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Spying in High Heels - Chapter Two


Three days later, still no Aunt Flo. And still no Richard.

I was beginning to worry. About Richard, though the unopened pregnancy test on my kitchen counter didn't help matters. Richard had never ignored my calls like this. Usually he checked his messages every hour on the hour, returning mine with at the very least a text messaged smiley or hi beautiful. Only I'd left about a gazillion messages and gotten no smileys back.

I left a second breezy message Saturday morning: "Hi, how are you, guess you got too busy to call last night." At lunch I called his office, only to be bumped to voice mail. I held off calling again until almost five, when I then left another message on his voice mail, cell phone, and home phone and emailed him a message full of my own smileys and where are you?s.

Dana intervened at that point, promising to tie my hands behind my back if I didn't give the man a little space. She was right. I was beginning to be bunny boiling scary. So, I didn't call all day Sunday until the time the perky newswomen on the Channel Two late report came on chatting about a burglary in Reseda and the day's record highs. Then I left three more messages. Still no answer.

This was really unlike Richard. And try as I might, I couldn't shrug off the feeling that Richard's commitment radar had somehow picked up on my lateness and he'd headed for the hills.

So, Monday morning my overactive imagination and I woke up determined to track down the MIA boyfriend. I showered and dressed in my favorite jeans, green silk sleeveless top, and strappy emerald slingbacks. After a quick turn under the blow-dryer and a little requisite lip-gloss, I was ready to go. It was only ten when I parked in the garage down the street from Dewy, Cheatum & Howe, but already the sidewalk was beginning to haze from the heat. Nothing like a smog layer to add a little sizzle to your July.

Two blocks and three homeless guys later, I entered the cool, air-conditioned interior of Richard's building. Predictably, Jasmine was standing sentinel over the reception area.

"May I help you?" she asked, looking anything but helpful.

"I'm here to see Richard."

"Do you have an appointment?"

I swear that should be this woman's epitaph. Here lies Jasmine "do you have an appointment" Williams. May she rest in peace.

"No. But I'm sure he'll see me if you'll just let him know I'm here."

"And you are?"

I narrowed my eyes at her. "Maddie Springer. His girlfriend." I emphasized the word.

"I'm sorry, Miss Springer, but Mr. Howe isn't in. He's taking a few personal days. But, I'll leave a message that you stopped by." She seemed to take inordinate pleasure in the fact.

"Why didn't you just tell me he wasn't here in the first place?"

Jasmine's oversized lips curled into a smile. At least I think it was a smile. Maybe a sneer. "You didn't ask."

I took a deep breath. Rationalizing that if I reached over the mahogany desk and scratched her eyes out, I might ruin another manicure. "Fine. Did he say where he was going?"

"I'm sorry," she said with what was clearly a sneer this time, "but I'm not at liberty to divulge—"

"Never mind," I cut her off. I'd already given Jasmine way too much enjoyment today. Instead I spun around, digging my heels into the maroon carpet, and stalked off toward the elevator, leaving Jasmine to her solitaire.

Clearly Richard wasn't at the office. Next stop—his condo.

Richard lived in a two-story condo in Burbank, nestled in a gated community of tall stucco buildings on SunsetCanyon. The condos were all painted a pale taupe that hid dirt and on high smog index days matched the exact color of the air. Richard's was the third structure on the right.

I parked across the street, thankfully finding a spot on the same block after circling only twice, and Clubbed my steering wheel.

I keyed in the entry code on the electronic pad next to the iron gates and made my way through the mini garden courtyard, consisting of yucca trees, leafy green bushes, and flowering agapanthus. I paused as I reached Richard's door, took a deep breath, and stuck my key into the lock.

I was halfway expecting Mafia thugs to jump out at me, or the place to look trashed as if Richard had been dragged away against his will, kicking and screaming, "Wait, just let me return my girlfriend's call first!"

I was disappointed. The condo looked exactly as it always did. Sleek, black leather sofas were set in the sunken living room, offset by chrome and glass end tables. The alcove kitchen to the right was clean, the green granite counters gleaming as morning sun filtered through the sliding glass doors to the second story balcony.

"Hello?" I called into the silence. But almost instinctively, I knew I wouldn't get an answer back. The house had the feel of disuse, the air slightly stale as if the windows hadn't been cracked in days. Which did nothing to reassure the anxiety building in my belly.

Richard wasn't here. He wasn't at the office. I was running out of places to look for him. Was it possible that he'd been called out of town suddenly? Maybe a family emergency? His mother lived alone in Palm Springs—maybe she was sick?

I crossed the room, angling down the narrow hallway that led to the marble tiled bathroom, Richard's bedroom, and the spare room Richard used as a home office. I opened the office door, gingerly peeking my head in first. No Richard. But the answering machine on his desk was blinking like mad. Feeling just the teeny-tiniest bit intrusive, I pressed the play button.

Would you believe all twelve messages were from me? Yikes. Quickly I erased all but one. There, that sounded more like a rational, sane girlfriend.

I took a quick look around the rest of the office. No plane tickets to the Bahamas, no telegrams saying, "Mom's sick, come now." I moved on to the bedroom, my heels echoing on the polished hardwood floor.

Like the rest of the house, the bedroom seemed untouched. The bed was made, the burgundy duvet unwrinkled. The dresser held only the usual bits of clutter: a tin of loose change, pair of old sunglasses, book of matches, packet of vitamins, and two Bic pens. Feeling a little like Colombo, I checked the address on the matchbook. It was a club he'd taken me to last week. Drat. So much for my brilliant detective skills.

I opened the top drawer of his dresser. Rows of rolled up socks and Hanes briefs didn't provide any clue to his whereabouts either. I had a sinking feeling I was just snooping at this point. I searched through the drawer, grimacing as I found a pair of purple argyle dress socks. I opened another drawer. T-shirts and gym shorts. I shuffled them around a bit and came across a pair of neon blue spandex running shorts. Egad! Those had to go. I tossed them in the direction of the wastebasket, sure that Richard would thank me later.

I was just moving on to the pajama drawer when I heard a sound other than my own clucks of disapproval. The sound of the front door opening.

My first thought was that it was Richard and that Obsessive Woman had been caught red-handed. Then I heard something else.

"Hello? Richard, are you in there?"

I froze. It was a man's voice, but not Richard's. Good Lord, what would I do if it was one of his friends? Sure, Richard had given me a key, but not so I could come in while he was gone and inspect his wardrobe. At the risk of forever being labeled "that crazy chick who went through your drawers," I quickly jumped into Richard's closet, securing the sliding paneled doors behind me. Just call me the obsessive chicken.

I heard the front door close, footsteps echoing through the condo. Cupboards opened and closed in the kitchen, leather squeaked against leather as I listened to him move cushions on Richard's sofa.

Footsteps clicked down the hall then came to an abrupt stop, presumably at the door to Richard's office. They continued again, dimming as he entered the room. I opened the closet door just a crack and peeked out. I couldn't see anything. Ever so quietly, I tiptoed to the doorway of Richard's bedroom. I heard the message machine beep. Then my voice filled the condo.

"Hi, Richard, it's me. Just wondering what you've been up to. I haven't heard from you in a while. Well, not a while really, but I thought you said you'd call me last night. Not that I was waiting or anything. But maybe you forgot. Or just got really busy. Which I totally understand, 'cause, duh, you've got lots of cases and stuff to think about. I mean, not that I think you don't think about me. I'm sure you do. But, you know, you just have a lot on your mind, so I can see why you forgot to call. So, um, anyway, call me when you can. 'K?"

Oh God, did I really sound like that? No wonder my boyfriend had gone AWOL.

I thought I heard the man chuckle as the machine beeped off. Thank God I'd erased the rest of the messages.

I heard the sounds of desk drawers being opened and closed, papers being shuffled. I would swear it sounded like this guy was going through Richard's stuff too. What kind of friend was he? I just hoped he found whatever he was looking for before he got to the bedroom.

No such luck.

Footsteps echoed again, drawing closer. I let out a little "eek" and I jumped back into the closet, quickly closing the sliding door as the footsteps grew louder, entering Richard's bedroom. I crouched on the floor, wedging myself between a pile of winter sweaters and Richard's Bruno Magli loafers.

