Ana Bacon, a young housewife, tumbles off a cruise ship into the dark and deadly waters, but did she take her secrets with her?
Investigator Ryan Monahan is a numbers man. So when his company sends him the Bacon case, which could net a ten million dollar payout, Monahan doubts that her death is just a tragic accident. But the husband has a substantial alibi and a number of witnesses claim to have seen Ana fall. So the official ruling seems to be substantiated.
Still, the more Monahan uncovers about Ana’s life, the more he realizes how many people would kill to keep her secrets hidden. And the closer he gets to the truth, the greater the odds grow that he, too, will take a fatal fall.
Cate Holahan looks at the dark underbelly of a marriage from the perspectives of the detective and the victim in her tense and enthralling page-turner, The Widower’s Wife.
Cate Holahan, author of the acclaimed debut Dark Turns, is an award-winning journalist and a former television producer. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.
Praise for Cate Holahan’s Dark Turns: “Journalist Holahan’s debut will appeal to fans of precocious teen conspiracies like Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series, as well as to fans of grown-up, plucky-heroine-must-fight-for-herself thrillers.”
“Holahan nails the preppy ambience, the cliques, the conspicuous consumption, and the coltish beauties such as golden girl Aubrey Byrne… [in] this Black Swan pas de deux with Tartt’s The Secret History.”
“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, Dark Turns aptly demonstrates the impressive storytelling talents of author Cate Holahan.”
—Midwest Book Review
“In this twisting danse macabre of jealousy, obsession, vanity, and revenge, Cate Holahan gives more than a superb debut performance. Dark Turns provides a master class in murder.”
–Jan Coffey, USA Today bestselling author of Trust Me Once
“Cate Holahan’s debut novel, Dark Turns, reads like a mash-up of Black Swan and a particularly juicy episode of Gossip Girl.”
–Charles Dubow, IndieBound bestselling author of Indiscretion
Term life An insurance policy that provides protection for a limited period of time.
Ryan Monahan liked liars. Not the three-times-a-conversation fibbers, who prettied up the truth to appear less pedestrian at parties and would swear to God they’d had just one, Officer. Those average assholes weren’t even trying. No, Ryan liked the real deal, the kind of folks who weaved falsehoods into the very fabric of their lives until they wore their fictions like fine-knit sweaters, feeling safe and warm, wrapped in their bullshit. They were the challenge.
He didn’t yet know if Tom Bacon was his kind of liar. But the man was definitely hiding something.
Tom hadn’t invited him inside his French-styled starter castle, despite the unseasonably cold weather. Instead, the guy had greeted him on the driveway apron wearing a ski jacket. He’d carried a shovel in one gloved hand, a bucket of salt in the other, neither of which he’d set down for a handshake. Ryan had lingered at the curb after introductions, watching Tom spread ice
melt over slush, waiting for a welcome indoors while Mother Nature’s slick hand probed beneath the back vent in his pea coat.
Tom had asked about the death benefit as though it were a fait accompli, as though Ryan might have popped by to deliver a jackpot-sized certified check. No need for a discussion. Certainly no reason for Mr. Bacon to explain how his healthy, thirty-one-year-old wife had suffered a fatal accident on a cruise. Ryan had suggested that they’d both be more comfortable inside.
He stood in Tom’s kitchen, socked feet on the hardwood floor, looking for a suitable spot for an interrogation. A pair of extra-large packing boxes sat stacked atop a pedestal table, the side flaps of the top crate sticking straight up so that they touched the chandelier above. Printouts littered a massive marble island. Ryan recognized the Insurance Strategy and Investment policy among the documents, broken into sections with multicolored sticky notes. Someone was doing his homework.
Tom pulled a chrome barstool from beneath the island. He half-leaned onto the metal seat. The stance was faux relaxed, a staged paparazzo snapshot awaiting a caption.
Ryan walked toward the chairs, his gate slow and stiff. He hated his inability to move from point A to B without broadcasting his injury like a fouled basketball player. People didn’t limp without good reason, and at thirty-nine, he was too young for arthritis.
He placed a hand on the curved back of a stool and shifted his weight to his good leg. Bending the knee intensified the pain. Better to stand for this conversation anyway.
