You Don’t Own Me – Mary Higgins Clark

Sixty-year-old Caroline RadcliАe nearly dropped one of the saucers she was carefully stacking in the overstuАed sideboard when she heard a bellow from the den. She immediately felt guilty for turning her eye from the children for even a moment. She had been looking out the window rejoicing at the fact that now, in late March, she would be able to spend more time outdoors with the children. As she made her way toward the cry, four-year-old Bobby scampered by, an excited giggle escaping his open mouth. In the den, she found two-year-old Mindy wailing, her blue eyes focused on the tumble of building blocks scattered around her legs. It wasn’t diГcult for Caroline to see what was going on. Bobby was a sweet little boy, but he took pleasure in devising small ways to torment his baby sister. On occasion, she was tempted to warn him that girls have a way of balancing the scales eventually, but she Йgured they were typical siblings who would work itall out in the end. “It’s okay, Mindy sweetheart,” she said soothingly. “I’ll help you put them back, just the way they were.” Mindy’s pout only deepened, and she pushed a nearby stack of blocksaway from her. “No more!” she cried. The next sounds out of the girl’s mouth were an unmistakable request for Mama. Caroline sighed, bent down, and hoisted Mindy to her hip, wrapping her arms tight around the toddler until she quieted and her quick, upset breaths returned to normal. “That’s better,” Caroline said.

“That’s my Mindy.” Mindy’s father, Dr. Martin Bell, had made it very clear that he wanted Caroline to stop “babying the kids.” In his view, even picking Mindy up when she cried was “babying.” “It’s simple reward and punishment,” he liked to say. “Not to compare them to dogs, but—well, it’s how all animals learn. She wants you to hold her. If you do it every time she pitches a Йt, we’ll have tears flowing day and night.” Well, for starters, Caroline didn’t like comparing children with dogs. And she also knew a thing or two about raising them. She had two grown children of her own and had helped raise another six of them in her years as a nanny. The Bells were her fourth family, and, in her view, Bobby and Mindy deserved a little extra TLC. Their father worked all the time and had all his little rules for everyone in the house, including the babies. And their mother—well, their mother was clearly going through a rough patch. It was the whole reason why Caroline had a job in a house with a stay-at-home mom.

“Bobby.” She had heard his footsteps charging up the staircase. “Bobby!” she called out. She had learned by now that she and the children could make plenty of noise as long as Dr. Bell was gone. “I need to have a word with you. And you know why, young man!” Even though Caroline had a soft spot for these little ones, she wasn’ta complete pushover. Caroline placed Mindy down to greet her brother at the bottom of the stairs. With each step, Bobby’s pace slowed, trying to postpone the inevitable. Mindy’s gaze moved hesitantly between Caroline and Bobby, wondering what was going to happen next. “Cut it out,” Caroline told Bobby sternly. Pointing at Mindy, she said, “You know better than that.” “I’m sorry, Mindy,” he muttered. “I’m not sure I can hear you,” Caroline said. “I’m sorry I knocked your blocks down.

” Caroline kept waiting expectantly until Bobby gave his sister a reluctant hug. A still angry Mindy was having none of the apology. “You’re mean, Bobby,” she wailed. The moment was interrupted by the rumble of the mechanical door rolling open beneath them. Ofall the homes Caroline had worked in, this one was arguably the Йnest. It was a late-nineteenth-century carriage house. What once served as a horse stable had now been renovated with every modern amenity, including the ultimate Manhattan luxury—a ground-floor, private garage. Daddy was home. “Now maybe the two of you can pick all that mess up in the den before your father sees it.” Pop! Pop! Pop! Caroline’s scream scared the children, who both began to cry. “Firecrackers,” she said calmly, even as her racing heart told her that her Йrst instinct had been correct. Those were clearly the sounds of gunfire. “Go upstairs until I find out who’s making that racket.” When they were halfway up the stairs, she hurried to the front door and then ran down the front steps to the driveway. The dome light inside Dr.

Bell’s BMW was on, and the driver’s-side door was halfway open. Dr. Bell was slumped over the steering wheel. Caroline continued moving until she stood outside the open car door. She saw the blood. She saw enough to know that Dr. Bell wouldn’t make it. TerriЙed, she rushed inside and called 911. Somehow she managed to tell the dispatcher the address. It wasn’t until she hung up the phone that she thoughtabout Kendra, upstairs in her usual groggy state. Dear God, who is going to tell the children? 1 Five years later, Caroline was still working in that same carriage house, but so much had changed. Mindy and Bobby were no longer her little babies. They were nearly Йnished with the Йrst and third grades. They rarely cried anymore, even when the subject of their father came up. And Mrs.

