Featherleigh, now Feather, waves a hand. “Known them forever,” she says.
“Meaning, let’s see… Tag Winbury went to Oxford with my older brother, Hamish, may he rest in peace, so I’ve known Tag since I was a kid. I reconnected with the family at my brother’s funeral, and after that, our paths kept crossing. I own a business finding antiques for people like Greer, people who have more money than God and don’t mind plunking down thirty thousand quid for a settee. I found her some salvaged windows from a church in Canterbury. Those went for ten thousand quid apiece and I’m pretty sure she’s still got them in storage.”
“So you have a business relationship with the Winburys, then,” Nick says.
“And personal,” Feather says. “We’re friends.”
“Well, yes,” Nick says. “You came over from London for the wedding. How well do you know Benji and Celeste?”
“I know Benji a little bit,” Feather says. “Celeste not at all. Just met her last night. Her and her friend. Shame what happened.”
“What happened?” Nick says.
Feather’s eyes widen. “Have you not heard? The bride’s friend, Merritt, drowned. The maid of honor. I thought that was why you had questions.”
“No, right, it is, I do,” Nick says. Her disarray is throwing him off his stride. “I meant, what happened last night? You were part of the group that sat out under the tent drinking rum, correct?”
“Mount Gay Black Barrel,” Feather says. “Out of Barbados. You know, I’ve been to the estate where it’s made. I love the stuff.”
“Who exactly was sitting at the table with you?” Nick asks.
“Tag, Thomas, myself, and Merritt,” Feather says. Then she adds gravely, “The deceased.”
“So you say you just met Merritt last night,” Nick says. “How did that come about?”
“It came about the way those things do at a party,” Feather says. “I noticed her right away. She was pretty and stylish and she had natural confidence. I love confidence.” Feather beams at Nick. “You have natural confidence. I can see it. It’s a very attractive trait in a man.”
“So you noticed her from afar,” Nick says. “Were you properly introduced?”
“Not until later,” Feather says. “Much later, in fact—after the party was over.”
Nick makes a note and nods. He senses Feather needs only the slightest encouragement to keep talking.
“I was desperately seeking another drink. The young kids went into town—bride, groom, best man, Thomas—but no one thought to invite old Feather, and I just wasn’t ready to go back to my inn. I tried to wrangle a bottle of booze out of the catering help but that didn’t work, so I went on a hunt.”
“A hunt,” Nick says.
“I was stealthy,” Feather says. “Because I knew if Greer saw me, she would put me right into a taxi.”
“Greer doesn’t like me, doesn’t approve of me. She’s old money, landed gentry, grew up on a manor called Swallowcroft, went to Wycombe Abbey, all of that. And she suspects I’m after her hubby. Ha!” Feather hoots. “He’s way, way too old for me.”
Nick needs a verbal leash for this woman so she doesn’t go wandering off, although he makes a note: Greer suspected Feather + Tag??? “Back to how you met Merritt…”
“So I was sneaking around a bit, tiptoeing, dodging behind bushes, harder than it looks because of motion-detector lighting. I figured if I could get to the pool house, I would find alcohol.” Feather taps a finger against her temple. “Clever bit of sleuthing on my part there. Anyway, I stumbled across the maid of honor sitting in Greer’s rose garden. She was crying.”
“I asked if she was all right. Yes, she said. Then I asked if there was anything I could do. No, she said. I was surprised because I’d pegged her for naturally confident and then there she was, like a little girl on the playground whose friends had all forsaken her. So I asked if she wanted to join in my caper.”
“Caper,” Nick says.
“Hunting for booze in the pool house,” Feather says. “And she said yes and came with me.”
“Then what?” Nick says.
“We opened the gate, we selected a couple of chaise longues, I slid the glass doors to the pool house open, and voilà—full bar! I made a couple of Grey Goose and tonics and brought them out. Merritt said she didn’t want hers, her stomach was feeling funny, and that was just fine by me. I had them both.”
“Did Merritt stay with you?” Nick asks.
“Yes, she stayed. We talked. Turned out we had a lot in common.”
“We were both involved with married men,” Feather says. “I mean, what are the chances of that?”
Not so slim, Nick wants to say, but he needs to tread carefully here. Feather seems to be genuine but he has been at this long enough to suspect it might be an act.
“Did Merritt say anything about the man she was involved with?” he asks.
“Only that he was married,” Feather says. “And was apparently a real bastard. Pursued her, pursued her, pursued her… then dropped her like a hot potato. Won’t leave his wife, no way, nohow. And I’ll tell you, that all sounded much too familiar.”
“But Merritt didn’t say who the man was?”
“She didn’t tell and neither did I,” Feather says. “We were there to commiserate, not confess.”
“Did she say if the man she was seeing was at the wedding?” Nick asks.
“At the… no. She lives in Manhattan. Why would… are you thinking she was seeing a married man at the wedding and he was the one who killed her?”
Nick needs to redirect. “What happened when you left the pool house?”
“We decided to walk back to the main house,” Feather says. “And we happened across Tag and Thomas and their bottle of Black Barrel.”
“Did they seem surprised to see you two?” Nick asks.
Feather tilts her head. “Did they? I don’t remember. Tag asked if we were up for a nightcap. We said yes.”
“So you’re sitting around under the tent drinking rum and what happens?” Nick asks.
“What do you think happens?” Feather asks. “We get drunk.” She pauses. “Drunker.”
“Was Merritt drinking?”
“I assume so?” Feather says. “Don’t quote me on that because, remember, she had a queasy stomach. After a while, Thomas’s wifey called him upstairs and I figured the party was breaking up. But Tag is a night owl and he seemed game to keep going awhile longer and Merritt asked for water. I got it for her, actually.”
“You got Merritt a glass of water?” Nick says.
“Did you put ice in the water?” Nick asks.
Feather’s eyes roll skyward, as if the answer to that question is written on the ceiling. “I can’t recall. I’m sorry. Is that important?”
“Did anything else happen while you were inside getting the water?” he asks. “Did you see anyone? Do anything?”
Feather nods. “I took a piss.”
“You went to the bathroom,” Nick says. “Was that before you poured the water? Or after?”
Feather stares at him. “After,” she says. “I left the water on the counter. I mean, I didn’t bring it into the loo with me.”
“But you didn’t see anyone else in the kitchen?” Nick asks.
“Did you hear anyone?”
“No,” Feather says. “Fan was on. In very posh houses, you know, they don’t listen to one another tinkle.”
“No one followed you in from outside?” Nick asks.
“No,” Feather says.
“And when you brought Merritt the water, did she drink it?” Nick asks.
“Drank it down like she’d eaten a pound of rock salt.”