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Authors: Luanne Rice

Last Day (3 page)

BOOK: Last Day
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“She was hit here,” McCabe said, tapping her own head just behind her left ear. “And she was strangled.”

Reid nodded, trying to keep his composure.

“What else did you notice?” he asked.

“Marble owl statue, covered with blood, under the bed—obviously the weapon he hit her with.” She paused. “And a weird thing—an
empty frame on the bedroom wall. Some threads stuck to the wood as if maybe a painting was cut out.”

“A painting?” he asked, electricity zapping his bones.
But it couldn’t be the same one,
he thought.

“Looks that way to me.”

“Okay,” Reid said. “Thanks.”

He walked toward Kate Woodward. He wanted to go into the house, to sit with Beth Lathrop. He always thought of his first encounter with a homicide victim as two people meeting. An encounter every bit as important in death as it would have been in life, as revelatory as a conversation—in some ways more so. But this would be different from any crime victim he’d ever met: he knew Beth and had rescued her after what, until today, had been the most traumatic event in her life.

He said hello to Officer Hawley, who was savvy enough to peel off and leave him alone with Beth’s sister. He took a deep breath, looked into Kate’s eyes. She stared at him, unrecognizing. He wanted to hold her hand, as he had that day in the art gallery twenty-three years ago. She had been sixteen, Beth a year younger. His heart beat so hard he figured she’d see the vein throbbing in his neck.

“Miss Woodward, I’m Detective Conor Reid. I’m very sorry about your sister.”

“I knew, I knew,” Kate said, digging the heels of her hands into her eyes. “I should have come home the minute she didn’t answer—I felt it.”

“What did you feel?”

“That something was wrong.”

“She always answered her phone? Every time you called?” Reid asked, remembering what McCabe had told him.

“Not always, not before this—but both Pete—her husband—and I were away this week, and Beth was having a rocky time, and I made her promise she’d carry her phone and answer when I called. Even so, when she didn’t pick up, I tried telling myself it was just her old habits.”

“What kind of rocky time had she been having?”

“Well, she had wicked morning sickness the first three months, and then her blood sugar spiked. She had gestational diabetes with Sam—their daughter—and it went away after Sam was born. Her doctor said there was no guarantee she wouldn’t have it again with this pregnancy.”

“They have other children?” he asked.

“No, just Sam. And, almost, Matthew.”

“Matthew?” he asked.

“That’s what they were going to name him,” Kate said, her voice cracking. “The baby. Did he, is he . . . did he die too? He did, right? He’s dead?”

“The medical examiner will tell us,” Reid said, although according to the officers’ report, he knew the answer was yes. He knew many details about her sister’s life, but not specifically why there were so many years between the children.

“And Pete’s off sailing,” Kate said, the anguish in her eyes giving way to anger. “Who would leave his wife for a week, knowing she wasn’t completely okay? Especially because I was gone too?”

“Where did you go?” Reid asked.

“I had a charter from Groton to LA.”

Reid waited for her to explain. He had to be careful here and pretend he didn’t know about her career.

“I’m a pilot for Intrepid Aviation,” she said. “Private jets.”

“And you flew back this morning?”

“Yes. It was supposed to be a deadhead, but then the clients decided they wanted to come back. He’s a studio executive, and they have a summer place in Watch Hill. So I’d thought I would be home a day and a half ago, but I had to wait for them. I should have left them in LA—my first officer could have taken over for me. I could have booked a commercial flight home.”

“Where is Pete sailing?”

Her brow furrowed. Her eyes shut tight for a moment, as if in a private moment, lost in recriminations over her own delay in returning.
Then, “I’m not sure. They meet the boat in Nantucket and sail from there. Every year in July, Pete and a bunch of his friends charter a Beneteau and take off for a week.”

“A Beneteau?”

“It’s a sailboat. Fifty feet or so long. It’s fancy. Well, expensive.”

