Chapter 13

THE SUMMER FLEW by for all of them. Marya covered the most ground. She drove from Paris to Provence, then down to St. Paul de Vence, and spent a weekend with friends in Antibes. She flew from Nice to Spain to visit her friend Ferran Adria, at elBulli in Roses with all his innovative creations. He had invented “molecular” cooking, where he broke the food down and reconstituted it. He had closed the restaurant for a while, and was planning to open again after doing more research. Marya was always fascinated by his ideas and creative genius. And from there she went to Florence, Bologna, Venice, Padua, down to Rome, and back to Paris again for a few days, before she flew to Boston, and then home to Vermont. Marya had friends everywhere, and everyone welcomed her visits. She had a fabulous time, and was happy to be in Vermont again, in her own bed, and cooking in her own kitchen, although she felt her husband’s absence more there. He’d been gone for a year. She still missed him, but she was busy and had a full life.

She and Charles-Edouard had traveled extensively in Provence, and discovered new recipes for their book. They were ready to submit the outline to the publisher, and were planning to write it in September. She added two new chapters while she was in Vermont, and then left for New Hampshire. It was already chilly at night, and fall was in the air. Some of the leaves were already turning as she drove through the countryside. She stayed longer than she intended with her friends in North Conway, and then she slowly drove back home. She’d had a good time all summer, and was starting to think about going back to New York after Labor Day, as she drove up to her house, and was startled to see Charles-Edouard standing on her porch. He looked impatient and relieved as she got out of her car.

“What are you doing here?” she asked him in amazement. His hair looked longer and wilder than ever, and his eyes were the same blue as the Vermont sky. “I thought you were in St. Tropez.” He had a house in Ramatuelle, which was just behind it, and had planned to spend August there. She hadn’t heard from him since Provence, and didn’t expect to. They had agreed to call each other when she got back to New York. And she had no idea what he was doing in Vermont.

He started talking the moment she stepped onto the porch. “She left me for one of my sous-chefs. Can you believe that? Just walked out, packed everything.”

“Who did?” She was sure he was talking about the chef who ran his restaurant in Paris. They’d had a stormy relationship for years, and she threatened to quit every three weeks.

“Arielle. My wife,” he responded with a look of outrage, and then he burst into a broad smile as he looked at Marya. He was happy to see her, and it showed.

“Your wife left you for the sous-chef?” Marya looked stunned.

“She’s divorcing me. I got a letter from her lawyer five days ago. He filed the papers. I got on the first plane here, but you were away.”

“Why didn’t you call me if you wanted to talk to me?” She looked totally mystified about why he was there.

“I wanted to talk to you in person,” he said insistently as she fished her house keys out of her bag and unlocked the door.

“What about? Our publisher is still on vacation. I added two more chapters last week, by the way. I think you’ll like them. One is entirely on spices, and how to use them, and the other is fish.”

“I didn’t come here to talk to you about fish,” he said, looking annoyed.

“Then why did you come here?” She looked vague as he followed her around the house, and she finally sat down on the couch, and he sat down next to her and looked her in the eye.

“I came to tell you in person that I’m a free man. For thirty years, you refused to take me seriously because I was married, and so were you”-a mere detail to him in the scheme of things, but neither of them was married now. “I’m not married anymore, or I won’t be. She wants to marry that idiot, but I don’t care. I haven’t loved her in years. I’ve been in love with you since the first time I laid eyes on you, Marya. I’m not going to let you brush me off anymore. I love you. You’re a great woman, a great chef. You’re the only woman I’ve ever met that I would be faithful to. I’m not leaving here until you agree to marry me. That’s what I came here to say.” And with that he kissed her, totally stunned her, and took her breath away. For a moment she didn’t know what to say, and then she laughed.

“Charles-Edouard Prunier, you are completely crazy. You’re insane. I don’t want to get married. I adore you too. But I don’t want to get married again at my age. I’m going to be sixty years old. Sixty-year-old people don’t get married. I’d be a laughingstock, and so would you.” She felt a flutter over what he was saying, and she had always loved him as a friend, but had never let herself be attracted to him. Now suddenly everything was different, and all obstacles had been removed.

