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Maybe the use of the word "bigamy" is a little extreme but my mother is still married to my father. The fact that she was having a commitment ceremony rather than a wedding is neither here nor there. Actually it's on the end of Long Island, New York, where I found myself heading on a humid September afternoon the week after Labor Day.
"What's a commitment ceremony?" I asked her and by way of response she thrust a copy of the New York Times Style section into my hands.
"Here's where I got the idea," she said. "Look in the back. You'll see loads of them."
I glanced through the announcements of marriages that had taken place, complete with photos of couples smiling at the camera. And every now and then I read about a couple that had not married but who had instead affirmed their partnership. I couldn't help noticing that all these couples were gay.
My mother and I are British but the man with whom she intended to affirm her partnership was an American called Philip Abernathy, whom she had known for all of six months. She was committing to Philip and his portfolio of several billion dollars-I dubbed him the Phillionaire before I'd even met him-barely a year after my father had left her for a French divorcée of whom, Imight add, he had quickly tired. Now he wanted my mother back. But after an initial bout of understandable depression she had surprised us all by plunging cheerfully into midlife sexual freedom with a string of aging lotharios. These days the last thing she was interested in was a reunion with my father.
I was traveling in the Phillionaire's helicopter to the Hamptons where the ceremony was to take place. But instead of looking down at the breathtaking view below me of the breakers rolling in across the Atlantic onto a seemingly endless stretch of beach, I was sitting rigid with fear. My eyes were tight shut and my arms were wrapped around my body in what I called my security hug. The noise was deafening, otherwise I would have shouted to the pilot: Can't you see? We're flying much too low. The ground's rushing up to meet us. We're going to crash at any minute. I want OUT! Okay, I'm a big wimp, I'll admit it, but I'm scared of flying and the closest I'd ever imagined getting to a helicopter was watching Apocalypse Now. On television, so I could turn the sound down when it got too scary.
On our arrival at East Hampton Airport the weather gave no indication that the day would end in tragedy, that somewhere out in the warm, inviting waters a body was drifting slowly toward the shore. It was a glorious day, the brilliant sunshine giving everything the kind of hazy gloss that fools you into thinking the quality of your life has been raised a couple of notches. And God knows, mine certainly had and I knew I should stop delving into the negative and get with the program. The Phillionaire had sent his stretch to meet me and it was parked at an angle just a short walk across the tarmac, with a chauffeur holding open the door. This was my mother's new American life, I realized with a jolt. I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that the new man in her life was seriously rich.
The Phillionaire's house at the beach was a surprise. If there was anywhere a person had a chance to be conspicuous with their wealth, it was the Hamptons, but Phil's house turned out to be north of Montauk Highway-not fashionable with the ostentatious set. Its waterfront location was not the ocean or Georgica Pond but the bay side of Napeague, midway between the Devon Yacht Club and the Cranberry Hole Road fish farm.
It was an ugly house, a complete mishmash of styles. The main part was stucco fronted by a rather formal colonnade. It had the whole bit: sweeping circular driveway, manicured lawn, shuttered windows, balconies, turrets, a wraparound veranda with deck chairs that looked like relics from the 1920s. It's a mausoleum, I thought, wondering how my mother would survive in such a miserable-looking place.
I was about go inside when my mother came roaring up the drive at terrifying speed, sitting bolt upright in a little Jeep with a line of fishing rods in holders attached to the hood. They were swaying from side to side in such a violent fashion I thought they might snap at any moment.
"Darling!" she cried leaping out of the Jeep and coming toward me. My mother always greeted me as though she were about to fling her arms around me and I fell for it every time. I moved toward her, my own arms outstretched, but at the last minute she evaded me as she always did, stepping away and leaving me flapping at her in a bereft and clumsy fashion. I could count on one hand the number of times she had actually allowed me to embrace her. After almost forty years of being her daughter I'd finally accepted that while she clearly had a problem showing it, she really did love me. Up until very recently I'd imagined that I was a real disappointment to her. I was convinced that she would have preferred a wildly gregarious creature like herself for a daughter, someone who had married in their twenties and given her a brood of grandchildren to chase after and use up some of her seemingly inexhaustible energy. Someone like me, who actually chose to live alone and spend more time at home than going out on the razzle, was an alien to her. Nor did she understand my choice of career as a writer. To lock yourself away in a room and write for hours on end was incomprehensible to someone who had spent years as a high-profile ad executive. But when my father deserted her, after she had given it all up to accommodate his desire to go and bury himself in the French countryside, her vulnerable side had surfaced and I was there for her. It had taken the disintegration of my parents' marriage for the two of us to draw a little closer to each other but I was thankful for at least that one small mercy.
Now she stood before me, her skin pinpricked with beads of sweat, dressed in some kind of expensive gym gear-sleeveless tee, skintight spandex cycling shorts, and her new snow-white urchin cut half hidden by a sweatband. And she looked fabulous. She had always been stick thin but the rather hunched and scrawny demeanor of her depressed state following my father's departure had been replaced by a distinct firmness, slender thighs, and none of that underarm flab that is the hallmark of most middle-aged women. And yet, at sixty-two, could she even still be considered middle-aged? Was I not looking at someone bordering on an old-aged phenomenon?
