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The Liar, Page 3

Nora Roberts

  holding the appraisals. “I— He— We—” She broke off, closed her eyes, drew a couple of breaths. “I’m sorry, I’ve never done this.”

  “It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. . . . ?”

  “Foxworth. I’m Shelby Foxworth.”

  “Wilson Brown.” He took her offered hand, shook it gently. “Why don’t you show me what you have, Mrs. Foxworth?”

  She decided to go with the biggest straight off, and opened the pouch that held her engagement ring.

  He set it on a velvet cloth, and as he took out a jeweler’s loupe, she opened the envelope.

  “It says here it’s three and a half carats, emerald cut, a D grade—that’s supposed to be good, from what I read. And with six side stones in a platinum setting. Is that right?”

  He looked up from the loupe. “Mrs. Foxworth, I’m afraid this is a man-made diamond.”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “It’s a lab diamond, as are the side stones.”

  She put her hands under the desk so he couldn’t see them shake. “That means it’s fake.”

  “It simply means it was created in a lab. It’s a very nice example of a man-made diamond.”

  Callie began to whine. Shelby heard the sound through the throbbing in her head, automatically dug in her bag, pulled out the toy phone. “You call Granny, baby, tell her what you’ve been up to. It means,” she continued, “this isn’t a D-grade diamond, and this ring isn’t worth what it says here on this paper? It isn’t worth a hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars?”

  “No, my dear, it’s not.” His voice was as gentle as a pat, and made it worse. “I can give you the names of other appraisers, so you can ask for other opinions.”

  “You’re not lying to me. I know you’re not lying to me.” But Richard had, over and over and over. She wouldn’t break down, she told herself. Not now, not here. “Would you look at the rest, Mr. Brown, tell me if they’re fake, too?”

  “Of course.”

  The diamond earrings were real, and that was all. She’d liked them because they were pretty, and they were simple. Just studs that didn’t make her feel awkward in the wearing.

  But she’d prized the emerald pendant because he’d given it to her the day they brought Callie home from the hospital. And it was as false as he’d been.

  “I can give you five thousand for the diamond studs, if you’d still like to sell them.”

  “Yes, thank you. That’d be just fine. Can you tell me where I should take the rest? Is it best to go to a pawnshop? Do you know of a good one? I don’t want to take Callie into someplace that’s . . . you know what I mean. Sketchy. And maybe, if you don’t mind, you could give me an idea what it’s all really worth.”

  He sat back, studied her. “The engagement ring is good work, and as I said, a good example of a lab diamond. I could give you eight hundred for it.”

  Shelby studied him in turn as she pulled off the matching wedding ring. “How much for the set?”

  She didn’t break down, and she walked out with $15,600—Richard’s cuff links weren’t fake, and had given her what she thought of as a bonus. Fifteen thousand six hundred was more than she’d had. Not enough to pay off debts, but more than she’d had.

  And he’d given her the name of another shop that would look at Richard’s watches.

  She stretched her luck with Callie, tried two more banks, then gave it up for another day.

  Callie picked a My Little Pony DVD, and Shelby bought herself a laptop and a couple of flash drives. An investment, she justified. A tool she needed to keep everything straight.

  Business, she reminded herself. She wouldn’t think of the fake jewelry as another betrayal, but as something that gave her some breathing room.

  She spent naptime creating a spreadsheet, entered the jewelry, the payment for it. Canceled the insurance policy—and that would help her expenses.

  The utilities on the big house, even with rooms closed off, were a killer, but the money from the jewelry would help there.

  She remembered the wine cellar Richard had been so proud of, hauled the laptop down and began to catalog the bottles.

  Somebody would buy them.

  And what the hell, she’d splurge on a bottle for herself, have a glass with her dinner. She selected a bottle of pinot grigio—she’d learned a little about wines in the last four and a half years, and at least knew what she liked. She thought it would go just fine with chicken and dumplings—a Callie favorite.

  By the time the day was done, she felt more in control. Especially when she found five thousand dollars tucked into one of the cashmere socks in Richard’s drawer.

  Twenty thousand now in the fund for cleaning up the mess and starting over.

  Lying in bed, she studied the key.

  “Where do you fit, and what will I find? I’m not giving up.”

