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His clothes were the first thing Jay-Jay Lightbody noticed. They were awful--kelly green blazer, mud brown shirt, bright yellow vee-necked sweater, and navy blue slacks underneath a tan trench coat as crumpled as a week-old paper lunch sack. The man strolling the el platform was a fashion designer's nightmare.
The second thing she noticed was his Roman bumped nose, and last, but certainly not least, was the ringless third finger of his left hand. Lots of married men didn't wear rings, yet Jay-Jay always interpreted a naked finger as a good omen.
Because she was looking at him instead of her feet, she tripped as she boarded the elevated train and stumbled into the car. Accustomed to his cousin's clumsiness, Peter Lightbody deftly caught her arm, led her to a seat, and sat down opposite her. The hopeful smile Jay-Jay directed at the doors dimmed a little when the man stepped into the car, walked toward the rear, and sat down facing her but not looking at her.
"So much for eye contact," Peter teased, the corners of his gray-green eyes crinkling with amusement. "Y'know, Toothpick, Gran would faint if you brought that eyesore home."
"Clothes, my dear cousin," she replied airily as she peeled off her plum-colored knit gloves, "do not make the man."
Gasping, Peter clutched his chest, his fingers tangling in the green wool muffler tied around his neck. "Blasphemy from the heir apparent."
Jay-Jay crossed her thickly lashed blue eyes at him and stuck out her tongue. Blinking to clear her vision, she looked down the car and saw the man staring at her. When her gaze met his, he turned his head toward the window.
The train shuddered andlurched forward. Jay-Jay opened her burgundy leather shoulder bag, took out a small sketch pad and pencil, and crossed her blue-jeaned legs. Peter traded seats to sit beside her and watch her draw. His arm gently rocked against her left shoulder as the train clacked southward toward the Loop past low, suburban rooftops that were occasional splashes of color against the winter-dulled sky.
Once she'd penciled in the man's square jaw, Jay-Jay paused to study his oddly shaped earlobes. He glanced at the floor, at the other passengers half-filling the car; read the advertisements posted on the dingy beige walls and the graffiti scrawled beneath--he looked everywhere but at her. Sighing, she drew in his nose sans the clipped, reddish moustache that sat above his upper lip like twin bench marks, then frowned and reluctantly shaded it in. She didn't like moustaches, but his definitely helped soften the corners of his jaw.
Commuters boarding at the next two stops filled the seats between them, and she could just see the top of his chestnut brown head over fur hats, fedoras, and pomponned knit caps. Giving up on her sketch, she closed the pad and tucked it and the pencil back into her purse.
Peter gave her a quick, consoling hug. "Well, Toothpick, at least you'll have something to remember him by."
"Alas." She pressed her hand to the buttoned front of her plum-colored, quilted down coat. "I'll never know what I missed."
"If his wardrobe's any indication," Peter said with a grin as the train slowed and he brushed a fallen lock of auburn hair off his forehead, "you didn't miss much."
"Oh, low blow, Beau Brummell." Jay-Jay clicked her tongue at him and pulled on her gloves.
"Below the belt maybe." He shrugged and rose as the train hissed and shuddered to a halt. "But accurate."
Jay-Jay moved toward the doors with Peter, tugging her plum velveteen cloche around her ears and peering around the passengers jostling their way out of the car for a last glimpse of the man in the rumpled trench coat. She stepped on a woman's rubber-booted foot, excused herself, and saw the man looking at her. She turned away as quickly as he did and met her cousin on the platform.
As they hurried across the wind-scoured expanse of concrete and down the steps to the sidewalk, a sharp, icy blast of air straight off Lake Michigan buffeted her against Peter.
"Oh, how I wish," he said, his teeth chattering, "that you hadn't backed your car into mine."
"Why didn't you honk?" she replied, shivering.
At the corner they turned right, and the soaring downtown buildings closed around them like the walls of a canyon.
In the middle of the second street they crossed, Jay-Jay caught a glimpse of her reflection in a glass storefront--and behind her, the face of the man in the tan trench coat. Halfway down the block, she stopped at a newsstand with Peter, and another icy blast pasted her coat to her legs. Turning her back to the wind, she saw him again--not ten feet behind her--veering suddenly toward the curb and looking back over his shoulder.
Tucking a folded Tribune under his arm, Peter caught her elbow and turned her toward the Lightbody Building.
"C'mon, Toothpick, you're impeding traffic."
"Pete, I think that guy's following us."
"Wait." Jay-Jay jerked her cousin to a halt and watched the man's reflection in the plate-glass window on her right. "See? We stopped and so did he."
Peter glanced over his shoulder. The man moved out of the crowd on the sidewalk and dropped to one knee.
