Dorothy Howell, Mystery Author
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Excerpt from Backpacks and Betrayals

We left her office and headed down the hallway, then both of us slowed when we heard voices in the lobby—well, just one voice, really.

Hurricane Katrina had blown in.

Since there was no means of escape, I braced myself and followed Peri into the lobby.

Two of the three models I’d seen earlier were on their feet holding their KGE backpacks in front of them like body armor. Misty stood ramrod straight behind the reception desk looking like she was preparing to make a hostage video. Katrina had planted herself in the center of the lobby.

“We’re all accountable,” she announced, giving major stink-eye and swinging both arms around. “Each and every one of you. You’re accountable.”

Katrina was a full-figured gal, tall, with jet black hair. Her modeling days—if she’d ever had them—were well behind her. I figured her for fifty, easily. Yet that didn’t stop her from dressing as if she were a twenty-year-old runway waif. Her style was—well, jeez, I didn’t know what kind of style she was going for.

Today, as usual, she had full-on makeup complete with metallic eyeshadows. She wore a burgundy sweater with leather armholes, a denim maxi skirt, and red boots generously embellished with rhinestones. She didn’t exactly pull it off but, of course, nobody was going to tell her.

“No exceptions. Everyone is accountable,” Katrina declared, her gaze sweeping the room like a malfunctioning Terminator. She wagged her finger at me. “Even this girl.”

I was the driving force behind the success for her fashion crawl and she hadn’t bothered to remember my name. Nice, huh?

Since Peri and I had walked in during the middle of Katrina’s tirade, I had no idea what everyone—including me, apparently—was supposed to be accountable for, nor did I care.

This was one of the things I liked about my job: I could leave most any place, most any time I wanted.

“From now on—”

Katrina froze and swept the lobby once more.

“Where is Libby?” she demanded. “Libby? Libby?”

She called Libby’s name as if she were hiding under a chair—which nobody would blame her for, of course—and would now come crawling out.

Libby had the unenviable job of being Katrina’s personal assistant. I’d dealt with Libby a few times since the planning for the fashion crawl began. She was completely devoted to Katrina, which I didn’t get.

Katrina drilled everyone in the room with her laser glare, as if one of us knew where Libby was and simply refused to tell her. Luckily, we were all saved when Libby appeared through the smoked glass wall, rushing through the hallway. She burst into the KGE office looking a little more harried than usual.

“I’m late. I’m late. I know I’m late,” she declared, breathing heavily and looking up at Katrina as if her life depended on hearing that she wasn’t in trouble.

I figured Libby for maybe 24 years old. She was petite, blonde, and pretty, and always dressed as fashionably as her surely meager PA salary allowed. Today she wore a navy blue business suit, a blouse with a bow at the throat, and sensible pumps.

She looked like she’d borrowed the outfit from her mom for a job interview.

“I dropped off your dry cleaning and went by the bank, like you wanted,” Libby said, still huffing and puffing. “I got your car washed and delivered those papers. Everything’s done. All of it. Just like you wanted.”

Katrina continued to glare at Libby, but no way was I hanging around waiting for her to unthaw.

“I’ll call you later,” I whispered to Peri.

She looked slightly envious when I walked away.

In the hallway I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be out of there. The rest of my afternoon was ahead of me and I had a few things that required my attention, but nothing pressing.

So what the heck? I decided. Why not do a little shopping before heading back to the L.A. Affairs office?

Even though I’d been to North Hollywood a number of times, I’d never really looked at all the shops in the neighborhood. I decided to hit the restroom, then check out the NoHo stores and see what I could find because, as I always say, you never know when something good is going to happen to you.

As I headed down the corridor toward the restrooms at the rear of the building, I spotted a handbag lying at the top of the wide mid-point staircase that led down to the first floor.

Okay, that was weird.

I walked over and took a closer look.

Immediately, I recognized it as a non-designer, black shoulder bag. The faux-leather was creased and the handle slightly frayed.

It couldn’t have been lying there long—I mean, jeez, how long did it take to realize you didn’t have your handbag with you? I looked around for the person who must have dropped it. I didn’t spot anyone. The hallway was empty. The glass-fronted office adjacent to the staircase was vacant.

I decided the best thing to do was take it to the old guy who worked at the security desk. He could hold it in lost-and-found, or maybe peek inside for some kind of ID.

When I bent down to pick it up I spotted a black flat lying on one of the steps.

Somebody had run out of her shoe and dropped her handbag?

I got a weird feeling.

I walked down to where the shoe lay.

My weird feeling got weirder.

I continued down and around the curve of the staircase. At the bottom, sprawled across the bottom steps and the floor, was a girl.

Oh, crap.

She was dead.

 

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