Sunday, March 31, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 19




CHAPTER NINETEEN

            The ringing of my cell phone jolted me awake. Through blurred eyes, I could see the glowing red numerals on the clock read 9:36. I’d been asleep exactly two hours. The number of the incoming call was unfamiliar.
            “Trixie? It’s Candace. I just heard what happened.”
            “I just got to bed two hours ago,” I growled.
            “Oh, I’m really sorry, but I heard what happened. Where are you?”
            “In another hotel. The Lloyd House declined to extend their hospitality any further.” I rolled onto my back.
            “I’ve been trying to call Mitch.”
            “Last seen, he was heading home to bed.”
            “Well, he doesn’t answer his cell phone or his landline.”
            “Maybe he turned them off,” I said, thinking I should’ve done likewise.
            “Are you coming back to Dreamland anytime soon?”
            “Later. To get my car.”
            “Then get in touch with me. Now I’ll let you go back to sleep.”
            I clicked off without even saying goodbye and fell asleep wondering if Candace King knew anything I needed to know.
            The phone woke me again at one in the afternoon. This time it was Dr. Thomas with an update on my mother. “She’s still sleeping.”
            “So was I.”
            “When I admitted her, I ordered some blood work. You’re on her ‘need-to-know’ list, so I’ll tell you what I found.”
            “I’m on her list?”
            “Actually, you’re the only one.”
            I struggled to sit up. “I have to tell you I’m surprised.”
            “Why?”
            “Mother and I aren’t…close…never have been.”
            “Well, you’re her daughter and next-of-kin. Do you want the report?”
            “Sure, go ahead.”
            “I found a combination of substances, none of which I’d prescribed or which she could get legally.”
            “Drugs? My mother’s on drugs?”
            “Cocaine for one.”
            “I don’t believe it!”
            “I had the lab run the tests again. There’s no question.”
            “Is she addicted?”
            “I have no way of knowing. There were only traces, but I doubt it was simply recreational.”
            “Why?”
            “It usually isn’t.”
            “But she might’ve just…I mean…”
            “I’m going to confront her when she wakes up,” Dr. Thomas said. I thought he sounded tired. “She’s also on something to regulate her heart, and the two don’t mix well.”
            “She has heart problems, too?”
            “I think she’s in denial about it, but she gets the prescriptions refilled anyway. By the way, I heard about Guy Langworth, and at the risk of sounding heartless, I have to say ‘good riddance’.”
            “I didn’t kill him!”
            “I’m quite sure you didn’t. What are your plans?”
            “I’m in a hotel in…outside of Dreamland. The Lloyd House tossed me out.”
            “No doubt.”
            “I’ll be back sometime today to get my car. Then, depending on whether or not Chief Everton arrests me for anything, I’m driving up to Mountain View to visit my father.”
            “I make rounds about five-thirty.”
            “I don’t want to be there when you go head-to-head with my mother.”
            He chuckled. “I don’t want to be there either. I’ll talk to you this evening.”
            My head throbbed. My mother. Cocaine. A lover, aka Guy Langworth, now on a slab somewhere but recently lying on the floor of my hotel room in a lake of blood. My grandfather and the notorious gangster Al Capone. It was too much to take in.
            I stumbled into the bathroom and showered again, hoping to clear my head. When I got out, the message button on my cell phone was flashing. I recognized Mitch’s number. “Do you want an earful now or later?” I asked.
            “Later. I’m starving. How about you?”
            “I could eat.”
            “I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.”
*****
            Over a sumptuous Chinese buffet, I told him about the calls from Candace King and Dr. Thomas. At the mention of ‘cocaine’, his mouth dropped open.
            “Close your mouth,” I said.
            He did.
            “Was your father…”
            He nodded. “Years ago, but he told me he was clean. I guess he wasn’t.”
            “So he gave it to my mother.”
            Mitch shrugged. “Seems reasonable.”
            “And took money from her.”
            Mitch twirled some lo mein on his fork. “If I’m out of line, say so, but just how much money might we be talking about?”
            “I’m not sure. My grandfather—or great-grandfather—left an estate worth about two million. How much got passed on to my mother from hers, I couldn’t say, but she’s never seemed to have any financial problems. Have you ever seen where she lives?”
            “I drove by there once out of curiosity. Changing the subject a bit, have you called your father about all this?”
