Died to match

Chapter One

MASKS ARE DANGEROUS. THE MEREST SCRAP OF SILK OR SLIP of cardboard can eclipse one’s civilized identity and set loose the dark side of the soul.

Trust me. You take a pair of perfectly well-behaved newspaper reporters, or software engineers or whatever, dress them up as Spider-Man and a naughty French maid and whammo! It’s a whole new ball game.

Which is why this party was getting out of hand. Free drinks can make people crazy, but free costumes make them wild. Two hundred big black envelopes had gone out to Paul and Elizabeth’s friends and colleagues, inviting them to a Halloween engagement party in the Seattle Aquarium, down at Pier 59 on Elliott Bay. And tucked inside the envelope was a very special party favor: a coupon for the persona of one’s choice at Characters, Inc., a theater-quality costume shop.

So tonight, more than a hundred and fifty reasonably civilized people were living out their fantasies among the fishes. And the fantasies were getting rowdy. It all started innocently enough: Madonna flirting with Mozart, Death with his scythe trading stock tips with Nero and his violin, Albert Einstein dirty dancing with Monica Lewinsky. And everyone toasting the engaged couple with affection and good cheer.

Paul Wheeler, the groom-to-be, was news editor at the Seattle Sentinel; he made a skinny, smiley swashbuckler— sort of Indiana Jones Lite. His fiancée, Elizabeth (“not Liz”) Lamott, was a tough-minded Microsoft millionaire who had retired at twenty-nine. Dressed as Xena the Warrior Princess, Elizabeth looked drop-dead sexy, and more than capable of beheading barbarian warlords. The Wheeler and Lamott families would all be at the wedding in two weeks—an extravaganza at the Experience Music Project—but tonight’s bash was more of a coed bachelor party.

And like so many bachelor parties, headed straight to hell. Luke Skywalker was juggling martini glasses, quite unsuccessfully, near Principles of Ocean Survival. A well-tailored Count Dracula had knocked over the sushi trays at Local Invertebrates. Various members of the Spice Girls and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were disappearing into the darkened grotto of Pacific Coral Reef and returning with their costumes askew. And at all the liquor stations, masked revelers had begun pushing past the bartenders to pour their own drinks—a danger sign even when the crowd is in civvies.

I wasn’t wearing a mask, and I certainly wasn’t fantasizing, except about keeping my professional cool and getting our damage deposit back from the Aquarium. It was my hands the party was getting out of: “Made in Heaven Wedding Design, Carnegie Kincaid, Proprietor.” I usually stick to weddings, too, but business had been iffy ever since I’d been a suspect in the abduction of one of my brides. Everybody reads the headlines, nobody reads the follow-up, and now my name, besides being weird in the first place, had a little shadow across it in the minds of some potential clients.

So an extra event with an extra commission had been hard to turn down. And the formidable Ms. Lamott had been impossible to turn down. When Elizabeth wanted something, she got it, whether she was launching products for Bill Gates or, more recently, harvesting charity donations from Seattle’s crop of wealthy thirtysomethings. Elizabeth asked me to manage her engagement party in person, I explained that I really don’t do costumes, and suddenly, somehow, there I was in a long jaggedy-hemmed black gown and a crooked-peaked witch’s hat, stationed by the champagne at Salmon & People, and reminding my waiters that cleaning broken glass off the floor comes first, no matter how many guests are demanding more booze.

“Carnegie!”

“What?” I snapped. “Oh, sorry, Lily. I’m losing