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Authors: Amy Korman

Killer Punch

BOOK: Killer Punch
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Chapter 1

I
WAS PAINTING
the walls of my antiques store, The Striped Awning, when Sophie Shields showed up with a Venti mocha in one hand and a sheaf of legal papers in the other.

“Barclay and I are, like, three weeks away from getting our divorce done, if I can just get my Giuseppe Zanottis back,” Sophie Shields told me, parking her tiny tush on my in-­the-­manner-­of-­Chippendale desk chair, and pushing up a pair of huge sunglasses on top of her blond hair. “I'm missing seventeen pairs of shoes, and I happen to know that my ex has a thing for strappy sandals!”

Sophie is four-­eleven, with huge brown eyes, a sweetly upbeat personality, and—­despite her small stature—­a surprisingly steely core, which she attributes to having lived in New Jersey until a ­couple of years ago. Apparently, if you can survive being married to former mid-­level mafia exec Barclay Shields and have driven the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway on a regular basis, you're ready for anything.

I put down my paintbrush and gratefully accepted the huge coffee. It was a sunny, breezy Thursday in July in Bryn Mawr, our little town outside Philadelphia, and I was kicking off the summer antiques season at my shop—­where, to be honest, there is no summer season. Sales had been really slow recently, so I'd gone to the hardware store on Sunday and picked up three gallons of Smashing Pink paint, which I was currently rolling onto the walls of the shop using an old broom handle and a four-­dollar roller brush.

This fuchsia color would definitely lure in foot traffic!

Er . . . probably it would. At least that's what I'd thought over the weekend. The hot-­pink paint was turning out to be a little more of an eyeful than I'd thought, but I was determined to finish the paint job—­even though, eight hours in, I hadn't completely covered even one wall yet. The paint was so bright that even a single streak needed to be corrected immediately. I sighed, gulped some mocha—­maybe not the best idea at five in the afternoon—­and headed toward the back of the store where my hated paint roller awaited.

“I thought you and Barclay were still arguing over the Versace plates and the time-­share in Vegas,” I said to Sophie, picking up the roller and climbing back onto my stepladder as Waffles, my portly and good-­natured basset hound, came over to Sophie and sat wagging and drooling at her feet.

“You're right!” said Sophie, giving Waffles a timid pat on his head. “I'm pissed about the plates. But a guy who's got a closetful of size five and a half women's shoes—­that's just creepy! 'Cause Barclay wears a men's thirteen! Not that I think he's trying to
wear
my sandals, exactly. But my personal trainer Gerda once told me that she caught my ex in bed with all my shoes piled around him, including a Gucci platform number he was about to buckle onto his—­”

Thankfully, Sophie's story was interrupted, because the door to the shop was flung open by Bootsie McElvoy.

“I'm back from the L.L. Bean warehouse sale in Maine, and I scored BIG,” Bootsie told us, gesturing to her Range Rover, which was illegally parked out front with two kayaks strapped to the top. Sophie and I emerged onto the sidewalk to admire Bootsie's haul: Her car was indeed absolutely stuffed, with tents and foldable lounge chairs filling the trunk and backseat, and a paddleboard sticking out of the passenger side back window.

“I hit the sale at 8 a.m., and left Freeport right after I shopped and got the car packed.” She inspected her watch. “Only took me six hours and fifty-­five minutes to get back here,
and
I stopped at the Progresso warehouse in Jersey, Kristin. Got you a case of slightly damaged soup at half price.”

Here, Bootsie indicated a cardboard box in the front seat filled with dented cans of tomato-­basil and minestrone. I was touched, honestly. Bootsie knows my budget constraints and lack of culinary skill mean that soup is my main source of nutrition.

“Thanks so much!” I said, giving her a hug.

“What's that blue thingy next to the soup?” asked Sophie.

“It's a packable sink,” Bootsie said, as if this was obvious. She opened the passenger door, reached in, pulled on a Velcro strap, and the nylon popped into a large giant basin shape. “For camping. Marked down to seven-­fifty from forty-­two bucks.”

