“Do you remember clearing her glass?” Nick asks. “Because the water glass wasn’t on the table this morning. But the shot glasses were.”
Feather shakes her head. “I’ve got no memory of clearing the glass or not clearing the glass. If I had to guess, I’d say I left it there, thinking the housekeeper would get it in the morning.”
Nick makes a note: Housekeeper?
“And how did the party finally break up?” Nick asks.
“We ran through the bottle of rum,” Feather says. “Tag said he was going to his study for another. Right after he left, Merritt said she was going to bed. So I was in the tent by myself for a while… then I decided I’d better skedaddle. I didn’t want to stay up late drinking with just Tag.”
“It wouldn’t look good,” Feather says. “If Greer caught us…” Feather pauses. “I’m terrified of that woman.”
“Everyone is terrified of her,” Feather says. “She says one thing but you can just tell by looking at her that in her mind she’s thinking something else. Novelists are notorious liars, you know.”
“Are they?” Nick asks.
“Aren’t they?” Feather says. “They lie for a living. They make up stories. So it stands to reason that this tendency runs over into their personal lives.”
Nick is intrigued by this answer. “Did you see Greer around at all, even for an instant, after the party? Did you see her in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of champagne?”
“No,” Feather says. She gasps. “Why? Do you think Greer had something to do with what happened?”
“You didn’t see her?” Nick asks.
Feather shakes her head.
“Did you see Merritt again that night?”
“No,” Feather says.
“So the last time you saw Merritt was when she left the tent saying she was going to bed.”
“At any point during the night, did Merritt cut her foot?” Nick asks.
“Cut her foot?” Feather says. “No.”
“Was she wearing shoes when you were doing your stealthy hunting?”
“Yes,” Feather says. “Silver sandals. Gorgeous. Merritt said she had gotten them for free from the company and I asked if she could get me a pair for free and she asked what size I wore and I said ten and a half and she said, ‘Done.’” Feather’s eyes start to water. “She really was a lovely girl.”
“Yes,” Nick says. “I’m sure she was.” He writes: No cut. Sandals. He knows there were silver sandals on the scene, under the tent, which Merritt must have left behind when she went for the kayak ride. Nick finally feels like he can see what happened last night… except for a few critical details.
“Okay, so when you… skedaddled, where did you go? Did you call a taxi and go back to your inn?”
“Mm-hmm,” Feather says.
“I’m sorry,” Nick says. “I need you to give me a yes-or-no answer.”
Okay, then, Nick thinks. Here it is. “Feather?”
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I did.”
“And what time was that?” Nick asks.
“Couldn’t tell you.”
“But it was late,” he says.
Nick locks eyes with Feather and gives her his best smile. Nick’s sister, Helena, calls this smile “the kill,” because it usually gets him whatever he’s after. And Feather succumbs to it. She cocks an eyebrow.
“Are you single?” she asks. “Because if you are, I could be convinced to stay another night.”
“Did you call the taxi right away?” Nick asks. “Or did you stay in the tent? Or did you do something else?”
“Something else?” Feather says.
“The manager of your inn,” Nick says, “told our officer that you returned to the hotel at quarter past five this morning. And we have a time of death for Ms. Monaco somewhere between two forty-five and three forty-five. Working backward, then, she likely entered the water between two thirty and three thirty. Now, if you didn’t reach your inn until quarter after five…”
“The manager is mistaken,” Feather says. “It was earlier than five. Hours earlier.”
“But you said only a moment ago that you didn’t know what time it was,” Nick says.
“Well, I can bloody well tell you it was earlier than five o’clock!” Feather says.
“We can easily check the security cameras,” Nick says.
Feather hoots. “That place does not have security cameras!” she says. “You’re trying to trick me!”
“They had a break-in last year,” Nick says. “Nothing was taken, but Miss Brannigan, who runs the inn, was understandably skittish, so she installed cameras.” Nick closes his notebook, grabs his pen, and stands. “I’ll send Officer Luklo out to request the camera footage.”
He turns, wondering how many steps away he’ll get.
Two steps, as it turns out.
“Wait,” Feather says. “Just wait.”
“Do you want to change your answer?” Nick says.
“Yes,” Feather says. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“Quit five years ago,” Nick says. “Saved my own life. It’s a filthy habit.”
“Filthy,” Feather agrees. “But sometimes nothing else will do.”
“I have to agree with you there,” Nick says. He sits back down. “I do sometimes bum one when I’ve been drinking bourbon.”
“You’re human, then,” Feather says. She tears up. “And I’m human too.”
“That’s exactly right,” Nick says. “You’re human and human beings make mistakes and act in all kinds of ways we shouldn’t.” He pauses and very slowly opens his notebook. “Now, why don’t you tell me what happened. You didn’t call a taxi, did you?”
“No,” Feather says. “No, I didn’t. I went into the house and fell asleep.”
Nick drops his pen. “Fell asleep?”
“More like passed out,” Feather says.
“You expect me to believe that?” Nick says.
“It’s the truth,” Feather says.
Nick stands up. “You were one of the last people to see Merritt Monaco alive. Unless you can come up with a taxi driver who will vouch for picking you up before two forty-five, I have you at the scene at the time of death. You were also the one who brought Ms. Monaco the water, which was the last thing she consumed before she died. Do you know what kind of trouble that puts you in, Ms. Dale?”
“I stayed at the Winburys’ house,” Feather says, “because I was waiting for someone.”
“Waiting for who?” Nick says. He tries to sort through the major players. Mr. Winbury having an affair with Merritt. Shooter Uxley in love with the bride. Who was Featherleigh Dale waiting for in the middle of the night?
Feather’s full-on crying now.
Nick can’t decide which way to go. Should he raise his voice and play the bully? No, he thinks. That only works on TV. In real life, what works is patience and kindness.
Nick grabs the box of tissues they keep in the interview room for just this sort of occasion. He puts it on the table, plucks out a tissue, hands it to Feather, then eases down into his seat.
“Who were you waiting for, Feather?” he asks, as gently as he can. “Who?”
“Thomas,” Feather says.
Thomas? Nick thinks. Who’s Thomas? Then he remembers: Thomas is Benji’s brother.
“Thomas Winbury?” Nick says. “Are you involved with Thomas Winbury… romantically?” Married man, he thinks. Tag… way, way too old… They were there to commiserate, not confess.
“Was,” Feather says. “But then he broke things off in May”—she stops to pluck another tissue out of the box and blow her nose—“when his wife got pregnant. He said he couldn’t see me anymore. He told me not to come to the wedding. He said if I came to the wedding, he’d kill me. Those were his exact words.”