LOVER COME HACK
Mad for Mod Mystery #6
Hardcover ISBN: 9781635114171
Paperback ISBN: 9781635114140
Audio ISBN: 9781974937233
She’s the underdog in a design competition. Her closest competition turns up dead. Can Madison survive the investigation that closes in on her?
After a falling out with a friend flips interior decorator Madison Night’s world inside out, she’s determined to revamp her life. Jane Strong, fellow mid-century modern enthusiast, encourages Madison’s entry in an upcoming design competition, but their rift makes collaboration no longer an option.
When Jane is found dead, Madison tops the suspect list. And when anonymous computer hackings interfere with both the investigation and the competition, Jane’s murder no longer seems random. With a mess of a love life, an angry client, and a looming deadline on her contest entry, Madison turns to an unlikely ally to decode a motive before a crash becomes imminent.
Can Madison accept help from the last place she expected to seek it?
Lover Come Hack is the sixth funny Mad for Mod Mystery. If you like fun sleuthing, clever writing, and an intriguing mystery, then you’ll love Diane Vallere’s addictive series.
Buy Lover Come Hack for edge-of-your-seat excitement today!
I should have expected the letter. In my fifty years, I’d maintained polite and friendly relationships with bosses and employees. Friends and family. Bad dates and good lovers. When I looked at it like that, I guess I was due for a bombshell like this.
Dear Madison, it started, It’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts. I can no longer be a part of this relationship. When we met, I accepted that we wouldn’t always see eye to eye. I knew you had strong opinions and I was attracted to that at first, but after butting heads one too many times, I can’t take it anymore. You are not always right. You are not the most talented person in the room. And we are no longer partners on the application for the Very Important Projects competition.
The letter continued with a line by line breakdown of my character flaws followed by how fellow mid-mod designer and recent attached-at-the-hip friend, Jane Strong, had interpreted my behavior as a personal affront to her. I stopped reading the list of my faults about halfway through. There’s nothing like seeing the carefully thought out dissection of your natural personality in a neatly formatted document to make you consider adding booze to your first cup of coffee.
And did I mention? Jane hadn’t just spent time collecting her thoughts. She’d color-coded them and provided a handy key at the top of the email to help me understand which of my flaws were the worst.
This is what happens when you collaborate with a friend.
Jane Strong was the one who had first told me about the DIDI—Design in Dallas Initiative. DIDI was a group of established professionals that recognized excellence in design, decorating, and renovation projects in Dallas, Texas. Their mission statement was to identify buildings within the Dallas Tax Base that had been ignored. Dallas had undergone several transformations in its lifetime, yet for every new hip part of town that popped up on the radar, another one fell into disrepair and in some cases, abandonment. Jane had read about my recent renovation of an old pajama factory that I’d inherited and had told the DIDI about my work.
That was the first job I’d completed on such a large scale, and the wave of positive attention from the design community had been unexpected. The DIDI endorsement had given me massive name recognition overnight, and Mad for Mod, my mid-century focused interior decorating and design company, had gone from booking the occasional atomic kitchen renovation to kitschy movie theaters, novelty restaurants, and even one theme-room bed and breakfast. I had the luxury of being selective about the jobs I took. For a small business, it was a good feeling.
About a month ago, the DIDI sent out an email announcement of a pop-up competition to kick off the Very Important Properties competition, or VIP, as it was truncated to fit into a world increasingly dependent on initials. The lack of pre-competition buzz had been intentional to even out the chances of winning amongst both established and emerging talent in the city limits. Other components of the contest were equally determined: rigid design requirements, capped budgets, and a tight window for execution once applications were approved. Jane asked if, instead of competing against each other, I was interested in pooling resources and collaborating on a joint submission for VIP?
A flurry of emails, an invitation to brainstorm concepts before giving an answer, and a gigantic delivery of fresh daisies to thank me and proclaim there was no way we wouldn’t win, and I said yes. It didn’t hurt that I was looking for ways to avoid the mess that was my personal life.
Jane and I shared a common design philosophy, an attraction to the mid-century modern aesthetic, and a proximity to the same milestone birthday (fifty, though to be fair, the two years between our birthdays ensured I reached it first.) Things like that can lull you into a false sense of compatibility, especially amongst potential friends where the messiness of romance wasn’t part of the equation. For an independent woman like me, the novelty of having a new friend who shared my passions was a high. We traded lipstick recommendations, watched TCM movie marathons on Friday nights, swapped out vintage clothing we’d accumulated, and alternated driving the truck we took to the local flea markets to shop for inventory.
Still, after giving up nights, weekends, and paying jobs to collaborate with Jane on our VIP entry, today’s email hit a nerve. I’d jumped through hoops for her, and this was the way she thanked me. By attacking my character in an unemotional message she’d needed days to write after “collecting her thoughts.”
I steeled myself with a deep breath and called her office.
“Posh Pit, Vonda speaking,” her assistant answered.
