After a year of marriage, Judge Deborah Knott and Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant are off to New York City for a long-delayed honeymoon. January might not be the perfect time to take a bite of the Big Apple, but Dwight's sister-in-law has arranged for them to stay in her Upper West Side apartment for a week.
Deborah had been asked to deliver a package to Lieutenant Sigrid Harald of the NYPD from Sigrid's Colleton County grandmother. But when the homicide detective comes to pick it up, the package is missing and the building's super is found murdered. Now despite their desire to enjoy a blissful winter getaway, Deborah and Dwight must team up with Lt. Harald to catch the killer before he strikes again.
About the Author
Later, her Deborah Knott novels Up Jumps the Devil, Storm Track, and Three-Day Town each also won the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Margaret is also the author of the Sigrid Harald series of detective novels. In 2008, Maron received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the highest civilian honor the state bestows on its authors. And in 2013, the Mystery Writers of America celebrated Maron's contributions to the mystery genre by naming her a Grand Master an honor first bestowed on Agatha Christie. To find out more about her, you can visit MargaretMaron.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Margaret Maron
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2012 Margaret Maron
All right reserved.
Neither is it the place to get the best cab accommodations. The horses are street-car derelicts, the harness gives evidence of disintegration, the carriage and the shabby unshaven driver are usually the worse for wear. One resolves not to be bothered by such small matters.
—The New New York, John C. Van Dyke, 1909
Dwight paced the kitchen, muttering about school buses that clog our morning roads and how we were going to miss our train if I didn’t quit dawdling and what the hell was taking me so long, but I had a mental list of what had to be done before we could leave and I was determined to check every item twice even though we were a couple of weeks past Christmas and I wasn’t Santa Claus.
Cal and a week’s worth of clean clothes over to Kate and Rob’s. Check.
Bandit and a week’s worth of terrier chow to Daddy. Check.
Amtrak tickets in Dwight’s jacket pocket. Check.
Keys to Kate’s Manhattan apartment on both our keychains. Check.
Cosmetics and warm clothes packed. Check.
(“One new wool hat. Check,” whispered the preacher, who lurks on the edge of my subconscious and approves of all things useful.)
(“And one new black negligee,” chortled the pragmatist, who shares the space and has his own opinion as to what is useful.)
All perishables out of the refrigerator. Check.
Gas turned off at the tank. Check.
“Let’s go, shug.”
“One more minute,” I pleaded. “I know we’re forgetting something important.”
“That’s what phones are for. Anything we forget to do, we can call Mama or one of the boys and they’ll come take care of it.”
True. My brothers and I do have keys to each other’s houses. Nevertheless…
Reluctantly, I let Dwight herd me out into the frigid winter air.
After a full year of marriage, we were finally going to have a honeymoon. His sister-in-law Kate’s first husband had been a successful investment banker on Wall Street. After Jake’s death, she had moved down to his family farm here in our neighborhood, where she met and married Dwight’s younger brother Rob, a Raleigh attorney. She had kept the apartment in Manhattan, though, and rented it furnished to a Frenchman whose business interests took him to Europe several times a year. Part of the rental agreement was that Kate would have the use of the apartment whenever he was away, which was how she could give us a week in New York as a Christmas present.
“January may not be the best time of year,” Rob had teased us, “but you’ll have your love to keep you warm.”
We were in Dwight’s pickup and halfway down our long driveway before I finally remembered.
“That package!” I cried. “We have to go back! I forgot Mrs. Lattimore’s package.”
He kept his foot on the gas. “No, you didn’t. Your suitcase looked pretty full, so I stuck it in mine.”
Relieved, I leaned back in my seat and watched the sun edge up over the horizon. It sparkled on frost-covered fields planted in winter rye and turned bare oak branches into lacy Victorian silhouettes against the early morning sky as Dwight pointed the truck toward Raleigh. He glanced over at me and smiled.
“You look like a kid on her way to a party.”
I smiled back at him. “That’s exactly how I feel.”
Most of the time I love my life, but a whole week with no work and no family? Just Dwight and me alone together in New York? A long-bed Chevy pickup is nothing like a pumpkin coach, but I really did feel like Cinderella on her way to a ball.
Best of all, my happily-ever-after Prince Charming was driving the horses.
The Amtrak station lies on the south side of Raleigh and it was crowded with passengers waiting for the Silver Star. Although today would be my very first train trip, I had already decided it was better than flying.
Dwight found a space for the truck just a few steps from the station door. No parking decks or fees. No security lines, no taking off our shoes, no X-raying of luggage, although I wouldn’t have minded seeing what was inside the small package we were taking to New York for Jane Lattimore, one of Kate’s elderly connections.
She had handed it to me at Kate and Rob’s Christmas dinner party and asked me to carry it up to her daughter in New York. No hint as to what it could be and too securely wrapped in heavy brown paper and tied with carpenter’s string for me to sneak a look. Longer than it was wide and surprisingly heavy, the package could have held a tall can of beer or a jar of the white lightning my daddy used to make, except that it didn’t gurgle.
Or rattle either, for that matter.
Okay, yeah, I did shake it. Hey, if they’re strip-searching little old ladies at the airports, who’s not to say a strong-willed old lady couldn’t be sending a bomb north?
Mrs. Lattimore is rather wealthy and had once been a very large fish in our small-pond end of the county. She and my Stephenson grandfather were second or third cousins, once removed—a kinship so tenuous as to be meaningless anywhere except in the South. My mother had used that kinship to get Mrs. Lattimore’s support for enriched school programs, but there was no social interaction. The Lattimores were connected by wealth and marriage to some of the leading families in the mid-Atlantic states, while Mother had forfeited any Junior League aspirations when she married the area’s biggest bootlegger. Growing up, she may have known the three Lattimore daughters, but they had scattered as soon as they reached college age and began impressive careers in other states. Some of the grandchildren used to come for a week or two in the summer, but they kept to themselves behind the iron railings that surrounded the large Queen Anne–style house.
