“Did you have any of the water?”
“Do you remember anyone else having any of the water? Even a sip?”
“I was there to drink rum, sir,” Thomas says. “I don’t remember much about the water.”
Somewhere in the house, the clock strikes six. The Chief is dying to get home, take off his shoes, crack open a beer, hug his wife, talk to Chloe. This day has lasted five years, but that’s the way it is with murder cases. He’s sure that, back at the station, his voice mail is filled with messages from insistent reporters. When this is all over, he’s going to need another stress-management class.
“Let me switch gears. Does your mother have a pillbox?”
“Does your mother have a box where she keeps her…”
“Her sleeping pills?” Thomas says. “Yes. It’s round. It has a picture of Queen Elizabeth on it.”
“Would you say this pillbox is well known to members of your family?”
Thomas laughs. “Oh, yes. My mother’s pillbox is infamous. It was a gift from her grandmother.”
“And would you say that everyone in your family is aware that it holds sleeping pills?”
“Yes. And she won’t share them. I asked for one once and she told me I couldn’t handle it.”
“Really,” the Chief says. Greer claimed she offered Merritt one of the sleeping pills. So they were “too strong” for her son but she gave one to a houseguest? Does that seem likely?
No, it does not.
“Did you see the pillbox in the kitchen last night?”
“No,” Thomas says. “Why? Was it left out?” He sits up straighter. “Do you think Merritt took one of my mother’s sleeping pills?”
“You didn’t see the pillbox?” the Chief asks. “You didn’t touch the pills?”
Thomas slaps his knee. “I most certainly did not. But Merritt must have seen my mother’s pills and taken one—or even two—not realizing how potent they are. And then she went for a swim.” He stands up. “I think everyone will be fine with this being called an accidental death. There’s no reason to manufacture any more drama. This little inquisition has produced enough anxiety as it is—”
“We’re not finished here,” the Chief says. He waits while Thomas reluctantly sits back down. “Do you know anything about a cut on Merritt’s foot?”
“A cut?” Thomas says. “No. But if she did cut her foot, maybe she went into the water to rinse it.”
This isn’t something the Chief has considered. She did have quite a nasty gash on her foot. It’s possible she rinsed it off in the water to avoid tracking blood into the Winbury house. The only place they’d seen blood was in the sand.
“Also, Merritt had been drinking,” Thomas says.
The Chief doesn’t respond to this. It’s interesting that Thomas is so eager to offer up theories about what happened. The Chief has been at this long enough to know that that is how a guilty person acts.
“What is your relationship with Ms. Dale?” the Chief asks.
“My… I already told you, she’s a friend of my parents.”
“And that’s it? You don’t have a personal relationship with her?”
“Not really,” Thomas says. “No.”
“My colleague with the Massachusetts State Police interviewed Ms. Dale,” the Chief says. “She told him that she had been romantically involved with you but that you broke things off in May when your wife got pregnant. Is that true?”
“No!” Thomas says.
“One of you is lying,” the Chief says.
“Featherleigh is lying. She’s a pathological liar, in fact. She’s being investigated for fraud in her antiques business. Did she tell your colleague that? She tried to pass off a fake George the Third gilt-wood table to what she thought was a naive client. So, clearly, she lies as a general practice.”
“That seems like pretty specialized knowledge to have about your parents’ friend,” the Chief says.
“My mother told me about it.”
“Your mother? So if I ask Greer right now if she told you about Featherleigh’s fraud charges and what exactly they were, she’ll say yes.”
Thomas nods. His expression is confident except for three tense lines high on his forehead.
The Chief stands up. “All right. I’ll go talk to your mother.”
“Wait,” Thomas says. He collapses against the back of the sofa. “We did have a brief fling. Me and… Ms. Dale. Featherleigh.”
“How brief?” the Chief asks.
Thomas throws up his hands. “Not brief, exactly. But sporadic.” He pauses. “Several years.”
The Chief sits back down. “So you’ve been romantically involved with Ms. Dale for several years?”
“On and off,” Thomas says. “And like she told you, I ended things in May.”
“Did it upset you that Ms. Dale chose to attend the wedding?”
“Of course it upset me,” Thomas says. “I want her out of my life. My wife is pregnant, I need to focus on her and on getting my career back on track. This thing with Featherleigh, well, it ran amok. She was blackmailing me.”
“Blackmailing you?” the Chief says.
Thomas picks up his scotch and throws half of it back. The Chief feels a mixture of triumph and shame. He has gotten people to break down and talk before and it always feels satisfying on the one hand—like cracking a safe, almost—and vaguely obscene on the other. This guy has been hiding something for years and now he’s coming clean. So many crimes, and especially murders, are committed by people with dark motivations like Thomas. Thomas likely had no intention of killing anyone; he just wanted to keep the secret of his love affair safe.
“I hooked up with her initially after her older brother, Hamish, died. Hamish was a school friend of my father’s. I went to the funeral with my parents—this was before I met Abby—and at the reception afterward, Featherleigh and I got drunk and things happened. After that, I saw her whenever I was in London or she was in New York. Then I met Abby. I told Featherleigh I couldn’t see her anymore and she went off the deep end.”
“Abby came with my family to Virgin Gorda over the Christmas holiday the first year we were together. Featherleigh must have found out because she showed up on Virgin Gorda with a client of hers from Abu Dhabi who had a gigantic yacht. And then another time, right after I finished law school, Featherleigh made a surprise appearance at my classmate’s graduation party. She walked right into Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York and told everyone I’d invited her there.”
“Why didn’t you just correct the misperception then?”
“Because… well… there had been times that I’d seen Featherleigh since I’d been with Abby. And that’s where I messed up. I didn’t make a clean break. I didn’t keep Featherleigh firmly in my past. The first time I wasn’t sure if things were going to work out with Abby and me, so when Feather called and told me she had a suite at the Gramercy Park Hotel, I went. Then, after Abby had her second miscarriage—which was a really bad one—she was weepy and depressed, really difficult to be around. She felt like a failure. I felt like a failure. We started to fight. There wasn’t a conversation we could have that didn’t lead right back to the pregnancies. Sex was out of the question. It was a tough time. And Featherleigh capitalized on that. She magically appeared in New York and then in Tampa, Florida, where I was assisting on a case. She sent me a first-class plane ticket to Paris and then, a few months later, to Marrakech. Then, of course, it turned out she was charging her clients the price of my plane tickets, thinking they wouldn’t notice. But of course they did and they dragged Featherleigh to court, which killed her business and depleted her savings and caused her to do something stupid, like try to pass off a fake George the Third gilt-wood table as genuine.”
The Chief nods. He has his guy. He can feel it. “The blackmail?” he says.