I ve heard that song bef.., p.22

I 've Heard That Song Before, page 22

 

I 've Heard That Song Before
 


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  And that’s just what I’m trying to do, Greco thought.

  Gary Barr was at the top of his list of people and things to consider. Greco sensed that Barr had a chip on his shoulder toward those who, in his mind, had a privileged life. What was his relationship to the Althorp family? he wondered. In the years he and his wife were not working for the Carringtons, they regularly cooked and served dinners for the Althorps. Gary also chauffeured their daughter. How and why did he become Susan’s “pal”? I must talk to Susan’s friend Sarah again, Greco thought.

  The torn page from People magazine found in Grace Carrington’s pocket was the next thing on the list. It had significance, great significance, of that he was sure. But why?

  Next was Susan Althorp’s evening purse. Why did Gary Barr have such a clear memory of Peter Carrington asking Vincent Slater to return it to her the next morning, and then remembering also that Peter was startled when it wasn’t found in his car? Or was Barr making up that story for his own reasons? Slater had confirmed the conversation, but only to a degree. He claimed that Carrington merely asked him to check and see if the purse was in the car, and return it to Susan if it was.

  But Susan was expected for brunch later that day. Besides, the bag was small, and could only have held things like a handkerchief, compact, comb, or lipstick. So why make an issue of returning it to her? Was there something special in it that she had needed? Greco asked himself.

  All of these pieces are tied together, Nicholas Greco thought, as he sat with his hands folded, not noticing that it was becoming dark outside. But how?

  The phone rang. Somewhat irritated at the intrusion, Greco picked up the receiver and identified himself.

  “Mr. Greco, this is Kay Carrington. You gave me your card at the courthouse a few weeks ago.”

  Greco straightened up in his chair. “Yes, I did, Mrs. Carrington,” he said slowly. “I am glad to hear from you.”

  “Can you come see me tomorrow morning, at my home?”

  “Of course. What time is convenient for you?”

  “Eleven o’clock? Is that all right for you?”

  “That would be fine.”

  “Do you know where I live?”

  “Yes, I do. I will be there at eleven.”

  “Thank you.”

  Greco heard the click of the receiver being replaced, then hung up himself. Still deep in thought, he got up and walked down the hall to the coat closet. At the last minute, he remembered to leave a note on his receptionist’s desk: “Will be in New Jersey tomorrow morning.”

  64

  I hadn’t yet told Maggie about the baby because I was sure that she would confide it to several of her friends, and then I’d be reading about it in the tabloids. Maggie categorically cannot keep a secret. But I thought I’d been spotted at the obstetrician’s office by people who knew me, and since I didn’t want Maggie to hear a rumor about it from someone else, I knew I had to tell her.

  After I phoned Nicholas Greco and made the appointment, I collected Maggie and brought her back to the house for dinner. Jane had prepared a roast chicken and wanted to serve us, but I had told her to go ahead home, that we’d serve ourselves. The last thing I needed was to have Gary Barr overhear our conversation. I think Jane was getting worried by now about whether or not they were going to lose their jobs, and she started to protest. But then she stopped and very pleasantly wished us a good evening.

  The kitchen is large and accommodates a refectory table and benches where the servants used to eat when there was a large staff. Maggie wanted us to have dinner there, but I vetoed the idea. The chairs in the small dining room are infinitely more comfortable. Besides, I know she feels intimidated by the mansion, and I wanted her to get over that.

  When we were settled at the table, I told Maggie about the baby. She was absolutely delighted with my news, but then, of course, immediately started worrying about me. “Oh, Kay, it’s such a tragedy that your baby’s father will never be around to see the little one grow up.”

  “Maggie,” I said, “his name is Peter, and I haven’t given up hope. He did not kill Susan Althorp, and he certainly did not kill my father. But please, let’s talk about something else. Daddy was fired only a few weeks after Susan disappeared. Peter told me Elaine Carrington got rid of him because he wasn’t interested in her overtures to him.”

  “You told me that, Kay.” Maggie said contritely. I knew she now regretted that she had jumped to the assumption that the firing had been the result of a drinking problem.

  “What was Daddy going to do? Did he have any job offers?”

  “I don’t know, Kay. It was only a few weeks after he was fired that we thought he had committed suicide. The last time I saw him was on September thirtieth, twenty-two and a half years ago. We’ve talked about this.”

  “Let’s talk about it again.”

  “On September thirtieth, your dad phoned me around five o’clock and asked me to keep you overnight. He said he had an appointment with somebody. You were kind of unhappy about having to come over because he’d promised that the two of you would try some new recipe for dinner that evening. He promised he’d make it up to you. But the next day he didn’t come for you and didn’t call, and then the police reported his car had been found on the cliff above the river, and that his wallet was on the seat.”

  “Did they ever investigate to see who he might have been planning to see on September thirtieth?”

  “At the time, the police assumed that he’d just made up that story as an excuse to drop you off.”

  I could tell we were going nowhere with this conversation. I kept hoping that maybe some fragment of a forgotten memory might surface in Maggie’s consciousness, but it just wasn’t happening.

  Over a cup of tea, I decided it was time to finally tell Maggie about the time, all those years ago, that I had crept into this house because I was so curious to see the chapel.

  Her reaction, as expected, was that I was always too adventurous for my own good. Unexpectedly, she let it go at that.

  Probably because of her reaction, I ended up telling her that I overheard a quarrel between a woman and a man she seemed to be blackmailing, something I had planned to keep to myself. “That’s why I knew what the man was whistling, even though it was only one line,” I told her, “because you used to hum it for me when you told me about my mother singing it in the school play.”

  Maggie gave me a look that I couldn’t interpret.

  “What is it?” I asked her.

  “Kay,” she exclaimed, “you should have told that to your father! When he and your mother began to date, I told him about the school play and bragged about how well she sang that song. He made her sing it for him. From then on, he called it ‘their song.’ They even chose it for their first dance at their wedding. You know that.”

  “Maggie, I knew about the play. But I don’t think I remember your telling about Daddy calling it ‘their song,’ or dancing to it at the wedding,” I protested.

  “It doesn’t matter. But after your father came running over here with you to fix those lights the afternoon of that party, he dropped you off at my house. I remember distinctly how really down he looked. He told me that he had heard someone whistling that song when he was here, and had talked with him. I guess your dad told whoever it was why he was nostalgic about it.”

  “Did he say who that person was?” I demanded.

  “Yes, but I don’t remember.”

  “Maggie, it’s so important. Think about it. Please try to remember.”

  “I’ll try, Kay. I’ll really try.”

  There was a question I had to ask. “Maggie, could it have been Peter?”

  “No. Positively not,” Maggie said firmly. “I’d have remembered if it was Peter Carrington. He was the young prince around here. That’s why I was so disappointed to think he killed that poor girl. No, I’m absolutely sure he wasn’t the one your dad mentioned!”

  She looked at me. “Kay, what’s the matter?” she asked
. “Why are you crying?”

  It wasn’t Peter, I thought with relief. It wasn’t Peter! It was some other man being blackmailed that day in the chapel. But, dear God, if I had only told Daddy what I heard that day, and he had reported it to the police, maybe he’d still be alive, and Peter wouldn’t be in jail, accused of murder.

  65

  Vincent Slater was convinced that Gary Barr had stolen Peter’s dress shirt from Elaine Carrington’s house. For a week he had mulled over in his mind the best way to get it back.

  The need to recover the shirt had been made even more acute by a call late one evening from Conner Banks, urging him to try to convince Peter to allow his legal team to change the strategy of his defense.

  “Vincent,” Banks said, “we are more and more convinced that we would have a good chance of a hung jury, and maybe even a shot at an acquittal, if our defense is based on reasonable doubt. An acquittal means that Peter comes home for good. A hung jury means we can argue strenuously for bail, and Peter would probably get to spend at least some time with his child before a second trial. If we got another hung jury at a second trial, the prosecutor would probably give up and drop the charges.”

