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Before redecorating a room, I always advise my clients to empty it of everything but one chair. Then I suggest they move that chair from place to place, sitting in it, until the placement feels right. Trust your instincts when deciding on furniture placement. Your room should "feel right."
Gut feelings. You know, that gnawing in the pit of your stomach that warns you that you are about to do the absolute stupidest thing you could do. Something that will ruin life as you know it.
I've got one now, standing at the butcher counter in King Kullen, the grocery store in the same strip mall as L.I. Lanes, the bowling alley cum billiard parlor I'm in the process of redecorating for its "Grand Opening."
I realize being in the wrong supermarket probably doesn't sound exactly dire to you, but you aren't the one buying your father a brisket at a store your mother will somehow know isn't Waldbaum's.
But then, June Bayer isn't your mother.
The woman behind the counter has agreed to go into the freezer to find a brisket for me since there aren't any in the case. There are packages of pork tenderloins, piles of spareribs and rolls of sausage, but no briskets.
Warning number two, right? I should so be out of here. But no, I'm still in the same spot when she comes back out, brisketless, her face ashen. She opens her mouth like she is going to scream, but only a gurgle comes out.
And then she pinballs out from behind the counter, knocking bottles of Peter Luger Steak Sauce to the floor on her way, hitting the tower of cans at the end of the preparedfoods aisle and sending them sprawling, making her way down the aisle, careening fromside to side as she goes.
Finally, from the distance, I hear her shout. "He's deeeeeeaaaad! Joey's deeeeeaaaad."
My first thought is, you should always trust your gut.
My second thought is that now my mother will know I was in King Kullen. For weeks I will have to hear "What did you expect?" as though whenever you go to King Kullen someone turns up dead. And if the detective investigating the case turns out to be Detective Drew Scoones well, I'll never hear the end of that from her, either.
Several people head for the butcher's freezer and I position myself to block them. If there's one thing I've learned from finding people deadand this guy is not my firstit's that the police get very testy when you mess with their murder scenes.
"You can't go in there until the police get here," I say, stationing myself at the end of the butcher's counter and in front of the Employees Only door, acting like I'm some sort of authority. "You'll contaminate the evidence if it turns out to be murder."
Shouts and chaos. You'd think I'd know better than to throw the word murder around. Cell phones are flipping open and tongues are wagging.
I amend my statement quickly. "Which, of course, it probably isn't. Murder, I mean. People die all the time and it's not always in hospitals or their own beds, or " I babble when I'm nervous and the idea of someone dead on the other side of the freezer door makes me very nervous.
So does the idea of seeing Drew Scoones again. Drew and I have this on-again, off-again sort of thing that I kind of turned off.
Who knew he'd take it so personally when he tried to get serious and I responded by saying we could talk about us tomorrowand then caught a plane to my parents condo in Boca the next day? In July. In the middle of a job.
For some crazy reason, he took that to mean that I was avoiding him and the subject of us.
That was three months ago. I haven't seen him since. The manager, who identifies himself and points to his name tag in case I don't believe him, says he has to go into his cooler. "Maybe Joey's not dead," he says. "Maybe he can be saved, and you're letting him die in there. Did you ever think of that?"
In fact, I hadn't. But I had thought that the murderer might try to go back in to make sure his tracks were covered, so I say that I will go in and check. together while everyone pushes against the doorway to in, erasing any chance of finding clean prints on that Employee Only door.
I expect to find carcasses of dead animals hanging from hooks and maybe Joey hanging from one, too. I think it's going to be very creepy and I steel myself, only to find a rather benign series of shelves with large slabs of meat laid out carefully on them, along with boxes and boxes marked simply "chicken."
aged man with graying hair sprawled faceup on the floor. His eyes are wide open and unblinking. His shirt is stiff. His pants forgive the punis frozen. Bill-the-manager crosses himself and stands mute while I pronounce the guy dead in a sort of happy-now? tone.
"We should not be in here," I say, and he nods his head emphatically and helps me push people out of the doorway just in time to hear the police sirens and see the cop cars pull up outside the big store windows.
Bobbie Lyons, my partner in Teddi Bayer Interior Designs
also my neighbor, best friend and private fashion police), and Mark, our carpenter (and my dog-sitter, conand ego-booster), rush in from next door. They beat cops by a half step and shout out my name. People point my direction.
After all the publicity that followed the unfortunate incident during which I shot my ex-husband, Rio Gallo, and then the subsequent murder of my first clientwhich I solved, I might addit seems like the whole world, or at least all of Long Island, knows who I am.
Mark asks if I'm all right. (Did I remember to mention that the man is drop-dead-gorgeous-but-a-decade-tooyoung-for-me-yet-too-old-for-my-daughter-thank-God?) I don't get a chance to answer him because the police are quickly closing in on the store manager and me.
