Over Her Dead Body


By Kate White

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New York Times bestselling author and former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White knows firsthand that the magazine business is murder.

The smart and gutsy crime writer Bailey Weggins returns for a case set against the glossy pages of a celebrity rag where somebody is about to give Bailey’s new boss a lethal deadline. Talk about rapid turnover-in a matter of days Bailey Weggins gets axed from one New York magazine and hired by another. Her new job at Buzz, a weekly filled with sizzling gossip, has Bailey covering celebrity crime, including the starlet who got caught stuffing Fendi purses down her pants and the aging hunk who shot his lover with a Magnum.

Bailey doesn’t have to look far for her next story: she finds her boss, Mona Hodges, gasping her last breath after being bludgeoned with a blunt object. A raging tyrant, Mona made Buzz a top ‘zine but racked up an impressive list of enemies along the way. Everyone from a chubby singer she dubbed “Fat Chance” to a mail guy she once reamed out would be glad to see Mona six feet under. And Bailey Weggins intends to get the scoop on whodunit even though one of her closest friends is at the top of the suspects list.

With her strappy sandals in one hand and her cell phone in the other, Bailey’s out hunting for clues everywhere from the mean streets of Brooklyn’s Little Odessa to a posh company picnic in the Hamptons. In just about a New York minute she’s got a crush on a sexy filmmaker-and some scary insight into her boss’s murder. The first can give her the hot summer fling she’s itching to have. The second can get her killed…


Also by Kate White

'Til Death Do Us Part

A Body to Die For

If Looks Could Kill

Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do:

The Nine Secrets of Women Who Get Everything They Want


Thank you to those who so generously helped me with my research: Paul Paganelli, M.D., chief of emergency medicine, Milton Hospital, Milton, PA; Barbara A. Butcher, director of investigations for the office of the chief medical examiner, New York City; former FBI profiler Candace deLong; attorney Daniel Kenneally; photo editor Robert Conway; writer Sheila Weller.

And a big thank you to my wonderful editor, Kristen Weber.


What you see isn't always what you get.

The trouble with clichés is that they're so downright tedious, you fail to pay any attention to the message they're meant to convey. And sometimes you really should. I know because during a very hot and muggy summer in New York City, that particular cliché jumped up more than once and took a large, hard bite out of my butt.

On the initial occasion, before summer even started, I was an idiot to have been blindsided. It was the last week in May and Cat Jones, my boss at Gloss magazine, had invited me out to dinner. Now, there was nothing inherently odd in Cat treating me to a meal—despite our work arrangement, we'd always been friends in a weird sort of way. But she'd suggested that we meet at six forty-five at a kind of out-of-the-way place in the Village, and that's when the warning bells should have sounded. As a friend of mine once pointed out, when a guy suggests dinner at an untrendy restaurant before seven o'clock, you can be damn sure that he's going to announce he's in love with another chick and he's hoping for a fast escape before you start to sob and lunge for his ankles. My mistake was not realizing that the same warning applied to bosses, too.

I did suspect that the dinner was going to be more work related than personal. For the past few years I've been under contract with Gloss to write eight to ten crime or human-interest stories a year. Cat had worked out the arrangement herself when she'd first arrived at Gloss and was in the process of turning it from a bland-as-boiled-ham women's service magazine into a kind of Cosmo for married chicks. I'd always pitched my own story ideas, and they were green-lighted pretty quickly. But lately I'd been batting zero, and I didn't know why. Perfect example: Two weeks ago I'd suggested a piece on a young mother who'd disappeared without a trace while jogging. The husband had become the main suspect, though interestingly it was she, not he, who'd been having an affair. Cat had nixed the idea with the comment "Missing wives just feel sooo tired to me." Tell that to the Laci Peterson family, I'd been tempted to say—but hadn't. My hunch was that Cat had suggested dinner together so she could offer me insight into what kind of crime didn't put her to sleep these days.

I arrived at the restaurant first, which is typical when dealing with Cat, but at least it gave me a chance to catch my breath. It was a small, French country-style restaurant on MacDougal Street in the Village, and I ordered a glass of rosé in honor of the weather and the ambience. As each group of new diners strolled through the door, they brought a delicious late spring breeze with them.

