I ve heard that song bef.., p.3

I 've Heard That Song Before, page 3

 

I 've Heard That Song Before
 



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  “I have two daughters,” Greco said. “If one of them disappeared, I wouldn’t be at peace until I found her.” He waited, then added quietly, “Even if what I learned was not what I was hoping to hear.”

  “I believe that Susan is dead,” Gladys Althorp said, her voice calm, but the expression in her eyes suddenly bleak and sad. “But she would not have disappeared on her own. Something happened to her, and I believe that Peter Carrington was responsible for her death. Whatever the truth is, I have got to know it. Are you interested in helping me?”

  “Yes, I am.”

  “I have put together for you all my files about Susan’s disappearance. They’re in my study.”

  As Nicholas Greco followed Gladys Althorp down the wide hallway, he managed quick glances of the paintings along the way. Someone in this family is a collector, he thought. I don’t know if these are museum-quality, but they certainly are pretty fine.

  Everything that he could see in the house had an air of good taste and quality. The emerald green carpet was thick and soft underfoot. The crown molding on the stark white walls provided an added frame for the paintings. The area rug in the study where Gladys Althorp led him contained a mellow red and blue pattern. The shade of blue in the couch and chairs matched the blue in the rug. He saw the picture of Susan Althorp on the desk. To the side was a decorative shopping bag, bulging with legal-sized documents.

  He walked over to the desk and picked up the picture. Since deciding to take on the case, he had done some preliminary research and had seen this picture on the Internet. “This is what Susan was wearing when she disappeared?” he asked.

  “It was what she was wearing at the Carrington dinner. I was not feeling well and my husband and I left the party before it broke up. Peter promised to drive her home.”

  “You were still awake when she came in?”

  “Yes, about an hour later. Charles had the twelve o’clock news on in his room. I heard her call to him.”

  “Isn’t that a bit early for an eighteen-year-old to be home?”

  Greco did not miss the tightening of Gladys Althorp’s lips. The question had evoked anger in her.

  “Charles was an overprotective father. He insisted that Susan wake him up whenever she came home.”

  Gladys Althorp was one of many grief-stricken parents Nicholas Greco had encountered in his career. But unlike many of the others, he suspected that she had always managed to keep her emotions rigidly private. He sensed that, for her, hiring him was a difficult step, a quantum leap into frightening territory.

  With a professional eye, he observed the extreme pallor of her complexion, the air of fragility about her entire body. He had a strong suspicion that she might be terminally ill, and that that was the reason for her decision to contact him.

  When he left half an hour later, Greco was carrying the shopping bag containing files with all the information Gladys Althorp could give him about the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s disappearance: the follow-up stories in the newspapers, the journal she had kept as the investigation continued, and the recent copy of Celeb magazine with a picture of Peter Carrington on the cover.

  In his preliminary research, Greco had taken down the address of the Carrington estate. On impulse, he decided to swing past it. Even though he knew it was not far from where the Althorps lived, he was surprised at how very close the two homes were. It couldn’t have taken Peter Carrington more than five minutes to drop her off that night, if that’s what he did, and not more than five minutes to get back home. As he drove back to Manhattan, he realized that this case had hooked him already. He was anxious to get started. A classic “corpus delicti,” he thought, then remembered the pain in Gladys Althorp’s eyes and felt ashamed.

  I’m going to solve it for her, he thought grimly as he experienced the familiar rush of energy that came when he knew he was about to begin working on a case that would prove to be fascinating.

  5

  Gladys Althorp waited in the study for her husband to come in. She heard him opening and closing the front door shortly after the eleven o’clock news began. She switched off the television and hurried down the hallway. He was already halfway up the stairs.

  “Charles, I have something to tell you.”

  His already ruddy face became flushed and his voice kept rising as, after hearing that she had hired Nicholas Greco, he demanded, “Without consulting me? Without considering that our sons will also be forced to relive that terrible time? Without understanding that any new investigation attracts media attention from the rags? Wasn’t that disgusting story last week enough for you?”

