Authors: Christine DeMaio-Rice
Dead Is the New Black
A Fashion Avenue Mystery
Copyright © 2011 by Christine DeMaio-Rice
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited.
Cover Art designed by the author
Laura was late.
Not so late that she’d walk into work after everyone had arrived, and it wasn’t as if she’d missed a conference call or a fitting, or anything like that. More like, conceptually late, because she usually arrived at seven thirty every morning so she could chat with her boss—winner of the CFDA award two years running and subject of more
editorials than she could count. Prodigy. Wunderkind. Fashion icon. Jeremy St. James. Whom she loved. And who, naturally, was gay. So Laura wasn’t late for work so much as she was late for a casual conversation with a love interest incapable of loving her back.
As she got into the elevator at eight thirty on that particular Sunday morning, joining a woman with a perfectly highlighted blond ponytail and a sales guy who smelled as though he’d had an eventful Saturday night, she knew it was worth it, or at least, that it couldn’t have been helped. She couldn’t have let the girl in the pink coat just walk off the R train without being questioned, because she was either the greatest home sewer in the tri-state area, or she was in possession of a first-class knockoff.
Whichever the case, the girl needed either a job offer or an interrogation, because the pink coat in question was the best-selling, four-hundred-of-a-kind Donatella coat which, in a major flub by two well-paid, and soon to be unemployed, editors, was on the cover of both
simultaneously, two months ago, in their December issues. Thus, once the initial four hundred units sold out at Bergdorf’s and Bloomingdale’s, it became more expensive to buy the coat used than new.
But the woman, who wasn’t a second over twenty-three and not an inch over five-two, with hair dyed a little too black, a straightening job a little too thorough, and a skirt about four inches past the point of flattering, wasn’t wearing a Donatella coat. Not by a long shot. She knew because the button thread on Ms. Hipster’s jacket matched the pink of the fabric. When Laura inched closer to the little hipster, acting as if she wanted to share door-leaning privileges, she caught the unmistakable aroma of a well-loved dog and saw that the pink thread was not only specious in that it was pink, but it was also cotton permacore.
Laura knew for a fact that the rhinestone buttons on the Donatella coat were sewn on with thread that matched the silver of the button. And she knew because she and an assistant designer had chosen the thread from a rayon thread sample card. They had two shades of grey rayon twisted together to match the color depth of the metal, effectively making the thread disappear.
However, she had seen no other imperfections in the faux designer coat. The fabric was the same. The collar lay straight on her neck. The stitching was to the St. James standard. Only the button thread gave it away.
The train had stopped, and Ms. Hipster apparently thought she was just going to walk out at 31st Street with a knockoff of a Jeremy St. James coat.
Laura had followed to find out where the girl had gotten it, because whomever she bought it from was selling counterfeit merchandise, the bane of the fashion industry, the huge sucking vortex that swallowed millions and left poor patternmakers like Laura without jobs. The black market of inferior-quality goods violated every trademark, copyright, and intellectual property law put into place to protect artists and artisans.
Ms. Hipster was not just going to walk away, even if, as she approached 31st Street, Laura despaired of a way to ask the woman a polite question, a problem that didn’t rectify itself by the time she followed her to 29th Street, too far away from work just to turn back.
No, once Laura saw her walk into a Korean market on Broadway, she knew she had passed the point of no return. She was committed to discovering the origins of the pink jacket. Best case scenario, Ms. Hipster’s dog, undoubtedly a smelly, drooling thing she kept in her studio apartment in Bushwick, had chewed off the buttons, and she replaced them with whatever thread she had in her sewing kit. Worst case, she was the mastermind behind a counterfeiting ring, and Laura was putting her life in danger by coming close to her.
Laura blew into the Korean market and spotted Ms. Hipster at the coffee bar. Laura headed over there and poured herself the smallest size. It smelled stale, even for a Sunday, so Laura felt zero guilt about the wasted brew as she intentionally mismanaged the paper cup.
“Oh, geez!” Laura exclaimed, as Ms. Hipster arched her back away from Laura’s flying coffee. “I’m so sorry! Did it get anywhere?” A spot of coffee clung to the fabric hairs on the front, about to soak in. The woman had to go ballistic. Who wouldn’t? A Donatella coat cost four thousand dollars. The girl didn’t look like she could afford more than a vintage find from Goodwill.
Ms. Hipster daubed it with a napkin. “It’s all right. I think it’s mostly off.”
Mostly? She was either loaded—that was out, judging from the rest of her ensemble—or the coat was cheap. Laura held out more napkins, and they moved out of the way of the cashier line. “I think there’s a little on the button, too.” Ms. Hipster looked, but of course there was nothing. Laura continued, “If the button is stained, I saw the same ones at Harry’s. I don’t know where you’d get the thread to match, though.”
Laura waited. Ms. Hipster looked at her button, “No, it looks okay. And the thread is just pink. No big. I can buy that anywhere.” She gave a noncommittal smile and backed into the cashier line.
She didn’t have pink thread at home.
Meaning she hadn’t resewn the buttons.
Meaning the coat buttons came with pink permacore thread.
So it’s fake. Fakefakefake.
“It’s really cool, the coat,” Laura said from behind Ms. Hipster, who was counting out nickels and pennies to pay for her coffee. “Where did you get it?”
