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Authors: Mary Higgins Clark

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BOOK: While My Pretty One Sleeps
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“Have you seen the
News
and the
Post
?” Herb asked. “They're really playing up the Ethel Lambston murder.”

“I saw them.”

“We're still concentrating on the ex-husband. We'll see what the search of her apartment turns up. That argument the neighbor heard last Thursday might have ended in the stabbing. On the other hand, he may have scared her enough to make her decide to get out of town and then followed her. Myles, you taught me that every murderer leaves a calling card. We'll find this one.”

They agreed that Neeve would meet the homicide detectives
from the Twentieth Precinct at Ethel's apartment on Sunday afternoon. “Call me if you pick up anything of interest in Rockland County,” Herb said. “The Mayor wants to announce that this case is solved.”

“What else is new about the Mayor?” Myles asked dryly. “Talk to you, Herb.”

Myles turned up the volume of the set and watched as Nicky Sepetti's remains were blessed by the priest. The casket was wheeled out of church as the choir sang “Be Not Afraid.” Myles listened to the words, “Be not afraid, I am with you always.”
You've
been with me day and night for seventeen years, you sonofabitch, he thought as the pallbearers folded the casket blanket and hoisted the heavy mahogany coffin onto their shoulders. Maybe when I'm sure you're rotting in the ground, I'll be free of you.

Nicky's widow reached the bottom of the church steps, then abruptly turned and walked from her son and daughter to the nearest television commentator. As her face loomed into the camera, a face weary and resigned, she said, “I want to make a statement. A lot of people did not approve of my husband's business dealings, may he rest in peace. He was
sent
to prison for those dealings. But he was
kept
in prison, for many extra years, for a crime he did
not
commit. On his deathbed, Nicky swore to me that he had nothing to do with the murder of Police Commissioner Kearny's wife. Think what you want of him, but don't think of him as the person responsible for that death.”

A barrage of unanswered questions followed her as she walked back to stand with her children. Myles snapped off the set. A liar to the end, he thought. But as he pulled on his tie and with
quick, deft movements knotted it, he realized that for the first time a seedling of doubt was sprouting in his mind.

•   •   •

After learning that Ethel Lambston's body had been found, Gordon Steuber went into a frenzy of activity. He ordered his last illegal warehouse in Long Island City vacated and the illegal workers warned of the consequences of talking to the police. He then phoned Korea to cancel the expected shipment from one of his factories there. On learning that the shipment was already being loaded at the airport, he threw the phone at the wall in a savage gesture of frustration. Then, forcing himself to think rationally, he tried to assess the damage. How much proof did Lambston have and how much had been bluff? And how could he disentangle himself from her article?

Although it was Saturday, May Evans, his longtime secretary, had come in to catch up on filing. May had a drunk for a husband and a teenage kid who was always in trouble. At least half a dozen times Gordon had bought him out of an indictment. He could count on her discretion. Now he asked May to come into his office.

His calm restored, he studied her, the parchment skin that was already falling into wrinkles, the anxious, down-cast eyes, the nervous, eager-to-please manner. “May,” he said, “you've probably heard about Ethel Lambston's tragic death?”

May nodded.

“May, was Ethel in here one evening about ten days ago?”

May looked at him for a clue. “There was a night I worked a little late. Everyone was gone except you. I thought I saw Ethel
come in and you make her leave. Am I wrong?”

Gordon smiled. “Ethel didn't come in, May.”

She nodded. “I understand,” she said. “Did you take her call last week? I mean I thought I put her through, and that you were terribly angry and hung up on her.”

“I never took her call.” Gordon took May's blue-veined hand in his and squeezed it lightly. “My recollection is that I refused to speak to her, refused to see her, and had no idea what she might have written about me in her forthcoming article.”

May withdrew her hand from his grip and backed away from the desk. Her faded brown hair was frizzy around her face. “I understand, sir,” she said quietly.

“Good. Close the door on your way out.”

