The mystery is unfolding chapter-by-chapter. Here are three short chapters with lots of clues and a few red herrings, too. Scroll down to catch up on the previous installments.
Waltzing in the Snow
Chapter 10: What Dreams, and Nightmares, May Come
Daniel couldn’t sleep so he went back to work on his new play. Work was his escape, his solace, his entertainment and his lover — at least that’s what Josh always told him. Writing kept him from taking a walk with Ace the night she disappeared and writing stood between him and every important relationship in his life. When the curtain came up on opening night — his life was perfect. The rest of the time, it was a constant struggle.
The entire time he was writing his novel, memories of Ace haunted him. But it wasn’t until his conversation with Amanda, that he began to look at Ace — to analyze her and to deconstruct her — the way he would when he was creating a purely fictional character. In his book, the missing girl is seen only through the eyes of her old friends. The stories they tell themselves about her, the fantasies they have about her fate are, like all stories, reflective of the storyteller more than the subject. Did he ever really know Candace Gregore? He knew and loved his friend Ace, but how much of Ace was Candace and how much was what she wanted to be for him?
Candace was orphaned young, lived all over the world before she was 20 and was always, in one way or another, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Candace was a chameleon, shifting her colors to fit the environment. Becoming the perfect friend was her survival mechanism. The more he thought about her, the more he loved her for her unique talent.
Amanda woke up in the middle of the night, pulled out her Kindle and started to read Daniel’s book. By the time the sun came up, she had read all but the end — the part written from the “Mandy” character’s point of view. She put it down, took a shower and went out for a walk before breakfast.
It was a Saturday morning in June. The sky was bright blue and nearly cloudless. It was the kind of day when Candy would concoct one of her perfect plans. Let’s take the train out to Long Beach to fly kites, or go up to the Cloisters by subway, or ride bikes in Central Park. The plans were always fun and they always got Amanda out of herself. The life lessons she learned from her friend, stuck with her, but now she wondered why Candy had bothered with her. She was a sad, lonely, shy seventeen-year-old with her nose in a book and her closest friend was her twenty-seven-year-old brother.
Her head was a muddle of memories and Daniel’s fictions. The book was good — really good, even better than his plays — but it was fiction. Daniel had gotten inside the heads of each of his characters, all loosely based on their little group of friends, and spun explanations for Candy’s disappearance that matched each character. The story wasn’t about Candy. It was about missing her.
Detective Morgan called her while she was having breakfast.
“I just wanted to tell you that the lab matched the hairs in Candace Gregore’s hairbrush with hair in the barrette.”
“But I thought it was Maria Ruiz?”
“Maria and Candace both had brown hair, but they weren’t twins. When I told the lab tech that the barrette was associated with one missing girl and the remains were…”
“Hair from both of them…”
“There were two hairs caught in the catch. They matched the hairbrush you gave me. But the barrette was holding all of Maria’s hair, like she’d worn it to hold her hair in a pony tale.”
“Candace’s hair was too thick for that. She wore the barrette as an ornament. It would have to be twice as big to hold all her…”
“I remembered that. Could she have sold it? Maybe she needed money to run away from a Russian mobster?”
“It wasn’t worth all that much. It was an extravagant gift for a college girl, but nothing you could pawn for an airplane ticket.”
“But it was silver and Swarovski crystal, right?”
“Silver, yes…. The crystal, I don’t know. I bought it at a jewelry store in DC near my dad’s place. It was because we were all going to dress up and go out to celebrate graduation. I gave it to her for her birthday, so she’d have something special. Candace didn’t have expensive things.”
Amanda touched the silver bangle on her wrist.
“I’m wearing the bangle bracelet she wore a lot. It was in with the rest of her things. It’s a very simple design. My choice of that pink crystal barrette — that was more my style than Candy’s. Maybe she simply gave it away?”
Chapter 11: Do Wrong to One
“Daniel, do you remember the Easter Weekend when we all went down to DC and stayed at my dad’s house?”
“Yes, of course. I thought one of your dad’s secret agents was going to take me out back and shoot me.”
“What?” Amanda almost dropped her phone.
“I overheard Ace and your dad, they were talking, arguing really, in Russian. It was very heated. I was just waiting to see if she wanted to go with the rest of us to a movie. She didn’t see me hanging out in the doorway.”
“His office doorway?”
“Yes — that book-lined library straight out of a set for a British country house murder mystery. This big bodyguard grabbed me by the collar, pushed me to the kitchen and out the back door into the yard. I thought he was going to shoot me, but he just walked away. I never told you about it, because, because…. It was the way they were arguing. I don’t speak Russian, but the body language was intimate — they were yelling at one another like they were a married couple, like they were involved….”
“So you see why I didn’t tell you then.”
“It’s not like we were teenagers. We were seniors so Ace was about to turn 25. She was a grown woman and if they were having a secret affair….”
“It was disturbing, but it wasn’t my place to say anything to you or to anybody else. I thought about confronting her later that weekend, but instead I simply asked her what she thought of your dad. She said that he was an interesting man with strong opinions. She said she enjoyed discussing politics with him. She never noticed me, never saw that I’d seen the way they were arguing.”
“Daniel, I’ve got to go down to DC. I need to talk to my dad about this.”
“You want to come along?”
“Yes. Maybe I can help you get to the bottom of this.”
“Good. Maybe you can. I like the train better than the shuttle. Penn Station to Union Station, no long cab rides to the airports. I’ll try to book us on the Acela. Tonight or tomorrow — I’ll get back to you with the details.”
Daniel might just have been looking for a way to get a break from his work, but Amanda was convinced that he’d be helpful. He simply saw people in ways that she did not. Another set of eyes — a fresh set — might help her understand why her best friend and her father became romantically involved. A secret relationship, unfolding right in front of her — it felt like a horrible betrayal.
Chapter 12: A Fool Thinks
After making the travel arrangements for Sunday morning, Amanda spent the rest of Saturday in the art world. She visited galleries, dropped in at the International Center of Photography and then had dinner with gallery-owner friends. When one of the Chelsea Gallery people told her how Sandy had ravaged some of the West Side warehouses, destroying millions of dollars worth of artwork, she told them a little about her connection to the bodies found in the warehouse in Long Beach.
“When the storm surge hit Long Island, it took out the electricity and flooded up to the second floor. Although the building was still standing, it wasn’t structurally sound. If the inspectors hadn’t said it had to come down, they never would have found the remains.”
“But it turned out the girl’s body wasn’t your friend?”
“Yes, it was the another girl that went missing at the same time. The police are looking at connections. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally find out what happened to her?”
She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t tell her friends about the barrette.
Daniel didn’t know how he’d be able to help Amanda, but he felt compelled to go with her. He wasn’t going to fail her — or Ace — again.