Authors: Luanne Rice
Scotty had not simply called but had been waiting at the airport when Kate had landed after getting Sam: a tearful, grieving welcoming committee of one. Kate hung back while Scotty went straight to Sam. She embraced her tightly—the way Beth would have. Sam actually put her head on Scotty’s shoulder for a minute—after all, Scotty’s daughter Isabel was Sam’s best friend, and Scotty was practically a second mother to Sam.
“Have you talked to Lulu?” Kate had asked Scotty when they’d met at the airport.
“I can’t reach her,” Scotty had said. “It’s weird and so not Lulu. She always answers her phone.”
Now Kate could barely breathe. Lulu didn’t inspire worry. She was the most independent woman Kate knew, other than herself. But her skin felt charged with the knowledge that the worst could happen, as it had to Beth. She needed Lulu to call so she could know Lulu was okay.
She leaned against the kitchen counter for a minute, pulling herself together, then loaded a tray with the teapot, cups, and a plate of oatmeal cookies.
“Tea,” Kate said, setting the tray on a low table in front of Sam. Popcorn lay on the floor at her feet, tongue out and eyes friendly. His tail thumped.
“Look, it’s our house,” Sam said, gesturing at the TV. “There you are, Popcorn.” The screen showed the dog on a red leash, a police officer leading him into the back of a patrol car. Popcorn had been at the Black Hall station until Kate and Sam had picked him up on the way home.
“Turn it off,” Kate said.
“They keep showing pictures of us,” Sam said. “Me, Mom, and Dad. Mostly Mom. Where did they even get those pictures?”
“Not from me,” Kate said.
“Some rancid so-called friend probably sold them. Now, look, here comes the body bag again. That’s the other thing they keep running, the medical examiners carrying her out of the house.”
“Why are you watching that?”
“Because I want to know and see
that happened to her,” Sam said.
Kate tried to grab the remote, but Sam held it out of reach. At least she’d muted the sound. Kate poured two cups of tea. Sam was sixteen, long legged, and beautiful, a brilliant student getting ready to look at colleges. But right then, curled up on the sofa, she seemed like a tiny girl. Her lower lip wobbled, but she didn’t cry. She had always been stoic. Kate took her bike riding one time when she was six. She skidded on sand and fell off, scraping her elbows.
Sam had said.
Shake it off, don’t cry.
And she hadn’t until they’d returned home, and the minute she had seen Beth, she’d thrown herself into her arms, sobbing. Only with her mother could she let her feelings out.
Kate’s phone buzzed, and she glanced at the screen. The state police had flown Pete back to Connecticut from the Vineyard, and he had just been to the morgue. Now he wanted to pick up Sam.
“It’s your dad,” she said, showing her the message.
“I just want to stay here,” Sam said. “I can’t talk to him yet.”
Kate stared at her niece. She could think of many reasons why Sam might be mad at her father; she just wasn’t sure how much Sam knew about the issues between him and Beth.
“Can you tell me why?” Kate asked.
“It’s too hard,” Sam said.
“I know, honey. We’re all so sad. But he’s your dad. You need to see each other.”
“Not yet,” Sam said.
“Sam, you’re each other’s family.”
“Stop!” Sam said, her voice rising.
“Listen, Sam. You need each other.”
“You’re the one who’s not listening. I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”
Kate felt shocked by Sam’s fury.
“Okay,” she said, trying to sound calm.
Sam took a deep breath. She gave Kate a quick glance.
“Thanks,” Sam said, holding Kate’s gaze for a few seconds. Kate felt her wanting to say more, but then Sam looked away.
“There’s one thing we can’t put off,” Kate said. “The detective wants to talk to you too. I spoke to him on the phone, and he’s coming over.”
“I am not ready to talk to anyone,” Sam said.
“I know the feeling,” Kate said. It was 8:00 p.m., barely twelve hours since she had found Beth.
“So don’t let him in.”
“Sam, he has to interview us,” Kate said. “It’s important.”
“Nothing’s important anymore,” Sam said. “Not without Mom.”
Kate closed her eyes. How would a world without Beth make sense for either of them?
“I could have stopped it,” Sam whispered.
“No,” Kate said. “Don’t think that.”
