“I know the perfect guy for this. I’ll call him myself,” Mark said quietly.
“Thank you,” she said, looking miserable, and a few minutes later, she left Mark’s office, feeling overwhelmed with guilt. She felt terrible for the rest of the day, especially when Finn called and told her how much he loved her and how miserable he was without her. He said he almost wanted to get on a plane and come to New York, but she reminded him gently that she had to work. She was even nicer to him than she would have been normally because she felt so guilty about what Mark was doing on her behalf. But Mark was right, it was smart. And if they didn’t find any skeletons in his past, or problems, except the lawsuit, Hope knew she didn’t need to worry and could marry Finn in peace. It was getting down to the wire, and they had been talking about getting married on New Year’s Eve, less than two months away. She wanted to know before that that everything was fine. And nothing was feeling good to her right now. Her instincts were screaming, and she was feeling sick and stressed.
Hope found it unbelievably hard to work the next day. She was nervous and distracted, and couldn’t make a decent connection with her subject, which was unheard of for her. She finally forced herself to concentrate with enormous effort, and she managed to do the shoot, but it wasn’t one of her best days. And the rest of the week was pretty much the same. Now that she knew someone was checking on Finn, she wanted to get the information, deal with it, and put it behind her. The suspense was killing her. She wanted everything to be all right.
And that weekend she went to Boston to see Paul, who was in the hospital at Harvard. He had caught a bad respiratory flu on the boat, and they were afraid of pneumonia. The captain of his boat had arranged to have him sent to Boston by air ambulance, which had probably saved him.
Paul was doing better but not great, and he slept through most of Hope’s visit. She sat next to him, holding his hand, and now and then he opened his eyes and smiled at her. It was painful to think that he had once been a vital man, brilliant in his field, full of life in every way, and now it had come to this. He looked so old and frail, and had just turned sixty-one. His whole body was shaking. And at one point, he looked at her and shook his head.
“I was right,” he whispered, “you wouldn’t want to be married to this.” As he said it, tears filled her eyes and she kissed his cheek.
“Yes, I would, and you know it. You were stupid to divorce me, and it cost you way too much money,” she teased him.
“You’ll have the rest pretty soon, except for what Harvard gets.” He could barely speak, and she frowned as she listened to him.
“Don’t say that. You’re going to be fine.” He didn’t answer, he just shook his head, closed his eyes, and went to sleep. She sat with him for hours, and flew back to New York that night. She had never felt so lonely in her life, except when Mimi died, and then she had had him. Now she had no one, except Finn. She tried to talk to him about it on the telephone the next day.
“It was so sad seeing him that way,” she said as her voice trembled, and tears rolled down her cheeks, which she wiped away. “He’s so sick.”
“Are you still in love with him?” Finn asked coldly, and Hope just closed her eyes at the other end of the phone.
“How can you say that?” she asked him. “For chrissake, Finn. I was married to him for twenty years. He’s the only family I have. And I’m all he has.”
“You have me,” Finn answered. Everything was about him.
“That’s different,” she tried to explain to him. “I love you, but Paul and I share history, and a child, even if she’s not here anymore.”
“Neither is ours, thanks to you.” It was a cruel thing to say, but he was jealous of Paul, and wanted to hurt her in whatever way he could. It was a side of Finn that she deplored. And telling her that the miscarriage was entirely her fault didn’t make it true. It just made him seem mean. It wasn’t a part of him she loved, although there were many other parts that she did. He was wonderful to her in many ways.
“I have to go to work,” she said, cutting him off. She didn’t want to get into discussing the miscarriage with him again, or his jealousy of Paul, particularly now. If he was going to be foolish about that, it was his problem, not hers. It was very disappointing to hear him talk to her that way.
“If I were that sick, would you be there for me?” He sounded like a child as he asked.
“Of course,” she answered, sounding bleak. Sometimes his bottomless pit of need was impossible to fill. She felt that way right now.
“How can I be sure?”
“I just would. I’ll call you tonight,” she said, glancing at her watch. She had to be uptown in half an hour.
