I definitely needed a new battery. Probably needed a new car. Quite possibly needed a new life. But until I got all that stuff, I needed a ride. I’d dropped my car off at a mechanic the next day and was swapping life stories with my Lyft driver when Mama called. Or should I say, FaceTimed. I’d gotten both my parents new iPhones. In typical fashion, Daddy hadn’t even opened his while Mama had taken to it just like I knew she would. She Facebooked. She Instagrammed. She took quizzes telling her when she should get married based on her choice of a fast food lunch. She even posted the results.
Her texting game was even better than mine. Bitmojis. Ebrojis. Other types of ojis I hadn’t even heard of. And based on the call, she was now finally FaceTiming.
I answered and saw a blurry white blob that had to be the ceiling. Her FaceTime skills were clearly a work in progress. “Boop.” She used my nickname. “You there? We can’t see you.”
“You gotta turn the phone so it’s facing you. It’s like when you do your selfies.”
The screen jerked a few more times before I finally saw my parents sitting cheek-to-cheek. They weren’t being romantic. We didn’t do that in our family. They were trying to make sure they were both in the screen. “Hey baby girl,” Daddy said. “You look beautiful today.”
I didn’t but I’d take it. “Thanks!”
“What are you up to today?”
“Aubrey and I have a new case we’re looking into, so I spent the morning doing research.”“Aubrey and I have a new case we’re looking into, so I spent the morning doing research.”
When I wasn’t Yelping mechanics, I’d devoted a fair amount of time that day to looking up tattoos. The hope was to find one that matched what little we could see of the shooter’s tat, then flash it around the neighborhood where Lyla was murdered.
But apparently he hadn’t plucked the design from Tattoo Designs for Dummies. When I didn’t find anything that remotely looked like it, I printed out what I could make of the tat from the still pics from the ATM. I wanted to talk to some tattoo artists to see if they’d ever seen something similar, with cogs on top. But of course my car was out of commission. I hoped Sienna would let me borrow hers so I could stop by any tattoo parlors near the crime scene. The killer could have been local.
My parents looked at each other. I knew what was coming. Mama spoke first. “I wish you’d get a real job.”
She’d said the same thing when I’d told her I wanted to act. I, in turn, told her exactly what I’d said back then too. “This is a real job, Mama. One I’m good at.”
“Because you solved that one little murder?”
“Yes, and a few other things. We helped locate a missing grandfather. And now we’re looking into this woman shot at an ATM.”
Mama sighed. “And how’s that going?”
It wasn’t really, but I sure wasn’t going to tell her that. The tattoo thing was a reach. Even I knew that. But otherwise we were at a dead end. We hadn’t had much luck with the witnesses. Omari saw nothing. Dante only confirmed the little the police had already released. And Aubrey hadn’t gotten anything out of the other witnesses.
Luckily, I didn’t have to answer her. Daddy jumped in. “Baby girl, what your mother’s trying to say is that we just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“No,” Mama said. “What I’m trying to say is that she needs to get a good corporate job and save that investigating stuff for the police. Just because you got lucky finding that poor girl’s killer doesn’t mean you need to make this a career.”
I had nothing to say to that. Probably because deep down, part of me was scared she was right.
The Lyft driver pulled up in front of Omari’s building. “I gotta go,” I said. “But send me some selfies! Love you.”
I hung up before either could respond. Pushing the convo to the back of my mind, I thanked my driver and got out.
When I got upstairs, I used my key to enter Omari’s loft. Nothing greeted me but a closed bathroom door and a muted TV. I walked over to the bathroom and lightly knocked. “Marcus, I’m not wearing any pahnties.”
My Eartha-Kitt-in-Boomerang impression was spot on, even if it was a lie. I was indeed wearing underwear, granny panties at that. I had a sexier pair I planned to change into later and pretend I’d worn all day.
“Who are you talking to?”
