Authors: Margaret Truman
“Please, let’s not get into that again.”
He touched her hand. “Okay, but I’ll tell you this, Susanna. No one will ever convince me that a judge of the United States Supreme Court could kill someone, let alone in cold blood in the courtroom and, as I understand it from the papers, in the Chief Justice’s chair.”
“Truth’s stranger than fiction, dad. Which I guess is why fiction is rarely the truth. I mean, who would believe it… Anyway I don’t
whether one of the justices did it. It could have been an old lover, a coworker, even someone from the family.”
As he stood and stretched, she noted the beginning of a potbelly. “
it’s any one of ’em, Susanna, I’d put my money on the old one, Conover. Jealousy… it’s one damn powerful emotion, and destructive as hell. Some states automatically acquit a man for killing his wife’s lover, did you know that?”
“I do now.” They watched television with her son until ten, when she announced she was turning in. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” her father said. “Rich and I will make out just fine.” He cuffed his grandson on the head.
“Thanks,” Susanna said. “I know you will.”
She left the house at ten the following morning, driving her father’s 1976 Mercury station wagon. She passed through towns that made up California’s wine country—Rutherford and Napa, Pleasanton and Mission San Jose, down through flat and dusty plains on either side of Route 680, past the vineyards of Charles Krug and Beringer, Beaulieu and Christian Brothers until traffic thickened as she neared the Bay Bridge linking San Francisco to Oakland. It was a short drive up the Embarcadero to Broadway in North Beach. She found Brazier’s apartment and rang the downstairs bell. No response. She decided to walk, and to call Brazier’s number from time to time.
She strolled the length of Fisherman’s Wharf, stopping
in shops along the way, buying a leather address book from a sidewalk artisan, a nubby cotton pullover from another. She tried Brazier’s number a few times, always without success. She lunched at the Buena Vista, where Irish coffee had been introduced into the United States, and had espresso late in the afternoon in one of Ghirardelli Square’s cafes.
She took a cab back to her car. Since it was parked only two blocks from Brazier’s apartment, she decided to try again. This time the bell ring resulted in Sheryl Figgs opening the upstairs door.
“Hello,” said Susanna. “I’m looking for Dan Brazier.” She wasn’t sure whether Sheryl’s face reflected disappointment or confusion or both.
“He’s not here.”
“Will he be back? I’m sorry, I’m Susanna Pinscher. I work for the Justice Department in Washington and—”
“Yes, I know you, I know your name. I read about you.”
“Oh? Well, I’m here visiting my father in St. Helena and…” She realized she was shouting up the flight of stairs, and so did Sheryl.
“I’m sorry,” Sheryl said. “I don’t mean to be rude. Would you like to come up?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Susanna stepped into the small, cluttered apartment.
“You’ll have to excuse the mess,” Sheryl said. “I got home from work an hour ago and decided to do some cleaning. Once I get in that mood I lose my head. Dan’s not here, but I expect him home pretty soon.”
Sheryl, wearing a soiled red apron decorated with sewn felt knives and forks, wiped her hands on the apron. “I read the article about you and the Supreme Court murder not too long ago. You interviewed one of the judges up in his plane.”
“Yes… Look, I’m sorry to barge in on you this way but I did try to call.”
“I was at work. I work with computers. Dan must have… well, he likes to get out in the fresh air.”
“It’s beautiful weather.”
“I know, I hate to be cooped up too.” She raised her eyes. “What a mess. I wanted to have it all put back together before Dan came home. He’s a neatnik, a regular Felix. I’m an Oscar, I’m afraid.”
Susanna glanced into the bedroom. On a double bed that took up most of the room were dresser drawers. Sheryl quickly said, “I wanted to straighten them out before Dan got home. I get in this mood sometimes and—”
“Me, too,” Susanna said, “but not often enough.”
Sheryl, whose responses always seemed to be a delayed reaction, said, “I shouldn’t have started it so late in the day. I have to start supper.”
Susanna looked at photographs of Brazier and Morgan Childs. “These are interesting pictures,” she said.
“They were such good friends… Dan went to see him when he was out here a few weeks ago.”
Susanna turned. “He did?”
“Yes. Justice Childs gave a speech and Dan had a drink with him after. More than one, actually.” She smiled. “They got sort of drunk together, Dan said, and he ended up doing push-ups while Judge Childs counted… Dan should be home soon. I’m sure he’ll be happy to meet you. I…”
Susanna looked at her. If she read Sheryl’s expression accurately, maybe Dan Brazier would not be too happy to meet her. She considered leaving, decided not to. She wasn’t in a popularity contest. She was on a murder investigation. “Could I use your phone? I’d like to call my father and tell him I’m running late. My son is with him and they’re probably wondering where I am.”
“Oh, sure, it’s in the kitchen.” She butted her forehead against her hand. “Sorry… it’s not working and I promised Dan I’d call the phone company and report it. You can use
the one in the bedroom, if you can find it under all that mess.”
Susanna started for the bedroom.
She stopped. “Yes?”
“Would you like to stay for supper? I don’t know where Dan is but sometimes he gets talking and doesn’t quite make it home for dinner. It’s always a waste. I cook for two and it ends up just me. Anyway, if he does come home… well, I don’t think he’d mind some company.” (Again, she didn’t sound very convincing on that score.) “Please stay, I’ll make meat loaf.”
“One of my favorites.”
“I’ll get it going right away.” She snapped her fingers. “I knew I forgot something. I
forget things. I need some ingredients… I’ll run out and get them. Only be a minute.”
Susanna waved and said, “Please, don’t go to any trouble. I really should be heading back and have dinner with my family—”
“No, I insist. You just stay and make yourself comfortable until I get back. Only take a few minutes. Would you like a drink? There might be some gin left. I drink wine and don’t even like that much, but I like to keep Dan company. I’ll pick up some wine.” She put on a tan raincoat, slung her purse over her shoulder and opened the door. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
The slam of the door reverberated throughout the apartment. Susanna looked into the bedroom, where a princess phone could be detected beneath a pile of sweaters. She picked it up and dialed her father’s area code and number. “My long-lost daughter,” he said. “Where are you?”
“At Dan Brazier’s apartment. Dad, I’ve been invited to stay for dinner. Do you mind?”
“Sure you want to?”
“Yes. He isn’t here but his girl friend… I guess that’s what she is… his girl friend has invited me and I’d like to take her up on it.”
A long pause. “Why don’t you come home, Susanna? It’s a long drive, I worry about you.”
“I won’t stay long, I promise.” She looked at the pile of things on the bed. One drawer that had been emptied of clothing contained a pile of small, leather-bound books. She picked one up and opened it…
“Well, Susanna, if you insist, Rich and I will fend for ourselves,” her father was saying. “He’ll have to suffer through my cooking but I suppose it won’t kill him.”
“I said my cooking won’t kill him.”
But she heard nothing he said. Staring up at her from one of the pages she’d been almost idly flipping through was:
Dr. Chester Sutherland
, followed by his Chevy Chase address.
“He doesn’t want chicken again, I don’t know what else I have here, I don’t cook much for myself and—”
“Dad, I’ll see you later.”
She snapped the book closed and was about to drop it back into the drawer when a presence in the bedroom doorway made her spin around.
She dropped the book.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
He turned his head, said to an unseen man, “Yeah, thanks for the help upstairs, Harry. See you tomorrow.” The door slammed shut. Brazier returned his attention to Susanna. “Like I said, who are you? And what the
are you doing in my bedroom?”
Susanna forced a smile. “Both very good questions… I’m Susanna Pinscher, Mr. Brazier. Your… Miss Figgs invited me to stay for dinner. She went out to—”
“What do you think you were looking at?”
“What? Oh… I wasn’t really looking at anything. I called my father to tell him I’d be late, he lives in St. Helena—”
“Come off it. You had something in your hand when I came in. One of those books from the drawer—”
She looked down into the drawer. “Books? No, I wasn’t looking at anything.” She took a few steps toward the door, which was blocked by Brazier and his wide, metal chair. She extended her hand. “I’m visiting from Washington,” she said. “I’m working on the Clarence Sutherland murder case for the Justice Department and thought that while I was out here I’d look you up.”
