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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (28 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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He finally smiled. "FU drive you." His gray Cadillac was beside the wall.

When he pulled alongside her car, he turned off the engine, leaving the parking lights on. She thought he might be coming around to open her door—unnecessary, but a pleasant courtesy. He turned slightly in his seat to face her. In the semi-darkness she heard the fabric of his jacket sliding against the leather seat.

Anthony said, "You probably wanted to have something to eat. Let me take you somewhere else. We can talk."

She hesitated, a bit too long. "Thank you, but I have some cases to review tonight."
 

"It's still early."

"I'm married." When he made no response, she looked through the windshield, laughing a little. "Sorry. That presumed a lot, didn't it?"
 

A few seconds passed. He said, "When I asked you to lunch the other day I told myself it was to discuss the Darden case. There may have been other reasons."

She turned her head to look at him fully.

"I won't act on them." The amber dash lights shone dimly on his face. His eyes were lost in shadow.

She smiled. "Very gallant,
Señor
Quintana."

His slight shrug was noncommittal. "We've just settled a lawsuit. A cup of coffee to celebrate wouldn't be out of order. As colleagues?"

"As friends," she said after a moment. "Perfectly in order."

Then she thought of Renee dancing the
merengue
in the kitchen, laughing, holding out her hands.
Feel it. Don't think.

Gail took out her car keys. "I'll follow you."

 

 

 

 

Thirteen

 

 

They sat in the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Alhambra Avenue, only a few other customers left in the room. Their table was reflected in the windows looking out over the terrace with its splashing fountain and the palm trees wrapped in tiny strings of lights.

The waiter had long since cleared the plates. They had ordered only dessert—one chocolate mousse, one raspberry tart. On the table now: glasses of sauterne, their second.
Her
second, anyway. Maybe her third, she couldn't remember. Excellent sauterne. Anthony had ordered a whole bottle of it.

Gail propped her chin in her hands, classical guitar music drifting from the cocktail lounge across the hall.

They had talked about where she went to law school. Where he went to law school—Columbia, on scholarship.
God, you must be smart.
They had talked about the new Japanese movie in town—
Who has time to see a movie?
Talked about the hassles of a big law firm.

Anthony was leaning back in his chair, relaxed. Looking at her across the table. Gail smiled at him, cheeks warm, feeling the wine. But not showing it, surely not.

They had talked about Montreal, which they had both visited. He liked to snow ski, had learned when he lived up north. They had talked about their kids. His son and daughter lived in New Jersey with his ex-wife. Talked about taking them to Disney World last Christmas.

She watched the lines appear on either side of his mouth when he smiled. A shadow of beard on his upper lip and chin. Such a straight nose.

He hadn't asked about her husband. Hadn't asked if she would like to do this again sometime.

Only listened. Listened more than he talked, she realized after a while. Unusual for a man to do.

His top three shirt buttons were undone. She wanted to press her fingertips into the hollow at the base of his throat, then along his collarbone. She could see his pulse. Slow. Steady.

No knees bumping hers under the table. He was keeping his distance. Leaning back in his chair. Looking at her. His dark eyes touching her. Only that.

She blinked. "I'm sorry. What—"

"I asked where you went to high school."

"Ransom-Everglades," she said.

He considered. "Exclusive school, isn't it?"

"Oh, you don't
know."
She giggled, caught herself. "The sons and daughters of Miami's white Republican elite. Lah-de-dah. The girls went to teas and had coming out parties."

"You were a debutante?"

"At the Riviera Country Club. A couple dozen perfect little debs on their fathers' arms. Except my father died when I was thirteen, so Ben escorted me."

"Judge Strickland."

"Yes. I wore a frothy pink dress. Not me at all." She lifted her wineglass. "I'm not pink and frothy, am I? Do you think?"

"Not at all."

"It was awful. Imagine. You're eighteen, wearing this tight, scratchy dress and white gloves and a stiff smile and everyone is wondering if you'd be good enough to marry their pimply-faced little Rodney."
 

Anthony smiled.

"Well, you know what I mean." Gail laughed. "Someone actually phoned about Karen going to cotillion and I said absolutely not."

"What is that?"

"A dance class. Learning how to behave oneself at society events, to be more accurate. They start early, don't they? Pre-teen."

"I'm trying to visualize Renee as a debutante."

"Renee? She laughed at the whole idea, particularly after they kicked her out of Ransom-Everglades in the ninth grade. She was right, of course, not going to those stupid deb parties."

Anthony picked up the bottle of sauterne. “I hear some admiration there, no?"

“Probably. But I'd never have said so. Not then." She watched the wine swirl into her glass, pale gold. "That was back when my mother wanted to preserve the impression that the Stricklands were still somebody in Miami. But most of them had already jumped ship."

"Where to?"

"Broward County or even further up the state. Ben's sons went to New York. My cousin Nancy said she was tired of checking her driveway for muggers every time she got back from the grocery store. Linda said she wanted to live in the U.S.A. again. Absolutely no sense of adventure, any of them."

Gail put down her glass. "All right, your turn."

"My turn?"

“Would you mind if I asked you something about your family?"

He turned one hand palm up. "Ask." "Why did your father stay in Cuba?"

"Ah. I thought you would get to him sooner or later. Luis Quintana Rodriguez. He's an unrepentant revolutionary. Sixty-four years old now. He was blinded and lost one arm in a skirmish with some exiles in 1963."

Gail drew in her breath. "And you let me go on and on about teas and coming-out parties."

"It was interesting."

