In the second novel in a new mystery series featuring Maxi Poole, the feisty TV journalist-turned-super-sleuth investigates the murder of a prominent L.A. businesswoman. "Maxi's best outing yet . . . Terrific light entertainment.""Booklist."
Read an Excerpt
By Kelly Lange
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2003 Kelly Lange
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Max, I found a new 'miracle pill,'" Wendy Harris said to Maxi Poole, holding up a white plastic container of dietary supplements. "Check this out-Zenatrex."
"What does it do?" Maxi asked her.
"Cuts your appetite." Wendy was a believer.
Wendy tossed the bottle of tablets over to Maxi. The two journalists were sitting across from each other in the newsroom at L.A.'s Channel Six in Burbank, during a rare lull in the usual bedlam that passed for business as usual. Maxi Poole-thirty-two years old, tall, angular, outdoor-girl fresh with short-cropped blond hair-was the station's highly rated anchor-reporter. Wendy Harris-thirty, pert, diminutive, with a mane of willful red hair and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose-was Maxi's longtime producer and close friend.
"Just what you need, Wen, an appetite suppressant," Maxi commented dryly, examining the container in her hand. Usually without bothering to leave her desk, Wendy might consume two shrimp with a wedge of lemon and call it lunch, or a cup of steamed rice with soy sauce and call it dinner.
Maxi unscrewed the cap and peered inside at the large brown tablets. "Whew!" she breathed, wrinkling up her nose. "This stuff stinks."
Wendy laughed. "Yah, the smell alone's enough to kill your appetite-you don't have to bother taking the pills."
Maxi read from the label. "Guarana extract, white willow bark, citrus aurantium, magnesium phosphate, ginger powder-"
"No ephedrine. That's the killer. Nothing terrible in it," Wendy interrupted. "And it works."
"How do you know it works?"
"I took one this morning with a cup of tea, and now I'm full."
"Placebo effect," Maxi pronounced.
"See, that's fine with me," Wendy countered, flashing the signature grin that reflected mischief in her eyes. "If it fools me into thinking I'm not hungry, then it works for me."
"Wendy, you eat zip as it is," Maxi said, glancing at her friend's petite frame.
"Yeah, but I want to eat the world. This stuff makes me not crave three jelly doughnuts on a coffee break. Especially this time of year, when everybody's bringing in cholesterol-packed Christmas goodies."
It was mid-December. Christmas in Southern California meant no ice, no snow, no freezing cold, but Yuletide music, gaudy decorations, and loads of food.
Wendy came from a family that made food an art form. Her dad was Tommy Harris, owner of Tommy's Joynt, the world-famous San Francisco rathskeller on the corner of Geary and Van Ness Avenue in the city by the bay. All through her growing-up years, Wendy endured her ebullient Jewish mom and dad urging, "Eat, Wendy, eat." Until she ended up with-her term-a "humongous fear of food."
For Maxi's part, her father was a pharmacist who put in long hours navigating the small East Coast chain of drugstores he owned and had never been concerned with dinner being on the table at any special time, and her mother was a dance instructor who still maintained her dancer's lean body. Except on holidays, food was never much of an issue with the Pooles, and in fact nobody in the family was a particularly good cook, Maxi included. They joked about that. Takeout, both plain and fancy, had always been king at their New York brownstone.
Maxi twisted the cap back on the container of Zenatrex and handed it back to Wendy, who set it on her desk in line with an army of other bottles and jars labeled GINKGO BILOBA, DHEA, ST. JOHN'S WORT, MELATONIN, MILK THISTLE, GINSENG GOLD, SLO NIACIN, ECHINACEA & GOLDENSEAL, GLUCOSAMINE & CHONDROITIN, NATURAL ZINC, CHROMIUM PICOLINATE, and a dozen or so other purported health monikers.
Rob Reordan, L.A.'s longtime anchor patriarch who co-anchored the Six and the Eleven O'clock News at Channel Six, ambled down the aisle toward them. Peering down his nose with a look of disapproval at the vitamins and supplements Wendy was now doling out into her palm, he intoned in his resonant anchor voice that was familiar to all of Southern California, "Is there anything you don't take, Wendy?"
"Yah, Rob," Wendy flipped back. "Viagra."
Rob sniffed, tossing his generous head of white hair, and kept walking.
"Not nice," Maxi scolded, stifling a giggle.
"Oh, please!" Wendy blurted, rolling her eyes. "Eighty-something, and he's even more of a horn-dog since Pfizer foisted Viagra on the world."
"You don't know that he takes Viagra-"
"The whole newsroom knows he takes Viagra."