“Vonda, this is Madison Night. Is Jane available? I need to speak to her. It’s urgent.”
“Madison. Tell me Jane didn’t send the email. Of course, she sent the email. Why else would you be calling me? I am so sorry. You have no idea. She’s crazy. The woman is totally off her nut.”
“This really is between Jane and me.”
“I can’t let you talk to her.”
“This will only take a moment.”
Vonda Quinn was Jane’s assistant, but from what I’d seen, her job involved little more than answering phones, data entry, and unsolicited attitude. Her sigh was clear despite the crackling of the forty-year-old mechanisms inside my 1970s yellow donut phone. “She’s not here. She went to the DIDI offices to turn in her submission for the competition before the cutoff for entries tonight.”
I felt the heat rise over the back of my neck, not an entirely unwanted sensation considering the back door to my studio was propped open and the cold air from outside had entered. “Jane can’t submit that application. The designs are mine. The concept is mine. The building belongs to her, but there’s more to that submission than the property.”
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Vonda said.
I wedged the phone between my ear and my shoulder and grabbed an empty file folder. I was so distracted, I almost forgot it was my turn to talk. “I’m going to the DIDI offices right now. If you have any way to get in touch with her, you might want to give her a head’s up that I’m on my way. I’m not in a particularly good mood after her email, either.”
“That’s between you and Jane.”
I chose not to mention that I’d already made that point. I straightened my neck and the receiver dropped onto my desk. I didn’t waste time on a good-bye. Vonda might not have written or sent the email, but she’d known about it and that was bad enough. As I grabbed a stack of pages off the printer and wedged them into the folder, I wondered how many other people Jane had spoken to about her less than flattering views of me.
I found Effie Jones, a recent college graduate and my first ever full-time employee, in the small storage unit I kept behind the studio. What Effie lacked in knowledge about design she made up for in organizational suggestions and millennial perspective. (It didn’t hurt that I’d gifted her with ten Doris Day movies to help her refine her eye. That’s how I first learned about mid-century design, and it seemed as convenient a training method as any.) Effie was working on a new inventory database to keep me organized beyond my current if-it-fits, I’ll-take-it-home system.
“Effie, I have to go to downtown. Can you lock up the storage unit and cover the studio? There’s only one appointment this afternoon—the Bickners. They’re going to drop off a list of the items they’re selling to me. After we get the list, you can work on inputting them into the new database while you’re in the studio.”
“Sure, Boss.” Effie looked slightly annoyed. “It would have been more productive if I’d gone out to their house and taken pictures first.”
I held up both hands. “This whole system is new to me. When someone says they want to sell me the contents of their never-renovated 1961 ranch house so they can take their family on a cruise for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, I say yes. The details—we can always work them out after the fact.”
“Okay, Boss, but I’m telling you, once you embrace this new system, you’re going to wonder why it took you so long.”
I smiled. Aside from her post-college status, Effie was a former tenant of the apartment building I’d owned. Since getting the job at Mad for Mod, she’d taken to calling me “Boss.” I’d learned to accept it.
“Maybe that’s true,” I said, “but now’s not the time to discuss it. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, but I’ll call you when I’m on my way back.”
I fished my car keys out of my tote bag and unlocked the door to my vintage Alfa Romeo. It was my second one in five years, and not in as good of shape as the first. In a perfect world, I’d find the time to restore it. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be on the receiving end of unsolicited emails that attacked my character, either.
The DIDI offices were on the twenty-third floor of Republic Tower in downtown Dallas. Originally built to be the largest building in the city, it battled the Southland Center for that distinction for a few years, even adding a spire to the roof five years after it was first constructed. Like so many small battles, both buildings lost when the First National Tower dwarfed them in 1965.
Republic Tower had started life as a bank, taken a few different turns, and now leased office and retail space. It was the perfect location for the DIDI offices because the building itself spoke of the history of Dallas design and represented what those of us who had an interest in looking to the past for inspiration were trying to protect.
I parked in the underground lot, tightened my scarf around my neck, and walked to the elevators. It was late September, not usually a cold month in Dallas, but with unseasonable rains had come unseasonable drops in the daily temperatures. Fellow residents, as if by unspoken agreement, shifted their wardrobes from summer wear to fall attire along with the flip of the calendar, and I was no different. A welcome chill had arrived a few days ago, giving me a reason to dust off my vintage light pink London Fog coat. I’d accessorized with a white scarf and a pair of vintage Courrèges boots that rarely saw the light of day. White leather gloves with small bows at the wrist completed my outfit. I kept my gloves on all the way through the vestibule, on the short elevator ride, and into the lobby of the building.
“Good morning, Miz Madison,” said a rotund black man from behind the security desk. “A little chilly out there, isn’t it?”
“Good morning, Delbert,” I replied. I pulled off my right glove and signed the visitor ledger. “It’s cooler than usual for Dallas, but compared to the summer heat, this feels good.”
Delbert Manning had been the security officer at Republic Tower his whole life. He’d gotten the job when he was twenty; that had been 1970. I’d only met him recently, but my obvious appreciation for the building (and numerous questions about its history) had led him to share stories about the various people he’d seen come through those doors, the business that had been conducted, and the celebrities he’d encountered. When I asked him if he’d made them sign in like I did, he insisted he had. “Rules be rules, Miz Madison. Don’t matter how important you are. That’s the way this whole world works.” He was nearing retirement age but had never once indicated he wanted anything more out of life than to greet the visitors of his building. I admired the pride he took in his work.
I glanced at the sign-in log and ran the tip of my left, still-gloved index finger down the list of names in the book. When I didn’t see Jane’s, I asked Delbert. “Was Jane Strong here today?”
“If her name isn’t in the book then she hasn’t been here.”
“Her secretary told me she was on her way.”
“Probably stopped off for something to eat at that little coffee shop under the building. She’s always got a cup of joe in her hand.” He shook his head and smiled.
Delbert was right. Ever since I’d friended Jane a few months back, I’d learned there were two things she always had: her tablet computer and a cup of coffee. You could always tell when Jane had been present at a job site by a discarded coffee cup with a ring of apricot lip color left behind on the rim. You’d think she would have converted to a more long-lasting formula after all this time, but she seemed to view her lipstick stain as a calling card.
If Jane hadn’t been to the DIDI offices, then she hadn’t yet filed the application to the competition. Despite the obvious confrontation we were going to have when we were face to face, it was worth my time to wait. The application in question contained months of work on a furnished apartment complex. The city of Dallas had become increasingly popular because of its tax breaks for businesses but relocating meant stress. My concept had been to design a small building of mid-century themed apartments available for short-term rentals. I’d first gotten the idea after spending time in Palm Springs, California, where interest in the Rat Pack style attracted people from all over. Jane had scouted a property and we’d pooled our similar visions for the designs.
“Delbert, if you don’t mind, I’m going to wait for Jane in the lobby.” Delbert looked uncomfortable, and I quickly assured him that I’d be self-sufficient. “Go about your work like you always would,” I said. “I’m going to answer a few emails and return a couple of phone calls. You won’t even know I’m here.”
“Sure, Miz Madison, go right ahead. If you need anything, you just holler.”
Just then, a bong! announced the arrival of the elevators. I steeled myself, knowing that bong! might be the only warning I got before seeing Jane face to face.
I was right. The doors opened, and Jane Strong strode out. Like me, she dressed in vintage. Jane’s vintage was more upscale than mine, and today’s ensemble was no different. She wore a smart burnt-umber skirt suit with a blue and umber paisley-patterned silk blouse. A matching scarf was knotted at the neck in a full bow that was slightly off-center. The bracelet sleeve length of her jacket exposed powder blue leather gloves that disappeared under her cuffs. Nude stockings and low heeled brown pumps finished the ensemble.
In contrast, under my pink London Fog coat was a brown, double-knit polyester sheath dress. It wasn’t that I didn’t own clothes of the same vintage designer status as Jane did, but that I’d found double-knit polyester to be a convenient choice when working in my storage locker. In short, it had a durability factor unequalled in other fabrics, and I could clean temporary stains with a sponge and liquid dish soap.
“Jane,” I stood up. “We need to talk.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked. She held a white takeout cup of coffee in one hand and a brown leather attaché case in the other. “I thought I made it clear in my email that we wouldn’t be working together.”
“I called your office and your assistant told me you were turning in the design application. That was a joint concept. The idea was mine.” I glanced over my shoulder at Delbert, who was doing a poor job pretending to ignore us. I remembered my promise to be invisible and stepped toward Jane. “What exactly is your problem with me? I honestly thought we worked well together.”
She shook her head. “Madison, I don’t think you’re cut out to work with others. The idea of you converting that old pajama factory into a shared workspace is laughable. What could you possibly know about sharing? Everybody knows VIP is one big job interview. You need me more than I need you.”
She pronounced “VIP” phonetically—vip, not V. I. P. It was the shorthand we’d used while working together, a reference to Lover Come Back, one of my favorite Doris Day movies. If she wasn’t in the process of attacking me, I would have laughed.
I softened my tone. “Jane, I can respect that you want to dissolve our partnership, but there’s a better way to go about doing it than stealing my design. That concept includes a lot of resources from the Mad for Mod inventory, and the only reason I agreed to work together was because I expected to have some say in the process.”
“I don’t want your idea or your inventory,” she said. She took a long pull on her coffee cup and then deposited the empty cup in the trash bin in the corner. “I have my own plans. This is the perfect opportunity to showcase what I can do. Me.”
“You’re entering the competition yourself?”
She didn’t answer my question. “If you want to win, you need to bring it on, Madison. And trust me. I’ve seen what you got and I’m not the least bit worried.”
See what I mean? This is what happens when you collaborate with a friend.