Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

Tags: #Women editors, #Islands, #revenge, #Fiction, #Romantic suspense novels, #Editors, #Psychological, #Georgia, #Authors and Publishers, #Suspense, #Novelists

Envy (3 page)

BOOK: Envy
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

While waiting for the requested call to be placed, she gazed out her office windows.

Extending nearly from floor to ceiling, they formed a corner of the room, providing her a southeastern exposure. Midtown Manhattan was

experiencing a mild summer evening. The sun had slipped behind the skyscrapers, casting a premature twilight on the streets below. Already lights were coming on inside buildings, making the brick and granite structures appear

to twinkle. Through the windows of neighboring buildings, Maris could see other professionals wrapping up for the day.

The avenues were jammed with competing after-work and pretheater traffic. Taxies vied for inches of space, nosing themselves into impossibly small channels between buses and delivery trucks.

Couriers on bicycles, seemingly with death wishes, perilously played chicken with motor traffic. Revolving doors disgorged

pedestrians onto the crowded sidewalks, where they jostled for space and wielded briefcases and shopping bags like weapons.

Across Avenue of the Americas, a queue was forming outside Radio City Music Hall, where Tony Bennett was performing this evening. She, Noah, and her father had been offered complimentary VIP tickets, but they'd had to decline them because of the literary award banquet.

Which she should be dressing for, she reminded herself, just as her telephone beeped. "He's on line one," her assistant informed her.

"Thanks. You don't need to wait. See you tomorrow." Maris depressed the blinking button.

"Hello?"

###"Yeah. Deputy Dwight Harris ####37

here."

"Hello, Deputy Harris. Thank you for taking my call. My name is Maris

Matherly-Reed."

"Say again?"

She did.

"Uh-huh."

Maris paused, giving him time to comment or ask a question, but he didn't, so she went straight to the reason for the call. "I'm trying to reach someone, an individual who I believe lives on St.

Anne Island."

"That's in our county."

"Georgia, correct?"

"Yes, ma'am," he proudly replied.

"Is St. Anne actually an island?"

"Not much o' one. What I mean is, it's small. But it's an island, awright. Little less than two miles out from the mainland. Who're you looking for?"

"Someone with the initials P.M.E."

"Did you say P.M.E.?"

"Have you ever heard of anyone who goes by those initials?"

"Can't say that I have, ma'am. We talking about a man or woman?"

"Unfortunately, I don't know."

"You don't know. Huh." After a beat or two, the deputy asked, "If you don't even know if it's a man or woman, what do you want with 'em?"

"It's business."

"Business."

"That's right."

"Huh."

Dead end. Maris tried again. "I thought you might know, or might have heard of someone who--was

"Nope."

This was going nowhere and her allotted time was running out. "Well, thank you for your time, Deputy Harris. I'm sorry to have bothered you."

"No bother."

"Would you mind taking down my name and numbers?

Then if you think of something or hear of someone with these initials, I would appreciate being notified."

After she gave him her telephone numbers, he said, "Say, ma'am? If it's back child support or an outstanding arrest warrant or

#something like 'at, I'd be happy to see #####39

if--was

"No, no. It's not a legal matter in any sense."

"Business."

"That's right."

"Well, okay, then," he said with noticeable disappointment. "Sorry I couldn't he'p you."

She thanked him again, then closed her office and hurried down the hallway to the ladies' room, where her cocktail dress had been hanging since she'd arrived for work early that morning. Because she frequently changed from business to evening attire before leaving the building, she kept a full complement of toiletries and cosmetics in a locker. She put them to use now.

When she joined Noah at the elevator

fifteen minutes later, he gave a long wolf whistle, then kissed her cheek. "Nice turn-around. A miracle, actually. You look fantastic."

As they descended to street level, she assessed her reflection in the metal elevator door and realized that her efforts hadn't been in vain. "Fantastic," was a slight exaggeration, but considering the dishevelment she'd started with, she looked better than she had any right to expect.

She'd chosen to wear a cranberry-colored silk sheath with narrow straps and a scooped neckline. Her nod toward evening glitter came in the form of diamond studs in her ears and a crystal-encrusted Judith Leiber handbag in the shape of a butterfly, a Christmas gift from her father. She was carrying a pashmina shawl purchased in Paris during a side trip there following the international book fair in Frankfurt.

She had gathered her shoulder-length hair into a sleek, low ponytail. The hairdo looked chic and sophisticated rather than desperate, which had been the case. She had retouched her eye makeup, outlined her lips with a pencil, and filled them in with gloss. To give color to her fluorescent-light pallor, she had applied powdered bronzer to her cheeks, chin, forehead, and décolletage. Her push-up bra, an

engineering marvel, had created a flattering cleavage that filled up the neckline of her dress.

"`Her tan and tits were store-bought.`"

The elevator doors opened onto the ground

#floor. Noah looked at her ##########41

curiously as he stepped aside to let her exit ahead of him. "I beg your pardon?"

She laughed softly. "Nothing. Just quoting something I read today."

