THE humiliation began immediately. Adele looked my body up and down with a critical eye, which included an exceedingly uncomfortable few moments puzzling over my hips and buttocks. Finally, she gave me a plastic, slightly pained smile.
“Let’s get you measured, shall we?”
“Fine,” I said, “just give me a minute.”
Skirting two tailoring dummies, I headed back down the hall to the boutique’s main floor. My gaze immediately searched the front windows for any sign of Pacing Man. But he was no longer on the sidewalk.
I approached Roman, who’d returned to reading Gourmet on the white leather couch.
“Would you do me a favor?” I asked.
I explained how Breanne wanted to dress me in appropriate attire for her office. Then I gave Roman a description of the man I’d seen earlier. “If he comes back, I want you to let me know right away, okay?”
Roman scratched his head. “Whatever for?”
“I want to question him.”
Roman’s eyes widened a bit, as if I’d piqued his interest. “Okay, Shirley Holmes,” he said. “Consider me your Watson.”
Ten minutes later, I was back in the fitting room. As I stood there in nothing but my bra and panties, a dozen outfits were brought in for Breanne’s approval (now who was the dummy?).
“She’s got issues,” Breanne said, shaking her head as she held hanger after hanger of beautifully cut cloth against my scantily clad five-two frame.
“Yes, many,” Adele said. “She’s a petite, her legs are good, her waist is fine, but those hips.” She shook her head, practically tisking aloud. “A real problem area. And she’s far too big on top.”
“We could put her in a wrap dress, even an empire waist,” Breanne mused, “but we’re going to my offices, not a tea party. And the fitted suits won’t work without alterations. We have no time for that. Let’s try some separates.”
Adele nodded. Then she regarded me again. “Who did your work, by the way?”
She tipped her head toward my chest. “Your augmentation?”
Oh, for pity’s sake. “These are real.”
Adele frowned. “Aren’t they a burden?”
“They weren’t when I was nursing my daughter.”
“You’ve never considered a reduction?”
“Well, you should if you want to wear quality designers.”
Okay, maybe it was my early exposure to Renaissance art and all those plump, buxom Madonnas with breasts and bellies looking like lovely ripe peaches; or maybe it was simply my disgust with reading about yet another runway model who died from ingesting nothing but lettuce leaves and Diet Cokes, but I could never understand this requirement that women starve themselves until they no longer had their God-given hips, breasts, and buttocks.
My gig here might be attempted murder, but I found it a crime how some women shamed others when it came to something as beautiful and natural as a healthy female form. Just what the hell were we teaching our daughters, anyway?
“Not everyone’s a slave to high fashion,” I pointed out to Adele.
“Clearly,” she replied, her eyebrow arching at the Old Navy jeans she’d gleefully impaled on Fen’s fitting room hook.
“I do have designer outfits in my wardrobe,” I said, “and they fit my body just fine the way it is.”
“Is that so? And where did you purchase these clothes?”
“The discount outlets.”
The woman actually winced. “Let’s move along, shall we?”
When all was said and done, Breanne had bought me a classic black pencil-style skirt that allowed room for my “problem” hips but narrowed on my “good” legs. Atop the skirt was a sheer silk blouse of chartreuse, a color I never would have selected for myself but didn’t look half-bad against my light-olive skin and green eyes. A bolero jacket matched the blouse exactly, and its black piping tied the garment back to the black skirt. The finely made fabrics were soft as kitten fur, the tailoring very flattering. With the wide black belt cinching my waist, the ensemble evoked a sort of retro forties hourglass silhouette. I had to give it to her. Breanne certainly did know her business.
“Not bad,” she said, observing me.
High praise indeed from someone who’d referred to me as a Chihuahua thirty minutes ago.
As I stepped into a pair of modest pumps and took possession of a small bag of quilted-style leather (we were getting perilously close to $900 now), someone knocked on the fitting room door.
“Ms. Summour?” a woman called in a loud, impatient voice
The door flew open, and a pair of thigh-high black leather boots strode into the room. The woman wearing them was in her late twenties, about five-seven, and very slender with pale skin and blue-black hair cut so bluntly it drew a sharp line from the back of her head to the edge of her angular jaw. Her features were more handsome than delicate: a straight nose, darkly glossed lips, and dramatically made-up eyes that darted around the room only long enough to find the reason she’d come through the door in the first place.
Ignoring Adele and me, she strode right up to Breanne and began a loud monologue. Above the bold boots were layers of offbeat high fashion: a lilac plaid miniskirt, sheer black blouse over a deep blue minitee and violet tank. Long beads around her neck and bangles on her wrists as well as a diamond stud in her nose gave the impression of a funky, club-loving girl.
With her loud, strident voice and agitated gestures, she reminded me of the kind of girls I sometimes saw in Manhattan. Intelligent, well-educated, with backgrounds of privilege and plenty, they tended to think very well of themselves and believe that things would be just great in their lives if only the damn world, and everyone in it, could revolve a little faster around them.
