You can have your cake and eat it, too. A fun story that examines the
nature of guilt, Hide & Seek is a murder mystery in which we know
the identity of the murderer but not the identity of the pursuing detective.
This mystery-within-a-mystery involves the murder of a beautiful young actress, Melanie Carson, in Boston. The narrator, David Draper, a jealous boyfriend terrified he has murdered her, scrambles to cover his tracks.
When his sister invites him to Cape Cod for a murder weekend at an old New England courthouse-turned inn, David discovers that someone is rigging the game mystery to mimic the actual murder of Melanie--in order to trap Melanie's murderer. David must then race against time and his own paranoia--getting embroiled along the way in secret attic seductions, the discovery of an arsonist's plot, and murder for revenge--to figure out who is the real detective among the guests before the detective discovers that David is the murderer. It is a murder mystery in reverse--we know the murderer and don't know the detective--and David's shocking final deduction fits all the pieces together in a fiery, dramatic conclusion.
I FIRST CAUGHT SIGHT of Melanie Carson at one of those costume balls my Great Aunt Grace hosted at her 19th-century brownstone on Beacon Hill. This was back in the 1980s when the country was beginning its long fall, but still standing. All Boston’s glitterati were summoned to these parties, including Grace’s old dowager friends up and down the Hill, not that they condescended to come in costume. Unless you call yards of pearls and inches of face powder a costume. Aunt Grace always wore a costume, though, being a game little thing, spare in that New England no-nonsense way, independent and self-assured. Uncle Ralph had died long ago—I barely remember him—although my sister Dots and I were raised at their house after both our own parents died young.
When I was three and Dots eight we went to live on Saint Botolph Way, the tall mansion partially hidden behind wrought-iron gates that protected a short circular drive from the slanting cobblestone street running up the Hill. Our playground was the Public Garden two blocks away, where we splashed with ducks in the pond in summer and skated in winter. When older we raced knockabouts on the Charles and in winter when it froze ventured timidly out onto the ice to skate carefully.
Dots recalls Uncle Ralph as dark and brooding like me, although distant and inscrutable. This was our mother’s brother, Ralph Draper of the New York and Boston Drapers, a banker who died making money. Slumped in his great leather chair behind the mahogany desk, dead at sixty-one from a heart attack.
With the help of a Philippine cook, Korean maid, and Mexican chauffeur, Aunt Grace raised us herself. She oversaw our schooling—Dots to Radcliffe and I to Boston College on Chestnut Hill—tapping her foot until we came of age, moved out, and set up for ourselves. At twenty Dots was long ready to strike out on her own. She went into finance, refusing a good position at Draper Investments for a no-name firm hidden in one of those musty old buildings downtown. Living in Cambridge she never dated much, so that I wondered for a while if she might have been gay. Having a fearless look, tough and strong, Dots inherited the Draper straight, washed-out brown hair and round jaw. Her skin fair, she is certainly no beauty, even if I love her dearly.
Although I have the same round jaw, luckily my skin is darker and my hair curly. When my turn to leave home came, after I graduated, I moved to a nondescript apartment in Dorchester just south of downtown. I didn’t have much in mind to do with my life. I wrote poetry that was published in local journals, nothing to brag about nor make much money at. I began to work as a carpenter and so kept myself alive, although Aunt Grace parceled out a skimpy allowance month by month. Though Dots politely declined the money, I was dependent on it and thought our aunt a bit of a cheapskate.
Actually Aunt Grace simply thought it best not to spoil us off the bat but to make us work like everyone else. As if we were just like everyone else! But there was no wheedling even a couple of extra bucks out of her now and then. At times I resorted to stopping by the old mansion to bum a couple of dollars from Mrs. Thi the housekeeper or from Carlos the chauffeur. I couldn’t ever ask Mrs. Kim since I knew she would tell Aunt Grace and I wouldn’t see my allowance for months. It was a good idea to keep on Aunt’s good side, though, and so I never ignored an invitation to one of her balls. I couldn’t have refused anyway—my aunt wouldn’t have let me. She was like that.
Aunt’s influence ran well beyond Draper Investments, which she had taken over when Uncle Ralph died. She never would talk much about her business dealings, but I discovered from putting bits of information together here and there that she had had a hand in most of the large investment firms and in most of the major deals struck in the city at that time. She was even rumored to be the famously silent eighth member of the elite group of investment bankers, brokers, and politicians known as The Firm, said to make policy behind closed doors for much of Boston. Uncle Ralph had never been a member himself, and if Aunt Grace really did belong she had accomplished more than establishing herself at the heart of the city’s finances. That a woman might become a member of such a fiercely sexist group was considered a sacrilege by the sycophants who made their living divining Boston’s financial future by sniffing the gossipy entrails of The Firm.
Aunt Grace was a smart hostess who didn’t give a hoot about scandal: she knew you had to have colorful artist-types to liven up a costume party and that the way to incite conversation was by mixing people from the different worlds of money and talent. And so on a Saturday evening in August, when I was twenty-five, the house was jammed to the ceiling frescoes with the brightest people in Boston—writers and painters, dancers, musicians, stodgy bankers, and bland, polished politicians—when I entered about ten o’clock. Set on every available surface, candles in ornate silver candelabras and candles jammed into empty wine bottles threw a golden and somberly freakish glow over the whole scene. A band blared jazz from around the corner in the sitting room, which with its furniture pushed back was turned into the dance floor. In the main hall in which I squeezed nodding and smiling to Mrs. Thi, guests milled about drinking and dancing as a roar of laughter and conversation filled the dim air. People conversed and danced on the stairs and on the landing above, drinks swaying precariously in drunken hands over the heads of the crowd below. Fauns and satyrs, vampires and tramps, witches, goblins, fairies, French queens and Colonial musketeers intermingled. A man who looked like Hitler, wearing storm trooper boots and dunce cap, danced with a woman in black sporting an awful plastic wig and dressed as a Hasidic Jew, her long robes pulled up around her polished and shapely thighs. Santa Claus spilled a drink on a wisp of a half-clad fairy, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee stood arm-in-arm receiving revelers who paid obeisance with elaborate and ridiculous bows and scrapes.
Knowing almost no one there and seeing neither Dots nor Aunt Grace, I started to weave and push my way to where I knew the drinks would be, to the right at the far end of the sitting room. Raucous New Orleans jazz hit me in the face like a blast from a furnace as I rounded the corner. I reached the bar and nodded to Carlos, looking uncomfortable in a tuxedo with black hair slicked back but doing his best. He licked his wet lips and shook his round brown face good-naturedly; Aunt Grace regularly impressed her servants into double-duty. Carlos poured a glass of champagne without asking and handed it across the dampened table. I drained it and Carlos refilled. Behind him bristled magnums of Moët in mounds of white ice. Aunt was not afraid to spend money. Jostled by men in military garb and not wanting to be jabbed by their dangling swords, I grabbed the bottle out of Carlos’ hand and moved away to a corner of the room to take stock.
People were masked and unmasked, wearing everything from period costumes that must have cost a mint just to rent to makeshift costumes that simply showed off the wearer. I leaned against the wall and brushed off my black pants. Dressed as Zorro (minus the sword, which seemed a waste of time), I wore a black mask but no hat—Aunt Grace was a stickler for manners, even at parties—and apparently fooled neither Mrs. Thi nor Carlos. I started looking around, for I had made some interesting and enjoyable women friends from these parties. My eyes in the deafening roar settled on a woman on the far side of the room, dressed in a long white, off-the-shoulder gown that exposed the bulging flesh of her breasts. She had pink lips and blond hair just brushing her creamy shoulders. Although she looked shy, her eyes swept the room as if looking for someone.
“About time you got here,” a voice at my elbow said. I turned and smiled at Dots, leaned and gave her a kiss.
“Don’t you have a date?” I asked, looking over her costume. She wore a cowgirl outfit complete with hat and boots, Dale Evans skirt, and blouse with more rhinestones than the state of Texas.
“You look like my date,” she smiled, her ruby-red lips parting. Amazing, the effect of wearing lipstick! I’ll have to try it sometime, I thought.
“Who’s the lucky fellow tonight?” I asked. “Roger?”
Dots sighed. “Yes, Roger Barton, the bore. Look at him over there, dancing with Lucy Stone,” she said, indicating a monkey dancing with a fairy princess. “He thinks he’ll get somewhere with that cleavage of hers,” she snorted. I noticed she glanced quickly down at her own.
“You’ve got the better costume. Roger’s monkey costume is a little redundant. Why the mask?”
“Afraid someone will recognize him. He was nervous the whole way over that he’d be seen with me. Rival firm, you know. When I asked him why he bothered, he had the gall to reply that one had to come to Aunt’s parties.”
“Quite the gentleman,” I said, feeling a little sorry for Dots. She picked wrong, that was all, though I couldn’t figure out why. She was sharp and quick, warm-hearted and experienced. A man’s woman. She knew better than to go after simps like Roger, who after spending his life sucking up to financial directors would work his way into an executive vice president’s position at seventy. When he was not at work he spent his time chasing women with deep cleavages. One day he would get unlucky and marry one. Vacations in Cancún and California Chardonnay were the extent of his creativity. I smiled ruefully at Dots. At least Roger made no pretensions of being a lover to Dots and so saved her that. The one thing I could grudgingly thank him for.
“I’m going to try my luck before I’m too drunk to speak,” I nodded, turning and picking an almost full bottle out of Carlos’ hand. I had downed three glasses in quick succession and was feeling lightheaded already even if the alcohol made my body feel like it weighed a ton, pressing into the wall. I pushed against the hand-painted wallpaper and sailed into the sea of dancers, intentionally jostling the monkey with the mask as I passed, spilling some champagne on him. He turned and tilted his head at me. A good imitation, I thought. I raised my glass and bottle aloft, keeping my eye on the woman with the pink lipstick and interesting décolletage who still waited for someone across the room. The nearer I got to her, the better she looked. Someone grabbed my arm.
“About time, David.” I spun around and looked down. Aunt Grace was dressed as Marie Antoinette, her silver wig piled high on her head, countless silk ruffles falling gracefully around her, red lips, a black beauty mark under her left eye. For the evening she had forsaken the silver-headed cane she habitually used due to a slight limp. Years before she had been rushing to close a deal with the mayor when in her haste she tripped on the marble steps of the capitol. As the medics were installing her in the ambulance, she was said to have insisted to the mayor’s aide that the mayor wait for her.
Ever after she had a ruined hip and vestigial limp, permanently reminding her that she had lost the deal that day. The mayor hadn’t waited around for her to have her hip replaced. But she was good-natured withal and not a bad-looking woman in her early seventies, as she smiled mischievously at me. I leaned and pecked the white-powdered cheek she proffered.
“Be a good boy and help me host this; I’ve had too much already,” she conspired, holding up her glass in my face and waving slightly. I nodded and grinned back, barely able to make out her words in the din, and poured her more. But she pulled away and frowned.
“Where’s your sister?”
“I was going to ask you,” I said casually, looking back at the woman on the far side of the room. I should have known better. Aunt Grace missed nothing. She grabbed my arm.
“Let’s go meet Miss Carson,” she said, imperiously guiding me through the crowd that magically opened before the queen. As Aunt Grace majestically beamed back at her guests, she let a few dancers kiss her cheek until it was smeared red and pink.
I was going to protest, but I knew it was useless. Instead I sighed and let myself be dragged along until we stood before the woman, who turned and, surprised at seeing my aunt, blushed from bosom to forehead. It was a ravishing sight. Miss Carson dipped very slightly and shook my aunt’s hand.
“Mrs. Draper, thank you so much for inviting me,” she said, and her voice was soft even in the din.
“Bosh—you’re the sort who should be here, my dear,” my aunt said, speaking loudly enough to be heard. “Artist sorts are my favorite people. These fat bankers,” she continued, sweeping a heavily jeweled hand around the room, “are for show. You are the real substance, what holds the whole city up.”
“Aunt Grace!” I exclaimed, smiling. “They’ll be calling you a radical.”
“Don’t make a fool of yourself, David.” She turned back to the woman. “Melanie Carson, I want you to meet my nephew, David Draper, whom I’ve told you about. He’s been eyeing you and I thought I should make it official. I know how young people these days won’t speak unless properly introduced,” Aunt Grace said dryly, making Melanie blush more.
I was stunned and felt myself leaning away from her, awed and reveling in the pure pleasure of staring at this woman. Her hair was silvery blond and her eyes broad and blue, which made me think that blue was a warm color after all. High, wide cheekbones, nearly Asian, as if some long-forgotten Mongol had dreamed her in ages gone by, lingering with delight at the image he had wrought. But she was so fair! A beautiful creature, I silently pronounced her.
Melanie turned to me and held out her hand, eyebrows raised expectantly. Her lips were a curious color of pink, almost orange I now saw, which I have seen only once since. It turned out that was the only color of lipstick Melanie ever wore. She parted her lips as she smiled, and her teeth parted too so that I was looking into blackness. A sudden unreasoning fear gripped my chest as I thought she might eat me. She could have if she wanted to; I wouldn’t have stopped her. I was afraid because I wanted her to devour me.
“David, take off that stupid mask and let Miss Carson look at you—you’ve had the advantage till now,” Aunt Grace insisted. Melanie’s hand was still outstretched, hesitating a bit as if I were not going to take it. I shifted the bottle and glass into my left hand, reaching for my mask hurriedly, afraid her hand would drop. I grabbed it suddenly and shook it too roughly, and it was warm and small and smooth. I pushed up my mask on my forehead but thinking it looked silly flattening my hair up there pulled it off altogether. Now my hair was a mess. Oh well.
“Miss Carson is an up-and-coming actress, and a rather good one,” Aunt Grace was saying, making her guest blush yet again, though less deeply this time. “David, did you see Miss Carson in The Winter’s Tale at the Colony? You played Hermione, my dear, wonderfully. Which is why I’ve taken you under my wing. I like artists, but they must be good ones. David, say something. I’m going to leave you both and take care of the rest of the city.”
I stammered but managed to eye Melanie carefully, gulping in great draughts of her as I stood transfixed. Suddenly very thirsty, I offered her the bottle, looking at the empty glass she held. She raised it and I poured, a little shakily.
“I—I am a poet, a writer,” I managed, speaking loudly to be heard over the noise surging around us. “Oh? Have I read anything of yours?” she asked, as if it were up to me to tell her what she had been reading. It was odd—she didn’t try to compete with the noise, shouting like most people do in a din, but rather spoke underneath it in a normal tone. I could hear her fine as long as I kept looking at her. But there was something in her voice that sounded as if it lacked intelligence—no, not lacked intelligence. Rather, her voice came from a great way off, half-distracted, as if she were listening to another world and not quite certain about this one. I often noticed it afterwards and thought it the voice of one doomed. Yet it didn’t matter; she was gorgeous.
“I don’t know. Have you?” I countered.
Melanie laughed, and her mouth showed black again between her parted teeth. Odd, I thought, high from the champagne and the noise. She said something I couldn’t make out. As I get drunk, the first sense to go is hearing. As if the alcohol were a little invisible man slowly and methodically wadding my ears with cotton. I leaned my ear closer, catching a whiff of her perfume, distant and musky. She leaned very close to me so that I felt some of her hairs against my neck. I was amazed and enraptured. She didn’t know me. Well, she was an actress, and they were affectionate types, I reasoned. But as I leaned closer I glimpsed the crow’s feet around her eyes; she was older than I.
“I said, have you published?” I straightened. A fair question, but she was supposed to be an artist, after all. I was a little put off. Was publishing what made one a writer? I was so in love with her looks that I wanted to prick her a bit. “Yes, but probably not in journals you would have seen,” I yelled over the noise.
Her red mouth formed a small O as she looked at me questioningly. I wondered whether I had hurt her.
I pointed to the back of the room and nodded my head in that direction. She followed through the crowd to the French doors that opened into the garden. Although the doors were open and the crowd had spilled outside, I continued deeper into the garden to a little nook hidden down a winding path in the far corner of dense overgrowth, an old hiding place of mine as a child. The music was far off now, and the laughter of the crowd came like a dream. With the bottle I motioned Melanie to a stone bench on which moss grew between the cracks. She swept her skirt to the side and sat, leaning back and, without looking at me, taking a long breath. I refilled and sat down beside her.
“Easier to talk,” I laughed, nodding back to the house at which we could spot revelers through the heavy foliage. My ears were ringing, whether from music or wine. Or Melanie.
“It’s true I don’t know much about poetry,” she began, looking suddenly straight into my eyes. I felt for the second time as if I were staggering off-balance, tipping backwards. Insisting to myself it was the wine, I tried to smile casually.
But she was already leaning close to me, her mouth still slightly open. Nearly swooning, I dropped the bottle, put my arm around her shoulders, and bent to kiss her.
“You are poetry,” I murmured into her soft lips.
It was like kissing a cloud, as if I held something magical and dangerous in my arms. Suddenly both my arms were around her, the wine swimming in my body rocking it wildly back and forth. Melanie was in my arms! The miracle every man feels when it happens, as different from the moment before as life from death. Five minutes earlier there had been no connection; now the connection was a deadly wound that throbbed deeply. Only I was miraculously alive!
We walked down narrow cobblestone streets in the North End, amid old brick buildings sagging with Catholic bambinos and their mamas, the smell of oregano and calamari frying in the air. Melanie’s small fifth-floor walk-up was in a dilapidated old building on Garden Court, in the atmospheric Italian section. She led me, out of breath, up dimly lighted rickety stairs into her darkened living room on the top floor. Through the windows Faneuil Market glimmered beside the Union Oyster House as spiny glass monoliths loomed in the humid foggy air.
Smiling out of the corner of her eyes at me, Melanie led me silently by the hand into her bedroom. Her bed was a mound of comforters and pillows. Going over to her bureau, she opened a drawer and removed a blue glass rosary of cat’s-eye beads. She draped them around her neck, loosened the buttons of her blouse, and lay down upon her bed, wisps of silver-blond hair floating in her face. She pursed her orange-pink lips. “Come,” she called…
In the following weeks I spent my time falling in love and struggling to catch up with Melanie’s fleeing soul. She was affectionate and kind but only half present, it seemed, leaving me puzzled and distantly on guard. She was an actress with a dreamy nature, I told myself. But she would disappear for days at a time without telling me where she had gone. In my naïveté I poured out my heart to her in a long mythological poem and was surprised that she was touched by my work. Hiding her copy at the bottom of a cracked-cedar trunk, beneath the brocade folds of a Juliet costume she had worn years before, she held what became our secret, and for a short time I thought I had won her heart.
Drowning in frequent sex, I became scared, then panicked during the times Melanie was gone. For despite my devotion to her, I sensed she did not belong to me. I became suspicious she was sleeping with her men friends from the theater. In no time I was flying into jealous rages and crying out my anxiety. She listened and stroked my face, alternately chiding me and reassuring me as with a child. Nothing worked; I couldn‘t stand on my own feet. Already I had given too much to her, and I saw that she accepted it that way. Always it was I who waited for her. She took her time returning calls, as all the while I was being torn apart.
When Melanie didn’t allow me to accompany her, I tried to follow her secretly, though with little success. At first ashamed of what I was doing, I soon become callous to my own indiscretion and learned how to dissemble my whereabouts to her. My hurt by her distance was so great that, had it been in the open, it surely would have destroyed me. So like a wounded animal I took my wound into a cave of artifice and struggled not to let her know how desperate I was.
Soon it became clear that though she welcomed me into her bed, she would never love me. Open to me, she told me all about herself—how she had grown up in the North End and had changed her name from an Italian one she wouldn’t reveal. Northern Italian father, Irish-Catholic mother, the latter I supposed accounting for her fair skin and hair. In one breath she told me about never missing a Sunday Mass at the scenic old church she attended in South Boston, which I found charming if a bit old-fashioned. In the next she described her past lovers—cops, bodybuilders, actors. She laughed casually about them, as if the maw of death were not all the while dragging me down. Just words, to her.
Because I loved her so passionately, I could not see what I lacked in her eyes. How could I not be as perfect for her as she was for me? If, as Jung says, you feel jealousy to the degree that you are not committed to a lover, why then was I jealous? Crowding out my thoughts like a boa constrictor, my jealousy twisted around a terrible fear of losing myself to Melanie. For having detected my vulnerability, she had overtaken my soul down to its roots.
I began to awake sweating from nightmares of demons speeding through space, white hair flying. Everything accelerated, from my pulse to the traffic outside my apartment in which I paced nervously, no longer able to write, much less read or think. Out into the working-class neighborhood in Dorchester I often escaped, wandering into bars smelling of stale beer and urine where I would sit for hours getting drunk, TV blaring in the background.
Of course, Melanie was right to feel disgust with my unhappy possessiveness, and I felt sorry for behaving like a terrified child. Yet I couldn’t help myself, and she did nothing by then to reassure me. She grew frustrated and impatient, finally furious with me. We fought, until one day it seemed all over. I was devastated, anxious to leave, broken. She softened as I turned the doorknob and, beckoning me to her, we went to bed. Yet afterwards she was hard again. This couldn’t go on.
I knew I couldn’t keep spending every night she would allow with her, and that if I loved her at all I had to change. My craziness was driving her away from me, I fretted back in my apartment. How could I change? How had I become such a drowning man? What could I do to get her back? And did I not love Melanie? Or was it just passionate and devouring sex that drew me like a crazy moth to her, again and again? I had to learn to love her, to let her go, leave some space for her to breathe—all that I knew—and so I drilled myself on this lesson, unable to stop pacing.
