Cross Your Heart And Hope To Die

A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

By Nancy Martin


When I got the phone call, I put a fur coat over my nightgown, slipped on a pair of Chanel boots and headed for a party that promised to be legendary.  It was go, or lose my job.  And oh, baby, I needed the job. 

I applied lipstick and three coats of mascara while my sister drove. On the way, she told me about her new business venture.

“Even the most fulfilling romantic relationship can be enhanced,” Libby informed me, driving through blinding snow to Philadelphia.  “Everyone longs for the spark of electricity now and then.”  

“Wait a minute.  Are you selling vibrators?”

“At Potions and Passions, we call them intimacy aids.”

I nearly scratched my cornea with the mascara wand. “You’re kidding, right?”  

“Adult products are a booming business! I’m officially a Potions and Passions consultant now, and I get my first shipment of sex toys this week.  Except we’re

supposed to say erotic enhancements.”  With a big grin, she asked,  “Don’t you want to

know what the buzz is about?”

While she laughed, full of delight and adventure, I said, “Libby, why couldn’t you pay off your Christmas debt by going to work as a telemarketer or something? You could sell lawnmowers to Bedouin nomads.”

“I’m not passionate about lawn mowers.  I’m passionate about sex. And Donald Trump says an entrepreneur has to love what she does.”

For Libby, the path to self-fulfillment was a long, winding highway with many roadside attractions. Still a few years shy of forty, she already had five children, each one a holy terror. She visited the graves of two husbands and at least one “very dear friend,” and lately I suspected she was having more than her engine tuned by Mr. Goodwrench.

“Besides,” she said, “I need to make a living. I hate being penniless, don’t you?”

Poverty was new to both my sisters and me. Groomed for debutante balls and advantageous marriages, we had been badly burned when our parents lit a match to the Blackbird family fortune. They spent our trust funds faster than drunken lottery winners buying Cadillacs, then ran off to South America to learn the nuances of the tango. 

Mama and Daddy left me to cope with Blackbird Farm—a difficult challenge in itself with its two-hundred-year-old roof and ancient plumbing. But the two million dollar debt of back taxes really threw me for a loop.  Maybe it’s an old-fashioned notion, but I couldn’t let the family legacy be bulldozed to make room for a Wal-Mart, so I sold everything I could for a tax re-payment plan, and then I ventured gamely into the world

of employment.  Until that time, my only job had been corresponding secretary for the

Junior League. 

Okay, so I hadn’t been reduced to eating out of dumpsters, but my lifestyle went from frocks and rocks to macaroni and cheese in a hurry.  My blue-blooded ancestors were probably rolling over in the Blackbird mausoleum, but when Kitty Keough, the society columnist for The Philadelphia Intelligencer called, I had to come running on the double.

“Why can’t Kitty go to this big deal fashion show herself?”  Libby asked me.  “It’s just her kind of thing--famous people sucking up and free goodie bags, too, right? Why send her assistant instead?”

“I don’t know.  She’s probably plotting to get me fired. But I have to go, don’t I?”  I tucked the mascara back in Libby’s handbag and checked my watch.  “And it starts in ten minutes.”

“We’ll get there,” Libby promised, flooring the accelerator of her minivan. Expertly, she dodged potholes on the Schuylkill Expressway and checked her cell phone for messages. Snow blasted the windshield.  “Meanwhile, we can plan your Potions and Passions party.”

I watched the road with terror. “My what?”

“A home-based party presentation to help today’s woman learn to satisfy her innermost desires and express her feminine freedoms.  See? This is the company bracelet.” She waved a stainless steel band under my nose.

“That’s a funny looking bracelet, Lib.”

“It’s a little plain, I’ll admit.  And tight.  But I wear it proudly.  I’m going to be

the best damn Potions and Passions consultant ever.”

I was still looking at the bracelet. “Is it meant to go around a wrist?”

“Where else would it go?  We have an extensive product line of sensual candles, stimulating gels, educational items and of course our patent-pending ErotaLotion.  Which has a divine texture, and even heats your skin. Can you smell the fragrance?”

“That’s you?”  I asked, thinking she had forgotten a gallon of Christmas eggnog in the back of the minivan.

“If you host a party in your home, I can give you a ten percent discount on the first hundred dollars you spend. And the parties are fun. We play games with the products.”

“Sounds like Tupperware for porn stars.”

 “Exactly! And doesn’t everyone secretly want to be a porn star?”


 “We’ll talk to some of your friends about hosting Potions and Passions parties, too. My calendar is wide open.”

“My friends aren’t exactly your core customer group.”

“That’s where the party comes in.  I can teach them!  I’m a born instructor when it comes to sex. It’ll be great.  Hang on,” she cried.  “Here’s our exit!”

She yanked the minivan across two lanes of heavy traffic and scooted down the exit ramp to the blare of horns behind us.  “Oh, rats,” she said. “I meant to bring you some photos I took at Christmas.  They turned out really well.”

As exasperating as my sister could be, she always melted my heart. We abandoned her minivan with a parking valet, and the snow lessened as Libby

led the way to the door, her coat wide open to reveal a leopard print sweater with a neckline that plunged all the way to Panama. I said a quick prayer for my dignity and followed.

A splashy fashion show wasn’t my usual beat.  In my job as the lowly assistant to the society columnist, I covered strictly B-list events--the quiet flower show luncheons, snooze awards banquet, the occasional reception where an Old Money philanthropist gave money to a worthy, but unfashionable cause.  Kitty tended to nab the high profile parties for herself.    

So I followed Libby through the mob of fashionably thin, wondering why Kitty gave up a red carpet night to me. 

For such a special fashion show, people had gussied up in their most cutting edge finery, and the resulting clothes could sprain an eyeball. It was the biggest, most glamorous event in the city after the Christmas rush, and everybody wanted to be part of the action. Local Philadelphia TV stations filmed the artsy tarts dressed in plastic and tatters as well as the dowagers in their winter tweeds and Hermes scarves. I saw one pleased young metrosexual preening in a leather bustier and jeans under a fur stole—the whole ensemble topped by a hat surely last worn by a pimp in a 70’s movie. After their fifteen seconds of fame, everyone pressed past the cameras toward the entrance formerly grungy warehouse that had been dolled up for the occasion.

“Are those gift bags?”  Libby shouted over the noise and music.  She pointed to a scrum of well dressed hunter-gatherers, all yelping like hyenas.

“You could lose an arm in that mob,” I said, properly prudent. “You’re too dainty to use your elbows, I suppose.  I’ll see what I can do.”


While Libby dashed off to grab a couple of goodie bags full of giveaway treats, I noted the warehouse had been lit up brighter than a Broadway premiere. Rock and roll music thundered from somewhere, combining with the recorded roar of voices spouting poetry to create a cacophony so loud I almost covered my ears.  

Most dramatic of all, video images flashed around us—on the walls, ceiling and bodies of the guests.  Everywhere, we saw dancing pictures, moving, vibrating, undulating in a pounding miasma.  Around me, people reacted to the images eerily reflected on themselves.  A woman flinched at a rush of spiders that swept over her, a genteel man laughed as a rush of nude girls cascaded down the face of his companion.  A tangle of naked limbs washed across a threesome of shocked ladies. 

I half expected to see Kitty after all. I couldn’t imagine she’d choose to be anywhere else tonight.  The place was Ground Zero for Philadelphia’s artistic and social elite.

A huge logo had been painted on the rear wall.  The designer’s name.  


Everywhere, the logo seemed to flash at us—from the thousands of balloons clustered over the runway to the t-shirts of the security team that milled around the perimeter. By tomorrow, the whole world was going to know his name.  

Brinker Holt, fashion phenomenon.

At the end of the velvet rope, a thug in full biker regalia guarded the guest list. A

tangle of reptilian tattoos crawled around his thick neck. But despite his air of menace, he wore the new ubiquitous badge of authority at fashion events, an electronic headset.

The bruiser took my press pass and made a show of glowering at it as if I were smuggling explosive shoes into an airport.  His black t-shirt was decorated with skulls, and a black leather eye patch covered his left eye.  

“Just a minute,” he growled at me, then pulled his microphone close and spoke into it

 “Problem?” a voice asked from behind me as I waited for the gatekeeper’s verdict.

I turned around and found myself staring at Richard D’eath.  “What in the world are you doing here?”

Okay, I’ll admit Richard was good-looking.  Handsome, even, if I were completely honest.  But it was his reputation as an unstoppable New York newspaperman--bolstered by years of investigating gangbangers, corrupt union leaders and at least one politician who tried to have him killed—that really made him drop dead delectable. Lately, though, Richard had been sidelined by injuries suffered in a dark New York alley while chasing down….well, not a story but a cab.  Which ran over him and crushed both legs and a few vertebrae.  He could barely walk even after eight months of being treated by a renowned Philadelphia orthopedic doctor, although I wondered if his ego was smarting even more painfully than his legs. 

Now, it seemed, he had come to breech the fortress of high fashion.  As Richard

leaned on his cane, clearly suffering discomfort, there was an unmistakable curl of

disdain in his otherwise attractive lip. “I should have known you’d be here.”

I endeavored to sound as pleasant as I could manage.  “How nice to see you, too.”

Richard D’eath made no secret of disliking me.  And maybe he had good reason.  He had a degree from a prestigious journalism school, not to mention years of reporting serious urban corruption. His experience gave him the right, I suppose, to find fault with a rookie who reported nothing more earth-shattering than evening clothes and party menus. Richard had a low opinion of amateurs who posed as journalists, too, and I was probably the worst example of the breed. My thorough knowledge of the social scene that wasn’t Pulitzer territory.

He’d come to Philadelphia to see a renowned orthopedic surgeon and was required to remain in the city a few more months, I heard, to fully recover from his surgeries. The leading newspaper jumped at the chance to hire him for the short term.  He took the job to keep busy while he healed—at first writing from a bed in a rehab facility and finally hobbling on a cane to do the legwork--making it clear that as soon as he could go back to his old life in a real city, he’d be history.  He quickly found his niche exposing local politicians gone bad—not hard in Philadelphia, but Richard was handicapped, after all.

“You have a pass to get into this thing?”

“In a way, yes.”

“Can you get me inside?”

“Why, Richard.  Do you hang out at the local Victoria’s Secret, too?”

“I’m not here for the thrill,” he snapped.  “I’m working.”

“When did you decide to leave the stratosphere and wade around the Features section?”

“I’m not---Look, can you get me inside, or not?”

I wanted to refuse him.  No, really, he deserved to have his ego deflated. 

But Libby returned to us at that moment, flushed with the triumph of hand-to­hand combat. “Gift bags, and they’re loaded with goodies!” she cried.  “Oh, look! Hooray!” 

With a delighted yelp, she came up with the prize—a pink plastic silicone figure eight.  It looked more like a science project than an item of underclothing designed by the fashion world’s new darling boy.

“What in the world…?”

The three of us stared at the contraption that Libby dangled from her forefinger. 

The Brinker Bra.

Libby said, “I don’t get it. Where are the straps? The hooks? And I definitely need a bigger size.”

“It’s the Tempest in a C-cup,” I said, recalling the press release. “A revolutionary design made of a new silicone material engineered to cling to skin. The figure eight shape provides support for the female body.  No need for straps or uncomfortable laces. One size molds to fit all and makes every woman perfect. It’s going to revolutionize lingerie.”

“Looks like a child’s toy. Like a miniature, twisted up hula hoop.  How is this thing a bra?” 

“Pantyhose seemed weird at first, and now we never think of using garters.” “Speak for yourself,” said my sister. “At Potions and Passions, we believe—“

“Libby, I’d like you to meet Richard D’eath.”

My sister finally became aware of Richard and was struck dumb.  Which didn’t happen often. But even in silence, she managed to convey the suggestion that she’d give him a lap dance on the spot.

“Hello,” Richard said, impervious to my voluptuous sister’s bosom which was suddenly heaving like the cleavage of a lusty barmaid.  Then to me, “Is this how you aristocrats spend your free time? Going to underwear shows?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m working.”

“Ah, yes, the intrepid society columnist always chases the most important stories.”

Libby’s eyes had begun to narrow.  “Nora’s not the columnist.  That’s Kitty Keough job, although most of us feel the best thing Kitty could do is drop dead and let Nora take over.”

I said, “Libby.”

“Well, it’s absolutely true.”  She faced Richard with her jaw jutting as stubbornly as her breasts. “My sister does a wonderful job at the Intelligencer, so you can climb down off your high horse, mister.”

I intervened. “Libby, Richard is a reporter for the other paper in town.”

“I’ve never heard of you, so you can’t be as much of a bigshot as you think you are.”

“Look,” Richard said to me, “if you can’t get me into this thing, I’ll find

somebody who can.”

I hated that he could be so dismissive of my sister, and the fact that he looked so

damn heroic made it even worse.

“I might be able to get you into the fashion show,” I conceded.  “But you’re going to have to tell me why.  I won’t aid and abet some kind of fetish.”

He sighed shortly and turned away.  “Forget it.  I’ll find another way in.  I just thought you might want to do something right for a change.”

“For a change?” Libby demanded, “Since when do you get off insulting my sister?  Nora is here to support a charity event.  It’s vital to get the message out about Breast Cancer Awareness, and Nora does her very best to—“

“Charity event?  This is a PR extravaganza for the Brinker Bra, pure and simple.  They’ll use any excuse to promote their product, even a disease.”

“As long as the money they raise goes to the right place in the end, it’s okay by me,” I said.  “Do you want to go inside with us—yes or no?”

He wanted to say no, but obviously his nose for news was twitching.  He snapped, “Yes.”

So I turned to the biker who was still muttering into this headseat.  I plucked my press card from his hand and leaned close to whisper. “Keith, dear, I love the tattoos, but your mom is going to have a seizure when she sees them.”

Keith Rudnick, a part-time actor and full-time waiter at my favorite lunching spot, broke character winked his uncovered eye at me. “They’re temporary, darling, and she helped pick them out,” he whispered back. “Now, look, we’ve been ordered not to allow Kitty Keough inside.”

“How weird.”

“But you’re not on the nix list, so I’m trying to get you a seat close to the action.  If we’d known you were coming, we’d have front row center waiting.  But at this late hour—“

“I don’t need special treatment, Keith.  Anywhere’s fine.”

“But you look so divine, we want to show you off.  And I presume Mr. Hunkalicious is with you?”

“Hunkiness is only skin deep, Keith.  Can you seat all three of us together?”

“Only in the second row—I’m so sorry.”

“It’s perfect.  I owe you a favor of your choosing.”

He hesitated, then began to look like a kid who just found one more present uner the Christmas tree. “Let me borrow your Lagerfeld wrap for the Gay Pride parade? The one with the koi motif?”

“It’s yours.”

“Three seats coming right up!”  Going butch again, he summoned one of his similarly costumed colleagues.  Ten seconds later we were through the curtains and into the bedlam of the Brinker Bra fashion show.

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