Every Breath You Take – Mary Higgins Clark

On an unusually cold and wintery Monday evening, sixty-eight-year-old Virginia Wakeling was making her way slowly through the costume gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As she wandered through the exhibitions, she had no premonition that the glamorous evening would end in tragedy. Or that she had only four hours to live. The museum had been closed to the public because the most lucrative fundraiser of the year was about to begin, but for this hour the trustees were invited to privately study the gowns former first ladies had worn at inaugural balls. Virginia’s own gown was a copy of one Barbara Bush had worn in 1989. An Oscar de la Renta creation, it had a long-sleeved black velvet bodice and a peacock-blue long satin skirt. She knew it looked both dignified and regal, exactly the impression she wanted to give. But she still was not sure of the makeup Dina had applied because she thought it might be too vivid. Dina had protested, “Mrs. Wakeling, trust me. It’s perfect with your dark hair and beautiful skin, and it absolutely calls for a bright lip rouge.” Maybe, Virginia thought, and maybe not. But she did know the carefully applied makeup took ten years off her age. She moved from one inaugural gown to the next, fascinated by the differences in them: Nancy Reagan’s one-shouldered sheath; Mamie Eisenhower’s with two thousand rhinestones on pink silk; Lady Bird Johnson in a corn-yellow gown with fur trim; Laura Bush in long-sleeved silver; Michelle Obama in ruby red. All of these women—so different, but each so determined to look her very best next to her husband, the President.

Life has gone by so quickly, Virginia thought. She and Bob had begun their lives together in a small, three-room, two-family home on the then-unfashionable Lower East Side of Manhattan, but their lives had begun changing immediately. Bob had been born with a knack for real estate, and by the end of their first year of marriage he had put a borrowed down payment on the house they were living in. That was the first of many brilliant choices he was to make in the real estate world. Now, forty-five years later, her homes included a Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion, a Park Avenue duplex, an oceanfront showplace in Palm Beach, and a condominium in Aspen for skiing vacations. A sudden heart attack had taken Bob five years ago. Virginia knew how pleased he would have been to see how carefully Anna was running the business he had built for them. I loved him so, she thought wistfully, even though he had a hot temper and was so domineering. That never really bothered me. Then two years ago Ivan had come into her life.

Twenty years younger, he had approached her during a cocktail party at an art exhibit in a small studio in the Village. An article about the artist had caught her eye, and she had decided to attend the show. Cheap wine was being served. She was sipping from a plastic glass and taking in the assorted mixture of people who were studying the paintings. That was when Ivan joined her. “What do you think of them?” he asked, his voice even and pleasant. “The people or the paintings?” she replied, and they both laughed. The exhibition ended at seven. Ivan had suggested that if she wasn’t busy, she might want to come with him to a small Italian restaurant nearby where he guaranteed the food was delicious. That was the beginning of what had become a constant in her life.

Of course, it was inevitable that, after a month or so, her family wanted to know where she was going and with whom. Predictably, their response to her answers had been one of horror. After he graduated college, Ivan had followed his passion in the sports fitness field. He was a personal trainer for now, but he had a natural talent, big dreams, and a strong work ethic, perhaps the only traits he shared with Bob. “Mom, get some widower your own age,” Anna had snapped. “I’m not looking for anyone to marry,” she told them. “But I certainly enjoy having a fun and interesting evening.” Now a glance at her watch made her realize that she had been standing still for minutes, and she knew why. Was it because despite the twenty-year age difference, she was seriously considering the possibility of marrying Ivan? The answer was yes. Shaking the thought away, she resumed her study of the dress forms of the former first ladies.

I wonder if any of them realized or even suspected that they would have a day like this in their lives, she asked herself. I certainly never dreamed of how my life would change. Maybe if Bob had lived longer and gone into politics, he might have been a mayor or a senator, even a president. But he did create a company, and a neighborhood, and a way for me to support causes I believe in, like the museum. This gala drew A-list celebrities and the city’s most generous donors. As a member of the board of trustees, Virginia would be front and center that evening, and she had Bob’s money to thank for the honor. She heard footsteps behind her. It was her thirty-six-year-old daughter, Anna, whose dress was as beautiful as the one Virginia had commissioned for herself. Anna had scoured the Internet for a gown similar to the gold lace Oscar de la Renta that Hillary Clinton had worn to the inauguration in 1997. “Mom, the media are arriving on the red carpet and Ivan was looking for you.

