Jeannette Angell

Novelist | Playwright | Short Story Writer | Poet

The Illusionist Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Illusionist

The telephone was ringing.

At first, Julie incorporated the sound into her dream: she was seeing someone off on a train platform, with steam rising all around her in a swirling gray mist and, somewhere off to the right, the shrill whistle of the station-master sounding in her ears. And then she noticed how the whistle was blowing, not in one long steady blast but in short, disjointed intervals, and she wondered what was wrong with it.

It took her a moment to understand that it was a telephone that she was hearing.

There was no telephone on the train platform. Julie looked around her, but she couldn’t find any, and reluctantly she began to surface through the deep gauzy layers of sleep and realize that it was ringing somewhere else.

She groped around on the night-table and eventually found it, slowly re-orienting herself to her bedroom with the big canopy bed and the bedside clock and the telephone. She pulled the receiver over to her face, still buried in the pillow. “Hello?”

“Hello? Julie? Is that you?”

She glanced over to the other side of the bed, where Ian lay sleeping, and rolled over and pushed herself to a sitting position. The lighted hands on the clock said three-thirty. “It’s me,” she mumbled.

It was a man’s voice. “Julie, it’s Victor.”

She frowned and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. Victor. The last time she had seen him was… she tried to figure it out, but wasn’t awake enough, yet. Some Christmas party a few years back, in Newburyport. There had been tinsel glittering on the tree, and the sharp pungent odor of pine logs burning in the fireplace, and a room over-warm from too many bodies. Victor had had a lot of eggnog and was loudly sharing his thoughts on the differences between American and European notions of capitalism, and everyone was trying to be polite, but secretly laughing at him, because he was so pompous. His velvet bow tie — Victor was never without a bow tie — had been slightly askew, and Julie had found herself staring at it, mesmerized, wondering if it would fall off.

Yes, well, apparently she had had too many eggnogs that night, too.

Victor was her half-brother. He lived in France with his elegant Parisian wife and their two perfect accomplished children; and he always made Julie feel acutely conscious of the different paths their lives had taken. Not that she regretted hers… she just noticed its eccentricity more, when she was with Victor.

The thought jolted her into a further stage of wakefulness.

If Victor was calling her in the middle of the night, then something was wrong. Really wrong. “What is it?”

With Victor, the approach was always honesty without tact. “Your mother just rang me. Father’s been arrested.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment, because she couldn’t think of what to say. If Victor had told her that anybody else — Peter, perhaps, or even her mother, Beverly — had been arrested, then Julie might have believed him. But Daddy? The thought was ludicrous.

“Julie? Are you there?”

“I’m here,” she said, carefully. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

There was a sigh on the other end of the telephone, and a sort of shuffling sound. She knew what it was: Victor lighting a cigarette. He had picked up the habit of smoking from Beverly; but while she was forever switching brands, reading about how this one was low-tar and that one was low-nicotine and another had pretty flowers on the filter, Victor had simply started off with Gauloises, harsh and unfiltered. Julie had teased him at the time: “Do not pass Go, go directly to the cancer ward!” He hadn’t laughed. That was something else about Victor, his Teutonic lack of a sense of humor.

She waited, now, through the first inhale-exhale, for him to speak again. “Your mother says that he was arrested this afternoon. I don’t know by whom. The government here wants him extradited.” There was another pause, and then he said, with a touch of wonderment in his voice, “Julie, they’re saying that he committed crimes against humanity.”

Fear made her stupid. “What does that mean?”

His voice was level and detached, as though he was reciting some headline he had read in the paper, or reading from a list of grocery items. “Well, I can’t believe that this is still going on now. It’s from the Occupation. The war. It’s the equivalent of war crimes, only it has to do with civilians, or something like that — there’s stuff that doesn’t fit into that category, and besides there’s no statute of limitations with the crimes against humanity charge. Anyway, whatever. They want Father to come here, to France, to stand trial.”

Julie took a deep breath. “For what? That’s ridiculous,” she said, struggling against absorbing the information. “Who said that? They’re wrong. They’ve got him confused with somebody else, or something like that.”