When she got there, it was another long, hard day. She was in a terrible mood. Finn seemed to be upsetting her constantly all of a sudden. He was unhappy that she was away, and said his writing wasn’t going well. And Hope was waiting to hear from the investigator Mark had hired, and nervous about what he was going to say. She hoped that everything would be okay. It didn’t make up for the fact that Finn was lying to her about his current publishing situation, but at least if everything else was in order, she could tell herself that he was reacting badly to a difficult situation. That would be forgivable at least.
She didn’t hear from Mark until the end of the week. The investigator had been told to send the information through him. Mark called Hope on Friday afternoon. He asked her if she could come to his office, he said he had some files and photographs to share with her. He didn’t sound particularly happy, and Hope didn’t ask him any questions until she got to his office. She was nervous all the way uptown. Mark’s face gave nothing away until they sat down. And then he opened the file sitting on his desk, and handed a small ragged photograph to her. His face was grim.
“Who’s that?” Hope asked him as she stared at it. It was a photograph of four little boys, and the photograph was yellowed and tattered.
“It’s Finn.” When she turned it over, she saw that there were four names on the back. Finn, Joey, Paul, and Steve. “I’m not sure which one he is.” All four were wearing cowboy hats, and they looked very close in age. “It’s him with his three brothers.” As Mark said it, Hope shook her head.
“Someone made a mistake. He’s an only child. It must be a different O’Neill. It’s a pretty common name.” That much she knew was true. Mark just stared at her, and then read down the page. “Finn was the youngest of the four boys. Joey went to federal prison and is still there for hijacking a plane to Cuba a hell of a long time ago. Before that, he was on parole for bank robbery. Nice kid. Steve was killed by a hit-and-run driver when he was fourteen, somewhere on the Lower East Side where they lived. Paul is a cop, in the narcotics division. He’s the oldest. He gave the investigator this photograph. We promised to get it back to him. Their father died in a bar fight when Finn was three. He was a jack-of-all-trades. The mother, according to Paul, was a maid for some fancy people on Park Avenue, and she and the four boys lived in a one-bedroom walk-up apartment in a tenement on the Lower East Side. The boys slept in the bedroom, she slept on the couch in the living room. I think her name was Lizzie. She died of pancreatic cancer about thirty years ago, when the kids were still young. Apparently, they went to hell in a handbasket. Pretty shortly thereafter, Finn and one of the others were in foster care, and Finn ran away.
“He worked as a longshoreman when he was about seventeen, after their mother died, but his brother says he was always the smart one and told a hell of a good story. He’s been doing just that ever since, and making a nice living at it, until recently.” Mark looked at the file in front of him with blatant disapproval as Hope listened in painful silence. He hated doing this to her, but she had wanted the information, and now she had it. Just about nothing Finn had told her about his early life was true. Yet again, he had been ashamed to tell the truth, in this case about his humble and rocky beginnings compared to hers. She felt deeply sorry for him and what Mark had described of Finn’s youth. “His brother says he did manage to go to City College, and after that he never saw any of them again.
“Their mother named him after some Irish poet, which I suppose was prophetic. He says she was kind of a dreamer, and always told them fairy tales before they went to sleep, and then drank herself into oblivion on the couch. She never remarried, and it sounds like she had a pretty miserable life and so did they, you have to feel sorry for them.” He handed her a photograph of Finn then when he was about fourteen. He was a handsome boy, and it was clearly Finn. He didn’t look that much different now, and the face was the same. “There was no money. Eventually, their mother lost her job and she was on welfare, until Paul could help her on his policeman’s salary. But that couldn’t have been easy, since he was already married and had kids himself.
“Their mother died in the charity ward of a welfare hospital. They never had a dime. There was no apartment on Park Avenue, no house in Southampton. No father who was a doctor. Their grandparents came from Ireland, via Ellis Island, and if there is any ancestral tie to the house you’re living in in Ireland, Paul O’Neill knows nothing about it, and strongly doubts it. He said their grandparents and great-grandparents were potato farmers who came to this country during the Great Famine, like a lot of other people, but they would never have owned a house like yours. After Finn was a longshoreman, he seems to have done a lot of things, waiter, chauffeur, doorman, barker at a strip joint. He drove a truck and delivered papers, and I guess he started writing fairly young and sold some stories. After college, his brother doesn’t know a lot about what happened to him. He thinks he got some girl pregnant and got married, but he doesn’t know who she was and he never saw the kid. He hasn’t been in touch with him for years.