“I don’t care,” he said firmly with a ferocious look in his eye. “L’amour n’a pas d’?ge. Love has no age. I don’t care if you’re turning a hundred. I’m sixty-five, and I’ve been in love with you since you were thirty. And I’m not going to wait another thirty years.” And with that, he kissed her again, and much to her amazement, she kissed him back, and felt all the feelings she had ignored for years. And she had been deeply in love with her husband while he was alive.

She looked at him with a horrified expression then. “Oh my God, now what are we going to do?”

“You’re going to do the right thing after all these years, and marry me,” he said firmly, and she laughed at him again.

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” he insisted. “I won’t relent until you do.”

“You’re crazy. We’re too old to get married,” she insisted.

“We are not. Besides, I want to have a baby with you.” She laughed even harder at that. “Or write books together. Or do whatever you want to do. I’m giving her the house in Ramatuelle, by the way, and the flat in Paris. I think we should get our own. I’ve never liked the neighborhood. I’ll buy a flat for you.”

“Wait a minute,” Marya said seriously. “Let’s slow down. Are you serious about all this?” She looked utterly amazed. She had no idea if he was kidding or not.

“Do you think I sat on your porch every day for a week for no reason? I’ve waited a lifetime for this, Marya.” She loved him too, as a friend. He was one of her closest friends, and she loved working with him and spending time with him, but she had never allowed herself to think of him as more than that. She had loved her husband deeply, and they had a wonderful marriage. But Charles-Edouard was certainly crazy and a joy to be with, and they got along wonderfully, and always had.

“I need time to think about this, if you’re serious. And I don’t know if I want to get married.”

“Why not? And don’t tell me you’re too old. That is not a reason I will accept.”

“I don’t know if we need to get married. You’re French. Frenchmen have affairs. We can have an affair for the next thirty years. Maybe that’s enough.”

“You’re not that kind of woman,” he said, pretending to be shocked.

“Maybe I am at this point in my life. I don’t know.” She had never intended to be with another man, and now she was talking marriage and affairs with Charles-Edouard. “Can we try this out for a while, and see how it works?” And then she looked at him seriously. “I don’t want to be married to a man who cheats on me, and I know you’ve done that all your life. You were never faithful to Arielle.”

“My parents made me marry her. She didn’t love me either. And I solemnly promise that I would be faithful to you.” He looked as though he meant it, but she wasn’t sure if he was capable of it.

“Prove it to me. If you’re faithful to me and don’t cheat on me, I’ll marry you. Maybe,” she added, and then laughed. She was being coy. This was suddenly a delicious moment in her life. At nearly sixty, a handsome Frenchman was in love with her, and proposing to her. She was beginning to like the idea. “Who’ll do the cooking if we get married?” she asked with interest, and he thought about it. It was an intriguing question.

“We both will. Together.”

“Who will be the sous-chef? Me or you?”

“You will. You’re the girl.”

“You’re a chauvinist,” she said, looking delighted. She was having a great time, and so was he. She suddenly felt very young.

He took her out to dinner that night, and they talked about their plans, about whether to live in Paris or New York. They both thought they’d prefer Paris. Marya had wanted to all her life. He thought they should find a flat on the Left Bank, in either the sixth or seventh arrondissement.

By the time they got back to her house, they still hadn’t settled the matter of whether to get married. But she was serious about wanting to see if he could be faithful. He certainly never had been in his entire life. She wanted to give it a few months to find out. She was talking about moving to Paris with him, if he behaved, by the end of the year. They could decide whether to get married after that. And in the meantime, they could enjoy each other. He offered to stay in New York for the next few months, where they could work on the book together.

He walked her into the house, and everything happened naturally after that. They wandered into her bedroom, their clothes seemed to disappear, and they wound up in bed in each other’s arms. And as he reached out to her, they felt as though they had been together all their life, and would be for the next hundred years. She felt like a girl again in his arms.