It was difficult, but slowly I managed not to call her every day, to wait for her to call. Slowly, changing as slowly as the earth changes, I forced myself not to pursue her in such panic, to trust her to come to me. For a time it seemed to work, and I began to feel quite noble about myself. I had done the right thing, done something wise and good not only for Melanie but for me. For both of us. Surely she would see that and appreciate it, love me finally for being such a mature lover. Days at a time went by without us talking. I had to admit feeling itchy, though I bit my hand each time it reached for the phone, instead calling the friends I had neglected, fellow poets with whom I could sit and talk about words—and women.
November came, cold and dreary. I was numb. I had written no poetry for weeks, had barely seen Dots or Aunt Grace. Melanie and I never visited with anyone else: Her friends in the theater I either didn’t like or else she kept me away from them, and our times together more often than not were spent in bed.
Eventually I introduced her to Dots, and they had lunch together. Dots was a great one for women friends, believing in sisterhood. I don’t think Melanie knew the meaning of the word. Their friendship never really got off the ground—as it turned out, Melanie was one of the few people my sister didn’t take to. I was just as glad—I wanted her to myself and was jealous even of the time she spent with my own sister. I had, after all, not gotten over my jealousy but merely learned to control it, to force it underground.
One Friday night, my hand reached again for the phone. The jitters that she was out with another man were still there, demonic visions of my sweet Melanie entwined with someone else rising like brimstone in my head. I pushed them down, trying to smile to an invisible Melanie but managing only to grimace. I called friends; they were out of town or out somewhere.
I decided to drop by her place with flowers, a peace offering. At the corner store near my apartment I bought purple tulips and, taking the Red Line to Haymarket, strode stiff-legged down the narrow streets of the North End rehearsing the simple and appropriate words I had planned. A cold mist hung in the air, not really rain yet soaking everything, the kind of weather that goes on for days in the fall in Boston. My heart pounding, I turned down Garden Court, checking my watch. Eight-thirty. Early enough for a movie, if she wanted. Maybe she hadn’t eaten yet. I knew she would be home, for she was such a homebody when not performing and tonight she was off.
I pushed open the downstairs door of Melanie’s building; it was never locked. Though already breathing hard, I took the stairs two at a time, my sneakers making no sound on the old wooden treads. I had a sudden idea to approach her apartment door quietly, listening first to ascertain whether to knock. At the top landing, I hesitated in the wan light of a bare twenty-watt light bulb hanging in the hall. I could hear voices inside, Melanie’s and a man’s. I stopped stock-still, shocked, quickly focusing on her tone of voice to orient myself. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Melanie’s voice was that low, seductive one she used following a fight, when she softened and the lights went hazy. My eyes swam and my heart pounded in my temples. I held my mouth open so I could breathe soundlessly, like a corpse, and turned and retreated down the stairs, even more quietly than I had come.
Back outside I tried to think calmly, my head in a swirl. Looking up and down the street, I walked to the adjoining row house, also an apartment building but one story higher. I pushed its heavy door open and walked quietly up the back stairs, passing closed doors smelling of spaghetti sauce, hearing an occasional Italian voice, a mother yelling at a child. Up to the top floor and then up more stairs to the roof, I pushed a sliding brace aside, dropping it quietly to the floor, and pushed a heavy metal door outward. When it opened with a loud squeak, I grabbed it and held it still for a moment, listening. No one stirred. I stepped over a high threshold and out onto the tar-and-gravel roof. Mist swooped in and a rainy wind wetted my face. I was above the soft white glow of city lights, in a ghostly world of mist and darkness. Down one flight across the way I spotted the kitchen and bedroom windows of Melanie’s apartment, blinds drawn but half-slatted. The lights within were dim.
Two people in the kitchen stood close together, swaying as if to music. I dropped the bent tulips and dug my hands in my coat pockets, waiting, breath coming hard. Crouching in the lee of a stair shed, I was certain I was invisible to those inside. She was kissing him, then pulled away. He looked at her questioningly; I could see only that he was a tall man, dark-haired and older than I. As I watched, fearful, Melanie reached out her hand and drew him—oh no! I quailed—into the bedroom, and then down onto her bed. They lay together, kissing. As he began to undress her, she sat up, pulling off her sweater. Then she moved to the window and drew the curtains.
I was trembling and felt in shock. My head shook. What was going on? Hadn’t I convinced myself that my own troubled nature was the source of my jealousy? Hadn’t Melanie reassured me, over and over, there was no other man? With numbed senses, brain barely able to work, I tried fumblingly to work out the hollow logic of past exchanges. The words did not add up. Something was missing. The ground was falling away.
I recall hovering again around the corner in the hall outside Melanie’s door, quiet as death. In the very dim light I could hide in the shadows easily. My plan was to wait until the man left, then let myself in with my key. She would be undressing and would not hear me come in, would not see me until I slipped into her bedroom. I needed to talk to her, needed to see her. My heart raced as I stood waiting out the hours, fearing someone from another apartment would come down the hall.
I remember my hands moist and sticky as muffled footsteps behind the door approached and hesitated. The door opened; a dark shadow of a man passed not five feet from me. A tinkling sounded as the figure hesitated at the top of the stairs. Putting a shaking finger on the secondhand of my watch, I followed it around twice so as not to lose the time, then knocked on Melanie’s door. There was no sound within. The door was open. I entered, a howling wind in my head deafening me.