Beside her, Ian stirred and mumbled something as he, too, struggled out of his dreams. Beyond him, ghostly in the darkness, was the shirt-front from his tuxedo, flung carelessly over a tapestry chair, and her sequined black dress on the floor beside it. They had been exhausted when they came in. The Berlioz, Julie remembered irrelevantly, her mind running happily down familiar pathways. The first aria had been on, really on, but she hadn’t been able to hear the violins during the second one very well…

Victor said, doubtfully, “I don’t know. Beverly said they seemed pretty specific, as if they knew what they were talking about. She wants me to do something. It’s too early for me to call anybody around here and find out for sure, that’s what she doesn’t understand, with the time difference from the States.” He sounded peevish.

So that was why she had called Victor, Julie thought, recognizing suddenly the sharp jab of jealousy that she was feeling, the irrational anger that Beverly had not called her, first: Victor lived in France. Victor worked for the French government, as a minor civil servant in Strasbourg: Beverly’s reasoning was clear. Victor would be able to find out how the mistake had been made, and who had made it. It would all work out.

Julie breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Well, you’ll find out as soon as you can, won’t you? I can’t believe that anybody could make a mistake like that, but you’ll get it straightened out in the morning. I’ll call Beverly and try to reassure her.”

“Yes, of course.” But there was something in his voice, something heavy and dark and frightening, and Julie’s hand tightened on the receiver. “Victor. It is a mistake.”

“Of course it’s a mistake,” he said impatiently, anger spurting suddenly in his voice. “Of course it’s a mistake. It’s just a horrible coincidence, that’s all. Or else someone’s out to get Father. Either way, there’s nothing that I can do about it now.” Victor said “nothink” for “nothing.” His accent, when he spoke English, was uneven, part guttural and part graceful, a result of his mixed heritage: French mother, French-German father. Strasbourg — and Victor along with it — had always found itself caught between two worlds. “I’ll have to find out in the morning.”

“Did you call Peter?”

“I sent him a telegram. At his last two addresses, just in case, in Osaka and Beijing. It’s the best I can do, in the meantime.”

“I suppose so.” There were families, Julie thought, that would know where to reach each other in times of emergency. There were families that stayed together, closely in touch, seeing each other frequently. Ian’s family was like that, brothers and sisters always in and out of each other’s drawing rooms and each other’s lives, sharing sorrows and triumphs with an easy and casual intimacy which was foreign to her: it was one of the things that both fascinated and frightened her about Ian.

Her own family was flung out across three continents like pearls on a long filigree necklace. Her parents still lived in Massachusetts, as they had for all of her life; Victor had settled back in France, where he was born; and Peter, at the moment, was somewhere in China… or wherever else his newspaper chose to send him. Victor was better at keeping up with his brother’s travels than was Julie.

Victor and Peter had always been close. It was only right, Beverly had soothed Julie, when she went crying to her mother for having been excluded from yet another of the boys’ games. They were different. They were brothers in more definite a way than Julie was their sister: they were linked by a common birthplace, the same parentage, fewer years between their ages. But she hadn’t understood, hadn’t wanted to understand, feeling only the pain of not being part of their closeness. And when they went off to their chosen careers in their chosen corners of the world, she hadn’t followed them with letters and telephone calls and Christmas cards. She had let them go into their individual lives, tramping paths through obscure parts of the world, while she delighted in finally being the center of her parents’ attention.

Victor cleared his throat. “I’ll call you, when I have something definite,” he said. “Where will you be, later today?”

Today. Julie forced herself to start thinking. It was Friday, her weekly lunch with Rosemary and rehearsals in the afternoon and then another performance at eight… “I’ll call you,” she said, firmly, to Victor. “Sometime later this morning. And I’ll call Beverly, too, in the meantime.”

“All right.” Decisive Victor was for once having difficulty ending the conversation. “Julie, I’m sure that it’s really nothing —”

“Of course it’s nothing,” she said, coldly, suddenly afraid of revealing too much to him. There was panic rising in her throat, clutching at her stomach; and when she had been little, Victor had made the most fun of her when she was afraid. He would tell her horrible stories right before bedtime, and would rig her closet door with a string so that it would open, by itself, just when she was falling asleep.

