The problem was, Megan had just taken the second half of the ecstasy when her father called with the news.
Earlier that day, her roommate had bundled up and trudged out into a raging Front Range blizzard to buy two green clover-shaped pills: one for herself, and one for Megan, as a kind of pre-Christmas present. Natalie had meant to wrap them up in a little box. But the day got a little hectic, what with exams and all, so after dinner, when they were back in their dorm room together, Natalie simply dug in her pocket and took out the little pills and without any fanfare set them on the open page of Megan's biology text. "And don't wuss," she warned.
Megan screwed up her face. The green pills reminded her of those pastel dots you got when you were a kid, the kind you peel off a long strip of paper. She didn't have time for this tonight. She scooped up the pills and put them into a clay pinch pot that sat in the back corner of her desk. Lumpy and chipped, the pot looked as though someone had stuck his elbow into a ball of clay. Which is exactly what Ben, her brother, had done, eleven years ago. A major accomplishment, for Ben.
But Natalie wouldn't let the matter go, pointing out that they could start with just half. And so instead of studying for her biology exam as planned, Megan Thompson, pre-med freshman at the university, found herself giving in to something larger and decidedly more fun that evening. Not only that, but she gave in with no clue as to what had transpired earlier that evening two miles west, in the two-story stucco house she'd grown up in --- the house that had been on the Home Tour three years in a row, the one that backed up to Open Space, with the model solar heating panels and the evaporative cooling system that kept the temperature inside a mere seventy- five when outside it soared above a hundred. She had no suspicions, no worries, no funny feelings that might have caused her to think twice, to resist the temptation and opt out of what she knew from experience would be another evening of all-night bliss. Forgetting about everything else --- her exam, the argument with her mother earlier that morning, that last very strange e-mail from Bill --- Megan placed half the pill on her tongue, washed it down with water, and waited.
That was at eight o'clock.
At eight-thirty they weren't feeling much different.
At quarter to nine Natalie wondered if they should take the other half.
And it was right after they split the second pill that the phone rang. Natalie recognized the number on Caller ID. "It's your mother again," she announced.
When Megan didn't reply, Natalie said, "I think you ought to straighten things out. Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she'll buy you the plane ticket. I'm answering it." She picked up the phone, singing "Yell-low?" before even bringing the phone to her ear.
Seated cross-legged on her bed, Megan slumped against the wall. The reason she didn't want to talk to her mother was simple. That morning they'd argued over whether or not Diana would buy Megan a ticket to Mexico for spring break. Mean things were said --- by both of them --- and Megan shuddered when she recalled how pleased she'd felt with that last wicked remark about killing babies. Why did it make her feel so good to make her mother feel so bad?
Speaking of feelings, the drug was kicking in and she was beginning to feel pretty good --- so that when Natalie told her it wasn't her mother but rather her father on the phone, she felt a welcome surge of love and affection.
"That's my dad," she said fondly, "wanting to play the guy in the middle. He's always doing that, you know? Whenever Mom and I get into a fight, there he is, Mr. Mediator. It wasn't even a big fight," she went on. "He just wants everything perfect, since it isn't with him and Mom. Freaks him out to think that she and I --- "
"Take the fucking phone," said Natalie.
Megan took the phone and cradled it to her ear. "Hi, Dad."
"Sweetheart," he began.
"It wasn't a major fight," she told him. "Did she tell you? A bunch of people are going to Mexico. I'll pay for the ticket, I'll pay for everything. I didn't mean to lay it all on Mom." She heard her father clear his throat but felt a rush of apology coming --- not just for things said earlier that day but for all the wrongs she had committed over the course of her nineteen years.
"I was rude," she said. "I shouldn't have yelled at her. Jesus, it's Christmas. What was I thinking? I hate it when I yell."
"Megan," her father said.
Megan stopped. There was something black and buggy in his voice that made her heart skip. And it took her less than a second to realize why. It was the voice he'd used ten years ago, when he'd called her at summer camp with the news about Ben.
"Megan," he began.
