I didn’t hear from Delores or Rudy, but I made a few calls of my own. Mr. White told me what I already knew—that the second appraisal would be lower. “That’s not necessarily unusual,” he said. “Did Parker Aiken hint at the buyer’s offer?”
“We really didn’t get that far. I think I threw him when I said I already had a dollar value.”
“You probably did. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting a business-savvy woman.”
“He’ll probably get back with me pretty quickly. I have a feeling he wants to move on this ASAP.”
“He does. I happen to know—don’t ask me how—he’s closing tomorrow on a building two doors down from the Lloyd House.”
I formed a picture of the street in my mind. “The old bakery?”
“Yes. It’s been empty for years.”
“This all happened pretty quickly, didn’t it? Everybody moving out of downtown, I mean.”
Mr. White hesitated. “It all started about the time the city found multiple code violations in the courthouse. The mall was built the next year, and a general exodus took place.”
“Are you saying the courthouse is really all right?”
“I’m saying there are those of us who wonder. It’s an old building all right, but Galen Ellard had an office there, and he kept an eye on things. Parker Aiken was on the city council when the inspectors were called in because of some complaints.”
“That’s just it—nobody really knows. If you do decide to sell, Beatrice, let me represent you. No charge—just a favor for your grandfather.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. White. I’m going to call my attorney in Dallas, and I’ll probably have him get in touch with you just so you can fill him in on the legal facts about the building.”
“It wouldn’t hurt. Have him call me whenever you like.”
After I hung up, I did call Ben Cullen. He and his wife Kim, though fifteen years older than Ned and me, had become our best friends when we were stationed in Texas before Ned’s first deployment. His secretary told me he was in court but she’d have him call me.
“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll email him everything, and then he can call me if he has questions.
I unpacked my laptop and took it downstairs to the business center where I could connect to the internet. Wifii hadn’t made it to the rooms yet. I’d just finished the lengthy communication when my cell phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it, thinking it might be my mother again, but my father’s name came up on the caller ID.
“What’s going on, Trixie?” he asked. Trust Daddy to get right to the point, but it was one of his endearing qualities. I always knew where I stood with him.
“You’ve heard from Mother, I suppose.”
“I suppose.” He chuckled. “Come on, Trix, lighten up on your mother.”
“As soon as she lightens up on me.”
“She seems very anxious for you to sell the building your grandfather left you.”
“Yeah, she and her boyfriend.”
“You know about him?”
“I still have friends in Dreamland.”
“And what do they say about him?”
“He beat out Galen Ellard for mayor in the last election.”
“That’s why they don’t like him.”
“I don’t like him either.” I glanced around, but no one was within earshot of my conversation.
“You’ve been in touch with Lawrence White, I guess.”
“That’s good. He won’t steer you wrong. I hope you’re coming to Mountain View while you’re in Arkansas. Corey and Cassie would like to see you, and so would their mother and I.”
“I’ll make sure to get there before I go back to Dallas.”
“Good. We’ll leave the latchstring out.”
“Thanks, Daddy. I’ll be in touch.”
I clicked off thinking about my half-brother and sister. They were more like a niece and nephew because of the age gap, but we had a good relationship. I had a good relationship with their mother, too. Susan had told me straight out she didn’t want to be my stepmother but rather my friend, and that suited me. She was only six years older than I was when she married Daddy—twenty-five to my nineteen—so we spoke the same language and got along well from the beginning. Ned had liked her, too.
I packed up my laptop and went back upstairs thinking of Ned. We’d have had a baby by now. In fact, I’d hoped I was pregnant when he died, but it turned out to be a false alarm. I buried my hopes with him and went on, but even now, when I thought of the stupid training accident and how a few seconds had finished Ned’s life and changed mine forever, I got mad.
For a few minutes I toyed with the idea of calling Delores, but she was still at work, and she’d been honest with me that contact between the two of us could jeopardize her job. At loose ends, I went back downstairs to my car and drove out to the new mall.
Rudy had been right when he said it was nothing like we had in Dallas, but it’s single level held a nice variety of businesses, including the two big department stores—Sears and J.C. Penney—which had flourished downtown for years and seemed to be doing well now. I browsed the shops in between and finally found my way to the food court where I had a choice of Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and plain old American. I ordered fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and won-ton soup, and settled in at a table where I could see people come and go.
I’d almost finished eating when I saw Guy Langworth and a younger man walk by. They stood for a moment at one of the kiosks, obviously disagreeing about something, and finally Guy stalked off. The younger man watched him go, then turned and entered the food court, passing close enough to my table that I caught the scent of his aftershave.
“Hey,” I said without thinking.
He stopped. “I beg your pardon?”
I shook my head. “Sorry. I just noticed you with Mr. Langworth and wondered…”
His face turned red. “And that’s your business because?”
“It’s none of my business at all,” I said. “The two of you were having an argument from what I could tell, and I just thought he’d had a bad day. I threw a verbal punch at him this morning.”
The man’s face relaxed a little. “You. You’re the one who set him off.”
I smiled sweetly. “I guess I did. You know who I am, but I don’t know you.”
He closed his eyes briefly, then glanced at the empty chair. “May I sit down?”
“Please do. The fried rice is good.”
“I just lost my appetite. A dust-up with him does it every time. My name is Mitch Langworth. I’m his son.”
“Should I offer sympathy or congratulations?”
“Neither one, I guess. I’ve put up with him for thirty-four years, so I should be used to it.”
“I’m Trixie Collier Blake, but I guess you know that.”
“You have my sympathy.”
I laughed. “Thanks.”
He looked around. “I may have gotten my appetite back. Hang on while I go grab a taco.”
“I’m in no hurry.”
I watched him standing in line at the Mexican food booth and observed that he was easy on the eyes: tall, well-built, blonde, and fashionably dressed. Ned had been just two inches taller than me, dark, and, when he wasn’t in uniform, a slouch. I bit my lip. And I’d loved him better than life.
Mitch came back balancing two tacos, and order of tortilla chips with cheese sauce, and a large soda in his well-manicured hands. “So how do you know about me?” I asked.
He unwrapped a taco. “Please. Let me enjoy my dinner. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Well, if the subject gives you indigestion…”
He took a big bite and appeared to savor it. “Not bad, Trixie Blake Collier.”
“Trixie Collier Blake.”
“My husband was in the air force. He died in a training accident three years ago.”
His eyes met mine. “I’m sorry. I lost my wife to congenital heart disease last year.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“I guess you learn to live with it.”
“You don’t have much choice.”
He reached for a tortilla chip and swiped it through the cheese dip. “I’m an attorney in Little Rock,” he offered. “Just so you’ll know I’m on the up and up.”
“Not an ambulance chaser, huh?”
He grinned. “Nope. Real estate law.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, everything considered, but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Are you sure you’re not chasing my ambulance?”
“Huh? Oh, right. The building.”
“Why does everybody know about my building?”
He shook his head. “I’m not getting into the fight. That’s what Dad and I quarreled about.”
“You’d better explain that.”
“Apparently you own some property that somebody else wants, and you’re not giving it to them. And I’m not about to lean on you to do it.”
“That’s good to know.”
He crunched another chip, then leaned across the table. “But Dad will lean on you—so watch your back.”