Julie shook her head, as though shaking away the memories, clinging to her like the cobwebs she had imagined in that long-ago closet. “We’ll find out what happened and we’ll make sure that whoever started this gets punished. We’ll sue them, or something.” She took a deep breath, disconcerted to find how shaky it was. “We’ll figure it all out,” she said, again, and could almost feel Victor nodding on the other end of the line.

“Call me at the office,” was all that he said, and gently disconnected.

She stayed still for a moment, biting her lip, and then reached to put her own receiver back in place. Ian rolled over and put his arm around her, not wanting, yet, to fully wake up. “What was that all about?”

“My father’s been arrested.” The panic wasn’t subsiding; there was a tremor in her hands, now, too.

“What?” He propped himself up on one elbow and peered at her through the shadows. “Put the light on, for God’s sake. What do you mean, your father’s been arrested?”

Julie snapped on the bedside lamp and put the telephone in her lap. “I’ve got to call my mother,” she said, softly, but made no move to dial the number. Unconsciously, she started to rock back and forth. “Oh, God, Ian. Oh, God. My father’s been arrested.”

He moved into a sitting position next to her, putting an arm awkwardly, tentatively, around her shoulders, his fair hair tousled and his eyes puffed with sleep and his ridiculous striped pajamas as neat as they had been when he first got in bed. He was trying to comfort her but, irrationally, she didn’t want to be comforted. She wasn’t ready to cry yet, or to hear any soothing words, or to even reason her way through the maze of possibilities suddenly opening up in front of her. The panic was gripping her too tightly.

That was something that had always annoyed her about Ian, anyway, along with his perfect pajamas and his carefully cultivated upper-class accent: his need to always be in control, in any given situation. Ian was Sir Ian Hunter-Forsbury, and his upbringing showed, all the time, but especially in emergencies.

It wasn’t his fault; it was just the way that he was. Even the crisis in his family when they discovered that he was “spending time” — that was the euphemism — with an American opera singer was handled by Ian with grace and tact and discretion. And that mattered a great deal more in those genteel circles, Julie consequently discovered, than the fact that she was by that time nearly as well-known to the music world as was Ian himself.

But his airs were annoying at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. Julie, irritated, moved away from his arm. “I have to call my mother,” she said again. She was having trouble breathing. Big surprise. She reached for the inhaler on her night-stand and pumped it into her mouth without thinking about what she was doing. Asthma, the bane of vocalists. Again, big surprise.

Ian was frowning. “Arrested your father?” he repeated, rhetorically, intent on his own line of thought, his voice incredulous. “How ridiculous! What’s he supposed to have done? Pilfered old university papers?”

Julie took a deep breath. “He is supposed to have committed war crimes,” she said, as steadily as she could. “He’s being extradited to France.”

“Good God. You can’t be serious.”

“I can be serious,” she said, coldly. Suddenly she didn’t want Ian, or his striped pajamas, or his affectations, or his British understatement, sitting next to her. “I’m going to call my mother,” she said, again. “Why don’t you go and make some tea?” And then, as she saw him stiffening to protest, she added, with just the right note of supplication, “Please?”

“Well, you may be right. Tea would help,” said Ian, deciding to be good-humored about the whole thing. He stood up and pulled on his maroon dressing-gown, knotting it around his waist, and then looked back at Julie. Whatever he saw in her face apparently made him want to reassure her, for he added, “You know, darling, it probably all will turn out to be some ghastly mix-up.”

“I know.” But there were tears in her eyes, suddenly, hot and burning, catching her by surprise. And her stomach was hurting from the knots inside.

She waited until she could hear him clattering around in the kitchen, and then dialed the long-distance number. She could picture the telephone ringing in the quiet front hall, her mother pausing in whatever she was doing, frozen for a moment, and then moving again as she went to answer it. It would be nearly eleven at night back in Newburyport.


