four

Bernie pulled into the parking lot of Venus Nails at one thirty the following Tuesday. The salon was tucked away in a strip mall off of San Pedro Drive, between a frozen yogurt shop and an insurance broker’s office. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot but only a handful in front of the salon.

Bernie parked near the back of the lot to free up space near the door and glanced up at her reflection in the mirror. Her unruly blond curls were stuffed into a mesh cap under the straight black wig, and she’d used a brown sculpting pencil to darken her eyebrows. The glasses gave her a faintly Daria-esque vibe, but she’d decided to just go with it. She was wearing a pair of distressed jeans, a tight black Ramones T-shirt, Birkenstocks, and a thick mess of plastic bracelets on both wrists.

When she walked into the salon, a bell on the door tinkled to announce her arrival. Instantly her senses were assaulted by the stench of nail polish and ethyl methacrylate. The heady cloud of beauty smells was emanating from the four manicure stations in the back, where women in masks were hunched over their clients’ hands and feet.

A girl with sleek dark hair and red lips smiled blithely at her. “Hello.”

“Hi,” said Bernie, feeling nervous for the first time since she’d begun the operation.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Walk-in?”

Bernie nodded.

“Mani or pedi?”

Bernie thought for a moment. She never painted her nails. She was too rough with them. “Pedi,” she said.

“Name, please?”

“Ber—” Bernie began. She cleared her throat, panicking. She’d almost given her real name. “Uh . . . Bernard . . . Shaw. Kimber Bernard-Shaw.”

“Right,” said the girl, pursing her lips. “Have a seat. I’ll see if someone can squeeze you in.”

Bernie took a deep, calming breath. That had been close, but so far it was all going according to plan. She took a seat and flipped through a few of the glossy magazines sitting on the table.

Shiny celebrities smiled up at her, surrounded by big exciting headlines promising sexier hair, sexier abs, and sexier sex. So many promises. So many suggestions for ways in which her life might be lacking. She never knew she needed so much to be happy — to fill the gaping hole inside of her.

Bernie took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart. She wasn’t sure why she felt so nervous — maybe because she was about to come face to face with the woman whose life she sought to ruin.

Mrs. Bodetski wasn’t due for nearly an hour. She would have no clue that Bernie was there. Even if she glanced at her in passing, she would have no idea who she was.

Suddenly, the prospect of being in the same room with Mrs. Bodetski seemed far riskier than Bernie had imagined.

Why was she doing this? What if Mrs. Bodetski knew something was off and hired someone to follow her? What if a security camera in the parking lot had captured Kimber/Bernie going into the salon? Would they be able to trace her plates back to her? She was wearing her disguise, but what good did that do if they later made the connection and ran her plates? She hadn’t bothered with the fake ones. That now seemed like the height of stupidity.

She glanced around the salon. It was furnished with a few potted plants, tall hanging mirrors, and modern-looking lamps suspended from the ceiling. Bernie didn’t see any cameras, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t any in the parking lot.

After about twenty minutes, they called her name, and a smiling Vietnamese woman in black slacks and a crisp white shirt came to greet her. Her name was Julie. Bernie forced a smile and followed her back to her chair, where she sat for the next twenty minutes in supreme discomfort as the woman buffed, trimmed, and chiseled her feet.

Once the woman began filing her toenails, Bernie’s anxiety ratcheted up a notch. Where was Mrs. Bodetski? Bernie knew that she could come walking through that door at any moment, and Julie hadn’t even begun painting Bernie’s nails.

She watched the door like a hawk, trying and failing to look relaxed. Julie admonished her several times to lie back and let her take care of everything, but Bernie did not want to miss seeing which car Mrs. Bodetski arrived in.

Just as Julie was finishing Bernie’s first coat of polish, a silver Mercedes pulled up to the front of the salon. A woman got out, and the bell above the door tinkled. It had to be Mrs. Bodetski.

She was wearing a pair of loose charcoal slacks, a sleeveless white blouse, and a pair of very expensive designer sandals. Her golden-blond hair was done up in a loose French twist, and she looked harried.

“Are you Elaine?” asked the girl at the front desk.

“Yes.” Mrs. Bodetski’s voice was low and commanding — quiet — as if she were used to people straining to hear what she’d said.

“Mai is expecting you. She’s just about ready. Can I bring you a cold beverage? Sparkling water? Kombucha?”

Bernie rolled her eyes. Now she was rolling out the red carpet.

“No, thank you,” Mrs. Bodetski sighed. “I’ll just sit here and wait.” There was clear irritation in her voice, but no sooner had she spoken than the woman in the station across from Bernie’s dropped the rag in her hand and rushed out to the waiting area.

“Mrs. Bodetski! So good to see you!”

“Hello, Mai.”

“I ready for you now,” said Mai, sounding slightly panicky. “Come sit!”

Mrs. Bodetski gave Mai a strained half smile and picked her way around the chairs to her station. Bernie’s heart beat a little faster. Mrs. Bodetski still hadn’t looked directly at her, but if she just glanced past the potted plant in front of her, she would have a clear view.

At that moment, Julie got up, and Bernie waited for her best chance to run out the door. Mrs. Bodetski was still settling in for her mani/pedi, and her technician was buzzing around offering drinks, hot towels, and just about every other creature comfort one could imagine.

Bernie watched her furtively from her place behind the potted plant as Julie applied a clear coat and instructed her to wait. Mrs. Bodetski had disappeared behind a magazine, so Bernie muttered something about a call and flapped toward the door in her disposable foam flip-flops.

Mrs. Bodetski didn’t look up as she shuffled past. Bernie dipped out the front door without being seen, but instead of heading to her car, she fitted her Eey over her face, set it to privacy mode, and hovered in the parking lot just behind the Mercedes.

The salon was outfitted with the sort of reflective glass windows that allowed patrons to see out but prevented onlookers from seeing in, so Bernie couldn’t tell whether Mrs. Bodetski was looking in her direction or not.

Bernie gave a loud theatrical laugh to something someone might have said to her on the other end of the call, reached into her bag, and grabbed the GPS tracker she’d picked up from the electronics store.

She bent down on the pretense of adjusting the squishy pieces of foam between her toes and stuck the tracker up under the Mercedes’s rear bumper.

She stood up casually, chatted away for another minute to a person who didn’t exist, and then waltzed back into the salon to wait for her toes to dry. Mrs. Bodetski was still absorbed in her magazine, and the girl behind the desk was fiddling with appointments on her computer.

Bernie breathed a sigh of relief. Phase one of her mission was complete. There was nothing left to do but wait.

***

Bernie returned to her apartment in a breathless rush of excitement. She’d already installed the GPS program onto her laptop, so she was delighted when she booted up her computer and saw Mrs. Bodetski’s little blue dot blinking on the screen.

She was still at the nail salon. Bernie hadn’t missed a thing.

Running into the kitchen, Bernie grabbed some snacks and a bottle of juice from the fridge, skidded back to her desk, and then went to the bathroom. She didn’t know how long she might have to watch Mrs. Bodetski, so she thought she might as well settle in. All she needed to know was where the Bodetskis lived. Then she could make her move.

Unfortunately, it appeared that the wealthy socialite had a pretty full calendar that day. After the salon she went to yoga, and after yoga she drove to an expensive tapas restaurant for an early meal. Bernie rolled her eyes. What a life that was: Tuesday mani/pedi and yoga with the girls, followed by tiny expensive plates of food as a reward for all of that hard work.

Bernie was certain that Mrs. Bodetski would head home after tapas, but then she drove to Jeff Bezos Academy, a charter school that both Bodetski children had attended. Bernie suspected that Mrs. Bodetski might still have a hand in how the school was run. Either that or she was just stopping by to drop off a fat donation check.

Mrs. Bodetski stayed at the school for a little over an hour and then drove a few miles to a prestigious gated community called Bon Goût. Bon Goût was situated in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, and Bernie was sure that it had to be one of the most exclusive communities in the area.

As Mrs. Bodetski’s dot blinked lethargically from a lot in Bon Goût, Bernie did a quick search for the address. According to the real-estate website, the house had been sold less than six months ago, and the details of the listing were still posted. It was so convenient that Bernie almost couldn’t believe it.

The house was a six-thousand-square-foot French country stucco. It had five bedrooms, four baths, a three-car garage, a casita, and separate balconies that looked out onto the pool, hot tub, and sauna.

Lucky for Bernie, the lot backed up to national forest land, which meant there was probably a forest service road just on the other side of the fence. The real-estate listing boasted “spectacular mountain views,” “timeless oak floors,” and “gorgeous alder cabinetry.” The price the Bodetskis had paid for the home? Six point five million dollars.

Bernie wanted to gag. She couldn’t even imagine six and a half million dollars, and yet men like Bodetski threw it around as though it were nothing. Brian Bodetski had been cashing in on his company’s shameless pollution for years, and he probably thought he could go on like that forever.

The bastard wasn’t just thriving — he was gloating. And Bernie intended to make him pay.

A quick Internet search turned up even more useful information on the Bodetskis’ home. As it turned out, Bon Goût had a homeowners association, and that HOA had an online newsletter.

Bernie figured they probably only posted it to make the slightly less rich aware of what they were missing, which included a Cape Cod–themed pool party that the Eldridge family was throwing for their son Zachery’s eighth birthday. All the neighborhood children were invited, but Mrs. Eldridge had included a stern warning reminding everyone that their treats should not include dairy, gluten, refined sugar, or nuts of any kind.

It seemed that Mrs. Eldridge was nuts of every kind, and that gave Bernie an idea. She knew that she would have to invent a way to bypass the guard at the gate upon entering the subdivision, but first she had to address the thornier issue of disabling the Bodetskis’ in-home security system.

That required ordering a software-defined radio, which she could buy online for around four hundred bucks. Once she had it, she would be able to intercept and replay radio signals from the system to trigger false alarms.