CHAPTER 2

Although it had stopped raining a half hour earlier, the air was already so moisture-laden the rainwater couldn't evaporate. It collected in puddles. It beaded on flowers' petals and the fuzz of ripe peaches ready to be picked. The limbs of evergreens were bowed under the additional weight. Fat drops rolled off hardwood leaves recently washed clean and splashed onto the spongy, saturated ground.

The slightest breeze would have shaken water from the trees, creating miniature rain showers, but there was scarcely any movement of air. The atmosphere was inert and had a texture almost as compacted as the silence.

Deputy Dwight Harris alighted from the golf cart he had borrowed at the St. Anne landing. Before starting up the pathway to the house, he removed his hat and paused, telling himself that he needed a moment to get his bearings, when what he was actually doing was second-guessing his decision to come here alone after sundown. He didn't quite know what to expect.

He'd never been here before, although he knew about this house, awright. Anybody who was ever on St.

Anne Island had heard stories about the plantation house at the easternmost tip of the island, situated on a little finger of land that pointed out toward Africa. Some of the tales he'd heard about the place stretched credibility. But the descriptions of the house were, by God, damn near accurate.

Typical of colonial Low Country

architecture, the two-story white frame house was sitting on top of an aged brick basement.

Six broad steps led up to the deep veranda that extended all the way across the front of the house and wrapped around both sides. The front door had been painted a glossy black, as had all the hurricane shutters that flanked the windows on both stories. Six smooth columns

supported the second-floor balcony. Twin chimneys acted like bookends against the steeply

#pitched roof. It looked pretty much like ###43

Deputy Harris had imagined it would.

He hadn't counted on it looking so spooky, is all.

He jumped and uttered a soft exclamation of fright when a raindrop landed on the back of his neck with a hard splat. It had dripped from a low-hanging branch of the tree under which he was standing.

Wiping the wetness away, he replaced his hat and glanced around to make sure no one had seen his nervous reaction. It was the gathering dusk and the inclement weather that was giving the place an eerie feel. Cursing himself for behaving like a coward, he forced his feet into motion.

Dodging puddles, he made his way up the crushed-shell path, which was lined by twin rows of live oaks, four to a side. Spanish moss hung from the branches in trailing bunches. The roots of the ancient trees snaked along the ground, some of them as thick as a fat man's thigh.

Altogether, it was an impressive front entry.

Majestic, you might say. The back of the house, Harris knew, overlooked the Atlantic.

The house hadn't started out this grand. The four original rooms had been built more than two centuries ago by the planter who'd bought the island from a colonist who decided he preferred dying of old age in England to succumbing to yellow fever in the newly founded American nation. The house had expanded with the plantation's success, first with indigo and sugar cane, then with cotton.

Several generations into the dynasty, those first four rooms were converted into slave quarters, and construction of the big house was begun. In its day, it was a marvel, at least for St. Anne Island.

Building materials and all the furnishings had been shipped in, then dragged on sleds pulled by mules through dense forests and fertile fields to the home site. It had taken years to complete, but it had been sturdily constructed, withstanding Union army occupation and the lashings of a couple dozen hurricanes.

Then it succumbed to a bug.

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the boll weevil ruined more than the cotton crop.

More damaging than weather and war, the boll weevil crushed the local economy and destroyed life as it had been lived on St. Anne.

A descendant of the plantation's original

#owner had correctly forecast his imminent ###45

doom and hanged himself on the dining room chandelier.

The rest of the family stole off the island in the middle of the night, never to be heard of again, leaving debts and unpaid taxes.

Decades passed. The forest eventually reclaimed the property surrounding the house, just as it did the fields once white with cotton.

Varmints occupied rooms once inhabited by aristocracy and visited by one United States president. The only people to ever venture inside the dilapidated mansion were crazy kids accepting a dare or an occasional drunk looking for a place to sleep it off.

It remained in ruin until a little over a year ago when an outsider, not an islander, bought it and commenced a massive renovation. Harris figured he was probably a northerner who'd seen __Gone With the _Wind several times and wanted himself an antebellum mansion on southern soil, a Yankee with more money than good sense.

Word around the island, though, was positive about the new owner. He'd made noticeable

improvements on the place, folks said. But in Harris's opinion there was still a lot to be done if it was going to shine as it had in its heyday. The deputy didn't envy the new owner the monumental task or the expense involved in such an undertaking. Nor was he envious of the bad luck that seemed to go hand in glove with this place.

Legend had it that the hanged man's ghost still resided in the old house and that the dining room chandelier swung from the ceiling for no reason that anybody could detect.

Harris didn't put much stock in ghost stories. He'd seen flesh-and-blood people do much scarier stuff than any mischief a ghost could drum up. Even so, he would have welcomed a little more illumination as he mounted the steps, crossed the veranda, and approached the front door.

He tapped the brass knocker tentatively, then harder. Seconds ticked by as ponderously as rain dripped from the eaves. It wasn't that late, but maybe the resident was already in bed.

Country folk tended to turn in earlier than city dwellers, didn't they?

Harris considered leaving and coming back some other time--preferably before the sun went down. But then he heard approaching footsteps. Seconds later the front door was pulled open from the

#inside--but not by much. ###################47

"Yes?"

Harris peered into the crack formed by the open door. He had psyched himself up to expect anything from the hanging ghost to the twin barrels of a sawed-off shotgun aimed at his belly by a disgruntled homeowner that he'd unnecessarily dragged out of bed.

Thankfully he was greeted by neither, and the man seemed reasonably friendly. Harris couldn't see him well and the features of his face blended into the shadows behind him, but his voice sounded pleasant enough. At least he hadn't cussed him. Yet.

"Evenin', sir. I'm Deputy Dwight Harris. From the sheriff's office over in Savannah."

The man leaned forward slightly and glanced past him toward the golf cart parked at the end of the path. To discourage tourism and unwelcome visitors to the island, there wasn't a ferry to St. Anne from the mainland. Anyone coming here came by a boat they either owned or chartered. When they arrived, they either walked or rented a golf cart to get around the island's nine thousand acres, give or take a few hundred. Only

permanent residents drove cars on the narrow roads, many of which had been left unpaved on purpose.

The golf cart wasn't as official-looking as a squad car, and Harris figured it diminished his authority a bit. To stoke his self-confidence, he hiked up his slipping gun belt.

The man behind the door asked, "How can I help you, Deputy Harris?"

"First off, I apologize for disturbing you. But I got a call earlier this evening. From a gal up in New York." The man waited him out, saying nothing. "Said she was trying to track down somebody who goes by the initials P.M.E."

"Really?"

"That's what she said. I didn't let on like the name registered with me."

"Did it?"

"Register, you mean? No, sir. Can't rightly say it did."

"Nevertheless, you're here."

"I'll admit she got my curiosity up.

Never knew anybody to go only by his

initials, you see. Don't worry though.

'Round here, we respect a person's

#privacy." #########################49

"An admirable practice."

"St. Anne has a history of folks hiding out on her for one reason or another."

The moment it was out, Harris wished he hadn't said it. It smacked of an accusation of some sort.

A long silence ensued. He cleared his throat nervously before continuing. "So anyhow, I thought I should oblige this lady. Came over in the department's motor launch. Asked around at the landing and was directed here."

"What did this lady from New York want?"

"Well, sir, I don't rightly know. She said it wasn't a legal matter or nothing like

'at. Just that she had business with P.M.E. I thought you might be a big winner in one of those sweepstakes, thought Ed McMahon and Dick Clark might be looking for you."

"I've never entered a sweepstakes."

"Right, right. Well, then ..."

Harris tipped his hat forward so he could scratch the back of his head. He wondered why in hell the man hadn't invited him in or, short of that, why he hadn't turned on any lights.

Pussy-footing hadn't gotten him anywhere, by God, so he bluntly asked, "You P.M.E. or what?"

"Did she leave her name?"

"Huh? Oh, the lady? Yeah." Harris fished a piece of notepaper from the breast pocket of his uniform shirt, which he was embarrassed to discover was damp with sweat. However, the man seemed not to notice or care about the dampness as he took the sheet and read what Harris had written down.

"Those're her phone numbers," Harris explained. "All of 'em. So I figured this business of hers must be pretty important.

That's why I came on out tonight."

"Thank you very much for your trouble, Sheriff Harris."

"Deputy."

"Deputy Harris."

Then, before Harris could blink, the man closed the door in his face. "Good evenin' to you, too,"

he mouthed as he turned away.

His boots crunched the shells of the path. The evening had deepened into full-blown darkness, and it was even darker beneath the canopy of live oak branches. He wasn't afraid, exactly.

#The man behind the door had been civil #####51

enough. He hadn't been what you'd call hostile. Inhospitable, maybe, but not hostile.

All the same, Harris was glad to have this errand over and done with. If he had it to do over again, he might not assign himself this duty. What was it to him if some lady from up north was successful or not with her unspecified business?

When he sat down on the seat of the golf cart, he discovered it had been dripped on from the tree overhead. His britches were soaked through by the time he reached the landing where he'd tied up the boat.

The man from whom he had borrowed the golf cart

--no charge for lawmen--eyed him distrustfully as Harris returned the key. "Find him?"

"Yeah, thanks for the directions," Harris replied. "You ever see this guy?"

"Now and again," the man drawled.

"Is he a weird sort?"

"Not so's you'd notice."

"He ever make any trouble around here?"

"Naw, he stays pretty much to hisself."

"Island folks like him okay?"

"You need any gas before headin' back?"

Which was as good as an invitation to leave and take his nosy questions with him. Harris had hoped to get a clearer picture of the man who occupied the haunted mansion and hid behind doors when folks came calling, but apparently he wasn't going to get one. He had no cause to investigate further--beyond his natural curiosity as to why a man went only by his initials and what a woman in New York City was wanting with him.

He thanked the islander for the use of the golf cart.

The man spat tobacco juice into the mud.

"No problem."

BOOK: Envy
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Blue Bistro by Hilderbrand, Elin
The Solomon Sisters Wise Up by Melissa Senate
Stray Hearts by Jane Graves
Kanada by Eva Wiseman
Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney
Bad Business by Robert B. Parker
Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Burnt by Natasha Thomas
The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence