Read Luanne Rice Online

Authors: Summer's Child

Luanne Rice

 

Summer’s
Child

LuAnne Rice

 

To Amelia Onorato

 

Acknowledgments

 

Thank you
to Irwyn Applebaum, Nita Taublib, Tracy Devine, Betsy Hulsebosch, Cynthia
Lasky, Barb Burg, Susan Corcoran, Carolyn Schwartz, Jim Plumeri, Kerri Buckley,
and everyone at Bantam Dell for celebrating summer with me; Mia and the BDG;
Sarah Walker; Paula Breger; Kim Dorfman and Mika and Alek Glogowski; everyone
from the SoundHound sessions: Jeff Berman, Tom Spackman, Frank Cabanach, James
von Buelow, Melissa Lord, Teresa Wakabayashi, Lori McCarthy, Melissa Rivera,
Michelle Lewy; and the friends I saw in Phoenix: Jocelyn Schmidt, Mary McGrath,
George Fisher, Lane Rider, Phil Canterbury, Greg Bresson, and Steve Maddock.

Prologue

 

A
t the time, it was the biggest story in the
state. Every newspaper covered it on the front page. Her face was as well-known
as the governor’s—and much more beloved. The excitement in her blue eyes, the
enormous smile,
the
shimmer—yes, that’s what it
was—the way she positively shimmered with life, radiated goodness. She looked like
everyone’s favorite sister, best friend, and girl next door, all rolled into
one.

The fact
that she was pregnant when she disappeared gave the story an extra, terrible
jolt. When you looked at her photo, now you saw her joy—as if you were right
there with her. You imagined how thrilled she was to be having a baby, and you
knew that she would be a wonderful mother. Some people hide their
feelings,
keep them inside for no one to see—not Mara. She’d
never hidden anything. You just looked at her picture and knew—that smile and
the brightness in her eyes left no doubt at all.

She was
right there, smiling into the camera with the same degree of love and presence
that she brought to everything in her life.
I
love you—you know that, don’t you? Take the picture so we can save it forever,
put it into the baby book and prove how excited we were to know our child was
on the way
… .
Did Mara actually say those words,
or were they just a trick of memory?

Being so open requires a sort of innocence.
A hope—no,
more than
a hope … a conviction that the world was safe, that
people were
good. That life was a gift, and nothing moved except as a
positive power. Bad things happened—attacks, violence, crimes—yes,
unfortunately they did. But they could always be explained and therefore,
eventually, understood—so they wouldn’t have to happen again. So the people who
did them could be helped, and could change.

Those were
Mara’s beliefs. Or they had been, back in the days just before her picture
appeared on the front page of every paper in Connecticut. She had been an only
child; her parents were dead. Perhaps that was why the whole country adopted
her, searched for her, and grieved for her as they would have their own
daughter, sister, or friend.

The
anniversary of her disappearance always brought a new flurry of stories. TV
stations ran recaps of old video shots, endless loops of her smiling, waving,
holding the yellow watering can and wearing a pair of matching buttercup-yellow
rubber rain boots in the garden. Newspapers reran the story every June 21, the
anniversary of her disappearance and the longest day of the year, to remind
readers of what had captivated the country so many years ago now
… .

On the
first night of summer, adorable five-foot-nothing, pregnant-as-could-be Mara
Jameson went out to water the garden. Whether she hitched a ride and changed
her identity, walked into the hands of a brutal stranger, or was already dead
at the hands of her husband has never been known. Her body was never recovered;
she was never seen again. No baby was ever born—or at least not with a mother
named Mara Jameson listed on the birth certificate. The only clues were the
yellow rain boots, left neatly standing next to the trickling hose.

The
articles were grave, somber, but oddly wistful. They added up to a life never
lived—a mystery never solved. What could have happened that would make her stop
watering the garden and walk away? Who could ever forget that smile?

That smile
that would never be smiled again
… .

Chapter 1

 

B
eing retired had its pluses. For one thing, it
was good to be ruled by the tide tables instead of department shifts and
schedules. Patrick Murphy kept the small
Hartford
Courant
tide card tacked up by the chart table, but he barely needed it
anymore. He swore his body was in sync with the ebb and flow of Silver Bay—he’d
be pulled out of bed at the craziest hours, in the middle of the night, at
slack tides, prime times to fish the reefs and shoals around the Stone Mill
power plant.

Stripers up
and down the Connecticut shoreline didn’t stand a chance. They hadn’t for the
two years, seven months, three weeks, and fourteen days since Patrick had
retired at the age of forty-three. This was the life. This was
really
the life, he told himself. He had
lost the house, but he had the boat, the truck. This was what people worked
their whole lives for: to retire to the beach and fish the days away.

He thought
of Sandra, what she was missing. They had had a list of dreams they would share
after he left the Connecticut State Police: walk the beaches, try every new
restaurant in the area, go to the movies, hit the casinos,
take
the boat out to Block Island and Martha’s
Vineyard. They were still
young—they could have a blast.

