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Authors: Margaret Truman

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Murder in Foggy Bottom (2 page)

BOOK: Murder in Foggy Bottom
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2

Two Days Later
New York

 

Harry Syms turned off Highway 684, stopped for a red light, then turned left onto the access road leading to Westchester County airport, approximately fifty miles north of New York City. Seated next to him was his wife, Hope, and their two children, Janet, age six, and Jill, age eight, who were safely buckled in the back of their new green Plymouth Voyager minivan.

“I wish I could come with you,” Harry said.

“It’s better this way,” Hope said. “With your Kamerer negotiations heating up and all, I understand. Besides . . .”

Syms was a corporate attorney whose company was in the midst of buying a competing firm.

“There’s always some negotiation or meeting,” Harry said heavily. “Maybe when it’s wrapped up I can grab a few days and join you.”

“No,” Hope said. “Use the time to work and to . . . well, to think some more about—”

“We’re here,” Harry said, cutting her off. He stopped in front of the new terminal, a reflection of the rapid expansion of the regional airport, which chagrined those homeowners over whose houses the noisy, turboprop commuter planes flew. And now jets regularly operated from there. What was next, the Concorde?

He pulled luggage from the minivan as Hope unbuckled the girls. “You two young ladies look beautiful,” he said, beaming. They shared their mother’s blond genes and freckled cheeks. They wore matching frilly blue-and-white dresses, dresses designed especially for a trip to Grandma’s.

Harry noticed that Jill wore a thin gold necklace with a tiny four-leaf clover at its end. He asked his wife, “You’re not wearing the flying necklace?”

“No,” she said, smiling. “Jill wanted to wear it.”

The “flying necklace” had belonged to Hope’s mother, who’d been a travel photographer of some note before retiring. She viewed the necklace as her good luck charm whenever she flew, which was often, and passed it on to her daughter.

“Don’t lose that,” Harry said to Jill. “It’s mother’s.”

“I won’t,” Jill said.

“I’ll take it back from her as soon as we arrive,” Hope whispered to Harry.

“We’ll bring you a present,” said Jill, hugging her father.

“Great! Make it a big one. Hey, what about you?” he said to Janet. “Don’t I get a kiss and a hug?”

She allowed him to kiss her cheek.

“They’re so excited,” Hope said.

“They should be. Make sure everybody drinks plenty of water when you’re traipsing around DC. You know what it’s like there in the summer.”

“We’d better get inside,” Hope said.

Syms enjoyed flying out of the smaller, regional airport, a half hour’s drive from their home in Bedford Hills, or seeing people off from it. There was less of the traffic madness associated with taking a flight from LaGuardia or Kennedy. He waved to a security guard— “Back in a minute,” he shouted pleasantly—and carried the luggage inside the terminal to a short check-in line. “Flight’s on time,” he said after checking a departure board.

“Go on, we’re fine,” Hope said. “Don’t be late to your meeting.”

Harry took her arm and pulled her aside, away from the girls and others in the line. “Look,” he said, “I know you’re upset, and I don’t blame you. But going to your parents’ place isn’t the answer.”

“Harry, we’ve been over this a hundred times. I just need to be away for a spell to help me sort this out.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if you stayed and we kept talking it out?”

“Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. All I do know is that I have to clear my mind. A couple of weeks with Mom and Dad will help, I’m sure, and the girls will love it.” Her eyes filled, and she quickly ran fingertips over them to keep the tears from spilling out. “We’ll get through this, Harry. I know we will. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be talking about just a few weeks away.”

He looked into his wife’s eyes and swallowed against tears of his own forming. “You know I love you,” he said, “more than anything in the world.”

She nodded.

“Let’s not let my stupidity ruin the good thing we have going together, you, me, them.” He nodded to where the girls were giggling at something the man in front of them had said.

“Go,” she said. “I’ll be fine.” She managed a smile, which sent a current of relief through his body. Then she kissed him and said, “I love you, too, Harry. Everything will be all right.” She meant it. Although there would be the requisite period of recriminations, and should be, her determination not to allow a single indiscretion to take away what they had built as a family was as strong as her husband’s.

They rejoined their daughters and he kissed both girls again. “Call tonight,” he told Hope.

“I will.”

“You girls be good and do what Mom says. But not when she says get lost.”