* * *
Frank Thompson couldn't tell if it was the reflection of pool water bouncing off the windows, or the shriek of his daughter over the phone, or the flapping sound of the sheet as the paramedics covered his wife that made his legs begin to wobble and shake. All he knew was that the ground beneath him was falling out from under, and he had to get down, fast, or he was going to be sick.
He squatted, set the phone on the slate floor that Diana had chosen when she put in the pool, and covered his face with his hands. He listened to the pool pump as it sucked and squirted from somewhere underground, and breathed in the moist, chlorinated air that filled the solarium. A few feet away a young woman in a police uniform was conferring with the paramedics. Next to him lay Diana's peach-colored bathrobe, along with a pair of purple flip-flops with the darkened imprints of her heels.
A shiver passed through him, and he turned his gaze to the water in the pool, which continued to dance as though some ghost were out there sculling in the middle. It was a small elevated pool, framed in by blond birch panels --- not much bigger than two hot tubs end to end, really, with a motorized current that allowed Diana to swim nonstop without having to turn. Although he hadn't wanted to put the pool in, he'd later conceded to one of his colleagues that it was a worthy investment, since it gave his high-strung wife a chance to come home and mellow out. After twenty years of marriage, he knew that a mellow Diana was a cohabitable Diana.
Frank lifted his head, and a sparkle of light caught his eye from underneath the ficus tree across the room. Broken glass, needly shards --- and Frank cringed as he recalled how earlier that afternoon he'd thrown the glass across the room to get his wife's attention. It was wrong of him, he knew that. But after coming across the pictures online --- pictures that no father should have to imagine, let alone see --- well, everyone has a breaking point, and it was the way Diana was so oblivious to the problem at hand, the way she assumed he was upset because she'd skipped out on lunch earlier that day: he felt his shoulders clench, and the glass just flew.
It would seem that a man in Frank Thompson's position, with over twenty years' experience as a prosecuting attorney, would know better than to start tampering with things in a room with a dead person. A man in his position would get out of that room and call his own attorney. But Frank didn't have his wits about him at the moment, certainly not his professional wits, and all he could think was that broken glass would convey the wrong impression about his marriage. (Though lord it felt good to shatter a glass like that; the gratification was unmatched, like saying shit or fuck in front of small children.)
Rising stiffly, he walked over to a little poolside closet to get a broom and dustpan. Nobody seemed to notice him; the patrol officer was on her cell phone and the paramedics were conferring with each other. As if making up for all the times during their marriage that he hadn't cleaned up after himself, he knelt down and swept up the ficus leaves and shards of glass and emptied them into a wastebasket. He didn't want people to have the wrong impression.
Outside, a blast of grainy snow pelted the sliding-glass doors. Now the cop and the paramedics were kneeling beside Diana's body.
"That's not good," the cop said, glancing up. She was new on the force, blond and blue-eyed like someone straight off a farm in Minnesota; but she already had that bossy, black and white air that you find in cops, and older siblings. "Did you know about this?"
"Know about what?" asked Frank.
"Come see," said the cop. "If you get down, you can see better."
Reluctantly, Frank squatted. He hadn't looked at Diana since the paramedics had arrived. They held the sheet away from her head, and Frank, who'd harbored the lay belief that maybe it was all a mistake, now forced himself to look.
For all the times he'd seen a dead body --- and there were plenty, his having been with the district attorney's office for twenty-four years --- nothing could compare to this. His wife's dark corkscrew curls fanned away from her face, Medusa-like. Her skin was white and waxy, her lips the color of plums. Her eyes stared up, flat and fishy. He looked away.
"What concerns us is this," the cop said, and she nodded to the younger of the two paramedics, a man with a long straggly ponytail. Gently taking Diana's head in both hands, he turned it slightly and splayed the hair above her ear.
"Right there," said the cop. "You see?"
What he saw made him choke. The bruise was huge and ripe and living, a fat, blue-gray slug in her tangled hair.
"Any idea how this happened?" the cop asked Frank.
Numbly Frank shook his head.
"Well, it's some bruise," the cop said. "Hard to imagine what could have made a bruise like that. And look at those knuckles."
Frank heard himself suggest that she'd perhaps fallen.
"Maybe it's that simple," said the cop, "but I'm calling the coroner."
Frank stared at the cop, and for the first time he recalled that on two separate occasions he'd had her on the witness stand; both times she'd not flinched when the defense attorney had implied she was a forgetful, inattentive liar.
" --- crime scene from now on," she added. "Frank, you need to have a seat."
"You mean you think this wasn't an accident?"
"Frank," she said, "your wife is a national figure. There are a lot of people out there who don't like what she does."
"Could she have been swimming too fast?" the older paramedic asked. "Maybe she swam into the edge of the pool."
"This is two-four-oh-five," the cop was saying into her radio. "Where's Mark? I need backup now."
Frank just stared at the three of them.
"Or maybe she tripped and hit her head and fell into the pool," suggested the paramedic.
Frank couldn't answer. It wasn't sinking in. He looked at his wife's face. The night before, she'd been complaining about the frown lines between her eyebrows; now her forehead was perfectly smooth and unlined. The night before, she'd informed him that for the past five years she'd been coloring her hair without his knowing; now for the first time he noticed that, yes indeed, it was a shade darker.
He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how young she looked, but the words kept catching on little fishhooks in his throat. What had he said earlier that afternoon? Something about photo ops and Ben? The great Dr. Duprey, he'd said. Now he cringed, recalling his words, and he bent down and rested his cheek against hers, wanting to take back everything he'd said that afternoon.
He might as well have tried to take back his wedding vows.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into her ear. "I'm so, so sorry."
Driving from the dorm to her house, all Megan could think about was the argument with her mother that morning. In hindsight it seemed unbearably foolish and petty. Did she really expect her parents to hand her everything on a silver platter? Just send her to Mexico at the drop of a hat? But no, she'd had to blow up and stomp out of the room, and those last words --- Have fun killing babies --- seeped like a poison through every vein in her body. Twice she had to pull over, she was shaking so badly. Outside the snow was
blowing sideways; the plows hadn't been around for a while, so the road ahead was blanketed in white, the tire tracks a mere shadow, like collapsed veins. According to the time and temperature sign at the Ford dealership, it was five degrees. And that didn't account for any windchill.
Compounding the problem was the fact that her VW Bug had no defroster. Or rather, it had a defroster, but the defroster didn't work; and although she kept wiping the glass with an old shop towel, the moisture from her breath quickly refroze on the glass. Soon the windshield was so frosty that she could no longer distinguish between road and curb, so Megan --- who was a very cautious driver, especially when under the influence of any recreational drug --- steered into the driveway of what turned out to be a neighborhood
fire station. There she put the car in neutral and took a plastic scraper and started vigorously scraping at the ice on the inside of the windshield, sending out little showers of frost dust.
Having cleared a ragged hole, she was about to put the car in gear when she noticed a man standing outside a little house just behind the fire station. He was watching her. Despite the frigid temperature he wore no jacket, just a white T-shirt. One of the firemen? Just a guy? She couldn't tell.
Shit! He was walking toward her. She didn't want to talk to anyone! She was high! Her mother was dead! Shit! Fuck! She would have rolled her window up, but it was impossible for her to do so in any quick manner, because the threads inside the roller were worn, and to get the window up she'd have had to crank with one hand and
force it up with the other, which would have taken too long. She let out the clutch. The car stalled.
The man peered down to her level.
"You okay?" The shadow of a beard, a tiny gold hoop in his left earlobe. "Car trouble?"
Megan quickly averted her eyes. She wanted to say, No, I'm fine, or, No, it's just my windshield, but she seemed to have lost her voice. She wished she'd brought along a water bottle.
She restarted the engine, only to find Saran Wrap forming on the windshield. Trying not to appear jumpy, she took the towel and began rubbing the glass, which only served to smear everything into a blurry mess.
"Got any de-icer?" he asked.
Megan paused. She could smell the man; he smelled like laundry detergent, or too much deodorant --- she couldn't put her finger on it. She resumed her polishing.
"Sorry?" he pressed.
