Killing the Kordovas - Kathryn Lively - ebook

WARNING: This book contains rough language, spoilers for a possible sequel to Judy Blume’s Blubber, suggested lyrics for the theme to Sanford and Son, and one very mixed-up romance author.Words come easily to writer Danni Hewitt. If only success did the same. The news of America’s latest reality sweetheart inking a major book deal sends Danni spiraling into depression, to the point where the idea of soothing her jealousy with a murderous rampage appeals to her.Of course, this requires getting close enough to Krystal Kordova and her family to draw blood, something Danni achieves when she manages to land a job as Krystal’s ghostwriter.Is the pen deadlier than the sword? Stick with Danni and find out.

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Killing the Kordovas

Kathryn Lively

Killing the Kordovas copyright 2013 by Kathryn Lively

All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Virginia Beach, VA

Contact for extra copies.

First Edition – September, 2013

Produced in the United States of America

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Also by Kathryn Lively

Little Flowers

Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery

Rock Deadly

Rock Til You Drop

The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo

For all the writers.

Table of Contents

Part One: Tainted Love

Part Two: Mama Said Knock You Out

Part Three: God’s Away on Business

Part Four: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

Part Five: Who Know Which is Which...

Part One: Tainted Love

Okay, before I get started here I need to take an informal poll. How many people here have read Delilah in Pastels? Show of hands, even the wait staff...gotta make sure we’re thorough here. Wow, that many. And you all liked it? Even the people raising their hands who didn’t read the book or never heard of it, just so they don’t feel left out? You liked that piece of shit book, too?

Well, congratulations. You guys are basically spearheading the downfall of civilization as we know it. I’m serious. You do realize the soccer mom hack who wrote that steaming pile of horse crap can’t spell to save her life, right? Okay, I apologize. “Write” probably isn’t the proper word to use here, because I know writers, and am I a writer. Writers actually invest thought and planning into a project, whereas Cindy Shore basically set a sheet of tracing paper over somebody else’s book and outlined all the sentences.

We can say this out loud, it’s okay. She wrote fan fiction about a book, and turned it into a book. Can you believe that shit? And publishers were falling at her feet to contract her because she decided somebody else’s chaste, otherworldly wizards weren’t having enough sex to satisfy the public. Totally understandable. You know, I can remember when I went to a launch party for one of the Levi St. Cloud books...with my third-grader...thinking, “Gee, that last book was sorely lacking in butt sex and see-through blouses. I hope...I hope this one makes up for it. How else is my little Jimmy going to learn about safe words and nipple clamps? His father sure as hell can’t tell which hole is which.”

So, yes. I am a writer. I am a romance writer by trade, can’t you tell by my flowery language this evening? I actually have one book published. Aw, thank you. That applause will definitely boost my bank account, by like twenty cents. You have one of those barcode scanners on your phone? You, sir? Because if you want to hold it up, I do have a QR code tattooed on my arm here that links to Amazon where you can download the eBook. Isn’t this great? And I can write off this tat as a promotional expense. I’ll bet that Shore lady didn’t think of that!

I don’t normally tell people that I write romance, because when I do I always get that leering response. Especially from men. They’re like this... Soooo, you like to write the sex-ay, huh? Then they turn to my husband and give him the old wink and nudge, like he should be in traction for serving as my test subject for all the orgy scenes and hanging from the ceiling kink that I write. Let me explain something to you: if my husband and I were having incredible, wall-shaking sex as often as the characters in my books, there wouldn’t be any books, okay? I wouldn’t get out of bed, except maybe to brush my teeth, and gargle what I didn’t gargle in bed. Oh, yah, don’t knock it. What are you looking at me like that? If you’d read that in Delilah in Pastels I’d bet you’d have pictures of you doing it on your Facebook.

You know what turns my husband on? Royalty statements. Checks in the mail. I’m looking forward to the day I actually get one so I can measure his boner for accuracy.

