Making it to the lobby unrecognized was a miracle, but now Phyllis needed another one. While smoothing her hair back from her face, she realized the diamond-encrusted platinum P earring was missing from her right ear. The C was still in her left one. Phyllis knew she had them both when she left the studio and prayed her trademark earring wasn’t underneath Richard’s bloody body.
No one would ever believe she hadn’t murdered Richard, especially after the bitter argument they had on the set of her talk show earlier that morning. Even the show’s producer didn’t know it was engineered to generate more publicity and add fire to the rumors that had started when these ex-lovers announced that they were doing a major motion picture together. Groaning, she imagined the sound bites, “Academy Award Winner and Talk Show Queen, Phyllis Carter Kills Former Lover, Director Richard Arnett after a bitter, public argument, news at eleven.”
Creeping along the hallway, Phyllis was once again at Richard’s door. She entered the apartment with great trepidation and made her way to Richard’s den. Phyllis remembered how she planned to surprise him earlier with tickets to New Zealand, stealing into the den, coming up behind the chair as he looked out over the ocean view. She spun the chair around fast saying, “Surprise.” Only she was the one surprised when Richard’s body fell to the floor. Suppressing an urge to scream, Phyllis had fled the scene.
Phyllis knew if she didn’t find her earring right away, she would have to look underneath Richard’s body. Wobbly legs carried her over the threshold where she stopped short. Richard’s body was back in the chair, just as it had been earlier, and there was no sign of her earring.
Back in her own hotel suite Phyllis spilled the entire story to Marilyn, her personal assistant and childhood friend.
“What should I do?”
“Phyl, you need a lawyer before any of this becomes public knowledge. Your fingerprints are all over Richard’s place. One of the first things they’ll do is dust for prints.”
“Of course my prints are there. I’ve been all but living there for the last six months. You know that.”
“Honey, of course I do, but no one else does. We’ve been best friends since we were five. Do you think people will believe anything I say if it’s in your defense?”
“You’re probably right. But Marilyn, one thing scares me more than anything else.”
“Who moved the body and took my earring?”
* * *
Fingers slid back and forth feverishly over the earring, rubbing it like a worry stone. His tongue licked at lips that were already too moist. This was the first personal item of hers he possessed, and he knew it was just a matter of time before they would be together. He knew she wanted him; she always smiled just for him. She always said good morning to him and closed off her show saying she loved him.
He was glad he had followed her that morning. It had taken a while to put the body back in the chair, but it was a good thing he had. Underneath Richard’s body was Phyllis’s earring, his new trophy. She would be so grateful when she learned what he had done for her. It took him a long time to wipe the place clean of everything she might have touched. If anyone found Phyllis’s fingerprints in there, he would be amazed. Of course in purging the place of his beloved’s prints, he had also wiped away any potential prints the killer might have left; but that didn’t matter to him. All that concerned him was saving Phyllis.
* * *
Phyllis’s lawyer called the District Attorney, and they agreed to meet in her hotel suite.
“Steve, this had better be important. I had to cancel my meeting with the Mayor at the last minute.” William Kain was an old friend and school chum of Steve Decker’s. Even before he uttered the words he knew it would have to be good, Steve had never once asked for any special consideration or called in the favor that they both knew was owed. Kain listened to the story and incredulity turned to anger.
“So neither of you called the police? Steve, you know better. It’s your sworn duty to call it in.”
“Bill, someone killed Richard. When Phyllis went back to the condo, the body had been moved back to its original position. The killer was probably still there and knows Phyllis was there a couple of times. He might think she saw him. I want protection for her.”
Kain waved him to silence while he issued orders on his cell phone, “…anonymous tip, just have Richard Arnett’s condo checked out and keep it quiet. If this leaks to the press, your head will be sitting on a spike outside my office.”
Without looking at Phyllis again, Kain spoke to Decker. “Steve, as of this moment your client is under house arrest. I want to know where she is at all times, and if she tries to leave this jurisdiction, I’ll have you both cooling your heels in an 8′ x 10′ before the night is over. Have I made myself clear?”