It was Omari. Unfortunately, he was behind me. I glanced at him, then back at the closed door, instantly embarrassed that someone had heard my attempts at sexy talk. “You’re supposed to be in the bathroom.”
“Am I? Because I’m not.”
“Yes, I see that now. But if you’re not, then who is?”
“Nina. Been in there a while, too. I kinda want to slip a match under the door with a note strongly suggesting she light it.”
He always made me laugh. “She’s forcing you to go to another event tonight?”
“Yeah, some magazine party at Chateau Marmont. She also wanted to go over Silver Sphere Awards logistics. When we should arrive. What I should wear. Who should I bring.”
“What you should say when you win?”
I could see him light up at the mere thought but he opted to play it cool. “Not going to even jinx myself,” he said, then went for a subject change. “We’re thinking of having my mom as my plus one.”
“She’d love that! It’s a great idea.” It was also probably Nina’s idea. Omari bringing his mom had her name written all over it—in big block letters you could see from outer space. Bringing an adorable relative to an awards show was a publicist staple, like claiming two celebs were “just friends” when they were actually dating. “We’ll have to get a designer to send her a dress and I’m sure Sienna’s friend Fab can do her makeup,” I added.
As much as I loved my fleeting, oft-times rocky relationship with fame, I’d quickly realized it was more a sugar daddy than a soulmate. I liked what it gave me more than how it made me feel. I had no desire to squeeze—literally, at this point—myself into a designer dress and spend three hours pretending to be interested when strangers were given yet another statue to put on their mantle. I was fine with Omari going with his mom.
“Nina’s probably already on it, but I’ll let her know.” He glanced at his watch. “Gotta get dressed.”
And with that, he disappeared upstairs. By the time Nina came out of the bathroom I sat on the giant purple people eater of a couch forcing myself not to replay the convo with my parents. Instead, I forced myself to be nice to Nina.
After all, she had a connection to the Lyla Davis case. I figured I’d butter her up, see if she had any insider info, and save myself pointless conversations with a kajillion and one tattoo artists. My aversion to needles was almost as bad as my aversion to exercise.
“I didn’t realize that you used to work for the Silver Sphere org,” I said.
She looked torn, her desire to not want to ever talk to me doing battle with her desire to want to always talk about herself. Vanity won. “I was their in-house publicist for five years, but I left after last year’s show to build my own boutique entertainment publicity and image consulting firm. It was a hard decision because I loved it there. Gus and everyone is amazing. But I’ve wanted to set up my own firm for years and decided to just do it. It was finally time to branch out and have a more hands-on role with top Hollywood talent. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
That wasn’t what she said, but it sure was what I heard. I’d stopped needing a publicist ten seconds after Chubby’s ended my contract and I hadn’t given what publicists do much thought since. I nodded with the occasional “Right” thrown in to make her think I was actually listening. When it looked like she was finally taking a breather, I made my move. “Well, I’m glad you were able to step in and help them. Have you gotten any leads on Lyla’s murder?”
“Nothing I can share.” She smiled, obviously loving not being able to tell me anything.
Blurg. I stood up. “I’m gonna go check on Omari.”
When I walked upstairs to his bedroom, I found him staring at his shirt. One Nina had no doubt picked out. It looked like it could fit a five-year-old. I came from behind and draped my arms around his stomach. He leaned into me and spoke. “This is the exact reason I stopped letting my mom pick my clothes. I’m getting flashbacks.”
He peeled it off, which proved difficult. Partly because it was so tight. Partly because I refused to let go of him. But he managed and went into the closet, playfully dragging me with him. Once inside, we picked something more age—and size—appropriate. “Excited for tonight?” I asked.
“Of course. I love walking around speaking to people Nina says I need to talk to, so someone can take a picture of us talking to each other. The conversations are all the same. My agent is working on that. I just wrapped filming this. I bought a beach place in Malibu. Blah. Blah. Blah.” The blah, blah, blah was real this time, not just in my head.
