I 've Heard That Song Before, page 16
“Peter, I agree that it looks bad, but listen to me. Somebody else may have intercepted that letter. They have no proof that you received it.”
“They have proof my father gave five thousand dollars to Maria Valdez.”
“Peter, it’s your word against hers that your dress shirt was in the hamper, and don’t forget she’s refuting her own previous sworn statement. Juries are skeptical of people who change their testimony. And yes, your father gave her a check, but we’ll line up other instances of his spontaneous generosity to show that he might have been sympathetic and was helping her because Maria told him her mother was dying.”
“The jury won’t believe that,” Peter said.
“Peter, just remember, we only need to make one juror uncertain of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to get a hung jury. If we can’t get an outright acquittal, I absolutely believe we will get that for you.”
“A hung jury-that’s not much to hope for.” Peter Carrington looked straight at his lawyer, glanced away, then, with an obvious effort, looked back at him. “I did not think I was capable of violence toward another human being,” he said, carefully choosing each word as he spoke. “What I did to that police officer makes me understand that simply isn’t true. Has Vince Slater told you that I assaulted him when I was about sixteen?”
“Yes, he has.”
“What will happen if, despite your best efforts, I do not get a hung jury, and I am not acquitted?”
“Peter, the prosecution would ask for and probably get two consecutive life sentences. You would never get out.”
“Suppose somehow they are able to tie me to Grace’s death. What would I get in that case?”
“That would undoubtedly be another life sentence. But Peter, there’s no way anyone is going to prove that you killed her.”
“Conner, give me some credit. There’s no such thing as ‘no way.’ Until now I have absolutely believed in my innocence. I’m not so sure anymore. I do know that I would never willingly harm another human being, but I did serious bodily harm to that cop the other night. I did the same thing years ago to Vince. Maybe I’ve done it in other instances, too.”
Conner Banks felt his mouth go dry. “Peter, you don’t have to answer this next question and think carefully before you do. Do you actually believe that, in an altered state of mind, you might have killed Susan Althorp and Jonathan Lansing?”
“I don’t know. The other night I thought I was looking for Susan’s body on the lawn of her parents’ home. I had to make certain that she was dead. Was that a dream, or was I reliving what happened? I’m not sure.”
Banks had seen Carrington’s expression on the faces of other clients, people who knew they were almost certainly facing a lifetime in prison.
“There’s more.” Peter’s voice lowered and became halting. “Did Kay tell you that the night we got home from our honeymoon, she saw me sleepwalking at the pool, and that I had my arm in the water, under the cover?”
“No, she did not.”
“Again, maybe it was just a nightmare, or maybe I was reenacting something that actually took place. I don’t know.”
“Peter, none of this will come out in court. We’ll make a case for reasonable doubt.”
“You can keep your reasonable doubt. I want my defense to be that if I committed those crimes, I was sleepwalking and unaware of what I was doing.”
Banks stared at him. “No! Absolutely not! There isn’t a prayer in hell that you wouldn’t be convicted with that defense. You’d be handing the prosecutor your head on a platter.”
“And I say there isn’t a prayer in hell that I won’t be convicted with the defense you’re planning. And even if there is, see it my way. My trial will get plenty of publicity. This is a chance to let the world understand that if you are cursed with sleepwalking, and unknowingly commit a crime, you may not be responsible.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“I have never been more serious in my life. I’ve had Vince look up the statistics for me. Under British and Canadian law, a crime committed during sleepwalking is called a ‘noninsane automatism.’ According to the laws in those countries, the deed does not make a man guilty unless his mind is guilty. If at the time of the offense there is an absence of mental control so that any action carried out was automatic, then in law the defense of automatism is possible.”
“Peter, listen to me. That may be true in British and Canadian law, but it doesn’t work here. I’d be a fool on a fool’s errand if I went to court with that defense. We have two cases in this country in which men were convicted of killing people they loved very much while sleepwalking. One man bludgeoned his wife to death, then threw her body in the pool. Another drove miles to his in-laws’ home. He was devoted to them, but he was also under great stress. He brutally beat his father-in-law and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. He woke up as he was driving home, went straight to the nearest police station, and told them that something terrible must have happened because he was covered in blood and had a vague memory of seeing a woman’s face.”
“Vince told me about those cases, Conner. Don’t forget, I have lived as a ‘person of interest’ since I was twenty years old. Even if I’m acquitted, I’ll be treated as a pariah who beat the system and got away with murder. I’m not prepared to live like that any longer. If you won’t defend me on those grounds, I’ll find someone who will.”
There was a long silence, then Banks asked. “Have you talked to Kay about this?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Then she agrees to it, I gather?”
“Reluctantly, but yes. And she’s also agreed to another condition.”
“I’ll let her stand by me during the trial. But after I’m convicted, and I understand that I probably will be, she has agreed to divorce me and begin a new life for herself. If she had not agreed to that, I would have refused to allow her to visit me anymore.”
