Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chapter 24

At the Formosa, I had to valet my car. When I stepped inside the bar, it was packed. I scanned around the noisy room for Harshy and settled on Britney Murphy and that kid from that Roswell show. I took a second look at the crowd and saw that I was in thick entertainment industry people. Fuck! Everyone turned to check me out and see if I was someone they should be talking to. I smiled at them and they all turned away. Suddenly, someone pulled at my skirt and I turned to see Harshy and Guy in the booth I was pushed up against.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. This is crazy,” she yell-whispered in my ear. I agreed and we all snaked and scooted outside.

“My car’s just around the corner,” said Guy. “Where’s yours?”

“Its valet'd. I can come back for it later. Let’s all go together,” I suggested. “Where should we go?”

“Let’s go to Damiano’s. It has large booths. And it’s dark and quiet so we can talk in private,” said Guy.

“Oh, God, do we have to?” I protested. “I got sick from their pizza once. Bad scene, bad pepperoni.” Although they did have the best beer selection in all of Los Angeles and that was very impressive to this native Northwesterner. Then I changed my mind, “OK, lets go. I’m only eating what’s fresh out of the oven though.”

“Are you sure you weren’t downing cat antibiotics that time?” quizzed Harshy.

“No, no that wasn’t that incident. And, hey, those antibiotics saved my life," I admonished her.

I had had this terrible flu one year, but was still the loyal party girl so I took some hot liquid flu medicine before I hit the billiard bar to hang with my gang of Friday night friends. While partying and playing eight ball, I had forgotten about the medicine I’d taken earlier and drank a six pack of beer to myself. Back at home, at the witching hour of 3 am, my guts were trying to rip me in half. I was dry-heaving and I thought I was going to die. Correction, I wanted to die. The pain was so intense that it felt like I had been poisoned. I pleaded with my boyfriend at the time to help me, but he was of no help. In hindsight, I was pretty sure that he was sleeping off his heroin fix and I was only a bother to him. Only much later would I discover his addiction, but that’s another story.

I had scrambled around my bathroom looking for any sort of painkiller or something that would knock me out. I needed a one-two punch! I wanted to sleep and ride the medical debacle
out. Searching the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers, the only thing I found were Kashmew’s antibiotics for when he’d had an abscessed tooth pulled. I knocked back three of those and curled up on the bathroom floor, at peace with my life, fully clothed, and waiting for death to take me. The next day I woke up in bed, totally fine and not dead. My boyfriend had pulled me from the floor after he’d almost peed on me in the early hours of the morning and put me to bed. God has a plan for me, yes, he does. But who knows what it could possibly be?

We slid into a booth at the back of Damiano’s, ordered the freshest pepperoni, olive, and mushroom pizza and bottles of Jubel Ale for everyone. While we waited for our order and Paul, Guy got down to business. He was buzzing. I’d never seen him like this before. Guy also kept looking over at Harshy, almost gushing. I had to kick him in the shins a couple of times under the table because Harshy was giving me “what’s his deal” looks over the table. Guy calmed down a bit and took out his BlackBerry.

“You want me to start now or wait for Paul?” he asked.

“I know we should wait for Paul, but I can’t stand the suspense,” I bleated. After our initial phone call, I had been on pins and needles.

“Okay, while we wait for Paul, I’ll give you the reason for my trip down to the OC.” Guy beamed, his vast, gossipy knowledge locked inside his pearly whites. Wow, he must be using that teeth whitening gel because his tan is starting to look orange. “It all came together when I was hanging out in Rudy’s barbershop waiting for my haircut and I started reading an article about Charlene Dietz in an old tabloid. Naturally, because she’s Faraday’s ex-wife, I read with more interest than normal. Turned out she was originally from Riverside. Total white trash, but not unexpected. The article showed pictures of her when she was young, her first movies, publicity photos and the like. Well, as I was studying the pictures….” Guy paused for longer than was necessary (at least to my thinking).

“Well, come on. Don’t do this to us!”