Feeling sick on the subway home to Dorchester, I looked about at the derelicts and bad-tempered mothers swatting snot-nosed kids and recall thinking that Dorchester women might be beautiful if their expressions weren’t so full of hatred of their men, of men in general, for beating them and leaving them with too many children. With a wad of chewing tobacco extending an unshaven cheek, a thin man stood talking to himself, his greasy hair matted to his forehead. A young black man wearing a black knit cap dared anyone to look at him, managing to swagger even while sitting on the hard red benches, legs splayed.
I awoke with a tremendous headache, then sat with a cup of coffee staring at the Globe. The story was there. Melanie had been strangled. I read the paper with a sinking feeling. For all my thoughts, I couldn’t remember exactly the moment of pulling the rosary tight around her neck. But I had done it, of that I was certain. I remembered then her body slumped on the floor, eyes bulging, face blue. The rosary lying like a twisted snake squeezed into the white flesh of her soft neck. My body was numb; the world was numb. I sat at the kitchen table, not going out. Dots called.
She didn’t say hello; she never did. I swallowed the last six ibuprofens in the bottle, my head aching as if I had a hangover. “See the newspaper? Weren’t you still going out with Melanie Carson? She was killed last night!” It hurt my head to listen, but I made myself sound surprised.
“What? Uh, yeah, we went out for a while. Not lately. Beautiful woman.”
“Yeah, well, not anymore. The cops are going to be knocking on your door, you know. Need some help?” She sounded as if she enjoyed the mess, which in fact I knew she did. Both she and Aunt Grace were avid murder-mystery readers. They loved the old LA mystery writers, Chandler and Hammet, Earl Stanley Gardner and Biggers. Dots and Aunt Grace agreed on matters of taste, including their dislike of Parker.
“No thanks, Dots,” I said steadily.
“You didn’t do it, did you?” As if she wished I had. “No,” I answered wearily. “But I can pretend if it’ll help.”
“Don’t be sarcastic—that won’t go over well with the cops. Why did you break up with her?”
“What’s it to you?” “The cops are going to ask. Just thought I’d give you a chance to get your story straight.”
“I don’t need a straight story.”
“Silly! It will sound better if you have thought these things out ahead of time.”
“You don’t think that might make me sound guilty, do you?” I countered. She paused.
“Maybe you’re right at that. “Oh Dave, I am sorry about Melanie! Though I didn’t know her very well, you know I didn’t like her. But so what? Aunt Grace is quite upset, though as excited to be implicated in a real murder as I am.”
“Implicated? Sounds as if she wished she did it, or thinks she did.” I was trying to sound jaunty, but the conversation was beginning to wear on me and my voice was shaky. My stomach felt sick. “I’d better go.”
“Good luck. Don’t let them put words in your mouth. Aunt Grace told me to have you call her lawyer before you say anything. You know Mr. Crittendon downtown—remember we met him at dinner at her house last year?”
“I remember.” The image of an old man bent over with the weight of the law on his back came to mind. A kindly old Boston gent from a gilt-edged firm. Probably dined with the police commissioner. I hadn’t thought of a lawyer until now. Maybe it was a good idea at that.
“Uh—one other thing. I called you at home last night but you didn’t answer.” Dots waited.
“So—where were you?”
“Maybe I was home but didn’t want to answer,” I said.
“Your answering machine came on, and you always pick it up for me when you’re there—you’ve told me so.”
She was right. Aunt Grace’s calls I avoided from time to time but never my sister’s.
“I was probably at the corner store buying heroin,” I said flatly, rubbing my head.
Silence. Let her wheels turn, I thought. “Well, it’s better not to have such an airtight alibi, you know,” she said after a moment, as if trying to make the best of a bad situation. “Only the guilty give absolute proof of where they were. So where were you when it happened?”
“Right here all night, in spite of not hearing your call. No one saw me. That seems to make me innocent in your book. Now good-bye. If the police come, I promise to call you and tell you all about it,” I finished, anticipating her request. We hung up and I began to feel nervous, wondering whether to call Crittendon. Aunt Grace would have arranged for him to be waiting for my call, I knew, kindly and reassuring. Just the sort to make me feel guilty.
I heaved my coat on but before going out erased Dots’ message from last night. At the corner store I bought more ibuprofen and orange juice, trying not to think about Melanie while walking slowly back up the street. The mist had lifted, leaving a day overcast, windy, and cold. A roiling mass of pewter clouds was rolling in. We wouldn’t see the sun for days, I guessed. I stopped suddenly: the tulips. I remembered buying them, but then what? I thought quickly, then hurried three blocks in the other direction to a large grocery store where they didn’t know me. Fortunately plenty of people moved about. Eyeing buckets of purple tulips in the produce section, I smiled. Grabbing a bunch, I picked up a few other items at random and went to the express checkout, explaining that I had already bought the orange juice elsewhere. The clerk frowned. Just the sort of thing I didn’t need, I thought, and left hurriedly. She might remember me.
Back home I cut the tulip ends, stowed the cut bottoms underneath some garbage at the bottom of the trash can, and arranged the flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. It was only then that I recalled dropping the original tulips on the rooftop adjacent to Melanie’s apartment. Now was not the time to retrieve them, clearly. I sat down and made breakfast, reading the story.
The photo they used was her professional one, making her look even more alluring than in person, smoky eyes and half-smile oozing seduction. It was a good shot; a public outcry was certain to follow against such a heinous murder of a creature so innocent. I thought how I would write a description of that sweet and mysterious face, then remembered my poem to Melanie, buried in the bosom of Juliet’s gown. My heart began to race, but I realized it was no use. I read further.
The story was a hard knock on the head after the photograph. Melanie had been strangled, though the account didn’t say how. The police weren’t saying much beyond casting some suspicion on a case of murder-rape, though the apartment had shown no signs of struggle.