He seemed to think you’d want to be there.” Virginia tried not to read into her daughter’s words. On the one hand, “he seemed to think you’d want” was passive-aggressive, as if Anna knew better what her mother would want. On the bright side, apparently Anna had had a cordial conversation with Ivan and had come searching for her at his request. Oh, how I wish my family would accept whatever decision I finally make for myself, she thought, slightly annoyed. They have their own lives and everything they will ever need. Give me a break and let me live my life the way I choose. She tried to brush away the thought as she said, “Anna, you look gorgeous. I’m so proud of you.” They walked out of the gallery together, Virginia’s blue taffeta rustling next to Anna’s gold lace.

Later that evening Virginia’s black hair and colorful gown were spotted by a jogger as he ran through Central Park. He stopped when he realized his foot had grazed an object protruding from the snow. He was shocked to see that the woman he was looking at was not only dead, but her eyes were still open and her expression frozen in fear and horror. Virginia Wakeling had fallen—or been thrown—from the roof of the museum. 1 Laurie Moran could not ignore the satisfied expression on her nine-year-old son’s face as he watched the waiter place her breakfast on their table. “What’s the secret?” she asked with a smile. “No secret,” Timmy replied. “I was just thinking how really cool you look in that suit.” “Well thank you so much,” Laurie said, pleased, even as she reflected on the fact that Timmy’s use of the word cool was another sign that he was growing up. School was closed while teachers were at an education convention.

Because of that Laurie had decided to go in late so she could take Timmy and her father to breakfast. Timmy had been to Sarabeth’s restaurant for breakfast at least twenty times, but never approved of Laurie’s choice of the eggs benedict with salmon. “No one should eat fish for breakfast,” Timmy pronounced with confidence. “Right, Grandpa?” If Laurie had to handpick a rival for her son’s affections, she couldn’t have chosen a better role model than her father, Leo Farley. While other kids Timmy’s age were starting to admire athletes, comedians, and musicians, Timmy still looked at his grandfather, retired NYPD First Deputy Police Commissioner Leo Farley, as if he were Superman. “Hate to tell you this, kiddo,” Leo said crisply, “but you can’t keep eating pancakes with chocolate and powdered sugar on them for the rest of your life. Thirty years from now, you’ll understand why your mom’s eating fish, and I’m pretending to enjoy this turkey bacon that tastes like paper.” “So what do the two of you have planned for the rest of the day?” Laurie asked, smiling. “We’re going to watch the Knicks-Pacers game,” Timmy said. “We recorded it last night.

I’m going to look for Alex in his courtside seats.” Laurie suddenly put down her fork. It had been two months since she and Alex Buckley last spoke —and two months before that Alex had taken a break as the host of her television series to focus on his own law practice. Before Laurie even realized how important Alex was to her daily life, he was gone. There was a reason she often joked that she needed a clone. She was always busy, both at work and as a mother, but now that Alex was gone, there was an unmistakable void in her life. She kept herself going, one day at a time, focusing on her home and her work, but that was no help. Given Timmy’s mention of Alex, she expected her father to jump in and ask, How is Alex, by the way? Or, Does Alex want to join us for dinner this week? But instead, Leo took another bite of his dry turkey bacon. Laurie suspected that Timmy also wondered why they hadn’t seen more of Alex recently. If she had to guess, she’d say he was picking up on his grandfather’s cues not to ask about it directly.

So instead, he had mentioned Alex’s courtside seats. Laurie tried to sound matter-of-fact. “You know Alex donates them to charities most of the time. His seats will be there, but there might be other people in them.” Her son’s face fell. Timmy had managed to survive witnessing the murder of his own father. Heartsick, she realized that he was trying to replace him with Alex. She took a final sip of coffee. “Okay, time to earn my keep.” Laurie was the producer of Under Suspicion, a series of true crime–based television “news specials” focusing on cold cases.

