For three days, Adam Blaine and his family had entered the Dukes County Courthouse, a modest two-storey brick structure with white trim and doors, and passed through a double door to a spiral staircase that rose to the courtroom itself.
Its new carpets were a rich blue, lending it a certain majesty augmented by the high ceilings and four fluted chandeliers. From the raised mahogany bench, framed by the flags of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Judge Aaron Carr presided. At a desk below him, the court reporter, a young woman with long blond hair and a grave expression, transcribed the proceedings; still lower were the tables for the prosecutor and the witness’s counsel. Black and white photographs of judges, some gazing out from the recesses of the nineteenth century, gave the room a further aura of gravity. But to Adam, the pallid walls and scarred benches where his family sat watching bespoke a certain world weariness, decades of human missteps and misdeeds and, on occasion, tragedies – traffic tickets, theft, assault, divorce, domestic violence and, less frequent, a fatal car accident. Murder came to this courtroom every thirty years or so. Now his family was trapped here, suspected of killing one of its own.
On a wall, a schoolroom-style clock marked the agonizing passage of time, its second hand twitching from mark to mark. Though four tall windows on each side admitted light, it was dulled by lowering clouds and a steady rain that streaked the glass. Gloom seeping into his soul, Adam could only watch, gripped by the foreboding that his careful plan to conceal the truth would evaporate before his eyes.
His father sat in the witness stand, preparing to deny what Adam alone knew to be true. The stakes for his family were reflected by the media clustered outside, denied entrance to the medical examiner’s inquest into the death of Benjamin Blaine, the most famous novelist of his time – a man as arrogant as he was gifted, a great sailor, adventurer, and womanizer; the man everyone believed to be Adam’s father. Another lie to be concealed.
The degree to which Adam’s mother and brother grasped these perils differed. Sitting to Adam’s right, Teddy Blaine was an uneasy mix of worry and gratitude, knowing only that, if this witness were believed, the inquest would clear him of murder. Clarice Blaine understood much more. With a characteristic exercise of will, she projected an aura of patrician calm, as perfectly maintained as her blond, tinted hair, which, even now, helped preserve the beauty of her youth. Beneath which, Adam now understood, lived the fear that had consumed her since the day he was born.
On the stand was Benjamin Blaine’s brother, Jack – a man in his late sixties, with stooped shoulders and silvered hair, whose long face was relieved from homeliness by an aura of modesty and kindness. The only person who knew all that Adam knew, and bore for them both the burden of burying it.
With an unwonted look of wariness, Jack faced his interrogator, District Attorney George Hanley, a bulky figure whose white hair and mustache marked him as Jack’s contemporary. From the front bench, Sergeant Sean Mallory, the ascetic, sharp-eyed homicide inspector for the Massachusetts State Police, studied Jack fixedly. So, too, did Jack’s lawyer, Avram Gold, a Blaine family friend and, of more import, an eminent law professor and defender of hard cases for more than forty years. Adam could not help but wonder if Gold knew, or sensed, how much hatred festered beneath the surface, and how much more was at risk in the next few moments than Jack Blaine’s freedom.
As Gold had explained to Adam, on Martha’s Vineyard the medical examiner’s inquest was invoked in the rarest of cases – a high-profile death where the circumstances were ambiguous, the media pressure unrelenting, the stakes for public officials high. Its modern genesis was the Chappaquiddick incident: the death of a young woman; the fate of a potential president; a swarm of media; a politically ambitious district attorney. In these circumstances, Gold went on, the authorities had needed an investigative tool to determine whether to impanel a grand jury. But, as Gold had trenchantly added, ‘No one intended for that tragedy to happen. Whereas a lot of people think someone in your family decided that your father deserved to die.’
Though Judge Carr had broad discretion to conduct the hearing, certain rules protected the witnesses and, especially, the person who might be charged. The inquest was closed; the potential subject – in this case, Jack Blaine – could be represented by counsel. The judge could bar all others from attending, though an exception was sometimes made for the next of kin of the deceased – as it was for Clarice, Teddy, and Adam, who had already given their testimony. But only Teddy, Adam was painfully aware, had told the truth as he understood it. The other three Blaines had committed, or were about to commit their own separate acts of perjury or omission.
For Adam Blaine, knowing this, the wait for the judge’s final report would be excruciating. The report could precipitate a grand jury, and then a trial, with Jack or Teddy accused of murder. But whatever the result, it would be Adam who had caused it.
Still and silent, he watched the district attorney approach the crux of Jack’s testimony. Peering at Jack from the bench, Judge Carr wore a half frown on his bespectacled banker’s countenance, the overhead lights illuminating his bald pate. Stepping forward, George Hanley put his hands in his pockets, the thrust of his belly lending his questions an air of aggression. To Adam’s eye, trained to survive by separating truth from falsehood, Jack leaned back a fraction: the posture of a man about to lie, who is unused to lying in public.
‘When you confronted your brother on the promontory,’ Hanley asked, ‘what was his appearance?’
Briefly, Jack grimaced. ‘Worn,’ he answered. ‘Almost enfeebled. I didn’t know about the brain cancer. But, looking back, death was peering through his face.’
Even now, this was hard for Adam to imagine. He had cut off all contact with Benjamin Blaine a decade ago, and had never returned to Martha’s Vineyard until Ben’s death. But the man he remembered, whose mirror image he was, would forever be imprinted on his heart and mind.
On the day Adam recalled, they had been sailing, the joint passion of a great outdoorsman and the young law student Ben had raised as his son. It was their last sail before the event that divided them forever. At the helm of his sailboat, Ben had grinned with sheer love of the Vineyard waters, looking younger than his fifty-five years, his thick, silver-flecked black hair swept back by a stiff headwind. To Adam, he resembled a pirate: a nose like a prow, bright black eyes that could exude anger, joy, alertness, or desire. He had a fluid grace of movement, a physicality suited to rough seas; in profile, there was a hatchet-like quality to his face, an aggression in his posture, as though he were forever thrusting forward, ready to take the next bite out of life. ‘When Benjamin Blaine walks into a room,’ Vanity Fair had gushed, ‘he seems to be in Technicolor, and everyone else in black and white.’ As a boy, Adam had wanted nothing more than to be like him.
They had even looked alike, causing others to smile at the stamp of one generation on another – the lithe, rangy frame, the black hair and dark eyes, the strong features which, more than simply handsome, marked them as distinctive men. But much had changed between them that fateful summer; ten years later, Ben’s death had only sealed Adam’s hatred. In a last, corrosive act, Benjamin Blaine had made Adam the executor of his will, whose provisions were a poisoned arrow aimed at Ben’s family. So Adam had stayed to wage war against a dead man, learning more than anyone, save Ben, had ever wanted him to know. More than he had ever wanted to know.
The last piece had come to Adam scant weeks before, at night, brooding over a photo album – a hitherto puzzling bequest from Ben – in the bedroom of the home in which he had grown up.
Stunned, Adam had willed himself to feel nothing.
But dispassion was beyond him. A single fact had transformed the meaning of his life, and his relationship to its central figures. From the first moments of his existence, he had been the catalyst for a web of hatred and deception that had enveloped them all: Benjamin Blaine; Adam’s mother; Ben’s brother, Jack; Adam’s older brother, Teddy; and Adam himself, the unwitting cause. He would not come to terms with this in an hour, or a year. But there was too much at stake not to start.
With deliberate calm, he dressed, walked down the hallway and knocked on his mother’s bedroom door. She answered too quickly to have been sleeping.
Cracking open the door, she stared at him. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Please come downstairs,’ Adam said. ‘There’s something we need to discuss.’
For first time, Clarice looked haggard, almost old. ‘Can’t it wait until morning?’
‘No. It can’t.’
The look of alarm in her eyes was replaced by a fear that seemed years deep. In a weary voice, she said, ‘Give me time to dress.’
He went to the living room, turning on a single lamp before sitting in Ben’s chair. For what seemed endless minutes, he waited there, the room quiet, the cool night air coming through an open window. He had never felt more alone.
His mother’s footfalls had sounded on the wooden stairs. Then she appeared, dressed in jeans and a sweater, a semblance of her usual calm slipping into place. But her posture when she sat across from him was taut, her hands folded tightly in front of her. The pale light made her face look waxen, accenting the apprehension in her eyes. ‘What’s so urgent?’ she enquired.
Adam composed himself. ‘Tell me about you and Jack. Everything, from the beginning.’
She was quiet, her eyelids lowering. He watched her contemplate evasion, the habit of years. Then she said simply, ‘It started before you were born.’
‘That much I’ve worked out. The question is why all of you perpetuated such misery.’
His mother searched his face, as though trying to gauge what he knew. ‘More than I’d understood, Ben was a selfish man. His early success made him hungry for more – more adventure, more accolades and, I suspected even then, more women. For weeks on end, he left me here alone with Teddy.’
