A Song of the Past: Twenty-two

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Thursday, 2:20 PM
Deirdre called Tyler’s office in New York, under the assumption that his secretary could get a message to him wherever he might be. To her surprise, the voice on the other end said, “Tyler speaking.”

“Mr. Harrison, this is Detective O’Reilly.”

“Detective, what a pleasant surprise.” This wasn’t how murder suspects were supposed to react to a call from the investigating officer! “Have you decided you need a little getaway after all?”

If they had been on a videophone, Tyler would have seen Deirdre blushing. She decided to simply forge ahead as if he merely had said, “Good afternoon.”

“Mr. Tyler, I have a few more questions I need to ask you. I’d like to meet with you as soon as possible.”

“And I’d like to meet with you as soon as possible, Detective, preferably in a candle-lit restaurant, with you wearing something elegant and provocative. But, unfortunately, I’m flying to San Francisco later tonight. I’ll be on the West Coast for a week, visiting some potential clients.”

“What time do you leave?”

“My flight’s at eight. I’m getting picked up here at 6:00.”

Deirdre glanced at her watch. She could catch the 2:55 train out of New Haven. Arrive in Grand Central at 4:30. Be at Tyler’s office probably by 5:00. “I’d like to come down and talk to you right now—I shouldn’t need more than a half hour of your time. I could be at your office around 5:00.”

“I’m flattered that you are so anxious to see me, Detective, and I feel it would be discourteous not to reward your enthusiasm. I’ll be getting some things ready for the trip, but that will chiefly involve clicking on ‘Print’ a few times, and then clipping together the printouts. If you don’t mind sharing a little bit of my attention with some nonsense like that, you’re welcome to come down.”

“Where are you located?”

“Fifty-nine Wall Street.”

“All right, I’ll see you around 5:00.”

Deirdre rushed to the locker room to change into the “decent” clothes she kept around for emergencies. Black slacks, black jacket, gray blouse, black shoes—the perfect Manhattan ensemble. She grabbed a couple of personal items and a book from her desk and stuffed them into her handbag, stuck her head in Muller’s office to tell him where she was going, and rushed off for the train station.

Since the station was just a block away from headquarters, Deirdre again chose to walk, albeit briskly. Riding mass transit always made her think of surfing—catching the right wave at the right time was the key to success. She boarded her train with five minutes to spare, and took a seat next to a south-facing window. She had dragged along Three Centuries of New Haven, and she opened it up to where she had left her bookmark.

The text was not holding her attention, and she found herself staring out of her window at the coastal terrain of western Connecticut. There were frequently marshes to the south of the Metro North tracks, as inlets and estuaries poked inland from the Sound. Leaden clouds bunched sullenly in the still air, and the waters of the sea itself would occasionally appear at the mouth of an inlet, a dull gray-coated beast torpidly dreaming of the wild ocean beyond. Through the mist Deirdre imagined she could see the spectral sails of wooden ships billowing above the trees, ships bearing cloths, guns, and nails from England to the colonists, who would send back tobacco, furs, and lumber. Dour, whey-faced men met the ships, eyeing with suspicion the Anglican idolaters whose fathers and grandfathers had driven their fathers and grandfathers across the ocean. Their tiny settlements clung to the coastline like dew to a strand of spider’s web. Inland, to the north and to the west, their civilization and knowledge faded and failed before a vastness of ancient forest, wild beasts, and men from before history. Like the edge of a piece of paper just beginning to smolder, Europe had lit a sliver of fire at the border of North America. The flames would spread—in just a few moments the old North America would be ashes of memory and legend.

When the train stopped in East Norwalk, Deirdre awoke with a start. The train discharged a couple of passengers and pulled from the station. Outside her window the train passed the old brick structures of South Norwalk, the city’s 19th century industrial core, now converted to condos and nightclubs. They rode on through the suburbs of Darien, past the modern skyline of downtown Stamford, over yachts anchored in the Greenwich harbor, and into Westchester. Soon they crossed the Harlem River, then plunged underground toward Grand Central Station. From there Deirdre took the Four Train downtown to the financial district.

Deirdre passed through security at Brown Brothers Harriman and was directed to the reception area. Oriental rugs covered the wood flooring, with plush leather armchairs scattered along their fraying fringes. A receptionist who looked like she was fresh from a modeling shoot asked Deirdre if she could help.

“I have an appointment with Harrison Tyler.”

“You are Ms. O’Reilly?” Deirdre nodded. “Yes, he’s been expecting you. Let me get his assistant.”

A couple of minutes later, another escapee from the runway stuck her head into reception and called Deirdre’s name. When she answered, the woman gave her a meticulous once-over. It occurred to Deirdre that this was probably the same person to whom Deirdre had hinted she was carrying Tyler’s baby.

“This way, please.”