She sat beside Sam on the gray tweed couch. She thought back to when she and Beth were the girls whose mother had died in an art robbery gone wrong. The cops had asked them countless questions. The details of what they’d been through blurred together. Every time Kate told the story, it seemed a little less real. The experience began to feel like a dream, something she had made up. Because how was such a thing possible in life? To be tied to your mother and sister, the knots so tight you couldn’t slip free? To have to just sit there, listening to
your mother choking and feeling her body going limp and tilting over, unable to move and save her life?
“You couldn’t have stopped anything. It’s not your fault—not one bit,” Kate said to Sam.
“Doesn’t feel that way,” Sam said. “If I hadn’t been at camp . . .”
“Then you might have gotten hurt too.”
Sam tipped her head back, gazing up at Kate. Her eyes were pale blue, like her father’s, and she had Mathilda’s dark hair, like Kate. But she had Beth’s full lips, her heartbreaking smile.
“Killed, you mean,” Sam said.
“Yes,” Kate said.
“You know what I hated?” Sam asked.
“Seeing Mrs. Waterston at the airport,” Sam said, her voice breaking. “She was Mom’s best friend. What’s she going to do without her?”
Kate’s heart cracked. She watched tears leaking from Sam’s eyes. It was as if her niece couldn’t cry for her own pain but only while imagining someone else’s. And she wasn’t wrong about Scotty: Kate knew something was bothering Scotty, and her only true confidant was Beth. Scotty had put on weight, and she constantly berated herself for letting herself go. Sometimes she smelled like wine a little too early in the day. Whatever Scotty was going through, she could share it with Beth.
The buzzer rang. For a second Kate thought it might be Lulu. After running to the door, Kate checked the image on the video monitor: Conor Reid stood at the entrance to her building. She pushed the intercom button. “Yes?” she asked.
“Hello, Kate,” he said, staring straight into the camera. “May I come up to speak with Samantha?”
She hesitated, glanced over at her disheveled niece, watched Sam slash tears from her eyes.
“It’s the detective. I’m really sorry, Sam. But we need to talk to him,” she said, waiting for a response.
“I’ll do it for Mom,” Sam said finally.
Kate punched in a series of numbers. Because she had once been held against her will, she had bought the best biometric security system available. The voice-recognition software measured her particular patterns—the velocity of air expelled from her lungs and across her larynx. She could have said anything, and depending on her mood, her words could get very colorful. But mindful of Sam on the sofa, she quoted a line from a favorite poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer . . .
The lock tumblers whirred and clicked, and she heard the downstairs door open.
“What’s that you just said?” Sam asked, curious in spite of herself.
“It’s from ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats,” she said. “Mathilda taught it to me.”
Sam nodded, and Kate half smiled, glad to provide a momentary distraction. Sam had always been fascinated with her aunt’s ever-changing alarm system, had loved watching Kate offer her left eye to the iris-reading camera or stare at the screen so the software could recognize her face.
Kate opened the loft door, and Popcorn came loping over to stand by her side, tail wagging. They both watched Reid climb the stairs. His blue blazer looked as if it had been balled up in the back seat of his car; it had been a long day.
“Hello, Kate,” he said.
“Hello, Detective Reid,” she said.
“Conor’s fine,” he said.
She nodded. “Thanks,” she said.
“Hello, Popcorn,” he said, petting the dog, whose tail was going faster than ever. “We made friends at the house.”
“Popcorn makes friends with everyone,” Sam said.
Both Kate and the detective turned to look at her. Kate closed the door and watched Conor cross the loft, offer his hand to shake Sam’s.
“Samantha,” he said. “I am very sorry about your mother.”
Sam’s mouth twisted, and her chin wobbled. She looked back at the TV screen.
“I’m in charge of investigating what happened. I’m going to do my best to find out who did this to her.”
“It doesn’t matter who did it,” Sam said.
“I think it matters a lot,” he said. He sat down in the brown leather chair opposite her, leaning forward with arms folded on his knees, looking directly into her eyes.
“She’s gone,” Sam said. Tears pooled but didn’t spill over.
“I know,” he said, letting the silence last. Then, “How are you?”
“Have you seen your dad yet?”