And speaking of, the description of the hero in Delilah in Pastels is so unrealistic. I mean, really, I’m supposed to believe this Jarrell Colcord is a twenty-five-year-old self-made billionaire with thick, flaxen hair and bee-stung lips, an ass sculpted by a misunderstood Renaissance genius, and a cock so obviously modeled on God’s Himself because of its magnificence. Holy Christ, the way Shore goes on and on, waxing worshipful on Colcord’s mighty, magical Cock of Wonder. Indigenous tribes in third world countries share folk songs about this imaginary man’s penis, and how it will one day restore balance to nature. I’m recalling a scene now, in that book, where Delilah sees him naked for the first time and her eyes widen like saucers—you know that part, it’s only the first of six hundred fucking times the bitch does that in the book—and it’s not because she’s impressed. It’s because this poor girl is thinking how in the holy name of fuck is that going to fit! Jarrell Colcord is obviously half wildebeest or something, with a penis you’d have seen on the special mating episode of Wild Kingdom.

Oh, and the orgasms. I for one am amazed by the accuracy with which Cindy Shore records physical body functions. The first time Colcord comes in that book he’s pulsating loads and loads of liquid ecstasy into his de-flowered lover, and I’m reading this and thinking he must have had enough to paint the house. Did you read it? Of course you did, everybody and the Pope is reading this fucking book right now and thinking this is what happens during sex. Women are thinking a man exists who can pump out gallons of cum from his freaky monster penis. The NYFD needs this guy during fires; he can just whip it out and hose down buildings. What’s that, the Times Square billboards are on fire? Stand aside, Captain, I got this. Zzzzzip.

Billionaires...all the romance heroes are uber-rich in the books now. Nobody wants the schlep who works at Best Buy, sorry to you losers in the front row here. Well, who can blame a woman for wanting to fantasize about a guy with money, in this economy? I’m a starving artist, and I fantasize about the coffee shop barista handing out free samples of crumb cake. What I don’t get, though, is that in all these romance novels coming out the billionaires are incredibly sexy and they work out and their bodies are like Greek gods...and of course they have huge cocks. The Mighty Cock of NASDAQ, it predicts the market. It’s not realistic, though. Can you name one sexy, young billionaire? Who? Bill Gates? Would you honest to God fuck Bill Gates? Don’t lie...nooooo. If he didn’t have two cents to rub together you’d tell that Poindexter to go screw himself.

Where are the sexy billionaires? They’re all either old people seconds from their last breath or pasty Harvard drop-outs who list their World of Warcraft adventures as job experience. That guy who invented Facebook—he’s young, but sexy? Who, Richard Branson? Yeah, I’m sure he’d be a lot of fun but he looks like a sunburned Shar-Pei. Why do you think he spends so much time in space? He has a better chance of getting laid there with his looks. Space is a huge vacuum, too. That must work wonders on wrinkles—it’s the world’s most expensive facelift.

In all seriousness, though, I do aim for realism in the romances I write and fail to sell. Perhaps that’s why. Women are into hot ménage a trois stories right now. Novels about women who get it on with two men at once...yeah, she’s grinning and not telling, this one over here. Criminy, if I had two men in my bedroom the first thing we’d be doing is folding laundry. Two men who’d willingly clean my house—now there’s a turn-on...

* * * *

Danni remembered Joe’s advice: leave on the high notes. While the lights above prevented her from seeing too far into the crowd, their enthusiastic applause clearly declared she’d “killed.” With that last ménage joke leaving some in her audience gasping for breath, she bade goodnight with a short wave and shouldered past the tables surrounding the small comedy club stage. Franklin Ardell, the night’s emcee, shook her hand as they passed and offered a congratulatory wink. He’d encouraged her when the show began, and now beamed as though taking credit for her success.

“Give it up one more time for Danni Hewitt, ladies and gentlemen,” he called out on taking over the mic, pushing the crowd’s volume to eleven. “That right there is a first for this club: the woman with balls bigger than mine.”

