Authors: Jane Haddam
And One to Die On
Open Road Integrated Media
This book is dedicated to Gregory James DeAndrea.
OMETIMES, SHE WOULD STAND
in front of the mirror and stare at the lines in her face, the deep ravines spreading across her forehead, the fine webs spinning out from the corners of her eyes, the two deep gashes, like ragged cliffs, on either side of her mouth. Sometimes she would see, superimposed on this, a picture of herself at seventeen, her great dark liquid eyes staring out from under thick lashes, her mouth painted into a bow and parted, the way they all did it, then. That was a poster she was remembering, the first poster for the first movie she ever starred in. It was somewhere in this house, with a few hundred other posters, locked away from sight. She had changed a lot in this house, since she came to live here, permanently, in 1938. She had changed the curtains in the living room and the rugs in the bedroom and all the wall decorations except the ones in the foyer. She had even changed the kind of food there was in the pantry and how it was brought there. She had felt imprisoned here, those first years, but she didn’t any longer. It felt perfectly natural to be living here, on a house built into the rock, hanging over the sea. It even felt safe. Lately she had been worried, as she hadn’t been in decades, that her defenses had been breached. Now it was nearly midnight on a cold day in late October, and she was coming down the broad, angled stairs to the foyer. She was moving very carefully, because at the age of ninety-nine that was the best she could do. On the wall of the stairwell posters hung in a graduated rank, showing the exaggerated makeup and the overexpressive emotionalism of all American silent movies.
. There were no posters advertising a movie with Tasheba Kent and Cavender Marsh, because by the time Cavender began to star in movies, Tasheba Kent had been retired for a decade.
There was a narrow balcony to the front of the house through the French windows in the living room, and Tasheba went there, stepping out into the wind without worrying about her health. They were always warning her—Cavender, the doctors, her secretary, Miss Dart—that she could catch pneumonia at any time, but she wouldn’t live like that, locked up, clutching at every additional second of breath. She pulled one of the lighter chairs out onto the balcony and sat down on it. The house was on an island, separated by only a narrow strip of water from the coast of central Maine. She could see choppy black ocean tipped with white and the black rocks of the shore, looking sharp on the edges and entirely inhospitable.
Years ago, when she and Cav had first come here, there was no dock on the Maine side. She had bought the house in 1917 and never lived in it. She and Cav had had to build the dock and buy the boat the first of the grocery men used. They had had to make arrangements for the
Los Angeles Times
to be flown in and for their favorite foods, like caviar and pâté, to be shipped up from New York. They had caused a lot of fuss, then, when they were supposed to want to hide, and Tash knew that subconsciously they had done it all on purpose.
Tash put her small feet up on the railing and felt the wind in her face. It was cold and wet out here and she liked it. She could hear footsteps in the foyer now, coming through the living room door, on their way to find her, but she had expected those. Cavender woke up frequently in the night. He didn’t like it when he found the other side of the bed empty. He’d never liked that. That was how they had gotten into this mess to begin with. Tash wondered sometimes how their lives would have turned out, if Cavender hadn’t been born into a family so poor that there was only one bed for all six of the boy children.
The approaching footsteps were firm and hard stepped. Cav had been educated in parochial schools. The nuns had taught him to pick his feet up when he walked.
“Tash?” he asked.
“There’s no need to whisper,” Tash said. “Geraldine Dart’s fast asleep next door, and there’s nobody else here but us.”
Cav came out on the balcony and looked around. The weather was bad, there was no question about it. The wind was sharp and cold. Any minute now, it was going to start to rain. Cav retreated a little.
“You ought to come in,” he said. “It’s awful out.”
“I don’t want to come in. I’ve been thinking.”
“That was silly. I would think you were old enough to know better.”
“I was thinking about the party. Are you sure all those people are going to come?”
“Are you sure it’s going to be all right? We haven’t seen anyone for so long. We’ve always been so careful.”
Cav came out on the balcony again. He reminded Tash of one of those Swiss story clocks, where carved wooden characters came out of swinging wooden doors, over and over again, like jacks-in-the-box in perpetual motion.
“It’s been fifty years now since it all happened,” Cav said seriously. “I don’t think anybody cares anymore.”
“I’d still feel safer if we didn’t have to go through with it. Are you sure we have to go through with it?”
“Well, Tash, there are other ways of making money than selling all your memorabilia at auction, but I never learned how to go about doing them, and I’m too old to start. And so are you.”
“Besides,” Cav said, “I’ll be glad to get it all out of here. It spooks me sometimes, running into my past the way I do around here. Doesn’t it spook you?”
