I ve heard that song bef.., p.12

I 've Heard That Song Before, page 12

 

I 've Heard That Song Before
 


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  But now that it had happened he intended to follow through on his accusation. If Nicholas Greco had managed to find a key witness against Peter Carrington in the Althorp case, maybe he could find a key piece of evidence that would prove Grace had been murdered as well.

  He got off the train at Penn Station on Thirty-third street and Seventh Avenue and would have preferred to walk the distance to Greco’s office on Madison Avenue between Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth streets. But the fact that it was pouring rain dictated that he get in the taxi line. Weather such as this made him think of the day Grace was buried. It hadn’t been cold, of course, because it was early September, but it had been raining. She was lying now in the Carrington family plot in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County. That was something else he wanted, to bring her remains back to Philadelphia. She should be with the people who loved her, he thought-our parents and grandparents.

  Finally he was at the head of the cab line. He got into the next available one and gave the address. He hadn’t been to Manhattan in a long time, and was surprised at the traffic congestion. The ride cost nearly nine dollars and he could see that the cabby wasn’t satisfied when he didn’t add any money to the ten-dollar bill he handed him.

  Between the price of the train and cabs back and forth, this day is getting expensive, even before I talk to Greco, Philip thought. He and his wife, Lisa, had already had a blowup about it. “I nearly died when I heard how you carried on in court,” she told him. “You know that I loved Grace, but you’ve been obsessing about this for four years. Hiring a private detective costs money that we don’t have, but for God’s sake do it. Take out a loan if necessary, but one way or the other be finished with all this.”

  A narrow building, 342 Madison had only eight floors; Greco’s office was on the fourth floor, a suite with a small reception area. The receptionist told Meredith he was expected and promptly escorted him to Greco’s private office.

  After a cordial greeting and a brief comment about the weather, Greco got down to business. “When you called me at home last night, you said that you may have some proof that your sister’s death was not an accident. Tell me about that.”

  “Proof may be too strong a word,” Meredith admitted. “The word I should have used was ‘motive.’ It went beyond Peter worrying about Grace giving birth to a damaged baby. We’re talking about a lot of money as the motive to kill Grace.”

  “I’m listening,” Greco said.

  “The marriage was never one of those love matches made in heaven. Peter and Grace were different people. She loved New York society life; he did not. By the terms of their premarital agreement, Grace would have received a flat twenty million dollars if they divorced, unless-and this is a big unless-she gave birth to his child. Then, in the event they divorced, she would have received twenty million dollars a year so that the child could be raised in a way suitable to a Carrington.”

  “At the time of your sister’s death, Peter Carrington offered to take a lie detector test and passed it,” Greco said. “His income has been estimated at eight million dollars a week. Such exorbitant numbers seem incredible to you and me. Nevertheless, even a very large yearly sum payable by the terms of his prenuptial agreement to a divorced wife still is not a compelling motive to kill his unborn child. Even if fetal alcohol syndrome occurred, there would have been plenty of resources to take good care of a child with a problem.”

  “My sister was murdered,” Philip Meredith said. “In the eight years she was married to Peter, she had three miscarriages. She desperately wanted a baby. She would never have committed suicide while she was carrying one. She knew she was an alcoholic and had quietly started going to AA. She was determined to stop drinking.”

  “Tests of her blood alcohol level showed that she had three times the legal limit in her system when she was found. Many people fall off the wagon, Mr. Meredith. Surely you know that.”

  Philip Meredith hesitated, then shrugged. “I’m about to tell you something that I had sworn to my parents I would not reveal. They thought it would irrevocably damage the memory people had of Grace. But my father is dead and my mother is in a nursing home. As I told you, she has Alzheimer’s disease and is totally unaware of what is going on.”

  Meredith lowered his voice as though afraid of being overheard. “At the time of her death, Grace was having an affair. She was very careful, in the sense that the baby absolutely was Peter’s child. Grace wanted to give birth, then divorce Peter. The man she was involved with didn’t have money, and Grace loved the lifestyle she had become accustomed to with the Carrington money behind her. I believe that the night of that party her first drink was spiked, with the goal being to get her drunk, because once she had one drink, it was all over. She couldn’t stop.”

  “Grace was drunk when Carrington got home. Who would have spiked the drink?”

  Philip Meredith looked directly at Greco. “Vincent Slater, of course. He would do anything for the Carringtons, and I do mean anything. He’s one of those sycophants who snuggles up to money and does the master’s bidding.”

  “He spiked your sister’s drink with the idea of getting her drunk and then drowning her? That’s quite a stretch, Mr. Meredith.”

  “Grace was seven-and-a-half-months pregnant. If she had suddenly gone into labor, there was a very good chance the baby would have survived. She had already had some false labor pains. There wasn’t any time to waste. Peter was not due home until the next evening. I believe that Slater spiked Grace’s club soda with vodka, planning to get her drunk, then drop her in the pool after she passed out. When Peter got home, he grabbed the glass from my sister’s hand and threw it on the carpet in the same kind of spontaneous reaction I had yesterday in court. I bet he’s still kicking himself that he exploded at her. If he’d had time to think, he would have been the benevolent, understanding husband which was his usual role around her when Grace was drinking.”

  “You are telling me that you believe Slater spiked your sister’s drink, and Peter then drowned her in the pool after she had passed out?”

  “Either Peter or Slater threw her in the pool, I’m convinced of that. We only have Slater’s word that he went home that night. I wouldn’t be surprised if Slater helped Peter dispose of Susan Althorp’s body, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got rid of Peter’s shirt for him after he killed her. He is that devoted. And that amoral.”

  “Why don’t you go to the prosecutor’s office with your theory, now that your mother will not be aware you are breaking your promise to her?”

  “Because I don’t want my sister’s name dragged through the mud, and maybe to no avail. I can supply them with a motive and a theory, but inevitably there’d be a leak and some reporter would get hold of the story.”

  Nicholas Greco thought of his interview with Slater at his home. Slater was nervous that day, he thought. There’s something he’s concealing, something that he’s afraid will come out. Could it be that he had a role in the death of either Susan Althorp or Grace Carrington, or both?

  “I am interested in taking on the case, Mr. Meredith,” Greco heard himself saying. “I have an idea of your current circumstances and am willing to adjust my fee accordingly. We can include a provision that, if you receive a substantial civil award, then I will receive an additional sum.”

  34

  Almost as if he had been pushed as far as it was possible to be pushed, I saw something change in Peter. We both slept well, out of exhaustion, but, also, I think, because we had a sense that we were in a war. The first battle had been won by the enemy, and now we had to gather our strength for what was to come.

  When we went downstairs at 8:30 in the morning, Jane Barr had the table set for breakfast in the smaller dining room, with fresh juice and coffee on the sideboard.

  “Why not?” we agreed when she suggested scrambled eggs with bacon, although I did make a firm promise to myself that I wouldn’t keep up that menu.

  The usual morning papers were not on the tabl
e. “Let’s look at them later,” Peter suggested. “We already know what’s going to be in them.”

  Jane poured coffee for us and then went back to the kitchen to cook breakfast. Peter waited until she left the room before he spoke again. “Kay,” he began, “I don’t have to tell you this is going to be a long siege. The Grand Jury is going to indict me, we both accept that. Then a trial date will be set which could be a year or more away. To use the word ‘normal’ is simply ludicrous, but I’m going to use it anyhow. I want our life to be as normal as is humanly possible until I go to trial and a jury renders a verdict.”

  He didn’t give me time to comment before he continued, “I am allowed to leave these premises to confer with my lawyers. I’m going to confer with them a lot, and I’m doing it on Park Avenue. Vince has to be my eyes and ears at headquarters. He’ll be spending a lot of time there as well.”

  Peter took another sip of coffee. In the brief time he stopped speaking, I realized that in less than two weeks I had become so accustomed to having Vincent Slater constantly present that it would seem odd if he weren’t around.

  “Gary can drive us back and forth to Manhattan,” Peter was saying. “I intend to get the necessary permission to go to New York a minimum of three times a week.”

  There was purpose and direction in the way Peter spoke, and in his expression as well. Then he added, “Kay, I know I could never hurt another human being. Do you believe that?”

  “I believe it and I know it,” I told him.

  We reached across the table to each other and our fingers entwined. “I think I fell in love with you the minute I saw you,” I said. “You were so deep into your book, and you looked so comfortable in your big chair. Then, when you stood up, your glasses slipped off.”

  “And I fell in love with the beautiful girl whose hair was slipping around her shoulders. A line from ‘The Highwayman’ jumped into my mind: ‘And Bess, the landlord’s daughter, the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, stood plaiting a bright red love-knot in her long, dark hair.’ Remember that from grammar school?”

  “Of course. The poem’s rhythm had the cadence of horses’ hooves. But think about it: I was the landscaper’s daughter, not the landlord’s,” I reminded him. “And I don’t have black eyes.”

  “Close enough.”

  It was odd, but that morning, my father was never far from my mind. I thought of how Maggie had told me only a few days ago that he loved working on the Carrington estate, and he especially loved the freedom of having the opportunity to design the magnificent gardens without regard to cost.

  Over scrambled eggs and sinfully cholesterol-filled bacon, I asked Peter about that.

  “My father was both a tightwad and burst-of-generosity guy,” he said. “Which is what I intend to make our high-priced lawyers realize. If Maria Valdez was going back to the Philippines because her mother was very ill, it would have been like him to write a check to help her out with doctor bills. Yet on the same day he’d go nuts over the price of a set of china Elaine had ordered.”

  I thought of how Peter had told me to hire an interior designer and do whatever I wanted to redecorate the house. “It doesn’t sound as though you’re anything like him,” I said. “At least not with what you’ve told me about making changes in the house.”

  “In some ways I am like him, I guess,” Peter said. “For example, he hated it when Elaine hired the chef and the butler and the housekeeper and the maids. Like my father, I’d rather have a couple like the Barrs on a daily basis who go home to their own place at night. On the other hand, I never could see why my father would get upset about money spent on daily life here. I think he must have been a throwback to the Carrington who started out without a shirt on his back and made a fortune in oil wells-they say he was the all-time skinflint. I doubt if he’d have paid for grass seed, never mind acres of expensive plantings.”

