All she could see was him.
Through all the dozens of people crowded into the spacious apartment, amidst the cacophony of voices, she could see him, hear him, and almost imagine that it was the two of them alone, away from all this Hell, away in their own world. It was possible she kept repeating to herself, even when the guests interrupted with questions and comments and sympathetic observations, having no idea she was close, so very close to screaming that they just shut up and leave her alone. Like now, when all she desired was to finally get to the other side of the drawing room – one which felt cavernous, endless to her – stand by his side, subtly brushing the tips of her fingers against his palm, and, in a whisper say You may not know it, but I love you. Have I told you that yet? I love you….
She was finally next to him, amazed she could be so fascinated with the simple basics of him dropping ice cubes into one high-ball glass after another. “You’re working yourself to death, darling.” She did not care who heard her call him that, but she was bothered he didn’t immediately respond, so taking a chance, she reached out and rubbed a hand over his upper left arm. “Kim?” She saw his quick glance before returning to his duties. “I haven’t had a moment with you all day.”
Kim grinned at Chloe. “It’s a very thirsty crowd. I just hope Savannah bought enough liquor. Don’t want a riot on our hands.”
“Well, I don’t know why you feel obligated to play host,” Chloe complained, her eyes narrowing as she held her head erect. “After all, it isn’t your homecoming.”
Kim chuckled almost condescendingly. “Aren’t you being a little nasty, Chloe?”
She almost sneered, but instead, there was a touch of melancholy in her smile. “I feel nasty when I don’t see you.”
“Well,” and he took a moment to pat her cheek in the manner of a young boy attempting to calm a distraught female relation, “you look very sweet.”
Chloe snorted. “Don’t lie.” She felt old and unwanted.
“I’m not.” His eyes revealed an affection that no one would have expected of Kim Carpenter Barrett. “You do look awfully sweet. That’s a completely wonderful hat, darling, it really is,” he confessed, admiring the pillbox style creation with a netted veil that fell just to her chin. “You always did look beautiful in your hats. I still remember…“ He paused.
“I still remember taking you to Byck’s to help you choose your Derby bonnet. Remember?”
“Of course I do.” Did he believe she would have forgotten?!
“I wanted you to be the woman that stood out at Churchill Downs. I wanted you to be the one that made everyone sit up, take notice and ask ‘Isn’t that Chloe Treadwell back in Louisville again? My God isn’t she stunning?’”
“Thanks to a Derby hat?” she teased, but little by little, the Kim no one saw, not even Savannah, was revealing itself. “I thought it was more due to the handsome man who was my escort.” She smiled adoringly at him.
It did not last though for he suddenly snapped back to the present. Almost robotically, he finished preparing the martini glass he currently held. “Now if you’ll forgive me Chloe dear, Savannah wants a cocktail.”
Chloe was about to say something completely unladylike as to what Savannah could do with the cocktail, but instead, she became her most demure. “So do I, Kim.”
“Well, here you go,” he thoughtlessly said, shoving a glass into Chloe’s grasp. Without missing a beat he started work on his fiancée’s request.
Without taking a sip, Chloe put down the crystal. “Kim,” she started, determined he listen once and for all. “Kim!”
“Why don’t you come to your senses? You know it’s all over between you and Savannah…or it soon will be at any rate.”
Kim was honestly surprised. “Why…Chloe…Why would you even say such a thing?”
“Deny it all you like, Kim, but it’s the truth if you’d only think hard enough about it. But you haven’t lost me.”
Just keeping talking – it’ll all make sense to him if you just keep talking. “But you haven’t lost me,” she gently stressed. “Look, why don’t we get married now? I see Judge Fischer right over there. He can arrange for us to get a license and we can be married…”
“Chloe, dear.” It was Kim’s turn to be convincing. “You don’t seem to realize the situation.”
“Yes, but I…” She realized that several had turned in their direction, curious to what was happening between Savannah Hunt’s aunt and the on-again-off-again fiancé, but upon seeing that they had been caught watching, they immediately returned to their own business. Softening her voice Chloe repeated, “Yes, but I do.” She placed a slight grip on one wrist. “That’s why you need me. We’ll get the best lawyers in New York; the best on the East Coast; the best that money can buy.“
“And when all this nasty ridiculous business is over, we’ll go away, anywhere you want, and we’ll forget about all this and start all over again.”
