– 1 –
The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage, was this: How’s your marriage? They asked how was your weekend and how was your trip to Florida and how’s your health and how are the kids; they even asked how’s life been treatin’ you, hon? But nobody asked how’s your marriage?
Good, she would have answered the question before that night. Everything’s fine.
She had been born Darcellen Madsen (Darcellen, a name only parents besotted with a freshly purchased book of baby names could love), in the year John F. Kennedy was elected President. She was raised in Freeport, Maine, back when it was a town instead of an adjunct to L.L.Bean, America’s first superstore, and half a dozen other oversized retail operations of the sort that are called “outlets” (as if they were sewer drains rather than shopping locations). She went to Freeport High School, and then to Addison Business School, where she learned secretarial skills. She was hired by Joe Ransome Chevrolet, which by 1984, when she left the company, was the largest car dealership in Portland. She was plain, but with the help of two marginally more sophisticated girlfriends, learned enough makeup skills to make herself pretty on workdays and downright eye-catching on Friday and Saturday nights, when a bunch of them liked to go out for margaritas at The Lighthouse or Mexican Mike’s (where there was live music).
In 1982, Joe Ransome hired a Portland accounting firm to help him figure out his tax situation, which had become complicated (“The kind of problem you want to have,” Darcy overheard him tell one of the senior salesmen). A pair of briefcase-toting men came out, one old and one young. Both wore glasses and conservative suits; both combed their short hair neatly away from their foreheads in a way that made Darcy think of the photographs in her mother’s MEMORIES OF ’54 senior yearbook, the one with the image of a boy cheerleader holding a megaphone to his mouth stamped on its faux-leather cover.
The younger accountant was Bob Anderson. She got talking with him on their second day at the dealership, and in the course of their conversation, asked him if he had any hobbies. Yes, he said, he was a numismatist.
He started to tell her what that was and she said, “I know. My father collects Lady Liberty dimes and buffalo-head nickels. He says they’re his numismatical hobby-horse. Do you have a hobby-horse, Mr. Anderson?”
He did: wheat pennies. His greatest hope was to some day come across a 1955 double-date, which was But she knew that, too. The ’55 double-date was a mistake. A valuable mistake.
Young Mr. Anderson, he of the thick and carefully combed brown hair, was delighted with this answer. He asked her to call him Bob. Later, during their lunch—which they took on a bench in the sunshine behind the body shop, a tuna on rye for him and a Greek salad in a Tupperware bowl for her—he asked if she would like to go with him on Saturday to a street sale in Castle Rock. He had just rented a new apartment, he said, and was looking for an armchair. Also a TV, if someone was selling a good one at a fair price. A good one at a fair price was a phrase with which she would grow comfortably familiar in the years to come.
He was as plain as she was, just another guy you’d pass on the street without noticing, and would never have makeup to make him prettier… except that day on the bench, he did. His cheeks flushed when he asked her out, just enough to light him up a little and give him a glow.
“No coin collections?” she teased.
He smiled, revealing even teeth. Small teeth, nicely cared for, and white. It never occurred to her that the thought of those teeth could make her shudder—why would it?
“If I saw a nice set of coins, of course I’d look,” he said.
“Especially wheat pennies?” Teasing, but just a little.
“Especially those. Would you like to come, Darcy?”
She came. And she came on their wedding night, too. Not terribly often after that, but now and then. Often enough to consider herself normal and fulfilled.
In 1986, Bob got a promotion. He also (with Darcy’s encouragement and help) started up a small mail-order business in collectible American coins. It was successful from the start, and in 1990, he added baseball trading cards and old movie memorabilia. He kept no stock of posters, one-sheets, or window cards, but when people queried him on such items, he could almost always find them. Actually it was Darcy who found them, using her overstuffed Rolodex in those pre-computer days to call collectors all over the country. The business never got big enough to become full-time, and that was all right. Neither of them wanted such a thing. They agreed on that as they did on the house they eventually bought in Pownal, and on the children when it came time to have them. They agreed. When they didn’t agree, they compromised. But mostly they agreed. They saw eye-to-eye.
How’s your marriage?
It was good. A good marriage. Donnie was born in 1986—she quit her job to have him, and except for helping with Anderson Coins & Collectibles never held another one—and Petra was born in 1988. By then, Bob Anderson’s thick brown hair was thinning at the crown, and by 2002, the year Darcy’s Macintosh computer finally swallowed her Rolodex whole, he had a large shiny bald spot back there. He experimented with different ways of combing what was left, which only made the bald spot more conspicuous, in her opinion. And he irritated her by trying two of the magical grow-it-all-back formulas, the kind of stuff sold by shifty-looking hucksters on high cable late at night (Bob Anderson became something of a night owl as he slipped into middle age). He didn’t tell her he’d done it, but they shared a bedroom and although she wasn’t tall enough to see the top shelf of the closet unaided, she sometimes used a stool to put away his “Saturday shirts,” the tees he wore for puttering in the garden. And there they were: a bottle of liquid in the fall of 2004, a bottle of little green gel capsules a year later. She looked the names up on the Internet, and they weren’t cheap. Of course magic never is, she remembered thinking.
But, irritated or not, she had held her peace about the magic potions, and also about the used Chevy Suburban he for some reason just had to buy in the same year that gas prices really started to climb. As he had held his, she supposed (as she knew, actually), when she had insisted on good summer camps for the kids, an electric guitar for Donnie (he had played for two years, long enough to get surprisingly good, and then had simply stopped), horse rentals for Petra. A successful marriage was a balancing act—that was a thing everyone knew. A successful marriage was also dependent on a high tolerance for irritation—this was a thing Darcy knew. As the Stevie Winwood song said, you had to roll widdit, baby.
She rolled with it. So did he.
In 2004, Donnie went off to college in Pennsylvania. In 2006, Petra went to Colby, just up the road in Waterville. By then, Darcy Madsen Anderson was forty-six years old. Bob was forty-nine, and still doing Cub Scouts with Stan Morin, a construction contractor who lived half a mile down the road. She thought her balding husband looked rather amusing in the khaki shorts and long brown socks he wore for the monthly Wildlife Hikes, but never said so. His bald spot had become well entrenched; his glasses had become bifocals; his weight had spun up from one-eighty into the two-twenty range. He had become a partner in the accounting firm—Benson and Bacon was now Benson, Bacon & Anderson. They had traded the starter home in Pownal for a more expensive one in Yarmouth. Her breasts, formerly small and firm and high (her best feature, she’d always thought; she’d never wanted to look like a Hooters waitress) were now larger, not so firm, and of course they dropped down when she took off her bra at night—what else could you expect when you were closing in on the half-century mark?—but every so often Bob would still come up behind her and cup them. Every so often there was the pleasant interlude in the upstairs bedroom overlooking their peaceful two-acre patch of land, and if he was a little quick on the draw and often left her unsatisfied, often was not always, and the satisfaction of holding him afterward, feeling his warm man’s body as he drowsed away next to her… that satisfaction never failed. It was, she supposed, the satisfaction of knowing they were still together when so many others were not; the satisfaction of knowing that as they approached their Silver Anniversary, the course was still steady as she goes.
In 2009, twenty-five years down the road from their I-do’s in a small Baptist church that no longer existed (there was now a parking lot where it had stood), Donnie and Petra threw them a surprise party at The Birches on Castle View. There were over fifty guests, champagne (the good stuff), steak tips, a four-tier cake. The honorees danced to Kenny Loggins’s “Footloose,” just as they had at their wedding. The guests applauded Bob’s breakaway move, one she had forgotten until she saw it again, and its still-airy execution gave her a pang. Well it should have; he had grown a paunch to go with the embarrassing bald spot (embarrassing to him, at least), but he was still extremely light on his feet for an accountant.
But all of that was just history, the stuff of obituaries, and they were still too young to be thinking of those. It ignored the minutiae of marriage, and such ordinary mysteries, she believed (firmly believed), were the stuff that validated the partnership. The time she had eaten bad shrimp and vomited all night long, sitting on the edge of the bed with her sweaty hair clinging to the nape of her neck and tears rolling down her flushed cheeks and Bob sitting beside her, patiently holding the basin and then taking it to the bathroom, where he emptied and rinsed it after each ejection—so the smell of it wouldn’t make her even sicker, he said. He had been warming up the car to take her to the Emergency Room at six the next morning when the horrible nausea had finally begun to abate. He had called in sick at B, B he’d also canceled a trip to White River so he could sit with her in case the sickness came back.
That kind of thing worked both ways; one year’s sauce for the goose was next year’s sauce for the gander. She had sat with him in the waiting room at St. Stephen’s—back in ’94 or ’95, this had been-waiting for the biopsy results after he had discovered (in the shower) a suspicious lump in his left armpit. The biopsy had been negative, the diagnosis an infected lymph node. The lump had lingered for another month or so, then went away on its own.
The sight of a crossword book on his knees glimpsed through the half-open bathroom door as he sat on the commode. The smell of cologne on his cheeks, which meant that the Suburban would be gone from the driveway for a day or two and his side of the bed would be empty for a night or two because he had to straighten out someone’s accounting in New Hampshire or Vermont (B, B & A now had clients in all the northern New England states). Sometimes the smell meant a trip to look at someone’s coin collection at an estate sale, because not all the numismatic buying and selling that went with their side-business could be accomplished by computer, they both understood that. The sight of his old black suitcase, the one he would never give up no matter how much she nagged, in the front hall. His slippers at the end of the bed, one always tucked into the other. The glass of water on his endtable, with the orange vitamin pill next to it, on that month’s issue of Coin & Currency Collecting. How he always said, “More room out than there is in” after belching and “Look out, gas attack!” after he farted. His coat on the first hook in the hall. The reflection of his toothbrush in the mirror (he would still be using the same one he’d had when they got married, Darcy believed, if she didn’t regularly replace it). The way he dabbed his lips with his napkin after every second or third bite of food. The careful arrangement of camping gear (always including an extra compass) before he and Stan set out with yet another bunch of nine-year-olds on the hike up Dead Man’s Trail—a dangerous and terrifying trek that took them through the woods behind the Golden Grove Mall and came out at Weinberg’s Used Car City. The look of his nails, always short and clean. The taste of Dentyne on his breath when they kissed. These things and ten thousand others comprised the secret history of the marriage.
She knew he must have his own history of her, everything from the cinnamon-flavored ChapStick she used on her lips in the winter to the smell of her shampoo when he nuzzled the back of her neck (that nuzzle didn’t come so often now, but it still came) to the click of her computer at two in the morning on those two or three nights a month when sleep for some reason jilted her.
Now it was twenty-seven years, or—she had amused herself figuring this one day using the calculator function on her computer—nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days. Almost a quarter of a million hours and over fourteen million minutes. Of course some of that time he’d been gone on business, and she’d taken a few trips herself (the saddest to be with her parents in Minneapolis after her kid sister Brandolyn had died in a freak accident), but mostly they had been together.
Did she know everything about him? Of course not. No more than he knew everything about her—how she sometimes (mostly on rainy days or on those nights when the insomnia was on her) gobbled Butterfingers or Baby Ruths, for instance, eating the candybars even after she no longer wanted them, even after she felt sick to her stomach. Or how she thought the new mailman was sort of cute. There was no knowing everything, but she felt that after twenty-seven years, they knew all the important things. It was a good marriage, one of the fifty percent or so that kept working over the long haul. She believed that in the same unquestioning way she believed that gravity would hold her to the earth when she walked down the sidewalk.
Until that night in the garage.
– 2 –
The TV controller stopped working, and there were no double-A batteries in the kitchen cabinet to the left of the sink. There were D-cells and C-cells, even an unopened pack of the teeny tiny triple-As, but no goddarn frigging double-As. So she went out to the garage because she knew Bob kept a stash of Duracells there, and that was all it took to change her life. It was as if everyone was in the air, high in the air. One lousy little step in the wrong direction and you were falling.
The kitchen and the garage were connected by a breezeway. Darcy went through it in a hurry, clutching her housecoat against her—two days before their run of exceptionally warm Indian summer weather had broken, and now it felt more like November than October. The wind nipped at her ankles. She probably should have put on socks and a pair of slacks, but Two and a Half Men was going to come on in less than five minutes, and the goddarn TV was stuck on CNN. If Bob had been here, she would have asked him to change the channel manually—there were buttons for that somewhere, probably on the back where only a man could find them—and then sent him for the batteries. The garage was mostly his domain, after all. She only went there to get her car out, and that only on bad-weather days; otherwise she parked it in the driveway turnaround. But Bob was in Montpelier, evaluating a collection of World War II steel pennies, and she was, at least temporarily, in sole charge of casa Anderson.
She fumbled for the trio of switches beside the door and shoved them up with the heel of her hand. The overhead fluorescents buzzed on. The garage was spacious and neat, the tools hung on the pegboards and Bob’s workbench in good order. The floor was a concrete slab painted battleship gray. There were no oilstains; Bob said that oilstains on a garage floor either meant the people who owned the garage were running junk or were careless about maintenance. The year-old Prius he used for his weekday commutes into Portland was there; he had taken his high-mileage SUV dinosaur to Vermont. Her Volvo was parked outside.
“It’s just as easy to pull it in,” he had said on more than one occasion (when you were married for twenty-seven years, original comments tended to be thin on the ground). “Just use the door opener on the visor.”
“I like it where I can see it,” she always replied, although the real reason was her fear of clipping the garage bay door while backing out. She hated backing. And she supposed he knew it… just as she knew that he had a peculiar fetish about keeping the paper money in his wallet heads-side up and would never leave a book facedown and open when he paused in his reading—because, he said, it broke the spines.
At least the garage was warm; big silver pipes (probably you called them ducts, but Darcy wasn’t quite sure) crisscrossed the ceiling. She walked to the bench, where several square tins were lined up, each neatly labeled: BOLTS, SCREWS, HINGES HASPS & L-CLAMPS, PLUMBING, and—she found this rather endearing—ODDS & ENDS. There was a calendar on the wall featuring a Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl who looked depressingly young and sexy; to the left of the calendar two photos had been tacked up. One was an old snap of Donnie and Petra on the Yarmouth Little League field, dressed in Boston Red Sox jerseys. Below it, in Magic Marker, Bob had printed THE HOME TEAM, 1999. The other, much newer, showed a grown-up and just-short-of-beautiful Petra standing with Michael, her fianc?, in front of a clam shack on Old Orchard Beach with their arms around each other. The Magic Marker caption below this one read THE HAPPY COUPLE!
The cabinet with the batteries bore a Dymo tape label reading ELECTRICAL STUFF and was mounted to the left of the photos. Darcy moved in that direction without looking where she was going-trusting to Bob’s just-short-of-maniacal neatness—and stumbled over a cardboard box that hadn’t been entirely pushed under the workbench. She tottered, then grabbed the workbench at the last possible second. She broke off a fingernail—painful and annoying—but saved herself a potentially nasty fall, which was good. Very good, considering there was no one in the house to call 911, had she cracked her skull on the floor-greaseless and clean, but extremely hard.
She could simply have pushed the box back under with the side of her foot—later she would realize this and ponder it carefully, like a mathematician going over an abstruse and complicated equation. She was in a hurry, after all. But she saw a Patternworks knitting catalogue on top of the box, and knelt down to grab it and take it in with the batteries. And when she lifted it out, there was a Brookstone catalogue she had misplaced just underneath. And beneath that Paula Young… Talbots… Forzieri… Bloomingdale’s…
“Bob!” she cried, only it came out in two exasperated syllables (the way it did when he tracked in mud or left his sopping towels on the bathroom floor, as if they were in a fancy hotel with maid service), not Bob but BOH-ub! Because, really, she could read him like a book. He thought she ordered too much from the mail-order catalogues, had once gone so far as to declare she was addicted to them (which was ridiculous, it was Butterfingers she was addicted to). That little psychological analysis had earned him a two-day cold shoulder. But he knew how her mind worked, and that with things that weren’t absolutely vital, she was the original out-of-sight, out-of-mind girl. So he had gathered up her catalogues, the sneak, and stowed them out here. Probably the next stop would have been the recycling bin.
Danskin… Express… Computer Outlet… Macworld… Monkey Ward… Layla Grace…
The deeper she went, the more exasperated she became. You’d think they were tottering on the edge of bankruptcy because of her spendthrift ways, which was utter bullshit. She had forgotten all about Two and a Half Men; she was already selecting the piece of her mind she intended to give Bob when he called from Montpelier (he always called after he’d had his dinner and was back at the motel). But first, she intended to take all these catalogues right back into the goddarn house, which would take three or possibly four trips, because the stack was at least two feet high, and those slick catalogues were heavy. It was really no wonder she’d stumbled over the box.
Death by catalogues, she thought. Now that would be an ironic way to g The thought broke off as clean as a dry branch. She was thumbing as she was thinking, now a quarter of the way down in the stack, and beneath Gooseberry Patch (country d?cor), she came to something that wasn’t a catalogue. No, not a catalogue at all. It was a magazine called Bondage Bitches. She almost didn’t take it out, and probably wouldn’t have if she’d come across it in one of his drawers, or on that high shelf with the magic hair-replacement products. But finding it here, stashed in a pile of what had to be at least two hundred catalogues… her catalogues… there was something about that which went beyond the embarrassment a man might feel about a sexual kink.
