But Chris isn't thinking about rekindling their old flame. His friend and fellow actor on the show has gone missing, and while nobody else seems to be alarmed, Chris can't believe his friend would just run off while on the brink of stardom. When Bailey starts to investigate as a favor for Chris, she soon realizes there is much more to the disappearance than meets the eye, and unless she can unearth the truth, she could become the inspiration for Morgue's next episode.
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:1950
Place of Birth:Glens Falls, New York
Education:Union College, 1972
Read an Excerpt
By Kate White
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2007 Kate White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt all started with a coincidence. Not one of those totally creepy coincidences that make you feel as if someone has just walked across your grave. In fact, later I could see that the phone call I got that late summer night wasn't all that unexpected-but at the time it made me catch my breath. And, of course, it was the start of everything horrible that happened....
I'd decided to stop by the office that day, something I rarely do on Tuesdays. It was crazy hot for the middle of September, and it would have been nice to just hang on the brick terrace of my apartment in Greenwich Village, chugging a few iced teas. But a new deputy editor had started recently-Valerie Crowe, a hyper, edgy chick who left you overwhelmed with an urge to shoot a tranquilizer dart into her ass-and I thought it would be smart to give her some face time. My copy goes through the executive editor, but it's one of the deputy editors who assigns me most of my stories and often suggests leads for me to follow up on. Since Tuesday is the day after closing, I knew she'd probably have a few minutes to spare. Most of the staff never even gets in before noon that day.
My name is Bailey Weggins, and I'm a reporter for Buzz, one of the weekly celebrity gossip magazines that have become like crack cocaine for women under thirty-five these days. Unlike most of the staff, Idon't cover the botched marriages and bulimic ordeals of the stars. Instead, I report on celebrity crime-like when an A-lister hurls a phone at a hotel desk clerk or hires a hit man to shoot his wife.
It's not something I'd ever imagined myself doing. I was a straight crime writer for the ten years after college graduation, but when the job opened up early in the summer, curiosity and the need for a regular gig prodded me to take it.
"Celebrity crime reporter-are you saying it's some sort of specialized area of journalism?" my mother had asked at the time, as if it were on a par with becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon or astrophysicist.
Initially, I was at a disadvantage because I didn't know-excuse the expression-jackshit about celebrities. Oh, I'd picked up tidbits about the really major stars-you know, like Brad and Angelina and Gwyneth and TomKat-from listening to friends dish as well as perusing gossip magazines during pedicures. But I was clueless about most of the other stars in the celebrity universe. In fact, until two weeks into my job at Buzz, I'd thought Jake Gyllenhaal and Orlando Bloom were the same person. But I caught on pretty quickly, and to my surprise, I grew to really enjoy my two-to-three-day-a-week arrangement. Celebrities not only live large, they misbehave large, too. Covering their crimes, I discovered, could be awfully entertaining.
One more plus. In November, a small publishing house was releasing a collection of my crime pieces, Bad Men and Wicked Women, and the job would be leverage for PR.
The Buzz offices were practically tomblike when I stepped off the elevator, though it was mercifully cool, as if the low body count had prevented the air from rising above 65 degrees that day. I nodded to a few people as I walked through the huge cube farm/bullpen that constitutes a major chunk of our offices. I'm in a part of that area nicknamed the Pod, which abuts the art and production departments and houses many of the writers and junior editors. The senior editors are in glass-fronted offices that rim the area. My workstation is right next to that of a senior writer named Jessie Pendergrass and behind Leo Zern, a photo editor they couldn't find room for in the photo department.
"Hey," I said to Leo as I tossed my purse and tote bag onto my desk. He was the only one in the general vicinity. He tore his eyes off his computer screen and swiveled just his head in my direction.
"To what do we owe this honor?" he asked. "I thought you weren't coming in today."
"I had a few things I wanted to take care of. Jessie around?"
"She's not in yet. I heard her tell someone on the phone yesterday that her bikini line was a disaster, so maybe she's having it administered to."
"Anything going on here?"
"Not really. Oh, there was a little bit of a dustup this morning. You know how we said Britney Spears looked like a Smurf?"
"No. Okay, I'll take your word for it."
"Nash got a phone call today, and the fur was flying." He was talking about Nash Nolan, the editor in chief.
"From Britney's publicist?"
"No, it was from a Smurf representative. They don't want to be compared to her."
"Very funny. So what are you working on?" I sidled over to his desk and checked out the computer screen. There was a grainy shot of a blond starlet type I didn't recognize sitting at an outdoor restaurant, jamming half a dozen French fries into her mouth as if she were stuffing dirty clothes into an overfilled hamper. "God, the paparazzi don't let these chicks alone, do they," I said.
"The ones who take these shots don't consider themselves paparazzi," he said. "They're snackarazzi."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Not at all. These are the real money shots these days. They're almost as good as one of a star scratching her ass."