Ryan pointed to the kitchen table. “The boxes.”
Ryan couldn’t tell whether Tom was curt or distracted. People suffering the loss of an immediate family member sometimes lacked focus, as though their loved one’s death trapped them between this life and the next, unable to be present in either. But Tom didn’t seem grief-stricken. He’d even shaved. And in Ryan’s experience, a few months in, most guys resembled reality-show
People handle grief in awkward ways. Ryan reminded himself of this as he continued to assess Tom’s attitude. There’d been that lady last year who had giggled while bawling over her dead husband, as though she’d grasped some divine punch line in her spouse’s fatal car accident but still knew that the joke was on her.
“Where are you thinking of going?”
“Not sure. I’m more cleaning up.” Tom shrugged. “There are things I don’t need anymore.”
Ana’s things? The ghost of Mrs. Bacon called out from decorating details: dried lavender on the windowsill, a wall calendar with notes in a woman’s tight cursive, a kitchen towel draped over a faucet to display the phrase “Home is where Mom cleans.”
On television, Tom had promised to “never give up hope” that his wife was alive. Eighty days later and he was shipping his beloved’s belongings to long-term storage. Time didn’t take long to murder belief in miracles.
There was little chance of finding Ana Bacon alive. She’d disappeared in the open ocean—at night, no less. Odds of surviving a fall off a cruise ship stood at 21 percent. Those chances dropped to near zero if a rescue didn’t occur within twelve hours. There’d been one case of a guy surviving seventeen hours in the Gulf of Mexico after tumbling overboard, blackout drunk, but he’d been a young, ex-army paratrooper. And if Ana had washed ashore in the Bahamas after a day in the water, somebody would have reported her appearance. Her picture was all over the news.
Ryan cleared his throat. “Sorry about what happened.” He offered the platitude with legal precision. No mention of death or loss. Any confirmation on his part that a policyholder was deceased could be considered evidence that the company should start processing a claim.
“Thanks.” Tom’s tone was flat. He folded his arms across his chest. “So what’s the status of the benefit?”
“That’s what I’m here to discuss.”
He’d come specifically not to pay the benefit. Insurance Strategy and Investment hadn’t stayed in business for five generations by doling out multimillion-dollar settlements. The bosses wanted a ruthless investigation. Ana’s policy contained a so-called double indemnity clause, meaning it paid double if she perished from a sudden mishap—ten million, to be exact. And
the policy was still in the two-year contestability period, so suicide was not covered.
Ryan’s statistics-laden subconscious told him that Ana’s death was no accident. His intuition might also have fingered “the husband.” When a woman died violently, her intimate partner was the cause more than a third of the time. But Tom had a solid alibi. He’d been at the pool when his wife had gone overboard, and he’d been seen by a couple vacationers and a striking redhead. The woman had wallpapered the news with her guilty admission that she’d been chatting up a married man at the exact time that the guy’s wife had fallen overboard. Bad girl.
With Tom out of contention, the most probable culprit was Ana herself. But Ryan would need to prove it.
“As you can imagine, ISI has a certain due diligence process in cases without—”
Ryan turned to see a young girl enter the kitchen, a pretty kid with eyes befitting an anime character. He recalled the photos of Mrs. Bacon. The child took after her mother.
“Not now, Sophia.” Tom’s mouth pulled into a tight smile. “Daddy is talking.”
The child tilted her head like a confused puppy and considered Ryan. He gave a little wave. She stepped back into the adjoining room before returning her attention to her father. Ryan had never been good with kids.
“I want a snack,” she said.
“After I finish.”
The skin beneath the child’s eyes pinked to the color of a pinched cheek. Her bottom lip crumpled. “Where’s Mommy?”
Hadn’t Tom told her? Maybe she was too young to grasp the finality of death.
Tom rubbed his fingers into his forehead. He shot his kid an exasperated look before heading to an open door beside the stove and dipping inside. Items rustled. He reemerged with a package of peanut butter crackers and offered her the plastic pouch like a tissue.
Little hands curled into fists. “It’s not—”
“Sophia. Just take it. Daddy needs to talk right now.”
