Read an Excerpt
The Outside Man
By Richard North Patterson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Richard North Patterson
All rights reserved.
Perhaps the murders were fated when I met Kris Ann, then moved with her here, to Alabama. The move was a change of plans. I'd meant us to live in Washington. We never did, and so three deaths began waiting in the ambush of time.
Seven years passed, and then Cade handed me the envelope. It seemed like nothing at all. I'd come from a Saturday partners' meeting called to set new rates—nineteen southern Protestants and me at a long walnut table buffed so high I could see my face in it—trying to feel like one hundred eighty dollars an hour. It took some imagination. So when Cade caught me near the elevator and with a quick, chill glance at my blue jeans asked if I'd drop some papers with Lydia Cantwell, my only thought was to do that much for free.
Outside the morning was hazy from the smokestacks of our clients and the streets looked stale and a little hungover, like a room full of cigarette smoke after a long party. Behind my parking space the neon sign of a dingy department store murmured its fatigue in old-fashioned cursive letters. I tossed the envelope on the passenger seat and drove south with the top down through near-empty streets, then up and over a sudden barrier of green wooded hills until the city behind me dropped abruptly from sight.
Now the road curled downward past immense stone houses sheltered by pine and dogwood and magnolia. The air became clear, damp and heavy, and the feel and blueness of it merged with deep lawns and the bursts of pink and white to create that violence of beauty you can find only in the South, in April. Behind me Birmingham sprawled in a valley of heat and smoke: squat steel mills the corroded color of rust, concrete highways, low-slung warehouses, sinewy towers of glass and steel, sweltering streets. But the road ahead was shady and still. A lone black maid in stretch pants straggled by its side as though on a treadmill to eternity, her slow repeated movements speaking of boredom in the bone and brain, days endlessly the same. I passed her, turning down a road that traced the winding path of a valley in what had once been pine forest, the wind in my face.
There was nothing ahead but shadows. I took the curves fast—shifting and braking, accelerating and shifting—as a smooth radio voice from New York eased into a mass murder, the oil crisis, and a Gallup poll in which three out of four Americans thought things were getting worse. "Speaking last night in Atlanta," he went on, "the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board warned that this country is threatened by permanent inflation which will change the lives of rich and poor alike.... But there was nothing I could do about that, except not smoke my first cigarette. So I didn't, and found myself at the Cantwells'.
Their drive began with a stand of oaks, continuing its gradual climb through magnolia and dogwood until it reached the crest of pines where the house loomed, a white brick monolith with gables and twenty rooms and the sense of weight that time brings. Seventy years before, Henry Cantwell's grandfather had brooded on the site, then built: over time ivy had crept up the walls, hedges had grown, a formal garden had come to surround the slate patio in back, and, finally, Lydia Cantwell's roses had lined the walk that led from the drive to the double door. I parked, taking the envelope, and followed it.
The grounds were shrouded in morning silence broken only by a few birdcalls and the rustling of pine boughs. The snarl of the buzzer when I pushed it sounded rude, and got no answer. But when I knocked, the door cracked open by itself.
I looked in, surprised, calling once. No one answered. I hesitated, then stepped inside.
The foyer faced a spiral staircase, with a sitting room to the left and the dining room opposite. Next to me was a low table. I placed the envelope there, turned to leave, stopped in the doorway, and then, turning back, picked it up again.
It was an innocuous manila, sealed only by two splayed metal fasteners that Cade's secretary had put through the hole in its flap, then pressed down to each side. I pried the fasteners upright and opened the flap. Inside was a typed document of sixteen pages. I riffled it, then read again, this time carefully. When I had finished I checked for missing pages, found none, and reread the twelfth page, twice. Then I placed the papers back in the envelope and took it with me to the sitting room.
It was sparsely decorated, mainly from the past. On polished end tables were porcelain figurines—a sparrow, Marie Antoinette—that Lydia had collected. From above the fireplace stared an oil of her father, framed by candelabra and looking vaguely distressed, as if he smelled smoke. The built-in shelf next to that held portraits of more dead ancestors and a larger one of Henry Cantwell, gray hair neatly parted. The papers in the envelope reminded me that Jason's picture had been removed. Then I noticed that Lydia's was gone.
I called out.
No one answered. I walked past the fireplace through the open door to Henry's library, filled with books: Lancelot by Walker Percy, some Aeschylus, much Faulkner and Camus, James Joyce's Ulysses, and leaning next to that with a bookmark sticking from it, Crime and Punishment. Often I would find Henry in a cardigan sweater, amidst his volumes: the most reliable friends, he'd once remarked, full of consolation. But his half-glasses were on the shelf and his chair was empty. I returned to the sitting room, stopped, and listened.
