Below is my short story, "We Don't Get Along," from the mystery anthology Murder-A-Go-Go's: Crime fiction inspired by the music of The Go-Go's. Enjoy! xo, Diane
There’s more than one way to tie a knot, I thought. I yanked on the ropes, putting my weight into the move to increase the tension and tighten the cord. Kristine Chamberlain’s wide, brown eyes watched me in the reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was propped against the opposite wall. That was just about the only thing she could do. The gag in her mouth kept her from a verbal response.
“Does this hurt?” I asked. “I don’t want it to hurt. It’s very important to me that you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt, right?”
Kristine shook her head from side to side.
“Good. I didn’t want to tie you up.” Kristine raised one eyebrow. “This was Morgan’s idea. He said you weren’t going to be home. I told him to make sure. I told him I’ve been watching your patterns every night for the past two weeks so I could learn your schedule before we picked a time to break in—a time when you’d be out. We needed to be patient. Morgan is impatient, so here we are.”
Kristine nodded again. Her eyes didn’t indicate fear. That was good. Fear made people do crazy things, and if tonight was going to go off without a hitch, everybody needed to act exactly as expected.
Kristine Chamberlain was a once-hot eighties pop star who had lost her fame but held onto her wealth. She lived in the Hollywood Hills, where any number of houses fit the profile of potential target. She was like every other formerly famous celebrity hiding out in a too big house with too much stuff that cost too much money.
Hollywood was a town built on rumors, most of them false. I found it more tempting to believe the one about the multi-million-dollar necklace Kristine kept in her house than the celebrity divorce rumors on most tabloid covers. Maybe I’m a romantic at heart.
I finished securing Kristine to the chair. It wasn’t her fanciest chair—that would have been one of the antiques from the dining room that Morgan had already emptied out into the van parked out front. But when Morgan and I broke into Kristine’s house earlier this evening, she hadn’t been sitting in a fancy chair at her dining room table. She’d been sitting in a desk chair by a computer, in the corner of her mansion that we hadn’t been able to see from the street-facing windows. Whatever business Kristine Chamberlain conducted on her computer had been done in the dark, which was why Morgan hadn’t known she was home when he insisted tonight was the night for a spontaneous break-in.
“Aren’t you done yet?” Morgan asked. His voice was muffled thanks to the garish green and red ski mask he wore. We were in Southern California, where it was sunny and seventy-five just about every single day, and the man wore a ski mask.
What an idiot.
“We didn’t have to tie her up and gag her. You could have locked her in the pool house, and we could have done our thing and left. You wouldn’t have had to wear that stupid mask.”
“Oh yeah?” he said. “If something goes wrong, which one of us is Miss Thing going to pick out of a lineup?” Even with the mask on over his face, I spotted his cocky grin. “You need to think like me, Ginger. I thought you were smarter than this.”
I wanted to punch him, but the ski mask would have absorbed the blow. I’m not one for violence, but in this case, I wanted my husband to suffer.
Husband. Soon to be ex-husband. Right after we pawned the spoils of Kristine’s house. That’s what Morgan and I had agreed to when we first discussed the idea. One last robbery, enough to allow us to go our separate ways. Security in the neighborhood had gotten tighter, and residents had started paying more attention to the various workers on the street. It used to be you could roll up in a van with a cleaning company logo on the outside and carry in a couple of vacuum cleaners and buckets. Fill up the compartments with jewelry and cash and split. Nobody cleaned their own houses in the Hollywood Hills. Maid service was as common here as a vegan at Whole Foods.
“We should have waited,” I said. “Until we knew if Kristine was home or not. I had it all worked out. I had a plan.”
“That’s your problem. Your constant need to plan things. You don’t need a plan. You need to act. Like me.” He snapped his fingers. “I get results because I don’t sit around planning. I make things happen.”
“You should have listened to me.” I caught Kristine’s eyes in the reflection of the mirror for a brief second. She blinked twice. Despite the fact that I’d just tied her to a chair, I considered it a sign of female solidarity.
Morgan, who’d been stuffing silverware into a thick canvas bag, paused with a handful of forks and turned to me. “I stopped listening to you a long time ago. Do you know why? You talk incessantly. Dinner, TV, laundry, overdue library books. J-Lo’s outfit. Cat videos. How to get red wine stains out of a dress shirt. God, woman, can’t you ever just shut up? You’re white noise. That’s all you’ve been for years.” He stuffed the remaining forks into the canvas bag and left the room.
I slammed my fist into the sofa and then turned to Kristine. “We used to get along, you know?
