Cat Jones was the kind of woman who not only got everything in the world that she wantedin her case a fabulous job as editor in chief of one of the biggest women's magazines, a gorgeous town house in Manhattan, and a hot-looking husband with a big career of his ownbut over the years also managed to get plenty of what other women wanted: like their fabulous jobs and their hot-looking husbands. It was hard not to hate her. So when her perfect world began to unravel, I might have been tempted to turn my face into my pillow at night and go, "Hee hee hee." But I didn't. I took no pleasure in her misery, as I'm sure plenty of other people did, and instead I jetted to her rescue. Why? Because she helped pay my bills, because she was my friend in a weird sort of way, and most of all because as a writer of true crime articles I've always been sucked in by stories that start with a corpse and lead to crushing heartache.
There's no way I could forget the moment when all the Sturm und Drang began. It was just after eight on a Sunday morning, a Sunday in early May. I was lying under the covers of my queen-size bed in a spoon position with thirty-four-year-old Kyle Conner McConaughy, investment banker and sailing fanatic, feeling him growing hard and hoping I wouldn't do anything to mess up the delicate ecosystem of the moment. It was our sixth date and only the second time we'd been to bed, and though dinner had been nice and last night's sex had been even better than the first time, I had a pit in my stomachthe kind that develops when you find yourself gaga over a guy you've begun to sense is as skittish as an alpine goat. All it would take was the wrong remark from mea suggestion, for instance, that we plan a weekend at a charming inn in the Berkshiresand he'd burn rubber on his way out the door.
The phone rang just as I felt his hand close around my right breast. I glanced instinctively at the clock. God, it was only 8:09. The machine would pick it up, regardless of what idiot had decided to call at this hour. It was too early for my mother, traipsing around Tuscany, and too late for old boyfriends, who did their drunk dialing at two A.M. from pay phones in bars below 14th Street. Maybe it was the super. It would be just like him to get in touch at this hour with some pathetic complaint, like my bike was leaning up against the wrong wall in the basement.
"Do you need to get that?" K.C. asked, his hand pausing in its pursuit.
"The machine will," I said. Had I remembered, I wondered, to turn the volume all the way down? The fourth ring was cut off abruptly and a woman's voice came booming into the room from the small office directly across from my bedroom. No, I hadn't.
"Bailey? . . . Bailey? . . . Please pick up if you're there. It's Cat . . . I need your help. . . . Bailey, are you there?"
"I better grab this," I said, wriggling out from under the white comforter. I propped myself up on my elbow and reached for the phone on the bedside table.
"Hi," I said, clearing my throat. "I'm here."
"Oh, thank God," Cat Jones said. "Look, something's wrong here and I'm going insane. I need your help."
"Okay, tell me," I said calmly. If I wasn't responding with a huge degree of concern, it was because I'd known Cat Jones for seven years and I'd seen her freak when the dry cleaners pressed the seams wrong in her pants.
"It's my nannyyou know, Heidi."
"This one quit, too?"
"Please don't be funny. There's something the matter. She won't answer the door down in her apartment."
"You're sure she's there?"
"Yes. I mean, I talked to her yesterday and she promised to be here this morning."
Copyright © 2002 by Kate White
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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