Authors: Janice Kaplan
I shuddered. The woman had lost her first husband, and then her daughter. Amazing she could still stand. Maybe we all possessed greater strength than we knew.
As if reading my thoughts, Lydia said, “The first loss was hard, but this has been devastating. Cassie looked just like her dad. When she’d smile, I’d see him. Now it’s like losing him all over again. My beautiful daughter. My husband. Both their faces, gone forever.”
I nodded dumbly. Any words of comfort seemed inadequate. Remind her of happy memories and the faces in photo albums? Convey how lucky she was to have Hank? At least in the midst of this deepest grief, she wasn’t alone. Hank was no doubt a strong shoulder to lean on, but husbands weren’t interchangeable, either.
“I’d like to ask you one more thing,” Lydia said as we approached the Lexus. “I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but did Cassie have any…final words?”
For a moment, I pictured Cassie on top of the ladder in the study, her arms spread wide. Like an angel, I’d thought. But a moment later she’d been on the floor bleeding. If only I could say what Lydia yearned to hear. That Cassie had murmured,
Tell my mother I love her.
Or that she’d whispered,
I’ve had a happy life.
“She lost consciousness very quickly,” I said. “She didn’t have time for any messages.”
“I know she fell from a ladder.”
“I think she’d climbed up looking for something. The last thing I remember her saying was ‘Delta.’” I paused, but Lydia’s face didn’t change. “Does that mean anything to you?”
She shook her head. “I’d like to think so,” she said sadly. “But honestly it doesn’t.”
I drove away, the word ringing in my head. Maybe it didn’t mean anything to Cassie’s mother, but it meant something to me.
Why hadn’t I made the connection?
I sped a little too quickly up the elegant entryway to the Phoenician, swerving around some walkers out enjoying the sunny day. I left the car with the attendant and ran to our room—but Dan hadn’t come back. His golf game must have ended by now, so I raced back through the hotel and out the back door, past one very well-tended field for croquet and another for lawn bowling. Slightly breathless, I got to a pool surrounded by lounge chairs. I didn’t see Dan among the sunbathers sipping icy drinks, so I went across a bridge and down some stairs to another deck and pool.
Dan stood contemplating a shallow pond stocked with large, brightly colored koi. He still had on a golf shirt, but he’d changed to shorts and sandals.
“You had it right,” I said, sidling up next to him.
He turned away from the fish and looked at me. “Hi, honey. Had what right?” he asked.
“Why Grant got asked to join Delta ij,” I said, too wound up to bother with
“To me, our son is perfect, so any secret society should want him. But as you pointed out, he’s a high schooler. Not a cool choice. Someone in the organization is trying to get information from him. Or from me.”
Dan tapped his foot slowly. “What brought you around?”
“You, darling. I trust your instincts.”
Dan gave a small smile. His concern hadn’t melted on the back nine, but he seemed mollified now. Telling your husband he’s right does that. I leaned my head briefly against his shoulder. In the pond just beneath us, more fish gathered, their mouths open, hoping for crumbs. Smart little critters. They knew that people standing above them meant food. Or at least it usually did. I wished I had something to throw them. Too bad they had to learn the human lesson that nothing in life was certain.
“Cassie’s mother asked me if her daughter had any last words,” I said. “I’m sure she hoped for something like, ‘Tell my mom I love her.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything like that to offer her.”
“But you wanted to,” Dan said sympathetically, knowing me well.
I nodded. “I doubt Cassie knew she’d die, or who knows what she might have said. But I suddenly had an image of her standing on the ladder and saying ‘Delta.’” I paused for dramatic effect. “Delta,” I repeated.
Dan didn’t take the bait. “What did you think it meant at the time?” he asked.
“I didn’t think about it,” I said with a shrug. “I figured she’d started climbing out of sheer delirium. But the other day, her friend Paige told me they’d gone to the penthouse the night before so Cassie could stash some papers. Paige thought they had to do with the divorce. But maybe they were about Delta ij. So on the ladder, Cassie sent a final message after all.”
Dan rubbed my shoulder, sensing my building tension.
“It’s possible, but maybe ‘Delta’ meant something else. Weren’t you in some Delta sorority?”
