Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Cutaway by Christina Kovac and I get to share an extract with you all. It’s on my TBR so make sure to keep an eye out for my review sometime soon!
About the book:
It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?
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About the author:
I PUT MY feet on the desk, making myself comfortable for a long read. The journal was fascinating, frustrating, full of flowery and effusive descriptions of people and places, and not one damn name or date to fact check any of it. Evelyn Carney was either naturally discreet, or she was being secretive. In either case, it seemed she worried she’d have a reader. Who? What did she have to hide?
In one entry, she wrote fondly of a man and how he told her boyhood stories of summers spent at his family estate by a river, bow hunting and fishing in the shadows of the pawpaw trees, reciting the work of the Lost Poets to his grandpa, whose vision was deteriorating.
And later, she described the opera, which she hated but attended anyway, accompanying a powerhouse of a woman she wanted to please. Paige, I wondered? At intermission this woman chatted with a Supreme Court justice, as if they were old friends. How did she get to this place, within striking distance of rubbing elbows with the elite, she wondered yet again, and more important, how to hold on?
I flipped back to the beginning and started again, reading more slowly this time. The earliest entry mentioned a teacher’s great kindness to her, how he’d helped her land a job and given her good advice. He thought she was smart. No one had ever said she was smart. She liked being admired for her mind.
This teacher appeared on CNN, wearing a pinstripe shirt that she described as jumping on the screen, and she warned him it was too distracting, a bad wardrobe choice. This seemed to me an intimate observation, the kind a wife or a girlfriend might make. Assuming this teacher was one of Evelyn’s law school professors, I had two data points—finally, something to work with.
On CNN’s website, I searched the transcript section for George Washington University Law Professor. The query brought up too many hits, so I restricted the field to the last two years, since Evelyn’s journal appeared to have been written fairly recently. Of the legal analysts listed, two were men. I eliminated the senior legal analyst who appeared frequently, thinking he’d know how to dress properly for air. The other was Bradley Hartnett, constitutional law professor.
His profile was on the law school’s website. At the top, screen right, was a portrait of Professor Hartnett. I’d seen him in the crowd at Evelyn’s vigil. No one answered the office number listed on the website, but his voice recording referred me to a cell phone number, which I dialed.
“Hartnett here.” He had a big voice, deep and booming. I barely got out who I was and what I was working on when he agreed to meet. “If it’s about Evelyn, I can talk now. Not sure if I’m up for a taped interview. Mind if we do off-camera?”
I sighed. Only in the District would you find a professor well versed enough in TV lingo to jam me up. Fresh video was desperately needed, but I told him we could begin any way he liked, as long as he talked.
Bradley Hartnett lived in the Kennedy-Warren, a condominium wedged between Connecticut Avenue and Rock Creek Park and to its south, the National Zoo. It was a beautiful prewar building made of limestone and had eagles carved on its colonnade. The setting sun flashed across the windows, gilding the glass.
Hartnett was waiting by a fountain in the courtyard. He was a large, barrel-chested man, and his thick neck sported a green tie, carelessly knotted. As we shook hands, mine disappeared into his.
“Not sure how you do these kinds of interviews,” he said nervously. Whether his nervousness had to do with Evelyn or the interview remained to be seen. “If we need privacy, we can go up to my apartment. Otherwise, there’s a lounge in the building, members only; no one will see us.”
That gave me pause. “Why would we need privacy? You’re not asking for anonymity, right?” I still needed someone to go on the record, for god’s sake.
“Let’s hit the lounge.”
We went through the glass door and into the lobby, where I found myself gawking like a tourist. The lobby was wonderfully glamorous with its brass zigzag railings and deco lamps brightening the rich green walls. Ornate columns soared to high ceilings cut into geometric grids.
Hartnett led me to a bar that belonged in a black-and-white movie. Club chairs surrounded little tables scattered around the room. There was a shiny black piano that no one was playing, and a mahogany bar where a man in a suit polished glassware. We were the only patrons. Hartnett ordered sparkling water for me, a scotch for himself, and we carried our drinks to a corner. He was clinging to his drink like it was a life raft.
I tried to soothe him with chitchat. “What a lovely place to live, and so close to the zoo. Do you ever hear the animals?”
“In the morning sometimes,” he said. “My wife and I used to get up at dawn and listen for lions.”
“Is she here now? Your wife?”
He looked at me strangely. “They didn’t tell you?”
“The police. They told you about me, right?” He had an ankle over his knee. His wing tip oxford was kicking in agitation. “I’m widowed almost five years now. They should have told you that, too. They made me look like a dirty old cheat, didn’t they?”
“A . . . cheat?” I thought about the intimate way Evelyn had written of him in the journal. Had I stumbled on the guy I’d been looking for? “You had a relationship with Evelyn Carney?”
His chin lowered. He gazed moodily into the glass. “No, we weren’t in a relationship,” he said, and then, choosing his words carefully: “We were . . . friends. She confided in me, shared her worries. Why won’t they believe that?”
There are many reasons people talk to a journalist. To help a person find their reason, I’ve played good cop and bad, confessor, psychologist, fellow mourner, and friend. But Bradley Hartnett needed only a willing ear. For him, talk was catharsis, and his words rushed out.
He repeated what he’d told police: he’d never been involved with any student, not even a former student, he swore it. Not that he was any great arbiter of morality, but he took pride in his work. He had always maintained an open-door policy, and while popular with students, he kept firm lines. Besides, those bright young women with their ironed hair and diet-starved bodies held no allure for him. They had no mystery. No depth. They gave voice to every idea, certain theirs were inarguably right. All that youthful sincerity made him feel ancient.
Then one day, Evelyn Carney walked into his lecture hall. She was older than the others, more mature. She always sat in his front row, center seat, all alone, and—it seemed to him—lonely; her serious eyes lingering on him as he lectured. Her loveliness was to him a thing incandescent. As he wove his story, I wondered if Professor Hartnett was a romantic, and his view of Evelyn was idealized, except for this: I’d seen Evelyn in that cutaway video, and she was incandescent.
During the fall that Evelyn was his student, Brad Hartnett became infatuated beyond reason. His life condensed to Thursday afternoon lectures, those ninety minutes he could gaze on her in his front row. Sometimes she’d cross her legs, and he’d get lost in midsentence, but his discipline held firm. If she approached him, he would treat her no differently. He would speak to her as any other student. Every Thursday before the lecture, he made these promises to himself, but she never approached. He never even heard her voice. He only knew her work, and then the class was over.
Months later, she appeared in his office doorway. “She wanted to know if I remembered her,” he said with a humorless laugh. “There she stood, her small hand gripping her opposing wrist, which I’d later learn she did when she was nervous. She was far from home and knew no one in the city. She needed help with her career, and, I like to think, she also needed a friend. I told her she could drop by my office anytime, and she did, frequently. Those visits became the best part of my day. The more we talked, the more dazzled I was.” When he went silent, I gazed at him with sympathy. “You grew to care for each other?”
His face flushed. “Not the way I had hoped, but yes.”
“You loved her?”
He winced. “I do.”
The present tense, I noted. “But you never had a sexual relationship?”
“She’s married,” he said quickly. He took a gulp of his drink and balanced the glass on his knee. “Besides, I don’t believe she has ever thought of me in that way.”
“Understood,” I said, and then I asked him to help me understand the timeline. “She began visiting you, when?”
“Last winter. She was in her final year and needed help on the job search. She wanted to prove to her folks back home she could make it on her own merits.”
“They expected a lot?”
“They expected nothing at all, except for her to be pretty and harmless. They thought even less of her ability to have a successful career in the law. Marry the boy next door. Keep a nice home. Join the local country club. I think their disregard hurt her.”
I understood that, too. “She’s a lawyer, that’s who she is. She wanted recognition for being good, right?”
“Yes,” he said, and then in a defensive tone: “I only arranged the interview. She landed the job herself.”
It was Paige Linden he turned to. Paige had been a schoolmate of his wife, Maggie, who’d been quite a bit younger than Hartnett. He’d always admired Paige’s talents as a litigator and her support for other women in the workplace. Paige also knew firsthand the difficulties working in a male-dominated field, so he’d hoped she might look out for Evelyn.
After Evelyn began working at the firm, he’d planned a celebration that never happened. Evelyn was too busy. Her new bosses were demanding, so he gave her the space she’d asked for, even though he missed her.
Then, several weeks ago, she rushed into his office as though there’d been no time apart. By then, the fog of his infatuation had lifted, and he saw her as he’d never been able to: nearly twenty years his junior, so young it broke his heart. Beneath her makeup, her cheeks were blotchy from crying. He begged her to tell him what was wrong.
“What did she say?” He glanced up as if he’d forgotten I was there. He gave me a troubled look before he said, “What happened Sunday night? Do you know?”
“Investigators say she argued with her husband and left the restaurant alone. She hasn’t been seen since.”
“Yes, yes, that’s what the police say. What really happened?”
I sat back in my chair and watched him. “You don’t believe the police?”
“Take the chief ’s press conference on the news yesterday,” he told me, lifting both eyebrows suggestively. “She described Evie as if she were some silly girl who’d wandered aimlessly into the dark. What a ridiculous caricature.”
“Evie’s small and delicately built, and she understands she’s in a city dangerous to women. She’s far too intelligent to have left the restaurant like that, alone.”
This line of reasoning always mystified me. How did people think we lived? Were we supposed to lock ourselves away the moment night fell? Refuse to leave a restaurant without a man to escort us? Besides, a decade of reporting news in the District had taught me a woman’s intelligence—or lack thereof—had nothing to do with becoming a victim, with influencing who was picked out as the lion locked on one antelope while the rest of the herd moved on.
His eyes shifted away from mine. “What about Evie’s phone?” he said. “Have you heard anything?” A range of expressions played across his face—anxiety? Worry? Guilt? “If she had her phone that night? Do you know?”
There it was again, that look—was it guilt? Suddenly everything he told me took on a darker tone. He had said his infatuation for Evelyn Carney was beyond reason. She cared for him, but not the way he wanted. He was in love with her. He couldn’t have her. He gave her space and was not happy about it.
Investigators had questioned him. Why don’t they believe me?
“Where were you the night Evelyn disappeared?” I said.
“Are you asking if—if—I did something to Evie?” he sputtered. He had thick wrists and hands that were fisted in anger. They were the kind of hands that could crush a small woman. Hell, they could probably crush me.
I kept an eye on his fists. “Could you answer the question, please?”
“On the night Evelyn disappeared, I was at a dinner party,” he said.
“The party was at a friend’s weekend house in Annapolis. I drank too much and stayed overnight. But aside from that, use a little logic, would you? I could never hurt Evelyn. It’s Peter Carney I wanted gone.”
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