Bernie selected overnight shipping for the device and planned to stake out the Bodetskis’ house from the nearby forest service road that weekend. She needed to be close for the radio to work, but as long as she was within a few hundred yards, she would be able to create the perfect storm of chaos.

If the Bodetskis’ alarm went off too many times — especially during Father’s Day weekend — they would either disable the system, or the police would stop responding with any amount of urgency.

The plan was flawless, and that scared her a little. She’d officially crossed over to the dark side, and there was no going back.

***

Bernie chose Sunday to execute her plan. She’d been tripping the Bodetskis’ alarm system at irregular intervals for two days straight, and no one it seemed could figure out what was happening.

She knew from her research that Brian Bodetski was on the board of the J.W. Johnson Foundation, which was hosting a Father’s Day charity dinner to raise money for low-income single dads.

The event was scheduled to begin at seven thirty, so Bernie rolled up to the front gates at Bon Goût just after eight o’clock. According to the Internet, the sun would set around eight twenty-three, and she needed the cover of darkness for what she was about to do.

She was posing as the Eldridges’ new nanny. Instead of her punk-casual outfit, Bernie was wearing a pair of salmon capris, white slides, a polka-dotted blouse with ruffles on the sleeves, and a white daisy headband over her jet-black wig.

A plastic tote bag sat in the seat next to her, bursting with books and toys and craft supplies — implements of any kickass nanny. She was dressed like an overachieving goody-goody, apart from the butterfly tattoo on her wrist. It was all part of her character: reformed bad girl just trying to build a better life.

Everything else Bernie needed was in her trunk. The Bodetskis hadn’t activated their alarm system when they left, and so for the next two to three hours, there was no one standing between Bernie and their multimillion-dollar affront to common decency.

No one except Harold. Harold was the tall black man stationed at the entrance to Bon Goût. He had a short ring of dark hair around the top of his head, a thin mustache, and a face that said very clearly, “no pass, no entry.”

“Are you sure that I’m not on the list?” Bernie asked in a pleading voice.

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, she didn’t give me a pass . . . She must have just forgotten to put me on the list.”

Harold sighed. “Do you want me to call her?”

“No,” said Bernie, allowing her voice to tremble just a little. “She’s already going to be so mad that I’m late. She and Mr. Eldridge had this special date night planned, but I had to turn in a paper, and I just . . .”

Bernie sucked in a deep, calming breath and closed her eyes to fend off a tidal wave of pretend tears.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Harold. “But I can’t let you through without a pass.”

“I know, I know,” said Bernie, eyes glassy.

Harold seemed to be waiting for her to back away from the gate, but Bernie hadn’t played her last card yet.

“You know what she’s like . . .” Bernie said in a low voice. “If I tell her she never gave me a pass, she’s not going to believe me. She’ll just say that I must have lost it.”

Bernie didn’t dare look Harold in the eye, but she knew she was beginning to wear him down. He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, sighed, and looked up toward the street full of beautiful homes built for beautiful people. Clearly he knew Mrs. Eldridge and what a nutcase she was.

“Fuuuuck,” Bernie whispered, banging on the steering wheel. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She turned to Harold, who looked more than a little rattled by her mini meltdown. “I can’t lose this job. She’ll give me a shitty reference, and then I’ll have to go back to dancing at the club, and I just . . .”

At this point, Bernie allowed herself to tear up just a little.

“Hey now,” said Harold, sounding sympathetic and a tad panicky. “It’s not so bad.”

“Not so bad?” Bernie repeated, scrunching up her face in her trademark ugly cry. The tears were coming thick and fast. “She told me that if I screwed up, I would never nanny in this town again.” She turned to look at Harold. “Do you know what that’s like? Jobs like the Eldridge kid don’t come around every day. They’re paying me thirty-five an hour! I can start paying down my credit cards, go back to school . . .”

She hung her head and started to bawl in earnest. Harold turned away, possibly to check for other cars lining up behind hers, or maybe just to avoid looking her in the eye.

“Okay, okay,” he said after a moment. “I’ll let you in this one time. But you tell Mrs. Eldridge that you need a pass before I can let you in again, or it’s gonna be my ass on the line.”

“Oh my god,” said Bernie, letting out a laugh of relief. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“Uh-huh,” said Harold, looking as though he were already regretting his decision. He pressed a button, and the metal gate began to slide back to let her car pass. “You just stay out of trouble now.”

“Yes, sir!” said Bernie, wiping her fake tears away from under her glasses and touching the gas pedal.

She couldn’t believe it. Her plan had worked. Everything was going just the way she’d envisioned. It almost seemed too easy.

But as she rolled through the gate, she made eye contact with the cold black security camera pointed at her windshield. There was another pointed in the opposite direction. They were positioned to capture her face and her stolen license plate as she rolled on through. She only hoped that she had done enough to conceal her true identity.

One way or another, she was in the system now, and they would be looking for Kimber the stripper-turned-nanny for weeks to come.

***

Go to Chapter Five

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