When I think back on everything terrible that happened that
autumn—the murders, the grim discovery I made, the danger I
found myself in—I realize I probably could have avoided all
of it if my love life hadn't been so sucky. Or let me rephrase
that. Nonexistent. Late in the summer, I'd been kicked to the curb
by a guy I was fairly gaga over, and though my heart no longer felt
as raw as a rug burn, my misery had morphed into a sour,
man-repellent mood. It was as if I had a sign over my head that
said, "Step any closer and I'm gonna bitch-slap you."
So when I was invited to spend an early fall weekend free of charge
at the Cedar Inn and Spa in Warren, Massachusetts, I grabbed the
chance. Trust me, I wasn't expecting to meet anyone
there—except maybe a few rich women in pastel sweat suits and
fanny packs who thought having their bodies slathered in shea
butter would miraculously vaporize their cellulite. I should also
admit that I've generally found spa stuff pretty goofy. I once had
a complimentary prune-and-pumpkin facial, and when it was over I
kept thinking that I should be stationed on a sideboard between a
roast turkey and cornbread stuffing.
But I do go nuts for a good massage, and I was hoping that a few of
those and a change of scenery would improve my mood as well as
jump-start my heart.
Unfortunately, soon after I arrived at the inn, all hell broke
I pulled into Warren just before seven on Friday night. A
reasonable arrival time, but three damn hours later than I'd
originally planned. A combination of things had thrown my schedule
into a tizzy. I'm a freelance journalist, specializing in
human-interest and crime stories, and an interview that I was
scheduled to do with a psychologist for an article on mass hysteria
got pushed from morning to midafternoon. I would have liked to just
blow it off entirely. But the piece was due at the end of the
following week, and I was feeling under the gun. I didn't hit the
road until three-thirty, guaranteeing that I'd have a good chance
of getting caught in a rush-hour mess somewhere between Manhattan
and Massachusetts—and I did. In addition, I was undone by a
smoldering car fire on the southbound side of the New York State
Thruway, which caused people on my side to practically crawl by on
their haunches so they could get a better look. You would have
thought the front half of the Titanic had been dredged and
deposited along the side of the road.
If I'd arrived on schedule, I would have been welcomed by the owner
of the inn, Danielle (aka Danny) Hubner. She was the one treating
me to an all-expenses-paid weekend. An old college friend of my
mother's, Danny had been pleading for me to visit the inn since
she'd opened it three or four years ago. But I'd always been too
crazed with work—or too caught up in the stages of grief that
followed the demise two years ago of my flash fire of a marriage:
heartache, healing, and manic horniness. This fall, because of my
snarky mood, I'd finally said yes.
It would be great, I figured, to not only be pampered 24/7, but
also to spend a nice chunk of time with Danny. She was really my
friend, too, and she had a slightly offbeat personality that I
found absolutely refreshing. I got the sense my visit would also
prove beneficial to her. My mother had called right before
she flew to Athens for a Mediterranean cruise to say that Danny had
seemed in a bit of a slump lately, but she didn't know why. My
mother was worried she might be having troubles with her second
husband, George, whom I'd yet to meet—and whom my mother
didn't seem wild about.
Since I arrived so late, I'd missed Danny. According to the desk
clerk, she'd driven into town on business she could no longer put
off, but she'd left word that she would check in with me later. I
was given a brief tour before being shown to my room.
The inn, a rambling, clapboard building probably erected in the
mid-1800s, was really quite smashing, even more so than in the
pictures I'd seen. Instead of dripping with the cutesy country
charm that you so often find at a restored inn, the decor was
elegant, pared down—lots of beige and cream tones and
brown-and-white-check fabric. And there wasn't a whirligig, weather
vane, or wooden swan in sight.
Since I was late, I figured I'd blown any chance of getting a
treatment that night, but my guide explained that Danny had
arranged for me to be squeezed in for a massage at
eight—before a late dinner. The inn's spa, which also
operated as a day spa for the area, stayed open until ten.
I had about fifteen minutes to catch my breath before the massage.
My room was maximum charming, a suite, actually, with a small
living area. It also sported checks, but in red and white and
paired with several quirky print fabrics. I unpacked the clothes
most likely to wrinkle and hung them in the closet. (I'm a
contributing writer for Gloss magazine, and I read in a
recent issue that you should roll your clothes in tissue paper
before packing them in order to prevent wrinkles, but I'd no sooner
take the time to do that than I would to iron my underpants.) Next
I took a very quick shower, letting the spray of hot water do a
number on muscles achy from a long car ride.
I dried myself off with a thick Egyptian-cotton towel. Thanks to a
towel warmer, it was as toasty as a baked potato. As I buffed my
body with it, I noticed a small earthenware jar on the bathroom
countertop. It was filled to the brim with amber-colored bath
salts, and a little tag announced their availability for sale in
the spa. They were a blend of sandalwood and sweet orange aromatics
with a hint of frankincense, prepared, the tag said, so I could
"surrender to a state of total enchantment and emerge with a
primitive power." God, just what I needed. Was it actually
suggesting I could get both in the same weekend? I glanced
up, into the mirror above the sink. I'm five six, with short,
brownish blond hair, and blue eyes, and I'm considered pretty in a
slightly sporty way, but there was no denying that at this moment
in time, I looked weary, even burned-out. It was going to take a
helluva lot of bath salts to leave me feeling enchanted and
I arrived downstairs at the spa with just a few minutes to spare.
It was actually a large addition to the inn, abutting the eastern
edge of the building. The decor was Asian inspired: beige walls,
cracked stone floors, bamboo plants in large putty-colored pots,
and hallways lined with sheer beige curtains that poofed outward
from the breeze that you created walking by them. It was very
different from the decor of the inn, but because they both featured
such muted tones, it all seemed to work together.
I undressed in a spacious dressing area and then waited for ten
minutes in the so-called relaxation room. Haunting Asian music
played in the background, water gurgled over stones in a small
fountain, and the scent of green tea wafted from two flickering
candles. I tried to let go and relish it, but I felt a little
silly. It was as if I'd somehow stumbled into a scene from
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Fortunately, it was only a few minutes before I was led to a
treatment room. I could barely wait for my massage to start, for
the chance to have those sore muscles unknotted. My only concern
was that it had been so long since I'd had any physical contact
with another member of my species that I might begin to whimper at
the first touch—like a poor little pound puppy.
Unfortunately, on a scale of one to ten, the massage was no more
than a seven. My "therapist," a red-haired woman in her thirties,
was skilled enough and had plenty of strength in her hands, but she
seemed distracted, pausing at odd moments as she worked. It was
enough to make me wonder if I had something weird happening on my
butt—like a humongous boil—that was forcing her to stop
and gape in horror. I was almost relieved when I was finally back
in my suite and could totally veg.
After ordering a club sandwich and a glass of Merlot from room
service, I unpacked most of the rest of the stuff from my bag,
sticking my underwear and shirts in a dresser. In the early days
that I'd traveled, I used to wonder who actually used hotel
dressers, but lately, at the ripe old age of thirty-three, I'd come
to discover that I prefer not having to forage through my suitcase
each time I get dressed.
My food arrived within twenty minutes and, ravenous, I devoured it.
Then, after opening the window a crack, I undressed and turned back
the thick white duvet on the bed. I was looking forward to reading
between sheets that felt as if they exceeded a three-hundred-thread
As I lay between said silky sheets, though, I could feel my mind
itching to go places it shouldn't. In other words, it was dying to
ruminate about my most recent love trouble. His name was Jack
Herlihy, and he was a thirty-five-year-old professor of psychology
from Washington, D.C., whom I'd met in May after he'd come up to
teach a summer course in New York. At the time, Jack had come
across like a breath of fresh air compared to most of the guys I'd
been meeting. He was great looking, nice without being a wuss, and
an amazing listener (well, he was a shrink), and he managed to be
all of these things without ever showing up, like some New York
men, with too much product in his hair. He seemed like a straight
shooter, not the kind of guy who promises to call the next day but
doesn't for weeks, giving you reason to believe that he calculates
his time in dog years. Jack didn't like games—or at least
that's what I assumed before he started playing them.
Most of my Jack ruminations generally involved trying to figure out
how I'd blown things. Admittedly, our romance had gotten off to a
slow start, but he'd seemed okay with the pace, and it was
certainly fine with me. I'd been fairly skittish since my
ex-husband—the attorney-at-law and gambler-at-large—had
fled the scene. Jack and I had some fun nights in the Village (he
was hoping to eventually relocate to New York), one glorious day on
the beach on Fire Island, and a night of half-naked groping in his
apartment, during which I explained I wanted to wait a little
longer for the full-frontal variety.
Then, in the beginning of July, Jack announced that his younger
sister had meningitis and he was going to be going home to
Pittsburgh each weekend to help his family. Since his life was
about to become insane, he wanted to put our relationship on hold
for the next few weeks—until he and his family were through
the worst. I promised to be there when his life returned to
We'd stayed in phone contact through July and the first week of
August, and then suddenly I stopped hearing from him. I told myself
to be patient, that he was caught up in the crisis. But after
several weeks had gone by and he was still incommunicado, I started
to panic. Since I didn't have any reason to believe he'd entered
the Federal Witness Protection Program, I suspected that I'd been
given the boot.
But wait, things get worse. Just before Labor Day, as I was
cruising the Village in search of fall shoes, I spotted him from a
distance with a couple of cute female student types—he seemed
talky, flirtatious, Mister Not-a-Friggin'-Care-in-the-World. As I'd
ducked on wobbly legs into a store to avoid being seen, it was
finally clear that it was o-v-e-r.
The only question left in my mind was why? Had he not been
that interested in me to begin with and his sister's illness
had become a good excuse to put distance between us? Had he
met someone else in the weeks we'd been apart? Had my request to
take the sexual part of the relationship slowly discouraged him
despite the fact that he had sounded okay with it?
Just as I was about to travel this tiresome ground in my mind for
the millionth time, the phone rang.
"Bailey, it's Danny. I didn't wake you, did I?"
As she spoke, I could see her in my mind's eye. She was in her
early sixties, pretty, or rather handsome, I'd say, with blondish
gray hair lightly curled. And she was tiny—only about
five feet tall and as slim as a candlewick.
"No, no, I'm just lying in bed with a book," I said. "Danny, your
inn is absolutely gorgeous. You've done an amazing job with
"Thank you so much, dearest. How has your evening been?"
Well, for the last twenty minutes I'd been tapping a freshly
scabbed emotional bruise, seeing if I could make myself
squeal—but I spared her that sordid detail.
"Terrific. I had a lovely massage and then a light dinner up here
in my room—or should I say my suite fit for a
"Who was your massage therapist, do you recall?"
"A woman. Redhead. Name started with a P, I think."
"Piper. She has wonderful hands, don't you think?"
"Yes, definitely." I wasn't going to get Piper in any kind of
trouble by saying her heart hadn't been totally into her work
"By the way, I've set up a meeting for you and Josh, the spa
manager, at four tomorrow—if that's still okay with
I write a few travel articles each year—it's a free way to
see the world and also a nice break from the crime grind—and
Danny was hoping that while I was ensconced at the inn I could
provide some ideas on how to better pitch her place to editors and
"Of course," I said. "But when do I get to see you?"
"How about breakfast together tomorrow morning?" Danny asked.
"Would nine work for you?"
"Absolutely, though I still may be in a stupor from my
She laughed lightly, like someone jangling her keys. "Well, you
know what I always say—too much of a good thing is wonderful.
Just wait till you have some of the other treatments I've got
booked for you. Have you ever had a massage with hot stones
"No—but I'm game for anything as long as it doesn't involve
"Oh, Bailey, you always make me laugh," she said. "Well, I'm going
to turn in now because my head is throbbing for some reason. I'm
staying here at the inn tonight, by the way, in case you need to
"Do you do that to see things from the guests' perspective?"
"Partly. But also George is out of town and I hate staying alone.
Our house isn't far from here, but it's very secluded. Shall we
meet in the lobby, then?"
"See you then. I can't wait."
And I meant it. I felt a tremendous debt to Danny. She had been so
good to me when my father died the year I was twelve, taking me on
all sorts of little adventures and day trips at a time when my
mother was struggling so much that it was hard for her to comfort
me. Danny must have sensed early on my fascination for the macabre,
because one of our excursions had been to Salem, to learn more
about the witch trials. My mother had looked slightly agog at both
of us when she'd learned where we'd ended up that day, but it had
been pure heaven for me.