The woman on the cover was bound to a chair and naked except for a black hood, but the hood only covered the top half of her face and you could see she was screaming. She was tied with heavy ropes that bit into her breasts and belly. There was fake blood on her chin, neck, and arms. Across the bottom of the page, in screaming yellow type, was this unpleasant come-on: BAD BITCH BRENDA ASKED FOR IT AND GETS IT ON PAGE 49!
Darcy had no intention of turning to page 49, or to any other page. She was already explaining to herself what this was: a male investigation. She knew about male investigations from a Cosmo article she’d read in the dentist’s office. A woman had written in to one of the magazine’s many advisors (this one the on-staff shrink who specialized in the often mysterious bearded sex) about finding a couple of gay magazines in her husband’s briefcase. Very explicit stuff, the letter-writer had said, and now she was worried that her husband might be in the closet. Although if he was, she continued, he was certainly hiding it well in the bedroom.
Not to worry, the advice-lady said. Men were adventurous by nature, and many of them liked to investigate sexual behavior that was either alternative—gay sex being number one in that regard, group sex a close second—or fetishistic: water sports, cross-dressing, public sex, latex. And, of course, bondage. She had added that some women were also fascinated by bondage, which had mystified Darcy, but she would have been the first to admit she didn’t know everything.
Male investigation, that was all this was. He had maybe seen the magazine on a newsstand somewhere (although when Darcy tried to imagine that particular cover on a newsstand, her mind balked), and had been curious. Or maybe he’d picked it out of a trash can at a convenience store. He had taken it home, looked through it out here in the garage, had been as appalled as she was (the blood on the cover model was obviously fake, but that scream looked all too real), and had stuck it in this gigantic stack of catalogues bound for the recycling bin so she wouldn’t come across it and give him a hard time. That was all it was, a one-off. If she looked through the rest of these catalogues, she’d find nothing else like it. Maybe a few
She looked at the cover again, and noticed an odd thing: there was no price on it. No bar code, either. She checked the back cover, curious about what such a magazine might cost, and winced at the picture there: a naked blonde strapped to what looked like a steel operating-room table. This one’s expression of terror looked about as real as a three-dollar bill, however, which was sort of comforting. And the portly man standing over her with what appeared to be a Ginsu knife just looked ridiculous in his armlets and leather underpants—more like an accountant than someone about to carve up the Bondage Bitch
Bob’s an accountant, her mind remarked.
A stupid thought launched from her brain’s all-too-large Stupid Zone. She pushed it away just as she pushed the remarkably unpleasant magazine back into the pile of catalogues after ascertaining that there was no price or bar code on the back, either. And as she shoved the cardboard box under the workbench—she had changed her mind about carting the catalogues back into the house—the answer to the no-price/no-bar-code mystery came to her. It was one of those magazines they sold in a plastic wrapper, with all the naughty bits covered. The price and the code had been on the wrapper, of course that was it, what else could it be? He had to’ve bought the goddarn thing somewhere, assuming he hadn’t fished it out of the trash.
Maybe he bought it over the Internet. There are probably sites that specialize in that sort of thing. Not to mention young women dressed up to look like twelve-year-olds.
“Never mind,” she said, and gave her head a single brisk nod. This was a done deal, a dead letter, a closed discussion. If she mentioned it on the phone when he called later tonight, or when he came home, he’d be embarrassed and defensive. He’d probably call her sexually na?ve, which she supposed she was, and accuse her of overreacting, which she was determined not to do. What she was determined to do was roll widdit, baby. A marriage was like a house under constant construction, each year seeing the completion of new rooms. A first-year marriage was a cottage; one that had gone on for twenty-seven years was a huge and rambling mansion. There were bound to be crannies and storage spaces, most of them dusty and abandoned, some containing a few unpleasant relics you would just as soon you hadn’t found. But that was no biggie. You either threw those relics out or took them to Goodwill.
She liked this thought (which had a conclusive feel) so well that she said it out loud: “No biggie.” And to prove it, she gave the cardboard box a hard two-handed shove, sending it all the way to the rear wall.
Where there was a clunk. What was that?
I don’t want to know, she told herself, and was pretty sure that thought wasn’t coming from the Stupid Zone but from the smart one. It was shadowy back there under the worktable, and there might be mice. Even a well-kept garage like this one could have mice, especially once cold weather came, and a scared mouse might bite.
Darcy stood up, brushed off the knees of her housecoat, and left the garage. Halfway across the breezeway, she heard the phone begin to ring.
– 3 –
She was back in the kitchen before the answering machine kicked in, but she waited. If it was Bob, she’d let the robot take it. She didn’t want to talk to him right this minute. He might hear something in her voice. He would assume she’d gone out to the corner store or maybe to Video Village and call back in an hour. In an hour, after her unpleasant discovery would have had a chance to settle a bit, she’d be fine and they could have a pleasant conversation.
But it wasn’t Bob, it was Donnie. “Oh, shoot, I really wanted to talk to you guys.”
She picked up the phone, leaned back against the counter, and said, “So talk. I was coming back from the garage.”
Donnie was bubbling over with news. He was living in Cleveland, Ohio, now, and after two years of thankless toiling in an entry-level position with the city’s largest ad firm, he and a friend had decided to strike out on their own. Bob had strongly advised against this, telling Donnie that Donnie and his partner would never get the start-up loan they needed to make it through the first year.
“Wake up,” he’d said after Darcy turned the phone over to him. In the early spring this had been, with the last bits of snow still lurking beneath the trees and bushes in the backyard. “You’re twenty-four, Donnie, and so’s your pal Ken. You two galoots can’t even get collision insurance on your cars for another year, just straight liability. No bank’s going to underwrite a seventy-thousand-dollar start-up, especially with the economy the way it is.”
But they had gotten the loan, and now had landed two big clients, both on the same day. One was a car dealership looking for a fresh approach that would attract thirtysomething buyers. The other was the very bank that had issued Anderson & Hayward their start-up loan. Darcy shouted with delight, and Donnie yelled right back. They talked for twenty minutes or so. Once during the conversation they were interrupted by the double-beep of an incoming call.
“Do you want to get that?” Donnie asked.
“No, it’s just your father. He’s in Montpelier, looking at a collection of steel pennies. He’ll call back before he turns in.”
“How’s he doing?”
Fine, she thought. Developing new interests.
“Upright and sniffin the air,” she said. It was one of Bob’s favorites, and it made Donnie laugh. She loved to hear him laugh.
“Call her yourself and see, Donald.”
“I will, I will. I always get around to it. In the meantime, thumbnail me.”
“She’s great. Full of wedding plans.”
“You’d think it was next week instead of next June.”
“Donnie, if you don’t make an effort to understand women, you’ll never get married yourself.”
“I’m in no hurry, I’m having too much fun.”
“Just as long as you have fun carefully.”
“I’m very careful and very polite. I’ve got to run, Ma. I’m meeting Ken for a drink in half an hour. We’re going to start brainstorming this car thing.”
She almost told him not to drink too much, then restrained herself. He might still look like a high school junior, and in her clearest memory of him he was a five-year-old in a red corduroy jumper, tirelessly pushing his scooter up and down the concrete paths of Joshua Chamberlain Park in Pownal, but he was neither of those boys anymore. He was a young man, and also, as improbable as it seemed, a young entrepreneur beginning to make his way in the world.
“Okay,” she said. “Thanks for calling, Donnie. It was a treat.”
“Same here. Say hello to the old feller when he calls back, and give him my love.”
“Upright and sniffin the air,” Donnie said, and snickered. “How many Cub Scout packs has he taught that one to?”
“All of them.” Darcy opened the refrigerator to see if there was perchance a Butterfinger in there, chilling and awaiting her amorous intentions. Nope. “It’s terrifying.”
“Love you, Mom.”
“Love you, too.”
She hung up, feeling good again. Smiling. But as she stood there, leaning against the counter, the smile faded.
There had been a clunk when she pushed the box of catalogues back under the workbench. Not a clatter, as if the box had struck a dropped tool, but a clunk. Sort of hollow-sounding.
I don’t care.
Unfortunately, this was not true. The clunk felt like unfinished business. The carton did, too. Were there other magazines like Bondage Bitches stashed in there?
I don’t want to know.
Right, right, but maybe she should find out, just the same. Because if there was just the one, she was right about its being sexual curiosity that had been fully satisfied by a single peek into an unsavory (and unbalanced, she added to herself) world. If there were more, that might still be all right—he was throwing them out, after all—but maybe she should know.
Mostly… that clunk. It lingered on her mind more than the question about the magazines.
She snagged a flashlight from the pantry and went back out to the garage. She pinched the lapels of her housecoat shut immediately and wished she’d put on her jacket. It was really getting cold.
– 4 –
Darcy got down on her knees, pushed the box of catalogues to one side, and shone the light under the worktable. For a moment she didn’t understand what she was seeing: two lines of darkness interrupting the smooth baseboard, one slightly fatter than the other. Then a thread of disquiet formed in her midsection, stretching from the middle of her breastbone down to the pit of her stomach. It was a hiding place.
Leave this alone, Darcy. It’s his business, and for your own peace of mind you should let it stay that way.
Good advice, but she had come too far to take it. She crawled under the worktable with the flashlight in her hand, steeling herself for the brush of cobwebs, but there were none. If she was the original out-of-sight, out-of-mind girl, then her balding, coin-collecting, Cub Scouting husband was the original everything-polished, everything-clean boy.
Also, he’s crawled under here himself, so no cobwebs would have a chance to form.
Was that true? She didn’t actually know, did she?
But she thought she did.
The cracks were at either end of an eight-inch length of baseboard that appeared to have a dowel or something in the middle so it could pivot. She had struck it with the box just hard enough to jar it open, but that didn’t explain the clunk. She pushed one end of the board. It swung in on one end and out on the other, revealing a hidey-hole eight inches long, a foot high, and maybe eighteen inches deep. She thought she might discover more magazines, possibly rolled up, but there were no magazines. There was a little wooden box, one she was pretty sure she recognized. It was the box that had made the clunking sound. It had been standing on end, and the pivoting baseboard had knocked it over.
She reached in, grasped it, and—with a sense of misgiving so strong it almost had a texture-brought it out. It was the little oak box she had given to him at Christmas five years ago, maybe more. Or had it been for his birthday? She didn’t remember, just that it had been a good buy at the craft shop in Castle Rock. Hand-carved on the top, in bas-relief, was a chain. Below the chain, also in bas-relief, was the box’s stated purpose: LINKS. Bob had a clutter of cufflinks, and although he favored button-style shirts for work, some of his wrist-jewelry was quite nice. She remembered thinking the box would help keep them organized. Darcy knew she’d seen it on top of the bureau on his side of the bedroom for awhile after the gift was unwrapped and exclaimed over, but couldn’t remember seeing it lately. Of course she hadn’t. It was out here, in the hidey-hole under his worktable, and she would have bet the house and lot (another of his sayings) that if she opened it, it wouldn’t be cufflinks she found inside.
Don’t look, then.
More good advice, but now she had come much too far to take it. Feeling like a woman who has wandered into a casino and for some mad reason staked her entire life’s savings on a single turn of a single card, she opened the box.
Let it be empty. Please God, if you love me let it be empty.
But it wasn’t. There were three plastic oblongs inside, bound with an elastic band. She picked the bundle out, using just the tips of her fingers—as a woman might handle a cast-off rag she fears may be germy as well as dirty. Darcy slipped off the elastic.
They weren’t credit cards, which had been her first idea. The top one was a Red Cross blood donor’s card belonging to someone named Marjorie Duvall. Her type was A-positive, her region New England. Darcy turned the card over and saw that Marjoriewhoever she was—had last given blood on August sixteenth of 2010. Three months ago.
Who the hell was Marjorie Duvall? How did Bob know her? And why did the name ring a faint but very clear bell?
The next one was Marjorie Duvall’s North Conway Library card, and it had an address: 17 Honey Lane, South Gansett, New Hampshire.
The last piece of plastic was Marjorie Duvall’s New Hampshire driver’s license. She looked like a perfectly ordinary American woman in her mid-thirties, not very pretty (although nobody looked their best in driver’s license photographs), but presentable. Darkish blond hair pulled back from her face, either bunned or ponytailed; in the picture you couldn’t tell. DOB, January 6, 1974. The address was the same as the one on the library card.
Darcy realized that she was making a desolate mewing sound. It was horrible to hear a sound like that coming from her own throat, but she couldn’t stop. And her stomach had been replaced by a ball of lead. It was pulling all of her insides down, stretching them into new and unpleasant shapes. She had seen Marjorie Duvall’s face in the newspaper. Also on the six o’clock news.
With hands that had absolutely no feeling, she put the rubber band back around the ID cards, put them back in the box, then put the box back in his hidey-hole. She was getting ready to close it up again when she heard herself saying, “No, no, no, that isn’t right. It can’t be.”
Was that the voice of Smart Darcy or Stupid Darcy? It was hard to tell. All she knew for sure was that Stupid Darcy had been the one to open the box. And thanks to Stupid Darcy, she was falling.
Taking the box back out. Thinking, It’s a mistake, it has to be, we’ve been married over half our lives, I’d know, I would know. Opening the box. Thinking, Does anybody really know anybody?
Before tonight she certainly would have thought so.
Marjorie Duvall’s driver’s license was now on the top of the stack. Before, it had been on the bottom. Darcy put it there. But which of the others had been on top, the Red Cross card or the library card? It was simple, it had to be simple when there were only two choices, but she was too upset to remember. She put the library card on top and knew at once that was wrong, because the first thing she’d seen when she opened the box was a flash of red, red like blood, of course a blood donor card would be red, and that had been the one on top.
She put it there, and as she was putting the elastic back around the little collection of plastic, the phone in the house started to ring again. It was him. It was Bob, calling from Vermont, and were she in the kitchen to take the call, she’d hear his cheery voice (a voice she knew as well as her own) asking, Hey, honey, how are you?
Her fingers jerked and the rubber band snapped. It flew away, and she cried out, whether in frustration or fear she didn’t know. But really, why would she be afraid? Twenty-seven years of marriage and he had never laid a hand on her, except to caress. On only a few occasions had he raised his voice to her.
The phone rang again… again… and then cut off in mid-ring. Now he would be leaving a message. Missed you again! Damn! Give me a call so I won’t worry, okay? The number is…
He’d add the number of his room, too. He left nothing to chance, took nothing for granted.
What she was thinking absolutely couldn’t be true. It was like one of those monster delusions that sometimes reared up from the mud at the bottom of a person’s mind, sparkling with hideous plausibility: that the acid indigestion was the onset of a heart attack, the headache a brain tumor, and Petra’s failure to call on Sunday night meant she had been in a car accident and was lying comatose in some hospital. But those delusions usually came at four in the morning, when the insomnia was in charge. Not at eight o’clock in the evening… and where was that damned rubber band?
She found it at last, lying behind the carton of catalogues she never wanted to look in again. She put it in her pocket, started to get up to look for another one without remembering where she was, and thumped her head on the bottom of the table. Darcy began to cry.
There were no rubber bands in any of the worktable’s drawers, and that made her cry even harder. She went back through the breezeway, the terrible, inexplicable identity cards in her housecoat pocket, and got an elastic out of the kitchen drawer where she kept all sorts of semi-useful crap: paper clips, bread ties, fridge magnets that had lost most of their pull. One of these latter said DARCY RULES, and had been a stocking-stuffer present from Bob.
On the counter, the light on top of the phone blinked steadily, saying message, message, message.
She hurried back to the garage without holding the lapels of her housecoat. She no longer felt the outer chill, because the one inside was greater. And then there was the lead ball pulling down her guts. Elongating them. She was vaguely aware that she needed to move her bowels, and badly.
Never mind. Hold it. Pretend you’re on the turnpike and the next rest area’s twenty miles ahead. Get this done. Put everything back the way it was. Then you can—
Then she could what? Forget it?
Fat chance of that.
She bound the ID cards with the elastic, realized the driver’s license had somehow gotten back on top, and called herself a stupid bitch… a pejorative for which she would have slapped Bob’s face, had he ever tried to hang it on her. Not that he ever had.
“A stupid bitch but not a bondage bitch,” she muttered, and a cramp knifed her belly. She dropped to her knees and froze that way, waiting for it to pass. If there had been a bathroom out here she would have dashed for it, but there wasn’t. When the cramp let go-reluctantly—she rearranged the cards in what she was pretty sure was the right order (blood donor, library, driver’s license), then put them back in the LINKS box. Box back in hole. Pivoting piece of baseboard closed up tight. Carton of catalogues back where it had been when she tripped on it: sticking out slightly. He would never know the difference.
But was she sure of that? If he was what she was thinkingmonstrous that such a thing should even be in her mind, when all she’d wanted just a half an hour ago was fresh batteries for the goddarn remote control—if he was, then he’d been careful for a long time. And he was careful, he was neat, he was the original everything-polished, everything-clean boy, but if he was what those goddarn (no, goddamned) plastic cards seemed to suggest he was, then he must be supernaturally careful. Supernaturally watchful. Sly.
It was a word she had never thought of in connection to Bob until tonight.
“No,” she told the garage. She was sweating, her hair was stuck to her face in unlovely spikelets, she was crampy and her hands were trembling like those of a person with Parkinson’s, but her voice was weirdly calm, strangely serene. “No, he’s not. It’s a mistake. My husband is not Beadie.”
She went back into the house.
– 5 –
She decided to make tea. Tea was calming. She was filling the kettle when the phone began to ring again. She dropped the kettle into the sink—the bong sound made her utter a small scream—then went to the phone, wiping her wet hands on her housecoat.