•   •   •

Like Myles, Anthony della Salva watched the Nicky Sepetti funeral on television. Sal lived in a penthouse on Central Park South, in Trump Parc, the luxurious apartment building that had been renovated for the very rich by Donald Trump. His penthouse, furnished by the hottest new interior designer, in the Pacific Reef motif, had a breathtaking view of Central Park. Since his divorce from his last wife, Sal had decided to stick to Manhattan. No more boring homes in Westchester or Connecticut or the Island or on the Palisades. He liked the freedom of being able to go out at any hour of the night and find a good restaurant open. He liked first night at the theater and chic parties and being recognized by the people who mattered. “Leave the suburbs to the hicks” had become his motto.

Sal was wearing one of his latest designs, tan doeskin slacks
with a matching Eisenhower jacket. Dark-green cuffs and a dark-green collar completed the sportsman look. The fashion critics had not been kind to his last two important collections, but had grudgingly praised his menswear. Of course, the real stardom in the rag game was reserved for the couturiers who revolutionized women's fashion. And no matter what they said or didn't say about any of his collections, they still referred to him as one of the master trendsetters of the twentieth century, the creator of the Pacific Reef look.

Sal thought about the day two months ago when Ethel Lambston had come to his office. That nervous flapping mouth; her habit of speaking so quickly. Listening to her was like trying to follow the numbers on a ticker tape. She had pointed to the Pacific Reef mural on the wall and pronounced, “That is genius.”

“Even a nosey journalist like you recognizes truth, Ethel,” he had retorted, and they both laughed.

“Come on,” she had urged him, “break down and forget the villa-in-Rome crap. What you guys don't understand is that phony nobility is out of style. It's a Burger King world. The man from humble beginnings is hot. I'm doing you a favor when I let people know you came from the Bronx.”

“There are a lot of people on Seventh Avenue with more to sweep under the rug than being born in the Bronx, Ethel. I'm not ashamed.”

Sal watched Nieky Sepetti's coffin carried down the steps of St. Camilla's. Enough of that, he thought, and was about to turn off the set when Sepetti's widow grabbed the mike and pleaded that Nicky had nothing to do with Renata's murder.

For a while Sal sat with his hands folded. He was sure Myles had been watching. He knew how Myles must be feeling, and decided to phone him. He was relieved to hear Myles sound fairly matter-of-fact. Yes, he'd seen the sideshow, he said.

“My guess is, he hoped his kids would believe him,” Sal suggested. “They both married pretty well and won't want the grandchildren to know that Nicky's portrait has a number under it in the police files.”

“That's the obvious answer,” Myles said. “Although to tell you the truth, my gut says a deathbed confession to save his soul was more Nicky's style.” His voice trailed off. “Gotta go. Neeve will be along soon. She has the unpleasant job of seeing if the clothing Ethel was wearing came from her shop.”

“I hope not, for her sake,” Sal said. “She doesn't need that kind of publicity. Tell Neeve that if she's not careful people will start saying they wouldn't be caught dead in her clothes. And that's all it will take to break the mystique of Neeve's Place.”

•   •   •

At three o'clock, Jack Campbell was at the door of apartment 16B in Schwab House. When Neeve returned from the shop, she'd changed from her Adele Simpson navy suit to a red-and-black hip-length ribbed sweater and slacks. The harlequin effect was accentuated by the earrings she had designed for the outfit: the masks of comedy and tragedy in onyx and garnets.

“Her nibs, the checkerboard,” Myles said dryly as he shook hands with Jack.

Neeve shrugged. “Myles, you know something? I don't relish what were got to do. But I have a feeling that Ethel would be
pleased if I arrived in a new outfit to talk about the clothes she was wearing when she died. You just can't understand how much pleasure she got from fashion.”

The den was brightened by the last of the waning sunshine. The weather forecaster had been on target. Clouds were gathering over the Hudson River. Jack glanced around, appreciating some of the things he had missed the night before. The fine painting of the Tuscany hills that was on the wall to the left of the fireplace. The framed sepia photograph of a toddler in the arms of a dark-haired young woman with a hauntingly beautiful face. He was sure it was Neeve with her mother. He wondered what it would be like to lose the woman you loved to a murderer. Intolerable.

