A Crime of Fashion Mystery
As makeover madness sweeps the nation's capital, reporter Lacey Smithsonian interviews TV show makeover success story Amanda Manville. But with Amanda's beauty comes a beast in the form of a stalker with vicious intentions—and Lacey may be the only one who can stop him.
Lacey Smithsonian wasn’t sure what it meant. Her thoughts were momentarily blocked by soul-shattering thunder. And the lightning bolt that struck the neon Krispy Kreme doughnut sign had also knocked her flat on her butt. From the rain-soaked ground, she watched in horror as the steel-girded doughnut monolith wavered to and fro before crashing down on Harlan Wiedemeyer’s brand new Volvo. The Volvo she had stepped out of less than one minute ago.
I ask for a sign and what do I get? A giant neon sign of doom.
Trujillo’s words came back to her: “Watch out. Bad things happen when you hang out with that guy.”
The “guy” in question was Harlan Wiedemeyer himself, who had insisted on giving Lacey a ride home from her office to Old Town Alexandria, and then abruptly detoured on a whim to the Krispy Kreme doughnut capital of Northern Virginia.
Wiedemeyer? A jinx? But surely he couldn’t be blamed for the storm that brought the lightning that struck the sign that stood on Route 1 that fell on top of the car that Harlan drove? Could he? she wondered. She wiped the dripping curtain of hair out of her face, struggled to her feet, and turned her attention to Wiedemeyer, just emerging from an oily mud puddle.
The little man shook his fist at the sky and shouted, “Missed me!” His thinning brown hair stuck to his head, perspiration mixing with the raindrops. His round belly gave evidence of his love of doughnuts. Some thirty-odd calorie-packed years of doughnuts, Lacey guessed. He looked as if misery hugged his shoulders like a well-worn sweater. He turned to Lacey. Out of his thunderstruck agony, Lacey glimpsed a sliver of triumph.
“Missed me again! Hey, Smithsonian! Did you see that?” A maniacal grin lit his face in the next flash of lightning. “Why, that sign would have taken our heads clean off if we’d been one minute later! How many poor bastards, do you suppose, die just like that? It’s a sign. That’s what it is. We’re the lucky bastards today! Let’s go get some doughnuts.”
Lacey could see shapes swarming behind the shop’s steamy windows, faces pressed against the glass, staring in shock at their beloved HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW sign, which was now balanced upside down on the crunched roof of the Volvo. The lightning strike had darkened all the lights in the parking lot, but had somehow missed the shop itself. It was still bright and cheery. Lacey shook the excess water off her trench coat. It didn’t help. She was sore and soaked to the skin. But hot coffee and a hot glazed puff of calorie heaven were calling to her. She thought she had never needed a doughnut more in her entire life.
“You know, Wiedemeyer, most people would take this as a sign to stop eating doughnuts,” Lacey said.
“Stop eating doughnuts? Why, that would just be crazy.” He held the door for her. A wave of doughnut aroma washed over them.
Harlan Wiedemeyer was a new Eye Street Observer reporter who covered what Lacey’s newsroom called the “death-and-dismemberment” beat. He relished telling the world every day how some “poor bastard” died in a freak accident or grotesque workplace disaster. Untold poor bastards drowned in vats of chocolate, were ground up in the gears of heavy machinery, were turned into sausage. So when he escaped the blind wrath of the wayward Krispy Kreme doughnut sign, Harlan Wiedemeyer knew one thing: He was one hell of a lucky bastard.
Lacey Smithsonian, on the other hand, didn’t feel quite so graced. Tony Trujillo, her buddy on the cops beat, had warned her not to ride home with Wiedemeyer because he was a Jonas, a jinx, a bringer of bad luck, and if she accepted his offer, woe betide her. She told Trujillo it was a malicious lie, a superstition, a remnant of Dark Ages thinking. And not an hour later she had barely escaped the Krispy Kreme doughnut sign of doom. Wiedemeyer strikes again, people would say.
“Pretty damn lucky, huh?” Wiedemeyer elbowed her in the side as the crowd milled around them.
“I’d hold your horses, if I were you, Harlan.” Lacey was wondering how she would get home. If Wiedemeyer hadn’t insisted on being chivalrous, she would have taken the Metro and been home already, warm and dry and doughnut-free. “I’m not feeling that fortunate right now.”
