Authors: Kate Flora
Death in a Funhouse Mirror
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Â© 1995, 2011 by Kate Clark Flora
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This book is for Karin Knudsen Rector and Pamela Boggs Franicevich, my first writing group, who have, together, given me seventy-five years of friendship and support.
Thanks to all the people who helped me make this a better book: Former Concord Police Chief Carl Johnson, for detailed criticism, comma excision, and professional advice; my readers, Christy Bond, Christy Hawes, Professors Frances Miller and Richard Parker, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, Diane Englund, Jack Nevison, Nancy McJennett, Loretta Smith, Emily Cohen and A. Carman Clark, who were so generous with their time and advice; to Thea's mentor, Margaret Milne Moulton; to Robert Moll for the picture; to my friend Melinda Brooks for directing my reading on women and psychologyâany errors are my own; to Bill Plauger, for helping me become more computer literate, and bailing me out when I am not; to my husband, Ken, and sons Jake and Max, for their patience; to the great guys at Gateway, who keep sending those cow boxes. And of course, to my agent, Carol McCleary, who believes that "no" means "yes" or at least, "Let's talk again tomorrow"; and my editor, Claire Eddy, who mothers me gently while pushing me to make it better.
I looked over the top of my book at Andre, asleep in his lounge chair, looking gorgeous and ridiculous in the tiny red bathing suit that had been the reason it took us from nine o'clock, when we woke up, until almost eleven to get from the bedroom out to the deck. It was the kind of suit I used to look at in stores and laugh, unable to imagine anybody wearing one. In fact, I had laughed when he came out of the bathroom wearing it, until he pointed out that my bikini bottom was even briefer. I disagreed, and we ended up standing in front of the mirror, hip to hip, comparing.
For us, getting that close is always dangerous. There are a lot of things we disagree about. He's a cop, a Maine state trooper, and I'm a consultant to independent schools. Sometimes I find him too rigid, too judgmental, or so distracted by his workâhe's a homicide detectiveâthat he's completely unavailable. He says I'm too impetuous, and too primâan unlikely combination, if you ask me, but that's what he saysâand I also have an incurable tendency to get wrapped up in my work. We don't live together. We don't even live in the same state, which may help us get along despite our differences, but when it comes to our physical relationship, we have no disagreements. So, even though we'd planned to have breakfast out on the deck and spend the morning reading, we'd gotten sidetracked.
Staring at that little bathing suit had naturally led to staring at his body. I'd always assumed those small, revealing suits were for slight men, or men with the exaggerated vee shapes of models. Andre isn't built like that. He has what I think of as a sturdy body. Not stocky, he doesn't have an ounce of fat, but he has a substantial presence, nice strong legs, and a comfortably hairy chest. It's okay with me. I like substantial men. I'm no peanut myself. If I were a frightened crime victim, Andre Lemieux is exactly the kind of cop I'd want to show up and protect me, strong and kind and comforting. If I were a bad guy, I'd sit up nights praying that he never came after me. There's something about the hard glare in his eyes, and a subdued anger that emanates from him, that tells you how much he hates the bad guys and makes you sure he'll get them in the end. I'd been on the receiving end of his inquisitorial technique when my sister Carrie was killed. I knew how tough he could be.
The "in the mirror" comparison eventually led to the conclusion that we had to take the suits off to compare them properly, and since we hadn't seen each other for three weeks, that naturally led to other things. We concluded with a frantic raid on the refrigerator instead of the genteel breakfast I'd envisioned, and now we were out on the deck of my new condo, where we could look past a patch of green lawn onto a delicious expanse of blue water, just like the real estate ad had promised.
Not that Andre was looking at anything. He'd arrived in the night, nearly comatose from exhaustion, announced that he'd finally arrested a suspect in his latest homicide and fallen asleep with his clothes on. Once we made it out to the deck, he hadn't even pretended he was going to read, just lay down in the chair, let me cover him with sunscreen, and asked to be turned in an hour. Andre the human steak.
I wasn't doing much better. My mind was so bleary from another frantic week of work that I had passed up the serious book I was reading and was dithering over a piece of bodice-buster trash. So far, the characters in the book had nothing on us. I kept losing my place and couldn't keep the players straight. All the women were bubbleheaded and gorgeous, even the ones who were supposed to be executives, and all the men were studly and smoldering. Their lives were so sexually supercharged no one could even buy a pair of socks without someone of the opposite sex staring intently at their trembling cleavage with knowing blue eyes. Their dialogue had been written by a third-grader. I stuck with it for a while, since my mother, who is no bubblehead, had suggested I'd like it, but familiarity bred contempt. I stuffed it under my chair and went around to the front to get the paper.
The headlines were the usual mix of financial scandals, the president's grandstanding in the international forum while the country went to hell, and the latest sensational murder. I often skip the front page, unless there's a story relating to education, but there was something about today's murder that caught my eye. A prominent woman psychologist, a so-called "founding mother" of the movement for introducing the woman's perspective into psychology, had been stabbed to death in Anson while she was out walking her dog. Gripping the paper, I dropped into my chair and read the story.
