I've Got You Under My Skin, p.1Mary Higgins Clark
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And so once again, the tale has been told. Last night, I wrote the last words and then slept for twelve hours.
This morning I woke up with the joyous understanding that all the dates with friends that I have cancelled can be reinstated.
But it is so satisfying to tell another tale, to share another journey with characters I have created and come to care deeply about—or not.
As always, for the last forty years, Michael V. Korda, my editor, has been the captain of my ship. I send him twenty or twenty-five pages at a time. His phone call “The pages are fine,” is music to my ears. Let me repeat even more fervently, Michael, it’s been grand working with you.
Marysue Rucci, the new editor in chief at Simon & Schuster, has been a marvelous friend and mentor. It is a joy working with her.
The home team starts with my right hand, Nadine Petry, my daughter Patty and my son Dave, Agnes Newton and Irene Clark. And of course, John Conheeney, spouse extraordinaire, and all of my family.
Abiding thanks to copy editor, Gypsy da Silva and to art director, Jackie Seow. Her covers make me look so good. Thanks as well to Elizabeth Breeden.
It is time to start to think about what comes next. But I will put that off just a little while. After all, tomorrow is another day.
And our Clark and Conheeney children and grandchildren
Dr. Greg Moran was pushing three-year-old Timmy on the swing in the playground on East Fifteenth Street in Manhattan, not far from the apartment.
“Two-minute warning,” he laughed as he gave another push, just strong enough to satisfy his daredevil son, but not strong enough to risk having the seat flip over the top of the swing. A long time ago he had witnessed that scene. No one was hurt, because it was a child safety seat. Even so, with the long arms that went with his six-foot-three frame, Greg was always super careful when Timmy was on these swings. As an emergency room doctor, he was all too familiar with freak accidents.
It was half past six, and the evening sun was sending long shadows across the playground. Now there was even a slight chill in the air, a reminder that Labor Day was next weekend. “One-minute warning,” Greg called firmly. Before bringing Timmy to the playground, Greg had been on duty for twelve hours, and the always busy emergency room had been absolutely chaotic. Two cars filled with teenagers racing each other on First Avenue had collided and crashed. Incredibly, no one had been killed, but there were three kids with very serious injuries.
Greg took his hands off the swing. It was time to let it slow down and stop. The fact that Timmy didn’t attempt a futile protest meant that he must be ready to go home, too. Anyhow, they were now the last ones in the playground.
Greg turned to face a powerfully built man of average height with a scarf covering his face. The gun he was holding was aimed at Greg’s head. In an instinctive movement Greg took a long step to the side to get as far away from Timmy as possible. “Look, my wallet is in my pocket,” he said quietly. “You’re welcome to it.”
“Daddy.” Timmy’s tone was frightened. He had twisted in the seat and was staring into the eyes of the gunman.
In his final moment on earth, Greg Moran, age thirty-four, distinguished physician, dearly loved husband and father, tried to throw himself on his attacker but had no chance to escape the fatal shot that hit with deadly accuracy the center of his forehead.
“DADDYYYYYYYY!” Timmy wailed.
The assailant ran to the street, then stopped and turned. “Timmy, tell your mother that she’s next,” he shouted. “Then it’s your turn.”
The gunshot and the shouted threat were heard by Margy Bless, an elderly woman on her way home from her part-time job in the local bakery. She stood for long seconds absorbing the nightmarish event: the fleeing figure turning the corner, the gun dangling from his hand, the screaming child on the swing, the crumpled figure on the ground.
Her fingers trembled so badly it took three tries before she was able to punch in 911.
When the operator answered, Margy could only moan, “Hurry! Hurry! He may come back! He shot a man, then he threatened the child!”
Her voice trailed off as Timmy shrieked, “Blue Eyes shot my daddy . . . Blue Eyes shot my daddy!”
Laurie Moran looked out the window of her office on the twenty-fifth floor of 15 Rockefeller Center. Her view was of the skating rink in the middle of that famous Manhattan complex. It was a sunny but cold March day, and from her vantage point she could see beginners there, wobbling unsteadily on their skates, and in sharp contrast others who moved across the ice with the grace of ballet dancers.
Timmy, her eight-year-old son, loved ice hockey and planned to be good enough to play with the New York Rangers by the time he was twenty-one. Laurie smiled as her mind filled with the image of Timmy’s face, his expressive brown eyes sparkling with delight as he imagined himself in the position of goalie in future Rangers games. He’ll be the image of Greg by then, Laurie thought, but quickly gave herself a mental shake and turned her attention to the file on her desk.
Thirty-six years old, with shoulder-length hair the color of honey, hazel eyes more green than brown, a slim build, and classic features untouched by makeup, Laurie was the kind of woman people turned to take a second look at when she passed by. “Classy and good-looking” was a typical description of her.
An award-winning producer at Fisher Blake Studios, Laurie was about to launch a new cable series, one that she had had in mind even before Greg died. Then she had put it away—she felt people might think she had conceived it because of his unsolved murder.
