“I don’t want you to be his next victim,” Robert said in a sobering tone. She already was in many ways, but he was seriously afraid that if she crossed him in some serious way, or became useless to him, Finn might kill her, drive her to suicide, or cause an accident to happen.
“Neither do I. That’s why I called you,” Hope said in a heartbroken voice.
“You know, what you saw in the beginning, when he was so wonderful to you, is called ‘mirroring,’ when a sociopath will ‘mirror’ back to you everything you need and want and want them to be. And then later, much later, the truth of who they are comes out,” Robert told her. “What do you think you want to do, Hope?” he asked her then gently. He felt deeply sorry for her, and understood better than most people how hard it was to face this kind of thing and take action.
“I don’t know what I want to do,” she admitted. “I know that sounds crazy. It was so wonderful for nine months, and suddenly all this awful stuff is happening. No one had ever been as nice to me, or as loving. I just want it to go back to the way it was in the beginning.” But she was trying to raise the Titanic , and she was beginning to see it. She just didn’t want to believe it. Not yet. She wanted Finn to prove all of it wrong. She wished she’d never gotten the report and still believed the dream. She wanted to but didn’t. But she felt she had to go back and see for sure. Anyone listening to her would have thought she was insane, except Robert Bartlett. She had been lucky to find him.
“That’s not going to happen, Hope,” he said gently. “The man you saw in the beginning and fell in love with doesn’t exist. The real one is a monster, without a heart or a conscience. I could be wrong, of course, and he could just be a very troubled guy, but I think we both know what we’re seeing. That man in the beginning was an act he put on for you. That act is over. This is the third act, where the villain goes in for the kill.” It was the theme of everything Finn wrote. “You can go back and take another look to be sure, no one can stop you, but you could be putting yourself at risk. Maybe great risk. If you do go back, you’ve got to be ready to get out fast, and run like hell if you smell danger. You can’t stick around to negotiate with him. I don’t usually tell people this, but I’ve been there. I was married to an Irish girl, the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen, and the sweetest. I believed every word she told me, and her story sounds a lot like Finn’s. She had a miserable childhood, her parents were both drunks, and she wound up in foster homes where people did awful things to her. She had the face of an angel and the heart of a devil. I defended her on manslaughter charges a few years after I got out of law school. I had absolutely no doubt of her innocence then. She killed her boyfriend and claimed he tried to rape her, and there was evidence to support it. I believed her. I got her off, but today I wouldn’t tell you the same thing. Eventually, she left me, took every penny I had, broke my heart, and took our kids with her. I married her right after I defended her.
“Eventually she tried to kill me. She came back during the night and stabbed me, and tried to make it look like an intruder, but I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was her. And I still went back to her two more times, trying to make it work, ignoring everything I knew. I loved her, I was addicted to her, and all I wanted to do was save our marriage and keep my kids. She eventually kidnapped them to Ireland seven years ago, and by some miracle they needed someone to head up the Dublin office at the time, so I jumped at it, to be close to my kids. I couldn’t force her to come back to the States. She’s very clever, and thank God, my kids are okay. The youngest one just left for college in the States two months ago, and I’m going back to the New York office this spring. Nuala has married two men since me, both for money, and one of them died two years ago, from a medication he was violently allergic to, which she administered to him, and convinced the judge at the inquest that she didn’t. She inherited all his money. And she’s going to do it to the man she’s currently married to or some other guy one of these days. She has absolutely no conscience. She belongs in prison, but I don’t know if she’ll ever get there. She is so profoundly disturbed that she is willing to cross any line and has a deep need to get back at the world for what was done to her. No one is safe from her.
“So I know what you’re dealing with here, and I think I know how you feel. It took me years to understand that the good Nuala was only an act she put on for me, but it was so goddamn convincing that I always believed her, no matter what lies she told me or what awful things she did. The kids eventually moved in with me, which didn’t bother her. People like that don’t make terrific parents. Their children are either accessories to their crimes, or their victims. She doesn’t even see my girls now, and I don’t think she cares. She’s busy spending her late husband’s money, the guy she killed by giving him the wrong antibiotic out of the medicine chest. It stopped his heart cold as she knew it would, and she waited an hour to call the paramedics because she ‘was so upset’ and claimed she was sound asleep and didn’t hear him dying. And they believed her. No one has ever cried as hard as she did at the investigation. She was inconsolable. She married her defense attorney, again, and one of these days, she’ll do the same thing to him or someone else. But every man she’s ever left, except the dead ones, have mourned her. And so did I.
“It took me years to get over her, give up on her, and not give a damn anymore. Until then, I went back a hundred times for more. So, I get it. If you still need to turn the boat around, no matter what the evidence, no one can stop you. You have what you saw for nine months, and felt for him, and then you have that investigator’s report and what everyone who knows him, and has experienced him, said. But if you go back, Hope, be smart. With people like that, when he turns on you, all you have time to do is run. That’s the best advice I can give you. If you go back to him for another round, wear your track shoes, listen closely, trust your instincts, and if something happens that worries you or scares the shit out of you, trust yourself and get the hell out. Fast. Don’t wait to pack a suitcase.” It was the best advice he could have given her, based on his own experience, and she was stunned. It was a terrifying story. But so was Finn’s.
“He’s all I have now,” she said sadly, “and he was so good to me for all those months. Paul was the only family member I had left, and now he’s gone, and so’s my daughter.” She was crying as she spoke.
“That’s the way these people work. They prey on the naïve, the innocent, the lonely, the vulnerable, and the solitary. They can’t work their voodoo in a group with people watching them. They always isolate their victims, like he has you, and they pick them well. He knew that all you had was your ex-husband, who wasn’t around anymore and was very sick. So he got you over to Ireland, where you have no family, no friends, no one to look out for you. You’re his ideal victim. Just be aware of it when you come back. When are you coming?” He didn’t ask her if but when. He knew she would. He had done the same thing, and he could tell she wasn’t ready to let go yet. She needed another dose of Finn to shock her, because the evidence of the good Finn, and the memory of it, was so strong. It was a perfect example of cognitive dissonance, two sets of evidence in direct conflict with each other, all the love they lavished on people at first, and from time to time later, and the brutal, unconscionable cruelty when they took off the mask, and then put it back on again, and confused their victims even further, and tried to convince them they were insane. Many sociopaths caused suicides as a result, when perfectly sane victims couldn’t figure out what was happening to them, and got pushed over the edge. He didn’t want that happening to Hope. His only goal now was to be there for her, keep her alive, and help her get out when she was ready, which he could tell she wasn’t yet. He knew only too well that only someone who had been there would understand. And he had been.
Hope was deeply impressed by Robert’s story, his willingness to tell it to her, his honesty, and compassion for her dilemma and love for Finn. It was so hard to assimilate the evidence and the extreme contradiction between how he had treated her in the beginning and all she felt for him, and what everyone else said about him, and her own concerns about him now. It was the very definition of confusion and contradiction. And no one could understand it unless they had been in a similar situation themselves, as Robert had. Her willingness to go back and look again was incomprehensible to Mark.
“Thank you for not telling me how stupid I am for going back. I think I keep hoping he’ll be the way he was in the beginning.”
“We all hope that in matters of the heart. And more than likely, he will be, for a night at a time, or a few hours. He just won’t stay that way, because it’s all an act, and a way of getting what he wants. But if you get in his way, or don’t give it to him, you’re going to be in big trouble, and he’ll strike like lightning. Hopefully, the worst he’ll do is scare the shit out of you. Let’s try to keep it at that.” That was his only goal now. Hers was still the hope that Finn was what he had seemed, and would straighten up and treat her right. Robert knew there was no chance of that, but Hope had to experience it for herself. Maybe more than once. He hoped not. She was the classic victim of a sociopath. Isolated, confused, incredulous, vulnerable, inordinately hopeful, and not yet ready to believe the evidence at hand. “Why don’t you come and see me before you go back? You can stop in at my office on the way back to Russborough when you get to Dublin. I’ll give you all my numbers, we can have a cup of coffee, and then you can go back to Jack the Ripper.” He was teasing her and she laughed. It was not a pretty picture, and she felt a little foolish, but he was right. “I’d offer to come and see you at the house, but my guess is that that would get you in trouble. Most sociopaths are extremely jealous.”
“He is. He’s always accusing me of flirting with someone, even waiters in restaurants.”
“That’s about right. My wife was always accusing me of sleeping with my secretaries, the au pair, women I’d never even met, and eventually she started accusing me of sleeping with guys. I was constantly defending myself and trying to convince her that I wasn’t. As it turned out, she was.” It was projection at its best.
“I don’t think Finn cheats on me,” Hope said, sounding certain of it. “But he accuses me of sleeping with just about everyone in the village, including our workmen.”
“Try not to get him excited about anything for the moment, if you can help it. I know that’s hard. The accusations are never rational or based on fact, or rarely, unless you give him something to worry about.” But she didn’t sound like the type. She sounded honest, honorable, and straightforward, and she was feeling much better since their conversation, and no longer crazy. “My guess is that you’ll get into it with him over the money. That’s bound to be his number-one goal, and the wedding, and maybe a baby.” He didn’t tell her that most sociopaths were extremely sexual. Nuala had been the best thing in bed that had ever hit him. That was one of the many ways they got control of their victims. In his ex-wife’s case, she screwed them blind. So blind they didn’t know what hit them, and then she killed them. He had narrowly escaped that fate at her hands. A good therapist and his own common sense had saved him. And even though she was still in love with Finn and her illusion of him, Hope sounded sensible to him too. The truth was very hard to swallow and believe, and the dichotomy too extreme to make sense to a sane person, so she was giving him the benefit of the doubt, which their victims often did. It wasn’t stupidity on her part, just hope, naïvete, faith, and love, however undeserved.
As Hope thought about it while talking to him, she decided to fly back the next day, on the night flight she liked to take, which would put her in Dublin the following morning. And she liked the idea of seeing Robert Bartlett before she went back to the house. It would ground her. She made an appointment with him for ten o’clock that morning, after she got through immigration and customs, and came in from the airport.
“That’s fine. I’ll be clear all morning,” he assured her. And then he had another thought. “What do you want to do with that house when this is over, when that happens?” This wasn’t a divorce where she owed him a settlement to end it.
“I don’t know. I’ve thought about it, and I can’t decide.” She still hoped it wouldn’t come to that but was well aware now that it might, and had to give it some thought. “I could keep it and keep renting it to him, but I’m not sure I’d want to. It could turn out to be a link to him I don’t want. But I feel mean just throwing him out.” Robert knew it was all Finn deserved, but Hope clearly wasn’t there yet. And she still wished that would never happen, but Robert wanted to bring it up.
“You don’t need to worry about it now. Enjoy New York, and I’ll see you day after tomorrow.” She thanked him again and hung up. It was six-thirty in the morning by the time she finally went to bed, feeling calmer than she had in months. At least now she had a support system in Ireland, and Robert Bartlett clearly knew the subject. It sounded as though what he’d been through with his ex-wife was far worse. She was an extreme example of the breed, but with two women dead because of him, and a lifetime of lies, Finn wasn’t much better. Hope could see that. The sad thing was that in spite of all she knew about him now, she still loved him. She had believed everything that he had been to her in the beginning, and it was hard to give up that dream. She was deeply attached to him, particularly now with Paul gone. Finn really was the only person she had left in the world, which would make it that much harder to give him up. It would mean she was entirely alone for the first time in her life.
Finn called her twice that morning as she slept. She stirred and saw his number on her cell phone, turned over, and didn’t answer. And when she went back to Ireland, because she would see Robert Bartlett on the way, she wasn’t going to tell Finn she was coming, and she would surprise him when she got back to the house. But she wanted a few hours alone with Robert Bartlett in Dublin first.
