Read Killer Riff Online

Authors: Sheryl J. Anderson

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Amateur Sleuth

Killer Riff

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Praise For Sheryl G. Anderson

Molly Forrester Novels

KILLER DEAL

“Fast-moving and fun.”


The Washington Post

“Elements of chick lit—the New York setting, the many brand names, lots of shopping, the emphasis on relationship problems—give the novel appeal beyond mystery fans… A quick, fun read.”


Booklist

KILLER COCKTAIL

“Fashion commentary, urbane asides, and witty characters keep the pages turning.”


Library Journal

KILLER HEELS

“Sure to please
Sex and the City
fans.


Booklist

“Mix a splash of Carrie Bradshaw, a dash of Stephanie Plum, and a wee bit of Kinsey Millhone and you have Molly Forrester, advice columnist (‘You Can Tell Me’) for
Zeitgeist
magazine by day and amateur sleuth by night … Ample laughs help propel a well-crafted plot.


Publishers Weekly

“Delicious.”


Kirkus Reviews


Killer Heels
, Sheryl J. Anderson’s hip debut mystery, sparkles like fine champagne, an intoxicating mix of wit, perception, and insouciance, and a wickedly clever but genuine depiction of single life in the city.
Killer Heels
will tap right to the top of the Best First lists.”

—Carolyn Hart, author of
Death of the Party

“A fun, ‘girls’ night out’ type of book that blends humor, craziness, and mystery.”


Mystery News

Also by Sheryl g. Anderson

Killer Deal
Killer Cocktail
Killer Heels

Sheryl J. Anderson

K I l L E R

R I f F

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

NOTE:
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

KILLER RIFF

Copyright © 2007 by Sheryl J. Anderson and Mark Edward Parrott.

All rights reserved.

For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2007035211

ISBN: 0-312-94589-2
EAN: 978-0-312-94589-3

Printed in the United States of America

St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / November 2007
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / August 2008

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To my parents
,
Alden & June Anderson
,
for everything, for always

Acknowledgments

Inspiration comes from such
wonderful places:

Thanks to my uncle, Donald McLean, whose tale about “Hot Heels” planted the seed of this story several Christmases ago. And further thanks to Uncle Donald and Aunt Diana, Uncle Bud and Aunt Connie, and my parents, for passing along their love of music, especially jazz.

Thanks to our dear friend Ann Abraham for the rockin’ title (and the wicked air guitar performed while pitching it), as well as for the great pictures and the world-class margaritas.

Thanks to my Bunco group, who provide more inspiration than they know (especially on those nights when we’re actually a Talko group!).

Thanks to my colleagues and students at Act One, who keep me on my toes, spiritually and artistically.

My dad, an incomparable father, friend, mentor, and inspiration, passed away while I was writing
Killer Riff
, so I want to give special thanks to all the people who were so gracious to my family during a very difficult time—our beautiful extended family, our loving congregations in California and Virginia, and all our amazing friends.

Special thanks to our marvelous editor Kelley Ragland, for her infinite patience, to her splendid assistant, Matt Martz, and the rest of the team at St. Martin’s, and to our terrific agent Andy Zack.

And love to the usual suspects …

1


I can’t balance my
diet, so how am I supposed to balance my life?”

Tricia nodded sympathetically. “Everything you’ve been hoping for. For it to all happen at the same time—it’s just criminal!”

Coming from anyone else—in fact, coming from my other best friend, who was also at the table—it would have sounded snarky at the very least. More probably, it would have sounded like a righteous put-down. But coming from Tricia Vincent, it was a sincere and heartfelt expression of how fate can take something that should be glorious and turn it into a major kick in the teeth.

Cassady Lynch pushed a glass of champagne across the table to me. “I thought we were here to celebrate.”

“That was before I had two things to be happy about.” Two things that clashed with each other with all the vigor of freight trains colliding at top speed. On the one hand, I had the professional promotion I’d been dreaming of. On the other, the romantic redemption I’d been yearning for. But since professional issues were responsible for derailing the romance to begin with, I felt smacked by an Olympian dose of irony, with no clear vision of how—or if—I could make this work.

Things had been much more promising earlier in the afternoon as I’d stood nervously in my editor’s office, listening to her proclaim, “Molly, I’m going to make you happy, and it just kills me.”

Gotta give the boss lady this: You always know where you stand with her. Usually that place is akin to the crumbling lip of a rumbling volcano, but there’s never any question it’s exactly where Eileen wants you to be. So she gets points for honesty, if nothing else. The problem is, from that point, it can be pretty tricky to see where she’s headed, and even though I should know better by now, I always try to figure that out. For the most part, it’s an exercise in futility, but it’s the only regular exercise I get.

On this particular occasion, looking ahead was especially tempting because Henry Kwon was somehow part of the equation. He was slouched on the couch in Eileen’s office. I couldn’t tell if that was an expression of how relaxed he was about what was happening or how impossible it is to sit properly on that ridiculously unyielding piece of furniture. Even so, he looked great—he always looks great—and he was smiling. What could that mean? I looked him in the eye, and his smile grew.

Having a handsome man smile at you is rarely a bad thing. But this particular handsome man was also the associate publisher of our magazine, so the potential reasons for his smile were all the more intriguing. And the fact that he was flat-out gorgeous didn’t hurt. Especially since I had been painfully single for seven and a half weeks and deeply missed having someone gorgeous smile at me.

Pushing that distraction from my mind, I did my best to concentrate on decoding what Eileen and Henry were up to. Even though I’ve been out of school more years than I care to admit, I still feel as though I’ve been summoned to the principal’s office when I have to go into Eileen’s lair. So even though Eileen was suspiciously proclaiming that she was going to make me happy, my perpetually fluctuating self-worth and guilty conscience were conspiring to make me nervous. That annoyed me, because I don’t like letting Eileen get to me. I particularly didn’t want Henry to think of me as anything but cool and controlled.

I tried to dismiss the feeling that I’d done something wrong and focus on the positive sheen to Henry’s smile. Eileen was too savvy to have pulled him into something political between the two of us, so this had to be substantial. It had to be about something pretty darn good, too, if even Eileen was forced to admit it would make me happy. Were they moving my advice column to a different position in the magazine? Expanding it? Or was I being traded to another magazine for a copy editor and an assistant to be named later?

“The Publisher was very impressed with the article you wrote about Garth Henderson’s murder,” Henry said smoothly.

I nodded, remembering the huge bouquet of flowers The Publisher had sent me after I’d helped nab Garth’s killer. Although I had wondered if part of the grandness of the arrangement was because I’d sent Eileen flying across a densely populated hotel ballroom in the process. The Publisher, after all, is known for his sense of humor. “I appreciated the flowers very much,” I said.

Eileen grimaced as though bracing herself to taste something foul. “So he wants you to do it again.”

It took me a moment. “A follow-up? An article on the trial?”

“No,” Henry said, “not that specific. But we do want you to focus on feature articles from now on.”

I actually considered fainting. Millions of microscopic helium balloons launched themselves in my head, trying to push off the top of my skull, and my hands tingled and sweated simultaneously.

“Features?” I repeated, knowing it didn’t sound bright but that it beat standing there gaping in silence.

“We’ve been discussing new ways to increase the profile of the magazine, and including more substantial editorial content is absolutely key. The investigative articles you’ve done are exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for. So we want that to be your new focus, and we’ll use it as a springboard for further growth of the entire publication.” Henry’s smile grew. “No pressure.”

And no pressure just because this was what I’d always wanted, because this was a dream coming true, because I knew I could really make something of this break.

“Thank you,” I said, wishing I could be eloquent and charming, but caught so completely by surprise that two words were all I felt able to string together. I’d been working toward this for such a long time, trying to move into feature writing, grabbing chances when they came my way and proving myself, but never getting the bump. In the last few weeks, I’d actually been quietly checking out opportunities at other magazines because I figured I was never going to be released from my existence as an advice columnist while I was working for Eileen. She’s not the sort to recognize and nurture potential; she’s more the crush-or-curry school of management, specializing in picking favorites, usually attractive young men, and whipping everyone else with delight and regularity.

Small wonder it was killing her to give me this break. Or, more correctly, to sit there and watch Henry give it to me and not be able to do anything about it but scowl. I knew part of her unhappiness was because of her aforementioned aversion to making me happy, but there was more at stake here, too. She’d been brought in to “put teeth” in the magazine. If The Publisher and Henry felt that wasn’t happening fast enough and that they had to get involved in the process, perhaps Eileen was spending some time standing on that volcano lip herself.

“There is a catch,” she said with a crinkle of her little nose that was sharp enough to burst my bubble. I kept smiling. How bad could the catch be if it was part of becoming a feature writer?

Henry frowned, one of those polite frowns bosses use to soften a blow. My stomach gave a lurch like the one you get on the first dip on a roller coaster, the one that’s the tease for that huge first drop. “This isn’t my usual style,” Henry explained, “but we have your first subject, already approved by The Publisher and Eileen.”

My breath came back with a happy puff. “That’s fine,” I said, immediately feeling better because I couldn’t imagine an article they’d come up with that I wouldn’t be willing to write.

“And he’s dead, just the way you like them. Sadly for you, though, he got there all on his own. No conspiracy, no mystery. Nothing to solve, just an article to write,” Eileen said with enough precision that I knew I was being warned as much as I was being informed.

I understood why she was concerned, given my track record of digging into a story where everyone thought there were no unanswered questions and winding up in the middle of a homicide investigation. She didn’t approve, even though I always met my other deadlines; had I fallen on my face with one story, I have no doubt she would have taken great delight in sending me packing. But I’d worked hard and been fortunate, other than losing my boyfriend. Now, here at last was the step up I’d been striving for the whole time. Whoever this person had been, I would dive in and do a great article to prove The Publisher’s faith in me—and Eileen’s inability to erode it—had been for the best.

“It’s not all about him,” Henry said, cutting a look at Eileen. They’d already discussed this, and not altogether happily. I wondered which was upsetting her more, the choice of subject or my promotion. Henry continued, “It’s about his daughter keeping his legacy, that sort of angle. Right?”

Eileen gave him the kind of smile you give the dentist after he’s shoved the X-ray film as far back in your mouth as it will go. “Right.”

Henry’s marvelously dark eyes swung back to me. “My sister went to college with Olivia Elliott. Russell Elliott’s daughter.”

I nodded in recognition. Russell Elliott, a renowned rock-and-roll producer who had started out as the manager of one of my favorite bands, had died three weeks before, alone in his Riverside Drive apartment with music on the stereo and a highball glass in his hand. While the print media politely conveyed the medical examiner’s finding that it was an accidental overdose of prescription medication mixed with alcohol, the Internet and tabloids feasted on the similarities between Russell’s death and that of the lead singer of the aforementioned band. Message boards blazed with theories about suicide, old affairs, demons from the past, and other uncomfortable things it has to be tough to hear when you’re mourning the loss of your father.

Olivia had attempted to drown out the rumors by throwing a monumental postfuneral bash that had been attended by a blinding array of rock royalty. It hadn’t quelled the loose talk, but it had put a pretty gloss on it; people were whispering now instead of proclaiming.

“As you can imagine, she’s pretty shattered. She’s also unhappy with what’s been written about her dad since he died. And I get her point. I don’t know how familiar you are with Russell’s work—”

“I had a poster of Subject to Change on my bedroom wall in high school,” I admitted.

Henry laughed in understanding. “I spent my entire junior year trying to get my hair to look like Micah’s.”

Micah Crowley had been the dark, brooding, and intensely sexy lead singer of Subject to Change Without Notice, a blues-based rock band that ripped through the chatter of the hair bands in the late 1980s, helping pave the way for grunge and roots rock. Russell Elliott had been Micah’s best friend in college and became the band’s manager. Depending on which stories you believed, Russell was largely to thank for guiding the band’s artistic development or Russell was mainly responsible for the infamous fights with producers, session musicians, and record executives that were part of the band’s history. Toward the end, Russell had begun producing the albums—again, either because he was shaping and protecting their vision or because no one else wanted to put up with the drama. But no matter how it was told, the story ended the same way: Micah Crowley overdosed in 1997, and the band fell apart.

After Micah’s death, Russell had become guardian of both the band’s music and Micah’s family. He’d also developed a solid reputation as an innovative producer who didn’t throw temper tantrums anymore—either because he’d cleaned up his act or because it had actually been Micah throwing them—and who’d launched several successful acts in the last couple of years on his own label. His most recent star was Jordan Crowley, one of Micah’s sons.

“Are you sure the poster wasn’t on your ceiling?” Eileen said with a sniff in my direction.

“Did you like them, or were you too old for such foolishness by then?” Henry asked her. My admiration for him doubled on the spot as she blinked slowly, searching for a response.

“I’m more classically oriented,” she replied. I wanted to ask if she meant Beethoven or disco but decided not to push my luck in the middle of such a crucial conversation.

“I’m glad you bring a familiarity with the band to the piece,” Henry continued to me. “Thing is, Olivia feels all the press surrounding her dad’s death has been about how he took care of Claire and Adam, and now Jordan, after Micah’s death. That he’s viewed as part of Micah’s legend, so his own larger contributions to the music industry have gotten short shrift. My sister mentioned it to me in passing, but I see an intriguing story there. And coming from the daughter’s point of view, it’s perfect for
Zeitgeist.
And for your first assignment as a full-time feature writer.”

Squealing with glee on the inside, I strove to be polished and professional on the outside. “Thank you, Henry. Eileen. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this opportunity,” I said.

“Personally, I think it’s overdue,” Henry said, standing. Eileen glared at him so hard, it made her roots show, but he ignored her. “Morgan in Legal will talk to you about the new contract, pay structure, all that.” I’d been so thrilled about getting my dream job that I hadn’t even thought about it meaning a raise, too.
Suh-weet.
He held out a business card. “Here are Olivia’s numbers. She’s expecting your call, keep me apprised.”

We had a brief diploma-exchange tangle as I tried to both take the card and shake his hand, but he smiled at the right moment and made me feel much calmer. “Thank you,” I said, looking him right in the eye and trying to convey my gratitude and excitement. “Sadly, words escape me.”

Henry laughed warmly. “Just make sure they’re back by deadline. Congratulations, Molly.” He nodded at Eileen. “Have fun replacement shopping.”

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