“The mistress of high tension” (The New Yorker) and undisputed Queen of Suspense Mary Higgins Clark brings us another New York Times bestselling novel that she “prepares so carefully and executes with such relish” (The New York Times Book Review) about the murder of a respected doctor—and his beautiful young wife charged with the crime.
Dr. Gary Lasch, famous Greenwich, Connecticut doctor and founder of the HMO Remington Health Management, is found dead in his home, his skull crushed by a blow with a heavy bronze sculpture, and his wife, Molly, in bed covered with his blood. It was the Lasches’ housekeeper, Edna Barry, who made the grisly discovery the morning after Molly’s unexpectedly early return from Cape Cod, where she had gone to seclude herself upon learning of her husband’s infidelity. As the evidence against Molly grows, her lawyer plea-bargains a manslaughter charge to avoid a murder conviction.
Released from prison nearly six years later, Molly reasserts her innocence to reporters, among them an old school friend, Fran Simmons, an investigative reporter and anchor for a true-crime show. Molly convinces Fran to research and produce a program on her husband’s death. As hidden aspects of Gary Lasch’s life and the affairs of Remington Health Management come to light, is Fran herself the next target for murder?
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Simon & Schuster
April 01, 2000
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Excerpt from We'll Meet Again by Mary Higgins Clark
The State of Connecticut will prove that Molly Carpenter Lasch, with the intent to cause the death of her husband, Dr. Gary Lasch, did in fact cause his death; that as he sat at his desk, his back to her, she shattered his skull with a heavy bronze sculpture; that she then left him to bleed to death as she went upstairs to their bedroom and fell asleep....
The reporters seated behind the defendant scribbled furiously, roughing out the articles they would have to file in just a couple of hours if they were to meet their deadlines. The veteran columnist from Women's News Weekly began inking her usual gushing prose: "The trial of Molly Carpenter Lasch, charged with the murder of her husband, Gary, opened this morning in the mellow dignity of the courtroom in historic Stamford, Connecticut."
Media from all over the country were covering the trial. The New York Post reporter was jotting down a description of Molly's appearance, noting in particular how she had dressed for her first day in court. What a knockout, he thought, a remarkable blend of classy and gorgeous. It was not a combination that he often saw -- especially at the defense table. He noticed how she sat, tall, almost regal. No doubt some would say "defiant." He knew she was twenty-six. He could see that she was slender. Had collar-length, dark blond hair. That she wore a blue suit and small gold earrings. He craned his neck until he could see that she was still wearing her wedding band. He made note of it.
As he watched, Molly Lasch turned and looked around the courtroom as though searching for familiar faces. For a moment their eyes met, and he noted that hers were blue; and her lashes, long and dark.
The Observer reporter was writing down his impressions of the defendant and the proceedings. Since his paper was a weekly, he could take more time in actually composing his article. "Molly Carpenter Lasch would look more at home in a country club than in a courtroom," he wrote. He glanced across the aisle at Gary Lasch's family.
Molly's mother-in-law, the widow of the legendary Dr. Jonathan Lasch, was sitting with her sister and brother. A thin woman in her sixties, she had an expression that was stony and unforgiving. Clearly, if given the chance, she'd gladly plunge the needle with the lethal dose into Molly, the Observer reporter thought.
He turned and peered around. Molly's parents, a handsome couple in their late fifties, looked strained, anxious, and heartsick. He noted those words on his pad.
At 10:30 the defense began its opening statement.
"The Prosecutor has just told you that he will prove Molly Lasch guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that the evidence will show that Molly Lasch is not a murderer. She is, in fact, as much a victim of this terrible tragedy as was her husband.
"When you have heard all of the evidence in this case, you will conclude that Molly Carpenter Lasch returned on Sunday evening last April 8th, shortly after 8 p.m., from a week in her Cape Cod home; that she found her husband, Gary, sprawled over his desk; that she put her mouth to his to try to resuscitate him, heard his final gasps, then, realizing he was dead, went upstairs and, totally traumatized, fell unconscious on the bed."
Quiet and attentive, Molly sat at the defense table. They're only words, she thought, they can't hurt me. She was aware of the eyes on her, curious and judgmental. Some of the people she had known best and longest had come up to her in the corridor, kissing her cheek, squeezing her hand. Jenna Whitehall, her best friend since their high school years at Cranden Academy, was one of them. Jenna was a corporate lawyer now. Her husband, Cal, was chairman of the board of Lasch Hospital and of the HMO Gary had founded with Dr. Peter Black.
