Excerpt – Chapter 2: Better Not Tell Her

Diana was late again. Lucy had told her to meet at the coffee shop at 7:15; Tom had gone in early to prepare for a deposition and couldn’t catch her talking to her sister. Diana had promised to be there with bells on, hinting mysteriously at some juicy gossip.

But, as usual, even though Lucy had called and left a reminder on voice mail, Diana couldn’t be bothered to come on time. She’d skimmed the paper, reviewed her schedule, made notes on a contract she was revising, and read the next chapter in her mystery – and Diana still hadn’t waltzed in the door.

The customer in the next booth was drinking such strong coffee that Lucy was starting to feel sick. Sick was good, she reminded herself. The waistband on her skirt digging into her skin was good. Crying over Titanic with Julie Saturday night was good. But the coffee – if Diana didn’t get here soon, her anxiety was going to ensure that the coffee was not good.

Five minutes before the deadline she’d given herself for leaving, Diana came rushing in.

“I know I’m late, Luce, I’m sorry.” How many times had she heard this in her life? Diana looked flushed this morning, but not as hung over as usual for Monday, and she slid into the booth with more energy than Lucy had seen her exhibit in a long time. “How are you doing this morning? Things okay? You sounded so secretive on the phone last night —”

Lucy reached out, took her sister’s hand, and shoved Diana’s jacket sleeve away from her wrist.

Silence between them. She must have sliced herself up royally; the bandage covered more area than the last time. Well, that explained Richard’s cryptic requirement for the divorce negotiations. He’d known already that Diana had tried to kill herself again, so this must have happened before he’d left with his mystery woman on Friday night.

She stared at her sister, and Diana stared back until her lashes flickered, and she pulled her hand away and reached for a menu.

“What happened?” Lucy couldn’t believe how calm her voice was. She felt anything but calm. Richard had known. Tom must have known. Certainly Diana had known! And not one of them had bothered to tell her. She was getting tired of everyone sheltering her as if she were made of glass. Diana was her problem to deal with. “When?”

“Friday,” muttered Diana. “Will it make you sick if I get fried eggs?”

“Yes,” said Lucy. “When Friday?”

Diana was studying the menu religiously. “I’m thinking pancakes then, or waffles. Those shouldn’t bother you. And OJ instead of coffee —”

Lucy jerked the menu away from her. “Forget the menu, Di. What happened?”

“Oh, honestly!” Diana yanked the menu back. “Stop obsessing about it! Friday afternoon, okay? I was at Daddy’s with Laurie, and —”

Lucy felt herself about to become seriously unglued. “What do you mean, Laurie? What was she doing over there?”

“Waffles and OJ,” Diana said to the waitress. “And a side of bacon and hash browns. Thanks.” She made a production of putting the menu back in its holder while Lucy sat there fuming, then settled back against the seat, clasped her hands in front of her, and gave Lucy a look that promised to be open and honest and was anything but. “She came over to help me do some cleaning. Oh, did I tell you, we found those checks you’ve been looking for?”

“Great, but —”

“Anyway, we started talking. We tried on Mama’s old dresses, and – oh, I’m trading the dresses for the cottage, Laurie agreed to that, she doesn’t want it, in fact she seemed sort of weird about it —”

“Get to the point.”

“Don’t be so pushy! I am getting to the point, if you’ll stop interrupting me. Things were fine, we were getting along great, except thanks a lot, Luce, she asked me to sing for her, I know damn well you put her up to that. But then she had to bring up Francie, and – well, I got upset, and Lucy, that’s what I want to talk to you about, because our little sister has not exactly been truthful with us —”

“Hold it – hold it – hold it.” Lucy held up her hand before Diana started off on another tangent. She nodded towards Diana’s wrist. “Laura knows about this?”

“Of course.” Diana sounded impatient. “She’s the reason it happened. She – well, she sort of grabbed the glass away from me. Then she punched me on the jaw – see that bruise? hurts like the devil, that girl can throw a punch – and she drove me to the hospital. I was going to call you, but she said she’d rip the phone out of the wall if I tried, and then she ransacked my place while I was asleep.”

Lucy sat completely still.

