Discover more from Mystery, Memoir, and Meaning
Dead Ringer: Chapter Twenty
From the end of Chapter Nineteen.
Weston’s gray-blue eyes widened and his face flushed, and he choked on a response that seemed to want out real bad. Then he took a deep breath and answered. “Ms. Blair, I loved my sister very much. We went through a lot together. Life had certainly wounded her, and I did what I could to protect her. But I assure you, there was nothing untoward about our relationship. I’m hoping you can come to trust me, but if submitting to a DNA test will satisfy your apparent suspicions, I have no objection whatsoever.”
“Good,” I said. “I’ll set it up.”
Weston nodded, his eyes suddenly glistening. I shoved down the pastoral urge to reach out and pat his arm and instead dug around in my bag for my notebook and a pen.
“Start at the beginning,” I said. “Tell me everything.”
They’d grown up rich. Sarah, their mother, had been the only child of a shipyard owner, Charles Baker. The moment her trust fund became available, Sarah married Weston’s father, Matthew Roper.
According to Weston, an aunt had described his father as a devastatingly handsome alcoholic who was dead broke, an irresistible combination to Sarah, it seems, because after Matthew died crashing his Jaguar into an unyielding oak, she promptly turned around and married his similarly minted brother, Jonathan. Rachel had been born four years later.
“I was in third grade,” Weston said, “and I never thought I’d seen anything so perfect. Rachel was quiet and sweet with these eyes that you just wanted to fall into. Uncle Jonathan doted on her,” Weston said, adding,“insofar as an habitual drunk can love another person.”
Fulfilling the paternal role of stepfather to Weston hadn’t been on Uncle Jonathan’s agenda, though, and Sarah, with her own issues with booze and pills, was never going to be up for Mother of the Year for either of her children. At eighteen, Weston enlisted in the Army, which triggered — his words, not mine — his interest in munitions and the money it could bring in.
“My own money,” he’d said in response to my raised eyebrows.
“What about when Rachel and your mom moved to North Carolina?” I asked.
“Ah,” he said, his face darkening. “That was a bad period for everyone.”
I thought it the understatement of the year. Uncle Jonathan had collected enough DUIs that he’d been mandated into rehab, and astonishingly enough, it took. He’d quit drinking altogether and “sort of found God,” as Weston put it. That made him not nearly as much fun for Sarah to be around, and the marriage became strained. The more sober Jonathan became, the more out of control was Sarah’s drinking and pill-popping.
“Mother lied and told Jonathan she was coming here to Brady to get cleaned up. She threatened to cut him off from the money if he protested to her bringing Rachel. Of course, she did it to punish him.” And finding God hadn’t changed Uncle Jonathan from being a weak and shallow man. He’d made no protest to his daughter being taken away from him. “He liked nice things,” said Weston, shrugging.
“Rachel told me you visited here,” I said.
He nodded. “Yes. I had a very alarming call from her. Knowing our mother, I thought I’d better come check up on my sister.”
“In retrospect, I should have believed things were as bad as Rachel said, but I’d never seen my mother look healthier or seem calmer.”
I suppressed an eye-roll. Who among us, steeped in family dysfunction, hasn’t been guilty of seeing what we want to see?
“Her behavior was appalling,” he said. “She was rude to me, dismissive and cruel. She said she wished I’d never come, she wished I wasn’t her brother. She told me she’d always hated me and that she wished I was dead. I attributed the whole thing to teen girl drama.”
An uncomfortable silence grew around us. At last, Weston spoke. “I should have believed her,” he said, and I knew he was peering down that road not taken, the one where believing his sister could have altered the future’s tragic path.
I could have explained to Weston the twisted way some abusive and disordered people can switch their crazy on and off, and how effectively they can manipulate us into seeing the victim as the disturbed one, but I didn’t. It was too late for that anyway. Cancer had taken Sarah’s life years ago, and it seemed more and more likely someone had taken Rachel’s.
“I only heard about the pregnancy after the fact,” Weston said with a tremble in his voice. All his mother had said was that it had been handled, and for a long time Weston thought there’d been an abortion. Any mention of “the baby” he’d chalked up as mental instability compounded by delayed grief.
“It was when Mother was diagnosed that she and Rachel came back to Connecticut,” he said.
“And Rachel never married?”
Weston shook his head. “She became a bit of a recluse,” he said. “I suppose I encouraged that. I worried about how fragile she’d become.”
“When did you start believing Rachel about her daughter?” I asked.
He took a deep breath. “Last year. I thought she was just cycling through another one of her spells, disappearing into this fantasy world where she’d find her baby girl and there would be a happy reunion. She kept urging me to bring her back here. She was convinced she could find her.”
Weston frowned. “When I pressed her for details, things got fuzzy. She ignored any conversation about who the father was and claimed she remembered little about what happened after the baby was born, only that our mother told her the baby was going to a good home. I asked if she’d signed any paperwork. She didn’t remember.”
I bit back the things I wanted to say, about memory and trauma and the way devastating loss can rewire your brain. Instead, I simply asked, “So what changed your mind?”
She had her…female doctor call me.”
He winced at the word. “Yes.”
“Her doctor confirmed that upon examination Rachel bore evidence of having birthed a child.” Weston stared at the floor. His emotions must have been a wild roiling tide, but the only sign I saw was his jaw, clenching and unclenching in rhythmic tics.
“So why did you continue the charade here of not believing her story?”
He looked up at me, his eyes full of pain. “I was trying to protect her,” he said. “I thought if we handled it privately…I thought no one else needed to know.”
“Bet you were glad when you met me, then.” I failed at keeping the edge out of my voice, Weston turned his attention back to the floor.
“I thought it unfortunate,” he said.
Just then my cell phone rang. “I’m sorry, I’ll have to take this,” I said, edging toward the door. Weston gave a half nod as I stepped out into the hall.
“Hi, Will. What’s up?”
“Where are you?”
“Still at the hotel with Weston,” I said. “What’s going on?”
“I’ve been trying to reach him. I’ve got some preliminary results.”
“What did you find?”
“I think I should speak to Weston first.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, a sick feeling spreading through my stomach. I knocked, and when Weston opened the hotel room door, I said, “It’s Dr. Keating. For you,” and handed him my phone.
I couldn’t hear any of what Will said, but watching the color drain from Weston’s face, it most certainly wasn’t anything good. The next moment, Weston thrust my phone at me.
“Dr. Keating wants to speak with you,” he said and stumbled over to the chair by the window, sinking down with a groan, his head falling into his hands.
I angled my body away from him. “Will?”
“Fentanyl overdose,” Will said.
“That’s what killed Rachel. Fentanyl. Like morphine, but times a hundred. Like fifty hits of heroin in one dose.”
“Why would the docs at WindDancer have prescribed her that?”
“They wouldn’t have,” Will said. “They didn’t. Medically, it’s used very sparingly for physical pain. There would’ve been no reason for her to be given it, and it wasn’t indicated in her chart.”
“Jesus, Will,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “It was almost certainly delivered through her IV. There’s not another mark on her body.”
My breath caught in my throat. “So…”
“So, someone clearly meant for her to die,” Will said. “Someone who knew exactly what they were doing.”
Mystery, Memoir, and Meaning is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.