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Roz tilted her head back, blew a smoke ring toward my kitchen ceiling, then ground her cigarette out in the chipped saucer.

“Sounds like he’s stepping out on you.”

“Doing what?”

“He’s cheating on you, Lainie. God, don’t you know anything?” Roz rolled her eyes. “The man works late every night. Someone’s been calling and hanging up when you answer. That adds up to another woman, if you ask me.”

“You think?”

“Yes!” Roz sounded exasperated. “Believe me, I know from experience with Marco.” Roz’s frosted pink lips pursed, as if uttering her ex-husband’s name left a bad taste in her mouth.

I sipped my coffee and thought about it.

With time to kill since I’d been let go by Sartwell Sausages, I’d often invite Roz over for coffee to get her views on my situation with Ed. Call me gullible. And naive. I believed his story about working late. With me unemployed, I figured he worked extra hours to stay in his boss’s good graces. Whenever I tried to discuss our tepid marriage, he cut me off. A couple of times he told me “get off my back.” His refusal to talk had created a wall between us.

Roz isn’t what I’d call a polished woman. We don’t have a lot in common, when you come right down to it. But she does have insights into the human condition, and she has a good heart. I’d hoped Roz would suggest a way to get through to him.

Roz lit her third cigarette and squinted at me through a nicotine cloud. “What should I do?” I asked.

“You ever call his office to check out his story?”

I nodded. “Sure. I’ve called a couple of times and gotten his assistant, Brant. He said Ed wanted all his calls held — even mine. Brant, well … he doesn’t like me very much. And I don’t care for his attitude.”

Roz’s jaw dropped. “Well, there you go! Brant is obviously protecting Ed. Men!” She spit out the word. “They all fuckin’ stick together. Pardon my French, Lainie.”

I shook my head and threw up my hands. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You gotta get the goods on him, then confront him.”

“How do I do that?”

Roz’s dark eyebrows rose to meet her flaming red hair. “What planet have you been living on? For starters you could figure out if he’s using a Yahoo or Gmail account to contact her. Peek over his shoulder while he’s on the computer. Find out his email address and user name. Of course, you’ll need his password to get into the account. That might take work.” Roz continued to steamroll. “You may be able to get access if he’s dumb enough not to sign off. You wouldn’t believe how often that happens. You’ll want to check his cell phone too.” She jabbed the air with her cigarette and spoke so rapidly it made my head spin. “Knowing Ed, he probably wouldn’t put her number in his cell phone directory. You might look for incoming or outgoing numbers you don’t recognize. Assuming he forgot to delete ‘em.”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “This all seems so complicated. And I feel funny about invading his privacy.”

Roz snapped her fingers. “You should hire a PI.”

“A what?”

Roz looked incredulous. “A private investigator. Don’t you know nothin’?”

“I’ve never heard that expression.”

She looked floored. “You’re kidding, right? You never heard it in movies or TV shows?”

“I don’t watch much TV. And I don’t like crime shows. Too violent.”

Roz snorted and shook her head. “I don’t believe it.”

“Do you really think I need to hire this … this PI?” I knew it would cost, and I hated the idea of raiding my piggy bank to spy on Ed.

“Well, he’s not going to cough up the details, is he?” In a theatrical gesture, Roz swept the air with her arm. “So unless you feel like following him around with a camera, I’d hire a PI now.”

“Then what?”

“Then he gives her up or you divorce his ass.”

I wasn’t good at delivering ultimatums. I pictured Ed laughing at me. Bottom line, even if Ed was cheating on me, I wasn’t sure I had the guts to divorce him. We had a comfortable relationship. It wasn’t exciting, but we knew what to expect of each other. Even so, I couldn’t keep this up. Something had to change.

Roz gave me the name of a detective who had helped her when she divorced Marco. It took me a couple of months to work up the nerve to call him. I’ll confess I did sneak a look at Ed’s cell phone, but most of the numbers were familiar. I found no women’s names other than mine, Ed’s mother and Alice, a co-worker who was almost as old as Ed’s mother. So unless Ed had some kind of maternal fixation, I didn’t think Alice was a threat.

As for his email, I tried looking over his shoulder. My feeble attempts rankled Ed and he snapped at me for “breathing down his neck.” I felt like an idiot and guilty as hell.

