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The melody lingers on, p.1
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       The Melody Lingers On, p.1

           Mary Higgins Clark
 
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The Melody Lingers On


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  Acknowledgments

  Once again the tale has been told. In this case the song has ended.

  As always I’ve enjoyed the journey. While I am happy to write the words “The End,” there is also a certain poignancy about it. I have become very fond of the characters in this book. I leave you to discover anyone I am not fond of.

  As usual there are those who walked the mile with me. To them a tip of the hat and my great gratitude.

  First, of course, my editor of fifty years, Michael Korda. I am so blessed to have teamed up with him all these years.

  Marysue Rucci, V.P., editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, for her wise input and guidance.

  Elizabeth Breeden, for her diligence and patience throughout the editing process.

  Art Director Jackie Seow, for the compelling cover art she creates.

  Ed Boran, retired FBI agent and current president of the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, who was my mentor as I learned how the Bureau would investigate a crime like this one.

  Interior Designer Eve Ardia, who instructed me on how to spend five million dollars decorating an apartment in this story.

  Nadine Petry, my assistant and right hand these past seventeen years.

  Rick Kimball, for his advice on how to move large amounts of money around—away from watchful eyes.

  Finally my family support group—Spouse Extraordinaire John Conheeney for his unwavering support; my children, all of whom are always available and helpful when I want their comments on a chapter or two. They are especially helpful when they point out that an expression I am using is unrecognizable by today’s generation.

  Tempus fugit and all that!

  Happy reading, one and all.

  Mary Higgins Clark

  In memory of June Crabtree

  Dear friend since our days at Villa Maria Academy

  With love

  1

  Thirty-year-old Elaine Marsha Harmon walked briskly from her apartment on East Thirty-Second Street in Manhattan to her job as an assistant interior decorator fifteen blocks away in the Flatiron Building at Twenty-Third Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Her coat was warm but she had not worn gloves. There was a distinct chill this early November morning.

  She had twisted her long auburn hair and fastened it at the back of her head. Now only wisps of it blew around her face. Tall, like her father, and slender, like her mother, she had realized after graduating from college that the life of a teacher was not the way for her to go. Instead, she enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology and after receiving a degree had been hired by Glady Harper, the doyenne of interior decorating among the wealthy and the socially ambitious.

  Elaine always joked that she had been named after her paternal great-aunt, a childless widow who was considered extremely well-to-do. The problem was that Auntie Elaine Marsha, an animal lover, had left most of her money to various animal shelters and very little to her relatives.

  As Lane explained it, “Elaine is a very nice name and so is Marsha, but I never felt like Elaine Marsha.” As a child she had unintentionally solved that problem by mispronouncing her name as “Lane,” and it had stuck.

  For some reason she was thinking about that as she walked from Second Avenue to Fifth and then down to Twenty-Third Street. I feel good, she thought. I love being here, right now, at this moment, in this place. I love New York. I don’t think I could ever live anyplace else. At least I wouldn’t want to. But she probably would decide to move to the suburbs soon. Katie would start kindergarten next September, and the private schools in Manhattan were too pricey for her.

  That reflection brought a familiar stab of pain. Oh, Ken, she thought. If only you had lived. Pushing back the memory, she opened the door of the Flatiron Building and took the elevator to the fourth floor.

  Although it was only twenty of nine, Glady Harper was already there, as she had expected. The other employees, the receptionist and the bookkeeper, usually arrived by two minutes of nine. Glady did not forgive lateness.

  Lane stopped at the door of Glady’s private office. “Hi, Glady.”

  Glady looked up. As usual her steel-gray hair looked as though she had not taken the trouble to brush it. Her wiry figure was clothed in a black sweater and slacks. Lane knew that Glady had a closet full of exactly the same outfits and that her passion for color and texture and design was reserved exclusively for the interiors of homes and offices. Sixty years old, divorced for twenty years, she was called “Glady” by her friends and employees. One of her fabric suppliers had joked “glad-she’s-not” would have been a more appropriate nickname, a remark that cost him a lucrative contract.

  Glady did not waste time on greeting her. “Come in, Lane,” she said. “I want to talk something over with you.”

  What did I do wrong? Lane asked herself as, following the command, she walked into the office and settled in one of the antique Windsor chairs in front of Glady’s desk.

  “I’ve had a request from a new client, or maybe I should say an old client, and I’m not sure if I want to get involved.”

  Lane raised her eyebrows. “Glady, you always say that if you sense a client is going to be difficult, the job isn’t worth it.” Not that you’re not difficult, she added silently. The first thing Glady did when she took on a client was to go through the home with a cart and ruthlessly get rid of any object she considered to be junk.

  “This one is different,” Glady said, troubled. “Ten years ago, I did the interior design on a mansion in Greenwich when Parker Bennett bought it.”

  “Parker Bennett!” Lane thought of the headlines about the fund manager who had cheated his clients out of billions of dollars. He had disappeared from his sailboat just before the theft was discovered. It was believed he had committed suicide, even though his body had never been found.

