Blair Mallory Book 1: To Die For (Chapter Six)

He'd remembered that I drank Diet Coke. That was the first thought on my mind when I woke at eight-thirty. Lying there in bed blinking sleepily at the slowly whirling ceiling fan, I tried to decide whether the Diet Coke was significant. The romantic in me wanted to believe he remembered every little detail about me, but levelheaded me said he probably just had a very good memory, period. A cop had to have a good memory, right? It was part of the job description, reciting Miranda and all of that.

So the Diet Coke thing wasn't important. For all I knew, he just assumed a woman would drink a diet soft drink, which was a really sexist thing to assume, never mind that he'd be right most of the time.

I'd fallen into bed instead of packing, so there went my planned early start for the beach. Not that it mattered, because I didn't have a car. But someone-namely Wyatt-could show up with my car at any time, so I jumped out of bed and into the shower. The shower was a fast one, because I was so hungry I thought I'd be sick. Somehow I hadn't gotten around to eating anything the night before.

Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn't complain about being hungry when poor Nicole will never eat again. Tough. Nicole was dead and I wasn't, and I didn't like her any more now that she was dead than I did while she was alive.

Even worse, she was the cause of Great Bods being closed for an indefinite length of time. If she hadn't been such a bitch, waiting for me in the parking lot to do whatever damage she'd planned, she wouldn't have been killed on my property. To take this conclusion to the very end, it was also Nicole's fault that I'd been forced to see Wyatt Bloodsworth again.

Last night, I'd felt sorry for Nicole. Today I was thinking more clearly, and I figured it was just like her that, even dead, she was causing trouble for me.

I put on the coffee, grabbed a cup of yogurt from the refrigerator because that was fast, and ate it while I popped two slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster and peeled a banana. One peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich-and two cups of coffee-later, I was much happier. Sometimes, when I'm really busy at Great Bods, I'll make do with an apple or something like that for lunch, but when I have the time to sit down, I like to eat.

Once I felt as if I wouldn't collapse from hunger, I got the morning newspaper from the front steps and, over another cup of coffee, absorbed just how big the paper was playing Nicole's murder. The article was on the bottom half of the front page, and included a picture of Wyatt and me when he was hauling me out of Great Bods to stuff me in his car. He looked big and grim, and I looked in really great shape, with the pink halter top revealing my toned abs. I didn't have a six-pack, but I didn't go for the really muscular look, so that was fine. I was thinking that my abs were a good advertisement for Great Bods when I read the caption under the photo: "Lieutenant J.W. Bloodsworth leads witness Blair Mallory from the crime scene."

"Leads," my ass! Hauled was more like it. And why did they have to identify me in the big color photo on the first page, huh? Why couldn't the reporter have stuck my name somewhere toward the end of the article?

I read the entire article, and nowhere did I find Wyatt's official statement about witnesses, plural. The only mention of a witness was singular-little old me. Probably by the time he'd made the statement, the paper had already gone to press. There would probably be another article in tomorrow's paper, but I was afraid the damage was done.

Right on cue, my phone rang. I looked at the Caller ID and saw the name of the newspaper. No way was I talking to a reporter, so I let the answering machine pick up the call.

Yes, indeed, this looked like a great day to leave town.

I dashed upstairs and dried my hair, then put on pink capri pants, a white tank, and the cutest flip-flops with little pink and yellow shells on the straps. Is that the best beach outfit, or what? I brushed my teeth, put on moisturizer and mascara, then added a little bit of blush and lip gloss just in case. In case what? In case Wyatt delivered the car, of course. Just because I didn't want him back didn't mean I wouldn't take joy in showing him just exactly what he'd turned down before.

The phone kept ringing. I talked to Mom, who was just checking to see how I was doing. I talked to Siana, who was wildly curious about both the murder and the photograph of me with Wyatt, since she had listened to me rant about him two years ago. Other than that, I didn't answer any of the calls. I didn't want to talk to any reporters, nosy acquaintances, or possible murderers.

Traffic on the street outside my condo seemed to be unusually heavy. Maybe it was a good thing my car wasn't parked under the portico; from the street, it must have looked as if no one was home. Still, I had things to do and places to go; I needed wheels.

By ten, my car still hadn't been delivered. I was doing a slow burn as I looked up the number for the police department.

Whoever answered the phone, sergeant somebody, was polite but ultimately unhelpful. I asked for Lieutenant Bloodsworth. He wasn't available. Neither was Detective MacInnes. The sergeant transferred me to someone else, who transferred me to someone else. I had to explain the entire situation each time. Finally-finally-I got Detective Forester and went through my spiel again.

"Let me check. I don't think the lieutenant is in the building, but I'll see what I can find out about your car," he said, and put the phone down.

I could hear noise, the kind of noise made by a lot of different voices. I could hear telephones ringing, papers rustling. Days were evidently as busy at the police department as nights were. I waited. I examined my manicure, which was holding up nicely. I began to think about lunch, which could be a problem unless someone-anyone!-delivered my car. I seldom eat lunch at home; I have mostly breakfast food, and I was getting low on that because I hadn't bought groceries in a couple of weeks. I guessed I could have a pizza delivered, but I wasn't in the mood for pizza. I was in the mood to strangle one police lieutenant.

Finally Detective Forester came back to the phone. "Ma'am, Lieutenant Bloodsworth is taking care of your car."

"When?" I asked with clenched teeth. "I'm stranded here without it. He was supposed to have it brought to me early this morning."

"I'm sorry for that, ma'am. He's been very busy today."

"Then why can't a patrolman bring the car to me? Or-I know!-I'll take a taxi to Great Bods and someone can meet me there, and move the car from the back parking lot. That would save time and trouble for everyone."

"Hold on," he said, and I held. And held. And held. About ten minutes later he picked up the phone and said, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I can't get anything arranged right now."

Okay, this wasn't his fault. I managed to make my tone calm. "I understand. Thank you for checking. Oh-do you have Lieutenant Bloodsworth's cell phone number? I misplaced it, or I'd have called him directly instead of bothering you."

"It's no bother," Detective Forester said gallantly, and rattled off the number.

Heh heh heh. Thanks to Wyatt's high-handed actions the night before, all the cops thought we were involved. Why wouldn't the detective give Wyatt's cell number to me? That was a tactical error on Wyatt's part.

Wyatt might be in the middle of something important, and calling him would be a big distraction. Damn, I hoped so. I started punching in the numbers, then stopped. He probably had Caller ID on his cell, and he might not answer a call he knew was from me.

Smirking, I put down the cordless and retrieved my own cell phone from my bag. Yes, Detective MacInnes had been kind enough to return it to me last night, once he had determined I hadn't shot Nicole. I turned it on and called Wyatt.

He answered on the third ring. "Bloodsworth."

"Where's my car?" I demanded in as menacing a tone as I could muster.

He sighed. "Blair. I'll get to it. I've been a little busy today."

"I'm stranded. If you had listened to reason last night, you could have retrieved my car then and we wouldn't be having this conversation, but, no, you had to throw your weight around-"

He hung up on me.

I shrieked in fury, but I didn't call him back, which he probably expected. Okay, he was going to be a jerk. Fuck him. Well, not literally. Though once upon a time I-never mind. I wasn't going there.

I drummed my fingers and considered my options. I could call Mom and Dad and they would gladly give me a ride to a grocery store, or even lend me one of their cars, which would be an inconvenience for them. Siana would also ferry me around. Jenni might, if she didn't have anything else going on, but her social calendar made me exhausted just to think about it.

On the other hand, I could simply rent a car. Several of the name-brand rental agencies would pick you up and take you back to their office to sign the papers and get the car.

I don't dillydally around when I come up with a plan of action. I looked up the number of a rental agency, called them, and arranged to be picked up in an hour. Then I raced around watering plants and packing what clothes I thought I'd need for a few days at the beach, which wasn't many. Makeup and toiletries took up way more room than my clothes in the duffel bag. I added a couple of books in case I felt like reading, then stood at the front door impatiently waiting for the rental car guy to show up.

The traffic had lessened; maybe all the gawkers and/or reporters had decided I was in hiding somewhere, or had maybe gone shopping. Still, when my ride appeared I didn't want to dally around on the front steps, an easy target for either an eager reporter or a desperate killer. I got my keys out to have them ready to lock the dead bolt on the front door, and that was when I noticed I still had my car keys. I was surprised into laughing; there was no way Wyatt could have had my car delivered, because I hadn't given him the keys and he hadn't thought to ask for them.

The car would be all right at Great Bods until I got back. It was locked, and it was under the awning. At worst, Wyatt would have it towed to the city impound lot, which he had better not do because if my car was damaged in any way, I'd definitely sue him.

A red Pontiac with a magnetic sign on the side announcing it belonged to the rental agency pulled to the curb. I grabbed my duffel and was out the door before the guy could get out of the car. I paused only to lock my door, then hurried down the steps to meet him. "Let's go before someone shows up," I said, opening the rear passenger door and tossing my duffel inside, then sliding into the front seat.

The man got behind the steering wheel, blinking in confusion. "Who? Is someone after you?"

"Maybe." If he didn't know who I was, that was all to the good. Maybe no one much read the newspaper anymore. "An ex-boyfriend is really making a nuisance of himself, you know?"

"He's violent?" The man threw me an alarmed look.

"No, he just whines a lot. It's embarrassing."

Relieved, he put the car in gear and drove to our small regional airport, where all the rental agencies were located. After some discussion about the type of car they wanted to put me in-I nixed the bare-bones economy models because they were too bare bones (one even had roll-up windows, which I didn't know Detroit still made)-I settled on a sharp black Chevy short-bed pickup. Black isn't the most sensible color in the south, because of the heat, but it's undeniably sharp. If I couldn't have my Mercedes, I thought riding around in a pickup truck would be cool.

I have good memories associated with pickup trucks. Grampie had owned one, and during my junior year in high school, for two whole months I'd dated a senior, Tad Bickerstaff, who drove a pickup. Tad had let me drive his truck, which I thought was the best thing ever. Our romance faded as fast as it had bloomed, though, and Tad and his truck had moved on to another girl.

All the papers signed and the gas tank filled, I tossed my duffel in the seat of the pickup and buckled myself in. Beach, here I come!

I admit, summer isn't the best time to head to the beach if you don't have reservations. Even worse, it was Friday, when all the weekenders were doing the same. But since it was only noon, I figured I had a good head start on the weekend crowd, and among them had to be people like me who trusted they'd be able to get a motel room once they reached the shore. People do that only because-duh-it usually works.

Driving from the western part of the state to the eastern shore takes several hours, especially since I had to stop for lunch. I decided I loved driving a pickup, because sitting higher meant I could see so much better, plus this particular truck had plenty of power and all the extras I could want. The ride was smooth, the air-conditioning was top-notch, the sun was shining, and Wyatt Bloodsworth had no idea where I was. Things were looking up.

Around three, my cell phone rang. I looked at the number that showed in the little window; I had dialed it just that morning, so I knew very well who was calling. I let the voice mail answer, and kept on truckin' down the road.

I was getting very excited about my mini-vacation. A couple of days on the beach would do me a world of good, plus take me away from town while interest in Nicole's murder was so high. Normally I'm very responsible, because Great Bods is my baby, but just this once I thought circumstances warranted that I take a break. Probably I should have posted a sign on the front door at Great Bods, though, telling my members when we might reopen. Oh, my God, I hadn't given a thought to my employees! I should have personally called each of them.

Angry at myself, I called Siana. "I can't believe I did this," I said as soon as she answered the phone. "I didn't call everyone and tell them when I expected to reopen Great Bods."

The great thing about Siana is, growing up with me, she learned to read between the lines and fill in the gaps. She immediately knew I wasn't talking about the members because there were so many of them that calling each and every one would take, like, until Great Bods actually reopened, so obviously I was talking about my employees.

"Do you have a list of their numbers at your place?" she asked.

"There's a printed list folded in my address book, in the top left drawer of my desk. If you'll get it, I'll call you back when I get settled and can write all the numbers down."

"Don't bother with that; I'll call them. Since I'm right here and the calls are local, that makes more sense than using your cell phone minutes. I'll also have Lynn update the voice mail message."

"I owe you. Be thinking about what you'd like to have." I love that girl; it's great having a sister like her. I was calling her at work, and she could easily have said she was tied up and she'd get to it as soon as she could, but it might be tomorrow. Not Siana, though; she handled everything thrown at her as if she had all the time in the world. You'll notice I don't say that about Jenni, who still thinks she's privileged. Besides, I have not forgotten that I caught her willingly kissing my husband. I don't bring it up and for the most part get along with her, but it's always there in the back of my mind.

"Don't make open-ended promises like that; I might ask for something more than borrowing your best dress. By the way, someone is looking for you, and he sounds angry. Want to guess his name? Hint: he's a police lieutenant."

I was flabbergasted, not that he was looking for me and that he was angry, but that he had called Siana. I'd told him during one of our dates that I had two sisters, but I'm certain I didn't tell him their names or anything about them. On the other hand, it was silly to be surprised: he was a cop; he knew how to find out things about people.

"Wow. He didn't give you any grief, did he?"

"No, he was very controlled. He did say something about betting that I was your lawyer. What was that about?"

"I have a list of grievances against him. I told him I was taking the list to my lawyer."

Siana chuckled. "What would those grievances be?"

"Oh, things like manhandling me, kidnapping me, snotty attitude. He took my list away from me, so I have to write another one. I'll add to it as time goes along, I'm sure."

She was outright laughing now. "I bet he loved the 'snotty attitude' item. Uh-are you going to need me for real? Are you in any trouble?"

"I don't think so. He told me not to leave town, but I'm not a suspect, so I don't think he can do that, can he?"

"If you're not a suspect, why did he say that?"

"I think he's decided he's interested again. Then again, maybe he was just getting back at me because I pretended not to recognize him. I had him going for a while."

"Then it's probably both. He's interested, and he's getting back at you. Plus he's making certain you stay where he can get to you."

"I don't think it worked," I said as I cruised down Highway 74 toward Wilmington.