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Authors: Abby Drake

Good Little Wives

BOOK: Good Little Wives
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Good Little Wives
Abby Drake

To the Wives…

Contents

One

It started because of a facelift. A second facelift, actually.

Two

That was how the New Falls Journal described the crime…

Three

It was a small, square room—not a big, open one…

Four

Kitty's son, Marvin, showed up at her arraignment and posted…

Five

Lauren Halliday had been born Lauren Bryson of the Boston–Palm…

Six

Tarrytown, New York, was where Washington Irving had penned The…

Seven

The funeral was orchestrated by Premiere Parties, which had done…

Eight

The post-funeral luncheon was served at Alio's because the house…

Nine

Bridget drove Caroline home because Jack had convinced Randall to…

Ten

Bridget started in Randall's dressing room.

Eleven

Dana should have called the Hudson Valley Red Cab to…

Twelve

Dana decided Sam had a point—had anyone thought of Yolanda?…

Thirteen

Michael came home for dinner, and though the head count…

Fourteen

Brunch.

Fifteen

Dana backed out of her driveway at ten-fifteen the next…

Sixteen

Sam leaped from the Queen Anne and bolted through the…

Seventeen

“You should have been there,” Bob said to Lauren. “I…

Eighteen

“So I have a theory,” Sam said after he explained…

Nineteen

“What do you mean you'll pick me up at midnight?…

Twenty

'Twas the night before chemo and there Bridget was, traversing…

Twenty-one

“I can't imagine where she was going,” Lauren whispered to…

Twenty-two

Bridget wore a ruby red silk camisole and matching capri…

Twenty-three

“Samuel David Fulton, what in God's name have you done?”

Twenty-four

They were back, but this time Lauren couldn't breathe. Maybe…

Twenty-five

Bridget didn't have a clue how she would be able…

Twenty-six

Hyde Park, New York, was famous as the birthplace…

Twenty-seven

Good Lord, it was Bridget's first husband no one knew…

Twenty-eight

She didn't care what Steven said.

Twenty-nine

The worst part was, of course, that Steven had second-guessed…

Thirty

If Caroline's father saw her now, he would be disgraced.

Thirty-one

Steven was gone again, this time for a one-day meeting…

Thirty-two

They met at Caffeine's instead of the club, where the…

Thirty-three

Upon leaving the restaurant, Dana decided that as soon as…

Thirty-four

“Mom, please. I knew you'd overreact.”

Thirty-five

Steven came in on the red-eye Saturday morning and crawled…

Thirty-six

She was wearing a light green dress that they'd all…

Thirty-seven

The house looked the same but smaller, closer to the…

Thirty-eight

Bridget strutted into the oncology department Monday morning in teal…

Thirty-nine

Dana couldn't wait to tell Bridget about her father. Steven…

Epilogue

It was the perfect spot for a hair salon, right…

It started because of a facelift. A second face
lift, actually. Caroline Meacham, after all, was now fifty-two, and her first cosmetic surgery had been twelve years ago, a fortieth birthday present from her husband, Jack. Or
for
him, Dana's husband had chuckled back then at the thought that one of the trophy wives was beginning to tarnish in visible places.

Dana gripped the stem of the champagne flute. She stood with several ladies, semicircle, arced around Caroline, extolling the delicate work of Dr. Gregg (his first name, not his last, for none of the wives called him Dr. Rathberger).

“A teeny tuck here…another one here…,” Caroline explained to the women she'd invited for cracked crab and con
versation at Caroline and Jack's palatial home in New Falls, New York. She'd dubbed the meeting her rite-of-spring luncheon for her fifty closest friends, though there was no doubt the real reason they'd gathered was to view the new lift.

“And my lips,” Caroline continued. “Remember how thin they'd become?” The women—Dana, Bridget, Lauren, and three others Dana knew Caroline deemed unimportant—nodded as if they truly remembered Caroline's pencil mouth. “Well, Dr. Gregg—the man is sheer genius—took a touch of fatty tissue from the cheek of my butt, and see how he plumped up my lips?” She outlined the edge of her upper lip with the tip of a lightly frosted, manicured fingernail. She smiled.

“Amazing,” Lauren said, her Mikimoto triple strand of pearls clasped tightly to her neck, masking a hint of early wattle that Dr. Gregg surely would excavate as soon as Lauren got up the nerve.

“Magnifique
,” Bridget added. They counted on Bridget to toss around French words and bring a flair of the EU to any party she attended. Despite that she'd been in America more than two decades, it was something her husband encouraged.

