Life is almost perfect for fashionista and amateur sleuth Haley Randolph. She just vacationed in Europe with her boyfriend Ty Cameron, owner of Holt's Department Store. And now Ty's grandmother is letting Haley drive her Mercedes. If only Haley could get her hands on the new Sinful handbag. It's totally out of stock, and Haley would rather die than buy a knockoff. But when she finds the body of her designer purse party rival, Tiffany Markham, in the trunk of the Mercedes, she's not so sure she wants to trade places after all. . .
Topping the list of suspects, Haley doesn't deny seeing red when Tiffany stole her purse party idea--and made more money. But she wasn't jealous enough to commit murder. Now she'll have to solve this mystery quickly--and find that Sinful bag--before she becomes a killer's next fashion fatality. . .
"A clever, fast-moving plot." --Publishers Weekly
"For fans of lightweight, humorous mysteries." --Booklist
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Shoulder Bags and Shootings
By DOROTHY HOWELL
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Dorothy Howell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGood thing I had on a seatbelt. Otherwise, I might have launched myself out of my seat-not good, cruising at thirty thousand feet.
I was on an airplane and I'd just spotted the new Sinful handbag in Elle magazine. Oh my God, it was fabulous. And believe me, I know a fabulous purse when I see one.
I perked up in my seat, beyond excited, way past thrilled, bordering on crazed, and desperate to share my discovery with someone. The cabin was dark-first class passengers are so boring-and I was the only one still awake.
I hate it when that happens.
Where was my best friend, Marcie Hanover, when I needed her?
I'd call her as soon as we landed in Los Angeles. Yeah, okay, it would be after midnight by then, but she'd want to know.
Months ago Marcie and I acknowledged our true feelings about purses. We'd moved beyond being simply compulsive, obsessive, crazed designer bag lovers to being full-fledged handbag whores. Then, we'd taken it to the next level by starting our own purse party business.
My life had taken a lot of turns in the past six months. Right now I was pretty much penniless and a sort-of college student with a crappy part-time job. Not exactly the dream life for someone who's twenty-four years old.
But I, Haley Randolph, with my dark hair worthy of a salon-shampoo print-ad in Vogue, my long pageant legs, and my beauty-queen genes-even though they're mostly recessive-had scored a trip to Europe, thanks to Ty Cameron. Ty was officially my boyfriend now because, after several months of sort-of dating, we'd finally slept together.
Ty was way hot, totally gorgeous. He was the fifth generation of his family to run the Holt's Department Store chain, the fifth generation of his family to be consumed beyond all reason with business. Ty had also just opened Wallace, Inc., an upscale clothing store, and was now in negotiations for the new Holt's International.
He'd made all sorts of promises if I'd agree to come to Europe with him. Most of those promises had been kept-but not by Ty.
"Are we there yet?" Ada asked.
Ada Cameron, Ty's grandmother, was seated next to me. We were making the trip home from London together. She was in her seventies with gray hair. She dressed magnificently and acted really young. Ada was a hoot. I loved her.
Yeah, okay, I'd once mistaken her for a caterer and another time I'd suspected her of murder, but that was all behind us now. She was my new BFF.
I glanced at what I call the "plane channel" featured on the video screen in front of me. The tiny airplane that tracked the progress of our flight-it felt like we'd circled both poles by way of Siberia-was superimposed over Idaho. Or maybe it was Iowa. I don't know. My geography class wasn't until next semester.
"A few more hours," I said. "Want to see an awesome purse?"
"You bet," Ada said, and leaned toward me.
I showed her the Sinful bag in Elle and her eyes widened.
"Gorgeous," she said.
How could you not like a grandmother who loved designer handbags?
"Do you know what I think would make this flight go quicker?" Ada posed. "A good wine."
"I don't think they have good wine on airplanes," I told her. "Just the cheap stuff."
"Even better," Ada declared, and rang for the attendant.
Ada was right. The wine helped. Long before we'd finished talking about clothes, handbags, shoes, and all the places we'd shopped in Europe, the plane landed at LAX. We were herded through customs by TSA agents-being a direct descendant of exiled Gestapo officers was a requirement for the job, apparently-and finally left the terminal. We'd FedEx'd everything we'd bought in Europe so, luckily, we only had a carry-on each.
"Need a ride home?" Ada asked as we stood on the curb.
Even at this late hour, airport traffic was heavy. Cars, busses, and shuttles drove the loop, picking up and letting off passengers, fouling the cool March air with exhaust fumes and noise.
I'd ridden to the airport with Ty so I didn't have my car here. Since it was so late, I didn't want to call Marcie to pick me up, even though I knew she wouldn't mind-that's just what best friends do.
"I'll rent a car," I said.
"Nonsense," Ada declared. "I'll take you."
The Cameron family was wealthy-way wealthy-so I expected a chauffeur driven Bentley to pull up to the curb and whisk us away. Instead, Ada led the way to one of the park-and-ride shuttle stops and we took a van to their offsite facility on Century Boulevard. The attendant brought us Ada's Mercedes, which lifted my spirits considerably.
