The stockholders' meeting, or maybe the stockholders'
uprising is a better way to describe the event, took place
on April 21 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan. It was an
unseasonably cold and wintry day, but suitably bleak considering
the circumstances. The headline two weeks earlier that Nicholas
Spencer, president and chief operating officer of Gen-stone had
been killed in the crash of his private plane while flying to San
Juan had been greeted with genuine and heartfelt grief. His company
expected to receive the blessing of the Food and Drug
Administration for a vaccine that would both eliminate the
possibility of the growth of cancer cells and bring to a halt the
progression of the disease in those already afflicted -- a
preventive and a cure that he alone was responsible for bringing to
the world. He named the company "Gen-stone," a reference to the
Rosetta stone that had unveiled the language of ancient Egypt and
allowed the appreciation of its remarkable culture.
The headline proclaiming Spencer's disappearance was followed in
short order by the announcement from the chairman of the board of
Gen-stone that there had been numerous setbacks in the experiments
with the vaccine and that it could not be submitted to the FDA for
approval in the foreseeable future. The announcement further said
that tens of millions of dollars had been looted from the company,
apparently by Nicholas Spencer.
I'm Marcia DeCarlo, better known as Carley, and even as I sat in
the roped-off media section at the stockholders' meeting, observing
the furious or stunned or tearful faces around me, I still had a
sense of disbelief in what I was hearing. Apparently Nicholas
Spencer, Nick, was a thief and a fraud. The miracle vaccine
was nothing more than the offspring of his greedy imagination and
consummate salesmanship. He had cheated all these people who had
invested so much money in his company, often their life savings or
total assets. Of course they hoped to make money, but many believed
as well that their investment would help make the vaccine a
reality. And not only had investors been hurt, but the theft had
made worthless the retirement funds of Gen-stone's employees, over
a thousand people. It simply didn't seem possible.
Since Nicholas Spencer's body had not washed ashore along with
charred pieces of his doomed plane, half the people in the
auditorium didn't believe he was dead. The other half would
willingly have driven a stake through his heart if his remains had
Charles Wallingford, the chairman of the board of Gen-stone,
ashen-faced but with the natural elegance that is achieved by
generations of breeding and privilege, struggled to bring the
meeting to order. Other members of the board, their expressions
somber, sat on the dais with him. To a man they were prominent
figures in business and society. In the second row were people I
recognized as executives from Gen-stone's accounting firm. Some of
them had been interviewed from time to time in Weekly
Browser, the syndicated Sunday supplement for which I write a
Sitting to the right of Wallingford, her face alabaster pale, her
blond hair twisted into a French knot, and dressed in a black suit
that I'm sure cost a fortune, was Lynn Hamilton Spencer. She is
Nick's wife -- or widow -- and, coincidentally my stepsister whom
I've met exactly three times and whom I confess I dislike. Let me
explain. Two years ago my widowed mother married Lynn's widowed
father, having met him in Boca Raton where they lived in
At the dinner the evening before the wedding, I was as annoyed by
Lynn Spencer's condescending attitude as I was charmed by Nicholas
Spencer. I knew who he was, of course. The stories about him in
Time and Newsweek had been detailed. He was the son
of a Connecticut family doctor, a general practitioner whose
avocation was research biology. His father had a laboratory in his
home, and from the time that Nick was a child, he spent most of his
free time there, helping his dad with experiments. "Other kids had
dogs," he had explained to interviewers. "I had pet mice. I didn't
know it, but I was being tutored in microbiology by a genius." He
had gone the business route, getting an MBA in business management
with the plan of owning a medical supply operation someday. He
started work at a small supply business and quickly rose to the top
and became a partner. Then, as microbiology became the wave of the
future, he began to realize that was the field he wanted to pursue.