The acids in his stomach were working overtime, and bile was threatening to spew past his lips. Why did this have to happen to him, especially with elections just around the corner? This case could destroy his career if it wasn’t solved in what the public perceived to be an expeditious and satisfactory manner.
“Steve, one more thing. If your client did it, I can’t save her, regardless of what you did for me in Law School.”
Three hours later Kain was back demanding answers.
“I’m telling you, I wasn’t wearing gloves. The doorknobs and the back of the chair, maybe the desk too, all those things should have my fingerprints on them. I didn’t wipe them clean. I swear. I was too scared. Besides, why would I? My fingerprints should be all over the place; I couldn’t possibly clean everything I ever touched. I know most fingerprints, if left undisturbed, last for weeks, some last forever depending on the surface. I learned that during my film, ‘Date and Time Agreed.’ So even if I did it and tried to remove all traces of my presence in Richard’s condo, there would still be something to prove I had been there. A strand of hair, my fingerprints on the tissue box if it’s still on the night table, my DNA on a wineglass. All these things from last night and the night before will point to my recent presence. It would be impossible to remove all trace evidence; anyone with half a brain knows that. And I can assure you, even on a bad day, I have more than half of a brain.”
“Phyllis, the place was wiped clean. We didn’t find a clear latent anywhere, not even a viable partial.” If she did it, trying to remove proof of her presence and then insisting there should be proof was a clever way to explain any evidence that might still exist.
“Do you think he suffered?” The tears, previously held in check, spilled freely down her cheeks.
“I’m certain that the bullet to the heart killed Richard instantly.” Kain wanted to reassure her. His heart had softened until he remembered she was not just another grieving woman, but a talk show maven and an Academy Award winning actress as well. Was Phyllis smart enough to do this and pull it off? She had some knowledge of forensics from the movies she had starred in, as well as from experts she had interviewed on her show. He would have to keep his guard up around her. The ringing phone jangled them both away from their private thoughts.
“I have your earring darling, don’t worry.”
“You have my earring? Who is this?”
Kain feverishly punched numbers on his cell phone to find out if the tap on Phyllis’s line had been activated yet.
“I cleaned his place up, so no one will ever know you were there. I saved you.”
“Did you kill Richard, why, who are you? What do you mean, you saved me?”
“I didn’t kill him, but after the way he treated you this morning, I should have. No one will ever speak to you like that again and get away with it. I saved you so we can be together.”
Kain wrestled the phone out of Phyllis’s grip.
“This is District Attorney William Kain, who is this?”
A soft click was his only answer. Kain wished he had a recording of the other side of the conversation. If it was legitimate, then Phyllis had been telling the truth all along. He wanted it to be the truth. Even red-rimmed, her soft hazel eyes were gorgeous. Kain wanted to hold her close to his chest, kiss the top of her chestnut curls and tell her everything was going to be okay. Why did he have to have these feelings now, and for someone who was going to be a major player in the most important case of his career? And just what was her role going to be?
“Did you recognize his voice?”
“There was a hint of an accent, possibly Italian, but I’m not certain. You believe me now, don’t you?”
“Bill, this guy knows how to find her. Even if he isn’t the killer, he’s dangerous. I want round-the-clock protection for Phyllis. If anything happens to her…” Steve choked off whatever threat he was about to make as Marilyn re-entered the room.
“Miss Daniels, can you testify to the fact that Phyllis and Richard have been secretly seeing each other for the last six months or so?”
“Of course I can. They were going to get married before they started filming ‘What Luck!’ Phyllis booked tickets to New Zealand for their honeymoon.” Marilyn’s stony gaze defied Kain to challenge the veracity of her statement.
All the while she silently thanked Phyllis’s stalker for wiping the place clean. It would be impossible for Marilyn to explain why her prints were in Richard’s condo, but at least now she knew who moved the body and why. Damn Richard. He hurt Phyllis once before, and she would not allow him to do it again. He admitted the marriage was just more free publicity for him and the upcoming movie. If Phyllis wanted to believe it was real, hey, let her. When the time came, he would walk away like he did before and they would both be a few million dollars richer for the experience.
Richard laughed when Marilyn threatened him with the gun, demanding he call things off now, before Phyllis was totally devastated. ‘You’re gonna kill me? C’mon, it’s all part of the game. Nothing is real in this town; you should know that by now.’ Marilyn fired into his chest at point blank range four times. There was one thing in this town that was real, her love for her friend.
All eyes turned to the coffee table where Phyllis’s cell phone sat, ringing insistently. Kain knew the tap was now in place. “If it’s him, keep him talking as long as you can.”
“Can he hear you? I know he’s still there.”
“No, he can’t hear me; I’m in bed right now. I have a headache.”
“Did you take your migraine pills? I know it’s the only thing that helps you.”
Phyllis’s shaking hand almost dropped the cell phone. How did he know so much about her?
“Darling, are you still there?”
“Sorry, I thought I heard someone at the door, I don’t want them to know we’re speaking again.”
Phyllis’s conspiratorial tone was meant to reassure her stalker. Kain admired her acting skills more than ever now, but wondered how he would ever know if she were being honest or acting when they were together. His heart said ‘when’ and not ‘if.’
“Good, I want you to know I won’t let anyone hurt you, not even the police. We’ll be together soon my love.”
“Yes…soon,” Phyllis echoed his words.
“I love you Phyllis, I’ve always loved you.”
“I love you too.” The migraine was real now.
“Say my name beloved, you always say my name.”
His name? What on earth was he talking about? How could she say a name she didn’t know?
“What’s that? Okay, give me a second to cover up.” In a low tone she whispered, “They have more questions for me, I have to go.” She broke the connection.
“What the devil is he talking about? You know his name? What kind of a game are you playing here Phyllis? Who was that? Spare us the exercise of having to chase down your accomplice.”
Phyllis shrank back from the vindictiveness of Kain’s attack. Would he ever believe her?
“I have no idea what he’s talking about. It’s obviously part of his delusion that I know him, love him and want to be with him. That’s all there is to it.”
Kain really hoped that was all there was to it.
Phyllis massaged her temples. Recognizing the telltale sign, Marilyn brought her a couple of pills and a glass of water. Phyllis swallowed them like a dutiful child, thanked Marilyn, and curled up on the sofa. Kain watched Marilyn lovingly tuck the afghan around her friend and wanted to be the one doing these things to comfort Phyllis.
He felt his first pangs of jealousy ever, and the irony of it all was that he was jealous of a woman. Then it hit him. If he could be jealous of a woman, could that woman be jealous of a man, jealous enough to kill him? His cell phone rang and he slipped into the den for privacy.
“…okay, keep me posted. I’m heading for my office now.”
Signaling Marilyn and Steve into the hallway so as not to disturb Phyllis, he told them there was a plainclothes detective on her way over to protect Phyllis. Kain also told them that there had been a couple of possible witnesses who were being brought downtown to give statements and look at some pictures. Something passed over Marilyn’s face for the briefest of seconds but it was long enough for Kain to realize that she was afraid of something.
* * *
The pawnshop owner identified Marilyn’s photo as being the woman who purchased a Beretta .32 caliber semi-automatic two months earlier.
“Sure I know who she is; she’s almost like a celebrity herself, what with her being Phyllis Carter’s right hand and all. I knew the name Marsha Davis wasn’t real; no one uses their own name when they buy a gun at a pawnshop. The way I figure it, in this town if someone isn’t carrying, they’re too crazy to be scared, know what I mean?”
The teen hired to walk Mrs. Oswald’s poodles pointed to Phyllis’s picture right away saying, “I know her, she’s that big star, was she there? I didn’t see her, wish I had; my mom would kill for her autograph. Well, I don’t mean ‘kill’ kill, ya know?” His Adam’s apple bobbed several times before he could continue. “I saw this one though,” he pointed to Marilyn’s picture, “she looked like she was sick, but she walked down the street a couple of blocks before hailing a cab. She coulda just got one right at the building. I mean the doorman would have flagged one down or phoned for one if she asked, ’cause that’s what doormen do, that and open doors all day. But they make great tips. I thought about being a doorman, but you’re stuck in one place all day, ya know? At least walking dogs I get to hang out in the parks and chicks are always stopping to pet them and stuff.”
When Kain heard this and the statements made by the other witnesses, he felt ill knowing Phyllis was with Marilyn right now. He dialed the hotel suite and got no answer. No one picked up the cell phones either. Where was Detective Rawley? And what was taking so long in tracing Phyllis stalker? He dialed Decker’s cell.
“Steve, where are you? No one’s answering at Phyllis’s.”
“I’m not feeling well; I’m heading for my place. What do you mean, no one is answering? When I left, Phyllis was sleeping and Marilyn and Rawley were having some tea. They wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”
Neither man could disguise the fear in his voice as they agreed to return to the hotel right away.
* * *
Marilyn ignored the insistent ringing of the phones; she had to move fast and dragged Rawley’s body out onto the balcony. By the time the cop recovered from the mickey Marilyn had slipped her, Marilyn and Phyllis would both be dead. It had to end this way. It was only a matter of time before the cops realized she had killed Richard. Marilyn couldn’t leave Phyllis all alone without someone to take care of her, not after all this time. They had gone through life together and it was only natural that they die together as well.
* * *
Across the city, the police were breaking in the door of a modest two-bedroom apartment.
“Woowee, would you look at this!”
The second bedroom had been turned into a shrine. There were flowers, candles and pictures of Phyllis Carter everywhere. The bookshelf held DVDs of all her movies and VHS tapes of her morning show, each one carefully labeled with the date. There was no doubt that this was their stalker.
* * *
From the safety of a room across the hall, Phyllis’s stalker had watched the DA and lawyer leave her hotel suite. He had to rescue his princess now before they and others came back. He hoped the passkey he swiped from the bellhop would work on Phyllis’s door. Turning the doorknob slowly, he paused, his good ear straining to hear if his entrance had been detected. No sounds came from within the suite. Tiptoeing along the corridor, the scene before him caused him to rush forward.
Marilyn was holding Rawley’s gun to Phyllis’s temple. She turned and fired instinctively, catching the intruder in the chest. Still he moved forward. Marilyn was firing again as Steve and Bill charged into the room. She put the .38 in her mouth and pulled the trigger one last time.
Emergency Medical Technicians were busy attending to the stalker and trying to revive Rawley as well as Phyllis, who had been given more than migraine pills. Marilyn’s suicide note spelled everything out, her love for Phyllis and her anger at Richard who was about to break Phyllis’s heart a second time. Marilyn claimed that although she purchased the gun a couple of months earlier, she had never planned to kill Richard. His casual dismissal of Phyllis’s love for him pushed Marilyn over the edge.
In spite of Phyllis’s protestations, her doctor insisted that she spend the night in the hospital. She wasn’t allowed visitors, but that didn’t stop Kain from coming in to see how she was feeling.
“So… do you believe me now?” Phyllis flashed her million-dollar smile at him.
“Phyllis, this is one time when having a stalker paid off. If he hadn’t rushed at Marilyn, you’d be dead. He took a couple to the chest and is down in surgery now; they don’t think he’ll make it.”
“Bill, what’s his name? Do I know him?”
“I don’t think you know him although your paths may have crossed at some time. He’s a former stunt man who retired early. An on the job injury left him totally deaf in his left ear and reduced the hearing in his right ear by fifty percent. His name is Amerigo Bartolli.”
Suddenly Phyllis laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m sorry; it all makes sense now, why he thought I called him by name.”
“It does? How?”
“Have you ever watched my show Bill?” He admitted he hadn’t, but vowed he would from now on.
“I start every show by saying, ‘Good Morning America’ and I end it by saying ‘I love you America’. To someone whose hearing is only twenty-five percent, America could sound like Amerigo.” Phyllis stifled a yawn.
“I guess Steve will be coming by in the morning to pick you up?”
“I’d rather you took me home, you know, just to make sure I’m safe.” Her eyelids drooped again in spite of her best efforts to keep her eyes open.
Bill left the hospital feeling happier than he had in years. Without realizing it, he was whistling the theme to Phyllis’s television show.