“Beverly. It’s me, Julie.” For one absurd moment she wanted to say, Mommy… But the time for saying that was long past, had slipped away before she even knew that it was happening. When Julie was twelve or thirteen, Beverly had taken her into the big silent master bedroom and told her that it was time to buy a brassiere. Julie hadn’t ever considered such a thing, and was mildly shocked: bras were something for older women, other people, not for her. Her mother, however, was firm. “And you might as well start calling me Beverly now, too, like Victor and Peter do.”

Julie had looked at her with wide eyes, not knowing precisely what transformation was happening inside her — and between them — but conscious that something very important was going on. And she had accepted the bra and the name without protest, because that was the way that she had been brought up, the persona that she had adapted for herself. Good, obedient Julie. Her mother expected it and her father demanded it.

After that, and all through high school, she was the envy of her friends. “I wish my mother was as progressive as yours!” And it was only once in a while, when she was tired or frightened or sick, that she wished Beverly would go away and safe secure Mommy would come back. It was as though they were two different people, the mother that she had had when she was little and the mother that she had suddenly acquired when it was time to put on a bra. Beverly had her own thoughts and doubts and fears; but Mommy had been safe and omnipotent and wise. There was something important in knowing that her mother was human: but something else had been lost, too.

There was a long silence on the other end of the telephone, and then Beverly said, almost hesitantly, “Did Victor call you?”

Julie moistened her lips. “Yes. Is it true?”

“That Albert’s been arrested? Yes.” Another pause, and when she spoke again her voice seemed different, lost, a little forlorn. “They won’t even let me post bail for him.”

“Oh, Beverly…” There had never been any question of calling her father by his first name. It would never have occurred to him. “He’s of the old school,” Beverly used to say, and then she and Julie would giggle about it, like co-conspirators. Like sisters, thought Julie. Her father was older than her mother, just as the boys were older than Julie: he had married Beverly when she was eighteen, one of the students in the undergraduate anthropology class he taught at Harvard. She called him Herr Professor, sometimes, and that always made him laugh.

“But I thought that Daddy came from France!” Julie had protested, and Beverly nodded. “From Strasbourg. That’s not the same thing.” Nor was it: Alsace and Lorraine had been French and German in so many successions that no one who lived there was really entirely French or entirely German. “He only went to Paris because of his wife.”

His wife. Julie had thought about her, too, the chic mysterious Frenchwoman who was Victor and Peter’s mother, who had died during the war. It was right after that, in 1945, that Albert Gower had moved his family to America. “Too many memories,” he told Julie, once. “Too much hurt. Europe was reeling with pain, after the war. I wanted to give my sons more than that as a legacy.” And so he had gone to teach at Harvard, and there, when the sun was slanting brightly on the bricks and grass of Harvard Yard and he had just received his tenure and the horrors of Europe had finally become ghosts belonging to another man in another lifetime, that he had met Beverly.

“Doesn’t it bother you that he was married before?” Julie demanded, once, with the fierce categorical loyalties of childhood firmly entrenched in her soul — it was common knowledge among her friends that one could only have one best friend, one boyfriend, one husband — and her mother laughed. “Why should it? Good heavens, child. I was only a baby when he married Isabelle. I had other things on my mind, then.”

There were other things on her mind now. “I didn’t want to disturb any of you, but I thought that you ought to know right away. And I thought that Victor could help. He said that he’d make some calls.”

“I know.” Julie tried to put some assurance into her own voice. “He can’t for a few hours, Beverly. It’s four in the morning here.”

“So it is.” She sounded surprised. “Funny. I didn’t even think of that.”

“It’s all right.” Julie moistened her lips again, trying to think of what to say. “Are you alone there? Is there someone around who can stay with you?” Beverly always had friends in and out of the big house in Newburyport, people coming to play bridge, to attend parties, to laugh with her over coffee, to go into town looking for antiques.

“I — can’t.” Beverly’s voice was very quiet. “I didn’t — I don’t — want to tell anybody about this. Not yet. When Victor finds out more, then maybe…” Her voice trailed off uncertainly, and Julie found herself nodding in understanding.

