Page 29 of The Perfect Couple

When Karen finally reaches the top of the stairs, she’s disoriented. Is her room to the right or the left? She steadies herself with her cane and thinks, The right. When she turns right, it’s the last door on the left. But at that instant, the door Karen thinks is hers opens and Merritt “as in the parkway” steps out. Merritt is the same young woman Karen thought of as the Scarlet Letter when she’d first arrived before she realized that it was Merritt, Celeste’s maid of honor. Celeste adores Merritt, thinks she hung the moon, and while Karen is thrilled that Celeste has found a real friend, she can’t help thinking Merritt is a little fast.

Fast. Now Karen sounds like her own mother, or even her grandmother. Who uses the word fast to describe a woman? No one. At least, not in the past forty years. Karen is sure Merritt must be very nice, otherwise Celeste would not be so fond of her. Tonight, Merritt is wearing black.

“I…” Karen says. Now she is really and truly confused. This house has more rooms than a hotel. “I think I’ve gotten turned around somehow? I thought that was my room.”

“Oh, it is your room, Mrs. Otis,” Merritt says. “I was just looking for Celeste. You don’t know where she is, do you?”

“Celeste?” Karen says. “Why, she was outside when last I saw her. She’s planning on going out with Benji.”

“Okay,” Merritt says. She seems to be in a tremendous hurry; she sidles her way past Karen and heads down the stairs. “Thank you, Mrs. Otis. Good night.”

“Good night,” Karen says. She stands in place, staring at the bedroom door. Looking for Celeste? In Bruce and Karen’s room? What on earth for? Why not look for Celeste in Celeste’s room, which is down the hall on the left? Clearly that Featherleigh woman has written her filthy graffiti on the walls of Karen’s mind because all she can think is that she’s going to open the bedroom door and find Bruce inside and then she will have to ask why Merritt and Bruce were in the bedroom alone together.

Hadn’t Merritt been flirting with Bruce earlier that day? Aren’t you hot?

Karen turns the knob and swings open the door. The room is dark and empty.

Karen exhales. She props her cane against the nightstand and sits on the bed. She waits for her heart to stop racing.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 10:20 a.m.

Initial questioning, Greer Garrison Winbury, Saturday, July 7, 10:20 a.m.

After Nick finishes writing notes from his interview with Abby, he pulls on a pair of latex gloves and enters the cottage where Merritt Monaco was staying. He has gotten in ahead of forensics, which is how he prefers it.

“Tell me a story,” he whispers. “What happened?”

The cottage has been decorated with a feminine sensibility, in pastels and florals. It’s probably meant to evoke an English garden, though to Nick it feels cloying and overwrought; it’s like walking into a Crabtree and Evelyn.

The living area appears untouched; Nick doesn’t see a thing out of place. He moves into the bedroom, where the air-conditioning has been turned up so high, the room is like a meat locker. Nick has to admit, it feels good, nearly delicious after the oppressive heat outside. The bed is made, and Merritt’s suitcase is open on the luggage rack with her shoes underneath. Her bridesmaid dress—ivory silk with black embroidery—hangs alone in the closet. Nick enters the bathroom. Merritt’s cosmetics are lined up on the lower glass shelf—she is clearly a fan of Bobbi Brown—and her hairbrush and flat iron are on the upper glass shelf. Toothbrush in the cup.

She was nice and neat, Nick thinks.

A quick check of Merritt’s cosmetic bag reveals eyeliners, mascaras, lipsticks, and powder, but nothing more.

Hmmpf, Nick thinks. He’s looking for something, but what? He’ll know it when he sees it.

On the dresser, Nick finds an open clutch purse that contains a driver’s license, a gold American Express card, seventy-seven dollars in cash, and an iPhone X. He studies the license: Merritt Alison Monaco, 116 Perry Street, New York, New York. She’s a beautiful woman, and young; she just turned twenty-nine. It’s such a shame.

“I’m going to do right by you,” Nick says. “Let’s figure this out.”

He picks up the iPhone X and swipes across. To his enormous surprise, the phone opens. Whaaaaa… He didn’t think there was a Millennial alive who left her phone unsecured. He feels almost cheated. Does this woman have nothing to hide?

He scrolls through her texts first. There is nothing new today, and yesterday there’s one text from someone named Robbie wishing her a belated “Happy Day of American Independence”; he hopes she’s well. The day before that, Merritt sent a text to someone named Jada V., thanking her for the party. Attached is a photo of fireworks over the Statue of Liberty.

The call log is ancient as well—by ancient, Nick means nothing within the past twenty-four hours. Friday morning there was a call placed to a 212 number but when Nick calls that number from his own phone, he gets the switchboard for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Merritt had probably been checking in at work.

The scant offerings on Merritt’s phone lead Nick back to Abby’s comment that Merritt might have set her sights on someone who was already at the wedding. She wouldn’t have to call or text anyone if she could talk to him in person.

Nick puts the clutch purse down where he found it and pokes around a little longer. A journal left lying around is too much to hope for, Nick knows, but what about a joint, a condom, a doodle on a scrap of paper with the name of the person she was involved with? She’s too attractive for there not to have been someone.

He finds nothing.

The mother of the bride is still in her bedroom, and the bride herself still at the hospital. Nick finds Greer Garrison, mother of the groom, on her phone in the kitchen. She has obviously just told someone the awful news and is now accepting condolences.

“Celeste is devastated,” she says. “I can’t imagine her agony.” She pauses. “Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves… we’re all still in shock and”—here, Greer raises her eyes to Nick—“the police are trying to figure out what happened. I believe I’m the next to be interrogated, and so I really must hang up, I’m afraid. Love to Thebaud.” Greer punches off her phone. “Can I help you?” she asks Nick.

She looks fairly put-together, considering the circumstances, Nick thinks. She’s dressed in white pants and a beige tank; there is a gold cross on a thin gold chain around her neck. Her hair is sleek; she’s wearing lipstick. Her expression is guarded. She knows her task is about to be interrupted and she resents it.

Nick says, “Ms. Garrison, I’m Detective Nick Diamantopoulos with the Massachusetts State Police. I’ll need you to put away your phone.”

“You’re Greek?” she says, tilting her head. She’s probably trying to reconcile the name with his black skin.

He smiles. “My mother is Cape Verdean and my father is Greek. My paternal grandparents are from Thessaloníki.”

“I’m trying to write a novel set in Greece,” she says. “Problem is, I haven’t been there in so long, I seem to have lost the flavor of the place.”

As much as Nick would love to talk about the Aegean Sea, ouzo, and grilled octopus, he has work to do. “I need to ask you some questions, ma’am.”

“I don’t think you understand my predicament here, Detective,” she says. “This is my wedding.”

“Your wedding?”

“I planned it. I have people to call. All of the guests! People need to know what’s happened.”

“I understand,” Nick says. “But to find out exactly what did happen, I require your cooperation. And that means your undivided attention.”

“You do realize I have a houseful of people?” Greer says. “You do realize that Celeste’s mother has terminal breast cancer? And that Celeste has been taken to the hospital? I’m waiting to hear from Benji about how she’s doing.”

“I’ll make this as fast as possible,” Nick says. He tries to ignore the phone, although he would like to take it from her. “Would you please come with me to the living room?”