AS SOON AS HE REALIZED GRACE had given him the slip, Mitch sprinted back up to Jasmine's apartment. "What did you tell her? I want to know everything, word for word."

It was quite a conversation. Mitch was used to hearing Lenny Brookstein derided as a fraud and a coward. But in all of the media's vitriolic portrayals, there had never been so much as a whisper about his sleeping around. As for a full-blown affair, with his wife's sister? It just seemed so out of character.

No wonder "the policewoman" had left in such a hurry.

Mitch tried to figure out what Grace's next move would be. After so many weeks on the case, he was starting to feel as if he was in her head, almost as if they were psychically connected in some way. It was weird. Technically they barely knew each other. Didn't know each other. Yet there were times when Mitch felt closer to Grace Brookstein than he had to any of his past lovers, even Helen.

Her first instinct, he felt sure, would be to head straight to Connie's house for a confrontation. But then what? Would common sense kick in? Showing up at her sister's place would be insanely risky. On the other hand, Grace had robbed Davey Buccola at gunpoint. Her appetite for risk seemed to be growing by the day.

Mitch had interviewed both Grace's sisters immediately after her escape from Bedford. It was routine procedure to contact family, just in case a suspect tried to make contact. He remembered the way that both Honor and Connie had washed their hands of Grace like a pair of Lady Macbeths, abandoning her utterly in her time of need. Fair-weather friends were bad enough, but Grace seemed to have been cursed by fair-weather family.

If Lenny really had traded a looker like Grace for an ice maiden like Connie Gray, he must have needed his head read. Mitch thought back to his encounter with Grace on the subway at Times Square. He'd come so close to catching her that day, but it wasn't his disappointment that he remembered. It was the look on Grace's face, that haunting combination of vulnerability and strength. Despite her exhaustion and the baggy, drab clothes she was wearing, there was something uniquely compelling about her. In some ways, she reminded Mitch of Helen, back in the early, happy days of their marriage. Both women had an inner beauty, an innate femininity that drew men to them like moths to a flame. Connie Gray was the exact opposite. Connie's features might be regular and her figure toned and trim, but she was about as feminine as a sumo wrestler. Maybe that's what Lenny wanted. A tranny version of his wife? Now that really would be sick.

MICHAEL GRAY ANSWERED THE DOOR.

"Detective. This is a surprise."

Mitch thought the same thing everyone thought when they met Michael. You're a straight-up, old-fashioned, decent man. You're too good for these people.

"Do you have news about Grace?"

"Nothing concrete. We're pursuing some new lines of inquiry. I wondered if I might speak with your wife again?"

"Of course. I'll see if I can find her."

"It's all right, Mike. I'm here."

Connie appeared in the entryway. Mitch thought, Maybe I was a little harsh. In a pretty, floral-print dress, her blond hair drawn back in an Alice band, she looked a lot more attractive than he remembered her. Behind her, an adorable towheaded boy was pushing a wooden train along the floor. Through double doors to Mitch's right, an older, darker boy was practicing the piano. The whole thing looked like a scene from a Currier and Ives print. Too good to be true?

Connie led Mitch into a study where they could be alone. Mitch noticed two first-edition Steinbecks in the bookcase, and what looked like an early Kandinsky on the walnut-paneled wall. The Grays' money troubles were evidently behind them.

Connie saw him admiring the painting. "It was a present."

"A very generous one."

"Yes." Connie smiled sweetly but didn't elaborate. "How can I help you, Detective?"

Mitch decided to go for the direct approach. "How long were you and Lenny Brookstein lovers?"

Blood rushed to Connie's face, then drained from it. She contemplated denying the affair but thought better of it. He obviously knows. Lying now will only anger him.

"Not long. A few months. It was over before Nantucket. Before he died."

"Who ended it?"

Connie picked up a silk cushion and dug her nails into the fabric. "He did."

"That upset you?"

A vein in Connie's temple throbbed visibly. "A little. At the time. As you can imagine, Detective, this is not a chapter of my life story of which I'm particularly proud. Michael has no idea. Nor does Grace."

She does now.

"You lied to the police about your relationship."

"I didn't lie. I concealed. I didn't see the point in dredging it all up. I still don't."

Mitch thought of Lenny's body, or what was left of it, dredged up from the bottom of the ocean. Did Connie have a hand in his death? The woman scorned? She had a cast-iron alibi for the day of the storm. Scores of people had seen the three Knowles sisters lunching together at the Cliffside Beach Club. But she could have orchestrated things behind the scenes.

"What is it that you weren't proud of, exactly? The affair? Or the fact that Lenny dumped you and went running back to Grace?" Mitch was trying to hit a nerve. If he succeeded in shaking Connie out of her queenly self-control, she might let something slip. "It must have been humiliating, being rejected for your little sister."

"I'll tell you what was humiliating, Detective. Lenny's ridiculous obsession with Grace. That was humiliating. For an intelligent, dynamic man like that to saddle himself with a half-witted child of a wife? It was laughable. It was pathetic." The spleen dripped off Connie's tongue like venom. "Everybody thought so, not just me. Oh, we all paid homage, of course, fawned over the loving couple. But that marriage was a running joke."

"You loved him, didn't you?"

"No."

"You loved him, but he loved your sister."

"He was obsessed with my sister. There's a difference."

"Bullshit. Grace was the love of his life. You couldn't forgive either of them for that, could you, Connie?"

Reaching into her purse, Connie took out and lit a cigarette. She inhaled deeply and said, "Let me tell you something, Detective. The only love of Lenny Brookstein's life was Lenny Brookstein. If you don't know that, you don't know the man at all."

"But you knew him. You abased yourself, prostituted yourself for his pleasure, then got tossed aside like a used rag."

"That's not true."

"Admit it. You threw yourself at the guy's feet!"

The muscles in Connie's jaw visibly tightened. For a moment Mitch thought she was finally going to lose it. But she reined in her temper. Stubbing out her cigarette, she said calmly, "You're quite wrong. If you must know, I hated Lenny Brookstein. Hated him."

"Is that why you had him killed?"

Connie burst out laughing. "Oh, dear! Is that what all this has been about, Detective?" She wiped away tears of mirth. "You found out about my affair with Lenny, and all of a sudden I'm the jilted lover, off on some murderous rampage? It's a little simplistic, don't you think?"

Mitch was angry. "I'll tell you what I think. I think you were there that weekend because you wanted revenge."

"Yes indeed. And I got revenge." Standing up, Connie walked over to the painting Mitch had admired earlier, lifted it off the wall and handed it to him. "A gift from my dear departed brother-in-law. A fake, as it happens. Like him. But a pretty addition to the room, I'm sure you'll agree. I wanted it, so I made Lenny give it to me. I made Lenny give me a lot of things."

"You were blackmailing him? Threatening to tell Grace about the two of you?"

"Blackmailing him? Not at all." The suggestion seemed to surprise her. "I simply collected what I was owed." Walking around the room, admiring its array of rare books and objets d'art, Connie smiled contentedly to herself. "Michael, bless his heart, thinks I bought this house with inheritance money. He actually believes that a rich old aunt left me fifteen million dollars."

"Lenny gave you the money?"

"Who else? He wrote the check in Nantucket, two days before he died. Thank God I cashed it promptly. A couple more weeks and that money would have been seized by Quorum's administrators. As it was..." She smiled smugly, leaving the sentence hanging. "I can say with my hand on my heart, Detective, that Lenny Brookstein's death was a grievous blow to me. But not because I adored him. I am nobody's victim. I leave that to my sister. She's so good at it, you see."

LATER THAT NIGHT, MITCH LAY AWAKE thinking about Connie and Grace, and about the man both women had loved. Lenny Brookstein was an enigma. He was not the caricature of evil that the press had made him out to be, of that much Mitch was sure. But neither was he the saint of his wife's imagination. What he appeared to be was a mess of contradictions. Generous and mean. Loyal and vengeful. Devoted and unfaithful. Brilliant at business, but unable to tell a friend from a foe.

Had Lenny Brookstein really stolen all that money?

He was capable of it. But had he done it?

If so, the poor bastard never got to enjoy it. Someone had seen to that with a meat cleaver. Someone Lenny Brookstein knew and trusted.

Buccola had provided some tantalizing leads, but all of them had wound up as dead ends: Andrew Preston, Jack Warner, Connie Gray. It was time to take another look at John Merrivale.

Mitch fell asleep dreaming of stormy seas, Kandinsky paintings and Grace Brookstein's haunting face.




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