Mercury in Retrogradeby Paula Froelich, Marguerite Gavin
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Penelope Mercury, an intrepid reporter at the New York Telegraph, has pounded the pavement for five years from city borough to borough, carrying out her boss's eccentric orders to break stories that seem inconsequential to everyone but him. Finally, she is inches away from being promoted to her dream job-covering courtroom drama for the paper-but after one spectacularly disastrous day, she is fired instead. Lena "Lipstick Carcrash" Lippencrass has a pretty fabulous life, even by a socialite's standards, as top editor at the high fashion magazine Y. Long lunches with her girlfriends and afternoons spent shopping at Bergdorf's are all in a day's work. But when her indulgent parents abruptly cut off her cash flow and kick her out of her beloved West Village duplex because she refuses to work for the family business, Lena is forced to confront the reality of what it takes to pay the bills. Dana Gluck, a workaholic lawyer, had been married for two years to a man who was perfect on paper but increasingly critical in reality. She hoped that her dreams of motherhood would be fulfilled soon, which surely would also fix their marriage problems. Instead, her husband leaves her for an exchange student/model who, to make matters worse, promptly gets pregnant. When fate conspires to have these three very different women move into the same SoHo apartment building, they soon discover that having their carefully planned lives fall to pieces might be the best thing that could have ever happened to them.
Three down-on-their-luck Manhattan women form an unlikely fellowship in Page Six deputy editor Froelich's formulaic-though sometimes funny-debut. Anxious socialite Lena Lippencrass, smalltown transplant-cum-intrepid reporter Penelope Mercury and high-powered lawyer Dana Gluck end up in the same former SoHo tenement building at low points in their lives: Lena, cut off by her wealthy parents, is slumming it on Sullivan Street; Penelope is out of a job after accidentally damaging her office's property; and Dana lives on Weight Watchers while obsessing over her divorce. But once they band together, they right themselves while helping each other. After an initial barrage of New York names and places (and an abundance of parenthetical asides), the novel eventually finds a breezy groove as it traipses through TV newsrooms, high-stakes partnership meetings and a fashion gala at the Met, leading to comically fitting results-and new love interests-for each. Froelich takes a few light shots at socialite Web sites, politicians in prostitution scandals, fashion magazines and drug-addled young celebrities, and the book's message of rejecting gossip and hierarchy is sweetly unexpected, even if everything else is by the numbers. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Read an Excerpt
With Mercury falling into a particularly difficult retrograde, the best advice for you is to JUST STAY HOME. All communications with senior management are fraught with difficulty, and it is best to keep your own counsel.
Penelope Mercury hadn't meant to quit her job without another one waiting in the wings.
In fact, she hadn't meant to quit at all.
Nor had she meant to set the back photo studio on fire.
And it was a complete accident that she had thrown up all over her boss.
But, well, she had.
That Wednesday started off pretty much like every other day for Penelope, with a harsh six a.m. wakeup call from the notoriously indecisive morning news editor of the New York Telegraph, Dan Martman, aka "Martman," who suffered from a severe Napoleonic complex. ("Both 'complex one,' teeny tiny height, and the more nefarious 'complex two,' teeny tiny penis," Penelope had once told her best friend Neal DuBoix. "He's not only short, but Farrah in Business slept with him once and said he's really edited for length, you know...down there...")
Not surprisingly, Martman made up for his indecisiveness and famous shortcomings in volume and ferocity. "Mercury!" he screamed down the early morning line, jolting Penelope out of a deep sleep. "Some asshole got into a fight with his girlfriend and threw her cat out of her fourteenth-floor apartment window in Evergreen Gardens, you know, in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Get the girlfriend, get a picture of the dead cat when it was still an alive cat, and interview the neighbors! Go! Go! Go!"
"Do we have her address?" Penelope asked, grabbing for her bedside notepad and pen as Martman rambled off the number and street of the unfortunate cat lady. "And is she gonna let me in or is this a blind drop-in?" Her nose was running. She leaned over and peeked out of the window. The sky was a heavy, unfortunate color of gray and snow covered the ground. She quickly added, "I'm still kind of sick from doorstepping in Queens during last week's blizzard and today doesn't look like it's gonna be much better."
One of the more unattractive aspects of being a general assignment reporter or "G.A.R." (an acronym pronounced similarly to the sound one made when sent out on assignment to some hellhole) besides the low pay was that the GAR spent much of her (its) professional life "doorstepping." This meant standing outside someone's home who may have had something newsworthy (read: terrible) happen to them, waiting for him or her to come in or out so as to grab a quote or a picture, while evading fists, snarling dogs, and curses and simultaneously trying to jam one's foot in the door before it closed and locked indefinitely. Doorstepping could take hours and you couldn't even move from the spot to go to the bathroom, because if you missed your target and God forbid someone from the Post or the Daily News got them instead of you, your ass was Martman grass.
"Who fucking cares if there's a storm? It's your goddamn job!" Martman yelled into the phone.
Before Martman could hang up on her or work himself into more of a lather, Penelope tried to ask him about the court reporting position that had just opened up, the one she had volubly coveted for five years.
"Well, okay, but did you make a decision on Kershank's job? You said I was the frontrun "
"Just get the goddamn story!" Martman screamed, cutting her off before hanging up.
