How to Murder a Millionaire

By: Nancy Martin



Reed drove slowly through the gates and up the curving drive to the side portico. Gas lamps flickered golden light through the wisteria. Guests anxious to get to the bar had hastily abandoned several sporty cars on the front lawn. Ralph and Libby’s silver BMW stood among them. I could see more vehicles parked on the old polo grounds beyond the boxwood hedge.

A wide stone staircase led from the portico up to the side entrance of the house. Two uniformed valets hired for the evening stood chatting on the steps, oblivious to the grandeur of the home. They wore baseball caps that read MAIN EVENTS, which was the name of a full-service catering company that staffed many social occasions on the Main Line.

I gathered up my notepad and moved to get out of the car. Reed was quicker than the valet and arrived in time to open the door for me.

I got out. “Reed, I’ve told you it’s not necessary to open the door. I’m perfectly capable.”

“I heard you,” he said.

“Well, thank you. When can you come back?”

Stiffly, he said, “I’ll wait. I’ve got studying to do.”

He was taking classes somewhere and used his spare time to catch up on assignments. “All right,” I said. “I’ll probably stay an hour. How do I look?”

The question caught him off guard. “Uhm. Okay. I guess.”

The valet said, “Good evening, miss.”

I said hello and started up the steps of the Pendergast house.

Rory Pendergast’s family had been relatively late arrivals to Philadelphia—after the revolution—and made their presence known first in get-rich-quick schemes and later through significant charitable work. Rory’s father built the house in a wanton spending spree at the turn of the twentieth century. Fortunately, he had the good taste to avoid building a huge, gloomy Victorian pile, and the house turned out to be Jeffersonian in grace and symmetry with rambling interior spaces perfect for entertaining—or playing hide-and-seek.

For the party, the home had been decked out by RickandGabe, Philadelphia florists extraordinaire, in their usual exquisite taste. The double doors at the top of the stairs were pinned open by a pair of Chinese vases containing perfectly trimmed topiary. A copper tub of fresh flowers six feet high stood on the marble-topped table in the center of the entrance hall. A long expanse of Oriental carpet ran from the table down the hallway, punctuated by early American furniture that would render the Antiques Roadshow twins orgasmic.

Before I could reach the top of the steps, however, I heard arguing. Staccato voices, sharp words.

Two people burst out of a side room: a man clutching the elbow of a large, imperious woman.

“I don’t care what you think,” the woman was saying. “You’re a fool.”

I recognized Kitty Keough and instantly wished I were invisible. The man scuttling beside her was none other than Stan Rosenstatz, the Intelligencer features editor and our boss. “Kitty,” he hissed, “you can’t go around saying things like that about people. You’ll get us both fired.”

“If anybody tries to fire me,” Kitty snapped, “they’ll regret it.”

“Kitty—”

“You think I don’t mean it?” She threw her car keys squarely into the chest of the startled valet. Then her glacial gaze landed on me.

Stan caught sight of me, too, and stopped dead.

Kitty said, “Well, if it isn’t Mary Sunshine herself. What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Kitty. I completed the assignment you gave me.” I spoke calmly and smiled, not quite paying homage, but polite. “The story’s written and ready for your approval.”

She wore a full-length black satin skirt with a frothy white blouse that made her bosom look like the puffed-up breast of an exotic bird. Her very blond hair was upswept and lanced with her signature accessory, a feather. No matter what Kitty wore, she had a feather incorporated into her ensemble somewhere.

From two steps above, she eyed me. “I didn’t tell you to come here tonight. What do you think you’re doing? Trying to beat me to the story?”

“No, of course not. I’m a guest.”

“A guest?”

Her tone was insulting, but I fought my temper down. “Yes, I was invited.”

Stan hurried down the steps to me. “Hi, Nora, nice to see you. Lovely evening—”

“Stuff it, Stan.” Without taking her gaze from my face, Kitty dared me to lose my good manners. “Don’t take sides in this.”

“Sides?” Stan forced a laugh. “What are you talking about? Nora’s just—”

“I’m sorry, Kitty,” I said. “Perhaps I should have told you I was coming.” She came down a step and we were face-to-face. I could smell the wine on her breath. She’d had too much, revealed by the glassy look in her eyes. And the scars from her last face-lift hadn’t quite healed.

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