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Friendship and Love (and Jewelry)

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Cynthia stood on a stone balcony, wearing a fur coat over loungewear and holding a drink in one hand. She stared wearily off into the distance, took a sip of her drink, and then turned her head to focus on the dreamer. She saluted with her drink.

“Congratulations! I am so fucking proud of you all. You each made those bastards pay. I wish I had your strength and courage.

“I wanted to make Gil suffer. You want to know how successful I was? He came to the funeral and couldn’t wait to get home to screw his new wife. He never shed a tear. That’s how successful I was.”

She drained her glass and threw it off the balcony. “I should have turned to you guys in life, instead of sentimentally reaching out to you in my last letters. Then Gil would have paid!

“Remember this. We are bound together now and forever by friendship and love (and jewelry) for the rest of our lives.”

Then she stepped off the balcony.

** *

She bolted upright with a gasp. “Oh, my God!”

She turned to the man sleeping beside her and shook him fiercely. “Morty! Wake up!”

Morty snorted and mumbled, “Wha? Whazit?”

“I just had the strangest dream!”

“Thaz nice, sweetheart.” Morty rolled over and went back to sleep, leaving Brenda to huff indignantly and flop back down.

** *

She woke up and lay staring at her darkened ceiling. After a minute, she reached over to grab a Kleenex and blew her nose.

“Oh, Cynthia,” Annie sighed. She lay awake thinking of all the times she could have reached and never did.

** *

She rolled quietly out of bed so that she wouldn’t wake up her boyfriend and crept into the Livingroom. At the bar, she poured herself a tiny (tiny!) drink and lit a cigarette. Then she posed dramatically at the window, staring at the city lights, and lifted her glass. “To Cynthia!” Elise proclaimed and tossed it back. She puffed silently on her cigarette until it was gone. Then she crept into the bathroom to quietly gargle some mouthwash and went back to bed.

** *

She woke up and wiped the tears from her face. Then she began praying for the soul of Cynthia Swann Griffin.

** *

“Morty, get the phone!”

Brenda scrubbed harder at the lasagna pan. The phone kept ringing.

“Morty!”

She dropped the pan in the sink and pulled off her rubber gloves. She stormed into the Livingroom. “For God’s sake, Morty. Can’t you hear the phone?”

“I’m in the can!” Morty yelled from behind the bathroom door. “Get it yourself.”

Brenda rolled her eyes and picked up the phone. “Cushman residence. Hello?” she said.

“Hi, Brenda.”

Brenda’s face brightened. “Hi, Annie. What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you’d like to come over for dinner? Tonight?”

“Tonight? I’ll ask Morty.”

“No!” said Annie. “Sorry… I was hoping just to have a girls’ night with the three of us. I was thinking about Cynthia and, well, I miss you all.”

“You just saw us two weeks ago at the board meeting.”

“I know. But that was business. We didn’t really get a chance to chat and hear what’s new in our lives or just laugh together.”

Brenda grinned. “Is Elise coming?”

“I haven’t called her yet but it’s Monday so she may be free.”

“Okay! What time? Do you need me to bring anything?”

“Seven o’clock. Oh… something to drink? I’m making roast chicken and a chocolate cake for dessert.”

“You know what goes with chocolate cake? White Russians!”

Annie laughed. “Well, it’s a party then. See you tonight.”

“Bye!” Brenda hung up and went to tell Morty that he and Jason were on their own tonight.

** *

Elise rang the doorbell. Someone yelled, “I’ll get it!” and then the door was yanked open by Brenda.

“Well, look at you, Ms. Broadway Star! Love the coat. Is that real sable?”

Elise wrinkled her nose at Brenda, then air kissed her. “Of course, it’s real. If I wore a fake, it would make all the tabloids.” She shrugged off her coat and Brenda grabbed it, stroking it greedily before hanging it up in the coat closet. “You should make Morty buy you one.”

“He just bought me a new mink. It’s practically floor-length.”

“Good!” Elise said, fiercely. “That’s what you deserve for taking that schmuck back.”

“Hey!” Brenda said, smiling reluctantly. “That’s my schmuck you’re talking about. Oh, look, you’re wearing Cynthia’s necklace. So are we.”

“Annie was talking about her when she invited me and I got this impulse.”

Annie ducked her head out of the kitchen. “Hi, Elise. I’ll be out in a minute. I’m just finishing up the salads.”

Elise wandered into the kitchen. She greeted Annie and then brandished the wine bottle. “Where’s your corkscrew? This should breathe for half an hour.”

