The party’s over . . .
On December 30th, Susan Stark was dropped off in front of her parents’ house. She hasn't been heard from since. Not a good scenario, especially in New York.
Former nun (now crime investigator) Christine Bennett fears the worst. Armed with only a few phone numbers and a photo of Susan, she steps into the missing girl's life—and meets a Susan that neither her parents nor her boyfriend knew existed . . . with strange obsessions and a secret life that may have lured her to a deadly end.
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At the last minute, it was touch and go whether we would go to the party. For Jack, my husband of almost a year and a half, the evening was a tradition not to be missed, one he usually shared with old friends, both on the job with the NYPD and people he had gone to school with since he was a curly-headed child. New Year’s Eve didn’t have the mystique for me it had for him, the excitement that included all the trappings like champagne and noisemakers. Of course, having spent fifteen years in a convent where most of us went to sleep at nine, tired from a day that began at five, regardless of the calendar, the difference in our approach was understandable. It has only been in the two and a half years since I left St. Stephen’s for a secular life that New Year’s Eve has achieved a certain luster.
But the real reason for our hesitation was that we were the new parents of a baby boy who had changed our lives, separately and together, in ways we could not have imagined when an act of love had started his existence in the cold of last winter. Edward Bennett Brooks, named after my father who died when I was a child, weighing seven pounds and ten ounces (slightly less than a Sunday Times Jack brought home about the time of his birth) was both a Presence and a Personality almost from before his birth and certainly from the moment I heard his first cry.
What had become of my certainty that an absolutely dependable baby-sitter would enable me to teach my one-morning-a-week class at a local college? And that easygoing husband of mine who seemed unruffled in situations of life, death, and drawn weapons—where was the calm I had always counted on? How many phone calls a day from the Sixty-fifth Precinct in Brooklyn did it take to insure that his wife and son were feeling fine, eating well, taking their naps, and getting their sunshine?
I smile as I say this. Having observed friends and acquaintances from various degrees of afar as they became mothers, I blithely assumed that this next step on the path of life was a simple one, easily achievable by the smart and the not-so-smart, and even by those of us who still found putting an interesting dinner together something of a chore. It seemed easy enough. When he wakes up, you change him, feed him, change him again, talking to him, of course, to start him on his way to life in a happy family, then lay him down gently for some more sleep. But our Eddie hadn’t read the same books I had. Sometimes he wasn’t ready to go back to sleep after his feeding, and other times he awoke not hungry but in a mood to be entertained. I didn’t mind entertaining him—it was fun and I had looked forward to it for the many months of my pregnancy. But Jack and I wondered, as evening on the last day of the year drew near, whether our hosts at the party we were planning to attend who had offered us a room with a double bed and a crib would be as accepting of our son’s unpredictable schedule as we were.
In the end I called them, and they said they would be devastated if we didn’t show up, so we packed our angelically sleeping baby into the car and took off.
Our hosts for the great evening were Arnold and Harriet Gold. I had met Arnold not long after I left St. Stephen’s and was investigating what turned out to be the first in a string of murders I would look into. Forty years earlier, Arnold had represented one of the presumed killers of a woman found dead in her Brooklyn apartment on Easter Sunday. My work on the case eventually turned up the real killer and led me to the precinct where I met Jack, changing my life forever. Arnold, who had been a very young lawyer at the time of the murder, was more than happy to help me out and we became good enough friends that I consider him a surrogate father. He’s also my employer from time to time, which is nice because I can do most of the work at home, and I am one of those people who really need to work to keep me happy.
Jack dropped me off at the Golds’ and went to find a parking space. Eddie was sleeping blissfully, and even the commotion of our entry hardly fazed him. Harriet took me upstairs to the bedroom reserved for us, and I managed to take off the baby’s outer clothes and get him settled in the crib with only a few murmurs and sighs to keep me on my guard.
“He’s wonderful,” Harriet said in a soft voice.
“Yes, I think he is.” I squeezed her.
“And he’s all ours,” she said with a big smile. “At least until tomorrow. Come, let’s get you something to nibble.”
