Ship Lollipop
.”

Two of our elevator-mates—rail-thin girls with waists the size of my ankles—looked over at my curly mop and stifled giggles.

“Curly hair happens to be very stylish,” I sniffed.

“It’s not your curls that are the problem. It’s your cut. Looks like someone went at you with a chainsaw.”

More giggles from the anorexics. I hoped they choked on their diuretics.

“Oh, Jaine, don’t pout,” Lance said. I’m just telling you all this because I care about you.”

The elevator stopped at our floor.

“Now come on,” he said, taking me by the hand. “We’re going to make you beautiful!”

Lance wove his tiny red Mini Cooper in and out of traffic until we reached our destination: a chi-chi hair salon in Brentwood called Gunter’s.

“Gunter and I are good buddies,” he said, as we strolled into the salon.

“Lance, sweetie!”

A tall, tanned blond guy came drifting toward us. So gorgeous, he practically took my breath away. Think Norse god, with a blow dryer.

The two of them embraced like old lovers, which I later found out they were.

“Let’s see what you’ve brought me,” he said, turning his gaze to me.

He stared at me from the left and from the right. From the back, and from the front. All the while shaking his head and tsk-tsking.

“Don’t worry,” he said, when he finally stopped circling. “They call me The Miracle Worker.”

He snapped his fingers, and out of nowhere, a shampoo girl appeared. After a luxurious lathering and a lecture about the dangers of drugstore shampoo, I was led back to Gunter, who was waiting for me with his scissors at the ready. With lightning speed, he snipped away at my curls, until a thick blanket of discarded hair lay at his feet. Then he whipped out his dryer, and before my incredulous eyes, smoothed my hair into a soft, silky bob. Never had my hair looked so good.

Gunter was right. He was a miracle worker.

I didn’t even mind the hundred dollars he charged for the miracle. Okay, I did mind, but as Lance said, it was investment grooming.

Still, I thought, as I wrote out a check that I prayed wouldn’t bounce, I damn well better get that job.

“My God, you look gorgeous!”

I was sitting across from my best friend, Kandi Tobolowsky, in Paco’s Tacos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. She’d been oohing and aahing over my new look from the moment I walked in the door. She couldn’t take her eyes off me. And she wasn’t the only one. I saw our waiter staring at me, too. Although I suspect he was staring at the glob of guacamole I’d spilled on my blouse.

“You’ve got to give me Gunter’s number,” Kandi said. “Was he expensive?”

“Very.”

Unlike me, Kandi can afford to go to Gunter. Kandi’s a writer on
Beanie & the Cockroach,
a Saturday morning cartoon about a short-order cook named Beanie and his pet cockroach, Fred.

Now you probably assume that people who write dialogue for a cockroach don’t get paid much. Well, you assume wrong. In the Life Isn’t Fair Department, they get paid obscene amounts of money. A trip to Gunter’s would barely make a dent in Kandi’s checkbook.

Of course, Kandi didn’t really need Gunter. Not as much as I did. Kandi’s hair is enviably straight and glossy brown. The kind of fabulous hair you see models tossing in shampoo commercials.

“It’s so exciting,” Kandi said, taking a dainty bite of her chip, “about your job interview tomorrow. Although I still can’t quite picture you writing about fashion. Whatever you do, don’t wear elastic-waist pants!”

“No elastic-waist pants,” I promised.

“And no T-shirts with silly sayings.”

“Of course I won’t wear a T-shirt.”

Frankly I was getting a little miffed at the way everybody seemed to assume I was a fashion dummy.

“I know what to wear to an interview,” I said, with more than a little iciness in my voice.

“What? What are you wearing?”

“A suit.”

“What kind of suit?”

I must’ve been feeling guilty about my scheme to “borrow” the Prada suit, because I said brusquely, “It’s a perfectly nice suit. Now can we talk about something other than my clothes?”

“Okay,” Kandi said. “What about your eyebrows? You think you might do a little tweezer action, or are you going to stick with the Andy Rooney look?”

“Kandi!”

“Oh, don’t get all pissy. I just thought your eyebrows could use a little shaping.”

At which point our waiter showed up to take our dinner order.

“More guacamole?” he asked, eyeing the stain on my blouse.

“No, we don’t need any more guacamole,” Kandi piped up.

We both ordered a sensible dinner of chicken tacos and salad, hold the rice and beans. Okay, so I didn’t hold the rice and beans. And I ordered a beef burrito instead of a taco. Which is why I happen to be so fond of those elastic-waist pants that send Kandi and Lance into cardiac arrest.

“Guess what, honey?” Kandi said, when our waiter had gone. “I’ve discovered a fab new way to meet guys.”

Kandi’s always trying to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the wonderful world of dating. She can’t seem to get it through her head that just the thought of a date makes me break out in a cold sweat. Kandi, on the other hand, has a black belt in dating. For some inexplicable reason, she finds the whole process fun.

“Don’t you want me to tell you the fab way to meet guys?” she asked.

“Not really.”

“Speed dating!” she plowed ahead anyway. “You know, where you get to meet twenty guys in just one evening.”