Chris’s time with his family was just what Ian needed, and it did Chris a great deal of good too, especially this year. Ian got to be a child again, playing with his cousins, and swimming every day. He learned to water-ski, and he made lots of new friends. It was so easy and carefree and normal that he almost forgot his mother was in jail. She called him once a week. And Chris dreaded the calls. They brought Ian back to reality and reminded him of all the pain he’d been through, all of it because of his mother. Chris was still furious with her for dragging Ian through it. But at the Vineyard, their wounds seemed to heal, although Chris’s conversations with his parents about Ian’s mother were always difficult for him. They thought Ian should be entirely removed from his mother, even if that meant sending him to boarding school, which Chris refused to even consider. Ian was far too young and Chris wanted his son with him. His parents didn’t agree.

“You’re not providing a proper home for him,” his mother said sternly one afternoon after lunch, after Ian scampered off. “I don’t understand why, but you’re not. You’re living in a house full of people, with ‘roommates,’ or a commune of some kind, like a student. You have a child, Chris, and if you can’t provide a proper home for him, you should send him away to school. Or at least get your own apartment and a nanny to take care of him. And the farther away you get him from his mother, the better off he’ll be. He should see as little of her as possible.” Chris didn’t disagree with that, but he was violently opposed to all the rest, and Ian was his son, not theirs. It was easy for them to sit on the sidelines and criticize him. They weren’t the kind of grandparents to want hands-on involvement, but they felt they had every right to comment on how Chris was bringing Ian up, and they didn’t approve.

“I don’t live in a commune,” Chris said hotly, “and my housemates are wonderful, intelligent people, who add a whole other dimension to Ian’s life, much more than any nanny. I moved in for convenience before Ian came to live with me, because I wasn’t ready to set up an apartment, but now I see what these people add to Ian’s life. It would be a real loss to both of us if we moved.” He believed it profoundly, but his mother wasn’t convinced.

“It’s all a bit too modern for me,” his mother said bluntly. “Children need a mother and a father and a proper home. In a case like yours, with a mother like Kimberly, Ian is certainly better off alone with you, but only if you can give him a sane, normal life in a real home, not living in a room in someone else’s house. I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand that, Chris. It’s not like you can’t afford to get your own place. This is sheer laziness on your part. And Ian will pay the price for it later on. What does he tell his friends at school? Who does he say those people are? You’re too old to live with roommates, Chris, and you have a child.”

“I’m well aware of that, Mother,” Chris said coldly. His father had made similar comments to him several times. He referred to Chris’s “alternate lifestyle” as unsuitable for a child. They were both very conservative people, and Chris renting a room in a house in the West Village, and having Ian live there with him, seemed like a very bad idea to them. His father said it was irresponsible, and his mother was saying much the same thing. It was impossible to explain to either of them the kindness of Francesca, Marya, and Eileen to his son. Ian lived in a very special world, with four adults who doted on him, and even Charles-Edouard, the French chef, had been kind to him. Ian wasn’t living alone with a single father, he was living in a tribe, and in some ways Chris felt it was the best possible antidote to the agonies his mother put him through. The fact that Kim was entirely unsuitable, no one could deny. But Ian loved her, and she was his mother, so he had a right to some contact with her too, as long as it was in a safe setting for him. Chris knew that his parents were sorry Kim hadn’t died when she OD’d, and thought Ian would be better off just putting all that behind him and moving on. But the reality of their life wasn’t as simple as that, and Kimberly was still alive.

“I hope you’ll reconsider about boarding school,” his mother reiterated as Chris frowned. He hated having conversations like this with either of his parents. Their ideas were rigid and old-fashioned, and they were more concerned about what was “proper” and traditional than about what was good for the child. They had brought him up that way too, and all it had done was give him a profound dislike for their lifestyle and everything it represented. He had a deep respect for family traditions, and summers at the Vineyard that brought all the generations together, which was why he came here every year, but he couldn’t tolerate their clinging to traditions out of habit, or old-fashioned ideas that didn’t work in the complicated situation he was in. He never would have sent Ian away to school. At least this way, Ian had one loving parent with him, and for the moment, a house full of people who genuinely cared about him, and spent time with him. Chris’s parents never did. They enjoyed their grandchildren, and liked having them around, as long as their parents or a nanny were present, but his parents stayed at a distance, and observed them without ever really connecting with them, or finding out who they were. He never saw his mother with her arms around a grandchild, and the only thing his father ever asked any of them was how school was, and what sports they played.

