Page 51 of The Perfect Couple

Kathryn Randall closed her eyes, and she started to talk in a slow, hypnotic voice. Celeste was an old soul, she said. She had been to the earth before, more than once, which accounted for her serenity. She didn’t ever feel the need to impress. She was comfortable with who she was.

Kathryn stopped suddenly and opened her eyes. “Does that sound right?”

“It does,” Karen said, growing excited. “It really does.”

Kathryn nodded. “She’ll be happy. Eventually.”

“Eventually?” Karen said.

A concerned look passed across Kathryn’s face, like a breeze rippling the surface of a pond. “Her romantic life…” Kathryn said.

“Yes?” Karen said.

“I see chaos.”

“Chaos?” Karen said. Here she had thought Celeste’s love life was rock solid. She was engaged to Benjamin Winbury. It was a real-life fairy tale.

Kathryn offered a weak smile. “You were right to come to me,” she said. “But there’s nothing either one of us can do about it.”

Karen had paid the thirty-dollar fee and left. Chaos. Chaos?

After that, Karen had avoided walking by Kathryn Randall’s studio. She started parking in the lot on Ferry Street, even though it was farther away.

Now, Karen’s mind starts to grind. Kathryn Randall was correct about chaos. The wedding has been canceled. Merritt is dead. She drank or took pills, Bruce said, then drowned.

Pills, Karen thinks, and she suddenly feels as nauseated as she did after her first round of chemo. Karen had caught Merritt coming out of this very bedroom last night. Merritt had said she was looking for Celeste, but that sounded like a fabrication. She hadn’t been looking for Celeste; she had been looking for pills. Had she gotten as far as the third drawer in the bathroom? Had she found the bottle of oxy and the three pearlescent ovoids mixed in? Had she been curious about those pills and taken one to see what happened?

The notion is too appalling for tears. It is a dense, dark, soul-destroying thought: Not only is Merritt dead but it’s Karen’s fault.

She needs to check her pills.

She can’t check her pills.

If she checks her pills and finds one or more of the pearlescent ovoids missing, what will she tell Bruce? Celeste? The police?

Her thoughts are a soundless scream.

She can’t continue another second not knowing. Karen gets to her feet. Her pain is still at bay, which is impossible, she knows. She hasn’t taken an oxy in nearly twelve hours, so something else is at work in her body. The shock.

Bruce falls back on the bed, his eyes open. He is there but not there, which is just as well. Karen closes the bathroom door, locks it. She sits on the toilet and slides open the third drawer. She takes out the bottle of pills.

She clutches the bottle in her fist.

Then she lays out a clean white washcloth and empties all of the pills onto it. She stares at the pile, smooths them out.

One, two… three pearlescent ovoids, present and accounted for. And then, for good measure, she counts the oxy. All there.

The rush of relief Karen feels nearly knocks her unconscious. She sways; splotches appear in her vision.

Karen staggers back to lie down on the white bed. The shape of her body is still imprinted in the sheets and blankets, like a snow angel. She fits herself back in like a piece of a puzzle and closes her eyes.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 2:47 p.m.

THE CHIEF

He’s prepared to give Valerie Gluckstern one hour with Shooter Uxley, but after only twenty minutes, she tells the Chief that her client is ready to answer questions.

In the interview room, the Chief sits down across the table from Shooter and Val. The Chief feels infinitely better since eating his lunch but he needs to come up with something here because Barney from forensics called to say they found nothing in the shot glasses, on the cigar, or in the bottle of rum.

“Are you sure?” the Chief asked. “There has to be something in one of the glasses.”

And Barney, who did not like having his expertise questioned, had sworn at the Chief and hung up.

“My thinking has changed substantially from this morning,” the Chief says. He knows Nick likes to ease into things, build a rapport, and allow information to flow organically, but the Chief isn’t feeling it. A girl is dead, this guy made a run for it, and the Chief wants answers. Now.

“Mr. Uxley is prepared to answer all your questions, as I said,” Val says. “He has nothing to hide.”

The Chief stares at the kid. He’s too damn good-looking to pity, although he seems pretty shaken up.

“Tell me where you were coming from this morning,” the Chief says.

Shooter spreads his fingers out on the table in front of him and stares at them as he speaks. “The Steamship,” he says.

“What were you doing at the Steamship?” the Chief asks.

“I was trying to leave the island,” Shooter says.

“But you missed the boat?” the Chief says.

“I didn’t miss the boat,” Shooter says. “I just changed my mind.”

“You changed your mind,” the Chief says. “You’d better start explaining yourself, son.” The Chief looks at Val. “Your client lied about being at the Wauwinet. He lied about his alibi. Then he tried to board the Hy-Line with a stolen ticket. Now I’m hearing that he was at the Steamship this morning to board the six-thirty boat, presumably without anyone’s knowledge, since the groom told Sergeant Dickson he was missing. The ME put the time of death on the girl between two forty-five and three forty-five. She was dead, and then he decided to flee. On the basis of these facts alone, I have probable cause to hold you for murder one.”

“You do not,” Val says.

The Chief turns to Shooter. “You’d better cough up one hell of a believable story.”

Shooter taps his fingers one by one, starting with his left pinkie, proceeding all the way to his right pinkie, and then going back again.

Val puts a hand on his forearm. “Tell the Chief what you told me,” she says. “It’s okay.”

“I left the Winbury compound early this morning,” Shooter says. “I walked all the way to the rotary and caught a cab down to the Steamship. I was going to the Steamship because…” He hesitates, looks at Val. She nods. “Because I was running away with the bride.”

Running away with the bride, the Chief thinks. This was one hell of a wedding.

“I’m in love with Celeste and she said she was in love with me,” Shooter says. “Last night a bunch of us went out after the party and Celeste and I peeled off to get some pizza and I asked her to run away with me.” He pauses, looks down at the table, takes a deep, shaky breath, then continues. “I told her that I would take care of her, that I would love her forever. All she had to do was meet me at the Steamship at six o’clock this morning. We were going to hop on the six-thirty slow boat to Hyannis, rent a car, drive to Boston, fly to Las Vegas, and get married ourselves.”

Val says, “Mr. Uxley waited at the Steamship for Miss Otis until six thirty-five.” She turns to Shooter. “Is that accurate?”

“When I saw the ferry pulling out, when I heard the foghorn, I knew she wasn’t coming,” Shooter says. “I had figured there was a fifty-fifty chance she’d be there. When she didn’t show, I thought she’d decided to marry Benji. So I took a taxi back to the house. Because I was the best man. And there was going to be a wedding after all.”

“That’s when I saw you?” the Chief asks.

“And you told me Merritt was dead.” He shakes his head. “You know, Celeste was afraid to follow through with our plan because she thought something bad would happen if we did it.” He swallows. “I’m sure she’s blaming herself.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this in the first place?” the Chief asks. “Instead of coming clean, you lied to me, then you ran off. You understand the light that puts you in? Why should I believe a word you say?”

“I was rattled,” Shooter says. “I thought I was coming back to a wedding and instead, you tell me that Merritt is dead? I couldn’t add our drama on top of that. Celeste would have had to corroborate my story, and I wanted to protect her from that. And I didn’t want the Winburys to know. I was agitated and confused and I figured it would be easier to just say I’d been with Gina. I didn’t think you’d actually check it out. Then, once I knew I’d been caught in a lie, I figured my only course of action was to bolt.” Shooter looks at the Chief. “I realize I handled this poorly. But I didn’t kill Merritt.”

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