Chapter 1

More than any other sitcom of the late seventies, Kissing Cousins polarizes those who remember it. Just as music fans categorize themselves by their favorite Beatle, television viewers of a certain age reveal much about themselves by their favorite Cousin.

—“CURSE OF THE KISSING COUSINS,”
BY TILDA HARPER, ENTERTAIN ME!

“STARSKY or Hutch?” Cooper asked. “The TV show, not the movie.”

“Starsky,” Shannon said. “I loved that sweater he wore.”

“Not the car?”

“Oh, absolutely the car. I wanted a car like that so bad—I was dying to lose my virginity in that car—but my parents wouldn’t buy me one. Then I found out about a guy at my school who painted his Torino just like Starsky’s, and I thought I had it made.”

“And? Did you go out with him?” Cooper prompted.

She wrinkled her nose. “No. It turned out he looked like Huggy Bear.”

“Ouch.” Cooper turned back to his computer screen. “Jon or Ponch from CHiPs?”

“Ponch,” Shannon said decisively. “Never could resist the tan or the teeth.” Shannon’s own teeth and tan were nothing to sneer at, and owed just as much to nature as the average actor’s.

Cooper entered the answer. “Roy DeSoto or John Gage?”

“Who?”

“The guys on Emergency!

“Oh, yeah.” Shannon thought for a minute. “Can I pick that dark-haired doctor at the hospital instead? He was hot.”

“Sorry, he’s not on the list. DeSoto or Gage.”

“Gage.”

“Peter or Greg Brady?”

“Peter,” Shannon said decisively.

“No way! Greg was the cute one,” objected Nicole, who was waiting to play guinea pig for the pop psychology quiz Cooper was vetting for the next issue of Entertain Me!

“Peter was cuter,” Shannon insisted.

“I liked Bobby,” Cooper said dreamily.

“You pervert!” Shannon said. “Bobby was a baby.”

“Not in the revival series,” he said. “You remember, when he became a race car driver? He was a cuddly bear then. Then he wrecked and ended up in a wheelchair. I like a man who’s vulnerable.”

“You mean you like a man who can’t run away,” Nicole quipped.

“Bitch,” he replied cheerfully. “Okay, David Cassidy or Shaun Cassidy?”

“Please! David, of course.”

“Brad or Damon?” Tilda put in. Up until then, she’d just been listening to the conversation as she went over her notes for the phone interview she had scheduled for that afternoon.

“From Kissing Cousins?” Cooper asked.

Tilda nodded. “Brad was the jock, and Damon was the freak.”

“Brad,” Shannon replied, just as Nicole answered, “Damon.” Then the two women looked at each other and said, “Ewwww!”

“What about you?” Cooper asked Tilda.

Cooper was a good enough friend to know that Tilda would have despised Brad, so she considered picking the clean-cut jock just to throw him. Instead she answered honestly. “Mercy.”

“Since when did you swing that way?” Nicole asked.

“I didn’t want to bed her,” Tilda said. “I just liked her.” And wanted to be like her, she thought, a fact she had no inclination to share with Nicole.

“But Mercy was so strange,” Shannon said. “Nobody I know liked Mercy. We all liked Sherri.”

Tilda refrained from pointing out that blonde, buxom Shannon could have been Sherri, the perky cheerleader without enough synapses to snap. Instead she said, “These days, Mercy is the popular one, especially among Goths.”

“Goths,” Nicole said, rolling her eyes. “They were in style for what, ten minutes?”

Tilda gave Nicole the same look she’d given the hairdresser at Supercuts who suggested that she bleach her hair blonde. She’d been more than a little Goth herself a couple of years ago, and Nicole knew it.

The office’s front door slammed open, and when they heard the raised voices in the lobby, Cooper, Shannon, and Nicole quickly posed themselves as busy worker-bees. Tilda didn’t bother—what was the point of being a freelancer if not to avoid that kind of playacting?

