Read Butterfield Institute - 01 - The Halo Effect Online

Authors: M. J. Rose

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Psychological

Butterfield Institute - 01 - The Halo Effect (37 page)

BOOK: Butterfield Institute - 01 - The Halo Effect
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“Not with me. After what we’ve been through together, I can’t. I have no objectivity left.”

“You saved my life,” she said, and took my hand.

“I wish I had. But it’s really the reverse. You saved my life. You stabbed him.”

I couldn’t say the words without shaking. Without shutting my eyes against the sight of Elias falling back and pulling me with him, from the feeling of his fingers around my neck. My hand instinctively went there now. When would I stop wanting to touch my own neck? When would the black-and-blue necklace of bruises go away?

“We saved each other.” She smiled.

Nina and Gil went downstairs to get coffee and we were alone. Two sisters, related by blood, but not ours. A maniac’s blood, which together we had spilled.

“How did you do it, Cleo? You’d been bound and gagged in that closet for almost two weeks. How did you do it?”

“I wasn’t there. Not me. I played a part. The part of a prostitute being held by a madman. She’s the one who takes over when I’m with clients.”

I nodded. I knew about that. It was acting.

“I really want to get back into therapy,” she repeated.

I couldn’t help her with the scars she had left and the questions she would need to ask and answer. “You can see Nina. She’s the best therapist I know,” I told her.

“No, you are. You saved my life. I can’t do much better than that.”

“What saved our lives were those shoes. Weapons. You told me that the first time you came to see me.”

She took my hand and held it. I watched us from a distance. She was skinny and exhausted. Held captive by a man who was sure he could take a whore and turn her into a Madonna. Even if it killed her.

And it almost had.

59
 

N
oah called me on my cell phone Tuesday night to tell me what he’d found out.

“Elias Beecher fooled us all. As a young man he’d gone to a Jesuit seminary and was preparing to become a priest when he raped a young woman. His father had it all hushed up. There was no arrest, no trial. He transferred to a secular college, graduated with honors and went on to law school. So you were right about that. We also traced the nun’s habits to Elias’s office in the Netherlands Antilles. You were right about that, too.”

“His office? I thought they had to be shipped to a church.”

“Well, the order was sent to Our Lady of Sorrows Church at 1212 Fairway Drive. But there is no church at that address. It’s an office building leased to Elias Beecher’s law firm.”

“And the diamond cross, did he buy that for her?”

“No. She bought that for herself.”

So Gil had guessed that one right.

“We were five minutes behind you. On our way to his apartment when you called 911.”

“You were? How come?”

“The prostitute who ran away from him in the hotel had just finished with our artist. I recognized Elias from the sketch right away.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I nodded, forgetting again that he couldn’t see me, and then said yes.

“Are you?”

“No. Yes.” I offered a weak laugh. “I have no idea.”

“I’d like to see you,” he said.

“No. Not yet.”

“Will you call me?” he asked.

“I can’t figure that out now. Dulcie has an audition tomorrow. She wants me to be there.”

“That’s great.”

“No. It’s all wrong. I don’t know if I can go.”

“Morgan, I’d like to come over and talk to you.”

“No. I’m at Nina’s. I’m tired. I’m confused.”

He didn’t pressure me. He was probably as familiar with someone in shock as I would have been.

“Well, when you are ready, I’m here,” he said in his low, melodious voice.

When I got off the phone, Nina cast me a questioning glance but didn’t ask me about the call. Instead, she made me more tea and talked me into taking a nap. I listened to her, did everything she said. I needed her to make all the decisions for me. I was in no shape to make them for myself.

Later, after the nap and dinner, she asked me about my plans and I told her I thought I’d go home the next day. She didn’t think I was ready. We argued about it, finally coming to an agreement that she’d approve of my going home, as long
as I promised to come back at the first sign that I might not be ready.

“And I’ll come with you when you go to Dulcie’s audition tomorrow,” she offered.

I was sitting in her living room, cross-legged on the floor, petting her standard poodle, Madeline, over and over, stroking her silky ears.

“I’m not sure I’m going.”