“Don’t forget the double-D battery dick in my purse,” she called over her shoulder, then quick-stepped into the back waiting area near the kitchen with the other comedians performing tonight. Of the six on the bill tonight, she was the only amateur, and she wouldn’t have taken this leap if not for Joe Collins. She hadn’t known the man but forty or so hours, after he introduced himself at Artichoke Pizza. He’d overheard her ranting to a friend over the phone, and cornered her into parlaying her professional rage into an act.

“Look, if you bomb, I’ll buy the drinks,” he’d cajoled. “Do five minutes just in case you’re nervous, that way if you die people won’t think you wasted too much of their night.”

Squeezing past a waitress in a form-fitting t-shirt cut nearly to her nipples, Danni recalled the memory of that whirlwind encounter and her reaction. “I don’t do stand up. I write about romance, sex.”

“That’s good, work with it. All the best jokes are sex-related, especially if you’re not getting any.”

Danni could attest to that. She’d invented the husband and family for the act, and the genuine, self-deprecating rage over Cindy Shore’s literary success obviously came through in a humorous way.

“Fine,” she’d relented, “but you go on after me. That way you can spend your time apologizing for this horrible idea.”

So that’s how a failed romance novelist became a stand-up comic, coached by a nationally known comedian with two short-lived sitcoms under his Yankees belt buckle. Danni remained in the shadows and watched Joe mug his frustration over having to follow a woman with balls bigger than his, and wondered if two failures could cancel each other out.

* * * *

The tiny club emptied of patrons shortly after eleven. Joe asked Danni to hang around, and they’d have a drink while the wait staff cleaned up. She didn’t get too far from her hiding spot when a balding man in a gray suit approached.

“That was pretty good, young lady. Frank tells me this was your first time?”

“Yeah, and my first time on stage, too.” Danni wanted to cringe at the lame joke. It never occurred to her to have something witty for the guests to take home.

The man grunted, yet smiled as he did so. He handed her a business card. “When you get an hour of material, give me a call. We’re always looking for new talent for the late night shows.”

Danni’s mouth dried, but she recovered enough to protest as the man turned away. “Thanks, but I’m a romance writer. This was just a one-time gag.” For some reason, though, she couldn’t give back the card. After another week of publisher rejections, the idea that somebody appreciated something of hers buoyed her spirits. Maybe she’d frame the thing and hang it next to the copy of her first royalty check, which was worth less than what it cost to print the card she held.

Casino Man didn’t answer, but pointed to the card as though to predict she’d return for more—either here or at another club. Maybe so. Joe had been right about audience appreciation, for their applause proved addictive. Already she hungered for more.

Joe waited for her on the bench seat abutting the stage, a beer at his left hand and a chilled martini by the empty chair opposite him. “What did Gibby want?” he asked, nodding at Casino Man’s retreat.

“That’s a Gibby?” Danni hooked her thumb over her shoulder. “I think of a Gibby, I’m picturing a stoned teenager on Jones Beach waiting for the waves to turn green so he can go surf.”

“Harry Gibson. He scouts for the casinos. Got me a week at Foxwoods once. Never asked me back for some reason.”

“Was there a Mrs. Gibby you accidentally hit on?”

“Intentionally, but that’s neither here nor there. I had a good act.”

Danni set the card next to her drink as she sat. “Maybe he’ll get me into the Mohegan. I like their slots.”

If Joe had intended to mask his surprise with his beer mug, he blew it. He choked down a sip and took the card as though to confirm its authenticity. “Holy hell, woman. Did you blow the man without anybody seeing? Gibby doesn’t just give these out. I was working this club for three months before I got him to crack a smile.”

“I can’t do stand-up in casinos, or probably here anymore,” Danni said mournfully. “I don’t have an hour of material.” Ranting about Cindy Shore and her publishing woes would certainly get stale after a while, and her dissatisfaction with that could be summed up in one four-letter word.

Joe tapped the card on the table. “You know, when I saw you at Artichoke I said to myself, ‘Now there’s a fine piece of ass I’d like to ride.’ Now I want to ride your coattails.”

“Really? You thought that?” Danni couldn’t decide if she should feel flattered. She hardly considered herself a fine piece of anything, much less a stranger’s object of fantasy. “So...when you sat down at my table at Artichoke, that was just a come on. You had no expectation that I would do well here tonight.”

Joe shrugged. “I figured you’d bomb, then you’d cry on my shoulder. The ending had me getting lucky.”

“Quite a plan,” Danni mused, nodding, “says the man with an actual Wikipedia entry.” Of course it had crossed Danni’s mind that Joe was on the make. She’d lived in New York all her life and came into contact with celebrities of all castes. Few seemed worthy of a pedestal to her—and she probably would have told Joe to buzz off had she not craved some kind of distraction from this recent publishing funk. Even funnier, did Joe actually expect to get lucky if she’d bombed? Her first reaction might have been to kick the man in the balls for convincing her to try something so humiliating.

“Wikipedia ain’t paying my rent. This,” he held up the card, “isn’t a bad gig. If Gibby likes you, you’ll never want for work. You just need material...and a mentor.”

Heh. “Says the man who couldn’t get two sitcoms past the first season.” Yes, she hit below the belt, but a guy like Joe Collins could take it. She’d done some homework before she agreed to this night. Neither of Joe’s TV shows produced enough episodes to get syndication or DVD deals, which meant he probably had no residuals coming. His act tonight had been funny, though, so Danni couldn’t be certain what he wanted from her besides sex.

“Hey, if those network bozos had let me actually write the scripts, this would be an entirely different conversation,” he said. “Actually there wouldn’t be a conversation—”

“Because you’d be sunning your pasty Irish-American ass in LA right now, instead of MILF hunting in the West Village,” Danni broke in. “Fine. I can sympathize somewhat. Publishers like to tell people what they want, too.” Danni sipped at her martini. Dirty, how apropos for the romance writer.

“So, you liked being up there?” Joe cocked his head toward the stage. “You think you could do it again?”

Danni got out her phone and swiped the screen. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind giving it another try now that I’ve done it. Be honest, though, can I parlay sheer ranting about my writing aspirations into a career in comedy? All the good comics grow, and I’m afraid I’d be a one-note act.” Even that “you might be a redneck” guy changed up his jokes, she knew. Clearly the man realized cracks about inbred relatives had a shelf life.

“Okay then. Doesn’t have to happen, say, tomorrow, but the sooner you come back the less anxious you’ll feel onstage. You got any other ideas besides hating on this mommy porn book?”

“Have you read it? The whole damn thing is a joke.” Danni sighed. “If I had known you could simply change the names on fan fiction stories and get an agent right off the bat, I might have done it. Of course, I was never one follow trends. Everybody wants to read dirty stories about vampires and boy bands fucking each other. Me, I’d be writing new Cheers episodes.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t use that. I don’t think half the people here tonight were born when Cheers aired first run.”

“Now I feel like an old failure.”

Joe raised his eyebrows. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t need Viagra just yet.”

Danni ignored the remark and held up her phone to an article with the cover of Delilah in Pastels prominently displayed. “Look at this. Movie studios are lining up to rim this woman’s ass. How do you adapt a steaming turd for the screen?”

Joe held the mug to his lips. “That’s a question for Joe Eszterhas, not Collins,” he said before drinking.

Danni scrolled to read the rest of the gossip blog, then let out a loud expletive at the end, a word she never thought she’d say out loud. Even Joe turned red at that.

“I don’t believe this,” she said, and shoved the phone at him. She didn’t want to read again the notation at the bottom of the blog post, that Cindy Shore’s newly minted literary agent had just landed a book deal for an airhead reality TV star. Not just anyone, either, but the queen of all pseudo-celebrities, the famous-for-skin-flashing limousine exits Krystal Kordova.