She made her voice sound brisk. “Well, then, try to get some sleep. There’s nothing that any of us can do for a few hours, and you might as well rest. Do you still have any Valium?” There had been nightmares, sometimes, and Beverly’s doctor had prescribed the same blue pills he had been prescribing for her, on and off, in all of the years since Claire had died. Especially around Christmas time. “I know that it’s silly,” Beverly would say, “but I miss her most of all at Christmas. I imagine her here with us…” She said the same thing every Christmas; and every Christmas Julie had felt that she shared her place by the tree with a ghostly pale wraith, the sister of her mother’s imagination.

“Oh, I couldn’t take anything. Not without knowing…” Beverly sounded almost shocked by Julie’s suggestion. There was a pause, and then she added, with surprise in her voice, “I haven’t spent a night without your father in nearly twenty years.”

And nor had she. Despite the differences in their ages, and in their backgrounds, Albert and Beverly Gower were very close. The closeness of pain as well as the closeness of love, of betrayal as well as loyalty… but whether they were bound together by forces angelic or demonic, the reality remained: they knew each other intimately.

Which made the whole thing seem even more absurd… indecent, almost. How could anyone suppose, thought Julie, that her father had done anything that her mother didn’t know about? They were too close for that. It was ridiculous. It was a mistake. “We’ll find out what the truth is,” she said, firmly, “and then someone will pay for causing all this trouble.”

“Yes,” said Beverly, but her voice carried no conviction. For her, the morning was still a long way off.

Julie took a deep breath. “You know that I’d come stay with you if I could. But we’re right in the middle of the Berlioz…” Her voice trailed off: it seemed a lame excuse, faced with the depths of her mother’s distress. And yet it was true. “I’ll call you again after I talk to Victor.”

“Yes,” said Beverly, and then in a rush, as though she had held the thought inside for too long already, she added, “They said that he would have to leave for Paris right away.”

An almost overwhelming sense of anger overtook Julie. “They won’t take him anywhere, Beverly,” she said, fiercely. “We’ll see to it that they don’t. They don’t have the right.”

“No,” her mother agreed.

“We’ll straighten it all out,” Julie said, and it wasn’t until after she hung up the telephone that she realized that she wasn’t even sure who the “we” was that she was talking about. Surely she wasn’t referring to Victor: she hadn’t shared anything with Victor for years.

She got up and pulled her own satin dressing-gown around herself, catching a fleeting glimpse of her reflection in the dressing-table mirror as she stood up. She had the same dark red hair as Beverly’s, only on Julie it was longer and curly, tangled and unkempt now from sleep; and it made her think of her mother, picturing her gesture as she hung up the telephone, brushing the lock of that same red hair off her forehead, as she always did when she was worried.

Well, it seemed that there was something to worry about, now.

Ian was still rattling around the kitchen, setting out the tea, silent with his own thoughts. He had made toast, too, and was rooting around in her refrigerator for butter and marmalade. Julie pulled her robe closer around her and sat down at the kitchen table. She could feel herself wheezing a little, and groped in her pocket for the inhaler, just to reassure herself that it was there. “God, it’s cold.”

He glanced at her, briefly, and then went back to the refrigerator. “I turned on the electric fire.” And so he had: the twin bars were glowing orange with warmth.

“I don’t understand,” said Julie, with feeling — and relieved to have something to say, some way of venting the anger and fear inside of her — “why the British, who are otherwise reasonably civilized as a nation, still haven’t yet gotten around to putting central heating in their buildings.”

Ian thought for a moment about reminding Julie that it had been her own informed choice to live in London, and then very sensibly decided to not respond to her, concentrating instead on setting the teapot on the table and handing her the butter knife. She watched him for a moment, his long smooth musician’s hands moving deftly about with the teacups and the spoons, and felt herself relax, just a little. The ordinary familiar gestures helped; and those hands…

It was Ian’s hands that had attracted her to him in the first place, watching them move with mysterious magic over the keyboard of a grand piano. She had been so mesmerized, she remembered, that she had missed her cue to come in and Ian had stopped playing, looking up at her, perplexed. And she had laughed to cover her awkwardness, and he had thought that she was laughing at him, and they didn’t actually speak to each other for days after that.

