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Purrfect Bouquet

Mysteries of Max 56

Hair of the Cat That Bit You

As so often happens, I was faced with several problems at once. It required multitasking and I have to admit I’m not an ace in that department. First Odelia received an urgent request from a young woman who was the victim of a vicious slander campaign aimed at destroying her professional reputation. As she started looking into this, things became more complicated when a murder was committed in connection with a local winery. Suddenly it was all paws on deck to find the killer.

Meanwhile Marge felt that her husband and mother had started drinking too much, and imposed a ban on alcohol and sent both Tex and Gran to AA meetings in town. On top of this, Shanille had suddenly vanished without a trace, causing Harriet to take over cat choir, which ended up creating its own problems. Suffice it to say I had my paws full once again. Lucky for me I had a capable assistant in Dooley.

Chapter One

Cat choir is one of those laid-back affairs I very much look forward to each and every day. In fact if it weren’t for cat choir, I don’t know if my life would be half as enjoyable as it is now. Now don’t be fooled by the addition of the word ‘choir’ in cat choir. I know it looks like a choir when a bunch of cats get together to mewl and meow and generally make a huge caterwauling nuisance of themselves, but in actual fact the singing is a mere excuse for us to socialize and shoot the breeze.

And so it was that the sun had finally set on a glorious day, and that our humans were getting ready to go to bed. Teeth were being brushed, the closing credits on movies and TV shows were rolling, curtains were being pulled, and amid all this hubbub and activity, cats were using this opportunity to gobble up those final pieces of kibble, emptying those bowls before leaving the house and making their trek to the local park. Some of them made a detour, to chase some critter or sharpen those claws on some nearby tree, but in due course Hampton Cove’s cat population made its way en masse to the place to be: cat choir.

For as long as I remember, Shanille has led cat choir and has done an excellent job at it, too. Shanille is Father Reilly’s cat, you see, and since St. John’s Church boasts a long choral tradition, she must have gotten the idea from the great man himself. And very creative she is, too. Always has some new songs she wants us to try out, some new ideas she’s come up with. In fact it isn’t too much to say that Shanille lives and breathes cat choir. In other words: she is cat choir personified.

Which is why it came as something of a shock to us when we arrived at the park and discovered that Shanille wasn’t amongst those present at all!

We rehearse in the park’s playground, you see. During the daytime the place is filled with the sounds of frolicking kids having fun, but at night it’s our turn, much to the neighbors’ chagrin, I might add. Oddly enough the same category of people who hate kids also seem to hate cats, but still prefer living in houses overlooking playgrounds and places where kids and cats like to gather. I guess they must be closet masochists, but don’t quote me on that since I’m not a licensed shrink.

As I looked around now, I saw that the jungle gym was there, and so was the seesaw, the swing and the merry-go-round, but of our illustrious and indefatigable conductor there was not a single trace—Shanille was late!

“Where is Shanille, Max?” asked Dooley, who’d also become aware of the marked absence of one usually so undeniably and emphatically present.

“I have no idea,” I admitted.

“Maybe she’s been delayed,” Brutus suggested.

“Or maybe she’s sick,” Harriet said, a touch of hope in her voice.

Harriet and Shanille’s relationship may best be described as fraught with a certain measure of rivalry. They both consider themselves Hampton Cove’s First Feline Females or FFF’s, and as we all know you can’t have two FFF’s, the same way you only have one BFF. Their former enmity has morphed into a tenuous truce, especially since they both have important roles to play that they’ve claimed for their own: Shanille as cat choir’s fearless leader and grande dame and Harriet as its lead soprano, also known as its prima donna.

I guess you could argue that you can’t have two divas in the same ensemble, but so far Shanille and Harriet have managed to make it work. In a sense.

“I bet she’ll show up soon,” I said, trying to take the optimistic view.

“And I’ll bet she’s home being sick as a dog,” said Harriet with relish.

