A tumble of blond hair. A black bowler cap set at a rakish angle. A black beaded jacket open to maximum cleavage. Tight jeans washed in more acid than all of the LSD combined at a 1967 Love In in Central Park. Criss-crossed sandal-style boots with spiky heels that sank in the sand with each step. Only –
-- Only it wasn’t Lady Gaga!
A glimpse of her face discouraged the partiers streaking after her. She was simply a guest with a mane of blond hair – not a Gaga wig, in fact, but real hair – and knockout clothes.
From a command post set up on Moshup Trail, Teddy Zizik turned to the man he’d hired for security, an ex-Mossad agent. “You got your guys collecting all the guests’ cameras and phones, right?”
Mossad Man was short with a buzz-cut of white hair, a deep tan, and black shades over an expressionless face. “Of course. But this is a spoiled crowd. They don’t relish being asked to surrender anything.”
Teddy nodded. In the first stages of prepping for Fiona’s wedding, he’d been stumped by the very idea of a guest list. He convinced the pop star to forget about family and old buds. What if that idiot Milo bolted before the “I do” part of the program? Better not to embarrass her in front of her nearest and dearest.
“But we need some guests!” she wailed. “I don’t wanna feel like a complete loser! Even though, if Milo bails, I will be a complete loser!”
It was then that Teddy hatched the brilliant scheme to enlist the help of Priscilla Lytton. He’d expected some resistance from the Brit hostess, but she’d been happy to lend him her guest list.
Over the phone she said, “I have nothing of my own to organize. My husband has postponed his plans to die but, with or without dying, he wishes to leave me. Which puts a damper on my desire to entertain,” she added with a snigger which hardly fit her Shockingly Good Taste profile on the BBC.
Now the wide white sandy beach was filling up with guests who Teddy would have described as well-heeled had they not – most of them -- taken off their shoes, mostly fancy flip-flops, and left them at the head of the trails.
They flocked one and all around the U-shaped linen-draped tables. In a vivid blue sky, gulls hovered over trays of cheese and other edibles, but “fat chance!” their little bird-brains must have been thinking, Teddy mused, about getting anywhere near this stuff.
Now he turned to the scary security dude. “How long do you think we have until the paps start buzzing us?”
“My celebrity watch source tells me Fiona Neal is a Code Red right now. That Justin Bieber shoot was just plain stupid, man. Crappy timing.”
Teddy shrugged. “Crappy Timing is my middle name. Or middle names, I guess I should say.”
Nandika bore a depleted tray of sweet potato fritters. Sam, in fact, had swiped the last one, giving her a quick peck on the lips before jogging back, his long tanned legs in cargo shorts kicking up sand on his streak to the bar table. Now, from one of the many white wrought-iron tables scattered across the sands, a young man rose and accosted her.
“Nandika,” came a fond, familiar voice.
She turned, and her jaw dropped.
It was Kapil. Her ex-fiance. Handsome, witty, kindly Kapil, award-winning journalist of The Mumbai Mirror. She had left him for the madcap bouncy-bouncy Sam who, she came to the sudden awareness as if a rolling pin clunked her on the head, was incapable of participating in a serious conversation.
Kapil said, casting over her a look of compelling tenderness, “We need to talk.”
Mandy had virtually no time to think about the million dollars Titus Lytton had just placed in an escrow account in the name of Lady Slipper Farm. They could plant more rutabaga! Buy up adjoining acres! Dredge the pond! Breed teacup pigs with young Albert as the founding father! Plant more rutabaga!
And even as she cranked out fresh ideas at the same time that she kept appetizers circulating, she felt smoldering glances coming from the direction of Nick Diehl.
To his credit. he made every effort to stay away. He slouched across the sands, hands in the pockets of his cut-off jeans, but still he maintained a perimeter of roughly fifty yards around wherever Mandy supervised the party. She felt his eyes on her even when her back was turned. Poor fellow. Pining for love. But what could he do with that depraved wife of his frightening off any new object of romantic interest?
The thought of the flamboyant and gorgeous and sociopathic Chichi Tatem made Mandy swivel her head around. Could she be here? Would she not have been at the tippy-top of Priscilla Lytton’s guest list?
And then she recalled the early summer Solstice party when Chichi, in fact NOT invited, had roared in on a Harley, tearing up the grass and giving everyone over 30 an incipient heart attack.
So how would she invade this time? By submarine? In one of those James Bond babies that flounced up from the sea, blasting onto land with the thrust of amphibian turbines?
Mandy sighed deeply as she wrenched open a box of imported brie the size of a hub cap. It was nearly over. Summer. All these crazies would go home. And then all the year-round peeps, crazy in other, quieter, deeper ways, could settle into their winter melancholy.