The show’s title reflected its format of working directly with the people who were unofficial suspects in the investigations. They had never been formally charged, but still were living under a constant cloud of suspicion. It was always so hard for Laurie to commit to one case for each special, but she had narrowed the newest possibilities down to two. She dropped a kiss on Timmy’s head. “I’ll be home for dinner on time,” she promised. “We’ll have roast chicken?” She constantly felt guilty for not preparing more healthy meals for her son. “Don’t worry, Mom,” Timmy said. “If you’re late, we can have pizza.” Leo pushed back his chair. “I need to pop over to task force headquarters tonight.

I’ll go after you get home and be back for dinner by eight.” A few months ago, her father had stepped back into law enforcement waters by joining the NYPD’s anti-terrorism task force. “Sounds perfect,” Laurie said. She could not believe how blessed she was to have these two gentlemen—her sixty-five-year-old father and her nine-year-old son—always trying to make her life easier. • • • Fifteen minutes later she arrived at work and another man in her life immediately gave her a headache. “I was starting to wonder if you were coming in.” It was Ryan Nichols, calling out to her from his office as she passed his door. He had been hired as the host of her television show a mere three months earlier, and she still had no idea what he was doing at the studio full-time. “I have the perfect case for us,” he shouted as she pretended not to hear him. 2 Laurie deliberately ignored Ryan’s call and made it to her own office before having to deal with him.

Her secretary, Grace Garcia, immediately sensed that she was not happy. “So, what’s wrong? I thought you were taking your handsome son out to breakfast.” Sometimes Laurie thought that Grace valued the idea of Laurie taking a much-needed break more than she worried about her own time off. “How can you tell something’s wrong?” Laurie asked. Grace looked at her as if to say, Did you really just ask me that? Grace had always been able to read her like a book. Laurie dropped her bag on the desk inside her office, and a minute later Grace followed her carrying a cup of hot tea. Grace was wearing a bright yellow blouse, an impossibly narrow pencil skirt, and black sling-back pumps with five-inch heels. How she managed to carry anything without tipping over was a mystery to Laurie. “Ryan saw me get off the elevator and made some crack about my coming in late,” she said, spitting out the words. “He’s one to talk,” Grace exclaimed.

“Ever notice how he’s never here on the mornings after he attends some high-society event covered on Page Six?” Honestly, Laurie never noticed Ryan’s absence. As far as she was concerned, he didn’t need to be here at all until it was time to turn on the cameras. “Oh, are we talking about Ryan’s double standards for office hours?” The voice belonged to Laurie’s assistant producer, Jerry Klein, who had stepped from the office adjacent to hers to linger near her door. As much as Laurie pretended to disapprove of the constant flow of gossip between Jerry and Grace, the truth was that the two of them provided some of her most enjoyable moments at work. “Did Grace tell you that he kept dropping by here, looking for you?” Grace shook her head. “I was trying not to ruin her morning. She’ll see that guy soon enough. Tell me, Laurie, has anyone told him you’re the boss? He’s like a clone of Brett running all over this place.” Technically, Grace was right. Brett Young was the head of Fisher Blake Studios.

He’d had an enduring, successful television career. He was as tough as a boss could be, but he had earned the right to run his own ship, as tightly as he wanted. Ryan Nichols, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. To be sure, before he turned up at Fisher Blake less than four months ago, he was an up-and-coming star in the legal world. Magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, followed by a Supreme Court clerkship. In just a few years as a federal prosecutor, he had already won the kinds of cases that were covered by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But instead of continuing to develop his skills as a practicing lawyer, he left the U.S. Attorney’s Office so he could become a part-time talking head on cable news stations, offering instantaneous analysis about legal issues and trial coverage. These days, everyone wanted to be a celebrity, Laurie thought.

