by Jessica Knoll
Biz dropped the phone when she heard my voice. I knew because I heard the damp thud of the receiver hitting Turquoise House's weak wood floors—something a Brooklyn designer would later reclaim and furnish into an overpriced dining room table for wealthy hipsters—and then Biz, huffing after it. Biz is one of those people who gains weight when she's stressed. I didn't like to imagine her mother's nasty asides when she went home for Thanksgiving break.
"Elizabeth!" Biz gasped into the phone, finally. "What the hell is happening?"
I fluffed the pillow behind my back and nestled deeper into the bed. It was queen sized, not the frothy quicksand I'd come to expect from the king in my favorite room at the Battery Park Ritz, but for Hicksville, New York, it would do. "Why I've been arrested!" I said, doing my best scandalized Scarlett O'Hara. "For murdah."
"Yeah," Biz snapped, "it's all over the news, I know. Where are you? Are you okay?"
"Room 14 at Geneva on the Lake," I told her, and blew on my nails. Bart, my lawyer, had driven me to the local Rite Aid to stock up on any essentials I may need after I was released to the custody of my father (hot pink nail polish is an essential, right?). My father went to boarding school with the supervising city judge of the 7th judicial district. My father went to boarding school with everyone who mattered.
Biz started to stutter something, frustrated that I was being so flip, but I cut her off and quickly filled her in on what had happened. I had been scared, really scared, before my father and Bart showed up. But seeing them reminded me that people like me don't face consequences the way the rest of the plebs do. We get away with everything. God, I'd been so arrogant. I deserved what I got.
When I got to the part about what Campbell wanted me to do—out my accomplice—Biz emitted a little mouse gasp. "Oh come on," I said, "I would never."
There was a pause, and I thought when Biz spoke next that she would thank me. Instead she said, "You don't have to. I'm going to turn myself in."
"Biz, no," I snapped. "I'm going to get out of this. I get out of everything."
"This isn't getting caught cheating on your modern art history final," Biz said. "This is murder." I thought I heard her swallow before she said the next thing. "And you did do it."
"Yeah, well, you didn't," I said, just as quietly. Now I was scared again. Maybe this would be the one thing I couldn't buy my way out of. "No need for you to get messed up in it."
Biz started to say something else but I was distracted by a noise near the balcony door. I found it hysterical they referred to 14 as a "balcony room." It was on the ground floor and the balcony consisted of a little circle of concrete with a few potted plants and a single lawn chair. "I have to call you back," I said to Biz. "Don't do anything unless you talk to me first." I hung up the phone over her protestations, my eyes locked on the door, on the silhouette moving like a shadow in Plato's cave. Hey, I had learned something in college!
I was just about to scream my head off for my father, in the next room, and Bart, in the room next to his, when I heard my name, and though muffled, I recognized it.
I climbed out of bed, smoothing my hair down as I made my way over to the door. I slid the door open, letting in the cool wet night, and Campbell, stepping inside and squeezing by me, like he did that first time at Turquoise House, staring down at me like he knew.
"I thought you'd be halfway to Europe by now," he said.
"As soon as my father wires the money to the Swiss account," I said, exaggerating a wistful smile for the sake of the joke.
Campbell stared down at me, and one vein in his jaw ticked. I was so in love with him I couldn't stand it. "Will you come with me somewhere?"
I glanced at the clock on the bedside table. It was almost one in the morning. "Isn't that against the terms of my release?"
"I'm the investigating detective on the case," he said. "If anyone sees us, I'll just say this is official police business."
I grinned. "Don't think that will work on my father." You should have seen the look on his face, when the two of us came out of the bathroom. I watched him closely, the way he first squinted at Campbell, trying to remember where he'd seen him before, before his face went slack and his lips started to move over words he wasn't saying. He glared at me, the fury in his face enough to power a small village in some third world country you're always being made to feel bad about in commercials narrated by has been celebrities.
"Come on," Campbell said, and tugged on my sleeve with the sort of playful grin that might make you believe that everything that had just happened was imagined. A bad dream. Because when someone looks at you like that—with normal, happy, stupid love—nothing bad can happen to you. It just doesn't work that way.
- - -
"Red or white?" Campbell asked, his eyes scanning the wine menu, back and forth back and forth, like he was reading a story in the newspaper.
"Mmmm," I hummed, considering. "What if we do bubbly?"
Campbell stuck out his lower lip and nodded. "What are we celebrating?"
I glanced around the restaurant. Port's was the town's one lone "fancy" restaurant, and there were nachos on the menu. It was of course closed at that hour, but Campbell knew the owner (in some sad micro way, Campbell knew everyone who mattered in his own little pond), and had him open up the kitchen, just for us.
"Normalcy?" I suggested.
Campbell liked that. He called out for his friend—"Jimmy!"—and asked him to bring us a bottle of the Finger Lakes finest champagne. I had to bite down on my tongue to point out that unless it comes from France, it's not technically champagne.
When our champagne flutes were filled, Campbell raised his glass and made us cheers to "normalcy."
"A normal date," I added, after taking a too-sweet sip. "Are we going soft?"
"I'd go soft for you," Campbell said. All the meanness, that stern, cold set to his face, was gone. He looked vulnerable, scared himself. It made the fear creep back in again.
"Am I going to be okay?" I asked, looking at my lap. "And I mean will I be okay even if I don't rat someone out. Because I'm not going to. So don't even try to convince me."