Let this be a hint of how delicious the summer will be, I prayed. I was thirsty for a summer to end all summers. In January, I'd broken up with a guy I'd really cared about, and though I wasn't eager for another serious relationship right now, I was hoping for some kind of romantic adventure. I'd had a brief fling in late winter with a male model in his early twenties, ten years younger than me, but then he'd relocated to Los Angeles. After that it had been slim pickings unless you count four or five booty calls with an old beau from Brown who had become so stuffy that I practically had to ask him not to talk. I'm pretty, I guess, in a kind of sporty way—five six, fairly slim, with brownish blond hair just below my chin—and generally I'd never had trouble rustling up dates. I was banking on the fact that my dry spell might end now that we were in the season of nearly effortless seductions.

Cat sauntered in about ten minutes late, and heads swiveled in her direction. She's in her late thirties, gorgeous, with long, buttery blond hair, blue eyes, and full lips that never leave the house unless they're stained a brick red or dusky pink. She was wearing slim turquoise pants and an exotic gold-and-turquoise embroidered top that made her look as if she'd just come from the casbah.

"Sorry I'm late," she said, slipping into her seat. "Minor crisis."

"Diverted, I hope."

"Unfortunately, no. I'm having a huge problem with the new beauty editor. Her copy is about as exciting as the instructions that come with a DVD recorder, and her judgment sucks."

"What did she do this time?"

"She signed up for a junket to Paris without clearing it with anyone."

"Really?" I said, feigning interest just to be polite. I felt about as much concern as I would have if Cat had announced she could feel a fever blister coming on. "What else is going on?"

Before she could answer, the waiter scurried over. Cat ordered a glass of Chardonnay and asked for the menus ASAP. Hmm, I thought. She seemed in a hurry, almost on edge. I wondered if something might be the matter.

"So, where were we?" she asked as the waiter departed.

"I was asking what else was new."

"Oh, the usual," she said distractedly. "It's been kind of crazy lately."

"How's Tyler?" I inquired, referring to her little boy.

"Good, good. He managed to graduate from nursery school even though he bit two of his classmates during the last month. I thought the parents were going to ask that we have him checked for rabies. How about you? Are you going up to your mother's place on Cape Cod this summer?"

"I'll go up a couple of times, but just for weekends. Both my brothers will be around with their wives and I end up feeling like a fifth wheel with them—though they try their darnedest to be inclusive."

"So you're not madly in love with someone these days?"

"No, and that's okay. All I would love this summer is a fabulous fling with someone."

"Sounds good. You're still in your early thirties and you've got plenty of time to get into something more serious. Shall we look at the menus?"

Oh boy. Something was definitely up. She was moving things along so quickly that the next thing I knew she'd be asking the waiter to connect me to a feeding tube. As soon as we'd ordered, I decided to take the bull by the horns.

"Is everything okay, Cat?" I asked. "I have the feeling that something is on your mind."

Cat studied the tablecloth with her blue eyes, saying nothing. I could see now that she was nervous as hell.

"Cat, what's up?" I urged. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"

"No, not exactly. Bailey, I've got bad news, and it's so hard for me to say." As she raised her head, I saw a half tear form in the corner of her left eye.

"Are you having marriage problems again?" I asked.

"No, it doesn't involve me," she said. "It involves you."

"Me?" I said, thunderstruck. I couldn't imagine what she was talking about, though I felt a wave of irrational panic, the kind I always experienced when an airline clerk asked me if I'd packed my own bags. "Why? What's going on?"

"Let me start at the beginning," she said after taking a deep breath and straightening her already straight utensils. "You're aware, I'm sure, from some things I've said over the past year, that Gloss has been challenged on the newsstand. At first I blamed my entertainment editor for not being able to book me the right people for covers. Then I began to see that it was something more fundamental than that. My whole vision for Gloss when I first arrived there was to make it fun and sexy and juicy, full of the most important news in a young married woman's life. I wanted the magazine to generate buzz. And it worked brilliantly—for a while."

