Read an Excerpt
A Vince Cardozo Mystery
By Edward Stewart
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Edward Stewart
All rights reserved.
The darkness was charged with an unfamiliar silence. In some way that Babe couldn't quite define, it felt different from the dark she had fallen asleep in.
She couldn't hear Scottie breathing beside her. She couldn't smell him, couldn't sense his weight and warmth. She turned her head.
Tried to turn her head.
The movement took unexpected effort, as though she had to push through masses of jelly.
Puzzlement went through her. It wasn't her pillow—not her goose down pillow from Altman's, freshly scented with jasmine potpourri. This pillow smelled of nothing, it had an almost aseptic absence of smell, like air-conditioned air.
And now a second puzzlement.
She couldn't see Scottie in his place beside her. There was no outline, no familiar silhouette. She reached a hand.
Tried to reach.
The hand had to crawl, finger by finger. It seemed to her that the sheet felt rougher than the combed cotton she had gone to sleep on. A dull pain went up her arm, lodging in her elbow and shoulder. She reached through the pain.
Her hand met emptiness.
She stilled a twinge of panic, told herself to think this through. Scottie had to be in the bathroom—or in his dressing room—or maybe downstairs, locking up.
Of course. Banks and Mrs. Banks would have gone to bed long ago. Scottie would be locking up.
As she lay waiting for him, she remembered the party of only a few hours ago. The champagne, the laughter, the three hundred guests. The dinner, the dancing, the drinking—far too much drinking. Calling it a day at two A.M., tumbling into a limo with Scottie. The two of them staggering arm in arm to the front door—dropping the keys—laughing—
And then ...?
There was a blank where the next image should have been.
Babe was aware of strange skittering sounds, voices muffled through walls. Her eyes were beginning to adjust. She lifted her head—again, a simple movement that was usually automatic took astonishing concentration.
The darkness had the wrong shape. A curtain was pulsing dimly in a space where her bedroom had no window. A floor-level night-light that she had never seen before squeezed a tiny beam through the darkness.
She blinked, trying to make out the clock on the bedside table. The shining roman numerals were nowhere to be found. Mrs. Banks must have tidied and left the clock behind the telephone.
Babe reached toward the space where the bedside table should have been. It felt as though elastic straps were holding her arm down to the mattress.
Her fingers dislodged something solid. Glass shattered on the floor.
There was an approaching patter of heels. A door swung inward, spilling a wedge of dim light into the room. Through the opening something blurred but solid passed. It had a woman's face.
The woman glided through the dimness with the calm authority of a housekeeper. She leaned over the bed.
Babe had never seen the woman before.
I'm still dreaming, she told herself. This is one of those dreams-within-a-dream ... If I concentrate I'll wake up ...
The woman was playing the beam of a penlight across Babe's face.
Wake up Babe, count ten and wake up ...
Babe clenched her eyes shut and opened them again.
The woman was still there. She was wearing a nurse's cap. Everything about her seemed plump: the shape of her face, her arms and bust, and especially her eyes. Large and warm, ringed with dark lashes, they were studying Babe with a curious remoteness—as if Babe were a picture in a magazine.
"Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my bedroom?" Babe said.
Tried to say. To her surprise, she had to push the words out of her throat.
The muscles of the woman's face jerked into a knot. Her hands scrabbled beside the bed, and the room was flooded in light.
The first thing Babe saw clearly was a call-button cord swaying eight inches from her face. It was hanging from the rung of a metal retainer that enclosed her like a rabbit cage.
Gradually, the space beyond the cage came into focus: not the soft peach tones of her hand-blocked silk walls, but a low-gloss, institutional white.
A man hurried into the room.
"She talked!" the nurse said breathlessly.
The man came around to the bed. A name tag angled carelessly across his breast pocket said Dr. H. Rivas. "Can you hear me?" he asked.
Babe said, "I hear you."
He pulled back. "Do you know who you are?"
"I'm Babe Vanderwalk Devens and I'd like to know who you two jokers are."
Confusion flickered in his eyes. "I'm Doctor Harry Rivas. And this is nurse Emmajean Deely."
"Whose nurse is she?"
"She's your nurse."
"And you're my doctor?"
"I'm the night intern. Dr. Corey is your neurologist. He'll be here as soon as we notify him."
"Notify him of what? What do I need a neurologist for?"
Dr. Rivas glanced at nurse Deely. "You had an accident."
"What kind of accident?"
"Don't worry about that now. You're going to be fine."
"This is a dream."
The doctor glanced at the nurse.
"You're not real!" Babe screamed.
The nurse's hand took firm hold of Babe's shoulder. Babe stared in surprise at the clear polished nails and the wedding band: it was a real hand, strong and warm, really pressing into her flesh.
Deftly and quickly, the young doctor slipped a needle into Babe's upper arm.
The pricking was real too.
Babe was sitting up in the hospital bed, trembling but awake, when a swarthy male nurse brought in her lunch tray.
