Mike Chapman was a homicide detective. Best one on the job, in my view. Nina Baum was my closest friend, and had been for exactly half my life. We were eighteen when we met, assigned to be roommates at Wellesley College when we arrived freshman year. She was married now, living in California with her husband and young son. She had met Mike many times during the decade that he and I had worked together on cases, and she looked forward to spending time with him whenever she was in town.
"First we'll find Jake." She led me up the steps, past the lone palm tree that stood on the platform below the great temple. "Then I'll introduce you to my boss and all the museum heavyweights."
"How's Jake behaving? You still have a job after tonight or is he hounding everybody here, looking for scoops?"
"Let's say we've raised a lot of eyebrows around town. I keep telling people that I've only borrowed him for the evening, but when you read tomorrow's gossip columns, you might begin to wonder. You must have a lot of friends here, 'cause they can't figure out why I'm hanging on to him and why you're nowhere to be seen."
"'Who is that auburn-haired beauty who whisked in from the coast and stole NBC correspondent Jake Tyler right out from under the long arm of the law? Prosecutor Alexandra Cooper has a warrant out for her arrest. And also for the return of the terrifically sexy -- and backless -- navy blue sequined dress that this interloper slipped out of Alexandra's closet when she wasn't looking.' That's what I'm likely to see in the tabs?"
"I figured you loaned me the guy for the evening, how sore could you be about the sexy, backless gown?"
Nina had arrived in New York a day earlier. She was a partner in a major L.A. law firm, where she had developed an expertise in packaging large entertainment projects for big-screen and television movies. Tonight's event was staged to announce an historic occasion for two great New York institutions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, with some help from Hollywood, would hold the first cooperative exhibition in their histories.
The controversial mix of scholarship and show business had had a difficult birth, struggling to overcome resistance from trustees and curators, administrators and city officials. But blockbuster shows like the Met's "Treasures of Tutankhamen" and the Costume Institute's collection of Jacqueline Kennedy's White House clothing filled the museum coffers and argued for the drama of a spectacular twenty-first-century display of the two museums' collective greatest hits.
Nina's California client, UniQuest Productions, had successfully bid on all the media marketing rights to the new project. "A Modern Bestiary," as the show had been titled, would feature all the fantastic animals of the world, as represented in both collections, from hieroglyphs, tapestries, and paintings to mounted specimens and stuffed mammals. There would be dazzling, high-tech creations and virtual dioramas, IMAX time trips to examine artists and artifacts in their natural habitats, and commercial tie-ins for souvenir sales in museum shops and on the web. There would be Rembrandt refrigerator magnets, triceratops lapel pins, plastic human-genome Slinkys to bounce down staircases across America, and snow globes with endangered species of the Amazon being doused by acid rain.
Nina steered me toward a short, dark-haired man with too much facial hair and a collarless tux shirt. "Quentin Vallejo, I'd like you to meet Alexandra Cooper. She's -- "
"I know, I know. The best friend." Quentin did the up-and-down thing. My five-ten frame towered over him, so his eyes just focused at the level of my breasts and worked their way south to my knees before lifting back up to meet my glance. "The sex crimes prosecutor. Nina talked about you for the entire flight yesterday. That's an interesting job you've got. We ought to have a chat sometime, just the two of us. Like to hear more about what you do."
Copyright © 2003 by Linda Fairstein
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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