I had briefly met the daughter I was supposed to give the package to. Anne Lattimore Harald is a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist, and the museum in Raleigh exhibited her work a few years ago. Kate introduced me at the opening reception, but there’s no way she would have remembered me among so many that night.
Kate’s first husband had been more closely related to the Lattimores than my weak link, and Kate kept a sort of a watching brief on Mrs. Lattimore, a thankless task since the elderly autocrat had sworn her to secrecy as her physical condition deteriorated. “She knows her daughters would try to bully her into more chemotherapy,” Kate said, when I told her that I’d been commissioned to take something to New York because Dwight is a deputy sheriff.
“Aunt Jane’s been sorting through the house and labeling everything so that they will know who’s to get what when the time comes. Even her jewelry and her silver and her antique furniture. What could be so valuable that she’d risk letting Anne know how sick she is just so she could be sure it got to her safely?”
That Christmas dinner was the first time I’d seen Mrs. Lattimore in months and I’d been shocked by her fragility.
According to Kate, Mrs. Lattimore was convinced that chemo would only give her a few extra months. Miserable months at that. With no desire to prolong the inevitable, she intended to wait until it was clearly too late before telling her children.
“She doesn’t want to spend the last year of her life bald and wretched,” said Kate, “and the older I get, the more I think she has a right to make that decision for herself.”
Chemotherapy has probably advanced tremendously in the twenty-one years since Mother died, but remembering how nauseated, weak, and physically depleted she was by the end of that summer, I could understand Mrs. Lattimore’s reasoning. All the same, difficult as it had been for me to watch Mother struggle and suffer, the memory of that summer is precious to me, and I thought it was unfair of Mrs. Lattimore not to give her daughters the choice of being there with her while she was still able to enjoy them.
Not my decision, though. Unless I was asked a direct question by Mrs. Harald, I didn’t plan to say a word.
From far down the track, the train’s airhorn sounded absurdly like the whistle of the toy train Cal and I had given Dwight for Christmas. My stepson wasn’t unhappy about spending the week with Kate and Rob’s three children, but he was wistful about missing a train ride. At its approach, I was swept up in the same happy anticipation as the other passengers who watched the huge engine ease to a stop. No puffs of steam like the toy train, but the brakes did make a satisfactory squeal.
Soon we were wheeling our suitcases down the aisle to a pair of comfortable seats beside wide windows. Dwight stowed our things on the capacious overhead rack and snagged a couple of pillows for our necks. Legroom was at least half again what you get on a plane and there were even adjustable leg- and footrests. I know it wasn’t the Polar Express, but I could have sworn that the conductor who came around to punch our tickets looked a bit like a black Tom Hanks.
As we pulled out of Raleigh, the last call for breakfast came over the intercom and Dwight and I lurched down to the dining car, where we shared a table with a couple who had celebrated their thirtieth anniversary with a week in Florida and were now on their way back to Brooklyn. Over scrambled eggs and French toast, they gave us a list of must-do things while we were in New York. We added their suggestions to the list we’d drawn up, then they headed back to the sleeper cars and we returned to our coach.
When Dwight insisted that I take the window, I didn’t argue. I put my seat back, adjusted the pillow, and watched the landscape roll past till I fell asleep to the rhythm of the wheels. When I woke, we had stopped in Rocky Mount. Dwight’s own seat was as far back as it would go, his eyes were closed, and his long body was almost a straight line. Neither of us had slept more than four hours the night before. I’m a district court judge and my calendar had been jammed as we played catch-up after the holidays. Dwight is second in command at the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department and he, too, had put in extra hours so that he could take this week off with a clear conscience.
Carefully, so as not to wake him, I turned my head on the pillow and studied his face, a face I had known since infancy. Indeed, he was there the day I was born. Daddy had rounded up all the boys in the yard that hot August day, packed them in the back of his pickup, and hauled them over to the hospital. After eleven sons, he was so tickled to have a daughter that he’d been sure the boys would want to see me, too, whether they were his sons or friends of his sons. Dwight swears he remembers seeing me held up to the nursery window. My twin brothers don’t. “All I recall is that Daddy stopped on the way home and bought everybody ice cream cones to celebrate,” says Zach.
“First time we ever had pistachio,” says Adam.
“And it’s not like babies were real rare in our family,” Will says when the subject comes up. “But pistachio ice cream cones? Now they were few and far between.”
“Only reason I remember,” says Dwight with a teasing grin, “is that I’d tasted pistachio ice cream before, so you were the only thing new to me that day.”
Except for his height, nothing about him is particularly memorable—ordinary nose, strong jawline, clear brown eyes, straight brown hair with an obstinate cowlick at the crown.
For years, he was just good ol’ dependable Dwight, a handy escort when I was between men, a convenient shoulder to cry on when a love affair went sour, and certainly not someone who had ever made my heart flutter. Then, out of the blue, he proposed to me last year. I thought it would be a marriage of convenience for both of us, but to my complete and utter surprise, after a lifetime of taking him for granted, I found myself falling wildly in love. It was like taking a second look at a chunk of glass and discovering a diamond.
“Do I pass inspection?” he asked in a lazy voice with his eyes still closed.
“Absolutely,” I said and tucked myself under his arm. With my head nestled on his chest, we both fell asleep again.