“Kandi, I’m not interested in meeting one guy, let alone twenty.”

She shook her head and sighed.

“Jaine, honey, just because you had one disastrous marriage, that’s no reason to hole yourself up with a passive-aggressive cat for the rest of your life.”

“Prozac is not passive-aggressive,” I huffed. “She’s just a little bossy, that’s all.”

“One of the producers at
Beanie
tried speed dating,” Kandi said, unswayed from her mission. “She met three guys! All really nice.”

“Sorry, Kandi. I’m not interested.”

“But I already signed you up.”

“Unsign me.”

“I can’t. I already paid, and there are no refunds.”

We argued about it all through dinner, until our waiter brought out a lovely flan for dessert and I finally gave in.

“Okay,” I sighed. “I’ll go.”

I only agreed to do it because I was feeling guilty about the money Kandi had laid out. That, and because she refused to give me my dessert fork until I said yes.

Chapter 5

I
didn’t get much sleep that night. I spent most of the wee hours lying stiffly on my back, trying not to mess up my hair. Finally I managed to doze off, but I guess I must’ve tossed and turned because I woke up the next morning with a cowlick the size of a small boomerang. Oh, well, I’d batten it down somehow.

But first, I needed my morning caffeine fix. I stumbled to the kitchen, Prozac yowling at my heels for her breakfast. I tossed her some Fancy Mackerel Guts and grabbed the instant coffee. For a minute I felt like skipping the hot water and just spooning the stuff into my mouth. But good sense prevailed, and I made my coffee the gourmet way, waiting until the tap water got really hot before adding it to my mug.

After a few sips, I felt my snoozing corpuscles spring to life. I sat down at my computer for the next hour or so, updating my resume, trying not to use the word “Toiletmasters” too much.

When I’d polished my resume as much as it could be polished, I wrapped my hair in a towel and headed for the shower. What I really wanted was to lie back in a nice hot bath, but I couldn’t risk any bath-induced frizzies.

After my shower, I padded back to the bedroom, where I stopped dead in my tracks and screamed bloody murder. There was Prozac, sound asleep on my three-thousand-dollar Prada suit! Like a fool I’d laid it out on the bed before stepping into the shower. And now the jacket was covered with cat hairs.

“Prozac, how could you?” I wailed, scooping her up from the bed.

She just yawned in my face, sending a refreshing whiff of mackerel guts my way.

I told myself not to panic. All I needed to do was wrap some packing tape around my hand, and voila! Instant cat hair remover. I hurried to the kitchen only to discover that, voila! I was all out of packing tape.
And
Scotch tape. Damn. I spent the next fifteen minutes picking cat hairs off my suit with the sticky end of Post-its.

Eventually the suit was Prozac-free, and I put it on. Then I threw on some lipstick and blush and flattened my cowlick with industrial strength hair spray. Finally, I filled in the V of my suit jacket with a crystal necklace Lance had picked out from Barneys’ jewelry department (another $200 on my credit card).

My toilette complete, I surveyed myself in the full-length mirror on my closet door. I liked what I saw. I was cool. I was chic. I was the new, improved Jaine Austen.

There was only one thing I didn’t like. The price tag dangling from the sleeve of my suit jacket. How the heck was I going to keep that thing from popping out? Then I had a brainstorm, or what passed for a brainstorm in my sleep-deprived state. I put a rubber band around my forearm, and anchored the price tag underneath it. It seemed to do the trick. I just had to remember not to move my arm too much.

After a final spritz of hair spray, I grabbed my resume and headed for the door.

“Wish me luck, sweetie,” I called out to Prozac, who was in the kitchen napping on a clean dish towel.

She gazed up at me and meowed.

Don’t take too long,
she seemed to be saying.
I may want a snack.

When I showed up at Passions, Becky was the only salesperson on the floor.

“Hi, Jaine,” she chirped as I walked in the door, her orange hair practically blinding me in the morning sun. “Grace is on the phone with a New York designer, but she’ll see you as soon as she’s through.”

“Fine,” I said, trying not to stare at the single gold hoop Becky wore in one ear. Was this some sort of new fashion fad? The Pirates-of-the-Caribbean look?

I guess I must’ve been staring, because she reached up and felt her naked earlobe.

“Drat,” she said. “I dropped my earring again. Darn thing keeps coming off. Oh, here it is.” She reached down and picked up a gold hoop from the floor. “One of these days, I’ve got to get it fixed.”

She put her earring back in and looked at me appraisingly. “Wow,” she said. “You look great.”

“Lance did a makeover on me.”

“He did a fantabulous job!”

Fantabulous? I hadn’t heard that word since Gidget bought her first surfboard.

“Really. I can’t get over how super you look.”

Getting a fashion compliment from a girl with Kool Aid hair, purple fingernails, and a vinyl bustier wasn’t exactly a rave in
Vogue,
but I was grateful for her kind words.

“Turn around,” she said, “and let me get a good look at you.”

And it was then that it hit me. I’d hidden the price tag on the jacket, but I’d forgotten all about the tag on the slacks. What if it was dangling down my tush as we spoke?

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
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