The night of the first death, Myles Carver was trying to bed his brother's wife. He stared at her through the French doors, the partygoers buzzing around him like gnats, his own date Maria tugging at the lapel of his best black jacket like a goddamned kid.
"Myles," she said. He smelled the sweet tang of wine on her breath, studied the large breasts peeking out of her dress, but those things did nothing for him.
She was out there on the veranda, leaning forward so her rump stuck out, taunting him, the pale skin of her shoulders luminous in the night air.
He moved away from Maria, thought he'd escaped her when she gripped his arm. Then she was jabbering away at him and he realized she was drunk. Despite the band playing next to them atop the ballroom stage, her shrill, slurry voice bit through the noise and turned heads.
"Why can't you respect your brother? Why can't you leave her alone?"
Jesus. Airing their dirty laundry out here in front of everyone.
"Look at me, Myles." Both hands on his lapels now. "She doesn't want you. If she did she wouldn't have married David." Maria threw a sidelong glance at the men and women gawking at them. "That's right, I said she doesn't want you." Getting into it now that she had an audience. "So why don't you leave like your little brother. Robert knew she'd never have him so he left for Memphis. Why don't you run away too?"
She needed a good smack in the mouth. Painted little whore with a little boy at home watched by his grandma tonight because his mother would rather have a man between her legs than a son on her lap.
He thought of saying all that, thought of saying what everybody already knew about her, but he didn't. Instead, he said, "You've no room to talk," and walked away.
As he shut the French doors behind him he heard her say, "You're a coward." But she said nothing more because she was afraid of Annabel. Little Maria with her big mouth shut up quick whenever Annabel was around. Lovely Annabel.
Myles stood watching her.
He knew if he didn't say something soon he'd lose his nerve, so standing beside her he said, "Smoke?
Elbows on the cement wall bordering the veranda, she stared quietly at the forest, making no sign she'd heard him or was even aware of his presence.
Playing it cool, Myles tapped one out for himself, lit it. He leaned there beside her showing her he was comfortable with the silence too. He stole glances at her, though, because he couldn't help it. Thin, sculptured nose below large blue eyes with lashes so long she needn't cake them with that black shit Maria smeared on hers. Annabel had her blond hair pulled back tonight. Myles realized his hands were shaking. He had to say something.
"Where's David?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," she said. As it usually was, her delivery was toneless, maddening.
"It'd be nice if he came to his own party." When she said nothing, he added, "And paid some attention to his wife."
Had there been the slightest hint of a smile? Without looking at him she said, "He does."
"I don't mean in the bedroom, I mean when there are fifty people at his house drinking his liquor and having sex in his rooms."
"They're your rooms, too, Myles."
"And I'm here, aren't I."
Annabel turned and moved toward the veranda steps.
"That's it?" he said and despised the plaintive note in his voice.
She descended the steps into the lawn, and for the first time he noticed she was barefoot.
He was about to shout at her, tell her that David didn't deserve her, that he was probably off in the woods with another woman, when a cry erupted from within the house.
It wasn't a normal cry, like a man who'd been cuckolded or a woman who'd been groped. It was a cry of anguish, of heartbroken doom, and as he pushed through the crowd gathered near the bandstand he realized it was Maria's wail he was hearing. It rose up to the chandeliers, knifed through his eardrums, and he spotted Maria's mother then, old and haggard and covered with blood. He thought at first she'd been stabbed, but then the crowd opened up and he saw Maria kneeling there in a lake of blood, her little boy clutched to her blood-shiny chest, her dead little boy whose throat was slashed so deeply it hung open like the mouth of some toothless animal.
Myles turned to look for his brother, for David, who would know what to do in a situation like this. But David wasn't around. Everywhere he looked were shocked faces, weeping men and women who were too stunned to move. Myles turned, not wanting to face the grotesque spectacle any longer but unable to block out the sound of Maria's wailing, and as he did he beheld a solitary figure standing in the open French doors, leaning there in a shimmering white dress.
It was Annabel, and she was smiling.