Tyler was on the phone when she was shown in, and he gestured for her to sit in a chair on the opposite side of his desk. His figure was framed by the windows of his office and the view they gave out onto the Hudson and the harbor. Through the windows of a facing office building, Deirdre watched photocopies made, phone calls answered, papers shuffled, meetings in progress. Tyler, by waving his hand in a hurry-up motion past the mouthpiece of his phone, signed that he was growing impatient with a long-winded goodbye. “All right, Brad, I’ll see you in Seattle. Take care.”

He turned to his guest and smiled, the way she imagined he’d smile at finally locating a particularly pleasing example of some long-sought piece of antique clockworks or set of silverware. “Detective,” he said, “we really ought to stop meeting like this. Instead, we should substitute leisurely, candlelit dinners at, say, Café des Artistes or the Sherry Netherlands.”

Deirdre worried that she might be blushing unmistakably, and as a result she rushed directly to the purpose of her visit, bypassing the pleasantries which she otherwise would have employed to ease their way into that possibly uncomfortable matter: “Mr. Tyler, I have some questions to ask you about your finances.”

Chuckling at his own wit, Tyler proclaimed, “I promise that I’m sufficiently well off to entertain you in high style, Detective.”

It must be nice that he finds himself so amusing, Deirdre thought quietly to herself, while aloud she said, “There were a number of large cash withdrawals during September of last year, out of your account at New Haven Savings Bank.” She pulled her photocopy of the relevant account statement from her handbag and placed it on the desk, facing her suspect. “Can you tell me why you needed such an unusual amount of cash that month?”

For the first time since she had met him, Tyler looked concerned. “Just how did you get your hands on my personal records?”

“With a search warrant, Mr. Tyler, quite legally.” Then she produced a copy of the warrant and put it on top of the bank statement.

But he took little note of the document, instead fixing his gaze on Deirdre. “You really believe I killed my wife, don’t you?”

“No. But I do believe that the amount of evidence suggesting you might be the guilty party obliges me to investigate the possibility further.”

Tyler seemed to be studying her as if her apparent tenacity called for a revision of his initial appraisal of the seriousness of the problem she represented to him. “Aren’t you concerned about the effect it could have on your career if it turns out you are on a wild goose chase, in the course of which you’ve unnecessarily dragged along one of New Haven’s wealthiest and best-connected citizens?”

“My duty is to find out who killed Ben Moore, and even if I wind up being fired for trying to fulfill it, I’ll be able to live with that outcome much more easily than if I thought I allowed a murderer to get away with his crime in exchange for better job security.”

“Your sense of principle is far stronger than the feeble voice murmuring from my infrequently exercised and easily ignored conscience. In any case, the explanation for the withdrawals is quite simple and, even if it isn’t entirely innocent, at least it is far more so than the alternative you have been entertaining. Unfortunately I doubt I can provide proof that it is the genuine explanation and not a fabrication designed to hide my guilt. Nonetheless, it’s the best I have to offer you.”

“Periodically, my wife would become completely infatuated with some newly encountered and irresistibly enticing antique, and only acquiring the piece could relieve her of her obsession with it. When she was so overcome, she was like a lover who will overlook any sins in her beloved’s past: she gave no thought to the means, however questionable, by which the current owner had gained possession of the object she desired.” Tyler’s blue eyes, glittering like twin sapphires in the sunlight, stared for a moment into her own.

“I wasn’t particularly interested in or concerned about the way she conducted her business. Most of our wealth was held separately, so even in the unlikely case that she came to stand trial for her shady deals, and the prosecution sought asset forfeiture, I would not have faced penury.”

“The point of my telling you all this is that, last September, a black-market antiques dealer offered Evelyn several pieces that were sufficiently rare and beautiful that she could not bear to pass on the opportunity. But she had made several very expensive purchases over that summer, so that she was unusually illiquid, prompting her to do something she had never done before: ask me to loan her money, in cash, of course. I was happy to help her out, especially since it would obligate her to return the favor some time in the future, and it is always prudent to have a store of favors in reserve for emergencies.”

“But you have no evidence to back up this story?”

“Detective, a central aspect of these transactions was that no one should be able to prove that they took place.” He glanced at the gold watch on his wrist. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, both for your sake, since you tickle my fancy, and for my own, as I’d prefer not to be a suspect in a murder investigation, but there you have it. Now, I’m afraid I must end our interview or I’ll miss my flight.”

“If I may ask just one last, brief question while you collect your things, Mr. Tyler?”

“Of course.”

“What became of your wife’s business after her death?”

“While she was alive Evelyn had taken on her most senior and valuable employee, Sarah Johnson, as a minor partner in the store, and left the business to her in her final will. I’m fairly certain that Sarah still owns and manages it.”

Deirdre thanked Tyler for his time and left his office just ahead of him. Glancing back as she walked to the subway station, she saw him climbing into the back of a black limousine. On the train ride from Grand Central back to New Haven she found herself riding through a featureless, foggy landscape. The harder she stared, the more the black forms racing past her window blurred and wavered. As she replayed the interview in her mind, she became aware that Tyler’s insouciance had left her disconcerted. Could he really be so care free if he were the murderer? And yet all of the evidence that she could see pointed to him. More than anything, she thought, she needed a little luck.

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