Sammy Kershank had given notice a month earlier to go work for Newsweek, leaving his job as a Manhattan court reporter tantalizingly open. Penelope, who'd been slaving away under Martman's iron fist, proving herself as a GAR, had been eyeing the position since she'd started at the Telegraph seven years earlier.
Penelope sighed. She wanted that job more than anything she'd ever wanted in her life. She pushed play on her CD alarm clock that was shoved into the corner of her bed (alongside her makeshift "desk area" of notebooks, pens, and tissues). "She works hard for the money," Donna Summer belted out, "so hard for it honey, so you better treat her right alright!"
You tell 'em, Donna. Penelope smiled as she hacked out a cough, giving Ms. Summer a mental high five as she threw her slightly yellowed down comforter off and blew her nose in one of the tissues that was tucked in beside the alarm clock.
Penelope had moved to New York in 2002 after four years of struggling through a journalism major at Ohio State University (academia was never her thing), not too far from her hometown of Cincinnati, brimming with dreams of a Pulitzer and all the usual excitement of a recent New York transplant. She found the tiny three-room rent-stabilized apartment at 198 Sullivan Street between Prince and Houston in the hip area of Soho by calling a number on the front of the building that had read, "Apartments: No Fee." The fourth-floor walk-up was only a thousand dollars a month. More accustomed to Ohio real estate prices, Penelope didn't realize it was a steal. ("I always thought that for a grand a month I'd get a terrace or at least a real bathroom," she'd said to Neal, who'd responded, "Dorothy, you're not in Ohio anymore").
It turned out to be so cheap for New York because the bedroom was small enough that it could fit only a full-sized bed and a dresser which she'd fortuitously found on the street corner two weeks after she'd moved in. Despite having a few water stains on the top, it was a beautiful cherry wood and worked perfectly. The kitchen sink in the tiny room that held a half-stove and a fridge doubled as the bathroom sink, as the bathroom was actually a series of two closets on either side of the living room one of which hid a toilet, and the other disguised a shower.
The living room was a misnomer. It was ten feet by ten feet and didn't leave very much room to live in at all. But Penelope had managed to squeeze in a small futon from IKEA (prized for its ability to deconstruct and get through the door more than for any other reason), a glass coffee table, and a small cozy chair that looked like a faux-leather La-Z-Boy but didn't lounge back. On the bright side, coffee drips on pleather could be wiped away like nothing ever happened.
"It used to be an old tenement building, and no one was supposed to have their own bathroom," the old man who was to become her landlord said. "So we made do. But it's got its original tin ceilings and hardwood floors. Don't eat too much in here, though. There are rats in the walls we've been trying to exterminate for years."
Penelope took the apartment immediately, despite the palpable presence of rats and absence of terrace, more out of necessity than anything else, and set about getting a reporting job. After a brief and unhappy internship at a financial weekly that lasted the duration of a single issue, she met someone who knew someone who got her a job as a copy kid at the New York Telegraph, a tabloid with headlines like "Kabloomie!" (about American troops bombing poppy fields in Afghanistan) or "I-say-ah You're Fired!" (about Isaiah Thomas being dismissed from the Knicks after losing a sexual harassment case against a coworker he'd continually referred to as a "bitch").
Two years later Penelope was promoted from copy kid where basic duties included getting coffee for any editor who felt thirsty and lazy (basically, all of them), collecting packages from the messenger center, running errands, and sorting mail to general assignment reporter. She was a great GAR. She'd go anywhere, do anything, ask the most ridiculous questions, and could gain almost anyone's trust.
The job had also helped decorate her apartment for free and thus, seven years later, reflected her many travels throughout the boroughs of New York. Above her bed was a large Jackson Pollock-esque drip oil painting that Sherry, the homeless woman/artist who'd rescued a dog from certain death off the subway tracks in Chelsea during rush hour ("Bum Ride!" page 12, lead story, September 18, 2002), had pulled from her shopping cart and given to Penelope after Penelope had taken her to lunch during their interview. In the living room there was a small wooden chair in the corner with an embroidered seat cushion that Mrs. Blackstone, who ran a thrift shop in Crown Heights that had been burgled ("Burglar Breaks in Looking for a Steal," page 21, bottom story, April 7, 2005), had sold her at a steep discount. Penelope had received the 1940s Formica kitchen table gratis from the Grubmans, a Coney Island carnie couple she was the bearded lady, he was the escape artist who were cleaning out their storage closet as Penelope interviewed them about Mrs. Grubman's beard catching on fire during an unfortunate incident with the flame swallower ("Beard Burn!" page 19, right-hand column, July 25, 2004). And all over the walls and fridge were other collected artwork and personal treasures that Penelope had picked up while on various assignments: a Ghanaian bust from Harlem, an Indian painting of the goddess Shiva she'd gotten during a story in Bellerose, Queens, a watercolor of Athens from Astoria, a tiny Torah from Borough Park, and a kitschy set of Russian nesting dolls she'd gotten as a gift from Olga, a Russian escort from Brighton Beach, after Penelope had convinced the Telegraph to pay Olga's bail during the 2006 Russian hooker crackdown in exchange for an exclusive interview ("Mayor Rages: No More Russkie Rent Girls!" the entire front page or "The Wood" as it was known at the paper, February 10, 2006). She'd also given Olga the number of a nearby shelter and a women's support group, but figured Olga probably wouldn't use either.