Dots was wrong. It took two days for the police to call. By that time the Globe had run its usual op-ed lament over the rising crime rate and ensuing disintegration of society, and the Metro section featured a lengthy analysis of Melanie’s life and death by a psychologist from the Back Bay Psychiatric Clinic. I read every word of her connection between Melanie’s quick rise to local stardom and her quick descent, finding it bunk.
The police call came in the form of a pleasant, even shy Irish voice that identified itself as Detective Sergeant Francis Gallivan. He politely informed me that they had found my name and telephone number in Ms. Carson’s address book. Would I come down and answer a few questions?
I did, surprised at how distant I felt. Safe enough, for some odd reason, not to seriously consider calling Crittendon, even when Gallivan suggested I might want a lawyer. Or had my complete numbness in fact already buried any jittery nerves? I walked as if asleep down to headquarters and met Detective Gallivan, a classic heavy-set, red-cheeked Irishman, surprisingly young and fresh-faced. A good Catholic, I reckoned as I sat before his desk, a grey metal monster in the corner of a busy room. Dirty windows behind Gallivan looked out on the brick wall of a building ten feet away.
“This will be informal,” Gallivan explained, smiling at me and puffing a bit. “Can you tell me how long you knew the deceased?”
“Less than six months. I met her at my Aunt Grace’s house, at a party.”
“And you last saw her—?”
“More than a month ago, I think. We went out for a while,” I said, shifting a bit in my seat.
“Your fingerprints were found all over the apartment.”
“Which only makes sense,” I said.
“Do you think so?” Gallivan asked softly, leaning two beefy arms upon his desk. “It had been a month, you said.”
“I suppose Melanie wasn’t much of a housekeeper,” I smiled nervously.
“Ah. And where were you the night of the murder?” he asked, leaning back and looking at a pad of paper. He looked up.
“At home. I went to the corner store, came back. Watched TV. Read. Went to bed.”
“None. Or—the man at the corner store, Mr. Doherty. He saw me, about eight o’clock.”
“You’re sure of the time,” Gallivan looked up quickly.
“Yes, I had looked at my watch.”
Gallivan made a note. “What did you watch?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh. A rerun of Star Trek.” I was unflustered, having established all the right answers beforehand.
“Anyone you know might have had a reason to kill Ms. Carson, Mr. Draper?”
“None I know of.” My heart was thudding in my chest. “I always thought she was well-liked.”
“There is a possibility she had a male friend at her house that evening.”
“Oh?” I said as evenly as I could.
“Do you know who that person might have been?”
“She had—other boyfriends, from what we’ve been able to gather. Know any of them?” he asked blandly.
“I—never heard of any. I mean, she mentioned that she had other male friends. I didn’t exactly know what her connection—”
“But she never told you any names?” Gallivan asked.
“None,” I replied, wondering whether I would have given them even had I known. But Melanie never would tell, no matter how much I begged to know.
“Well,” Gallivan said, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head. “No one has come forward to admit to having been there. I’m sorry to say this—I’m sure you read it in the papers anyway—but we think it may have been a case of—” His voice became lower and gentler. “…rape, and murder. Possibly someone followed her home, or it even could have been a friend.” Gallivan eyed me again.
I shook my head.
“There’s one other thing,” Gallivan grunted, leaning over and pulling open a drawer. He drew out a white sheet of paper and handed it across to me. I took it, frowning. It was a xerox of an original that must have been crumpled because the copy was marked with jagged, dark lines. Clearly in Melanie’s open, looping handwriting was the beginning of a letter. I read:
Dear Elaine, I know you don’t want to hear from me, but I need to tell you something.
That was all. I stared at the words, imagining Melanie at her kitchen table carefully arranging her writing implements, bent over the page with furrowed brow, serious as a child. But who was Elaine?
“Have any idea at all about this?” Gallivan asked. “It was found in Ms. Carson’s wastebasket, crumpled up.”
“None at all—I don’t know any friend of hers named Elaine, and I don’t remember her talking about anyone by that name.”
Gallivan looked at me closely. “It sounds like something pretty important. It could be why she was murdered,” he finished quietly, observing me.
Dumb ox! I could have jumped up in the air, shouting with relief and happiness. I was saved by some random letter, another of Melanie’s overdramatized efforts. She was an actress, forever making minor matters intense and deep. A casual comment by a friend, only mildly critical, was heard by her as a tremendous affront to her very soul. She was always taking herself so seriously. Exciting and different to me at first, soon she had become merely neurotic. After a while I got used to her drama-queen behavior and simply tried to ignore it. No use arguing with her impressions anyway, so certain was she of her own perceptions, so unwilling to consider her opinions wrong. Beautiful, proud, talented, she was meant to be on stage always. Offstage she was a mess. And now—I bit hard against my lip and shook my head.
“Are you smiling?” asked Gallivan seriously.
“Just thinking about Melanie’s charming nature,” I offered easily.
Gallivan peered at me, his eyes narrowing in veiled disgust. My smile vanished.
“Pardon me, Mr. Draper, but you don’t seem very upset about your friend’s murder. Were you and Ms. Carson not close?”
I looked at him steadily, weighing how honestly I should speak. “We had been somewhat close, but that was a little while ago. She was beautiful and a good actress, but I found her as a person a little cold. I’m sorry to hear she’s dead, but by now I don’t have any special feeling for her.”
“You speak as if it had been years. Yet you two went out last month, according to your own words.”
