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Mrs. Rochesters Ghost / (by Lindsay Marcott, 2021) -

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Mrs. Rochesters Ghost /    (by Lindsay Marcott, 2021) -

Mrs. Rochesters Ghost / (by Lindsay Marcott, 2021) -

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: 121
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Mrs. Rochesters Ghost / (by Lindsay Marcott, 2021) -
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2021
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Lindsay Marcott
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Carly Robins, Eva Kaminsky
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/ / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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11:51:28
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Mrs. Rochesters Ghost / :

.doc (Word) lindsay_marcott_-_mrs_rochesters_ghost.doc [839 Kb] (c: 2) .
.pdf lindsay_marcott_-_mrs_rochesters_ghost.pdf [3.05 Mb] (c: 2) .


: Mrs. Rochesters Ghost

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ONE In my mind, I can picture it clearly. Thorn Bluffs. December 17. Their fourth wedding anniversary. He_s dressing for dinner, charcoal serge pants, a linen shirt the color of mist rise. Black sport coat, brushed and steamed by Annunciata an hour ago, hung within arm_s reach on a padded hanger. Black silk socks laid out. Polished black loafers. Should he wear a tie? Hasn_t in years, except for the occasional mandatory event. A board meeting. The obligatory charity gala. His wedding, of course, somber butterfly clutching his throat. But tonight, no taking chances. An open collar might be something that could set her off. He selects a tie. Silver-gray silk. The reservation is for 5:30 p.m. at Sierra Mar. Unfashionably early, but she_s at her most docile in the early evening after her second clozapine, and anyway, he couldn_t give a damn about fashion. Everything arranged in advance. Corner table on the glassed-in terrace jutting out over the Pacific. The menu: pear and allium to start, black cod with caviar beurre blanc, chocolate ganache. No wine, of course. Cocktails made of lavender and lemonade. She won_t need to make choices. Nothing to decide. And maybe they_ll get through the dinner without incident. He shrugs on the sport coat. Fastens his father_s weighty chrome Breitling on his wrist. As he moves out of the dressing room, he hears the two German shepherds barking outside. They_re agitated. They sense a threat. An intruder? He checks the property-cam monitor: the gates to the private road are securely shut. By boat from the cove? The violence of that lashing sea. No small craft could navigate it. He steps out onto the terrace with its sweeping vista of ocean and bluffs. The storms of the last few days have subsided, and the sunset has illuminated the sky, the last clouds gold, pink, azure blue, but the sea is still turbulent, surging high against the bluffs. There_s no boat in the cove or beyond it in open sea. He shifts his gaze down to the beach. Gives a start. She_s standing at the breaking point of the roiling waves. The tendrils of her long pale hair are streaming in the wind, and the handkerchief hem of her ice-blue dress flaps and flutters against her legs. She looks like an exotic sea anemone displaced from some placid tropical ocean. She turns and looks up at the house. Does she see him? He shouts her name, but the wind blows his voice back. She turns back to the sea. Takes a step into the frothing surf. The water foams above her ankles, drenching the hem of the dress, weighing down the silky fabric. And now he_s running. Through the bedroom, down the floating staircase to the front hall. Bursts outside and keeps running. To the edge of the promontory, the gate in the stake fencing, the rickety flight of wooden stairs that scales the cliff. He takes the steps two, three at a time, collecting splinters in his bare feet, accompanied by an honor guard of the two bounding German shepherds. As he steps onto the crescent of sand, he stumbles on a shoe. A silver high-heeled sandal, almost freakishly long and narrow: she has them handmade in Milan. But he can_t see her at all, not on the beach or in the water. He screams her name again, then plunges blindly between rocks large and small into the swells. The currents are brutal: he_s punched under by a powerful surge. His shirt and trousers drag him farther down. His arms scrape against stones; the icy force of the clashing waves overpowers him. The Breitling strap catches on a snag. Freeing it gives him forward momentum, enough to catch a towering swell and ride it back to flat rocks and, with his last strength, crawl back to sand. He lies gasping. Snorting water up from his lungs. His eyes sting with salt and silt. The dogs nose and lap at him with concern. And now Hector_s face looms above him, impassive as always. He lets Hector help him to his feet. He wipes his face with his hands. Looks for the silver sandal. Finds it, recruits the dogs to comb the sliver of beach for its mate. But it_s been lost to the sea. And so has she. She_s gone. He_s certain of it. He can do nothing for her anymore. Nothing except notify the police. This, at least, is the way I imagine it happening. But then again, I_ve always had a vivid imagination. TWO I should have seen it coming. Carlotta_s demise, I mean. I should have had my eyes wide open long before it happened. Our ratings had been in free fall for the past two seasons. Our sponsors were evaporating like steam from cooling tea. But Carlotta Dark, the small cable network show I wrote for, was no run-with-the-pack series. Edgy and erotic, with notes of black comedy. Addictively Gothic. It was set in the gloom of the nineteenth-century Adirondacks: We had vengeful ghosts luring newlyweds to gruesome suicides, vampires guzzling blood from cut crystal like so many dirty martinis. Young Carmelites who_d strip off their habits at the wink of a strapping gravedigger_s eye. How could it possibly be over? I_d been with the show since it had begun six years before, starting as a lowly intern, then fighting my way up to writing staff. I was good at my job, and I loved it. Which might_ve seemed strange, since I don_t look very Goth. My flyaway hair is light brown. My eyes a lucid shade of gray that tend to blab everything I_m feeling. And I rarely wear black. I think it washes me out. But I_d always been attracted to the macabre. When I was little, I imagined a rather kindly skeleton named Mrs. Teeny Bones who lived under my bed and rattled her teeny bones whenever it thundered. At Halloween, no princess tiaras for me. _I want to be a mummy,_ I insisted. And Mom, her theatrical heart tickled, gamely complied, bandaging me from neck to forehead with gauze she_d steeped in cold tea to make it look authentically rotten. Maybe this penchant of mine came about because when I was three years old, my father blinked out of existence. I had no concept of death at that age, of course. All I knew was that one day I had a daddy with a lap to wriggle myself up onto and a mop of wiry copper hair to tug. And then I didn_t. Where_s Daddy? He had an accident, sweetheart. But where did he go? Go to sleep, sweetie. I_ll leave on the night-light. My father vanished. And after that, Mom died, too, in a way. She never remarried. Sent every suitor quickly packing and poured all her considerable passion into acting in community theater. Swapping real-life romance for the make-believe of the stage. And so, yeah, I liked it when the dead didn_t stay dead. When they came back, even as rattling bones or monsters in rotted rags or vampires slurping gore. And, yeah, a show like Carlotta Dark was right up my alley. And then that, too, blinked out of existence. A blustery morning in October. The head writer, Wade O_Conner, called me into his office. Wade was both my boss and confidant_a handsome guy with the beginnings of a wattle from a habit of tugging the skin under his chin when he was worried. He was tugging on it like mad now. _Bad news, Janie. You_d better sit down._ I felt my face pale. I couldn_t take any more bad news. Not with the sick-sweet smell of Mom_s memorial flowers still fresh in my nostrils. _What_s happened?_ _We_ve been canceled. The end of next month._ _Canceled?_ The word seemed meaningless. Nonsensical. _Yep. They_re replacing us with a wellness show. Six-minute cardio, berries that cure cancer. That kind of thing. Sorry to be the one to give you the news._ I stared at the photos of our show_s stars above Wade_s head. Perfect teeth. Profuse hair. It lent them a vague family resemblance. And we were like a family, weren_t we? Cast and crew, one close-knit, never-to-be-parted family. Lies! I wanted to rip the grinning faces off the wall and smash them on Wade_s desk, and I wanted to scream and kick and rage. But I didn_t. Instead I fell back on Mom_s expression for all calamity, whether terminal illness or a misplaced recipe for caraway cookies. _Shit, shit, shit,_ I said. That was in October, and now it was the end of May, and I was perched cross-legged in the window seat of my Cobble Hill apartment, polishing off a bottle of Sancerre_opened God knew when because it was halfway to vinegar_my MacBook balanced precariously on my knees. I_d earmarked the afternoon for bills_a grim accumulation of them. It had been a wet, cold spring, one dreary day after another, and the dismal rain spattering the window drummed a suitable accompaniment. I_d been out of work nearly eight months. I_d pulled every string, knocked on every door. But there_d been a wave of canceled series in the past year. A deluge of writers from bigger shows pounding on the same doors. _Just hang on till the fall,_ my agent told me. _It_s dead in summer_things will pick up then._ But my severance had run out in March. My savings, never robust, were rapidly becoming a figment of my imagination. I_d been waking up at three in the morning, my thoughts revolving on a groove approaching panic. The rent on my apartment was exorbitant, even by Brooklyn standards. I_d scoured Craigslist and Airbnb for a cheaper place, blasted emails to everyone I knew. The only possibilities were hideous. And in the meantime, the bills kept coming. I took a fortifying swig of wine. Opened the first notice. Tender Care Hospice Services. $2,647.19. BALANCE OVERDUE. Shit. I_d forgotten about this one. Nine months since I_d scattered Mom_s ashes from the Ocean City boardwalk (illicitly, before dawn) and I was still paying off what her insurance didn_t cover. I_d wanted the best care for her. I didn_t regret it. But now, suddenly, it all came rushing back to me: her dinette transmogrified into a hospital room; the curio cabinet crammed with vials and syringes; the bleeping monitors on the sideboard; and the squeech, squeech of thick-soled shoes on linoleum. A searing bubble of loss, grief, guilt burst in my chest. I leaped off the window seat and strode into the kitchen and poured the dregs of the Sancerre into my glass. I was drinking too much. I didn_t care. My cell jangled. I reached for it. _So you are still alive._ Otis Fairfax_s sunny baritone. _How come you didn_t answer my texts?_ _Sorry, I haven_t checked messages today._ _Whoa. You sound like you_re in a major funk._ _Yeah, well, maybe,_ I said. _It_s been raining forever, and I feel like spring is never going to come. I mean real spring, with dogwood and daffodils and everything._ _Yeah, right. It_s just the rain._ He knew me too well. Otis was the closest thing to family I had. Like sort of a kid brother_the kind who_s forever wrecking cars and getting bounced out of jobs and then swears to God he_s got it together this time, and if you don_t actually believe him, you fervently want to. He_d moved to California two years ago to attend_and drop out of_a Sausalito culinary school. I hadn_t heard from him in months. _Where are you?_ I said. _Still working at that tapas place?_ _God, no, I quit ages ago. The manager was a little Mussolini. I_m down in Big Sur now, working for a cousin of mine. An estate on the ocean, gorgeous, knockout views. It_s called Thorn Bluffs, and I_m his private chef and kind of helping to run things._ _It sounds great._ _It is, and it_s why I_m calling. I got that email you sent about needing a new place, and listen. There_s a cottage here. It_s really nice, and nobody_s using it. You could have it, like, for free, for the summer, maybe even longer._ _Wait,_ I said. _You mean in California?_ _Yeah. I know it_s a long way to come, but it_s perfect for you, really. And you won_t have to pay any rent._ A cacophony of barking rose behind him. _Hold on a sec. Let me kick the dogs out of the kitchen._ His voice added to the canine din: _Out, all of you! Outa here!_ To me: _We_ve got five dogs right now, and naturally I_m the designated wrangler. So where was I?_ _A freebie cottage with ocean views. What_s the catch?_ _Nothing. I mean, not a catch. Except Evan_that_s my cousin_he_s got a daughter coming back from school for the summer. She_s thirteen and in that stage, you know? She was supposed to go to her grandmother_s, but Grandma broke a hip. And her mom died a couple of years ago . . ._ I drew a breath. _How?_ _Oh, she worked for some NGO and was on a famine-relief trip to Africa and ate some dish she didn_t know had peanuts in it. She was fatally allergic. Evan didn_t even know he had a kid until then. It was a one-night thing, and the mom never got in touch._ _That poor little girl,_ I murmured. _Yeah, crappy break for her. But I figured you could relate because of your mom, you know? Talk to her and all._ _Just talk to her?_ _Well, no, not just. She_ll be going to summer school for some classes she flunked, but she doesn_t focus well. She needs extra tutoring. You_d get paid, of course. In addition to the cottage. A good hourly. My cousin definitely isn_t cheap._ _I_ve never tutored before,_ I said. _It wouldn_t be hard. French_you speak it, right? And, like, earth science, and that_s easy_you can just go through the textbook._ _But why me? Why don_t you get a professional tutor?_ _Evan hates having strangers around. I told him you_re like family to me, and I_m family to him, so in a way we_re all kind of related._ I felt light headed. The vinegary wine was going to my head. _So what does he do, this cousin of yours?_ _Second cousin once removed, actually. He_s an entrepreneur. Finances start-ups, mostly in Silicon Valley._ A little too casually, Otis added, _You might_ve heard of him. Evander Rochester?_ I placed the name with a shock. _The one who murdered his wife?_ _So you heard about that?_ _Well, yeah, Otis. It was all over the media just this last winter. His wife was a famous model. Beatrice McAdams, right?_ _Yeah, but he didn_t murder her. Jesus! It was suicide. She drowned herself. She was schizophrenic or something. Everyone knew she was crazy_that_s how she blew up her modeling career. She stabbed some Vogue photographer with a Chanel pin. Right between the eyes._ I gave a startled laugh. _Really?_ _Yeah, and worse things besides. Plus, Evan tried to save her, but he was too late. Her body got swept out to sea. The current is a killer here._ He gave a kind of strained giggle. _Look, you won_t be in any risk, if that_s what you_re afraid of. I mean, I wouldn_t lure you here if you might get your throat cut in the middle of the night or anything._ _I don_t know, O.,_ I said. _You don_t always think things through._ _But I have thought this through. And I really, really want you to come. And you can help me with stuff here. I don_t know how I_m going to cope otherwise. I_m swamped with things to do. And Evan_s away most of the time, so it_ll just be me here with Sophia and a couple of the help. I_m practically a prisoner._ I paused. _Why do I get the feeling there_s something you_re not telling me?_ _I_m telling you everything. Honest. And you_ll love it here, I promise. We_re close to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Lots of art galleries, you_ll love that too._ His phone bleeped. _It_s him_I gotta go. I_ll text you some pics._ He hung up. I finished off the Sancerre. Typical Otis. Suggesting I hop out to California like it was a jaunt to Montauk on the Hampton Jitney. My text pinged. Two photos. The first a spectacular aquamarine cove encircled by sloping pastel-tinted bluffs. View from your cottage! The second a blurred selfie, Otis in a white chef_s apron, brandishing a slotted spoon. Me in the kitchen!! I_d missed him. More than I_d realized. Like family. Outside, the rain had tapered to a cheerless spritz, and the apartment was growing dim in the fading light. It was the first place I_d looked at when I_d had to immediately move out of cheater Jeremy_s loft, and I_d grabbed it. Even if I could afford to stay here, I didn_t want to_it was howling with bad memories. Those places he_d mentioned_Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea_they sounded romantic, all pounding sea cliffs and mission bells tolling in the distance. And that poor young girl. Losing her mom so suddenly. I felt a tug toward her, even without knowing anything more about her. Maybe I could be of some help to her. And help Otis hang on to a gig for a change. A new place. A new sense of purpose . . . But what wasn_t he telling me? Something. I was sure of it. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Early morning Braidy Lady is brushing my hair. Gentle, she wants me to think she_s going soft, but she yanks a snarl, and I snarl back, low in my throat, and she stops. I can sense her hand tightening on the handle of the brush. She_d like to hurt me more_I can feel that_but she doesn_t dare. I maybe took a bite at her once. I can float a picture of it in my mind, her square brown hand, my sharp teeth sinking into it like a chicken thigh, and she hissed. Braidy Lady hissed like a brown snake and tried to put a witch spell on me, but now she_s afraid, afraid of my clicking sharp white cat_s teeth. I don_t know for sure. There_s a fog twisting through my thoughts. But I like it when the fog is thick in my mind because it feels like swimming. Like being underwater but still being able to breathe. I hear the door open, and I turn my head. He_s there, standing in the doorway with his back to the shadows. He_s all starey. Eyes black like coal. He says something very loud to Braidy Lady. _Annunciata,_ he says. That_s her name. It makes me think of the Virgin Mary. You are the Virgin, Beatrice, Mary Magdalene_s voice whispers to me. Annunciata puts down the brush, and now they_re talking together, my jailer and her. They speak in their secret witch language, the one they use when they plot against me. I keep my smile pinned on my face as I take the brush. The handle is black like his eyes, and the bristles are made from the hairs of a wild boar. I tilt my head back and scrape the boar hairs down the long, long length of my hair, and I watch it turn silvery in the light. He speaks to me now. _Today_s the seventeenth, Beatrice,_ he is saying. _December seventeenth. It_s our wedding anniversary, do you remember?_ I dig the boar hairs of the brush into my head. They feel like a thousand tiny daggers. Yes, I remember. I walked down the aisle, and I wore white like the Virgin. Did he think it was the first time I went down an aisle wearing white? They paid me $2,000 an hour to walk down the catwalk aisles. I was the most famous girl, the most beautiful one. The virgin who wore the white dress, the bridal dress. The last dress before the finale. _I thought we might go out to dinner tonight,_ my jailer is saying. _To celebrate our anniversary. Would you like that?_ I liked prowling the catwalk. Sometimes they put me in black lace and leather or sometimes spotted fur, like a leopard or a cheetah, or striped like a tiger, and I prowled up and down the aisle they called a catwalk, my hips swinging wide, my face a little fierce. My famous Beatrice McAdams walk. But at the end, I am always the bride, the virgin. The girl who wears the white dress. Mary Magdalene whispers to me. Don_t forget the Russian girl, Beatrice. The very young one from St. Petersburg. The one they put in the white dress in Milan. Yes, I remember. The new girl. Sixteen years old. The next Beatrice McAdams, they were saying. They couldn_t see she was a sabertooth. So clever, she kept her claws hidden up inside the tips of her fingers and toes. But I could see. In the procession, the finale in Milan, I watched her claws come out_sharp, horny claws breaking through her shoes, curling out from the tips of her fingers. I knew she was planning to pounce on me, to rip me apart, and I was afraid. Quick, quick, I pounced first. One flick of my hind foot and I took her down. I heard her scream, and all around, people were making noises. But the girl was stealthy, she sheathed her claws so they couldn_t see what she really was. And then Fiona from the agency was on my phone. Like a crow and it scared me: caw cracka caw, craw. Broke her nose, Fiona cawed. Two teeth chipped. We_ll be sued. Caw, caw. Crackety caw. I put the phone down while she cawed, because I badly needed some snow white. I kept it in a shiny brown canister that used to contain tea. CHAI DIARIES, the tea canister said. ORGANIC CLASSIC BREAKFAST. I sniffed up a little snow white from my canister so I could talk to Fiona. My shoes were too small, I told her. They were too tight for me to walk in. I stumbled. It wasn_t my fault. It_s the last time we_ll cover for your shit, Beatrice. One more incident and we_re cutting you loose. Do you understand? _Are you listening to me, Beatrice?_ My jailer_s voice has sharp glass in it. It goes through me like a cut. _Have you been listening at all to what I_m saying?_ He still stares at me from the doorway with eyes all inky. He thinks I don_t know. About what he is planning to do. So many words whispering in my mind, like prayers in church at Easter when all the pews are full and people stand in the aisles and there are lilies on the altar. Lilies. I want to scream a little. But I behave like a model prisoner. Words are floating through my mind, but I pick only the words he wants to hear. _Of course I_m listening, darling,_ I say. _Happy anniversary._ THREE I was lost. I crept in my rented Nissan through fog thick as cotton wadding, fog that shimmered specter white in the headlights before dissolving into the witching-hour blackness beyond. My GPS had conked out twenty minutes ago, and I hadn_t seen another car in almost as long. The Pacific Ocean pounded hundreds of feet below, and my pulse was pounding in synchronicity. I must have overshot the turnoff to Thorn Bluffs. Easy to do on this twisty road, Otis had warned me. Just over eleven hours ago, I_d left my apartment for the last time and boarded a Delta nonstop from JFK. Heavy turbulence over the Rockies, me on my third tiny bottle of cabernet. Then a sprint across the vast sprawl of LAX, only to find my Alaska Air connection delayed due to fog in Monterey. I tapped a guy in a green hoodie embossed with a giant clam. _Any idea how long it could be?_ _Fog_s pretty intense this time of year. Could be twenty minutes, could be six hours._ Six hours! I had an impulse to turn and catch the next plane back to New York. But my apartment was now sublet to a Dutch photographer with pink hair. My bank account was nearly flatlined. Most of my friends were scattered to the winds. I went instead to grab a Frappuccino. Two Fraps, a turkey wrap, and a margarita later, my flight was called. Another rock and roll up to Monterey, a lengthy wait at the Alamo counter. And now it was almost midnight, and I was lost. I crept around an almost invisible bend. A road sign materialized in the fog like ectoplasm. A rudimentary drawing of a pig with a brutish snout, a piglet in tow. The wild boar crossing! Otis had said it was a landmark. Yes! I stabbed the air with a fist. And now, there was the turnoff_a break in the thick underbrush marked by two round white boulders. I steered between the rocks onto a rutted lane and in several yards came to a high metal gate. Pressed the button on a black metal call box. An open sesame effect: the gates creaked apart. I continued down a dark lane of worn-away asphalt flanked by towering black columns of redwoods. Thickets of ferns glistened like otherworldly plants between the trunks. Humpbacked shadows flickered in the foliage beyond. Every so often, goblin-like fingers groped the hood of my car. A storybook road. It could lead to a gingerbread house. Or a beast drooling for blood inside a crumbling castle. The road snaked and twisted upon itself, and just when I was sure some malevolent spell had taken me right back to where I_d started, the redwoods thinned to a clearing and the fog began to dissipate, revealing one of the most beautiful houses I_d ever seen. Three stories made of redwood, glass, and steel. The top story with a deck that cantilevered toward the sea. The facade softly illuminated by ground lights nestled in natural landscaping. I pulled into the drive. The front door flew open, and Otis burst out, wearing a monkish brown robe and pajama pants. I gave a start as a beast face suddenly pressed against my window_black and hairy, with peering bright-black eyes. _Pilot! Down, boy! Down!_ Otis yanked the dog_s collar, for that_s what the beast was_a black, unclipped standard poodle. It broke away from him and cavorted off into the darkness. _Sorry, he_s still a puppy. New here. Sophia just brought him home yesterday._ I staggered, travel-buzzed, from the car. He caught me up in a bear hug. _Shit, Janie, I_m so glad to see you_you can_t even imagine!_ _Me too._ So glad that tears welled in my eyes. _You haven_t changed a bit!_ He hadn_t: his face was still like the Raisin Bran sun logo, round with spiky pale hair and crockery-blue eyes behind gold glasses. _Neither have you. Except you_re too skinny. This air will give you back your appetite. It_s very bracing._ _Yeah, I noticed._ I pulled my summer-weight sweater closer around me. _What a gorgeous house!_ _Isn_t it? You know the architect Jasper Malloy?_ _Of course, great midcentury architect. He designed it?_ _Yeah, for himself, in 1962. And also died here twelve years later. There was a story it was haunted by him, so for a long time, nobody would touch it. It was a wreck when Evan bought it._ Otis flipped up the Nissan_s hatchback and swung out my suitcase. _Though probably the real reason was because Malloy_s architecture had gone out of style. But now he_s considered a genius and a visionary, and all his buildings are masterpieces. Architectural Digest is dying to do a spread on this, but Evan says no way. If they come around, he_ll set the dogs on them._ _Is he here? Mr. Rochester?_ _Ev? Nah, away as usual. And Sophia_s asleep. At least I think so. It_s hard to tell_she keeps her music going twenty-four seven. But hey, you must be beat. Let me get you to your place._ He popped the handle of my suitcase. _Leave the keys in the car. I_ll get it moved in the morning._ I grabbed my carry-on and followed as he rolled my bag to a descending set of wooden stairs. The ocean now boomed like it was inches under our feet. The steps were slick with moss. I clung to the railing. Any visions of luxury I_d had from the sight of the main house were dashed by the cabin at the bottom of the steps. Unpainted redwood surrounded by run-wild bushes. A peaked wooden roof. The remnants of a chimney. A sign faded to illegibility over the door. _What does that sign say?