Besides artwork and furniture, she'd also picked up her best, and pretty much only, friend. She'd met Neal, a chic interior decorator for the city's elite, during a stakeout four years earlier. She doorstepped him during a thunderstorm after his ex-boyfriend, Bernard Bertrand, a dog groomer who'd owned a store called Doggy 'Do and Pussies Too! attempted to burn down the Madison Avenue apartment of Nan Thrice, Neal's society queen client, after Neal broke up with him. The society queen's social standing made her interesting to the paper, but Penelope knew nothing about her. After five hours of sitting on his stoop in the rain, chain smoking under a flimsy black umbrella, Neal had taken pity on her, invited her inside, and given her an exclusive interview. She'd been his "little work in progress" ever since.
His other pet project was a society girl named Lena Lippencrass, and from the stories Neal always told about Lena, she sounded like she could be even more of a project than Penelope. Neal called her "Lipstick Carcrash," for reasons he refused to tell Penelope but which she assumed were due to Lipstick's glamorous job at the fashion magazine Y and her unfortunate habit of colliding with any kind of obstacle, be it a step, an errant tree limb, or a man.
"I've seen the entire world by subway," Penelope told Neal. After seven years at the Telegraph, she figured she knew one person from almost every community on every block in New York and had probably written about them.
But all the really good, juicy stories were uncovered in the court system. Penelope had refused offers of other beats in hopes of being available once her dream job opened up. She didn't want to get sidetracked. Two years earlier she'd even turned down the transport beat, despite the minor pay increase.
"It would be a lateral move that would take me out of the running for courts forever," Penelope explained to Neal. "The transport guys never advance in the paper. Lou Francis was on it for six years and had a heart attack, Kwani Hadebe was so bored with that beat he chose to go back to copyediting, and the only person who went anywhere semi-interesting after working transport was Christine Pride who left for WKBC to do their traffic updates. She's now known as the 'Car Cutie.'"
The hierarchy at the Telegraph was complicated. If you took the right job, you moved up within the paper. If you took the wrong job, you were condemned to that desk forever. Penelope preferred to stay in the GAR pool and still be considered than to sell herself short for an extra five thousand dollars a year, even if that extra five grand would've meant she could stop working the ten hours of overtime a week that ensured Penelope could pay her rent, and maybe have a semblance of a social life.
But holding out for so long was proving to be a tricky game. It was an unwritten rule at the Telegraph that if you were in one position for more than five years, you were considered a "lifer" in that specific job. And Penelope, whose five-year clock was ticking, did not want to be a GAR lifer. GAR lifers eventually become "rewrites" rewriting wire copy and putting in random phone calls to back up the work of the street GARs. While the workload was easier and the chance of being fired without a lawsuit was slim to none, GAR lifers' careers were DOA no chance of promotion or pay hike. Penelope called them "floaters" a term she also used to refer to the little bits of poop that refused to flush in the toilet. ("No matter what they do or don't do they just keep popping back up.") Penelope lived in terror of a potential GAR-to-floater career trajectory.
So when Kershank gave notice, Penelope began lobbying like her life depended on it for his position, working overtime and even when sick. She'd started dropping by Martman's desk every day at least twice, showering him with compliments ("You look so great today, Martman, did you get a haircut?" "Is that a new cologne? It's amazing"), and peppering him with her knowledge of the court system, picked up from years of watching Court TV and Law & Order.
Martman, a man who was more susceptible to flattery than any actual display of court knowledge, seemed open to the idea of Penelope replacing Kershank and just last week said, "You're the front-runner! Now get to Coney Island and get me that midget and his mermaid lover. Now!"
Penelope groaned. It was too early and cold for the Bronx, but she consoled herself with the thought that it was only for a day or two more. She lumbered out of bed to the kitchen sink, where she brushed her teeth and washed her face. She noted her exhausted, disheveled image in the mirror, but decided to take a shower later and put on her "doorstepping" armor. First, long underwear (top and bottom) then a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a long-sleeved crewneck sweater, which she layered under a turtleneck sweater and a cardigan. After lacing up her hiking boots, she donned her long pink puffer coat, which Neal had begged her for years to ditch, that made her look like a small pink Michelin man. "Helloooo, gorgeous!" Penelope said to her reflection in the mirror.
Penelope rolled her long, dark blond curly hair into a bun and made a futile attempt to tame the frizzes that were creating a halo around her head. Good enough! she thought and danced over to the CD/radio alarm clock, cutting off Donna Summer at "Lookin' for some hot stuff baby this evenin', I need some hot stuff baby toniiiight!"
She grabbed her hefty reporter's bag which carried a notebook, several chewed-up pens, an extra sweater, her purse, and a stick of deodorant and shut off the apartment lights before making her way out onto Sullivan Street.
The weather had been forecasted as fifteen degrees with a winter storm on the way, but with the wind chill it felt at least twenty degrees colder, and the mixture of snow and sleet blowing perpendicularly into her face made it worse. Shivering, Penelope fought her way against the wind up Sixth Avenue to the West Fourth Street subway station four blocks away. After slipping twice on the stairs leading down to the trains, she finally made it onto the platform and hopped on the A train heading for one of the high-rise buildings in the Evergreen Gardens projects which was neither green nor surrounded by gardens.
