Monday, March 18, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 11



CHAPTER ELEVEN

            After breakfasting in my room on more fruit and a glass of milk, I called Mitch Langworth. “I was wondering,” he said without preface, “if you’d meet me for dinner sometime.”
            “Any special reason?” I asked. “Do you know something I should know?”
            “Nothing like that. I enjoyed talking to you yesterday. You understand how I feel.”
            “Every person’s grief is unique,” I said, “but we all deal with it in a lot of the same ways. Sure, I’ll meet you. When and where?”
            “I was thinking we probably shouldn’t be seen together in Dreamland.”
            “I agree.”
            “What about Benton? That’s more or less half way for both of us.”
            “All right.”
            “Great. What do you like to eat?”
            “Anything except something that’s not dead yet,” I said.
            “What about a good old American steak?”
            “Sounds wonderful.”
            “The Westerner Steakhouse is on your side,” he said. “Take exit 12 and go back under the interstate. You’ll see it.”
            “I’m a fair navigator.”
            “Six-thirty?”
            “I’ll be there.”
            I hung up smiling. Mitch was right—it helped to talk to someone who had walked around in your moccasins. Unfortunately, widows my age were scarce.
            Deciding to spend the morning learning more about the history of Dreamland, I looked up the number of the Historical Society and hoped Candace King would answer. She did. When I told her who I was she said, “I may have more information for you than you want. Come on down.” She gave me directions, and I said I’d be there in twenty minutes.
            Candace wore designer jeans and a bright red shawl top that emphasized her trim figure—and her white hair which I had to assume was premature. Well, marriage to Guy Langworth could do that. She greeted me enthusiastically.
            “Stella Drake telephoned me yesterday after you left. I was hoping you’d call me.”
            “I had no idea about the Quimby Building.”
            “This town’s history has been all but lost,” she said, leading me into her comfortably-furnished office. “Some of us are trying to get the information out there.”
            “The town doesn’t pay for this, does it?” I looked beyond her office to where shelves of books and document containers filled a slightly larger space than the one in which we sat.
            “Oh, no. We get donations, and we have some student volunteers, but the three of us who really run things are fortunate to be able to pay our own way.”
            “Who else helps out?”
            “My sister Anne Aiken and Hetty Evans.”
            “Miss Evans was our school librarian,” I said, hoping Candace would offer more information on her sister.
            “She’s retired now, but she said she wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture.”
            “She ran that library like a military camp,” I said. “And she knew where to find information on anything we needed.”
            “She’s good.” Candace sat down on the other end of the dark red love seat. “I’m sure you recognized my sister’s married name.”
            I nodded. “As in Parker Aiken,” I said.
            “Right. But they lead very separate lives.”
            “Oh.”
            “I have a huge amount of information for you on your grandfather’s building.”
            “It was really built as a saloon?”
            “Absolutely. And there was gambling upstairs.”
            “That explains why it’s one big open space.”
            “Right.”
            “At least it wasn’t anything else.”
            Candace laughed. “Oh, the town had one of those places, too, just not in the saloon.”
            “Did anything go on there? Gunfights or…”
            “Nothing so spectacular, but it did have some notable patrons, mostly from the state government. Dreamland was convenient to Little Rock. The owner kept a list of everyone who darkened his door and used it to call in favors when he had to, especially after Prohibition. But despite his pull, he still ended up closing down, and that’s when Quimby Lloyd bought the building for pennies on the dollar and remodeled the downstairs for his office.”
            “What happened to everything upstairs?”
            “You mean the tables and slot machines? They disappeared. I don’t know if your grandfather got rid of them, or if they were sold off with the fixtures from the bar area.”
            “That space upstairs would make two nice-sized loft apartments.”
            Candace’s well-shaped eyebrows went up. “You think so?”
            “Don’t you?”
            “The space has possibilities, I suppose. You aren’t thinking of remodeling, are you? It would cost a fortune, and I’m not sure you’d get your money back in rent.”
            “I’d have to find the right people who wanted to live there.”
            “In Dreamland, that might not be easy.”
            “Do you know why the Drake sisters closed their shop?”
            “Oh, yes, they told me. They knew it wasn’t really haunted, but what happened the last night was too much.”
            “Someone with theatre experience could rig a supposed haunting. I don’t suppose you know of anyone around here who has a theatre background.”
            “As a matter of fact, I do.”
            I sat up straighter. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”
            “Your mother.”
            “My mother!”
            “There’s been a community theatre here since you were in high school, but it didn’t really flourish until your mother took charge. You didn’t know she has a degree in theatre performance?”
            My mind whirled. “No. No, I didn’t know. She never talked about it. Actually she never talked to me about much of anything.”
            “I’m not surprised. You know, I suppose, that I was Guy Langworth’s third wife.”
            “His son told me. I ran into him at the mall yesterday. It’s a long story really.”
            “Mitch is a nice guy. I knew his mother, the first Mrs. Langworth. Lauren.” She twisted her mouth in disgust. “I was on the rebound from a nasty divorce when I met Guy. He can be a charmer, but he’s more like the snake in the basket.”

             I laughed. “I’ve met him.”
            “Oh, your dust-up with him in the lobby of the Lloyd House the other day has already made the rounds. I must say, I wish I’d been a fly on the wall.”
            “I don’t know what possessed me to mouth off at him like that. I’m not usually rude to people.”
            “Oh, please. You couldn’t have been rude to a more deserving person.”
            “You said you had more information for me than I might want…but I do. I want to know everything about what’s going on in Dreamland.”
            She rose and went behind her desk where a latte machine stood beside a stack of folders. “Let me fortify you,” she said. “What flavor?”

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