Helen Fraser can’t remember who drew the gun, but she does remember coming home hoping her husband would apologize for what he’d done the night before. She remembers that he refused, and she remembers throwing her first punch. But then, suddenly, there was a gun in her hand, and it went off. Seven shots, just like that, and her husband was dead.
That’s the story Tavie Garland hears through her headphones as she transcribes tapes for her husband, Rob. From the first time she hears Helen’s voice, she dislikes the woman, and is certain the world would be better off if she were dead. And then she hears what sounds like her Rob making a pass at Helen, and finds herself contemplating murder. But that’s only the beginning. Death is coming to the foggy Maine island where the Garland family is vacationing, and Tavie will have to fight to be the one who survives.
Richard Forrest chronicled countless stories of betrayal, jealousy, and murder over four decades. Who Killed Mr. Garland’s Mistress?, his Edgar Award–nominated debut, is breathtaking proof that he was firing on all cylinders right from the start.
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Who Killed Mr. Garland's Mistress?
By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1974 Richard Forrest
All rights reserved.
After the second hour of listening, Tavie Garland decided the world would be better off if Helen Fraser didn't exist. The voice from the small cassette recorder alternated between a drone and coquettish laughter. Tavie felt immersed in a dark quagmire, sinking-into the blackness of a soul she didn't understand, and she pressed the stop button of the recorder.
Over her typewriter she could see trees along the shore line and beyond the dark waters of Casco Bay. Deep in the bay a constant fight for survival continued: large after small, smaller after smallest, a necessary cycle for each organism's existence. But the waters hid the struggle, and the shimmering surface, moved only by an occasional ripple on this quiet day, was a lid, a barrier, to what went on underneath.
Helen's dispassionate voice on the tapes sliced through the surface — a revelation in almost childlike recitation of what could be. It was the lack of feeling, the guiltless recounting drone, that filled Tavie with revulsion. She stood up quickly and went into the kitchen to heat water for instant coffee.
It was ten o'clock. The children wouldn't be back from swimming lessons for another hour. On other days she had prized these three quiet hours, savored them, turned them over gently, and thoroughly enjoyed the aloneness. The small black recorder on the desk by the window jarred the day and turned the morning hours into apprehensive minutes.
The tapes hadn't affected Rob this way. Last Friday night when he'd arrived on the nine-o'clock boat, he had hardly been able to play the first few minutes for her. She had been caught up in his jubilation, and those first few minutes of listening hadn't affected her the way they had these last two mornings. His enthusiasm had been infectious. He'd paced the room, a drink in one hand, the other making chopping motions as he told her of the first few interviews with his subject.
"It's great getting back to writing again," he'd told her. "This is a sure-fire thing, and working with nonfiction will give me a chance to slide into the discipline again."
"What does she look like?"
He stopped in the center of the rustic living room. "Oh, about our age, ordinary enough. In fact, that's the beauty of it. A perfectly normal, middle-class housewife knocking off her perfectly normal, middle-class husband."
"What sort of legs does our perfectly normal, middle-class murderess have?"
He kissed her on the forehead. "Not nearly as nice as yours. Could you fix me another drink? I'm tired as hell. It's been one long week."
In the small pantry she stirred the martinis slowly. He stood in the doorway behind her. "Well ..." she said.
"I'll get some pictures taken."
"I'd like to meet her." She handed him a martini and sipped her own.
"You will, but not just yet. These early interviews are very delicate. I can't tell you how important it is that she learn to trust me completely. By the time summer is over, we'll have all the emotionally hazardous material out of the way and the rest will be routine research ..."
She laughed and they sat on the divan together. "I wouldn't want to interfere with your emotional material."
He kissed her again. "I do believe you're jealous."
"Oh, no. Just an ordinary, middle-class housewife spending the summer on an island, while her husband is 300 miles away spending every evening with a perfectly pretty woman."
"All right, she's not bad-looking. In fact, I've already imagined how her picture will look on a dust jacket."
"That's it. I want to dream again. I'm getting to the point where I want to throw up every time I write a brochure on auto safety or another speech for Big Balls Banner to give at the Chamber of Commerce ... I've done so many of those, they write themselves."
"You really think you can do this?"
"I'm sure of it. Working with her these past couple of weeks has proved it to me. This summer I'll record her side of it. That'll round it out and reveal any inconsistencies. After that, a review of the trial transcript and some background material. At that point the thing will write itself."
"You're really excited about this, aren't you, Rob?"
"More than anything in years. And to think that I stumbled across it accidentally. If she hadn't walked in looking for a job ..."
"Does the company know about her?"
"God, no. Do you think the powers that be at Connecticut Casualty would get in bed with a convicted felon? A figure of speech, Tav."
"Let's not get carried away with our research."
He leaned over to nuzzle her neck. "I have my subject for that. Let's go to bed."
"Bob, you just got home."
"We summer bachelors get horny."
