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Cheating at Solitaire, Page 2

Ally Carter

Page 2


  "First Ive heard of it," he said.

  "I left you a message," Tammy said, as if her efficiency had been offended. Call her baby. Forget her name. Do any of a number of things, but dont accuse her of being unreliable. That was where Tammy at Poindexter-Stone drew the line.

  "Well, I never got a . . . " He looked at his answering machine with its blinking red light and yelled, "Shit!"

  "Be there by nine fifteen, and dont forget the head shots," Tammy said and hung up without a good-bye.

  When she left the studio, Julia got a cab. The publishers had offered to have a car at her disposal while she was in New York, but hailing a cab was the most quintessentially Manhattan thing she could do, and she wanted to do it as much as possible before she had to go home to Oklahoma for Cassies birthday.

  "Where to, lady?" the cabbie asked, and Julia loved the sound of it. Ah, New York, she thought. Its good to be back.

  "The Ritz," she answered, and the car pulled away from the curb.

  According to Lances agent, the mysterious Wesley Star was a casting agent who held the key to the city of starving actors and, one by one, decided who would get out and who would go home with a bus ticket paid for with Western Union money. Wesley also decided who would keep waiting—the unfortunate few who had just enough talent to remain in permanent limbo.

  Finally, Lance thought as he pushed the elevator button, he was going to meet the mysterious Wesley and, he hoped, step a little closer to the gates. But like his career up until that point, he ran up against a brick wall as soon as the elevator doors slid open.

  Chaos filled the hallway. Young, athletic action-hero wannabes leaned like bookends beside middle-aged men who looked custom-made to play "Accountant #3. " The noise of actors practicing lines pinged off the tight walls and crashed against Lance, nearly pushing him back into the elevator with cries of Hamlet and Tennessee Williams. It was either the offices of Wesley Star or the waiting room at the insane asylum— at that moment, Lance wasnt quite sure which.

  "Lance," a familiar voice said. He felt a tug at his arm and turned to see a face he had seen at every audition hed been on in the last ten months.

  "Hey, Tom," Lance said, glancing at the paunchy man, remembering to feel both guilty and grateful that God had granted him naturally straight teeth and a better-than-average metabolism. He looked quickly away, toward the mayhem of the hall. "This is crazy," he said.

  "Yeah," Tom said. "Wesley is going into semiretirement, so no one knows how many more open calls the dudes gonna have. "

  "Open calls?" Lance said, remembering Tammys emphatic insistence that shed pulled off some amazing favor on his behalf.

  "Well, yeah. I mean, theyve requested some people, but Wesleys famous for walking through the hall, seeing a face he likes, and making history. " Tom shrugged slightly and turned as the elevator doors opened and another man stepped out, trying to squeeze his way through the crowd. "Im not gonna miss this," he said. Then, seeing Lances dazed expression, he explained: "Im going west in three weeks. "

  "Yeah?" Lance asked. "Things going that well for you?"

  "Well," Tom said, and Lance thought he recognized the tone of a so-so actor who had the sense to know he was also a so-so liar. "Not really. But Ive been hopping at the Ritz and the tips are good, so I can afford the move. "

  "Really?" Lance asked.

  "Yeah. "

  "The Ritz?"

  "Welcome back to the Ritz, Ms. James. I trust your accommodations are acceptable?" the manager said as Julia approached the desk. Just the way he stood there, serenely perfect and ready to serve, made Julia consider challenging him to a round of a little game she liked to call Ridiculous Ritz Request. Shed never had the courage to play out loud of course, but secretly, she wondered what would happen if she asked the pristine man behind the mahogany counter to find her something outrageous—maybe a ferret in a fedora. How long it would take for him to round one up? Knowing the Ritz, she guessed hed be knocking at her door in less than an hour, ferret and hat in hand.

  Tempting, Julia thought, but decided to ask for her messages instead.

  "Of course, maam, a package. " He removed a small brown envelope and handed it to her across the counter. "Will there be anything else, maam?"

  "No. " She eyed her mothers handwriting on the address label. "This will be all," she said just as her cell phone started to ring. She turned from the counter and strolled across the immaculate lobby while she dug in her purse for her phone.

  "You were on TV," a little voice exclaimed before shed even said hello.

  An immediate smile lit Julias face. "Was I really?" she teased.

  "Mommy and Grammy and Nicky and I all watched you!"

  Julia didnt have to strain to imagine her nieces serious expression as she explained the facts exactly as they were. Cassie was a genius, Julia was sure. She was also the perfect child. So pretty. So sweet. In fact, if Julia hadnt been present at her birth, she would have sworn the little girl had been purchased at Pottery Barn.

  "Well, how did you like seeing me on TV?" Julia asked.

  "It was okay," Cassie said, giving it serious consideration. "But I like you being here better. "

  "You know what?" Julia asked, homesickness creeping into her gut. "I like being there better, too. "

  Then Julia heard a scuffle followed by static and finally Carolines breathless greeting. "Julia?"

  "Yes?" Julia said, drawing out the word, waiting for the shoe to drop, certain that her sister wouldnt have taken time from the dishwasher/ironing board/vacuum cleaner trifecta that swallowed her days like the Bermuda Triangle unless there was a favor in her future.

  "Well," Carolines voice dropped to a barely audible whisper. "As you know, someone has a b-i-r-t-h-d-a-y coming up, and—"

  In the background, Julia heard Cassie cry out, "Ill be this many!" She imagined her niece holding out a plump little hand with five splayed fingers.

  "Well," Caroline continued, "she saw something on television about FAO Schwarz, and now shes just dying for something from there—her words, not mine. Dying for it. "

  "Weve created a monster," Julia said.

  "No, big sister, you created this particular monster. Im just the one who has to feed and clothe it twenty-four hours a day. Anyway, since youre there . . . "

  "Okay," Julia said, cutting Caroline off before she could cross through the doorway marked Danger: Sleep-Deprived and Underappreciated Nursing Mother Ahead—Proceed at Own Risk. "Ill see what I can do," Julia conceded. "Kiss the munchkins for me. "

  "Do it yourself on Saturday," her sister replied.

  "Gladly. " Julia hung up the phone and turned her attention to the package. Inside the envelope was a printout from the

  Web site of the fabulous FAO Schwarz. It had careful red circles around a half dozen items.

  "She really is a monster," Julia said to herself, then slipped the piece of paper into her purse and dropped the envelope in the trash. She got into the elevator and went up to her suite to change.

  When Lances name was finally called, he was escorted into the office by a woman whose manner made it clear that whatever appeal actors had ever held for her had worn off years before; experience in her business was like Kryptonite for hunks. In this womans presence, even his best smile was worthless. Instead, Lance had learned, efficiency was what she valued. If you show up early, have your pictures out of the envelope and ready to hand over, and you dont waste her time, a little bit of her will love you forever.

  She took the pictures he offered. "Strip to the waist," she said, choosing, he surmised, to show her affection on the inside.

  Lance started taking off his shirt. "Who will I be reading with?" he asked.

  The woman slipped on a pair of very thick glasses and said, "You wont be. "

  "Then shouldnt we wait for Wesley?"

  "Hes not coming. You do nude?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "Do you go buff for bucks?"

  As the cab came down Ninth Avenue, Julia checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror and locked eyes with a man who looked as if he didnt care to be reminded that cosmetics existed. As if shed just offered to give him a tour of a hot-dog factory, the drivers face said that while he might enjoy the finished product, he really didnt want to know how it gets that way.

  She put the lipstick back in her purse and double-checked to make sure she had her lucky pen, although the event at the bookstore wasnt going to be a big deal—that was the idea. Candon had suggested she do an intimate book signing at a small, independent bookseller she had loved during her copy-editing days, so ever the class kiss-up, Julia had agreed, almost asking if any of the faculty needed her to stay late and dust erasers while she was at it.

  It was a little thing, Julia told herself. Virtually no publicity. She should be in and out in an hour or two, with very little fuss. Honestly, Julia was starting to wonder if it would even be worth her time. But when the cab turned the corner at Fifty-second Street, she could tell she was going to need a plan B.

  At least two hundred women stood outside the bookstore windows. She thought that maybe Hollywood was filming a Brad Pitt movie or some plastic surgeon was inside handing out free Botox. Perhaps Burberry was giving scarves and umbrellas to the masses to promote their new anyone and their dogs can wear us marketing campaign. Seriously, for a second Julia didnt know what could be causing all the fuss. Then she realized that the fuss was for her.

  "Um, excuse me. " She leaned close and spoke to the driver. "Do you think theres a side entrance we could try?"

  "No way," the driver said. "Crazy lady meeting here today. You the tenth crazy lady I drive here. They all want to go away from the other crazy ladies. I sorry. "

  "You dont understand," Julia said. "Im the crazy lady. " She reached into her bag, pulled out a copy of 101 Ways to Cheat at Solitaire, and turned to her picture and bio on the back cover. "See," she said, pointing to herself. "Head crazy lady. Really, its okay. I can go in the back. "

  "Fine. I take you to the back," he said, then added as if Julia couldnt hear, "crazy lady. "

  Chapter Two

  WAY #7: Take yourself out to dinner.

  For many people, dining alone in restaurants can be very intimidating. Most women dread the tone of the hostesss voice when she asks, "Just one today?" But dining alone is essential, If you cant eat alone in a restaurant, how do you expect to accomplish other, grander things on a grander scale? So turn your back to the perceptions, the whispers, the stares, and just enjoy the meal.

  —from 101 Ways to Cheat at Solitaire

  When Lance reached the office of Poindexter-Stone Talent Agency, he was hit with a wave of deja vu. The crowd was far too reminiscent of his experience at Wesleys, and this time, he was in no mood to stand in line.

  Tammy had her great eyes glued to a glossy magazine and was ignoring the multitude of starving future stars who filled the chairs and lined the particleboard walls. She kept the phone in the crook of her neck as she expertly cruised through the ringing lines: "Poindexter-Stone, please hold. Poindexter-Stone, please hold. Poindexter-Stone, please hold. "