Celeste is immersed in these mundane thoughts when she opens the door, so what she sees comes as a complete shock.
It’s not Benji.
“Wait,” she says.
“Hey, Sunshine,” he says. “Can I come in?”
“Where’s B-B-Benji?” she asks, and an arrow of pure red panic shoots through her. “D-D-Did something happen?”
“He took a cab straight home from JFK,” Shooter says. “Didn’t he call you?”
“I d-d-don’t know,” Celeste says. She hasn’t checked her phone since… since before getting in the taxi to come home.
Shooter nods. “Trust me. He called you and left a message saying he wanted to go home to bed. There wasn’t much left of old Benji when we got off the plane.”
“Okay,” Celeste says. “So what are you d-d-doing here?”
“Can I come in, please?” Shooter asks.
Celeste checks behind Shooter. The stairwell is its usual gray, miserable self. She thinks to feel embarrassed about her apartment—Shooter lives in some corporate condo in Hell’s Kitchen, but even that must put her place to shame.
She isn’t supposed to care what Shooter thinks.
“Fine,” she says. She’s doing a good job at sounding nonchalant, even a bit irritated, but her insides are flapping around like the Bronx Zoo’s hysterical macaw Kellyanne. Benji has been diminished by his bachelor adventure, and Shooter doesn’t look so hot either. His hair is messy and he’s wearing a New York Giants T-shirt, a frayed pair of khaki shorts, and flip-flops. He looks younger to Celeste, nearly innocent.
She steps aside to let him in, then she closes the door behind him.
“So how was the bachelor party of the century?” she asks.
Instead of answering, Shooter kisses her, once, and it feels exactly the way Celeste dreamed it would: soft and delicious. She makes a cooing sound, like a dove, and Shooter kisses her again. Their mouths open and his tongue seeks out hers. Her legs start to quiver; she can’t believe she is still standing. Shooter takes her head in his hands; his touch is gentle but the electricity, the heat, the desire between them is crazy. Celeste had no idea her body could respond to another person like this. She’s on fire.
Shooter’s hands travel down Celeste’s back to her ass. He pulls her against him. She wants him so badly she could weep. She hates that she was right. She had known if this ever happened, she would become delirious and lose control of her senses.
Don’t stop, she thinks. Don’t stop!
He pulls away. “Celeste,” he says. His voice is husky. “I’m in love with you.”
I’m in love with you too, she thinks. But she can’t say it, and suddenly her good sense kicks in the way it should have a few moments ago. This is wrong! It’s wrong! She is engaged to Benji! She will not debase that, she will not cheat on him. She will not cheat on him. She will not be like Merritt or Tag. They may think that the intensity of their desire justifies their actions, but that is morally convenient. Celeste isn’t religious but she does have an immutable sense of right and wrong and she also believes—though she would never say this—that if Merritt and Tag continue, something bad will happen. Something very bad.
This will not be the case for Celeste. She can’t falter like this or her mother will die. She’s sure of it.
“You have to leave,” Celeste says.
“Celeste,” he says.
“Leave,” she says. She opens the door. She feels faint. “Shooter. Please. Please.”
He stares at her for a long moment with those hypnotic blue eyes. Celeste clings to the small piece of herself that knows this is the right action, the only possible action.
Shooter doesn’t press. He steps out, and Celeste shuts the door behind him.
Saturday, July 7, 2018, 5:15 p.m.
Nick has just heard from the Chief: His interview with Featherleigh Dale is suddenly very important. Tag Winbury, the father, is still a person of interest but the Chief isn’t convinced he did it.
“He admitted he took the girl out in the kayak,” the Chief said. “He said she jumped off, on purpose, and he yanked her back up by the wrist, which is consistent with the ME’s report. He admitted to pouring the shots, so a reasonable explanation is he slipped a mickey into one of the shots, but forensics found nothing in the bottle or the shot glasses. He didn’t know about the cut on her foot. He said she must have cut it after they got back to dry land. We need to check with Featherleigh about the cut. And Tag said Merritt drank a glass of water that Featherleigh Dale got from the kitchen.”
“Water?” Nick said. “There wasn’t a water glass at the scene.”
“Exactly,” the Chief said. “So maybe he’s lying. Or maybe…”
“Someone got rid of the water glass,” Nick said. The mother, Greer Garrison, had been in the kitchen at some point, getting champagne. Nick still has a feeling she’s hiding something. “If Greer knew about the affair…”
“And the baby…” the Chief said.
“Maybe she slipped a pill into the drinking water,” Nick said. “And then went back and cleared the glass. Ran it through the dishwasher on the power-scrub cycle. But how would she know Merritt would then go for a swim?”
“Maybe the father and mother are in it together,” the Chief said.
“Both of them?” Nick said. “The night before their son’s big wedding? A wedding they’re paying for?”
“Another thing,” the Chief said. “Tag Winbury is a smart guy. If he’d used the kayak ride to drown our girl, he would have made damn sure he locked the kayak up when he got back. Right? To cover his tracks?”
“Are we overthinking this?” Nick asked. “Was it just an accident?”
“Be thorough with Featherleigh,” the Chief said.
“You know me,” Nick said. “I’m a bloodhound.”
Nick is waiting in the interview room when they bring Featherleigh Dale in. He hears her squawking a bit out in the hallway: She’s going to miss her flight to JFK. She needs to get back to London. Luklo swings open the door to the interview room and ushers Ms. Dale inside. Nick stands.
He and Featherleigh Dale regard each other.
She says, “Well, you’re a tasty morsel, aren’t you?”
Luklo smirks and Nick extends a hand. “Ms. Dale, I’m Nick Diamantopoulos, a detective with the Massachusetts State Police. I just have a few questions and as soon as we’re through here, assuming we’re satisfied with your answers, I’ll have Officer Luklo get you back to the airport and on your way.”
“If I had known the detective would look like you,” Featherleigh says, “then I would definitely have committed a crime.”
“If you’ll just have a seat,” Nick says.
Featherleigh wheels in her roller bag and sets a handbag bursting with stuff—a paperback novel, a hairbrush, an open bag of pretzels, which spill all over the floor—on top of the suitcase, then she grabs a smaller clutch purse from within the bag and brings it with her to the table, where she proceeds to put on fire-engine-red lipstick.
Nick waits for her to get settled and thinks, This woman is too disorganized to kill anyone, even accidentally. But maybe he’s wrong. Featherleigh Dale is in her mid-forties. She’s a bit chunky, she has hair halfway between blond and red—it looks like she changed her mind in the middle of a dye job—and she’s wearing what looks like a jumpsuit issued by the air force in 1942, minus the sleeves.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Nick asks.
“Not unless you have a decent chardonnay,” she says. “You interrupted my lunch.”
Nick takes a seat. “Let’s get started, Ms. Dale—”
“Feather,” she says. “My friends call me Feather.”
“Feather,” Nick says, and he nearly smiles. There used to be a transvestite prostitute on Brock Avenue in New Bedford named Feather. He pauses to remind himself that this is serious business and he needs to be thorough. “Let’s start with how you know the Winburys.”