When we first met. It was like we were meant for each other. Those songs about soul mates, about people having so much in common, they all got it wrong. It’s not about piña coladas and rain.” I moved to Kristine’s chair and checked the ropes. “We like the same wine. We drive the same car. We make fun of people who love the Beatles. When we got together we had every James Bond movie on Blu-Ray, DVD, and videotape—twice. He dumps chocolate M&Ms into a bowl of popcorn like me. I thought we were the same, so of course, I thought we were going to be perfect together. But he’s like a racecar, and I’m the little engine that could.”
“More like the junk in the trunk,” Morgan called from the kitchen.
Kristine tipped her head to the side and raised her eyebrows. Her blond hair, normally ironed into a sleek bob in old publicity photos and on red carpet appearances, now formed a frizzy halo around her face.
“The pop songs got it all wrong,” I said again. “None of that matters. I’m a night owl. He’s an early bird. I presoak the whites before doing the laundry so they actually get clean. He dumps a jug of bleach into the machine—and doesn’t check to see if he accidentally put in my favorite sweater, either—and then makes comments when the whites turn yellow. I told him this was the year we buckled down to invest in our future. You know what happened?”
Kristine shook her head.
“I spent an hour on the phone with our financial analyst reworking our investments. Morgan took the maximum withdrawal out of our shared checking account and blew it on scratch-off lottery tickets.”
Kristine’s eyebrows went back up.
“He made back what he spent. Did he put it back in the bank? No. He called it a windfall and spent it on a new guitar. He said it was for us. Do I play guitar, you ask?”
I shook my head. “No. I do not.” I came out from behind the chair and studied the once-famous singer. “Is your gag too tight? I can loosen it if you want.” I reached for the bandana as Morgan entered the room.
“What are you doing?” he asked. His eyes were wild, jumping from me to Kristine to the front door and back. “Stop talking to her and get to work. We don’t know how much time we have.”
“We would have known exactly how much time we’d have if you hadn’t rushed the plan and decided to rob the place tonight.”
“Stop acting like you know everything,” he yelled. His hand flew out and struck me. The blow knocked me backward into Kristine’s chair. The chair tipped, and both she and I fell to the floor.
“I can’t believe you made me do that,” Morgan said. He shook his head back and forth in disappointment. “You’re such a drama queen. Just like her,” he said, jerking his head toward Kristine. “If I’d left things up to you, we never would have gotten in here. You’d still be at home, making plans in your little notebook.”
My head felt heavy and my arms felt useless. The nerve endings of my left cheekbone sent wake-up signals to my brain. I kept my attention focused on Morgan’s voice. I wanted to slap him, spit in his eye, kick him in the groin, throw toilet water in his face. I couldn’t do any of it because my hands were tied.
I was in a chair next to Kristine with a gag in my mouth. Hers was a bandana, brought with us when we broke in. Mine was a four-hundred-dollar silk scarf that I recognized from a shop on Rodeo Drive. I’d considered treating myself for my last birthday but couldn’t justify the price. Wearing it now did little to improve my current situation.
Morgan yanked the ropes that secured my hands behind my back. “That’s how you tie a knot,” he said. He came around to the front of us and looked back and forth between our faces. I knew the expression on mine told him everything I was thinking. To Kristine, we were the people who were robbing her. She probably had as much antagonism toward me as she did toward Morgan. But Kristine’s opinion of us was the least of my concerns. Morgan and I had come here to rob the house together, but the way things were going, only one of us was going to walk out of here scot-free.
I turned my head to look at the former pop star. She was staring at me. She turned her head toward the hallway that led to the bedroom and then back to me. I’d shown up on her doorstep as part of a team, prepared to do whatever I had to do to ensure my future. When I rang Kristine Chamberlain’s doorbell, I hadn’t allowed myself to think about the numerous valuables behind her doors: jewelry she’d accumulated through her career, platinum records that could be pawned, and an art collection that could be trafficked to collectors through back channels. Like everybody else who followed celebrity gossip, I knew Kristine still owned the archives of designer clothes she’d worn on tour in the eighties, and I knew of the scandal when she kept the necklace worth over two million dollars a certain store in Beverly Hills claimed had been a loan to her, not a gift. (The publicity the boutique received had, arguably, been worth the price of the necklace.)
The possible spoils inside Kristine's house were all Morgan could talk about (especially the necklace). But I’d only allowed myself to think about one thing: doing the job so I could leave him for good.
The only thing worse than meeting your soul mate is the gradual realization that he’s anything but. In terms of ethnicity, we ticked the same boxes, but in life, we’d never been on the same page. He was oil and I was water. Night and day. Hot and cold. Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
Morgan and I had met at a Hollywood event. A mutual friend was the honoree, and we were the only two at the party who’d RSVP’d without a plus one. We’d arrived separately, two sets of silver BMW keys handed off to the valet attendant within seconds of each other. Our meet-cute happened at the beverage station when a charm from my bracelet fell into his glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Without missing a beat, he tossed one of his cufflinks into my champagne. “Now we’re even,” he’d said. The bartender retrieved our accessories and replaced our drinks with fresh ones, and we remained by each other’s sides for the duration of the night.
Good-bye came at the valet station while we waited for our matching BMWs to arrive. We swapped numbers and handshakes. By the end of the month, we were living together.
“It’s the most natural relationship I’ve ever had,” I’d told our mutual friend. “I’ve never met someone so much like me.”
“That’s funny,” the friend said. “I’ve known you both for years and never once thought about introducing you. I guess Fate took me out of the equation.”
When Morgan proposed, I said yes. We drove to Las Vegas that same night and tied the knot in a chapel of love. “I have a good feeling about this,” Morgan had said. He threaded his fingers through mine, raised my hand to his lips, and kissed the tender skin on my palm. “I’ve always hated Vegas. Now, not so much.”
I should have known then, at that statement. But I didn’t. I’d been naïve, in love. Willing to overlook the red flags, like his occasional wandering eye and recreational drug use, and be a part of something that felt right. And it did feel right. It felt right when we bought our first luxury condo. It felt right when he took me to Ibiza for our anniversary. It felt right when I threw him a birthday party on a private yacht in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
And then one day, it stopped feeling right. Three years into our perfect marriage. The day he told me he’d spent everything we had on his cocaine habit.
That was the day I learned Morgan was absolutely nothing like me. And over the course of the next seven years, every time I started to believe he’d changed, I repeated that lesson again and again and again. The robberies were the only time we seemed to be in sync.
I admit, the robberies were my drug of choice. I never said I was without faults of my own.
It was my idea for one last hit. A gesture of finality to represent the end of the journey we’d embarked on ten years before. A period at the end of a sentence.
Closure with an agreement to walk away.
Morgan thought the idea was stupid, and it took some convincing. One last job, I’d said. A big one. You pick the target. I’ll make the plan. We’ll play to each of our strengths.
My husband was a lot of things: smart, driven, materialistic, intense. He accomplished what he set out to do faster than most. Maybe we had started at similar places in life, but we’d ended up with a chasm between us. The same risk-taking tendencies that netted him professional accolades and high-profile jobs made him sloppy. He wanted it all, and he wanted it now. Me? I was willing to wait to get what I wanted. Patience was the sharpest tool in my arsenal. All I needed was the right opportunity.
Morgan carried a bulging pillowcase out of the bedroom and set it on the Persian rug by the front door. “Where is it?” he demanded to Kristine. “The whole world knows you kept that two-million-dollar necklace. There’s a safe around here. There has to be. Where is it?”
I opened my eyes wide and shook my head. No, I silently pleaded with Morgan. Forget the necklace. We’d collected more than enough to make tonight worthwhile.
“What?” he said to me. “You didn’t think I believed you when you said we weren’t going to look for the necklace, did you?” Morgan scoffed, the sound muffled behind his ski mask. “I can’t believe how stupid you are. Two million dollars, Ginger. Two. Million. Dollars.”
If I could have spoken, I would have told him we didn’t need two million dollars. I didn’t. I needed enough to cover the legal bills of the divorce, allow me to move out of Hollywood, and start over. I could live a modest life. Strip away the excess we’d become used to and get back to who I was at my core. Not who he wanted me to be, but me. A person who was his opposite on so many levels, it wasn’t even funny. The stress of pretending we were the same was slowly destroying me. If I didn’t get out soon, I’d be lost forever.
Morgan shifted his attention from me to Kristine. “Can you believe her? ‘I have a plan,’” he said in a high-pitched voice that sounded nothing like me. “‘Do things my way. We’ll play to our strengths.’ Her so-called plan was to rob the house while you were out, but after watching you for two weeks, she couldn’t predict your schedule.”
Burgle, you idiot. If she’s not here, it’s not robbery. How many times did I have to explain that?
“The problem is, you don’t go out. My wife keeps telling me she’s tracking your schedule, learning your daily patterns. If I played to her strengths, as she wanted, we’d be sitting in a car out front watching your front door.” Morgan turned back to me. “Maybe that’s what you wanted? You claim you want a divorce, but maybe this is all one elaborate plan to keep us together? Let’s see how the night goes, sweetheart. If I get what I want, maybe you’ll get lucky too.”
I turned to Kristine. Her eyes were locked on Morgan. She made sounds from her throat, indecipherable because of the bandana that kept her gagged.
Kristine wanted to talk. She was going to tell him where to find the safe. He was getting what he wanted—what he expected—and even with the ski mask over his head, I saw the satisfaction in his face. Morgan getting what he wanted had always been a foregone conclusion. It had only been a matter of time.