“Why do they always say ‘sick as a dog,’ Max?” asked Dooley. “Why not sick as a cat, or sick as a rabbit? Is it because dogs are more often sick than we are?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. The matter wasn’t my top priority at that moment. Locating Shanille was. For a choir without a conductor isn’t much of a choir at all.

“If she doesn’t show up soon, we won’t have a choir tonight!” said Brutus.

“She’ll show up,” I said. “She has to.” In all the time I’d known her, Shanille had never missed a rehearsal even once.

“Do you think we can be sick as dogs?” asked Dooley, who liked to march to the beat of his own drum. “Cats aren’t dogs. So we can’t be sick like dogs, can we?”

“No, I guess we can’t,” I said.

“We can be ‘sick as a cat,’” he continued. “But not ‘sick as a dog’ or ‘sick as a rabbit,’ or even ‘sick as a mouse.’ It just stands to reason, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” I said, though I was starting to find this conversation a little trying.

“Oh, there she is,” said Brutus, as a feline female hove into view.

“That’s not Shanille,” said Harriet. “That’s Samantha.”

“Oh, right.”

And so the long wait began. I’m not sure if you know this, but not all cats possess the virtue of patience. Harriet, for one, most definitely does not, and neither does Brutus. Dooley, because he often inhabits an alternate universe, is better equipped to deal with these matters. As for myself, I find that it helps if you think of something else entirely. And so I started to imagine what I would find in my food bowl when we got home that night. Odelia likes to change things up, you see. She knows that always eating the same thing gets tedious after a while.

“Look, it’s Kingman,” said Brutus, causing me to emerge from that perennial discussion about whether I like chicken best or turkey.

Kingman now came waddling up to us, looking distinctly distraught.

“The worst thing happened!” he cried even before he reached us.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dooley immediately. “Has the world ended?!”

“No, the world hasn’t ended,” said Kingman, breathing stertorously as he plunked himself down. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if it will. Shanille is gone!”

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?” I asked.

“I dropped by the church earlier, so we could walk here together, as we often do, and she wasn’t there!”

I relaxed. This wasn’t as bad as I thought. “That doesn’t mean she’s gone, Kingman. That means she’s gone out somewhere.”

“But Shanille never goes out! Where would she even go?!”

He was right, of course. Cats rarely go places. We’re your essential homebodies, never happier than adhering to our fixed routines and enjoying the creature comforts of our own wonderful little homes.

“Maybe Father Reilly decided to take a vacation?” I ventured.

The large cat gave me a look of exasperation. “Father Reilly never goes on vacation! His parishioners need him! Just like cat choir needs Shanille!”

“Maybe they’ve been abducted by aliens,” Dooley suggested. “Or maybe Father Reilly has gone to Rome. Don’t priests go to Rome to be with the Pope?”

“They do,” Kingman confirmed, “but at least she could have told me!”

“Could be that Shanille had an accident,” said Harriet with a light shrug.

“I say we organize a search party,” said Brutus. “Save Shanille!”

“I’m sure she’ll be here any moment,” I said, trying to inject some reason into the conversation, which was getting a little out of hand, I felt.

More cats had turned up, and the sound of nervous conversation filled the air. The distinct lack of conductor hadn’t escaped anyone’s attention, and cats being cats, all possible explanations were being entertained. Shanille had joined a cult and moved to India. Or Shanille had been abducted and was being held for ransom by a gang of catnappers. Though the most original theory was that she had been snapped up by Hollywood, and had moved to LA to star in a movie about her life.

“As if,” Harriet scoffed when this possibility was suggested to her. “Shanille’s life isn’t interesting enough to be turned into a movie.” She cleared her throat and raised her voice. “Listen up, you guys! Unfortunately Shanille won’t be joining us tonight. So as her second-in-command I’m going to take over. If you could please all take your positions, we’ll start with some warm-up exercises for the voice!”

These warm-up exercises apparently consisted of using the full range of our vocal cords and projecting as loudly as possible and as far as possible. The upshot was that within five minutes windows on all sides of the park were being opened, angry heads were being thrust out, and voices were raised in anger, with a few of those hanging from their windows even throwing the odd shoe in our direction.

