After I turned the sign to Open, I took a pair of scissors to the package delivered by a man dressed like a flying squirrel.
Leery about touching a potential vintage clothing item I knew nothing about, because of my visions and the unsolved murders they’d dragged me into, I carefully parted tissue layers, touching only the paper.
I recognized the dress immediately but could hardly wrap my brain around having it in my shop. About ten years ago, while in fashion school, I won the opportunity to design this awesome seafoam gown, trimmed in pricey cubic zirconias, for a Broadway actress, now a dear friend. But since she, too, collected designer vintage and one-of-a-kind originals, I couldn’t imagine why she would have sent a dress we both loved back to me.
Dominique DeLong had always been a diehard note writer and wouldn’t send an email if her life depended on it. So I fished through the tissue, careful not to touch the dress, and finally found the familiar embossed parchment envelope that could not have slipped to the bottom of the box, since it was taped—aka hidden?—between layers and layers of tissue.
Keeping my itchy fingers away from the dress in the box, I opened the envelope carefully and tried to shrug off the shivering heebie-jeebies raising the hair along my nape and arms.
Mad, sweetie, Dominique had written. I always wanted you to have this. I hoped someday to give it to you, in person. If you have it, and not from my hand, I’m dead.
I wanted to get it to you before it was too late. At any rate, “Tag. You’re it. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.”
Use your talents wisely. Love, Dom.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” I snapped, denial beating in my chest. “Dominique DeLong is dead?”
“I’ll say.” Eve sat forward, waking Chakra so the kitten stretched and teased the newspaper into playing with her. “It’s all over the Times,” Eve said, holding the paper from Chakra’s reach. “It says here that the actress collapsed during an off-Broadway musical performance of Diamond Sands.”
“I don’t believe you.” I’d tried to speak emphatically, but my words trailed off in a telltale whisper.
Denial. Worry. Despair.
The sound of Chakra pouncing on the newspaper like a baby kangaroo as Eve turned the headlines my way woke me to the truth and tore at my subconscious denial, until I focused on the visual: The headlines proclaiming her death and the picture of Dom at her most glamorous broke me.
For once the newspapers weren’t touting Dominique DeLong’s downward-spiraling career. The fact that they printed such a great picture told the story. The first rule of journalism: The skank cat you clawed yesterday is today’s Saint Feline, if she’s dead.
Dominique DeLong was indeed . . . gone.
I bit my lip, willed my tight chest to ease and my rising tears to recede. My trembling legs made it necessary for me to lower myself to my tapestried fainting couch. “Dom would rather have died on Broadway than off,” I said, more to myself than Eve, aware I was in shock.
“At least there were witnesses,” Eve said. “Hundreds of them, according to the papers.”
My stomach flipped, and while I hadn’t been aware that I shivered, Dominique’s note trembled in my hand. “Witnesses?” Until that moment, I hadn’t acknowledged the need, but the word in print surely implied suspicion and the need for witnesses.
On the other hand, it was a damned crying crime that Dom passed away in her forties with scads of untapped talent and star potential gone to waste.
No real crime had been categorically stated. It was the embryonic sleuth in me that grasped suspicion and looked for someone to blame. Wasn’t it?
Chakra sensed my panic, jumped ship, left Eve, and leapt into my lap, curling against me. My kitten had the ability to physically soothe the angst in my solar plexus chakra—hence her name.
It wasn’t long before her uncanny ability to ease the clutch in my gut had the desired effect. Not that my sorrow dissipated, but my intention to live reestablished itself.
I sighed and ran my hand down my baby cat’s soft fur. “Chakra’s grown less yellow with age. Have you noticed?” I asked Eve, who looked back at me with silent understanding and soul-mate commiseration.
“She’s more cream now with this hint of a gold-tan in her forming stripes.” Eve’s interest said she understood that concentrating on Chakra soothed me like nothing else could. Well, Nick could, in his own way, but he was another story.