Guy was looking over my shoulder. I turned around to see Paul come in. He waved at the owner and continued to our table. Paul seemed to know everyone in LA. I sometimes wondered how that was possible given how much time he spent over at the estate. After Faraday’s death and when we had gone public with our relationship, I had met most of his friends and gone to a few parties, but we still spent a lot of time alone together. Where did Paul have the time to meet all of these people? Maybe I should start tailing him. I scooted over and made room on my side of the booth.

“I see you warmed up my seat for me.” He nodded hello to Harshy and Guy and kissed me full on the lips. He smelled like fresh aftershave. Electricity shot down my body.

“Are you saying I have a big ass?” I asked, teasingly.

“Are you suggesting that I have no ass?” Paul replied.

“Oh, God, you two. Stop it or I am going to barf! I can’t stand you people in love,” Harshy chided.

I watched Guy go a little pale and sweat formed on his brow. He looked over at Harshy who wasn’t paying attention to him at all. “So, Paul, how goes the eulogy?”

“Well, it’s done. Fuckin’ hard. How do you talk about your dead best friend without sounding like a sap or constantly confirming I wasn’t his life partner.” Paul was obviously exhausted. I had tried to help him with the eulogy for the past few days, but he didn’t like the way it was turning out. It was difficult for him and I didn’t have enough history with either of them to make many good suggestions.

“Well, at least it’s done. The memorial service is tomorrow. After that we can take a break from all of this mess for a while,” I suggested.

Paul wrapped his arm around me, kissed the top of my head and turned to Guy, “So, what’s all the hubbub about? What’d you find out?”

“Good. I can finally get to the juicy part. I was telling the ladies why I was in the OC,” Guy continued. “I was reading about Charlene in an old People and how she was from the OC. No big deal until I was scanning each picture of her in her younger days before she started acting.” Guy was a big tease, pausing again for drama.

“Yes, enough already!” Harshy yelled. Guy jumped out of his seat like a tampon had rolled close to his thigh.

“Geez, calm down. What do you care? You’re not implicated in the murder,” said Guy, steadying himself in the booth with both hands. I swear he was pulsating from being both excited by his news and his proximity to Harshy..

Harshy shot him a “duh” look. “You know how I love celebrity scandal.”

Guy shook his head at her. “Anyway, who should I find in a couple pictures with her, but Bruce Hansen!”

Paul and I looked at each other, stunned. Guy smirked and continued, “So, I decide to make my little journey to Riverside ‘cause that’s the town she’s from, and stop by her old apartment complex. Well, none of her family live there anymore so I pretend I’m a reporter from People magazine and start knocking on her neighbors’ doors. I tell ‘em I’m fact checking an article and going to write a follow-up – do they want to be quoted? Suckers. So, I show them the pictures of Charlene and Bruce and I finally get a neighbor who grew up with them. Not just Charlene, but Bruce, too.”

My jaw dropped. I looked over Paul. He was rubbing his hand over his mouth and stubble. He took off his baseball cap, smoothed back his hair and replaced his hat. I took a big swig of my beer and was about to comment when our food came.

“Hey, Sal,” said Paul to the server. He waved his arm around to all of us, “Everyone this is Sal, he owns the place.” We all nodded at him.

“I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Faraday, man,” said Sal, putting down the pie and setting us up with plates, napkins, and cutlery. “How ya dealin’?”

“I’m OK, man. One day at a time. Thanks,” said Paul. Every condolence was making Faraday’s death more real for him. I think he was beginning to wrap his brain around it.

“Pie’s on the house. I’ll run a tab for your drinks,” offered Sal and he left to toss more dough. I leaned over to sniff the freshness of the pie. Smelled like it was right out of the oven. I helped myself to a slice and made up a plate for Paul. Harshy and Guy took their pieces, which were momentarily bound together with mozzarella strands. I watched them lock eyes briefly. I saw a rare softness in Harshy’s brow. Then she cut the strands with a knife, releasing Guy’s slice. I think he was hoping for more of a Lady and the Tramp moment.

“Cool beans. I like this place,” said Guy, recovering his composure. “Anyhoo, this guy, he says that Bruce and Charlene are cousins and that Bruce lived with her and her family when he was a teenager because his mom found out he was gay and kicked him out. Real nice. Quite the start in life, huh?”