When we finally awoke for good, we were well into Virginia. In Washington, our diesel engine was changed over for an electric one, which gave us enough time to go up into Union Station and grab sandwiches to take back to our seats.
While Dwight worked on a proposal the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department planned to present to the county commissioners at their February meeting, I took out my laptop to review some of the work that would be waiting for me when I got back. Most of the cases were routine, but I was truly conflicted about a custody battle that loomed on my calendar. Jenny and Max Benton are both casual friends, which is the trouble with living and working your whole life in a small town that’s also the county seat. All my judicial colleagues know the Bentons one way or another and several are related through blood or marriage. I tried to recuse myself from their case when it was first assigned, but they both wanted me and they both swore they would abide by whatever ruling I made without bitching about it afterwards.
I’m cynical enough to know that won’t happen. Jenny’s probably counting on the fact that we serve on a charitable board together and often have lunch with some of the other members after the meetings. Max, on the other hand, has been my insurance agent ever since I had anything worth insuring. When my car was totaled last year, he got me the maximum from the underwriter and expedited the process.
Both work full-time, but Jenny’s a control freak and a micromanager, who would drive me crazy if she had any say in my life. She’s devoted to Jamie, the sixteen-year-old in dispute. Very conscientious about his well-being. Too conscientious, say some. She never gives him a chance to fail, and he would probably be a neurotic mess without the leavening influence of his dad.
Max is more laid-back. An ad hoc guy, he takes life as it comes and each day is filled with mostly happy surprises for him, thanks to an efficient secretary who keeps his workday on track. He loves the outdoors and takes the boy fishing and camping whenever they can sneak away—activities too unstructured for Jenny to join them.
On the face of it, Max would be the better custodial parent of a teenage boy, but Max is also a high-functioning alcoholic who has no desire to exchange malt liquor for Adam’s ale. I’m told that he usually limits himself to a single shot of scotch every evening, but once or twice a year he goes on monumental benders that can last a week.
Overprotective mother or unpredictable father?
I’m sure their lawyers will present both arguments and everyone will expect the wisdom of Solomon. I just hope I don’t have to get out my sword.
Our train pulled into New York right on schedule, a little after seven. Here at the tail end of rush hour, Penn Station was a confusion of shops and exits, and the space swarmed with people who all seemed to know exactly where they were going. I hadn’t been there in several years and would have stopped to savor the scene if Dwight hadn’t already been heading toward the Eighth Avenue escalator for a cab going uptown.
A short and skinny teenage boy might have fit into the backseat of the first taxi, but there was no way Dwight’s long legs would. The second one was only marginally better, so Dwight slid into the front seat, which left me in possession of all the windows in the rear. Rather dirty windows actually, but I didn’t care. By the time we got up to Kate’s apartment in the West Seventies, I almost had whiplash from trying not to miss a single neon sign.
The cab let us out in front of the building’s nondescript brick exterior, a block off Broadway, and we stepped into a frigid wind straight off the Hudson River. It stung our cheeks and almost blew Dwight’s hat off. The inner door was locked, but before we could ring, an elderly gentleman was leaving and he courteously held the door open for us. Inside the lobby, the elevator man watched as we approached, trailing our roller bags behind us across a floor tiled in earth-tone ceramic squares. A hair or two taller than me and trim in a dark brown uniform, he had skin the color of weak tea, his dark hair was going gray, and he wore a pencil-thin gray mustache above narrow lips that pursed in disapproval. A brass name tag identified him as Sidney.
“Does Mr. Gorman know you?”
“The man who just left?” asked Dwight. “No.”
“He should not have let you in.” He spoke sternly in an accent that sounded slightly Asian to me. “No one is supposed to enter this building without proper identification.”
I tried not to smile. This Sidney had a wiry, muscular build as if he worked out regularly, but unless he had a black belt in martial arts, no way could he have physically stopped someone Dwight’s size once he was inside the lobby.
Instead of arguing, Dwight simply flipped open his wallet and held out his driver’s license. “I believe Kate Bryant, the owner of 6-A, notified the super that we were coming?”
“Mrs. Bryant? Oh. You mean Mrs. Honeycutt that was.” He squinted at Dwight’s ID, then reluctantly stepped aside so we could enter the elevator.
Almost immediately, five more people pushed through the outer lobby door, two women and three men. Like us they were muffled and hatted against the icy wind. Laughing and chattering, they greeted Sidney by name as they converged on the elevator. The alpha female pushed back the fur-lined hood of her black parka and let a cascade of blonde hair swing free. Her face was too long and thin and her chin a bit too pointed for conventional beauty, but from the indulgent smile she was getting from ol’ Sidney, she could have been a glamorous A-list movie star. There was a familiar lilt to her voice, and for a moment I wondered if I had indeed seen her before. If not on the big screen, maybe television?
Dwight and I stepped back and pushed our bags closer together. Even so, there was no room for all of them.
“Sorry, boys. You’ll have to wait,” the blonde said as she pulled the other woman, a small brunette, into the car with her. One of them wore a delicate spicy scent that contrasted pleasantly with the smell of cold wool.
The blonde gave us a friendly smile and then read the tag on my suitcase with blatant curiosity. “Cotton Grove, North Carolina? Where’s that? Anywhere near Charlotte?”
“A few miles south of Raleigh,” I said.
“Cam’s from North Carolina,” she said. “Do you know him?”
“Cameron Broughton. One of the left-behinds in the lobby.”
I hadn’t looked closely at any of the men although Cameron and Broughton are both prominent names in the state. I glanced up at Dwight, who gave a negative shrug.
“Sorry,” I said.
“It’s a big state, Luna,” said the other woman with an amused shake of her head. “You’ll have to excuse her. Cam’s got her thinking that everybody in the South knows everyone else. Or is related if you go back far enough.”