He was sitting down across the kitchen table from her now, pouring her tea and buttering the toast. “What did your mother say?”

Julie wrapped her hands around the fragile china, as though hoping that it might warm her. “She doesn’t know what to say. She’s in shock.” She raised her eyes to meet his. “They won’t even let her raise bail for him, Ian.”

He was pouring his own tea and didn’t say anything for a moment, watching what he was doing. Finally he put the teapot down and sat back and looked at her, his clear gray eyes gentle and troubled. “I shouldn’t think they would, in a deportation case,” he said, mildly, and then, almost as an afterthought, “What did your father do during the war?”

Julie set her teacup down abruptly. “How can you ask that? Don’t tell me that you believe —”

He was shaking his head. “Of course I don’t. But you have to start thinking about a defense, darling. And the best way to do that is to be able to say that your father wasn’t in fact where they say he was. Do you see?”

She nodded. “Yes. Yes, of course, you’re right.” She took a deep breath and raised her teacup to her lips, still clutching it tightly. “The problem is,” she said, as calmly as she could, “that he was in Paris, during the war. In the army.” She hesitated, and then said the words. “The German army.”

“I see,” Ian said, carefully. She waited for him to ask her more, but the British taboo against asking direct personal questions ran too deep, and he had already gone further in that direction than he usually did. He sipped his tea and looked thoughtful and she wondered, for the hundredth time, what went one behind those clear gray eyes.

The sky was starting to brighten, that pre-dawn murky light which promised so much and delivered so little. Julie sighed and drank her tea, looking down into it as though waiting for answers. But she had never believed in reading fortunes in tea leaves or Tarot cards.

The first time that she had seen the dawn arrive, she was with her father. She had been… what? Seven years old? Eight? They had gone bird-watching in Essex, creeping out of the house when it was still dark and silent and sleeping, with a thermos filled with hot chocolate and Daddy’s tiny binoculars slung around her neck.

“When’s the sun going to come up, Daddy?”

“You have to wait for it. And you have to be very, very quiet. If the sun knows that you’re waiting it won’t come up.”

“You’re making fun of me, Daddy.”

His eyes twinkled and he squeezed her hand. “Only a little bit.”

She sighed again and shrugged her shoulders, shrugging off the memory. Ian was watching her. She owed him some sort of explanation. “He was in the German army because he came from Strasbourg, and his father was German, anyway. It was a long time ago.” She traced an imaginary pattern on the table with her finger, just as she had when she had been a little girl, concentrating on the invisible whorls and curves, as though the concentration alone would help her to avoid whatever else was going on. Usually, she remembered, it had been arithmetic lessons. She took another wheezing breath and looked up at him. “He didn’t do anything awful, Ian. A lot of people were in the army and were good people.”

Ian nodded. “Of course. One can’t blame the entire nation for what happened. It’ll sort itself out, darling, you’ll see.” He yawned. “Are you going back to bed?”

“Bed?” She stared at him. “No. I don’t think that I could sleep.”

“Right.” He checked his watch. “Performance tonight, you know.”

She looked back at her tea. “I know.”

“Right.” He drained his cup and set it back down on the table. “Do you want me to stay?” He sounded awkward, like a boy asking a girl on a first date. “I could, you see. I’ve got an appointment, but I could easily cancel and —”

“No,” said Julie. “Just go. I want — I need to be alone.”

He consulted his watch again, automatically, and cleared his throat. “Well, I expect that makes sense. I’ll just take a bath and be off, darling. Do you want to meet for lunch?”

She shook her head. “I’m having lunch at Rule’s.”

“Oh, Rosemary, of course, it’s Friday.” He stood up, putting his chair neatly back in place under the table. “But you’ll let me know when Victor rings back, won’t you?”

