DESIGNED FOR DEATH
I opened my condo door to a runway model in stiletto heels and a short little scrap of a dress that fit her like the peel on a banana.
“Hi, the name’s Treasure,” she said, holding out a hand to me, her pristine, fire-red nails tipped down. “Are you Deva Dunne?” Mouth agape, I wrapped my fingers around hers then instantly let go and stuffed my hands in my pockets.
“Yes, I am.” I eyed her skirt. I like mine short, too, but this one barely covered the essentials. Barely being the operative word. “What can I do for you?”
She flashed a megawatt smile. “Dick sent me. I just bought Unit 301 on the top floor.”
Now everything fell into place, and I nodded. It was a miracle Dick Parker, the owner of the building, hadn’t given her a condo free. He loved women, though he’d lived a married man’s life for years.
“Dick told me you’re an interior designer,” she continued, “and, boy, do I need one.”
I cleared my throat, doing my best to blink out her dramatic appearance and concentrate on what she was saying. “Well, I am a designer, but I haven’t been working at it lately.”
“Oh?” Her star-quality smile dimmed. “Dick said you were redoing the Surfside condos he has up for sale.”
I shrugged and ran my tongue along my straight teeth. Four teenage years in braces had given me a smile like hers, right? “Just as a favor, to help him out.”
“He’s not paying you?” Her eyes swept wide open. “How terrible.”
Dick was up against it financially, but I didn’t think I should mention that. Or that shortly after moving in, I found out he planned to put pink flamingoes on the lawn. I told myself good taste was nothing more than educated timidity… Still, plastic birds. My God. The possibility that a flock of them might roost outside my windows had forced me to plunge back into my design role, which might have been a good thing. Until I healed from Jack’s death, I wouldn’t be fit to tackle a paying job. Though when the healing would begin, I had no idea. Maybe never. So for now at least, redoing Surfside Condominiums was keeping me sane.
Treasure peered over my shoulder, taking peeks at my foyer. I opened the door a bit more to make it easier for her.
“Would you like to come in?” I hadn’t had a single visitor since I’d moved to Naples three months earlier, and the silence was getting deafening.
“Jeez. I thought you’d never ask.”
I smiled and stepped aside. She strutted in, sank onto my couch and crossed her legs. The miniskirt rode up to the top of her thighs.
I pressed my lips together, sat on a club chair and kept my eyes north of her skirt hem. She pointed a finger at my Irish hunt board. “Old stuff like this is so cool, but it doesn’t add up to guy space.” She twirled a strand of long black hair around the same finger and eyed me inquisitively. “Any men in your life?”
I gulped and shook my head, sorry I’d invited her in. Questions about my love life were like drive-by bullets. I had no defense against them. Moisture welled under my lids. I clenched my jaw and jutted out my chin. No way would I let the tears flow. “Not anymore.”
“Oh, dear. Was it the Big D?”
Unable to speak, I nodded. Who was this woman, anyway? Asking me hurtful questions five minutes after we met.
“Divorce is hell,” she went on. “When I broke up with my significant other, I thought he’d commit suicide. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”
I cleared my throat. “I haven’t been divorced.”
“But you broke up—”
“My husband died. Eight months and five days ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She sounded as if she really meant it.
“I am, too.” Sorrier than I could possibly express. Death was the real breakup from hell, but I would not, I would not cry. She flicked a hand. “Honey, I’m sure you’ll find somebody else to love someday. A doll like you with curly red hair and big hazel eyes.”
All I wanted, all I had ever wanted, was Jack. But her face was brimming with sympathy, and though she’d probed my wound and drawn blood, she was trying to comfort me. I couldn’t hate her for that.
She looked around my peach and taupe living room. “You know, these peach walls are great with your coloring, but…” One of her long nails tapped her chin.
Snapping into designer mode, I added, “You wouldn’t be happy with this look. Your personality calls for something different.” I was relieved to change the subject. At least I was good at designing if not at holding on to the love of my life. She laughed. “Yeah, different sounds about right. I sure am different.”
Intrigued, I pressed on. “So what do you have in mind?”
“You ready for this?” She leaned forward. “I want an Old Hollywood look. Glamorous, all white and ivory, with a few silver screen touches. Like any minute Bogart could step out of the bedroom.”
“Hollywood?” I hadn’t done anything remotely like a Tinseltown look before, and a spurt of interest welled up, catching me off guard. It had been months since a creative spark ignited my imagination. It felt good. Damn good. “Could be fun,” I admitted.
“Yeah. I want everything clean. You know, pure looking.” She hesitated a moment then blurted out, “You probably would never guess, but I used to be an exotic dancer.”
“No kidding? You don’t look it,” I lied. Actually, she looked flamboyant enough to set a stage on fire.
“Well, before I left showbiz for good, I changed my act. Got rid of the python I used to dance with.” She brushed a speck of dust off her low-cut top. “You know, classed things up. Now I want to forget that life. Start over with a brand-new look. All white. Clean, cold and fresh.”
“You don’t mean everywhere? On everything?”
“Yeah, I do.”
I tested the waters. “How about colored movie posters?”
She wrinkled her nose. “No.”
“Patterned accent rugs?”
“Pastel throw pillows?” I was grasping at straws here.
I resisted the urge to smile. “You’re one stubborn lady.”
She smoothed her skirt an inch closer to her knees. “So guys have told me.”
As an interior designer, I was part taste-setter, part psychologist and part color theorist. And according to the principles of color theory, what Treasure wanted was a return to innocence. Maybe even to virginity. I blew out a breath. No telling how far back that would go.
One thing for certain, her insistence on pure white was too extreme to be accidental. As we chatted over iced tea, she told me what she had in mind. “White walls and trim, the palest retro shag rug you can find, white silk couches. Ditto for the flowers. I like oleander. Orchids, too. Oh, and white candles on all the glass tables. What do you think?” she asked, noisily sucking up the last of her tea through a straw.
“It sounds overwhelming. On a hot, sunny day, the place will be blinding. And how many days in Florida aren’t sunny?”
“I don’t care how light it gets. That’s the look I’m after.”
Why not? Pleasing the client was the name of the game, and as Treasure revealed her plans for her new home, she looked so happy and excited I caved in then and there. Life ought to be happy, and if I could make hers sing in white, why resist for the sake of some design standard she wouldn’t give two cents for? Besides, with her showbiz looks, she’d be the focal point of every pale room.
“Okay, let’s go for it,” I said, plunging in. “Pure white will set you off beautifully. You’ll be the center of attention.” And not incidentally, I’d have a paying job for the first time in months, and a reason to get up in the morning.
“You’ve caught it, Deva! It’ll be like a movie set.” She swept her arms wide and treated me to a giant I’ve-just-been-discovered smile. “That’s my goal. To be a star for the rest of my life, and you’ll be the star maker. The Cecil B. DeMille of Surfside Condominiums.”
I sipped my tea and looked at Jack’s picture framed on the wall.
Hey, Jack, I’m going into showbiz.
What a hoot. I caught myself laughing for the first time all year. And this was August.