A blast, he
thought. Now—instead of the fun he had thought they would have together—“blast”
made him think of the divorce, with its many shocks and devastations, the
terrible ways both lawyers had found to make a shambles of the couple they had
once been.

Fishing
helped. So did the Yankees—they had snapped their losing streak and just kept
on winning. Many the night Patrick combined the two—casting and drifting,
listening to John Sterling and Charlie Steiner call the game, cheering for the
Yanks to win another as he trolled for stripers, as his boat slipped east on
the current.

Other
things pulled him out of his bunk too.
Dreams with dark
tentacles; bad men still on the run after Patrick’s best waking efforts to
catch them; a lost girl; shocks and attacks and bone-rattling fears that gave
new meaning to Things That Go Bump in the Night.
Patrick would wake up
with a pounding heart, thinking of how terrified she must have been.

Whether she
was murdered, dead and buried all these
years,
or
whether something had happened to drive her from her house, her grandmother’s
rose garden, to someplace so far away she had never been seen again, her fear
must have been terrible.

That’s the
thing he could never get out of his mind.

What fears
had Mara Jameson felt? Even now, his imagination grabbed hold of that question
and went wild. The case was nine years old, right at the top of his unsolved
pile. The paperwork had been his albatross, his constant companion. The case
was the rock to Patrick’s Sisyphus, and he had never—not even after it promised
to ruin his marriage, not even after it made good on that promise, not even
now, after retirement—never stopped pushing it up the hill.

Mara’s picture.
It sat on his desk. He used to keep it right
beside his bed—to remind him of what he had to do when he got up. Look for the
sweet girl with the heartbreak smile and the laughing eyes. Now he didn’t
really need the picture. Her face was ingrained into his soul. He knew her
expressions by heart, the way other men knew their wives, girlfriends, lovers
… .

She’d be
with him forever, he thought, climbing out of bed at five-thirty A.M. He had
only the vaguest idea of what his dream had been—something about blood spatter
on the kitchen floor, the spidery neon-blue patterns revealed by the
blood-detecting luminol, trickles and drops … spelling, in Patrick’s dream, the
killer’s name. But it was in Latin, and Patrick couldn’t understand; besides,
who could prove she’d been killed when her body had never been found?

He rubbed
his eyes, started the coffee,
then
pulled on shorts
and sweatshirt. The morning air felt chilly; a front had passed through last
night, violent thunderstorms shaking the rafters, making Flora hide under the
bed. The black Lab rubbed up against him now, friendly bright eyes flashing,
knowing a boat ride was in their future.

Heading up
on deck, he breathed in the salt air. The morning star blazed in the eastern
sky, where the just-about-rising sun painted the dark horizon with an orange
glow. His thirty-two-foot fishing boat, the
Probable
Cause
, rocked in the current. After the divorce, he’d moved on board.
Sandra had kept the house on Mill Lane. It had all worked out fine, except now
the boatyard was going to be turned into condos. Pretty soon all of New England
would be one big townhouse village, complete with dockominiums … and Patrick
would have to shove off and find a new port.

Hearing
footsteps on the gravel, he peered into the boatyard. A shadow was coming
across the sandy parking lot; Flora growled. Patrick patted her head,
then
went down below to get two mugs of coffee. By the time
he was back on deck, he saw Flora wagging her tail, eyes on the man standing on
the dock. Angelo Nazarena.

“Don’t tell
me,” Patrick said. “You smelled the coffee.”

“Nah,”
Angelo said. “I got up early and saw the paper; I figured you needed company so
you wouldn’t get drunk or do something really stupid. Longest day of the year’s
tomorrow, and the articles are starting already
… .”
He
held the
Hartford Courant
in one
hand, but accepted the heavy blue mug in the other as he stepped aboard.

“I don’t
drink anymore,” Patrick said. He wanted to read the story but didn’t—at the
same time.
“As you well know.
Besides, I’m not
speaking to you. You’re selling my dock.”

“Making
millions in the bargain,” Angelo chuckled. “When my grandfather bought this land,
it was considered crap. The wrong side of the railroad bridge, next to a swamp,
stinking like clam flats. But he was smart enough to know waterfront is solid
gold, and I’m cashing in. Good coffee.”

Patrick
didn’t reply. He was staring at Mara’s picture on the front page. It had been
taken in her grandmother’s rose garden—ten miles from here, at her pretty
silver-shingled cottage at Hubbard’s Point. The camera had caught the light in
her eyes—the thrill, the joy, that secret she always seemed to be holding back.
Patrick had the feeling he so often had—that if he leaned close enough, she’d
whisper to him, tell him what he so desperately wanted to know
… .

“These
papers really get a lot of mileage out of nothing,” Angelo said, shaking his
head. “The poor girl’s been gone nine years now. She’s fish food, we all know
that.”

