One False Move Page 20

Typing in the Bradford name would produce ten zillion hits. Myron was not sure what he was looking for exactly. He knew who the Bradfords were, of course. They were New Jersey aristocracy, the closest thing the Garden State had to the Kennedys. Old Man Bradford had been the governor in the late sixties, and his older son, Arthur Bradford, was the current front-runner for the same office. Arthur’s younger brother, Chance—Myron would have made fun of the name, but when your name is Myron, well, glass houses and big stones and all that—was his campaign manager and—to keep within the Kennedy metaphor—played Robert to Arthur’s Jack.

The Bradfords had started modestly enough. Old Man Bradford had come from farm stock. He had owned half the town of Livingston, considered the boonies in the sixties, and sold it in small pieces over the years to developers, who built split-levels and colonials for baby boomers escaping Newark and Brooklyn and the like. Myron in fact had grown up in a split-level that had been built on what had formerly been Bradford farmland.

But Old Man Bradford had been smarter than most. For one thing, he reinvested his money in strong local businesses, mostly malls, but more important, he sold his land slowly, over time, not immediately cashing in. By holding on a bit longer, he became a true baron as the price for land increased at an alarming rate. He married a blue blood aristocrat from Connecticut. She redid the old farmhouse and made it something of a monument to excess. They stayed in Livingston, in the original spot of the old farmhouse, fencing off an enormous chunk of real estate. They were the mansion on the hill, surrounded by hundreds of middle-class cookie-cut houses: feudal lords overlooking the serfdom. Nobody in town really knew the Bradfords. When Myron was a kid, he and his friends just referred to them as the millionaires. They were the stuff of legends. Supposedly, if you climbed their fence, armed guards shot at you. Two sixth graders gave a wide-eyed Myron this stern warning when he was seven years old. He of course believed it absolutely. Outside of the Bat Lady, who lived in a shack near the Little League field and kidnapped and then ate little boys, no one was more feared than the Bradfords.

Myron tried limiting the search on the Bradfords to 1978, the year Anita Slaughter disappeared, but there were still a ton of hits. Most, he noticed, were from March, while Anita had run off in November. A vague memory prodded him, but he couldn’t conjure up more than a glimpse. He’d been just starting high school then, but there had been something in the news about the Bradfords. A scandal of some sort. He threaded microfilm into the machine. He was a tad spastic with anything mechanical—something he blamed on his ancestry—so it took him longer than it should have. After a few screeching false starts, Myron managed to look up a couple of articles. In fairly short order he stumbled across the obituary. “Elizabeth Bradford. Age thirty. Daughter of Richard and Miriam Worth. Wife of Arthur Bradford. Mother of Stephen Bradford …”

No cause of death given. But now Myron remembered the story. It had, in fact, been rehashed a bit recently, what with the press on the gubernatorial race. Arthur Bradford was now a fifty-two-year-old widower who, if the accounts were to be believed, still pined for his dead love. He dated, sure, but the spin was that he had never gotten over the devastating heartbreak of losing his young bride; it made for a nice, too-neat contrast with his thrice-married gubernatorial opponent, Jim Davison. Myron wondered if there was any truth in the spin. Arthur Bradford was perceived as a little too mean, a little Bob Dole. Sick as it sounded, what better way to offset that image than resurrecting a dead wife?

But who knew for sure? Politics and the press: two cherished institutions that spoke with tongues so forked they could double for fine dinnerware. Arthur Bradford refused to talk about his wife, and that could reflect either genuine pain or clever media manipulation. Cynical, but there you have it.

Myron continued to review the old articles. The story had made the front page on three consecutive dates in March 1978. Arthur and Elizabeth Bradford had been college sweethearts and married six years. Everyone described them as a “loving couple,” one of those media buzz phrases that meant as much as calling a dead youth an honor student. Mrs. Bradford had fallen off a third-level balcony at the Bradford mansion. The surface below was brick, and Elizabeth Bradford had landed on her head. There was not much in the way of details. A police investigation stated unequivocally that the death had been a tragic accident. The balcony was tiled and slippery. It had been raining and dark. A wall was being replaced and thus not secure in certain spots.

Awfully clean.

The press played very fair with the Bradfords. Myron now recalled the obvious rumors that had gone around the schoolyard. What the heck was she doing out on her balcony in March? Was she drunk? Probably. How else do you fall off your own balcony? Naturally some of the guys speculated that she’d been pushed. It made for interesting high school cafeteria fodder for at least, oh, two days. But this was high school. Hormones inevitably recaptured the flag, and everybody returned to panicking about the opposite sex. Ah, the sweet bird of youth.

Myron leaned back and stared at the screen. He thought again about Arthur Bradford’s refusal to comment. Maybe it had nothing to do with genuine grief or media manipulation; maybe Bradford refused to talk because he didn’t want something brought to light after twenty years.

Hmm. Right, Myron, sure. And maybe he had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. Stick to the facts. One, Elizabeth Bradford had been dead for twenty years. Two, there was not a scintilla of evidence that her death was anything but an accident. Three—and most important to Myron—this had all happened a full nine months before Anita Slaughter ran away.

Conclusion: There was not even the flimsy hint of a connection.

At least not right then.

Myron’s throat went dry. He’d continued to read the article from the March 18, 1978, issue of the Jersey Ledger. The page one story finished up on page eight. Myron played with the knob on the microfiche machine. It screamed in protest but trudged forward.

There it was. Near the bottom right-hand corner. One line. That was all. Nothing that anybody would notice: “Mrs. Bradford’s body was first discovered on the brick back porch of the Bradford estate at 6:30 A.M. by a maid arriving for work.”

A maid arriving for work. Myron wondered what the maid’s name was.

Myron immediately called Mabel Edwards. “Do you remember Elizabeth Bradford?” he asked.

There was a brief hesitation. “Yes.”

“Did Anita find her body?”

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