Investigations afterward had determined that their marriage was in trouble, and Finn had asked her for a divorce, which she had refused. There was some question as to whether he had caused the accident, but whether he had or not, he had let her die. Charges had been formally brought against Finn, he was given a five-year suspended sentence and five years probation and had his license revoked for manslaughter for the death of the truck driver. His late wife’s death was deemed an accident.
The investigator had contacted the family of Finn’s late wife, in California, who were still bitter about it and said that they believed Finn had intentionally killed their daughter, in the hope of inheriting some money. Her father was a wealthy stockbroker in San Francisco, and he and his wife had brought up their daughter’s child, who was seven at the time of his mother’s death. They said that Finn had flatly refused custody of the child. They had told the investigator that Finn had seen his son twice in the ensuing years before he left for college, and they believed he had seen him a few times since, but had no real role in their grandson’s life. They considered him a poor influence on the boy and a dangerous man. He had attempted to extort money from them after their daughter’s death, threatening to expose her use of alcohol and drugs and immoral, promiscuous lifestyle. They had reported his extortion attempts to the police, but never brought formal charges against him. They just wanted him out of their and their grandson’s life.
They were aware of his literary success in the years since their daughter’s death, but nonetheless considered him responsible for her death, and said he was a man without a conscience, who was after money and cared for no one but himself. They said he had claimed to love their daughter in the beginning, and was charming. And he had cried copiously at her funeral. A doctor’s report attached said that in his opinion, she would have died anyway, with or without help. Her injuries were too extreme, and she was brain dead.
It was chilling to read the report, and Hope looked up at Mark without comment. His wife’s death had in fact been an accident. But he had done nothing to help her. There were several more pages about women he had gone out with. There was also a separate sheet that documented that he had eventually gone after his wife’s estate, and sued her parents for support, although they were supporting his child. All his efforts to get money from them, legal and otherwise, for himself had failed. It was certainly wrong of him, but it didn’t make him a murderer either. Just a crook or a man desperate for money. He had also attempted to invade monies that had gone to the boy directly from his mother, and her parents were able to stop Finn’s attempts to get money from his son as well. Hope couldn’t help wondering if Michael knew about that. He knew his father was a liar. But Finn was infinitely worse. He was totally amoral.
Among the women Finn had gone out with were several wealthy women, some of whom he had lived with for a short time, and it was generally believed that they had given him money and gifts. His finances had always been shaky throughout the years, despite his literary success, and his appetite for money was apparently voracious. There was an additional page about his publisher’s current lawsuit against him, and a list of other lawsuits that had been filed against him, usually without success. There was one in particular, by a woman he had lived with, who had brought charges of mental cruelty, but she had lost the suit. All together it painted a picture of a man who exploited women, and all the subjects interviewed said he was a pathological liar. Two of them said he was a sociopath, and an unnamed source at his publisher said they considered him unreliable, untrustworthy, unethical, and incapable of following rules of any kind. All of the subjects, including his ex-parents-in-law, said he was charming, but many considered him an unscrupulous, dangerous man, entirely motivated by greed, and who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. There were no kind words about him in the report, except that he was charming, and was always loving and kind in the beginning, and heartless and cruel in the end. It was what Hope was discovering as well and hoped wasn’t true. The report made it hard to deny.
Hope sat back on the couch and looked at Mark after she read it. And added to it, but not in the report, was the girl who Finn had told her himself had committed suicide because of him. So indirectly, he had caused two deaths. And Hope suddenly remembered his question to her when she had found the photograph of Audra, when he asked her if she would ever commit suicide herself, almost as though it would have been a compliment to him. The question had a whole new meaning now. She was surprised to find that she was shaking as she thought about it all and tried to absorb what she’d just read. It was horrifying to think that all those frightening stories and details of his life had slipped through the cracks over the years and become obscured. The investigator had worked hard to unearth them.
“Not pretty, is it?” Mark commented, looking worried.
“No, it isn’t,” she said sadly. He was charming, as they said, and extremely loving in the beginning, but almost every one of them considered him a dangerous man. “Now what do I do?” she said almost to herself, staring out the window into space, thinking about Finn, wanting with all her heart for him to be who he had been at first.
“I don’t think you should go back,” Mark said wisely, and she thought about it for a long moment, and how confused she had been when she left. She wondered if he was trying to drive her to suicide, but he wanted the five million dollars first. And if she married him, he would have more. If he had a child with her, he could pump her estate forever, and the child, or her.
“I think I need to go back and sort it out. In my own head at least.” He was two people. The one she had fallen in love with and the one in the report. She couldn’t help wondering if his late wife’s parents blamed him because they couldn’t accept their daughter’s death, and it was easier to blame him. She wanted to believe that, and was wrestling with herself. She tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it was hard to do in light of the report. “We were supposed to get married and for my own sake, I need to find out what is real.”
“What if he kills you?” Mark said tersely.
“He won’t. He didn’t kill his wife. It was an accident. The police report, and the coroner both said so. I think what he wants is to get as much money out of me as he can.” That was ugly too, and she still wanted to believe he loved her. “I’ll call your lawyer in Dublin before I go back, so I have a contact person close at hand.” She felt so alone in Ireland now, and could no longer trust or count on Finn. Whoever and whatever he was, there was a part of him that was evil. Strangely after what she had just read, Hope wasn’t afraid of him. She knew that part of him was good too. She still believed that. She also knew she wasn’t crazy but there was a possibility that Finn was. It was why he wrote the books he did, all those dark characters lived in his head, and were different sides of him, the ones that didn’t show. “I’ll be all right. I need to see this through and sort it out,” she reassured Mark, handed him back the report, and thanked him. “I’ll call you before I leave.” She wanted to be alone, to mourn the man she loved, who possibly didn’t exist, and never had.
The silence in her apartment was deafening after Mark left. All she could think of now were those wonderful months she had shared with Finn, how completely she had believed and loved him, how real it seemed. Tears rolled down her cheeks, knowing there was a strong possibility now that every moment of it had been a lie. It was hard to believe and harder still to accept. The dream she had lived with him may never have been more than that. A dream. And suddenly it had turned into a nightmare. She no longer had any idea who Finn was. The good man she fell in love with or the ne’er-do-well in the report? All she knew was that she needed to go back, look him in the eye, and find out.
Hope waited up until four in the morning to call him, which was nine in the morning in Dublin. She held the slip of paper with his numbers in shaking hands. A receptionist answered, put Hope on hold while she listened to music, and then passed her on to a secretary. Hope explained that she was calling from New York, and it was too late for him to call her back, and then finally Robert Bartlett took the call. His accent was American, and he had a pleasant voice. Mark Webber had emailed him, as had the head of their New York office. Johannsen, Stern and Grodnik was an American law firm, with offices in six American cities, and foreign branches around the world. Robert Bartlett had been the managing partner of the New York office when they asked him to take over the Dublin office, because the senior partner died suddenly of cancer. He had enjoyed being in Dublin for several years and was ready to go back to New York in a few months. He was actually sorry to leave Ireland. The situation there had been perfect for him.
He didn’t know the nature of the problem, but he knew who Hope was, and that she was an important client of the firm. He was well aware of the hour in New York, and although he didn’t know her, he could hear a note of tension in her voice when she introduced herself.
“I know who you are, Ms. Dunne,” he said reassuringly as she started to explain. “How can I help you? It’s very late in New York,” he commented. He sounded easygoing and calm, and he had a surprisingly young voice.
“I’m in a bit of a complicated situation of a personal nature,” she said slowly. She didn’t even know what she wanted from him, or what she would do yet, and it was a little crazy to ask advice from a total stranger. She knew she needed help, or might, but she wasn’t sure with what. He wasn’t a bodyguard or a psychologist, if she needed either, and she felt a little foolish calling him. But she wanted a contact in Dublin now in case she needed help. She didn’t want to go back without some kind of support available to her there. And he was all she had. “I’m not sure what kind of help I need, if any, at this point. My agent, Mark Webber, thought I should call you.” And after reading the investigator’s report she thought so too, in case any legal complications arose from her relationship with Finn. She hoped things would calm down with him, but they might not. From what she’d read, more likely not.
