Authors: Janice Kaplan
“You’ve got to learn to stay out of places you shouldn’t be,” he said glowering. “Dangerous.”
I picked some bits of gravel out of my hand, scraping at my palm with my fingernail. “Why’s Mr. Crawford so afraid of me?” I asked.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” the man in black said. “He just wants to protect his interests.”
“So he sent you to knock me down?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” the man said, walking away. “This time was an accident. Next one might not be.”
I took a long shower, gently scrubbing the dirt out of my cuts, then fumbled through Dan’s dopp kit, looking for a way to salve my wounds. I found his first-aid bag and rubbed on ointment, then covered the worst patches with sterile bandages. Not so bad. I put on crisp white pants and a slim-fitting Theory blouse in pale aqua. No way my ankle could handle heels, so I slipped on a pair of green flats. The color looked wrong with the blouse, so I changed to white sandals. I’d packed light—but fortunately, “light” had included four pairs of shoes for three days.
Back in the lobby again, a concierge gave me directions to the address I needed in Scottsdale.
“It’s easy to find, but are you sure you wouldn’t like me to call you a car service?” he asked.
“I think I can handle it.”
“Whatever you think,” he said politely.
In the car, I grimaced when I stepped on the gas, my ankle protesting at the pressure. I drove slowly, glancing in my rear-view mirror several times in case Roger had somebody following me. A red convertible—not a likely tail car—hung close behind me for a while. But the woman behind the wheel finally pulled into another lane and zoomed past.
I turned onto a street where the houses started getting larger and the hedges higher. Then the houses disappeared altogether, hidden inside gated communities. At a small sign for Eden Glen, I pulled up a long driveway, stopping at an elaborate gate that boasted curlicued ironwork sculptures of trees, snakes, apples, and people across the top. Maybe paradise had been more populated than I knew.
A guard made his way over to my car. “I’m here to see the Taylors,” I told him. “They’re expecting me.”
“Mr. Taylor went out,” he said.
“How about Mrs. Taylor?”
“She’s at the house.” He made no effort to move.
“Well, then, I’m here to see Mrs. Taylor.”
“Hmm.” He nodded slowly and went back to his booth. When had Americans become so obsessed with keeping people out? First the red carpet, now this. The guard made a call, then came back to my car and asked to see my license. He wrote down my plate number, checked my trunk, had me sign a form, and affixed a temporary sticker to my front window. I half expected him to demand a passport and visa and check that my vaccinations were in order.
“Take a left just down the road and the Taylors’ will be the first house you come to on the right,” the guard said. He reluctantly opened the gate, clearly uncomfortable letting in LA riffraff like me.
I drove in, and given the flowering gardens, the very green trees, and the brightly blossoming plants, I could almost believe that I’d made it to Eden. But then I remembered what the Taylors had suffered. You couldn’t find paradise in a place, after all.
The Taylor house was set so far back from the road that I almost missed it. But a perfectly green lawn caught my eye, and I made a quick turn into the long driveway, trying to figure out how big the water bills must be in Eden.
I got out of the car, taking in the sprawling stucco-and-glass fronted house. Some architect had no doubt enjoyed himself, creating several multileveled sections, curving walls, and a free-floating winding staircase in the center hall that was visible to the outside through the twelve-foot windows.
I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered. I rang again. A woman in a straw hat and a grass-stained and wrinkled version of my own outfit—white pants and a blue blouse—came around from a side garden. I vaguely recognized her from the memorial service. The grief lines around her eyes hadn’t lessened and her lips seemed pinched. She’d looked thin in the black dress she wore to the service, but now her cheeks seemed gaunt and her pants hung off her hips. Maybe you couldn’t be too rich, but at our age, you really could be too thin.
“Lacy Fields? I’m Lydia Taylor.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” I held out my hand, and she transferred a trowel from her right hand to her left so we could shake. Then she thought better of it, pulled her hand back, and wiped it against the pants.
“Actually, I’m too dirty to shake. I’ve been gardening.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said. “Is this a bad time?”
“It’s always a bad time these days,” she said. Tears sprung to her eyes, and she wiped at them with the back of her hand, leaving a muddy smudge across her cheek. I reached into my bag and handed her a tissue.