“So," I said, obvious to the fact that Bruce was gay, “Bruce and Charlene are cousins. Then how are Bruce and Charlene connected with her marriage to Faraday and to his employment at the estate?”

“Well, Bruce worked for Faraday many years, Paul?” asked Guy scanning his BlackBerry in case he had missed the information.

“Well, let’s see.” Paul mumbled under his breath and counted his fingers back and forth. ”I’d say about six years. I know he was there three years already before Charlene showed up and started dating Kip. If you could call it dating.”

“Here’s my theory,” explained Guy. “Small-town, poor-girl Charlene is trying to make it in Hollywood and complains to her cousin, who is her best friend, and also lives in LA. She whines to him that if she could just get the right exposure, she could be a star. After three years of being his assistant, Bruce is now pretty hip to Faraday’s weaknesses and knows the kinks in his emotional makeup. So the two of them put their blonde heads together and concoct a scheme to get both Faraday’s money and make Charlene a star. Bruce works the inside, getting Charlene invited to Faraday’s parties, events he’ll be attending, and so forth. Then he cues Charlene on how to dress and act around Faraday to get him interested. Charlene puts her acting skills to the test. And Faraday falls for her, hook, line, and sinker.”

I swallowed my bite of pizza. “You’re a genius! That is, if the theory’s correct?” I looked over to Paul for his opinion.

Paul nodded his head. “It’s entirely plausible. That relationship accelerated fast and was a done deal before a lot of people realized what was going on. Everyone made it out to be a whirlwind romance, but I could see how Kip could be duped. He had a huge ego when it came to closing any sort of deal. And Charlene was a gorgeous prize; a geek’s ultimate trophy. Kip’s emotional intelligence was retarded when it came to romantic relationships. Still acted like a thirteen year old for the most part. The one area of life he couldn’t beat his colleagues. His Achilles heel. ”

“So Faraday thought that he had shown everyone up when Charlene agreed to marry him. Do you think that he found out about the scheme and that was why he divorced her?” I asked.

“If that was the case, Bruce would’ve been way fired, if not permanently maimed in his privates,” said Paul. That was true. Bruce had continued to work there even after the Faradays divorced. Oh, weird – Charlene Dietz as Mrs. Faraday.

Why had I never known that Charlene ever was Mrs. Faraday? I looked over at Harshy. Maybe Harshy had gushed it out one day and I mentally dismissed her celebrity gossip. Funny that she hadn’t brought it up again when I told her he was my client or even when he died. I had forgotten to ask her about Charlene’s ill-fated cosmetics line as well.

“Harshy, did you know about Charlene and Faraday?” I asked.

“Well, now that it’s been brought up, I do remember it being in the tabloids a few years ago. I really am not into Charlene Dietz and don’t follow her,” confessed Harshy. “I hadn’t even thought about a connection between her and Faraday even after his murder.”

And why would she? It suddenly dawned on me that no one had made the connection that Guy was making regarding the Faraday’s marriage. Had there been no tabloid reports delving into their marriage and a possible connection that Charlene was involved in Kip’s death? Could the E Channel have really missed a scoop as big as that?

“Harshy, what magazines are you reading these days?” I asked her pointedly.

“The usual, Us, People, Latino People, Star, OK…”

I interrupted her litany, “OK, fine. Your usual complement then? Has nothing been written about the Faraday marriage in any of those tabloids?”

Harshy suddenly looked very shocked, “No! Nothing.” She paused, looking as if she were searching the corners of her brain. “That’s weird. It seems as if all the talk for the past few years has always about Britney, Paris and Nicole. Oh, and Anna Nicole.”

I was having a brain cramp. Could he? Would he? How? Yes, it was possible. He would have enough money and enough power to accomplish it. Especially if he had dirt on all of the people and their families. Scary.

“What is going on in the brain of yours?” asked Paul. “I can almost smell something burning.”

“I think I know why nothing has been written about Charlene’s marriage to Faraday in the wake of his murder.” I blurted out.

“I am all ears.” Harshy leaned onto the table and grabbed my agitated hands to calm me down.
Paul and Guy all gathered in on the table for this revelation as well. Looking at them all, I suddenly felt stupid and that my epiphany was preposterous.

“Well, babe, what is it?” asked Paul, slightly bemused at my sudden muteness.