  We finished breakfast and Peter started organizing the day as he had planned it. He called Conner Banks on his cell phone and told him to get permission for him to come into New York that afternoon for a meeting at a conference room in his law firm. Then he spent several hours on the phone with Vincent Slater and executives from his own company.

  I realized I was looking forward to going with Peter into the city. At this time, it didn’t make sense for me to sit in on Peter’s meetings with his lawyers. I wanted to use what time I had to visit my little studio apartment. Some of my favorite winter clothes were still there, and I had some framed pictures of my mother and father that I wanted to have around me here.

  Peter got the necessary permission to leave the premises, and we set out for New York in the early afternoon. “Kay, even though your apartment is on the way, I think I’ll have Gary drive straight to Park and Fifty-fourth,” he said. “If by any chance we’re followed by the cops or media, and somebody takes a picture of the car stopped in front of your place, it might raise a question of violating bail. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I can’t risk going back to jail.”

  I understood completely, and that was the way we did it. By the time we got to the front of the lawyers’ building, the rain had at last begun to ease up. The weather forecast was for clearing skies, and it looked as though it was actually going to be accurate.

  Peter was dressed in a dark business suit, shirt, and tie. His overcoat was a beautifully cut midnight blue cashmere, and he looked every inch the corporate executive that he was. When Gary opened the door for him, Peter gave me a quick kiss and said, “Pick me up at four thirty, Kay. We might as well try to beat some of the rush hour traffic.” As I watched him walk rapidly across the sidewalk, I couldn’t help thinking how absolutely incongruous it was that less than twenty-four hours ago, he had been standing in an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands manacled, hearing the charge of murder directed at him.

  I had not been back to my apartment since the day Peter and I were married. Now on one hand it looked cozy and familiar, and on the other, with new eyes, I saw how small it really was. Peter had been here a few times in our whirlwind courtship. On our honeymoon, he had casually suggested that I just pay off the rest of the lease, and, except for personal items, get rid of everything in it.

  I knew I wasn’t ready to do that yet. Yes, I had a new life, but some part of me didn’t want to completely cut off so much of my old life. I checked my phone messages. None of them was important, except one that had come in just that morning from Glenn Taylor, the guy I’d been dating before I met Peter. Of course, I had told him about Peter as soon as we started seeing each other regularly. “I was just about to take you shopping for a ring,” he’d said, with a laugh, but I knew he was only half joking. Then he’d added, “Kay, be sure you know what you’re doing. Carrington comes with a lot of baggage.”

  Glenn’s message that morning was just what I would have expected of him-concerned and supportive: “Kay, I’m so sorry about what’s happening to Peter. Some way to start a marriage. I know you can handle it, but remember, if I can be of help in any way, let me know.”

  It was nice to hear Glenn’s voice, and I thought about how we had loved to go to the theatre together, and that perhaps one day he and Peter and I could go to dinner and a play. Then I realized that there weren’t going to be any evenings out for Peter again unless he was acquitted at his trial. It’s my confinement as well, I realized suddenly, because in that moment I knew that I would never leave Peter alone in the evenings.

  I gathered some clothes from the closet and laid them on the bed. Almost all of them bore the labels of budget chain stores. Elaine wouldn’t be caught dead in any of these, I thought. On our honeymoon, Peter had presented me with an American Express Platinum Card. “Shop till you drop, or whatever that expression is,” he’d said with a smile.

  I surprised myself by crying. I didn’t want a lot of clothes. If it had been in my power, I would have traded all the Carrington money just to have Peter exonerated of the deaths of Susan and Grace. I even found myself wishing he could move into this apartment w
ith me, and be struggling to pay off school loans, just as Glenn was doing. Anything to simplify our lives.

  I dabbed my eyes and went over to collect the pictures on the dresser. There was one of my mother and father with me in the hospital right after I was born. They looked so happy together, beaming at the camera. I was wrapped in a blanket, a squished-faced infant, peering up at them. My mother looked so young and so pretty, her hair loose on the pillow. My father was thirty-two then, still boyishly handsome, and with a twinkle in his eyes. They had so much to live for, and yet she had only two weeks of life ahead of her, before that embolism took her from us.

  When I learned the circumstances of her death, and that I was still at her breast when my father found her, I had been about twelve years old. I remember that I pursed my lips and tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be nursed by her.

  I had showed the hospital picture to Peter the first time he was here, and he had said, “I hope someday we’ll be taking pictures like that, Kay.”

  Then he picked up the picture of my father and me that had been taken shortly before Daddy drove his car to that remote spot and disappeared into the Hudson River. Peter had said, “I remember your father very well, Kay. I was very interested in why and how he chose the plantings. We had a couple of interesting conversations.”

  Still dabbing my eyes, I crossed to the mantel to get that picture to bring home, too.

  That evening, with Peter’s assent, I moved his favorite picture of his mother, and one of him as a child with his mother and father, and placed them on the mantel over the fireplace in the parlor of our suite. I added those of my parents that I had brought from the apartment. “The grandparents,” Peter said. “Someday, we’ll tell our children all about them.”

 
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