“Thanks,” she said. She blew her nose. “I’m not always like this. I’ve been trying very hard to stay positive for Hank. But some days are worse than others.”
“My coming has probably made this one of those worse ones,” I said apologetically.
She nodded. “Honestly, yes, but I wanted to meet you. I’m glad you called. You were the last person to talk to my daughter. I’m told she never regained consciousness after the EMTs arrived.”
I swallowed hard, trying to get past the lump in my throat. The last person to talk to Cassie? I’d never thought of it that way. If, God forbid, our roles were reversed, what would I want Lydia Taylor to tell me?
“I don’t think your daughter suffered,” I said, putting my hand on her arm. We weren’t friends, but we were both mothers. No greater bond necessary. “Everything happened within minutes. She couldn’t have been frightened or even known what was happening.”
“The police said you did CPR and tried to save her. Thank you for that.”
“I wish I could have…”
“I know. We all wish.”
Our eyes caught for a moment, and we both held them steady, motherly compassion passing between us. I still had my hand on her arm, and I gave it a small squeeze, then pulled back.
Finally, Lydia said, “Why don’t we go to the back patio so we can sit and talk. Or would you rather be inside?”
“No, this is lovely. I’m not an air-conditioner person. Even in Scottsdale.”
Lydia gave a small smile. “I’m with you. I might be the only person in Arizona who’s always cold.”
“You don’t have a lot of fat to protect you,” I said lightly.
Despite the ninety-degree heat, she folded her arms against her chest. It wasn’t just the slim frame that had left her unprotected. When she heard her daughter had been murdered, her blood must have run cold. And how do you ever warm up again after that?
We walked around the property, past stylized gardens, an expansive free-form swimming pool, and an immaculate clay tennis court. The entire back of the house, facing the mountains, was glass, making it almost impossible to tell where inside met outside. I followed Lydia up a few stairs to a shaded retreat with three Italianate modern seating clusters; a cooking area with brick-walled grill, spit, and Viking stove; and a side ell with a glass dining table that could probably accommodate twenty. Calling it a patio seemed a stretch. I couldn’t exactly picture sitting here and rocking in an L.L. Bean chair.
Lydia gestured for me to sit down, then opened a bamboo cabinet that turned out to be a well-disguised refrigerator.
“Water?” she asked.
“You have to stay hydrated in the desert,” she insisted. “I have Smart Water, Vitamin Water, Energy Water, and water collected from an underground spring in Patagonia and untouched by humans until you open the cap.”
I laughed. “Anything is fine.”
She handed me a bottle, then sat next to me.
“It’s just beautiful here,” I said, looking out to the mountains. “Have you lived here long?”
“I moved when Cassie was in college,” Lydia said. “My first husband—Cassie’s father—died when she was eight. I raised the girls myself.”
“Not easy,” I said, thinking of my own mother, who had struggled valiantly as a single parent. She worked all the time, and I rarely saw her sleep. Money had been short for us, though maybe not for Lydia.
“Hank and I had known each other for years, long before he became so…” She paused, letting the dirty word
pass unsaid. “We got married when Cassie was sixteen. I tried to keep life as normal as possible. Once both girls got to college, I didn’t feel guilty about moving. But maybe it was a mistake.”
She gestured to the opulent surroundings. “The girls and I lived simply in California. When Cassie started getting involved with Roger, I didn’t like it. Maybe Hank and I set the wrong example. But for me, it was never about the money.”
“Was it for Cassie?”
Lydia shook her head. “She thought she loved Roger. We had a fight when I told her she really loved having a father figure. Roger was too old for her. He bossed her around, told her what to do. In some odd way, I think she associated that with what a father should be. Remember, she never really had one.”
“Did they argue about money?”
“Not as far as I know. She’d always been frugal and self-sufficient. She signed a prenup.”
“You know your own child,” I said softly. “Did she seem happy with Roger?”
“I’ve thought about that a lot.” Lydia looked down and brushed some dirt off her pants. “Her boyfriend before Roger didn’t stack up as a mother’s dream. But I liked him. Cassie always seemed happy around him.”
“Billy Mann?” I asked.
She nodded, and another flash of pain darkened her face. So she already knew.
