Read Mortal Friends Online

Authors: Jane Stanton Hitchcock

Mortal Friends

BOOK: Mortal Friends
12.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Mortal Friends

A Novel

Jane Stanton Hitchcock

For Jim, who brought me to Washington

No woman has ever told the whole truth of her life
.

—I
SADORA
D
UNCAN

A country cannot survive on the impropriety of its wealthiest classes
.

—S
ENATOR
Z
ACHARY
G
RIDER

Contents

Chapter 1

Violet Bolton loathed concerts as much as she loved murder.

Chapter 2

At dinner I found myself seated between an empty chair…

Chapter 3

The next morning Violet called me at the crack of…

Chapter 4

Lynch Antiques occupied three floors of an old brick building…

Chapter 5

After that opening salvo of roses, I didn’t hear from…

Chapter 6

Gunner made me swear to keep our relationship a secret—which…

Chapter 7

Later that week, Violet came into the shop with Cynthia…

Chapter 8

Friday evening, Maxwell, Bob’s chauffeur, picked me up in front…

Chapter 9

He wasn’t…. For the next month, Bob Poll gilded me…

Chapter 10

The media frenzy over the murder in Montrose Park had…

Chapter 11

That night, I dressed for dinner at the British Embassy…

Chapter 12

The British Embassy is the crown jewel of Embassy Row.

Chapter 13

The minute we got into the car, Bob started ranting…

Chapter 14

My phone rang the next morning around eight. I was…

Chapter 15

When I got back home from the cemetery, I couldn’t…

Chapter 16

The next night, Bob took me to a black-tie opening…

Chapter 17

A couple of days later I had lunch at Café…

Chapter 18

Gunner drifted in and out of my life at this…

Chapter 19

The night of the Golden Key Awards, as they were…

Chapter 20

I didn’t hear from Bob the next day, or the…

Chapter 21

After that meeting with Gunner, I decided it was time…

Chapter 22

It took about a nanosecond for people to find out…

Chapter 23

Violet phoned me later that morning. Her voice was somber.

Chapter 24

I was embarrassed to tell Gunner about Bob, embarrassed to…

Chapter 25

When I got back to the shop, Rosina told me…

Chapter 26

The Reliable Source column, along with the local magazines—Washington Life,…

Chapter 27

Rosina took the next month off to go to Uruguay…

Chapter 28

If it hadn’t been for Violet, I never could have…

Chapter 29

After I told Violet about Gunner’s reaction to the green…

Chapter 30

Spring was here at last, and there were signs that…

Chapter 31

The invitation stipulated that guests were to enter through the…

Chapter 32

The phone rang around eight thirty the next morning. I…

Chapter 33

I come here for the chocolate fountain,” Grider said as…

Chapter 34

Tucker’s was a simple, no-frills restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, just…

Chapter 35

Senator Grider and I started “keeping company,” as he liked…

Chapter 36

Violet, Peggy Myers, and I had lunch together once a…

Chapter 37

Violet was ecstatic about the article and about Senator Grider’s…

Chapter 38

In September, the Wheelock twenty-fifth reunion was finally upon us.

Chapter 39

Grant offered to make things up to Violet in a…

Chapter 40

The Finance Committee hearings were televised live on C-SPAN at…

Chapter 41

Gunner dropped by the next day around three o’clock. I…

Chapter 42

I saw Violet a couple of times the next week,…

Chapter 43

The cops at the local area precinct had never heard…

Chapter 44

The next day I was in the garden at the…

Chapter 45

I’m not quite sure why I decided to continue helping…

Chapter 46

I knew I’d wounded Violet by refusing to accept that…

Chapter 47

All night long Gunner’s words rang in my ears: Violet…

Chapter 48

It’s been over three months, and Violet and I still…

V
iolet Bolton loathed concerts as much as she loved murder. Crime was the only real music to my best friend’s ears. She always invited me to the opening of the Capitol Symphony because she needed someone to laugh with, and her husband, Grant Bolton, never laughed if he could help it. But on that chilly September evening when it all began, Violet definitely had murder on her mind.

The Symphony Ball is the highlight of the Washington fall season. Violet had to go because she and Grant were big social deals in town—not flashy, fun, publicity social, but solid, blue chip, discreet social—a couple whose presence at a big occasion was noted by important people. I loved this evening. Violet hated it. I couldn’t afford to shell out the thousand bucks for a ticket. Violet couldn’t afford to let her true feelings show. I went. She paid. The arrangement suited us both perfectly.

The three of us—Violet, Grant, and I—sat together in the seventh row of the orchestra, listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony.

“Maahhh-ler
. So heavy. Reven, tell me why they can’t just play show tunes and fuggetaboudit?” Violet whispered to me.

I stifled a giggle, and Violet let out an involuntary guffaw. A man in the row ahead of us ostentatiously shifted in his seat, and Grant gave us one of his stern hall-monitor looks. Grant was Mr. Straight Arrow. No, actually, he was more like a totem pole: tall, wooden, and joyless. I never quite knew when he liked something, but I always knew when he didn’t. And he didn’t like it when Violet and I misbehaved in public.

As the third movement of the symphony began, I scanned the
glittery crowd, wondering if
he
was there. Violet was thinking the same thing because she surreptitiously pointed to the guy in front of us and mouthed the words, “Serial killer.” She was kidding, of course, but it was titillating to think that someone we might actually know
was
a killer.

This being Washington, and Washington being the capital of ambition, there are a lot of killers around here, believe me. I imagined quite a few people in that audience would be capable of murder if they thought it would advance their careers, or keep them in power. But at that point in time, as they say, there was a real, hands-on murderer on the loose—the “Beltway Basher,” as he was dubbed by the press. Over the course of the past three years, four young women had been molested and bludgeoned to death in parks around the District. They all had apartments around the Dupont Circle area. Three of the women had worked on Capitol Hill. One had famously been involved with a congressman. There were rumors floating around about a serial killer who was possibly a big shot, possibly in politics, probably a man of wealth and power, hiding in plain sight in Washington society.

I’m fascinated by crimes in which I could see myself as the victim. Not that I
literally
see myself as a victim, mind you, but I think we all wonder how we would react in a really dicey situation. As the symphony played on, I thought back on my life, wondering if I’d ever known anyone who’d committed murder, or been an accomplice to one. That had always been a question in my mind. Would I recognize evil if it came close?

The music ended to rapturous applause. Jed Jimson, the slick chairman of the Kennedy Center, walked out onto the stage into the spotlight. A tall, silver-haired man of sixty, Jimson always looked irritatingly smug. He adjusted the standing microphone, then gazed out at the audience as if we were guests in his living room.

“Well, friends,” he began with the folksy confidence of a talk show host, “was that a great concert or what?”

Jimson turned to applaud the orchestra sitting at ease behind him. As the audience enthusiastically joined him, he swept a hand toward the wings. Leonid Slobovkin, the temperamental conductor of the Capitol Symphony, walked out from behind the curtain, gave a stiff bow, and retreated out of sight.

Jimson went on: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Kennedy Center is
not only the cultural center of Washington, D.C. It is also America’s cultural center. Built in 1967, this great complex is now well into middle age and, like many of us here tonight, showing the effects of long service to this country….”

Polite laughter.

“As all of you here know only too well, we’re always trying to raise money for our beloved center, which is in dire need of a face-lift.”

Uncomfortable titters.

“Thanks to many of you, we’ve had success in maintaining our wonderful symphony orchestra as well as our ballet, opera, and theater companies. But we have not had sufficient funds to begin the vast construction project that is necessary to adequately house America’s busiest center for the performing arts.”

As he cleared his throat, Violet nudged me and whispered, “Here it comes.”

“Tonight I have a very special announcement to make…. It is my great honor and pleasure to tell you that the Kennedy Center has just received an historic grant for the purpose of refurbishing, renovating, and adding on to the complex….” He paused for effect. “A gift of
One…hundred…million…dollars!