"He's tying his shoe, for God's sake." He pulled her forward another five steps before Jay-Jay dug in her heels.
"I'm telling you, he's following us."
"Toothpick." Peter smiled tolerantly. "Guys that good-looking don't follow you--you follow them."
"Fifty bucks says he is."
"Why do you bet me? I always win."
"I can afford to lose. Fifty bucks."
"Okay. Now how're you going to find out?"
"Ask him." Jay-Jay wheeled around and walked toward the man.
As she approached, he cut through the throng on the sidewalk, moved to the curb, and leaned one shoulder against a metal pole supporting a Chicago Transit Authority sign. Lifting her chin and clenching both hands around the strap of her shoulder bag, Jay-Jay stopped beside him.
"Why are you following me?"
He turned his head to look at her, and she noticed his brown eyes were the same color as a Hershey bar. "I'm not following you. I'm waiting for a bus."
"You just got off the el five minutes ago.
"Well, then." He reached inside his coat, pulled out a black leather wallet, and flipped it open. "I guess the jig's up.''
She read the laminated plastic card and looked up at his face. Judging from her scant five feet two inches, Jay-Jay decided he must be almost a foot taller than she. With a neck and shoulders like an Andalusian bull, he looked more like a linebacker for the Bears than a private detective.
"Anybody can buy an ID. like that in the dime store."
"Nonetheless," he replied, unperturbed, as he tucked the wallet inside his coat, "I'm Gerald Kilroy, and I'm a private investigator."
"Why are you following me?"
"I suggest you ask your grandmother, Miss Lightbody."
Startled, Jay-Jay took a cautious half-step backward. "How," she asked warily, "do you know my name?"
"I know everything there is to know about you except why someone might be trying to kill you. That's what your grandmother hired me to find out. And in the meantime to make sure whoever it is doesn't succeed."
Drawing a deep breath and taking another two steps away from him, Jay-Jay clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. Oh, what a shame, she thought sadly. So tall. So handsome. So crazy.
"Well, Mr. Kilroy," she told him firmly, "you're fired."
She turned sharply on her heel and marched back to Peter, who fell into step beside her.
"Did you get a date?"
"His phone number?"
Jay-Jay drew a corkscrew in the air beside her temple. "Psycho Ward, Cook County General."
"Poor Toothpick. You always attract the weirdoes."
"More than my usual quota since my birthday, have you noticed? They're coming out of the woodwork."
Peter stopped in front of the Lightbody Building and gestured grandly toward the gray granite exterior. "Just one of the many fringe benefits attached to inheriting half the controlling interest in one of America's largest couture houses."
"You've got the fringe right." Jay-Jay grimaced, pushing through the revolving doors. "Lunatic fringe."
"So what do you expect?" Peter returned with a philosophical shrug. "Pretty young heiresses attract fortune hunters like garbage draws flies."
"Thanks," Jay-Jay replied dryly, "for the lovely simile."
"Well, at least they're getting better-looking." Peter's amused chuckle echoed hollowly as they crossed the black-and-white-tiled lobby, and he pushed the elevator button.
"Wasn't he a hunk?" Jay-Jay sighed, tugged off her cloche, and ruffled one hand through her curly-cut, short blond hair. "I could just cry. They're either married, weird, or--" She bent her arm at the elbow and let her hand dangle limply from her wrist.
"He wasn't married."
"How do you know?"
A soft tone announced the arrival of the elevator and Peter drew her into the left-hand car. "Would you let someone you love walk out of the house dressed like that?"
Jay-Jay laughed, pulled off her gloves, and unbuttoned her coat as the elevator rose toward the third floor accounting department. "He had a real original line, though. He said he was a private detective and Gran hired him--" she began to giggle--"'cause someone's trying to kill me."
Peter blanched and almost ripped a button off his overcoat. "That isn't funny."
"Oh, Pete, c'mon," she said, rolling her eyes.
The car stopped and opened, and he leaned against the door. "I think you'd better tell Gran about this one." He hesitated a moment longer. "Now. And let me know, okay?"
"Yes, Uncle Peter, right after I have my coffee."
"See you at lunch." He stepped away, the doors closed, and the elevator lifted her to the fourth floor.
Jay-Jay pulled off her coat as she walked down the lime green-carpeted hall toward the design department. She hung the coat up in the closet just inside her office door and frowned at her desk. The morning mail had already been delivered, and in the middle of the leather blotter sat a red rose in a milk-glass vase.
"Oh, Roger," she sighed, tossing her hat onto the closet shelf. "I wish you'd knock this off."