“And according to the investigator, Finn is in deep shit financially. He’s in debt up to his ears, he’s had a number of bad debts, and his credit rating is a disaster. He declared bankruptcy, which is probably why he eventually went to Ireland. He doesn’t seem to be able to hang on to money, although he’s made a fair amount with his writing in recent years. But now his publishers are pissed at him, so that’s gone up in smoke too. It sounds like the best thing that ever happened to him was walking into you a year ago. And let me tell you, this is going to be one hell of a lucky sonofabitch if he marries you. But I don’t think I’d say the same for you.
“There’s nothing wrong with his background, or with having been born poor. A lot of people have come up from situations like that and made something of themselves. That’s what this country is all about. And you have to admire the guy for crawling out of a pit like that. His credit is a mess, but that’s not the end of the world, if you want to help him with it. What I don’t like,” Mark said, looking over the file at her, “is that he lied to you about damn near everything. Maybe he’s ashamed of where he comes from, which is sad for him. But marrying a woman and claiming you’re someone and something you’re not doesn’t show much integrity on his part, and it’s none of my business, if you love the guy, but I don’t like the smell of it for you. The guy is a first-class liar. He’s invented a whole history for himself, including aristocratic ancestors, titles, doctors, and an entire world of people who don’t exist. Or maybe they do, but if they do, or did, none of them are related to him, which frightens me.”
He handed Hope the file without further comment, and she glanced through a neatly typed, fully documented report by the private investigator. Mark told her they were searching further, and promised additional information on his background in the next two weeks. But they seemed to have been very thorough so far, and as Hope looked back at Mark, she felt sick. Not because what she had heard was terrible, or unacceptable, but what she knew now was that Finn had lied to her about every fact and detail. It made her heart ache to think about it. He had had a miserable childhood in a walk-up tenement apartment, with a drunken mother, a father who had died in a bar fight, and he had wound up in foster care, which must have been nightmarish for him too. And instead of trusting her and sharing it with her, he had invented a mother who was allegedly a spoiled Irish aristocratic beauty and a father who was a Park Avenue doctor. It was no wonder he clung to her like a lost child every time she walked two steps away from him. After a childhood like that, who wouldn’t? But the problem was that he had lied to her about so many things. It made her wonder what else he had lied about, and what secrets he was keeping from her. He hadn’t even told her that his publisher had fired him and was suing him. So he was continuing to lie to her right up to today. There were tears brimming in her eyes as she looked at Mark across the desk.
“What are you going to do?” Mark asked her gently. He felt sorry for her. After a man like Paul, she had fallen into the hands of Finn. Mark knew she was in love with him, but his fear for her was that Finn O’Neill might be hiding something worse. And Hope was afraid of that too. She had had eleven glorious, exquisitely happy, fabulous months with him, with the exception of the miscarriage and his reaction to it. But other than that, everything had been loving and great. And now their whole life seemed to be unraveling, and Finn with it. It was extremely depressing.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said honestly. “I have to think about it. I’m not sure what this means. I don’t know if he’s too embarrassed to admit how he grew up and is trying to save face, which isn’t admirable, but maybe I could live with. Or if he’s a profoundly dishonest person.” Mark suspected that that was more likely, and even that he was after her for the money. In Finn’s current situation, that seemed easy to believe, and the same thought had crossed Hope’s mind too. She wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, and believe the best of him. She loved him. But she didn’t want to be blind and foolish either. She had wanted this information, now she had it, and she had to digest it and come to her own conclusions. And she didn’t want to say anything to Finn. She didn’t want to hear any more lies from him. It would only make the situation worse, until she figured out what to do.