Then it suddenly dawned on me. I'd been too jet-lagged to notice before but now I understood. She'd had work done-quite a lot of it by the looks of things. And there was something about her teeth-were they not considerably whiter than they had been? That's what all these trips to America had been about. Each time she'd come back to London looking glowing and rejuvenated and I'd put it all down to meeting the Phillionaire (at the bar in the British Airways first-class lounge at Heathrow-his Gulfstream was getting its cabin redecorated or something). But then why had she been going to America in the first place? She'd been pretty secretive about it all and again I'd assumed she didn't want to reveal his existence until she was sure the relationship was going somewhere. But maybe she'd met Phil much later than she'd said, after she'd had the work done? Indeed, maybe her makeover had resulted in him noticing her in the first place. I took a step forward and peered at her, trying to figure out exactly what she'd had done.
"Best not to get too close to me," she said quickly, backing away again. "I stink a bit. I've just spent an hour running along the ocean. Now I've got a ton of things to do so I'm going to leave you to find your room on your own. It's up the main staircase, turn left, and go all the way along to the end. It's the door on the right and you'll have a view of the bay."
I looked around for my bag but it was already being whisked inside by one of the posse of servants hovering on the doorstep. And then out of their midst emerged the Phillionaire.
"There you are," he said and engulfed me in a welcoming embrace that made up for my mother's pretend version. Even though his tall slim frame was encased in casual beachwear with an old straw hat perched on the back of his head, he still managed to look as distinguished as he did in the elegant tailored suits he wore in the city. If I'd ever been asked to guess his profession from his appearance I'd have said "Latin American diplomat" right away. He was always so impeccably dressed that I retained the fantasy that he kept a tiny Lilliputian tailor in his pocket at all times, ready to climb out and attend to his sartorial needs.
I followed him into the house under the ugly stone portico and let out an involuntary shudder as I noted the gloomy predominance of wood paneling. I had the sense that dust sheets had been whipped from the furniture only seconds before we arrived. It didn't say beach house; it said wealthy Long Island mansion suitable for resale as a retirement home.
"Your mother loathes this place," he said, noting the look of horror I was unable to disguise. "It's been in my wife's family for years." He explained, "She inherited it but we both felt it was a bit like being in a mausoleum at the beach. Still when my boys came along we made good use of it for summers out here. But your mother hates it."
"Oh, I'm sure she doesn't," I said quickly, cringing at the thought of what my mother must have said about it. Had she hurt his feelings?
"It's understandable," said Phil, "it was my wife's. Your mother wants us to start afresh. She wants to oversee the installation of a brand-new home so I'm building something totally modern along the bay. It'll be steel and glass and minimalist, nothing like this except that it'll have the same spectacular view."
"Do you own the whole bay?" I asked him, not entirely joking.
"Not quite but I wish I did. I bought up as much as I could on either side of my wife's house, probably around eleven acres. Paid under ten million dollars quite a few years ago, a real steal. It's my favorite area around here because you can keep a low profile. I never say I have a place in the Hamptons, because I don't. This whole area is a kind of no-man's-land. In fact it's called Promised Land and it's pretty far removed from the dreadful scene that goes on in East Hampton all summer. The only bit of fancy action is at the Devon Yacht Club over there." He pointed to a cluster of buildings with a flagpole and a jetty in front at the far end of the bay. "In the old days they said that if the wind was blowing the wrong way, the snooty crowd at Devon complained about the stench of the fish factory right here at Promised Land. The fish used to be shipped straight to the Fulton market in the city; you can see the remains of the railroad running through the dunes. I remember the bunker operation they had here. It was shut down in 1968. Now there's a fish farm on the same site, see? Over there?
"Oh yes," he sighed, "those were the days. All I do out here now is go for long walks along the beach and take my boat out in the bay to fish. Don't catch much besides blues but I'm never happier. I've told your mother, if she wants to go rushing off to the Hampton Classic horse show and all those fancy parties and benefits, she's going to have to do it without me. I get enough of that in the city. This commitment ceremony's the only event in which I'm going to participate. After that she's on her own." He put his arm through mine. "Come on, let's go down to the beach and see what she's up to."
My mother had called in a ton of markers from her advertising days to plan her waterfront ceremony, roping in all her former Madison Avenue contacts, and preparations were already in full flight for the ceremony that would take place at the end of the day. A team of stylists with whom she had worked on commercials was in the process of transforming the beach. They were raking sand, picking up litter, and setting out rows of white church-supper chairs with an aisle in the middle leading to a bamboo archway that had been draped with white tulle. Here my mother and the Phillionaire would exchange their vows at sunset. Tall zinc planters bearing a variety of ornamental grasses were being carried out and placed along the edge of the dunes. Tents were being erected on the lawns, tables were being laid for the dinner following the ceremony. Giant seashells formed the centerpiece of each table.
"Total waste of time." A man had appeared at Phil's side.
I noticed the Phillionaire didn't even turn to look at him.