Ada seemed to be dragging, though. I offered again to rent a car so she could go straight home.
"My place is almost an hour past your house," I said. "If you drop me off, you'll be really late getting to bed."
Ada thought about it for a moment. "Well, maybe you're right. Tell you what, you drop me off and take my car home with you. I'll pick it up from you in the morning."
"I'll just bring it back to you," I said.
Ada shook her head. "I have to pick up some clothing that didn't sell from the store that's near you. A donation to the women's shelter. I'll do that in the morning."
I drove the Mercedes-which was way cool-to Ada's house in Bel Air-which was also way cool-and helped get her things inside.
"See you around eleven," Ada called as I drove away.
I figured I'd still be sleeping at eleven in the morning, but I came wide awake at eight o'clock. Guess it was the time change.
I'd been gone for about two weeks. I was glad to be home, back in my own apartment again. I loved my apartment. It was in a great upscale complex in Santa Clarita, more or less a half hour from L.A.-depending on traffic-and I'd fixed it up just the way I wanted it, thanks to a really awesome run of luck with credit cards.
There were probably a thousand things I should do first thing this morning, I thought, as I scrounged through my cabinets for something to eat-such as call my mom. But no way was I doing that. Not yet, anyway.
I'd never really gotten around to telling Mom that Ty-the hottest bachelor among the descendants of Mom's social circle-was my sort-of boyfriend. When I'd left for Europe with him, I'd sent her a quick e-mail explaining that I would be out of town for a while. No mention of Europe or Ty.
I found a package of Oreos in my kitchen cabinet and ripped them open.
Mom was an ex-beauty queen-really-with a network of informants that would rival the FBI and CIA combined. Somebody was bound to have told her about Ty and me. I wasn't up to being grilled by her yet.
I spun the top off an Oreo cookie and licked the icing.
I desperately needed to talk to Marcie. She'd want all-and I do mean all-of the details of my trip with Ty, but she was at work. So what could I do but go shopping? Maybe I'd-
Oh my God! The Sinful handbag!
The image of the purse zapped me like a cattle prod. I had to find one. What was I doing sitting around my apartment when I could be out shopping?
I popped the rest of the Oreo into my mouth, then shoved in two more-just for the energy boost, of course-and dashed into my bedroom. I pulled on khaki capris, a red top, and sandals-not great walking shoes, but what did that matter when they looked great on me-and selected a red Coach satchel. I was almost out the door when I remembered Ada.
"Damn ...," I muttered, standing in my living room.
She was supposed to be here at eleven o'clock to pick up her car, and it was only nine now. No way could I sit around for two hours.
What if the department store shelves were picked clean of Sinful bags while I sat here? The scene played in my head, one gorgeous handbag after another disappearing until there were none left.
I had to do something.
Then it came to me: I'd pick up the clothes from Holt's that Ada wanted to donate to the women's shelter myself. The store was only seven minutes away-six if I ran the light at the corner-and it would save her the trouble. Then I'd bring her the keys to the Mercedes and she could pick it up whenever she pleased. And I could zip to the malls to find the Sinful bag.
I rushed to the parking lot of my apartment complex and another brilliant thought struck me. Maybe I'd take the Mercedes to Holt's to pick up the clothing, then drive it back to my apartment. That way I wouldn't have to spend time transferring the stuff from my Honda to her Mercedes, plus the Mercedes was really cool to drive. And everyone at Holt's would see me in it and be jealous.
The Holt's store-yes, it's the Holt's store Ty's family has owned for generations which, you'd think, would get me a little more than my seven lousy dollars per hour-wasn't open yet, so I drove around back.
All the choice spots near the building were already taken, so I had to settle for a parking slot a ways out. So many cars in the lot at this hour meant the early morning replenishment team, who restock the store daily, was inside. A truck was backed up to one of the two loading dock bays, so the truck team was there, too. A garbage truck pulled into the lot, heading for the Dumpster. A couple of guys were having a smoke. A few stragglers, late for work, were just getting out of their cars.
Nobody paid much attention when I parked the Mercedes and got out-I looked around just to be sure-which was kind of disappointing.
Never mind, though, I was on a mission. I had to pick up Ada's clothes, drive back to my apartment, swap cars, get to Ada's house with the keys, then get to the mall and be the first in line when the stores opened.
I hurried up the loading dock steps into the stock room. It was pretty busy in there with boxes being unloaded from the truck, the replenishment team pulling stock and loading it onto U-boats and Z-rails, the janitor getting equipment out of the cabinets, and the display team hauling mannequins around.
Sometimes, merchandise doesn't sell. It might be damaged and unrepairable, or out of season. Or in the case of Holt's women's clothing, it might be just so damn ugly no one who'd so much as glanced at the cover of Vogue on a grocery store rack would touch it with a three-inch acrylic nail. The store marked it for clearance, but sometimes even that wasn't enough to prod a customer into taking it off our hands. So Holt's donated it to charity.
Luckily I knew where that merchandise was kept. I made my way to the huge shelving units nearest the loading dock and saw two cardboard boxes with "hold for pickup" written on the side in red marker.
