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Spying in High Heels - Chapter Five



I froze, every muscle in my body suddenly tensing. Ohmigod. I was on the phone with a murderer!

A murderer that was looking for Richard. A knot formed in my stomach. There was no denying Richard was in this up to his eyeballs now. Only I didn't know exactly how. A part of me screamed that this was a good thing. Look what happened to people who knew! They ended up face down in their million dollar swimming pools.

So, trying my darndest not to sound like a Mouseketeer in front of the big bad embezzler slash murderer, I answered him.

"Maddie Springer."

"What're you, Richard's receptionist?"

I took personal offense to that, now knowing exactly how little his receptionist made.

"Noooo. I'm his girlfriend.

Silence. Then, "Richard never mentioned a girlfriend."

I fought down a stab of disappointment. Here I may be carrying his child, and he'd never even mentioned me.

"You sure? Maddie Springer? Though sometimes he just refers to me as 'pumpkin.' That's his pet name for me. You sure he didn't mention a 'pumpkin'?"

I heard Greenway swallow an oath on the other end. Right. Irrelevant.

"Never mind. I guess it doesn't really matter. I just thought, you know, he might talk about me sometimes, just, maybe in casual conversation. I mean, not that you and he have a lot of casual conversations. I'm sure it's all just business and you don't have any sort of personal stake in each other's lives, so I guess really there would be no reason for Richard to mention me at all—"

Greenway cut me off. "Jesus, do you ever shut up?"

I swallowed hard. I did tend to talk a lot when I was nervous. And being on the phone with men who strangled their wives then dumped them in their swimming pools made me very nervous. I took a deep breath and mumbled, "Sorry."

"Put Richard on," he demanded.

"Uh…" I looked around the police-ransacked office. "Richard's not here right now."

"Where the hell is he?"

Pal, I wish I knew.

On the one hand, disappointment welled inside of me as I realized this wasn't the great break in the Where's Waldo game my life had suddenly become. On the other, if Richard was hiding out from Greenway (as the dead wife now convinced me he was) he was doing a good job of it. I halfway hoped he stayed hidden. Something about Greenway's voice had the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention. Like he'd almost enjoy strangling someone.

"Look, Richard's girlfriend, I don't have all day. Where is Richard?"

"I don't know," I answered truthfully. "He hasn't been here since Friday."

Greenway said a few colorful words, breathing heavily into the phone.

"Can I take a message?" I squeaked out, hoping if I kept him on the phone long enough my pulse might return to normal and I could think of something clever to say.

"You mean to tell me," he smirked through the receiver, "that prick took off? Without even telling his girlfriend?"

Even though I was pretty sure Greenway was being sarcastic with me now, but put like that Richard did sound like a prick.

I thought about not answering. I certainly didn't want to help Greenway get any closer to bumping off witness number two, aka The Prick. But, since I really didn't know where Richard was, I figured it could hardly hurt. "That's right. He didn't."

"Son of a bitch." And Greenway hung up.

I stood there for a full minute, staring at the receiver, willing my heart to stop pounding like a Latin conga drummer. I took a deep breath. Then another. And another. Then began to fear I was hyperventilating and sat down in Richard's leather desk chair to think.

If I were Ramirez, I could have traced the call. I'd probably have black and whites squealing up to wherever Greenway was right now, arresting him so my boyfriend could come out of hiding and I could pee on a stick. Unfortunately, I wasn't Ramirez. In fact, I wasn't turning out to be much good at this spy thing at all. I'd had the prime suspect in a murder investigation on the phone, and I hadn't even thought to ask where he was! I thunked my head against the desk. I had no idea where to go from here.

I looked down at my watch. 12:28. Jasmine was due back from lunch any minute.

I pried myself out of the chair and willed my legs not to buckle under me. They didn't, which I took as a good sign, and I quickly slipped out the door, down the hall, and into the reception area.

"You find what you needed?" Althea called to my retreating back.

"Yep. Great. Thanks!" I gave a half wave as I plowed through the front doors at Flo Jo speed. 12:29. I hit the down arrow on the first bank of elevators, nervously tapping my foot as I waited. "Come on, come on," I coaxed the elevator.

Finally it arrived, and I slipped inside, just as the second bank of elevators to my left slid open and Jasmine exited. I put my head down and hoped she didn't look back.

She didn't, wiggling her size two behind to the reception desk with purpose as the elevator doors slid closed in front of me. Whew. Close one.