He noticed that Neeve and her father were glaring at each other with exactly the same expression. The similarity was so great he wanted to smile. He sensed that this fashion debate was a running issue between them and had no intention of being caught in the middle. He walked over to the window, where a book that had obviously been damaged was exposed to the sunlight.

Myles had made a fresh pot of coffee and was pouring it into handsome Tiffany china mugs. “Neeve, let me tell you something,” he said. “Your friend Ethel is beyond spending a king's ransom on extravagant clothes. Right now she's in her birthday suit, on a slab in the morgue with an ID tag on her big toe.”

“Was that the way Mother ended up?” Neeve asked, her voice low and furious. Then she gasped and ran to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Oh, Myles, I'm sorry. That was a cheap, rotten thing to say.”

Myles stood statue still, the coffeepot in his hand. A long twenty seconds passed. “Yes,” he said, “that was exactly the way your mother ended up. And it was a rotten thing for both of us to say.”

He turned to Jack. “Forgive the domestic upheaval. My daughter is either blessed or cursed with the combination of a Roman temperament and Irish thin skin. For my part, I have never found it possible to understand how women can make such a fuss over clothes. My own mother, God rest her soul, did all her shopping in Alexander's on Fordham Road, wore housedresses every day and a flowered print, also from Alexander's, for Sunday Mass and banquets of the Policemen's Glee Club. Neeve and I, like her mother before her, have interesting discussions on the subject.”

“I gathered that.” Jack lifted a mug from the tray Myles offered to him. “I'm glad somebody else drinks too much coffee,” he observed.

“A whiskey or a glass of wine would probably go down better,” Myles observed. “But we'll save that for later. I've got an excellent bottle of burgundy that will offer an appropriate warmth at a suitable hour, despite what the doctor told me.” He walked over to the wine rack in the bottom section of the bookcase and pulled out a bottle.

“In the old days, I didn't know one from the other,” Myles told Jack. “My wife's father had a truly fine wine cellar, and so Renata grew up in a connoisseur's home. She taught me about it. She taught me about many things I'd missed along the way.” He pointed to the book on the windowsill. “That was hers. It got drenched the other night. Is there any way of restoring it?”

Jack picked up the book. “What a shame,” he said. “These sketches must have been charming. Do you have a magnifying glass?”

“Somewhere.”

Neeve scouted through Myles's desk and came up with one. She and Myles watched as Jack studied the stained and crumbled pages. “The sketches really didn't blur,” he said. “Tell you what. I'll check with a couple of people on my staff and see if I can come up with the name of a good restorer.” He handed the magnifying glass back to Myles. “And, by the way, I don't think it's a great idea to let the sun get at them.”

Myles took the book and the magnifying glass and laid them on his desk. “I'd be grateful for anything you can do. Now we'd better get started.”

•   •   •

All three sat in the front seat of Myles's six-year-old Lincoln Town Car. Myles drove. Jack Campbell casually threw his arm across the back of the seat. Neeve tried not to be aware of its presence, not to lean against him when the car circled the ramp from the Henry Hudson Parkway to the George Washington Bridge.

Jack touched her shoulder. “Relax,” he said. “I don't bite.”

The District Attorney's office in Rockland County was typical of district attorneys' offices all over the country. Crowded. Old uncomfortable furniture. Files piled high on cabinets and desks. Overheated rooms except where windows had been opened, and then blasts of chilly air became an unpleasant alternative.

Two detectives from the homicide squad were waiting for them. Neeve noticed how the moment he entered the building, something changed about Myles. His jawline firmed. He walked taller. His eyes took on a hue of flinty blue. “He's in his element,” she murmured to Jack Campbell. “I don't know how he's managed the inactivity this past year.”

“The District Attorney would like you to drop by, sir.” It was clear the detectives were aware they were in the presence of New York City's longest-serving and most highly respected Commissioner.

The District Attorney, Myra Bradley, was an attractive young woman who could not have been more than thirty-six or -seven. Neeve relished the look of astonishment on Myles's face. God, you're a chauvinist, she thought. You have to have known Myra Bradley was elected last year and you chose to block it out.

BOOK: While My Pretty One Sleeps
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