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Authors: Luanne Rice

Last Day (9 page)

BOOK: Last Day
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“It had to be whoever stole
Moonlight
last year,” she said. “Right? He came back for more. Don’t you think?”

Reid’s mouth was dry. He knew exactly what he shouldn’t say and said it anyway. “If you think your brother-in-law staged an art theft, then yeah.”

“Pete? He hired someone? You checked his bank account?”

“He didn’t hire anyone.”

“So how did he do it? He swam from Nantucket to Black Hall?” she asked. “Wouldn’t the guys have missed him?”

“He killed her before he left,” he said.

“He couldn’t have,” she said.

His heart was thumping. Yes, he’d thought it was Pete from the beginning, especially knowing about Nicola, but the evidence he was
seeing—including Sam saying she hadn’t seen her father—made his conviction even stronger.

“I think he left that note on the door for the UPS driver,” he said. “So no one would be suspicious if she didn’t answer.”

“It was in her handwriting!”

“Yes,” Reid said. “She wrote it herself. But she did it before—I don’t know when, but Pete saved the note to use when he killed her. To make it look as if she was alive longer than she was.”

“But he’s been gone for days—if he killed her—I mean, the forensics people can tell when. I know from my mother—they can tell to the hour.”

“You were in the room,” he said. “It was a refrigerator.”

“It’s been incredibly hot all month,” Kate said. “Beth’s pregnancy made her really sensitive to the heat—I know she loved fresh air, the sea breeze, but she turned on the AC so she could sleep.”

“No, Pete did that,” Reid said. “He sealed the windows and turned the air conditioner as high as it would go to affect her body temperature and trick the medical examiner. He planned this carefully, Kate.”

“You act like you know for sure. But how can you? Did you actually
see
him do it? Watch him kill my sister?”

“I wish I had,” Reid said. With all the times he had passed the house, followed Pete, observed Beth, why hadn’t he been there that day? The thought of it made him sick. “My job is to figure how he did it and to prove it. And I will.”

She stared at him, her eyes bright.

“You told me to call you Conor before,” she said.

“Yes, I did,” he said, watching the wild emotion in her face.

“So, catch him, Conor,” she said.

He nodded—a promise. He wanted to keep walking with her, to say more, but she abruptly turned. It was time for her to get back to Sam, so together they walked to her front door, and Reid watched until she and Popcorn went inside, until he heard the bolts slide into place.

He drove ten minutes home to Silver Bay. It had been a long day. When he pulled into the driveway of the white 1853 saltbox he had owned for fifteen years, he unloaded his surf rod, leaned it beside the back door, and entered the kitchen. The house felt stuffy from being closed up all day, so he opened a few windows and let the breeze cool things off. He brewed a single cup of coffee and took it into his home office.

He regarded the far wall above his desk. He had kept clippings of former cases and tacked them up to remind him of his purpose in life. There were articles about crimes that had been solved, others that hadn’t. His dad had been a cop, and he used to say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” To Reid, that meant remember the victim. Catch the bad guy.

Reid leaned back in his desk chair, coffee mug in hand. One of the biggest headlines on his wall had appeared in the
Day
twenty-three years ago: “Gallery Owner Implicated in Wife’s Death.”

The facts were simple and ugly. Garth Woodward, the girls’ father, had had a gambling problem. He’d liked the roulette table at Foxwoods. He had also fallen in love with Francesca Conti, a young woman getting her PhD at Yale’s Department of the History of Art. To cover his debts and pay for a love nest in Wooster Square, he decided to stage a robbery at the Harkness-Woodward Gallery so that paintings could be stolen. He could double profit from both black-market resale and a large insurance payout.

He met Joshua and Sally Anderson at Art Basel when they tried to sell him what he quickly recognized as a forged Hassam. A criminal recognizes criminals. He hired them for the job.

Reid was certain Garth had not planned for his daughters to be at the gallery that day, but he was equally sure that he had known his wife would be. The plan had been to tie Helen up, but since Kate and Beth had stopped by on their way home from school that cold November afternoon, the Andersons determined that they had to be dealt with too.

Joshua shoved Helen and her daughters into the basement. He and Sally bound them together with nylon rope, shoved gags into their mouths. Whether they expected Helen to choke and die was beside the point.

At ten the next morning, Wade and Paula Banks—collectors and regular customers of the gallery—arrived from Greenwich for a meeting with Helen and Garth. They knew the Woodwards would never forget an appointment, and when they saw Helen’s car parked out front, and she did not answer the door, they became concerned and called the police.

Reid was the resident trooper and arrived within five minutes. He circled the gallery, brushing aside thick rhododendron branches to look into windows. There was a cellar hatchway in the back of the building, and he heard thumping coming from inside. He broke the lock and entered the basement.

He discovered the three of them—Helen, Kate, and Beth, still tied together, back to back. Kate was banging her feet as hard as she could, splattering fluids that had drained from their mother’s body, pooled around them. Beth was screaming through the fabric tied around her mouth. Helen was slumped over; blood had dried black on the gag and her chin, had run onto the concrete floor and coagulated. She had urinated and lost control of her bowels. By the fact that she had gone into rigor, Reid knew that she had been dead for hours. Her face was gray-blue, her eyes opaque.

His hands shook as he cut the family loose. He tried to help Beth stand, but she wouldn’t let go of her mother. Kate was pure white, her lips blue, in shock, backing away as if she wanted to melt into the wall.

Garth Woodward arrived minutes later. He had been on an ostensible art-buying trip to New York and had come straight to the gallery, instead of going home first, for the meeting with the collectors. The minute he ran down the stairs he cried out—either genuinely stunned to see that Helen was dead, or a great actor. Woodward had started
pacing, holding his head, while Beth had cradled her mother’s cold body, and Kate had stood with her back pressed to the basement wall, staring into nothing, completely silent.

Twenty-three years later, Reid still saw Kate pressed against the cellar wall nearly nightly in his dreams. His training as a police officer had prepared him for all kinds of crime scenes. He had seen fatal accidents on I-95 and country roads, had been to houses on domestic violence calls and tended to victims with black eyes and broken bones, had had guns pulled on him twice—once on a domestic call, another at a beach bar where he had gone to break up a fight. The husband had dropped his shotgun; the drunk had held on to his pistol. Reid had shot the drunk. He had blown a hole in his chest. It hadn’t affected him the way Beth’s reedy screams and Kate’s blank stare had.

Seeing what had happened to the Woodward sisters had changed him. He had taken in their pain through his skin. He was from a close family. He loved his parents and brother. The idea of having his mother die beside him, unable to help her, filled him with despair and rage, things he could imagine the Woodward girls feeling. Especially Kate. Her silence that day, the way her hand had felt like ice, had sliced his heart.

After the art was recovered, Francesca had been interviewed by the state’s attorney, and she had willingly provided evidence against Garth. Although she had not known his plan, her testimony about their town house and his trips to the casinos had made his motive clear.

The Andersons had taken plea deals and testified in court, each sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Garth Woodward had gone to prison for life without the possibility of parole. Beth eventually had gotten married and had Sam, and Kate had taken to the sky.

Reid’s coping mechanism was wood carving. He had a workbench set up at the far end of his office. Narrow drawers held his knives, chisels, and adzes. Blocks of butternut, basswood, and aspen were stacked high. A few of his favorite pieces were displayed on shelves above the
bench. They included a pair of mallards, a loon, a kingfisher, a striped bass, and, carved from cottonwood—the palest wood he had been able to find—an albino whale.

Just like Moby Dick.

He sat at his desk now, drinking coffee. What if he was wrong about Pete, if he went down the wrong track and didn’t get Beth’s killer? Maybe Tom was right, and Reid’s feelings were blinding him. He took out a yellow legal pad and made two columns. The first was for names of suspects, the second for possible motives.

In the first column he wrote
Pete
. Under it he wrote
Nicola
. Under that he wrote
Stranger
.

Then he crossed out
Nicola
and
Stranger
.

He exhaled and took out his cell phone. He had programmed Pete’s number in after the call to the Lathrops’ landline, and he dialed it now. He didn’t really expect an answer, just wanted to leave a message, and was taken aback when Pete picked up.

“Hello?” Pete said.

“Pete. This is Detective Reid.”

“Oh,” Pete said. “I was just going to call you.”

“Really, what about?”

“Well, I was pretty upset earlier. I’m sure you can understand. I wanted to tell you I’m ready to talk whenever you are. We’ve got to find who did this.”

Reid hid his surprise. He had expected to chase Pete. On the other hand, it was smart of Pete to seem to cooperate. “Great, that’s what I was calling about,” he said. “To schedule a time.”

“I’ll come tomorrow,” Pete said. “Can we make it afternoon? We have to make funeral plans in the morning.”

“Afternoon is fine,” Reid said. “Will you be bringing your lawyer?”

“Why would I need one? I’m innocent.”

I didn’t ask if you were innocent,
Reid thought. “Okay, tomorrow. Three o’clock?” he asked, thinking of the alibi witnesses he planned to interview first.

“Fine,” Pete said.

“By the way,” Reid said, “how is your daughter?”

Pete let out a long exhale. “Not good. As you can imagine.”

Reid gave him the address to the Eastern District Major Crime Squad office. When they hung up, he sat down at his desk and started making notes about the day. After a few minutes, he paused and stared up at the yellowing twenty-three-year-old article on the wall.

Pete hadn’t exactly lied and said he had seen his daughter. But he hadn’t said he hadn’t, either.

9

The call came in the middle of the night. At 2:11 a.m. Kate fumbled for the phone next to her bed, saw the caller ID.

“Hello?” she said. “Lu?”

But the connection was bad, crackling on the line, as if Lulu was somewhere without cell reception. Kate said, “Hello, hello? Can you hear me? I can’t hear you. Are you there?” Then she disconnected. She waited a few moments, staring at the screen, waiting for it to ring again. But instead she got a notification that a voice mail message had dropped in. She listened to it.

“It can’t be true,” Lulu’s recorded voice said, thick with tears. “Tell me it isn’t, Kate. I’ve had my phone off all day. I’m in Tokyo on a ridiculous long haul, and I just got your texts, and then Scotty called. She told me. Not Beth, Katy; not our Beth,” Lulu said, and then her voice broke. “I love you so much. I am with you, Kate.” Her best friend’s sobs brought on Kate’s, and she lay in bed clutching her phone, tears running down her cheeks, swallowing the sounds of weeping so Sam—fast asleep, she hoped—wouldn’t hear. She dialed Lulu back, but again—voice mail. It frustrated her, but she listened to the message again, and eventually she dropped the phone on her pillow and drifted into troubled sleep.

Hours later, Kate didn’t want to get up. She couldn’t bear to face a sunny day that Beth would not see. Her heart skipped, skipped, skipped
again, couldn’t find its rhythm. Her sister wasn’t in the world. How could she go on if she couldn’t feel her sister’s living, breathing presence? She replayed the detective’s words, how he’d said Pete had killed Beth. In the light of day, that seemed impossible. Didn’t it?

At least she had heard from Lulu.

Popcorn had slept on the floor beside Sam, but now he was bouncing up and down next to Kate, paws on the mattress, down on the floor, his tongue giving her cheek one big wet slurp.

“Okay,” she said. “I know. Time to go out.”

Kate was wearing a gray T-shirt and white cotton pajama bottoms printed with blue starfish, and she didn’t even pull on a robe when she walked Popcorn down the stairs and onto the street. The sun was rising above the buildings across the river. The beauty of it hurt her heart.

Popcorn was probably disappointed by the short walk, but Kate had things she had to do. He dragged, climbing the stairs to the loft. Kate stood at the kitchen counter, staring at the Cuisinart coffee maker as if she’d never seen it before. She went through the motions of spooning French roast into the basket, measuring the right amount of water. She heard and smelled it dripping into the pot, then walked away without drinking any.

She dressed in jeans, thought better of it, and changed into navy-blue slacks and a white blouse. She walked to her sleeping niece and stood looking down. This would be her first full day without her mother.

“Sam,” Kate said. “Time to get up.”

“Runnggh,” Sam said into the pillow.

Kate touched her shoulder, and Sam opened her eyes and moaned at the light. “Just a little longer,” she said.

“Not this morning,” Kate said. “We’re doing this for your mother.”

They had to make funeral arrangements. Eventually the medical examiner would release Beth’s body, and they had to be ready. Sam forced herself up. She walked into the bathroom, and Kate heard the
shower start. When Sam came into the kitchen wearing a white dress printed with red cherries, Kate handed her a cup of coffee.

BOOK: Last Day
11.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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