The next thing she knew, Brett Young had hired Ryan as the new host of the series without consulting her. Laurie had found a perfect host in Alex and working with him had been a pleasure. He was a brilliant lawyer, but he recognized that Laurie’s programming instincts were what made the series successful. The fact that he was a skilled cross-examiner made him the ideal questioner for show participants who thought they could get through production repeating the same lies they’d told during the original investigation. Ryan had only appeared in one special so far. He had neither Alex’s experience nor his natural skills, but he had not been nearly as disastrous as Laurie had feared. What bothered Laurie most about Ryan was the fact that he clearly saw his role at the studio differently than Alex had ever seen his. He was constantly finding ways to undermine Laurie’s ideas. He also served as a legal consultant to other shows at the studio. There was even talk about his developing his own programming.

And it was certainly no coincidence that Ryan’s uncle was one of Brett’s closest friends. So to get back to what Grace had intended as a rhetorical question: Did Ryan know Laurie was his boss? Laurie was starting to wonder. She took her time getting settled at her desk, and then asked Grace to call Ryan and let him know she was ready to see him. Maybe it was petty, but if he wanted to see her, he could be the one to walk down the hall. 3 Ryan stood in her office, with his hands on his hips. Looking at him objectively, she understood why one of the raging debates among fans of her show was “Who’s cuter? Alex or Ryan?” She had an obvious preference for one, of course, but Ryan was undoubtedly handsome, with sandy blond hair, bright green eyes, and a perfect smile. “This view is amazing, Laurie. And your taste in furniture is impeccable.” Laurie was on the sixteenth floor, overlooking the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. She had decorated the office herself with modern, but welcoming, furnishings.

“If this were my office, I might never leave.” She took a small amount of pleasure in the hint of jealousy she detected in his voice, but she didn’t need his small talk. “What’s up?” Laurie asked. “Brett seemed eager to get started on the next special.” “If it were up to him, we’d have two specials a week as long as the ratings held. He forgets how much work it takes to completely reinvestigate a cold case from scratch,” she said. “I get it. Anyway, I have the perfect case for our next episode.” She could not ignore the use of the word our. She had spent years developing the idea for this show.

As many unsolved murders as there were in this country, only so many of them met the unwritten criteria for the cases explored by Under Suspicion. Some cases were too unsolved—no suspects, the equivalent of random guesses. Some were essentially solved, and the police were simply waiting for the evidence to fall into place. A very narrow category in between—an unsolved mystery, but with an identifiable world of viable suspects—was Laurie’s specialty. She spent most of her time scouring true-crime websites, reading local news coverage all around the country, and sifting through tips that came in online. And always there was that intangible instinct that told her that this case was the one she should pursue. And now here was Ryan, certain that he had a novel idea for them to work on. She was confident that she would already be familiar with any case Ryan mentioned, soup to nuts, but did her best to appear appreciative that he had a suggestion. “Let’s hear it,” she said. “Virginia Wakeling.

” Laurie recognized the name immediately. This wasn’t a homicide from the other side of the country. It had occurred just a couple of miles from here, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And it wasn’t especially cold, either. Virginia Wakeling was a member of the museum’s board of trustees and one of its most generous donors. She had been found in the snow behind the museum on the night of the institution’s most celebrated fundraiser, the Met Gala. It was one of the most star-studded, highprofile events in all of Manhattan. She had died after a fall—either a jump or a push—from the museum’s roof. Wakeling was a big enough presence in the art world that there were murmurs the museum might even suspend the annual gala the following year when there was still no explanation for her death. But the party continued on, despite the absence of a solution to the ongoing mystery.

Laurie remembered enough of the facts to offer an initial opinion. “It seemed pretty clear that her boyfriend did it.” “As in ‘Under Suspicion,’ ” Ryan said, wriggling his fingers in quotes. “It looks like a closed case to me. He was considerably younger than Mrs. Wakeling. It seems as if the police are sure that he was the killer even if they can’t prove it. Wasn’t he a model or something?” “No,” Ryan said. “A personal trainer. His name is Ivan Gray, and he’s innocent.

” The knot in Laurie’s stomach grew tighter. As strongly as she had ever felt about any of her cases, she had never been certain about anyone’s guilt or innocence, especially at the outset. The entire purpose of her show was to explore an unsolved case with an open mind. She was fairly certain that Ryan had not stumbled onto this case by accident. “Do you happen to know Mr. Gray?” she asked. “He’s my trainer.” Of course, she thought. It made perfect sense. When Grace and Jerry were discussing Ryan’s idiosyncratic hours, they may as well have analyzed his various workout hobbies: hitting golf balls at the Chelsea Pier driving range, spin classes at SoulCycle, circuit training at the gym around the corner, and, if Laurie had to guess, some latest workout craze with his new pal, Ivan Gray.

