Mary glanced around the cavernous warehouse, as large a space as she had ever been in, especially in the city. It was near the Delaware River, bordering New Jersey. In Philadelphia you had to go to Camden to get any room. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the floor-high windows, their security cages casting a diamond-mesh pattern on the rough concrete floor. In Camden even empty space needed protection. You couldn't win on the East Coast, in general.
Mary stood there with her briefcase and said 'yo' to hear whether it echoed, but it didn't. The sound vanished into four tall stories of exposed brick. It was the shell of a furniture warehouse, completely empty except for the far corner, in which a little world had been created. She walked over, marveling as she approached. There were three distinct rooms of drywall, except that it looked as if the contractor had forgotten their ceilings and fourth walls. The first room on the left was an open dressing room, and young girls were changing clothes in front of everyone. Mary knew instantly that none of them was Catholic.
The room next to the dressing room was a makeup and hair salon, with two steel folding tables piled with an array of black makeup brushes and a layered box full of compacts and foundation. Models in lacy bras and slips sat on folding chairs, orange crates, and boxes while stylish men and women painted their eyes, contoured their cheeks, and styled their hair. One model was having a French twist combed out, and her head jerked back with each stroke. Mary winced. She was a lawyer, but she couldn't take that kind of pain.
Beside the makeup room was a final fitting room, with models going from one station to the next like a fashion assembly line, though Mary couldn't tell the order from all the milling around. In the corner stood a portable steam presser and movable racks of clothes, a quick glance revealing they were Young amp; Hip. From what Mary could tell, the Young amp; Hip biz was really thriving.
The operative word being Young. Mary got close enough to see the models and they looked like kids playing dress-up. They were preteens, starting at about age ten, up to fifteen or so. There wasn't a full breast in the crowd, though the kids appeared to be modeling slips that were supposed to be dresses. One model, a sprout of a blond with large blue eyes, looked barely twelve. She sat in a cloth-back director's chair while a man in black glued false lashes to her eyelids. Her feet, in strappy black sandals, didn't touch the ground and she clutched a Totally Hair Barbie, with coincidentally matching sandals. There was no mother in sight.
Suddenly shouting came from the largest room, which was merely a huge sheet of clean white paper hanging from a story-high steel brace. Background for the photographs, it curved onto the concrete floor like a paper carpet. The kids kept tripping on the paper's edge in their high heels, and a man kept yelling at them 'not to rip the seamless.' One of the mothers apologized for her daughter and grabbed her off the paper. Mary didn't get it. If anybody had spoken to her like that, her mother would have threatened to break his face. But Mary wasn't here to stop child labor. She had a client to defend.
She approached the closest man in black, a wavy brown ponytail snaking to his waist. He had his back to her and was bent over a large steel trunk of photographic equipment. Lenses, camera bodies, and flash units nestled in grey sponge cushioning, and Mary realized instantly that the cameras were treated better than the kids. 'Excuse me,' she said, but the ponytailed man didn't turn around. 'I'm looking for the photographer, Caleb Scott.'
'I'm his assistant, one of the million. He's over there but don't bother him. He's on the warpath for a change.' The assistant glanced over his shoulder, through the smallest glasses Mary had ever seen. 'I can tell you right now what he's going to say, honey. Save you the time.'
'Go ahead,' Mary said, surprised.
'You gotta lose thirty pounds, maybe more. You're too old for what he does. You need a nose job and you gotta do something with your hair. The color sucks and that cut is so last year.' He turned back to the trunk, and Mary considered giving the finger to his ponytail.
'I'm a lawyer, not a model.'
Then you're perfect,' he said, and didn't look back.
Caleb Scott simmered on the paper carpet, resting his Hasselblad on his slim hip like a gun. He was tall, reed-thin, and wore a black turtleneck, stone-washed jeans, and soft-soled Mephisto shoes. His spray of grey hair and a faux English accent served to distinguish him, in addition to his foul mood. Caleb Scott was angry about a yellow light on a tall steel stem, which kept firing at the wrong time. From the terrified attitude of the assistants struggling to fix the thing, Mary guessed that for Scott, anger was the status quo. But he didn't express his anger in a way familiar to Mary – shouts, tears, or the decade-long vendetta – he just got wound tighter and tighter.
'Mr Scott, I have a few questions, but it won't take long,' Mary said, hovering next to him.
'Take all day. I evidently have it.'