“Of course. Whatever I can do to help, Ms. Dunne.” His voice was intelligent and kind, and he sounded patient. She felt a little silly explaining it to him, as though what she wanted was advice to the lovelorn, and maybe she did. But this wasn’t just about being lovelorn, it was about assessing danger and potential risk. It all depended on who Finn really was, what she meant to him, and how desperate or dishonest he was. Money was clearly important to him. But how important? Maybe this time, for him, their love story had been for real, in spite of all the other horrors she had read in the report. Maybe he truly loved her. She wanted to believe that. But it seemed doubtful at this point, and impossible to assess.
“I feel stupid telling you this story. I think I’m in a mess,” she said as she leaped in. It was four o’clock in the morning in New York, her apartment was dark, and it was the heart of the night, when everything seems worse, dangers loom, and terrors grow exponentially. In the morning, the ghosts recede again. “I’ve been involved with someone for the past year. He lives in Ireland, between Blessington and Russborough, and he has a house in London too. He’s a well-known author, very successful, though in a professional and financial disaster at the moment. I took photographs of him in London last year, we went out afterward, and he came to see me in New York after that. To be honest, he swept me off my feet. He stayed with me for several weeks, and we’ve been together almost constantly ever since, staying at each other’s houses, in whatever city. I have an apartment in New York and a house on Cape Cod. We’ve been everywhere together, though I’ve been mostly in Ireland lately. He has a house there that he told me he owned, and I discovered he didn’t. It turned out that he was renting it.” Robert Bartlett was making small acknowledging and sympathetic noises as she told the story, and he was making notes as well, to keep it all straight when they discussed it later. “I discovered that he was renting, although he said he owned it,” she resumed after a pause. “He said it was his ancestral home, and he had reclaimed it two years before. That was a lie, he said he was embarrassed to admit he didn’t own it. Actually, there were three big lies that I discovered at about the same time, after nine months that were absolutely perfect. I’d never been happier in my life, and he was the nicest man I’ve ever known, but suddenly after nine months, there were these three big lies.” She sounded sad as she said it.
“How did you discover them?” Bartlett interjected, intrigued by the story. She sounded like an intelligent woman, didn’t sound particularly naïve, and was a businesswoman, so he knew that if she’d fallen for the lies, the perpetrator was undoubtedly good, smooth, and convincing. Originally, apparently, she’d had no reason to doubt him.
“The lies just kind of popped out of nowhere. He said he was widowed, and had brought up his son alone. His son came to visit us in Ireland, and told me that he didn’t grow up with his father, as Finn had told me. His name is Finn, by the way.” Bartlett knew who he was on the literary scene, most people did, and he didn’t comment. He was certainly an author of major fame, and of equal stature to her in her field. She hadn’t picked up some homeless guy off the street. She didn’t sound like the type for that. So it seemed like a fair match, on the surface, even if it wasn’t, and had probably seemed that way to her too. So it made sense in the beginning. “Anyway, his son told me that he grew up with his maternal grandparents in California and hardly knew his father while growing up, and doesn’t see him much now. That’s not at all what his father told me. I asked him about it, and Finn said he was embarrassed to admit that he hadn’t brought up his son. He has never admitted that he scarcely knew him. He also told me that he and his wife weren’t getting along when she died, and they probably would have divorced eventually. She died when their son was seven. But I’ll tell you about that later.
“A few months before that, I had found out about the house being rented. He still claimed it was his ancestral home, which I believed, on his mother’s side, which it turns out is bullshit. Sorry,” she sounded embarrassed, and he smiled.
