“Cocktails,” she says. “Gin, bourbon, vodka, tequila. Skinny margaritas are my go-to.” She must see him grimace because she adds, “There used to be a place downtown, Pearl and Ash, that made a cocktail called Teenage Jesus, which was my particular favorite. Plus, the name.”
Tag can’t imagine drinking something called a Teenage Jesus. “What about when you have oysters? When you have caviar? Surely you must drink champagne.”
“Prosecco,” she says. “But only if someone presses it on me. It gives me a headache.”
After his starter glass, a 2013 Chambolle-Musigny, goes down, he decides that Merritt’s ignorance is fortuitous. She isn’t the jaded, worldly woman he thought she was. He had convinced himself over the past few hours that she was at least thirty but now he fears she’s closer to twenty-five. More than thirty years younger than he is.
After his second glass, a 2009 Morey Saint-Denis, he is loose. He will teach Merritt about wine. He will teach her how to roll the wine over her tongue. He will teach her how to identify black-cherry and tobacco notes in pinots, and lemon, mint, and clover in sauvignon blancs. He’s excited by this mission, although her palate will be exposed to some of the finest wines in the world tonight, and this worries him. When you start with the best, the future offers only disappointment.
They stumble out of the house well past midnight, hand in hand. At one extremely saturated point during the evening, one of the Texas ladies turned to Merritt and said, “So how long have y’all been married?”
Without hesitation, Merritt said, “We’re newlyweds.”
“Congratulations!” the woman said. “Second marriage?”
Merritt winked. “How’d you guess?”
So when they leave, they are a couple, married by the incredible wine, the extraordinary food, the camaraderie of complete strangers. It’s as if they have stepped out of their lives into another life where everything is new and anything is possible. When Tag opens the passenger door for Merritt, she turns to him and raises her face.
He kisses her once, chastely, on the lips.
“That’s all I get?” she says.
Say yes, Tag thinks. Be strong. Be true to Greer and the boys. Show some integrity, for God’s sake.
Even that faintest touch of her lips sent a surge of electricity through him. Tag is pulsing with desire for her. He won’t be able to stop himself from driving Merritt to the beach and making love to her, maybe more than once.
He is, ultimately, only a man.
Saturday, July 7, 2018, 8:30 a.m.
After interviewing Roger, the Chief has some choices for who to talk to next. There’s the bride’s father, who is in an upstairs bedroom with the bride’s mother; Greer Garrison has requested that they not be disturbed until the last possible minute because of the mother’s health. And the groom, Benjamin Winbury, asked permission to go to the hospital to check on Celeste. He promised to be back in an hour. So, as far as persons of interest go, that leaves the Chief with the groom’s brother, Thomas; the groom’s father, Thomas Senior, known as Tag; and this Shooter fellow, the best man. The Chief thinks the third option is the most promising.
Dickson said the best man was missing when he arrived on the scene, but then the guy turned up in a cab an hour later. He could have met a woman—or a man—last night and slept elsewhere. But the perplexing thing is that he had his luggage with him. It’s almost as if he’d planned to leave and then changed his mind. There might be a plausible explanation for this, but the Chief can’t come up with it himself. He will question Shooter.
The Chief finds Shooter standing behind the police tape at the edge of the beach, staring in the direction of the water. He has shed the blazer, removed his shoes, untucked his shirt.
“Hey there,” the Chief says. Shooter turns. His expression is one of fear, maybe, or alarm. The Chief is used to it. In thirty years, no one has been exactly happy to see him while he was on duty in the field. “Are you free to answer a few questions?”
“What about?” Shooter says.
“We’re interviewing everyone who’s part of the wedding. I understand you’re the best man?”
“If you’re going to ask me what happened to her, I really have no idea,” Shooter says.
“I’d just like to get some background,” the Chief says. “About the events of last night. Easy stuff.”
Shooter nods. “I can handle that, I suppose.”
“Great,” the Chief says. He leads Shooter across the driveway to the white wrought-iron bench under the rose arbor where he talked to Roger. He sees police tape all around the cottage on the north side of the property, which was where the maid of honor was staying by herself. The Chief is fairly certain that if they can find the girl’s phone, they’ll have the answers they’re looking for. The Chief has learned over the past decade that if you want to know the truth about a person, just look through his or her phone.
Shooter takes a seat and the Chief pulls his notebook out. He has only one question for Shooter. “So… where were you last night?”
“Last night?” Shooter says.
Just like that, the Chief knows a lie is coming. “Yes, last night,” the Chief says. “The groom told my sergeant that you were missing. Until you pulled up in the cab, we thought maybe you were dead as well. But, thankfully, we were mistaken. Where were you?”
“I’m sorry I caused you to worry,” Shooter says. “I was up at the Wauwinet.”
“The Wauwinet Inn?” the Chief says.
“The restaurant, actually. Topper’s? I’m friendly with the bartender there.”
“And what’s the bartender’s name?”
“Name?” Shooter says. “Oh. Gina.”
“The bartender at Topper’s is named Gina. And you spent last night with Gina?”
“Yes,” Shooter says.
“She lives up there?” the Chief asks. “At the Wauwinet?”
“Yes,” Shooter says. “Staff housing.”
“Had you planned to spend the night with Gina?” the Chief asks. “Because the groom seemed to think you’d spent the night in the cottage.”
“I hadn’t planned on it, no,” Shooter says. “It was just a booty call. It was late, she texted, I went up there.”
A booty call. The Chief thinks protectively of Chloe. He feels a hundred years old. “What time was that?”
“I’m really not sure,” Shooter says.
“You can check your phone,” the Chief says.
Shooter slips his phone out of the pocket of his Nantucket Reds shorts. He pushes some buttons and says, “I must have deleted the text.”
“You must have deleted the text,” the Chief says. “Tell me why you took your luggage. All of your luggage, from the looks of it.”
“Right,” Shooter says. His tone is cautious, and the Chief can practically see the shadowy interior of his mind where he’s groping around for something solid to hold on to. “I took my luggage because I thought I might just stay up at the Wauwinet with Gina.”
“But then this morning, quite early, I’d say, you showed back up here. So what happened?”
“I changed my mind,” Shooter says.
“You changed your mind,” the Chief says. He looks at Shooter Uxley. The kid is sweating, but then again, it’s hot, even in the shade. “Would you mind giving me this Gina’s cell phone number, please?”
“Her number?” Shooter says. “I’d rather not. I don’t want her to get involved in this if we can help it.”
“We can’t help it,” the Chief says. “Because Gina is your alibi.”
“My alibi?” Shooter says. “Why do I need an alibi?”
“We have an unattended death,” the Chief says. “And you were missing, then you showed back up. Now, maybe your story holds water. Maybe you did go up to the Wauwinet to hook up with Gina the bartender with all your luggage and maybe you did then decide you didn’t like Gina that much or that the staff housing wasn’t as nice as the Winburys’ guest cottage. That’s all feasible. But we have a twenty-nine-year-old woman dead, so I’m going to proceed with due diligence and check out your story. You can either give me the girl’s cell phone—which I know you have because you said she texted you late last night—or I’ll call the front desk of the Wauwinet and contact her that way.”