I heard the man opening dresser drawers, rummaging like I'd been doing just moments ago. What was this guy looking for? My curiosity got the better of me, and I eased the closet door open a crack to take a peek at him.

I recognized him almost immediately. The solid frame hunched over Richard's dresser, the worn jeans, the dark hair. It was the same guy I'd seen with Richard the other day. Mr. Nobody. He was in denim again, this time wearing a black T-shirt, sans jacket as a concession to the heat. The sleeves of his shirt were stretched taut over biceps that bulged like Nerf balls on his arm. I thought I caught the glimpse of a black tattoo just peeking out beneath the hem, but I couldn't quite make out what it was.

And then I saw it. A gun.

I froze, my eyes glued to the bit of gleaming metal shoved into the waistband of his jeans, the butt flat against his tight stomach. My breath came out in quick shallow gasps, my brain racing to come up with any good reason why a man with a gun should be searching through Richard's personal belongings.

Mr. Armed and Dangerous mumbled to himself again as he opened Richard's underwear drawer. I strained my ears to pick up what he was saying.

"Come on, come on…I know you left something…what the…?" He paused, holding up the pair of purple argyles. He shook his head, making a sound somewhere between a snort and a chuckle, before throwing them back in the drawer. Well, at least the bad man had good taste. I watched as he continued on to the next drawer. "…come on, come on…don't tell me the sonofabitch packed everything."

Wait—packed?

My eyes had adjusted to the dark, and I looked around the closet at the rows of hanging suits, polos, and pressed slacks. Sure enough there were noticeable gaps. I felt my stomach clench up in a way that warned of morning sickness. Missing clothes, missing boyfriend. A man with a gun rummaging through Richard's underwear drawer. And me crouched in a pile of seasonal sweaters hoping like anything that the dizziness hazing my vision was just fear and not pregnancy hormones. This was not good. I didn't know what was going on here, but good it definitely was not.

And then things got worse.

Mr. Nobody stepped toward the closet doors. I bit my lip, hoping he would turn around. Nope. He headed straight toward me. I shut my eyes tightly, making myself as small as I could. I said a silent prayer, promising to attend church more often, give half my salary to the poor, and really work in a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving instead of just telling my mother I was to avoid her dried out turkey.

I heard the wooden door slide on its tracks and eased one eye open, saying a silent thank you that he'd opened the other side of the closet and I was still in shadows. I held my breath, certain that my every inhale was as loud as a jackhammer in the silence.

Mr. Nobody looked at the clothes hanging in the closet. He squinted his dark eyes at them almost as if he were mentally counting.

"Damn." He breathed the word on an exhale, then turned around and stalked out of the room. His boots continued to echo all the way down the hall and out the door, which he shut behind him with a crash that sent my teeth chattering. Or maybe they were doing that all on their own. I realized I was shaking and wrapped a wool sweater around myself as I sat in the dark closet for a full two minutes before venturing back out into the room.

I don't know what Mr. Nobody would have done had he seen me there, but the gun poking out of his Levi's was not reassuring.

I slowly ducked my head out the bedroom door. No sign of the bad man. I tiptoed as quickly as I could down the hall, slinked out the front door, and sprinted across the street to my car as if I were dodging gunfire. Once inside I locked the doors, removed The Club, and revved up the engine, my hands still shaking as I adjusted the air conditioning controls.

I closed my eyes, taking deep breaths as I took stock. I was in one piece. Mr. Nobody hadn't seen me. No bullet holes, and I hadn't wet myself. All was well.

Okay not all was well. Richard had obviously packed for a trip. That much was plain to both Mr. Nobody and me. A trip where? And why? Richard hadn't mentioned a trip, and by the way an armed man had broken into his place, I didn't envision it was a planned Club Med getaway. Was he hiding somewhere? Was he in trouble? Considering Richard thought claiming lunch with me as a deduction was unethical, I found it hard to believe

I wondered if I should call the police. But I wasn't entirely sure Mr. Nobody had actually committed a crime. Breaking into a man's house and going through his underwear drawer. In fact, I wasn't even entirely sure he did break in. Had I locked the door behind me? I'd been a little preoccupied to notice.

God, I hoped Richard was alright. What would I do if he wasn't? What about our potential unborn child? Again I felt that bout of possible morning sickness swell over me. I swear to God if Richard was just in the Bahamas, I was going to kill him.