Jack showed up a few minutes later, carrying our small suitcase and the baby seat, both of which he stowed in the bedroom, more, I thought, to check on his son than to get them out of the way. When he returned, Arnold fixed them both drinks and they sat down, probably to talk about Jack’s law classes. Since I was a nursing mother, I was saving alcohol for midnight, when I planned to indulge in a gulp of champagne that I hoped would not have an adverse effect on my little one.
It was a wonderful party, thanks to the interesting and diverse guests who kept coming as the New Year neared. I spent some time talking to a lawyer whose name I had seen often enough in the Times to know he was famous and very special, a man who said of Arnold all the things I had come to know, that he was a truly admirable human being who would take any case he believed in and who never gave up until he was convinced that the truth had been made known.
“You’d be surprised how many hopeless cases Arnold has won,” the lawyer said with feeling.
“A lot more than I know about,” I said. “He’s remarkably modest when it comes to talking about himself.”
“He also knows the best lawyer jokes,” he said with a twinkle. “I think he generates them in that little office of his. How do you come to know him?”
I explained our relationship.
“Ah, the case of the twins with mental retardation. Took him forty years to set that one straight. So you’re the one who did the digging.”
“It was quite an experience.”
We talked for some time, and he told me about some of his more interesting cases. I wondered if Jack would ever be in that position, talking to someone at a party about his cases—a very sweet thought.
I don’t know when I became aware that there was an undercurrent of something amiss, but I remember sensing it. The phone rang several times during the evening, and Harriet answered it, but at least once she came into the living room to speak to Arnold, and he left the room quickly, looking troubled.
A little after ten, the Golds’ daughter looked around the room and asked, “Does a crying baby belong to anyone here?” and I jumped up and dashed for the stairs. Eddie was waiting to be fed, and I sat in a lovely old rocking chair and nursed him till he fell asleep, which I almost did, too. As I was putting him back in the crib, I heard Arnold’s voice on the other side of the interior bedroom wall.
“I’m here, Ada,” his muffled voice said, and then there were silences and more muffled questions and comments.
I felt the chill of bad news, of a woman’s anxiety, of the need to call a lawyer friend on this most celebrated night of the year. Had someone been hurt? Arrested? I didn’t want to know. I patted my sleeping baby and waited till the conversation was over before going downstairs. I didn’t want to meet Arnold as he left his room, full of whatever he had been told on the telephone. When I reached the living room, he was talking to Harriet. A moment later he was circulating among his guests.
Someone turned on the television set just before midnight so we would have the time right. There was Times Square, a place I had walked through during the day on a few occasions and once or twice at night with Jack. Tonight it was packed with more people than lived in my town and all the towns around it, many of them holding up banners with distant cities and states printed in large letters that the camera panned across. Here was Ohio, there was Kansas. I have seen very little of my country outside the New York City area, and just thinking of people traveling such a long way to watch a lighted ball drop as the New Year began excited me. Kansas, the center of the United States. Cornfields and polite people and plenty of parking spaces. I smiled.
“We’re gettin’ there,” Jack said, suddenly at my side just when I needed him.
“Can you imagine coming all the way from Kansas to celebrate the New Year?”
“To the Big Apple? Sure. Except they must be freezing their fingers and toes off tonight. It’s cold out there.”
“Maybe we’ll go there someday.”
Jack laughed. “Wait till Eddie’s out of diapers.”
“I bet that would be fun.”
“Sixty seconds, honey.”
I watched the countdown, my glass half-full of bubbling champagne, the ball slowly descending. My heart was in my mouth. I was starting my first full year as a mother. I was in the company of the most fascinating people I had ever met. I was happier at this moment than I had ever been.
“Happy New Year!” The greeting rang out in chorus. Jack and I kissed, then kissed again. I hung onto my glass, lest I lose the little I had allotted for myself on this special evening. Then we drank and joined in a happy chorus of Auld Lang Syne. I found myself kissing an assortment of men and women, the famous lawyer, a rather infamous lawyer, a doctor I had chatted with earlier whose wife was a lawyer, and finally Arnold himself, a great hug and a heartfelt kiss.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Clever plot twists and likeable characters. I will read all of them.