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Beth Sherman's
DEATH AT HIGH TIDE
A Anne Hardaway Mystery
 
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DEATH AT HIGH TIDE
Chapter One
(Read or print)

Beauty isn't just skin deep. You need great lipstick, blush, and mascara, too.
 
Mallory Loving, Loving You
 
The trailers rumbled down Ocean Avenue, one after another, like a herd of elephants stampeding a watering hole. They were massive and sil ver and ugly; the ground seemed to shake as they hurtled down the street. At [lie north end of the beach they stopped, taking the parking spaces normally reserved for residents of the town. When the doors of the trailers opened, the crew tumbled out, lugging equipment: earn eras, lights, generators, large scrims, thick coils of snakelike cables. The movie people wore headphones and spoke to each other through walkie talkies, even when they were no more than ten feet apart. They dragged the equipment over the wooden planks of the boardwalk un til they reached the steps that led down to the beach. There they stopped, surveying the bleached sand, the dazzlingly blue water that glinted in the morning sunlight. One of the men lugged a camera down the steps and onto a piece of cardboard. But the cardboard wouldn't glide over the sand; the camera appeared to be stuck. There was a flurry of activity on the boardwalk as people ran back and forth to the trailers, followed by frantic shouts and curses.
 
"Did you ever see anything like it in your life?" Helen Passelbessy said to Anne Hardaway. "Reminds me of itty bitty ants who can't climb a hill."
 
They were sitting on Anne's front porch overlooking the ocean, eating a breakfast of jelly donuts and iced tea. Though the film crew was three blocks away, the two friends had a bird's eye view of the scene.
 
"Do they even have a permit to block off the beach?" Helen asked. She sounded annoyed. There were two things Anne's best friend couldn't tolerate: pretentious people and wasting time. As far as Helen was concerned, the movie people were guilty on both counts. "It's a gorgeous day," Helen said. "What are we supposed to do? Swim in the bathtub?"
 
Anne smiled. Leave it to Helen to nail the problem. Ever since the Dark Horizon cavalcade had arrived ten days ago, it was as if the sleepy town of Oceanside Heights had been under siege. There was no place you could walk, no place you could eat, no place you could shop, without tripping over an actor or a cameraman or one of those pesky production assistants who delighted in stopping traffic for no apparent reason. The Heights was only one square mile wide. There wasn't room to shoot a movie.
 
"Why couldn't they have picked another spot on the Jersey shore?" Helen lamented. "Like Avalon. Or Seaside Heights."
 
-The quaint quotient's not as high," Anne said, gesturing at the houses on either side of her own pale yellow Victorian cottage. Like most places in the historic town, the homes had been built at the turn of the century and featured a potpourri of architectural delights-sloping gables, graceful mansard roofs, lacy gingerbread fretwork, picturesque widow's walks.
 
"So?" Helen said. "How hard could it be to take one of these beauties and recreate it on a Hollywood back lot? Hell, I'd give 'em the blueprint for my house, if they wanted."
 
"Did you hear they're using Hannah's place?" Anne hooked her thumb toward the house next door, a lavender Queen Anne with projecting bay windows, three balconies, and a majestic gray turret.
 
"How much is she getting?"
 
Anne sighed. "You don't want to know."
 
"What about chez Hardaway? God, Annie, wouldn't it be a hoot? This old place in a movie."
 
Anne examined her house with a critical eye. Yellow paint was flaking off the front. The grass needed cutting. The roof leaked. Ile cornice was a wreck. A couple of spindles had come loose from the upstairs balcony. And the stained glass panel over the front window was cracked.
 
She tried to imagine the house plastered on a big screen in a darkened movie theater and burst out laughing. Helen joined in. Down the street, the crew were moving pieces of equipment around, like large chess pieces on a board. A row of silver Porta-Pottys gleamed in the morning sun. Beyond them stretched the ocean, serene and still under a cloudless August sky-entirely off-limits.
 
"It's hot as Hades, and I've got the day off," Helen announced, stretching her arms above her head. She was tall and athletic and didn't like sitting still for more than three minutes at a time. "You want to skip chaos central and go to a real movie at the mall?"
 
"Can't," Anne said, sweeping her long red hair out of her eyes. "I have to work."
 
Helen clapped one hand over her mouth, like a child feigning embarrassment. An outspoken woman, she never hesitated to say exactly what was on her mind.
 
"Oops. Here I am going on about how much trouble these Hollywood types are and I totally ignore the fact that you have to deal with them." She bit into a jelly donut, brushing powder off her T-shirt. "Spill," she said playfully. "What's Mallory Loving really like?"
 
Anne paused. Her green eyes took on a serious cast. What was Mallory like? Troubled. Self-centered. But who wouldn't be after the life Mallory had led? Abused by a mother who beat her with clothes hangers. A drug addiction problem that nearly tanked her career. Two failed marriages. Three suicide attempts. What was Mallory Loving like? A twister whirling out of control. Dark Horizon was Mallory's last chance at a big screen comeback. If she was a little testy, a little edgy most of the time, who could blame her?
 
Besides, there were worse assignments than ghostwriting Mallory's autobiography. Phil had promised that when Loving You was published next year, the book would make tons of money. Not to mention the foreign rights, the film option, the film itself (starring who else? Mallory Loving), the audio deal, and if the stars were really in alignment, maybe a sequel.
 
"We're talking solid gold here," Phil had told Anne, when he'd handed her the assignment. "A real moneymaker. And the kicker is she's coming straight to you. They're making the movie in Oceanside Heights."
 
"You're kidding," Anne had replied. "No free trip to L.A.?"
 
"Maybe next time, kiddo. Hey, it's perfect when you think about it. Hometown girl leaves Jersey to become an actress. Makes it in La La Land. Sleeps with half of Hollywood on her way to the top. Gets hooked on drugs and booze. Then orchestrates a major league comeback. Perfect for a tell-all. Just perfect. Not to mention all the beauty and exercise tips you're gonna throw in."
 
"Uh, Phil," Anne had interjected. "The Heights isn't Mallory's hometown. She grew up next door, in Landsdown."
 
"So what?" Phil had said. "It's still the Jersey shore. Think about all the girls in all the shore towns who'd love to trade places with Mallory Loving."
 
Anne had twirled the phone cord between her fingers, listening to Phil talk about how much moolah Loving You was going to make for Triple Star Publishing.
 
That was the actual word he'd used: moolah. Anne had pictured him sitting at his rickety wooden desk in Nowheresville, North Carolina, in an office overlooking a furniture wholesaler and a store that sold used electronics. Phil probably had his feet propped up on the desk and was running the numbers on his pocket calculator. A tell-all, huh? Spending quality time with a washed-up actress on the comeback trail. It definitely had potential, a change from the stuff Anne usually wrote about-how to trim your thighs in sixty days, how to prevent your marriage from self-destructing, how to clean no-wax floors and burned saucepans. At least this book wouldn't contain the words how to in the title. Still, she couldn't resist needling Phil a little.
 
"Hey, boss," she'd said. "Did you see the article in the Times magazine section a few weeks ago? The one about ghostwriters?"
 
"Nope."
 
Anne knew he was lying. Phil got the Times delivered to his office every day. He disdained the local paper, calling it a "boring rag."
 
"There was a whole article about how ghostwriting is big business. It's practically a cottage industry in the publishing world."
 
"That so?" A "It said that ghosts are getting six-figure advances. The people who wrote autobiographies of Lee Iacocca, Colin Powell, Tanya Tucker, O.J., they pulled in some pretty big numbers. Now they're called co-authors with their names on the cover of the book. Some of them even appeared on Oprah."
 
Phil Smedley had coughed into the phone. "Look, Annie," he'd rasped. "We're not talking O.J. here. Mallory Loving could be big again. Or this movie could flop and nobody'll give a rat's ass about a two-bit actress fresh out of rehab. I like to look on the bright side is all."
 