My family eventually lost touch with Danny, during a period when
she'd lived out west in a bad marriage. But after she moved back to
Massachusetts (with a new husband) to open the inn, she and my
mother had reconnected. Though I was only now paying a visit to the
inn, Danny and I had spoken a few times on the phone, and I'd had
lunch with her once in New York when she'd come to the city on
The call from Danny had managed to take my mind off Jack, and I
picked up the book I'd taken into bed with me. It was of all things
a decorating book. Lately I'd been feeling in desperate need of a
change in my Greenwich Village apartment. After my divorce, I'd
jettisoned all the modern stuff my ex had encouraged us to buy and
introduced a Sante Fe feeling—with the help of
cinnamon-colored walls and some cheap baskets. But it was suddenly
boring me, adding to my burned-out feeling. Last week I'd asked the
Gloss decorating editor for some guidance and had been
forced to watch him recoil in horror as I described my place to
him. You would have thought I'd announced I'd just installed
wall-to-wall shag carpet.
"Sante Fe is totally stupid to do east of the Mississippi," he'd
said. "The light is all wrong for it. Besides, who wants to see
another turquoise coyote with a kerchief around its neck."
He'd suggested I go "minimal" and had pulled a book from his shelf
for me to consult.
I'd gone through four or five chapters, covering everything from
the value of white space to the pure evil of tchotchkes, when I
instinctively glanced at my wrist to check the time. My watch
I felt a tiny swell of panic. It had been my father's watch, an old
stainless-steel Rolex I'd started wearing shortly after he died. My
mind raced, trying to recall where I'd left it. It had been on my
wrist during the drive to Massachusetts because I recalled checking
it. Since it was waterproof, I never took it off when I showered.
The massage. Rather than leave it in the locker, I'd worn it
into the treatment room and placed it on a small stool in the
corner. I would never fall asleep if I didn't retrieve it.
I dialed the spa number, which was listed on a panel on the phone.
As I counted the rings, I leaned out of bed and glanced at the
digital clock on the bedside table: 10:25. I wasn't surprised when
no one picked up.
Plan B. I'd just head down there. There might still be someone
on-site, cleaning up and not bothering to answer the phone.
I threw off the covers and dressed in the same clothes I'd worn
earlier. My room was on the second floor of the inn, not far from a
back staircase that ended near a side entrance to the spa. Hurrying
along the corridor, I was surprised at how deadly quiet it
was—no murmur of voices, no hum of TVs, and definitely no
headboard banging. Guests here obviously preferred getting loofahed
to getting laid.
The door to the spa was solid glass, and I could look directly into
the small reception area that was reserved for the use of the inn's
guests. It was dark, except for a backlight in a case of spa
products. I tapped on the door and then tried to open it. No luck.
As I turned away, though, I thought I heard a sound, something
thudlike that I couldn't identify, from deep within the spa.
It sounded as if someone might still be there, but I was
going to have to try the main reception area, which could be
reached only from the outside. Walking along the ground-floor
corridor, I found an emergency exit and let myself out. I was on
the edge of the parking lot, dark except for a few perimeter
security lights and a big puddle of moonlight. I headed around the
edge of the building toward the main entrance of the spa.
I was surprised at how cool the night was. The early October
temperature had hovered around seventy earlier in the day, almost
balmy, but it had dropped at least twenty degrees. There was a
stiff, choppy wind, making the tree branches shake. This was one of
those nights that told you that if you'd been hoping the summery
weather would last forever, you were a fool.
Before I even reached the door of the spa, I could see I'd wasted
my time. There was a narrow window alongside each side of the front
door, and it was dark inside. There were no cars at this end, not a
soul in sight. It was totally silent, too, except for the wind and
the faint yawning of cars speeding along a far-off highway. I felt
nervous all of a sudden, standing out there in the darkness all by
I quickly broke into a jog and crossed the distance of the parking
lot to the front of the inn. There were about twenty cars at this
end, obviously belonging to guests. The front door was open and I
walked into the reception area, where a girl of no more than
twenty-five was sitting at the front desk, staring at a terminal
screen. Like my massage therapist, she had bright red hair, held
off her face with a tiny blue clip. Without giving her time to
inquire if she could help me, I explained the situation to her and
asked if she could open up the spa.
"I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to let anyone into the spa," she said.
