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The Shadow Box / (by Luanne Rice, 2021) -

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The Shadow Box /   (by Luanne Rice, 2021) -

The Shadow Box / (by Luanne Rice, 2021) -

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: 154
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The Shadow Box / (by Luanne Rice, 2021) -
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2021
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Luanne Rice
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Nicol Zanzarella, Jim Frangione
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/ / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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10:37:06
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Shadow Box / :

.doc (Word) luanne_rice_-_the_shadow_box.doc [803 Kb] (c: 3) .
.pdf luanne_rice_-_the_shadow_box.pdf [2.44 Mb] (c: 1) .


: The Shadow Box

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{include file="engine/modules/cuttext.php?txt=
THE ATTACK 1 CLAIRE I died, and I relive my death hourly. Although my absence from the world remains constant, the method changes each time. Could it be that I was strangled, staring past the mask into emotionless eyes as he crushed my larynx with his thumbs? Or was it this rope knotted around my neck? I try to grab onto memories, but they slip away like waves and the receding tide. Nothing is clear, but I feel blood trickling from my head, and I think, yes, he threw me across the garage in a sudden fit of rage, cracking my skull against the Range Rovers right rear bumper, shocked and sorry for what he did. I wonder, Did he try to revive me? Or had he come to kill me, plotting it out in his meticulous way? Had he come armed with his knife, maybe Fords baseball bat, timed my arrival, and patiently waited for me to walk into the garage with my beachcombing treasures? Friday, the start of Memorial Day weekend, and I was feeling so happy. Am I dead? Am I dreaming this? What time is it? Are people showing up for my opening? My best friend manages the gallery. Does she realize yet that Im not coming? Will she send help? A thought shimmers through my mind: I was warned, and I didnt listen. My mind is dull, and my mouth is dry; my face and hands are crusted with blood. The sound of my head being smashed rings in my ears. I hear myself crying. There is a line tied around my neck, chafing the skin raw. I can barely breathe; I try to claw it away. The knot is too tight, and my fingers barely workmy hands are covered with shallow cuts. I see the knife waving, jabbing my hands as I hold them up to block the thrusts. But he didnt stab me. My wrist is raw, not from knife wounds, but from where he yanked my gold watch, a wedding present, over my hand. Im still in the drafty old carriage house we use as our garage. The concrete is solid beneath me, and I taste my own blood: signs that Im still alive. Beside me on the floor are two lengths of splintered wood. My throat is on fire from the ropes pressure. My fingernails break as I struggle to loosen the knot. I pass out on the hard floor. When I come to, I feel cold. Was I out for a minute or an hour or all day and night, and did I die? I try again to tug the line from my neckthat must mean Im not dead. The knot refuses to give. Still on the ground, lying on my back, I stretch my legs and flex my feet. My limbs work. Slowly I pull myself up by the cars bumper; I lean on the rear door, leaving bloody handprints. My palms and fingers and the insides of my wrists are covered with small, almost superficial cuts. An image fills my mind: a knife slashing the air but barely touching me, me punching and slapping and ducking, him laughing. Yes, its coming back now. He wore a black mask. He dangled my watch in front of me, a taunt that seemed to mean something to him but not to me. Let me see your face! I screamed as I fought him. My attacker wore black leather gloves and blue coveralls, the kind mechanics wear, and the mask. So he planned it. It wasnt a bout of sudden rage. He came ready for this. He hid his face and hands, so he couldnt be recognized. But it was his body, tall and lean, and nothing could hide that from me. My husband is Griffin Chase, the states attorney for Easterly County, Connecticut, and a candidate in Novembers gubernatorial election. Smart money says he will be the next governor, and there is a lot of money, a fortune, in his war chest: he has big donors, and he has made promises to all of them. He studies the cases he prosecutes. He tells me what the husbands did wrong and that he would never make those mistakes. Griffin convicts violent offenders. He sends the abusers, the batterers, the stalkers, and the murderers to prison, and then comes home for dinner and tells me they are his teachers. He admires women killers too, including a local mother of two he successfully prosecuted for murdering her best friend. John Marcus, a murderer he put away for life last October, had stabbed his wife forty-seven times. He was caught because he had accidently cut himself when his hand slipped down the bloody blade and his DNA had mixed with hers. I cant think of anything more horrible than being stabbed, Id said to Griffin. Even just seeing the knife, it would be pure terror, knowing what he was about to do with it. Now the memories flood inclear, no longer a dream. Of course, he wouldnt stab me, because prosecuting John Marcus had taught him what not to do. But he must have remembered what Id said about the dread of a knife. Leaning against the car now, I could still see the blade thrusting, glinting in the cool daylight streaming through the window, nicking my palm, the insides of my wrists, but nothing more, never going deep. Terrifying me would give him pleasure. After he shoved me and I hit my head on the car bumper, he quickly tied the rope around my neck. Griffin, take off the mask, I said while I could still talk, before the noose tightened. Did he want my death to look like suicide? Or would he remove my body after I was dead? Stash me in his boat, take me out into the Atlantic, past Block Island, where the trenches were so deep a person would never be found? He threw the rope upward once, twice. It took him three times to toss it over the rafter, but then he began to pull, and I could hear the line inching and scraping the rough wooden crossbar overhead. He was strong, his body tautathletic and lean. My neck stretched as he pulled on the line, my lungs bursting with air I couldnt exhale. I rose onto my toes, up and up. I grabbed the rope circled around my neck and tried to loosen the grip. The insides of my eyelids turned purple and flashed with pinprick stars. Breathe, breathe, breathe, I thought, hearing the gasps and gurgles coming from my throat. I tried to keep my feet from leaving the ground, but they did, and I thrashed and scissor kicked the air. I passed out. Through the fog of near death, I thought I heard a scream outside, a high-pitched wail, primal and wild. Is that why he left me there before he had finished killing me? Had the sound scared him off? Or had the noise come from my own throat? Had my attacker run into the kitchen, hidden in the house? Or slipped out the garage door and escaped along the beach path? He must have thought I was dead or would soon die. I look up at the garage ceiling. One rafter is damaged, part of it lying on the floor next to me. I realize it broke under my weight, and my eyes fill with tears. This old carriage house was built around 1900, at the same time Griffins great-grandfather, governor of Connecticut, the first Chase man to hold political office, constructed the cottagegrowing up, I would have called it a mansion. We live at the edge of the sea, and countless noreasters and hurricanes have battered this place. Weve been meaning to reinforce the building for years. The rafter gave way, and I tumbled to the floor and lived. This weathered old structure saved my life. My left ankle is bruised and swollen, and my legs are stiff. Will I make it through my backyard, over the stone bridge, into the marsh, and from there into the pines, the deep woods, to the safe place my father and I built together? It is a long way. Will my blood leave a trail for Griffin to follow? The state police have a canine unit. Griffin will make sure his minions send the cadaver dogs after me. When will I be missed? I have until they first notice I am gone to get where I need to go. My whole body is shaking. Will I make it? What if the police find me first? They belong to Griffin. My husband rules law enforcement in Connecticut. He was already a man of power, and the backing he has for his run for governor gives him even more. The secret I keep could ruin his career. And once it gets out, his campaign will end, and the men who support him will be furious. I think about the letter I received, and the warning it contained. Why didnt I listen? My hands hurt. I picture the knife again, and my knees feel like jelly. Using the garage walls for support, I stagger to a shelf at the back and take down a can of animal repellenta foul-smelling powdered mixture of fox, bobcat, and cougar urine that I bought by mail order. It is intended to keep deer away from gardens, dogs away from borders. The smell of predators will raise their hackles, send fear through their blood. My woodsman father taught me the potion has another use: when spread in the wild, rather than repelling, it will attract the species of animals that excreted the urine. Ever since my fathers death, we have stayed connected in spirit, through the myth of a mountain lion said to live deep in the woods nearby. Perhaps that big cat is a ghost, just like my father, just like members of the Nehantic and Pequot tribes who lived here before us. But I have seen and tracked large paw prints, collected tufts of coarse yellow fur for my work, and I have seen his shadow. Could that have been the caterwaul I heard just as I was supposed to die? The smell of the mixture will throw off the dogs. They will be intrigued by the possibility of a wild animal; they will sniff along the boundary line I will create. They will not cross it, and they will forget about their quarryme. My fathers lessons along with years of loving the forest, observing the behavior of its inhabitants, will help me escape. I find a beach towel in the cupboard and use it to put pressure on my head wound. The blood soaks throughI am shocked by the amount because there is already a pool on the floor. How much have I lost? I feel weak, and I bobble the tin. Some urine powder falls to the floor. I try to wipe it up, but the putrid stench nearly makes me vomit. When the search dogs get here, they will growl and back away from this corner; they will be on guard before they even begin. I start to walk and trip on the rope around my neck. If I cant untie the knot, I can at least cut through it. I look around the Range Rover for the knife my attacker used, but its not here. He must have taken it. Garden clippers hang on a rusty nail; I use them for pruning roses and hydrangeas. The handles fit my hand, but it hurts to maneuver them. Do I have the dexterity to snip the line instead of my artery? I nick the skin, but victorythe rope falls to the floor. This effort has taken all my energy, so I sit down and hope Ill be able to stand again before the police arrive. Griffins police departments throughout eastern Connecticut will investigate my disappearance with the full force of his office behind them. Suspicion will fall on violent criminals he sent to prisonhe will make sure of that. People will assume someone wanted revenge. Detectives will investigate every recently released convict. They will question the families of prisoners still incarcerated. My husband will hold a news conference and say that the police will catch whoever harmed me, abducted me, or killed me and removed my body, and he very personally will prosecute that person, get justice for me. The tragedy will burnish his image: public servant, grieving husband. I will become a hashtag: JusticeForClaire. But he, someone on his force, or one of his political backers with too much to lose will find and murder me first. Terrified and half-dead, I choke on a sob. I had loved my husband more than anyone, this man who now wanted me dead. I am dizzy, can barely stand. I think, for half a minute, of going to my studio behind the house, grabbing the letter. But why? I ignored it when it mattered most, when it could have saved me. Let it stay in its hiding place. If I die, if I never return, it will be a record of what happened. It is time for me to set off on a journey that will be short in distance, endless in effort. Maybe Im delirious, just coming back from having been deprived of oxygen, but I sense that big cat padding silently in the woods ahead of memy destinationand I walk cautiously. Fear is the gift. Its how I will stay alert and alive. 2 CONOR Conor Reid arrived at the Woodward-Lathrop Gallery at four forty-five, fifteen minutes before Claire Beaudry Chases opening was scheduled to start. His girlfriend, Kate Woodward, owned the gallery in the center of Black Hall, and his sister-in-law, Jackie Reid, managed it. Kate was flying a private charter and wouldnt be back in time. Conor had promised he would show up to celebrate their friend Claire. Conor was a detective with the Connecticut State Police and had just finished interviewing witnesses to a hit-and-run on the Baldwin Bridge. A speeding black pickup had clipped a Subaru, smashing it into the guardrail. There were no fatalities, but the cars driver had gone to the hospital with a head injury. No one had gotten the trucks license number. It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and the madhouse of summer on the shoreline was just starting. Hey, you made it, Jackie said, walking over to give Conor a hug. She was married to his older brother, Tomhis first marriage, her second. Conor had liked Jackie and her two daughters right away. Tom was a coast guard officer, often at sea on patrol, and Conor saw how happy Tom was to come home to her. Looks like youre expecting a big crowd, Conor said, glancing at the bar and catering table, loaded with bottles of wine and platters of cheese and bread and smoked salmon. We are, she said. Everyones excited to see Claires new installation, but I think well also get a lot of people curious to meet the candidate. Judging from the calls Ive gotten, I expect more political than arts reporters. Do you think Griffin will win? Be our next governor? Seems he has a good chance, Conor said. He had worked with Griffin Chase on many cases. Chase played hard and knew what it took to come out on top. People began streaming through the door. From being with Kate, Conor knew that there were three types of people who attended art openings in Black Hall: true collectors who intended to buy, serious art lovers who were there to appreciate the work, and people who came for the free food and wine. On the bar table were plastic glasses and bottles of red and white wine, both from southeastern Connecticut vineyards. Someone had calligraphed a card for the wine: Courtesy of Griffin Chase. Smart, Conor thought: showing that he supported Connecticut businesses. Come on, Jackie said. Take a walk around with me; check out the work. Sure, Conor said. He had never been that interested in art; Kate had taught him pretty much everything he knew. Kate was a huge fan of Claire. What she did couldnt exactly be called paintings, collages, or sculptures, but it had aspects of each. She made shadow boxes, driftwood frames filled with objects from nature, especially the beach. Who buys these? Conor asked. Claire has devoted collectors, Jackie said. One actually commissioned her to do a private piece for him and his wife. Which one is that? Conor asked. Shes not putting it in the show. Its back in her studio, Jackie said. She told me its guarding her secrets. What secrets? Conor asked, but Jackie just shook her head. He felt a ripple that sometimes signaled the start of a case, but he figured he was overreacting. He saw Jackie glance at her watch. Its nearly five, and shes still not here, Jackie said. Maybe she wants to make an entrance, he said. No, she said she was coming early, to autograph a few catalogs for clients who cant make it. Let me check on her. Jackie stepped away and made a call from her cell phone. Conor took the opportunity to grab some cheese and crackers and survey the room. He would never enter this gallery without thinking of Beth Lathrop, Kates sister. He and Kate had gotten close while he was investigating Beths murder. Beth used to run the place; after her murder, Kate had hired Jackie. Conor knew it was hard for Kate to come here; it wasnt easy for him, either: the building was haunted by violence and tragedy, but it had been in the Woodward family for three generations, and Kate would never let it go. Conor couldnt help feeling that Jackie was helping Kate keep it in the family, partly for Beths daughter, Samantha. No luck, Jackie said, walking over to him. Conor didnt reply, distracted by one of Claires shadow boxes. It was about twelve-by-sixteen inches, bordered by a driftwood frame, and filled with mussel- and clamshells, moonstones, exoskeletons, sea glass, crab claws, and carapaces. It also contained what looked like the skeleton of a human hand and was titled Fingerbone. That hand, Conor said. I know, creepy, right? Jackie said. He felt the ripple again and sensed her watching for his reaction. Reminds me of something, he said, not wanting to say too much, wondering whether she had heard what Claire told him at dinner on Monday. Ellen? Jackie askedproving to Conor that she had heard enough. She was referring to Ellen Fielding, a school friend of Jackie, Claire, and Griffins, who had died twenty-five years ago. Griffins official state car pulled up in front of the gallery. He stepped out, projecting the confidence and power that everyone in the court system was so familiar with. He wore custom-made suits and Herm?s ties, and Conor had heard one corrections officer say he could put his kid through college on Griffins tie budget alone. Look whos here, Jackie said and headed for the door. Conor hung back, watching. Griffin had grown up as a rich kid in tragic circumstances. He had lost his parents young. His college girlfriend had died just after graduation. His PR spin was that the losses had given him tremendous compassion and that he was devoting himself to justice for others, that as states attorney he cared personally about the victims whose cases he prosecuted. A murdered childs family had said he was the most caring man in the world, leading one newspaper to dub him the Prince of Caring. The moniker had stuck. It played well politically and was featured in many of his campaign ads. Conor watched Jackie greet him, usher him into the show. The show looks great, Conor heard Griffin say. Roberta Smith from the New York Times came for an early look, and Smithsonian Magazine wants to do a profile on her, Jackie said. Fantastic, Griffin said. Have you heard from Mike Bouchard yet? From Connecticut Weekly? Yes, Jackie said. We spoke on the phone, and he wants to meet Claire here tonight. I take it someone from your election committee arranged for the interview? The room was getting crowded. Conor leaned against the wall and watched Griffin examine Fingerbone: hundreds of fine silver wires attached to the outer edges of the rough wooden frame caught the light, creating the illusion of water. A gold coin that appeared to be ancient and authentic lay at the bottom, beneath the skeletal hand. Conor stared, watching Griffins reaction. Was it his imagination, or was the prosecutor rattled? Im buying this, Griffin said to Jackie, gesturing at the shadow box. Its very compelling, Jackie said, but you dont have to buy it! Im sure Claire would give it to you. I insist, Griffin said, the charm gone from his voice. I dont want the gallery to lose its commission. He took out his checkbook, and Conor watched him scrawl the amount and a signature. Conor wondered if he was thinking about Beth. Griffin had successfully prosecuted her killer; he might be aware that Sam had inherited her mothers share of the gallery and that profits would help pay for her college education. Well, thank you, Jackie said to Griffin. She put a red dot on Fingerbone to let everyone know it was sold. Im going to call her right nowsee where she is and tell her I have a surprise for her, Griffin said. He pulled out his phone and dialed. Sweetheart, he said. Where are you? Were waiting for youare you okay? He disconnected. Voice mail, Conor heard him say. She must be on her way, Jackie said. Then, as if noticing the worry in his eyes, What is it? Nothing, Griffin said. Then, Shes been anxious lately. Its normal, Jackie said. Preshow butterflies. Hmm, you might be right, Griffin said, but he didnt sound as if he believed it. The space was packed; Conor watched Griffin take Fingerbone down from the wall. That struck Conor as weird; it was customary to leave works hanging for the entire duration of an exhibition, and being married to an artist, Griffin should have known that. Griffin was halfway out the door when a throng of people surrounded him. Conor watched the way he smiled, shook hands with them, made easy conversation, spoke of being proud of his wife. One was a reporter and had his notepad out. Conor wondered if that was Mike Bouchard. Griffin was animated, full of passion, looking like someone born to run for governor. Then Griffin slipped away, the shadow box under his arm. Conor watched him open the trunk of his car, put Fingerbone inside. Conor felt that ripple again. 3 CLAIRE Griffin and I go back forever. My crush on him began in eighth grade. He was a lanky boy, a graceful athlete, a high-velocity soccer and tennis player who made the crowd gasp as he kicked the goal or nailed the point. He had sharp cheekbones and deep-set green eyessensitive eyes that would occasionally catch mine and make me feel he wanted to ask me something. Id lie awake at night and wonder what the question could possibly be. He always dated cool girls from the country club or beach club. They went to private schools, drove sports cars, and wore cashmere sweaters tied around their shoulders. Griffin and I would sometimes play in the same round-robin tennis match or see each other at a beach bonfire, but that was about it. One foggy night, the summer between our junior and senior years in high school, he and a bunch of country club boys showed up at the Hubbards Point sandy parking lot. There was a cooler in Jimmy Hales trunk, and Griffin and I reached for a beer at the same time. Griffins knuckles brushed mine. Hi, he said. Hi, I said. His eyes had that question in them, but I felt so shy, I looked away. Nothing happened for a long time after that, till after college. Griffin went to Wesleyan, and so did Ellen Fielding, a girl from our town. When they began to date, no one was surprised. She was from Griffins old-money world and lived in a sea captains house on Main Street. Although she didnt have to worry about paying for college or buying books, each summer she waitressed with Jackie and me at the Black Hall Inn. Her family thought it would be character building. She worked as hard as we did and made us laugh with her dead-on imitations of the drunken chef and lecherous manager. She always wore a heavy gold bracelet with what looked like an ancient gold coin dangling from it. She told me it had been her grandmothers. That summer before senior year, when Griffin picked her up after her shift, I tried not to look at himI was afraid Ellen, or even worse, Griffin, would see that my attraction to him made me want to explode. But sometimes I couldnt avoid saying hi when I walked past his car, a vintage MGB, British racing green. He would be sitting there with the top down, engine running, watching me with those serious eyes. And then Ellen would come out, and theyd drive away. I went to RISDthe Rhode Island School of Designand fell in love with the world of art and artists. I dated a sculptor who etched transcripts of his therapy sessions into polished steel, then a performance artist who channeled Orpheus and visited the underworld onstage. But I still dreamed of Griffin. He and Ellen broke up right after graduation. Instead of going to London for July, as planned, she moved back home with her parents. He began showing up at the Inn, after my shift was done, even though she no longer worked there. Ellen changed, Claire. She went away on spring break, and nothing has been the same, he said. Why? I have no idea. She wont talk about what happened, and she knows she can tell me anything. Now she doesnt even want to see me. Im sorry, I said. Yeah, he said. The worst part is, Im positive something bad happened down there. Did she mention anything to you? No, like what? Not sure, he said. You sure she didnt say anything? Positive, I said. Jackie and I had gotten to know Ellen at the Inn, and we cared about her. I felt guilty, getting close to Griffin, so Jackie was the one to approach her, to find out how she was doing. She had gone to Canc?n with family friends for a beach vacation, a last blast before college graduation. She asked Jackie, Do you believe in evil? What was she talking about? I asked. I have no idea. She just stared at me. Claire, her eyes were hollow. God, poor Ellen, I said. Griffin was devastated, and I became his confidante. At first thats all it wasa boy with a broken heart and the girl who consoled him. But that began to change, and I couldnt believe it. We were from