They've both been wonderful, Molly thought. Needing to get away from everything, she had sometimes stayed with Jen in New York during the past months, and it had helped tremendously. Jenna and Cal still lived in Greenwich, but during the week, Jenna frequently overnighted at a Manhattan apartment they kept near U.N. Plaza.
Molly had seen Peter Black in the corridor as well. Dr. Peter Black -- he always had been so pleasant to her, but like Gary's mother, he ignored her now. The friendship between him and Gary dated from their days in medical school. Molly wondered if Peter would be able to fill Gary's shoes as head of the hospital and the HMO. Shortly after Gary's death, he'd been elected by the board to take over as chief executive officer, with Cal Whitehall as chairman.
She sat numbly as the trial actually began. The prosecutor began calling witnesses. As they came and went, they seemed to Molly to be just blurred faces and voices. Then Edna Barry, the plump sixty-year-old woman who had been their part-time housekeeper, was on the stand. "I came in at eight o'clock on Monday morning, as usual," she stated.
"Monday morning, April 9th?"
"How long had you been working for Gary and Molly Lasch?"
"Four years. But I'd worked for Molly's mother from the time Molly was a little girl. She was always so gentle."
Molly caught the sympathetic look Mrs. Barry cast toward her. She doesn't want to hurt me, she thought, but she's going to tell how she found me, and she knows how it will sound.
"I was surprised because the lights were on inside the house," Mrs. Barry was saying. "Molly's suitcase was in the foyer, so I knew she was back from the Cape."
"Mrs. Barry, please describe the layout of the first floor of the house."
"The foyer is large -- it's really more of a reception area. When they had large parties they would serve cocktails there before dinner. The living room is directly beyond the foyer and faces the front door. The dining room is to the left, down a wide hallway and past a service bar. The kitchen and family room are in that wing as well, while the library and Dr. Lasch's study are in the wing to the right of the entrance."
I got home early, Molly thought. There hadn't been much traffic on I-95, and I was earlier than I'd expected to be. I only had one bag with me, and I brought it in and put it down. Then I locked the door and called Gary's name. I went directly to the study to look for him.
"I went into the kitchen," Mrs. Barry told the prosecutor. "There were wine glasses and a tray of leftover cheese and crackers on the counter."
"Was there anything unusual about that?"
"Yes. Molly always tidied up when they had company."
"What about Dr. Lasch?" the prosecutor asked. Edna Barry smiled indulgently. "Well, you know men. He wasn't much for picking up after himself." She paused and frowned. "But that was when I knew something was wrong. I thought that Molly must have come and gone."
"Why would she have done that?"
Molly saw the hesitance in Mrs. Barry's face as once again she looked over at her. Mother was always a little annoyed that Mrs. Barry called me Molly and I called her Mrs. Barry. But I didn't care, she thought. She's known me since I was a child.
"Molly hadn't been home when I went in on Friday. The Monday before that, while I was there, she'd left for the Cape. She seemed terribly upset."
The question came quickly and abruptly. Molly was aware of the hostility the prosecutor felt for her, but for some reason it didn't worry her.
"She was crying as she packed her bag, and I could see that she was very angry. Molly's an easygoing person. It takes a lot to ruffle her. In all the years I'd worked there, I'd never once seen her so upset. She kept saying,'How could he? How could he?' I asked her if there was anything I could do."
"What did she say?"
"She said,'You can kill my husband.'"
"'You can kill my husband!'"
"I knew she didn't mean it. I just thought they'd probably had an argument, and I figured she was leaving for the Cape to cool down."
"Did she often go off like that? Just pack up and leave?"
"Well, Molly likes the Cape; says she can clear her head there. But this was different -- I'd never seen her leave like this, so upset." She looked at Molly, sympathy in her eyes.
"All right, Mrs. Barry, let's go back to that Monday morning, April 9th. What did you do after you'd seen the condition of the kitchen?"
"I went to see if Dr. Lasch was in the study. The door was closed. I knocked, and there was no answer. I turned the knob and noticed it felt sticky. Then I pushed open the door and saw him." Edna Barry's voice quivered. "He was slumped over in his chair at the desk. His head was caked with dried blood. There was blood all over him and the desk and the chair and the carpet. I knew right away he was dead."
Listening to the housekeeper's testimony, Molly thought back to that Sunday night. I came home, let myself in, locked the front door, and went down to the study. I was sure Gary would be there. The door was closed. I opened it....I don't remember what happened after that.
"What did you do then, Mrs. Barry?" the prosecutor asked.
"I dialed 9-1-1 right away. Then I thought about Molly, that maybe she was hurt. I ran upstairs to her bedroom. When I saw her in there, on the bed, I thought she was dead too."
