I 've Heard That Song Before, page 24
“It was either a drug dealer or Peter who took her life, and you are content with either answer! I have another theory, Mr. Althorp. You may have heard Susan trying to sneak out that night. You may have been angry enough to harm her yourself. It was noon the next day before anyone realized that she was not in her room. You had plenty of time to hide the body until you could dispose of it permanently.”
Charles Althorp gripped the arms of his chair. “That is absolutely preposterous, Mr. Greco! And insulting. Your fifteen minutes are up. Get out!”
“I am going to leave now, Ambassador Althorp,” Greco said, emphasizing the title with contempt in his voice. “But I will be back,” he said. “I assure you, I will be back.”
I spoke to Maggie a couple of times in the next few days, and I knew she was concentrating on trying to remember the name of the man my father had heard whistling the tune that was so nostalgic to him. Then something occurred to me. “Maggie, you said that Daddy was down in the dumps when he told you about it. His car was found so soon afterward, and you thought he had committed suicide, do you think you might have talked about that incident to your friends?”
“We certainly talked about how much he missed your mother. I probably did tell them about it. It was an example of how much he missed her.”
“Then there’s always a chance that you mentioned the man’s name, because you said Daddy mentioned it to you.”
“I may have, but, Kay, that was over twenty-two years ago. If I can’t remember, how do you expect anyone else would?”
“I really don’t. But it’s just one of those things that are easy for you to do, and may be so helpful to us. I want you to talk about Daddy to your friends. Tell them that, in a way, it’s been good for me to know that he didn’t willingly leave me. Then you can remind them of that story, and say that it’s been annoying you that you can’t come up with the name of the man who was whistling that song the day of the party. But talk about it only to your friends, please.”
“Kay, it’s really unlikely that someone will come up with a name after all these years, but I’d do anything to help. It’s a visiting day at the jail, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Will you congratulate your husband-I mean Peter-about the baby?”
“Thank you, Maggie. He’ll appreciate that.”
Two hours later, I was in the visiting room of the Bergen County Jail, looking at Peter through the Plexiglas. I wanted so much to touch him, to link my fingers with his. I wanted to bring him home and close the door on the rest of the world. I wanted our life back.
But, of course, to say any of that now would only make it harder for him. There were so many things I couldn’t say. I couldn’t talk about the shirt that I thought Gary Barr had stolen from Elaine, only to have it stolen again by Vincent Slater. Vince had continued to deny he found it when he searched the gatehouse and the SUV, but I didn’t believe him.
I couldn’t talk to him about the money I’d paid Elaine, and I certainly couldn’t tell Peter that I’d hired Nicholas Greco.
Instead I told Peter about finding the antique cradle, and how I was going to look up Eli Fallow, the craftsman, and see if I could learn anything about him. “The third floor is like a treasure hunt, Peter.”
Small talk. Unsatisfactory. The kind you make with a patient in the hospital when you know you really can’t talk about important things because it would be too upsetting. Peter’s face lit up at any reference to the baby, but that was followed by worry about me. He noticed my weight loss, and I assured him that the obstetrician said that in the first trimester it was not unusual.
He asked if I saw much of Elaine and Richard. I hedged by saying how shocked I had been when Elaine told me that Richard was pulling up stakes and moving to London. “I gather he’s facing his gambling problems, and also the fact that his own gallery is always losing money,” I said.
“I think that’s a solid direction for him to take,” Peter said. “As far back as when Elaine and my father were dating, Richard was into the horses, which, if you knew my father, was absolutely unforgivable. I think one of the reasons my father demanded to see every bill that came into the house during the big decorating siege was because he wanted to make sure Elaine wasn’t supporting her son’s gambling habit, at least with his money. I think it would be nice if you had Elaine and Richard and Vince for dinner before Richard leaves, Kay.”
I couldn’t say that was the last thing I wanted to do. Instead I ignored the suggestion and asked, “What kind of allowance did you have as a kid? Was your father generous with you?”
