Read Little Death by the Sea Online

Authors: Susan Kiernan-Lewis

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Little Death by the Sea

BOOK: Little Death by the Sea
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LITTLE DEATH BY THE SEA

 

 

Susan Kiernan-Lewis

 

Copyright 2011
by San Marco Press. All rights reserved.

 

Published by
San Marco Press at Smashwords

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for
your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or
given away to other people. If you would like to share this book
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the hard work of this author
.

 

 

 

PART I

A Sea-Change

 

 

 

Chapter 1

1

 

Maggie nodded at the waiter and touched the
rim of her bottle of Coca. She turned to stare out at the
Mediterranean, her head pounding, her stomach lurching with worry
and anticipation. If he didn’t come, she wasn’t sure what to do
next, whom to contact or, God knows, how to. Her French was
pathetic and she was aware of a certain amount of impatience from
most of the people she’d tried to communicate with thus far: the
concierge, the chambermaid (who’d brought a portable television set
to her room instead of the extra bath towels she’d hoped she’d
asked for), the waiter. And this was Cannes, for heaven’s sake.
What happened when she was forced into the villages among people
who were less accustomed to foreigners and their bad French? Her
eye caught the waiter’s again and she smiled. Promptly, he turned
his back to take another’s order. With a groan, her smile
dissolved.

She wore a pair of black linen slacks with a
gray silk shell top. Her dark hair cascaded down her back in a
straight curtain. She had an almost elfin face, heart-shaped and
perfect. Her mouth was small but sensuous and her large, green eyes
missed very little. She had an unconscious beauty. It was the first
thing people saw when they met her, but not the first thing they
thought of when they described her. Her dramatic, dark looks were
punctuated by the intelligent brow, the intense eyes. Yet her
manner was relaxed and secure: the product of a happy childhood,
and a privileged one.

From her seat in the Carlton Hotel patio, she
could see the Promenade de la Croisette, its grand Royal palms
lining the broad boulevard like Titans shading the procession of a
monarch. The air smelled rich and sweet, yet light too. If her
current situation and reason for being there had been different,
Maggie knew the afternoon would’ve been magical. As it was, she
felt woozy, like she’d been catapulted into a guest-starring role
in somebody else’s dream.

“Have you been waiting long?” He appeared
from behind her and was suddenly seated next to her, breathless yet
cool in all this heat. The accent was English, crisp, and
Oxbridge.

“Snarl-up in Nice, sorry,” he said brightly.
“You’re Miss Newberry, right?”

Maggie nodded, a prick of relief coloring her
face.

He was tall, he was dark, he was an absolute
stranger to her. He was going to help her find her sister’s missing
child.

“I thought so. Easy to spot from your
father’s description,” he said pleasantly.

“I’m so glad to meet you. I wasn’t
sure...is...is your French any good?” she asked, still clutching
her empty soft drink bottle.

“Is anybody’s? I mean, unless one’s born
here?”

He half-stood in order to flag down the
waiter.

“Hey, you! Ass-hole!”

Maggie swallowed an ice cube and began
choking. The waiter quietly retreated into the café. The man sat
back down and gave Maggie a perfunctory clap on the back.

“Want to go someplace else?” he asked. “The
Carlton seems a little crowded today.”

Maggie coughed painfully. “You are Mr.
Bentley, aren’t you? I don’t even know that and I’ve traveled all
this way and I...”

“Yes, yes, Roger Bentley, sorry. Look, old
girl, I really can help, you know.”

Maggie nodded, suddenly miserable and
unsure.

“Let’s just go,” she said, groping for her
purse.

2 “How did you know my sister?”

She hunched toward him across the little café
table situated in front of the
Splendide
Hotel. She could
smell orange blossoms as she watched the Mediterranean Sea
stretched out dramatically before them.

“I didn’t, in fact. Isn’t this a much better
place? I should’ve suggested it in the beginning.”

“You didn’t know my sister?”

Maggie watched the man closely. His manner
seemed careless to her, condescending. She found herself wanting
very much to trust him, to believe him. Perhaps even in spite of
the facts. He was, after all, all she had.

“Not really. Met her once or twice. See? It’s
got a view every bit as nice as the Carlton’s.” He waved a hand at
the vista from their table. Snowy whitecaps peaked periodically on
the azure sea as they watched. “Even better if you take into
consideration—“

“What do you mean, you didn’t know my
sister?”

“Well, I didn’t know her, did I? Doesn’t mean
I can’t help.”

“How can you help? You haven’t even met the
child’s mother. The girl was taken while she was with Elise. You
said you knew about it. You knew who took her. You...”

“I do know. Look, I’m sorry if you thought I
could give you some information on your sister, I just didn’t know
her.” He took a short sip from his tea cup. “Oh, enough to say
hello, or something, in the street, but even then—“

“How do you think you can help me? I flew
here from Atlanta, you know, this morning, because you led my
parents to believe that you knew what had happened and could help
me find my niece. I’m not in the habit of flying all the way to
effin’ France on vague meanings. You said—“

“I must say, I think it’s incredible how you
Americans are always running on about what a big bloody event it is
if you have to take a transatlantic flight for any reason. You’d
think you were personally sailing across the ocean in the Santa
Maria or something. Most civilized people of the world think
nothing of jaunting off to Jo-berg or Auckland or some such place,
would do it in a tick, but the Americans have to act like it’s this
great bloody journey. Escapes me how the lot of you have come so
far, I must say.”

Bentley sugared his teacup heavily and picked
up the pretty china teapot from the table. He posed it over
Maggie’s cup first and looked at her inquiringly. She looked back
at him, dumbfounded.

