Authors: Luanne Rice
Kate closed her eyes. Her entire body felt ice cold.
Of all the Black Hall Impressionists, Kate and Beth loved most the work of Ben Morrison. His love of nature flowed from his brush, and she believed his romantic and tragic vision of love was based on the heartbreak and betrayal he’d suffered. His most famous painting hung in the Wadsworth Atheneum. It showed a young woman on the moonlit lawn of a stone house, dancing alone in a moment of private abandon.
Kate’s family owned a similar painting by Morrison—it depicted the exact same scene, smaller by half, and somehow infused with even greater longing, a sense of the woman’s unmistakable desire. Many art historians considered the canvas superior to the one at the Atheneum. It had already been stolen once, by Joshua and Sally Anderson the night Kate and Beth’s mother had died. It had been returned to the family after the couple’s arrest. And since Beth’s marriage to Pete, it had hung alone, illuminated by a spotlight, on the east wall of their bedroom.
“The name of the painting?” the detective asked again.
Kate’s heart seized. She knew even before Sam said it.
,” Sam said.
It was happening again, Kate thought. Someone else she loved had been killed over that same painting.
After Sam got tired, Reid didn’t want to push her for more answers. He thanked her for her help, and Kate walked him to the door. She checked her phone, not for the first time since he’d arrived, as if impatient for a call. Popcorn shimmied against Kate’s side, and she grabbed his red leash and clipped it to his collar.
“I’ll walk you out,” she said.
He watched her go through the routine of disarming and rearming the alarm. At the top of the stairs, she spoke quietly into a microphone, and the only words he heard clearly were
“What did you just say?” he asked, keeping up as she and Popcorn ran downstairs.
“It’s a quote from
Franny and Zooey
,” she said. At the front door, she turned to see if he knew what she was talking about.
“No idea what that is,” he said.
“A book by J. D. Salinger,” she said. “Beth’s favorite. And mine. Sibling love.”
From her tone, he realized he’d failed some test. It was also clear that as much as he thought he knew about her, Kate’s inner life was a mystery. They walked outside. The temperature had dropped, and fog was creeping in, ghostly in the streetlights. Salt air blew off the harbor, smelling of Long Island Sound, the river, diesel fuel, and beer from
the bar next door. Kate cut down a deserted alley that led toward the empty wharf.
“What a paradox,” he said.
She gave him a quizzical glance.
“For someone who has the most sophisticated private security setup I’ve ever seen, you like to live dangerously,” he said. “This is a pretty crime-ridden stretch.”
“I’ve got some moves,” she said, giving a slight smile. “No one’s going to bother me. And I’ve got Popcorn.”
“Right,” he said. “The great watchdog.”
“Don’t insult my buddy,” she said as Popcorn lifted his leg to pee on a pile of trash.
They slipped through a break in an anchor fence to get closer to the river. The black water rippled yellow-orange from garish lights on the other side. General Dynamics—better known as Electric Boat or “EB” to locals—manufactured submarines for the navy and was lit up like a small city. The dark conning towers of two subs rose high above their docks and the river’s surface.
“My brother and I used to think this exact spot would be the best place for Russian spies,” he said.
“Beth and I thought that too,” she said. “Our parents would bring us and our friends to New London for Sail Fest, and we’d walk along the pier eating clam chowder and lobster rolls, looking over at EB and imagining how many of the tourists supposedly taking pictures of the tall ships were actually spies snapping shots of the nuclear subs.” Then, “You have a brother?”
“Yes, Tom,” Reid said, glad for the chance to tell her.
“Older or younger?”
“He’s older,” Reid said.
“Like me,” Kate said. “Are you close?”
“We are,” he said, meeting her eyes. “Were you and Beth?”
“Our whole lives. We thought we had such a happy childhood till . . .” She trailed off.
“You lost both your parents,” he said.
“In different ways,” she said. “Our mother died, yes. Beth stayed in touch with my father after he went to prison. I never saw him again. Or took his calls.”
“You know, my brother found the paintings,” he said.
She stopped to face him.