"Lee, this is my son, Scott. Scott, this is Lee, Vanessa's daughter. Flown over from London."
My mother had told me about Phil's sons by his late wife. Scott, the elder, was an orthopedic surgeon with a thriving practice in East Hampton. He looked a lot like the Phillionaire only he had more hair, spiky black tufts of it sticking straight up. But he wasn't distinguished like his father. Far from it. He had the same long legs but he was even thinner than Phil and it gave him a mean look. He had a hooked nose where Phil's was straight and a curious habit of hunching up his shoulders almost to his earlobes, and then suddenly relaxing them in a jerky movement.
"Pleased to meet you, heard a lot about you." He said it very fast, making it obvious he wasn't and he hadn't. "Waste of time putting up all this stuff. We're going to get another bad storm in a few hours and it's going to blow it all away."
What was he talking about? There was no sign of a storm. I looked up at the royal blue sky and the sun beating down. There was a slight breeze but it was so gentle that it didn't even disturb the rose petals that were now being strewn between the chairs and along the sandy aisle.
"Well, don't tell Vanessa," said Phil, "she'll be devastated. I heard there was a storm coming up the eastern seaboard but I thought it was going to blow itself out over the Atlantic."
"Oh, I already did," said Scott, "and she was. A beach ceremony after Labor Day, what does she expect?"
I think that was when I had my first ominous feeling that there was something sinister lurking beneath the idyllic surface of the day. But I dismissed it quickly. I've always had a curious belief that mayhem is just around the corner waiting for me. Imagining myself being sucked out to sea in a tidal wave just because someone had mentioned the word "storm" was a pointless exercise. I wouldn't give it another thought and besides, I really resented the way Scott was pouring cold water on my mother's excitement.
Except he turned out to be right.
By early afternoon torrential rain was pelting down, the wind raged, and occasional gusts of up to sixty miles an hour raced along the beach, tossing the white supper chairs in the air, dismantling the bamboo arch and carrying it and the uprooted tents out to sea. It flared up so suddenly, only one or two of the table arrangements were saved. It was all over within a couple of hours but the damage had been done.
I found my mother standing alone at one of the upstairs windows and I could see there were tears in her eyes. I went to put my arm around her shoulders, searching desperately for words of comfort.
But as usual she didn't need them. She shrugged my arm off with an imperceptible movement and clapped her hands together.
"Right," she said and though her eyes were bright, her voice was strong and determined. "Slight change of plan. We can't cancel at this late stage. Most of our guests will have traveled a fair distance to the East End of Long Island and we mustn't disappoint them. We'll just have to go ahead without the props."
Excerpted from How To Marry A Ghost by Hope McIntyre Copyright © 2007 by Caroline Upcher. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 15, 2007
Ghost writer Lee Bartholomew is on Long Island, NY, to attend the commitment ceremony between her mother and American billionaire Phil 'Phillionaire' Abernathy. They can't get married because her mother is still married to her father. While there, Lee plans to interview secluded rock star legend Shotgun Marriot. Unfortunately her ghostwriting rival Bettina Pleshette had the same idea. Marriot's son washes up on shore during the ceremony wearing a wedding dress. He's been murdered. Soon after, Bettina is also found murdered. Marriot is one of the prime suspects. As Lee begins interviewing Marriot, she also begins investigating who could have killed both of these people. She doesn't believe Marriot is guilty. Can she uncover the truth without putting herself in grave danger? This is the first in this series that I have read. I really enjoyed Lee. I also enjoyed the Long Island residents she interacted with. I would love to see them in future books. I thought the author did a great job of creating a believable scenario and helping us uncover the clues along with the protagonist. The author's humor made this cozy mystery an enjoyable read. I highly recommend this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
English ghostwriter Lee Bartholomew travels from London to the Hamptons in Long Island as the Maid of Honor at her mother¿s commitment ceremony to her partner American billionaire Philip ¿Phillionaire¿ Abernathy. Mom got the idea from the wedding section of the New York Times where gay couples, unable to legally marry because of sacred law sanctioning divorces between a man and a woman, announce their relationship. Of course mom is heterosexual but she still is married to Lee¿s dad (bigamy being another sacred anti-sanctioning law). Lee figures while helicopter flying amidst the rich and famous, she plans to interview secluded rock legend Shotgun Marriot ghostwriting rival Bettina Pleshette plots to do so also. However, Marriot's son and soon afterward Pleshette are found dead, apparently murdered. The attendees at the ceremony of Hope¿s mother and those living at the Marriot estate are the prime suspects. Knowing she now needs to mind her business and work with a new odd client Miss Haverstram, Hope inadvertently finds herself investigating the case. --- Crossing the Atlantic HOW TO MARRY A GHOST, the sequel to the witty amateur sleuth, HOW TO SEDUCE A GHOST, is an amusing intelligent cozy that will hook readers even before the first corpse washes onto the beach. Lee is terrific with her ironic assessments of relationships and the law before she gets involved in the homicides and with Miss Haverstram¿s familiar sounding manuscript. Readers will enjoy Lee¿s antics as she tries to solve the murders whodunit murders and the manuscript mystery before returning across the pond. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2009
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