_ _Magritte Cottage. This used to be an artist colony in the 1940s. Ten cottages all named after painters. All burned down except this one._ He pushed the door open. A standing lamp illuminated one large room, simply furnished with rustic-looking pieces painted in faded primary colors. A bricked-over fireplace, the wall blackened around it. A very darkened gilt-framed mirror above it. A frayed braided rug over most of the planked floor. Opposite the fireplace, a pair of sliding glass doors slightly askew on their runners. _It looks better in the daylight,_ Otis said anxiously. _It_s nice. Cozy._ I dropped my carry-on and purse on the bed, a four-poster with a fuzzy plaid spread. _Reminds me of sleepaway camp. Except without the bunk beds._ _It_s all original, except the glass doors. Malloy added those to give the ocean view. The furniture_s from Evan_s parents. They were archaeologists, mostly in South America._ _Retired?_ _If you call dead retired. Plane crash when Evan was at Stanford._ _Oh._ My eyes seized on a rough arrangement of wildflowers in a glass on the bed table. _Pretty bouquet._ _Sophia picked them. She worried they_d already be wilted by the time you got here. Wildflowers don_t last long._ _That was sweet of her._ _She can be. Sometimes._ He ticked his spectacles higher on his nose. _So . . . there_s a kitchenette through the folding doors. I left some stuff for breakfast in the fridge. The connectivity is okay, not great, worse with the cell. If it goes out entirely and you really need it, you can go up to the house_it_s heavy-boosted up there. Oh, and you can drink the tap water, by the way. It_s from a well, and it_s delicious._ I nodded, stifling a yawn. _And you_ve got your own terrace. The view of the cove like I sent you._ I glanced at the glass doors. _No curtains?_ _I could tack some up, if you want. But there_s nothing really out there._ I went over and peered out into the blackness. I could hear but not see the pounding water. _So that_s where it happened? With Beatrice McAdams?_ _Where she drowned herself, yeah. Last December. Wearing a party dress. Crazy, huh?_ A cocktail dress and high heels. I remembered being captivated by that detail in the nonstop media coverage at the time. Otis gave a little clap of his hands. _Hey, I_ll let you crash. That bed_s pretty comfy, I tested it out myself._ He bounced a little on the balls of his slipper-clad feet, that way he_d always done. _I_m so truly glad you_re here, Janie. You made the right decision. You_ll see._ It didn_t seem like the right decision. I managed a smile. _I really have missed you, O._ _Yeah, me too. Like crazy. And now we_ll have each other_s backs. Watching out for each other, just like we always did back when we worked at the Clown, right?_ _You bet._ We hugged again, and he left. I listened to his footsteps receding outside. A lonely sound. I pulled out my phone. Just one bar, which quickly sputtered out like an extinguished candle. There was an old black desk phone squatting on top of a dresser. I picked up the receiver. It was dead. Who would I call at this time of night anyway? I carted my carry-on bag with my toiletries into the primitive bathroom. The tap went on with a put-upon groan, then released alternating gushes of freezing and scalding water. I scrubbed my face free of travel grime. Brushed my teeth. Trudged wearily back to the main room and began to unpack. There was a midget closet with peeling flowered wallpaper and a musty, old-maiden-aunt smell. A small bureau with drawers that stuck. I pried open the top drawer. It was crammed with fashion magazines: Harper_s Bazaar, Marie Claire. I opened one_a Vanity Fair from 2013_to a page marked with a turned-down corner. Full-page ad for Lanc?me. The model was Beatrice McAdams at the height of her career. An exquisite silvery creature with hazy green eyes. All the magazines in the drawer appeared to have folded-down corners. I flipped to a few more of the marked pages. Each featured photos of Beatrice in her heyday. I tossed the magazines into a heap on the floor. Restocked the drawers with my undies, shorts, and tops. I peeled off my travel-rumpled clothes. Pulled on a nightshirt. Filmy white linen newly bought for what I_d imagined would be balmy California nights. It floated sensuously to my knees. I caught a glimpse of myself in the gilt mirror above the fireplace. A small pale girl in a thin white shift. Not a beauty. Just pretty enough. I felt a sudden overwhelming desire for a lover_s touch. The feeling startled me. I_d shut down that part of myself for almost a year. So why now, exhausted, in strange surroundings, so far from anything I thought of as home, did I feel nearly choked with desire? I leaned closer to the mirror_s speckled glass, as if to search its dark depths for an answer. Something moved in the reflection behind me. I gave a violent start. A figure, hovering just outside the glass doors. Hazy, white. Incorporeal. My heart began to pound. _Mom?_ The word escaped my lips involuntarily. Whoever, whatever, it was receded into the dark. I stood paralyzed a moment. Then, with determination, I turned and strode to the doors. Cupped my face on the glass and peered out. Moonlight flitted in scrappy patterns between the branches of a tree limb swaying in the breeze. I gave a quick laugh. Just like me to conjure my mother_s ghost out of a flutter of moonbeam. I unbolted the door, jiggled it open on its uneven track, and stepped out into the brisk air. The sea was a black expanse with white foamings of phosphorescence where the waves tossed. The faint outline of a cliff descended on the left, the silhouette of a cypress on its crest_like a mad woman with her hair blown sideways. The surf now sounded like a war. Booming cannons. Clashing artillery. And suddenly my skin prickled. The kind of prickle that crawls up from the top of your spine and over your scalp when you_re absolutely sure you_re being watched. I scuttered back inside. Heaved the glass door shut and locked the bolt. Then went to the front door. There was a keyhole, the skull-shaped kind for a large old-fashioned key. I had no key. I felt a spurt of panic. Stop it! I was spooking myself. My exhausted state. The disorienting effect of strange new surroundings. I just needed to get some sleep. I crawled into bed between fresh sheets and the plaid blanket. I thought again of that hazy shape in the mirror, and another fancy floated into my mind. A mad woman in a cocktail dress. Beatrice. And then I drifted into unconsciousness. FOUR I woke up to the sight of startling beauty. Outside the doors, a misted blue sea stretched to the horizon, cradled by bluffs of ocher, violet, moss green. Pelicans skimmed the waterline. A hummingbird fizzed ruby and emerald at the glass, then flashed into thin air. Nothing ghostly. No goblins. I checked the time: 10:58 a.m.! I propelled myself out of bed and into the scalding-freezing shower. Washed with a slice of pickled-looking green soap perched on the rim. Threw on the first clothes I pulled out_canary-yellow cotton shirt, white capris. In the kitchenette, I found a bag of freshly ground Jamaican beans. OJ. Homemade cranberry muffins. Otis had remembered I preferred honey to sugar. I brewed coffee in a dinged-up Krups and took a steaming cup and a muffin out to the crumbling brick terrace. I ate sitting on the steps that led down into the property. In the distance, an electric saw buzzed, and two men yelled back and forth in a splashing kind of language_a little like Spanish being spoken underwater. Dogs barked occasionally from below. A feeling of remarkable well-being crept over me. My text tone sounded. R u murdered yet? I grinned. Wade O_Connor. He was teaching at UCLA while still hunting for a new writing gig. I texted back: Not yet. Mr. R. not even here. They put u in a spooky attic? Nope. Rustic cottage with staggering view. I_m in paradise!! Yeah? Don_t eat no poison apples. Gruesome way to die. Mwahahaha. I_ll try my best not to. The dogs below suddenly began barking frenetically. I stood up and went to the edge of the terrace, but even on tiptoe I couldn_t see down to the beach. I gazed out over the water. There were several large outcroppings toward the horizon, one of them particularly imposing. Very jagged_black and glistening. It looked to me like the ruined spire of a Gothic cathedral sunk beneath the water. My eyes traveled to a lower promontory north of where I stood. I spotted something else that looked medieval. The top of a small tower, round with a crenellated top, poking above the trees. So what could that be? I wondered. My text pinged again. Otis this time. U revived? Yeah. Be right up. I dumped my dishes in the minisink inside. Then I headed up the mossy little steps to the main compound. Otis was in the motor court unloading bags of produce from the back of his ancient Prius. _Hey,_ he greeted me. _Sleep okay?_ _Too well. I just got up. You_re right, O., it_s spectacular here._ _Told you._ _What_s going on with all the dogs?_ _A dead tiger shark washed up on the cove. I_ve got to get it towed away before it rots and the smell gets up here._ His arms full, he started to the house. _Hey, could you do me a big favor? Pick up Sophia later? She goes to a tennis clinic in the mornings, and it gets out at two o_clock._ _Sure, anything I can do to help._ My rental Nissan was no longer in the drive. _Where_s my car?_ _I had Hector_he_s the gardener here_take it back to Alamo. We_ve got a car here you can use._ _I already paid for a month._ _I called, and Alamo_s just going to charge you for one week._ I had an odd feeling of being trapped. _You should have asked me first, Otis._ _I thought you_d be happy. Not having to pay for the rental, right? And believe me, you_re gonna like this one a lot better._ He headed to a side door of the house. We entered a large service porch where a woman with long white braids was attacking the floors with a Swiffer. She was tall and gaunt. I couldn_t guess her age_fifty, sixty? Her nut-brown face looked carved from some obdurate tropical wood. _Hola, Annunciata!_ Otis yelled. _This is Jane. She is staying in the cottage._ I smiled. _Nice to meet you, Annunciata._ She returned a glare. Then resumed her punishment of the floor. I trailed Otis into the kitchen_a stunner, all limestone and Euro stainless and another eye-popping view of the Pacific. _Annunciata_s really deaf,_ he explained. _She_s got hearing aids_top of the line, Evan paid_but she hardly ever uses them. He says she thinks they pick up spirit voices. I believe it._ _She didn_t seem to like me much._ _It_s impossible to tell. She_s married to Hector_I told you, the gardener_and he_s the same way. They worked for Evan_s parents in Honduras, and I don_t think either of them likes strangers. Maybe they_re illegal. I never asked._ _Who else works here?_ _Just me and the Sandovals full time. There are others who come part time._ He deposited the bags on a counter. _There used to be a lot more. A guy who was kind of a butler but called himself the estate manager. Two other full-time maids and a chef before me. And both Evan and Beatrice had personal assistants. The butler and the chef lived in the guesthouse behind the garage, but they all got sacked when the money got tight._ Otis rummaged in a drawer, pulled out a remote. _Okay, this opens both the gates and garage. First button, gates_next three, garage doors. The third_s got a blue Audi, that_s the car you_ll use._ I took the clicker. _Okay, thanks._ _The key fob should be on the seat. Tell your GPS _Carmel Tennis Club._ You_ll want to leave early. There_s a lot of tourist traffic._ _Maybe I_ll go in now. Unless you need me for anything else?_ _No, good idea, get the lay of the land. Oh, and you_re having dinner with me and Sophia tonight. Since the lord and master is away._ _Great._ I started to turn. _Oh, by the way, I need a key for my door._ _Didn_t I leave you one? Like, by the bed?_ _No._ _I thought I did. I_ll see if I can dig you up another. Wait, let me show you first where you_ll be working with Sophia._ He led me to the center of the house, a floating staircase made of ash-colored wood. We descended to the lower level. _This floor is completely new,_ he said. _It_s got a gym, a screening room. A couple more bedrooms. One for the Sandovals. They_ve got their own house on the other side of the highway, but sometimes one of them will stay over. Like if I_m away._ _So you weren_t exactly a prisoner here?_ He gave me a puzzled look. Then threw open a pair of pocket doors. _This is the Ocean Room. Where you_ll work._ A spacious room, more traditionally furnished than those upstairs. An undulating sea-green light flooded in from floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. _It_s lovely,_ I said. _It was Beatrice_s favorite room. She spent a lot of time in here, lolling on that chaise._ A tufted white chaise was positioned at a slight diagonal from one wall. _Evan never sets foot in here anymore._ _Won_t he mind us working here?_ _Nah. He_ll like that it keeps you out of his way._ Pretty cold, I thought. Even if he had murdered Beatrice. Or particularly if he had. I returned to the cottage. Swapped my flip-flops for sandals, grabbed my bag, and headed to the garage_a nine-car structure connected by a covered passage to the main house. I stabbed random buttons on the remote until the middle bay rumbled open. _Wow,_ I breathed. An Audi Coupe, sapphire blue with a white interior, crouched between a Land Cruiser and a Smart Car. In the Jersey burb I grew up in, car crazy came with the air, and here were eight mostly gorgeous ones, including a Tesla Model S at a recharging station. I stepped rapturously up to the Audi and slipped behind the wheel. Luxuriated in the buttery leather. A touch on the starter and the engine sprang to life with a sensuous purr. The coast road where I_d felt so lost the night before was now a blast to drive. The ocean flashed in and out of sight, with occasional peeps of snowcapped mountains to the east. A tap on the pedal and I surged effortlessly into traffic on the main highway. Twenty-two minutes to the turnoff to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Charming in a postcard kind of way. Whitewashed cobblestone alleyways. Tutti-frutti-colored geraniums dripped from windowsills. Pedestrians spilled from the sidewalks, snapping pictures, licking gelato. I lucked into a parking space and joined the stroll. Shelled out twenty-seven bucks for a Cobb salad at a sidewalk caf?. Nothing seemed quite real. The geraniums. The gelato. A hazy sunshine added to the dreamlike atmosphere. At a quarter to two, I got back in the Audi. The GPS steered me to the tennis club_a low building shaded by sycamores, the bark like Marine Corps camouflage. The parking area was jammed. I made a full circle before spotting a car pulling out_a high-end Range Rover, metallic blue. I cruised up beside it. The driver, a woman, braked suddenly. Odd, I thought. I_d left more than enough room for her to maneuver. She continued to back out, then swung forward and braked again directly beside me. Misted sunlight dazzled the window: I registered silver-blonde hair, finely etched features. Eyes hidden behind large and opaque dark glasses. A tap on my opposite window made me jump. A fairly tall and tan girl flumped into the passenger seat. _Hi,_ she said. The Range Rover pulled sharply away. I stared briefly after it, then back to my passenger. _Oh, hi . . . Sophia? I_m Jane._ _Yeah, I know, Otis said._ She twisted herself to wedge a racket and a neon-orange Patagonia duffle behind her seat. _Thanks so much for the lovely flowers. It was so thoughtful of you._ _No problem._ She wriggled a little. _So how come you get to drive her car?_ _Whose car?_ _Beatrice_s. She used to seriously lose her shit if you even, like, looked at it._ Beatrice_s car! A sudden pinging made me jump again. _Seat belt,_ I said. With the air of granting a particularly nonsensical favor, Sophia yanked the belt across her chest. Tugged her short-shorts from between the cleft of her buttocks, excavated a pack of Bubble Yum from the back pocket, and ripped it open. Crammed two pink slabs in her mouth. Chewed a moment. _I thought you_d look different,_ she said. I began to pull out of the lot. _Really? How?_ _I don_t know. Just different._ Her voice sounded blurred. A moustache of sweat glistened above her bow-shaped upper lip. She was certainly different than the waif I_d been picturing. A heart-shaped face bruised with magenta eye shadow, purple mascara, purplish-brown lip gloss. Earlobe-length red hair in want of shampoo. Orange tube top. Those short-shorts. She blew a quivering bubble. Popped it. _Otis said you used to work for a TV show._ _Yeah, I did. A show called Carlotta Dark._ _Never heard of it._ _It was on the ALX network. It ran for six years, then got canceled._ _That sucks._ She spat the gum back into the wrapper, crumpled gum and wrapper into a wad, and dropped it at her feet. Then let out a belch. I caught the distinctive funk of regurgitated bourbon. _Have you been drinking?_ _No._ _There_s no point in lying. I can smell it on your breath._ A shrug, one shouldered. _Did you even go to tennis practice?_ _Yeah, I did._ _And?_ _We broke early _cause the coach, Marianne, she_s got, like, fibroids and gets these major cramps? So she had to go to the gynecologist. And I went to hang with Josh, the dude who runs the bar._ _He lets you drink?_ _I had, like, half a Manhattan. No big deal._ A louder belch. _It seems like a big deal,_ I said. My attention suddenly shifted to the rearview mirror. A car was tailgating us. A metallic-blue SUV. Possibly a Range Rover. I slowed to see if it would pass. It lessened its speed to remain behind me. I had a wild thought: it was Beatrice McAdams chasing me. Sophia suddenly let out a low gurgle, like the sound of oatmeal coming to a boil. I swerved to the shoulder and stopped. _Roll down your window. Breathe._ She whirred the window down and hung her head out, gulping in fresh air. Then she dragged her head back in and slumped crookedly against her seat. _Okay?_ I asked. A feeble assent. I pulled back onto the highway, compulsively checking for a metallic-blue SUV behind me. It was gone. Did I really think it was Beatrice? My old childhood yearning for the dead not to stay dead. Ridiculous. I drove back as fast as I dared, swung carefully onto the Thorn Bluffs private road, taking the switchbacks as gently as possible. Pulled to a stop in front of the house. Helped Sophia out, half hoisting her by the shoulders. Guided her inside. _Where_s your room?_ _Down the hall._ I supported her down the long hallway past the central stairs. She lurched for a doorknob and tottered inside, collapsing on her bed. I followed her in. An unholy mess: I waded through an archipelago of tangled panties, athletic socks, puddles of perfumed goo, tokidoki shopping bags, a spilled-out box of sport tampons. I noticed a gold Zippo lighter. A fish tank with no water. I went into her equally slovenly bathroom. Found a glass that didn_t look like it was actively cultivating a norovirus. Filled it from the tap and brought it to her. _Drink some water. Just a few sips. It will make you feel better._ She turned her face to the wall. _Are you going to tell my dad?_ _No,_ I said. She turned back to me. Just enough to shoot me a slit-eyed glance. _But if you keep on doing this, I_m sure he_s going to find out._ _How do you know? He_s hardly ever here. You_ve never even met him._ _That_s true. But here_s what I do know. I know I used to be your age once. And that somewhere in this pigsty of a room there_s a joint stashed away. Or a bottle of something. Or both. And I_ll bet cigarettes too. And I also know that if you want to hide your drinking, bourbon_s the worst way to go. Anyone can smell it on your breath a mile away. You_re way better off with vodka._ Another slitted peep at me. _I_ll just leave the glass here. But trust me, you_ll feel a whole lot better if you stay hydrated._ As I closed her door behind me, I heard a rustling. Then the clink of a glass being lifted off a surface. I felt a little surge of triumph. Maybe I could be of help to her after all. _Do you think I should go check on her again?_ _Nah._ Otis set a tureen on the table: cioppino, chunky with fresh seafood and fragrant with anise and oregano. _I_ve found it_s better to just let her sleep it off._ _So she_s done this before?_ _Yeah, a couple of times. Annunciata likes her rum and once left a bottle around that Soph got into. And maybe another time after tennis. But she really can be sweet sometimes. I was hoping that was the side you_d get first._ We were settled in an alcove on the sea-view side of the kitchen. Five dogs milled and begged at our feet. I finally had them all straight. The poodle, Pilot. Julius, an obese bulldog. A terrier mutt, Hermione, who_d lost a leg to a fox poacher_s trap and was now fitted with a prosthetic contraption. Also a pair of black German shepherds_siblings, Minnie and Mickey_who still appeared to be sizing me up. _By the way,_ I said, _why didn_t you tell me it was Beatrice_s car?_ _The Audi? So what? It_s an amazing car, right? And it_s just sitting out there._ _It feels kind of ghoulish for me to drive it._ _Don_t think about it like that._ _It_s going to be hard not to. Please, O., just ask me before making any more decisions for me, okay?_ _Okay. I will._ He ladled out bowls of the cioppino. I was suddenly very hungry. I quickly downed a couple of spoonfuls. _I didn_t know Sophia had even ever known Beatrice._ _Yeah. Soph first came here about a month after her mom died. From what I know, it was Beatrice who wanted her shipped off to a boarding school._ _Your basic wicked stepmother?_ _Your basic off-her-rocker stepmother._ He took a taste of the cioppino and grunted. _Too much oregano._ _Not for me. It_s delicious._ I wolfed a little more. _So what_s that kind of medieval tower sticking up across the grounds from my cottage?_ _Oh, that. Jasper Malloy_s old drafting studio. A mini version of his ancestors_ back in Ireland. It_s where he dropped dead, by the way. While working at his drafting table. His body wasn_t found for weeks, and it was all decomposed and eaten by animals by the time it was._ I put my spoon down. Otis grinned. _It_s just used for storage now. Evan says no one_s allowed to go in it. He doesn_t have to worry. It gives me the creeps just to go near it._ _Malloy_s ghost?_ _Somebody_s ghost._ I paused for a moment. _Hey . . . Otis? Are you sure . . . I mean, positive, that your cousin is innocent?_ _Evan?_ _Yeah. Do you think it_s possible he could have killed Beatrice?_ Otis evaded my eyes. _No. I mean, not in cold blood. But he can get pretty mad sometimes. I mean scary mad. So on the spur of the moment, if she drove him to it . . ._ He shook his head. _But he didn_t, okay? It_s the media that stirred all that up. They wouldn_t let it go. They drove him away from here for months._ _Really? Where did he go?_ _His house up in San Francisco. Gorgeous Victorian on Russian Hill. He didn_t come back until almost May. And now he_s had to rent it out because his money is so tight._ Otis_s tone suddenly hardened. _But look. Just drop all this, okay?_ I didn_t think I could totally drop it. I took a different tack. _A weird thing happened at the tennis club today. Somebody seemed to recognize the Audi and began following me. A woman driving a metallic-blue Range Rover. Maybe some friend of Beatrice_s?_ _She didn_t have any friends. There_s a brother. A real asshole. I think he drives a sports car._ _This was definitely a woman. Maybe somebody who works here?_ _There_s only the Sandovals full time, but they_ve got a truck, and anyway, Annunciata doesn_t drive. Lots of people come and go, but I wouldn_t know. Car ID_ing isn_t really my thing._ _She had pale-blonde hair. Silvery._ I gave a little laugh. _I had this utterly crazy thought. I mean, it_s pretty insane. But what if it actually was Beatrice?_ _Back from the dead? And driving a Range Rover at the tennis club?_ _I know. I_m probably just writing stories in my head. But it_s kind of an intriguing mystery, isn_t it? That whole thing about her._ _It_s not, I told you,_ he said vehemently. _She was nuts. She committed suicide_end of story._ _Except it was only his word that she did. And you said her body was never found._ He put down his spoon. _Look, Janie. Don_t get involved with Evan_s affairs. Seriously. I_m not kidding about this._ Would I disappear as well? _Okay, I won_t,_ I said. We were silent a moment. But then we began to reminisce about our early days in New York. Laughing ourselves silly over memories of the East Village dive bar we_d both worked at. All tension disappeared. We washed down the cioppino with chilled Montrachet (_I get to drink the dregs of Evan_s bottles,_ Otis said). For dessert, a fresh-made mascarpone fig tart. He refused to let me help clean up. _Seriously. I like to do things exactly my way. But you could walk Pilot if you want to help. He_s hyperactive, even for a poodle._ _He could use a good grooming,_ I said. _And Julius is wheezing. When was he last taken to the vet?_ _Never since I_ve been here. Why don_t you take over the dogs? That would be a huge help to me._ _All of them?_ I glanced dubiously at Minnie, who was eyeing me in a way that kind of dared me to make a sudden move. _The shepherds too?_ _You_re one of the family now. They_ll accept you._ He glanced outside. _The fog_s coming in_you better take a flashlight. There_s some in the service porch. And one of the jackets_it gets chilly._ I called to Pilot, and he instantly scampered with me into the service porch. I selected a flashlight and grabbed a quilted jacket from a hook. It swamped me, but none of the others looked any smaller. The fog streamed in white scarves and pennants, with a bright half moon playing hide-and-seek among them. I walked briskly down the asphalt drive, Pilot racing figure eights around me. We cut across switchbacks toward the highway. I kept to the gravel shoulder as the grade descended. A pair of headlights glowered in the mist, then swept swiftly by. The highway continued to dip. Pilot romped ahead and disappeared from my sight around a curve. _Pilot!_ I heard him barking but couldn_t see him. I quickened my steps. I found myself in the middle of a dense cloud. Fog gathered in the depression in the road. _Pilot?_ I yelled again. _Where are you?_ Excited yapping. But he was a ghost dog. The roar of a motorcycle echoed from around the far side of the bend. Through the blanketing cloud, I caught a glimpse of the poodle trotting onto the road. _Pilot, get back here!_ I screamed. The motorcycle_s headlamp glowed dimly as it appeared on the near side of the bend. Pilot barked with sudden frenzy. The headlamp veered crazily. Pilot darted off the road into the underbrush. A sickening sound of tires skidding out of control on gravel. A shout. With horror, I watched motorcycle and rider slam down onto the gravel shoulder. I ran toward the rider. He was sprawled crookedly next to the bike, but his limbs, encased in black leather and jeans, were moving stiffly. Alive, at least. With a groan, he hoisted himself up onto his elbows. _Are you okay?_ I shined my flashlight on him. He whipped his head. _What the hell are you?_ _Just a person,_ I said quickly. He yanked his goggles down. _For Chrissake. I meant who are you? What are you doing here?_ _Taking a walk._ _What kind of lunatic goes out for a walk in this kind of fog?_ _Maybe the same kind of lunatic who drives way too fast in it._ _You call that fast? Christ._ He gingerly gathered himself into a sitting position, then flexed his feet in the heavy boots experimentally. He took off his helmet and shook out a head of rough black curls. A week_s tangle of rough salt-and-pepper beard nearly obscured a wide mouth. The prominent nose might be called stately on a more good-natured face. _What the hell was that creature in the middle of the road?_ _A dog._ _A dog?_ _A standard poodle. Unclipped._ _Fuck me._ He put the helmet back on, then pulled a cell phone from his jacket and squinted at the screen. _Nothing,_ he muttered. _The reception_s kind of iffy around here. Do you want me to go get help? I can get back to my place in about twenty minutes._ _Twenty minutes._ A snort. _Do you know how to ride a bike?_ _A bike?