“Look...” He poured her tea anyway and then
his own. “I meant what I said. No, I didn’t know your sister. Yes,
I think I can help you find the little girl. That’s what your
father said on the phone you wanted. I mean, if you want
information on your sister, I’m sure you can get that sort of thing
from one of her boyfriends...I can get you some names, if you’d
like.”

Maggie pushed her teacup away and gripped the
handle of her purse.

“The point is, Mr. Bentley,” she said, “that
I do not see how you think you can help me if you didn’t know my
sister. What was the extent of your involvement in this? Getting
the tag number of the car that snatched Nicole?”

“No, Miss Newberry. Driving the car that
snatched Nicole.”

3

Maggie turned slightly on the bed to catch
her image in the hotel room mirror. She appeared fagged and
withered in her blue cotton pantsuit—too hot and somehow contrived
for the French seashore. Her hand looked frail in the reflection as
it held the large white telephone receiver to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Mother? It’s me,” Maggie said, turning away
from the mirror and speaking into the receiver.

“Darling! Is everything all right?”

“Yes, I think so. I met the guy Dad talked to
and he’s very nice and I think he’s going to help us find
Nicole.”

“Maggie, are you sure he’s all right? This
all seems so...”

“No, really, Mother, I know he can help. He’s
very nice. Not to worry, okay?”

“Does he...did he know anything about
Elise?”

Maggie could hear the hope in her mother’s
voice. “I...he said he doesn’t know her, Mom,” she said.

“I see.”

“But he thinks he knows where Nicole is,” she
hurried on. “And he can help us get her.”

Maggie thought back to the phone call her
father had received from Roger Bentley just four days earlier.
Roger had told him that he was in possession of information that
could help them locate Elise’s missing daughter, Nicole.

“Maggie, just promise you’re being careful?”
her mother said into her ear.

“Mother, please don’t worry. Everything is
fine. This guy, Bentley, thinks I’ll have Nicole by tomorrow
evening. I’m planning on being on the last flight out of Nice to
Atlanta either tomorrow night or first thing the next morning. But,
I’ll call you first, to confirm.”

“With...the little girl.”

“Yes, Mom, of course. With Nicole.”

“Is...is the child’s father there?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think so. I think
Gerard left the area and left Nicole with some friends, or
something. It’s all sort of hazy, that part. I drove by Elise’s old
apartment, Mom. It was very pretty. It was sort of tucked away off
this little cobblestone walkway and there were big pots of
geraniums and things all over the place. You would’ve loved it. It
was really sort of beautiful. I took a picture of it.”

Maggie didn’t know why she was telling her
mother this. Maybe she wanted to let her know that she had made
contact with a part of Elise’s life that they’d always been denied
before. Surely her mother had to be curious as to where her
daughter had lived, the market Elise must have visited for her
fresh vegetables and fruit, the little Catholic church at the end
of the cobblestone cul-de-sac that she might even have visited from
time to time.

Maggie heard an unsteadiness in her mother’s
voice and didn’t know whether to be glad for it or guilty for
having caused it.

“I’m glad, dear.”

“I’m going to police headquarters
tomorrow...to see...you know.. if they know anything more about
Elise.”

“Your father’s people are working on that
from this end too. But, of course, anything you can find...well,
that would be very good.”

“I know, Mom, I know. I just wanted you to
....I just wish, in a way, that you could be here too. And you
could see that it’s not a slum or anything...she really lived in a
nice little apartment.” Maggie felt the limpness of her words.

“Please be careful, darling.”

“I will, Mom.” Maggie glanced into the mirror
again. “Kiss Dad for me. And don’t worry, okay?”

Maggie disconnected and held the phone to her
ear for another moment. Then she dialed the hotel operator and
asked for another transatlantic line.

I wish I believed half of what I just told
you, Mother, she thought. She rubbed her tired eyes and resisted
the urge to look back into the mirror to confirm the haggish image,
testimony to her tiresome journey.

“Selby & Parker”.

“Hi, Dierdre, it’s Maggie, is Gerry
there?”

“Hey, Maggie! How’s Paris?”

“It’s Nice, not Paris.”

“Yeah, wow. Here’s Gerry.”

“Maggie! Is Nice nice?”

“Hey, Ger, no, I’m pooped. I don’t relate
well to last-minute jaunts across the Big Blue. But this guy says
he can help me find my sister’s daughter. I think he can.”

“I understand. Don’t worry about it. There’s
nothing going on here.”

“It’ll just be a few days. I’m planning on
being back in Atlanta day after tomorrow—“

“Will you stop it? There’s no push this week,
okay? Take care of your business.”

“Okay, thanks, Gerry.” She paused and looked
into the mirror. “Wednesday, latest.”

Maggie hung up the phone, stood, and
straightened her rumpled jacket in the full-length mirror. She ran
her hands through her dark hair and tried to fluff it into some
semblance of a casual, tousled look. As a result, she looked like
she’d been dragged down a staircase by her roots.

Her eyes were a pale blue, set in a heart
shaped face, lips full, the chin strong and resolute. It was a
pretty face, Maggie knew, but not exceptionally so. Elise had been
the great beauty of the family.

At thirty-four, Maggie had never been married
and was mildly embarrassed by the fact. She worked out three times
a week at an all-women’s gym near her apartment in Atlanta,
indulged in a facial at least once a month at Macy’s and had the
dead ends trimmed off her razor straight, black hair every six
weeks without fail. Now, sitting here in a foreign hotel waiting
and wondering if she could really trust her new companion, Maggie
found herself in a situation she couldn’t control by picking up the
phone or rearranging her schedule. She felt out of kilter with her
body, her diet, and in the simplest attempts to communicate the
most basic requests.

BOOK: Little Death by the Sea
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ads

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