Cynthia looked to be a strong candidate; she had a fourpoint grade average at Pine Crest and was inducted into the National Honor Society. Also, Eleanor was a substantial financial donor to Smith, which supposedly didn't count, though possibly did.
The letter of acceptance was sent to the Ernsts' home and Eleanor opened it. She immediately called Cynthia at school to relay the news.
"Yes, I expected they'd take me," Cynthia said coolly.
"Darling, I can't tell you how thrilled I am. I want to have a celebration. How about dinner on Saturday? Are you free?"
"Sure, sounds fine."
Already Cynthia was enjoying the symmetry of events, and the following Saturday evening the three of them sat at the same long oak dining table, her parents at each end, Cynthia inthe middle. The table was set with their best Herend china and English linen. Candles were lit. Cynthiam had even put on a formal dress. Her parents, she could see, were glowing with happiness. Then, after pouring the wine, her father raised his glass and said, "To another generation of Smith graduates!"
"Hear, hear!" Eleanor echoed. "Oh, Cynthia, I'm so proud of you. After graduating from Smith, the world will be waiting for you."
Toying with her own wineglass, Cynthia said, "That might be true, Mother, if I were going to Smith." Amused, she watched her mother's happiness fall away. They had been through this drill so many times that every nuance was predictable.
"Whatever do you mean?" her father asked.
"I applied to Florida State at Tallahassee," Cynthia answered brightly. "They accepted me last week, and I've told them I'm coming." She raised her wineglass. "So how about that toast? To Tallahassee!"
Eleanor was too aghast to speak.
Her husband's brow was suddenly beaded with perspiration. "You will not go to that pathetic state school instead of Smith. I forbid it!"
At the other end of the table, Eleanor stood up. "Do you have any idea what a privilege it is to be accepted at Smith? The tuition there is more than twenty thousand Dollars a year. Doesn't that tell you how exclusive "
"At Tallahassee it's three thousand," Cynthia interrupted. "Think of the money you'll save." She regarded her parents placidly.
"Do you think we care . . . Oh!" Eleanor buried her face in her hands.
Gustav pounded the table. "That will not work this time, young lady!"
Now Cynthia stood, too, and glared at both parents in turn. The unspoken words were deafening. Gustav tried to return her stare, but, as had happened before, he looked away and sighed. Finally. shrugging in defeat, he left. Seconds later, Eleanor followed.
Cynthia sat down and finished her dinner.
Three years later, having completed four years' worth of courses, Cynthia graduated from Florida State University with highest honors and membership in Phi Beta Kappa.
* * *
Cynthia had many male friends in high school and college, and to her surprise, she found she enjoyed sex, despite childhood memories. As she saw it, however, sex was all about power. She would never, ever, again be a docile partner. In every sexual relationship she sought to dominate, no matter what kind of sex was involved, or with whom. A further surprise was that men enjoyed her dominance. Most became more aroused because of it. One partner, a linebacker, said after an intense night of lovemaking, "Jesus, Cyn, you're sexy as hell, but cruel."
Still, for all her involvements, Cynthia never fell in love, never allowed herself to. She simply was not prepared to relinquish that much independence.
Much later the same game plan was partially true of her affair with Malcolm Ainslie. Like most of the men who preceded him, he enjoyed her "sexual calisthenics," as he once labeled them, and responded in kind. But Cynthia never quite possessed Malcolm, or dominated him totally as she had others; there was a strength within him she could never overcome. During their affair she had tried to break up Malcolm's marriage with mischief, a close cousin of power, as her sole objective. She had not the slightest intention of marrying him herself or anyone else, for that matter. To Cynthia, marriage represented little more than surrendering control, something she vowed she would never do.
In direct contrast to Malcolm was the novelist Patrick Jensen, whom Cynthia dominated from the moment they first met. Initially their relationship was about sex, though eventually it became more complex. Her alliances with both men began about the same time, though Cynthia kept the two apart, running as she thought of it on parallel tracks.
Patrick had been going through a difficult time when his liaison with Cynthia began, mainly because of the breakup of his marriage. His wife, Naomi, had divorced him and, after a bitter contest, won a handsome settlement. According to friends, during the seven years the Jensen marriage lasted, it was filled with Patrick's tempestuous rages, prompting Naomi to make three complaints of physical abuse to police. Each time, they were withdrawn after Patrick promised to reform. He never did. Even following the divorce, Patrick publicly exhibited his jealousy of Naomi when she was with another man, and once had to be restrained.
For Patrick, Cynthia Ernst was a haven in every way. He conceded that she was far stronger than he was, and willingly became a compliant cohort, relying on her guidance more and more. For her part, Cynthia believed she had found someone she could both control and use in advancing her long-term personal plans.
That belief was confirmed late one night when Patrick arrived at Cynthia's apartment.
From her bed she heard an insistent pounding on her outer door. Peering through a peephole, she could see Patrick glancing up and down the hall and running his fingers through his hair.