“… and Terri told me that you called. So, of course, I picked them up from Petra and grabbed a cab to bring them over to you myself, as you can see.”
Club Girl had been carrying a leather portfolio under her arm. Now she forcefully unzipped it and held it out for Breanne to take.
Breanne frowned down at the portfolio. Instead of reaching for it, she moved slowly to her handbag. Taking her time, she removed a pair of rimless reading glasses from their case and perched them on the end of her long, thin nose.
“Privacy please,” she announced to the room.
I filed out with Adele. Before the door was shut, I glimpsed Breanne first settling herself into a chair and then waving Club Girl over to present whatever she’d just carted across town.
“I expected to review these pages an hour ago at lunch, Monica,” Breanne sharply began. “What happened?”
“It was Petra. The woman’s way behind in her work. She wasn’t finished with them…”
I wanted to remain by the fitting room and eavesdrop some more, but Adele was right there, watching. Figuring the boutique manager would object to my pressing an ear against the closed door, I threw in the towel and returned to the boutique’s showroom.
Roman was there, still on his couch. His dark eyes danced approvingly when he saw the new outfit.
“Well, well… didn’t you go all Judy Garland on me.”
Ack. “I remind you of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz?”
“No, sweetie, Esther Blodgett in A Star Is Born.”
“Oh.” Not bad. “Thanks.”
“You need a much bolder lipstick, though.”
“I’m not wearing any lipstick, Roman.”
“My point exactly.”
I sat down next to the food writer. “Listen, did you, by any chance, notice a young woman in cranberry bog boots tramping through here?”
“One can’t help but notice that girl. It’s her main goal in life.”
“Who is she?”
“Monica Purcell aka Breanne 2.0.”
“That’s what they call her at the office. She’s a lot like Breanne-intelligent, audacious, driven-only she’s a newer version of the old model.”
“So you’d call her ambitious?”
“I’d call Vladimir Putin ambitious, sweetie. Monica I’d call something less flattering.”
“You don’t like her.”
“It’s a sticky situation for Breanne. Monica was a golden girl for years, but several months ago her work started slipping-too much partying, that sort of thing. Monica’s already a full editor now, climbed right over her colleagues to make it up the masthead, but she’s been bucking for senior editor lately, and Breanne won’t promote her again until she gets back on the ball.”
“How bad are things between them? I mean… could she have been the one who sabotaged Breanne’s fitting with that counterfeit e-mail?”
Roman shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Do you know what exactly she brought to Breanne?”
“Pages from the magazine. Royally mucked-up pages.”
“I need more.”
Roman sighed. “Trend ’s doing this huge piece on Nunzio in the magazine’s next issue-”
“I know about that. It’s going to include a photo of his Lover’s Spring sculpture. Janelle and I are turning it into a Prosecco Bellini fountain for the wedding.”
“Believe me, honey, I know all about that already. Bree consulted with me on every detail. Especially the food. Who do you think gave the thumbs-up to your friend Janelle Babcock in the first place?”
“Janelle’s not exactly a slouch. She was the p^atissier under Tommy Keitel.”
Roman hung his head, giving a moment of silence to the death of one of his favorite American chefs. “I do miss the king. And I well remember Janelle’s desserts under his reign at Solange. Ambrosia. I can’t wait to taste her confections on Saturday.”
“So, anyway, about Monica Purcell?”
“Oh, yes, well… Monica’s in charge of the pages on Nunzio. And there have been all sorts of problems getting them composed. Bree’s in a state because Nunzio has final approval of the profile Trend is publishing on him. He’s dropping by this evening to review it.”
“Why wouldn’t he approve it?”
“Nunzio’s known for his artistic temperament. In a fit of pique, if he doesn’t like the pages, he just might put the kibosh on the entire piece. And, from what Bree told me at lunch, there are all sorts of reasons the pages might give him heartburn: bad typefaces, clashing colors, blurred photos, and typos galore. Last week, Breanne gave Monica all of her notes for corrections, but none of the changes were made. Monica claims she handed the notes over, and it’s the art department’s fault.”
“Is that a common thing? For the art department to ignore the chief editor’s notes for changes?”
Roman pursed his lips. “Let’s say it’s rare. If you want to keep your job under Breanne Summour, you do your job and do it right.”
“So what really happened? Did Monica not give them Breanne’s changes?”
“She claims she did. And Petra, the art director, claims she didn’t. So Breanne isn’t blaming anyone. But she is making Monica jump through hoops to get the pages in shape before Nunzio sees them this evening.”
I might have let all of this go as typical office politics-if it hadn’t been for that nasty e-mail sent from Breanne’s own box. Someone obviously had an ax to grind inside her office.
Leaving Roman again, I slipped back to the fitting room area. By now, Adele was busy with another customer, and I was able to casually move back to Breanne’s fitting room door.
