Over Her Dead Body (Bailey Weggins Series #4)by Kate White
White, the editor-in-chief for "Cosmopolitan," delivers a sizzling-hot mystery that takes readers inside the cutthroat world of celebrity magazines. RSharper than a stiletto heel, funnier than a bad dye job.S"Publishers Weekly," starred review.See more details below
White, the editor-in-chief for "Cosmopolitan," delivers a sizzling-hot mystery that takes readers inside the cutthroat world of celebrity magazines. RSharper than a stiletto heel, funnier than a bad dye job.S"Publishers Weekly," starred review.
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Over Her Dead Body
By Kate White
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Kate White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat you see isn't always what you get.
The trouble with clichés is that they're so downright tedious, you fail to pay any attention to the message they're meant to convey. And sometimes you really should. I know because during a very hot and muggy summer in New York City, that particular cliché jumped up more than once and took a large, hard bite out of my butt.
On the initial occasion, before summer even started, I was an idiot to have been blindsided. It was the last week in May and Cat Jones, my boss at Gloss magazine, had invited me out to dinner. Now, there was nothing inherently odd in Cat treating me to a meal-despite our work arrangement, we'd always been friends in a weird sort of way. But she'd suggested that we meet at six forty-five at a kind of out-of-the-way place in the Village, and that's when the warning bells should have sounded. As a friend of mine once pointed out, when a guy suggests dinner at an untrendy restaurant before seven o'clock, you can be damn sure that he's going to announce he's in love with another chick and he's hoping for a fast escape before you start to sob and lunge for his ankles. My mistake was not realizing that the same warning applied to bosses, too.
I did suspect that the dinner was going to be more work related than personal. For the past few years I've been under contract with Gloss to write eight to ten crime or human-interest stories a year. Cat had worked out the arrangement herself when she'd first arrived at Gloss and was in the process of turning it from a bland-as-boiled-ham women's service magazine into a kind of Cosmo for married chicks. I'd always pitched my own story ideas, and they were green-lighted pretty quickly. But lately I'd been batting zero, and I didn't know why. Perfect example: Two weeks ago I'd suggested a piece on a young mother who'd disappeared without a trace while jogging. The husband had become the main suspect, though interestingly it was she, not he, who'd been having an affair. Cat had nixed the idea with the comment "Missing wives just feel sooo tired to me." Tell that to the Laci Peterson family, I'd been tempted to say-but hadn't. My hunch was that Cat had suggested dinner together so she could offer me insight into what kind of crime didn't put her to sleep these days.
I arrived at the restaurant first, which is typical when dealing with Cat, but at least it gave me a chance to catch my breath. It was a small, French country-style restaurant on MacDougal Street in the Village, and I ordered a glass of rosé in honor of the weather and the ambience. As each group of new diners strolled through the door, they brought a delicious late spring breeze with them.
Let this be a hint of how delicious the summer will be, I prayed. I was thirsty for a summer to end all summers. In January, I'd broken up with a guy I'd really cared about, and though I wasn't eager for another serious relationship right now, I was hoping for some kind of romantic adventure. I'd had a brief fling in late winter with a male model in his early twenties, ten years younger than me, but then he'd relocated to Los Angeles. After that it had been slim pickings unless you count four or five booty calls with an old beau from Brown who had become so stuffy that I practically had to ask him not to talk. I'm pretty, I guess, in a kind of sporty way-five six, fairly slim, with brownish blond hair just below my chin-and generally I'd never had trouble rustling up dates. I was banking on the fact that my dry spell might end now that we were in the season of nearly effortless seductions.
Cat sauntered in about ten minutes late, and heads swiveled in her direction. She's in her late thirties, gorgeous, with long, buttery blond hair, blue eyes, and full lips that never leave the house unless they're stained a brick red or dusky pink. She was wearing slim turquoise pants and an exotic gold-and-turquoise embroidered top that made her look as if she'd just come from the casbah.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, slipping into her seat. "Minor crisis."
"Diverted, I hope."
"Unfortunately, no. I'm having a huge problem with the new beauty editor. Her copy is about as exciting as the instructions that come with a DVD recorder, and her judgment sucks."
"What did she do this time?"
"She signed up for a junket to Paris without clearing it with anyone."
"Really?" I said, feigning interest just to be polite. I felt about as much concern as I would have if Cat had announced she could feel a fever blister coming on. "What else is going on?"
Before she could answer, the waiter scurried over. Cat ordered a glass of Chardonnay and asked for the menus ASAP. Hmm, I thought. She seemed in a hurry, almost on edge. I wondered if something might be the matter.
"So, where were we?" she asked as the waiter departed.
"I was asking what else was new."
"Oh, the usual," she said distractedly. "It's been kind of crazy lately."
