After She's Gone (West Coast 3) - Page 70

so horrible. I can’t believe it.”

“Neither can I.”

“I know, I know, it’s like the movie’s cursed or something. I mean what else could go wrong?”

Cassie shuddered to think.

“Look, if you want to talk to me, okay, I can meet you in half an hour, then I have to be someplace, but I don’t know what I can tell you. Laura said you were trying to figure out what happened to Allie and I swear to God, I don’t have any idea, and so please, please, please don’t be mad at me for going to work with Brandon. I know he’s not your favorite person but with Allie gone I needed a job and—”

“Cherise,” Cassie cut in. “Tell me where to meet and I’ll be there.” Cassie explained where she was and Cherise suggested a coffee shop about fifteen minutes away, closer to Cassie’s apartment. “Perfect. I’ll meet you there.” For the briefest of seconds, she considered calling Trent to tell him she’d been held up, but discarded the idea immediately.

She’d only seen him for a few minutes, long enough to have an argument, and already she was acting like a wife, like she needed to report in. “Forget it,” she muttered under her breath. At the next opportunity, she shot past the guy in the red and white Chevy straight out of the fifties.

She reached the coffee shop a few minutes before Cherise. Standing in line to order and scouting the crowded seating area in search of a free table, she spied the other woman driving into the lot. Cell phone pressed to her ear, Cherise wheeled into the lot in a champagne-colored Mercedes convertible. Parking spaces were at a premium and she had to wait until another car had backed up, then she squeezed into a slim space, beating another car coming from the other direction. The Mitsubishi’s blinker indicated that the driver had intended to claim the spot, but Cherise didn’t appear to care or even notice.

Brown hair twisted onto her head in a messy bun, Cherise flew out of her car. In shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt that slid over one shoulder, she was still talking on the phone and seemed oblivious to the other driver’s frustration as she jogged to the front doors.

By the time she burst inside Cassie was at the front of the line and ready to order. Cherise looked around the busy shop, then racewalked past four other customers. “Grab me a triple shot Americano, okay?” Before Cassie could answer, she added, “I’ll get a table. God, this place is always sooo busy. Oh! There’s one now!” She was off, ignoring the scowls and glares from the people standing in line and hurrying toward a café table being vacated by a couple of teenagers wearing watch caps, army jackets, and shorts while hauling their beat-up skateboards and coffee drinks outside.

While Cassie ordered, Cherise, as if she’d been a waitress in another lifetime, dropped her phone and keys onto one of the tall chairs, grabbed three sugar packets from a counter, then bussed the trash away. Using a couple of napkins she wiped up spilled coffee and muttered about “lame, self-involved, entitled kids who should be in school,” before spying Cassie with the coffee. “Thanks!” She took the cup Cassie offered and then pulled some one-dollar bills from a pocket in her shorts as if intent on paying.

Cassie waved away the offered cash. “Next time’s on you.”

“You sure?” Before Cassie could respond, she tucked the cash away. “Thanks.” Cherise took the lid off her cup and blew across the hot brew, then started opening sugar packets and dumping them in. “I can’t quit thinking about Holly,” she whispered. “Who would do something so awful? And to her of all people? She was so sweet. It doesn’t make any sense.” Stirring the sugar, waiting for it to dissolve, she stared into her coffee as if she could find answers within the dark depths. “Why?”

“I wish I knew.”

A fussy-looking woman with pursed lips who had been in line behind Cassie passed by their table and shot Cherise a hard glare. “There are no cuts,” she hissed as if they were in an elementary school lunch line, before bustling importantly out of the shop on wedged sandals.

Cherise paid no attention to her.

The line of customers waiting to order waxed and waned while Cassie and Cherise sipped from their drinks and discussed Holly Dennison for a few minutes. Cassie was about to broach the subject of Allie when Cherise asked, “You’re going to the party for the premiere in Portland this weekend, right? It’s kind of a command performance, y’know. A big splash. Dean does it before the release of all of his pictures.”

“I haven’t thought too much about it. But, probably.” It might be her only opportunity to talk to Arnette and Little Bea.

“Yeah, me too. It’s too bad Allie won’t be there.” Her smile was pensive. “Maybe she’ll show up by then.”

“I wanted to talk to you about her.”

“That’s what Laura said. Have you heard from her?”

Cassie shook her head. “Not a word.”

She took another quick sip of her drink. “Me neither.”

“But you talked to her every day, you knew her schedule in and out. Was anything unusual going on?”

She half laughed. “There was no usual with Allie. Every day was an ‘experience.’ ” Her amusement faded. “But she was kind of acting strangely, y’know, kind of weird and freaky a day or two before. I mean it wasn’t a big deal, but she was off.”

“Off? How?”

“She was just a little . . . tenser than usual. Like edgy, I guess. I didn’t say anything to the police because it was nothing really. It certainly wasn’t anything that made me think something out of the ordinary was going on. Then again with Allie, what’s normal?” Her smile was feeble.

“What was she tense about?”

“I don’t know. The movie? Working with Brandon? They were like fire and ice, always running hot and cold. And I can tell you this, he misses her.” She looked quickly away, burying her nose into her cup and taking a swallow.

Cassie was skeptical of Brandon McNary caring about anything or anyone but himself and his own interests.

Tags: Lisa Jackson West Coast Mystery
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