Chris had never gotten much more than that from them either, which was why ultimately he had fled Boston and moved to New York. He couldn’t have existed on a daily basis in the rigid confines of their world. He knew they cared about him, and loved him, but the ways they chose to express it and demonstrate it had never worked for him. He had realized long since that he had been starved for emotional contact and connection as a child, and he didn’t want that for Ian, and he wanted even less to dump him in a school and leave him there. Whatever mistakes he was making, at least he had Ian with him, and could give him all the love and attention he’d never had as a child himself. The dignity and standing of their family had always been more important to his parents than the happiness of their children. It wasn’t out of meanness or even indifference, it was simply a concept they didn’t understand and never would. They had grown up and lived with so many restrictions and social rules and obligations that they could never break out of it themselves. But in Chris’s generation, the world had changed, for him and Ian anyway, but not for them. They still lived as the family had for generations, governed by rules that were meaningless to Chris now. All he had wanted as an adult was to get away from all that, which had always made him something of a rebel and a misfit in their midst. He still came home for summer vacation and holidays, but rarely for anything else. And it was particularly hard for him being there this summer. They felt free to comment on his life and Ian’s, about which they understood nothing. But his ongoing problems with Kimberly made him an easy target for their disapproval and concern, and their opinions, which he didn’t share.

There were times when Chris thought about Francesca, and found himself missing the house. If he got custody of Ian, he had also thought that he should get an apartment, but he worried that it might be lonely for them there, and his roommates were so kind to Ian. With Marya and Francesca, he had built-in baby-sitters, and the benefit of two women who cared about him and were almost like aunts. And Eileen was an additional loving friend to Ian. There was a lot to be said for all of them living in one house. Chris missed his conversations with Marya and Francesca during the summer. He hadn’t heard from either of them, but he was sure they were having a relaxing time too, and he hoped they were having fun. He wasn’t as fond of Eileen, despite her kindness to Ian. She reminded him too much of his ex-wife with her addiction to self-destructive behaviors and bad men. And in Kim’s case, Ian had paid the price. And before that, Chris had too.

He managed to avoid further serious discussion with his parents, and the only part of his vacation that Chris didn’t enjoy was visiting Kim’s parents in Newport. He hated hearing them wail about what had happened to her, as though it had been done to her by someone else. And her father was doing everything he could to get her out of jail, thus far with no success. And they talked to Ian about her as though she were a martyr and a saint. She was the devil in Chris’s eyes, particularly to their son.

Ian had sensed correctly that Chris didn’t like his grandparents, and he knew that his parents didn’t get along. He knew that his father’s parents didn’t like Kimberly either. He hated that everyone was mad at someone else. He talked about Francesca and Marya a lot, and occasionally Eileen, and when people asked him who they were, he said they were his friends. He told Chris he couldn’t wait for Marya’s Mickey Mouse pancakes when he got back. And they laughed about Charles-Edouard and the trick he did with the eggs. Ian loved it when he dropped them on the floor and made a mess.

In the end, they had a great summer. Ian grew two inches, and Chris finally relaxed. Chris enjoyed seeing his brother and sister, and their children, although he and his siblings were no longer close. They had turned out to be too much like his parents and remained in the mold they had grown up in. But he was happy to see them and Ian loved playing with his cousins at the family compound. They were both tan and happy, and the younger generations spent a lot of time on Chris’s parents’ boat. It was a handsome sailboat with four cabins and a teak deck, not unlike the one they’d had when Chris was a child. Ian loved that best of all. They were both going to miss it when they went back to New York. And when they got back, Chris was going to begin the permanent custody battle. He was determined to win. He was never going to give Ian up again.

Francesca’s time on the sailboat in Maine was easy and freewheeling. Todd’s friends were wonderful to her, and they said nothing to her about Todd and his fianc?e, although they had been there the week before, and they’d had a good time with them. But they had a good time with Francesca too. She relaxed and had fun and stopped worrying about the gallery. For once, she didn’t think about anything except the wind and the sails, what time dinner was, and if she wanted lobster or steak. It was a totally self-indulgent time.

She didn’t have a single call while she was away, not a text message or an e-mail. Her BlackBerry was silent for three weeks. It was exactly what she needed, but she decided that her mother was right. Next year she needed to do something new. It was a slightly odd sensation spending her vacation with Todd’s friends, and following in his footsteps like a shadow. She thought about going to Europe next year, or somewhere alone. She almost felt ready for that.

At the end of the vacation, Francesca thanked her hosts profusely for their hospitality. She flew from Bangor to Boston, changed planes, and from there she flew back to New York. And as they landed at La Guardia, she was thinking about Ian and Chris. They had been gone for a long time, and she missed them. She missed seeing Ian’s funny little face and talking to Chris. She wondered how Ian’s mother was doing in jail.

Francesca looked happy and relaxed as a cab took her into the city. She had a deep tan, and her hair was blonder than ever. She felt as though she had been gone for months. And the house looked cozy and familiar when she saw it. As she turned her key in the lock, she wondered if Eileen had found a job. She hoped she had, that things had gone well for her, and that she had stayed away from Brad. She could hardly wait to find out. She hadn’t heard from her either in the past few weeks. She had left her a few messages, but Eileen didn’t return her calls.

As Francesca walked in, she had a suddenly eerie sensation. Everything in the house seemed to be in order, and she had no idea why, but the hair suddenly stood up on her arms, and she felt a chill run down her spine. She felt stupid for feeling that way. Nothing was out of place, but she almost sensed that someone was there. She called out Eileen’s name, but there was no sound. And then as she turned she saw the door to her living room standing open, and saw that a chair had been splintered against the wall. She stopped dead in her tracks. She knew instantly that something was wrong. Her instinct was to run. She had closed the front door, and feeling like a fool, she dashed back outside, stood on the front steps, and took big gulps of air. She was shaking from head to foot, and she didn’t know why.

She thought about calling Todd, but she felt awkward doing that now, and not knowing what else to do, she called Chris on his cell phone to steady her nerves and ask his advice. She walked back down the stairs, and sat on the first step outside. There was lots of noise around him when he answered. She could hardly hear him, and it sounded as though he was in a playground surrounded by children, which was fairly accurate. He was at the family compound, with his many cousins’ children around him. He sounded happy to hear her.

“Hi, Francesca. How’ve you been?” He smiled at the sound of her voice.

“I’ve been great,” she said, her voice shaking a little. She felt silly for calling him now. Everything was probably fine in the house. But she couldn’t explain the shattered chair in her living room, or the hair standing up on her arms. She wondered if they had been robbed. But if there had been a burglary, why hadn’t Eileen called her? The pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit together. “I had a great vacation. How’s yours?”

“Wonderful. We went down to Newport a few days ago, and this is our last weekend here. You won’t recognize Ian. He’s ten feet tall.” She smiled at his description, and took a breath to steady her nerves.

“I’m sorry to bother you, and I feel really stupid calling you. But I just got back to the house about five minutes ago, and I got a really strange feeling when I walked in. And this sounds even crazier, but my living room door was open, and it looks like someone smashed one of my chairs. Nothing else looks disturbed. But it was eerie, and I ran back outside. I’m sitting on the front steps, feeling like a moron, but I’m scared to go into the house. What if someone is in there? Like intruders, or burglars. I called Eileen’s name, but she’s not home.” The alarm hadn’t been on. And Francesca hadn’t even thought to call her, and felt stupid for that now too. And it seemed pretty wimpy to be calling him, like a damsel in distress, or a coward sitting on the front steps of her own house. But she was scared.

Chris didn’t hesitate for a minute, and he frowned as he answered her. “Trust your instincts. Whatever you do, don’t go back in. Call the police. There may be someone in there. There are a lot of burglaries in the summer, when they figure people are away. I’d call the police right now.”

“They’ll think I’m crazy,” she said, feeling foolish, but she wondered if he was right.

