Authors: Sarah Graves
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
“I’m Charmian Cartwright,” she said, holding out her hand.
I took it; it was cool and trembling perceptibly, her voice shaky with the effort it was costing her to keep it controlled.
“The lady I mentioned to you,” Bob Arnold said, getting up.
was right; it wasn’t so much her costume— beige silk slacks, a tunic top in yellow with silk frog closures, sandals that looked like—and probably had cost—a million bucks.
It was the way she wore them: perfectly. Carelessly, and yet with a great deal of quiet care. Nary a chip in her pink-beige nail polish, and if that black hair didn’t get a hundred strokes every night, I was willing to eat my hat.
“You’re Jonathan's …” I paused, looking for the right word.
“That's right,” she agreed, not supplying it. “I flew up as soon as I heard.” Her eyes, the same dark purple-blue as the tiny flower their color was named for, glistened with emotion.
“Miss Cartwright, I wonder if I could have a few words with you later,” Bob Arnold said.
She glanced sharply at him. “I’d like a few words with you, too,” she retorted, at which point any thoughts I might have been having about purely decorative value went out the window. Getting a charter to Eastport on sudden notice was no mean feat, either.
“Please sit down,” I offered a little tardily, as Bob went out, no doubt to recover from the effects of having just met this elegant young creature.
She did so, accepting a cup of coffee and, after a moment of hesitation, a piece of toast. “Thank you,” she murmured as I set it in front of her.
I liked the way she ate: manners aplenty but businesslike, putting fuel in the machine. On her left ring finger she wore a gold ring with an opal in it, the stone glowing with blue fire; it was her only jewelery.
Just then Sam came in with a clunk and clatter of dive gear, talking animatedly; I expected to see Maggie behind him, but it was Jill Frey. I hadn’t heard her car pull up, but it must have; oh, this was just terrific.
“Anyone here?” Sam began, then saw Charmian and dropped a diving weight onto his foot. “Ow.”
Behind him, Jill's ice-blue eyes narrowed for a competitive instant.
“Where's Maggie?” I asked, feeling mean and not bothering to squelch the emotion, especially since Sam had apparently stiffed Maggie on the plans he’d made with her for this morning.
“I don’t know where she is,” Jill said carelessly, flipping back a wisp of white-blond hair while still eyeing the stranger. “Off lifting barbells or something. God forbid she shouldn’t be able to keep up with the men, since she obviously can’t compete with the girls.” Her laugh was a brittle, dismissive sound.
Sam had already raced upstairs; Jill wouldn’t have said that about Maggie if he’d been listening, I thought.
Hoped. “Hurry up, Sam,” she added with irritation.
“Coming,” he called, and when he came down his hair had been slicked back and his T-shirt exchanged for a clean polo shirt.
“See you later, Mom,” he said, peering curiously at the woman at the table as Jill put her hand possessively on his arm.
I could tell he was torn between wanting to know who the visitor was and anxiety to get Jill Frey out of here; he was well aware of my opinion of her.
“Got to stop at Dad's, he owes me ten bucks,” Sam said. Then: “Jill's joined the dive class,” he added, wanting to push something positive about her. “Isn’t that great? We’re going out on Dad's boat with him to practice with the gear.”
He smiled at Jill, who simpered at him in return, and of course I did not poke my finger down my throat right there at the kitchen table.
“Great,” I said flatly. “Don’t let her stay underwater too long.”
Sam ignored the clear meaning in my remark, but he heard it, and so did Jill, whose icy eyes flashed at me in sweet triumph as she tugged my son's arm. “Come
Then they were gone, and I was left with a collapsed wall, a dead houseguest, and a grief-stricken fair maiden.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said.
I was, too; that cool-as-a-cucumber stuff Bob Arnold had mentioned was really just well-bred manners. Maybe the girl was as steel-spined and capable as her actions seemed to indicate; getting from Boston to Eastport as she had, for instance, showed some fairly machinelike efficiency.
But she was obviously heartbroken. Despite her high color and good grooming, her violet eyes were tragic and her squared shoulders suggested a soldier marching to doom; if she let her guard down even the slightest bit, I sensed, she might lose all her desperate control.