Eve looked down at her paper and continued reading, then she gasped and sat forward. “You know the infamous diamonds that Dominique wore around her eyes like a super bling eye mask during the finale of each show?”
“The ones she wore while she sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’?” I confirmed. “The priceless gems loaned to the production by its sponsor, Pierpont Diamonds, as a publicity stunt?” I asked, trying to follow the weird change of topic.
“Right. They disappeared sometime between Dominique’s death and her arrival at the hospital. She was DOA.”
That fast, I pulled my hands from the vicinity of the dress box, because this was no time to slip and touch its potentially brain-frying contents. A dress with a potential story to tell.
Diamonds, a good motive for . . . No, I wouldn’t speak it, because saying the word “murder” made it more likely to be true.
Why the note? Why to me? “When did she die?” I asked.
Eve looked up from the paper. “She collapsed during one of those late night performances they have off-Broadway, the ten o’clock show. There seems to be a time issue that isn’t clear, here, but time of death is estimated at approximately midnight.”
I lost my breath and my heart pounded as if chasing after it. Winded for no reason, I looked at the dress box, reread the note that Dom implied she hadn’t mailed, and I considered the unrealistically short span between her estimated time of death in New York City and the arrival of the Wings delivery truck in Mystic, Connecticut.
Dominique’s note swam before my eyes.
Could someone have overnighted it before she died? Someone who knew she would die that night?
We’d had dinner together in New York a few weeks ago. She shared some dirt about her ex-husband, a member of the hangers-on, the entourage she bitingly called “the Parasites.”
I’d told her that night, in strictest confidence, about my weird ability to read certain vintage clothing items, angling for a sleepover and a chance to read the original Chanel dress that once belonged to Coco herself.
Don’t judge me. Who wouldn’t want a glimpse into that world? Though there was no guarantee I’d see a thing.
Rather than show the excitement I expected, she’d given a half nod and said maybe I’d get a chance one of these days—not we’d get a chance. Then she asked if I wanted dessert and suggested cheesecake, “cholesterol be damned,” she said like someone had taken control over the type-A, size-four health nut.
Again, I read her note, those final words echoing in her world-class smoky voice. “Use your talents wisely.”
Wooly knobby knits. She so did not mean dress design.
Eve’s brows furrowed. “Hey, how did you know Dominique was dead when I was the one reading the newspaper?”
I handed Eve Dom’s note, wondering who could have sent the dress and how Dom could have anticipated their move?
Unless the box was already packed and addressed to me.
But why would it be, if Dominique wanted to hand me the dress herself? Though she and her money did have a huge and magnificent ability to motivate the Parasites, which may be how Dom knew I’d get the dress one way or another.
I knew Kyle, Dom’s son, who she did not consider a member of The Parasites, and he pretty much distrusted all of them, including his father.
I was mostly a trusting person, and Dom’s opinion of them could have influenced mine, but if the rest were like Ian DeLong, Dom’s ex and Kyle’s father, her description of the Parasites were correct, the lot of them were like stick-figure piggy banks with neon signs on their Botoxed foreheads that flashed “feed me” whenever they looked Dom’s way.
Money, always a good motive for . . . anything shady.
Still I could not believe that Dominique DeLong had been murdered.
Nevertheless, I took the Wings packaging from the trash, in the event cause of death turned out to be suspicious, in which case, a handwriting analysis of the label might be in order.
I was thinking more like a sleuth every day. Nick, my FBI boy toy would be proud. My nemesis, Mystick Falls’s Detective Sergeant Lytton Werner would be horrified.
When Eve finished reading Dom’s note, more than once, apparently, her head came up, her face a mask of confusion. “Huh?”
“Did you tell Dominique that you could read vintage clothes?”
“Afraid so, a few weeks ago, but she promised me she’d take the knowledge to the grave.”
Eve’s eyes widened. “Mad, wake up and smell the crazy.”
I caught Eve’s panic but I refused to buy into it. “Oh, for the love of Gucci, you’re talking coincidence, here.”