The woman, Helene Streeter, age fifty-three, had been on the staff of Bartlett Hill, a well-known private psychiatric hospital. Her husband, Clifford Paris, was head of the childrens' outpatient unit there. According to neighbors, it had been Ms. Streeter's custom to walk the family dog in the evenings after supper, often accompanied by Mr. Paris. When Ms. Streeter did not return from her walk, her husband had gone out looking for her. He had found her lying in the shadow of a hedge a few houses away. A trail of blood on the sidewalk indicated that she had crawled some distance before collapsing. She was rushed to Mt. Lucas Hospital, where she died from multiple stab wounds. A hunting knife, possibly the murder weapon, was found on the lawn of a house several blocks away.
The story continued, but I'd read enough. I folded up the paper with shaking, ink-smudged fingers and stuffed it under a pot of geraniums so it wouldn't blow away. Most stories of violence and death occur under circumstances so remote from everyday life that they don't touch us. We read them, tut-tut about the state of things, and move on. This one was different. I hadn't seen much of them lately, but I knew Helene Streeter and I knew Clifford Paris. Knew them pretty well. Their daughter, Eve, had been my friend in college, and my roommate for a few years after college, when I was busy being a reporter and a social worker, and she was getting her master's degree in social work. We lived together until she moved to Arizona. Back then, Eve's relationship with her parents had been strained. They still treated her like a child and she still carried an adolescent chip on her shoulder so big it sometimes blocked her vision, but she went through the motions of a dutiful daughter, and that included dinner with her parents. I often went along as a buffer.
In some ways, Eve's estrangement was easy to understand. Like many psychiatrists' children, she had been extremely close to her parents as a child, sometimes, as she'd described it to me, to the exclusion of other children. That closeness had hampered her ability to make a comfortable social adjustment to her peers, and had also created an even greater distance to go when the time came to break away from her parents and become her own person. According to Eve, the struggles had been titanic. Her parents, so respected for their ability to help the troubled, had been completely baffled when it came to their own daughter's behavior. They'd reacted with an impossible combination of rules, restrictions and demands for dialogue to her every attempt to find her own identity. Even something as ordinary as a chaperoned boy-girl party had required a family meeting.
In self-defense, Eve resorted to deception, developing an agreeable facade which appeared to conform to their wishes while doing exactly as she pleased. It was probably necessary to get her through adolescence, but having to lie made her angry, and the fact that they let her get away with itâthese supposedly sensitive, insightful peopleâmade her even angrier. Maybe they saw through it and let it go because it was the only way they could cope. I didn't know. I wasn't around then. By the time I met her, lying to them had become such a habit that she lied even when she didn't have to. After our first dinner with them, when I challenged her about some things that she'd said, Eve had responded, "It's terribly sad, Thea, but I've lied to them so long I'm not sure I'd know how to tell them the truth. Anyway, I don't even think of it as lying anymore. I just tell them what they want to hear and they're satisfied. They deal with so many serious problems every day. It's important to the stability of their world that things are all right with me."
It was so sad. Eve and her family sat around like people hiding behind cardboard cutouts of themselves, looking like the perfect family, and never told each other anything risky. Eve never told her mother, who specialized in treating abused women and children, that her boyfriend, Padraig, was abusive, and she never told her father, who knew a great deal about eating disorders, that she was bulimic. She just struggled along on her own and eventually she cured the bulimia herself and dumped Padraig. Dumping him had not been easy, since in his own perverse, possessive way, he'd loved Eve and didn't want to be discarded, and because Padraig, when he wasn't being abusive, was the most charming man on earth. He'd had hair the color of fire, a lilt in his voice that could woo statues off their pedestals and a passionate way of throwing himself at life that made you want to be swept along. But he'd had a dark side, tooâmoods of brooding intensity when he blamed everyone but himself for his failure to make it as an artist. Then he would take out his frustration on Eve.
Part of her reason for moving to Arizona was to get away from Padraig. As long as she was near him, she couldn't resist him. It was also to get away from her family. One day at lunch she'd said, "Lying to them is such an established pattern that I can't seem to stop. I hope by going away I can put enough distance between us that when I come back I can deal with them honestly. Maybe I'm deluding myself but that's what I hope." I'd helped her pack everything into the back of her little silver Accord and she'd driven away.
I could still see her face, peering out the window at me, bottom lip caught between her teeth, and little worry lines in her forehead. We were a strange pair. Me tall, green eyed and serious, with my mop of impossibly long, curly hair, and Eve, with her merry, adorable little face, cropped, string-straight hair, and small, strong body. Together we looked like the giant and the dwarf. Eve's bulimia hadn't been a reaction to anything wrong with her body. I guess that's often the case. She had an athletic build, but she was well proportioned and slim. It was just that Helene was so impossibly beautiful that anyone would have had trouble being her daughter. As Eve, one of whose strengths was her blunt self-awareness, once observed, "I can stick my finger down my throat until hell freezes over, and I'll never look like Helene." And now Helene was dead. I hoped Eve had had a chance to establish the kind of relationship with her parents that she wanted. I didn't know.