"Why did you think that?"
"Because her face was crusted with blood. But then she opened her eyes and smiled and said, 'Hi, Mrs. Barry, I guess I overslept.'"
I looked up, Molly thought as she sat at the defense table, and then realized I still had my clothes on. For a moment I thought I'd been in an accident. My clothes were soiled, and my hands felt all sticky. I felt groggy and disoriented and wondered if maybe I was in a hospital instead of my own room. I remember wondering if Gary had been hurt too. Then there was a pounding at the door downstairs, and the police were there.
All about her, people were talking, but the voices of the witnesses were blurring again. Molly was vaguely aware of the days of the trial passing, of going in and out of the courtroom, of watching people coming and going on the witness stand.
She heard Cal and Peter Black and then Jenna testify. Cal and Peter told how on Sunday afternoon they had called Gary and said they were coming over, that they knew something was wrong.
They said they found Gary terribly upset because Molly had learned he was having an affair with Annamarie Scalli.
Cal said that Gary told him that Molly had been at their home in Cape Cod all week and wouldn't talk to him when he called, that she slammed down the phone when she heard his voice.
The prosecutor asked, "What was your reaction to Dr. Lasch's confession of this affair?"
Cal said they were deeply concerned, both for their friends' marriage and also for the potential damage to the hospital of a scandal involving Dr. Lasch and a young nurse. Gary had assured them there would be no scandal. Annamarie was leaving town. She was planning to give up the baby for adoption. His lawyer had arranged a $75,000 settlement and confidentiality statement that she had already signed.
Annamarie Scalli, Molly thought, that pretty, dark-haired, sexy-looking young nurse. She remembered meeting her at the hospital. Had Gary been in love with her, or was it just a casual affair that got out of hand when Annamarie became pregnant? Now she'd never know. There were so many unanswered questions. Did Gary really love me? she wondered. Or was our life together a sham? She shook her head. No. It hurt too much to think like that.
Then Jenna had taken the stand. I know it hurts her to testify, Molly thought, but the prosecutor had subpoened her, and she had no choice.
"Yes," Jenna had acknowledged, her voice low and halting, "I did call Molly at the Cape on the day that Gary died. She told me that he had been involved with Annamarie and that Annamarie was pregnant. Molly was totally devastated." Vaguely she heard what they were saying. The prosecutor asking if Molly was angry. Jenna saying Molly was hurt. Jenna finally admitted that Molly was very angry with Gary.
"Molly, get up. The judge is leaving."
Philip Matthews, her lawyer, was holding her elbow, urging her to stand. He kept his hand under her arm, steadying her as they exited the courtroom. Outside, flashbulbs exploded in her face. He made her hurry through the crowd, propelling her into a waiting car. "We'll meet your mother and father at the house," he said as they drove away.
Her parents had come up from Florida to be with her. They wanted her to move, to get out of the house where Gary had died, but she couldn't do that. It was her grandmother's present to her and she loved it. At her father's insistence, she had agreed to at least redecorate the study. All the furniture was given away, and the room was redone from top to bottom. The heavy mahogany paneling had been stripped off, and Gary's treasured collection of early-American furniture and art had been removed. His paintings, sculptures, carpets, oil lamps, and Wells Fargo desk along with his maroon leather couch and chairs had been replaced with a brightly patterned chintz sofa and matching love seat and bleached oak tables. Even then, the door to the study was always kept closed.
One most valued piece in his collection, a thirty-inch-high sculpture of a horse and rider, an original Remington bronze, was still in the custody of the prosecutor's office. That was what they said she had used to smash the back of Gary's head.
Sometimes, when she was sure her parents were asleep, Molly would tiptoe downstairs and stand in the doorway of the study and try to remember every detail of finding Gary.
Finding Gary. No matter how hard she tried, when she thought back to that night, there was no single moment when she remembered talking to him or approaching him as he sat at his desk. She had no memory of picking up that sculpture, of grasping the front legs of the horse and swinging it with enough force to cave in his skull. But that's what they said she had done.
At home now, after another day in court, she could see the growing concern on her parents' faces, and she could feel the increased protectiveness with which they hugged her. She stood stiffly inside their embraces, then stepped away and looked at them dispassionately.
Yes, a handsome couple -- everyone called them that. Molly knew she looked like Ann, her mother. Walter Carpenter, her father, towered over both of them. His hair was silver now. It used to be blond. He called it his Viking streak. His grandmother had been Danish.
"I'm sure we'd all welcome a cocktail," her father said as he led the way to the service bar.
Molly and her mother had a glass of wine, Philip requested a martini. As her father handed it to him, he said, "Philip, how damaging was Black's testimony today?"
Molly could hear the forced, too-hearty tone of Philip Matthews's answer: "I think we'll be able to neutralize it when I get a crack at him."
Philip Matthews, powerful thirty-eight-year-old defense lawyer, had become a kind of media star. Molly's father had sworn he would get Molly the best money could buy, and that comparatively young as he was, Matthews was it. Hadn't he gotten an acquittal for that broadcasting executive whose wife was murdered? Yes, Molly thought, but they didn't find him covered with her blood.
She could feel the cloudiness in her head clearing a little, although she knew it would come back. It always did. But at this moment she could understand the way everything must seem to the people in the courtroom, especially to the jurors. "How much longer will the trial last?" she asked.
"About another three weeks," Matthews told her.
"And then I'll be found guilty," she said matter-of-factly. "Do you think I am? I know that everybody else thinks I did it because I was so angry at him." She sighed wearily. "Ninety percent of them think I'm lying about not remembering anything, and the other ten percent think I can't remember that night because I'm crazy."
Aware that they were following her, she walked down the hall to the study and pushed open the door. The sense of unreality was already closing in again. "Maybe I did do it," she said, her voice expressionless. "That week at the Cape. I remember walking on the beach and thinking how unfair it all was. How after five years of marriage and losing the first baby and wanting another one so terribly, I'd finally gotten pregnant again, then had a miscarriage at four months. Remember? You came up from Florida, Mom and Dad, because you were worried that I was so heartbroken. Then only a month after losing my child, I picked up the phone and heard Annamarie Scalli talking to Gary, and I realized she was pregnant with his child. I was so angry, and so hurt. I remember thinking that God had punished the wrong person by taking my baby."
Ann Carpenter put her arms around her daughter. This time Molly did not resist the embrace. "I'm so scared," she whispered. "I'm so scared."
Philip Matthews took Walter Carpenter's arm. "Let's go into the library," he said. "I think we'd better face reality here. I think we're going to have to consider a plea bargain."
Molly stood before the judge and tried to concentrate as the prosecutor spoke. Philip Matthews had told her the prosecutor reluctantly agreed to allow her to plead guilty to manslaughter, which carried a ten year sentence, because the one weakness in his case was Annamarie Scalli, Gary Lasch's pregnant mistress, who had not yet testified. Annamarie had told investigators that she was home alone that Sunday night.
"The prosecutor knows I'll try to throw suspicion on Annamarie," Matthews had explained to her. "She was angry and bitter at Gary, too. We might have had a crack at a hung jury, but if you were convicted, you'd be facing a life sentence. This way you'll be out in as little as five."
It was her turn to say the words that were expected of her. "Your Honor, while I cannot remember that horrible night, I acknowledge that the state's evidence is strong and points to me. I accept that the evidence has shown that I killed my husband." It's a nightmare, Molly thought. I will wake up soon and be home and safe.
Fifteen minutes later after the Judge had imposed the ten year sentence she was led away in handcuffs toward the van that would transport her to Niantic Prison, the State Women's Correctional Center.
Gus Brandt, executive producer for the NAF Cable Network, looked up from his desk at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. Fran Simmons, whom he'd recently hired as an investigative reporter for the six o'clock news hour and for regular assignments to his hot new True Crime program, had just entered his office.
"The word's in," he said excitedly. "Molly Carpenter Lasch is being paroled from prison. She gets out next week."
"She did get parole!" Fran exclaimed. "I'm so glad."
"I wasn't sure you'd remember the case. You were living in California six years ago. Do you know much about it?"
"Everything, actually. Don't forget, I went to Cranden Academy in Greenwich, with Molly. I had the local papers sent to me throughout the trial."
"You went to school with her? That's great. I want to schedule a full background story on her for the series as soon as possible."
"Sure. But Gus, don't think I have an inside track with Molly," Fran warned. "I haven't laid eyes on her since the summer we graduated, and that was fourteen years ago. At the same time I began U. Cal, my mother moved to Santa Barbara, and I lost touch with just about everybody in Greenwich."
There'd actually been many reasons for both her and her mother relocating to California, leaving Connecticut as far behind as memory would allow. On the day of Fran's graduation from the academy, her father had taken her and her mother out for a festive dinner of celebration. At the end of the meal he had toasted Fran's future at his alma mater, kissed both of them, and then, saying that he'd left his wallet in the car, he had gone out to the parking lot and shot himself. In the next few days the reason for his suicide became apparent. An investigation quickly determined that he'd embezzled $400,000 from the Greenwich Library Building Fund drive he'd volunteered to chair.