Dana would have liked to ask how much the surgery cost, but in New Falls, no one discussed money. She tuned out the chatter, looked around at the tall crystal vases of artfully drooping yellow tulips, at the Matisse by the long window and the Renoir over the mantel, at the cluster of petite-ribboned hostess gifts that spilled from the Louis XV table that had cabriole legs
avec pied de sabots
(“with hoof foots”—a favorite style of Bridget's). The gifts careened from the foyer into the music room where the ladies now stood, bundled in small
groups of tennis partners, country club foursomes, and spa buddies.

There was Rhonda, who seemed over the top today, but apparently her doctor had just changed her meds.

There was Georgette, who'd recently learned that, for twenty-five years, her husband had been an undercover informant for the IRS, when all along she thought he merely had a mistress.

There was Chloe, Caroline's clonelike daughter, whose engagement ring was the size of Japan.

And there was Yolanda, who once had been their hairstylist, but now was one of them, sporting pink diamonds, a gift from her new husband, Vincent DeLano, who'd been married to Kitty—whatever happened to her, anyway?

There were pastel cashmere twin sets and massive solitaire diamonds (more carats than at Whole Foods) and peachy complexions and white, orthodontically correct smiles.

Dana sipped from her glass and wondered how soon they could leave. It wasn't the first time in recent weeks that she was simply bored.

As if reading her mind, Lauren spoke. “I hate to break up the party, but Bob's coming home on the early train and he's bringing Mr. Chang.”

Yi Chang was the new head of Xiamen Electronics (ticker symbol, XmnE), which most of the women there understood, because they were wed to the men who ran Wall Street or at least perceived that they did.

“Well,” Dana said, “the three of us rode over together, so I guess we're off.” They kiss-kissed Caroline, waved to the others, and escaped without incident onto the front walk. They
hiked around a string of European cars, clipped past a row of arborvitae and a lily-padded water garden, and climbed into Lauren's big Mercedes before Dana dared to say, “It has occurred to me that we just kissed Caroline's ass.”

They drove off in silence until they reached the main road, at which time Bridget said, “
Mon dieu
, what have we become?”

 

Three streets from Caroline and Jack Meacham's, Kitty DeLano stood in the hollow living room of the ten-thousand-square-foot mausoleum that once had been hers, or rather, had been theirs, before Vincent had decided he liked a hairdresser better than he liked her.

She chewed the tip of a fingernail she could no longer afford to have manicured, realizing there really was a fine line between love and hate, sanity and insanity; a flimsy curtain that hung between man and wife like the veil of a bride, which, once lifted, revealed irreversible truth.

Vincent, of course, had given her everything, according to him: the boy and the girl from her womb, the furs and the jewels, the villa in Naples (Italy, not Florida), the too-large house in New Falls that was now empty of furnishings.

Most of all, he had given her status.

And while Kitty could do well enough without all the stuff (except for her kids, who had sided with him, because though they were grown up and successful, Daddy still subsidized their Manhattan apartments, their BMWs, their Visa cards), it was the status that could not be replaced.

She was no longer Mrs. Vincent DeLano.

She was no longer welcome in New Falls, not at the deli,
not at the dry cleaner, not at Caroline Meacham's rite-of-spring luncheon.

And now Vincent lay at her feet, dead on the floor, a trickle of blood oozing from his left ear, a gun slack, still smoking, in Kitty's right hand.

That was how the
New Falls Journal
described
the crime scene in the paper the next day: that the former wife of futures trader Vincent DeLano was found standing over the corpse,
a trickle of blood oozing from his left ear, a gun slack, still smoking, in Kitty's right hand.

Dana sat at the breakfast table and stared at the newspaper. She supposed they'd referred to Kitty as “Kitty” because it was a small town and it wasn't really socially appropriate to call her “Mrs. DeLano” since she was no longer wed to Vincent but Yolanda was.

But a murderer?

Kitty?

Of all the women in New Falls, Kitty was one of the least
likely. She kept a nice house, raised two acceptable kids (an unattractive yet quite talented physician and a startlingly gorgeous redheaded supermodel), and never made a public fuss, not even when Vincent walked out on her in the middle of dinner at Rosa's with half the town looking on.

They had been friends once, Kitty and Dana. They had served together on the town arts council and on the elementary school PTO. Kitty had been with Dana the day Dana decided to go blond (a big mistake; she since had reverted to her natural, premature silver, a look her husband said made her green eyes even more radiant). More importantly, it had been Kitty who'd been at Dana's the day the huge oak tree was struck by lightning and fell through the roof and into the sunroom and knocked Dana out. Kitty did CPR and called the fire department and kept Dana calm until the ambulance got there.

But that had been a half dozen or more years ago now. Before life had changed, Kitty's especially.