Personally I wouldn’t have minded being pelted in the lower back with a nice sneaker—an Air Jordan, for instance, or an Allen Edmonds. I could even go for a soft Yeezy. But instead I got an old army boot for my trouble. It was big and bulky—not to mention smelly—and not a nice way to start the evening!

Around me, more footwear started raining down, causing cat choir to cut its session short for once. And so Harriet’s vocal warm-up exercises, which had sounded like such a good idea, turned out not to be such a good idea after all. And when a police siren sounded in the distance, drawing closer, we decided to skedaddle.

“I hope Shanille is all right,” said Dooley as we made a run for it.

“I’m sure she is,” I said, as I dodged a pair of Chuck Taylors.

This unexpected hailstorm of shoes didn’t bode well for the future, though.

“This is an outrage,” Harriet gasped as she barely escaped an incoming Mary Jane. “We should file a complaint against these people! For assault and battery!”

“I’m not sure throwing a shoe at a cat is in the penal code,” I said.

“Well, it should be! If they can’t guarantee our safety, at the very least they should give us our own rehearsal space. A nice big conference hall, for instance.”

Somehow I doubted whether the powers that be could be enticed to give the cats of Hampton Cove access to a conference hall. Then again, I wouldn’t want to spend all my nights indoors. Part of why I like cat choir so much is that it takes place in the great outdoors.

“Maybe we should move to the woods,” Brutus suggested as he ducked an Ugg. “Plenty of space out there, and no annoying neighbors to give us any grief.”

“I don’t like the woods,” Dooley intimated with a shiver. “They’re dark and creepy and full of animals!”

“You’re an animal, Dooley,” Brutus reminded him. “We’re all animals.”

“Yeah, but the animals that live in the woods are wild animals!”

He had a point, of course. After millennia of sharing humans’ homes I guess we have become domesticated to some extent. Being released into the wild would come as a big shock to most of the members of cat choir. Having to fend for ourselves, and forage for food and such. “Dooley is right,” I said therefore. “The woods are no place for a couple of nice, civilized cats like us. The woods are dangerous, and full of wild creatures who wouldn’t take kindly to our presence.”

You’ll be gratified to know that we finally made it out of the park alive, though it was a narrow escape. And as we wended our way home, Dooley reminded us of more pressing matters than escaping these shoe-throwing anti-cat zealots.

“We have to find Shanille,” he said. “She could be in big trouble.”

Chapter Two

Marge Poole was surprised to find that she was the first one out of bed that morning. When she arrived in the kitchen and didn’t find her mom sipping from a cup of coffee, she glanced through the window, but instead of the usual sight of Vesta pottering about in the backyard, busy with her trowel and her flowerbeds, the old lady wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Usually an early riser, Marge’s mom wasn’t in the living room either, nor had she taken the car and gone for a drive.

Figuring she’d probably gone for a stroll, Marge went about her business of getting ready for her day. And she’d already prepared breakfast and put a wash on when she wandered into the bedroom and saw that her hubby was still sound asleep, which was not his habit.

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead,” she called out therefore.

Tex mumbled something, then turned and went straight back to sleep.

Walking into her mother’s bedroom to put the laundry away, she discovered to her surprise that her mother was still in bed! Now that was odd—very odd!

“Ma, time to get up,” she said, as she opened the curtains with a vigorous movement and stood staring out through the window for a moment, as one does.

Behind her, nothing stirred, and when she glanced over, she saw that her mother hadn’t moved an inch. She was sleeping on her back, her mouth half open.

A sudden fear gripped Marge, and she crossed the distance to the bed in two seconds, then stared down hard at the gray-haired old lady. But her chest was still rhythmically rising and falling, and soft snores emanated from her lips, so Marge relaxed, stilling her wildly beating heart and telling herself not to be silly. Her mother might not be as young as she liked to think, but she wasn’t that old either!

It was ten minutes later when she was taking an empty bottle into the garage and opening the appropriate receptacle so she could deposit it amongst its discarded colleagues when she saw no less than three wine bottles in the bin.