"Nope, that's Rob bragging to Laurel." Laurel Baker was a handsome, savvy, cynical, fortyish reporter who had become the object of Rob Reordan's romantic quest since he'd recently divorced his fourth wife. Laurel's response fell somewhere between disgust and disdain.
"Laurel told you that?" Maxi asked.
"Laurel told everyone that. She might as well have posted it on the computer bulletin board."
"Doesn't Rob know that if he actually did get involved with Laurel, she'd chew him up and spit him out to the coyotes in her canyon?"
"Doesn't stop him."
"Yeah, I guess it's his nature."
"Which reminds me, did you hear the one about the black widow spider?" Wendy asked, the impetuous grin lighting up her face again.
"No, but I'm about to, right?"
"Well, you know the black widow spider has sex with her mate, then she kills him...."
"Yup-that's why she's called the black widow."
"Right. So imagine this conversation. The male spider says, 'Uhh ... let me get this straight. We're gonna have sex, then you're gonna kill me?' And the female flutters her spidery eyelashes and purrs, 'That's right. It's my nature.' So the male spider thinks about it for a beat, then turns to her and says, 'But we are gonna have sex, right?' Well, that's Rob."
Maxi laughed. "It's his nature," she reiterated.
"The man can't help it. Meantime, each of his wives made a baby or two, then split and took half his money. Which leaves Rob with seven kids, more than a dozen grandchildren, and about eight dollars a month left over after living expenses, taxes, agents' fees, alimony, child support, college payments, new cars for the kids' graduations, et cetera, et cetera. Rob's gonna have to work till he's dead just to make his personal nut."
"And now he wants Laurel, the original black widow spider," Maxi said thoughtfully. "Men like Rob never learn. It's about their egos."
"It's about their dicks," Wendy shot back.
Maxi laughed. Wendy Harris was one of the few women Maxi knew who professed to actually understand men, and for Wendy, the explanation of all things male was simple. Not so for Maxi, who made no claims to fathoming the complexities of the male gender. Maybe someday, she thought, idly rubbing both her shoulders with opposite hands.
"Oh-oh, you've been lifting again," Wendy accused solicitously, watching Maxi knead her upper arms. "Are you supposed to be lifting weights this soon after surgery?"
Maxi had been badly injured not long before on a story that had turned deadly, and she was only a few weeks out of the hospital; she probably wasn't supposed to be lifting weights so soon, she knew. "I'm not supposed to be doing a lot of things," she said. "Neither are you, Wendy, now that you bring up the subject."
"What did I do?" Wendy protested.
"How about beating up on poor Riley just because he didn't get a crew to that second-rate garage fire in Pasadena before Channel Seven got there?"
"Really. Tell me, how am I supposed to beat up an assignment editor who's six-foot-four and weighs two hundred and forty pounds?" Wendy was four-foot-eleven and weighed ninety pounds.
"Oh, you beat him up, all right," Maxi reprimanded, smiling. "You beat him up verbally, mentally, emotionally, and bad. Now, unlike Rob Reordan, whom you've just informed me is our Channel Six Viagra poster boy, Riley will probably never be able to get it up again in this lifetime."
"If he ever did," Wendy tossed out of the side of her mouth.
Wendy didn't hate men, she just loved news, and she had a passion for getting it right. She always got it right, and she had a very low level of tolerance, or even understanding, for anyone in the news business who didn't always get it right. Which, of course, applied to every other mortal in the business at some time or other. Her ire was usually explosive, but fortunately it was never lasting. Still, it could have a lasting effect on the meek. But then, the television news business was not for the meek-only the tough survived for the duration.
A tinny ding-ding-ding-ding sounded through the newsroom, and both women's eyes immediately dropped to their computer terminals as, simultaneously, their fingers clicked on the wires. An URGENT banner scrolled across the top of the Associated Press file, followed by a story that was in the process of painting itself in print across their screens.
"Jeez," Wendy exhaled. "Gillian Rose-dead!" Gillian Rose of Rose International, the country's largest manufacturer of vitamins, supplements, and health foods, headquartered in Los Angeles.
Both women cast an inadvertent glance at the lineup of vitamins and supplements on Wendy's desk, most of which bore the familiar red-rose logo of Rose International on their labels.