Even though she'd said no to the marriage proposal he'd sprung on her in the middle of her twenty-fifth birthday party, even though it had taken three men to restrain him when she'd declined, even though she'd slapped him when he'd shouted for the whole city of Chicago to hear that if he couldn't have her no one would, the tradition of the red rose continued. Roger Heriteau had kissed her for the first time on a Tuesday morning when she was six years old, and every Tuesday morning since she'd graduated from design school and come to work for Lightbody's, he'd sent her a red rose from his office in the legal department on the fifth floor. She'd begged him to stop, but he'd refused.
"I'm not going to give up. Somehow, some way, Jay-Jay, I'm going to convince you that you can't live without me."
She picked up the vase, carried it across the brick-red-carpeted room, and shut it inside the empty top drawer of a bright red filing cabinet. In her private, almond-fixtured bathroom, she filled an electric percolator, plugged it in on the wide gray marble windowsill, and turned on the portable humidifier. By the time she'd watered the foliage plants that lined the glass expanse in multicolored ceramic pots, the coffee was ready, and she filled an oversize white ceramic mug with "J.J.L." stenciled in black on the side. She pulled her sketch pad out of her purse, opened it to the phony detective's likeness, and laid it on her drawing table.
Climbing onto her high-backed, red leather stool, she parked her elbow on her board and her chin on her fist as she gazed at his face. He wasn't as handsome as the New York financier who'd assured Jay-Jay he could triple her fortune in six months if only she'd rescue his family's bank from impending insolvency and default, and he certainly wasn't as suave as the Italian count who needed just four million to save the ancestral villa from foreclosure, yet she wished suddenly and irrationally that this guy had been on the level. Somewhere, she thought wistfully for the umpteenth time, there had to be a man who'd love her and not her Dun and Bradstreet rating. There is, she reminded herself, and you've known him all your life. Why, she asked herself, couldn't she just love Roger? Why did she seem destined to fall for gigolos?
Further, despite Peter's concern, she had no intention of telling her grandmother. In the last two years, Genevieve Lightbody had lost her husband to cancer and both her sons, Jay-Jay's father and Peter's, in a plane crash on Maui; and though she'd borne the loss of all three with her usual stoic resilience, Jay-Jay had no desire to put her grandmother's mettle to the test, especially over something as ridiculous--
The grating, insistent voice of the interoffice phone jarred her off her stool and across the room to her desk. She answered it on the third buzz, and her half-sister Gail spoke without preamble.
"Gran wants to see you--A.S.A.P."
"Good morning to you, too."
The line went dead. Jay-Jay made a face at the mouthpiece and dropped it in its cradle. She'd left the closet open, and in the full-length mirror hung on the inside of the door, she wrinkled her nose at her jeans, loden green cowl-necked sweater, and green tweed blazer.
"I'm really dressed for an audience," she muttered, and scurried into the bathroom.
After applying a little makeup, she fluffed out her headful of curls with a hair pick. On her way out the door she remembered her coffee, doubled back to get it, and sipped her way to the elevator.
On the seventh floor, she crossed a saffron-carpeted lounge broken into conversation areas by low, sleek sofas and tables basking in pale winter sun filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Ahead of her lay Gail's lair, and beyond that the president's suite behind blood red, polished mahogany doors.
Gail turned away from a bank of solid oak filing cabinets when Jay-Jay entered her office. As always, she looked as if she'd just stepped off the cover of Harper's Bazaar. Her red silk mandarin-collared dress from Lightbody's fall line clung to her breasts and hips like a second skin, and jeweled combs winked in her coiled dark hair.
Smiling, she bent her elbow on an open file drawer and curled her fingers around her chin. "I see you're dressing for success, as usual."
"You mean--"Jay-Jay gasped, one hand on her throat "--this isn't the height of fashion?"
"You and Gran's nine o'clock appointment should get along fine." Gail nodded toward the brass-knobbed doors. "You both dress like a couple of winos down on your luck. Don't forget to knock."
"I won't, Cerberus."
"Funny." Gail smirked, shut the drawer, and sat down at her desk.
Jay-Jay knocked just below the brass plate that read, "Genevieve Lightbody, President." While she waited for admittance, she raised her coffee to her lips--and almost spilled it down the front of her sweater when the phony detective opened the door. His right hand closed around the mug and prevented the spill, and he pulled her through the door, reaching behind her with his left hand to push it shut.
"Good morning, Jay-Jay." Her grandmother rose behind a teakwood desk as big as a billiard table. "I believe you and Mr. Kilroy have already met."
Jay-Jay and the detective stared at each other over the mug.
"Think you can hang on to this now?"
Still gaping at him, she nodded. He let go and stepped back.
Starting and sloshing coffee on her hand, she wheeled toward her grandmother. "You mean he's legit?" She shifted the cup to her right hand and wiped the back of her left on her jeans.
Looking positively regal in a magenta wool A-line dress, a classic from Lightbody's fall line two years earlier, Genevieve smiled and crossed the office, which was almost half as big as the ballroom at Ladyfinger Farm, the family estate outside Evanston. "If you mean, 'Is he a licensed private detective?' the answer is yes."
"I don't believe it." Jay-Jay watched him light a cigarette and felt the cup wobble in her fingers.--
"Would you like to see his credentials?" Genevieve took the mug out of her hand and carried it toward a blue chintz sectional that wrapped around the near corner of her office.
"I--" Jay-Jay jumped as he snapped the lid of his Zippo shut and squinted at her through a cloud of blue smoke. "No."
She followed her grandmother and all but fell onto the overstuffed sofa. Genevieve sat down on the triangular corner cushion and Kilroy, hitching his trousers at the knee, sat down on her left. Jay-Jay glanced at him and shuddered. His socks were olive green.
"Jay-Jay?" Genevieve held a china coffee server, and above her smile her gray-penciled eyebrows lifted quizzically. "Would you like me to warm your coffee?"
"Oh." She gave her mug a push across the black-lacquered octagonal table. "Thank you."
Watching her grandmother dispense cream and sugar cubes, Jay-Jay felt like Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party. This can't be real, she thought, I must've fallen down the rabbit hole.
"Unfortunately, Jay-Jay," Genevieve said slowly, as she capped the footed, sterling silver sugar bowl. "Your sharp eyes have negated the--arrangement--Mr. Kilroy and I had."
"What arrangement is that, Gran?"
Artfully crossing her legs, Genevieve smoothed her skirt and folded her hands in her lap. "Very simply, I retained Mr. Kilroy to--um, how shall I put it?"
"Tail me," Jay-Jay filled in. "Why? Do you think I'm stealing pencils from the design department?"
"No." She smiled, recrossed her legs, and twisted the four-carat diamond ring on her left hand. "I have been concerned lately for your safety."
"You think someone's trying to kill me."
Genevieve glanced sharply at Kilroy.
"I didn't see any point in beating around the bush," he told her with an indifferent lift of one shoulder.
"I see. Well, perhaps Mr. Kilroy put it rather bluntly--"
"Do you or don't you?"
"I had hoped not to alarm you.
"It's too late for that, I am alarmed. For you, Gran. Maybe you've been working too hard."
"Jennifer." Genevieve sat very straight, her blue eyes suddenly as hard as the sapphires interspersing the diamonds on the brooch pinned at her breast. "I am not a senile, hysterical old woman."
"I didn't mean--" Jay-Jay touched her grandmother's right hand, but her fingers were as hard and unyielding as her gaze.
Oh, God, now I've done it, she groaned silently, and moved one cushion away. I've roused the dragon.
With all her heart, Jay-Jay loved her grandmother. Especially blue-jeaned, cowboy-booted Genevieve who rode horseback across Ladyfinger Farm's flat acres and didn't mind the prairie winds that made a rat's nest of her perfectly-coiffed white hair. But Genevieve, madame president of Lightbody's, the dragon protecting the family horde, scared the bejezus out of her.
"I have not imagined the epidemic of accidents you've had since your birthday two weeks ago, any one of which could have killed you." Her grandmother's voice was harsh, and fire leaped in her eyes. "And if you can't make the connection between this string of near-fatalities and the fact that you inherited half the controlling interest in this company the day you turned twenty-five, then I have somehow failed in your upbringing."
"To what incidents, exactly, are you referring, Gran?"
"I am referring to the night your house caught fire and the afternoon you were nearly run down by a speeding automobile."
"The older I get, Gran--"Jay-Jay's voice sharpened with exasperation "--the clumsier I get."
"I don't see what being clumsy has to do with the mysterious failure of the smoke alarm in your house or the fact that the car jumped the curb and nearly struck you on the sidewalk."
Jay-Jay eyed Kilroy, decided she couldn't possibly lose any more points with him, and took a deep breath before beginning her rebuttal.
"In the last two weeks, Gran, I have also fallen down a flight of stairs and backed my Mercedes into Peter's Camaro, nearly totaling both cars. The fire started because I left the oven on and the greasy broiler pan inside when I went to bed. And there's nothing mysterious about the smoke alarm failing to function. The batteries were deader than doornails."
"Do you remember leaving the oven on?" Kilroy interrupted.
"No," Jay-Jay retorted. "And I don't remember not changing the batteries, either."
"Your housekeeper does. Sally says she put new ones in a month before the fire."
"Sometimes they're faulty, y'know?"
"Your sister has a key to your house," Kilroy continued stubbornly. "So does your boyfriend, Roger, and he and Gail both played Monopoly at your house on the night of the fire. Either one could have let themselves in and turned on the oven after you went to bed."
