Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For (9 page)

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“It’s the least I can do. Don’t forget. I was the one who talked you into borrowing it.”

Believe me, I hadn’t forgotten.

“Don’t look so glum,” he said. “I’m sure the cleaners will be able to get out the stains. Well, I’m not totally sure. I’m pretty sure. Well, sort of pretty sure. Maybe.”

On that hopeful note, he headed back to his apartment, and I headed for the kitchen to get Prozac her snack.

I’d just tossed a few Chicken-Flavored Tender Tidbits into her bowl when the phone rang. This time it was Mrs. Pechter, calling to give me a medical update on Mr. Goldman.

Thank God, he was still alive. Thank God, Part II, it was only a mild heart attack.

“Try not to worry,” Mrs. Pechter said. “He’ll be back at Shalom before we know it, reading us his cockamamie stories.”

I hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Goldman was alive!

I managed to relax for a whole three and a half seconds before the guilt came flooding back. So what if he was alive? He’d had a heart attack, and it was all my fault! If I hadn’t yelled at him, he wouldn’t be stuck in a hospital bed hooked up to Lord knows how many tubes.

Someday, somehow, I’d make it up to him. But in the meanwhile, I had an ad campaign to write.

Frenchie was right. It didn’t take me long to throw together some fawning copy about Frenchie and her fabulous fashion sense. I churned out the ads in a few hours. I would’ve finished even sooner if it hadn’t been for the chili cheese dog raging through my intestinal tract.

After dinner (three Maaloxes and a glass of chardonnay) I collapsed in bed with a hot water bottle on my tummy. Prozac, sensing how uncomfortable I was, plopped down next to me and demanded a belly rub.

Eventually the hot water bottle cooled off, and I tossed it aside. Exhausted from my all-nighter the night before, I fell into a deep sleep. The last thing I remember before drifting off was Prozac curling up in the crook of my neck, her fur soft as silk under my chin.

Maybe my life as a convent nun wasn’t so bad after all.

It was dark and drizzling when I drove to Passions the next morning, a perfect match for my gloomy mood. The weather report on the radio said it had been raining all night.

Of course, in L.A., just the mere hint of moisture in the air sends drivers into a tailspin of panic. And so traffic, which should have been smooth sailing at that early hour, was slowed to a crawl. I gritted my teeth in frustration. I only hoped Frenchie was caught in the same sluggish mess.

But when I pulled into the Passions parking lot a little after seven, I saw a silver BMW already in the lot. I assumed it was Frenchie’s, because of its vanity license plate: HOTBABE 37. (Amazing, isn’t it, that thirty-seven women in the state of California actually think HOTBABE is a neat idea for a license plate?)

Parked under the branches of a jacaranda tree, the BMW was plastered with wet purple blossoms. With all those jacaranda blossoms stuck to the hood, I figured the car must have been parked there for hours. Frenchie wasn’t kidding when she said she was a morning person.

I retrieved my ads from the backseat of my Corolla. I hoped Frenchie would like them and wouldn’t try to weasel out of paying me. Something told me she was a world-class weasel.

I knocked on the back door, but there was no answer. So I trotted around front, figuring that Frenchie was probably out on the sales floor. But when I got to the street, I was surprised to see that the store was dark. I tried the front door, but there was still no answer.

What the hell was going on? Frenchie had to be in there. After all, I saw her car in the parking lot. Maybe she was in the bathroom. Maybe she was on the phone, calling in a breakfast order to her husband. Or maybe she was just playing some sick Let’s-Keep-the-Writer-Waiting game. I wouldn’t put it past her.

I stomped around to the back door, cursing her under my breath. This time I knocked with all the gusto of a determined process server. When there was still no response, I tried the door. Much to my relief, it opened. I peered inside, but Frenchie was nowhere in sight.

“Frenchie?” I called out.

No answer. If she was in the bathroom, this had to be the world’s longest tinkle.

I headed out to the sales floor. There was something about the front room, shrouded in darkness, that gave me the creeps. All those outfits on display hangers, so spiffy in broad daylight, looked like disembodied ghouls in the dark. I was just about to call it quits and head back to the Corolla when I looked down at the floor and gasped. I hadn’t noticed it at first because the room was so dark. But there, lying face down, was a shadowy figure with what looked like a knife in its neck.

