“You don’t know,” Celeste says. “You have no idea.”
Nick takes out his notepad. “The best way to help Merritt is to help me figure out what happened to her. She was your best friend, your maid of honor. She confided in you, right?”
“And here’s the funny thing about weddings,” Nick says. “They bring together people who don’t know each other. I’ve interviewed two people already but neither of them really knew Merritt. So you are a key part of this investigation.”
Celeste takes a deep breath. “I’m not sure I want to break Merritt’s confidence. Other people are involved. Other people I care about.”
“I understand,” Nick says. His sympathy is genuine, but he is a sapper looking for land mines. “Why don’t you just tell me what you know and we’ll see if it’s relevant.”
Celeste stares at him.
“I have someone who witnessed you and Ms. Monaco in the Winburys’ rose garden after the party ended,” Nick says. “This person said Ms. Monaco was crying and you were comforting her. Do you want to tell me what that was about?”
Celeste blinks. “Someone saw us in the rose garden?” she says. “Who?”
“I can’t tell you that,” Nick says. “What you tell me here is confidential. That’s true for everyone.”
“I hear you saying that, but…”
“But what?” Nick says. She’s scared to tell him what she knows—but why? “My understanding is that Ms. Monaco was estranged from her parents and there’s a brother somewhere but no one knows where. So she doesn’t have any family here to advocate on her behalf. That leaves me—and you—to find out what happened. Do you understand the magnitude of that responsibility, Celeste?”
“She was… going through a tough breakup,” Celeste says. “With a married man. She was very upset about it.”
Nick nods. He waits.
“I told her to end it. Back when I found out, which was only a few weeks ago, I told her to end it and she said she would, but she didn’t. And then he ended it.”
“The married man?”
“Yes,” Celeste says. “And that was why she was crying.”
Nick writes on his notepad: Married man. Then he scans his other notes and he thinks about Merritt’s cell phone. She had just gone through a breakup but there were no calls or texts, either coming in or going out. Except for the one from Robbie wishing her a belated “Happy Day of American Independence” and hoping she was doing well.
“Is the married man named Robbie, by any chance?”
Celeste’s eyes widen. “How do you know about Robbie?”
“I’m a detective,” Nick says. “Is Robbie the married man?”
“No,” Celeste says. “Robbie is her… was… I don’t know, her friend. A guy friend. A past boyfriend, but not anymore.”
“Celeste, was the married man that Merritt was involved with at the party last night?”
The barest movement of the head forward. Almost involuntary, it seems.
“Is that a nod?”
“It’s Tag,” Celeste whispers. “Tag Winbury, my father-in-law.”
Boom, Nick thinks.
Once the name is out, the rest flows more easily, as though a plug has been pulled.
Merritt and Tag hooked up two months ago during Celeste’s bachelorette weekend. They saw each other in the city, Celeste isn’t sure when or where. As recently as the Fourth of July, Merritt said the relationship was over. It wasn’t a big deal, according to her.
“But I talked to her after the rehearsal dinner. She was upset. I encouraged her to come into town with us but she said she wouldn’t be any fun. She wanted to stay home and mope, she said. Get it out of her system so she would be good to go today.” Celeste pauses. “For the wedding.”
“Was the last time you saw Merritt alive in the rose garden?” Nick asks.
“No,” Celeste says. “I saw her when we got back from town.”
“You did?” Nick says. “Where was she?”
“She was at a table under the tent with Tag,” Celeste says. “And Thomas, Benji’s brother. Thomas came with us into town. We went to the back bar at Ventuno but when we got to the Boarding House, his wife, Abby, called and told him to come home. When we got back, he was sitting under the tent with Tag and Merritt… and a friend of the Winburys named Featherleigh Dale.”
Nick writes down the names: Merritt, Tag, Thomas, brother, and a person—woman?—named Featherleigh Dale.
“Do you know Featherleigh Dale?” Nick asks.
“Not really,” Celeste says. “I just met her last night. She’s from London.”
“And was she also staying at the Winbury house?”
“But she was there last night?”
“Yes,” Celeste says.
“What time was it when you saw Merritt under the tent with Tag?”
“We left town when the bars closed, at one,” Celeste says. “So maybe one thirty?”
“And when you saw Merritt with Tag,” Nick says, “were you concerned?”
“I was preoccupied…” Celeste says.
“That stands to reason,” Nick says. “After all, you were supposed to get married today.”
“It’s no excuse.” Celeste bows her head. “I was preoccupied and I didn’t persuade Merritt to come to bed. If I had done that, she would be alive. This is my fault.”
Nick needs to keep his bride focused. “Celeste, what were Tag and Merritt and Thomas and… Featherleigh doing under the tent? Drinking? Smoking?”
“Drinking shots,” Celeste says. “Of some special rum Tag gets in Barbados. Tag had a cigar. They looked happy. Merritt looked happy, or happier, anyway. They tried to get me to join them but Benji and Shooter had gone to bed and I wanted to get some sleep…”
“Understandable,” Nick says. “You were getting married the next day.”
Again, Celeste shakes her head. It’s the mention of the wedding that seems to set her back, so Nick decides not to do it again.
“As I was saying good night to everyone, Abby called down from an upstairs window,” Celeste says. “She wanted Thomas to come to bed. And I did hesitate a bit then because I thought it would be bad for Tag and Merritt to be alone together. Honestly, I thought they might rekindle their…” She stops, pinkens. “I thought they might hook up.”
Nick nods. “Okay.”
“But Featherleigh was there and she showed no intention of leaving. She made a comment that it was morning in London and she had just gotten her second wind.” Celeste swallows. “I kissed Merritt good night and I squeezed her hand and looked her in the eye and I said, Are you okay, my friend? And she said, Hey, your stutter is gone. Because I had a stutter for a few months, actually. Anyway, I figured she was sober enough to notice that, she would be fine. So I went up to bed.”
“Did you hear anything outside after that?” Nick asks. “Did you hear anyone in the water? There was a two-person kayak left out on the beach. There was blood in the sand and Merritt had a cut on her foot. Do you know anything about that?”
“Kayak?” Celeste says. She sits up, swings her feet to the floor, and starts to pace. “Did Tag take Merritt out in the kayak? Do you know if that happened?”
“I don’t,” he says. “I’m working with the Nantucket Police on this. The Chief will question Mr. Winbury about the kayak. The important thing is you didn’t hear anything?”
“No,” Celeste says. “But the house has central air and Benji’s bedroom—the room where I was staying—faces the driveway, not the water.”
“And this morning… you’re the one who found Ms. Monaco, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Celeste says.
“You were up early,” Nick says. “Why is that?”
Celeste bows her head and starts to shake.
Nick turns to see a yellow paisley duffel bag in the corner of the room. He remembers what Patty said. “And you had a bag packed? I guess I don’t understand why you were down at the beach at five thirty in the morning with your bag.” Although Nick does understand, or he thinks he does.