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Pretty Guilty Women


Hush, little baby, don’t say a word…”

Quiet footsteps filled the nursery. A woman padded over the thick, plush carpet, carefully selected to greet the newborn. Moonlit lines lay etched on the floor, carved into bars by the halfway-closed blinds. Thin strips of light gave the impression of an ethere-al jail cell, a prison holding the baby—-her baby—-captive.

“Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” Happily grinning cartoon giraffes had been lovingly pressed against the wall, their necks arched toward the ceiling in a quiet watchfulness. “And if that mockingbird won’t sing…”

The singing ground to a halt as she listened for the groan of the garage door—-the sound of it inching up, a gaping, ugly black mouth ready to swallow him into the belly of the beast. To bring him here.

While she waited, her pulse racing, she listened for the creak of the front door, the depression of his heavy sole striking the hardwood staircase. If it was him, she would recognize the fifth step squeak as he ascended, and then the seventh step sigh.

But she suspected he knew about the squeak. He’d skip over the fifth step, but not the seventh.

That sigh would save her life.

When neither the fifth nor the seventh steps wailed their trusty alarms, she eased to the side of the crib and smiled down at the sleeping baby. In a few more minutes, they’d be free. Alone and safe.

“Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring…”

She lifted the baby to her chest, cradling the newborn bottom against her arm, savoring the feel of the tender little head against her chest. Sweet-scented bubble bath clung to the baby’s skin like an exquisite perfume.

“And if that diamond ring turns brass…”

“Papa’s gonna buy you a looking glass.” The low, throaty voice came from the doorway, where a man, flanked in shadows and charmingly handsome, rested against the wooden trim. He watched her through glittering black eyes.

He gave a slow, dangerous smile as she spun to-ward him. Her pulse skittered as she realized with horror that he’d discovered the seventh step sigh.

“And if that looking glass gets broke…” She hoarsely continued singing as if nothing strange had occurred. She belonged here with the baby, after all. Nothing—-no one—-could take that away from her.

“That’s where you’re wrong, sweetheart.” He gave an ugly smile, fingered the gun at his waist, and shook his head. “You’re already broke.”



Detective Ramone: Please state your name for the records.

Lulu Franc: My name is Lulu Franc, and I am sixty-­eight years old. My last name is spelled F-­R-A-­N-­C. Please make sure that gets spelled correctly, as it’s a nightmare to correct on legal documents.

Detective Ramone: Ms. Franc, we’re recording this interview. Your name will be transcribed accurately. Please state the date you arrived at Serenity Spa & Resort and your purpose for being here.

Lulu Franc: I arrived August 16 with my husband, Pierce Banks. We have a suite booked for a week as we’re attending the DeBleu/Banks wedding. I’m the groom’s aunt by marriage. Not that my nephew would notice if I wasn’t in attendance, but he’d most certainly notice if we didn’t leave him a check as a wedding gift.

Detective Ramone: I assume you know the reason you’re here. We discovered a body tonight, Ms. Franc.

Lulu Franc: Yes, a dead one.

Detective Ramone: That’s implied.

Lulu Franc: Good. Because that’s the way I saw him last.

Detective Ramone: Are you confessing to murder, Ms. Franc? Let me remind you this conversation is being recorded and what-ever you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Lulu Franc: Must I repeat myself? For the last time, let me state for the record: I, Lulu Franc, am guilty of killing this man. When you write that down, remember, Franc is spelled F-­R-­A-­N-­C. If you add a K at the end, I will be very upset.

Lulu Franc was desperately annoyed.

She was supposed to be at the salon, relaxing while Delilah curled her hair and touched up her manicure, but no. Instead, she was stuck at home, rattling across her gorgeous wooden floorboards as she poked her head into the freezer and ducked under tables. Lulu’s joints creaked as she bent low, and despite her attempts to ignore all signs of aging, she couldn’t help but notice the glaring evidence to the contrary. However, her darling husband’s elusive (and very fat) wallet was not nearly as obvious. It simply insisted on remaining lost.

She straightened, flicking dust off her new cashmere cardigan as she heaved a sigh of frustration. Her sweater was lined with real raccoon fur and had cost her husband a fortune. No matter, as Pierce Banks was both loaded and happy to indulge his wife’s taste in fashion. Not that Lulu didn’t work for it. Being married to Pierce Banks was a full-time job on the South Carolina social circuit.

“Relax, sweetheart. It’ll turn up,” Pierce called as Lulu blazed passed him. “Don’t be late for your appointment.”

“Have you forgotten that you need identification to fly?” Lulu asked. “Please call Marsha and have her come by. Maybe she saw your wallet when she was cleaning yesterday.”

“I’m not calling Marsha on her day off,” Pierce said. “It will turn up; it always does.”

Lulu gave up her search in the kitchen, where Pierce Banks lounged against the counter in a luxurious, black robe, watching her with a gleam in his eye as he waited for the coffee maker to warm. Lulu returned the flirtatious look with one of her own, for-getting her annoyance almost at once as she surveyed her husband, a man who by any measure appeared quite perfect.

“What is that look?” Lulu asked with a coquettish tilt of her head. “I’m annoyed, Pierce Banks. Don’t think you can distract me with those beautiful baby blues.”

“I don’t think I can make the one and only Lulu Franc do anything she doesn’t want to do.” Pierce grinned back at her. “Otherwise, your name would be Lulu Banks.”

“You knew my rules when you married me.” Lulu added a lighthearted snip to her tone. “It’s a lucky thing you’re charming enough to make me forget why I was frustrated with you in the first place this morning.”

Pierce crossed the room, pulled Lulu in for a quick kiss on the cheek. “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Lulu inhaled the fresh scent of Pierce after his shower, his expensive gels and shampoos both familiar and comforting. She didn’t think there’d ever come a day when she wouldn’t be madly, brutally in love with her husband.

“Pierce,” she protested against his chest. “I’m going to be late!”

Pierce let her back away to arm’s length, but he held her there, his eyes fixed on hers with a lingering gaze that at once melted Lulu’s heart, and then set her at unease. There was a hint of love in his eyes and, more curiously, a longing. Something Lulu hadn’t seen from Pierce in quite some time.

“Is everything all right?” Lulu asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Pierce looked startled. “Nothing at all. Just taking in the moment.”

“Yes, well, next time you take in the moment, do you mind taking in your wallet as well? We really do need to find it.” Lulu gave a smile that was meant as an olive branch. In the background, the coffeepot gurgled to life and the delightful scent of freshly ground beans reached Lulu’s nose. She inhaled deeply. “I’ve got to finish getting ready. Will you pour me a cup for the road?”

As Lulu pecked her husband on the cheek, she allowed herself one additional moment to wonder about Pierce’s strange look. He was kind and loving, almost too generous for his own good, but he wasn’t overly affectionate. At least not anymore. That look in his eyes set Lulu on edge, and it wasn’t the first time he’d acted somewhat strangely as of late.

She waited in the hallway until she heard Pierce puttering around, pouring a cup of coffee for himself and then another for her, before easing into his favorite kitchen chair where he flicked a newspaper to attention during his typical morning routine.

Lulu took his silence as an opportunity, easing farther down the hall before she paused outside Pierce’s study. It was the one place she hadn’t gone to look for his wallet. The one place she normally avoided, with the drawer she normally ignored. But she couldn’t shake that look in his eye. Something wasn’t quite right.

And despite her husband seeming quite perfect, Lulu knew she was missing something. Nobody was perfect—-Lulu included. Her four (failed) marriages proved that. Ironically, Lulu had thought this would be her last marriage. She’d toyed with the idea of changing her last name when she married Pierce, especially after he’d emotionally pleaded his case and explained how much it would have meant to him to share a surname, but it hadn’t been enough.

In the end, Lulu had made the decision with her head, not her heart. She’d kept her maiden name—-Lulu Franc (without the K)—-because that was the way she’d held onto her independence, her identity, after nearly seven decades of life. Four men, five marriages, and through it all, she’d maintained a certain sense of freedom. Clung to it with greedy little fingers, even though it had disappointed Pierce to hear her decision. He’d said he understood, but Lulu wasn’t sure if he ever truly could.

After all, Pierce hadn’t been married before. He claimed to have no secrets. No ex-wives or tangled relationships following him around. At least, none that Lulu had heard about. But somehow, she suspected that all might change if only she could open the damn drawer.

Lulu slipped into her husband’s study. She knew with confidence that she had at least ten minutes until Pierce would finish his coffee, crinkle up his paper, and pour himself a second cup before heading to his study to check his emails.

She didn’t ever mean to pry, but Lulu was nothing if not curious. Her fingers curled around the handle on the drawer and gave a light tug, but it didn’t so much as budge. She knew it wouldn’t, just like she knew Pierce wouldn’t be fooled if he found her in here, yanking against a handle and claiming to be looking for his wallet. The truth was, the drawer had been locked for more than a year now.

Do all couples have secret drawers? Lulu wondered, casting a guilty glance over her shoulder. She paused to listen again, her heart pounding against her chest with such intensity that she checked her left arm for signs of a heart attack. Unfortunately, her arm was fine, and her erratic pulse was due solely to the fact that her perfect husband was keeping a secret, and Lulu was positively dying to find out why.



Detective Ramone: Please state your name for the record.

Ginger Adler: Ginger Holly Adler.

Detective Ramone: What is the nature of your trip to Serenity Spa & Resort?

Ginger Adler: We’re attending a college friend’s wedding. It’s pretty obvious, I thought. Aren’t you supposed to be the detective? I mean, there are signs for the ceremony everywhere. Did you see the letter board out front?

Detective Ramone: I haven’t.

Ginger Adler: It’s got a week’s worth of activities on it. In my day, weddings were a one-­day event. And the money they’re put-ting into this! There’s a flower arrangement the size of the Taj Mahal outside the resort, spelling their initials in a heart. They even gave me a bottle of custom wine as part of a welcome basket in our room. Not the cheap kind either, with a label just stuck on the outside. It’s an actual bottle of some special blend made exclusively for them. Don’t you think it’s all a bit much?

Detective Ramone: Let’s stick with me asking the questions. Mrs. Adler, when did you arrive at the resort?

Ginger Adler: We were supposed to arrive on August 16 at 3:00 p.m. We didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m.

Detective Ramone: 8:00 p.m. on August 16? What was the reason for your delay?

Ginger Adler: A missed flight. I almost killed my husband because of it.

Detective Ramone: I assume you were able to get on a different flight.

Ginger Adler: Yes, luckily. My husband lives to see another day.

Detective Ramone: Mrs. Adler, I assume you understand why I’ve called you in here this evening.

Ginger Adler: Of course. Let’s cut to the chase and save us some time—­I am responsible for a man’s death tonight. Is that what you needed to hear?

Elsie, get your shoes!” Ginger tugged a hand through her strawberry-blond hair, now showing a smattering of gray. (She’d meant to get that highlighted before the wedding, but there was no time now.) “Poppy, did you pack a bathing suit? You should bring two, honey. Tom. Tom! Put down your dinosaur and go potty. We have a long flight ahead of us, and we are not stopping on the drive to the airport.”

“Mom,” he moaned. “I’m seven. I use the bathroom.”

“Potty, potty,” Poppy singsonged in her sweet little voice. “Tom has to go to the potty.”

“Shut up,” Tom said. “I do not.”

“Mommy!” Poppy’s sweet voice turned into a wicked scream. “Tom told me the s-word.”

“Kids, now,” Ginger roared. “Anyone not in the car in ten minutes is going to be left home alone. Move it, troops.”

Ginger’s children grumbled and groaned and moaned in camaraderie. It seemed the only time they called a truce and worked together was when they were ganging up on their mother. All three kids seemed to agree on how horribly awful she was to have picked up double shifts for the past six months at the hotel where she worked as a receptionist, just so they could afford the trip. Anything less, and the Adlers wouldn’t have been able to foot the bill for the ungodly sum of money it was costing her to fly a family of five across the country.

Who did Whitney DeBleu think she was, anyway? It was ridiculous that she needed to get married in some exclusive resort on the coast of California. And even more ridiculous that the wedding festivities last-ed an entire week! What happened to nice, heart-warming Midwestern weddings in a barn with sloppy buffet food and a raucous dance party? That’d done the trick for Ginger and Frank, and they were still married sixteen years later with three gorgeous (albeit not very cooperative) children.

In reality, Ginger would rather not have received an invitation to Whitney’s wedding at all. She and Frank really couldn’t afford to be going, but the wedding would only happen once, and Ginger and Whitney really had been good friends in college. Of course, Emily and Ginger had been best friends, but that relationship had fizzled once Emily had gone and turned into a complete and utter bitch.

“If I don’t see your butt on the toilet in two seonds, Tom, I am going to put you there myself,” Ginger called. “Frank, where are you? Can you find Poppy’s other shoe? The pink one. She needs it for the ceremony. Elsie, you've packed a library in this backpack. Do you need ninety-four books for a week? And they’re all so torn up and mutilated. Can’t you choose a regular-looking book to read by the pool so people think we’re a normal family?”

Ginger limply picked up a battered, dog-eared, somewhat stained paperback that her daughter had likely acquired from the neighbor’s Little Free Library. Elsie had a thing for random books and preferred to choose an odd freebie from next door rather than buy her own, which fit very well with Ginger’s budget, but not so much with the image of a neat little family vacationing at a luxury resort.

However, Elsie was almost sixteen and almost impossible to be around. Arguing with her only made things worse. She’d developed some sort of new attitude that revolved around obnoxious technology, an inability to string a full sentence together, and a general moodiness that affected the entire house. Even vacationing in California had barely tipped the edges of her lips into a smile.

“Frank!” Ginger looked toward her feet where there were four full-size suitcases, three halfway-zipped duffels, and Poppy’s little backpack—-along with an entire zoo of stuffed animals. “A little help here?”