“No,” Tash said thoughtfully. “I think I rather like it. In some ways, in this house, it’s as if I never got old.”
“You got old,” Cav told her. “And so did I. And the roof needs a twenty-five-thousand-dollar repair job. And I’ve already had one heart attack. We need to hire a full-time nurse and you know it, just in case.”
“I don’t think I’ll wait for ‘just in case.’ I think that on my hundred and third birthday, I will climb up to the widow’s walk on this house, and dive off into the sea.”
“Come to bed,” Cav said. “We have a lot of people coming very soon. If you’re not rested, you won’t be able to visit with them.”
Cav was right, of course. No matter how good she felt most of the time—how clear in her mind, how strong in her muscles—she was going to be one hundred years old at the end of the week, and she tired easily. She took the arm he held out to her and stood up. She looked back at the sea one more time. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go, Tash thought, diving off the widow’s walk. People would say it was just like her.
“Tell me something,” she said. “Are you sorry we did what we did, way back then? Do you ever wish it could have turned out differently?”
“Never? Not even once?”
“Not even once. Sometimes I still find myself surprised that it worked out the way it did, that it didn’t turn out worse. But I never regret it.”
“And you don’t think anybody cares anymore. You don’t think anybody out there is still angry at us.”
“There isn’t anyone out there left to be angry, Tash. We’ve outlasted them all.”
Tash let herself be helped across the living room to the foyer, across the foyer to the small cubicle elevator at the back. She came down the stairs on foot, but she never went up anymore. When she tried she just collapsed.
She sat down on the little seat in the corner of the elevator car. Cav’s daughter. Her own sister. Aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews. Lawyers and accountants and agents and movie executives. Once everybody in the world had been angry at them. When they had first come out to the island, they’d had to keep the phone off the hook. But Cav was probably right. That was fifty years ago. Almost nobody remembered—and the people who did, like the reporter who was coming for the weekend from
magazine, thought it was romantic.
Good lord, the kind of trouble you could get yourself into, over nothing more significant than a little light adultery.
The elevator came to a bumping stop.
“Here we are,” Cav said. “Let me help you up.”
Tash let him help her. Cav was always desperate for proof that he was necessary to her. Tash thought the least she could do was give it to him.
ANNAH KENT GRAHAM SHOULD
have let the maid pack for her. She knew that. She should have written a list of all the clothes she wanted to take, left her suitcases open on her bed, and come out into the living room to do some serious drinking. Hannah Graham almost never did any serious drinking. She almost never did any serious eating, either. What she did do was a lot of very serious surgery. Facelifts, tummy tucks, liposuction, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty: Hannah had had them all, and some of them more than once. She was sixty years old and only five foot three, but she weighed less than ninety pounds and wore clothes more fashionable than half the starlets she saw window-shopping on Rodeo Drive. Anyplace else in the world except here in Beverly Hills, Hannah would have looked decidedly peculiar—reconstructed, not quite biological, made of cellophane skin stretched across plastic bone—but she didn’t live anyplace else in the world. She didn’t care what hicks in Austin, Texas, thought of her, either. She was the single most successful real estate agent in Los Angeles, and she looked it.
So far, in forty-five minutes, she had managed to pack two silk day dresses, two evening suits, and a dozen pairs of Christian Dior underwear. She was sucking on her Perrier and ice as if it were an opium teat. In a chair in a corner of the room, her latest husband—number six—was sipping a brandy and soda and trying not to laugh.
If this husband had been like the ones that came before him—beachboys all picked up in Malibu, notable only for the size of the bulges in their pants—Hannah would have been ready to brain him, but John Graham was actually a serious person. He was almost as old as Hannah herself, at least sixty, and he was a very successful lawyer. He was not, however, a divorce lawyer. Hannah was not that stupid. John handled contract negotiations and long-term development deals for movie stars who really wanted to direct.
Hannah threw a jade green evening dress into the suit bag and backed up to look it over.
“What I don’t understand about all this,” she said, “is why I’m going out there to attend a one hundredth birthday party for that poisonous old bitch. I mean, why do I want to bother?”
“Personally, I think you want to confront your father. Isn’t that what your therapist said?”
“My therapist is a jerk. I don’t even know my father. He disappeared into the sunset with that bitch when I was three months old.”
“That’s my point.”
“She murdered my mother,” Hannah said. “There isn’t any other way to put it.”
“Sure there is,” John told her. “Especially since she was in Paris or someplace at the exact moment your mother was being killed on the Côte d’Azur. It was your father the police thought killed your mother.”