He's fucking with you, Megan told herself. Answer him and he'll go away. With great effort she managed to shake her head --- meaning to communicate three things: one, that she didn't have any de-icer; two, that she was fine and didn't need his help; and three, that she was onto the fact that he was fucking with her.
But the man seemed bent on a mission. "I can go check," he said. "I might have some." But then he paused, watching her, as though waiting for permission. She stole a quick glance at him, and jesus his face was moony in the light of the snow and how did he get that scar on his chin? It suddenly occurred to her that here she was, talking to a strange man in an empty parking lot at nine in the evening, someone who might not just be fucking with her. Her heart took a little riff. This town was not the safe little place people thought it was. Had the cops gotten that man who was sneaking into women's bedrooms? She tried to remember the sketch she'd seen in the local section of the newspaper --- hadn't the guy been wearing an earring?
Megan popped the clutch. The car lurched forward, and the man gave a clumsy little hop off to one side. She didn't care. She pulled out onto the road. Maybe now she would have to keep poking her head out the window to see where she was going, but at least she
wasn't hanging around like a sitting duck, asking to get mugged.
Conscientiously watching her speed, Megan managed to navigate up the main street and turn at the light. To make up for lost time, she decided to take the shortcut to their house, even if it did go up and then down a steep hill. When she stuck her head out the window, icy needles spat against her face. All you have to do is get home, she reminded herself. There's just this last hill. She floored the accelerator, but as she neared the crest, her wheels began to spin. She took her foot off the gas with the intention of simply coasting back down to get another start but instead found herself gliding quietly off the road and down into a little ditch, finally coming to rest against a sprawling juniper bush.
It was as soft a landing as any car could possibly make, but when Megan tried to open the driver's door, the boughs of the juniper bush elbowed back. She would have climbed out through the passenger door, but it had been jammed shut since last summer, when Bill
kicked it in.
She was stuck.
She'd forgotten her cell phone, and the horn didn't work because she'd disconnected it last summer when it started honking continuously. All she could do was wait until someone drove by. And so in this sheltered ditch, with her windshield frosted over and the snow falling gently and the juniper boughs pressing up against the window, Megan sat. And waited. And tried not to think about the last words she had said to her mother.
When Frank answered the door and saw Detective Huck Berlin standing on his porch in the pale glow of the streetlight, he cringed inwardly. Not that Detective Berlin wasn't top notch. He was one of the best, even if he was relatively young. But Frank had exchanged
heated words with Detective Berlin back when they had decided not to go forward in the Templeton case. Berlin was pissed. Frank didn't blame him. The guy had done a lot of good work. But since that time, whenever he had had to deal with Detective Berlin --- when Berlin presented him with a positive ID in a rape case, for example --- Frank sensed a naked skepticism on the younger man's part, as though he would have gone into shock if Frank had followed through.
And of course, Berlin was accompanied by Detective Vogel. Frank had always suspected that it was Ernie Vogel who was responsible for the chain-of-custody fuckup in the Templeton case, and he wished Ernie would have admitted as much. Vogel had responsibility issues, in Frank's view. Plus he could just be a real asshole. His older daughter had played on Megan's soccer team, and Frank had never much appreciated the way Ernie stalked the sidelines, huffing and yelling at the ref every chance he got. Some parents got way too worked up over these games, and Ernie was one of them: he was an
embarrassment to the team.
The two detectives exchanged glances, then wiped their feet on the mat and stepped into the house. Detective Berlin wore a gray hooded sweatshirt and stood in the hallway with his hands stuffed into the kangaroo pockets. His nose was red, his eyes bleary and moist. Detective Vogel followed --- quiet for once. (Though why wouldn't he be? There was no ref to yell at.)
"I'm sure sorry about this," said Detective Berlin.
Frank merely blinked. All manner of graciousness, all manner of protocol had suddenly escaped him. He had no idea what to do next.
"Maybe you could show us the pool," Huck offered, and Frank dutifully led them down the hall to the solarium, where the patrol officer and the paramedics were kneeling over Diana's body. They all looked up.
"Hey, Jen," said Huck.