At first I thought it was a mannequin. I remembered what Frenchie said about scattering “corpses” around the store as part of her new ad campaign. If this was her idea of high-concept advertising, she was one helluva sicko.

I took a step closer. Strange, I noticed, the mannequin was wearing only one shoe. Then, with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realized it wasn’t a mannequin, but a human being. It was Frenchie. I recognized her white-blond hair and size-two tush. And now I saw that the blade rammed into her neck wasn’t a knife, but the piercing stiletto heel of a shoe.

“Frenchie?” I whispered softly, hoping against hope that this was all part of another sick game, this one called Let’s Give the Writer a Heart Attack. But no such luck. She just lay there, stiff as a board. Which is what corpses generally do.

She was dead, all right. Stabbed to death with her own Jimmy Choo knockoff.

Chapter 10

here was no doubt about it. Frenchie was toast. And for the second time in less than forty-eight hours I found myself screaming hysterically and calling 911.

Minutes later, the place was swarming with cops. They plunked me down in Grace’s office, where I spent the next hour waiting for the homicide detective on the case to show up. As the cops bustled about their business I heard snippets of their conversation:
“Stabbed in the jugular.” “Punctured the carotid artery.” “Rigor mortis set in hours ago.” “Hey, who stole my blueberry muffin?”

At last the homicide detective ambled in, a paunchy middle-aged man with sad bloodhound eyes. He looked like he’d seen enough dead bodies to last him a lifetime, although I bet this was the first time he’d ever seen one stabbed to death with a stiletto heel. Then again, this was L.A., land of the strange and home of the weird. Lord knows what the poor man had been forced to witness.

I explained to the detective that no, I wasn’t a friend of the deceased, but rather a freelance writer, come to pitch my ads. I assured him that I had no idea who could have possibly done such a terrible thing. Which wasn’t totally true. I knew three people right off the bat who would’ve been glad to see Frenchie vanish from the face of the earth: Tyler, whose novel she’d trashed. Grace, whose store she’d stolen. Even sweet little Becky said she wanted to kill her.

They all hated her guts. But that didn’t mean one of them had actually killed her. And I wasn’t about to point any fingers. Not after they’d all been so nice to me. I’d let the cops figure it out. That’s what they got paid for.

The hound dog detective asked me if I wanted a ride home. I assured him I’d be okay.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “You don’t look okay.”

“I’ll be fine.”

As I got up to go, he picked up a Barbie-sized halter top from a rack behind Grace’s desk and scratched his head.

“Does anyone really wear this stuff?” he asked.

“Not in my world.”

I walked out the back door into the parking lot. By now, the rain had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. I checked my watch. Only 9
. and I’d already discovered a dead body and lost a job. What a ghastly way to start the day.

Sad to say, things weren’t about to get much better.

My answering machine was blinking when I walked in the front door. When I pressed the Play button, Mr. Goldman’s voice came rasping out of the machine.

Jaine? Are you there? Phooey, I hate these damn machines. Listen, cookie. Mrs. Pechter told me you were worried about me and that you feel responsible for my heart attack. Don’t be silly. Just because you yelled at me and I happened to keel over the very next second, that doesn’t mean the two are related. Anyhow, the doctor said I can have visitors, so drop by any time. I’d better hang up now. I’m feeling a little weak.

I plopped down on my sofa and sighed. The last thing I wanted to do was visit Mr. Goldman. Not after what I’d just been through. No, a dead body and Mr. Goldman were just too much to handle in one day.

I would’ve killed for a glass of chardonnay, but it was only 9:30 in the morning. Somehow it didn’t feel right pouring myself wine while the
show was still on the air.

It suddenly occurred to me that this was no time to be by myself. I desperately needed some company to help me forget the horror of what I’d just seen. I knocked on Lance’s door, but he wasn’t home. I tried calling Kandi at work, but she was in a casting session.

I thought of calling my parents, but I didn’t want to worry them. I knew they’d have a cow and insist that I come stay with them, or—worse—that they come stay with me. I was desperate, but not that desperate.

I’d just have to distract myself. I’d write a mailer to drum up some new business. After all, I was in dire need of money, what with having to pay for that damn Prada suit. I’d work up an ad, touting my writing skills, and send it off to prospective clients.