"He's not my boyfriend. And lots of people have keys to my house."
Oops, that didn't come out right. Kilroy smiled and she hurriedly amended her reply. "So do Peter, Sally, and Gran--"
"Your grandmother has never been a suspect." Kilroy stopped smiling. "And I've scratched Sally off the list."
"Oh, is there a list? Then I've got another name for you. The woman whose foot I stepped on getting off the train this morning."
"That's hardly a motive for murder."
"Two things, usually." Kilroy leaned forward and stubbed out his cigarette in a porcelain ashtray. "Love or money."
"Mashed toes aren't, huh?"
"Jay-Jay." Genevieve snapped out her name. "You're not taking this seriously."
"Do you expect me to?" Looking from her grandmother's stern expression to Kilroy's frown and back again, Jay-Jay felt her mouth go dry. "My God, you do."
"The car that almost hit you was rented." Kilroy's voice had a raspy burr to it that sounded like too many cigarettes. "It was found abandoned two blocks from the Lightbody Building, wiped clean of fingerprints. The woman who rented it used bogus identification, wore dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat. That's all the clerk at the agency remembers. I don't suppose you got a look at the driver?"
"Hardly." Jay-Jay snorted. "I was too busy trying not to become a hood ornament. And I'd like to point out that I was not the only person on the sidewalk who almost got hit."
"That's true," Kilroy granted. "But you're the only one with a half-sister who stands to inherit stock worth three and a half million dollars if you die. And you're the only one whose ex-boyfriend--" he emphasized the prefix "--swore that if you wouldn't marry him he'd see to it that you didn't live long enough to marry someone else."
"Gran, this is crazy!" she cried, wide-eyed with disbelief. She leaped to her feet and tripped on the table leg as she half-turned to face them. "See?" she challenged as she righted herself. "Nobody pushed me, nobody has to--my life's one pratfall after another! I don't know what he's told you--"
"Mr. Kilroy has told me nothing," Genevieve corrected her. "I consulted him."
"Oh." Jay-Jay, deflated, sank back onto the sofa, then pitched forward eagerly on the cushions as a fresh idea struck her. "So if you think somebody's trying to kill me, Gran, why did you hire a private detective? Why didn't you just call the police?"
"I'll give you thirty seconds," Genevieve responded with a wryly arched eyebrow, "to reconsider and withdraw that question."
"Oh, sorry," she murmured, abashed, and more than a little alarmed. "Consider it withdrawn."
Of course her grandmother couldn't call the police. Oh, she could, Jay-Jay reasoned, but she wouldn't. Police cars attracted crowds, and crowds attracted reporters. Lightbody's, the business as well as the family, couldn't afford bad publicity.
"It seems to me," she said slowly, "that if you think Gail or Roger wants me dead, your time would be better spent following one of them."
"I am," he answered, meeting her gaze evenly. "Not personally, but I have a man following each of them."
"I don't believe this." Jay-Jay sighed and shook her head.
"Whether you do or not is immaterial," Genevieve concluded firmly. "Until such time as your coordination improves or Mr. Kilroy's investigation uncovers the person or persons meaning you harm, I am entrusting your care to him."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Mr. Kilroy is your bodyguard."
"I don't suppose I have any say in that?"
"Of course you do. You can refuse." Genevieve rose, walked to her desk, and sat down in her high-backed, beige leather chair. "However, if you do, please keep in mind that although you now control the stock left you by your father, the bulk of your trust fund remains in my hands for three years."
"If you do refuse, I shall cut your allowance."
"Oh, I see. When all else fails, try blackmail."
Genevieve smiled and clasped her hands on the desktop. "I prefer to call it persuasion."
"Well, Kilroy." Jay-Jay wiped her clammy palms on her thighs and rose. "Looks like you've got your job back."
"I never lost it." He smiled as he stood up.
"Gran, may I speak with you privately?"
"I'll wait outside."
When the door closed behind the detective, Jay-Jay walked slowly toward her grandmother's desk. "Why do I have the feeling I'm no longer captain of my own ship?"
"Because you aren't," the dragon spat back, "and will not be until--"
"--either Gail or Roger is in jail for attempted murder," Jay-Jay lashed out angrily, "or I'm dead, in which case I won t mind anymore, will I?"
Genevieve looked stricken and Jay-Jay wished she'd been born mute.
"I apologize, Gran, that was thoughtless and unfeeling. I just--" She made a vague gesture with one hand. "I know Gail thinks if our dear old Dad hadn't divorced her mother and married mine I'd never have been born and then the twenty-five percent would be hers. And I know what Roger said at my party upset you, but--" She dropped into the beige chair before the desk and laid her elbows on the arms. "Do you really think one of them is trying to kill me?"