Bell—Kendra, as Caroline often called her now—well, she was an entirely diАerent woman. She no longer sleptaway the days. She wasa good mom. And she worked, which is why it would fall to Caroline to pick the children up from their twice weekly visit to their grandparents’ apartment on the Upper East Side. It wasa task that neither of them enjoyed. Dr. Bell’s parents made their son look like a free spirit compared to them. Caroline had made it out of the apartment and halfway to the elevator when she heard the children’s grandmother call out behind her. She turned to see both grandparents standing side by side outside their door. Dr. Bell was thin, almost to the point of being gaunt. His wispy hair was combed sideways across the dome of his head. As chief of vascular surgery at prestigious Mount Sinai Medical Center, he had grown accustomed to getting his own way. Nine years into retirement the scowl he had brought to the hospital every day had not diminished in the least. Cynthia Bell, now in her eighties, showed little sign of the beauty that had once been hers.

Her long hours in the sun had left her skin wrinkled and dry. Her lips were turned down at the corners, giving the impression ofa permanent pout. “Yes?” Caroline inquired. “Did Kendra even try to get that television producer interested in Martin’s case?” Dr. Bell asked. Caroline smiled politely. “It’s really not for me to say who Mrs. Bell speaks to—” “You mean Kendra,” he said sternly. “My wife is the only Mrs. Bell. That woman is no longer married to my son, because my son was shot to death in his driveway.” Caroline continued to force a pleasant expression. Oh, how she remembered the drama that had unfolded in the living room six months earlier over the subject of that television producer. Robert and Cynthia had asked to come to the house following Mindy’s after-school dance recital. They told Kendra all about Under Suspicion, a television show that reinvestigated cold cases.

Without notifying Kendra, they had senta letter to the studio asking them to look into Martin’s unsolved murder. The oГcial Mrs. Bell, Cynthia, interjected. “Kendra tells us that the producer, a woman named Laurie Moran, passed on the case.” Caroline nodded. “That’s exactly what happened. Kendra was at least as upset about it as you are. Now, I need to get your grandchildren home before my shift ends,” she added, even though she was never one to watch a clock. As the elevator made its way down from the Bells’ penthouse apartment to the lobby, she had a feeling that the couple wasn’t going to let this subject drop. She was going to hear the name Laurie Moran again. 2 Laurie Moran was doing another round of “up . and down . and up . and down” to the beat of eardrum-piercing techno music in a room lit like a late 1970s disco. The man in front of her let out another enthusiastic “Wooooh!” which Laurie was certain provided no additional health benefits.

To her right, her friend Charlotte—the one who had suggested this morning’s spin class—grinned mischievously as she wiped her brow with a small towel. Her voice couldn’t overcome the music, but Laurie could read her lips: “You love it!” On her other side Linda Webster-Cennerazzo looked as exhausted as she did. Laurie most certainly did not, in fact, love it. She felt a moment of relief when the music changed to a song she recognized, but then the perfectly tanned and toned instructor ruined it by yelling, “Turn those knobs, people! It’s time for another hill!” Laurie reached down to the frame of her stationary bike as instructed, but snuck in two quick rotations of the knob to the left instead of the right. The last thing she needed was to increase her resistance, especially if you counted the psychological type. When the torture Йnally ended, she Йled out with the rest of the winded students and followed Charlotte and Linda to the locker room. It was unlike any gym Laurie had ever frequented, complete with eucalyptus-soaked towels, fluffy robes, and a waterfall next to the saunas. Laurie’s beauty routine took less than ten minutes, thanks to her wash-and-wear shoulder-length hair and a quick application of tinted moisturizer and one coat of mascara. She rested on a cedar recliner as Charlotte attended to her own finishing touches. “I can’t believe you put yourself through thatagony four timesa week,” Laurie said. “Neither can I,” Linda said. “And I cross-train the other three, don’t forget,” Charlotte added. “Now you’re just bragging,” Linda said, an edge in her voice. “Look, I Йnally decided I have to exercise like this, because most of the time, I’m sitting in a chair at work or going out to dinner with clients. The two of you run around plenty enough in your regular lives.

