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Six

I decided to head over to The Market and pick up something for lunch. Being a place the locals frequented, I decided to join them since the other day the food was wonderful. Besides, it wouldnt hurt to sit around and eavesdrop on the locals.

I had a feeling that Newport was a close-knit community-if you had the bucks to be included. Thus, the eavesdropping.

Goldie had decided to go back to his room and study the brochure. I had to laugh, thinking he didnt want to miss out a second on the pampering. The meals they had fixed him here were not only gourmet, but nutritious and exactly what the doctor had ordered.

A butterfly darted inside my stomach-and not from hunger.

I pushed the idea of Dr. Forsyth into the back of my mind as I headed out the front door. Ian wasnt at his desk so I had to literally force my feet toward the door instead of toward his desk and valuable computer. This was going to be one of my more difficult cases, as far as trying to snoop around eagle-eyed Ian, I concluded, walking toward Bellevue Avenue. The good news was, it didnt seem dangerous-to me anyway. Poor Mr. Baines might think differently.

However, working by myself and having to do real nursing for my friend was proving more difficult. I pulled my shoulders straighter, turned onto Bellevue and hastened my pace.

I would succeed at this case.

And hopefully not die trying since every case Id had so far ended up with me in some kind of hot water.

Had to laugh inside my head at that thought. If I didnt, I knew I might change my mind about the danger element. I concluded that staying at the lodge was more of a threat-from a ghost.

AndJagger.

I nodded to a few women walking toward me. Of course, theyd given me odd looks since I had laughed out loud. Oh well, no one knew me around here.

Once I passed the Tennis Hall of Fame, I got to the end of the block and took a right onto Memorial Boulevard. The day had turned rather warm for the late spring, so I slowed my pace and in a few minutes noted the sign for The Market. Before I could turn into the driveway, a black Lexus limousine pulled up to the curb. The thing was so long it had to be the stretch version. Id learned plenty about real cars from my uncle Walt, but limos were another story.

For some reason, I paused to see who stepped out. Mentally I chastised myself for being so touristy. I usually didnt get enamored of money or celebrity, yet I bent down and started tying and untying and retying my shoe just to waste time so I could watch.

When I heard the car door close, I looked up in time to see Babette LaPierre and Daphne Baines walk into The Market.

Damn!

Now what? I wondered. They could be involved in the very fraud Id come to investigate, and here Id walked a good twenty minutes, was hungry enough to not even watch my carbs, and had to get back to do my jobs in a decent amount of time. Id passed other small restaurants on Bellevue, but I was dying for the clam chowder from here, and besides, being waited on would take a lot longer.

Oh, well. I stood, made sure the last thing Id done was to retie my shoes, and then walked into the store. Neither woman was in sight at first and there was a line near the deli counter. Good. I walked over and got in place, noting the fantastic looking guy in what had to be a black Armani suit in front of me. Of course, I only noticed him to make sure the clerk knew I was next to get waited on.

Yikes. The guy looked like someone who had stepped out of GQ.

Tall, past the six-foot mark. Light hair with greenish eyes that spoke to you (I ignored my mothers old teaching of dont talk to strangers) and a build that said daily gym membership.

I nodded and smiled at him while I ran my gaze around the store. I couldnt see past the cash registers too well, but neither woman was near the produce. No great surprise. I couldnt imagine Babette or Daphne doing any grocery shopping.

When I leaned over to see the section of tables as best I could since there were shelves blocking the way, I bumped into the man. Oh, excuse me.

He smiled. Hey, baby, dont sweat it.

My jaw dropped, but lately Id gotten used to this phenomenon, so I quickly shut my mouth. Sometimes eye candy should not open their mouths.

It really was amazing and, yes, probably biased on my part to be surprised that someone who looked like this guy would talk like that. Sounded more blue collar than Jeff Foxworthy. Not that there was anything wrong with being blue collar. My dad, uncle, and one of my brothers all fit into that classification. But what didnt jibe, to me anyway, was the contrast of this guys looks, including clothes, and the way he talked.

Next? the Irish clerk asked.

Thatd be me, Red, the guy said. He turned toward me and gave me a big smile. Hope youre not too hungry, babe, this could get complicated and take a while. With that he laughed as if hed told some hysterical, more than likely sexual joke.

I swore Id never judge a book by its cover again.

Mr. Contradiction wasnt kidding. The other clerk was busy doing a phone order, so I had to stand there and listen to the order, of tomatoes on the wrap, but no skin. Roast beef rare, but not too. Nothing with peanuts, but a dab of Beluga caviar and five black oil-cured olives on the side. Five, he repeated.

I rolled my eyes and Mr. C went on and on and my stomach growled at him louder than a pit bull eyeing the rare beef.

When he was done, he took his order and turned toward the table section. I ignored his comment of Later as I eased up to the counter and ordered my clam chowder. That was all the time I could waste here, but I knew it would fill me up until dinner.