She paused and took a long sip of her wine. I had a bad feeling about where this was headed.

"Well, I've been doing some research—focus groups, phone surveys. It's the most fucking draining experience in the world, but in the end it's been worth it. I feel I have some answers. And it's clear to me that the world is changing, women are changing, and I'm going to have to change directions with the magazine."

"How do you mean?" I asked. It came out in the form of a squeak, like the sound a teakettle makes after you've turned it off but it's filled with enough leftover steam for one last desperate peep.

"I think that these days Gloss needs to be less about buzz and more about bliss," she said.

"Bliss?" I said, almost choking on the word. "Are you talking about things like, uh, aromatherapy and savoring the sunrise?"

"Believe it or not, yes. Women are stressed, and they want relief from that stress. We need to create features in the magazine that help them deal with all of that. Look, Bailey, it's not my cup of tea. I think you know me well enough to know that my bullshit meter goes off the minute I hear words like 'feng shui.' But I'm fighting for my survival here."

"So where do I fit into all of this?" I could feel my dread ballooning like one of those pop-up sponges that has just been submerged in water.

"This is so hard for me to tell you, Bailey. You know how much I care about you—and you also know that I think you're an amazing writer. But I've come to realize that I need to seriously pull back on the crime stories for the magazine. I've rejected a bunch of your ideas lately, and it's not because there's anything wrong with them. I just look at each one and I can't picture it in the new mix I've got in mind. You can't have page after page on how to live a serene life and then jam in a story about a woman whose husband has smashed in her skull with a claw hammer and dumped her body in Lake Michigan."

I'd done some discreet snooping over the past year, and I was aware that circulation numbers at Gloss had become less than stellar, that Cat was probably under a ton of pressure. I'd even considered the idea that she might lose her job down the road and I'd be out of the best of my freelance arrangements. But I'd never entertained this particular permutation—or thought that anything would happen so soon.

"But what about my human-interest stories?" I asked, floundering.

"I wish I could include them," she said, looking at me almost plaintively. "And I've thought over and over about whether there's a way to fit them in. But they're just not on the same page with what we'll be doing. I need to make Gloss very visual. In some ways, pictures are the new words today. I'm not saying that we'll have only photos in Gloss, but the articles we run will be shorter—and gentler."

Her words stupefied me. It was as if she'd just announced that she had written an op-ed-page article for the Times in favor of creationism. I was too dumbfounded even to offer a reply.

"But don't worry," she continued with a wan smile. "You have five articles left on your contract, and of course I'm going to pay you the entire amount."

"And then that's it?"

"Bailey, this is killing me to say it. Yes, that's it. Gloss is in trouble and I need to fix it—or they'll hire someone who will."

For a few seconds my anger found a foothold, but it didn't get very far. What was the point in being furious with Cat? I could tell she was being honest and that she believed her job was on the line. But that didn't make it any better for me. I felt hurt, disappointed, even, to my surprise, humiliated, as if I'd been handed a pink slip and told to clear out my desk within the hour.

The dinner came and we picked at our food. Cat tried to praise my writing some more, and I suggested we move on to other topics, which turned out to be as easy to find as the Lost City of Petra. Neither one of us bothered with coffee, and when she offered me a lift home, I lied and said I had to make a stop nearby.

"Here's a thought," she said, lingering on the sidewalk beside her black town car. "Would you be open to writing a different kind of piece for me?"

I smirked involuntarily. "You mean like 'How to Optimize Your Chi'? No, I don't think so. But thanks for asking."

"Bailey, I'm sorry, truly sorry," she said.

"I know," I told her. "And I'm sorry if I sounded sarcastic just then. It's just that you've really thrown me for a loop."

The driver, perhaps trained to run intervention at awkward moments, leapt out of the car and opened the door. Cat slid in and waved good-bye soberly. As the car moved soundlessly down MacDougal Street, I thought: Of course she doesn't want to jeopardize her job at Gloss. God forbid she should ever be forced to take a taxi instead of a Lincoln Town Car.