  “What would happen if Peter’s formal shirt turned up and it had Susan’s blood on it?” Slater asked.

  “What’s going on here? Kay Carrington asked me that same question.” There was a long silence; then Conner Banks said quietly, “As I told Kay, if that shirt turns up with Susan’s blood on it, Peter had better be willing to plea-bargain.”

  “I see.” It was nine o’clock, not too late to phone Kay, Slater decided. When she answered, she told him she had just driven her grandmother home.

  “Kay, my bet is that Gary Barr stole the shirt,” he said. “We’ve got to get it back. There’s a set of master keys in a drawer in the kitchen. The gatehouse key is on it. I’ll stop by for it at seven thirty, before Jane comes in. Then, I’ll phone you at nine as though I’m in New York and ask you to send Gary into the city to help bring some of Peter’s private papers home. I’ll make sure my people there keep him busy for a while. You just make sure Jane doesn’t go home early.”

  “Vince, I don’t know what to think about this.”

  “I do. I’m not going to leave that shirt in Gary Barr’s hands. Let’s just pray that he’s got it hidden somewhere in the gatehouse or in his SUV. That’s something else: I’ll tell him that one of our executives may be coming back with him to visit you, so he must be driving one of the family cars.”

  “As I say, at this point, I don’t know what to think, but I’ll go along with you,” Kay said. “Vince, I might as well tell you, I have an appointment with Nicholas Greco, the investigator. He’s coming here at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning.”

  Vincent Slater then said something he would never have dreamed he could say to his employer’s wife: “The more fool you, Kay. I thought you loved your husband!”

  66

  Retired ambassador Charles Althorp sat in his late wife’s study, a cup of coffee in his hand, an untouched breakfast tray beside him. Already the physical reality of Gladys’s death had brought about changes in the house. The hospital bed, oxygen tent, IVs, and seemingly endless medical supplies were all gone. Brenda, the housekeeper, tears flowing, had aired and vacuumed Gladys’s bedroom last night.

  He had caught the sullen look in Brenda’s eyes when she served him breakfast that morning and hoped she had an inkling that she’d better be looking for another job.

  His sons had phoned, sad that their mother had died, but glad that all the suffering she had endured was over. “If there’s a museum in heaven, Mom and Susan are probably debating the merits of a painting,” his younger son, Blake, had said.

  Althorp knew his sons disliked him. After college, they both had chosen to accept jobs far away, giving them an excuse to show up at home only about twice a year. Now they would be back for the second time in a few months. The first had been to attend the funeral of their sister; now it was their mother.

  Gladys’s body was in the funeral parlor. There would be no wake, but the funeral would not be until Friday, to accommodate his older son, whose daughter had just had an emergency appendectomy. The parents didn’t want to leave her.

  Neighbors had been calling to express their regrets; he had told Brenda to take messages. But at a quarter of nine, she came into the study and hesitantly told him that a Mr. Greco was on the phone, and insisted on speaking with him.

  Althorp was about to refuse, then wondered if Gladys had still owed the man money. It was possible. According to the nurse, the man had been to see her very recently. He picked up the phone. “Charles Althorp.” He knew his voice was intimidating. He took pride in that fact.

  “Ambassador Althorp,” Nicholas Greco began, “let me first express my sincere condolences at the loss of your wife. Mrs. Althorp was a gracious and brave lady, and set in motion the wheels that I think will soon bring a killer to justice.”

  “What are you talking about? Carrington is in jail.”

  “That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Ambassador. Peter Carrington is in jail. But should he be? Or, to put it another way, should not someone else perhaps be sharing his jail cell? This is a dreadful time to intrude, but may I stop by for a few minutes later today? I have an eleven o’clock appointment with Mrs. Kay Carrington. Would it be possible to call on you at twelve thirty?”

  “Be here at noon. I’ll give you fifteen minutes.” Althorp slammed the phone into the cradle, put down his coffee cup, and stood up. He walked over to the desk where there were pictures of his wife and their daughter.

  “I’m so sorry, Gladys,” he said aloud. “I’m so sorry, Susan.”