” “So we do,” Linda added as she headed for the shower. Laurie also knew that it was practically in Charlotte’s job description to be in tip-top shape. She was the New York head of her family company, Ladyform, one of the country’s most popular makers of high-end workout attire for women. “If I come back here again, I’m going to sit in the hot tub next to that waterfall and leave the wooooh-ing to you.” “Laurie, suit yourself. I think you’re perfect just the way you are. But you’re the one who said you wanted to get in better shape before the big wedding.” “It’s not going to be big,” she protested. “And I don’t know what I was thinking. Those wedding magazines pollute a woman’s brain: designer dresses, thousands of Мowers, and so much tulle! It’s too much. I’ve returned to my senses.” As she thought of her impending marriage to Alex, a surge of joy swept through Laurie. She tried to keep her voice even as she concentrated on what she was saying to Charlotte. “Once Timmy’s done with the school year, we’ll do something small and take a family trip together.” Charlotte shook her head disapprovingly as she tucked a tube of hair gel into her black leather Prada backpack.

“Laurie, trust me. Forget about a family trip. You and Alex are going on your honeymoon. It should be just the two of you. Toasting each other with champagne. And Leo would be happy to take care of Timmy when you’re away.” Laurie noticed a woman at a locker in the next row eavesdropping and lowered her voice. “Charlotte, I had a big wedding when Greg and I were married. I just want to have a quiet wedding this time. What matters is that Alex and I are finally together. For good.” Laurie had originally met defense attorney Alex Buckley when she recruited him to serve as the host of her television show, Under Suspicion. He became her closest conЙdant at work, and then more than that outside of the oГce. But when he stepped back from the show to return full-time to his legal practice, Laurie hadn’t been entirely sure how Alex Йt into her life. She had already found a great love in Greg and, after losing him, had forged ahead by juggling the demands of her career and being a single mother.

She thought she was perfectly content, until Alex Йnally made it clear that he wanted more from Laurie than he believed she was ready to give. As it turned out, she realized after a three-month hiatus that she was miserably unhappy without Alex. It was she who had called and asked him to dinner. The moment she hung up the phone she knew she had made the right decision. They had been engaged now for two months. She had already become accustomed to the feel of the platinum ring with a solitaire diamond that Alex had chosen. She honestly couldn’t recall whether she had even once asked Alex what he wanted. She tried picturing herself walking down a long aisle in an elaborate white gown, but all she could see was Greg waiting for her at the front of the church. When she pictured herself exchanging vows with Alex, she saw them somewhere outside, surrounded by Мowers, or even barefoot on a beach. She wanted it to be special. And different from what she’d had before. But, again, that was what she wanted. She wasalmost to her office door by the time she realized that her assistant, Grace Garcia, was trying to get her attention. “Earth to Laurie? You in there?” She blinked and was back in the real world. “Sorry, I think the spin class Charlotte dragged me to made me dizzy.

” Grace was looking at her with wide, dark eyes lined in perfect cat style. Her long, black hair was pulled into a tight I Dream of Jeannie topknot, and she was wearing a Мattering wrap dress and knee-high boots —only three-inch heels, practically flats by Grace’s standards. “Those spin addicts are a cult,” Grace warned dismissively. “All that hooting and hollering. And people wearing crazy outЙts like they’re in the Tour de France. Girlfriend, you’re in a gym on Fifth Avenue.” “It definitely wasn’t for me. You were saying something when I was in la-la land?” “Right. You had visitors waiting for you in the lobby when I got in this morning. Security told me they arrived before eightand were adamantabout waiting until you arrived.” Laurie was grateful for the success of her show, but could do without some of the ancillary beneЙts, such as fans who wanted to “pop in” to the studio for selfiesand autographs. “Are you sure they’re not fans of Ryan’s?” As popular as Alex had been with viewers, apparently the current host, Ryan Nichols, was considered “crush-worthy” by the younger generation. “They’re definitely here to see you. Remember the Martin Bell case?” “Of course.” A few months earlier, Laurie had thought the case would be perfect for Under Suspicion—a renowned physician shot to death in his driveway while his wife and children were just yardsaway inside the house.

“His parentsare in conference room B. They say the wife isa killer and they want you to prove it.”


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Updated: 22 May 2021 — 06:16

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