Read Back Bay Online

Authors: William Martin

Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction / Historical, #Fiction / Sagas

Back Bay (39 page)

BOOK: Back Bay
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Fallon remembered Katherine Carrington’s reference to her son. “How old was he?”

“His late twenties. My mother was carrying me when it happened.”

“Who killed him?”

“We never found out. Apparently he surprised a burglar who had just broken into the house. The burglar escaped.” She paused again and gazed out toward the ocean. “Of course, for most of my life, my own father has been as distant to me as Abigail Pratt Bentley. Just another link in the chain of the Pratt-Carrington past, another picture on the wall in the living room.”

Evangeline picked up the diary again and found her place. “Abigail calls her nephews into the study. ‘And, without naming it specifically, I told them each about the family treasure, the legacy left to us by my father. I told them that it was buried someplace in the waters around Boston…’ ” Evangeline stopped and looked at Fallon.

His jaw dropped. “The tea set. Still in the Back Bay mud. Pratt’s grandson must’ve drowned trying to find it, and Pratt just said the hell with it.”

“Now it’s in the museum,” she said firmly.

“Maybe not. Maybe it’s still out there buried under some brownstone.”

Evangeline finished the entry. “ ‘I gave each of them an envelope containing a clue and told them that if they ever wanted the treasure, which I now estimate would be worth almost fifty thousand dollars to the right buyer, they would have to stay together. Artemus and Elihu were polite but little interested in my story or the envelopes. Philip read his, then folded it and jammed it into his pocket. I thought for a moment that he was intrigued by my story, but then he gazed upon me with an expression of the deepest contempt and said—how it wounds me to use these words!—that I was a “meddlesome bitch unfit for his company.” He said that I had manipulated his father and his brothers, but I would not manipulate him. He then stormed out of Searidge, and we haven’t seen him since.’ ” Evangeline could feel Abigail’s pain, and her voice conveyed it.

“ ‘Oh, Lord, how hard I tried to make the boy love me and keep him as part of the family. How miserably I have failed.’ ”

A few days later, Abigail recorded that Philip had withdrawn the money held in trust for him until his graduation and had boarded a Pratt ship for London. She seldom mentioned him or, to Fallon’s disappointment, the family treasure again in 1845. She filled her
diurnal with business reports, thoughts about new investments, praise for Artemus and Elihu, and an old aunt’s admiration for her grand-nieces and -nephews.

It was after seven o’clock when Fallon neared the end of the diary. They had been reading for over four hours, and the sun was dropping toward the hills a mile or so away. The breeze had died down, and the air was still. Fallon was sipping his third beer as he read.

On December 30, Abigail began her summation of the year. It usually took her two days to write.

As he reached the last page, Fallon was quite amazed that Abigail could calculate her thoughts to end with such precision. “ ‘All in all, it would have been a very good year, except for Philip Pratt’s abdication. A more beautiful and intelligent man I have never met. His presence with Pratt Shipping and Mercantile would have been invaluable. I did all that I could to keep him in the fold. I even offered him a piece of our treasure. He rejected it. He rejected us. We have not heard from him in six months. I fear that we may never hear from him again. I pray that future generations will not have such disregard for my dreams.

“ ‘Thus ends this Year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred, and forty-five.’ ”

Fallon closed the diary and looked at Evangeline. For a time, they sat in silence, in awe of Abigail Pratt Bentley. She had told them much about the tea set, and more about herself. Her revelations had convinced Fallon that he was moving in the right direction, and Evangeline, almost involuntarily, was becoming less skeptical.

For supper, they drove to a little place in Dory Landing called the Chowder Mug, where they had steaming bowls of fish chowder, home-baked bread, salads straight from the garden, and a pot of coffee. Fallon added a wedge of apple pie with cheddar cheese, and Evangeline paid. Fallon said it was the best meal he’d had in weeks. They drove back to the cottage with the top down. The sun had set, and the night was crisp and cool, without a trace of the humidity that was soaking Boston. But Evangeline was still wearing shorts and beginning to shiver in the open car. She pulled the Porsche up in front of the cottage and ran inside.

