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When we last caught up with Valerie Ryan, she had revealed her philandering husband's secret condo hideaway, busted his bogus marriage to a mail-order bride named Mary, and braced herself to fight for his fortune in a groundbreaking divorce settlement, with the help of attorney Omar Sweet and private investigator Libby Taylor. Roger found another new and excruciatingly young girlfriend, Valerie got in touch with her inner Martha, pulled the plug on her affair with Eddie, and became a local hero when a psychic dream led to a missing womanand a promising first encounter with Detective Michael Avila. Now, V's adventures continue...
Overheard at supermarket checkout: "So I said to my husband, 'Look, if you're going to cheat on me, you'd better do it now so I can divorce you before I hit forty. I want to leave you while I'm still marketable, and nobody's going to want me once I'm forty.'"
Spring is here. The air is balmy, the trees are flowering, and I feel fat. Comfort dictates what vanity prohibits: sleeveless blouses and shorts. I always get depressed when the weather warms, because I can't fully engage with the season. Of course I could if I wanted to. God knows, lots of women around here wear what they want with no apparent regard for rippling flubber, and I admire them even as I stare in disbelief. But I don't have that kind of nerve. So I suffer silently in long pants and quarter-length sleeves.
I suppose I could get cosmetic surgery, but with my luck, I'll be one of those horror stories you see in People magazine. Either I'll wind up with my ass grafted to my face, or I'll never come out of the anesthesia. I'm not sure which is worse.
I'm meeting with Omar and Libby tomorrow. 'Til next time,
Libby has more evidence on Roger. Hunting through his trash can, she discovered deposit slips and statements from offshore banks. "I'm afraid I'd miscalculated your husband's net worth," she told me.
"Ex-husband," I corrected.
"Your ex-husband." She released a small but sincere smile. "Congratulations."
"Thank you. Go on, please." I was sure she'd tell me that he'd squandered all his money in the stock market.
I braced myself for the worst.
"Ms. Ryan, your ex-husband is worth considerably more than our original estimate. Unless I've missed something, his holdings are valued at approximately one hundred and three million dollars. Give or take." I stopped breathing. I looked at Omar, then Libby, then Omar again. "Are you kidding?"
"Ms. Ryan, you're not paying me to kid around." Libby slid a black binder across the table. "Copies of everything. Yours to keep." I distractedly flipped through the pages. My heart was hammering in my ears. One hundred and three million dollars. That tightfisted philandering bastard was the richest man I'd ever met.
Omar slapped his binder. "Ha-hah!" He was beaming. "We're bulletproof, kiddo. We're going to nail Roger Tisdale for every penny."
"With God's help," I added.
"You don't need God's help, kiddo. I'm your lawyer. That's enough."
Libby nodded her head. "He happens to be right." She slid her file folders into a neat black satchel. I noticed then that she was pregnant. I felt a flicker of envy. She was young and pretty and smart, all that promise and happiness, and it all lay ahead. 'Til next time,
Got the Zoe Hayes reward check. Yippee. Now I can pay my bills. I found an online diet support group. I read a message from a woman who said she's tried everything to lose weight. She put on seventy pounds with each pregnancy. At her heaviest, she weighed one sixty-one at five foot four. She said the only thing that worked for her was something called Butt Buster by LiteZone Herbals. These supplements actually adjusted her metabolism, so she burns fat and calories more efficiently. I e-mailed her right away. I wanted to know what was in the stuff, whether it could kill me. She e-mailed back.
"It's all natural. All herbs. It's not cheap, but well worth the money."
Well, pennyroyal is an herb too. That doesn't make it healthy. But I'm intrigued. I think I'm going to try it.
She said I could order through her. Maybe after I pay my bills. I have to see how much money I've got left. 'Til next time,
Big Head, aka soccer coach Jerry Johansen, took the liberty of registering Pete for soccer, and given my suspicions about himthat he has entirely too much interest in my son and may, in fact, be a latent child molesterthis doesn't make me happy.
"You don't think I'm going to coach this team without our best player, now, do you?" he says.
"That was very kind of you, Jerry," I lied.
"Well, I figured you've got your hands full, being a single mom and all. You can drop a check in the mail whenever you have a minute."
I felt oddly comforted. If he were intent on getting his hands on my kid, would he have reminded me to pay him? Wouldn't he have said something like, "Don't worry about the money. It's the least I can do to have Pete on the team"? 'Til next time,
I paid my bills. I have nothing left over. I guess I won't be getting those miracle fat pills after all. I hate being broke, especially in this neighborhood. Lynette's been trying to get me to join a women's investment club. "Even if we don't make a lot of money, it's so much fun to sit around with the girls," she told me. "We'd love to have you join us."
"Now's not a good time." But someday, I hope to have enough money to join Lynette's club, maybe even start one of my own. I'll have to add that to my ongoing list of things to do with Roger's money, a docket that now includes:
1. Buy that historic villa in Tuscany, the one advertised in the back of the New York Times magazine. Fully restored. Nine bedrooms. Expansive balcony overlooking ocean. Private beach. Golf course (I'll learn to play). Horses and stables (I'll overcome my fear of massive animals). Indoor and outdoor swimming pools (I already know how to swim). Pricetag: $3.4 million (pocket change).
2. Hire a live-in masseuse. Have a massage every morning and another before bed. Since it would be too weird to have someone living in the house, I'd have to build a separate guest house in the back. But because I don't really have enough room for a guest house, I'll have to buy the Stropp property behind my house. It's worth about $285,000. I'll offer $400,000 so they can't refuse. I'll let the masseuse live there.
3. Since the Stropp house is too big for just one little masseuse, I might as well hire a full-time house-cleaner, cook (Bobby Flay would be ideal), and gardener, who will plant and tend to hundreds of gorgeous flowers and blossoming trees, and a little vegetable garden for Pete.
4. Fly in all of Pete's favorite soccer players for a private party: Davor Suker, Dennis Bergkamp, David Beckham, George Best, Edgar Davids. I'll pay them whatever they want, but they'll have to leave their wives and girlfriends at home. I'll let Pete choose one to be his private coach.
5. Spend an afternoon in Nordstrom's shoe department, try on hundreds of cool-looking shoes, and buy them all. Pay to have them shipped to my house. Have my full-time housecleaner put them away.
6. Buy my parents an all-expenses-paid deluxe cruise to the destination of their choice, and pay a private physician to accompany them in case my father needs medical help.
7. Take singing lessons with Whitney Houston.
8. Hire the best Chinese chef in Manhattan and build a restaurant so this town can finally experience a real Chinese restaurant, instead of those fake Chinese buffets designed to cater to gluttonous Midwestern white people, the kind that offers white bread and fried chicken wings and Oreo cookies. 'Til next time,
I guess I won't be winning any popularity contests among the soccer moms after my gaffe this afternoon. I was watching Pete on the field. Actually, I was watching the coach watching Pete, and was aware of a churning queasiness (aka gut feeling, that instinctive visceral reaction everyone says you're supposed to heed). The look in Jerry Johansen's eyes was adoring, but also predatory. Sitting there on the splintery bleacher, I debated pulling Pete out of the league. But Pete would hate me for it. He loves soccer. He loves Jerry. He has refused to try any other sport. I struggled with the possibility that I'd imagined everything, and that maybe Jerry Johansen really was a kind man and dedicated coach who likes my kid because he's a talented soccer player.
At that point, I decided that ruminating alone was futile. I needed more input. I scanned the bleachers and spotted C.J. Patterson, one of the nicer Mushroom Heads. She was sitting on her portable padded bleacher seat with a big red jug on her left, a knitting basket on her right. As usual, C.J. was dressed like a one-woman Fourth of July. She was wearing crisp nautical blue capri pants, a red sleeveless cotton top, white crew socks, blindingly white leather Keds, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. I called out her name, and she smiled benevolently and gestured for me to sit beside her. She moved the knitting basket to her feet. I saw that she was knitting a sweater, an elaborate masterwork in varying shades of indigo chenille.
C.J. Patterson wasn't a beautiful woman, but she had all the beauty money could buy: surgically enhanced breasts, laminated teeth, a resculptured nose, bottle-bronze skin, blue-tinted contacts. Her highlighted blond hair was tucked beneath the hat, which could mean only one thing: She was overdue for a root job. "Want a cup of Crystal Light?" I watched her pour the pink liquid into a plastic tumbler. "How are you? It's been forever."
"I know," I said, trying to return her enthusiasm.
"It's been ages." I didn't want to talk about Roger or the divorce or my psychic encounter, or anything else she had surely heard about me. "Listen, C.J.," I began. "What do you think of Jerry? The coach."
She squinted at me. "What do you mean?" Based on that squint, I was sure she shared my qualms. I was thrilled to have a sympathetic listener. I moved closer and lowered my voice. "I think he has a little too much interest in Pete. I mean, I think he likes him a little too much, if you know what I mean."
"For your information, Jerry Johansen is the pastor of the junior congregation at our church! You couldn't find a more decent man!" She pulled her knitting to her bosom as if to shield herself from my demonic aura. "You see? This is how rumors get started! You start spreading these little innuendoes and you wind up ruining another human being. Is that what you want? To ruin Jerry Johansen?"
By the end of the game, I saw that C.J. had been joined by Eric's mom, another Junior Leaguer. They were huddled close and at one point I thought I heard C.J. say, "Like she should talk." 'Til next time,
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