Authors: Chris Bohjalian
He shook his head. Happily? She was a hooker, he told himself, trying (and failing) to be dismissive. She was getting paid to make him feel this way. He had just given her nearly a grand on top of whatever Spencer had spent to line this up. But, the truth was, he was under her spell. She was smart, that was clear. She was kind; that was clear, too. He flashed back to the moment in the living room when she had followed the blonde onto his lap, and she had been grinding her crotch against him. She had brought her face close to his, her lips resting within a millimeter of his; he would have kissed her then, but he still assumed there was a line he was not to cross or the bodyguards would whisk her off of him. He remembered how he had kept his hands on the cushions of the couch, afraid even to run his fingers along the tow-colored down of her arms.
How much had he given her then? A fifty? A hundred? He honestly couldn't recall.
He realized now that she was saying something to him, and he tried to swim up to the surface from the swamplike morass of alcohol and desire and (in the end) self-loathing that were muffling the sounds all around him. She was reiterating that he could say whatever he wanted about what had occurred in the guest room upstairs.
They'll think we did anyway.
For a split second he thought he was going to vomit.
As Richard was walking through his front door, one of the police investigators was making a production of properly swabbing the blood on the tile in the front hallway, while another was methodically dusting for fingerprints and daubing for DNA. They had powder blue surgical booties over their shoes. He saw a third investigator dropping one of the spent shell casings into a clear plastic evidence bag. The fellow had found itâone of twoânear the coat rack. “Probably from a Makarov,”
he'd mumbled when he'd seen that Richard was watching him. “Nine millimeter.”
Now he wandered into his living room. The family cat, a five-year-old torty they'd gotten from the shelter as a kitten and christened Cassandra, was sitting atop the breakfront, surveying the activity. She seemed relieved he wasn't another stranger. One of the investigators, a decorous, skull-faced little fellow with receding yellow hair, saw Richard and put down his scissors. He was about to snip a small piece of the bloodstained fabric from one of the arm covers that went with the couch, as well as a piece of the fabric from the back.
“Who are you?” he asked Richard, his tone quizzical.
“I live here. I'm Richard Chapman.” He started to extend his hand, but the technician wanted no part of it.
“How did you get in?”
“The front door,” Richard told him, measuring his tone.
“Okay, then,” the technician said, and he picked up the scissors. “Fine. Let's just allow people to traipse all over the crime scene. What the hell do I know? Must be a new policy. I assume you don't mind that I'm gathering evidence,” he said sarcastically, and gave him a pair of booties to wear.
“No, of course not,” Richard told him. How could he possibly mind? Besides, at this point he really didn't care about the couch. Good Lord, they were going to have reupholster the whole damn thing. No: they were going to have to get rid of the whole damn thing. They were going to have to buy a new one. Richard told him again that it was fine to cut apart the fabric. They could shred it for all he cared.
The detective who seemed to be supervising the crime scene saw he was talking to the technician and came over to him.
“Not quite the party you were planning,” she said to him, her tone more sympathetic than judgmental. She was tall and scholarly looking, her afro cut short, her eyes masked by a pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses. She was dressed, he decided, like a bank teller. Not a detective. But then, he really wasn't sure how detectives dressed. All he knew about detectives was what he saw on cop dramas on TV. But she was wearing dark slacks, a turtleneck, and a navy blue cardigan sweater. Other than him, she was the only person in the house whose hands weren't hidden beneath a pair of thin rubber gloves the color of a condom. He noticed that her fingers were long and slender. A pianist's hands.
“No, it wasn't,” he agreed. He gazed at the debris in the room. She could have sounded considerably more disapproving. She
have sounded more disapproving. The room looked ruined: beer bottles, some overturned, littered the floor, their contents dribbling onto the Oriental carpet and the long, solid planks of dark maple. There were broken wineglasses, three that he could see, one shattered and two with the stems merely snapped off from the goblets. It was like they had been beheaded. He saw the bottles, some empty and some merely half empty, of red wine and white wine and vodka and tequila and scotch crowded onto the credenza: smokestacks, he thought, an industrial wasteland. There was a plastic jug of orange juice because Chuck Alcott had been drinking screwdrivers. One of the side tables was so ringed with the marks from glasses and beer cans that it would need to be refinished. Or, perhaps, burned. He should just take an ax to it. Throw the pieces into the fireplace that winter.
“May I ask your name?” he asked the woman.
“Of course. I'm Patricia Bryant.”
“I know.” Then: “Can I help you with something?”
“No. Probably not.”
“Then I think you need to leave.”
“I live here.”
She nodded ever so slightly. “No one told you, did they? They should have. I'm sorry, but this is a crime scene. You can't be here. I can show you the search warrant if you want. I have no idea how you even got inside: someone should have stopped you.”
He wanted to argue, but he knew it would be fruitless. So he calmed himself and asked, “Can I get a few thingsâfor my family? A few shirts, maybe?”
“No. Again, I'm sorry. This is an open investigation. I'm sure you have friends you can stay with. It will just be for a few days.”
“My wife is on her way back here from the city.”
“I suggest you stop her.” Then she gave him a friendly, almost conspiratorial smile. “I mean, you're probably in enough trouble with her as it is.”
He looked at his watch. Kristin wouldn't leave her mother's for at least another half hour. He dreaded the call.
Patricia motioned at the bookcases and the spines of the novels that were ruined, the streaks and spots of blood creating a vibrant chiaroscuro against the paler cover designs. “My team can take some of those dust jackets off your hands.”
“God, take the books, too. Please.”
Almost as one, the two of them glanced at the painting, the wannabe Bierstadt, which had also been sprayed with the bodyguard's blood. A great swash went across the trees and the Wedgwood sky and the small cliff that slid gracefully into the smoky blue of the Hudson. An idea came to him and he said, “When I was at the police station, someone gave me a card for a cleaning service. Any suggestions for someone who restores paintings?”
“Professionally? No. But my cousin teaches in the art history department at NYU. She'll know someone.”
“Think it's salvageable?”
“My cousin would know. I don't. But maybe.”
He glanced down at the rug where earlier that evening his brotherâhis engaged brotherâhad had sex with the blond whore. Sonja? Yes, that was what she had said her name was. He couldn't decide if he should tell the detective that they should look for traces of the woman's skin or hair there. They would find his brother's DNA; God, they would find his fucking semen. But it's not like his brother was a suspect in the two murders. When they had been at the police station, the principal thing the detectives there had wanted to know was the name of the escort service that Philip's pal, Spencer, had used in Manhattan. Spencer was, in fact, the only one they had really grilled about anything.
Nevertheless, his brother was going to have an awful lot to explain to his fiancÃ©e, Nicole. (Of course, Nicole's own brother was not innocent either. Eric had been among the men who, separately, had disappeared into some dark corner of the house with the blonde for God knew what sort of carnal satisfactions.) He wondered if their engagement would survive this. He wondered if his own marriage would survive this. He told himself it would because Kristin's heart was forgiving and big, and they had over a decade and a half togetherâbecause, pure and simple, they loved each otherâbut he had screwed up. All the men had. And, when he thought about the reactions of grown women such as Kristin and Nicole, his mind couldn't help but wander to Melissa's response. How in the world was he ever going to explain this to his nine-year-old daughter? He and Kristin had sometimes joked about how politicians described their sexual misconduct to their children. If you were Bill Clinton, how did you justify Monica Lewinsky to Chelsea? What did you say about the cigar and the beret and the little blue dress? If you were Anthony Weiner, how in the world did you explain to your daughter your apparently insatiable need to text pictures of your junk to strange women?
“You're welcome,” Patricia said. Then: “What do you do for a living? Someone said banker.”
“Investment banker, yes. Franklin McCoy.”
“And your brother?”
She raised an eyebrow good-naturedly at the pretentiousness of the word.
“He's a manager at the Cravat. The rooms executive.”
“Hip place in Chelsea?”
“That's the one.”
She folded her arms across her chest and sighed. “You seem like a nice enough guy,” she began. “I'm sure you never expected this level of madness in your living room.”
“Nope. Never did.”
“It really isâpardon my Frenchâa shitstorm. Can I ask you something?”
“You ever hang with girls like this before?”
Girls like this.
He tried to decide what the detective meant. He couldn't, so he said simply, “No.”
“Don't go to strip clubs after work?”
“Good for you.”
“Thank you. I guess.”
“Lots of men do.”
He nodded. He knew his brother did.
“Andânot judging, just askingâno escort service under some secret code in your phone?”
She glanced at the spot on the floor where a few hours ago a buffed Russian pimp had bled out. “Where were you when the first dude was stabbed?”
He pointed at the nailhead chestâa polished mahoganyâwhere Kristin often placed a vase with flowers. Resting atop it now were yet more open liquor bottles, dirty glasses, and a bowl of old guacamole that looked like baby poop. Someone had extinguished a cigarette in it. Spencer, he guessed. When he looked a little more closely, he saw there were actually a couple of cigarette butts in it.
“What did you do when you saw the girl had a knife?”
“It happened so fast, there really was nothing to do. One second she was stabbing him, and the next she was in the hallway.”
“She. The blond one?”
“As I told your associates at the police station, we heard the gunshots.”
“That's right. Seriously, I've answered all these questions.”
“I appreciate that. We all do,” she said. “Thank you.”
“You're doing me personally a solid by answering a few more. Making my life a little easier.” She smiled. “So one of the girls stabbed the first pimp, and the other girl shot the second one.”
“I don't know that for sure. The blonde left the living room and was with herâ¦friendâ¦in the hallway when we heard the shots. So it could have been either girl, I guess. But I think it was the blonde.”
“She seemed a little moreâ¦wild.”
“I mean, I guess it could have been either.”
“Gotcha. Now I'm not a prosecutor, Mr. Chapman, but two people were murdered in your house. You and your friends and your brother were engaging in sex with girls whoâ”
Reflexively he cut her off. “I didn't.”
“I was told you went upstairs with one.”
“But we didn't have sex.”
“Fine. But this”âand she waved her arm across the carnage as if she were a game show hostâ“will be all over the Internet. In the newspapers. On TV. Franklin McCoy? It seems to me you have a reputation to protect. And based on whose bodies are in the morgue right now and the statements of some of your guests, there is a chance that the little eye candy you had dancing around your living room were not prostitutes. They were underage sex slaves. Big difference.”
He wasn't sure whether it was the word
or the term
that caused his legs to buckle, but suddenly he had collapsed onto the faux antique divan. It was supposed to look French. Think a king named Louis and some roman numerals. It was from the Ethan Allen showroom in Hartsdale. He remembered the day when he and Kristin had bought it. It was a Sunday, maybe a week after they had moved out to Bronxville. Melissa had been a toddler on a play date. He and Kristin had had a lovely, intimate brunch, their world alive with promise. He closed his eyes, and the day came back to him, even the sun on his face when he'd climbed into the car and they'd started back to their new home. They were young, and he felt impossibly rich for a guy in his early thirties. He would soon be a managing director. Someday, if he stayed on this track, he would be a managing director and head of mergers and acquisitions. He feltâand this was a word too saccharine in his opinion to figure with any regularity in his mindâblessed.
When he finally opened his eyes and looked up, Patricia was handing him a glass of water.
“I thought we might lose you there for a minute,” she said.