Within seconds, a walla-walla of excited talk erupted in the newsroom, and managing editor Pete Capra came bounding out of his glass-enclosed office and leaped up on top of the desk nearest his door, scattering files and papers and startling the reporter who happened to be sitting there-no mean feat for a burly Sicilian who was fifty-something, who'd never grasped the concept of regular exercise, who cooked gourmet Italian for his family and ate most of it himself, washed it down with cases of Chianti, and chain-smoked Marlboros when he wasn't in one of his "I quit" phases, during which he was unfailingly, insufferably, cranky. Nonetheless, leaping up on a desk and barking orders was Capra's MO whenever a huge breaker hit the wires.
"Riley, get a crew down to Rose International," he roared, pointing at the assignment desk. "Maxi, you roll with the crew. Simms, Hinkle, hand off whatever you're working on and get on the horn-I want us all over this, now."
Maxi waited a few seconds until the story finished scrolling, clicked on the PRINT button, grabbed her purse, and headed for the elevators, stopping only to snatch the story off the nearby printer she'd directed it to as she scooted by.
Her crew, in the person of cameraman Rodger Harbaugh, was already waiting in front of the artists' entrance when she got there, in the driver's seat of a big blue Channel Six News van, motor running, passenger door open for her. Maxi jumped in, yanked the door shut, and buckled up as Rodger slammed the bulky truck into gear and rolled toward the station's exit gates.
"What do you think's fastest?" Rodger asked. He knew, of course, but had the courtesy to consult with his reporter on the route they'd take. Rodger Harbaugh was in his late forties, medium height, medium build, dark hair beginning to thin on top, and a face liberally creased with sun and laugh lines. He was a toughened veteran of the L.A. news beat-fast, efficient, a man of few words, even-tempered in the clutch, and he always got the shots.
"I'd go up over Barham and south on the Hollywood Free-way-inbound shouldn't be too heavy right now," Maxi answered.
She liked working with Harbaugh. She especially liked what he was not: He was not a totally self-absorbed alpha dog, which prototype, she knew from long experience, was legion among competing shooters out on the street every day in the frenetic L.A. news "gang bang."
As the unwieldy van hurtled at seventy miles an hour on the freeway toward downtown Los Angeles, she clung to the grip bar while scanning the AP wire story she clutched in her other hand.
Gillian Rose had been found dead on the floor of her office, the copy said, in the glass-and-steel high-rise that housed the billion-dollar business she'd created and built with her husband. Gillian's body had been discovered at 1:36 P.M.-a little more than twenty minutes ago, Maxi noted, glancing at her watch. Besides the usual police personnel, detectives from the LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide Division had already arrived at the scene-a tip-off that foul play hadn't been ruled out.
The victim's longtime assistant, Sandie Schaeffer, had come back from lunch and found her body, the story said. In a preliminary report, none of the several employees in proximity who were questioned saw or heard anything unusual. The deceased's husband, the powerful Carter Rose, who had a suite of offices ad joining Gillian's on the penthouse floor of the Rose building, was currently away on business in Taiwan.
"What do you know about Carter Rose?" Maxi asked her cameraman.
"Not much," Rodger said.
As Maxi reflected on the fabulous Roses, she realized that while there often seemed to be a swirl of publicity revolving around Gillian Rose, very little was reported, written, or even spoken about Carter Rose. Touted as the business genius of the operation, he put up a very private front, leaving publicity and newsmaking to his stunning and articulate wife. And now, Maxi thought ironically, Gillian Rose had taken the spotlight again.
Excerpted from Dead File by Kelly Lange Copyright © 2003 by Kelly Lange
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Los Angeles TV news reporter Maxi Poole and her cameraman Rodger Harbaugh cover the death of Gillian Rose, CEO of a successful dietary supplement company. Maxi has the code to enter Gillian¿s office building and soon finds the corpse. Rodger films the deceased and the crime scene. However, there is not much to cover on the news when the authorities determine that Gillian died of natural causes. Maxi has doubts as she knew the deceased and soon uncovers indisputable evidence that forces the now angry medical examiner into doing a new autopsy. The results affirm Maxi¿s theory that someone killed Gillian. Unable to remain on the sidelines now that she has forced the police to investigate, Maxi conducts her own inquiries to include questioning Gillian's husband, his mistress and the victim¿s business cronies. Too many conveniences take away from a frenzy character that readers will like (though insist she drink decaf). The story line feels like a Jackie Collins lite, as fans will get a taste of fashionable LA through the eyes of a REPORTER. At the same time the audience will wonder how a major media journalist has the time to do leg work investigation, prepare her reports, and appear on TV without one of the Rose supplements to pool her energy. Still when Maxi lets her hair down especially in between her soft-boiled investigation, readers will enjoy Kelly Lange¿s lowbrow mystery. Harriet Klausner