Mercury, the cosmic trickster, is about to play havoc on your life. Shun making important decisions during this time as some crucial piece of information, or component, has gone astray or awry.
Fifteen blocks and about twenty worlds away, in a duplex garden apartment in a brownstone on West Twelfth Street, Lena "Lipstick" Lippencrass's alarm clock went off at exactly 7:25 a.m.
Lena yawned, waking from her Ambien-induced slumber with the cool cucumber slices that she had gingerly put on her eyes the night before still in place. She stretched and, slapping off the alarm, dropped the cucumber slices into the Hermés ashtray wedged in between the clock and the crystal block lamp on her nightstand, which also concealed Lipstick's personal items: pens, hair ties, her prescription stash of Ambien, Xanax in a pillbox shaped like a Fabergé egg ("so Kate Moss"), Klonopin for dire occasions and the new diet pills Dr. Sachs on East Eighty-fourth had started prescribing to the social set ("They're amazing!" said Lena's mother, Lana Lippencrass. "I lost twenty pounds in two weeks at that rate you can be practically Somalian by the Met Gala, darling!").
Lipstick fumbled around to the right side of the bed to what looked like the other nightstand's twin but was really a cleverly designed mini fridge that held small bottles of Poland Spring water and more cucumber slices in a bowl of water freshly cut by Gloria, the maid, who came every Tuesday and Thursday. Opening the fridge, Lipstick grabbed a bottle of water and downed it. Dehydration was a killer.
It was pitch black in her room, thanks to the double-weight drapes that concealed the entire glass wall to the left of the bed, which led to her Parisian-style garden, with the exception of the faint glow from her laptop lying on the pillow next to her head. It was in that exact spot where her ex, Thad Newton III, had laid his disheveled blond, genetically blessed head comfortably for two years until Lipstick saw a photo of him posted on the socialite gossip website, Socialstatus.com drunkenly tongue-wrestling with her nemesis, Bitsy Farmdale. She'd dismissed him instantly after seeing that distressing Web post eight months ago, and the right side of the bed had been empty of human content ever since.
While she had dated Thad for two years, Lipstick had known him for almost a decade. And it was because of him that she'd been given her unusual moniker by her dearest friend, Neal, whose father Dennis had been close friends with Lipstick's father, Martin, since their Harvard days.
Lipstick had been on summer break between her freshman and sophomore years at Princeton and had just gotten her driver's license at the ripe old age of twenty. She'd been driving Neal out to the Hamptons in her mother's BMW, where they'd planned to spend the weekend dining at Sant Ambroeus, playing tennis and going to cocktail parties. Lipstick was, in particular, excited about Nelly Hooper's beach barbecue later that evening where she was hoping to see Thad Newton III, whom she'd spent the previous weekend flirting with.
"He's already called twice to make sure I'm coming!" Lipstick said gleefully, not paying particular attention to the road. "But I think Bitsy may have gotten her claws into him first."
"Now, who is he again?" Neal asked, buckling his seat belt as Lipstick veered onto the shoulder of the Long Island Expressway for a moment before correcting the wheel. "Didn't he come from Rhode Island?"
"He's perfect," Lipstick said, taking Exit 70 to get to Montauk Highway. "He's a banker at J.P. Morgan, lives on the Upper East Side west of Park Avenue went to Dartmouth, his family owns the biggest house in Newport and a cottage in Provence, and he's texting me! Can you believe it?"
"He almost sounds like your father. I'm sure your mother is excited," Neal said, smirking.
"Excited? Why do you think she let me drive her car out? I told her all about him and said the only way we'd make it to Nelly's in time was to drive otherwise we'd be on the Jitney with the rest of the serfs." Lipstick licked her lips. They were dry. "Neal honey, will you pass me my lipstick? I need to refresh."
Neal reached back behind the driver's seat and grabbed Lipstick's Gucci tote. Rummaging through it he found her Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick and quipped, "Slumming it with Revlon, huh? What happened to the MAC Viva Glam I gave you?"
Ignoring him, Lipstick grabbed the makeup and, disregarding traffic, artfully reapplied the color to her lips while looking in the rearview mirror. All would have been fine had that damn curve in Route 27 which Lipstick swore she knew by heart not appeared out of nowhere. As she was putting on her final touches to her bottom lip, the BMW ran off the road into the guardrail, and Lipstick's lipstick smeared across her face, a graphic war wound. It was truly a Lipstick Carcrash a name Neal had lovingly called her ever since, but which Lipstick had forbade him to tell anyone else the provenance of.
Neal, laughing hysterically, had pulled some facial cleansing cloths from her purse and cleaned Lipstick up enough that she looked almost normal. Meanwhile, the damage to the car was fairly superficial and Lipstick still made it to Nelly's just in time to see Thad whisper sweet nothings in Bitsy's ear.
Lipstick hadn't seen Thad for several years after that incident until she ran into him at the American Museum of Natural History's winter gala. By then Bitsy was out of the picture and Lipstick was back in for the next two years.
"I should have paid more attention," Lipstick later grumbled to Neal. "The universe was trying to warn me off him the first time around."