The premise involved reenacting unsolved crimes, but instead of using actors, gathering the friends and relatives of the victims to hear from their lips their version of what had happened when the crime occurred. Whenever possible, the actual setting of the crime would be used. It was a risky venture—with great potential for success and also for chaos.
She had just come from a meeting with her boss, Brett Young, who had reminded her that she’d sworn she would never touch another reality show. “Your last two were expensive flops, Laurie,” he said. “We can’t afford another one.” Then he pointedly added, “Neither can you.”
Now as Laurie sipped the coffee she had carried in with her from the two o’clock meeting, she thought of the passionate argument she had used to persuade him. “Brett, before you remind me again how sick you are of reality series, I promise you this one will be different. We’ll call it Under Suspicion. On page two of the folder I gave you is a long list of unsolved criminal cases and others supposedly solved where there is a real possibility the wrong person went to prison.”
Laurie glanced around her office. The glance reinforced her determination not to lose it. It was large enough to have a couch under the windows and a long bookcase that showcased memorabilia, awards she had won, and family pictures, mostly of Timmy and her father. She had long ago decided that her pictures of Greg belonged at home in her bedroom, not here where they would inevitably bring to everyone’s mind the fact that she was a widow, and her husband’s murder had never been solved.
“The Lindbergh kidnapping is th
Laurie told him it was an example of a crime that people talked about for generations because of its horror, but also because there were still so many lingering questions about the case. Bruno Hauptmann, an immigrant from Germany who was executed for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, was almost certainly the one who made the ladder that went to the baby’s bedroom. But how did he know the nanny went to dinner every night and left the baby alone for forty-five minutes at exactly that time? How did Hauptmann know that—or who told him?
Then she told Brett about the unsolved murder of one of the identical twin daughters of Senator Charles H. Percy. It happened at the beginning of his first campaign for the Senate in 1966. He was elected, but the crime was never solved, and the questions remained: was the sister who was murdered the intended victim? And why didn’t the dog bark if a stranger had entered the house?
Now Laurie leaned back in her chair. She had told Brett the point is that when you start to mention cases like this, everyone has a theory about it. “We’ll do a reality show about crimes that are anywhere from twenty to thirty years old, where we can get the point of view of the people who were closest to the victim, and I have the perfect case for the first show: the Graduation Gala,” she’d said.
That’s when Brett really got interested, Laurie thought. Living in Westchester County, he knew all about it: Twenty years ago, four young women who grew up together in Salem Ridge graduated from four different colleges. The stepfather of one of them, Robert Nicholas Powell, gave what he called a “Graduation Gala” to honor all four girls. Three hundred guests, black tie, champagne and caviar, fireworks, you name it. After the party, his stepdaughter and the other three graduates stayed overnight. In the morning, Powell’s wife, Betsy Bonner Powell, a popular, glamorous forty-two-year-old socialite, was found suffocated in her bed. The crime was never solved. Rob, as Powell was known, was now seventy-eight years old, in excellent physical and mental shape, and still living in the house.
Powell never remarried, Laurie thought. He had recently given an interview on The O’Reilly Factor in which he said he would do anything to clear up the mystery of his wife’s death, and he knew that his stepdaughter and her friends all felt the same way. They all believed that until the truth came out, people would wonder if one of them was the murderer who took Betsy’s life.
That’s when I got the go-ahead from Brett to contact Powell and the four graduates to see if they would participate, Laurie thought exultantly.
It was time to share the good news with Grace and Jerry. She picked up her phone and told her two assistants to come in. A moment later the door of her office flew open.
Grace Garcia, her twenty-five-year-old administrative assistant, was wearing a short red wool dress over cotton leggings and high-button boots. Her waist-length black hair was twisted up and clamped with a comb. Tendrils that had escaped from the comb framed her heart-shaped face. Heavy but expertly applied mascara accentuated her lively dark eyes.
Jerry Klein was one step behind Grace. Long and lanky, he settled into one of the chairs at Laurie’s desk. As usual, he was wearing a turtleneck and a cardigan sweater. It was his claim that he intended to make his one dark blue suit and his one tuxedo last for twenty years. Laurie had no doubt that he would succeed. Now twenty-six, he had joined the company as a summer intern three years earlier. He had turned out to be an indispensable production assistant.
“I won’t keep you in suspense,” Laurie announced. “Brett gave us the go-ahead.”
“I knew he would!” Grace exclaimed.
“I knew he had from the expression on your face when you got off the elevator,” Jerry insisted.
“No you didn’t. I have a poker face,” Laurie told him. “All right, the first order of business is for me to contact Robert Powell. If I get the go-ahead from him, from what I saw in that interview he gave, his stepdaughter and her three friends will very likely go along with us.”
