As Time Goes By, p.1Mary Higgins Clark
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Again and as always, thanks to my forever editor and dear friend, Michael Korda. He has steered me through this journey from page one to those glorious words “the end.” How blessed I have been to have him as my editor all these years.
I want to thank Marysue Rucci, editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. It has been wonderful working with her these last few years.
My home team is a joy to work with. My son, David, has become a full-time valuable assistant and researcher.
As usual, my other children have willingly been my first readers and sounding boards all the steps of the way.
And as always, thanks to Spouse Extraordinaire, John Conheeney, who has for twenty years listened to me as I sigh that I am sure this book isn’t working.
Nadine Petry, my longtime assistant and right hand, is gifted with being able to interpret my impossible handwriting. Thank you, Nadine.
When Where Are the Children was published forty-one years ago, I would never have thought that all these many years later I would be blessed enough to still be scribbling away. I relish finding new characters and new situations to put them in.
As I have said, “the end” are my two favorite words. But they wouldn’t be if there wasn’t a first sentence that invites you, dear readers, to turn the pages.
Thank you for continuing to enjoy the tales I tell.
Cheers and Blessings,
For the newlyweds, Dr. James and Courtney Clark Morrison, with love
The first wail of the infant was so penetrating that the two couples outside the birthing room of midwife Cora Banks gasped in unison. James and Jennifer Wright’s eyes lit up with joy. Relief and resignation formed the expression on the faces of Rose and Martin Ryan, whose seventeen-year-old daughter had just given birth.
The couples only knew each other as the Smiths and the Joneses. Neither one had any desire to know the true identity of the other. A full fifteen minutes later they were still waiting anxiously to see the newborn child.
It was a sleepy seven-pound girl with strands of curling black ringlets that contrasted with her fair complexion. When her eyes blinked open they were large and deep brown. As Jennifer Wright reached out to take her, the midwife smiled. “I think we have a little business to complete,” she suggested.
James Wright opened the small valise he was carrying. “Sixty thousand dollars,” he said. “Count it.”
The mother of the baby who had just been born had been described to them as a seventeen-year-old high school senior who had gotten pregnant the night of the senior prom. That fact had been hidden from everyone. Her parents told family and friends that she was too young to go away to college and would be working for her aunt in her dress shop in Milwaukee. The eighteen-year-old boy who was the father had gone on to college never knowing about the pregnancy.
“Forty thousand dollars for the college education of the young mother,” Cora announced as she counted the money and handed that amount to the young mother’s parents, her thick arms still holding tightly to the baby. She did not add that the remaining twenty thousand dollars was for her service in delivering the baby.
The grandparents of the newborn accepted the money in silence. Jennifer Wright reached out her yearning arms and whispered, “I’m so happy.”
Cora said, “I’ll have the birth registered in your names.” Her smile was mirthless and did nothing to enhance her plain, round-cheeked face. Although she was only age forty, her expression made her seem at least ten years older.
She turned to the young mother’s parents. “Let her sleep for another few hours, then take her home.”
In the birthing room the seventeen-year-old struggled to shake off the sedation that had been administered liberally. Her breasts felt as though they were swelling from the impact of holding her baby those first few moments after the birth. I want her, I want her, were the words screaming from her soul. Don’t give my baby away. I’ll find a way to take care of her. . . .
Two hours later, curled up on the backseat of the family car, she was taken to a nearby motel.
The next morning she was alone on a plane on her way back to Milwaukee.
“And now for the usual block of commercials,” Delaney Wright whispered to her fellow anchor on the WRL 6 P.M. news. “All of them so fascinating.”
“They pay our salaries,” Don Brown reminded her with a smile.
“I know they do, God bless them,” Delaney said cheerfully, as she looked into the mirror to check her appearance.
She wasn’t sure if the deep purple blouse the wardrobe mistress had picked out was too strong against her pale skin, but it was okay with her shoulder-length black hair. And Iris, her favorite makeup artist, had done a good job accentuating her dark brown eyes and long lashes.
The director began the countdown. “Ten, nine . . . three, two . . .” As he said, “one,” Delaney began to read. “Tomorrow morning jury selection will begin in the trial of forty-three-year-old former high school teacher Betsy Grant at the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, New Jersey. Grant is being tried for the murder of her wealthy husband Dr. Edward Grant, who was fifty-eight years old at the time of his death. He had been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She has steadfastly declared her innocence. The prosecutor maintains that she was tired of waiting for him to die. She and his son are the co-heirs of his estate, which has been estimated at over fifteen million dollars.”
“And now to a much happier story,” Don Brown began. “This is the kind of feature we love to present.” The footage began to appear on screen. It was about the reunion of a thirty-year-old man with his birth mother. “We were both trying to find each other for ten years,” Matthew Trainor said, smiling. “I almost felt as though she was calling me. I needed to find her.”
