Book Nerd Excerpt
Monday, October 3
SUBURBAN MADAM DEAD IN APPARENT SUICIDEThe headline catches Heloise’s eye as she waits in the always-long line at the Starbucks closest to her son’s middle school. Of course, a headline is supposed to call attention to itself. That’s its job. Yet these letters are unusually huge, hectoring even, in a typeface suitable for a declaration of war or an invasion by aliens. It’s tacky, tarted up, as much of a strumpet as the woman whose death it’s trumpeting. SUBURBAN MADAM DEAD IN APPARENT SUICIDE
Heloise finds it interesting that suicide must be fudged but the label of madam requires no similar restraint, only qualification. She supposes that every madam needs her modifier. Suburban Madam, D.C. Madam, Hollywood Madam, Mayflower Madam. “Madam” on its own would make no impression in a headline, and this is the headline of the day, repeated ad nauseam on every news break on WTOP and WBAL, even the local cut-ins on NPR. Suburban Madam dead in apparent suicide. People are speaking of it here in line at this very moment, if only because the suburb in question is the bordering county’s version of this suburb. Albeit a lesser one, the residents of Turner’s Grove agree. Schools not quite as good, green space less lush, too much lower-cost housing bringing in riffraff. You know, the people who can afford only three hundred thousand dollars for a town house. Such as the Suburban Madam, although from what Heloise has gleaned, she lived in the most middle of the middle houses, not so grand as to draw attention to herself but not on the fringes either.
And yes, Heloise knows that because she has followed almost every news story about the Suburban Madam since her initial arrest eight months ago. She knows her name, Michelle Smith, and what she looks like in her mug shot, the only photo of her that seems to exist. Very dark hair—so dark it must be dyed—very pale eyes, otherwise so ordinary as to be any woman anywhere, the kind of stranger who looks familiar because she looks like so many people you know. Maybe Heloise is a little bit of a hypocrite, decrying the news coverage even as she eats it up, but then she’s not a disinterested party, unlike the people in this line, most of whom probably use “disinterested” incorrectly in conversation yet consider themselves quite bright.
When Hector Lewis told his daughter that she had a nothing face, it was just another bit of tossed-off cruelty from a man who specialized in harsh words and harsher deeds. But twenty years later, Heloise considers it a blessing to be a person who knows how to avoid attention. In the comfortable suburb where she lives, she's just a mom, the youngish widow with a forgettable job who somehow never misses a soccer game or a school play. In the state capitol, she's the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record.
But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she's the woman of your dreams—if you can afford her hourly fee.
For more than a decade, Heloise has believed she is safe. She has created a rigidly compartmentalized life, maintaining no real friendships, trusting few confidantes. Only now her secret life, a life she was forced to build after the legitimate world turned its back on her, is under siege. Her once oblivious accountant is asking loaded questions. Her longtime protector is hinting at new, mysterious dangers. Her employees can't be trusted. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, a suicide. Or is it?
Nothing is as it seems as Heloise faces a midlife crisis with much higher stakes than most will ever know.
And then she learns that her son's father might be released from prison, which is problematic because he doesn't know he has a son. The killer and former pimp also doesn't realize that he's serving a life sentence because Heloise betrayed him. But he's clearly beginning to suspect that Heloise has been holding something back all these years.
With no formal education, no real family, and no friends, Heloise has to remake her life—again. Disappearing will be the easy part. She's done it before and she can do it again. A new name and a new place aren't hard to come by if you know the right people. The trick will be living long enough to start a new life.
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