  67

  I was in the kitchen when Vince stopped by for the gatehouse key at seven thirty. Then, as planned, he phoned at nine o’clock. Gary Barr was vacunning upstairs, and, on cue, I relayed the message to him. “Mr. Slater needs you to drive into the city and get some records from Peter’s office,” I told him. “There’s a possibility that one of the company executives will drive back with you, so take the Mercedes. Mr. Slater will tell you where in the garage to park.”

  If Barr was suspicious, he didn’t show it. He got on one of the extensions and confirmed the parking arrangements with Vincent. A few minutes later, from an upstairs window, I watched Barr drive the Mercedes past the gatehouse and out onto the road.

  Vincent must have been watching for him to leave, because almost immediately, his Cadillac pulled onto the driveway and turned left. I guessed he would be parking behind the gatehouse in a spot that couldn’t be seen from the mansion. Now it was my job to keep Jane from darting back home for some reason before her usual after-lunch break.

  There was a simple way to do it. I told her that I had a headache and would she please answer the phone and take messages, except if Mr. Greco called.

  “Mr. Greco?”

  I heard the alarm in her voice and remembered that I had been told that after Mrs. Althorp had first hired Greco, he had talked to Gary Barr.

  “Yes,” I said. “I have an appointment with him at eleven o’clock.”

  The poor woman looked both frightened and confused. I felt very sure that if Vince was right, and Gary had stolen the shirt from Elaine’s home, Jane had no part in that theft. But then I also remembered that she had sworn Gary was home in bed the night Susan disappeared. Had she been lying? By now, I was almost certain that she had.

  For the next hour and a half, I was too restless to settle down, so I spent my time on the third floor. I hadn’t been through even half the rooms because it took time to untie and remove the covers off the furniture that was stored up there. I was looking specifically for baby furniture, and finally found an antique wooden cradle. It was too heavy to pick up, so I squatted on the floor, rocking it to see if it was steady. It was exquisitely carved, and I checked to see if it had been signed. It had been, by someone named Eli Fallow, and the date was 1821.

  I was sure the cradle
must have been ordered by Adelaide Stuart, the posh lady who married a Carrington in 1820. I made a mental note to look up Eli Fallow and find out if he had a reputation as a craftsman. I was finding it fascinating to uncover these treasures, and it at least provided a diversion from my constant worrying about Peter.

  That kind of exploring, however, is a dusty business. At 10:30, I went down to the suite and washed my face and hands, then changed into a fresh sweater and slacks. I was barely ready when the doorbell rang promptly at eleven o’clock, and Nicholas Greco entered the house.

  The first time I met him had been at Maggie’s house, and I had resented his suggestion that my father might have staged his own suicide. He’d even hinted there might be a connection between him and Susan Althorp’s disappearance. When Greco spoke to me in the courthouse hallway after the bail hearing, I was so upset that I barely noticed him. But now, as I looked straight at him, I felt that I could detect both warmth and sympathy in his eyes. I shook his hand and led him back to Peter’s library.

  “What a wonderful room this is,” Greco commented as we entered.

  “That was my impression the first time I saw it,” I told him. Trying to overcome my sudden attack of nerves, brought on by the radical move I was making in meeting this man, I added, “I came here begging the chance to have a literacy cocktail party in the mansion. Peter was sitting in his chair.” I pointed to it. “I felt nervous, and not properly dressed. It was a windy day in October, and I was wearing a light summer suit. As I pleaded my case, I was taking in this room and loving it.”

  “As well you might,” Greco said.

  I sat behind Peter’s desk and Greco pulled up a chair across from it. “You told me you could be of service to me,” I told him. “Now explain to me how you would do that.”

  “I can serve you best by trying to ascertain the entire truth of what has happened. As you are certainly aware, your husband is facing a strong probability that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. It may give him some personal vindication if the world comes to believe that he is innocent-and now I quote-‘owing to the act being a noninsane automatism.’ That is what might have happened if all this was taking place in Canada, but of course it is not.”

 
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