When the Irish girl, who Id learned was named Sheila, handed me the take-out container, I thanked her, got my plastic spoon, bag of oyster crackers and a napkin. I turned toward the window to see Mr. C sitting with Daphne and Babette.

OhmyGod. Was he man-made like the two of them?

After gawking at Mr. C and the two plastic surgery addicts, I decided I better get a table before my chowder got cold. Since Id been so preoccupied with the threesome, I noticed several customers had just about filled up the small section of tables. The area wasnt large by any means, so now I was stuck.

There was, however, an empty chair to the back of Babette and one table over. Only one young girl sat at the table for four and she was reading the morning newspaper.

In this job I had to learn to be assertive and not worry about what anyone thought about me, so I made my way over to the seat saying Excuse me several times as I bumped into diners in the close quarters.

Hi. Is this seat taken? I asked.

The girl looked up at me, looked around the room and said, Uh hah. With that she went back to reading.

Perfect. At least I wouldnt have to make empty conversation with her-and instead be able to eavesdrop my heart out. Now thankful that the place was crowded, that my chowder smelled heavenly, and that neither Babette or Daphne paid me any mind, I sat down, lifted the container lid off, ripped the plastic off my spoon and took a spoonful. It really was heavenly. Again the butter swam atop the liquid. I should have probably skimmed it off, but what the heck. I told myself this job was like a vacation. Who wouldnt think that about swanky Newport?

Just the tip of my nose, I heard Babette say.

My forehead wrinkled. Surely that wasnt dining conversation-except maybe for poor BDD sufferers. I wanted to swing around and shout that her nose was perfect and no one could improve on perfect, but I had to fill my mouth with a huge spoonful of clam chowder instead.

I tried to lean back more but didnt want to be obvious. Thank goodness there was a table full of jock boys between us. I guessed they were from Salve Regina, and they were eating half the deli in one swallow. Luckily they werent rowdy though. I could still hear Babette and sometimes Daphne talking.

A few times she sounded a bit tearful, and I had to remind myself that although she was out to lunch with supposed friends, her husband died yesterday.

Allegedly murdered. Yikes.

One might assume shed be home mourning-or at least dressed in darker clothes.

But nope. Daphne wore a shocking pink set of slacks with a pink (exact shade) and white striped long-sleeve top. Her hair was pulled back into a chignon, which made her facial features (yes, perfect ones) stand out. Not to mention what it did for the gazillion carat diamond stud earrings that she wore. Wow.

Accidentally I made a slurping sound that drew the girl at the tables attention. Oops. Sorry.

At first she looked annoyed, then she looked more-amused.

I took that as a sign to speak to her. Sorry again. Im just so hungry and need to finish fairly soon.

Where you nursing?

I was ready to ask how she knew I was a nurse then realized I had on my pink scrubs. Oh, I dont work around here. Im only temporarily at Highcliff Manor doing private duty nursing. Only one patient.

And a rich bitch Im sure. I noticed her knuckles whiten as she held the newspaper tighter.

Hm. Interesting. Actually a male and a sweetheart. Im Pauline. I held out my hand.

She hesitated then released her life grip on the paper and shook, very weakly. Lydia.

Hm, again. Why the hesitation?

Nice to meet you. This place is amazing for its food. Isnt it? So, what is your favorite dish here? Id read a long time ago, to entice someone into a conversation, not to ask only questions that could be answered with a yes or no. Before she could answer, I noticed her look past me and frown.

The beef tenderloin, she said in a matter-of-fact way.

I tried to sweep my hair back with my hand to use the gesture to turn a bit. All I could see was Mr. C, glaring at Lydia. What the heck? I had to act fast and wondered what Jagger would do in my position. Since I could never second-guess a Jagger-action, I said, You know him?

She looked back at me. Do you?

Oh. No. I merely stood behind him in line. Took so long I thought Id pass out from low blood sugar.

Blood sugar? She released the paper and let it fall to the table.

I had to remind myself that Lydia was a kid. Geez, that made me sound so old. But she couldnt be more than seventeen or so. Technically I could be her mom. Yikes. Low blood sugar from being so hungry.

Oh. That doesnt surprise me.

I felt my forehead wrinkle again. Had she assumed Id have low blood sugar? Did she even know what that was? What the heck was she talking about? I had learned from Jagger to get my facts straight, so I asked, Excuse me? Im not following, Lydia. I set down my spoon and remembered that I had forgotten to get a free cup of water. No way was I going to get up now, in case Lydia might open up again or leave.

She motioned with her head toward the threesome. Him. Devin. Doesnt surprise me that hed push his way in front and take forever to order. Jerk. Selfish jerk.

Very interesting indeed!

Seems that not only did Lydia know Mr. C, but she also wasnt too fond of him. Selfish jerk. Wow. Thats a pretty heavy accusation.

She looked at me. Its not an accusation. Its a fact.

My heart started to race as it so often did when I was about to learn some tidbit of info for my case. I knew the feeling and this sure was it. One darling Lydia was about to spill her guts about the guy I suspected had made the rounds on the O.R. tables.