"The woman" I begin telling the police. Then I have to pause for the manager to fill in her name, which he does: Fran.
I continue. "Right. Fran. Fran went into the freezer to get a brisket. A moment later she came out and screamed that Joey was dead. So, I'd say she was the one who dis
"And you are ?" the cop asks me. It comes out a bit like who do I think I am, rather than who am I really?
"An innocent bystander," Bobbie, hair perfect, makeup and me.
"And she was just leaving," Mark adds. They each take one of my arms.
Fran comes into the inner circle surrounding the cops. In case it isn't obvious from the hairnet and blood-stained white apron with "Fran" embroidered on it, I explain that she was the butcher who was going for the brisket. Mark and Bobbie take that as a signal that I've done my job and they can now get me out of here. They twist around, with me in the middle, like we're a Rockettes line, until we are facing away from the butcher counter. They've managed to propel me a few steps toward the exit when disasterin the form of a Mazda RX-7 pulling up at the loading curbstrikes.
Mark's grip on my arm tightens like a vise. "Too late," he says.
Bobbie's expletive is unprintable. "Maybe there's a back door," she suggests, but Mark is right. It's too late.
I've laid my eyes on Detective Scoones. And while my gut is trying to warn me that my heart shouldn't go there, regions farther south are melting at just the sight of him.
"Walk," Bobbie orders me.
And I try to. Really.
Walk, I tell myself. Just put one foot in front of the other.
I can do this because I know, in my heart of hearts, that if Drew Scoones were still interested in me, he'd have gotten in touch with me after I returned from Boca. And he didn't.
Since he's a detective, Drew doesn't have to wear one of those dark blue Nassau County Police Department uniforms. Instead, he's got on jeans, a tight-fitting T-shirt and a tweedy sports jacket. If you think that sounds good, you should see him. Chiseled features, cleft chin, brown hair that's naturally a little sandy in the front, a smile that well, that doesn't matter. He isn't smiling now.
He walks up to me, tucks his sunglasses into his breast pocket and looks me over from head to toe.
"Well, if it isn't Miss Cut and Run," he says. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere in Florida or something?" He looks at Mark accusingly, as if he were covering for me when he told Drew I was gone. there." He jerks his head in Fran's direction.
Drew continues to stare at me.
You know how when you were young, your mother always told you to wear clean underwear in case you were in an accident? And how, a little farther on, she told you not to go out in hair rollers because you never knew who you might seeor who might see you? And how now your best friend says she wouldn't be caught dead without makeup and suggests you shouldn't either?
Okay, today, finally, in my overalls and Converse sneakers, I get it.
I brush my hair out of my eyes. "Well, I'm back," I say. Like he hasn't known my exact whereabouts. The man is a detective, for heaven's sake. "Been back a while."
Bobbie has watched the exchange and apparently decided she's given Drew all the time he deserves. "And we've got work to do, so " she says, grabbing my arm and giving Drew a little two-fingered wave goodbye.
As I back up a foot or two, the store manager sees his chance and places himself in front of Drew, trying to get his attention. Maybe what makes Drew such a good detective is his ability to focus.
Only what he's focusing on is me. "Phone broken? Carrier pigeon died?" he asks me, taking in Fran, the manager, the meat counter and that Employees Only door, all without taking his eyes off me.
Mark tries to break the spell. "We've got work to do there, you've got work to do here, Scoones," Mark says to him, gesturing toward next door. "So it's back to the alley for us."
Drew's lip twitches. "You working the alley now?" he says. "If you'd like to follow me," Bill-the-manager, clearly exasperated, says to Drewwho doesn't respond. It's as if waiting for my answer is all he has to do.
So, fine. "You knew I was back," I say.
The man has known my whereabouts every hour of the day for as long as I've known him. And my mother's not the only one who won't buy that he "just happened" to answer this particular call. In fact, I'm willing to bet my children's lunch money that he's taken every call within ten miles of my home since the day I got back.
And now he's gotten lucky. "You could have called me," I say. "You're the one who set tomorrow for our talk and then flew the coop, chickie," he says. "I figured the ball was in your court."
"Detective?" the uniform says. "There's something you ought to see in here."
Drew gives me a look that amounts to in or out?
He could be talking about the investigation, or about our relationship.
Bobbie tries to steer me away. Mark's fists are balled. Drew waits me out, knowing I won't be able to resist what might be a murder investigation.
Finally he turns and heads for the cooler. And, like a puppy dog, I follow.
Bobbie grabs the back of my shirt and pulls me to a halt. "I'm just going to show him something," I say, yanking away.
"Yeah," Bobbie says, pointedly looking at the buttons on my blouse. The two at breast level have popped. "That's what I'm afraid of."