After Eve left to work on the reservation, I'd met David Kozak, gotten married, and immersed myself in a world of domestic bliss. A year later I read in the paper that Padraig had died in a car accident. I'd written her and sent her the clipping and she'd written back that his death was the loss of an important artistic talent. By the time she came back, David had been killed, and I'd dealt with my grief by becoming a workaholic. We'd had lunch a few times, dinner with her parents once, and spent one pleasant weekend on Cape Cod, but otherwise we hadn't seen each other much. Eve was working with cancer patients, and on the weekends she was doing a lot of cycling and kayaking. She seemed very happy.
It was a beautiful May Saturday. Brilliant sunshine. A fresh cool breeze. It was a day made to be enjoyed, but I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd read. I try to avoid thinking about death and dying. I'm not a depressed or morose person, I've just seen my share of death. It's been more than two and a half years since the car accident that killed David, and almost nine months since my sister Carrie was murdered. Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about them and miss them.
They say that with time a grieving process takes place and you get over things. I know that's true. Most of the time I'm fine. But sometimes, at a certain time of day, when the light slants a certain way, or when I hear a special song, catch a faint whiff of some man's cologne, or glimpse a tall, thin, dark-haired man walking toward me, I still expect to see David. Sometimes, when the phone rings and I hear a girlish, excited voice, I expect it to be Carrie. Then the disappointment, the loneliness, and the pain are just as real, immediate, and sharp as in those first awful days. So I had some idea of how it was going to be for Eve.
Andre put a warm hand on my shoulder. "Penny for your thoughts," he said.
"I was thinking about this," I answered, tugging out the paper and handing it to him. "I knew the womanâthe victim. Her daughter is a friend of mine."
He scanned the article quickly and handed it back. "The mysterious stranger lurking in the bushes with a knife, huh? Statistically speaking, it's much more likely she was killed by someone she knew."
"But she knew everybody. And people loved her."
"Only one of them killed her, though, and I doubt that it was the butler."
"No," I said, "they didn't have a butler. A maid, but not a butler. Helene was an ardent feminist. In her world, it would have been the maid who did it. It isn't something we should joke about, though. Poor Eve."
"Eve is the daughter? Your friend?"
"Have you called her?"
"Called her?" It sounded dumb even to me. "Isn't it too soon?"
He shook his head. "She'll need people to talk to. Maybe not right away, but it will help her to know you're there. You understand what she's going through and you're sensible and compassionate. Go on. Go call." He made little motions with his hands, like someone shooing a flock of chickens.
"Don't you start telling me what to do," I said, but it was a pro forma complaint. We both had some expertise in this area and I knew he was right. I could be helpful. I also knew why I was hesitating. I might be able to help Eve, but not without cost to myself. Talking to Eve about her loss would make me think of my own.
His arched eyebrows rose quizzically, giving him a slightly elfin look I find very attractive. That was usually the prelude to a provocative remark, but this time all he said was, "You might bring some sandwiches on your way back out."
"Andre, you just had breakfast."
"I just had you, too, and I never get enough of that, either."
I groaned and went inside to call Eve.
I let the phone ring eleven times at Eve's apartment, disconnected, and tried her parents' number. Eve answered on the fourth ring, her voice so strained it was almost unrecognizable. I knew how that was, how you had to keep talking to people while your throat was choked with tears, swallowing them and trying to keep going, even though you felt like screaming at everyone to go away and leave you alone. "Eve," I said, "it's Thea. I just heard about Helene. I'm so sorry. Is there any way I can help?"
"Thea? Is that really you?" She sounded like a child lost in a crowd who finally spots someone she knows. "Can you come and stay with me? Here? Today? Please say you'll come. I need you, Thea." She didn't sound anything like the spunky, matter-of-fact woman that I knew. She sounded sad and lost and very scared.
Reluctantly, I kissed all my plans good-bye. The long walk on the beach. An afternoon quickie with Andre. Cold dark beer and a delicious, unhealthy, greasy dinner at the local clam shack. Watching
for the fourth time. And more Andre. Well, it was his fault, too, insisting that I call. I knew I had to go. I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice. "Of course I'll come, Eve. As soon as I can." My watch said twelve. "I can be there by two. Will you still be at your father's?"
"Yes, here in Anson. Thank you, Thea. I'll be looking for you." Eve hung the phone up quickly, as though she was afraid I'd change my mind.
I went back out to the deck to tell Andre. He was sitting sideways on the chaise, looking at the water, a pleasant, relaxed look on his face. When he saw me, his expression changed. I sat down beside him and put a hand on his thigh. "Something's wrong."
He shook his head. "It's nothing," and went back to looking at the sea.