She picked up the phone and said brightly, “If that’s you, handsome, come right over. My husband’s out of town.”
Bob laughed. “Hey, honey, how are you?”
“Upright and sniffin the air. You?”
There was a long silence. It felt long, anyway, although it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. In it she heard the somehow terrible whine of the refrigerator, and water dripping from the faucet onto the teakettle she’d dropped in the sink, the beating of her own heart—that last sound seeming to come from her throat and ears rather than her chest. They had been married so long that they had become almost exquisitely attuned to each other. Did that happen in every marriage? She didn’t know. She only knew her own. Except now she had to wonder if she even knew that one.
“You sound funny,” he said. “All thick in the voice. Is everything okay, sweetie?”
She should have been touched. Instead she was terrified. Marjorie Duvall: the name did not just hang in front of her eyes; it seemed to blink on and off, like a neon bar sign. For a moment she was speechless, and to her horror, the kitchen she knew so well was wavering in front of her as more tears rose in her eyes. That crampy heaviness was back in her bowels, too. Marjorie Duvall. A-positive. 17 Honey Lane. As in hey, hon, how’s life been treatin you, are you upright and sniffin the air?
“I was thinking about Brandolyn,” she heard herself say.
“Oh, baby,” he said, and the sympathy in his voice was all Bob. She knew it well. Hadn’t she leaned on it time after time since 1984? Even before, when they’d still been courting and she came to understand that he was the one? Sure she had. As he had leaned on her. The idea that such sympathy could be nothing but sweet icing on a poison cake was insane. The fact that she was at this moment lying to him was even more insane. If, that was, there were degrees of insanity. Or maybe insane was like unique, and there was no comparative or superlative form. And what was she thinking? In God’s name, what?
But he was talking, and she had no idea what he’d just said.
“Run that past me again. I was reaching for the tea.” Another lie, her hands were shaking too badly to reach for anything, but a small plausible one. And her voice wasn’t shaking. At least she didn’t think it was.
“I said, what got that going?”
“Donnie called and asked after his sister. It got me thinking about mine. I went out and walked around for awhile. I got sniffling, although some of that was just the cold. You probably heard it in my voice.”
“Yep, right away,” he said. “Listen, I should skip Burlington tomorrow and come back home.”
She almost cried out No!, but that would be exactly the wrong thing to do. That might get him on the road at first light, all solicitude.
“You do and I’ll punch you in the eye,” she said, and was relieved when he laughed. “Charlie Frady told you that estate sale in Burlington was worth going to, and his contacts are good. His instincts are, too. You’ve always said so.”
“Yeah, but I don’t like to hear you sounding so low.”
That he had known (and at once! at once!) that something was wrong with her was bad. That she needed to lie about what the trouble was—ah, that was worse. She closed her eyes, saw Bad Bitch Brenda screaming inside the black hood, and opened them again.
“I was low, but I’m not now,” she said. “It was just a momentary fugue. She was my sister, and I saw my father bring her home. Sometimes I think about it, that’s all.”
“I know,” he said. He did, too. Her sister’s death wasn’t the reason she’d fallen in love with Bob Anderson, but his understanding of her grief had tightened the connection.
Brandolyn Madsen had been struck and killed by a drunk snowmobiler while she was out cross-country skiing. He fled, leaving her body in the woods half a mile from the Madsen house. When Brandi wasn’t back by eight o’clock, a pair of Freeport policemen and the local Neighborhood Watch had mounted a search party. It was Darcy’s father who found her body and carried it home through half a mile of pine woods. Darcy-stationed in the living room, monitoring the phone and trying to keep her mother calm—had been the first to see him. He came walking up the lawn under the harsh glare of a full winter moon with his breath puffing out in white clouds. Darcy’s initial thought (this was still terrible to her) had been of those corny old black-and-white love-movies they sometimes showed on TCM, the ones where some guy carries his new bride across the threshold of their happy honeymoon cottage while fifty violins pour syrup onto the soundtrack.
Bob Anderson, Darcy had discovered, could relate in a way many people could not. He hadn’t lost a brother or sister; he had lost his best friend. The boy had darted out into the road to grab an errant throw during a game of pickup baseball (not Bob’s throw, at least; no baseball player, he’d been swimming that day), had been struck by a delivery truck, and died in the hospital shortly afterward. This coincidence of old sorrows wasn’t the only thing that made their pairing seem special to her, but it was the one that made it feel somehow mystical-not a coincidence but a planned thing.
“Stay in Vermont, Bobby. Go to the estate sale. I love you for being concerned, but if you come running home, I’ll feel like a kid. Then I’ll be mad.”
“Okay. But I’m going to call you tomorrow at seven-thirty. Fair warning.”
She laughed, and was relieved to hear it was a real one… or so close as to make no difference. And why shouldn’t she be allowed a real laugh? Just why the heck not? She loved him, and would give him the benefit of the doubt. Of every doubt. Nor was this a choice. You could not turn off love—even the rather absent, sometimes taken for granted love of twenty-seven years—the way you’d turn off a faucet. Love ran from the heart, and the heart had its own imperatives.
“Bobby, you always call at seven-thirty.”
“Guilty as charged. Call tonight if you—”
“—need anything, no matter what the hour,” she finished for him. Now she almost felt like herself again. It was really amazing, the number of hard hits from which a mind could recover. “I will.”
“Love you, honey.” The coda of so many conversations over the years.
“Love you, too,” she said, smiling. Then she hung up, put her forehead against the wall, closed her eyes, and began weeping before the smile could leave her face.
– 6 –
Her computer, an iMac now old enough to look fashionably retro, was in her sewing room. She rarely used it for anything but email and eBay, but now she opened Google and typed in Marjorie Duvall’s name. She hesitated before adding Beadie to the search, but not long. Why prolong the agony? It would come up anyway, she was sure of it. She hit Enter, and as she watched the little wait-circle go around and around at the top of the screen, those cramps struck again. She hurried to the bathroom, sat down on the commode, and took care of her business with her face in her hands. There was a mirror on the back of the door, and she didn’t want to see herself in it. Why was it there, anyway? Why had she allowed it to be there? Who wanted to watch themselves sitting on the pot? Even at the best of times, which this most certainly wasn’t?
She went back to the computer slowly, dragging her feet like a child who knows she is about to be punished for the kind of thing Darcy’s mother had called a Big Bad. She saw that Google had provided her with over five million results for her search: o omnipotent Google, so generous and so terrible. But the first one actually made her laugh; it invited her to follow Marjorie Duvall Beadie on Twitter. Darcy felt she could ignore that one. Unless she was wrong (and how wildly grateful that would make her), the Marjorie she was looking for had Twittered her last tweet some time ago.
The second result was from the Portland Press Herald, and when Darcy clicked on it, the photograph that greeted her (it felt like a slap, that greeting) was the one she remembered from TV, and probably in this very article, since the Press Herald was their paper. The article had been published ten days before, and was the lead story. NEW HAMPSHIRE WOMAN MAY HAVE BEEN “BEADIE’S” 11th VICTIM, the headline screamed. And the subhead: Police Source: “We’re Ninety Per Cent Sure”
Marjorie Duvall looked a lot prettier in the newspaper picture, a studio shot that showed her posed in classic fashion, wearing a swirly black dress. Her hair was down, and looked a much lighter blond in this photo. Darcy wondered if her husband had provided the picture. She supposed he had. She supposed it had been on their mantel at 17 Honey Lane, or perhaps mounted in the hall. The pretty hostess of the house greeting guests with her eternal smile.
Gentlemen prefer blondes because they get tired of squeezin them blackheads.
One of Bob’s sayings. She had never much liked that one, and hated having it in her head now.
Marjorie Duvall had been found in a ravine six miles from her house in South Gansett, just over the North Conway town line. The County Sheriff speculated that the death had probably resulted from strangulation, but he couldn’t say for sure; that was up to the County Medical Examiner. He refused to speculate further, or answer any other questions, but the reporter’s unnamed source (whose information was at least semi-validated by being “close to the investigation”) said that Duvall had been bitten and sexually molested “in a manner consistent with the other Beadie killings.”
Which was a natural transition to a complete recap of the previous murders. The first had occurred in 1977. There had been two in 1978, another in 1980, and then two more in 1981. Two of the murders had occurred in New Hampshire, two in Massachusetts, the fifth and sixth in Vermont. After that, there had been a hiatus of sixteen years. The police assumed that one of three things had happened: Beadie had moved to another part of the country and was pursuing his hobby there, Beadie had been arrested for some other, unrelated crime and was in prison, or Beadie had killed himself. The one thing that wasn’t likely, according to a psychiatrist the reporter had consulted for his story, was that Beadie had just gotten tired of it. “These guys don’t get bored,” the psychiatrist said. “It’s their sport, their compulsion. More than that, it’s their secret life.”
Secret life. What a poison bonbon that phrase was.
Beadie’s sixth victim had been a woman from Barre, uncovered in a snowdrift by a passing plow just a week before Christmas. Such a holiday that must have been for her relatives, Darcy thought. Not that she’d had much of a Christmas herself that year. Lonely away from home (a fact wild horses wouldn’t have dragged from her mouth when talking to her mother), working at a job she wasn’t sure she was qualified for even after eighteen months and one merit raise, she had felt absolutely no spirit of the season. She had acquaintances (the Margarita Girls), but no real friends. She wasn’t good when it came to making friends, never had been. Shy was the kind word for her personality, introverted probably a more accurate one.
Then Bob Anderson had walked into her life with a smile on his face—Bob who had asked her out and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not three months after the plow had uncovered the body of Beadie’s last “early cycle” victim, that must have been. They fell in love. And Beadie stopped for sixteen years.
Because of her? Because he loved her? Because he wanted to stop doing Big Bads?
Or just a coincidence. It could be that.
Nice try, but the IDs she’d found squirreled away in the garage made the idea of coincidence seem a lot less likely.
Beadie’s seventh victim, the first of what the paper called “the new cycle,” had been a woman from Waterville, Maine, named Stacey Moore. Her husband found her in the cellar upon returning from Boston, where he and two friends had taken in a couple of Red Sox games. August of 1997, this had been. Her head had been stuffed into a bin of the sweet corn the Moores sold at their roadside Route 106 farm-stand. She was naked, her hands bound behind her back, her buttocks and thighs bitten in a dozen places.
Two days later, Stacey Moore’s driver’s license and Blue Cross card, bound with a rubber band, had arrived in Augusta, addressed in block printing to BOOB ATTORNEY JENRAL DEPT. OF CRINIMAL INVESTIGATION. There was also a note: HELLO! I’M BACK! BEADIE!
This was a packet the detectives in charge of the Moore murder recognized at once. Similar selected bits of ID—and similar cheerful notes—had been delivered following each of the previous killings. He knew when they were alone. He tortured them, principally with his teeth; he raped or sexually molested them; he killed them; he sent their identification to some branch of the police weeks or months later. Taunting them with it.
To make sure he gets the credit, Darcy thought dismally.
There had been another Beadie murder in 2004, the ninth and tenth in 2007. Those two were the worst, because one of the victims had been a child. The woman’s ten-year-old son had been excused from school after complaining of a stomachache, and had apparently walked in on Beadie while he was at work. The boy’s body had been found with his mother’s, in a nearby creek. When the woman’s ID—two credit cards and a driver’s license—arrived at Massachusetts State Police Barracks #7, the attached card read: HELLO! THE BOY WAS AN ACCIDENT! SORRY! BUT IT WAS QUICK, HE DID NOT “SUFFER!” BEADIE!
There were many other articles she could have accessed (o omnipotent Google), but to what end? The sweet dream of one more ordinary evening in an ordinary life had been swallowed by a nightmare. Would reading more about Beadie dispel the nightmare? The answer to that was obvious.
Her belly clenched. She ran for the bathroom—still smelly in spite of the fan, usually you could ignore what a smelly business life was, but not always—and fell on her knees in front of the toilet, staring into the blue water with her mouth open. For a moment she thought the need to vomit was going to pass, then she thought of Stacey Moore with her black strangled face shoved into the corn and her buttocks covered with blood dried to the color of chocolate milk. That tipped her over and she vomited twice, hard enough to splash her face with Ty-D-Bol and a few flecks of her own effluvium.
Crying and gasping, she flushed the toilet. The porcelain would have to be cleaned, but for now she only lowered the lid and laid her flushed cheek on its cool beige plastic.
What am I going to do?
The obvious step was to call the police, but what if she did that and it all turned out to be a mistake? Bob had always been the most generous and forgiving of men—when she’d run the front of their old van into a tree at the edge of the post office parking lot and shattered the windshield, his only concern had been if she had cut her face—but would he forgive her if she mistakenly fingered him for eleven torture-killings he hadn’t committed? And the world would know. Guilty or innocent, his picture would be in the paper. On the front page. Hers, too.
Darcy dragged herself to her feet, got the toilet-scrubbing brush from the bathroom closet, and cleaned up her mess. She did it slowly. Her back hurt. She supposed she had thrown up hard enough to pull a muscle.
Halfway through the job, the next realization thudded down. It wouldn’t be just the two of them dragged into newspaper speculation and the filthy rinse-cycle of twenty-four-hour cable news; there were the kids to think about. Donnie and Ken had just landed their first two clients, but the bank and the car dealership looking for a fresh approach would be gone three hours after this shit-bomb exploded. Anderson & Hayward, which had taken its first real breath today, would be dead tomorrow. Darcy didn’t know how much Ken Hayward had invested, but Donnie was all in the pot. That didn’t amount to such of a much in cash, but there were other things you invested when you were starting out on your own voyage. Your heart, your brains, your sense of self-worth.
Then there were Petra and Michael, probably at this very moment with their heads together making more wedding plans, unaware that a two-ton safe was dangling above them on a badly frayed cord. Pets had always idolized her father. What would it do to her if she found out the hands which had once pushed her on the backyard swing were the same hands that had strangled the life out of eleven women? That the lips which had kissed her goodnight were hiding teeth that had bitten eleven women, in some cases all the way down to the bone?
Sitting at her computer again, a terrible newspaper headline rose in Darcy’s mind. It was accompanied by a photograph of Bob in his neckerchief, absurd khaki shorts, and long socks. It was so clear it could already have been printed:
MASS MURDERER “BEADIE”
LED CUB SCOUTS FOR 17 YEARS
Darcy clapped a hand over her mouth. She could feel her eyes pulsing in their sockets. The notion of suicide occurred to her, and for a few moments (long ones) the idea seemed completely rational, the only reasonable solution. She could leave a note saying she’d done it because she was afraid she had cancer. Or early-onset Alzheimer’s, that was even better. But suicide cast a deep shadow over families, too, and what if she was wrong? What if Bob had just found that ID packet by the side of the road, or something?
Do you know how unlikely that is? Smart Darcy sneered.
Okay, yes, but unlikely wasn’t the same as impossible, was it? There was something else, too, something that made the cage she was in escape-proof: what if she was right? Wouldn’t her death free Bob to kill more, because he no longer had to lead so deep a double life? Darcy wasn’t sure she believed in a conscious existence after death, but what if there was one? And what if she were confronted there not by Edenic green fields and rivers of plenty but by a ghastly receiving line of strangled women branded by her husband’s teeth, all accusing her of causing their deaths by taking the easy way out herself? And by ignoring what she had found (if such a thing were even possible, which she didn’t believe for a minute), wouldn’t the accusation be true? Did she really think she could condemn more women to horrible deaths just so her daughter could have a nice June wedding?
She thought: I wish I was dead.
But she wasn’t.
For the first time in years, Darcy Madsen Anderson slipped from her chair onto her knees and began to pray. It did no good. The house was empty except for her.
– 7 –
She had never kept a diary, but she had ten years’ worth of appointment books stored in the bottom of her capacious sewing chest. And decades’ worth of Bob’s travel records stuffed in one of the file drawers of the cabinet he kept in his home office. As a tax accountant (and one with his own duly incorporated side-business to boot), he was meticulous when it came to record-keeping, taking every deduction, tax credit, and cent of automotive depreciation he could.
She stacked his files beside her computer along with her appointment books. She opened Google and forced herself to do the research she needed, noting the names and dates of death (some of these were necessarily approximate) of Beadie’s victims. Then, as the digital clock on her computer’s control strip marched soundlessly past ten PM, she began the laborious work of cross-checking.
She would have given a dozen years of her life to find something that would have indisputably eliminated him from even one of the murders, but her appointment books only made things worse. Kellie Gervais, of Keene, New Hampshire, had been discovered in the woods behind the local landfill on March fifteenth of 2004. According to the medical examiner, she had been dead three to five days. Scrawled across March tenth to twelfth in Darcy’s appointment book for 2004 was Bob to Fitzwilliam, Brat. George Fitzwilliam was a well-heeled client of Benson, Bacon & Anderson. Brat was her abbreviation for Brattleboro, where Fitzwilliam lived. An easy drive from Keene, New Hampshire.
Helen Shaverstone and her son Robert had been discovered in Newrie Creek, in the town of Amesbury, on November eleventh of 2007. They had lived in Tassel Village, some twelve miles away. On the November page of her 2007 address book, she had drawn a line across the eighth to the tenth, scrawling Bob in Saugus, 2 estate sales plus Boston coin auc. And did she remember calling his Saugus motel on one of those nights and not getting him? Assuming he was out late with some coin salesman, sniffing for leads, or maybe in the shower? She seemed to remember that. If so, had he actually been on the road that night? Perhaps coming back from doing an errand (a little drop-off) in the town of Amesbury? Or, if he had been in the shower, what in God’s name had he been washing off?