He nodded. “Tom was on the Coast Guard ship that boarded
. The Andersons had their running lights off—trying to slip offshore without being seen. Tom was on deck and spotted them. And when he went aboard, he found the artwork stashed in a hidden compartment. The first painting he pulled out was
“Please thank him for me,” she said, her voice catching. “Now it’s gone again. And so is my sister.”
They walked in silence while Popcorn explored the oily pilings of a ruined dock. A tugboat chuffed past. The sound of I-95 traffic crossing the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, although half a mile away, was unending white noise, but Reid and Kate were close enough for him to hear her phone buzz. She reached into her pocket, looked at the screen, and put it back.
“Waiting for a call?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “A close friend. I want to be the one to tell her about Beth.”
“That wasn’t the friend?”
She shook her head. “People I haven’t talked to in ages are coming out of the woodwork. They’ve heard; they’re leaving messages. I don’t want to speak to them.”
“No,” he said. “I get it.”
“I hope I can help Sam,” Kate said, “half as well as my grandmother helped me.”
“Will she live with you?” he asked.
Kate glanced up, surprise on her face. “No, with Pete, of course.”
“Oh, right,” Reid said.
“Why wouldn’t she?” Kate asked, stopping.
Reid didn’t answer. He stared into her green eyes, trying to read them. And he felt her trying to read him back. He had made up his mind about Pete right away and was doing his best to fight his bias. Was Kate’s reaction a sign that she trusted Pete enough to want Sam to stay with him?
“You think he did it?” she asked.
“What did you mean, early today, when you said you could have stopped it from happening?” he asked, avoiding her question.
“Now I’m a suspect?” she asked. “Me and Pete together? You’re an idiot.” She started to walk away.
Reid took a deep breath and knew he had to be careful with what he said. He didn’t want to lead her. “Tell me what you mean,” he said.
“I wouldn’t go to the corner with Pete. The only reason I even speak to him is for Beth and Sam’s sake.”
“Earlier you said you hate him. Can you explain why?”
“You’re the detective. Haven’t you uncovered all the dirt?”
“The investigation is just beginning,” he said.
“Well then, start with Nicola Corliss,” Kate said.
“Okay,” Reid said, keeping his voice calm. He didn’t want to let on how much he already knew, had known all along, and he needed to listen as dispassionately as possible to everything she had to say.
“She is—or was, till Beth fired her—a gallery employee. An assistant curator. Beth and I hired her straight out of grad school at Bard. She wrote her master’s thesis on Childe Hassam’s flag paintings, but her great artist love is, you guessed it, Benjamin Morrison. Those are the reasons we chose her from among the other applicants.”
“Why did Beth fire her?”
“Because even more than Morrison, she loved Pete. And he loved—or loves—her right back. My sister is so smart and wonderful, but she
re-created just about every mistake my mom made. She married a guy just like my dad, who cheated with a grad student, broke her heart.”
“How long had Pete been having the affair?”
“He kept ending it. It was over; then it wasn’t; then it was. Beth tried to believe him for as long as she could. But she was over it—done.”
“How did Nicola react to Pete’s stopping and starting back up?” he asked.
“Why?” Kate said, stopping dead, turning to face him. “You’re not saying
could have done it?”
“No. I’m just trying to get the full picture,” Reid said, envisioning the murder scene, staged to look like a rape. Kate had seen it too. She seemed mostly focused on the lies Pete had been telling Beth, but could she imagine Nicola doing it? “But tell me how she reacted to Pete saying he planned to stay with Beth.”
“I’m sure she wasn’t happy,” Kate said. “But we weren’t exactly confidants.”
Reid nodded. “You say Beth was done. She was going to leave him?”
She did not answer the question. She just stared into the swirling black water. “Look, even though he broke Beth’s heart, he didn’t kill her.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“He was out in the Atlantic Ocean with five other guys. Besides, you heard what Sam said about
. Whoever took it last year probably came back to steal it right this time.” She looked at him. “Only this time, he took everything Beth had. You saw what he did to her, the lace around her neck, right? Was she raped?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“Well, even my dad didn’t arrange for the Andersons to sexually assault my mother. To do that to her, to us. But considering what my father did, I do realize that supposed loved ones can do terrible things. But I can’t imagine Pete, regardless of what a creep he is, hiring someone to do that to Beth.”
