Read Grave Surprise Online

Authors: Charlaine Harris

Grave Surprise (5 page)

Of course, to the police, this was important evidence. The fact that Diane couldn't see that only proved what I'd suspected about her when I'd met her: Diane Morgenstern was no rocket scientist. I was willing to bet that she never
read crime fiction, either. If she had, she'd have known that any such revelation would make the police suspicious.

All the incident really proved was that Diane was out of touch with popular culture, in the reading-and-television-watching category.

“When did you move to Memphis?” Tolliver asked.

“About a year ago,” Joel said. “We couldn't wait there, in that house, any longer.” He sat up a little straighter, and as if he were reciting a credo, he said, “We had to accept the fact that our daughter was gone, and we had to leave that house ourselves. It wouldn't be fair to the new family we're starting, to have the baby there. I actually grew up in Memphis, so it felt like coming home, to me. My parents are here. And Felicia was here, along with her parents, my first in-laws. She and Victor are very close, and we figured the move would be a good thing for him. He's had a very tough time.”

So everyone was happy here, except possibly Diane. It hadn't been coming home for her. It had been a move to a strange city that held many memories for her husband, memories of his first wife.

“We'd had a lot of therapy, the whole family,” Diane said softly.

“We all went, Diane and I and Victor,” Joel said. “Even Felicia drove over to Nashville from Memphis to go to some of the sessions.”

I'd been to therapy, too.

The high school guidance counselor had been horrified when Cameron's disappearance had exposed the conditions
under which we lived. “Why didn't you come to me?” she'd asked, more than once. And one time she'd shaken her head and said, “I should have noticed.” I didn't blame her for not noticing; after all, we'd gone to great efforts to conceal our home life, so we could stay together. Maybe a part of me had hoped that our substandard parents would be taken away and we would be given good parents, instead; but that hadn't happened.

“When is the new baby due?” Art asked in the cheerful voice parents used when they weren't going to be having any more babies themselves.

“In five weeks,” Diane said, an involuntary smile curving her lips even under the circumstances. “A healthy boy, the doctor says.”

“That's great,” Tolliver and I said, more or less in unison. I eyed Felicia Hart, who'd risen to stand behind the love seat. Felicia was looking less than ecstatic, perhaps even impatient. Maybe she thought the new baby would mean even more attention was diverted from Victor. It was also possible the childless Felicia was even more creeped out by pregnant women than I was.

“Today, we have to deal with Tabitha,” Diane said, to give us an easement back into the grim reality of the body in the cemetery. “How…you know how she died?”

“She was suffocated,” I said, not knowing any other way to say it. Severely deprived of air? Terminally oxygenless? I wasn't trying to tell myself jokes, but there are only so many ways to talk about the COD of any individual, even a child, especially to the mother.

The couple did their best to take the news on the chin, but Diane couldn't suppress a moan of horror. Felicia looked away, her face a hard mask concealing deep emotion.

There were many worse ways to die, but that would hardly be a consolation. Suffocation was bad enough. “It would be over in seconds,” I said, as gently as I could. “She would be unconscious, after a tiny bit.” This was an exaggeration, but I thought Diane's condition called for as much cushioning as possible. I was terrified that she would go into labor right in front of us.

Art had the strangest expression as he looked at me. It was like he'd never seen me before; like the reality of me, of what I did, had just hit him in the portly belly he carried in front of him like an announcement of his own importance.

“We should call Vic,” Joel said, in his warm voice. “Excuse me for a moment.” He brushed at his eyes and groped in his pocket for his cell phone. Vic, Joel's son by his first marriage, had been a sullen fifteen-year-old at the time of Tabitha's abduction. I'd glimpsed him trying hard to be tough and contained in the face of an overwhelming situation.

Diane, who had seemed very fond of the boy and in fact had largely raised him—she'd married Joel when Victor was very young—said, “If he needs to talk to me, I'm okay,” as Joel rose to walk a few feet away, his back to the room, to punch in the number.

“How's Victor done here in Memphis?” I asked Felicia, just to be saying something. Victor and I had shared a strange moment when I'd been trying to find his half sister. The boy had come into the living room of the Morgenstern
home and begun to curse a blue streak, evidently thinking he was by himself. When I'd moved, he'd clutched me, crying on my shoulder, having to bend a little to do so. People weren't given to touching me, and I'd been startled. But I knew grief, and I knew release, and I'd held him until he was through. When he'd done crying and my blouse was a blotched mess, Victor had drawn back, appalled at his breakdown. Anything I said would have been wrong, so I'd just given him a nod. He'd nodded back, and fled.