The sad truth? Roz was right. I needed someone to do the dirty work for me.

The morning I met the PI, I put on one of my best suits, the one I wore for interviews. It was tailored and flattering without, you know, going overboard. I pulled my long, blonde hair back into a barrette and put on some makeup. Not too much. Roz makes fun of me because, unlike her, I go light on cosmetics. She says I hide my assets. I just tell her I’m married. She laughs and lets it go.

The office was downtown, in a neighborhood that had seen better days. I might have been tempted to choose another PI in a better neighborhood, if I’d had any idea where else to go. Dreary neighborhood aside, I felt better going to someone recommended by a loyal friend like Roz.

Still, I wondered why anyone would have an office in such a depressed part of town. Maybe it was a way to maintain a low profile. Or pay low rent.

His office was in a four-story, brick building, wedged between a hardware store and a funeral parlor. The building directory listed “Greeley Investigations, Suite 23,” in white plastic letters. I noticed several other businesses which had “consulting” or “associates” in their names and little else to suggest what they were.

The stairs seemed dark and forbidding. I’d just read in Women’s World that a lot of rapes take place in dark stairwells. From the look of the place, I would have staked my last paycheck that at least one rape had taken place in the building. I opted for the elevator. The door slid open in slow motion. The ride to the second floor seemed to take forever. I could have run up and down the stairs twice and made a quick visit to the ladies in less time.

I got off and walked down a long hallway marked by identical doors. I stopped at “23,” nailed into the wood like an address on a house. A business card for “Greeley Investigations” was wedged in a metal frame beneath the number.

I walked in. To one side was an unoccupied desk across from a red vinyl sofa, a chair covered in worn, yellow fabric and a fake wood laminated coffee table.

The sofa vinyl made an audible “crunch” as I sat. My reading choices included Soldier of Fortune and Redbook. I picked up the latter and flipped through it. The inner office door opened.

“Mrs. Hastings?”

I looked up. A short, pudgy man in an ill-fitting gray suit filled the doorway. I could smell his sweat from the twenty feet or so separating us.

“Yes.”

“I’m Hugo Greeley,” he said, looking me over. He didn’t budge or invite me in. He showed no interest in shaking my hand. I have to confess, the feeling was mutual.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” he said and closed the door again.

I checked my watch then turned to the book reviews and had déjà vu when I read the titles. Checking the date, I realized why. The issue was 10 years old.

The door opened. “All right, Mrs. Hastings, I’m ready for you now.”

I followed him in and sat in a straight-backed chair facing his desk. A small metal fan whirred from its perch on a corner file cabinet. The stale air reeked of cigar smoke and Scotch (my husband’s drink of choice too). Mr. Greeley lumbered over to the chair behind his desk and dropped into it. The springs squealed like a chorus of stuck pigs.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“It’s my husband,” I said. “I think he’s cheating on me.”

He smiled and leaned back in the chair. It groaned. “I see. What makes you think your husband is cheating on you?”

I told him about the late nights at work, Brant’s stonewalling, the mystery phone calls and Ed’s refusal to talk about it.

Mr. Greeley nodded. “Anything else?”

“Well … no.”

“That’s not much to go on, is it, Mrs. Hastings?” He cocked his head to one side. “Surely, there’s more to it than that.”

Aside from Roz’s insight, I had nothing specific to go on. It was more of a feeling.

For some time things had been cooling off between Ed and me. Not that Ed had ever been terribly warm. We rarely spoke, and our sex life had waned. I managed to coax Ed out of complacency every two or three weeks. My self-esteem had eroded to a nub.

I’ve always been self-conscious about my looks. Not that I’m ugly — quite the opposite. People don’t take me seriously because of my appearance, and that hurts. But I’ve always had what it takes to please a man in bed.

In the bedroom, Ed deigned to perform with a kind of military efficiency, like he was doing push-ups. I’ve learned over time how many pumps it will take, plus or minus ten. There was no way I would discuss this with a stranger.

“I just know,” I said after a while. “A wife … knows.”

“Yeah,” he said. “So I’ve heard.” He looked me over. “How long you been married?”

“Twelve years.”