I slunk home on foot through the Village, like a little kid who had just been banished from the playground for having cooties. It took only fifteen minutes for me to make it to my apartment building on the corner of 9th Street and Broadway, but the short walk gave me a chance to assess my new lot in life.

Financially the situation was in no way a disaster. Ever since my ex-husband, the Gamblers Anonymous dropout, had run through much of our mutual savings and hawked some of my jewelry, money matters had made me extremely anxious. But I was really going to be okay. I wrote for other magazines besides Gloss, and my relationship with most of them was good. And luckily I also had a backup source of income. My father died when I was twelve, leaving me a small trust fund that provides a regular income each year. Nothing that puts me in the league with the Hilton sisters, but it helps pay for basic expenses, like the maintenance on my one-bedroom apartment in the Village and a garage for my Jeep.

What I was going to have to kiss good-bye, however, were all the extra niceties I'd been enjoying thanks to my generous Gloss contract—everything from cute shoes to el grande cappuccinos to the occasional Saturday afternoon massage. I'd gotten used to them, spoiled, like one of those women who can have an orgasm only with a Mr. Blue vibrator.

I'd also miss having an office to go to, someplace to mingle with other human beings. And there was something else, I suddenly realized to my horror. In the fall, a collection of my crime articles was being published by a small book company, and now I wouldn't have the Gloss affiliation to leverage. What would the jacket say? "Bailey Weggins is a freelancer who works out of her own home. When she isn't writing, she enjoys going through her coat pockets looking for spare change." Cat had even promised to help with PR, since so many of the articles in my book had first appeared in Gloss. Now I'd have to rely on the book company's tiny, and reputedly weak, publicity department. I'd heard from another writer that the last time they'd gotten someone on the Today show was for a book on the negative charisma factor of Michael Dukakis.

After letting myself into my apartment, I helped myself to the last cold beer in the fridge and checked the calendar on my BlackBerry. I had a fairly busy week ahead, but I'd have to make time to talk to editors and see if there was the potential for another contributing-editor gig someplace else. I'd forgotten that tomorrow night I was having drinks with Robby Hart, an old pal from Get, the magazine I'd worked at before Gloss—and where I'd first met Cat. Robby was a great networker and the perfect person for me to brainstorm with.

As it turned out, my drink with Robby was the only step I ever had to take in my job search.

The spot he'd chosen for us to meet on Thursday night was a wine bar on the Lower East Side. Robby was already at a table when I arrived, dressed as usual in a cotton plaid button-down shirt with a white undershirt peeking out from underneath. I guess you can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can't take Ohio out of the boy. As soon as he spotted me, he stood up to greet me and offer one of his big toothy Robby smiles. He'd never been Mr. Svelte, but I realized as we hugged each other that he'd put on some weight since I'd seen him last.

"Wow, it's so good to see you," he said. "It's been too long."

"I know. I've been so looking forward to this."

The waiter strolled by just as I was sitting down, and I asked for a glass of Cabernet.

"Nice 'do," Robby said, pointing with his chin toward my hair. "I almost didn't recognize you."

"Thanks, I decided to grow it out. But just watch—once it's finally long enough to pull into a sloppy bun, they'll be out of style."

"Well, at least you've got some to grow," he said. Robby was my age but totally bald.

"So tell me—how's the new gig?" I demanded. "I'm dying to hear."

Robby had stayed at Get until it folded, then gone in desperation to Ladies' Home Journal, where he'd assigned and written celebrity pieces for several years. Three months ago he'd bagged a job as a senior editor for Buzz, the very hot celebrity gossip magazine. Circulation at Buzz had languished until the top job was taken over about a year ago by Mona Hodges, the genius—and notorious—editor known for resuscitating ailing magazines. Sales had since skyrocketed, and in a recent profile, Mona had claimed that forty-nine percent of her readers would choose an evening reading Buzz over sex with their husbands.

"Well, I've got to admit, it's awesome to be at such a buzzy magazine," he said. "When people used to find out I worked at LHJ, all they'd do was ask if I had a recipe for chicken chili or knew how to get ink stains out of clothes. But when someone finds out I work at Buzz, their eyes bug out."

