This is a zombie post while I am traveling!
When in Manhattan, I love to lay my eyes on familiar and beautiful landmarks like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a neo-Gothic structure on Fifth Avenue, right across from Rockefeller Center. Work on the Cathedral began in 1858, was interrupted by the Civil War, and finished in 1879. Despite its relative newness, the Cathedral interior feels like one of the great old churches of Europe.
57: Deadly Intent
Rockview State Prison
Christmas Eve 2012
My Beautiful Daughter,
I hope you will excuse my writing to you, as I never dared to do before. There is unfinished business between us two, which I wish to resolve with this letter. If you can bring yourself to visit me again one day, I would be very pleased, though I do not expect it.
I did not commit murder. If you review the transcript of my trial, you will see that from the outset I denied having killed Roger Norton. It is true that Norton discovered my secret and confronted me. He lived nearby and was aware of Melinda’s disappearance. He used to trespass on my land, filching my apples and pears. One day, he thought he caught sight of Melinda in a window. He accosted me on my own front porch and followed me into the house. Our disagreement came to a struggle, but Norton was an older man and suffered some sort of stroke or apoplexy. He died on the living room floor. I am surprised that you do not remember this, for I am quite certain that you witnessed it. After removing his body, I found you hiding in the kitchen cupboard.
I know that you were afraid of me, but that you also felt the natural interest of a child in her father. You asked during your visit to Rockview why I kept your mother in my house. I have no answer, except that I wished to possess her. Next to you, she was the most beautiful creature I have ever known. I accept my sentence as just, because if Roger Norton had not died, I would certainly have killed him, rather than allow him to take Melinda and my child from me. And yet, during that last year when you were learning to read, I had begun to realize that I could not hold the two of you forever, and that there must be an end to it all very soon.
If you can bring yourself to do so, tell Melinda I love her.
There is one more item of information I wish you to know. In the mid-70s, I worked part-time as an archivist for the State Library. I carried out some of my genealogical research there. My passion, however, was always for the Irish saga. I never finished my Ph.D., as you did, but I specialized in comparative linguistics and literature. In 1972, three years before you were born, I was doing research in the British Library. By chance I ran across a Latin manuscript fragment which summarized the Cúchulainn myth. I removed those pages from the book in which they were rather inexpertly bound. I was a young man then, still in my twenties, and full of fervor against the partition of Ireland. The thirtieth of that January was the day we now call Bloody Sunday, and I had some wild notion of liberating the manuscript from its English captors.
Fate has decreed that you, my own daughter, should find the missing part of this text, for I am certain that the piece you described matches the one I found. Do you remember sitting on my lap as I worked? You often did so, and you were fond of the many drawers in my desk. You invariably reached for the one drawer in which were secreted these precious leaves. You will inherit the house in Palmyra and its contents when I am dead. My attorney is Brian Donaghy of Donaghy, Fletcher and Doane, in Harrisburg. He will provide you with the keys to the house now, if you wish. The drawer is not locked.
Corbin Cian Crowe
“You seem preoccupied lately,” said Laura to Tabitha. “Is everything all right?”
“Sure. I’m just working through some family stuff, but it’ll be fine.”
“If you and Rúairí are free next Friday, James and I have some extra tickets for the Escoffier Foundation gala.” Laura explained that as a lover of French food, James supported the venerable Escoffier Foundation, which in turn recognized young American chefs pursuing the classical tradition. “He thinks French food is dying out. Have you ever heard of the five mother sauces? James is obsessed with them.” Laura rolled her eyes. “I’m still trying to convince him that nobody needs a sauce based on veal stock.”
When Tabitha called Rúairí to ask if he was interested, she told him, “I’m afraid this is a black tie thing. I don’t want to put you to the expense of renting a tux.”
“Oh, that’s no problem. I’m already kitted out.”
“What? How did you manage that?” Knowing Rúairí’s career history, she was surprised. His dressiest outfit consisted of chinos and a blazer; she had never seen him in a tie. Most often he wore a black T-shirt with what he called his “manure spreaders,” which were tan work pants in a heavy canvas.
“Errm, as a matter of fact, when Siobhan was after me to find remunerative employment, I worked for a time as a model,” he said, sounding sheepish. “I did a shoot with a dinner jacket and they let me keep the rig afterward.”
Tabitha laughed, enjoying his embarrassment. “Does it still fit?” She pictured something ghastly, with a ruffled orange shirt and a top hat.