Two minutes later I was racing across the street to the safety of my little red Jeep. I hopped in, locked the doors, and flipped on the radio, letting Blink-182 fill the unnerving silence as I yoga-breathed my pulse back to normal. Even though I knew Greenway wasn't going to reach through the phone and strangle me via AT&T, the conversation had left me with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Until recently my biggest fear in life was spiders with hairy legs. The sudden jump into wife killer territory had me sweating and shivering all at the same time.

I tried to console myself with the thought that Greenway hadn't known where Richard was any more than I did. This was good. It meant the chances of finding Richard swimming were down considerably. (Something I was relieved to hear, because the more I thought about that condom wrapper the more I wanted to be the one to strangle him.)

So, what now?

I glanced across the street again, my eyes searching out the windows of Richard's office on the sixth floor. No sinister shadows, no cops to follow, no bad guys in black.

That's it, I needed reinforcements.

I grabbed my cell and punched in Dana's number. She answered with a groggy, "Hello?" on the fourth ring.

"It's me," I said. "You busy?"

Dana giggled. Then I heard a muffled male voice in the background.

I rolled my eyes. "Maybe the more appropriate question is, are you alone?"

Dana giggled again. "Not entirely. Why, what's up?"

"I'm kind of having a crisis here."

"Another one?"

Tell me about it. "Never mind. I can hear you're busy."

"No, no. Sasha was just leaving. He's got pyramid practice." She giggled again, and I thought I might throw up. "Tell you what, I've got an audition later this afternoon, but you wanna meet me at Fernando's in, say, twenty minutes? I could use a pedi first anyway."

My day definitely screamed for a pedicure. "I'll be there in ten."

* * *


Fernando's was located in the center of Beverly Hills' Golden Triangle, at the corner of Brighton and Beverly Boulevard, just one block north of Rodeo. Faux Dad had started his career as the great Fernando in a strip mall in Chatsworth, but through word of mouth, and a few fabulous mentions in the LA Times, Fernando had primped and permed his way out of the Valley and into the playground of the rich and Botoxed.

In addition to being a wizard with hair, Faux Dad also had an innate flair for interior decorating. (Okay, so I was 75% sure he wasn't gay.) Fernando's went through a yearly metamorphosis, keeping up with the "in" theme of the moment. This year the look was Modern Industrial. The walls were covered in a rusted finish with a metallic over-glaze, causing them to shimmer in the light coming through the all-glass front wall. Exposed copper pipes overhead and unframed modern art canvases on the walls added to the look, while a dozen blow dryers, rinse sinks, and cutting stations hummed with activity down on the concrete floor. In Watts this would have been a warehouse, but on Rodeo, it was Warehouse Chic.

"Maddie, Dahling!" Marco, the receptionist, came at me with an air kiss on both cheeks. Marco was slim, Hispanic, and wore more eyeliner than Tammy Faye. "How are you?" he asked in an accent that was pure San Francisco.

"I've been better," I answered truthfully. "Is Ralph in?"

"Fernando," Marco reminded me, "is doing a color weave on Mrs. Spears." Then he added in a low whisper. "Britney's mother."

"Oh," I whispered back, suitably impressed. I looked to the back of the salon and saw Faux Dad weaving red extensions onto a fiftyish brunette in Chanel. He caught my eye and gave a little wave.

"So," I said, turning back to Marco, "I'm just having one of those days. Any way you can fit me in for a pedi?"

"For you, sweetie, anything." Marco grabbed his big black book off a desk that looked like it was made of aluminum siding. He flipped through the pages.

"Think you could fit Dana in too?"

Marco frowned.

"Pretty please?"

"Maddie, you gotta stop doing this, dahling. You throw me all off schedule."

I blinked my eyelashes at him. "Oh, pretty, pretty please with Brad Pitt on top."

"No fair. You know my weakness. Okay. Chia can do you both in fifteen. Why don't you go soak?"

"You're a doll, Marco."

Marco threw me a kiss. "Don't I know it!"

I made my way over to the line of pedicure chairs along the back wall and chose a vacant one, taking off my shoes and sinking my feet into the little bubble bath. The second I hit the warm water I felt myself begin to relax.

I closed my eyes, trying to calm the roller coaster of emotions I'd ridden today. I'd almost succeeded when Dana plopped into the chair beside me with a huff.

"Sorry I'm late. There was traffic on the 110."

I opened my eyes and blinked. Twice.