“Because you were close to Justice Morgan Childs… and he’s, well, after all, he’s a member of the Court—”
“Get out.” His voice was ragged, he even raised a fist. She knew he was drunk. “Get out
“All right, but I can’t go anywhere unless you move.”
He glared at her with watery eyes, his fist still in the air. He seemed unsure whether to vacate the doorway or stay there, blocking her. Susanna took a deep breath, took a step closer to him. “I’m leaving,” she said. “Excuse me.”
He hesitated, then rolled his chair backward, providing just enough room for her to pass. She went quickly to the front door, opened it. Sheryl was on her way up the stairs, her arms full of brown bags.
“I’m sorry,” Susanna said, “but I have to go. My son isn’t feeling too well and my father thinks I ought to head back right away—”
“I bought steaks and wine—”
“I am sorry. Another time.” She waited for Sheryl to reach the landing, then quickly descended the stairs and burst through the outside door to the street. Had she lingered for another minute or two she would have heard the sound
of Dan Brazier’s hand hitting Sheryl across the face, and the thud of her body slamming against a wall.
She ran to her car and drove as fast as she could back to St. Helena. Her father and son were deep in a game of checkers.
“Quick dinner,” her father said.
“Yes. And I’d love a drink.”
“Why can’t you trust me?”
Temple Conover, who’d just come downstairs for breakfast, brought his cane across the back of a chair. “Trust you, Cecily?
sed cui vide
“You and your damn foreign words. What does that mean?”
“Trust, but take care
The argument, which had erupted upstairs in the bedroom, was precipitated by a phone call from Martin Teller asking for another interview with Cecily.
She came around behind her husband and touched his neck. He twisted in his chair, grimaced at her. “How could you have done that?” His voice was raspy.
“I told you, Temp, I was frightened, scared to death,
matter of fact. You
me with that gun, I didn’t know what to do…”
He sipped his orange juice while she came around the other side of the table and plopped down in a chair.
“Get that pout off your face,” he said.
“Don’t tell me what to do with my face.”
He grabbed the cane that was resting against his chair and extended it toward her. She got to her feet and screamed at the top of her lungs, “Don’t ever raise that thing at me again. Don’t ever threaten me again, Temple, ever, ever again.” Tears. “God, I hate you.”
His voice was calm. “Yes, I know that. You took the gun to the police, you’ve been unfaithful and let me know it. This house is my Gethsemane. You serve me hemlock with my juice.”
“I don’t understand your damn fancy talk and you know it—”
“You understand betrayal, though, that comes easy as pie, not to mention lying and cheating.” The palms of his hands slapped against the tabletop. Juice slopped over the rim of Cecily’s glass, staining the pale blue linen tablecloth.
She had been standing with her back to the table as he spoke, her arms around herself. Now that she had stopped crying, her face, which he could not see, was relaxed. She heard him take another drink of his juice, then the sound of his fork against his plate as it scooped up scrambled eggs. Without turning she said, “I turned in the gun, Temple, because you killed him.”
His second forkful was halfway to his mouth. It remained poised there as he looked up over his glasses.
“Did you hear me, Temp? I said—”
“I heard you. Along with all your other sterling qualities, you’re pretty stupid.”
She turned slowly. “Am I? Temple, you’re so full of hate. You couldn’t stand having Clarence walk the same
earth with you. What had he done to you, Temple, provided a little warmth and fun for a woman you claim to love, or at least used to…” She stopped and waited for the invariable outburst, the cane, thrown dishes. It did not come. He sat back and actually smiled.
“Maybe it was his ambition you couldn’t stand, a young man on the way up, making you feel so old?…”
She wasn’t sure how to react, what to say next. She sat down and drank cold black coffee. “Was it his White House job, Temple, that broke the camel’s back?”
“Having someone like Clarence Sutherland considered for an important job in the administration of our government would be more than most decent people could bear.”
She shook her head. “You love to rub it in that I’m not as smart or
as you, don’t you, Mr. Justice. Well, maybe I’m not so dumb after all.”
He reached for a buzzer that would sound throughout the house, part of a system installed after his first stroke so that he could summon aid from any room. Moments later Karl appeared in the doorway.