“Well, just look at yesterday,” the blonde said as if scoring a definite point. She turned back to us. “Two couples came out of the hotel down the block, and just as we were passing, they realized that they were all from North Carolina and that one of them was the sister-in-law to the other woman’s cousin. Cam says it happens anytime four Southerners get together. There’s never the full six degrees of separation.”
In keeping with the Arts and Crafts ambiance of the lobby, the small elevator was probably original to the building. Sidney had manually closed the brass accordion-type gate before turning a thick brass lever that let us rise. Once we left the lobby’s fixed door, there was nothing between the gate and the ugly concrete shaft. We passed the numbered floors and stopped in front of the door marked with a large black 6.
The two women exited and Sidney unbent enough to tell us that 6-A was on the right, which made the blonde called Luna turn back with renewed interest.
“You’re staying in Jordy Lacour’s place? Cool! We’re neighbors. How long will you be here?”
“Just a week,” I told her.
“Then we’ll be seeing you again,” she said.
They went on down the hall to the apartment at the other end and Sidney did not linger to watch us open the door, which was just as well, given how long it would have taken us to figure out which key turned which of the two locks. I had forgotten how most city dwellers have more than one on their doors and I had a sudden flashback to the law student I’d lived with after Mother died when I dropped out of school and ran away from home. The door of Lev Schuster’s West Village efficiency had three locks and a deadbolt and his jaw used to tighten if I left any of them unlocked.
In the end it didn’t matter, because Dwight had barely inserted the first key before the knob turned and a stocky man filled the open doorway. His dark brown coveralls were the same shade as Sidney’s uniform and his own brass name tag read PHIL. Unlike Sidney, who was so sleek and trim he could have stepped off a wedding cake, this middle-aged man filled his coveralls to the bursting point with lumpy bulges. His hair was a tangle of salt-and-ginger curls that probably sneered at combs. His square face was clean-shaven, but his bushy eyebrows more than made up for it. Like the hair on his head, his brows were so thick and wiry they reminded me of woolly bear caterpillars foretelling a hard winter. His nose looked as if it’d been broken at least once, but his smile was welcoming.
“You the people Miz Bryant said was coming?” He had a smoker’s gravelly voice but no smoky odor emanated from his coveralls.
“That’s right,” said Dwight. “And you are?”
“Phil Lundigren. I’m the super here. There was a leak in 7-A and I was checking to make sure it didn’t come through the ceiling.” He reached for the handle of my suitcase. “Here, let me give you a hand with that.”
He led us through the vestibule and down a short hall into the master bedroom, switching on more lights as we went. He wasn’t particularly tall, but there was strength in his bulky frame, for he carried my heavy bag as if it were a feather and gently deposited it inside the door.
“My wife cleans for some of the owners and she came in yesterday after Mr. Lacour left and changed the sheets and towels. I didn’t find any water damage, but you folks might want to keep an eye out and call me if you see any damp spots on the ceilings, okay? My number’s there by the house phone and my apartment’s on the ground floor around from the elevator.”
He explained how to adjust the radiators and opened a service door off the kitchen to show us where to leave our garbage after we had separated out the paper, glass, and tins. He told us how the keys worked and how to buzz someone in, and warned us not to let anyone in that we didn’t know. After saying there was a grocery around the corner on Broadway, he finally took himself off so that we could explore the apartment for ourselves.
There were two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, separate dining room, and, unexpectedly, French doors that opened off the living room onto a tiny balcony. Two chairs might fit out there in nice weather, but they’d have to be awfully small ones. Leaning over the iron railing, we could make out the upper end of Broadway, half a block over. Knots of people passed on the sidewalks while yellow cabs weaved in and out of the lanes, missing each other by inches. The horns, the lights, the wail of a fire truck—all added to the exhilaration of being in one of the world’s great cities.
“It’s freezing out here,” Dwight said and we stepped back into the warmth of the apartment.
“First things first,” I said as I slung my coat and scarf on the back of the black leather couch. “I’ll call Mrs. Lattimore’s daughter and—”
“No,” said Dwight, taking me into his arms. “First thing is to remember that this is our honeymoon.”
It was after 9:30 before we were ready to think about food. The refrigerator was empty except for a stick of butter, a bottle of salad dressing, and six different kinds of mustard. Rather than go out for supper, we bundled up and headed around to Broadway to find the grocery store the super had described.
Here on a freezing Friday night, Fairway’s aisles were as crowded as our local grocery would have been on a warm Saturday morning. Of course, these aisles and carts were only half as wide as ours, but the shelves and cases were piled high with exotic delicacies of every description. One corner was filled by a dozen different varieties of olives in open barrels, hundreds of cheeses were stacked in another section. Hot foods, cold cuts, salads, baked goods, custards—we hardly knew where to begin. Every turning brought unfamiliar smells and entrancing temptations.
In the end, our eyes were limited by how much we thought we could carry, and we went back to the apartment with eggplant parmigiana, ravioli, artichoke salad, a small packet of bruschetta, and a Washington State merlot.
“We can come back tomorrow for milk and juice,” Dwight said, happily taking it all in. I tried not to roll my eyes. This was his honeymoon, too, and if he finds grocery stores more entertaining than I do, who am I to complain? Especially since Kate had given me the addresses of a few specialty shops more to my own liking.
By the time we finished eating and stashed the remains in the refrigerator, I decided it was too late to call Anne Harald.
“I’ll do it first thing in the morning,” I said through a barely suppressed yawn, and we were soon back in bed.
This time to sleep.
And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Among the detached sculpture in the parks and streets, bad as much of it always was… there are still some notable examples which people do not care to forget.