As it turned out, it snowed the night Hope left New York, and her plane sat on the runway, delayed, for four hours, waiting for the storm to lessen. They eventually took off, but the winds were against them, and it was a long bumpy flight to Dublin. There were delays getting the bags off the plane, and instead of arriving at Robert Bartlett’s office at ten in the morning, she arrived at two-thirty in the afternoon, tired and disheveled, dragging her finally retrieved suitcase behind her.
“I’m so sorry!” she apologized as he came out to greet her. He was a tall, slim, distinguished-looking man with graying sandy-blond hair, green eyes, and a cleft in his chin that was more noticeable when he smiled, which he did often. He had a friendly face, and a warm demeanor. He made tea for her while she settled into one of the comfortable chairs in his office. The law firm was in a small historical building in Southeast Dublin, on Merrion Square, near Trinity College. There were lovely Georgian houses and a large park. The floors of his office were crooked, the windows were off center, and the general atmosphere was one of cozy disorder. It was a far cry from their fancy, sterile New York office. Robert liked this much better, and was almost sorry he was going back. And after seven years in Dublin he was very much at home there, and so were his children. But he wanted to be closer to his children, both of whom were in college now at Ivy League schools on the East Coast, although he said that one of them wanted to come back to Ireland after college.
He and Hope talked for hours about the vagaries of Finn, the lies he had told, and her hope that somehow, magically, things would get better. Robert knew not to argue with her, but he kept reminding her of the evidence she did have, and the unlikelihood that Finn would mend his ways now, even if he loved her. Robert knew it was a slow process giving up the dream, and all he hoped was that Finn didn’t do something really terrifying to her in the meantime. He reminded her again and again to trust her instincts, and get out if she felt she should. He couldn’t say that to her often enough, and wanted to impress her with it. It was essential, and she promised him that she wouldn’t stay if she was uncomfortable, but she didn’t think Finn would harm her physically. His style these days seemed to be more psychological torture. And she hadn’t told him yet that she was coming back, and surely not that she was spending the day in Dublin with an attorney before she did.
By the time they had finished talking, it was five o’clock and Robert told her that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of her going back to Blaxton House in the evening. She had to rent a car, which would take time, and then get there, and she had already said how uncomfortable she was driving in Ireland, particularly at night. Worse than that, she might arrive when Finn was in a black mood or drinking. Winfred and Katherine would have gone back to the village for the night. He just didn’t think it was smart. He suggested she stay at a hotel in Dublin that night, and go back in broad daylight the next morning. And as she thought about it, she agreed with him. She was anxious to see Finn, although nervous about it, but getting there late in the evening could mean putting her head in the lion’s mouth if he’d been drinking. It just wasn’t smart, and she agreed.
Robert suggested a hotel she knew, and his secretary made a reservation for her. It was the best hotel in Dublin. And since he was leaving the office, he offered to drop her off with her suitcase, which she gratefully accepted. It had been a pleasant afternoon talking to him, although the subject was difficult. What was happening in her life was so disappointing and painful. As hard as it was to justify or explain, she was still in love with Finn, the one she had known in the beginning, not the man he was now. It was hard to believe and absorb all the terrible things she’d heard about him, yet she had doubts about him herself. But when she had asked for the investigation, she hadn’t expected to get the kind of information she did. Now she had to decide what to do about it. But sadly, it didn’t change how attached she was to him, which only made the distressing discoveries hurt more. It seemed like a huge problem. Robert had said to her that afternoon that ultimately the situation would take care of itself. It was the kind of thing her teacher in India would have said, or her favorite monk in Tibet. And for the rest of the way to the hotel, she talked about her travels. Robert was impressed, and they had a very agreeable conversation.
The doorman took her bag when they reached the hotel, and Robert turned to her with a kind expression. He knew this was a hard time for her, and she was anxious about seeing Finn the next morning. She had no idea what to expect, or what kind of mood he’d be in. There was no way to know if she’d be meeting the good Finn or the bad Finn, the old Finn or the new Finn, and she had admitted to Robert that she was feeling very stressed about it, particularly after his many warnings about what potentially lay ahead.
“Would you like to go out for an easy dinner tonight? Pizza? The pub? There’s a halfway decent Chinese place not far from here. And a really good Indian one, if you like hot food. I’ve got a court appearance tomorrow, and I know you want to get on the road early, so if you want to grab a bite, I could pick you up in an hour. I only live a few blocks from here.” She actually liked the idea. He was a nice person, and she was feeling jangled by everything she had in her head. She didn’t really want to eat alone in her room, or go out on her own in Dublin, it seemed too depressing, and it would be friendlier dining with him. He was just an ordinary decent man, but a smart one, and Mark had said he was an excellent attorney. She appreciated his advice so far, a lot of which wasn’t legal, but even more useful to her, given the situation she was in.
“I’d love that,” Hope said gratefully, looking tired and worn out.
“Terrific. Put on a pair of jeans, and I’ll pick you up in an hour.”
She checked into her room, which was small, elegant, and clean. She didn’t need anything fancy, and she lay down on the bed for a few minutes, before taking a shower, putting on jeans, and brushing her hair. He was back in exactly an hour, as promised. And as she looked at Robert as they drove to the restaurant in his car, it was hard to imagine him in the clutches of the evil Nuala, or even besotted with her. He looked like an even-tempered, sensible person. He had worn jeans that night too, with a sweater and a pea coat, and he looked younger than he had in a suit. She guessed him to be about Finn’s age, and close to hers. He said he was originally from California. San Francisco. And had gone to Stanford, followed by Yale Law School. She told him about her father teaching at Dartmouth, and he laughed and said he loved beating them when he played football for Stanford. He said Dartmouth had a great team. He had played amateur ice hockey too, at Yale, and still looked fit and healthy, although he claimed he wasn’t. But he said he loved to go skating with his girls, both of whom were on sports teams in college. He was looking forward to seeing them for Christmas. They were all meeting in New York for the holidays, staying at the Pierre, and he was planning to start looking for an apartment, since he was moving back in March or April.
Hope had no idea where she’d be by then. Either back in New York, heartbroken, or still in Ireland, things having settled down with Finn, maybe even married. She sounded hopeful, and Robert nodded and didn’t comment. He had said enough on the phone and that afternoon. Hope had all the information she needed, and he hoped that when she was ready, she’d use it. It was all he could do. There was nothing for him to do for her legally at the moment, except be available to her. She now had his office, home, and cell phone numbers written down on a piece of paper in her bag. And he told her to use them, and not be shy if she needed advice or help at any hour. That’s what he was there for, and he was happy to help.
The curry was delicious and they talked about her travels again. He was fascinated by her stories, and her work, and said he had never been anywhere exotic. Just Europe and Scandinavia, mostly on business. He looked like a typical Ivy League suburban husband, with an extra dose of kindness in his eyes.
They finished dinner early and he took her back to the hotel, and wished her luck for the next day, and a good rest that night.
“Remember, you’re not alone now. I’m an hour away at any time. If you get in real trouble, call me, and I can get help to you in minutes. Or call the police. Or just get out.” She smiled at what he said, it was like preparing for a war, and she didn’t think that Finn would ever be violent with her, or dangerous. He would be upsetting, and argue with her, or drink too much and then pass out, but it wouldn’t get worse than that. She knew him well and reassured Robert. His wife had been an exceptional case.
Much to her surprise, Hope slept extremely well that night. She felt peaceful and safe, and it was reassuring to know that she had a friend in Dublin. Everything Robert had said had made her feel less isolated, and she called his office before she left the hotel and left a message, thanking him for dinner. She was careful to leave the hotel by nine A.M. for the car rental place. She wanted to be heading for Russborough by nine-thirty. When she flew in, they normally got to the house by eleven, and she was planning to tell Finn that she had arrived on the morning flight to surprise him. She had sent him a loving text message the night before, and he hadn’t responded. She hoped he was writing. And she had no intention of telling him that she had spent the night at a hotel in Dublin. That would make him suspicious and inevitably jealous. She looked neat and rested as she drove toward Blessington, and then Russborough, and as though perfectly timed, she arrived at Blaxton House at ten to eleven. There was no one outside, and it was a wintry December day, with a light veil of snow on the ground.
She left her suitcase in the car, bounded up the front steps, and saw Winfred as soon as she walked into the house. He touched his brow in a gesture of respect, smiled broadly, and went out to get her bag, while she rushed up the steps to their bedroom. Suddenly, she was excited to see Finn. It was as though all the terrible things people had said had disappeared. They couldn’t be true about Finn. She loved him too much for any of that to be true about him. It was all a mistake. It had to be.
She tiptoed to their room and opened the door. It was dark, he was asleep in bed, and there was an empty scotch bottle on the floor beside him, which explained why he hadn’t responded to her text message the night before. He had obviously been drunk.
She slipped onto the bed next to him, looked at his handsome face for a long moment, loving him all over again, and gently kissed him. She was under his spell again the moment she saw him. He didn’t stir until she kissed him once more, and then he opened an eye, saw her, and gave a start, and then he beamed at her and pulled her into his arms. He reeked of scotch, but she didn’t care as he kissed her. He smelled like an open bar, which worried her for him, but she didn’t say anything about it. She wondered how the writing was going, and how close he was to delivering at least one of the two manuscripts he owed them. They were going to uphold the lawsuit if he didn’t, and she didn’t want that to happen to him.
“Where did you come from?” he asked with a slow, sleepy smile, stretched, and then turned over.
“I came home to see you,” she said tenderly as he put his arms around her and pulled her closer, and as he did, all the good advice she’d been given was forgotten, as Robert Bartlett knew it would be. But he also knew she’d have it in her head when she needed it, at the right time.
“Why didn’t you call me? I’d have come to pick you up,” he said as he pulled her into bed with him, took her clothes off, and she didn’t fight him.
“I wanted to surprise you,” she said sweetly, and he forgot about what she was saying. He had a much better surprise for her, but it was no surprise. Their sex life had been fantastic from the first, which was part of the excitement of being with him. It was irresistible, even if she knew better than to fall for his seductive charms again. He was hard to resist. And minutes later they were making wild, passionate, insatiable love, as though the world was about to come to an end, and for a moment it always felt as though it might.
It was afternoon when they got up, bathed, dressed, and he looked at her. He was being so sweet to her again. It was hard to believe that he could ever tell a lie, hurt anyone, or make anyone unhappy, even her.
“I missed you so much,” he said, and she could see that he meant it. He really did. She had found five empty scotch bottles under the bed. He had drowned his sorrows while she was gone, or his fears. He was like a child sometimes.
“I missed you too,” she said gently. And then they went downstairs together and went for a walk before dark. It was snowing lightly, and looked beautiful. They were going to spend Christmas there alone. Michael was going skiing in Aspen with friends. And Hope had no one now. Only Finn.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all that with Paul. It must have been rough.” He looked sympathetic and she nodded, as they held hands and walked. She tried not to think about it, or it would have panicked her that Paul was gone. And then he asked her a question that startled her in its bluntness. He wasn’t usually that crude. “What’s happening with the estate?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at him, shocked.
“You know… what happens now?… do they just give you the money, or do you have to wait until they sell stock or something?”
“That’s a strange question. What difference does it make? It takes a while to probate the estate. Months, a year. I don’t know. I don’t care.” And she didn’t know why he would. They weren’t dependent on Paul’s money. Hope had enough, from what he had given her before. More than enough, as Finn knew only too well, since she had told him. “I just miss him,” she said sadly, changing the subject. His interest in her money, and now Paul’s, unnerved her and brought reality home to her again.
“I know you do,” Finn said sympathetically, and put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. “You’re all alone now,” he said, although he didn’t need to rub it in. She was well aware of it herself, too much so. “All you have is me.” She nodded and said nothing and wondered where he was going with what he was saying. “We have each other. That’s all we have.” She thought of his old fusion theory. He hadn’t mentioned it in a while.