_ I had a confused mental image of myself pumping an old Schwinn. _A motorbike,_ he said. I glanced at the toppled machine. A Harley Davidson, a behemoth of black and chrome. _I could give it a try. I drove a Vespa all through Umbria one summer._ _A Vespa. Christ God almighty._ He flung out an arm. _Help me up, okay?_ I approached him tentatively. He was over six feet and powerfully built. About twice my weight, I guessed. _I_m not sure I can pull you._ _Yeah, you probably can_t. Stoop down a little._ God, he_s rude. I did, and he draped his arm around my shoulder, transferring his weight. My knees buckled a little but didn_t give. He began to stand, crumpled slightly, then got his balance and pulled himself up straight. I suddenly became aware of his intense physicality. The power of his arm and shoulder against my body, the taut spring of the muscles in his chest. As if he sensed what I was feeling, he shook off my support and stood on his own feet. _At least you can put weight on your feet,_ I said. _That_s a good sign._ _Are you a medical professional?_ _No._ _Then your opinion doesn_t count for much at the moment._ Go to hell, was on the tip of my tongue. But the fog_s chill was making me sniffle. It seemed absurd to attempt a stinging retort with a dripping nose. I swiped it surreptitiously with the sleeve of my jacket. He walked, limping slightly, to the Harley. _This thing_s supposed to take a corner. That_s the main goddamned reason I bought it!_ He gave the seat a savage kick. Then howled, _Son of a fucking bitch!_ and hopped on his nonkicking boot and shook a fist as if in defiance of some bully of a god who particularly had it in for him. I laughed. He whirled on me. My laughter froze. The look of fury on his face sent a thrill of alarm through me. I edged backward; I felt at that moment he could murder me without compunction and leave my corpse to be devoured by coyotes and bobcats, like the body of Jasper Malloy in that tower. But then, to my astonishment, he grinned. _You_re right. I look like an ass._ Pilot suddenly came crashing out of the underbrush. _Is that your mutt?_ _Yes. Though, actually, not mine. He_s a recent addition at the place I_m staying._ He stared at me, a thought dawning. I forced myself to stare back: deep-set eyes, dark as ink. I was about to introduce myself, but he yanked the goggles back over his eyes and stooped to the handlebar of the bike. _Help me get this up. Grab the other bar. You pull and I_ll push._ _It_s too heavy._ _I_ll do the heavy lifting. Just do what you can._ Obstinately, I didn_t move. _Please,_ he added. He made the word sound like an obscenity. I took a grudging step forward and grabbed hold of the handlebar with both hands. I tugged it toward me as he lifted his side with a grunt. The bike slowly rose upright. _Hold it steady,_ he said. It felt like it weighed several tons_it took every ounce of my strength to keep my side up as he straddled the seat. He grasped both bars. Engaged the clutch, cursing in pain as he stomped on the pedal. He glanced at me briefly. And then, sending up a heavy spray of gravel, the Harley roared off into the enveloping fog. _You_re welcome, Mr. Rochester!_ I shouted into the deepening gloom. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Midmorning It_s time for me to take the poison. My jailer has come to my room again. He has the vial strangled in his fist. _Ready for your meds, Beatrice?_ He looks like a pirate now. Pirate black curls and black eyes and his black jeans have ragged bottoms. The poison comes sometimes in green and sometimes in yellow, and sometimes it_s the color of the dust in a grave. At the dungeon, it came in an injection machine to squirt down my throat. But it_s always to keep me prisoner. I start thinking about the dungeon. The Oaks, they called it. He took me there in his car with no motor, the one he made run on his thoughts alone. He told me I had done something very terrible, and he left me there all locked up. Lilies. The voices all whisper together in my mind. You killed the girl named Lilies. I hear my jailer_s phone purring. He looks at it with a fierce frown. He begins to tap. Click, click, click, click. I think some more about The Oaks. Isn_t this a nice room, Beat? he had said to me. So cheerful, don_t you think? Terrific view. He couldn_t fool me. I could see it was a dungeon. There was no view. No windows. Only video screens with bars in front of them. Behind the bars, the screens showed pictures of dirty hills with trees that looked like dark-green umbrellas. I could have changed the channel and looked at what was really behind the bars. The cement blocks of the dungeon. But I was too stealthy. I didn_t touch the channels. I kept them tuned to those hills and the umbrella trees. The dungeon keeper was very fat. Pasty puddles of fat cheeks and big puffs of breasts and bottom. She could smell my fear when she came to me with her tube of poison. She called it a medicinal oral syringe. _Nothing to worry about, Beatrice._ She squirted poison from it under my tongue. But I could feel the poison seep through me, turning my blood dark green like the umbrella trees. And I grew fat and puffed up, too, just like the dungeon keeper, and I felt sleepy all the time. And then my jailer had come back to the dungeon. And he had brought me back here, and now he keeps me his prisoner. Until he can get rid of me for good. He wants it to happen tonight, Mary Magdalene hisses at me. You won_t let him, Beatrice. You have the plan. _Sorry, Beat._ My jailer_s voice rises over Mary_s. He stuffs his phone in his pocket. He shakes a poison pill from the vial into the palm of his hand. _All set?_ It_s yellow today, the color of a corpse. The extrastrong kind. So I won_t resist when he comes to get rid of me. I am a model prisoner. I part my lips, and he places the corpse-colored pill on my tongue. _Here_s your soda._ He gives me the chalice to sip, and I do. I open my mouth to show him the poison pill is gone. _Good._ He smiles. _I_ve reserved at Sierra Mar for five thirty. You_ll want to dress up. Otis has somebody coming to do your face and hair._ I dip my head. Yes. _You_ll look gorgeous, Beat. You always do. Oh, and hey, Sophia sent an anniversary card. She_ll be home in a few days, you know._ He shows his phone to me. _Balloons._ I see bubbles falling and falling inside the screen. They are purple and pink and green, like the poison when it bubbles inside me. I scream, _Take it away!_ When I scream, the pill slips down from behind my tongue and into my throat. I start to cough, and I choke. He puts the chalice back in my hand. _Drink some more, Beat._ I drink again, and the poison pill slides all the way down. _Rest up now. I_ll come back up later._ And then he_s gone. The poison, Beatrice. Mary_s voice is harsh. You have to get it out. Now! I walk very quickly into my bathroom. I sink down on my knees in front of my bidet. I put two fingers far, far down the back of my throat. It all comes up_the Dr. Brown and the yellow and green food from my breakfast and the pus and the mud from the poison that has already begun to work. I pick out the yellow pill in all the pus and mud. My jailer is clever, he put traps in all the drains, and he tests the water seven times a day. I swirl everything down the bidet except for the pill. I go into my closet room. I open my shoe closet. I push a button, and all the shoes start going round and round. I stop them and select one. A rosy pink pump with a glass high heel. It has a pointed toe. I bury the corpse pill deep inside the toe. Where even my jailer will never find it. FIVE I made it back to the cottage feeling shaken and chilled. Like a first-rate martini, I thought. Except, no, the best martinis were stirred, and suddenly I began to crave one. A shrill ring cut abruptly through the room. The old desk phone. The one that was dead. I stared at it warily. It continued to ring insistently: whatever ghost was on the line was not taking no for an answer. I picked it up. _He_s back,_ said Otis. _I thought this phone didn_t work._ _The cord is frayed. Goes off and on. If it_s on and you press star, it rings on an extension over here. Anyway, Evan_s back. He had an accident_his Harley skidded on some loose gravel and went down._ _I know, I saw it happen. I didn_t recognize him at first._ Otis wasn_t listening. _He_s lucky he didn_t break his neck. He wants to see you. You don_t have to get dressed up or anything. Just come over soon. He hates to be kept waiting._ He hung up. I pressed star to call him back. The phone was dead again. What if Rochester was blaming me for the accident? So what? What was the worst he could do? Certainly not murder me in full sight of Otis. I pulled on dry clothes, ran a comb through my damp hair. Made sure my nose had stopped leaking. I headed up through the fog to the main house, letting myself in through the side service porch. Otis was in the kitchen, peeling foil from the top of a bottle of Cristal. I caught a whiff of marijuana. _Hey, just in time. You can bring him this._ He popped the cork. _He_s in the Great Room. It_s right after the stairs, the double doors. You_ll hear music, just follow it._ I took the bottle. _What do I call him?_ _Evan, like most people do. He hates Evander._ I began down the hall. The mellow strains of Lauryn Hill, _Killing Me Softly,_ drifted to me. One of my favorite songs. I felt strangely resentful. Like he had no right to it. I paused at the threshold of the Great Room. Pictured him inside, sitting by a smoldering hearth. Brooding about his injured ankle. Well, so be it. I squared my shoulders and strode briskly inside. A room with high ceilings, the ocean-side wall made entirely of glass. Modern furniture and elegant flat-weave rugs. Abstract paintings glowing on white walls. There was indeed a large stone hearth at the far end, but Evander Rochester was not seated brooding in front of it. Rather, he was planted firmly on both feet beside a coffee table spread with a lavish buffet, and if he was brooding over anything, it was whether to choose a slab of baby back ribs or a slice of lacy cheese. The German shepherds crouched in a kind of heraldic posture on either side of his feet. He turned at my entrance. _I cried for madder music and for stronger wine._ I glanced at him, startled. Was that a quote? He made a _gimme_ motion with his fingers. I handed him the Cristal. _Want some?_ He gestured with the bottle. I hesitated. Is he aware of our recent encounter? _Sure. Thank you._ He topped off a large chalice-like goblet and handed it to me. I sipped. Fresh tasting and delicious, the bubbles tickling my nose. He waved an expansive hand over the buffet. _Have a bite. Fairfax is a first-class cook._ _I know, but I_ve already eaten, thank you._ _Suit yourself._ He went for a cold sparerib. The dogs began making mewling noises. He fed the rib to one of them (Mickey?), another to its sibling (Minnie?). Then he polished off one of his own and tossed the bone, not over his shoulder into the fireplace as I half expected, but back onto the platter. Then lowered himself into a semireclining position on one of two facing couches. _Well, don_t just stand there. Sit._ I stiffened. _Oh, for Chrissake! Please, have a seat. And could we please skip the niceties? I like to say what I want, and I expect everyone to do the same._ I doubted that. At least the second part. Still, it seemed absurd for me to be hovering above him. I sank into the nearest chair. He fixed his eyes on me. An unrelenting black stare. _So you are real,_ he said. So he does recognize me. _Did you actually think I wasn_t?_ _I_ve got to admit I wasn_t absolutely sure. The way you appeared out of the fog_you and your spirit animal. Like creatures out of some weird spell. Of course, I_d just been dropped on my head, so I wasn_t thinking too clearly about anything._ _I seem pretty real to myself, if that_s any help._ _Not much._ He continued to stare. _How is your ankle?_ I ventured. _Not broken or . . . anything . . . ?_ _It hurts like a son of a bitch. So if you want another laugh at my expense, now would be the time._ I suppressed a laugh. _No, I_m good. But you might feel better if you get out of those boots._ He glanced at his feet as if they had obstinately and independently encased themselves in thick leather. He sat up, began tugging at the left boot, grimacing in pain. _Here, let me help._ I rose and started to him. _Stay back!_ The dogs snarled. Startled, I sat back down. Felt a pulse of anger. What did he think I was going to do? He jimmied the boot off his left foot, then the other. Then he slouched back on the couch and stared at me just for a change. I was finding it a little easier to stare back. He looked no more handsome than he had in the dark_if anything, the interior lighting emphasized the crag of his forehead and the scruffiness of his beard. He_d taken off the young-Brando biker jacket and was now in a white pocket tee with a slight rip at the shoulder, giving him a young-Brando-in-Streetcar appearance. I had the image of him throwing back his head and howling, _Stell-a!_ Smothered another giggle. He spoke. _So how do you like it here?_ _I like it very much. It_s incredibly beautiful._ _The cabin okay? You weren_t expecting anything fancy, were you?_ _No. I mean, I didn_t know what to expect. But it_s perfectly comfortable and charming._ _It_s a shack,_ he said. The conversation faltered again. Amy Winehouse now drenched the air: _Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?_ Low and a bit ominous, the bass drum like a heartbeat. My eyes roamed the room for some memento of Beatrice. A photo, maybe. A copy of Harper_s Bazaar. Anything to suggest she had ever existed. There was nothing. _You_re not from Tennessee, are you?_ he said abruptly. _No. Why would you think so?_ It dawned on me. _Did Otis say I was?_ _He told me you grew up on the same block in Memphis._ I_ll strangle him. _We didn_t. We met in New York about eight years ago. At a club called the Clown Lounge. We were both bartending there._ _The Clown Lounge?_ A spark of amused interest. _A grunge place. Lots of drugs, fights sometimes. The owner was a mean drunk who regularly stole our tips. I don_t know why Otis would tell you anything different._ _It_s not hard to know that Fairfax is fond of embroidering the truth._ He crossed his arms over his head, revealing a tattooed band around his left bicep. Words written in some strange alphabet. Sanskrit? _So tell me something about yourself that is true,_ he said. My mind suddenly went blank. My life seemed devoid of incident, every day as vacant as the next. _Where are you really from?_ he prompted. _Originally? Lowood, New Jersey._ _Rich commuter suburb?_ _God, no._ _Gritty working-class town?_ _Not particularly. I mean, it wouldn_t rate a Springsteen song._ A fleeting smile. _Still have ties there? Lots of family?_ _No, no ties. No immediate family at all._ _Poor little orphan girl, huh?_ I felt a knife slice through me. _We_re all orphans here,_ he said brusquely. _One way or another._ What does he mean by that? I said quickly, _I might have an aunt still alive. My aunt Joanne._ _Might?_ _She ran off when I was three. Nobody ever wanted to talk about her. I don_t really remember what she looked like, but for some reason, I think of her as looking like a giant frog._ _A frog?_ Another gleam of interest. We were interrupted by the sound of rattling dishware. Otis appeared carrying a laden tray. He set it on the coffee table: the remains of the fig tart, a carafe and espresso cups, a cigar box made of polished ebony. Rochester reached for the tart, excavated a fig, and popped it into his mouth. _Good._ _There_s a drop of Chambord in the crust,_ Otis said. _Jane_s already had two slices._ I shot him a death ray. Rochester flipped the cigar box open. _Only one of the Churchills left?_ _It_s lucky there_s any. Those Russian guys you had here? They were sucking them down like candy._ _Why didn_t you stop them?_ _Um . . . _cause they had names like Vladimir and Sergey and were maybe packing guns?_ Rochester let out a laugh of pure delight. It had a remarkable effect on his face, softening the crag of his features and accentuating the intelligence of his eyes. I could suddenly see why a beautiful woman might fall in love with him. Otis began piling the finished plates onto the tray. _Anything else you need?_ _No, we_re good._ Otis glanced quickly at me, then hoisted the tray and walked briskly out. Rochester poured two cups of espresso, pushed one across the table to me, then selected a richly colored cigar from the box. Rolled off the red-and-gold band and clipped the end. _Ever try a Cuban cigar?_ _Me? I_ve never smoked. At least not tobacco. Except a few Salem Lights at parties._ _Want to try one of these?_ A mocking dare in his eyes. _Sure. Why not?_ I took the cigar he extended and placed it between my teeth. It felt huge. Phallic. No Salem Light. He slid a lighter_a vintage gold Dunhill_across the table. I clicked it and held the flame to the end of the cigar and drew in a strong puff. My mouth filled with what tasted like scorched dirt. I began to automatically inhale, and harsh smoke bit my throat, causing me to choke. I willed myself, Do not inhale. Do not swallow. My eyes wept with the effort not to cough. And then, miraculously, the urge receded, and in its place, a heady little buzz_though from tobacco or triumph, I couldn_t tell. I blew out the smoke. Rochester granted me a look of amused respect. Made that _gimme_ finger motion again. I relinquished the cigar to him. He took a drag. Then he clicked off the music with a remote. The thundering surf became prominent. _What_s wrong with my daughter?_ he asked. I glanced at him cautiously. _I stopped by her room when I came in. She looked like she_d just come off a five-day bender. You drove her home from her tennis lesson, so I_m asking: What_s wrong with her?_ _That_s something you need to talk to her about._ _I did, obviously. She said she had the stomach flu. Bullshit. She_s got the constitution of a young horse._ He scowled. _She_s a mess. She dresses like a Tijuana hooker and has a mouth to match. That school she_s at is costing me a fortune, and she_s barely hanging on there. Christ! She_s just turned thirteen. I know she drinks. Fairfax tries to hide it from me, but I_m not an idiot._ I chose my words carefully. _She_s a very young girl who recently lost her mother. It_s hardly surprising she_s acting out._ _Is that what you call it? Acting out?_ _I can_t really call it anything. I_ve spent less than an hour with her._ _You must have formed some opinion._ _None that I_d feel right about sharing._ _Look,_ he said. _I didn_t expect to have her here right now. It_s a difficult time for me, and I can_t deal with some kid acting out._ _That kid,_ I said, barely controlling my voice, _is your daughter._ _What do I know about being a parent? I didn_t even know she existed until a year ago._ I stared at him with unconcealed disgust. _Okay,_ he conceded. _That was a shit thing to say. Don_t get me wrong. I want to do right by her. But I_m in a critical position right now. I_ve had to downsize my office and staff, and I_ll be spending a lot more time here. And, frankly, if I_d known I was going to be around so much, you would not have come._ I shot to my feet. _If you give me a day, I_ll make arrangements to go somewhere else._ _Oh, for Chrissake! Sit down._ _I won_t stay in a place where I_m not wanted._ He made a sound of deep exasperation. _Fairfax was right_Sophia needs tutoring, but more important, she needs someone to relate to. I asked her what she thought of you. She said you were okay._ I couldn_t help a laugh. _That_s extravagant praise coming from a thirteen-year-old._ He allowed a smile. _Just stay out of my hair, okay? And keep out of the grounds beyond the compound. It_s too wild. I can_t be responsible. That goes for the beach as well. Is that clear?_ _Stay out of your hair, and don_t wander into the woods. I think I_ve got it._ _I can_t allow visitors. And no posting about me or Sophia or any of us here. One photo on Instagram and you leave._ _I had no intention of doing that._ _Then we understand each other. Good._ He stood up, and I did as well. He extended his hand. _Welcome to Thorn Bluffs, Jane._ He knew my name. I_d have bet good money he didn_t. I took the hand he offered, and it closed firmly around mine. His was so much larger, the palm warm and dry. Something shivered in me, almost like an electrical sensation. A cell phone burred, and he released my hand. _Good night,_ he said and turned to take the call. I left the room and went back to the kitchen. Otis hastily set down his joint. _How did it go?_ _Why the hell did you tell him we grew up together?_ I said. _Oh. Crap. I didn_t think it would come up._ _It did. It was bound to sooner or later. God, Otis! What were you possibly thinking?_ _I guess maybe that it would make him feel better about getting you here. You know, like, if I knew you all my life. And then once you were here, I figured he_d hardly even notice you. But it_s okay, right? He didn_t kick you out or anything._ _Not yet. I won_t be surprised if he does. And I don_t think I should wait until he does. I think I should try to hunt up another place to go for the summer._ _No, I_ll make it okay,_ he said frantically. _I_ll tell him it_s all my fault. You won_t have to leave, I promise._ _I_m sorry, Otis, but I can_t believe a single word you say anymore._ And before I softened, which I knew I would at his stricken expression, I stormed out of the house. In the cottage, I mentally replayed my interview in the Great Room with agitation. Strange man. Arrogant, rude. A tinderbox temper. That he was capable of violence, I had little doubt. Of murder? Possibly. Or at least driving his wife to the desperate measure of suicide. Her absence sure hadn_t affected his appetite. I thought of that spark I_d felt, that electric whatever, when Evan Rochester_s hand had closed around mine. What the hell was that? And then I began to feel jittery. More than just jittery: it was like my body was trying to burst out of my skin. And then something even stranger began to happen_though not entirely strange for me. My eyes began to haze, and a tiny yellow star exploded in one eye, followed by other larger stars in both eyes, and then bands of neon-orange zigzags began streaming across my vision. A migraine. Technically, not a real one. No excruciating headache. This was called a visual migraine. But still weird_hallucinatory and almost excruciatingly disorienting. The bursting stars in my eyes. The zigzagging patterns. Mom used to get them too. She called them texts from an alien planet. The aliens now seemed to be texting me a particularly urgent message: Idiot. You. Idiot. Didn_t you learn anything with Jeremy? I flopped down on the bed and squeezed my eyes shut, but the zigs and zags and supernovas still played against my closed lids. I began to hallucinate an image of Jeremy Capshaw. The man I_d been in love with. Crazy, dizzy in love. I could see him vividly: an artist, poetically thin in paint-stained jeans, at work on one of his soot-colored canvases I thought revealed something dark and thrilling in his soul. Another star exploded, and now it was Holly Bergen_s face that I imagined. Holly, my best friend. Hauntingly beautiful, thick mahogany hair, a lithe dancer_s body. Kind to everyone and all animals. I pictured us sharing that slummy Williamsburg apartment. The elevator, like a bad dog, rarely coming when it was called. Cockroaches so brazen they should have been on the lease. The freezing Valentine_s Day when the ancient boiler had finally given up the ghost. I saw the two of us huddled in coats in front of the stove. Holly reading my palm. Oh my God, babe! You_ve got the longest heart line ever. It means you_re going to find love everlasting. I could hear her bright looping laugh as she showed me her own palm. Not like me. My heart line_s just this skimpy little nothing. The scenes fast-forwarded. I was living with Jeremy now in his Bushwick loft. Lying on the futon on the floor after a long bout of lovemaking. My phone was ringing. A stranger_s voice, an admitting nurse at New Mercy Hospital in Lowood. My frantic dash to the hospital. The overworked young surgeon with black bags under her eyes. The x-rays had shown a huge mass lurking, like the deadly spider it was, on a lobe of my mother_s right lung. Mom lifting terrified eyes to me. I want to go home, sweetheart. And promise never to make me come back here. Never. I promise, Mom. The migraine was now reaching a peak. The zigging bands cascading, one after another. I pressed my fists against my eyelids, but the bands kept coming, and they brought more scenes from the past. I was now spending all my weekends in New Jersey tending to Mom. Jeremy so understanding and me loving him the more for it. And then the mild weekend in March when Mom had rallied a bit and I had caught a crack-of-dawn Sunday train into New York. I would slip back into the loft and surprise him before he was awake. The aliens were texting: Idiot. You. Idiot. And now I was unlocking the door to our loft. Confused by the sight of two people in the kitchen. One naked except for boxer shorts. The other in the purple-and-gold kimono I_d brought back from Kyoto. The boxer shorts pressing against the kimono_s back, hands inside the kimono_s open lapels. The kimono writhing like a lizard. And then a sudden scrambling of limbs. Holly running after me. We didn_t mean it to happen, babe. We didn_t want to tell you until, you know, your mom . . . Until what? I hissed. She dropped dead? The sting of my hand slapping her face. Her startled cry of pain. And the sound of a laugh. Jeremy laughing. The migraine was diminishing now. The bursting lights began dimming, then blinked out. The streaming bands of zigzags_those messages from Mars_were fading away. I sat up. I still felt jittery and unsettled. I_d suppressed thinking about this for almost a year. Somehow the encounter with Evan Rochester had stirred it all back up. Poor little orphan girl. I_d never told Mom what had happened with Jeremy, but my broken heart must have oozed something poisonous, because she sank rapidly after that. By June, she had withered beyond recognition. Her skin was the color of an old candle stub, the flesh almost completely melted away. Her nose, once so cute and snubby, became a tiny sharp bone, like a parakeet_s beak. One day at the end of September, I held a glass of tepid water to her lips and guided the straw. She took a sip. _Joanne,_ she had murmured. _It_s not Joanne, Mom,_ I said. _It_s me, Jane._ She shook her head. _A letter came. Once. For Jane._ _A letter? From Aunt Jo, you mean?_ _Her handwriting. Her r_s always looked like s_s._ _What did it say?_ _I didn_t open it. Ripped it up. Threw the pieces down the toilet._ _Why, Mom?_ Another shake of her head. She drifted off to sleep. By evening, her breathing became harsh, each breath further and further apart. I held her wasted hand in mine. Squeezed it tight. I imagined I felt the ghost of a pressure back. _Please don_t leave me, Mom,_ I begged her. _Please, don_t go away._ She had let out a single gentle breath, like a sleeping baby_s sigh. And then I had been left all alone in the world. My jitters finally subsided. I gave myself a mental shake. Yes, I had been left an orphan, but I was hardly a child. There was nothing to pity me for. I shouldn_t have betrayed any such feeling to Evan Rochester. He had physical attractions. I had to acknowledge that. He had, after all, married one of the most beautiful women in the world. But he didn_t attract me. That shock of whatever when he took my hand_I was just starved for physical contact. I thought again about the complete absence of Beatrice Rochester in the Great Room. Or in any other room, except that one_the Ocean Room. Her favorite. A single white chaise. Why has that been kept there? There were secrets on this estate; I was certain of it. Secrets in that room. And maybe I could uncover some of them. Find out what had actually happened to Beatrice the day she disappeared, all dressed up for their fourth anniversary. An audacious idea. But it gave me a thrill to imagine it. I was exhausted. I went to get my nightshirt from the hook on the closet door. It wasn_t there. And yet I definitely remembered hanging it on the hook that morning. I glanced reflexively at the glass doors. Something flickered. Moonbeams, branches. Only that. Nothing more. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Late morning A voice floats into my head. _Beatrice, your masseuse is here. She_s setting up in the Ocean Room._ This voice is not in my head. It_s on the intercom. It_s the boy with the golden spectacles. You don_t have any time, Mary whispers. You need to get the blade. To get the blood. The plan. _Shut up, shut up!_ I want a massage. I_m shaky and jumpy and afraid to do the plan. _Something is the matter, Mrs. Beatrice?_ Annunciata is here, come to take me to the Ocean Room. Did she hack my thoughts, or did I say the words out loud? I can_t think. The fog is too thick in my mind. But now I find new words. _Nothing is the matter,_ I say to Annunciata. _I_m ready for you._ She walks with me down all the stairs to the room with the sparkling light. The masseuse is there with her little table folded out. She has hair the color of rust and a chin with square corners. _Good morning, Mrs. Rochester. My name is Brenda. How are you today?_ The light from the big windows sparkles on her like lemon sprinkles. I put my fingers together, pointed upward. Praying hands. She makes praying hands back to me. Then she fluffs a white towel and holds it up for me to hide behind. I don_t need to hide. I untie my silk robe and let it slip silky to the floor. I walk naked and lie facedown on the massage table. The towel settles over my bottom. Brenda offers a little bottle for me to sniff. _This lotion contains two essential oils. Coriander and bitter orange._ I inhale an edible scent. My mouth feels as dry as stale crackers. _Are you good with this one, Mrs. Rochester?_ I find the words to say. _Yes, thank you._ My eyelids fall shut like shutters as cool lotion pools over my shoulders and then down the long dip of my back. Fingers, hands kneading deeply. The towel rises, and I roll over onto my back and the towel descends, covering my nipples and my belly button and my vagina. More lotion, Brenda works my feet, my special long feet. I_m a cat, purring. She is kneading and stroking, springing sensations up from my high arches. I hear a voice outside. The boy with the golden spectacles who cooks for us now. He_s scolding one of the little dogs. He_s out of the kitchen, Beatrice, Mary Magdalene whispers in my mind: Go there now! No. The sensations of the massage are too lovely. Get a frigging move on it, you silly twat! I sit up and brush off the towel, and I swing myself off the table. _That_s all._ _But we_re not finished yet. Don_t you want to finish the session?_ Brenda_s voice is wobbly. She_s afraid she won_t be called again. I pick up my robe and slide it on. I can feel the rusty waves of her worry rippling over me. Hurry, Beatrice! I go quick up the stairs. My heart beats fast. I stop just before the kitchen, listening hard, but there is nothing but the patter of a little dog and the sound of the dishwashing machine. I keep on going into the kitchen, and a dog wags up to me. Hermione. The one with the fake leg. My jailer is crafty. He gave her the new leg. He wants everyone to think he_s a very kind man. I move past Hermione and pull at the long drawer that holds the knives. But it won_t open, even when I pull harder. It_s locked up tight. And so are all the drawers and the cabinets, all locked up. Your jailer hides the sharp things now, Mary reminds me. So you can_t defend yourself. I feel a scream rise up. It gurgles in my throat. At the same time, I hear the dishwashing machine gurgle water down the drain. I walk quick to it and pull down the door, and steam blooms hot in my face. There are footsteps coming into the pantry room from outside. Quick, quick, I grab at a silver gleam, a knife, and then I shut the dishwasher door and go to the refrigerator. I open it up. _Hey, Beatrice. Want something to eat?_ It_s the boy with the spectacles. Not a very young boy, not beautiful. Thorny, pointed hair, and his eyes are milky blue. _Want me to make you something? No trouble._ I reach for a nectarine. I bite it. It has gone a little soft, and the juice dribbles down my chin. I close the refrigerator door and turn around. The boy_s eyes behind the golden spectacles go all circles. His mouth forms a big pink O. He spins on the balls of his feet and scampers away like a scared puppy. And now here is Braidy Lady. _Se?ora!_ she cries out, and her eyes are also wide and staring. My robe is hanging open. Is that it? I don_t care. When I am backstage changing outfits, I am often naked, changing from panties to a thong. Hurry, Beatrice, my dresser hisses. I change from a bustier to braless. I am naked, and so are the other girls, and the boys, too, and nobody cares at all. Annunciata takes the ends of the belt and ties them tight around me. The Jacuzzi, Beatrice, Mary whispers. It makes the blood flow faster. _Please turn on the Jacuzzi,_ I say to Annunciata. _Very hot, please._ _I do, Mrs. Beatrice. Come upstairs with me._ I go with her, feeling the sharp point of the knife in my robe pocket prick against my thigh. She doesn_t find it. She doesn_t know it_s there. SIX Madder music and stronger wine. They were the first words that came to me when I woke up the next morning. What Evan Rochester had said when I came into the Great Room. _I called for madder music, stronger wine._ I washed, dressed. Consumed a muffin while standing in the kitchenette and took coffee to my computer. Typed the line in the search box. A poem by a Pre-Raphaelite poet named Ernest Dowson about a man obsessed with his dead lover. He parties hard, trying to forget her, dances and drinks and flings roses with abandon. But when the partying is over and he_s alone in the dead of night, he realizes that in his soul he still belongs only to his dead and gone love, Cynara. I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. Could that be Rochester? Was he still obsessed by the dead and gone Beatrice? Even_or perhaps especially_if he had caused her death? But he kept no sentimental mementos. The net connection remained pretty strong, so I googled Evander Rochester. Thousands of results. The first pages dominated by the events of last December 17. I clicked on an article from the San Francisco Examiner. Rochester_s statement. He_d been dressing to go out to dinner to celebrate their anniversary. Heard his dogs making a commotion and went out to the deck. Saw his wife on the cove about seventy feet below, wearing a sapphire-blue cocktail dress. Watched her begin wading into the dangerous surf. He raced down and dived in after her, but he was too late. He found one of her shoes_a high-heeled sandal_on the beach. All that was left. I pictured it. The famous beauty in a cocktail gown walking purposefully to her death in a cold gray sea. Leaving one shoe, like Cinderella, behind. I continued reading. A gardener on the estate (Hector!) cited as a witness. He had hurried down to the beach but got there only after Mrs. Rochester was gone. A brother, Richard McAdams of Miami, Florida, had released a statement: _My sister was not suicidal. She had a bipolar condition, but it was controlled by medication. Her husband mentally and physically abused her, and I can and will produce evidence that this is true. He killed her for her money, to keep his financial speculations afloat. That will also be proved._ I searched for evidence of the proof in future articles. Either the police had kept it confidential, or the brother hadn_t produced it. There had been extensive land and sea searches for the body, but it was never found. Or anything else to definitely pin the murder on Rochester. Or even offer proof that it was a murder. So maybe Otis was not covering up anything. His cousin was innocent. And could be, in fact, still fixated on his wife. The net failed, then strengthened. I googled Beatrice McAdams. Millions of hits. I clicked on her wiki bio on the first page. Born Beatie June McAdams. Meth head mom. Unknown dad. Got shuttled in and out of various foster homes in the Florida Panhandle. Discovered at fourteen by a photographer at a middle school swim meet. (A swimmer. Interesting.) Modeled locally for a couple of years, then signed with Elite, changing her name to the more uppity-class _Beatrice._ With her older brother, Richard, as guardian, moved to Manhattan and launched a hugely successful career. Over the next ten years, on and off the list of most highly paid models in the world (three times on the cover of Sports Illustrated, tying with Christie Brinkley but two fewer than Elle Macpherson). I skipped down to the description of her increasingly erratic behavior. Kicked off a Virgin flight for spitting on an attendant. Chucked a bread plate at a waiter in a South Beach restaurant (eight stitches, lawsuit, settlement). Deliberately tripped another model, a young Russian girl, on a runway (chipped tooth, broken nose, lawsuit, settlement). Dropped by Elite, dropped by two lesser agencies. Then dropped out of the scene. I pulled up a YouTube video_Beatrice on the Today Show, giving Hoda tips on applying mascara. Her voice a half pitch higher than I_d imagined, a backwater twang sometimes sneaking in. Another YouTube video: Beatrice on a catwalk early in her career. Her distinctive walk_the Beatrice McAdams cheetah walk, it was called. Slightly predatory, always ready to pounce. And, yes, she was exquisite_but there was already something a touch deranged about her. That walk. The forward jut of her head. A too-bright gleam in her eyes. I felt it was just this bit of crazy that gave her an edge over dozens of other gorgeous girls. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. A knock at my door. _It_s me,_ called Sophia. I got up and opened the door. She stood slouched, her tennis duffle slung over her shoulder. Her face, pale beneath her tan, was scrubbed of the bruised-looking makeup. Her hair, freshly washed and not quite dry, looked like poured maple syrup. She could almost have been a different girl. _Did you tell my dad?_ she said. _No, I told you I wouldn_t. But he guessed anyway from the way you looked._ _So was he mad?_ I measured my words. _More like concerned. You can_t blame him, can you?_ _Is he gonna send me away? I mean, like, right away?_ _No. Why would you think he would?_ She shrugged, joggling the duffle. _He doesn_t want me here. He tried to pay St. Mag_s to keep me there. My school, St. Margaret? But it shuts down in summer, so they couldn_t._ She peered over my shoulder. _Can I come in?_ I opened the door wider, and she loped into the room. Long limbed, athletic, like her father. Her eyes shot to the wildflowers she had picked, drooping now over the rim of the glass. _I knew they_d die,_ she said. _They were still fresh when I got here. That_s what counted._ She glanced around the room. _Don_t you get scared all by yourself down here?_ _I did a little the first night. But in the morning it seemed ridiculous. I_m not really that far from the house._ _I_d be scared._ She plunked herself down on the unmade bed. I straddled my one chair. _I_m looking forward to our sessions,_ I said. _What level French are you at?_ _Second year. But I suck at it. Earth science is easy_I only got an incomplete because I didn_t take the final. Algebra, I just never studied, so that_s the only reason I flunked it._ _Algebra? Am I doing that with you as well?_ _Yeah, it_s one of the makeup classes I_m taking._ Otis had found it convenient not to mention that. I_d have to brush up on it quickly. _I_m pretty fluent in French,_ I said. _I spent sophomore year of college at the University of Lyons, with a family there._ _So can you tell me how to say the word skank?_ _Skank? Like, as in skanky?__ _Yeah. There_s this girl at the tennis clinic_she_s always making remarks about my dad and Beatrice. She doesn_t care if it_s true or not. And she pretends she_s expert in French. So I want to call her a skank in French and see if she gets it._ _Okay, well . . . putain is a good word for it. Or you could say salope, but that really means _bitch._ You could use them both. Putain de salope._ She tested the words. _Putain de salope. Okay, thanks._ She placed her palms behind her, rocked back on them. _So what was your TV show about?_ _You can watch it on Netflix. It was kind of Gothic, if you like that._ _We had to read Wuthering Heights last year in English. That_s a Gothic romance novel, isn_t it?_ _The greatest, in my opinion. Did you like it?_ _Kind of. I skipped a lot because the writing was archaic._ She shot me a glance to see if I knew the word. I remained deadpan. _Plus it was kind of gross in some parts. Like when the guy, what_s his name . . . ?_ _Heathcliff?_ _Yeah. Like when he digs up Cathy_s coffin so he can look at her after she_s been dead for years? And then he breaks off part of her coffin, so that when he gets buried next to her, they can rot together. Gross, right?_ _I guess I_d call it horrific. But it_s not the part most people remember. They respond to the great passion between Cathy and Heathcliff. How his love for her obsessed him even long after her death._ _Yeah, but . . . like, rotting? Wouldn_t he be better to want their spirits to mix together instead of their guts?_ I grinned. _Okay, you_re right. The rotting thing is gross._ She returned a small smile. _Can I ask you something?_ _Sure. Anything._ _Do you think my dad killed Beatrice?_ I glanced at her quickly. _It_s what everybody says, right?_ _I don_t know. I_m new around here._ _Yeah, but it was all over the net and everything._ She chewed her upper lip. _I don_t think he did it. I think he_s still madly in love with her and waiting for her to come back._ Like the lost and gone Cynara. I said, _What makes you think so?_ _He keeps all her things exactly the way they always were. Like, in her bedroom and her closets._ I couldn_t help asking, _Beatrice had her own bedroom?_ _Yeah. All her clothes are still there. She used to have this girl named Kendra who brought her stuff to try on? But she_d scream at her, calling her a bitch and the c word because she said Kendra was bringing her fat sizes. So Kendra quit. And Beatrice started driving up to Silicon Valley, the fancy malls up there? She_d come back with all this designer stuff in teeny-tiny sizes. I can_t wear it. Maybe you could._ The idea sent a chill through me. _I doubt it. She was a lot taller than me._ _She was five feet ten. An inch more than me. But she bought, like, size minus two. And now it all just sits there with the price tags still on. Plus all her jewelry too. I borrowed these._ Sophia flipped a thick lock of hair behind one ear to reveal a dazzling diamond hoop. _Oh my God, Sophia! Are you allowed to take them?_ _Nobody said I can_t. And she didn_t want them. There was this one night when I was first here? She was up on the deck outside her room and throwing all her jewelry off of it. Until my dad made her stop, and then Hector climbed down the cliffs and got some of it back. But there_s still some left out there._ I pictured emeralds, rubies, diamonds glimmering like dewdrops amid the gray-green vines. _You need to put those earrings back. And you should ask your father before taking anything._ _I always put it back. And he_s okay with it._ I wondered what else she might have borrowed. I flashed on my vanished nightshirt. _Sophia . . . by any chance, did you come by here last night? Wanting to talk or something?_ _No. Why? Did Otis say that?_ _No. I just had a feeling somebody had been here._ _Maybe it was me sleepwalking. My mom used to sometimes. She took pills before she went to Africa so she wouldn_t get malaria, and they made her sleepwalk._ _She sounds like an amazing person. What was her name?_ _Bethany. It_s my middle name too._ _Pretty name. Do you have photos of her?_ She pulled out her phone. Scrolled rapidly. Handed it to me. A video of a woman not much older than me. Lovely round face, red hair a shade darker than Sophia_s. She_d probably have preferred to be ten pounds slimmer. She was on a lakefront beach, wearing a polka dot one-piece, and she was trying to hide her thighs, crossing her arms over them, and she was shrieking but laughing, too, in that way all moms do: _You rat, stop! You promised_put that thing away! I_ll get you for this!_ and off camera Sophia was giggling helplessly. I felt my heart break in two. An elephant trumpeted. Her text tone. She snatched the phone back. _Otis. He_s in the car. He gets perturbed if I_m even, like, two seconds late._ _Okay, go. I_ll pick you up later._ _You don_t have to. I_m going over to my friend Peyton_s house for dinner, and then her brother_s going to drive me home._ _What about our lesson?_ _Oh crap, yeah. I forgot. Tomorrow._ She started to leave. _Wait,_ I said emphatically. _After today, no more skipping sessions. No excuses. I mean it, Sophia._ _Okay, I won_t,_ she said and shuffled out the door. My text began pinging. Three emoji texts from Otis. Begging forgiveness for lying to Evan. Weepy cat emoji. Speak-no-evil monkey emoji. Assortment of weepy cat, wailing baby, eye-rubbing teddy bear, hangman_s noose, and (bribe offer?) chocolate chip cookie emojis. I texted back: Ok forgive u. Don_t pull anything like that again. Won_t. Swear to god. He texted again. Don_t forget about dogs. Crazy busy now but come later and will show u feeding and shit. Ok. I returned to my computer. Closed the window on Beatrice_s bio. Looked up a local mobile groomer_Pampered Pooch_and scheduled them to come here at the end of the week. I researched a good vet on Yelp and made a series of appointments for all five dogs, beginning with the wheezing bulldog. Then I began to prepare for tutoring. I ordered Algebra for Dummies and Let_s Review Earth Science from Amazon and downloaded a thirty-minute lesson (twenty minutes to download with iffy Wi-Fi), _Beginner Algebra._ A woman fluting equations in a reedy voice. I took copious notes. Then I browsed new Wi-Fi routers and ordered an inexpensive plug-in, which might at least give a little boost to my connection. I lunched on the remains of my breakfast provisions. Jet lag began to creep up. Yoga, I thought. I googled yoga Carmel-by-the-Sea. Impressive variety. Every type from Bikram to something called aura healing. Much as my aura could have used a good tweaking, I decided on a Vinyasa class at three fifteen, walk-ins welcome. I wriggled into yoga clothes, stuffed a towel into my tote. Texted Otis I_d be right up to talk about the dogs. I headed up to the house. All morning, I_d caught sounds of activity from the compound, and now the motor court was jam-packed. A FedEx truck was backing out. A green van disgorged men and women wearing orange shirts and bearing cardboard boxes. I passed a flatbed truck with the Harley Davidson mounted on it and nodded to a hairy guy securing it with chains. Otis came out the side door, looking even more harried than usual. His Daft Punk T-shirt was wrinkled, and his gold-framed glasses sat askew. _What_s going on?_ I said. _Ev_s setting up his new HQ in the guesthouse. I_m manning the front gates. God forbid anybody gets in who_s not supposed to._ He led me inside to an enormous pantry, gave me a quick rundown on dog foods, then showed me their various water and food bowls in the connecting service porch. A tall vase with several dozen tightly furled white tulips encased in green cellophane sat by the door. _Nice flowers,_ I said. _Yeah, for Ev. Somebody spent a bundle. They should go to the office, but I can_t leave here._ He eyed me hopefully. _I_ll take them. I_m just heading out to a Vinyasa yoga class in Carmel. Where_s the office?_ _The path going behind the garage. Follow the delivery guys._ He picked up the vase and thrust it into my arms. _Huge help, thanks._ I balanced the heavy cylinder in my arms, cellophane tickling my nose, and went back to the motor court. I followed one of the orange shirts down a gravel path to a small house that echoed the glass-and-stone architecture of the main house. Inside, more frenetic activity. Walls being knocked down to create one open space. Orange shirts everywhere, uncoiling thick snakes of cable, setting up various devices. The reek of fresh paint. Bam! went a hammer. A drill snarled. Somebody fiddled with music like some manic Spotify station switcher. I looked quickly around. He wasn_t there. Am I relieved or disappointed? Relieved, of course. I had promised to keep out of his hair, and here I was already invading his office. I headed to a relatively uncluttered desk, stepping over cables as adroitly as if I were back on the Carlotta Dark set, and put the vase between a power drill and an open carton of soba noodles. _You. Jane!_ The voice came from on high. I looked up with a start. He was balanced on the top rung of a ladder, fiddling with a track of LED lights. _Stay there._ My heart sank. I watched him climb down the ladder, still favoring his injured ankle. He_d trimmed the wild-man-of-the-mountain beard, and his black curls now cleared the frayed collar of a white Oxford shirt. It made him look ten years younger. He unhooked a Bluetooth from behind his ear. Glanced at the vase. _Did you bring this?_ _Yes,_ I said. _But it_s not from me. It was delivered to the house._ He plucked a square white envelope attached to the cellophane. Slid out the card. A smile briefly played on his lips. He tossed the card on the desk. I caught a glimpse: a single elegantly looped initial, handwritten in green ink. The letter L. _So what do you think?_ he said. I glanced quickly up. _About what?_ He waved a hand. _All this. Will it do me for an office?_ _I suppose so. How many people will be working here?_ _None. My people will stay up in Los Gatos._ _So . . . just you?_ _Just me._ That stare. I_d forgotten how unnerving it was. I would not be unnerved. I met his stare. _Your business is investing in start-ups, right? Apps and things?_ _And things._ _Anything particularly interesting right now?_ _I think so._ _An app? Or . . . another thing?_ A quick smile. _A very other thing. A biotech start-up. A company called Genovation Technologies. We_re developing biobased software for the application of producing clean industrial technologies._ _In English, please?_ His smile broadened. _It_s a kind of green technology. To make simple plants like algae produce chemicals to replace those made by more toxic processes. For example, certain chemicals in perfumes and cosmetics._ _So I_ll be dabbing algae behind my ears?_ _Not quite. It_s on a molecular level. You wouldn_t know the difference. But perfume would be just the start. There are hundreds of potential applications. Paint. Clean fuel for cars, planes. There_s no limit, actually._ His face became increasingly animated. _It will be great for the environment. For the planet. It could be a real game changer._ The way he spoke, with such passion: I felt another shock of that electric spark, and I turned my eyes away. _It sounds like a pretty good business._ _I_m betting on it,_ he said. _If it isn_t, this all goes up in smoke._ _This office?_ _A lot more than that. Practically everything I_ve got._ But it was clear he did not expect to lose the bet. He was that sure of himself. Mariah Carey_s helium-high notes suddenly pierced the air. _How_s the treble, Mr. R.?_ a male voice yelled. Mr. R. shot a thumbs-up, and the volume lowered. And suddenly, as if having materialized out of thin air, a man was hovering near us. A small man with a weathered face beneath a wide-brimmed straw hat. The famous Hector. Annunciata_s husband. The one who had also gone down to the cove the afternoon Beatrice purportedly walked into the water. But had gotten there too late to witness what had actually happened. Evan began speaking to him_that underwater-sounding language I_d heard on the property the day before. My name swam by. Hector glanced at me with neither hostility nor friendliness. More like indifference: you may be here, or you may not be_it_s all the same to me. He concluded whatever mysterious business he_d had with his employer. And vanished as instantaneously as he_d appeared. _What language was that you were speaking?_ I asked Evan. _Miskito. With a lot of Spanglish thrown in, mostly for my benefit._ _Is that the writing on your tattoo?_ His eyes narrowed. _What?_ _The tattoo on your arm._ He glanced at his forearm with a frown. _No. This is nothing. Gibberish._ He picked up his Bluetooth. _Wait, one other thing,_ I said. _I_ve been driving the Audi. I had a rental car, but . . . well, it got returned to Alamo by mistake. I_ll lease another car right away._ _Something wrong with the Audi?_ _God, no. It_s a sensational car. It_s just that . . . well, I didn_t know it belonged to your wife._ _It_s leased under my name. You_re not grave robbing, if that_s what you_re thinking._ I flushed angrily. _It needs to be driven. If nothing else to keep rats from making nests in the engine. Drive the damned thing._ He rehooked the Bluetooth behind his ear and made his way back to the ladder. I turned and marched to the door, torn between anger and confusion. There seemed something so cold about the way he_d spoken about the Audi. It was just a car, okay, but wouldn_t a grieving spouse feel a little sentimental about it? And talking so flippantly about grave robbing . . . He wasn_t longing for his wife to come back, like the lost Cynara. He had already shrugged her off. Except Sophia said he kept all her clothes and jewelry intact in her room. She thought he was still madly in love with her and was hoping_maybe even expecting_her to come back. It was a puzzle. An intriguing as much as an infuriating one. And I felt more determined than ever to find out what I could about what had really happened last December. I got into the Audi, carefully closing the door, as if slamming it would desecrate Beatrice_s memory. I started the engine_protecting it from rats_ nests. As I backed out, I nearly clipped an old brown pickup truck parked haphazardly behind me, and I braked hard, causing something to roll out from under the front seat. A lipstick in a gold tube. I uncapped it. A pale and shimmering shade of lavender. One that would perfectly complement a beautiful woman with green eyes and silver-blonde hair. With a shiver, I tossed it into the glove compartment. L is for lipstick, I thought. So who was the L who_d spent a bundle on a vase of still tightly furled tulips? It was a letter I decided I didn_t like at all. The Audi was sensational. I raced ten, fifteen miles per hour above the speed limit, passing slower cars with a whisper of a tap on the gas pedal. The landmarks on Highway 1 were already beginning to seem familiar. Mama and baby wild-pig crossing. Farm stand advertising a yucky combo: GARLIC CHERRIES LIVE BAIT. The Esalen Institute where you steeped in hot tubs naked with strangers. I sang along with Adele on the radio, belting out the lyrics. As I crossed the vertiginous span of the Bixby Creek Bridge, a vehicle driving in the opposite direction pulled a U-turn and elbowed into my lane several cars behind. The driver was either drunk or insane. Horns blared. The vehicle began swooping around the cars ahead of it. More furious horns. It swerved in directly behind me. Idiot! I glanced in the rearview mirror. A Range Rover. Metallic blue. I felt a tick of alarm. It came up closer on my tail. I glanced again in the mirror, glimpsed light-blonde hair, large dark glasses. I increased my speed to the exit to Carmel-by-the-Sea and merged onto Rio Road. The Range Rover turned as well and surged fast up behind me, almost ramming my bumper. _Crazy bitch!