But to her astonishment, Kim carefully pried himself from her clutch and smiled as someone might to a person with below average intelligence. “Thanks, Chloe, but you see, Savannah needs me.”
A stab to her heart would have been more humane.
“Sorry,” was all he could add and with yet one more patronizing smile, he moved away, leaving Chloe Treadwell to stare in complete amazement.
“Uh-uh,” Bud teased Bessie when the maid – looking quite professional in a black uniform with a starched white apron – prepared to step away with the tray of finger sandwiches. He would not call them good friends yet, but a silent admiration continued to build between them, a massive difference from a few days before when the woman was ready to damn him to Hell and not think twice. Now she actually smiled at him, especially when she saw him talking to her mistress, just as he was now. In fact, she appeared delighted to see them together, particularly since they seemed so at ease with the other.
“Another sandwich, Lieutenant?”
“Is that what these are? Sandwiches?” he kidded, taking two of the small appetizers in hand…and grinning when he heard both Bessie and Savannah giggle with the greatest ease. “You can’t expect a grown man to fill up on a couple of these, right?”
Bessie only smiled and continued on her way through the crowd, but Miss Hunt was shaking her head and laughing, not caring that her friends saw her so comfortable in the presence of the man conducting her ‘murder’ investigation. “Did you ever eat at Sussman’s, Lieutenant?” she asked as Bud devoured one of the hors d’oeuvres with a single bite.
“Sussman’s, Sussman’s. Wait a minute. Aren’t they next door to Mosconi’s?”
“That would be them.”
“Nope never have.” He popped the second sandwich into this mouth. “I’ve heard they have the best pastrami sandwiches in New York.”
“Well, you would have heard right. And pickles as large as your head! You need to get there sometime. I promise you won’t regret it.”
“Hard to believe you know the best pastrami sandwiches in town,” he admitted, although he was now very aware that this was a young woman who was nothing as he originally imagined the day this case was dropped into his lap.
“Oh, now you’re going to hurt my feelings, Lieutenant White. Next, you’ll be arguing with me about whether the Bums will take the pennant this year…or are you more an American League man?”
And once more another layer fell aside, revealing more of the real Savannah Hunt’s personality, just as had happened when she insisted on making him breakfast only several hours before. He should have known better; realized from the reading of her letters and diaries, or the confessions of her neighbors and true friends that this was no ordinary society woman or a woman on the rise who would shove aside any in her path. None of that was accurate, no more than what his mind had concocted as he spent way too much time in her home, thinking her the embodiment of purity and femininity.
This was a woman he hoped to learn more about once all of this was over and all the suspicions were put aside.
Speaking of suspicions – or suspicious, Kim Barrett had slivered up behind Savannah. Both men glared at one another. The Southerner had been the perfect host from the moment the first guest arrived, and since there was no bartender available, had stepped into the role and played it flawlessly. His behavior and demeanor were so composed, few dared say anything detrimental, even behind his perfectly erect back.
“I have your drink here,” Kim crooned, his free hand resting on her waist. “Sorry, it took so long. This bunch loves my concoctions.”
“No problem Kim, thanks,” accepting the glass and – unconsciously – easing out of his touch.
He now gave Bud the most haughty of expressions. “If you don’t mind Lieutenant. I’d like a word with Miss Hunt.”
White’s own look was so relaxed he knew it would drive Barrett up the wall, just as it did when he pulled out the little pinball game to calm his own nerves. “I don’t mind. Talk to her as much as you like.” Giving Savannah a final smile, he walked away, leaving the couple relatively alone.
“I see he’s taking a new tack,” Kim snorted, coming to stand in front of Savannah and therefore blocking her last views of the handsome detective.
The remark confused her. “What do you mean?”
“Trying to make you like him to make you talk.”
“Oh Kim,” Savannah sighed, nearly rolling her eyes with annoyance, but then she grew more serious as she began, “Kim…tell me. Why did you go to…”
She was suddenly aware that someone was behind her. She turned to find Chloe Treadwell inches away
Chloe appeared surprised herself. She had been walking through the rooms as if in a daze following her brief talk with Kim, not watching where she was going, but the last thing she intended was to nearly crash into her— Say it – rival. But instead she maintained a calm exterior and after telling them “Excuse me” she immediately walked in the opposite direction.
Savannah turned back to Kim; saw that the moment had hardly phased him as he took a drink from his own glass. Swallowing hard, she continued with the question she attended to ask. “Kim…I wanted to ask…”
“Yes, darling.” How could his demeanor remain so unruffled with everything happening around them?
“Why did you go to the cottage last night?”
Kim’s blue eyes widened, astounded. “But don’t you know?”
Savannah shook her head.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t think of hiding that shotgun.”
Now it was Savannah’s eyes that expanded as her mouth opened once, then twice, and it was only with the third attempt that she managed “What…What shotgun?” She was flabbergasted at what he could mean.
“The one I gave you,” he insisted, paying no attention to Savannah’s obvious surprise.
Slowly shaking her head, her lips parted, her imagination walking through the cabin’s interior as she tried to remember….Of course – the shotgun! Good Lord, it had been hanging on the wall above the fireplace for so long, she had completely forgotten its’ existence! It was not that she hated or was uncomfortable around firearms, but unless it had been for defense or a sudden decision to learn more about hunting, she did not feel she had a use for it. So there it had remained, simply another decoration….
“But you don’t have to lie to me, darling.”
What did he mean by that?
“I’ll stand by you,” Kim drawled, reaching out to take her free hand, but instead finding himself rebuffed as Savannah backed away, nearly stumbling into a chair as she rushed away from him.
She was uncertain how many overheard the conversation, but she was sure every eye in the apartment was watching as her pace quickened, taking her in a straight path through the room. Their heads came together in hurried chit chat to discuss what had just occurred. She no longer cared and was secretly cursing Lydecker for inviting this throng of vultures into her home, not when all she desired was to be alone. But for now, she did not stop until she was inside the protective walls of her bedroom with the door firmly shut behind her, and even then, she was not alone.
Chloe Treadwell was standing before the vanity, admiring herself in the silver trimmed mirror. In fact, she did not turn her head; instead, she allowed her eyes to briefly shift towards her obviously nervous niece before returning to the more important action of smoothing the imaginary wrinkles from her Chanel suit.
“What’s the matter Savannah?” she asked nonchalantly.
Despite not wanting the company, the young woman managed to somewhat relax as she sat on the bench seat before the dresser. “Oh, I guess I’m just nervous that’s all.” Only now did she realize that the martini glass was still in her grip. She hurriedly set it down.
Chloe sighed, reaching into her handbag for a gold lipstick holder and a matching compact. “So am I,” she candidly admitted. “White suspects Kim.”
“He seems to suspect me too,” Savannah nervously replied. “And so do some of my friends,” she sadly added, recognizing this as one of those times that separated your true friends from those who only pretended to be.
“You?” Chloe laughed, carefully applying her face powder. “Don’t be absurd. You could never do a thing like that.”
“And Kim?” As much as she hated to ask, it seemed the right thing to do, even if she did not wish to hear the truth.
“Oh, I don’t think he did it…but he’s capable of it.”
Savannah was afraid of that much. Underneath the façade of the proper Southern gentleman was a quick-tempered man with a dark side he was not unwilling to reveal if necessary. The business world could bring out the worst in an individual if they permitted it. She had seen that too many times during her own rise. Kim did what he felt necessary in his own mind while going out of his way not to hurt the woman he claimed to love. Now the selfishness, the lies, the obvious cheating – all the attributes she had tried to defend and deflect crashed upon on her…and she deserved it.
Chloe, meanwhile, eased the puff back into its’ place before fingering the lipstick case. Staring down at Savannah she calmly asked, “Are you as interested in White as he is in you?”
