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All the Beautiful Lies
Author:Peter Swanson

All the Beautiful Lies

Peter Swanson

Part 1

Grey Lady

Chapter 1


Harry was briefly blinded—the bright May sun hitting just the right spot on his windshield—as he turned onto the crushed-shell driveway of the house in Kennewick Village. He pulled his Civic next to the orange Volvo station wagon—a car his father had loved—and covered his face with his hands and almost cried.

Alice, his father’s second wife, had called Harry early the previous morning to tell him that his father, Bill, was dead.

“What? How?” Harry asked. He was on his cell phone, walking across the tree-lined quad toward his dormitory. He’d been thinking about graduation, less than a week away, worrying about what he was going to do for the rest of his life.

“He slipped and fell.” Alice was speaking with gaps between the words. Harry realized she was crying, and trying not to show it, trying to sound calm and reasonable.

“Where?” Harry asked. His whole body was cold and his legs had turned to rubber. He stopped walking, and the girl behind him, also on her cell phone, grazed against his backpack as she moved around him on the brick walkway.

“Out on the cliff path, where he liked to walk.” Alice was now audibly crying, the words sounding like they were coming through a wet towel.

“Who found him?”

“They were tourists. I don’t know. They didn’t know him, Harry.”

It took a second phone call later that day to get all the details. Alice had gone out in the afternoon to do errands. She’d stopped by the store to see Bill, and he’d told her that he planned on going for a walk before it got dark and that he’d be home for dinner. She’d told him to be careful, as she always did, and that she was making shepherd’s pie for dinner, the way he liked it, with the cubed lamb instead of ground hamburger. The food was ready by six, the time they normally ate dinner, but there was no sign of Bill. And he wasn’t answering his phone. She called John, the only other employee at the bookstore, and he said that all he knew was what Alice knew. Bill had left a little before five to go for a walk. It was dark now, and Alice called the police station, where she was patched through to an Officer Wheatley. Just as he was explaining to Alice that there was nothing they could do if he’d only been missing a little over an hour, she heard another voice interrupt him in the background. The officer told Alice to hang on for a moment, and that was when she knew. When he came back on the line, his voice had altered, and he told her he’d be transferring her to a Detective Dixon. A body had just been found near Kennewick Harbor, and would Alice be available to make an identification.

“How did he die?” Harry asked.

“They won’t rule anything out, but they seemed to think he slipped and fell and hit his head.”

“He did that walk every day.”

“I know. I told them that. We’ll find out more, Harry.”

“I just don’t understand.” He felt as though he’d thought those words a hundred times that day. It was Thursday, and his graduation ceremony was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. His father and Alice had been planning on coming down to New Chester in Connecticut on Saturday night, staying through till Monday, and helping Harry pack up his things for his temporary return to Maine.

Instead, Harry packed everything himself, staying up half the night. Among his textbooks and notebooks, Harry found the paperback edition of Hillary Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing . . . that his father had given him at the beginning of the school year.

“It’s a crime novel set at a university,” his father had said. “I know you like Ed McBain, so I thought you might like this one, as well. It’s a very early procedural. If you find time to read it, of course.”

Harry hadn’t, but he opened the book now. Inside was a slip of paper in his father’s handwriting. One of his father’s favorite activities had been making lists, almost always related to books. This one read:

Five Best Campus Crime Novels

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin

Last Seen Wearing . . . by Hillary Waugh

The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn by Colin Dexter

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Harry stared at the note, trying to process what it meant that his father—the only person left in his life whom he truly loved—was gone. In the morning he wrote an e-mail to Jane Ogden, his thesis advisor, telling her he’d have to miss the history majors’ dinner that night, and explaining why. Then he went onto his college’s website and found an e-mail address for letting the school know that he wouldn’t be attending graduation. In bold letters on the website it said that cancellations could not be made within two weeks of graduation. But what were they going to do? If his name got called, and he wasn’t there, what did it possibly matter?

There was little else to do. His work and exams were all finished, all his requirements submitted. There were friends to see, of course. And there was Kim. He’d run into her the previous weekend at the St. Dun’s party. They’d kissed in the billiards room, and promised to see each other one more time before graduation. But he didn’t really want to see Kim now; he didn’t want to see anyone. His friends would hear the news, eventually, one way or another.

Harry rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, shut off the engine, and stepped out into the sea-salt air, much cooler than it had been in Connecticut. He spotted Alice in a second-floor window—his father’s and her bedroom window—and when she saw that Harry had noticed her she waved briefly. She was in a white robe, her skin and hair pale as gold, and she looked almost ghostly in the arched Victorian window. After waving she disappeared from view. He breathed deeply, preparing himself to see Alice, and preparing himself to walk into the house he’d only ever known as his father’s house, full of his father’s things.

In the doorway, Harry hugged Alice. Her hair smelled of expensive shampoo, something with lavender in it.

“Thank you for coming back early,” she said, her voice huskier than usual, strained from crying.

“Of course,” Harry said.

“I made up your old room for you. Can I help you bring things in?”

“No, no,” Harry said. “It’s not much.”

It took just three trips from the car to the second-floor bedroom. Harry’s old room had never really been his room; at least he had never thought of it that way. His mother had died of lung cancer when he was fifteen years old. Back then they’d lived in a two-bedroom apartment above his father’s first shop—Ackerson’s Rare Books—in the West Village in New York City. Because Harry had just begun high school when his mother died, his father had decided that it would be best for them both to stay in Manhattan until Harry had graduated. Living with his father in the dark, narrow apartment, made somehow smaller by his mother’s absence, was both terrible and comforting. As long as they continued to live there, they could feel Emily Ackerson’s presence, and the cold fact that she was gone forever.