She turned to his travel records and vouchers as the clock on the control strip passed eleven and started climbing toward midnight, the witching hour when graveyards reputedly yawned. She worked carefully and stopped often to double-check. The stuff from the late seventies was spotty and not much help—he hadn’t been much more than your basic office drone in those days—but everything from the eighties was there, and the correlations she found for the Beadie murders in 1980 and 1981 were clear and undeniable. He had been traveling at the right times and in the right areas. And, Smart Darcy insisted, if you found enough cat hairs in a person’s house, you pretty much had to assume there was a feline on the premises somewhere.
So what do I do now?
The answer seemed to be, carry her confused and frightened head upstairs. She doubted if she could sleep, but at least she could take a hot shower and then lie down. She was exhausted, her back ached from throwing up, and she stank of her own sweat.
She shut off her computer and climbed to the second floor at a slow trudge. The shower eased her back and a couple of Tylenol would probably ease it more by two AM or so; she was sure she’d be awake to find out. When she put the Tylenol back in the medicine cabinet, she took the Ambien bottle out, held it in her hand for almost a full minute, then replaced that, too. It wouldn’t put her to sleep, only make her muzzy and—perhaps—more paranoid than she was already.
She lay down and looked at the night table on the other side of the bed. Bob’s clock. Bob’s spare set of reading glasses. A copy of a book called The Shack. You ought to read this, Darce, it’s a life-changer, he’d said two or three nights before this latest trip.
She turned off her lamp, saw Stacey Moore stuffed into the cornbin, and turned the lamp back on again. On most nights, the dark was her friend-sleep’s kindly harbinger—but not tonight. Tonight the dark was populated by Bob’s harem.
You don’t know that. Remember that you don’t absolutely know that.
But if you find enough cat hairs…
Enough with the cat hairs, too.
She lay there, even more wide awake than she’d feared she’d be, her mind going around and around, now thinking of the victims, now thinking of her children, now thinking of herself, even thinking of some long-forgotten Bible story about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. She glanced at Bob’s clock after what felt like an hour of going around that wretched worry-circle and saw that only twelve minutes had passed. She got up on one elbow and turned the clock’s face to the window.
He won’t be home until six tomorrow night, she thought… although, since it was now quarter past midnight, she supposed it was technically tonight that he’d be home. Still, that gave her eighteen hours. Surely enough time to make some sort of decision. It would help if she could sleep, even a little-sleep had a way of resetting the mind—but it was out of the question. She would drift a little, then think Marjorie Duvall or Stacey Moore or (this was the worst) Robert Shaverstone, ten years old. HE DID NOT “SUFFER!” And then any possibility of sleep would again be gone. The idea that she might never sleep again came to her. That was impossible, of course, but lying here with the taste of puke still in her mouth in spite of the Scope she had rinsed with, it seemed completely plausible.
At some point she found herself remembering the year in early childhood when she had gone around the house looking in mirrors. She would stand in front of them with her hands cupped to the sides of her face and her nose touching the glass, but holding her breath so she wouldn’t fog the surface.
If her mother caught her, she’d swat her away. That leaves a smudge, and I have to clean it off. Why are you so interested in yourself, anyway? You’ll never be hung for your beauty. And why stand so close? You can’t see anything worth looking at that way.
How old had she been? Four? Five? Too young to explain that it wasn’t her reflection she was interested in, anyway—or not primarily. She had been convinced that mirrors were doorways to another world, and what she saw reflected in the glass wasn’t their living room or bathroom, but the living room or bathroom of some other family. The Matsons instead of the Madsens, perhaps. Because it was similar on the other side of the glass, but not the same, and if you looked long enough, you could begin to pick up on some of the differences: a rug that appeared to be oval over there instead of round like over here, a door that seemed to have a turn-latch instead of a bolt, a light-switch that was on the wrong side of the door. The little girl wasn’t the same, either. Darcy was sure they were related—sisters of the mirror?—but no, not the same. Instead of Darcellen Madsen that little girl might be named Jane or Sandra or even Eleanor Rigby, who for some reason (some scary reason) picked up the rice at churches where a wedding had been.
Lying in the circle of her bedside lamp, drowsing without realizing it, Darcy supposed that if she had been able to tell her mother what she was looking for, if she had explained about the Darker Girl who wasn’t quite her, she might have passed some time with a child psychiatrist. But it wasn’t the girl who interested her, it had never been the girl. What interested her was the idea that there was a whole other world behind the mirrors, and if you could walk through that other house (the Darker House) and out the door, the rest of that world would be waiting.
Of course this idea had passed and, aided by a new doll (which she had named Mrs. Butterworth after the pancake syrup she loved) and a new dollhouse, she had moved on to more acceptable little-girl fantasies: cooking, cleaning, shopping, Scolding The Baby, Changing For Dinner. Now, all these years later, she had found her way through the mirror after all. Only there was no little girl waiting in the Darker House; instead there was a Darker Husband, one who had been living behind the mirror all the time, and doing terrible things there.
A good one at a fair price, Bob liked to say—an accountant’s credo if ever there was one.
Upright and sniffin the air—an answer to how you doin that every kid in every Cub Scout pack he’d ever taken down Dead Man’s Trail knew well. A response some of those boys no doubt still repeated as grown men.
Gentlemen prefer blondes, don’t forget that one. Because they get tired of squeezin…
But then sleep took Darcy, and although that soft nurse could not carry her far, the lines on her forehead and at the corners of her reddened, puffy eyes softened a bit. She was close enough to consciousness to stir when her husband pulled into the driveway, but not close enough to come around. She might have if the Suburban’s headlights had splashed across the ceiling, but Bob had doused them halfway down the block so as not to wake her.
– 8 –
A cat was stroking her cheek with a velvet paw. Very lightly but very insistently.
Darcy tried to brush it away, but her hand seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. And it was a dream, anyway—surely had to be. They had no cat. Although if there are enough cat hairs in a house, there must be one around somewhere, her struggling-to-wake mind told her, quite reasonably.
Now the paw was stroking her bangs and the forehead beneath, and it couldn’t be a cat because cats don’t talk.
“Wake up, Darce. Wake up, hon. We have to talk.”
The voice, as soft and soothing as the touch. Bob’s voice. And not a cat’s paw but a hand. Bob’s hand. Only it couldn’t be him, because he was in Montp Her eyes flew open and he was there, all right, sitting beside her on the bed, stroking her face and hair as he sometimes did when she was feeling under the weather. He was wearing a three-piece Jos. A. Bank suit (he bought all his suits there, calling it—another of his semi-amusing sayings—“Joss-Bank”), but the vest was unbuttoned and his collar undone. She could see the end of his tie poking out of his coat pocket like a red tongue. His midsection bulged over his belt and her first coherent thought was You really have to do something about your weight, Bobby, that isn’t good for your heart.
“Wha—” It came out an almost incomprehensible crow-croak.
He smiled and kept stroking her hair, her cheek, the nape of her neck. She cleared her throat and tried again.
“What are you doing here, Bobby? It must be—” She raised her head to look at his clock, which of course did no good. She had turned its face to the wall.
He glanced down at his watch. He had been smiling as he stroked her awake, and was smiling now. “Quarter to three. I sat in my stupid old motel room for almost two hours after we talked, trying to convince myself that what I was thinking couldn’t be true. Only I didn’t get to where I am by dodging the truth. So I jumped in the ’Burban and hit the road. No traffic whatsoever. I don’t know why I don’t do more traveling late at night. Maybe I will. If I’m not in Shawshank, that is. Or New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. But that’s kind of up to you. Isn’t it?”
His hand, stroking her face. The feel of it was familiar, even the smell of it was familiar, and she had always loved it. Now she didn’t, and it wasn’t just the night’s wretched discoveries. How could she have never noticed how complacently possessive that stroking touch was? You’re an old bitch, but you’re my old bitch, that touch now seemed to say. Only this time you piddled on the floor while I was gone, and that’s bad. In fact, it’s a Big Bad.
She pushed his hand away and sat up. “What in God’s name are you talking about? You come sneaking in, you wake me up—”
“Yes, you were sleeping with the light on—I saw it as soon as I turned up the driveway.” There was no guilt in his smile. Nothing sinister, either. It was the same sweet-natured Bob Anderson smile she’d loved almost from the first. For a moment her memory flickered over how gentle he’d been on their wedding night, not hurrying her. Giving her time to get used to the new thing.
Which he will do now, she thought.
“You never sleep with the light on, Darce. And although you’ve got your nightgown on, you’re wearing your bra under it, and you never do that, either. You just forgot to take it off, didn’t you? Poor darlin’. Poor tired girl.”
For just a moment he touched her breast, then—thankfully—took his hand away.
“Also, you turned my clock around so you wouldn’t have to look at the time. You’ve been upset, and I’m the cause. I’m sorry, Darce. From the bottom of my heart.”
“I ate something that disagreed with me.” It was all she could think of.
He smiled patiently. “You found my special hiding place in the garage.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, you did a good job of putting things back where you found them, but I’m very careful about such things, and the strip of tape I put on above the pivot in the baseboard was broken. You didn’t notice that, did you? Why would you? It’s the kind of tape that’s almost invisible once it’s on. Also, the box inside was an inch or two to the left of where I put it—where I always put it.”
He reached to stroke her cheek some more, then withdrew his hand (seemingly without rancor) when she turned her face away.
“Bobby, I can see you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about something, but I honestly don’t know what it is. Maybe you’ve been working too hard.”
His mouth turned down in a moue of sadness, and his eyes were moistening with tears. Incredible. She actually had to stop herself from feeling sorry for him. Emotions were only another human habit, it seemed, as conditioned as any other. “I guess I always knew this day would come.”
“I haven’t got the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
He sighed. “I had a long ride back to think about this, honey. And the longer I thought, the harder I thought, the more it seemed like there was really only one question that needed an answer: WWDD.”
“Hush,” he said, and put a gentle finger on her lips. She could smell soap. He must have showered before he left the motel, a very Bob—like thing to do. “I’ll tell you everything. I’ll make a clean breast. I think that, down deep, I’ve always wanted you to know.”
He’d always wanted her to know? Dear God. There might be worse things waiting, but this was easily the most terrible thing so far. “I don’t want to know. Whatever it is you’ve got stuck in your head, I don’t want to know.”
“I see something different in your eyes, honey, and I’ve gotten very good at reading women’s eyes. I’ve become something of an expert. WWDD stands for What Would Darcy Do. In this case, What Would Darcy Do if she found my special hiding place, and what’s inside my special box. I’ve always loved that box, by the way, because you gave it to me.”
He leaned forward and planted a quick kiss between her brows. His lips were moist. For the first time in her life, the touch of them on her skin revolted her, and it occurred to her that she might be dead before the sun came up. Because dead women told no tales. Although, she thought, he’d try to make sure I didn’t “suffer.”
“First, I asked myself if the name Marjorie Duvall would mean anything to you. I would have liked to answer that question with a big ole no, but sometimes a fellow has to be a realist. You’re not the world’s number one news junkie, but I’ve lived with you long enough to know that you follow the main stories on TV and in the newspaper. I thought you’d know the name, and even if you didn’t, I thought you’d recognize the picture on the driver’s license. Besides, I said to myself, won’t she be curious as to why I have those ID cards? Women are always curious. Look at Pandora.”
Or Bluebeard’s wife, she thought. The woman who peeked into the locked room and found the severed heads of all her predecessors in matrimony.
“Bob, I swear to you I don’t have any idea what you’re tal—”
“So the first thing I did when I came in was to boot up your computer, open Firefox—that’s the search engine you always use—and check the history.”
He chuckled as if she’d gotten off an exceptionally witty line. “You don’t even know. I didn’t think you did, because every time I check, everything’s there. You never clear it!” And he chuckled again, as a man will do when a wife exhibits a trait he finds particularly endearing.
Darcy felt the first thin stirrings of anger. Probably absurd, given the circumstances, but there it was.
“You check my computer? You sneak! You dirty sneak!”
“Of course I check. I have a very bad friend who does very bad things. A man in a situation like that has to keep current with those closest to him. Since the kids left home, that’s you and only you.”
Bad friend? A bad friend who does bad things? Her head was swimming, but one thing seemed all too clear: further denials would be useless. She knew, and he knew she did.
“You haven’t just been checking on Marjorie Duvall.” She heard no shame or defensiveness in his voice, only a hideous regret that it should have come to this. “You’ve been checking on all of them.” Then he laughed and said, “Whoops!”
She sat up against the headboard, which pulled her slightly away from him. That was good. Distance was good. All those years she’d lain with him hip to hip and thigh to thigh, and now distance was good.
“What bad friend? What are you talking about?”
He cocked his head to one side, Bob’s body language for I find you dense, but amusingly so. “Brian.”
At first she had no idea who he was talking about, and thought it must be someone from work. Possibly an accomplice? It didn’t seem likely on the face of it, she would have said Bob was as lousy at making friends as she was, but men who did such things sometimes did have accomplices. Wolves hunted in packs, after all.
“Brian Delahanty,” he said. “Don’t tell me you forgot Brian. I told you all about him after you told me about what happened to Brandolyn.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Your friend from junior high? Bob, he’s dead! He got hit by a truck while he was chasing down a baseball, and he’s dead.”
“Well…” Bob’s smile grew apologetic. “Yes… and no. I almost always called him Brian when I talked about him to you, but that’s not what I called him back in school, because he hated that name. I called him by his initials. I called him BD.”
She started to ask him what that had to do with the price of tea in China, but then she knew. Of course she knew. BD.
– 9 –
He talked for a long time, and the longer he talked, the more horrified she became. All these years she’d been living with a madman, but how could she have known? His insanity was like an underground sea. There was a layer of rock over it, and a layer of soil over the rock; flowers grew there. You could stroll through them and never know the madwater was there… but it was. It always had been. He blamed BD (who had become Beadie only years later, in his notes to the police) for everything, but Darcy suspected Bob knew better than that; blaming Brian Delahanty only made it easier to keep his two lives separate.
It had been BD’s idea to take guns to school and go on a rampage, for instance. According to Bob, this inspiration had occurred in the summer between their freshman and sophomore years at Castle Rock High School. “1971,” he said, shaking his head goodnaturedly, as a man might do when recalling some harmless childhood peccadillo. “Long before those Columbine oafs were even a twinkle in their daddies’ eyes. There were these girls that snooted us. Diane Ramadge, Laurie Swenson, Gloria Haggerty… there were a couple of others, too, but I forget their names. The plan was to get a bunch of guns—Brian’s dad had about twenty rifles and pistols in his basement, including a couple of German Lugers from World War II that we were just fascinated with—and take them to school. No searches or metal detectors back then, you know.
“We were going to barricade ourselves in the science wing. We’d chain the doors shut, kill some people—mostly teachers, but also some of the guys we didn’t like—and then stampede the rest of the kids outside through the fire door at the far end of the hall. Well… most of the kids. We were going to keep the girls who snooted us as hostages. We planned-BD planned—to do all of this before the cops could get there, right? He drew maps, and he kept a list of the steps we’d have to take in his geometry notebook. I think there were maybe twenty steps in all, starting with ‘Pull fire alarms to create confusion.’” He chuckled. “And after we had the place locked down…”
He gave her a slightly shamefaced smile, but she thought what he was mostly ashamed of was how stupid the plan had been in the first place.
“Well, you can probably guess. Couple of teenage boys, hormones so high we got horny when the wind blew. We were going to tell those girls that if they’d, you know, fuck us real good, we’d let them go. If they didn’t, we’d have to kill them. And they’d fuck, all right.”
He nodded slowly.
“They’d fuck to live. BD was right about that.”
He was lost in his story. His eyes were hazy with (grotesque but true) nostalgia. For what? The crazy dreams of youth? She was afraid that might actually be it.
“We didn’t plan to kill ourselves like those heavy-metal dumbbells in Colorado, either. No way. There was a basement under the science wing, and Brian said there was a tunnel down there. He said it went from the supply room to the old fire station on the other side of Route 119. Brian said that when the high school was just a K-through-eight grammar school back in the fifties, there was a park over there, and the little kids used to play in it at recess. The tunnel was so they could get to the park without having to cross the road.”
Bob laughed, making her jump.
“I took his word for all that, but it turned out he was full of shit. I went down there the next fall to look for myself. The supply room was there, full of paper and stinking of that mimeograph juice they used to use, but if there was a tunnel, I never found it, and even back then I was very thorough. I don’t know if he was lying to both of us or just to himself, I only know there was no tunnel. We would have been trapped upstairs, and who knows, we might have killed ourselves after all. You never know what a fourteen-year-old’s going to do, do you? They roll around like unexploded bombs.”
You’re not unexploded anymore, she thought. Are you, Bob?
“We probably would have chickened out, anyway. But maybe not. Maybe we would have tried to go through with it. BD got me all excited, talking about how we were going to feel them up first, then make them take off each other’s clothes…” He looked at her earnestly. “Yes, I know how it sounds, just boys’ jack-off fantasies, but those girls really were snoots. You tried to talk to them, they’d laugh and walk away. Then stand in the corner of the caff, the bunch of them, looking us over and laughing some more. So you really couldn’t blame us, could you?”
He looked at his fingers, drumming restlessly on his suit-pants where they stretched tight over his thighs, then back up at Darcy.