Felicia was giving a surprised look. I supposed she was astonished that I remembered Victor at all. “He's done…middling,” she said. “Diane and Joel have sent him to a private school. I help them out a little. He's such a fragile kid, hanging in the balance. At that age, they can go either way, you feel, at any moment. And with this new baby coming…” Her voice trailed off, as if she couldn't imagine how to finish the sentence without criticizing Joel and Diane for their ill-timed fertility.

Joel came back and sat down by his wife, and he was frowning. “Victor isn't holding together very well,” he said to us in general. Diane's face simply looked exhausted, as if she had no energy to spare for maintaining someone else's spirits when her own were so fraught with misery. “He came home from school early, after we called. We didn't want anyone to see it on the news at noon and tell him when they got back to campus,” he explained.

We all nodded wisely, but my mind was on something entirely different.

“We never knew you moved,” I said, wanting to get that
absolutely clear, “so we were astonished when the police said they were contacting you. You don't have anything to do with the faculty at Bingham, do you? You're not an alumna, Diane?”

“No, I went to Vanderbilt, and Joel did, too,” she said, bewildered. “Felicia, didn't you go to Bingham? With David?”

Felicia said, “More years ago than I care to remember. Yes, David was in my class. I don't believe you met him in Nashville, Harper. Joel's brother.”

“Felicia's parents are here in Memphis, too,” Diane said. “They both went to Bingham. And so did Joel's. It was quite a scandal when he decided to go to Vanderbilt. Why are you asking?”

“Just trying to think of some connection between you and the school. Someone put Tabitha's…Tabitha there, and someone made sure we were hired for this job.”

The couple sat and looked at me wide-eyed. I had the uncharitable thought that this increased Diane's resemblance to a lemur. Though the pregnant woman looked as though she were about to bolt, Joel was alert and intense. The man had an overabundance of energy, and it boiled around him, even under these circumstances. Behind them, Felicia was staring at me with an incredulous face.

“Surely it's just a coincidence,” Felicia said, finally, looking at me as though I were delusional. “You don't think…you can't imagine that someone created such an elaborate plot? How could someone have put Tabitha there, and then find you, get you here, make sure you found Tabitha? That's just incredible.”

We all spent a second or two staring at each other. Art was looking from me to Felicia, as if we were playing Ping-Pong.

“I agree,” I said. “But I can't make sense out of any other scenario. Actually, there's not much sense in that one.”

“We have to issue some kind of statement to the press,” Art said, when he realized the conversation had reached a stalemate. “It has to be a statement that treads a fine line. We can't rule anything out, like Diane just did. We can't make any fantastic claims, like Harper did. We have to regret everything and admit nothing about our personal feelings about what might have happened.”

Tolliver was the only one who nodded his head in agreement.

“You know, our own lawyer is downstairs,” Diane murmured.

At the same moment Joel erupted. “No!” he said. “No! We have to condemn whoever did this to our daughter in the strongest possible terms!” Diane and Felicia both nodded their agreement.

“Oh, of course,” Art said. “Naturally, that, too.”

four

WE
turned on the television in the living room of the suite to watch Art meet the news cameras. There were three stations in Memphis, and all three had sent representatives to the press conference, which was held on the sidewalk outside the Cleveland. By that time, the Morgenstern family lawyer, a chic fortyish woman named Blythe Benson, had arrived on the scene. Joel and Diane had told us that Benson had insisted on the Morgenstern family issuing their own separate-but-equal statement. The local lawyer and Art made an impressive duo. Art had that older-man gravitas thing going, and Blythe was cool and blond and WASP-y to the nth degree.

Blythe had consulted with the Morgensterns at their home about what she was going to say on their behalf, Diane told us. Felicia shot me a glance as Diane said this,
and I wondered what was coming. Felicia Hart, as I've said, seemed way smarter than Diane. It made me wonder what Felicia's sister, Joel's first wife, had been like.

Downstairs and outside, Blythe Benson prepared to make the first statement. The family was most important, we had all agreed.

“Diane and Joel Morgenstern are devastated at the news that the body that may be that of their child, Tabitha, has been found in St. Margaret's cemetery. Though closure is something they have sought for many months, Diane and Joel Morgenstern had hoped that closure would come with the return of their living daughter. Instead, they have recovered what may well be her body.” The blonde lawyer paused for effect. The newscasters were fairly quivering with the desire to ask questions, but Blythe plowed on. “The Morgenstern family would like to urge anyone who may have knowledge of the disappearance of Tabitha to come forward at this time. Though the reward for the discovery of her body is most likely out of consideration now, there is still a reward standing for the submission of facts about Tabitha's abduction.”

I wasn't sure what that meant. I hadn't known there was a reward, since we hadn't maintained contact with the Morgensterns (naturally) after our failure to locate their daughter in Nashville.

Thinking that was the end of the statement, I'd turned to look at Tolliver to get his reaction when I heard Blythe Benson's precise voice continue. I looked back at the screen.

“As to what police have termed an ‘amazing coincidence'—that the psychic Diane and Joel Morgenstern hired to find
Tabitha's body actually did find the body, though in a different location…”

She's losing control of that sentence,
I thought.

“The fact remains that there are coincidences in life, and this is one of them. Diane and Joel Morgenstern did not hire Harper Connelly to come to Memphis. They have not seen her or her manager since Miss Connelly arrived in Memphis. They did not know that Miss Connelly was scheduled to give a demonstration at the old cemetery of St. Margaret's this morning. Neither of the Morgensterns attended Bingham College. Neither has ever been connected with the college department that arranged Harper Connelly's visit to St. Margaret's cemetery. In fact, no member of the Morgenstern family has contacted Harper Connelly or her brother and manager, Tolliver Lang, since her unsuccessful attempt to find Tabitha over eighteen months ago. Thank you.”

Though Art hadn't moved physically, the cameras caught him staring at Blythe Benson as though she'd just sprouted horns, and I didn't blame him for the look.

Just for openers, Benson's voice had emphasized “psychic” and “giving a demonstration” as if they were words for something far nastier and more disreputable. Then she'd gone on to sever her clients from us in every possible way. She'd all but said we were implicated somehow in the death of the girl.

We'd been hung out to dry.

As one, Tolliver and I turned to look at the couple on the couch. The Morgensterns seemed oblivious to the
implications of the speech Blythe Benson had just read. They were staring at the television, waiting for Art's speech, in a kind of numb silence. Behind them, Felicia gave us a significant look that meant, “Ha! I told you so!” I exchanged a look with Tolliver, a look of sheer incredulity. He half-opened his mouth, and I reached over to touch his arm. “Not now,” I said, very quietly.

I wasn't sure why I chose to be quiet, rather than confront Joel and Diane. God knows, even Diane was smart enough to realize that they'd just dumped us publicly, while sitting in our very own (temporarily) living room. They'd said, in effect, “Whatever these people claim, we're not responsible for it. We don't know them, we haven't seen them, we'd never collaborate with them, and they failed the first time we asked them to find our child.”

Art took his place before the microphones. It's just strange seeing someone you know on television, not that it's an experience I've had often. The fact that the person who was just in the room with you is now on-camera, for the moment an icon, is weird and unsettling. It's as if they've become translated by the screen into another being—someone less flawed and more knowledgeable, someone smoother and smarter.

Art had our statement, the one Tolliver and I had written, but he was doing yet another rewrite in his head at just this minute; a hasty and public one. I could see it in the long downward focus of his eyes before he began speaking.

“My client, Harper Connelly, is astounded and grieved by the events of the day. At this moment Ms. Connelly is
with Tabitha's parents, who came here to thank Harper, from their hearts, for her part in the discovery of a body we believe to be that of their missing daughter.”

Ha! Ball in your court, Blythe!

“Ms. Connelly is deeply saddened by the tragic end to her search for Tabitha Morgenstern. Though she did not maintain any contact whatsoever with the family during the months since her original employment, and though she had no knowledge that the Morgenstern family had moved to Memphis, Ms. Connelly is glad that circumstances brought about the discovery of the long-lost child the Morgensterns have been seeking. Perhaps, thanks to my client, the Morgensterns' long time of uncertainty has come to an end.”

“When will Harper Connelly meet with us?” said a reporter, in a voice that was not awfully loud, but extremely piercing.

Art gave the reporter a wonderful look; it combined reproof with resignation. “Ms. Connelly does not talk to reporters,” he said, as if that were a well-known fact. “Ms. Connelly lives a very private life.”

“Is it true…” began a familiar voice, and the camera swung around to frame the shining Shellie Quail.

“For God's sake,” I said. “She's everywhere.”

Tolliver smiled. He thought the reporter's doggedness was a little funny, maybe even admirable.

“…that Miss Connelly charges a fee for finding bodies?”

“Ms. Connelly is a professional woman with an unusual gift,” Art said. “She does not like to be in the spotlight of media attention, something she has never sought.”

That's true enough,
I thought.
Evasive, but true.

“Is it true that your client will be claiming the reward for finding Tabitha's body?” asked Shellie Quail, and Tolliver's smile vanished in the blink of my eye.

“That's not a subject we've discussed,” Art concluded. “I have no more to say at this time. Thank you for coming.” And he turned to pace back inside the Cleveland's front door. The Morgensterns' lawyer was nowhere to be seen. Blythe Benson had slipped away in the preceding moments, apparently.

I hoped she didn't plan on coming up to the suite.

The cameras cut back to the scheduled program, and in a moment Art returned to the room, in actual reality. Again, I felt that curious jolt.