'I represent Jack Newlin and am investigating the murder charge against him. You may have read about it in the paper. I need to know about Paige and her mother, Honor.'
'I don't have time to read the newspaper. I have to get to work, where I stand and wait.' Scott scowled at an assistant, hurrying by with a new lightbulb. The kids in slips held their position under the lights, and their mothers stood off to the side, watching them sweat.
'You didn't hear that Honor Newlin was killed?'
'I didn't say that. Of course I heard it, from one of my assistants. Everybody knows about it. If we waited for the newspaper to get news, we'd wither and die. Like me, right now.' His thin lips pursed in martyrdom, and Mary figured he, at least, was Catholic.
'You photographed the Bonner shoot, didn't you?'
'I do all of Bonner's work, in town.'
'I understand that Honor and Paige had a fight at the shoot, in the store dressing room. Did you know that?'
'Of course! Do you think that anything is a secret in this business?' Scott gestured toward his assistants, who swarmed around the offending light. It still wouldn't fire when they pressed a black button on top of what looked like a car battery. 'We're the biggest group of gossips ever. You could dish all day if you had nothing better to do, but most people have better things to do. I, on the other hand, have to stand around and talk to lawyers. When I'm not baby-sitting.'
'So you knew there was a fight in the dressing room?'
'Honey,' Scott said, turning to Mary for the first time, 'they fought wherever they went. That mother was the biggest bitch, and that kid was the biggest princess. When I heard the mother was killed, I thought, "you go, girl."'
Mary couldn't hide her shock. 'What are you saying?'
'I'm saying that I thought the kid killed her.'
'Because of the fight, is that why? What was the fight even about?'
'Not because of the fight, no way. The fight was about what they all fight about.' This time Scott gestured at the mothers, sipping coffee near the paper carpet. Two were on cell phones, and Mary could hear them changing their kids' bookings now that the light had broken, delaying the shoot. 'Look at them. Can you explain this? Mothers who would put their children through this? I can't.'
She shook her head. She actually agreed. 'They do it for money, don't they?'
'No, I'll explain in a minute. Look at the girls.' Scott gestured at the kids, trying hard to stand in place, now going on five minutes. They're beautiful, right? Each one of them.'
Again, she had to agree, though their beauty was hidden by their makeup.
'None of this is about money, it's about a much stronger pull. It's about that their kid will become the next Claudia, Naomi, or Elle. That their kid will be the one to hit the jackpot. And after that, who knows? She can marry the prince. Or the rock star. Make movies. Be Julia Roberts. This is the lottery, with flesh and blood.'
Mary scanned the young faces as he spoke. They were all so pretty, like a lineup of dolls. 'But one of them will make it, won't they?'
'You mustn't interrupt.' Scott paused, apparently to punish her. 'The truth is, none of them will. They're kids from Philly and they look cute in catalogs and newspapers. Some of them will get go-sees to New York, but none of them is truly special. I have twenty-three of them here today and twenty-three tomorrow and twenty-three the day after that. They all have cute faces, but none of them have The Face. None of them will make it, and when they turn sixteen like Paige, it will be very clear. And the shit will hit the fan.'
Mary was finally understanding. 'Paige couldn't make it?'
'No way, but her mother didn't know that. "If only you light her this way" and "if only the makeup were better." It was everybody else's fault. It always was, especially with Honor.'
'You fought with Honor?'
'Each time I shot her daughter. Paige lost bookings because of her mother, I swear it. Nobody wanted to deal with Honor. It was about her, not Paige.' Scott scoffed. 'Soccer moms got nothing on model moms. This is the Little League for Anorexics.'
Mary didn't smile. 'Did you think Paige knew that she wouldn't make it?'
'Of course, at some point.'
'Did you talk to her about it?'
'No, I don't talk to the kids, I shoot them. But I know. The kids are the honest ones. The kids know it before the parents do. They see the truth.' Scott looked away, distracted by an assistant who was giving him a relieved thumbs-up. The light had been fixed. 'Brilliant chatting with you. Back to the salt mines,' he said, and walked off, raising his camera.
When Mary looked at the kids, she couldn't disagree. She lingered a minute to watch Scott work, clicking away as he shouted orders to them: turn your head three-quarters, no, less than that, somebody fix her bra strap, stop that giggling, stand completely still while I focus, not so much teeth, honey. When she turned away from the scene, she could almost understand why they'd grow up and want to kill their mothers. She wanted to kill their mothers.
She checked her watch and hurried for the exit. She had a lunch date to keep.