Authors: Howard Fast
Tags: #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Psychological, #Mystery & Detective, #Political, #Crime
t seven o'clock in the morning, the June sun, fighting its way through the curtains of Muffy's bedroom, awakened her, as it did every other summer morning. She had long resolved that she would replace the curtains with impenetrable drapes, but as with so many other resolutions, it remained undone. How she envied women who could curl up under the covers until eleven and even noon! The dark mornings of winter made no difference. At 7:00
she was awake, and if she tried to remain in bed, she paid the price of aching limbs.
Mornings were the worst; each morning she faced a long and boring day. Unlike so many of her female friends, she played neither tennis nor golf. She disliked both, after having made a feeble try at both. When her children were young, they were at least a distraction if not entirely a blessing. The long hours she had spent at hockey and soccer games had bored her to tears. Her husbandâher second marriageâwas an investment banker employed by a Swiss bank, and if he was not in Brazil or Taiwan, he was in Switzerland. Her three children came by her first husband, and they were all in college now, spending their summers with her first husband in San Franciso.
In her thoughts, her husband, Martinâor Matt as everyone called himâwas a disaster, visited upon her and to be endured. She had run out of affairs, except for an occasional assignation with a neighbor, one Richard Castle, who also lived in the Back Country of Greenwich, an area north of the Merritt Parkway inhabited by the great houses of Greenwich. She could easily get two million for her own house in today's market and Muffy dreamed about selling it and moving to the East Side of New York, but Matt would have no part of that, even though one of her friendsâone of a number who were real-estate agentsâhad assured her that in another few months the price would go to three million.
Most of her neighbors were involved in charity work of one sort or another, but with Matt's constant anger at the taxes he paid, she felt that the government could afford to take care of charity and that to work for nothing was meaningless. Thus, this beautiful Friday morning offered nothing better than boredom. She could take in a midday movie, but while she did this occasionally, she always confronted the fear that one of her acquaintances might see her sitting alone, a confession of how lonely she was. She might drive into New York, but there were no matinees she desired to see on Friday, and her morning languor resisted the thought of a long drive through traffic.
Another empty hour drifted by when her thoughts were interrupted by the telephone. She didn't rush to pick it up, thinking that it was probably Matt calling from one of the godforsaken places he did his business in. But it was not Matt, but Sally Castle, who lived on the next road.
“I know I shouldn't be calling you now,” Sally said apologetically, “but I know you rise early, don't you?”
“I was awake,” Muffy said evenly, waiting to sharpen or lighten her tone until she found out what this was all about.
“I mean,” Sally went on, still apologetic, “that it's terrible to call you on the same day and invite you to a dinner party, but I know Mart's away on business â¦” Sally's voice trailed off. Sally knew she should have mentioned that she was sure Muffy had another offer or date for this evening, but she didn't know exactly how to put it.
“Did you say a dinner party?” Muffy asked.
“Yes. And I hired Abel Hunt to cook. You know what a wonderful cook he is.”
Of course, Muffy thought. You're a dumb bitch who can't boil an egg properly, from what Richard says; but she said, “Abel Hunt! How delightful! Will Richard be there?”
“I do have another date,” Muffy said regretfully.
“Oh, no. I'm so sorry.”
“But I'm sure I can get out of itâyou know, a sick headache and all that sort of thing. What time?”
“I'm so glad, Muffy. Will seven-thirty be all right?”
Muffy put down the telephone and said aloud, “Well, what do you know! How dumb can a dumb broad be?”
She stripped off her nightgown and stood naked in front of her full-length mirror. Not too bad, she thought. Her breast augmentation of two years past had given her the profile of a twenty-year-old. She was a tall woman, and with a tummy tuck and a lift or two, her forty-five years did not show. She was a good-looking woman, and she decided she would spend the afternoon getting her hair roots done. She was not as pretty as Sally Castle; who was five years younger, but neither had she been bought and paid for.
ister Patricia Brody was plump. A heartless person might well refer to her as being fat. But most people who met her for the first time were taken by her round, pretty face and her open smile. Sister Brody was a missionary nun who had been transferred from Central America to Greenwich, Connecticut, and St. Matthew's Parish some three months before, as it was put to Monsignor Donovan, for rest and recuperationâboth of which she badly needed. Since then, she had gained twelve pounds and prayed daily for forgiveness for dereliction of duty and enjoyment of the peace in a quiet and lovely Connecticut town.
