Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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?

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