Chapter 1 of 13 for Vienna Heights: Deception
The Mercer-Donovan Penthouse
“Anything interesting in the mail, darling?”
Figures. I spent a whole half hour cutting little letters out of magazines and gluing them into a threatening message on my last piece of Hello Kitty stationary,
and Violet’s only response was to call it junk and toss it amongst the sales fliers and sweepstakes envelopes addressed to “resident.” If I weren’t so annoyed, I’d be hurt. At least her doting fiancé, Phillip, seemed to care that someone wanted his bride-to-be dead, even if she didn’t quite feel the threat. Yet.
“Another one of these?” He asked, picking it up and examining my handiwork.
“I didn’t even read this one,” she lied. “I saw the stationary then threw it down.”
“You’ve been getting these for weeks. Ever since that last book of yours was released.”
The book in question, yet another installment of the romance series centering around tragic (read: stupid) heroine Della Price, was released six weeks ago. If you ask me, I feel sorry for the trees that died to print her books. I’m sure they had higher aspirations, like becoming toilet paper. It was only more insulting that the literary press called the garbage “masterful.” But, I saw it for the pedestrian, fluffy, uninspired crap it truly was. Not that she, apparently, cared at all about my opinion.
Don’t worry. She will.
Just give it time.
“Dear Violet,” Phillip read my note aloud. “I wish you’d choke on a chicken bone, fall over, impale yourself on a fork and die. Love, I?”
Now that was masterful
“I think she’s running out of scenarios for me to meet my maker. I believe she used fork impaling three letters ago.”
Technically, it was a spork. And, it wasn’t so much impaling as it was shoving it up one of her cavities.
“How do you know it’s a ‘she’?” Phillip asked.
Violet shrugged. “I don’t know, but, how many men would send a death threat on Hello Kitty stationary?”
Phillip turned his attentions to tying the tie that hung loosely around his neck. Truth be told, he could tie one of those things blindfolded and with one hand behind his back and it’d still have the perfect knot. But, this gave him an opportunity to primp in the foyer mirror, so, he took it and he took his time, as well, his eyes never quite following his hands, but, instead, inspecting his hair. My, that wave looked quite a bit blonder, and he wasn’t even in direct sunlight. Was someone dying his hair?
“Why are you wearing that?” Violet asked. She perched herself on the sofa, sipping orange juice and spreading the newspaper out on the coffee table.
“Wearing what?” He asked. As if he didn’t know. But, I knew, and, I have to say, knowing things Violet didn't was quite a refreshing sensation.
“That tie.” She told him. The paisley tie. The tie that brought out the green in his eyes. The tie that he only wore on special occasions, like when he was trying to impress someone. Pretty suspicious for a guy who claimed he’d be spending all day doing tedious depositions, huh?
“I don’t know.” Again with the lies. Didn’t these kids know honesty was the firmest foundation for any marriage? Not that I’d ever let these two make it anywhere near the aisle. “No reason, I guess.”
For what it’s worth, Violet is as smart as her books are heavy and meaningful, but, even she caught the way he scrunched his nose and didn’t quite manage to look her in the eye, even though he was looking her dead on in the face by the time he answered. He only scrunched his nose when he was lying or when he wanted her to do something, and since she was already twisted quite tightly around his finger, that could mean only one thing.
“So, we’re having lunch today, right?” She asked.
He sucked air through his teeth while he gathered his briefcase by the door. “Oh, gosh, you know I’m going to be stuck working all day. Ever since my father had to take leave from the practice, I’ve been just absolutely swamped with his caseload on top of mine. I don’t think I’m going to have time to think, let alone eat. Rain check?”
Violet nodded solemnly, like a child who’d just had her balloon popped as a lesson that life is both unfair and sucky. “Of course. And, don’t forget, your parents are having us over for dinner tonight.”
He sucked air again. “That’s right.”
“Don’t tell me you can’t make it. Your mother will throw a fit if we cancel at the last minute.”
“No, no.” He gave her a quick kiss atop her head. “I can make it. It’s just I was sort of delegated to inviting my brother, and I haven’t gotten around to it.”
Violet’s face fell. “Luke’s in town?”
