Authors: Linda Barnes
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction
I never took it,
Understand? I never went in there.
Facts are like beads, Teddy, precious and rare gems.
I handled the televised interview like a pro. I let Angela Rivers make the case against Malcolm, Teddy, and is it any stranger than the truth? I mean, let’s look at the truth, the bald and naked truth.
The loudspeaker interrupted my thoughts: The Boston-bound train was ready to board on track 2B. I slipped on my new leather jacket and headed for the escalator. A man ran the wheel of his suitcase across the toe of my high-heeled pump. It didn’t hurt, but it left a scuff mark, and I glared at him as I settled into a seat in the quiet car.
Let’s examine the truth, Teddy, but first let’s evaluate your source: a drunken actor down on his luck, rejected for the role of his dreams, a self-confessed party, along with a passed-over, hate-filled cousin, to blackmail. Did you believe his story?
In vino veritas
, you might have reckoned, but I don’t think you cared one way or the other. It was a tale that would sell, and it might have been true.
As for proof, when I searched the Big House for Pierce’s screenplay, I failed to find it. I was forced to replace it with my own treatment, based on my own excellent, if speculative, research. As for proof, the missing tape, number 128, is gone forever, drowned by a Ghost in the ocean near the beach shack. No transcription was made; no copy exists. My memory alone holds it, so does it really matter what’s true and what’s not true, concerning Claire and Malcolm? Pierce and Foley? Jenna?
I doubt Foley will race to his cousin’s rescue. Not when he has so much to gain by keeping silent.
Let’s look at the truth that matters, Teddy, the underlying truth: How you underestimated and devalued me. How you used me and dismissed me, how you buttoned my soul into a plain brown wrapper and discarded it in the trash. How I accepted your rejection of me as a woman, your indifference, and your cruel disregard. And then let’s look at how you dismissed me twice over. It was wrong, Teddy, wrong to disrespect and belittle me as a colleague, too, to devalue the one thing I had left, my work, to think you could toss my life, my hard-won valuable life, out the window like some used and crumpled tissue.
You didn’t have the balls to jettison me face to face. A phone call, Teddy, a piddling phone call: You were returning the advance to Jonathan with your regrets, sending a check for a hundred and eighty thousand, the full amount, and I could reimburse you for my share. Didn’t I know there was a clause that said you could opt out of the partnership whenever you wanted? Sorry and all, but Caroline was divorcing you, and you needed time to sort things out.
Did you think I’d sympathize?
I borrowed Melody’s van instead. I was parked in the road near the rental house, with the lights out, pondering the next act, choosing the words I could best employ to convince you to change your mind when you came out and got in the Explorer. I followed you to the graveyard when you made your midnight pilgrimage to Ralph Malcolm’s grave. You were surprised to see me, but you stubbornly refused to change your mind. You didn’t owe me anything, not even an explanation. If I wanted to sue you, fine. You’d describe me to the press as a “jilted lover,” “your assistant,” “a typist.”
You stayed in the graveyard, poking your stupid flashlight at the stones of the dead while I stumbled blindly downhill toward Melody’s van, and as I skidded on the steep, gravel walkway my hand tightened on the file in my purse. I could never have used it, my bastard file, on your soft flesh, not then, even though you were ten times, twenty times a bastard. But when my knees gave out near your car, when I fell near the wheels of your Explorer and they were turned to counter the steep incline, exposing the tender brake line, something happened.
Something snapped. And I’m sorry, Teddy, I’m so sorry.
It wasn’t me, Teddy. It wasn’t me. Oh, Teddy, believe me. It must have been the ghost who did it, jabbed the slender line with the tool at hand. Jabbed it in anger, Teddy, struck out in rage. I believed you’d buckle your seat belt. I had a vision of myself in white, a forgiving, ministering angel who’d nurse you back to strength and health. You would have fallen in love with me all over again. We would have finished this book together, started in fresh on the next, made another baby to make up for the one we lost.
The ghost says it never happened, but in my mind’s eye, it’s palpable, real, the cold cubicle and the blue-patterned wallpaper, and I clutch the thin blanket and hear the noise again, the whirring gulp the machine made as the blue-garbed strangers with shielded faces made it go away, the growing thing that had stopped growing, as if it sensed your lack of love. You should have loved me, Teddy, not blamed me. You should never have named my disaster your good luck. I would have cared for her. I would have loved her. I would never have let her pass into the hands of strangers who might neglect and abuse her.
Teddy, you should have loved me, not died and left me to blunder into a full-blown, five-act drama, blind as an ingénue who knows only her own twelve lines, never having read the whole play. I see it now: Caroline was divorcing you, or so you thought, and to hell with any academic ideals. Better to ferret out gossip, go for the cash, seek the highest bidder. I actually thought you’d asked your old friend Amory Russell’s legal opinion of Ralph Malcolm’s will. I’d forgotten his son was Evan,
Evan, the multimedia gossip king.
He must have offered you more than Henniman’s could: first serial rights and foreign rights, fistfuls of silver, buckets of lira and pesos, for the unauthorized bio of Garrett Malcolm, the one that spilled the juicy secrets. But what about me, Teddy? Me? Your student, your lover, your clever chameleon?
Who is not and will not be Ophelia, doomed to drown in the weedy river.
Let the truth drown instead.
“Sorry, but didn’t I just see you on
?” The man who’d run his luggage wheels over my toe was standing in the aisle, swaying with the motion of the train. “You were terrific.”
I murmured a thank-you, but he kept on talking.
“Are you planning to do any Boston media? I’m asking because I work for a radio station, a small one, FM. You probably wouldn’t want to—”
People in the surrounding rows were looking at us with arched and disapproving eyebrows.
“Sorry,” I said, raising a finger to my lips. It was the quiet car, after all. I shook my head and the man subsided into his seat.
Act Five, scene 2.
The rest is silence.
ALSO BY LINDA BARNES
CARLOTTA CARLYLE NOVELS
Lie Down with the Devil
Heart of the World
The Big Dig
The Snake Tattoo
A Trouble of Fools
MICHAEL SPRAGGUE NOVELS
Cities of the Dead
Blood Will Have Blood
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
LINDA BARNES is the author of sixteen previous novels, including her Carlotta Carlyle mystery series. Her work has won the Anthony and American Mystery Awards, and received numerous nominations for the Edgar and Shamus Awards. She was born in Detroit and now lives in the Boston area with her husband and son. Visit her at
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE PERFECT GHOST
. Copyright © 2013 by Linda Barnes. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Cover design by Olga Grlic
Cover photograph of room © Felipe Dupouy/Getty Images; beach house © Blue Line Pictures/Getty Images
ISBN 978-1-250-02363-6 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-02364-3 (e-book)
First Edition: April 2013