the same town, but from completely different worlds. I lived at Hubbards Pointa magical beach area that time forgot. Small shingled cottages, built in the 1920s and 30s by working-class families, were perched on a rock ledge at the edge of Long Island Sound. The weather-beaten cottages had window boxes, spilling over with geraniums and petunias, and brightly colored shutters with seahorse and sailboat cutouts. Hubbards Point families had cookouts together. Friends as kids became friends for life, just like Jackie and me. Every Fourth of July there was a clambake and a kids bike parade. Movies were shown on Sunday and Thursday nights on the half-moon beach, and everyone would bring beach chairs and watch classics on a screen so wind rippled it might well have been a canvas sail. At the end of the beach was a secret path, winding through the woods to a hidden cove. I could have found my way along it blindfolded. Griffin grew up at the other end of that narrow trail, in a posh enclave called Catamount Bluff, with only four properties on a private road. The Chases housethe one in which we now livewas built on the headland by his paternal great-grandfather, Dexter Chase. He had founded Parthenon Insurancethe biggest insurance company in Hartfordbefore running for governor and holding that office for two terms. His son, Griffins grandfather, had been a three-term senator representing Connecticut. Griffins father had been a lawyerin-house council for Parthenon. They used summer as a verbthey summered at Catamount Bluff. When I asked Griffin about his mother, he said, You dont want to know. I am an only child, unconditionally loved by my parents; we went to the beach when school got out in June. My mother was an art teacher in public school, my father an environmental studies professor at Easterly College. He taught me everything I know about the woods, and she encouraged me to paint what I saw. When I was nine, she died in a car accident; she lost control in an ice storm, crashed into a tree, and was killed instantly. The shock and sorrow paralyzed my father and me. We turned to nature. After school and work and on weekends, we trudged the woods, climbed the rock face between Hubbards Point and Catamount Bluff. Members of the Pequot tribe had lived in these woodlands. A burial ground sat atop one boulder-strewn hill. My father told me to always treat this land as sacred. He taught me how to blaze a trailto notice rocks, trees, a broken branch and use these landmarks to orient myself and not get lost. At night he showed me Polaris and taught me to navigate by the stars. Late that summer we built a cabin at the edge of the marsh on the far side of the hilltop, in almost-impenetrable woods. One night we stayed there and heard an eerie, blood-chilling cry. There was an enduring myth that mountain lions, their woodland habitat displaced by farms in northern Connecticut, had been driven south through the greenways of open space and conservation land to the river valley. The name Catamount Bluff, given to the land in the 1800s, was testament to the legends long history. My father and I scanned the ledges and rock shelves. We searched for tracks, remains of white-tailed deer, any sign that mountain lions lived here. He died of an aneurysm when I was twenty. His brothers family in Damariscotta, Maine, would have taken me in, but my sorrow was too great to accept help, to try to join another family. I dropped out of college. The cabin reminded me of my dad and became my refuge. I felt his presence there. At night I would look for the North Star and know he was with me. I began to build shadow boxes of things I found nearby: lichens, pebbles, dried seaweed, mussel shells, the bones of mice in owl pellets. That August night, the summer after Griffins graduation, when the Perseid meteor shower was due to peak, he called to ask me to meet him at the covea rocky inlet halfway between Hubbards Point and Catamount Bluff. I figured he meant a group of us would be getting together. Should I invite Jackie? I asked. No, Claire, he said, his voice filled with magic. Just you. I want to watch shooting stars with you. Is that okay? Yes, I said. Meet you there, he said. I ran through the forest path from the Hubbards Point end, almost breathless knowing he was on the way from his houseto meet me. I couldnt believe it. Halfway there I slowed down and peered up a steep hill, thick with scrub oaks, white pines, bayberry, and winterberry. Deep in those woods were the Pequot graves, and beyond them was my cabin. He was waiting at the cove. When I saw the blanket he had spread above the tide line, and knew we were going to be together on it, my knees felt weak. We were isolated from any town or houses, with nothing but hundreds of acres of granite ledges and woods and marsh and salt water surrounding us. In the dark of the new moon, the sky blazed with stars. His dark-brown hair tumbled into his eyes. A white streak slashed across his left templeshocking, considering he was only twenty-one. His eyes were emerald green in the starlight, with the same questioning look as ever. What is it? I asked, laughing nervously. I feel as if youre wondering something. I am, he said. I always have been. Ive felt it forever, that youre my best friend. And more. Weve hardly ever talked, I said. Not with words, he said, and he leaned back on one elbow. He pulled me down on the blanket. This time when he looked at me, the question was gone from his eyes. I heard waves hitting the rocks, splashing against the sand. He rolled toward me, slid his arms around me. He pressed his body against mine and kissed me. Our first kiss: tender, then rough. I could practically feel the waves beneath us, lifting us, as if the sand had turned into the sea. I touched his face, ran my fingers down his neck; his pulse was seismic under my fingertips, just like mine. There was a strange abrasive sound coming from the water, but I was too excited to pay attention. Do you hear that? he asked. The sound was crisp: scritch-scritch, like rough sandpaper on wood. What is it? I asked. I dont know. But then again, who cares? he asked. He pulled my body back toward his, hard, kissed me again, his hand running down my side. He hooked his thumb into the waistband of my jeans. I wanted him to keep going, but now I couldnt stop hearing the noise. Now it sounded more like clicking and seemed to be coming from the tidal pools. With a new moon, tides were extreme, and this was dead low, with rocks and ledges that would normally be underwater exposed. I pushed myself off the blanket and walked toward the rocks. Claire, Griffin called. Be careful. Starlight caught the white edges of the small waves, the glossy black tendrils of kelp, and illuminated a swarm of rock crabs completely covering a lumpy object in the shallow tidal pool. The crabs moved as if they were one entity instead of thousands of individuals, summoned from rock crevices by whatever was rotting beneath them. Their claws click-click-clicked. I thought it must be a dead fish, a big one, maybe a striper. Or even a sealthey lived here over the winter, into the spring. Please dont let it be a seal, I thought. Or any other marine mammal. Not a dolphin, not a baby whale. The smell of decay was overpowering. I stomped my feet on the wet rocks as I approached, to scare the crabs away, and I saw what was underneath. Bones gleamed white. Long brown hair was matted like seaweed. A glint of gold shone from the half-devoured left wrist. There were still shreds of flesh on the upper arms, but the wrists and hands had been stripped bare. They were skeleton hands; the finger bones were long, skinny, and curved. I screamed. It was Ellen Fielding. I lunged toward those crabs, brushing and kicking them away, to get them off Ellens body. They scattered, then covered her again. Claire, Griffin said, yanking me away from Ellens corpse. I sobbed, staring at the gold bracelet around that horror of a wrist, the ancient gold coin dangling from thick links, given to Ellen by her grandmother. Griffin wanted us both to go to his house and call the police from there, but I refused to leave. I didnt want her to be alone. The tide could come in and sweep everything away, take what was left of her body out to sea. I sat in the wet sand guarding her. Starlight glinted on the crabs black-green shells, their pincers tearing her apart. Eventually Griffin arrived with a Black Hall police officer. The cop crouched beside the body, then called for a forensic team and the police boat. Soon the boat came around the point, searchlights sweeping the cove. Whats that for? Griffin asked. She might have been on a boat, the cop said. It could have sunk, and there could be someone else out there, needing help. This didnt happen tonight, I heard myself say. The crabs have already ripped her apart! The policeman was young, not much older than us. Id seen him around towndirecting traffic during the Midsummers Festival, after the concerts on the church lawn, writing speeding tickets on Route 156. Im Officer Markham, he said. Whats your name? Claire Beaudry, I said. Griffin stood beside me, put his arm around my shoulders. Id gotten cold sitting there on the damp beach, and I shivered against his warm body. Why are you two here tonight? Officer Markham asked. Kind of dark, late for beach time. We wanted to see the meteor shower, Griffin said. How did you come to find the body? Claire did, Griffin said. I heard the crabs, I said. Well, the officer said. Were going to have to identify the victim. Give me your phone numbers in case we need to talk to you some more. My heart was racing hard. My lips tingled and my hands felt numb. I waited for Griffin to tell him it was Ellen, but he was silent. Was it possible he hadnt recognized the bracelet? I know who it is, I said finally, because Griffin didnt speak. Who? Officer Markham asked. Ellen Fielding, I said. Griffin drew a sharp breath, as if he were shocked. Oh God, oh God, Griffin said, his head in his hands, pacing in a circle. She did it. Did what? the cop asked. Suicide, he said. She was so depressed. You knew her? the cop asked. We both did, Griffin said. I waited for him to add that he had dated her, but Officer Markham just asked for our numbers and said we could go, that a detective might get in touch with further questions. After that, Griffin walked me home through the dark woods. I shivered the whole way. Right by the overgrown trail to my cabin, there was a break in the canopy of branches overhead, and suddenly it filled with shooting stars. Look, Griffin said, pointing up. We stared for a few seconds. Finallywhat we came here for. The Perseids. Theyre for . . . I began to say for Ellen. Theyre for us, so well never forget this night, he said, his voice catching. Something beautiful, I whispered. After something so terrible. Over the next few days, the police investigated. As Officer Markham had said, a detective questioned me about finding Ellens body, about whether we had noticed any changes in her mood or knew of anyone who might want to harm her. Tucker Morgan, the state police commissioner, was a friend of Wade LockwoodGriffins Catamount Bluff neighbor and surrogate fatherand did the questioning himself. With Wade present. Over lunch at the yacht club. After the coroner made his examination, there was an inquest. The toxicology tests came back negativeso Ellen hadnt overdosed. She had a fractured skull. Had it happened in a fall? Or had someone attacked her? Rumors began right away: whatever had happened in Canc?n had pushed her to the brink, and she had drowned herself. Or she had gotten involved with something illegal, dangerous enough to get her killed. But Commissioner Morgan chose not to pursue those leads. Wade convinced him that the idea that someone had followed Ellen north, murdered her, and left her body on the beach was too far fetched. She had slipped on the rocks, that was that. My interlude with Griffin lasted all that August: fire, passion, and wild fascination with each other. The reality of finding Ellens body was traumatic; at first it pulled us together, but eventually it drove us apart. We both wanted to stop thinking about that night. Griffin went to Yale Law School. I considered returning to RISD, but instead, I just kept making art on my own. In the following years, we each married other people. Even though I tried, I couldnt stop thinking of Griffin. I hated myself, but I would feel his body when Nate, my first husband, was holding me. Later, Griffin told me it had been the same for him with Margot, his first wife. Those years of longing, while we were apart, made our need and desire for each other almost unbearable. I didnt have children, but he and Margot had twin sons, Ford and Alexander. Griffin became a prosecutor, eventually rising to his current position as states attorney for Easterly County, second only to the chief states attorney. After Margot had been to her fifth or sixth rehab, they divorced, and he got custody of their sons. She moved to New Hampshire, where she had grown up. She never saw the boys. Griffin had to keep them going, to somehow make them believe their mother still loved them, even though she never visited or asked them to visit her. At least, thats what he told me. By the time he and I ran into each other at a cocktail party in Black Hall, I was separated from Nate, a man I loved and cared about but wasnt in love with. Nate begged me to come back, but by then I was involved with Griffin and went through with the divorce anyway. Griffins sons, forever traumatized by their mothers abdication, werent ready for a stepmother. There is power in dangerous love. You can be so focused on the forbidden nature of it, justifying your choices to the worldme falling in love with Griffin while still legally married to Nate, Griffin giving me all his attention instead of trying to find a workable custody agreement with Margot, instead of doting on his devastated sonsthat you miss the fact youre completely wrong for each other. Ellens death never left me. It informed my work, led me deeply into natures darkness, the terrible beauty of it echoed in every shadow box I created. Griffin said it inspired him to go to law school, to become a prosecutor, plumb the pain and dark side of lifeand in doing so, honor Ellen. That was a lie. Ellen was buried in Heronwood Cemetery. The rumors that she had been the victim of a violent crime faded away. Perhaps she had slipped and fallen on the rocks, died of a terrible accident. Or, as was more commonly thought, she had killed herself. I, too, believed it was suicide at first but not any longer. I am positive it was homicide, just as I am sure that Griffin took me to the cove that night so I would find her body. And I know because he all but confessed that he killed her. I can picture us, Griffin and me, in our kitchen at Catamount Bluff. Late at night, him coming home after a meeting of the Last Monday Club, black tie loosened, dinner jacket slung over his shoulder. Id said something wrongit doesnt matter what; asking about the weather could be wrong if he wasnt in the mood for the question. His face looming into mine, his green eyes turning blackliterally blackand him saying, Do you want what happened to Ellen to happen to you? He said things like that to me all the time. Hed say it about other murder victims, whose killers he prosecuted. The defendant was pushed too far, Claire, just like you push me too far. I have to do my job and send him to prison, but that doesnt mean I cant understand why he did it. He takes it and takes it until he cant anymore. And then she dies. Like Ellen? I asked. Did she push you too far? That was my fatal question. Now that I am about to go missing, Griffin will appear on every local TV station, frantic with love and worry for me. The state police will drag rivers and salt ponds and the inshore waters of Long Island Sound, send divers into lakes and reservoirs, scour rock quarries and ledges and hills of glacial moraine. They will question my friends and ex-husband, neighbors, fellow artists and naturalists. Griffin will let them read my notebooksthe ones I left unhiddenlook through my computer files, examine the cell phone I left in my SUV when I was struck. There will be blood evidence, and the forensic team will analyze it. Buckets from my head wound, drops from the halfhearted slashes. Oh, that knifeI keep seeing my attacker wave it. I thought it was going to pierce my heart, so I tried to dodge it. The tip pricked my forearms and the palms of my handbut he kept pulling it away, never let the full blade slash me. Griffin would never have killed me with a knife. Too messy, too much evidence left behind. The night the jury convicted John Marcus, Griffin and I were in our kitchen, just the two of us, about to have dinner. It was a chilly October evening, cold enough to leave frost on our Halloween pumpkin. The kitchen was cozy. I had made roast chicken. He had brought home a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, so we could toast his victory. People were already talking about a run for higher office. I lifted my glass. He was carving the chicken. Right there next to our white marble island, he raised the knife above his head, lunged toward me, and I flinched so hard I dropped my champagne glass and it shattered on the floor. Jesus, it was a joke! he said. You make me feel like a criminal when you get scared like that. Then dont come at me with a knife. When I come after you with a knife, Claire, youll know it. I felt the blood drain from my face. Dont worry, I would never stab you, he said, his voice perfectly calm. Why do you think the jury came back in two hours? Because he was an idiot, he made so many mistakes. He was practically begging to be caught. You have to be smart. You cant leave DNA. But Claire? I feel like it right now. That glass was Baccarat crystal. It belonged to my grandmother. You know? I cant say he didnt warn me. Then I think of the letter and tear up because I didnt listen. How far will I be able to walk? He wont stop until he finds me. And when he does, he will make sure I never return home. The entire state of Connecticut will ache for his loss. Griffin got away with Ellen, but he wont get away with me. Its time for me to leave. I force myself off the floor a second time. My legs barely work; I stumble through the side door. I know to walk on the ledge to avoid leaving footprints, to brush the ground behind me with a pine bough, to head for the deepest part of the woods. I will hide in the wild, where I feel safest. My feet know their way along this path. I am making my way northeast, but I curve around, and before I circle back to resume my intended route, I cover rocks and tree trunks with the animal mixture. The scent will throw the dogs off my trail. I will make sure Griffin is caught. I will let everyone know the light is a lie, that darkness is his only truth. Ill do it for myself, and Ill do it for Ellen. I say her name as I walk, and I talk to my father. Dad, help me. Help us, me and Ellen. Get me to the cabin. I swear I feel my father lifting me up, carrying me through the woods, and suddenly my refuge is in sight. 4 CONOR She still hasnt shown up, Jackie said to Conor. Its her own opening, and shes not here. He looked at his watch; it was five thirty. Half an hour late, he said. Thats not like her, not at all, Jackie said. Nate Browning, Claires first husband, began walking toward them. A Yale professor, he had been in the local paper lately for doing whale research in Alaska. Three women were right behind him, all dressed expensively in an art world way. I am not up for this, Jackie said under her breath. The Catamount Bluff social circle. What? Conor asked. Claires neighbors. Leonora Lockwood, Sloane Hawke, and Abigail Coffin. Conor recognized Leonora, a grande dame married to Wade Lockwood, a generous donor to charities that benefited the police. She was regal, in her late seventies, dressed in a bold green-and-yellow-print caftan with gold bangles on tan arms, long white hair pulled up in a French twist, and wrinkles she wore proudly. It was well known in law enforcement circles that she and Wade were political donors and honorary parents to Griffin. Wheres Claire? Leonora asked, glancing around. Im not sure, Jackie said, exchanging a quick look with Conor. She should be here, greeting her public! Leonora said. And Griffins, too, for that matter. They want to meet our states next first lady. Im sure shell walk in any minute, Nate said. He was about five foot nine, rumpled, with a comfortable and expanding belly. Needing a haircut and a beard trim, he was the opposite of fastidious Griffin. What do you think of her new work? Leonora asked Nate, and the group began to discuss it. Conor watched Griffin, across the room and deep in conversation with Eli Dean, the owner of West Wind Marina. Many people in town kept their boats there. When Conor saw Griffin put his head in his hands, he walked over. Whats wrong? he asked, standing between Griffin and Eli. Claire told me this morning she was going to row to Gull Island, to clear her head before the show, Griffin said. But I just told him she wasnt at the boatyard at all, Eli said. I was working on dock two most of the day, and that pretty little rowing dory of hers never moved. When did you talk to her last? Conor asked Griffin. This morning, Griffin said. After breakfast. Hey, listen, Eli said. Its hot in the sun, out of the wind, today; she probably just didnt feel like taking the boat out in the heat. Seventy-five degrees, Griffin said. Seems pretty perfect to me. He took a deep breath. Look, Im worried. What can I do? Conor asked. Im going home to see if shes there, Griffin said. That ripple Conor had felt when hed first walked into the gallery got stronger. Ill follow you, Conor said. And he and Griffin Chase hurried to their cars. 5 JEANNE Late that afternoon, the easternmost part of Long Island Sound was unusually calm and gleamed amber in the declining sunlight. Jeanne and Bart Dunham were sailing northwest from Block Island on Arcturus, their Tartan 36, barely speaking because Bart had had too much to drink at the Oar and Jeanne had thought they should wait till morning before heading back home to Essex, Connecticut. Jeanne stood at the helm steering while Bart stretched out in the cockpit. The sails were up, but the boat was motoring. There wasnt a bit of wind. She had brought them through Watch Hill Passageshoal waters, hair raising at the best of timespast Fishers Island, then Race Rock, then the mouth of the Thames River. There wasnt a lot of boat trafficit was early in the season, but she and Bart were retired, and they wanted to get a start on summer. They were considering the idea of selling their house, sailing to Fort Lauderdale, and living aboard Arcturus. These short trips were test runs. She gave Bart a disgusted look. He had failed the test. She had seen the cross-Sound ferries pass each other, coming and going between New London and Orient Point. She took care in the shipping lanes, where tugs and barges plied Long Island Sound. The tide was with them after the long day on the water, and she couldnt wait to get home, throw Bart into bed, and take a shower. How you doin, hon? Bart asked. Fine, she said, the word clipped. No problems in this weather! he said. Dont know what you were so bent out of shape about. Put er on autopilot, and come over here, sweetheart. He held out his arms. Is this the life or what? She ignored him, peering west, focusing on the glowing water ahead. Okay, then, he said. You dont love me anymore. Whats that? she asked, distracted by a disturbance just ahead. Where, baby? Right there, she said, pointing. Something swimming around. Bart lifted himself onto one elbow and peered west, into the lowering sun. Fish or whatever. A school of bluefish, feeding. Not a school, just one fin. Oh my God, a shark? The boat slipped along the golden surface, a wake rippling out behind. The sails luffed and snapped. What the hells it doing? she asked. Swimmin, what sharks do best, Bart said. Hey, look at all this oildid it kill a seal? Changing water temperatures had attracted a seal population to southern New England. Seals were the favored meal of sharks. Jeanne slowed down as they approached. The water glistened with an oil slick; maybe Bart was right, and a shark had killed a seal. And then she realized it wasnt a fin at all but a small furry creature. She steered toward the animal. It wasnt a seal. It was a tiny dog, frantically paddling, trying to climb onto a slab of white fiberglass. In the seconds it took Jeanne to grab the boat hook, her heart began to pound. She could almost see a shark rising up, snatching the dog before she could get to it. But that didnt happen; she reached overboard, snagged the pups bright-pink collar with one swipe of the hook, and pulled the Yorkshire terrier into the cockpit. The dog was barely larger than Jeannes hand. The small silver tag dangling from her collar was engraved Maggie. Jeanne held Maggie tight to her chest, felt her shivering uncontrollably. Shes absolutely adorable, Jeanne said. Mustve fallen overboard, Bart said. Its okay, Maggie. Youre okay, girl, Jeanne said. As she clutched the dog, sliding her under her fleece to warm her, she scanned in all directions to see if there was a boat searching for her. Whats this oil from? Bart asked, staring into the water. The slick Jeanne had previously thought was seal blubber ran in a winding current, a river through the sea, and now she saw that it contained shards of wood and a section of white fiberglass charred black at the edges. Fragments of blue Styrofoam insulation swept by, an empty