She looked into his face and saw a flicker of passion in his eyes. As he held her, she felt her body stiffen. His hands dropped and she sensed his disappointment. She knew she was wrong. No wife in her right mind would leave a virile man alone and unsatisfied all summer. "All right," she said, and they went slowly up the stairs.
The coffee had grown cold as she stood by the window holding the cup. She wondered if she was involved in something that could get out of control. Thinking how good it might be for Rob, she encouraged him, offered to help with routine research in the fall, and to transcribe the tapes during the summer. The vision of his thirty-fifth birthday last month hung over her.
The birthday had driven him into a deep depression. He had had too much to drink and had grown gently sodden while mumbling half to himself. "I'm almost forty," he had said. "It's half over. My life is half over." And he had sat dazed in the living room of their Hartford home until she had led him upstairs to bed.
So be it. If this book gave him a new lease on life it would be worth it, even if his subject did look like Elizabeth Taylor. On Friday night as they lay after their lovemaking, she had tickled him and told him that since his subject had shot her husband in bed, he had better be careful and sleep with one eye open. He had laughed.
Storm clouds were gathering, and sailboats scuttled across the bay. The rectangular black cassette player stood coffinlike on the desk near the window. She decided to ignore it for a while. The feeling of apprehension still prevailed in the room, in the house, and the intrusion of the recorded voice echoed within her.
She went out onto the broad porch that surrounded the house on three sides. The day seemed shattered into a thousand jagged pieces that she had to try to piece together. Her weekdays on the island had always fallen into what for her was a delicious routine.
The Maine nights were cool, and after the fire died down in the fireplace she'd usually go to bed, just minutes after ten-year-old Robby and eight-year-old Karen. The children were up at first light, and by seven-thirty they were done with breakfast and headed toward the beach. She always went barefoot and wore jeans and an old shirt of Rob's, tied at the midriff. Housework was finished by nine, and until the children returned from swimming lessons, she had the morning alone. The quiet mornings were broken only occasionally by a distant foghorn or buoy bell. She would sit at the desk overlooking the bay and work on her poems.
They always published her autumn poem in the Hartford paper, and occasionally she felt Rob's twinge of jealousy over her small attempts at authorship.
The thin volume she'd been working on for four years lay on the desk near the recorder. Her book, Reflections on New England Autumns, seemed strangely out of place in its proximity to the confessions of murder as recounted by Helen Fraser.
She thought she'd take a short walk along the edges of the beach — anything to break the incoming waves of depression that might incapacitate her for the week until Rob's arrival on the Friday-night boat.
It was 200 yards to the small cliff overlooking the beach, and as usual she almost tripped over the hose. The hose was strung perpendicular from the house as required by the rules of the Ruby Island Association. It was to be used as the only fire protection the island afforded.
Her feet were hardened from a month of walking, and she barely felt the graveled path. Stopping midway she turned and looked at their house, perched on the small knoll, probably the highest point on the island.
During the nineteenth century Ruby Island had been a farm, the foundation ruins of the original farmhouse still visible near the dock. The dock, set in a cove, provided boarding for the ferry and mooring for the pleasure boats of the thirty summer families. It was barely three-quarters of a mile from the dock to the most northerly portion of the island. Ruby Island was 800 yards wide at its widest point. The northern half of the island was still owned by the government and contained the vestiges of a vacant World War II naval base.
Their home, and most of the others, had been built by wealthy Bostonians in the early nineteen hundreds. She and Rob had located ancient photographs in the Maine Historical Society that showed Ruby Island with well-kept lawns and a neat golf course. Scrub pine now covered much of the lawn area, and long ago the golf course had disappeared under patches of rambling strawberry bushes. After World War II the homes had fallen into vacant disrepair until the island was rediscovered and restored. Five years before, they had been one of the last families to buy, but even then the Victorian monstrosity had cost them very little money.
She stood on the cliff overlooking the small beach below and the city of Portland in the hazy distance. To the left was little Pearl Island, connected to Ruby Island during low tide by a sand bar. Below her the children, tended by a trim teen-age instructor, practiced their backstroke. They'd be home soon, their lips blue from the cold Maine water.
This was her oasis. Mornings of solitude and lazy afternoons picking strawberries or gathering shells with the children. Days of quiet during the week, and looked-forward-to weekends when Rob arrived. On Saturday nights they'd purchase cheap lobsters from the year-round inhabitants of Handle Island who ran pots in the bay, then they would cook a fortune of things in her large lobster cooker.
She hoped her walk would wash away the childish resentment she felt toward the alien intrusion. She had given Rob her word that the first hours of the tape would be transcribed by this coming Friday. She started back to the house and the waiting recorder.
She sat at the desk and adjusted the earphones, hesitant to push the "play" button. Her fingers poised over the keyboard of the typewriter. She pondered the irony of what she was going to hear. Not that she believed in capital punishment or that people should spend countless years in jail for faults that might be society's — but somehow there nagged within her a feeling of injustice that the voice on the recorder had killed another person and now, after three years in prison, was able to laugh and tell Rob about it in intimate detail.