I sighed. That seemed effective. “Well, it seems like it’s been years since I’ve seen her,” I said, looking out the window. “Maybe I wanted to forget her, forget all about it, which made the past seem longer ago than it really was.”
“Forget what?” Gallivan asked, looking at me evenly.
“You said, ‘Forget all about it.’ Did you want to forget something upsetting?”
I narrowed my eyes. “I guess I just meant—forget the whole thing. Her. That we ever went out.”
“Do you usually do that with your girlfriends?”
“What is this? I thought you wanted information about Melanie.” I was getting nervous.
“I am getting information about the deceased, sir. If you had some especially upsetting episode with her, Mr. Draper, that might give us a lead as to what happened to her.”
“I don’t follow you,” I answered uneasily.
“Let’s say, for example, that you two had had an argument one night when she suddenly pulled out a handgun and threatened you. Or else you found out she was dealing drugs. Or was hooked on drugs herself. Forgive me if I seem insulting, but it’s my business to pry. You might want to forget about such an incident, especially if it had upset you greatly, or destroyed your image of your beloved—”
“She’s not my beloved!” I nearly shouted, realizing too late he was just speaking in that old fashioned Boston-Catholic way.
Gallivan looked at me strangely and spoke calmly. “Just a manner of speaking, Mr. Draper. No offense meant. Only, if something of a surprising nature took place, that information might help our investigation.”
“There was nothing,” I swallowed.
He wasn’t finished, though, folding his hands and resting his elbows on the desk. “Did you know Ms. Carson to be a religious person, Mr. Draper?”
“Religious? I knew she went to church…”
“I mean, did she seem particularly devout? Did you two ever speak of religion?”
“Where’s this all leading?” I asked, annoyed.
“The newspapers didn’t carry the full story, Mr. Draper. Your friend Ms. Carson was strangled with a rosary.” Gallivan examined me as he spoke.
“Whew!” I uttered, expelling air. I shook my head. “I don’t see the connection. I don’t remember her as particularly religious.”
“It’s curious, Mr. Draper, your way of speaking of the deceased as if you hadn’t seen her in a year or more.”
“You’ve said that already. Is there some point?”
“No point, none at all,” he smiled. “In this business you develop an interest in people’s little peculiarities. I’m a bit of a character study as a result of my work.”
“For example, we had a woman down here six months ago who spoke of her husband, dead ten years, in the present tense, as if he were still alive and talking to her. ‘George says this’ and ‘George does that,’ she would say. Very interesting, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so. Can I go now?” I asked.
Gallivan frowned at me. “I don’t think you’re caught in the spirit of this investigation,” he remarked, and it seemed he had a hurt look on his face. I was startled speechless. He shrugged and rose.
They took a DNA sample, of course, to compare with the sperm found inside Melanie. There was no match. Fingerprints found in addition to mine led the police nowhere. No one had been observed entering or leaving Melanie’s apartment that night. An old Italian grandmother who lived downstairs said she had heard voices but couldn’t be sure whether that was from the TV. No witnesses placed me anywhere near the North End on Friday evening, and Mr. Doherty verified that I had come into his store after dark. He didn’t remember the time or what I had bought. So much for the tulips. I never went to fetch the ones I had dropped on the roof. The story slipped off page one two days after the murder and was followed up in the Metro section only one day longer. Boston is a big little city; there’s too much everyday crime going on. The following day a prominent woman killed her abusive husband, which drew bigger headlines than the simple murder of an aspiring actress.
The snowless winter wore away like a hated pair of old shoes, long and cold and damp. The sky stayed gray and overcast, the sun shaded in thick clouds for months. It was so cold the moist air hurt, no matter how many layers of clothing I wore. The newspapers had forgotten about Melanie, but her memory had only grown larger in me, her ghost following me everywhere. I felt compelled to take long walks, sentenced like Cain to eternal wandering, trying to escape the nightmare of Melanie. My face was raw as I walked along the Charles, frozen into a treacherous grey-white sheet. A student who had tried to walk across the river, drunk no doubt, had broken through and died. Death lay everywhere, as if in the depths of winter everything was falling. I panted, wiped my runny nose with a wet glove, and hurried on, head down in the face of an endless wind.
The cold echoed the numbness in my heart, at least relieving me of the jealous torment of the previous fall. I became reclusive, which Aunt Grace and Dots blamed on Melanie’s death. Aunt Grace in turn blamed Melanie’s death on me, claiming that had I been better for her (as distinct from better to her) she would still be alive: I would have been present to protect her. Dots mothered me, bringing me home-baked rich and gooey brownies and drinking Earl Gray tea with me. Though her attention touched me, I couldn’t muster the strength to answer her questions. Rattling on one day about work and travel, she finally looked me in the eye.
“You’re really grieving over Melanie, aren’t you?” she said sweetly, and it hurt that I couldn’t answer.
I shook myself. “It’s just the weather, Dots. And getting older. I need to get down to work. There’s not much time left.”
Dots looked alarmed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I laughed it off. “Nothing. I’m just tired. Like the Furies are pursuing me. Nobody’s immortal. I have to write more.”
Not until late April did winter give up and a cool spring edge its way in, wobbling on wet and pale green feet. At last even the grey city trees on Adams Street outside my apartment sprouted leaves. The sun shone at last, and the heavy clouds dispersed. The living horror of that winter began to seep away, and Melanie’s face dimmed in my memory. Only in my dreams was I haunted with a sense of having done something so extreme that life would never be the same. In the night unfamiliar dark figures pursued me down long shadowy corridors, and I ran.
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