bottle of Polar lime seltzer, two red personal flotation devices with a boats name stenciled on: Sallie B. Oh my God! Jeanne said. We know that boat! Seen her a million times. Shes from West Wind, Bart said. Looks like she caught fire, Jeanne said, watching a soot-stained green cushion float past. She scanned the horizon for smoke, for a vessel still smoldering. R 22the red bell buoy marking Allens Reefswung in the current a hundred yards south. The bell tolled with the movement of the waves, but beneath the mournful sound, she heard a voicevery weak, calling for help. Jeanne placed Maggie at her feet and steered toward the buoy. Bart stumbled below, lifted the mike, and called the coast guard. Jeanne heard him give the operator their GPS coordinates. A boat sank out here, he said. The Sallie B. And someones alive. We can hear them, over by R 22. Were going there now. Jeanne sped up, and as they approached, she saw a man clinging to the red metal structure that rose tall in the water, swinging wildly in the tide, the clapper banging with each wave. She didnt know his name, but she recognized himone of the many local skippers that greeted each other as they passed in the channel. Shed often seen a woman and two children in the cockpit with him. Knowing who he was, wondering what had happened to his family, made it even worse, and she choked on a sob. 6 CONOR The road to Catamount Bluff was unmarked and unpaved and meandered along the western edge of a protected seven-hundred-acre forest and nature preserve. A security guard was stationed at the head of the road. Conor Reid recognized him as Terry Brooks, an off-duty Black Hall police officer. It wasnt uncommon for town cops to moonlight as private security for exclusive compounds along the shoreline. Conor waved as he passed. His Ford Interceptor took the ruts with no problem as he followed Griffin Chase. They passed three mailboxes; the houses to which they belonged were hidden behind hedges. This was the kind of old-money place where they didnt bother with fancy gates or even a paved road. The road ended at the Chases house. Conor drove into the turnaround in front of a large silver-shingled house, on the bluff above the rocky beach, Long Island Sound sparkling into the distance. Conor was surprised to see Ben Markham, a uniformed Black Hall cop, standing by the front door. He paused a moment before getting out of the car, watching Griffin speak to Markham. There was obvious familiarity between them. Markham had been called to testify in some of Griffins trials; plus, as a local cop, he would do regular patrols here and possibly pick up shifts as a guard, just like Brooks. The Chases rambling old house sat on acres of direct waterfrontproperty worth more than the average prosecutor and an artist could affordbut everyone knew Griffin came from a family fortune. Conor figured this had to be one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the state. Conor walked from the vehicle toward the two men and exchanged a nod with Markham. I just called Ben and asked him to meet us here, Griffin explained. Got it, Conor said. He hadnt heard the call over his police radio and realized Griffin had used his cell phone. Claire has been really nervous, Griffin said. Jackie says its just jitters, but I dont know. Shes had something on her mind this last week, but she wouldnt miss her show for anything. You think something happened to her? Markham said, frowning at the house. Im sure shes fine, Griffin said. But lets find her. Well start in her studio. He led them around the side of the house, through an arch in a privet hedge, to a solid post-and-beam barn built at the edge of the bluff. It looked new in comparison with the hundred-or-so-year-old house. Griffin unlocked the door, and Markham and Conor followed him inside. Conor made a quick scan of the structure. It had an open floor plan, north-facing windows, an easel, a worktable, a daybed, and bookshelves. The space smelled of oil paint, turpentine, and the beach. She designed it herself, Griffin said. And I had it built for her. The space had no interior wallsthere was nowhere to hide. Shes not here, Conor said. Griffin nodded, and he was already out the door, Markham at his side. Conor walked a few steps behind them, his eyes on the house. French doors and tall windows faced the sea. The doors were closed, glass panes unbroken. Griffin had his key out and opened a kitchen door. Conor looked around the vast roomnearly every wall and surface was white. He saw a Viking stove, an industrial-size refrigerator, and racks of copper pots hanging above a large island topped with white marble. There were dirty dishes and two half-empty coffee mugs in the farmhouse-style sink. You said you had breakfast together? Conor asked. Yes, Griffin said. What time did you leave? About seven forty-five. I had a pretrial conference at nine. And Claire planned to go rowing? Yes, she was getting her things together when I left. Would she leave here without doing the dishes? Griffin gave him a surprised look. Conor hadnt intended to offend him, making a comment about Claires housekeeping, but he wanted to establish a timeline. She might have, Griffin said. When she gets inspired, she can lose track of real-world stuff. Inspired? As in her art? Conor asked. Yes. Going down to the dock is part of it. She collects sea things to use in her work. For her, taking a walk or going for a row is as much making art as actually creating her pieces. It grounds her. And shes needed that, especially lately. I have no idea whats going on with her. Shes been, I dont know . . . distracted lately. Conor thought back to Monday night, when Claire had unexpectedly dropped in on Tom and Jackies family dinner. He had seen something of her state of mind, but he didnt mention it now. Conor walked slowly around the kitchen. He noticed a dark wooden block made for holding knives on the marble countertop. It was marked Sabatier. One slot was empty. Whats usually here? he asked, pointing. Griffin stared. A carving knife, I think. Could it be anywhere else? Conor asked. The dishwasher? Griffin asked and opened it. It was empty. Sometimes the cleaning lady puts things in the wrong place. The pantry or the utility drawer. He rummaged through both, but there was no sign of a Sabatier carving knife. Where next? Markham asked. Upstairs, Griffin said. The bedroom. Markham and Griffin disappeared down a hallway, but Conor didnt follow. He smelled something that didnt belong here. It didnt necessarily signal something dead, but it raised the hair on the back of his neck. He checked the small bathroom off the kitchen, but it was pristine. No, the odor was coming through a door he hadnt noticed beforeat the end of a short breezeway, cracked slightly open. He used his foot to inch the door open wider and stepped into an old building that seemed to serve as the garage. Conor had walked in on death before, and he instantly knew this wasnt it. The smell was strong, that of an animal marking its territory. He found the source, a spill of rancid-smelling granules, at the foot of a tall row of shelves filled with garden supplies. It smelled as if an animal had sprayed urine. Did the Chases have cats? Had a skunk or raccoon gotten inside? The garagemore of a barn or old carriage housesagged slightly. It was old and bore the brunt of a century of coastal storms. Conor looked up at splintery rafters; a sheet of plywood had been laid between two and served as a makeshift platform to hold oars, sail bags, and an unrigged mast. The garage had room for three cars; a black Range Rover was parked in one space, and the other two were empty. The barn-style doors were closed, but late-day light streamed in through two sets of windows. He glanced into the vehicleit looked clean and empty, no sign of Claire. He circled around back, to the side closest to the wall and saw the blood: rust-colored smears on the concrete floor, the right doors of the Range Rover, and its right rear bumpera coagulating pool just beside the tire. He continued around front and found two broken pieces of two-by-four pine on the floor. A long white linethe kind used on boatslay twisted beside them. One end was red with blood that looked fresher than the brownish splotches. The middle of the rope was cut clean throughno frayed edges. He tilted his head back, saw where the rafter had broken. He crouched down to examine the broken wood. Caught in the splinters were white fibers, as if the rope had snagged there. A blue-and-white-striped towel, soaked in blood, was crumpled under the vehicle. There had been a violent assault; that much was clear. Griffin had said Claire was distracted. Had she walked into the garage, where a perpetrator was lying in wait, and not seen the attack coming? She had lost a lot of blood. He made a quick search for a knife, but he didnt find one. Conor heard voices coming through the kitchen. He walked toward them, again opened the door with his foot. He hadnt touched one surface since arriving at the house. Griffin and Markham were about to enter the garage, but Conor stopped them. Griffin looked pale. Youre right, Conor said. Something happened. Did you find her? I want to see her, Griffin said. He tried to rush past, but Conor grabbed his shoulders. Shes not here, Griffin, Conor said. But theres a lot of blood. Griffin touched the marble counter, then crouched down, as if his legs had gone out from under him. Markham leaned down to support Griffin. Ben, call this in, Conor said to Markham. Markham took his radio from its holster and called the state police dispatcher. Are you okay? Conor asked Griffin, watching his reaction very carefully. No, Griffin said, his voice barely a whisper. Conor waited for a few seconds, then helped Griffin get to his feet. Griffin was beloved by the people of Connecticut, had the devotion of almost every cop Conor knew. His wife was missing, and he gave every appearance of being in shock. Conor saw him take his cell phone out of his pocket and turn his back and step away to make a call. That wasnt unusualnot at all. But Conor had a strange feeling and couldnt help wondering who was on the other end. 7 TOM The Sallie B was named after Sallie Benson: a forty-two-year-old interior designer and the wife of Dan Benson, mother of Gwen and Charlie, and owner of Maggie the Yorkie. So far, only Dan and the dog had been found alive. US Coast Guard Commander Tom Reid was in the midst of a search and rescue (SAR) operation for Sallie, Gwen, and Charlie. From the moment the Benson family members were reported missing, USCG vessels and aircraft had been deployed and SAR controllers had begun amassing data to create models to aid in the search. They analyzed factors such as debris from the vessel, tide, currents, air temperature, sea surface temperature, and wind speed and direction. They coordinated information offered to investigators by Jeanne and Bart Dunham and the very brief discussion with Dan Benson. He was in shock from his injuries and had been taken to Easterly Hospital. A simulator wizard spit out computational algorithms to approximate drift and to aid in the development of the grid search pattern. The last known location of the Sallie Ba forty-two-foot Loring cabin cruisercaused particular challenges because it was close to the spot where Long Island Sound met Fishers Island Sound, flowed into Block Island Sound, and from there into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a much larger search area. And now it was night. Sunset occurred at 8:40 p.m. By that time, thirty minutes ago, the SAR had been underway for two hours. Tom was aboard the 270-foot USCG Cutter Nehantic. Joining the search were two rescue boatsmeasuring 45 feet eachfrom Coast Guard Station Port Twigg, Rhode Island, an HC-144 fixed-wing aircraft, and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter out of Air Station Cape Cod. Although the day had been warmwith a high of 76 degrees, warmer than average for the end of Maythe temperature at 9:10 p.m. had dipped to 59 degrees. The surface temperature of the water was 51.1 degrees. In those conditions, a person could survive for thirty to sixty minutes. Less if badly injured, very old, or very young. Gwen was nine and Charlie was seven. From what Tom had seen of the debris and heard about the USCG investigators short interview with Dan Benson, there had been a catastrophic explosion on board the Sallie B. Except for fragments of the hull and some personal items found floating nearby, the boat had sunk over a deep reef running perpendicular to the current, where the sea bottom rose sharply from 131 feet to 52 feet. Dan Benson had hauled himself onto the base of bell buoy R 22 and was currently at Easterly Hospital being treated for hypothermia, second- and third-degree burns on his hands and forearms, and a punctured lung. He had been sedated, rushed into surgery to repair his lung. According to USCG Lieutenant Commander Alicia Gauthier, who had talked to the victim two hours earlier, Benson had been inconsolablehysterical was the word Gauthier usedcrying for his children, begging that they be found. What about Sallie? Tom asked. He didnt mention her, Gauthier said. Only the children. Did you question him about that? Tom asked, wondering exactly what Benson had seen, whether he had witnessed his wife dead or dying but not his children. He could barely talk. All I could get out of him was that Sallie had gone below to fix supper, Gauthier said. The kids had been playing in some kind of raft on deck. Sounded like a toy boat. Yellow. And he said they were wearing life jacketsfamily policy out on the water. So they were on deck with him? Near him. In the toy boat. Tom, what if they both got thrown clear, along with him? Its awfully cold out here, Tom said, scanning the sea. Thanks, Alicia. Tom wondered if the explosion had occurred when Sallie had been below. Had the propane stove malfunctioned? Had something on the burner caught fire? Or had fuel leaked into the bilge, ignited by a spark? Searchlights illuminated the ocean and sky. What if Sallie and the children, like Dan and the dog, had escaped the flames? Even if they had, it would be unlikely that they could survive the cold water and night air. Some personal floatation devices had whistles and waterproof flashlights attached. It would be hard to see through the brightness of the searchlights, difficult to hear over the drone of ship and aircraft engines, but Tom knew every officer on the search was keeping a sharp lookout. Toms cell phone buzzed. He glanced at the screen. The call was from his stepdaughter Hunter Tyrone. Inspired by Toms younger brother, Conor, she had joined the Connecticut State Police and was an eager rookie. Tom hit the default message button: Cant talk now. Two seconds later she texted back: Emergency. Pick up! She rang again, and this time he answered. Hunter, what is it? he asked. Are you on SAR for the Benson family? Yes, which is why I cant talk now. Tom, Im at the hospital with Jake. Her partner on the state police force. Detective Miano is here too. Jen, yeah? Tom asked. Jen Miano had been Conors partner for a few years. She just finished talking to the dadhes out of surgeryand shes going to call coast guard command, but I know how long it can take for information to get to you guys, so I wanted to make sure you heard it right away. Whats she going to tell us? First, that Dan said they got her. He kept repeating it. What does that mean? Tom asked. Was he talking about Sallie? I dont know. He was out of it. Detective Miano will ask him more when hes awake. But listen, Tomthe kids might have made it. Dan said they were playing in the little boat, and he saw it floating awayintactwhen he surfaced after the blast. That was a toy raft, Tom said. Ive already heard about it from our investigator. No, it wasnt a toy. He said the kids sometimes played in it, but it was an actual life raft. They could be alive. Its completely possible. Wow. Thanks, Hunter, Tom said, hanging up fast. Then he radioed the rest of the fleet, and the SAR throttled up, taking on a whole new energy. The search was on for a small yellow boat with the two Benson children aboard. FIVE DAYS EARLIER 8 CLAIRE On Sunday morning I got up just before dawn. Griffin slept beside me, and I moved carefully, so I wouldnt wake him. I turned on the coffee maker in the kitchen, then grabbed my red Patagonia fleece and walked outside. The air was chilly, the sun still below the horizon, the eastern sky starting to glow deep, clear blue. Instead of taking the path through the woods, I climbed down rickety steps onto the beach. I walked the tide line, soothed by the sound of waves hitting the shore. As the sun rose, I began to collect shells and sea glass. Moonstones gleamed in the wet sand. They rattled as I filled my pockets. Walking the beach had always been my comfort and inspiration. During a blizzard last December, an entire tree washed ashore. It had been uprooted by the wind, left here on our beach. Wind and waves had stripped off the bark, and what remained was a magnificent bone-white relic. With each subsequent storm, the branches and root system broke apart a little more. I always wondered where the tree had come from and stopped to look at it. Twigs and broken branches glistened in the early light; I picked up some of the smallest to add to my other treasures. When I got to the cove, I couldnt help going straight to the spot where Id found Ellen Fieldings body twenty-five years ago. Id been coming here lately, pulled by a powerful force. Ellen and I had so much in common. We had both seen the other side of Griffin, the one he kept hidden from everyone else. I wondered if Margot had seen it too. I figured she had. I used to place flowers in the pool where Ellens body had lain, but they seemed too pretty, too frivolous. So Id started leaving pebbles, moonstones, and wishing rockssmooth round stones perfectly encircled by a contrasting ring. I crouched down now, placed a handful of offerings just under the waters shallow surface. It was as if no time had passed at all; I remembered the sound of the crabs. While I was there, I collected some empty crab shells and clawsno longer glossy, just dry and brittle, bleached a pale orange-red by sea and sun. Im almost there, Ellen, I whispered. Youve helped me get to this point. But I promise I will come back no matter what. Im going to leave him. And Im going to tell. Who are you talking to? Griffin asked. I jumpedso startled that I practically tumbled into the tide pool. He was standing right behind me. I hadnt even heard him approach. What are you doing up so early? I asked, my heart racing. Good morning to you too, he said. He held out his hand to help me up. I heard you leave, and I figured youd be beachcombing. Less than a week till your show. You fiddling around on some last-minute shadow box things? Yes, I said. Theres one I havent quite finished. Well, its Sunday, my only day off, and I was hoping we could go out in the boat, he said. Its a photo opportunity. The Shoreline Gazette is sending a photographeryou know, Chase family outing, humanize the candidate. Everyone already loves you, Griffin, I said. Could he read my true feelings? The idea of having to play the role of smiling wife, standing at his side during the election, shook me to the core. Youll come out on the boat? he asked. Of course, I said, because of course was always the right thing to say to Griffin. Should we have breakfast first? And let me put the stuff I collected in my studio. Claire, what are you doing with dead shellfish? he asked, noticing a pile of crab carapaces Id placed on the rock ledge. You want your work to sell, dont you? Collectors arent going to buy if it smells like rot. He smashed his foot down on the fragile shells. I steeled myself, pretending not to care. At one time I would have reacted, but I had learned. There was another way. Youll thank me, he said. When you walk into the gallery on Friday and people arent holding their noses. Right? Right, I said. One of Griffins favorite moves was to hurt and insult me, then make me say I agreed-understood-admired him for having my best interests at heart. There was no point in fighting it. Why do you come here anyway? he asked. I love the beach, I said. Im not talking about the beach, he said. Im talking about this cove. Its full of traumatic memories for both of us. Oh, Griffin, I said. Remember that night when you walked me home, toward Hubbards Point, and you said the night was about us, that we should remember it for our kiss and for the shooting stars? He stared at me. Did he realize I was mocking him? This moment could go either way; I tensed, ready for the blowup. But he decided to let me stroke his ego. Youre right, he said. That night was our beginning. It was, I said. I looked into his sea-green eyes and tried to remember how I had felt on the blanket, waiting for his kiss. He was still the handsomest man I knew. His gaze was penetratingin his cases, he looked straight into the defendants, saw who they were, and used his knowledge to convict them. When he focused those eyes on me, I felt he could see into my soul. I had always felt that way. When I first walked up just now, Griffin said, I heard you say something. I dont remember, I said, thinking: Im going to leave him. And Im going to tell what I know. Talking to myself, I guess. I waited for him to challenge me, but he didnt. He just stood there looking at me. Then he broke into a big smile. Lets go back and have breakfast, he said, his smile widening. I really want to get out on the waterits going to be a perfect day. We started walking. When I was young, I thought that living at Catamount Bluff would be the luckiest, most wonderful thing that could ever happen. I would look at the big house where the road ended at the sea and imagine the people who lived there. The naive girl I used to be had pictured Griffin and his friends in blue blazers, girls in summer dresses, gin and tonics on silver trays, and all the happiness and confidence and goodness that must come from the ease of that life. Six years ago, we got married just down the road, in a small ceremony at the Lockwoods house. Alexander and Ford were Griffins best men. Our only guests were Leonora and Wade, Jackie and Tom. I wore a dove-gray dress and a wreath of flowers in my hair. Griffin wore khaki pants and a white linen shirt. He held my hand when we stood in front of Enid Drake, justice of the peace, and kissed me in the middle of the ceremony, before she pronounced us husband and wife. A little impatient, are we? Enid asked, smiling. Griffin ignored her, just smiled and kissed me again before Enid could resume the ceremony. We were a lightning storm togetherbut without the thunder, no fighting, nothing but electricity. I had felt insane desire for him that summer after college, tried to bury it during the years I was with Nate, and was overtaken again, from the minute we reconnected at that Black Hall cocktail party. When I walked home from the cove that day, my jacket pockets were full of beach finds. Griffin headed into the house through the kitchen door, and I ducked through the hedge to my studio. I took a deep breaththis was my true home, far more than the big house. It calmed me to come in here. My collections were organized in baskets and pottery bowlsdifferent ones for mussel shells, quahog shells, periwinkles and moon shells, green sea glass, brown sea glass, interesting bits of seaweed, and driftwood. I emptied my pockets, putting every object where it belonged. The sea-scoured twigs went directly onto my worktableI would be incorporating them into my last piece. I spent a few extra moments staring at a large basket. It was full of crustacean shells, both lobster and crab. I could still hear the sound of Griffins angry heel smashing the ones I had collected this morning. What had made him this way? That question never stopped running through my head, because the answer was so terrible. Another question was, Why had I stayed so long? The weight of his anger reverberated, and I knew I would use the sound and the feeling it had caused in my chest to complete my project. I checked to make sure the letter was exactly where I had left it. It had arrived the week before, and I had been debating what to do about it. Written on expensive blue English stationery, monogrammed EC, it had come out of nowhere from a woman I had met only once. I left it in its hiding place, deciding I would deal with it after my opening. When I walked into our big, sterile pure-white kitchen, Griffin was sitting at the table reading the Shoreline Gazette. He was getting ready to start a trial, prosecuting Gary Jackson, a middle school teacher, for sexually assaulting two female students. There were articles nearly every day. I opened the refrigerator, took out bacon, eggs, and a perfectly ripe cantaloupe. I refilled his coffee cup and poured one for myself. While the bacon was frying, I set the melon on the counter. Griffin had had the kitchen redone after we got married. He told me the plans the late May day we moved in. We had returned from our honeymoon in Italy early because he had had to get back for a trial. He carried me over the threshold and made the announcement. Say goodbye to this old kitchen, Claire, he had said. Im having a new one built for you, he said. But I love this one! I said. It was cozy and beachy, nothing fancy about it: Butcher block counters had been well used. The porcelain sink dated back seventy years or more, an oak ice chest was being used as a liquor cabinet, and black-and-white Chase family photos hung on the beadboard walls. There are plenty of memories I want to wipe out, he said. Really? I asked, feeling compassion. Id thought he had a good upbringingperhaps not as close to his family as I was to minebut happy and well loved. You dont talk about your childhood much. Theres not much to say, he said. Id rather live in the present. Erase my parents, erase Margot. I stayed quiet, listening. She sat there, he said, pointing at the window seat I had already pegged as a wonderful reading nook. And that was her bar. He gestured at the oak chest. She was never far from it. That must have been painful, I said. Her drinking? Yes, you could say that. We can make this our own, I said gently. Change small things. I didnt want to impose myself on this home that had been in his family for generations, but I supposed we could get new curtains, paint the cabinets. He didnt reply. He spread out plans on the counter. I felt a little shockedhe had already had them drawn up? The overall plan is by David Masterson of Chester Architectshe is the absolute best in New England. Youre going to love it. Oh, Griffin . . . I love the comfiness of this kitchen. You dont have to spend money to make me happythe opposite. I just want us to be together. Im going to cook everything you love, right here. We can fish off the beach, grill the bluefish and stripers we catch. I want to plant a vegetable garden too. I glanced across the room at the lovely old enameled stove; I couldnt wait to use it. Ive hired Sallie Benson to do the design, Griffin said, as if he hadnt heard me. David gives her his top recommendation, says she did the interior at the Pemberley Inn, as well as some very important properties in Watch Hill and Newport. She has a fantastic vision. He paused. Her husbands an acquaintance of mine. I had heard of Sallie Benson and knew she had a great reputation, but I felt stung by the idea that someone else was going to redesign the kitchen I already loved and felt at home in. I couldnt stop glancing at the window seat. Griffin, I beganhe was the crush of my teenage years, the love of my life, the most passionate man Id ever been with. Youre all I need. Not a fancy kitchen. Besides, if theres a big renovation, well have workmen in our house for who knows how long. Were newlyweds, and I just want to be alone with you. We . . . The look on his face stopped me. This was the first time it happened. It would be far from the last, but I will remember this moment until I die. It was as if I had thrown a switch. My loving husband who had constantly said he adored me, felt blessed to be with me, loved me to death, transformed into someone I had never seen. His eyes glared straight into me, and they changed color from pale green to pure black. You shame me, he said. Instead of accepting my gift, you shove it down my throat. Do you know how much that hurts me? His face darkened and twisted. He took a step closer to me. I saw his shoulders tense, his hands form fists, but his black eyes were what terrified me. Griffin, I said, panicking and leaning back because I thought he was going to hit me. And here it came: my first apology. Heartfelt, at the time. Im so sorry if I said the wrong thing. I didnt mean to hurt you. But you did hurt me. My eyes filled with tearsboth because I was scared and because I had obviously touched a tender spot in Griffin. I always thought of him as so tough to do the job he did; he was sensitive to me, to the victims whose cases he prosecuted, but I never thought of him as being so vulnerable. Thin skinned. Im sorry, I whispered again. I dont want to hit you, he said. And because of that, I need you to be out of my sight. I go out or you do. Your choice. I need time alone. I turned into an ice sculpture, frozen in shock. Without waiting for me to reply, he walked out of the house. I heard the car start and drive away. I was stunned. And terrified. I couldnt stop thinking about those gleaming-black raging eyes. How do green eyes turn black? Was it my imagination? A trick of the morning light? I had just seen my husband turn into a monster. But the longer he was gone that day, the more my emotions shifted. I told myself I must have been wrong. Eyes could not change colorI had imagined it. And had I heard him correctly? Griffin would never threaten me. Not the man Id loved so long. I found myself thinking of how he had said Id hurt him. I wondered, What could I have said differently? Was it my tone? I looked at the kitchen plans. He had wanted to surprise me, thought I would be delighted. I began to convince myself that no wonder he was hurt by my reaction: I had not appreciated the gift. I had dismissed his effort, not been thankful that he wanted to spend so much money on a kitchen to make me happy. When he came back, he was his old self. He brought me a bouquet of sunflowers from Grey Gables Farm. He wrapped me in his arms and kissed me. I shivered with relief at his touch, at the sight of his green eyes. He tilted his head back and smiled. I never wanted to hurt you, I said. I believe you, he said. I know you didnt mean it. If you want a new kitchen, its fine. Its great, I said. Claire, that means the world to me. I love you to pieces. I love you too, I said, and then he led me upstairs, into our bedroom with an entire wall of windows looking out to sea. I told myself I was not the abused woman typeas if there were such a thing. I was strong, could take care of myself, and I could handle anyones pain and carry it for them. But abuse, though it can seem to happen all at once, is cumulative. I was like a lobster in a pot of cold water, the temperature being raised bit by bit before I realized I was in danger. Every apology I made to Griffin chipped away at my soul, brought me closer to being boiled alive, because I gave up a little more of myself. And a little more. And a little more. Griffin wound up working very closely with Sallie Benson to create the kitchen we had now. Many people would find it beautiful. It was featured in Luxury Coastline Magazine. As much as Griffin wanted me to love the kitchen, I couldnt. I hated it. It was all white marble, white tiles, white wainscoting, stainless steel appliances, and cookware fit for a professional chef. Every surface was smooth and sleekand sterile. And it reminded me of the first time I saw his eyes turn black. The funny thing was, in spite of what I considered an ice-cold color scheme, Sallie was warm. When she finished the job and came over to drop off a bouquet of all-white flowers, she beamed at me and gave me a hug. You were wonderful to work for, she said. I was? I was hardly here. Griffin oversaw everything. Oh, Claire. Youre a brilliant artist, and I was worried I wouldnt be up to your standards. But Griffin told me you checked in after I left each day and that you loved the progress. It was so encouraging. Im glad, I said, even though I had mostly removed myself, found it hard to praise a room I couldnt imagine myself living in. Hes such a sweetheart, and hes so in love with you. That really, oh gosh, it moves me. I go into a lot of houses and see a lot of marriages, and Claire, yours is inspiring. I couldnt even respond to that. Two months of being married to Griffin and I had started thinking of leaving. It was a tug-of-war, ruled by his moods. When he was loving, I was positive that was the real Griffin and that things between us would get better. But when he was angry, I shut down, became depressed. Id wonderis this the real Griffin? And often, on those nights, I would dream of Ellen. I hadnt yet started thinking he killed her, but if he treated me this way, he may have started with her. I was intimidated by you being an artist, Sallie had said. I dont need to tell you that you can add color touches in hereyoull make it your own, and it will be beautiful! Thank you, Sallie, I said. A few days later, Sloane and Edward Hawke came to dinner, and Griffins delight in showing off the kitchen seemed to captivate Edward. Within a week, they had signed a contract with Sallie Benson. When the work was done, the Hawkes had all the Catamount Bluff neighbors over for cocktailsWade and Leonora Lockwood, Neil and Abigail Coffin, and Griffin and me. Heres to Sallie! Sloane said, raising her glass. Dan certainly married up, Neil said, laughing. Sure as hell did, Wade said. Never thought hed wind up with a gal like that. I saw Leonora shoot Wade a sharp look and wondered what it meant. Well, she did a great job and were happy, Edward said, putting his arm around Sloane, and we all clinked glasses. I found myself thinking about that toast to Sallie while I cut up the melon for Griffins breakfast after our ugly dawn beach encounter. I used an expensive French paring knife, from a set chosen by Sallie because she thought a dark wood knife block would make a stunning contrast to the white marble counter. Are there any articles about the trial? I asked Griffin. He was still at the table, reading the paper. Of course, he said. Its going to make jury selection tricky. I dont know whos leaking what we have for evidence, but someone is. Right herean unnamed source saying we have a students underwear with Jacksons DNA on them. Thats too bad, I said. His silence made the sound of my knife slicing through cantaloupe and clicking on the counter sound like it was happening in an echo chamber. Too bad? he asked. Yes, I said. I know how closely you guard your facts, and you dont want the jury pool hearing . . . Its a little more than too bad, Claire, he said. Do you know what Jackson did to those girls? I could sit here right now and tell you the specifics, you want to hear them? I need an impartial jury. I cant afford to lose a big case right in the midst of my campaign. Of course, I said. I know. Of course. You know, he said in a mimicking voice, pushing his chair back, then slapping the newspaper down on the table. If you knew the things men do to women, youd fall apart. Im sure I would, I said. My tone indicated I had something on my mind. He stood up and exhaled hard, taking one step toward me. You know, it really bothered me to see you kneeling at the cove. As if you were worshipping Ellen like a goddess. Far from it, I said. She was as human as I am. Why now? Why are you torturing me with her now? Dont I have enough on my mind? I dont think Im torturing you, I said, keeping my voice steady. You act as if I had something to do with her death. And that insults me. Believe me, I know the syndrome. A couple grows apart, and suddenly the husband is vilified. My office receives a hundred calls a year from women saying their husbands committed terrible crimes. They think hes the Marshfield serial killer or a trucker murdering women on I-95. Youre such a clich?. I still hear the sound of those crabs eating her flesh, I said. So do I, he said. And the difference between you and me is that I loved her. She was my college girlfriend. Do you know what it was like for me to see her like that? I lost her when she went to Canc?n. Who did she go with? I asked. Whats the difference? he asked. It was half my lifetime ago. And half of what would have been hers, I thought. I caught him gazing at me, almost dispassionately, as if taking my measure. You know, Claire, he said. I dont need this swirling around right now. What do you mean? Rumors. Innuendo. I dont know what youre talking about. People hinting that I had something to do with what happened to Ellen, he said. Who is hinting about that? I asked. He didnt quite answer but went on, I am in the middle of a campaign. I expect my wife and friends to protect my reputation, not cast doubts. What friends arent protecting you? I asked. He stopped talking, just gave me a long curious stare; again, I had the feeling he was assessing me. Breakfast is almost ready, I said. Im not hungry anymore, he said. Okay. Its clear you dont appreciate me or my work, he continued. Nate, the great scientist and environmentalistyou admire him even though you couldnt wait to leave him and marry me. But your actual, current, working-his-fingers-to-the-bone husband, who only wants justice for two girls Jackson raped with a pipe wrenchyou dont care, it makes no difference to you. You can only think of Ellen. Interesting, his choice of words: fingers-to-the-bone. At one time I would have turned myself inside out, saying I was sorry for giving him the wrong idea. By that Sunday morning, I was past apologies. Even so, I had to play my part, at least a little, to get what I wanted out of this week. Griffin, I admire you so much, I said without inflection, just as if I were reading a script. You care so deeply about your cases, all the victims. Youre just so amazing, so caring. Other people think that, he said. You dont. He filled his travel mug with coffee, then turned to look at me. Maybe while Im on the boat, you can reflect on what I said. I thought I was going with you, I said. And the boys. No, he said. I really think it would be to your benefit to give some thought about being more protective of your husband, instead of undermining him. Outside, tires crunched on the driveway. Griffin checked his watch. Seven fifteen, and theyre right on time. We both walked to the door, saw his two sons getting out of Fords black Porsche. They house-sat in a guest cottage on the estate of one of Griffins biggest political donors. It was thirty miles away, so theyd gotten up very early to get here. Although they were twins, only Ford looked like Griffin. At twenty-one, he had his fathers height and build, the same cockiness, the same white streak in his dark hair. Alexander was taller but fair like Margot, less athletic, and sensitive. They walked into the kitchen dressed to go out on the boat: khaki shorts, polo shirts, ball caps. Alexanders was from the Hawthorne Yacht Club; Fords was his college baseball teams, worn backward. Well, you two are up with the sun! Griffin said, smiling as if we hadnt been fighting at all. He opened his arms, and both boys hugged him. Isnt this great! You mentioned sailing, Dad, Ford said. Are we still on for that? And a photo op for the campaign? Absolutely, we absolutely are on, Griffin said. Hi, Claire, Alexander said. Good morning, I said. Looks like a great day to be on the water. It does, doesnt it? Griffin asked, then gestured toward me and said sweetly, Its too bad Claire isnt feeling up to joining us. Are you okay? Alexander asked. Im fine, I said. Shes just tired out, Griffin said. A bundle of nerves, getting ready for her exhibition. Shell be the toast of the town once everyone sees her latest work. Were proud of her, arent we, guys? Ford gravitated toward the stove. Although I had turned off the burner, the bacon was still sizzling in the skillet. Did you hear me? Griffin asked. Are you proud of your stepmother? Griffin, I said, thats okay. I asked a question, Griffin said. Definitely, Alexander said quickly. Your stuff is so cool, Claire. Thank you, I said, smiling at him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ford use the spatula to take a slice of bacon out of the pan. He blew on it to cool it off, then bit it in half, crunching away. Griffin glared at him. I know the three of you will have a great time sailing, I said, feeling the air fill with electricity. I never thought I could do it, Griffin said. Never. What, Dad? Ford asked. Raise a couple of animals. Griffin I said. Griffin crossed the kitchen in two steps and slapped the cap off Fords head; it landed in the bacon grease. Eating straight out of the pan. Wearing caps in the house. He turned toward Alexander, but he was already holding his yacht club cap in his hands. His face was pure white. The reaction seemed to please Griffin. He clapped Alexander on the shoulder. Lets go, Griffin said. I want to catch the tide. Should Alexander and I follow you in my car? Ford asked. Alexander will ride with me. Why dont you go home and try to get the bacon grease out of your hat? Try soaking it. But Dad . . . , Ford said. Where Alexander had gone pale, Fords face had turned crimson. See you later. Well all meet at the yacht club for an early dinner, Griffin said. Then he and Alexander walked into the garage, and I heard the barn doors swing open and Griffins car start up. Ford, I began, walking toward him. He stood with his back to me, trying to fork his cap out of the skillet. Just leave it. Ill take care of it. No, he said I have to, Ford said. He wouldnt turn around. I put my hand on his back, and I felt his shoulders quaking. We just stood there for a long time. The sound of Griffins car receded. Waves broke on the shore. Gulls cried as they flew over the house. After a while, Ford shook my hand away. I didnt want to leave him, but I knew he couldnt stand for me to see his tears. I left the house and returned to my studio. I thought about crab claws and those bare twigs, of the shadow box I was about to make, of how it would be titled Fingerbone and dedicated to my husband. Looking back, I wonder if Griffin was giving me one last chance by telling me to think about protecting instead of undermining him. Or had he already made up his mind that I was a liability and set his plan in motion? Even though hed pretended not to hear what Id said at the tidal pool that morning, we both knew Id been talking to Ellen and that Id told her I was going to leave. But my leaving might raise too many questions, trigger rumors and innuendo, and he couldnt let that happen. ONE DAY LATER 9 CONOR On Saturday morning, the forensics team was still processing the Chase house, and Conor Reid drove toward the scene. Everything had changed: they now knew the DNA belonged to Claire. It appeared the rope had been used to hang her from the rafter, that it had snapped under her weight. Blood loss from the fall was possible, but the amount, and the pattern on and around the car, suggested to Conor that she had been beaten, possibly stabbed. So far, Griffin Chase was the last person known to have seen Claire on Friday morning, at approximately 7:45. She hadnt shown up at the dock as planned, and she never arrived at the gallery. The crime scene had been discovered by Conor, Griffin, and Ben Markham at about 5:30 p.m., and the forensic team began their work an hour later. That provided an approximate ten-hour window for when the attack could have taken place. From blood in the garage, especially the still-not-fully-coagulated pool beside the right rear tire, the time frame was narrowed to two hoursthe medical examiner estimated she had been assaulted no earlier than 3:30 p.m. Ralph Perry, another off-duty Black Hall cop, was parked at the head of the private road that led into Catamount Bluff, and he waved as Conor approached. Conor rolled down his window, and Perry did the same. Hows it going? Conor asked. Busy morning. You know, people wanting to gawk. Its even juicier for them because its a rich family. That plus the usual trespassers trying to sneak onto the private beach. I just tell em how to get to the state park. Conor nodded and drove through. He saw the Major Crime Squad van outside the Chases house. Investigators walked between the van and garage wearing gloves and protective shoe coverings. Catamount Bluff was bordered on one side by Long Island Sound and three sides by marsh and five hundred acres of deep coastal forest. The four families that had founded the Bluff in the late 1800s had decreed that the wildland be preserved from development. One section had been logged in 1906, and the ponds were a source of ice in winter. Period maps showed an abandoned icehouse as well as a series of caves in the rock ledge bordering one of the salt marshes. Other than the cart path to the icehouse, the woods were inaccessible to vehiclesand pretty much any human encroachment. Conor would have expected the Bluff residents to create trails for hiking or to reach hunting and fishing grounds, but the deeds stipulated that the land remain forever wild. Aside from the Chase house, there were three others that shared the private road, and the occupants were being questioned. The old icehouse, next to Lockwood Pond and close to the main road, had been checked, and no sign of Claire had been found. There were some beer cans and bags of fast food refuse in a corner, indicating that someone had used it at one pointpossibly a party spot for kids. Search dogs had been brought in last night, but they lost Claires trail on the dirt track just fifteen yards east of the Chases house. Someone could have hidden a vehicle there, where Claire wouldnt have seen it. After ambushing her, the suspect could have loaded her inside and driven away with her. In fact, there were signs that several vehicles had parked in that spot over time. When told there were tire impressions of trucks and various makes and models of cars, Chase had said it was where workmen parked and also guests from when he and Claire held parties. Flowers bloomed all around the house. The beds looked well tended. Conor wondered if the Chases had a gardener or whether Claire took care of them herself. He couldnt imagine Griffin doing it, working in the soil. Maybe a landscape crew had made the recent tire tracks. Or perhaps it was Claires attacker. Had she been abducted? Or had he taken her body away? Although the tire tracks were photographed by investigators and impressions were taken, it was impossible to determine which were most recent. Conor needed a list of all tradespeople known to work on the Chases property. Conor spotted Trooper Peggy McCabe standing by the front door. They waved at each other; he had worked with McCabe before, after Beth Lathrops murder, when McCabe was a town cop. She was local, born and raised in Black Hall. He made a mental note to ask her if she knew the Chases. Last night detectives had questioned the Coffins and Lockwoods. The Hawkes had been out, and Conor intended to drop by to interview them today. All four families were friendlyin fact, they had all gathered at the Coffin home just two weeks earlier for the annual Catamount Association meeting. Cocktails and hors doeuvres had been served. It was also a private campaign rally, with the neighbors toasting Griffins run for governor and writing big checks. All day yesterday, Neil Coffin had been at work in Hartford, where he was an insurance executive; Abigail owned a yoga studio in town and had taught a class that started at three p.m. She hadnt seen Claire at any point during the day, and she didnt return home until six thirty, after dropping into Claires opening. Like the Chases and Hawkes, Neil Coffin was in his midforties, Abigail a couple of years younger. Wade and Leonora Lockwood, a couple in their late seventies, had left their house in separate cars but at the same time: five p.m. Wade went to meet some friends at a club he belonged to, and Leonora drove into town to attend Claires opening. They hadnt seen Claire all day, hadnt noticed any vehicles other than a FedEx truck driving toward the Chase homeas they were leaving their driveway. Wade reported the time as 5:00 p.m. sharp. He had been in the navy, fought in the Vietnam War, then returned to his family home on Catamount Bluff to settle down. He had inherited land and buildings on the gritty Easterly waterfront. Over time, he had developed many warehouses for commercial use and luxury condos. Leonora thought she might have seen Claire drive past around noon, but she couldnt be sure whether Claire was leaving Catamount or returning, and she wasnt positive it hadnt actually been the day before. Wade had expressed displeasure over his wifes inaccuracy. Conor had not seen a FedEx box outside the house when he had arrived there last night. He had called their dispatcher in Norwich, and shed told him that nothing had been delivered. A pickup had been scheduled by Claireshe was a frequent customer, often shipping work to collectorsbut the driver had not found a package. As Conor walked down the road to meet with the Hawkes, he heard blues music coming from their house. Catamount Bluff seemed so sedate and buttoned up, Conor welcomed the sound. Two Mercedes sedans and a catering truck were parked in the circular driveway. The house seemed a mirror image of the Chases: shingled, sprawling, over a century old, worth a fortune. Conor rang the front bell, and a minute later, a man answered the door. Mr. Hawke? Conor asked. No, he said. Im just breaking down the partytheyre out back. Come on, Ill show you. Except for art on the walls, the houses decor was pure white, similar to the Chases kitchen: white walls, furniture, rugs on the hardwood floors. In stark contrast, abstract paintings, in shades of red and pink, covered the walls. A tripod by a picture window held a telescope, and Conor noted it was pointed toward the Chases house. Glass doors opened onto a pool, turquoise and sparkling in the sun. Tables and chairs had been set up, and a crew was folding them, packing them onto dollies. A couple stood by the bar, pulling down lengths of red, white, and blue bunting. The woman turned, spotted Conor, and said something to the man. She was thin and blonde, rings on her fingers and bracelets on her wrists, wearing a dress the same raspberry shade as some of the paintings inside. Conor approached the couple. Hi, did you call? Are you from the police? she asked. Yes, he said. Im Detective Reid. Mrs. Hawke? Sloane, please. And this is my husband, Edward. They all shook hands. Both looked solemn. He was tall with brown hair, muscular but turning soft around the middle; he wore faded red shorts and an untucked starched white dress shirt; the breast pocket bore a small embroidered crest: a dark bird with outstretched wings, talons clutching a banner. He had seen it before. We want to help however we can, Edward said. Claire would never run away, Sloane said, shaking her head. Never. If thats what youre thinking. Why would I think that? Conor asked. All marriages have problems, she said, looking downward. Lawyers dont always appreciate what its like to take in the world and turn it into art. She means me, Edward said. Youre a lawyer? Conor asked. He nodded. Yeah, corporate law. My office is in Easterly. Conor found his gaze pulled back to the insignia on Edwards shirt pocket. He was pretty sure hed seen the same one on Griffin Chases shirts. And in case you havent guessed, Sloanes an artist, Edward said. She painted those masterpieces in the living room. What happened to Claire? Sloane asked, brushing off her husbands compliment. I cant stand not knowing. Two tragedies on the same day, Edward said. He means Sallie Benson. The boat explosion, Sloane said. Conors antenna went up. The Benson case belonged to Conors old partner, and Jen had told him what Dan Benson had said: They got her. Hours later, when the anesthesia had worn off, he claimed not to remember saying that and said Sallie had been upset and maybe her carelessness had caused the explosion. Two local women affected by violence on the same day seemed like an awfully big coincidence. Could there be a connection between whatever had happened to both women? Do you know Sallie Benson? he asked. Sloane didnt reply. Edward stared at the ground. Yes, Sloane said. We know her. Are you close friends with both women? Conor asked. Ironically, Claire and Griffin introduced us to Sallie, Edward said. She did some decorating work for us. His eyes were red rimmed, and Conor sensed him holding back emotion. But Claire, yeswe are very good friends with both her and Griffin. Is that right, Mrs. Hawke? Conor asked. Definitely, Sloane said, her eyes filling with tears. I hardly know Sallie, but Claire is one of my closest friends. We support each others work. When things are bad, were always there for each other. She broke down, couldnt go on. Can you tell me what you mean, when things are bad? Conor asked. Sloane stared down, her shoulders shaking hard, clearly trying not to let him see her cry. Edward put his arm around Sloane. Claires had a rough time with Griffins boys. Well, Ford anyway. He resents having a stepmother, and he can be a real prick to her. To everyone, frankly. He moved out. Alexander, too, although he and Claire get along much better. Well, they were too old to be living at home anyway, Sloane said, sniffling. At least theyre being productive now. If house-sitting can be considered productive, Edward said. Well, I suppose they get paid for it. What does Ford do that bothers Claire? Conor asked. Hes confrontational, Sloane said. He came down to her studio two days ago while I was there with her and said awful things. Hed been drinking. What did he say? I barely remember, Sloane said. Anything would help, Conor said. She cleared her throat. Dumb stuff about her not belonging here, that the property had been in his family. That shed married his father right after his mother went away because she wanted the money. As if she ever . . . So what can we do for you? Edward asked abruptly, interrupting his wife. I dont mean to be rude. Its just that were very upset. We always have a Memorial Day party. This year it was going to double as a fundraiser for Griffin, but with Claire missing, we decided to cancel. Did either of you see Claire yesterday? Conor asked, and he watched them shake their heads in unison. No, Edward said, sliding a glance at his wife. I was at the office, and Sloane was running around, shopping for the party. All day? Conor asked. Lots to do for the party, she said, glancing at Edward. Got to keep up appearances, you know? Appearances? Conor asked. She didnt reply. When were you home? he asked. Well, I left here midmorning, came back for lunch and a swim, then headed out again. I went to Claires opening with Leonora and Abigail. I spotted you at the gallery. I actually saw you leave with Griffin. I guess thats when you came here and found . . . she was gone, right? Did you see Claire at any time while you were home? Conor asked, leaving her question unanswered. No, she said. And it breaks my heart. I thought about running over after lunch, just to give her a hug and moral support for her show. But I figured she might be busy getting ready or with some last-minute touches on this one particular piece. It had special meaning to her, and she wanted to hold on to it longer than the others. Which piece was it? Conor asked. Fingerbone, Sloane said. Kind of disturbing. Conor nodded, picturing the skeleton hand. Do you know why it meant so much to her? She said it was inspired by something she saw when she was young. Okay, Conor said, remembering what Claire had asked him at dinner Monday night. Anyway, Sloane said, frowning. I didnt go to her house. Everything might have been different if I had. Yeah, you might have been bludgeoned or stabbed and strung up too, Edward said. He looked at Conor. I know, youre wondering how I know, none of that is public knowledge. Griffin told me what you found in the garage. All the blood. Its horrific. She has to be alive, Sloane said, her eyes filling with tears. Yes, we have to hope, Edward said. Again, Conor was struck by the emotion in his face. Is there anything else? Thats all for now, Conor said. He started to turn away, then stopped. Just one more thing, completely separate. That insignia, he said, pointing at Edwards shirt pocket. Oh, that, Sloane said. Its his secret society. Edwards arm tightened around her shoulders. Its the crest for a mens club I belong to. Sloane thinks women should be allowed to join. The Last Monday Club. Actually, Claire and I just think its silly, Sloane said. So Griffins a member too? Conor asked. Edward gave Sloane an angry glance and didnt reply; chastened, Sloane stood stiffly and gave a single, brisk nod. How about Dan Benson? Neither of them replied. Conor thanked them and walked away. It had struck him when Sloane had mentioned the small-world connections all around that Edward had interrupted her, effectively cutting her off. Even more noteworthy had been the way Edward had clearly not wanted Sloane to tell him that Griffin belonged to the same mens club. The secret society. He would look into the Last Monday Club, including whether Dan Benson was a member. And he would talk to Ford Chase, find out how badly he resented Claire for moving into his family home at Catamount Bluff. 10 TOM The USCG search for survivors of the Sallie B had been going on for fourteen hours. No one had been found, and no debris had been sighted since yesterday. Tom had been up all night. He felt himself flagging, but all he had to do was think of Gwen, nine, and Charlie, seven, to sharpen up. He stood on the bridge of Nehantic and drank black coffee. Sallie Bensons body had been recovered from the wreck. She had been trapped in the galley and badly burned in the blast. Divers had searched for the children, found no sign of them. They did, however, discover a large hole blown through the floorboards, indicating the explosion had come from the bilge. Dan was at Easterly Hospital recovering from surgery. A length of the boats aluminum trim, turned into an arrow by the blast, had hit his chest. It had just missed his heart, punctured a lung. By all reports, he was frantic about his family. Tom knew that both Conor and Jen considered his changing statements about what happened to be suspiciousfirst saying they got her, then claiming that Sallies negligence had blown up the boat. Tom wasnt sure where the investigation stood, but he assumed that until the explosion was ruled an accident, Dan himself was a suspect. Computer models showed that if the children had made it into the water in the small yellow life raft, they would be drifting toward or past Block Island. At that point, they would be in the open Atlantic Ocean, a far more treacherous proposition considering that the next landfall was Portugal. Tom studied the chart. The computer factored in every possible environmental factor and wanted to send him south-southeastand that rang a huge bell. It had done the same thing on a previous SAR, for two young girls whose voyage had started off roughly five miles from the site where the Sallie B sank. If he had followed directions, he would have missed the children entirelythey would have been presumed lost at sea. But he had accounted for the possibility that they might somehow have steered themselves to safety, and he had checked unlikely rock outcroppings. Thats when he had found them on Morgan Island. Tom took a deep breath. He ordered Nehantics officer of the deck to change course. The day was so bright and the water so calm that the sea was a mirror. It was time to look at Morgan Island. It had saved two sisters lives oncewhy not Gwen and Charlie now? But the radio squawked, and he heard the Jayhawk pilot calling in, saying they had just spotted a yellow raft on the far side of the Block Island windmills. It appeared that no one was aboard. Nehantic was the ship closest to that location, so Tom ordered another course change, and they steamed full speed toward the reported position. The helicopter hovered above, at enough altitude to avoid swamping the small craft. Tom had the same concern about the large wake caused by his 270-foot cutter, so he deployed a rigid inflatable boat. Seaman Ricardo Cardoso steered the RIB toward the yellow raft; Tom stood on the starboard side, ready to lean over and grab a line when they approached. His heart was racing, but it crashed as soon as they came broadside. The pilot was right: the raft was empty. Tom turned toward Seaman Cardoso and started to shake his head when he heard what sounded like a bird. It squeaked once, twice. He leaned farther over the side of the USCG inflatable and saw her. A little girl was lying on her side in the shadow of the rafts hull, pressed so tightly against it that she might have been part of the boat. There was no sign of the boy. The raft was small. Tom was afraid his weight could cause it to capsize, so he balanced himself by holding the inflatables rail, lowered himself dead center in the raft. He knelt beside the girlslight, white-blonde, wearing bright-yellow shorts and an orange PFD over a pale-yellow shirt. At first, he didnt see her breathing, and he thought the worst, but then he saw the pulse in her neck beating fast. Gwen? he asked. My name is Tom. Im a coast guard officer, and Im here to take you home. She didnt speak or turn toward him, but he heard that bird sound coming from her mouthtiny peeps. He lifted her into his arms, smelled smoke from the explosion, saw that her eyebrows had been singed and her eyelashes burned off. His chest tightened at the thought of what Hunter had told him: that Dan said Sallie had done this on purpose. Cardoso leaned over the rail, and Tom handed Gwen into his arms. The raft was barely four feet long and obviously empty. Charlie wasnt there. Tom would radio the Jayhawk and the rest of the fleet, and he knew they would focus their search for Charlie in this area. When Tom climbed into the RIB, he went to Gwen and tried to meet her gaze. Her eyes were open, but she seemed to be staring at a point far off in the distance. Gwen? he said again. Youre okay. Were taking you home. Gwen, can you tell me about your brother? Wheres Charlie? A tremor shook her body so hard that he thought she was having a seizure. After a moment it subsided, but she still wouldnt, or couldnt, meet Toms eyes, and she didnt answer him. But the squeaks didnt stopthey kept going over and over, almost as if they were her breath, almost as if they told her she was still alive. Tom took off his personal flotation device and uniform shirt. Even though Gwen was so small she swam in them, he buttoned and buckled them tight around her to keep her warm and safe. He held her tight while the Jayhawk lowered the rescue basket. He climbed into the basket with her and shielded her with his body as the winch roared and hoisted them up. He held his hands over her ears, so the booming sound of the rotors wouldnt scare her, and he didnt let her go until he carried her into the choppers cabin, laid her on the gurney so the medics could take care of her. He took her hand; it was ice cold. She neither squeezed his hand nor pulled away. She didnt flinch when the medics took her vital signs and pricked her arm with a needle to start an IV. They all spoke to her, making sure to say her name: Gwen, youre safe now. Gwen, do you know where you are? Hey, Gwen. How old are you? Are you nine? Gwen, whats your favorite color? But she didnt reply to any of them. She just kept staring off into nothingor at least nothing that Tom or any of the others could seepeeping like a baby bird, in a language that made sense to no one but Gwen. Then she said one word: Mermen. After that, the tiny sounds resumed. FOUR DAYS EARLIER 11 SALLIE Love was truly a series of blunders. Thats how Sallie Benson had started to think about it. Even knowing that she was making a mess of her life, she felt powerless to stop. Here she was at West Wind Marina, on a boat two docks over from where she and her husband kept the Sallie B, waiting for her true lovea man who wasnt her husband. Dan was at work, their kids were at school, and she was breathless with desire and guilt. She was addicted; she might as well be waiting for her dealer. Sitting in the cabin of Elysianthe sexy sixty-five-foot sportfishing boat that she had been paid to decorateshe wondered for the hundredth time that day what she was doing. She knew everyone at the boatyard, and they knew her. She had parked in her usual spot, next to where her familys boatnamed for her, by her husband, a gift for their fifteenth anniversarywas docked. Then shed had to walk past dockhands and guys who had worked on the Sallie B. She felt their eyes on her, watching as she held her head high and strode down a completely different dock to someone elses yacht. She had said hi to Eli Dean, the yard owner, and she was positive his normally friendly smile had turned into a leer. She glanced in the mirror in the main salon: she had white-blonde hairthe same color shed had as a child but now maintained at a pricebig blue eyes that, to her, reflected the innocence she felt about the world and those she loved, and a white piqu? sundress that revealed the fact she didnt have much of a tan. How had the nice woman shed always been become someone who committed adulteryand couldnt get enough of it? She had worked hard to build her business, and she was so grateful she had become the go-to designer for the moneyed set. Even some of the oldest blue-blood families on the shoreline wanted to redo their houses and, lately, yachts, with her signature style. Designing the interior of Elysian had come with particular challenges, namely, Edwards wife, Sloane. Sallie felt very at home here, although, naturally, she had no ownership rights. Every inch of the interior bore Sallies mark. Edward had insisted on it. Sloanehad there ever been such a boarding school name?loved bright colors, especially deep shades of pink, and she had cozy inclinations. That was not what Edward wanted. When Sallie designed the Hawkes house on Catamount Bluff, she had had to convince Sloane that white was the perfect base color for seaside living. It caught and reflected light sparkling off the water. And many people didnt realize how many variations there were in the white paletteall kinds of shades, with hints of blue or green or yellow or even pink. Depending on your choice, you could warm or cool a roomor do both at the same time. Sallie would have expected that Sloane, as an artist, would understand that. Benjamin Moore paints made over a hundred shades of white. The names were poetic: cloud white, Chantilly lace, white heron, distant gray, white diamond, dove wing, sea pearl. Sallie loved perhaps their most famous shadelinen white. With hints of pale, almost invisible yellow, it spread warmth through a room and flattered everyone in it. And why did she love white so much? The answer seemed sacrilegious, waiting on Elysian for her lover to arrive, but it was because of her mother. When she was fifteen and her mother was dying of cancer, Sallie had sat beside her hospital bed. Her father and little sister, Lydia, had gone downstairs to the cafeteria. Mass cards and get-well cards were propped up on the wide windowsill. It was a Catholic hospital, and there was a crucifix and a painting of Mary on the wall above the bed. Sallie had prayed the rosary while her mother slept. Sallie, her mother said, taking her hand when she woke up. She gazed at Sallie with loving blue eyes that seemed to be getting cloudier by the minute. When I get to heaven and its full of angels, I wont meet anyone better than you. I dont want you to leave, Sallie whispered. Please stay . . . Sweetheart, I would if I could. But thats why we have to stay connected, no matter what. Thats why I want you to stay the same as you are now, as smart and kind, so when I look down from the sky, no matter how much time goes by, I will always recognize you. Youre my angel, Sallie. Youre mine, Mom. Her mother died before her father and sister returned to the room. Sallie had been wearing her schools summer uniforma white cotton dressthat day. White was the last color her mother ever saw her wearing. So even now, Sallie gravitated to white and almost always wore it. And after she graduated from Parsons School of Design, put in her time with a famous New York design firm, and started her own company, she found herself drawn to the beauty of angel-white rooms, the color she had been wearing the day her mother died. She wanted her mother to be able to see her, to recognize her always, as she watched over her from heaven. She hoped her mother would forgive her for what had started at Catamount Bluff: love and trouble. That was where she had fallen in love with Edward. It had started slowly, but she had noticed that he would often show up at the house around lunchtime, when Sloane was over at Claires studio or taking yoga at Abigail Coffins wellness center in Black Hall. He would sit at the kitchen table, watching Sallie with such admiration in his eyes. One day he walked right up to her, touched the back of her hand as she held up swatches of fabric for him to examine. Sallies heart had practically stopped. She felt overwhelmedshe had never had an affair, never been unfaithful to Dan in spite of how unloved she felt. She had not felt so excited, so wanted by a man, since before Gwen and Charlie were born. She found herself thinking of Edward all the time. She lost sleep fantasizing over what might happen. Lying beside Dan, she could practically feel Edward holding her, kissing her, undressing her. As time went on, she felt an unspoken agreement with Edward that he would come home for lunch and Sallie would be there. Every day. The trouble part of Sallies time on Catamount Bluff came in the form of one of Griffin Chases twin sons. They looked nothing alike, but at first she kept forgetting which was which. After a while she figured it outFord was the brash one; Alexander was reserved. Also, Ford was the one who developed a big ridiculous crush on her. In the beginning, she had thought it was semiadorable, the way he would show up to swim in the Hawkes pool. He would drive a half hour back to Catamount Bluff from where he housesat near the Rhode Island border and stand by the poolshirt off, covered with coconut oilwatching her out of the corner of his eye before diving in, leaving a slick of oil on the waters surface. But when hed started coming into the kitchen while she was waiting for Edward, helping himself to cold drinks from the refrigerator, reeking of coconut, Sallie began to get annoyed. He would prattle on about his sailing prowess, his college baseball batting average, the way girls were always calling and texting him, how they all seemed so young to him, without substancehe needed a woman he could really talk to. An older woman, he actually said one day. Do you mind if I text you? he asked. Why do you want to? she asked. I dont know, just send you stuff I think you might appreciate. Videos and stuff. He tried to smile. She could see he was holding back strong feelings. I just want someone who gets it. Ford, Im not that person. Maybe no one is, he said. Girls my age dont. My mother bailed, and my stepmother . . . His mouth twisted, and his eyes were full of pain. Youre not close to Claire? she asked. He snorted, as if hed never heard anything more absurd. Sallie felt bad for him, and she wound up giving him her card. His mother had left the boys. It was a terrible thing to do, but Sallie knew there had to be another side of the story. Dan and Griffin had caroused around when they were young, and from what Dan had said, they were lucky theyd gotten away with so much. They were both members of the Last Monday Club now, but Dan kept his distance. He once said he felt sorry for Margot and for Claire. Griffin is hell on women, Dan had said. And I wouldnt want to be his sons. He belittles them. I hope they dont turn out like him. That made Sallie feel even sorrier for Ford, the way he tried to make himself sound important, indispensable to his father. My dads going to be governor, Ford said. Im helping with his campaign. Really, she said. Yeah. Basically, I do oppo research. Excuse me? Opposition research. I help look into the guy whos running against him but what a socialist. He doesnt have a chance. My dads going to sail right through. My husband said hes quite a guy, Sallie said. Oh yeah? He talks to you about my dad? Ford asked. Yes, they had some adventures when they were young, Sallie said, pausing. Then, My husband tells me everything. Thats the way we are. Very close. No secrets. She was sure that Ford had picked up on the heat between her and Edward, and she thought by talking about Dan, she would throw him off. But by the strange glint in Fords eye, she realized her statement had somehow set him offmaybe now he was jealous of Dan too. She regretted giving Ford her card, because he sent texts or emails nearly every dayvideos of dumb comedy sketches or his favorite bands. Tell me about the adventures that your husband and my dad had. I wanna tease him, hed write. For the first couple of weeks she had replied just to be polite, but then she stopped. She knew her silence might hurt him, but she needed him to get the hint. After Edward hired her to redo Elysian, she began to notice Ford showing up at the dock. True, the Chases had a sailboat and a skiff, both kept here at West Wind. Was Fords being at the marina a coincidence, or was he following her? Sallie told herself she was being paranoid about Ford. Instead she focused on Edward and began wondering whether they could really have a life togetherleave Dan and Sloane and become a couple. The agony of that construct was her love for her children. In her grandparents day, Catholics didnt divorce. Some of her parents friends had split up, but fingers were always pointed, someone was always bad, a sinner, whispered about. The kids always paid the price. If she left Dan, he would fight her for custody. Sallie could never be without her children. Gwen was such a little toughie, the way she raced her bike against all the boys in the neighborhood, could swim from one end of the beach to the other without resting. She did cartwheels and backbends and was in constant motion, all day long, until she was ready to collapse into bed after dinner. And Charlie. Even at seven, he was still her baby. Sallie loved the way he tried to keep up with Gwenand how Gwen let him. She took him almost everywhere. Would most big sisters do that? Maybe it would change when they got older, but for now they were an inseparable pair. Sallie had been like that with her sister, Lydia. She still was; she and Dan had agreed that if anything ever happened to them, Lydia would be the guardian for the kids. Of course, Lydia had agreed. It made Sallie feel horrible, to be thinking of her kids while she waited for Edward on his boat. She heard her phone buzz, and she grabbed it from her purse. Hello, she said, seeing his name on the caller ID. Are you at the boat? he asked. Yes, she said. Everything okay? Yes, and Im so sorry to be running late. In fact . . . She heard it in his voice: he wasnt coming. Sallie, Im so sorry. I thought Id be there by now, but Im stuck at work, waiting for a conference call with the other side. Theyre scrambling to get documents together. Then tonight I have Last Monday Club. It was Dans club, too, but he had stopped going in recent months. Id skip it, Edward continued, but tonights especially important. Were presenting Griffin with a big campaign contribution. I can stop at the boat between the call and the meeting. Will you wait for me? Sallies heart fell. He wanted her to stay, so they could have sex, and then hed run out to be with the guys. She made some sort of sound into the phone. Okay, he said. Ill be there as soon as I can. She hung up and checked the time again. The kids after-school programs would be letting out in an hour; shed planned to be in the parking lot to pick up Gwen and Charlie, but now she wouldnt have enough time. Shed have to call Dan, make up an excuse. She would say she was stuck at a clientsnot a total lieand ask if he could get the kids. He wouldnt care that she was late. Hed take the kids to the tennis courts and then out for an ice cream. She walked forward, into the owners cabin. She sat down on the bed, the fluffy comforter sheathed in the pure-white Sferra duvet cover, Elysian embroidered in cream-colored silk thread. Edward had told her that Sloane had not spent even one night aboard. What was she doing? She had never thought this would be her life, yet she had created it. She had brought herself to this point. She typed a message to Edward on her phone: Can you tell me what this is? Is it love? It is for me. She hesitated ten seconds, then hit send. Tied to the dock, Elysian rocked gently on the tide, but she heard a thump and felt the boat jounce. Footsteps sounded on deck, and for a second, she imagined it was Edward. Someone stumbled down the companionway. Ford Chase bumped into the stateroom door, steadied himself, and walked toward her. He was disheveled, unshaven, with bloodshot eyes full of pain. I didnt want you to be here, he said. I hoped you wouldnt be. Im not sure why youd care or why its any of your business, she said, her heart thudding. The Hawkes are my clients. Just like your father and Claire were. I dont believe you, he said, shaking his head. He stepped closer, smelling like alcohol and slurring his words. Thats not why youre here. Ford, she said. I love you, he said quietly. You dont, she said. Why are you with Edward? Why him? You dont know him at all. Hes a bastard, just like my dad, he said. If your dad is so bad, why are you working to help him win office? she asked, challenging him and hoping the shock would sober him up. You think he shouldnt win? he asked. Not if hes a bastard, she said. Ford just stood there, weaving, staring at her. Come on, Ford, youve had too much to drink. Let me drive you home. Home? Wheres home? I live in someone elses house making sure the pipes dont freeze all winter and the sprinklers work all summer, with my goody-goody brother, while our father lives in our family home with a whore. Claire? she asked, shocked. I bet they started up before my mother even left. Cheating to be together, just like you and Edward. Sallie felt sick. Come on, Sallie said. Her tone was gentle, but she was falling apart inside. She stepped toward him and took his arm. You tell me where youre living, and Ill take you there. He started to nod, then lurched toward the head, using one hand to steady himself, projectile vomiting all over the sleek white wall and falling to his knees. Sallie turned away, disgusted by Ford but, even more, devastated by what he had said because his words had rung so true. 12 CLAIRE With just four days till my opening at the Woodward-Lathrop Gallery, I had jitters. I was most comfortable in nature or in my studio, and being the center of attention made me nervous. It was six p.m., and Griffin was on his way to the Last Monday Club. He took it very seriously, but Sloane and I secretly laughed about the whole thing. All those men dressing in black tie for their secret society meetingthey got together the last Monday of each month, went hunting and fishing several times a year, and planned how to get one of their own, Griffin, elected governor. We wondered if they had a special handshake. The group did have a philanthropic side. Each year they chose a local nonprofit, and the members donated $1,000 each. Last years charity was the Domestic Violence Prevention Center of Southeastern Connecticut. I wondered if Griffin had steered them to it as a private joke. I doubted most of them realized that emotional abuse was as devastating as physicalthe scars were just as painful, but they were internal, where people couldnt see. The abusers were so good at it that no one but their partners knew what they were doing. Or at least my husband was. The size of the Last Monday Club membership never changedtwenty men. As members died, new ones were admitted. It was a morbid truth that death was the only way a man could get in. The new members had to be the same typein other words, rich and connected. They claimed that background didnt matter. Bank accounts did. But like all organizations, there was a hierarchy within this one. Wade Lockwood was the oldest member and had the most power. Griffins closeness to Wade, and the fact Wade championed his political future, made Griffin next in line. The Catamount Bluff connection was powerful. Edward Hawke was in the inner circle and so were Neil Coffin and his brother, Max. I had heard the Catamount men laughing about it one night over brandy on our terrace. They loved the club, partly because the other members were a built-in constituency: men with money and influence, to finance Griffins campaign and get their friends on board to donate and vote. Ford and Alexander were in line to join. I had no doubt that as sons of the golden boy, they would be welcomed into the top tier. I was glad for the night alone. I gazed out the window at our wide lawn sloping to the edge of the bluff, the gracious and impeccably trimmed privet hedges, and a rose garden that had been here since Griffins great-grandmother had first planted it. It was all so perfecton the outside. I thought of heading over to see Sloane but remembered that she had said she was taking an early-evening yoga class with Abigail Coffin. Every man on our road was there, in that closed room on the top floor of the Mohegan Hotel. They didnt even allow women servers. There were waiters and a male chef, none of them members of the society. Once the meal was served, the staff would leave the members to their port and cigars, when the real discussions would begin. The employees were sworn to secrecythey signed nondisclosure agreements, and not even the members were allowed to repeat what was said in the meetings, least of all to their wives. They were not even supposed to tell who the other members were. But of course, the wives talkedmost of us, anyway. Leonora never would. I felt the urge to get away from Griffins upper-class domain, his black-tie Monday night, and head to Hubbards Point. I hurried along the forest pathas always, pausing at the cove where I had found Ellens body. I made my way down the steep hill, onto the beach at Hubbards Point, and my whole body relaxed. Instead of the four mansions on Catamount Road, there were over a hundred small cottages scattered close together on winding roads, with a feeling of fun, joy, and togetherness. Not tuxedo-clad secrets of the rich and infamous. This was my home. I spotted Jackie walking slowly along the tide line, head down as she looked for beach treasures. Wed been beachcombing these sands from the time we could walk. Its you! she said, hugging me. The star of the show! I tried to smile, but I couldnt. Whats wrong? she asked. Something about the exhibit? I was just thinking of Ellen. I just passed the spot. Oh, Ellen, Jackie said. We walked in silence, the memory of our old friend shimmering between us. I thought of Fingerbone, of how angry Griffin would be when he saw it. Protect his reputation? No. His campaign was gathering steam, amassing huge contributions, but it would soon come to a halt. There was no way I could let a killer, a man who hated women, take office. I would show Griffin my shadow box at the same time I told him I was leaving, and he would know that this was real, that I knew he murdered Ellen. And he would realize that I was ready to tell. Hey, Jackie said, pulling me out of those troubled thoughts. Are you okay? Sort of, I said. Then, Not really. Tell me, Jackie said. Theres something I have to figure out, I said. She stared at me with her big, beautiful, kind eyes, and I felt bad for not being ready to confide in her. Have you eaten? she asked after a moment. No, I said. Griffins out, and I wasnt in the mood to cook. Come join us, she said. Kate and Conor are coming over, and I know shed love to see you. Shes so disappointed she has to fly Friday and will miss your opening. Sure, I said. Id love to. I felt a rush of blood in my chest. Conor Reid was a detective. Although I didnt know him well, he had become part of Jackies family when she married his brother, Tom. He seemed quiet and serious. Could I trust him? Would he listen to me, believe me? Or was he, like many in Connecticut law enforcement, so loyal to Griffin that hed find a way not to investigate? The challenge was to find someone I could trust. I wondered if that person might be Conor. 13 CONOR Conor grabbed every chance to hang out with his brother, Tom, and Jackie, and any time he got with Kate was a bonus. Claire Beaudry Chase had joined them, spur of the moment. They all gathered outside Tom and Jackies cottage. The charcoal sizzled as Tom flipped the swordfish. Jackie stood beside him, brushing on the marinade. Claire sat at the table, sipping wine and gazing at the water. The cottage faced west over the beach. Conor and Kate stood slightly apart from the others, holding hands and watching the spectacular red-and-gold sunset. The woods between Hubbards Point and Catamount Bluff were dark and shadowed. Did you walk through the path to get here, Claire? Conor heard his brother ask. Or did you drive over? I walked, she said. I met her on the beach, Jackie said. Well, Im really glad you joined us, Tom said. Conor noticed that Claire looked worried, almost shell shocked. She didnt seem like an artist with a big show about to open. Conor had seen similar expressions on the faces of crime victims. Dinners served! Jackie said after a few minutes. Everyone sat around the wrought iron table. Platters were passed, drinks poured. Kate raised her glass. Heres to Claire, she said. And a great exhibition! Everyone clinked glasses. Claire smiled, and her mood seemed to lift slightly, but Conor still saw the heaviness. I have a charter to LA that day, Kate said. Memorial Day weekend and my clients are flying to their house in Malibu. Its killing me to not be able to celebrate at the gallery, but Conor will be there. Wouldnt miss it, he said, not letting on that Kate had leaned close in the car on the way over, said that she just knew hed love representing her at the opening, being there for Claire, and in return, shed promise to attend any police banquet he asked her to. He laughed because he knew Kate realized hed do anything for herthere didnt have to be a quid pro quo. After dinner, Tom and Jackie went inside to make coffee and get dessert; Kate followed them into the kitchen to help clean up. Conor was about to follow, but Claire stopped him. Have you ever seen eyes change color? Claire asked. Uh, he said. You mean how babies eyes are blue when theyre born but can change as they get older? Claire didnt reply right away. The sun had nearly set, and it was getting almost too dark to see. No, not that, Claire said. Not babies. I mean a grown-up whose eyes change color depending on mood. Have you ever heard of anything like that? He felt that familiar shiver run down his spine, a signal that this was important. He stayed silent, the way he did in interrogations, waiting for her to go on. Claire stared at the beach. The sound of waves hitting the shore echoed up the hill. Its something I wonder about, she said. Probably just my imagination. But I wonder, Is it possible for anger to alter a persons eye color? A person whose green eyes turn black when he gets furious. I mean totally black, in one second. Not bruises on the skin, not shadows under the eyesthe eyes themselves. The irises actually change from green to black. She stared hard at Conor. Yes, Conor said. It does sometimes. What kind of person would it happen to? Claire asked. A psychopath, Conor said. Has it been documented? Claire asked. Have people actually seen it happen? Conor could tell by the tension in her voice that she herself had witnessed it. A famous example is Ted Bundy, Conor said. One of his only victims to survive said that during the attack, his eyes turned from blue to black. And police interviewers saw it too. The eyes dont actually change color, but the pupils completely dilate from extreme arousal. Fueled by rage? Claire asked. Conor nodded. And the desire to inflict pain. What can you do about a person like that? she asked. Stay away from him, he said. Sometimes thats not so easy, she said. She looked away again, gazing across the crescent bay at the woods between Catamount Bluff and Hubbards Point. Have you ever heard of Ellen Fielding? she asked. Of course, he said. I remember it well. I was a town cop back then, and my partner and I got to the cove right after you and Griffin left. So you know, she said. That Griffin and I knew her. That I found her body. Yes, I remember that, he said. I read your statement at the time. He pictured the gruesome scene: the dead girl who had been in the water for days, her flesh ravaged by marine life, the horrific sight of that massive gold bracelet dangling from her skeletal wrist. Do you believe her death was an accident? she asked. Thats what the medical examiner ruled, Conor said carefully. Claire had been staring at him with electricity in her eyes, but now she blinked, and her expression went flat. She looked away. He had the feeling he had let her down. He didnt say that although it wasnt his case, he had been on the scene and it felt personal to him: Ellen was about his age, local, and had died without any explanation. He had followed up, read the autopsy report. Ellen had sustained blunt force trauma to the head. The shape of her skull fracture indicated that it could have been caused by a fall on the rocks or a blow from a weapon. The findings were inconclusive. Ellen was from a rich family; so was her ex-boyfriend Griffin. Money and influence could do a lot, and he had always wondered if those things had played a role in preventing further investigation. He wanted to ask Claire more, but just then Kate came out with a mug of coffee for him, and Jackie and Tom followed with bowls of ice cream. Claire thanked Tom and Jackie, said it was great to see everyone but that she wanted to leave for home before it got completely dark. She headed down the stone steps and across the footbridge. Conor watched her run along the tide line. He found himself thinking of what she had said about green eyes turning black. And he wondered why she had fallen silent after he had answered that Ellens death had been ruled an accident. Did she suspect it had been a homicide? Conor knew he would take another look at Ellens case file when he had time. And he decided that the next time he saw Griffin Chase, he would check to see the color of his eyes. THREE DAYS LATER 14 CLAIRE The cabin was my hospital for the first three days and nights. At the edge of the marsh behind the woods, I felt hidden and safe. I wrapped myself in my old sleeping bag and slept on a bed of pine needles, slipping in and out of dreams. My cuts and bruises stung and ached. At night I heard screamsa rabbit being killed by an owl or the wild cat Id tried to spot my whole life. In my dreams and delirium, the rabbit was me. I knew I was being hunted, no differently from the creatures of the night. My attacker wore that black mask, but his size and shape made me positive it was Griffin. During the first twenty-four hours, I heard bloodhounds and knew that Griffins police had ordered search dogs. Their baying sounded distant; I hoped my concoction would keep them far away. First thing, I knew I had to get water. There was a spring nearby, at the foot of the granite ledges. I left the cabin at dawn. I carried an empty plastic jug from the cabin, filled it up, and drank straight from the bottle right there by the brook. It took all my effort to trudge back to the cabin, staying in the shadow of the rock face as the suns first light began to penetrate the woods. I had no appetite. My head felt as if nails had been driven through my skull, and I had double vision. Did I have a concussion? If I could look in a mirror, would my pupils be different sizes? Maybe my brain was bleeding and I would die of traumatic head injury. Better than letting Griffin find me. But I was stubborn, and I had every intention of either surviving or leaving evidence of what had been done to me. The problem was, I couldnt be sure what had been done to me. The force of the attack had been so swift and violent and the mask so terrifying. By the time the noose was around my neck, I had passed out once, then twice. Cuts on my hands oozed blood from where he had jabbed me with the knife. He must have thought the hanging had killed me. Had someone interrupted him, forced him to leave me there? I escaped before he could remove my body. It gave me pleasure to picture his face, the shock when he returned to find me gone. But once he realized he had failed, he would rage and search until he found me. I knew I needed to eat, to get strong again. In my search for food, I headed toward the beach. It was a longer walk than it was to the spring. I had to skirt the ledges on my way downhill, and I felt nervous because once I got to the cove, I would be close to Catamount Bluff, almost within sight of my house. It was barely dawn, but the last morning stars were still out, and I was able to slowly follow a deer track through a grove of scrub oak and white pine. At the edge of the rocky uplands, I came upon the burial ground. I passed the sacred place, made my way down the ridge, and crossed the path between Catamount Bluff and Hubbards Point. For a moment I considered going hometo Hubbards Point, to Jackie and Tom Reids cottage. But could I trust Tom? Especially since his brother, Conor, as a member of the state police, was closely connected with Griffin. My instincts told me Conor was good, but those same instincts had allowed me to fall in love with Griffin. I didnt know who to trust. It was only a few days after I had sat at that picnic table with the Reids that someone tried to kill me. Could Conor have told Griffin that Ellen was still and forever on my mind? Griffin already knew that, but coming from Conor, it could feel like even more of a threat. Had Conor figured out that when I talked about green eyes turning black, I was talking about Griffin? He had told me psychopaths had eyes that did that. Conor had clearly said that Ellens death had been ruled an accident. He didnt show any doubt, so I stopped myself from saying more. Griffin demanded loyalty. Every law enforcement agency in the state was rooting for Griffin to win the election. Having a law-and-order governor would benefit and empower them. Conor was part of that group. Tom too. Before I stepped out of the woods, I broke a low bough off a pine tree. From spending my childhood here and from all my beachcombing treks, I knew every inch of this shore. I took off my shoes, carried the branch as I crossed the sand, and dropped it on the tide line. I stepped very carefully onto the granite ledge, inching my way over the slippery surface to the shallow water. It was midtide. Sargassum weed, attached to rocks, wafted in and out. I brushed aside clumps of seaweed and in the gray light from the last stars was able to see a colony of blue-black mussels clinging to the rocks. I gathered a handful, cracked them with a loose stone, and ate the sweet shellfish raw. I knew I needed to return to my cabin before the sun rose, but I had a pilgrimage to make first. The cove was just around the bend. This spot was as sacred to me as the Pequot burial groundthe tidal pool where I had found Ellen. Emotion overtook me. My neck was so bruised from the rope that each sob felt like it was crushing my throat from the inside out. I crouched beside the pool where Ellens body had lain. I reached into the water with both hands, splashed it on my wounds. The ocean called to me. Some people are scared of what they cant see in the depths, especially in the dark, but I knew I had to go in. I stripped off my clothes. Dried blood made the fabric of my shirt and jeans stick to my cuts. I winced as I tugged them off, reopening wounds. My father had said nothing was more healing than salt water. I dived in. The Sound was late-May cold. It felt bracing, and it stung every inch of my body, but just for a minute. I got used to it quickly. The salt buoyed me up. It soothed my bruises, felt like salve on my neck and shoulders. My muscles and joints had seized, like bolts rusted solid, after barely moving for three days; swimming fifteen yards off the beach loosened them and brought me back to life. By the time I climbed out of the water, the sun was just cresting the horizon. I gazed west, saw lights on in one of the houses at Catamount Bluff: mine. Griffin was up already. I knew I had to move fast. I put on my clothes, tried to ignore the harsh feel of cotton sticking to my salty skin. Then I picked up the branch I had dropped and used the pine needles to brush away my footsteps. I found my shoes and disappeared into the trees. The woods embraced me every bit as much as the sea had. By the time I reached my cabin, the sky was the deep blue of dawn, and I was so exhausted I could barely make it inside. Thoughts tumbled through my mind: I should go to the spring and rinse off; I should get more water before the sun is all the way up; I should go to the marsh and try to catch some blue crabs to eat later. I lay down just for a moment, but my eyes wouldnt stay open, and for the first time since Id gotten here, I slept without nightmares. 15 TOM Seventy-two hours after the Sallie B went down, the coast guard called off the search for Charlie. Tom couldnt think of a time he had felt more shattered by the failure of an SAR operation. Hed known from the beginning that finding the Benson children was a long shot. After they rescued Gwen and saw that Charlie wasnt in the yellow raft with her, the search shifted from rescue to recovery. Both Dan and Gwen were still in the hospital, recovering from their injuries. While Dan had been taken to Easterly, Gwen was at Shoreline General; they were known for their superb pediatric care. Other than the single word Gwen had whispered to Tom, she still hadnt spoken. The incident was under investigation by both the USCG and the Connecticut State Police. Tom had been tied up on Nehantic, then spent two good hours on paperwork detailing the operation. Last year he had been appointed AIESadjunct investigator for Easterly Sector, meaning he had to follow up marine incidents. So when he finished at his desk, he headed toward the Hawthorne Shipyard, where Jeanne and Bart Dunham, the couple who had first come upon the wreck, kept their sailboat. It was Memorial Day, and he hit major traffic on I-95. The weather was beautiful, and with hordes of people heading to beaches and harbors, he doubted he would find the Dunhams thereit was too nice a day not to be sailing. But when he parked in the shipyard lot and asked a rigger where Arcturus was docked, he found the boat in her slip and the couple sitting on deck. She was reading a book; he was staring at an iPad. Still in his USCG uniform khakis, Tom walked down the finger pier, stopped at the stern of the vessel. She was sleek and pretty, well maintained with a white hull and a freshly painted blue cove stripe just below deck level. The couple glanced up as he approached. Hello, he said. Im Commander Tom Reid from the coast guard. Are you the Dunhams? Yes, Jeanne and Bart, the woman said. Are you here about the Sallie B? the man asked. I am. Come aboard, Bart Dunham said. Tom stepped from the wooden pier onto Arcturuss deck, ducked under the frame of the white canvas awning that stretched over the cockpit from the cabin to the sailboats backstay. The Dunhams both stood, and they shook hands with Tom. The day was sunny and warm, but the awning kept the cockpit fairly cool. Please sit down, Bart said. Would you like some iced tea? Or a rum and tonic? Iced tea would be great, he said, and Bart went down below and almost immediately handed up a plastic glass. Tom heard bottles clinking and figured Bart was fixing himself a drink. The three of them sat in the U-shaped cockpit, on blue-and-white-striped cushions. Youre not out sailing, Tom said. Theres a good breeze. Right now, I never want to sail again, Jeanne said. It must have been upsetting, Tom said. Oh my God, Jeanne said. You wouldnt believe. I can still smell fuel and smoke and burning hair. I cant get the taste of it out of the back of my throat. Was that hers? The burning hair? She shivered. We did recover Mrs. Bensons remains, Tom said, leaving out the part that, yes, the smell of incinerated hair and everything else had probably come from her. Ive been reading about it online, Bart said. Tom noticed the way Jeanne shot him a look. The daughters okay? How okay can she be? Jeanne snapped at Bart. She was blown out of the water, her mothers dead, her little brother is drowned or worse! Then, turning to Tom, Did you know we saw a shark in the area? Good Lord, the boy could have been attacked! Didnt you see our statement? I read it, but there was no mention of a shark. That wasnt a shark fin, sweetie, it was the dog, Bart said. How would you know? You were half in the bag. I saw what I saw. Tom made note to add the shark to the report, although he had his doubtssharks known to attack humans were rare to nonexistent in the part of Long Island Sound where the wreck of the Sallie B had been found. After a shocking experience, Tom said, such as the one you went through, memories can be muddled. Sometimes they dont come back for a long time. Is there anything else you saw or heard that you might not have remembered right away? Well, the note, Bart said. What note? Jeanne asked. I showed it to you, Bart said. You did not! What note? she asked. Just when we got back to the dock and I hosed her offyou know I always do, wash the deck after coming back in, he said, looking at Tom. Good for the boat, Tom said. Get the salt off, Bart said. Helps keep the rust away. And I like a clean boat. So when you hosed her down . . . , Tom said, wanting Bart to get back on track. Right. I found this scrap of paper stuck to the side of our damn boat, above the waterline. I mean, it had ripped, some of it was gone and the ink was pretty much unreadable. But I could see it was signed Love, Sallie. Like the end of a note. Where is it now? Tom asked. During Dans second interview with the police, he had said Sallie had been distressed, and her distraction had caused her to make a mistake in the galley, that she had caused the explosion herself. Could she have been upset enough to do it on purpose? Could this be a suicide note? I threw it out, Bart said. It was soggy as hell. Must have stuck to our hull when we motored through the debris. There was a bunch of ash and other rude shit plastered to our port side. I tossed it all in the dumpster. He gestured toward the shipyard. Tom glanced over. Wheres the dumpster? In that alley between the rigging shed and the big boat building. Tom nodded. Its in a plastic garbage bag along with a couple empties. Dont bust me for not recycling. Very funny, Jeanne said. Do you know what happened, what caused the fire? Bart asked. I mean, Im reading the news, hitting refresh constantly, but theres nothing. Not yet, Tom said. Yeah, Bart said. I thought you might tell us something off the record sort of, considering we were right there. And the part we played, and all. It was horrible, Jeanne said, her eyes bright with tears. The Bensons, we didnt know them, but the boating world is so small, especially around here, at the mouth of the river. We saw them all the time. Where? Tom asked. You know, coming and going at West Wind Marina. Or out on the Sound. Just, out having fun. All of them, the four of them, Bart said. Sometimes just him, Jeanne said. With a few guys. You know, friends heading out for some fishing or whatever. She was well known, you know. Once I heard Sallie B was Sallie Benson, I recognized her name right away. A decorator. Famous, Bart said. Its all over the news. She designed half the muckety-mucks houses on the shoreline. He finished his drink, swirled the melting ice around the bottom of his glass, and took a step toward the companionway. Can I get you another iced tea? he asked, glancing at Tom. No, thanks, Tom said. Ill be going now. Thanks for your time. Im going to call the state police right now, and someone will come by to collect that trash bag with the letter. Waste of time. You cant even read it, Bart said. Its one big nightmare, Jeanne said. As if it wasnt bad enough seeing what happened to the people on board a boat we knew, we rescued Maggie, their little dog, and shes probably going to die. Its a miracle she survived at all. Yeah, and were out a couple hundred bucks for a vet bill, Bart said, coming back with a full glass. Just to find out shed swallowed sea water. Breathed some into her lungs too. He took a long drink. Not that its all about the money, but I wouldnt mind getting reimbursed from Dan Benson. When hes out of the hospital, I mean. Bart! Jeanne said, giving him a sharp look. Tom nodded. He shook the Dunhams hands and stepped onto the dock. Then he stopped and turned around. What vet did you take her to? he asked. Silver Bay Veterinary Clinic, Jeanne said. We could tell she was having breathing problems, so we got her there fast. I havent had the heart to call and see if theyve put her to sleep yet. Poor little Maggie. We did our best, Bart said, putting his arm around her. Tom left Jeanne leaning against her husbands shoulder. He took out his cell phone to call Conor and tell him about the bag full of Arcturuss trash. He knew Conor was busy on the Claire Beaudry Chase disappearance, but ever since Tom had been appointed an investigator, his younger brother had become his mentor. He then called Detective Jen Miano, lead detective on the Benson case, to inform her of the situation. Then he called Conor. He parked his truck at the entry of the alleyway where the dumpster was located, to guard it, on the off chance some refuse truck would come by to pick up the boatyards trash on the national holiday, and settled back to wait for the police. 16 CONOR After getting Toms call, Conor drove to the Hawthorne Marina. He spotted Tom standing by his truck, talking to his stepdaughter Hunter. Hunter wore her Connecticut State Police uniform and hat. Hello, Trooper Tyrone, he said as he approached her and Tom. Hi, she said, her expression serious. What brings you here? he asked. Detective Miano asked for me, she said. I thought I was going to get the boot for busting protocol and giving Tom a heads-up about the yellow raft instead of letting him get the news from command. Yes, that wasnt cool, Conor said, sounding as stern as possible. He made sure not to catch Toms eye. It was the Reid way, to let law enforcement family in on details of shared investigations. I know, Hunter said. Good to have you on the case, Conor said. She nodded. Thanks a lot. Im glad to be here. She glanced toward the road and quickly walked away, as if she didnt want to be seen talking to them. Jen Mianos Ford Interceptor drove into the parking lot, followed by two more state police vehicles. She parked and walked toward Conor and Tom. Dressed in a blue pantsuit, she looked sharp and professional. So whats this about a note? she asked. Bart Dunham says he found one stuck to his boats hull. He said it was signed Sallie. Why didnt he tell us when we questioned him? The shock of it all, I guess. And he likes his rum. In fact, its in the trash bag with some empties. Got it, Jen said. So were going dumpster diving? Yes, and glad you brought reinforcements, Conor said, watching personnel suit up in white hazmat suits, booties, and gloves. He glanced at Tom. His brother had been at sea for three days straight and looked it. Both Reid brothers stayed with Jen, watching the forensics team. They taped off the scene with yellow tape and headed into the alley to start pulling trash bags out of the dumpster. People walking to and from their boats had seen the police cars and had gathered to find out what was going on. Hunter was stationed outside the line of tape to tell everyone to move along. After a few minutes Tom excused himself and went back to his office. So, Jen said, looking at Conor. Yeah? This is my case, she said. And youve got a missing woman to find, so Im wondering why youre hanging around the boatyard with me. I miss you, Jen, he said. I never see you now that were not partners. Right, thats it, she said. Okay, Claire Chase and her husband, Griffin, used Sallie Benson to design their kitchen. And? I dont know. Its a coincidence, Sallie and Claire both victims of violent crimes on the same day. And they knew each other, Conor said. So someone coordinated attacks on the two women? Jen asked. Id like to figure out the links, Conor said. Well, Dan says that Sallies responsible for the boat. She was the only one below. And what, she did it on purpose? I dont know. Well see what this note says, Jen said. She didnt care that her whole family was on board? Her two kids? I hear you, Jen said. But weve seen crazier. What about him? Conor asked. Whos to say hes telling the truth about Sallie being down below? Maybe he did it. Blew up his own boat? Again, what about the kidswould he do that to them? Jen asked. You think hes a family annihilator? Conor thought that over. What about his initial statement? he asked. When he said they got her? Jen asked. He was doped up, Conor said. Not thinking or talking straight, didnt know what he was saying. What if he meant I got her? What if he wanted to kill his wife, not the kids? Right, Jen said, nodding. He could have put both Gwen and Charlie aboard that raft, but something happened to Charliehe got swept away, fell overboard . . . Dan never intended for that to happen. He didnt want the kids to die. The puzzle pieces didnt fit. Conor had to believe that if you wanted to kill your wife, an explosion was a particularly tough way to go, especially when you and your children were at risk. And the connection between Sallie and Claire still bothered him. Just then, one of the hazmat-suited officers walked to the head of the alleyway and waved. Jen started toward him and Conor followed. They ducked under the crime scene tape and saw eleven plastic garbage bags spread out in two rows in front of the dumpster. Two state police officers were standing there. Its got to be this one, Detective, Trooper Alan Williams said, pointing at a trash bag, lumpy with discarded bottles. Open it up, Jen said, and the tech slit the plastic. Conor crouched beside her. He saw a banana peel, a melon rind, a chicken carcass, wadded-up paper towels, the remains of several squeezed-out limes, beer cans, and two empty quarts of Mount Gay rum, all covered with coffee grounds. And there it is, Jen said. Conor saw it too. The wet paper was wrapped around an empty bottle. One edge was torn off, but he could see the cream-colored paper. The handwriting was faint and blurred. Can you make out any words? Conor asked. No, Jen said. But well get the note to the lab right away, and Ill make sure you get a copy. Youll let me know if . . . After three years of being her partner, Conor knew what she was about to say. Of course, he said. Ill call you if anything in our investigation points back to yours. Shit, Conor, Jen said. Back together again. 17 TOM The childrens hospital was quiet. It was late afternoon on Memorial Day, and the shifts had just changed. It seemed to Tom Reid that there was pretty much a skeleton staff. On such a pretty day, the first holiday weekend of summer on the Connecticut shoreline, the corridors were quiet and mostly empty. Tom walked down the gleaming first-floor hallway, carrying a black duffel bag with the USCG insignia on it. He stopped at the nurses station, said he was planning to visit Gwen Benson, and asked for her room number. Are you a relative? the nurse asked. She was petite with long brown curls. Her name badge said Mariana Russo, RN. No, he said, showing her his ID. Coast guard? Weve had the police here, talking to her. Even a reporter from the Shoreline Gazette trying to get in. Has she said anything? Tom asked. No, Mariana said. Shes completely shut down. Were limiting who goes into her room. Shes been through enough of a traumahaving strangers asking questions just adds to it. I understand, Tom said. I dont have any questions for her. I just want to see her. Im the one who pulled her out of the life raft. Oh, Mariana said, looking at him more closely. Its nice to meet you. From what Ive heard, her rescue was a total long shot. It was, he said. Mariana was silent, seeming to consider whether she should allow Tom into Gwens room or not. It might help her to see you, she said. But I dont know. She got agitated when her father walked into the room. They brought him over from Easterly Hospital to visit her. The mental health staff thinks its probably because he brings back memories of what happened. Or maybe it was seeing him all bandaged upkids dont like to see their parents hurt. Tom nodded, picturing what had been left of the boat, the evidence of explosion. He wondered how much Gwen had seen of the aftermath. He wondered whether she had seen her mothers body, whether she knew that the search for Charlie had been called off. Other than her dad, her only visitor has been her aunt, Mariana said. Her mothers sister, Lydia. How many times has her father been here? Twice. Both times she got so upset her doctor thought they should take it slow. She looked at Tom for a few seconds. Im going to let you in for a few minutes. But youll have to leave right away if theres any sign of distress. She made a very high-pitched sound when her father was here. Ive heard it, Tom said. When we found her. She was peeping, like a little bird. Nonstop, even after we brought her to the ER. Then you know. I do, he said, holding tight to the duffel. They walked into a room directly across from the nurses station. The curtain had been pulled to shield Gwen from the eyes of people passing in the hallway. Mariana beckoned Tom to follow her. Gwen lay completely still in bed. The red burn patches on her cheeks, chin, forehead, and where her eyebrows had been looked raw and were covered with salveit looked as if she had a bad sunburn. The charred ends of her silvery hair had been trimmed away. Her eyes were full of almost unimaginable sadness. Her gaze followed Tom and Mariana as they entered. Gwen, you have a visitor, Mariana said. Hi, Gwen, Tom said. Do you remember me? Although she didnt speak or nod her head, he saw in her eyes that she recognized him. She seemed very calm. She didnt make a sound. Im very glad to see you, Tom said. And he was. Emotion filled his chest. He remembered picking her up, lifting her into the rescue basket, and holding her hand during the helicopter ride. Mariana had been rightit was beyond a long shot that Gwen had been found at all. Mariana indicated that he should sit in the chair by Gwens bed, and he did. He sat silently, gazing at Gwen, and she returned his gaze: a form of communication. A bell sounded from the halla patient summoning a nurse. Mariana stayed in the room for another minute. Then, seeming satisfied that Gwen was okay, she quietly left. Youre such a brave girl, Tom said. Gwen stared hard into his eyes. Finding you was one of the most important moments I have ever had in the coast guard, he said. It meant so much to all of us, Gwen. Everyone who was searching for you. And now, seeing you here right now, knowing youre getting betterthat is the best news we could have. She closed her eyes. Two big tears rolled down her cheeks. Tom knew she was far from okay. I wanted to bring you something, he said. A book, a game, a stuffed animalI just wasnt sure what you might like. I asked my wife and stepdaughters, and they had some good ideas. But I started thinking, and then I knew. Her eyes opened, and she waited for him to tell her. He unzipped the duffel bag, and he saw her watching him carefully, following his movements. He reached inside, pulled out the tiny dog. She was so small, barely bigger than his hand. He held her toward Gwen, who gasped and reached out her arms. Maggie! Gwen cried. Tom placed the Yorkshire terrier in Gwens arms, watched Gwen bury her face in Maggies fur, kissing the back of her head as Maggie squirmed with joy. Mariana entered the room, gave Tom a hard look. Really? she asked. I picked her up from the vet, he said. Dogs arent allowed in here. I figured, he said and grinned. Watching Gwen pet and kiss Maggie, Mariana smiled too. Tom knew that when Mariana said he had to leave, he would take Maggie home and keep her until Dan and Gwen were discharged. But for now, he just sat beside Gwens bed, watching the reunion between a girl and her dog, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat. THREE DAYS EARLIER 18 CLAIRE Today I planned to bring the last pieces over to the gallery and help Jackie get ready for Friday. I had finally finished Fingerbone. I stood in my studio, doors open to a sea breeze and the sound of breaking waves, and leaned over the shadow box I had constructed to resemble a tidal pool. I examined the placement of mussel shells, barnacles scraped from granite at low tide, crab claws, fragments of their carapaces, and sun- and sea-bleached twigseach small section forming a knuckle and bones, fashioned together to look like the grasping hand of a skeleton. People with no idea about Ellens death wouldnt understand, but I did, and one other person would, and that was the whole point. There were ways to go about a divorce, but I would take nothing monetary from Griffinnot the house or alimony or any material object. I wanted only for him to know that I knew, without any doubt, exactly who he was and what he had done. I would make sure he dropped his candidacy. Before I left for good, I intended to pull off his mask. And the timing had to be now: next week was a major campaign event, when Senator Stephen Hobbes would publicly endorse Griffin for governor. Well, hey there! I was so lost in thought that Nates voice made me jump. He stood in the doorway, then came toward me to give me a hug. He was as rumpled and shaggy as ever, and I fit into his arms so comfortably. We hadnt been able to stay married, but he was the perfect ex-husband, and I would love him forever. Youre back! I said. How were the whales? The humpbacks send their regards, he said. It was hard leaving them. Im not sure which I loved morewatching them feed in the Bering Sea or calve in Baja. You should come next time. I kept thinking of you, how inspired you would be. Lets do it, I said. I smiled into his twinkling blue eyes. Dont tease me, he said, his sun- and wind-weathered face crinkling into a grin. Griffin will never let you travel with me. Id never bring you back. Im so glad youre home again, I said. Why didnt you call to let me know? I figured Id stop by and surprise you, get an early viewing of your new show. He smiled again. And its the middle of the afternoon, so I know Griffins at court or deposing someone or charming some audience or sweet-talking donors, whatever it is he does. Youre right, I said. Today hes taking depositions. So, okay if I take a look at the work? Sure, I said, and I was excited to hear what he thought. Nate had always been my favorite early viewer of my work. More than anyone, he understood how I tried to express human life and emotions through elements of nature. He had invited me to speak to his classes at Yale, where he taught about extinctions, psychology, and how the decline of species affected human existence. His nine-month sabbatical had seemed foreverI had really missed him. These are beautiful, Claire, he said once he had made the circuit of my studio. But theyre dark. You see that? I asked. Of course, he said. I know you. Youve captured pain and apprehension. What took you to this place? The way the world is, I said. I left it open for him to interpret: the political landscape, growing fascism, the suffering of refugees, failure to address climate change. If anyone could look into my heart and see my own personal darkness, it was Natebut just then I wanted to hide it from him. The global situation is beyond troubling, he said. Being on the research ship was a respite, in a sense. I avoided the news as much as possible. But I felt it as soon as we made port. He turned toward Fingerbone and shuddered. This one looks like the end of life on earth. Is that what you intended? Yes, I said, not lying. Outside, I heard voices coming from the main house. My pulse racedit was only three thirty, too early for Griffin to be home. Even though he was publicly accepting of my friendship with Nate, privately there was hell to pay whenever he knew I saw him. Oh boy, I said. The monarch of all he surveys? Nate asked. I went to my studios north-facing window, looked out. Griffin stood on the terrace with Wade Lockwood. At least he wouldnt blow up in front of Wadeor Nate, for that matter. But there was always later. As I watched, I saw Griffin and Wade walk into the house. Hes home, I said. He must have seen your car, and I guess hes giving us the chance to catch up. Nope, Nate said. I came by dinghy, beached her at the foot of the bluff. I doubt he knows Im here. Cmon, lets go. We can go get the bigger boat. Ill spirit you away, take you to Shelter Island for dinner, and regale you with tales of humpbacks. Next time, I said, giving him a hurried hug. Do you mind just . . . Leaving? Nate asked. Okay, I get it. But Claire . . . I saw the worried look in his eyes. Even though Griffin shone his charm on Nate, my ex-husband was too sensitive not to see what lived below the surface. And there was no doubt Nate was picking up on my anxiety now. The thing wasat that moment, I didnt care whether Griffin saw Nate or not. I just wanted my next encounter with Griffin to follow the script Id written in my mind. Ill get out, Nate said, his expression grave. But this exhibit . . . it makes me worry for you. You want me to think its geopolitical. It is, I said. No, its not, he said. Its all you. The darkness is personal. Hes a power-hungry asshole, no matter how much you try to protect him, and theres something going on. Tell me, Claire. Everythings fine, I said. I dont believe you. Lets drop it, okay? I asked, glancing out the window. Will I see you at the gallery on Friday? Wouldnt miss it, Nate said, giving me one last skeptical, worried glance. Then he left by the seaward door and disappeared down the narrow overgrown path to the beach. After a few minutes I heard his outboard engine start up. I went back to my studios north window, stared at the house, and waited. 19 SALLIE Sallie wished she could take a shower and wash yesterday from her body and mind. The memory of waiting for Edward aboard his boat and fending off Ford filled her with feelings of disgust, mainly for herself. She had scheduled a design consultation with a couple who had just bought an antique Georgian house on the Connecticut River, but she canceled. She needed to stay home. She gave Harriet, the nanny, the day off. She wore her comfiest jeans and the pink Someone at Black Hall Elementary School Loves Me T-shirt that Gwen had given her for Mothers Day, just two weeks ago. She sat in the living room on the sofa with Maggie snuggled by her side. She called her sister, Lydia, to ask her to come over, but Lydia was a publishers rep for childrens books, and she was visiting bookstores in New Hampshire and Maine today. Sallie couldnt shake off the slimy feeling of Fords hands grabbing her, the sound of rage in his voice, and the smell of his vomit. She felt like running out of the house, but she had nowhere to go. Her most important refuge, Abigail Coffins yoga center, had turned into a place she now felt unwelcome. At first, it had been wonderful. Abigail taught deep breathing and talked about mett?the Pali word for loving-kindness. While Sallie had always felt compassion for othersher family, friends, and strangersshe had never directed it toward herself. Feeling semigood about herself was a new skill. It was partly what had led her to Edward, to allowing loveboth physical and emotionalinto her life. After class one evening, Abigail handed her a bottle of water. Im so glad you started coming, Abigail said. We have to stick together. Women, definitely, Sallie said. Actually, I meant the Monday Night Sisterhood. Wives of the Last Monday men. Our husbands have their secrets, dont they? Abigail asked, watching for Sallies reaction. I suppose, Sallie said. But Dan doesnt go anymore. Really? Abigail asked, frowning. Why? One day he just stopped, Sallie said. She knew it had something to do with a disagreement with a member, but she didnt want to say that in case it was Abigails husband. No one just stops, Abigail said. Its a lifetime membership. Only twenty at one timeits an honor to join. I suppose, Sallie said. Abigail backed away, as if Sallie had suddenly turned toxic. Sallie wondered what she had said that was so bad. Abigail disappeared into her office for a few minutes. Sallie heard her voice, muffled on a phone call. When Abigail returned, she was smiling again, as serene as ever. Abigail, with her long brown hair and big eyes, her yoga body, seemed so able to bounce back from negative feelings. Sallie had never returned after that incident; she still felt hurt by Abigails reaction to what she had said about Dan leaving the club. So now Sallie didnt have the yoga studio, and she didnt have Edward. He had never replied to her text about loving him. The truth had been there all along, but she hadnt let herself see it until yesterday on the boat: she was just a mistress to him, nothing more. She sat immobile on her couch with Maggie, trying to meditate, counting her breaths, letting painful and unwanted thoughts pass through her mind like clouds through a blue sky, until she heard the school bus stop at the end of the driveway. Maggie woke up, shimmying and barking with joy, and she raced outside as soon as Sallie opened the door. The kids tore off the bus, crouching to hug and pet Maggie on the house steps. Gwen scooped the Yorkie into her arms, letting Maggie kiss her face. Charlie reached up, trying to get his pets in. Why are you here instead of work? Gwen asked, putting Maggie down to hug her mother. Sallie held her tight, rocking her, grabbing Charlie into the family embrace, eyes squeezed shut, afraid she couldnt trust herself to speak and not cry. I wanted to be here when you got home from school today, Sallie said, keeping her voice steady. Wheres Harriet? Charlie asked, pulling out of the hug and looking around for their nanny. I gave her the day off, Sallie said. Why? Gwen asked. Dont you have meetings? Sallie shook her head. No, not today, she said. She loved her work, but lately she had hardly been able to concentrate on it. She had used it as an excuse to see Edward. It didnt matter what time of day: if it was early morning, before breakfast, she would say she had to drive to the design center in Boston. If she wanted to leave the house after dinner, she would invent meetings with clients who had to work all day and were only available in the evening. On Saturday afternoons, when Edwards wife, Sloane, was out with friends, she would say she had to go fabric-wallpaper-granite-paint shopping with a customer. But today she was home. I dont like when you have to go to work, Charlie said. Neither do I, Gwen said. Neither do I, Sallie said. Id rather be with you two. What should we do today? The beach! Charlie said. Thats a great idea, Sallie said. What do you think, Gwennie? Sure, she said. Grab your bathing suits, and lets go, Sallie said. They climbed into the white Suburban. The cargo space was full of sample books from Clarence House and Scalamandr?: a basket filled with swatches of vintage silk velvet, cashmere velvet, nacr? velvet, chiffon velvet, and cisel? velvet, all in shades of white. She had long been obsessed with velvet and usually found it incredibly beautiful and sensual, but right now she felt like throwing it all away. At the beach club, Sallie and the kids changed into their bathing suits. Maggie raced around, checking out every corner. The snack bar would open for the season in three days, for Memorial Day weekend, but for now the windows were still shuttered. Later, Sallie would take the kids to Paradise snack bar, pick up sandwiches to take home. She would let them eat ice cream in the car, before dinner. Charlie raced down to the waters edge, Gwen and Maggie right behind him. He was the first one in, diving into a small wave, swimming underwater for a few yards before coming up for air, sputtering and grinning, waving to make sure Sallie saw. Great job! she called. They had spent every Wednesday afternoon throughout winter and spring at swimming lessons. Last summer Charlie had been afraid to put his face in the water. Now he was fearless. Mom, can Maggie come in with us? Gwen asked. Sure, Sallie said. But well have to stick close to shore. Im not sure how well she can swim. Thats okay. Ill stay with her, Gwen said. Sallie watched her daughter lift Maggie, hold her against her chest. She walked slowly into the Sound, dipping Maggies paws in to let her get used to the feel of it. Gwen had been asking for a dog since she was seven; Dan and Sallie had given Maggie to her for her ninth birthday, with an agreement that Gwen would feed and walk and take care of her. Gwen had embraced the responsibility with all her heart. She walked Maggie twice a day, helped Sallie to train Maggie to sit and come and to fetch a small ball andknowing the family would be out on their boat a lot this summerwalk the beach, tease the waves along the tide line. She needs to know how to swim in case she falls overboard, Gwen had said. With the way Gwen took care of Maggie, Sallie thought it really unlikely the dog would ever leave the cockpit, get anywhere near the boat rails. She made a note to see if she could find a tiny Yorkie-size life jacket. There might not be time before they went out this weekend, but she and Dan made sure the kids wore PFDs on the boatwhy not the dog too? Now, standing barefoot in the warm sand, Sallie watched Gwen ease Maggie into the water. The two of them paddled around, Maggie obviously overjoyed to be near her favorite person. Charlie dived down to the bottom, came up with a strand of seaweed, held it over his head so Sallie would see. She applauded, and he dived again. This was her real lifethis moment here on the beach with her children was what Sallie lived for. How could she have been so foolish and come so close to throwing it all away? She swore she would make things better with Dan. They were good parents together. And right now, that seemed good enough. Sallie walked knee-deep into the water. She took a sharp breathLong Island Sound in late May was still cold. It really didnt warm up until after the Fourth of July, but her kids were water dogs, just as she had been at their age. She dived straight in, swimming underwater as far as she could go. When she came up for air, her children swam over to her, and the three of them trod water in a small circle, legs kicking and arms moving, with Maggie in the middle. They were all smiling with the sheer joy of one of summers first swims, of being together. They stayed there for another minute, until Gwen decided it was time for Maggie to get out and warm up, and then they all walked onto the beach, and Sallie tilted her face up toward the sun. FOUR DAYS LATER 20 CLAIRE That night, I saw the mountain lion. Hungry and tired of being in the cabin, I set out for the tidal pool earlier than usual. Blue hazy dusk had given way to darkness, and I had no cell phone, no communication with the world beyond the woods and beach, so I had no way of knowing where Griffin was directing the search. It occurred to me that law enforcement might bring back the dogs I had heard the first day, so I should reinforce my perimeter with the big cat/fox mixture. I spread it on the far side of my usual trail. I traced a large circle with my cabin at the center, sprinkling the concoction as I went. Once my eyes got used to the dark, the stars shone bright enough to light my way. As long as I stepped carefully, I had no worry about walking in the woods at night. My father and I had done it so often. I kept glancing north, and guided by Polaris, I felt as if I were creating a magic circle that would protect me. After the perimeter was set, I went swimming in the Sound to wash the smell off me and to soothe my wounds. My bruises were already turning from purple to yellow, the cuts on my hands forming scabs. When I emerged from my swim, I climbed the hill again. I stood at the edge of the burial ground and shivered. I felt as if someone were watching me. I glanced to the southwestthe direction in which the Pequots believed their spirits left their bodiesand thought I saw a glint of light. I had made my way toward the spring to rinse off and get drinking water when the back of my neck tingled. I felt danger; that most ancient part of the brain that registers sounds and smells we would otherwise ignore lit up. I knew I was being tracked and froze, listening hard. Even on high alert, I heard nothing but normal night sounds: tree frogs peeping in the marsh, a slight breeze ruffling the new leaves. I slowly turned. I wondered whether I would see Griffin with his knife or one of his police officers with a gun drawn. Instead, not twenty yards away, I saw glowing yellow eyes, the shimmer of a tawny coat. The cougar kept to the thicket that bordered the Pequot cemetery. He was a shadow, liquid gold in the starlight. I stood perfectly still. Claire, never turn your back on a big cat, my father had said. Theyre stealthy; youll never hear them coming. And once they decide youre prey, theyll close the distance so swiftly youll never have time to react. He told me to make myself look bigger, braver than the cat itself, but for some reason that night in the woods, I forgot everything my father had saidnot because I panicked but because the cougar was inside the circle I had made. He was part of my world, part of the magic. Maybe I was still delirious from the attack, but I didnt feel scared. I stared into the lions eyes. I knew that he could take me down so easily. Hed swipe me with his curved claws, clamp his fangs around my throat or my skull, kill me in an instant. Was it because I knew what humans could do, what my husband had done, that I felt no fear? Attracted by the potion, he must have smelled his own kind; perhaps he was looking for a mate, or maybe he wanted to claim his territory, fight another male to the death. All I knew was that I was in the presence of the animal that had fed my imagination for so many years. He knew I wasnt a threat. His gaze held mine for a long minute, then two, then three. My breathing was steady. I knew I should back away, very slowly, but I didnt. I blinked, and in that single second, he was gone. I didnt hear him, but I felt a whisper of air as he left, and I saw the slightest shadow of gold shimmer in the southwest, on the path of the spirits. After that encounter, I skipped going to the spring that night. I knew he would go there to drink, and I didnt want to test my luck. I had no food in my cabin, no smells to tempt him. I told myself he was a protector sent by my fatherhe wouldnt attack me, but he might maul anyone who came to harm me. My thinking was probably skewed, but I couldnt let myself admit to even more danger than I already was in. I climbed into my sleeping bag, but I couldnt close my eyes. The mountain lion had reminded me I had to be vigilant. I had to come up with a plan. I was getting stronger, and I had to get help. The only problem was, I still had no idea whom I could trust. The constellations moved across the sky; the hours passed by. I drifted off, then heard the cries of an animal, death in the woods. Had the cougar made a kill? Or was I dreaming about the sound of my own voice, screaming for help four days earlier? Or was it a dream of the future, of what Griffin would do if he found me? I didnt know, and I couldnt go back to sleep. 21 CONOR Conor and Jen Miano decided to question Dan Benson together. Conor still wondered about a possible connection between the two cases. A word that might have been Ford had appeared twice in the note written by Sallie, and he made a note to ask Dan if the family drove one. It occurred to Conor that he still hadnt questioned Ford Chase. He was Claires stepson. If Sallie had been referring to him, and not a car, could he be the link between her and Claire? They arrived at Easterly Hospital in separate cars, and Conor followed Jen through the revolving door. Benson was on the mend and had been moved to a different floor. They spoke to the nurse in charge and went to his room. He lay in bed, upright and watching a talk show on TV. Mr. Benson, Jen said. This is Detective Reid. Hello, Benson said. His skin was sallow. He was small and muscular with short graying brown hair. His eyes were open very wide, and Conor thought he looked scared, like a deer in the headlights. He had a gauze bandage above his left eye. How are you doing, Mr. Benson? Conor asked. Im fine, he said. You dont look fine. I know you were badly injured. Yeah. They say Im lucky the metal didnt hit my heart, he said. But its nothing compared to what Gwens been through. He swallowed hard, looked toward the window. And my Charlie, my boy. Where is he? We dont know, Jen said gently. Were very sorry that hes still missing, Conor said. Benson nodded without looking up. Can you tell us what happened on Friday? Conor asked. I already told her, Benson said, gesturing at Jen and seeming to slash away tearsbut his eyes were dry. He hadnt mentioned Sallie. Take us through that day, Conor said. It was a weekday. Why werent the kids in school? We wanted to get a jump on Memorial Day weekend, Benson said. Get out to Block Island before the crowds. Get a good slip at the marina. So you planned this early departure? Jen asked. Or was it spur of the moment? We planned it. We even wanted to provision the night before. Provision? Tell me more, Jen asked. Im not a boater. You know, buy food, soda, snacks, stuff like that. Head down to the boat and load everything up first thing so we could take off, leave the marina early. Right after breakfast, we thought. Who did the grocery shopping? Conor asked. I did. That part I did after work Thursday. Where? Conor asked. Black Hall Grocers, Benson said. And who did the loading, down at the boat? Jen asked. Me. But not Thursday night. It didnt quite work out that way. Then when did you do it? Jen asked. Friday morning. The day we left. Mr. Benson, what kind of car do you drive? Conor asked. A BMW. Do you have a Ford? No, why? Did Sallie? No, she had a Suburban. Conor nodded. So if that spidery handwriting in Sallies letter did say Ford, it wasnt about a family car. All right, Conor said. What time did you load the provisions onto your boat? Nine a.m. Friday morning, right? Yes, I already said that. Did you call the school and tell them the kids wouldnt be there? Jen asked. Benson shrugged, winced as if hed moved the wrong muscle. Sallie took care of things like that. But, yes, she probably called. So you left the dock that morning? Conor asked. No, he said, letting out a big exhale. It wound up being early afternoon. Why is that? Jen asked. What was the holdup? Sallie, he said, looking stone faced. Why? Jen asked. It started the night before. She said she didnt want to go. Did she say why? Jen asked. She didnt feel good. She didnt think she could handle the boat ride and a whole weekend away. That must have been frustrating, Conor said. Yeah, Benson said. She screwed things up? Conor asked. You could put it that way. I finally convinced her to go. I ran out to load up the boat before we all headed to the dock . . . Just you? Conor asked. I wonder why that is, considering you were all planning to go down there and take off that morning. Couldnt you have done it all in one trip? The provisioning and getting the family on board the boat? Trust me, when you have little kids, you want to get as much done as you can before they get therethey get impatient, you know? Waiting around while we stow the food, put ice in the icebox, fill the fuel tanks. Trust me, its not fun. So I did it myself, then went back home to pick everyone up. What time did you get home? Jen asked. About ten thirty. We had the kids all set, practically in the car, when Sallie broke down again, said she didnt want to go at all. She started to cryalmost hysterical. In front of the kids? Conor asked. No. As usual she had her meltdowns in our bedroom. But they heard, especially Gwen. She knows everything that goes on between us. She gets stomachaches over it, worries were going to get divorced. But that didnt stop Sallie from deciding to ruin a nice family weekend away. Jen and Conor let his words hang in the air. He was exhibiting anger instead of grief, striking for a man whose wife had just died. Did something physical take place between you two? Jen asked. Both Conor and Jen watched his face carefully. He squinted and scratched the bandage on his forehead. It slipped slightly, and Conor saw an incision closed with stitches. Conor knew that Sallies body was too badly burned for the medical examiner to find signs of assault. No! Benson said. What do you think I am? We have to ask, Jen said. Mr. Benson, do you know Claire Beaudry Chase? Conor asked. Griffins wife? No. But you know Griffin? Conor already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear what Benson had to say. Yeah. How? Family friends from way back. And were in the same club. What clubs that? Last Monday. But I dont go anymore. Its just a bunch of guys drinking scotch and talking about how to get Griffin into the governors mansion. You dont think he should be governor? Conor asked. Benson snorted. When you know someone since you were kids and you think of all the stupid shit they did, you have a hard time imagining them leading the state. I used to joke with Sallie about it. He paused, as if hed just heard what hed said. I mean, dont get me wrong, Griffin is all right. A little in love with himself, some people would say. What kind of stupid kid shit are we talking about? Jen asked. Benson tried to laugh again, but now it sounded nervous. I shouldnt have said anything. Dumb stuff. Like playing pranks, sneaking parents booze, skipping school. Nothing bad. Ill vote for him. Conor heard the edge in Bensons voice. There was emotion there, behind the seemingly lighthearted words. Resentment but also fear. Do you know his kids? Alexander and Ford? Conor watched for Benson to react to the names. Was that a slight flinch? Not well. But you do know them? From around town, seeing them at the boatyard, stuff like that. Okay. Now, Sallie did some work for the Chase family. Fixed up a kitchen for them, wasnt it? Conor asked. Yeah, thats right. She did. But I stay out of her business. Did she ever say anything about the Chases? Conor asked. No. I figured he was probably a prick to work for, but she never said. When will you be able to go home? Jen asked. Theyre discharging me today, he said. That seems soon, Jen said. Considering what youve been through. Im going stir-crazy in here, he said. And I have to make plans to bury my wife. Conor and Jen thanked him for his time, expressed their sympathy again, and left the room. What do you think? Conor asked. A lot of anger at Sallie, Jen said. He didnt even try to hide it. Right. He wasnt playing the grieving husband. And hes got some kind of issue with Chase, Conor said. Enough that it made him stop going to the rich-boy secret society. Enough that hed do something to Claire? Jen asked. Conor mentally ran through the Friday morning timeline; Chase had said he last saw Claire after breakfast on Friday, around seven forty-five. Benson had gone to the boat at about nine. What if he had encountered Claire, had some sort of altercation? Whys he in such a hurry to get out of the hospital? Conor asked. So he can get home and clean up evidence? Search warrant, Jen said. Coming right up. I need an iced latte. Think they have them in the hospital dining room? Give it a go, Conor said. Im heading out. Catch you later. They said goodbye, and Conor decided to return to the Chases house on Catamount Bluff, walk through the scene of Claires disappearance again. And if only to clarify what Sallie might have meant by the word Ford in her note, Conor was going to find Ford Chase and ask him some questions. TWO DAYS EARLIER 22 CLAIRE Some of my favorite moments in the studio were when Sloane Hawke came over. It was late afternoon, and in honor of the fact summer would unofficially start that weekend, we opened a bottle of ros?. I had delivered most of my exhibition pieces the day before, so the studio was nearly bare. Only one shadow box destined for the show was left. I still hadnt had the chance to show Fingerbone to Griffin. It was a warm, sunny day. The forecast for Memorial Day weekend was looking great, and Sloane was excited about the annual party she and Edward always gave. She was trying out a new caterer this yearinstead of the lobster boil and clambake theyd had the last few years, theyd be serving Texas-style barbecue. Edwards got a Stetson, and I bought a pair of Lucchese boots when we went to Dallas in April, Sloane said. It was his idea to get the boots. I love how much hes getting into this party, and he knows I adore it. Usually he doesnt care about the details, but this year its so different. What do you think thats about? Im sure he just wants to make you happy, I said. Thats how it feels, she said, smiling. Im glad, I said, having completely forgotten what it was like to have a husband who wanted to make me happy. I hadnt felt that since my earliest days with Griffin. And with Nate . . . We sipped our wine and worked in silence. Sloane had stretched and applied gesso to a new canvas, set it up on her easel, and started painting. I was mulling over my next projectinspired by Nates recent research, I thought I might travel to Tadoussac, a town on the Saint Lawrence River in eastern Quebec, where humpback and beluga whales gathered. Each fall, humpbacks migrated south from Canada, along the eastern seaboard, through the Anegada Passage from the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean. As soon as I moved out, I would be free to follow the whales. My new shadow boxes would reflect migrationthe whales and my own. The studio doors were wide open to Long Island Sound, and a warm breeze blew in. I sat at my drafting table, doing a watercolor of the view. Maybe Id want to remember it after I left, or perhaps I was just getting into practice painting salt water in preparation for the whales. All I knew was that divorce wouldnt be a good look for a man running for governorbut Griffin had brought this on himself. Oh, look, Sloane said, gazing out the big north window toward the house. The boys are here. I glanced out and saw Ford and Alexander standing on the terrace. They seemed to be having an intense conversation. Then Ford shoved Alexander, and he stumbled backward, knocking over a wicker chair. I felt a shock. I had never seen them argue, much less push each other around. I stood up, but before I could hurry to the house to see what was wrong, Ford was at the door of my studio. Hey, is the bar open? he asked, spying the wine. Whats going on? I asked. Is everything okay? Yeah, Alexanders just being holier than thou, as usual, Ford said. That sounds boring! Sloane said, laughing. Ford, are you going to use our pool today? I know you love it, and its all set for the party on Saturday. Not today, Mrs. Hawke, he said. I think my days of swimming in your pool are about to be over. Well, we love having you use it, she said. Edward and I need to start swimming more. Hes probably too busy for that, Ford said. I watched him pace nervously from the open door to the table where Id put the wine. Sloane and I were using two glasses Id brought down from the house, but Ford grabbed an empty mason jar I used to soak my brushes, filled it with ros?, and gulped half of it at once. Youre right about Edward, Sloane said. He works too hard, just like your dad. Lawyers, you know? All those billable hours. I didnt mean busy with work, Ford said. I meant with Sallie. Sallie? Sloane asked. Do you mean Sallie Benson? Yep, I do. Well, were done with the redecoration, Sloane said. She was a great help, especially with the boat, thats for sure, but its over now. No, its not over, Ford said. He looked pale. He pushed his dark hair back, and I saw the circles under his eyes. He downed the rest of the wine. Through the north window, I saw Alexander coming down the hill. Whats not? Sloane asked Ford, smiling. Your husband and Sallie, he said. Alexander walked into the studio, approached his brother. Dont, Alexander said, his face in Fords. She needs to know, Ford said. The two brothers stared at each other. Alexander reached out to grip his twins shoulders, and there was both tenderness and firmness in the way he held Ford at arms length, gave a quick shake. Know what? Sloane asked, approaching the boys. Ford loves Sallie, Alexander said, staring at Ford with incredible angst in his eyes. Thats why hes doing this. Telling you. Its not his fault; hes just really hurt. Please dont be mad at him. Mad at himat Ford? For what? Sloane asked. For what Im about to tell you, Ford said. You need to know about Edward. Christ, Alexander said, hand on his brothers shoulder. Ford, stop it, come on . . . Edward? What are you talking about? Sloane asked. Your husband is sleeping with Sallie, Ford said, wrenching out of Alexanders grip. They meet on your boat. On Elysian. They used to meet at your house, when she was decorating it, when you were at yoga or down here with Claire. Ford! I said, shocked at his drunken idiocy. Im talking to Sloane, not you, he said. I dont believe you, Sloane said. You do believe me, though, Ford said. When you love someone, you see through them, whether you want to admit it or not. Thats how I knew about Sallie. I felt it coming through her skin, that she wanted him. You feel that from Edward, dont you? That hes been with someone else? That he wants her? I looked at Sloane, saw the flash of despair in her eyes, and realized that Fords words were registering with her. Sloane turned too quickly, and she knocked her easel and paints over. The canvas went flying. Ford tried to catch it, but it skittered past, sliding across the floor. He stepped toward Sloane, reached out to touch her. She stood facing the wall. She was shaking. I took Fords hand to pull him away from Sloane. He yanked it away, enraged. He poked me in the chest with two fingers, glared at me with fury Id previously only seen in his fathers eyes. I felt terrified. Im trying to help, he yelled at me. His tone was just like Griffins. His body tensed, as if he wanted to hit me. I took a step backward and forced myself to stay calm. Leave, Ford, I said. Now. Alexander caught my eyes and nodded. Shes right, Ford, he said, with the tone of a peacemaker. Lets go. Youre always judging me, Claire, Ford said. Just like you judge Dad. I know all those lies you tell yourself about him, about that other bitch. What bitch? I asked. The one in the tide pool, he said. You want to ruin his chances in the election? Ford, shut up, Alexander said. He was talking about Ellen; my skin crawled. I saw him glance at my worktable, where I kept my notes for each shadow box. Had he gone through them, read what I had written? I wrote in code, lines of poetry to describe my feelings and the meanings of each piece. Was it possible he had deciphered my words about Fingerbone, connected them with Ellens death? What has your father been saying to you? I asked Ford. That elections are lost on rumors, he said. What did he tell you about the tide pool? I asked. Nothing! Because theres nothing to tell. See? Youre so focused on a lie, something that didnt even happen. My brother and I are working our asses off on his campaign. You should be too. Hes a great man, Claire. She knows that, Ford, Alexander said with a glance at me. She wants him to win, just like we do. Were all on the same team. He started easing Ford toward the door. Fords gaze was on me, full of hatred, as if all his fury needed a single object. He was out of control, drunk on wine and his wild emotions. But he finally gave in to Alexander, let him lead him out of the studio. I was shaking. I couldnt imagine Griffin discussing Ellen with Ford, but maybe I was wrong. I had seen, just now, how alike they were. When the boys had left, I went to Sloane. I tried to put my arm around her shoulders, but she backed away. Sloane, Im sorry, I said. Did you know about Edward and Sallie? she asked. No, I had no idea. It might not even be true. She turned to me, a blink of hope in her bleary eyes. Would Ford make it up? I dont know, I said. Griffin was cruel. Although I hadnt seen that explicit tendency in Ford before, his behavior just now showed he was his fathers son. Maybe he did, she said. He wasnt making any sense, all that stuff about his father and a tide pool and the election. He sounded insane. He did, I said, and I hugged her. We stood together for a minute, each of us lost in the pain of wondering about truth and lies and love and hurt. And I stared at the sheaf of notes beside Fingerbone and realized that Ford had probably read them.
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