When she opened the door he rushed in and said, "Jesus, Cynthia, I've done something terrible! I've got to get away. Can I take your car?" He hurried to a window and looked both ways up and down the street below. "I've got to get out of here . . . got to go somewhere! Cyn, I need your help." He looked at her imploringly, his fingers still rifling his hair.
"My God, Patrick, you're dripping with sweat." Cynthia told him firmly, "You have to calm down. Sit down and I'll get you a Scotch."
She joined him on a couch with the drink, then massaged, his neck. He started to talk, subsided, then suddenly blurted out, "Oh God, Cyn, I killed Naomi! Shot her." His voice choked.
Cynthia inched away. As a police officer a Homicide detective, especially her duty was clear. She should arrest Patrick, give him a Miranda warning, and take him into custody. Thinking fast, weighing possibilities and opportunities, she did none of those things. Instead she went to her bedroom, took a tape recorder from a bedside drawer, inserted a new tape and, as she reentered the living room, pressed RECORD. Patrick was crying, his head in his hands. Cynthia put the machine on a table near him, shielded from view by a plant.
Then she said, "Patrick, if you want me to help you, you have to tell me exactly what happened."
He looked up, nodded, then began, his voice still breaking. "I didn't plan it, didn't intend . . . but always hated the thought of Naomi with someone else . . . When I saw those two together, her and that creep, I was blinded, angry . . . I'd been carrying a gun. I pulled it out, without even thinking, fired . . . Suddenly it was over . . . Then I saw what I'd done. Oh God, I'd killed them both!"
Cynthia was aghast. "You killed other people? Who was the other?"
"Kilburn Holmes." He said abjectly, "He'd been seeing Naomi, was with her all the time. People told me."
"You stupid ducking idiot!" For the first time, Cynthia felt cold fear. It was a double murder in which Patrick was certain to be a suspect, and what she was doing assuming she continued could cost her own career and freedom.
"Did anyone see you?" she asked. "Was there any witness?"
Patrick shook his head. "No one, I'm sure of that. It was dark and late. Even the shots didn't draw attention."
"Did you leave anything, anything whatever, at the scene?"
"I'm sure I didn't."
"As you were leaving, did you hear noise? Was there an alarm, voices?"
"Where is the gun?"
"Here." From a pocket he produced a Smith & Wesson .38.
"Put it on that table," she told him.
Cynthia paused, calculating the risks she might be taking, weighing them against the leverage they would give her over Patrick. She saw her duty clearly, but she also saw him as a useful tool.
Making a decision, she went to her kitchenette and returned with several plastic bags and kitchen tongs. Without touching the gun, which would have Patrick's fingerprints on it, she placed it in a plastic bag and sealed it. Then she pointed to a T-shirt he was wearing. "Take that off; those sneakers, too." Both were bloodstained.
Again, using the tongs, she put the T-shirt and shoes in other bags. "Now give me your house keys and take off the rest of your clothes."
When Patrick hesitated, Cynthia snapped, "Do exactly what I say! Now, where was it that you killed them?"
"In the driveway of Naomi's house." He shook his head and sighed.
With her back to Patrick and blocking his view, Cynthia turned off the tape recorder. In any case, she realized, he was still too dazed to notice.
Patrick had now shed all his clothes and was naked. He stood nervously, his shoulders slouched, eyes to the floor. Again Cynthia went to the kitchenette, and brought back a large brown bag, into which she stuffed Patrick's remaining clothes.
"I'm going to your house," she said. "I'll dump these somewhere and bring you back fresh clothes. While I'm gone, take a very hot shower and scrub yourself use a nail brush all over, and especially your hand that held the gun. Where did you get the gun?"
"I bought it two months ago." He added gloomily, "My name's on record."
"If the gun isn't found and there's no other evidence, you're safe. So you lost it a week after you bought it. Remember that, and don't change that story."
"I won't," Patrick mumbled.
As Cynthia left, he was entering her bathroom.
* * *
On the way to Patrick's house, taking a roundabout route, Cynthia disposed of his clothes in separate garbage cans and a Dumpster. At the house, she quickly put together fresh clothes for him to wear.
At 5:30 A.M., Cynthia returned to her apartment and upon opening the door saw Patrick sitting on the couch, hunched over the glass coffee table with a rolled-up Doilar bill in his nose.
"How dare you do that here!" she screamed.
His head shot up, revealing four lines of cocaine on the tabletop, which he had not yet inhaled.
Patrick wiped his nose and sniffed. "Jesus, Cynthia, no big deal. I just thought it would help me through this."
"Flush it down the toilet and any more you have. Now!"
Patrick started to object, then headed for the bathroom, muttering, "It's not like I'm an addict."
Cynthia silently acknowledged that Patrick was not, in fact, an addict. Like others whom she knew, he used the drug intermittently. She herself never used drugs, or anything else that might diminish her control.
Patrick returned from the bathroom blustering about the two hundred bucks he had flushed away. Ignoring him, Cynthia began to label and describe the items she had placed in plastic bags, including the gun and bloodstained clothing, making sure that Patrick was watching. Afterward, she put everything in a cardboard carton, intending to add the tape recording later.