Sitting beside me was Morticia Adams. Or, more accurately, Morticia Adams meets Playboy Bunny. Dana was dressed in a black vinyl outfit, just barely covering her derrière and showing more cleavage than I even owned. Her own hair was covered in a black wig that was taller than my hair in 1985. Pale foundation, black eyeliner, and deep burgundy lip liner completed the Halloween chic costume. Only it was July.

"Do I want to know?" I asked.

"What?" Dana looked down at herself. "I told you I have an audition later. It's for an Elvira look-a-like thing. Why, do I stick out?"

I looked around the salon. Actually, she didn't. Hey, this was LA.

"So," she asked, "what's the pedi emergency?"

As quickly as I could, I filled her in on the events of the last two days. Ramirez in Richard's condo, the floating redhead, and finally my impromptu chat with Greenway. By the time I was finished our toenails were soaked, moisturized, and filed, and Dana's jaw was permanently stuck in the open position.

"This is better than The Sopranos! You actually talked to a murderer? What did he sound like?"

"Kind of pissed, actually."

"Ohmigod. You could have been killed!"

Did I mention Dana has a flair for the dramatic?

"It was just a phone call, Dana." I didn't tell her about my own overly dramatic reaction to said call.

"So what did you do?"

"Nothing. He hung up."

Dana looked at me like I was the worst Nancy Drew ever.

"What do you mean, 'nothing'? Didn't you ask where he was?"

I slowly shook my head.

"Did you hear anything helpful in the background? Check the caller ID? At least star-sixty-nine him?"

I shook my head again. I was ashamed to admit I hadn't even thought of those. "Dumb, right?"

Dana was such a good friend, she didn't even answer that. Instead she drew her blackened eyebrows together in concentration. "You know, I dated this guy once who worked at the phone company. He said that some of these small companies keep a log of calls coming in or going out. You think maybe Richard's firm does that?"

I thought back to the blurb in Jasmine's file about her long distance calls. "Yes! They do. Ohmigod, Dana, you're brilliant."

Dana sat back in her chair, looking like she'd just solved a Rubik's cube.

Obviously Jasmine wasn't going to give out any company information to me, but I had a feeling if I waited until she went on break again tomorrow, I could probably convince Althea to look up the number. She'd seemed sympathetic enough to Richard's plight. And if that didn't work, I could always bribe her with a free manicure.

"This is so cool," Dana said, wiggling her primped toes. "It's just like that pilot I shot last spring, Diva Detectives. We're actually tracking down a murderer."

We?

"Whoa. What do you mean, 'we'?"

Dana feigned a hurt look, sticking out her over-lined lip. "Hey, there's no way I'm letting you go all Charlie's Angels without me."

While I appreciated the help, the light in Dana's eyes as she said "Charlie's Angels" had me immediately fearing feathered wigs and bellbottoms.

"It's not a game, Dana. I think Richard's really in trouble." And even as I said it, the whole idea of running down Greenway was beginning to sound a little crazy. What were we actually going to do if we found him? I mean, as Dana so exuberantly pointed out, he was a murderer. What if he had a weapon? What if he tried to shoot us? I didn't think I could face being shot at any more than I could face an EPT.

"Maybe I should just turn this all over to the police," I said. "I mean, they have all the resources. Not to mention experience with this sort of thing."

Dana narrowed her eyes at me. "And what do you think will be the first thing the cops do when they find Richard?"

I bit my lip. "Give him a ride home?"

"Ahhhnt." Dana made a buzzer sound. "Wrong answer. They're going to read him his rights and slap a pair of cuffs on him. Honey, they tore his office apart—they searched his home. They don't do that unless they're after a serious suspect. Don't you watch COPS?"

My heart sank into a hollow pit in my stomach. I did. And she was right. The look in Ramirez's eyes as he'd questioned me yesterday had been clear enough. Richard was no longer considered just a witness.

"But Richard is innocent," I protested. Only it sounded oddly uncertain even to my own ears. "And there's more," I admitted.

"What 'more'?"

I leaned in close, half whispering to avoid Marco's gossip radar. "When I was going through Richard's office I kind of found something. Something that shouldn't be there."

Dana leaned in so close I could smell her morning nonfat decaf latte on her breath. "What?"

I swallowed hard. "A condom wrapper."

She blinked, looking at me as if still waiting for the punch line. "So?"

"So, Richard and I have never done it in his office. I mean, we've only done it in his bedroom. Or mine."