The girl’s mouth opened in a silent cry. She accepted the package, unsure of what to do next. Ryan recalled when Angie had been that young. Kids could break apart plastic dollhouses, demolish wooden furniture, and pop childproof caps, yet simple vacuum seals left them stymied.
“You need to open it for her.”
Tom lowered his head and pulled apart the plastic. Sophia’s face relaxed. “Okay? Please go watch your shows until I finish.”
The girl scurried from the room, her bare feet flashing beneath a long princess nightgown. It was past noon.
Tom raised his eyebrows in Ryan’s direction. “You were saying?”
“ISI has a review policy in cases without remains.”
“What’s to review?” Tom lowered his voice. “The court issued a death-in-
absentia declaration. That’s the same as a death certificate.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not.” Ryan scratched at the wavy hair hitting the nape of his neck. The move was a nervous habit and a tell of liars everywhere. Men clasped the back of the neck when stressed. Women tended to trace the suprasternal notch, that delicate triangle between the collarbones. Ryan wasn’t lying, but he did feel anxious. Since the incident with his leg, confrontation made him jittery.
Tom scratched at nonexistent stubble. “How is it different?”
“There’s no cause of death.”
“As I’m sure you know from all the media coverage, my wife drowned in the Atlantic. Her cause of death was well documented.”
The ship’s security cameras had caught Ana Bacon’s fall. She’d been filmed hurtling through the air, grasping a lifeboat for a moment, and then, ultimately, losing her hold and dropping into the ocean. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bacon, the cameras had not yet been upgraded with sensors capable of alerting the crew when a large object went overboard. And, unfortunately for
Mr. Bacon, a few seconds of fall footage wasn’t enough to prove the circumstances of his wife’s demise. A well-documented death needed a full timeline of the moments leading up to the last breath and the aftermath. It needed a body with a DNA-confirmed identity. Most importantly, it needed a coroner’s report with one of four words printed in the center: accidental,
homicide, suicide, or natural.
“Her disappearance has been established.”
“Like hell—” Tom raked his hand over his mouth, blocking the profanities that undoubtedly wanted to follow. “Let’s just cut the nonsense. My wife is dead and your company wants to stall payment for as long as possible.” He looked at the ceiling, as if imploring his dead wife to intercede. “I have a three-year-old who is never going to see her mother again.” He pointed to the ISI policy on the countertop. “I purchased this coverage to ensure that she would always be well taken care of, should anything happen to one of us. I already had to wait for the court to issue the absentia ruling.”
Ryan felt a rare twinge of guilt. Dependent beneficiaries were the worst part of the job. He tried not to think about them, to focus on the puzzle instead of the pieces. Find fraud. That was his job. Find the fraud.
Ryan recalled an omission from the Bacons’ application. Neither had listed current employers, though they had each included former jobs under recent work history. Normally, the lack of gainful employment would have been a red flag, but the actuarial models showed that people with seven-figure former paychecks paid their premiums. Lots of ex-traders lived off investments these days.
“Are you working?” Ryan asked.
“What has that got to do with anything?” Tom’s chin jutted out. His biceps twitched. The micromovements answered Ryan’s question. Tom wasn’t employed, at least not in any capacity that he could list on a tax return.
Money problems could lead to suicide. Ryan made a mental note to press for details later. Too many questions about the Bacons’ finances could encourage Tom to end their interview. “These are just standard questions.” Ryan gave Tom a beat to breathe. “What was your wife’s mood before she disappeared?”
Tom squinted at him. “Her mood?”
“Yes. How was she feeling?”
“We were on vacation.”
“Was she having a good time?”
“Sure.” A dark blush crept from Tom’s hairless neck into his cheeks. Ryan sensed he wouldn’t get too many more answers.
“Was there any reason she might have been feeling upset?”
“You mean, was she depressed and jumped, right?” Tom scowled. “It was an accident. I know you don’t want that answer, but that’s what happened. It was just a horrible accident.”
“So no reason she—”
Tom slapped the counter. “My wife was pregnant, God damn it, and she had Sophia. To suggest that she’d intentionally leave her family…”