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New York Times bestselling author and Cosmopolitan editor in chief Kate White delivers a sensational mystery that sends her gutsy, single, thirty-something sleuth Bailey Weggins behind the scenes of a hot new TV show.
Whenever a celebrity throws a phone, crashes a car, or kills a spouse, celebrity journalist Bailey Weggins is there to cover it for the gossip magazine Buzz. Now, the new television show Morgue is the talk of the town, and just as Bailey starts reminiscing about her brief summer fling with the show’s gorgeous star, Chris Wickersham, he calls.
But Chris isn’t thinking about rekindling their old flame. His friend and fellow actor on the show has gone missing, and while nobody else seems to be alarmed, Chris can’t believe his friend would just run off while on the brink of stardom. When Bailey starts to investigate as a favor for Chris, she soon realizes there is much more to the disappearance than meets the eye, and unless she can unearth the truth, she could become the inspiration for Morgue’s next episode.
Also by Kate White
Over Her Dead Body
'Til Death Do Us Part
A Body to Die For
If Looks Could Kill
You on Top: Smart, Sexy Skills Every Woman Needs
to Set the World on Fire
The Nine Secrets of Women Who Get Everything They Want
Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do
First and foremost I'd like to thank my wonderful editor Karen Kosztolnyik for her guidance and my fab, gutsy agent Sandy Dijkstra for her support, as well as her amazing team, including Taryn and Elise. And then there were the people who were so generous in helping me with my research, which is one of the best parts of writing: Kate Carcaterra; Barry Cunningham, television journalist; Barbara Butcher, director of forensic investigations, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner; Brad Holbrook, actor; Mark Howell, psychotherapist; Angela Jones, aerialist; Paul Paganelli, MD, chief of emergency medicine, Milton Hospital, Milton, MA; Trinka Porrata, drug consultant and retired LAPD detective; Richard Spencer, editor in chief, In Touch; Sheila Weller, author and journalist; Lt. Gene Whyte, DCPI, NYPD.
It all started with a coincidence. Not one of those totally creepy coincidences that make you feel as if someone has just walked across your grave. In fact, later I could see that the phone call I got that late summer night wasn't all that unexpected—but at the time it made me catch my breath. And, of course, it was the start of everything horrible that happened. . . .
I'd decided to stop by the office that day, something I rarely do on Tuesdays. It was crazy hot for the middle of September, and it would have been nice to just hang on the brick terrace of my apartment in Greenwich Village, chugging a few iced teas. But a new deputy editor had started recently—Valerie Crowe, a hyper, edgy chick who left you overwhelmed with an urge to shoot a tranquilizer dart into her ass—and I thought it would be smart to give her some face time. My copy goes through the executive editor, but it's one of the deputy editors who assigns me most of my stories and often suggests leads for me to follow up on. Since Tuesday is the day after closing, I knew she'd probably have a few minutes to spare. Most of the staff never even gets in before noon that day.
My name is Bailey Weggins, and I'm a reporter for Buzz, one of the weekly celebrity gossip magazines that have become like crack cocaine for women under thirty-five these days. Unlike most of the staff, I don't cover the botched marriages and bulimic ordeals of the stars. Instead, I report on celebrity crime—like when an A-lister hurls a phone at a hotel desk clerk or hires a hit man to shoot his wife.
It's not something I'd ever imagined myself doing. I was a straight crime writer for the ten years after college graduation, but when the job opened up early in the summer, curiosity and the need for a regular gig prodded me to take it.
"Celebrity crime reporter—are you saying it's some sort of specialized area of journalism?" my mother had asked at the time, as if it were on a par with becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon or astrophysicist.
Initially, I was at a disadvantage because I didn't know—excuse the expression—jackshit about celebrities. Oh, I'd picked up tidbits about the really major stars—you know, like Brad and Angelina and Gwyneth and TomKat—from listening to friends dish as well as perusing gossip magazines during pedicures. But I was clueless about most of the other stars in the celebrity universe. In fact, until two weeks into my job at Buzz, I'd thought Jake Gyllenhaal and Orlando Bloom were the same person. But I caught on pretty quickly, and to my surprise, I grew to really enjoy my two-to-three-day-a-week arrangement. Celebrities not only live large, they misbehave large, too. Covering their crimes, I discovered, could be awfully entertaining.