Reluctantly, she nodded. ‘It happened over time, without us fully realizing how we’d come to feel. But he was everything Ben couldn’t be – gentle and reflective, more inclined to listen than talk about himself.’ Emotion made her voice more throaty. ‘He valued me. With Jack, I was never an accessory.’
‘Isn’t that the life you signed on for?’
Clarice flushed. ‘I suppose so. But it seems I needed more. Jack provided it.’
‘By sleeping with his brother’s wife,’ Adam rejoined. ‘A landmark in their rivalry. Imagine my surprise at discovering where I fit in.’
Her eyes froze. ‘I’m not sure what you mean.’
‘That since I was young, I always felt that something wasn’t right. I’d have liked to have known when it still mattered who Jack really was to me.’
For a telling moment, Clarice looked startled. ‘Your uncle,’ she parried. ‘A man who cared for you.’
‘Give it up, Mother. The album of photographs Ben left me was his message from the grave, showing that the summer before I was born, my supposed father was in Cambodia. But I look too much like him for that to be coincidence.’ Pent-up emotions propelled Adam from his chair. ‘Once I grasped that, it explained so much. Jack’s kindness toward me, and Ben’s ambivalence. Their lifelong breach. The warped psychology of the racing season that last summer, Jack pitting me against his brother.’ And, Adam thought but did not say, Ben’s desire to sleep with Jenny Leigh. ‘Most important,’ he finished in a lower voice, ‘the truth behind Ben’s will and, I believe, his murder. That when he presented you with the post-nuptial agreement, opening you to disinheritance, you were pregnant with Jack’s child. I’m the reason you agreed to it, aren’t I?’
Clarice sat straighter, marshalling her reserves of dignity. ‘Yes,’ she said evenly. ‘In legal terms, you were the “consideration” for everything I signed away.’
Hearing this said aloud made Adam flinch inside. ‘But why consent to all that?’
A plea for understanding surfaced in her eyes. ‘Is it really that hard to grasp? I did it for Teddy, and for you—’
‘For me?’ Adam said in astonishment. ‘Do you actually think making Benjamin Blaine my father was a favour? Then let me assure you that I’d pay any price to go back in time, and stop you from making this devil’s pact. For Teddy’s sake even more than mine.’
Clarice turned white. ‘Do you think I have no regrets? What you’ve just discovered has haunted me for years. But I had no choice—’
‘Would it have been so terrible to be the wife of a woodworker?’
‘Please,’ his mother said urgently, ‘consider where I was then. I had no money or skills of my own, and was pregnant with another man’s child. The price of being with Jack would have been penury, a bitter divorce, and scandal – with me exposed in public as the slut who slept with two brothers, and you stigmatized as the product of an affair. My choice was wrenching for me, and humiliating to Jack. But with Ben as your father, both of my sons would have the security you deserved—’
‘And you’d go on being Mrs Benjamin Blaine.’
To his surprise, Clarice nodded. ‘Whatever you may think, I’m not a mystery to myself. My upbringing was a tutorial in dependence – on men, money, and the security of affluence and status. I loved my father dearly. But I understood too late that, to him, a person was whoever he or she appeared to be. And when that was taken from him, Dad withered and died – figuratively at first, then literally.’ Her tone grew bitter. ‘I only wish my father had one-tenth of Ben’s strength. Ben started with nothing, took what he wanted, and made sure he kept it. I might have been afraid of him, but not once did I fear that he would fail. I’d never be poor, or desperate like my mother became. And, yes, I enjoyed the reflected glory of being his wife, and all the privilege that came with it. That was part of the bargain, too.’
‘What was in it for Ben?’
His mother seemed to fortify herself, then spoke in a reluctant voice. ‘Beneath the surface, Benjamin Blaine was a very frightened man. One night early in our marriage, he got terribly drunk. He came to bed and suddenly started rambling about Vietnam, this man in his platoon. He’d been exhausted and afraid, he said – that was why it happened. I realized without him saying so that “it” involved his fellow soldier. What tortured Ben was that it might be fundamental to his nature.’ Pausing, Clarice inhaled. ‘The next day he carried on with false bravado, like he hadn’t told me anything. He never mentioned it again. But on a very few occasions, when he was drunk, Ben’s tastes in sexual intercourse didn’t require me to be a woman. A brutal instance of in vino veritas.’