“My theory is Faraday used his wealth and influence to preempt any scandal by strong-arming the tabloids into never discussing his marriage and subsequent divorce with Charlene. And I think I have figured out why Paris and Nicole are so famous now.” I explained.

Everyone raised their eyebrows at this. We all wanted to know why those two had such notoriety for a life about nothing.

“I think Faraday gave those girls over to the tabloids for gossip fodder to keep the papers quiet. I think Kip had something on the Hilton and Ritchie families and forced them to serve their daughters up for the media slaughter in exchange for his silence on their hush-hush matters. He made a deal with the tabloids that they could never resist or they would risk what? Derision? Death? He had to make sure no one ever wrote about Charlene and his relationship ever again.” I continued.

Now everyone’s eyes were as big as saucers, especially Harshy’s. I don’t know if it was because I suddenly had explained the theory of the universe or if they thought I had gone completely bonkers.

“It has all been a distraction like the invasion of Grenada was a distraction from the Iran-Contra affair. Charlene is Ollie North. No one writes about Faraday and Charlene because the house of cards would collapse and everyone would be exposed!” I finished my theory. “Kip had something on everyone in this town and he was so humiliated by his failed marriage that he pulled every ace he had to protect himself and the situation.”

“So you’re saying this is why Paris and Nicole are famous today?” asked Harshy.

“Yes, they’re decoys set up by Faraday so that no one writes, reports or discusses his failed marriage to Charlene. Those two are constant daily reminders to the press, tabloids, and paparazzi that they are never to tread in Faraday waters for fear of great and terrible retribution by Kip Faraday.

“You make him sound like Rupert Murdoch,” said Paul, looking incredulously at me like I had two heads and one spoke a perfect Klingon dialect.

I looked at him, very seriously, “Kip was just as wealthy if not more than Mr. Murdoch.”

Guy broke in. “But now Faraday’s gone. Doesn’t that free everyone up to talk about him and Charlene? To start making the connections that we are? That Charlene could very well be involved to the extent we think she is?”

“I think all of Kip’s secrets on all of those people are locked up somewhere and they are still afraid that the secrets will be revealed if they focus attention on the relationship. Plus, now that Paris and Nicole have their new found fame, they don’t want to be revealed as total media puppets. I wouldn’t think their families would want to be exposed for being a party to it as well. The media would start digging deeper into their secrets that Faraday knew.”

Paul tugged at his ear and looked at me closely, “You’re serious about this theory aren’t you?”

“Well, with all of the weird things I have experienced with you, I’m inclined to entertain the validity of it,” confirmed Paul.

“Me, too. Wow, girl, you have got quite the imagination, but it’s good.” Harshy was studying my face to see if I would reveal any more juicy information. “I believe you. You can’t make that shit up.”

Guy shook his head, “Next you’ll be telling me you were once abducted by aliens.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Watch it or I’ll steal your mojo.”

I turned to Harshy, “I guess this lets you off the hook with your lack of celebrity gossip connections in this case.”

“Thank God! I was beginning to think I was in an alternate universe.”

“I guess we could’ve gotten to this point sooner if I had remembered to talk to Harshy about Charlene’s cosmetics line,” I said, looking at Guy and Paul.

“Her cosmetics line? Now I do remember that fiasco! What a stupid bitch to think she could succeed in scenting cosmetics with patchouli.” Harshy laughed, throwing her hands into the air. “Who would want their face or body to smell like mildew? Except hippies, of course.”

Harshy looked back over at me. “How did you know about her cosmetics line? You don’t wear anything, but mascara, eyebrow powder, and lip gloss.”

Paul answered in my defense, “I knew about the cosmetics line. I told Lois about it after we were interviewed by the cops. When Lois started working at the estate, it was the week that Faraday had incinerated Charlene’s entire product line that she had stored on the grounds. The scent was obnoxious and nauseating. We also smelled it again when we broke into the estate a few weeks ago.”

“What? You broke in to the estate?” She turned to Guy, “Did you know about this?”
Guy nodded his head “I drove the getaway car.”

Harshy punched him in the arm. “You all could’ve been caught! Are you all idiots?!”