One more plus. In November, a small publishing house was releasing a collection of my crime pieces, Bad Men and Wicked Women, and the job would be leverage for PR.
The Buzz offices were practically tomblike when I stepped off the elevator, though it was mercifully cool, as if the low body count had prevented the air from rising above 65 degrees that day. I nodded to a few people as I walked through the huge cube farm/bullpen that constitutes a major chunk of our offices. I'm in a part of that area nicknamed the Pod, which abuts the art and production departments and houses many of the writers and junior editors. The senior editors are in glass-fronted offices that rim the area. My workstation is right next to that of a senior writer named Jessie Pendergrass and behind Leo Zern, a photo editor they couldn't find room for in the photo department.
"Hey," I said to Leo as I tossed my purse and tote bag onto my desk. He was the only one in the general vicinity. He tore his eyes off his computer screen and swiveled just his head in my direction.
"To what do we owe this honor?" he asked. "I thought you weren't coming in today."
"I had a few things I wanted to take care of. Jessie around?"
"She's not in yet. I heard her tell someone on the phone yesterday that her bikini line was a disaster, so maybe she's having it administered to."
"Anything going on here?"
"Not really. Oh, there was a little bit of a dustup this morning. You know how we said Britney Spears looked like a Smurf?"
"No. Okay, I'll take your word for it."
"Nash got a phone call today, and the fur was flying." He was talking about Nash Nolan, the editor in chief.
"From Britney's publicist?"
"No, it was from a Smurf representative. They don't want to be compared to her."
"Very funny. So what are you working on?" I sidled over to his desk and checked out the computer screen. There was a grainy shot of a blond starlet type I didn't recognize sitting at an outdoor restaurant, jamming half a dozen French fries into her mouth as if she were stuffing dirty clothes into an overfilled hamper. "God, the paparazzi don't let these chicks alone, do they," I said.
"The ones who take these shots don't consider themselves paparazzi," he said. "They're snackarazzi."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Not at all. These are the real money shots these days. They're almost as good as one of a star scratching her ass."
"Remind me not to order a double bacon cheeseburger the next time I'm at a sidewalk café."
"I think you're safe, Bailey," he said, smirking.
I checked my e-mail and then a bunch of Web sites to see if any A-listers had landed themselves in hot water that day, but things seemed fairly quiet. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I wandered down to the office of the new deputy editor.
"Hi, Val," I said, poking my head in the door and forcing a smile. I've always wished I were good at office politics, but fawning and bullshitting just don't come easily to me, particularly if the person at the other end is a real jerk, which I suspected Valerie was. A guy I used to work with at the Albany Times Union, when I was a newspaper reporter right out of college, said that I butt-kissed about as well as a blowtorch.
"What can I do for you?" Valerie asked without enthusiasm. Her dark hair was slicked off her face today, accentuating the large sharp nose she sported between brown eyes. She reminded me of how our family dog used to look when he emerged sopping wet from a pond.
"Just thought I'd check in—see if you needed me for anything," I told her.
"What are you working on now?" she asked, a thin layer of impatience coating her question.
Gosh, I thought, you just don't like me, do you? But I couldn't tell why. She'd arrived at the magazine not long after the previous editor in chief, Mona Hodges, had been killed in her office by several blows to the head. It had been a tumultuous time, particularly for me, for not only had I found Mona that night, but I also had later figured out who had murdered her, nearly getting killed myself in the process. Nash, the number two at the time, had been named editor in chief shortly afterward; a deputy editor had taken over for Nash, and now Valerie had the deputy job. I sometimes wondered if she resented the fact that Nash and I were tight and that I had plenty of autonomy.
"Nothing major at the moment," I told her. "Just following a few leads. I probably won't come in again this week unless something breaks."