“The thing you have to understand—that you really have to see—is how persuasive Brian was. He was lots worse than me. He really was crazy. Plus it was a time when the whole country was rioting, don’t forget, and that was part of it, too.”
I doubt it, she thought.
The amazing thing was how he made it sound almost normal, as if every adolescent boy’s sexual fantasies involved rape and murder. Probably he believed that, just as he had believed in Brian Delahanty’s mythical escape tunnel. Or had he? How could she know? She was, after all, listening to the recollections of a lunatic. It was just hard to believe that—still!—because the madman was Bob. Her Bob.
“Anyway,” he said, shrugging, “it never happened. That was the summer Brian ran into the road and got killed. There was a reception at his house after the funeral, and his mother said I could go up to his room and take something, if I wanted. As a souvenir, you know. And I did want to! You bet I did! I took his geometry notebook, so nobody would go leafing through it and come across his plans for The Great Castle Rock Shoot—Out and Fuck Party. That’s what he called it, you know.”
Bob laughed ruefully.
“If I was a religious fella, I’d say God saved me from myself. And who knows if there isn’t Something… some Fate… that has its own plan for us.”
“And this Fate’s plan for you was for you to torture and kill women?” Darcy asked. She couldn’t help herself.
He looked at her reproachfully. “They were snoots,” he said, and raised a teacherly finger. “Also, it wasn’t me. It was Beadie who did that stuff—and I say did for a reason, Darce. I say did instead of does because all of that’s behind me now.”
“Bob—your friend BD is dead. He’s been dead for almost forty years. You must know that. I mean, on some level you must.”
He tossed his hands in the air: a gesture of good-natured surrender. “Do you want to call it guilt—avoidance? That’s what a shrink would call it, I suppose, and it’s fine if you do. But Darcy, listen!” He leaned forward and pressed a finger to her forehead, between her eyebrows. “Listen and get this through your head. It was Brian. He infected me with… well, certain ideas, let’s say that. Some ideas, once you get them in your head, you can’t unthink them. You can’t…”
“Put the toothpaste back in the tube?”
He clapped his hands together, almost making her scream. “That’s it exactly! You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Brian was dead, but the ideas were alive. Those ideas-getting women, doing whatever to them, whatever crazy idea came into your head—they became his ghost.”
His eyes shifted upward and to the left when he said this. She had read somewhere that this meant the person who was talking was telling a conscious lie. But did it matter if he was? Or which one of them he was lying to? She thought not.
“I won’t go into the details,” he said. “It’s nothing for a sweetheart like you to hear, and like it or not—I know you don’t right now—you’re still my sweetheart. But you have to know I fought it. For seven years I fought it, but those ideas—Brian’s ideas—kept growing inside my head. Until finally I said to myself, ‘I’ll try it once, just to get it out of my head. To get him out of my head. If I get caught, I get caught—at least I’ll stop thinking about it. Wondering about it. What it would be like.’”
“You’re telling me it was a male exploration,” she said dully.
“Well, yes. I suppose you could say that.”
“Or like trying a joint just to see what all the shouting was about.”
He shrugged modestly, boyishly. “Kinda.”
“It wasn’t an exploration, Bobby. It wasn’t trying a joint. It was taking a woman’s life.”
She had seen no guilt or shame, absolutely none—he appeared incapable of those things, it seemed the circuit-breaker that controlled them had been fried, perhaps even before birth—but now he gave her a sulky, put—upon look. A teenager’s you-don’t-understand-me look.
“Darcy, they were snoots.”
She wanted a glass of water, but she was afraid to get up and go into the bathroom. She was afraid he would stop her, and what would come after that? What then?
“Besides,” he resumed, “I didn’t think I’d get caught. Not if I was careful and made a plan. Not a half-baked and horny-fourteen-year-old boy’s plan, you know, but a realistic one. And I realized something else, too. I couldn’t do it myself. Even if I didn’t screw up out of nervousness, I might out of guilt. Because I was one of the good guys. That’s how I saw myself, and believe it or not, I still do. And I have the proof, don’t I? A good home, a good wife, two beautiful children who are all grown up and starting their own lives. And I give back to the community. That’s why I took the Town Treasurer’s job for two years, gratis. That’s why I work with Vinnie Eschler every year to put on the Halloween blood drive.”
You should have asked Marjorie Duvall to give, Darcy thought. She was A-positive.
Then, puffing out his chest slightly—a man nailing down his argument with one final, irrefutable point—he said: “That’s what the Cub Scouts are about. You thought I’d quit when Donnie went on to Boy Scouts, I know you did. Only I didn’t. Because it’s not just about him, and never was. It’s about the community. It’s about giving back.”
“Then give Marjorie Duvall back her life. Or Stacey Moore. Or Robert Shaverstone.”
That last one got through; he winced as if she had struck him. “The boy was an accident. He wasn’t supposed to be there.”
“But you being there wasn’t an accident?”
“It wasn’t me,” he said, then added the ultimate surreal absurdity. “I’m no adulterer. It was BD. It’s always BD. It was his fault for putting those ideas in my head in the first place. I never would have thought of them on my own. I signed my notes to the police with his name just to make that clear. Of course I changed the spelling, because I sometimes called him BD back when I first told you about him. You might not remember that, but I did.”
She was impressed by the obsessive lengths he’d gone to. No wonder he hadn’t been caught. If she hadn’t stubbed her toe on that damned carton “None of them had any relation to me or my business. Either of my businesses. That would be very bad. Very dangerous. But I travel a lot, and I keep my eyes open. BD—the BD inside—he does, too. We watch out for the snooty ones. You can always tell. They wear their skirts too high and show their bra straps on purpose. They entice men. That Stacey Moore, for instance. You read about her, I’m sure. Married, but that didn’t keep her from brushing her titties against me. She worked as a waitress in a coffee shop-the Sunnyside in Waterville. I used to go up there to Mickleson’s Coins, remember? You even went with me a couple of times, when Pets was at Colby. This was before George Mickleson died and his son sold off all the stock so he could go to New Zealand or somewhere. That woman was all over me, Darce! Always asking me if I wanted a warm-up on my coffee and saying stuff like how ’bout those Red Sox, bending over, rubbing her titties on my shoulder, trying her best to get me hard. Which she did, I admit it, I’m a man with a man’s needs, and although you never turned me away or said no… well, rarely… I’m a man with a man’s needs and I’ve always been highly sexed. Some women sense that and like to play on it. It gets them off.”
He was looking down at his lap with dark, musing eyes. Then something else occurred to him and his head jerked up. His thinning hair flew, then settled back.
“Always smiling! Red lipstick and always smiling! Well, I recognize smiles like that. Most men do. ‘Ha-ha, I know you want it, I can smell it on you, but this little rub’s all you’re going to get, so deal with it.’ I could! I could deal with it! But not BD, not him.”
He shook his head slowly.
“There are lots of women like that. It’s easy to get their names. Then you can trace them down on the Internet. There’s a lot of information if you know how to look for it, and accountants know how. I’ve done that… oh, dozens of times. Maybe even a hundred. You could call it a hobby, I guess. You could say I collect information as well as coins. Usually it comes to nothing. But sometimes BD will say, ‘She’s the one you want to follow through on, Bobby. That one right there. We’ll make the plan together, and when the time comes, you just let me take over.’ And that’s what I do.”
He took her hand, and folded her limp and chilly fingers into his.
“You think I’m crazy. I can see it in your eyes. But I’m not, honey. It’s BD who’s crazy… or Beadie, if you like his for-the-public name better. By the way, if you read the stories in the paper, you know I purposely put a lot of misspellings in my notes to the police. I even misspell the addresses. I keep a list of misspellings in my wallet so that I’ll always do it the same way. It’s misdirection. I want them to think Beadie’s dumb-illiterate, anyway—and they do. Because they’re dumb. I’ve only been questioned a single time, years ago, and that was as a witness, about two weeks after BD killed the Moore woman. An old guy with a limp, semi-retired. Told me to give him a call if I remembered anything. I said I would. That was pretty rich.”
He chuckled soundlessly, as he sometimes did when they were watching Modern Family or Two and a Half Men. It was a way of laughing that had, until tonight, always heightened her own amusement.
“You want to know something, Darce? If they caught me dead to rights, I’d admit it—at least I guess I would, I don’t think anybody knows a hundred percent for sure what they’d do in a situation like that—but I couldn’t give them much of a confession. Because I don’t remember much about the actual… well… acts. Beadie does them, and I kind of… I don’t know… go unconscious. Get amnesia. Some damn thing.”
Oh, you liar. You remember everything. It’s in your eyes, it’s even in the way your mouth turns down at the corners.
“And now… everything’s in Darcellen’s hands.” He raised one of her hands to his lips and kissed the back of it, as if to emphasize this point. “You know that old punchline, the one that goes, ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’? That doesn’t apply here. I could never kill you. Everything I do, everything I’ve built… modest as it would look to some people, I guess… I’ve done and built for you. For the kids too, of course, but mostly for you. You walked into my life, and do you know what happened?”
“You stopped,” she said.
He broke into a radiant grin. “For over twenty years!”
Sixteen, she thought but didn’t say.
“For most of those years, when we were raising the kids and struggling to get the coin business off the ground-although that was mostly you—I was racing around New England doing taxes and setting up foundations—”
“You were the one who made it work,” she said, and was a little shocked by what she heard in her voice: calmness and warmth. “You were the one with the expertise.”
He looked almost touched enough to start crying again, and when he spoke his voice was husky. “Thank you, hon. It means the world to hear you say that. You saved me, you know. In more ways than one.”
He cleared his throat.
“For a dozen years, BD never made a peep. I thought he was gone. I honestly did. But then he came back. Like a ghost.” He seemed to consider this, then nodded his head very slowly. “That’s what he is. A ghost, a bad one. He started pointing out women when I was traveling. ‘Look at that one, she wants to make sure you see her nipples, but if you touched them she’d call the police and then laugh with her friends when they took you away. Look at that one, licking her lips with her tongue, she knows you’d like her to put it in your mouth and she knows you know she never will. Look at that one, showing off her panties when she gets out of her car, and if you think that’s an accident, you’re an idiot. She’s just one more snoot who thinks she’ll never get what she deserves.’”
He stopped, his eyes once more dark and downcast. In them was the Bobby who had successfully evaded her for twenty-seven years. The one he was trying to pass off as a ghost.
“When I started to have those urges, I fought them. There are magazines… certain magazines… I bought them before we got married, and I thought if I did that again… or certain sites on the Internet… I thought I could… I don’t know… substitute fantasy for reality, I guess you’d say… but once you’ve tried the real thing, fantasy isn’t worth a damn.”
He was talking, Darcy thought, like a man who had fallen in love with some expensive delicacy. Caviar. Truffles. Belgian chocolates.
“But the point is, I stopped. For all those years, I stopped. And I could stop again, Darcy. This time for good. If there’s a chance for us. If you could forgive me and just turn the page.” He looked at her, earnest and wet-eyed. “Is it possible you could do that?”
She thought of a woman buried in a snowdrift, her naked legs exposed by the careless swipe of a passing plow—some mother’s daughter, once the apple of some father’s eye as she danced clumsily across a grammar-school stage in a pink tutu. She thought of a mother and son discovered in a freezing creek, their hair rippling in the black, ice-edged water. She thought of the woman with her head in the corn.
“I’d have to think about it,” she said, very carefully.
He grasped her by the upper arms and leaned toward her. She had to force herself not to flinch, and to meet his eyes. They were his eyes… and they weren’t. Maybe there’s something to that ghost business after all, she thought.
“This isn’t one of those movies where the psycho husband chases his screaming wife all around the house. If you decide to go to the police and turn me in, I won’t lift a finger to stop you. But I know you’ve thought about what it would do to the kids. You wouldn’t be the woman I married if you hadn’t thought about that. What you might not have thought about is what it would do to you. Nobody would believe that you were married to me all these years and never knew… or at least suspected. You’d have to move away and live on what savings there are, because I’ve always been the breadwinner, and a man can’t win bread when he’s in jail. You might not even be able to get at what there is, because of the civil suits. And of course the kids—”
“Stop it, don’t talk about them when you talk about this, don’t you ever.”
He nodded humbly, still holding lightly to her forearms. “I beat BD once—I beat him for twenty years—”
Sixteen, she thought again. Sixteen, and you know it.
“—and I can beat him again. With your help, Darce. With your help I can do anything. Even if he were to come back in another twenty years, so what? Big deal! I’d be seventy-three. Hard to go snoot-hunting when you’re shuffling around in a walker!” He laughed cheerily at this absurd image, then sobered again. “But—now listen to me carefully—if I were ever to backslide, even one single time, I’d kill myself. The kids would never know, they’d never have to be touched by that… that, you know, stigma… because I’d make it look like an accident… but you’d know. And you’d know why. So what do you say? Can we put this behind us?”
She appeared to consider. She was considering, in fact, although such thought processes as she could muster were probably not trending in a direction he would be likely to understand.
What she thought was: It’s what drug addicts say. “I’ll never take any of that stuff again. I’ve quit before and this time I’ll quit for good. I mean it.” But they don’t mean it, even when they think they do they don’t, and neither does he.
What she thought was: What am I going to do? I can’t fool him, we’ve been married too long.
A cold voice replied to that, one she had never suspected of being inside her, one perhaps related to the BD-voice that whispered to Bob about the snoots it observed in restaurants, laughing on street corners, riding in expensive sports cars with the top down, whispering and smiling to each other on apartment-building balconies.
Or perhaps it was the voice of the Darker Girl.
Why can’t you? it asked. After all… he fooled you.
And then what? She didn’t know. She only knew that now was now, and now had to be dealt with.
“You’d have to promise to stop,” she said, speaking very slowly and reluctantly. “Your most solemn, never-go-back promise.”
His face filled with a relief so total—so somehow boyish—that she was touched. He so seldom looked like the boy he had been. Of course that was also the boy who had once planned to go to school with guns. “I would, Darcy. I do. I do promise. I already told you.”
“And we could never talk about this again.”
“I get that.”
“You’re not to send the Duvall woman’s ID to the police, either.”
She saw the disappointment (also weirdly boyish) that came over his face when she said that, but she meant to stick to it. He had to feel punished, if only a little. That way he’d believe he had convinced her.
Hasn’t he? Oh Darcellen, hasn’t he?
“I need more than promises, Bobby. Actions speak louder than words. Dig a hole in the woods and bury that woman’s ID cards in it.”
“Once I do that, are we—”
She reached out and put her hand to his mouth. She strove to make herself sound stern. “Hush. No more.”
“Okay. Thank you, Darcy. So much.”
“I don’t know what you’re thanking me for.” And then, although the thought of him lying next to her filled her with revulsion and dismay, she forced herself to say the rest.
“Now get undressed and come to bed. We both need to get some sleep.”
– 10 –
He was under almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, but long after he’d commenced his small, polite snores, Darcy lay awake, thinking that if she allowed herself to drift off, she would awake with his hands around her throat. She was in bed with a madman, after all. If he added her, his score would be an even dozen.
But he meant it, she thought. This was right around the time that the sky began to lighten in the east. He said he loves me, and he meant it. And when I said I’d keep his secret—because that’s what it comes down to, keeping his secret—he believed me. Why wouldn’t he? I almost convinced myself.
Wasn’t it possible he could carry through on his promise? Not all drug addicts failed at getting clean, after all. And while she could never keep his secret for herself, wasn’t it possible she could for the kids?
I can’t. I won’t. But what choice?
What goddam choice?
It was while pondering this question that her tired, confused mind finally gave up and slipped away.
She dreamed of going into the dining room and finding a woman bound with chains to the long Ethan Allen table there. The woman was naked except for a black leather hood that covered the top half of her face. I don’t know that woman, that woman is a stranger to me, she thought in her dream, and then from beneath the hood Petra said: “Mama, is that you?”
Darcy tried to scream, but sometimes in nightmares, you can’t.
– 11 –
When she finally struggled awake—headachey, miserable, feeling hungover—the other half of the bed was empty. Bob had turned his clock back around, and she saw it was quarter past ten. It was the latest she’d slept in years, but of course she hadn’t dropped off until first light, and such sleep as she’d gotten was populated with horrors.
She used the toilet, dragged her housecoat off the hook on the back of the bathroom door, then brushed her teeth—her mouth tasted foul. Like the bottom of a birdcage, Bob would say on the rare mornings after he’d taken an extra glass of wine with dinner or a second bottle of beer during a baseball game. She spat, began to put her brush back in the toothglass, then paused, looking at her reflection. This morning she saw a woman who looked old instead of middle-aged: pale skin, deep lines bracketing the mouth, purple bruises under the eyes, the crazed bed-head you only got from tossing and turning. But all this was only of passing interest to her; how she looked was the last thing on her mind. She peered over her reflection’s shoulder and through the open bathroom door into their bedroom. Except it wasn’t theirs; it was the Darker Bedroom. She could see his slippers, only they weren’t his. They were obviously too big to be Bob’s, almost a giant’s slippers. They belonged to the Darker Husband. And the double bed with the wrinkled sheets and unanchored blankets? That was the Darker Bed. She shifted her gaze back to the wild-haired woman with the bloodshot, frightened eyes: the Darker Wife, in all her raddled glory. Her first name was Darcy, but her last name wasn’t Anderson. The Darker Wife was Mrs. Brian Delahanty.