  “Well, it’s not quite him I’m talking about,” Glady said. “The Bennetts’ son, Eric, called me. The government has clawed back every penny it can from whatever Parker Bennett had. Now the house is being sold. What’s left in there has no real value and they’re going to let Bennett’s wife, Anne, take out enough to furnish a condominium. Eric said his mother is absolutely indifferent to everything and he’d like me to do it for him.”

  “Can he afford to pay you?”

  “He was very up-front. He said he had read that the biggest commission I ever received was from his father’s ‘spare no expense’ instructions to me. He’s asking me to do it gratis.”

  “And will you?”

  “What would you do, Lane?”

  Lane hesitated, then decided not to be ambivalent. “I’ve seen pictures of that poor woman, Anne Bennett. She looks at least twenty years older than she did in the society columns before the fraud was discovered. If I were you, I’d do it.”

  Harper pressed her lips together and looked up at the ceiling. It was a typical reaction when she was concentrating, whether it was over the exact shade of the fringe on a drapery or a decision like this. “I think you’re right,” she said. “And it certainly won’t take too long to put together enough furniture for a condominium. I understand that it’s in a town house development in Montclair, New Jersey. That’s not that far from the George Washington Bridge, maybe forty minutes in all. At least there won’t be too much travel time.”

  She ripped off a page from the pad and pushed it across the desk to Lane. “Here is Eric Be
nnett’s phone number. I gather some small investment adviser gave him a behind-the-scenes job. He had been doing very well at Morgan Stanley, but he resigned after they found out what Daddy Dearest had been up to. Make an appointment with him.”

  Lane carried the page to her own office, sat behind her desk, and began to dial the number on it. A firm, modulated voice answered on the first ring.

  “Eric Bennett,” he said.

  2

  A week later Lane and Glady drove up the Merritt Parkway to the exit marked Round Hill Road, one of the most exclusive areas in exclusive Greenwich, Connecticut. Route 95 would have been faster, but Glady enjoyed looking at the mansions. Lane was driving Glady’s Mercedes. Glady had decided that Lane’s Mini Cooper was too unassuming to park at the Bennett mansion.

  Glady had been silent for most of the trip, a silence Lane had learned to appreciate. When her boss was ready to start a conversation, she would do it in her own time. In her mind, Lane, a lifetime admirer of Queen Elizabeth, compared it with what she had heard about the queen. You did not address her until she opened the conversation.

  It was when they made the turn at the exit that Glady said, “I remember when I first came up here. Parker Bennett had bought that enormous house. The man who built it went broke before he could move in. The way it was designed it was the quintessence of bad taste. I brought in an architect, and between us we remodeled the interior. My God, they had a counter shaped like a sarcophagus in the kitchen. In the dining room they had painted their version of the Sistine Chapel. It was an insult to Michelangelo.”

  “If you were making architectural changes as well as doing the interior decorating, it must have cost a fortune,” Lane said.

  “It cost a king’s ransom, but Parker Bennett didn’t mind. Why should he have cared? He was spending other people’s money.”

  The Bennett estate was on Long Island Sound. The massive red brick house with white trim could be seen from the road. As they turned into the driveway Lane noticed that the shrubbery had not been trimmed and the lawn was littered with dead leaves.

  Obviously Glady had observed the same thing. “I imagine the landscaper was among the first to go,” she commented dryly.

  Lane parked in the curving driveway. Together they walked up the few steps to the massive oak door. It was opened as soon as Lane touched the bell.

  “Thank you for coming,” Eric Bennett said.

  While Glady acknowledged the greeting, Lane scrutinized Eric Bennett. The man whose voice had impressed her was medium height and build. With the four-inch heels she was wearing, he was just about her height. He had a full head of graying blond hair and hazel eyes. She had researched everything she could find about the Bennett case and she realized that Eric Bennett was a younger version of his father, the courtly, handsome man who had cheated people out of their life savings.

  Glady was introducing them. “My assistant, Lane Harmon.”

  “Eric Bennett, but you probably guessed that.” There was irony in his tone and his smile was brief.

  As was her custom, Glady came straight to the point. “Is your mother here, Eric?”

  “Yes. She’ll be down in a minute or two. She’s with the hairdresser now.”

  Lane remembered that Anne Bennett was no longer welcome in the salon where she had been a longtime client. Too many of the other clients bitterly resented her because their families had been victims of Parker Bennett’s greed.

  The large foyer had a desolate appearance. The matching rounded staircases led to a balcony that could have accommodated an orchestra. Holes in the walls of the foyer were visible.

  “I see the tapestries are gone,” Glady observed.

  “Oh, indeed they are, and they increased in value by twenty percent in the years we had them. The appraiser was delighted as well by the paintings you had my father purchase. You have a good eye, Glady.”

  “Of course I do. I had a virtual walk-through of the town house you bought for your mother in New Jersey, Eric. It’s not bad at all. We can make it quite charming.”

  It was obvious to Lane that Glady had developed a friendly relationship with Eric Bennett in the year or so she had spent working at the mansion. Now in her usual brisk way Glady began to walk around the first floor.