  “I have consulted our sons, and they agree with my decision,” Gladys said calmly. “I absolutely must learn the truth about what happened to Susan. Does that worry you, Charles?”

  6

  The first week of November was balmy, but after that the weather turned sharply cold and drizzly, the kind of clammy days that make you want either to stay in bed or go back to bed with the newspapers and a cup of coffee-neither of which I had time to do. Just about every day, I work out early in a gym on Broadway, then shower, dress, and head for the library in New Jersey. Meetings about the fund-raiser were held after working hours.

  Needless to say, the tickets to the event sold fast, which was gratifying, but the rehashed story of Susan Althorp’s disappearance had triggered renewed interest in the case. Then, when Nicholas Greco, the private investigator, disclosed on Imus in the Morning that he had been hired by the Althorp family to look into their daughter’s disappearance, it became hot news. On the heels of Greco’s statement, Barbara Krause, the formidable Bergen County prosecutor, told the press that she would welcome any new evidence that would bring closure to the case. When asked about Peter Carrington, she said cryptically, “Peter Carrington has always been a person of interest in the disappearance of Susan Althorp.”

  On the heels of that statement, the gossip columns began to print reports that the board of directors of Carrington Enterprises was urging Peter to resign as chairman and CEO, even though he was by far the largest stockholder. According to the reports, the other directors felt that since it was now a publicly traded company, it was not appropriate for anyone designated as a “person of interest” in two potential homicides to continue to head a worldwide multibillion-dollar organization.

  Pictures of Peter began appearing regularly in the business sections of major newspapers, as well as in the more sensational magazines.

  As a result, all through November, I kept my fingers crossed, expecting to get a call from Vincent Slater any day to tell me that the cocktail reception was off and that they would send a check to compensate for our lost revenue.

  But the call never came. The day after Thanksgiving I went to the mansion with the caterer we had hired to go over details for the affair. Slater met us and turned us over to the couple who were housekeepers for the mansion, Jane and Gary Barr. They appeared to be in their early sixties, and it was obvious that they had been with the Carringtons for a long time. I wondered if they had been working at the mansion the night of the infamous dinner, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask. I learned later that they had come to work for Peter’s father after his first wife, Peter’s mother, had died, but then left after Elaine Walker Carrington came on the scene. They were coaxed back, however, after Peter’s wife, Grace, drowned. They seemed to know everything about the place.

  They told us that the living room was actually divided into two rooms, and that when the pocket doors were opened, the space was sufficient to accommodate two hundred people. The buffet should be laid out in the formal dining room. Small tables and chairs would be set up throughout the ground floor so that people would not have to balance plates. Before we left, Vincent Slater joined us again to say that Mr. Carrington was underwriting all the expenses of the reception. Before I even had time to thank him, Slater added, “We have a photographer who will take pictures. We do ask that your guests refrain from using their own cameras.”<
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  “As you probably guessed, we’ll give a brief report about the literacy campaign,” I told him. “It would mean a lot if Mr. Carrington would say a few words of greeting.”

  “He’s planning to do that,” Slater said. Then he added, “Before I forget, it goes without saying that the staircases leading upstairs will be roped off.”

  I had been hoping to slip upstairs for an adult view of the chapel. Sometimes, over the years, I’d wondered if I should have revealed to Maggie the angry conversation I heard there, but she would have been angry at me for going into the house, and besides, what could I tell her? I had heard a man and a woman quarreling about money. If I thought that quarrel had anything to do with Susan Althorp’s disappearance, I certainly would have reported it, even years later. But if there was one thing Susan Althorp would never have had to do, it was to plead for money from anyone. So the only thing my revelation would establish was that I’d been a curious six-year-old.

  Before the caterer and I left that day, I did glance down the corridor, hoping to see the door to the library open and Peter Carrington come out. For all I knew, he was halfway around the world. But because many executives take the Friday after Thanksgiving off, I fantasized that if he was in the house, I’d run into him.