“Better foolish than injured, or shot by a burglar in your own house. Call the cops. And call me back once they check it out.”

“Okay.” She hung up then and called the police. She told them she had just gotten back from vacation, and she thought there might have been a burglary or might be someone in the house. She couldn’t explain the shattered chair to herself, unless one of Eileen’s Internet boyfriends had gotten drunk and gone nuts.

The police told her it wasn’t a problem, instructed her not to go back in, and promised to be there in ten minutes. They were there in five, they had a car with two patrolmen nearby. She described the feeling she’d gotten and what she’d seen, and they told her to wait outside. They asked her if anyone else lived in the house. She described the other occupants and said that all of them were still away, except one who had stayed in town, and she might be at work, or asleep upstairs. She described the layout of the house and who lived where. She said Eileen lived on the top floor, and everyone else was gone. Both patrolmen walked in, looking alert, with their hands resting loosely on their guns. It told her that they had taken her seriously. She thought of calling Chris while she waited, but she didn’t want to bother him again, and more than likely they would find nothing more than the broken chair. She didn’t want to sound like a hysteric, and she started to relax after they’d been inside for a while. Obviously nothing was wrong, nothing had happened, there had been no gunshots, no burglars had come running out. She had moved slightly away from the direct line of the door, but it was fully twenty minutes later when one of them came out. They had made a thorough search. The officer came slowly down the stairs and looked at Francesca with an unreadable expression.

“Everything okay?” Francesca smiled at him, feeling foolish again. His partner was still inside.

He spoke to her in a quiet, calm voice. “Your instincts were right. Your tenant on the top floor is dead.” Eileen. Oh my God. That couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. Francesca felt like she was going to faint. He led her back to the steps and helped her to sit down. She looked so pale that he told her to put her head between her legs. It took Francesca a minute to catch her breath.

“She can’t be dead,” Francesca said in a choked voice. “She’s twenty-three years old.” As though that made it impossible. Francesca’s mind was a blur. She couldn’t think.

“She was severely beaten, and strangled. We’re not sure, but she may have been raped. She’s naked in her bed. She’s been dead for about three days. Do you have any idea who might have done this? Did she have a boyfriend? An ex-husband? It doesn’t look like it was done by an intruder. Very little is disturbed in the house. A couple of chairs, and that’s about it.”

Francesca was staring at him with wide eyes. “She had a very nasty boyfriend, but when I last saw her, she hadn’t seen him in a while. He beat her up twice. I left three weeks ago, and I don’t think she’d been with him since June. I don’t know. She wasn’t always honest with me about it. But I think it must have been him… or someone new she met on the Internet… she did a lot of that…” He had taken out a notepad, and the other patrolman had called for backup. As they were talking, three squad cars and an ambulance arrived.

“Do you know his name?” the officer asked her, taking notes, as everyone else ran inside.

“Brad. Brad Turner, I think. He was a really nasty guy.”

“Do you know where he works?”

“No, I don’t. He’s a motorcycle mechanic, but that’s all I know. He has a lot of tattoos.”

“Do you remember what they look like?”

She closed her eyes as she answered, trying to see them again in her mind. She was shaking even more violently by then, and she felt like she was going to be sick. “An eagle… a rose… a big snake down one arm… some kind of Chinese thing… I can’t remember the rest of them.” She opened her eyes again, and all she could think of now was Eileen, dead upstairs in her room, probably killed by Brad. The officer looked at her apologetically then.

“I’m sorry to ask you this, but we’re going to need someone to identify the body, to make sure it’s her. Do you think you can do that?” Francesca didn’t answer and looked at him with terrified eyes.

“Do I have to?” She didn’t want to see Eileen that way. Francesca had never seen anyone dead before.

“‘You’re all we’ve got. We don’t want to ID the wrong person. For all we know, that’s a stranger up there in her bed.” Francesca nodded, as another squad car arrived. Her house had become a crime scene, and it was crawling with cops. The patrolman went back inside for a minute then, and with a shaking hand on the phone, she called Chris.

He saw her number come up on his phone and answered immediately. “Hi, Francesca. What did they say? Coast clear?” He was hopeful.