"Wait, you mean to tell me that you've never had sex with Richard outside of a bed?"

I'm no shrinking violet. I watch HBO, I have frank discussions with my gynecologist using anatomically correct language, and I've had enough sexual experiences that I have to take my socks off to count them all. But something about the way Dana was looking at me as if I'd just confessed I didn't know where second base was made my cheeks grow instantly hot.

"No," I said defensively. "Richard likes to be comfortable."

Dana made a disbelieving sound, something between a snort and a cough. "Comfortable and sex are two words that should never go together. Wild and sex, maybe. Passionate and sex. Even animal and sex—"

"Okay, I get the point." I thought Mrs. Spears was beginning to stare.

"Wow. You live a sheltered life."

If my cheeks got any hotter, I'd erupt. So, Richard liked things comfortable. What was wrong with being comfortable? Comfortable was fine. No gear shifts in your back, no soap in your eyes. We might not be on the sexual safari that Dana was, but Richard and I were fine. And I swear my mind did not even flash for a second on Ramirez when she mentioned wild animal sex. Not one second.

"Dana, you're missing the point. That condom was not mine."

"Well, let's not jump to conclusions. Maybe it wasn't his. Maybe it was one of his friends'."

Yeah right. That was the same excuse I'd used the one time I'd been dumb enough to try pot senior year of high school and my mom had caught me trying to air out my room before she got home from work. It was flimsy then, and it didn't sound much better now.

But I was desperate.

"You think?"

"Sure. Or maybe he just emptied his pockets onto his desk after an overnight at your place."

Hey, that one didn't sound so bad. "Right. That's probably it."

"Of course it is. Richard's mad about you. It's not like he'd go bop his secretary or something."

Richard and Jasmine? That thought made me ill. I'd have to buy a gun and put myself out of my misery because I didn't want to live in a world where the likes of Miss PP could steal a boyfriend from the likes of me. Not that I'm a conceited person, but Jasmine was one step up from belly button lint.

"Right. You're right. I'm sure Richard will have a perfectly good explanation."

Once I found him.


* * *


After our toes were Fuchsia Fusion and Pinkberry Stain, Dana and I went for lunch at the Brown Bag Deli on Wilshire. There Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Eye Shadow, signed no less than three autographs for star-happy tourists, with a hopeful, "I'm so getting this part." By the time we were both stuffed with kosher pickles and turkey sandwiches (hers with low fat mayo and sprouts. Mine with extra cheese and salty fries. Hey, I was possibly eating for two now, right?) it was getting late, and I realized I hadn't touched the Strawberry Shortcake high-tops in days. I promised Dana I'd call her as soon as I saw Althea and dropped her at her audition before heading back to my studio.

I forced myself to finish the sparkly laces and Velcro closures for the Shortcake shoes, then ordered delivery from the Vietnamese place down the street. I was too tired to bother with dishes, so I ate my rice noodles with a plastic spork while standing at my kitchen counter. And trying to avoid eye contact with the little pink box that had become my obsession.

I knew I was being a wuss. Just take the damn test already. But if there had been too many IF's for comfort before, there were way too many now. If Richard was involved with Greenway. If he wasn't entirely innocent in this whole thing. If Ramirez—or heaven forbid Greenway—found Richard first.

If Richard didn't have a good reason for that condom wrapper.

So instead of opening the box like a normal, rational woman, I decided to go with the if-I-don't-look-at-it-it-doesn't-exist theory of matter and plopped down on the futon, turning the TV on instead. Denial is a girl's best friend.

But wouldn't you know it, the first channel I flipped to showed a perky reporter with a Tipper Gore bob doing a report from Celia Greenway's swimming pool. Ramirez appeared (dressed in butt hugging Levi's and a slick leather jacket—seriously hide-your-daughters sexy) and gave the reporter an update on the investigation. Basically repeating what he'd already told me. The coroner's office wasn't yet ready to release a statement and in the meantime it was being considered a "suspicious death." Suspicious was right.

The rice noodles squirmed in my belly as pictures flashed across the screen. A smiling, red-haired Celia sitting on the beach. A press clipping of Devon Greenway, hair slicked back, dressed in a tuxedo as he shook hands with some politician. And another of the Newtone Technologies Corporation, now under investigation for fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement, and a whole host of other charges that made the reporter's plucked eyebrows knit together in practiced concern.

Thankfully there were no pictures of Richard.

Yet.

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