She blinked. Now where had those come from? She wasn’t a big drinker, and neither was Tex. Mostly they drank a little wine with dinner, and even then only on the weekends or on special occasions, so the only person who could have put those bottles there was her mother. Which might go a long way to explaining why she was still in bed instead of getting up at the crack of dawn as she usually did.

Three bottles—but she couldn’t possibly have drunk all three of them last night, could she?

Marge thought hard. When was the last time she had looked into this container? Must have been a couple of days ago—a week at the most. Still, three bottles in perhaps just as many days? That was one bottle of wine per evening!

Time to have a little talk with her mother about her drinking habits!

***

As Dooley and I accompanied our human to work—work for Odelia, that is, nap time for us—my mind was still busy trying to come up with a reason for Shanille’s absence last night. There could be a perfectly simple explanation, of course. In fact this idea of Father Reilly having gone on holiday and deciding to take his cat along was the most probable one. You see, Father Reilly, against the strictures of his church, had consorted with his housekeeper Marigold—if consort is the word I want—and from this illicit union in due course offspring had sprung.

The good priest, now having a little flock of his own to care for, had decided not so long ago to be a man of the cloth no more, and to leave his bigger flock of parishioners to some as yet unknown successor. All this so he could make an honest woman out of Marigold. And what do humans do when they have a wife and kids? They go on holiday. And if they’re halfway decent humans beings, like Father Reilly most certainly is, they take their pets along with them.

So that’s what must have happened. And in spite of Kingman’s protestations that Shanille would have told him if such was the case, perhaps Shanille hadn’t known herself that these plans were being made. Unlike Odelia some pet parents don’t bother consulting their pets when they make their holiday plans, you see. One moment you’re happily dozing in your favorite spot, and the next you’re being shoved into a pet carrier and taken along on some long-haul holiday!

But even as we settled down in our corner of the office, ready to while away the morning by taking a nice long nap, I wondered if we shouldn’t be out there looking for our friend. This holiday thing was all well and good, but cats being cats, someone would have seen them leave on this much-coveted outing. So shouldn’t we at least ask around? Put our minds at ease? But then I decided that Shanille wouldn’t want that. She wouldn’t want her friends getting all worked up and roaming the streets trying to find her.

“I think Shanille must have found herself a different choir,” said Dooley, whose mind had been working along more or less the same lines as mine, but had clearly arrived at a different conclusion. “Remember how she told us two nights ago that we didn’t have what it took? That we were a bunch of amateurs and why was she wasting her great talent on the likes of us?”

I frowned at my friend. “I’d totally forgotten about that,” I admitted.

“She even said that by rights she should have been snapped up by now by some enterprising impresario to conduct an internationally-renowned choir.”

“It’s true,” I said. “She even said she might look for one herself.” Immediately my mood lightened to a not inconsiderable degree. “Yes, that must be it. She must have gone to look for some prestigious choir to conduct. Some famous outfit.”

Something along the lines of the Cornell University Choir. Or the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. These were the kinds of choirs Shanille often referred to, claiming they were the absolute tippity top, and something for us to aspire to, before throwing up her paws in despair when we actually started singing.

“Oh, well,” said Dooley. “Harriet will have to fill in for now, won’t she?”

My mood dropped again, and I rubbed the painful spot in my rear where that big boot had connected. “If Harriet becomes the new conductor of cat choir we’re going to have to get Odelia to buy us a suit of armor,” I grumbled. “To protect us from the shoes these darn neighbors will be throwing at us.”

“We could always skip the vocal warm-up,” Dooley suggested.

And I’m sure a lot more could have been said on the topic, but at that moment a couple walked into the office, and asked if they could have a word with our human. So we pricked up our ears, and switched to listening mode.

“Sure,” said Odelia pleasantly, and offered the couple a seat. “What can I do for you?”