  It didn’t happen. I contented myself with the knowledge that December 6th was less than two weeks away, and I’d get to see him then. Then I tried to push away the realization that if for any reason Peter didn’t attend the reception, I would be desperately disappointed. I’ve been dating Glenn Taylor, Ph.D., associate dean of science at Columbia University, with increasing regularity. We had met while having coffee in a Starbucks, helping that establishment to live up to its reputation as a great place for singles to make friends.

  Glenn is thirty-two, transplanted from Santa Barbara, and is about as laid back as any Californian ever born. He even looks as though he’s from there-after six years of living on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, his hair still retains a sun-streaked look. He’s just tall enough to let me be not quite eye level when I’m wearing heels, and he shares my passion for the theatre. I think in the past couple of years we’ve gone to most of the Broadway and off-Broadway shows, using discounted tickets of course. No business-page editor ever wrote a story about the year-end bonus a librarian received, and Glenn is still paying off his school loans.

  In a way, we love each other and certainly we count on each other. Sometimes Glenn even speculates that, with my side of the brain into literature and his into science, we’d have a chance at producing awesome offspring. But I know that we’re not anywhere near the emotional level of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, or Cathy and Heathcliff.

  It may be that I’ve set my standards too high, but ever since I was young, I’ve been into the classic love stories of the Brontë sisters.

  From the beginning, something about Peter Carrington had intrigued me, and I think I began to understand what it was. Seeing him sitting there alone in that crazy castlelike mansion was a haunting image. I wished I had had the chance to see what book he was reading. If it was one I had read myself, maybe I could have lingered for a few minutes to discuss it.

  “Oh, I see you have the new biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer,” I might have said. “Do you agree with the author’s interpretation of his personality? I thought he was a little unfair because…”

  You can see the way my mind was going.

  Then, the night before the reception, I went to Maggie’s house to pick her up for one of our regular pasta dinners. When I arrived, she was powdering her nose in the hall mirror, humming cheerfully. When I asked her what was up, she blithely told me that Nicholas Greco, the investigator who was delving into Susan Althorp’s disappearance, had called and was coming to see her. She was expecting him any minute.

  I was dumbfounded. “Maggie, why in the name of God would that guy want to talk to you?” But even before she had answered, I knew that Greco was coming here because my father had worked for the Carringtons at the time of the Althorp disappearance.

  Automatically I began to straighten up the living room. I adjusted the window shades so that they were at the same level, picked up the newspapers that were scattered around, hung up her sweater in the hall closet, and carried the teacup and plate of cookies that were on the coffee table into the kitchen.

  Greco arrived as I was putting some loose strands of silver hair into the bun at the back of Maggie’s head.

  I’m a Dashiell Hammett fan, and Sam Spade, especially in The Maltese Falcon, is the prototype for my mental image of a private investigator. Applying that yardstick, Nicholas Greco was a disappointment. In his appearance and manner he reminded me of the insurance adjuster who came to see me when a pipe broke in the apartment above mine.

  That illusion was quickly shattered, however, when, after Maggie had introduced me as her granddaughter, he said, “You must be the one who accompanied your father to the Carrington estate the same day that Susan Althorp disappeared.”

  When I stared at him, he smiled. “I’ve been going through the files on the case. Twenty-two years ago your father told the prosecutor’s office that he had gone to the estate unexpectedly that day because of a problem with the lighting, and that he took you with him. One of the caterer’s workers also mentioned seeing you sitting on a bench in the garden.”

  Had anyone seen me sneak into the house? I hoped I didn’t look as guilty as I felt when I invited Greco to sit down.

  It irritated me to see that Maggie was obviously enjoying herself. I knew that this man-who no longer reminded me of an insurance adjuster-had been hired to prove Peter Carrington had been responsible for Susan Althorp’s disappearance, and that upset me.

  But his next question startled me. It was not about the Carringtons or the Althorps; it was about my father. He asked Maggie, “Had your son-in-law shown signs of depression?”