I took a deep breath.
“Your daughter left Billy some money, as you probably heard.”
She nodded. “We’d discussed it. The lawyer who drafted the prenup insisted on a will, but he must have been surprised when Cassie decided she wouldn’t leave everything to Roger.” Lydia gave a rough-edged laugh. “Roger doesn’t need money and neither do we. Cassie cared about doing good with whatever she had.”
“How did Billy figure in?”
“You don’t know?” She glanced at me. “His younger brother is disabled. Ren, I think his name is. Wheelchair-bound. Billy’s always been really good to him and Cassie loved that. Nothing better than a tattooed biker with a heart of gold.”
How about a tattooed biker with a heart of gold and a twenty-carat yellow diamond?
“Did she give Billy any gifts”—I couldn’t bring myself to say
while she was still alive
so I concluded, lamely—“before?”
Lydia didn’t seem to notice. “Cassie and Roger gave him the boat where he lived.”
And where he died
. I shuddered, remembering the gory scene.
“Roger had owned the boat for years, paying for it to sit in drydock,” Lydia continued. “He kept getting bigger ones and couldn’t be bothered with selling his little starter. Cassie had the idea of giving it to Billy. He moved onto it and he brought his brother along all the time. Ren loved the freedom of being on the water.”
“Roger didn’t mind giving a gift to Cassie’s old boyfriend?”
Lydia smiled. “I don’t think he felt threatened, if that’s what you mean.”
But if Cassie had spent a night on the boat maybe he’d want revenge. In the form of a bullet through the back.
“Do you know anything about Cassie giving Billy a diamond?” I asked.
“No. Nothing. I can’t imagine why she would.” Lydia wrinkled her forehead—something not many could do in the age of Botox. Then, making sure I had the right impression, Lydia added, “My Cassie cared about people. She loved Roger—at least when she married him. She wanted to help Billy. Really, that’s all.”
I rubbed my temples, feeling my head starting to pound. Either desert dehydration had set in or all my detecting had depleted my neurons. If only that Smart Water could give me a few more IQ points.
I started to ask another question about the diamond, but Lydia sat back and tugged at the brim of her hat, shading her red-rimmed eyes. Talking about her lost child had left her drained. Off in the distance, the desert sun glanced off the craggy-faced mountains. The red rocks cast a rosy glow that seemed wrong for our mood. I thought of my last brush with Arizona landscape.
“It’s so beautiful here,” I said, looking off at the weathered peaks. “I know some people who’ve tried to reproduce the whole scene in LA. Something about creating energy fields with those red rocks.”
Lydia gave a wan smile. “Does that mean you’ve encountered Andy Daniels?”
At hearing his name, my mouth dropped open. I made an effort to close it. “Yes. You know him?”
“His parents are old family friends of ours. They have a place in Sedona. Cassie used the connection to get her first job.”
“Oh.” A couple of cogs seemed to fall into place: how Cassie got the job at Genius Productions—and even more, why she would have left. The fact that Andy was an old family friend put his one-night romp in a different light. No wonder Andy had been mortified and Cassie had quit.
Lydia stood up and I realized the visit had ended. She walked with me back toward my car, but now the opulent home and spectacular setting didn’t seem to matter. Could there be any greater proof that money couldn’t buy happiness? My thoughts flashed to my own three children, and I felt an almost physical yearning to hug them. How much precious time did parents waste griping about their kids’ missed curfews or loud music? Lydia had the painful perspective of knowing one should be grateful for every glorious (and not-so-glorious) moment together.
“I miss Cassie so much,” Lydia said softly, staring off at her garden as we strolled. “She never really lived here, but the house seems empty without her. I just want to talk to her one more time. However inane it sounds, I’d trade everything I own just to have another day together.”
“Not inane,” I said fervently. “What mother wouldn’t feel the same?”
“Thank you for understanding,” Lydia said. Then she smiled wanly. “Unfortunately, nobody’s offering me the trade.”
“How is your other daughter doing?” I asked.
“It’s hard to know. She has a good job. Friends. She lives in New York.” Lydia shook her head. “People always say to me, ‘At least you still have her.’ True enough. But it’s like losing both legs and being glad you still have your arms. You try.”