This is Chapter 5, scroll down to catch up and read chapters 1 to 4. Each chapter includes at least one clue to the solution of the mystery!
Chapter 5: Cowards Die Many Times… Comedians Die on Stage
Amanda booked a one-way trip on the Acela, reserved a room at the W Hotel on Union Square East and packed before she went to bed. She went by the house to see her father before she left for New York.
“They found Candy’s body?” her dad asked. He seemed astonished. “After all this time?”
“It may not be her, but it probably is. The barrette I gave her was in the corpse’s hair.”
“”How horrible for you. Poor Mandy, after all this time! Did you tell your brother?”
“I’ll call him tonight. He’s in Hong Kong, the time difference…”
“In Hong Kong again?”
“Still, not again dad. He lives there.”
Her father was ninety-six. He could recount, in vivid details, every event in his life in the OSS and his long career in the State Department, but his memory of recent events was sometimes blurry. He now lived entirely on the ground floor of the big house and every time she spoke to her brother Jason he’d encourage her to sell the house and move their dad someplace smaller.
“He doesn’t like change,” she’d explain.
“But it’s crazy.”
The house belonged to Amanda. It was left to her by her mother — dad’s second wife. She’d died of cancer when Amanda was seven, long after Dad had run through his own family money and as much of Jason’s mother’s money as her family allowed. Jason was practical and stubborn. Amanda was simply stubborn, as was her father. Amanda’s childhood was peppered with the arguments between Jason and their father. It was always about politics — politics, duty and war.
Dad had served in the OSS during WWII, and the Cold War colored his world-view. Heated arguments about Vietnam and the threat of the Soviet Union were the background noise of Amanda’s childhood. That and hushed discussions of her father’s bad luck with wives. Jason’s mother left him, and their son, when he was stationed in Vienna. She fell in love with a musician from West Berlin and said good-bye. Amanda’s mother fell ill while he was stationed in Africa. This delayed her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. By the time they’d moved on to Bangkok it was metastatic. She hung on longer than it seemed humanly possible, but died leaving a shadow over the household. Then they moved on to Madrid, in Franco’s Spain.
Amanda longed for a real home and she finally got one. In 1970, Jack Sommer was rewarded with a position in DC. It was the crowning glory of his career and the family settled into the house where Amanda’s mother was born. It legally belonged to Amanda, but her father lorded over it like a king. Amanda’s trustees paid the household bills and for Amanda’s private school education. This enabled Jack to spend his salary on art, wine and fun with his third wife Marianna— a much younger woman he’d met in Spain.
Marianna wanted to live like an ambassador’s wife in a movie, with designer gowns and jewelry. When Jack, stubbornly wouldn’t die or give her huge amounts of cash she divorced him, asking for half of everything he had. He gave it to her — as half of little is even less. In the end she cleaned out his wine cellar and left his books. Most of them were in English and the concept of a valuable first editions flew over her head.
Amanda followed her father from the living room into his office, pausing for a moment in the doorway as she’d been taught as a child. Jason was right. It was a ridiculous charade. The hesitation in the doorway of the inner sanctum was important to her father. He nodded and admitted her to his office. No one went in there without his permission and never alone. No one but Candy! She had won a free pass the very first time they took the train down from NYU. Jack and Candy spoke Russian, French and Spanish together; read aloud from Shakespeare’s plays; and sat together on the piano bench playing duets.
The first time Jason found Candy sitting on the floor of his father’s office thumbing through some German books he almost fainted.
“He told me to make myself at home and he has great books in German. My weakest language, you know. I should work on it.”
That was Christmas of 1976.
It was so long ago. Jack was a very old man now and there were no more “eyes only” documents in top-secret diplomatic pouches. All of his contemporaries were long out of office and most of them were dead. He had no power over anyone — except his daughter who still paused in the doorway of his office in her house waiting for his nod to admit her.
“I’m going up to New York today.”
“To find out if it’s Candy’s body.”
“It’s not like you’re a doctor, you can’t run tests on her teeth or whatever they do…”
“I just want to be there. And remember, there were no dental records. If she ever went to a dentist — and she must have — I couldn’t find a record of it. She didn’t go to the dental school clinic; not even there.”
“You didn’t go there either.”
“No, I came down here and went to the dentist on my vacations.”
“Yes, I remember now…. No dental records, but the hair thing, the barrette you gave her.”
“Yes, dad, and DNA.”
“But what will they use for…for comparison, yes comparison.” Jack spoke half to her and half to himself. “They didn’t really use DNA in 1980….”
“I gave the police some of her things. And I have a box of stuff here. I’m going to go upstairs. I think there’s a hairbrush in the box. They can probably find some DNA in the remains.”
“Very grim. Well, then go upstairs and find the box of Candy’s things,” Jack’s tone made her think he was giving her permission to go upstairs. His aide came in with a tray holding a tea tray and bottles of morning medicine.
“Ms. Sommer, I didn’t know you were here.”
“It’s OK Phil, I just stopped by.”
“Would you like some breakfast? We’re going to have it now after his tea.”
“No breakfast, but I’d love a cup of coffee. I have to run upstairs to the back room.”
Phil nodded. His room was the sunny room upstairs, facing the tree-lined street. It was Amanda’s room when she was in high school. The back bedroom, once nominally Jason’s room, was the room she used now for storage. Hanging on to the house was ridiculous! The old man slept in a hospital bed in the “maid’s room” off the kitchen and dined at the kitchen table with Phil. Phil slept in the “princess suite” and the master bedroom was reserved for infrequent houseguests. It had been years since anyone but Jason’s wife had slept there.
Amanda took the box marked Candy 1981 from the back of the walk-in closet There wasn’t much in it: a Steely Dan album, a paperback copy of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization in French; a thick silver bangle bracelet; a stack of old notebooks from college classes — illustrated with Candy’s clever doodles and sketches; a leather travel grooming kit with a portable hair brush, a nail clipper, etc.; and Candy’s old camera, a Rolleiflex.
Years ago, Amanda had removed the album of photos. There were a few interesting shots, mainly moody cityscapes taken at dusk in the moodier, less appealing parts of the city, but the rest were snapshots of their college friends. This time she took the leather travel case and, on an impulse, she slipped the bracelet on. It was in fashion again and wearing it made sense — especially if there was going to be a memorial service after all these years.
She went back downstairs and had coffee with her father. She repeated the news about finding Candy’s body and going to New York. His short-term memory was shot, but the past was alive and well.
“Candy was the best of your friends, a formidable intelligence but a terrible pianist.”
Amanda thought about those visits to DC with Candy. They were the happiest family occasions of her life. Jason was nicer, dad was relaxed — the extended family was on their best behavior and even dad’s mysterious visitors, his state department “operatives” smiled and laughed as they made brief appearances at the annual day-after-Thanksgiving party, Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and dad’s favorite — St. Patrick’s Day. Those government people, men in dark suits and women in severe white blouses and skirts worn with sheer hose and sensible pumps, had always intimidated Amanda, but Candy never took them seriously.
Daniel Googled Amanda Sommer and got the phone number of her gallery in DC. He felt a pang of regret at having lost her friendship after Ace disappeared. They still cared about one another — were still bound together by history and affection, but it was simply too painful to maintain the friendship. He picked up the phone and dialed the number, leaving a message with his mobile number, his name and a short sentence about connecting with Detective Morgan.
Then he went back to work on that difficult scene in his new play.