Luke Mercer. He was like a plague of locusts. Every few years he descended on Vienna Heights, royally screwed up his family’s life, then left. Don’t believe me? Just ask their father...or his cardiologist.
“He’s opening a business here. A night club, I believe. He said something about leasing a property on Main. That’s probably where you’ll be able to find him.”
Violet cocked an eyebrow. “And, just why will I be there looking for him?”
“Because I have to invite him, but I am just going to be too busy.”
Violet groaned. “How about if we just say we invited him but he couldn’t make it?”
Phillip got that look on his face. The look he got when he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Actually, I kind of need you to go there anyway. To check the new place out.”
“Why? Why do we care about this new business venture of his?”
Cue the scrunchy nose. “Because we may have invested in this new business."
Violet jerked up. “Have you forgotten what happened to the last Mercer to give him money for a ‘business venture?’”
Maybe he should ask his father...or his cardiologist. Oh, did I just say that?
Phillip’s shoulders dropped. He was smart enough to know there was just no winning this argument, but, dumb enough to propose to Violet, so, really, he won absolutely no points in my book. No, not even when one considers that he performed that heinous action while in a drug-induced haze after being stung by a weird fish during their last vacation. He could have taken it back, broken her heart and, thus, made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Alas, I wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but, I was pretty sure I’d practically be doing cartwheels very, very soon.
“He’s my brother.”
“That’s no excuse. You didn’t see Abel going into business with Cain or inviting him to dinner, did you?”
She could feel her will crumbling, and...
“Fine!” She conceded. Damn, she was weak. Why did the object of my obsession have to be so lame? “I’ll go. But, if it’s looking in any way shady or corrupt or Luke-like, I want you to pull any money you’ve put in out. Okay?”
“Deal.” Another quick kiss atop her head for good measure. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”
“Well, I do. See you this evening.”
Hmm. And, she didn’t even have to trick him into poisonous fish-infested waters for that one.
To see Luke Mercer with a prostitute would be as natural as seeing the Easter Bunny with a basket of painted eggs. So, I don’t know why Violet started screaming when she walked into New Vienna and saw him locked in coital bliss with a woman who, based solely on her makeup choices, had to be a hooker.
Yet, there she was, screaming her head off, causing poor Luke to fall off the bar and his frustrated female friend to try to cover herself up with a sample cocktail napkin (which was, in all truth, bigger than the dress lying nearby on the floor).
“Do you mind? He’s still got seven minutes left on the clock.”
“Violet, what are you doing here?” Luke asked, not even being polite enough to find his pants.
“I – Phillip sent – I was going – oh, for God’s sake!” She covered her eyes when he moved around to the other side of the bar.
“Are we done here? I have places to be.” The woman asked.
“Yeah.” Luke fished a wad of bills out of his pants pocket when he found them lodged behind a couple of boxes. “Sorry about this. Some people have bad timing.”
“Not a problem, Dollface.”
And, then, she was gone, taking her ugly dress with her. When Luke had his pants on, Violet uncovered her eyes.
“As I was saying, Phillip told me to come by. I’m supposed to be inviting you to a dinner at your parents’ house tonight.”
Luke found a bottle of single malt and poured himself a glass. “Really? What for?”
“We’re celebrating.” Violet explained, stepping over a dead cockroach. Huh. Those things really can die. “It’s a pre-celebration for the engagement, before the party at the Pelican Landing next month. This is just a politeness thing. No one’s going to be heartbroken when you bypass it to entertain streetwalkers.”
“Oh, I’ll be there.”
“Because you don’t want me there.” He smiled. “Just like I’m sure the next topic will be you begging me to let Phillip out of his investment contract.”
“He signed something? He’s a lawyer. He should know better.”
Hey, he entered into a verbal contract with her ensuring marriage. He’s got a history of making dumb choices.
“This place is going to be very successful. Think of it as old Hollywood meets modern chic. I’m calling it New Vienna.”
Violet rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I remember the last time you were going to be heading a super successful business. I also remember your father having a heart attack after finding out that you’d used it as a front to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from him.”
Luke grinned even more, sipping the single malt and reflecting on the past as he picked up a clipboard of invoices. He took to doodling Snoopy.