“They don’t have anything yet on Finn’s marriage. They know the woman’s name, and the dates and circumstances seem to coincide with what you said. So maybe he told the truth about that, and not his childhood. They’re doing some more investigating, and verifying her cause of death. You said it was a car accident. The investigator said he’d have that for us by next week, or at worst by Thanksgiving.”
“I’ll be back in Ireland by then,” she said sadly.
“Be careful, Hope,” Mark warned her. “Be cautious about what you say to him. There’s a possibility that even if you love him, you don’t know who and what this man is. He’s probably just a very creative liar, which is what makes him such a good writer. But there’s always the possibility that he could be something far worse. You never know with people. Don’t corner the guy and stick this stuff in his face. Use it for yourself, to make a good decision. But be very, very careful how you handle him. You don’t want to wake up a sleeping demon. For what it’s worth, his brother says he’s a sociopath. But he’s not a shrink. He’s just a cop who has a crazy brother. And remarkably, no one has ever blown Finn’s cover, not even his brother, which is amazing. Paul O’Neill says Finn would lie about the time of day. It certainly looks like it from all that, although most of it is harmless. It’s just sad. Just be very careful you don’t help him turn it into something worse. If you embarrass him with this, he could get very nasty with you.” He was seriously worried about her, particularly after reading everything he had. His suspicion was that Finn O’Neill was a pretty sick guy, and it was hard to believe, under the circumstances, that he wasn’t after her money. And he had her to himself, far away in Ireland, in a big, deserted house in the countryside. Mark Webber didn’t like it at all.
“The sad thing is that until now no one’s ever been as nice to me. He’s the sweetest person on the planet, except for once or twice when he got mad. But generally, he’s a kind, loving, lovable guy.” And she had believed every word he said.
“And a pathological liar, from the sound of it. If you corner him, even accidentally, he may not be so nice.” Hope nodded. She was well aware of it herself, and he had been vicious to her about the miscarriage, which for some reason he took personally, as though she had lost the baby on purpose to hurt him. She wondered if that was what he thought, although it was beginning to occur to her that her having his child would give him a far more powerful claim on her. It was hard to know his motivations anymore, or where the truth lay. “I want you to do something for me, Hope. The law firm we use at the agency has a Dublin office.” He smiled then. “Every writer who wants to stop paying income tax moves to Ireland, so about a dozen years ago, the firm opened an office there.
“I checked with them this morning. The man running the Dublin office now worked with us for several years in New York, and he’s a good solid man, and an excellent attorney. I got his phone number this morning, and his cell phone, and they’re going to contact him and give him your name. He may even have done some work for you while he was here. He’s American and his name is Robert Bartlett. If you have any kind of problem, I want you to call this guy. And you can always call me. But I’m a lot farther away. He could drive down from Dublin anytime you want to see him.” As soon as he said it, Hope shook her head.
“Finn would have a fit, and he’d be suspicious. He’s jealous of everyone, and if this guy is under a hundred, Finn would go insane.” Mark wasn’t reassured by what she was saying, but handed her his numbers anyway from the notepad on his desk.
“I think he’s somewhere in his forties, if it matters. In other words, he’s not a kid, nor some doddering old guy. He’s a nice, sensible, grown-up, savvy, respectable guy. And you never know, you may need his help one day.” Hope nodded, hoping that she wouldn’t, and tucked his numbers into the inside pocket in her purse.
It hadn’t been a happy meeting and Mark was sad to see her leave, particularly in these conditions. She was in the middle of a messy situation, with a man who was a loose cannon, dishonest at best, and she had some difficult decisions to make. He didn’t sound dangerous to Mark, from everything Hope had said, but it wasn’t going to be pleasant for her dealing with it. He hated knowing she was so far away.
“I’ll be okay,” she reassured him, and then thought of something before she left. “Be careful if you call me. I’m going to leave this file in a locked drawer in my apartment. I don’t want Finn to find it. And please don’t refer to it if you call.”
“Of course not,” he said, looking equally unhappy.
Hope cried all the way back to her apartment in the taxi. Her heart was breaking over Finn’s many lies. She felt sorry for the awful childhood he had endured. But his lying was so extreme. She had no idea what she was going to do.