  “If you call hitting the bottle a sign of depression, I would say so,” Maggie said, then glanced at me as though afraid I’d be upset by her answer. She hurried to qualify it. “I mean, he never got over Annie’s death. She was my daughter, but when a couple of years had passed after her death, I begged Jonathan to start dating. Let me tell you, there were plenty of women around here who would have jumped at the chance to go out with him. But he never would. He’d say, ‘Kathryn’s the only girl I need.’ ” Then she added, somewhat unnecessarily, “When she was ten, Kathryn decided she wanted to be called Kay.”

  “Then you feel that the excessive drinking was a sign of his depression, and that it led to his taking his own life?”

  “He’d lost out on a number of landscaping jobs. I think that being fired by the Carringtons may have pushed him over the edge. His insurance policy was about to expire. After he was declared legally dead, it paid for Kay’s education.”

  “But he did not leave a suicide note, and his body was never recovered. I’ve seen his picture. He was a strikingly handsome man.”

  I could see where that line of questioning was going. “Are you suggesting that my father did not commit suicide, Mr. Greco?” I asked.

  “Miss Lansing, I’m not suggesting anything. Anytime a body is not recovered, there is always an open question about the manner of death. There are numerous documented cases of people who were believed to be dead, and who showed up or were tracked down twenty or thirty years later. These people simply walked away from a life that had become in some way unbearable. It happens often.”

  “Then I assume you believe that Susan Althorp may have done the same thing?” I shot back at him. “Her body was never found. Maybe her life was suddenly unbearable.”

  “Susan was a beautiful, healthy young woman, a gifted student pursuing a fine arts degree at Princeton, and the recipient of a trust fund that meant she would lead a life of wealth and privilege. She was very popular and attracted men easily. I’m afraid I don’t see the comparison.”

  “Peter Carrington did something to that girl. I bet he was jealous of her.” Now Mag
gie sounded like the Lord Chief Justice of the United Kingdom pronouncing a verdict. “I gave him the benefit of the doubt until his wife drowned, but it just goes to show that if you kill someone, you’re capable of doing it again. As for my son-in-law, I think he was depressed enough to believe he was doing Kay a favor by insuring her education.”

  That night the pasta stuck in my throat, and it wasn’t any comfort when Maggie rehashed Greco’s visit. “He’s supposed to be smart, but he was way off the mark in even thinking that your dad would just walk out on you.”

  No, he wouldn’t just walk out on me, I thought, but that’s not where Greco is going. He’s wondering if Daddy had to stage his own disappearance because of what happened to Susan Althorp.

  7

  It had begun to snow. Nicholas Greco was barely aware of the light wet flakes that drifted onto his face as he looked up at the windows of the second-floor art gallery on West Fifty-seventh Street, the one that bore the name of Richard Walker.

  Greco had done his homework on Walker. Forty-six years old, twice divorced, the son of Elaine Walker Carrington, an indifferent reputation in the art world, and undoubtedly supported by the luck of having his mother marry into the Carrington family fortune. Walker had been at the formal dinner the night Susan Althorp vanished. According to the reports in the prosecutor’s files, he had left for his apartment in Manhattan when the party ended.

  Greco opened the door to the building, was checked by a security guard, and walked up the single flight of stairs to the gallery. He was immediately clicked inside by a smiling receptionist.

  “Mr. Walker is expecting you,” she said. “It will be just a few minutes since he’s on a conference call at the moment. Why don’t you look at our new exhibit? We’re displaying a wonderful young artist the critics are raving about.”

  If ever I heard a canned speech, I’m listening to one now, Greco thought. Walker is probably doing the crossword puzzle in his office. The gallery, dreary to him with its stark white walls and dark gray carpeting, was devoid of visitors. He walked from painting to painting, pretending to study them, all scenes of urban blight. He was at the next to the last of the twenty or so paintings when a voice at his shoulder asked, “Doesn’t this one particularly remind you of an Edward Hopper?”

 

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