—The New New York, 1909
We slept till after eight the next morning, and while Dwight went out for coffee and breakfast rolls, I checked my email.
Cal wrote that he and Mary Pat had made 100s on their end-of-the-week spelling test and that he was now one level higher than she on one of their long-running computer games. Both of them were going to a classmate’s birthday party the next day.
My friend Portland had finally uploaded some of the pictures she’d taken of her year-old daughter at Christmas. She and Avery named her Carolyn Deborah, and one of the pictures showed her wearing the red plaid dress I’d given her.
Minnie, the sister-in-law who is my campaign advisor, wrote that barring a last-minute surprise, I wasn’t going to have to run an all-out campaign for reelection.
“She says that Paul Archdale’s decided not to run for my seat after all,” I told Dwight when he returned.
“Probably knows he’d be wasting his time and money,” said my loyal spouse, busily unloading plastic bags from Fairway Market onto the kitchen counter.
The smell of freshly ground coffee and warm bagels made my mouth water. Dwight set out milk, orange juice, a block of cream cheese, several slices of smoked salmon, and a small jar of wild strawberry jam. I opened another bag to see an applesauce muffin, a turnover oozing with blackberries, and a little wedge of Brie. A third bag held more packets of deli items.
I shook my head. “All this for breakfast? I’m not letting you go back to that store.”
He laughed. “Try and stop me. You call Mrs. Lattimore’s daughter yet?”
“I’ll do it right now,” I said and scrolled through the list of names on my cell phone’s contact list till I came to Anne Harald.
There were the usual chirps and blips and then four long rings before I heard a woman’s voice say, “You’ve reached Anne and Mac’s answering machine. If you need to reach Anne or Mac before February, find a pencil. Got it? Okay, listen up, ’cause here comes the number to call.”
By then I had grabbed a pen from Dwight’s shirt pocket and scribbled the number on my hand, a 212 area code, which meant it was right here in Manhattan.
A few minutes later, I was listening to a second answering machine message. A different woman’s voice crisply instructed me to leave a short message and a callback number. There was no promise that she would actually call back, but I dutifully gave my number and explained that I was trying to deliver a package to Anne Harald from her mother in North Carolina, but—
At that point the answering machine cut off and left me with nothing but a dial tone.
Exasperated, I ended the connection and helped Dwight finish putting our breakfast together.
The coffee was even better than the aroma promised, and I’d forgotten how delicious toasted onion bagels are with a thick schmeer of cream cheese. I couldn’t decide whether to top mine off with smoked salmon or the wild strawberry jam, so what the hell? I cut it in half and had some of each. Yum!
I told myself I didn’t need to worry about waddling onto the train home, because the city encourages walking. All the New Yorkers I’ve ever known walk miles more than country people, who tend to jump into a car or truck if it’s more than a few hundred feet. Once again, memory stretched back across the years to the winter I spent here with Lev Schuster. A penniless law student, I knew he couldn’t afford cabs, but “Can’t we at least take a bus?” I would whine, only to have him look at me in surprise that I would waste money on a bus when the restaurant or museum or library was only fifteen or twenty blocks away. I grew to hate crosstown blocks, which are two to four times longer than the north–south blocks, and I planned to reacquaint myself with the bus and subway systems as soon as possible.
“What do you want to do first?” Dwight asked me when I emerged from the bedroom warmly dressed in wool slacks, sweater, and sturdy shoes made for walking.
We both had lists of things to do, restaurants to try, and exhibits to see. He wanted to reconnect with an old Army buddy who taught at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and had promised to give Dwight a tour of the place next time he was up.
I had already decided that would be a good time to check out some of the stores along Fifth Avenue. But for today?
“Let’s take a bus down to Columbus Circle. I want to see that exhibit of Madeleine Albright’s pins.”
“Pins,” I said firmly. “Brooches. They’re not just girly stuff. I’ve read that when she was secretary of state, she used her pins to set the mood for some of her negotiations. We don’t have to stay long if you get bored, I promise.”
Bundled up against the cold, we were waiting for the elevator when the door at the end of the hallway opened and the blonde from the night before appeared. She wore a fuzzy pink sweater over flannel pajama bottoms and her bedroom slippers were stitched with pink rhinestones.
“Oh, good!” she said in her maddeningly familiar gurgling voice. “I was going to slip this under your door but now I can just hand it to you. I’m having a party tonight and I’d adore for you to come.” As the elevator door opened, she gave that impish, slightly conspiratorial smile we were coming to know. “If you’re part of the party, you won’t complain about the noise.”
“You’ll get enough complaints from five and seven,” today’s young elevator man warned her.
“Oh, pooh, Antoine! Who cares about them?” She turned back to us. “Things should get under way around nine-ish and I won’t take no for an answer.”
“We’d love to,” I said before Dwight could think of an excuse to decline.
“That one and her parties,” Antoine said with a grin as he pulled the cage closed. He didn’t look much older than the girl. Of medium height with a reedy build, he had honey brown skin, a very short Afro, and what the kids at home call a chinstrap beard, a narrow line of facial hair that followed the contour of his jaw. “They’ll have her up before the board again, you mark my words.” Those words carried a faint Jamaican accent.
“A New York party!” I told Dwight as we stepped out into the frigid morning sunlight. “A rowdy New York party. It’ll be fun.”
He gave me a jaundiced look, finished reading the invitation, and stuck it in an inner pocket of his parka before pulling on his gloves. “Luna DiSimone. Why does that name sound familiar?”
It did, but I couldn’t place the name either. “We’ll Google her when we get back,” I said.