Annie nodded towards a certain drawer. “In there. I’ve got a bottle ready for us right now.”

Brenda came in. “The table’s set. Anything ready to go out?”

“The chicken and roast potatoes are ready. That bowl is the peas. I’m almost finished with the salad.”

“What are you doing, Princess?” asked Brenda.

Elise waved the wine bottle she was busy opening. “I’m playing sommelier tonight.”

“A very important job,” Annie assured her. She finished sprinkling the slivered almonds on the salad and began carrying them to the dining room.

Elise popped the cork and left the bottle to breathe. She grabbed the already opened bottle from the counter and went into the dining room to pour.

After a bit more bustling around the table, dinner was ready and everyone sat down. Food was passed around, tasted and declared delicious. Annie glowed at the praise.

“So where’s your mother and Chris?” Brenda asked. “Why aren’t they joining us?”

“They’re out having dinner at a restaurant. I asked them to give us some privacy.”

“Ha! I told Morty to take Jason out to get pizza. What about you, Elise? What did you do with your boyfriend?” Brenda asked lasciviously. “Did you leave him chained to your bed? I totally would.” She leaned forward. “Is it true what they say about younger men? Do they last the whole night?”

“Brenda!” Annie exclaimed. She bit her lip in scandalized amusement and raised her eyebrows at Elise.

Elise stared at them, expressionless for a long moment, and then smiled smugly. “In Chad’s case, it’s absolutely true.”

They all burst out laughing. After a couple of minutes, Annie dabbed at the tears of laughter running down her face with her napkin.

“I’m so glad you both could come. I’ve been thinking about Cynthia all day and wishing she could be here with us. She would have had so much fun.”

“Awww,” Brenda said sympathetically and put her hand on Annie’s arm. “You’re a good soul, Annie.”

“Hear, hear!” Elise agreed and lifted her wineglass to Annie.

Annie blinked some more tears away and smiled. “I even dreamed about her last night.”

Brenda and Elise both stilled.

“You did? I dreamed about her too,” admitted Brenda.

“Her face was so sad and hard and she was wearing a fur coat. She said she was so proud of us.”

Brenda’s face paled. “That she wished she’d had the strength and cleverness to do what we did.”

Elise cleared her throat. Brenda and Annie’s eyes snapped towards her. “That we were bound together now and forever by friendship and love (and jewelry) for the rest of our lives.”

All three women reached up to touch their necklaces.

“That’s impossible,” said Annie, weakly. “We couldn’t have all had the same dream… could we?”

A look of awful realization came over Brenda’s face. “Oh my God, she’s reaching out to us from beyond the grave. She’s a restless spirit.”

“This is not a movie plot,” Elise said dubiously. “Things like that don’t happen in real life.”

“Oh no? How do you explain us having the same dream on the same night?”

“There has to be some rational explanation,” said Annie. “Ghosts aren’t real.”

The doorbell rang. Everyone jumped and screamed.

“It’s her! It’s Cynthia climbed out of her grave,” Brenda yelled.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Annie, swallowing hard, and standing up.
,
“No!” Brenda shrieked. “Don’t answer the door!”

“Don’t be silly,” said Annie. “It’s probably Mother and Chris coming home early.”

“They have keys, don’t they?” asked Elise. “Maybe… maybe you shouldn’t answer the door.”

The doorbell rang again. They stared at the door.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Annie said firmly to herself and started towards the door.

Elise stood up and grabbed the wine bottle.

“What are you going to do?” said Brenda sarcastically. “Offer her a drink?” She reached over the table and grabbed the carving knife.

“I hit someone with a bottle in a movie once,” Elise explained. “They went right down.”

Brenda rolled her eyes. “The stunt man went right down. Oh geez, that’s a surprise.”

Elise grimaced at her and Brenda grimaced back. Then they looked towards the entrance. “Annie, wait for us!”

Annie stood at the door staring at the door knob. She turned to look at them gratefully. She reached for the door knob.

The doorbell rang.

Annie moaned quietly, then her jaw firmed and she swung the door open.

The small, plain woman standing on the threshold was entirely anticlimactic.

“Oh, hello.” Annie smiled brightly. “Can I help you?”

Elise put the bottle behind her back and nudged Brenda, who looked at her and then the knife, and hid it as well. They both smiled widely at the woman, who looked a little startled.

“Are you Mrs. Paradis?”

“Yes! And you are?”

“I’m Teresa Perez and I worked for Mrs. Griffin.”