Suddenly I wondered if my buddy Ian had snooped in on any of Devins cases. Had he frequented Highcliff Manor too? That was the more important question. This was getting very interesting because if Devin suffered BDD too, how was he paying for his surgery? Rich wife? Family inheritance?

I looked up at Lydia. Fact?

The asshole is married to my aunt. She started to rip edges of the newspaper off and leave them in little piles on the table.

Rich wife.

I caught a few shreds of paper as they fluttered in the air before Lydia got thrown out for littering and said, Wow. Your aunt must be pretty young. With that I sipped my clam chowder so as not to appear too eager to learn more.

In the reflection of the window, I noticed good old Devin get up and walk toward the cash registers. Daphne and Babette followed. Damn, no more eavesdropping. Well, at least I had Lydia to grill for info. I just had that gut feeling that she was going to be helpful to my case.

Whats your last name, Lydia? Suddenly I felt like a weirdo asking the kid personal questions.

She looked at me. Chandler.

As in Olivia Wheaton-Chandler?

Lydia suddenly got up.

My spoon flew from the chowder, splashing white liquid onto the pile of newspaper pieces and Lydias probably very expensive jeans. Id heard that name before and not in a very good tone either. What was the connection?

I grabbed a napkin and wiped at the denim. Oh, Im sorry. So sorry.

She pushed my hand away. Its all right, Pauline. Not sure what youre so wired about, but maybe you should ease up on the caffeine. She laughed and walked toward the bakery section.

Good. Maybe she wasnt leaving after all.

I scraped the rest of the fabulous liquid from my container and decided I really needed some water. Seemed safe enough to get up now that the threesome had left. No one else in this place knew me-or at least I hoped they didnt.

I poured myself a cup of ice water that the store owners smartly left on the sideboard with lemons and more plasticware. I stabbed at two lemon wedges, plopped them into my water and added a pocketful of Splenda. Instant, and ashamedly I admitted, free lemonade. It wasnt that I was destitute, but Fabio didnt pay my expenses yet so I had to make sure I didnt spend more than I was earning on each case.

Money, the root of all evil.

If only I had a sixth of the amount as some of these folks, I could afford my own place instead of living with my two dear friends. Speaking of Goldie, I had to get back to see him soon.

Lydia ordered a cup of English Breakfast tea to go with the chocolate chip cookie shed bought. Good, that meant a longer time to chat.

I walked near her and ordered the same tea but no cookie. Too much time to spend on guilt to run off the calories when I should be working. So I paid for my tea, put skim milk in it with two packets of Splenda, and went back to our table.

Darling Lydia had already sat down and was eating her cookie. She didnt look as if she wanted me to sit at another table, thank goodness. There were plenty empty now, but I pulled the chair out with my foot and sat, without giving her the option. I noticed she didnt have milk in her tea.

Is your aunt-

The one and freaking only Olivia Wheaton-Chandler.

Yikes! The money lady.

That would make Devin your stepuncle. Going right to the heart of matters seemed the less painful route-and it did look as if it pained Lydia to answer.

A darkness filled her brown eyes-much darker and dangerous looking than anyone her age should have. Wow.

Look, the jerk is not my step anything. I dont give a shit what the rules are. He married my aunt Olivia for her dough. Plain and simple. He is not family and is way too freaking young for her. Ick. She shoved a large piece of cookie into her mouth.

I felt badly that our conversation was probably prohibiting her from enjoying the delicious calories, but cookies aside, I had to find out as much as I could since plastic surgery was involved-and this town was so tiny.

Yikes. Thats quite an accusation. I tried to chuckle but Lydias lips firmed, stopping me mid-chuckle.

Not that you probably give a rats ass, Pauline, but Devin McCloud was a carpenter. No, not even a real carpenter. One of those handymen who worked his way into my aunts house and into herfreaking bed. She shivered.

So did I. Ick was right.

Anyway, she continued without my prodding, the guy isnt around more than two months, and they get hitched. Freakin hitched. I think he found out some dirt on Auntie, but I never could prove it.

Either that or he was damn good in the sack.

I stared at her over the rim of my teacup. For a teenager, she sounded so astute. How in the world would she suspect such things-and how in the world did old Devin manage all that? That must have upset the entire family.

She licked chocolate from her finger and looked at me. Im the only freaking blood relative, Pauline, and Id rather commit suicide than be considered family to those two.

Speechless was not usually in my autobiographical vocabulary-however, Lydia had me momentarily unable to comment. I kept watching her and thinking, Man, what do I say to that one?

Finally I yanked my sanity back and said, Suicide? Thats pretty heavy-duty stuff, Lydia. Im sure you dont mean it. I tried to sound as serious as I felt, so she couldnt back away from my comment. However, with teens nowadays, you never knew.

Instead she leaned closer, actually grabbed me by the arm and said, Suicide would be a welcome relief compared to living with those two.


| Nip, Tuck, Dead | Seven







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