“That went well,” Joel said without a touch of irony. Tolliver and I had to struggle to keep our faces neutral. “And of course, you'll get the reward.” Joel got up, checked his watch. “Diane, we have to get home. We have people to call. I wonder how long it will take for them to be sure they've got…Tabitha's remains. When we can have them.”

Felicia picked up her purse and Diane's, ready to help the pregnant woman return to their car.

With a heave, Diane got to her feet. She was absently rubbing her hand across her gravid stomach, as if to keep its contents calm. I remembered my own mother's pregnancies with Mariella and Gracie. I also couldn't help recalling
Rosemary's Baby
; Tolliver and I had watched it the week before on an old-movie channel.

“Thanks, Felicia,” Diane said.

“Let us know how Victor's doing,” Tolliver asked out of the clear blue sky.

“What?” Felicia turned, and her eyes pinned Tolliver to the wall. “Why, of course.” There was a bite to her voice that I simply didn't understand. I looked from her to Tolliver, but didn't get an explanation.

“This has been harder on Victor than just about anyone,” Joel said. “Kids can be so cruel.”

“Victor's what, now? Sixteen?” I asked brightly, trying to ease the atmosphere. I don't know why. I should have stood in absolute silence until the party left.

“He's just turned seventeen,” Diane said. Suddenly her face lost its Madonna-like sweetness. She had struck me, even when I'd first met her after the abduction, as a woman fed up to the teeth with her stepson's moody teenage behavior, and now her jaw had a certain set that gave her simple words a real edge. “I love that boy, but everything they say about teenagers is true, as far as Vic's concerned: he's been secretive and sullen or talking back for the past three years. When Tabitha began to show signs she was entering the same phase, I just wasn't ready for it. I overreacted.”

Victor had been a spotty—but athletic and attractive—boy eighteen months before. I remembered him always skulking on the edge of any group of adults in the Morgenstern home, his face tight with suppressed—rage? Fear? I hoped for the boy's sake that his complexion and his attitude had cleared up now. I was willing to believe Victor had feelings and thoughts
that were complicated and dealt with something besides himself, but only because I tried to believe that of all people.

“How can you say that, Diane?” Felicia asked, but without much real indignation. “He's been yours since he was a baby. You have to love him, like I do.”

“I do love him,” Diane said, sounding as surprised as an emotionally exhausted pregnant woman can. “I've always loved him, at first for his mother's sake, but then because I raised him as my son. You, of all people, should know that. Even if he were my own biological child, I'd be having a hard time with him right now. It's not him, it's his stage of life.”

“He doesn't like school here very much,” Joel said. He sounded just as tired as his wife, as if dealing with Victor wore him out. “But he's great on the tennis team.”

“Poor Victor,” my brother said, somewhat to my surprise.

“Yes, the whole thing's been very hard on him, too,” Joel said. “Of course, he was sure he was going to be arrested and executed instantly, the drastic way teenagers decide things, when the police questioned him very…persistently.”

“They thought he might resent his little sister, the attention she got as the child of the second marriage.” Then Diane went absolutely still, and I had a moment of panic, thinking something was happening with the baby. But it was just one of the moments when anguish comes sweeping down like an eagle from the air, to tear at you with cruel talons.

“Oh, Tabitha,” Diane said, in a low voice that contained profound grief. “Oh, my girl.” Large tears began to roll from her beautiful dark eyes.

Her husband put his arm around her and together they
left to return to their new home. Felicia trailed after them, her face heavy with unhappiness.

I looked at the closed door a few minutes after they'd passed through it. I wondered if the baby's room was ready yet. I wondered what they'd done with all Tabitha's things.

With their departure, the tension eased out of the room. Art, Tolliver, and I looked at each other with some relief.

“That's great news, about the reward. Last I heard, it was up to twenty-five thousand dollars. Before taxes, of course.” Art was reviewing the afternoon mentally, I could tell from the way he was drumming his fingers on the occasional table. “I'm glad I went second, after all,” Art said next. “I've heard of Blythe Benson. She said a few things I took issue with.”

“Yeah, we noticed.” Tolliver got a crossword puzzle book out of his laptop bag and began rummaging around in the bottom of the pocket for his pencil.

Art looked irritated. “You think I could have handled it differently, Tolliver, you say so.”

Tolliver looked up, apparently surprised. “No, Art, no problem. You, Harper?”

“I noticed you didn't say Tolliver was your client, too, Art,” I said.

Art did his best to seem surprised; though I thought his only real surprise was that we'd noticed the omission. “Tolliver's name hadn't been brought into the mix at that point, I was just trying to keep it that way,” he said. “You want me to call all the reporters and correct myself?”

“No, Art, that's fine,” I said. “Just, for future reference, be more thorough and include that little detail.”

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