"I sincerely hope not," Genevieve said. "Remember, Gail is also my granddaughter. But as Mr. Kilroy said, one must consider not only opportunity, but motive. And that, unfortunately, makes Gail and Roger prime suspects."
"Cross my heart and hope--" She bit her tongue on "to die," drew an X across her breasts, and amended it to "--hope Gail and Roger are innocent. I'll do everything Kilroy tells me to do."
"I'd appreciate that, Jay-Jay." The relief that flooded her grandmother's face was almost tangible.
Jay-Jay wished she could hug Genevieve, but demonstrations of affection were expressly forbidden within the walls of the Lightbody Building. "I have only one more question. Couldn't you have hired a detective who buys his clothes at Brooks Brothers?"
Genevieve laughed. "Clothes, Jay-Jay, do not make the man."
"That's exactly what I told Pete when he said Kilroy was an eyesore and you'd faint if I brought him home." She paused and smiled tentatively. "By the way, would you?"
Her grandmother smiled and shook her head. "No, I wouldn't."
"Does that mean he's earned the Lightbody Seal of Approval?"
"It does, but be warned, Jay-Jay. Mr. Kilroy is a very single-minded individual--it was one of his most impressive qualifications. And business and pleasure mix like oil and water."
"Protecting me may be his business." Jay-Jay winked. "But it'll be my pleasure."
"Speaking of business." Genevieve tapped her right index finger against the diamond-encrusted platinum watch clasped to her left wrist. "The designs for next year's holiday line are three days behind schedule."
"I know, my ball and chain awaits." Jay-Jay levered herself out of the chair and spread her fingertips on the edge of the desk. "Don't worry, Gran," she said with a smile. "Nothing's going to happen to me."
A rare glimpse of Genevieve's humorous good nature peeked through her madame-president facade. "Now that you have a keeper, granddaughter dear, I'm not concerned in the slightest."
"Thanks a lot," Jay-Jay replied wryly.
"You're welcome. In fact, if Mr. Kilroy lives up to his reputation, I may decide to retain him permanently."
"He'd make the nicest present a girl ever had." Jay-Jay grinned.
Genevieve smiled. "Good morning, Jay-Jay."
"See you later, Gran."
She turned away from the desk and rapidly crossed the office. As she opened the door and started through, she stopped and stared at Gail and Kilroy.
Fifteen feet in front of her, they stood taking stock of each other over the reception desk. He with his trench coat draped over his folded arms, she with her weight slung on her left foot and her fist balled against her hip. There was no mistaking the defiance in Gail's pose or Kilroy's obvious interest in her figure. Watching his eyes drift over her half-sister's perfect features and linger on her long, shapely legs, Jay-Jay smirked. Some single-minded individual you are, she thought, a twinge of jealousy tightening her throat.
"Not that it's any business of yours," Gail began tartly, as Jay-Jay stepped unnoticed through the door. "Mr.--?"
"Kilroy." He supplied his name evenly.
"As I said, Mr. Kilroy," she repeated icily, "it's absolutely none of your business, but, since one of my primary functions as my grandmother's executive assistant is to be charming and gracious to all her visitors, I'll answer your impertinent question."
Gail's tone of voice was neither charming nor gracious, and, certain now that she'd come in on the middle of something, Jay-Jay eased the door shut behind her and stood, still unseen, with her shoulder blades pressed against the mahogany panels. Her half-sister lifted her fist from her hip and settled both hands on the back of her chair as she continued to glare at Kilroy.
"I work, as we all do," she said, "because my grandmother is, as my grandfather and my father were, a firm believer in the Protestant ethic. Very simply, if we don't work, we can kiss our trust funds good-bye."
"But why do you do this?" Kilroy persisted, glancing over the paper-scattered desk, then back at Gail. "It seems to me that you'd make a better model, or maybe a designer like your sister."
Visibly, Gail recoiled. Jay-Jay winced. Oh, no, she groaned silently. Inadvertently, he'd struck the still-raw nerves surrounding Gail's old wound.
"Half-sister," she corrected him bitterly. "I can't draw a straight line with a ruler, and our grandmother considers modeling to be little better than prostitution. I do what I'm best at, as do Jay-Jay and Peter. Furthermore, that's why she inherited the twenty-five percent instead of me. Our father, in his infinite wisdom, decided that simply because Jay-Jay can draw and has an eye for color and design as he did, those abilities automatically best suited her to assume Lightbody's helm--rather than someone who can merely type one hundred and twenty words a minute with one hand tied behind her back."
"I see." Kilroy nodded. "But of course you think you could do it better than she can, don't you?" He smiled slowly. "Even with one hand tied behind your back."
"Gail, don't answer him." Jay-Jay pulled the door firmly shut behind her with a solid click.
"Why not?" she demanded, wheeling toward her.
"Because he's a private eye." Ignoring Kilroy's frown, Jay-Jay walked to the desk and leaned her right hand on the corner. "Gran hired him because she thinks someone's trying to kill me.
"Really?" Her half-sister smiled and cocked one eyebrow at Kilroy. "I've just incriminated myself then, haven't I?"
"Probably," Jay-Jay agreed. "You're already one of his prime suspects."
"S'cuse us." Kilroy nodded at a startled-looking Gail, clamped his hand around Jay-Jay's left arm, and towed her out the door.
Like a marionette with broken strings, she tumbled into the corridor behind him, dug her feet into the lounge carpet, and wrenched free. "Hey, watch the rough stuff."
Kilroy turned and frowned. "I'll be glad to if you'll watch your mouth."
"Meaning?" she demanded, parking her hands on her hips.
"Meaning don't throw the gauntlet until you're sure who's going to catch it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.
He pressed the elevator button on the wall and faced her. "It means you don't go around telling everyone you know that I think they're trying to kill you. You might accidentally tell the wrong person."
"So what if I do? Maybe it'll scare him off."
Kilroy snorted derisively. "And maybe the Cubs'll win the pennant."
A soft, melodic bong announced the arrival of the elevator. The doors opened and Kilroy followed Jay-Jay into the car. He leaned against the paneled wall and stared at her, hands resting on the rail, his trench coat flung over one shoulder. She reclined against the opposite wall and stared back. In the few seconds it took the car to drop three floors, she noticed two very interesting things.
His torso narrowed like a funnel and his jacket hung like an empty potato sack over his narrow waist and hips, giving the impression of girth where none existed. It had obviously been bought to accommodate his shoulders and had never been altered, which reinforced Peter's contention that he was single. And his eyes were definitely his best feature, wide-spaced and framed by thick lashes and brows that merged above his nose.
"You don't look anything like your sister," he said flatly.
"Half-sister," she corrected him. "Neither one of us looks like our father."
"Is it true?" he asked. "Is that the reason your father cut her out of his will? Just because you can draw and she can't."
"There's a little more involved with designing than just being able to draw," she retorted defensively. "And Dad hardly cut her out of the will. He left her some stock and a trust fund large enough to bail out the Chrysler Corporation. Besides that, she inherited a pile from her mother, and heaven only knows what Gran's left her in her will."
"Why does heaven only know?"
"Because the terms of Gran's will are the best-kept secret since the combination to the vault at Fort Knox. In any event," she finished with a smug lift of one corner of her mouth as the elevator opened on the fourth floor, "Gail doesn't need the money, which blows your theory about her out the window."
With a prim toss of her head, Jay-Jay exited the car and walked briskly down the corridor. In her office doorway, she collided head-on with Roger Heriteau. He caught her shoulders in his hands and held her at arm's length, his smile registering surprise and delight.
"I hoped you'd hurry back to me." He raised his right hand to touch her cheek. "But I never dreamed it'd be this soon."
Jay-Jay rolled her shoulder out of his grasp and shied away. For a moment, Roger stood like a mannequin, then blinked as his blue eyes lifted over the top of her head. One hand swiped at his gilt hair, the other pulled at the vest of his three-piece, gray-striped suit almost angrily.
Looking over her shoulder, Jay-Jay saw Kilroy sauntering toward them, hands in his trouser pockets, expression nonplussed. She glanced at Roger and realized the two men were staring at each other, sizing each other up.
"Morning." Kilroy stopped beside her, his hands still in his pockets.
"Good morning," Roger replied curtly. "You must be the private detective Peter couldn't wait to tell me about."
"That's right. Gerald Kilroy."
"I'm Roger Heriteau."
Neither man offered to shake hands.
Roger's eyelids took a surprised, reflexive leap, then half-closed, and his jaw tightened. "I see. Well. My office is on the fifth floor. I'll talk to you anytime you like."
"Fine. How about in twenty minutes?"
Roger nodded, then smiled expectantly at Jay-Jay. "Have you decided whether or not I can take you to Genevieve's birthday party Friday night?"
"She already has a date." Kilroy leaned his hand on the wall just above her shoulder. "Me."
"Jay-Jay?" Roger spoke her name sharply, startling her, and she glanced up. There was hurt in his eyes. "I found my rose. I put it back on your desk, but I won't send any more." His smile twisted bitterly and he walked stiffly down the corridor.
Feeling sick inside, Jay-Jay turned away from Kilroy and entered her office. She picked up the milk-glass vase and carried it to the wastepaper basket beside her drawing table. She dropped the rose inside and watched its wet stem dribble a dark smear across a wad of crumpled tracings.