Savannah did not flinch at the question but instead continued to look ahead as she considered the last few minutes. “But Chloe, I only met him last night.”
“That’s more than long enough sometimes,” the younger woman was told as Chloe carefully maneuvered the brush over her lips. “Anyway, he’s better for you than Kim. Anybody is….And – Kim’s better for me.”
“Why?” Savannah’s inquiry was almost innocent in nature.
“Because I can afford him,” she managed to say while applying the lip color, “and I understand him. He’s no good, but he’s what I want. I’m not a nice person, Savannah. Neither is he. He knows I know just what he is.” She replaced the brush into the container, continuing her toiletry as if the two women were discussing nothing more crucial than the latest fashions. “He also knows I don’t care. We belong together because we’re both weak and can’t seem to help it. That’s why I know he’s capable of murder. He’s like me.”
Savannah shifted so as to look up at her aunt, stunned at such a declaration.
But Chloe straightened her hat and calmly said, “No dear, I didn’t.” She eased the veil back over her lovely face. “But I thought of it.” And with that final nonchalant admission, she picked up her clutch and was gone.
After a few more minutes alone, Savannah returned to the drawing room. Once more, back in the crowd, she quietly promised herself to give Sid a piece of her mind about inviting all these unwanted people. Better still, perhaps she would scold him right now while she was in the mood, noticing him standing near the fireplace and – as usual – the center of everything! He was regaling those around him about his conversation with ‘our missing mutual friend Orson’. She nearly chuckled when she caught Bud rolling his eyes and not caring that his ‘oh brother’ was heard. So she decided instead to approach him, thinking that his humor was what she needed and not Sid’s discussion of some telephone chat with the notorious director.
She paid no attention to the ringing phone or that Bessie was picking it up. She did not hear her maid’s “Hello? Yes? Yes. Oh, just one moment please.”
Savannah smiled up at Bud. “I saw you,” she teased.
“Guess you didn’t know Sid is friends with Orson Welles.”
“Nope, I didn’t.” His blue eyes twinkled. “But I kinda figured they might run in the same circles. How ‘bout you? You ever meet the man that scared half the country to death a few years back?” he asked, referring to the now infamous War of the Worlds scandal.
“As a matter of fact…“
“Excuse me. Yes, Bessie?”
“The telephone. It’s for you.”
“Oh, thanks, Bessie. Excuse me, Miss Hunt.” He politely bowed his head, obviously reluctant to leave her side.
“You’re excused, Lieutenant White. I’ll tell you more in a bit,” she replied, reluctant he had to leave.
“White.” Bud paused, listening to the caller on the other side. “Yeah, I know.” His voice rose. It intentionally grew more somber and forceful, intending for everyone present to hear him. “Don’t worry. I told you I’d bring in the killer today.”
The clichéd ‘could have heard a pin drop’ was suitable. The entire apartment grew silent, every individual freezing in the spot where they stood. Nearly everyone. Sid drifted between the guests, pushing his way to Savannah’s side, even as his eyes remained focused on the Homicide detective.
“Yeah,” Bud continued, just as forceful as before. “I was gonna make the arrest when you called.”
Curious voices murmured and whispered, the majority turning their attention to the area where Chloe, Kim, Savannah and now Sid waited with the same breathless anticipation as all those present.
“No, I can’t tell you now.” Bud glimpsed over his shoulder at the expectant horde. “I’m not alone. You’ll see when I come in. Yeah, right…Right. See you later.”
The receiver was put down and taking a deep breath, his expression grave, he slowly walked over to those he considered the main players. He first paused before Kim, immediately noting how Chloe Treadwell stepped in front of her supposed future nephew-in-law, even to the point of protectively wrapping her fingers around one of the man’s upper arms. Her look was so fierce, Bud was certain she was prepared to tackle every policeman in the room if it came to that, so her relief was obvious when Bud stepped away…
And now moved to Sid, staring him down almost threateningly before the steely cop eyes shifted to Savannah.
She had been observing Bud’s movements from the time he hung up the phone, her breath quickening as he passed from Kim and Chloe to Sid…and then stopped in front of her. One look on his features told her all she needed to know before he spoke, all of their past conversations and even the breakfast attempt becoming an illusion.