Lipstick opened her laptop, and the screen immediately went from the hazy blue of sleep mode to Socialstatus.com, which she'd been reading prior to falling asleep. The main page was a scroll of photos and captions the one she'd been obsessed with the night before was a picture of Bitsy with Thad at the Newton family's New Year's Eve gala in Rhode Island. Lipstick clicked on the photo (caption: "Cutest Power Couple Ever???") to read the comments, from the supportive ("Bitsy is the new Aerin Lauder. All class and beauty") to the snide ("If she wants a ring so badly, she should have taken note of Mrs. Newton's dress code for the evening: Rhode Island preppy, not New York formal") to the outright nasty ("Someone should tell Bitsy Thad likes bank accounts, not women. Rhode Island is scruffy old money but it hasn't appreciated well. He's only with her because LL dumped him. And LL's daddy is worth more definitely the BBD: Bigger Better Deal between those two").
Lipstick always felt dirty after reading the website, which was run by two mean queens in San Francisco, but over the years it had come to rule young New York society. Everybody liked to see pictures of themselves, and unlike the society magazines, Avenue, Quest, or Town & Country, viewers could comment on the photos and spill gossip, however nasty or untrue it was. And best of all the young up-and-coming socialites could rank themselves, creating a tangible popularity game, keeping them forever no matter how old in high school.
Lipstick took a deep breath and clicked refresh on the website to see that week's results: Bitsy Farmdale was first. Lipstick was sixth.
Disappointed, Lipstick shut the laptop, sighed, and took one last cuddle underneath her thousand-count Frette sheets before hopping out of the king-sized bed she'd specially ordered from the Four Seasons Hotel. She ambled across the white Persian carpet covering the ebonized fishbone floors and, opening the drapes, momentarily blinded herself with the light. She stumbled backward into one of the two nailhead chairs that framed the fireplace, stubbing her toe.
Beyond the nailhead chairs was the creamy limestone bathroom, complete with a "rain room" shower with two oversized ceiling nozzles, a limestone bench, and steam capability. There was also a large egg-shaped limestone tub and a double sink along a mirrored wall.
Not bad, Lipstick, in red Juicy sweatpants and a tank top, thought, eyeing her image in the mirror. Despite eating shellfish last night, her eyes weren't as puffy as she'd thought they'd be. Best of all, her ass didn't seem to have been affected by the dinner with her Y magazine coworkers during which she had succumbed to all five courses at Daniel and endured their uncomfortable stares and whispers for the entire meal. "You're really going to chub out this time," Muffie Dinklage, the senior fashion editor, whispered to Lipstick over her soufflé.
But that hadn't happened. Yet. She wasn't exactly thin, per se, but Lipstick was an Amazonian blue blood. She wasn't fat, just big boned, and being five feet, ten inches over six feet in heels didn't help. But she did try to stay in shape by dabbling with Pilates or Cardio Funk whatever was in that particular month and made it to Sally Brindle's yoga workshop on Broome Street in Soho at least once a week. Lipstick loved Sally, who was not just a yoga teacher, but had, over the years, become a friend and she showed Lipstick how to help maintain her body without starving herself. Had Lipstick devoted her life to the method study of anorexia like some of her Spence schoolmates, she could have modeled. Lipstick was classically beautiful with big brown eyes and full lips. Her prominent nose fit her face and hadn't been chopped down by Dr. Dan Baker, as had the noses of most of the socialites she knew. Her sandy brown hair fell below her shoulder blades in a long, layered Gisele Bundchen way that was artfully streaked blond by Rita Starnella of the Warren Tricomi Salon every month.
Not that her father, Martin Lippencrass, or her mother, Lana, who was the current president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, would have let her model. "Just look at those tacky Hearsts." Lana had gasped upon picking up Harper's Bazaar one day and seeing Lydia Hearst the strawberry-blond publicity-seeking granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst on the cover. "Have they no shame? Her grandfather is rolling in his grave right now. She's not even doing it for charity!" Besides, Lipstick wouldn't have been able to do it anyway. An innate insecurity and inability to sit still would have stopped any modeling career in its tracks. In all of the Lippencrass family photos, Lipstick's shoulders were slightly hunched to cover up her height, and she was always biting her lip or the inside of her cheek when she should have been smiling.
Lipstick glanced at her watch. She needed to get going. Today was meeting day.
After her shower Lipstick went into the walk-in closet, a former third bedroom that now housed her clothing collection. It was packed with the thousands of dresses, skirts, jeans, pants, blouses, purses, and shoes Lipstick had lovingly compiled over the years. Behind the door hung a Polaroid camera and a quilted bulletin board covered with photos of Lipstick in various outfits. Every Thursday at noon sharp, Jack Marshall, the imposing owner/editor/publisher of Y magazine, held an editorial meeting insisting his staff forgo lunch, which he felt helped them lose extra weight (and, according to Jack, everyone could stand to get rid of a few pounds) and God help you if you were dressed in something twice, or worse, something he despised. Last week, the Polaroid showed she'd worn a black Comme des Garcons dress with Manolo heels and a red Versace purse to the meeting. In the margin of the Polaroid was a note saying, "J hates red purse. Ditch." The offending bag was now in the back of the closet with last season's Prada.