_ I muttered. She stayed close on my tail as I continued on Rio Road. The Carmel Mission appeared on the left, and I veered hard onto the bordering road. I heard a thud and a scrape of metal behind me. I looked back: the Range Rover had clipped a concrete parking curb and jolted to a stop. Good! I circumnavigated the Mission to Dolores Street and sped toward the center of town. But after several blocks, I pulled over. I shouldn_t be running away. The crazy thought flashed in my mind again: Beatrice. And maybe she hadn_t meant harm to me but was frantic to impart some vital information. Or to implore me to save her from harm. Ridiculous. Still, I argued to myself, I should find out for certain. I turned around and drove back to the Mission. The Range Rover was gone. And so was my chance to confront the driver. My GPS was still calmly recalculating the best route to the Prana Yoga Studio. I followed its instructions to a neighborhood on the west side of Carmel, a yellow-shingled bungalow on a mostly residential street. I pulled into the packed-dirt parking area in front. The Range Rover cruised up to the curb across the street. I drew a breath. Waited a moment to see what would happen. Nothing. It simply sat there, engine idling. What does she want? I tentatively opened my door. Then, more resolutely, I got out and began to stride across the street. The driver_s door of the Range Rover cracked open. A tall, slender figure with pale-blonde hair climbed out. My pulse pounded. But it wasn_t Beatrice McAdams Rochester. It wasn_t even a woman. SEVEN _Why are you driving my sister_s car?_ The blond man came closer to me, his fists slightly clenched, body spring-loaded. _You_re her brother!_ I exclaimed. The resemblance to Beatrice Rochester was startling. Same luxuriant silver-blond hair (his slightly receding in dagger shapes at the temples). Same perfect bone structure and willowy build. Like Beatrice, his skin was pale, almost translucent, his lips delicately etched. _I_m Richard McAdams,_ he declared. _Answer my question. Who are you, and where did you get my sister_s car?_ I was truly getting tired of uncivil men. _It was lent to me,_ I said coldly. _Who lent it to you? Evan Rochester?_ _As a matter of fact, yes._ _Why?_ _Because I_m staying at Thorn Bluffs and I needed a car._ _Are you sleeping with him?_ I flushed with deep anger. _What?_ _You heard me. I want to know if you_re sleeping with my sister_s husband. It_s a straightforward question. Yes or no?_ _It_s none of your business._ _My sister was murdered at Thorn Bluffs. Everything that goes on there is my business._ The bluntness of his statement gave me a moment_s pause. _That has nothing to do with me. And I don_t know for sure that she was murdered._ He took a belligerent step closer. _My sister was bipolar, but her meds kept her stable. It was not a fucking suicide._ He slid his dark glasses to the top of his head. His eyes were a more amber-tinged facsimile of his sister_s. _What_s your name?_ _Again, none of your business. And you could have got us both killed. You were driving like a maniac. You followed me once before, and if you ever do it again, I_ll call the police._ His lips compressed so firmly they lost color. Then his eyes darted behind me, and his expression made a lightning change from menacing to benign. _Namaste, ladies,_ he called out. I turned. Two women of late middle age, both toting rolled yoga mats, were heading into the studio. _Namaste,_ one called back pleasantly. And now, with visible calculation, Richard McAdams tried another tack with me: his eyes softened; his mouth assumed a boyish smirk. _Look, I can see your point. My fault for overreacting. It was seeing her car yesterday at the club, another woman driving it. It was a tremendous shock to me. And I was actually just on my way to Thorn Bluffs when I saw you go by, and it was just as much a shock as yesterday._ His eyes flicked briefly back across the street, this time to the Audi. _The car is one of a kind, you know. The paint was customized for Beatrice when she bought it. Sapphire blue, her favorite color._ _I thought it was leased,_ I said. _No, bought and paid for by my sister. And again, I_m sorry if I got reckless. I lost my head._ He was oozing with contrite charm now. _I don_t blame you one bit for being angry. Some maniac chasing you all over town, right? Tell you what. Why don_t we start all over again?_ He removed a leather card holder from inside his jacket and, with an almost sleight-of-hand motion, slipped out a card. _I_m Rick McAdams. How do you do?_ I glanced at the card: RICHARD MCADAMS ATTORNEY-AT-LAW. A mobile number. A Miami address. _What kind of law do you do?_ _Trusts and estates. Wills and the like._ _In Miami?_ _No, I_ve moved here. I_m not actually practicing at the moment._ He waved off my attempt to return the card. _Please, keep it. And you are . . . ?_ _Jane,_ I said simply. _Great to meet you, Jane. And again, let me apologize. My sister and I were extremely close, and her loss still seems very recent to me. The idea of another woman already taking her place . . ._ A forlorn shake of his shoulders. _I haven_t taken her place,_ I conceded. _I_m not with Evan Rochester. I_m a friend of Otis Fairfax, who works for him. Otis arranged for me to use a cottage there for the summer._ _Oh, Otis. Sweet guy. So you_re on vacation in Big Sur? Lovely._ _Not exactly a vacation._ He gave me a questioning look. I ignored it. _Listen, Jane, why don_t you let me buy you a drink? To make amends. I know a place near here that makes the best mojito in town. Tinker_s, I_ll give you the cross streets._ His charm had become effusive. _Did you know that in the town of Carmel proper there are no street numbers? We just use cross streets. It keeps us quaint._ He was used to women melting in his presence. And he was astonishingly handsome, a slender build enhanced by expensive clothes_well-cut seersucker jacket, white linen pants. But despite his beauty, there was something repulsive about him. Slithering. Like some bottom-feeding creature on the ocean floor. _It_s a little early for drinking,_ I said. _And I have a yoga class. I_m going to be late._ _Then after. I_ll wait. We really need to talk, Jane. If you_re staying at Thorn Bluffs, there are things you need to know._ He lowered his tone. _Evan Rochester is a monster. He abused my sister. He beat her. He threatened her life, and then he took it. I_ll explain it to you._ I hesitated. His tone intensified. _So what do you say? After yoga?_ I was suddenly no longer in a frame of mind for Vinyasa. I didn_t trust him, but I was intensely curious to hear what he had to say. _Okay, let_s go now. I_ll follow you._ He led me about a mile to a restaurant in a small clapboard house tucked down a cobblestone alley. I circled several blocks to find a parking space. By the time I got to the restaurant, he was already at a table for two. He waved energetically with both hands over his head, as if I needed to locate him through a dense crowd, though the dining room was almost empty. _Mojitos coming up,_ he said. _I took the liberty of ordering. Hard to find a parking spot? Tourist season. I hate it like poison._ A young waitress set frosty glasses in front of us. Rick_s amber eyes twinkled up at her. _Thanks, love._ She simpered a little in the bright beam of his charm. He directed himself back to me. At this close distance, he looked less handsome. More shopworn. Like an overused marionette, head jerking slightly this way and that, as if pulled by invisible strings. _So what are these things I need to know?_ I said. He plucked both mint sprig and lime slice from the rim of his glass. Took a deliberately long sip. Keeping me in suspense. _You should know who you_re dealing with, Jane,_ he said. _For your own protection, if nothing else._ _You think I_m in some kind of danger?_ _Maybe yes, maybe no. But I can tell you that Evan Rochester is a sociopath. He_s got absolutely no conscience. No regard for the feelings or needs of others. He can be charming if it suits him. But he_ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants. And if it destroys somebody . . . he_ll feel no remorse._ Rick_s face now loomed a little closer to mine. _My sister lived in terror of that man, Jane. He threw her down a steep flight of stairs. I saw the bruises, Jane. Her broken ribs. Her beat-up face._ I shuddered. _Did you know, Jane, that he had her locked up in a mental institution?_ _I know she_d been hospitalized. It_s no secret. You said yourself she was bipolar._ _Yes, but even after she was stabilized on meds, he kept her shut up in that place. God knows how long she_d have been there if I hadn_t made some calls to get her out. Of course, now I regret doing it. I can_t help thinking maybe . . ._ His voice broke. _Maybe if I hadn_t, she might still be alive._ His eyes misted, turning them a shade more like his sister_s. _When she came back, that monster kept her locked up. Drugged and isolated. Even from me. Like she was his prisoner. Shut off from the world._ I looked at him dubiously. _There were quite a few people working at Thorn Bluffs back then._ _All under his strict control. That couple, the Sandovals? They acted as her keepers._ His head jerked one way, then the other. _She was terrified he was going to kill her, and finally he did._ _Why haven_t you told this to the police?_ _I have, of course. But sociopaths like Rochester can lie more convincingly than most of us can tell the truth. He had easy explanations for everything. She was suicidal. She threw herself down the stairs. She was the one who got violent._ He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, overcome with emotion. My throat felt suddenly tight. I took a long swallow of the mojito. _So you_re accusing Evan Rochester of being a sociopath wife beater who went too far and finally killed her._ _Oh no, not like that. He_s one cool customer. He planned the whole thing. Staged that first so-called suicide attempt as an alibi, so when he actually did murder her, he_d get away with it._ _And you have proof of that?_ _It_s the only explanation that fits. It would guarantee him getting all the money. You see, Beatrice wanted to divorce him. Like I told you, she was terrified of him._ He leaned ever closer, battered puppet_s face looming just inches from mine. _You know about this biotech company he_s invested in?_ _A little. He said it would be great for the environment._ _Also great for his wallet. He_s a gambler by nature. He_s won big, but other times he_s lost just as big. This time he_s bet it all. And he_s on the edge of going bust._ His face was now so close I could smell his lime-scented breath. I shrank back. _There was an earthquake about a year ago. It was five point three on the Richter scale. It ran right under this company_s lab. Huge damage. The rollout of their process got pushed back another year. But in the meantime, Rochester had to keep paying on all his costs and loans. He was out of cash, so he borrowed against his assets. Thorn Bluffs. His house in San Francisco. Other properties._ _So?_ I said. _They were jointly owned by Beatrice. If she divorced him, he_d have had to buy out her half. The only way he could do that would be to sell off most of his stake in this company. Which he definitely did not want to do._ Rick gave a bitter laugh. _You know how much he stands to make on this deal?_ _No idea._ _He_s on the brink of getting enormous new funding. Once it comes through, this company will be valued at about six billion dollars. Rochester will personally pocket several hundred million._ A billion. Hundreds of millions. The numbers bobbled through my mind like parade balloons. _So you tell me,_ Rick continued. _Bankrupt versus filthy rich . . . is that worth killing for?_ Part of me just wanted to get miles away from this man and the things he was saying. But a greater part of me was eager to know more. _Assuming any of this is true, how do you think he killed her?_ _My guess? He drugged her into unconsciousness. Carried her down to the water. Held her under until he was sure no breath was left in her body._ _Or he could be telling the truth. She drowned herself._ A dismissive snort. _My sister was a competitive swimmer. We grew up in Florida, she practically lived in the water. She was like a mermaid. She couldn_t have drowned herself, even if she tried._ His head jerked, puppet on a string. _No, Jane, there_s only one way she could have drowned. If he did it. Though, of course, he might have killed her some other way. And then got rid of her body._ I let my eyes fix on a painting on the wall above his head. A pastel of an upholstered chair, a white blouse flung over one of its arms. As if a woman had meant to come right back for it but never had. _Did you know, Jane . . . ?_ Rick_s voice dropped to an insidious murmur. _Are you aware of the fact he_s already begun to get my sister declared legally dead?_ I glanced back at him. _Really?_ _He filed with the court several weeks ago._ Could that be true? _But you could help me, Jane. Help me get justice for my poor sister._ He was irresistibly seductive now. Or trying to be. _The police still hold him under suspicion. They_re as sure as I am he_s guilty. But the DA will never file charges unless the evidence is airtight. You could help me get something._ I shook my head violently. _No._ He placed a hand on mine. _You_re very pretty, Jane, you know that? You could use that with him. He_s always had an eye for pretty girls._ I slid my hand out from under his. _If you were nice to him . . . he_s got an enormous ego. Under the right circumstances, if you were being extremely nice to him, he couldn_t resist bragging to you._ His murmuring voice was seductive, almost caressing, and it made my skin crawl. I rose to my feet. _I_m sorry for your loss. But there_s nothing I can do for you._ His face suddenly drained of any charm. His lips stretched in a bloodless grin. _You know, Jane, that if you do come across anything relevant, it makes you a material witness. You can and will be subpoenaed. And if you conceal anything, you will be charged with felony obstruction of justice._ _Thanks for the warning. And for the drink._ I began to turn away. _Your friend is already skating on very thin ice,_ he said. I stopped. _Just to be clear. I hardly know Evan Rochester._ _I_m not talking about him. I mean your real friend, Otis Fairfax._ I felt a tremor of apprehension. _What has he done?_ _He lied to the police. About where he was that night. He could go to jail. I_d hate to see that, Jane. And I_d really hate the same thing happening to you._ Rick raised his glass in a mocking salute. I walked as fast as I could back to the Audi. I popped the glove compartment. I pushed the lipstick tube to the side and searched for the car_s registration. There were two thick manuals and another folded document_the lease agreement from Audi Monterey for an Audi S5. The leaseholder was Evander Edward Rochester. Rick had lied about Beatrice buying it. Evan had told the truth. Obviously, I could not believe everything_or anything_Rick McAdams said. Including the thing about Otis being in jeopardy with the police. That was a bluff. Otis hadn_t even been at Thorn Bluffs yet when Beatrice disappeared. Or was he there? I tried to remember what he_d said: I left that tapas place ages ago. With Otis, _ages_ could mean weeks or decades. I called him. Pick up, pick up . . . _Sup?_ I heard traffic. He was in his car, the elderly Prius. _It was her brother!_ I said. _The person I told you who was following me._ _Huh? Whose brother?_ _Beatrice_s. Remember? I told you I thought a blue Range Rover with a woman driving was tailing me? It wasn_t a woman. It was Beatrice_s brother, Richard McAdams._ _Whoa, wait. How did you find out?_ _Because he followed me again just now, and I just came from having a drink with him._ _Whoa,_ Otis repeated. _Are you in your car? Where are you going?_ _Up to SF for the night. But so what_d he say, McAdams?_ _He_s positive Evan murdered his sister. He says Evan beat her and then claimed she threw herself down the stairs. And then he locked her up in a mental hospital against her will. To make it look like she was suicidal so he could get away with murdering her._ _It_s crap. That guy will say anything to get Beatrice_s share of the estate. And listen, don_t tell Evan about this. He hates that guy, and it could cause him to do something._ _Like what?_ I said. _I don_t even want to imagine. Just don_t tell him._ I paused a moment. _Otis . . . did the police ever question you about any of what happened?_ _Me? Uh, yeah. Once. Two detectives, a lady and a man. They asked me what I knew and where I was and that was that._ My heart sank. _I thought you were still living up in Oakland._ _No, I was already at Thorn Bluffs. But not actually there when Beatrice drowned, so they had no right to be up my ass._ _You made me think you_d never met her._ _I never said that. I mean, it was like I didn_t know her. She was almost always upstairs or in the Ocean Room, and Annunciata was in charge of her. Sometimes she_d wander around, but she was always stoned on meds, and Annunciata would get her back to her room._ Rick McAdams_s words: That couple, the Sandovals, acted as her keepers. _So would you say she was mostly kept shut in and cut off from talking to anybody?_ _Uh . . . I don_t know. She was bonkers_she wasn_t capable of anything._ _And afterward_after she drowned_when Evan was living up in his San Francisco house, did you stay here without him?_ _No. I went up too. Great house. Wish he didn_t have to rent it out._ I sighed. _So is there anything you didn_t tell the detectives? I mean purposely kept back from them?_ A tick of hesitation. My heart sank further. _No. I was at this restaurant in SoMa, Alioso, like I told them. But the place was mobbed, so I guess that_s why nobody remembers seeing me there. And, well, maybe I didn_t stay as long as I told them._ Shit, shit, shit. _Are you covering something up?_ _I_m not. There was this girl_she had some flat in the Mission_so I went there, but then couldn_t remember her name or exactly where she lived, so I just didn_t say anything about her. I swear to God that_s what happened._ Who were these gods that Otis swore to? Not ones who were sticklers for veracity. _We_ll talk about this when you get back._ _I_ve told you everything._ _Yeah, okay,_ I said. But I doubted it. What else wasn_t he telling me? About his part in that day? About Beatrice? BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Late morning I am in the Jacuzzi now. It froths hot at my nipples. Hot to make blood flow faster. For when I use the blade. I take a very deep breath. I fill up my lungs to the very last cell. And then I slip down off the bench and keep sliding down, until my head is underwater. The jets are beating on my body. The sunshine forms crazy patterns through the bubbles, and it makes me remember the sea cave, where my jailer took me. It was on the island of Barbados. Yes. I remember. I had been there on a photo shoot. It was for Sports Illustrated, the swimsuit issue. But I was not going to be on the cover. _Sorry, babykins._ Fiona from the agency made cooing sounds. _This year you_re just one of the pack. Diversity_s what they_re after right now. No blondies for the cover._ They put me in a white one-piece swimsuit with cutouts, like a jigsaw puzzle of snow with missing pieces. I posed on white sand. _Arch your back, darling. More. Now give me fierce, darling. Yeah, that_s it. Snarl fierce, Beatrice. Beautiful, most beautiful girl in the world._ And then I was back at the hotel, outside under big swooping sails, where there was a firepit, and that_s when he arrived. He showed up with his starey eyes, and the other girls were twitter, twitter. Like baby birds with their beaks hanging open. Why were they all atwitter? He was not a handsome man. His body was handsome, yes. He was a cat like me. He moved with stealth_like he had a gun slung at his hips_but he did not have a beautiful face. Very stealthily, I took a photo of his face, and I sent it to Ricky. He texted me back. A player in Silicon Valley. Wins big but also loses big. Too risky BJ. But I couldn_t stop looking at him. And when I saw him watching me, I went to him. They had sprayed my body golden brown all over, and my hair was silver and gold, and my eyes were the color of the sea. I could tell he wanted me, and I wanted him too. And the next day he took me to the sea cave. _Barbados is famous for them, Beatrice._ He said that to me. _They_re fantastic. It_s like you can walk underneath the sea. I know one the tourists can_t get to_it_s on a friend_s private beach. Do you want to come with me?_ I went with him to the sea cave, and we climbed down deep inside, and it was very beautiful. The sunlight came from far away, and it was like being in church, the light all misted, and there were twisty columns that came up from the bottom and also hung down from the top. They looked like the statues of saints. I wanted to see all the saints, so I kept going deeper and deeper into the cave, until I went down a passage and it became black as night. I was very frightened, all alone in the dark, and I screamed loud, and I heard him shout my name. And then I felt him close. _Take my hand, Beatrice. Hold on to me._ He wrapped up my hand in his. And he led me out of the darkness and back into the chapel, with the faraway light and the saints hanging upside down. You loved him then. The voice of the very young one called Beatie June now rises up in my mind. You loved him when he rescued you. Yes. I remember. And then he took me back to my room at the hotel with the swooping sails. I opened the door and left it open for him to follow. The bed in the room had a shimmery white net around it to keep away mosquitos, even though there were none at such a fancy hotel. But when I lay down on the bed, the shimmery mosquito net fell all around me, like the bridal dress on the catwalk. Men are all the same. They can_t come inside me quick enough. I part my long golden legs and arch my long back, and they moan like the ocean as it surges in and out from the shore. But this one was not the same. He was tender and kind. _You_ve had a scare._ He_d kissed me soft on my forehead and left me alone. He put you in the dungeon. Mary_s voice is loud in my head. Now he wants you gone for good. You heard the words on his phone last night. My lungs are starting to hurt, but I stay under in the Jacuzzi. The sunbeams are hula dancing over my head. I need to rise. But I keep remembering more about the island of Barbados. EIGHT There was a silvering in the air by the time I returned to Thorn Bluffs. Only a few vehicles remained in the motor court. An electrician_s van. The battered brown pickup truck. An unwelcome surprise in my cottage. My bed that I_d left rumpled was now made up military tight. My breakfast dishes were no longer in the sink. Every surface gleamed. Annunciata had been here with her Swiffer. I pictured that fierce figure washing my coffee mug, squaring the corners of my sheets. Thinking what? There was a churchy scent in the air. It was coming from a lit candle on my bed table. A votive with a Hispanic Madonna hovering on a cloud. It seemed funereal. I blew it out. And the fashion magazines I_d heaped beside the bed were gone. Just to be tidy? Or to keep me from examining them too closely? I_d bought some provisions at a deli on a street charmingly named Casanova. Turkey and swiss club. Tubs of assorted salads. Apples, peaches. An Argentinian Malbec from a bargain bin. I stuffed it all in my minifridge, except for the Malbec. I unscrewed the top and reached for a glass. Bad idea: only four thirty and I_d already put down half a stiff mojito. I went instead to my laptop and began checking out the things Rick McAdams had told me. There had been an earthquake last summer, 5.3 on the Richter scale, near Livermore, California, and it had caused major damage to several tech sites, including Evan_s biotech venture, Genovation Technologies. A Bloomberg article confirmed that Evan launched a funding round a few months later to raise $350 million. _Worth killing for._ Rick McAdams_s insidious words. I found an item dated April 26 of last year on a gossip site: _Supermodel Beatrice McAdams treated at the Monterey, California, ER after an accident at her glamorous Big Sur estate._ An accident. No suggestion of self-harm or foul play. So how could I know for sure? I pictured Evan Rochester in his new office space. I wondered if his ankle still hurt like a son of a bitch. I thought of his hand enclosing mine. The electric thrill that had shot through me. A similar thrill as I watched him describe his game-changing new tech. His passion for it animating his features. _Sociopath._ Rick_s slithery, seductive voice back in my mind. A wave of jet lag swept over me. I suddenly felt as lost and all alone as I had the night I_d arrived. I curled up on my newly made bed and fell into a deep sleep. I slept for several hours. When I woke up, I stepped out onto my terrace to further clear my head. It was still daylight, but misty now, the ocean and the bluffs in soft focus. I glanced over at that strange medieval tower_the architect Jasper Malloy_s drafting studio. It looked romantic in the mist. Off-limits, Otis had warned me. No one allowed to go in it. Why? What could it be hiding? There was a washed-out service road behind the cottage that appeared to lead in the tower_s direction. I could go for a run. Get to the tower and back while it was still light. I felt suddenly compelled to do it. I went back inside. Put on running shoes and pulled a fleece over my yoga top and then launched myself onto the road. It veered in a wide loop toward the highway. I soon realized running was impossible; large sections of the asphalt were eroded to ankle-snapping patches of rubble. I could only walk briskly. It would take longer than I had expected. After about twenty minutes, a brown pickup truck came rattling from the opposite direction. Hector Sandoval at the wheel. I put a hand up in greeting. He drove by without acknowledging me at all. Where is he coming from? I pushed myself to go farther. Wondered if it was too far, if I should turn back. But in about fifteen minutes, the road looped back toward the sea, and to my relief, the tower appeared ahead. I approached it curiously. It was sited on its own promontory, a smaller and lower one than the compound was built on, and it looked even more mysterious up close. A crenellated top, like a crude crown. Thin vertical windows. The redwood base and windowsills were rotten, causing the entire structure to tilt. It creaked and groaned in the freshening breeze. The door_heavy, wooden_wasn_t locked. It opened to reveal a circular space crammed with a jumble of old furniture and artifacts. I stepped cautiously inside. Bars of light from the narrow windows wriggled like sea snakes across the jumbled stuff. An odor of rot and mold and dust. The tilting floor made me slightly seasick, like being on a boat that was starting to capsize. There was furniture like the South American pieces in my cottage, made of once brightly painted wood. Gilt crucifixes and statues of saints. Blackened paintings of conquistadors. Rising in the center of all this clutter, a rusty spiral staircase that stopped in midair. A staircase to nowhere. I picked my way to the back. A metal drafting table thick with dust was set against the far wall. Where Jasper Malloy died, alone and forgotten. I pictured his body slumped over it. Decayed. Gnawed on by wild animals. I shuddered. There were a few mildewed architectural drawings pinned to the wall above the table. Each labeled Thorn Bluffs, with a date in 1962. Renderings of the not-yet-built compound. The tower did one of its groaning things. Startled, I stepped backward and kicked something on the floor. A thick glass goblet_the same type Evan Rochester had poured champagne into the night before. I picked it up. Reddish-brown dregs in the bowl that smelled faintly of cherry. Not champagne. Some sort of liqueur. Or a kirsch? I set the goblet back on the floor, and as I did, I spotted something pushed far back beneath a large armoire. Something obviously hidden from casual sight. I scrunched down to look. A rectangular object, about three feet by four feet in size, tightly wrapped in a white drop cloth. Probably just another blackened conquistador. Except no, it wasn_t covered with a layer of dust. It hadn_t been there very long. I wriggled it out and propped it up against the armoire. Took off the drop cloth. I gasped. A framed portrait of a young woman painted in the style of Modigliani. Cropped dark hair, a pale oval face crooked slightly to one side. Exaggeratedly long neck. But the image had been grotesquely mutilated. Eyes gouged into gaping black holes. Mouth slashed to a shrieking rictus. Furious slashes on the bodice and all around the sides of the painting. It seemed personal_like whoever had done this had wanted to do it to the real-life girl in the painting. And suddenly, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I rewrapped the painting in the drop cloth and shoved it back underneath the armoire. Then I bolted outside and continued walking fast onto the far point of the promontory. I stood inhaling the cleansing ocean air. Letting it clean out the dust and rot from my nostrils. The sight of that hideously mutilated portrait from my eyes. The tide was ebbing: the surf sounded more like a moan than a roar. I gazed down at the small cove below. A deep and ragged U shape sealed off on both ends by gargantuan boulders. The mist had begun to roll in, making the cove seem completely isolated. Desolate. But then, suddenly, the sparkle of a firefly. It twirled briefly in the mist before blinking off. It triggered a memory. I was four or five. Sitting with Mom on the back stoop, watching tiny lights flash in the weeping willow. _They_re called fireflies, sweetheart._ _So are they all going to burn up?