It was enough that half of Joe’s act consisted of trashing the bimbo—this was another name Danni didn’t care much to hear on a regular basis. She couldn’t understand why the media fawned over Krystal Kordova and her equally annoying family. World leaders would die with little fanfare, yet one didn’t need to go far in Google to find out what any number of Kordovas had for breakfast that morning.

“Holly Reyes of the Wicke Literary Agency announces a major deal for client Krystal Kordova with the DePuy Publishing Group,” she read, then pocketed the phone before the temptation to hurl it across the club became too strong. “A major deal, Joe. At the very minimum she’s getting half a million dollars up front to write...what the hell is she going to write about?”

Joe kept a tight face and nodded. “I know what a major deal is, hon. It’s the type I’ve yet to receive.”

Danni wanted to vomit. An image of heavy-breasted Krystal Kordova, perched on a white leather chaise lounge with a yapping toy dog at her Jimmy Choo-ed heels, composing her magnum opus on a phone using her thumbs, loomed large in her mind. She doubted the dingbat would do much of the writing, anyway. DePuy would likely assign a ghostwriter to decipher endless text messages of LOL dialogue and pad up the storyline of a young woman encountering strife and internal conflict on the way to Bergdorf’s.

Joe’s hand palmed her shoulder and shook it slightly. “Darlin’, I feel for you. I really do. I’ve been handed enough shit sandwiches in my life, and the only thing I know how to do is turn my pain into humor. You do that, too, and you got an hour for a casino act.”

“I don’t want to be a stand-up comedian. I write novels.”

“Write novels then. Do comedy on the side. Find a channel for your anger somewhere.”

“I also don’t want to sleep with you, Joe.”

Joe didn’t blink, but Danni detected a hint of disappointment in his smile. “I didn’t ask.” Danni saw the yet in his expression, however.

“I want to kill somebody. What channel do I turn to?” she asked.

Joe removed his hand.

“I don’t know who, though. I can’t decide,” Danni continued. With Cindy Shore being Australian, that seemed less plausible than storming the offices of the Wicke Literary Agency and catching Holly Reyes in the middle of her morning snark, gleefully stamping pass notices on manuscripts written by people with skills. Krystal Kordova also lived in the City, albeit part time in a Westside condo shared with her family. Danni probably wouldn’t have trouble pinpointing her in a crowd.

How could one, though, kill a famous person and get away with it? In every instance of a celebrity homicide Danni recalled, the perpetrator was either caught or killed as well. Mark David Chapman waited for the cops with a book in hand. Phil Hartman’s wife committed suicide. O.J. Simpson went for a long, slow drive.

Well, people would debate that last one, but like the Juice, Danni wanted to walk away.

“Holy shit,” said Joe. “You’re seriously thinking about it.”

Danni popped back to the present and pouted. “What?”

“Don’t bullshit me, I see those gears working.” Joe twirled a finger in her face. “You’re plotting.”

“So what if I am? This is your chance to escape, like you want to get mixed up with some crazy broad.”

“Will there be drinks afterward, and who’s buying?”

“Such wit. I can’t believe Foxwoods hasn’t asked you back.” Danni’s fingers flexed and she brought out her phone again to call a cab. Swiping the screen brought her back to the gossip, which now advertised Krystal Kordova’s latest branding event, a perfume launch.

She flashed the screen at Joe. “This is going on right now,” she said. “People are live tweeting it.”

Joe finished his beer. “To think I chose tonight to work on my act. I could have been rubbing elbows with the young and the chestless in midtown.”

“Are you always ‘on’?” Danni frowned. “Are you ever serious?”

“Sure. In bed.” Joe winked.

Danni clicked off her phone and stood. “What say we go for a different kind of ride first?”

* * * *

“She’s got that disease. You know the one, it begins with a C.”

