Irene Seligman loves the warmth and beauty of her Southwest hometown, but only one thing could make her quit her prestigious job as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan to return there: the guilt applied by her demanding mother, Adelle. After Adelle’s most recent husband dies, leaving her with nothing, Irene decides to take a break from prosecuting criminals to move back to Santa Fe and open an upscale consignment store. With Irene’s determination and her mother’s eye for haute couture, they’re sure to make a killing.
But on the day of the grand opening, Irene discovers the body of one of Adelle’s friends in her storeroom. And although the intrigue causes business to boom, when someone else from Adelle’s social circle is murdered, Irene begins to suspect her mother might be in danger too. Ever the protective daughter, Irene investigates her mother’s friends, suspicious that they’re hiding more than designer clothes in their closets. But as she gets closer to uncovering some real skeletons, Irene might not live to regret coming home again.
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There was a dead woman in Irene’s closet.
She discovered the body in the small storage space of her store on the first day she opened for business. It was still two hours away from the nine a.m. opening, and she was absolutely certain the body hadn’t been there the day before, which was Sunday, when she was getting the store ready.
The dead woman sat with her legs straight out, her upper body leaning against the wall. She was dressed in blue silk Prada pants. She wore a brown silk jacket, also Prada. The jacket was bloodstained, the blood having come from the bullet wound in her head. The woman herself had been an attractive blonde, probably in her late thirties, Irene estimated, because she herself was in her late thirties and recognized some of the early signs of aging.
No, not aging, maturing.
Of course she called the police.
Two officers came to investigate. One of them was the chief of police, Andrew Iglesias, an attractive, youngish man with dark hair and eyes. It was not uncommon for the chief to be part of an investigation in a place like Santa Fe, not big enough to be a city, but bigger than a small town. The other one was an assistant in a uniform no less well pressed than the chief’s, young and probably Hispanic like the chief, but Irene didn’t catch his name. It was not like her to miss details like that. She’d been an assistant D.A. back in Manhattan, where she’d excelled in her ability to pay attention to and remember details. However, back then she’d never found a dead woman in her closet, which, she realized, rattled her somewhat.
“Do you know this woman?” Chief Iglesias asked.
“I know that her name is Loraine Sellers, and she was a friend of my mother’s, but I wouldn’t say I knew her.”
“Your mother. That would be Adelle Daniels.”
“Yes. How did you know that?”
“Word gets around,” the chief said. “How did she get in that storage closet?”
“I don’t know.” She hoped he wasn’t implying that she was in the habit of stuffing dead people in her closet.
“How long has she been here?” he asked.
“I have no idea. I just discovered her when I opened the closet. I called you right away.” While it was true she didn’t know exactly when the body was placed in her closet, she estimated that the woman had been dead no more than four hours, because the body was still rigid. However, she didn’t mention that to the chief or his assistant, assuming they would see it for themselves. Nor did she mention that the body was dressed in a four-thousand-dollar-plus outfit, although she wasn’t sure whether or not they would realize that.
“You only recently leased this building, didn’t you?” the chief asked.
“You’re new to town.” The chief’s handsome face crumpled into a scowl, as if being new in town might be a crime.
“How did you arrange the lease so fast?”
“My mother helped me with the arrangements,” she said, and started to add that she had actually grown up here. But she stopped, having learned long ago that under most circumstances it was generally best not to volunteer information.
“You mean she leased it for you.”
“No, I mean she helped me with the arrangements. I leased it myself.”
“How long ago?”
“About a month. Long enough to have a little remodeling done before I brought in merchandise.”
“What kind of remodeling?” He frowned again, and Irene noticed that he wasn’t writing notes as he questioned her.
“You probably know the building used to be a restaurant and that it’s been vacant for over a year. I had counters removed and new ones installed, and racks for the clothing.”
“Would you call the remodeling extensive?”
“What does this have to do with a murder investigation?”
He asked again without answering her question. “Would you call the remodeling extensive?”
“No.” She’d gone back to her resolve not to say more than was necessary.
“Who did the remodeling?”
“Someone my mother hired. His name was Russell Something. Sanderson, I think, or Sandoval.”
“When did he finish the job?”
Irene hesitated for a moment, wondering if the chief was just incompetent, since he was focusing so much on the building, or if he knew something she didn’t know. “A couple of weeks ago,” she said finally.
“All right. Thanks,” the chief said in a clipped voice. “Stick around. We may want to talk to you again.”
The yellow crime scene tape stayed up all day, making it impossible to open the store. At least the body was removed discreetly through the back entrance, but there were investigators of different descriptions in and out all day looking for fingerprints, blood samples, possible means of entry. The only clue the police had for that was that the back door appeared to have been left unlocked. Since there were no broken locks, shattered windows, or holes in the roof.
“Did you check to see if both the front and back doors were locked when you left last night?” one of the investigators asked.
“Of course,” Irene said.
“But you claim the back door was unlocked when you arrived this morning.”
“We found no sign of tampering. You must have left it unlocked.”
“Or someone skilled with locks opened it,” Irene offered.
The investigator’s face crumpled into a scowl. “I advise you not to leave town.”
“Why would I leave town?”
The investigator didn’t answer. He left, still wearing his scowl.
It was summer, the height of the tourist season, and there were several curious passersby who tried to see what was going on behind the yellow tape, but all they could see was the shady courtyard leading back to the old adobe building connected to other ancient adobe buildings. Nevertheless, Irene was worried that the yellow tape was bad publicity for her new store. A sign outside, hanging from a pole by wrought-iron brackets, displayed the words Irene’s Closet written in cursive letters and made to look as if the words were on a ribbon scroll. Underneath in smaller letters and a plainer font: A second look at haute couture.
A day like this was enough to make her wish she’d never left New York. But she couldn’t have stayed. She’d received the summons several months earlier from her mother, Adelle, telling her she was to come home to Santa Fe—that ancient American city whose rich and terrible history lies beneath a veneer of adobe chic and self-conscious renovation. Not unlike Adelle herself.
Her mother’s directive to leave New York and return to Santa Fe came to Irene’s apartment in Brooklyn written on handmade paper the color of a sepia dawn and edged in aqua and brown geometric Navajo designs. The scent of piñon escaped, genielike, from the envelope when she opened it. Adelle would never email, but she did follow up with a telephone call.
It seemed her latest husband had died unexpectedly. Husband number five, Irene thought. Or maybe it was six.
The point was, he’d died, and instead of leaving even a small part of his substantial holdings to Adelle as she had hoped, he’d left them to his two sons, who lived somewhere in Nebraska. Adelle had been led to believe the entire family lived in a villa in Italy. Two of her mother’s many marriages had ended with the death of her spouse, and the rest ended in divorce. Irene refrained from criticism since her own one and only marriage had lasted only two years.