"Just let Aubrey know," she said, referring to the managing editor. Then she glanced over at her computer screen as if she were dying to get back to work.
"Sure," I said, and walked off. How nice that I'd bothered to take the subway up from the Village.
As long as I was at the office, I followed up with staffers on a few matters and polished off another cup of coffee. And then, with nothing more to do, I stood up to go.
"Oh, Bailey, I know what your favorite TV show is going to be this season," Leo said as I was shutting off my computer. "Have you seen the fall lineup?"
"No, but let me guess. Survivor—The New York Singles Scene?"
"Nope. A new show called Morgue. It's about investigators from the medical examiner's office. Sounds perfect for someone with your grisly interests."
"Aren't there a million shows like that already?" I asked.
"I guess the public can't get enough of them."
Just to humor Leo, I sauntered over to his desk and glanced down at his computer screen. Along with the description of the show, there were a few shots from episodes and a group photo of the ensemble cast, all perfectly coiffed and smileless, their eyes burning with desire to see justice done and have the show win its time slot in the ratings. Suddenly I felt my jaw drop. One of the actors I was staring at in the ensemble cast was Chris Wickersham. He was a model and actor I'd had a short fling with last winter.
"Oh, wow," I said.
"What—you think you're really gonna like it?"
"No, the guy on the far left. I know him."
"Really?" he said as he glanced back at the screen. "You mean—Chris Wickersham, who plays Jared Hanson, the sometimes moody but brilliantly intuitive investigator? Is he straight?"
"Very. It says it's about the New York City Morgue. Does that mean it's shooting here?"
"Not necessarily. Lemme see . . . Yes, shot entirely in New York City. Was this guy your boyfriend?"
"Sort of. For about four seconds. Is there anything else?"
"No, just that it premieres in two weeks."
"Look, I'd better fly. Tell Jessie hi for me, will you?"
I grabbed my purse and tote bag and headed out of the building. My mind was racing, thinking of what I'd just learned about Chris. The last time I had laid eyes on him was right before he'd struck out for L.A. last March, hoping like millions of other guys with dreamy eyes and perfect jawlines to be cast in a pilot for the fall. We hadn't promised each other anything about staying in touch (though early on he'd sent two e-mails and one goofy postcard of the Hollywood sign), and I'd just assumed he hadn't met with any real success yet. But he had. And based on the public love of carnage and corpses, there was every chance the show would be a success. I felt happy for Chris; he deserved fame and fortune. But at the same time, there was something vaguely disconcerting about the whole thing that I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe it was knowing that a guy I'd locked lips with was now poised to become the kind of hottie women across America drooled over and dished about the next day at the watercooler.
I took the subway to 8th and Broadway, hit the gym for thirty minutes, grabbed a few supplies at the deli, and then headed to my apartment at 9th and Broadway. Though I'd left home only a few hours earlier, my place was stifling hot. I turned on the AC, fixed an ice water, and flopped on the couch. As I took the first sip of my drink, I let memories of Chris Wickersham run roughshod around my brain. I had met him a year ago April, at a wedding, where he had worked as one of the bartenders, supplementing the money he made from modeling and small acting gigs. He was absolutely gorgeous, the kind of guy it almost hurt to look at.
Though he took my number and called me, I'd blown him off. He was ten years younger than me, and though that kind of age gap hadn't bothered Cameron Diaz or Demi Moore, I just couldn't imagine having a boyfriend I was old enough to have baby-sat for. Then, nine months later, we'd reconnected when I'd needed his help during a murder investigation. I was dating a guy named Jack steadily by then, and I tried not to send any of the wrong messages to Chris, but one night he had kissed me and I'd felt it all the way to my tippy toes. It was the beginning of my doubts about my relationship with Jack. Soon afterward I was single again. Chris and I had a few dates and some serious make-out sessions, but I'd been unable to take the relationship—sexually and otherwise—beyond that. One of the last things Chris had said to me was, "Jeez, Bailey, what is it with you—yes or no?" In the end, it had been no. In hindsight, I thought my doubts might have been due to guilt. I always associated Chris with my breakup.
