Read Woman in Red Online

Authors: Eileen Goudge

Woman in Red

Table of Contents
 
 
 
To Sandy.
All my love always.
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul.
 
FROM “AN ESSAY ON MAN,” BY ALEXANDER POPE
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
First and foremost, I would like to thank my publisher, Roger Cooper, at Vanguard Press, for having the vision, not just in striking out into new territory, but in asking me along for the ride. I am forever indebted to you, Roger, for helping me realize my own dream and in encouraging me along the way with your unflagging energy and enthusiasm.
I would also like to thank, as always, my friend and agent, Susan Ginsburg, without whom no book would be possible. Susan, you are the glue that holds it all together.
This book wouldn’t have been as authentic without the people who assisted me in researching it. Thanks to Robin Schwartz, for her invaluable help in the legal department. And to Char Bawden, of Judd Cove Oysters, who in addition to giving me the ins and outs of oyster farming took the time to hand deliver three dozen of the most succulent oysters I’ve ever tasted. Thanks also to Holly King, of the public library on Orcas Island, for picking up the slack, thus allowing me unfettered time to devote to my writing. And, last but not least, a special thanks to Bill and Valerie Anders, for giving me my own moon shot.
PROLOGUE
Nine years ago
 
“All rise!”
A rustle of movement around her, the scrape of chairs and feet. Alice was slower to react, her senses dulled, as if by blunt instrument, by two days of testimony: dry, reasoned discourses on skid patterns, blood-alcohol levels, and degree of vehicular damage in relation to bodily injury, all of which seemed to have as much to do with her son, with David, as a chalk outline on pavement with the living, breathing person brought to such a cruel end.
With her palms flat against its surface as leverage, she pushed herself up from the table at which she sat. Her lawyer, Warren Brockman, shot her a look, his gray eyes kind and concerned, and she nodded almost imperceptibly to let him know she was okay. In fact, she was anything but. The blood was draining from her head, and she felt unsteady, a faint, persistent buzzing in her ears, the muscles in her legs quivering like after a mile run.
Lies!
she had screamed silently as her son’s killer sat up there on the stand, visibly remorseful, as only an innocent man would be—or one who was going out of his way to appear so—giving his distorted version of events. She’d listened and she’d screamed in her head, biting down on the inside of her cheek until it bled to keep her mouth from flying open, her outrage from spewing out into the courtroom.
Now the jury was back with a verdict.
She glanced to her right. Owen White’s attorney, a boxy, graceless woman in an unflattering chartreuse dress, stood beside her client, a hand resting lightly against the small of his back. Her strategy had been to paint
him
as the victim, an innocent man relentlessly hounded by a mother unhinged by grief. He even looked the part: soft and harmless, with his pale, forgettable face and blameless blue eyes, his thinning hair the same flesh tone as his skin, and off-the-rack suit that belied his wealth. He might have been any of the nameless, faceless, middle-aged men you came into contact with out in the world, in banks and insurance offices and rental agencies, the ones who smiled at you and chatted easily as they pushed a form across their desk for you to sign.
On the witness stand, he’d answered her lawyer’s questions in a quiet, respectful tone. She’d detected no gleam of sweat on his brow, and his eyes behind the wire-rim glasses he wore had been clear as a baby’s conscience, only turning sorrowful as they’d come to rest briefly on Alice from time to time, as if he weren’t unsympathetic to her plight.
But she knew the real story. Which was why she’d spent the past eighteen months and nearly all of her and Randy’s savings trying to bring the man responsible for their son’s death to justice.
If only Randy were here now! Her husband had scarcely left her side through the dark tunnel of days following David’s death. But once the criminal investigation had been put to rest, he’d grown increasingly impatient with her as the months had dragged on and her pursuit of justice showed no sign of flagging. When she’d insisted on filing a wrongful death suit, he’d gone along merely to appease her and had attended the subsequent court proceedings only sporadically, using the excuse of not being able to miss any more days of work.
In a way she didn’t blame him. All he had wanted was to mourn their son in peace. Randy wasn’t even convinced they had a case. Wasn’t it possible she’d been mistaken? he’d asked, challenging her. The light would have been fading at that time of day and David was all the way down the block, a distance of at least a hundred yards. A little boy they both knew had been prone to taking risks, he could easily have darted out into the road on his bike, just the way Owen had told it.
