NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
They were the family with everything. Money. Influence. Glamour. Power. The power to halt a police investigation in its tracks. The power to spin a story, concoct a lie, and believe it was the truth. The power to murder without guilt, without shame, and without ever paying the price. They were the Bradleys, America''s royalty. But an outsider refuses to play his part. And now, the day of reckoning has arrived.
Praise for A Season in Purgatory
—New York Daily News
—The New York Times
“Potent characterization and deftly crafted plotting.”
They were the family with everything. Money. Influence. Glamour. Power. The power to halt a police investigation in its tracks. The power to spin a story, concoct a lie, and believe it was the truth. The power to murder without guilt, without shame, and without ever paying the price. America''s royalty, they called the Bradleys. But an outsider refuses to play his part. And now, the day of reckoning has arrived. . . .
Dominick Dunne was the author of five bestselling novels, two collections of essays, and
The Way We Lived Then, a memoir with photographs. He had been a special correspondent for
Vanity Fair for twenty-five years, and the host of the television series
Dominick Dunne''s Power, Privilege, and Justice. He passed away in 2009 after completing
Too Much Money.
The jury is in its third day of deliberation. Early in the day, the jury foreman requested that Judge Edda Consalvi have the testimony of Bridey Gafferty, the Bradleys’ cook, read back to them, and in the afternoon the foreman asked to see the weapon—half of a baseball bat—and the autopsy pictures of Winifred Utley’s bludgeoned body, the pictures that had caused so much distress to Winifred’s mother, Luanne Utley, when they were presented as exhibits by the prosecutor during the trial. After both requests by the jury, there was much comment in the press corps as to the interpretation and, as always in this case, considerable diversity of opinion. The air is charged with tension. Judge Consalvi has proved herself a martinet. Yesterday she ordered the bailiff to oust from her courtroom the reporter from Newsweek after he grinned broadly and snickered when the court reporter reread Billy Wadsworth’s statement that the defendant, Constant Bradley, after cutting in on him at the country club dance, said to Winifred Utley, “Do you mind dancing with a man with an erection?”
They, the Bradleys, have a special room where they all sit together during recesses and breaks, so as not to be on view to the media or the merely curious, but occasionally one of them emerges to use the telephone or the bathroom facilities. Today I saw Kitt in the corridor of the courthouse. We passed so closely that the skirt of her blue-and-white silk dress brushed my trouser leg, but she walked past me, eyes straight ahead, without speaking. It was not so much that she cut me. She simply did not, by choice, see me. I have become nonexistent to her. By now I am used to that, both from Kitt, who once meant so much to me, and from the whole Bradley family. I won’t even mention what happened yesterday in the men’s room, when I encountered Constant at the adjoining urinal. Oh, hell, perhaps I will mention it. What difference does it make? Constant was standing there next to me when, suddenly, without speaking a word, he turned and aimed the strong steady stream of his urine in my direction, soaking my blazer and trousers. Once before, in my youth, I had seen him do such a thing, to a boy no one liked called Fruity Suarez, when we were in school at Milford. His face then was filled with impish levity, a spoiled boy playing a mischievous prank. Yesterday, there was no trace of mischievousness in his look. Only hate. But it was Kitt’s disdain, not Constant’s piss, that was the more wounding.
Of course I know that, in telling the story that I am about to tell, I run the risk of losing everything that I have achieved and acquired in my life, including my reputation. I know also that I will be earning the eternal enmity of the family, and I have witnessed over the years, sometimes at very close range, the meaning of their eternal enmity, when it was the lot of others to experience it. They, the family—who are referred to, among themselves and even sometimes in the press, as the Family—are not my own family, but the family that I was accepted into twenty years ago.
I first came as a school chum of Constant’s, a month-long visitor at the Bradley estate. We were then at Milford, a school in Connecticut for privileged boys from rich Catholic families, which had been founded seventy-five years before by a Catholic millionaire, whose wealth came from copper mines, and whose son had been turned down for admission to Groton, because, the millionaire felt, he was an Irish Catholic. Constant’s four older brothers had preceded him at Milford, all having excelled there, and all were still affectionately remembered by the headmaster and faculty.