If I met him today, would I still feel those doubts? I wondered. What would it be like to date a guy millions of people watched on TV? Christ, Bailey, I thought, you're starting to sound like a star fucker.
I drained the last of my water. I'd planned to stay in tonight to work on a freelance article. Plus, ever since I'd had my heart bruised during the summer by a guy named Beau Regan, I'd been lying low. But thanks to the heat wave, the idea now held nada appeal. I wondered who I might be able to drum up for companionship on short notice. My seventy-year-old next-door neighbor, Landon, who I sometimes palled around with, had said he was heading over to the Film Forum on West Houston Street to see a German flick. A college pal of mine from Brown had recently split with her husband, and she was game for anything that provided escape from her apartment, but an evening in her company could be exhausting. She tended to ask an endless series of borderline-hostile questions that were impossible for me to answer—like "Are all men dickheads or just the ones I meet?" "Who would drink a prickly pear martini, do you know?" and "Do you think I'm brimming with anger?"
Maybe I would just head out alone and eat a quiet dinner outdoors at one of the restaurants over on MacDougal. As I padded toward my bedroom to change, my cell phone buzzed from my purse, making me jump.
"Hello," I said after digging it out.
"Hi, it's Chris Wickersham."
For a moment, I thought it was Leo playing a practical joke. But he wouldn't have been familiar with that deep, smooth voice—so I knew for certain it had to be Chris. I caught my breath, stunned by the eeriness of the timing.
"Oh, my gosh," I said. "I—I was just reading about you two hours ago. Congratulations—I, er, heard about the show." God, Bailey, this is why you write professionally, I thought. You shouldn't be allowed to open your mouth.
"Thanks," he said. "The opportunity kind of came out of nowhere. I've been planning to call you—I mean, just to say hello."
"So you're back in New York?"
"Yeah—I've got a studio in TriBeCa. I don't want to overextend myself until I know if the show is going to take off or not."
"Is the shooting schedule as brutal as you hear?"
"Fourteen-hour days, sometimes. But this is what I wanted, and I've got no complaints. The show kicks off in a couple of weeks, and then we play the ratings game."
"It sounds like a super idea for a show—I'm sure it will be a hit."
"Kind of your type of show, huh?"
"You're the second person who said that today."
"Well, look, the reason I called . . . I mean, I wanted to say hi, but—is there any chance you could meet me for a drink? There's something I need to talk to you about."
"Sure," I said. His tone didn't suggest a man who'd been pining for me for months and had decided to make one last stab at winning my heart, but I was still curious. "When were you thinking?"
"I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if you could do it now. It's really pretty urgent. You're the one person I can turn to on this."
"What is it? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, no. But a friend of mine may be. I need your advice."
"Can you give me a hint?" I asked, though I figured that if a guy he knew was in trouble, it had to involve drugs or money or both.
"It— Look, would you mind talking about it in person? I hate the idea of starting to get into it on the phone and then having to cover the same ground again when we meet."
"Well, I could do it now, actually," I admitted. "I was planning to stay in and work tonight, but it can wait."
"That's terrific," he said. He suggested we meet in an hour and asked me to recommend a place near me. I threw out the name of a bar on Second Avenue between 9th and 10th. It would take me less than five minutes to walk there.
After signing off, I walked distractedly into the bathroom and splashed cool water on my face and in my armpits. I couldn't believe what had just happened. Maybe it was my destiny that Chris Wickersham would pop into my life every nine months or so. I wondered if there was any chance that he was using a so-called problem with a friend as an excuse to make contact with me. It had been hard to tell on the phone. And I wasn't at all sure how I'd feel when I saw him. I had never once stopped finding him staggeringly attractive. Perhaps now that I was no longer guilt stricken—and my love life was currently in the Dumpster with a capital D—I would feel the urge to go for it this time.
Covering my bets, I wore a pair of tight jeans and a flowy turquoise baby doll top with a V deep enough for me to flash some cleavage. I smoothed my blondish brown hair and applied just enough eye shadow, mascara, blush, and lip gloss to keep from looking as if I'd tried as hard as I had.