Sophie looked doubtful. “I once got two Fendi Baguettes for half off at a sample sale, but ya got me beat on discount shopping!” she told Bootsie. “Although what you're gonna do with a pop-­up sink, I don't know.”

I've known Bootsie since we attended Bryn Mawr Prep fifteen years ago together, along with our closest friends Holly Jones and Joe Delafield, and I know for a fact that she actually uses all this camping equipment. Also, Bootsie loves a good road trip, during which she blasts her Jimmy Buffet bootlegs.

“Haven't you ever gone camping?” Bootsie asked Sophie.

“I'm from Jersey,” Sophie reminded Bootsie. “We don't do camping. But we
do
do drinks, and I could use a vodka if you girls are ready to hit the Pub!”

“Great!” I said. “Oh, wait, I promised myself I'd work on this redecorating project till seven tonight. You two go ahead,” I added mournfully as Bootsie carried the case of soup into my shop.

“What's with the pink paint?” Bootsie asked me, eyeing the half-­painted back wall critically.

“Business is kind of slow,” I told her. “I'm thinking an attention-­grabbing color will bring in business.”

Bootsie opened her mouth to tell me everything that was wrong with my pink project, but as luck would have it, her phone dinged with an incoming text. Since Bootsie's addicted to technology, the text won out.

“There's an issue at the country club,” Bootsie read from her screen. “Holly says it's urgent. We need to get there ASAP.”

“How urgent?” I asked.

“Honey Potts brought in a painting last night as part of an art lecture she was planning to give at the party Saturday night,” Bootsie said, “and now the painting's gone. It's, like, one hundred and fifty years old and is a rare work by Hasley Huntingdon-­Mews, which means it's worth one hundred thousand dollars.”

“Okay, that actually is urgent,” I agreed, as Sophie's eyes widened with interest and she grabbed her purse, a vast gold leather Versace number that featured both fringe and studs.

Phew—­a good excuse to take a break from my paint job! I thought, then experienced a faint stab of guilt, since Mrs. Potts was no doubt feeling devastated by the theft of her pricey artwork. Of course, Honey Potts is heiress to a vast old-­money fortune, and lives on an estate somewhere north of three hundred and fifty acres, but it still had to hurt.

I went into the store's tiny bathroom, tried to remove the most egregious blobs of pink paint from my hair and arms, took off my Old Navy T-­shirt and shorts, and threw on a striped Gap Outlet sundress that I keep there for emergencies. I brushed my hair, swiped on some mascara as I pondered the unlikely painting theft.

Things had been hectic all week at the club, where setup was under way for Saturday's preview bash for the Bryn Mawr Tomato Show, a two-­part event held in July every year. It's hard to overstate the importance of the Tomato Show in our little town. I mean, not that Sophie or I know a Mr. Stripey from a San Marzano, but tons of ­people around Bryn Mawr are obsessed by cultivating the delicate veggie, including Bootsie's mom, Kitty Delaney.

In country-­club terms, a stolen painting in the middle of the Tomato Show setup counted as a Major Fuckup. I gave Waffles a refill of water and a Milk-­Bone, then locked up, trying to ignore his droopy, soulful expression at being left at the store for an hour.

“Anyway, what The Striped Awning needs isn't pink paint. This store is crying out for a specialty cocktail,” Bootsie told me, gesturing dismissively around my tiny store as I locked the door behind us and we climbed into her Range Rover, Sophie in the front with the pop-­up sink, while I wedged myself in the back with the paddleboard. “Booze brings in foot traffic.”

“Bootsie, it's an antiques store, not T.G.I. Friday's,” I told her. “I'm trying to sell silver serving trays, not Strawberry 'Ritas.”

“That's where you're wrong,” Bootsie told me airily. “Free alcohol is exactly what this place needs. As soon as I solve this painting problem, I'll figure out your store's signature drink!”

 

Chapter 2

B
OOTSIE TOOK THE
turn into the country club on two wheels, then came to a sudden halt behind a jam-­up of trucks in the club's driveway.