Gus Brandt knew that story already, of course. He'd brought it up when he came to Los Angeles to offer her the job at NAF-TV. "Look, that's in the past. You don't need to hide away out here in California, and besides, coming with us is the right career move for you," he'd said. "Everyone who makes it in this business has to move around. Our six o'clock news hour is beating the local network stations, and the True Crime program is in the top ten in the ratings. Besides, admit it: you've missed New York."
Fran almost had expected him to quote the old chestnut that outside New York it's all Bridgeport, but he hadn't gone that far. With thinning gray hair and sloping shoulders, Gus looked every second of his fifty-five years, and his countenance carried permanently the expression of someone who had just missed the last bus on a snowy night.
The look was deceptive, however, and Fran knew it. In fact, he had a razor-sharp mind, a proven track record for creating new shows, and a competitive streak second to none in the industry. With hardly a second thought, she'd taken the job. Working for Gus meant being on the fast track.
"You never saw or heard from Molly after you graduated?" he asked.
"Nope. I wrote her at the time of the trial, offering my sympathy and support, and got a form letter from her lawyer saying that while she appreciated my concern, she would not be corresponding with anyone. That was over five and a half years ago."
"What was she like? When she was young, I mean."
Fran tucked a strand of light brown hair behind her ear, an unconscious gesture that was an indication she was concentrating. An image flashed through her mind, and for an instant she could see Molly as she'd been at age sixteen, at Cranden Academy. "Molly was always special," she said after a moment. "You've seen her pictures. She was always a beauty. Even when the rest of us were still gawky adolescents, she was already turning heads. She had the most incredible blue eyes, almost iridescent, plus a complexion models would kill for and shimmering blond hair. But what really impressed me was that she was always so composed. I remember thinking if she met the pope and the queen of England at the same party, she'd know how to address them and in what order. And yet, the funny part was that I always suspected that, inside, she was shy. Despite her remarkable composure, there was something tentative about her. Kind of like a beautiful bird perched at the end of a branch, poised but ready at any second to take flight."
She'd glide across the room, Fran thought, remembering seeing her once in an elegant gown. She looked even taller than five eight because she had such gorgeous carriage.
"How friendly were you two?" Gus queried.
"Oh, I wasn't really in her orbit. Molly was part of the moneyed country club set. I was a good athlete and concentrated on sports more than on social activities. I can assure you my phone was never ringing off the hook on Friday night."
"As my mother would have put it, you grew up nice," Gus said dryly.
I was never at ease at the academy, Fran thought. There are plenty of middle-class families in Greenwich, but middle class wasn't good enough for Dad. He was always trying to ingratiate himself with wealthy people. He wanted me to be friends with the girls who came from money or who had family connections.
"Apart from her appearance, what was Molly like?"
"She was very sweet," Fran said. "When my father died and the news came out about what he had done -- the embezzling and the suicide and everything -- I was avoiding everyone. Molly knew I jogged every day, and early one morning she was waiting for me. She said she just wanted to keep me company for a while. Since her father had been one of the biggest donors to the library fund, you can imagine what her show of friendship meant to me."
"You had no reason to be ashamed because of what your father did," Gus snapped.
Fran's tone became crisp. "I wasn't ashamed of him. I was just so sorry for him -- and angry too, I guess. Why did he think that my mother and I needed things? After he died, we realized how frantic he must have been in the days just before, because they were about to audit the library fund's books, and he knew he'd be found out." She paused, then added softly, "He was wrong to have done all that, of course. Wrong to have taken the money and wrong to think we needed it. He was weak also. I realize now he was terribly insecure. But at the same time, he was an awfully nice guy."
"So was Dr. Gary Lasch. He was a good administrator too. Lasch Hospital has a top-drawer reputation, and Remington Health Management isn't like so many of the cockamamie HMOs that are going bankrupt and leaving patients and doctors high and dry." Gus smiled briefly. "You knew Molly and you went to school with her, so that gives you some insight. Do you think she did it?"
"There's no question that she did it," Fran said promptly. "The evidence against her was overwhelming, and I've covered enough murder trials to understand that very unlikely people ruin their lives by losing control for that one split second. Still, unless Molly changed dramatically after the time I knew her, she'd be the last person in the world I would have said was likely to kill someone. But for that very reason, I can understand why she might have blocked it out."
"That's why this case is great for the program," Gus said. "Get on it. When Molly Lasch gets out of Niantic Prison next week, I want you to be part of the reception committee welcoming her."