They were both fairly young. Early to mid-twenties at the most. And they were a handsome couple, the woman fair-haired and blue-eyed, and the man dark-haired and brown-eyed. They looked athletic and were dressed in casual clothes: jeans and sweaters.

“We have a problem,” the man said. “And we’ve been told that you might be able to help us.”

He spoke with a faint accent which, if I wasn’t mistaken, could have been French.

“Maybe we should introduce ourselves first,” said the woman. “My name is Stephanie Felfan—though everyone calls me Steph. And this is my husband Jeff Felfan.”

“Odelia Kingsley,” said Odelia. “But I’m guessing you already knew that.”

“The thing is,” said Steph, “that I’m in something of a pickle. You see, I’m a fashion designer, or at least that’s what I want to be. It’s what I studied. And recently a job became available at one of the country’s hottest new fashion labels, WelBeQ, which is located in LA. So I sent in my resume and as you can imagine I was over the moon when they offered me the position. Assistant to the head designer at WelBeQ. So a week passes, and we’re already making all the necessary arrangements, when suddenly I get an email that they’ve changed their mind, and that they’re going in a different direction. I ask them what happened, but total radio silence. They won’t respond to my emails, when I try to call them I can’t get anyone on the phone. Complete blackout. So I’m shocked, right? Of course I am.”

“What is a welbeck, Max?” asked Dooley, interrupting Steph’s story.

“A famous fashion brand,” I said.

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“Me neither,” I said.

At the sound of our voices, Steph smiled and glanced in our direction. “Oh, will you look at those two cuties! Are they yours?”

“They are,” said Odelia. “The big one is Max, and the smaller one is Dooley.”

“They’re absolutely adorable,” said Steph. “Aren’t they adorable, Jeff?”

“Very adorable,” said Jeff, and pronounced adorable the way the French do.

“My husband is French,” Steph explained. “We met in Paris, when I studied at the fashion academy there.”

“Oh, so you’re also a fashion designer?” asked Odelia.

“Oh, no,” said Steph with a laugh.

“I’m a banker,” said Jeff. “Not one ounce of designer blood.”

“We like to joke that he’ll bankroll me so I can start my own label.”

“But I’m not a very good banker, I’m afraid,” said Jeff. “I’m a poor banker. I don’t have the money to bankroll Steph’s career. But maybe one day.”

“Jeff works for the Capital First Bank in Manhattan,” Steph explained.

“As a lowly employee,” said Jeff. “Not the bank’s manager, unfortunately.”

As it transpired, the couple had met in Paris, but had soon moved to New York, where Jeff found a well-paying job with the main branch of the Capital First Bank. But even though they lived in the fashion capital of the country, Steph’s dream was to move back to France and work for one of the big labels in Paris.

“But you’re not originally from Paris, are you?” asked Odelia.

“Oh, no. My parents live in Hampton Cove,” said Steph. “Ian and Raimunda Stewart? They run the Stewart Winery, one of the biggest on Long Island.”

“Oh, right!” said Odelia. “Of course. I did a piece on your family’s winery once.”

“I know,” said Steph with a smile. “My mom framed it and put it on the wall of her office. She does the winery’s PR, while my dad runs the company, along with my brother Kevin.”

“But you’re not bitten by the wine bug?”

“Absolutely not. I don’t know why, but I always wanted to be a designer. And lucky for me Mom and Dad have supported me from the start to follow my own heart and carve my own path, and not feel obligated to follow in their footsteps.”

“Okay, and so now you want to move to LA and start to work for WelBeQ and for some reason they first hired you, then changed their mind,” said Odelia.

“That’s right. And the worst part was that they wouldn’t tell me why. So I finally decided to drop it, figuring maybe it just wasn’t for me. And then yesterday, out of the blue, I get a call from someone who works in the HR department at WelBeQ. It wasn’t an official call, and she wouldn’t give me her name, but she read my emails, and said she was under strict instructions from the legal department not to respond. But she must have felt sorry for me, which is why she called.” She took a deep breath. “Turns out someone launched a smear campaign against me.”

“Someone did what?” asked Odelia, her astonishment obvious.

“A smear campaign. In the final round, there were only two candidates left for the job: me and a guy called Edmundo Crowley. And so when they selected me, someone sent them a bunch of pictures of me, passed out drunk on the couch, Zoe on the floor next to me.”

“Zoe?”

“Our baby girl,” said Steph. “She’ll be nine months next week.” A brief smile flitted across her face. “For the record, I never, ever passed out drunk—ever. These pictures are obviously doctored. They were sent from an anonymous email account, and the story they were trying to convey was that I’m an unfit mother, an alcoholic, that I was a troublemaker, and probably a drug addict.”

“Did she send you the email?”

“She did. It’s disgusting—and completely fake, of course. But from their point of view I can understand why they decided to go with the other candidate.”

“Who sent the email? Any idea?”

“I have a pretty good idea who sent it,” said Steph, her expression hardening.

“Crowley,” said Jeff. “He is the candidate Steph was competing against.”

“He’s the one who got the job when they ditched me,” Steph clarified. “And I’m pretty sure he’s the one who launched this campaign against me to damage my reputation. I mean, who else can it be?”

“Did the person who called you tell you this?” asked Odelia.

“I asked her, and she said she couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but she thought it must be Crowley. At least that’s the consensus among her colleagues.”

“There must be something you can do. Did you sign a contract?”

“Verbal agreement only. I was going to sign the contract on my first day.”

“I see,” said Odelia thoughtfully. “So what—”

“I want you to look into this email business. Find out who’s behind it. And if it is Crowley I want to expose him, and file a complaint against him. And then I will go to WelBeQ and tell them what’s going on.”

“You still want to work for them?”

“Of course! This is my dream job. WelBeQ may not be one of the major fashion houses, but they have a great reputation as an innovative brand. They just might be the next Fenty. You know, Rihanna’s brand? And if I can get in from the start, it’s going to do wonders for my career. So yeah, I still want to work for them. And I want to prove that they picked the wrong candidate.”

“It’s not right that this Crowley got in by slandering Steph’s reputation,” said Jeff. “And if WelBeQ think she’s an unreliable person, they might spread the word and talk to other companies, and very soon she will become unhirable.”

“Which is why I want you to find out if it’s really Edmundo Crowley who’s behind this,” said Steph. “To prove it somehow, so I can do something about it.”

Chapter Three

“It’s a nasty business, Max,” said Dooley. “Slandering the reputation of a nice girl like Steph. Who would do such a thing? It’s not okay.”

I smiled. “You’re absolutely right, Dooley. It’s not okay.”

“And all this just to get a job. There should be a law against that kind of thing.”

“I’m sure there is. But first we need to figure out who’s behind this campaign.”

A day had passed since Steph and Jeff had paid us a visit in the office, and now we were in the car with Odelia, cruising along the Long Island Expressway and making great progress. Odelia’s old pickup was being overtaken by bigger, faster, newer cars, but she didn’t mind. As long as it got us from point A—Hampton Cove—to point B—the residence of Edmundo Crowley—that was all that mattered.

The moment Steph and Jeff Felfan had left the office, Odelia had consulted with her editor Dan Goory. The white-bearded newspaperman had given his wholehearted approval to do what lay in our power to help the Felfans. They both sniffed a great story, and if it tied in with the Stewart Winery, that was even better. They might be able to launch a series of articles about the incident.

Odelia had phoned Mr. Crowley, and the man had agreed to do an interview. In fact it wasn’t too much to say he was flattered when a reporter called him and complimented him on his achievements as a budding designer. A little flattery never hurts when talking to ambitious people like Steph’s alleged nemesis.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t have asked Chase to come along?” asked Dooley. “Just in case this Mr. Crowley proves to be a dangerous individual, I mean?”

“I doubt that he’s dangerous,” said Odelia. “He’s a fashion designer, not an ax murderer.”

“One doesn’t exclude the other,” Dooley insisted. “But just so you know: Max and I have your back, Odelia. The moment the man turns homicidal, we’ll pounce.”

“Good to know,” said Odelia with a smile.

I have to say I admired her courage. It’s not always easy to go and talk to complete strangers. You never know what you’ll find. Like Dooley said, maybe reporters should travel in pairs, just like police officers, just in case.

Edmundo Crowley lived in Brooklyn, though if Steph was to be believed, not for very much longer. In fact we probably caught him just in time, as he was moving to LA soon, to start work for WelBeQ. A quick perusal of the man’s apartment, once we got there, bore out my theory: suitcases were on his bedroom floor, his cupboards looked as if they’d been ransacked, clothes strewn about indiscriminately, and generally the place looked as if a minor tornado had recently landed there and done some serious damage.

“Moving, Mr. Crowley?” asked Odelia, showing what a keen reporter’s eye she had. She was sitting in front of the young man, tablet in hand, ready to write down the pearls of wisdom that were about to fall from the designer’s lips. Contrary to the state of his lodgings, the designer himself looked more like an accountant than a hot young artiste. Perhaps for this special occasion, he was dressed in an off-white shirt and tie and perfectly pressed and creased black pants, and even his shoes looked polished. He wore designer glasses and his hair was neatly coiffed.

“Yes, I’m sorry about the mess,” he said, taking a seat. “I’m starting a new job soon, so I’ve been packing.”

“A new job. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, I was accepted at WelBeQ,” said Edmundo with not a little bit of pride. “They’re one of the hottest new brands on the market, but I’m sure you know all about that, being a fashion reporter and all.”

Odelia smiled a sweet smile. “About that, I was contacted recently by Stephanie Felfan. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her?”

The transformation was remarkable. The kind demeanor was instantly replaced by a cagey expression. “Stephanie Felfan?” he asked with a touch of suspicion.

“Yes, she was also in the running for the job as WelBeQ, same as you. She was even accepted and was offered the position. But then suddenly she got a message that there had been a mistake, and that she wasn’t moving to LA after all.”

“I see,” said the young man, as he pushed his glasses up his nose. “I’m afraid I’ve never heard of this person. Stephanie Felfan, did you say?”

“That’s right. So Stephanie did a little digging, and turns out that you took the job that was initially promised to her. And what’s more, the reason WelBeQ decided to go in a different direction is because some very damaging information about Stephanie found its way into their mailbox.”

The man frowned in confusion. “Is that so?”

“It is. And what’s more, she seems to think that one of the other candidates may have launched a smear campaign against her, trying to remove her from the equation. And so obviously this has her wondering who this person might be.”

“Of course,” said Edmundo, nodding. “If something like that happened to me, I’d also want to know who was behind it.” He shrugged. “It’s all news to me, I’m afraid, Mrs. Kingsley. No one at WelBeQ told me anything about the other candidates. I never even met the people at WelBeQ face to face, since everything was done over Zoom. So I’m afraid I can’t help you.” The frown returned. “So… if I understand you correctly, you’re here on behalf of this… Stephanie Felfan?”

“Yes, I am,” said Odelia. “Steph had her hopes set on this job, you see, and when it fell through, she was devastated.”

“Oh, but I understand,” said Edmundo, nodding. “It’s a great opportunity.”

“So… you’re saying you don’t know anything about this smear campaign?”

“That’s correct,” Edmundo confirmed. “I don’t know anything about it. They kept us totally in the dark about the other candidates or even if there were other candidates. I assumed there were, of course, since the opportunity was so great, but as I said, I never met any of them and didn’t even know their names.”

“I understand,” said Odelia thoughtfully.

I had the impression that the designer was a little disappointed that the reporter hadn’t come to ask him about his stellar career as a promising young talent. But if he was, he was exceedingly decent about it. “It must have come as a great shock to your friend that she wasn’t hired by WelBeQ,” he said kindly. “And if I were in her shoes, I’d probably want to know what happened, too.”

“It was her dream job,” said Odelia simply.

“As it is for me,” said Edmundo.

Copyright © 2022 by Nic Saint