Fallon lingered to enjoy the arrival of night. He had not been out of the city at night in months. The stillness, the clean smell of pine and salt, the darkness that seemed to gather near the ground like fog and rise until it obscured the tops of the trees, all seemed new to him once more. He breathed deep and rested his hand on his full belly. He felt satisfied, relaxed.

Evangeline came out again. She was wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, and she was carrying a man’s windbreaker, which she handed to Fallon.

“Let’s walk.” She started down the trail toward the water.

Fallon threw on the windbreaker and followed. “When we get back tomorrow—”

“Stay on the trail. This place is infested with poison ivy.”

He fell in behind her and started again to speak.

She interrupted. “I don’t want to talk about tomorrow or Abigail Pratt Bentley’s treasure for at least an hour. I don’t like to upset my digestion.”

They crossed the road and walked in silence to the edge of the meadow. Wooden stairs led to the beach, twenty feet below. The lights of Dory Landing gleamed to the south, and a full moon was rising out of the water. Fallon looked at Evangeline. A pretty girl in a sweatshirt, a deserted beach, the familiar tightness in his chest—he remembered it all from the nights of his youth, nights spent in the sand at Falmouth or Martha’s Vineyard, nights he would love to relive.

He moved a step closer. He wanted to kiss her, but he remembered the warning about keeping his distance. Beneath the cool exterior, she was skittish and unpredictable, and he didn’t want to frighten her off.

She bounded down the stairs. Fallon followed. On the beach, she kicked off her sneakers and started to walk. Fallon took his off, found the sand too cold, and put them on again. As they walked, Fallon lagged a few yards behind, sensing that she did not want to talk. Evangeline sauntered along with her head down as though she were looking for something in the sand. After some distance, she angled toward the water and sat down on the hull of an overturned rowboat. Fallon caught up to her and sat in the sand at her feet.

The evening chill was turning cold. Evangeline jammed her
hands into the pouch of her sweatshirt and pressed her leg against Fallon’s side. “You’re warm.”

He wrapped an arm around her legs, and they sat listening to the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore. After a while, she reached out and ran her hand across his arm and shoulder. He didn’t move. Then she placed her other hand on his arm and crouched down so that her head rested on his shoulder. He turned his face to her and she sat up quickly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re dredging up old memories.”

He realized that she was caressing the jacket, not him.

“You’re the first man to wear that in almost two years.” She slid down into the sand next to Fallon. “I was going to marry him. I met him after my first year of law school, when I was working for Legal Aid.”

“I didn’t know you went to law school.”

“Oh, yes.” She laughed softly. “I went filled with purpose. I was going to get all the sophisticated weapons I’d need to fight the battles of the generation. You know—Vietnam, racism, pollution, all the windmills we went tilting after in the late sixties and early seventies. And I hated it. The first year was unbearable. But I got through it and went to work that summer for Boston Legal Aid. Most of the cases I worked on involved landlord-tenant problems in poor neighborhoods and hassles between the Housing Authority and their tenants in the projects.

“That’s where I met Cliff. He worked in the D.A.’s office. He was heading a campaign against the drug pushers operating in the housing projects where a lot of our clients lived. He said he wanted to nail the big guys and keep all the little losers out of the public defender’s office. I had a few professional discussions with him, and they led to a dinner invitation. We fell in love with each other, and together we fell in love with the Maine coast.” She recited it all without emotion, as though it had happened to someone else. “But we never got to enjoy it. He pushed too hard, and someone killed him. They found his body in his garage. Carbon-monoxide poisoning.” She stood decisively, as if she could leave her memories in the sand.

“Did you quit law school?”

“I went to law school because I was committed. I thought I could make a difference. After Cliff died, I realized that the problems
are all too big to go away, and one crusading lawyer isn’t going to make much of a dent in any of them. Without him, the simple act of getting from one day to the next became a major challenge. So I decided to concentrate on me, on living my own life and letting everyone else take care of themselves.” She spoke softly, but with conviction. “Now, I grow my plants, I enjoy my work, and I seek whatever tranquillity I can find.”

Peter Fallon was beginning to understand her. Behind the defenses, he saw someone he wanted very much to know. He wondered how close she would let him come. He wanted to be gentle with her. He wanted to move carefully, but suddenly, he was leaping up and grabbing her by the shoulders. “Damn the tranquillity, Evangeline!”

