The Best Revenge (Camilla Randall Mysteries – the Prequel)
Anne R. Allen
Chapter 1—The Color of Fresh Money
As the Mâitre d‘ led them to their usual table at Votre Maison, Camilla fought her rising panic by clutching Plantagenet’s strong, Armani-clad arm.
She had no idea how any debutante survived without a gay best friend.
Plant seemed to read her mind, as always.
“Stop worrying, darling. You look beautiful. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Any lurking Italian princes will be consumed with remorse that they let you slip through their cold, Eurotrash fingers.”
Camilla kissed him on the cheek. Dear, dear Plantagenet. He was her fashion consultant, crying shoulder, and all around Gibraltar. She couldn’t have made it through the horrors of the past month without him.
Plus he was the handsomest man in the room, which made it so much easier to face the possibility of running into her maybe-former boyfriend, Prince Aldo de Saxi-Cadenti. Aldo hadn’t called since her father’s funeral—with the same inexplicable cruelty as every other A-list friend she used to have.
As they were seated at their lovely, well-lit table, Camilla envied the underdressed nobodies seated in the dark corner near the kitchen. Nobodies were allowed to hide in shadows—and even appear in public with puffy faces and red eyes—without anybody from the society pages commenting on how they were wallowing in grief.
But Camilla was a Randall. Randalls did not wallow.
She squeezed Plant’s hand. “Is the make-up still covering the red around my eyes? I can’t let Sybil D-D know I’ve been crying. She’ll use it as an excuse to talk about Aldo.”
Plantagenet gave her another look of reassurance as he ordered champagne. He was letting her blame the weepiness on her disappointment about Prince Aldo—although they both knew she’d been planning to dump his highness anyway.
Plant was the perfect friend. He always knew when not to pry.
“You look serene and happy, Camel darling. The prettiest girl in the room. Sybil D-D will turn positively chartreuse with envy.” He gave a stagy look at his watch. “How can that scrawny old cat keep the Debutante of the Year waiting?”
Camilla prayed Sybil Diaz-Dreyfuss, the columnist from the New York Guardian, wouldn’t show up at all. The whole celebutante thing was getting old—and Plantagenet was right about Sybil being a cat. After all the strange coldness from her so-called friends, Camilla feared Sybil might have something nasty in store.
Even though Plantagenet had dressed Camilla in Porfirio couture—a silk suit in what he called “the color of fresh money,” and done deft things with green eye shadow and bronzer, she knew she didn’t look her best.
Her life had been turned upside down and inside out by her father’s mysterious death. It made no sense that such a safety-conscious man had died in something as stupid as a gun-cleaning accident.
Besides there was that something—or somebody—she’d seen leaving the stables the night she found her father’s body. Something huge and shadowy, carrying a rifle, like a well-armed, galumphing bear.
The thing her mother refused to let her talk about.
Mother seemed to think sudden death was affront to good manners—a subject not to be discussed in polite company.
And of course Mother’s company was always polite.
Plant grabbed Camilla’s hand with sudden urgency.
“Good God. Look who’s here.” He gestured at a khaki-clad man now making something of a stir as he entered the glittering dining room. “Park Avenue isn’t exactly his stomping ground.”
Camilla didn’t have to be told to look. Although the khaki man wasn’t quite as beautiful as Plantagenet, and wore clothes that would have sent Prince Aldo jumping off the Castel Sant’Angelo, he had a profile special-ordered from Mount Olympus, a tanned, muscular body, and quantities of unruly black hair that a stylist would die to tame.
“That’s Jonathan Kahn,” Plantagenet said. “He’s the reporter who leaked the classified papers on nuclear dumping. It’s because of him the President says the Guardian should either shut down or register as an agency of a foreign power.”
Camilla laughed. She hated politics, but she did enjoy President Reagan’s jokes.
Plant leaned in to whisper.
“He went to Nicaragua with that pro-Sandinista group of Angela Harper’s. Got himself shot by the Contras.”
“He seems to have recovered,” Camilla couldn’t help saying. “Very nicely, in fact.”
“Look, but don’t touch, Camel darling. He broke Angela’s heart. Her comeback album Blood Red Roses was all about their break-up.”
Camilla couldn’t picture that gorgeous man with some hippie folk singer. She was about to ask for the dish when she felt one of Plant’s Guccis jab her shin.
She looked up into the steely blue eyes of Mr. Jonathan Kahn himself.
Chapter 2—Debutante of the Year
“Camilla Randall?” The man in khakis offered his hand. “Jonathan Kahn. New York Guardian.“
Camilla squeaked, feeling like some idiot sub-deb.
“But I thought Sybil D-D…”
“Ms. Diaz-Dreyfuss is on her way to London. An emergency with Princess Diana’s wardrobe, I understand. I’m her replacement. Editors do like to have their fun.”
Camilla let out a giggle. But Mr. Kahn didn’t even smile. In fact, he studied her with such concentration she had to touch her shoulder to check if her bra strap was showing.
Plantagenet cleared his throat.
“Please sit down, Mr. Kahn,” Camilla said, finally remembering her manners. “This is my friend Plantagenet Smith.”
“The playwright?” Mr. Kahn shook Plant’s hand. “I’ve still got the cast album from Boadicea! knocking around my apartment somewhere. You wrote that, didn’t you?”
“The book and lyrics are mine.” Plantagenet gave his most charming grin. “But don’t hold it against me. I’ve outgrown rock music and naked dancers in blue body paint. I’m working with Edmund Quail now—on a musical about Alexander the Great.”
Camilla always cringed for Plantagenet when he talked about Alexander! She knew he hadn’t written a word since he moved in with Edmund over a year ago. He wasn’t much more than Edmund’s houseboy.
“So, Ms. Randall.” Mr. Kahn took a notebook from his pocket. “Last February you were named ‘Debutante of the Year.’ How has the year been for you?”
“Nice. A lovely year.” Camilla accepted another glass of champagne as Plantagenet and Mr. Kahn reached an agreement with the waiter about the entrées. She hoped Mr. Kahn wouldn’t comment on the fact she was only nineteen.
“What’s been lovely?” He turned back to Camilla. “The press coverage? Parties? Clubbing?”
“I adore parties and clubs.” She relaxed a bit. Talking about night life was pretty safe territory. “They get a tiring sometimes, but mostly it’s all fun. The press, well…” She searched for something tactful to say.
“Camilla wasn’t happy about that photo in Vanity Fair,” Plantagenet offered.
“The one with Mick Jagger?”
As if there had been more than one photograph of Camilla’s derrière published in a national magazine. How much humiliation was she going to have to endure for that one moment when, nervous at meeting an actual Rolling Stone, she’d dropped her purse and bent to pick it up? Okay, she had been right at the entrance to Studio 54, but the press had milked that incident long enough.
“Anything to the rumors about you two?” Mr. Kahn actually looked serious.
“Rumors about me and Mick?” She let out another of the giggles that usually disarmed nosy reporters. “Oh, I certainly hope so.”
“So all in all, you’ve had a lovely year, Ms. Randall? Your father’s death hasn’t affected your lovely time?”
Camilla’s eyes stung, but she kept her smile in place.
Plantagenet put a protective hand on her shoulder. She was grateful for its warmth.
“Of course it’s affected her,” Plant said. “What kind of question is that?”
“Not such a lovely year then, Ms. Randall?” Mr. Kahn’s eyes lasered in on her.
“Not that part. I didn’t come here to discuss my father’s death. It’s not the sort of thing one discusses with strangers.”
She realized she sounded like her mother. Or somebody’s great aunt.
“What about the growing evidence that Howard P. Randall III killed himself?”
Camilla wrapped her fingers around the stem of her champagne glass and held on. Of course she’d heard the rumors, but her mother said they were “filth.”
Kahn was relentless.
“Can you comment on your father’s involvement with the savings and loan scandal? Or the accusations that his bank bilked investors out of millions?”
Camilla’s face burned as she watched bubbles pop on the surface of her wine. Could it be true? She knew her father had owned banks, among other things. Could some money thing have made him want to die—more than his family made him want to live?
She heard a familiar voice call her name.
“Camilla, carissima!” Porfirio, swathed in silk and smelling of sandalwood, swooped down on their table. She squeezed the designer in a hug, grateful for the diversion, forgetting she was furious with him for his recent comments about her weight. He stood back and examined her, rearranging her collar.
Mr. Kahn harrumphed.
Porfirio turned “How do you do. I…” he offered his hand with a flourish “I am Porfirio.”
“And I…am Jonathan Kahn,” said Jonathan Kahn, in a tone just short of mocking. “Do I understand that Ms. Randall is wearing one of your designs?”
Porfirio stroked Camilla’s shoulder as if she were a pet kitten.
“You understand correctly. Miss Camilla wears my designs almost exclusively. I understand her persona.”
“Sybil Diaz-Dreyfuss claims you two had a falling out,” Mr. Kahn said.
“Falling out? Sybil talks about my hair?” Porfirio touched his receding hairline.
“You were quoted in Women’s Wear saying that Ms. Randall was getting plump, and as I understand, Ms. Randall swore never to buy another thing from you.”
“That was all a joke.” Camilla gave Porfirio her sweetest smile. She knew his new cutter had made the dress too tight, but this wasn’t the time to discuss it. “Just a little private joke. I don’t buy Porfirio’s designs. He gives them to me.”
“He gives them to you? You’re rich—so you don’t have to pay for your clothes?” Mr. Kahn paused and directed his gaze at Porfirio, but the designer was already in retreat.
Those icy blue eyes refocused on Camilla.
“It doesn’t bother you to be given expensive clothes, when people are freezing to death right here in Manhattan because they have nothing warm to wear?”
“People freezing to death?” She must have missed something.
“On my way here, I saw the police taking a body out of the 42nd Street station. The man was wearing only a T-shirt and torn trousers. They found him under a pile of newspapers where he’d been sleeping. He’d frozen to death, Ms. Randall.”
Camilla had no idea what she was supposed to say to that. Tramps were all very sad, but this wasn’t the topic she’d expected. Besides, she was still reeling from what he’d said about her father.
“That dead man was homeless, Ms. Randall. Do you know how many people are now homeless in this city?”
“No, I guess I don’t.” She actually longed for the dreaded Sybil D. D.
“The number grows every day. This is our real ‘Morning in America,’ Ms. Debutante of the Year. They’ve closed down the hospitals and thrown the sick and the poor out in the streets. This is Ronald Reagan’s America.”
“That sounds awful, but couldn’t we talk about something else? It would be so boring, wouldn’t it? Me talking about politics? And poor people? “
“Boring? Oh, I certainly wouldn’t want to bore you, Miss Randall. Now what is it you find interesting? I understand you and your family hunt foxes?”
“I like to ride, if that’s what you mean. And we keep horses.”
“And guns? Not much of a hunt without a gun, is it?”
Camilla gulped champagne as she watched Mr. Kahn’s long fingers flip through a dog-eared notebook. She didn’t like where this was going.
“Did you and your father go to hunts together?”
“When I was younger.” She tried to keep her face stony as she remembered the few bittersweet occasions when her father had time for her. She’d hardly known him, really. She’d gone to boarding school since she was six, and during vacations, her dad always seemed to be off in Hong Kong or Zurich or somewhere.
Mr. Kahn stared as if he expected her to go on.
“He was a very busy man,” she said finally. “He had business all over the world. And I’ve had a pretty full schedule for the last couple of years, too. I am going to college.”
“Oh, yes.” Mr. Kahn studied the notebook again. “Rosewood College for Women in Virginia. But I understood you dropped out when you made your début?”
“I took a leave of absence. But I start again next semester. It begins next week.”
“And what are you studying?”
“Journalism.” Oh, he was going to have fun with that one. She drained her glass and held it out to Plantagenet for more.
The waiter provided a welcome diversion, bearing three plates of fresh sole poached in chardonnay.
Mr. Kahn studied his with odd intensity. Camilla wondered if he were admiring its beautiful arrangement on a bed of baby vegetables, or hoping to transmogrify it into a pastrami on rye.
“Journalism,” he repeated, just as she was hoping he’d forgotten. “You surprise me, Ms. Randall. Aren’t you afraid you’ll find that kind of career—uh, boring?” He picked up his fork and stabbed an infant turnip.
“Exquisite!” Plantagenet said. “The sole is superb. Do I detect a hint of aceto balsamico in the sauce?”
Things improved a bit over lunch. By the time the check arrived, they had exchanged some bland words on the subject of Camilla’s charity work for the animal shelter.
The champagne finally helped her relax, and Mr. Kahn actually smiled as he poured the last of the second bottle into her glass. She smiled back, charmed by the surprising dimples that had appeared in his cheeks.
Until she registered the fact his last question had been about Prince Aldo.
“Yes, he’s my boyfriend.” The romance had made the papers a few months ago, so she had to be honest about it.
“Really?” Mr. Kahn arched an eyebrow. “I assumed the affair must be over, since you two haven’t spoken to each other this afternoon.”
Camilla turned to Plantagenet, whose drained face stared at the dark table by the kitchen where the underdressed couple had been replaced by a new, glittering pair: Prince Aldo di Saxi-Cadenti, sipping Dom Perignon—while looking into the famed lavender eyes of the international übermodel known as Regina. Aldo reached for Regina’s slender, be-ringed hand and sensuously kissed the palm—exactly the way he had kissed Camilla’s two months ago, right here at Votre Maison.
“Camel, darling.” Plantagenet jumped to his feet. “Will you look at the time!” His Piaget watch nearly collided with Camilla’s nose. “Edmund Quail expected us a half an hour ago.”
Plant threw Camilla’s jacket over her shoulders and propelled her out the door.
“I should have listened to you,” she said as he led her along the icy street. “Aldo is Eurotrash. Nothing but slime. And Regina is ancient. A museum piece. She must be nearly thirty!”
“Closer to forty, I suspect.”
“I hate that loathsome Mr. Kahn, too.”
Plantagenet kissed her forehead. “Too bad he can’t just keep quiet. He has a profile to die for.”
She giggled. “And shoulders for days.”
She turned to see Jonathan Kahn himself standing at the corner opposite.
“At least he didn’t stay to pry a story out of Prince Aldo.” Plant gave her shoulder a squeeze.
Camilla watched Mr. Kahn’s tall figure cross the street against the light. A taxi swerved to miss him and spattered mud on the legs of his khakis. He jumped back and cursed, but as he caught sight of her, he gave a sheepish grin, showing his dimples.
She couldn’t help it. She smiled back. Their eyes locked. He looked different—almost vulnerable.
For that one moment, she and Jonathan Kahn were the only two people in Manhattan.