“Okay,” Reid said. His brother, Tom, would know all about it. Tom was a commander in the Coast Guard, and he knew all things nautical. He was Reid’s secret weapon when it came to certain local investigations, especially the last one involving the Woodward sisters.
I couldn’t do it without him
was an overused phrase, but when it came to Tom, that’s how Reid felt.

Kate was silent, her lips tight. Reid had the feeling she wanted to say something more about Pete. Why hadn’t she suggested they call him?

“What does your brother-in-law do?” Reid asked.

“He’s
president
of the Lathrop Gallery,” she said, clear derision in her voice.

“Why do you say that?”

“As if he does anything at all.”

“I know the gallery well,” he said carefully. “And that it originally belonged to your grandmother.”

Her expression didn’t change. She didn’t seem surprised that he knew that. Then again, the gallery was well known in the art world, a mainstay in art-centric Black Hall. But did she remember him?

“It’s been in my family for generations. It eventually came to me and Beth.”

After their mother’s death and their father’s conviction. He stared at Kate, debating how much to tell her about his role the day she was rescued. Could she be assuming Beth’s murder might be connected to what her father had done? He began to formulate an idea about who might have been inspired by that crime.

“You changed the gallery’s name,” Reid said. “Is your brother-in-law an owner?”

Kate shook her head. “No. Beth and I are. I let my sister make most decisions regarding the gallery, and she gave him the title. President.”

“Is it just a title?”

“Pretty much,” Kate said. “He just sits back and thinks about . . . himself. Whatever he wants to do next.”

That’s what people had said about her father years ago.

“Why did she give it to him?”

“He’s an arrogant jerk with an inferiority complex. He acts as if he’s better than everyone—even Beth. But his feelings get hurt if you look at him sideways. Beth decided it was easier to let him have what he wanted. She isn’t someone who likes to fight.”

“But he is?” Reid asked.

“He likes getting his own way,” she said quietly. Again, Reid thought of the girls’ father. There were such parallels with Beth and Pete, two generations of secret lives. Kate and Beth’s mother had had the money and the gallery; she had given her husband a title and the power to run it the way he’d wanted, just like Beth and Pete.

How much did Kate really know about her sister’s marriage? The sisters had been traumatized by their time in the basement. He didn’t need a psychology degree to understand they would be deeply affected for the rest of their lives. For some time now, he had believed Beth’s earlier experience made her vulnerable to a predator—the man she had married.

Some nights, unable to sleep, Reid felt Kate’s small cold hand in his. He heard Beth’s high, thin animal wail. Twenty-three years ago, the Woodward sisters and their mother had been forced into the gallery’s basement, bound to each other with ropes and duct tape, while upstairs thieves had stolen priceless nineteenth-century landscapes. Reid had been the resident trooper and first on the scene.

Helen, the girls’ mother, had choked on the gag and died. Kate and Beth had been thrashing, screaming into the cotton wadded into their mouths behind the duct tape. Reid had cut them loose. He exhaled slowly now, remembering how Beth had thrown herself at her mother’s body, holding her and sobbing. Kate had gone silent. She had stood stiff and numb, in total shock, backing away from her mother and sister, eyes like a zombie’s. That’s when Reid had taken her hand, tried to get her to look at him, to focus on him instead of the horror right in front of her.

He stared at her now, her right hand clenched. He had to hold himself back from reaching for it. He felt dishonest, not being straight with her about his involvement—and not just with the previous case. The day he had pulled the Woodward girls from the basement, he had vowed to protect and keep track of them. He believed the old rule, that if you rescued someone, you were responsible for them forever. He had kept an eye on them as much as possible, and it was killing him right now to know that Beth was dead inside the house, to realize how badly he had failed.

After a few moments, Kate seemed to compose herself. She sighed, gave her shoulders a small shake, as if bringing herself out of a trance. Reid was wound tight, forcing himself to breathe, to be right here with Kate and hear what she had to tell him.