"Assuming you're right," Anne had said. "Couldn't we up my royalties a little? For God's sake, Phil. I'm getting the exact same amount for Loving You that I got for Mary Lou Popper's household hints."
 
Phil had groaned. "I have to pay royalties to Mallory, too, you know. I could go as high as four percent."
 
"Five."
 
"Anne, you're killing me here."
 
"I've read about Mallory Loving. She sounds like a first-class prima donna."
 
"So? Mary Lou wasn't?"
 
No, Mary Lou was. They all were-the assorted shrinks, diet doctors, religious leaders, and minor TV personalities Anne had dealt with over the last five years. She was thirty-seven years old and she'd ghosted over a dozen books. Sometimes extracting information from the "experts" was about as pleasant as having a periodontist work on your gums.
 
"Five percent," Anne had said firmly. "Or you can turn this over to somebody else. Somebody who'd love to spend a few weeks in scenic Oceanside Heights; go down the shore for a while. It shouldn't be hard to find a writer, Phil. The beach is lovely this time of year."
 
"All right. Twist my arm, why don't ya? Five it is. I'll type out a new contract today."
 
"Great," Anne had said cheerily. It would have cost Phil money to put a writer up at one of the inns in town. Factor in meals and a car allowance and you didn't need a calculator to figure out that getting her to ghost the book was a cheaper proposition. She lived in the Heights year round, cooked her own meals. And now here she was, interviewing La Loving and finding out more than she'd ever wanted to learn about Benzedrine cocktails, studio casting couches, and the fine art of making pornographic movies, which was how Mallory had gotten her start.
 
Anne turned to Helen and rolled her eyes. "Mallory is trouble," she said. "Pure and simple."
 
"Yeah? I heard the movie's in trouble. Every day something else goes wrong."
 
Anne nodded her head. "It's strange," she said, taking a sip of iced tea. "There are all these 'accidents' on the set. Equipment was stolen. Camera lenses mysteriously got broken. Film's been overexposed. Yesterday the cable on the generator was cut. Caused a small electrical fire. I heard one of the cameramen say it had been tampered with."
 
"Then I'm not the only one who'd like the cast and crew of Dark Horizon to take a hike."
 
"Apparently not." Anne looked over to where the crew was setting up. "The delays are costing the studio millions of dollars."
 
Helen grimaced. She was a loan officer at the Central Bank of New Jersey, and understood profit and loss better than most people Anne knew.
 
"How about we go see what's going on," said Anne, standing up. "I've got another interview with Mallory in half an hour."
 
"Fine by me. My nephew's been dying to get her autograph. Could you do me a favor?" Helen rummaged through her pocketbook and pulled out a disposable camera. "Can you take a few pictures of Mallory for Stevie? He's thirteen. It's a terrible age. All he thinks about are movie stars and cars." She handed Anne the camera. "I'd do it myself, but I'd look like an overage groupie."
 
Anne took the camera. "No problem. Knowing Mallory, she'll be happy to pose."
 
The two women walked down the street toward where the film crew was setting up. Already the humidity was climbing. It was a perfect beach day. The sand stretched out invitingly, like a tawny carpet. Waves lapped the shoreline, breaking with a gentle shushing sound. Normally the beach would be packed on Saturday morning, thick with blankets and umbrellas and tourists slathering on suntan lotion. But now, thanks to the movie people, it was deserted, save for a few brown pelicans scavenging for food at the water's edge. The shore looked as pristine and photogenic as a postcard.
 
Actually, Anne thought, the whole town appeared to be waiting for its proverbial close up. The Heights was nothing if not pretty, the perfect backdrop for a movie. On one side of Ocean Avenue stood the grand Victorian homes, painted beguiling shades of cotton-candy pink, seafoam green, and sky blue. With their shutters, shingles, and ornamental trim, the houses were reminders of a more genteel age. On the oceanfront side of the street, wooden piers jutted into the water, towering above moss-covered rocks. Farther down the street, at the corner of Trinity Lane, was a large white church with brilliant stained glass windows and a steeple that soared toward the clouds.
 