I didn't like finding the house unlocked, or its silence. Though in the seven years since, I'd been to the Cantwell's perhaps a hundred times, I could still hear the sounds of our engagement party, when the house had been filled with people and laughter and the clink of a barman dropping ice in crystal. I'd begun awkwardly, conscious of Cade and worried that if I moved too quickly I'd slop champagne on the Oriental rugs. I had never met the Cantwells and, while Henry and Lydia were gracious, Jason watched me from one corner with a peculiar bright intensity, never coming forward. The chances of meeting a second northerner were nil and everyone else seemed to have money to burn, even Kris Ann's florid uncle who had backed me to the fireplace denouncing the Berrigan brothers. Then Kris Ann appeared behind him in the crush. For an instant her look seemed probing and uncertain and then, knowing I saw her, she flashed me the dazzling, flirty, self-mocking smile that was an in-joke between us—her southern-girl smile, she called it—until it warmed the darkness of her eyes. I'd felt myself relax, and after that I remembered the moment precisely: her smile, the room, and the sounds of the party—so that now it seemed too quiet.
"Lydia?" I called, and then went back through the foyer to the staircase, glancing toward the dining room as I passed.
I stopped there.
Lydia Cantwell lay sprawled behind the dining room table. Her eyes bulged and her tongue protruded from a smear of lipstick. Her throat was circled with bruises.
It was a moment before I knew that I had crossed myself.
I went to her then, kneeling. Her wrist was stiff and cold to the touch. There was no pulse.
My limbs had gone numb and heavy. I stumbled back from her. Her terrycloth robe was pulled to mid-thigh and her legs seemed pitifully thin. Black hair straggled on the Persian rug, and I noticed, foolishly, that she had dyed the gray at her temples.
I felt a moment of awful tenderness, as if I should cover her legs. Instead I went to the kitchen and called the police. When I returned, my throat was parched and my mouth tasted bitter, like half-swallowed aspirin.
It was then I saw her picture.
It had been taken at a formal sitting and placed next to Henry's in the other room. Now it sat on the dining room table. Someone had stabbed out the eyes. I rushed back to the kitchen and vomited.
I raised my head from the sink, breathed deeply, and went back to the dining room. The envelope lay where I'd dropped it, by Lydia's hand. I picked it up and went outside. I didn't look back at the woman, or her picture.
The porch was cool. Above the roses a hummingbird hovered in delicate suspension, a picture from a Chinese vase.
I walked to my car and slid the envelope under the seat.CHAPTER 2
"Panic is the first enemy of the lawyer," Cade had once told me. So when the first police came—two uniformed patrolmen in a squad car—I tried to blank out everything but the envelope.
The young man rushed past me through the front door, slamming it behind him. The other stopped in front of me. He was short and paunchy, with pale blue eyes and a creased clown's face so sad it must have always seemed close to tears. "What happened?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"Sure." His voice was patient and unsatisfied. "Just how you found her."
I swallowed. "I got here maybe fifteen minutes ago, on business. Mrs. Cantwell's our client—" I paused, deleting the envelope. "No one answered, and the door was unlocked. That wasn't like her; she was a careful woman. So I stepped inside to check."
The door opened behind me. "Called in the body," the young man said. "Rayfield's coming himself. You'll want to see this."
His partner nodded and turned back to me. "You'd better come inside, Mr. Shaw." I didn't move. "Come on," he said, almost gently.
I followed him to the sitting room without looking at Lydia. He pointed me to a sofa across from the fireplace where I couldn't see the dining room or her body. "You'll have to wait here for Homicide," he said, and left.
"Jesus Christ," someone muttered. It was the older man's voice, coming from the dining room, low and close to tender.
"Look at the picture," his partner said.
There was silence. "We got a creep maybe—someone who'll do it twice."
"Might could be rape. It's funny—Rayfield was sending Watkins until I said her name, and then he decided to come himself."
"Look around you," the older man said. "She used to be somebody."
There was no malice in that, just fact and a little kinship, as though Lydia Cantwell had taken a great fall quickly and thus qualified for sympathy. My throat was dry.
The front door opened, there were murmured greetings, and footsteps near the body. A new voice—soft and flat—asked, "Called the medical examiner?" "Yessir," the older man said, and then two plainclothesmen walked into the sitting room.
The thin one had a neat mustache, wire-rimmed glasses, and the meticulous intense look of a demolition expert. But it was the second man who held my attention. He was perhaps fifty, with a large potato face and small cobalt eyes at once pained and bleak and totally absorbed, the eyes of a bitter saint. They lit on me, appraising.
"I'm Rayfield," he said and inclined his head toward the younger man. "This is Sergeant Bast."
I nodded without speaking. Four uniformed police came briskly through the front door with ropes, cameras, and sketch pads, headed for the dining room. The last one carried a black doctor's bag. "Ready to go, Lieutenant," he called.
Rayfield glanced over. "Rope it off," he ordered, and walked out.