Maybe it sounds crazy, but after the first day or two, I began to welcome solitude at night. If Peter couldn’t be with me, then I wanted to be alone. There was something about Jane and Gary Barr that was making me uneasy. Jane was always fussing over me. I knew she was concerned because I was feeling so rotten, but I still didn’t want to feel as though they were observing me like an insect under a microscope.
After the visit from the detectives, Maggie came rushing over in tears, trying to explain that she never would have let the detectives up to the attic if she thought I’d be upset.
I owe her far too much, and love her far too much, to have made her feel any worse than she did. As the lawyers explained to me, even though that letter from my father had been addressed to Peter, there was no proof that it had not been opened by someone else. During the search of the house, another copy of that design had been found in his father’s files.
I managed to reassure Maggie that I wasn’t avoiding her, and made her realize why I couldn’t let her live with me. She finally agreed that she was comfortable in her own home, in her own easy chair, in her own bed. As I pointed out to her, it was safe here-security guards were ever present at the gate, and on foot on the grounds. Unspoken was the fact that because Peter was in jail, she did not have to fear for my personal safety.
My visits with Peter were heartbreaking. He was allowing himself to become so convinced that he was guilty of the deaths of Susan and my father that his interest in his defense began to take on a curious detachment. The grand jury had voted to indict him on both murders, and the trial had been set for October.
The lawyers, chiefly Conner Banks, were conferring with him in jail, so I now saw less of them. I did begin to hear from people I worked with at the library, and other friends, both from around here and from Manhattan. They were all so careful in the way they spoke to me, solicitous but embarrassed, not knowing what to say.
“I’m so sorry about your father. I would have gone to the service if I had known where it was…”
I knew what was going through the heads of these good people: it’s tough to deal with this kind of thing in any rational way. I was Mrs. Peter Carrington, wife of one of the wealthiest men in the country, and I was also Mrs. Peter Carrington, wife of a double-or maybe even triple-killer.
I put off any get-together dates. I knew even the simplest lunch would be uncomfortable for all of us. The one person I regretted not seeing, however, was Glenn. He sounded so normal when he called me: “Kay, you must be going through hell,” he said.
Once again, it was good to hear his voice. I didn’t try to pretend. “Yes, I am.”
“Kay, this may sound dopey, but I’ve been trying to figure what I’d want if I were in your boots. And I have the answer.”
“And it is?”
“Dinner with an old pal like me. Look, I know that’s all I’ve ever been to you, and it’s okay. You lead the conversation.”
He meant it. Glenn knew it was never “there” between us for me. Actually, I never thought it was “there” for him, either. I still didn’t. I’d love to have taken him up on his dinner offer, but, on the other hand, I couldn’t even imagine how I would feel if I could reverse positions with Peter, then read that he’d been seen having dinner with a former girlfriend. “Glenn, it sounds so tempting, but it’s not a good idea,” I told him, and then was surprised to hear myself say, “at least, not yet.”
At what point did I begin to believe that Peter was right, that in an altered state, he had committed the crimes he’d been accused of committing? I began to reason that if he believed it himself, how could I not accept it? And, of course, that consideration tore me in half.
I began to picture my father in the last few weeks of his life. Always the perfectionist, he’d been eager to see the last part of his overall design for the estate completed, even though he could not do the job himself.
According to the police report, the blow on his head had been so hard that his skull had been caved in. Had Peter been the one to raise some heavy object and inflict that blow?
Then good memories of my father flooded my mind, memories I had always tried to suppress because I had believed myself abandoned by him.
Memories like: Sunday mornings, when, after church, he would take me to Van Saun Park for a pony ride.
…The two of us cooking together in our kitchen. His telling me that Maggie was no cook, that for sheer survival my mother was forced to learn how to follow recipes. Maggie still isn’t a cook, Dad, I thought.
…The note he had written to Peter: “I have enjoyed our conversations very much, and I wish you well.”
…The day I had sneaked in this house and gone up to the chapel.
During this time alone, I began to go up to the chapel almost every day. It hasn’t changed in all these years. The same nicked statue of the Virgin Mary is there, as are the table that must have served as an altar, and the two rows of pews. I brought a new electric votive candle to put in front of the statue. I would sit there for ten or fifteen minutes, half praying, half remembering that brief quarrel I had overheard that day, twenty-two-and-a-half years ago.
It was there that a possibility began to take root in my mind. It had never occurred to me that perhaps Susan Althorp was the woman I had heard begging for money. Her family was wealthy. I had always read that she had a big trust fund in her own name.
But suppose it was Susan? Then who was the man who had snarled at her, “I heard that song before”? After she left the chapel, the man had whistled the last line of the song. Even as a child, I had recognized how angry he was.
It was in the chapel that my desperate hope took root, a hope that maybe I could find another solution, one that would solve the crimes Peter was accused of committing.
I was afraid to give Peter even a hint of what I was thinking. If he began to believe me, and decided that he was completely innocent, then his next thought would be that whoever was guilty might still be nearby. And then he would start worrying about me.
As it was, although he was actively cooperating in preparing his own defense, I could see that the lawyers had convinced him it was hopeless to expect anything but a “guilty” verdict. On my visits to him, he began urging me to move away, to divorce him quietly. “Kay, in your own way, you’re as imprisoned as I am,” he would say. “I know perfectly well that you can’t go anywhere without people looking at you and talking about you.”
I loved him so dearly. He was in a cramped jail cell, and worrying that I was holed up in a mansion. I reminded him we had a deal. I could visit him in jail and be with him at the trial. “So don’t let’s ruin our little time together by talking about my leaving you,” I told him. Of course, I had no intention of keeping my part of our so-called deal. If Peter was convicted, I knew I would never divorce or abandon him, or stop believing in his innocence.
But he didn’t stop bringing up that subject. “Please, Kay, I beg of you, get on with your life,” he said to me during a visit in late February.
I had something to tell him, something I had known with certainty for a few days now, but hadn’t yet decided the best time to tell him. Then I recognized that there would never be a best time, but that this was the right time. “I am getting on with my life, Peter,” I said. “I’m having our baby.”
The part-time job that Pat Jennings had taken at the Walker Art Gallery had begun to make her something of a celebrity. Now that Peter Carrington had not only been charged with murder, but had been caught on tape bail-jumping and assaulting a cop, all her friends were anxious to have any tidbits of gossip that she could pass on about anyone in the Carrington family.
Pat was closemouthed with everyone except Trish, her best friend for the last twenty years. They had been assigned to the same dorm as freshmen in college, and had thought it a riot that each had chosen to be known by a different variation of their shared name, Patricia.
Now Trish worked in the business office of the tony department store Bergdorf Goodman, located at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, only a block away from the gallery. Once a week, the two women grabbed a quick lunch together, and, in deepest confidence, Pat caught her up on the gossip as she heard it.
She confided that she thought Richard Walker was having an affair with a young new artist, Gina Black. “He had a cocktail party for her and it didn’t draw flies. When she stops in at the gallery, I can tell she’s crazy about him. I feel sorry for her because my bet is that she won’t last. From the way he talks, he’s had plenty of girlfriends over the years. Think about it-he has two ex-wives, and both those marriages didn’t last long enough to have the tea towels washed. I bet both wives got sick of his womanizing and gambling.”
The next week, Pat discussed Elaine Carrington: “Richard told me that his mother has been staying in her New York apartment most of the time. Her feelings are hurt because she thinks that Peter Carrington’s new wife, Kay, really doesn’t want her stopping in the mansion unless she’s specifically invited to be there.
“I don’t think Richard has gone to New Jersey much, either,” she continued. “He told me that he understands how difficult it must be for Kay, knowing that in all likelihood her husband killed her father, even though he may not remember it. Richard said that he believes it must have been like the way Peter attacked that cop. Well, we both saw the tape on television. You could tell Peter Carrington was absolutely out of it. He looked scary.”
“He sure did,” Trish agreed. “What a shame to marry a guy with all that money and then find out he’s insane. Other than that young artist, are there hints of anything new in Richard’s love life?”
“Well, there are hints, but I’m not sure it’s anything new. There’s a woman who’s been calling him who must be an old flame. Her name is Alexandra Lloyd.”
“Alexandra Lloyd. That’s a fancy name,” Trish commented. “Unless it’s one she made u
“No. My bet is that she’s an artist. Anyhow, he’s ignoring her calls.”
Three days later, Pat Jennings couldn’t wait until their next lunch to talk to Trish, so she called her. “Richard is an absolute wreck,” she whispered into the phone. “I know he’s had a couple of big losses on the ponies. This morning his mother stopped in to see him. When I got here they were in his office with the door closed, and boy, were they going at it! He was telling her that he absolutely had to have money, and she was screaming she didn’t have it. Then he yelled something about how she knew perfectly well where she could get it, and she screamed, “ ‘Richard, don’t make me play that card.’ ”
“What did she mean?” Trish asked breathlessly.
“I have no idea,” Pat admitted, “but I’d sure love to know. If I find out, I’ll call you first thing.”
The nurse who met him at the door of Gladys Althorp’s bedroom cautioned Nicholas Greco not to stay too long. “She’s very weak,” the nurse told him. “Talking tires her.”
His former client was lying in a hospital bed that had been set up next to her regular queen-sized bed. Her hands were resting on the coverlet, and Greco noticed that the wedding ring she had always worn was missing.
Is her finger too thin now to keep the ring from sliding off, or is this one final rejection of her husband? he wondered.
Gladys Althorp’s eyes were closed, but she opened them a moment after Greco reached the side of the bed. Her lips moved and her voice was very low when she greeted him.
MARY HIGGINS CLARK SERIES:
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