“Tri Delta,” I reminded him.
“Which is where you met Molly, isn’t it?” Dan asked. When I nodded, he said, “Maybe that’s the connection.”
“Cassie’s been poisoned and she talks about her sorority? Why?”
“Maybe she thought a sorority sister had done the poisoning,” he said mildly. “Molly. Tri Delta. Delta. It adds up.”
I felt myself freeze. Delta? Molly? Could that really be what Cassie meant? No matter what I wanted to think, I had to look at the evidence. The night before Cassie died, Paige had seen Molly and Roger in the penthouse, arms around each other. Molly had never mentioned the visit. Deception by omission. What else might she have lied about?
I shook my head. No way I could let myself doubt my best friend.
“You never liked Molly,” I said petulantly.
“She’s your friend and she means a lot to you,” Dan said. “But I’m just trying to be realistic.”
Could you ever be realistic about the person who got you through the toughest times? Molly had won my loyalty forever when Ashley was born, but she’d shown her good heart long before. During my freshman year in college, my father—the abusive man my mother left when I turned two—died. Mom sounded almost relieved when she called to tell me, but the news hit me like a sledgehammer. I didn’t remember him and never expected a reconciliation, but every little girl wants a daddy to take care of her, and now the finality hit me. I’d never have one. Molly had stayed up with me all night as I cried for what might have been. She held me tightly, never once questioning my pain. That night, I felt like she was the only person in the whole world who understood me.
You don’t forget that.
were the one who made me think about Grant and Delta ij,” I said to Dan now, feeling slightly confused. “Why are you twisting it now?”
“I’m not. I’m just trying to make sure we don’t diagnose a zebra.”
We’d been married long enough that I understood the reference. An old adage in medicine held that when you heard hooves, you should think horses, not zebras. In other words, a headache might be a brain tumor—but it was probably just a headache. Go for what was most likely.
“So Molly’s your metaphoric horse?”
“You tell me,” Dan said quietly.
“The first hooves you heard said Delta ij. I don’t know how the group connects to Cassie, but we better find out. Especially if Grant’s gotten involved.”
Dan threw up an arm as if giving in, and at the gesture half a dozen fish leapt to the surface, their mouths open in wide
s. Misled again.
He turned away from the pond. “Since there’s nothing we can do right now, we should just relax,” he said, ever able to compartmentalize his emotions. “Should we change and take a dip?”
I shook my head. “I don’t really feel like swimming.”
“Get something to eat?”
“I’m not hungry, thanks.”
He looked at me for a long moment, then put his arms around me. “Nothing’s going to make my Lacy happy right now,” he said, knowing me well.
“But I’m happy. Very happy.” I gave my best fake grin.
“You’re a lousy liar.” He kissed me gently. “Do you want to leave?”
I sighed and leaned into him, burying my face in his chest. “Yes, I want to go home. I want to solve this case. But I dragged you to Phoenix, and you deserve a rest. It’s not fair to get you back on a plane this afternoon.”
“If you think you’re on to something, you need to pursue it,” he said simply. “I understand.”
I felt a surge of gratitude. I couldn’t carp anymore about Dan’s being condescending. He loved me, and offered his support without strings.
“If you really don’t mind…” I paused. “Listen, I will go back to LA, okay? But you stay here and have fun. Play more golf. Go to the spa and get a massage. Lie on a chaise and read journals.”
“It’s a deal,” Dan said.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“Of course not. But I’ll wait on the massage. You’re the only masseuse I want.”
I got back to an empty house and almost immediately regretted having left Phoenix—and Dan. We could have hiked Camelback Mountain, had a romantic dinner, danced under the stars. Sure I needed to protect Grant, but he was at a tennis tournament in San Diego. The only immediate danger he faced was tendonitis.
Still, Grant would come home and head back to campus. Back to his secret society. My rational son would laugh at vague warnings to be careful. He needed facts—and so did I.
The connection to Delta ij seemed hazy at best, the evidence against Roger was a little clearer. What could be in the papers Cassie stashed in the study? Protection if Roger demanded a divorce, Paige had guessed. The secret he didn’t want exposed. Could it be that instead of protecting her, the mystery papers had made him poison her?