“Yeah, damned lucky, I’d say. Lucky we weren’t inside my car. Lucky we weren’t squashed like bugs, lucky to be alive,” he said with relish. “We should get a couple of dozen doughnuts just to celebrate.” He rubbed his hands in anticipation.
“We could have been killed.” Thank you very much, she added silently, you Jonah, you.
“We escape death on a daily basis, Smithsonian. A daily basis, if not an hourly one.” His weird mix of fatalism and optimism grated on her last nerve. “Some other poor bastard’s number was up today.”
She felt a chill that had nothing to do with the storm. Up until now, the October weather had been deliciously warm, but the day had turned cold in a matter of hours. She gave up trying to talk to Wiedemeyer and ordered that cup of coffee and a doughnut, breaking her vow to eat healthier. “Nothing like a little caffeine and sugar to steady your nerves,” she said. The sarcasm didn’t faze him.
“Good idea, and I’ll need a tow truck. You got a cell phone? Mine’s in the car. Of course, it may be a while before they lift that sign off my Volvo. Every safety feature known to Swedish science, and look at it. It’s totaled for sure. Poor bastard. Ready to be cubed.” He observed the damage, clicking his tongue on his teeth before calling his insurance adjuster, with whom he was on a first-name basis. Lacey figured they had a long history.
A Fox Television network van slammed on its brakes outside. A broadcast reporter ran out of the van and through the rain into the Krispy Kreme store, demanding to know whose car lay smashed beneath the doughnut sign. “We were just cruising back from a story to get some hot doughnuts! Pretty lucky, huh?”
“We’re all pretty damn lucky tonight,” Lacey murmured. She visualized a headline: “Fashion Reporter’s Brush with Death—and Doughnuts!” She tried to clean away a streak of mud from her raincoat with a napkin, but succeeded only in adding a streak of doughnut glaze.
A small Asian woman at the counter waved her hand for the Fox newsman like the star pupil. “I saw it. I saw everything. You put me on television?”
The reporter trundled Wiedemeyer and the counter lady outside for a live news bulletin, while Lacey called for a taxi on her cell phone. The dispatcher told her to sit tight, that it would take a while because of the storm. As she hung up, it jingled. That had better not be Yellow Cab telling me I’m out of luck, she thought.
“I don’t care!” she snapped without even checking the number on her phone’s display. “I still need a taxi!”
“Smithsonian? Are you okay? You took a ride from that lunatic! I told you not to do it, Lacey. Now bad luck is going to follow you like a boomerang until you shake him off.”
“And a good evening to you, too, Trujillo.”
“I guess you’re still alive, in spite of the Wiedemeyer Effect. So you weren’t in the car when it happened?”
“How do you know what happened?” Lacey demanded.
“It’s on the news right now. How does Fox do that?” She heard Tony snort into his phone. “It’s always something with that guy. A lightning bolt heads straight for Wiedemeyer, misses him, but gets everything around him. Why did he want to take you home anyway?”
“Maybe he’s a nice guy,” she said, but she knew that wasn’t the answer.
“Yeah, sure. The real reason.”
“He was pumping me for information about Felicity.” She grimaced to herself at the very thought of Felicity Pickles, The Eye’s food editor and part-time copy editor. Lacey’s least favorite person in the newsroom had just returned to work after a short leave of absence, following the well-publicized demise of her minivan in an explosion outside The Eye Street Observer—an explosion meant for Smithsonian. Everyone had known Felicity was back by the aroma of freshly baked brownies and the crowd of hungry reporters swarming around her desk. Felicity Pickles used food as a weapon and a lure, but her ultimate goal, Lacey was certain, was to fatten up everyone in the newsroom until they all looked like Felicity Pickles. With her long, straight auburn hair, round china-blue eyes, and creamy complexion, Felicity had a strange doll-like look. A chubby child’s doll with a hidden evil side, like something out of a bad horror movie.
“No kidding? Felicity?” Lacey could almost hear the gears turn in Trujillo’s head. “I remember Wiedemeyer was starting to hang around her just around the time her van blew up.”
“You’re blaming Harlan for the minivan explosion?” That cheered her up, since she’d blamed herself for that.
“Well, no, everyone still blames you, Lacey. But I put my money on the Wiedemeyer Effect as a contributing factor. Wait till everyone hears how he got Krispy Kremed!”
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