            “Not yet. I think it might be easier to tell him in person.”
            “So you’re going to Mountain View today.”
            “I guess that depends on what Dr. Thomas has to say. It’s terrible to even think, Mitch, but the last thing I want to do is play nursemaid to my mother, and I doubt she’ll want that either.”
            “No, I understand. I don’t blame you.”
            “You didn’t mention if Candace ever got hold of you this morning.”
            “I had my phones off on purpose. I wonder what she wants.”
            “Your guess is as good as mine.”
            “We’ll find out, whether we want to or not.” He pushed his empty plate aside and rose. “I’m going back for seconds.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hiatus

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland will begin again with Chapter 19 on Monday. Thanks to all who have been reading--the response has been overwhelming.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 18

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


            My mother looked as unkempt as I’d ever seen her—no makeup, her hair coming loose from its normally sleek chignon, and wearing a flowered caftan clearly not meant for public scrutiny. I heard myself uttering the words I’d been saying to her all my life. “I’m sorry.”
            “Sorry!” she screamed. “It’s too late for that! Way, way past too late.”
            Though the lobby was empty at that hour except for the desk clerk and an idle bellboy, I reached for her to stop the hysteria. She stepped back. “You killed Guy. He was going to take me out of this horrible one-horse town.”
            “I didn’t kill anybody,” I snapped, disgusted with her skewed logic. “And you have enough money to live anywhere you want to. You didn’t have to stay here after your parents died.”
            “Parents? Parents?” She waved well-manicured hands in uneven circles.
            “Mother…” I reached for her again.
            “Get away from me!”
            “You came to me,” I reminded her. “Not the other way around.” Mitch materialized at my elbow, but I waved him away. “Go home and calm down. We can talk…”
            “Too late,” she wailed. “Too late for anything! Everything’s gone. Guy promised…”
            A chilling thought formed in my mind. “Mother, you didn’t give him money, did you? Please tell me you didn’t.”
            The tears spilling down her cheeks answered my question.
            “Oh, Mother, why?”
            “Because he was a con artist,” Mitch muttered. “How much did you give him, Mrs. Collier?”
            “She goes by Lloyd,” I said and wondered why. It didn’t matter.
            My mother clawed the rest of her hair loose from its coil. “He promised me! He promised me!”
            Mitch turned to me. “Who’s her doctor? She’s beyond calming down on her own.”
            “No idea.”
            The clerk leaned across the polished surface of the desk, his face a study in embarrassment and disgust. “Dr. Klum is on call for guests here.”
            I nodded. “Then call him.”
            Mother collapsed into a wingback chair and began to sob. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, and when I tried to comfort her, she shoved me away.
            “Leave her alone,” Mitch said, taking my arm and moving me across the lobby.
            Dr. Klum must have been out and about, because he appeared a scant ten minutes later. Mitch explained the situation.
            “So she’s not a guest here?” the doctor asked.
            “No, she lives  in town.”
            “Then she must have a personal physician in town.”
            I shook my head. “I don’t know who it is.”
            “Then I suggest you take her to the ER and see if they can find out. If it were a medical emergency…”
            It took the three of us to get Mother into my car. Mitch rode with me and practically carried her into the ER. Fortunately, a nurse recognized her and said she’d call a Dr. Thomason whom she knew to be Mother’s doctor. She did, and by six o’clock, Mother had been admitted. Dr. Thomason said the sedative he’d given her would keep her sleeping for a good part of the day. I gave him my cell phone number, and Mitch and I left.
            “Tell me this is just a nightmare, and I’ll wake up soon,” I said as I slid into the front seat after Mitch offered to drive. Then I laughed. “What a cliché!”
            He shook his head. “We still have to get you another room.”
            “After Mother’s performance, I’ll be surprised if they give me one.”
            And they didn’t. The manager came out of his office and backed up the desk clerk. “It’s nothing personal, Mrs. Blake, but…”
            “Actually, I understand,” I said. “I don’t like it much, but I understand.”
            “She’ll need to pack her things,” Mitch said.
            “I’ll have to call Chief Everton. That floor is off-limits to everyone.”
            “Tell him I’ll leave town if he lets me have my clothes.”
            “Where will you go?” Mitch asked.
            “My father lives in Mountain View, and I promised to visit him this weekend anyway.”
            The manager disappeared into his office to make his call.
            You can’t drive up there without some sleep,” Mitch said.
            The manager came back. “Chief Everton says he’ll telephone the officer he left upstairs and tell him to let you pack your things.”
*****
Though Guy Langworth’s body had been removed, the blood remained. I gagged again and again as I moved around the room gathering my clothes and other belongings. The officer in charge, who watched every move I made, refused to let Mitch even come into the sitting room.
Finally I finished and left, sure the gore of the room had transferred itself to me. Mitch loaded my luggage into his car and drove me to a hotel a few miles up the interstate. “We’ll come back for your car after you’ve had some sleep,” he said.
“What about you?”
            “I’m going home to bed. I’m guessing the ME won’t release Dad’s body for a few days, but I’ll take care of some arrangements  when I drive you back to Dreamland.”
            “You’re going to bury him there?”
            “It’s as close to any permanent home as he ever had.”
            “I’m so sorry, Mitch. You’ve been through all this so recently with your wife.”
            “It was different with Macy,” he said. “With my father…well, it’s just not the same.”
            “I understand that, but it won’t be easy.” He drove silently for a few minutes. “Do you have any ideas about who murdered him?”
            “Do you?”
            “I can think of half a dozen people who won’t be glad he’s gone, but did any one of them have the motive for murder? I don’t know.”
            “You don’t think Candace had anything to do with it?”
            “No, but Lindy, her daughter, despised him.”
            “Why?”
            “Use your imagination.”
            “While he was still married to her mother?”
            “Yep.”
            “That’s despicable.”
            “Yep.”
            “He was murdered in my hotel room for a reason.”
            “Somebody was killing two birds with one stone as it were. Get rid of my father permanently and you less so. Maybe just scare you enough to sell that building after all.”
            “Parker Aiken?”
            “He doesn’t have the guts to do something like that himself, but he has friends.”
            “Like the friends who were nasty to Danny Jefferson.”
            “Probably.”
            “Do you really think your father conned my mother out of a lot of money?”
            “As much as he could get.”
            “I almost felt sorry for her tonight.”
            “It doesn’t cost you anything to have some compassion, does it?”
            “I don’t know. Maybe not.”
            “She’s the loser, not you.”
            Mitch went into the hotel with me, waited until I checked in, and went upstairs as far as my door. “Call me when you wake up,” he said.
            “Thank you for everything.”
            He winked. “You can buy me breakfast.”
            I showered and fell into bed, sure that I wouldn’t wake up until dinnertime.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 17



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
            We arranged to meet at the Quimby Building on Saturday morning, after which I’d drive up to Mountain View to visit my father. Though I’d enjoyed the pizza—and mostly, I’d enjoyed Mitch’s company—I didn’t feel happy about life in general as I drove back to Dreamland. I wondered if Rudy would be at the Twilight and if he’d mind if I came over while I settled down.
            I parked in front of the Lloyd House and took the elevator to the top floor. There were only two rooms, both of them suites, and as soon as I stepped out into the corridor, I saw my door standing open. “Not again,” I said aloud, grabbing the elevator door before it slid shut.
            This time I didn’t wait downstairs for the police. Feeling sure whoever had broken in had come and gone, I went back upstairs and walked into the sitting room. It appeared undisturbed as well as empty, so I went to the bedroom and opened the door.
            I didn’t remember anything else until one of the rookies jerked me roughly to my feet. Behind him, Chief Everton scowled at me. “What the hell is going on here?”
            I staggered to the sofa and fell onto it. “I came back from dinner and found…that.” The pizza churned in my stomach and threatened not to  stay there.
            Chief Everton strode to the door of my bedroom and looked in, then came back to stand over me. “So what happened?”
            “I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t here.”
            “Where were you?”
            “Having dinner with…with a friend in Benton. I left here about five-thirty.”
            “Name of the friend.”
            I sighed. “Mitch Langworth.”
            “Son of the deceased. That’s convenient for both of you, isn’t it?”
            I struggled with the nausea. “You don’t think…”
            “There were witnesses to the argument you and Guy Langworth had in the lobby the other day.”
            “It wasn’t an argument.”
            “What was it then?”
            “He…it was about the building, and I didn’t like the way he tried to grab my arm.”
            The chief pulled out his cell phone and walked away. I heard the words homicide, coroner, and son. Turning to look at me, he muttered something else I didn’t understand and hung up. “Okay, Trixie,” he said, “we’re going downtown.”
            “You’re arresting me?”
            “Not yet.”
            “If you think I killed Guy Langworth, it’s way past time for you to retire!”
            His face turned a nasty reddish-purple. “You’ve done nothing but cause trouble since you got to town.”
            “I haven’t done squat. All I did was check out my building and tried to make a decision on the best thing to do.”
            “You knew the best thing, and you didn’t do it.”
            “And you know all this how?”
            He fiddled with the handcuffs on the back of his belt but didn’t remove them. “I’m the police chief of Dreamland. Come on.”
            I didn’t stand up. “I want to call my attorney.”
            “You can do that from the station. Get up.”
            It seemed the prudent option to do what he said. At the station, I repeated the request to telephone my attorney. He shook his head. “Plenty of time for that.” Opening a door, he motioned me inside a room furnished only with a table and two chairs.
            “I have a right to have an attorney present,” I said. “That’s the law.” I hoped he wouldn’t ask if I had a cell phone and confiscate it.
            “Sit down.” He closed the door. At the same time I heard it lock, my cell phone rang.  I dived to muffle it against my leg. “Trixie? What’s going on?” Mitch’s voice had never sounded so good.
            “I’m at the police station. Chief Everton locked me in an interrogation room and left..”
            “He just called to tell me my father is dead.”
            “I found him in the bedroom of my hotel suite when I got home tonight.”
            “He said it was a homicide.”
            “I guess so. I don’t know how he was killed, but there was a lot of blood.” I had to put my head down to quell the worsening nausea.”
            “I’m leaving the house as we speak. Just sit tight, and don’t say anything.”
            “I didn’t kill him, Mitch.”
            “I know that, and so, I expect, does Chief  Everton. He’s got another agenda. Just keep quiet, and I’ll be there in forty-five minutes. I can act as your attorney of record. You can call your own lawyer, but he couldn’t get here before tomorrow.”
            “But it’s your father…”
            “Technically, I guess it’s a conflict of interest, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
            I decided not to call Ben Cullen, at least until and if I was charged with something.  Besides, I had an alibi. At least I hoped I did. I slipped the phone back into my purse and looked around. I’d seen rooms like this on television police dramas, but it never crossed my mind I’d ever be in one. The hands on the clock hanging behind me moved at the speed of an arthritic snail. The air-conditioning kicked up and blew a puff of stale, tepid air between my feet. I put my head down on the table again and waited.
*****
             I must have drifted off, but I came alert when I heard the door open. One of the rookies walked in holding a canned drink. “Thought you might like this,” he said.
            “Thanks.” I held out my hand, but he set the can on the table and slid it toward me. Glancing at the clock, I realized that over an hour had passed. Where was Mitch? “Is anyone out there for me?” I asked.
            He dropped his eyes. “Yeah, but…”
            “Mitch Langworth?”
            He nodded.
            “Well, where is he?”
            “Chief’s talking to him.”
            “He’s in custody like I am?”
            The young officer shrugged and walked out, locking the door behind him.
            I didn’t see Mitch until we both walked out of the station at four o’clock in the morning, after Chief Everton had asked me fifteen minutes’ worth of useless questions for which I had no answers. “So where are we?” I asked.
            He shook his head. “Beats me. Your police chief…”
            “He’s changed.”
            “Everton wouldn’t give me a time of death, but it had to be after you left, and I used my credit card at the pizza place, so there’s a record of the time it was swiped.”
            “He was nasty to me, in my room and when he questioned me.”
            “Any idea why?”
            “It all revolves around the building.”
            “Uh-huh, figures.”
            “I need a shower, and I’m starving.”
            “Your suite at the hotel will still be a crime scene,  but maybe you can get your things and go to another room. They say the third time’s the charm.”
            “Maybe. Mitch, I’m sorry about your father.”
            He blew out his breath. “Well, so am I in a way. We weren’t close, and frankly, I didn’t like him.”
            “But he was your father.”
            “I can’t deny that.”
            At the Lloyd House, he followed me inside, saying he’d run interference for me with the desk clerk. We were half-way across the lobby when my mother rose from a wingback chair and rushed toward me, her long red nails poised like claws for the attack. “You’ve ruined my life,” she shrieked. “Why can’t you just go away and stay?”