"Doesn't look like nothing to me."
He turned around so that he was straddling the chair, facing me. "Okay, you asked," he said. His face was set and he wouldn't meet my eyes. A hard little knot of anxiety formed in my stomach. "I know what we've said about commitment. About not rushing things," he said. "And I understand your reasons. I know all about your defenses." He drew imaginary circles in the air. "The barbed wire here. The stone wall here. The moatful of crocodiles." He drew a fourth ring. "And other intangibles here. I know you're afraid to make another commitment after losing David. I respect that." There was a husky, intimate quality to his voice. He wasn't just talking, he was telling me something. "But three weeks is too long to be without you." He hesitated. "There were nights when I came back to my apartment and sat there alone in the dark and ached for you. For your hand on my shoulder. For you to ask how my day was. Just to look at you." He stopped talking and sat staring at my face. He was wearing his impassive policeman's face now, but his dark eyes were troubled. He didn't seem to know what to say next. He brushed a wayward strand of hair away from my face, his fingers lingering, caressing my cheek. "You are so lovely. Sometimes when I look at you, it takes my breath away."
That did it, of course. I forgot what I'd been about to tell him, forgot about Eve, forgot to be nervous about what he was going to say, and leaned forward into his arms. Having someone talk to me like that takes
breath away. I'm constantly being surprised by Andre, by how good he is, and how good he makes me feel. How open and real he can be, despite his infuriating cop's ability to be completely opaque. It's something I never expected to have again.
I'd gone home with my husband, David, the first night we met, and never left again. We'd settled into a blissful happily-ever-after that suited us perfectly, but it only lasted two years, until the night David let an inebriated friend talk him into taking a joy ride in the friend's new car. The friend had wrapped David and the car around a tree, killed David and walked away with a few scratches and a broken arm. When he came to apologize after the funeral, I broke his nose and gave him two black eyes. It made me feel a little better, but for a long time I tried not to feel anything at all, to avoid being hurt again.
I was still prickly as a porcupine when I met Andre, unwilling to risk another relationship. From the start he had challenged my defenses, forcing me to be more honest with myself and more open with him. We had a good thing goingâweekends and vacations together while retaining the freedom we both wanted for ourselves and our work. Now it sounded like he was looking for something more and I wasn't sure I was ready.
We ended up back in bed again. Afterwards, in the shower, I told him I had to leave. "I called Eve. She was very upset and Eve's pretty unflappable. She begged me to come and be with her. I told her I'd come this afternoon."
He made a face. "And since I insisted you call, I can't complain, can I? Can I at least come with you? I could answer the door, or help with the dishes. Or make coffee. I make great coffee."
"You'd be bored to death."
"I'd be with you. Besides, in my business, I'm used to being bored. At waiting patiently and watching. It's one of the things I'm good at." It was true, too.
"I didn't want to leave you anyway," I said. "Sure it isn't the lure of a crime scene, and not me, that's drawing you?" I was teasing, but a part of me was curious to see how he'd react to a crime that wasn't on his own patch. He gets as wrapped up in his work as I do.
He splashed water in my face. "Don't be silly," he said, "I'd follow you even if there was no crime."
We dressed quickly and without discussion, Andre in khaki slacks and a blue and white shirt, me in a dark flowered skirt and a white shirt. I pulled my hair back and fastened it with a barrette. We took my car. Andre drives the regulation unmarked Chevy washtub all the state police detectives drive. The State of Maine may think they're okay, but I think they have all the style of a marshmallow squashed by an elephant. I like something a bit more luxurious. I'm a confirmed Saab ownerâthe last one saved my lifeâespecially since I got my new bright red one with all the fixings. I even have a car phone, which the salesman threw in for free, probably so he could keep me in the showroom and stare at my cleavage longer.
We stopped at a grocery store on the way, both knowing how it can be after a family death, and picked up the supplies Eve and her father might need. Coffee and cream. Coffee cake and doughnuts. Bread and stuff to make sandwiches. Fresh fruit. And a chicken, for soup. After David died, I was so numb I couldn't even fix myself a meal. My partner, Suzanne, ignoring my protests, bullied her way in with a big pot of chicken soup and fed me like a toddler. Before that, I was skeptical about the therapeutic powers of chicken soup. After that, I was a true believer. In Suzanne and the soup.
Eve's parents' house was an imposing brick structure with mock gothic windows, a slate roof, and a round white-pillared portico over the door. It looked like it ought to be set among several acres of landscaped grounds, but in fact, while it was nicely landscaped, it was sandwiched on a small lot between two other equally imposing piles in radically different styles. One step more elegant than the current trend toward tract mansions, but still too crowded for me. Today the usually quiet, empty street was dotted with cars, and a uniformed officer was stationed by the front door.
I think cops have an instinctive recognition of one another, because he passed Andre with a nod and challenged me. I have a little trouble with authority figures. My back stiffened and my head went up but before I could respond Andre murmured, "Easy, Thea, he's just doing his job."
