By Carol Higgins Clark
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 16, 1993. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
BOOKS BY CAROL HIGGINS CLARK
Deck the Halls
(with Mary Higgins Clark)
He Sees You When Youre Sleeping
(with Mary Higgins Clark)
The Christmas Thief
(with Mary Higgins Clark)
Santa Cruise (with Mary Higgins Clark)
RICHIE BLOSSOM TUMBLED from the side of his bed as he bent over in an awkward attempt to pull on his brand-new pair of panty hose. "Birdie," he exclaimed, smacking a kiss in the direction of the enlarged Kodak of his late wife, snapped at their last picnic in the backyard, "I wish you were the one wiggling into these." His writhing contortions matted down the flecked, gold-and-sea-green shag rug that had been bought in celebration of their forty-fifth wedding anniversary.
"Yahoo," he yelled to his reflection in the mirror on the closet door as he kicked his heels in the air, "even the nails of the Wicked Witch couldn't put a run in these babies." Like a June Taylor dancer, he splayed his legs, then brought them together, practicing the scissor motion that had become so popular in aerobics classes, as he admired his satiny gams. "Not a run, not even a snag," he muttered enthusiastically. He grabbed the material around his right foot and pulled hard, knowing that the callus on his heel would normally be rough enough to split wood. He let go of the luxurious fabric bunched in his hand, started to sit up, and then, for good measure, gave it one more yank before bending his leg and pulling it close for further examination. "There isn't a mark," he whispered.
He looked around anxiously, as though someone could hear him. The run-proof, snag-proof, callus-proof panty hose was his invention. The realization of the dream he had had when Birdie, short for Bird Legs, had never been able to find hose that didn't blow in the wind around her matchstick ankles. She had tugged and yanked at them so much that no pair ever lasted more than one round of miniature golf.
"Birdie, Birdie, Birdie," he sighed happily, gazing at the picture that unfortunately had been clicked just as Birdie was about to yell at him to hurry up. It was the last picture on the roll, so no retake had been possible. Birdie's unexpected demise in her sleep that night meant that Kodak was out a sale and her panty-hose troubles were laid to rest. "But I've created this masterpiece in your memory, my little buttercup. Women will be able to buy it in any color, and each pair will last for years. Who in the world could have any objection to that?"
Maybe it was the way the sun slanted through the thick Miami air and reflected off Birdie's scrunched-up nose in the picture frame, but one thing was for sure. Birdie looked worried.
THE ROAR AND vibrations of the 747's engines underneath Regan Reilly's feet were no match for the snap, crackle and popping of her neighbor's gum. For hours she had tried to ignore it as they crossed the country, but the wad of Bazooka in her seatmate's mouth was continually being replaced with the next stick in an economy pack. The only respite was during the doll-sized "meal," which Regan picked at before abandoning the miniature fork, deciding that the dollop on her tray, grandly termed lasagna al forno, bore an uncomfortable resemblance to mystery meals she had endured in college.
Regan pushed the button to ease her seat back, hearing the annoyed sigh of the person sitting behind her, and closed her eyes. She bolted upright seconds later when the first bubble from a fresh piece of gum was enthusiastically decimated by her seatmate, who was now buried in a tabloid whose headline warned of UFOs bearing pregnant skeletons landing at Euro Disney. Where's Miss Manners when you need her? Regan thought. Probably riding in first class.
Feeling her body twitch as another bubble lost its fight for survival, Regan leaned forward and pulled her copy of USA Today out of the seat pocket in front of her. For some reason she always loved to read this newspaper on airplanes, checking out the weather map for the conditions of the cities all over the country, and especially the ones they were passing thirty thousand feet below. Not exactly like traveling in a wagon train, with the wind blowing off your bonnet, but with a little imagination one could conjure up a nasty day in Butte, Montana, or dismal skies, not too promising, in Chicago. But one thing Regan could never understand was why the captain would get hold of the microphone and interrupt the in-flight movie to announce that the speck below was the Grand Canyon. Oh, great. Let's all raise our window shades and make the actors on the screen a bunch of shadows and the people who paid their four bucks for the headsets a bunch of squinters yelling, "Pull down the shades!"
Once again Regan read the prediction for her destination—Miami, Florida. Muggy and hot. No surprise there. Regan, who had inherited the pale skin, blue eyes and dark hair of her Irish forebears, was not a sun worshiper, but she loved a swim in the ocean.