They were silent for a moment, Reid wondering exactly how to put it—whether to tell her he thought Pete had killed her himself before he left. He had caught some attitude from Tom earlier that day after the helicopter had landed. When Pete had refused to be interviewed, saying he needed to see his daughter before he did anything else, Reid and Tom had stood by the helipad, watching him walk away.
Reid had looked at Tom and opened his mouth to speak. He’d been about to say,
Guilty as hell
, but Tom had shaken his head.
“Don’t go there yet,” Tom said. “Let it play out.”
“Tom, I know this guy.”
“No, you don’t. And you don’t even know the sisters—you just think you do.”
“He’s a liar and a cheater, and if you saw Beth . . .”
“You want to be taken off the case before you even get started? Keep your head down and do your job,” Tom said sharply, being an asshole older brother.
Now Sam had confirmed she and Pete hadn’t seen each other yet. So much for the concerned father. Walking along the waterfront, Reid glanced at Kate.
“I don’t believe he had it done,” Reid said slowly.
“Oh, because you think I did it?”
“No,” Reid said. “Not at all.”
A ferry slid by, lights rippling on the black water.
“Remember, outside Beth’s house, I mentioned I let something bad happen to her before?” she asked.
“Yes,” Reid said.
“It was about Nicola.”
“What happened?” Reid asked.
“Beth was determined to confront her and Pete—she called to tell me, when I was about to fly a family to Paris. I told her to wait till I got home, and I’d go with her. Beth couldn’t find any of Nicola’s contact info at the gallery—Pete had gotten rid of any trace of her. But Beth
called the gallery’s accountant and told him to look at Nicola’s tax form. It had her address on it—my grandmother’s house.”
“You didn’t know where Nicola was staying?” Reid asked carefully, because he did know. Once he had realized Pete had a girlfriend, he had started watching him more often and had followed him to Cloudlands.
“I had no idea at the time—neither did Beth. She and I own the property. We sometimes rent it out to the Black Hall Art Academy—in the past they’ve used it for their acting president, or sometimes an important visiting professor. Pete handles a lot of Beth’s business matters. She put him in charge of renting the house.”
“She trusted him?” he asked skeptically.
“In that regard, yes,” Kate said. “The house seemed a safe job to give him—if it was leased at all, it was to someone in the art world. He made it seem the Academy had taken it again, but instead he put Nicola in there—he paid the rent from a bank account Beth didn’t know he had.”
“But she found out.”
“Yes, like I said, through Nicola’s tax form. While I was flying to Paris, she went to Mathilda’s house and let herself in. And she caught them in bed. And that’s a sight that burned in her brain, but it wasn’t the worst.”
Here it came, Reid thought. Kate knew. He made himself ask: “What was the worst?”
“Pete’s baby. The son he had with Nicola was sleeping in the cradle next to them. The cradle that Beth and I had slept in when we were babies. The one she had planned to bring home for Matthew.”
Reid watched her without expression, not wanting to show his emotions—they overwhelmed him, thinking of what Beth must have gone through in that instant and what Kate must be feeling now. Pete’s relationship with Nicola was a major reason Reid had instantly suspected him. But Reid wondered: Would he have killed Matthew, his own baby, as well?
“Beth had no idea?” he asked.
“That he had a kid with her? No. She didn’t even know Nicola was pregnant. She thought it was just an affair.”
Reid stared into the distance, trying to imagine how Beth had felt, finding out that way.
“That’s what I would have liked to protect her from,” Kate said. “Having to see that by herself. See it at
. I should have been there with her.” She paused a moment. “She got pregnant right after that. She hadn’t been planning on having another child, but I think . . . she needed Matthew.”
“Because Pete and Nicola had a baby?”
“Because my sister had so much love inside her. She needed someone else to give it to.” Kate wiped tears from her eyes. “If you think I helped him kill my sister . . .”
“Kate, I don’t think you did,” Reid said. “I
“Good. Thank you.”
“Will you get whoever it was?” she asked.
“I will,” he said.