“You know, I apologized to my father for that. I was young.”
“Why he didn’t press charges against you is beyond me.”
I wouldn’t have pressed charges. Mostly because I’d never have that kind of money and because he’s hot. Seriously, why she hated him escaped me. He was all strong and chiseled and dark-haired with big, blue eyes and, by the look on that hooker’s face before she started screaming, very well endowed. Unfortunately, she went for the Ken doll type, complete with virtual anatomic incorrectness.
To each her own, I guess.
“He didn’t press charges because I’m his son and he loves me. The same reason Phillip’s giving me a shot at proving I’ve changed. Because I’m his big brother and he loves me. See, we’re blood, Violet. We’re not expendable, like you.”
That stung. Even I could feel the burn of that one.
Violet’s face went as red as that mop of hair sitting on top of her head.
“Phillip loves me, too! We’re getting married.”
Luke snickered. “Big deal. You’re not the first woman he’s been engaged to. However, you are the first to have to trick him into it.”
“I didn’t trick him!”
Man, she got shrieky when she started whining. Good thing he kept the glassware in those boxes covering the floor. Otherwise, she might throw one at him, and damage that beautiful face.
“I just think it’s sad. You’re not even going to see it coming when he drops your sorry, perfectly-toned ass.”
Violet marched over to him. “He and I are a forever type of thing. I know you can’t understand that because the closest thing you’ve had to love is getting a discount from your hooker buddies when it’s your birthday, so you can’t see something that’s real and perfect when it’s right in front of you. Ten years down the road, when Phillip and I have our first kids and are blissful and you’re still a bitter jerk, you’ll look back on this and feel bad that you spent your life scamming the family that’s tried to take care of you and never made anything of yourself.”
Luke was unimpressed with her little speech, or, as much was implied by the way he patted her on the head and went back to the single malt.
She felt her skin crawl when he touched her. Sort of how my skin crawls at the sight of her.
“So, riddle me this, oh perfectly in love one,” he said. “If your relationship with my brother is so wonderful, why is he lying to you?”
Violet folded her arms. “He’s never lied to me.”
“Uh huh. So, where is he right now?”
Smugly, she said, “Working. His case load is extra heavy now, because of your father’s work, which he’s missing out on because his elder son gave him a heart attack.”
Luke laughed. “That’s what he told you? Adorable.”
Steam was practically shooting out of her ears. “He’s working.”
“He might be doing work, but, it ain’t of the legal variety. If you don’t believe me, you can go to the Fowler Suites and check for yourself. Only three blocks away.”
She knew where the Fowler Suites were. He knew she knew where the Fowler Suites were. For what it was worth, I knew where they were, too.
I was born there.
“You’re just trying to upset me because you’re mean and bitter.”
“You’ve used bitter already. Running out of adjectives? The fact that Phil’s cheating on you cause your circuits to overload?”
“He’s not cheating on me!” She yelped. Denial was ugly on her. Then again, so was the pink dress she was wearing. Seriously. What redhead wears pink?
“Alright. Then, what’s he doing with Alison at the Fowler Suites, and why didn’t he tell you about it?”
Luke handed her the glass in front of him, still half-full. “You look like you need this more than I do.”
She recovered herself. “Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish here, but, I have faith in my fiancé. Whatever you think you know I’m sure is just some lapse in communication. He loves me. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. And, even if he is with Alison right now, that doesn’t mean he’s with Alison right now. And, if he didn’t tell me about it, that’s only because he knows Alison upsets me. Not that I believe you, anyways. But, I’m not worried.”
Between the three of us, no one believed that.
As she was stomping up the stairs and out the door, he smiled at himself in the mirror that spanned the wall behind the bar. “Oh, kitten,” he said. “You will be.”
Outside the Fowler Suites
For someone who wasn’t worried, she made a beeline for the Fowler Suites. Of course, she tried to be clever and mask her journey by, instead, going into the coffee shop across the street and parking herself in the window nook, where her view was right in line with the Fowler Suites’ revolving door.
