This book is a very special book, and it is dedicated to my very, very, very wonderful children: Beatrix, Trevor, Todd, Nick, Sam, Victoria, Vanessa, Maxx, and Zara, who have seen me through just about every minute of my adult life, and all of my writing career, and are the greatest joy of my existence.
This book is special because, counting my published novels, my unpublished novels from my early days, my works of nonfiction (also published and unpublished), my book of poetry, the children’s books I wrote for my children-the whole shebang, this is my one-hundredth book. It is an awesome moment in my writing life, and is in great part thanks to the endless, never ceasing, ever faithful and patient, endlessly loving support of my children. I could never have accomplished this without their love and support. So this book is dedicated with all my heart and soul, love and thanks to them.
In addition, I can’t reach this landmark event without thanking very special people in my life, who have contributed to this, my amazing agent and friend Mort Janklow, my beloved editor of many years and friend Carole Baron, my also beloved and incredible researcher Nancy Eisenbarth, who provides all the material that makes the books work and has been my friend since we were children. Also my publishers, my editors, and you, my loyal readers, without whom this couldn’t have happened.
To all of you, my heart, my deepest thanks, and my love for this very special moment in my life. And always and above all to my children, for whom I write the books, for whom I live and breathe, and who make every moment of my life with them a precious gift.
With all my love,
Some of the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of love.
A sociopath is a person who will destroy you, without a heart, without a conscience, without even a second glance. At first they are too perfect and too good to be true. Then, they remove your heart, and whatever else they want, with a scalpel. The operation they perform is brilliant, often but not always flawless. And when they’ve gotten whatever they came for in the first place, they leave you traumatized, stunned, and bleeding by the roadside, and silently move on, to do it again to someone else.
Hope Dunne made her way through the silently falling snow on Prince Street in SoHo in New York. It was seven o’clock, the shops had just closed, and the usual bustle of commerce was shutting down for the night. She had lived there for two years and she liked it. It was the trendy part of New York, and she found it friendlier than living uptown. SoHo was full of young people, there was always something to see, someone to talk to, a bustle of activity whenever she left her loft, which was her refuge. There were bright lights in all the shops.
It was her least favorite time of year, December, the week before Christmas. As she had for the past several years, she ignored it, and waited for it to pass. For the past two Christmases, she had worked at a homeless shelter. The year before that she had been in India, where the holiday didn’t matter. It had been a hard jolt coming back to the States after her time there. Everything seemed so commercial and superficial in comparison.
The time she had spent in India had changed her life, and probably saved it. She had left on the spur of the moment, and been gone for over six months. Reentry into American life had been incredibly hard. Everything she owned was in storage and she had moved from Boston to New York. It didn’t really matter to her where she lived, she was a photographer and took her work with her. The photographs she had taken in India and Tibet were currently being shown in a prestigious gallery uptown. Some of her other work was in museums. People compared her work to that of Diane Arbus. She had a fascination with the destitute and devastated. The agony in the eyes of some of her subjects ripped out your soul, just as it had affected hers when she photographed them. Hope’s work was greatly respected, but to look at her, nothing about her demeanor suggested that she was famous or important.
Hope had spent her entire life as an observer, a chronicler of the human condition. And in order to do that, she had always said, one had to be able to disappear, to become invisible, so as not to interfere with the mood of the subject. The studies she had done in India and Tibet for the magical time she was there had confirmed it. In many ways, Hope Dunne was an almost invisible person, in other ways, she was enormous, with an inner light and strength that seemed to fill a room.
She smiled at a woman passing by, as she walked through the snow on Prince Street. She was tempted to go for a long walk in the snow, and promised herself she might do that later that evening. She lived on no particular schedule, answered to no one. One of the blessings of her solitary life was that she was entirely at liberty to do whatever she wished. She was the consummate independent woman, she was enormously disciplined about her work, and in dealing with her subjects. Sometimes she got on the subway, and rode uptown to Harlem, wandering through the streets in T-shirt and jeans, taking photographs of children. She had spent time in South America, photographing children and old people there too. She went wherever the spirit moved her, and did very little commercial work now. She still did the occasional fashion shoot for Vogue if the layout was unusual. But most of the magazine work she did was portraits of important people who she thought were worthwhile and interesting. She had published a remarkable book of portraits, another of children, and was going to publish a book of her photographs from India soon.
She was fortunate to be able to do whatever she wanted. She could pick and choose among the many requests she got. Although she loved doing them, she only did formal portraits now once or twice a year. More often now, she concentrated on the photographs she took in the course of her travels or on the street.
Hope was a tiny woman with porcelain white skin, and jet-black hair. Her mother had teased her when she was a child and said she looked like Snow White, which in a way, she did. And there was a fairy-tale feeling about her too. She was almost elfin in size, and unusually lithe; she was able to fit herself into the smallest, most invisible spaces and go unnoticed. The only startling thing about her was her deep violet eyes. They were a deep, deep blue, with the slightly purple color of very fine sapphires from Burma or Ceylon, and were filled with compassion that had seen the sorrows of the world. Those who had seen eyes like hers before understood instantly that she was a woman who had suffered, but wore it well, with dignity and grace. Rather than dragging her down into depression, her pain had lifted her into a peaceful place. She was not a Buddhist, but shared philosophies with them, in that she didn’t fight what happened to her, but instead drifted with it, allowing life to carry her from one experience to the next. It was that depth and wisdom that shone through her work. An acceptance of life as it really was, rather than trying to force it to be what one wanted, and it never could be. She was willing to let go of what she loved, which was the hardest task of all. And the more she lived and learned and studied, the humbler she was. A monk she had met in Tibet called her a holy woman, which in fact she was, although she had no particular affinity for any formal church. If she believed in anything, she believed in life, and embraced it with a gentle touch. She was a strong reed bending in the wind, beautiful and resilient.
It was snowing harder by the time she got to the front door of her building. She was carrying a camera case over her shoulder, and her keys and wallet were in it. She carried nothing else, and she wore no makeup, except very occasionally bright red lipstick when she went out, which made her look more than ever like Snow White. And she wore her almost blue-black hair pulled straight back, either in a ponytail, a braid, or a chignon, and when she loosened it, it hung to her waist. Her graceful movements made her look like a young girl, and she had almost no lines on her face. Her biography as a photographer said that she was forty-four years old, but it was difficult to assess her age and it would have been easy to believe she was far younger. Like the photographs she took, and her subjects, she was timeless. Looking at her, one wanted to stop and watch her for a long time. She rarely wore color, and dressed almost always in black, so as not to distract her subjects, or in white in hot climates.
Once she unlocked the front door to her building, she bounded up to the third floor with a quick step. She was cold, and happy to walk into her apartment, which was considerably warmer than it had been outdoors, although the ceilings were high and sometimes the wind crept through the tall windows.
She turned on the lights, and took pleasure, as she always did, in the spartan decor. The cement floor was painted black, the white couches and inviting chairs were a soft ivory wool, and nothing about the decor was intrusive. It was so simple it was almost Zen. And the walls were covered with enormous framed black and white photographs that were her favorites among her work. The longest wall was covered with a spectacular series of a young ballerina in motion. The girl in the photographs was exceptionally beautiful, a graceful young blond dancer in her teens. It was a remarkable series, and part of Hope’s personal collection. On the other walls were many photographs of children, several of monks in India at the ashram where she had lived, and two enormous ones of heads of state.
Her loft was like a gallery of her work, and on one long white lacquer table, set on sponge-covered trays, all of her cameras were lined up in almost surgical order. She hired freelance assistants when she did assignments, but most of the time she preferred to do all her own work. She found assistants helpful, but too distracting. Her favorite camera was an old Leica she had had for years. She used a Hasselblad and Mamiya in the studio as well, but she still loved her oldest camera best. She had started taking photographs when she was nine. She had attended a specially de signed photography program at Brown at seventeen, and graduated at twenty-one with honors, after doing a spectacular senior project in the Middle East. She had married shortly after graduating from Brown, worked for a year as a commercial photographer, and then retired for a dozen years, with only the occasional very rare assignment. She had been back at work for the last ten years, and it was in the past decade that she had made her mark in the world and become increasingly well known. She had been famous by the time she was thirty-eight, when MOMA in New York showed an exhibit of her work. It had been one of the high points of her life.
Hope lit candles around the room and left the lights in the loft dim. Coming home to this room always soothed her. She slept on a little platform, up a ladder, on a spare narrow bed, and loved looking down at the room and the feeling of flying as she fell asleep. The loft was completely different from anywhere she had ever lived, and she loved that about it too. Because she had always feared it so much, this time she had embraced change. There was something powerful about accepting what frightened her most. Her private nemeses were loss and change, and rather than running from them, she had learned to face them with dignity and strength.
There was a small black granite kitchen at the back of the loft. She knew she had to eat, so eventually she wound up there, and heated up a can of soup. Most of the time, she was too lazy to make much of a meal. She lived on soups and salads and eggs. On the rare occasions when she wanted a real meal, she went to some simple restaurant alone and ate quickly, to get it over with. She had never been much of a cook, and made no pretense of it. It had always seemed like a waste of time to her, there were so many other things that interested her more-previously, her family, and now, her work. In the past three years, her work had become her life. She put her whole soul into it and it showed.
Hope was eating her soup, watching the snow fall outside, when her cell phone rang, and she set the soup down, and dug the phone out of her camera bag. She wasn’t expecting any calls, and smiled when she heard the familiar voice of her agent, Mark Webber. She hadn’t heard from him in a while.
“Okay, so where are you now? And what time zone are you in? Am I waking you up?” She laughed in response, and sat back against the couch with a smile. He had represented her for the last ten years, when she went back to work. He usually tried to push her to do commercial jobs, but he also had a deep respect for her more serious artistic endeavors. He always said that one day she would be one of the most important American photographers of her generation, and in many ways she already was, and was deeply respected by both curators and her peers.
“I’m in New York,” she said, smiling. “And you’re not waking me up.”
“I’m disappointed. I figured you were in Nepal, or Vietnam, or someplace scary and disgusting. I’m surprised you’re here.” He knew how much she hated holidays, and all the reasons why. She had good reason. But she was a remarkable woman-a survivor-and a dear friend. He liked and admired her enormously.
“I figured I’d stick around for a while. I was sitting here watching the snow. It’s pretty. I might go out and shoot for a bit later. Some nice old-fashioned stuff.”
“It’s freezing out,” he warned her. “Don’t catch cold.” He was one of the few people who worried about her, and she was touched by his concern. She had moved around too much in recent years to stay in contact with her old friends. She had lived in Boston since college, but when she got back from India, she decided to move to New York. Hope had always been a solitary person, and was even more so now. It concerned him, but she seemed content with her life as it was.
“I just got in,” she reassured him, “and I was having some chicken soup.”
“My grandmother would approve,” he said, smiling again. “So what do you have planned at the moment?” He knew she hadn’t taken any assignments, since nothing had come through him.
“Nothing much. I was thinking about going up to the house in Cape Cod over the holiday. It’s pretty there this time of year.”
“How cheerful. Only you would think it’s pretty. Everyone else would get suicidal there this time of year. I have a better idea.” He had on his “have I got a deal for you” voice, and she laughed. She knew him well and liked him too.
“Like what? What crazy assignment are you going to try and talk me into now, Mark? Las Vegas on Christmas Eve?” They both laughed at the prospect of it. Occasionally he came up with some wild ideas, which she almost always turned down. But at least he had to try. He always promised the potential clients he would.
“No, although Vegas for the holidays sounds like fun to me.” They both knew he loved to gamble and took occasional trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. “This is actually respectable and quite dignified. We got a call from a major publishing house today. Their star author wants a portrait sitting for his latest book cover. He hasn’t delivered the book yet, but he will any minute, and the publisher needs the shot done now for their catalog and layouts for advance publicity in the trades. It’s all very proper and on the up-and-up. The only problem is that they have a tight deadline. They should have thought of it before.”
“How tight?” Hope asked, sounding noncommittal, and stretching out on the white wool couch as she listened.
“They need to do the shoot by next week, for their production schedule. That means you’d be shooting around Christmas, but he requested you, and said he won’t do it with anyone else. At least the guy’s got good taste. And the fee is pretty hefty. He’s a big deal.”
“Who’s the author?” That would have an impact on her decision, and her agent hesitated before he said the name. He was an important author, had won the National Book Award, and was always at the top of the best-seller lists, but he was a bit of a wild card, and had appeared in the press frequently with assorted women. Mark didn’t know how Hope would feel about shooting him, particularly if he misbehaved, and he could. There were no guarantees that he wouldn’t. She usually preferred to work with serious subjects.
“Finn O’Neill,” he said, without further comment, waiting to see what she’d say. He didn’t want to influence her or discourage her. It was entirely up to her, and it would be perfectly reasonable if they declined since it was on short notice, and Christmas week.
“I read his last book,” she said with interest. “Very scary, but an amazing piece of work.” She was intrigued. “He’s a smart guy. Have you ever met him?”
“Honestly, no, I don’t know him. I’ve seen him at a couple of parties, here and in London. He seems like a pretty charming guy, with a penchant for beautiful women and young girls.”
“I’ve got nothing to fear from him in that case,” she said, laughing. She was trying to remember what he looked like from the back of the book she’d read, but couldn’t.
“Don’t be so sure. You look half your age. But you can handle him. I’m not worried about that. I just didn’t know if you’d want to go to London this time of year. On the other hand, it sounds less depressing than the Cape, so maybe that would be a blessing. They’ll fly you first class, all expenses paid, and put you up at Claridge’s. He lives in Ireland, but he has a flat in London and he’s there right now.”
“That’s too bad,” she said, sounding disappointed. “I’d rather shoot him in Ireland. That would be more unusual than London.”
“I don’t think that’s an option. He wants to meet in London. It shouldn’t take you more than a day. You can be back in time to get really depressed at the Cape. Maybe for New Year’s.” She laughed at what he said, and thought about it. The idea had some appeal. Finn O’Neill was an important writer, and would surely make an interesting subject. She was annoyed that she had no recollection of his face. “How do you feel about it?”
At least she hadn’t turned him down flat, and Mark thought it would be good for her, particularly if the other option was going to Cape Cod by herself. She had a house there, and had spent summers there for years. She loved it.
“What do you think?” She always asked his advice-although she sometimes didn’t take it. But at least she asked. Some of his clients never did.
“I think you should do it. He’s interesting and important, it’s respectable, and you haven’t done a portrait for a while. You can’t spend all your time taking shots of monks and beggars,” Mark said in a light tone.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” She sounded pensive. She still loved the portrait work if the subject was intriguing, and Finn O’Neill certainly was. “Can you get me an assistant over there? I don’t need to take one with me.” Hope was not a demanding person.
“I’ll line someone up, don’t worry about it.” He held his breath, waiting to hear if she’d do it. He thought she should, and in a funny way, so did she. She was dreading the holidays, as she always did, and a trip to London might be a perfect distraction for her, particularly right now.
“Okay. I’ll do it. When do you think I should go?”
“I’d say pretty quickly, so you can be in and out by Christmas.” And then he realized again that it didn’t matter to her.
“I could go tomorrow night. I have a few loose ends to take care of here, and I promised to call the curator at MOMA. I could take a night flight tomorrow and sleep on the plane.”
“Perfect. I’ll tell them. They said they’d take care of all the arrangements, and I’ll find you an assistant.” It was never a problem finding people to assist her. Young photographers were always dying to work for Hope Dunne, and she had a reputation for being easy to get along with, which was well deserved. Hope was pleasant, professional, and undemanding, and what students or assistants learned from her was invaluable to them. Having freelanced for her as an assistant, even for a day, looked good on their résumés. “How long do you want to stay?”
“I don’t know,” she said, thinking about it. “A few days. I don’t want to rush. I don’t know what kind of subject he is. It could take him a day or two to loosen up. Maybe book me for four days. We’ll see how it goes. That gives us time if we need it. I’ll leave as soon as we finish.”
“Done. I’m glad you’re doing it,” he told her warmly. “And London is fun this time of year. Everything is all decorated and lit up, they’re not as PC as here. The Brits still believe in Christmas.” In the States, it was becoming a taboo word.
“I like Claridge’s,” she said happily, and then she sounded more serious. “I might try to see Paul, if he’s there. I’m not sure where he is. I haven’t talked to him in a while.” It was odd to think that they had been married for twenty-one years, and now she didn’t know where he was. Her life these days always reminded her of the Chinese saying, “That was then, this is now.” It certainly was. And what a difference.
“How’s he doing?” Mark asked gently. He knew it was a sensitive subject for her, but given everything that had happened, she had adjusted remarkably well. As far as Mark was concerned, she defined the terms “good sport” and “incredible human being.” Few people survived what she did as well as she had.
“Paul’s about the same, I think.” She answered Mark’s question about her ex-husband. “He’s on some experimental medication from Harvard. He seems to be doing pretty well.”
“I’ll call the publisher, and tell them you’re taking the assignment,” Mark said, changing the subject. He never knew what to say about Paul. Hope was always gracious about it, he knew she still loved her ex-husband, and had accepted the hand Fate had dealt her. She was never bitter or angry. Mark didn’t know how she did it. “I’ll call you tomorrow with more details,” he promised her, and a minute later they hung up.
Hope put her soup mug in the dishwasher after that, and went to stare out the window, at the steadily falling snow. There were already several inches on the ground, and it made her think of London. The last time she had been there, it had been snowing too and looked like a Christmas card. She wondered if Paul was in London now, but decided not to call him until she arrived, in case plans changed, and she had to see what kind of spare time she had. She didn’t want to see him on Christmas, and risk either of them getting maudlin. She wanted to avoid that at all costs. They were best friends now. He knew that she would be there for him if he needed her, and she also knew that he was too proud to call. If she saw him, they would both be careful to keep it light, which was what worked best for them these days. The rest was too hard to talk about, and served no purpose.
Hope stood at the window and watched a man leave footprints in the snow, followed by an old woman slipping and sliding as she walked her dog. Watching them, she couldn’t resist. She put her coat and boots on, and went back out, with her Leica in her pocket, not the fancy new one that everyone coveted, which she had too, but the old one she loved best. It was a faithful friend and had served her well.
Ten minutes later, she was walking down the street with the snow falling all around her as she prowled along, looking for the right shots. Without planning it, she arrived at the entrance to the subway, and hurried down the stairs. She’d just had an idea. She wanted to get some shots in Central Park at night, and after that, she was going to head for some of the rougher neighborhoods on the West Side. Snow had a way of softening people’s hearts and faces. For Hope, the night was young, and if she felt like it, she could stay out all night. It was one of the advantages she had discovered of being alone. She could work whenever she wanted, for however long she cared to, and she never had to feel guilty. There was no one waiting for her at home.
Later that night she walked back down Prince Street at three A.M., smiling to herself and content with her night’s work. The snow had just stopped as Hope let herself into her building, and walked up the stairs to her loft. She took her damp coat off and left it in the kitchen, and reminded herself that she had to pack for London in the morning. Five minutes later, she was in her cozy nightgown and tucked into her narrow bed on the sleeping balcony, and she was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. It had been a very enjoyable, productive night.
When Hope got to the airport, the flight to London was two hours late. She had her cameras in her hand luggage, and sat reading in the first-class lounge until they called the flight. She had picked up another book of Finn O’Neill’s and wanted to read it on the trip. It had started snowing again, and after they left the gate, they had to de-ice the plane. In all, they were nearly four hours late taking off, after waiting on the runway for two hours. Hope didn’t really care, she always slept on long flights. She let the flight attendant know that she wouldn’t be eating the meal, and told her what time she wanted to be woken up, exactly forty minutes before they landed at Heathrow. That would give her time for a cup of coffee and a croissant before they began their descent, and also time to brush her teeth and hair. It was all she needed in order to look respectable enough to go through immigration and go to the hotel.
As she always did, Hope slept soundly on the plane, and was happy to see that they landed without difficulty despite the morning fog. As it turned out, the delay had served them well and had given the winter weather time to clear. And as promised, the car from Claridge’s was waiting for her as soon as she cleared customs carrying her camera bag. She had already ordered the rental of all the equipment she needed, and it was being delivered to the hotel that afternoon. She was meeting her subject at his home the following morning. She wanted some time to get to know him and they were going to shoot in the afternoon.
So far, everything seemed easy and was on track, and since she had gotten enough sleep on the plane, she was wide awake as they drove into town, and happy when she saw her room at the hotel. It was one of Claridge’s prettier suites, with walls painted a deep coral, floral fabrics, English antiques, and framed prints on the walls. It was warm and cozy, and she ran a bath as soon as she arrived. She thought about calling Paul, but she wanted to wait until she saw Finn, so she could determine what kind of free time she had. If need be, if he was in town, she could see Paul on the last day. She shut her mind to all thoughts of their earlier days, she didn’t allow herself to think about it, and slipped into the bath and closed her eyes. She wanted to go for a walk as soon as she dressed and had something to eat. It was two o’clock in the afternoon in London by then. And as soon as she called room service to order an omelette and a cup of soup, her rented equipment arrived, the assistant they had hired for her called, and it was four o’clock before she was able to leave the hotel.
She went for a long brisk walk to New Bond Street, and looked at all the shops. They were brightly decorated for Christmas, and every store she glanced into was full of shoppers. Their holiday shopping was in full swing. She had no one to buy a gift for-she had already sent Paul a framed photograph from New York, and a case of good French wine to Mark. She walked back to the hotel around six o’clock, and as soon as she walked into her room, Finn O’Neill called. He had a deep masculine voice that sounded a little hoarse. He asked for her by name and then exploded in a fit of coughing. He sounded very sick.
“I’m dying,” he announced, when he stopped coughing. “I can’t see you tomorrow morning. Besides, I don’t want to get you sick.” It was nice of him to think of and be concerned, and she didn’t want to get sick either, but she hated to lose a day. She had nothing else to do in London, unless she saw Paul.
“You sound awful,” she said sympathetically. “Have you seen a doctor?”
“He said he’d come over later, but he hasn’t shown up yet. I’m really sorry. You were nice to come all the way to London. Maybe if I stay in bed tomorrow, I’ll be okay by the next day. Are you in a hurry to get back?” He sounded worried, and she smiled.
“I’m fine,” she said calmly. “I can stay as long as I have to, till we get the job done.”
“I hope you have a good retoucher. I look like shit,” he said, sounding like a little kid, and very sorry for himself.
“You’ll look fine, I promise. It’s all in the lighting,” she reassured him, “and we can airbrush. Just get better. Chicken soup,” she recommended, and he laughed.