"That's fabulous, Robby," I said, but as soon as I said it I saw his eyes flicker with uncertainty. "What?"

He squeezed his lips together hard. "On the other hand, it's been a tough learning curve," he conceded. "They expect your writing to be very cute and snappy, and I'm not so experienced with that. The chick in the office next to me wrote this line about Hugh Grant the other day—she said he had the kind of blue eyes you could see from outer space—and all I could think was why can't I write something like that? Though I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it."

"Do you work late most nights? I heard someone say that there were sweatshops in Cambodia that have better hours than Buzz."

"Mondays are the worst because we close that night," he admitted. "Sometimes I'm there till five a.m. Tuesdays are the one early night 'cause things are just gearing up again. The other nights—it all depends. They say it's going to get better now that Mona has finally settled in."

"And you're covering TV?" I said.

"Mainly reality TV. Behind-the-scenes stuff. Are the bitches really as bitchy as they seem? Who's bonking who? The head of the West Coast office says we should just change the name of the magazine to Who You Fucking? I guess it's pretty dumbed-down stuff from what I used to be doing, but what difference does it make?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we tried to make the celeb stuff at LHJ more journalistic, but it was wasted effort considering who we were dealing with. I suggested to a celebrity's publicist once that we could approach someone like Maya Angelou to do the interview, and you know what he said to me? He asked to see her clips."

I laughed out loud.

"So you see," he continued, "there's a watermark you can never rise above, anyway."

"Buzz can get pretty nasty, though—right?"

"It's mainly this one gossip section that's down and dirty. It's called 'Juice Bar.' You don't want to get on their radar if you can help it. The rest of the magazine is cheeky but not nearly so bitchy."

"Well, are you happy you made the switch?" I asked skeptically as the waiter set our drinks down in front of us.

"Overall, yes. It's great experience and the pay is certainly better. I got a twenty-thousand-dollar bump in my salary—which I need right now. I wanted to tell you this in person—though it's still hush-hush: Brock and I are applying to adopt a kid."

"Oh, Robby, that's fabulous," I said, giving his hand a squeeze. "You'll be a fantastic parent." And I meant it. Robby was one of the kindest, most thoughtful guys I'd ever worked with, and I knew that he'd always felt frustrated that as a gay man he couldn't have a child.

"Thanks," he said, beaming. "I'm dying to be a dad. The problem is Brock's business has been hit or miss lately, and if our application is going to be accepted, I must have a well-paying job. So I just need to grin and bear it and hope I can get on top of things."

"Wait—I thought you said you were on the other side of the learning curve."

"Sort of. I mean, I think I've started to get the hang of the style, but the weekly pace is still a problem for me. If I had more time, I could do a better job of polishing my copy, but I don't—and then later it gets tossed back to me for endless revisions."

"Is she really as bad to work for as people say?" I asked. I was referring to Mona Hodges. Though editor in chiefs could be tough, Mona's reputation made her unique in the pain-in-the-ass-to-work-for category. She was reportedly cold, demanding, arbitrary, and at times even abusive. Some people believed that Mona had been spurred to be this way so she could stand out from the pack by generating press about her antics—the all-publicity-even-bad-publicity-is-good-publicity theory. She supposedly was insanely jealous of Bonnie Fuller, the editorial director of a rival publication. Bonnie had a more illustrious track record in juicing up magazines and causing circulation to skyrocket. Though Bonnie had the advantage of having a longer tenure in the business and therefore more time to make her mark, it still galled Mona, who was impatient to get recognized. The "I be bad" strategy apparently was meant to gain Mona recognition faster, even if hers was all negative.

Robby rolled his hazel eyes. "Well, she can come on strong if she doesn't like what she sees. I heard her verbally bitch-slap the poor mail guy the other day because he'd left a package in the wrong place. But she's a genius at what she does, and our sales are through the roof. There's a lot to learn from someone like her. I just wish I could get the hang of the copy."

"You feeling pretty stressed?"

"Yeah. And the worst part is I've been using Cheetos and chocolate as my stress reducers of choice. I'm so fat now that I have man tits. When Brock and I start telling the world we're becoming parents, people will think that I'm the one giving birth. But enough about me. How's your life, anyway?"