For now all that mattered was getting through this challenging day. Somehow she knew it was destined to be excruciatingly fraught, as if Mercury in Retrograde had lined up with all the forces of bad karma collected from all sentient beings in the Milky Way and beamed down on this one beach and its dodgy wedding on the western-most tip of Martha’s Vineyard.
“But why can’t we go to Fiona Neal’s wedding?” pleaded Becca Van Norden.
Duncan Toomey stared in disgust at the woman who, merely because he’d shot her out of a tree, mistaking her voyeurism of the Lyttons’ party for assasinship, had camped out at his cabin for the whole of the summer.
He hadn’t, in fact, spoken to her in weeks, but somehow she’d received news of this silly wedding, probably from snooping through his mail during the days and nights that he stayed away from his own house in futile attempts to avoid her.
For her part she’d rented a car, and made forays to the towns where she displayed her insatiable capacity for shopping. He knew this from the mound of swanky boutique bags stacked like pillows in his guest bedroom.
And now he saw she’d suited herself up in one of her purchases, an improbable ensemble for a beach party: black mini, black blazer, white turtleneck and absurd high-heeled black boots rearing up over her knees.
She also wore her full complement of makeup: blue eye shadow, fake lashes that looked capable of stirring up a tsunami from rapid blinks of her eyes, and red lipstick.
He wanted to tell her what he truly thought. That she was hideous.
But Duncan Toomey, famous children’s author, with his scary black beard and matted hair, had been raised by a Quaker mom to be determinedly polite. At least in person. In his writing, of course, a far edgier persona took over.
He needed to write a book about the Van Norden horror to express the brunt of his ill will for her. He had certainly found her to be, back in the early weeks when he still communicated with her, unbudgeable in her bad habits.
Her kids? Couldn’t stand ‘em. Her husband? Couldn’t wait to divorce him, provided enough alimony attended the occasion. She thought she deserved a good stiff stipend since child support could hardly enter the equation: She had no intention of raising – or even visiting -- her own small kids.
And would she ever admit to even a twinge of conscience that she’d wronged her old friend, Mandy Pease, by seducing her fiancé in that long-ago Katama summer?
Another psychopathic NO: Mandy deserved it by being too beautiful.
As he recalled these discouraging conversations, he threw on his old-geezer white canvas fishing cap and stomped out the door.
She followed him. He picked up his pace, huffing along the path to the cliffs.
She called out to him, “If you don’t take me to this party, I’m finally gonna report you to the cops for shooting me!”
His long strides would have been too much for a normal petite lady shod in four-inch boot heels. But Becca was a determined little witch, and he heard her chugging through the undergrowth. Her heels kicked up dry leaves as she chased after him.
At last he reached the clearing at the top of the cliffs. His pursuer was intent only on keeping up, aware of nothing but his stout back. Only moments after he halted, she ploughed into him.
Duncan doubled over at the waist. In a sudden
panic, he jack-knifed backards, digging his heels into the last inches of
eroding bluff. The woman’s blunt trajectory caused her to vault over his bent
shoulders like some kind of a graceless circus act.
Duncan found himself sprawled in the dirt, his hands clenching the edge. He watched, aghast, and yet at the same time strangely thrilled as Becca’s body, limp, compliant, flew into the void.
For a moment she seemed to be suspended on the balmy breeze. Then she hit the waves splashing against the cliffs, then whirling in high-tide cadence over the rocks below. For a moment the fallen woman was lost in nature’s rinse cycle. Then she popped up, big shiny black boots, black blazer, peroxided blond hair, and all.
Was the red lipstick still intact? Had the waves washed away her fake lashes?
He couldn’t tell.
In the next outtake of waves, Becca’s body was flung far from shore. Duncan noted that she made no effort to struggle. Perhaps the fall to the rocks had dashed her head, and she’d been killed – or at any rate concussed – enough that the sea could carry her away as if she were some limp, narcotized, sacrificial maiden.
Truly, the event had carried some element of Greek tragedy to it. Not so tragic, however, when you stopped to consider what a heartless little twit she was. Or had been.
Duncan rose on shaky knees. He looked to the right. He looked to the left. Why so furtive?, he asked himself. It wasn’t as if he’d picked her up and bodily heaved her over the cliff. Yet he only needed to make sure no one had observed the accident. He preferred to leave it to the fates to determine what had ever become of Becca Van Norden.
Why involve himself by calling the authorities?
He rolled out his shirt sleeves, and buttoned them at the cuffs.
He was suddenly in such a surprisingly good mood --- indeed an uncommonly excellent mood for his own normally dejected brain chemistry – that he thought he might pop in on this beach bash after all.