Authors: Charlaine Harris
“You'll do that for us?”
“Yes. We need to write a statement. I'll read it on-camera for you. I'll take a few questions from the press, just enough to establish who you are. After that, I think questions will just muddy the water, especially since I won't be able to answer them.”
I looked at Art, perhaps with a certain skepticism; he gave me big hurt eyes. “Harper, you know I wouldn't put you all in a spot hotter than the one you're in already. But we have to set the record straight while we can.”
“You think we're going to be arrested?”
“Not necessarily. I didn't say that. I meant, highly unlikely.” Art was backpedaling to firmer ground. “I'm saying this is our chance to get in our licks with the public, while we can.”
Tolliver looked at Art for a minute. “All right,” he said, when he reached his conclusion. “Art, you stay here while Harper and I go in the other room and write the press statement. Then you can look it over.”
Leaving our lawyer no chance to offer another plan, we retreated to Tolliver's room, with his laptop to act as our secretary.
Tolliver settled at the desk, while I flung myself across the bed. “Dr. Nunley never said anything to you, did he, about Tabitha? When he asked us to come here?” I asked.
“Not a word. I would have told you,” Tolliver said. “He just talked about the old cemetery, about how it would be a
true test, since you really had no idea who was buried there and there was no way you could find out. He wanted to know if you'd be comfortable with that. Of course, he thought I'd make some excuse for you, trying to back out. Nunley was really surprised when I emailed him back, told him to expect us. He'd just had Xylda Bernardo, the psychic. She lives in this area, remember?”
I'd met Xylda once or twice, in the line of duty. “How'd she do?” I asked, out of sheer professional curiosity. Xylda, a colorful woman in her fifties, likes to dress in the traditional stage-gypsy styleâlots of jewelry and scarves, long messy hairâwhich immediately makes people distrust her. But Xylda has a true gift. Unfortunately, like most commercial psychics, she embellishes that nugget of talent with a lot of theatrics and made-up flourishes, which she thinks lend her visions credibility.
Psychicsâhonest psychicsâdo receive a lot of information when they touch something a crime victim owned. The bad part is, quite often they receive information so vague it's almost useless (“The body's buried in the middle of an empty field”), unless you have a good idea what you're looking for to begin with. Even if there are a few psychics who can see a clear picture of, say, the house where a child's being held hostage, unless the psychic can also see the address, and the police find an identifiable suspect lives in that house, the building's appearance is almost irrelevant. There are even some psychics who can achieve all that, but then they have to get the police to believe themâ¦since I've never met a single psychic who was also up on SWAT tactics.
“Oh, according to Nunley, Xylda did her usual,” Tolliver said. “Vague stuff that sounded really good, like âYour grandmother says to look for something unexpected in the attic, something that will make you very happy,' or âBe careful of the dark man who comes unexpectedly, for he is not trustworthy,' and that's flexible enough to cover a lot of circumstances. The members of the class were pretty weirded out, since Xylda insists on touching the people she's reading. The students didn't want Xylda holding their hands. But that's the way it's done; for Xylda, touch is everything. You think she's for real?”
“I think most of what Xylda tells clients is bullshit. But I also think she actually has a few moments when she knows stuff.”
Every now and then, I wonder: if the lightning had hit me a little harder, if I'd gotten a few more voltsâwould I have become able to see
caused the deaths of the people I find? Sometimes I think such a condition would be wonderful, a truly valuable gift. Sometimes it seems like my worst nightmare.
What if the lightning had entered through my foot, or my head, instead of jumping from the sink to the electric hair curler I held in my handsâ¦what would have happened then? I probably wouldn't be around to know. My heart would have stopped for good, instead of for a few seconds. The CPR wouldn't have worked.
By now, Tolliver might be married to some nice girl who liked to be pregnant, the kind of girl who enjoyed going to home decoration parties.
Carrying this stream of supposition to an extreme lengthâif I'd died that day, maybe, somehow, Cameron would not have been on the road on that day at that hour, and she would not have been taken.
It's stupid and profitless, thinking like that, of course. So I don't indulge in it very often. Right at this moment, I needed to force myself to throw off this train of thought. Instead of daydreaming, I needed to concentrate on helping Tolliver compose the press release. What he'd said to Shellie Quail had been the gist of our public policy. We began embroidering on that. It was hard to imagine that anyone would believe us; after all, what were the odds that the same people who had failed to find the body in Nashville would find it in Memphis? But we had to try.
We'd just finished printing out our statement when I had to answer the phone. The manager said, “Ms. Connelly, there are some people down here who want to come up to talk to you and Mr. Lang. Are you receiving guests?”
“Who are they, please?”
“The Morgensterns. And another lady.”
Diane and Joel. My heart sank, but this had to be done. “Yes, send them up, please.”
Tolliver stepped into the living room to update Art while I printed out the statement. Art read it and made a few minor changes while we waited. In two or three minutes a hand rapped on our door.
I took a deep breath and opened it, and received yet another shock in a day that had already been full of them. Detective Lacey had told us Diane was expecting another baby,
but I hadn't gotten a visual with that fact. Seeing her now, there was no mistaking it. Diane Morgenstern was really, really pregnantâseven months along, at the least.
She was still beautiful. Her bitter-chocolate hair was smooth and short, and her big dark eyes owed nothing to makeup. Diane had a small mouth and a small nose. She looked like a really pretty lemur of some kind. Just at the moment, though, her expression was simply blank with shock.
Her husband, Joel, was maybe five foot ten and stocky, powerful looking. He'd been a wrestler in college. I remembered the trophies in his study in their Nashville house. He had light red hair and bright blue eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a square face with a nose like a knife blade. How did all this add to up to a man women could not ignore? I don't have the faintest idea. Joel Morgenstern was the kind of man who focused on the person to whom he was speaking, which might have been the secret of the magnetism he exuded. To Joel's credit, he didn't seem to be aware of this; or maybe he took it so for granted that he didn't even think of the effect he had on women.