“… and I still see typos, Monica, even in the pull quotes, for God’s sake. Get every last one of them fixed, do you hear me? Nunzio’s mother’s name is Rose not Pose.”
“Yes, Ms. Summour. What about the TK areas?”
“Nunzio knows there’ll be photos to come. He’s more concerned with checking over his biographical information and approving the cropping and layout of the photos taken at his workshop in Florence. Love’s Spring will be shot on Saturday at the wedding reception along with my rings.”
“Your wedding rings!” Monica exclaimed. “They still haven’t been photographed yet? But I thought they were already sent to you? Terri told me a package came a few days ago from Florence.”
“Nunzio’s bringing the rings from Italy personally. He should have them for me today.”
“Ooooh,” Monica gushed, “I’d die to see them!”
“I’m sure everyone will see them once they’re photographed.”
“I meant I’d die to see the actual rings.”
“I know what you meant. Just get those pages fixed and on my desk no later than four this afternoon. Got that?”
“Yes, Ms. Summour.”
I heard scuffling inside and quickly stood back. The fitting room door flew open again, and Monica’s thigh-high boots were off and running. I quietly followed her down the corridor, across the showroom, and through the boutique entrance. I intended to announce myself once we were outside, far enough away from Breanne that Monica wouldn’t have to worry about the woman overhearing. Then I’d ask her a few questions and gauge her reactions.
But the moment Monica hit the sidewalk, she pulled out her cell phone and made a call. I hustled along behind her through the crowds as she walked and talked, nearly colliding into her when she stopped on the edge of the curb and raised her hand to hail a cab.
The traffic was a snarl of buses, delivery vans, and SUVs. I bided my time, waiting for her to finish her call, when I realized the call itself was actually worth listening to: “… yes, Her Royal Bitchiness finally gave it up,” Monica told the person on the other end of the phone line. “Nunzio’s bringing the rings in to Breanne at six o’clock this evening… No. I don’t know yet… You were?… I’m sorry I missed you then. I would have arrived earlier, but I’m running behind today… Yes, she’s still at Fen’s, and they have tons of security there. I told you that already. But she’s going back to the office for her afternoon meetings… I already told you! I have no idea! I said I’ll get back to you about the damn rings!”
As a cab pulled up and Monica climbed in, I quickly backed off, checking my wristwatch to note the exact time. Given what I’d just heard, I decided to postpone my direct questioning of Monica Purcell. Since Breanne was taking me back to her offices anyway, I figured a bit of subtle snooping would be a whole lot smarter.
LESS than an hour later, Breanne, Roman, and I piled into a cab and drove across town to Columbus Circle, an uptown traffic loop at the southwest corner of Central Park. In the center of this famous hub was a seventy-foot granite column holding a marble statue of Christopher Columbus.
A century ago, the monument had been erected to honor the intrepid Italian mariner, but these days Christopher was an afterthought. Columbus Circle was all about the Time Warner Center, a two billion dollar complex of twin eighty-story towers soaring above a seven-story base with an ingenious design that curved halfway around Christopher’s circle.
On a sunny spring day like this one, the reflection of Central Park’s budding trees off the glass-wrapped skyscrapers made the whole complex glimmer like Emerald City. And when you got right down to it, the Time Warner Center was its own little city, with 198 condominiums, the largest food market in Manhattan, rental offices, a luxury hotel, restaurants, and a concert hall.
The complex also housed the offices of Breanne’s baby, Trend magazine.
We exited the cab, walked through the Center’s main entrance, and took the escalator up through the arcade of upscale shops. Hanging a right, we moved through a pair of transparent doors tucked between the Samsung Experience and the Aveda hair care boutique. Inside this small, secluded lobby was a special bank of elevators that went directly up to the floors in the towers above.
We ascended over twenty levels and entered Trend’s offices, which were as sleek and sun-drenched as the arcade below: all glass and chrome and lacquered cherry wood.
Roman and I trailed Breanne’s statuesque form as she approached the receptionist. “Any messages for me while Terri was at lunch?”
“Yes, Ms. Summour.”
The pretty young blond in the retro fluffy cashmere sweater handed over two slips of paper. “The first one’s from the Sinamon Urban Design people,” she said. “They confirmed their meeting with you at three. The second one’s Nunzio. He said his plane was delayed. It got into JFK at noon today instead of last night, so he’s totally jet-lagged, and he wants to meet with you at two o’clock instead of six so he can get some sleep before an important dinner meeting he has tonight. I tried to talk him out of the time change, but he was really snappish with me. Anyway, he said he’s coming at two, whether you like it or not.”
I glanced at my watch. The time was ten minutes to two. “What?!” Breanne cried.
The receptionist blinked. “I said that Nunzio-”
“Oh, shut up!”
Instantly Her Haughtiness was on the move again. The clock in her head obviously had started ticking: Countdown to Nunzio.