My pulse raced. Once Morgan found that necklace, he’d leave me here to take the fall. Worse, I knew Kristine’s schedule. She wasn’t due to have a delivery for two days. By the time someone came to her house, Morgan would be out of the country, and Kristine and I could both be dead.
The next few minutes would determine everything.
There was a time when posters of Kristine Chamberlain had hung on the walls of college dorm rooms across America. She’d been pop music’s It-Girl until she fell from grace after a public battle with drugs. While her act got clean, her character got sullied, and all too soon, she lost the girl-next-door image that had made her famous. It was around then that a tabloid caught her slime ball producer husband checking into a hotel with an up-and-coming pop sensation. Kristine filed for divorce and never looked back.
The move gave her two things: a house in the Hollywood hills and a reputation for being unpredictable. After her nasty and public separation, rumor had it no other recording labels would sign her. Not willing to prove herself all over again, she dropped out of the public eye. Months away from the limelight turned into years which turned into decades. She relied on local delivery services for much of what she needed and all but vanished from the award shows, industry events, and tabloids. Every once in a while, her name popped in a where-are-they-now feature that speculated on two things: her former party-girl persona or her possible comeback. Sometimes both. But if there was one thing Kristine had proven to the world of fame it was that she’d lost too much by pretending to be something she wasn’t.
Aside from listening to Kristine’s albums while growing up, I had no connection to her, but something about her story resonated with me because I’d lost too much too. I was tired of keeping up the act.
Tired of pretending to be serious when I wanted to be silly.
Tired of getting up early when I wanted to sleep in.
Tired of being ready on time but still showing up five minutes late.
Tired of pretending Morgan was smarter than I was because his ego needed the boost.
Hollywood was a city filled with people who sold their souls to get their next shot at fame. Kristine had surprised the world by dropping off the radar. In a culture built on tell-all autobiographies, reality TV, lifetime achievement awards, and red carpets, she showed no apparent need to exist in the public eye. An entire generation only knew of her from the albums they found in the sale racks at Amoeba Records.
I knew her better than most because I’d been casing her house for the past two weeks. And while I recorded the intricacies of her lifestyle, I made a plan. That was my strength. Taking into account every possible variable and coming up with a solution. Cause and effect. Predicting unpredictability. Calculating the inevitable result of a series of moments that would otherwise stand isolated as individual decisions that were unrelated.
Unlike Morgan, who flew by the seat of his pants, I needed a plan to know this would work. And here I was, tied to a chair.
Kristine made more throaty sounds and then looked at me. I shook my head.
“Why are you looking at her?” Morgan asked her. “I’m in charge. Me. Tell me where to find the necklace, and I’ll get out of your pretty blond hair.”
The former pop singer’s eyes filled with tears. She nodded. Morgan reached around her neck and untied the bandana.
Kristine bit down on his wrist. He screamed. In the moments of confusion, she freed her arms from the poorly tied ropes that bound her. Before Morgan knew what was happening, Kristine had dropped him with a roundhouse kick. She picked him up from the ground, threw him into the chair, and tied him with the now slack ropes that had fallen to the floor.
Morgan looked at me. “This is your fault!” he said. “All that time you spent on your plan? You should have spent learning how to tie a freaking knot.” He struggled against the cords and cursed. “Even she can tie better than you.”
Kristine moved around to the back of my chair and untied me.
With my newly freed hands, I reached up and removed the expensive silk gag from my mouth and then stood and yanked the red and green ski cap off Morgan's head.
“Go,” Kristine said to me. “You don’t want to be here when the police arrive.”
“What the—?” Morgan didn’t finish his sentence. I stuffed the silk scarf into his mouth and walked out the front door, pausing only to move a postage-paid package Kristine had addressed to herself from the dining room table to the mailbox out front.
Twenty-Four Hours Earlier…
Kristine Chamberlain answered the door in a gray sweatshirt with the neck cut out, faded 501 jeans, and well-worn Gucci loafers that, when new, cost more than I’d paid for my used car. Her soft blond hair was tied back with a black ribbon, and unbound tendrils had curled around her heart-shaped face. Bright red lipstick defined the pouty lips that had become famous on her first album cover in 1981.
“Hi, Kristine, my name is Ginger. You don’t know me, but I know you. I’ve been watching your house for the past two weeks. My soon-to-be ex-husband is going to rob you tomorrow night. You can certainly call the police, but I have a hunch you’re a lot like me. And if you’re willing to hear me out, I have an idea that might work well for both of us.”
She gave me five minutes. That was all it took to sell her on my plan for her to mail a certain necklace to herself—removing it from the premises while the robbery and investigation took place--and to let me walk out of there with my freedom before the police arrived.
My entire plan boiled down to one indisputable fact: maybe Morgan and I were nothing alike, but Kristine and I were cut from the same cloth.
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