Partial transcript of interview with
Carey Duncan, July 14
Officer Ali: Ms. Duncan, have you ever seen Melissa Tripp angry before?
Carey Duncan: Is that a serious question?
Officer Ali: Am I to take that as a yes?
CD: She’s my boss. Of course I’ve seen her angry.
Officer Ali: Can you elaborate?
CD: How long do you have?
Officer Ali: Ms. Duncan. Please answer the question to the best of your ability.
CD: Melly is a perfectionist. She’s ambitious and impatient, but she’s also insecure. It’s a bad combination.
Officer Ali: Would you say she has a temper?
Officer Ali: I see. What about toward Mr. Tripp? Have you ever seen her angry with him?
CD: They’ve been married for twenty-six years. So, yeah.
Officer Ali: Carey, can you talk about the first time to your knowledge that Rusty Tripp had an affair?
CD: Well, it was the year after I started. So 2011, I think, with his old assistant, Marianne. It was just the two of us in the store—Melly and me—but then her friend Susan came running in like a cat on fire. She grabbed Melly and took her into the back and closed the door, and pretty soon Rusty showed up, totally freaked out, and went in after them. I’m guessing Susan caught Rusty doing something. If you know what I mean. Susan left, and maybe a minute went by before all hell broke loose.
Officer Ali: You’re saying Mrs. Tripp was upset.
CD: “Upset”? That’s a nice way to put it. They came out of the office yelling at each other, and Melly just lost it. Started calling him a liar, a cheat—lots of names. Then she started throwing stuff, at him, around the store. Melly is really big on appearances and coming off very prim and proper and family-oriented. She never swears—it’s actually sort of a rule that anybody who works for her shouldn’t, either. But wow, she can.
Officer Ali: Was Mr. Tripp injured?
CD: No, not that I can remember. I’m sure you’ve seen Melly. She’s tiny and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a shovel.
Officer Ali: And what happened then?
CD: It was pretty awkward, so I went home.
Officer Ali: I mean more generally. What happened afterward between Mr. and Mrs. Tripp?
CD: They must have worked it out because he was there the next day, all bright and shiny like nothing had happened.
Officer Ali: The next day? Didn’t that seem odd to you?
CD: I mean, I was seventeen and my parents used to fight constantly, so not really. Plus, things were really starting to take off for the Tripps, and Melly would never have let something like that get in the way of what she wanted. She told Rusty that if he ever did it again she’d leave and take him for everything he had, and got back to work. He’s always been really flirty. That’s probably how we ended up with James, eventually.
Officer Ali: Maybe you can clear that up for me. I show that James graduated from Vassar and MIT, but he works as Mr. Tripp’s assistant?
CD: Rusty is what my grandma used to call a tomcat’s kitten: a giant flirt but relatively harmless. Melly just doesn’t like women working for him, plain and simple. The assistant position happened to be open at the same time that Rusty was looking for an engineer for the show. James was there interviewing for the engineering job, but when Melissa saw him sitting outside Rusty’s office, she hired him on the spot. Told Rusty he could do both jobs, probably because Melly doesn’t know much about either engineering or being someone’s assistant. On paper James is the primary structural something something. But he still picks up the dry-cleaning, just like I do. Heaven forbid you call him an assistant, though. “I’m an engineer. Smart words, smart words, blah blah.”
Officer Ari: So, back to Mrs. Tripp and the incident between Melissa and Rusty at the store. Was this when New Spaces was filming? Or earlier?
CD: Oh, like way earlier. This was just after the Wyoming Tribune did an article on Comb+Honey—the original design store in Jackson. The window displays got a lot of local attention, and the general aesthetic was getting really popular in town. Rusty’s original woodworking pieces were selling like crazy. After the Trib article, there was a feature in the lifestyle section of the LA Times, and that caught the attention of HGTV. So, in 2014 Melly and Rusty were cast on New Spaces, with Stephanie and Dan. In hindsight, I think that’s when Rusty got bored, and Melly’s ambition got the best of her. The cracks started showing again. At least to me.
It’s 1:11 a.m.
I’m not going to look at the clock for five minutes.
I’m not going to look at the clock for five minutes.
