Authors: Judith Van Gieson
Judith Van Gieson
All rights reserved.
Copyright Â© 2002 Judith Van Gieson.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by other means, without permission.
First ebook edition Â© 2012 by AudioGO.
All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-474-4
Library ISBN 978-0-7927-9512-4
Cover photo Â© Studio-Annika/
book is dedicated to Amanda Howard,
who is going to be a very confident woman.
Thanks to Dominick Abel,
and Charles E. Wood
for their always valuable advice and support.
HE FEAR OF ANYONE WHO LIVES ALONE
is to die alone and not be missed or discovered until the body begins to smell. Claire Reynier didn't live alone until she was fifty. By then her children were grown and she was divorced. She had a rewarding job, she remained connected to family and friends, but it only took one night in her new house in the Albuquerque foothills to know the fear of dying alone. She was aware that in a sense everyone dies alone, but most people die believing they'll be missed.
When she heard that Evelyn Martin died alone in her house, that no one reported her missing and that it was weeks before her body was found, Claire's rational side said that once someone was dead, the circumstances of the death weren't important. Her heart responded that to die unnoticed meant a life had had no meaning.
She learned about Evelyn from Detective Dante Amaral, who called at eight-thirty one morning while Claire was finishing her tai chi exercises, settling into the infinite ultimate stance, imagining she was balancing empty spheres between her hands and her knees. When the phone rang, her first thought was that nature abhors a vacuum and that one effect of turning one's mind into an empty bowl was that something comes along to fill it up.
Detective Amaral's voice had a soft, dreamy quality as if he hadn't quite woken up himself. “Is this Claire Reynier?” he asked.
“Yes.” She sat down on the sofa with the phone in her hand, glanced out the window and saw that the Sandia Mountains were gray as a dove in the morning light.
“My name is Detective Dante Amaral. I am with the Santa Fe Police Department.”
Why on earth would a Santa Fe detective be calling her? Claire wondered. Her first thought was for the safety of her children, though neither of them was anywhere near Santa Fe.
“Are you acquainted with a woman named Evelyn Martin?” Detective Amaral asked.
“Evelyn? We went to school together years ago. I've seen her a few times since.”
“Yesterday we found her dead in her house on Tano Road. The postman noticed that the mail hadn't been picked up for some time and there was a smell coming from the house, so he called us.”
“Oh, no. What killed her?”
“The cause of death has not been established yet. We found credit cards with your name on them in the house and were able to locate you in Albuquerque through Visa. Have you ever been the victim of credit card fraud, Ms. Reynier?”
Claire admitted, “I have.”
“I would like to talk to you about it and about the death of Evelyn Martin. Would you be willing to come to Santa Fe?”
He paused between words as if each was a pearl to be smoothed and polished before it left his mouth. The last sentence had the inflection of a question, but Claire understood it to be a summons. She agreed and they set a time for later in the week.
She hung up and sat still for several minutes, absorbing all she had learned. Then she began to pace from one end of her house to the other, wearing a track through her gray carpet. Her cat, Nemesis, tried to insinuate himself between her legs, but she shooed him away.
She thought back to the time the previous year when she had been the victim of credit card fraud. It began with a package that came to her house containing a silky black Victoria's Secret nightgown with deep cleavage and spaghetti straps crisscrossing the back. She knew of no one who would send her a revealing nightgown and was sure it was a mistake, although the package was clearly addressed to her and the nightgown was her sizeâten. She called the store and discovered that someone had taken out credit in her name. To do so, the impersonator needed her social security number, the clerk told her, a photo I.D. (which was easy enough to fake), and a good credit rating. Claire's was impeccable.
She called the Albuquerque police and learned from a policewoman named Susan Deutsch that the crime was known as true name fraud.
“It's likely just the tip of the iceberg,” Officer Deutsch warned. “You should check your credit rating with a national credit bureau to find out what else has been charged.”
Claire did and was appalled to learn that the identity thief had recently opened several accounts in her name. It was too soon for the bills to arrive but the thief had already taken cash advances in the amount of $25,000 and charged another $20,000 worth of merchandise, things that Claire would never have bought for herself, including negligees and underwear from Victoria's Secret, a state-of-the-art stereo system and a TV the size of a window. The merchandise purchased with her good credit was so uncharacteristic of Claire that she'd had the sensation an evil twin was sending her a malignant message. She was able to establish that the thief had used preapproved credit card offerings that had been mailed to her house. Officer Deutsch said that the credit offers could have been stolen from her mailbox or by what was known as Dumpster diving, rifling through her trash.