“It’s old home week,” muttered Brenda.

“I have a message from Mrs. Griffin.”

“Oh,” said Annie. “Please come in. We were just having dinner. Would you like to join us?”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.” Teresa looked scandalized at the thought. “I will give you the message and leave.”

“Hey!” Brenda said sharply. She moved in closer to glare at Teresa’s neck. “That’s Cynthia’s necklace! What are you doing with it?”

Teresa’s hand flew up and clutched the necklace. She raised her chin defiantly and said, “Mrs. Griffin gave it to me. She asked me to mail some letters and sent me away. It was the last thing she ever said to me.” Tears began falling.

Annie melted. “Oh, of course, she gave it to you. Please come in, Teresa.” She put her hand on Teresa’s shoulder and steered her towards the Livingroom. She glared at Elise and Brenda and mouthed, “Get rid of those.”

They looked at the bottle and knife in their hands and sheepishly slunk off to the kitchen. Brenda poured a cup of coffee and put some cream and sugar in. Elise looked around and grabbed a box of Kleenex. They went back to the Livingroom with their apology offerings.

Annie was seated next to Teresa, patting her softly on the shoulder. Elise offered Teresa the Kleenex and Teresa took one and blew her nose. Brenda put the coffee down in front of her and sat next to her.

“Guys,” Annie said. “Teresa had a dream about Cynthia too. That’s how she has a message for us.”

Elise and Brenda gasped.

Teresa sniffled. “Mrs. Griffin was such a kind employee. When my Luis was sick, she gave me time off and even helped with the hospital and funeral costs. I owe her so much. So when she told me to come here tonight with a message, I had to do it even though I know you won’t believe me.”

“Of course, we will,” Annie reassured her. “What was the message?”

“Mrs. Griffin said that Mr. Griffin always used the date they first made love for his safe combination and she is certain he’s changed it for the new Mrs. Griffin… She was very angry.”

“No kidding! What a shmuck!” Brenda exclaimed.

Annie frowned. “That’s… really specific, isn’t it?”

“You believe me?”

“Let’s just say we’ve all had a dream about Cynthia,” Annie explained. “Although she wasn’t as informative with us.”

“Yeah, why didn’t she tell us the combination?”

“We haven’t talked to Cynthia in years and Teresa saw her every day,” Elise pointed out thoughtfully. “Maybe our dreams were just so we’d listen to Teresa when she came.” The other women stared at her and then nodded.

“Makes sense,” Brenda agreed, then made a face. “I can’t believe I just said that. Ghosts making sense.”

“Well, if Cynthia thinks there’s something in Gil’s safe that will take him down, then we need to get at that safe,” said Annie. “We’ll need an inside man.”

Their heads all turned to stare at Teresa, who gulped in dismay.

“How do you feel about going to work for Gil?” asked Annie. “Would he hire you?”

“We got along well,” said Teresa. “He loved my cookies when I made them for the kids.” She made a face. “What about the other Mrs. Griffin? She does not seem like a nice woman.”

“Just smile and think about how miserable they’re going to be when we ruin their lives,” advised Elise. “What? I use that all the time with certain directors. It’s gotten me through some very uncomfortable scenes.”

“Really?” Brenda looked impressed. “When someone is getting on my last nerve, I just imagine slapping them silly. You’re much more bloodthirsty than I am.”

“I just know a worse class of people than you do,” Elise pointed out.

Brenda’s eyebrows rose. “My Uncle Carmine is connected.”

“Hollywood!”

“Can we focus, please?” Annie turned back to Teresa. “If you were working for the Griffins, you could keep us informed and let us in when they’re not at home. Will you help us?”

Teresa bit her lip and looked uncomfortable. Finally, she nodded. “I loved Mrs. Griffin and Mr. Griffin did not treat her right. I’ll do it.”

“What do you think? Is it too late to call?” Annie asked, looking around.

Teresa looked scandalized but Brenda shrugged. “He’s a businessman who probably works late. Unless Teresa thinks she can get past a bunch of secretaries to reach him at his office, home is a better bet.”

Annie stood up to bring the phone over and offered it to Teresa with an encouraging smile.

Teresa took it reluctantly. “Eight o’clock. That is very late.”

“It will be fine. Go on.”

