Page 15 of The Perfect Couple

Shooter gets to his feet. “Call the Wauwinet,” he says. “I need to use the bathroom right now. My stomach is funny. I think it was the raw bar from last night.”

“Go ahead,” the Chief says. He’s not stupid. He knows that Shooter will go into the cottage to “use the bathroom,” but really he’ll text Gina the bartender and ask her to corroborate his story.

The Chief waits until Shooter disappears into the cottage, then he takes out his phone and calls Bob from Old Salt Taxi. Bob, who dropped Shooter off here this morning, has been a friend of the Chief’s for twenty-five years.

“Hey, Bob,” the Chief says. “It’s Ed Kapenash.”

“Ed,” Bob says. “Sorry I didn’t stop to chat this morning. You looked like you were busy. What’s going on? Word on the street is there was a murder.”

Word on the street. Already? Well, it is a small island. “I can’t get into it,” the Chief says. “But you remember the kid you dropped off? I need to know where you picked him up. Did you pick him up at the Wauwinet?”

“The Wauwinet?” Bob says. “No. That real handsome kid in the red shorts and the blazer? I picked him up down at the Steamship. He had a ticket for the six-thirty slow boat this morning but I guess he missed it. And so he asked me to take him back to Monomoy. He said he was staying there.”

“You’re sure you picked him up at the Steamship dock?” the Chief says. “And not at the Wauwinet?”

“Sure I’m sure,” Bob says. “I may not be getting any younger but I have yet to make a twelve-mile mistake. I picked that kid up on Steamboat Wharf. He told me he’d missed the six-thirty.”

“Okay, Bob, wonderful, thanks. I’ll talk to you.” The Chief hangs up and takes a second to think. Shooter had a ticket for the early boat? With the wedding scheduled for this afternoon? Something is going on. And he flat-out lied about the Wauwinet.

Why?

A text comes in on the Chief’s phone. It’s from the funeral director, Bostic, saying he’s on his way to collect the body—which is good news, considering the heat and the fragile state of everyone’s nerves. Bostic will get the body ready for transfer to the medical examiner on Cape Cod. The Chief checks the time. If everything goes perfectly, they may have a report on the cause of death by early afternoon.

The Chief waits another few minutes for Shooter to emerge. By now, he must know he’s been caught in a lie. The Chief strides across the shell driveway to the cottage that Shooter entered and knocks on the door. “Excuse me?” he says. “Mr. Uxley?”

No answer. He knocks harder. “Sir?”

The Chief tries the knob. The door is locked. He forces the door, which feels extreme, but he wants Shooter Uxley to know he can’t hide.

The cottage is empty. The Chief checks the little sitting room, the galley kitchen, the bedroom, and the bathroom—where the window is wide open.

Shooter Uxley is gone.

Friday, July 6, 2018, 4:00 p.m.

KAREN

She wakes up from her nap with the sun striping her bed and for one glorious instant, she feels no pain. She sits up without any help. It’s as if Nantucket Island—the quality of the air, the rarefied seaside atmosphere—has cured her. She’s going to be fine.

“B-B-Betty?”

Karen turns. Celeste emerges from Karen’s bathroom wearing a ruffled sundress the color of a tangerine, a sunset, a monarch butterfly. It’s bright and very flattering. Celeste may have the brain and temperament of a scientist, but she has the body of a bathing-suit model. She inherited Karen’s breasts, which used to be her best feature, round and firm. But along with the breasts, Celeste may also have inherited the predisposition to cancer. Karen has made Celeste promise that as soon as she and Benji are married and Celeste has comprehensive health insurance, she will go to Sloan Kettering for genetic testing. And if necessary, she will get screened every year. Early detection is key.

“Hello, sweetheart,” Karen says. “What are you doing here? Surely you have more important places to be? This is your time to shine.”

“I was putting your t-t-toiletries away,” Celeste says. “And now I can help you g-g-get ready.”