Danni glanced briefly at Joe before returning her attention to the passing urban scenery. “No, I don’t know the one,” she responded, her forehead pressed against the glass. After a plea of poverty, Joe insisted on hopping a midtown-bound bus. Apparently his Irish pride stood in the way of Danni springing for a cab. She wondered in that moment if Gibby gifting her with his business card had also stung the comedian. She could sympathize, as she still bore the footprints on her back of author friends who’d surpassed her professionally.

Her mother, had she lived and opted to accompany them, might have paled at the sight of Danni making physical contact with the window of an MTA bus. The hell are you doing? You want to get AIDS? The woman’s voice still served as Danni’s conscience—shrill and heavy on the expletives—yet the most colorful use of curse words would not have deterred Danni from carrying out tonight’s plan.

“Come on, you know. It’s that funky one.” Joe nudged her left arm with his elbow.

“Funky, begins with a C. Chlamydia?”

Joe snorted. “Interestingly enough, no. It’s not a sex disease. It’s the one where she can’t eat bread because it makes her sick.”

“Celiac disease,” Danni said.


“See-lee-ack.” She spoke loudly. The few people riding with them on the 100 bus down Broadway showed no obvious interest in their conversation. Danni spied people several rows ahead, bundled in dark coats and hunched forward, heads bobbing with every bump and shift. She wondered if anybody here tonight might prove their downfall and recall them boarding and leaving, taking advantage of mass transit to facilitate their getaway following what could have been a perfect crime.

Danni sighed. Already she expected failure, but she knew she couldn’t accept it as an option. A major deal, she told herself. This nitwit’s book is going to have tiny hearts dotting the I’s on every page. Virginia Woolf is rolling in her rocky grave.

“Celiac.” Joe tried out the word in his heavy Brooklyn accent, gum popping in his teeth. “Sounds like ceiling. Like she’s got a disease where she crab walks on the ceiling like that Exorcist chick.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me if she could.” Crabs, now that made more sense to Danni. “So, why tell me this? It has nothing to do with anything.”

“Well,” Joe said, sounding defensive, “she can’t eat bread.”

“No, she can’t eat wheat. She has a wheat allergy, and possibly oats. She can eat bread if it’s made of something else.”

“How do you make bread without wheat and oats?”

Danni pushed her head harder against the glass. Her skull throbbed for the headache caused by this inane conversation. “It’s not that difficult if you use ingredients that don’t have gluten,” she said. “I’ve seen bread made with tapioca flour. Just check a health food store.”

“Ugh, no thanks.” After several seconds of blessed silence, Joe added, “Maybe potato bread is okay?”

Danni shrugged, showing a non-committal answer.

“I don’t like potato bread with peanut butter, it tastes weird,” he said.

Oh, the books I could fill with that information. Who needs romance when I could write about a hundred uses for wheat-free bread? Danni sat up straight, still feeling the pressure of the window glass. “You never answered the question. What does celiac disease have to do with this?”

“Should be obvious.” Joe leaned close to nearly press his lips to her ear. “We get some ground wheat, or oats, whatever. Slip some to her and bam! They’ll rule it accidental, like when some kid without his Epi-pen inhales peanut shells at the Yankees game.”

Danni swatted him away. “It’s going to look a bit suspicious walking into this party toting a sack of Martha White flour.” She tilted her face to see better through the windows before them. “Is that it up ahead?”

Joe stretched and swayed and squinted. “Yeah. It’s not far from David Letterman. Can’t remember the last time I did that show.”

“Does he still have comedians on? I don’t make it past ten most nights. It’s miracle I’m awake now.” Of course, Danni considered this a vivid dream at one point, but the bus stench stung her nostrils and proved the reality of this situation.

“He doesn’t have me on, that’s for damn sure.”

“Sorry to hear it.” Danni pushed the strip and heard the ding. As she gripped the back of the seat in front of her the voice of her dead mother cut through her brain like a stiletto. Why do you keep touching things? You might as well lick a path to the door. And where the hell are your gloves? You need gloves for a job like this. You lose one drop of spit or a fingernail shard and the police are knocking on your door. Don’t you ever watch CSI?

