| Chapter One|
(Read or print)
Some blame global warming, others blame El NiÒo. But I blame all my troubles on rock 'n' roll. Because when the rhythm starts to sizzle, I'll be with all the other divas vogueing down the frying pan handle right into the fire.
I'll admit I felt a twinge of panic at the idea of welcoming my husband's ex-lover for an extended visit. That the fling between Vivi Cairo and Billy Harp had been over years before didn't ease my anxiety. Neither did the fact that Vivi, at forty-six, was fourteen years my senior. She had enough attitude to upstage the entire Lilith Fair tour with barely a tilt of the chin. At least, that's what I heard through the grapevine.
You don't maintain a twenty-eight-year career near the top of the charts without titanic talent, drop-dead looks, and the drive of a squadron of fighterjets. Not to mention an ego the size of Vesuvius and a temperament just as explosive.
I had crafted a counter-strategy. I'd play the role of perfect wife--at least for the three weeks she intended to stay. That meant getting home on time, which wasn't always easy. I'd whip up gourmet meals every evening. I figured she couldn't cook. What diva could? I'd chosen my wardrobe weeks ago: Hollywood with a dash of innocence that I didn't think she could match. After all, in Annie Lennox's words, divas were "born in Original Sin."
I'd be nurturing and Madonna-like as I put the kids to bed. Then I'd sit in with Vivi and Billy to keep an eye on them while they discussed their upcoming album. This collaboration, growing out of her success with tunes Billy had written for Vivi the year before, would give my bass-playing husband the comeback vehicle he craved.
Billy was a refugee from rock 'n' roll, but lately he'd been yearning to take another ride on the glory train. Much as I resisted, I'd begun to realize Billy needed to follow his dreams, even though we still hadn't recovered from the nightmare finish that ended his first dance with fame--that most dangerous diva of all. No drugs, Billy had promised, and no tours. And I'd relented. As a former theater brat--my dad, Bobby Szabo, had been a Broadway song-and-dance man--I was a believer in second and third acts.
So, I convinced myself I had Vivi's visit under control. Then fate, namely Whit Smythe, my boss, intervened.
At five P.M. on the dot I turned off my Discman. I'd been listening to Live Through This, Courtney Love's CD released just after Kurt's death. Before that it had been Alanis Morissette.
I'd been listening to divas, old and new, for the past two weeks, soaking up the persona the way you'd prepare to go into snake country--by injecting diluted venom to build up an immunity, so a bite from the real thing wouldn't kill you.
Vivi and her hobo entourage were scheduled to land at eight-thirty. Billy intended to meet them at the airport, an hour's drive south. I'd planned a late dinner for the whole crew. And it was going to be fabulous.
I'd just shut down my computer when Whit caught me. Owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the Greymont Evening Eagle, Whittimore Covington Smythe III is a thin, serious New Englander. Since he's not the demonstrative type, I've learned to read his code of subtle expressions and gestures. A slight lift of the eyebrow. A tap of a thumb on a desk.
Today, although his face betrayed nothing, the fact that he'd come looking for me instead of picking up the phone spoke volumes.
"ZoÎ, what's on your agenda tonight?" he asked.
"I've got a problem. The Environmental Commission is voting on the Plaza project, and Barbara can't be there."
"Is she all right?"
"Fred went into the hospital an hour ago."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
Whit handed me a sheaf of notes. "You're going to have to take this and run. I don't think Barbara's going to be back for a while. We agreed you're the best person for the job."
The shadows under Whit's eyes deepened. Barbara Warwick was an old-timer. She had started writing for the paper during Whit's grandfather's reign. Her husband, Fred, suffered from chronic heart trouble. Judging from Whit's expression, Fred was seriously ill.
A tiny drum in my ear went thump a-thump bump. I wondered if I could manage somehow to dash home for an hour to get the buffet ready before Vivi's arrival. At the same time, I felt concern for Whit, who looked upset.
"Tell Barbara I hope Fred feels better soon."
Whit nodded brusquely and plowed on. "I called Craig Detweiller. He says he's sending in bulldozers the minute the decision comes down. Tun Boudreau decided to withdraw his opposition last night. He and Craig worked out some kind of a deal."
Tim was a high school biology teacher who headed the local Sierra Club chapter and served on the Environmental Commission. Craig, a developer, was a big man in town.
"Who else is fighting this thing?"
"Cassandra Dunne." Whit barely concealed his distaste. "She called a few minutes ago in a rage. Threatened to chain herself to a tree. As far as I know, she's the lastholdout."
The project, proposed for a site at the north end of town, was embroiled in controversy. Though I hadn't paid close attention, I'd been aware of the ongoing dispute since Billy and I had moved here a year and a half earlier.
Imagine the animosity between the antagonists in, say, Star Wars, transplanted to a New England college town, and you might get an inkling of the ferocity of the emotions involved...