"I wasn't going to," Campbell said. "I think it's...honorable...that you're protecting whoever it is you're protecting." He placed his glass on the table and reached for my hand. "And yes, you're going to be okay."
A lightness came over me with that. "Really? You think so?"
Campbell sandwiched my hands between his own, pressing them together. "I know so. Now, can we talk about something else? Something normal? Since we're doing this normal date thing."
I thought for a moment. "Who's your favorite character on Friends?"
That made Campbell laugh. "Phoebe, I guess. Who's yours?"
I wrinkled my nose. It would be many years later until I could see the genius of Lisa Kudrow. "Phoebe? No. Chandler is the star of the show."
"That's such an obvious choice, Elizabeth," Campbell said. "Okay. Favorite book?"
I rolled my eyes. "Because I'm such a voracious reader."
"What? All your fancy schooling and you can't even pick one book you've read that you liked?"
I thought for a moment. "Okay. Maybe The Bell Jar."
Campbell groaned. "Every girl says that."
"Yeah, well, I can relate to her," I said.
"You need to be checked into a mental institution?" Campbell asked, tearing into a piece of bread.
"Ha," I said, and took another big gulp of my drink. "No. It's like, she rages against the machine and then ends up being a part of the machine anyway. She hates it, but what else can she do? Life gets all of us, eventually. I guess I can identify with that." I was looking over Campbell's shoulder when I said it, but when I refocused on him I was shocked to realize he was the closest to crying that I'd ever seen him.
"God, Campbell, what's wrong?"
Campbell blinked, and there was the stern set of his lips, his eyes, again. "Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "Nothing." He drummed his fingers on the table, thinking. "What's your favorite movie?"
I knocked back the rest of my drink and nodded at my glass, asking him to fill me back up. "Fatal Attraction," I said. The champagne curdled over the rim, and Campbell laughed.
The next morning, we were due at the police station, bright and early. I hadn't gotten home until almost four in the morning, and I was running on three hours of sleep. I would have looked like a haggard beast if I hadn't hit the genetics jackpot the way I did.
We were ushered through the station, everyone staring again, though for the first time no one was interested in me. They were looking at my father and Bart, in their custom made Brioni suits, their buttery leather shoes, clicking down the hallway like they had somewhere more important to be than everybody else.
The interrogation room felt much smaller with the three of us in it, plus Campbell and Roth, who was tanned and peeling. So that's where she'd been, I realized, vacation. I felt a weird sort of pang for her, imagining that she had meticulously planned and saved up for an exotic tropical getaway, that this little rich bitch ruined the first holiday she'd had in years. I hoped she'd been there with someone she loved, and then wondered who the hell I was turning into. Forget going soft with Campbell—I'd already spoiled.
"Thank you for being on time," Roth said once we'd all settled into our seats. It was 9:15 am. We were supposed to be there forty-five minutes ago. And like that, I hated Roth again.
"We hit a little traffic on the way in," Bart said, with a smooth smile.
"Ah, yes," Roth said. "It's an arduous three mile journey."
Bart ignored her. "I trust we have the paperwork we discussed, ready for Miss Van der Deer's signature?"
I had been slumped in my seat, playing cranky teenager, but now I sat up straight. "Paperwork?" I asked. "What paperwork?"
"Elizabeth, please," my father said through his teeth. "Let Bart do the talking here."
I looked to Campbell, hoping for some sort of clarity, but he was staring at a spot on the floor with the concentration of a nervous high schooler taking his SAT exam for the third time.
Detective Roth slid a Manila folder my way and flapped open the front. "As discussed," she said, coldly.
I studied the document in front of me. It was a mess of words and complicated legal jargon, but I made out "agrees to pay the family_____ ("Mason" was handwritten here) total sum of 1.9 million dollars for emotional, physical, and mental distress endured in the event of the accidental death of family member ____ ("Bridget Mason" was written here)."
"I'm sorry," I said, "what the hell is this I'm signing?"
Bart snatched the document out from under my nose and began to read it. "I need to send a copy of this to my team for review before Elizabeth signs."
"And how long will that take?" Roth wanted to know.
"Campbell," I said, weakly. "What the hell is going on?"
"Jesus Christ, Elizabeth," my father growled. "I said let Bart do the talking. You've done enough damage as is."
"Campbell," I said again, starting to cry. He wouldn't look at me. Why wouldn't he look at me? What did he know? Did he know about this last night? When he told me he knew I would be okay, even if I didn't out my accomplice?
"Elizabeth!" my father threatened.
"It's alright, Richard," Bart said, shushing him. "Let's not cause a scene." Bart removed his elegant reading glasses and spoke to Roth. "Give me a day for us to review and make any changes we feel necessary. Are you amenable to that?"
Roth smirked. "Super amenable."
Bart gave her a slithery lawyer smile. "Super."
Everyone began to gather their things to go, to make their way to the door. I tried to grab Campbell's arm, to demand to know what this all meant, but he shrugged me off him and sidestepped me, which only made me cry harder. It may have been the first time in my life I actually looked like a haggard beast.
My father pushed me out of the room, ahead of Campbell, telling me we had to go, that I had caused enough trouble, that the least I could do was get a hold of myself and accept responsibility like an adult. I was twenty-one years old after all!
I could hardly hear him. What I also could hardly hear were the words coming out of Campbell's mouth as I turned to look at him before I was shepherded out of the room entirely. But it looked like he was mouthing, "I'm sorry." He stretched his mouth around the words again and again. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."