Newport: Chapter One

The lighthouse on the shore flashed its beacon in time with each rolling heave of Jim Reid’s stomach. His knuckles whitened around the metal railing of the boat as he leaned forward, willing the wicked water to swallow him up whole and end his misery now. “Holy Mother of God,” he groaned.

“Good grief, Mr. Reid. We’re crossing Narragansett Bay, not the high seas.” Adrian de la Noye’s words cut through the nighttime dimness of the ferry deck. Disembodied in the shadows, his silken tone carried the same authority it did when summing up a complicated case before a Boston jury.

For at least the tenth time since they’d boarded Adrian’s Pierce-Arrow Town Car earlier that day, Jim swore beneath his breath at his own weakness—soft Irish words that he remembered from childhood but could no longer translate.

“Sorry to be such a wet blanket,” he said. “I’m doing the best I can.”

There was a pause as Adrian considered. “Of course you are,” he said. “You always do, my boy. You always do.”

The smell of phosphorus hung on the air as a match arced through the darkness toward the cigarette in Adrian’s mouth. Illuminated briefly by the flame, his chiseled features appeared almost otherworldly, his dark hair and eyes conjuring images more akin to pirates and gypsies than to prosperous middle age. Jim would have traded even his fresh new Harvard Law School sheepskin for some of that smooth coolness. It wasn’t likely he’d ever attain it without some sort of miracle. He was tall and lanky, with fair skin that blushed at the slightest provocation and a sandy-colored cowlick that doomed him to be viewed as more boyish than manly by nearly every female who crossed his path.

“Here.” Adrian handed him a cigarette. “It will settle your stomach.”

Grateful, Jim pulled in a deep drag. Even he could manage some degree of cleverness with a cigarette resting lightly between his fingers. Sometimes smoking felt like the most valuable lesson he’d learned in school. The god-awful queasiness began to subside.

Adrian lit a cigarette for himself and leaned his elbows casually against the ferry’s railing. The lighthouse receded off to the left, leaving the gentle glow of the stars to wash across the deck. Jim pushed his wire-rimmed glasses farther up his nose and let out a long, relieved sigh.

The smoldering tip of Adrian’s cigarette picked up glints in his gold tie pin, making the fine amethyst stone at its center glitter. Jim winced as he remembered one more thing he had to do: search the floor of the Town Car for his own tie pin, which he’d flung there in annoyance after stabbing himself one time too many that day.

“We’ve almost reached Aquidneck Island,” Adrian said. “Newport is a short drive from the quay. I’ll need only a moment to send Constance a telegram. She’ll want to know we’ve arrived safely.”
“Do you think we’ll find any place open?”

Adrian shrugged. “We’ll manage something.”

For as long as Jim had known Adrian de la Noye—and that was practically all of his twenty-five years—the man had never seemed ruffled or out of place. Such ease was to be expected in the sanctified halls of Andover and Harvard, which Jim had attended on Adrian’s dime. Adrian had been born to fit into places like that, and he called both institutions alma mater. As far as Jim was concerned, each school could consider itself darn lucky. What surprised him more was that Adrian was equally at home in the Reid family’s noisy South Boston row house, where a seemingly endless number of Jim’s siblings, nieces, and nephews had tumbled across Mr. de la Noye’s well-dressed knees throughout the years. For all his accomplishments, Adrian seemed to require little more than the comfortable life he shared with his wife, Constance, and their two children back in Brookline.

Jim glumly flicked his ashes into the bay. He himself never quite fit anywhere. Overeducated in his boyhood neighborhood, but not of the usual social class found at Harvard, he was a perennial fish out of water, getting by through the sheer power of his mind.

“Ah.” A husky female voice behind Jim’s shoulder startled him. “Real men smoking real ciggies. Please, darlings, tell me those are Fatimas.”

Adrian reached into his coat pocket as both men turned to face the woman behind them. “They are. May I offer you one?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

The woman was of average height, dressed in a light frock well suited to a sweet young thing. She needn’t have bothered. The way she stroked Adrian’s hand as he lit her cigarette marked her as anything but sweet, and it was obvious that she hadn’t been young in years. The stylish dropped waist of her dress could not conceal a matronly thickening about her middle, and beneath her gay cloche and bobbed fair hair, her jawline had begun to sag.