Kilroy appeared, lounging against the closet wall with his arms folded across his diaphragm. "How'd your cousin find out about me?"
"I told him what you said to me on the street." Jay-Jay set the vase on a tall bookcase behind her table and slid onto her stool.
"Why do you suppose he told Heriteau?"
"Because they're friends. We're all friends. At least we were." She spun her stool away from him, parked her elbows on her board, and rested her chin in her hands. Through hot, guilty tears suddenly blurring her vision, she watched him toss his trench coat over her desk chair, cross her office, and pour coffee into two red ceramic mugs. He added sugar cubes to one, walked back to her, and broke up a logjam of pencils on her table to make a place for the other.
"You sure you want him to be your ex-boyfriend?"
"Yes," she sighed.
"Well." Kilroy pursed his lips and managed to look thoughtful and bored at the same time. "I'd say you convinced him."
He turned away and Jay-Jay clenched her fists, quelling the urge to throw the cup at him. Kilroy sat on the corner of her desk, sipped his coffee, and made a face. He set it down in the middle of the leather-edged blotter and reached into his pocket.
"I'm flattered." He nodded at her sketchbook. "But my eyes are too close together."
Jay-Jay flushed, slapped the pad shut, and threw it in the wastebasket. It landed with a hollow thwack that tottered the can on its round bottom. "You're not a very nice person, are you?"
He shook the pack of Marlboros he held, raised it to his mouth, and caught a brown-speckled filter between his teeth. "Depends on who you ask," he answered, sounding uncannily like Humphrey Bogart.
"Speaking of asking, I don't recall asking you to take me to Gran's party."
"You didn't." He cranked the wheel of his Zippo, tipped the cigarette into the flame, and inhaled. "But henceforth wither thou goest, so shall I, which is the way it should've been all along." He dropped the lighter in his pocket, caught his cigarette between his second and third fingers, and rested his palm on his knee. "Your grandmother's a very stubborn woman. Her approach to this was totally impractical, yet she wasn't convinced, not even when the rented car almost nailed you to the Lightbody Building with me no more than fifteen feet behind you."
"Didn't you get a look at the driver?"
Kilroy ignored her sarcasm. "I got the license number."
"I don't remember seeing you."
"Being invisible is part of my job."
Smiling, Jay-Jay leaned back on her stool and laced her fingers around her crossed knees. "What exactly was your arrangement with Gran?"
"Idiotic." He spat the word vehemently. "Without you or anybody else knowing, which your grandmother believed would unnecessarily alarm all concerned, I was not only supposed to figure out who wants you dead, but also make sure they didn't succeed."
Jay-Jay's smile widened. "I get it now. You wanted me to see you this morning. That's why you paraded around the el platform dressed like Bozo the Clown." She unlaced her fingers and applauded. "Bravo. You didn't defy Gran, yet you managed to circumvent her directives."
He smiled for the first time, a genuine uplifting of his mouth that spread to his eyes and creased laugh lines at the corners. It was a nice smile that hinted at a likable person behind the gruff exterior. "I thought this outfit might get your attention."
"And I think," Jay-Jay replied bluntly, "that you're making a mountain out of a molehill."
"You're entitled to your opinion," he answered with a shrug.
"My grandmother has had a pretty rotten last couple of years," she continued quietly. "I think it's beginning to show on her."
He glanced at her sharply as he hooked one finger around a square glass ashtray and drew it toward him. "So?"
"So that's what I think this is. I think that--certain things," she said evasively, "have affected her more deeply than any of us thought. I think she's overreacting and making something sinister out of absolutely nothing."
"And I think--" he began sharply, then pressed his lips together firmly. "Never mind what I think," he finished, and stubbed out his cigarette. "Look, I'm not being paid to argue with you. I'm supposed to keep you alive." He walked toward the drawing table and stopped three steps in front of her. "That's why, from now on, short of sleeping in your bed, I intend to stick to you like a lover."
Oh, please do, she prayed. "All right." Jay-Jay slid off her stool and stood beside him. "Let's go grill Roger."
"Not this time." Kilroy's hands closed around her arms and he effortlessly lifted her back onto her stool. "You just sit here and draw pictures. Loose lips sink ships."
"I have one more question. Do you own a tuxedo?"
"Gran's party is formal."
"So I'll rent one.
"Over my d--" Jay-Jay's tongue stuck on "dead body," and she started over. "I refuse to be seen with a man whose tuxedo fits like it was tailored by Omar the Tentmaker."
Kilroy smiled thinly. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why do you work?"
"I thought Gail already answered that question for you. Why do people who aren't rich think that people who are don't work?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Why do you think I've got the hots for your sister?"
It was close, but Jay-Jay managed not to fall off her stool.
"Touché." Kilroy grinned and sauntered out the door.