What are you talking about? Benji asked.
You’ll find out soon enough, Celeste said. But right now I’d like you to leave. I want to talk to the police. Alone.
What? Benji said. What about your parents? Do they even know? They were still in their room when I left.
I’ve called my father, Celeste said. Now, please, go.
Benji had been incredulous, but he could see by the set of her jaw that she was serious.
Benji stood to go. He knew there was no point broaching the topic of getting married in Greece or rescheduling the wedding for August. Merritt’s death had changed things. He’d lost Celeste.
Now he’s left to pace Tag’s study, asking the same question over and over again of his father and brother.
“What happened?” Benji had gone to bed after they all got back from town last night. But Thomas and Tag stayed up. “Right?” Benji asks. “Right?”
“Right,” Tag says. “It was Thomas, myself, Merritt, and Featherleigh.”
“What were you guys doing?” Benji asks.
Thomas shrugs. “Drinking.”
“Drinking what?” Benji asks. “Scotch?”
“Rum,” Tag says. “I just wanted to finish my cigar, enjoy the evening. I was sitting in peace with your brother until Merritt and Featherleigh joined us.”
“Where did they come from?” Benji asks.
“They’d clearly met at the party and hit it off,” Tag says. “They came out of the house chatting like soul sisters. Like Thelma and Louise.”
“Abby called me up to bed shortly after those two sat down with us,” Thomas says. He holds up his palms. “I literally have nothing to do with this. I barely knew Merritt. But she had that look. You know the look? She was trouble.”
“Amen,” Tag whispers.
“Did Merritt seem really drunk?” Benji asks. “Did it seem like she was on something?”
“You need to relax, bro,” Thomas says. “The police will sort this out.”
The police, Benji thinks. That’s why the three of them are holed up in his father’s study; they’re waiting to be questioned by the police. The study smells like tobacco and peat and it’s filled with antiques—sextants, barometers, prints of long-ago British naval victories. Most men find Tag’s study intriguing; Benji finds it obnoxious. Although, under the circumstances, it makes a serviceable bunker, and Benji could use a drink.
“Pour me a Glenmorangie?” he asks his father.
“Before you talk to the police?” Tag asks. “Is that wise?”
“Nantucket Police, intimidating bunch,” Thomas says. “I’ll pour it.” He heads over to the bar. “If they suspected Benji, they would have questioned him first.”
“Suspected me?” Benji says. This isn’t something that has crossed his mind. “Why would they suspect me?” At that moment, there’s a knock on the study door, and Benji’s heart somersaults in fear. Do the police suspect him?
Tag strides across the room to open the door. His father looks respectable in a white polo shirt and a pair of dark madras shorts, but Benji and Thomas are still in the gym shorts and T-shirts they slept in.
It’s Reverend Derby at the door. All three Winbury men exhale a sigh of relief. The reverend embraces Tag.
“I came to see if I can help,” the reverend says.
Benji can’t handle any talk of God right now. He isn’t in the mood to hear that this was part of God’s plan, nor does he want to debate the question of whether it was a suicide and what that might mean for Merritt’s soul.
“What’s going on out there?” Tag asks Reverend Derby. “Is there any news?”
“No one has said anything directly to me,” the reverend says. “But I overheard someone saying that the medical examiner found a sedative in the young woman’s bloodstream. She must have gone swimming for some reason and then just passed out.”
A sedative, Benji thinks. Bingo. Merritt took an Ambien and went into that well-documented twilight state where her brain was shutting down though her body was still awake. She went out for a late-night swim and she drowned.
Reverend Derby claps Benji on the shoulder. “How are you holding up, young man?”
Benji shrugs. He sees no point in lying to Reverend Derby. He is like part of the family, as close as an uncle. Most of Benji’s memories of him are secular. Reverend Derby comes each year to the Winburys’ anglicized Thanksgiving; he goes with Tag to Yankee games; he has spent many weekends here on Nantucket; he attended Thomas’s and Benji’s graduations from high school, college, grad school. Having Reverend Derby around always lent the family a certain moral authority, although none of the four Winburys is particularly religious. Or Benji isn’t. He understands he can’t speak for anyone else’s interior life, but his life has been so blessed—up to this point—that he has had no need for religion.
“I’m mostly concerned for Celeste,” he says. “This has blindsided her.”
Reverend Derby looks at him with his watery blue eyes but knows better than to speak. He lifts his hand from Benji’s shoulder. “I’m going to give you your privacy. Just know I’m here if you need me.”
Tag shakes Reverend Derby’s hand as he shows him the door.
Thomas says, “Scotch.”
Benji and Thomas are each a drink and a half in when there’s another knock at the door. Again, Tag stands to answer. Again, Benji’s heart reacts like a pit bull straining on a chain.
It’s Benji’s mother.
“May I come in?” she asks Tag. Her voice is arch. Benji knows she doesn’t like the way Tag guards the privacy of his study. It makes her suspicious, she says.
Tag holds the door open and extends a hand. Greer walks in. She, too, is dressed appropriately, in a pair of white pants and a linen tank the color of whole-wheat bread. Her hair is up in a chignon and she is wearing lipstick. Celeste would be offended, Benji suspects, that Greer saw fit to put on lipstick this morning, but Greer is a certain kind of British woman who wouldn’t want the strangers in the house—the police, the forensics experts, the detective—to see her without makeup, no matter the circumstances.
“Mom?” he says. He believes in his mother’s ability to somehow make this situation bearable.
“Oh, Benny,” she says. She uses his long-abandoned childhood nickname. It hits the right note; he knows she loves him. She squeezes him so tightly he can feel her bones and her beating heart. When she pulls away, she looks right at him and he can feel her trying to shore him up. If anyone’s hopes and dreams have been razed as much as his by the wedding going up in smoke, it’s Greer’s. And yet she seems to be processing the turn of events with mournful dignity, exactly as she should.
“Have you talked to the Otises?” he asks. “Celeste said she called her father.”
“They haven’t emerged from their room,” Greer says. “I had Elida deliver a tray with lunch, but I’m sure they’re too upset to eat much.” She eyes the tumblers of scotch on the coffee table. “Have you boys eaten anything?”
“No,” Benji says.
“I could eat,” Thomas says.
Greer looks at him sharply. “Well. There are sandwiches in the kitchen.”
“What’s going on, exactly?” Tag asks. “We’re still waiting to speak to the detectives.”
“I had my interview with the fellow from the state police,” Greer says. “I daresay, he has it in for me—”
“For you?” Benji says.
Greer waves a hand. “I’m not sure what they’re thinking. The Nantucket Chief just called to ask what inn Featherleigh is staying at.”
“Featherleigh?” Thomas says. “What the hell does she have to do with anything?”
“Well,” Tag says, “she was the last person to see Merritt.”
“Was she?” Greer asks.
“She was?” Thomas says.
Tag turns away from all of them and goes to pour his own scotch at the bar cart. “I believe so,” he says, looking into his glass before drinking. “Yes.”