Hope spoke to Mark again before she left. The investigators had no further information for the moment, and she had finished all her assignments in New York. She’d been checking on Paul by phone daily at the hospital in Boston. He was about the same, and he was asleep every time she called. She had spoken to his doctor, and he was concerned but not panicked over Paul’s health. Paul was weak, but the situation was what it was. He was sliding slowly downhill. And they promised to call her in Ireland if there was any drastic change in his condition. The doctor knew that if there was, she would come back immediately. He had known them both when they were married, and he had always been sorry about the terrible turns of fate that had befallen them, first with Paul’s illness, his forced retirement, their daughter’s death, and Paul’s decision to divorce.
Hope called Finn before leaving New York, to tell him she was coming and he was ecstatic. It made her sad to hear how happy he was. After the lies she had just discovered, she felt as though the bottom was falling out of their world. She hoped that they could get it on track again, and put it behind them. She wanted to find a way to reassure him that he didn’t need to lie about his childhood, or his life, or even problems with his publisher. None of those things would make her think less of him, but lying did. And it unnerved her. She no longer knew what to believe or trust. She wanted to condemn the action, not the man. She still believed that he was a good man. But he still hadn’t told her about his current disaster with his contract. It was hard to believe he hadn’t said a word about it to her, and that he had taken her out to dinner to celebrate a contract he hadn’t signed. She wasn’t even angry at him. She was desperately sad. She loved him, and didn’t want him to be afraid to tell her the truth.
“It’s about goddamn time you came home,” he said, grinning broadly, and she noticed that he sounded more than a little drunk. He told her the weather was terrible, and that he had been depressed ever since she left. She wondered if losing his publisher had started him on some kind of downward spin.
“Yeah, me too,” she said in a soft voice. It hadn’t been a great trip. She hadn’t even enjoyed her work this time. She had spent the whole three weeks deeply upset about him. And on the plane, she agonized over what to do about the investigator’s report. You couldn’t unring a bell. But along with the sound of fear in her head, there was love. And she didn’t want to humiliate him by confronting him with the report.
He looked tired when he met her at the airport, and she noticed that he had dark circles under his eyes, as though he hadn’t slept. She wasn’t even happy to see the house this time. It was freezing cold, and he had forgotten to turn up the heat. And when she went upstairs, she noticed in his office that there weren’t more than a dozen pages on his desk to add to his book. He had told her he had written a hundred pages in her absence, and now that she was home she could see that that was a lie too.
“What have you been doing while I was gone?” she asked as he watched her unpack her suitcase. She hung her clothes up and tried not to sound upset when she talked to him. She tried to keep her tone easy and light, but she didn’t fool him. He could see that something was wrong the minute she got off the plane.
“What’s wrong, Hope?” he asked her quietly, pulling her onto the bed and into his arms.
“Nothing. I’ve been upset because Paul is so sick.” He didn’t look happy to hear it, but she didn’t know what else to say. She didn’t feel prepared or ready to tell him that she now knew that everything he’d told her about his childhood was a lie, and that the ancestral home she’d bought for him really belonged to someone else, and not his family at all. She kept thinking of the tattered photograph of the four little boys in cowboy hats, and she felt desperately sorry for him. He wasn’t even an only child as he had said. It was hard to know who he really was, and what it all meant.
“Maybe Paul will get better again,” he said, trying to be pleasant, as he slipped a hand under her sweater and fondled her breast. She wondered as he did it if maybe that was all there was. A lot of lies and fantastic sex.
She didn’t want to make love to him, but she didn’t tell him. She felt as though her world were falling apart, but she tried to pretend to him that nothing had changed. It was so unsettling to know that he had made up so many stories, about his parents, his early life, their house in Southampton, the things he’d done at school, the people he had met. She suspected that he wanted so badly to be accepted and like everyone else. And it probably wounded him to admit that they had been poor, or worse. And trying not to think about any of it, and the things his brother had said about him, she let him slowly peel off her clothes, and in spite of everything that she was thinking, she felt herself become rapidly aroused. If nothing else, he had a magic touch. But even though she loved him, that wasn’t enough. She had to be able to trust him as well.
