Saturday, March 16, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 10



CHAPTER TEN

            After leaving the Drake sisters, I drove to Landers Market with the idea of getting some snacks to keep in my room. Eating out was already getting old. I took my time making a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to keep in the small refrigerator tucked under the television stand. Adding crackers, cheese, a set of plastic ware, and some small paper plates, I found an empty check stand and started through.
            The young man who hurried up to sack my groceries had to be Danny Jefferson. “Hi, Danny,” I said. “I’m Trixie. I went to school with your sister.”
            His sweet smile stretched his face almost from ear to ear. “You know Dede?”
            “We went to school together for twelve years,” I said.
            I noticed a man hurrying over to stand behind Danny. “Any problem?” he asked. He wasn’t smiling, and I knew he’d just implied any problem lay with me.
            “Of course not,” I said. “I was just reminding Danny I went to school with his sister.”
            “She knows Dede,” Danny said to the man whose nametag bore the title MANAGER.
            The man unbent slightly. “We’re kinda protective of Dan here,” he said. “He’s one of our best employees.”
            Danny beamed.
            “I’m not surprised,” I said. I swiped my credit card and signed my name on the screen.
            “Do you need help out?” Danny asked automatically even though I had only two small bags.
            “No, but thanks,” I said. “And be sure to tell your sister you saw me. Tell her I’ll be around a while.”
            “I’ll tell Dede,” he said. “Bye, Trixie.”
            “Bye, Danny.”
            The manager followed me to the door. “Sorry,” he said, “but lately there’ve been a couple of people in here who’ve treated Dan wrong. We’re all keeping an eye out.”
            “It’s too bad you have to do that,” I said. “But I’m glad you do. I know his family appreciates it.”
            The manager nodded. “Thanks. And come back.”
*****
            I put away my groceries and sat down with some grapes and a bottle of water. I’d missed the evening news, but I flipped through the channels until I found a documentary on the history of the old West. It made me remember what one of the Drakes had told me about my grandfather’s building. I was still trying to process the startling new information. It had never occurred to me that Dreamland had any kind of western history. Maybe I’d look up Candace King, lately Langworth, and see what other gems she’d unearthed.
            At nine I went across the street to the Twilight where Rudy motioned to me from the back booth. “So how was your day?”
            I told him again about meeting Mitch Langworth, adding “His wife died last year. It’s easy to tell he’s still grieving.”
            “Any kids?”
            “He didn’t mention any. He seems like a nice person.”
            “Unlike his father. Did you see the Misses Drake?”
            “I did, and what they told me makes me mad just thinking about it. They didn’t let their lease go because of age or health. They’re only in their early 60s, I’d think, and they’re not dumb.”
            “No?”
            “Absolutely not. They’ve run various businesses all their lives and still have one in Little Rock which is managed by someone else. They moved down here to get out of the city.”
            “So why did they bail on their lease?”
            “Someone ran them out…made them think the place was haunted.”
            “Haunted?” Rudy hooted. “That’s crazy.”
            “Crazy like a fox. I’ve worked enough in community theatre to know the tricks of the trade. You can set something up to create almost any effect you want to. And remember the back door wasn’t secure, although they did say they’d set a trap once to no avail.” I detailed the incidents they’d shared with me.
            “Did they call the police?”
            “Yes, much good it did them. So after the last time when the lights went out, they didn’t bother. I don’t blame them. You’d think Chief Everton would be right on something like that.”
            “He’s getting ready to retire, and he’s old as Methuselah.”
            “He is not!”
            “Trix, he’s seventy if he’s a day.”
            “Well…”
            “Okay, we both know the place isn’t haunted, so let’s say for the sake of argument that someone made the Drake sisters believe it is.”
            “Parker Aiken, of course. Aided and abetted by Guy Langworth, I’ll bet.”
            Rudy shook his head. “You’re reaching.”
            “They want me to turn loose of that building, and they thought I would once I didn’t have any tenants.”
            “They were wrong?”
            “They were wrong. I asked the sisters if they’d consider re-opening, and I’m going to turn the upstairs into two loft apartments.”
            “Why?”
            “I don’t like being pushed around.”
            “You may be biting off more than you can chew.”
            “I’ll just take smaller bites.”
            “Trixie, I think you’re asking for trouble. Just take your money and run.”
            “I don’t want their money, and I don’t run away from trouble. Ned taught me that. He toughed it out with that aunt and uncle the judge made his guardians after his parents dumped him and went off. They didn’t really want him either, so it was a pretty bleak existence.”
            “Why did his parents dump him?”
            “They were kids who had a kid and couldn’t face up to the responsibility. His grandparents were in poor health and couldn’t take him, so they more or less coerced the aunt and her husband into taking him so he wouldn’t go to foster care.”
            “Are they still alive?”
            “His grandparents died and left him a tidy fortune. We agreed to squirrel it away for the future and live on his military pay. I have it well-invested.” The thought flitted through my mind that I shouldn’t be sharing so much personal information with Rudy.
            “What about his parents?”
            “Nobody ever knew where they went. They may be dead, too.”
            “I was lucky,” Rudy said.
            “Yes, you were. You had…have wonderful parents.”
            Then I told him about running into Danny. “The manager was on me like a duck on a Junebug when I spoke to him. He followed me out and told me there’d been some customers lately who hadn’t treated Danny right. He didn’t say specifically what they’d done or said, but I can guess.”
            Rudy bristled. “I better not ever catch anybody doing him wrong. They’d live to regret it.”
            “You’re fond of him then.”
            “He’s the little brother I never had. If more people had the sweetness that Downs’ kids are blessed with, the world would be a better place.”
            “I hope things work out for you and Dee, Rudy, for all your sakes.”
            He nodded. “I’m not giving up. And thanks for telling me about Danny. He hasn’t said anything about it, but I’m going to talk to the manager at Landers tomorrow and ask him what happened. I need to know.”
            It was after eleven when Rudy watched me cross the street to the Lloyd House. As I passed the desk, the clerk called my name. “Someone left a message for you, Mrs. Blake.”
            In the elevator I unfolded the paper. “Sorry I missed you. Give me a callback at this number when you can.” The name above the time stamp was simply “Mitch.”

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