“Those are a fine-lookin’ couple of young ladies,” the grinning, chubby businessman ahead of them said, Alabama coating his words.

“Thanks,” Syms said.

“First time on an airplane?” the man asked.

“No,” Hope answered. “They even have their own frequent flier accounts.” To Harry: “Go!”

“Call.”

“I will, I will.”

Syms backed away, waving, and almost tripped over a suitcase belonging to another passenger. He left the terminal, got in his car, and headed for his meeting at company headquarters in White Plains, torn, wishing he’d been able to get away and accompany his family— wishing Hope had wanted him to, yet ready for the short separation. His in-laws were nice people, no bad mother-in-law jokes for him. Maybe when the negotiations were over he’d just get on a plane and surprise them. Even though Hope said she didn’t want him there, he thought she’d like it if he arrived unexpectedly.

At least he hoped she would. He’d have to think that through. No room for more missteps at this juncture.

As Syms turned back onto 684, Al Lester looked up at a twin-engine Saab turboprop taking off from the airport. It passed directly over him, low, engines whining at full throttle, and banked left to the west, a standard takeoff pattern when the wind blew from west to east.

Lester, sixty-eight, was enjoying his retirement, finally having time for his passion: fishing the lakes, streams, and reservoirs that were, perhaps surprisingly, plentiful in Westchester County, Manhattan’s primary source of potable water. Minnesota might be the land of ten thousand lakes, but New York State and Westchester within it were no Sahara. But you couldn’t just go out and fish the reservoirs. It took a special license from New York City’s Bureau of Water Supply. Among many restrictions was a prohibition on powerboats. You paddled or didn’t fish. Lester believed in fishing regulations and followed them faithfully, knowing that the licensing requirement had been initiated during World War Two, when it was feared a foreign power might poison the city’s water supply. No such fear existed today, but still having to obtain the special license kept the number of fishermen down, something he approved of. Al Lester wasn’t a social fisherman. He liked to fish alone.

He’d left the house at six after Nancy had made him a hearty breakfast. The key to still getting along fine after forty years of marriage was, as far as Al was concerned, understanding and respecting each other’s needs. His days were spent fishing; she enjoyed tending to their flower garden and reading the dozen or so romance novels that seemed to arrive weekly from a book club. Many of their friends had moved to Florida or North Carolina, in search of cheaper living and more consistently moderate weather. Those states had their attractions, including a usually benign climate—except when it turned terrifying—but there would be no such move for Al and Nancy Lester. “Like signing your death certificate” was the way he saw it. Bring on the change of seasons, including snowy winters. It kept a man alert and alive. And no early-bird specials at the local eatery in this couple’s future. Nancy could cook . . . and liked it.

He had just reached his favorite spot in Webers Cove when the Saab aircraft roared into the sky above, causing him to mutter a curse. There would be a dozen more departures that morning to intrude on his quiet, solitary pleasure, just him in his canoe, and the birds, and the fish that would rise to his lures—or at least flirt with them. He watched the plane disappear into puffy clouds to the west, tossed out his line, secured the rod between his knees, lit his pipe, and settled back.

“Been living in the DC area for thirty years,” the corn-pone businessman said to Hope Syms as she and her daughters settled in their seats for the trip to Washington. The Canadian-made, high-wing, twin-turboprop Dash 8 was fully booked, the thirty-six passengers seated in two rows, two seats to a row. Hope and the youngest child, Janet, sat together. Directly across the narrow aisle were Jill and the businessman, who’d introduced himself as Wally Watson—“Plastic extrusions, household gadgets,” as if they were all part of his name. He was a jolly type who made the kids laugh; his grandchildren were older, four of them, three boys and a girl. He’d been in New York on a selling trip: “Hardware stores, not many in Manhattan, department stores. The buyers all know Wally Watson.” Eight-year-old Jill had been assigned to the aisle seat but wanted to be next to the window, and Watson had happily switched with her.

The sole flight attendant came down the aisle checking that seat belts were fastened. She stopped and smiled at the kids. “Welcome aboard,” she said. “First flight?”

“No,” Hope said in response to what was the standard question. “They’re both old-timers.”

“Glad to hear it,” the flight attendant said. “I’ll be back once we’re up with Cokes and pretzels.”

“Mommy, this plane is so
s-m-a-l-l
,” Jill said.

“Big enough to get us there,” Hope said, thinking that their children had become spoiled traveling on large jet aircraft. This would be a different experience for them.

The captain spoke over the PA system: “Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen. Nice to have you with us today. We’ll be taxiing out in a few minutes. Shouldn’t be any delays in getting off. Flight time to Reagan National Airport is an hour and twenty minutes, get us there right on time. Weather looks good all the way so we should have smooth sailing. Washington’s hot, though, forecast to get up into the nineties.”

Jill Syms made a face and said, “Ugh!”

“Grandma’s house is air-conditioned,” Hope said, “and the car. We’ll stay cool.”

The aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney engines came to life and the Dash 8 slowly left the boarding area and headed for the runway, an east-to-west takeoff into the wind, blowing in at eleven knots. In the cramped cockpit was Captain Robert “Red” Sutherland and First Officer Wendy Johnson, one of a growing number of female commercial pilots advancing their airline flying careers by piloting smaller, commuter aircraft. They reached the active runway and turned onto it. The tower controller’s voice crackled in their headsets: “Dash three-three-seven, you’re cleared to roll.”

“Roger. Three-three-seven rolling.”

Johnson advanced the throttles. The engines responded, the four-bladed props cut into the air, and the craft moved forward, gaining speed as she kept it glued to the runway’s white center stripe while monitoring the air speed indicator. The plane reached the predetermined speed for liftoff.

“Rotate,” Captain Sutherland said.

Johnson pulled smoothly back on the yoke and the ground fell away. In the passenger cabin, Jill Syms gave out an exuberant yelp. Wally Watson laughed. Hope took her daughter’s hand and squeezed. As often as she’d flown, she was never completely comfortable in a plane despite her mother’s good-luck necklace, and would be glad when they touched down safely at Reagan National.

Harry Syms sat in his company’s conference room with colleagues, as well as lawyers from the firm about to be willingly gobbled up.

“How’s the family?” he was asked.

“Great. Hope and the kids are in the air right now on their way to Washington. Her mom and dad live there.”

“Playing the bachelor game for a few days, huh, Harry?”

“Yeah.” He laughed.

“Nothing like a trusting wife.”

The comment nettled Harry but he didn’t respond. The idea of ever cheating on Hope had always been anathema to him. As far as he was concerned, he’d gotten lucky when he met and managed to woo Hope Martin into becoming Mrs. Harry Syms. And there were the girls. A man would be a fool to do anything to jeopardize a family like that.

A fool like him, he thought. One extra drink at the Chicago convention that impaired judgment, falling into that silly eye-gazing game with the stunning brunette attorney, full, red lips and lush figure, liking that she laughed at everything he said, enjoying touches on his arm and back. Another drink. Ending up in her hotel room. The mad, frantic shedding of clothes and the twisted sheets and the rapid rush and pleasure of it, followed immediately by a vision of Hope and the kids at home and what would happen if she found out and was this worth it and how can I make it go away and pretend it never happened and . . .

He was lucky Hope hadn’t walked out with the kids when, weeks later, that woman, whose name was Kay and whom he had been ignoring, called and demanded she speak with him. When his wife pressed her for identification, the lawyer shouted, “I’m the woman who slept with your husband in Chicago. Put him on!”

Real-life
Fatal Attraction.
Not much attraction left, possibly fatal.

When Harry came home from work that evening, Hope confronted him. “She’s demented,” Harry said initially. But Hope’s questions persisted, and Harry said, “Just a drunken fling. Stupid. God, I’m sorry. Believe me, it’ll never happen again.”

“So, where are we, Harry?” someone at the White Plains meeting asked.

“What?” Harry said. “Oh, sorry. My mind was somewhere else.” He pulled a thick file folder from the briefcase at his feet. “What say we get down to business? Be due diligent and all that.”

Hope Syms, too, was having similar thoughts about her marriage and family as the plane climbed. It passed low over cars on Highway 684 and continued in a westerly direction, its course dictated by air traffic control. The highway fell behind and the aircraft crossed the shoreline of Rye Lake. Beyond it was a larger body of water, the Kensico Reservoir.

BOOK: Murder in Foggy Bottom
8.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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