PRETEND YOU DON'T SEE HER
It was the week after Labor Day, and from the steady ringing of the phones in the offices of Parker and Parker, it was clear to Lacey that the summer doldrums finally were over. The Manhattan co-op market had been uncommonly slow this past month; now, finally, things would start to move again.
"It's about time," she told Rick Parker as he delivered a mug of black coffee to her desk. "I haven't had a decent sale since June. Everybody I had on the hook took off for the Hamptons or the Cape, but thank God they're all drifting back into town now. I enjoyed my month off, too, but now it's time to get back to work."
She reached for the coffee. "Thanks. It's nice to have the son and heir wait on me."
"No problem. You look great, Lacey."
Lacey tried to ignore the expression on Rick's face. She always felt as though he were undressing her with his eyes. Spoiled, handsome, and the possessor of a phony charm that he turned on at will, he made her distinctly uncomfortable. Lacey heartily wished his father hadn't moved him from the West Side office. She didn't want her job jeopardized, but lately keeping him at arm's length was becoming a balancing act.
Her phone rang, and she grabbed for it with relief. Saved by the bell, she thought. "Lacey Farrell," she said.
"Miss Farrell, this is Isabelle Waring. I met you when you sold a co-op in my building last spring."
A live one, Lacey thought. Instinctively she guessed that Mrs. Waring was putting her apartment on the market.
Lacey's mind went into its search-and-retrieve mode. She'd sold two apartments in May on East Seventieth, one an estate sale where she hadn't spoken to anyone except the building manager, the second a co-op just off Fifth Avenue. That would be the Norstrum apartment, and she vaguely remembered chatting with an attractive fiftyish redhead in the elevator, who had asked for her business card.
Crossing her fingers, she said, "The Norstrum duplex? We met on the elevator?"
Mrs. Waring sounded pleased. "Exactly! I'm putting my daughter's apartment on the market, and if it's convenient I'd like you to handle it for me."
"It would be very convenient, Mrs. Waring."
Lacey made an appointment with her for the following morning, hung up, and turned to Rick. "What luck! Three East Seventieth. That's a great building," she said.
"Three East Seventieth. What apartment?" he asked quickly.
"Ten B. Do you know that one by any chance?"
"Why would I know it?" he snapped. "Especially since my father, in his wisdom, kept me working the West Side for five years."
It seemed to Lacey that Rick was making a visible effort to be pleasant when he added, "From what little I heard on this end, someone met you, liked you, and wants to dump an exclusive in your lap. I always told you what my grandfather preached about this business, Lacey: You're blessed if people remember YOU."
"Maybe, although I'm not sure it's necessarily a blessing," Lacey said, hoping her slightly negative reaction would end their conversation. She hoped also that Rick would soon come to think of her as just another employee in the family empire.
He shrugged, then made his way to his own office, which overlooked East Sixty-second Street. Lacey's windows faced Madison Avenue. She reveled in the sight of the constant traffic, the hordes of tourists, the well-heeled Madison Avenue types drifting in and out of the designer boutiques.
"Some of us are born New Yorkers," she would explain to the sometimes apprehensive wives of executives being transferred to Manhattan. "Others come here reluctantly, and before they know it, they discover that for all its problems, it's still the best place in the world to live."
Then if questioned, she would explain: "I was raised in Manhattan, and except for being away at college, I've always lived here. It's my home, my town."
Her father, Jack Farrell, had felt that way about the city. From the time she was little, they had explored New York City together. "We're pals, Lace," he would say. "You're like me, a city slicker. Now your mother, God love her, yearns to join the flight to the suburbs. It's to her credit that she sticks it out here, knowing I'd wither on the vine there."
Lacey had inherited not only Jack's love of this city, but his Irish coloring as well -- fair skin, blue-green eyes, and dark brown hair. Her sister Kit shared their mother's English heritage -- china-blue eyes, and hair the shade of winter wheat.
A musician, Jack Farrell had worked in the theater, usually in the pit orchestra, although sometimes playing in clubs and the occasional concert. Growing up, there wasn't a Broadway musical whose songs Lacey couldn't sing along with her dad. His sudden death just as she had finished college was still a shock. In fact, she wondered if she ever would get over it. Sometimes, when she was in the theater district, she still found herself expecting to run into him.
After the funeral, her mother had said with wry sadness, "Just as your dad predicted, I'm not staying in the city." A pediatric nurse, she bought a condo in New Jersey. She wanted to be near Lacey's sister Kit and her family. Once there, she'd taken a job with a local hospital.