“Pete called me, looking for her too,” Kate said.

She hadn’t mentioned that before. Reid had a million questions, but he kept quiet and listened.

“Twice,” Kate said. “Once while I was in the air, and I didn’t get the message till after I landed in Van Nuys. That time he just asked if I knew whether Beth had plans. It seemed strange, but I didn’t think
much of it. I didn’t even call him back before he rang again. He said he’d been trying her, not getting through. He knew she was tired, thought she might have been catching up on extra sleep. I told him that was definitely possible, but then I started getting nervous. And I couldn’t get her either.”

“Did you call anyone to go check on her?”

“Our friend Scotty Waterston,” Kate said. “She had been over very early, gardening with Beth. Then she came back, with muffins or something—they were going to have coffee—and saw that Beth had left a note on the front door for the UPS driver. It said she’d gone out for the morning, that he should leave packages without a signature.”

“Where’s the note now?” he asked.

“It’s still there. Scotty left it.” Kate pointed at the yellow paper taped to the doorframe.

“Is it Beth’s handwriting?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Were there boxes?” he asked.

“What?” she asked.

“Left by the UPS driver,” he said.

“No,” she said and frowned. “But the note made Scotty feel okay—as if Beth had just stepped out and would be home soon. Her husband is on the trip with Pete.”

Reid stared at the note. The paper looked rumpled, and he figured it was an all-purpose note, one Beth had written at some point to reuse whenever she went out. Plenty of people did that in towns like Black Hall, where they thought they could trust their neighbors. But anyone could have stuck it to the door—not necessarily Beth. The killer could have put it there.

“I have to notify Pete, Kate,” Reid said. “Do you have his cell number?”

She scrolled through her phone’s contact list and gave it to him.

Instead of writing it down on his pad, he programmed it directly into his phone. He would make the call shortly.

“What’s the name of the boat?” he asked.


Huntress
,” Kate said.

“Thanks,” Reid said.

“What if I could have saved her?” Kate asked. Her green eyes glittered with tears, her face marked with despair. “She was my sister, my little sister. We were so close. Why wasn’t I here for her? How could I have let this happen? It’s the second time.” She grabbed his hand, squeezing it tight. Electricity ran up his arm, into his heart.

“You’re talking about the gallery? When you were kids?”

“No.” She gave him a sharp look as if shocked he’d say that. Then she shook her head.

“Second time for what, then?” he asked.

“I wasn’t there for her. And something terrible happened.”

“What was the first?” he asked.

She didn’t respond, just pulled her hand back a second time. Back then, in the basement, all emotion had seemingly drained from her—she had turned completely blank. Now she crackled with rage and grief. He noticed other differences and comparisons. Physical details: she was five six, slightly taller than she had been at sixteen. Her dark-brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, just as it had been that day long ago. Light freckles still dusted her cheeks. She was dressed in jeans and a sleeveless shirt, and her tan arms were toned and showing a serious devotion to working out. Right now, she seemed barely able to hold herself up. Reid fought back the urge to comfort her.

“I’m going to ask you to give your statement to Detective Miano,” he said, pointing toward his partner. Jennifer stood next to a pot of white geraniums with her pad open, talking to Officer Hawley. “I’ll send her over to talk to you, and then we’ll make sure you get home.”

“I have to tell Sam,” Kate said. “Before the news gets out.”

“Won’t her father do that?”

“We don’t know where he is, do we?” Kate asked.

“No,” he said.

“You have no idea how much I hate him,” she said.

“Tell me.” He stared at her hard and waited to hear how aware she had been of Pete’s secret life.

But she shook her head and turned away from him. He gestured for Miano to come over, then glanced back at Kate.
What if I could have saved Beth?
she had asked.
How could I have let this happen?
Maybe they were just aimless questions, but the second in particular implied power over the situation, as if she believed she could have stopped the murder.

BOOK: Last Day
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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