19

The house was bigger than what Stone had come to expect in Georgetown. It was surrounded by lawn and gardens, and set back from the street, with a circular driveway.

“Maybe we should have called first,” Dino said.

“I’d rather surprise her,” Stone replied.

Dino pulled into the driveway, and they got out of the SUV and rang the bell. A uniformed maid answered the door.

“May I help you?” she asked, regarding them as if they were Bible salesmen.

“Mr. Barrington and Lieutenant Bacchetti to see Mrs. Trask, at the request of the president of the United States. ” Sesmen.”

The woman blinked. “Please come in. I’ll see if Mrs. Trask is at home.” She showed them to chairs in a round foyer and disappeared through a door.

“At home?” Dino asked. “Doesn’t she know if her boss is at home?”

“‘At home’ means receiving visitors who don’t have an appointment.”

“Thank you for translating,” Dino replied. “I think I’m going to let you handle this one. She’s not used to people like me.”

“Cops?”

“Italians.”

The maid reappeared. “Mrs. Trask will see you. This way, please.” She led them into a large room full of chintz-covered furniture and Audubon prints of birds. A handsome woman in her fifties sat alone on a sofa, looking nervous.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Trask,” Stone said. “I am Stone Barrington, and this is Lieutenant Dino Bacchetti. The president asked us to visit with you.”

“Please sit down,” she replied, waving a hand vaguely.

Stone and Dino chose chairs.

“Mrs. Trask,” Stone said, “I know that you’ve heard of our presence in town and why we’re here.”

“How would you know that?” she asked.

“It’s Washington,” Stone said.

“Well, yes.”

“I’m aware of your conversation with your husband at Maison Blanche last evening.”

“Good God! Is the place bugged?”

“I was sitting at the banquette immediately behind yours, about two feet away.”

“You were eavesdropping?”

“I was having dinner. It was impossible not to hear what you were saying.”

“A gentleman would not have heard it,” she said, drawing herself up to her full height.

“Be that as it may,” Stone said, “I am aware that a friend of yours was having an affair with Brixton Kendrick.” He took his notebook from an inside pocket and got out his pen. “The president would like you to give us her name and address.”

“Good God, you can’t go bursting into Muffy Brandon’s house and demanding to know about her secret life!”

Stone wrote down the name. “Mrs. Trask, we are not the SWAT team. We are investigating a murder and a suicide at the request of the president of the United States, and we will exercise the utmost discretion. What is Mrs. Brandon’s address?”

“How did you know her name?”

“You just told it to me,” Stone said, as patiently as he could.

“Oh, my God! You see what you’ve made me do?”

“Please, Mrs. Trask: Mrs. Brandon’s address.”

The woman sighed. “She lives two houses that way,” she said, pointing. “It’s the green house with the window boxes.”

“Thank you. Now, last evening you said that Mr. Kendrick had had numerous affairs. With whom?”

“Well, I don’t know if they were numerous,” she said. “I know of only one other.”

“And who would that be?” Stone asked, pen poised.

“I’ve heard that Milly Hart and Brix were surreptitiously seeing each other for a while. With a y,” she said helpfully. “In the afternoons.”

“And her address?”

“The next block,” she said, pointing again. “Second on the left, with a black door.”

“Any others at all?” Stone asked.

“Not that I am aware of,” she replied.

Stone stood. “Thank you for your assistance, Mrs. Trask. I’m sorry to have intruded on your afternoon.”

She shrugged. “Anything for the president,” she said.

The trask door closed behind them, and they got into the car.

“I know the way,” Dino said, starting the car.

They found a parking place on the street, and as they were about to get out of the car, Stone pointed at the house with the window boxes. A well-dressed man carrying a briefcase was closing the door behind him and walking down the front steps. “Well, at least we won’t have to deal with Mr. Brandon.”

“How do we know that’s Mr. Brandon?” Dino asked.

“You have a point.”

They waited until the putative Mr. Brandon had cleared the block, then they walked to the house and rang the bell. Almost immediately, it was opened by a woman in a Chanel suit.

“Mrs. Brandon?” Stone said. “I am-”

“I know who you are,” she said quickly. “Come inside before anyone sees you.” She closed the door behind her. “Betty Trask called just now. You narrowly missed my husband, thank God! Come in here.” She led the way to a cozy, paneled study, seated them, then closed the door. “Now,” she said, perching on a small chair, “what do you want?”

“I’m sure Mrs. Trask told you why we’re here,” Stone said.

“Well, of course she did,” Mrs. Brandon replied. “But what do you want from me? Brix Kendrick is dead and confessed in a letter, or so I read in the Post. A year has passed. Why are you dragging me into this?”

“Mrs. Brandon, you dragged yourself into this when you had an affair with Mr. Kendrick. We’re simply investigating the circumstances of his and his wife’s deaths, and we hope you can help us. This is not for publication.”

“Oh, all right, what do you want?”

“How long were you and Mr. Kendrick, ah, seeing each other?”

“About two and a half months,” she said.

“And where did you meet?”

“Here, in this house. Brix would leave the White House in the afternoons and come here for an hour or so. Do you want to know what we did?”

Stone ignored the question. “Do you know of anyone else Mr. Kendrick was seeing?”

“Milly Hart,” she said. “She was before me. He admitted that to me.”

“Were you jealous of Mrs. Hart?”

“Certainly not!” she said indignantly. “Why would I be jealous of that little tramp?”

“Are you aware that Milly Hart was having an affair with anyone besides Brixton Kendrick?”

She thought for a moment. “No,” she murmured, aware that she had just called herself a tramp.

“Mrs. Brandon, what were your movements on the day Mrs. Kendrick died?”

“Am I a suspect? Am I under arrest? I want an attorney.”

“Mrs. Brandon, you’ve been watching too much Law amp; Order. It’s a simple question: where were you that day?”

“All day?”

“That would be helpful.”

“I slept late, then I went to my monthly garden club luncheon.”

“How long were you there?”

“From noon until around three. I was giving a presentation. After that, I had tea at a friend’s house, and no, I will not tell you who that was, until we’re in a courtroom.”

“Did you see Mr. Kendrick at all that day?”

“No, I did not. The last time was the day before.”

“How would you describe his frame of mind?” Stone asked.

“Serene. Brix was always serene. That’s why I was surprised he killed himself.”

“Why do you think he killed himself?”

“I should think it was obvious. He killed his own wife, for God’s sake!”

“Did it surprise you when you heard of her death?”

“Of course it surprised me.”

“Did you think Mr. Kendrick was the sort of man who would kill his wife?”

“Certainly not! Not for a moment.”

“Did he ever say to you that he wanted out of his marriage?”

“No, never. He and Mimi were devoted to each other. He just had a very powerful sex drive.”

Stone closed his notebook. “Thank you for seeing us, Mrs. Brandon,” he said. “Can you tell me where Milly Hart lives?”

“Certainly not, I barely know the woman.”

She led them to the door, and after looking both ways up and down the street, she let them out without a word and slammed the door behind them.

“Well, that was useful,” Dino said.

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Dino.”

“What are we doing here?” Dino asked. “Every time somebody asks us what we want, I don’t know what to tell them.”

“Let’s go find Milly Hart,” Stone said.

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