As it turned out, the staff members could have been demonstrating the lambada for all the attention they got. When Jillian and Bryce, respectively editor in chief and managing editor of Entertain Me! stormed in, the only thing on their minds was continuing their discussion.

“Fuck you!” Jillian said.

“No, fuck you!” Bryce replied.

“No, fuck you!”

“No, fuck you!”

Tilda would have noted the irony of such an argument between two people who were supposedly devoted to publishing clever articles and essays, but she suspected that ironic detachment was no longer in style. She’d have to check with Nicole.

Jillian stomped to her desk as loudly as she could in stiletto heels, and threw her Versace purse onto her desk. Then she glared across the room as Bryce slid into the chair behind his own desk. Tilda had once wondered why Jillian and Bryce didn’t have private offices, but she’d eventually decided that they preferred being able to watch each other in order to gather ammunition for their “discussions.” So they’d placed their desks facing each other across the long, narrow room. Windows lined one side of the room, and framed covers from past issues of Entertain Me! hung on the other.

Jillian and Bryce also liked to keep a close eye on their employees. There were two lines of four desks each arranged between the editors. Three belonged to the furiously typing copy editor, Cooper, and staff editors, Shannon and Nicole. Of the other desks, two belonged to the production editor and the art director, who were never there because they were downstairs getting their hands dirty, and one belonged to the ad manager, who was never there because he was scratching up business. The one where Tilda was sitting was a spare, left open for her and other freelancers as needed.

“Bryce, you are such an asshole,” Jillian said.

“Go fuck yourself!” he replied.

“You’d pay to see that, wouldn’t you?”

“Hell, no—I’d pay to not have to see it.”

“Fuck you!”

“No, fuck you.”

Bryce’s phone rang, and he picked it up with a smirk for having gotten in the last riposte. The long-standing rule was that their discussions ended once the phone rang.

Jillian, steamed by Bryce’s temporary reprieve, looked around for somebody else to scream at. “What are you doing here?” she asked Tilda.

“Phone interview with Billy Clift,” Tilda answered.

“Who?”

“Elizabeth Montgomery’s hairdresser.”

“Right, the witch piece.”

Tilda’s work-in-progress, “TV Witches: Good, Bad, and Hot!”, was slated for the Halloween issue of Entertain Me! She could have made the long-distance call from home and billed the magazine for the charges, but it was easier on their paperwork and her cash flow to call from the office. “I’ve already got quotes from Melissa Joan Hart from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, three witches from Charmed, and Alyson Hannigan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Nicole, feigning innocence, said, “You’re not just doing old shows again, are you?”

“No,” Tilda said as patiently as she could manage. Jillian had already approved the story and the list of shows she’d be including, but it wouldn’t have been the first time Nicole had tried to change Jillian’s mind. “I also interviewed some people from Alan Ball’s new HBO series.” Strictly speaking, the protagonist was a telepath, not a witch, but she figured Nicole wouldn’t know that.

“So that’s four old shows and only one current one?”

“All four of those shows are still going strong in syndication and the DVDs sell like hotcakes,” Tilda said.

Nicole shrugged, as if wondering why they were wasting space on “old shows.” Tilda knew that the redhead was really wondering why they were wasting space on Tilda’s prose when Nicole herself wanted every byline she could wrangle.

Bewitched is a classic, Buffy and Charmed are still hot, and kids like Sabrina,” Jillian said, which settled the question. She was the final arbiter of what was in and what was out—even Bryce deferred to her opinions in that realm. Nicole went back to what she’d been doing with a pinched look on her face.

Tilda checked her Jack Skellington watch. She had five more minutes before it was time to call Billy Clift, and she wondered if Nicole was going to make any more attempts to spike her story, or even to take it from her. Then she too was saved by the bell as her cell phone trilled the opening bars of the theme from The Addams Family, and she picked it up.

“Tilda,” she said.

“Tilda, it’s Vincent,” a choked-up voice said. “Have you heard?”

“Heard about what?”

“It’s Sherri. She’s dead!”