Monday, September 7.
The private Boeing 707-320 was making its final approach to Kennedy Airport, gliding out of the stacked-up traffic pattern. It had been a long, tedious flight and Rhys Williams was exhausted, but he had been unable to sleep during the night. He had ridden in this plane too often with Sam Roffe. His presence still filled it.
Elizabeth Roffe was expecting him. Rhys had sent her a cable from Istanbul, merely announcing that he would arrive the following day. He could have broken the news of her father's death over the telephone but she deserved more than that.
The plane was on the ground now, taxiing toward the terminal. Rhys carried very little luggage, and he was quickly ushered through Customs. Outside, the sky was gray and bleak, a foretaste of the winter to come. A limousine was waiting at the side entrance to drive him to Sam Roffe's Long Island estate, where Elizabeth would be waiting.
During the drive Rhys tried to rehearse the words that he would say to her, to try to soften the blow, but the moment Elizabeth opened the front door to greet him, the words flew out of his head. Each time Rhys saw Elizabeth, her beauty caught him by surprise. She had inherited her mother's looks, the same patrician features, midnight-black eyes framed by long heavy lashes. Her skin was white and soft, her hair a shiny black. Her figure was rich and firm. She was wearing an open-necked creamy silk blouse and a pleated gray-flannel skirt and fawn-colored pumps. There was no sign of the awkward little girl Rhys had first met nine years earlier. She had become a woman, intelligent and warm and completely unselfconscious about her beauty. She was smiling at him now, pleased to see him. She took his hand and said, "Come in, Rhys," and led him into the large oak-paneled library. "Did Sam fly in with you?"
There was no way to break it gently. Rhys took a deep breath and said, "Sam had a bad accident, Liz." He watched the color drain from her face. She waited for him to go on. "He was killed."
She stood there frozen. When she finally spoke, Rhys could barely hear her. "What - what happened?"
"We don't have any of the details yet. He was climbing Mont Blanc. A rope broke. He fell into a crevasse."
"Did they find - ?"
She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them.
"A bottomless crevasse."
Her face had turned white. Rhys felt a quick sense of alarm. "Are you all right?"
She smiled brightly, and said, "Of course. I'm fine, thank you. Would you like some tea or something to eat?"
He looked at her in surprise, and started to speak, and then he understood. She was in shock. She was rattling on, making no sense, her eyes unnaturally bright, her smile fixed.
"Sam was such a great athlete," Elizabeth was saying. "You've seen his trophies. He always won, didn't he? Did you know he climbed Mont Blanc before?"
"Liz - "
"Of course you did. You went with him once, didn't you, Rhys?"
Rhys let her talk, anesthetizing herself against the pain, trying to build an armor of words to ward off the moment when she would have to face her own anguish. For an instant, as he listened to her, he was reminded of the vulnerable little girl he had first known, too sensitive and shy to have any protection against brutal reality. She was dangerously wound up now, tense and brittle, and there was a fragility about her that worried Rhys.
"Let me call a doctor," he said. "He can give you something to - "
"Oh, no. I'm really quite all right. If you don't mind, I think I'll he down for a while. I'm feeling a bit tired."
"Would you like me to stay?"
"Thank you. That won't be necessary."
She walked him to the door, and as he started to get into the car Elizabeth called, "Rhys!"
"Thank you for coming."
Long hours after Rhys Williams had gone, Elizabeth Roffe lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, watching the shifting patterns painted by the pale September sun.
And the pain came. She had not taken a sedative, because she wanted the pain. She owed that to Sam. She would be able to bear it, because she was his daughter. And so she lay there, all day and all night, thinking of nothing, thinking of everything, remembering, feeling. She laughed, and she cried, and she supposed that she was in a state of hysteria. It did not matter. There was no one to hear her. In the middle of the night, she suddenly became ravenously hungry and went down into the kitchen and devoured a large sandwich and then threw it up. She felt no better. Nothing could ease the pain that filled her. She felt as though all her nerve ends were on fire. Her mind kept going back, back over the years with her father. Through her bedroom window she watched the sun rise. Sometime later, one of the servants knocked at the door, and Elizabeth sent her away. Once the phone rang, and her heart leaped and she reached for it, thinking, It's Sam! Then she remembered, and snatched her hand away.
He would never call her again. She would never hear his voice again. She would never see him again.
A bottomless crevasse.
Elizabeth lay there, letting the past wash over her, remembering it all.