She was startled. “What are you talking about, Peter?”

“I’m talking about this morning. About breaking into Searidge, about finding the diary.” The words began to pour out of him. “I’m talking about a challenge, something dangerous, like that fight on the roof. When I felt those hands close around my throat, I had to reach down and grab hold of all the guts and instinct inside me, and I had to tell myself I could make it. And I did. We both did. We were pushed to the brink, and we fought our way back. There’s nothing in life that feels better than when you know you’ve made it. The rush intensifies everything.”

She felt his fingers digging into her shoulders. She didn’t want to admit that he was frightening her. She tried to sound sarcastic. “I really think you’d be willing to risk your life for a few charges of high-grade adrenaline.”

“I made a big mistake going into history. I’m no scholar. I never was. I got dry rot from three years in the stacks, and I’ve killed myself writing a dissertation that nobody except my thesis board will read. In a few months, they’ll shake my hand and call me ‘doctor,’ and it won’t mean a thing, because I’m not going to disappear into some little school in Arkansas, and I can’t wait around until some bureaucracy offers me a job. I need something now. I need to find that tea set.”

She pulled away. In little more than twenty-four hours, she had attended her brother’s funeral, broken into her grandmother’s house, rifled through private papers, and fought her way out of
the attic. She had a bump on her head, her body was bruised, and she had been pouring out her past to a man she hardly knew. All her intellect and experience told her to get away from Peter Fallon. He was potentially dangerous, someone she ought to avoid. But Abigail Pratt Bentley had whetted her curiosity, and something inside her wanted what Fallon was offering—a challenge that was physical as well as mental, a test of her instincts and her intuition, a chance to see the edge after seeking so long the soft center. She decided to help him.

“Tomorrow, I’ll talk to my uncle and try to find out what’s going on, for my own peace of mind and our curiosity. After that, I’ll make no promises.” She turned and headed back toward the cottage.


June 1855

he white obelisk thrust proudly into the Boston sky. The American flag, the flags of the six New England states, and the flags of the Revolution encircled the monument and fluttered in the breeze. Red-white-and-blue bunting festooned the platform in front of the monument, and nearly a thousand people had gathered at its base to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill.

It was June 17, 1855, and the abolition of slavery was the issue of the day. After the band played “The Star Spangled Banner” and Dr. Henley of the Park Street Church delivered an invocation, William Lloyd Garrison stepped to the podium. He drew generous applause from his supporters and jeers from the many Bostonians who felt that Southern problems should be solved in the South.

Artemus Pratt, now forty-seven, sat near the stage with his wife Cynthia and his five children—Sarah, Artemus Jr., Jason, Olivia, and Henry. Artemus applauded lightly, and his family followed his example. Artemus Jr., a sixteen-year-old cut from his father’s
mold but without his father’s muttonchop whiskers, leaned toward Artemus. “By applauding the Abolitionists, aren’t we supporting a cause that could lead to civil war?”

“Most definitely,” said his father.

“Would not a war between slave and free states be injurious to our interests?”

“We would certainly lose our best source of cotton, but a war with the South would definitely benefit a manufacturing area like New England and a company like Pratt Shipping, Mining, and Manufacturing.”

William Lloyd Garrison was a balding man with tiny eyes and the angry expression of a country minister preaching hellfire and damnation. He was, by choice, a writer, but the circumstances of his crusade had forced him to become an orator. He began to speak in a thin, high-pitched voice. “Mr. Mayor, Reverend Mr. Henley, ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests…”

Behind him, in the place of honor, sat four ancient men, the last American survivors of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Behind them sat the first-generation descendants, one of whom was Abigail Pratt Bentley.

She was now sixty-five, although she looked closer to fifty. Her face showed few wrinkles. Her hair had only recently begun to turn gray. She was still strong enough to ride almost every week. She was respected by Bostonians as a patroness of the arts, a lover of music and oratory, an aunt and adviser to Artemus Pratt, one of the most successful businessmen in America. She was enjoying the day immensely. She put her head back and imagined that the crowd, the speakers, and the warm June sun had convened just for her.

BOOK: Back Bay
7.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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