"How's Tyler?" I inquired, referring to her little boy.
"Good, good. He managed to graduate from nursery school even though he bit two of his classmates during the last month. I thought the parents were going to ask that we have him checked for rabies. How about you? Are you going up to your mother's place on Cape Cod this summer?"
"I'll go up a couple of times, but just for weekends. Both my brothers will be around with their wives and I end up feeling like a fifth wheel with them-though they try their darnedest to be inclusive."
"So you're not madly in love with someone these days?"
"No, and that's okay. All I would love this summer is a fabulous fling with someone."
"Sounds good. You're still in your early thirties and you've got plenty of time to get into something more serious. Shall we look at the menus?"
Oh boy. Something was definitely up. She was moving things along so quickly that the next thing I knew she'd be asking the waiter to connect me to a feeding tube. As soon as we'd ordered, I decided to take the bull by the horns.
"Is everything okay, Cat?" I asked. "I have the feeling that something is on your mind."
Cat studied the tablecloth with her blue eyes, saying nothing. I could see now that she was nervous as hell.
"Cat, what's up?" I urged. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, not exactly. Bailey, I've got bad news, and it's so hard for me to say." As she raised her head, I saw a half tear form in the corner of her left eye.
"Are you having marriage problems again?" I asked.
"No, it doesn't involve me," she said. "It involves you."
"Me?" I said, thunderstruck. I couldn't imagine what she was talking about, though I felt a wave of irrational panic, the kind I always experienced when an airline clerk asked me if I'd packed my own bags. "Why? What's going on?"
"Let me start at the beginning," she said after taking a deep breath and straightening her already straight utensils. "You're aware, I'm sure, from some things I've said over the past year, that Gloss has been challenged on the newsstand. At first I blamed my entertainment editor for not being able to book me the right people for covers. Then I began to see that it was something more fundamental than that. My whole vision for Gloss when I first arrived there was to make it fun and sexy and juicy, full of the most important news in a young married woman's life. I wanted the magazine to generate buzz. And it worked brilliantly-for a while."
She paused and took a long sip of her wine. I had a bad feeling about where this was headed.
"Well, I've been doing some research-focus groups, phone surveys. It's the most fucking draining experience in the world, but in the end it's been worth it. I feel I have some answers. And it's clear to me that the world is changing, women are changing, and I'm going to have to change directions with the magazine."
"How do you mean?" I asked. It came out in the form of a squeak, like the sound a teakettle makes after you've turned it off but it's filled with enough leftover steam for one last desperate peep.
"I think that these days Gloss needs to be less about buzz and more about bliss," she said.
"Bliss?" I said, almost choking on the word. "Are you talking about things like, uh, aromatherapy and savoring the sunrise?"
"Believe it or not, yes. Women are stressed, and they want relief from that stress. We need to create features in the magazine that help them deal with all of that. Look, Bailey, it's not my cup of tea. I think you know me well enough to know that my bullshit meter goes off the minute I hear words like 'feng shui.' But I'm fighting for my survival here."
"So where do I fit into all of this?" I could feel my dread ballooning like one of those pop-up sponges that has just been submerged in water.
"This is so hard for me to tell you, Bailey. You know how much I care about you-and you also know that I think you're an amazing writer. But I've come to realize that I need to seriously pull back on the crime stories for the magazine. I've rejected a bunch of your ideas lately, and it's not because there's anything wrong with them. I just look at each one and I can't picture it in the new mix I've got in mind. You can't have page after page on how to live a serene life and then jam in a story about a woman whose husband has smashed in her skull with a claw hammer and dumped her body in Lake Michigan."
I'd done some discreet snooping over the past year, and I was aware that circulation numbers at Gloss had become less than stellar, that Cat was probably under a ton of pressure. I'd even considered the idea that she might lose her job down the road and I'd be out of the best of my freelance arrangements. But I'd never entertained this particular permutation-or thought that anything would happen so soon.
"But what about my human-interest stories?" I asked, floundering.
"I wish I could include them," she said, looking at me almost plaintively. "And I've thought over and over about whether there's a way to fit them in. But they're just not on the same page with what we'll be doing. I need to make Gloss very visual. In some ways, pictures are the new words today. I'm not saying that we'll have only photos in Gloss, but the articles we run will be shorter-and gentler."
Her words stupefied me. It was as if she'd just announced that she had written an op-ed-page article for the Times in favor of creationism. I was too dumbfounded even to offer a reply.
"But don't worry," she continued with a wan smile. "You have five articles left on your contract, and of course I'm going to pay you the entire amount."
"And then that's it?"
"Bailey, this is killing me to say it. Yes, that's it. Gloss is in trouble and I need to fix it-or they'll hire someone who will."