“God almighty, shut up.”

Joe looked at her, snapping the gum again. “What? You asked about Letterman.”

Danni shook her head. “No, I didn’t mean you. It’s just...forget it.” She kept hold of the seat until the bus ground to a halt at the appropriate stop. She tested her chunky-heeled boots again on the bus floor, and wished for her black Vans, assuming they’d need to walk for a while. She felt underdressed for a celebrity perfume launch party in her jeans and black turtleneck, and Joe looked no more dapper in a white tee underneath an open plaid shirt. At least Joe possessed a modicum of celebrity clout—somebody might recognize him and think he’d been invited.

“Where are we going now?” she asked, linking her arm with his. She ignored his come-hither smirk.

“We have to cross here. It’s the storefront with the crowd around it. Can’t miss it.”

“And you can get us in?”

“I can get us to the edge of the crowd.”

Danni stared at him. “Like I need you for that. Why did you come with me again?”

“No rush to go home, and you’re not so boring when you’re homicidal.”

Danni said nothing at first, not until they cleared the bus entirely and had the white noise of Broadway to mask their conversation. She didn’t get to this part of Manhattan often, but expected to find the place bloated with foot and wheel traffic. This close to Times Square, she took a moment to study the myriad of lights and animation on billboards and store marquees. A blend of aromatic spices wafted through the air and tempted her growing appetite—food trucks on the block advertised shawarmas, falafel, and assorted roughage wrapped in wontons and deep-fried. Danni wondered if she ate something, would the anger gnawing at her stomach lining subside, allowing her to go home more relaxed.

In the distance an animated billboard flashed a giant image of the Delilah in Pastels book cover underneath the proclamation FIVE MILLION SOLD! Danni dug her fingernails into Joe’s arm and pushed him toward the crowd.

Danni found the notion of a party to celebrate a new cosmetic product ridiculous. It wasn’t as though perfume could change the world, or cure illness. To promote something bearing the name of a person making no contribution to humanity outside of inspiring others to achieve similar levels of vapidity struck Danni as odd. She imagined she’d see plenty of people sucking up to the guest of honor and soaking in the fame tonight.

They walked—Joe walked, Danni wobbled—across the street at the first opportunity. “There it is,” Joe broke through her train of thought. Danni’s eye followed where he pointed and caught the huge storefront framed left to right by a narrow Subway shop and a nondescript electronics outlet. Enormous white letters announcing the boutique’s name in a block font illuminated the space below.

Swab. An interesting name for a shop selling high-end makeup and shampoo, she decided. Perhaps she didn’t possess the business acumen to believe that people passing this store wouldn’t think of pap smears. What nearly prompted her to choke on her restrained laughter, however, was the gigantic window cling taking up the entire storefront. A life-sized, two-dimensional Krystal Kordova—lush-lipped in a form-fitting black gown, her dark brown hair slicked in a Barbara Eden as Jeannie topknot—pouted next to a pink pear-shaped bottle of her new signature scent.

“Taÿnt?” she cried. “Is she fucking kidding? Her perfume is a synonym for a stain?”

“Is that what it’s supposed to be?” Joe screwed up his face and gawked at the display. “When I think of the word taint, it’s not something I’d associate with perfume.”

“What’s with the umlaut?” Danni asked. “She doesn’t realize that completely changes how a word is pronounced? How in the fuck do you sound out a y with an umlaut, anyway? What is that, Greek?”

“No, Greek’s got those funky looking symbols like on sorority sweatshirts.”

Danni looked around her in disbelief. At the front entrance a brick wall of a black man stood guard near a velvet rope separating the great unwashed from the paparazzi and those invited to the party. She watched young girls stretching on the balls of their high-heeled feet, holding aloft their smart phones lengthwise to capture rappers and reality TV stars posing and preening before slipping inside. To think, all a person had to do was slap an umlaut over a word with negative connotations to make the public salivate.