"Sure. My exotic American childhood. You were just down to see him?"

"A few weeks ago. I've been back several times since I left."

"Obviously your grandfather doesn't approve."

"Unlike what happened tonight, it rarely comes up. And my father doesn't ask me about my life here. I guess if you lose your sight you don't want to think it was for nothing."

"But he let you come to the United States."
 

"He didn't
let
me."

Gail waited. "You escaped in a rubber raft?"
 

Anthony shook his head.
 

"Hijacked an airplane?"

He smiled. "All right, this is what happened. No mysteries. My mother—Caridad Pedrosa—was the youngest daughter of a rich Havana banker. My father was a nobody from a farm in Camagiiey province, his mother a
mulata,
descended from slaves. They met in Havana, where he had come to work his way through the university. Somehow Caridad eluded her chaperones. Ernesto found out and locked her in her room, but it was too late. She was already pregnant. Ernesto had to let them marry. My sister Marta was born six months later.

"Then Luis, my father, became involved with the socialists. The Batista government threw him in jail. They beat him. They might have killed him if he hadn't been related to Ernesto Pedrosa Masvidal. He didn't see my face until I was two years old. When he got out Ernesto gave him a job in the bank, which he hated. One day he told my mother he was going back to Camagiiey. She could keep her soft life in Havana or follow him."
 

"What did she do?"

"She followed him, of course. Luis was her husband, the father of her children. And he was a passionate man, very idealistic. I remember the trip, hours and hours in the back of an open truck. My mother had three children by then, and expecting another. We lived on his parents' farm. Soon after, my father joined the rebels in the Sierra Maestra—the mountains."

"She must have loved him desperately."

"Yes. But when you have four children, feeding them
yuca con mojo
instead of steak, and there are chickens and pigs running under the house and . . . Well, when your husband has another woman from time to time, romance and passion don't last too long.

"The summer after Batista fell, my grandfather got word to Caridad that the family was leaving Cuba. A car would come for her and the children while my father was away. But it came early. Marta and I were not there and she had to leave without us. I was seven, my sister ten. I have never cried so hard, but then my father told me the revolution needed men, not babies. I didn't cry again.

"He was injured two years later. I remember going to the military hospital. My father's face was wrapped in bandages. Fidel Castro himself had pinned a medal on his chest, which my father could see only with his fingers. He was thirty-four years old.

"By then my life in Havana was only a dream to me. In Camaguey I ran barefoot and fished with my best friend Juanito and went to school. One day my aunt told me they had arranged for me and Marta to visit our mother. My father was back in the hospital and knew nothing of this. Marta didn't want to go. She was fifteen, old enough to decide. I got on a DC-6 and half an hour later—Miami. Naturally they never had any intention of letting me go back. Ernesto must have spent a fortune on bribes."

Anthony smiled across the table. "And that is how I came to America."

"You were practically kidnapped."

"I felt this for a long time, yes. I was homesick, speaking no English, getting into fights with the American boys on the street. I drove my mother to tears. But finally, you know, you learn the new language and you go to McDonald's and ride a new bicycle and pretty soon—if you are thirteen years old—you let go."

"Will you go back someday?"

"To live?" Anthony turned his wineglass by its stem. "Never. Marta took me to see our grandfather's house in Havana. It's been cut into apartments. I don't think it's been painted in thirty years. A sad country. Everything is too much in the past. What I have is here."

They sat silently for a while. "I am sorry about your father," Gail said.

"You lost yours completely."

Guitar music drifted faintly through the open doors. Gail glanced out the window and saw Anthony's reflection in three-quarter profile. There was more to him, she was certain, than he had told her. How had he reconciled the competing passions of Luis and Ernesto? There was more than could be learned over one bottle of wine. She doubted there would be another. There were no more cases to settle.

"A personal question for you," he said.

She turned.

"What happened between you and Renee?" When Gail didn't immediately respond, he asked, "Is that too personal?"

She shook her head. "No, it isn't that. I could give you an easy answer and say it was sibling rivalry. I could say we never got along. But you remember that photo of Renee and me on the swing. How she was laughing? She was one of those adorable kids who find everything funny. And I adored her too. I couldn't help it. Even when I was mean to her, I couldn't be for long."

Gail lifted her fingertips to her cheeks. For a few seconds the restaurant dimmed, as if fragments of a dream had intruded on her waking mind.

"What is it?" Anthony asked.

"Just . . . Renee." Gail smiled shakily. "How odd. I saw her so clearly just then. A flash, nothing more. Usually all I see is— When I went to identify her body. That's what I see, so I try not to think of her at all."

Anthony said nothing, waiting for her to go on.

She took a slow breath. "As to what happened between us. . . . I've thought about this a lot. Sometime after our father died, we both changed. I became withdrawn and distant. I stayed in my room reading or sometimes only staring at the ceiling. She became angry. She lied, but in ways our mother wouldn't notice. And— How can I say this? Sexually advanced. What she said, how she acted. She started sneaking out of the house, meeting older boys. You don't need a Ph.D. in psychology to figure that one out."

Gail paused. "Anyway, our mother was lenient with her, trying to make her happy again. I was only aware of the injustice of it all. Me getting straight A's and no pats on the head because I didn't need them. Renee getting what she wanted. Poor little Gail, right?"

"Are you bitter?"

"No. Well, I used to be. Not now. When she killed herself I thought it was some kind of proof that she was wrong and I was right. Now I don't think it's that simple. I'm not bitter. I'm mystified. And so regretful. I could have changed things between us."

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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