She’d come here to beg her older sister to withdraw the subpoena. She was walking a fine line, but according to her research she could ethically talk to Diana as long as she did not give her legal advice or apply undue influence. Sitting here, she wasn’t Richard Ashmore’s lawyer; she was Diana’s sister. She’d come to protect her niece and the sister who had become mother to another sister’s child; she’d come to keep her family together. And instead, she found Diana with her wrist sliced open again, and Laura mixed up in it up to her eyeballs, and the whole family ranged against her in a silent conspiracy.

She was so angry, she could scream.

“I want you,” she said, “to tell me everything. And I mean everything, Di, don’t lie or leave one damn thing out. Just start at the beginning —”

But Diana leaned across the table and cut right across her, and that startled her. “Forget it. It’s not important, except that dear little Laura stole some stuff from me, and I want it back.” She took the glass of orange juice that the waitress set down before her. “I need to know something. You were there the day she came back. What did she say about Francie’s death?”

Lucy sat back and considered her sister. She couldn’t fathom what Diana was up to. Diana should be sobbing, full of remorse and depression, begging for help – not sitting there composed, dismissing her latest suicide attempt as no big deal. “She said – well, I brought it up, actually. I asked her about Francie, and she said that she’d died in a plane crash in the Texas Panhandle.” She thought back. “Not much else. She seemed a little upset, so I didn’t push it. Obviously, plane crashes are a sensitive subject with her.”

“Hmmm,” said Diana, and sat back with a Cheshire cat look. She was enjoying this, Lucy thought sourly, she liked having the upper hand for a change. “Don’t you think it’s interesting that Francie died in a private plane crash in the Panhandle, and Laura’s mother-in-law died in a private plane crash in the Panhandle, but they weren’t on the same flight?

Lucy sat still and stared. Then, slowly, “Son of a bitch. She lied to me.”

“That’s right,” said Diana gaily, and drained her orange juice. “And it gets better! Because I know how Francie did die, and she was nowhere near Texas! You want to know?” She leaned over, and Lucy couldn’t help it, she leaned forward too, so that her eyes were only inches from Diana’s sparkling eyes. Diana whispered, “She was murdered.”

The human mind couldn’t take this, Lucy thought numbly. You could only stand so many shocks an hour, and she had definitely exceeded her quota. She felt the way she’d felt that September morning, watching the morning show before leaving for work, one horrific blow after another, culminating in the sudden onset of premature labor and the few brief moments when she’d held her dying baby boy.

She was beginning to feel sick.

She took a deep breath and said flatly, “I don’t believe you.”

“Wait,” said Diana, “I’m not done. Don’t you want to know how Francie was murdered?” She took the plate of waffles from the startled waitress and energetically drowned them in maple syrup. “Oh, I ordered bacon and hash browns – thanks so much – yes, another OJ, please. And more tea for my sister?” She raised an eyebrow at Lucy, who nodded silently because she couldn’t trust her voice.

Diana dug into her waffles with undue enthusiasm; she might have been discussing the murder mystery lying discarded by Lucy’s tea.

“All right,” Lucy forced herself to speak, “I’ll bite. Who murdered Francie?”

Her words didn’t seem real to her. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be, she couldn’t possibly be sitting in a shabby little coffee shop talking to her crazy older sister about their younger sister’s murder.

Her younger sister couldn’t have been murdered.

But she wouldn’t have thought that Laura would flat out lie to her about Francie’s death, either.

“Well,” said Diana, and buttered a piece of toast, “I murdered her. If I understand correctly, I met her out at Ash Marine eleven years ago this summer, and I crept up behind her and cut her throat à la —” She held up her orange juice. “Then I dumped her body in the cove, where Laurie found her, and then the tide came in and washed Francie’s body away so that it was never found.”

For a moment, Lucy couldn’t think for all the noise in her head. She stared across the table at her sister, who was casually eating breakfast as if she hadn’t been accused of committing a gruesome crime in an utterly fantastic scenario, and she thought that maybe she was still in bed, dreaming.

Except that the smell of the maple syrup was so pungent that she couldn’t be dreaming.