“Hey, it helped me with my lead and we eventually got here,” explained Guy, rubbing his arm. He was a big guy, but Harshy had pointy knuckles.

“So, to summarize, Bruce is a person of major interest to us right now. Charlene is, as well, if she indeed was in the house the night of the murder which seems likely, given that her perfume aroma was recently noticed by us at the estate,” affirmed Guy. He closed his BlackBerry. "There has to be a reason why she was at the estate the night of Faraday’s death, and it’s got to be about Bruce and Charlene’s old scheme.”

“Unless she was being framed by someone,” added Harshy. “Maybe Bruce is really our only person of interest?”

“That may be so, but how are we going to find Bruce? Or Charlene, for that matter?” I asked, mozzarella hanging from my lower lip. This pizza is so damn good. I prayed to God I wouldn’t get sick that night as I slurped the cheese into my mouth and took yet another slice.

“Lets not discount Trevor,” brought up Paul. “He may have found out what we found out, killed Kip, and then used the information to frame Charlene and Bruce.”

“But why would he want to kill Faraday? I think he’s too small potatoes and too much of a pea brain to be a criminal mastermind,” I countered, “He freely admits to just being a petty thief.”

“Bruce and Charlene devised a plan. So why not Trevor?” asked Guy.

“I just don’t think he did it. I have a feeling.”

“So what are we going to do next?” Paul asked Guy.

“We are not going to do anything. I’m taking this information to Detective Patrick,” said Guy. “You two are going home to get a good night’s rest before the memorial service.”

“Good point. We should be going. I’ll have Sal’s boys box up the pizza,” said Paul. “I’m gonna sleep like timber.”

“Do you mind if we give the rest to Brian?” I asked. “I’m sure he’s fallen asleep in front of the TV again without eating.”

“What are you? His mother?” asked Paul.

“No, I’m his friend. Besides, he looks out for me.” I shot him a ‘Don’t you mess with what you don’t know” look. Paul feigned fear and started to open his mouth. “And don’t say “whatever.”

We grabbed the box on the way out. Paul and I got into his truck to go pick up my ride up at the Formosa. Harshy and Guy left toward his car parked down the street. She actually rides in his car? Will wonders never cease? I watched the two of them go. They really did look good together. I was relieved to see that Guy had finally gotten a decent haircut even if he still did needed to work on his transportation. I wondered if Harshy had actually said something to him? Before I turned to get into the car, I saw Harshy slide her arm into Guys. He looked at her in profile, obviously stunned, and then broke into a big smile, his whitened teeth reflecting in the lamp light. She kicked him in the bum from behind across her left leg, school-yard style.

I smiled and closed the passenger door of the truck. Paul looked over at me, took my hand and kissed the top of it. I leaned over and kissed him, running my hand up his thigh and pulling the hair at the nape of his neck. We kissed for a long time, like horny kids in high school, ‘til the windows fogged up. When we’d satisfied ourselves for the moment, we broke apart and, laughing, started the defogger. As I wiped my side window with my sleeve, I looked beyond the steam and saw Sal waving and giving us the thumbs-up through the storefront. I waved back. I slid in my Steve Miller CD and, all the way to the Formosa parking lot, mused about shaking Paul’s peaches that night.

Chapter 23

I breezed into the office, set my bags down, and slugged down my third mocha of the day dry before three-pointing it into the trash. Word of my work, or I should say, the scandal surrounding my work had made its way through the LA gossip grapevine. I took the referrals, however in bad taste that was, at least for consultation. A few of the potential clients were looky-loos who only wanted to know what I knew about Faraday’s death and were tweekin’ for gossip. I didn’t mind charging them double my usual consultation fee. Others were titillated just to be near me because I was a “Person of Interest” in a murder investigation and they got off on it. They were usually good for a few consults before they lost interest and stopped returning my calls. Who knew rich nerds and socialites could be such closet cases? I made my monthly bottom line in one week, plus gravy.

The only consultation that had turned out to be an actual job so far was a friend of Jasmine’s, but he also just happened to be a colleague of Faraday’s as well, and that was the deal clincher- my involvement with the case. I know, it’s an extremely tacky way of picking a designer, but I’ve voted for political candidates for weirder reasons.

After our weird restaurant encounter weeks earlier, Jasmine didn’t seem put off anymore about my choice of boyfriend material, and she was still recommending my design services to her friends. At least I thought that they were people she liked. She could’ve just been trying to get her 4th-tier, B-list friends off her back and sent them my way for distraction away from her. I was thinking that I should have a more extensive client screening process. So far, it’s all been fine and they’ve paid their bills. Maybe I should start interviewing assistants just so that I can hire someone to screen potential clients.

I had returned from an appointment with one of my new clients and was ready to tackle my large pile of project information and start my listing and delegating of tasks. God, I wish I had an assistant for real. Who am I kidding? Well, maybe an intern? Don’t they work for free? Get school credit or something? I’d have to call UCLA when I had time. Time – yeah, what’s that? With the barrage of phone calls I was getting, plus the check-up calls from Detective Patrick (“No, I’m not planning on leaving town this weekend”) and spending all of my free time with Paul preparing for the memorial service and the reading of Faraday’s will, I had no time.

I needed to call Harshy. I hadn’t talked to her for a while and I knew that my “friend” head would be on the chopping block. I dialed her number and spun in my chair, buzzed from all my coffee. I seriously needed to invest my new funds in some Starbucks stock. In no time, I was wrapped in my phone cord like an outlaw.

“GGMC. How may I direct your call?” answered the receptionist.

“J’Neene Harshbartle, please.”

She put me on hold while checking to see if Harshy was available. I listened to Ashlee Simpson sing some song about how her heart was tortured by her slacker boyfriend. Wasn’t she like twelve or something? Silver spoon up her ass. What the hell did she know about anything except that she looked like a more edgy Tweener as a brunette than a blonde? Having traveled as a blonde for a while, I knew it was better to be brunette. Blonde is fun, but predictable.


“Hey, babe, what you up to?” I asked, slowly uncoiling myself out of the phone cord.

“Who is this? Wait, no! Is this the Ms. Lois Pushkin? Why, I thought she had changed her number and moved away,” Harshy berated me.

“Hey, low blow. It’s been only two weeks. I’ve had a lot going on. Continuing crime investigation with a staring role as “Person of Interest”, boyfriend, cops, even a new client,” I excused myself from her blame. I was now out of my lasso and scooted myself up to my desk.

“New client? Ooo, who?” asked Harshy. On to bigger and better things already. Murder? Oh, that was so twenty minutes ago.

“No one you know. Actually a friend of Jasmine’s, who happened to also know Faraday.”

“Hmmmm.” Harshy was bummed, I could tell. “So, what’s up, lady?”

“I was wondering if we could get together tonight. I need a drink. I am so buzzed off of coffee, I could cut the rug out of the floor at the Dresden,” I said. “Are you up for it?”

“Well, I do have a date, but it’s for much later tonight,” said Harshy. “I could hang with you until then.”

“A date? Is this really J’Neene Harshbartle? Please identify yourself. What is your mother’s maiden name?” I was incredulous. Harshy hardly ever dated and definitely not casually.
He usually had to be rich and famous with a wardrobe and car to her specifications, minimum.

“Has it been that long since I’ve seen you? Who is this lucky guy? Must have a spankin’ pair of shoes to be with you.”

There was silence on the phone and then a huge fit of snivelling giggles and then all-out snorting. “Arrrggghh, I can’t keep it from you any longer! You are never going to let this go, never.”

“It’s Guy, isn’t it?” I let my cat out of the bag.

Instant silence on the other end. I could hear the click-clacking of keys far off in some distant cubicle, office crickets. “How did you know?” asked Harshy. “I haven’t hung out with you in so long and when we are together, that’s not for long either.”

“Sorry, lady. This is sooo my fault. I feel like I’ve been simutaneously cheating on you and spying on you.” I did feel badly even though earlier Harshy had said she wouldn’t hold my relationship with Paul against me. “I see Guy a lot because of the investigation and he talks about you. I could tell from the way he talked about you that you were actually reciprocating the same feelings. I had a feeling, but it was still a guess.”

“Damn girl, you’re good. They teach you that psychic mumbo-jumbo at design school?” Harshy sneered. She was pissed. I must’ve spoiled her surprise.

