“Do you have a card?” Benji asks. “I have a friend who sets up excursions for businessmen traveling to New York from overseas. I want to suggest he bring people here to the zoo.”
“Like a field trip for adults?”
“Mostly they like casinos and strip clubs,” Benji says. “I think this would be something new and different. Something educational.”
“I have cards,” Celeste says. “But they’re in my office. You can call the zoo’s main number and ask for me. My name is Celeste Otis. Or, if you’d like, you can put my direct line into your phone right now?”
“I’d love that,” Benji says. He pulls out his phone. “Go ahead, I’m ready.”
Saturday, July 7, 2018, 7:00 a.m.
Initial questioning, Abigail Freeman Winbury, Saturday, July 7 (continued)
While Abby is in the bathroom, Nick listens for voices from the rest of the house. He hears nothing and sees no one out the glass doors. This room is perfect for questioning; it’s almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of the house. Sitting here with the sun streaming in and the hydrangeas visible out the window, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong.
Abby comes back in, arms crossed over her chest in what Nick perceives as a defensive attitude. She knows or suspects something about Merritt’s romantic life; Nick just needs to get her to spill the beans.
“Where were we?” he asks.
“I’m not sure?” Abby says.
“Why don’t you tell me about last night,” Nick says.
“Well, the first thing that happened,” Abby says, “was that the rehearsal was canceled.”
“I guess Reverend Derby—that’s the Winburys’ minister from New York—called to say his flight had been delayed and he wouldn’t get to Nantucket until very late. I figured we would go to the church anyway and run through the ceremony with Roger, the wedding planner. But Celeste and Benji decided to cancel it altogether. It was almost as if…”
“As if what?” Nick says.
“As if they knew… they wouldn’t be getting married,” Abby says.
“What do you mean by that?”
Abby takes a sip of her water and trains her gaze on the front of the Nantucket coffee-table book. The cover is a photograph of the Rainbow Fleet rounding Brant Point Lighthouse during the Opera House Cup. “Nothing,” she says.
“Was there any indication that this wedding might not happen?”
“No,” Abby says.
“So, no rehearsal, then,” Nick says. “But there was still a rehearsal dinner, right?”
“It was a beach picnic here,” Abby says. “A clambake. There were raw clams and oysters, which I didn’t eat because I’m pregnant and raw shellfish can carry listeria. It’s in lunch meat also.” Abby takes another sip of water and Nick struggles against his instinct to categorize Abby as painfully self-absorbed and utterly useless to this investigation. “There was chowder, boiled lobster, sausages, potatoes, corn bread. Different kinds of pie for dessert. Oh, and there were cheddar biscuits. I ate about twelve.”
“Sounds delicious,” Nick says with a tight smile. “The clambake was catered?”
“Catered, yes. By the same people who were supposed to do the wedding reception tonight. Island Fare.”
“Was there alcohol served?”
Abby laughs. “This is the Winbury house. These people brush their teeth with vintage Dom Pérignon.”
“Were people drinking heavily?”
“The picnic had a signature cocktail,” Abby says. “It was a blackberry mojito with big fat ripe blackberries and fresh mint from Bartlett’s Farm and lots of rum. People were talking about how delicious they were. They were a gorgeous purple color and it was so hot last night that I’m sure they were hard to resist. And let’s see… Greer was drinking champagne; she always drinks champagne at parties. But everyone else was into those mojitos. Oh, and there was a keg of Cisco beer too, so after a while the guys were drinking that.”
“Did you notice Merritt drinking?” Nick asks.
“Not specifically,” Abby says. “But I’m sure she was. She acts like one of the guys. Acted; sorry. She listened to the same music as the guys—by which I mean Tay-K, not Taylor Swift—and she doused her food with hot sauce. She knew every player on the Yankees roster. It was her thing—she wanted to act like a guy but look like a woman.” Abby pauses. “I found it a little hard to take, honestly.”
“These are exactly the kind of details I’m after,” he says, and Abby smiles at the praise. “Tell me what happened during the picnic.”
“After we ate, people gave toasts. Celeste’s father went first. Mr. Otis’s toast was all about Celeste’s mom, which seemed strange, but he brought it back around to Celeste and Benji eventually. And then after that, Thomas gave a toast. Thomas, my husband, the groom’s brother.”
“And he’s the best man?”
Abby huffs. “He’s not the best man. Benji asked Shooter instead. Shooter Uxley.”
“Shooter. That’s right, that’s right. Tell me about Shooter.”
“How long do you have?” Abby asks.
“All day,” Nick says.
“You know how some people are so charming and magnetic that they can get away with anything?”
“My cousin Phil,” Nick says. “Six-foot-two Adonis. My ya-ya’s favorite. Everyone’s favorite.”
“Exactly,” Abby says. “Shooter is this wedding’s version of your cousin Phil.”
Nick smiles. He likes Abby a little better. “So… after your husband, Thomas, did anyone else make a toast?”
“No. I thought maybe Tag would speak but he didn’t, for some reason. And Merritt… you know, I don’t remember seeing either Merritt or Tag during the toasts.”
Nick makes a note: MM not present at toasts.
“Maybe she was in the restroom?” Nick says. “Did she reappear?”
Abby bites the corner of her lip. “Yes, yes,” she says. “I saw her later. Thomas went over to bum a cigarette from her.”
“Merritt smoked?” Nick says.
Abby shrugs. “When she drank, I guess. Like everyone else. Except for me now.”
“What time did the party end?” Nick asks.
“The band stopped playing at ten. That’s a law, which you probably know because you’re in law enforcement.” She winks at him and Nick starts to feel optimistic. They’re building a rapport here and any second Abby is going to give him what he’s looking for. Come on, Abby! “I was exhausted, but Thomas said he wanted to go to town with Benji and his friends. So then we had a fight.”
“He told me early in our marriage that the way to keep him happy was to give him freedom. He goes out with his friends, he takes guy trips, and the rest of the time, he’s at work.”
Sounds like a real prince, Nick thinks.
“And I told him now that I’m pregnant, he has to change his ways.” Abby shrugs. “If he thinks I’m raising this baby alone, he has another think coming.”
Nick feels like he’s suddenly been thrust into the role of marriage counselor. “Did Thomas end up going out?”
“Yes,” Abby says. “But I wasn’t happy about it.”
“So who went out and who stayed home?” Nick asks.
“I stayed home. Mrs. Otis, Celeste’s mother, stayed home. And Greer stayed home. Tag and Mr. Otis had a drink in Tag’s study, which is a big deal.”
“Oh, yeah?” Nick says. “Why?”
Abby blows her bangs out of her eyes. “No one is allowed to set foot in Tag’s study without an invitation. I’ve never been invited so I’m not sure what’s so magical about it. I know he keeps really good scotch in there. Anyway, when he invited Mr. Otis for a drink in his study, it meant Tag was… accepting him as a part of the family, I guess. And I will point out, not that I care, but Tag never invited my father into the study for a drink.”