In some ways, Anne loved the familiarity of the place, the sense that while the world frantically changed gears, the Heights remained a bastion of calm, as placid as the lakes flanking the town. From time to time she longed for the anonymity of a big city, to be lost among the company of strangers. But she knew she wouldn't be happy for long. She loved the ocean, the way light spilled onto the waves at dusk, the cry of the gulls outside her window, the smell of salt and sea grass.
 
They really should be shooting a period romance, she mused. A film where actresses wore long pastel dresses with bustles and carried frilly parasols to shield their complexions from the sun, where men courted women in the backseats of horse-drawn carriages, and love letters were composed with quill pens, dipped in ink. Not a techno-thriller called Dark Horizon, with computers and spies and enough special effects to make your head spin.
 
She and Helen were nearly opposite the film crew when they spotted a knot of people gathered on the porch of the Sail Away Inn, overlooking the boardwalk. Anne recognized a few of her neighbors and several merchants whose stores were located on Main Street. The last time so many locals had gathered to stare at the beach was during the fall of '92, when a nasty storm ripped through the area, causing $1.2 million worth of damages. Anne imagined this was how people must look when they think they've spotted alien life forms-their eyes slightly glassy, their mouths agape. Of course, it wasn't far off, when you thought about it. The presence of the movie folks was as close to an alien invasion as the Heights was going to get. Up ahead, two members of the crew were unloading what looked like a small black crane. One of the men was plastered with tattoos, giving his skin a greenish tinge. The other one had a shaved head and earrings piercing his lip and eyebrows. As they dragged the crane across the boardwalk, it made a screeching sound, like a wounded bird.
 
"Freaks," muttered Nathan Kurnetsky, the owner of Moby's Hardware store. "Belong in a circus. Ile whole lot of 'em."
 
"The wages of sin are never cheap," added Lucille Klemperer, a sharp-tongued woman in her early sixties who lived to serve Jesus. Lucille was what Anne called a "church biddy." She went to services twice a day, three times on Sunday, and could recite bits of Scripture to fit any occasion. "So what have we missed?" Helen asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "Are you guys hanging around because you want to be cast as extras?"
 
"I wouldn't dream of it." Nathan sniffed.
 
Anne chuckled. Helen had moved to the Heights only seven years ago. She was still considered an "outsider" by those born and bred in town.
 
"Why don't you ask your friend here what's going on?" said Eleanor Granville, another gray-haired church biddy. "After all, Anne's thick as thieves with these show biz folks."
 
"Hey," Anne said with a shrug. "It's a tough job. But somebody's got to do it."
 
"I supposed you should be used to ... disturbances," Eleanor said, coughing into her palm.
 
Anne felt herself flush. Eleanor was making a veiled reference to Anne's mother, Evelyn, who'd developed Alzheimer's disease in the mid-1970s, before anyone realized it was a physical ailment. The townspeople had thought Evelyn Hardaway was just plain nuts-wearing three sweaters and a ski parka on the hottest day of the year, forgetting her husband's first name, losing her way en route to a neighbor's home, nearly setting the house on fire. Like mother, like daughter. It was a refrain Anne
 
grammar school. That was the problem
 
had heard since grammar school. That was the problem with living in a small town; you could never shake free of the past. Evelyn Hardaway had died years ago. But the stigma remained. Anne was considered odd by some people in the Heights because she wasn't married with three children, because she didn't garden or do charity work, because she spent hours holed up in the library researching her books, and because she never, ever went to church.
 
"They're only making a movie," Anne said to Eleanor Granville. "Not communing with the devil."
 
"Hah!" exclaimed Lucille. "You know what those show folk were doing last night? Swimming in the ocean without a stitch of clothing on. I saw them with my own two eyes."
 
"Oh, my," Helen exclaimed in mock horror. "Stop the presses. Somebody call the National Enquirer. Besides," she scolded gently, "you shouldn't have been watching." "Joke all you want, Helen Passelbessy, said Eleanor. "But it's no laughing matter. You see how much flesh some of these ladies are exposing? You smell the drugs at night? It's wicked, I tell you."
 
"Apparently not everybody minds, " Anne said. She pointed down the block to where a dozen of her neighbors were perched on lawn chairs, as if mesmerized, watching the crew set up. "And there's another fringe benefit. It's not every day the church gets oodles of money."
 
"We haven't accepted that money yet," Nathan Kurnetsky reminded her. "A sizable portion of the congregation does not want the Church by the Sea to be filmed. Under any circumstances."
 
"Those barbarians will not set one foot inside the Lord's house," Lucille pronounced solemnly. "Not while I'm alive to stop them."
 
"Gee, Lucille. How much are they offering now?" Helen said, grinning. "Eight thousand? Ten thousand? That's an awful lot of book sales, don't you think?"
 
Anne couldn't help chiming in. "It's going to cost at least that much to electrify the cross again. But don't say yes too soon. If you hold out, I bet they'll double their offer."
 
Helen burst into laughter. "Maybe even triple it," she joked. "Come on, Annie. Let's see what's cooking in Sodom and Gomorrah."
 
As they crossed the street to the boardwalk, a woman emerged from one of the trailers. Catching sight of them, the woman waved. "Anne, over here," Mallory Loving called out, pushing a strand of her golden hair away from her face. It was a beautiful face, Mallory's ticket to movie stardom. Blue eyes,' flecked with just a hint of gray. Porcelain skin. Full pouty lips. She was in her early thirties and had on white cotton shorts and a tight pink midriff top that showed off her voluptuous figure. After her first film, the tabloids had nicknamed Mallory "Luscious Loving." It was old-fashioned, but then Mallory possessed old-style glamour.
 
Each time Anne was with Mallory she felt practically invisible. Especially around men. When Mallory walked into a room, the actress seemed to send out invisible messages to the male species: Want me. Love me. Look at me. And they did, in a heartbeat. It filled Anne with exasperation, not to mention envy. Beautiful people got away with more. They didn't have to make nice or work especially hard to get noticed. They just had to show up. Ironic, when you considered that a fair amount of Loving You would be filled with Mallory's beauty tips. Mallory could scrub her face with dirt each morning instead of soap. She'd still be a knockout.
 
"Anne, I'm so, so sorry. But I can't do our interview," Mallory said breathlessly, grabbing hold of Anne's arm and pulling her closer, like a schoolgirl with a secret. Mallory flashed her most beguiling smile and fixed her sapphire blue eyes on Anne. When Mallory turned on the charm, she was hard to resist. She had a way of drawing you in, making you feel lucky to be part of her inner circle, basking in her reflected glow. "I would love to chat," Mallory said, sounding so sincere Anne almost believed her. "But I have to run an errand in town."
 
"When will you have some time?" Anne said, after she'd introduced Helen, who was studying Mallory as if the actress were a gilt-edged portrait in the Newark Museum. "We still have a lot of ground to cover." Despite Mallory's contrite manner, she felt a flicker of annoyance. Of the eight interviews she'd managed to set up, Mallory had canceled four. Instead of answering Anne's questions directly, Mallory preferred talking randomly into a tape recorder when she was alone. It took Anne hours to wade through the stream-of-consciousness tapes, and she still hadn't been able to put all the information in order. At this rate, the book would never be finished on time. She only had another two months left.
 
"You know the scenes we shot yesterday?" Mallory said. Her tone was conspiratorial, as if Anne were a fellow actress on the back lot at MGM. "The light meter was busted. Sixty-seven takes down the drain. Of course, if Howard didn't insist on all those long angled shots, we would have been done sooner. My face is starting to look like a jigsaw puzzle on screen."
 
Anne suppressed a grin. Howard Koppelman, the director, had suggested that Mallory refrain from watching the dailies because she complained so much-not enough close-ups, too many profile shots, the camera wasn't capturing her better side. It was a suggestion she elected to ignore.
 
Just then, the director walked up to them, trailing a cloud of production assistants. He was in his mid-forties, with a lean, rangy build and hair the color of Greek olives. His face was lined and leathery, his eyes hidden behind mirrored silver sunglasses. He wore jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black baseball cap. On the shirt and cap were the words Dark Horizon, written in red script.
 
.'Hey, gorgeous," he said to Mallory. "You were due in wardrobe two hours ago."
 
"What's the difference?" Mallory replied breezily. "I cannot do those scenes again. No how, no way."
 
"Of course you can," Koppelman said, arranging his features into a smile. "But if you veto one more outfit, you may be making this movie in the buff." He laughed heartily. Mallory didn't. "I know it's rough to reshoot the scenes," he said, draping an arm over Mallory's shoulder. "But it happens sometimes. You're the consummate professional. Everyone knows that. I bet you're giving Anne the lowdown on acting, right?"
 
"Just telling her the truth: Acting is murder." Mallory stepped away from Howard And straightened her shoulders. She had great posture, holding her body erect so she appeared taller than she was. "Don't worry about the book," she said jauntily to Anne. She reached into her black vinyl Prada bag and pulled out a sheet of loose-leaf paper. "Here are some beauty tips. Dynamite stuff. And I made a list of topics we've barely covered. Starting with my first husband. I've got some really juicy stuff on him." Mallory winked. "He was even worse than Howard, if you can believe it. Not that Howard didn't have his share of secrets. Remind me to tell you about Torrid Tori." With that, she turned and stalked off, toward her rented black Lexus. There was an awkward silence.
 
Mallory's mood swings were the stuff of legend. If she liked you, if you were useful to her, she could be highly engaging, turning the full force of her personality, her dazzling charisma, in your direction. But if she sensed you were beneath her or if she decided you'd done her wrong, she'd cut you dead in no time flat. Howard Koppelman fell into the latter group. Mallory made no effort to hide the fact that she despised him, for three reasons: He'd been the one who'd led her into pornographic movies in the late 1980s. He'd introduced her to drugs. He'd ditched her and their marriage for another woman. Any one of the above would have been a serious offense. Taken together, all three were unpardonable and had earned Howard the place of honor on Mallory's shit list.
 
"I'm going down to the water for a minute," Helen said, shuffling her feet uncomfortably. "Be right back."
 
Howard Koppelman waited until both Helen and Mallory were out of earshot. Then he said, "How's the book
 
coming.
 
"So far, so good." When a project was stuck in neutral, Anne had learned not to advertise it.
 
"When do you think it'll be out?" His expression was pleasant, but Anne detected a note of uneasiness in his voice. Why was that?
 
"Next summer. To coincide with the movie."
 
"Well, if you're interested in being an extra, just let me know. Did Mallory tell you about my deep dark past?"
 
So that was it. Mallory had something on him.
 
"A little. Who's Torrid Tori?
 
His expression was hard to read. He looked slightly embarrassed. But underneath his discomfort, Anne sensed a faint current of anger. "It's a flick Mal and I made back when we were first married." He gazed at the shoreline, where Helen was arguing with a production assistant about the right to cool her tootsies. Anne noticed his voice had dropped a couple of notches. "Pretty boring stuff, actually. Unless you appreciate the genre. I've come a long way since then. 'Former porn director makes it in Hollywood.' Maybe you should be writing my story."
 
"Well, you were a big part of Mallory's life."
 
Howard smiled broadly this time, showing off his neatly capped teeth. "If you're interested in ancient history."
 
For the umpteenth time, Anne wondered why Howard had cast Mallory in Dark Horizon. He struggled to please her at every turn, but Anne got the feeling he was merely pretending, forcing himself to coddle her.
 
"How do you feel about working with her again?"
 
"Mallory's a pro. She's got a proven track record, and the talent and drive to be box office gold." He sounded like he'd memorized the pitch, practicing until he got the sincerity part just right.
 
"But ... ?" she coaxed.
 
"But there's one thing you should probably know."
 
"What's that?"
 
The morning sun played across Howard's face. He leaned forward, his sunglasses bobbing like silver fish. "She's been acting high strung lately. If she's about to crash and bum, make sure she doesn't take you with
 
her."

DEATH AT HIGH TIDE
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