Peter could look so boyish when he smiled. “Actually, he was okay. Fortunately for our relationship, I never went the route of the rich man’s spoiled son. I liked to go into the office during the summer and on school holidays. I’m fascinated with the financial world. I’m good at it. That pleased my father. And he honestly had a soft heart for anyone in genuine need, which is why the check he gave Maria Valdez was exactly the sort of gesture he would make, and did make to many people.”
Then Peter’s expression darkened. “And try to convince anyone of that,” he added softly.
I knew I only had a few minutes left. I was holding the phone. “Guessing game,” I said, and hummed the melody of the song I had heard in the chapel. “Do you recognize this tune?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. In fact, I’d say that I don’t.”
“I had a friend who was a good whistler. Nobody does that anymore. Did you ever know anyone who whistles, I mean, someone, maybe like Vince?”
Peter actually laughed. I realized it was the first time I’d heard him laugh since we came back from our honeymoon.
“Kay, I can as easily imagine Vince whistling as I can see him being a circus barker. Buttoned-up Vincent Slater, whistling a tune for anyone to hear? Come on!”
The guard was approaching me. Our visiting time was up. Peter and I pressed our lips against the glass that separated us, and, as usual, I tried not to cry. “How do I love thee?” I asked him.
“Let me count the ways,” he whispered. It had become our way of saying good-bye after a visit.
But then he added, “Kay, have a dinner for Richard before he leaves for London. I’d like that. He’s always had his problems, but he is my stepbrother, and Elaine has always been kind to me.”
The more I learn, the less I know, Nicholas Greco thought as he drove into the grounds of the Carrington estate. The guard had been told to expect him and gave a casual salute as Greco turned onto the driveway of the gatehouse.
He had phoned yesterday to request this appointment with Gary Barr, and had made it clear that he did not want to have it in Jane’s presence.
“I am not aware of how much your wife knows of your activities,” he had told Barr, “but unless you have shared all your experiences with her, I suggest you find a reason to schedule our meeting when she is not around.”
“I’ll be out doing errands until about noon,” Barr told him. “Jane is always at the mansion then.” In a tone of voice that was both hostile and worried, he’d added: “I don’t know why you want to bother with me. I’ve already told everything I know about that girl’s death, and I wasn’t even working here around the time the landscaper disappeared.”
I hope my strategy to unsettle him by giving him time to worry about the reason for our appointment is working, Greco thought as he parked the car and walked up the path to the gatehouse.
It was a narrow stone structure with leaded pane windows. When Gary Barr answered the door and grudgingly invited him in, Greco was surprised and impressed by the interior of the dwelling. The limited space had been maximized by having the first floor turned into one large room with kitchen, dining, and sitting area flowing together harmoniously. The handsome stone fireplace and high-beamed ceiling imparted a sense of timelessness. How many generations of people have lived here in the four hundred years since it was built in Wales? he wondered.
A comfortable residence for a housekeeping couple, he decided-far more pleasant than the quarters most employees enjoy. He noticed that it was spotlessly clean. In his experience as an investigator, he had sometimes come across housekeepers whose own homes were hardly models of cleanliness.
Without being invited, he selected a straight-backed chair near the couch, sat down, and with a deliberately cool tone, said, “Mr. Barr, I think that we should not waste each other’s time this morning. Let’s get to the point: You were dealing drugs to Susan Althorp.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Is it? When you were chauffeuring those young women around, and Susan sat in front with you, you made it your business to become her ‘pal.’ But there were three other girls in the back. One of them, Sarah Kennedy, was Susan’s closest friend. Do you seriously suppose that Susan didn’t confide in her?”
It was the kind of tricky question Greco liked to ask, the kind that often brought out a truthful response.
Gary Barr did not respond, but looked around nervously as if afraid someone might overhear their conversation. A chronic eavesdropper is always afraid of someone eavesdropping on him, Greco thought with contempt.
