When the truth became brutally evident she wondered how it had escaped her for so long.
Emma Shay Compton knew that her marriage to Richard looked like a fairy tale to many and though she had loved Richard, she had always felt something was lacking. She couldn’t put her finger on it, it was so vague. Richard was good to her, generous, though he was an extremely busy man, and soon after their wedding he became remote. Distant. She told herself mega-rich brokers don’t sit around the house coddling their young wives; they work sixteen-hour days. They’re never far from their phones. They seem to command multitudes. And if a person, even his wife, wanted to get on his calendar, she had to plan ahead. So, whenever she felt that something was wrong with her marriage, she’d blame herself.
When Richard’s lawyers began to meet with him to discuss problems with the SEC, she barely noticed. When she asked him about media reports that his company was being investigated for securities fraud, he calmly said, “Slow news day.”
Then he lectured her. “Pay attention to the financial pages—it happens every day. Several multibillion-dollar banking and investment corporations are currently being investigated. The SEC has to justify its existence somehow. I resent the time suck, but it won’t last long.”
She didn’t worry about it, though she did pay attention as he suggested. Of course he was right—there were many investigations, steep fines, reorganizations, buyouts, companies shutting down. The banking and investment world was under very close scrutiny.
Then he said they had to appear in court, he and his legal team. He wanted her by his side and asked if she could get it on her schedule and she laughed. “I’m not the one with a full schedule, Richard.”
He smiled his perfect, confident, calm smile. He touched her cheek. “You won’t have to do or say anything.”
The morning they were to appear in court he had noticed the suit she laid over the chair and said, “Perfect.” Then he went into his bathroom. Sitting at her dressing table, she was smoothing lotion on her legs. She heard the water running in his sink. And then she heard, “Son of a bitch!”
He’d cut himself shaving and swore—not unusual for him. But she met her own eyes in the mirror. Suddenly she knew. She’d been living a lie and everything said about him was true.
Her husband was a cold, calculating liar and thief. And she couldn’t pretend anymore.
It’s the little things that will break you. Emma Shay had been thinking about that a lot lately. She stood strong while everything was taken from her, while she was virtually imprisoned at a little motel near the Jersey shore, while her husband was buried, while the media spun a sordid tale of deceit and thievery that implied she’d been aware, if not complicit, in her late husband’s crimes. Stood. Strong. But, when the heel broke on her best sling-back pumps and she tumbled down the courthouse steps, she collapsed in tears. The photo was printed everywhere, even People magazine. When she was asked to please stop coming to her yoga studio, she thought she would die of shame and cried herself to sleep. No one had ever explained to her that the last straw weighed almost nothing.
Everything in her Manhattan apartment and vacation home had been auctioned off. She packed up some practical items to take with her and donated some of her casual clothing to women’s shelters. Of course anything of value—the art, crystal, china, silver and jewelry had been seized quickly, even items she could prove had nothing to do with Richard’s business, including wedding gifts from friends. They took her designer clothing. Her Vera Wang wedding gown was gone. She was allowed to keep a couple sets of good sheets, towels, one set of kitchenware, some glasses, a few place mats, napkins and so on. She had a box of photos, most from before Richard. She stuffed it all in her Prius. The Jag was gone, of course.
She had been offered a financial settlement, since they couldn’t establish that she had anything to do with Richard’s Ponzi scheme; couldn’t prove it since she was innocent. She hadn’t testified against him—not out of loyalty or because it was her legal prerogative, but rather because she had nothing to say, nothing upon which to leverage some kind of deal. She hadn’t been in court every day out of support for Richard but because it was the best way for her to learn about the crimes he was accused of. She had come into the marriage with nine thousand dollars in savings; she left as a widow, keeping nine thousand in a checking account. It would be her emergency fund. She started a trip across the country, leaving New York behind and heading for Sonoma County, where she grew up.
She’d given it all a great deal of thought. She’d been thinking about it for months before Richard’s death. She could’ve kept the entire settlement and retired to the Caribbean. Or maybe Europe. She’d been fond of Switzerland. She could change her name, color her hair, lie about her past... But eventually people would figure her out and then what? Run again?
Instead, she surrendered the settlement, gave up everything she could have kept. She didn’t want Richard’s ill-gotten gains. Even though she hadn’t swindled anyone, she couldn’t, in good conscience, touch any of it.
There were people she knew back in the Santa Rosa area, a few she’d stayed in touch with. The area was familiar to her. There wasn’t much family anymore—her stepmother, Rosemary, had moved to Palm Springs with her third husband. As far as she knew, Emma’s stepsister, Anna, and half sister, Lauren, still lived in the house they’d all grown up in. They’d all washed their hands of Emma when Richard was indicted. In fact, the last time she’d talked to her stepmother was right before Richard’s death, when all the walls were tumbling down. Emma was literally in hiding from the angry victims of Richard’s fraud—victims who believed Emma had gotten away with some of their money. Rosemary had said, “Well, your greed has certainly cost you this time.”
“Rosemary, I didn’t do anything,” Emma reminded her.
And then Rosemary said what everyone thought. “So you say.”
Well, Rosemary had always thought the worst of her. But Emma hoped the people she knew in Sonoma County wouldn’t. She’d grown up there, gone to Catholic school and public high school there. And she thought it was extremely unlikely any clients, now victims, of Richard’s New York-based investment company hailed from the little towns in Sonoma County.