A thirty-year-old private investigator from Los Angeles, Regan Reilly was coming to Miami to be a bridesmaid for the ninth time. This occasion was the nuptials of her childhood friend Maura Durkin. Maura's father, Ed, had worked for Regan's father, Luke, in his first funeral home in Summit, New Jersey, then decided to open his own place in Miami, where business was always good. The families had remained close and Regan's parents and Maura's parents always saw each other at the annual funeral convention, which, not so coincidentally, was being held in Miami this weekend.
"You know old Ed," Maura had told Regan. "He wants all his friends from the biz at the wedding, and what better time to schedule it than when they're all going to be down here anyway. Besides," she added, "I think he's getting a break on the flowers from a floral exhibitor at the convention."
"I imagine there are a few sample guest books floating around you could grab too," Regan replied, "not to mention limousines, cosmetologists who can do your makeup, hair . . ."
"Oh, I already asked the woman who does the hair for my father's clients if she'd be interested, but she says she has no experience doing the backs of people's heads."
"OH, GOD!" Regan had always laughed with her oldest friend at some of the absurdities of growing up with a mortician father, a bond they would share until death did them part. When they were little and discovered "The Munsters" television show, where Herman, the father, worked at a funeral parlor, Regan and Maura had gone through a stage where they called their fathers Hermie. But their parents drew the line when the girls wanted to make telephone booths out of upright coffins.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please bring your seat backs to their upright and locked positions, stow away your tray tables, and make sure your seat belts are securely fastened. We'll be landing at Miami International Airport in a few minutes."
There is a God, Regan thought as she obediently complied, making sure that her carry-on bag, which weighed at least a ton, was completely tucked under the seat in front of her. If that thing went flying, Regan thought, someone would end up with whiplash. But if it could just be used to dislodge gum . . .
The plane swayed from side to side and finally landed with a thump, streamlining down the runway. Scattered applause and a wolf call from a college kid who'd enjoyed a few beers along the way resounded in the aircraft. With her long red fingernails, the bone-thin woman next to Regan, who Regan figured was probably in her early thirties, daintily plucked the pale-pink gob from her mouth, wrapped it in a tissue and proceeded to re-ruby her lips, powder her nose, and smilingly spritz herself with Jardin de Roses perfume that two seconds later assaulted the olfactory glands of everyone in a three-row radius.
"My boyfriend is picking me up," she said with a smile to Regan. "He hates it when I chew gum."
"Oh, really." Regan made an attempt at a laugh that to her ears came out sounding incredibly fake.
"Yeah, but I get so nervous on planes, it makes me feel better. It also helps your ears pop, you know." She fluffed her light-brown hair as she once again glanced at her pretty but tough face in the mirror of her compact. "My boyfriend has a really good job in real estate down here. So I'm gonna lay on the beach while he works. I can't wait."
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Miami International Airport. Please remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete halt and the captain has turned off the seat-belt sign . . ."
Before the announcement was finished, the clicks of unfastening seat belts echoed up and down the aisles of the 747 as impatient passengers shifted in their seats and began to gather their belongings.
"Sir, please remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete halt," the flight attendant chirped in a cheerful but firm tone to a traveler already fumbling for his carry-on bag from the overhead compartment. "Federal regulations require that you remain seated—"
"All right, all right," the stout middle-aged man grunted as he snapped the compartment shut, his bowling bag now secure under his arm. As he reclaimed his seat, Regan gazed out the window at the hot tarmac, which from a distance looked as if it were hosting a jellyfish hootenanny. Squiggles moving up and down and bouncing back and forth similar to the kind you see right before you faint, Regan thought. It must be hot out there. A late-day swim and a jog on the beach sound pretty good to me. After sitting for over five hours, she was anxious to move and stretch.
Regan had a reservation at a hotel on Ocean Drive in the South Beach area of Miami, a section that had been renovated in the past five years and transformed into a pastel Art Deco wonderland, complete with trendy restaurants, hotels and sidewalk cafes right across from the beach, and great for people-watching. Modeling agencies had recently sprung up, as fashion photographers started to take advantage of the beautiful setting and weather.
Luke and Nora were staying a few miles away at the Watergreen, which would be filled with morticians who would be ready to boogie on Sunday afternoon in the Grand Ballroom.
"All the rooms at the Watergreen have been booked for over a year," Maura had said.
"Are there that many morticians descending on Miami this weekend?" Regan had asked incredulously.
"No, but get this. There's also a panty-hose convention coming to town."
"It sounds like a weekend to load up on free samples."
"Control top, thank you. Anyway, I made you a reservation at a hotel in South Beach. It's funky and more fun anyway. It's a few doors down from where my Uncle Richie lives—"
"How is he?" Regan interrupted. "Has he invented anything new lately? Those chunky earrings he sent me that held a 'big surprise' sure did. They started tinkling 'You Light Up My Life' when I was out on a date. Needless to say, I never heard from the guy again."
"He gave me the same pair. Luckily I was already engaged. Anyway, now Uncle Richie says he's really outdone himself, inventing a run-proof, snag-proof panty hose."
"If he did, it would be the Eighth Wonder of the World."
"No kidding. Right now he's in the process of letting all the big hosiery companies know about it. I think he wants to start a bidding war."
"Well, if they really are unsnaggable, I'm sure the big panty-hose companies will be after them in one way or another. The last thing they want on the market is panty hose that will last more than thirty seconds."
"You're right, Regan. And right now he's also trying to save the Fourth Quarter, that's the old folks' place where he lives, from being bought out. He moved there after Aunt Birdie died. They all have their own apartments, but there's a community room where they socialize. Richie needs a lot of money by Monday, when their option on the place expires. That real estate on Ocean Drive has gotten really valuable. Naturally there's a lot of people who want to get in on it, but that means squeezing out the older people who've been there forever but can't keep up with the higher taxes. So with his new invention and the panty-hose people being around this weekend, God knows what he'll be up to."
Regan waited until the plane emptied before getting up, preferring the seated position to the hunched-over variety that people were forced into while waiting for the people jamming the aisles to start filing out.
Everyone in a rush to go stand around the baggage-claim area. Regan's seatmate had said a hurried "Have a nice time," as she charged up the aisle on what Regan assumed were the wings of love. I guess if you have a hot date meeting you, Regan thought, there is more of an incentive to cut people off on your way out. But when the next person you'll end up conversing with is most likely a taxi driver in a bad mood, what's the hurry?
Down at the baggage carousel Regan stood for a good eight minutes before a buzzer went off and a red light started flashing, an oddly celebratory way to announce the slow arrival of everyone's goodies. The conveyor started to move and Regan watched as one suitcase after another was spit out of the chute, slid down the ramp before crashing into the wall, and silently rode on as each piece waited to be claimed, sometimes being chased by an owner not fast enough to grab it before it disappeared around the bend.
Regan shifted impatiently as baby seats, cardboard boxes, and suitcases tied together with twine, masking tape, and what Regan assumed was a prayer, all made an entrance. After what seemed like an eternity, her big blue-gray suitcase finally showed up. Regan broke into a big smile and realized that she must have looked as if she were greeting a lover as she lunged forward, throwing her arms around it, pulling it close to get it off the conveyor belt and over the hump. That accomplished, she swiftly retrieved her garment bag with one arm and wheeled her suitcase toward the exit with the other. Wheels on the bottom of suitcases were a great invention, Regan thought, except when they behave like the wheels on your average shopping cart, stopping dead or locking themselves in a position where the only thing they will do is make a never-ending right turn. Regan sometimes wondered if she'd ever get a decent shopping cart on the first yank from the bunch corralled together in the entrance to her local supermarket.
Outside the terminal the Miami air was hot and sticky. Regan felt her energy drain and longed to be in her hotel room already, relaxing with a cool drink. As her suitcase squeaked, she made her way over to the taxi stand and was surprised to find her seatmate at the head of the long line. Where's lover boy? Regan thought.
Their eyes met. Her fellow passenger shouted, "I'm going to the South Beach area. Where are you headed?"
"South Beach," Regan yelled back as the people in front of her glared.
"Wanna ride together?"
Regan debated fiercely. Did she want to share a cab? They hadn't even talked much on the plane. But the line was long.
"My boyfriend's paying."
That does it, Regan thought, and stumbling over the litter of suitcases on the sidewalk, hurried to the waiting cab.
As the driver piled the luggage in the trunk, Regan listened in awe to the instructions he was receiving.
"Put the blue one on the bottom. Don't crush the green one, it's got all my toiletries. Lay the garment bag on top. Don't get it too near that greasy tire. You know, if you're gonna be picking people up at the airport, you really should clean out your trunk."
The scrawny leather-skinned driver reminded Regan of Popeye. Regan thought she saw him push the garment bag toward the offensive tire the instant before he slammed the trunk shut.
The luggage director, her voice sounding satisfied, said, "Okey-doke. Let's get on our way." She turned to Regan and extended her hand. "Hi. I'm Nadine Berry."
"Regan Reilly. This is really nice of you. That line doesn't look like it's moving too fast."
'That's because we're holding it up," the cabbie snarled. "Get in."
The interior of the cab offered an unlovely combination of dried perspiration and smoke, which was made worse by the Christmas-tree-shaped air freshener dangling from the mirror.
"Turn on the air conditioner," Nadine ordered.
"It's broken," the driver said as the car lurched forward and a lit cigarette magically appeared between his lips.
"Put that out," Nadine commanded, "or we'll have to take a different cab."
"I should be so lucky," the Popeye look-alike muttered as he squashed the butt in the ashtray.
Nadine turned to Regan. "If there's anything I can't stand, it's cigarette smoke. A terrible habit." She opened her bag and pulled out her gum. "Want some?"
"No, thanks. I thought your boyfriend was picking you up."
"He couldn't. You know how I told you he works in a real estate office. There's a meeting of the big shots at five-thirty and they made him stay to answer the phones. Where are you staying anyhow?"
"The Ocean View on Ocean Drive."
"Oh, that's right near the old folks' home!" Nadine exclaimed and then lowered her voice. "Everyone at Joey's office is sitting on pins and needles. An option expires on that home Monday, and there's a lot of money at stake."
Oh, brother, Regan thought. That's got to be Richie's place. The poor guy.
It took forty minutes to get to the Ocean View. By the time they arrived, Regan had heard Nadine's autobiography. Nadine was twenty-seven, sold stereos in a discount store outside of Los Angeles, and had met Joey at a Club Med vacation in Hawaii. She had been jetting back and forth to visit him for nearly six months. "He pays for every other trip," she confided. "It's easier for me to come here because he's been working so much on weekends."
As the cab neared the Ocean View, Nadine said, "What about you?"
Regan had to make it quick. "I live in Los Angeles. I'm here to be in a friend's wedding this weekend."
"Oh, I've been a bridesmaid so many times. All those dresses you never wear again, but every time they promise you'll get a lot of use out of them. I say yeah, sure, on Halloween. By the way, what do you do?"
"I'm a private investigator."
Nadine's eyes and mouth became perfect circles. "That sounds really interesting. Do you pack a gun?"
"I'm licensed to carry one but I never bring it on a trip like this."
"Do you ever get in real danger?"
"Sometimes," Regan laughed.
"Listen, Joey's apartment is only a few blocks from here. I'll be on the beach when he's at work. Maybe we can get together if you have any free time."
"Great," Regan said with a heartiness she hoped didn't sound forced. "Can't I help you pay for this?"
Nadine waved her hand. "Not at all. Joey's the greatest. Once I set foot in Miami, he tells me to put away my wallet."
The cab stopped in front of a pale-purple hotel with an outdoor cafe. In a few minutes I'll be in air-conditioning and drinking something cold, Regan thought.
BARNEY FREIZE WAITED nervously in the plush reception room of the Calla-Lily Hosiery Company. Across the wall a poster-sized edition of the ad that had appeared in all the fashion magazines showed a pair of exquisite legs clad in shimmering black panty hose. The copy began: "The Calla-Lily legs are in bloom again."
Freize knew that Calla-Lily hosiery enjoyed the position of being the number-one choice of well-shod women in America and abroad. Those women didn't mind paying through the nose to have their legs look good.
Barney studied the ad. 'The Birdie stockings look better than them," he muttered. He pulled up his own socks and brushed the lint off his Hush Puppies. "Yup, if I were a dame, I'd be happy to get my hands on a pair of the Birdie specials." He looked up quickly. I've got to stop talking to myself out loud, he thought. They'll have me committed just like they did Cousin Vince. Now there was one crazy cat.
The Muzak piped in from a seemingly invisible speaker started to play "Luck, Be a Lady Tonight." Barney found himself humming. Talk about luck, he thought. Whatever possessed him to take a walk past the old panty-hose factory that night he didn't know. He'd worked there in the maintenance department for years, until nine months ago, when they finally had to shut the place down. Business wasn't good enough. The owners never realized that specializing in panty hose for clerics just might be a slightly outdated idea. And now the place was going to be demolished.
But in the meantime his fellow maintenance worker Richie Blossom had been hanging around the place, setting up a little research lab, tinkering with the machines, up to his usual business of trying to invent something useless. But when Barney peered in the window that night and watched Richie fiddling with scraps of fabric, he just got a feeling that this time it might be different.
Barney's curiosity was piqued. He knew that if he knocked on the door, Richie wouldn't tell him what he was doing. So he went home and searched through all his maintenance uniforms, which he sentimentally kept heaped in the corner of his closet, and found what he hoped might be there. A key to the side door of the panty-hose factory.
The next night he waited outside until Richie had left, gave him fifteen minutes in case he had forgotten something, then let himself in. Armed with his flashlight, he started looking around.
The old picnic table where they had gulped their coffee during their strictly observed five-minute breaks hadn't been moved; Richie was obviously using it as the command station for his project. Barney couldn't count the number of times he'd ended up with a burned tongue as he rushed to swallow the black brew that was passed off as coffee.
The gray time clock attached to the wall was still there, clicking away. Barney went over and gave it a punch, remembering all the misery it had brought him. "There," he smirked. "I didn't forget to punch in."
Stacks of cheap paper with a printed message, the kind that people force on you when you're running down the block late for an appointment, were lined up on the table. Barney picked one up, and with the glow of his flashlight began to read Richie's literature on his new invention. "One size fits all! Superior-quality hosiery that will not run or snag. You can't afford to pass up this offer!!" Give me a break, Barney thought. I wonder if he sat around all day suffering from writer's block as he tried to think that stuff up, or if those catchy phrases came to him naturally.
If you're going to try and sell something as unbelievable as run-proof panty hose, Barney mused, you better get someone like me, a born salesman, someone who could sell ice to the Eskimos, to do it for you. I'll write your ad, I'll even act it. Barney always thought he would have been a great salesman, but his mother said that one Willy Loman in the family was more than enough and urged him to get into the maintenance workers' union when he had the chance. May she rest in peace, the poor soul.
Barney leaned over and shuffled through the papers. Photocopies of handwritten letters to various hosiery companies asking them for a few minutes of their time were scattered on the table. It doesn't look like he's had to start a file for responses, Barney thought. It'd probably be easier to get an audience with the Pope.
As he straightened up, he scanned the room with his flashlight, and started to walk toward the machines. Before Barney knew what was happening, he tripped over a cardboard box and fell to the floor, his flashlight cracking in the process, tiny pieces of its glass arranging themselves on the floor of the factory. Sharp pain stung his knee and shin. "Damn it! Damn it! Damn! Damn! Damn!" he repeated faster and faster into the sudden darkness as he rolled on his back, cradling his knee to his chest while he rubbed his shin. With his flailing arm he accidentally brushed the side of the cardboard box and grabbed it to steady himself. And then he felt it. And forgot his pain. A jumble of the smoothest, silkiest material skimming his fingertips.
Barney grunted as he lifted his back off the floor and arranged himself Indian-style, with his feet tucked underneath him, then greedily dipped his hands into the mound of luxurious fabric that turned out to be a couple of dozen pairs of panty hose. This must be the stuff, Barney thought. Richie's latest. Knowing that Richie had never been too organized, he helped himself to a few pairs, hoping that they wouldn't be missed. I'll get these home and test these out myself, see if they're what Richie claims they are.
As far as he could tell, they were.
Which had led him to the Calla-Lily Hosiery Company, whose owner had hired Barney's nephew to do yard work. The only other hosiery company besides the defunct "Hose for the Religious" headquartered in the Miami area. That had been a month ago, and now Barney was waiting to meet with Ruth Craddock for the results of their lab tests.
"Mr. Freize, Ms. Craddock is going to be a little while longer," the receptionist reported to Barney, stirring him out of his thoughts. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" The request did not sound as if it were coming from an eager-to-please waitress.
How about a life-insurance policy in case I die in this room? Barney thought, but what came out of his mouth was "Light and sweet."
- On Sale
- Jul 16, 1993
- Page Count
- 227 pages
- Grand Central Publishing