“You and your wife worked quite regularly for the Althorps during the years you were not employed by the Carringtons. I have witnessed Ambassador Althorp’s attitude toward his employees. You must have resented that very much, didn’t you, Mr. Barr? What a sweet revenge it must have been for you to entice the young daughter of the family into drugs, then refuse to give them to her unless she paid for them immediately. After she returned home that last night, she slipped out again because you were going to meet her. Isn’t that what happened?”
Gary Barr impatiently brushed away the perspiration that was glistening on his forehead. “Don’t you come here and try to scare me. I know the law. Even if I did sell her a little cocaine, that was over twenty-two years ago. The statute of limitations ran out a long time ago. Look it up.”
“I don’t have to look it up, Mr. Barr. I am quite aware of the statute of limitations, and you are right. Unfortunately, you cannot be prosecuted for selling drugs to that poor girl, but, as I hope you are also aware, there is no statute of limitations for murder.”
“Murder? You’ve got to be kidding. I didn’t-”
Greco interrupted him. “If I go to the prosecutor and tell what I know, they will undoubtedly open another grand jury investigation. You will be subpoenaed, and you can’t take the Fifth Amendment. You can’t refuse to testify, because they can’t prosecute you. But you can and will be charged with perjury if you lie to the grand jury about your involvement with Susan and anything else you know about her disappearance, so you had better come clean.”
“All right! I was there,” Barr said, his voice hoarse and hesitant. “It’s like you said. She wanted some stuff and I told her I had to have the money up front, and she said she’d have it for me. I told her I’d be outside at quarter of two and to be on time.”
“Peter Carrington left Susan at her home at twelve o’clock. Why so late?”
“She wanted to be sure her father was asleep.”
“Why didn’t you give her the cocaine at the party?”
“She didn’t have the cash for me when she left the party. Otherwise I would have given it to her then.”
Greco looked at Barr with loathing and disgust. By not giving her what she needed, you signed her death warrant, he thought. Somebody else was going to meet her, supposedly with the money.
“I left here at one thirty and walked over to the Althorps’,” Barr said. “I cut across the lawn of the neighbors who live behind their house, and waited under the big tree in the side yard. No one could see me there. She didn’t show up at quarter of two. Then, about ten minutes later, I heard a car coming. I waited to find out what was going on, figuring it was someone bringing her the cash, getting there late.”
Barr stood up, walked over to the sink, and poured himself a glass of water. He gulped half of it, set the glass down, and came back. “I recognized the car. It was Peter Carrington’s. He got out, came around and opened the passenger door, and took something out of it.”
“You could see him clearly enough to see what he was doing?”
“There’s a streetlight right on the curb in front of the Althorps’ house. That’s why I was meeting Susan at the side of the house.”
“Peter got out of the car and walked across the lawn. Then he knelt down. I kind of crept forward, and I could see he was bending over something. There was just enough light that I could make out that something-maybe even someone-was lying on the ground. Then Peter got back in his car and drove away. I didn’t know what was up, but I got out of there and came home.”
“You didn’t check to see if anyone needed help?”
“Carrington drove away. He didn’t help anyone.”
“And you saw no one else?”
“Are you sure you didn’t meet Susan, have an argument because she didn’t have the money, and perhaps, she even threatened to tell her father about you if you didn’t give her the cocaine? You strangled her, then heard Peter’s car coming and hid. When he drove off, you disposed of the body. Didn’t it happen that way, Mr. Barr?”
“No, it didn’t. I’ll take a lie detector test if you want. I was home at twenty after two. I even woke up my wife and said that I didn’t feel so good.”
“You mean you wanted a witness, just in case. You’re a very self-serving individual, Mr. Barr. I remember your wife offered to take a lie detector test to swear that you were home all night.”
“She thought I was.”