She bit her lip hard. “I’m sorry,” she began, but couldn’t go on; a sob escaped her. Producing a handkerchief, she dabbed her eyes with it, then gathered an inner strength I’d already begun suspecting might be considerable and straightened bravely.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” she began again, her voice shaking faintly. “But he hasn’t any family to make arrangements, you see. So I came as soon … as soon as …”
“Oh, you poor thing,” Ellie said, coming in and assessing the situation immediately. “George went down,” she went on to me, “last night when the call came. I didn’t know then who it was, or I’d have called you. They’re out again now, looking.”
Charmian gazed brokenly at us. “You mean he hasn’t… Jon's body hasn’t been …”
“No. The tides are strong, and there's a current around that pier. And it seems he was wearing a pair of boots?”
Ellie looked questioningly at me. She had on her spare eyeglasses, the ones with the pink frames that made her look like an absent-minded librarian, especially with her red hair twisted into a French knot from which a few curly strands escaped.
“Those Wellingtons,” I agreed sadly, understanding what she meant. They’d have filled with water and carried him down where the currents ran like cold submarine rivers, to sweep him away.
“So I can’t take him—” Charmian's voice broke on the word
“No. I’m so sorry to have to tell you,” Ellie pronounced kindly, but firmly, too. I remembered suddenly that as George's wife—the wife of Eastport's fire chief, that is—Ellie spoke to many people who had suffered misfortunes.
And it would be no kindness to raise false hopes. “They may find him, and certainly they’re going to make every effort to do so. But you need to prepare yourself for the possibility that you may never be able to take his body home.”
At this, I fully expected a sudden torrent of tears. But Charmian Cartwright received the bad news with grave dignity. Only a tiny stiffening of her shoulders betrayed how hard it hit her.
“I see. Thank you for telling me. Would it be too much trouble to … that is, exactly what's supposed to have happened to him? Was he doing something foolish and dangerous, as usual?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that.” I decided not to mention the violin we believed he’d been looking for; it wasn’t pertinent anymore, I thought.
“He didn’t seem careless to us,” I went on. “He was just a very nice, mild fellow, said he was researching his Ph.D. A bit absentminded-professorish, maybe,” I added as another pang of affectionate regret struck me.
“Drat,” Ellie said. “Can you believe it?” She frowned down at the stem of her glasses in one hand, a tiny screw in the other. “Twice in two days.”
“Give them to me, please,” Charmian said softly but in tones of command, like a schoolteacher so accustomed to obedience that it is given unquestioningly.
Ellie looked surprised but handed them over.
“And of course you know he was a little … well. Clumsy,” I went on. But even as I said this, I felt my memories of Raines clashing confusedly:
Muscles, a lithe appearance, but those thick glasses, and he’d dropped that cut-glass ceiling fixture as if his fingers had been buttered. Short of money, too, yet dressed by a London shirtmaker and out of the Orvis catalog.
“He said himself,” I went on puzzledly, “that he wasn’t the deftest person in the world. …”
But Charmian apparently was. From a soft leather bag that looked too tiny to hold much more than a lipstick, she produced a small ornate penknife. Opened, the implement revealed a multitude of attachments, including a miniature screwdriver.
With it, she reattached the stem of Ellie's glasses, then handed them back to her. The whole operation took approximately thirty seconds.
“Why, thank you,” Ellie managed.
“Go on, please,” Charmian said, closing the penknife.
“Well. That's what they think happened. That he missed his footing in the dark or lost his balance at the edge of the pier.”
It sounded reasonable as I said it, but Charmian stared as if I’d suddenly begun speaking gibberish. “They think he
She turned to Ellie. “You can’t be serious. There must be some other explanation.”
Ellie looked regretful. “Well, yes, actually. He could have jumped. I must say I don’t think that's very likely, but…”
“But,” I put in gently, “he did mention being short of money, as well as extremely late on his dissertation. And”—I hesitated—“he’d touched briefly on his breakup with you, too.”
“Oh, that.” She waved a manicured hand dismis-sively. “That wouldn’t have lasted. It was … I mean, surely he
Her voice wavered; she pressed a knuckle to her perfectly even, porcelain-white front teeth.