Miffed or not, she’d crossed the line. “That’s not nice or fair, Harshy. I’m sorry for neglecting you. But you need to remember what you told me when I first told you about Paul and me. I would appreciate a memory jog, please.”

Again, silence on the line. I waited. “Oh, all right. Shit, yes, I know. Fuck! OK, you’re forgiven and I see here on my calendar now that we did have dinner ten days ago and not ten
business days. And I’ll count it even though it was the four of us.”

“Well, thank you for your acquiescence, my empress.” I snorted. Did she also now consider it a double date? “So, I’ll see you at the Formosa in fifteen?”

“Make it an hour. I gotta fire an account rep,” said Harshy. “When you get there, order me a side car with Tuaca. I want it fresh and ready to drain when I get there. Little punks’ crying jags exhaust me.”

I hung up with Harshy and stacked my papers in order of to-do for the next day. I could be a little late meeting Harshy as sometimes those firings took an hour and sometimes they took fifteen minutes. Sometimes they took the bomb squad evacuating the building. But only once in a while.

This new project that had come my way had a huge scope and working on it took my mind off of the murder. For a few hours a day anyway. The whole ordeal was emotionally taxing and draining. I needed time to tune it all out and recharge my brain and my heart. I found that for me work was like a meditation. Especially the more clerical the task such as listing or doing the billing and accounting. Cleared the cobwebs from my mind to have instant gratification and a sense of accomplishment. Math is pure fact; a beginning, middle, and end. A good basis for trying to ground one’s self.

I checked the clock on my computer. Ah, I still had time to hit the Pacific Design Center. As I was gathering up my bags, the phone rang.

“Pushkin Atelier,” I answered in best receptionist voice. God forbid that any of my new high-end clients thought I actually answered my own phone! I was expected to have at least a receptionist and an assistant for me to have any clout. But it looked like I was going to be wearing these three hats for a long time to come. Perhaps I should give my receptionist an accent? English? No, New York. I should practice with Lacey. Wow, I haven’t seen her in a long time and I’m due to go to the PDC now. I should give her a ring before I head out.


I was startled back into this world, “One moment. Who’s calling please?”

“Lois, it’s Guy.”

“Hey, where have you been? We’ve been waiting to hear from you since that night,” I said, relieved it was a friend. I was very tired. “Did you find out anything down south?”

“Yeah, and we need to talk and soon,” said Guy, very excitedly. “Can we meet tonight? Make sure Paul is with you, too. He’s going to shit his pants.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” I asked. What the fuck? The anticipation was too much. I was feeling my adrenaline surge and my mocha kicking into gear.

“No, we need to talk face-to-face. What are you doing now?” asked Guy. It sounded like he was in his car. I could hear Steve Miller in the background. Really love your peaches, want to shake your leaves. I should really remember to put that CD on the next time Paul and I are together.

“Well, I’m meeting your girlfriend over at the Formosa in an hour,” I said.

The crickets started up and I thought the line had gone dead. Steve Miller was suddenly gone.

“Did you just say my girlfriend?” asked Guy quietly, genuine gooey increduality coming
over the line.

“Yeah, dude.” I felt kinda bad calling him out like that. I thought I would be met with more bravado.

“Are we talking about the same person? Did she really say I was her boyfriend?” continued Guy, quietly.

“If her name is J’Neene Harshbartle, then, yes, we are talking about the same woman,” I confirmed.

More crickets. Then the phone fell down on his end, banging electronic noises into my ear. I heard a screech and then a weird creaking sound. Suddenly, I heard a lot of muffled whooping and hollering. Then more creaking. Then a large intake of breath. Such clarity for his cell phone. I should really get one of those Blackberrys.

Eventually, Guy returned to the line, “Well, that’s great. What time will you guys be there?”

“In about an hour. I’ll call Paul to see where he’s at. We have to be at the memorial service tomorrow and he has to deliver the eulogy,” I told Guy.

“That’s cool. So, do you think Harshy really digs me?” asked Guy, again, still distracted from my news.