Right in front of us, guys in shorts and T-­shirts were unloading low white sofas from The Trendy Tent, a company that supplies high-­end party settings. The Trendy Tent charges hefty fees for the use of rental furniture that I'm pretty sure would be cheaper to buy right from IKEA. My rich friend Holly Jones always hires them for parties, then adds gorgeous details like walkways lined by twenty-­foot-­tall flowering magnolia trees in January and seven-­arm chandeliers created entirely of orange blossoms.

More workmen were carrying enormous Lucite coffee tables around the corner of the clubhouse, and just down the driveway, I could see a huge white truck with a familiar dark green logo in fancy script: “Colkett Interior and Landscape Design: A Lifestyle Transformation!”

“The Colketts are back from Los Angeles!” shrieked Sophie. “Perfect timing, 'cause I want to get my backyard ready for when Joe and I tie the knot. I've got a whole Pinterest board ready. It's gonna be Kim and Kanye meet Ina Garten, with an extra-­large dose of Vegas sizzle that I'll sneak in when Joe isn't looking!”

“I can't wait!” I told Sophie encouragingly.

The truth is that Sophie's boyfriend, Joe Delafield, is a professional interior designer and is adamantly anti-­glitter, gilt, and anything gilded or encrusted with Swarovski crystals—­all of which Sophie loves. There's no way Joe—­who's been honing his signature antiques-­mixed-­with-­modern decor mantra since the age of fifteen, when he gave the student lounge at our prep school a stylish new look—­would let anything close to casino-­style glitz near their wedding.

If there
is
a wedding, that is: Sophie's divorce from Barclay has been more than a year in the making and is always getting bogged down by legal filings about things like what night each gets Table 11 at Ristorante Gianni, our town's best restaurant. Joe probably doesn't need to start picking out a wedding song yet.

Actually, Barclay was the reason that Bootsie, Joe, and I had all met Sophie. A little over a year ago, Barclay—­a former mafia exec, now a zealous developer of townhomes—­had been whacked on the head and stashed under a hydrangea bush across the street from my house. Sophie and Barclay had already been mid-­divorce when he'd gotten knocked out last spring, and she'd stopped by The Striped Awning after I'd had the bad luck to stumble on Barclay's prone form.

As things worked out, Sophie soon fell madly in love with Joe—­great news, in my opinion, since Sophie has a huge heart under her flashy exterior. I'd spent a week in Florida with them over the winter, along with our friend Holly, who was co-­chairing Saturday night's Tomato Party, and they seemed truly happy together. At the moment, Joe was back in Florida finishing up a kitchen “installation,” as he insists on calling it. (Translation: The client had him arranging her dishtowels.)

“And maybe the Colketts can plant that dumb vegetable patch Joe wants,” Sophie continued. “Joe doesn't garden! But he says we should install, like, four thousand spinach plants.

“Which reminds me of the time Barclay had to recover from getting his stomach stapled—­which didn't work, by the way!—­at Canyon Ranch. I came back from a hike and found my ex and two girls in the bathtub, naked except for spinach detox masks, and that spinach was ladled onto them
everywhere
. . . Hey, is that a margarita machine?” she finished, sticking her head out the window as Bootsie slowed her car.

A large stainless steel frozen drink dispenser was indeed being wheeled by on a dolly.

“That's so cool!” I said, excited.

I mean, who doesn't like a margarita machine? This had to have been Holly's idea. Holly seems too perfect to put on a fun party, since she is heiress to a poultry fortune and has sleek blond hair, almond-­shaped blue eyes, and a closet full of twenty-­two-­hundred-­dollar sundresses and caftans. However, the awesome thing about her is that just when you're thinking you're in for a horrible night filled with snails served on orchid flowers, she busts out an amazing idea.

“Can we focus, please?” Bootsie ordered, pulling over and parking on what had been a perfect patch of emerald lawn.

“Obviously, we're going to be first in line for the frozen drinks as soon as they plug that thing in,” Bootsie added, turning off the engine and leaping from the driver seat. “You two track down Holly and find out everything she knows about this painting theft.

“Then,” Bootsie said, “we get some drinks!”

With that, Bootsie was gone, legging it around a rose hedge toward the club porch. I wondered, not for the first time since I met her in ninth grade at Bryn Mawr Prep, if science might want to study Bootsie's genetic makeup.