“Happy?”

I shrugged. “Not unhappy.”

“And your husband is a man of means?”

I looked at him. “You mean rich? He makes a good living, but I wouldn’t call us rich.”

“What’s he do?”

“He’s an actuary with Fidelity Insurance.”

“Good paying gig.” Mr. Greeley tortured the chair some more with his fidgeting. “That’s a handsome suit. Very tasteful. Your husband must do well to buy you such nice clothes.”

I regretted having worn it. He would probably charge me more than his usual fee.

“I wear this for interviews. I’ve been looking for a job for several months.”

“A job?” He seemed surprised.

“Yes, I’m out of work. My last employer laid me off.”

“What did you do?”

“I was an administrative assistant at Sartwell Sausages.”

“Sausages, eh?” He smiled again. “Funny thing about sausages. You can hide all sorts of funny stuff in them. Dirty stuff.”

“Not if you follow FDA guidelines.”

He let go an artificial laugh. “The schoolgirl act is wearing thin, Mrs. Hastings.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The quiet voice. The prim manner. I get the feeling there’s a bit more to you than meets the eye.”

Feeling intimidated, I was speaking softly, even for me. I was wary, maybe even scared. Still I wondered if he could see that I was more than just a pretty face. I blushed. His compliment made me think that there might be something more to him than met my eye. Maybe he was more than just a smelly, fat, poorly dressed gnome.

“I appreciate that, Mr. Greeley.”

“Sure, Mrs. Hastings. Like I’m sure you’d appreciate catching the mister in the act, filing for divorce, getting half his loot, and keeping yourself in nice suits for a long time.”

I sat there, blinking, at a loss for words. What did he care? I felt peeved and thought about leaving. But what were my options?

I smoothed my skirt and sat straighter. “Will you take my case, Mr. Greeley?”

He laughed again. What was so funny? “Okay, Mrs. Hastings. I’ll take your case.”

He took down some information about Ed: his office, his work hours, his close friends and such. We went over the fee agreement. It was a lot of money. But I had to find out if Roz was right. What I would do next, I wasn’t sure.

When I got home, I found Ed. He was in our bed, with my biggest carving knife protruding from his chest.

I opened my mouth to scream. A horrible sound came out — a cross between chalk on a blackboard and a dog undergoing torture.

Things were a blur after that. I think I called the police. Then, I might have called Roz or maybe I called the PI to tell him Ed wouldn’t be cheating on me anymore, if he ever had. I kept making calls because I didn’t want to stop and think about what I’d seen.

I couldn’t reach Roz. I tried again and again and left messages each time, each one less coherent than the previous one. In between, I nipped Ed’s scotch. I don’t normally drink, but the Scotch was out and it seemed like a good time to start. The doorbell rang. I stumbled to the door and checked the peephole. Instead of a policeman, I peered into the rheumy eyes of the PI.

I opened the door. “How’d you get here so fast?”

“Your call was forwarded to my cell. I wasn’t far.” He paused and looked me up and down. “You’ve been drinking.”

I could feel myself blush. I knew that odor. When Ed had been drinking I could smell it a mile away. I broke out sobbing. Another guttural cry tore from my lungs. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t … ,” I blubbered.

Mr. Greeley raised an eyebrow. “If you’re an actress, you’re a good one.” He placed a sweaty, but comforting arm around my shoulders and led me to the sofa in the living room. He gently pried the bottle from my grasp and set it on the coffee table. He wiped my cheeks with a hankie, staining it with blotches of mascara. He asked where I found the body. I hiccupped “bedroom.” He walked down the hall.

I had begun regaining my composure when Mr. Greeley returned.

“Get up, Sobbing Beauty.” His tone had turned as sour as spoiled milk.

“Wh-what’s wrong?”

He grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. “There’s a lot I’ll do for a dame, but I won’t play the sap for ya.”

My jaw dropped. Why would I want Mr. Greeley to pretend to be an idiot?

Without a word, Greeley took my hand and pulled me toward the bedroom. I turned my head to avoid looking at my husband’s bloody corpse.

“Why are you doing this?” My voice snagged between a sob and a screech.

“Mind telling me what all those are about?” He gestured toward the bed.

I forced myself to look.