He couldn’t get enough of her that night, after three weeks without her. Like a man who had been dying of hunger and thirst, he wanted to make love to her again and again. And afterward, when he finally fell asleep, she rolled over to her side of the bed and cried.
The next morning, over breakfast, he asked her casually when they were getting married. They had been talking about New Year’s Eve before she left. He had thought it would be fun to celebrate their anniversary on that night every year. But when he asked about it now, she was vague. With everything she had just learned about him, she needed time to think about it. And she was still waiting to hear the rest. She realized that she didn’t want to confront Finn now until she knew it all. Maybe the rest of the story would be different, and closer to the truth as she knew it, from Finn.
“What’s that about?” he asked her, suddenly looking anxious. “Did you fall in love with someone else in New York?” It was obvious to him that she didn’t want to discuss it, and was no longer willing to make plans and set the date.
“Of course not,” she answered his question. “I just feel strange getting married when Paul is so sick.” It was the only excuse she could think of, and he didn’t like it. It made no sense to him.
“What does that have to do with anything? He’s been sick for years.” Finn looked annoyed.
“He’s gotten a lot worse,” she said glumly, shoving the remains of a scrambled egg around her plate.
“You knew he would.”
“I just don’t feel right having a celebration when he may be dying.” She’d had a bad feeling about it when she last saw him, and was afraid she might never see him again. “And besides, no one’s coming. That seems so sad. I thought it might be more fun if we do it next summer at the Cape. Our agents could come then, and it would be easier for Michael than coming all the way to Ireland.” Finn had told her he wasn’t coming for the holidays this year. He was going to Aspen with friends instead.
“Cold feet, Hope? It sounds like you changed your mind.” Finn looked hurt.
“Of course not. It just doesn’t feel like the right time,” she said quietly, staring at her plate.
“We were supposed to get married in October,” he reminded her, and they both knew why.
“That’s because we were having a baby a month later,” she said softly, looking at him.
“And we both know why that didn’t happen,” he said unkindly. He never missed an opportunity to make her feel bad about it. He had been so incredibly loving to her for the first six months, and now he seemed angry at her a lot of the time. Or maybe he was angry at himself. Nothing seemed to be going right. And he was suddenly putting a lot of pressure on her. Given the lies he had told her, she felt he had no right. But he didn’t have even the remotest suspicion that she knew he was lying. Now they were both playing the same game, and Hope hated it, and could hardly look him in the eye.
“I assume you got your period in New York,” he asked as she put their dishes in the sink for Katherine to wash later. Hope nodded in answer, and for a moment he didn’t comment, but when she turned around to look at him he was smiling. “That means you should be ovulating right about now.” When he said it, Hope almost burst into tears. She sat down at the kitchen table and put her head down on her arms.
“Why are you pressuring me about that now?” she asked in a muffled voice with her head down, and then she looked up at him in anguish. “What difference does it make?” As she asked the question, she knew that whatever he answered would be a lie. She could no longer conceive of him telling her the truth. It ruined everything. Mark was right. Finn was a pathological liar.
“What’s happening to you, Hope?” he asked gently as he sat down next to her. “Before, you wanted our baby, you couldn’t wait for us to get married.” She wanted to say that that was before she knew he was a liar.
“I just want a little time to sort it all out. I lost our last baby five months ago. And I don’t want to get married while my ex-husband may be dying.”
“Those are bullshit excuses and you know it.”
Looking at him, she knew she had to tell him the truth. Or part of it at least. “Sometimes I think you don’t level with me, Finn. I heard some publishing gossip when I was in New York. Somebody told me that your publisher is suing you, and they wouldn’t renew your contract because you didn’t deliver your last two books. What’s that all about? It was in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times . The only one who didn’t know about it was me. Why didn’t you tell me? And why did you tell me that you’d signed a new contract?” Her eyes were full of questions as she looked at him, but there were others than just these. This was a start. And he looked furious when she asked him.