I smiled. “If you’re a good boy, I might send you a few pics while you’re there.”
“As long as they’re pictures of you. Last time you said that you sent me photos of a milkshake.”
“Not just ‘a milkshake.’ One rimmed with frosting and that had cotton candy, a lollipop, and that yucky rock candy stuck in it. I’m telling you, if I ever go to New York I’m getting one.”
He gave me a look, so I kissed him. And then I did it again. And again. Then we were interrupted by the sound of someone coming up the stairs. Nina had struck again. I immediately pulled away. “I’m coming now,” he called out and we heard her footsteps retreating down the stairs.
I gave him one final quick bird peck. “Bring me back something good.”
“You know I always do. The bag from the Silver Sphere cocktail party is actually over there. Take whatever you want.”
He motioned to a bookbag thrown haphazardly in the corner. It immediately made me think of Lyla Davis. Blurg. “Be safe tonight,” I said as he stood up.
“The worst thing that’s going to happen to me is that I might get blinded by camera flashes. I’ll be back in a couple hours. Don’t leave this time.”
Within two minutes, they were both gone. I missed him immediately. Her? Not so much.
I forced myself to focus on the bookbag. To call it a gift bag would be an insult. Gift bags held sweet tarts and lollipop rings that kids took when they left and begged their parents to eat in the car. This was a gift bag on steroids and it was definitely not for children. In yet another attempt to make everything sound cooler than what it is, Hollywood had even given the bag its own name: Swag Bag, aka Stuff We All Get. It held products companies donated in hopes celebs would take them home and love them so much they’d not only use them all the time, but be photographed doing so. In Hollywood, even the gift bags had ulterior motives.
The freebies were housed in the black leather bookbag. I picked it up to give it a thorough once-over. I couldn’t tell what was inside, but based on the weight, it was packed to the gills. Instead of the traditional side to side zipper, this had one that went from top to bottom—or vice versa if you were an optimist. The material was a quilt pattern that crossed to form line after line of diamonds.
It looked nice. It also looked familiar. Lyla had carried one just like it the night of her murder and the killer took it with him when he left the scene.
I looked inside. It was like someone shoved an entire high-end department store into a ten-by-fourteen-inch space.
A box of herbal lollipops. Mine.
A jar of Crème de la Mer face cream. Definitely mine.
Two bottles of new caramel-bacon-flavored Ciroc. Most definitely his.
A weekend getaway worth $1,500 to the brand-new Celebration Hotel in nearby Palm Springs. We’d take joint custody of that one.
A gift certificate valued at $2,000 for something called a vampire breast lift. Normally mine if I hadn’t already gotten my boobs done.
And finally, a gift certificate from Wheelhouse for a free top-of-the-line indoor exercise bike and a year of complimentary online spin classes. All Omari’s.
I fired off a text to Sienna. Within minutes, I was rattling off the bag’s contents as we FaceTimed. “The killer’s gotta be using some of this stuff,” I said.
“You think his skin is that bad? I need to look at the video again before I can gauge whether a jar of Le Mer can truly help him out.”
She was not helping. At all. Especially since she knew he wore a ski mask. “Probably not the Le Mer, but something. That’s the point of a robbery, right? Take something so you can use it yourself. Unless we want to drive around LA looking through people’s trash cans for an empty bottle of bacon-flavored vodka I figure our best bets are the bike and the trip.”
“I agree. We can drive to Palm Springs and do a stakeout.”
I’d finally got her on track. “Yes!”
“Go to the spa. Lay by the pool.”
“He could also want to work on his tan so technically we’d be spying on him.”
Good point. “Yes.”
“And I’m in desperate need of a good facial and massage.”
“No.” I refused to let her get me sidetracked. “Let’s just start with the bike.”
From HOLLYWOOD ENDING. Used with the permission of the publisher, MIDNIGHT INK. Copyright © 2018 by KELLYE GARRETT.