Next to my husband were several photographs. In shock on discovering him, I guess I’d missed them. I focused on one in which he was kissing — oh, my God! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” Greeley replied. “Your husband was a closet homosexual.”

Well, that would explain his distant attitude and lack of interest in sex. The men were attractive and younger than Ed. Younger than me, for that matter.

“A lot of married men are, Mrs. H,” Greeley continued. “Some of them remain in denial all their lives. Others get their rocks off the only way they can, through secret liaisons while maintaining the illusion of so-called normality.”

I gulped. This was an awful lot to deal with in one morning. “I … I never saw these photos before. I think — ”

“Allow me to do the thinking, Mrs. H.” I wanted him to stop calling me that — it seemed disrespectful, but I was too cowed by the whole business to make a peep.

“Anyone can see this body is fresh kill,” he continued. “This murder happened quite recently.”

“Ed had left for work before I came to see you. Obviously, he came back here for some reason. Someone — the murderer — came in while I was at your office.”

Greeley narrowed his eyes and rubbed his chin. “Or you arranged for him to be at home when you came back, because you had these photos all along. You took these yourself — they’re a poor enough quality to suggest they’re an amateur’s work. Or maybe you got them from another private eye — a cheap one, who couldn’t be bothered to get decent shots. Then you set up the meeting with me to give yourself an alibi. Afterward, you came home, poured yourself and hubby a couple of shots of Scotch” — he gestured toward a bedside table where two near-empty glasses held what looked like Scotch on the rocks — ”and had a little discussion about the photos.” He paused. Shouting, he continued. “You got him drunk, ran into the kitchen, grabbed the knife and plunged it into your husband’s chest!”

“Mr. Greeley!” I squeaked with righteous indignation, like an angry Minnie Mouse. “Not only do I not drink, I do not drink Scotch. And I definitely would not drink Scotch before eleven A.M.”

“Really?” He sounded amused, in a sleazy way. “That wasn’t a bottle of milk you held when you answered the door.”

He had me there. Sputtering, I managed to say, “I was in shock at the time. Really.”

The private eye looked me over, then shrugged. “Okay, let’s say I believe you. But the cops may not when they look at the evidence. The photos, the knife, the bottle of Scotch. I suspect yours will be the only fingerprints on them. And if your husband had life insurance …”

His mention of fingerprints triggered something in the back of my mind. I felt ill. “He worked in insurance,” I said in a meek voice. “I’m pretty sure he carried a policy.”

“They always suspect the widow, Mrs. Hastings. And under the circumstances …”

He didn’t have to finish that sentence. The circumstances, along with any money I’d get from the insurance, would provide a motive for murder. Even I could see that. Even the fact that I’d gone to a PI about my husband’s infidelity might be revealed, unless that information was privileged.

“Is what I told you today confidential?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I can try to stonewall, but I might be forced to reveal what I know, since it involves a homicide investigation. If I withhold important evidence, they could yank my license faster than a magician pulling a tablecloth out from under a setting for four.” He looked me in the eye. “That’s why I won’t play the sap for you, Mrs. Hastings. I have to play it straight with the cops or my career’s at risk.”

I felt like I was caught in a mudslide, hurtling into a chasm. Sobbing, I threw my arms around the pudgy body, gagging on the cigar smell and B.O. “Please help me,” I said, in a shaky voice. “Please. Help me find out who really did this. Because I didn’t. I swear I didn’t. I just … couldn’t.”

He reached up and slowly stroked my hair. The doorbell rang. Finally! The police. Mr. Greeley patted my back. “You should get that. And don’t worry, sugar. I’ll help you.”

The police — a Detective White, in particular — asked many questions. I answered them honestly. People in uniforms and jumpsuits arrived and took lots of photos. After they had taken Ed away, Detective White asked me to come by headquarters later and make a statement. Because my house was a crime scene, I needed to stay elsewhere for a while.

I sighed and packed a small bag of essentials. I’d have to find a motel. I didn’t want to impose on Roz — and, frankly, I couldn’t endure her cigarette smoke.

Before I left, Mr. Greeley took me aside. “After I saw the body, I checked your husband’s cell phone for myself.”