“You didn't tear up those offerings before you threw them away?” the policewoman asked.
“No,” Claire admitted.
“You should have.”
“From now on I will,” Claire replied. “To open these accounts the thief needed my social security number.”
can be obtained easily enough over the Internet. Your social security number also appears on various documentsâbank statements, mortgage statements, mutual funds, for example.”
“I never noticed that any of them were missing.” Claire was meticulous about her bookkeeping.
“The perp could have taken the number from a statement and put it back in your mailbox, or the perp could have gained access to your house. Were you robbed? Did you ever entertain anyone in your house you didn't know well?”
“Have you had any untrustworthy houseguests?”
“No.” Claire couldn't imagine having a houseguest who would steal from her, but after she got off the phone she looked through her calendar to remind herself exactly who had visited. There were her children, of course. She wouldn't even contemplate that they would steal from her. Her brother or her old friend Madelyn from Tucson? The bookseller friends, John Harlan and Anthony Barbour? Never. She flipped back through the pages of the calendar until she came across the name of Evelyn Martin eight months before the theft. The timing seemed off. Any credit card offers that were in the house when Evelyn visited would have expired by the time the charges took place. Eventually Claire dismissed her, too, as a possible culprit, although she considered her far longer than her other guests.
She and Evelyn had lived in the same residence at the University of Arizona in the sixties. In fact, they had been sorority sisters. These days Claire didn't like to admitâeven to herselfâthat she had been in a sorority, but she supposed she would have to pass that detail on to Detective Amaral. She and Evelyn hadn't been close. After graduation she saw her occasionally at reunions. Then one day Evelyn called to say she had come to a turning point in her life, had left her job with a bank in Denver, was considering moving to New Mexico and asked if she could visit. Claire said yes, although she doubted they had much in common.
When Evelyn arrived at her door, they went through the dance women in their fifties do when they reunite, looking to see how well the other has aged. One woman's quality of life is reflected immediately in the other woman's eyes. The process reminded Claire of the way dogs sniffed each other. The method was more subtle, but she supposed the object was the sameâto evaluate the power of the competition.
Claire saw immediately that Evelyn's life was not going well. She had put on weight and wore a baggy brown dress. Her hair was bleached blond, a color that did not become her. The stiffness of her upper lip suggested she'd been deeply wounded or had had a collagen implant. At the same time, Evelyn's eyes implied that Claire didn't look too bad. She still wore a size ten. She had a good hairdresser. Her hair looked frosted rather than bleached to death. But more important than her hair or her weight was that her children were doing well and she had landed on her feet in a place and in a job that
loved. During the turbulence of her divorce her friend Madelyn had handed her a mantra that Claire would always cherish. “You know who you are,” Madelyn had said. “You know what you have accomplished.”
Evelyn stepped back and held Claire at arm's length. “Aren't
Claire didn't consider it a triumph to be doing better than Evelyn, but she couldn't help being aware of the fact. Evelyn stayed for a few awkward days, and Claire never heard from her again. She didn't know that Evelyn had moved to Santa Fe. Evelyn would have had the means and opportunity to rob her and quite possibly the motive of needing money. Claire had left her alone in her house all day when she went to work at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. Yet she had found it hard to believe that someone she knew in college would steal from her, and she never told Officer Deutsch about Evelyn's visit.
From the police's point of view, identity fraud was a victimless crime. The credit card companies passed the loss on to their customers in the form of higher interest rates and fees. In Albuquerque, the police dealt with far worse crimes every day. Claire didn't lose much money, but she resented the time and effort it took to get her good credit rating back, listening to bad music while waiting for an overworked employee to come to the phone, the endless hassling once she was able to connect with a human being. She was left with a sense of having been violated, that a slot canyon had formed in her soul. Now that the thief gave every appearance of being Evelyn Martin, the canyon had the potential to flood and turn treacherous.
Claire went into the guest room where Evelyn had slept and where the nightgown lay folded up in a bureau drawer. She took it out and held it in front of her before a full-length mirror. It was the glossy black of cat hair with cleavage that went nearly to her navel. It appeared to conform to the shape of Claire's body, but she couldn't imagine ever wearing it. On the other hand, she couldn't imagine Evelyn wearing it either. Evelyn had always been an inconspicuous person.