We hurried down Broadway to the nearest subway station so that we could buy fare cards for the bus and trains. From behind, a sharp wind pushed us along, and I would have moaned about it except that I noticed that the people we passed who were heading into the wind all seemed to have their hats pulled low and their scarves high. The wind whipped tears into their eyes and gave everyone red noses. I turned up the collar on my coat, rewrapped my scarf an extra turn around the back of my neck, and tried to match Dwight’s long strides. No sauntering for him either.
The exhibit of Madeleine Albright’s pins at the Museum of Arts and Design had so much historical documentation that Dwight almost forgot that they were costume jewelry and enjoyed the witty symbolism. Who knew that woman had such a sense of humor?
From there, we rode a bus down to Chinatown, where we turned into full-out gawking tourists. We bought toys for Cal and his cousins and lengths of exquisite red-and-gold silk for Kate and for Dwight’s mother, who both like to sew. I saw a charming tea set that was almost beautiful enough to convert me from iced tea, but reason prevailed, to Dwight’s relief. Both of us were already loaded down.
Lunch was dim sum at a place that wasn’t much bigger than a broom closet, but the shrimp dumplings were perfection. When we came out of the restaurant, the temperature had dropped even further, although the wind had died down a bit. The sky clouded over and a light rain began to fall. Mindful of our heavy paper shopping bags, we headed for the subway and arrived at our stop on the Upper West Side minutes before the rain began in earnest.
“As long as it’s not snow,” we told each other as we rode up in the elevator.
“Eighty-five percent chance of snow before midnight,” Antoine told us cheerfully. “Hope the weather doesn’t spoil your visit.”
Back in the apartment, I realized I had left my phone on the kitchen counter and discovered I had a voice message from that 212 number: “This is Sigrid Harald. I believe you have something of my grandmother’s for my mother? Please call me before four o’clock.”
I glanced at my watch. Ten till four. I hastily punched in the numbers and this time was answered on the first ring.
I explained who I was and that Mrs. Lattimore had sent something to her daughter.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea. It’s a small but rather heavy little box.”
Sounding clearly puzzled, Ms. Harald said, “I wonder why she sent it up now when she knew my mother was going to be away for six weeks?”
“I gather she didn’t want to trust FedEx or UPS and she knows my husband is a sheriff’s deputy.”
“And you know my grandmother how?”
“I think we’re distantly related through her Stephenson kin,” I said, realizing how stereotypically Southern I must sound to this no-nonsense voice. “But we’re staying for a week in Kate Bryant’s apartment because she’s married to my husband’s brother and—”
“Oh yes. Now I remember. Kate said you’re a judge, right?”
“Right.” Jake Honeycutt, Kate’s first husband, was Mrs. Lattimore’s nephew, and Kate had kept in touch with his people for her young Jake’s sake.
“Look, my mother’s in New Zealand and I have an appointment down here in the Village in a half hour. Would you mind opening the package and telling me what it is?”
“No problem,” I assured her, happy to have permission to satisfy my own curiosity. “Hang on a minute.”
There were scissors in a pencil jar on the kitchen counter and a few snips revealed a sturdy cardboard box. Inside, something was swaddled in newsprint and bubble wrap, and inside that—
“Dear Lord in the morning!” I said before I could stop myself. I’m not a prude. I’ve leafed through the Kama Sutra and I’ve seen my share of naked men, but this was not something I would ever have expected from someone as proper as Mrs. Lattimore.
It was a bronze statuette, about six or seven inches tall, roughly cylindrical, and so intricately modeled that it took me a minute to sort out the intertwined arms and legs and other bodily appendages and to decide exactly where those appendages were and what they were doing. Dwight glanced up from our digital camera, where he was reviewing the pictures we’d taken that day, did a double take, and then grinned broadly as he snapped several shots of me turning that thing in my hand.
“What is it?” I heard Ms. Harald ask.
“Um… uh…” I examined it up, down, and sideways, and each view was more lascivious than the last.
Dwight took it from my hand and pointed out a particularly inventive position. “We should try that one,” he murmured with an exaggerated leer.
I put my hand over the mouthpiece to hide my laughter. “In your dreams.”
“Mrs. Bryant?” The woman’s voice was becoming impatient.
“It’s a little statuette,” I said. “Looks like bronze.”
“A statuette? Of what?”
“Well, I think it’s three men.” Even as I spoke, I discovered at least two more faces and another penis amid the tangle of arms and legs.
“You ‘think’? Is it abstract?”
“Oh, no,” I assured her. “It’s realistic. Very realistic. It appears to be several naked men who are”—I searched for an appropriate word—“who are… um… pleasuring each other.”
Dwight chuckled, but there was blank silence from the other end.
“And my grandmother sent this to my mother? Perhaps I should come up this evening after all. Would ten or ten-thirty be too late?”
“Not at all,” I assured her. “But someone down the hall has invited us to a party at nine. You might ought to follow the noise and check for us there first. I’ll be wearing a red sweater.”
“Then I will see you at ten-thirty,” said Ms. Harald.
They make quite an animated throng as they enter the vestibules or crowd the staircase, or foyer, bowing and chatting to each other, all smiling, all newly garbed, all on pleasure bent.
—The New New York, 1909
Despite all the jokes about Chinese food never filling you up, I wasn’t hungry enough to go splashing out in the rain for dinner. It was coming down quite hard now, but Dwight volunteered to go get us something light from the market’s deli section and said that as long as he was going, he’d pick up a bottle of wine to take over to the party.