I booted up the computer and got down to work. I got as far as…

Mailer Ideas

…when my mind drifted back to that ghastly scene at Passions. As much as I tried, I couldn’t shake the image of Frenchie with that stiletto heel in her jugular.

When forty-five minutes had elapsed and I still hadn’t written down a single idea, I gave up on the mailer and tried watching daytime TV. I scooped up Prozac in my arms to keep me company, but the little darling, sensing how stressed I was, wriggled free and wandered to the kitchen to sniff the garbage can.

I don’t know how long I sat there, staring blankly at the impossibly beautiful soap stars, not hearing a word they were saying. Finally, I gave up. This was ridiculous. If I had to stay in the apartment one more minute, I’d go nuts. I grabbed my car keys and headed out the door.

As long as I was going to be stressed out, I might as well be stressed out with Mr. Goldman.

Trying to find a patient at Cedars Sinai Hospital is like trying to find a fat woman on network television.

An elderly volunteer at the information desk told me to take the elevator to the fifth floor and follow the blue line on the linoleum until I reached the nurses’ station, after which I was to follow a red line and then a green line, and then eventually another blue line. I began the trek feeling a lot like Sir Edmund Hillary must have felt when he decided to take his little hike up Mount Everest.

Several red, blue, and green lines later, I made it to Mr. Goldman’s room. The door was half open, and I peeked inside.

Mr. Goldman was lying in his hospital bed, an IV tube attached to his hand, watching Emeril on a TV mounted high on the wall. I knocked on the door, and he looked up.

“Cookie!” he said, waving me over with his remote. “Come in. I was just watching Emeril. He’s making fried clams. Feh! He’s using too much seasoning.

“Enough with the
already!” he shouted at the screen, then clicked off the TV in disgust.

“It’s good to see you, cookie,” he said, smiling up at me.

“I brought you some flowers.”

I held out a bouquet of roses I’d picked up on my way over to the hospital.

“That’s nice, darling. Unfortunately, I’m allergic,” he said, with a sneeze.

Oh, great. First I’d given him a heart attack, and now I was giving him an allergy attack.

I sprinted out to the nurses’ station and gave the roses to a thin-lipped nurse, who shook her head in disapproval.

“You should never bring roses to a hospital,” she scolded. “So many people are allergic.”

Obviously this was a woman who’d cut class the day they were teaching How to Be Pleasant at nursing school.

I felt like taking them back and giving them to someone who might actually appreciate them, but it wasn’t worth it. Instead, I sprinted back to Mr. Goldman’s side. In the bright light of day, I could see every line and liver spot on his face. There was something so sad about those liver spots, so vulnerable; just the sight of them made me feel guiltier than ever.

“So,” I said, “how are you doing?”

“I’ll live,” he said, shrugging his narrow shoulders. He seemed so much tinier than he did in class.

“Oh, Mr. Goldman. I feel awful about what happened.”

“Don’t be silly. Like I already told you, just because you yelled at me and I had a heart attack, that doesn’t mean you caused it.”

“If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, just name it.”

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “there is.”

“What?” I asked. “What can I do?”

He smiled hesitantly.

“Well, you see, I told Mr. Perez you were my girlfriend.”

“Mr. Perez?”

“The guy in the next bed.” He pointed to the bed next to him. From the rumpled sheets and dent in the pillow I could see someone had been lying there, but it was empty now.

“He’s in the toilet,” Mr. Goldman explained.

“Why would you tell him I’m your girlfriend?”

“I know I shouldn’t have, but he was bragging about his young girlfriend and what a hot number she was, acting like a real Romeo. And suddenly it just popped out of my mouth. I said I had a young girlfriend, too. You’re the only young gal I know so I told him it was you. So would you mind very much pretending to be my fiancée?”

Are you crazy?
I felt like shouting.
Of course I mind!

But then I looked down at those pathetic liver spots. And before I could stop myself, I was saying:

“Sure. I don’t mind. Not at all.”

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Semi-Hard by Candace Smith
Donnie Brasco by Joseph D. Pistone
The Chase by DiAnn Mills
The Setting Sun by Bart Moore-Gilbert
The Striker by Monica McCarty
Haunted Hearts by Teresa DesJardien
The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin
The Loner by Genell Dellin