“All right. Let’s go,” Bud told her.
Savannah’s breath caught in her chest, her legs almost collapsing underneath her. “You mean…“ she finally managed. Nothing more would emerge from her mouth, not that she felt she needed to say more. It was obvious what was happening and this was it, what she feared.
Bud nodded. “Yeah,” he simply said.
“Oh no!” Bessie screamed, dropping the tray she had carried. Panic-stricken, she repeated “No, no, no” as she ran over to where her mistress stood. She looked at Savannah, then Bud, her eyes pleading. “Not Miss Hunt….Please!”
Savannah, however, was calm; her beautiful face expressing a sense of relief and finality as she touched the devoted servant’s cheek. “Thank you, Bessie. Thank you…for everything. Now, will you please be good enough to go and get me my things?” She wondered where she found the strength to even say the words.
“Yes, Miss.” Bessie tearfully withdrew.
“Savannah.” It was Sid, who took her by the shoulders so as to turn her in his direction. He was exhaling so hard it looked as though he might collapse once again. “My dear. Don’t worry, darling,” he panted, his lower lip trembling. “Don’t worry. Let them accuse you.” He fired an angry look at Bud before his attention returned to his protégé. “We’ll fight them. I have every weapon necessary. Money, connections, prestige. And my column!” Sid’s voice was not only defiant but breathless with expectation. “Of course there is my column. Every day, millions will read about you and rally to your defense.”
Savannah was about to reply, her skin beginning to crawl more than it already was.
Bud beat her to it. He had been scowling the entire time, his temper rising with every syllable emerging from Sid’s mouth. “You talk as if you wanted to see her tried for murder.”
Sid turned up his nose as he stared down Bud. “Yes! Yes, I would, rather than let you blacken her name with suspicions and rumors. Go ahead! Try to prove her guilty. Go ahead. Get on the witness stand with your poor shreds of evidence. I’ll expose each one of the cheap methods you used on her; show you for what you really are. When I’m done with you, you’ll be the laughing stock of the country.”
Bessie had returned, her attempts at trying not to cry having failed. Sniffing, she handed Savannah a casual coat, a scarf, and a small handbag, everything so perfectly coordinated that the young woman might have been going to afternoon tea.
“Thank you, Bessie.”
It was Kim’s turn to finally take what he felt was an appropriate stance beside his fiancée. “Savannah, I told you to watch out for this fella.”
Shaking her head, Savannah looked almost pleadingly at Bud. “Can we go now?”
But Barrett was not done. “I warned you,” he said loudly, wanting everyone present to hear.
Bud had hoped to make a speedy exit with the prisoner, but the conceited insinuations had pushed a final button. Turning to look back at the snobbish Kentuckian, White calmly told him, “It’s too bad you didn’t open that door Friday night, Barrett.”
His face reddening, Kim’s nostrils flared as he furiously snatched one of the lieutenant’s shoulders and growled “Wait a minute,” intending to give this inferior son-of-a-bitch a piece of his mind.
The last thing he expected was to double over in pain when a large fist connected with his abdomen! In fact, his body was so bent he never saw Savannah depart, flanked by an escort of New York’s finest. All Kim noticed was that the second the breath was knocked out of him, he heard a woman cry out “Kim!” – then felt himself collapse into Chloe’s loving hold.
“Oh, Kim! Did he hurt you darling?” she asked in soothing tones, her hands tenderly stroking his face as she leaned back against an armchair for support. “Darling?” she cooed again, her voice the only one he heard despite the babble of the guests.
And as far as he was concerned, she meant the world to him; was the woman he was destined to be with. Savannah Hunt could go to Hell for not recognizing what her aunt obviously had for some time. Kissing the palm now stroking his chin, he cuddled up to her, completely devoted and totally hers. “Chloe,” he sobbed, blinking back his tears as he placed his head between her breasts.
Chloe glared after the departing law enforcement. “Monstrous, monstrous man. I ought to have his badge for hurting you this way. My dearest, dearest darling.”