But as she climbed the ladder, Cassie didn’t say, “Roger.” She said, “Delta.”
I felt torn between my two possibilities. According to Grant, Professor Bohr had told the students in Delta ij that they might get asked questions about Cassie. Questions they couldn’t answer.
I wondered if the answers lay on that shelf in the study.
I could call Detective Wilson and tell him what I knew. But I doubted he’d take any action. Even if he tried, what judge would issue a search warrant based on a single word? Wealth and status didn’t mean Roger had the police in his pocket, but they made it pretty unlikely that Detective Wilson would want to rip up his penthouse on a hunch.
I went to the kitchen and turned on our shiny steel Italian espresso machine to make myself a double. Great investment. Just four hundred more espressos made at home instead of at Starbucks and the machine would pay for itself.
Small porcelain cup in hand, I went upstairs to my study. Twice I picked up the phone to call Molly then put it back down. Sure, I wanted to know what Roger and Molly were up to the night before Cassie died. But if I told her what Paige had said, she’d get defensive, and right now I just needed her help.
“Hi,” I said when she picked up her cell phone. “Bad time or place?” In the wireless world, asking
How are you?
never made as much sense as asking
Where are you?
“I’m at the gym,” she said.
“Oh, then I won’t bother you.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m lounging in the café, eating a croissant and reading a book on Pilates. I’d rather stretch my mind than my muscles.”
Only Molly joined a gym because she liked the lunch. Her idea of exercise generally involved lifting the phone. “Any chance you actually bought sneakers?”
“Of course not. Chanel flats are as sporty as I get.”
“Chanel, proud sponsor of the Paris Shopping Olympics.”
“I’m going for the gold, babe,” Molly said.
We both laughed. Apparently murder, mayhem, and mendacity couldn’t ruin a good friendship.
“Anyway, I called for a reason,” I said. I briefly filled her in on the stashed papers, Grant’s secret society, and my “Delta” breakthrough.
“Interesting,” Molly said when I finished. “I kind of hope your hunch is right. Sure would take the spotlight off me.”
“And put it on Grant,” I said softly.
“Oh God, I’m sorry,” Molly blurted. “I wasn’t thinking. It would be awful if he got caught up in this. What do we do?”
I liked that she’d made it
rather than just me.
“I still have the key to the penthouse. I want to go over and see what’s hidden on the bookshelf. Would you come with me?”
There was a long silence. “We can’t do that,” she said finally. “What if the police come? It doesn’t matter if you have a key—it’s got to be breaking and entering.”
“I’m not planning on breaking anything. But I am worried about someone breaking my son’s neck.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
“Two people are dead. That’s dramatic,” I said, sounding a lot like Dan.
Molly didn’t answer immediately. “Okay, here’s an idea,” she said finally. “How about I call Roger and tell him the story. He’s on a business trip—London, Hong Kong, Moscow. A private plane makes the world very small. But he can get someone to let us in.”
How could I tell her that I didn’t want Roger to know? If he suspected the stashed papers involved him, they’d be gone by the time we got there.
“It’s all too hypothetical to explain to a guy on a Gulfstream,” I said, looking for an excuse. “Maybe you should give him another reason you need to get in.”
Oh, heck, how should I know? I was as lousy at lying as Pinocchio. “Tell him you can’t find your gold Cartier Roadster watch. You think it must have fallen off when you were at the penthouse. You’re in a panic because it’s so pricy.”
“Darling, my Cartier is a copy.”
“Can’t be. It’s gorgeous.”
“You think I’d spend twenty-five thousand dollars on a watch? No way. I got it for two hundred bucks at a little storefront near Hollywood and Vine. The one corner of America that’s a mecca for all things fake—from tits to timepieces.”
Despite myself, I laughed. “If it looked real to me, it looked real to him. Tell him you think you dropped it on the last visit. The night before Cassie died.”
Ten minutes later, Molly called me back. “I reached Roger,” she reported. “He said he’ll buy me a new Roadster and have Cartier send it over.”
“And?” I held my breath. Just how far had Molly’s morals fallen?
“Tempting,” she admitted. “But I told him the one I lost has sentimental value. I explained you have the key and could let me in. He didn’t sound happy, but said to go ahead.”