Teresa’s jaw firmed. “For Mrs. Griffin,” she said and dialed the number. There was the sound of ringing and then a muffled voice. “Mr. Griffin! I’m sorry to bother you so late but I wasn’t sure when I could reach you. This is Teresa Perez… Teresa… the maid? Yes! … The reason I’m calling is that I am looking for work and I wondered if you needed a maid?” There was a pause while Teresa looked increasingly pained. “Yes, sir. I know, sir. I chose to stay because of the children. Yes, sir, they’re not really children anymore… No, I loved Mrs. Griffin and you, sir. I’m sure I would love the second Mrs. Griffin too… Of course she would have to make the final decision. Ten o’clock? Yes, sir! Thank you so much. Goodnight, Mr. Griffin.”

She hung up and took a deep breath. “I have an interview tomorrow morning with Mr. Griffin’s new wife.”

Everyone cheered and wished her good luck. Teresa stood up, saying, “I am going home now and bake some polverones.” At the confused faces, she added. “Wedding cookies. I used to make them often. They were Mr. Griffin’s favorites.”

“Clever,” said Brenda. “Food always softens up my Mortie.”

“I’ll call you a taxi,” added Annie as she picked up the phone.

“Don’t stay up too late,” cautioned Elise. “Being tired makes you look older. What? It’s true.”

** *

Teresa exited the building. A taxi rolled to a stop in front of her and the door swung open to reveal three hopeful faces. Teresa shook her head sadly. She climbed in and the taxi took off.

“She didn’t go for it?” asked Brenda sympathetically.

“She’s thinks I will remind Mr. Griffin of his first wife and cause him pain.”

“Oh please,” Brenda said, rolling her eyes. “Those two are cold-blooded snakes. If being at her funeral didn’t bother them one bit, you’re not going to.”

Annie looked at Elise. “Time for the big guns?”

“Absolutely.” Elise leaned over to give the cab driver Gunilla’s address.

** *

Amelia walked briskly into her building carrying two shopping bags from high end boutiques. She breezed past the security guards and pressed the elevator button. The woman standing in front of the next elevator turned to look at her. It was Gunilla Garson Goldberg. The two women bared their teeth in polite smiles.

“Gunilla, what are you doing here?”

“Visiting a friend. What on earth are you doing here?”

“I live here!”

“Oh, you do?” Gunilla looked utterly impressed.

The elevator opened and both women entered. Each pressed the button for their floor and edged away from each other.

Gunilla stared up at the floor indicator and casually said, “So I hear you snagged Teresa.”

“Who?” Amelia asked in an indifferent tone.

Gunilla turned her head to stare at Amelia. “Cynthia’s maid. She’s an absolute treasure. My maid is getting older and I was hoping to hire Teresa to help her out. But apparently I was too slow. Have you ever had her polverones? Delicious.”

Amelia shrugged. “No. Why would I take Cynthia’s leavings?”

“You didn’t hire her?” Gunilla asked sharply. Then her demeanor changed. She smiled pleasantly. “Well, that was probably wise of you.”

Amelia’s eyes narrowed.

The elevator came to a halt and the doors slid open.

“Well, this is my floor. Lovely seeing you again, dear.” Gunilla strode out of the elevator and turned to the left. As the doors closed, her smile grew triumphantly nasty and she muttered, “Gotcha!”

** *

Teresa stood in front of Amelia in her new uniform. Amelia looked her over with a frown. Teresa smiled as gently and pleasantly as possible.

“Well, it’ll do,” Amelia said. “The name will have to go. My best friend in college was named Theresa. I’m absolutely not going to call you by her name. I know, Maria. Isn’t that the middle name for most of your people?”

Teresa’s smile froze for a moment, before she swallowed and said, quietly, “Yes, Mrs. Griffin.”

Gil Griffin walked by them carrying his briefcase and nodded at Teresa. “Teresa. Good to see you back in the Griffin household.”

“Thank you, Mr. Griffin, sir.”

“Maria!” Amelia said sharply. “Her name is Maria”

Gil looked startled. “You changed your name?”

Teresa looked over at Mrs. Griffin’s narrowed gaze and nodded. “Yes, sir. It’s my middle name.”

“Oh.” Gil shrugged. “Remind me if I forget.” He kissed Amelia enthusiastically. One hand slid down to grope her behind. Teresa looked away. “I’ll see you tonight, sweetheart.”

“Come home earlier tonight. I’ll wear the other outfit I just bought,” Amelia purred at him.

As the door closed behind Mr. Griffin, Amelia’s smoldering expression vanished and she looked at Teresa with chilly approval. “You just might work out after all.”

She had passed the first test. Teresa smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Griffin. I hope so.”