Darcy leaned forward until her nose was touching the glass. She held her breath and cupped her hands to the sides of her face just as she had when she was a girl dressed in grass-stained shorts and falling-down white socks. She looked until she couldn’t hold her breath any longer, then exhaled in a huff that fogged the mirror. She wiped it clean with a towel, and then went downstairs to face her first day as the monster’s wife.
He had left a note for her under the sugarbowl. Darce—
I will take care of those documents, as you asked. I love you, honey. Bob
He had drawn a little Valentine heart around his name, a thing he hadn’t done in years. She felt a wave of love for him, as thick and cloying as the scent of dying flowers. She wanted to wail like some woman in an Old Testament story, and stifled the sound with a napkin. The refrigerator kicked on and began its heartless whir. Water dripped in the sink, plinking away the seconds on the porcelain. Her tongue was a sour sponge crammed into her mouth. She felt time—all the time to come, as his wife in this house—close around her like a straitjacket. Or a coffin. This was the world she had believed in as a child. It had been here all the time. Waiting for her.
The refrigerator whirred, the water dripped in the sink, and the raw seconds passed. This was the Darker Life, where every truth was written backward.
– 12 –
Her husband had coached Little League (also with Vinnie Eschler, that master of Polish jokes and big enveloping manhugs) during the years when Donnie had played shortstop for the Cavendish Hardware team, and Darcy still remembered what Bob said to the boys—many of them weeping—after they’d lost the final game of the District 19 tourney. Back in 1997 that would have been, probably only a month or so before Bob had murdered Stacey Moore and stuffed her into her cornbin. The talk he’d given to that bunch of drooping, sniffling boys had been short, wise, and (she’d thought so then and still did thirteen years later) incredibly kind.
I know how bad you boys feel, but the sun will still come up tomorrow. And when it does, you’ll feel better. When the sun comes up the day after tomorrow, a little better still. This is just a part of your life, and it’s over. It would have been better to win, but either way, it’s over. Life will go on.
As hers did, following her ill-starred trip out to the garage for batteries. When Bob came home from work after her first long day at home (she couldn’t bear the thought of going out herself, afraid her knowledge must be written on her face in capital letters), he said: “Honey, about last night—”
“Nothing happened last night. You came home early, that’s all.”
He ducked his head in that boyish way he had, and when he raised it again, his face was lit with a large and grateful smile. “That’s fine, then,” he said. “Case closed?”
He opened his arms. “Give us a kiss, beautiful.”
She did, wondering if he had kissed them.
Do a good job, really use that educated tongue of yours, and I won’t cut you, she could imagine him saying. Put your snooty little heart into it.
He held her away from him, his hands on her shoulders. “Still friends?”
“Yes. I didn’t cook anything, and I don’t want to go out. Why don’t you change into some grubbies and go grab us a pizza.”
“And don’t forget to take your Prilosec.”
He beamed at her. “You bet.”
She watched him go bounding up the stairs, thought of saying Don’t do that, Bobby, don’t test your heart like that.
Let him test it all he wanted.
– 13 –
The sun came up the next day. And the next. A week went by, then two, then a month. They resumed their old ways, the small habits of a long marriage. She brushed her teeth while he was in the shower (usually singing some hit from the eighties in a voice that was on-key but not particularly melodious), although she no longer did it naked, meaning to step into the shower as soon as he’d vacated it; now she showered after he’d left for B, B & A. If he noticed this little change in her modus operandi, he didn’t mention it. She resumed her book club, telling the other ladies and the two retired gentlemen who took part that she had been feeling under the weather and didn’t want to pass on a virus along with her opinion of the new Barbara Kingsolver, and everyone chuckled politely. A week after that, she resumed the knitting circle, Knuts for Knitting. Sometimes she caught herself singing along with the radio when she came back from the post office or the grocery store. She and Bob watched TV at night—always comedies, never the forensic crime shows. He came home early now; there had been no more road trips since the one to Montpelier. He got something called Skype for his computer, saying he could look at coin collections just as easily that way and save on gas. He didn’t say it would also save on temptation, but he didn’t have to. She watched the papers to see if Marjorie Duvall’s ID showed up, knowing if he had lied about that, he would lie about everything. But it didn’t. Once a week they went out to dinner at one of Yarmouth’s two inexpensive restaurants. He ordered steak and she ordered fish. He drank iced tea and she had a Cranberry Breeze. Old habits died hard. Often, she thought, they don’t die until we do.
In the daytime, while he was gone, she now rarely turned on the television. It was easier to listen to the refrigerator with it off, and to the small creaks and groans of their nice Yarmouth house as it settled toward another Maine winter. It was easier to think. Easier to face the truth: he would do it again. He would hold off as long as he could, she would gladly give him that much, but sooner or later Beadie would gain the upper hand. He wouldn’t send the next woman’s ID to the police, thinking that might be enough to fool her, but probably not caring if she saw through the change in MO. Because, he would reason, she’s a part of it now. She’d have to admit she knew. The cops would get it out of her even if she tried to hide that part.
Donnie called from Ohio. The business was going great guns; they had landed an office products account that might go national. Darcy said hooray (and so did Bob, cheerily admitting he’d been wrong about Donnie’s chances of making it so young). Petra called to say they had tentatively decided on blue dresses for the bridesmaids, A-line, knee-high, matching chiffon scarves, and did Darcy think that was all right, or would outfits like that look a bit childish? Darcy said she thought they would look sweet, and the two of them went on to a discussion of shoes-blue pumps with three-quarter-inch heels, to be exact. Darcy’s mother got sick down in Boca Grande, and it looked like she might have to go into the hospital, but then they started her on some new medication and she got well. The sun came up and the sun went down. The paper jack-o’-lanterns in the store windows went down and paper turkeys went up. Then the Christmas decorations went up. The first snow flurries appeared, right on schedule.
In her house, after her husband had taken his briefcase and gone to work, Darcy moved through the rooms, pausing to look into the various mirrors. Often for a long time. Asking the woman inside that other world what she should do.
Increasingly the answer seemed to be that she would do nothing.
– 14 –
On an unseasonably warm day two weeks before Christmas, Bob came home in the middle of the afternoon, shouting her name. Darcy was upstairs, reading a book. She tossed it on the night table (beside the hand mirror that had now taken up permanent residence there) and flew down the hall to the landing. Her first thought (horror mixed with relief) was that it was finally over. He had been found out. The police would soon be here. They would take him away, then come back to ask her the two age-old questions: what did she know, and when did she know it? News vans would park on the street. Young men and women with good hair would do stand-ups in front of their house.
Except that wasn’t fear in his voice; she knew it for what it was even before he reached the foot of the stairs and turned his face up to her. It was excitement. Perhaps even jubilation.
“You’ll never believe it!” His topcoat hung open, his face was flushed all the way to the forehead, and such hair as he still had was blown every which way. It was as if he had driven home with all his car windows open. Given the springlike quality of the air, Darcy supposed he might’ve.
She came down cautiously and stood on the first riser, which put them eye-to-eye. “Tell me.”
“The most amazing luck! Really! If I ever needed a sign that I’m on the right track again—that we are—boy, this is it!” He held out his hands. They were closed into fists with the knuckles up. His eyes were sparkling. Almost dancing. “Which hand? Pick.”
“Bob, I don’t want to play g—”
She pointed to his right hand, just to get it over with. He laughed. “You read my mind… but you always could, couldn’t you?”
He turned his fist over and opened it. On his palm lay a single coin, tails-side up, so she could see it was a wheat penny. Not uncirculated by any means, but still in great shape. Assuming there were no scratches on the Lincoln side, she thought it was either F or VF. She reached for it, then paused. He nodded for her to go ahead. She turned it over, quite sure of what she would see. Nothing else could adequately explain his excitement. It was what she expected: a 1955 double-date. A double-die, in numismatic terms.
“Holy God, Bobby! Where…? Did you buy it?” An uncirculated ’55 double-die had recently sold at an auction in Miami for over eight thousand dollars, setting a new record. This one wasn’t in that kind of shape, but no coin dealer with half a brain would have let it go for under four.
“God no! Some of the other fellows invited me to lunch at that Thai place, Eastern Promises, and I almost went, but I was working the goddarn Vision Associates account—you know, the private bank I told you about?—and so I gave Monica ten bucks and told her to get me a sandwich and a Fruitopia at Subway. She brought it back with the change in the bag. I shook it out… and there it was!” He plucked the penny from her hand and held it over his head, laughing up at it.
She laughed with him, then thought (as these days she often did): HE DID NOT “SUFFER!”
“Isn’t it great, honey?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m happy for you.” And, odd or not (perverse or not), she really was. He had brokered sales of several over the years and could have bought one for himself any old time, but that wasn’t the same as just coming across one. He had even forbidden her to give him one for Christmas or his birthday. The great accidental find was a collector’s most joyous moment, he had said so during their first real conversation, and now he had what he had been checking handfuls of change for all his life. His heart’s desire had come spilling out of a white sandwich—shop paper bag along with a turkey—bacon wrap.
He enveloped her in a hug. She hugged him back, then pushed him gently away. “What are you going to do with it, Bobby? Put it in a Lucite cube?”
This was a tease, and he knew it. He cocked a finger-gun and shot her in the head. Which was all right, because when you were shot with a finger-gun, you did not “suffer.”
She continued to smile at him, but now saw him again (after that brief, loving lapse) for what he was: the Darker Husband. Gollum, with his precious.
“You know better. I’m going to photo it, hang the photo on the wall, then tuck the penny away in our safe deposit box. What would you say it is, F or VF?”
She examined it again, then looked at him with a rueful smile. “I’d love to say VF, but—”
“Yeah, I know, I know—and I shouldn’t care. You’re not supposed to count the teeth when someone gives you a horse, but it’s hard to resist. Better than VG, though, right? Honest opinion, Darce.”
My honest opinion is that you’ll do it again.
“Better than VG, definitely.”
His smile faded. For a moment she was sure he had guessed what she was thinking, but she should have known better; on this side of the mirror, she could keep secrets, too.
“It’s not about the quality, anyway. It’s about the finding. Not getting it from a dealer or picking it out of a catalogue, but actually finding one when you least expect it.”
“I know.” She smiled. “If my dad was here right now, he’d be cracking a bottle of champagne.”
“I’ll take care of that little detail at dinner tonight,” he said. “Not in Yarmouth, either. We’re going to Portland. Pearl of the Shore. What do you say?”
“Oh, honey, I don’t know—”
He took her lightly by the shoulders as he always did when he wanted her to understand that he was really serious about a thing. “Come on—it’s going to be mild enough tonight for your prettiest summer dress. I heard it on the weather when I was driving back. And I’ll buy you all the champagne you can drink. How can you say no to a deal like that?”
“Well…” She considered. Then smiled. “I guess I can’t.”
– 15 –
They had not just one bottle of very pricey Mo?t et Chandon but two, and Bob drank most of it. Consequently it was Darcy who drove home in his quietly humming little Prius while Bob sat in the passenger seat, singing “Pennies from Heaven” in his on-key but not particularly melodious voice. He was drunk, she realized. Not just high, but actually drunk. It was the first time she had seen him that way in ten years. Ordinarily he watched his booze intake like a hawk, and sometimes, when someone at a party asked him why he wasn’t drinking, he’d quote a line from True Grit: “I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my mind.” Tonight, high on his discovery of the double-date, he had allowed his mind to be stolen, and she knew what she intended to do as soon as he ordered that second bottle of bubbly. In the restaurant, she wasn’t sure she could carry it through, but listening to him sing on the way home, she knew. Of course she could do it. She was the Darker Wife now, and the Darker Wife knew that what he thought of as his good luck had really been her own.
– 16 –
Inside the house he whirled his sport coat onto the tree by the door and pulled her into his arms for a long kiss. She could taste champagne and sweet cr?me br?l?e on his breath. It was not a bad combination, although she knew if things happened as they might, she would never want either again. His hand went to her breast. She let it linger there, feeling him against her, and then pushed him away. He looked disappointed, but brightened when she smiled.
“I’m going upstairs and getting out of this dress,” she said. “There’s Perrier in the refrigerator. If you bring me a glass—with a wedge of lime—you might get lucky, mister.”
He broke into a grin at that—his old, well-loved grin. Because there was one long-established habit of marriage they had not resumed since the night he had smelled her discovery (yes, smelled it, just as a wise old wolf may smell a poisoned bait) and come rushing home from Montpelier. Day by day they had walled up what he was—yes, as surely as Montresor had walled up his old pal Fortunato—and sex in the connubial bed would be the last brick.
He clicked his heels and threw her a British-style salute, fingers to forehead, palm out. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Don’t be long,” she said pleasantly. “Mama wants what Mama wants.”
Going up the stairs, she thought: This will never work. The only thing you’ll succeed in doing is getting yourself killed. He may not think he’s capable of it, but I think he is.
Maybe that would be all right, though. Assuming he didn’t hurt her first, as he’d hurt those women. Maybe any sort of resolution would be all right. She couldn’t spend the rest of her life looking in mirrors. She wasn’t a kid anymore, and couldn’t get away with a kid’s craziness.
She went into the bedroom, but only long enough to toss her purse onto the table beside the hand mirror. Then she went out again and called, “Are you coming, Bobby? I could really use those bubbles!”
“On my way, ma’am, just pouring it over ice!”
And here he came out of the living room and into the hall, holding one of their good crystal glasses up before him at eye level like a comic-opera waiter, weaving slightly as he crossed to the foot of the stairs. He continued to hold the glass up as he mounted them, the wedge of lime bobbing around on top. His free hand trailed lightly along the banister; his face shone with happiness and good cheer. For a moment she almost weakened, and then the image of Helen and Robert Shaverstone filled her mind, hellishly clear: the son and his molested, mutilated mother floating together in a Massachusetts creek that had begun to grow lacings of ice at its sides.
“One glass of Perrier for the lady, coming right uh—”
She saw the knowledge leap into his eyes at the very last second, something old and yellow and ancient. It was more than surprise; it was shocked fury. In that moment her understanding of him was complete. He loved nothing, least of all her. Every kindness, caress, boyish grin, and thoughtful gesture—all were nothing but camouflage. He was a shell. There was nothing inside but howling emptiness.
She pushed him.
It was a hard push and he made a three-quarters somersault above the stairs before coming down on them, first on his knees, then on his arm, then full on his face. She heard his arm break. The heavy Waterford glass shattered on one of the uncarpeted risers. He rolled over again and she heard something else inside him snap. He screamed in pain and somersaulted one final time before landing on the hardwood hall floor in a heap, the broken arm (not broken in just one place but in several) cocked back over his head at an angle nature had never intended. His head was twisted, one cheek on the floor.
Darcy hurried down the stairs. At one point she stepped on an ice cube, slipped, and had to grab the banister to save herself. At the bottom she saw a huge knob now poking out of the skin on the nape of his neck, turning it white, and said: “Don’t move, Bob, I think your neck is broken.”
His eye rolled up to look at her. Blood was trickling from his nose—that looked broken, too—and a lot more was coming out of his mouth. Almost gushing out. “You pushed me,” he said. “Oh Darcy, why did you push me?”
“I don’t know,” she said, thinking we both know. She began to cry. Crying came naturally; he was her husband, and he was badly hurt. “Oh God, I don’t know. Something came over me. I’m sorry. Don’t move, I’ll call 911 and tell them to send an ambulance.”
His foot scraped across the floor. “I’m not paralyzed,” he said. “Thank God for that. But it hurts.”
“I know, honey.”
“Call the ambulance! Hurry!”
She went into the kitchen, spared a brief glance for the phone in its charger-cradle, then opened the cabinet under the sink. “Hello? Hello? Is this 911?” She took out the box of plastic GLAD bags, the storage-size ones she used for the leftovers when they had chicken or roast beef, and pulled one from the box. “This is Darcellen Anderson, I’m calling from 24 Sugar Mill Lane, in Yarmouth! Have you got that?”
From another drawer, she took a dishwiper from the top of the pile. She was still crying. Nose like a firehose, they’d said when they were kids. Crying was good. She needed to cry, and not just because it would look better for her later on. He was her husband, he was hurt, she needed to cry. She remembered when he still had a full head of hair. She remembered his flashy breakaway move when they danced to “Footloose.” He brought her roses every year on her birthday. He never forgot. They had gone to Bermuda, where they rode bikes in the morning and made love in the afternoon. They had built a life together and now that life was over and she needed to cry. She wrapped the dishwiper around her hand and then stuffed her hand into the plastic bag.
“I need an ambulance, my husband fell down the stairs. I think his neck might be broken. Yes! Yes! Right away!”
She walked back into the hall with her right hand behind her back. She saw he had pulled himself away from the foot of the stairs a little, and it looked like he’d tried to turn over on his back, but at that he hadn’t been successful. She knelt down beside him.
“I didn’t fall,” he said. “You pushed me. Why did you push me?”
“I guess for the Shaverstone boy,” she said, and brought her hand out from behind her back. She was crying harder than ever. He saw the plastic bag. He saw the hand inside clutching the wad of toweling. He understood what she meant to do. Perhaps he had done something like it himself. Probably he had.
He began screaming… only the screams weren’t really screams at all. His mouth was filled with blood, something had broken inside of his throat, and the sounds he produced were more guttural growls than screams. She jammed the plastic bag between his lips and deep inside his mouth. He had broken a number of teeth in the fall, and she could feel the jagged stumps. If they tore into her skin, she might have some serious explaining to do.