“Yes.” She was too tired to say anything else. She listened to him moving through the apartment, listened as he sloshed water around in the bathtub, presumably going through the rituals with which he started every day: bathing, shaving, knee-bends in the bedroom, and she poured herself more tea and waited.

There was a different kind of peace after he left.

Julie took her tea into the living-room, tripping in the doorway as she did every time she went through it, and recovering herself without spilling any tea. She was accustomed to her own clumsiness.

It was light enough to see, now, and she lit the electric fire and plugged in the humidifier and dragged them both over closer to the bookcase.

That bookcase was one of the reasons that she had chosen this apartment, when she first moved to London: it was built-in, covering the entire wall from floor to ceiling, with one of the little wheeled ladders attached that one usually associated with old university libraries. It was the first place that Julie had lived where she could keep all of her books together.

She pulled a few large overstuffed albums out of one of the lower shelves and sat down on the thick Oriental carpet, opening them at random around her. Pictures. Pictures of her as a child, of her parents, of Victor and Peter and even of Claire, the baby who had died. She sipped her tea and studied them, looking at her father’s face with close scrutiny, looking for something — anything — that would give her a clue to what was happening now.

It wasn’t there. It couldn’t be there. There was no possible way to connect this man with someone who had committed — what was the expression that Victor had used? Crimes against humanity? What did that mean, anyway?

Julie frowned and bent her head over the books, touching the photographs with her fingertips. Daddy and Beverly on their wedding day: those were the first pictures that she had. Beverly was slim and young and laughing, and Daddy looked older and a little pompous and very proud next to her, with his graying hair and his wire-rimmed glasses. Beverly holding Claire, and looking worried through her smile — or was that just Julie’s imagination, aided by hindsight? Daddy sitting at a table, holding Julie in her long christening gown, and grinning from ear to ear. There were two opened champagne bottles on the table in front of him, Julie noticed, and streamers decorating the dining-room walls of the house in Newburyport: they must have had a party for her. No one had ever spoken of it.

The years fled by under her fingers. Going clamming with Daddy over on Plum Island, with their pant legs rolled up and a big bucket sitting between them and a small spade in her smaller hand. Julie smiled; she could almost see the laughter sparkling in the air between them. She couldn’t remember that specific outing, but it didn’t matter: it was one of many.

Perhaps, in his own way, Daddy had been trying to make up to her for the boys excluding her from their play, because he always had time to do things with her. Fishing and swimming and hiking. Taking the little day sailer out into the Merrimack River and even further out, to the ocean with its dangers and excitement, waves that hit the boat roughly and Daddy’s voice reassuring her, strong and safe over the sound of the wind. Doing puzzles and playing Scrabble over steaming cups of hot cocoa while it snowed outside and the radio spoke reassuringly of school closings.

Julie had been closer to Beverly in more important ways, in shared confidences and arguments and passionate discussions: but she had done things with her father, and that was what the pictures recorded. She touched them, gently, mysteriously needing the physical contact. Pictures that caught her parents and froze them into immobility in a single moment, while the world went on and the still-youthful faces stayed always the same. Pictures that showed them before she was part of their lives, when their dreams and hopes and plans didn’t include her… it was oddly disquieting, she thought for the first time, to see how happy they looked, and how the world had gone on so marvelously well, before she was ever a part of it.

She looked and looked and looked until she was dizzy with looking. Her tea got cold and the sun rose, unheeded, over London’s chimneys and rooftops beyond her windows.

The one thing that she was looking for eluded her, slipping between the yellowed pages of her photograph albums, lost in the tiny black sticky corners that held the earliest pictures to the pages, hidden behind the dimpled faces and the summer smiles and the surprised laughter.

Something had to be there, Julie told herself. Something that would tell her why anyone would ever think to accuse her father of horrible things. Some shadow, some darkness, some thought that could be twisted, misinterpreted, construed in false terms.

Something had to be there. Something that would help her, would explain how such a monsterous error could be made. Something that would tell her how Albert Gower could stand accused of crimes against humanity.

It wasn’t there. And the feeling of panic had done nothing but grow.

A Word from the Author
Cast of Characters