"Huck," said the patrol officer. "Ernie."
"What happened? If I may ask," said Ernie.
Frank said, "She drowned."
"She hit her head and drowned," Jen corrected him. "Frank, I asked you to sit over there. Please sit over there. Please don't go wandering around. Come take a look," she told the two detectives.
Huck and Ernie squatted by the body and looked at the area where the paramedics splayed Diana's hair.
"Yowsers," said Ernie.
"Did you call the coroner?" asked Huck.
"Piper's on her way," said Jen.
"When did backup get here?"
"About half an hour ago. They're outside," said Jen.
Huck stood up and surveyed the room. "Any signs of forced entry?"
"Not that I can tell."
"Just the bruise. A few scratch marks."
"Was your wife on any medication?" Ernie asked Frank. "Any chance she'd been drinking?"
"It might be a simple explanation," said Ernie, shrugging. "Maybe she fell."
"She wasn't drunk," said Frank.
Ernie walked over to the pool. He leaned down and swished his hand through the water.
"How do these things work?"
"You swim against the current," said Frank.
"And how fast does it go?"
"You set the speed. As fast as you want."
"What, like two miles an hour? Five?"
"I don't know," Frank said, growing irritated. "It's got a dial."
Just then two other police officers arrived, and Huck sent them back outside to start taping off the house. "Make sure you get the entire yard," he said. "Plus the garage. Does anybody have a key?" he asked Frank. "Housekeepers? Workers?"
"Just my daughter," said Frank. Which reminded him. He checked his watch. It was ten past ten. Where was Megan?
"Anyone come in to feed the pets?"
Frank shook his head, although now that he thought of it, it was certainly possible that Diana had given a key to the housecleaner. Though whoever that was, Frank didn't know. Diana went through housekeepers like paper towels.
But before he had a chance to correct himself, a small athletic woman came striding into the room. Piper McMahon was the county coroner. Her son Brian had been a classmate of Megan's. During his sophomore year Brian had gotten heavily into hallucinogenics, and instead of graduating he went off to live on a commune in the Arctic Circle. Piper hadn't had it easy, Frank thought.
Though neither have you, he reminded himself, flashing on Ben. Amazing, how parenting could age a person beyond his wildest expectations.
Piper unzipped her puffy black parka and dropped it onto the floor and stepped forward to hug Frank. "The whole drive down I kept telling myself it wasn't true," she whispered. She knelt down beside Diana's body. She pressed her fingers against Diana's neck. She glanced up at Frank, then shifted her weight and pressed in another spot. Frowning, she smoothed back Diana's thick curls and examined her head, turning it this way and that. She palpated the area around the bruise. She lifted Diana's eyelids and shined a tiny light in her eyes. She rolled Diana to one side and examined her back, then rolled her back again and gently straightened her arms by her sides and brought the sheet up over her head.
"You're right, we're going to need a full autopsy," she said. "What time did you find her?" she asked Frank.
"In the pool?"
"And you dragged her out?"
Frank nodded again.
"Wish you hadn't done that," Ernie murmured.
"And when did anyone last see her?" asked Piper.
"I did," said Frank.
"Well, we definitely need an autopsy," Piper declared. "I can't tell a damn thing here except she hit her head and drowned. Let's get her over to the morgue," she said, snapping off her gloves. "I'll call John, and we'll get started."
"Tonight?" said Frank.
"No reason to wait," said Piper.
Meanwhile Huck was over by the sliding doors, inspecting the doorjambs. "Did you say the door was unlocked?"
"The lock's broken," said Frank. "She was supposed to call someone."
"You leave all your doors unlocked?" asked Ernie.
"No, we don't, detective. I just told you. This one was broken."
Huck bent to inspect the lock. "Broken indeed. Nice ficus," he said, glancing around. "Hard to keep alive, aren't they?"
"I don't take care of the plants," said Frank.
"Must be the moisture in here," Huck remarked. He knelt down to examine something.
"What is it?" asked Ernie.
"Broken glass," Huck said. Frank watched as Huck slipped on a pair of gloves and picked up the glass and placed it in a Ziploc bag and sealed it. He watched him put the bag in his pocket. He saw the two men exchange glances and suddenly put things together. They
thought it was him! But of course! You always suspect the husband! He should have thought of that by now.
As though Ernie had read his mind, he now approached Frank's side. "Listen, Frank," he said in a low voice, "do you have somewhere to go tonight?"
"It's just that we have to treat this as a crime scene," said Ernie, "and we need to preserve things."
"I'm not going to tamper with anything," said Frank, "if that's what you're saying."
"I'm not saying that," said Ernie. "But we've got to follow procedure. And I think you know that your staying here could cause problems later on."
"You mean when you want to name me as a suspect?"
"I'm not saying that."
"Good. Because I'm not leaving. I'm waiting here for my daughter."
"Where is your daughter, by the way?" Huck asked.
"She's on her way over here," said Frank. "I called her. She should be here." He looked at his watch again.
"Doesn't she have a cell?" asked Ernie.
It hadn't even occurred to him to call her cell. There was a phone on the wall by the door, and he picked it up and dialed Megan's number.
There was no answer.
"She drives a yellow Bug, doesn't she?" asked Huck.
"Why?" said Frank.
"I think I saw her on her way over here," Huck replied. "She was having trouble with her defroster. I'll call Dispatch." He left the room. Frank was left standing there alone with Ernie, who glanced at him and then jingled the change in his pocket.
"Look, Frank," he finally said. "I'm very sorry about this."
Frank wasn't yet ready to start receiving sympathies. He cleared his throat and asked where Ernie's older daughter was these days.
"Up north," said Ernie.
"Is she still playing soccer?"
"No. How about Megan?"
Frank shook his head, and Ernie gave a sigh. "They were all going to get soccer scholarships," he said. "Remember those days?"
Frank managed a smile.
"Mia wannabees," said Ernie. "Everywhere you looked."
His wife dead --- and here they were talking about soccer! Frank started to pick up his wife's robe, but Ernie stopped him. Frank dug his hands into his pockets.
"Our house was on the Home Tour, you know," he told Ernie. "Somebody might have scoped it out."
"Certainly possible," said Ernie.
"Somebody from the Coalition, did you think of that? They could have just walked through the house and gotten the layout of everything."
Ernie shrugged and agreed that there were a lot of people who didn't like what Diana did. "Lots of avenues to explore," he said. "We're just getting started. Look, Frank, I hate to say this, but you should --- well, you should call your attorney."
For the first time that evening Frank felt himself stand erect. It was surreal, being on this end of the telescope, but he was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of watching him act like a suspect at this point. He would have liked a cigarette right now, to tell the truth. He would have liked a good stiff drink. He would have liked to fall fast asleep, and wake up in the morning to find it was all a dream.
"Thanks for the tip," he told Ernie, "but I'm more concerned about my daughter right now."
It was probably the only time in her life when, while under the influence of a recreational drug, Megan would be glad to see the police.
The two officers wrenched open the passenger door, pulled her out, and helped her into the back of the squad car. For a few seconds she forgot why she was there --- the car was warm and she was warm and her neck was no longer spazzing up. But as soon as they crested the hill --- as soon as she looked down and saw the ambulance, the police cars, the yellow tape already strung up all around her house --- a fish flopped in her stomach. The Big Thing that they'd always lived under the shadow of had happened. It was real. It didn't seem real, but it was.
She let herself in and walked straight to the solarium, where her father met her, looking rumpled in the day's workclothes: white shirt, dark trousers.
"Dad," she said as he hugged her, "Daddy," and she was glad he was holding her because her knees went wobbly and she saw zigzag lights and she knew it had nothing to do with any green clovershaped pill.
She glanced around the room. There were people milling around, and they all looked at her. There on the green tiled floor was the long white-sheeted form. Suddenly Megan felt herself splitting into two people, the girl with the wobbly legs versus the girl watching it all unfold on TV.
"Come on, I'll make you some tea," her father was saying, but Megan broke free from his arm and went and knelt by her mother. The only other time she had been in the room with a dead person was at Ben's funeral, and Ben certainly hadn't been covered with a white sheet; he'd been plumped and rouged and laid down to sleep in his Superman pajamas, and everybody who walked by the coffin seemed to want to touch his face, which had pissed her off, for reasons she couldn't put her finger on.
Megan turned back the sheet. Her mother's face was puffed and gray and froggy-looking. The girl with the wobbly legs went fuzzy and sat down while the girl watching TV took over.
"How did it happen?" she asked.
"We don't know," her father said. "It looks like she had a nasty blow to her head."
"By someone else?"
"So, like, someone did this to her?"
"Let's wait for the autopsy, honey," said her father.
Megan stood up and looked at all the people standing around her. "You guys think someone killed her?"
"That's what the detectives are here for," said her father. "This is Detective Berlin," he said. "And Detective Vogel."
Megan looked at the detective with the blue eyes. The gold earring. The shadow of a beard. She looked away. How the fuck?
The detective stood there with his hands awkwardly on his hips, and she willed him not to say anything about the fogged-up windshield, because her father would get on her case for not getting the defroster fixed.
"I lost traction," she explained. "I slid into a ditch. I could see fine." Shut up, she thought. Who needs to know?
"I figured as much," the detective said. "In any case I'm glad you made it home. Of course, I'm terribly sorry," he added.
Megan went over and sat by the edge of the pool, looking at her mother's form. The girl with the wobbly legs had vanished by now, and Megan found herself wondering if her mother had been frightened. Or did she even know what was happening? Maybe she just slipped. Then again, maybe somebody sneaked in and hit her over the head. She told herself it didn't matter, her mother was dead either way, and she wondered if her mother had forgiven her for the things she said, for her attitude, that morning.
"Come on," her father said, taking her arm. "We'll go out to the kitchen."
"Actually," Ernie began, "actually, Frank, the two of you really need to find someplace else to go. You've got a lot of friends."
Her father's face hardened. "I certainly do have a lot of friends," he said without any trace of a smile, "but it's my house, and I'm going to go and make my daughter a cup of tea."
Ernie glanced at Huck. "Actually we just want to prevent this from turning into another --- "
"You think I'm going to fuck with things?"
"It's a question of following procedure, Frank," said Ernie.
"Fine. I'm following procedure. I'm being a father."
Ernie was about to say something back, but Huck caught his elbow and drew him aside. Frank and Megan walked out into the hall.
"What was that all about?" said Megan.
"Our house is a crime scene," said Frank. "They don't want us contaminating the evidence. In fact, we're not even supposed to be here right now, but too bad. I'm making us some tea."
Suddenly Megan remembered her mother's stash. She hurried ahead into the kitchen and opened up the spice cupboard, spun the lazy Susan, and took the jar of thyme, which was not thyme at all, and dumped the dried buds and leaves down the garbage disposal
and turned on the water and ran the disposal. Her father looked on.
"We don't need to cloud the issues, Dad," she told him. "It's okay. Really." She dried the jar with a paper towel, replaced the lid, and put it back in the cabinet. "Really, Dad. So what happened?"
"I came home around four," her father said. "We had a brief exchange."
"You mean a fight?"
"Something like that."
Her father looked at her strangely then, as if to imply that she shouldn't be asking, and she wanted to say, You're going to keep me in the dark? But something in his eyes told her that it wasn't anything to press at the moment, and she kept silent and watched as her father set the teakettle on the burner, opened the tea drawer, rummaged around, opened the cupboard, got out cups. She had a vague sense that the two detectives would go ballistic if they could see everything she and her father were touching here in the kitchen, but she was reassured by the fact that her father was a prosecutor. He would know what was right and what was wrong, in circumstances such as these.
Besides, if there were clues to be found, they wouldn't be in the kitchen. She glanced around, trying to view the room as the detectives might view it. A pile of unopened mail lay recklessly tossed on the center island, and a basket of white laundry sat unfolded on the floor. Other than that, the kitchen was relatively tidy. A queer feeling came over her as she suddenly realized that she no longer felt like this was her house.
"Are they going to make us leave?"
"They're going to try." He was pawing through the tea drawer; half the boxes were empty, and he began tossing them angrily into the trash. "Doesn't she keep any plain old Lipton's around?"
Megan was about to warn him about certain medicinal teas her mother kept on hand, when Detective Berlin appeared in the doorway.
"You guys have a dog?"
"No," said Frank.
"Because there are a bunch of paw prints out back."
"What about human footprints?"
"Not that we can find. Then again, it's been snowing all day. It doesn't surprise me." The detective looked troubled, and Megan felt her heart begin to race. Between her mother's pot and Natalie's ecstasy, she had a lot of things that she would rather keep to herself
at the moment.
"Here's the thing I don't get," he went on. "Diana was a lady with a bounty. She had a direct line to the police station. Why would she put her house on the Home Tour?"
Frank didn't mention that that was another thing they'd fought about.
"Just seems weird," the detective went on. "Because if I was getting threats on my life, I wouldn't want all these strangers tromping through. Can you shed any light on this?"
"No," said Frank. "No I cannot, sir."
The detective waited, then shrugged. "That and the broken lock. Oh, well." He glanced around the room. "Hey look, between you and me, I know you're not going to mess around with things but see, Ernie gets pretty uptight over stuff like this."
"We're not messing with things," Frank said.
"I know that."
"This is weird," said Megan, glancing from one man to the other.
"It's just Ernie's a real stickler for procedure," the detective said.
"So if you could call --- "
"Excuse me," said Frank. "Did you just lose your wife?"
"I did not," said Huck.
"Did you just lose your mother?"
"I did not."
"Then give us a little peace in here, okay?"
("Really weird," Megan murmured.)
Huck scratched the back of his head.
"Thank you," said Frank.
"What's going on?" Megan demanded as Huck left the room, but her father didn't answer. He was flipping through the Rolodex on Diana's kitchen desk, and when he came to the number he was looking for, he picked up the phone and dialed.
Her father shook his head. "Yeah, Curt," he said, straightening up. "It's Frank Thompson. Look, sorry to bother you at this hour, but I'm going to need a little help.
"No," he said. "It's not about Megan."
Upstairs Megan closed the door to her bedroom. She was glad to be alone at this point. She thought it strange that her father was calling an attorney for help. Then again, maybe there were will issues. Or maybe that's just what you did when someone died: you called your lawyer.
She leaned against the door. Since she'd gone off to college, her mother had been using the room for storage. Summer clothes lay folded and stacked on the bed, old computer parts sat on the floor, an ironing board waited with a shirt over its nose. Megan set the stack of clothes on the floor, turned back the comforter, and slid between the sheets. Staring at the ceiling, she tried to recall just exactly which words had triggered the fight with her mother that morning. She had a way of pushing her mother's buttons. And oh my god, push them she had.
She lay there and felt her heart pound against the wall of her chest. She took her pulse, calculated a hundred beats a minute. She never should have taken the second half of the ecstasy. She assured herself that her father was clueless; he was way too preoccupied, and
besides, he never suspected anything with her. (Worried about, yes; suspected, no. Unlike her mother, who didn't worry but suspected everything.) The detective, on the other
hand . . .
There was no way she was going to sleep. For someone whose mother had just died, she felt awfully numb. She waited for a flood of emotion, but it didn't come. Outside it continued to snow, and she watched it through her window, big fat flakes spinning and swirling. She tossed and turned. She was thirsty but didn't want to risk running
into her father out in the hallway, so she just stayed in bed and was thirsty.
Around two in the morning she heard her mother's voice in the hallway. Frank? Is Megan back yet? Are you coming up to bed, Frank? Immediately Megan recognized this as the hallucination it was. She forced herself to take some long, deep gulps of air, at which point she finally began to cry.
And lying there in the dark, Megan Thompson cried without stopping, in chopped, rocky sobs that terrified her: for even a girl who had lost a brother at the age of nine had no idea just how devastating it could feel to lose a mother at the age of nineteen.
Excerpted from The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde Copyright © 2006 by Elisabeth Hyde. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.