“No problem. I’ve heard the word. Never used it myself, of course, but I get the drift.” They both laughed, and she liked him. He sounded sympathetic and was listening closely to all she said, despite the fact that it sounded crazy, even to her. “He said he was ashamed of that too, that he was renting. And we were planning to get married by then, so I bought the house last April.” She felt a little stupid admitting it to him now.
“As a gift? Did you put it in his name?” It was not a criticism or a reproach, just a question.
“A kind of future gift. It’s in my name, but I was going to give it to him as a wedding present when we got married. For now, it’s in my name, and I rent it to him for a nominal amount. Two hundred dollars a month, just to keep things clean. I paid a million five for it, and I’ve put in about the same amount in restoration, and another million in furniture and decoration.” Hearing it now, it was a huge amount of money to spend on his house, although technically it was hers, but she had done it all for him. “I drew up papers after we bought it, and it’s in my will. In the event of my death, if we are married, it goes to him, free and clear, or in trust to our children, if we have any.”
“Does he know that?”
“I can’t remember. I think I said it to him once, maybe twice. I told him I would leave it to him. I thought it was his family house then. I discovered a few weeks ago that the house has no relation to him. It was just another lie, among many. But he made a big deal about being embarrassed to have me know he only rented. And I believed his story, hook, line, and sinker.”
“To give the devil his due, he sounds pretty good at what he does.” So far, he had played on her sympathy every time. He was smooth.
“I also told him what my ex-husband gave me in a settlement in our divorce. I didn’t want to keep any secrets. Finn asked me how much, so I told him. It was fifty million dollars, with an equal amount on my ex-husband’s death,” she said sadly.
“Hopefully not for a long time,” he said politely, and there was a pause at her end, while she caught her breath.
“He died this week. He’s been very sick for eleven years. That’s why he divorced me, he didn’t want me to go through that, but I did anyway.”
“I’m sorry. But let me get this straight. You have another fifty million coming to you now from your late husband’s, sorry, ex-husband’s estate. Is that right?”
“Yes.” There was a soft whistle at the other end in response and she smiled. “It’s a lot. He sold his shares in a company that makes high-tech surgical equipment, and did very well. So Finn knew what I had and what I had coming.”
“Has he ever asked you for money?” It didn’t sound like he needed to. He was doing fine anyway, since she’d bought him the house, and promised to pass it on to him, at their marriage or her death. Either way, he stood to win.
“Only recently,” she answered. “He wanted five million dollars cash, no questions asked. And more when we get married. He’s only asked me for that in the last month. Before that he never mentioned money. He’s in financial trouble, which was the third lie that got me worried. He told me he had just signed a new contract with his publisher, for a lot of money. We celebrated it, in fact. As it turns out, he owes them two books, they broke his contract, and are suing him for close to three million dollars.”
“Did he want the money to settle with them, as a loan of some kind?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, thinking about it. “He just wanted it outright and he wanted more than he’s being sued for. Two million more. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the lawsuit. He’s trying to stall them, but his name is mud right now in the business. And he says he has no money, not a dime. He said he didn’t want to ask for an allowance. I suggested some kind of petty cash account, and I pay all the bills anyway, so he has no expenses. But he wants five million cash in his own account, with no accounting to me for it. Just a straight gift, and more when we get married.”
“And when was that supposed to be?” He hoped it was no time soon from the sound of what he was hearing.
“Originally October.” She didn’t tell him about the baby she’d lost in June. He didn’t need to know that, she didn’t think it was relevant to the story, and the memory of it still pained her. “We put it off till the end of this month, on New Year’s Eve, and I recently told him I wanted to wait till June. He’s livid about it.”
“I’ll bet he is,” Robert Bartlett said, sounding worried. He didn’t like the story, and just as he was thinking that, it got worse. “He has a lot to gain from marrying you, Ms. Dunne. A house-several houses-money, steady income, respectability. It appears you’ve been extremely generous with him, and were prepared to be more so, and he has a fairly accurate idea of your financial situation, so he knows what he’s gunning for.”