His arm was around a heavyset fiftyish woman. Her naturally wavy hair was soft around her pleasant face. Her hazel eyes were shining with unshed tears. “I was nineteen when I gave birth to Charles.” She paused and looked up at her son. “In my mind I always called him Charles. On his birthday I bought toys and gave them to a charity for children.” Her voice tremulous, she added, “I like the name his adoptive parents gave him. Matthew means ‘gift of God.’ ”
As the segment came to an end, Matthew said, “Ever since I can remember there was a need in me. I needed to know who my birth parents were, particularly my mother.”
As he gave her a big hug, Doris Murray began to cry. “It is impossible to explain how much I have missed my son.”
“Heartwarming story, isn’t it, Delaney?” Don Brown asked.
Delaney could only nod. She knew that the lump in her throat was about to dissolve into a flood of tears.
Don waited a few seconds for her to answer but then with a look of surprise on his face said, “Now let’s see what our weatherman Ben Stevens has in store for us.”
When the program ended, Delaney said, “Don, I apologize. I got so emotional about that story that I didn’t trust myself. I was so afraid that I would be crying like the mother.”
“Well, let’s see if they’re still speaking to each other in six months,” Don said, wryly. He pushed back his chair. “That’s it for tonight.”
In the next studio, through the glass wall, they could see the national news anchorman, Richard Kramer, on the air. Delaney knew that Don was in
She picked up her shoulder bag and, responding to a series of “See you Delaney’s,” walked down several long corridors and onto Columbus Circle.
Much as she loved summer, Delaney knew she was ready for autumn. After Labor Day, Manhattan takes on vibrancy, she thought, and then realized she was trying to distract herself from what was bothering her. The feature about the adoption had ripped open the walls that she had always tried to build around herself to keep the same subject from haunting her again.
She needed to find her birth mother. James and Jennifer Wright had adopted her when she was hours old, and their names were on her birth certificate. She had been born with a midwife in attendance. The woman who had arranged the adoption was dead. There was no trace of the name of the midwife. Her birth had been registered in Philadelphia.
It was a seemingly dead end. But she knew she was going to make a decision. She had heard about a retired detective who specialized in tracing the untraceable in cases like hers. She was so deep in thought as she began her one-mile walk home that, almost without noticing, she passed Fifth Avenue.
At 54th Street she turned east. Her apartment in one of the older buildings was next to the one where Greta Garbo, the legendary actress from the 1930s had once resided. Garbo’s famous quote, “I ‘vant’ to be alone,” often ran through Delaney’s mind at the end of a particularly frantic day at the studio.
The always-smiling doorman, Danny, opened the door for her. Her apartment was a generous three rooms but certainly a vast difference from the large and beautiful home where she had been raised in Oyster Bay, Long Island. She dropped her bag, took a Perrier from the refrigerator, and, putting her feet on a hassock, settled in her comfortable chair.
On the table directly across the room was a large family picture taken when she was three years old. She was sitting on her mother’s lap next to her father. Her three brothers were lined up behind them. Her black curly hair and dark brown eyes so obviously leaped out of the so-called family picture. The others had several shades of reddish blonde hair. Their eyes were varying shades of light blue and hazel.
It was a distinct memory. The first time she saw the picture she had begun to cry. “Why don’t I look like all of you?” she had wailed. That was when she was told that she was adopted. Not in those words, but as best as they could, her parents had explained to her, at that very young age, that they had very much wanted a little girl, and as a baby she had become part of their family.
Last month in Oyster Bay there had been a big family reunion gathering for her mother’s seventy-fifth birthday. Jim came in from Cleveland, Larry from San Francisco and Richard from Chicago, with their wives and children. It had been a truly happy time. Her mother and father were moving to Florida. They had given away the furniture they didn’t need, telling Delaney and her brothers to pick out what they wanted. She had taken a few small pieces that fit in her apartment.
She looked at the family picture again, visualizing the mother she had never known. Do I look like you? she wondered.
The phone rang. Delaney raised her eyes to Heaven but then saw who was calling. It was Carl Ferro, the producer of the six o’clock show. His voice was exultant. “Stephanie took the job with NOW News. We’re all thrilled. She was getting to be a ‘royal,’ ” he paused, “ ‘nuisance.’ She had the mistaken impression that she knew more than Kathleen.” Kathleen Gerard was the executive producer of the News Department. “Her resignation is coming in the morning. You’re our new co-anchor with Don Brown. Congratulations!”
Delaney gasped. “Carl, I’m delighted! What else can I say?” Then she added, “My only regret is to miss covering the Grant trial.”
“We still want you to. We’ll use rotating co-anchors until after the trial. You’re a great reporter. This kind of trial is right up your alley.”
“It doesn’t get any better than that, Carl. Thanks a lot,” Delaney said.
But as she put down the phone, she had a sudden disquieting moment. Her former nanny, Bridget O’Keefe, had an expression, “When things seem too good, there’s trouble on the way.”
“Willy, I really need a new project,” Alvirah said. They were having breakfast in their apartment on Central Park South. They were on their second cup of coffee, which was the time Alvirah loved to chat. It was also the time Willy had finished reading the Post up to the sports section, which he was anxious to devour.
With a sigh of resignation, he put aside the newspaper and looked across the table at his beloved wife of forty-three years. His mane of white hair, craggy face and intense blue eyes reminded older friends of Tip O’Neill, the legendary Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“I know you’ve been getting restless, honey,” he said soothingly.
“I have,” Alvirah admitted as she reached for a second slice of coffee cake. “There just hasn’t been enough to do lately. I mean I really enjoyed the river cruise through the Seine. Who wouldn’t? And to see where Van Gogh lived for the last months of his life. I loved it. But now it’s nice to be home.”
She glanced out the window to admire their view of Central Park. “Willy, aren’t we lucky to be here?” she said. “Just think what a comparison it is to our apartment in Astoria. The kitchen didn’t even have a window.”
Willy remembered it all too well. Six years ago he had been a plumber and Alvirah a cleaning woman. They were sitting in their old apartment, Alvirah’s feet so tired that she was soaking them in Epsom salt and warm water. Then the winning lottery ticket was announced on television. He had had to read their ticket twice before he realized they had won forty million dollars.
They had taken the money in yearly payments and always saved half of it. They had bought this apartment on Central Park South but kept the one in Astoria in case the government went broke and couldn’t continue the payments.
Then the editor of the Daily Standard interviewed Alvirah. She told him that she had always wanted to go to the Cypress Point Spa in California. He asked her to write about her experiences there. He had given her a sunburst pin with a microphone in it to record her conversations. The editor said that would help her when she was writing the article. Instead it had helped her to learn the identity of a killer who was at the spa. Since then Alvirah, with the help of her microphone, had solved a number of crimes.
“And I’m looking forward to seeing Delaney tomorrow night,” Alvirah said now. “She’s so lucky to be covering the Betsy Grant trial.”
“Isn’t Grant the one who murdered her husband?” Willy asked.
“No, Willy. She’s the one who is accused of murdering her husband,” Alvirah corrected.
“Well, from the little I’ve read about it, I’d say it was an open-and-shut case,” Willy observed.
“I agree,” Alvirah responded promptly. “But as always I’m willing to keep an open mind. . . .”
Willy smiled. “You better be ‘open’ to the fact that she’s guilty.”
Fourteen miles away, in her ten-room mansion in Alpine, New Jersey, Betsy Grant was brewing a second cup of coffee in the kitchen and staring reflectively out the window. Subconsciously she registered the fact that the signs of early September were present in the gold tone of the leaves on the elm trees.
The large picture windows made you “feel as though you were one with nature,” as the overly enthusiastic real estate agent had put it when he showed them this house twelve years ago.
After yet another sleepless night that memory was keen in her mind, as was the memory of the warmth in Ted’s eyes as he looked at her for her reaction. She could already see that he wanted to buy it. And what was there not to like? she as
Coffee cup in hand, she went upstairs. After Ted’s death she had gone back to sleep in the master bedroom again. She passed through the sitting room where they had spent so many happy hours together. During the fall and winter they would often turn on the fire in there and watch a television show they both enjoyed or simply sit together reading.
The swift onset of early Alzheimer’s when Ted was fifty-one years old had been an unexpected tragedy. Eventually she had blocked off the staircase to keep him from leaning precariously over the railing and had transformed the library on the first floor into a bedroom for him. At first she had slept in the small den next to it but then had turned it over to the full-time aide and moved to the guest bedroom and bath next to the kitchen on the first floor.
All of that kept whirling around in Betsy’s mind as she set the cup down on the vanity in the bathroom and turned on the shower.
Her lawyer, Robert Maynard, would be here within the hour. I don’t know why he’s coming, Betsy thought, with a trace of resentment. I know everything he’s going to say. I know everything to expect. As she slipped off her robe and nightgown she thought of the terrible moment when Maynard had informed her that the grand jury had indicted her for murder. The mug shot, the fingerprinting, the arraignment, the posting of her bail—all of these were fragments of memory that haunted her daily, no matter how hard she tried to banish them.
She showered, fastened her long, light brown hair in a comb, touched her eyelashes with mascara and applied a dab of blush to her lips. The weather report had said that the day would be sharply cooler. From the closet she selected a long-sleeved hunter-green cashmere shirt and dark brown slacks and put them on her slender body. She had stopped wearing all black four months ago when one of the columnists had commented that the accused murderer of Edward Grant was parading around in widow’s weeds. But she did wear only dark colors, even at home.
As Time Goes By by Mary Higgins Clark / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes