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Gypped

A Regan Reilly Mystery
By Carol Higgins Clark

Read an Excerpt

1

In a claustrophobic dressing room littered with straight pins, Regan Reilly was checking her reflection in the mirror. If there was anything she hated, it was shopping for jeans. With all the boot-cut, slim, straight, bell, stonewashed, low-rise, high-rise styles, and ever changing lengths, finding a pair that fit properly was a challenge. Harsh lighting didn’t exactly add to the joy of the occasion.

A deliberate pounding on the door was followed by a cheery, “It’s Turquoise. Any luck yet?”

Regan glanced at the pile of jeans she’d already rejected. “I think so,” she answered, trying to sound upbeat.

“What’s that? You need to speak up.”

Of course I do, Regan realized. “Yes, finally,” she called over the thumping music that filled the air.

“Awesome! Can I take a peek?”

Oy, Regan realized. This is the part of shopping I hate the most. She didn’t have to be psychic to predict the salesgirl’s reaction. Regan pulled open the door.

Turquoise, not her legal name, she’d informed Regan, although Regan might have guessed, had streaks of turquoise running through her wildly layered black hair. One small section looked as if she’d been to the barber for a close shave. Another section was cascading down to her waist. The black leather halter and low-rise jeans Turquoise was sporting brought to mind the expression, “And never the twain shall meet.” She quickly sized up Regan’s jeans. “They’re fab! Oh, I wish I were tall like you.”

“5'7" isn’t that tall,” Regan said with a smile.

“It is to me! If I didn’t wear these platform shoes,” Turquoise said, pointing to her indescribable footwear, “I’d disappear into the crowd.”

“Not a chance,” Regan answered.

Turquoise laughed and swayed back and forth to the thumping music. “I have one more pair that you have to try on.”

“That’s okay,” Regan began. “I think I’m done for the day.”

“No, wait! I’m so psyched. I thought we were out of this style but I found one last pair in the back and it’s your size! You’re going to love them.” Turquoise reverently unfolded the jeans in her hand and held them out. “Aren’t these cool?”

Regan stared. The jeans had holes in the knees the size of bread plates. Holes surrounded by fray. “I don’t think that’s what I’m looking for.”

Regan felt decidedly unhip. She was thirty-one years old but suddenly being around Turquoise made her feel at least a hundred.

“You never know until you try,” Turquoise said with a twinkle in her heavily made-up eyes.

“That’s true of a lot of things in life,” Regan said, “but I’ll take a pass.”

“No prob. Would you like to put your purchase on your Trendsetters credit card?”

“No, thanks,” Regan said quickly.

“Do you have a Trendsetters credit card?”

“No.”

“Would you like to apply for one today? You’ll get ten percent off.”

“No, really. But thanks. I’ll get changed and be right out.”

“Okay. I’ll meet you out front.”

Regan pulled off the jeans, started to lose her balance, and stepped on one of the straight pins that she had been carefully avoiding. “Ow,” she grumbled as she pressed her hand against the wall to steady herself. I’ve got to get out of here, she thought. She checked her foot to see if there was any blood before she slipped on the white pants that had felt chic before she set foot in the store. At the register, as Turquoise rang up the purchase, she asked for Regan’s e-mail address and phone number. “You’ll get advance word on Trendsetters sales!”

“I’d rather not.”

“Are you sure? You might miss out on some really super deals.”

It’s a risk, Regan thought, but a risk I’m willing to take. “I’m sure,” she replied as she signed the credit card receipt.

Turquoise folded the jeans and placed them in a plastic bag. The words “Come back soon,” had barely escaped her lips before she hurried off to greet an attractive, conservatively dressed woman in her fifties who had just come through the door.

Good luck, lady, Regan thought, as she escaped into the California sunshine and donned her sunglasses.

Regan walked along the upscale outdoor mall that was a welcome addition to the Los Angeles shopping scene. A large, modern timepiece towering over the fountain that was the centerpiece of the mall read October 4th, 4:05 P.M. The warm air and the softening of the afternoon light calmed her. And just being out of that dressing room was a relief! But Regan was ready to head back to the hotel.

Private investigator Regan Reilly had lived in Los Angeles when she met Jack Reilly, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad. The occasion? The kidnapping of Regan’s father, Luke, along with his driver. Regan and Jack had worked, along with his team, on getting them back safely. The two had been together ever since. People often laughed about how convenient it was they both had the same last name, then invariably added that they looked like they were made for each other.

Regan’s dark hair, blue eyes, and light skin were termed “Black Irish.” 6'2" Jack was sandy-haired, hazel-eyed, and what Regan termed “incredibly handsome.” They had an apartment in Tribeca—the triangle below Canal Street—in New York City. Her parents, Nora Regan Reilly, a well-known mystery writer, and Luke, owner of three funeral homes, lived in Summit, New Jersey, where Regan had grown up. Luke loved to take the credit for introducing them. “If I hadn’t been kidnapped, . . . ” he’d joke, his face beaming with pride. “Anything for my daughter.”

So much about my life has changed since I left L.A., Regan thought as she headed for the multistoried parking structure. It’s hard to believe I was living here not so long ago. It’s good to be back for a visit, especially since I’m with Jack.

They’d arrived late the night before on a last-minute trip. For the next few days Jack would be meeting with the LAPD, then they would take off in their rental car. Perhaps head north to wine country for the weekend. Perhaps south to Baja. See which way the wind blew, that was their plan.

Regan decided to stop for a moment and sit on a bench near the fountain and check her phone. The fountain that not only gushed water, but played music. Miracles will never cease, she thought as she reached in her purse. Jack had texted her. No surprise that I never heard my phone in that store. She read his message:

Looks like today’s meeting will run well into the evening. Giving you a heads-up so you can make dinner plans with one of your old pals. I love you. Jack.

Regan felt a stab of disappointment. I shouldn’t, she thought. His work is the reason we’re here. She put her cell phone back in her purse, stood up, and once again started toward the parking lot. A slender woman wearing a long skirt and peasant blouse was a few steps ahead of Regan, moving quickly, carrying several shopping bags in each hand. A small brown bag at the top of one of them fell to the ground. Regan scooped it up, caught up to the woman, and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” Regan said. “You just dropped this.”

The woman slowed down and turned to Regan. She was wearing large sunglasses. “Huh?”

“This just fell out of one of your bags.”

“Oh, thank you! That is so nice of you,” she said, putting her bags on the ground. “I’m rushing too much.” She took the bag from Regan, then tried to fit it in with her other purchases but there wasn’t enough room. “Oh, my,” she mumbled.

“If you’re going to your car, I’ll help you,” Regan offered.

The woman shook her head vehemently as she continued to try and rearrange her bags. “Oh, no, that’s okay. I can handle it.”

She must be afraid I’m some kind of con artist, Regan thought with amusement. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not going to let your old game show friend help you out?” Regan teased.

“What?” The woman quickly glanced up at Regan.

“As I recall, we had a lot of laughs the few days we spent together at the television studio in Burbank waiting our chance to wow the world on Puzzling Words.”

The woman straightened up and screamed. “Regan?”

“Zelda!”

They hugged, then both took off their sunglasses. “I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you,” Zelda stammered as she pushed back her mane of brown curls. Beads of sweat had formed on her forehead. “I’m in such a hurry.”

“That’s okay. It must be about seven or eight years. You look great.”

“Thanks, you too! Neither of us won the big money but we both came so close!” Zelda cried. “And remember that horrible clue your celebrity gave you when you were playing for twenty grand?”

Regan laughed. “I’ll never forget it.”

“You were in detective school. We exchanged numbers but never got in touch.”

“I called you once,” Regan teased. “But I never heard back.”

“You’re right. My life was in such confusion. First I was so upset about not winning the money, then I thought too much time had passed to call you back.”

“It’s okay,” Regan said.

“Is that a wedding ring you’re wearing?”

“Yes. And I live in New York now. We’re out here for my husband’s work.”

“Wonderful! I’m still looking for the right guy. Maybe I’ll meet him before I turn forty. That gives me three months! But I’ve had a few good things happen in my life since I last saw you. . . .”

They walked to Zelda’s car, during which time Regan learned that Zelda had been left $8 million by an elderly neighbor she barely knew.

“Eight million dollars!” Regan gasped.

“Can you believe it? This woman lived in my apartment building. She was a loner. I always said hello when we passed each other in the hallway, I held the door for her, and when she wasn’t feeling well I offered to walk her dog. She let me do that a few times but wasn’t interested in even having a cup of tea together. After she died, I was flabbergasted she left me anything, never mind that much. My building was nice, but not the kind of place where you’d imagine someone down the hall had at least eight million dollars in the bank.”

“I guess it makes up for losing on the game show,” Regan remarked.

“It does,” Zelda said. She laughed heartily, instantly bringing Regan back to those days in the studio. Not a single bad clue went without comment. Zelda and Regan both prayed Betty White would be their celebrity partner. No such luck.

“So when did you become a multimillionaire?”

“Almost a year ago.” They reached Zelda’s Mercedes and loaded the bags in her trunk. “Listen, Regan, I have to hurry. This week I’m staying in an old Hollywood Hills estate. I don’t think anyone has lived there in years. The owner donated the use of the house for a week, as a prize at a charity auction. I bid the most—which isn’t saying much because nobody else wanted it. I’m having a dinner party tonight. Why don’t you and your husband come along?”

“Jack is working.”

“So come by yourself. The place is a kick. There are hiking trails next to the property. I was thinking of suggesting a moonlit walk after dinner if people are up to it.”

“That sounds great, Zelda. What time?”

“8:00.”

“I’ll be there,” Regan said as she wrote down the address. “It’s so funny to run into you like this.”

“It was meant to be, Regan. I truly believe that. I’ve been studying the universe. Everything happens for a reason. I coach people on that.

“Coach people?”

“I’m a life coach. I’ll tell you about it tonight. Can I give you a ride to your car?”

“No, thanks, it’s up on the next level. It’s easier to walk.”

“Okay. See you later.”

Regan waved as Zelda backed out her car. Wow, Regan thought. What a story. She turned, and immediately noticed a tall, scruffy guy wearing a baseball cap and jeans coming into the garage from one of the side stairwells, a set of keys in his hand. Anxiously, he glanced around. Regan watched as he rushed down one aisle, up the next, then tried a key in the passenger door of a small car. It didn’t work. Quickly he backed away. He walked up another aisle and tried the key again with no luck.

What is he doing? Is he looking for a car to steal? Regan asked herself. Most people have at least some idea of where they parked their car. Surreptitiously Regan followed him as he went up and down the aisles looking around, then headed for the main staircase and hurried down the steps. Her heart beating fast, Regan followed after him to the lower level where he also scouted out cars. She tried to keep her distance, but when he started back toward the main stairwell he seemed to sense her presence, stopped, and glanced around. Their eyes met.

People were strolling to their cars, unaware of what was going on. I can’t put anyone in danger, Regan thought as she quickly turned and started to walk away. A moment later she turned back.

He was gone.

Regan headed to the security office as fast as she could.

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