“She’s counting on you,” Nina said in her most motherly tone.

“No, she’s given up on me,” I said.

“She’s a twelve-year-old kid who has her heart set on being an actress. Right now you are the only one standing in her way.”

“Better for her to hate me than to go out there and start dealing with the brutality of the business. At least I can save her from that.”

Nina sighed.

“But your daughter isn’t another woman you have to save. She’s not Cleo. She’s not your mother. Dulcie isn’t lost.”

60
 

I
t was hot out. I took off my sweater and tied it around my waist, then continued walking downtown. It was a long walk from my apartment down to Broadway and Forty-fifth Street, but I’d left early. I wanted to give myself time.

I had called Mitch and told him that it was okay with me if he took Dulcie to the audition. That he should tell her that if she got the part, I’d agree to her taking it.

“You should come with us to the audition, Morgan,” he’d said. “She doesn’t need your acquiescence. She needs your support.”

The theater was in the middle of the block. I pulled open the glass door by its brass handle and stepped inside. This was harder than I’d thought it was going to be. Every instinct I had said I should run through the double doors, find Dulcie and carry her out of here, no matter what anyone said. I wanted to protect my baby from this thing that was so large and absorbing
and tantalizing. I wanted to protect her from growing up. And I couldn’t. I knew that.

In my purse, my phone rang. I shut it off without even looking at it, took a breath and walked into the theater.

The informality of the rehearsal took away some of the magic. The house lights were on. Different people were scattered around the auditorium, talking, making notes, everyone doing something.

I didn’t see any of the kids and didn’t feel like asking anyone where they were.

As I slipped into a seat near the aisle toward the back, a tall, imperious man with heavy jowls, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, came out on stage.

“Okay. We’re ready to start. Bob, can you turn the stage lights up? And Janet?” He looked around.

“I’m here. I’m coming.” A heavyset woman with shortcropped red hair bustled up onto the stage carrying a sheaf of papers that she proceeded to put on the piano. She pulled out the seat, sat down, opened the first piece of sheet music, looked at it to make sure it was what she needed, and then put her hands on the keys.

The man, who I assumed was the director, called out a name and a young, pale blond girl rushed on stage. They talked for a few minutes about who she was and where she went to school and she offered up a few credentials.

Then Janet began to play and the girl, whose name was Amy, sang. The sound was pure and perfect. I sighed. This was going to be so hard for Dulcie. The competition was too good. The standards would be too high. Dulcie didn’t have this girl’s training.

Three more young girls auditioned. Each one equally good, at least to me. And then it was Dulcie’s turn. She walked on stage. Poised. Hardly nervous. Or so it looked from back where I was.

She was small, but she looked as if she had been poured from steel into a mold and would not bend. There was an antagonistic glare in her eye that gave me the shivers. But if she didn’t know I was there, who was the look for?

Janet began to play. The same song she had played before. Original music for the play. Words I had never heard before and that were still a little hard to follow.

“‘Can you hear me?’” my daughter belted out, her voice clear and strong and so sweet. “‘Can you hear me? Or are you still not seeing what I say?’”

That this creature was my daughter made no sense to me. She was a girl-child still, not someone who should be standing up on a stage and singing like this. How did she know where to find the pain she was singing about? How did she know how to give herself up to a song the way lovers give themselves up to each other?

“‘Saying I am here isn’t making it clear. Hear me. I’m here,’” she sang.

When she finished the song, the director talked to her a little about where she lived and went to school. And the people sitting closest to the stage listened, leaning forward a little farther than they had for the other four girls.

“Miss Abbott, can you stay behind for a few minutes after everyone else leaves? Are your parents here?” he asked.

I knew what this meant. So did she. So did the other four girls, who were crying now, silently, picking up their things and leaving the stage.

Mitch stood up and walked toward the stage.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“You are Mr. Abbott?”

“Yes, Dulcie’s father.” I could hear the smile in his voice as he said it.

From the back, I watched our own drama unfolding. My daughter hadn’t even looked for me. Not once had her eyes
searched the theater. Up on stage a lock of her hair fell into her eyes. I reached out to brush it back from twenty yards away.

This wasn’t what I wanted. It would make me scared every day and it would keep me up at night. She was too young.

I stood up.

And then, without having to search for me at all, Dulcie’s eyes found me and she gave me a smile that didn’t remind me of Mitch, or my mother or me.

“I’m here, too,” I said. “I’m Dulcie’s mother.”

An hour later the three of us walked out of the theater together. A perfect picture of a broken family but one glued together in a way that one of us would always have the two of us.

Mitch hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address of an elegant restaurant on the Upper East Side.

As we were getting out of the cab, my cell phone rang again. I looked down at the caller ID number.

“You two go in. I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” I said.

“You’ve got to be patient for the patients.” Dulcie laughed and rolled her eyes at Mitch, who rolled his back at her and then went inside.

But it wasn’t a patient.

“Hold on a sec,” I said into the phone as I watched their backs disappear into the revolving doors.

“I’ve been calling you all day,” Noah said in that long, slow drawl.

“I know.”

“You haven’t answered the phone.”

I didn’t know how to explain that, and so there was a long silence.

“Elias has been indicted. I wanted to let you know that.”

I nodded my head. Then realized he couldn’t see me. Why
did I keep doing that with him? Thinking he could read my mind and see what I was doing even when he wasn’t there?

“There is no question he’ll be put away for the rest of his life. And a few lives after that.”

I couldn’t do anything else but nod again.

“You are probably going to have to testify unless he pleads.”

Another pause.

“Morgan. Are you there?”

“Yes.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

I didn’t answer. I liked hearing his voice, hearing his breath in the silences between the words. Through the window of the restaurant I could see the table where Mitch and Dulcie had just been seated. My daughter looked older from a distance. Then she glanced up and noticed me. Her excited wave made her look her age again. I wanted so much for her, but all I could do was step back and watch her try to take her place in a world that I knew was not always kind. But we’d be there, Mitch and I. And Nina and all of Dulcie’s friends. It would be all right and it would be torture. But it was always torture with teenage girls.

“Morgan, where are you now?”

“Having a late lunch. With Mitch. And Dulcie.”

“You went to the audition?”

I nodded.

“So she got the part,” he said as if he’d seen the nod. “You are a wonderful mother. A lovely woman. And very scared and beat-up right now.”

There was so much I wanted to say that I couldn’t say anything. So many words were filling my throat. I wanted to feel his arms around me and to hide my head on his chest and to say them all. Instead, I stood outside the restaurant, watching my daughter and my ex-husband through the window and listening,
as I always listened, to someone’s voice. But this voice was Noah’s and it sounded like spices and honey, swirling around me, getting inside my head, encouraging me, urging me on.

“I’ve said enough,” he said. “After you all are finished with lunch I want you to get in a cab and give the driver my address. You need to talk. I want to listen. I’m a good listener, Morgan. Aren’t I?” And then he laughed. A long, slow laugh like a jazz riff on the piano, coming through the wire and pulling me toward him.

And I nodded. Certain this time that he could see me, somehow.

With Thanks to:

The people who made the book happen—Loretta Barrett, Amy Moore-Benson, Dianne Moggy, Donna Hayes and the entire MIRA team.

The people who helped me shape the story—Douglas Clegg, Carol Fitzgerald, Chuck Clayman and Stan Pottinger.

The friends and family who kept me sane—Dr. Kenneth Temple, Gretchen Laskas, Anne Ursu, Caroline Leavitt, Michael Bergmann, Diane Davis, Katharine Weber, Karen Templer, Angela Hoy, Mark Dressler, Lisa Tucker, Suzanne Beecher, Simon Lipskar, the Readervillians, Richard Shapiro, Ellie, Gigi, Jay, Winka and of course, Doug.

M.J. Rose (
www.mjrose.com
) is the international best selling author of several novels and two non-fiction books on marketing.

Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.

Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors - Authorbuzz.com

The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blogs- Buzz, Balls & Hype.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

BOOK: Butterfield Institute - 01 - The Halo Effect
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