A split second of silence was followed by gasps from the audience, then a cascade of applause. Over the clapping, Jimson cried, “
Yes! Isn’t that amazing?
” so loudly that feedback screeched over the sound system. No one cared. The applause continued until Jimson shushed the crowd.

“And now I want to introduce you to the exceptional person whose foundation has made this historic gift possible….”

He paused again, milking the moment as if it were the announcement of an Academy Award. Finally, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please say a warm thank-you on behalf of the Kennedy Center, on behalf of the American people, and on behalf of all of us here tonight to Ms. Cynthia Rinehart! Cynthia, will you please stand up?”

Jimson thrust his arm forward and pointed down at the orchestra section. A spotlight hit the middle of the fourth row. A woman stood up and turned to face the auditorium. As the applause grew louder, she seemed to brace herself, as if she understood that she was now the focus of attention, curiosity, and more than a little envy. She was no beauty, but she was striking. With her pale skin, bright green eyes,
and russet hair, she was exotic and sleek—an Abyssinian cat among the dowdy squirrels of Washington.

I took special note of her chunky diamond earrings—Rocks of Gibraltar on prongs—clearly designed to illuminate her bank account as much as her face. They were the sorts of jewels that draw the attention of people who usually notice little else but themselves. She had a voluptuous body that she simultaneously advertised and hid under a tight-fitting black dress, slim at the hips, straining across the bust. An enigmatic smile fluttered on her lips, as if she relished both the spotlight and the ill will. Along with everyone else, I craned my neck to get a better look at this woman who had, like Athena, sprung full-blown out of nowhere onto the Washington social scene.

“She’s too young to be so rich,” I whispered to Violet.

“Oh, she’s not that young. But she
is
that rich. She does business with the bank. Anyway, you’ll love Cynthia. She’s terrific.” Violet had mentioned Cynthia Rinehart a couple of times in passing, describing her only as this “really interesting woman” I absolutely had to meet.

“She’s totally self-made,” Violet continued with admiration. “Something to do with the insurance business. I’m not sure exactly what. But she’s all gung-ho about philanthropy.”

Apparently, Cynthia had already given money to several worthy causes around town—including Trees of Georgetown, one of Violet’s pet projects.

“I need to introduce her to some cool women before she gets into the wrong clutches,” she added now. Violet fancied herself the town’s social arbiter.

Of course, we all knew that after that night Cynthia Rinehart wouldn’t need any introductions from Violet or anyone else. The world would be at her feet. Let’s face it, a hundred million dollars brews a hefty pot of instant friends.

 

On our way to the gala dinner, the Boltons got waylaid by some muckety-mucks. As president of the Potomac Bank, Grant was always getting waylaid by muckety-mucks who wanted to talk to him about the economy and interest rates and other really dreary stuff. Dutiful Violet stood by her man, as always, chatting amiably with people she both liked and disliked so that even I couldn’t tell which was which. I
always marveled at the way Violet could disguise her true feelings and maintain a pleasantly social facade.

I went ahead, on patrol, searching for a cute new face, someone I could possibly date or just have a decent conversation with. Unfortunately, this evening was mainly Washington’s A-list, meaning that nearly every man there was older, married, world-weary, and political—definitely
not
the crowd in which to find a fun boyfriend.

The large white tent in the South Plaza was dotted with dozens of round tables of twelve, set with musical instrument centerpieces and sparkling votive lights. Not the best decorations, but I’d seen worse. Much worse. I plowed my way through the dressy crowd, wishing that Congress would ban pastels. Black-tie Washington is a sartorial stew of bad clothes and good jewels—a little like London. You can always count on a few bra straps hanging out. Up until quite recently, well-dressed women were suspected of being superficial.

I was trolling along when I ran into my old pal Carmen Appleton, the sassy, savvy special events director who organized the best parties in town, including this one. Clipboard in hand, she breezed past me with little more than a curt nod.

“Hey, Carmen! How’s it going?” I called out.

Carmen stopped dead in her tracks, whirled around, and assumed a divalike hands-on-hip posture, obviously itching to get something off her chest.