“You’re a piece of work,” I said. “And try to contain yourself at the bar. I said she was your girlfriend, she didn’t. Although, I know she is really into you and she isn’t really into anyone, ever. Don’t fuck this up for me.”

“Cool beans. See you in a few,” confirmed Guy and he hung up. That’s who says ‘cool
beans’! I should’ve cottoned on to Harshy along time ago. Forest for the trees. Dork. Guy, not

I clapped off the lights and went to retrieve my car from the garage. Joe gave me the Queen’s wave when I passed through the lobby. He was now watching football people. I drove through rush hour traffic to the PDC. An hour didn’t leave me much time to look around, but I wanted to at least stop in and see Lacey. I called Paul and told him about the meeting with Guy and Harshy at the Formosa. He grilled me for more information even though Guy had kept me clueless.

Lacey saw me as I trotted down the design center hallway and waved me into her showroom. She greeted me at the door with a flourish of her hand and a semi-curtsey.
“Wow, do I have the honor of a real notorious celebrate in my showroom?” Lacey asked with a Cheshire grin. “Or should I call the cops?”

“What?! Oh, you can’t be serious,” I said. “I’m only a “person of interest”.

Lacey laughed at that, “Glad to see you still have a sense of humour after all that’s happened. You’re quite the buzz at the Center.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. No one ever talked about me. Even when they should have.

“Oh, girl, everyone is following this case like it was OJ. They all want to know if they’re gonna lock you up or if you’re really innocent.”

“Of course, I’m innocent,” I raised my voice at these accusations. “My client died at his house. The police think it’s suicide.”

“But the case isn’t closed yet,” said Lacey, pushing her finger to her nose like Santa Claus. “Why would that be?”

“That’s true,” I agreed. “But I really didn’t murder anyone. Faraday was my best paying client and the first step of my successful Hollywood design career ladder. Why would I kill that?”

“For love,” she said matter-of-factly.

I nearly choked on my own saliva. “What? Kip Faraday?!” I instantly got a bad
case of the heebie-jeebies and started to physically writhe.

“Oh, honey, do you need to sit down again?” Lacey led me over to the chaise. “Can I get you something to drink?”


“One moment,” Lacey sang as she went into the back. I hoped she wasn’t calling the cops, thinking she had caught a fugitive who had just confessed to a crime of passion. That would make tabloid headlines. She definitely was reading too many of those if she thought I could possibly have been in love with Faraday. My skin creepy-crawled again.

Always prepared, Lacey returned with a shot of whiskey with a slice of lemon. After squeezing the lemon in, I shot it to the back of my mouth, the warmth first stinging and then soothing my throat. I composed myself and looked Lacey directly in the eye. “I was not in love with Faraday and we had no relationship other than that of designer and client.”

“Well, that’s not the talk around town,” She rebuked. “Town” being the LA design community. In that regard, we were a one-cow town where everyone gossiped about everyone else like a bunch of farmers. “We heard you were mad about the guy.”

She cocked her head and seemed to actually expect a denial or confirmation from me. I owed her. “I am in love, but not with Faraday. And I can’t tell you who it is, because he is notorious in his own right.”

“Oooh, you’re giving me goose bumps.” Lacey laughed as she showed me her arm. Wow, she actually shaves her arms. How weird? Snap out of it, Lois. Focus. “Really, tell me who it is?”

“Sorry babe, I can’t. We’re very private especially with everything that’s going on,” I said. She looked very disappointed.

“Oh, all right. I understand,” Lacey surrenderd. She took my glass and helped me up. “So what are we looking for today? Prison stripes?”

I shot her a look.

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

I looked at my cell phone, “Shit, I gotta go. Sorry, lady, I’ll catch up with you later in the week.”

“Hot date with the mystery man?” she asked coyly.

“No, meeting the gang as usual.”

“Oh, them. Well, tell everyone hello for me.” Lacey lead me to the door and saw me out, locking up behind me. As I went down the corridor towards the parking garage, I turned to look back. She was still standing at the door, looking at me through the glass. No expression and she didn’t wave. Creepy. I turned back around and picked up my pace all the while plagued again with the heebie-jeebies. I began to think that maybe it was Lacey who was spreading the rumours around that I had killed Faraday. Attention for herself inside her fishbowl world?