When she spoke of her guilt to her new boss, Father Donovan, a tall, gaunt, and fleshless man, he said sternly, “Guilt, my dear Sister, for something you have not done is totally wasteful. Even though there are no bullet holes in our church and you can walk down the street with no danger of being chopped in two with a machete, there is still useful work to be done. So I suggest that you stop asking for forgiveness, because there is nothing to forgive.”
She recalled that conversation today, on this Friday morning in June, as she tapped on Monsignor Donovan's office door. His door was never locked, but she had never felt privileged to open a door, any door, and walk in.
“Come in, please,” the priest said.
She entered the small, simple room, furnished with a desk, a filing cabinet, and some chairs.
“Sit down, please, Sister.”
She seated herself and folded her hands in her lap, trying to recall whatever she might have done wrong.
“I need a favor from you.”
“Of course,” she said with relief.
“I have an invitation to dinner tonight, a rather unusual invitation. I would like you to accompany me.”
Sister Brody nodded.
“I trust you are in good health and enjoying your work here?”
“Very good health. I've gainedâ” She was going to add the burden of the dismal twelve pounds, but she thought better of it.
“People love you. I think that's the highest mark of achievement.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“I'll be driving thereâit's in what they call the Back Country here in Greenwich. So if you meet me at the front entrance at, say, six forty-five, we'll be there at the proper time, more or less. We can talk about the problem while we drive. It concerns a young woman, and I don't feel I'm equipped to deal with it.”
It was not that Sister Brody was in awe of the monsignor, whom she had come to know rather well, but the situation here was very new to her. Since she saw Father Donovan every day, she considered it somewhat odd that he should ask about her health. She knew that she had a sharp tongue, so his remark about people loving her was obviously meant to say something about the coming evening.
“I'll try to be very diplomatic, whatever it is,” the nun said.
“Pat, that is not what I meant.”
She smiled, and the monsignor shook his head.
“What shall I wear?” she asked.
“Good heavens, I don't know. What you're wearing now. You look fine just as you are.”
“I'll find something.”
“Six forty-five, at the church entrance.”
t had finally stopped raining. Between five and seven inches of rain had fallen in the past six days, depending on which corner of Fairfield County did the measuring; and Herb Greene, sitting in his favorite porch chairâby tacit agreement with his wife, Mary, he did not smoke cigars indoorsâlit his first cigar of the day and prepared to assault the
New York Times
Mary came out to the old-fashioned porch, sniffed, grimaced, and asked why he hadn't saved the cigar for after dinner.
“We agreed on two a day. This is my first. I suggest you look at the cane. You can almost watch it grow. It must grow inches every day. I meant to put a stick in and measure it, but I never got around to that. It's odd that each year there are more and more things that I never get around to. Thank God it's stopped raining. If this were a northeaster, every ten-million-dollar home on the shore would be awash. What's a seven-letter word for
Mary, listening patiently and without irritation, did not bother to point out that he was a professor of linguistics; instead she said shortly, “Willing.”
“I tried that. It doesn't work.”
Mary Greene was a tall, handsome woman. In Herb's mind, it was handsome rather than good-looking or beautiful. Her features were strong and sharp; her mouth wide, full; her hair cropped close; her eyes deep set and brown. She had just turned fifty, her hair beginning to streak gray. She wore jeans and a cotton shirt.
“I'm going to get dressed,” she said. “It's almost six. Do you intend to arrive in blue jeans?”
“Arrive? Arrive where?”
“At the Castles'âfor dinner. Herb, what on earth are you doing? You don't have memory lapses.”
“I thought we discussed that,” he protested. “I said I did not want to socialize with the Castles or have dinner with another damned investment banker or hear anything about bond spreads or IPOs or the price of sowbelliesâ”
“Yes, you said all that. And I said we had to go because I accepted this invitation two weeks ago; and out of love and sympathy for your wife and for the enormous mortgage on the town's new library, you retreated.”
“I retreated. I always do, because I'm a mild and unaggressive manâ”