Just then my purse rang. I jumped so far into the air I almost hit the roof of my car, adrenalin pumping through every limb of my body. I reached into my bag and flipped open my Motorola. My mother's number popped up on the caller ID. If it had been anyone else, I would have ignored it. But knowing Mom, she'd send the National Guard looking for me if I didn't pick up by the fourth ring.

"Hello?"

"Maddie, you haven't forgotten have you?"

"Of course not." I racked my brain. Forgotten what?

"Good. Because we made reservations for five, and Ralph's canceling his last appointment so he can join us."

Right. Ralph, aka Faux Dad, the owner of Fernando's, the hottest place on Rodeo, and my soon to be step-daddy. I still wasn't 110% convinced Faux Dad was straight, but I loved the discounted manicures.

Mom had hooked up with Ralph when, after twenty-five years as a single parent, she had discovered the wonders of internet dating and signed up for Match.com. Desperate to make a big reentry into the dating scene, she'd gone to Fernando's for a full makeover, where Ralph chopped, styled, and colored her hair into a near masterpiece. After three months of flirtatious cut and colors, Mom was surprised to learn that not only was Ralph straight (allegedly), but his interest in her went way beyond her curly locks. Five months later they were planning a beautiful ceremony in Malibu, overlooking the ocean cliffs, for a week from Saturday. I was to be the maid of honor, and tonight Mom was laying official duty number three thousand on me. Planning her bachelorette party.

I debated fabricating an excuse to skip dinner. My hands were still shaking, and though my heart had slowed from NASCAR to LA freeway, I still had that jittery feeling in my chest like I was ready to fight or take flight any minute. However, knowing Mom (see National Guard reference), canceling dinner would lead to more questions than I currently had answers for. So I gave in.

"Right. No, I'll be there. Five thirty, right?"

"Five!" my mother yelled into the phone.

"Right." I looked down at my watch. Four forty-seven. Considering traffic on the 134 at this hour, I'd be cutting it close. "I was just getting into the car, Mom. I'll meet you there."

"Good. And don't be late."

I pretended not to hear that last comment. "You're breaking up, Mom. Sorry, gotta go."


* * *


At exactly five twenty-nine I pulled up to Garibaldi's restaurant in StudioCity. I might have been on time had I not spent the entire drive looking in my rearview mirror for any sign of Mr. Nobody lurking behind me. Thankfully, I saw none. But, paranoia lesson number one, that didn't mean he wasn't there.

I found a spot on the street and parallel parked between a Jag and a Dodge Dart on its last leg. Luckily I was wearing my ready-for-anything Spiga slingbacks, so the block and a half hardly even hurt my feet at the near sprint. Faux Dad was outside talking on his cell phone, a frown of concentration on his tanned face. Faux tan of course. When he'd hit Beverly Hills, Ralph transformed himself from Midwestern farm boy into Fernando, the European hair sculptor. He'd figured the chances of 90210's elite frequenting a salon called "Ralph's" were slim to none. Unfortunately, Ralph's family was Swiss German, so to keep up with faux Spanish roots, he indulged in Magic Tan sprays twice a week.

Ralph's face broke into a smile when he saw me, and he lifted a hand in greeting, gesturing inside.

The hostess, dressed in all black right down to her black eyeliner and gothic chic black lipstick, directed me to a linen-sheathed table in the middle of the room where my mother sat, looking down at her watch and pursing her thin lips.

"Maddie, you're late."

I wished people would stop pointing that out.

I leaned down and gave her an air kiss. "Sorry, Mom, there was traffic."

Mom rolled her eyes. While they were the same hazelish green as mine, hers were framed in that familiar pale blue eye shadow she'd been wearing since before it became fashionable again. She had on a pair of black stirrup pants straight from 1986 and a sweater tank embroidered with a calico kitten on the front. I silently thanked the gods I hadn't inherited her fashion sense.

"You completely forgot, didn't you?" she said.

"I would have remembered."

"Right." Neither of us was truly convinced. "Anyway," she continued as I sat down, "I have a preliminary seating chart I want you to take a look at. And," she added, her eyes taking on an evil twinkle, "I found the perfect place for my bachelorette party."