When he rolled me on my stomach, Jenny had confessed to Adam, I flashed on us in the lighthouse. But it wasn’t like that at all. Not what he did or the way he hurt me.
Sickened, Adam said, ‘And the others?’
‘Weren’t enough to banish his fears.’ Turning from him, his mother continued her painful narrative. ‘That I was pregnant by Jack made him all the more insecure. But I couldn’t bear the thought of aborting Jack’s child, and Ben was afraid of anyone knowing he’d been cuckolded by his brother. By exacting the post-nuptial agreement as the price for keeping you, he kept Jack and me apart: his ultimate victory.’
‘Hardly,’ Adam said. ‘After that, he tormented all of us for years. I’ll never fathom why Jack stayed.’
His mother faced him again. ‘Because he loved me. And you.’
‘But not enough to claim me,’ Adam retorted. ‘I should be relieved that Benjamin Blaine wasn’t my father. But now I’m the son of two masochists-for-life—’
‘You don’t know what it was like for me,’ his mother protested. ‘Or for Jack, waiting for whatever moments we could steal, the times he could watch your games—’
‘I know what it was like for your sons,’ Adam shot back. ‘I always wondered how a father could demean a boy as kind and talented as Teddy. Now I understand; that Ben’s only son was gay held up a mirror to his deepest fears.’ He stood over her, speaking with barely repressed emotion. ‘I became the “son” he wanted. I can imagine him trying to believe that my achievements came from him, not from Jack’s D.N.A. But he could never resist competing with me, just as he competed with Jack, my real father.’ He shook his head in wonder and disgust. ‘Even now, you have no idea how much damage you inflicted, or on whom. But knowing what you did, how could you stand to watch it all unfold?’
Clarice stared at him. In a parched voice, she said, ‘I watched Ben raise you to be the person he wanted to be. By accident or design, he made you enough like him to be strong. So strong that you can live with even this.’
‘In a day or so,’ Adam responded sharply, ‘I’ll work up the requisite gratitude. But not before we talk about the night Ben died. This time, I want the truth.’
Clarice met his eyes. ‘As I told you, Ben locked himself in his study, brooding and drinking. When he came out, he was unsteady, almost stumbling. Alcohol had never done that to him before. But it was his words that cut me to the quick.’ She stopped abruptly, shame and humiliation graven on her face.
Sitting beside her, Adam said more quietly, ‘Tell me about it, Mother.’
Haltingly, she did.
Ben’s face had been ashen, his once-vigorous frame shambling and much too thin – the ravages of the cancer, Clarice now knew, which he had hidden until the autopsy that followed his sudden, shocking death. He stared at his wife as though he had never truly seen her. ‘I’m done with this farce,’ he told her bluntly. ‘Whatever time I have left, I’m planning to spend without you.’
Facing him in the living room, Clarice had fought for calm. ‘You can’t mean that, Ben. We’ve had forty years of marriage.’
The light in his eyes dulled. ‘God help me,’ he replied with bone-deep weariness. ‘God help us all.’
Clarice could find no words. In a tone of utter finality, her husband continued, ‘I’m going to be with Carla. If there’s a merciful God, or any God at all, I’ll live to see our son.’
Clarice felt her bewilderment turn to shock. ‘Carla Pacelli is pregnant?’
Ben nodded. ‘Whatever you may think of her, she’ll be a fine mother.’
The implied insult pierced Clarice’s soul. ‘And I wasn’t?’ ‘You did the best you could, Clarice . . . when you weren’t sleeping with my brother. But please don’t claim you stayed with me for our son, or for yours. Your holy grail was money and prestige.’ His voice was etched with disdain. ‘You’ll have to live on love now. The money goes with me, to support Carla and our son—’
Startled, Clarice stood. ‘You can’t do that,’ she protested. ‘You know very well that I can. That was the price of Adam, remember? For what little good that did any of us.’ Ben slumped, as though weighed down by the past, then continued in a tone of indifference and fatigue. ‘I’m going to admire the sunset. When I return, I’ll pack up what I need. You can stick around to watch me, if you like. But I’d prefer you go to Jack’s place, your future home. Maybe you can start redecorating.’
Turning from her, he left.
Clarice had stared at the Persian rug, unable to face her son. ‘I never saw him again.’
Adam wondered whether to believe her. ‘How did you react?’
Clarice swallowed. ‘I was frightened and humiliated. He’d never threatened me like this before, and the other women who preceded this washed-up actress had come and gone. I didn’t know then that he was dying. But that Carla Pacelli would bear him a son made it real. To think I could lose everything was devastating.’