"But they open at seven. I can leave a note under the door asking
them to look for your watch as soon as they get in. Who was your
"Oh, I'm sure she saw it and put it up someplace. There's no need
"You're probably right, but I can't help it," I told her. "The
watch has incredible sentimental value to me. Who can let me
"Well, Danielle could, but—"
"I don't want to wake her. Is there someone else?"
She thought for a second, her blue eyes raised to the
"Well, the manager had the day off. But I guess I could call Piper.
She's an assistant manager, and she's got a key."
"But then she'd have to drive all the way back here."
"No, she wouldn't—she lives right here. There's a building
out back where some of the staff stay. I don't think she'd mind
Natalie—that's what it said on her nametag—glanced at a
phone sheet on her desk and placed the call. A machine obviously
picked up after five or six rings because she left a message,
detailing what had happened and asking Piper to call.
"She must have gone into town for dinner," she said, setting the
phone back down. "I doubt she'll be gone long. There's another
assistant manager, Anna. . . ."
She let her voice trail off without asking if I wanted to track
down her, obviously hoping I wasn't going to push the issue even
"I can wait till Piper gets back," I said.
Once back in my room, I alternated between reading my book and
fretting. I had just glanced at the digital clock for about the
four hundredth time—11:13—when the phone rang. It was
"Hi, Miss Weggins? Natalie said you left your watch in the
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's on the little stool in the corner. You
didn't see it?"
"No, but then I don't recall looking over there." She hesitated a
second. "Why don't I run over and check—I'm just behind the
There was something about her tone—resigned
politeness—that told me she was doing it not out of any
inborn generosity, but because the inn encouraged staff to bend
over backward for the guests.
"God, I hate to put you out, but I'd die if something happened to
that watch. Should I meet you down there?"
"I'd be happy to drop it off in your room—but actually maybe
it's best for you to show me exactly where you think you left
She said we should meet by the inn entrance to the spa. I'd kept my
clothes on, so it took me less than two minutes to get down there.
I had a five-minute wait, though, before Piper strode down the
corridor from the front of the inn. It was funny how different she
looked out of "uniform." Instead of a beige T-shirt and baggy beige
pants, she was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved green jersey shirt,
low-cut with a ruffle. Her shoulder-length red hair, which had been
tied back earlier, was spread around her shoulders like a brush
She was courteous enough when she greeted me, but it seemed like
that kind of phony politeness she'd displayed on the phone. She
already had her keys out, and she unlocked the door, lifting the
handle slightly as she pulled it forward, obviously familiar with
the door's quirkiness.
She flipped on a light in the reception area, and I followed her
down one of the corridors. The scent of green tea still hung in the
air, and something else, maybe jasmine. The only sound was our
footsteps on the stone floor. It felt kind of creepy to be here
alone, after hours.
I wouldn't have been able to recall which room we'd been in, but
she seemed sure of it. As we reached the open doorway, she froze
suddenly, like a gazelle picking up the scent of something possibly
"What is it?" I asked.
"There's a light on," Piper said in a hushed tone, using her chin
to point down the hall ahead of us. I glanced in that direction and
saw a chink of light coming from beneath a doorway.
"Is someone here?" I asked, my voice as quiet as hers.
"No. It's just funny. I swear I turned off the light and left the
door open. Why don't you look for your watch and I'll check."
She flicked on the light for me, and as she walked off down the
hall, I made a beeline for the stool. I mouthed a big "Thank you"
to the gods when I spotted the Rolex lying there, all by its
lonesome. As I slid it onto my wrist, I heard a scream.
With my heart thumping, I stumbled out into the hall. Piper was
standing paralyzed in the doorway of the room down the corridor,
half in the room, half out.
"What's the matter?" I yelled.
She turned to me with a look of absolute horror on her face, unable
to form even a single word. I rushed down the hall, pushing past
her into the room. It was another massage room, though slightly
larger than the one I'd been in. The lights were dim, and at first
nothing seemed amiss. Then my eyes fell to the floor.
Lying on the stone floor, absolutely still, was a body, or at least
what I thought must be a body. Every inch of it was wrapped up in
some kind of silver paper. I could see the outlines of the limbs
and the torso and the head, and the outline too of the nose,
protruding from the face. It looked like some kind of mummy. Like
some horrible mummy from outer space.
Excerpted from A BODY TO DIE FOR © Copyright 2003 by Kate
White. Reprinted with permission by Warner Vision. All rights