He wasn't in the bar when I arrived. I found a free table by the front window and ordered a Corona. Taking a sip of the icy cold beer from the bottle, I watched people stroll along the pavement in the September dusk. A couple of guys stared through the glass at me, and one even shot me a flirty smile. I realized suddenly how nice it was to be sitting in a slutty top, waiting for a hunk—even if it wasn't really a date. Along with my heart, Beau Regan had bruised my ego. This was the closest I'd felt in ages to being a bitch on wheels.
"Hey, Bailey, hi."
It was Chris's voice behind me. He must have entered the bar without my seeing him.
As I shifted in my chair, I caught two women gazing behind me, their mouths agape. As soon as I spun around, I could see why. Chris Wickersham had somehow managed to become even more gorgeous in the months since I'd last seen him. There were the dazzling green eyes and the intriguing cleft in his chin. But he'd gained a few pounds, filling out his face in the nicest of ways. His sandy brown hair was a little longer and tinged with blond highlights. The biceps were the same, though. They cockily stretched the sleeves of a gray T-shirt he wore over tan cargo shorts. Had I been the stupidest girl in America to reject him?
I stood up to greet Chris, and at the same moment he leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. Because of the awkward angle of our bodies, the edge of his full, lovely mouth touched mine, and I felt the same rush I'd experienced the very first time he'd kissed me in Miami. Take it down, way down, Bailey, I told myself. I had no idea what Chris's intentions were—or mine, for that matter—and I didn't want to get ahead of myself.
"Hey there," was all I could muster.
"God, it's great to see those blue eyes again, Bailey. You look amazing."
"Well, I'm not the one with half the bar staring at me."
"I'll start describing what we do in the morgue with a Stryker saw and let's see how they like that," he said, grinning. He created a dead-on whiny saw noise that made me laugh out loud.
He ordered a beer for himself, and we talked for a few minutes about the series. It was being shot entirely in New York City, with all the interior morgue shots done on a soundstage at Chelsea Piers. He interrupted himself at one point to ask how my work was going, and I told him about losing my old arrangement at Gloss magazine and miraculously finding the gig at Buzz.
"Gosh, is it dangerous for me to be talking to you now that you work for a celebrity rag?" he asked, his eyes playful.
"Only if you hurl your cell phone at someone or try to bring a half kilo of cocaine through customs at JFK." I took a swig of beer, thinking of a zillion other questions I had about the series, but before I could ask one, Chris switched gears entirely.
"Like I said on the phone," he said, lowering his voice slightly, "I wanted to talk to you about this friend of mine. I really appreciate your meeting me."
Omigod, I suddenly thought, the "friend" is a girl. He's got chick trouble, and he wants my advice, like I'm some sort of big sister. I felt a flush of embarrassment begin to creep up my chest.
"Okay, tell me about it," I said awkwardly.
"It's about this actor I know—named Tom Fain. We met doing an off off Broadway show a year or two ago, and he ended up in Morgue, too. He's got just a small part, but he's generally in every episode."
"Is he in some kind of trouble?" I asked, feeling oddly relieved that it was a guy friend after all. I waited for a tale of woe that would probably include at least one long weekend in Vegas.
"I guess you'd call it that," Chris said. "He's missing."
"Missing?" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, he disappeared off the face of the earth a week and a half ago."
"Have you talked to the police—though they're usually not much help with young guys."
"The first person I called was this guy Tom had mentioned—Mr. Barish—who handles his money. He said he'd get hold of the cops. This detective called me a day later. He looked around Tom's apartment and said he'd make a couple of inquiries, but there was nothing more he could really do. He told me a lot of guys just take off. But I don't think that's what happened. This was Tom's first regular TV gig. He's a couple of years older than me, and he's been praying for this break even longer than I have. I just don't believe he would have walked away from it."
"Is there a girlfriend in the picture?" I asked. "Could he have had a blowup and gone off to lick his wounds?"
"There's a kind of girlfriend, a chick named Harper Aikins he's been seeing for about a month and a half. She's a former actress who does PR for the show. But it's not some major love affair, and she's just as clueless as I am about where he is."
"Both dead. You ready for another?" he asked, cocking his chin toward my beer.
I'd noticed that he'd chugged down his own beer quickly, feeling churned up, perhaps, from talking about Tom. I was only halfway through mine.
"I'm set for now. So tell me the circumstances. When did you last see Tom? When did anyone last see him?"
"I talked to him the Thursday before he disappeared. We were on set together. He plays—or I should say played, because they've canned him now for being a no-show—this guy who mans the phones at the morgue, the one who's always handing someone a message or announcing that so-and-so is on line four. I'm not sure what he did the next day because they didn't need him on set, but apparently on Saturday morning he picked up his car from a lot downtown and took off. Harper was out of town that weekend, but she talked to Chris Friday night and he didn't mention anything about a trip. Originally he'd been planning to head out to the Hamptons to see this buddy of his, but the guy told me the plans got bagged late in the week. When Chris didn't show for work on Monday, I kept trying to reach his cell phone and finally went to his apartment. As far as I know, no one's heard from him since that weekend."
"Was he depressed—or in any kind of trouble that you know of?"
"Not that I know of. He's a helluva nice guy. He actually suggested I audition for the show."
"Aren't the producers worried about what happened to him?"
"Apparently not. One of the ADs—assistant directors—told me that Tom was apparently miffed about how small his part was. He'd also been having a little trouble on set. The rumor is he just bolted."
Chris drew his fist to his face and blew a stream of air into it. I waited, thinking he was going to say something else, but he only stared at me expectantly.
"How can I help?" I asked. I had no idea what I could possibly do, but I assumed that was the question Chris had been waiting for.
"I want you to tell me how I can find him. You solve mysteries, right? I just want some direction."
I sighed. "When I'm writing a story—or when I'm working on a case like the one I needed your help on last winter—I find that the best approach is to just methodically turn over every stone, one by one. It's not very sexy sounding, yet it's usually the best way. But I don't know anything about Tom's life, so I wouldn't know which stones to start with."
"I can help with that. I can tell you everything I know about him. Plus, I have a key to his apartment. He was nice enough to let me bunk there for a few weeks this summer before I got my own place, and I thought if you looked through it with me, we might find something—a lead."
"Uh, sure," I said. It would be more than providing a "little direction," but I was intrigued, and I liked the idea of being with Chris. "That would certainly be a start. When?"
"How about right now?"
" Now? Well, why not, I guess. Even though you've got a key to the place, is there anyone who could make trouble for you if they caught you in there?"
"No. Like I said, the parents are dead, he's got no siblings, and the super is used to me being around."
"Okay, then, let's do it."
He waved for the check, paid, and three minutes later we were out on the street. He said Tom lived on Mercer, so we headed there on foot. While we walked, Chris provided more details about Tom. He'd grown up in Manhattan, gone to private school, and then majored in theater at Skidmore College. Whereas Chris had used modeling as a potential springboard for acting and had eventually headed for L.A., Tom had plugged away mostly in the off off Broadway world, performing in many small "black box" theaters, once totally nude.
I was curious, I told Chris, about the guy Tom had said he was going to see in the Hamptons. Was there a chance Tom had headed out there and the guy was denying it? Perhaps he and Tom had ended up in an altercation, or at the very least this dude was covering up something. Chris didn't think so, based on his conversation with the guy. He was an old high school friend of Tom's.
His apartment was in an older, kind of grand-looking building that had obviously been renovated into living spaces. There was no doorman, but the lobby was nicely decorated with an original limestone fireplace mantel. Not exactly what I was expecting for an actor who until recently had done ten-dollar-a-ticket theaters and let his schlong dangle in front of an audience. Reading my mind, Chris explained that Tom had purchased his place with money from the sale of his parents' apartment on the Upper East Side.
- On Sale
- May 23, 2007
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Book Group