"Not so great." I told him the whole story and described how much of a curveball it had thrown me.

As I was speaking, Robby's eyes widened and his jaw went slack. With his elbows resting on the table, he stretched out both arms and flipped his hands over.

"Omigod, I just thought of something," he said. "I know the perfect job for you."


"Buzz magazine."


"Wait till you hear this. They've decided to treat celebrity crimes in a more journalistic way, rather than just write them up as gossip stories. And they're looking for some really great journalist types to do them—people they can offer contracts to. I never once thought of you because I knew your contract with Gloss ran through the end of the year."

"But is there really enough celebrity crime out there to make it worth their while?"

"Absolutely! I mean, every week some celebrity tries to leave Saks with a Fendi purse stuffed down her bra or shoots his wife with a Magnum. God, you'd be perfect for this. Needless to say, for selfish reasons it would be so great for me to have you there."

"But we just finished talking about how tough it is there."

"But it would be different for you," Robby declared. "Mona is secretly intimidated by anything truly journalistic. She wouldn't micromanage you because she doesn't see that as her strength. And it wouldn't be expected for your copy to be all cute and perky. You'd be in the power position. And from what I've heard, the crime stuff is going to be overseen by the number two guy, Nash Nolan. He looks like a bully, but he's perfectly decent. Please, let me set up the interview."

My mind was racing. I'd never once imagined myself at a magazine like Buzz, yet I had to admit I was intrigued. The magazine had become a must-read in the last year, and people would get to know my name—just in time for the launch of my book. That advantage could end up outweighing any negatives.

"But I don't really follow celebrities that much," I said, playing devil's advocate.

"You'll find out everything you need to know the first week on the job. There are only about thirty celebrities who matter anyway, and you don't even have to know their last names. Have you ever met Mona, by the way?"

"No. I've seen her picture in the Post, but I've never had the pleasure of a face-to-face."

"Look, there's no harm in just talking to her, is there?"

No, there didn't seem to be any harm in talking.

"Okay, I'd be open to an interview," I told him.

Robby beamed when he heard my reply. "She'll love you," he said. "And she'll turn on the charm in the interview—within limits, of course, because it's Mona we're talking about. There are two things you need to watch out for. When she's talking to you, she'll lean in and stare at you really intently. The first time I met her, I thought she was checking out my pores and I half expected her to prescribe an exfoliant before I left. And she's wall-eyed—in just one eye. Always look straight at her face. Don't make the mistake of following the bad eye—it drives her insane when people do that."

I let Robby go ahead and set it up.

My appointment with Mona ended up being on the Wednesday after my drink with Robby. The Buzz office, to my surprise, was only a few blocks south from Gloss's, at Broadway and 50th. It took up half of the sixteenth floor of the building; the other portion was occupied by Track, an upstart music magazine owned by the same company. Robby had once told me that Buzz staffers sometimes bumped into people like Justin Timberlake in the reception area.

There were plenty of people bustling around in the large open offices when I arrived. Their blasé expressions remained unchanged as I was led through by Mona's assistant, yet I could sense some of them following me with their eyes. Perhaps a few were wondering if I was a potential replacement for them.

The front wall of Mona's office was made entirely of glass, but the blinds were drawn today. Her assistant asked me to wait outside, and through the half-open door I could hear a woman and a man in conversation.

"Take a few days to review it, but then we need to get moving on it," said the man, his voice moving closer toward the door. "Try to give Stan a call as soon as you can."

A second later, a fiftyish, dark blond man, dressed in a dark suit, charged by me. I recognized him as Tom Dicker, the owner of the company. His picture appeared in "Page Six," in the New York Post,


  • "Juicy... witty... a winner."—Chicago Sun-Times

On Sale
Jun 1, 2006
Page Count
400 pages

Kate White

About the Author

Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve murder mysteries and thrillers and several hugely popular career books, including I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve, and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do. For 14 years, White was the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, where she increased overall circulation by thirty percent and made Cosmo the #1 magazine in the U.S. in single copy sales.

Learn more about this author