“Especially since they’ll get paid very well to cooperate, and not one of them has any real money,” Jerry said, his voice thoughtful as he recalled the background information he had gathered for the potential series. “Betsy’s daughter, Claire Bonner, is a social worker in Chicago. She never married. Nina Craig is divorced, lives in Hollywood, makes a living as an extra in films. Alison Schaefer is a pharmacist in a small drugstore in Cleveland. Her husband is on crutches. He was the victim of a hit-and-run driver twenty years ago. Regina Callari moved to St. Augustine, Florida. She has a small real estate agency. Divorced, one child in college.”
“The stakes are high,” Laurie cautioned. “Brett has already reminded me that the last two series were flops.”
“Did he mention that your first two are still running?” Grace asked, indignant.
“No, he didn’t, and he won’t. And I feel in my bones that we have a potential winner with this one. If Robert Powell goes along with us, I almost bet the others will as well,” Laurie said, then added fervently, “At least I hope and pray that they will.”
First Deputy Commissioner Leo Farley of the New York Police Department had been rumored to be appointed the next police commissioner when he unexpectedly put in his retirement papers the day after his son-in-law’s funeral. Now, more than five years later, Leo had never looked back at that decision. At sixty-three, he was a cop to his fingertips. He’d always planned to be one until he hit mandatory retirement, but something more important had changed his plans.
The shocking, cold-blooded murder of Greg and the threat that the elderly witness had overheard—“Timmy, tell your mother that she’s next, then it’s your turn”—had been sufficient reason to decide to dedicate his life to protecting his daughter and grandson. Ramrod straight, average height, with a full head of iron-gray hair and a wiry, disciplined body, Leo Farley spent his waking hours on constant alert.
He knew that there was only so much he could do for Laurie. She had a job she both needed and loved. She took public transportation, went for long jogs in Central Park, and in warm weather often ate lunch in one of the pocket parks near her office.
Timmy was another matter. In Leo’s mind there was nothing to prevent Greg’s killer from deciding to go after Timmy first, so he appointed himself as his guardian. It was Leo who walked Timmy to Saint David’s School every morning, and it was Leo who was waiting for him at dismissal time. If Timmy had activities after school, Leo unobtrusively stood guard beside the skating rink or the playground.
To Leo, Greg Moran was the son he would have created for himself, if that had been possible. It was now ten years since they had met in the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital. He and Eileen had frantically rushed there after they received the call that their twenty-six-year-old daughter, Laurie, had been hit by a cab on Park Avenue and was unconscious.
Greg, tall and impressive even in his green hospital togs, had greeted them with the firm assurance, “She’s come to, and she’ll be fine. A broken ankle and a concussion. We will observe her, but she’ll be fine.”
At those words, Eileen, desperate with worry about her only child, had fainted, and Greg had another patient on his hands. He grabbed Eileen quickly before she fell. He never left our lives again, Leo thought. He and Laurie were engaged three months later. He was our rock when Eileen died, only a year after that.
How could anyone have shot him? The exhaustive investigation had left no stone unturned to find someone who might have had a grudge against Greg, unthinkable as that was to anyone who knew him. After they had quickly eliminated friends and classmates from consideration, the records had been scoured in the two hospitals where Greg had worked as a resident and staff director to see if any patient or a family member had ever accused him of a mistaken diagnosis or treatment that had resulted in a permanent injury or death. Nothing had come to light.<
In the DA’s office the case was known as the “Blue Eyes Murder.” Sometimes an expression of alarm would come over Timmy’s face if he happened to suddenly turn and look directly into Leo’s face. Leo’s eyes were a light china-blue shade. He was sure, and both Laurie and the psychologist agreed, that Greg’s killer must have had large, intense blue eyes.
Laurie had discussed with him her concept for a new series, leading with the Graduation Gala murder. Leo kept his dismay to himself. The idea of his daughter gathering together a group of people, one of whom was probably a murderer, was alarming. Someone had hated Betsy Bonner Powell enough to hold a pillow over her head until the last breath had been squeezed from her body. That same person probably had a passion for self-preservation. Leo knew that twenty years ago all four young women, and Betsy’s husband, had been interrogated by the best-of-the-best homicide detectives. Unless someone had managed to make his or her way into the house undetected, if the series was given the green light, the murderer and suspects would all be together again—a dangerous proposition.
All this was in Leo’s mind as he and Timmy walked home from Saint David’s on Eighty-ninth Street off Fifth Avenue to the apartment, eight blocks away on Lexington Avenue and Ninety-fourth Street. After Greg’s death Laurie had moved immediately, unable to bear the sight of the playground where Greg had been shot.
A passing police cruiser slowed as it drove by. The officer in the passenger seat saluted Leo.
“I like it when they do that to you, Grandpa,” Timmy announced. “It makes me feel safe,” he added matter-of-factly.
Be careful, Leo warned himself. I’ve always told Timmy that if I wasn’t around and he or his friends had a problem they should run to a police officer and ask for help. Unconsciously, he tightened his grip on Timmy’s hand.
I've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes