Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors

by Barbara Michaels

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380820047
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/28/2002
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Peters (writing as Barbara Michaels) was born and brought up in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's famed Oriental Institute. Peters was named Grandmaster at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986, Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar® Awards in 1998, and given The Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic in 2003. She lives in an historic farmhouse in western Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The face was thirty feet high. Dark hair crowned it, like a hillside streaked with snow. The yard-long lips curved gently, with just the hint of a smile. The eyes were mesmerizing, not only because of their size; by some trick of setting they seemed to stare straight at the viewer, demanding his attention.

Erin turned the wheel slightly; she had been drifting dangerously close to the shoulder of the road. The billboards must be new. She had not noticed them before. They should have been hard to miss; but the eyes and their complex interconnections with brain and nervous system have a disconcerting habit of seeing only what concerns them. Until recently Erin had had only the mildest interest in politics, much less a local Senate race.

She wondered who had designed the advertisement, if that was the right word. But it was just that, an ad designed to sell a product -- in this case not so much a person as a carefully packaged image. Rippling folds of red and white framed the giant face, stars floated on an azure background. The printed message, in glaring crimson, was short and simple: rosemary white marshall for u.s. senate. No doubt the anonymous designer had calculated to the letter how many syllables an average reader could absorb while approaching the billboard at so many miles per hour.

Traffic was heavy, as it always was, even on Saturday. The Virginia suburbs of Washington had expanded rapidly over the past decade; housing developments, huge office complexes, and gargantuan shopping centers funneled tens of thousands of cars daily onto the highways. The trafficissue was a hot one in local politics, with one candidate pointing out the increased prosperity such growth had brought and another pandering to the fury of frustrated commuters who spent hours inching along the crowded roads on their way to and from work. Not until after she had passed the Dulles Airport exit was Erin able to relax at the wheel of her borrowed car. Traffic patterns and routes were unfamiliar to her, and she had not been behind the wheel of a car for almost a year. Fran, who liked to cultivate an impression of carefree affability, was in actual fact extremely selfish about her property, and the car was a prized possession. Only a very special occasion -- and one from which, Erin thought uncharitably, Fran hoped to profit -- had prompted her generosity on this occasion.

Fran was Erin's roommate, and at times her pet peeve. A friend...well, they certainly had not been friends in high school. It was not a question of active dislike back then, just of paths that seldom crossed. Their senior-class yearbook entries made their differing life-styles explicit. Fran's toothy grin appeared on every other page; as a cheerleader, member of the debating society and a dozen other clubs, as "most popular" and "most likely to succeed Joan Rivers." There were four pictures of Erin, in addition to the official senior photo. She had been editor of the literary magazine, a library aide, a member of the choir, and winner of the award for highest senior-class average grade. When they ran into one another at their class reunion five years later, they both had o squint surreptitiously at one another's name tags. It was pure accident that they had started talking.

Or so Erin believed at the time. To Fran, there were no such things as accidents. It was Fate -- Karma -- that had brought them together. It was Meant to Be. Fran had a way of encouraging people to talk -- one of the reasons why she had been voted "most popular" -- and Erin had been in a particularly vulnerable state of mind that day. She had talked, all right -- spilled her guts, in fact -- and Fran had made the right responses: sympathy for the recent death of Erin's father, interest in her plans, helpful suggestions.

"Suggestions" was probably too weak a word. As soon as Erin mentioned that she was thinking of moving to a larger city, where jobs in her field were easier to find, Fran began babbling about Karma. What a coincidence! Her roommate had just left and she was looking for someone to share her apartment in the Washington suburbs. It was a Sign, that was what it was. New York? You're crazy, love, do you know what a one-room hovel in Manhattan would set you back? Do you have any idea what they pay editorial assistants? And talk about your mean streets'you'd be mugged or raped, or both, within a day. Listen, sweetie, there are thousands of magazines and newsletters and house organs published in D.C....

Erin finally got a word in. "Thousands?"

Fran grinned and ran a careless hand through her fashionably tousled hair. "Hundreds, at least. Honestly, Erin, this is too perfect. I mean, you have to get out of this hick town. You said your mother is all set, living with your aunt and sharing expenses, but you can't stay there, you'll go crazy with two old ladies bitching at you all the time about cleaning your room and getting home by midnight."

Erin was feeling guilty and disloyal for complaining about her aunt's nagging and her mother's helplessness, but Fran's shrewd assessment struck a nerve; her lips curled, and Fran was quick to exploit her emotions. "They can't help it," she said kindly. "You know mothers. But that's no way for you to live. We can have a great time. And I know we'd get along. Just look at us, we're exact opposites. We complement one another perfectly. Yin and Yang, Laurel and Hardy. I'm Scorpio, you're Aquarius--"

"Gemini," Erin said.

"What? Oh." Fran dismissed this minor error with a wave of her hand. "Same thing."

The more Erin thought about the idea, the more it appealed to her. She had...

Smoke and Mirrors. Copyright � by Barbara Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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