He began to reconstruct his father's notes and discovered that
shortly before his sudden death his father had been on the verge of
making a major breakthrough in cancer research. Using his medical
supply company as a base, he set out to create a major research
Venture capital had helped him launch Gen-stone, and word of the
cancer-inhibiting vaccine had made the company the hottest stock on
Wall Street. Initially offered at $3 a share, the stock had risen
as high as $160, and conditional on FDA approval, Garner
Pharmaceutical contracted to pay $1 billion for the rights to
distribute the new vaccine.
I knew that Nick Spencer's wife had died of cancer five years ago,
that he had a ten-year-old son, and that he'd been married to Lynn,
his second wife, for four years. But all the time I spent boning up
on his background didn't help when I met him at that "family"
dinner. I simply was not prepared for the absolutely magnetic
quality of Nick Spencer's personality. He was one of those people
who are gifted with both inherent personal charm and a genuinely
brilliant mind. A little over six feet tall, with dark blond hair,
intensely blue eyes, and a trim athletic body, he was physically
very attractive. It was his ability to interact with people,
however, that came through as his greatest asset. As my mother
attempted to keep the conversational ball going with Lynn, I found
myself telling Nick more about myself than I had ever revealed to
anyone at a first meeting.
Within five minutes he knew my age, where I lived, my job, and
where I grew up.
"Thirty-two," he said, smiling. "Eight years younger than I
Then I not only told him that I had been divorced after a brief
marriage to a fellow MBA student at NYU, but even talked about the
baby who lived only a few days because the hole in his heart was
too big to close. This was so not like me. I never talk about the
baby. It hurts too much. And yet it was easy to tell Nicholas
Spencer about him.
"That's the sort of tragedy our research will prevent someday," he
had said gently. "That's why I'll move heaven and earth to save
people from the kind of heartbreak you've experienced,
My thoughts were quickly brought back to the present reality as
Charles Wallingford hammered the gavel until there was silence --
an angry, sullen silence. "I am Charles Wallingford, the chairman
of the board of Gen-stone," he said.
He was greeted with a deafening chorus of boos and catcalls.
I knew Wallingford was forty-eight or forty-nine years old, and I
had seen him on the news the day after Spencer's plane crashed. He
looked much older than that now. The strain of the last few weeks
had added years to his appearance. No one could doubt that the man
"I worked with Nicholas Spencer for the past eight years," he said.
"I had just sold our family retail business, of which I was
chairman, and I was looking for a chance to invest in a promising
company. I met Nick Spencer, and he convinced me that the company
he had just started would make startling breakthroughs in the
development of new drugs. At his urging I invested almost all the
proceeds from the sale of our family business and joined Gen-stone.
So I am as devastated as you are by the fact that the vaccine is
not ready to be submitted to the FDA for approval, but that does
not mean if more funds become available, further research will not
solve the problem -- "
Dozens of shouted questions interrupted him: "What about the money
he stole?" "Why not admit that you and that whole bunch up there
Abruptly Lynn stood up and in a surprise gesture pulled the
microphone from in front of Wallingford. "My husband died on his
way to a business meeting to get more funding to keep the research
alive. I am sure that the missing money can be explained -- "
One man came running up the aisle waving pages that looked as
though they had been torn from magazines and newspapers. "The
Spencers on their estate in Bedford," he shouted. "The Spencers
hosting a charity ball. Nicholas Spencer smiling as he writes a
check for 'New York's Neediest.'"
Security guards grabbed the man's arms as he reached the dais.
"Where did you think that money was coming from, lady? I'll tell
you where. It came from our pockets! I put a second mortgage
on my house to invest in your lousy company. You wanna know why?
Because my kid has cancer, and I believed your husband's promise
about his vaccine."
The media section was in the first few rows. I was in an end seat
and could have reached out and touched the man. He was a
burly-looking guy of about thirty, dressed in a sweater and jeans.
I watched as his face suddenly crumpled and he began to cry. "I
won't even be able to keep my little girl in our house," he said.
"I'll have to sell it now."