"Remind me not to order a double bacon cheeseburger the next time I'm at a sidewalk café."
"I think you're safe, Bailey," he said, smirking.
I checked my e-mail and then a bunch of Web sites to see if any A-listers had landed themselves in hot water that day, but things seemed fairly quiet. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I wandered down to the office of the new deputy editor.
"Hi, Val," I said, poking my head in the door and forcing a smile. I've always wished I were good at office politics, but fawning and bullshitting just don't come easily to me, particularly if the person at the other end is a real jerk, which I suspected Valerie was. A guy I used to work with at the Albany Times Union, when I was a newspaper reporter right out of college, said that I butt-kissed about as well as a blowtorch.
"What can I do for you?" Valerie asked without enthusiasm. Her dark hair was slicked off her face today, accentuating the large sharp nose she sported between brown eyes. She reminded me of how our family dog used to look when he emerged sopping wet from a pond.
"Just thought I'd check in-see if you needed me for anything," I told her.
"What are you working on now?" she asked, a thin layer of impatience coating her question.
Gosh, I thought, you just don't like me, do you? But I couldn't tell why. She'd arrived at the magazine not long after the previous editor in chief, Mona Hodges, had been killed in her office by several blows to the head. It had been a tumultuous time, particularly for me, for not only had I found Mona that night, but I also had later figured out who had murdered her, nearly getting killed myself in the process. Nash, the number two at the time, had been named editor in chief shortly afterward; a deputy editor had taken over for Nash, and now Valerie had the deputy job. I sometimes wondered if she resented the fact that Nash and I were tight and that I had plenty of autonomy.
"Nothing major at the moment," I told her. "Just following a few leads. I probably won't come in again this week unless something breaks."
"Just let Aubrey know," she said, referring to the managing editor. Then she glanced over at her computer screen as if she were dying to get back to work.
"Sure," I said, and walked off. How nice that I'd bothered to take the subway up from the Village.
As long as I was at the office, I followed up with staffers on a few matters and polished off another cup of coffee. And then, with nothing more to do, I stood up to go.
"Oh, Bailey, I know what your favorite TV show is going to be this season," Leo said as I was shutting off my computer. "Have you seen the fall lineup?"
"No, but let me guess. Survivor-The New York Singles Scene?"
"Nope. A new show called Morgue. It's about investigators from the medical examiner's office. Sounds perfect for someone with your grisly interests."
"Aren't there a million shows like that already?" I asked.
"I guess the public can't get enough of them."
Just to humor Leo, I sauntered over to his desk and glanced down at his computer screen. Along with the description of the show, there were a few shots from episodes and a group photo of the ensemble cast, all perfectly coiffed and smileless, their eyes burning with desire to see justice done and have the show win its time slot in the ratings. Suddenly I felt my jaw drop. One of the actors I was staring at in the ensemble cast was Chris Wickersham. He was a model and actor I'd had a short fling with last winter.
"Oh, wow," I said.
"What-you think you're really gonna like it?"
"No, the guy on the far left. I know him."
"Really?" he said as he glanced back at the screen. "You mean-Chris Wickersham, who plays Jared Hanson, the sometimes moody but brilliantly intuitive investigator? Is he straight?"
"Very. It says it's about the New York City Morgue. Does that mean it's shooting here?"
"Not necessarily. Lemme see ... Yes, shot entirely in New York City. Was this guy your boyfriend?"
"Sort of. For about four seconds. Is there anything else?"
"No, just that it premieres in two weeks."
"Look, I'd better fly. Tell Jessie hi for me, will you?"
I grabbed my purse and tote bag and headed out of the building. My mind was racing, thinking of what I'd just learned about Chris. The last time I had laid eyes on him was right before he'd struck out for L.A. last March, hoping like millions of other guys with dreamy eyes and perfect jawlines to be cast in a pilot for the fall. We hadn't promised each other anything about staying in touch (though early on he'd sent two e-mails and one goofy postcard of the Hollywood sign), and I'd just assumed he hadn't met with any real success yet. But he had. And based on the public love of carnage and corpses, there was every chance the show would be a success. I felt happy for Chris; he deserved fame and fortune. But at the same time, there was something vaguely disconcerting about the whole thing that I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe it was knowing that a guy I'd locked lips with was now poised to become the kind of hottie women across America drooled over and dished about the next day at the watercooler.
I took the subway to 8th and Broadway, hit the gym for thirty minutes, grabbed a few supplies at the deli, and then headed to my apartment at 9th and Broadway. Though I'd left home only a few hours earlier, my place was stifling hot. I turned on the AC, fixed an ice water, and flopped on the couch. As I took the first sip of my drink, I let memories of Chris Wickersham run roughshod around my brain. I had met him a year ago April, at a wedding, where he had worked as one of the bartenders, supplementing the money he made from modeling and small acting gigs. He was absolutely gorgeous, the kind of guy it almost hurt to look at.
Though he took my number and called me, I'd blown him off. He was ten years younger than me, and though that kind of age gap hadn't bothered Cameron Diaz or Demi Moore, I just couldn't imagine having a boyfriend I was old enough to have baby-sat for. Then, nine months later, we'd reconnected when I'd needed his help during a murder investigation. I was dating a guy named Jack steadily by then, and I tried not to send any of the wrong messages to Chris, but one night he had kissed me and I'd felt it all the way to my tippy toes. It was the beginning of my doubts about my relationship with Jack. Soon afterward I was single again. Chris and I had a few dates and some serious make-out sessions, but I'd been unable to take the relationship-sexually and otherwise-beyond that. One of the last things Chris had said to me was, "Jeez, Bailey, what is it with you-yes or no?" In the end, it had been no. In hindsight, I thought my doubts might have been due to guilt. I always associated Chris with my breakup.
If I met him today, would I still feel those doubts? I wondered. What would it be like to date a guy millions of people watched on TV? Christ, Bailey, I thought, you're starting to sound like a star fucker.
I drained the last of my water. I'd planned to stay in tonight to work on a freelance article. Plus, ever since I'd had my heart bruised during the summer by a guy named Beau Regan, I'd been lying low. But thanks to the heat wave, the idea now held nada appeal. I wondered who I might be able to drum up for companionship on short notice. My seventy-year-old next-door neighbor, Landon, who I sometimes palled around with, had said he was heading over to the Film Forum on West Houston Street to see a German flick. A college pal of mine from Brown had recently split with her husband, and she was game for anything that provided escape from her apartment, but an evening in her company could be exhausting. She tended to ask an endless series of borderline-hostile questions that were impossible for me to answer-like "Are all men dickheads or just the ones I meet?" "Who would drink a prickly pear martini, do you know?" and "Do you think I'm brimming with anger?"
Maybe I would just head out alone and eat a quiet dinner outdoors at one of the restaurants over on MacDougal. As I padded toward my bedroom to change, my cell phone buzzed from my purse, making me jump.
"Hello," I said after digging it out.
"Hi, it's Chris Wickersham."
For a moment, I thought it was Leo playing a practical joke. But he wouldn't have been familiar with that deep, smooth voice-so I knew for certain it had to be Chris. I caught my breath, stunned by the eeriness of the timing.
"Oh, my gosh," I said. "I-I was just reading about you two hours ago. Congratulations-I, er, heard about the show." God, Bailey, this is why you write professionally, I thought. You shouldn't be allowed to open your mouth.
"Thanks," he said. "The opportunity kind of came out of nowhere. I've been planning to call you-I mean, just to say hello."
"So you're back in New York?"
"Yeah-I've got a studio in TriBeCa. I don't want to overextend myself until I know if the show is going to take off or not."
"Is the shooting schedule as brutal as you hear?"
"Fourteen-hour days, sometimes. But this is what I wanted, and I've got no complaints. The show kicks off in a couple of weeks, and then we play the ratings game."
"It sounds like a super idea for a show-I'm sure it will be a hit." "Kind of your type of show, huh?"
"You're the second person who said that today."
"Well, look, the reason I called ... I mean, I wanted to say hi, but-is there any chance you could meet me for a drink? There's something I need to talk to you about."
"Sure," I said. His tone didn't suggest a man who'd been pining for me for months and had decided to make one last stab at winning my heart, but I was still curious. "When were you thinking?"
"I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if you could do it now. It's really pretty urgent. You're the one person I can turn to on this."
"What is it? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, no. But a friend of mine may be. I need your advice."
"Can you give me a hint?" I asked, though I figured that if a guy he knew was in trouble, it had to involve drugs or money or both.
"It-Look, would you mind talking about it in person? I hate the idea of starting to get into it on the phone and then having to cover the same ground again when we meet."
"Well, I could do it now, actually," I admitted. "I was planning to stay in and work tonight, but it can wait."
"That's terrific," he said. He suggested we meet in an hour and asked me to recommend a place near me. I threw out the name of a bar on Second Avenue between 9th and 10th. It would take me less than five minutes to walk there.
After signing off, I walked distractedly into the bathroom and splashed cool water on my face and in my armpits. I couldn't believe what had just happened. Maybe it was my destiny that Chris Wickersham would pop into my life every nine months or so. I wondered if there was any chance that he was using a so-called problem with a friend as an excuse to make contact with me. It had been hard to tell on the phone. And I wasn't at all sure how I'd feel when I saw him. I had never once stopped finding him staggeringly attractive. Perhaps now that I was no longer guilt stricken-and my love life was currently in the Dumpster with a capital D-I would feel the urge to go for it this time.
Excerpted from Lethally Blond by Kate White Copyright © 2007 by Kate White. Excerpted by permission.
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