After racing through several clothing racks and shoe shelves, Lipstick finally chose a pair of black wool Gucci pants, a brown Gucci sweater, a cream Calvin Klein blouse, a pair of black patent leather Dolce & Gabbana heels, and a Marc Jacobs patent leather satchel.
She snapped a quick Polaroid of her outfit in the bathroom mirror, ran out of the apartment, and caught a cab to the offices of Y magazine.
Mercury wreaks havoc with your senses...and sinuses. All business should be put on hold as nothing is bound to get done anyway.
Round about that time, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Penelope popped out of the subway onto the Bronx streets like a large, layered, pink jack-in-the-box. Sweating from the heat of the subway and the effort of dragging her bag up three flights of stairs, the second she hit the fresh, subzero air above ground, she felt a chill as her perspiration began to freeze. For a quick, hot second, she wished she had taken her father's advice to become a certified public accountant.
Her morning soundtrack was still playing in her head, tunes now courtesy of Foreigner. "You're as cold as ice, you're willing to sacrifice our loooove..."
By the time she reached the building a particularly rundown high-rise in a sea of structures that had all seen better days the weather improbably managed to get worse ("You want paradise, but someday you'll pay the price, I knoooow..."). And no one seemed to be home in apartment 14B, much to her dismay.
This is not a good sign. But I'll be in courts soon. In a nice, dry courtroom, miles away from Martman and paragraphs away from the front page...I'll wait out that cat woman if it takes me all day. I'll even interview the dead cat if I have to...
The wind whipped up the clouds and, as Penelope shivered under the minuscule concrete canopy of the high-rise waiting for the dead cat lady to emerge from her apartment or even answer her buzzer, sleet continued to blow sideways, straight into her face.
Across the street, in the cozy confines of his once silvery blue but now fully rusted 1989 Honda Civic, was Bert Salvino, the staff photographer who'd been sent to meet her and get pictures of the former cat owner or any neighbors who would talk about how wonderful the dead cat was or how horrible the now ex-boyfriend was. Bert, a forty-two-year-old with a greasily sparse comb-over who smelled like he hadn't bathed since 1996, was sitting in his aesthetically crappy but warm and dry hatchback. The car only had one seat the driver's seat. Bert hated everyone especially "dickhead reporters" so much that he'd ripped out all of the other seats so that he, legally, wouldn't be able to chauffeur anyone else, anywhere, ever.
Bert was always sent as a last resort. His refusal to get out of his car meant that he almost always missed the shot and when he did get it, it was inevitably blurry. He should have been fired, but he was on disability. After 9/11, which Bert and every other photographer and reporter at the paper had been sent to cover, Bert had claimed that he'd tripped over a part of the fallen towers, busting his knee. Six years later he was still complaining and filing for disability every few months, despite perfect X-rays and several newsroom eyewitness accounts that he had never actually gotten closer to Ground Zero than Canal Street, about fifteen blocks north of where the twin towers had once stood.
When she saw Bert's car parked in front of the high-rise, Penelope called Martman to question the paper's choice of photographer for the day, enraging him even further. "Listen, I can't stand the guy either, but you try and fire a disabled guy I'd have a lawsuit on my ass in a second," Martman screamed. "And besides, he's all we got there was a triple homicide in Midtown, so stop bitching and get me that fucking cat lady!"
Two hours and three inches of snow later, there was still no sign of life from the building and no one in 14B was answering the buzzer, which Penelope had been dutifully pressing with one frozen finger every five minutes, conserving body heat and warmth by only moving her arm from the elbow, like a garden gnome with one working finger.
At 10:35 a.m., just as a thin layer of ice was forming on the outside of Penelope's coat and she was morphing from small Michelin man to large strawberry Sno-Cone, Martman called again.
Penelope couldn't feel her frostbitten fingers but somehow fished her phone out of her coat pocket and pushed talk.
"Mercury!" said Martman. "Cat lady is in Queens! Get there now!"
"B-b-but," Penelope protested, "I h-h-have b-b-been here f-f-for two hours already "
"Mercury, stop complaining! It was a cock-up on our end. Just get me the cat lady! Now!" And after rattling off the new address in rapid-fire, Martman hung up on her.
A near-frozen Penelope waddled over to Bert's Honda and knocked on the windshield.
Bert, reclining in the Civic in a summery outfit of T-shirt and jeans, topped only by a thin, zip-up fleece jacket, leaned over and grudgingly rolled the street-side window down an inch. He was on the phone and ignored her. Penelope was mesmerized by the heat emanating from the inch of open window. It was smelly heat, but it was still heat. She stuck her fingers on the rim of the pane to try and get any part of her body warm as she leaned in to shout through the open slot.
"B-b-bert," Penelope stammered, "w-w-e have t-t-to go to Queens "
"Yeah, I know," Bert said as he hung up his phone, "just got the call. See you there." And with that, he rolled up the window, put the Honda in drive, and peeled off.
"I hope you b-b-break down on the T-t-triboro Bridge!" Penelope screamed after the disappearing car, before picking up her bag and trudging back to the subway.
Penelope's cough had worsened, and she began to wonder if she might have pneumonia. I should have just taken a sick day, Penelope thought. I'm going to end up on a stretcher in Saint Vincent's. She popped her last two Advil in the train station, got on the A train going downtown, and at Forty-second Street switched to the 7, the local to Queens.
As Mercury swings around, get ready to deal with things you have put off in the past. It will not be pleasant, but necessary.
As Penelope made her way to Queens, Dana Gluck, who, up until that very moment, was well on her way to making her monthly quota in billable hours as a junior partner at Struck, Struck & Kornberg, was forced to unbutton the skirt of her favorite Armani suit, thanks to the twenty pounds she'd put on virtually overnight. To make matters worse, an hour into her fifteen-hour workday, Merck & Co., Inc., her biggest client worth more than ten million dollars in annual revenues to her firm informed her that it had been poached by the wily rival law firm, Krath & McGowan. And then, just as Dana was contemplating what diet plan she would utilize for lunch, the phone rang.
"Dana, are you sitting down?" said Ruth Gluck.
"Yeah, Mom." Dana sighed. "What's up?"
"I just ran into Noah's mother at Kroger."
"Oh, great. How is she?"
"Huh? She's like seventy!"
"No. She is."
Dana's face went numb and her hand fell from her ear, dropping the phone onto the desk with a clatter. Something started buzzing loudly in her ears, and she could feel the bile rise from her stomach. Evya. That bitch. The mere suggestion of her ex-husband's new wife knocked the wind out of Dana.
"Dana? Dana? Hello? Dana?" her mom's voice squawked through the other end of the line.
Dana ran out of her office so fast she knocked her assistant down and barely made it into a stall in the Struck, Struck & Kornberg bathroom, where she sat on the toilet seat with her head in her hands, tears silently splashing onto her two-inch black patent leather Manolo Blahnik pumps.
All methods of communication will be flawed, giving rise to personal misunderstandings.
An hour later Penelope exited the subway in Long Island City. The second she hit fresh air and cell service her phone beeped, full of messages. The first was from her mother. "Penelope, it's your mother...you haven't called me or your father back in a week. We are concerned. I mean, we could be dead, or dying and how would you know? You wouldn't! We'd just be here, in Ohio, decomposing..." Penelope sighed and pressed delete.
The next message was also from her mother. "And another thing. Are you dating anyone? You're not getting any younger you know you're twenty-eight! Did you get the article I sent you on harvesting your eggs? You should think about freezing..."
Again, Penelope pressed delete. She was freezing enough out in the street, and dating had never been easy for her. Since she'd been in New York, she hadn't had much free time and the few men she'd dated had hardly been memorable. Last year she'd even tried Match.com, which had introduced her to Tony, a balding energy trader who had an annoying penchant for high-fiving everyone within earshot every time he made what he thought was an interesting comment ("Yo, that dude looks like a lady high five!" or "Duke guys do it best high five!"). After high-fiving a guy, he would usually follow it up with a belly bump, a move Penelope referred to as the "sumo."
Their first date had been woeful, but Penelope had decided to give Tony another chance as he'd promised he'd take her to Da Silvano, a trendy and pricey restaurant by her house that she couldn't afford. He'd lied. Instead, Tony had taken her to a sports bar in Midtown to watch the Yankees beat the Red Sox, where he'd gotten so excited, he'd not only high-fived her ("Yeah! Yankees rule! High five!") he'd sumoed her and Penelope flew halfway across the room and landed on her ass ("It's not even post-season!" Penelope said as nearby bar patrons helped her to her feet). She'd called it quits after that, fearing permanent sumo-inflicted damage.
The last three calls were from Martman: "Mercury! Abort cat lady mission, she already talked to the Daily News and the Post. We need you down on Wall Street some asshole's been selling World Trade Center rubble for five dollars a pop, like it's the Berlin Wall or something."
Next message: "Mercury? Mercury? Helloooo..."
Final message: "Mercury! Where the fuck are you? I've been trying to call you for an hour now. This is not funny! Get over to Wall Street now!"
Penelope sighed. If she'd felt any better she might have called Martman back and possibly demanded to use one of her three personal or ten vacation days. But two things held her back. First, a minor case of Stockholm syndrome, whereby she had grown accustomed to the abuse flung at her and instead of loathing her tormentor, was willing to jump through flaming hoops of fire to try to please him. And second, she really needed to impress him right now in order to secure Kershank's job. Otherwise, she was doomed.
Still huddling away from the driving snow in a doorway in Queens, Penelope spied Ahmad Musharif's corner bodega shining like a friendly beacon in the blizzard and ran for it. Ahmad's bodega was right by the main subway line in Long Island City, a hub to the rest of Queens, and she visited every couple of months. She entered the store and waved to Ahmad before searching for tissues, a bottle of water, and some Tylenol for the fever. As Penelope dialed Martman back, an overwhelming sense of Sisyphean dread enveloped her. What's next? Penelope thought. Staten Island?
"Mercury! Jesus Christ! Where the fuck have you been?" Martman bellowed when he answered. "The Daily Snooze and the Post got the cat lady in Brooklyn, the World Trade Center asshole has already been processed at central booking, and half the city is being shut down due to this storm and you go missing for hours. What the hell is going on? Where are you Bert's been back in the office for half an hour!"
"I'b id Queens." Penelope sniffed. "Where you told be to go."
"Over an hour ago!" Martman shrieked.
"I was on the subway," Penelope said while digging through her tote bag to pay Ahmad for her stash of medicinal relief. "I couldn't get here eddy faster. Bert wouldn't let be id his car."
"What the fuck are you saying? I can't even understand you!" Martman said.
"Sorry. I'b sick again," Penelope said, sneezing.
"Well, just get back here! We need you in the office now!"
"Okay," Penelope said, wiping her nose on her jacket sleeve. "But I bay habe to leabe early cuz I don't feel so well."
"I had five people call out sick. You want Kershank's job, then you'll leave when your shift is over; now get in here!" Martman hung up.
Penelope sighed and dropped the phone from her ear, hanging her head like a sad, sick pink snowman.
"Madame Penelope," Ahmad said from behind the counter, "you do not look so good. You should not be out in this weather. Perhaps you should go home. How is your mother?"
"Thangs." Penelope sniffled before opening the water bottle and downing the two Tylenol from the paper pocket. "She's ogay...I'll fill you in lader, but I hab to go bag to the office now. By boss is a liddle crazy."
"Yes, yes," Ahmad said, nodding his head. "I could hear him from here. He does not sound like a stable man. You should not listen to him. Every time you come in here he is yelling at you over the phone."
"That's what eberybody says," Penelope said, forcing a laugh. She picked up her bag and, swinging it back onto her shoulder, took a deep breath and said somewhat cheerily, "But I'm gedding a promotion to Manhattan court reporter, so it's ogay!"
"Oh, congratulations!" Ahmad said, handing her a small Pakistani flag from the register. "Take this for good luck!"
"Thangs, Ahmad!" Penelope said, shoving the flag in her pocket, "hab a good day. I'll still come visit you when I'm working in courts!" She opened the door which, when she let go too soon, swung back and hit her with gale force smack in the forehead, but thankfully she was just numb enough not to feel it.
Copyright © 2009 by Jack & Sophie, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Paula Froelich is the deputy editor for the New York Post's Page Six column, a regular correspondent on Entertainment Tonight, and the author of It! Nine Secrets of the Rich and Famous that Will Take You to the Top.
Marguerite Gavin is a seasoned theater veteran, a five-time nominee for the prestigious Audie Award, and the winner of numerous AudioFile Earphones and Publishers Weekly awards. Marguerite has been an actor, director, and audiobook narrator for her entire professional career, and has over four hundred titles to her credit.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Initially I really didn't like the book, maybe the fact that the word p@nis all ready appeared at the bottom of the first page, to me chick lit is supposed to be warm and fun, fuzzy and hilarious with a real sparkle and this felt like a narrative of the characters and why their lives are so whacky. Once I got into the book more I was laughing at some parts, especially when the meeting at Y magazine where Lena Lippencrass works ( socialite wanna be) was going over latest beauty trends and the words "pig embryo cream" popped up, now that was funny, I saw some comedic brilliance there. Overall I don't like chick lit books that read like an issue of Star magazine or In Touch or Us weekly...the writing here wasn't as strong, it felt a little rushed and not as lush and well rounded, I guess I compare all chick lit books to the authors that I all ready love, such as Emily Giffin or Marian Keyes, and so many these days are just okay, a passable way to pass time, but when I favor going to sleep early over reading a book then I know it's the book that's at fault, usually I forgo beauty sleep for reading, which matters to me more. The author was adding horoscope readings for each damsel in distress, kinda weird and distracting to me, it told me nothing that I couldn't guess all ready... Overall this is a cute story, with some colorful characters and funny situations but it took me a while to warm up to it, if it wasn't a Vine book I would probably give up and not finish, but I dislike to leave things unread unless they really suck. I had a hard time relating to the main characters or Penelope, Lena and Dana because they looked more like characters in a book than real people, each one was a bit cookie cutter and separate from the other, I think whether someone's richer or poorer, a snob or a passive snail, they all share characteristics and are similar in some ways, here they were all clearly very different, merely parts in a play.
I am not familiar with the author's work for Page Six in the New York Post, but as a person who has long regarded the Post as a slop rag, I commend Ms. Froelich's need to reach out in the novel world. It gave me a better understanding of why, during the OJ trial, as a friend of Marcia Clark I was interviewed,and not one quote was accurate. The words were all turned around to the rags editorial spin. My kind words would not sell the paper. I imagine much of this book is drawn from parts of the author's very public life and her work environment. This book shows three working girls trying to make it in the Big Apple. A difficult thing to do when you are NICE. Sex sells, scandal sells, bitterness and mockery sell. It is full of name dropping, current fashion fads, and the editorial butchery done in the media. The main characters are really likeable and surrounding cast of characters familiar . We all know someone in this book. The plot was predictable, but fun. Definitely a chick flick type of book complete with happy endings. I guess it just that lately I've read too many of them.
I lost interest at some spots, but the event towards the middle to end of the novel drew me back in.
This book is a poorman's Sex and the City, but just doesn't make it. Characters are hollow and the plot is weak. Don't waste your money on it.
This story is somewhat of a "Sex in the City" theme but it is not that as good. The story of the 3 women is somewhat predictable and in some cases unbelievable. It was not a bad book if you had nothing else to read.