“And you want to know why we never heard any of this?” continued Diana, on a roll and relishing every minute of it. “Because first Francie poisoned Laurie before she went out to be murdered by me, and Laurie was out of her mind with fever or poison or whatever, so she blacked out when she stumbled across Francie’s poor lifeless body that I threw into the cove – although how I had the strength to do that, I don’t know, it must have been all that adrenaline from finally giving Francie her just desserts. Then somehow she got off the island and she passed out again and she was airlifted out to a hospital. And she never once, in eleven years, told anyone about this.” She looked across at Lucy with ostentatiously wide eyes. “The perfect murder, don’t you think? And wasn’t it nice of Laurie not to tell anyone so I could get away with it?”

Lucy pushed her plate away. “This isn’t funny, Di. Really, do you think telling me such a ridiculous story is going to make me forget that you cut yourself —”

“Oh, that.” Diana waved her hand. “That’s nothing, dearest Lucy. You think I’m making this up? I’m still not finished. Do you know why Francie, poor dead Francie, was so defenseless against my murderous rage? Because she brought a gun along to the island to kill me with, but Laurie decided to stop her, and she took the gun away. Too bad she didn’t take the knife too, to keep me from getting my homicidal little hands on it. Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “Daddy was mixed up in this too. Laurie doesn’t seem to know where he comes in, but Francie got the bridge keys from someone, so it was probably him. Although Laurie did hint that maybe it was Richard —”

“This,” said Lucy quietly, “is the stupidest story I have ever heard.”

Diana folded her hands together and returned her look. “Yes,” she said. “Now that I’ve had the weekend to think about it, that’s exactly what I think too.”

“I can’t believe this.” Lucy looked away for a moment and tried to bring some order to her thoughts. “Are you sure that Laurie said all this?”

“You bet. Right there in Daddy’s front room Friday afternoon. She sat there in Daddy’s old chair and accused me of killing Francie. That’s why I sort of lost it there for a moment, I thought that maybe Daddy really had conspired with Francie to kill me —”

“But this doesn’t make any sense,” said Lucy. “Are you sure she wasn’t putting you on?”

“Oh, no. She wasn’t acting. She was shaking the whole time she was talking.” Diana ate the toast reflectively. “She believes this, Luce. She thinks I murdered Francie.”

“I guess,” said Lucy slowly, “I need to ask for form’s sake. Did you?”

Diana gave her a look. “Sneak up behind her and cut her throat? Please! Give me some credit. I’d have stood in front of her and stabbed her right in her black little heart so that she’d see who was sending her to her eternal reward.”

“I wonder…” She remembered a senior litigator at her first law firm, saying that the best liars used the truth. She wouldn’t have pegged Laura as a liar, but then, she reminded herself, this was the woman who had covered her tracks for fourteen years. “I wonder if any of this could be true?”

“What part?” said Diana. “Not the part about me, that’s for damn sure. Why, do you think Francie really did get herself killed out there?”

“Maybe.” She’d thought, talking to Tom, that it had been uncharacteristic of Francie not to have made some move to reinsert herself into Richard’s life. But killing Diana? Would Francie really have tried that? “It’s possible that she went out there to hurt you.”

“Well,” said Diana, “that would not surprise me at all. I tried to tell you all, and no one would listen. That girl had it in for me. I’m just surprised how long it took her to decide to get rid of me.”

“Quiet.” Lucy reached into her purse for her cell and looked up Laura’s number. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this. If Laura really said all that —”

“Oh, she’s not there. She went off for the weekend with a boyfriend, although she’s probably back by now.”

Her heart stopped. “What?”

“I told you I had some juicy gossip. I went over there Saturday night, and she wasn’t there, but her car was, and that stupid cat was.” Diana munched on a slice of bacon. “Pretty fast work if you ask me – how long has she been back, and she’s already met someone? Well, I guess she has a right to be a merry widow, it’s not like we’ve seen any tears for this Cameron St. Bride, but – wait, who was that boy that Daddy made her break up with? Maybe she’s hooked up with him again?”

Lucy scarcely felt her hand going to her forehead. She heard herself say from far away, “Maybe she just didn’t come to the door.”

“I called at least ten times,” Diana said. “I stayed past midnight, because she took —” she pitched her voice low so that the cop two booths down didn’t hear her, “she took some of my personal stuff while I was asleep. And I want it back. She can afford her own weed.”