She plucked the match from Adrian’s fingers and tossed it into the water. Then, insinuating herself snugly between the two men, she leaned back against the ferry’s rail and dragged nicotine deep into her lungs. The exhaled smoke wafted into the air, borne on vapors of alcohol. The woman swayed, evidence more of her own intoxication than of the ferry’s movement. Adrian steadied her before she could tumble into his arms and then took a discreet step to his left. Jim didn’t bother to move at all. It didn’t matter that the woman’s arm had just brushed his wrist. He could drop his trousers and jump up and down on the deck were he so inclined; he was sure she’d never notice.
“I can’t resist Fatimas…or the men who smoke them,” the woman said. “Virginia tobacco can’t hold a candle to the …virility…of a Turkish blend.”
Adrian flashed a polite smile. “Indeed,” he said.
It was the same everywhere they went. Whether the female was a doll or a chunk of lead, she always chose Adrian. Jim sighed, wondering what it would be like to leave every woman in your wake weak-kneed with desire. Granted, this one wasn’t worth it. But how was it that Adrian was never even tempted to slip? Given the opportunity, Jim would have been delighted to slip nearly every time.
“The name is Chloe,” the woman said. “Lady Chloe Chapman Dinwoodie to the rest of the world, but you may now consider yourself my friends. Excuse me.” She bent down, lifted the hem of her dress, and withdrew a contraband flask from the garter tied around her pudgy leg. “Drinkie?”

“No, thank you,” Adrian said.

Recognition hit Jim like a smack to the side of the head. “Say, you’re…”

Adrian corked his flowing words with one veiled glance. “Mr. Reid has perhaps heard of your father,” he said. “Bennett Chapman’s contributions to the textiles industry are very well known.”

Chloe’s expression soured. “Damn the old coot. I’m missing a weekend of parties in New York to ossify in Newport because of him.” She threw her head back and took a long swig from the flask.

Adrian met Jim’s gaze over the swallowing motion of her throat.

“Yes, sir,” Chloe Dinwoodie said, coming up for air. “Let’s drink to good old Pop and his contributions to the textiles industry.”

“His success is admirable,” Adrian said mildly.

“Then let’s drink to good old Pop and his contributions to Chloe’s lifestyle.” She again extended the flask in a silent invitation. Adrian shook his head. “Let’s drink to the family manses in Boston, New York, London, and Newport,” she continued. “And let’s not forget how that money bought me a titled husband, too. A shame the fool’s a fairy, but he does come with benefits.”

She tossed her half-smoked Fatima over the ferry railing. Adrian wordlessly extended another.

“You’re a dear man.” Chloe waited as he lit a match, then pulled his hand closer to guide the flame toward the cigarette now clamped between her bright red lips.

Adrian did not move away this time. Instead he bathed her in one of those intimate gazes Jim recognized from his mentor’s arsenal of cross-examination techniques.

“Of course you’d rather be elsewhere,” Adrian said. “Newport certainly isn’t the jewel she used to be. What coaxed you away from the glitter of New York?”

Chloe’s fingers tightened around his wrist. “Oh, only dire circumstances could do that, I assure you. My father wants to change his will.”

Jim’s face burned with the flood of a hot red flush. Words bubbled to his lips.

Adrian intercepted them with the graceful stealth of a panther. “I assume the change is not to your advantage,” he murmured.

Chloe’s round-eyed stare resembled a mesmerized trance. “Advantage? It’s a disaster! Nicholas and I—Nicky’s my brother—will be flat out of luck if he goes through with it. Right now we stand to get everything when my father kicks the bucket…meets his Maker…you know. But now Pop wants to marry this…this gold digger.”

“Ah. There’s a woman involved.”

“Isn’t there always? Anyway, that’s why Pop wants to change his will. And if he goes through with it, Nicky and I get a yearly stipend apiece and that’s it.”

“I see your difficulty,” Adrian said. “But how can you stop him?”

Chloe dropped her voice to a confidential whisper. “Pop’s got his Boston prig of a lawyer coming up to draft the new will tomorrow. Nicky says that if we can prove our father is nuts, the will must legally stand as is. Nicky’s a dull stick, but he’s smart about things like this.”