She wished Rob had chosen another subject. For a year she'd tried to interest him in doing historical pieces for the Hartford Sunday Supplement, but he kept refusing, saying that it was too much like what he did at the office. "Well," she sighed, "here goes," and she pushed the play button.
The voice began its drone: "... after that little argument he kept bugging me about sex, but I told him, 'No way.' Not after what he'd said to me. That's when he got really nasty, and I locked myself in the bathroom. He kicked at the door for a while. I thought he might kick it in, but he'd done that before and it had only cost him money. So ... I guess he had a couple of drinks and went to sleep. Did I tell you how cheap he was? Oh, was that man cheap. If I so much as bought a dress or a pair of panties he raised holy hell."
"At this point you went into the bedroom." Tavie noticed that Rob's interviewing voice was a register or two below his normal speaking tone.
"No. This was still Saturday night. After I thought he was asleep, I went to my mother's house, across town. I slept in the same bedroom with her — she testified to that."
"You went back early Sunday morning?"
"Yes. About eight."
"Why did you go back?"
"I wanted to see if he'd apologize. He was still in the bedroom, and he started yelling at me again. I went into the kitchen, and he kept yelling things down at me."
"Then he was awake."
"Well, yes. I mean he'd have to be if he was yelling down to me."
"Then why did you go back to the bedroom?"
"I was mad. I mean, I was really mad. He kept yelling those terrible things down to me, and I went in there to give him a piece of my mind."
"Where was the gun at this point?"
"In the drawer of the nightstand."
"You stood at the foot of the bed and argued with him."
"Yes. He just lay there growling at me. I lost my temper and began to pummel him."
"At this point he's still on the bed."
"Yes. He kept holding my arms so I couldn't hit him. I wanted to slap him. I wanted to slap him for the things he was saying."
"He didn't hit you?"
"I guess not. I mean, there weren't any marks on me later, so I guess he didn't or if he did, it didn't show, and I bruise easily."
"The gun went off."
"How did the gun get out of the drawer?"
"Hey, come on. You sound like the prosecutor."
"If we're going to do this, Helen, you've got to be perfectly honest with me."
"Well, he must have taken it from the drawer, and we struggled over it."
"He took it from the drawer, not you."
"I'm not sure. Perhaps the drawer was open. Yes, that's what came out at the trial. The drawer was open and we struggled over it and then it went off."
"It went off how many times?"There was a pause and the tape ran noiselessly. "Six times. I don't recall. I don't remember hearing it, but there were seven shots fired."
"Seven? That weapon only holds six shots in the clips."
"There was one in the what-do-you-call-it."
"Yes, one in the chamber and then the ones that were in the gun."
"What happened to the first shot?"
"It hit him here."
"In the cheek."
"Yes. They said it probably knocked him unconscious in seconds. He just groaned and pulled the sheet over his head. Then the other shots went off."
"Where did they hit him?"
"That's all in the trial transcript."
"Do you recall?"
"Yes. I can't tell the order you know — which is which. The first went in the cheek like I said, then one in the arm and then the other arm. The one that killed him went into the forehead. That's what? That's four. The others went wild, one in the mattress, others in the wall and all over."
"The ones that hit him all went through the sheet?"
"No. Not the first one. That's when he pulled up the sheet. I remember smelling smoke, then the next thing I remember is sitting on the front steps."
"Let's go back for more detail."
"Hey, do we have to right now? Let's take a break."
"In a minute. You mentioned your brother earlier."
"That stupid jerk. I went home, to my mother's across town. If he hadn't opened his big mouth, they never could have placed me in the house. I never would have gone to jail, that stupid jerk. Hey, let's take a break."
There was a click as the hand microphone was turned off, and Tavie reached for the stop button. She paused. Sound still came from the machine. Odd sounds, a crackling, and then a distant voice. She realized what had happened. Helen had switched off the hand microphone, but the mike inside the cassette itself was still recording and would continue recording until the stop button was pushed. Her finger rested lightly on the stop button when a barely discernible voice became audible.
"Oh ... careful, you'll rip it."
The voices were distant, but if she strained with the earphones she could make out most of it.
"That's nice ... that's very nice ..." It was Helen's voice.
"You like that." Rob's voice, tinged with excitement.
"Oh, yes. Don't stop."
The voices were now faint and incoherent, and there was a rustling sound in the background. Tavie's finger, still poised over the button, was now inflexible and frozen. Again, the laugh, then Helen's voice: "Oh, Robert ... baby ..."
The wheels of the cassette player turned, and the sound finished as the tape ran out. She stared at the small turning wheels ...
Voices near her. Next to her.
"Mommy. Why are you crying?"
Excerpted from Who Killed Mr. Garland's Mistress? by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 1974 Richard Forrest. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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