I substituted a smile for the snarl that was forming. "I'm Thea Kozak. Eve asked me to come." Before he could decide whether or not I was a suitable applicant, the door flew open and Eve hurled herself into my arms. I hugged her, and, keeping one arm tightly around her shoulders, led her back into the house. Andre came behind us with the groceries. I led her straight to the back of the house and into the kitchen. Andre put the bags down and shook her hand, and I put on the kettle for tea.
Eve climbed up on a stool, perching cross-legged on the top like a little imp. Her shiny black cap of hair was tousled, and she was wearing a black and white polka dot sleeveless minidress with a big collar over black bicycle shorts. Her eyes and nose were red, and she'd bitten her lips until they were raw. I took a Chapstick out of my bag and handed it to her. She took it with a smile. "You've been doing this as long as I can remember, Thea. Giving me Chapstick and making me tea. Sometimes I forget how nice it is to have a friend." She cast a quick glance at the door to the dining room. "I think this is the first normal moment I've had all day. The place is crawling with cops."
She looked at Andre, who was putting things in the refrigerator. "No offense, Detective. I'm just not used to it." She shook her head. "I can't believe it. Helene dead. God! I got there, to the hospital last night, just in time to see her die. I'm sorry. I guess I should ask, before I just blurt all this stuff out. It's pretty unpleasant. Do you mind?"
"Of course not, Eve. You can say whatever you want."
She tipped her head sideways, like a bright-eyed bird. "In front of him?"
"He's a homicide detective, Eve. He's spent a lot of time in situations like this. It won't make him uncomfortable. It depends on how you feel."
She shook her head, flipped her hair back away from her face, nibbled on a nail, a mass of nervous mannerisms. "Sorry. That wasn't a fair question. I guess I wanted you to read my mind, figure out what it is that I want. Don't mind me, I'm so muddled I couldn't think my way out of a paper bag today. Of course he can stay."
She stared past me toward the bright day outside with unfocused eyes. "I just can't stop thinking about it. She was butchered, Thea. I've never seen so much blood. It was like someone hated her. Wanted to destroy her. He must have stood there and slashed at her, again and again. She had those cuts... what do they call them? Defensive cuts... all over her hands and arms. Two of her fingers were nearly cut off. But the Coffeys were home, and the Desjardins, and no one heard anything. No one helped her."
Her voice rose, shrill and strained, on the verge of losing control. "She was only a minute from home. Crawling along the sidewalk leaving a trail of her own blood. It's still out there, all over the sidewalk. Why wasn't Cliff out there with her? Maybe if there had been two of them, it wouldn't have happened." Behind me, the kettle added its own shrill cry to hers. She swayed on her perch and would have fallen if Andre hadn't braced her with his arm. She leaned against him wearily and closed her eyes.
"Do you want to go upstairs, Eve?" I asked. "To your old room?" She nodded. "You might lie down for a while. Andre could take you and I'll be up in a minute with the tea."
"Don't treat me like a child, Thea," she said.
I'd forgotten how touchy she could be. "I never suggested you were," I said. "Sometimes we
need taking care of." I gave Andre directions, still not sure whether she was going to cooperate, but she didn't object when he put an arm around her and steered her toward the door, her head resting against his shoulder.
I felt a momentary twinge, seeing him with his arm around another woman, then I stepped on it, hard, and squelched the thought. He probably did it all the time, comforting victims and their relatives.
I put some bread in the toaster, made a pot of tea, and fixed a tray with toast and jam, some fruit, and a sandwich for Andre. A small white dog crept out from under the table and stood by my feet, looking up at me sadly. I patted his head and scratched his ears. "Poor fellow," I said. "No one's paying any attention to you, are they?" I picked up the tray, but he whined and scratched at my foot. I gave him a piece of toast and headed for the stairs.
Ahead of me, I could see a group of men standing in the living room. Cliff Paris was with them. He broke away and met me at the foot of the stairs, resting a warm hand briefly on my shoulder. "Thea, I'm so grateful. It was good of you to come," he said, smiling with his eyes as well as his mouth. "Eve really needs you. She's taking this very hard." Just ordinary words, but it was part of Cliff Paris's magic that he could make a simple thank you seem like a heartfelt compliment. He had a magnetic sort of charm. A way of paying attention that made you feel what you said, the person you were, was the most interesting thing he'd ever experienced. His private patients were devoted to him. I'd found his style unsettling when I was younger, distrustful because it seemed like a highly perfected form of shrinkly caring yet mesmerized because everyone wants to feel as special as Cliff made me feel.
It didn't hurt that he looked like the shrink from central casting. Handsome in a rugged, outdoorsy way. Wavy, graying blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard. Sparkling, shrewd blue eyes surrounded by deeply etched lines that proclaimed him seasoned and experienced. His voice was melodic, caressing, a well-honed tool. Slim, athletic body. Elegant hands with long, tapered fingers. Today he wore carefully pressed designer jeans, a faded indigo cotton sweater, and boat shoes without socks. His skin was drawn tight over his cheekbones and had a pale, dry cast that made him look years older.