“Yoga?” she guessed. Ryan’s face made his opinions about yoga clear. “Boxing,” he said. “He’s the owner of PUNCH.” Laurie wasn’t exactly a gym rat, but even she had heard of the trendy workout spot dedicated to boxing. Their flashy ads were emblazoned on subways and the sides of buses, depicting perfectlooking New Yorkers in fashionable exercise clothes and boxing gloves. The thought of punching an object named Ryan Nichols actually sounded pretty good to Laurie. “I really appreciate the suggestion,” she said coolly. “But I don’t think that case is right for the show. It’s only been three years.

I’m sure the police are still investigating.” “Ivan’s life has been basically ruined. We could help him.” “If he owns PUNCH, apparently it hasn’t been ruined entirely. And if he killed that woman, I’m really not interested in helping him. He could be using us to try to get free publicity for his gym.” Laurie couldn’t help but think back to the grief Ryan had given her only a few months ago. He hadn’t even been officially hired yet, but he took it upon himself to tell her that the case of a woman already convicted of killing her fiancé was unsuitable for her own show because he was so certain she was guilty. Ryan was looking at the screen of his iPhone. If it had been Timmy, Laurie would have told him to put it away.

“With all due respect, Ryan, the case isn’t even cold yet,” she said dismissively. Her own husband’s murder went unsolved for five years. Even without any suspects, the NYPD kept assuring her the entire time that they were “actively working” the investigation. “The last thing I want is to hurt our relationship with law enforcement by interfering.” Ryan was tapping on his phone screen. When he finished, he tucked his phone in his pocket and looked up at her. “Well, let’s hear him out. Ivan’s in the lobby and is coming up.” 4 Only one word came to mind when Laurie saw Ivan Gray walk into her office: huge. The man was enormous.

He was at least six-foot-three, but his height was not what stood out about his appearance. There wasn’t an ounce of spare flesh on his body. He looked trim and powerful. His hair was short and dyed brown. His eyes were hazel green. She was almost afraid to shake his hand, expecting a grip that would crush her fingers. She was surprised when he greeted her with a normal, human handshake rather than a painful clasp. “Thank you so much for inviting me in, Laurie.” She had not, in fact, invited him, and had not asked him to call her by her first name. “Well, Ryan speaks so highly of you,” she said flatly.

“The feeling’s mutual,” Ivan said, giving Ryan a friendly punch in the arm. “The first time he came in for a session, I thought, This guy’ll be begging to leave in twenty minutes. But he trains hard. Might even be able to defend himself against one of my better fighters if he keeps up the work—the female fighters, I mean.” It was the type of inside joke that immediately reminded the outsider—in this case, Laurie—that she wasn’t part of the gang. Laurie wished that Ryan would show the same kind of dedication to learning basic rules of journalism. She mustered a smile. She would normally study a case for hours before interviewing the primary suspect. She was at a loss for how to transition from their banter about Ryan’s latest workout obsession to a woman’s murder. Once she gestured for Ivan to have a seat on the sofa, she decided to jump right in.

“So Ryan told me you’re interested in having us reinvestigate the death of Virginia Wakeling.” “You can call it a reinvestigation if you’d like, but if you ask me, the NYPD hasn’t investigated it for even the first time. All they needed to know was that a sixty-eight-year-old woman was dating a forty-seven-year-old man, and they made up their minds. They didn’t seem to care about the complete lack of any evidence against me.” Laurie did the simple arithmetic in her head. Virginia had died three years earlier, making Ivan fifty years old today. He looked more like he was forty, but she suspected that he may have had some assistance in that area. His skin was tan, even though it was January, and that short hair might be hiding the onset of baldness. The case had been in the news so recently that Laurie was able to recall most of the reported facts from memory. From what she gathered, Virginia’s money was at the heart of the original police investigation.