She yanked her hand free before he could bite, leaving the plastic bag and the dishwiper behind. She grabbed his jaw and chin. The other hand she put on top of his balding head. The flesh there was very warm. She could feel it throbbing with blood. She jammed his mouth shut on the wad of plastic and cloth. He tried to beat her off, but he only had one arm free, and that was the one that had been broken in the fall. The other was twisted beneath him. His feet paddled jerkily back and forth on the hardwood floor. One of his shoes came off. He was gurgling. She yanked her dress up to her waist, freeing her legs, then lunged forward, trying to straddle him. If she could do that, maybe she could pinch his nostrils shut.
But before she could try, his chest began to heave beneath her, and the gurgles became a deep grunting in his throat. It reminded her of how, when she was learning to drive, she would sometimes grind the transmission trying to find second gear, which was elusive on her father’s old Chevrolet standard. Bob jerked, the one eye she could see bulging and cowlike in its socket. His face, which had been a bright crimson, now began to turn purple. He settled back onto the floor. She waited, gasping for breath, her face lathered with snot and tears. The eye was no longer rolling, and no longer bright with panic. She thought he was d Bob gave one final, titanic jerk and flung her off. He sat up, and she saw his top half no longer exactly matched his bottom half; he had broken his back as well as his neck, it seemed. His plastic-lined mouth yawned. His eyes met hers in a stare she knew she would never forget… but one she could live with, should she get through this.
He fell backward. His head made an egglike cracking sound on the floor. Darcy crawled closer to him, but not close enough to be in the mess. She had his blood on her, of course, and that was all right—she had tried to help him, it was only natural—but that didn’t mean she wanted to bathe in it. She sat up, propped on one hand, and watched him while she waited for her breath to come back. She watched to see if he would move. He didn’t. When five minutes had gone by according to the little jeweled Michele on her wrist—the one she always wore when they went out—she reached a hand to the side of his neck and felt for a pulse there. She kept her fingers against his skin until she had counted all the way to thirty, and there was nothing. She lowered her ear to his chest, knowing this was the moment where he would come back to life and grab her. He didn’t come back to life because there was no life left in him: no beating heart, no breathing lungs. It was over. She felt no satisfaction (let alone triumph) but only a focused determination to finish this and do it right. Partly for herself, but mostly for Donnie and Pets.
She went into the kitchen, moving fast. They had to know she’d called as soon as she could; if they could tell there had been a delay (if his blood had a chance to coagulate too much, for instance), there might be awkward questions. I’ll tell them I fainted, if I have to, she thought. They’ll believe that, and even if they don’t, they can’t disprove it. At least, I don’t think they can.
She got the flashlight from the pantry, just as she had on the night when she had literally stumbled over his secret. She went back to where Bob lay, staring up at the ceiling with his glazed eyes. She pulled the plastic bag out of his mouth and examined it anxiously. If it was torn, there could be problems… and it was, in two places. She shone the flashlight into his mouth and spotted one tiny scrap of GLAD bag on his tongue. She picked it out with the tips of her fingers and put it in the bag.
Enough, that’s enough, Darcellen.
But it wasn’t. She pushed his cheeks back with her fingers, first the right, then the left. And on the left side she found another tiny scrap of plastic, stuck to his gum. She picked that out and put it in the bag with the other one. Were there more pieces? Had he swallowed them? If so, they were beyond her reach and all she could do was pray they wouldn’t be discovered if someone—she didn’t know who—had enough questions to order an autopsy.
Meanwhile, time was passing.
She hurried through the breezeway and into the garage, not quite running. She crawled under the worktable, opened his special hiding place, and stowed away the blood-streaked plastic bag with the dishwiper inside. She closed the hidey-hole, put the carton of old catalogues in front of it, then went back into the house. She put the flashlight where it belonged. She picked up the phone, realized she had stopped crying, and put it back into its cradle. She went through the living room and looked at him. She thought about the roses, but that didn’t work. It’s roses, not patriotism, that are the last resort of a scoundrel, she thought, and was shocked to hear herself laugh. Then she thought of Donnie and Petra, who had both idolized their father, and that did the trick. Weeping, she went back to the kitchen phone and punched in 911. “Hello, my name is Darcellen Anderson, and I need an ambulance at—”
“Slow down a little, ma’am,” the dispatcher said. “I’m having trouble understanding you.”
Good, Darcy thought.
She cleared her throat. “Is this better? Can you understand me?”
“Yes, ma’am, I can now. Just take it easy. You said you needed an ambulance?”
“Yes, at 24 Sugar Mill Lane.”
“Are you hurt, Mrs. Anderson?”
“Not me, my husband. He fell down the stairs. He might only be unconscious, but I think he’s dead.”
The dispatcher said she would send an ambulance immediately. Darcy surmised she’d also send a Yarmouth police car. A state police car as well, if one were currently in the area. She hoped there wasn’t. She went back into the front hall and sat on the bench there, but not for long. It was his eyes, looking at her. Accusing her.
She took his sport coat, wrapped it around herself, and went out on the front walk to wait for the ambulance.
– 17 –
The policeman who took her statement was Harold Shrewsbury, a local. Darcy didn’t know him, but did know his wife, as it happened; Arlene Shrewsbury was a Knitting Knut. He talked to her in the kitchen while the EMTs first examined Bob’s body and then took it away, not knowing there was another corpse inside him. A fellow who had been much more dangerous than Robert Anderson, CPA.
“Would you like coffee, Officer Shrewsbury? It’s no trouble.”
He looked at her trembling hands and said he would be very happy to make it for both of them. “I’m very handy in the kitchen.”
“Arlene has never mentioned that,” she said as he got up. He left his notebook open on the kitchen table. So far he had written nothing in it but her name, Bob’s name, their address, and their telephone number. She took that as a good sign.
“No, she likes to hide my light under a bushel,” he said. “Mrs. Anderson—Darcy—I’m very sorry for your loss, and I’m sure Arlene would say the same.”
Darcy began to cry again. Officer Shrewsbury tore a handful of paper towels off the roll and gave them to her. “Sturdier than Kleenex.”
“You have experience with this,” she said.
He checked the Bunn, saw it was loaded, and flipped it on. “More than I’d like.” He came back and sat down. “Can you tell me what happened? Do you feel up to that?”
She told him about Bob finding the double-date penny in his change from Subway, and how excited he’d been. About their celebratory dinner at Pearl of the Shore, and how he’d drunk too much. How he’d been clowning around (she mentioned the comic British salute he’d given when she asked for a glass of Perrier and lime). How he’d come up the stairs holding the glass high, like a waiter. How he was almost to the landing when he slipped. She even told about how she’d almost slipped herself, on one of the spilled ice cubes, while rushing down to him.
Officer Shrewsbury jotted something in his notebook, snapped it closed, then looked at her levelly. “Okay. I want you to come with me. Get your coat.”
To jail, of course. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, go directly to jail. Bob had gotten away with almost a dozen murders, and she hadn’t even been able to get away with one (of course he had planned his, and with an accountant’s attention to detail). She didn’t know where she’d slipped up, but it would undoubtedly turn out to be something obvious. Officer Shrewsbury would tell her on the way to the police station. It would be like the last chapter of an Elizabeth George.
“My house,” he said. “You’re staying with me and Arlene tonight.”
She gaped at him. “I don’t… I can’t…”
“You can,” he said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “She’d kill me if I left you here by yourself. Do you want to be responsible for my murder?”
She wiped tears from her face and smiled wanly. “No, I guess not. But… Officer Shrewsbury…”
“I have to make phone calls. My children… they don’t know yet.” The thought of this brought on fresh tears, and she put the last of the paper towels to work on them. Who knew a person could have so many tears inside them? She hadn’t touched her coffee and now drank half of it in three long swallows, although it was still hot.
“I think we can stand the expense of a few long-distance calls,” Harry Shrewsbury said. “And listen. Do you have something you can take? Anything of a, you know, calming nature?”
“Nothing like that,” she whispered. “Only Ambien.”
“Then Arlene will loan you one of her Valiums,” he said. “You should take one at least half an hour before you start making any stressful calls. Meantime, I’ll just let her know we’re coming.”
“You’re very kind.”
He opened first one of her kitchen drawers, then another, then a third. Darcy felt her heart slip into her throat as he opened the fourth. He took a dishwiper from it and handed it to her. “Sturdier than paper towels.”
“Thank you,” she said. “So much.”
“How long were you married, Mrs. Anderson?”
“Twenty-seven years,” she said.
“Twenty-seven,” he marveled. “God. I am so sorry.”
“So am I,” she said, and lowered her face into the dishtowel.
– 18 –
Robert Emory Anderson was laid to rest in Yarmouth’s Peace Cemetery two days later. Donnie and Petra flanked their mother as the minister talked about how a man’s life was but a season. The weather had turned cold and overcast; a chilly wind rattled the leafless branches. B, B & A had closed for the day, and everyone had turned out. The accountants in their black overcoats clustered together like crows. There were no women among them. Darcy had never noticed this before.
Her eyes brimmed and she wiped at them periodically with the handkerchief she held in one black-gloved hand; Petra cried steadily and without letup; Donnie was red-eyed and grim. He was a good-looking young man, but his hair was already thinning, as his father’s had at his age. As long as he doesn’t put on weight like Bob did, she thought. And doesn’t kill women, of course. But surely that kind of thing wasn’t hereditary. Was it?
Soon this would be over. Donnie would stay only a couple of days—it was all the time he could afford to take away from the business at this point, he said. He hoped she could understand that and she said of course she did. Petra would be with her for a week, and said she could stay longer if Darcy needed her. Darcy told her how kind that was, privately hoping it would be no more than five days. She needed to be alone. She needed… not to think, exactly, but to find herself again. To re-establish herself on the right side of the mirror.
Not that anything had gone wrong; far from it. She didn’t think things could have gone better if she had planned her husband’s murder for months. If she had done that, she probably would have screwed it up by complicating things too much. Unlike for Bob, planning was not her forte.
There had been no hard questions. Her story was simple, believable, and almost true. The most important part was the solid bedrock beneath it: they had a marriage stretching back almost three decades, a good marriage, and there had been no recent arguments to mar it. Really, what was there to question?
The minister invited the family to step forward. They did so.
“Rest in peace, Pop,” Donnie said, and tossed a clod of earth into the grave. It landed on the shiny surface of the coffin. Darcy thought it looked like a dog turd.
“Daddy, I miss you so much,” Petra said, and threw her own handful of earth.
Darcy came last. She bent, took up a loose handful in her black glove, and let it fall. She said nothing.
The minister invoked a moment of silent prayer. The mourners bowed their heads. The wind rattled the branches. Not too far distant, traffic rushed by on I-295. Darcy thought: God, if You’re there, let this be the end.
– 19 –
Seven weeks or so after the funeral—it was the new year now, the weather blue and hard and cold—the doorbell of the house on Sugar Mill Lane rang. When Darcy opened it, she saw an elderly gentleman wearing a black topcoat and red muffler. Held before him in his gloved hands was an old-school Homburg hat. His face was deeply lined (with pain as well as age, Darcy thought) and what remained of his gray hair was buzzed to a fuzz.
“Yes?” she said.
He fumbled in his pocket and dropped his hat. Darcy bent and picked it up. When she straightened, she saw that the elderly gentleman was holding out a leather-cased identification folder. In it was a gold badge and a picture of her caller (looking quite a bit younger) on a plastic card.
“Holt Ramsey,” he said, sounding apologetic about it. “State Attorney General’s Office. I’m sorry as hell to disturb you, Mrs. Anderson. May I come in? You’ll freeze standing out here in that dress.”
“Please,” she said, and stood aside.
She observed his hitching walk and the way his right hand went unconsciously to his right hip—as if to hold it together—and a clear memory rose in her mind: Bob sitting beside her on the bed, her cold fingers held prisoner by his warm ones. Bob talking. Gloating, actually. I want them to think Beadie’s dumb, and they do. Because they’re dumb. I’ve only been questioned a single time, and that was as a witness, about two weeks after BD killed the Moore woman. An old guy with a limp, semi-retired. And here that old guy was, standing not half a dozen steps from where Bob had died. From where she had killed him. Holt Ramsey looked both sick and in pain, but his eyes were sharp. They moved quickly to the left and right, taking in everything before returning to her face.
Be careful, she told herself. Be oh so careful of this one, Darcellen.
“How can I help you, Mr. Ramsey?”
“Well, one thing—if it’s not too much to ask—I could sure use a cup of coffee. I’m awfully cold. I’ve got a State car, and the heater doesn’t work worth a darn. Of course if it’s an imposition…”
“Not at all. But I wonder… could I see your identification again?”
He handed the folder over to her equably enough, and hung his hat on the coat tree while she studied it.
“This RET stamped below the seal… does that mean you’re retired?”
“Yes and no.” His lips parted in a smile that revealed teeth too perfect to be anything but dentures. “Had to go, at least officially, when I turned sixty-eight, but I’ve spent my whole life either in the State Police or working at SAG-State Attorney General’s Office, you know—and now I’m like an old firehorse with an honorary place in the barn. Kind of a mascot, you know.”
I think you’re a lot more than that.
“Let me take your coat.”
“No, nope, I think I’ll wear it. Won’t be staying that long. I’d hang it up if it was snowing outside—so I wouldn’t drip on your floor—but it’s not. It’s just boogery cold, you know. Too cold to snow, my father would have said, and at my age I feel the cold a lot more than I did fifty years ago. Or even twenty-five.”
Leading him into the kitchen, walking slowly so Ramsey could keep up, she asked him how old he was.
“Seventy-eight in May.” He spoke with evident pride. “If I make it. I always add that for good luck. It’s worked so far. What a nice kitchen you have, Mrs. Anderson—a place for everything and everything in its place. My wife would have approved. She died four years ago. It was a heart attack, very sudden. How I miss her. The way you must miss your husband, I imagine.”
His twinkling eyes—young and alert in creased, pain-haunted sockets—searched her face.
He knows. I don’t know how, but he does.
She checked the Bunn’s basket and turned it on. As she got cups from the cabinet, she asked, “How may I help you today, Mr. Ramsey? Or is it Detective Ramsey?”
He laughed, and the laugh turned into a cough. “Oh, it’s been donkey’s years since anyone called me Detective. Never mind Ramsey, either, if you go straight to Holt, that’ll work for me. And it was really your husband I wanted to talk to, you know, but of course he’s passed on—again, my condolences—and so that’s out of the question. Yep, entirely out of the question.” He shook his head and settled himself on one of the stools that stood around the butcher-block table. His topcoat rustled. Somewhere inside his scant body, a bone creaked. “But I tell you what: an old man who lives in a rented room—which I do, although it’s a nice one—sometimes gets bored with just the TV for company, and so I thought, what the hell, I’ll drive on down to Yarmouth and ask my few little questions just the same. She won’t be able to answer many of them, I said to myself, maybe not any of them, but why not go anyway? You need to get out before you get potbound, I said to myself.”
“On a day when the high is supposed to go all the way up to ten degrees,” she said. “In a State car with a bad heater.”
“Ayuh, but I have my thermals on,” he said modestly.
“Don’t you have your own car, Mr. Ramsey?”
“I do, I do,” he said, as if this had never occurred to him until now. “Come sit down, Mrs. Anderson. No need to lurk in the corner. I’m too old to bite.”
“No, the coffee will be ready in a minute,” she said. She was afraid of this old man. Bob should have been afraid of him, too, but of course Bob was now beyond fear. “In the meantime, perhaps you can tell me what you wanted to talk about with my husband.”
“Well, you won’t believe this, Mrs. Anderson—”
“Call me Darcy, why don’t you?”
“Darcy!” He looked delighted. “Isn’t that the nicest, old-fashioned name!”
“Thank you. Do you take cream?”
“Black as my hat, that’s how I take it. Only I like to think of myself as one of the white-hats, actually. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Chasing down criminals and such. That’s how I got this bad leg, you know. High-speed car chase, way back in ’89. Fellow killed his wife and both of his children. Now a crime like that is usually an act of passion, committed by a man who’s either drunk or drugged or not quite right in the head.” Ramsey tapped his fuzz with a finger arthritis had twisted out of true. “Not this guy. This guy did it for the insurance. Tried to make it look like a whatchacallit, home invasion. I won’t go into all the details, but I sniffed around and sniffed around. For three years I sniffed around. And finally I felt I had enough to arrest him. Probably not enough to convict him, but there was no need to tell him that, was there?”
“I suppose not,” Darcy said. The coffee was hot, and she poured. She decided to take hers black, too. And to drink it as fast as possible. That way the caffeine would hit her all at once and turn on her lights.
“Thanks,” he said when she brought it to the table. “Thanks very much. You’re kindness itself. Hot coffee on a cold day—what could be better? Mulled cider, maybe; I can’t think of anything else. Anyway, where was I? Oh, I know. Dwight Cheminoux. Way up in The County, this was. Just south of the Hainesville Woods.”
Darcy worked on her coffee. She looked at Ramsey over the rim of her cup and suddenly it was like being married again—a long marriage, in many ways a good marriage (but not in all ways), the kind that was like a joke: she knew that he knew, and he knew that she knew that he knew. That kind of relationship was like looking into a mirror and seeing another mirror, a hall of them going down into infinity. The only real question here was what he was going to do about what he knew. What he could do.