** *

Three weeks later, Teresa reported that the Griffins were flying to Paris for the weekend. Operation: Cynthia’s Revenge was a go.

** *

Teresa entered the building and greeted the security guard at the front desk. “Good morning, Raymond.”

“Good morning, Teresa. Mrs. Griffin got you working on a Saturday?”

“Mrs. Griffin has a list of chores that are disruptive and messy to take care of while they’re gone,” Teresa told him as she signed in.

“Well, don’t work too hard,” he said, with a wink. Teresa smiled at him and went up to the condo to get started.

An hour later, Gunilla came in with a group of women, two brunettes and a redhead, all wearing sunglasses.

“Hello, Mrs. Goldberg. You visiting with Mrs. Taylor-Smith again?”

Gunilla smiled at him while she wrote her name in the log. “I am. We’re having a brunch today.” She stood aside and the other women wrote down false names.

Once in the elevator, Brenda began scratching under her wig. “God, Elise, how can you stand to wear these things?”

Annie turned to Gunilla. “Thank you, Gunilla. You go and establish our alibi and we’ll rendezvous later tonight.”

“Nonsense,” said Gunilla, firmly. “I’m coming with you.”

“But... the alibi?”

“Edna is a dear friend and perfectly capable of lying through her teeth for me.”

“You’ve done enough for us,” Annie said. “What we’re doing is illegal.”

Gunilla smiled. “I haven’t done anything illegal since college. It sounds like fun.” She turned serious. “I liked Cynthia very much and I despise That Woman. Being a part of this is truly soul satisfying.”

The three friends exchanged glances and then nodded. Annie smiled and turned to Gunilla. “Welcome to our life of crime.”

Brenda gave a quiet cheer and Elise gave her a quick hug. The door opened and all four women exited with determination.

They rang the doorbell and Teresa opened immediately. She waved them in quickly while nervously checking the hallway. She closed the door and sighed with relief.

“Mr. Griffin’s office is this way,” she said, leading them towards the luxurious office. “The safe is behind the painting of the horse over there.” She hovered in the doorway, reluctant to enter. “I will go back to my work now.”

“Thank you, Teresa!”

“Terrible taste,” Gunilla sniffed.

“Say, can we do a tour of the apartment first?” Everyone looked at Brenda in disbelief. “What? I like to snoop and sneer at people’s taste too, you know.”

“We need to get our evidence and get out, Brenda. No time for sightseeing!”

Brenda sulkily joined them in front of the horse painting.

“Do we lift the painting off?” asked Annie.

“Allow me,” said Gunilla, who ran her hand along the right side of the frame until something clicked and the frame swung outwards revealing a safe. “My second husband had one of these.”

“Okay!” Annie turned to Teresa. “Did you get the date?”

Teresa pulled a folded piece of paper out her apron pocket. “I asked Mr. Griffin about how he met Mrs. Griffin. I told him I thought it was very romantic—“ her lips pinched in disapproval for a moment “--and he told me all about it. He met her at a business dinner on October 18th last year and he took her to the family vacation home in the Catskills the first weekend in November.”

“So it could have been anytime in between. What’s most likely?” asked Annie.

Brenda and Elise both frowned thoughtfully and said at almost the same time, “The vacation home.”

Brenda added, “She seems like the kind of bitch who’d enjoy defiling Cynthia’s happy memories.”

Elise asked Teresa, “You know her best out of all of us. What do you think?”

“I don’t like to speak badly of anyone but I think Mrs. Cushman is right. It happened at the Catskills cottage.”

“Alright,” said Annie. “I’ll start at 11-7-9-4 and work backwards. While I’m working on the safe, Gunilla will check the desk. Brenda, you check the file cabinets. Elise… turn on the Xerox machine. Remember, we’re looking for anything incriminating.”

“Why am I turning on the Xerox machine?” whined Elise. “I can look for incriminating files too.”

Gunilla looked up from the desk. "Amelia is a weasel and will probably have files of her own. Does she have an office as well?” When Teresa shook her head, she added, “Her bedroom then. Check the back of her closet.”

Brenda perked up. “Ooo, I want to do that too!”

“Brenda!” Annie scolded. “I need you here. You have all the experience with financial books from your Uncle Carmine. Go on, Elise. If she’s got anything damaging, you find it.”

Elise smiled smugly at Brenda and left. Brenda sulkily pulled a file cabinet open and starting flipping through the files.

There was a sudden click and the safe door opened. Everyone turned to look at Annie. “It was the third number I tried,” she said, shocked.