“It seems that God’s latest gift to philanthropy isn’t happy with her seat,” she said in her famously throaty, cigarette-stained voice. “She wants to be at the
head
table. So guess who has to quickly scamper around like Peter fucking Cottontail, switching place cards and telling certain nitroglycerin-tempered people they aren’t sitting where they thought they were sitting…? And you know what fun that is in this town!”

“Who are you bumping from the head table?” I asked.

“Try the schnauzer, Maestro Slobovkin, and his lovely wife.”


No!


Yes!
Orders from Jimson on high. Where does the hundred-million-dollar gorilla sit?”


Anywhere she wants!
” we sang out in unison. Flashing me a furious grin, Carmen hopped on.

It’s one thing to complain about your seat in Washington, and quite another to get it changed. Only people with real clout got that.
Obviously, giving away a hundred million dollars was now as clout-worthy as holding high political office. Maybe more so.

I made the rounds, doubled back, and spotted Violet talking to Cynthia Rinehart. Several people were hanging around them, angling to ooze their way into the conversation. Clearly, everyone was anxious to meet this woman. But the two ladies were acting like royalty, focusing solely on each other in a vacuum of self-importance. I marched over and crashed their airspace. I wasn’t shy when it came to Violet. I’d known her far, far too long to be intimidated by such pretensions. To her credit, Violet immediately introduced me. Cynthia shook my hand with a noticeably firm grip. She was a little coarser-looking up close. She wore a lot of makeup. However, she did have an undeniable magnetism, amplified by her direct manner.

“Well, hi there!” she exclaimed in a voice tinged with a slight southern accent. “Violet here tells me you have a fabulous antiques shop! Tell me your name again?”

“Reven Lynch,” I said.


Reven
…?” Cynthia repeated thoughtfully. “What kind of name’s that?”

Now, everyone who knows me knows the story of my name. I’ve been teased about it ever since I was a kid. I have a pat response, which has the added advantage of being true.

“I was basically a mistake. My parents never thought they’d have me. Hence, the name Reven is ‘never’ spelled backward,” I explained with my customary self-deprecating laugh.

People usually laugh with me. Not Cynthia. She furrowed her brow, like she disapproved. It was the first time I’d ever gotten such a reaction. I was a little disconcerted.

“Family joke,” I muttered.

“Such a pretty name…,” she mused. “That is, if you don’t know what it means.”

“Oh,” I said, rather at a loss for words.

“See now, like
rêve
, in French, means ‘dream,’” Cynthia went on. “So here’s a thought: Why not tell people you were a dream-come-true instead of a goof?”

I looked at Violet. Violet looked at me and raised her eyebrows.

“But you like being a goof, don’t you, Rev?” Violet said with mock seriousness.

“Definitely. And you like being goofy, don’t you, Violet?”

“Love it!”

We burst out laughing like the demented schoolgirls we were at heart.

Cynthia stared at us like we were nuts. When it was clear we didn’t give a damn what she thought, she attempted to laugh with us. But Violet and I go back such a long time and we have so many private jokes that it’s a closed shop, if you know what I mean. We had that conspiratorial thing between us that only old and dear friends can have. You can’t beat time and history for friendship, particularly after a concert when Violet was in a mood to laugh at anything and nothing. Her laughter was infectious. Finally, we shut up, whereupon Cynthia pointed a red-nailed finger at me and declared imperiously: “I like you.” It had the ring of a royal decree.

“Gosh, that means the world to me,” I said with an absolutely straight face. I could feel Violet trying desperately not to start laughing again.

Cynthia went on: “I’m buying a house, and I’m gonna need a lot of stuff. You have a card?”

“Not with me.”

Cynthia opened her diamond-studded clutch, took out a card, and handed it to me. “First rule of business: Always carry a card.”

“I forget to on social occasions,” I said.

BOOK: Mortal Friends
12.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Cursed Ever After by A. C. James
The Secret Message by John Townsend
Pegasi and Prefects by Eleanor Beresford
The Brawl by Davida Lynn
Grant of Immunity by Garret Holms
Big Girls Get the Blues by Mercy Walker