Read an Excerpt
“Oooh, why does it have to be so hot?” Suzy Keller plucked at her new silk dress. “Why today?”
“Because it’s August and it’s Kansas City,” her younger sister replied as she drove north on the interstate, leaving behind the big homes and fancy shops of the Country Club Plaza. “And because I can’t afford to have the crack fixed in my air conditioner. Want to pitch in, sis?”
Suzy grinned. “If I get this job, Nikki, I will personally finance a new air conditioner for you. Maybe a whole new car! All you have to do is keep your fingers crossed and pray. Deal?”
“You bet. It’s wonderful to have a soon-to-be-rich, soon-to-be-famous sister.” Nikki changed lanes and concentrated on finding the right turn-off for the warehouse district, which was located on the banks of the Missouri River.
Suzy’s nervous laughter floated out the window and disappeared on a hot, humid breeze. Soon to be famous? she repeated silently. Her? Suzy Keller? Her gaze lit on a giant billboard advertising a radio station and her heart skipped a beat. The images blurred before her eyes, then disappeared, and she saw herself up there, Suzy Keller, smiling out at the freeway drivers, enticing them to covet, not just her, but the boxes and boxes of cookies upon which she sat so alluringly.
She smiled at the vision and closed her eyes to concentrate on her appointment—and her plan of attack. Her head was a clutter of strategies and hopes, rehearsals, bits of conversation guaranteed to impress. Leaning forward, she tipped up her chin and flipped down the visor mirror. Smiling, she showed a white flash of perfect teeth and a darling dimple.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Ross,” she said to her reflection. “How nice to meet you. Why, you’re much younger than I expected for a man of your accomplishments.” Pause. Smile. A toss of her blazing red hair.
“Good grief, sis, what are you doing?” Nikki asked, glancing over at Suzy.
“Practicing!” Suzy said, frowning.
“You don’t have to practice. You’re perfect!”
“Uh-uh. Christie Brinkley’s perfect. Cybill Shepherd.”
“You’re as perfect as they are!” Nikki said, and laughed. “The world just hasn’t seen as much of you yet. Besides, if you ask Mom, no one’s perfect except Suzy Parker, and you’re about to follow in her footsteps.”
“Sure, Nikki. And if you ask Mom, Dad’s a combination of Lee Iacocca and Paul Newman and you’re Mother Theresa! Ohhh,” Suzy groaned. “Maybe I should forget it, or at least wait until Lorraine comes back on Monday.”
“Don’t be silly, Suz! You’ve gone to interviews without your agent before. And as you said, if you wait, someone’s liable to beat you out and become the ‘one and only, sure to be famous’ Kevin’s Kookies girl, and you will miss this golden opportunity, this next rung up on the ladder of success, and lovely Lorraine will wring her hands, and—”
“Enough! I give! Just tell me, do I look all right?”
“Gorgeous! You’ll knock his socks off!”
Suzy’s mouth twitched up at the corners. “Great, and what if he has hairy feet?”
“Well, you’ll soon find out, kiddo. Here’s your exit.”
In minutes they were parked in front of a square, squat dusty-red brick warehouse. No frills. No flashy sign. This building meant business, all business. And what about the man who owned it? What would he be like? Suzy wondered. Would he like her? Would she project the right image, match that fantasy in his head? Would he hire her?
“Go for it, sis,” Nikki said. “Good luck … and break a leg!”
“Wrong business, but thanks anyway.” Grinning, Suzy stepped out of the car, slipped her portfolio and its cache of publicity pictures from the backseat, then leaned over to her sister. “ ’Bye, Nikki.”
“Sure you don’t want me to wait?”
“No, you go buy your water bed. I’ll grab a cab to celebrate! See you later.”
Moving like bright water in her silk dress, Suzy walked slowly to the front door. She hesitated there, her hand on the old wooden knob, feeling the hot sun on her shoulders and the backs of her legs. Another minute and her hair would begin to curl ever so slightly across the nape of her neck, and that wouldn’t do at all. Not now.
She blew a puff of air up under her heavy bangs. Mid-August and hot in Kansas City, and hot and still here in the warehouse district, the heat shimmering off the pavement. The fish market across the street was locked, the shades drawn. But the telltale smell of salmon and swordfish, flounder, snapper, and catfish clung to the street. Nearby, the stalls in the farmers’ market were empty, everyone having fled by noon. It was quiet, so quiet she could hear her own breathing, the nervous rat-a-tat-tat of her heartbeat. With bold determination Suzy squared her shoulders, knocked once for formality’s sake, and pulled open the heavy wooden door.
The noise hit her like a splash of ice water in the face. Conveyor belts, motors, timers, bright yellow fork-lifts hustling boxes across the wide floor. Doors swung open and banged shut again. The ceiling, latticed with steel beams, caught all the noise and threw it right back down at her.
Suzy flinched and covered her ears with both hands. Her portfolio thumped to the floor and she let it lay there. She could feel the noise right through to her bones. How could these people work like this? she wondered, shocked.
She looked around at the bustling activity. There were people everywhere—lifting, stacking, sealing, pulling and pushing boxes of cookies. And no one at all seemed bothered by the din. No one but Suzy.
“Hello?” She tried calling, lowering one hand in a faint little wave. “Hello? Is Mr. Ross around?”
No one turned, no one waved back, no one noticed Suzy Keller at all. So much for first impressions! she thought. Retrieving her portfolio, she picked her way around a stack of unsealed cartons and over to the nearest workman.
“Hi,” she said, then louder, “Hi! Excuse me, I’m looking for Mr. Ross. Sir …?”
She tapped him on the shoulder and he spun toward her, knocking a carton off the conveyor belt as he turned. Forty-eight boxes of chocolate chip cookies slid across the floor.
“Oh … oh, no! I’m so sorry!” Suzy exclaimed, horrified. “I—I was looking for Mr. Ross’s office. I am so sorry!”
The man’s initial anger vanished and his bushy mustache twitched as he smiled. He patted her once on the arm, winked, and pointed toward the rear of the warehouse.
By then two younger men, eyes glued to Suzy in rapt adoration, were busy picking the cookie boxes up from around her ankles. They stuffed them back into the carton, then stood there, staring at Suzy like lovesick pups.
The older man gave a short, soundless laugh and sent the two boys back to their jobs with a quick jerk of his thumb. Another wink and he turned back to his job.
Suzy headed on, the quick tap of her heels unheard amid the noise. She carefully avoided the conveyor lines of cartons, the stacks of flour and sugar sacks leaning against each other on metal pallets, and the sudden, startling advance of the fork-lifts. A pretty young woman, her ponytail sticking out from beneath her hard hat, zipped by in a little go-cart, its back loaded with boxes labeled Kevin’s Kookies. Someday, Suzy wondered, would her picture be on that label? On billboards? On nationwide TV screens during the commercial break for The Cosby Show? Oh, yes, she thought, grinning. Yes, yes, yes! She could feel it. Today was her lucky day.…
Or would be, she added, groaning as she slowed to a halt, if she could only get to this interview!
The entire back wall of the warehouse was covered with doors. Wide ones, narrow ones, all unlabeled!
“This is not fair,” Suzy muttered aloud. She pushed back her thick hair, which now curled rebelliously against the nape of her neck from an uncontrollable flush of nervousness. The start of a headache fluttered just above her eyes. Clutching her portfolio tightly, she marched over to the nearest workman.
“Excuse me,” she said, letting out a sigh of ill-concealed exasperation, “but could you please tell me which is Mr. Ross’s office?”
The fellow continued to shift flour sacks from one table to another.
Suzy cleared her throat, raised her voice, and just about yelled, “Pardon me, but where is Mr. Ross’s office?”
He didn’t budge.
She put a hand lightly on his arm. He turned and dusted the front of her dress and her nose with a good helping of flour.
Suzy’s eyes shot wide open, then she burst into surprised laughter. And when the workman, already blushing, dazzled, and wide-eyed, started to brush off the front of her, she collapsed into giggles.
“That’s all right, really, I’ll get it,” she said. “If you could just please tell me where Mr. Ross’s office is …”
He sent flour flying in a dusty arc toward the door at the far left.
“You’re sure?” she teased, making his blush deepen.
He nodded, shy and silent, but as she walked away he gave a piercing, if off-key, wolf whistle.
Suzy gulped. Even with the blast of noise at her back, there was no missing that sharp signal of sexual approval. Now her own cheeks were flaming, but there was no turning back. With the flat of one hand she tried to brush away the comet’s trail of flour across her breasts. White flour on sapphire silk … it was hopeless! She rubbed the tip of her nose, gazed ruefully at the unmarked door in front of her, and gave it three good hard raps.
Was that a “come in” she heard? Who could tell? “Well, here goes everything!” she whispered, and stepped into the office.
“Hello!” she said loudly. “Mr. Ross, I’m Suzy Keller and I’m here for the interview—”
Her voice echoed around the quiet, beautifully paneled office.
“Oh, goodness,” she whispered, her blush spreading downward across her throat and breasts. For a moment she closed her eyes, wishing she could start this day over.