“We’ll leave it at that. By the way, did Mr. Slater find the bloodstained dress shirt after he lured you into New York and searched this house, Mr. Barr?”
It was a satisfaction to Greco to see the dumbfounded look on Gary Barr’s face.
“So, he’s the one who did it,” Barr said heavily “I might have known.”
Richard was leaving for London on Sunday night. I scheduled the farewell dinner for Saturday evening, more to honor Peter’s wishes than to honor Richard, but I did go all out preparing for it. I’m a good cook and I worked with Jane to plan some really special dishes: asparagus with warm cheese as an appetizer, Dover sole, a watercress salad with apples, followed by raspberry sorbet and then an assortment of cheeses with a dessert wine.
“We’ll have cocktails in the living room, then after dinner have coffee in Mr. Carrington’s library,” I told Jane.
“I’ll have Gary build a fire in the library,” she promised.
Gary Barr was being uncomfortably solicitous toward me, and I knew that before much longer I was going to give him his walking papers. I was very sorry that it would mean letting Jane go, too, but I knew I had no choice, and I was sure she could see the handwriting on the wall.
I had spoken to Nicholas Greco several times, and he had said that my suspicions were totally correct about the missing dress shirt. He told me that Barr had stolen it from Elaine, and Slater had then found it in the gatehouse, and presumably still had it. He warned me that I was not to say or do anything that would indicate I was aware of the shirt having been recovered.
“But I was the one who put Gary on the phone with Vincent,” I protested. “I set him up for that trip to New York.”
“My guess is that Barr is probably thinking that Slater tricked you for his own purposes,” Greco said. “You must act as if Gary Barr is still your trusted employee, and I would suggest that when you speak with Mr. Slater, you apologize for doubting his word about the shirt. Certainly Gary Barr would not dare to challenge him on the subject.”
Whenever I spoke to Greco on the phone, he continued to warn me: “You must be very careful around both Slater and Barr. We may still find an unholy alliance there. Elaine Carrington is a blackmailer, and her son is always desperate for money. Throw that into the mix and you have a potentially
I told him that Richard was going to live in London.
“I doubt that distance will solve his problems,” Greco said. “The problem is not in the location; it’s in the man.”
Greco asked if I had brought the page from People magazine to show Peter. I confessed that I had not. “I’m sure he did not see Grace showing her guests that magazine,” I said. “Everyone agrees he went straight upstairs after that scene with her.”
“I understand your wishing not to cause your husband any further distress, but Mrs. Carrington, someone took that magazine that night. I believe it was taken because that person didn’t realize Grace had already torn out the page featuring an article about that actress. It is important. Trust my instincts. It is very important.”
“I will show it to Peter next time I visit him,” I promised. Then I asked Greco if he was making any progress in proving Peter’s innocence. His answer did not encourage me: “I am learning why this tragedy was set in motion,” he said. “Now it is up to me to put the rest of the story together. It’s far too soon and most unfair to offer you unfounded hope.”
I didn’t want double-talk. “Is there any hope that you can find new evidence so that Peter can be acquitted when he comes to trial?”
“There may be hope, Mrs. Carrington,” Greco said. “But until I can offer proof that would stand up in court, it would be impossible to offer you more than just that.”
For now I had to be content with that. The problem was, I was missing Peter so acutely that I needed some kind of reassurance that he would come home, even if it would take a miracle.
Planning the farewell dinner for Richard was a diversion, and as I made my selections in the cheese shop, I forced myself to believe that someday soon I would be buying Peter’s favorite cheese for him.
I spent time that week having Gary Barr move furniture around in the living room. My first impression of that room had been wholly favorable-it was a beautiful room. But I had come to realize it also was a reflection of Elaine’s taste-she had chosen everything in it, and as I got used to being there, I began to feel uncomfortable. Everything seemed too formal, too precise. The room lacked the lived-in feeling necessary to give it comfort and warmth.
MARY HIGGINS CLARK SERIES:
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