‘But you didn’t just sit there, did you? You called Teddy and told him what Ben had said.’
‘Yes.’ Clarice admitted. ‘I’ve been lying to protect him.’ ‘But you didn’t just call Teddy,’ Adam continued. ‘First, you called Jack.’
Surprised, she glanced at him sideways, then turned away. ‘He didn’t answer,’ she murmured. ‘So I left him a message, telling him what Ben had said and done.’
‘And where he’d gone,’ Adam said crisply. ‘Then you lied to the police about both calls. Do you realize what trouble that caused for Teddy?’
Clarice straightened. ‘What on earth do you mean?’
For the first time, Adam was surprised. He gazed into her eyes, and saw nothing but confusion. ‘What do you suppose Teddy did that night?’
‘Nothing.’ Clarice paused, eyes filling with doubt. ‘Isn’t that what he told the police?’
Adam weighed the possibilities: that she knew nothing of Teddy’s actions, or that she had caused Ben’s death – or both. ‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘Yet another lie. In truth, he confronted Ben on your behalf and left him still alive, along with a telltale footprint, on the promontory from which Ben “fell” to his death. Now you’ve lied him into a potential murder charge.
‘Maybe Teddy thought he was protecting you by concealing your call and his confrontation with Ben. But here’s what I think, Mother. You couldn’t reach Jack, and felt certain that Teddy couldn’t help you. And you were ignorant of one crucial fact – that Ben had already changed his will in favour of Carla Pacelli.’ Adam forced a new harshness into his tone. ‘In desperation, you went to the promontory. You found him weak and drunk and disoriented, like a man who’d suffered a stroke. So you pushed him off the cliff, hoping to preserve the prior will – the one that gave you everything.’
‘No,’ his mother cried out. ‘I never went there, I swear it. As far as I know, Ben fell.’
‘True enough. But one of you helped him.’ Abruptly, Adam stood. ‘Call Jack,’ he finished. ‘Tell him to meet me where Ben went off the promontory.’
Alone in the darkness, Adam awaited the man he now knew to be his father. The moon was full, and a fitful breeze came off the water. For a half hour he thought about the two rival brothers who, in their separate ways, had ordained the course of his life.
From behind him he heard footsteps on the trail. Turning, he saw the outline of the man for whom, Adam realized, he had been waiting all his life. Then Jack stepped into the pale light.
‘Hello, Jack,’ Adam said with tenuous calm. ‘Is there anything in particular you’d care to say?’
Jack’s face was worn, his eyes sombre. ‘That I’m sorry,’ he said at last. ‘I always loved you, Adam. For years my reason for staying was to watch you grow.’
Abruptly, Adam felt his self-control strip away. ‘As Benjamin Blaine’s son?’ he asked with incredulity. ‘You and my mother trapped me in a love–hate relationship with a man who resented me for reasons I couldn’t know. Then you pitted me against him in that last racing season. Do you have a fucking clue what came from that? Or do you give a damn?’
Though shaken, Jack refused to look away. ‘I never thought you’d leave this place – leave us all behind,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I still don’t know why you did.’
‘The reasons are my own, and you’ve got no right to know them.’ Adam caught himself, voice still husky with emotion. ‘There were times, growing up, when I wished you were my father. Now I wish you’d been as strong as the man who pretended I was his son. But for better or worse, I absorbed Ben’s will, his nerve, and his talent for survival. Along the way, I learned to trust absolutely no one – a useful trait in a family like ours.’ Adam paused, then finished with weary fatalism, ‘On balance, I suppose, I’d rather have you as a father. Yet, right now, I look at you and Mother, and all I want is to vanish off the face of the earth. But I can’t, because the two of you have created a mess I plan to straighten out.’
Jack cocked his head. ‘What do you have in mind?’ ‘We’re starting where you and Ben left off,’ Adam responded coldly. ‘Tell me how you killed him, Jack.’
Jack hunched a little, hands jammed in his pockets. ‘So now you’re the avenging angel, or perhaps the hanging judge. Whatever you’ve done in all those foreign countries, and whoever you’ve done it for, you seem to have developed the soul for that.’
‘No doubt. But not without help.’
Jack seemed to flinch. ‘Maybe I deserve that. So yes, I’ll tell you what happened that night. But before you judge me, listen.’
Excerpted from Eden in Winter by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 2014 by Richard North Patterson.
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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