“Won’t your fingerprints show up?” Something clicked as I spoke the words. “The photos. They won’t have my fingerprints on them. I never saw them before, and I never touched them.”

My joy was short-lived. He pulled a thin pair of gloves from his pocket. “For such occasions,” he said. “And, my guess is, the killer wore them, too. Mrs. Hastings, someone’s framed you like a van Gogh. I’m sure they took every precaution to keep themselves out of the picture.”

He chuckled at his pun and continued. “The outgoing calls included a couple I recognized, due to the sorry fact that they come up so often in my business. One was for a gay bar downtown. Another was for a male escort service called Just Four Men — the number four, as in the number of men who work as escorts. Pretty cute, huh? Anyway, I think your hubby was seeing someone — or ones — through this service. So that gives me a couple of leads.”

I nodded, mute and worn.

“I was also wondering about his business associates. Is there anyone he sees at work who might be more than just a friend?”

I told him what I told Detective White. “His assistant, Brant. He could be very … protective of Ed. And he was outright hostile to me.”

“Think I’ll go do some poking around.” He paused and added, “Looks like the job you hired me for isn’t finished after all.”

I spent the next two nights at Motel 6 tossing and turning. I hate sleeping in unfamiliar beds. Whenever I shut my eyes, I saw Ed’s body and the knife. And all that blood.

I returned to my house, stumbling in and collapsing on the couch. Not for all the money in the world would I enter the bedroom. Even if a cleaning crew had rendered the crime scene spotless. I couldn’t face it. I kept worrying that the statement I gave police might not have made sense. Restless and fretful, I called my husband’s office. Brant answered. I asked if Ed had shown up for work the morning he’d been murdered, and when he’d left.

“Yes, he was here,” Brant said, in his condescending nasal way. “But he left around nine-thirty-ish for a meeting. I told the cops.”

“But you didn’t go with him? Any reason?”

“No,” Brant snapped. “He said it was personal. I have no idea where he went, if that’s your next question.”

“So you were there all morning?”

There was a long pause. “No,” he said. Wariness had crept into his voice. “I got a phone call and had to leave for a while.”

My head was spinning, but I pressed on. “When was that? What time.”

“Right after your husband left.” His words were strained, as if spoken through clenched teeth. “And it’s none of your beeswax where I went and what I did.”

“Okay.” I hung up on him. Rude, but who did he think he was?

The doorbell rang. I checked the peephole. It was Roz. In all the excitement, I’d forgotten about her.

I opened the door. She rushed in and squeezed me in a viselike hug. “Are you okay, sweetie?” she asked. “Is there anything I can do?”

“I’ll be okay, Roz.” My voice was small and flat. Roz shut the door and, arm around me, walked me to the sofa. “Sit, sit,” she said. “Tell me what happened.”

I recounted it the best I could — the parts the police said I could tell, anyway — about finding Ed’s body, the knife, the blood, the photos — while images of Ed kissing those men flashed through my mind. She went “tsk” and drew her breath in with a gasp at the appropriate moments. When I was finished, she said, “Oh, sweetie. I had no idea. I mean, who would, you know? But seeing those photos with men in them” — she made a face — ”that must have been quite a shock.” She looked pained.

I was on my last legs and excused myself. I desperately needed to get some sleep. Together we walked to the door, and she left. Returning to the sofa, I stretched out. Despite something gnawing at me, I fell into a deep sleep. I awoke with a start from nightmares of Ed, the knife, the photos … Racing to the bathroom, I got there in time to throw up.

Mr. Greeley called that evening. “I’ve been to see Brant, Mrs. Hastings.” He mumbled the words. I visualized him pressing one of his foul cigars between his lips. “Pay dirt. Man’s so light in da’ loafers, he should be levitatin’ when he walks.”

“Light in the loafers? You mean he’s gay?”

“Is da Pope Cat’lic? What surprises me is that you couldn’t see that for yourself. You said they were close, right?” He must have removed the cigar. His words were clear.

“Well, yes, but I thought it was all business.”

There was dead air. “You sure you’re not trying to make a sap outta me?”

“I can absolutely assure you that isn’t my intent, Mr. Greeley.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I wangled a bit of info out of Brant. He left the office not long after your husband. He said he got a phone call from someone who wouldn’t give his or her name — couldn’t tell whether it was a man or woman. When he figured out I wasn’t police, he wouldn’t tell me squat. His exact quote was ‘It’s none of your beeswax.’ Man, that’s a cute one. Anyway, he has no alibi for the time when your husband was probably killed. So maybe he found out your hubby was hittin’ the escort service for a little on the side, got jealous and made up the call to draw your husband home. Brant could have followed Ed home, got him in the bedroom for a little slap n’ tickle, complete with drinks, grabbed the knife and plunged it into his chest in a jealous rage.”

I tried to remember the last time I’d heard anyone use the expression “slap n’ tickle.”

“Unless …” Mr. Greeley used my silence as an opportunity to present another theory. “Unless you had the photos all along. And you knew about your husband’s relationship with Brant. You didn’t want to do the dirty work. No, you sent Brant copies of those photos. You wanted your husband dead, but you couldn’t bring yourself to do the deed.

“So, knowing he’d be jealous anyway, you had him come to the house, worm his way in and kill your husband for you. You wanted it to look like someone else did it, and told Brant that it would get you both off the hook. Maybe you set it up to happen while you were in my office, talking to me about some mystery woman you thought your husband was seeing. Then you went home, found the body and left the photos. With me as your alibi, you could get away with the perfect murder and blame it all on Brant.” He paused for effect. “So, maybe you set it up for Brant to take the fall. Is that how it played out, sugar?”

“First of all, I have no desire to see Brant suffer a fall, Mr. Greeley, even if he is mean to me,” I said. “And, second, it is not appropriate for you to call me ‘sugar’ — especially under the circumstances.”

“So the question is, what circumstances are those, Mrs. Hastings? Why did you come to my office? The truth, lady, because so help me, I won’t play — ”

“I know, I know!” I said. “Stop saying that! Besides, the killer … well, it’s not Brant.”

“How can you be so sure?” he asked.

So I told him.

The next day, I invited Roz over. She came bearing her specialty casserole. Tuna and canned peas mixed with mushroom soup concentrate, topped with crumbled potato chips and baked until golden brown. She placed it on the counter then hugged me with the force of a boa constrictor. I shuddered. “Roz, I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry, sweetie,” she said, her nicotine breath hot in my ear. “How ya’ holdin’ up?”

She let go and stepped back. “Roz. How could you?” I asked.

Roz blinked and withdrew a crushed pack of cigarettes from her jeans pocket. “What?”

“How could you kill Ed? And how could you set it up to make it look like I might have done it?”

Her hand trembled. She lit the twisted cigarette then snapped the lighter shut with authority. “How can you accuse me of such a thing? I thought we were friends, Lainie. Besides, I gave you that PI’s name. Why would I do that if I had photos proving he fooled around with other men?”

I let out a long sigh. “I never told you they were photos of men.”

Roz’s mouth gaped like a frog’s.

“B-b-but … you did,” she sputtered. “You did. I remember. You” — she pointed with her gnarled, smoldering cigarette — ”you, you were so rattled, I could barely get a coherent story out of you. You did tell me.” She lowered her voice. “You just don’t remember.”

I shook my head. “No, Roz. I told you there were photos, but I never said what was in them. The police told me not to discuss the men in those photos with anyone. And, frankly, I was too ashamed to. When you mentioned Ed cheating on me with men, I knew something was off, but I was too rattled to figure it out at the time. Then I connected the dots. You killed him.”

Roz stood there mute.

“My biggest question — what I really can’t understand, Roz — is why? If Ed was gay, why would you kill him? Why?” My voice rose.

Roz’s face contorted. She looked at me with complete disdain. “You are so fucking naïve, Lainie. How you avoided learning more about real life, I’ll never fucking know.”

She tamped out the cigarette on my new Silestone kitchen counter (brand new from Home Depot — I could’ve cried). After digging the last smoke from the pack, she crushed the wrapper and threw it at me. It bounced off my left breast and onto the new parquet floor.

She took her time lighting up. “Good ole’ Eddie swung both ways, my dear.” Smoke billowed out with her words.

Roz leaned against the marred counter, her gaze directed somewhere over my right shoulder. “We had a thing. He was getting sick of you, sweetie.” Sarcasm coated the word. “You and your goody two-shoes ways. Your wide-eyed stupidity. He was supposed to leave your dumb ass. We were supposed to be together.” Smoke poured from her dragon’s nostrils. “But that never happened. He kept … making excuses for not leaving you. At first, I thought it was because you’re so beautiful. Or maybe he was worried about the divorce settlement, especially since you lost your job.”

She frowned. “Then he stopped seeing me so often. He started making excuses about his whereabouts. I wondered if I was … losing him to someone else. Someone who wasn’t you.

“That’s when I talked to you about hiring a private eye. I figured you’d share whatever you learned. Tell the best friend who gave you the idea.” She smiled weakly. “But you … you took so long to call him. I finally said, fuck it, and followed Ed myself. I followed him to that bar and that dump of a motel where he always took his dates. But I still needed proof.

“I couldn’t hire the guy I told you about. But I used something learned during my divorce. Hidden cameras — the best tool for catching people in the act.”

She took another drag and blew the smoke in my face. “I bought myself a nanny cam. I bribed the motel manager to make sure Ed and his date went to the right room. I paid him plenty. He let me place the camera to get the right shots. Those photos are stills from the video.”

She glared. “When I found out he was seeing other men …” She lifted her hands like a would-be strangler. “I wanted to kill him, right then and there. But I played it smart.” She nodded. “Oh, yeah. When you told me you were finally going to that PI, I waited for you to leave for your appointment. Then I called Ed and told him to meet me here. I also called that fairy assistant of his and sent him someplace where no one could give him an alibi. I told him I had photos of their liaisons.” She shook her head, mouth wrinkled with distaste. “I didn’t. I was just bluffing. I’d seen them together, though. I knew …

“When Ed got here, he fixed us some drinks. After we’d had a couple, I excused myself to make a quick phone call.” She snorted. “That’s what I told him, anyway. I put on latex gloves, got the knife and ran at him so fast, he didn’t know what hit him. He landed on his back and I stabbed him in the heart. Not that he had a heart, the son of a bitch. One way or the other, I figured I was covered. I’d committed the perfect murder.”

She turned and fixed me with an angry stare. “But you couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You had to go and figure it out, didn’t you?” She took a breath and continued in an anguished voice. “It could’ve been perfect. It didn’t have to be you, you know? Brant could’ve taken the fall, but you wouldn’t let that happen.”

“Brant didn’t kill anyone,” I said. “And neither did I.”

Her lips curled with disgust. “There you go. Little Miss Innocent. Aren’t you sweet?” she said, in a mocking tone. “So fuckin’ sweet! So fuckin’ clueless! You just have no idea. You could twist men ‘round your little finger, get them to believe anything, if you wanted. You could make saps out of them all!”

I was tired of hearing about saps. Before I could speak, Roz pivoted, yanked my second-biggest knife from the butcher block and charged toward me. At that moment, Mr. Greeley burst out of the closet (no pun intended) and tackled her to the floor.

Detective White emerged, along with a uniformed officer, reminding me of circus clowns packed in a VW Beetle. I’d been bugging Ed to expand that closet. Who knew it could hold so much?

After the police read Roz her rights and took her away, I sat in the kitchen with Mr. Greeley. I couldn’t believe the whole thing. While he downed Ed’s Scotch, I sipped herb tea with honey.

“Thank goodness that’s over,” I said, feeling like a deflating balloon.

“It appears you’re in the clear.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Roz doesn’t strike me as the sort to have taken the fall for you. Say, per a prearranged financial incentive?”

“But she did fall, Mr. Greeley. She fell when you knocked her down.”

He laughed in the mirthless way he had when I first met him. “C’mon, Mrs. Hastings. You’re really not that innocent are you?”

I thought about how often Roz said that I could win men over by flirting with them. I decided to test her theory. I raised a hand to my breast and batted my eyes. It felt silly and frivolous, but I did it anyhow.

“Really, Mr. Greeley,” I said, in a breathy voice. “I may not be that innocent, but I’m not the Devil.”

I waited for his laugh. He smiled and blushed. “No, I don’t guess you are, are you?”

Golly, I thought. Roz was right.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.

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