We were not taught by priests but by lay teachers, who were called masters. Priests would have made it a religious school, which it was not, although there was chapel every day, with prayers, and Mass twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, at seven in the morning. We went unquestioningly through the motions of Mass, Communion, morning and evening prayers, First Fridays, and Lent without a thought about the existence of God.
After Constant’s early disgrace and expulsion, which coincided with the somewhat sensational death of my parents, I, bookish by nature, was thought by his family to be a good influence on Constant. In time, I was pleasantly but remotely tolerated by his famous father, Gerald Bradley, who had little time for anyone not of his own flesh and blood or connected importantly to the worlds of politics, high finance, or, occasionally, I was to learn, the criminal element.
On the day of Constant’s expulsion, he leaned out the dormitory window looking for the family chauffeur, Charlie, who was being sent to take him home.
“Oh, my God,” he said, pulling himself back into the room when he saw the long black Cadillac drive slowly down the hill from the entrance to Hayes Hall, where our rooms were.
“What?” I asked.
“My father’s come, too,” he answered. For a moment his calm left him. From the dormitory window we watched Charlie open the door for Mr. Bradley to get out of the car. He was dressed in a chesterfield coat with a velvet collar and a gray homburg. Even from afar, it was easy to see that he was a man to be reckoned with. His face had the peculiar characteristic of being composed of features that were at odds with one another, mismatched pieces, out of scale, each more properly belonging to someone else. His nose was too large. His lips were too tight. His eyes were too dark, both in hue and intensity. Yet, in time I would learn that women, for whatever reason, found him attractive, although his fortune may have accounted for some of his attractiveness. His manner was aggressive; he lacked gentleness. Even in moments of affection with his daughters, whom he adored, there was a roughness about him. It was said that he inspired fear in those who worked for him. I never doubted that. I believe his sons feared him, too, although they also loved him and would have done, did do, anything he asked of them, right up to the time that his malady affected his requests.
He made his way to the headmaster’s office. When he emerged forty minutes later, we were summoned to the car. Charlie, nodding a hello, loaded Constant’s bags and my small suitcase into the trunk. We were aware that boys were watching the awkward family scene from all the windows of Hayes Hall.
I might as well not have been there, for all the attention Gerald Bradley paid me. The chauffeur drove. Gerald and Constant sat far apart on the backseat, each in a corner. I sat on a jump seat. We drove in silence most of the way. Finally, nearly two hours later, as we arrived at the long drive that led up to the Bradley house, Gerald spoke. “You’re not like your brothers,” he said. “You’ll always get caught.” Unmistakably, there was contempt in his voice. I turned slightly. Constant looked at his father, beseechingly. I assumed this look was to implore his father not to proceed with his contempt in front of me, but it wasn’t. He wanted only to please him.
“What could I have done?” he asked.
“You could have lied, you damn fool. You could—should—have lied, said those pictures weren’t yours.”
“In time, I became a great favorite of Constant’s mother, Grace, which was a lesser honor in that household, as she was sometimes a figure of fun to her own children, particularly her sons, because of her religious fervor, which was excessive, and her obsession with fashion, which was equally excessive. She was consumed with what she always referred to as “the latest style,” although often she was overwhelmed by the splendid clothes she wore, so that the impression left was of the color or cut of her garment rather than of her. There was a chapel in the house where a private Mass was said for Grace Bradley every afternoon. Her greatest friend was Cardinal Sullivan, who often came to tea and talked of family and religious matters with her. “Cardinal is coming to tea,” she would say excitedly on the day of his visit. She never said “the cardinal,” when speaking of Cardinal Sullivan. She said only “Cardinal,” as if Cardinal were his first name. She enjoyed kissing the cardinal’s ring, which she accompanied with a deep curtsy, like that of a lady-in-waiting to a monarch. For an instant there would be a look of ecstasy on her face, as if the contact between her lips and the emerald of the cardinal’s ring—an emerald believed to have once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu, which Grace had bought at auction in Paris, and given to Cardinal Sullivan on his elevation—brought her closer to a communion with God.