“I’m not talking anything. You’re reading my mind or you’re thinking the same thing I am. Take it to her grave? Talk about a quick turnaround.”
“There’s only one way to prove you wrong,” I said.
“What?” Eve asked, suddenly wary. “You’re not going to try on the gown to find out what it knows?” Eve shot to her feet, combat boots prepared for flight. “Because if you are, I’m outta here.”
“You don’t get it, Goth Girl.”
“So if reading Dominique’s dress is not what you planned,” Eve said, “what are you going to do to find out what happened to her?”
“Snoop. We’re going to snoop.”
“We? Where exactly is my name written on your insanity plea?”
With the gown burning a stress ulcer in my gut like the lit end of one of Coco Chanel’s own ciggy butts, I made it halfway to the door before Detective Sergeant Lytton Werner walked in. “Miss Cutler, Miss Meyers,” he said, tipping his nonexistent hat.
This was not the man that Eve and I got drunk with on Dos Equis with Mexican takeout some months ago. Lytton Werner had crawled so far back into his hard outer shell—as far as we were concerned—he was likely to crack his tailbone bending over backward to be polite.
Chakra deserted Eve to pounce into Werner’s arms and give him a little head-rubbing snuggle against his neck.
I could tell that Werner was as delighted as surprised by the show of trust and affection from Traitor Cat. “Hey there, little one,” he said, giving Chakra his full attention, which, of course, made it so much easier for him to ignore me and Eve.
Lytton Werner—I’ll always be sorry that I called him Little Wiener when we were in third grade—shouted it, actually, in a cafeteria full of students. Frankly, I didn’t know what I was calling the bully. A naming-rhyme payback had been my simple intent. What third grader knows she’s maligning someone’s manhood before he’s reached it?
Who knew the name “Little Wiener” would stick like frickin’ forever, a glue bonding and solidifying the animosity between us . . . except when we stepped into the shadowlands of heightened awareness during our infrequent investigations.
Werner cleared his throat as if he could see inside my brain while I shivered and pulled myself from the limb-prickling trance brought on by our locked gazes.
Eve, too, cleared her throat, but her, I could ignore.
“To what do we owe the pleasure, Detective?” I asked, my voice an octave too high.
Werner’s eyebrow twitched as if he matched my fake pleasure and raised it. He cleared his throat. “An abandoned Wings truck was found in the nearest Wings warehouse parking lot a short time ago,” he said.
My heart began to race but I hoped I hid it well. “And that’s of interest to me, because?”
“It’s registered in New York. It’s empty. Key in the ignition. Wiped suspiciously clean of fingerprints. No cargo. Nothing inside, except this.” He handed me a piece of paper.
“Oh,” I said. “An internet map starting in New York City and heading straight to my shop.” A map. A tucking map leading Werner here.
Werner rocked on his heels. “We found a corner of that map sticking up from beneath the floor mat. Your name and the name of your shop are written, as you see, Unabomber-style, at the top.”
I shrugged as if I couldn’t care less. “We did get a seven a.m. delivery from Wings.” There was no need to share my concerns with him. Even if Dominique’s death turned out to be suspicious—which to me it already was—the nefarious deed took place in New York City and not in Lytton’s jurisdiction: Mystic and Mystick Falls, Connecticut.
“Damn,” Eve said. “I guess my date with that driver is off.”
Werner’s accusatory gaze snapped from me to Eve. “You saw the driver?”
Eve and I both nodded.
Lytton put Chakra on the counter as he pulled his notebook from the pocket of his tan detective-style trench coat, his investigative antennae quivering. “Hair color?” he asked.
Eve stood. “Er.”
“Um.” I described his facial cover-up. “So we didn’t see his hair.”
Werner growled deep in his chest.
Unfortunately, Eve was able to describe the rest of the courier’s body in unnecessary detail, “squeezable tush and sculpted lips” included.
“Any identifying marks?”
“He wore gloves,” Eve said.
I snapped my fingers. “Emporio Armani, logo labeled. Men’s dark brown, napa leather.”