Page 69 of The Perfect Couple

“The blackmail,” Thomas says. He throws back the rest of his scotch and the Chief wishes for the bottle, anything to keep him talking. “It started back in January of this year. I wanted to break things off. And Feather told me if I did, she would tell Abby what we’d been doing. So I had to keep on.” Thomas presses his fingers into his eye sockets. “I started failing at work. I was trying to get Abby pregnant and trying to keep Featherleigh from running her mouth. Then, in May, Abby got pregnant and the pregnancy seemed strong and viable and I just made a decision that I wasn’t going to let Featherleigh Dale control me any longer. The fraud charges helped because I figured even if she did contact Abby, she would have zero credibility.”

“But even so, you must have been upset that Ms. Dale was attending your brother’s wedding.”

“I asked her not to come,” Thomas says. “I pleaded and begged.”

“And threatened,” the Chief says. “Ms. Dale said that you said if she showed her face on Nantucket, you would kill her. Did you say that?”

Thomas nods. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

“Did you drop one of your mother’s sleeping pills into the glass of water Featherleigh brought to the table, thinking she would be the one to drink it? Did you think she might take a swim and drown or get behind the wheel of a car and have an accident? Did you do that, Thomas? Because after what you’ve told me, I would understand if you did.”

Thomas starts to cry. “I’ve made such a mess of things.”

The Chief breathes all the way out, maybe for the first time since he woke up this morning. “I’ll need you to come down to the station and sign a statement. You have the right to an attorney.”

Thomas sniffs, shakes his head. “I think you’ve misunderstood. I’ve made a mess of things but I didn’t drug anyone. I didn’t see my mother’s pills. I didn’t touch the glass of water. And you’ll forgive me, but it would take a hell of a lot more than a measly sleeping pill to kill Featherleigh Dale.”

“So you…” the Chief says. “You didn’t…”

Thomas shakes his head again. “I wanted Featherleigh to disappear. But I didn’t put anything in anyone’s water. I didn’t see or touch my mother’s sleeping pills and Featherleigh is still very much a threat to me.” Thomas offers the Chief a sad smile. “That is the truth.”

The Chief calls Andrea and tells her he’s on his way home.

“Did you figure out what happened?” Andrea says.

“Not quite,” the Chief says. “We uncovered a bunch of ugly secrets, don’t get me wrong, but we can’t quite link any of them to the death of the young woman.” He thinks of Jordan Randolph at the Nantucket Standard. He’s going to have questions. Everyone is going to have questions. “How’s Chloe?”

“She’s upset,” Andrea says. “She told me she bonded with the maid of honor at the rehearsal dinner.”

“Bonded?” the Chief says. “What does that mean?”

“I tried to get more out of her but she said she wanted to talk to you. I told her you were very busy—”

“No, no, it’s fine,” the Chief says. He wonders if the answers he’s been looking for are under his own roof. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

The Chief knocks on Chloe’s bedroom door.

“Come in,” she says.

She’s lying on her bed reading a book about turtles. Is that right? Turtles All the Way Down, the cover says. The Chief has no idea what that means but he’s glad she’s reading. Her phone is plugged in on the nightstand and it buzzes and blinks with incoming messages—Instagrams, he supposes, or Snapchats, or whatever has replaced Instagram and Snapchat. Nick would probably know.

“Hey,” he says with what remains of his good humor. He closes the door behind him and takes a seat on her bright blue fuzzy chair. The chair reminds the Chief of Grover from Sesame Street, but at least it’s comfortable. “Auntie said you wanted to talk?”

Chloe nods, sets the book down, sits up. She isn’t wearing any makeup, which is unusual. Her face is maturing into beauty, a beauty she inherited from her mother. Tess wasn’t much older than Chloe is now when the Chief first met her, Andrea’s beloved younger cousin, a cousin as close as a sister.

“There are two things I want to tell you,” Chloe says. “About last night.”

“Go ahead,” the Chief says.

“I was eavesdropping during the party,” Chloe says. “I overheard a conversation between the maid of honor and the father of the groom. I think they were… involved. I know they were. She was pregnant with his baby. He wanted her to get rid of it. He said he would write her a check. She said she wanted to keep the baby because it was a link to him. She said she would tell Greer. Greer is his wife.”

The Chief nods and tries not to let any emotion show on his face. He’s appalled that this particular storyline managed to make its way to Chloe.

“You haven’t told anyone that, I hope,” the Chief says. “That’s volatile information.”

“I haven’t told a soul,” Chloe says softly. “I was waiting for you to get home.”

After dealing with one liar after another all day long, the Chief is heartened to know he recognizes the truth when he hears it.

He takes a deep breath. “What’s the other thing?”

“The other thing happened when I was clearing,” Chloe says. “It was after the dessert, after the toasts, and I had a tray of champagne flutes I was taking back to the kitchen. I wasn’t watching where I was going and I tripped and fell and the glasses all broke.”

Broken glass, the Chief thinks. “Where did this happen?” he asks.

“At the place where the beach meets the lawn. Over by the left side of the house if you’re standing with your back to the water.”

The Chief writes this down.

“The maid of honor helped me clean up,” Chloe says. “And she was really cool. She asked my name and where I was from, and when I told her I was from Nantucket, she said I was the luckiest girl in the world.” Chloe’s voice gets thick and she wipes at her eyes. “I can’t believe she’s dead. She was a person I talked to last night.”

“Sometimes things happen that way,” the Chief says. “There’s a good chance she took pills, maybe drank too much—”

“She wasn’t drunk,” Chloe says. “Not even a little bit. She seemed like the most sober person at the party.”

“I just want you to realize, Chloe, that every single decision you make—who your friends are, who you date, whether you decide to smoke or drink—has a consequence. I think that Merritt, ultimately, was the victim of her own poor choices.”

Chloe stares at the Chief for a second and he can see she resents his using Merritt’s death as a public service announcement—but this is nothing if not a teachable moment. Chloe reaches for her phone and the Chief knows he’s lost her. Andrea is better at dealing with Chloe; he always ends up sounding like the gruff uncle who also happens to be the chief of police.

“One other question, Chloe,” he says, though he’s sure she wants nothing more than to be rid of him. “Did Merritt cut herself when she was helping you clean up the glass?”

“Cut herself?” Chloe says. She looks up from her phone. “No. Why?”

“Just wondering,” the Chief says. “Are you sure the two of you picked up every bit of glass?”

“It was dark,” Chloe says. “We did the best we could. I was worried, actually, that Greer would find a piece of glass we missed and I would get in trouble for it today. But I guess they had bigger things to worry about.”

The Chief stands up.

“Wait, can I show you one more thing?” Chloe says. She holds her phone up and scoots to the edge of the bed. The Chief takes a seat next to her. “Merritt is an influencer, so I started following her on Instagram last night when I got home. This was her last post.”

The Chief accepts the phone from Chloe and puts on his reading glasses. He has never looked at Instagram before, and he sees it’s nothing more than a photograph with a caption. In this instance, the photo is of two young women posing on the bow of the Hy-Line fast ferry. Their hair is windblown, and Nantucket is visible behind them in the background—the harbor, the sailboats, the gray-shingled fisherman cottages of the wharves, the steeples of the Unitarian and Congregational churches. The blond—Celeste, the bride, the Chief realizes—looks nervous; there’s a hesitation in her smile. The brunette, Merritt, however, is beaming; she is luminous, giving the moment everything she has. She’s a good actress, the Chief thinks. There’s no hint or clue that she was pregnant with the baby of a married man and that he wanted nothing to do with her. The caption of the photo reads: Goin’ to the chapel… wedding weekend with the BEST FRIEND a woman could ask for. #maidofhonor #bridesmaid #happilyeverafter.

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