  The high-ceilinged room to the left had obviously been what most people call the living room, but Glady referred to it as “the salon.” Graceful arched windows looked over the back acres of the property. In the distance Lane could see a pool house that was a miniature duplicate of the mansion and a covered swimming pool. I’ll bet that’s Olympic sized, she thought. And I’ll bet anything it’s a saltwater pool.

  “I see they took every stick of antique and custom-made furniture out of here,” Glady said tartly.

  “Another tribute to your good taste, Glady.” This time Lane thought she was hearing a note of bitterness in Bennett’s tone.

  Glady did not respond to the implied compliment. “Anyhow, the furniture in the small den will be much more suitable for the new town house. Let’s look at that room.”

  They passed the baronial dining room. Like the salon it was devoid of furniture. As they walked to the back of the house, Lane could see the room that had obviously been the library. Mahogany bookshelves were the only thing in it. “I remember your father’s collection of rare books,” Glady observed.

  “Yes, and he started collecting them long before he opened his own investment fund, but that didn’t seem to matter to the government.” This time Bennett’s tone was again noncommittal. “Frankly when I read a book I want to hold it and not worry that I might in some way damage the gilt-edged pages or the illustrations in it.” He looked at Lane. “Do you agree?”

  “Absolutely,” Lane said emphatically.

  Glady had shown her the pictures of the rooms in this mansion after she had completed the interior design. Each room had been exquisitely furnished in its own color scheme, with the overall effect both charming and warm.

  But there was nothing either charming or warm about this house now. It had a neglected, even desolate feeling about it. The shelves of the bookcases had a thin layer of dust on them.

  But then they continued walking further toward the back of the house. To the left there was a cheerful den still furnished with a comfortable couch and chairs, a round glass-topped coffee table, and matching mahogany drop-leaf side tables. Flowered draperies coordinated with the fabrics on the upholstery. Framed Monet prints on the walls and a carpet in a soft green shade completed the inviting effect.

  “This was the staff sitting room, Lane,” Eric Bennett observed. “It has its own separate entrance into the kitchen. Until last year we had a household staff of six.”

  “It’s the furniture that we’re going to move into the new town house,” Glady said. “It’s even more attractive than I remember. It will be fine for that first-floor den. And I’ve already decided that the furniture in your mother’s sitting room upstairs will be perfect for the living room there. We’ll take a queen-sized bed from one of the guest bedrooms. The one in the master suite is too big for the town house. We’ll do the same thing for the other two bedrooms. According to my notes, the table and chairs and buffet in the breakfast room will take care of the dining room. Now, is your mother coming down or can we go upstairs?”

  If there’s one thing Glady is, it’s decisive, Lane thought. I’m glad she’s going upstairs. I was beginning to think she’d work from the pictures. I’d love to get a look at the rest of the rooms.

  “I think I hear my mother coming down the stairs,” Bennett said. Abruptly he turned around. Glady and Lane followed him back to the front of the house.

  Lane had found pictures of Anne Nelson Bennett on the Internet when she Googled her name. But the stunning blond socialite whose favorite designer was Oscar de la Renta was almost unrecognizable. Painfully thin and with a tremor in her hand, she was hesitant as she addressed Glady. “Ms. Harper, how nice of you to come. A bit different now than it was when you la
st were here.”

  “Mrs. Bennett, I know how difficult everything has been for you.”

  “Thank you. And who is this lovely young lady?”

  “My assistant, Lane Harmon.”

  Lane took the extended hand and immediately realized that Anne Bennett’s grasp was weak, as though she had no strength in her fingers.

  “Mrs. Bennett, I am going to do the best I can to make your new home attractive and comfortable. Shall we go upstairs and I’ll point out the furniture I want to select for you?” Glady asked.

  “Yes, of course. What they deemed could only bring a few dollars in an estate sale was left for me. Isn’t that generous? Someone else stole that money. Isn’t that right, Eric?”

  “We will prove his innocence, Mother,” Eric Bennett said heartily. “Now, let’s go upstairs.”

  • • •

  Forty minutes later, Glady and Lane were on their way back to Manhattan. Then Glady observed, “It’s been almost two years since the scandal broke. That poor woman still looks as though she’s reeling from shock. What did you think of that portrait of the big crook smiling so benevolently at the world? I understand the paint was barely dry on it before he disappeared.”

  “It’s a very good painting.”

  “It should be. Stuart Cannon was the artist, and believe me, he doesn’t come cheap. But at the art auction nobody bid on it and they let her keep it.”

  “Do you think that Parker Bennett was framed?”

  “Nonsense.”

  “But isn’t all of the five billion dollars absolutely unaccounted for?”

  “Yes. God knows where Bennett managed to hide it. Not that it will do him any good. Certainly not if he’s dead.”

  “If he is alive, do you think his wife or his son knows where he is?”

  “I don’t have any idea. But you can bet that even if they have access to the money, they’ll never get to spend it. Every nickel they ever spend for the rest of their lives will be watched like a hawk by the government.”

 
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