But what about Ralph's wife? Blake Weston is 56, the age when women become invisible.
- No one listens to her even when she knows more about the subject under discussion than anyone else in the room.
- Taxis don't stop for her.
- Waiters ignore her.
- Salespeople look through her even though, within reason, she can buy whatever she wants.
Is Blake happy about the situation? No way. Is she about to give up? Never.
I loved writing about Blake and Ralph, their relationship, and the deadly mystery they must work together to solve. Finding a cover image turned out to be, as they say in biz-speak, "a challenge." To put it mildly.
Since the story is told from Blake's point of view, I wanted her on the cover, front and center. I used search terms like "mature woman," "adult woman," "beautiful mature woman," "lovely adult woman," "attractive mature woman,"and here's what I got:
Inspiring, right? Grown-up women, the smart, savvy readers I write for, will love it, right? Because this is exactly what they look like and the way they see themselves, right?
What I ended up using was a woman too young to be Blake but, after hours of searching, it was the best compromise I could come up with. :-(
I kept looking. And kept looking. Trudging my way from site to site. Wracking my brain for different search terms. Getting nowhere. Until—
At long last I finally found something I hadn't seen before: a sexy, stylish grown-up woman. Like my heroine. Like my readers.
So here she is, the beautiful mature woman—and the smart, savvy reader I write for—in all her glory:
A quick guide to the characters:
Julia, Blake's BFF from boarding school, has embraced Mindful Living and just made the switch from hetero to homo.
Barbara Salem is Julia's Pilates teacher and Wellness Facilitator.
Ralph is Blake's husband. They've been married for twenty-seven years. He's freaking out about turning sixty and has transformed himself via a strict diet and killer exercise regime.
Melanie is Melanie Bradshaw, a flak-jacket-weariing, gung ho war reporter and possessor of a spectacular pair of 36 Double D's.
Located on a quiet side street just off Sutton Place, the Lancaster Hotel was housed in an ivy-covered brick building that whispered of Washington Square and Henry James. It looked discreet, refined. Which it wasn’t. What it was, was a sleazy hideaway for cheaters.
As I approached the entrance, a white-gloved doorman in a dark green uniform with polished brass buttons opened the door for me. I entered a small lobby whose fresh flowers, period furniture and Oriental rugs reeked of old money, good breeding and illustrious family trees.
The illusion ended right there.
A comb-overed old galoot with his hand on the thigh of a women young enough to interest Donald Trump sat in one corner. Opposite was well-barbered forty-year-old in a $3,000 suit wearing a wedding ring and nibbling on the ear of a woman wearing a nightgown under a mink coat. The rest of the room was empty. All the other guests probably upstairs in their rooms screwing their brains out.
I made my way to the reception area, asked for the Spa, was told that it was located off the small passage that led from the foyer to the elevators.
I followed the direction and knocked on the door.
Barbara Salem presided over a tranquil area of blond wood, shoji screens, aromatherapy candles and a sound system playing Buddhist chants—according to Julia, an essential for those seeking enlightenment or, as she was currently calling it, samadhi.
Makeup-free except for lip balm and smelling of sandalwood, Barbara was wearing a t-shirt printed with a lotus flower, flowing black yoga pants and alterna-lifestyle-approved Birkenstocks.
She had a gentle smile and biceps like Mike Tyson. She welcomed me with the smile.
I took a deep breath, then I plunged in. “Julia said you might be able to help me. It’s about this man,” I said, extracting from my HBO tote a snapshot of Ralph taken the previous year. In the photo, the pre-Improved Ralph looked pale, tired and a bit pudgy. “I wonder if you’ve seen him here? He’s lost weight since this picture was taken. And replaced his glasses with contacts—”
She examined the picture and then handed it back. “That’s Mr. Piretta,” she said. Piretta was Ralph’s mother’s maiden name and I was (slightly) disappointed that Ralph, ex-detective, was so unimaginative. “He just rented a suite—”
”For a month—”
“‘A month?’” I repeated, over the nauseating lump that had developed in my throat.
”He’s already moved in some clothes,” she said. ”Pants, a few shirts, some mini skirts—”
I almost choked. ”Mini skirts?”
She nodded. ”That’s what the maid told me,” she said. “He drops in every few days or so along with his guests—“
My mouth went dry. “Guests?”
She nodded. “Tough-looking guys,” she said. Ralph is into rough sex?, rough gay sex?, I wondered as Barbara went on. “Kids, too. They look like students. You know, jeans and t-shirts—”
“Boys?” I said, thinking of Julia’s late life sex switch as my stomach lurched greasily and dive bombed. “Girls?”
“Both,” she said. “Two or three at a time—”
I was speechless. Ralph was into threesomes and rough sex? Or was it group sex and orgies? More effective than goat’s milk yogurt for reviving a flagging libido, I supposed.
“Sometimes a woman joins them,“ Barbara said. She cupped her hands in front of her chest to indicate an Everest -sized pair of knockers. “If you want, I’ll let you know next time he checks in—”
“Please do,” I said, barely able to get the words out. I gave her my cell phone number and rose to leave. As I reached the door, I almost tripped over the Pilates machine in the corner. Between the adjustable metal bar, heavy-resistance springs and long leather straps, it looked like something left over from the Spanish Inquisition.
“I’d probably kill myself on that thing,” I said, trying to regain my balance.
“Don’t worry,” she smiled, extending a helpful hand. “We haven’t lost anyone yet—”
“Yet,” I said and we laughed.
Or, I should say, she laughed. I was thinking of kinky threesomes and group sex, of orgies and mini skirts, of Melanie, her Mammoth Mammaries and her Raunchy Red lipstick.
I managed to make it to the office without puking.
And wondered what godawful catastrophe Fate had in store for me next.