How could she tear through a twenty-­four-­hour warehouse sale of canoes and Coleman stoves before dawn, then drive more than six hours, hit the Progresso soup factory, and not be tired? And, how the heck did she convince her husband, Will; her toddler sons; and her boss at the local paper, the
Bryn Mawr Gazette
, that she could disappear to places like Maine and Florida for days—­sometimes weeks—­and both stay married and employed?

“Tim and Tom!” shrieked Sophie, as two tall, handsome men in well-­pressed khakis and dress shirts approached. “Mwah!” she added, making kissy noises in their direction. “You Colketts keep getting more gorgeous by the minute!”


D
OLLS!

SAID
T
IM,
as both men gave me and Sophie huge hugs, as usual smelling like a magnificent forest crossed with a pleasant citrus scent. The Colketts, who started out as Bryn Mawr's premier landscapers and florists, have lately gone to the big time, since they helped design a restaurant in Magnolia Beach, Florida, last winter that got national attention. Last I'd heard, they'd been in California working on a swanky new eatery called Viale with celebrity chef Gianni Brunello. Gianni's another Bryn Mawr fixture who's recently become so in demand that he's now filming the first season of his Food Network show,
The Angry Chef
.

“How'd ya get time off from that restaurant project?” Sophie queried. “I thought you guys were, like, busting your balls on that place 24/7.”

“We are,” Tim Colkett assured her. “I haven't slept in forty-­seven days! But since Gianni made the entire construction team work well over the legal limit of ninety-­eight hours per week, we got picketed, and he had to give us a few days off. However, he ordered us to stay in our hotel in L.A., so we don't want him to know we're back here in Bryn Mawr.”

“Gianni's super-­cheap,” agreed Tom. “Luckily, the Food Network isn't, so we have a great suite at the Beverly Wilshire. Anyway, we promised Holly months ago that we'd decorate this party for her!”

“We love Holly,” his business partner, Tom, added. “I mean, she had us import twenty-­seven Venetian chandeliers to hang from the sycamores tonight, and the shipping and rewiring alone cost nine thousand dollars! And naturally, Holly's underwriting the whole cost of this shindig.”

I sighed. Three years ago, Holly married a wealthy garbage and trucking mogul—­not that she needed more cash, since her dad owns poultry farms all over Pennsylvania, and an average year's earnings for the Purdue clan is chicken feed to him. A few pricey chandeliers won't dent her bank account. Still—­nine thousand dollars on tree lights?

“Do either of you know anything about this missing painting?” I asked the Colketts.

“We heard a ruckus about it, but to be honest, I didn't really focus on it,” whispered Tom. “I mean, cows in a painting? No, thanks! And even worse, Mrs. Potts was gonna give a
lecture
about it. It's so Dame Maggie Smith, and not in a good way.”

“Seriously—­snore fest!” echoed Tim. “Who's going to pause mid-­party for a monologue about milking and mooing?”

I realized that per usual, the Colketts might have already downed a few of their favorite cocktails, which (conveniently, given they were working with an all-­tomato theme), are Bloody Marys.

“If I were you, I'd go check in with Holly,” advised Tim. “She
looks
as perfect as ever, but I think her co-­chair on this tomato throwdown has her about to crack. I mean, we get along with everybody, but Eula Morris is about as much fun as dental surgery.”

I shuddered, nodding sympathetically. Actually, this was another reason I'd been avoiding Holly recently:
Eula Morris
. The head of the tomato contest for the past six years, Eula had been royally pissed off when Honey Potts had ordered her to add Holly as co-­chair. Since Mrs. Potts runs every social and charitable event in our town, Eula had to suck it up and plaster a smile on her face, but I could tell it was killing her to have to work with Holly.

Eula was our nemesis in high school, and if anything, the last fifteen years had made her even more annoying. Holly herself absolutely loathes Eula, with whom she's clashed over everything from the theme of our senior prom to the lights on the town Christmas tree, and the fact that they were jointly running this event made me wonder just how many of the anxiety meds Holly keeps for emergencies she'd gulped in the past few days.

