Greer stares at him with reproach. “How dare you order me around in my own house.”
“I’m very sorry about that, ma’am. Now, please.” He walks down the hall and hopes she follows him. He hears her rustling behind him so he stops at the entrance of the living room and lets her walk in first. He closes the door tightly behind them.
Greer perches on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward as though she might spring to her feet and escape at any moment. Her phone is in her lap, buzzing away.
“Can you please tell me what you remember after the rehearsal dinner ended?” Nick says. “Who went where?”
“The young people went out,” Greer says. “The old people stayed home. The exception was Abigail, my daughter-in-law. She’s pregnant. She stayed home.”
“But both the bride and groom went out? Who else?” Nick pulls out his notepad. “Merritt? Did she go out?”
“Do you know what I do for a living, Detective?” Greer asks. “I write murder mysteries. As such, I am intimately familiar with procedure, so I appreciate that you have to ask these questions. But I can tell you exactly what happened to Merritt.”
“Can you?” Nick says. “Exactly?”
“Well, not exactly,” Greer says. “But the gist is fairly obvious, is it not? The girl drank too much or she took pills and then she decided to go for a swim in her dress and she drowned.”
“You’ll agree,” Nick says, “that as viable as that explanation might be, it leaves some unanswered questions.”
“I’ve interviewed one witness who says she’s fairly certain that Merritt didn’t go out. So if she stayed home, where and what was she drinking? Did anyone see her? Did anyone talk to her? I just walked through the cottage where Ms. Monaco was staying. There was no alcohol in the cottage—no bottles, no empties, nothing. And no pills, no prescription bottles. As a fiction writer, you must know that it’s difficult, when one is drinking and popping pills, to get rid of all incriminating evidence. Also, Ms. Monaco had quite a nasty cut on her foot. How did that happen? When did that happen?”
“Don’t look for drama where there is none,” Greer says. “There’s a term for that in literature. It’s called a red herring. The term was coined in the early 1800s by hunters who would throw a kipper down behind their trail to divert the wolves.”
Nick almost smiles. He wants to dislike her but there’s something about her he admires. He has never met a published author before, and it’s true—if she is a seasoned mystery writer, she might be able to help them. “That’s good to know,” he says. “Thank you.”
“I came across Merritt at the end of the rehearsal dinner,” Greer says. “She was hiding in the laundry room. She was crying.”
“Crying?” Nick says. He remembers that Abby also said Merritt had been crying, out in the rose garden. “Did she tell you what was wrong?”
“She did not,” Greer says. “And I didn’t press; it wasn’t my place. But I think it was clear she was feeling left out. Her best friend was getting married. Celeste was the center of attention and Merritt was at the wedding alone. Maybe she was depressed. I have no idea. But I can say that she was very upset, which only solidifies the argument that she drank too much, maybe took some pills, and went for a swim. Maybe she drowned accidentally or maybe it was intentional.”
“Suicide?” Nick says.
“Is that impossible?” Greer asks. “It’s not something one likes to think about, of course. But…”
“Let’s get back to you,” Nick says. “What did you do when the party ended? You and Mr. Winbury stayed home, is that right?”
“I don’t see why what Tag and I did is relevant,” Greer says.
“You’re a mystery writer,” Nick says. “So you’re familiar with the term alibi?”
Greer raises an eyebrow at him. “Touché,” she says. “Yes. My husband and Mr. Otis, the bride’s father, had a drink in Tag’s study and then they must have gone outside to smoke a cigar because when Tag came to bed, he smelled like smoke.”
“We found a cigar stubbed out on a table under the tent. One cigar. Would you guess that cigar belonged to your husband?”
“I would guess,” Greer says, “but I couldn’t be sure.”
“What kind of cigars does your husband smoke, Ms. Garrison?”
“He smokes Cuban cigars,” Greer says, “but more than one kind. Cohiba. Romeo y Julieta. Montecristo. I hardly see how the cigar is relevant to what happened to Ms. Monaco.”
“We aren’t sure it is relevant,” Nick says. “Right now, we’re just trying to figure out who was where after the party broke up. It appears a handful of people were out under the tent smoking and drinking, and we’re trying to identify who exactly was there. Did Mr. Winbury say where he’d been when he came to bed?”
“I didn’t ask where he’d been because I knew where he’d been. Here, on the grounds.”
“What time did Mr. Winbury come to bed?”
“I have no earthly idea. I was asleep.”
“You were asleep but you noticed that Mr. Winbury smelled like cigar smoke?”
“That’s correct,” Greer says. “I woke up just enough to know Tag was coming to bed and that he smelled like cigar smoke but not enough to bother checking the time.”
“And you didn’t wake up again until the morning?”
“That’s correct. I woke up on my own at half past five.”
“And, Ms. Garrison, what time did you retire? Did you go to bed right after the party was over?”
“No, I did not.”
“What did you do after the party? While Mr. Winbury and Mr. Otis were in the study?”
“I sat down at my computer. I was writing. I have a deadline looming.”
“I see. And where did you do this writing?”
“On my laptop,” Greer says. “In my sitting room.”
“And does that desk face a window?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Did you notice any activity out the window?”
“I did not.”
Nick pauses. Is it likely she didn’t see anything out the window? No lights? No shadows?
“And what time did you finish writing?” he asks.
“I finished at eleven fifteen,” she says.
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes,” Greer says. “I made myself stop because I didn’t want to be tired today.”
“So after you finished writing, you went to bed. Say, eleven thirty?”
“Around then, yes.”
Something about Greer Garrison’s answers bothers him. They’re too neat, too crisp. It’s as though she has thought them through in advance. Nick takes a gamble.
“Would you bring me to the computer, please, Ms. Garrison?” he asks.
“I don’t see why that’s necessary.”
“I would like to see it.”
“Well, then, I shall go fetch it for you.”
“No, you misunderstood me,” Nick says. “I would like you to bring me to the computer.”
“That’s an unreasonable request,” Greer says.
I’ve got her, he thinks.
“It’s an unreasonable request for you to bring me to the computer but not for you to bring the computer to me? Because there’s something you want to delete or hide on the computer?”
“Not at all,” Greer says.
“Fine, then bring me to the computer. Please, Ms. Garrison.”
She stares at him for a beat, then she rises.
Nick follows Greer down the hall. They step through an arched doorway into an anteroom—there’s a niche built into the wall that holds an enormous bouquet of hydrangeas and lilies—and Greer opens a door. There’s a sitting room with a sofa, a love seat, antique tables, and a desk that faces out a window. The view out the window is of the side yard—of a fence and the top of the pool house. Through a connecting door, Nick sees the master bedroom. There’s a king bed made up with white sheets and a comforter and an assortment of pillows, all of them neatly arranged. A cashmere blanket embroidered with the word Summerland is draped on the diagonal across the corner of the bed. Nick blinks. Greer found the time to make her bed so artfully after she found out Merritt was dead—or before? But at that moment, a woman pops out of the master bath holding a bucket and a roll of paper towels. The housekeeper.