"Nice to see you up, Mrs. Devens." The man moved the wheelchair away from the bed—Babe's one effort to get to the john on her own had been a disaster—and then he slid the tray onto the hospital table. "Enjoy."
She studied the meal—a bowl of anonymous yellow soup and a mysterious compote that resembled fruit.
She became aware of a woman studying her from across the room. The woman was trim and wavy blond and childishly sexy in her not very well closed white hospital smock. There was a soft slow something in the woman's glance that made Babe stare back.
Babe raised her hand and the woman raised hers at the same instant. With a start Babe recognized herself in the dresser mirror. Her face was pale and hollowed and there were dark lines under her eyes. A disturbing sense of unreality rushed in on her.
"My hair's different," she said.
"People have been moving you around," the nurse said. "Hair gets mussed up."
"It's shorter," Babe said. "Did they operate on my head?"
"Don't be silly."
"How long have I been here?"
The nurse came across the room and spoke gently. "Here. Let me." She took the spoon and dipped it into the soup bowl.
Babe watched the plump hands, wide and strong.
"Needing a nurse to spoonfeed me my soup—I'm not that helpless."
"Think you can feed yourself?"
"I'm damned well going to give it a try."
Babe took the spoon and on the second try scooped up a bit of soup and wobbled it to her mouth.
"That's good, Mrs. Devens."
"Look, you've taken me to the potty and wiped the drool off my pillow—that qualifies us as intimates. I wish you'd call me Babe."
"Okay, Babe. And you call me E.J."
"What's E.J. stand for?"
"Emmajean. Is Babe your real name?"
"Why do they call you Babe?"
"My mademoiselle called me Bébé. When I went to kindergarten the other girls thought it was a hoot—a great big five-year-old with a name like that. It got shortened to Babe and it stuck through school and college—after that it just came along with me—like an albatross."
Something had happened to E.J.'s eyes: suddenly they were crinkled and quizzical. "You said 'albatross.' You don't have any trouble remembering words, do you."
"Am I supposed to? E.J., what kind of accident did I have?"
E.J. hesitated. "I don't know exactly."
"That's bull. You do know exactly."
"Only the doctor or immediate family can tell you. Regulations."
Later. E.J.'s voice. "Visitors, Babe."
Babe surfaced, opening her eyes. She saw a woman in a navy blue dress with a single strand of pearls. The woman was holding an issue of Town and Country.
"Mama?" A question, not a statement.
Webbing out from her mother's eyes were small creases that Babe had not seen the night before. The hair was different too—chic and gray, caught loosely at the back of her neck by a tiny gold coil.
Her mother said it as one word. Beatricedarling. Lucia Vanderwalk had never accepted her daughter's nickname and had loathed it when it caught on in the press.
Lucia's hands made a protective circle around Babe's face, small white hands with wonderfully long fingers, manicured to perfection. A little whiff of her perfume came drifting down—Tea Rose, her favorite, her only. "See who I've brought you."
Lucia stepped back to make room for a man in a three-piece gray pinstripe suit. He was a big bear of an old fellow with cheerful blue eyes and curly hair, and he was holding a bouquet of pink gardenias, grinning.
"Papa." Babe opened her arms.
With the slightly formal carriage of an investment banker, Hadley Vanderwalk III bent down and planted a gallant little kiss on Babe's forehead. "How's my Babe?" His lips smiled below the small moustache that had been brown last night but was gray today. "Gosh, you look dandy, kid."
He handed her the flowers. She didn't know what to do with them. E.J. took them and scurried off to find a vase.
Babe's parents placed chairs near the bed. Lucia spent a moment arranging herself and Babe wondered why she looked so much older than the night before.
"You've been asleep," Lucia said. "You had an accident." The voice had changed. She still had her New York Brahman accent, but there was a darker timbre than Babe remembered. "Don't worry. The doctors and nurses have taken excellent care of you."
Babe said, "What kind of accident?"
Lucia dug into an enormous petit point shoulder bag and came up with tea bags, a silver teapot, lemon slices, a plastic bag of crystallized sugar that was colored like sand on a magic beach, a pint of Dellwood vitamin-D-enriched milk. "Nurse, may we have some cups and boiling water?"
Tea was laid out on the hospital table. Lucia served.
"You can drink liquids, can't you, Beatrice?"
"Of course I can drink liquids."
"Do you still like lemon?"
They sat sipping. Teaspoons clinked. Babe had a sense that the scene was being acted rather than simply being allowed to happen. She suspected that the only improvisations were hers.
"You haven't told me what kind of accident," she said.
"Things change, dear heart," Lucia said.
Thoughts somersaulted through Babe's mind. She knew her mother well enough to know she was hiding something. "Where's Scottie? Where's Cordelia?"
"Cordelia is thriving. She's just fine."
Lucia crossed to the dresser and took a moment staring at Cordelia's photograph on the bureau. Babe realized that her mother was limping slightly.