“That rat bastard moves fast,” muttered Brenda. “Drove up Friday night, unlocked the door, and probably did it in the entry way.”

Gunilla snorted. Annie carefully pulled out the contents of the safe and spread it out over the desk. All three gathered around the desk to grab a stack of paper and look through them.

“Here we go,” said Annie. “A copy of his will.” She flipped through the pages. “He’s leaving everything to his new wife.”

“Let me see that!” Brenda snatched it from her. “There’s nothing in here for the kids? Rat bastard is too good for him.”

“I’ve found it,” Gunilla said quietly. She looked up at them, eyes burning with anger. “Take a look at this.”

Annie took the sheaf of papers from her and examined them. “Bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. He was hiding money?”

“Morty did that to me over the divorce settlement. He hid the money in the company accounts so the judge wouldn’t award me zip.”

Gunilla hissed in fury. “Yes! Cynthia brought her own money and influence to the marriage. His success is largely due to her and he stole it all!”

“He’s going to pay,” Annie reassured her.

“Tax returns!” Brenda jerked upright and turned to the file cabinets. “Help me find his tax returns!” She grinned maniacally. “If he didn’t declare it, that’s tax fraud. The IRS will crucify him.”

All three women clustered around Brenda as she dug through the file cabinets. “Ah-ha!” she crowed and pulled out a file. She flipped though the folder and looked up at them, smiling triumphantly. “We’ve got him!”

“We’ve got him!” Elise burst through the door waving a couple of cassettes in one hand and photos in the other. Everyone stood staring at her silently. “What? What did I miss?”

“Tax fraud,” said Annie, happily. “What did you find?”

Elise grinned. “Home-made movies and pictures!” She handed the photos around.

“Oh my,” said Gunilla. “What on earth is he wearing?”

“Never mind that.” Annie squinted and turned the photo sideways and upside down. “What is he doing?!

“This is great, Elise! First we’ll destroy him and then we’ll kick him when he’s down.” Elise preened at Brenda’s praise.

“This will destroy his reputation and credibility,” said Gunilla. “Good.”

“Good thing he’s not going to need that in prison,” added Annie. “Alright, everyone. Let’s make copies of the evidence. One for the IRS and one for the family lawyer so the kids can sue for their mom’s money. Then we need to put everything back exactly as we found it so he doesn’t realize anything’s wrong until the police arrest him.”

She turned to Teresa, who was hovering in the doorway again attracted by the noise. “We’ve got the evidence we need, Teresa. Can you make sure we’re putting everything back correctly? Maybe dust a little to remove fingerprints?”

** *

Four women exited the building and walked down the street for a couple blocks until they saw a mail box. Brenda held the slot open with a flourish and Annie and Elise both pulled envelopes out from under their coats and slipped them in. They all exchanged smiles and then turned to Gunilla, who held up a shopping bag.

“I’ll wait until the news of the arrest and then I’ll send these to the sleaziest tabloid in New York.”

They all laughed maliciously.

“Griffin is not going to know what hit him,” said Annie with great satisfaction.

“Poor guy,” Brenda said. “No, wait. I mean, it couldn’t happen to a bigger jerk.”

“Let’s go and drink a toast to a happy ending… for Cynthia!” Elise grinned. “It’s the perfect final scene.”

“Too bad Teresa can’t join us,” said Annie.

“Oh, I had a little talk with her while you were working on the evidence,” Gunilla said with satisfaction. “After I spoke with Amelia, it occurred to me that Teresa’s loyalty was quite admirable and she will start working for me as soon as she gives her notice. Amelia will think I stole her away to spite her – which is true – and it will give her a reason to leave immediately.”

“You conniving softy!” said Brenda. “That’s wonderful!”

The women laughed. Annie linked arms with Brenda and Elise, who offered an arm to Gunilla. They strode off down the street. Brenda and Elise began humming their theme song, while Annie laughed and shushed them and Gunilla raised an eyebrow and smiled in confusion.

** *

Cynthia stood in a field of flowers. She looked young and as happy as they remembered her from college. She clapped her hands in excitement.

“You did it! You actually did it! Gil will pay and my kids will be taken care of. I can’t thank you enough! You ladies are as awesome as I always knew you were. And, Teresa, your loyalty touches me deeply.

“Have a wonderful life, ladies! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Cynthia blew kisses at them and slowly began disappearing into the distance. The last thing that disappeared was her voice joyously singing, “You don’t own me!” and laughing.

* * *

Four women smiled in their sleep.