“My mom brought it back from China.” The girl spun on her vintage 1970s cowboy boots and left. She didn’t seem to know, or care, that Jeremy’s stuff was made in the U.S.A., on 40th Street for that matter, and didn’t ship to Asia. There was always the possibility that she was trying to throw Laura off the trail of a cool new store by claiming the coat came from overseas, a common trick, but if that was the case, there was no way Laura would be able to choke the source of the coat from the hipster anyway. So she just went to the office, quite a far walk from the little Korean grocery with the stale coffee.
She might be late but, as Laura got into the elevator with the other Sunday workaholics, she knew there was most certainly going to be a meaty conversation with Jeremy. Her reflection in the shiny brass of the elevator doors showed a woman who didn’t look as confident as she felt. She straightened her hair and, struck by the futility of it, pulled her wooly cap further down.
The mission of the house of Jeremy St. James was to clothe women who were ashamed of neither their bodies nor their discretionary income. If there was a breast to push up, a patch of skin to expose, or a waist to accentuate, Jeremy’s clothes pushed it up, exposed it, or sucked it in. If there was a straying husband, the clothes were meant to bring him home. If there was a lover to attract, Jeremy St. James had a five-hundred-dollar shirt that would inch you toward that goal.
Jeremy’s clothes simply looked too good, too sexy, too
to be the work of a heterosexual mind. That intensified Laura’s crush. He was gorgeous, brilliant, and safe. Otherwise, she’d be too nervous even to talk to him, and talking to him was why she got up early and dragged herself to the office.
Eight in the morning was still too early for just about everyone but Laura and Jeremy to be at work. The reception area glowed from the concealed lighting, warming the white walls, dark woods, and rare red orchids. The cement floor was tinted a grey only a shade warmer than a city street. The glass and wood reception desk sat unmanned, but the crumpled environmentally friendly napkin from HasBean in the wire garbage can told her Jeremy was already in, and that there would be a cup at her desk. She put in her code and rehearsed the counterfeit Donatella story in her mind.
Laura dropped the lousy Korean convenience store coffee into the trash. It had been a prop, and now it was a cold prop. She didn’t need it any more than the pisswater gurgling like a well-fed baby in the break room.
Every morning, Jeremy brought her some fancy brew from the artisanal coffee joint by his co-op, surprising her with something different every couple of weeks, a new syrup or foamy treatment. The attention was delicious, but nerve-wracking, because he would sometimes stop and chat at her table for ten minutes about the neighbor downstairs or a new restaurant. Other times he’d drop it in front of her with little more than a “good morning” and walk away, wrinkling her heart like a raisin.
When he got in first, like today, her coffee would be waiting with a stirrer and two kinds of sweetener on top, and he’d be in his office already, yelling at their goddamned factory, or hunched over those son-of-a-bitch spreadsheets. He’d wave her off when she went to thank him for the coffee. On those days, she had to remind herself that he was gay. He liked female friends and big dicks. She was wasting her time. She should just give up on men entirely.
She got to her table and, before she could even put her bag down, she noticed that her coffee was spilled. That in itself was a shock. Jeremy wasn’t a mess-maker. He couldn’t abide negligence in any form. Her paper scissors were wet, so she snapped them up and wiped them with a half-soaked napkin. The rest of the damage was manageable, but irritating. Her pattern weight and her rabbit would need to be dried thoroughly, as they were iron and prone to rust. The nice clean oaktag needed to be changed, but her patterns hung safely to the left of her chair.
She pulled a dripping pushpin out of the puddle, then didn’t know where to put it. Jeremy had put the pin on her desk yesterday when he’d seen the head designer’s Fall sketches pinned to a foamcore board. He’d swaggered past Carmella, the designer in question, and barely looking at her whole presentation, focused on one item, a shirtwaist jacket. He snapped the scrap of paper off the board, sending the pushpin flying, held it up in front of Carmella, and yelled, “Does anyone want to bang this woman? Is she on the kitchen floor fifteen minutes after her date rings the bell? What happened? Did we just transport this whole goddamn office to
Gracie Pomerantz, the money behind the company, stood there in her Chanel suit and Brazilian blowout, giggling. Laura knew the coquettish squirt of laughter was meant to humiliate Carmella, but it still seemed inappropriate coming from a middle-aged woman.
Jeremy pretended he didn’t hear Gracie. He picked up the pin and placed it on Laura’s table, then pointed at Carmella, saying, “Stop wasting time. We have a Spring show in two weeks, and you don’t have time to piss around for Fall,” or something like that, something scary that made the world sound bigger than any one woman could manage. But Carmella did, every time. The more stressed out Jeremy got, the more creative she became.
“Jeremy?” Laura called out. She didn’t know whether to clean up the mess or find him first. She guessed the coffee wasn’t going to get any more spilled, so she took the short walk down the hall to Jeremy’s office. She brought her scissors along to wipe as she walked. Having coffee on them would drive her insane, and they had to be tended to immediately. She could hear Jeremy breathing, which was unusual, and she quickened her step down the hall.
Jeremy’s office was an unholy mess, with fabric swatches, mood boards, and trims all over the floor. The desk was uncharacteristically bare. Then she noticed Jeremy, still gorgeous even when looking like a stunned animal, chocolate eyes huge, brown hair a little more disheveled than usual. He wore a knit blazer and Henley, his usual attire for weekends. His fists hovered in front of him as if he were landing an invisible plane. He clutched a zebra-printed charmeuse cutting that he was considering for the Spring line.