Authors: Luanne Rice
“We shoulda run too,” Isabel said, letting out a long burp.
“Where did you get the booze?” Nick asked. “Who bought it for you? You tell me, Isabel, right now.”
“They took it from here!” Julie called, still hiding around the corner. “Beer from the garage!”
“Sisters don’t tell on sisters!” Isabel said.
“That was always Kate and Beth’s code,” Lulu said.
Julie stared at her. “Why did you say that?”
“Well, because they are sisters too,” Lulu said.
“Not now,” Julie said. “The thing before. The disappearing friends. Talking to the air, no one there. It was bad and sad, your mother died, and . . .”
“Look how you’ve upset Julie,” Scotty snapped at Isabel. She put her hands on Julie’s shoulders and led her into the house, closing the door behind her. For a second, Kate thought she wanted to stop Julie from saying more. But when Scotty came out, she kept railing at Isabel.
“For God’s sake, do you know what you’ve done?” Scotty demanded.
“Scotty,” Nick said, “take it down a notch. We’ll deal with it.”
“Don’t shush me!” Scotty said, slapping his hand. “She’s drunk. She’s made a mockery of our family, acting this way. I’m ashamed.”
“Mom, sorry,” Isabel said.
“You should be. I’m disgusted!” Her voice was shaking, and her face was red. She turned to Kate, pulled her and Lulu away from Nick and the kids. “Hey, did that cop ask you about tea parties in Beth’s room?”
Kate asked. She had expected Scotty would want to talk about how to handle the girls and felt shocked by the change of course.
“Yeah, he asked me,” Lulu said. “He’s just ruling out fingerprints. He found all of ours in her room.”
“I found it offensive,” Scotty said, looking at Kate. “Didn’t you?”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it,” Kate said, feeling off balance, still thinking about Sam and Isabel.
“We were all best friends,” Lulu said. “Her room does have the best view in the house, and we did sometimes drink tea there.”
“Especially in the winter . . . ,” Kate said, remembering. “It was so cozy by her fireplace. She loved that.”
“Well I think it was outrageous,” Scotty said. “He made me feel like we went creeping through there after she died, to pick at her jewelry or something! I really feel like saying something to his superior. Find Beth’s killer—arrest Pete, if that’s who it is! They’re just wasting all our time.”
“Well, the investigation takes time,” Lulu said.
“They’re doing the best they can,” Kate said.
Scotty exhaled, eyes red with tears, sputtering as if she was the only person who really loved Beth, who wanted to see her killer brought to justice. Then she took a deep breath and hugged Kate. “I’m so sorry for overreacting. I’m just a wreck. Thanks for getting Isabel home. We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” Kate said, exchanging a
wow, that was intense
glance with Lulu. She said goodbye to Nick, gave Isabel a quick kiss. She had wanted a minute alone with Scotty—to get a mother’s advice on how to deal with the girls’ drinking and defacing the rocks—but Scotty was clearly not in a place to give it.
She, Lulu, and Sam walked to the parking lot. Sam seemed steady, as if the alcohol hadn’t affected her as much as it had Isabel. They drove to Pete and Beth’s house, but there were no lights on.
“Where’s your father?” Kate asked.
“Three guesses, and if one of them is
, you’re right,” Sam said.
“He went to Mathilda’s?” Kate asked, upset at the idea of Nicola letting him be there after Kate had gone out on a limb for her.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Then you’re coming home with me,” she said, trying to contain her out-of-control feelings. On the way to New London, they didn’t talk at all. Lulu tuned the radio to a nineties station with Smashing Pumpkins singing “1979.” I-95 was crowded, and they hit a traffic jam that lasted from Niantic through Waterford.
Back on Bank Street, Lulu stopped before getting into her Range Rover. Kate watched her press her forehead against Sam’s.
“Don’t do that again,” Lulu said. “Any of it. You have to take care of yourself and be strong. And I don’t want you making your aunt worry.”
“Sorry,” Sam mumbled.
Lulu and Kate hugged.
“What was that with Scotty?” Lulu whispered.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Kate said.
“She’s drinking more than ever. Is it Beth? Her way of dealing with losing her?”
“I guess,” Kate said. “Or maybe something with Nick?”
“All of the above,” Lulu said. “Remind me never to get married.”
“If you’ll remind me.”
“Yep, later for sure.”
Lulu got into her Range Rover and drove away. Kate disarmed the alarm, and she and Sam climbed the stairs.
“Sam,” she said. “How many times have you done it? Painted those things on the rocks?”
“A couple,” Sam said.
“You and your friends ruined something wonderful. Don’t you care about that?”
Sam shrugged. Kate gritted her teeth. How much of a cry for help was this, and what could Kate do about it?
“Your mother loved Little Beach,” Kate said. “How do you think she’d feel about what you did?”
Sam swallowed hard, looking away, as if she couldn’t meet Kate’s eyes.
“Call your father and tell him you’re staying with me tonight,” Kate said when they’d entered the loft. Popcorn came bounding over, barking to be fed and taken out.
“Can we clean it up?” Sam asked, watching Kate clip the leash onto Popcorn’s collar.
Kate looked at her.
“The paint?” Sam asked. “Can we try to get it off the rocks?”
“I don’t know if it will come off. I don’t know if the chemicals it would take would be bad for the sea.”
“Can we try?” Sam asked, her voice breaking. “For Mom?”
Kate stood still for a minute. If defacing the rocks had been Sam’s way of getting attention, then maybe this was the way she had to ask for help.
“Yes, we can do that,” Kate said. She put her arms around her niece, felt her shoulders shaking. “Come on now, call your dad so he’ll know where you are.”
“He won’t care,” Sam said.
“He won’t, and it doesn’t matter. Nothing does.”
“Sam, yes it does. I promise,” Kate said.
“I want my mom,” Sam said, her voice thinning out and rising to a shriek.
“Oh, Sam,” Kate said, dropping Popcorn’s leash and pulling her niece close.
“I want my mom,” Sam wailed. And she started to pull her own hair, scratch her own face, and even though Kate was grabbing her, holding her, trying to soothe her, Sam wouldn’t stop.
The brothers had been trying to get together, but until now, Reid hadn’t been able to break away from the case. He met Tom at the Y-Knot, a seedy, beer-sloshed bar, mostly frequented by sailors and fishermen, on the waterfront near the New London train station. They sat on red vinyl barstools and drank Jameson neat, just as their father had done. He had been in the navy, stationed across the river in Groton, then a cop in New London, where the brothers had grown up.
“So, fill me in,” Tom said.
“I thought we had it, right from the beginning,” Reid said.
“I know you did,” Tom said. “I was worried you narrowed in on Pete too soon.”
“Yeah, you let me know,” Reid said. “But I was positive—everything lined up: not just another woman, but he had a kid with her. He thinks he’s a genius, and the fact he turned up the AC—I mean it’s not the most original thing, but it takes some research.”
“Okay, then with the evidence you have now, you still think it’s him?”
Tom grinned. “Lay it on me.”
Reid took a drink. He ran through the autopsy results, the witnesses he’d questioned, the fact he was having a forensic accountant go
through Pete and Beth’s finances, and the most recent development: Martin Harris.
“Icing on the cake,” Tom said. “A perv living at the Osprey House.”
“Yeah,” Reid said. “I’m not sure where he fits, but he fits. His parole officer is convinced his testosterone-blocking drugs have changed his life—”
“I thought those guys never change,” Tom said.
“Mostly true. But Harris even gave me permission to speak to his shrink, who claims he’s the poster boy for chemical castration. No bad thoughts whatsoever, doesn’t want to hurt women anymore, sex is nothing to him now. But he says he dreamed of seeing Pete kill Beth.”
“Yeah. It all came to him while he slept.”
Tom chuckled. “He sounds like a nutjob. Could it be true, that he has some warped way of wanting to solve the case?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Reid said. “See, then there’s the postcard. Black Hall, the Lathrop Gallery. If you saw his name doodled with Pete’s, then Beth’s name at the head of the list of all the women he’d attacked . . . it was like a love letter.”
“To who? Pete?”
Reid drank from his scotch. “Yeah. Like, he’s in love with the idea of a buddy just a few miles down the road thinking like him, acting like him.” He paused, drank again. “Only the buddy takes it one step farther and actually murders his victim.”
“You said there was no sign of sexual assault on Beth,” Tom said.
“No fluids,” Reid said. “But she had bruising all over her legs, between her thighs. No sign of penetration.”
“So, does that jibe with Harris’s MO?”
“The thing with Harris is undies. He loves lace. When he’d go to a house, he’d be afraid his victim wouldn’t have pretty enough whatever, so he’d bring his own. He had charge accounts at Frederick’s of
Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret. Spent twice as much at Fred, so I guess that’s what he preferred.”
“Classy guy,” Tom said.
“Yeah, all the way. So that’s where I get tripped up. I still want Pete for this, but Harris knew about the lacy underwear.” He glanced at Tom. He kept details of the case very close, but he told his brother everything. He needed his help.
“And the only way he could have known . . .”
“Not the only way—but the most likely way is that he was there,” Reid said. “Or whoever killed Beth told him about it. Or someone leaked info—from my squad, or the ME—it happens.”
“You think there was a leak?”
Reid had been racking his brain on that one. He shrugged.
“Let’s try this: Where do Harris’s and Pete’s lives intersect?” Tom asked.
“Dead end,” Reid said. “Nothing’s coming up. Harris can’t hold a job—he’s a drunk. Robin—his PO—is constantly on him to find work. When he’s sober enough, he sometimes picks up cash by washing dishes at Black Whale or the Rusty Anchor.”
“The Whale, maybe, but the Rusty Anchor’s not exactly a Pete Lathrop kind of establishment,” Tom said.
“Nope,” Reid said, chuckling to think of preppie Pete stepping foot in the second-nastiest bar in New London, after the Y-Knot.
“So, where else?”
Reid shook his head. “The guy’s not into art. He can’t afford to eat—other than what he gets from church basements or the food pantry—so he’s not about to show up in Black Hall. He has an education—that’s true, like Pete. He taught college twenty years ago.”
“Could he have met Pete back then?” Tom asked. “Same school, old friends?”
“Different schools. Harris grew up in Bridgeport and went to public school there. Pete’s prep all the way. Rhode Island. And Pete was your
basic gold digger. His job was landing Beth Lathrop. At least Martin Harris had a real career. He was a college professor.”
“So basically Pete and Martin are different as night and day,” Tom said. “What’s your gut say?”
“Harris has a perv mind and did a great job of imagining what he would do with the underwear if he’d been there,” Reid said. “But I don’t think he was.”
Tom finished his whiskey and signaled the bartender for two more. The jukebox was playing Steve Earle, and two TVs over the bar were broadcasting baseball games—the Red Sox on one, the Mets on the other. A bunch of Coast Guard cadets were playing darts. When the drinks arrived, the two brothers clinked glasses.
Tom took a deep breath and a long drink. “Have you really looked at the evidence that it wasn’t Pete?”
“I have, of course. He’s got gouges down his back and a chunk of his shoulder practically bitten off, but not by Beth. Nothing under her fingernails, and her bite didn’t match. He swears he’s innocent and is insisting on a polygraph.”
“One family, two murders,” Tom said. “You’re telling me your old case and your, um, fondness for the Woodward sisters haven’t given you tunnel vision?”
No one could get him going like Tom. They were close but competitive and always had been—in sports, for their father’s approval, even in their choices of careers. Tom in the military, Conor in law enforcement.
“There’s a connection between the cases, regardless of who killed Beth,” Reid said. “Same town, same family. Violence. The wife dies. The same painting taken each time.”
,” Tom said. “Maybe Harris took it.”
Reid drank, staring into the mirror behind the bar. “Funny,” he said. “He’s not into art, but he could be into the moon.”
“Let me guess. Big dreams of being an astronaut?” Tom asked.
“Nope. But he probably taught those college students about the moon.”
“Yeah?” Tom asked. “What’d he teach?”
“Astronomy,” Reid said. “He loves the stars. Claims that’s why he had those other postcards. Small Connecticut towns with night skies dark enough to see the stars.”
His brother stared at him. “Well, that’s it.”
“Pete’s a sailor. We both saw him at Menemsha, aboard
. They’d been out in the ocean.”
“I don’t follow,” Reid said.
“The stars, idiot.”
“Okay. They’re over the ocean. And every other place,” Reid said.
“Celestial navigation,” Tom said. “It’s old school, but a lot of yacht guys like Pete learn it. They buy expensive sextants, find someone to teach them to shoot sun lines, steer by the stars. Makes them feel like old salts, worthy of their million-dollar yachts.”
Reid’s mind was racing. He wasn’t a sailor himself, would have had no idea how to recognize a sextant if his brother hadn’t lived his life on the sea. He could picture the heavy mahogany box his brother’s sextant was stored in, the beautiful brass instrument inside, with fine optics and a half-moon-protractor-looking component, used to measure angles between the horizon and the sun, the earth, and the stars. Had anything like that been cataloged at the gallery, at the Lathrops’ house?