ANDREW PRESTON WALKED DOWN WALL STREET with a familiar feeling of tightness in his chest. Maria was in the throes of a new affair. He knew the signs by now. The bedside drawer stuffed with receipts from La Perla. The Brazilian bikini wax she booked after their Hong Kong trip, not before. This morning, he'd even walked in on her singing La Traviata in the shower.
If only I didn't love her so much. None of this would have happened.
It was five thirty, and the street was already crowded with traders and secretarial staff on their way home. Since he'd started his new job in the M&A division at Lazard, Andrew often worked till nine or ten at night. But this was a Thursday: gym night. Andrew's doctor had emphasized how vital it was for him to exercise regularly. "Nothing combats stress like a good game of racquetball. No point being a big swinging dick on Wall Street if your heart gives out at forty-five, you know what I'm saying?"
Andrew knew what his doctor was saying. Although he couldn't help but question the judgment of anyone who perceived him, Andrew Preston, as a "big swinging dick." Maria certainly didn't. Whatever he achieved, however much money he made, it was never enough. Andrew's vintage Aston Martin DB5 was parked in an underground garage, four buildings down from his office. The rates were extortionate, but driving to work was one of the few small luxuries he allowed himself. Mindful of his heart, he took the stairs to P4 instead of the elevator, pressed the unlock button on his remote and jumped into the driver's seat.
He was so shocked he almost screamed. Grace Brookstein was crouched low in the backseat. She was holding a gun and smiling.
"Long time no see."
MITCH CONNORS COULDN'T BELIEVE HIS EARS.
"Sir, with all due respect, this is bullshit. We have to reopen the investigation into Leonard Brookstein's death. If we don't, and it came out later that we'd suppressed this evidence..."
When Mitch finally untrussed Davey Buccola, the red-faced PI had handed him a USB chip. The information it contained was so explosive, Mitch had printed it out and taken it straight to his boss.
"No one's suppressing anything." Lieutenant Dubray snapped the file shut. "Frankly, Mitch, I don't understand why you're so hot to start a new investigation when you're making such a mess of the one you're on now. Grace Brookstein's made a fool of you. She's made a fool of this entire department."
"I know, sir. But if her husband was murdered, and the inquest criminally mishandled, there's been a major miscarriage of justice."
Dubray scoffed. "Justice? Give me a break. Lenny Brookstein was an asshole, Mitch, okay? A rich, greedy asshole who took this city for a ride. If someone did whack the old man, they did the world a favor. Nobody cares, least of all me."
Mitch was silent. Was Dubray for real? The whole investigation into Lenny Brookstein's death had been a sham. The coroner ruled suicide, because America had already passed judgment on its once beloved son. Lenny Brookstein was a thief, a greedy liar who'd raped the poor and stolen from his own fund.
But what if America was wrong? About Lenny and Grace.
From the very beginning of the investigation, Mitch had had conflicting feelings about Grace Brookstein. The initial, knee-jerk hatred he shared with the rest of America had rapidly been replaced by a combination of pity and, he might as well admit it, respect. Grace was brave, determined and resourceful, qualities that Mitch had always viewed as predominantly male. Yet when he'd finally seen Grace Brookstein in the flesh, fleetingly, the day her subway train pulled away at Times Square, the face staring back at him was all woman: vulnerable, compassionate, kind. In other circumstances, another life, Mitch could picture himself falling for her. I could save her. We could save each other. He dragged himself back to reality.
"Suppose Leonard Brookstein was innocent."
Dubray's eyes widened. "Excuse me?"
"I said suppose he was innocent. Suppose someone else took that money."
"Like who? The tooth fairy?"
"How about Andrew Preston? No disrespect, sir, but have you read Buccola's file? Preston had been embezzling funds for years."
Dubray waved a hand dismissively. "Petty cash. Besides, all the Quorum guys were interviewed up the wazoo at the time. I know the feds aren't always the sharpest knives in the drawer, but do you really think Harry Bain wouldn't have caught on by now if one of them had that cash? Your PI's barking up the wrong tree."
"Maybe," Mitch conceded. "But shouldn't we at least check out Buccola's leads? The more I look at the Quorum case, the more it stinks."
"So stop looking at it. Do your job. Find Grace Brookstein and get her back in jail where she belongs."
Back in his office, Mitch turned off his phone and closed the doors. Did Grace Brookstein belong in jail? He wasn't so sure anymore. He tried to push the thought down, to strangle it. But it wouldn't stop growing, forcing its way up into the sunlight of his consciousness like a weed.
It's a put-up job. The inquest, the trial, the whole thing. It's all been staged, like a scripted reality show.
Dubray wasn't interested in the truth. Neither were the Massachusetts cops who'd investigated Lenny Brookstein's death, or the coroner, or the media, or even the FBI. The Quorum fraud was a movie and America had already cast its villains: Grace and Lenny Brookstein. No one wanted an alternative ending. Not when they'd paid so dearly for their seats and were already halfway through their popcorn.
Dubray had told him to forget Buccola's information: "Delete it, shred it, burn it, I don't care. Lenny Brookstein's dead and buried." But Mitch knew he couldn't do that.
That information would lead him to the truth.
With a little luck, it would also lead him to Grace Brookstein.
ANDREW PRESTON GRITTED HIS TEETH. IF he was going to die, he would try to do it with courage. "Everything I did, I did for Maria. You must believe that, Grace."
Grace tightened the cord around his wrists. They'd driven out to New Jersey, to an abandoned barn off the 287 Freeway. Outside it was dark and starting to rain. A cold drizzle dripped through the holes in the barn's roof, soaking Andrew's shirt. The post he was tied to pressed painfully into his back.
"Don't tell me what I must believe. Just answer my questions. How much did you steal from Lenny?"
"I didn't steal from Lenny."
The hard metal butt of the gun slammed into the bridge of Andrew's nose. He screamed in pain.
"Don't lie to me! I have proof. One more lie and I will shoot you in the head. Do you believe me?"
Andrew Preston nodded. He believed her. If this had been the old Grace, he would have appealed to her compassion. But the old Grace was clearly dead and gone. Andrew Preston had no doubt that the woman in front of him would put a bullet through his brain without hesitation.
"About three million altogether. Over a number of years. But I wasn't lying. I didn't steal from Lenny. I took the money from Quorum. It was always my intention to pay it back eventually."
"But you didn't."
"No. I couldn't. Maria's debts..." He started to cry. "She spent so much she started going to loan sharks. It's an illness with her, Grace. An addiction. She can't help herself. I had no idea how bad things had gotten. Then one day some people came to the house. Violent people. Killers. I wouldn't have cared for myself, but they were threatening to hurt Maria. They showed me pictures." He shuddered. "I won't forget those images as long as I live."
Grace thought of Lenny's bloated, headless corpse lying on a slab in the morgue.
"So you stole from the fund and Lenny found out?"
Andrew hung his head. "Yes. I thought I'd covered my tracks. The SEC was investigating us but they never caught on. I guess Lenny was smarter than all of them."
"And that's why you killed him? So you could keep stealing, keep paying off these gangsters?"
Andrew looked at her with genuine surprise. "Killed him? I didn't kill him, Grace. I stole from Quorum and that was wrong. But I would never have hurt Lenny. He was a good friend to me."
"Please!" Grace laughed bitterly. "Lenny knew what you'd done. He and John were discussing it in Nantucket. You were scared he was going to fire you, or turn you over to the authorities, so you killed him." She released the safety catch on the gun. Her hand was shaking. "I don't believe you only took three million. You took all of it. You stole all those billions and made it look like it was Lenny."
"That's not true."
"You killed him! I know it was you!" Grace was hysterical.
Andrew Preston closed his eyes. At least it would be a quick death.
I wonder if Maria will miss me?
MITCH CONNORS LAY ON HIS BED, reading. Davey Buccola was a bottom-feeder, but he was a meticulous bottom-feeder. His report was diligently researched. Of course, a lot of the information was hearsay, based on unofficial interviews with staff at the coroner's office or the Nantucket coast guard. Less than half of it would stand up in court. But the overall picture it painted, of a wealthy man surrounded by false friends, parasites and hangers-on, rang horribly true.
Mitch imagined Grace reading it. If it made him sick, how would she feel, wading through the sticky web of half-truths, greed and deception spun by her nearest and dearest? No wonder she hadn't turned to any of them when she broke out of Bedford. With friends like the Brooksteins had, who needed enemies?
The only problem with the information was that there was so much of it. Too many people had had the motive and the opportunity to do away with Lenny Brookstein. Mitch thought, Grace is following these leads, just like I am. Where would she go first?
ANDREW PRESTON OPENED HIS EYES. HE'D been waiting for Grace to shoot him, but so far the expected bullet hadn't come. He was surprised to see her cheeks were wet with tears.
"I want you to admit it," she sobbed. "I want you to say you're sorry."
"Grace. I am sorry for what I did. But I didn't kill Lenny and that's the honest truth. I was in New York the day he died. Remember?"
"I know you were. And I know what you were doing there. You were paying off a hit man." Grace reached into a rucksack and pulled out a photograph. "Donald Anthony Le Bron. I suppose you're going to tell me you don't recognize him?"
Andrew's face drained of color.
"No. I recognize him. And you're right, he is a hit man. He works for a Dominican gang known as the DDP. It stands for Dominicans Don't Play, which is something of an understatement, as it turns out." He laughed nervously. "And yes, I did hire Le Bron. But not to kill Lenny."
Grace hesitated. "Go on."
"They said they were debt collectors. 'Legitimate businessmen,' that's how they described themselves. They came to the house and showed me pictures of women being raped and mutilated. They said Maria would be next. Then a month before the Quorum Ball, one of them showed up at the office. He brought a severed finger, wrapped in a kitchen towel." Andrew closed his eyes at the memory. "I'd paid off what Maria owed by then, but they still came back for more. They wanted interest, hundreds of thousands. It was never going to end. I couldn't go to the police, in case they found out about the money I'd stolen from Quorum. So I contacted Le Bron. He and his people took care of it."