Adrian’s voice dropped as well. “Can you prove that your father is incompetent?”

“Oh, yes.” Chloe stepped forward until only an inch separated the lace of her collar from Adrian de la Noye’s well-tailored vest. “With what’s been going on around his place lately? Oh, absolutely yes. You know, I don’t believe you’ve told me your name.”

Jim could almost see the noxious alcohol fumes snaking their way up Adrian’s nostrils. Adrian abhorred inebriation, deemed it sloppy and unnecessary. It probably required a supreme act of will for him to stand still, smiling blandly as Lady Chloe Chapman Dinwoodie walked her fingernails up his chest.

A snicker worked its way through Jim’s nose. He quickly turned away, disguising his laughter with an unconvincing sneeze. This tendency to lose his composure at the mere thought of the absurd was yet another bad habit he needed to conquer.

A sudden movement on the deck stopped his sniggering flat. Farther down the rail, a figure crouched, half hidden by a weathered box of life preservers. Startled, Jim leaned forward. The figure jumped under his scrutiny and flattened itself against the box as if trying to disappear. It was too late; Jim had seen plenty. He identified the cap and knickers of a young boy, noted that the figure was small and slight. But, most important, he knew without a doubt that for some reason, this boy had been listening intently to every word.

“Hey!” Jim lunged toward the life preservers, but the boy was faster. The small figure skittered across the deck and out of sight.

“May I offer assistance, Mr. Reid?” Adrian appeared instantly at his side.

Jim’s shoulders sagged as he blinked at the empty space before him. “I’ll tell you later, when there’s no fear of ears. It’s probably nothing; I’m just a little jumpy.”

“Any particular reason?” Adrian threw a glance toward Lady Dinwoodie, who now slumped against the ferry rail like a deflated balloon, lost in an inebriated haze.

Jim shook his head, hard. “This whole trip reeks, that’s all.”

“In what way?’

“I don’t know. It just feels…off. Taking this trip to the old man’s summer cottage in the first place—”

“Mr. Chapman has been a valued client of our firm for many years.”

“—then running across his daughter like this…”

“An admittedly awkward coincidence, although I found her comments most enlightening.”

“You had no idea that Bennett Chapman’s will might be contested?”

“Not an inkling. Naturally, we’ll readjust our plans accordingly. We’ll stay in town tonight and visit Liriodendron tomorrow. That will give Lady Dinwoodie an opportunity to compose herself.”

Jim removed his spectacles to massage the crease in his brow. “You don’t think she’ll remember us the second we knock on Liriodendron’s door?”

They turned as one toward Chloe Chapman Dinwoodie, but she had tottered away, presumably in search of new prey.

A corner of Adrian’s mouth turned up. “Given the amount of bootleg she’s consumed, Chloe Dinwoodie will be fortunate if she remembers how she arrived at Liriodendron in the first place. I suspect we’ll register a nothing more than a bad dream. Suppose we wait in the car. That will save us from meeting the charming lady again.”

With a resigned sigh, Jim followed his mentor to the auto. He was no longer particularly connected to his Irish past, no more so than any other first-generation American born and raised in South Boston. Why was it, then, that he could now hear the lilting voice of his departed Granny Cullen, who’d always claimed that the blood of ancient Celtic soothsayers warmed her veins? He’d grown up with her predictions and warnings, and this one trumpeted as loudly as any of them: “Little good ever coms of mixing where you aren’t wanted.” Despite Bennett Chapman’s invitation, it was clear that most of Liriodendron’s occupants would be more than happy to slam the front door in Adrian de la Noye’s face.

“Adrian…” Jim stopped still on the deck.

Adrian turned toward him, one eyebrow raised in inquiry.

Jim hesitated. He was indebted to Adrian’s kindness, could never have come this far without his patronage. But it was more than that: dashing, sure-footed Adrian de la Noye was everything he wanted to be. Summoning superstitions from the old country would only further emphasize the differences between them.

“Never mind,” Jim said slowly. “I’m tired, that’s all.”

“All the more reason for a good night’s sleep before we visit Liriodendron. I’ll need that sharp mind of yours, Mr. Reid. I’ve grown to depend upon it.”

Jim followed along in silence, trying to forget that his granny’s predictions had seldom been wrong.