I was momentarily paralyzed at the sight. A hideous pink and orange print dress lay on the top. Using only my fingertips, I dug down and found nine more of them. Oh my God, someone had actually purchased one of those things. I didn't know if I could pick up the box or not.
Then I heard my name called. I recognized the voice immediately: Cal, the store's new assistant manager.
I hate him.
And I knew what he wanted. He'd spotted me and he wanted me to come to work today. No matter why any employee came into the store-to shop, pick up their schedule, or whatever-Cal pressured them into putting in a few hours.
No way was I working at Holt's today.
I grabbed the two cardboard boxes and took off. I rounded the next aisle, dodging the truck and replenishment team members, and headed for the loading dock stairs. Before me, through the open door, was freedom. I hit the button on the Mercedes remote and popped the trunk.
"Hey, Haley," Troy called, stepping out in front of me.
Troy worked in the men's wear department. He was just out of high school and seemed to be dog paddling his way through life.
"Where you been, Haley?" he asked, his mouth gaping open slightly. "On a shoot?"
For some reason, Troy thought I moonlighted as the porn star Rhonda Rushmore. Honestly, I haven't done much to discourage this because she was, after all, a top rated porn star. But I didn't have time for him today.
"Catch you later," I called as I hurried down the loading dock stairs and wound my way through the parked cars.
I tried to lift the trunk of the Mercedes but it wouldn't budge.
"Damn it," I muttered.
Frantically, I fumbled through the keys and hit the trunk release button on the remote. The trunk popped up.
I yanked it open and froze.
There was a woman inside. Dead.
Chapter TwoI slammed the trunk lid shut and dropped the boxes of clothing.
Oh my God. Oh my God. This was not happening. There was not a dead body in the trunk of Ty's grandmother's Mercedes.
Maybe I'd just imagined it. Maybe I'd suffered temporary vision impairment after my exposure to those awful pink and orange print dresses in the cardboard box. Yeah, maybe that was it.
I hit the remote. The trunk latch thunked and the lid released. Slowly, I lifted it again.
A body was in there, all right. A woman, late twenties maybe, with bobbed bleached-out hair, dressed in shorts, T-shirt, and sandals.
And she was definitely dead. I knew that because a huge red stain had spread over the front of her white T-shirt, and her eyes were open and staring at nothing.
I slammed the trunk lid. Jeez, I'd been driving around since last night at the airport with a dead body in the trunk. How long had it been in there? Ada and I had been in Europe for a couple of weeks. Was it there all that time?
How was I going to explain this to Ty?
And the police.
Maybe I could just leave and let somebody else find the body.
I looked around. The garbage truck that had just emptied the Dumpster lumbered out of sight. The guys who had been on a smoke break were gone. Nobody milled around in the parking lot.
For a half-second I considered rushing back to the airport, taking the next flight to Paris, living in some artists' colony somewhere. Only I didn't really know anything about art, plus I didn't have any actual artistic talent. But I'm really fun at a party so maybe they'd just let me hang out with them until all of this blew over.
"Crap ...," I muttered.
I knew what I had to do.
I punched in 9-1-1 on my cell phone and gave them the info. I left the boxes of clothing at the car-maybe, if the women at the shelter were lucky, someone would steal the clothing and they wouldn't have to wear that awful stuff-and headed back to the store.
Troy still stood where I'd left him by the loading dock stairs, his tongue sort of hanging out, and the truck and replenishment teams were still working. No sign of the janitor. We called him Bob because no one can pronounce his name. He was from Belgrave, Botswana, Berkastan-I don't know, one of the "B" places-and spoke no known language.
"Hey, Haley," Troy said, "you want to-"
"No," I said, and kept walking.
Luckily for Cal, he was nowhere in sight. If he flagged me down to ask if I wanted to put in a few hours, I might have punched him-which I don't think I could have gotten away with, even after sleeping with the store's owner.
I had to find Jeanette, the store manager. Jeanette was in her fifties, a little on the chunky side, and easy to spot because she always dressed in Holt's stomach-turning fashions. Don't ask me why. She pulls down a huge salary, plus bonuses, and can afford really nice things.
The stock room door-one of them-opened into the rear of the store next to the customer service booth, the offices and training room, the restrooms, and the employee breakroom. My friend Grace, who's way cool, works in the customer service booth but she wasn't there; it was too early for the sales clerks to report for work.
I passed by the door to the employee breakroom and stopped. Technically, I was performing a service for Holt's, wasn't I? Didn't that mean I should be on the clock? I mean, jeez, finding a dead body in the company parking lot ought to entitle me to something, shouldn't it?
I slipped into the breakroom, grabbed my time card, and clocked in.
I headed down the hallway to the offices. Jeanette's door was open so I walked in, then reeled back in horror. She had on that awful pink and orange print dress.
How much should I have to endure from a crappy parttime job?
Excerpted from Shoulder Bags and Shootings by DOROTHY HOWELL Copyright © 2010 by Dorothy Howell. Excerpted by permission.
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