In Nashville, even under the circumstances I'd noticed how the female representatives of the media clustered around him. Maybe they'd been thinking the father is always a likely suspect, maybe they'd been trying to pick holes in his story, but they'd hovered around him like hummingbirds at a big red blossom. Not too surprisingly, the police had checked over and over to see if Joel was having an affair. They hadn't found a trace of such a thing; in fact,
everyone who knew Joel commented on how devoted he was to Diane. For that matter, it was universal knowledge how caring he'd been during his first wife's terminal illness.
Maybe because lightning had fried my brain, maybe because my standards of judgment were completely different, Joel just didn't affect me like he did most women.
Felicia Hart, whose sister had been Joel's first wife, trailed in after Diane and Joel. I remembered Felicia from my first encounter with the family. She had been trying hard to be a good aunt to Victor, the son that first marriage had produced. She'd been aware that Victor was a suspect in Tabitha's disappearance, and she'd been at the house constantly, perhaps imagining that the loss of their daughter had meant that Diane and Joel would not be able to focus on Victor's needs and on his legal position.
“You found her,” Joel said, taking my hand and pumping it ferociously. “God bless you, you found her. The medical examiner says there's a long way to go before an official identification, but the dental charts do match. We have to keep this to ourselves, but Dr. Frierson was kind enough to let us know in person. Thank God, we can have some peace.”
This was such a different reaction from the one I'd expected that I was unable to respond. Luckily, Tolliver was more collected.
“Please, Diane, Joel, sit down,” he said. Tolliver is very reverent toward pregnant women.
Diane had always seemed the frailer partner in the couple, even when she wasn't so obviously carrying a child.
“Let me hug you first,” she said in her soft voice, and she
wrapped her arms around me. I felt her distended belly pressing against my flat one, and I felt something wiggle while she was hugging me. After a second, I realized it was the baby, kicking against her stomach. Something deep inside me clenched in a mixture of horror and longing. I let Diane go and backed away, trying to smile at her.
Felicia Hart was no hugger, to my relief. She gave me a firm handshake, though she did put her arms around Tolliver. In fact, she muttered something in his ear. I blinked at that. “Glad to see you,” she said a bit loudly, addressing an area somewhere between us. Felicia was a single woman. I placed her in her early thirties. She had jaw-length glossy brown hair that curved forward, and her expertly cut bangs stayed where they were supposed to be. As a professional woman on her own, she could spend all her money on herself, and her clothes and makeup showed it. If I remembered correctly, Felicia was a financial adviser employed by a national company. Though I hadn't talked to her at any length, I knew Felicia would have to be both intelligent and bold to hold down so responsible a job with such success.
When we were all seated, Joel and Diane on the love seat, Felicia perched on one arm of it by Diane, and Tolliver and I in wing chairs on the other side of the coffee table, with Art settled uncomfortably on a chair set a bit aside, I realized I had to somehow proceed with a conversation.
“I'm so sorry,” I said finally, since that was the truth. “I'm sorry I found her so late, and I'm sorry the circumstances make life even more difficult for you.” It made life a
hell of a lot more difficult for us, too, but this didn't seem like the moment to dwell on it.
“You're right, this doesn't look good for us,” Joel said. He took Diane's hand. “We were already under suspicion. Not Felicia, of course, but Diane and I and Victor, and now thatâ¦” He had trouble going on. “Now that her body has been found hereâof all the places on earthâI think the police are going to decide it was one of us all along. I almost don't blame them. It just looks bad. If I didn't know how much we loved Tabithaâ¦” He sighed heavily. “Maybe they think we conspired together to kill our daughter. They're paid to be suspicious. They can't know it's the last thing in the world we'd do. But as long as they're focusing on us, they won't be looking for the son of a bitch who actually took her.”
“Exactly,” Diane said, and her hand rubbed her stomach in a circular motion. I yanked my gaze away.
“How long have the police suspected you?” Tolliver asked. When we'd been there, Tabitha had been missing for several weeks, and the police hadn't been around so much any more. But we'd been impressed at how cordial the relationship that had formed between Detective Haines, who'd been the Last Man Standing on the case, and the Morgensterns had seemed. I should have realized that the other cops might have developed other suspicions. Haines had actually gotten to know the Morgensterns a lot better than her associates.
“From the get-go,” Joel said, his voice resigned. “After nosing around Vic for a while, they got the idea that Diane was guilty.”
I could almost see why they'd suspect Joel, even Victor. But Diane?
“How could that be?” I said incautiously, and she flushed. “I'm sorry,” I said instantly. “I'm not trying to dredge up bad memories. I was sure, always, that you and Joel were telling the truth.”
“Tabitha and I had a fight that morning,” Diane said. Big fat tears ran down her cheeks. “I was mad because we'd just given her a cell phone for her birthday, and she'd already exceeded her minutes. I took her cell away from her, and then I told her to go outside to water the plants around the front door, just to get her out of the house because I was so angry. She was furious, too. Spring break, and no way to communicate with her three hundred best friends. She was just into that âMo-THER!' stage, the eye-rolling thing.” Diane wiped her face with Joel's handkerchief. “I didn't think we'd get to that until she was fifteen, and here she was, eleven years old, giving me the whole routine.” She smiled in a watery sort of way. “I hated to tell the police about this really trivial conversation, but one of my neighbors overheard us arguing when she came over to ask if we were through with our paper. So then I had to relate the whole thing to the police, and they turned hostile so quickly, as if I'd been withholding important evidence from them!”