“No,” she said. “He wanted to, but . . .”
Kate watched her close her eyes tight, pull herself together. She also noticed Conor hanging on her words.
“Who is that?” Sam asked instead of completing her answer, pointing at the screen.
“That’s Officer Peggy McCabe. She’s with the Black Hall Police Department, and she and her partner were first on the scene. Your aunt called the police when your mother didn’t answer the door.”
“You found Mom?” Sam asked, head snapping to look at Kate.
“Yes,” Kate said.
“You didn’t tell me,” Sam said.
Kate touched her shoulder lightly. As much as she loved her niece, she felt confused and hesitant, not knowing just what to say or when. She hadn’t wanted to volunteer anything without having a sense of what Sam was ready to hear.
“You mentioned that Popcorn is friendly with everyone,” he said.
“Yes, as you can tell.”
“Does that mean he doesn’t bark when a stranger comes to the door?”
“Sometimes he does,” she said. “But more in a curious way. He’s not exactly a watchdog.”
“Your aunt has a very good security system,” he said.
“I know,” Sam said, glancing at Kate. “Fancier than the one at the gallery. We tease her.”
“What about the one you have at home? Does your family always use it or sometimes leave it off?”
“Depends on who’s coming and going. We usually have it on.”
“Usually but not always?”
Sam gave him a long look. “Always at night. And Mom would have had it set the whole time since she was there alone.”
Kate sat at the end of the sofa next to Sam.
“But it wasn’t on,” Kate said. “We broke in through the sliding door, and the alarm didn’t go off.”
“Would she have let a stranger into the house?” Conor asked.
“Never,” Kate and Sam said at the same time.
“She was nervous,” Sam said. “Because of what happened when she was a kid. At the gallery.”
“Did she talk about that?” he asked.
“Not a lot,” Sam said. “But she taught me to be careful. It sucked big-time, the worst nightmare, what happened to her and Aunt Kate and their mother. Also, the art collection—it’s valuable. She didn’t even want to keep the paintings in the house.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, because robbers would want them. She thought they would be safer in the gallery—and that we would be safer, too, because the art wouldn’t be a magnet for criminals,” Sam said.
“So why were they in your house? If she didn’t think they should be there?”
“My brother-in-law overruled her,” Kate said, remembering how she’d tried to get Beth to stand up for herself, insist on what she wanted.
“One of the paintings was cut out of its frame,” Conor said. “In the bedroom.”
“Really? Which one?” Kate asked.
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I didn’t notice anything in that room,” she said. “Except Beth.”
“Of course,” Conor said.
“Obviously Mom was right, then,” Sam said, her mouth twisting. “About the paintings being safer at the gallery.”
“Because one was cut from the frame?” Conor asked.
“Not just this time. What I meant was, a painting almost got stolen last year.” She paused. “Exactly a year ago—around the time I went to camp last summer.”
Kate felt stunned. Beth hadn’t said a word about it. How could she have kept something so critical from her?
“Your mom never told me,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
“You were probably flying. She had Mrs. Waterston for things like that,” Sam said.
“Things like what?” Kate asked, unable to believe what she was hearing.
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “The stuff that happens at home. You’re an important pilot. Mom and Mrs. Waterston had lots of time on the beach to talk about problems. Besides, the painting thing wound up being a lot of worry for nothing.”
Kate was reeling and couldn’t speak.
“Sam, I didn’t see any police reports about a painting stolen from your house last year,” the detective said.
“Because we didn’t report it,” she said.
“Why?” Kate asked.
Sam frowned and shrugged. “It just wasn’t a big deal.”
“Sam! It absolutely was—is—a big deal. Tell me . . .”
stolen,” Sam said, her voice rising and face reddening. “It was really bizarre. It turned out the robbers left it behind—they
must have gotten spooked or something. We just didn’t find it for a while. Mom found it shoved into the hall closet, behind the rain boots and umbrellas. She hung it right back up in their bedroom.”
Kate felt pins and needles in her face and hands.
It couldn’t be.
“Which wall?” Conor asked.
“The one near the window, next to the bookshelves.”
“Who was the artist?” he asked.
“Ben Morrison,” Sam said.
“And the name of the painting?”