Karen’s eyes prick with tears. It is she who should be helping Celeste, she who should be fussing over her daughter, the bride. But there is no denying that if Karen is to get dressed and make herself presentable, she will need help.

“Where’s your father?” she asks.

“Swimming,” Celeste says.

There’s a stabbing pain in Karen’s chest. It’s jealousy. Bruce is swimming. Karen yearns to be with him, to feel the power of her four limbs. She had once been so strong; she remembers swimming the butterfly leg on her relay team, soaring from the water, arms stretched overhead, legs pumping behind. When she looks back at her life, she sees how much she has taken for granted.

Celeste is by her side. Karen takes a moment to look up at her face. Her eyes are sad, and Karen is concerned about the stutter, although she hasn’t mentioned it because she doesn’t want to make Celeste self-conscious for fear that the stutter will get worse. She knows that Benji and Celeste have whittled down their wedding vows so that all Celeste has to say is “I do.”

“Is everything okay?” Karen asks.

“Yes, B-B-Betty, of course,” Celeste says.

The nickname never fails to give Karen joy, even so many years later. She is Betty, for Betty Crocker, because Karen swears by the tattered, spiral-bound cookbooks she inherited from her own mother. Bruce, meanwhile, is Mac, for MacGyver, because he has a talent for unconventional problem-solving. The man can fix anything and prides himself on not having called a repairman in thirty years of marriage. Celeste gave them the nicknames when she was eleven years old and had outgrown Mommy and Daddy.

Karen strokes Celeste’s forearm and Celeste adjusts her smile so that it seems almost real. She’s pretending. But why? Is she feeling scared and anxious about Karen’s illness? The decline has been significant, Karen knows, even in the two weeks since she last saw Celeste. Karen had dropped thirteen pounds as of a week ago and maybe another ten since then. Her stomach is compromised; she eats a bite or two of food per meal and forces down enough Ensure to keep up her strength. Her hair is nothing but gray fuzz, like one finds on a pussy willow. Her eyes are sunken, and her limbs tremble. It has probably come as a shock to Celeste.

But Karen isn’t persuaded that she, Karen, is the reason for Celeste’s pensive, faraway mood. It’s something else, maybe the stress and pressure of being the center of attention. This wedding is huge; the setting is grandiose. Elaborate, expensive plans have been made, with Celeste and Benji at their center. It would be intimidating for anyone. When Karen married Bruce, there were six people in attendance at the Easton courthouse. She and Bruce celebrated afterward with a bottle of Asti spumante and a pizza from Nicolosi’s.

Or maybe the problem isn’t the wedding. Maybe it’s Benji himself. Karen thinks back on her ill-advised visit to Kathryn Randall, the psychic.

Chaos.

“Darling,” Karen says.

Celeste looks at her mother, and their eyes lock. Karen sees the truth in Celeste’s clear blue irises: she doesn’t want to marry Benji.

Karen needs to reassure Celeste that she’s doing the right thing. Benji is a good man. He adores Celeste. He keeps her on the exact same pedestal that Karen and Bruce placed her on at the moment of her birth. That’s really the wonderful thing about Benji: He loves their daughter the way she deserves to be loved. That… and he has money.

Karen would like to pretend that the money doesn’t matter, but it does. For over thirty years, Karen and Bruce have lived from paycheck to paycheck; 95 percent of their decisions have had to do with money: Should they buy organic fruit so Celeste wouldn’t be exposed to a lot of pesticides? (Yes.) Should they drive the extra twenty minutes to Phillipsburg, New Jersey, for cheaper gas? (Yes.) Should they take Celeste to the orthodontist who allegedly had been accused of child molestation but who charged half as much as the reputable orthodontist? (No.) They had enough money to pay their mortgage and send Celeste to college, but any financial surprise—a leak in the roof, a raise in property taxes, a cancer diagnosis—was enough to sink them. Karen doesn’t want Celeste to have to live that way. She has a college degree and a good job at the zoo, but Benji can give her everything. And everything is what she deserves.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com