_ _No, silly Billy. It_s not real fire. It_s a light they turn on to let the other fireflies know they_re looking for love._ Why did she blink out her own light so soon? Give up on real-life love? I felt a bubble of grief rise from my chest: Why did you give up on love, Mom? Settle for pretend romance on a stage? As if in response, the firefly glimmered again. And something struck me: there were no fireflies on the Pacific coast. They didn_t exist west of the Rockies. I was pretty sure of that. And even if it were a firefly, the spark would be too tiny to see from up here. I kept my eyes fixed on it. And now there seemed to be a figure in the sparkle. Whitish. Like the figure I_d imagined outside my sliding glass door, this time moving slowly in the tiny light. My pulse quickened. A heavy gust of fog obscured my view, and when it passed, the glimmer was gone, and there was nothing down there at all. Nothing except sand laced with gray foam and glistening rocks and the heaving sea beyond it. Nothing could have disappeared so quickly. Nothing except a ghost. I laughed at myself. Still writing stories in my mind. The fog was rising at a rapid rate, and the temperature had plummeted at least ten degrees. I was suddenly cold. I hugged my arms around me, headed off the promontory. As I did, I heard a cry. Faint, as if reverberating up from the shore, but distinct nevertheless. Like the shriek of a tortured soul. And now I pictured that mutilated portrait of the girl, her mouth slashed into that hideous scream. It sent a shudder through my already agitated brain. I broke into a run, back onto the service road, stumbling on the patchy asphalt until the tower was no longer in sight behind me; then, panting, I slowed my pace. Everything was fast becoming obscured by smoky fog. The pines and shrubs were now just flat silhouettes. Cutouts pasted in an album. The old road kept disappearing beneath my feet. I thought of children in fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel. Lost in dark woods. Prey to witches, wolves, mythical beasts. And as I thought this, the black shadow of just such a mythical beast slithered out of the fog ahead. It came at me, crouched low on all fours. And right behind it, another mythical figure, crooked, striding furiously, encased in its own unearthly light. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Late morning My lungs are bursting, but I stay under in the Jacuzzi. And I remember more about the island of Barbados. I remember how I took my jailer to my room the next night after he saved me from the sea cave. I took him into my bed, and we stayed there all night. Except very late that night I took my phone and crept out to the end of the hall. I sat down on a carpet made of coconut hair. I called Ricky in Miami where he was going to night school to become a lawyer. I whispered to him. _I like this one, Ricky._ _Then you better get him fast, Beatie. Before he finds out your prognosis. He_ll want a prenup, but we_ll make him give you a wedding gift. Blue-chip art. Van Gogh. Modigliani._ _I_m out of snow white, Ricky. I sent you money, didn_t I?_ _Yeah, got it this morning. I overnighted a canister to you._ I went back to the bed under the white veil. I stayed the next day with my jailer, and then another, and we hardly ever left the bed, but I kept the snow white in the tea canister from Ricky snug in the bottom of my tote bag. And then a message on my phone from Fiona. _Where the fuck are you, Beatrice? Don_t know what you_re frigging up to and don_t care. Hair and makeup tests start tomorrow. If you don_t show, you_ve pulled your last stunt, swear to God._ I told my jailer I was supposed to be in Paris. _I_m booked to walk for Valentino and Alexander McQueen. You made me forget._ _I can get you there. It won_t be a problem._ He made a phone call. He told somebody to charter a jet. He was very happy_he liked saving me. And I loved him very much. And for my wedding present we went to Paris again. We went to an auction house, and he made a gesture, a very small gesture, with his hand when a painting by Amedeo Modigliani came up for sale. The painting of the girl. Maybe I_ll stay here under the Jacuzzi forever. NINE A magical beast and a hobgoblin. I didn_t feel particularly afraid. More like fascinated. I stood raptly, waiting as they approached. The beast resolved itself into Minnie, the female German shepherd. And the hobgoblin became Evan Rochester, walking swiftly but still with that hint of a limp, a pair of LED lights fastened around his neck. Minnie ran close circles around my feet, barking, and a moment later, Mickey appeared and joined her in keeping me tightly herded. Evan strode furiously up to me. _I told you to stay out of the grounds._ _I thought if I kept to the road it would be okay._ _The road? There_s nothing left of it. Can you even see it right now?_ _A little._ _A little. Christ almighty! In another fifteen minutes, the fog will be twice as thick. Do you have a flashlight?_ _No._ _Do you even have your phone?_ I shook my head. _Do you have any idea how close we are right now to the edge of the bluff?_ The mumble and moan of the ocean suddenly seemed right beside us. I pictured that vertiginous drop. The tide sweeping me away. _You could have easily wandered over the edge. Christ almighty God._ I felt light headed. _I didn_t realize._ _You didn_t realize,_ he repeated. _What the hell are you even doing out here?_ _I was just out for a quick run. Or walk, actually. It was still light when I started. I went a little too far. And then . . ._ I hesitated. I decided not to mention the tower; he was too angry right now. _Then I stopped to watch a ghost._ He gave a violent start. _What?_ _Just something I thought I saw down on the cove. The one below the tower._ He seized me by the shoulders. _What did you see?_ _Let go,_ I said. _You_re hurting me._ He immediately released his grip. _Tell me exactly what you saw._ _Nothing much, really. I was looking down from that other promontory. I saw something sparkle. A few sparkles of light. And for just a second, it seemed like there was something down there._ _Like what?_ _Like a whitish kind of figure. Walking on the beach. And then a patch of fog came swirling in, and when it cleared, there was nothing there. I_m sure there never had been anything._ He stared at me. His expression unreadable. _It was just my imagination,_ I continued quickly. _I like imagining things like ghosts. I used to write about it._ I kept my eyes fixed on his face. _But there couldn_t have been anything. It was impossible, wasn_t it?_ He didn_t reply for a moment. _It_s natural to see sparkles of light on the water. Bioluminescence. It makes the surf glow. And the fog can play tricks with your sight. I_ve seen things that seemed so real . . . so real that sometimes I_ve had to stop myself from reaching out and trying to grab it._ Beatrice? Was it her ghost he imagined seeing in the fog? Wishing_or fearful_that I had seen her too? _There was something else,_ I said. I watched him carefully. _I heard a sound, a strange sort of cry. Almost like a child screaming. I can_t really describe it. But it gave me chills._ He paused again. _An owl. A barn owl. Their calls can sound almost human. Eerie if you_ve never heard them before. Or a juvenile great horned owl._ I nodded. The fog continued to thicken around us, isolating us in the pool of light from his LEDs. He stared past me, silent, lost in some dark mood, as if forgetting I was even there. The dogs milled restlessly, waiting for a further command. I became aware once again of his intense physicality. His height. The breadth of his shoulders. The power of his musculature. The rage had faded from his face, and I no longer felt threatened. Just the opposite, I realized. I felt protected. I moved a small step closer to him. _How did you know I was out here?_ _Hector. He saw you._ _Does he always report everything to you?_ _Pretty much, yeah._ _And Annunciata too?_ _If it_s something I need to know._ _They sound very devoted._ _They are. Just as I am to them. I got them out of Honduras after their son and daughter-in-law were killed by the cartels. They sent Hector and Nunci a video of the execution._ My eyes widened with horror. _That_s . . . I can_t even imagine._ _Yeah._ For a moment, I couldn_t breathe, consumed with the horror of it. _How did you get them out?_ _I flew them. I_m a pretty good pilot. My plane was big enough to take us all._ _Was it dangerous?_ _Somewhat. It was late at night. The weather wasn_t ideal, particularly over the mountains. But I don_t mind taking risks. It was a lot worse for them._ I pictured it, the bucking flight over dark mountains. The traumatized couple. It stirred something deep inside me. The fog continued to thicken. He still made no move to return to the compound. _Listen,_ he said abruptly. _I need my daughter to get back into that school. I_ll pay you a bonus if she gets off probation._ _That_s not necessary,_ I said quickly. _I_m going to do everything I can to help her. And I can_t guarantee she_ll pass._ _I_ll make it worth your while if she does. I know your situation. You need money._ I flushed. _Did Otis say that?_ _He didn_t have to. I checked you out before you came._ I stared at him. _What do you mean? You snooped into my finances?_ _I hired people to, yeah._ My voice was shaking. _What did you find out?_ He smiled. _You really want to know?_ _I do, yes._ _All right. I found out you really are an orphan. Your father killed himself on a New Jersey highway when you were little. Your mother died last year, small-cell carcinoma. No siblings. I didn_t know about Aunt Froggy._ I stared at him incredulously. _For a couple of years, you lived with an artist in Brooklyn. Moved out suddenly, paid overmarket rent for a place in Brooklyn._ _You had no right!_ I swiveled in a rage, began to walk away. But it was too dark, the fog too obscure. The ocean pounding so close. He caught up with me, grinning. _I see I_m not the only one with a temper._ _You snooped into my personal life without my even knowing it. I feel . . . violated._ _Come on. Did you really expect me to have a stranger living on my property, getting close to my daughter, without checking first? And don_t tell me about feeling violated. I_ve had every inch of my private life invaded for the past six months. Mine, my wife_s, every detail about us dragged through the mud. And what they couldn_t find out they made up. Can you honestly tell me you didn_t look at any of that crap yourself?_ I was caught short. _Okay. I did, some. But last night, in the Great Room, when you asked if I was from Tennessee, you already knew the answer. Was it a test?_ _I suppose._ _And after I passed the test, why didn_t you tell me the truth?_ _I should have. I_ve got a lot on my mind right now._ I felt a wash of conflicting emotions. Maybe I should have expected him to check on me. But digging into my personal life. My relationships. And something occurred to me. What he_d said about my father. Killed himself. Not died in an accident. There was the grumble of an approaching vehicle, and then twin halos, like marsh fairies, floated around a bend. _There they are,_ Evan said and stepped toward the halos. Hector Sandoval_s old pickup lurched up to us, stopping with a grind of gears and brakes. Annunciata beside him. Braids undone, abundant white hair streaming witchy down her back. Evan went to the window, conferred with Hector. Annunciata handed him something. The truck rattled forward into the veil of fog and began to execute a painful K-turn. Evan turned back to me. _Nunci said you needed this._ He handed me a large iron key. _Keep your door locked at all times. Raccoons are ingenious at getting in. And skunks._ The key was heavy and cold in my hand. _She cleaned my cottage today. Annunciata. She doesn_t have to do that. In fact, I_d rather she didn_t._ _It_s her job. She does every room on the compound. Except Sophia_s. Nunci_s afraid of snakes._ _Does Sophia have a snake?_ _A ball python in a tank. It has a habit of getting out._ The fearsome Annunciata afraid of pet snakes. It made her seem more human. _She left a candle burning. A votive with a Madonna on it. It_s nice of her, but it seems like a fire hazard._ He smiled. _The Virgin of Guadalupe. To keep spirits at bay. Not much of a hazard._ The truck pulled back up beside us. Evan stepped to the back, unhooked the rear panel, and yanked it down. _Climb up. They_ll take you back._ _What about you?_ _I_ll walk with the dogs._ _I can walk with you._ _No._ He said it not harshly. I hoisted myself awkwardly, one knee first, onto the truck bed crowded with gardening tools, pots, sacks of soil and gravel. I perched on a stack of burlap bags. Drew my knees to my shivering chest. _You_re cold._ He shrugged off his heavy denim jacket. _No, I_m okay._ _The hell you are. You_re turning blue._ He draped the jacket like a blanket over me, tucking it around my arms and waist. A surprisingly tender gesture. The warmth of his body heat seeped from the jacket into me. He stepped back, waved to Hector, and the truck began jouncing away. Thoughts swirled in my mind like the fog that now encompassed everything. The sparkle on the cove, the hazy figure. The hideously mutilated portrait. Rick McAdams_s accusations and threats. What was real; what were lies? I drew the collar of the jacket to my nose. Inhaled leather and soap and sweat and cigar smoke. I shivered again, but this time not from the cold. TEN The following day, I succeeded in making the yoga class I_d passed up to go have a drink with Rick McAdams. Vinyasa proved to be the kind of yoga that kept you in perpetual motion, one pose flowing into the next without pause. The seven others in the class were sinuous beings who twisted and pretzeled nonstop for fifty minutes without seeming to break a sweat. I, on the other hand, was sopping by the end of the session. I staggered to the changing room to towel off. A woman dropped onto the bench beside me. _It gets easier, trust me._ I_d noticed her in the class. Fortyish. Lean. So flexible that her tomahawk of mink-colored hair brushed the mat in back-bending poses. _I hope you_re right,_ I said. _You_re really good._ She shrugged. _I was born rubbery._ She began to vigorously towel her shoulders and elaborately tattooed midriff. _You_re Jane, right? The one living at Thorn Bluffs?_ _How did you know?_ _Rick McAdams. Bumped into him at a bar last night. He said you_d probably pop up here sooner or later._ I became wary. _Is he a friend of yours?_ _Not really. I just know him from around. Everybody does_he_s that kind of guy._ She eyed me with insinuation. _He certainly seems taken by you._ _Oh God, no,_ I protested. _I really don_t think so._ _I believe it. You_re adorable. I_m Ella Mahmed, by the way._ She stood up and shimmied a green tunic over her head. Smoothed it deftly over her torso. _So are you relocating to this area?_ _No, I_m just here for the summer. I_m tutoring Evan Rochester_s daughter._ _Yeah, Rick mentioned that._ How did he know? I hadn_t mentioned it to him. Ella Mahmed rummaged in an enormous African-print tote bag. Pulled out a flat-brimmed cap and smashed it far back on her blade of hair. _I_ve got something of a connection to Thorn Bluffs. My first ex-wife was the architect of record on the renovation of the house._ I glanced at her with greater interest. _It_s gorgeous. Your ex is a terrific architect._ _She_s good enough, but she actually just drew the plans. Rochester was clear what he wanted. Modern, open. The way Jasper Malloy designed his most famous houses. Funny, though, not Thorn Bluffs, which was for himself. It was like a rabbit warren, a lot of cubbies and secret passages and shit. I guess he went a little nuts at the end of his life. He croaked there, you know. In his drafting studio._ _I_ve heard that._ I grimaced. _You must know the estate pretty well._ _Not really. Hallie and I got divorced soon after she started the project._ _Oh, sorry._ _Don_t be. It was alimony from Hallie that paid for the ceramics gallery I now own. Mystic Clay, it_s on Monte Verde. You should come by sometime._ _I_d love to. Though I won_t be able to buy anything. Unless you sell I Heart Carmel mugs._ _Ha, no, definitely not. Art pieces. I sell to the rich. Tech moguls, rich Asian tourists. Once almost to Beatrice Rochester._ My interest shot up another notch. _Almost?_ _It_s a good story. Maybe I_ll tell you when you come to the gallery._ She dived back into her tote, took out a phone. _Give me your info, and I_ll send you mine. It_s great to have you around. We really need some fresh blood in our little circle here._ We exchanged info. I left feeling buoyed by the idea that maybe I_d made a new friend. For the first time, I felt a real connection to Carmel. My text sounded. I glanced at it. Mojito time? I gave a start. Rick McAdams. Still stalking me. I texted back: How did u get my number? Not hard. We need to talk more. Serious. I glanced up and down the street, looking for the metallic-blue Range Rover. It was nowhere in sight. No. And stop stalking me. I_ll call the police. I have friends among police. Don_t forget what I told u about your friend. Threats. I blocked his number. I went from yoga to the tennis club to pick up Sophia. I was early. I sat on the sidelines watching her play. She had grace and speed and a keenly competitive spirit that reminded me of her father. I praised her skills on the ride back. _I loved watching you. You_re a natural athlete._ She shrugged but looked pleased. _My mom always said I didn_t get it from her. She was a klutz at sports. She said I got it all from my dad_s side._ _Did she tell you a lot about him?_ _Nothing. She just said he was smart. And tall and I_d be tall too. And when I was old enough, she said I could find him myself if I wanted. She_d help me._ She gave a sheepish little smile. _I used to pretend that I_d find him, and he_d be Roger Federer._ I felt a pang. She didn_t get a beloved tennis star. She got a man who was usually too busy amassing a fortune to pay much attention to her. And who_oh, by the way_was suspected of murdering his wife. She plugged herself into her phone and didn_t speak again for the rest of the ride. I dropped her off in front of the house. _The Ocean Room, thirty minutes. I_ll see you there._ I hurried back to my cottage to shower and change. Deliberated over what to wear. Nothing too schoolmarm but not like a kid, either. I finally chose a bright-red T-shirt and a black knee-length skirt. A bit of jazzy, a bit of sober. I jammed my laptop, a notebook, and a few pens into my tote and then headed up to the main house. The silver Tesla was backing out of the garage. The jacket, the warmth of his body seeping into me. I pushed the memory away. The car swooped quickly around and pulled up to me. Evan whirred down the window. _I decided you_re right about the Audi. Use the Land Cruiser from now on. It_s old but in good repair._ _Is this a punishment?_ I said. He looked at me, puzzled. _For breaking the rules last night._ _Christ, no, I_m not that petty. I realized an Audi S5 is not a car for these back roads. And you_ll be carting dogs around, or so I hear from Fairfax._ _Yeah,_ I said. _I_ve taken over dog-wrangling duties from him._ _Good. Don_t let the shepherds intimidate you._ _They won_t. In fact, I think Mickey has already started to warm to me. At least, he wags his tail when he sees me. Minnie, maybe not yet._ A smile played briefly on his lips. _I suspect she_ll become very devoted to you quite soon._ I flushed in spite of myself. He started to roll his window up. _Wait,_ I said. _There_s something I want to ask you about._ _Yeah?_ _Last night. You said something about my father. That he_d killed himself on a highway. But it was an accident. The road was icy_his car skidded. Were you being sarcastic?_ _It was in the report. My investigators aren_t in the business of sarcasm._ Could he have misread it? _I want to see that report._ _It_s not possible. Anything else?_ I hesitated. _No._ He rolled up the window, and the Tesla glided silently away. I continued walking down the slope that led behind the house to the level of the Ocean Room and entered it through the tall doors. Otis had set up a card table and two folding chairs on one of the rugs. The ocean light shivered pale green through the room. I set my tote on the card table. One of the legs wobbled, caught on something under the rug. I pushed the table aside, then knelt down and rolled the rug a little way back. There was a large stain on the bleached oak floor beneath it. Faintly reddish and shaped like an amoeba. Someone had scrubbed it but failed to get it out entirely. Could it be blood? My pulse quickened. I rolled the rug farther. The stain was extensive. If it was blood, it would have had to come from a pretty significant wound. Maybe even a lethal wound. There was a silver medallion placed in the middle of the stain. It was what had made the table leg wobble. I picked it up. Beaten silver, very tarnished, with a simple cross embossed on one side. Rudimentary symbols on the other_a crescent, a star, a heart pierced by an arrow. A religious medal of some sort? Sophia_s footsteps echoed through the hallway outside, and I put the medal back on the floor and quickly rolled the rug over it. I pushed the table back to a place where none of the legs would be in contact with the medallion. Then I sat down and composed my face as she shuffled in. Purple backpack hooked on one elbow. Phone in opposite fist. Earbud cords still dangling at her chest. Tinny rap notes emanating from her head. She sat down heavily. _Earbuds,_ I said. She plucked them out, tossed them on the table. _So how long do we have to go?_ _Until five o_clock. You know the deal._ A piglet squealed. She_d changed her text tone. She glanced at the screen. Giggled. Tapped. _Phone down, please,_ I said. _One second._ Tap, tap, tap. I snatched it from her. _I mean it, Sophia. Not until we_re done._ Her brow furrowed. Her mouth set. I braced myself for a test of wills. But then she let out a sigh, one that declared she was the most persecuted, the most put-upon person in the history of the entire world and slumped a little farther down in her chair. _Okay,_ I said, _let_s begin with French._ She excavated a textbook from the backpack. Slid it across the table. Bien dit!: French, Level II. _My class is at where the paper is._ I flipped open to a folded sheet of notebook paper inserted in the binding. _Future tense of irregular verbs?_ _Yeah._ I groped for a moment about where to begin. _Okay, give me a sentence using ?tre in the future tense._ The piglet squealed. Her eyes darted to her phone. I muted it. _A sentence?_ I said. She gave me a face. _Jane sera une putain de salope._ My temper flared. She was pissed about her phone. About her mom. About the entire world. I got it. But I wasn_t going to put up with it. _Okay, the tense is right,_ I said crisply. _But _Jane will be a skanky bitch_ isn_t really a full sentence, is it?_ A shrug. One shouldered. _It needs completing. For instance, you could say _Jane will be a skanky bitch if she talks trash about me to Andr?.__ Eye roll. _Andr??_ _Or whoever._ _I don_t know how to say _talks trash.__ _You know what?_ I said. _I don_t really either._ In spite of herself, she dropped her brat face and giggled. Her eyes darted around the room. _You know, Beatrice used to hang out down here a lot._ _Yeah, I know. Otis told me._ _There was this one time? I came in and she was looking out the window, like, way out at the water. At that big rock out there. And she was, like, talking to it._ I swiveled to look. That immense jagged outcropping that was like the spire of a sunken Gothic cathedral. _What was she saying?_ _I don_t know. Her words were all jumbled. She called it Mary. Like the rock was named Mary. It creeped me out, so I just left._ She wanted to divert me from the lesson and was coming perilously close to succeeding. I was very tempted to ask her more. But it wouldn_t be right. Not now, probably not ever. _Plus d_anglais,_ I said. _Let_s run through some conjugations._ A slog through the verbs ?tre and avoir. Then I had an inspiration_a lightning round, past tense to future tense. It was more like a game_it sparked her competitive spirit_and she got into it. I moved on to other verbs. Not just irregular ones but more colorful ones. Chatouiller (to tickle). D?v?tir (to undress). I had her make up sentences about future torments to a hapless nerd named Andr?. It made her giggle (glousser) and get goofily inventive. So far, so good. We moved on to algebra. I_d downloaded a number of elementary problems, which I had her work through. She aced them. I_d have to cram harder to keep ahead of her. By four thirty, she was beginning to sigh and scrunch her brow and glance longingly at the door. On the dot of five, she lunged for her phone. _One more thing,_ I said. _I have an assignment for you._ _We_re supposed to do all the work here._ _Who says? I want you to write an essay in French, all in the future tense. One page. Due in a week._ _About what?_ she said. _Anything you want._ _Like what?_ _Well . . . what would your future dream job be?_ She sucked her lip. _Fashion designer? My mom and I used to watch Project Runway together._ _Perfect. Write a page about how it will be when you become a famous fashion designer._ She grabbed her phone, textbook, backpack and fled. I got up, stretched. This was definitely not going to be easy. But I felt oddly elated. She had made a little progress. It gave me a glow of satisfaction. Otis came clattering downstairs and sidled warily into the room. _How did it go?_ _Okay. Really good, I think._ He mimed whew, hand swiping his forehead. _Yeah, I feel that way too,_ I said. _She did try her best to distract me, though. By telling me things about Beatrice._ _Oh God. What?_ _She said Beatrice used to talk to that rock out in the cove. And that she called it Mary._ _Not surprised. The rock probably talked back to her. She heard voices, you know. It was part of her syndrome._ _Wasn_t she on meds?_ _Yeah, but I guess they didn_t always work. Sometimes she seemed pretty strongly demented._ I zipped up my tote. _Did you know there_s a large stain on the floor underneath this rug?_ _How do you know what_s under the rug?_ _Something was making the table wobble, so I rolled it back. There_s a sort of reddish stain. And there_s a religious medallion placed on top of it._ He gave a snort. _Annunciata puts those things everywhere. Don_t ask me why._ _So what caused the stain?_ _Could_ve been anything. When Beatrice got herself into a state, she was prone to throwing stuff around. Once I made this chicken tikka masala for them, and maybe it was too spicy for her or something, so she dumped the entire plate on the floor. She ate her lunch down here a lot, so who knows what else she dumped?_ He gave a little shake of his shoulders. _How about a drink? There_s half a bottle upstairs of Pauillac de Latour with our name on it._ _Sounds fantastic._ _You earned it._ He put his arm around me and gave me an exuberant squeeze. My sort of kid brother, I thought. The closest thing I had to family. Later. After the gorgeous wine and instructions from Otis about tending to the various dogs . . . and after my solitary deli dinner, catching up with messages and sending breezy keeping-in-touch notes to my contacts . . . I was again at my computer, trying to focus on an article about volcanoes for Sophia_s earth science lesson. But my mind kept twisting elsewhere. Beatrice mumbling to a jagged black rock out in the water. The mutilated portrait stashed in the crumbling tower. Rick McAdams_s puppet head jerking to and fro, hissing accusations. _Monster. Can lie easier than most of us can tell the truth._ Was that true? And how could I possibly find out? Something shrieked outside, and a chill ran down my back. The same shriek that had reverberated up from the eerie little cove. It sounded now like a child in mortal terror. A barn owl, Evan had said. Or a juvenile great horned. I listened hard for a while. It didn_t come again. I turned back to my computer. The Wi-Fi booster I_d ordered hadn_t yet arrived, but the connection, though low, was serviceable. I pulled up a YouTube: _Western Barn Owl Screaming._ A flat-faced owl perched on a branch at night. A screeching call. Chilling. But not what I had heard. I did another search. Screech owl. A spooky flutter of high short whoops. Not even close. I listened to other owls, barred and spotted and pygmy, and then the calls of hawks and gulls and pelicans and eagles. And four-footed animals, coyotes and porcupines and skunks and anything else I could think of that might be lurking in these woods_until the Wi-Fi flickered out. I_d found nothing like that ghostly, chilling shriek. A new thought came into my mind. Something was out there. Or someone. Watching me. Waiting. I got up and pushed my dresser in front of the glass doors. Extra protection from whatever it was. And then I lit Annunciata_s votive candle on my bed table. Protection from spirits. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Noon Two hands grab me under my armpits and pull me from underneath the Jacuzzi bubbles. Braidy Lady_s face is red and fiery. _You don_t come up, Mrs. Beatrice._ _I can hold my breath a long time,_ I tell her. She says again, _You don_t come up._ She reaches for my silky robe next to the Jacuzzi. She_ll find the blade, Mary Magdalene screeches. Don_t let her do it! _Annunciata,_ I say, _please bring me a Dr. Brown. My mouth is very dry._ She glances back at my bedroom doors and then back at me. She doesn_t know what to do. _Now! I need it now, right now!_ My voice goes high, higher, I can_t stop it. Her face glows fiery again. She walks very fast into the house. I swing myself out of the Jacuzzi and put on my robe. The pointy knife pricks at my belly. Get the blood, Beatrice. It has to be now. Do the plan today. I think again of the island of Barbados. How I loved him there. I don_t want to do the plan. But now I can_t think anymore, the fog swirls thick. I start walking, my famous Beatrice McAdams cheetah walk, up and down the deck. I hear voices talking, but they are not in my mind. They come tangling up from the ground below. I go to the railing and look down. I see the brown truck that belongs to the small man, the sorcerer Hector. Next to it is the big white Land Cruiser car with all the dents in it. My jailer is down there and also Hector. It_s their voices I am hearing. They are plotting together in their secret witch language. I watch Hector go to the back of the brown truck. He slides out something all covered in white. He pulls open the cover. My eyes open wide. It_s the girl. The one named Lilies. And she is back in her picture frame. Back inside the picture that was painted by Amedeo Modigliani. My jailer had taken me to the auction house in Paris, and he bid the highest for this picture for my wedding present. _Modigliani. Just like you wanted, Beat._ And he hung it on the bedroom wall, and the girl looked down at me while I slept. Yes, that_s her in Hector_s truck. Her eyes are oval shape, and she makes sour cherries with her mouth. I can see her little breasts under her square white blouse. But I don_t understand. I killed her. You didn_t kill her, Mary hisses. I told you so. You heard her voice on his phone last night. The fog is in my mind. I watch my jailer now pick up the girl. Gently, by the edges of her picture frame, like a precious jewel, like a ruby for the queen_s crown. He carries her to the Land Cruiser. Hector lifts up the back hatch. He slides something from out of the back. It_s a big flat wooden box. Hector and my jailer fit the girl in her picture frame tight into the box. A laugh bubbles up inside me. It_s a coffin. She is dead. I killed her with my manicure scissors, that day in the month of last April. Yes. I stabbed her eyes, and I cut up her mouth and her breasts. And then I wrote her name all around her: Lilies, Lilies, Lilies. And now my jailer is going to bury her, along with her picture frame. The same way he had buried the old dog, Delilah. Hector bangs nails into the top of the box. Then he puts the coffin box inside an even bigger box made out of wood and slides it back into the Land Cruiser. The boy with the golden spectacles comes outside, and he speaks to my jailer. I watch him climb into the front seat. It_s a trick, Beatrice, Mary tells me. It_s a plot to trick you. To make you think she_s dead. But now you see that she isn_t. I don_t understand. You heard her voice on his phone last night. You heard the words she said. You know what he is going to do. I feel a scream come up from deep, deep inside me. You have to do the plan today. I take the blade from out of my robe pocket. I walk fast back toward the glass door of my room. Annunciata comes out with my Dr. Brown, but I don_t want it, I shove past her, hiding my blade so she can_t see it. I go inside my bedroom and lock my door. I take out the sharp little blade. ELEVEN I assumed that if I didn_t cause any further nuisance, Evan would take as little notice of me as he would some animal_a deer or a woodchuck_nesting harmlessly on his property. But I was wrong. Three days after he_d fetched me in a fury from the tower road, I was walking Pilot at dusk, as I now regularly did. At the first turn in the road, the shepherds, Minnie and Mickey, came racing hell bent from behind us. Pilot joyously greeted them, and all three went crashing into the underbrush. And then Evan came up, no longer limping, walking so quickly I expected him to pass me by. To my surprise, he slowed into step beside me. He was sunk in a dark mood. Trudged heavily beside me in silence. But I was not in a gloom, and I refused to be dragged down. After some minutes, I said lightly, _Could I ask you something?_ He gave me a dark look. I persisted. _Why do you have gibberish tattooed on your arm?_ _Oh, that. It was supposed to be English._ _Supposed to be?_ A snort of disgust. _I was nineteen, in Cuernavaca. Wasted on mezcal. I wrote down what I wanted and then passed out. The damned vato couldn_t read my writing._ I laughed. He threw me another dark look. _What_s it supposed to say?_ I asked. __I want to be true to the morning._ D. H. Lawrence. At nineteen, I thought that meant something._ _But it does,_ I said. _Mornings are when everything is fresh and new and seems full of possibilities. I_m at my best in the morning._ _I_m a night person,_ he said abruptly. I might have guessed. We did some more silent trudging, until at last he broke the silence. _I have a question for you._ His gloom seemed to have lifted a little. _About Aunt Froggy._ I glanced up at him. _My aunt Joanne?_ _Why do you think of her as a frog?_ _I_m not sure. She shows up in my dreams sometimes_she_s a giant frog in a pink dress, with a croaky, frog-type voice. It scares me. The dreams are nightmares. I_d always thought she was dead. I found out from my mother she wasn_t, just before my mother died._ _Did you ever try to find her?_ _A little bit. Online. But it_s a common name. Joanne Meyers. There are thousands of them, so it seemed hopeless. And . . . well, maybe I was reluctant to. Because of the nightmares._ I gave a quick laugh. _Stupid to be afraid of dreams._ _Not really. No one can be sane and have no fears at all._ I shot him a teasing look. _Then what are yours?_ _Do you really expect me to tell you?_ _Yeah, I do. I just told you one of mine._ _Okay. I_m afraid of the dark._ _Liar,_ I said. _You just said yourself you were a night person._ _Then you can pick which one you want to believe._ He was teasing me now. And after that, our conversation came effortlessly. Darting from one topic to the next the way I_d seen small black-and-white butterflies flit from flower to flower outside my cottage. I found myself telling him things_silly things_about myself. About the Clown Lounge, where I_d met Otis, and how Otis had shown me the ropes. How to make drinks with names like Sloppy Pussy and Adios Motherfucker. How to deal with the owner, the drunken Afghanistan vet, Dooley, who threw darts at anyone he didn_t like. _Which was pretty much everyone,_ I said. He laughed in that way that entirely transformed his face. I found, disturbingly, that I liked making him laugh. We walked for some time. The fog scattered silver on the foliage, and the shadows deepened to violet. It began to seem to me like we were the only two people left in the entire world, and that was exactly the way I wanted it to be, and perhaps he did too. And maybe when I stepped to avoid a gnarled root in my path, I stepped just a little wider than necessary so my arm brushed against his. Then we were back in the compound, and he said, _Good night,_ and turned rather abruptly to his gorgeous house, whistling for the dogs to follow. And I went back alone to my rustic cottage. And thought again, Well, that_s that. But to my further surprise, he continued to pay me attention over the next weeks. Stopping me as I backed the Land Cruiser out of the garage or headed out of the main house. Asking solicitous questions: _The Cruiser running okay? Brakes still good? Do you have everything you need for your tutoring?_ Checking up on me, I presumed. Making sure I was doing right by his daughter. Following his rules. But he began to linger a little longer. His questions became more personal. What music did I like? _Are you into jazz at all? How about hip-hop?_ Did I travel a lot, or was I more of a homebody? _Did Fairfax show you my library? There are some first editions that you might find fun to look at. And feel free to borrow anything else._ He listened to my replies with a kind of absorption that made me feel_at least in that moment_that I was the most fascinating person he_d ever known. I began to look forward to these encounters. Each time I walked Pilot, I_d listen for footsteps coming up behind me and would feel a twinge of disappointment when they didn_t. And finally they did. I was halfway down the drive when he strode quickly up with the shepherds. He looked at me with mock reproach. _You might have waited instead of making me run a marathon to catch up with you._ _If I knew you were coming, I might have,_ I said. _Though I do know one thing. You like to get your own way, even if it requires people to read your mind._ He gave a laugh of delight. _Am I that easy to figure out?_ _No,_ I said truthfully. _At least not to me._ _But I_m that unreasonable?_ _Sometimes, yeah._ _But you won_t let me get away with it, will you?_ he said. His face was shadowed by the redwoods_ dark canopy, but something in his tone of voice, low and intimate, made my heart somersault. We continued walking. But Rick McAdams_s words whispered at me. Manipulative. Charming when he needs to be. Was it true? Was he just manipulating me for whatever purpose? More than ever, I felt a driving need to find something definitive. To find Beatrice. Or her remains. Or some definitive proof that would clear his name. Or else prove he was the cold-blooded monster most people seemed to believe he was. Before I got myself into something I could no longer control. TWELVE It was over three weeks now that I_d been at Thorn Bluffs. I_d just returned from a midday yoga class. Ella Mahmed had been there, and I was liking her more and more. She was smart, brassy, quick to laugh. We_d nailed down a day for me to visit her ceramics gallery. I_d also become familiar with a group of other women in the class who called themselves the _Semi-regulars._ They had names like the start of a children_s counting rhyme_Connie, Terry, Honey, and Pam. They were all divorc?es, except Pam, who was widowed. They favored chunky jewelry and Goddess leggings. They all thought Evan Rochester was sexy as sin. And they all had damning stories about him. Connie: _He once pulled Beatrice out of a restaurant so violently he could have broken her wrist._ Honey: _She tried to run away one time. But he captured her before she could escape and kept her under strict lock and key afterward._ They_d heard the stories from friends. Or friends of friends. Gossip. Which of course couldn_t be trusted. Though I was dying to hear the _good story_ Ella had promised to tell me. I had the feeling that hers would be authentic. I now slotted the Land Cruiser into its bay and climbed out. As I clicked the door closed, I heard a deafening roar: a black-and-yellow helicopter flying over the compound. I watched it descend like a gargantuan hornet to the helipad a short way inland. As I walked to my cottage, it rose straight back up and began to fly north, the crowns of the redwoods bowing in its heavy chop. I recalled Otis telling me Evan used to commute by chopper on weekends from his house in San Francisco, but now he only chartered one for the most urgent meetings. Who is he off to meet so urgently now? The letter L flashed into my mind. The single initial written on the card attached to the vase of expensive still-in-bud tulips. Nonsense. The chopper dwindled to a speck in the distance. I continued to my cottage, unlocked the door with that heavy iron key. I had a sudden hollow feeling. A stillness hung heavily in the room, despite the eternal crash of surf outside. A bit of my morning coffee remained in the Krups pot. I poured it into a saucepan and reheated it, making it palatable with an extra dollop of honey. My text sounded. Wade O_Connor, who continued to check in regularly. Find any body parts yet? I gave a laugh. Replied: Not even a bone. Why not? U been there long enuf to find whole skeleton. Sorry, no trace of B. But sometimes think maybe she_s found me. Whoa. What?? I sat down at the table. Paused. Then texted: Hard to explain. Every so often get the feeling somebody watching me. Thru my glass doors. Whoa!!! Mr. R. Peeping Tom? No. Happened one nite he wasn_t here. I paused again. Something else. Sometimes I hear strange shriek outside at night. Gives me chills. My phone rang almost immediately. _So what are you saying?_ Wade demanded. _Somebody_s spying on you, and you think it_s Beatrice? Wandering around in the woods at night?_ _No. I mean, you know that sometimes I let my imagination run away. Especially when I_m here alone at night. It gets kind of easy to have ridiculous thoughts._ _But what_s with this shriek?_ _It_s hard to explain. It_s like a child screaming in terror. Evan said it was an owl of some kind. But I_ve listened to a lot of owl calls online and didn_t find anything like it. And then a couple of times I thought I_ve seen some kind of whitish shape. Kind of ghostly . . ._ _Whoa, wait. Now you_re saying she_s a ghost?_ _No. It_s just that I_ve felt some kind of presence outside. The housekeeper here, Annunciata, I think she does too. She keeps a candle burning on my bed table. A votive candle. It_s to keep away evil spirits._ _So it_s an evil ghost?_ _No!_ I said emphatically. _I_m sure it_s nothing at all. Just my curiosity about what might have happened to Beatrice. Which you keep stirring up, if you recall._ Wade gave a grunt. _Keiko is not going to like this. She thinks you never should have left New York in the first place for such an iffy situation. I sort of agreed. And now I_m definitely thinking you should get the frick out._ The idea of leaving gave me a sudden panic. I said quickly, _Come on, Wade. You and I both love making up stories. There_s no reason I need to leave. And I don_t want to. I_m making progress with Sophia, I can_t just abandon her now. And Otis depends on me too._ He made a ruminative sound. _Look. We_re going to be out in Marin County next month. Keiko_s roommate from Yale is getting married. We_re bringing Benny, and we were thinking of driving up to the giant sequoias afterward. But maybe we could come down your way instead._ _Don_t change your plans for me. Seriously, Wade. I_m fine._ _I sure as hell hope so,_ he said. Fifteen minutes later, my phone rang again, this time Wade_s wife, Keiko. She worked for a boutique bond company, she was no-nonsense in the warmest possible way, and I was as close to her as I was to Wade, as well as an unofficial godmother to their five-year-old son, Benny. _Did Wade tell you I was losing my mind?_ I said. She laughed. _Not exactly. He said he_s worried you might be getting carried away with your fantasies, or worse, you might actually have some weirdos around. I think it_s a great idea for us to drive your way. We can take Benny to the Monterey aquarium_he_ll adore that. We_ll swing by your place first._ _I_m not supposed to have visitors here. I can meet up with you in Monterey._ _Now, you see? You_re not allowed to have visitors_that_s got me even more worried._ _It_s really not that sinister. Evan just likes to protect his privacy._ _You call him Evan?_ _Well, yeah. What do you expect me to call him? Mister?_ She sighed. _I don_t know, Janie. But I think you_re a lot more vulnerable than you realize. After all that awful stuff you_ve been through in the past year. I_ll feel better when I_ve actually laid eyes on you._ _And make sure I_m not murdered yet?_ _For starters,_ she said. _I won_t be,_ I told her. _I promise. And if you do come, I_ll be thrilled. Tell Benny I miss him, and give him a big kiss for me, okay?_ _He says he_s too old for kisses now. He_s okay with hugs._ _Then tell him I_m sending a big old hug right at him._ I hung up. Finished my leftover coffee. Wade was right: I was spinning lunatic stories. Beatrice_s ghost peeping in at me. Making shrieky ghost sounds. If there really had been any peeping, it was far more likely to be by somebody alive and kicking. But who? Not Otis. God no. I couldn_t imagine that. Sophia sleepwalking? Maybe. Then I thought of my panic at the idea of leaving Thorn Bluffs. It was true what I_d told Wade. I didn_t want to abandon Sophia or Otis. But I hadn_t told him the entire truth. That I couldn_t stand the idea of leaving Evan Rochester. That giant hornet carrying him away. The hollow feeling it had left me with. Stupid. I needed to get a good grip on myself. I had a tutoring session shortly; I needed to look composed. I hadn_t picked up Sophia today_Otis had collected her after a dental appointment he_d had in Carmel. I headed out to the Ocean Room a little before four o_clock, passing through the breezeway that connected the garage to the main house. As I began down the slope to the lower level, I suddenly froze. Annunciata was directly outside the Ocean Room doors. Bent over the shrubs, sprinkling a white powder on the roots. I_d had no contact with her since Otis had first introduced me. She had continued to clean my cottage but always in stealth. Somehow knowing when I wasn_t there. It gave me the willies. It was ridiculous to avoid her. I continued up to her and spoke loudly. _Hello, Annunciata._ She straightened. Her braids, tied with bright-blue yarn, swung against the sturdy girth of her waist. Other than the color of the yarn, her outfit was unchanging_men_s dungarees, a loose khaki-colored shirt, rope-soled shoes. She wiped powder from her fingers on the leg of her dungarees. Glared at me. I persisted. _Thank you for cleaning my room. And for the candles._ Had she heard me at all? Yes_she gave a curt nod. I stood uncertainly a moment. My smile felt stretched ear to ear. I nodded back at her, then turned self-consciously and proceeded into the Ocean Room. I sensed her eyes still on me. The room danced with a pale gold light that was almost fizzy. I put my things on the card table, and when I looked back out, Annunciata had moved away. Drawn by the source of the lemonade light, I went over to the tall windows. The cove sparkling silver and blue looked inviting. As if wading out to take a swim_even in a cocktail dress_might not be such a terrible idea. My eyes traveled to that jagged spire of a rock. It now looked made of polished glass. The ridges on it stood out in sharp relief. It looked close enough to think maybe you could just wade right out to it. I turned from the window and moved to a recessed bookshelf in the adjacent wall. It was sparsely filled. A black porcelain bowl. A green obelisk. A mounted geode, dull gray on the outside, dazzling pink crystal within. The bottom shelf held a number of coffee-table-size art books. That ruined painting hidden in the tower. I squatted down and browsed the titles for one on Modigliani. They were all on Renaissance art. Titles like Masterpieces of the Renaissance. The Art of Florence. Italian Renaissance Sculpture. I pulled out a couple and sat down cross-legged on the floor. Opened the first. The Early Renaissance in Italy. On the flyleaf, a signature in black ink: Beatrice McAdams Rochester. I felt a tingle. Her book. One page had a corner turned down. I felt another tingle. Like the fashion magazines I_d found in the dresser of my cottage_each with folded corners marking photos of Beatrice in her prime. I opened the art book to the marked page. A full-page color plate of a sculpture by Donatello: The Penitent Magdalene. It didn_t resemble Beatrice in her prime or otherwise. It was carved almost crudely in wood_and it was not the young and beautiful Mary Magdalene. This was an ugly old hag. Emaciated, sunken eyed. Almost toothless. But the hands were beautiful_long fingered, the raised fingertips almost, but not quite, touching. And they were heavily encircled in black ink. Why? To make them look bound together? Like a prisoner? I opened the other book. The Art of Florence. Again, a signature on the flyleaf: Beatrice McAdams Rochester. And again, a single page folded at the corner. It opened to the same reproduction_The Penitent Magdalene. The hands of the statue again furiously encircled in black ink. But this page also had a scratchy kind of black writing that filled all the margins. More like slashes than scratches. With a shock, I remembered the slashes around the edges of the Modigliani portrait in the tower. So both this writing and those slashes must have been made by Beatrice. But what did a Modigliani from the 1920s have to do with a Renaissance sculpture? There was no resemblance at all between the works. I examined the encircled hands of the Magdalene. Strong, ridged hands. Making a prayerful gesture. Fingers creating a steeple shape. A church steeple. An idea occurred to me. I sprang to my feet and looked out at the cove again_at that huge jagged outcropping. The one that reminded me of a ruined spire of a sunken cathedral. I compared it to the hands of the statue in the book. My heart began to beat faster. I could imagine that Beatrice in her madness might think there was a resemblance. The steeple shape. The ridges in the rock face like the veins in Mary Magdalene_s hands. Mary. Sophia had said Beatrice called the rock by that name. I glanced over my shoulder at the white chaise. The one Otis said Beatrice had spent so much time lolling around on. The way it was placed in the room, slightly angled_it gave an unobstructed view of the cove. And of that jagged steeple-shaped rock. I thought of that faint reddish stain hidden by the rug in the center of the room. Annunciata_s tarnished silver medallion placed on top of it. What had happened in this room? Outside, Annunciata moved again into my sight. I put the art books back on the shelf and went to the card table. I opened my laptop and kept my eyes fixed on it. _I wrote the thing._ Sophia tore two pages out of a spiral notebook and handed them to me. It was the French essay I_d assigned her at our first session over two and a half weeks ago. She_d given a litany of excuses. So much homework from her real classes. Overtime practice for an upcoming tournament. I had finally threatened to take her phone away. _You can_t do that,_ she protested. _I can and I will._ _I_ll tell my father if you do._ _Be my guest. He_ll back me up. I guarantee it._ I was pretty confident she wouldn_t test it. She hadn_t. I looked at the essay. Longer than I had expected_two full pages, written in block lettering. I began to read. _You_re going to read it now?_ A tone of dismay. _You bet I am. I_ve waited long enough._ She fidgeted while I read it through. It was full of errors. Sloppy mistakes. Words used wrong. But it was also remarkably vivid and inventive. In the future she will win Project Runway with an amazing dress (une robe incroyable) composed of fake monkey fur and recycled brown paper and a hem of candy kisses (bonbons bisous). She will make an ensemble for Lady Gaga to wear to the Grammys and also a hat with a nest of eggs. The eggs will open, and baby doves will fly into the audience. And Gaga will tell her to make every new ensemble for her and for all her friends. I read the last line with a pang: Et puis je serai riche et je sauverai beacoup d_animals. Et egalement j_adoppterai une douzaine enfants orphelines. She will be rich, and she will rescue many animals. And, equally, she will adopt a dozen orphan children. I looked up. _It_s terrific, Sophia._ _You think?_ _Yeah, I really do. There are lots of mistakes. Your spelling is atrocious. You_ve got to start using accent marks. But you_ve really learned the future tense. And it_s incredibly creative. I love that you want to adopt a lot of animals and kids._ I wrote a large A on top. A flush of pleasure lit her face. She was starved for this kind of praise, I realized. Particularly when she knew she deserved it. _I_ve got an idea,_ I said. _For the earth science lesson, let_s go to one of the beaches near here and gather up rocks. Then tomorrow we can identify them and classify them._ _Awesome!_ The outing was a success. We brought Pilot, and at the beach, he romped in and out of the surf, trailing long tresses of kelp. We filled bags and stuffed our pockets with black and green and speckled rocks and shards of mussel and clam shells until we couldn_t carry any more. We hauled our booty back and spread the rocks on the promontory to dry. Otis came out to admire the display. He made venison chili, and we ate in the screening room watching National Velvet_my choice so Sophia could get to know Elizabeth Taylor, who my mother had adored (though Sophia liked Piebald the horse a lot more). Afterward, I slipped back into the Ocean Room and collected the art books_seven all together_and carted them back to my cottage. I began looking through them all. Each one had a corner turned to a reproduction of The Penitent Magdalene. But only the one book_The Art of Florence_had scratchy writing in the margins. I examined the writing again, searching for the word Mary. I could only pick out a few capital Ss and Es. And what seemed to be a lot of capital Ls. Or maybe I just had the letter L on my mind. L as in lipstick. That single initial L written in green ink on a white card. Maybe it had nothing to do with that reddish stain underneath the rug in the Ocean Room. Or the religious medal placed on top of it. And yet I couldn_t shake the feeling that it did. BEATRICE Thorn Bluffs, December 17 Early afternoon I am in my bedroom, and I am still holding the little blade, and I am breathing very hard. But Mary_s voice is soft. Gentling me to do the plan. A shopping bag, Beatrice, she whispers soft, soft. Hurry, Beatrice, go get one. I put the blade back in my pocket. I walk into my closet room and open one of the many doors. There are lots of shopping bags on the floor. I choose one that says NEIMAN MARCUS. It_s shiny and black. It has tissue paper inside it and a sweater all folded up and new. I dump out the sweater and also the tissue paper, and I bring the bag into my big white bathroom. I place it on the floor next to my shower. Outside in the hallway, Braidy Lady is knocking soft on the door. _Mrs. Beatrice? I have your Dr. Brown_s._ Don_t take it, Beatrice. She_s put a witch spell on it. The knocking stops. But I know Braidy Witch is out there. Weaving her spells. Don_t worry about her. Now is the time, Beatrice. Do it now! I take the little knife out again from the pocket of my robe. I toss the robe onto the floor. I step naked inside my shower. I am suddenly screaming so hard inside me, I don_t think I can hold it in much longer. Keep it inside you. Remember the witch at the door. I keep my scream inside. I raise my arm up high over my head. There is hair in my armpit and also on my legs and vagina because they won_t let me have a razor anymore. I place the sharp point of the knife in the hair that grows in the deepest part of my armpit. I am screaming inside. I stick the point in my armpit very hard. I feel the sharp sting. It makes me feel good. THIRTEEN Evan did not return that night or the next. I asked Otis where he_d gone. _LA. He_s got a big-time investor on the hook. A venture capitalist, guy named Dillon Saroyan._ _When will he be back?_ I kept my tone casual. _He did not confide that information to me. He might not even know._ Good, I told myself. His presence had been starting to muddle my thinking. I scoured Beatrice_s books, page by page, searching for other marks she might have made, but there weren_t any. The library in the main house held a collection of art books, and I searched those for Renaissance titles or any that might have belonged to Beatrice. These were mostly on mid-twentieth-century art and architecture, with several on Asian and African art. None had Beatrice_s signature on the flyleaf. None was on Modigliani, either, though he was mentioned as an influence in a couple of the midcentury books. I was strongly tempted to go back to the tower. Get a closer look at that grotesquely mutilated portrait. But I couldn_t risk that road at night with its dangerous proximity to the edge of the bluffs. And during the day, one or the other of the Sandovals seemed always to be watching_like they had the shaman-like ability to be in several different places at once. After four days of Evan_s absence, I had stopped constantly listening for the chop of a returning helicopter. That afternoon, I headed into Carmel to make my long-promised visit to Ella_s gallery. I arrived just before two o_clock. A one-story building awash in flamingo pink on Ocean Avenue. It contained a collection of small galleries, Ella_s marked with a placard: MYSTIC CLAY BY APPOINTMENT ONLY She swung the door open before I could even ring. _Saw you on the camera. I keep the door locked not because of burglars. To discourage the lookie-loos._ She gave one of her brass-bell laughs and ushered me inside. A stark white space lit by rows of dangling incandescent bulbs. The ceramics_vases, bowls, platters, a few fanciful cups and sugar bowls_were displayed on blond wood shelves behind glass. _All my stuff is contemporary,_ Ella said. _No Ming vases, no Wedgwood teapots. None of it is really functional. No practical use except to nourish the spirit._ _I could definitely use some spirit nourishing,_ I said. _I want to look at everything._ _And so you shall._ She began steering me from piece to piece, regaling me with mini lectures on ash glazes and lead glazes, and colorants made of cobalt or copper, and the meaning of multiple firings. Some of the pieces were thick and muddy. Some were delicate, as if spun from the filaments of spiderwebs. One was like nothing I_d ever seen before. A yellow-glazed vase shaped like a Grecian urn and overlaid with a macabre collage. Faded-out sepia photos of Victorian ladies. A woman_s cartoon face with huge lurid lips. A leering, naked old man on a toilet. Vines with peculiar flowers writhed between the images, and banners with strange sayings floated by. _Tell me about this one,_ I said. _Interesting. It_s the same one Beatrice Rochester picked out._ I glanced at her. _Is that the good story?_ _Yep._ She removed the vase from the shelf and placed it on a long viewing table. _It_s by Grayson Perry. He_s British. A cross-dresser, very flamboyant. And brilliant. As you can see._ I peered closer, both captivated and repelled at the same time. _Are those cracks part of the technique?_ _No, they_re part of the story. When we_re done here, I_ll make us tea in the office and tell you._ We moved on to the few remaining pieces, but my mind remained fixed on that peculiar vase. Finally, she led me into her office, a cubbyhole in back. She brewed clove tea in an Iranian samovar. Set out a plate of lacy cookies. _Rose water. I made them myself. Bet you never guessed I was so domestic._ _No, but somehow I_m not surprised._ I bit into a crumbly wafer. _They_re delicious._ She poured out the tea into square cups. I said, _Okay, you_ve got me on the edge of my seat. What happened with the vase?_ She plunked herself into her chair. _Okay. Well. Mrs. Rochester_Beatrice_she showed up here about a year ago. No appointment, but I recognized her in the camera and buzzed her right in. She_d put on weight, but her face, still so beautiful._ I nodded. I could imagine. _I started to give her my standard rap, but she made a beeline for the Grayson Perry. It seemed uncanny. Like it had called to her. And I mean literally called out to her._ I flashed on the rock in the cove. Beatrice talking to it. _She used to hear voices. So maybe it did call to her. In her mind._ _Yeah, I_ve heard she did, so maybe. Anyway, I took it out of the display and put it on the table, and she was, like, enraptured by it. She said, _I_ll take it._ Just like that. I told her the price. Seventy-two grand. I expected her to haggle. They all do, even the richest. Especially the richest._ Her laugh pealed again. _But nope, she just waved her credit card. I was over the moon, of course. But when I ran it, it was refused._ _Maxed out?_ _A black Amex, no limits. It was canceled. Amex told me to cut it up. I told that to her, and she smiled at me in a way that gave me the shudders. And then she turns and starts walking out, and as she passes the table, she knocks off the vase._ _On purpose, you mean?_ _I couldn_t be sure. It broke but, thank God, didn_t shatter. She didn_t stop, just sailed on out the door. I was flipping out. I paged the guard, and then I went outside. The guard was confronting her, and she was starting to get really agitated and yell and scream._ _What did you do?_ _I didn_t know what to do. And then this brand-new Tesla comes cruising up, and Rochester gets out. He had obviously been close by, right?_ My attention was riveted. I nodded. _And Beatrice looks at him with a kind of panic, and . . . well, he snaps his hand around her wrist. Like a handcuff, you know? Like she was his prisoner._ He kept her prisoner. What Rick McAdams had said. And the Semi-regulars had said something like it too. _I told him she broke an expensive vase,_ Ella continued. _He said _Send me the bill._ There was a look in his eyes that scared the shit out of me. But Beatrice had calmed down. Pretty quickly, in fact. He got her into the car and drove away._ _Did you send him the bill?_ _I sure did. For the entire price. He paid up immediately. I contacted him a few times to ask where to send it but never heard back. Finally, I had it restored, and, well . . . there it sits. If he wants it, he can have it. I won_t even charge for the restoration._ _Did Beatrice ever come back here?_ _Nope. I never saw either of them again. But when I heard what happened . . . I felt bad. Like maybe I could have intervened somehow. That it would have made a difference._ _Probably not,_ I said softly. _Yeah, probably not._ She took a sip of tea. _But, hey, I don_t mean to alarm you. I mean, like, scare you off his place. Though I guess you already know he did away with his wife._ I looked at her, startled. _Are you so sure he did?_ _You_re not, huh?_ _My friend Otis who works for him is convinced it was suicide. And there are other possibilities._ _Like what?_ I paused. I didn_t want to believe he was a monster. Or anything close to it. _Maybe she just ran off, for whatever reason. Or maybe she_s still somewhere at Thorn Bluffs. Didn_t you tell me there used to be secret passages in the house?_ _Yeah, according to my ex, Hallie._ _Maybe there still are. Hidden passageways. Or rooms._ _No, I saw the plans for the restoration. Not even a secret broom closet. It was a total gut, and the new place is all open plan and modern. But I get where you_re going. Rochester didn_t kill his wife_he_s still got her shut up somewhere._ She gave a snort. _It wouldn_t surprise me if he had a dozen wives locked up somewhere._ _No,_ I said quickly. _I meant she could be hiding. Just a wild thought._ _It_s a fun idea. But I doubt it. Hallie supervised the construction, she_d have known if there was any conceivable place to hide._ Ella refilled our cups. _Do you want to see the plans?_ _Sure. Do you have them?_ _No, but Hallie probably does. I_ll call her and get her to send you a scan. I_ve thrown a few referrals her way_she owes me._ _Great._ Maybe they_d give some answers. Help me figure out what was reality and what was just my ever-active imagination. The plans arrived via email from the architectural office of Hallie R. Bookman that evening. I scrutinized them carefully. They were exactly like Ella had described_all modern and clean lines. Exactly as the rooms I_d been in so far at Thorn Bluffs all appeared to be. But I_d never been to the top floor where Evan and Beatrice had had separate bedroom suites. Things could be changed after construction, couldn_t they? Rooms rebuilt. Walls moved. I looked up at the sound of a distant rumble outside. It grew quickly to a deafening roar. The chopper returning to the helipad. I felt a quick thrill. How long will it be until I see him? I saved the plans to a file and clicked it shut. The next evening, he was waiting for me in the motor court with Pilot and the two shepherds when I came up to fetch Pilot for his walk. _There you are,_ he said. As if I had obstinately kept him waiting. _Yeah, here I am._ My tone was breezy. But my heart was scudding. Once again, we fell immediately into easy conversation, as if it hadn_t been five days since we last were together but just five hours. I described Sophia_s essay. Her future career as a fashion designer. Doves hatching on Lady Gaga_s hat. _It was truly brilliant,_ I said. _So she_s making improvement?_ _She is, yeah._ _And she_s stopped acting out?_ _Not entirely, no. I think she needs more attention. From you, I mean. You need to spend more time with her._ _Time is the one thing I_m short on right now. When all this is wrapped up, I_ll have plenty of time for Sophia._ _By then she might not have any time for you,_ I said sharply. He narrowed his eyes with irritation. Then gave a relenting grunt. _I_ll have dinner with her tonight. How_s that?_ _It_s a start. A good start if you can keep from answering your phone before dessert._ _Christ,_ he muttered. The dogs had roamed too far out in the brush, and he whistled to herd them back in. A question was forming in my mind. A risky question, but my curiosity was too intense not to try to get an answer to it. I said, _Something has stained the wood flooring in the Ocean Room. I wondered what it was. A refinisher might be able to get it out._ Was it my imagination, or for one brief moment did something dark cross his face? Dark and terrible. But it vanished instantly, if it had been there at all, and he spoke easily. _My wife once threw an open bottle of wine at Raymond Thurkill, who used to be my estate manager. I plan to redo that room. It_s too feminine for my taste. I_ll have the floors refinished then._ Easy answers. I said nothing further about it. But when I parted from Evan in the compound, Rick McAdams_s warning flashed in my mind. You don_t really know who you_re dealing with. And a week later, it became clear to me that I didn_t. FOURTEEN _Where are those blasted girls?_ Otis grumbled. I was sitting beside him in the Explorer, the largest vehicle of the Thorn Bluffs fleet. _I just texted Sophia,_ I said. _They_ll be right out._ It was the Fourth of July. Over a month of my precious three had now flown by. Evan was throwing a fireworks party for his employees, which we were attending, on a beach above Santa Cruz, about seventy miles up the coast. Otis leaned on the horn. Minutes later, Sophia clambered into the back seat, followed by a girl from her tennis clinic, Peyton Dreyer. She_d recently become Sophia_s best friend, and Sophia spent as many overnights at Peyton_s as she could wheedle permission for. They now sported nearly identical outfits_jeans with sparkly heart and kitten patches and splashy cropped jackets. Their eyelids were greased with iridescent blue swoops that reminded me of hummingbird wings. _What do you two have on your eyes?_ Otis said. Peyton issued a do-I-really-have-to-explain-this? sigh. _It_s statement makeup. Because we_re attending an event._ _It_s a statement,_ Sophia echoed. I swiveled. _I think you both look gorgeous._ Sophia beamed. Peyton took it as her due and munched on a strand of hair. She was a year older than Sophia, with a pretty, slightly pushed-in face, half screened by curtains of brown hair. She exuded an attitude of privilege. It made me uneasy to see Sophia copy her. Otis cracked a can of soda. I caught a whiff of cherry. _What_s that?_ I asked. _Dr. Brown_s Black Cherry soda. Diet._ _It_s gross,_ Sophia remarked. _There_s boxes and boxes of it in the pantry._ Otis began to pull out of the compound, steering one-handed. _Beatrice drank it,_ he said. _It disguised the aftertaste of her meds._ _Did you ever bring a glass of it to the tower?_ I asked him. _You kidding? Told you I never go near that place._ _Somebody did. There was a glass with dregs of it._ _Jeez, Jane. Did you go in there? I told you nobody was allowed._ _I almost went in once,_ Sophia put in. _But there was a tarantula climbing up the door, and it freaked me out, so I didn_t._ _You_re making that up,_ Otis said. _We don_t have tarantulas._ _There are totally tarantulas in central California._ Peyton was something of a know-it-all. _Extremely large ones. They_re hairy and have fangs, and the females devour the males after they mate. And sometimes if she doesn_t want to mate with him, she kills him first. Before he can copulate with her. And then she devours him._ _That is so gross,_ Sophia said. _No, it_s not,_ Peyton said haughtily. _It_s just natural._ _Let_s have some music._ Otis began streaming an emo-rock mix to vocal disgust from the back seat. They plugged into their phones and leaned their two heads together, swiping and tapping and giggling. We meandered in heavy holiday traffic up the peninsula coast road. After about an hour and a half, we turned off the highway to a dusty parking area. We tramped down a packed-dirt path to a beach of pebbly brown sand, where a small crowd was already densely encamped on blankets and tarps. Kids raced between the tarps. EDM throbbed from towering speakers. An intern_young, floppy haired, East Indian_corralled us. _I_m Khalim. I_ve been on the lookout for you guys. There_s a space for you reserved down in front._ He led us zigzag through the crowd. I glimpsed Evan, who had come down early in the morning to supervise the setup. He was surrounded by people, with others hovering for their turn. We spread out our tarp on the reserved space. Otis scavenged, returned with a bounty_Cokes, Tecate, ballpark snacks. Sophia and Peyton grabbed Cokes and bags of Wavy Lay_s. We began to get in full party swing. _Hey, there_s Malik!_ Otis waved to a nearby couple with three gangly teenage boys. The dad saluted Otis. I recognized him_Malik Anderson, Evan_s chief lawyer, whose sleek red Porsche coupe was a regular in the motor court. I had exchanged small talk with him from time to time_a charmer with freckled black skin, a buffed bald head, canny dark eyes. Always exquisitely dressed_even the windbreaker he had on now looked bespoke. Peyton and Sophia began to rustle and preen and strum their hair, sidling glances at Malik_s sons. The boys began to roughhouse, fully aware they were being checked out. The girls soon ditched Otis and me to join them. Then Otis sprang up. _I_ll fetch us more eats._ I found myself alone. But not lonely. It was a beautiful evening. The sun was settling plumply on the ocean like a fat orange hen onto a dark nest. There_d be fireworks soon, and I loved fireworks. I felt exquisitely alive, as if I_d had a long illness and was finally coming back to health. I caught a scrap of Evan_s voice and saw him approach Malik_s tarp. He dropped down beside Sophia and Peyton, began talking to them, and whatever he was saying made them preen again and giggle with delight. Sophia said something, and he laughed in that full-throated way that I loved. I felt a warmth pulse through me. He caught my eye and smiled. He gave Sophia_s shoulder an affectionate squeeze, then jumped up and came over to me. _What took you so long?_ he said. _We were just a little late. Sophia and Peyton wanted to look special._ _They succeeded._ He reached for my bottle of Tecate, took a swig. Handed it back. _Sophia_s coming into her looks. She could become a knockout._ _I_m sure of it._ _She_s coming into her brains too. Or at least some of them. I can thank you for that._ I flushed happily. _She just needed a little more confidence. Maybe I_ve helped her get that._ _What do you think of the friend? She seems like a pretty self-possessed kid._ _I_m not sure what I think yet. She_s got a lot of influence with Sophia. It might not be such a good thing._ _If it_s her influence that_s getting Sophia to wear clothes that cover her backside, that_s not a bad thing._ He slouched himself back onto his elbows. He was wearing the black denim jacket he_d tucked over me in the back of Hector_s truck. I remembered the sensation of his body_s warmth seeping through me. I looked away from him, made a pretense of surveying the crowd. _This is a fantastic party. It_s very generous of you to do it._ He made a disparaging sound. _Nothing compared to what I used to do. But next year . . ._ His voice became playful. _Next year I_ll have three times the crowd. Four. I_ll get whoever does the Macy_s fireworks to do them for me. And a top DJ. Or else a live act. Who would you like to hear?_ Did he assume I_d be here a year from now? _Anybody at all?_ I said. _Anybody. I_ll book them._ _Okay, David Bowie, then. Or Prince. Or wait, Aretha. Definitely Aretha._ He stared at me, suddenly not playful. _There_s a lot I can do. But I can_t bring back the dead._ I flushed again, this time deeply. _I_m sorry, that was stupid. I shouldn_t have . . ._ My voice trailed off. He grabbed my Tecate again and drained it. He looked suddenly very happy. _It_s all happening for me, Jane,_ he said. _It_s all finally coming together._ _With your deal, you mean?_ _Yeah, with Genovation. All the financing is clicking into place. It_s been tough. Christ, really tough. I gave them everything they asked for, but they kept wanting more, more. I was damaged goods. I get it. All the damned rumors about me. But now it_s all going to happen._ _So you won_t lose Thorn Bluffs?_ I said. He smiled. _No, I won_t. I came close, though. Very close to losing everything. The jackals were circling. They were just waiting to get to my corpse. But they_re going to be disappointed. I_m going to recoup every nickel I_ve lost and a hell of a lot more._ I diverted my eyes. _That_s good. I_m happy for you._ _Are you?_ he said. That he was about to become preposterously rich? I wasn_t. Not in the least. I looked back at him. _Of course I am. You_ve worked hard and taken risks. I_m happy it_s all paying off for you._ _And what if it had gone the other way? If I_d lost everything, my money, my property? Even my freedom?_ I felt suddenly like a cold shadow had passed through me. Like the shadow of a premonition. As if what he_d described_losing everything, even his freedom_these were things that were actually going to happen. _Would you still stick by me if I went bust?_ he pursued. _Or would you drop me cold and walk away?_ _That_s a ridiculous question,_ I said. _What difference would it make to me if you lost your money?_ _Most of these people here, it would make all the difference. They_d be off in a shot._ _They_re your employees, not your friends. Your real friends would stick by you._ He looked at me intensely. _You are my friend, aren_t you?_ His voice was low. _I think you are._ Just a friend? Was that how he thought of me? Except everything in his eyes, his expression, was telling me differently, that he was as drawn to me as I was to him. Could I be that wrong? Not even the most proficient liar in the world, even a sociopath, could fake that kind of emotion. Could they? He glanced up. Malik Anderson was approaching us. _Hey, Malik. Do you know Jane?_ _Of course I do, the Thorn Bluffs cottage dweller. We_ve met several times._ Malik smiled at me with melting charm. _Enjoying the party?_ _I am, very much._ He said to Evan, _We need to talk a second. I just heard from Saroyan_s people._ Evan leaped up. _Problem?_ _A few issues with the term sheets. Nothing major, but better to deal with them now. There_s good cell reception in the setup tent._ Malik gave me a rueful smile. _Sorry, Jane, I_ll have to steal him away._ _I understand._ I glanced at his family_s tarp. _Where did the kids go?_ _To the grill station to grab some burgers._ I rose to my feet. _I think I_ll go check on them._ _Tell them the show is going to start soon,_ Evan said. _It_s almost dark._ He turned with Malik toward a white flat-topped tent pitched near the water. I began threading through the crowd, running into Otis carrying an overloaded cardboard tray. _Where are you going?_ he said. _I was just bringing us dinner._ _The fireworks are about to start. I_m going to fetch the girls from the grill station._ _Good idea. There_s a lot of weed around._ The music amped up. A Sousa march, all brassy patriotism. A far cry from the Queen of Soul. The crowd stirred in anticipation. I continued on to the grill station set up just past the footpath to the parking area. As I approached the path, a woman heading down from it waved at me. Someone I knew. _Hi, excuse me!_ As she came closer, I realized I didn_t know her; she was a stranger who simply reminded me of someone else. She was dressed more for a cocktail party than a brisk California beach. Sleeveless linen dress with a short skirt. High wedge sandals. The gauzy pale-pink scarf lassoing her neck was for fashion, not warmth. _Excuse me,_ she repeated. _Do you have any idea where I could find Evan Rochester?_ _I was just with him,_ I said. _He was heading to the setup tent._ _Where would that be? I_m in something of a hurry. I_ve got to get to another event in Cupertino._ That explained the cocktail gear. _Keep going toward the water. You_ll see the top of a white pitched tent._ _Are you sure he_s there?_ Her peremptory tone made me take an instant and pronounced dislike to her. _No, I_m not sure,_ I said curtly. _But even if he_s not, he_s pretty easy to spot. He_s tall with dark curly hair . . ._ _I know exactly what he looks like._ There was now a proprietary note to her voice that made me dislike her even more. It didn_t help that she was strikingly lovely. Long limbed. Slender. A cap of shiny dark hair accentuating an oval face and almond-shaped dark eyes. _Good,_ I said. _You_ll have no trouble finding him._ Her face tilted a little. Appraising me. _You_re not with his company, are you?_ _No._ _So who are you with? One of the VCs? Hagersly Brothers?_ _No,_ I said. _I_m just with myself._ She narrowed her eyes, seemingly torn between curiosity and suspicion. The rim of the sun blazed briefly, then blinked out below the horizon, and the breeze coming off the water freshened. She hunched her shoulders in a shiver. _It_s freezing on this beach._ _It usually is at this time of day. It helps to dress for it._ That face tilted again. _Yes. Well, thanks for your help._ She turned away, and as she did, a gust of wind sluiced under her scarf, causing it to flutter high up her long neck. I glimpsed a birthmark on the nape. An ugly birthmark. Large. Reddish purple. Parabolic in shape and slightly puckered. Or no, not a birthmark. More like a scar. Maybe from a burn? She was obviously eager to keep it hidden: she quickly yanked the scarf back over it and knotted the ends more securely, and only then did she continue on into the crowd. I watched her thread her way through the sand with difficulty in those ridiculous heels. Someone shouted her name, and she turned. _Laura,_ it had sounded like. Or it might have been _Lana._ It had been mostly swallowed by the surf. But definitely a name that began with an L. There was a loud sizzling. A white snake writhed up into the sky and exploded into twin white chrysanthemums above the ocean_s black horizon. _Hey, Otis?_ I was the designated driver on the way back. The girls, having gorged on junk food and flirting and illicit gulps of beer, were sound asleep in the back, and Otis was nodding out as well. _Yeah?_ he muttered. _There was a woman who arrived late tonight. In her late twenties, very pretty, short dark hair. She looked dressed for a cocktail party._ _Didn_t notice._ _Her name was something like Laura or Lana. And she_s got a kind of a scar on the back of her neck._ He turned a puzzled face. _What are you talking about?_ _A girl who was looking for Evan. I thought maybe she was the one who had sent him the tulips._ _What tulips?_ _There was a vase of white tulips delivered when Evan was first setting up his office. A large bunch, not open yet. Do you remember?_ _Oh yeah. Were they tulips? I thought they were some kind of lilies._ Then he was asleep, snoring lightly.

  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth /  .   (by Jeff Kinney, 2010) -   The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The
  • Pollyanna /  (Porter, 2014)    Pollyanna /
  • Toy Story /   (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story /
  • Mulan /  (Disney, 2012)    Mulan / (Disney, 2012)

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