Dana looked at the clock: seven-fifteen. She wondered whom she should call first. Steven was in San Francisco today, or was it L.A.? No matter. He wouldn't appreciate being awakened at four-fifteen even for the news of Kitty and Vincent. She could call her sons (any or all three), but Michael was probably dashing from his Dobbs Ferry apartment to catch the commuter (like his father, he was a tireless worker), and the twins, Sam and Ben, might have their phones turned off because wasn't that what college students did when they were trying to sleep? Surely it was too early for them to be at classes, even at Dartmouth, where studies seemed to matter.

God, she hated her empty nest and how it fostered such a restless malaise.

With thin resignation, Dana realized that because her family was inaccessible, that left Lauren. Bridget. Maybe even Caroline, who must have already seen the story. Caroline, after all, rose most days at dawn, then ran two miles before the commuters began clogging their shady, stone wall–lined back roads. The fact that it was the day after the luncheon would not alter Caroline's schedule. Plenty of people had no doubt been hired to deal with the aftermath.

Dana eyed the cordless phone. She'd never cared much for gossip, a carryover from when she'd been a senior in high school and her father's name had kept popping up in the newspaper of their small Midwestern town:

POLICE UNION BOOKS FAULTY

UNION HEAD QUESTIONED

GEORGE KIMBALL ARRESTED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced, ten years in prison, two years' probation. In the meantime, Dana's middle-class life disintegrated. She missed her senior prom (who on earth would go with her?), lost all her friends, and had been shipped off to an elderly aunt's on Long Island, where she finished high school by corresponding with her teachers.

After the shame-dust had settled, it seemed easier to stay where she'd been transplanted. She was accepted as a continuing ed student at Columbia. She studied hard and made it into the school of journalism the same month her aunt died, leaving her a little money and a lot alone. She had a brief stint as an investigative reporter for the
New York Post
, but after what her family had been through, courtrooms and crime made Dana uneasy. So she took a job as an assistant-to-an-assistant editor at
Fortune
magazine, where she met Steven
Fulton, Harvard BS in economics '70, Wharton MBA '72, while interviewing him for a story on “Investments for the New Generation.”

Within months they were married, and Dana no longer had to worry about writing headlines—or about having her father make them. By that time it had been years since she'd spoken to her father; by now it was decades.

She took another sip of coffee, reread the article, and realized that if it hadn't been for gossip, however, she would not have met or married Steven, but might have remained rooted in Indiana and married Mr. Nobody.

Gossip, she decided, had ended up serving her well, if “well” meant unlimited credit at Neiman Marcus and modest, but adequate, trust funds for her kids. If “well” meant a decent, if not perfect, marriage, a healthy family, a place as Mrs. Steven Fulton at the respectable New Falls table.

Yes, gossip had served Dana well.

As for Kitty DeLano…well, Dana wondered, Kitty had once been a good friend, so would it really be gossip? And wouldn't it be better than sitting around her too-empty house waiting for someone to come home?

 

“Caroline,” Dana said into the phone with feigned nonchalance. “I wanted to say thanks for the delightful luncheon yesterday.”

“It's too early in the day for thank-yous,” Caroline replied. “You must have seen the paper, too.”

One thing Dana had instantly recognized about Caroline when they met at a “Newcomers” meeting twenty-five years ago, was that Caroline was always in the know, the puppeteer
for the New Falls social life. Dana sighed. “Do you think she really killed him?”

Caroline laughed a short, sharp laugh. “Who would blame her? Did you see Yolanda yesterday? It's not as if Vincent left Kitty for a Radcliffe alum.”

Like the rest of them, Caroline was a snob. Unlike Dana, she had the right to be a snob, having been born and raised in another Westchester County town that was level with New Falls on the highbrow barometer. Unlike Dana, Caroline hadn't come there by way of Indiana.

With a twinge of guilt for having stepped onto a rung of the social ladder under spurious pretenses (not that any of them knew Dana's humiliating past), she said, “But do you think Kitty's okay? I mean, good Lord, she's in
jail
.”

“I doubt if she's okay. She's probably cold and scared as hell.”

Dana's father had said he'd been cold. He never said if he'd been scared. “Should we do something?”

“Like what? I don't expect they'll let us bring her blankets. Besides, if we show up, she'd only be embarrassed.”

“I think she's already been embarrassed, Caroline. By the divorce and everything.” Of course, Caroline hadn't helped by inviting Vincent's new,
underage
missus (Yolanda was barely out of her twenties) to the rite-of-spring luncheon, thereby perpetuating the notion that, in New Falls, men ruled.

But Dana had lived there long enough to know that was simply the way things had worked for generations, as if women's lib had never happened, as if this were not the twenty-first century and women had never been granted the right to vote, let alone to abort. The reasons were simple: The
men did business with one another, played golf, commiserated. Their wits and their egos—and who knew what else—were measured daily by themselves and by each other, and their prizes were dollars and cents. At their sides were their prerequisite wives—their Stepford Middle-Aged Mamas—fine-tuned and well-oiled in diamonds and pearls, in cracked crab and champagne.

