Gone for Good Page 52

Katy and I both politely declined.

“A biscuit, then?”

She produced a plate with cookies in the shape of, yup, Princess Diana’s profile. Sprinkles formed the crown. We begged off, neither of us much in the mood to nibble on dead Di. I decided to start right in.

“Mrs. Baker,” I said, “you remember Katy’s sister, Julie?”

“Yes, of course.” She put down the plate of cookies. “I remember all of the girls. My husband, Frank—he taught English here—died in 1969. We had no children. My family had all passed away. That sorority house, those girls, for twenty-six years they were my life.”

“I see,” I said.

“And Julie, well, late at night, when I lay in bed in the dark, her face comes to me more than most. Not just because she was a special child—oh, and she was—but of course, because of what happened to her.”

“You mean her murder?” It was a dumb thing to say, but I was new at this. I just wanted to keep her talking.

“Yes.” Rose Baker reached out and took Katy’s hand. “Such a tragedy. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Katy said, “Thank you.”

Uncharitable as this might sound, my mind could not help but think: Tragedy, yes, but where was Julie’s image—or the image of Rose Baker’s husband or family, for that matter—in this swirling potpourri of royal grief?

“Mrs. Baker, do you remember another sorority sister named Sheila Rogers?” I asked.

Her face pinched up and her voice was short. “Yes.” She shifted primly. “Yes, I do.”

From her reaction, it was pretty obvious that she had not heard about the murder. I decided not to tell her yet. She clearly had a problem with Sheila, and I wanted to know what it was. We needed honesty here. If I were to tell her that Sheila was dead now, she might sugarcoat her answers. Before I could follow up, Mrs. Baker held up her hand. “May I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you asking me all this now?” She looked at Katy. “It all happened so long ago.”

Katy took that one. “I’m trying to find the truth.”

“The truth about what?”

“My sister changed while she was here.”

Rose Baker closed her eyes. “You don’t need to hear this, child.”

“Yes,” Katy said, and the desperation in her voice was palpable enough to knock out a window. “Please. We need to know.”

Rose Baker kept her eyes closed for another moment or two. Then she nodded to herself and opened them. She folded her hands and put them in her lap. “How old are you?”


“About the age Julie was when she first came here.” Rose Baker smiled. “You look like her.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“It’s a compliment. Julie lit up a room. In many ways she reminds me of Diana herself. Both of them were beautiful. Both of them were special—almost divine.” She smiled and wagged a finger. “Ah, and both had a wild streak. Both were inordinately stubborn. Julie was a good person. Kind, smart as a whip. She was an excellent student.”

“Yet,” I said, “she dropped out.”



She turned her eyes on me. “Princess Di tried to be firm. But no one can control the winds of fate. They blow as they may.”

Katy said, “I’m not following you.”

A Princess Di clock chimed the hour, the sound a hollow imitation of Big Ben. Rose Baker waited for it to grow silent again. Then she said, “College changes people. Your first time away, your first time on your own . . .” She drifted off, and for a moment I thought I’d have to nudge her into continuing. “I’m not saying this right. Julie was fine at first, but then she, well, she started to withdraw. From all of us. She cut classes. She broke up with her hometown boyfriend. Not that that was unusual. Almost all the girls do first year. But in her case, it came so late. Junior year, I think. I thought she really loved him.”

I swallowed, kept still.

“Earlier,” Rose Baker said, “you asked me about Sheila Rogers.”

Katy said, “Yes.”

“She was a bad influence.”

“How so?”

“When Sheila joined us that same year”—Rose put a finger to her chin and tilted her head as if a new idea had just forced its way in—“well, maybe she was the winds of fate. Like the paparazzi that made Diana’s limousine speed up. Or that awful driver, Henri Paul. Did you know that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit?”

“Sheila and Julie became friends?” I tried.


“Roommates, right?”

“For a time, yes.” Her eyes were moist now. “I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but Sheila Rogers brought something bad to Chi Gamma. I should have thrown her out. I know that now. But I had no proof of wrongdoing.”

“What did she do?”

She shook her head again.

I thought about it for a moment. Junior year, Julie had visited me at Amherst. I, on the other hand, had been discouraged from coming down to Haverton, which was a little strange. I flashed back to the last time Julie and I had been together. She had set up a quiet getaway at a bed and breakfast in Mystic instead of having us stay on campus. At the time, I’d thought it romantic. Now, of course, I knew better.

Three weeks later, Julie called and broke it off with me. But looking back on it now, I remembered that she had been acting both lethargic and strange during that visit. We were in Mystic only one night and even as we made love, I could feel her fading away from me. She blamed it on her studies, said that she’d been cramming big-time. I bought it because, in hindsight, I wanted to.

When I now added it all together, the solution was fairly obvious. Sheila had come here straight from the abuse of Louis Castman and drugs and the streets. That life is not so easy to leave behind. My guess was, she dragged some of that decay with her. It does not take much to poison the well. Sheila arrives at the start of Julie’s junior year, Julie begins to act erratically.

It made sense.

I tried another tack. “Did Sheila Rogers graduate?”

“No, she dropped out too.”

“The same time as Julie?”

“I’m not even sure either of them officially dropped out. Julie just stopped going to class toward the end of the year. She stayed in her room a lot. She slept past noon. When I confronted her”—her voice caught— “she moved out.”

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