  She could maybe hire a private detective. It would likely take a good chunk of that cleaning-up fund, but might be the sensible thing to do.

  She’d give it a few more days, try some banks closer to the city. Maybe go into the city.

  The next day she added thirty-five thousand on the sale of Richard’s collection of watches, and two thousand three hundred more for his golf clubs, skis and tennis racket. It so boosted her mood that she took Callie for pizza between banks.

  Maybe she could afford that detective now—maybe that’s what she’d do. But she needed to buy a minivan, and her research told her that purchase would take a deep chunk of her fifty-eight thousand. Plus, it was only right she use some of that to bump up the payments on the credit cards.

  She’d work on selling the wine, that’s what she’d do, and hire the detective that way. For now, she’d just check one more bank on the way home.

  Rather than haul out the stroller, she propped Callie on her hip.

  Callie got that look in her eye—half stubborn, half sulky. “Don’t want to, Mama.”

  “Me either, but this is the last one. Then we’re going to go home and play dress-up tea party. You and me, baby.”

  “I wanna be the princess.”

  “As you wish, Your Highness.”

  She carried her now giggling daughter into the bank.

  Shelby knew the routine now, walked to the shortest line to wait her turn.

  She couldn’t keep hauling Callie around this way, every day, disrupting routine, in and out of the car. Hell, she felt pretty damn stubborn and sulky herself, and she wasn’t three and a half years old.

  She’d make this the last one after all. The very last altogether, and start seriously researching private investigators.

  The furniture would sell, and the wine would sell. It was time for optimism instead of constant worry.

  She shifted Callie on her hip, approached the teller, who glanced at her over the tops of red-framed cheaters.

  “Can I help you?”

  “Yes, ma’am. I need to speak with a manager. I’m Mrs. Richard Foxworth, and I have a power of attorney here. I lost my husband last December.”

  “I’m very sorry.”

  “Thank you. I believe he had a safe-deposit box in this bank. I have the key here, and the power of attorney.”

  Much quicker than fumbling around, she’d learned, telling bored bank people she’d found the key, didn’t know what it went to.

  “Mrs. Babbington’s in her office, and should be able to help you. Straight across, to the left.”

  “Thanks.” She went across, found the office, knocked on the open glass door. “I beg your pardon, ma’am. They said I should speak to you about getting into my husband’s safe-deposit box.”

  She walked straight in—something else she’d learned—sat with Callie on her lap.

  “I have the power of attorney here, and the key. I’m Mrs. Richard Foxworth.”

  “Let me check on this. You have such pretty red hair,” she said to Callie.

  “Mama’s.” Callie reached up to grab a hank of Shelby’s.

  “Yes, just like your moth
er’s. You’re not listed on Mr. Foxworth’s box.”

  “I— I’m sorry?”

  “I’m afraid we don’t have a signature card for you.”

  “He has a box here?”

  “Yes. Even with the POA, it would be best if Mr. Foxworth came in personally. He could add you on.”

  “He—he can’t. He was—”

  “Daddy had to go to heaven.”

  “Oh.” Babbington’s face radiated sympathy. “I’m very sorry.”

  “Angels sing in heaven. Mama, Fifi wants to go home now.”

  “Soon, baby. He— Richard— There was an accident. He was in a boat, and there was a squall. In December. December twenty-eighth. I have the documentation. They don’t issue a death certificate when they can’t find . . .”

  “I understand. I need to see your paperwork, Mrs. Foxworth. And some photo ID.”

  “I brought my marriage license, too. Just so you’d have everything. And the police report on when it happened. And these letters from the lawyers.” Shelby handed it all over, held her breath.

  “You could get a court order for access.”

  “Is that what I should do? I could ask Richard’s lawyers—well, my lawyers now, I guess, to do that.”

  “Give me a moment here.”

  Babbington read over the paperwork while Callie shifted restlessly in Shelby’s lap. “I want my tea party, Mama. You said. I want my tea party.”

  “That’s what we’ll do, soon as we’re done here. We’ll have a princess tea party. You should think about what dolls you’re going to invite.”

  Callie began to list them off, and Shelby realized the nerves of waiting gave her a sudden and urgent need to pee.

  “The POA’s in order, as is the rest of your documentation. I’ll show you to the box.”


  “If you’d rather come back another time—”

  “No, no, I appreciate it so much.” So much that she felt breathless and a little giddy. “I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what I should do.”

  “I’ll walk you through it. I’ll need your signature. Just let me print this out. It sounds like you’ll have a lot of guests at your tea party,” she said to Callie as she worked. “I have a granddaughter about your age. She loves tea parties.”

  “She can come.”

  “I bet she’d love to, but she lives in Richmond, Virginia, and that’s pretty far away. If you’d sign this, Mrs. Foxworth.”

  She could barely read it the way her thoughts were racing around in her head.

  Babbington used a swipe card and a passcode, accessed a kind of vault where the walls were filled with numbered drawers. Number 512.

  “I’m going to step out, give you some privacy. If you need any help, just let me know.”

  “Thank you very much. Am I allowed to take what’s in it?”

  “You’re authorized. Take your time,” she added, and drew a curtain to block off the room.

  “Well, I have to say holy . . . s-h-i-t.” She set the big bag she used for Callie’s things and her own, and Richard’s attaché, on a table, then, clutching her daughter, stepped to the box.

  “Too tight, Mama!”

  “Sorry, sorry. God, I’m nervous. It’s probably just a bunch of papers he didn’t want in the house. It’s probably nothing. It may even be empty.”

  So open it, for God’s sake, she ordered herself.

  With an unsteady hand, she slid the key into the lock, turned it. Even jumped a little when it clicked open.

  “Here we go. Doesn’t matter if it’s empty. The important thing is I found it. On my own. I did it myself. I’ve got to set you down a minute, baby. You stay right here, you stay right here with me.”

  She set Callie on the floor, pulled out the box, put it on the table.

  Then simply stared.

  “Oh God. Holy shit.”

  “Shit, Mama!”

  “Don’t say that. I shouldn’t have said that.” She had to brace a hand on the table.

  It wasn’t empty. And the first thing that caught her eye was a stack of banded money. Hundred-dollar bills.

  “Ten thousand each, and oh God, Callie, there’s so many of them.”

  Now her hands weren’t just unsteady, but shook as she counted the stacks. “There’s twenty-five of them. There’s two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, cash money in here.”

  Feeling like a thief, she flicked an anxious look at the curtain, then shoved the money into the attaché.

  “I have to ask the lawyers what to do.”

  About the money, she thought, but what about the rest?

  What about the three driver’s licenses with Richard’s photo? And someone else’s name. And the passports.

  And the .32 semiautomatic.

  She started to reach for the gun, pulled her hand back. She wanted to leave it, couldn’t say why she didn’t want to touch it. But she made herself lift it, remove the magazine.

  She’d grown up in the Tennessee mountains, with brothers—one who was now a cop. She knew how to handle a gun. But she wasn’t carrying a loaded gun with Callie around.

  She placed it and the two extra mags in the attaché. She took the passports, the licenses. Discovered Social Security cards under the same three names, American Express cards, Visas. All under those names.

  Was any of it real?

  Had any of it ever been real?

  “Mama. Let’s go, let’s go.” Callie tugged on her pants.

  “In a second.”

  “Now! Mama, now!”

  “In a second.” The tone, sharp and firm, might have had Callie’s lip quivering, but sometimes a child had to be reminded that she didn’t run the show.

  And a mama had to remember that a three-year-old had a right to get tired of being hauled all over creation and back every damn day.

  She bent, kissed the top of Callie’s head. “I’m almost done, I just have to put this back now.”

  Callie was real, Shelby thought. That’s what mattered. The rest? She’d figure it out, or she wouldn’t. But Callie was real, and over $200,000 would buy a decent minivan, pay off some of the debt, maybe squeeze out enough for a down payment on a little house once she got steady work.

  Maybe Richard hadn’t meant to, and she didn’t know what it all meant, but he’d provided for his daughter’s future after all. And he’d given her room to breathe, so she’d think about the rest later.

  She hauled Callie up, shouldered the bag, gripped the attaché as if her life depended on it.

  “Okay, baby girl. Let’s go have a tea party.”


  She opened up all the rooms, turned the heat back up, even switched on the fireplaces—all seven of them.