For a few seconds my anger found a foothold, but it didn't get very far. What was the point in being furious with Cat? I could tell she was being honest and that she believed her job was on the line. But that didn't make it any better for me. I felt hurt, disappointed, even, to my surprise, humiliated, as if I'd been handed a pink slip and told to clear out my desk within the hour.
The dinner came and we picked at our food. Cat tried to praise my writing some more, and I suggested we move on to other topics, which turned out to be as easy to find as the Lost City of Petra. Neither one of us bothered with coffee, and when she offered me a lift home, I lied and said I had to make a stop nearby.
"Here's a thought," she said, lingering on the sidewalk beside her black town car. "Would you be open to writing a different kind of piece for me?"
I smirked involuntarily. "You mean like 'How to Optimize Your Chi'? No, I don't think so. But thanks for asking."
"Bailey, I'm sorry, truly sorry," she said.
"I know," I told her. "And I'm sorry if I sounded sarcastic just then. It's just that you've really thrown me for a loop."
The driver, perhaps trained to run intervention at awkward moments, leapt out of the car and opened the door. Cat slid in and waved good-bye soberly. As the car moved soundlessly down MacDougal Street, I thought: Of course she doesn't want to jeopardize her job at Gloss. God forbid she should ever be forced to take a taxi instead of a Lincoln Town Car.
I slunk home on foot through the Village, like a little kid who had just been banished from the playground for having cooties. It took only fifteen minutes for me to make it to my apartment building on the corner of 9th Street and Broadway, but the short walk gave me a chance to assess my new lot in life.
Financially the situation was in no way a disaster. Ever since my ex-husband, the Gamblers Anonymous dropout, had run through much of our mutual savings and hawked some of my jewelry, money matters had made me extremely anxious. But I was really going to be okay. I wrote for other magazines besides Gloss, and my relationship with most of them was good. And luckily I also had a backup source of income. My father died when I was twelve, leaving me a small trust fund that provides a regular income each year. Nothing that puts me in the league with the Hilton sisters, but it helps pay for basic expenses, like the maintenance on my one-bedroom apartment in the Village and a garage for my Jeep.
What I was going to have to kiss good-bye, however, were all the extra niceties I'd been enjoying thanks to my generous Gloss contract-everything from cute shoes to el grande cappuccinos to the occasional Saturday afternoon massage. I'd gotten used to them, spoiled, like one of those women who can have an orgasm only with a Mr. Blue vibrator.
I'd also miss having an office to go to, someplace to mingle with other human beings. And there was something else, I suddenly realized to my horror. In the fall, a collection of my crime articles was being published by a small book company, and now I wouldn't have the Gloss affiliation to leverage. What would the jacket say? "Bailey Weggins is a freelancer who works out of her own home. When she isn't writing, she enjoys going through her coat pockets looking for spare change." Cat had even promised to help with PR, since so many of the articles in my book had first appeared in Gloss. Now I'd have to rely on the book company's tiny, and reputedly weak, publicity department. I'd heard from another writer that the last time they'd gotten someone on the Today show was for a book on the negative charisma factor of Michael Dukakis.
After letting myself into my apartment, I helped myself to the last cold beer in the fridge and checked the calendar on my BlackBerry. I had a fairly busy week ahead, but I'd have to make time to talk to editors and see if there was the potential for another contributing-editor gig someplace else. I'd forgotten that tomorrow night I was having drinks with Robby Hart, an old pal from Get, the magazine I'd worked at before Gloss-and where I'd first met Cat. Robby was a great networker and the perfect person for me to brainstorm with.
As it turned out, my drink with Robby was the only step I ever had to take in my job search.
The spot he'd chosen for us to meet on Thursday night was a wine bar on the Lower East Side. Robby was already at a table when I arrived, dressed as usual in a cotton plaid button-down shirt with a white undershirt peeking out from underneath. I guess you can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can't take Ohio out of the boy. As soon as he spotted me, he stood up to greet me and offer one of his big toothy Robby smiles. He'd never been Mr. Svelte, but I realized as we hugged each other that he'd put on some weight since I'd seen him last.
"Wow, it's so good to see you," he said. "It's been too long."
"I know. I've been so looking forward to this."
The waiter strolled by just as I was sitting down, and I asked for a glass of Cabernet.
"Nice 'do," Robby said, pointing with his chin toward my hair. "I almost didn't recognize you."
"Thanks, I decided to grow it out. But just watch-once it's finally long enough to pull into a sloppy bun, they'll be out of style."
"Well, at least you've got some to grow," he said. Robby was my age but totally bald.
"So tell me-how's the new gig?" I demanded. "I'm dying to hear."
Excerpted from Over Her Dead Body by Kate White Copyright © 2005 by Kate White. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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