“Well,” Ramsey said, setting down his coffee cup and unconsciously beginning to rub his sore leg, “the simple fact is I was hoping to provoke that fella. I mean, he had the blood of a woman and two kiddies on his hands, so I felt justified in playing a little dirty. And it worked. He ran, and I chased him right into the Hainesville Woods, where the song says there’s a tombstone every mile. And there we both crashed on Wickett’s Curve—him into a tree and me into him. Which is where I got this leg, not to mention the steel rod in my neck.”
“I’m sorry. And the fellow you were chasing? What did he get?”
Ramsey’s mouth curved upward at the corners in a dry-lipped smile of singular coldness. His young eyes sparkled. “He got death, Darcy. Saved the state forty or fifty years of room and board in Shawshank.”
“You’re quite the hound of heaven, aren’t you, Mr. Ramsey?”
Instead of looking puzzled, he placed his misshapen hands beside his face, palms out, and recited in a singsong schoolboy’s voice: “‘I fled Him down the nights and down the days, I fled Him down the arches of the years, I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways… ’ And so on.”
“You learned that in school?”
“No ma’am, in Methodist Youth Fellowship. Lo these many years ago. Won a Bible, which I lost at summer camp a year later. Only I didn’t lose it; it was stolen. Can you imagine someone low enough to steal a Bible?”
“Yes,” Darcy said.
He laughed. “Darcy, you go on and call me Holt. Please. All my friends do.”
Are you my friend? Are you?
She didn’t know, but of one thing she was sure: he wouldn’t have been Bob’s friend.
“Is that the only poem you have by heart? Holt?”
“Well, I used to know ‘The Death of the Hired Man,’” he said, “but now I only remember the part about how home is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in. It’s a true thing, wouldn’t you say?”
His eyes—they were a light hazel—searched hers. The intimacy of that gaze was indecent, as if he were looking at her with her clothes off. And pleasant, for perhaps the same reason.
“What did you want to ask my husband, Holt?”
“Well, I already talked to him once, you know, although I’m not sure he’d remember if he was still alive. A long time ago, that was. We were both a lot younger, and you must’ve been just a child yourself, given how young and pretty you are now.”
She gave him a chilly spare—me smile, then got up to pour herself a fresh cup of coffee. The first one was already gone.
“You probably know about the Beadie murders,” he said.
“The man who kills women and then sends their ID to the police?” She came back to the table, her coffee cup perfectly steady in her hand. “The newspapers dine out on that one.”
He pointed at her—Bob’s finger-gun gesture—and tipped her a wink. “Got that right. Yessir. ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ that’s their motto. I happened to work the case a little. I wasn’t retired then, but getting on to it. I had kind of a reputation as a fellow who could sometimes get results by sniffing around… following my whatdoyoucallums…”
Once more with the finger-gun. Once more with the wink. As if there were a secret, and they were both in on it. “Anyway, they send me out to work on my own, you know-old limping Holt shows his pictures around, asks his questions, and kind’ve… you know… just sniffs. Because I’ve always had a nose for this kind of work, Darcy, and never really lost it. This was in the fall of 1997, not too long after a woman named Stacey Moore was killed. Name ring a bell?”
“I don’t think so,” Darcy said.
“You’d remember if you’d seen the crime scene photos. Terrible murder—how that woman must have suffered. But of course, this fellow who calls himself Beadie had stopped for a long time, over fifteen years, and he must have had a lot of steam built up in his boiler, just waiting to blow. And it was her that got scalded.
“Anyway, the fella who was SAG back then put me on it. ‘Let old Holt take a shot,’ he says, ‘he’s not doing anything else, and it’ll keep him out from underfoot.’ Even then old Holt was what they called me. Because of the limp, I should imagine. I talked to her friends, her relatives, her neighbors out there on Route 106, and the people she worked with in Waterville. Oh, I talked to them plenty. She was a waitress at a place called the Sunnyside Restaurant there in town. Lots of transients stop in, because the turnpike’s just down the road, but I was more interested in her regular customers. Her regular male customers.”
“Of course you would be,” she murmured.
“One of them turned out to be a presentable, well-turned-out fella in his mid or early forties. Came in every three or four weeks, always took one of Stacey’s booths. Now, probably I shouldn’t say this, since the fella turned out to be your late husband-speaking ill of the dead, but since they’re both dead, I kind’ve figure that cancels itself out, if you see what I mean…” Ramsey ceased, looking confused.
“You’re getting all tangled up,” Darcy said, amused in spite of herself. Maybe he wanted her to be amused. She couldn’t tell. “Do yourself a favor and just say it, I’m a big girl. She flirted with him? Is that what it comes down to? She wouldn’t be the first waitress to flirt with a man on the road, even if the man had a wedding ring on his finger.”
“No, that wasn’t quite it. According to what the other waitstaff told me—and of course you have to take it with a grain of salt, because they all liked her—it was him that flirted with her. And according to them, she didn’t like it much. She said the guy gave her the creeps.”
“That doesn’t sound like my husband.” Or what Bob had told her, for that matter.
“No, but it probably was. Your husband, I mean. And a wife doesn’t always know what a hubby does on the road, although she may think she does. Anyway, one of the waitresses told me this fella drove a Toyota 4Runner. She knew because she had one just like it. And do you know what? A number of the Moore woman’s neighbors had seen a 4Runner like that out and about in the area of the family farmstand just days before the woman was murdered. Once only a day before the killing took place.”
“But not on the day.”
“No, but of course a fella as careful as this Beadie would look out for a thing like that. Wouldn’t he?”
“Well, I had a description and I canvassed the area around the restaurant. I had nothing better to do. For a week all I got was blisters and a few cups of mercy-coffee—none as good as yours, though!—and I was about to give up. Then I happened to stop at a place downtown. Mickleson’s Coins. Does that name ring a bell?”
“Of course. My husband was a numismatist and Mickleson’s was one of the three or four best buy-and-sell shops in the state. It’s gone now. Old Mr. Mickleson died and his son closed the business.”
“Yep. Well, you know what the song says, time takes it all in the end—your eyes, the spring in your step, even your friggin jump shot, pardon my French. But George Mickleson was alive then—”
“Upright and sniffin the air,” Darcy murmured.
Holt Ramsey smiled. “Just as you say. Anyway, he recognized the description. ‘Why, that sounds like Bob Anderson,’ he says. And guess what? He drove a Toyota 4Runner.”
“Oh, but he traded that in a long time ago,” Darcy said. “For a—”
“Chevrolet Suburban, wasn’t it?” Ramsey pronounced the company name Shivvalay.
“Yes.” Darcy folded her hands and looked at Ramsey calmly. They were almost down to it. The only question was which partner in the now-dissolved Anderson marriage this sharp-eyed old man was more interested in.
“Don’t suppose you still have that Suburban, do you?”
“No. I sold it about a month after my husband died. I put an ad in Uncle Henry’s swap guide, and someone snapped it right up. I thought I’d have problems, with the high mileage and gas being so expensive, but I didn’t. Of course I didn’t get much.”
And two days before the man who’d bought it came to pick it up, she had searched it carefully, from stem to stern, not neglecting to pull out the carpet in the cargo compartment. She found nothing, but still paid fifty dollars to have it washed on the outside (which she didn’t care about) and steam-cleaned on the inside (which she did).
“Ah. Good old Uncle Henry’s. I sold my late wife’s Ford the same way.”
“Holt, were you able to positively identify my husband as the man who used to flirt with Stacey Moore?”
“Well, when I talked to Mr. Anderson, he admitted he’d been in the Sunnyside from time to time-admitted it freely—but he claimed he never noticed any of the waitresses in particular. Claimed he usually had his head buried in paperwork. But of course I showed his picture—from his driver’s license, you understand—and the staff allowed as how it was him.”
“Did my husband know you had a… a particular interest in him?”
“No. Far as he was concerned, I was just old Limpin’ Lennie looking for witnesses who might have seen something. No one fears an old duck like me, you know.”
I fear you plenty.
“It’s not much of a case,” she said. “Assuming you were trying to make one.”
“No case at all!” He laughed cheerily, but his hazel eyes were cold. “If I could have made a case, me and Mr. Anderson wouldn’t have had our little conversation in his office, Darcy. We would have had it in my office. Where you don’t get to leave until I say you can. Or until a lawyer springs you, of course.”
“Maybe it’s time you stopped dancing, Holt.”
“All right,” he agreed, “why not? Because even a box-step hurts me like hell these days. Damn that old Dwight Cheminoux, anyway! And I don’t want to take your whole morning, so let’s speed this up. I was able to confirm a Toyota 4Runner at or near the scene of two of the earlier murders—what we call Beadie’s first cycle. Not the same one; a different color. But I was also able to confirm that your husband owned another 4Runner in the seventies.”
“That’s right. He liked it, so he traded for the same kind.”
“Yep, men will do that. And the 4Runner’s a popular vehicle in places where it snows half the damn year. But after the Moore murder—and after I talked to him—he traded for a Suburban.”
“Not immediately,” Darcy said with a smile. “He had that 4Runner of his well after the turn of the century.”
“I know. He traded in 2004, not long before Andrea Honeycutt was murdered down Nashua way. Blue and gray Suburban; year of manufacture 2002. A Suburban of that approximate year and those exact colors was seen quite often in Mrs. Honeycutt’s neighborhood during the month or so before she was murdered. But here’s the funny thing.” He leaned forward. “I found one witness who said that Suburban had a Vermont plate, and another—a little old lady of the type who sits in her living room window and watches all the neighborhood doins from first light to last, on account of having nothing better to do—said the one she saw had a New York plate.”
“Bob’s had Maine plates,” Darcy said. “As you very well know.”
“Acourse, acourse, but plates can be stolen, you know.”
“What about the Shaverstone murders, Holt? Was a blue and gray Suburban seen in Helen Shaverstone’s neighborhood?”
“I see you’ve been following the Beadie case a little more closely than most people. A little more closely than you first let on, too.”
“No,” Ramsey said. “As a matter of fact, no. But a gray-over-blue Suburban was seen near the creek in Amesbury where the bodies were dumped.” He smiled again while his cold eyes studied her. “Dumped like garbage.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“No one could tell me about the license plate of the Suburban seen in Amesbury, but if they had, I imagine it would have been Massachusetts. Or Pennsylvania. Or anything but Maine.”
He leaned forward.
“This Beadie sent us notes with his victims’ identification. Taunting us, you know—daring us to catch him. P’raps part of him even wanted to be caught.”
“Perhaps so,” Darcy said, although she doubted it.
“The notes were printed in block letters. Now people who do that think such printing can’t be identified, but most times it can. The similarities show up. I don’t suppose you have any of your husband’s files, do you?”
“The ones that haven’t gone back to his firm have been destroyed. But I imagine they’d have plenty of samples. Accountants never throw out anything.”
He sighed. “Yuh, but a firm like that, it’d take a court order to get anything loose, and to get one I’d have to show probable cause. Which I just don’t have. I’ve got a number of coincidences—although they’re not coincidences in my mind. And I’ve got a number of… well… propinquities, I guess you might call them, but nowhere near enough of them to qualify as circumstantial evidence. So I came to you, Darcy. I thought I’d probably be out on my ear by now, but you’ve been very kind.”
She said nothing.
He leaned forward even further, almost hunching over the table now. Like a bird of prey. But hiding not quite out of sight behind the coldness in his eyes was something else. She thought it might be kindness. She prayed it was.
“Darcy, was your husband Beadie?”
She was aware that he might be recording this conversation; it was certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Instead of speaking, she raised one hand from the table, showing him her pink palm.
“For a long time you never knew, did you?”
She said nothing. Only looked at him. Looked into him, the way you looked into people you knew well. Only you had to be careful when you did that, because you weren’t always seeing what you thought you were seeing. She knew that now.
“And then you did? One day you did?”
“Would you like another cup of coffee, Holt?”
“Half a cup,” he said. He sat back up and folded his arms over his thin chest. “More’d give me acid indigestion, and I forgot to take my Zantac pill this morning.”
“I think there’s some Prilosec in the upstairs medicine cabinet,” she said. “It was Bob’s. Would you like me to get it?”
“I wouldn’t take anything of his even if I was burning up inside.”
“All right,” she said mildly, and poured him a little more coffee.
“Sorry,” he said. “Sometimes my emotions get the better of me. Those women… all those women… and the boy, with his whole life ahead of him. That’s worst of all.”
“Yes,” she said, passing him the cup. She noticed how his hand trembled, and thought this was probably his last rodeo, no matter how smart he was… and he was fearsomely smart.
“A woman who found out what her husband was very late in the game would be in a hard place,” Ramsey said.
“Yes, I imagine she would be,” Darcy said.
“Who’d believe she could live with a man all those years and never know what he was? Why, she’d be like a whatdoyoucallit, the bird that lives in a crocodile’s mouth.”
“According to the story,” Darcy said, “the crocodile lets that bird live there because it keeps the crocodile’s teeth clean. Eats the grain right out from between them.” She made pecking motions with the fingers of her right hand. “It’s probably not true… but it is true that I used to drive Bobby to the dentist. Left to himself, he’d accidentally-on-purpose forget his appointments. He was such a baby about pain.” Her eyes filled unexpectedly with tears. She wiped them away with the heels of her hands, cursing them. This man would not respect tears shed on Robert Anderson’s account.
Or maybe she was wrong about that. He was smiling and nodding his head. “And your kids. They’d be run over once when the world found out their father was a serial killer and torturer of women. Then run over again when the world decided their mother had been covering up for him. Maybe even helping him, like Myra Hindley helped Ian Brady. Do you know who they were?”
“Never mind, then. But ask yourself this: what would a woman in a difficult position like that do?”
“What would you do, Holt?”
“I don’t know. My situation’s a little different. I may be just an old nag—the oldest horse in the firebarn—but I have a responsibility to the families of those murdered women. They deserve closure.”
“They deserve it, no question… but do they need it?”
“Robert Shaverstone’s penis was bitten off, did you know that?”
She hadn’t. Of course she hadn’t. She closed her eyes and felt the warm tears trickling through the lashes. Did not “suffer” my ass, she thought, and if Bob had appeared before her, hands out and begging for mercy, she would have killed him again.
“His father knows,” Ramsey said. Speaking softly. “And he has to live with that knowledge about the child he loved every day.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I am so, so sorry.”
She felt him take her hand across the table. “Didn’t mean to upset you.”
She flung it off. “Of course you did! But do you think I haven’t been? Do you think I haven’t been, you… you nosy old man?”
He chuckled, revealing those sparkling dentures. “No. I don’t think that at all. Saw it as soon as you opened the door.” He paused, then said deliberately: “I saw everything.”
“And what do you see now?”
He got up, staggered a little, then found his balance. “I see a courageous woman who should be left alone to get after her housework. Not to mention the rest of her life.”
She also got up. “And the families of the victims? The ones who deserve closure?” She paused, not wanting to say the rest. But she had to. This man had fought considerable pain—maybe even excruciating pain—to come here, and now he was giving her a pass. At least, she thought he was. “Robert Shaverstone’s father?”
“The Shaverstone boy is dead, and his father’s as good as.” Ramsey spoke in a calm, assessing tone Darcy recognized. It was a tone Bob used when he knew a client of the firm was about to be hauled before the IRS, and the meeting would go badly. “Never takes his mouth off the whiskey bottle from morning til night. Would knowing that his son’s killer—his son’s mutilator—was dead change that? I don’t think so. Would it bring any of the victims back? Nawp. Is the killer burning in the fires of hell for his crimes right now, suffering his own mutilations that will bleed for all of eternity? The Bible says he is. The Old Testament part of it, anyway, and since that’s where our laws come from, it’s good enough for me. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll have to stop at every rest area between here and Augusta going back, but it was worth it. You make a good cup.”
Walking him to the door, Darcy realized she felt on the right side of the mirror for the first time since she had stumbled over that carton in the garage. It was good to know he had been close to being caught. That he hadn’t been as smart as he’d assumed he was.
“Thank you for coming to visit,” she said as he set his hat squarely on his head. She opened the door, letting in a breeze of cold air. She didn’t mind. It felt good on her skin. “Will I see you again?”
“Nawp. I’m done as of next week. Full retirement. Going to Florida. I won’t be there long, according to my doctor.”
“I’m sorry to hear th—”
He abruptly pulled her into his arms. They were thin, but sinewy and surprisingly strong. Darcy was startled but not frightened. The brim of his Homburg bumped her temple as he whispered in her ear. “You did the right thing.”
And kissed her cheek.
– 20 –
He went slowly and carefully down the path, minding the ice. An old man’s walk. He should really have a cane, Darcy thought. He was going around the front of his car, still looking down for ice patches, when she called his name. He turned back, bushy eyebrows raised.
“When my husband was a boy, he had a friend who was killed in an accident.”
“Is that so?” The words came out in a puff of winter white.
“Yes,” Darcy said. “You could look up what happened. It was very tragic, even though he wasn’t a very nice boy, according to my husband.”
“No. He was the sort of boy who harbors dangerous fantasies. His name was Brian Delahanty, but when they were kids, Bob called him BD.”
Ramsey stood by his car for several seconds, working it through. Then he nodded his head. “That’s very interesting. I might have a look at the stories about it on my computer. Or maybe not; it was all a long time ago. Thank you for the coffee.”
“Thank you for the conversation.”
She watched him drive down the street (he drove with the confidence of a much younger man, she noticed—probably because his eyes were still so sharp) and then went inside. She felt younger, lighter. She went to the mirror in the hall. In it she saw nothing but her own reflection, and that was good.