Killer Wasps

When antiques store owner Kristin Clark stumbles upon Barclay Shields, Bryn Mawr’s newest real estate developer, lying unconscious beneath the hydrangea bushes lining the driveway of one of the area’s most distinguished estates, the entire town is abuzz with intrigue and gossip.

In this excerpt from Amy Korman’s new novel, Killer Wasps, Kristin and her three best friends — Holly, a glamorous chicken nugget heiress with a penchant for high fashion; Joe, a decorator who’s determined to land his own HGTV show; and Bootsie, a preppy but nosy newspaper reporter — have joined forces to solve the crime. And since they’ve been invited to a cocktail party at the home of Barclay’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Sophie Shields — well, what can they do but go to the soiree, drink, and snoop?

The debut novel by Korman, a former Philly Mag senior editor, is available from Witness Impulse on September 16th.

“THESE ARE MY FRIENDS, Holly Jones and Joe Delafield,” I said to Sophie. “Sophie Shields,” I added unnecessarily to Holly and Joe. “And you know Bootsie.”

“Good to meet you. And nice to see you, Beebee,” Sophie added to Bootsie, who nodded and then rudely took off, making a beeline for the house with a determined look.

“I think she’s hungry,” I explained, embarrassed. I knew exactly what Bootsie was up to. It had nothing to do with the buffet, and everything to do with rummaging through Sophie’s belongings.

“Your friend with the flowered outfits doesn’t waste any time!” giggled Sophie good-naturedly, watching Bootsie dash past the loaded hors d’oeuvres table and up a flight of stairs into the house. “I guess she must need to use the little girls’ room! ’Cause the party’s outside, not inside. But that’s okay!” The only thing Bootsie was interested by in the bathroom were the contents of Sophie’s medicine chest, and that would be only the first stop on a full forensic snooping tour of the house. Hopefully Sophie didn’t mind Bootsie rifling through her shoe cabinets and flinging open the drawers of her nightstands.

“This is so nice,” I said to Sophie, gesturing to the pool, where more guests had arrived, including Honey Potts, in a Bermuda-shorts ensemble, and Mariellen Merriwether, in her usual tasteful linen dress accessorized with opera-length pearls. The Colketts were there, too, futzing around with some potted boxwoods.

“You look amazing!” I added to Sophie, not sure what else to say about her appearance. She looked attractive enough, to be sure, but amazing was the best I could muster up at the moment.

“It’s Versace!” blinked Sophie. “Listen, I gotta go mingle, but I’m so glad you came over to my humble abode!”

“Speaking of which,” said Joe smoothly, “Sophie, who’s your decorator on this, um, fabulous place? Let’s get a drink.” He took her arm and guided her down to the pool as he started his pitch.

“Sophie’s husband has mafia ties!” I hissed to Holly as soon as Sophie was out of earshot. “That is, he probably does.” I gave her a quick update as we made our way along a slate walkway flanked by Colkett-installed peonies.

“I love it,” said Holly happily. “This town is seriously lacking in organized crime. Just think of how great it would be to have an occasional drive-by shooting!” I was about to remind her that we weren’t exactly Drea de Matteo and Edie Falco, but she’d lost interest already.

“HELLO, GORGEOUS!” sang out Tim Colkett at the sight of Holly, who smiled up at him.

“Most beautiful girl in Philadelphia!” Tom Colkett said to Holly, kissing her hand and then greeting me with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

“What do you think of the new rose garden?” whispered Tim. “This place was a complete dump yesterday morning. It took four truckloads of plants, and thirty yards of mulch.”

“This is going to be nothing, though, compared to your yard,” Tom assured Holly. “Now, that’s going to be freaky-chic! That Cipriani Hotel theme you’ve dreamed up is totally Sophia Loren.”

Just then, on a patio above us, we heard — and saw — Chef Gianni. With his parachute pants billowing and earrings glinting, he launched into a tirade of abuse at a frightened teenage waiter who was about to descend the stairs down to the pool area holding a large silver tray of Parmesan puffs. At the sound of Gianni’s screaming, the Colketts froze in terror, then blurted, “Excuse me, dolls,” to Holly and me, and bolted toward the far end of the pool and busied themselves rearranging some flowers on the cocktail tables.

“What’s with them?” asked Joe, who’d returned from wooing Sophie as a design client, and was in line to get us drinks from the bar.

“They have post-traumatic chef disorder,” Holly told him.

Who could blame them? I thought, as Joe handed me a glass of champagne. I’d visit the buffet, which I could see consisted of a Kilimanjaro of jumbo shrimp and stone crab claws, then try to convince Bootsie to drive me home.

I put three shrimp on a little plate, then reached for the tongs again and added another, ladled a large dollop of cocktail sauce next to them, dipped a shrimp, and stuffed it into my mouth.

“The shrimp are great,” said a tall man next to me, who was wielding the silver serving pieces to score himself some crab claws. “Little high in cholesterol, though.”

I looked up, disconcerted at being caught mid-gulp. But then I noticed that the guy had nice blue eyes, brown hair with some gray in it, and was smiling down at me in a friendly way. I instantly revised my position. The guy was in his late thirties, I guessed, and actually was incredibly good-looking. Plus, while he was way more well-groomed than my usual scruffy type, there was an appealing hint of five-o’clock shadow forming on his handsome jaw. This man was obviously just concerned with my health.

He squeezed half a lemon on his crab, and in a gentlemanly way offered to squeeze some on my shrimp.

“Thanks,” I said, proffering my plate for the lemon spritz. “Honestly, these shrimp are so good, they’re worth it.”

“You’re right,” he said, popping some crab in his mouth. “I have a theory about buffets. You need to skip all the extraneous stuff — like bread, salad, anything that’s just filler — and focus on the key items. Any kind of fish or filet mignon comes first.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that about the shrimp,” he added apologetically. He really had nice eyes with some great crinkly lines around them, which made him all the more appealing. “I just read a story in a medical journal about some of the health risks of shellfish, but it’s not good cocktail conversation.”

Was he a doctor? I love doctors. As Holly would say, they’re so medical.

“You’re a doctor?” I asked hopefully.

“I’m a vet,” he said. “Large animals, mostly. But I read the AMA journal, too. Sometimes research on people can have implications for how we treat our animal patients. Not that the animals I treat are eating a lot of shrimp.” I tried to follow along with the conversation, but was preoccupied by taking in his deep tan and the sexy lines around his blue eyes.

He also had this kind of incredibly honest look to him. His vibe was: Going to gas up my station wagon, then take a jog around Bryn Mawr, grill a steak, and go to sleep. In other words, he seemed really normal.

“I have a dog,” I told him. “He’s a really sweet basset hound. He’s a little stubborn, but he’s so lovable …” My voice trailed off for a second as I was momentarily distracted by the sight of Honey and Mariellen lurking near the house. “It’s too bad that Lilly isn’t here tonight,” I heard Honey growl. “Where is she, again?”

“Tennis tournament,” Mariellen drawled. “Up in Greenwich. You know my daughter, she won’t miss a tennis match.”

And then I noticed that standing next to Honey was a man in a navy blazer, khakis, and what appeared to be Gucci loafers. He was youngish, handsome, and not too tall. He looked perfectly at ease among the symphony crowd. And then I almost dropped my drink, because the man was grinning at me, and the man was Mike Woodford.

His hair had been combed, his stubble had been shorn, and he looked positively symphony-ready. You could have popped him into a box at the opera hall downtown, stuck a program for Mozart’s Requiem in his hand, and no one would have blinked an eye.

What was Mike doing here? And more importantly, what was he doing in Gucci loafers?

I suddenly felt Mariellen’s icy blue gaze fixed on me. Surprised, I looked away, then looked back, and saw La Merriwether stub out her cigarette in a glass ashtray in a positively sinister, Joan-Crawford-in-Mommie-Dearest way, still eyeing me with evident disdain. What had I done to upset her? Was there cocktail sauce on my face? Or did she know that I was the trespasser who’d helped make an unfortunate discovery at her best friend’s estate three nights before? Then I looked back, and noticed that her malevolent glare had been transferred to the good-looking veterinarian.

It was probably time to head home.

“Oh, hiya, Kristin, ya having fun?” squeaked Sophie suddenly, appearing at my elbow. “Like the shrimp? They’re from Palm Beach! Gianni had ’em flown in!”

“They’re fantastic,” I told her. “Thank you so much, they’re really incredible, and so, uh, big! Sophie Shields, this is …” I gestured toward the vet, realizing I didn’t know his name.

“John Hall,” he said, shaking Sophie’s teeny hand, which was obscured by two giant cocktail rings. “Thank you for having me.”

“Think nothing of it!” she said, looking over her shoulder nervously. “Eek, Gerda looks a little mad.” She giggled. “She’s my Pilates instructor,” she whispered to John Hall. “The one over there with the clipboard.”

Gerda glared at Sophie from her check-in station, and crunched angrily on a stalk of raw broccoli. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mariellen and Honey walking swiftly toward Sophie’s house. Either they needed a bathroom break, or they were succumbing to the same impulse to snoop that Bootsie had given in to.

Gerda got up from her table, and hotfooted it after Mariellen and Honey, perhaps sensing an imminent ransacking of her and Sophie’s desks and closets. She pointed at Sophie’s glass of champagne, shaking her head in disapproval as she disappeared inside the house.

“Gerda banned me from drinking anything alcoholic or carbonated. Champagne’s a double no-no, so I gotta sneak it,” Sophie told me and John, turning her back on Gerda to chug a flute of Mumm.

“Oh fuck!” shrieked Sophie, glancing up at the house, where Gianni stood on a little patio outside the kitchen. “There’s the chef, flagging me down with that goddamn dish towel again. I gotta go.”

“Sophie!” yelled the chef from his terrace, his tall form bent over the railing to shout across the pool to Sophie. “There is big problem with your stove!”

Sophie hustled toward him as quickly as her tiny frame and giant heels would take her toward the house, but just as she neared the edge of the pool near the house, Gianni erupted in Italian.

We all looked up, including Sophie, whose mouth formed an O of horror.

The chef had somehow lost his balance: He tumbled off the balcony, Crocs flying, arms flailing, and did a mid-air somersault as he thumped heavily into a bank of rosebushes below. He also managed to topple onto the string quartet’s cello player. His colleagues crashed to a halt in their song, while Sophie, just inches away, was unhurt. She seemed frozen on the spot, and indeed for a moment, no one spoke, or even breathed.

“Merda!” screamed the chef, finally breaking the silence.

“Ouch,” moaned the cellist.

“Ohmigod!” exploded Sophie. “Chef Gianni’s dead!”

From the forthcoming book KILLER WASPS by Amy Korman. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Korman. To be published on September 16, 2014, by Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

Amy Korman is a former senior editor for Philadelphia magazine and author of Frommer’s Guide to Philadelphia. She has written for Town & Country, House Beautiful, Men’s Health, and Cosmopolitan. She lives outside Philadelphia with her family and their Basset hound. Killer Wasps is her first novel.