Fresh out of college, Lacey had found a small apartment on East End Avenue and a job at Parker and Parker Realtors. Now, eight years later, she was one of their top agents.
Humming, she pulled out the file on 3 East Seventieth and began to study it. I sold the second-floor duplex, she thought. Nice-sized rooms. High ceilings. Kitchen needed modernizing. Now to find out something about Mrs. Waring's place.
Whenever possible, Lacey liked to do her homework on a prospective listing. To that end, she'd learned that it could help tremendously to become familiar with the people who worked in the various buildings Parker and Parker handled. It was fortunate now that she was good friends with Tim Powers, the superintendent of 3 East Seventieth. She called him, listened for a good twenty minutes to the rundown of his summer, ruefully reminding herself that Tim had always been blessed with the gift of gab, and finally worked the conversation around to the Waring apartment.
According to Tim, Isabelle Waring was the mother of Heather Landi, a young singer and actress who had just begun to make her name in the theater. The daughter as well of famed restaurateur Jimmy Landi, Heather had died early last winter, killed when her car plunged down an embankment as she was driving home from a weekend of skiing in Vermont. The apartment had belonged to Heather, and now, her mother was apparently selling it.
"Mrs. Waring can't believe Heather's death was an accident," Tim said.
When she finally got off the phone, Lacey sat for a long moment, remembering that she had seen Heather Landi last year in a very successful off-Broadway musical. In fact, she remembered her in particular.
She had it all, Lacey thought -- beauty, stage presence, and that marvelous soprano voice. A "Ten," as Dad would have said. No wonder her mother is in denial.
Lacey shivered, then rose to turn down the air conditioner.
On Tuesday morning, Isabelle Waring walked through her daughter's apartment, studying it as if with the critical eye of a realtor. She was glad that she had kept Lacey Farrell's business card. Jimmy, her ex-husband, Heather's father, had demanded she put the apartment on the market, and in fairness to him, he had given her plenty of time.
The day she met Lacey Farrell in the elevator, she had taken an instant liking to the young woman, who had reminded her of Heather.
Admittedly, Lacey didn't look like Heather. Heather had had short, curly, light brown hair with golden highlights, and hazel eyes. She had been small, barely five feet four, with a soft, curving body. She called herself the house midget. Lacey, on the other hand, was taller, slimmer, had blue-green eyes, and darker, longer, straighter hair, swinging down to her shoulders, but there was something in her smile and manner that brought back a very positive memory of Heather.
Isabelle looked around her. She realized that not everyone would care for the birch paneling and splashy marble foyer tiles Heather had loved, but those could easily be changed, the renovated kitchen and baths, however, were strong selling points.
After months of brief trips to New York from Cleveland, and making stabs at going through the apartment's five huge closets and the many drawers, and after repeatedly meeting with Heather's friends, Isabelle knew it had to be over. She had to put an end to this searching for reasons and get on with her life.
The fact remained, however, that she just didn't believe Heather's death had been an accident. She knew her daughter; she simply would not have been foolish enough to start driving home from Stowe in a snowstorm, especially so late at night. The medical examiner had been satisfied, however. And Jimmy was satisfied, because Isabelle knew that if he hadn't been, he'd have torn up all of Manhattan looking for answers.
At the last of their infrequent lunches, he had again tried to persuade Isabelle to let it rest, and to get on with her own life. He reasoned that Heather probably couldn't sleep that night, had been worried because there was a heavy snow warning, and knew she had to be back in time for a rehearsal the next day. He simply refused to see anything suspicious or sinister in her death.
Isabelle, though, just couldn't accept it. She had told him about a troubling phone conversation she had had with their daughter just before her death. "Jimmy, Heather wasn't herself when I spoke to her on the phone. She was worried about something. Terribly worried. I could hear it in her voice."
The lunch had ended when Jimmy, in complete exasperation, had burst out, "Isabelle, get off it! Stop, please! This whole thing is tough enough without you going on like this, constantly rehashing everything, putting all her friends through the third degree. Please, let our daughter rest in peace."
Remembering his words, Isabelle shook her head. Jimmy Landi had loved Heather more than anything in the world. And next to her, he loved power, she thought bitterly -- it's what had ended their marriage. His famous restaurant, his investments, now his Atlantic City hotel and casino. No room for me ever, Isabelle thought. Maybe if he had taken on a partner years ago, the way he has Steve Abbott now, our marriage wouldn't have failed. She realized she had been walking through rooms she wasn't really seeing, so she stopped at a window overlooking Fifth Avenue.