“Sorry, honey, I didn’t hear you.” Frank Adler careened in through the front door of the suburban three-bedroom house—-just a touch too small for the five of them—-with a goofy grin on his face. “I was watering the tomatoes.”

“You were…” Ginger felt her lips parting in shock. “You were watering the tomatoes?”

“Yeah, well, Leslie won’t be here to care for the plants until Wednesday, and we’re really in for a heat wave. Would hate to see those babies die. I figure a good soak will keep them healthy for a few days.” Frank paused, running a hand through his already ruffled hair. “Hey, I forgot all about my potted lemon tree. And the raised garden bed. Honey, I’ll be right back—-”

“No you won’t.” Ginger felt her voice turn ugly. “Frank, what about your real children? Tomatoes are not living things.”

“Well, actually—-”

“Forget the damn tomatoes,” she said as her phone burst into a jingle. “I’ve got to answer this. Can you help get the children ready for the trip that you wanted to take?”

Ginger’s shoulders stiffened with resistance at the horribleness in her voice. This wasn’t like her. Ginger was fun and patient and exuberant. She wasn’t a nag, and more importantly, she loved Frank. She loved his silly hobbies and stupid projects. His very zest for life was one of the reasons she’d fallen head over heels for him in the first place.

But then life had happened, and kids, and finances, and insurance, and lost pink shoes. And somewhere in the mess of suburbia and second jobs and the monotony of daily life, love just seemed so hard sometimes.

“Sorry,” Frank mumbled. “I—-Er, what did you need me to do?”

“Forget it,” she said, pulling her phone out from beneath the mounds of other things she had in her arms. “Water your garden. Be in the car in ten minutes, and I’ll take care of the kids and the house and the suitcases and the snacks and the paperwork and the money.”

“Really?” Frank’s face turned into a childish expression of jubilee. “You’re a doll, honey. Kids, listen to your mother. We’re going on vacation!”

“Hello?” Ginger was already on the phone. She’d barely glanced at the number as she pushed the phone against her ear and juggled the socks and the suitcases and one of Elsie’s books that had plopped on the floor, looking sad and dead. “Sorry, I can’t hear you. Who is this?”

“It’s me, Whitney” came a tinkling, manicured voice. “Is everything okay? It sounds like you’re in a war-torn country, sweetie.”

“Well, that’s the Adler household for you,” Ginger said. “How’s everything going with the wedding? Is something wrong? I swear, Whitney, if Arthur is having cold feet, I’ll stick those frigid toes up his—-”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” she said quickly. “Arthur is wonderful. I’ve just stepped out to the spa to get my nails done, and I thought I’d give you a call while I had a second to myself. I’m positively booked every minute from now until the ceremony.”

Of course Arthur is perfect. Whitney deserved all sorts of wonderful, so why was the image of Whitney—-wildly in love, chatting easily while a masseuse rubbed her shoulders and a nail technician pampered her feet and yet another professional waxed her lady business—-so dang frustrating? As if Whitney’s blissful naivete was some sort of sin.

Just you wait… Ginger thought. Wait for the third kid, the tightening budget, the sleepless nights. Then Ginger would call Whitney back and daintily inquire about her delightful marriage and beautiful children, picturing her baggy-eyed with roots showing and a child on her breast while Arthur watered his fucking tomatoes.

“I’m thrilled we’ll be seeing you so soon,” Ginger said instead. “We’re trotting out of the house now.”

“Excellent,” Whitney said. “But that’s sort of what I was calling about.”

“Go on,” Ginger said, gritting her teeth as a shoe came flying over the upstairs bannister and nearly took her eye out. “What’s bothering you, sweetie?”

“Emily called,” Whitney said in a rush. “She wanted to know if it would be super rude to last minute change her RSVP and attend.”

“It’s a little late, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but, well…” Whitney had always been uncom-fortable with confrontation. Everything from her angelic blond hair to her precious pale skin shrunk at the first sign of an argument. “I was thinking of telling her she could come. It’s…she thought she’d be traveling, and now she’s not, and—-anyway. I thought you should know she’s going to be there.”

“That’s great,” Ginger said in a high--pitched falsetto. “Thanks for calling, but I’ll be fine. We’re all adults. Now, you just focus on getting married and looking marvelous. We’re running late for our plane, so I’m going to let you go get pampered. See you soon!”

Ginger sighed and collapsed on the couch, the phone cradled in her limp hand as she stared at the muddy shoe on her white floor. She should have never RSVP’d to this wedding. She’d have to face Emily while towing tomato-loving Frank on one arm and three children headed straight to the juvenile detention center behind her.

Pretty Guilty Women
by by Gina LaManna