Little White Lies – Extract
Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, USA
She lay on the ground with her cheek pressed flat against the Persian rug, her mouth stirring sporadically, as if she were about to speak. Her hands were tightly balled fists at her sides and her breathing was laboured and shallow. Outside, amidst the muffled noise of running feet and barking dogs, a child cried out: David, perhaps, or Joshua? She couldn’t tell. Whoever it was, he was hurriedly picked up and hushed. It was nearly six p.m. and the hard, high ball of fire that was the sun had started slipping towards the horizon. It was only May but already the days were long and hot. A week ago, just before her guests arrived, she’d ordered the covers off the swimming pool. Every morning, the servants unfurled the large white patio umbrellas and plumped up the blue-and-white striped cushions, making the shimmering turquoise pool the centre of the day’s activities. Every day, including today. Today. Her skin began to crawl.
For the hundredth time, her mind skittered over the hours that had passed since that morning, trying to make sense of it all. The day had begun like every other day. She’d gone out early, just as dawn was breaking, drink in hand – orange juice, with the barest splash of vodka – just enough to get the day going. She’d dipped her feet in the heated water at the shallow end, enjoying the early-morning quiet. Toys, the debris of games begun and abandoned, lay scattered around the grey birch decking that ran all the way around the house. Toys. Children’s toys. At the thought of the toys, her lips began to tremble all over again. She moved her head a fraction and the rich, dense colours of the carpet rose up to meet her half-closed eyes. Yellow: pomegranate, chamomile, egg-yolk. Red: blood, wine, burgundy, ruby. Black: walnut, bark, night. It was a beautiful carpet. Large and soft, it stretched from one end of the study to the other. Expensive, too. She’d lied to Adam about the price, of course, knocking off a few thousand dollars, though she’d no reason to – it was her money, after all. But Adam was so unpredictable these days, especially where money was concerned. Her stomach gave a horrible, twisting lurch. Oh, God, Adam. He would be back from New York any minute now. What would Adam say? He would blame her, of course. Everyone blamed her and why the hell shouldn’t they? It was her fault. She was to blame, no one else.
Her mind began to wander uncontrollably again, darting back and forth over the day’s events but without any sense of order. When did it happen? Before or after breakfast? After she’d come in from the pool? Had she really told Clea to take a break? ‘No, no, you have an afternoon off, Clea. I’ll look after them. Come on, four kids . . . it’s not rocket science!’ She’d grinned at her. Clea. Lovely Clea, the cousin of one of the girls who worked for the Lowensteins, her neighbours. Betty Lowenstein introduced them soon after Tash arrived; she’d hired her on the spot. She seemed so nice. And so capable. It was she, Tash, who wasn’t capable.
You’ve got to get up. Her own voice. She tried to lift her head. It felt wobbly, as though it wasn’t properly attached. Footsteps approached suddenly; someone was coming up the stairs. Heavy. A man’s tread. It must be the inspector. No, not inspector – detective. Wasn’t that what they called inspectors over here? Detectives? Officers? Sergeants? No idea. The steps slowed and he came to a stop. She could hear his breathing through the door. She held her own breath. Please don’t come in. Not yet. A minute spooled slowly by, then another, and another. She waited. Just when she thought she might scream at him to go away, she heard him turn back. She exhaled very slowly, the breath leaving her body in short, sharp gasps. He was wary of her; she’d sensed it straight away. Something in the way he couldn’t quite hold her gaze, despite the seriousness of the occasion. His eyes kept slipping away from her to the cars parked in the driveway, the enormous house, the works of art, the furniture and the Persian rugs and the servants who kept flitting in and out like lost bees. She knew exactly what he was thinking. Rich bitch. Rich, foreign bitch. The line dividing the residents of the luxurious holiday homes along the water’s edge from the working class who lived in Edgartown was clear. Them and us. Rich and poor. The idle and working classes. But he knew nothing. He knew nothing about her, where she’d come from, what she’d done. He had no idea. And, idle or not, rich or not, the absolute worst had come to pass. Tragedies can happen anywhere, to anyone. She, of all people, should have known that.
He walked down the stairs, his heels clipping out a sharp, crisp rhythm that slowly faded to silence. Somewhere on the ground floor a door opened; there was an exchange of voices but she couldn’t hear what was said. There was the short, staccato burst of a walkie-talkie or a radio. A car swept into the driveway, scattering gravel; the dogs barked wildly. More voices. The house was beginning to fill up with people. More police. She struggled upright. Her knees and hands were shaking; her mouth was bone dry. It was time to call Rebecca.