Just before two a.m. on a Friday morning three weeks before he was murdered, Preston Lomax was making a list of all the people who wanted to kill him. It was a long list. First of all, there were his three sons, whom he had humiliated for most of their lives. They naturally assumed they would be inheriting an almost incalculable fortune. He heard them joking about it: how to commit the perfect crime. Of course they would be the primary suspects if he were found dead, so they toyed with the idea of making it look like a suicide. Danny’s handwriting was virtually identical to his own, which meant faking a suicide note would be no problem. They often entertained themselves devising drafts of this document: “I can no longer live with myself,” the best of them began. “Wives can divorce me, children can run away from home. Friends can shun me. And they do. Everyone can flee the foul putrid horror that is Preston Lomax. Everyone except myself. For years I have had to live with this tedious, conniving self-centered monster twenty-four hours a day. At last I have found my own way to escape.”
Of course the boys had no idea their apartments were bugged.
Preston Lomax didn’t believe in anyone’s privacy, except his own. Secrets were a luxury that you had to earn.
His wife and daughter would no doubt like to get rid of him, also. He had cheated on Diana with every one of her friends, all three of her sisters, two of her business partners, and the few attractive members of her support group: Women Who Love Men Who Hate Women, or Women Who Hate Women Who Love Men Who Love Hating Women Who Hate Men, or whatever the hell it was called.
If they needed someone to love and hate at the same time, he was happy to oblige.
His daughter hated him too. He had the tapes from her psychiatric appointments. He was apparently a demanding, unappeasable tyrant who forced her to play a game she called Guess My Mood. His rages and silences were as unpredictable as the occasional moments of warmth. She had never felt loved. She had “abandonment issues” and “anger management” problems. The hundred-and-fifty-dollar-an-hour shrink was supposedly helping her to “own” them. Lomax smiled. That girl could hardly even afford the down payment. If she ever did take full possession of all those pent up resentments, she might become dangerous. But that was at least a million dollars’ worth of therapy away. Right now, she could barely look him in the eye over breakfast. Who else wanted him dead? His drug dealers, his bookies.
Several dozen top-of-the-line call-girls. None of them had been paid for months. There was a string of bad business deals going back fifteen years, dozens of people he’d left owing massive amounts of money while he disappeared with various companies’ assets. It was mostly legal, or close enough to legal, and the lawsuits that would have disentangled the criminal from the legitimate would have been too time-consuming, and too embarrassing, to pursue. He knew his victims. He was shrewd about people, but one thing you could never predict was when someone was going to snap. Many of these fools had threatened him with bodily harm over the years. Lomax sighed. He brought out the Kamikaze in people.
Then there were the servants.
He had fired so many, tormented so many more into quitting. Desperate fringe people, bitter and unemployed, could easily feel that they had nothing to lose. Murder might seem like a reasonable option. Lomax generally wore thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry—his Rolex watch alone would make the killing worth the trouble for any of that rabble.
And think of all the kitchen maids, secretaries, and au pairs over the years. Some of them had fallen in love with him, some had gotten pregnant. Many of them had friends and family members as disgusted as they were. Why, the murderous potential of just the siblings of the girls he’d used and discarded multiplied the threats he faced exponentially. He had a brief chilling vision of a veritable army of hate-filled, cheated, abused, furious people, like the villagers in those old Frankenstein movies, storming the castle with their torches.
He walked to the window of his study overlooking Central Park. Fifth Avenue was almost deserted at this hour and the quiet soothed him. All day long he had heard the children in the playground across the street. He still had the remnants of a headache from that clamor.
Walking back to his chair he sat down and went over the list again. It was incomplete. He had ignored a vital segment—the people who would want him dead in the near future. Most of those new victims lived on the island of Nantucket, thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts. They were tradespeople and retail- ers, professionals who relied on home owners like Preston Lomax for their sustenance. They saw the huge trophy fortress he was building on Eel Point, they noted his urgent attempts to gain admission to the ever so particular and stuffy Nantucket Yacht Club, chuckled over the way he had insisted that the residents whose house he had leveled to build “Sea Breeze” give him their 228 exchange telephone number and their two digit, in-town mailbox—small but significant indicators of “old” Nantucket money; an aura that instant millionaires like Lomax craved.
They assumed he was there to stay. The gossip mill ground out its formal conclusion from the benches of Main Street to the counter at Crosswinds, from the Wharf Rat’s club to the editorial offices of the Inquirer & Mirror. Lomax was another fat cat who would plunk his slab of property tax money down every year. In return he’d spend four weeks out of fifty-two in his shingled palace, call himself a “native” and grouse about the “new people”, especially the ones whose houses, no uglier or more ostentatious than his own, blocked his ocean view. He’d be a regular at the most expensive restaurants, running tabs at Topper’s and The Pearl, and the cops would offer him a lift home when he got drunk. In other words, he was a type, a part of the island landscape, as unremarkable as the successful Irish contractor building a house in Tom Nevers, or the hard working Jamaican riding to work on a too-small bicycle, or the old lady from Greenwich volunteering at the Hospital Thrift Shop. He was common as mildew, regrettable as red tide, inevitable as fog. And that was just the way he wanted it.
Because none of it was true.
The reality was that Preston Lomax’s company was under investigation by the Attorney General’s office. And he knew exactly what the audit would show. He’d been robbing LoGran Corporation blind for years. No matter how well he covered things up, some ratty little accountant would turn State’s evidence and screw him. But he was going to escape long before that, and Nantucket was the perfect staging area for his embarkation to parts unknown. All he had to do was keep things running normally and make no obvious moves. He had to keep building his house, for instance. That was fine, it would cost him nothing. He had paid everyone their first third, so they assumed he was good for the rest. Together they had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in free labor and materials to the Preston Lomax fund. They just didn’t know it yet. Appearances were everything and he appeared to be the safest bet around.
Well, let that be a lesson for them. And if the tuition at this particular school bankrupted them and ruined their lives, so be it. Everything had worked perfectly so far. One of his bookies had even told him to start thinking about a second mortgage. His cocaine dealer was worried that he might find a cheaper on-island connection. The camouflage was perfect. And at the other end, there was enough money to keep him fat and happy in Central America for the rest of his life. All he had to do now was disappear.
He crumpled up the list of possible assassins and threw it out. They were all too late: in a month he’d be gone.
He poured himself a glass of neat Lagavulin single malt, walked to the window again. Looking down on the dark trees beyond the Park wall, he toasted the shadows.
“One month,” he said aloud. And he drained the glass.