“Mind your tongue, a chuisle mo chroí. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
Thanks to Gran’s ministrations, she herself owned several cocktail and formal dresses. She looked through them, thinking about Gran’s ecstatic reaction to Rúairí, whom Tabitha had brought to afternoon tea at the Pierre. The two had immediately hit it off, with Rúairí adopting a courtly yet flirtatious manner toward the older woman, and Gran receiving his attentions with evident satisfaction. Tabitha’s fears that Gran might turn her nose up at Rúairí’s tie-less garb and agricultural occupation proved unfounded. “Now, that’s a real man,” was Gran’s verdict afterwards.
“How do you define that?” she asked.
Gran smiled. “One who doesn’t worry about whether he’s manly. He reminds me of my own Charles. Pure of heart, with a touch of mischief. Oh yes, dear. I may be old now, but I can still tell when a farmer knows his way around a furrow.”
Tabitha finally chose a demure, romantic knee-length dress in shell-pink chiffon, with silver beading at the neck and waist. When she opened the door to Rúairí, she scarcely recognized him. Instead of the stubbly-chinned farmer in his heavy boots and work pants, there stood before her a vision of elegant masculine beauty, freshly shaven, with his hair combed back, and a snow-white shirt front beneath his black silk butterfly tie. In the lapel of his dinner jacket was a delicate pink rosebud.
Tabitha caught her breath, and told him, “You look… amazing.”
“No more than you, my heartbeat. Give us a kiss.” He took her in his arms, and soon she began to wish that they could skip Escoffier altogether, and stay in her apartment with a bottle of wine and some odds and ends from her cupboard.
In the taxi on the way to Rockefeller Center, she said, “Rúairí? There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. About my past.” A slight frown touched his face, and a sharp needle of fear shot through her. Things were going so well now. Had she left it too long? Would he be angry, that she’d been withholding the truth about herself?
Rúairí turned to her, and touched her cheek with one finger. “If it’s about Corbin Crowe, a rún mo chroí, I already know. I Googled you after our wee guessing game in London.”
“Oh.” She looked down, relieved that she didn’t have to explain, and encouraged by his tone, but still apprehensive about his reaction. A familiar feeling of shame lay on her chest like a lead apron. Then she gazed up, into his eyes, and saw his love clearly written there.
“I went to see him. In the prison,” she said.
“Jaysus, Tabitha. What was that like?”
“It was tough, but I managed all right.” She didn’t dare tell him yet, about her hopes for the manuscript, but something else occurred to her. “He said the Crowes are Irish, from Ulster.”
“Me darlin’!” he exclaimed, putting an arm around her. His accent grew perceptibly thicker. “D’ye think I care about such things now? All I care about is you.”
The venue for the Escoffier dinner was a rooftop looking out over St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As they exited the elevator, she saw to one side an enclosed room with circular tables, covered in traditional white cloths, china place settings and crystal. To the other side were French doors leading to a garden area, now put to bed for the winter. A few hardy boxwoods remained green, but the lawn was brown, and the reflecting pool had been drained.
“Hello you two! You look fabulous,” said Laura. James was beside her, shaking hands with Rúairí, and smiling his wicked, appreciative smile at Tabitha. “A fine spot, this, isn’t it?” he commented. “Laura and I have been here before” —his arm crept around Laura’s waist, as though the occasion had been memorable— “so I recommended it to the organizers. It took a bit of sorting, but they ended up with quite a discount, as it’s the off season.”
“Is that Lester Lemke I see across the hall?” asked Rúairí disapprovingly.
“Aye, he’s here. I’m a bit apprehensive, because Galen is here too. In fact, he made a point of attending, even though Cissy couldn’t come along.”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, and then Tabitha said, “The lights on St. Patrick’s are lovely. Should we go out and have a look?”
James shook his head slightly, meeting Rúairí’s gaze instead of hers. “I put a foot out meself a bit earlier. There’s a strong icy wind, so I don’t recommend it.” His dark eyes lingered for a moment on the thin chiffon of Tabitha’s bodice.
They contented themselves with standing at the doors and gazing out at the lights of Fifth Avenue before finding their seats, which were located close to the French doors. A slight draft emanated from them whenever the wind picked up, and the occasional gusts produced a low, rumbling sound as they smote the doors and walls of the building. Casting an apologetic glance at Tabitha and Rúairí, Laura followed James to a more exalted table close to the podium, where James was slated to introduce the evening’s honorees.
For Tabitha, the French food, with its meats drenched in complex sauces and garnished with delicate peeled vegetables, was far less interesting than Rúairí himself, who still enchanted her eye in his dinner jacket. Galen paid a brief visit to their table and was introduced to Rúairí. The two men sized each other up in a masculine ritual which Tabitha recognized for what it was. She was Galen’s employee and Rúairí’s girlfriend; both men felt themselves entitled to look after her. Rúairí’s girlfriend, she thought. I like the sound of that. “Good handshake,” was Rúairí’s only comment afterward, but she could tell that he had given Galen his provisional approval. Lester Lemke did not approach their table, but he was seated nearby, with a half-drained bottle of red wine before him. An empty sat beside it, until a server whisked it away as the dessert and coffee were served.
James rose and went to the podium to announce this year’s outstanding young chefs. Tabitha was facing away from the action, so she turned her chair sideways and watched Laura, whose eyes were glued adoringly to James as he drew a folded page of remarks from his inside breast pocket. He began to speak in his mellow, rich voice, and after the third award had been presented, Tabitha felt an uncomfortable crook in her neck. She turned her head back toward the French doors, and glimpsed two male figures outside in the faded garden, grappling with each other like wrestlers. Bemused, she thought for a moment that she was dreaming, that she was back in the kitchen cupboard in Palmyra, or in Dr. Liffey’s office, witnessing the struggle in her mind’s eye. Suddenly, she realized that the figures, silhouetted in stark outlines against the lights of St. Patrick’s, were those of Galen Porteous and Lester Lemke. Convulsively, she grasped Rúairí’s upper arm, and he followed the direction of her gaze.
“Jaysus Christ,” he hissed, and got up quickly, heading for the doors. The other guests around them, their attention on the podium, either didn’t notice or pretended not to notice the outburst. Tabitha put down her napkin and followed. One of the French doors through which Rúairí had exited was open, so she stepped outside and closed it behind her. Turning to the garden, she heard grunts and expletives. She ran toward the group of men. The two combatants had separated, the better to throw punches, and Galen had just taken a heavy fist to the jaw.
“You fucking arrogant shit!” bellowed Lester. “How dare you? What the fuck do you know?” He swayed, and Tabitha remembered the two bottles of wine he had consumed. “Be careful,” she tried to scream, but in her panic her voice broke, and was swept away in the strong wind. Meanwhile Rúairí had reached Galen. He grabbed him from behind, holding both arms, and spoke urgently into his ear. Lester drew himself up, as though to throw another punch at the man who was now held immobile before him. He took two steps back, and the back of his knees came into contact with the low barrier that surrounded the garden. He swayed again, throwing his arms out in an attempt to recover his balance. Then, as smoothly as an Olympic athlete executing a reverse dive, he fell headlong from the roof.
Tabitha became aware that she was very cold, and that people were crowding all about her in the garden. Some were staring over the low railing at the street below, and there was a babble of excited conversation. She was sitting on the ground, with Galen on one side and Rúairí on the other. Each had an arm and they were lifting her. She looked from one grim face to the other. “Is he dead?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Rúairí. “James has called an ambulance, but it’s no use. He’s done for. You shouldn’t have come out here, Tabitha. You’re far too cold. Let’s get you inside.”
She ignored this and looked at Galen. “Lester was behind it. Wasn’t he? The attack on Cissy.”
Galen didn’t speak until they were inside again. He rubbed Tabitha’s upper arms and said to Rúairí, “Where’s her coat?” When Rúairí nodded and went in search of the coat, he told her in a low voice, “Yes. He hired the Lucchese family to do… what they did. I came tonight in order to let him know that I was aware of it. That I wouldn’t rest until I saw him ruined. But this…” He looked appalled, at himself and at the situation.
Tabitha nodded. “I know. But Galen, you are not responsible for his death. You’re not. I saw what happened. Rúairí was holding your arms behind your back when he… when he…” Her voice failed, and she started to weep, inwardly cursing herself. Why couldn’t she be more like these men, who seemed to have such iron control over their emotions? And yet, it was the men who had caused the violence. Who had pushed their disagreement too far.
Galen calmly held her hands, chafing them until Rúairí returned with her coat. Then James took the microphone, thanked the attendees for their support of the Escoffier foundation, and asked everyone to leave unless they had witnessed something pertinent to the evening’s tragedy. Those who remained waited, chilled and miserable, for the police to arrive.
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: “Bloody Sunday” was January 30, 1972, when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians conducting a peaceful protest march in Derry. 13 of them were killed.
Escoffier’s five Mother Sauces are Béchamel (a roux mixed with milk), Velouté (a roux mixed with clear stock), Espagnole (a brown sauce with beef or veal stock), Tomato sauce, and Hollandaise (egg yolk and butter). From these basics, you can make just about any other sauce in classic French cuisine.
The Loft and Garden on Fifth Avenue is a building with a party space on the roof, and a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I have used this space in two stories. Here is the photograph that inspired this tale:
Finally, “Deadly Intent” is an inside joke for Ciarán Hinds fans, who will remember the Above Suspicion miniseries of that name in which he starred with Kelly Reilly.