Lucy had now absorbed as much as any human being could be expected to absorb. “Don’t say one more word.” She put the cell back in her purse; she had to think this through before she called Laura. It couldn’t be true. Richard couldn’t have taken such leave of his senses. He couldn’t really be filing the petition in her briefcase because he wanted to divorce one sister for another.

But he’d gone off for the weekend.

And now Laura had been missing in action.

The last she’d heard from Richard on the subject of Laura had been his scathing refusal to have dinner with her because she’d taken him to task about his marriage.

Except that, of course, she had only Diana’s word that Laura had been gone. In fact, she had only Diana’s word for the entire ludicrous story she said she’d heard from Laura.

Still… if Diana was lying, this wasn’t her usual style. She could usually tell when Diana shifted into make-believe mode, and she wasn’t behaving in her usual lie-through-her-teeth fashion.

Lucy felt calm now. Several years in a tough law firm had disciplined her to thrust all unruly thoughts and emotions to the back of the cupboard until she had time to bring them out. She opened her briefcase, taking care to keep the pristine divorce petition out of Diana’s sight, and pulled out a legal pad.

“I want you to tell me everything all over again,” she said. “I want to know exactly what Laura said. Don’t embellish it, don’t add anything – what are you doing?”

Diana was rummaging through her purse. “It was here, I swear, I put it in here —”


Diana shoved their plates out of the way, turned her purse upside down, and dumped the contents on the table. Lucy thought she’d never seen such a mess, except at the bottom of her own purse. Diana’s fingers were combing through wallet, check book, coin purse, brush, two lipsticks, a mascara wand, silver flask, credit card receipts, digital recorder, keys, compact, three nickels, five quarters, numerous pennies, a toll token, two ballpoint pens without their caps, an earring, two tampons, and three cough drops. “Shit! It was here! Where the hell – oh, God, think, think, where did I have it —”

Lucy said, “What did you lose?”

Diana looked up wildly. “A project I was taping – oh, where, where —” And then she stopped, and her eyes narrowed in on nothing at all. “Oh, God, no. That damn cat —” She swept everything back into her purse. “I’ve got to run. Can you get the check?”

“Of course, but —”

Diana shook her head wildly. “Sorry. Can’t right now.” She threw the last of the debris in her purse and clambered out of the booth. She leaned down briefly and brushed her lips against Lucy’s cheek. “I’ll call you later, promise! Bye.”

And she ran out the door as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her ankles.

It’s official, Lucy thought. The world has gone mad.

She paid the bill – this was the third time in a row that Diana had stuck her with the tab, she was taking it out of Diana’s pay from the club the next time she cut checks – and left to walk to her office. It was 8:15 now, and the business district was coming alive. Her office was five blocks straight, and Richard’s office was down two blocks – she stopped.

He had to sign the petition, swear that everything was true and that there was no hope for reconciliation. She’d told Tom she’d drop by to get Richard’s signature, and she’d thought she might ask him out to lunch. They hadn’t seen each other for a week. But lunch was four hours away, and she didn’t want to wait. He might be in his office already. He liked to get in early on Mondays, and he ought to be in a good mood after his weekend.

But she wasn’t ready to talk to him yet, not until she had time to think. Better to messenger the petition to him for signature, and she’d file it during the afternoon.

First things first. She had to find out if Laura had lied to her. Diana had included too much detail – the parallel crashes in the Texas Panhandle – to dismiss her story out of hand. She’d chart out that story about Francie’s death on Ash Marine, separate fact from fiction. See if Laura had indeed woven life and fantasy together into a tapestry of death and betrayal.

Because, if Francie had indeed died out on Ash Marine, and Diana hadn’t killed her – and Di was right, a sneak attack wouldn’t be her style – then who by her own admission had been the only other one there? Who had taken the gun? Who had mothered Francie’s child? Who had suffered a lifetime of coming in second best to Francie?

But Laura hadn’t killed Francie. Lucy felt sure about that. Leave home without a word, shut out her family, take another’s child as her own, stay married to a man she didn’t love, maybe even – better not! – go off with her sister’s estranged husband – oh, Laura could do that, and more. But kill?

So she had to clear Laura before Diana started to come to the logical conclusion.

Then she’d deal with Laura’s whereabouts over the weekend.