“Please call me Hope, and yes, he does,” she said quietly, sitting in the dark in her apartment, thinking about it. Finn knew exactly what she had and what he wanted. Maybe all.
“You said you pay the bills right now. Does he make any financial contribution to the household?”
“Has he ever?”
“Not really. Newspapers, the occasional trip to the hardware store. He usually charges it to me.” Nice, very nice. Sweet deal for him, Bartlett thought, but didn’t say it. “He was supposed to pay a token rent, but he hasn’t. I set up the rent originally to save his pride.” Bartlett was convinced by then that Finn had none, just greed. “He’s also been very determined that we should have a baby. He was willing to undertake infertility treatments if necessary, for me of course, to make that happen. He took me to a specialist in London.”
“And has that happened?” This time Bartlett sounded nervous.
“No… well, actually, yes, but I lost it. But he’s very anxious to do it again. I wanted to wait, particularly now.”
“Please don’t do that, Hope. If you have a child, this guy is going to have his hooks into you forever, or the kid. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
“Apparently he tried to do that with his late wife’s family, and their son when his wife died. I’m not sure the boy knows that. I have a feeling he doesn’t.”
“Yeah, let’s hold off on baby-making right now, if that’s okay with you.” The more she talked to him, the more she liked him. He sounded like a decent, down-to-earth person. She was using him as a sounding board, she realized, to try and make sense of it herself.
“Fine with me. And another thing was that I found a photograph of a woman he went out with when he was young, a long time ago. He said she killed herself and was pregnant by him. She committed suicide, and he asked me if I would ever do that. I got the creepy feeling that he felt somehow that that was a tribute to him and how much she loved him.” He didn’t tell Hope that, but listening to her, for the first time, Robert Bartlett was scared. This was beginning to sound dangerous to him, and familiar. Strung all together it was the classic portrait of a sociopath. And she was his ideal victim, she was isolated with him in Ireland, had no family or friends nearby, she was in love with him, she had money, a lot of it, and was entirely at his mercy, and would be much more so if they got married. Robert was very glad Hope had called him. He asked her then if she had children. There was another brief silence at her end. “I had a daughter who died four years ago, of meningitis. She was at Dartmouth.”
“I’m so sorry.” He sounded like he really meant it, which touched her. “I can’t imagine anything worse. My worst nightmare is something like that happening. I have two kids in college. Just their going out at night and driving drives me crazy.”
“I know,” she said softly.
Robert Bartlett also realized now that she didn’t have kids to observe what was happening, be alert, or warn her. Hope was every sociopath’s dream, a woman without family or protection, and a hell of a lot of money. And worse yet, he could sense that she loved him, maybe even now. There was a quality of disbelief to what she was telling him, as though she wanted to piece the puzzle together for him, and have him tell her there was nothing to worry about, and it was not what it appeared to be. So far he couldn’t do that for her. It sounded pretty bad, and frightening. And there was a seeming innocence to her that alarmed him even more. Just knowing this much, he thought she was in real danger. Finn O’Neill sounded like a con artist of the first order. The suicide of the previous girlfriend concerned him, as did O’Neill’s determination to get Hope pregnant. At least it meant he didn’t want her dead. Right now, she was more useful to him alive, married, and pregnant. Unless she gave him trouble, or interfered with his plans, which was what she was currently doing. She had postponed the marriage, refused him money, and didn’t want to get pregnant again at the moment. All bad news for him. It meant he would have to work harder to convince her, and if he couldn’t, she was going to be in serious danger. And the worst thing about sociopaths, Bartlett knew, was that they induced their victims to destroy themselves so they didn’t have to do the dirty work, like Finn’s old girlfriend. But so far, Hope still sounded sane. He was doubly glad she had called him, and that her agent had given her his number. He had dealt with situations like this before, although Finn seemed like a particularly able pro at the game. He was good.
“So those were the lies I discovered on my own,” Hope went on. “But the last one made me nervous, the lawsuit and his publishing contract. He told me that time too that he was ashamed to tell me the truth, in contrast to my own success. He always uses that same excuse about being embarrassed so he didn’t tell me. The truth is, I think he just lies. Everything was fine between us until last June when I lost the baby. He blamed me for it, and said I wasn’t careful enough so I caused the miscarriage. He was pretty nasty, very disappointed, and very angry. And he wanted me to get pregnant again right away. My doctor wanted me to wait, because I almost died.” Bartlett winced as he listened. It sounded grim yet again.
“But before all that, he was wonderful to me, and thrilled about the baby. We didn’t have fertility treatment by the way, it happened on its own. We knew that I was ovulating, he got me drunk, and we had sex without protection. He knew what he was doing.” Bartlett was convinced of that by now, she was preaching to the choir. “And it worked. Anyway, for six months everything was wonderful, and after the miscarriage, it was fine again for the summer. But now, he’s angry at me all the time, or most of the time. Sometimes he’s absolutely wonderful to me again, and then he gets vicious. He’s drinking more than he used to. I think he’s pretty stressed about the lawsuit, and he’s not writing. And he’s really angry that I’ve been postponing the wedding. All of a sudden, we’re fighting all the time, and he’s always pushing me about something. He never did that before. It was perfect, he was wonderful to me, and he still is sometimes, but it’s bad more than it’s good now. And sometimes it changes so often and so suddenly, he goes from bad to good to bad to good again, my head is spinning. By the time I left Dublin a week ago, I was so confused, I didn’t know what to think. And he kept telling me I was going crazy. I started to believe him.”
“That’s what he wants you to believe. I can tell from talking to you, Hope, you’re not crazy. But I’m equally sure he is. I’m no psychiatrist, but this guy is a textbook case in sociopathy. This is very scary stuff, particularly trying to brainwash and confuse you. When did he ask you for the money?”
“A few weeks ago. He just came right out and asked for it. I said no, and we’ve been fighting ever since. It concerned me, so when I came to New York in November to do some work, I had my agent hire someone to do an investigation.” She sighed then, and told him what the report contained. “His brother thinks he’s a sociopath. Even his saying he was an only child wasn’t true, he had three brothers. His mother was a maid, not an aristocrat, his father died in a bar fight and wasn’t a doctor. Absolutely nothing he told me about his history is true, which is how I know the house in Ireland isn’t his ancestral home. And everybody else who’s ever known him says he’s a pathological liar.” That much they both knew was true from what she had told him so far. “The rest of the report came yesterday, and it’s no better. His wife died in an accident. He was driving drunk. He had told me she was alone in the car and died. The report says that he was with her, she was alive at the time of the accident. He had a concussion and didn’t call for help and she died. Although to be fair, the medical report said she would have died anyway.” Even now, she was trying to be kind to Finn. Robert Bartlett considered it a bad sign. She was still in love with him, and hadn’t fully assimilated the new information she’d gotten. It was too shocking, and hard for her to accept. “He got a suspended prison sentence for manslaughter and five years’ probation for killing the other driver,” she went on. “And there are some other minor upsetting stories. His wife’s parents think he was responsible for her death and wanted her money. He tried to get it, and what she left their son. And now he’s after my money. Indirectly, he has been responsible for the death of two women. His wife’s death in the car accident and the earlier suicide. He has lied to me about everything. I just don’t know what to believe about him anymore.” Her voice shook on the last words. Robert Bartlett would have been stunned by what she had just said to him, except that he had heard it before, and it was the nature of a sociopath and his victim. The confusing evidence and contradiction between their calculating viciousness and their extreme attention, kindness, and seduction paralyzed their victims, who wanted to believe that the good parts were true and the bad ones only a mistake. But with more and more evidence, it became harder to believe. He could tell that Hope was at that stage. She was waking up and starting to see Finn for what he was, but, understandably, didn’t want to believe it. It was hard to accept all of that about someone you loved, and who had been so loving at one time.