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Authors: Richard North Patterson

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Loss of Innocence

BOOK: Loss of Innocence
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Loss of Innocence

Loss of Innocence

Richard North Patterson

New York • London

© 2013 by Richard North Patterson

First published in the United States by Quercus in 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of the same without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use or anthology should send inquires to Permissions c/o Quercus Publishing Inc., 31 West 57th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10019, or to [email protected].

e-ISBN: 978-1-62365-093-3

Distributed in the United States and Canada by Random House Publisher Services

c/o Random House, 1745 Broadway

New York, NY 10019

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

www.quercus.com

For Vicki Kennedy and Phyllis Segal and in memory of my friends Ted Kennedy and Eli Segal

Prologue

Two Women

Martha’s Vineyard

September, 2011

Carla Pacelli and Whitney Dane had once loved the same man, one in his youth, the other in his final year, and had found their lives transformed. Now, forty-three years after Whitney’s fateful summer, they sat behind the guesthouse of the summer home she had inherited from her parents, gazing out at the Atlantic, Whitney pensive, Carla pregnant with her lover’s child.

Though the two women shared a quiet pleasure in the pristine August morning—a cloudless sky, light fitful breezes stirring the boughs of nearby oak trees, a thin sheen of silver-gray mist dissipating over white-capped aqua waters—Carla thought them an unlikely pair to share this history, or even this hour. A mere two years ago, Carla had been a striking presence on the screen, a lissome Italian American brunette with a carriage that radiated grace and vitality, dark intense eyes that seemed to look through whoever they turned on. Now she had the tempered beauty of a survivor, and the directness of her gaze was leavened by self-knowledge and a trace of sadness. Her parents were working class and, though she had trained her smoky voice to be more polished, it retained trace elements of their Mediterranean intensity. She was not lightly educated—despite her immersion in drama, she had been an exceptional student in
high school and at UCLA had a minor in psychology at which she had excelled. But because of her appearance, the impact of which obscured all else, beauty rather than intellect was what struck others at first glance, whether in person or on the screen.

Carla had been a serious actress, and her skills—which she still felt were underappreciated—had focused her inherent ability to, as one network executive had put it, “pop through the lens into people’s living rooms.” But Carla now judged that woman an empty shell: the pressures of carrying a television series, and making movies during breaks, had led her to reach for the crutches of drugs and alcohol. The rabbit hole through which she had fallen—increasingly erratic behavior culminating in a sojourn at Betty Ford—had dimmed her intensity and poisoned her career. The Carla who emerged from rehab discovered that her manager, a thief himself, had parked her money with another thief, who made it disappear. With little but the determination to summon a stronger and more reflective woman capable of forging a new life, she had sought refuge on Martha’s Vineyard, settling in Whitney’s guesthouse through the good offices of friends.

When Carla arrived, Whitney was concluding a year in Paris, indulging her passion for French history and culture. At sixty-five, she was twice Carla’s age, and while the deep-brown eyes that were her most attractive feature lent her round face an air of perception and good humor, she had never turned heads simply by entering a room. Nor was age and appearance their only difference. Whitney was a WASP, the daughter of privilege, and spoke with the flawless, slightly arid enunciation of the East Coast patrician. An accomplished novelist, she had managed at once to be well respected and widely read, not least for her grasp of the hidden recesses of human nature, which cut so close to the bone that readers might squirm in recognition, yet lacked the cruelty that might drive them away. Though Carla had not yet mentioned this, for fear of fawning, she deeply admired Whitney’s writing. And she could not help but envy the older woman’s air of settledness. Unlike Carla, Whitney had been disinclined to call attention to herself, preferring to let her novels speak for her. When interviewed—which she generally
avoided—Whitney was tart, clear, and concise. But, again unlike Carla, her personal life remained her own.

The two women had never met. This morning, on returning from Paris, Whitney had called on Carla out of courtesy and, Carla assumed, a curiosity that was exceedingly well informed—even in Europe, Carla’s life on Martha’s Vineyard had reached the tabloid media. All this because of Carla’s involvement with a married novelist who was Whitney’s age but twice as famous, whose life had ended in a fall under circumstances so murky that they had raised suspicions of suicide or murder. And so, once again, Carla found herself notorious, a fact that colored this encounter with considerable tension. Whitney Dane would know almost everything save the reasons for her actions, and Carla could only await her judgment and, perhaps, her expulsion from her guesthouse.

At first, the subject did not arise. Instead, the two women drank tea on the deck, the sun warming their faces. Politely enough, Whitney asked about her pregnancy, and how the guesthouse had suited her. Edgy, Carla kept waiting for the questions that never came.

Finally, she said bluntly, “I’m sorry I’ve become an embarrassment to you. And to say that I didn’t mean to sound pathetic.”

Whitney’s smile, though ambiguous, was not unkind. “I understand more than you may think,” she answered. “I knew him, you see.”

The delphic remark puzzled Carla. “Who didn’t?” she responded. “Even if you hadn’t been neighbors.”

Whitney’s smile diminished, and her tone flattened out. “Actually, we rarely spoke. At least not for years.”

Caught up short, Carla wondered what outrage of his had provoked this. That there had been one seemed certain, but given his proclivities she was reluctant to inquire. The keen look in Whitney’s eyes revealed that she saw this. “No,” she added, “he didn’t proposition me at a cocktail party. As one look at you confirms, his esthetic standards became more rarified. The truth is that his wife and I became allergic to each other.” She hesitated, then finished more softly, “A complicated story.”

The change in Whitney’s tone—at once bitter and rueful and valedictory—pricked Carla’s curiosity. There was something this seemingly composed woman wanted to say, however reluctantly, and something else that made Carla—a stranger until now—a potential listener. “No surprise,” Carla ventured. “He was a complex person.”

For a moment, Whitney gazed into the distance, as if at her own past. “So were we all,” she said, then turned to Carla. “Were you in love with him?”

“Yes.” Intending to leave it there, Carla felt the need to explain. “Age softened him, and the cancer—facing death, really—sobered him. He could feel the window closing, that he’d leave nothing good behind him but the books he feared people would forget.” She touched her rounded stomach. “We were his last hope, he told me.”

“Not his wife? What an irony for them both.”

This was said with what Carla took to be an unusual asperity, marbled with some deeper emotion she could not identify. Instinct told her to say nothing. “And how sad,” Whitney added quietly. “The worst thing for him, I came to think, would be to face the void at the center of his all-too-eventful life. Though he concealed that awfully well.”

With a sadness of her own, Carla remembered the man as she first knew him: his frame still robust; a full head of jet-black hair streaked with gray; the aggressive prow of a nose; dark, probing eyes; the sardonic, challenging smile of a movie pirate; a baritone voice; all combined with his brusque and flavorful speech to create a persona which, as he no doubt wanted, could fill a room—perhaps, as Whitney suggested, to camouflage the scars within that Carla had slowly discerned. Reading her face, Whitney shook her head in self-rebuke. “You’re the party in interest here, not me. But his death seems to have shaken me more than it should. The other day, I found myself rereading my own ancient diary, written by a young woman who seems a stranger to me now. Page upon page was filled with him.”

“I understand,” Carla answered, unsure of what she was understanding save that it was important to Whitney. “I’ve come to know
Adam, you see. We talked about his father quite a lot. Including the damage he caused within his own family.”

Whitney’s eyebrows raised. “Then Adam doesn’t despise you? Despite his apparent loathing for Dad.”

“No. Adam doesn’t despise me.”

“Nor you him, it seems.”

At this, Carla looked directly into Whitney’s face. “Far from it.”

Whitney tilted her head, as though considering Carla anew. “So where is Adam roaming now?”

“Afghanistan. Working in agricultural assistance, he says. Not that I really believe that—there’s this sense of alertness about him, like in a given circumstance he could be quite dangerous . . .”

“How like his father.”

“I know. But with Adam, I think it’s because he has to be, for reasons he can’t reveal. Not because he wants to be.”

Whitney regarded her with deep seriousness before a smile played across her lips. “I haven’t seen Adam for a decade. In his twenties he seemed so like his father, ready to match himself against the world. But without the fatal product defects. Adam’s the one who might be safe to care about.”

Carla studied the deck. Softly, she answered, “I don’t know that yet.”

“But you want the chance. Even though you’re carrying his brother.”

The bald statement caused Carla to flinch with embarrassment. “Even so.” Hoping to move past this answer, she ventured, “You said that you and Adam’s father rarely spoke. But it seems you once knew him very well.”

Whitney’s eyes narrowed in reflection, and then she brushed away a tendril of steel gray hair. “Knew him?” she repeated. “Looking back, I barely knew myself. But there came a time when I learned a great deal about us both.”

Carla watched her face. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear about it. He changed my life, after all. But there are still so many holes and unanswered questions.”

Whitney gave her a probing look. After a time, she said, “Yes, I suppose I do need to talk about him. And wouldn’t he be pleased at that.” She paused, adding dryly, “Under your current circumstances, I don’t suppose you keep any wine around the place.”

Carla smiled faintly. “No. Not a good idea for me.”

Whitney sat back in her deck chair, as though trying to relax herself. “Then I suppose I can try without that.”

Carla waited. Haltingly at first, then with the skill for narrative that underpinned her craft, Whitney Dane described the summer of her twenty-first year.

BOOK: Loss of Innocence
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