Grace tried to take this in. When she'd read the file entry about Andrew's embezzlement and learned of his contacts with the New York gang, she was sure she'd found her man. It all made sense: the thefts Lenny had discovered were the tip of the iceberg. In reality, Andrew must have been siphoning off billions from Quorum's coffers, cooking the books to make it look like Lenny was the thief. Then he'd hired a professional hit man to murder Lenny, and stood by and watched while Grace took the blame. But listening to Andrew talk, watching the horror on his face as he remembered the threats made to Maria, she was convinced he was telling her the truth.
Andrew Preston was not Lenny's killer.
It was a crushing blow.
"Lenny was like a father to me, Grace, and I betrayed him. I'll carry the guilt of that with me till the day I die. But I never wanted him dead. Not like Jack Warner."
Grace had read Davey's file on Jack, too. She knew about the gambling debts and Lenny's refusal to pay them. But it hardly amounted to a motive for murder. Besides, Jack's alibi was rock solid. The coast guard had rescued him miles away from where Lenny's boat was found.
"Jack was mad at Lenny. I know that."
"Mad?" Andrew looked surprised. "He hated him, Grace. Lenny had Warner over a barrel. He knew all of his dirty little secrets. Everyone in the Senate knew that Jack Warner was Quorum's puppet, that he voted however Lenny Brookstein told him to vote. Lenny squeezed Jack like a wet rag. The guy couldn't breathe."
Grace looked disbelieving. "I'm sure it wasn't like that. Lenny would never have blackmailed Jack. He would never have blackmailed anyone."
Andrew Preston smiled. It was a flash of the old Grace. Unquestioning, adoring, convinced that Lenny could do no wrong. Not that he blamed her. Andrew knew better than anyone what it was like to love someone so much you would defend them against all reason.
"Grace," he said gently, "whatever happened to Lenny, it happened at sea and it happened on the day of the storm. Jack was also out on the water that day, remember?"
Grace remembered. Like Michael Gray, Jack Warner was an expert sailor. Expert enough to somehow board Lenny's boat and kill him? To dump him overboard and make it look like an accident? It was possible.
"Try to find a lady called Jasmine," said Andrew. "That's the best advice I can give you. She might make you see things in a different light."
MITCH HAD GONE TO THE PRESTONS' apartment on impulse. He'd hoped to quiz Andrew about his alleged embezzlement from Quorum, but was met instead by a hysterical Maria. It was almost midnight, and Andrew hadn't called. No one had seen him since he left the office at five. She'd called the police but no one took her seriously. Mitch did. "Let me pour you a brandy, Mrs. Preston."
Had Grace taken the law into her own hands? By now, she would know that Andrew had been stealing from Lenny. What if she'd abducted him? Or worse? If Grace got it into her head that Andrew was behind Lenny's death, there was no telling what she might be capable of.
When the apartment door opened and Andrew Preston walked in, Mitch was at least as relieved as Maria. Andrew's shirt was bloodied and his nose badly bruised, but he seemed calm. Unlike his wife, who flung herself melodramatically into his arms.
"Oh, Andy, Andy! What happened? I've been out of my mind. Where have you been?"
"At the hospital. I'm fine, Maria. I had a slight accident, that's all."
"What sort of accident?"
"Ridiculous really. I slipped and fell in the rain and landed flat on my face on the sidewalk. I would have called, but I was stuck in the ER for hours. You know what those places are like. I didn't want to worry you, darling."
"Well, you did worry me. The police are here."
Maria gestured toward Mitch. Andrew Preston recognized him from the TV reports as the guy who was looking for Grace. He did his best to sound nonchalant. "My goodness. Does one errant husband warrant a search party these days? I'm sorry if I've caused any trouble, Detective."
"Not at all, Mr. Preston. I actually came to talk with you about another matter, but it can wait. I'm glad to see you home safe. Look, this is probably going to sound like a ridiculous question. But I don't suppose Grace Brookstein has tried to contact you by any chance. In the last forty-eight hours?"
Andrew looked puzzled. "Grace? Contact me? No. Why on earth would she do that?"
"No reason," said Mitch. "I'll see myself out."
LATER, IN BED, ANDREW WATCHED HIS wife sleep. I love you so much, my angel. He'd been touched by Maria's concern when he got home. Perhaps things were going to be all right between them after all?
He'd considered telling Detective Connors the truth about Grace and what had happened that afternoon. But only for a moment. Grace had spared his life and forgiven him his sins. The least he could do was return the favor.
If Lenny really had been murdered, Andrew wished Grace luck in finding his killer. Whatever the world might think, Lenny Brookstein had been a good man. Reaching across the bed for Maria, Andrew pulled her close, inhaling the heady scent of her body. The faint whiff of aftershave he detected as well brought tears to his eyes.
Andrew Preston never wore aftershave.