Tag settles in the chair behind his desk and offers the Chief one of the two chairs facing the desk. This makes Tag feel in control of the situation, as if it were Tag who invited the Chief in for a chat and not the other way around. Perception is reality, Tag thinks. Why not put the Chief in the hot seat?
“What have you got?” Tag asks.
“Excuse me?” the Chief says.
“A young woman is dead,” Tag says. “And it happened on my property, or very nearly. Now, maybe it was an accident. Maybe Merritt had too much to drink and drowned. But if you have any evidence that something else is going on, then I deserve to know about it.” Tag hardens his gaze. “Don’t I?”
“No,” the Chief says. “You don’t.”
Tag opens his mouth to say—to say what? It doesn’t matter because the Chief leans forward in his chair and says, “When did you last see Ms. Monaco?”
Tag blinks. His instinct is to lie—of course his instinct is to lie!—because the truth is too incriminating.
“I saw her last night,” Tag says.
The Chief nods. “At what time?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“All right,” the Chief says. “Where were you when you last saw her?”
“I was… out back.”
“Can you be more specific, please?” the Chief says. “What were the circumstances surrounding the last time you saw Ms. Monaco?”
Tag takes a moment. He has had all day to consider various answers to this question, but now he’s floundering.
If he lies, they’ll catch him, he thinks. And he is innocent. Where Merritt’s death is concerned, he is innocent.
“We were out back under the tent, drinking,” he says. “A group of us. Myself, my son Thomas, a friend of the family named Featherleigh Dale, and Ms. Monaco.”
“And how would you describe Ms. Monaco’s mood at that time?” the Chief asks.
Tag thinks about this. He had bidden Bruce Otis good night and had planned to go to bed—but Thomas had arrived back from town by himself. Abby had called and insisted Thomas come home; when he’d gone up to check on her, however, she’d been asleep.
“Or she was pretending to be asleep,” Thomas said. “It’s like she’s trying to catch me at something.”
“Catch you at something?” Tag said. He flashed back to the evening he ended things with Merritt, when he saw Thomas sitting alone at the bar at the Four Seasons. And so instead of going to bed, Tag grabbed a bottle of good rum from the bar in his study. As his favorite auntie, Mary Margaret, used to say, When you don’t know what else to do, get drunk. Tag would have a heart-to-heart with Thomas; it was long overdue.
“Come on out to the tent with me,” Tag said.
Thomas had needed no further enticement. He set up one of the round tables meant for the reception and brought over four folding chairs—thinking, Tag supposed, that the others might join them when they got back from town. Tag had just been pouring the shots when Merritt and Featherleigh appeared out of the shadows. It was almost as though they’d been lying in wait. Tag was spooked to see Merritt but she’d offered him an apologetic smile and Tag thought he’d seen acquiescence in her eyes. She would do as he asked: Take the money, end the pregnancy, walk away. He knew she didn’t want a baby.
“Would you ladies care for a nightcap?” Tag asked.
“Answer to my prayers,” Featherleigh said.
Merritt hadn’t spoken, although she did take a seat next to Tag, and when he set a shot in front of her, she didn’t protest.
He had been a little uncomfortable about how chummy Merritt suddenly seemed to be with Featherleigh Dale. What were they doing together? And why was Featherleigh still at the house? She was staying at an inn downtown. She had waited until the last minute to book and so she ended up in a real dump, as Greer described it; maybe that was why she was hesitant to leave.
“Merritt seemed to be in fine spirits,” Tag says to the Chief. “I mean, I guess. I really didn’t know her well.”
“Didn’t you?” the Chief asks.
Tag’s gut twists. Now is the time to ask for an attorney. He had considered calling Sergio Ramone the second he found out Merritt was dead, but in his mind, hiring an attorney is as good as admitting you’re guilty. And Tag didn’t kill her.
He didn’t kill her.
“I had nothing to do with Ms. Monaco’s death,” he says. “Not one thing.”
“Were you having an affair with Merritt Monaco?” the Chief asks.
“I was,” Tag says. “But I ended things weeks ago.”
“Did Ms. Monaco tell you she was pregnant with your baby?”
“She said she was…”
“Okay, then,” the Chief says. He leans forward in the chair. “I’m going to guess that when you heard that news, you weren’t too happy. I’m going to guess you would have gone to great lengths to keep that news quiet.”
Tag sinks into himself. Could he throw himself on the mercy of the Chief, maybe appeal to him man to man? One look at the Chief tells Tag that the guy is honorable. He’s wearing a gold wedding band. He has probably been married twenty-five or thirty years and never so much as glanced at another woman.
“I would have gone to great lengths to keep that news quiet,” Tag admits. “If I were even certain the baby was mine. Merritt was seeing other men. There’s an Irish bloke named Robbie who bartends at the Breslin in New York City. It might have been Robbie’s baby.”
“But she told you it was yours,” the Chief says. “Doesn’t matter if it was Robbie’s. She was threatening you. She was threatening to expose your affair. I’m sure that must have been scary for you, especially this weekend, when you were surrounded by family and friends. Your son’s getting married; seems pretty unfair for her to choose this time to air your dirty laundry.”
Tag hears the phony sympathy in the Chief’s voice, even as his words ring true: It was unfair.
“I told Merritt that after the wedding I would write her a check. I wanted her to terminate the pregnancy.” He holds up his hands. “That’s bad, I know. But it’s a far cry from killing her.”
The Chief stares at him.
“Do you really think I’d be daft enough to drown a woman I was sleeping with, a woman who claimed to be pregnant with my child, and leave her to wash up in front of my house on the morning of my son’s wedding? I wasn’t that desperate. I was worried, definitely, but I wasn’t desperate and I didn’t kill anyone.”
“You did take Ms. Monaco out for a ride on your kayak, though, correct? The kayak we found on the beach? Your wife and your daughter-in-law both said you’re the only person who uses the kayaks.”
“Yes,” Tag says. “Yes, I did.”
“Even though it was the middle of the night,” the Chief says. “Did that not seem like a desperate measure to you? Reckless, at the very least?”
“She said she needed to talk to me,” Tag says. “Away from everyone, away from the house.”
“And what happened while you were out on this kayak ride?”
“I was paddling for an island beach out by Abrams Point but it was dark and I was having a difficult time finding it,” Tag says. “And when we were out in open water, in the middle of nowhere, the kayak tilted to the right and I heard a splash. Merritt had jumped off.” Tag leans forward. “You have to understand, Merritt was unhinged. She was hormonal, emotional, mentally unstable. She admitted that the only reason she wanted to keep the baby was that it gave her leverage over me. Then she leaped off the boat like a crazy person. I had to paddle back around and haul her up by the wrist.”
“By the wrist?” the Chief says.
“Yes,” Tag says. “And as soon as she was back up in the kayak, I paddled like hell for home. She got out on the beach and headed off. I thought she was going to bed.”
“You didn’t tie the kayak up,” the Chief says. “You left it overturned on the beach. Which I understand is out of character for you.”