We had Googled Luna DiSimone and found some YouTube videos. In the first batch, she and three other kids sang along with Big Bird about the letter J and the number 6. (It was probably catty of me to notice that her hair was a rabbity brown back then.) After leaving Sesame Street, she had played bit parts in several short-lived television series, and three years ago had starred in a bad movie that went straight to DVD. There was a mention of voice-over commercials for a hotel chain and I realized that’s why her lilting voice sounded so familiar.
Kate had given me a key to her owner’s closet and told me to help myself to any of the clothes or supplies I found there. Most days, I just hop in and out of the shower, but with almost four hours till party time, I filled the tub, dumped in some of Kate’s bubble bath for a good long soak, then wrapped myself in her fleecy robe and took a short nap.
Luna DiSimone’s party was well cranked up by nine o’clock and even before we opened our door to join them, we heard laughter and loud talk. Two long metal coat racks now lined the hallway and people were chatting to each other as they hung up their outdoor winter wear. Most of them seemed to be wearing khaki shorts, short-sleeved Hawaiian print shirts, or, in the case of several women, brightly printed sarongs. I watched one woman kick off her boots and slip her bare feet into a pair of orange rubber flip-flops. The door to the third apartment on this floor stood open, too, and as we passed the elevator, it disgorged three ukulele players who strummed a corny Hawaiian tune. They were dressed in frayed straw hats and raggedy jeans.
I clutched Dwight’s arm. “Aren’t they with the Steffingtons?”
Dwight shrugged. He’s not into rock bands, but I’d gone to a Steffingtons concert last summer with some of my nieces and nephews and I was pretty certain that at least two of the ukulele players usually played guitars with that band.
“Keep an eye on them, and I’ll get the camera,” I said and darted back inside the apartment. Dwight had left it on the kitchen counter next to that obscene little statue, and a moment later I was following the flow on down to the end apartment.
Here in dreary, cold, and wet January, it was like stepping into a beach house, a very crowded beach house, even though I later learned that two walls had been knocked out to create the large main room. White rattan chairs and couches were piled deep with coral, hot pink, and lime green cushions. Airy white sheers fell to a whitewashed plank floor bare of rugs. A huge seascape, framed in what looked like bleached driftwood, hung over a white brick fireplace that was filled with a rainbow assortment of candles. Their citronella smell evoked summer evenings on a patio. The ukulele players had staked out that corner. One had a sandaled foot propped on a green Adirondack chair as he strummed and sang in a sweet tenor voice. I wasn’t the only one taking pictures. Several other people had their phones aimed at the group, too.
Dwight and I edged our way through animated clusters of guests and eventually found our hostess and two men lounging amid colorful soft cushions in an old-fashioned white wicker porch swing suspended from ceiling hooks. She was barefooted and wore a necklace of bright plastic flowers, a black bikini, and a soft pink terry beach jacket that swung open to reveal a well-toned body. A pink hibiscus was tangled in her long blonde hair. As soon as she saw us, she jumped up with happy little cries.
“I didn’t realize it was a beach party,” I said, feeling more than a little overdressed.
She laughed. “And I didn’t think you’d come if I asked you to wear a bathing suit in January. This is my To Hell With Winter party.” She pulled one of the men to his feet beside her. “And this is Cam. Cameron Broughton. Now tell me your names so we can start figuring out if you’re kin to each other.”
“Don’t be tiresome, Luna,” the man said.
He appeared to be about thirty. Black hair curled around his ears and halfway down his neck. He wore baggy red-plaid shorts, red flip-flops, a green tank top, and blue swim goggles around his neck. Gold wire-rimmed glasses with round lenses of pale blue made him seem young and vulnerable despite the light age lines around his eyes. I always notice eyes and there was something slightly familiar about his, but I couldn’t quite place him.
Dwight and I introduced ourselves.
“Sorry, Luna,” he said. “No Bryants or Knotts in my family tree.”
“And no Broughtons in mine,” said Dwight.
“Mine either,” I said. “Are you related to the Raleigh Broughtons?”
“Not that I know of,” he said, looking down into his empty glass. “All of my people come from Wilmington.”
Before we could pursue it, he excused himself and melted into the crowd. Luna accepted the wine we’d brought and escorted us to the bar, where she left us in the hands of a hired bartender while she went to see what was holding up the caterers and the hors d’oeuvres.
Neither Dwight nor I have ever had trouble talking to strangers, and soon he was in a deep discussion with two bearded men about brewing one’s own beer, while I found myself discussing Madeleine Albright’s pins with two white-haired women, old-line feminists who, after all this time, were still disappointed that Hillary Clinton had wound up as secretary of state instead of president. “I mean, I like the man we got, but damn it all, this was probably our best chance to see a woman president before we die.”
“Speak for yourself, Celia,” said the older of the two. “I’m good for another three election cycles.”
“And you never know but what a woman may head up the other ticket,” I said.
“Oh please!” she exclaimed.
A waiter in a starched white jacket and red-striped bathing trunks offered a tray of shrimp and pineapple chunks on skewers. I took one and moved on, overhearing snatches of conversation I would never hear back in Colleton County.
“—almost landed the role of the roommate in that new ABC sitcom.”
“Forget about getting an eight o’clock reservation before April.”
“He’ll be curating the show at the Arnheim but—”
“—looked all over the Biennale for you. Where the hell did you go?”
“—three bedrooms and still rent-controlled!”
“When she was on Sixty Minutes last week—”
“—paid three million and will be lucky to get a million-five unless—”
Our fellow guests were an eclectic assortment of old and young and most appeared to be connected to the arts. Although Dwight and I were not the only ones wearing seasonally appropriate wool and fleece, most were dressed as if this were indeed a beach house in the middle of summer.