But she knew she wasn’t mistaken. And now, suddenly, she found herself despising Randy almost as much as she did the man responsible for all this. Why wasn’t he as outraged as she? What kind of a father would allow his son’s murderer to walk free? Randy’s glaring absence might even have swayed some of the jurors in Owen’s favor. How must it look to them? A crazy lady who couldn’t convince her own husband.
Do I look crazy
? Alice wondered.
No
, she thought, taking a mental inventory of herself. She’d chosen her dark gray suit with the navy piping and a pair of low-heeled navy pumps for today’s court appearance. Her brown hair was pulled back, fastened at the neck with a tortoise-shell
barrette, her only jewelry a simple pearl necklace and the tiny diamond studs in her ears.
Throughout the proceedings she’d been a model of restraint as well, someone of whom her parents could be proud. She hadn’t indulged in any outbursts, and except for the one time she’d wept silently into her hands at the coroner’s description of David’s injuries, she hadn’t given in to tears. It was as if she’d been training all her life for this; it was what she did, what she was good at. Even at the funeral, she had felt it was her job to provide solace to others. Grieving was something you did in private, with a minimum of fuss.
She looked over her shoulder at her parents. Her mother wore a bright, expectant look as she gazed up at the bench, as if confident that the judge, a large, fleshy-faced man now settling into his seat, would make sure the jury did the right thing. Lucy Gordon believed that anything could be overcome with the right attitude. Like when Alice had been little and prone to car sickness; her mother, convinced it was a case of mind over matter, would press her to join in on singalongs and play games like I Spy on long trips to distract her until the nausea passed. (Though, if Alice had managed to keep from throwing up those times, it had had less to do with positive thinking than with a deep-seated terror of making a mess.) Now, with her perpetual schoolgirl’s face, framed by a ruffle of graying auburn hair, tipped up in a firm, fixed smile, Lucy was once again refusing to let pessimism get the upper hand.
In contrast, Alice’s father stood rigidly at Lucy’s side, his austere face frozen in a kind of grimace. Was he angry at her, for putting the family through so much grief? Alice wondered. It was hard to know with her dad. He was a man of few words, an architect whose language was that of line and
space. The only time she’d ever seen him cry was as his grandson’s coffin was being lowered into the ground, and even then she wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t seen the tears leaking from under the dark glasses he’d worn.
Denise, six months pregnant with her second child, stood beside them, a hand resting on the dark head of Alice’s younger son, Jeremy. There were those who might have questioned Alice’s judgment in having her seven-year-old here for the reading of the verdict, she knew, but Alice had felt it was important for Jeremy to be a part of this moment, one that, either way, would define the rest of their lives.
She turned around, focusing now on the ornately framed painting on the wall to the left of the bench to keep her stomach from going into free fall, as the judge banged his gavel and court was called back into session. Ironically, it was a portrait of Owen’s father, Lowell White, who’d donated the land upon which the courthouse sat—a bit of history she hoped hadn’t factored into the jurors’ decision. A handsome, florid-faced man, with thick black brows and dark, wavy hair gone gray at the temples, he bore little resemblance to his son. His eyes seemed to meet hers, dancing with bemusement as if he knew something Alice didn’t, and she was reminded of the unsolved mystery surrounding his disappearance when Owen was a small boy, a mystery, passed from one generation to the next, which had become a part of Grays Island lore.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?” asked the judge.
The foreman, a big man with military-issue hair and a once-muscular physique now going to seed, rose to his feet. “We have, Your Honor.” Like most of the jury, his was a familiar face to Alice, a manager at the bank where she and Randy had an account, someone she might have smiled at
pleasantly in passing and never given a second thought to before this.
The judge instructed the bailiff to bring him the verdict. The foreman handed the folded piece of paper on which it was written to the short, heavy-set man in uniform, who carried it over to the judge. The judge glanced at it, his expression unchanging, before reading it aloud. “We, the jury, find in favor of the respondent.”
The words fell like a blow to some soft, unprotected part of Alice’s body. She felt all the breath go out of her. Black specks swarmed at the periphery of her vision, and for a frightening moment she thought she was going to pass out. Yet she showed no emotion; her face was as smooth as a pane of glass. Her mind, too, was glass, the full impact of those words sliding away like so many raindrops off a windowpane. She thought,
If I stay very, very still, it will be as if none of this ever happened
.

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