Uh-oh.

"Where?" I asked, truly fearing the answer.

"Beefcakes."

The fear was justified.

"Beefcakes?"

"It's full of…" Mom leaned in close, whispering. "Male strippers." She wiggled her eyebrows up and down in a way that made me queasy again.

"You sure you don't want to have a spa day with the girls instead?" I pleaded.

"Oh come on, Maddie. Lighten up. It'll be fun. Besides, I'm getting married—I'm not dead. I can still appreciate the male form in all its glory."

Yep. I was going to throw up.

"Oh, and we need a final count for the reception. I only ordered one tent for the buffet, so I just pray it doesn't rain." Mom made a little sign of the cross.

"This is LA, Mom. It never rains." Slight exaggeration on my part, but since Los Angelinos considered three inches a monsoon, we were probably pretty safe. Not to mention this was July. The weather gods wouldn't dare dump rain in the middle of tourist season. Charlton Heston would be after them with his shotgun.

"So," Mom asked, scanning the patrons behind me, "where's Richard?"

That's what I'd like to know.

"He couldn't make it tonight," I answered instead. Hoping she'd leave it at that. I still wasn't sure what to think about Mr. Armed and Dangerous in Richard's apartment, but I knew I didn't yet have an edited-for-Mom version.

"Oh that's too bad," she said.

Luckily I was saved further comment on my boyfriend's dubious whereabouts as an aproned waiter brought three plates of salad to the table.

"What's this?" I asked, realizing I hadn't eaten since morning and was suddenly famished.

"Ripe summer pears and crumbled gorgonzola over fresh baby greens," Mom quoted.

I took a bite. Delicious. Okay, so maybe I had to hear about the dreaded bachelorette party, but at least this beat the Hamburger Helper sitting in my kitchen cupboard.

I was stabbing a second pear and making little yummy sounds when Ralph finally joined us. He stooped down and deposited a kiss on my cheek before taking the seat beside me. "Sorry ladies, I had to take that. Perm emergency."

"Perm emergency?" Mom asked.

"I told Francine not to recolor her hair for forty-eight hours after her set, but did she listen to me? No. Now she looks like an auburn-haired French poodle. She's coming in tomorrow morning for damage control."

Mom and I both nodded appropriately.

"So," Mom said, folding her hands in front of her and sitting up straighter in her chair. "Now that you're both here, I have an announcement." She looked pointedly at me. "Guess who's pregnant?"

A ripe summer pear stuck in my throat.

There was no way she could possibly know, could she? Was I showing a belly already? Were my boobs swelling? Did I have that rosy pregnant glow? I knew I should have powdered in the car before coming in.

Luckily before I could blurt out that I was just a little late, Mom ended the guessing game. "Molly!"

I swallowed the pear, relief washing over me. Of course. My cousin, Molly. Or as she was known in our family, The Breeder. She'd already popped out three rug rats in four years. I think she was going for some sort of record. Which of course made my grandmother very happy. There's nothing an Irish Catholic family loves more than a prolific breeder.

"That's really great," I said with about as much enthusiasm as a lithium addict.

"Great? It's fabu!" Faux Dad shouted.

Okay, so I was 80% sure he was straight.

"Oh," he said, waving his hands in the air, "One of my clients does the most darling little baby baskets. She takes a bassinet and fills it with organic teddy bears and hand-knitted little booties. Stuff so sweet it makes your teeth rot."

"Oh, that sounds perfect! We have to get her one of those," Mom gushed. "What do you say, Maddie? Want to go baby shopping with me?"

Actually I didn't. In fact this whole conversation was making me break out in hives. The more I thought about Molly and her three and a half little munchkins, hand-knitted baby booties, and most of all the unopened pregnancy kit sitting on my kitchen counter, the more I wanted to bolt out of the room and scream some choice obscenities at my boyfriend for buying defective condoms. Only I couldn't. Because I had no idea where Richard was, and more likely than not I'd just be leaving more messages on his answering machine that Mr. Nobody would later play for his own personal amusement.

"Hey, aren't we missing someone?" Faux Dad asked, looking across the table at the empty seat. "Where's Richard?"

That, as I was about to find out, was the million dollar question.

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