Her husband had been a real estate genius, successful enough to leave Virginia an extremely wealthy widow. Laurie could only imagine what Wakeling’s family and friends thought when she began dating a personal trainer more than twenty years her junior. But, despite what Ivan said, his age and profession were not the only reasons he became the leading suspect. “With all due respect,” Laurie said, “to call it a complete lack of evidence is not entirely fair to the investigation, is it? Motive, after all, is a type of evidence. There were financial concerns, as I recall.” After Virginia’s death, police discovered that several hundred thousand dollars of her money had been spent on Ivan’s various expenses. Her children were adamant that their mother had not authorized the expenditures. They speculated that their mother may have discovered that Ivan was stealing from her, and could have been planning to pursue criminal charges against him. That would give him a powerful motive to silence her. “Nothing irregular at all,” he said.

“Yes, she helped me with some bills. The Porsche was her birthday gift to me. I tried not to accept it. It was far too generous, but she insisted. She told me that she loved the idea of being driven around in it with the top down in the summer. She said it was more a gift to herself than to me.” Laurie hadn’t remembered that an expensive sports car was involved, but even a Porsche didn’t amount to the kinds of expenditures at issue. “My recollection is that it was more than a car. Substantial funds were missing.” “They weren’t.

” He punched his right fist into his left palm to emphasize the point. Laurie found herself flinching. It wasn’t the first time that she had reminded herself she might be speaking to a killer. It was the nature of her work. She had a sudden eerie image of him lifting Virginia Wakeling and throwing her from the roof of the museum. Whoever killed her had to have been strong, and this man clearly fit the bill. Ivan’s voice was calm when he continued his explanation. “The money wasn’t missing. Like I said, she covered some small bills of mine, plus the car. The rest of the money was an investment in PUNCH.

That’s my gym.” Laurie nodded to signal that she was aware of his business. “It was a dream of mine, and Virginia knew that. She was a client. I’d have her do some boxing exercises—nothing heavy, mostly some rope jumping and shadowboxing. It’s a great workout, and totally different from everything else. People love it, and I knew that I had a winning idea. I never asked her to help me. I was absolutely shocked when she told me she’d give me the seed money. I found an old-school boxing gym and convinced the owner to sell it to me so I could transform it into a hot spot.

He’s technically a partner, but the business is all mine. Virginia believed in me. She knew I’d succeed, and I did.” Laurie could tell that he was proud of his accomplishments. Had they been built on the murder of an innocent woman? “How much money did she front you?” “Five hundred thousand dollars.” Laurie could feel her eyes widen. People had killed for far less. “I don’t understand, Ivan. If she was investing in your business, why didn’t you have a written agreement or some other proof of her intentions? My understanding from news reports at the time was that the children were adamant that their mother would never have agreed to give you that kind of money.” “Because that’s what Virginia told them.

Her children are greedy. They’ve had everything handed to them, and it’s never enough. They took one look at me and assumed I was a gold digger. To get them off her back, Virginia assured them that she wasn’t giving me anything. She wouldn’t even let me tell them that she’d paid for the Porsche. They had to suspect she was hiding it from them. I made a decent living as a trainer, but I would never have spent that kind of money on a car. But then after Virginia was killed, they made me out to be some kind of thief to the police.” “Spending money on luxuries like sports cars is one thing. You don’t think a mother would tell her children that she was investing a substantial amount of money in a business?” He shook his head.

“I know that she didn’t. Don’t get me wrong: Virginia loved her children, and was very close to them. But they didn’t really know their mother. Virginia was going through a tremendous change when she was killed. Bob—that was her husband—had been gone for five years. She was finally living her life beyond just being his wife and their mother. She was completely independent and finding such joy in her philanthropy. She had stepped back from some causes that were important to Bob and had chosen her own. That, of course, included a seat on the board at the Metropolitan Museum.” Laurie couldn’t help but notice the gentleness in this big man’s voice when he spoke about Virginia.