Fifteen years ago, that place had been an apartment building, one of many owned by Thomas Donovan. That was, until the fire. Arson, they called it. I was born in one of the seldom-occupied top floor apartments shortly before the fire. For the better part of the next decade, the building stood as little more than charred remains, until Daisy, Violet’s mother, decided to sell the place to a developer who rebuilt and renamed it the Fowler Suites.
“More coffee, Miss?” A waiter asked.
Violet didn’t take her eyes off the door. “No, thank you.”
She felt kind of foolish, sitting there. Well, not for sitting there, but for buying into anything Luke Mercer said. He was a pest. A bug. Unfortunately, part of the package deal with Phillip. But, she loved Phillip, one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. I could never love someone like that, not even if they gave me that disgustingly huge ring she was wearing.
When she’d been there for an hour, she decided finally she’d been had. He wanted to cause her to doubt Phillip. After all, he didn’t want Phillip to get married. He wanted his little brother to follow in his footsteps, to be a misogynistic, womanizing pig. Tossing a few dollars tip on the table, she stood, gathering her bag, and leaving.
It was when she stepped out on the sidewalk that she saw them. Phillip and Alison, walking out of the Fowler Suites. She had her arm linked in his and…that look on his face! The way he was looking at her, like he was about to burst into song, like if she were to break wind, instead of noxious gases, butterflies and rainbows would erupt from her behind.
Violet’s stomach turned, but I’d never been happier. It was about time the little tart got some of what was coming to her. Phillip even held the door for Alison. Violet couldn’t remember the last time he’d held the door for her.
Adding insult to injury was how gorgeous Alison was. Not in the traditional sense, but, in the west coast sense. She’d had work. Those breasts were obviously synthetic, and that hair, while being a shade of blond that should’ve been discontinued in the eighties, was the softest and shiniest hair Violet had ever seen.
She could feel her heart racing, pure fear pumping through her veins. This couldn’t be happening. She felt faint, like everything around her was spinning.
“Oh God,” she whispered. “What do I do?”
When she looked up, she saw them. They were crossing the street. They were coming for her. She could feel it, in her soul; they were coming to tell her they were back together. Alison had come back for him and he’d gladly dump her for the woman who didn’t have to get him stung by a funny-looking fish to get a ring.
“Violet!” Phillip said. “What on earth are you doing here?”
She could barely breathe, let alone speak. But, she managed. “I was just doing what you asked, inviting Luke to dinner and then, I thought I’d get coffee. I thought you’d be working?”
I hoped he’d lie to her, just to see her head explode.
“Oh, well, about that, Alison’s going to be in town for a couple of weeks due to this workshop, and, I met her for lunch.”
It was almost as if he’d forgotten a few hours ago he’d told her he’d be working far too much to meet for lunch. But, she didn’t forget. Neither did I.
“My goodness!” Alison exclaimed, looking at Violet’s hand. “What an exquisite ring. You didn’t tell me the two of you were engaged, Philly.”
“Didn’t I? We are. My parents are throwing us a quiet dinner this evening. You should come!”
What nerve. Inviting his ex-fiancée to a private family function. Why didn’t he just slap Violet in the face? Maybe I misjudged him.
“It has been so long since I’ve seen your mother and father. How is he doing, by the way? I heard about his illness.”
“He’s doing well. Spending most of his recovery time on the golf course, but, you know how he is.”
Did he just coo?
Violet felt as if she was shrinking right there in front of them, and felt even worse when Alison graciously accepted “their” invitation. Then, her cell phone rang and she had to go. Work was calling. Too bad it wasn’t calling her back to wherever she’d been before.
“Well, dear,” scrunchy nose and a quick kiss on her cheek. “I must be getting back to work. Thank you for going to talk to my brother. See you tonight.”
She stood there for five minutes, even after he’d hailed a taxi.
Something told me if Vienna Heights was barely big enough for both Violet and me, there definitely wasn’t enough room for Alison. I wondered what Violet would do to relieve herself of this problem. I knew how I’d handle it, but, if Violet was anything like me, I wouldn’t have hated her so much.
She glanced back at the Fowler Suites and decided there was only one way to handle this. She needed to confer with someone devious. She needed someone manipulative, someone who could wring the absolute life out of someone without ever laying a finger on them. She needed someone well-versed in lying.
Violet needed her mother.