When divorce came calling, the men retained all the status; the women were paid off and cast out. Shunned. Brushed off like lint on navy cashmere, the way Kitty had been brushed off by Caroline.

It was sad, true, inevitable.

“Does she have family?” Dana asked, suddenly more interested in Kitty's survival than in the gossip.

“Her children, of course, though from what I understand they've clung to Daddy and might not be sympathetic to her cause. She has a mother in a nursing home upstate. Other than that, I think Kitty's alone.” She said the word “alone” with a hint of sorrow and compassion that surprised Dana.

Does she feel it, too?
Dana wondered. Does Caroline feel the same dread—no matter how seemingly remote—that she, that any one of them, was just one Yolanda away from being cast aside, too?

“Caroline,” Dana said as epiphany struck, “we have to help her.”

There was a pause of time and space and social class. Then the woman said, “My husband would be furious.”

Dana didn't think Steven would be as furious as Caroline thought Jack might be. Unlike most of the husbands, Steven saw the world the way it was. He often, in fact, laughed out
loud at their own behavior as much as at the behavior of their friends.

“Well,” Dana said carefully, “I understand. But I can't sit here knowing that Kitty is in trouble and that I might be able to help.” It was hard to admit that, like the rest of them, she hadn't once called Kitty since the marriage broke up.

Caroline paused again as if she were smoking a cigarette with her new plumped-up lips. “Give her my best” was all she said.

 

It was spring, too warm a morning to wear the Polarfleece Dana had on. She could not, however, rid her mind's eye of the image Caroline had planted there: that Kitty was cold and scared as hell. Besides, Dana didn't suppose she'd run into the fashion police at the county jail where the newspaper article said Kitty was being held pending arraignment.

She wondered if the guards would let her give Kitty the jacket. Then again, she thought, as she wheeled her Volvo past the tall chain-link fence that was topped with barbed wire corkscrewed like a big, unfriendly Slinky, maybe one of Kitty's kids had bailed her out by now.

She parked, she turned off the ignition, she got out of the car and locked it as if she were simply going into the market, or into the nail salon for a manicure. Unlike the other New Falls ladies, Dana did not find jail a foreign land.

She remembered the drill:

“Name.”

“Driver's license.”

“Inmate number.”

Crossing the parking lot, Dana zipped the Polarfleece, glad
she'd remembered to wear a jacket that did not have a hood. As she recalled, a hood was deemed a suspicious hiding place for a packet of cocaine or a loaded gun.

Pulling open the heavy glass door, Dana wondered where on earth Kitty had gotten a gun and when she'd learned how to shoot.

The waiting room was harsh from too many fluorescent lights. A large, uniformed young man sat behind a desk next to a wall of computer screens. There had been no computers thirty-plus years ago.

What was familiar, however, was the air. It was stale and still, scented by bodies that had not been washed often or well enough. Dana knew if she closed her eyes, she might think she was back home, that it was Monday evening visiting hours, and she'd come to see Daddy.

“May I help you?” the uniformed young man asked.

Dana blinked. “Yes,” she said, her voice just a whisper, as if not to disturb her long-ago ghosts. “Can you tell me if Kitty DeLano is being held here or if someone has posted her bail?”

The young man smiled. Well, that was certainly something else that was different from the stern, bullying looks of the Indiana guards. Maybe the prison system had decided to soften its approach.

“She's here,” he said. “Are you her attorney?”

It should have occurred to Dana that she might not get in to see Kitty without some credentials. At home, after all, she'd been “family.”

She considered leaving, then realized that because Kitty was still there, her children apparently hadn't yet appeared.
Not her children, not even an attorney. Perhaps Kitty was so cold and so scared that she hadn't known what to do or whom to call. Perhaps she truly was all alone.

Dana cleared her throat. “We haven't decided whether or not Ms. DeLano will retain me.” Her journalism voice had returned, the voice that implied she was a professional and she was in charge. As long as the guard didn't ask for a card that stipulated she was a member of the bar.

He looked at his watch. “Her arraignment isn't until one. The judge is real busy this morning.”

“I know,” Dana said, as if she did. She was glad the guard did not question why an attorney would wear Polarfleece.

Then he stood up and leaned across the desk. “May I see your driver's license?” he asked, and Dana's heart skipped a past-memory beat. She dug into her purse and extracted the document.

His eyes scanned it briefly, then he pointed to a tall, white archway that looked like the metal detectors in airports. She sucked in her breath and stepped toward the arch, thankful she hadn't put on an underwire bra when she'd dressed that morning.

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