“And how did your gym fit into that?” “My point is that she was happy—really, truly happy—forging her own identity. But her children second-guessed everything. They wanted her in a time capsule. They didn’t like the idea of her changing, and I was part of that change. We were very serious about getting married. I had already bought a ring for her. But she wasn’t ready to tell the family. Virginia believed that once my boxing business was off the ground, her children might start to accept me. That’s why she helped me, and that’s why she didn’t tell anyone about it.” “But there must have been checks that she signed, something to prove she consented to the expenditures.

” “She did it all electronically. Virginia was older than me, but better online than I am. She could donate a hundred thousand dollars to a charity with a few keystrokes.” Or alternatively, Laurie thought, you knew her passwords and figured she was so wealthy and generous, she would never miss the money. “She wired about half of that money directly to my partner for my initial buy-in,” Ivan explained, “and then the other half went to pay for equipment, improvements on the space—the costs of starting up a business. But it wasn’t gone. It was in a business that she believed in, which would have been part of our income after we were married.” Ryan had been quiet up until this point, but Laurie could tell from the way he was leaning forward in his seat that he was eager to interject. “It’s just like I said, Laurie. Ivan was stereotyped from the very beginning, but he didn’t actually have a financial motive to hurt Virginia.

First of all, there wasn’t a shred of evidence to prove that the money Virginia put into PUNCH was stolen. Even if Ivan had stolen money from her—” “Which I didn’t—” Ryan held up a palm to cut Ivan off. “Of course not. But assume for the sake of argument that he had, it would have been Virginia’s word against his if she had accused him of taking the money without her permission. They were in a close, romantic relationship. They weren’t officially engaged yet, but had clearly discussed marriage in the future, as evidenced by the purchase of a ring from Harry Winston. She had obviously spent other amounts of money on him voluntarily, including the Porsche. I’m telling you as a former prosecutor, no lawyer could have proven a case of theft against Ivan beyond a reasonable doubt. In a worst case scenario, they would have reached some kind of settlement where he repaid her from the business, as if she were an investor.” Laurie could see the logic of Ryan’s argument.

If anything, the only consequence of Virginia’s murder would be to ensure that Ivan never got to marry into her money. Her death had also called attention to her finances, virtually ensuring that Ivan would be the leading suspect. She had to hand it to these two. In a short meeting, they had managed to spin her perception of Ivan on its head. From this new perspective, she could see Ivan’s argument that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose from murdering Virginia. Ivan must have recognized that she was beginning to get pulled into his side of the story. “I swear to you, Laurie, I didn’t do it. I loved Ginny. That’s what I called her. She told me that when she was young that was her nickname, but her husband wanted her to be called Virginia after he started to become well known.

We would have been married within months if she had lived, and we would have been happy.” Ryan added, “Laurie, I know you hate it when I step on your toes around here, but I’m telling you: this case will be a hit for Under Suspicion. It’s perfect. And we’d be helping a good man.” Normally by the time she asked the most important question, she had already mastered every publicly available fact about the case. But, at the risk of jumping in too soon, she asked it now, because she had to know. “If you didn’t kill Mrs. Wakeling, who did?” When Ivan immediately looked to Ryan instead of answering the question, she believed her first instincts had been right. When the pause grew longer in silence, she began to stand from her chair. “Okay, I think I can mull things over from here—” “No, wait,” Ivan exclaimed.

“It’s not that I don’t have my theories. Trust me, I do, and facts to back them up. But I’ve got a training session in fifteen minutes with an A-list movie star, and I never expected you to hear the full side of my story. I’m not sure I want to start naming names unless you really think you might use Virginia’s case. I’ve managed to go on with my life, even though I know a lot of people think I’m a murderer. If I stir all of this up again, I want it to be for a good reason.” She didn’t know what to think of Ivan’s logic. On the one hand, it seemed like an innocent person would drop everything for a chance to clear his name. On the other hand, she could picture Ryan cajoling Ivan into coming up to the studio, in which case Ivan might be having second thoughts about saying too much. “Fair enough,” she said. “Let’s each take a day to mull it over. We can meet again tomorrow if we both think it’s worthwhile.” Ivan nodded his agreement. “Thank you so much, Laurie, for your time and for keeping an open mind,” he said. “It means so much to me.” This time, when he shook her hand, the grip was tight enough to burn.

.

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