I looked up at Lynn and our eyes met. I knew it was impossible for
her to see the contempt in my eyes, but all I could think was that
the diamond on her finger was probably worth enough to pay off the
second mortgage that was going to cost a dying child her
The meeting didn't last more than forty minutes, and most of it
consisted of a series of agonized recitals from people who had lost
everything by investing in Gen-stone. Many of them said they had
been persuaded to buy the stock because a child or other family
member had a disease that the vaccine might reverse.
As people streamed out, I took names, addresses, and phone numbers.
Thanks to my column, a lot of them knew my name and were eager to
talk to me about their financial loss as well. They asked whether
or not I thought there was any chance of recouping some or all of
Lynn had left the meeting by a side door. I was glad. I had written
her a note after Nick's plane crashed, letting her know I would
attend a memorial service. There hadn't been one yet; they were
waiting to see if his body would be recovered. Now, like almost
everyone else, I wondered if Nick had actually been in the plane
when it crashed or if he had rigged his disappearance.
I felt a hand on my arm. It was Sam Michaelson, a veteran reporter
for Wall Street Weekly magazine. "Buy you a drink, Carley,"
"Good God, I can use one."
We went down to the bar on the lobby floor and were directed to a
table. It was four-thirty.
"I have a firm rule not to have vodka straight up before five
o'clock," Sam told me, "but, as you're aware, somewhere in the
world it is five o'clock."
I ordered a glass of Chianti. Usually by late April I'd have
switched to chardonnay, my warm weather choice of vino, but feeling
as emotionally chilled as I did after that meeting, I wanted
something that would warm me up.
Sam gave the order, then abruptly asked, "So what do you think,
Carley? Is that crook sunning himself in Brazil as we speak?"
I gave the only honest answer I could offer: "I don't know."
"I met Spencer once," Sam said. "I swear if he'd offered to sell me
the Brooklyn Bridge, I'd have fallen for it. What a snake oil
salesman. Did you ever meet him in the flesh?"
I pondered Sam's question for a moment, trying to decide what to
say. The fact that Lynn Hamilton Spencer was my stepsister, making
Nick Spencer my stepbrother-in-law, was something I never talked
about. However, that fact did keep me from ever commenting publicly
or privately on Gen-stone as an investment because I felt that
might be considered a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, it did
not keep me from buying $25,000 worth of Gen-stone stock because,
as Nicholas Spencer had put it that evening at dinner, after this
vaccine eliminated the possibility of cancer, there would someday
be another to eliminate all genetic abnormalities.
My baby had been baptized the day he was born. I'd called him
Patrick, giving him my maternal grandfather's name. I bought that
stock as kind of a tribute to my son's memory. That night two years
ago Nick had said that the more money they could raise, the faster
they would have the tests on the vaccine completed and be able to
make it available. "And, of course, eventually your twenty-five
thousand dollars will be worth a great deal more," he had
That money had represented my savings toward a down payment on an
I looked at Sam and smiled, still debating my answer. Sam's hair is
a kind of grizzled gray. His one vanity is to comb long strands of
it over his balding dome. I've noticed that these strands often are
somewhat askew, as they were now, and as an old pal I've had to
resist saying, "Surrender. You've lost the hair battle."
Sam is pushing seventy, but his baby blue eyes are bright and
alert. There's nothing babyish behind that pucklike face, however.
He's smart and shrewd. I realized it wouldn't be fair not to tell
him of my somewhat tenuous connection to the Spencers, but I would
make it clear that I'd actually met Nick only once and Lynn three
I watched his eyebrows raise as I filled him in on the
"She comes through as a pretty cool customer to me," he said. "What
"I would have bought the Brooklyn Bridge from him, too. I thought
he was a terrific guy."
"What do you think now?"
"You mean, whether he's dead or somehow arranged the crash? I don't
"What about the wife, your stepsister?"
I know I winced. "Sam, my mother is genuinely happy with Lynn's
father, or else she's putting on one hell of a performance. God
help us, the two of them are even taking piano lessons together.
You should have heard the concert I got treated to when I went down
to Boca for a weekend last month. I admit I didn't like Lynn when I
met her. I think she kisses the mirror every morning. But then, I
only saw her the night before the wedding, at the wedding, and one
other time when I arrived in Boca last year just as she was
leaving. So do me a favor and don't refer to her as my
The waitress came with our drinks. Sam sipped appreciatively and
then cleared his throat. "Carley, I just heard that you applied for
the job that's opening up at the magazine."
"I want to write for a serious financial magazine, not just have a
column that is essentially a financial filler in a general interest
Sunday supplement. Reporting for Wall Street Weekly is my
goal. How do you know I applied?"
"The big boss, Will Kirby, asked about you."
"What did you tell him?"
"I said you had brains and you'd be a big step up from the guy
Half an hour later Sam dropped me off in front of my place. I live
in the second-floor apartment of a converted brownstone on East
37th Street in Manhattan. I ignored the elevator, which deserves to
be ignored, and walked up the single flight. It was a relief to
unlock my door and go inside. I was down in the dumps for very good
reasons. The financial situation of those investors had gotten to
me, but it was more than that. Many of them had made the investment
for the same reason I had, because they wanted to stop the progress
of an illness in someone they loved. It was too late for me, but I
know that buying that stock as a tribute to Patrick was also my way
of trying to cure the hole in my heart that was even bigger than
the one that had killed my little son.
My apartment is furnished with chattels my parents had in the house
in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where I was raised. Because I'm an only
child, I had my choice of everything when they moved to Boca Raton.
I reupholstered the couch in a sturdy blue fabric to pick up the
blue in the antique Persian I'd found at a garage sale. The tables
and lamps and easy chair were around when I was the smallest but
fastest kid on the varsity basketball team at Immaculate Heart
I keep a picture of the team on the wall in the bedroom, and in it
I hold the basketball. I look at the picture and see that in many
ways I haven't changed. The short dark hair and the blue eyes I
inherited from my father are still the same. I never did have that
spurt of growth my mother assured me I'd experience. I was just
over five feet four inches then, and I'm five feet four inches now.
Alas, the victorious smile isn't around anymore, not the way it was
in that picture, when I thought the world was my oyster. Writing
the column may have something to do with that. I'm always in touch
with real people with real financial problems.
But I knew there was another reason for feeling drained and down
Nick. Nicholas Spencer. No matter how overwhelming the apparent
evidence, I simply could not accept what they were saying about
Was there another answer for the failure of the vaccine, the
disappearance of the money, the plane crash? Or was it something in
me that let me be conned by smooth-talking phonies who don't give a
damn about anyone but themselves? Like I was by Greg, the Mr. Wrong
I married nearly eleven years ago.
When Patrick died after living only four days, Greg didn't have to
tell me that he was relieved. I could see it. It meant that he
wouldn't be saddled with a child who needed constant care.
We didn't really talk about it. There wasn't much to say. He told
me that the job he was offered in California was too good to pass
I said, "Don't let me keep you."
And that was that.
All these thoughts did nothing but depress me further, so I went to
bed early, determined to clear my head and make a fresh start the
I was awakened at seven in the morning by a phone call from Sam.
"Carley, turn on the television. There's a news bulletin. Lynn
Spencer went up to her house in Bedford last night. Somebody
torched it. The fire department managed to get her out, but she
inhaled a lot of smoke. She's in St. Ann's Hospital in serious
As Sam hung up, I grabbed the remote from the bedside table. The
phone rang just as I clicked the TV on. It was the office of St.
Ann's Hospital. "Ms. DeCarlo, your stepsister, Lynn Spencer, is a
patient here. She very much wants to see you. Will you be able to
visit her today?" The woman's voice became urgent. "She's terribly
upset and in quite a bit of pain. It's very important to her that
Excerpted from THE SECOND TIME AROUND © Copyright 2003 by
Mary Higgins Clark. Reprinted with permission by Simon &
Schuster. All rights reserved.