I’m not going to—
We were supposed to meet here over an hour ago, and Melissa and Robyn still haven’t appeared. It feels like we’ve been waiting for a year. Ignoring Carey’s occasional glares in my direction, I shift on the long leather couch in Melissa and Rusty’s office and let my head hang over the aesthetically pleasing but completely uncomfortable low armrest. From this angle, the open staircase in the corner looks like it’s on the ceiling, and the idea of that—of creating something so counterintuitive and wild—sends a hot burst of adrenaline into my blood.
I look at the clock again. 1:15 a.m.
I groan, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my hands. “Okay,” I finally admit. “You were right.”
Carey is quiet in response. Knowing she’s worked for the Tripps since long before I came around, I can’t help but wonder whether she’s ever heard those three words together before.
“I’m torn between wanting to get this conversation over with,” Carey finally says from the other side of the room, “and wanting to postpone it forever.”
“Our Netflix meeting is at—”
“Nine,” she interrupts, and I hear the edge of irritation return to her voice. “Trust me, James, it would be impossible to forget.”
It may seem strange that tonight is probably the first time Carey and I have been alone in a room together since I took this job, but it isn’t, really. The Tripps aren’t usually in the same place at the same time unless they’re filming. Which means that Carey and I are rarely in the same place at the same time, either.
I look over at her again. It’s not like there’s a lot more to do while we’re waiting for Melissa to arrive and for the most awkward conversation of the century to begin. My brain was too chaotic earlier to really take her in.
Carey is taller than I think I realized, with dark blond hair that, right now, is messily piled on her head. Her eyes are green, blue, something like that. My guess is she’s aware that people aren’t looking at her in this job because she usually dresses casually, but she must have dressed down even more sometime between cleaning up the warehouse and coming in to the office. She’s wearing gray sweats, untied sneakers, and a sweatshirt with the words NAMA-STAY IN BED. She’s also a fidgeter. We might not have spent a lot of time together, but it’s one of the first things I noticed. Her hands are always moving or clenched into fists. I’m not sure if it’s some kind of nervous tic, or what exactly, but she sits on them a lot or keeps them hidden under the table. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think she likes being touched. She shrinks against a wall when I pass too close or takes a step back if we both reach for something at the same time. I don’t take it personally—we all have our stuff—and do my best to respect that and not do anything that might make her uncomfortable.
She also has some of the oddest sayings. At the end of our first meeting together she stood up and said she had to hit the bushes. It was only later that I realized she meant she had to use the restroom, and I still don’t understand why she didn’t just say that.
Right now she’s messing with one of the bookcases, frowning at the way it won’t rotate the full one-eighty to display the books on the other side of the shelf. It’s a classic Tripp design—made to best utilize whatever limited space is available. Carey checks a few of the bearings and finds a stuck pin, fiddles with it for a moment before it resets, and then lets out a quiet, satisfied “There” when the shelf glides easily again.
“Exactly how long have you worked for Melissa?” I ask her. She bends to inspect another shelf, a small furrow of her forehead the only indication that she’s heard me.
“About ten years.”
I feel my eyes go wide. “How old are you?”
She hesitates. “Twenty-six.”
Wow. Wow. Wow.
I study her again. She’s fresh-faced and so innocently unsophisticated she seems more like a new intern and not the person in charge of nearly every logistical detail of the Tripps’ schedule.
Is this the only job she’s ever had? I’m the new guy and am still piecing everyone together, but I’ve been here long enough to know that Melissa and Carey’s relationship is not healthy. Ten years together, though, would certainly explain how Carey anticipates all of Melissa’s needs before even Melissa is aware of them, and how Melissa can’t or won’t do anything without Carey at her side.
“Have you always been her assistant?”
“No, I started as a cashier in their first store,” she says. “I’ve done pretty much every job there. When things took off, I just stayed with them.” She glances over and seems suddenly aware of my attention. I blink away. She moves to the opposite side of the bookcase. “What did you do before you came here?”
I’m saved from having to answer this when the doorknob turns, and both Carey and I turn to see Rusty walk in ahead of Melissa and Robyn—a willowy, nervous bird of a woman.
“Jim, Carey!” he bellows in greeting. His smile is as loose from inebriation as Melissa’s is tight from irritation.
“James,” I correct in response, almost like a script I have no choice but to follow. Of the great many things that seem to bring Russell Tripp joy in this world, near the top has to be calling me any variation of Jim. Even better is calling Carey and me “Jim Carrey,” like it’s the world’s cleverest joke.