“Your
Sicilian lineage is showing.”

“She’s
gone, Patrick. She’s dead,” Angelo said, sharply now. He and Patrick had gone
to school together, been altar boys at St. Agnes’s together, been best man at
each other’s wedding. He and Patsy had introduced him to Sandra.

“The
husband did it, right?”

“I thought
so, for a long time,” Patrick said.

“What was
his name, though … he had a different last name from Mara
… .”

“His name
is Edward Hunter. Mara had her own career. She kept her own name when she
married him.”

And now
Patrick saw Edward Hunter’s handsome charm-boy face, his stockbroker’s quick,
sharp smile—as wide and bright as Mara’s, but without one ounce of her heart,
soul, depth, integrity, authenticity, spark… . As a state cop, Patrick had
encountered smiles like Edward Hunter’s thousands of times. The smiles of men
pulled over for speeding on their way home from places they shouldn’t have
been, the smiles of men at the other end of a domestic violence call—smiling
men trying to convince the world they were better than the circumstances made
them seem and reminding Patrick that “smile” was really just “slime” spelled
sideways.

“Everyone
thought so—not just you. But the bastard didn’t leave a body behind. So you
can’t try him, and it’s time for you—”

“We could
have tried to pull a Richard Crafts,” Patrick said, naming Connecticut’s
infamous killer convicted of murdering his wife, whose body was never found, on
the basis of a few fragments of hair and bone discovered in a rented wood
chipper. “But we didn’t even have enough for that. I couldn’t even find enough
evidence for that.”

“Like I was
saying, it’s time you moved on.”

“Okay,
thanks,” Patrick said, his expression saying
why didn’t I think of that?
, his Irish rising as he faced his
friend Angelo—who had brought over the morning paper with Mara’s face on the
front page, who was about to sell his boat slip right out from under him. Flora
had gone for a run around the still-deserted parking lot, and now she leapt
back aboard the boat.

“What I
mean is …” Angelo said, trying to find the words to fill the hole he’d opened
up.

“What you
mean is, it’s time I got a life, I know,” Patrick said, giving his old friend
an old-friends glance—the kind of look that tells them they know you better
than anyone, that you take their point, that they were right all along, when
what you really want is to just shut them up and get them off your case.

“Yeah.
To be honest, that’s what I mean,” Angelo said,
chuckling with relief even as Patrick was folding up the newspaper and tossing
it through the hatch—purportedly for disposal but actually to save forever.

As he saved all of Mara’s pictures.

Because, he
thought as he started up the engine and Angelo cast off the lines, as they
headed out to the fishing grounds, it was one of the ways he had found to keep
her alive. That, and one other way …

The whole
world assumed that Mara Jameson and her unborn baby had died all those nine
years ago, and they still did. Patrick thought back to his Catholic
childhood, that
phrase in the Creed:
We believe … in all that is seen and unseen.
It was pretty much
impossible to have faith in what you couldn’t see. And the world hadn’t seen
Mara in over nine years.

Backing out
of the slip, hitting the bow thrusters, he eased into the channel. The boat
chuffed through the deepening water as gray herons watched silently from
shadows along the green marshy shore. The rising sun shone through scrub oaks
and white pines. Bursts of gold glittered on the water ahead.

The dead
never stayed hidden. The earth gave them up, one way or another. Patrick knew
they were relentless in their need to be found. The Tibetan Book of the Dead
described the hungry ghosts, tormented by unbearable heat, thirst, hunger,
weariness, and fear. Their realm seemed familiar to Patrick; having spent his
career investigating homicides, he believed that the dead had their own
emotions, that they haunted the living until they were found.

And Mara
had never been found.

After all
the work he’d done on her case, Patrick believed he would know—deep inside his
own body—if she were dead. He felt Mara Jameson in his mind, his skin, his
heart. He carried her with him every day, and he knew he’d never be able to put
her down until he knew for sure what had happened to her. Where she was …

The birds
were working up ahead, marking a school of blues just before the red nun buoy.
Angelo got the rods ready. Flora stood at Patrick’s side, her body pressed
against his leg as he hit the throttle and sped toward the fish and tried in
vain to escape the thoughts that haunted him wherever he went.

And he knew
that when he got back, he’d be ready to write her this year’s letter.

 

Ah, it was
about to start again.
As it did every year at this time.
Just as the last traces of New England’s long chill were gone from the air,
just as the birds had returned north from their winter’s journeys, just as the
roses were coming into bloom and the gardens were awash with color, just as
summer solstice was upon them, with its gift of the longest day … the time had
come around again.

Maeve
Jameson stood in her garden, pruning. She wore a wide straw hat, white linen
shirt, and hot-pink garden gloves. In spite of all the cover-ups, she also wore
sunscreen. They hadn’t known about sun damage when she was a girl—they had all
thought the sun was the great healing force—the more of it the better.

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