"She was upset and I sent her up to rest. I'm just taking her some tea."
"Great," he said. "Good idea. She hasn't eaten anything all day. Said she couldn't. Who was that who went up with her?"
"My friend Andre Lemieux. He is down from Maine visiting me this weekend, so I brought him along."
He frowned. "You brought a house guest with you?"
I resented what that implied about my judgment. "It's not as incongruous as it sounds, Cliff. He's a homicide detective. He's used to this. He'll probably be better for her than I will."
"I see," was all he said. I had the impression that he didn't like my answer, but he turned away so quickly I couldn't tell and went back to the men in the living room. I couldn't tell whether he looked sad, either. The beard hid his face too well. Maybe that was why he had itâto protect his privacy. I went on upstairs with the tray.
Eve was in bed, under the covers, propped up with pillows. Her skin was almost as pale as the pillowcase, and with the big polka-dotted collar and her red nose, she looked like an unhappy clown. Andre was sitting beside her, holding her hand, talking softly. They both smiled when I came in. Eve pulled up her feet and I put the tray at the foot of the bed. I handed her some tea, set her toast on the bedside stand, and curled up at the foot of the bed beside the tray. "I made you a sandwich," I said, handing it to Andre. I took an apple from the tray and bit into it.
The room had the cold, static look that rarely used rooms acquire. Everything was too spare and neat, and the memorabilia saved from Eve's childhoodâher horses and the elaborately dressed dollsâwas dated and cloying.
Eve stared at her toast like it was something she didn't recognize. "Come on, Eve, you need to eat," I said. She picked it up obediently and started eating. "Cliff says you haven't eaten at all today."
"Cliff," she said bitterly, "has eaten like a horse today. It's obscene. You'd think nothing had happened. He stands down there, greeting everyone in his charming way, smiling that wan, subdued smile, showing only so many millimeters of teeth, the model of genteel bereavement. He's acting like it's an open house, and not the day after his wife's murder. Like her death doesn't matter. You should have seen him last night at the hospital. She'd just died. Not even cold. I was sitting there, still holding her hand..." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, striving for control, but it didn't work. Her next words were half strangled by sobs. "... feeling eviscerated, with all this rage and sadness twirling around inside me, when he announced he st... st... stood up and announced he was going out walking with Rowan." Overwrought as she was, she spat out the word Rowan like it had an especially vile taste.
"Who is Rowan?" Andre said.
Eve was crying too hard to answer. I took her in my arms and held her tightly, rocking her like a baby. She cried a long time. When the sobs finally died away, she wasn't calm. She started talking, her voice becoming shrill and loud again, like it had downstairs in the kitchen. "She can't be dead, Thea. I'm not ready. I mean, I know sometimes I didn't even like her, I know I resented her for being beautiful and admired, but I always loved her." She clung to me frantically. "She was my mother. What will I do now? I need a mother. I need my mother back. Please! Please! Tell me she's not dead!"
I turned to Andre, who, true to his word, was waiting patiently. "Can you go down to the living room and get Cliff, please? He's the bearded one in blue," I said. "I think she needs a sedative. This isn't doing her any good."
Andre left. I heard his footsteps going down the stairs, and then footsteps coming back. Cliff appeared and stood in the doorway, watching. In my arms, Eve was tossing and moaning, crying for her mother. "I'm sorry, Thea," he said, "I thought you could handle it. I had no idea she was this bad. I'll be right back." He hurried out, the door banging behind him. Andre had followed him in quietly and was standing by the door, watchful and unobtrusive.
Suddenly Eve's raving stopped. "Rowan is my father's lover," she whispered. "That's why he killed my mother." Just as quickly as the clarity had come, it was gone and she was whimpering for her mother again. Cliff came back with a hypodermic, swabbed her bare arm with alcohol, and gave her a shot. She cried out as the needle went in, but almost immediately her body, which had been stiff in my arms, relaxed. I eased her back against the pillows and stood up. "Have a rest, Eve," I whispered.
"How long will she sleep?"
"An hour or two," Cliff said.
"I guess we should go then. When she wakes up, please tell her it's okay to call me anytime. Anytime. I'm sorry about Helene. I don't know what to say... I admired her so much...."
Cliff wasn't listening. He stood beside the bed, his shoulders bowed, staring at the syringe in his hand. "Thank you," he said. "I think I'll sit with her a while. Would you tell the gentlemen downstairs?"
"Of course." I picked up the tray. Andre opened the door for me, and we went down to the kitchen together. I stopped in the living room to relay Cliff's message. One of the men, an attractive blond who was rather too delicate for me, said he was leaving and asked one of the others to tell Cliff he'd be back. The others said they'd wait.
I cleaned up the dishes while Andre made a pot of coffee. The smell brought two of the men into the kitchen. Recognizing Andre as one of the brotherhood, they accepted coffee and stopped to chat.
I decided that as long as he was occupied, I'd stay and make the soup. Eve's behavior, so unlike her, had upset me. Maybe some nice therapeutic cooking would help. Her revelation about her father, if true, was nothing short of astonishing. But it didn't seem possible. They hadn't been demonstrative, but Helene and Cliff always appeared to have a good relationship. She appreciated his advice and enjoyed his solicitous attentions; he seemed respectful and supportive of her political agenda. From all that Eve had told me, professionally they were both well established and admired. They entertained frequently and seemed to have lots of friends.
I got one of Helene's aprons and tied it on. If they had so many friends, I thought as I cut up the vegetables and threw them in on top of the chicken, why hadn't the phone been ringing? When my sister Carrie died, the phone at my parents' house had screamed like a cat in heat, incessant and demanding. Just about everyone in the neighborhood appeared at the door, offering food and comfort. Where were these neighbors? Were they too intimidated by the policeman at the door? Except for the men in the living room, two of whom had turned out to be cops, this house was quiet. I threw in a bayleaf and a handful of salt, turned the flame to simmer, and put the lid on the pot. I chopped up some more vegetables to go in the finished soup, wiped down the counter, and went to see what the guys were up to.
In the breakfast alcove, where they were having coffee, I sat down beside Andre. He put an arm around me and pulled me close. "Thea Kozak, Detective Steve Meagher and Detective Dom Florio." We shook hands. I hadn't spent enough time around the police yet to recognize them. When Andre and I were together, we mostly kept to ourselves.
If I'd seen Florio on the street, I would have assumed he was an accountant. He was tall, middle-aged, graying and unexceptional. His hair was receding and his eyes were hidden by glasses. A second look showed me that behind them were piercing, intelligent eyes. Meagher I would have taken for a bodybuilder. He was thick necked and muscular, with arms that bulged out of his short-sleeved shirt and a massive chest. He had gold chains around his neck and glossy dark hair cut short on top and long and wavy in the backâthe classic townie mullet. He would have been handsome if he hadn't looked chronically dissatisfied.
I could tell they'd been telling war stories because the conversation died as soon as I joined them. "Don't let me disturb you guys," I said, "just pretend I'm a fly on the wall."
Meagher leaned forward with a predatory grin. "Honey," he said, "it would be hard not to notice you."
"Thea," I said.
He looked puzzled. "What?"
"My name is Thea, not Honey."
Andre gave me one of his looks, the one that says "put a lid on it, Thea, sometimes you have to compromise to get along with people." I ought to know that look. It has preceded many of our less harmonious discussions. I usually explain that I know how to keep my mouth shut when it advances my own interests, and he usually explains that it would be helpful if I'd occasionally consider doing it to advance his interests. Or just to make his life easier. Sometimes now I even cooperate, because I know he's right, but for jerks like Meagher, I won't.
We don't really need to have the discussion anymore, we just give each other the looks. It's kind of like that old joke about the prison where there is only one joke book in the library and everyone reads it. The inmates are so familiar with them they don't bother to tell them anymore, they just refer to them by number and everyone laughs. One day at dinner, a new guy who's just read the book says a number and no one laughs. One old timer says to another, "Some people just don't know how to tell a joke." Andre and I are at the point where we just need to say the numbers.
Meagher didn't notice the exchange anyway. He'd given my face a quick once-over and settled his eyes on my chest like a hungry man staring at someone else's sandwich. We all chatted for a while, Meagher addressing all his remarks to my chest. Finally, he slid his coffee cup toward me. "Any more coffee, hon... Thea?"
Andre picked up the cup before I could answer. "I make the coffee on this team," he said. "The stuff she makes would take the enamel off your teeth. Black?" Meagher nodded. "You want some, Dom?"
Florio smiled. "I'm fine, thanks," he said. "I was just thinking about asking this young lady for the recipe for that soup. Sure smells good." He had a pleasant, engaging smile that was probably very effective getting nervous witnesses to trust him. I liked him. Like Andre, he had a patient, watchful quality. He struck me as someone who would listen and observe, think about what he'd learned, and come to understand the situation. Meagher, on the other hand, was the type to bull his way through things, pushing people and demanding answers. I didn't have to like Meagher to admit they probably made a good team.
Behind the Clark Kent glasses, Florio's quick blue eyes missed nothing. He'd caught the whole interplay between me and Andre, and I was willing to bet he could summarize my opinion of Meagher better than I could. Right now I was getting the full benefit of those assessing eyes. "How do you know Eve Paris?" he asked.
It was irrational since he was obviously a detective on the case, too, but I didn't want to talk about Eve in front of Meagher. "I have to check the soup," I said.
"Mind if I tag along and asked you some questions?"
"Not at all."
Florio followed me back to the stove and stayed there, lounging against the butcher block island, as comfortable as if he watched people cook every day of his life. I set a colander on top of a stockpot, dumped in the chicken and vegetables, and put the strained broth back on the stove, putting the burner on high to reduce it and make it richer. I flicked on the fan to pull the steam out of the kitchen. As I worked, I answered his questions about how I knew Eve, Helene and Cliff. While the chicken cooled, I put the carrots, celery and onions I'd cut up in a glass dish with some melted butter, and threw them into the microwave.
"You're going to put those in the soup?" he said. I nodded. "My grandmother would die if she saw you do that."
"So would my mother," I said, "but I've tried it both ways and I find the quick and dirty route usually tastes just as good." He didn't seem to find it strange that I'd come to comfort Eve and ended up in the kitchen. I often deny it, but I have a lot of my mother in me. If she were here, she'd be doing exactly the same thing, both because neither of us can bear to be still and because feeding people is an important part of social interaction.
It was impossible not to cook in Helene's kitchen. It was the best room in the house. She'd redone it several years ago, pushing out the back wall and installing a huge greenhouse window extending about five feet back into the roof. Outside was a terrace surrounded by blooming azaleas, where Helene had planted masses of annuals in big terra cotta pots. Inside, there were acres of counters, a huge double sink, and fancy european appliances. A kitchen where things had to turn out right. It made me feel like Julia Child. I've always had an affinity for Julia. She's even taller than I am.
All those expensive renovations were absurd because Helene seldom cooked. She could cook. She was a fabulous cook, but she considered cooking political. If she cooked, she acknowledged she was the one with the obligation to care for the others. She believed that it was women's acceptance of the nurturing role that had led to them being devalued in a world which valued independence rather than interdependence. So Helene built her beautiful high-tech kitchen and then let the housekeeper cook. Even though the housekeeper was also a woman and not a very good cook.
Florio seemed puzzled when I told him what I knew about Helene and Cliffs lifestyle, staring at me quizzically as I stripped the meat off the bones. We must have looked very odd, Dom in his suit and I in my red oilcloth apronâportrait of a homicide detective at work. "Don't look at me like that," I said. "I'm just answering your questions. I'm not saying her behavior made sense. All I can tell you is that it made sense to her and I assume it made sense to Cliff. I never heard him complain. Of course, they presented a unified front to the world. I don't know what their relationship was in private."
I turned down the heat under the pot, threw in the chicken, the vegetables, and several handfuls of noodles, tasted it and added more salt. It was almost dinner time. I couldn't speak for anyone else, but I was hungry. Andre was always hungry. I didn't know about Cliff. I was surprised that he hadn't come into the kitchen at all, at least to see what Florio and Meagher were up to.
The soup didn't seem like quite enough. I explored the refrigerator and the cupboards, and found the ingredients for my friend Fran's luscious, high-cholesterol muffins. I shifted into hyper-speed, trying to get the muffins in the oven so they'd be done when the soup was ready. Dom followed me around, passing me things as I needed them, asking his questions and listening carefully to my answers.
"How did Eve get along with her mother?"
"That's a loaded question."
"I don't think so," he said. "I just want your opinion. I'm going to ask other people the same questions I'm asking you. You know that."
"Right," I said, "I'm an expert informant in murder cases. Trained by old what's-his-name himself." He frowned at that, and I was sorry I'd said it. It wasn't that I didn't want to help, it's just that what the police saw as routine questions I saw as an invasion of privacy. A necessary invasion, I knew, but I still hated to be the one to answer them. It's not easy to share the details of a friend's personal life with a stranger. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm just not very comfortable with this whole scene. Talking about Eve here in her own house, so soon after..." I said.
"The first few days are critical," he reminded me, so I tried to answer his questions.
"Anyway, Detective, it's not a short-answer question. And I can only speak for the past. I haven't seen much of Eve the last few years."
"You're not expected to produce the correct answer," he reminded me, "just information."
"It isn't easy to be the daughter of a beautiful woman," I said, "and Helene Streeter was beautiful. It isn't easy to be the daughter of two shrinks, and both of Eve's parents are... were... shrinks. It isn't easy to be the only child of two parents who feel obligated to produce a psychologically perfect specimen. And it isn't easy to be the daughter of a strident feminist. Eve and Helene had disagreements. Helene pressured Eve to confide in her; she wanted to know the details of Eve's life. When Eve was younger, Helene tried to run her life. She and Cliff both wanted to have a dialogue about everything. They discussed things to death, demanded confidences and intimacy when Eve needed privacy and independence. It was more complicated than I'm making it seem. I'm sure you realize that. They were also busy professionals and Eve was alone too much. It was sort of an all-or-nothing thing. Eve dealt with it by lying. She told them what they wanted to hear. Their relationship was no picnic, but whatever their differences, Eve loved her mother."
I switched the oven to 425, got out a muffin tin, greased it, and dumped stuff into a bowl, stirring the blueberries in carefully so they wouldn't turn the muffins gray.
"What is that stuff?" he asked, looking over my shoulder.