Excerpt from Magic Hour
Chapter One Seymour Ira Spencer of Manhattan and Southampton was a class act. Hey, the last thing you’d think was “movie producer.” No herringbone gold chain rested on a bed of chest hair; there was no fat mouth, definitely no cigar. If you could have seen him, in his plain white terry-cloth bathrobe (which he was too well-bred to have monogrammed), standing on the tile deck of the pool of his beachfront estate, Sandy Court, sipping a glass of iced black-currant tea, talking softly into his portable phone, you’d have thought: This is what they mean when they say good taste.
I’ll tell you how tasteful Sy Spencer was. He actually might have hung up, strolled inside and picked out a Marcel Proust book to reread. Except just then he got blasted by two bullets, one in his medulla, one in his left ventricle. He was dead before he hit the deck.
Too bad. It was a gorgeous August day. I remember. The sky was a blue so pure and powerful you almost couldn’t look at it. Who could take that much beauty? Down at the beach, where Sy was, silver-white gulls soared, then dive-bombed into the ocean. The sand gleamed pale gold. Farther north, out beyond my backyard, potato fields gave off a rich, dark-green light.
It was the kind of perfect Long Island day that makes the summer people say: “Darrr-ling [or Ma chere or Kiddo), this is such a glorious time out here. And do you know what’s so pathetic? All the little social climbers are so busy being upwardly mobile that they never get to appreciate” - taking a deep, sensitive sniff of fresh air through their dilated nostrils - “such breathtaking loveliness.”
Jesus, were they full of shit! But they were right. That day, the sun bathed the entire South Fork of Long Island in glorious light. It was like a divine payoff. For the last five years, one of the secretaries in Homicide had been bestowing the same benediction on me: “Have a nice day, Detective Brady!” Well, God had finally come through. This was it.
For Sy Spencer, of course, this was not it. And to be perfectly honest, the day, wonderful as it was, wasn’t so nice for me either. Nothing as dramatic as Sy’s day. Definitely not so fatal. But the events of that sunny summer afternoon changed the ending of my story almost as much as they did Sy’s.
I was home in the northwest comer of Bridgehampton, six miles east and five miles north of Sandy Court, in considerably less impressive circumstances. My house was a former migrant worker’s shack. It had been renovated by a hysterically ambitious, pathetically untalented, ponytailed Brooklyn Heights architect, who comprehended, too late, that the place would never be considered a Find. He had been forced to sell it cheap to one of the locals (me) because even the most gullible smoothie from New York would not buy a low-ceilinged, Thermopaned, whitewashed hovel with a six-burner restaurant stove and aggressively cute fruits and flowers stenciled along the walls and floors, situated on a rutted, geographically undesirable road between a potato field and a stagnant pond.
Anyway, somewhere around the time the bullet blasted through the base of Sy’s skull, my life also blew up. Our two lives - ka-boom! - were joined. Of course, I didn’t know it. Unlike movies, life has no sound track; there was no ominous roll of drums. For me, it was still a nice day. A fantastic day. There I was, with my fiancée, Lynne Conway, lying on a blanket on the grass in my backyard, having moved outside from the bedroom for a little postcoital sun, conversation and iced tea. (I’d even thrown a couple of lemon circles into our glasses, to show that, okay, Lynne might have gone to Manhattanville College and known about fish forks, but I could still be a gracious host.)
Of course, if I had been truly gracious, we would have been stretched out on lounge chairs, but in the last few years I hadn’t had time for amenities like towels without holes, much less outdoor furniture. So what? I knew all that would change in three months, when we got married. We’d have lounge chairs on a brick patio. A barbecue with a domed cover. Tuberous begonias. I would stop referring to the bacon-cheddar cheeseburgers I ate in the greasiest diners in Suffolk County as dinner; I would come home to poached salmon with parsleyed potatoes, fresh asparagus. I would, at age forty, be a newlywed.
I turned over onto my side. Lynne was so pretty. Dark-red hair, that Irish setter color. Peachy young skin. A perfect nose, slightly upturned, with two tiny indentations on the tip, as though God had made a fast realignment in the final seconds before her birth. She wore khaki shorts that revealed her fabulous long legs. It wasn’t just her looks, though. Lynne was a lady.
She came from a good family . . . well, compared to mine. Her father was a retired navy cipher expert. His retirement seemed to consist of sitting in a club chair, his white-socked feet on an ottoman, reading right-wing magazines and getting enraged at Democrats.
Lynne’s mother, Saint Babs of Annapolis, went to Mass every morning, where she probably prayed that the Lamb of God would strike me dead before I could marry her daughter. Babs Conway needlepointed all afternoon while she watched The Young and the Restless and Geraldo; she was eight years into her masterwork, a gigantic “The Marys at the Sepulchre” throw pillow.
So there was Lynne: a nice Catholic girl. And a good woman. A beauty. Believe me. I knew precisely how lucky I was to have her. My life had not been what you’d call a charmed existence. Happiness was a blessing I’d doubted I deserved and never believed I would receive.
“For the honeymoon,” she said softly, adjusting the shoulder seam of my T-shirt, “what would you think - this is just another option - if instead of Saint John we spent a week in London?”