New York is especially beautiful in September, she mused, observing the joggers on the paths that threaded through Central Park, the nannies pushing strollers, the elderly sunning themselves on park benches. I used to take Heather's baby carriage over to the park on days like this, she remembered. It took ten years and three miscarriages before I had her, but she was worth all the heartbreak. She was such a special baby. People were always stopping to took at her and admire her. And she knew it, of course. She loved to sit up and take everything in. She was so smart, so observant, so talented, so trusting...
Why did you throw it away, Heather? Isabelle asked her self once more the questions that she had agonized over since her daughter's death. After that accident when you were a child -- when you saw that car skid off the road and crash -- you were always terrified of icy roads. You even talked of moving to California just to avoid winter weather. Why then would you have driven over a snowy mountain at two in the morning? You were only twenty-four years old; you had so much to live for. What happened that night? What made you take that drive? Or who made you?
The buzzing of the intercom jolted Isabelle back from the smothering pangs of hopeless regret. It was the doorman announcing that Miss Farrell was here for her ten o'clock appointment.
Lacey was not prepared for Isabelle Waring's effusive, if nervous, greeting. "Good heavens, you look younger than I remembered," she said. "How old are you? Thirty? My daughter would have been twenty-five next week, you know. She lived in this apartment. It was hers. Her father bought it for her. Terrible reversal, don't you think? The natural order of life is that I'd go first and someday she'd sort through my things."
"I have two nephews and a niece," Lacey told her. "I can't imagine anything happening to any of them, so I think I understand something of what you are going through."
Isabelle followed her, as with a practiced eye Lacey made notes on the dimensions of the rooms. The first floor consisted of a foyer, large living and dining rooms, a small library, a kitchen, and a powder room. The second floor, reached by a winding staircase, had a master suite -- a sitting room, dressing room, bedroom and bath.
"It was a lot of space for a young woman," Isabelle explained. "Heather's father bought it for her, you see. He couldn't do enough for her. But it never spoiled her. In fact, when she came to New York to live after college, she wanted to rent a little apartment on the West Side. Jimmy hit the ceiling. He wanted her in a building with a doorman. He wanted her to be safe. Now he wants me to sell the apartment and keep the money. He says Heather would have wanted me to have it. He says I have to stop grieving and go on. It's just that it's still so hard to let it go, though...I'm trying, but I'm not sure I can..." Her eyes filled with tears.
Lacey asked the question she needed to have answered: "Are you sure you want to sell?"
She watched helplessly as the stoic expression on Isabelle Waring's face crumbled and her eyes filled with tears. "I wanted to find out why my daughter died. Why she rushed out of the ski lodge that night. Why she didn't wait and come back with friends the next morning, as she had planned. What changed her mind? I'm sure that somebody knows. I need a reason. I know she was terribly worried about something but wouldn't tell me what it was. I thought I might find an answer here, either in the apartment or from one of her friends. But her father wants me to stop pestering people, and I suppose he's right, that we have to go on, so yes, Lacey, I guess I want to sell."
Lacey covered the woman's hand with her own. "I think Heather would want you to," she said quietly.
That night Lacey made the twenty-five-mile drive to Wyckoff, New Jersey, where her sister Kit and her mother both lived. She hadn't seen them since early August when she had left the city for her month away in the Hamptons. Kit and her husband, Jay, had a summer home on Nantucket, and always urged Lacey to spend her vacation with them instead.
As she crossed the George Washington Bridge, Lacey braced herself for the reproaches she knew would be part of their greeting. "You only spent three days with us," her brother-in-law would be sure to remind her. "What's East Hampton got that Nantucket doesn't?"
For one thing it doesn't have you, Lacey thought, with a slight grin. Her brother-in-law, Jay Taylor, the highly successful owner of a large restaurant supply business, had never been one of Lacey's favorite people, but, as she reminded herself, Kit clearly is crazy about him, and between them they've produced three great kids, so who am I to criticize? If only he wasn't so damn pompous, she thought. Some of his pronouncements sounded like papal bulls.
As she turned onto Route 4, she realized how anxious she was to see the others in her family: her mother, Kit and the kids -- Todd, twelve, Andy, ten, and her special pet, shy four-year-old Bonnie. Thinking about her niece, she realized that all day she hadn't been able to shake thoughts about poor Isabelle Waring, and the things she had said. The woman's pain was so palpable. She had insisted that Lacey stay for coffee and over it had continued to talk about her daughter. "I moved to Cleveland after the divorce. That's where I was raised. Heather was five at that time. Growing up, she was always back and forth between me and her dad. It worked out fine. I remarried. Bill Waring was much older but a very nice man. He's been gone three years now. I was so in hopes Heather would meet the right man, have children, but she was determined to have a career first. Although just before she died I had gotten the sense that maybe she had met someone. I could be wrong, but I thought I could hear it in her voice." Then she had asked, her tone one of motherly concern, "What about you, Lacey? Is there someone special in your life?"
Thinking about that question, Lacey smiled wryly. Not so you'd notice it, she thought. And ever since I hit the magic number thirty, I'm very aware that my biological clock is ticking. Oh well. I love my job, I love my apartment, I love my family and friends. I have a lot of fun. So I have no right to complain. It will happen when it happens.
Her mother answered the door. "Kit's in the kitchen. Jay went to pick up the children," she explained after a warm hug. "And there's someone inside I want you to meet."
Lacey was surprised and somewhat shocked to see that a man she didn't recognize was standing near the massive fireplace in the family room, sipping a drink. Her mother blushingly introduced him as Alex Carbine, explaining that they had known each other years ago and had just met again, through Jay, who had sold him much of the equipment for a new restaurant he'd just opened in the city on West Forty-sixth Street.
Shaking his hand, Lacey assessed the man. About sixty, she thought -- Mom's age. Good, solid-looking guy. And Mom looks all atwitter. What's up? As soon as she could excuse herself she went into the state-of-the-art kitchen where Kit was tossing the salad. "How long has this been going on?" she asked her sister.
Kit, her blond hair pulled back at the nape of her neck, looking, Lacey thought, for all the world like a Martha Stewart ad, grinned. "About a month. He's nice. Jay brought him by for dinner, and Mom was here. Alex is a widower. He's always been in the restaurant business, but this is the first place he's had on his own, I gather. We've been there. He's got a nice setup."
They both jumped at the sound of a door slamming at the front of the house. "Brace yourself," Kit warned. "Jay and the kids are home."
From the time Todd was five, Lacey had started taking him, and later the other children, into Manhattan to teach the city to them the way her father had taught it to her. They called the outings their Jack Farrell days -- days which included anything from Broadway matinees (she had now seen Cats five times) to museums (the Museum of Natural History and its dinosaur bones being easily their favorite). They explored Greenwich Village, took the tram to Roosevelt Island, the ferry to Ellis Island, had lunch at the top of the World Trade Center, and skated at Rockefeller Plaza.
The boys greeted Lacey with their usual exuberance. Bonnie, shy as always, snuggled up to her. "I missed you very much," she confided. Jay told Lacey she was looking very well indeed, adding that the month in East Hampton obviously had been beneficial.
"In fact, I had a ball," Lacey said, delighted to see him wince. Jay had an aversion to slang that bordered on pretension.
At dinner, Todd, who was showing an interest in real estate and his aunt's job, asked Lacey about the market in New York.
"Picking up," she answered. "In fact I took on a promising new listing today." She told them about Isabelle Waring, then noticed that Alex Carbine showed sudden interest. "Do you know her?" Lacey asked.
"No," he said, "but I know Jimmy Landi, and I'd met their daughter, Heather. Beautiful young woman. That was a terrible tragedy. Jay, you've done business with Landi. You must have met Heather too. She was around the restaurant a lot."
Lacey watched in astonishment as her brother-in-law's face turned a dark red.
"No. Never met her," he said, his tone clipped and carrying an edge of anger. "I used to do business with Jimmy Landi. Who's ready for another slice of lamb?"
It was seven o'clock. The bar was crowded, and the dinner crowd was starting to arrive. Jimmy Landi knew he should go downstairs and greet people but he just didn't feel like it. This had been one of the bad days, a depression brought on by a call from Isabelle, evoking the image of Heather trapped and burning to death in the overturned car that haunted him still, long after he had gotten off the phone.
The slanting light from the setting sun flickered through the tall windows of his paneled office in the brownstone on West Fifty-sixth Street, the home of Venezia, the restaurant Jimmy had opened thirty years ago.
He had taken over the space where three successive restaurants had failed. He and Isabelle, newly married, lived in what was then a rental apartment on the second floor. Now he owned the building, and Venezia was one of the most popular places to dine in Manhattan.
Jimmy sat at his massive antique Wells Fargo desk, thinking about the reasons he found it so difficult to go downstairs. It wasn't just the phone call from his ex-wife. The restaurant was decorated with murals, an idea he had copied from his competition, La Côte Basque. They were paintings of Venice, and from the beginning had included scenes in which Heather appeared. When she was two, he had the artist paint her in as a toddler whose face appeared in a window of the Doge's Palace. As a young girl she was seen being serenaded by a gondolier, when she was twenty, she'd been painted in as a young woman strolling across the Bridge of Sighs, a song sheet in her hand.
Jimmy knew that for his own peace of mind he would have to have her painted out of the murals, but just as Isabelle had not been able to let go of the idea that Heather's death must be someone else's fault, he could not let go of the constant need for his daughter's presence, the sense of her eyes watching him as he moved through the dining room, of her being with him there, every day.
He was a swarthy man of sixty-seven, whose hair was still naturally dark, and whose brooding eyes under thick unruly brows gave his face a permanently cynical expression. Of medium height, his solid, muscular body gave the impression of animal strength. He was aware that his detractors joked that the custom-tailored suits he wore were wasted on him, that try as he might, he still looked like a day laborer. He almost smiled, remembering how indignant Heather had been the first time she had heard that remark.
I told her not to worry, Jimmy thought, smiling to himself. I told her that I could buy and sell the lot of them, and that's all that counts.
He shook his head, remembering. Now more than ever, he knew it wasn't really all that counted, but it still gave him a reason to get up in the morning. He had gotten through the last months by concentrating on the casino and hotel he was building in Atlantic City. "Donald Trump, move over," Heather had said when he'd showed her the model. "How about calling it Heather's Place, and I'll perform there, yours exclusively, Baba?"
She had picked up the affectionate nickname for father on a trip to Italy when she was ten. After that she never called him Daddy again.
Jimmy remembered his answer. "I'd give you star billing in a minute -- you know that. But you better check with Steve. He's got big bucks in Atlantic City too, and I'm leaving a lot of the decisions to him. But anyway, how about forgetting this career stuff and getting married and giving me some grandchildren?"
Heather had laughed. "Oh, Baba, give me a couple of years. I'm having too much fun."
He sighed, remembering her laugh. Now there wouldn't be any grandchildren, ever, he thought -- not a girl with golden-brown hair and hazel eyes, nor a boy who might someday grow up to take over this place.
A tap at the door yanked Jimmy back to the present.
"Come in, Steve," he said.
Thank God I have Steve Abbott, he thought. Twenty-five years ago the handsome, blond Cornell dropout had knocked on the door of the restaurant before it was open. "I want to work for you, Mr. Landi," he had announced. "I can learn more from you than in any college course."
Jimmy had been both amused and annoyed. He mentally sized up the young man. Fresh, know-it-all kid, he had decided. "You want to work for me?" he had asked, then pointed to the kitchen. "Well, that's where I started."
That was a good day for me, Jimmy thought. He might have looked like a spoiled preppie, but he was an Irish kid whose mother worked as a waitress to raise him, and he had proved that he had much of the same drive. I thought then that he was a dope to give up his scholarship but I was wrong. He was born for this business.
Steve Abbott pushed open the door and turned on the nearest light as he entered the room. "Why so dark? Having a seance, Jimmy?"
Landi looked up with a wry smile, noting the compassion in the younger man's eyes. "Woolgathering, I guess."
"The mayor just came in with a party of four."
Jimmy shoved back his chair and stood up. "No one told me he had a reservation."
"He didn't. Hizzonor couldn't resist our hot dogs, I suppose..." In long strides, Abbott crossed the room and put his hand on Landi's shoulder. "A rough day, I can tell."
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Isabelle called this morning to say the realtor was in about Heather's apartment and thinks it will sell fast. Of course, every time she gets me on the phone, she has to go through it all again, how she can't believe Heather would ever get in a car, to drive home on icy roads. That she doesn't believe her death was an accident. She can't let go of it. Drives me crazy."
His unfocused eyes stared past Abbott. "When I met Isabelle, she was a knockout, believe it or not. A beauty queen from Cleveland. Engaged to be married. I pulled the rock that guy had given her off her finger and tossed it out the car window." He chuckled. "I had to take out a loan to pay the other guy for his ring, but I got the girl. Isabelle married me."
Abbott knew the story and understood why Jimmy had been thinking about it. "Maybe the marriage didn't last, but you got Heather out of the deal."
"Forgive me, Steve. Sometimes I feel like a very old man, repeating myself. You've heard it all before. Isabelle never liked New York, or this life. She should never have left Cleveland."
"But she did, and you met her. Come on, Jimmy, the mayor's waiting."
Copyright © 1997 by Mary Higgins Clark