“We’d have reconciled in time no matter how we quarreled,” she managed. “But now … oh, Jon,” she finished brokenly, “what in the world have you
Something she’d said struck home suddenly. “You mentioned his not having any family? What about his cousins in New York?”
The ones whose assurances, even secondhand, I’d accepted so blithely. Whose implied vouching for Raines, without my having ever even spoken to them directly about him, I’d swallowed whole, taking them as a guarantee that he would at least be harmless, if not the most forthcoming person in the world.
“You mean he wasn’t related to them at
So that if I had called them …
Charmian looked confused; all at once I understood just how thoroughly I’d been flim-flammed. Talk about
“I’ll be damned,” I said, and Ellie nodded compre-hendingly.
“Probably he had some more moonbeams ready to spin for you,” she said, “if he got caught.”
“But that's not important now,” Charmian insisted. “What's important is that…” She fought tears, mustered control.
“Jon was cheerful and clever,” she declared, “and not a bit clumsy. I can’t imagine where you got that idea. He couldn’t have jumped—
fallen. Do you know what he took up last summer for a joke, just to show that he could do it?”
Her violet eyes challenged me. “Tightrope-walking. He had already mastered rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, and parachuting.”
She dug in the little handbag again, pulled out a snapshot. “Look,” she demanded.
It was a shot of Raines at the edge of a snowy canyon, with what looked like half the earth and all the sky spread gloriously out behind him. He was wearing canvas shorts, thick socks, hiking boots, and a white T-shirt; the backpack he bore towered over his head, a pair of cross-country skis strapped to the pack.
“That's Jonathan,” Charmian stated flatly.
It made me feel a little better, that I’d gotten that much right about him: athletic. But probably nothing else. The yuppie garb he’d been wearing had been a good disguise.
I’m an idiot,
I thought at Ellie, and she shrugged minutely.
Hey, you can’t win ’em all,
she telegraphed back.
“As for money, that's the silliest… I have enough for both of us even if we lived forever, and Jon knew that perfectly well. And as for a
The girl gave the word an odd, scathing twist, then stopped troubledly, as if she’d been about to speak ill of the dead.
Or tell a secret: that, for instance, he wasn’t writing any dissertation.
“Well,” she went on, “let's just say there was no urgency about it. Furthermore,” she added with quiet emphasis, “his death was no accident.
A stab of unease pierced me. He
said someone was trying to stop him. But I’d brushed it off. “So what you’re telling us is …”
Ellie looked significantly at me, her eyebrows raised.
The thought had occurred to me, too, when I tried picturing the scene on that pier in the dark; that there had to be something more.
But even now I didn’t really believe it. I still thought Jonathan Raines had fallen off the dock in a mishap, or maybe—this was a long shot, but possible—on purpose.
And despite my own questions about either of those scenarios I thought Charmian's memory of him was obscured by grief and by her own guilt on account of their broken affair.
Still, I wanted to know if she would come right out and say it, the word we were all thinking.
“Murder,” Ellie repeated as if testing the idea. “But Jake, you don’t really think …”
“She does.” I angled my head at the ceiling.
Charmian was upstairs in Jonathan's room; we’d decided she should stay here instead of going to a motel, so I had another guest, which I wanted about as much as typhoid fever. But I just couldn’t bear the thought of sending her to stay alone.
Now Ellie and I were in the dining room, cleaning up chunks of plaster. Rag ends of wallpaper clung to the plaster pieces and broken sticks of lath. “What a mess,” I mourned.
Raines's eyeglasses still lay out on the table. “He meant to come back,” Ellie said, picking them up.
“If he was going to jump, he wouldn’t be needing them,” I countered. Experimentally, Ellie took off her own and put his on.
“Criminy,” she said, peering through them.
I thought she was talking about the glasses being so strong, about how if he’d been wearing them, as perhaps he ought to have been, he wouldn’t have fallen.
“Take a look,” Ellie said, handing them to me.
But when I put them to my eyes, I saw … nothing. Or nothing different, anyway. “Plain glass.” I got more distortion looking out through the old panes of the dining room window.