"Mama, did you hurt your foot?"
"My hip. It's been this way for quite some time."
"But last night you were dancing."
Lucia sat on the edge of the bed and took her daughter's hand. "Tell me, dear heart, what was last night's date?"
Her mother looked at her in silence and a mildness came into her eyes. "And what happened last night?"
"We celebrated the anniversary of my company. We had a huge party at the Casino in the Park."
"And how did East Eighty-ninth Street look when you last saw it?"
"When I visited Lisa Berensen in maternity—it was a lot of quaint old rowhouses."
Lucia walked to the window and pulled open the curtain. "Nurse, would you put my daughter in the chair? I want her to see those quaint old rowhouses for herself."
E.J. helped Babe into the wheelchair and wheeled her to the window. Babe sat staring.
Late afternoon shadows were beginning to flood the street. Here and there spots of sunlight filtered through the moving leaves of a tree. The pale new leaves had a glowing translucence, like bone china.
Suddenly the street seemed infinite under the fading sun. Everything stopped and time seemed to hold its breath. Babe sensed an extraordinary catastrophe about to occur.
"It's ... spring," she said.
There was a flicker of agreement in Lucia's eyes. "Yes, dear heart—it's spring, and a lovely time to wake up."
Understanding came like a chop to the throat. Babe couldn't speak. Contradictions reconciled like pieces of jigsaw puzzle slipping together: the changes in her parents, the length of her hair, her surprising muscular weakness.
"I've been here seven months."
"And then some." The firm features of Lucia's face were frozen in careful neutrality. "Take another look out the window. Don't you notice anything else?"
The sky was high blue with white cumulus clouds. Beneath it the sidewalks were thronged with men and women and the streets were blocked with cars and taxis. But the cars in the street had a strange look and so did the people's clothes. There was a different skyline, rippling with changes like a flower that had bloomed overnight.
Of all the buildings on the street Babe could recognize only one old mass of masonry on the corner.
Her hands gripped the armrests of the wheelchair and she was invaded by a sense of her whole being slipping away from her.
"Do you think all that was done in seven months?" Lucia handed her daughter the copy of Town and Country. "You've been in coma for seven months ... and seven years."
Babe read the date on the cover of the magazine. Her breath stopped and pain caught her ribs.
"The doctors said you wouldn't believe it right away." Lucia's eyes and voice were shot through with gentleness. "But you've come through dreadful circumstances before—your first marriage, the automobile accident. You'll come through this."
"It's not true! It can't be!" Babe's fist struck the arms of the wheelchair. "How did seven years go by in one night? It can't have happened! Where's Scottie? Why isn't he here?"
Babe felt the soothing insinuation of her mother's hand on her shoulder, as soft as milk. Lucia said, "Go ahead and cry, dear heart."
"Cry? I want to scream, I want to break something!"
"You'd be better off crying."
"Please—someone just help me understand what's happened." Babe began sobbing.
Her mother hugged her. "You've understood enough for one day."
As Lucia and Hadley Vanderwalk were leaving the hospital, an administrator by the name of Thelma T. Blauberg stopped them, introduced herself, and asked if they'd had a nice visit with their daughter.
Lucia stared for a moment at the woman's inquiring blue eyes—a little too inquiring—and curly gray hair. "An excellent visit, thank you."
"I'm so glad. Naturally, the hospital will say nothing about Mrs. Devens's recovery to anyone. But there is a C-3 on her file. Police notification required if victim dies or recovers consciousness. Normally we try to comply within eight hours."CHAPTER 2
"I like it very much," the man said.
Melissa Hatfield caught something in the voice. There was a "but" there. Her eyes fixed on the short man, with a full head of gray hair. He was wearing designer slacks, a striped polo shirt.
The room was a thirty-by-fifty-foot cave of white light, shimmering like an image on a TV screen with the brightness set too high. Sun bounced off naked walls and inlaid floor.
"You can remodel," Melissa Hatfield suggested.
Nothing about selling apartments in the more than ten years Melissa Hatfield had been selling them had ever been easy. Real estate in Manhattan was a buyer's market and this man knew it.
"What does the maintenance run?" he asked.
He coughed—a hacking sound that came from his chest. "Cold in here," he said.
Noon sun beat against the French doors, but an icy current was flowing through the air.
The man's wife called him to the terrace. "We can put a garden there."
She was pointing. Short and dark-haired, she was wearing battered blue clogs, a pullover, and a red sweater tied around her neck by its sleeves. The I'm-rich-and-I-don't-need-to-impress-you look.
Melissa Hatfield wondered if this was their idea of how to spend Memorial Day weekend: Let's go tour some upmarket co-ops and pretend we're interested in buying. "We can arrange terms," she said. "Ten percent down will hold it."
Excerpted from Privileged Lives by Edward Stewart. Copyright © 1988 Edward Stewart. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.