“Plus Eula's ideas are terrible,” Tom seconded. “I mean, I get it, it's a tomato show, but of course Eula got stuck on the obvious and pushed for a Tuscan farm theme with red lanterns and tomato topiaries. Plus, like we told Eula, all that red wasn't doing her complexion any favors—­she's spent way too much time on the tennis court, and she's super splotchy.”

Tim nodded. “Meanwhile, we're bringing the L.A. to PA! Between the palm trees and movie stars out there, we're totally inspired. We've created half the tent in 1940s Hollywood Regency meets '70s Jack Nicholson, with the bar painted a glossy dark gray and a loungy, moody vibe that's totally un-­tomato. Then, in the other half, we're installing white sofas and Lucite tables on floors painted a cool red-­and-­white chevron pattern. The only hint of tomato will be huge six-­foot-­tall glass vases filled with glossy red Romas. Trust me, unless you assemble seven thousand of them in a sculptural display and light them properly, there's nothing chic about nightshade vegetables.”

“I think tomatoes are technically a berry, believe it or not,” Tom told him.

“Whatever,” said Tim. “Although Eula actually painted some still-­lifes to hang in the party tent of, like, Beefsteaks on the vine! We hung them in a corner behind where the tomatoes are going to be staged, and luckily Eula got mad and demanded her paintings back. Phew! The point is, the party isn't really about the Big Boys and Sweet Seedless hybrids. It's about showing up in a great outfit and having some drinks! Seriously, what good is a tomato unless it's turned into juice, blended with vodka, and spiked with horseradish and a big old stick of celery?”

Since this question didn't seem to really demand an answer, we exchanged good-­byes and Sophie made some more smooch air kisses with the guys.

I noticed that the club was looking extra beautiful this afternoon. To be honest, when Holly's in party-­planning mode, it's a good time to avoid her, and I hadn't stopped over for almost a week. During my absence, huge pink roses had burst into bloom all around the clubhouse, and banks of lilies wafted a magnificent fragrance over the shady grounds. Huge sycamores cast graceful shadows in the late-­afternoon sun, and I breathed the non-­paint-­fumed air gratefully.

I followed Sophie through the huge wooden front doors into the rambling old clubhouse, where just outside the cozy bar area, there was Holly.

Holly was directing the placement of some potted fruit trees on the porch, looking serene in a chic white sleeveless dress and flat brown sandals, her long blond hair as glossy and effortless as ever. If you don't know Holly, she can be a little intimidating: She's one of those naturally flawless girls who is somehow always glows with a light tan, sleek hair, and some simple but pricey outfit that costs more than The Striped Awning brings in during an average month. However, Holly's the most loyal friend imaginable, and she's all about sharing her good fortune, including her wardrobe.

Holly projected an air of calm as she talked to a shorter, stouter young woman in a swoopy beige dress—­the aforementioned Eula Morris—­but I knew she was seething inside. Eula's been a preppy thorn in Holly's side for more than fifteen years, ever since their senior prom theme clash (Holly's super-­cool 1970s–Bianca Jagger–Studio 54 idea had won out in a class vote over Eula's
Grease
-­inspired sock-­hop concept).

As I heard Eula say, “I knew we should have spent some of that fourteen thousand dollars we're spending on flowers and hired a security guard,” I suddenly recalled that Eula had once beaten Holly out in a campaign for junior class treasurer at Bryn Mawr Prep.

Since Holly is the kind of willowy blonde who wafts through life without ever losing to anyone, I knew neither one of them had forgotten. Maybe that's why Holly had agreed to co-­chair this party, a decision I'd had trouble understanding.

“Eula, you just don't understand parties,” Holly told her with a forced sweetness and a note of fake pity. “Having this painting stolen means the Tomato Show is already a huge success! ­People
love
crime with their cocktails. My intern Jared just told me he's gotten forty-­five new ticket sales in the last twenty minutes!”

Holly paused for a second and regrouped. “Obviously, it's a huge tragedy for Mrs. Potts, who's basically the Brooke Astor of Bryn Mawr, so we need to get the painting back,” she added, “but I'm going to help Officer Walt with that as soon as I help the Colketts figure out how many orchids go in each branch of the flowering light fixtures.”

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