A girl who turned out to be in the chorus of Mamma Mia! suggested that I get tickets for an off-Broadway show that was getting a good buzz, and when a pleasant-faced man heard that Dwight and I were here on our honeymoon, he produced a pair of tickets to a Wednesday matinee of a Gilbert and Sullivan show that he couldn’t attend and insisted that we use them.
Another tray passed by loaded with colorful fruit. I put a toothpick into a cube of melon that was at its peak of sweetness.
By 10:30, the spacious apartment was so crowded that I had lost sight of Dwight altogether. I had also lost count of how many glasses of wine I’d plucked from various passing trays when I found myself shoved into a trio of art enthusiasts who were trashing a new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I apologized for the bump, but one of the men gave me a friendly smile and moved over so I could join them. Late forties, he was tall and angular and wore hiking shoes, pipestem jeans, and a gray tweed jacket over a blue sweatshirt that advertised Yamaha motorcycles.
Before we could introduce ourselves, his eyes lit up and his smile broadened for someone behind me. “Sigrid? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Hello, Elliott. I could ask you the same thing. Actually I’m looking for—”
I turned and there was a tall thin woman, perhaps three or four years older than me, with soft dark curls and wide eyes that were an unusual smoky gray. She smiled as she took in my red cowl-neck sweater. “Judge Bryant?”
“Knott,” I said, holding out my hand. “Deborah Knott. And you must be Sigrid Harald.”
“Sigrid Harald?” There was almost a reverent tone in the voice of a nearby man who had turned around eagerly upon hearing her name. He had a shaved head and wore yellow-rimmed trifocals. “The Sigrid Harald? I’m Charles Rathmann. I’ve been dying to interview you about Oscar Nauman’s last—”
Her gray eyes immediately turned to chips of ice.
“No,” she said before the man could complete his sentence.
The chilly finality of her tone, coupled with the glares he was getting from the storklike man she’d called Elliott, left Rathmann red-faced and defensive. Even the top of his head turned red.
“I do assure you, Ms. Harald—”
“Not now, Rathmann,” the first man said. His tone was mild, but Rathmann must have heard something more, for he muttered a truculent apology to Ms. Harald and melted back into the crowd.
“Elliott Buntrock,” the man said, offering me a firm handshake, “and I gather from your drawl that you’re not from around here.”
I smiled but didn’t answer, because I didn’t know what their relationship was. Kate had told me that Mrs. Lattimore’s granddaughter, a homicide detective with the NYPD, had inherited the large estate of one of the leading artists of the twentieth century. I could imagine just how many Rathmanns must be buzzing around her like a swarm of mosquitoes. Was Buntrock another bloodsucker or a flyswatter?
“Thanks, Elliott.” Her half smile reached her eyes and melted those chips of ice.
“Actually, I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “This is Judge Knott, a friend of my grandmother, who seems to have sent my mother a very odd piece of art. Would you take a look at it?”
“Now?” She looked at me. “I’m sorry to take you away from the party, but—”
“No problem,” I assured her.
Easier said than done for three people to move through that crush of people. Near the doorway, Dwight was in animated conversation with two men—one an African-American, the other of Asian descent—and he brightened when he saw me. “Deb’rah! Look who’s here! This is my old friend Josh Cho.”
“From John Jay College?” I asked, taking the hand of the short, slender man whose military posture and immediate appraisal of me would have ID’d him as former Army Intelligence even if I hadn’t known.
He nodded, but his words were lost beneath all the talk and laughter going on around us. I did make out that the second man was with the New York Police Department and that both of them had worked as consultants on an abortive police drama that was to have starred Luna. When I introduced Elliott Buntrock and Sigrid Harald to Dwight, the second man said, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lieutenant Harald before.”
She smiled at the tall black officer with what was clearly genuine pleasure. “Sergeant Vaughn. You still with the Six-Four over in Brooklyn?”
He nodded. “But it’s lieutenant now, ma’am.”
“I heard you took early retirement?”
“A premature rumor,” she said as she gave me an inquiring look that reminded me that she was not here to socialize.
I explained to Dwight that we were going over to the apartment to get Mrs. Lattimore’s package. He grinned and said he’d see me when I got back.
We murmured the usual pleasantries to the others and eventually worked our way out into the hall, past the coat racks and the open doorway, where the party seemed to have spilled into the other apartment. The hall was blocked by people waiting for the elevator, and we had to step back as more partygoers arrived.
I had my keys in hand as we edged past the revelers toward Kate’s apartment. Once there, though, I was surprised to see that the door was ajar. In my hurry to get back to the party with the camera, I hadn’t thought to check that it was firmly latched.
Out in the kitchen, surprise was soon followed by dismay. “I left it right here on this counter,” I told the other two. “And a pair of gold earrings, too.”
The countertop was now bare except for the box and the wrappings that had swaddled that bronze sculpture.
I hurried into the master bedroom and was relieved to see no sign that the drawers had been opened and rifled. The little silk travel bag with the rest of my jewelry still lay atop the dresser, exposing the gold-and-blue-enamel bracelet I’d brought with me. A posthumous gift sent down through the years from my mother, its value to me was above rubies.
“Anything else missing?” Lieutenant Harald asked.
I darted into the dining room, shivering at the thought of all the lost data. Happily, it was still there on the table.
An instant later, I realized I was shivering as much from cold as from dismay.
“Where’s that draft coming from?” I wondered aloud.
We followed the icy air into the dimly lit living room, where one of the French doors was ajar. Elliott Buntrock crossed the room in long strides and tried to close it.
“Something’s caught in the hinge,” he said and pulled the door toward him to see what it was.
With a foot in it.
Connected to the leg of someone slumped against the railing of the icy marble balcony.
Excerpted from Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Maron. Excerpted by permission.
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