There was an endless silence at her end before she spoke. “Eileen’s dead. Someone beat her up and strangled her, and may have raped her. She must have seen Brad again after I left. Or someone else just as bad.”

He was silent for a moment, absorbing what she’d said. “I’m so sorry.”

“She was just a kid. They want me to identify the body. I don’t know if I can. They said it might not even be her. But she’s naked in her bed.” She was clutching at straws. Chris had no doubt that it was Eileen, and neither did she. She didn’t want it to be, but she was sure it was.

“Do you want me to come back right now?” Chris offered. “I can be back in a few hours.”

“It’s okay. It’ll just scare Ian. When were you planning to come back?”

“In three days. I can shorten the trip and come back tomorrow. I don’t think you should be there alone.”

“I won’t stay at the house.” There was no way she could now. “I’ll go to a hotel.”

“I’m so sorry you have to identify the body. If they’ll wait, I’ll do it when I get back.” He didn’t want to either, but he would have done it for her.

“I should do it, so they can call her parents.” Not that her father would care. But she had five siblings and a mother. And they had to know. She deserved at least that. Eileen had given her her mother’s number once, in case of an accident. Francesca had the number in her desk.

Two of the patrolmen came out and got her then, and asked her to come inside after inquiring if she was all right. They had put Eileen on a gurney, and covered her with a sheet and a blanket, and they had set the gurney down in the front hall. They asked her if she was ready, and she nodded, clutching the patrolman’s hand. He had an arm behind her in case she fainted; they knew how rough this was for everyone. One of the officers pulled back the blanket and the sheet, and Francesca knew instantly that it was Eileen. Her face was beaten almost to a pulp, but she was recognizable. Francesca nodded, and they covered her up again and took the gurney out. Francesca sat down on the floor, and then they led her out of the house, sat her in one of the patrol cars and gave her a bottle of water they kept on hand for occasions like this. She knew it must look to the neighbors like she was being arrested, but she didn’t care. She was crying when she called Chris again.

“It’s her. He almost destroyed her face.”

“I’m so sorry. Why don’t I leave Ian here with his cousins, and come into town. I don’t want you there alone.”

“Thank you” was all she could muster, and hung up. She leaned out of the patrol car then and threw up.

They drove Francesca to the station and had her sign her statement. They did a composite computer sketch of Brad, according to her description, and put out an all-points bulletin for him. And then they called Eileen’s mother and told her, after Francesca told them where the number was in her desk. The house was locked up after that. They said Eileen’s mother wanted her cremated and her ashes sent to San Diego. There was going to be no funeral or memorial service in New York. She had no real friends except her roommates and the men she met on the Internet. In the end, her Internet obsession had killed her. Francesca knew that if it hadn’t been Brad, it had been someone else she met online. She took too many risks. Francesca couldn’t believe it, but the sweet little girl next door with the freckles and red hair in pigtails was dead. She had looked so innocent and cute the day Francesca had left. It had been the last time she’d seen her as she waved goodbye from the steps.

The police took Francesca to the Hotel Gansevoort. She took a room, and sat there shaking. She didn’t want to go back to the house. And it seemed like hours later when Chris called her. She had lost all track of time. He was on his way in from the airport and wanted to know where she was. She told him, and he was there a few minutes later. She opened the door to him and nearly fell into his arms. He stood there and held her, and then sat down on the bed with her as Francesca cried.

“Stupid kid” was all he could bring himself to say. He was angry and sad all at the same time. And if it hadn’t been Eileen, it could have been his wife a dozen times. She had just been lucky so far, but one day she wouldn’t be. One day she would wind up like Eileen, only with a needle in her arm, and Ian would be heart broken. He hated them for the risks they took, the people they hurt, the hearts they broke, all the tears that were shed for them. Francesca cried herself to sleep in his arms that night. He lay on the bed next to her, and held her as he had Ian so many times. And in the morning, Francesca got a call from the police. They had Brad. They had run fingerprints on him and from the scene. The prints matched. It was him. They would do DNA tests, but all the puzzle pieces fit. The evidence was conclusive so far. Brad had killed Eileen.

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