The young patrolman appeared next to a vase of white chrysanthemums, watching me. I didn't look up.
"Feel her armpits?" someone asked. "She's room temperature."
Another said, "She's eight hours old, anyhow. They get this cold no way to tell for sure. Rape test's not much good."
"Do it anyway," Rayfield said. Cameras began spitting.
The impersonal noise of strangers—doors opening, footsteps, orders, slamming drawers—came to me like the sound of television through an open window. Someone clambered up the stairs. I lit a Camel, forcing myself to watch Rayfield as he backed into the sitting room. He was around six-two, thick-bodied and awkwardly careful of movement, as if trapped in his own skin. His suit and tie were just something to wear, his gray wavy hair was cut military-style, his stare at the Cantwells' furnishings abstemious and disapproving. He turned to me, asking, "You're her lawyer?"
"That's right." My mouth was acrid with vomit taste and I needed some water. Instead I took a deep, harsh drag of cigarette smoke and stood.
Bast materialized with a note pad. Rayfield took out a black notebook and asked, "Mrs. Cantwell invite you?"
I noticed that his hair tonic lent him a not unpleasant whiff of the barber shop: the smell of my father. "Not exactly," I answered. "I was on the way home from the office."
"Then she wasn't expecting you." His flat drawl might have passed for witlessness if I hadn't lived in the South, or caught the sharpness of his eyes.
"I'm not sure—she'd talked yesterday with my father-in-law."
"But you didn't call her."
"Then why'd you come?"
"Private business. Law business, that's all."
"What was it?"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. That's covered by the attorney- client privilege."
Bast's eyes rose from his notes. "Give me the semen slide," someone said in the living room. Rayfield drawled, "She's dead now, Mr. Shaw," in a voice so flat and uninflected that his words held the barest trace of irony.
"Not just her. The family."
His eyebrows raised. "Dead?"
"Just who are we talking about?"
"Her husband, for one. Henry Cantwell."
Rayfield paused, head angled to look at me as if revising some impression. His thumb began clicking the ballpoint. I noticed then that his hands were at odds with the rest of him: pale and delicate, with long piano-player's fingers, his nails fastidiously trimmed. In a monotone he asked, "You a friend of Henry Cantwell's?"
From the side Bast glanced hastily at Rayfield. "His friend, and lawyer," I answered.
Rayfield's pen stopped clicking. His tone was cool, accusing. "Where is he?"
"I don't know." Then it hit me that Henry might be dead or in trouble. It hit me hard, like sudden knowledge in a man not smart.
"What's the problem, Mr. Shaw?"
"Then where is he?"
I turned to Bast. "There's an envelope under the front seat of my car—the Alfa Romeo. You'd better get it."
Bast looked to Rayfield. But Rayfield was staring at me, voice now taut as he asked, "Did Henry Cantwell do this?"
"Get the envelope," I repeated to Bast.
Rayfield kept staring. But Bast nodded and went through the front door. In the minute it took him to come back Rayfield said nothing, his eyes never moving until Bast gave him the envelope. He pulled the document, reading its caption. "Her will?"
"Her new will. She never got to sign it."
He flipped its pages as Bast read over his shoulder. He finished, said nothing, and started again, more slowly. "Take another smear," said someone near Lydia. I reached to stub my cigarette in one of her ashtrays, jabbing twice before it went out. Finally, Rayfield asked, "Isn't there a son?"
I nodded. "Jason."
"But not in here."
"No. Not in there."
Rayfield looked up. "How old's he now?"
"Know where he lives?"
"Just that he goes to the university. Sort of a perpetual student."
Rayfield turned to Bast. "Better find the boy."
Bast left. Rayfield rolled up the will and began tapping it in his palm. He turned suddenly, walking toward Henry's picture until he stood in front of it. Without turning, he asked, "Who's your father-in-law?"
Rayfield turned slowly back to me, eyes widening slightly before they dropped to the will. He stared at it in pensive silence, pen held to his lips. Abruptly, he said, "We'd better call him," and went to the kitchen.
The young patrolman still watched me. Police talked near Lydia. An awed voice said, "Take a man to do like that."
"Maybe a strong woman," someone answered.
I went to the window.
The sun had climbed, filtering through the pines in yellow shafts. Beyond the grounds, I knew people were living their same lives, and at the club couples were playing mixed doubles, or drinking. But I couldn't envision it. When Rayfield returned I was staring at nothing.
"You must be worried about Henry Cantwell," he said softly from behind. "Would that be like him, being gone?"
His tone seemed strangely kind. But when I played it back I heard a faint, tense undertone. I turned and said in a flat voice, "I wouldn't know."
Rayfield watched me for a moment, then looked down at the will again. "Mrs. Cantwell," he said almost musingly, "what was she like?"
I had no answer.
Excerpted from The Outside Man by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 1981 Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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